I need structure;
I crave comfort,
so I tear up the grass
and stomp the ground flat.
I want fortification;
I'm addicted to geometric shapes.
Put me in a box,
I roar, as I charge at trees,
bowling them over
and stripping the bark with my fingers.
I am little bothered by the angry chittering of squirrels,
the ugly caws of birds, or the splinters under my nails.
I can deal with my wounds when construction is finished;
for now I gather clay and mud.
I will build the first building, and maybe then
my compulsions will be quelled.
“Sweet, how the mother finds a way to care for her young against the worst odds (and whether it really matters or not). Sweet, how the naïve insist human nature is benevolent (in the midst of all this selfish destruction). Sweet,” the cynic patronizes the idealist.
Growing up in a family of warring ideals is uncomfortable, to say the least. One wouldn’t generally expect for two people with such opposing natures to want to spend a moment together, let alone attempt a lifetime. It was no surprise to me, then, when my parents separated and eventually (finally) divorced. What did surprise me was how long it took to sever their connection, and how frequently they were willing to try again. That’s actually what brought me over to my mother’s side, because as much as my cynic father swore that everyone was out for what pleased and benefited them most, there must have been something deeper that kept my parents together for as long as they were. It must have been love.
My mother, for all her “sweet” idealism was not an angel. On the contrary, she smoked despite all the news alerts that informed us how terribly she was harming her body, and she was more than a little racist. One of my favorite things about her, though, was that she was never false. “Always be true to others, Magda, and you won’t have to search beneath layers of lies to discover the truth for yourself.” She believed that the world’s biggest problem wasn’t pride or greed or nukes, but dishonesty. In fact she said that one of the reasons she loved my father (despite his dreadfully impossible pessimism) was that he meant it, he believed it, and that she could love him for being so real even if his reality wasn’t one she enjoyed. She was not simple, but I could always understand where my mother was coming from.
My father, on the other hand, might as well have been a million-piece puzzle. I could hardly understand how his pieces fit together, until I looked at him from my mother’s perspective. Then, rather than seeing the intimidating amount of puzzle pieces I saw the image they could be, the grand picture they made.
When I was 16 they’d separated again, and this time I was informed that divorce paperwork was being processed. My sister and I were relieved, honestly, because while our home wasn’t exactly filled with the abrasive echoes of screaming-fights, the tension of being in that household was enough that we never felt that there was enough air to breathe, it almost seemed like I was always on the verge of fainting from it. My mother and father would alternately tell us the story of their latest (on-going) dispute, and each would encourage us (tell us their side again and again until we pretended to agree) to try to talk some sense into the other (despite the obvious fact that your mother is far too air-headed and your father wouldn’t know what the truth looked like if it danced on his mustache).
After their divorce was finalized, things were never as painfully awkward as other families I’ve known who split. In fact, my sister and I worried that they might try to remarry one day, and we only prayed it would be long after we were old enough to escape. We’d spend equal time at each parent’s home, of course, and we’d always have messages (debate points) to carry back and forth during the switch. Long after the divorce our parents would often go out to dinner or a movie, almost like they were dating, and they’d come home with plenty to complain about. They never did get back together officially, luckily for us, but they always retained a sort of friendship, and I’ve always thought that was sweet.
I have been slipping seeds into your food,
watermelon, apple, anything I think you might not notice
and some you may.
I sprinkle sunflower seeds onto your salads
and bake you those of pumpkins.
You see, I hope they'll grow.
More than that, sometimes I slip in bits of dirt
when I cook your meals.
I encourage you to drink more water,
insist we venture outside more in the daylight.
I know you're growing bored with me;
I sense that you want to part,
but I can't let you go.
So I will poison you with seeds until your plan to uproot our relationship is conquered by mine, to cultivate roots inside you.
They will spread out,
branches bursting from your ears and nose and mouth,
until they erupt through the soles of your feet.
And then I will curl up under your shade
safe in the knowledge that now you will never leave me.
The thought that the house would still be there long after we were gone kept turning over in my head. It hardly seemed fair that we would finally be at rest but evidence of our existence would live on; how could we find peace with the house still taunting us? I know that it will, you see, because I’d tried getting away in life. Putting thousands of miles between the house and myself never severed the connection, never freed me from my past and from the truth that lay dormant, practically animate, inside its walls.
The truth that no one was ever supposed to know; the reason I’ve spent my whole life keeping everyone at a distance was to protect this secret: that my mother did not kill my father. Sure, he was an abusive, drunk bastard and had she done it she would have been pretty justified, but she didn’t. She probably never would have; she loved him so much. But no one was surprised when the cops responded to reports of a gunshot and found my mother standing over my father’s body, a gun in her hand and a bullet in his stomach. She’d never called the police herself, but neighbors used to, in the beginning, back before they realized it didn’t really help matters. The cops would come break things up but he’d be back to a violent rage in a night or two, and she never did anything to stop him, really.
I was up in my room, when their voices escalated that night. I crept out to the banister and crouched, staring at the bend in the stairwell, as their voices echoed up to me. My father was no worse than ever, and my mother no stronger. She was crying, of course, and that only pissed him off more. I was 9, and I’d known this was the way of things forever. I knew it broke my mother’s heart that she wasn’t protecting me from this, no matter how much she could endure herself. She was begging him to keep his voice down; even as he shoved her into something, even as he backhanded her, she was trying in her meek manner to protect my long-since-destroyed innocence.
I knew exactly where the gun was kept, because sometimes he would thunder up the steps to find it, and make a show of waving it in her face. I got it from the drawer in their bedroom and walked down the stairs, not even bothering to mask the sound of my approach. As I walked into the room he was picking up his drink from the table and mumbling something angrily that was garbled behind his slurs. I just raised my arm and fired. My mom probably didn’t even know I was there until she’d heard the shot. She ran over and yanked the gun from my hand, as if trying to prevent what I’d already done. “Go to your room, Emily,” her whisper was hoarse from the crying and shouting. I went back up the stairs and sat in my room until the police came up and got me. Everyone just assumed that she’d done it, and she let them, and I let them, and long after we’re gone the house would know the truth. That’s why I had to go back and destroy it.
Honest, I never meant to hurt anyone; the fact that a new family could live in such a haunted place had never occurred to me.
Something has been haunting me,
from one of those last days,
you smiled up at me from your bed and jokingly,
–I wonder, was it a joke? –
you told me that I was the camera and the film.
I just stared back at you,
the smiles slipping away from my grip,
my world crumbling under your every soft breath;
I have thought of what I would rather be for a long time now,
I wish I could have corrected you then.
I would much rather be the gloved hand,
the stapler and the staples,
or the ink blots on the printer paper.
You see? I want to be the perspiration
on the outside of a glass, and
the sticker on the banana.
And I wanted you to be the waves in the atmosphere,
or the cracks in the sidewalk,
but I think you may be the tea stains in the mug,
and spots after a bright light.
We might have been the pancakes and spaghetti,
But instead we were the scratches in the cell phone,
and sometimes the curve of the question mark.
But now? Now we are the crumbs on the mouse’s whiskers
and the knot in the silver necklace.
But I alone will not be the camera and the film.
We can be the camera and the film.
You can be my waves in the atmosphere,
and I will be your stapler, and the staples.