I’ve been rereading some of the Microsoft word documents that I wrote; here’s one from the summer in Minnesota:
Alexandria was not Arcadia. My aunt, my Gertrude Stein, oh she loved me. She wanted my paper-thin shell, a mélange of white and pink, with a pretty red heart to boot. I was to be in her collection, all dolled-up and clever, with sweet words. “This is my niece, who writes,” she would point proudly, and the adoring generation would murmur while she, my aunt, would grow radiant in my illustrious shadow.
But I came and left, and she saw something of my raging ragged heart. She understood my fragility as a child understands a doll. She molded men as a craft, she found amber and called it gold– she honeyed me, cloying, to sickness unto death.
In a place this hot, the leaves can only hang as newly-amputated hands.
My aunt doesn’t know what to do with me anymore. I should have bottled these tears. Instead they fall every day like clockwork, this is where your rain is, Alexandria. I would slake your brown lawns and satiate your ten thousand lakes with fireworks too far to see on the fourth of July because my aunt doesn’t want to drive me to see them. I crumple the pillowcases into a heap when she asks to wash them. There are black half-moons from the mascara that I don’t wash away at nights. Expensive 400 count white sheets with French edging. I am brown skinned and dirty in the enormous spare bed. I’ve never slept in such a bed.
But uncle Bruce cares, I think, that I’m lonely here. He fills the days with grass and flowers, and pruning and trees and mowing. Raking the grass is like pulling my dog’s hair out during the summer, when she sheds big white-tipped clumps of it. I like to sit in the driveway and pull it out, make piles of amber rooted hair, which then blows into the woods. She likes it because I scratch her belly sometimes.
There are wooden stairs dropping off the lawn steeply to the water edge. They aren’t used anymore. There’s two fat spiders who decorated, I go there to smoke secret cigarettes and watch them. One caught a locust a few weeks ago. She didn’t eat him. By now it’s spindle-thin, and looks like paper mache. If you touched him he would crumble into fine locust powder, and there would be more tiny paper mache locust organs inside. Of course he’s dead; he’s been dead for two weeks. I’m thinking if some bourgeois artiste had made him, he would be perfect, dry brown legs curled painfully up in the most unnatural natural way (because that’s how he looks). Imagine if he really was paper. And we were told that underneath, there were tiny delicate dry organs that would fall to dust if you even breathed on it. What an accomplishment! The piece de resistance, they would cry, clapping their hands. The women would adore him, the young men would dream dreams of paper mache and fame.
I’m reading Graham Greene at present. It’s midnight here and the northwestern sky still hasn’t faded. Uncle Bruce says the aurora borealis are better than the best fireworks I ever saw. He says he’s going to take me up north where I’ll see silver birches. He says the tree bark is really silver, that it shines so you need sunglasses, that you never saw anything like it in your life.
I think about it all week. I think about when we had gold and silver spray paint, which I used one evening to paint the trees silver and their leaves golden. After that my dad said I wasn’t allowed to spray paint without asking. I wonder if it’s late enough in the year that the silver birches will have golden leaves.
We go sailing for five days. I quit smoking because Uncle Bruce doesn’t like it. From the boat we can see the northern shore, which is Canada. The trees are grey with green leaves. Uncle Bruce doesn’t understand why I’m so quiet.
One of the most disappointing things I ever saw was a star in a telescope, which just turned out to be a star in a telescope.
I found my mother’s diary in the attic at home last month.
“Sarah is crying again.”
“Sarah is still frightened without the lantern at night. It’s been two weeks.”
“Sarah is being difficult.”
“Sarah won’t stop crying.”
These people will take care of your body, but they won’t let you in. There’s an impasse somewhere that I haven’t figured out.
Meanwhile I go down to the field behind their house. It used to be a pasture for horses, Uncle Bruce says, but now the grass is up to my waist. There’s been no rain and it’s yellow, long acres of high static weeds that pull at my clothes and scratch my legs. It’s a shame that I’ve gotten so brown and there’s no one to notice. The field looks nice against the sky and I wish I hadn’t dyed my hair back to brown. It was almost white; I would have blended in like an albino mouse. I keep wishing for the days to go faster. They stretch interminably, blue sky blue sky blue sky long. I want sweet tea to suck through a straw like nectar, I want friends and my skin is thirsty for touch. These Scandinavians have chill grey hearts like coral removed from the sea.
I only go places in books anymore.
Downtown Alexandria is wide and sunned. The sky doesn’t look real. I’m falling away from reality here. I’ve got sun on the brain and in the eyes, which look lighter in the mirror since I’ve been here. I rip the packaging off cardboard boxes from Random House and Ingram. The new ones are usually clever innovative children’s books, with hard shiny covers in a variety of shapes. I mark them off the PO ordering sheets and shelve them in displays low enough that the expensive blue-eyed children will grab them with soft new fingers and expensive grandmothers will exclaim in delight and my expensive aunt will coo over the children and they will then buy the books for the children who have lost interest.
I sit on the floor by the oversized books section and open a book of aquatic life and examine the pictures of glossy coral. One girl comes over as I’m bent over the book on my lap. She wants to see, so I show her the hammerhead and the nameless deep sea life. She can talk. She asks me where my mother is, and I tell her she’s in heaven. She looks at me and then she turns and points. She tells me that her mommy is over there. I am stunned by the recognition of an existence as large as mine.
Dear boy, I don’t remember your name,
Do you remember when we played dress-up in the basement, with bright eyes and an apron for an Arabic prayer-shawl? You had such bright eyes. I laughed and laughed when you were an old man with an IV, shuffling to get me. You were just as scared as me down there. But cold places are always scarier.
I didn’t know him but maybe I thought we were the same because we were both skinny. His hands were like mine. When you sleep next to people you begin to breathe at the same time. That must mean something.
I wanted to kiss him hard on the mouth when he wouldn’t let me baptize him in the lake and I called him a jew.
What a funny thing to think of.