"You're not right!" Pat says.
Actually she fairly screams this, yelling things like "shit! shit!!", too. Very excitable girl. I would say she is leaping nimbly about while all this verbiage flows forth, a spontaneous dance, but it would be untrue. Pat is flailing to keep her balance as she fights off the car door sweeping her, like the hand of god, down the drive to her doom. At least I feel doom to be her immediate view; later she acknowledges the sharp edge of panic. From behind the wheel I observe, needing a moment before I blindly stab the brake pedal down. My embarassment is profound.
I have just parked the car in the drive, on a slight incline; we have been out grocery shopping and are home. Everything told me that I had parked as usual, but being in my not-quite-right state of mind I have taken my foot off the brake with the car in neutral instead of park. The wretched car heeds gravity's call and rolls backwards, taking Pat, who has just gotten out and stands with door open, down the drive with it. She is a bleached furious. The door has only nudged her a couple of feet, not even knocked her down yet, but it does no good to try and explain to her the exact linear progression, the ill-planned course of events, that has led to this unexpected end; this end rather than the one where the car is securely parked in front of our house and we are busy unloading groceries, smiling and laughing, pleased - as always, to be home. She is too livid to listen presently.
Most nights I try to go to bed around one or two, not delve too deeply into the late hours. It isn't because I am sleepy, but because I want to be sleepy. Pat is often in bed by nine and up at five. Those will never be my hours, but I would like to keep my daily rhythm somewhat in line with hers, so I go to bed, lie down and look for sleep. I look at pictures in mental scrapbooks, scanning the day for wordless happenings that I can lose myself in, shape and colors and the way things fit together; words are not good for going to sleep. Words are not my friends lying in bed; they may blame and accuse and ridicule. Words can become surly and edgy when the light is out and the ceiling is my sky. Last night I sought pictures, and the Songman showed up. He started running thru a couple of lines, endlessly, the same two lines over and again. He hums tunes that he only knows a couple of lines from, or so he insists. Compulsive s.o.b., I think to myself.
'Not you,' I said to him. 'Why are you doing this?' And surprisingly I received an answer: 'So we won't worry so much.' 'Worry about what?' I asked,but he was gone, drifted back into whatever cave was his own in our mental mansions. It wasn't the first time I had heard from him - or his close kin. Never knocking first, he just shows up at the door and is gone before I can invite him in. A quick and cryptic sort.
His isn't exactly a voice, not like you think of a spoken-voice with aspects of volume, tone and cadence. Not in the sense that schizophrenics hear voices that are so, so immutably spoken out loud and clearly heard by the ear. I heard that particular sort of voice one time in my life, so I know its unequivocal force; it stays with me like a slap in the face, not to be exactly relived and not to be forgotten. That voice really is spoken, as if someone stood by your side and made a noise that stirred all the air between, and you spin and look for the source, and the speaker is not there. The effect is more than just startling. It is old ways of believing being burst, being torn. Amazement. Magic. Non-schizophrenic people do hear this voice now and then, but usually in one context only: they hear their name being called. That was the case with me. Camping in the woods I head my father call me. I was alone. It was many, many years ago - perhaps 35. The voice called one time and was gone. There may be an irony to this in the present circumstances.
This heard-in-a-different-way voice of the present, like the Songman's voice, really is someone else speaking out. Not anyone you know, but someone who knows you. Imagine someone you never see living in the attic. Quite unlike a thought passing across your mind, his is a declarative statement of fact or intent. It isn't just thinking 'I'd like to see that movie,' or 'that dog reminds me of old Blue.' It is someone else inside your head talking to you, just not exactly into your ear. He has circumvented your auditory channels and gone straight to the core. I used to worry about it. Anymore I just wonder at it. Who is that masked stranger? Is it always the same person? How do they do that? I'm the one on the podium; I'm in charge - What happens that allows someone else to speak out? I will say that they, or he, are always brief, if not quite to the point. The voice has always been male. It has never been rude or unfriendly.
We had been out shopping. In loading the car I dropped a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi's best burgundy - thwonk! and ka-splat it said. Between the shock of watching this dropping unfold - a very smooth geranium blooming, the unnaturally soft pop of the jar imploding, and the sudden flood of red in long streams across the pavement I suddenly felt as if I might have been standing in a marketplace in Baghdad in the aftermath of cataclysm. Pat looked at me and said "You're not right." I wondered if she was writing a play. ( a lady in the parking lot looked at me and said 'there's not excuse for that - you aren't even drunk yet.' did she, too, realize I was not quite right?)
A trip to the store was my activity in lieu of moving large hunks of iron around the yard with the tractor. I had been gently forbidden to undertake such activities which might border on perilous while I was not right, and on the chance that she was right, that I was not right, and wishing her as much ease as I could supply I had acceded.
Unfortunately the list of not-rights was growing; as only one who forecasts disaster can find a glimmer of it in every occurrence she was counting. I was watching fearful of an imminent folie a deux. The evening before I had attempted to sharpen a knife and mildly sliced two knuckles. That damn knife sharpener is litigation waiting to happen. Pat was now watching me and chalking not-rights on the ledger of my being.
"You're just saying that to try and get power over me!" I told her. She laughed and agreed maybe that was so. The games of a couple together for years are very comforting. Sometimes we play like monkeys in the zoo. (my editor approves of that line and makes rude motions with her hands)
Why was I not right? I hesitate to mention it. I would have sworn that it all means nothing to me, but Pat says 'His death is a landmark in your life.' Some part of my mind full of its own humor transposes 'landmine' into the sentence. So, that is it, why I am not quite right. My father died at 4:35 A.M. PST the day before yesterday. While I did not wish him ill, I am glad he is dead. It has been his wont for the past few years to talk about 'going to jesus.' I am glad he has gone. I no longer feel I have to worry about his being my father and the fact that I really dislike him. The possible relevancy can go into the ground with him.
For many years I doubted that he was my biological father. Somewhere I think I have mentioned my mother's nine husbands, several concurrent, and her advanced views of a woman's right to her own body and destiny. I had fair reason to doubt. And then one day I noticed a picture of my father at age 12 in an album. He looked exactly like my son at the same age. I was convinced. (Had the evidence been tampered with?)
So, I accepted that we were blood-related. But what was he, this giver of dna, beyond sperm donor and occasional raspy visitor? He was the vanishing man who came and went all thru my childhood, and according to my mother spent time in jails for stealing: he could not, she said, control the urge to steal, anything and everything. I do recall when I was about 14 and the men came and took all our furniture - a payment had been missed by my missing father who didn't live with us anyway, that it came out that he was doing 30 days. Did he steal? I don't know. Rumors are cheap. My mother probably loved him and could consider herself a woman scorned, at least part-time. Vindictiveness might follow. He did evade and cheat and lie. He did attempt to screw everything that walked. Until he found jesus his dick was his god and he willing to martyr himself wherever that god led - often to the beds of lonely waitresses. Even after he found jesus he was mean-spirited and self-centered. It just didn't count anymore because his savior had forgiven him his faults; his dues were paid. And I was supposed to be infused with joy at his salvation and rush to join him in the fold of the innocent. It was demanded of me. I did not comply.
That was the greatest difficulty between us. What he had done, had been, and still was beneath the prayers, I could deal with - at least at a distance, transcontinentally. I could not easily deal with his smug certainty that he was heaven-bound and all the rest of us had tickets for hell, that he was so certain he had found an out with an irrefutable guarantee. Fire and brimstone were his milk and cookies. I recall when I was young that he had explained his philosophy to me: fuck them before they fuck you. Those were his exact words. I think it was still his motto as a christian, but the edge in it was now bathed in the blood of the lamb. Hatred in the service of a god is an authorized ideal. You can see that I don't have much use for organized religion; it seems too often to be carte blanche for sheer personal nastiness and ill will. That said, I am sorry this is so. The best person I ever knew was a very christian lady. Once I tried to tell my father about her; I am sure that somewhere down along in the description of this marvelous soul his mind clicked into gear and he said to himself 'oh, a nigger.'
So, dear old dad has crossed the rainbow bridge, and I am feared to be not quite right. Such could be the case. I certainly cannot vouch for what goes on in the depths of my mind; personally, I wouldn't go there if you paid me - way too crowded. Part of me may be silently wracked by grief, or another fearfully amazed that mortality has moved one fatal step closer to us, our own anhilation substantially more imminent. My son, Ara, called to ask how I was doing. Zoe had phoned him with the news; she is the glue families are held together by. He didn't know my father, didn't want to know my father, knew I was not overly fond of my father, but called to see if I was okay. I told him 'sure, I'm okay.' 'Sometimes', he said to me, 'when something happens I don't quite get it all at once; it takes time for it to sink in.' He is so right. So, I am not right, per Pat, and on tractor-leave and will probably be forbidden from driving and slicing my own meat soon.
How long will I be not quite right?
In answer: it has been a couple of days since I almost killed anyone; 12 more trauma-free hours and I get the tractor keys back.