Having night terrors? Waking up screaming? I will stay on your couch so that you can get to sleep before it gets light out. All the people about whom I really care hide deep wounds. I handle news of rape and abuse with cool and calm. Tell me your tragedy and I will be the most mature person you have ever met. I am a mountain of strength.
There was one day not too long ago when a friend of mine had a minor nervous breakdown while shoveling. That friend did not want to stop what they were doing to acknowledge that they were crying. I took their shovel and led them into the house to sit down, drink a beer, and talk it out.
When Lisa and Stan conceived Noah I couldn’t believe that they would bring a child into this world, this nightmarish shithole full of wife beating assholes and rapists. Nonetheless, there he was — a manifestation of Lisa and Stan together. My two favorite people in the world had become a squirming hunk of flesh with impossibly tiny hands and feet. When Noah would cry inconsolably for hours it always seemed like he was crying for all of us. If I could take care of him while he buzzsawed through everyone’s skulls with endless screaming maybe it would be okay for everyone.
The worst part about counseling friends with sudden irrational mood swings is when you think to yourself that maybe they aren’t that irrational at all — even if only for a fraction of a thought, the first kick of a fetus of an idea. You know that you thought it, and any advice that you give after that might be a lie. It won’t be all right. Everything will be awful forever. Your life will get harder and harder. Every time you get your head above water a hand will press down on your scalp and all you will hear is muffled laughter while your eyes burn and your lungs tear at your throat to breathe. That’s what life is really like, unless you manage to lie to even yourself.
I’ve been out of sorts since the wedding. Marsha is a slender lily trying to grow past remembered torments. Renee grew a shell so strong and thick that only a rare alignment of booze and loss revealed gaps in her armor late on the weekend. For a brief moment in the car she needed to be saved from everything all at once, to not be alone, to have someone else take hold of the reins. It was just a missing wallet, just a single straw drifting onto her load, but it broke through something for a lightning flash of emotion. She had come to Minnesota — come home to Minnesota, and nothing was wrong. Nothing had ever happened, so what was the big deal? Lisa was just happy that her sisters — her only family of note, the people in the world she loved the most, the two women who tear her to shreds as a plow turns earth — they were here. They were in reach, and she needed them to be family.
I don’t know if Lisa got the connection that she needed. The wedding and the unspoken words pulled the puzzle pieces out of her fingers as she fererishly locked them together. Renee spent her vacation with one foot in the bottle of Maker’s Mark. Marsha was hidden behind piles of work that had been joined by piles of wedding work. Everyone fought and hugged and ran and came back together and then suddenly Renee and Dean were on a plane back to Hawaii and Marsha and Boot were gliding to Colorado in a large Audi.
I don’t really have a part in all of this except that I know everyone’s story and I never said anything. I had thought that Renee hated me, but she hugged me hard when I saw her last. Marsha said thank you a million times for taking pictures, even though I got so drunk that I couldn’t hold my camera steady for the group shots at the the end. Lisa thanks me by being my backup mom, just like she was a mom to her real siblings.
In the past few months I have been cleaning mental house. This stuff has been there so long that I imagine it to be built in to the walls. It’s a tree in a cavernous pot, yet the roots have spilled out over the top and tangled themselves everywhere, even with roots from other pale trees growing in the dark. While none of these things are directly my problems, I’m figuring out that just knowing has an effect on me. That’s what makes it harder to pretend to be my normal, sunny, happy-go-lucky self.
The rest of the things in my life seem pretty absurd by comparison.