April. Cruel. All that.
Came home kinda psychically soaked to the skin, clothes clinging and stained with whatever it was that hit me. A big limp from a barked shin. Shoulders quaking in those seven-year sobs. Z looked outside at the sunny day, the bright future, the westward ho and peered down at me, now about 3 inches high.
He had his work cut out for him.
It isn’t the aging parent crippled by stroke. It isn’t the footnoted catastrophe of right hemisphere brain damage that removes musicality. It’s not the fork in the road now receding in my rearview mirror, the one pointing toward imminent funding by chip makers. It’s not the trade-in of my job for something longer-houred and lower-paying. It’s not the family culture writ large during crisis, each of us acting our parts in monumental proportions. It’s not the fact I have three cars and none of them will travel more than 12 miles without breaking down. It’s not time, but here comes time anyway.
And gone again.
I just let the tears come: huge, i’m-just-fucked tears that I had prayed for but kept getting jaw squares instead. Years of tears, right through the dinner hour, so that we had to set out for the venue and hope the hippies had fired up the kitchen.
While I howled from the passenger seat in the car, this went through my head:
Recently I began researching where I could go to make that quiet, introspective, weekend retreat. Which zendo where? Could I take a vow of silence and keep it? Would I be spoken to? Would I have to sit until my back broke? My feet puddled up in sleep? I began designing a Perfect Retreat Concept that included talking to no one and having no one talk to me. Meals included, no food noises. I experimented while Z was in NY, keeping my yap shut for entire evenings. Croaking into the phone after a day of reading and not talking, as if my vocal chords had been overrun by weeds in the short time since the tanks stopped running over them.
It didn’t work. I wondered if I didn’t want silence, rather I wanted a license to be sad. Extremely sad. Grieving and purpled. I thought about attending other people’s funerals (mine was out of the question), or watching a few soaring television advertisements for cotton. Good, but constricting. Have to wear a dress to blend in to funerals. It would occlude my sadness to add embarrassment at not remembering how to walk in heels. Television is worse in its fashion: have to tie my butt to the couch in order to catch a glimpse of the treacly stuff. Besides, I have a huge sadness, much larger than my silence. With this much sadness, I need space. I revised my Retreat Concept to include an extremely high fee, which is humiliating, and an extremely hurtful remark from a staff member upon arrival. This would be the catalyst for my retreat experience: Uncontrolled Sobbing Camp. I need to compensate for years of blinking back and moving forward. I just want to cry, but someone will have to really smack my elbow to get it all started.
This led me to another idea: I’m not just sad, in my own quiet way, I am furious. Hearing a radio show led by a earth mother nutritionist in the next room, callers kept referring to their “rage” and how they controlled it with herbs administered in close connections with their cycles. Rage? Where have I been, all these cycles under my belt, having never heard the term “rage” associated with it? Is it possible I’ve isolated myself in my feelings? Egotistically excluding the possibility that I suffer from a common affliction? But not one caller defined “rage”. They kept taking “rage” for granted, as if everyone knew what it was and it didn’t need explaining. It was as if “rage” was right there next to “bloating”. But it never has been there for me. “Hershey’s” is next to “bloating” in my cycle. I found myself getting really steamed, and pictured myself calling up the host and screaming into the phone: just who did they think they were, talking about rage and not defining it?
A wee entrepreneurial part of me thought about setting up The Really Angry Retreat for groups of 15 or more. Arrive at the lodge and get your safety glasses, a 16-lb sledge hammer and an almost-empty tube of Ben-Gay. You’re led out of the foyer into a god damn junk yard and told to smash everything to bits, somebody else will clean it up. Thoughtfully, some of the items have been covered by crass photocopies of the faces of people who annoy the hell out of you.
That was me, wailing unabated as Z’s window went down at the toll plaza. That was me, staggered against the chain link wondering how a person of my tears could attend a public performance. I fitfully ordered the veggies, rice and chicken leg and scoured for a place that had both a chair and a light so I could, just to torture myself, see what I was eating. I failed six or seven times before pitching my dinner into the trash and remanding into the balcony. I put my head in my hands and flooded my area with more tears, creating a greater radius of empty seats around me than if I had vomited. Z showed up, pushing a smuggled dinner roll and bottle of water at me, which I waved away, hopeless and snot-faced. He sat compassionately, saying little, being near, greeting my eventual move to the center of reality with little fanfare, as if he trusted I was not far from it all along. This compounded my pain: how persistently positive this man is! what a shame given the circumstances!
It wasn’t over. About 20 minutes into the show I had cleared my sinuses enough to realize someone, somewhere near me, had stepped in something before they came up here. Over the next couple hours I moved from seat to seat, escaping and then succumbing to its hideous waft. Christ Z, I said, where is it and why is it following me? Is it possible to have a pigpen-style cloud over one’s head? Wasn’t that simply a line drawing? Clearly someone has had a horrible accident, he assured me, and the ventilation system is a little too efficient, carrying the evidence everywhere. I had to trust him on this one. It was devastating.
I made it back to the car and relented: sitting on the hood I slowly turned my own shoe upward, the new one I had bought the day before in a matched pair. Yes. Yes. I had disgraced myself somewhere along the way, blundering into dog doo as salt water shot out of my eyes, then spending a whole evening whirling around in the darkness to find its source.
Why I had not already selected this as my unifying metaphor I could not say.
But it seems so right.