The Thing Is…
by Ellen Bass
…to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
The thing is how can a body withstand this, indeed? Can I learn to love this life? Mary, where did you go? Why did you impart strength one day only to sap me of it the next? Is there a God who hears me pleading help me, help me, help me, over and over in the middle of the night like something broken?
The thing is I now don’t care how many people hear me scream and moan and cry. I don’t care how ugly it all looks to everyone. I’m sorry, mom.
The thing is I am sapped of energy, of hope. I can’t do it anymore, I think, and then I do it some more. I live for the hours between and around and instead of Jonah attacking. I have bite marks, bruises, hair ripped out, my nose feeling like it’s been smashed into my brain, sore spots all over my body. Only three times yesterday, he attacked. Only. Smashed glass and overturned chairs, cranberry juice dripping from walls. My tears. Sobbing. Shaking. Trapped.
The thing is it is 6:02am and Jonah is making noise from his room and we are alone and I am afraid of my eight year old son. I am typing quietly, pressing the keys slowly so he does not hear and stays in bed.
The thing is I am angry. I am irrationally angry at so many people. I am angry at everyone who gets to live their lives in peace and calm. On Monday I will arrive at work and there will be conversation of weekends spent “not doing much” or maybe going to a party, or just watching whatever sports game people deem important and fun right now. Of dinners and friends, of haunted hay rides and leaf-peeping and apple pie. Of blessed normalcy. I am angry because there is no chance of that for me now, not a snowball’s chance in hell of any of it, and I am envious, and sometimes bitter, and I walk among all these people everywhere and even if I share with them some piece of my story nobody who hasn’t lived it has any fucking clue and most don’t care anyway.
The thing is I am resentful. I am resentful that my husband has left me to pick up the pieces. I am resentful that Child Protective Services has come to my home and that they took pictures of my son’s bruises and interrogated me about what Andy did, and for how long, and did I know about it, and then lectured me about how it could’ve been just like Jonathan Carey, that he could have killed our son. Lectured me. Go up to fucking Saratoga and lecture him, I want to say. Go away. I need Adult Protective Services. Where the fuck are they?
The thing is I know Andy is not violent. I know CPS is painting a picture of him that is inaccurate, and ugly, and anything I say to the contrary makes it sound like we were in some sort of secret pact to silently abuse our son, and that pisses me off too. Andy is a good father. When we had decided to separate a few weeks ago I had no compunction at all about leaving him to be the stay-at-home parent in the house with Jonah and me getting an apartment somewhere. Of course now that is impossible; I am left to work full time and care for Jonah, and it isn’t fair, and I want to scream and throw a tantrum. I have a whole new appreciation for single parents everywhere, disabled kids or no.
The thing is Andy calls me 2 or 3 times a day and I try not to let him in on how hard it is here because I know he feels guilty and awful and I know he is trapped too, in this depression and in a program where they have to let him out for him to go — and even when they do let him out, they probably won’t let him help me with Jonah, at least not for a while. But yesterday when he called at 8:30pm I was lying in bed exhausted and empty and I told him about the day. Just hang in there, he told me. I’m so sorry.
The thing is I want help and yesterday there was no one to help me. My parents tried but they saw the attacks — my dad for the first time — and I think it shocked the holy living shit out of him. It’s one thing to hear me tell of an “attack” and it is something else entirely to witness it. At least they cleaned up the aftermath for me while I held Jonah. Other friends and family want to help but I really can’t have people here – it agitates Jonah – I even had to ask my parents to leave yesterday – and I don’t know what help to ask for. Please leave some deliciously prepared food on my porch? Please whisk me away from all of this? Please trade your life for mine, even for just one day? Please just don’t leave me, even though I am so incredibly bitchy and raving and messy and weeping? Please care. Please pray. Please please please.
My cousin D came over after I texted her in desperation; she was my savior, speaking to my parents, teaching them how to do holds, telling me that if I need it I can and should call a crisis center who can come and help. She saved (salvaged?) my day. The thing is even she cannot fix this.
To top it all off my sink is clogged and there is water and food gunk in there and the Drano didn’t work and there is laundry to do and dried spills to clean and another day to get through before I can escape back to the office and the people with their normal lives for me to watch, like I am an child pressing her face against a glass wall looking in at a party I’m not invited to….that I’ll never be invited to…
The thing is I am tired.
I don’t mean in the I want a long nap way, but in a soul-tired torpor fog way that feels like there’s horror mixed in.
The thing is I don’t care anymore how self-pitying or awful this sounds. I just don’t care anymore.
The thing is I have to believe that I can hold life like a face
between my palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and I can say, yes, I will take you:
I will love you, again.