Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Dec 7, 2010

Before She Speaks Up, Let Me Tell You About My Mistress

In hotels, sometimes, at night, I get down and look under the bed. There's always nothing there. But I was afraid there could have been monsters. --  A Friend

“All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow with the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.”  -- Thomas Wolfe

This ain't gonna be easy, I fear. And not particularly pretty. I have decided to return to my mistress, a tarnished feminine jewel of the South. No need to whisper anything to Lynn. She already knows the whole story and the truth -- and she glances at me ruefully whenever it, this mystery date of mine, comes into her thoughts.

My long-left mistress is ill-tempered, sullen (especially on some of those breathlessly humid, rainy days), mysterious, a storm-magnet, a scene of majors disasters, addictive. People often love her at first sight; consort with her with relish and abandon; breathe in her noxious-smelling and river-tainted air; enjoy what she conjures up; swear they'll never ever want to leave. But, soon enough, after a strenuous (and likely an alcohol and cuisine-driven) approach-avoidance holiday, mostly, they (people) usually depart reluctantly -- with a curious spasm of longing to get back one day to my mistress on the Mississippi.

But, you must understand one thing. These people are the outsiders, las turistas. Northerners and Westerners and Eastern folk and Yankees, and what not, who have never labored to endure life in and with this culturally-confusing Southern belle-who-would-be-a-lady, to consort with her really, intimately, languishing and struggling and fussing (all at once) in her engaging lap. This female, that has been frequently labeled the face and place That Care Forgot, has just about vanquished me on a regretful series of memorable occasions.Yes, almost smashed, sliced, diced, smothered, killed, murdered, and buried me -- Rasputin-style -- time after time. Yet in many ways, too, like a rising sun, Care Forgot has often offered me life renewal, professional and personal, and has kept my aging head miraculously above water, while some around me painfully paddled, then dipped down wordlessly, silently, under the water line, breathed their last, and drowned. I guess I matured, as much as I ever will, in her house. Many of the drinkers and eaters and smokers and inhalers, and others, with whom I had opportunities to carouse, as day to day became year to year, on many a sultry humid Louisiana evening, have passed on and passed away and have fallen into darkness. Never to return. Never to be heard again. And -- for some reason -- I yet endure, as Faulkner would say. Abide. Perhaps prevail. (I sense a rippling case of stomach-cramps and ulcer pains coming on.) I don't want to go back now. The probability of this large step-to -- an encounter with the unknown; the "strangeness of destiny," as Thomas Wolfe put it -- scares me left and right.

It was, in the end, a difficult parting. We actually never said 'Well, that's it,' or goodbye, or 'Siempre manana,' or anything of the kind. I just got up one day from my bed. Because I was done. It was hurtful to see Care Forgot losing her flesh, and color, and muscle tone, like somebody's tormented remains lying near a morgue about to expire -- or like a stunned victim lying face up, but not seeing a thing, in an intensive care bed. How classic it now seems -- the ever-repeating tale of the tragedy of the deep South land. I got dressed. I put my bags into a vehicle. Took some deep breaths. Viewed my last of the floodlines on homes, plus the rows and rows of hurricane scattered neighborhoods one last time. And then I drove out, focused, to the New Orleans airport. Minutes later, we were thrusting wheels up into a partly cloudy haze (with no kisses goodbye, alas) -- and the sight of the southern star of mystery, a Mistress and Beguiler to countless fools for centuries, just languished there below that spreading grayness --all damaged and swamp-beaten and unvirtuous and sinking slowly and inexorably into the dark and swampy mire of the Gulf -- which was exactly, in truth, how she had first appeared when I first had flown down into her bosom, three jam-packed decades before.

At random, I wonder sometimes what Vietnam War veterans see and feel when they travel back. To the cities, like Saigon and Hanoi, and the Asian small towns and villages. To the jungles where Charley hid and scrambled in black pajamas in subterranean tunnels. To the watery rice fields. Where they (the war-weary fighters) worried about everyone) -- about who was friend and who was foe. To the Mekong Delta. To the marketplaces teeming with Vietnamese and Cambodian sellers, and pungent cooking foods, and buyers of silk and straw goods, and others. Surely, war-savvy and scarred Nam vets see other things hidden in between these emprical lines, images of post-traumatic stresses dancing in their craniums. Do they not find themselves re-living, unwillingly, certain terrors, sad thoughts about comrades once bleeding, maimed and dying, amidst a horribly hot and rainy nightmare of a place that was war-wracked and whipped to the ground by human folly?

Well, I am going back to my former mistress for a couple of days, much like a veteran warrior returning to the theater of a lingering and hurtful clash. She was lying flat, bedraggled and blasted, still much Katrina-torn, when I left. Now? I think I will notice first, without prompting, her great hidden misfortunes suffered over many decades, but particularly in 2005, which have been dealt out so harshly by human fallibilities and follies, political corruption, and nature's blind fury. Perhaps I will see in her several emerging age-lines and skin tarnishes -- and the lethargic spirit of life that still pumps away inside, though faintly-- and all will appear more meaningful than ever before.

Again, there's need to whisper about any of these matters to Lynn. She knows in her heart. She's been briefed. Lynn will likely smile ruefully if you do tell her. PTSD memories are a kick in the head; surely they are near impossible to shake off. What will the aftermath and 'life goes on' look like to me, in the heat of Care Forgot's lap today, so up close and personal? My innner discipline says take it easy, look things over with care, take one step cautiously, then another, and goodness, boy, . . . breathe deeply . . . try to center.

So, we've been apart -- this complex mistress and me  -- for a long, long line of days. <<  Sigh. >> I wonder what she will say, if anything, as I approach her? (Ooh, there go those stomach cramps and stings of ulcerations again.) For my part of this inevitable return, in a worried manner, I'm gonna be straining to hold my tongue until the Lady Southern speaks first. And I imagine, if she says anything at all, she will open up to me and finally exclaim . . .

Postscript about the strangeness of destiny:

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man's mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.

                                                                                                          -- Cormac McCarthy

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