Monthly Archives: January 2015

Meaning and Thought

In my literature seminar this week, we read out loud a poem about a beheaded goat. “Song,” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, is this horrifying work about darkness and violence and a poor slaughtered farm animal. The class had the usual discussion of tone and theme, of the deeper meaning of the poem. Was it about the boys who killed the goat? The girl who owned the goat? Was it about the goat himself, who only gets a gender when he’s with the girl? Was the real meaning responsibility? Growing up? The duties of boys versus the duties of girls? Everyone around me was talking excitedly. I looked down at my notebook, and I had a very difference image in my notes.

The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named

The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after

The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair

Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.

These lines spoke sex to me. The goat was a metaphor for the girls sexuality, or moreover, her virginity.

Some boys

Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.

The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they

Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school

And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.

These lines spoke violence to me. But beyond the obvious violence, there was something darker. The boys took the goat from the girl. They took her virginity. They raped her.

What they didn’t know

Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,

Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen …

Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song

Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

These lines spoke responsibility to me, that the boys would always have to live with what they had done.

I didn’t get it, how no one else could see it. The sexual overtones running through the poem. The great violence of the boys. The passiveness of the girl. The need of the world to protect her from the trauma, to make it better, to get her a new goat with an intact head and pretend it had never happened.

We all want to pretend it never happened.

In my undergrad, I would have run from this text. But I didn’t run. I looked at my notebook while the other students talked about everything BUT what I was pondering. I looked at my notebook, and I convinced myself I was wrong. That I had had a bad read, colored by my own experience. That I was damaged somehow, that I couldn’t see the things everyone else saw. Though I did see why they saw the things they saw—I just couldn’t change my own opinion. I couldn’t unsee what I had seen, but I couldn’t convince myself to speak up when no one else would agree. When I could be wrong.

I wondered why that was my natural instinct, why I’d fallen back on that, the need to have the right answer. It took me so long to learn that there IS no right answer, and now I was defaulting to this behavior, this staring down at my notebook and not saying what I really thought when I was so excited to think it. And then I figured it out. I let myself become complacent. I let myself fall back into my old ways, let myself stop connecting with people, let myself stop using my voice. I hadn’t made an effort to meet people in my new locale. I waited for them to come to me, and they didn’t. I sat alone in my room for ninety-nine percent of semester break because I had no money and no friends to do things with. I told myself I was the same old me.

I’m not.

I started to raise my hand, but the discussion had ended. I missed my chance. I closed my notebook and shoved it in my purse and looked around the room, considering whether I should talk to anyone. Whether I should talk, or put my coat on and sling my bag over my shoulder and walk out of the room like I did every class last semester. I put my coat on and walked out of the room, saying goodbye to the one person I knew. I pressed the elevator button, alone. As I stepped inside and pressed the button for the lobby, another student came running towards me. I normally would have let the elevator doors go, as they were almost closed, but I stuck my arm out and forced them open. I had seen her during class, across the table, and I had pegged her as an older student. A student like me. We walked together to the subway, this new acquaintance and I, exchanging life details.

I went home happy, assured that I was not the same person I had been, that I was still the new me I had worked so hard to build. And I saved my notes, and I saved the poem, and I decided to write my paper on them. Because my thoughts are important, and people should know them.

http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/song

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Forgetting (Never One)

The bathroom floor was littered in black dirt, the kind of dirt that held on forever despite the best bleach scrub. The walls were streaked in mildew and other substances that couldn’t be defined. Numerous customers and homeless people and god knows who had sat in this very spot, in this very bathroom. How many of them cried? My tears burned as they slid down my face, as I sobbed my heart out into the knees I held clutched to my chest. I was bigger, fatter. I was back at work. I was childless.

It was April 4th. 37 days after your death. And the first day where you didn’t consume my every thought.

When you first died, I thought about you every day. I started a Live Journal and blogged about you to the world. Day one. Day two. Day three. Day four. An entry for every day after you were gone. The most blissful moment of the day was when I first woke up, the moment when I pictured you sleeping in your crib in the other room. It was every morning, for a while. And every morning I would lie in bed and suddenly remember, the crush of the blankets too heavy against my skin, and the weight of my tears too much to carry. Every morning. From waking up, you consumed every moment. 

I planned your funeral. Who to invite. What to put you in. I ordered a box to keep your things in. I sat on our giant brown sectional couch and I watched movies. One was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I thought that you might like it, before I remembered that you would never see it. You would never watch a movie. I couldn’t focus on the screen then. My gaze drifted into the den, the place where we had assembled all of your things. Where the crib had sat, fully assembled, ready for you. Your things were gone, not there anymore. I pictured them in a dark, lonely storage place, behind a padlocked door. Cold. Lost.

I wondered where you were.

I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed about you. It was your first day of preschool. I came at the end of the day to pick you up and found you fingerpainting. You held your hands up to me with the biggest grin on your face; one was blue and the other green. The once white paper in front of you was covered in a mash of multicolored handprints, the colors blurring in many places to brown. A stranger would have found it ugly, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We drove home, you in the back in your carseat and me singing along to Muppets songs playing from the stereo. I laid the painting carefully on the passenger seat, and when we got home, you made me put it on the fridge. You wouldn’t eat your dinner till I did.

I woke up the next day, and the first thing I did was jump up and go to the nursery to check on you. Only it wasn’t a nursery. It was an office. And I didn’t have to check on you, because you weren’t there. You never would be. I thought about you all the time—what you would have grown up to look like, who you would have been, what you would have done.

On April 4th, I went back to work. I took the full six weeks of leave to which I was entitled, even though you were gone. I went back, and found a shoebox on my desk in the cash office. It was filled with all of my favorite snacks, a gift from my employees to help me get through the week. I sat in my chair, the chair I hadn’t occupied since the end of February, and I unwrapped one of the chocolate I found in the box. I crinkled the foil and threw it in the trash as I popped the candy into my mouth, savoring the taste of the melting truffle on my tongue. It was delicious; it was glorious; it was—

I blinked. Swallowed. You were dead. You were dead and I was sitting in an office chair behind a desk eating a chocolate candy as if you had never been there. There were no pictures of you to hang with the other manager’s children. No evidence of you other than my physical size and my six week absence. For that moment, as I ate that chocolate truffle, I forgot about you. I forgot that you were dead; I forgot that you were never coming back. I forgot.

How could I do that, forget? How could I move on, how could I never visit the storage unit where your things were, unpack them, love them like I should have been loving you? How could I go to work and move on and have a life and eat a chocolate and … forget?

Forgetting is a regular thing now. When I look at the skyline, I don’t always picture you with me in the city. When I watch a movie with a baby, or I see my friends with babies, I don’t always think of you. Sometimes I do. But sometimes I don’t. I’ve honestly lost track of the time that I don’t think of you. And I’m sorry. For that. For forgetting. And I’m sorry that I’m sorry.

I like to think that you’re somewhere fingerpainting, that your hands grew big enough to do it successfully, and that when you make a painting someone hangs it up on a “wall” somewhere. And someday I will see that wall of all the things you’ve done and be proud of you like I hope you’re proud of me right now.

You were my chance to have a child. I will always ‘have’ you, yet never have you. I will have a child, but never have one, I will say that yes, I was pregnant once. But I will never check the box for my offspring on surveys and online forms and background checks and tax forms. The total will always be zero, never one. You will never be one. And that, I won’t forget.

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Sometimes (In February)

I had the messiest car ever—had for years. It started with my longer commute to the gas station. I would eat food in the morning and deposit the wrappers in the backseat. And I started traveling more for work, additional things appeared. An extra coat. Random shoes. Pants. Shirts. Books. The runner’s badges from a couple walk/runs. For all I knew, there was something alive back there. The pile was so high that it surpassed the center console in height and threatened to spill over into the front. It got to the point where it was just too overwhelming to even consider cleaning. Of course, this meant that when it was time to install a carseat before our baby was born, there was quite a bit of work to be done. I didn’t dare ask the husband to help me. It was my fault, my mess. My obvious fact that I was happier in my car than my apartment.

The husband never rode in my car. I didn’t want him to. The car was mine. But I was more than happy to share it with our son; I just had to clean it first.

I waited as long as I could to tackle the project, ignoring the insistence of the husband, and picked the first semi-warm day in January to camp out in my garage and do what needed to be done. I picked my way, eight months pregnant, through a lot of disgusting items. Many times during the ordeal, I found myself wandering away. Out of the garage, down the block, getting air. I wasn’t sure how I had driven for so long with the car in that condition; I suddenly understood my need to drive with the windows down. At least five bags of trash made their way to the dumpster, with several more bags awaiting a travel destination of either Goodwill or the apartment. Exhausted, I never bothered to clean out the trunk.

When we found out our son had died, this cleansing was a moment I kept coming back to in my mind. That (then) sadly hopeful day, getting ready for a baby. The way I sang as I cleared the trash away, the way I assumed that he would just be there. That he would grow, grow up, grow out of the carseat. Sit in the front with me after he turned twelve. Start driving at fifteen and a half.  The carseat base I had worked so hard to give a clean surface to never actually made it into the car. Nor did the baby. He never rode in the carseat; he never outgrew it. He never sat in the back, or the front. He will never drive. I cleaned my car for him to never ride inside it. Lying in my hospital bed, I pictured that car, in the parking garage, with a clean and empty backseat that my son would only ever see from the inside of a box. I learned then to never assume. To never make plans.

Sometimes, when I see people with children, I get jealous. Not a mean jealous, not angry. Just jealous. I accept what I gave up to get a master’s degree. People tell me all the time, “You never know.” But I do. Know. And it’s okay. I will live vicariously through my friends. Wishing. Dreaming. It is hard not to have a child. Harder still this time of year.

Sometimes, I imagine what my life would be like if my son were here. Sometimes, in February, I like to pretend he’s still around. That he’s just away, at school. Kindergarten this year. That he’s in a big boy carseat, that I sold the newborn one a long time ago. That he will come home with stick figure drawings and graham cracker crumbs stuck to his shirt. Only I didn’t sell the carseat, it’s still in a storage vault somewhere that I have no access to. And my son is not away at school; he’s not in kindergarten; he’s not bringing me anything home. He’s dead. But sometimes, in February, I like to forget that fact. Just for a little while. 

My backseat is empty, and it always will be.

Carter feet

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On Being a Unicorn

One of my favorite quotes ever is one from Glee: “A unicorn is somebody who knows they’re magical and isn’t afraid to show it.” I remember the episode fondly—Season Three, “I Am Unicorn.” The whole concept of said episode revolved around the importance of being true to yourself, yet another vitally important life lesson taken from a television show.

I remember the first time I saw Glee. The pilot episode aired after the Super Bowl that year; quite honestly, it provoked what will probably be the most interest I ever have in a Super Bowl. I waited in eager anticipation and then it came on—a beautiful show about a group of high schoolers who could sing. The best part was, they were outcasts. One with a big nose, one with a stutter. One in a wheelchair, one who was pregnant. Together with a football player and a cheerleaders, the characters shaped their reality into this really cool thing, a group that could seemingly do anything. I had to wait a few months for the next episode, but wait I did. I watched it, and every episode after. There was something special about Glee, something that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. I sang along to pretty much every episode and bought many of the songs on iTunes.

The show went on hiatus the following December for the holidays, a break that would last until April. I watched the television and said, “The next time I watch this, I’ll have a baby.” It wasn’t necessarily about sharing the show, per say, with my child, but the magic of equality that it promoted. The inclusion. The idea that it really was okay to be a unicorn in a sea of ordinary horses.

My son never saw Glee. He never saw anything, really. He didn’t know what it was like to be included, or excluded for that matter. He gets to always be a unicorn, because no one will ever tell him he is anything else. I am not so lucky. After he died, the show became something else entirely for me. It was what I looked forward to each week, in a completely different way than before his death. I no longer sang along. The characters had crappy things happen to them, but they were still happy. I wanted to be happy. It sounds cheesy, but the show really kept me going. I even went to see them perform live. Eventually, I started to sing along again. To find music in a new way, in a way after my son. 

I stopped watching the show last year. It wasn’t that I didn’t need the happy anymore. It was more that I needed different things. I got frustrated that it wasn’t what it had been before. It came more about the ratings and less about the message of inclusion. Less about the idea that everyone could have happiness in some way. Less about being a unicorn. Today I was doing some work on my computer when an ad popped up on Hulu Plus—the original characters were coming back to Glee in the new season, starting this week, to “save the glee club.” I was intrigued, so I figured, why not? I went back to the beginning of last season and started watching again. I hit Episode 100 and broke emotionally, because the magic was back. I still can’t tell you what, precisely, that magic is. But I can tell you that it was one thing that helped get me through some pretty shitty times. The idea that there can be music in life, that there can be happiness.

Too often, I let people tell me that I’m just a horse. But today, as I watched Will Schuster turn off the lights to the choir room for “the last time,” walking away to leave only a single piano bench behind in an otherwise empty room, I remembered that I too am a unicorn. That I’m still a unicorn, that I will always be a unicorn. Sometimes, that’s a very good thing to realize.

Maybe Glee is still a little magical. And maybe I will continue to watch through the final episodes. Because any show that can remind me it’s okay to be me deserves to have my viewership until the end.

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