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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
"The Strength That Comes From Without," by Laura Jane Faulds
Portia Wounding Her Thigh by Elisabetta Sirani, 1664
A total stranger once looked me dead in the eye and told me I will only ever be happy if I follow love. Physically, he meant. Around the world.
I took his word for it. "Okay!" I decided. As far as auguries go, this one seemed up my alley. And down it, too! Both for Laura, and from her.
Maybe somebody should do this (him?), but I won't anymore. Why wait 'til tomorrow? The love that matters most is the one nearest by. Nobody (but him?) should even have to walk a block, for love.
Live inside the love you got; the great loves of your life are the ones who live inside. The loves in your blood! Obviously. You can't get much closer than that.
Since I was a little girl, I've wanted the veins on top of my hands to look more like my Grandmother's. They pop out. When I was a little girl, I would press down on them for kicks, because it scared me. I felt like it might kill her. My Mom's, now, are like that too. Matrilineage! Something in all three of our veins is exactly the same. You'll never know what it is- it's blood, I mean, but also a lot more. It's the greatest, sweetest secret. Look at the love that lives in your blood, and you will see: there is no shortage, right here, of what you really want.
And my veins are getting bigger every day.
My Grandmother has always said she loves me best; years ago, she'd tell it straight to my baby cousins' faces. They nodded gravely; in this family, we believe her. I know a great deal of that preference comes from my being the only daughter of her only daughter: Matrilineage! But also- and I only just see this now- it is because she sees so much of herself in me. And she, like me- or I, like her- is the type to believe that "to be like she," is the very best thing to be.
1. Mini-cakes with strawberries on top and that gelatin; she would feed me these as a kid and I would pick off the pectin. Custard tartlets from the Portuguese bakery, with the burnt brown spots that look like pizza-cheese, but the pastry cracks beneath your baby-teeth like you are eating a bird's nest. Warm cans of Pepsi. Palmieres, which maybe you call Elephant Ears, but we don't. Rings on all her fingers and those furball earrings. Sweet teeth!
2. As a kid, visiting my grandparents was the most glamorous treat. They were French and wild. We would drive round fast and I didn't have to wear a seatbelt, which sketched me out, but I went with it. She'd show me her gold teeth, and I thought it was fantastic.
My Grandmother started smoking when she was like eight or something. Her Dad died young from inhaling cannonball fumes. A thousand bottles of perfume, as I pored through the blue album of old photographs, their lace white edges- that's my favourite book of all time. My grandfather in his youth is the most handsome man I've ever seen. He was a mechanic and drove a motorcycle, with her in the little sidecar, like 101 Dalmatians. Her gift was for whipping up filthy parodies of popular songs, wicked-quick. She sang them to her children.
3. In this family, we are rewarded for displaying an unearthly strength. There is no sickness we say. But I also have a Dad, and from him I've learned that the truest strength is that which comes from admitting weakness. My Grandmother is remarkable because she is too strong, if there was such a thing, though I've learned from her, that there is not. "The stronger, the better," she preached- and if you live by that: one day, all the weakness will be gone.
The tragedies we create within ourselves, the pain we force ourselves to feel. Of food, dudes, fame or hunger or the lack thereof. The heavens I have dreamed for, and the sorrow I've willed upon myself for their having fallen flat. I push it: to give myself something to write about, I guess. But if you want something to write about, live today. Everything I ever could've conjured up- and more- is right here.
And my veins are getting bigger every day.
When I was a little girl, I became very sick with pneumonia. I lived in a hospital for the month leading up to Christmas; I was driven to get well because I didn't want to miss out on Santa. I saw his reindeers on my rooftop once, and the Easter Bunny hopping down the stairs! I recall those moments so clear, but my memories of that December are vague: wheelchairs and hallucinations, a fuzzy pink nightgown with quilted paneling at the chest. Only one photograph of me was taken: a Polaroid of this small pallid elf- me- with a man (or woman) in a Tony the Tiger costume clasping at my shoulders. I weighed forty-seven pounds. I appear less than thrilled.
But mostly, I remember her. She was there. She got me well.
I am twenty-four today, and my Grandmother turns eighty-one in December. She lives in a hospital. I can't make her well, but I can make her happy at least. She is in no pain, but itchy from the opiates. A hundred of those pillow-shaped bags full of what looks like water but isn't are plugged into her blood. It's morphine and an epidural and a hundred others. If death is close, you must tell out the best stories of your life. They live. No story is a burden.
When I was in the hospital, my little pal Caitlin came to visit me. Her birthday was Hallowe'en. There is a Polaroid photo of the two of us standing by my old kitchen fridge, pretending to eat dog food out of the can. Yesterday I looked her up on Facebook.
There's not much to do in a hospital, but be in a bed. You have to get creative, with the bed; only lazy people just sleep. Caitlin and I jumped and jumped. On the bed. We jumped! My grandmother sat and watched, "spotted us," probably she laughed and I caught the glimmer of her gold teeth- so rich (!), I thought- out the corner of my eye, and probably she clapped, laughed, sang, wished she was jumping too. I wished she was jumping too.
The crabby nurse came in and chastised my Grandmother for letting us. She said it was unsafe, and that I was too sick to jump- as if there is such a thing! My peppery, courageous Grandmother told that bitch a thing or two. About jumping. The finger-wag, the tooth-slash. We jumped! We jumped until we didn't feel like jumping anymore, which is the only time a person ever needs not to jump.
Here is the most perfect metaphor, for who my Grandmother has been for me. The woman who taught me to always jump on the bed, even when you're hardest-up. And to yell like hell at all the dumb bitches who ever tell me I shouldn't.
Back at the hospital.
My mother and I each hold one of her hands. I am on the right, there is a chair there and I call it the "sweet spot" for a nice joke. On her forearm is a gapey gash that looks like spilt red wine. It makes my shoulders sting. My cold hands upset her. She wears many rings.
"Three generations," winces my mother, because she is corny like that.
You don't notice it so much on me, because I'm filthy and sharp, but I'm a hundred times worse. Soppy and schloppy and I have to run and cry in the corridor. Hospitals smell like gunk and everybody is either crying or dying or both.
My mother is the most benevolent human being ever to have lived. She massages aloe-cream into her mother's back and so I hold both my Grandmother's hands to compensate. DON'T CRY LAURA JANE! Stop crying. She looks me dead in the eye, and says into my eye, the name: "Marcelle."
That's my Mom! Marcelle. "I love her soooo much," she says, quietly and sick. Soppy old me I start to cry; "I love her too."
"She's my daughter, and she's your mother!"
"Yeah! We both have reason to kinda like her a lot!" I laugh, and she laughs too. Mom hears none of it, but I tell her later, in the car. She cries. I cry too.
"Good" and "bad" will change a lot in your life- every other day, it seems. But beautiful is stable. Beautiful is always beautiful, and beautiful will always be best. "Three generations"- it was the most beautiful moment of my life. So far!
The nonsense-heavens I will dream for, and the fear of their falling flat.
My Mom and I have not had an easy time, figuring each other out. I've always been such a jerk to her that it has scared me out of wanting a daughter. "What if what if what if--" Two sons, I say. My maternal instinct kicked in when I was like, twelve- but I've been so terrified! Of getting stuck with a babe as big of a bitch as I was.
But oh Baby, God- I'm sure she'll come round in the end. If I did, any girl will. I want to have a daughter, so she can be a part of our cool team. The only foursome in the world I'd be honored to call myself the Ringo of.
My Grandmother asks me if I'm working, and I only just see now- like, now-now, this very instant- it is because she never could. When she was twenty-four, she was a mother of three. I say "I'm a writer!" and she is happy to hear it. Imagine if she'd lived in another time, what she could've done. My mother and I are bound by how we both have done it for her. But also for ourselves.
"Everything you do will be beautiful and fantastic," my Grandmother tells me. She's never read a word I wrote; she has no idea how hard for me, it still is, to eat. She doesn't know my mornings, my days, my ways. But still it means more, and it means something truer coming from her, because-
You can't get much closer than your own blood. My veins are so big.
I forget what her last name was before she married my grandfather, but I always remember it in my head as being Arc-en-Ciel, which means "rainbow" in French. Who cares what the truth is? Whatever her last name may have been, Arc-en-Ciel is better.
Tragedy is circumstantial; death is not a tragedy within itself. I wish I would have told her, that it is okay to die. That it is not weakness; it's stronger than everything. I'm going to write down the story of her life one day.
Slam shut the book. It all has to end sometimes.
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