Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Beast

The title of this blog comes, of course, from a story by Henry James, a writer so cerebral that many find him unreadable.  All is allusion and moral ambiguity - bring it on, I say.  Anyway, the point of the story is that this guy, who thinks that something terrible will happen to him in his life shares this thought with a woman, and they spend many years musing over it.  She obviously loves him - to spend her life commiserating over his phantom misfortune - and only when she dies does he realize that the terrible thing he was envisioning has actually happened: that he could have returned her love, but didn't.

And so did I spend 26 years of my life - my prime, as they say - afraid of losing something that I never really appreciated while it was here.  Sure, I cherished the early years with my son - it was hard not to - he was like a magical being that every day brought me new wonder at his precocious mind and he was lovely to look at - with a clear amber brown gaze that even when he was a baby appeared unchildlike and thoughtful.

But when I had to release him out into the world, it just killed me.  Thinking of  him out there unprotected filled me with angst.  So I tried not to think about it.  That was easy enough - I had to work hard to keep our family afloat financially and to get ahead.  I was the sole breadwinner.  I was also only 20 when I had him.  So instead of confronting this world alongside him, I let him fend for himself.  And this was in the new country I brought him to.  As the years passed I understood less and less what he was going through.  I trusted in his intelligence and social aptitude.  I let teachers bully me into things I never should have agreed to.  And most egregious of all, I never got to know his friends.

When he died I found out what these friends thought of him.  Their response was overwhelming.  So many of them spoke of how well he understood them, saw into them, taught and inspired them.  How could he be that to so many?  How could I not know this?  Of course, I thought the same of him, but to others he offered the best of himself.  To me he often entrusted the worst.  Perhaps not the very worst.  That he kept to himself.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Case in point: I dreamed that my son is 3 years old and his grandmother let him wander out of the apartment (in a Manhattan high-rise) so that he would "learn a lesson."  We both went in pursuit and got stuck in the elevator, whereupon I woke up with the typical waves of dread rolling through my torso.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing and Life

I have always known I should write, but other than letters, emails and quasi-diary entries I have mostly resisted this imperative.

Literature has always been more real to me than life.  Growing up isolated in a foreign country, it taught me the language and it taught me how to live. It made me happy.

My first boyfriend encouraged me to write.  He said he knew I had it in me.  It was mostly a long-distance relationship, so I wrote him many love letters over the four years we were together.  When I didn't want to be with him anymore, he returned them and took his back.  He wanted to be a writer and thought his would provide good raw material.  I dumped most of mine in my grandparents' outhouse.  I couldn't bear to look at the childish handwriting, often veering off on a diagonal across the pastel unlined pages.  I never looked back, either to him, or the writing.

The writing that I did keep still feels like I could write it today.  I'm the same person I was at 16.  I haven't learned a damn thing in 30 years.  Not about writing, not about life.

Which brings me to life.  I never aspired to be a writer, because I had no personal ambition to speak eternal truths.  I thought if I could just be understood by one person, that would be enough.  I wanted an ordinary happiness - a lover, a child, an occupation where I could be useful, some friends.  For that I would forsake the eternal truths. That's the bargain I made with fate.

That bargain failed.

I kind of always knew it would.  Somehow, I knew my life would be spectacularly shattered.  That's why I made the bargain.  If only I was never too happy, I would never be in too much pain.  But life thrust on me something, which would make me so happy that I couldn't bear its loss.  My son.  And so I spent my life in fear of losing him. When he was a baby I would wake up paralyzed by a nightmare that he was falling from a height.  But I didn't lose him then.  My fears were lulled.  Until he grew up and refused to live by the rules, refused to stay safe, refused to accept an ordinary happiness.  Recently I started waking up again, with that paralyzing pain that spread from my stomach to my chest.  I tried not to think of him.  I tried to think of my petty happiness (or lack thereof) instead.

And now I've lost him.  And I know I made a false bargain.  If only I had loved him without fear, I would have had a happy life.

That's not possible any more.  So all I have is words.  They will have to do.