empty room

empty room

Feb 27, 2014

just to be asked...

sitting in my kitchen, annie lennox on the little boombox we keep on the counter by the window.  everyone else is asleep.  and my mind turns to a few nights ago when a man sat in the chair next to where i'm sitting now and asked me about my mother.  this song was playing and i relayed the story of when i visited my mother for the first time in Tennessee. it was just after her 55th birthday and the chemo had really started to kick in.  one evening, my stepfather made good on their deal to buzz her head once the drugs made her hair begin to fall out.  they walked into the kitchen together and he sat her down on a stool, wrapped a white sheet around her thin shoulders just like a barber, and turned on his clippers.  i walked away.  i hid in the guest room.  i told myself that, as an artist at least, i should witness this.  i told myself that, as a woman, i should witness this pain, know this horror and keep the record.  i walked down the hallway and crossed the living room.  i stood for a few long, horrible seconds in the entry way to the kitchen.  i saw my mother's head bent over like a school boy's, head shorn and bowed obediently.  i can't tell you what happened in my heart then.  i can't tell you.  english doesn't have the words...

when she came out of the kitchen, she went straight to her bedroom and put on a men's white button-down shirt.  then she went to the bathroom and put on dramatic eye make-up and lipstick.  Yummy Plummy by maybelliene.  her favorite.  when she walked in to the living room and sat next to me on the couch and sighed, i said, "mama, you look like annie lennox!"  she smiled wide and i wanted to cry but i smiled wide right back.  i smiled wide and wanted her to just go on feeling beautiful and bold.  i didn't want any standard to dissuade her-  she WAS beautiful and for once in her life i wanted her to not argue with it.  not even in the hands of cancer and the horror that it offers.

i told this story to a man in my kitchen the other evening and he might actually be the only man i've ever known to sit and listen to these things.  this is an important happening.  it flips my ideas all around.  so few people have let me speak to them about my mother's death.  even fewer have initiated that discussion.  how can i explain how necessary it is to speak about this horror?  i can't shake a person's shoulders hard enough.  i can't cry loud enough.  i can't scream and kick and beg enough.  there is no language for it.  there is only the moment that sweeps in so unexpectedly...  an annie lennox song playing in the background, wine in the glass, an open ear, an open heart, a willingness to let another human being know they aren't sitting at the table alone, and that there are enough scars between the two of us to be able to look at each other squarely when she sings, "this kind of trouble's only just begun."

and then a breath...

and then she sings...

"i tell myself too many times 'why don't you ever learn to keep your big mouth shut?'"...

and my entire being shakes.
goddamn...  the secrets i keep.
i feel so embarrassed sometimes.  and so often, i wonder if i've said something wrong...  done something wrong...  maybe was just BORN wrong...  inefficient or defective...  made for a different world...

and i know none of that's true.  it's the old training kicking in.  the training which has me rushing to smile wide and proud and warm in those difficult moments...  in those moments when i KNOW that's what the Other needs to see...


to be asked about her...
just to be asked is a tremendous thing.




and when she sings, "i don't think you know what i feel.  i don't think you know what i feel.  i don't think you know what i fear.  you don't know what i fear."

i'm tired of having so many opportunities to say the same thing.


to be asked is a tremendous thing.

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