Entries and Exits
[part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4] [part 5]
A month earlier, I'm lying in my bed alone looking out the window. It's the middle of the night. I can't tell if I'm asleep or awake. For the last two weeks, since returning from a long trip far from home, I've been incredibly exhausted, practically unable to move. Just when I imagine I've fallen asleep, I'm startled awake by the sound of slow, heavy footsteps on the backstairs outside my bedroom. At first I decide I've mistaken the source of the noise. But when I realize I haven't, I become paralyzed with fear. I think, this is my fault. I forgot to lock Mady's backdoor when I looked in on the cats and now, someone is breaking into the building. Somehow I find myself standing close to the window. The sky, the stars and the city have disappeared. All that remains is a silent figure in white slowly ascending the stairs.
For several days after, I'm haunted by this image. The searing unreality of it is so stark I worry that it's an omen. I become apprehensive about the magic I've recently brought home from the Philippines; I become anxious over the consequences of having, while in Korea, unthinkingly assisted Santiago in a ritual performance before an audience who lacked the necessary shared symbolic order.
My mother would often tell me how she'd been born with a veil of skin covering her face. Shortly after her birth, the midwife who had delivered her lifted the membrane according to tradition and pronounced my mother a seer. This story was always followed by numerous others about growing up in poverty. A number of them were intended to teach me lessons about how she had been tortured by a hunger so damaging that, by the time she was a teenager, it had left her susceptible to tuberculosis, a disease which she then struggled with for the next twenty-five years of her life. Equally anguishing, she would tell me, was the lack of privacy she experienced from sharing home with seven siblings and an endless chain of newly migrated relatives.
Many years after my mother's death, her eldest sister (my favorite aunt), is still horrified that these are the stories my mother left me of their childhood. Even now in her nineties, she still never misses an opportunity to instruct me differently. Yes, they were poor but many others had much less. Instead of hunger and crowded conditions, she remembers Sunday dinners, warmth, laughter, and the beautifully crafted architectural details of the turn of the century apartments they once lived in (now long ago bulldozed in the name of progress). The only story that both sisters ever told me which was the same in every respect was about the premature death of their beloved father, a loss felt so greatly that it affected even those descendants born decades after his demise.
At first, when my aunt began launching her de-brainwashing campaign, I tried to get her to consider the differences between their positions, ordinal and perceptual. I would make the case that my mother had both lost her father and had then become seriously ill while still just an adolescent. But she would have none of it. So rather than take sides, I decided to let both sets of tales reside in my memory as different truths. And what I eventually came to learn from heeding both women's stories, was just how deeply my mother's gift of prophecy had become deformed by an early age. Although she never lost the ability to tell the future, she was also never able again to perceive it as a series of probabilities. After all, how could she? She had long ago lost her ability to dream.
I try to put this apparition in its place, away from my daily life. However, it continues to inhabit the quotidian at the level of an industrial hum. The phone rings, it's Acker. When I'd returned from SE Asia, I'd found messages that she'd called from London. But when I tried calling her back, I found that her number had been disconnected. Now Kathy is calling from San Francisco. I tell her that I was beginning to worry that she had disappeared from the planet. She tells me she's decided to return to California and that, in the year since she'd left the Bay Area, it was no longer possible to find a place to live in San Francisco much less an affordable one. I say that Christine Tamblyn, who'd also just recently moved back to San Francisco from Irvine, had already told me about the birth of this nightmare. Eventually, with the money Christine had been saving for her future, she'd rented an exorbitantly priced apartment in the Marina. "Well," Kathy says "at least she has a place to live. I can't even stay in the hotel I'm in past the weekend." We then talk about the city and its history as a point of destination for poets, artists, misfits, and perverts. Together we lament the end of an era.
The night before my father dies unexpectedly from a heart attack, my mother goes into a Greek mourning wail. The three of us are sitting at the dinner table. It's the holiday season and I've moved home in order to work and save money to go back to college. For once, we are having a peaceful dinner. My mother's actually in a good mood and is even making jokes. Suddenly, she stops eating and stares straight ahead as though someone's entered the room uninvited. Her eyes literally change. My father and I panic and start yelling, "what's the matter with you!" She doesn't respond. Instead she lets out a series of discordant sounds, first thin high-pitched cries, then full and open shrieks. Abruptly, she stops. Calmly, she turns to us and says, "I'm sorry, I'd don't mean to scare you, I don't know what's come over me." But, just as suddenly, she becomes hysterical again, her body and voice overtaken with the fear of impending doom. My father and I watch in helpless and embarrassed silence as my mother implores us to look up and see "that there is a dark cloud hanging over our heads."