Monday, December 1, 2008

back story.

The whole trip made me tired this year, before I even arrived. Thanksgiving.

My mother died two years ago, and my father remarried one year ago. I think he remarried in October. But it could have been September, and it could have been November. And that I can’t recall and don’t have any desire to recall, well, I don’t know what that says about me, but it remains the fact. (Right now I am being, what we call in school, an unreliable narrator.)

His remarriage happened like this: abrupt. He was in India on a trip. What I understand is that he had spoken with my mother’s sister, asking her, essentially, for her blessing to move on. Really, I think, he was asking for her to understand that he must. Then his brother posted an advertisement in the matrimonial section of an Indian newspaper.

He met the woman twice, I think. She is many years younger than he is. I learned he was getting married via email. The irony of it, though it is of little magnitude, is that I’d quit my job a few months earlier – that summer – in order to pursue writing full time. The first short story I wrote was about a widower who places an ad on an internet matrimonial site. It’s not so ironic. I knew my dad had been speaking of remarriage. I knew he would not date in the western way of courtship. But I wrote a story in which a matrimonial ad comes to fruition. I tend to write about my fears. I play them out in fiction. Just in case. A few months later, I had a step-mother.

I think my friend marcie had just killed herself, and I was devastated. I know she had just killed herself. Her death came on the heels of the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. She committed suicide by hanging herself. I have needed to write this down. To see the words on paper. I have an uneasy time admitting hard truths to myself. I have a hard time saying things that are or have been that I need to admit. Sometimes it is my own desires and feelings I cannot admit. Sometimes it is basic truths. Marcie hung herself. And this year, when the anniversary of that hanging passed, I tried not to remember – but how could I forget?

I almost had a fit when I received my dad’s email from way off in India. My husband may have thought I was loosing my mind. When I let myself stop to think of it all, I thought I was loosing it. I wanted nothing more than to stay out until 5 a.m. every single night like I was twenty years old. He just let me alone to do what I would do. I wanted to be as far away from who I was, to forget every part of myself, to forget all of my grief, to not process anything real in the world.

In the daytime, I was rigorous, scheduled. I woke up early. I exercised – even completely hung over, I made it to the gym, worked out, and spent the day re-hydrating. At home I got to work writing. Eventually, I got some part time jobs. Personal assistant to a poet (though she preferred to call me her intern because I suspect she had a complex about writers having assistants). Researching and writing a report for a landscape architect. Freelance writing for a local magazine.

When my dad first emailed that he’d be getting married, my sisters and I had all emailed him back asking him to slow down a bit. We, or at least I, thought he was holding off. One Saturday, as I was walking marcie’s obituary up to the local newspaper to turn in, I happened to call my aunt, my mom’s youngest sister. She delivered the news: So you’re dad’s getting married tomorrow. I felt my insides curdle.

Somewhere in those out-of-body, out-of-mind months, I made some very dear friends. Girls I still love and miss and crave in my life today as I am here in Austin, TX continuing to try to be a writer. And somewhere in those months, I also came to appreciate my old friendships in a new way.

I want to say it again. I thought I was losing my mind. But I guess it’s all a lot to take in. I had quit a career to pursue something creative and intangible; I was grieving a mother and then a friend and then trying to wrap my brain around having a stepmother young enough to be my father’s daughter, who doesn’t speak English and who, most importantly, is not my mother. I was so fucking pissed off at every single person and event and emotion. That is the thing I had the most trouble saying or admitting. I wanted to claw at walls, at lawn grass, at gravel, at myself. I was also being reborn in a way.

In school we’re not supposed to give our characters’ back stories if we can help it. It makes the narratives weak, I suppose. But here is some of mine. Strange jumble of 2007 and 2008. This year has also included: turning 33, training like a mad woman for a triathlon, getting into grad school, selling a house, starting an MFA program, moving.

Now it is the latter part of 2008, and I’m in Austin, TX. I went home for Thanksgiving, and I guess it sent me into a tailspin of remembering and reflecting. My father’s wife has finally been granted a Visa. Maybe that's what really sent me into a tailspin. She comes to the US in 10 days. My ears burn. My face burns. I have only spoken with her one time over the telephone, but my stepmother becomes real in 10 days.

When I walked into the house the night I arrived for Thanksgiving, the first thing I saw was an empty leather chair, the seat crumpled by the ghost of my mother, crumpled by her void. Later, there were photographs on walls and shelves. My dad is going to have to take down photographs of he and my mom. Remove his own back story to make space for the present action.

I brought a blanket home with me, one my mother knitted. First thing I did when I got back to Austin last night is curl up inside it. While I keep writing, keep working on my own moving forward, I’ll swallow the lump in my throat and be happy that he is alive and not the pale shadow of a man he seemed after his wife’s death.

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