A Weekend without Trump

The Literary Death Match
The Literary Death Match, Brattleboro Literary Fest, Vermont, 2016; Kelly Salasin.

A weight lifts and the floor creaks as the man who shares my bed shuffles off to the bathroom.

50 isn’t old anymore, except for prostates, and yet we’ve shared a bed for thirty years which makes us ancient together.

The room is dark.

Please don’t let it be 2 or 3, I plead. If it is, I will lie awake for hours, and then doze back into a deep sleep just before the alarm goes off, and then my day will be spent suspended in the fog between dreaming and waking.

I remind myself that it’s a Sunday. Time is no bully, at least not this morning. I turn to look past the empty space beside me and see that it’s almost 6. Not too bad.

When my husband returns to bed, I turn away from him, and welcome sleep toward me.

But my heart begins talking. First in whispers.
Loss. Widowhood.
Shush, I say.

I shouldn’t have read that story last night.

It was a beautiful story. So sad.

I’ve never liked short stories. I’ve never understood the point of investing so much into something that’s over so quickly. Like fall mums in New England. And the lives of pets.

I must have a narrower emotional bandwidth than others. Maybe this explains why I’ve been able to love the same man for so many years.

I listen to the sound of his breath while three streams of consciousness come in at once–like when I tried the peanutbutter-chocolate-kiss-ganga cookie at the Solstice potluck last December; only then, I saw the streams beside me, on the oriental rug, lit from the inside, by the moon.

I remove the weight of the comforter and leave the warmth of flannel and go in search of wool and light and my laptop.

“I’m sorry,” my husband says, as the floor creaks.

“It’s okay,” I say, and my mind adds: Please, don’t get up, please.

The only solace in the loss of sleep is the cover of dark— spent alone—with my heart and my keyboard.

I fix a cup of tea, light the candles in the living room, and open my computer.

A question posed by a friend yesterday afternoon is one of the streams keeping me from sleep; but I’d promised myself, no insisted, that I take the weekend off from thinking about Trump. (Maybe doing it in the dark doesn’t count.)

To help me not think about Trump, I said, Yes, last night to something called The Literary Death Match even though it started at an hour when I preferred to be in bed, reading, beside my husband.

I’m oddly cautious about literary things, and don’t get much pleasure from any kind of event with winners and losers, but a Facebook friend encouraged me to go, telling me that it was part comedy, and that the criteria was silly; and I needed silly, bad.

I look up from my laptop and see that the darkness outside is beginning to lift. The livingroom still glows with candlelight.

I arrived in the dark to the death match, and was reminded immediately that fiction makes me sad. I’ve long been suspicious of those who craft pain when it’s so readily available in the world.

Like the story of Tub and Vi that I read last night. The silver-haired couple, twenty years our senior, drove the familiar back roads of an imaginary town, drinking beer, on the day he would die. They’d been Tub and Vi for forty-seven years. Epic, in relationship time.

It was a beautiful story. So sad. Fashioned in the mind of our young neighbor, who isn’t  really that young, but late-thirties is younger than it once was.

The floor above me creaks as I type. My stomach clenches. A quote rises up inside…

We must learn to speak the language women speak when there is no one to correct us.

My eyes dart to the clock above the stove: 7:07.
I won’t be able to finish this piece before he comes down.
But maybe he’ll fix me some breakfast to rid me of the distraction of hunger.

The other thing that bothered me about the fiction writers at the death match was that I couldn’t see myself in them. Which might be the real reason I’ve avoided literary events all these years.

Fear.

Maybe I don’t belong.

Life was simpler as a school teacher. Harder too. More lucrative. (Isn’t that sad.)

But at least I wasn’t thinking about Trump, I reminded myself, as the contestants and the judges took the stage for the final event of the evening.

“You should come,” another friend had encouraged me. “They’ve asked me to be a judge.”

From my seat in the back of the theater, I watched as she lured the other judge from his seat. The one who flew in from Paris, and slouched away from the team he was meant to be supporting.

“Scarlett O’Hara,” I whispered to my husband, but he didn’t hear me because just then the winning team shouted: “Gone with the Wind!”

I saw the European sling his arm then around my beautiful friend’s neck and whisper in her ear.

My heart burned. There He was again. Donald Trump.

The toilet flushes upstairs and the sound of a Sitar stirs. Jai Uttal.
I smile.
My husband must be resuming his yoga practice.
I’ll have to fix my own breakfast.

We went to class yesterday morning, our first in a long while. We hadn’t planned to go, but when I woke, still agitated, I realized that a weekend without Trump was not going to be enough.

“Where are you going?” my husband asked, as the floor creaked under my feet.

“I’m heading to town for yoga,” I said. “If you want to sleep, you can meet me at the market.”

The yoga class/farmer market combo has long been a seasonal Saturday morning ritual of ours. Late spring. Summer. Early fall. Yoga. Chai. Rice cake. Chicken stick. Chair massage. Hard Cider.

I open the refrigerator. Apple pie? Too sweet. Pork? Too heavy. Yogurt? Too cold. Squash? Too boring. I wonder if other artists fantasize about IVs.

I turn toward the island in the center of the kitchen and spot a few remaining slices of French bread. I make toast with ghee and nutritional yeast and stir a teaspoon of miso paste into a mug of hot water.

I return to the couch with my feast. Criss-cross my legs. Hear Jai Uttal voice above me. I smile. The floor creaks. I hope Casey can’t smell my toast. He didn’t win the genetic lottery like me so I try to keep temptations away, but he’s always bringing home bread.

“Heavy breathing means you have heart trouble,” I told him last night.

“How do you know,” he asked.

“I just read it, in Robin’s story. The husband is breathing really heavy in his sleep.”

The solar-powered twinkle lights in the living room have extinguished themselves and the light from the candles is soon to be wasted.

No one is going to read this post, I tell myself. It’s too long and it’s trying to do too much.

Like me.

A good mother. A good wife. A good friend. A good sister. A good community member. A good assistant.

A memoirist. A blogger.

An activist.

Fuck Trump.
He’s hijacked more than a week of this month for me.

Still, I enjoyed the readings last night. Not the contest or the comedy, but the voice. Even fiction. My favorite was the poetry. From the man who took liberties with my friend. He wrote about death. And socks. He mocked Americans for calling autumn, fall. I laughed. Out loud. (I usually don’t.)

I get up and turn off the candles. We bought the battery operated ones a few years back to lend ambience to the school gym when my husband and I taught a yoga class together. Our styles clashed, our oldest son told us. “Too much cross-talking.”

The creaking above me stops. The music softens. Savasana. Corpse pose.

My joints are stiff with sitting. With the cold. I’m writing in a hat and scarf.

When Casey comes down, he’ll start the fire.

So much neglect is required of an artist. Even if she is not successful by any monetary means. Even if she hasn’t tried to be.

In addition to the Death Match on Friday night, I attended two Brattleboro Literary Festival readings yesterday afternoon, one of which was memoir, which is at least familiar. I know what it is to make art out of loss and longing and love.

Both a man and a woman took the stage for the Q&A. He was dark. She was light. The room was a church. They each stood at a lectern. Sun poured through the stained glass window from the west, punctuating her tender voice. His needed no punctuation. Certain. Assured. Commanding.

The woman was the same friend whose presence brought me to the Death Match. The man was another man. Less assuming. More boundaried. Gay, his story tells us.

They both referred to the partners in their stories as M. His an ex. Hers a spouse of twenty-years. Not ancient or epic, but well seasoned.

She read of time’s passing. Of a deteriorating house. Of fading pictures. Of faces gone or grown old.

Her words entered me like fiction. Made me sad.

Her husband listened from the front pew. He has a tender heart. He is older than her. Less health conscious. He will die first. We will be widows.

As she read the last lines from her book, the light filled the space around her, and the congregation exhaled.

Though the sun hasn’t quite risen above the hill, my living room is filled with light.

This morning, I had intended to write about what it is to be a woman. Of how, this time last year, we pulled into a rest stop, after midnight, and rushed toward a brick building that held only two things: a door to the men’s room, and further away, around a darker corner, a door to a women’s room.

“You have to come with me,” I said to my husband, as he turned to enter the men’s room.

He looked confused, but obliged.

“You have to wait,” I said, as he began to turn away again.

He watched, amused, as I checked each of the stalls.

“You can close the door,” I said. He smiled at me.

When I’d peed and flushed and washed my hands, I re-entered the night, and he was gone.

A single man approached from the parking area on the left. Another man was at his car directly in the parking directly in front of me. Still another was sitting, against the brick, outside the men’s entrance. Smoking. Babbling. Homeless?

I walked briskly toward our car and once inside, I was furious.
I’ve been furious a lot lately.
A lot since turning 50 actually, three Decembers ago.
A fury which has everything to do with shifting hormones, and the weariness of what it is to be a woman for half a century.

The sun is cresting the trees. The fire is started. The kitchen is clattering with the noise of the dishwasher.

Yes, my husband starts the fire and the dishwasher. Do we have set the bar so fucking low on what it means to share a home! A child! A country!

He does more too. Cuts the wood. Stacks it. Brings home the bacon. While I write and write and write, uncertain if I will ever be someone or want to be someone, like my friend who gets to be someone, has to be someone, every day, while I have to return to my small life, get to return to my small life, every day, both of us writing. Compelled. Vulnerable.

“Something snapped in me,” a Facebook friend wrote about the Trump video.

What does that mean?” another friend asked. “I don’t understand.”

I’ve waited all weekend to reply to that man. He’s been the one to massage my back every summer on Saturday at the Farmer’s Market. His hands are the only ones, aside from my husband’s, that have been intimate with my form–from maidenhood to motherhood to crone–from 29 to 52–and still neither of them get it.

My husband kisses me on the forehead. “What did you eat?” he asks. “Do you want tea?”

“How about hot cider,” I say.
I don’t tell him about the toast.
(No doubt bread will be his comfort if I go first.)

My biggest fear is not that I won’t be somebody, or that I don’t want to be somebody, but that I’ll remain safely in the in-between, without ever giving myself over, fully, to either.

My baby sister tells me that she’s spent over a hundred dollars this month on mums–just to bring color to her front steps before winter comes. Mums have always seemed foolish to me, particularly here in New England when autumn is such a one night stand. But her abandon inspired me, and so I stopped at the farm stand last week and Casey and I deliberated over color and plant and then with expert consultation, decided on a rosy bush that hadn’t quite bloomed.

Maybe I should go back to teaching. Make some money. Meet simpler goals.

As we drove home from the farm stand, I began counting the mums on each doorstep. The numbers astounded me. Not a single home or business had only one. Many had a half-dozen or more.

As the days grow shorter, the sun on our land doesn’t make it over the trees until well after 8, and this winter sun on my face always brings me back to the very first morning in this home. It was the day after Solstice. 48 hours before Christmas. The doors weren’t even hung. Not even on the bathrooms. The sun on my face woke me, like a puppy, and there was the buzzing of cluster flies from the open attic.

It was another holiday, just last year, when I came across a post which illuminated my fury at the dark rest stop with my husband: The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About.

Just saying the words from the title chokes me up again.

My men were all there in the kitchen. Overlooking Lake Champlain in Burlington. A house sitting gig that I take a few times a winter. To be alone. To write.

“Thanksgiving?” I said to the owner. “I don’t think I can come that week, unless I bring my whole family.

I read the article to my  men emphatically at first and then was surprised how my voice began to falter, and even more surprised, three-quarters of the way through, to find that I couldn’t continue.

I closed my laptop and began to cry.

My men stood transfixed. Uncertain. Confused.

They couldn’t sense into the lifetimes of friends and mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers, let alone into my life, not in this way. They had always seen me as I had seen myself. Strong. Capable. Necessary.

I thank Trump for illuminating my vulnerability. For the way his uncloaked entitlement forced me to look back at my life through his lens. To see how much I’d ignored. Overlooked. Forgot.Dismissed.Accepted.Swallowed.Contained. Kept apart; So that I wouldn’t have to recognize it or feel it or know it. As me.

Each night I read these memories aloud to my husband, willing him, and the world, to understand what it is to have a pussy instead of a penis.

Casey is beside me now, tending the fire. He sits silently, accustomed to my state when I wake before dawn to write.

He was beside me at the literary fest too–both for the opportunity to socialize (as I grow more and more introverted with age and vocation) and to offer support as I tip toe toward what my heart desires: to touch lives with words, like my father and grandfather and great-grandfather and great-great grandfather touched lives with medicine.

I spoke this deep longing to my writing friend last month over dinner. I’m not sure what came over me. Maybe it was her glass of red wine. The way the light over the bar illuminated the liquid. How she lifted the glass to her mouth and sipped as I spoke. The way her lips filled and her face ripened when she talked about her work and mine.

I woke the next day with a migraine that rivaled the one I had in 1990, Interlaken, after I ate an entire chocolate bar, by myself, because my groom was sick in bed.

Casey has returned upstairs, entered the bathroom, again, and so I am forced to get up from the couch to turn down the mulling cider, and search for the strainer, which never makes it back to the same place. I slam drawers and cabinets, and growl with frustration–at the inconvenience, of being human.

Maybe I’m afraid that this isn’t my destiny. That the people at the Literary Fest are not my people. Or worse, that they are. And there are too many of us. And there is no point.

Before her reading yesterday, my friend and her husband joined us at the farmers market where we traipsed around the food carts and the produce stands and the craft tents, like ordinary friends.

I saw then that we both had the lives we wanted, even if there might be a bit of longing for what the other had… her success, my simplicity.

“I wish I’d gone to yoga with you,” she said.

“No man would be safe today if I hadn’t,” I told her.

The vibration of the spin cycle on the washing machine upstairs rattles the couch. The living room is doused in light. I feel like I’ve been caught before I’ve finished. Like the morning my labor continued past the privacy of dawn.

A reader recently described my work as an octopus. “It’s so satisfying to witness all these creative tentacles spreading out,” she wrote, when she discovered that I had, not one, but 8 blogs. “Sometimes I am so aggravated by my undisciplined writing nature… looking inward, spiraling out… Thank you for the confirmation,” she added.

I’m not sure that I want to be her kindred spirit in this. But maybe this is who I am. Maybe I won’t realize the vision I had one morning in bed. The gold leafed pages of a book. My grandmother Lila speaking to me. Maybe my work is here, day after day, harvesting the present moment, if for no other reason than to say…

WHAT?

What is it I’m trying to say?!

FUCK Trump.

Fuck Locker Room talk.

Fuck men not understanding.

Fuck taking the weekend off from thinking about this.

Fuck my husband telling me that he shared the video of Billy Bush and Trump with his senior Sociology class.

“Don’t forget that the girls in your class live this every day of their lives.” I said. “They are the teachers.”

Casey arrives back downstairs, and pours himself some cider. “Did you already get some,” he asks, before he joins me on the couch and listens to all these words I’ve written so that I might understand what I’ve been doing for the past 3 hours, and a lifetime.

We said goodbye to my friend and her husband yesterday afternoon while she was signing books, and then Casey and I capped my first Literary Festival with a beer at the bar above the river, while my friend went off to join the other writers under the tent at Rudyard Kipling’s house.

An Aries moon lifted into the sky over all of us, releasing its waxing hold on the entire nation.

Once back home, Casey searched Netflix for a film to celebrate Saturday night; while I scrolled through my Facebook feed until a question snagged my attention–a sponsored post about my friend’s new book…

What do you think makes a relationship endure?

I asked my husband for his thoughts, and then quickly dismissed them… (something about kindness and consideration.)

We are so well matched, I thought. I can’t imagine a life with someone who thinks like me, and I’m so lucky he can.

 Willingness. To risk. Not enduring. Not knowing.

This is what I write about the thirty years we’ve spent together.

Our house is filled with flowers. Each night I cover our container of mums, and each morning I find another branch broken under the weight of the tarp, and then I’m forced to go in search of another vase to keep the color alive, inside. I’m up to 8.

We never watched a movie last night. Instead we got in bed and I read Robin’s short story to myself and then aloud to Casey…

… it seemed what neither of us was saying out loud was spurting out every goddamn place like in a broken fuel line. I guess that’s where the truth gets out.

Robin’s words, like love-making, and yoga, and wine and writing conversations, and sipping hot chai in the center of autumn with new friends, is when it all makes sense, beyond time, like the dark before morning, when you don’t belong to anyone but yourself.

And then Tub’s grin turned into something different, some kind of grimace, and a look of terror flew across his eyes, and I thought again of those two love birds up in the hemlock trees… and that’s when I realized Tub was dying.

After I read the last lines of this short story to Casey,  I couldn’t even kiss him goodnight.

And now it’s just me. And the horses. And the winter. And we’re getting by. And everything I thought about that night about stumps and forever is true. Did you write that part down?

~

(Robin MacArthur’s, Love Birds, from her book Half-Wild.)

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2 comments

  1. Aha! I see. I wonder: do you want to continue the wild, prolific strains of writing…the tentacles…or would you rather focus your energies on one project…push that one project further?

    I’m curious when you say you don’t know if you want to be my kindred spirit in this. I’m curious b/c I am also torn. I am frustrated with my many drafts of different novels. My rough short stories. More than a hundred songs. Half essays. Unfinished, always hurtling forward. I used to think of it as lack of focus but then, reading about the science of creativity, I came to accept that this is a kind of true creativity. The quality for finishing a project is different than creativity. Those driven to finish books, say, tend to score lower on creativity than others who just keep going and going and going…

    Not that you can’t do both.

    You, clearly, are capable of anything.

    Liked by 1 person

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