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Tidal Narrative

…I hoped forty years/I’d write and would not write this poem
                            Richard Hugo, “White Center”

I’ve been fighting with writing/not writing this post, after seeing a segment about Harvey Milk on CBS’s Sunday Morning a few weeks back. I knew the story, but hadn’t thought about the details in a long time—when they reached the part about Dan White’s infamously lenient sentence, I wasn’t actually prepared for my reaction to the next bit, about how White had commited suicide shortly after his release.

Good, I thought, with a real solid sense of satisfaction that lasted about a second and a half before giving way to an undertow of astonishment that I’d had this response. 

I’ve just spent a week practically married to the laptop in order to run the draft for the fantasy NCAA gymnastics league I play in and want to start talking SimGym, but this is not that kind of post.  This time of year, I feel like people wanna read cookie recipes.  Not that kind of post.

Something unspeakable happened to me when I was very small—literally unspeakable, because I was too young to have the language for it and, thanks be to God, didn’t have context, either—a single and singular transgression, completely outside the experience of my everyday life.   I made sense of it the only way I could, by deciding to forget it had happened at all.

This worked for a very long time.

In late adolescence, my everyday life got swamped with flashbacks and sense memories, and things once incoherent and untranslatable were perfectly, devastatingly plain.   Except, somehow, I still couldn’t seem to surface the single most significant fact.

In the absence of anyone else, God ended up with most of the blame—I could buy that free will had let the bastard hurt me to begin with.  Fine.  But a little help with my otherwise recalcitrant brain didn’t really seem too much to ask. 

Or demand.  Beg for.  Gnash and rail and plead. 

Eventually I came to suppose such implacable silence was a Zen-like answer of its own, until one day my aunt’s once-very-long-term-but-now-out-of-the-picture ex-boyfriend killed himself and, damn, if that didn’t do the trick.

There are people who love me—my wife, my mom—who I am pretty sure will tell you without reservation that they are glad he is dead.  I get it, I really do, and suspect I’d feel exactly the same, if I were them, since, evidently, I have no compunction about feeling similarly about people whose stories I hear about on television.

But when John died, I did not find it to be a relief or a comfort or a vindication.   I’d amassed weeks and months and years of clawing for an answer (implore. bargain. storm) and one bitter thread through it all was a savage, seething wish that, somewhere, whoever he was, he was just as miserable. 

His suicide gave me the sense that we’d been sharing the same wreckage after all.  It didn’t absolve him of anything, but made it possible for me to imagine him as human, hurting, all the same.  

At the time, that seemed an additional, terrible weight—he was dead and I could only repent forever my fool’s heart, that hadn’t recognized God’s mercy when she’d had it.

He was a very real presence for a long time.  Not malevolent, but expectant, as if it fell to me to follow where he’d gone.  There were times, fortunately few, when it was hard to resist that pull, but after a while it faded, and him with it.

It’s been more than a decade since then.  But I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately—this is way more positive than it might sound, since what’s really happening is that writing again seems to have let a whole host of things loose and I’m doing recovery work I’ve put off for a long time. 

Which is great, except for all the ways in which it is crappy, like how it messes with your ability to sleep or think or otherwise function.  It is chewing one hell of a hole in my ability to be open to the fundamental gifts of the season, as captured in the words of my favorite carol: comfort and joy.

It’s three am and I have no idea how I’m going to get up in a few hours for work.  But in giving all this voice, I’ve realized for the first time that perhaps compassion wasn’t meant to be the trap I always thought--the smug reprimand of happy now? when you get what someone wiser knows you should never have wanted.  Maybe it was meant as a blessing, both the promise of, and a way toward, eventual release, and how could I ever ask for more than that?

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Dec. 31st, 2008 04:45 am (UTC)
Fresca here.
Just catching up on your blog. Too hard to say anything much here, except that the word "wreckage" popped out at me here.
Perfect.
Alas.
Ite, missa est.
Amen.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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