20 November 2011
the old wound
The old wound reopens. The dread I feel single every time E is supposed to be dropped off, or when I should pick her up - it is true this time. A thousand promises broken now, and I am still caught off guard. Her mother is playing the usual bait-and-switch, the screaming manipulation, the violent ultimatum, the turning off of the phones, me left furious staring out a window at the black sky, already late for the party, half-dressed suddenly disgusted, thinking to just stay home instead. There is a war of text messages. She tells me I am making my daughter cry. She tells me I will soon get cancer as a God's punishment for my behavior.
I call N, talk the situation through, examine the implications, explore angles. It is not going to happen today, but it will buy us something for tomorrow. E is sitting in that lonely apartment now, her nose bubbling with snot, her tears dripping in splotches on her tshirt. She knows that I am making the right choice, a strategic one. She wants to go to the party of course. She just wants out of there as early as possible.
At one point, E gets a phone turned on and I catch her. I know her mother has put it on speaker and is listening to every word I say. E is there now, just breathing loud, then asking me "are we going?". I tell her what has happened, simplify things. I ask her what she would do if she was me. "I don't know." She replies, her voice trailing off.
I will take her at the normal time the next day. The schedule will remain. No special exceptions. No generosity. No trade-offs. No party for E to go to, where there are two beautiful dogs, a roomful of kind foreigners, exotic dishes to sample. No, she will sit in that lonely place but know I am coming tomorrow even though I negotiated all of this days ago.
I try to call her later, to tell her the names of the dogs, to wish her good night but the phone is turned off again.
Standing in the hallway, counting the old tiles one more time as I wait for the sound of the door unlocking and in a breath her arms are around my neck and she is squeezing me like a tiny python in a big furry coat. She kisses my cheek, making a face from the stubble there. All at once we are outside, buying fragrant yellow turnips and a box of blueberries. I have two extra johnny cakes from breakfast that I wrapped in plastic. She eats them in the street, crumbs collecting in her scarf, giving me a big thumbs-up, her mouth full and smiling.
We are at rinock, waiting in line to buy one of those fabulous chickens, then coffee beans and some chocolates. Fresh bread from the oven, a chunk of goat's cheese, then the smokey air from the Uzbek restaurant by the entrance. The air cold, the sky hard and blue, the clouds moving fast we laugh and run, my giant bag sliding off my shoulder. Now bags of onions and green feijoa that are so sour and smooth. Now turning the keys and home, as she tells me she is hungry again, so we make little balls from leftover pumpkin risotto and roll them in flour, saute them in olive oil and eat them right there our fingers yellow as we lick the last bits from them.
She will stand with her eyes squeezed closed as I trim her bangs, get her to take a bath, practice some guitar. All at once she is tired, telling me a story and falling asleep mid-sentence. I surround her with animals to squeeze in the middle of the night. I turn off the light.
Yes, the old wound reopened. The pain and embarrassment never fade. The fresh taste of blood inside my mouth is there, the flush of humiliation, then the healing.