It could be a witty insult. It could be the guy with anger issues tilting toward corruption, just looking for a reason to scratch that itch. It could be a barbeque technique. It could be the fate of all political endeavors, a trendy cookbook, the path to ecological destruction. Some wood burns long and slow. Some goes up like TNT; just ask the folks in Paradise. Candles on a birthday cake after a certain age. Gas lanterns in 1920s Paris. Forgotten love letters. The sting of fire ants. Revenge, like aspic, best served chilled. The toc of a clock on death row. Fallow dirt scorched by Monsanto. The torture of never knowing the truth about what happened to that girl. The longing of unrequited love. Offerings in the collection basket that won’t go nearly far enough. A rare sunset that melts into the horizon, preceding the green spark. Moon dogs. Snow haloes. Wandering half naked through longing and desertion. Betrayal. Makeshift camps wedged into the blasted grass between the freeway offramp and an asphalt parking lot. Hunger in the midst of plenty. The long road home.
“Get lost,” she said, closing the door with a dramatic flourish, something she’d harbored fantasies of but had never actually done. “Bye-bye,” she said, to the oak paneled door, bowing and backing away as if to attest to the gravity of the moment. She hadn’t thought about it. They had been talking, then hotly debating, which evolved into a rant, an argument, several accusations, and ultimately, a crossing of a line in a sea of sand she hadn’t known existed until now. She had tolerated the small crises when they arose, and met them with compassion. Still, when he tried to sneak something in: a package, a golf bag, a box of detritus, she called him on it. “Please remove it asap,” she wrote in dutiful, polite emails, paper trails of the millennium. There was always an excuse, high dudgeon. So much drama! For a lawyer, she expected something more. Something somewhat more dignified. The debris of one marriage, two marriages. It was too much. “Storage was never part of the deal,” she said, when she found a rental van backed up to the garage, discovering a deceit he had hoped to conceal until the deed was complete and then what could she do but protest inertly? “My brother in law moved,” he lamented. “It’s only temporary!” he cried. How did he manage to pass the bar? How had he survived this long in a liberal hotbed of assertive women and sensitive men? His mother had coddled him. His wives enabled him. “I told you. This is not your storage solution.” Then it came to her that all the times when she said no, he had feigned concern but had ultimately rejected her protests. In his head he muted her voice, her opinions dismissed as irrelevant. She didn’t want to be that gorgon, but now she craved to be heard, to bear the weight of relevance. “Go now,” she said gently, to herself, bowing and backing down the long hall toward the kitchen. Go. Now. To that place of lost treasure.
Finding my voice took some practice. For the longest time I wailed: I want to be a writer! Some very good friends said: So? Write. So? I did.
I once had a cra-cra writing mentor who—I learned later—had been using heroin while she taught us and which in retrospect makes so. Much. Sense. Anyway, that writing teacher was brilliant, which explains how she could teach while zonked out of her mind, or fighting the pangs of opiate hunger while she taught, which also in retrospect makes so. Much. Sense. Well, this brillint writer/teacher said: just write. Don’t’ try to make sense of it, your subconscious will connect the dots. Best writing advice I ever got and has served me well for years. Maybe it takes that reckless, dangerous behavior to get to the really good stuff, because after all, writing is a physical act. Writing is a physical act that brings the immaterial into physical being. No, it is not simply mental or imaginative. Writing. With a pen and paper, is really writing. If I were super famous, I would expect a landslide of email contradicting that point, but this is my process and one which incidentally, requires fine motor skills, and a good pen moving across reasonably fine paper to translate neural impulses that form into thought in one part of the brain while another part of the brain parses the sounds of Mozart on the Dot and finches in the hedge outside my window. Physical. Here. Now. Finding voice takes practice. If for nothing else, to discover belief. It takes familiarity with your own voice to learn to believe it, and to believe that others might believe it, too.
He said I love you by calling her back from her circle, by competing with her banjo, by holding her hostage to starving ghosts. He said I love you one hundred and ten percent and therefore you owe me something in return. You owe me I love you back one hundred and eleven percent. Can you dig it? She laughed, then sobered. Oh, you’re serious then, she said. Those words cut. Those words did not say I love you one hundred and twelve percent. Okay then, she said. I will shave back my performances by ten percent, cross my heart and hope to die. What else, he averred, there must be more. Well, she replied, I will cut back visits with my sisters by twenty-five percent. All together, that’s thirty-five percent more for you. That’s pretty good, hey? I can say I love you thirty-five percent more than before. Harumph! He tooted. I still love you more. Is that the best you can do? I’ve given you one hundred and thirteen percent of my heart and I still don’t feel your love. What about my children, she asked. I’ve given them back to their father for you. I walked them back to their paternal home. When do I get credit for that? Children belong to their father, he said. A woman belongs to her lover. She practiced saying I love you, I love you, I love you, in the mirror. Finally, she thought: the truth.
There was an apartment in my grandmother’s house where an attic would have been. Up the staircase, there was a kitchenette, living room, bathroom with a clawfoot tub, closet, bedroom, and screened porch. It was only used as often as we visited, arriving in a station wagon loaded with kids, luggage, and the detritus of a small tribe. The apartment smelled of dust and mothballs. It seemed enchanted somehow, a miniature house. We had never seen an apartment and it held a special charm to me. The living room was by far the largest space, with an overstuffed sofa, braid rug, ancient radio cabinet that might have broadcast reports from a faraway war, a window that overlooked the backyard garden and Italian plum tree. When we descended after five hours on the road, children scattered like marbles on a linoleum floor. We touched every room at once: kitchen, pantry, back yard, cellar, upstairs apartment. We slept everywhere too, sofas made into bed with sheets and chenille spreads, screened porch and sleeping bags. Family legend maintains that my parents lived in the apartment their first year of marriage: playing house in an attic filled with relics of austerity.