44. pebbles smooth enough to suck on

A sudden change in perspective; a transposition of the pronouns “you” and “he.”

We sat opposite one another, our hands cupped around a small glass of whisky each—and there it was, an opportunity to tell you something I thought you needed to know. When things started to unravel, I began. When it seemed my life was coming to an end. But these are just words, of course; what I remember are moments of fragmented interiority, fleeting things that disintegrate when exposed to scrutiny. Let’s say I was broken. I no longer recall precisely how this felt on the inside; I know that it was dark and sinister and appallingly familiar. I remember the awful certainty that everything I’d ever tried to do, everything I’d ever undertaken to accomplish had been in vain. I forced myself to hang the laundry, to adhere to normal, everyday tasks, but it was like discovering that a curse had been cast upon anything I’d ever dreamed of in life, and all at once I understood it the way a child who has been taught to absorb guilt does when she’s hit her head or scraped her knee and, with the cruel logic of an inborn sense of the undeserving, accepts it as punishment for whatever she imagines she’s done wrong. You will never have this. Love, happiness, peace of mind: bright and shiny, and forever out of reach.

When things got so bad I didn’t know what to do, when I tried out the words “nervous” and “breakdown” in my mouth, maneuvered them around with my tongue like pebbles smooth enough to suck on, but then, horrifyingly, as brittle and jagged as the teeth I spit out in my childhood dreams—when I was able to say them, that these were perhaps the words for what was happening to me, that I was losing my ability to think, to pull myself out of the mud, that I was stuck on the bank, sucked down by the muck, sinking deeper and deeper with the waves lapping calmly over me, I asked myself: who do you run to when your mind is falling apart?

I wrote to my sister; I asked if she could come. I tried not to phrase it as a plea. Maybe this summer? I’ll get back to you, she said. And then I never heard from her again.

I began telling you this, and already I could feel that sense of despair that the family ties I thought would never be severed had already, in fact, been eroded by time. And I, as always, am the last to know.

But then something distracted you; you pursed your lips and summoned the waiter. I sat there, stung. I tried to explain. You had difficulty following me; when you finally registered what I was saying, you phrased it in workplace terms. When there is a problem, we look for a solution, you said. What would be a solution, you said. There is no solution, I said, it’s not about solution. It’s about a family legacy. Then if there’s no solution, you have to get rid of the problem some other way, you said. You have to forget it. But you don’t understand, I said. This is life, I said. This is how we’re made, I said. Isn’t that of any interest to you? Not really, you said. I’m a practical type of person.

Men, and women; fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. And you, who were always so uncomfortable with emotionality of any kind, later recognized yourself in one of the typologies. Your mother, a woman from modest circumstances; your father, a businessman too busy for his wife and children. What kind of a love could she have shared with this remote man, you wondered, but when she died your father let out the moan of a wounded beast. A mother who remains a mystery; who traded one currency for another, who disapproved of every girl you brought home. Who gave you the only love you ever knew. She’s after money, she said. And beneath that the unarticulated, insidious, in all likelihood unintended message: you are not loveable for who you are, for your weird, endearing humor, for your talents, your charms, your weaknesses. None of these things matter in the end, and you’re a fool to think so.

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