In the morning, I come out to the driveway and see all the trash that had been piled in front of our house has been moved. It is stacked neatly in front of the neighbor’s house, the spilled contents of the open bags and boxes now concealed.
“Did you move the trash?” I ask M.
“Yes,” he says, “in a midnight rage.”
I imagine him out there in the night, the street lamps from the highway throwing white light at him as he drags the boxes and bags. It had rained a bit, so he would come inside with his hands and forearms wet. A sheen of sweat on his face.
I work on the questionnaire, slowly. Leave the document open so that I can take notes on it throughout the day. So that I don’t forget. This morning, I re-read my answers.
Question #8: Write about your life after adoption.
I have started writing about my parents. There is a list of “prompts” after the question. They read like a poem:
About your adoptive parents.
About your siblings.
About your current relationship with them.
If you are married, about your new family.
About your education.
After several paragraphs about my childhood, I had written: “My mother and I had a strained relationship throughout my adolescence. When I left for college,”
I had stopped mid-sentence. I can no longer recall what I had intended to say. Perhaps:
When I left for college, my mother got sick. She fought with my sister all the time. My sister left home and she never came back.
It’s a day of errands and obligations. I move from one to the next, unthinking. I am tired all the time.
A friend of mine, waiting for news, receives it. It is not as she had hoped. I say: I am sorry.
I am invited to an event where someone I know will be singing. I cannot be there. Say: I am sorry.
I am downtown, at night, at an event in a crowded bar. My heart starts racing. I cannot stay. To the organizers: I am sorry. To my friend, with me: I am sorry.
To the woman who lived her last days in the house next door to mine, her kitchen window visible from my own, whose name I did not know. Whose face I did not know. Whose possessions are left out on the sidewalk, to be picked through, to be dragged back and forth. To be carted away and forgotten: I am sorry.
I am sorry.
I am so, so sorry.
After my mother died, my aunt and I packed her personal items - her clothes and shoes and coats - into black trash bags and drove them to the Salvation Army.
There were six bags. One for each decade of her life.
I am not here when this happens, but M. tells me this. In the kitchen, our son says, suddenly: “I am afraid of dying. I don’t want to die and just have to do nothing forever.” Then he wept, inconsolably, in M.’s arms.
When I left for college, I tried to reinvent myself. Tried to obtain the markers of a certain social status I felt I had been denied.
When I left for college, I sought out sad, wounded hearts and threw myself at them.
When I left for college, my mother said: “You will start to think you are smarter than us, that you are better than us. But remember, there will always be someone smarter and better than you.”
My physical therapist is talking about weakness again. He says: “You have to start with the area that’s weakest. That’s what you have to work on.” I am on my back again, my knees raised. His fingers are digging into the soft flesh above my kneecap.
He tells me about a time he had to climb a rope to a platform and then run from the platform across a series of wooden planks, thirty feet off the ground. “I was afraid,” he says. “And I let my fear take over.”
“If you are going to do something,” he says, “you have to do it without fear. If you focus on the fear, you may as well not do it.”
He tells me to lift my leg and then lower it, while he presses his fingers down along the top of my thigh.
“Is that sore?” he asks. I say yes.
“Does this hurt?”
“And this, too?”
“Let go of the fear,” he says, “and concentrate on the thing itself. It’s just a trick of the mind,” he says. “You have to keep trying to live without fear.”
I wake several times in the night. I am too hot and then I am too cold.
Here, Michael Dickman, “Stations,” from the collection Flies:
I want to see your face again turn towards me your mouth
That’s one thing
The other is your hands I want both of your hands inside me
swimming around like fish
My heart makes all the light there is crawl across the floor and begs
The light panting the light rolling over
The light in your face sitting back on its heels wagging its tail and
Doesn’t that feel good?
There will be no pain but it will still be hard to carry
There will be a lot of pain but you will still have to carry it
Your fingers swim from one hole to the next shedding small golden
The light heels and pants
The fish scatter
Doesn’t that feel good?
M. gives a talk in a class for a dear friend and after, she tells me: “He was phenomenal. The students loved him. He was so great.”
“Of course, he was,” I say, “I knew he would be.” I imagine him at his best - his wry, understated humor. His self-effacing charm. His deadpan delivery.
And then, over breakfast M. asks me have I heard about the presentation Z. is giving in school? His pride is evident as he speaks of it. “It was amazing to hear her talk about the research she did.” I tell him, yes, I had heard about the project, but no, I didn’t know much else. I have caught glimpses of her as she is with her friends, with her classmates. Her confidence. Her obvious intelligence. Her thoughtful articulation of complicated ideas. But most exhilarating of all: her exuberance.
I think of them as I most often see them - walking past Z. in the hallway on the way to and from the bathroom. Or standing next to her at the stove as she waits for water to boil. And M., collecting trash bags, or packing lunch for our son. The ordinary, the everyday things.
How thrilling it is to get to see each other as others see us: Alive in the world, alight. How thrilling and how rare.
How the home - the place from which we draw our strength - can so easily become the place depleted of it.
The way we shed our party clothes as soon as we step inside.
Again, Dickman, “Stations”
If you can hear me then you can save me
If you can hear me then you can crawl across the floor across the
I believe in your body
I believe in hands and knees and trees
I believe in crawling across the floor
I believe in teeth and piano keys
I believe in needles
I believe in no wings
The tune they keep playing is the sound of flies eating sugar our of
the palm of your hand
We enter the world listening to flies
We leave the world
We eat the sugar
We keep happening