There was an impotence then. A thorough-going powerlessness. A hardly articulated ever present longing to escape. The moths would gather at the porch light by the back door (but there was no front door. It was the door. The side door. The door). They would cling to the screen and fly in sometimes. It got dark early and stayed dark long and the mornings smelled of mud. Mineral mud and fish and trees and damp.
How I hated it all! Hated it all so much I couldn’t love what I loved: the smell of morning, the pale light through the telescoped tree tops, the smell of fire every evening while the trash burned. These things I remember now and I love them. How I hated them all then, lumped them all together because they were together and they were my life and I wanted to escape. Embarrassed to go into town and stop at the Ben Franklin. Embarrassed at the Laundromat. Embarrassed to hear the story of the red ants. Again. Embarrassed to see the moths flying into the kitchen.
Rushed through the days to earn the comfort of night to remember that night here is just as long as a day. My sister’s curling-up ski slope toenails slicing my ankles in the bed we had to share. Wedged between the wall and my sister’s adenoids, deprived of the breeze that scooted around the bunk bed and hit the door, falling. The adults in the other room, walls cliché-thin, playing canasta (sometimes they’d head to Escanaba which sometimes, to amuse myself, I’d rhyme with “Canada”) or cribbage, voices low, keeping me awake. I was a very light sleeper and listened.
Morning brought the coldest milk I can ever remember. Or maybe it was not cold and I contrasted the warm milk with the perfect coldness which I thought I remembered milk could have. Whether the milk was warm or cold, it is still and always will be the coldest milk I can ever remember. I still wish my milk could be that cold.
This is not to say that there was never pleasure. Pasties with ketchup: heaven. Perfect food. I never did watch a fish being filleted but my great-grandmother certainly fried them up well. Walleye and bluefish. Free blueberries picked in wooded fields owned by no one. Or at least no one charged. I was a model berry-picker: I always picked far more berries than I ate. Like filling my basket or tin or bucket or whatever they gave me with virtue until I overflowed the tin and had to ask for a fresh one. No one picked as many as I did. Diligent. Quiet. Focused. Well-behaved. Sugar-plums, too (though you had to reach for those).
There was the pier and I think I sometimes sat there with a book. I think I also tried to look cool. I think I tried to look tall and lanky and beautiful. How I wanted to escape, escape everything, escape it all.
I don’t think of escape any more. Haven’t for years. I think it has occurred to me that there is no escape. Wherever I go, the days are all as long and the nights are all as dark. What a hopefulness there was behind that longing for night: later, when I’m older, when time has passed, things will be different. Something will have happened to me. Some magic something will have happened and will have taken me away from all of this. Some prince will have come and taught me how to be happy. Now I know that that is not the case. There is not a prince in the world who can give me that, who can teach me that. There is not anyone that can stand between me and myself and lift me off of myself and remove me from myself. I am what I must bear always. And so there is no escape. No running. No hiding. No new beginnings.
Still. What hasn’t stopped is the premonition of a future more real than this present. This can’t be my real life. No. not this. This is not yet it. I am still waiting for myself to arrive. That future one is the one to whom good things may happen. That future one is the one who may be loved. That future one is the one people will respect and admire and adore. This – this current one is merely a stand-in. Don’t get too close! Soon this inadequate one will be replaced and that future one is the one in whom you may confide and to whom you may entrust your very own self.
A new alarm clock sits in my new bookshelf. This clock belongs to that long-awaited future one who will replace me.
I no longer feel so powerless. My days are all my own and my nights are too. I am not consumed by that same helpless rage. I have things to do and often I do them. The embarrassment is not entirely gone, however. This might be already clear to those who know me.
I still think of those moths fluttering around the light at the back door (the side door, really. The only door at which a guest would knock. The door). The steps were red (and if they weren’t, they should have been). Standing at the door, back to the house, the trees formed a green-black wall nearly opaque in the night. It smelled of green and mud and fallen apples and the dying smoke of the night’s trash and the lake out back giving more light than the moon which was invisible for the trees anyway.
I am the one I’ve been waiting for.
Even so. Come quickly!