Friday, August 7, 2009

"Deeper Into A Murakami Novel" continued

Every generation has their traumas, your mother had said. She had told you stories about her youth, how when she was a freshman at Boston University she cried out of home-sickness. Her room mate in the dorms did lots of drugs, especially speed, and would invite her out for walks only to then unintentionally storm off in a fit of hyped-up exercise enthusiasm. In the winters bomb scares were constantly called in and the dorms would have to be evacuated. My mother standing out in the freezing Boston cold at one in the morning, wearing a wool top coat over a nightgown with a pair of snow boots on her naked feet. Her exposed legs were getting blue from the unrelenting wind. She gave up after a year. Boston isn't a big city, and was even smaller 40 years ago, but it was threatening to swallow her whole. She never said as much, but it makes sense. She retreated to Maine, to a small liberal arts school where she made a best friend that my sister is named after. Your father named you--your middle name, at least--after his best friend, Robert Han, and she named Sarah after hers. They drove across the country together, Sarah and my mother, in an old VW Beetle and slept in the open air of the Badlands. The city threatened to swallow her whole, but she found in the woods of Maine the daring she always knew was there but didn't know how to use. The idea of my mother driving anywhere that took more than 5 hours to reach is inconceivable to me. What happened? Maybe the marriage to my father, maybe our births, maybe raising us, falling out of love with my father? Maybe realizing that she wasn't daring after all, just reckless that one time. That must hurt more than anything. A stone you could carry while the illusion was alive, but became unbearable once it evaporated.

Her father was pharmacist until he had the stroke. From my grandmother you learned he smoked one cigarette a day, and never finished the pack because the cigarettes would grow stale. He was very self-controlled, Gramsy said, as if boasting of the strength of her disabled husband. As if to remind you that he wasn't always like this. You never knew him before the stroke. The images you got from your father confirm the impression you'd already started to discern, that he was a patriarch in the worst way. The sort of man who did know how to love except by being firm and unyielding. Affection scares those sorts of men. The stroke destroyed the family, which was already tenuously glued together. Most of the children fled with their mother to religion, abandoning the formalism of the Catholic church for the intensity of an evangelical sect. Before all of this, though, he had been a staple in the community. Back when men worked real jobs, where their hands performed real tasks the success of which depended on their skill and dexterity. He would grind tablets into chalky dust to mix potions for his clients, would efficiently count out the number of pills moving surely and swiftly. He knew everyone by their first name, and would anticipate when they would be back for a renewal of their prescription. He studied pharmacology with diligence and severity knowing he would be responsible for the lives of his customers, that he would be placing in their hands the cure he had prepared for them. Nothing would go wrong. Nothing could go wrong.

When he had the stroke it was by chance that they injected his skull with some sort of concoction that alleviated the pressure on his brain. Some years they taught the aspiring physicians to perform this emergency measure, and other years they didn't. There was no consensus in the medical community at the time. The debate was still swaying back and forth and somewhere in the ebb and flow of this tide of scholarly opinion the physician learned to inject stroke victims in the skull with this medication. It was a fluke. Fate. You can't argue fate, but sometime you wish you could so that you can imagine would it would have been like if he had just died. If, instead of emerging from the coma, regaining his motility, and then slowly degenerating, he had just died. Would everyone, including you, have been better off? But there is no arguing Fate. It's taken a long time to say that. It will take even longer to be able to believe it.

You don't want to because it was Fate that took away J. Of this you are sure. Maybe it will also be Fate that brings him back to you, that leads you to him. But how do you know what is Fate and what is you working against Fate? You puzzle this out and think of the Greeks, of Oedipus. He worked so hard to work against Fate and all the while it lead him right to what he never wanted. Had you been like Oedipus all this time? So terrified of losing J. that all the safety measures, the stop gaps--that's how they seemed now, and the realization makes you sick. Sick to think that you might have actively brought to fruition the very thing you never wanted to happen. That this tragedy might be your own doing.

But that isn't tragedy, and you know it. Tragedy is Oedipus, wholly out of control of the conclusion his life would reach. Like reading a novel: you have no choice but to follow the story line, to fall in love with the characters and to hate others and to ignore the rest as incidental to it all. That's what life is: it's already written. You wonder if Oedipus felt like he was in control when he solved the riddle of the Sphinx, if that inspired him with a confidence to feel like he could break the curse, out-smart it, show that gender-bending prophet Tiresias that he was master of his own destiny. You wonder if the conclusion of his drama negates the content of his life until then. Didn't he feel pride when he vanquished his enemy, even if it was his father? And didn't he love his mother? Wasn't that love real? Why does there have to be a big joke at the end that makes it all futile, for nothing? Or a horrible, malicious joke?

You want to solve this riddle before you think about how to find J. If you go about it in the wrong way, you know, it will lead you nowhere you want to be. You will open a labyrinthine connection of what-ifs you will never be able to exhaust. So you need to choose a course and choose wisely. There is no going back once you set out. You laugh out loud. Oedipus must have felt the same way when he first heard the news of his Fate. He probably went out the jazz bar, gotten drunk, mulled over his options. He thought of his options, of proud Achilles: I have a choice, he thinks to himself, I can go forward blindly or I can master this. He goes forward blindly, but he still has his eyes. He doesn't know yet. He won't know until it's too late. Is this you, you ask yourself? Blind, but so proud of solving the Sphinx's riddle: Man, you declared, and the beast hurled itself forever out of the world.

J. never had any tolerance for your humanism and it strikes you as ironic that now, in an effort to find him, you are thinking like the very mythological figure that you least want to think like. It's arrogance, he would say, to think we know better. But we _do_ know better, I would insist. I see you cry and I go to help you, I would counter. And he would look at me and say with a cool serenity, you've also made me cry and because you could. In hindsight, you realize that knowing better doesn't mean you are better. Who said "to know the good is to do the good?" Another Greek. Certainly not Oedipus. Not Achilles, either.

So what do you do? What if Fate won't let you back to him? What if this is goodbye? And maybe he left for a reason. What if he found a way to plug the hole of his little abyss? Would finding him open it again?

You clench your fists and suddenly want to have a cigarette. Badly. Like you haven't wanted one in ages. Worse than yesterday. This was the second time. It had been easy to quit when J. was around. He hated the smell on your breath and you loved kissing him more than you did the cigarettes. Eventually it was easy to stop smoking, almost as if you never had. Now that he was gone, the pull of pleasure of pulling on a cigarette seemed logical. Maybe only one. He wouldn't know. Unless he were to walk through the door right now he would never know. You had thought this way only once before.

Drunk after a fight that found you storming out of the apartment and in the heat of the moment at one of the old haunts where your face was once easily recognizable you had been taken home by a boy. You left separately so no one who knew you would notice. Such cunning, you thought, and then the wave of criminality swept over every movement that lead to the stranger's apartment, soaking it in the stench of betrayal. He will never know, you told yourself. And then you got sick and after retching in this man's bathroom, apologetically excused yourself and hailed a cab back home. J. was on the couch reading Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra" when you burst through the door in tears and collapsed into his arms. You apologized as best you could and though he had no idea what was going on, he still held you, which was all you needed and more than you deserved. You wept for this: he was more than you deserved. That gnawing doubt was almost impossible to dispel.

Did his disappearance prove what you wished you didn't already know? That you didn't deserve him, and thought it took 5 years for him to discover this fact, he had now grasped hold it its truth and left to find an real equal, not a hack.
That's impossible, you think.

For the first time that doubt swells and then explodes into a mist that leaves a stain on the floor as it settles.


I can't believe my eyes. So I kneel and I touch the speckles of moisture. Flecks of it spread out in a five foot radius as if a water balloon filled with the jelly that the sonogram sensor sides over as it beams the ethereal blueish while silhouette of a fetus into the adoring eyes of the mother-to-be had been dropped from the ceiling. In fact, that's what this stuff was: not an artificial jelly, but the "water" that breaks when birth is immanent.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Really beautiful, mr. sex educator. ;)