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Veronica, Mary Gaitskill

Pantheon, October 11, 2005

A self-addressed stamped envelope carries a manuscript and fragile hopes, rejection letter to follow. The days of a mother’s refrigerator-magnet-posted pride are distant memories to me now. The walls close in.

In these rooms, each thing that looks crazy or stupid will be like a drawing you give your mother, regarded with complete acceptance and put on the wall. Not because it is good but because it is trying to understand something. In these rooms, there will be understanding. In these rooms, each madness and stupidity will be unfolded from its knot and smothered with loving hands until the true thing inside it lies revealed.

There is an artery that is now completely blocked, blood and oxygen no longer able to trace a path it traveled a million times before. An ambulance snakes its way through heavy traffic, siren screaming.

I didn’t live in the canyon, but I’d come to walk in it. I’d come especially when I felt afraid, knowing I had hepatitis but not feeling sick yet. I’d look at the big trees and the mountains and I’d think that no matter how big any human sickness might be, they were bigger. Now I’m not so sure. How much sickness can even a huge heart take before it gets sick itself? The canyon is full of dead and dying oaks. Scientists don’t know why. It’s hard to believe we didn’t kill them.

The importance of each day extends well beyond the confines of unpredictability. Sure, the invisible duration—that unknown running time—plays its obligatory mind games. But on the darkest days, reminders are always available that can help keep the blues and fear at bay. Time has told us that the weeks are filled with highs and lows so polarized that any day can flip a switch from paralysis of spirit to sails blazing, and all within in a proverbial New York minute.

My mind can’t protect me from feeling, and I’m glad for that. Sight and sound flow into it; feeling bleeds out of it. I walk up the mountain now because soon I may be too sick to do it. But still, I’m glad.

There is an elephant in the room in front of the circle of chairs. Support groups can lend comfort in trying times, but the unspoken reality exists that for every troubled soul, life and death experiences—however similar—remain impossibly unique. Although sharing the history of our journeys can help remind us that we are not alone in this crazy life, still our histories remain locked within self, compiled from birth through years of collected memories and experience. The snowflakes of souls settle over a battered landscape.

We all came up out of the ground and took our forms. So much harder for us to have a form because we have one on the outside and too many inside. Depth, surface, power, fragility, direction, indirection, arrogance, servility, rocks, roots, grass, blossoms, dirt. We are a tangle of roots, a young branch, a flower, a moldy spore. You want to say, This is me; this is who I am. But you don’t even know what it is, or what it’s for. Time parts its shabby curtain; There is my father, listening to music hard enough to break his own heart. Trying to borrow shapes for his emotions so that he may hold them out to the world and the world might say, Yes, we see. We feel. We understand. I touch the hazelnut bush gently as I pass.

In this darkness, this private realm where personal joy and pain can only be understood fully by you and you alone, it may actually be okay to keep the details private, even if the weight of all that is left unsaid has the potential to fester into a cancerous mass. The hope here is that we can spare those we love, if only this once.

For the first time it occurred to me that the unsaid things were not so bad after all. For the first time, it occurred to me that my parents had hidden their hate and pain out of love.

A man sits next to a fire, contemplating what has happened over this particularly long, hard winter, his clarity of mind expanding with each downed cup of tea. A conclusion of particular importance is the need to stop dwelling upon on all that has been lost and instead focus upon what has been gained. Like his newfound appreciation for silence, or an understanding of the function and necessity of occasional secrets. It would seem that revelations such as these should not be trivialized or worse, ignored. And that is what is on his mind as the night advances and the snow continues to fall. He thinks about these ideas and more. Thoughts culminate into a vow. He will seek the signs—reminders in his daily life—that will help him better recognize blessings that happen to stray his way, so that not a single one will ever again lack proper acknowledgment or celebration.