Jabberwock

I am not an evil person, but I do evil things.

My fingers tremble for the first time after our hundredth time. I am sitting on the edge of a bed that isn’t mine, idly grazing my hands over the coolness of sheets that I myself would never choose.

He never says anything about me smoking in his bedroom.

In their bedroom.

I buy the cigarettes for this. I buy a new package once per month. I smoke two cigarettes and I throw them away. Recently I have thrown them away in his trash can, the one just outside his garage door. It is between an apple tree and a basketball goal, its backboard lowered for his children.

I don’t like smoking, but I do it for the aesthetic. It gives my hands something to do, and it gives me a reason to linger. I have recited, absurdly, the same poem in my mind all day. Now I let pieces pass my lips.

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. . .” This fills the silence briefly.

I spent a great deal of time psychoanalyzing myself. Why did I stay? Why didn’t he ask me to leave? He never looks at me after, nor I him. When we face each other he looks just past my eyes. I stare at his lips, which I have never kissed. I imagine that they might be soft, but his tongue would likely be too forceful and wet. He would be an insistent kisser and I would sigh, exasperated, into his mouth. I wonder if this is why he does not kiss me. His lips would be permanently smudged with my favorite red. I bought it on a whim after we began, but it is not for him. I wear it even when he does not call.

I hesitate before leaving and he clears his throat.

“I don’t love you,” he offers gently, as though this revelation will offend me. He says it apologetically and I feel a flash of anger.

“I’m glad to hear it,” I respond honestly through the smoke.

He pauses. I’m not certain what he was expecting, and this makes me uncomfortable. This thing works because he is predictable, if not a bit boring.

As a husband he is this way, and as a lover he is this way, though he is thoughtful in a way that could almost be too much.

I should clarify this. He is not my husband. I do have a husband.

He is perfect.

R. is my husband of fifteen years. We have two children: J, who is 14, and L, who is 7. R. is currently the primary breadwinner, housekeeper, and caretaker. He attends every sporting event, remembers every birthday and anniversary, and kisses all of the boo boos. Or he did, when the kids still called them that. They go to him for everything.

Now I take care of doctor’s appointments, vacations, bills, spring cleaning, and all of the small forgotten (some might say unimportant) things. I sound bitter. I am not bitter, but since I was placed on leave (paid) this is the role I fulfill.

Some might call this thing an act of desperation. I wish I had thought more about it. I’d like to say that it is a cry for help, but it isn’t. It is something to do. An annotation that will be marked in my life somewhere between picking up the dry cleaning, killing someone, and meeting the girls for hot yoga.

We stand in silence in the dark for a few moments more, not knowing what to say. I’m not sure if this is ending. I would be alright if it ended, I think.

I grab the cigarettes and head for the door. He follows slowly, and I wonder if he’s trying to think of the right words for this finale.

I want that moment.

I turn to tell him that I’ve had enough, but I don’t get the chance. He presses his lips to mine and turns on his heel.

Shocked, I drop the cigarettes. I don’t bother to pick them up. I wonder if he will find them. I hope she might.

R. greets me at the door with his eyes. “Hey hon, how was your workout?” He asks. He is staring at his phone as he does. I’d like to say this with scorn, but him looking at his phone doesn’t have the impact that my secret does.

“It was fine,” I sigh. I sit on the couch beside him. I wonder if R. can smell him on me. His cologne is soft and nothing that R. would wear. If he notices he doesn’t say anything.

“Well I’m going to make dinner,” R. says.

We don’t eat dinner together. When I was working my shifts were sporadic and I would end up eating slumped over the sink or in the car. They ate together. They sit at the table and I take my dinner to the bedroom. R. comes and retrieves my plate and I brush my teeth.

He comes to the bathroom and puts his hands on my hips, pressing himself into me. I moan playfully.

“You like that,” he teases. I nod and moan.

This will lead to nothing, so I don’t mind the play.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” I hate this question. It isn’t always tomorrow, of course. It has been, are you ready for next month. Next week. Now the day has come and of course I am not ready.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!”

“Yep,” I lie.

As the team speaks—and I have been given a team, which worries me—I hear nonsense. Perhaps they said, “open and shut” and they likely said, “mistake” and “measurable harm.” What I heard was, “One, two! One, two! And through and through. . .”

My hands are idle and I begin drawing our names in large bubble letters. I place my name next to R’s. He can’t sit next to me during the proceedings, but he will be there in the gallery.

The short story is that I had two brain surgeries. One was successful. One was not.

No, I was not under the influence. No, I was not tired.

I was distracted. It was not intentional. In spite of what the family claimed it was not intentional. Yes, I had an unpleasant exchange with the patient prior, but she was difficult.

Yes, I was angry about the exchange. My credentials are—were—unmatched. She had no right.

But no, it wasn’t intentional. She went fast and they said she didn’t suffer. I don’t know. I was shocked and people freeze. It happens all the time.

Right after I stood trembling in the theater. It had not yet been cleaned but it was painfully sterile. It wasn’t silent—I’m certain it is never silent—but I couldn’t hear a thing. He came in from obstetrics. We were only friends then—not even friends. We saw each other occasionally in the halls and rarely our patients were the same. But we were nothing.

He was there and then we were something. He wrapped his arms around me and I was falling. I had never been a damsel before and suddenly I was.

He is in the gallery now, too. Behind me and to my left. R and the kids are to my right.

The team doesn’t think I should speak on my behalf, but I have to.

It isn’t a memorable statement and the words that I need haven’t been invented yet.

“I’m so sorry,” is all I remember. I am looking at R. when I say this. His eyes fall to his lap.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?” I hear, right before my sentence is handed to me.

I am exonerated, but this does not mean I am not guilty. R. used to say this. I was found not guilty, but I am not innocent. The judge says this, I think.

There are sobs from the gallery. The family is there, pale faced and grieving. I’m not certain if I should look at them, but it doesn’t seem right to look away. He pushes through the crowd and holds out his hand. I catch the pack of cigarettes before they fall. His eyes are fire.

“Why did you leave those,” he asks. He doesn’t bother to lower his voice. My throat is dry.

It seems such a small thing now. All of this seems like the culmination of small things.

He balls his fist and I wonder if he considers hitting me. I wonder where she is. R. catches my eye and I hold his. He whirls around and I think he is going to tell him. I want him to tell him.

He doesn’t.

R. and I sit in the car after the kids have gone inside. We won, but it isn’t a victory. I will be able to work again in a few months, but I will be on probation. My reputation is ruined and her life is gone. I force myself to think of other things. R. is waiting for me to speak.

“I had an affair,” I state boldly. I own it in this way. It is the only thing I own.

R. takes my hand in his. Immediately. There are tears in his eyes.

“I know,” he says. My hand goes limp.

“We make mistakes. You were hurting and I wasn’t there.” I want to slap him. He was there. Of course he was there. He is perfect and I want to slap him.

“We’ll get through this,” he offers. I don’t tell him that I don’t want to “get through” this. I don’t know what I want and I don’t know why I’m angry.

I pull the cigarettes from my pocket and toy with them in my hands. R. tugs them from my fingers gently.

“Since when do you smoke?” He demands with authority.

“It’s something to do,” I state. He rolls his eyes pityingly.

“We have work to do, but we’ll get through this. We always do.”

R. leaves me in the car to stew in my guilt. My phone vibrates in my pocket.

I’m sorry. Does R. know?

Yes.

So this is over?

It should be. I still have my marriage. I still have my career.

I bite my nails, forming a new habit.

It doesn’t have to be.

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Fly In The Ointment

I don't want to: settle–
to be a pebble in your shoe–
Fly in your ointment —
Crick in your neck–
A scar you've gotten used to.

I want to: quicken–
Your heart and step
Ghost over your lips
Like a wine that must be
Savored and cherished.

I don't want you to sigh my name,
And clutch my wrist,
And tug me, begrudgingly
Back from the edge.
I don't want to see me
As you see me–
Another chore,
Something to fix,
A burden you'll bear
Because shifting my weight
Is easier than searching for
Something new to carry.

I don't want to be tolerated
With quirks you don't understand
And a life you don't agree with.
I want to be loved.

Lay me down, your burden.
You misunderstood me.
I want to be cherished
And thought of
And missed.
Do not rearrange yourself
Do not feign being.
I want to be
And to be loved
And a love.
It does not have to be you.

A Church on Every Corner

White and unblemished

Imposing and unwelcoming

Its doors are shut to me, a sinner. 

No matter. 

Were I inclined I could find another. 

They are whores in that regard–

One on every corner. 
They’ll make enough to please

Their master

But they’ll pocket more than their share. 
He is Janus faced, their god. 

He looks like them, because who but an

Old white man with flowing locks

Will condemn without mercy?
He is a he. Born into it. Male parts. 

None of this PC She-God bullshit. 

He’s a gun-toting American and he’ll

Smite the hell out of you for the hell of it. 
If you want Salvation you have to beg for it. 

Thank him for creating you. 

Ask him to soothe your hunger. 

He won’t answer. Not you. Never you. 
He will turn you to stone

Or maybe he won’t. 

(They speak for him)

His words speak for themselves, they say.  

You have to take their word for it, 

As they know the One True God. 

Every other is an imposter. 

His word is infallible, except when it isn’t. 

The other Words aren’t real

And those who believe in other Gods

Will spend eternity 

In hell. He’s jealous in that regard. 
You suffer because he wants you to. 

They’ll pray to him because it’s easy. 

They aren’t the ones who want you to die. 

He is. They are only acting 

In accordance with his will. 
He won’t answer to tell them they’re 

Doing it wrong. 

If he doesn’t say it’s wrong it must be right. 
They won’t spend much time

With eternity. 

Endless worship. 

Day in. 

Day out. 

Worship. 

Endless thanks. 

They will be ready for the commitment

When the time comes, they are certain. 
He is the recipient of their idolatry

Because he is formed in their image. 

In his absolute cruelty he is perfect for them. 

Because they who drink the blood

Of the innocent

And eat the flesh

Of the just

Are just like their god. 
Blood sacrifices make them

Only by blood

Will they be unmade. 

One Year Gone

In my recollection you are a boy

Younger than the rod against which

The baritone of your voice

And the stubble of your chin

Would be tested.
You are a boy with curly hair

And brown cherub cheeks,

And every time you leap from the bed

To the air

It becomes a cloud

And you become Peter Pan. 
In my memory 

We stand shoulder to shoulder. 

Your fearlessness is infectious,

And I pretend to be unafraid. 
Where are you now?

I gray and bend,

And you are still a boy

Somewhere, straight-backed,

Smiling and fearless. 
They say you are the lucky one

Young, encapsulated in time,

Two dimensional, your story written

By us, those who remain, while you

Appear, fleeting, only in our dreams. 
Most of the time we are lost

And we search for you among the stars

Come from Neverland, and tell us 

What you found there. 

Are you still who we claim?

Were you ever?
You are gone one year. 

Is there time where you are?

Are you the boy again?

Can the rod that broke you reach you there?

What alms do we send? 

Send us a story. 

Even your shadow will do. 

Better still: send the star as a balm 

For we who remain. 

The Pros and Cons of Having Children: An Open Letter to a Friend

You asked me for a list of pros and cons of having children. I have thought long and hard about what I would add to these lists.

It isn’t, however, buying a car, or a house in the sketchy neighborhood that everyone thinks might one day make a comeback. So here is my truth—it is not an absolute for anyone. It isn’t even an absolute for me.

The decision to become a parent is a life-altering decision that will make and unmake you over and over again.

People say that humans are resilient, and that we can bear a great deal. As a mother I can attest to the reality of this cliche. I was twenty when I became pregnant with Bailey, twenty-one when she was born. Her very birth was traumatic for me, and I consider myself splintered—me before Bailey, me after Bailey, and my mind after Bailey. My desire to be a “good” parent is obsessive and overwhelming. After all—humans are resilient, but that does not mean we do not break. You will break over and again, and people will forget about you—you will learn to mend yourself. It will be haphazard and you’ll lose pieces along the way. But something new and even more beautiful will replace what you’ve lost. You will still be yourself.

I wonder about every decision I make in regards to my children. Am I keeping them safe? Am I smiling enough? Do they feel loved? Do I say it enough? I wonder which of my decisions will send them to therapy. I wonder if they have a proclivity for self harm. I wonder how to protect them from the forces that act against them. I wonder if I am too hard on them. I wonder if I haven’t been hard enough. I wonder if I’ve provided the right experiences for them. I wonder if I’ve helped them love themselves. I wonder if they talk to me.

You think you won’t be that way, but you will. Whether homegrown or selected with love, your child is yours. Nature and nurture will collude and you will be responsible, largely, for what the child becomes. His or her expectations of life will first come from you. You will encompass his loves and his disappointments. You are his life-giver, and this is not a small act. It is the largest act you can perform—and parenting is a performance. You are “on” all the time. You will go to bed some nights wondering if you were “on” enough. You will often feel as though you have failed.

But just as often you will also feel pride, and you will know where you have succeeded. You can’t become comfortable in this state, because parenting is constant. They need you, always.

Sometimes you will want to fall apart and you will scream in your own mind that you just want ten minutes to fall apart without worrying about unseating the fragile image of stability that you have spent every waking moment for as long as you have been a mother creating.

You will learn the limitations of language, and it will make you angry. You will love them in a way that words cannot express. This is why language was invented, this love, and it is simply not enough.

There are no lists for this. But you only come this way as the being you are once. Whatever you decide, do so with the knowledge that, as with every other decision you have ever made, you cannot have an absolute. You cannot be certain.

America

You suckle at her teat though you’ve had your fill. You are engorged to the point of aching, but you 

Must have all of her. 

She is weakened under your weight. 

And under the weight of your father before you. 

She must have been beautiful once, you muse. 

You’ve never seen her, though. Not really. 

You’ve always looked past her and imagined

What she could be. 

You’ve done this for as long as she has been and now

You can’t see what she never was. 

Still, you have ruined her. Perhaps she had promise. Once, before your fingers grazed her

Body–already claimed but belonging to her–she was free and she was beauty. Only for a moment. 

From the moment you saw her you knew she must

Submit. 

You wrecked her. Now she bears your children–hungry, tired, huddled together. Their voices are weak–you have taken yours and left them nothing. 

You sneer at them. They should find their own way. But she is their mother. They see her scars–the holes you have made in her–but they love her. 

Her heart is skidding to a halt. You can hear it. She exudes an odor that she didn’t have before. Oily and sweet. 

You will drink yourself to death. You know it. They know it, too. But you keep at her anyway. 

You will go. They will to, too. No one will be left to bear witness to the mess you made.