As usual I am confused. Is public weeping good or bad? If being empathetic leads to depression, is empathy still okay? Is there anything known as “healthy anxiety”? If you become immobile on the sidewalk due to unexpected gravity, the kind that glazes your eyeballs with clear honey, are you still obligated to answer questions? People who are impolite need to be reminded, right? The ones who we don’t know, yet there they are, competing for air and space, saying nasty things…are we required to tell them to go to hell?
I know a guy who grew up in Hollywood. His step-mother and father were big stars. He had a lot of trouble fitting in. Too many drugs, drinks, blackouts, but he’s fine now. I am always on him to write a memoir and he says, “Yes, you are right, but it’s harder and harder to remember.”
Maybe it’s difficult because the memories are bad. Which is another question: is it acceptable to dwell upon bad memories?
My answer is I sure hope so, because I don’t have any choice in the matter. Bad memories have chosen me…second after second, day after day. “You’re our guy.” Yep, I’m their guy. My memories come to me like a Debussy or Ravel piece and it’s as if the hoofed Apaches are guiding me across some great divide, but I’m untouchable and things like love and fear are unimportant, because what is happening is breath inside a space suit, tones unknown upon a pillow. No dancing to carry me away, only the slow burning of my perplexity and eternal doubts.
It was a school day and these two kids were spending the night with us because their parents had been killed in a car wreck that morning. He had been a teacher who taught in the same department as my dad, so my mother collected the two children at school and brought them over to our house. When I got home they were in my room playing with my stuff, but I could tell the girl was only going through the motions. Her eyes reminded me of two paralysed stones from a coal mine. My mother called me into the kitchen to help make sandwiches and she told me what happened. They had been on their way to a job interview and at a crossroads a truck hit their vehicle and killed both of them. This was the first time I had the opportunity to visualize what decapitated meant. I double checked with my mom on the meaning and then she said, “Don’t tell the kids what happened. All they know is that their parents were killed in a car wreck. They don’t need to know the other stuff, okay?” I nodded and put the food on TV trays.
I only vaguely knew the girl since she was a grade ahead of me. The boy was five. I was eight, so I could identify with both of them. We were sitting in our screened-in porch watching our only TV channel. At 5:00 there was the local news, then at 5:30 the national news, and at 6:00 more local news, but the second local news was without the puff pieces about the library and community picnics and chickens. No, the second local news was the hard news: the crimes, the scandals, and the political fights.
We ate in mostly silence and then when the 6:00 o’clock news started my mother said, “Let’s cut off the TV for right now. We can watch later.” The girl threw a fit and started crying. “No, please, please, please…I want to hear about my mom and dad.” There was something very deep inside of my mother that came outward through her brown pupils. It was like a feminine laser emanating from her heart and it entered inside the eyes of the girl and they stood there connected by a beam of light that illuminated the whole room. “Alright,” my mother said, “we’ll watch.”
The announcer went through the list of happenings and finally came to the car wreck. He named her parents and said they had two children. The other driver was drunk and uninjured. Toward the end of the story he added that “both occupants of the car were decapitated and killed instantly.”
We sat there for a while and when the commercial came on the girl asked my mother what did that mean exactly, decapitated? My mother said, “Well that means your parents felt no pain. It’s sort of a different word for sleeping.”
I slept on the couch that night and the boy and girl took my double bed. In the morning the grandmother picked them up and I never saw them again. Whenever I see the word decapitated, I first think of the girl and secondly Jayne Mansfield. Of course, the word decapitated has taken on new significance over the years, but I have tried, as best I can, not to let it interfere with my memory of the girl and Jayne Mansfield. You probably never could have guessed how special the word decapitated was for me, but again it is one of the stepping-stones across the divide; guided by the slow burning of my perplexity and eternal doubts. It is my fate…all of these feelings; these eight kinds of thoughts. I wonder if I am really here and what is all of this stuff happening around me and when will it end? Those women look like ships…ships thrown around by the pucker of giant waves, the kiss of deadly water. The storm is reflected in my eyes as I think about my mother. The men are robots crushing the earth. I know their names. They are written on the ball sockets of my morphine. Thoughts from afar are coming into shore and they collect in the backwater, waiting for me to arrive.
Everything started with decapitated. It was resting, just there, in a spot that others could not see.