Lives

Me

I had thrown my career in a ditch. That was a while back. I have been sponging on myself since, slowly depleting my reserves. This got my mother worried after some time. She closed in on me. My father started worrying a lot earlier than my mother did. His concern spent itself easily and he soon lost interest. Had I been a boy, a son, my father would have scolded me and kicked my ass. Had I been his son, it would have been easier for him to discuss alternatives to letting the Fates have their way with me, which is how he once characterized my “attitude”, before he gave up bothering at all.

I had been married. A death occurred. I had been with child but miscarried within a week from the funeral. I had been in my fourth month. It could have been worse. That had been my only pregnancy. Some might say that much of what one hopes to have achieved by the age of 36 had gone to waste in my case. But, I reasoned, you can waste food, or squander money, but not parts of your life. You only have your life and everything we do or omit doing is our life. We are not the food we eat or the money we earn. We are not the career we embarked on and, soon sick of it, abandoned halfway. We are not the love for the husband we lost, or the child we carried and then miscarried. We are our lives. And another thing: if I hadn’t tried to reenter the toil and moil of a paid job, that was because I had found myself happily unable to revive my interest in having a job, a job, I mean, with pay and responsibilities, with colleagues like ghosts in a Greek tragedy, and with a desk and a computer in a building you enter in the morning and leave shortly after (but never before) close of play. I thought I could do better. I thought I could do anything but that again.

“But”, my mother objected, “what about your hopes, your dreams when you went to law school, when you fell in love and married? You’re getting older, child. Like it or not, at your age a woman’s range of possibilities starts tapering fast.”

It came as no surprise to me that she had picked up “taper” as the fancier term to have all but blotted out variations of “reduce” or “decrease” or “diminish”, thanks to the media’s sycophantic eagerness to endlessly reproduce incantations used by authorities and institutions. My mother was a compulsive consumer of news, and she had become inured to the dreariness of the worst entrenched economic and financial items. But her using the word in a typical mother-to-daughter call to wake me up to the unembellished facts of female life came unexpected. It made me smile. She was wrong of course. Not having done something when it could have been done does not leave a void; it is replaced by what you have been doing instead, or, if you haven’t been doing much of anything, by what you have allowed to happen as a result. And this is true at every next moment in our lives. What I guess I’m saying is that, even if your hoard of eggs is finite (the egg issue being just an example), life, as long as it lasts, is infinite.

This is not what I said to my mother. Nor did I put it to her that she wasn’t doing much justice to herself. What I said to my mother was: “Don’t you worry about me, Mom.”

And if she continued doing that, there was nothing I could do against it.

My husband’s former father

Failing to carry my pregnancy to its full-term I had been unable to forestall the shut-down of my husband’s lineage. He was an only child. His father had a sex change when he, the boy who would become my husband, was 10, and, as I learned from what I was told and what I saw on photos and in video footage (and read in old society news clippings), turned into a rather ravishing beauty, with a wealth of dark hair, the natural movement of a model not trained but born to walk the runway, and near perfect sizes. Leery of “transsexualism” in adult men, which seemed to be spreading as if caused by a fast-traveling virus and many reported cases of which I secretly thought of as sexual perversion carried to its destructive extreme, I allowed for the possibility that in her case something had truly gone awry, besides the wiring, in her physical gender genotyping.

His mother died from years of secretive alcohol abuse shortly after whom he had always thought of as his father had completed her transition. The latter woman, whom they had tacitly settled upon he would call by her newly adopted first name, rather than address her as mother or Mom, died in suicide, disguised as a single-vehicle car accident, when he was in his second college year and had been made financially secure by the wealth she had amassed as a lawyer and that was to pass on to him upon her death. She left him a note, sent by delayed email, which my husband had kept and allowed me to read, in which she implored him, first of all, to keep the suicide a secret to the world, explaining that suicide was a very private affair and not the ultimate act of confronting humanity or society. “If you want to engage, don’t die by your own hand”, she wrote. “Taking your own life is a very poor way of making a point; to make a point you have to be around.” She explained what it was that made her do it. What it boiled down to was that she thought of society and perhaps, more fundamentally, the constituent human species, as incorrigibly flawed. She could no longer bear to see the obvious (specifying: “the mistakes, stupidities and dishonesty in many philosophies, the great majority of political and economic and scientific theories, most convictions and popular believes, and all creeds and religions, without exception”) all around her all the time and not be able to do anything about it. “It is true”, she reflected, “that there is purity in art, or some art, or certain aspects of some art, but I’m not an artist myself. To enjoy art, as I do, and understand it, as I think I do, but have no hope of ever creating art oneself, is agony. It can be endured only if and for as long as one is at peace with everything else, which I’m not, or no longer, for the reasons mentioned above.”

But my husband had said that he knew for a fact that she had believed to be the victim of a blatant personal injury, which had never really stopped to oppress her. “What I think really threw her”, he had said, “was that she had found it to be impossible to make anyone, even people close to her, including me, understand the nature, and, most of all, the flippancy of the injustice that had been inflicted on her. She had been able to dull the pain of it, by increasing her beauty and dating beautiful men, but she could not prevent the pain from violently flaring up from time to time, stabbing her with the realization of the impossibility of the wrong being expiated somehow, never mind the material damage she had said she had suffered because of it.”

“This”, he had more or less concluded, “had made her wary of society and utterly skeptical of human achievement and potential.“

“And it had nothing to do with her gender problem”, I had said.

“Oh no!”

My husband’s late mother

There wasn’t much that my husband could tell me about his mother, either from his own experience or from what he learned in the years subsequent to her death.

He was 10 years old when she died. Her life – as he had known it up to that horrible hour late one evening, when, trying to get to the bathroom, she collapsed and lost consciousness to never regain it during the 15 hours it took her to formally die in the hospital to which she had been rushed following what had impressed him as a raid on their home, a violent breaking up of their camp – he qualified, in hindsight, as a complete mystery. He knew nothing of her background, of how she had met the one who fathered him, and he hardly ever understood what she said and did or what made her say it or do it. He said he remembered his mother as someone who all but smothered him with her love, but who could not be relied upon for regular meals (although she made sure he was never short of calories, to the point where he turned into a rather chubby kid), a clean set of clothes which did not come from a pile of fresh laundry dumped straight from the dryer onto the bed in a spare bedroom, or any general order in his life beyond the constancy of her love for him. He remembered his father stepping in as much as he could manage in addition to his long working hours and his responsibilities as a partner of the law firm he was with at the time. His father ironed, cleaned the house, made a point of cooking full meals at least four times a week and stilled storms at school over his son’s frequent absenteeism due to his mother’s obduracy (demonstrated in sometimes acrimonious confrontations he remembered them having over the matter) to keep him home every time he complained of tiredness, or a vague feeling of queasiness in his tummy, or any vague feeling of a less than completely unencumbered existence at all.

He had never known anything about his mother, except that she loved him with a love to which she seemed to have directed all the energy that was in her, with no left-overs for his father or the profaner chores of motherhood. What we did not know then, he said, was that much of her energy had gone into obliging an alcohol addiction that she must have been suffering from, off and on, for years, perhaps even, as my former father had ferreted out by revisiting and reappraising some very disconcerting events in the past, for as long as they had known each other.

When he had reached the age at which he was trusted to be able to deal with such information, this is what he was told of how his mother had died. Her liver had stopped functioning. Blood which should have been circulating through her arteries had gathered in her abdominal cavity and flooded her internal organs. Mortal carnage was inside her. She had been in bed all day. The simple act of getting up to visit the bathroom drained her brains of the blood they required to keep her afoot and which her heart couldn’t get back up there in sufficient quantity in time. She passed out and collapsed on the bathroom floor. The abdominal hemorrhage was massive and uncontrollable. A blood transfusion was digging in a hole. It was estimated that her brains had been fatally damaged before she had arrived at the hospital. Even if the medical staff would have succeeded in resuscitating her she would have been vegetative for the remainder of what could have been called a life in the most forgiving biological definition only.

No, there wasn’t much that my husband could tell me about his mother. But what he said had come to her effortlessly dwarfed all that was to be known about her. “We loved her so much”, he had said.

My late husband

My husband died of a stroke, aged 39. That was two years ago. He was a microbiologist. He headed the neurobiological research division of a multinational pharmaceutical company. I knew everything about him that a wife may desire to get to know about her husband: he was averse to secrecy in any degree, in any context. But here is what I want you to know about him. I loved him. His normalcy and constancy seemed deliberate. He was very funny. He hated sports, but he danced well. He played the drums in a band. He wrote all their music. He composed electronic music as well. His music was nowhere near middle-of-the-road. From where his music was, not a fucking road was visible. His smiles were unattractive. They were so held-back.

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