December 2008


I lay in bed at night sometimes, and masturbate to pictures of your mother. I’ll never tell you this, but it’s the only time I feel close to you. 

You’ve told me so much about her, and I wish I’d known her. It seems like there is little about you that wasn’t shaped in some way by her, and I feel certain that if I’d spent even a little time sitting across a table from her, clutching my coffee cup with damp palms while I struggled to impress her, I could understand you. We could communicate if I’d had any chance to learn your language from it’s originator. I don’t kid myself, I don’t have little fantasies in which she adores me, and we become best friends, she tells me I’m the daughter she never had. I know that there is a not insignificant chance that she would have despised me, and possibly I her. But while we hated each other, while we were busy poking pencils into one another’s open wounds, we would have been hurling all our insults in your lexicon. The language that allowed you to be a person I do not understand, and cannot hope to. 

She was long gone by the time we met. Do you know, I remember the story of her passing more vividly than I can recall the story of our meeting? Actual, experienced history pales set beside your technicolor reminisences. You talk so often about her death, it almost seems she never had a life, but I know she must have. You are the proof that she was here, her graffiti signature on the wall of this town. Every time you touch me, she’s saying to the world we’ve chosen to create, I was here. I existed. I am the reason you can fuck with wild abandon, the only way you can fight is through my having been and done. When you slide into me, when you pin me to the bed, when you pound yourself into me with such force I can’t help but scream and want to cry, all I can picture, really, is you sliding out of her. That night we had sex and it turned out I was on my period? My blood on our sheets only made me think of you, covered in blood, leaving her for the first time. Sometimes you moan my name in bed, and as your weight collapses onto me, all I can really think is that she gave you that voice and the ability to crush me this way. 

You came home the other night with orchids. Were they her favorite was what I wanted to say when I said thank you. Did she teach you this? Did she tell you that the way to fix what you’ve broken with a woman is with flowers? I smiled and put them in a vase, you were forgiven, and thanked, but I wanted to thank her. 

There is so much I know about you, but I can’t help but think that the only person I really know anything about is your mother. 

When we met, you told me she was gone. You tossed it off so casually, as though it hardly mattered. “My mother died when I was a teenager.” In that moment, at that time, I believed in the tone of your voice. I believed that it wouldn’t matter, that it would always be this way, a small facet of your history, hovering behind what you’ve done and become, but never overpowering you. Your offhand manner was a tiny bible for me, then. 

There isn’t enough paper in the world to write the list of things I believed when I was young, that have turned out not to be true. I was, without ever knowing it, a creature composed almost entirely of blind hope and simple faith. I was never going to be happier, I was never to know peace like that again. 

But holding your hand in that park, as we headed to the restaurant, (was it her idea? Did she love Italian food and red checkered tablecloths, the simulated authenticity a candle and an accent provided? Was she there with us even that first day?) all I was thinking about was your laugh. You laughed more easily than any person I’d ever known, and although it was a strange laugh for a man, high pitched, almost a giggle, it made me feel instantly comfortable with you. To say I was at ease is a stretch, but I was as close to it as I ever get. 

I don’t remember much about our early days. I actively try not to, honestly. Memories of being happy with you, of thinking that you were happy with me, of fooling myself into believing I knew you in a way I’d never known anyone, are a hot knife in my side. I’ve learned there is no pain like the pain of faith lost, of foolishness exposed. The heart’s stupidity renders any failure of the brain to function properly a cartoon representation of idiocy. 

I know that there was a time that I thought of you as a person, and not as a result of her life choices. I know that, intellectually. But I try to forget being wrong in such a horribly embarassing way. I don’t want to know that there was ever a time that I looked at you and saw anything other than her eyes looking at the world she knew. 

When we stood at the altar that day, white dressed, tuxedoed containers for ideas not ours, what did you see? What were you thinking when she looked at me? What went through your mind as she used your lips to kiss me, and whispered “I do” in a voice so hoarse and small it frightened me almost enough to break free and run? Was I a collection of attributes she’d taught you to admire? High cheekbones, childbearing hips, intelligent and warm? Was I your lover then, your partner, or the closest thing you could find to what she wanted you to do with your life? When you asked me to be her bride, how did you know she would approve? Or did she? I suppose it’s possible that I was a rebellion, a revolt you were leading against the government of your life, and that’s how we find ourselves here. You can’t fight the inevitable, and if there is anything more inevitable than a mother, I don’t know what it could be. 

Every day I ask myself a never ending stream of questions about our lives, her lives. I know she owns us, I know that she has, one way or another, decided everything for us. Every tiny puppet thing we have done or said to one another, she has held the strings and moved her fingers quickly to control. 

It is those fingers, slim, nails bitten to the quick, that I picture at night. When my own fingers move over my breasts and slowly lower, it is her firm touch I’m longing for. She had so much to teach me about you, there is so much she could have told me that I will never know.

“…I no longer love her, true, but how I loved her
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear…

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and forgetting is so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
My soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me
And this may be the last poem I write for her.”
Pablo Neruda

Except it’s never the last pain, is it? Every time I think I am beyond your reach, I find in my heart eddies which sweep me under. You think that since it’s me who did the leaving it’s you who bears the wound? By clinging to what you wanted me to be you left me, the real and living me, dozens of times before I ever got up the guts to call it for what it was. And that’s what hurts the worst, the lingering guilt that I could have fixed everything if I hadn’t walked away. The way you clawed at me even as you knew I couldn’t, for my own health and sanity, come back. That lovely parting gift you planted underneath my skin, saying that I was flawed, I was incapable, that caring for my own needs was a right I did not have. And worst of all, the knowledge that I loved you enough to compromise almost every last inch of what I believed… and it still wasn’t enough to save you.