Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Linda McCullough Moore spends her time these days refuting heresy. Her most recent book is The Book of Not So Common Prayer. A new story collection, An Episode of Grace, is set for release in March 2017.
My tester asks me to take a seat in the waiting room while she reviews my score. She wants to see if I have missed anything. I want to tell her I missed my fifties, skipped that whole section of my life, lived anesthetized for a decade, ten years on autopilot — years you think will continue to replicate themselves, dull and identical, until you die. Then the serious aging starts, and you know your fifties as gold poorly spent.
Our mother never threatened and then hit us. It was always either/or. Plus, she struck us only when we were at home. It helped define the place. We could not have told you why she hit us at all — beatings, rash and random, born of a fury we could neither comprehend nor forecast — but we knew we were safe at Erma’s house.
Today I walk the shoreline only in my mind, when I so wanted to walk by the sea, to feel the wind, to walk through the stormy weather, unafraid. I’m “being held,” I heard them say. For my “protection.” My body and the rest of me, aged eighty-seven years, sit in a tiny cell with whitewashed walls. I might pretend this to be a cubicle inside a monastery were not the devil wailing in the corridor, making free with a man’s body, crying with his voice a pagan slander on the day, possessing a man he’s bought at some slave auction where souls are up for sale. The devil buys the soul and gets the body in the bargain.
Now that our mother’s living alone has started to give everyone pause, my siblings and I are gearing up for the battle over what to do next. She will not be asked for her opinion.
I’m at my mother’s funeral, as I have often been before in dreams and waking musings, though this time she is really dead, and here I sit, an addled orphan at an age where she and I might well have just decided we would continue along together till the end.
We pull into the driveway of the house where I grew up, or where I gave it my best shot. It’s cold outside, but it’s the kind of cold you do not recognize until you are back inside. So much of life is understood by comparison.
I’m driving on Route 91, going ten miles an hour over the limit, on the way to my divorce — or, at least, to its announcement. My husband, Jake, and I decided we would tell the kids tonight. We’ve waited way too long. Our marriage died of natural causes years ago. We are pretending our children will be shocked by the news, but we both know better.
I’m back in my hometown, staying with my sister Nancy, the hands-down favorite to replace me. For this first week my daughter, Rachel, is away at camp. A trial separation. Then she will come here, and we will both get used to the idea that she will go on living with Nancy after I am gone.
And later, years from now, my brother Ed will say, Remember that Thanksgiving? Everything was perfect. He will be referring to this Thanksgiving, with its car accidents and nursing homes and cemeteries and families and turkey and mashed potatoes — like the batch in the styrofoam container that will be discovered in the far back reaches of the fridge near Christmas, a little green and very dry.
People think that crazy is achieved when one day the gale-force wind makes a final, violent tear, and your little craft slips its mooring. Oh, no. It is achieved by you, who, one knot at a time, untie the tethers, whimsically at first, and then with some — or sometimes no known — purpose.
I have walked the few blocks down to the pond on campus tonight because I read in the paper that some Buddhists from the local sangha are going to free the souls of a lot of people who were bombed at Hiroshima.
I know the life story of every man who has so much as hammered in a nail at my house. This is not my doing. I’m disinclined to delve too deeply into the depths of anybody else’s dire experience. I’ve got my hands full with my own.