All day long she had been listening to a steady stream of Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Macy Gray, Dinah Washington, Ani Difranco, Mary J Blige and Joni Mitchell and she was still not sufficiently saturated with that peculiar bittersweetness she craved. Longing for a slow descent into the intricacy of her sorrow, she had now reached an inner chamber that was only somehow familiar, and perhaps that was the problem. The sensation of falling, of completely losing one’s vector – this was the novel disequilibrium her body needed. She had woken into a state of misery, starting to lightly weep even before her eyes had fully opened. The room in which she found herself was filled with a grey light issuing from the diaphanous drapery hanging over the small window of the bedroom. She lay, still, on the bed on which she had woken hours ago. Except that the music had since transported her from a pedestrian unhappiness toward a sacred sense of loss. The bed itself was comfortable; each fold of its duvet, each tuft of the cushions and pillows which adorned it was soft and accepting. It held her surely and delicately. This made her feelings swirl around her, and gather, and abide. There was a colloquy among her heart and its furtive memories, the ambient sounds and the bed linens that she could almost hear, and if heard, could almost translate.
Into what? she seemed to ask herself. What was she trying to tell herself? By what circumnavigations did such information need to travel in order to be heard? The sleeping and dreaming, the waking, the listless rumination of the long day, the percolation of emotion, the physical sensations – was there a meaning to be found or should it all simply be experienced harmonically as notes played simultaneously by all ten fingers on a keyboard à la Art Tatum? But even this feeble attempt at meta-cognition petered out and moved beyond, to a light powdered sugar drizzle on a cut lemon. It balanced. The unexpressed semantics of her oxymoron was apposite, so was not said. It was the meeting of the disparate points of her presence that was important, the sweetened time steeped a little sour in the teakettle of the female voice captured inside the speakers as if each songstress was speaking personally to her precise pain.
The desired unbroken quality of numbness was interrupted every so often by a deep furrow of fear and sorrow, of uncertainty and confusion. This was when she could hear again the choking sounds of his cry, his baritone plaintiveness, his requests for clemency. At these times she would go to him in her mind, take him to her bosom and grant him all absolution and, holding him fast, stroke his hair and provide him whispers of affirmation and assurance. But then another, yet stranger, melancholy would take hold, an icy dolefulness that brought her far away from the ignoble scene to a high serene plain beyond the reach of earthly concern where she could soothe the mild alabaster of her own scratched soul. Where the noble angels of her childhood would gently steer her away from the self-destructive madnesses and toward the practical and the sane.
Beside the crumpled duvet and strewn pillows there were used tissues, now dried, from the copious tears of last evening’s ruination. Her phone was turned off, its battery was probably drained anyway. All of her usual support systems had been clearly told that she was off the grid and needed solitude. This wasn’t the first time she fell into a cocoon but it was going to be the last. Over and over, she thought, he and she had first casually, and then wastefully, used up their love’s initial capital in foolish misapprehensions, manic outbursts, U-turns, desperation and feigned equanimity thinking it was inexhaustible. It was finite. She first realized it this after a series of serpentine conversations and mashups that damaged her circles. The geometry of the forms had become misshapen, continuous peening had rendered permanent the new shapes by tiny, forceful blows. These forms, these intersections, were a kind of reality making; the adolescent ideal of love, heated to glowing in an unseen forge, had emerged finally, colder and less malleable. The intuition of what’s around the bend giving way to more realistic approximations. Still, the vehicles collide again and again in a closed circuit until a door hangs off a hinge. They circle each other, come apart, come together again in a frenzy of sound. Until only the chassis and engine remain.
The day proceeded along. She lay immobile on the bed, her bone and flesh barely stirring. Her eyes were different. In them, one could see activity, subtle movements, tremors that indicated to a sensitive observer that this moment was exceedingly important to her. In fact, she was now replaying the scene in which they had met. She had barely noticed him at first, he was with a couple of friends in the corner of the bar. Due to a chance conversation about the pool table and whose turn it was, she focused her attention for an instant on this tall boy, almost lanky, with a lock of light brown hair hanging over his eyes as he leaned down to take his shot. She was taken at once by the way his figure occupied space, its solid yet insubstantial grasp. She observed his slender fingers grip the pool cue and saw, too, the flash of his eyes to his friend. Finally, his voice came to her ears: a rich, confident, easy going, playful sound – much in keeping with how she, at a distance, experienced his physicality. As she dwelt within this memory, sympathy mixed with sorrow rose to her neck, and suddenly her mind chose to move to an image of his face in a rage, his voice in a sarcastic snarl, his torso aggressively inclined. The pool hall vanished, as did the straightforward feeling she once possessed. All she could see was his menace, his failure. The original sentiment abdicated and her brain scooped out the remaining embers. She now felt bone weary again and allowed a new poverty to wash over her.
This new poverty was not accompanied by an image, although it generally reached out to the comfort she had felt in her family home, as if each breech to her homeostasis needed to be repaired by an abundance borrowed from elsewhere. She found it in her nine-year-old self, in summertime, after a bike ride and a stop off at the convenience store to buy candy, she rode up to her house and let her bike fall near her front door and scampered in. Her sister was in the basement, her mother reclined on an easy chair in the living room intently reading a book with small print. Her step-father was, perhaps, out in the back yard. She felt a sense of being held, she felt she wouldn’t fall. This really helped her. She knew that for every broken window she encountered she could find a cornerstone of foundation to counteract it. That whatever injury to her building, it would be cosmetic, that the foundation was sound. That’s why childhood trauma can last decades – unless it can be addressed in one’s forties when that childhood can be finally discarded and re-built using contemporary construction techniques. It wasn’t easy though. Accessing one’s childhood for comforting tropes is not always successful, there can be counter-narratives that appear. Once the files are accessed, once the memory box’s lid is pried off and dusted, the attic can be an unpredictable place. Next to the smiling faces in the fading photograph can be a poisonous remembrancer, a seismic totem that can leave a structure with a tiny crack that only water can see and find its way through. And once found, can silently compromise the whole edifice.
She knew this, though. Knew the risks of the journeys of the mind. The naked forays into her past, the speculative steps into her future. She was more concerned about not traveling, ossification, stasis. This, she felt, was far more dangerous. A humid congress of narratives was what life was about. A failure to find the courage to face this complexity led to further complexity, led to alienation. If a few steps were off their mark, so be it. The purpose of life was to live it not to avoid it. She had discussed this line of thinking with him one day. He was open to it initially but eventually she realized that this was in theory only. When called upon to allow his love for her to run riot he could not cede his control. It turned out only his surface was pithy; his depth, when plumbed, was ho-hum. Somewhere at his base, he innately was – or was socialized to be, although this distinction no longer mattered to her – closed to the possibility of allowing another to share his foundation. She also came to realize that this was not a flaw in him, just who he was, but this radical openness was essential to how she loved, and without it she could not love correctly. Another woman may not have even noticed this. But it was obvious to her. So, she reasoned, happiness is so subjective and ignorance is most surely bliss.
The last food she ate was the previous evening. That night, when she finally fell asleep in the early hours in a fury of tears, opaque clouds accompanied her into the other realm. Late the next morning – this morning – the pathetic fallacy was complete: dull grey light was there on her bed. Every so often she would get up to go to the washroom or sip on some spring water out of a crunchy plastic bottle, but she was certainly not hungry. As the day wore on into the afternoon she continued to feed off recollections made more dramatic by the music coming from her ancient boombox. At least music was still a tiny comfort. There are those times though when even the most insistent music seems an abstraction, even delicate ears turn tin. In the midst of such a grand re-calibration one becomes deaf, but now that everything was over music returned to her. Those wise ladies with their cigarette scorched voices, their queerness and indigence, now made perfect sense. Whereas before, as a youngster, she had mimicked misery, dramatically toyed with it, tragically pouted, now she had lived out the logic contained within the kernel of the cliché. A turn of phrase sung in a minor key could, without warning, thud on some essential internal organ. And as she proceeded, she was even able, in that long sad day, to affect the corners of her mouth into wryness, that mature expression on which rests the entire human experience.
Much like the vagaries of an intestinal illness, the swells of disgust lessening somewhat with each fresh pain, her feelings would wax uncomfortably and then relent in a periodicity which allowed for a certain recovery from the lower amplitudes. But every so often a panic would grip her, her eyes would grow dim, her body would go limp and she would be flooded by confusion, regret and agony. At these times, she saw him clearly, beautifully. He was the kind boy she used to dream of. The capable, smooth-moving, curious boy with whom she shared countless hours lavishing the other with fascination. She would forget the intervening months and years where she witnessed his surprising capacity for venality and duplicity, those beautiful brown eyes exuding love but containing lies. When she would still feel his beauty, he came to her sweetly, called up to her window at her parents’ place and spoke poetic words which forever remained in her heart. But just as these thoughts began to calm her down, she began to wonder if all that fascination she experienced had even ever been for him, but rather was her own fascination with life itself. A projection of her own heart on whoever happened to first appear. This thinking then led her to a more holistic view of love, that it need not be focused on a particular person, it could also be seen more generally as emanating from humanity itself or some other hidden source, and that everyone and everything was saturated with this love like gravity: the general principle is what counts, not just one particular example. As the sniffles began to subside, her idealism dealt with for now, she moved on to a gritty realism that proved difficult to sustain, which was: a view of him separate, married to others, happy with others; a view of her own independence, loving others, a glimpse of her own future motherhood, of happiness fully freed from the humiliation of entanglement. The emancipation of continual choice.
The room was silent now in the late afternoon. Once festooned with vines and vegetation of a sort, it now felt barren, overlooked. Indeed, the translucence oozing from the window covering blurred the outline of shadows, their shady contours thrown upon the far wall, like fantastic marionettes. The figure remained still, almost camouflaged in the incipient dusk. Bobbing slowly in an indolent sea, she had reached a point of being forgotten, obliterated by the minuteness of her predicament, the banality of its commonness. And yet the lethargy would not yet give in to a temporary death. Incessant images continued to gambol in front of her, a newsreel binary of catastrophe and celebration, polar in its alternation. The beginning, the ending, the beginning, the ending – and so on it repeated, each oscillation taking its toll. What about the middle? She tried to send her mind into that inscrutable centre but it was too soon. The vastness between the hope and its failure was obscure. She just knew that only what is imperfectly called her intuition could hope to probe there. It was purely a matter of energy and, perhaps, time. Like a physics equation, elegant in its symbols, parsimonious in its effect, ultimately describing only finite space. However, when energy is actually allocated, it expands to the size of its vessel, like liquid. It may overflow, but more likely it will bleed out when a fissure is found.
Over those vital hours, the theme of fertility and its opposite recurred within her in a manner both inchoate and subliminal, just evading her faculty of reason. It is commonly observed that women of a certain age begin to relinquish the fatal trajectory of men and turn instead to the project of nurturance. It usually starts, it is said, with a categorical rejection of unnecessary risk and ends with a desire to water roots. Later on, through complex interplay of causal and correlative factors too lengthy to describe here, these roots give way to a levitation of sorts, an ethereal metamorphosis allowing the well-rooted child to fly away free from its loving tether. If these types of considerations were trickling through her, then one could say that it was something greater than her mere will that had made the decision to leave him once and for all, that putting aside the prospect of reproduction she may have continued to be stricken by his mournful baritone. As it was, the icy dolefulness – which she was realizing came to her as a magical gift – resized her experience of his fate, made it puny, and she was able then to turn to examine the vastness of mountains and the infinite skies.
It was not her fate to be disturbed today. All this happened so unexpectedly, although it had come together as if it had been carefully planned. Mid-week, day off work, phone off, family and friends somehow alerted – this final dissolution as efficient as a death. It was a death. Feebler from her mind’s exercise, her heart damp and weary, her body inert and her soul atomized, the room continually darkened. All her energy signatures were gradually becoming quiescent, her torpid body glacially yielding to sleep. She could not hear his beautiful voice anymore. Nor could she feel the rage. Incalculably deep within her breast, a few seconds before she finally gave way, she could finally hear her voice again, soft yet quite clear: a few words of encouragement suffused with luminosity and delight. It was the voice from when she was thirteen, a voice of self-love, of confidence, of belief. A sound that proved to her, in the last milliseconds of her consciousness, that nothing, nothing, nothing can ever be lost.
Daniel Jackson was born in Montreal into a family appreciative of the arts. Obtaining his BA (English) from McGill University, he gravitated to the big cities of Canada — Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal — to experience the possibilities of humanity that can be found in the teeming metropolis. Over the years his creative focus has been chiefly directed to music as a prolific songwriter and performer. Recently, he has again begun to write stories one of which is “The woman in bed”. He currently lives in Toronto with his wife and children.