Maybe it’s Late, But Just Call Me

December 3, 2012 § 3 Comments

Pale Horse, William Blake

Pale Horse, William Blake

So I made a great sweet potato pie, with lots of spices and vanilla and a tablespoon of strong black coffee; and the casserole/chili thingy was delicious too. Charles didn’t get home until past midnight. It should be noted he was vibrating with joy. New friends, great music, a singer singing Silent Night in Spanish, which made him cry…The cats and I flocked to his side, took his hat and coat, shoes and socks, rubbed his feet (not).

I said, “This is just like the old days—you say you’ll be home mid-evening, don’t show up for dinner or call. I wait and wait…”

“I thought the concert was at two, but it didn’t start until 7. I thought about calling, but I was using my phone as a second camera.”

“I know I could have called you. I wasn’t upset, it just reminded me.”

“You wouldn’t have gotten through if you had. I had it on airplane mode so it wouldn’t ring during filming.”

I feel a frisson of annoyance. I made a fucking pie. I could have written a poem. “A quick email…?”

“You know how it is when you’re running around doing three things at once. Is there anything to eat?”

“Let me see. I think there’s DINNER.”

In the old days, which is to say 1973-1982, this happened regularly and I never got used to it. The first year, I still lived with my mother and she kept me steady. I was so young, too, just 18, and still awed by love. He was living in Connecticut, coming up on weekends, a five-hour drive.

When we moved to California, Charles drove all over the East Bay and San Francisco for work, and also went to jam sessions at night. He said he’d be home by 6,7,8 and I would cook. And wait. The roast dried out, the chicken overcooked, the vegetables got cold, I ate the tarts, I had a glass of scotch, I cleaned the kitchen again. I didn’t have a cat. Well, I only had a cat one year before he was hit by a car while following us on a daytime walk though our relaxed, residential, fruit-and-flower-filled Berkeley neighborhood.

Every time, there came a moment when I was sure Charles was dead on the highway: trapped in the twisted metal, speared by shattered glass, burned in the fire and explosion. It began as a panic high in my chest, bending up and around up to cup my face in darkness. It was like the constant shiver of foil, like a hundred pistons starting up. This is the engine to carry you across that awful boundary, the one where you can scream all you want, nothing will change. Of course it’s an engine, with its foul smoke. Did you think a being of flesh or earth would carry you?

Charles never understood—he couldn’t understand— that when you experience family death as a child, especially two within four months, you enter the Twilight Zone; you see death around every corner, under the bed, in the light fixtures, in the family pet. (No, I made that up about the family pet. Too much Stephen King. Dogs have never hurt me.)

It didn’t help that I knew several people who died when I was in my teens, all suicides, adult and teenage, except for my cousin who died in an auto accident on the night of his high school graduation. A friend also died in a traffic accident a few years later, not long after her aunt, whom I also knew slightly—she intuited that I was as disturbed as she was and she warned everyone at dinner one night, like an oracle, her hands on my head—committed suicide. It wasn’t quite like going to Iraq or Vietnam, but set up certain expectations.

I was a ghoulish, morbid girl at 18, wildly sexual. I wanted sex right away so I could connect to the young male animal, still actually or relatively virginal. Minds were treacherous, honed by the brutal hierarchies of family, school and the world: I was coming them too late. You know how it is at 18—so much is already over, lost for good, hopeless, you’re not young anymore…

I thought there were two kinds of gods: the ones who brought lovers to romantic, poetry-writing acolytes and the kind that ate people. I paid homage to them both, exalting love while looking at my dear ones with a cold curiosity as to how and when they’d be snatched. I never worried about dying accidentally myself. I was sure I’d be a suicide or murder victim.

When there wasn’t any death for a couple of years, then five years…No, wait—the aunt I was closest to, the lesbian feminist writer, died of cancer when I was 25; she was in her early 50’s. I went through the visit while she was still normal-looking and the visit when she was bald—she urged me to feel her smooth skull, always denying the easy sentiment—and I was taken in by it, thinking she was really unafraid. I endured the family gathering where her open coffin was off to one side, not in the center to be sobbed over, but not to be left out either (her wishes). But when there weren’t several deaths in the next five years, I grew tense, waiting for the hungry bastard to finish his meal, refusing to be caught off-guard.

And Charles said, “If I’d gotten off the road to look for a phone, I would have been home that much later.” Dark roads, unmapped exits, phones hard to find, the disconnectedness we took for granted, while feeling very modern with our televisions and airplanes.

I’d think about whom I’d call first, when the cops called me. My mother, of course, and then his first wife, who’d tell the kids. And what kind of funeral? He always said Just toss me in the yard, put me out with the trash (he still says shit like that) but really? Would I see the children again? Would I spend $3000 on a coffin? How would I live without him?

Last night, I thought none of that. I ate dinner at 9:30, and read a crime novel, worrying only that the crunching sound in the other room was Fitzroy eating pie-crust, which of course it wasn’t. I was overly proud of that pie. If Charles hadn’t gotten back until today at noon, I wouldn’t have worried. Maybe by tomorrow…

I’ve been through a bad depression in the last 20 months (which I think is beginning to lighten) and I’m too wrung out to worry about others’ deaths, even though plenty of family deaths have happened to those around me. My friend Andree has lost her father and two brothers in the last several years. A number of mothers have gone. What a shock it will be, when it picks up again in my life. I love too many people.

That doesn’t stop me from putting off calling my mother, my friends, my siblings, all of whom I miss already. There’s something inside me that says I can’t make phone calls until I get my writing done, and I never get my writing done because I’m bitter about the publishing world and life in general, terrified self-publishing will be another dead end…so I write this blog instead. My mother says, “Your style has gotten so loose and swingy! I feel like you’re right here, talking. Can’t you get these pieces taken by a magazine?”

If I thought that way, they’d never come out at all.

Likes? Comments? Action?

Here’s an excerpt from as essay by Emily Rapp, newly divorced writer, whose son is dying.

To let go of the thing you most want to hang onto is to experience desire with all its unmatchable threads, its sharp and feathery edges, its weird geometry and turbulent mathematics, its dark corners and wacky, spontaneous bursts of light. To say that someone is the love of your life is to admit that if they are taken from you, your life will be unfathomably altered and there will be a hole that’s impossible to fill. What I’d like to say on a date: “To love is to burn. You dig?” And then wait for the answer before asking (or not) for the check. I do not want solutions, platitudes, or promises. I want to cry in the dark. I want to cry in the car. I want to pound my fists against a surface and scream. I want to listen to the rain on the roof, that slow and steady rhythm that is so like the beating of a heart, so unmistakable, so easily changeable, so ready to stop. Everything will stop. The heart will stop: Ronan’s, mine, everyone’s.

You deserve a poem, too.


After all the days and nights we’ve spent
with Starry Messenger, with Dante,
with Plato, his temperance
painted as a woman who pours
water into a bowl but does not spill,
after particle theory and the geologic time of this quartz
gilded beneath the roaming gone,
composites of limestone calculated down to the animal
that laid upon it and quietly died,

after hearing how camels carted away the broken
Colossus of Rhodes, showing us how to carry
and build back our destroyed selves,

hearing there was once a hand
that first learned to turn
an infant right in the womb,

that there was, inside Michelangelo, an Isaiah to carve out
the David, the idea, the one buried
in us who can slay the enormities,

after all visions and prophecies that made the heart large,
once and again, true or untrue,

after learning to shave the gleaming steel down—
the weapon, the bomb we make,
and the watercolor made after
of the dropped-upon crowd, thin strokes
over a pale wash—
after all this, still
one of us can’t know another.

Once under an iron sky I listened
to a small assemblage of voices.
Two by two broke off into the field
to strip down the unbroken flock of starling dark
between them. The ceremony of the closing in,
the hope each to each might not stay tourists
before the separate, chiseled ruin of the other:

The unspeakable, illegible one before us—

this is what the linguists call the dead, isn’t it?

But how are you, we say,
meaning how have you been made,
what is wrong, what
happened, we ask, how long have you been waiting,
are you on my side, can you promise to stay,
will you keep
the etchings clear on my stone
and come visit me, your never-known,

will you lean over my ghost
how we leaned over the green pools of the Japanese garden,
a cluster of lanterns blowing out above us
wisp by wisp, a school of koi pausing at the surface,
letting us look all the way in
until we saw each eye
was like a net heaped on shore.

Just like our eyes, weren’t they? all accidents, wastes,
all saving needs filled and unfilled, the cracked shells,
the kelp fronds torn from their buoys, all caught here,
inside us—
the seven we loved, the six we lost—
seaglass the living
and the human, alone.

–Katie Ford


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