On the Fall
I never wanted the summer to end until the summer my father hanged himself over at his mother’s house in June. Then I wanted to tear into school and lose myself in its structure of classes and learning, but it was too late, impossible to pay attention. The summer of 1974 was a liebestod. As a literary term, the word refers to erotic death or “love death” where two lovers consummate their love and soon after die. I lost my virginity with a man about my father’s age a few weeks before my father’s suicide. Those two events fused in my then fifteen-year-old mind.
Love and death. Love and sex. Death and sex, variants on a theme, all inextricably intertwined as one. Sex a hundred times, a thousand times, a hundred thousand times with hundreds of strangers never a balm make. I remember a butterfly in the stomach feeling just before the start of school the summer I turned into a perpetual adolescent, insatiable for escapades, a glutton of sensation, all to stave off grief.
It has been a dry summer. The trees and grasses are preternaturally brown. Pine cones have scattered on the lawn. The deer have crossed the highway to shear my hostas into nubs. It’s been fall a week now, a long time away from the summer when time stopped. A Rouge Vif D’Stampe plumps on a walkway in the garden, near the spot where I buried my mother’s ashes with my dog. The pumpkin’s girth and vibrant orange color promises pies and soups to overwinter unsympathetic ground.
St. Francis admonishes, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love.”
I wanted to be loved all my life. By my mother, who’d hole up all night in her bedroom devouring The Colossus of Maroussi rather than parent me. By my grandmother, who’d revert to the Royal We, her deflection when I’d done something outrageous to get her attention. By my father, who I wanted to stay seated in the chair in the side yard and do what a father was supposed to do; namely, read your kid a book or talk to her instead of immediately asking for her mother. By my husband, who I want to turn into a reader who loves reading and will listen to all my stories. Maybe we’re better off not sharing that.
Call me a tyrant of love. Love me here. Love me this way, that way. No, hold on, change it around, take my hand. A writer I know sent me a copy of her book and signed it, “I am holding your hand.” Well, I didn’t want her holding my God-damn hand. I wanted the dead to rise from their sepulchers, or in my mother’s case, rise out of the garden where I buried her ashes with the body of our dog, and come and apologize. Or in my father’s case, to push the stone slab open, and like Lazarus, rise from vault No. 67 and come and say,
“I’m sorry, Kempe. Sorry I hanged myself and left you with Maud Ellen!”
Love me the way you were supposed to then, all of you, God damn it.
Love me now.
See Here, Shithead
You thought it was a joke? The sex part appealed to you? I did it again. I went to a meeting, opened up, allowed myself to become vulnerable and tried to tell my story. The story about the fifteen-year-old girl who gave away her cherry a month before her father committed suicide. You interrupted shithead. “I want to read that story,” you said and the whole room laughed and I had to sit through the laughter, wait for the sound to tamp down before finishing my share. I desperately needed a meeting. Reeling from my first weeks in grad school and surrounded by brilliant young writers, I felt hoary and exposed.
“I didn’t mean to make a joke. I just wanted to lighten it up,” you said when I spoke to you after the meeting.
“It’s not a joke,” I said. “That was my life.”
I get you, shithead. You want a sexalogue to go with the drunkalogue? You want to hear about the drinking and screwing and eating up a storm, the razor blades and Phenobarbital and fucking strangers, huh? I get you. You’re doing what I did. You’re dissociated, using humor to cover your own discomfort, but you’re doing it at my expense. If I’m the sacrificial lamb, so be it. I understand the need for laughter in the face of anguish. Laughter’s tonic lessens pain. I use humor in my blackest tales. I give the reader a break.
Header photograph © K Weber.
Painful stories! Very well written. How are you?