I am Helping You Because You are my Mother and You Asked Me to Help You....
(a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY ROUGH DRAFT)
(Below is a classic example of when a wannabe writer tells, and um, does not show; but the germ of my idea out there in this piece of writing, for the most part.)
I heard this once:
"I am helping you because you are my mother and because you are telling me to help you."
And for some reason I always remembered it. I kept on thinking about it as I was reviewing the rules of parallel construction when I had to take the teaching test. I thought it was the most perfect "almost exemplification" of this rule. It is not actually parallel construction.
However, the sentence's rhythm, especially within its context--a loving, loyal daughter speaking to her mother--creates a lulling like a lullaby sound and feel. When parallel construction is used, often the reader feels a sort of lulling, at least into understand a text or speaker's meaning. This sentence--and so it also is for many sentences employing parallel construction-- ushers in a definition of meaning, an offering of an explanation in such a pretty, lyrical way that you simply cannot forget it. These words from her daughter are like a stanza from a hidden poem that might have discovered. It’s a song, loved by many, but perhaps not yet covered in any great way. Her daughter's words are tattooed in my brain. They were etched into the rhythm of my memory. They have become part of my song, or at least, they have become part of my own voice.
As she relayed the story to me, my eyes widened with anticipation. But I wanted to stop her, too, to distract her at least a bit. For the rest of the story, especially its ending, was going to be rich in a way that I wanted to prolong. But mostly, my impatience and excitement overtook my desire for prolonging the pleasure from a story, this story in particular, and so I needed the details, and needed them rapidly. I breathed in and willed myself to remain as silent possible.
But I needed to ask her and so I did. "Did Lacy think you were crazy, Nancy? Did she ask you why you were dong what you were doing?"
Nancy cackled in a girly way that lit up her fifty-something-year-old face. "Lacy told me, she yelled it to me, she screamed in my face, her face was so red, she was like rage itself, she said, 'I am helping you because you are my mother and because you are telling me to help you.'"
She launched further into the story, full forced, her voice intense. Her body leaned this way and that, clenching and relaxing feeling every feeling it had felt all those years back. Her hands and fingers molded the air, illustrating the scene and setting up the stage of her memory. Her engagement right and wedding band jingled as she gestured, her finger thin to the bone. I knew it was wrong to be jealous of her sickness induced skinniness. As she spoke I saw. Her daughter, in a state almost as crazed as her own, flung the arm of the futon out the window. Fake teak, splintered and graphic hit the ground without apology. And then the futon's cushions, and then the TV, and then a single piece of the kitchen table, a lone leaf. Among true, autumn leafmeal, lay (look up--problem for Violet!) the remains of Dice's furniture. They were hurried in this endeavor. It needed to be finished before Dice returned from his mid shift factory job. They held their breath hoping that his son would not somehow come home early. It was imperative that the mom and daughter evict this father and son timely, quick quick!, before any sort of interruption could arrest their cathartic, cleansing solution. They looked around their small, tired apartment, dull in its practical construction. Their own TV, table, and beds remained. School pictures and artwork created by Lacey and her sister, Megan hung neatly, zealously almost usurping the loneliness that invited Dice and his son into their lives in the first place. In a hard scramble pile, looking very much like an earthquake victim's former life, was their new beginning. Gingerly and then plainly, the teenage girl and young woman stuck their heads out of the apartment's window. If they blurred their eyes and pretended just a little bit: below them were bodies without arms and arms without bodies.
I picture her rage attack, their rage attack, on a day very similar to today. I look at the window and see an evening similar to the one they saw that same day. And then I look outside of her window, over fifteen years back. And I see: all Dice's belongings, as well as his son's. Everything broken, scatters, but also clumped in a sense, all dead, ruined, embarrassed and demeaned. The young woman, the teenager, and now I saw this all. And Nancy, today, she looked at the debris again as she had all those years back. We looked as they had beneath them, and they began to sense a quiet so profound it was nearly heartbreaking. Their apartment was now their own. It was filled now only with their own things, cast offs not contemporary to the setting of that decade, the 90's. Their present, a mother and her two daughters who became so quickly enmeshed with this leaching monster and his sad son was now their past. It was a matter of the furniture.
"Everything they owned, their whole entire lives was now..." Nancy inhaled here, pausing, and looked at me. I looked at her. This particular pause in the story was like an epic rock and roll pause, "It was out of the window and on the ground outside." She exhaled, looking out the window of the restaurant, but I knew she was really looking outside the window of that long ago apartment she shared with Lacey and her other daughter, Megan.
She giggled now, a noise or motion that seemed forced in order to shake a kid of permanent sadness. Shaking her head at the younger, unbalanced woman she was once. She explained, "It was going nowhere, we weren't safe. Dice had stolen jewelry, cheap stuff from the girls several times. And their allowances had gone missing. At first, Nancy had thought it was Dice's boy. His sad eyes, never changing, not even at dinner, not even when they were laughing together. She had believed with her whole entire heart that the meetings were supposed to get you better; they were supposed to help everybody, right? Her sponsor told her to pray about it. her sponsor told her to read a page out of the AA book, a page that ushered the ex user into a mindset of complete acceptance, as acceptance, it was believed in the meetings, was the solution to all of their problems.
Dice, she had realized soon after he moved in, had never really gotten clean. Sure, he was done with booze, it was a sloppy high that little to take the edge off. But Dice was a heroin addict. And he would never change, ever.
Nancy's voice got higher and faster the deeper she went into the story. "Violet," she told me, speaking my name to engage me in a way that I could hardly not bring myself to it was the meditating that did it. It was the meditating that led me to this." She shook her had again, "I knew we had to cut up the furniture with the electric knife and the ax. I told you, I swear to you right here in this restaurant, it came to me while I was in one of my many trances at the Buddhist Center. I would go there sometimes three times daily. I let Lacey and Megan make their own supper all the time, for god sakes. I do not know what Dice and his son ever ate; I do not think they did. I knew Megan would cook for Lacey; that much I did know...” She looked down at her plate of half eaten salad then. It was a look that portrayed a shame, the kind of shame that only certain people live to articulate. The look struck me on a visceral level and it felt like seeing a familiar, but long forgotten enemy at a party--a mean, mean bully from middle school who rushes momentarily back into your life, if only for that night. . I shook for a moment, and then shook the shaking off. I took a sip of chowder. And I waited.
"But I know that my girls were there alone... With them! God knows what could have happened. I did not know. I did not care. I was meditating. Anything can become addictive, anything." She looked at me and waited. She wanted me back at meetings. She said, really without saying, that I should drop a class, work less hours, stop spinning. She wanted me to be a follower of hers at the local AA meeting.
I took a breath. I put a spoon filled with chowder into my mouth and considered my furniture without her. I looked into the road ahead of me and I felt the sort of loneliness that kicks you from the inside. It kicks and then seems to, almost at the same time, hollow you out like a kid's jack o lantern. But you've got no scary face. You've got no face. You're hollow and you're forgotten. You were going to ornament a festivity, but then you became flawed, and you were tossed. The air outside was brilliant, clear, sparkling, fall sunshine, eclipsed only by the occasional deep evening clouds. I wondered if she was part of my forever. Was she going to be the mother I never really had, or was she going to be a soft memory usurped by sadness, sadness over losing yet another person.
"You cut up all of all of Dice's furniture and threw it out the window with your daughter's help?" I asked. There was no point of clarification; it was not really a question. It was a silly stall tactic. And Lacy helped you, being the dutiful daughter that she is?" I imagined Lacy just then. And though I knew my days of friendship with Nancy were numbered (she was not a proper mommy sub, nor was she interested in the job, she was dying after all) I felt the familiar pang of jealousy I always did when Nancy talked about either one of her daughters. Lacy looked like me a bit. Were wee a similar height, build, and coloring. She had a broader, more ethnic looking nose. I thought, "Jewish?” when I first saw her. But then her crucifix style cross looked more like a rosary in it gaudiness, cheap carrot gold with fake ruby gems dotting its slender chain. Lacy was certainly more endowed than me, but I will not e that this is not saying too much about her bust size. I could see her cross skimming her cleavage in a way that suggested nice girl, bad girl, simultaneously.
"How many meetings are you going to?" Nancy furrowed her brow and continued with, "And when was the last time you went to a meeting?" Did you go here, in town? Or did you go south to the city. I know you're lonely and I do not blame you."
At least she empathized somewhat. I was stuck in this tourist town that became nearly deadly in its dullness over the autumn, winter, and early spring. I had tried forgiving the men at the meetings in my town, but I could not bring myself to. I loved myself more; I had to. And the meetings out of town took time. It was too much time away from Sammy, and Sammy needed me. His dad was in a fucking shelter after all.
How could I tell her that I was finished with all of it. The idea of sobriety bored me to tears, and then there was “my using” and how it was not the true issue anyhow. I had PTSD from abandonment issues. My boarding school days--I know, poor little rich girl--among other abandonment examples had essentially fucked me for good. And soon, she would be leaving, too. "I'm trying, "I smiled in a pleading way. "Love me," is what I meant. "Invite me to your family's Halloween party. Anything," I wanted to shout.
I looked out into the autumn evening and then I looked at her old, tired face. How long would she be here? Even if she did not choose to leave me, she was being pulled away from this planet faster than I could control. My throat tightened as I saw a hospital bed in my mind. Cancer. And then the worse thought, "Does she really even have cancer." I had been around in, or avoiding AA for so long that I had become pretty apt at picking out all sorts of cons. It was true that I was most certainly still ridiculously naive; however, I got hunches that others missed, too. And I had to wonder at the authenticity of her sickness. She'd been stage four forever.
I saw her check her watch then. And I saw where she was going in her mind. Lacey. The prettier version of me. Me, with an ethnic nose and bigger boobs. Me, with a mom. And I saw them crouched by that garden style window, ugly in its function. I see the ceiling pop corned. I see the carpet, that depressing, apartment, beige carpet. It is the kind of carpet that echoes, "Lower middle class, lower middle class." Mom and Lacy together. They have gotten rid of the monster. And they will always rid themselves of any monster, together, the two of them. Today, Lacy's cross, Nancy's sensible Aerosole shoes. In those days, Nancy is more sluttified. Plunging V-Neck, tight, camel toe jeans and her daughter, probably fifteen the day of the furniture, in an equally sluttied up outfit. Like mother like daughter, slut like slut.
When I was fifteen I was at my father's mostly. I did not have the sophistication to wear a bra that helped. I wore make up to hide, not invite. And I wore my clothes at least two sizes too big. Nobody bothered to tell me I was a petite, especially not my mother who was five foot seven inches tall. My petite grandmother, whose height I had inherited, was so ugly and had double d breasts to boot. She was not me; she was nothing like me in her frumpy, matronly overbearing almost sickness. I tried to borrow my friend’s femininity back then. I remember friends literally being about twice the size of me. So I then took to learning how to look female from Seventeen and from the ratty college students who lived in my town. And I tried to cover some seamy episodes with my conservative preppiness. I did not blow my boyfriend, thank you, do you notice my Keds? No, I did not puke when he came in my mouth, do you see my impeccable Champion sweatshirt tucked into my Gap Jeans? Note how my bob hairstyle is undercut professionally. Look, my mom does not speak to me, but she picked me up from school in our Peugot. Instead of saving me from the monster, she pushed me out the window. She looks out with relief, as she sees me broken, a bird who permanently is unable to fly. I am stuck in the clump of furniture debris tossed, ended lives; I am outside of the window. It is autumn again and I am alone; it is growing cold. I’m scared because I am with Dice and his son. My artwork has long since been forgotten. I close my eyes to remember a puffy sheep water- colored with an intensity I no longer remember. I am scared out here without my artwork, without my childhood belongings, and I am hiding with and from thee kicked away men. Do you hear me? I am calling you name?
My mother will survive as will Lacey, Megan, and their mother. They are crafty and can cut up furniture just short of an hour; it is a quick autumn, evening’s work. I am calling to her, I am screaming her name, “Nancy, please, it is not too late for me, I can see out the window. I can see myself below. I need you to come out here, now. I need you to help me get back inside!”
Later--about a week later--October 2, 2011
I was reading an interview with E. Schappell's man, Rob Spillman. He writes about started where the story starts, not starting before this. For example, if a man shoots a gun in a car, not writing about the man putting his socks on, finding his keys, and then getting into the car, but shooting the gun off in a car! This was not his example, prolly obviously. Fuck! I cannot write anymore. But I am trying. I am like the dilettante craftsman, building sloppy birdhouses, punctuating my already shitty yard was something sad. Spillman also speaks to the notion of writing with confidence. Um, yeah. I will try to get to this.