Love Letter, Unsent

sink-baby
Photo of the author being given a bath. Presumably by the author’s mother.

Dear Mom,

I miss you.

It has been exactly a year since we last communicated. I recognize our estrangement remains fully my choice, that I have only to pick up the phone and you or dad would without doubt answer. I think about that option every day.

I miss you—deeply—every day.

And, every day, I remember: sometimes we face decisions where all the options are bad. All that anyone can do then is choose the least shitty of the shitty outcomes.

And so I choose to orphan myself.

For me, losing you remains the least-bad option available.

* * *

I remember clearly that it was Valentine’s Day, the last day I replied to any message from you. One of the texts you sent, amid that final flurry of texts, simply said “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you!” And I’m sure you thought that was innocuous. I’m sure you thought that, THAT, was a message I couldn’t possibly take issue with.

And so I would give you what you wanted.

But this is not how love works. This is not how anything works.

Continue reading “Love Letter, Unsent”

My Beautiful Boy

nathan_10-15-16

Nathan
Apr. 2003-Oct. 23, 2016

[Photo taken in happier times, AKA one week ago.]

His death was sudden and shocking: both very quick and—in the bleak final hours—excruciatingly slow, brutal, and painful. I went from praying that he would live long enough to make it to the euthanasia appointment the vet and I had scheduled for 10:30 this morning (in case the last-ditch home remedies didn’t work overnight) to pleading with the universe to please let just him go.

At 3:12 this morning, convulsing on the bathroom floor where he always loved to laze, his head cupped in my hands, my baby went.


Oh my dearest, darling Nath.

You stupid, dumbass, beloved little shit, who never found a bit of plastic or lint on the floor (or even random flicker of shadow either, let’s be honest!) that you didn’t feel compelled to eat: I have no idea what you found to scarf up over the last few days that turned your tummy into a graveyard, but I am truly sorry I could not save you from yourself. You got into so many mishaps over the years because you found the whole of your world too fascinating to worry over every little detail, like “is this actually edible?” or “will this set me on fire?” Continue reading “My Beautiful Boy”

what has once been seen cannot be unseen

screenshot-2016-10-21-10-41-08
(screen shot via youtube)

I am filled with grief this morning for Melania Trump.

I watched her husband’s tasteless speech at the Al Smith charity dinner last night, in which he repeatedly and grotesquely insulted Hillary Clinton to her face. [Apparently this event has a longstanding tradition of both presidential candidates showing up to “roast” one another.] And I noted the ease with which Trump shifted into humiliating Melania as a tactic to garner audience support.

When the audience laughed—and laugh they did, breaking for a moment the tension of that excruciating speech—they laughed because for a moment his target felt like a safe one. What husband would say such a thing if his wife weren’t in on the joke, right? And maybe they laughed because they slipped into the same blurred distinctions as Donald, using his wife as a lightning rod for their discomfort with him just as he jabbed at her in a pretense of self-deprecating humor.

But a wife is not mere extension of the man she has married. Make no mistake: that was spousal abuse on display last night, as Trump commanded Melania to stand for the people laughing at him making fun of her. When he admitted that he had not warned her in advance of the humiliation he had planned, he used her own loyalty against her and cornered her into either immediately absolving him or making a scene at a hugely public event.

Continue reading “what has once been seen cannot be unseen”

Percussion

Interior of a grand piano

Percussion

My marriage was a master class in musical absolutes.
With lessons like:

1. Every true composer must first be a pianist.

The piano is a percussive instrument
same as a drum, he told me,

manly as any silverback thumping his chest.

2. Only symphony or opera, only what the plebescite deems “classical”
merits the name of music.

Listen to this pop tune:
(sneering at the repetitive bass thumping of techno or house,
the snare solo interrupting the rock ballad)
Can you imagine any sound more emasculated?

3. Composing is not an art form for pussies.

Not when You unzipped and whipped it out
was highest praise for writing a concerto.
And to believe his own vision mangled in performance

by flesh-and-blood musicians?
An erection attacked by a thousand paper cuts.

4. I understood:

To make macho sport of penning duets for Cello and Tenor
was a blow struck at childhood bullies

at jocks who called out “fag boy”

at a mother’s drunken boyfriend who’d pressed a gun into small hands
at a firing range—cold steel to toughen up

what hours at a keyboard threatened
to make soft.

5. I understood at last too:

(once ordered to my knees, bare back turned)
(hearing the strop pull softly from its satin case)

In such man’s logic, any woman’s body could itself become
drum.


 

Movie Matinee: A Series of Unfortunate Admissions

I suppose this doesn’t qualify as much of an admission—seeing as how I’ve written on this subject before, albeit briefly—but I adore and despise the romantic comedy genre, in equal measure.

From the romanticization of stalker behavior to the gaslighting of every leading lady, romcoms are the adult version of “he only pulls your hair because he likes you.” They’re stories snatched straight from the playground, dressed up with schmaltzy soundtracks and marketing targeted to women under the snarky diminution of ‘chick flick’.

Cuz not only will Hollywood not make us decent movies, society’s gotta mock us for taking enjoyment in those scraps we are offered. [See also, for a book-centric analysis of this soft bigotry of the romance.]

My next also!not!shocking! admission?

I find hating romantic comedies part and parcel of enjoying them.

In fact, “Once you’ve mocked romantic comedy clichés, you are free to indulge in them” is itself a pervasive romantic comedy cliché, as Chloe Angyal once pointed out. (By the by, Dr. Angyal is both an active and vocal feminist critic…and herself so romanced by the romantic comedy that she wrote her dissertation on the genre, and its relationship to post-feminist Hollywood feminism.)

One of my favorite mock-worthy clichés is the obligatory makeover of the heroine.

Pretty-Woman-rude-shop
Julia’s pre-madeover look: Underwear as outerwear, held together with safety pins.

The Ur-Romcom in this respect remains Pretty Woman, a flick my college roommates and I used to watch over and over in our dorm room—but only up through the shopping scene, after which we would each drag our sartorially-satiated selves back to our desks. Athough newer movies have done it differently, none has done it better.

1999’s She’s All That, which holds its own place in the makeover pantheon as Most Glasses-Removal That Were Ever Removed*, even paid homage to these roots.

shes all that
Self-referential romcom mocking: Achievement unlocked. 

[*I acknowledge this film’s status, even as I maintain my own soft-spot preference for the glasses-removal scene in the Australian delight Strictly Ballroom: where our heroine is enticed to remove her glasses—and apparently cure her own nearsightedness for the remainder of the movie??—not because she will look better with them off. But because she will dance better.

Nothing says “two left feet” quite like 20/20 vision, I guess.]

Now, to see a truly genius act of romcom makeover-cum-gentle self-mocking of its own tropes-cumPretty Woman shout-out—all served up with a side order of genre gender-bending, no less!—for my money, nothing comes even close to this scene from Warm Bodies, a Romeo-and-Juliet retelling in which the House of Montague is played by zombies.

Including our undead hero: Continue reading “Movie Matinee: A Series of Unfortunate Admissions”

Regarding Mothers

[CN: suicide attempt]


sargent_mother and daughter
Mrs. Fiske Warren and Her Daughter Rachel, by John Singer Sargent (via)

I have been pondering, of late, these words from Bethany Webster:

“The most insidious forms of patriarchy pass through the mother.”

I have been pondering these words (and the essay they title) so much, in fact, that I am having a hard time writing about anything else. At the same time, I am not ready or willing to write about my mother.

Not yet.

Maybe not ever.

I don’t write to my mother either, not any more. Not since she returned the last letter I sent her, a card for Mother’s Day three years ago in which I wrote: “I know things are rough between us right now. But I believe we both love each other enough that we will get through this.”

She returned that card to me a few weeks later, after the patch between us had become so rough—at least for me—that I needed space away and stopped replying to her phone calls. She returned the card via overnight delivery, together with two typed pages of violent and hateful anger. The viciousness of my mother’s letter was palpable even in the skimming I gave it, unwilling to take on the hurt of a more careful read.

[The other reason I didn’t read it carefully, I must explain, was that her FedEx arrived on a morning I hadn’t expected to wake up. I was too preoccupied figuring out why my latest suicide attempt hadn’t worked to give her letter more than a once-over glance, checking to see if it provided any motivation for me not to try again.

It did not.]

I tossed the FedEx envelope and its contents atop a stack of random papers on my desk and forgot about it in my flurry of other concerns. If I had succeeded at death in that third and final attempt (it occurred to me much later), the letter from my mother would have been easily found by anyone searching my room for desperate answers. In place of the farewell note I did not write, one might have found the letter I barely read—and drawn their own conclusion.

I’m glad I didn’t burden my mother with that.

Continue reading “Regarding Mothers”