It is said that you can never go home again presuming, of course, that you have left at some point. The fallacy of this statement is apparent, for there is often nothing preventing your return. What would make the statement accurate is that you can never go home again to exactly the same home you left for your leaving alters the place and your return creates only a new status quo, it can’t restore the old one. It is like this with rivers, the Buddhist knows, you never step into the same river twice for each steps has you greeting new water and even the rock upon which you step has microscopically eroded. So feel free to go home again, for there is much to be gained from returning to a place that is so familiar, and yet which you have never before actually visited.
Several things you need to understand. First, and foremost, a waterspout is a term no one around here has used in centuries, unless you mean a tornadic columnar vortex of water, and trust me, we spiders avoid those like the plague. Shocking, I know, but with eight legs we cannot swim. At best some of us can skitter across the surface for a bit. Another thing, while my family, the Arachnidae come in many sizes, and while I am far from the largest, I am also far from the smallest. . So let’s stop with the itsy bitsy, shall we. But most importantly, it wasn’t a damn water spout, it was a water slide, and I went up the stairs and rode the water down. That is what you do on a water slide. And at a water park, no one really cares about the rain, we are all wet already. Though I must admit, riding the slides in the sun is certainly more pleasant.
He started digging early in the morning, and hoped that by lunch, he’d be well on his way there, though he wasn’t certain how he’d get up out of the hole when lunch rolled around, but need is a good instructor, so he was sure he could figure it out easily enough. It was slower going than he imagined, slower by several magnitudes. He knew that would play havoc with his plans, but he was capable of adjusting to circumstances, that was one of his strengths, he knew. When the day receded, he set the shovel aside and retreated home, knowing that he wouldn’t complete the task for at least another week, and the idea of having real Chinese food in China would have to wait, since he had to be in school every day or miss out on the First Grade perfect attendance award.
It is difficult explaining to a child, even one who has reached the age of 40, that you once knew all there was to know. They are certain they know more than you, and they know all there is to know so, a fortiori, you could not know all that there is to know, period. They will say this with a certain smugness born, they believe, of the knowledge that they know quite everything. But there is still a perverse pleasure in watching their smugness collapse like a house of cards in a storm, when you remind them that there was so much less to know when you knew everything, and so it will be for their children when the reckoning comes.
She is anything but little, huge wouldn’t be a gross overstatement. And I suppose you could call a overstuffed brocade cushion a tuffet if you stumbled here out of the Nineteenth century. And just for the record, she was munching on a well-aged brie and sucking down a Courvoisier-laced Greek yogurt smoothie. Oh, yes, did I mentioned she had been twice married to older men, one dead with two months of the wedding, the other divorced when his heart refused to give out on her schedule. So, Miss Muffet, I don’t think so. I didn’t sit down beside her, she plopped down on the edge of an intricate web I’d been working on for weeks. I barely got out before I was six microns under. So, at best she sat down next to me. And she left once she’d stuffed her face full of cheese, downed her smoothie, and left both her wrapper and cup on the ground for someone else to pick up, she pranced away, never even noticing me. And there, as Paul Harvey used to say, you have the rest of the story.
Are you serious? You have the temerity to ask me if I am sleeping? Seriously? If, for a moment, you thought that I was sleeping, why in hell would you jostle me and then ask me if I was sleeping? And how many times do I have to tell you that I never liked the name John. I am Jack and you know damned well that is what I want to be called, by everyone. It is not that hard. Here’s a hint, I was sleeping until you woke me. You realize if we weren’t family what I would be doing to you right now. But mom and dad would have a fit, so just consider yourself lucky, but know that someday I will get even with you. Remember I was there when you were a baby, so I have seen it all. And if the bells didn’t wake me, why should I care if they are ringing? Answer me that. Now go away, preferably forever.
I always imagined it would somehow be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way, but in an idyllic, picturesque manner, even if that denied basic reality. Reality, when it comes to origins discovered is overrated, for the normal percolation time is denied, and the impact is sudden with no restraints to temper the blow. Way back when, you learned by stories told by the elders, who know, or led you to believe they did without question, who painted word pictures, drew out fading photographs that barely seemed real. You believed them because they knew, knowledge directly proportional to their age. For me it was the inside of my cheek, a wait, and an email, and then news, place names barren of detail, Lithuania. Later, village names, and only then visions of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search for freedom and West Virginia. Details were added, but the picture was monochrome, a barren, wordless palette and no brush to be found.
Third grade, religious school kikes, us, then a backhand raised, drawn, quickly dropped, below a reddened face, sleeve pulled up 145233 in black between elbow and wrist and a tear, perched fearing to fall. Never again, and nothing more, later, same arm ruffling hair, smoke clinging to aging skin, no older when he walked in her arms into infernos then smoke rising slowly as he labored, no more free than on cattlecars shivering in winter. No hell to come, never again, not Juden. Mahogany doors opened on oiled hinges ancient scroll to be touched, here is you, me, us, always on Massada, in Vilnius. Never again kikes, dying only once.
First published in SNReview Vol. 9, No. 2 (2007)
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It was approaching the end
of another too long semester
and the sign-up sheet for office hours
was getting fuller with names
I didn’t recognize, or did and not
in a way that would please the student.
It was always like this, the two weeks
after it was too late to do anything,
when the pleading would begin.
I remember being in that position
almost fifty years ago, making my
supplication for relief of some kind
to a professor I had ignored all term,
and he, genial and gentle, taking out
pictures of the rice paddies
and saying to me, you stand
a far better chance in the Air Force.
There are no wars now that I can offer,
and so I tell them the bad news,
but add that Starbucks can
be a career of sorts, with benefits.
It’s Sunday, so I know, before long
I will have the nagging thought
that I should call my mother.
I’ve had this thought for years,
once acted upon it with regularity,
listened patiently for her weekly
list of things I needed to help her with,
since I never visited to do the work
with her standing over my shoulder.
I stopped the calls four years ago
because the dead make few demands,
and she didn’t bother to answer
except in the darkest hour
of my dreams.