RUTA_WithWithoutYou_trP R O L O G U E

Glass

My mother grabbed the iron poker from the fireplace and said, “Get in the car.”

I pulled on my sneakers and followed her outside. She had that look on her face, distracted and mean, as though she’d just been dragged out of a deep sleep full of dreams. She was mad, I could tell right away, but not at me, not this time.

Her car was a lime-green hatchback with blotches and stripes of putty smeared over the dents. The Shitbox, she called it. We called it, actually. My mother hated the thing so much she didn’t mind if I swore at it. “What a piece of shit,” I’d grumble whenever it stalled on us, which we could gamble on happening at least once a day, more if it was snowing. Far and away the most unreliable car we ever had in our life together, it was a machine that ran on prayer.

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I am filled with a rage fueled by sadness. Rage like a sourdough mother, a lump of material from which my outbursts grow. I cannot adequately express my emotions. My spectrum is happy to angry. The points between, obscured. This sourdough mother journeyed with me from my Irish childhood and has accompanied me across two continents and through several long-term relationships and two marriages. Its raw materials are to be unearthed in the fights and arguments of my childhood, long forgotten, but somehow embedded in my subconscious, dormant but alive.

When I first read The New York Times write-up “Fiona Apple Faces Outwards”, I am struck by how deeply her transformation over the past seven years from big-eyed girl-woman to gaunt and isolated artist has affected me. Apple was always talented, but this write-up of The Idler Wheel encapsulates how Apple has transcended the fleeting pop stardom that is often offered to young, attractive female artists and has instead become a full-fledged musical auteur.

As the U.S. soccer team desperately played for an equalizer in the waning moments of extra time against Ghana, I thought that the outcome of the game and my reaction to it might make for an interesting essay. In fact, I was already quite certain of the general tone and themes that would be presented in a piece about either a win or a loss. They went something like this.

Scenario #1: Victory

In this version of the essay, Team U.S.A. ties the score and goes on to win in a penalty kick shootout. I describe the victory with cheesy, predictable platitudes such as: you have to keep on believing in yourself despite seemingly insurmountable odds and success ultimately trumps any hardships one must endure.

The essay then diverts into a deep, introspective tangent, in which I have the epiphany that life trudges forward with predictable monotony no matter how joyous a single accomplishment is. I go on to describe how unadorned moments comprise the essence of existence, not the occasional supernova of the ego. I end this section by stating a maxim, for example: After the flames of temporary glory have turned to ash, one must resume the search for contentedness in the small, poorly-lit corners of life.

This version of the essay concludes with me witnessing something outdoors, for instance, a bird landing on the feeder and pecking at the suet. I smile and bask in the enlightened perspective that no great achievement can replace such a moment of simple beauty and connectivity with the universe. And then winning a soccer match doesn’t seem so impressive anymore.

Scenario #2: Defeat

In this version of the essay, team U.S.A. loses. I am crestfallen, which prompts a comparison between following a sports team and being in a relationship. I talk about how, with both, there is a strong tendency to root your emotional well-being in an externality. Then, I equate winning with being in love and losing with heartbreak by writing something to the tune of: When times are good, you feast with the gods. In bad times, all the world casts long shadows. I complete the metaphor with a witty one-liner, such as: But with love and sport, even when you direct a string of obscenities at your beloved, throw the remote control at them and storm out of the room, vowing that this time you’re tuning out for good, you sheepishly return and give things another shot.

After a weak transitional paragraph, the piece assumes an angry tone and I lash out against the profit-driven, mainstream-media-controlled consumer culture. I construct a pointed argument about how the sporting industry is just bread and circuses and Team U.S.A. is a bunch of gladiators used to distract people from the issues that really matter.

I can barely contain my rage; I seethe and flecks of spittle fly from my mouth as I write about America being currently engaged in the longest war in its history, the thousands of lives that have been ruined by pedophilic priests, and the millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, among other topics.

In the following section, the tone shifts from angry to somber. I realize that, in a way, this loss is an awakening. I declare that I now understand the proper function of sport is to deflect reality and will never again buy into the corporate-hype advertising machine. The essay ends with me characterizing the masses as bovine for continuing to be duped by the sporting world’s high-production stagecraft.

Scenario #3: What actually happened

Team U.S.A. loses. My friend shuts the TV off quickly, before we are forced to see the other side’s victory celebration. We sit in tense, awkward silence for a few moments and I break it by saying, “Fuck it. Good thing I bet on Ghana.”

On the ride home I can tell I’m a little tipsy because whenever I drive drunk the car’s hood appears superimposed on the road. When I operate the vehicle in this state I’m not really driving, but rather guiding the hood in the appropriate direction.

I arrive home tired from drinking midday beers so I take a nap. When I awake the sting of defeat lingers. To deflect it, I go for a bike ride, channeling my frustration into climbing the biggest hill in the area. It is a 15 minute uphill charge of pain and sweat and grimacing.

Upon cresting the hill I turn right around and fly down at breakneck speed. I yell out, “Fuck you motherfuckers.” But I don’t really know who the motherfuckers are or why I’m mad at them.

As I’m riding I wish I had a pen and paper because I have a wonderful idea for an essay. I want to write about the absurdity of predicting how you’re going to feel about something before it happens.

 

I confronted eschatology too young. Although benign compared to some beliefs, my Catholic upbringing placed me at the sidelines of Armageddon—strange references to a kingdom come, the Second Coming, Judgment Day. I got queasy at the mention of the Book of Revelations. Sermons and syntactically-strained Bible readings led me to infer a tremendous destructive end to all life, human, animal, insect, plant. There were drawings in books, filled with fire, angels and demons, a sea of the damned. For a child, it’s impossible to reconcile a loving Father with one who will kill every one of his children with wanton violence. Children also don’t grasp metaphor.