Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true,
You stand at the edge while people run you through.
And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Elton John
Yesterday, recovering from my birthday extravaganza, I watched my animals playing/fighting in the living room and nursed a forty-six-year-old hangover. The Yorkshire terrier (Rasputin) would chase the cat (Elvis), the cat would turn suddenly on the five pounder in aggravation and swipe a bit too hard, the dog ran the other way with feline in tow–and this went on and on until everyone was hissing/yelping. What had started as play became war and, at the end, both were sore and hurt and pissed as hell. Made me wonder: why do we hurt each other? What are we doing?
Just walk in on these two in the middle of the day, Elvis with his black velvet arm slung across Rasputin’s scrawny neck, snoring to beat the band.
Then we have my younguns, two of which couldn’t bear the breath of the other growing up. She was angry at his uppity birth, he was pissed at her elder position and I would cry in bed at night: they are never going to be friends. I have this memory of Mom’s Night Out when Sissy calls me against the audible sound of screaming demonic boy indignation. Me: what the hell is going on? Her: I’m sitting on him. Me: why? Her: he wouldn’t get right. So I sat on him. Right. Last week, these two twenty-something offspring went to the beach with other and came back with sunburns and stories that started off like: my gansta brother, you aren’t gonna believe what he did . . . Laughter. Smiles. Love.
I had a friend/sister twenty years ago. Here’s what happened:
Getting really, really close risks something. How couldn’t it? Now, you know all their secrets, the way they bite their nails, what they secretly fear–and when pissed–you can use them to gall their soul, rip that forever feel and variously screw the pooch of all that history. We, well, fuck up. All of us. I think the problem is when we take a ruler and hold it to the fuck-up pile. 1998. 2003. 1976. What the hell are we doing?
I wonder at the brazen manner in which we tear at the soul skin of the one we love the most. At our death, will these be the moments we hold so close? Let’s do some comparison shopping, shall we?
Kelli: holding my pregnant stomach, hitching up in her throat when my son kicked, smoking cigs outside of a trailer and pondering perms, watching Lost Boys while eating chips and hoping a husband or two or four wouldn’t cheat, lie or quit his job. Cause there’s another baby on the way . . .
Then: A misunderstanding, a Uhaul bound for Auburn, boob jobs, new men, lost men, babies and police in the wrong room together–all without the sound of our country-fied laughter, all without her hands in mine, no solace in sight. Wasted Time.
Finally: Sixteen years later, holding each other in sweat and tears and no shame at the display of our grief and history. I love you, bitch. I love you so so much. How did we let this happen.
Oh, but we do let these loves and moments wither in our hands like an unrooted plant without water. Pride. Righteousness. And chunks of life lost become a broken favorite toy in a trash pile.
I knew a woman once who had been so utterly bruised by a long relationship that she had begun to hate the man. Bitter, stinging hate that stayed with her long after the last words spoken between them had taken root and become the comforting ground cover of a lost thirteen year span of time. Justified? Sure. But the same woman once taught me a little analogy:
So . . . you’re driving along in a Volkswagen and come upon a green light. Now, you see to your right a semi barreling right toward that intersection. He does not have the right of way. You do.
You wanna die just to be right?
Her personal semi truck is the one dying now, slowly and in agony, and she has spent the last few months hauling chicken soup, prayers and support to his house. Guess she made her decision.
And who’s to say that it wasn’t the right one?
I spend so much time writing about being justified, standing up, holding up defiantly against unruly semis that I felt it was time for a little, um, brake check. Just wait a hot Texas minute: do I love that driver? Well, damn. And then it hit me, the other side of the analogy. (I hate that moment. Makes me feel four years old, like I’ve stepped in shit and walked all over the house.)
What if the moment of impact, all justified and right, hurts the semi driver, too?
Uh huh. It’s one thing to be all, I’ll die to prove I’m right! And it’s another to say and I hope it kills him, too! Wait . . .
Shit fire and fall back in it.
And that’s when it hits me. Mr. Semi driver might have had a bad day, mayhap his wife has been ragging on about some nonsense, mayhap his son has driven him to distraction, could be that he is so dog tired that he didn’t take note as he barreled at that light? AC/DC’s Highway to Hell was turned up a bit and he was remembering sixteen in summer? Or, goddess forbid, life had wrapped itself around his spine and cut off his will to spend another friggin day in that truck?
And, in the justified comfort of our little car, we’re all but I have the right of way.
Are we so sure? I’m not anymore. Here’s a list of what being right has cost me:
1. Missed afternoons with Gran.
2. My mother’s stories of growing old without the love of her life.
3. My little sister’s side of what it felt like to grow up without me.
4. Twenty dead pumpkin plants in 2011.
5. Untold moments dancing with my husband in the back forty under a fall moon.
6. A friend who didn’t speak the same language as me because I refused to translate.
7. A daughter who still doesn’t know that she was the most beautiful thing my body ever did.
8. A brother.
9. Untold wine glasses, broken against walls in righteousness.
10. My peace of mind.
I told a friend (love you, Maddie baby) last night on the phone: we don’t know how long we have. Come home to me and drink wine and eat bacon. What I would give to say that to young Seba, or even last year Seba. It’s almost gone. You know that moment when the sun is setting all pink/gold/red across the back yard? And just for a minute you can’t breathe? And wish you could hold it there, as the crickets rev up and the softest breeze lifts your hair?
Yeah. Me too. And it took me forty-six years to figure out: that’s every moment. What we would give to have these back at eighty, eyes all watered by time. I will want that moment in the car, singing eighties songs with the windows down in some lost July–not that blog that enraged me, that injustice I couldn’t let go. I will crave my son’s arms around my neck, too young to be macho, on a beach in Georgia–not the rolling eyes or the dirty socks on the sopping wet bathroom floor. I will miss the snuggle of the “bad dog” and his caramel eyes–not the poo on the carpet. And one day, far and away, I will miss the way my muscles work, the feel of walking with purpose, and the ability to make love like a wildebeest–not the Showtime series, the cigarettes or the connections I have made in academia.
In other words . . .
Death is a Semi. A Mack truck barreling at the intersection of who we wish we had been and who we were justified in being.
And I don’t want to be right, anymore. I’d rather just be.