I’d like to just lie in my bedroom. Not this one. I fantasize about the one that I’ll be in – above some bar where I’ll wash dishes on Main Street in a small town no one has heard of in one of the less interesting United States – right after I run away from it all.
I sit down regularly to write my will – not in a histrionic act of attention-getting drama, but, I imagine, in a slow and methodical way. I detail every item I own and who should have it. I list out all of my debts and the corresponding items that can be sold to cover them, which ones can go fuck themselves, and I give addresses of people who should shoulder the burden of one or two. I politely dispose of all of my unusable items so that no one else has to – my credit card statements, old magazines, bits of string on the art shelf that I’ve always meant to do something with, but that no one else would see the usefulness of. I leave my daughter all my old journals and scraps of paper with notes – for the day when she seeks answers from my thoughts.
I write each of my children a long letter and tell them that I love them and that I envision their amazing future lives. But this is where I always stop. I can never get past this point. I know intuitively that a child is better off with a parent who struggles to think, eat, breathe, do right, keep going, find the strength or the right answers, prevent harm, or keep fighting the fight, righting the boat than with a parent who suddenly doesn’t exist anymore at all.
But I keep returning to this place. The need to disappear.
I want to go to a place where memories are ghosts who shake their chains at me in private, rather than in the public sphere of jobs and ex-husbands and school behavior meetings and internet communities where everyone else seems so fucking disturbingly fine.
I have no desire to kill myself. This is not a cry for help.
She told me she was pregnant on a Thursday. I bought her a yellow and white bouquet of Gerber daisies and lilies. A card. I gave her both and asked, “So? What’s the plan?”
We went to the doctor on a Tuesday. She was given the medication and told to rest. We all waited uncomfortably until her eyes became glossy and she started to giggle.
I stood on one side of her, holding her hand, her partner stood on the other doing the same. He was quiet, withdrawn. Anxiety was a cloud that hovered over our heads in the cold room as the doctor busied herself. I watched both through my eyes and from a place up and to the right, like a thought bubble. I kept grabbing myself from above and pulling me into my own brain, trying desperately to experience the moment. I saw the tube placed on the table and struggled to make an emotional connection to it. But nothing.
She sat on the exam table and the nurse asked, “So? What do you want to do for birth control then?”
Her partner mumbled, looked at the ground.
Papers were passed to her. She signed them in between sobs and giggles, eyes unable to focus. Two small sticks were injected into her arm. She was safe for three years.
I took her home, walked her into her room. I smelled damp decay and, as I helped her settle into bed, noticed the bouquet I’d given her wilting on her floor, still in its cellophane covering.
“You never put those in water,” I said.
“What are they for now?” she asked as she drifted off to sleep.
Three months later I got a letter from her. “I had to have the birth control removed,” it said. “It was making me sick. I’m pregnant. I’m keeping it.”
You call me on Sundays. We talk for fifteen minutes or an hour. You tell me about the meatloaf you made. You excuse yourself off the phone by saying that your ice tea is melting. You ask about my children like you would about the recent rainstorm. You wonder about my life like I’m a stranger you’ve met in the lobby of a doctor’s office.
I don’t ask about you. I know that if you’re going to tell me about your life, it’ll be in sudden, furtive whispers. One second you’ll be thumping your chest about how long it’s been since you’ve had a cigarette (14 months), a drink of alcohol (six years), or any drugs (ten years), and the next second, in the middle of your sentence, you’ll say hurriedly and in a hushed voice, “I’ve been saving up my tips. I almost packed my stuff the other day.” And I’ll know that he’s left the room.
I know he’s in the room most of the time, though.
“Do you ever read my writing,” I’ll ask.
“No, not so much. Not much of an opportunity,” you’ll say too loudly. Codespeak for: I’m not allowed to get on the internet. My every move is watched. I still have one addiction left to battle and I’m not ready to face it.
“You made it out, Gloria,” my therapist said recently. “Most people never do. You graduated college and left an abusive marriage when all the odds were stacked up against you. You made it out by a fingernail.”
“I was raised to believe you respect children at all costs,” said my ex-husband. “You were raised by abusers and were taught that’s the way things are. Now, now! Don’t get defensive. You know it’s true. This is what you’ve told me.”
“Fuck him,” said everyone else.
These are things you’re not supposed to write about, I tell myself. These are the thoughts and experiences that will get you in trouble, that belong to other people. You’ve no right. No one wants to hear about it anyway.
Philosophy and feminism and politics and anecdotes and humor – especially humor – are the fires that keep the coyotes at bay, I say. They are shields and they can be so tiringly heavy to hold. Sometimes I just want to put them down. And sleep.