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the first

The yarmarka (farmer's market) is about to close. Some of the people are already packing up, offering their last bruised tomatoes at half-price to anyone walking past them.  I am wandering, staring at bunches of herbs, at the same old options - cabbage, pepper, potato, garlic, apple, cucumber. But then I see a pile of peas. The season must have come early this year. I buy a kilo, and some mint. I know what is for dinner. We have not had it in eleven months.

At home, I rip the bag open, showing them to V. She stands by the kitchen table, eyes wide. I crack one open, showing her the little rounds inside. She plucks one out, her pinky pointing to the ceiling.
"Try it." I tell her.
She does, but she does not like it.

I pull out a bowl for them. She jumps up and down a few times. V always wants to help in the kitchen. I pull her to my lap, and we begin pulling them out from the shells. She learns quickly, tossing them with a flourish into the bowl, a few cascading to the flo…

(a concert for) the saints in our pockets

It all comes back to me, like pulling a suit jacket from the closet and finding forgotten momentos in the pockets. The stub of a ticket or a few dollars, a shopping list, some folded directions. 

It was two years ago and I had just moved out. Forced to enter the apartment to take E to school, always unready. Her bed in the living room is empty. No, I must go into the bedroom, where she was dragged into her mother's bed. Both of them are naked. Me, pulling E from the covers and trying to find her clothes in the chaos. The madwoman rising, shouts and insults bubbling out of her, sneering and spitting on me as I grasp into the closets looking for the shirt E wore the day before. Her naked wanting so badly for me to look at her and my eyes are lowered, my eyes will never look up.  The manipulations piling up, using my habit of getting E to school on time against me. Everything I am, used against me. But now I do not live here. I do not sleep on the floor here anymore. It brings me a sense of relief, but at the same time I do not wake up with E. I cannot protect her as well. I had to save myself, but traded this for overwhelming fear. 

There was very little money in my pocket, but some saints and lucky coins. That was long before the magic wolf rock E gave me. 

That was two years ago and everyone said it would never happen. On the first night out of that house I spread some sheets on a tiny bed for E. We went out for sushi and then back upstairs. She rolled around on the floor of the new place. Everyone said it would be impossible. Absolutely impossible.

Then it was just a year ago, almost to the day. She was held prisoner, forced to lie when I could get her on the phone. Forced to tell me she didn't want to see me. It went on for almost a week, as I called every single person I knew in a messy search for leverage, for reason, for a slim edge to pry things open. I was stabbing into darkness, taking leaps into a revolving unknown.  

It ended in a quiet puff of surrender, and she came back to me. 

Now, she is older. She is running around the apartment and I am dressing her in a new white shirt, black pants, looking for the silver shoes that I pray still fit her. Her guitar is wrapped in a blanket, then its case. She is all nerves. Her first recital. There will be judges that give her a grade. She would be fine, except her mother has announced she is coming. E asked her not to, but it doesn't matter. 

The madwoman will do whatever she feels like. 

She can scream at me over the phone, write bloodthirsty emails about how the guitar is an instrument of the devil, that I have single-handledly destroyed E's life by letting her study it. She can condemn me to to seven hells for this.

And then three months later, she can invite herself to E's guitar recital because she is so proud of her, even though she has never heard her play. Even though she has never set foot in the school, or payed a penny for her classes. Even though she tries to keep her on Sunday nights sometimes, and I say, "But she needs to practice guitar for her Monday class" and she replies, "Fuck her guitar classes. I could give a shit."

We are on time, and the schedule is running late. We find a practice room, already a tiny circus of the students who will perform in her group. The boy's tie is crooked, loose and unfurling beneath his fresh collar. The girl's pants are twisted around, her hair pulled back into a tight bun. E looks up at me, and sits on my knees. I comb her hair, pull the two hair clips into place. She is so very tiny sometimes.

I help her take some deep breaths. She is hoping her mother decides not to come. I have given her two tiny saints, one for each pocket. She presses her fingers against them, asks me their names. I tell her they will protect her, and keep anything bad from happening. She nods once, those big eyes needing to believe.

The teacher comes in, inspects everyone, tunes the guitars, directs brief run-throughs of the songs, reminds them to bow their heads once when they go on and again when they finish. He is nervous and excited. He wears some heavy cologne. There is a shaving cut on his chin. I like him.

E plays games with the other students, jumping from chairs, hiding and shouting and laughing. Her mother arrives, all oohs and ahs and uncomfortable kisses. She tries to weasel into the children's games and conversations but they ignore her. At one point she leaves the room, then comes back, then leaves again.

I sit with E's guitar, playing little progressions, quiet melodies. It keeps me from saying anything. E is nervous already. She feels like her mother is here to undermine her, to throw her delicate balancing act off center. This is how the illness works. The mother full of resentment and imagined betrayals, full of anger, is always lacking attention. She takes this out on the man who will not leave, on the child she is jealous of. She is miserable, and must make everyone as miserable as she is so they can appreciate how she feels. It is all about her, and nothing more. She can take and give anything she likes to, and never has to answer for it. She makes the rules for us and follows none. She does not apologize. She does not admit mistakes. She never says thank you. A long time ago, she was an angry neglected little girl, abandoned by her parents to grow up with relatives. She wishes the same for her own child now, as a sort of satisfying punishment on the universe.

I just stick to E's guitar, keeping it warm under my arms. I don't say a word. That was the hardest lesson to learn, to finally embrace the truth. Disagreeing, speaking from reason, or morality or compassion means nothing to this person. It is noise and nothing more. I said these things, my voice choking in my throat so many times, thinking they would wear down the armor, dissolve the madness into a foul stinking puddle that could we washed away. They never did. They just made screaming. They made a little girl put her hands over her ears, then reach out to me asking to be held, thinking this would stop the fighting. I would hold her, her tiny fingers tight on my collar, and the fighting would still go on, doors slamming, books thrown at us, glasses thrown, sometimes the phone, or a knife. Sometimes me going out into the hallway with her, walking up and down the stairs.

The hour arrives.

E is first, and I sit in the front row. Her mother lurks somewhere in the corner of the room. E forgets to bow and sits on the chair, pulling the footrest to a better position. She stares into me for a brief moment. I taught her to press her fingers together as a sort of a reminder and meditation, a little trick to find herself before performing. She does the little motion, and launches into the first song. I breathe deeply, let it out slowly. The room is musty, a decadent hall used once every month or so. She makes one small mistake, but nails the ending, slowing down and hitting the last notes with a grace and sensibility beyond her years. The next song is easy for her, and she plucks with a sort of fierce precision. The last, a bit cumbersome to spread those fingers of her left hand across the frets but she manages. It is over as quickly as it started. She remembers to bow then glides offstage and down the stairs, the guitar as big as her it seems. She sits next to the boy with the crooked tie. She cracks a giant smile at me across the room.

We have won.

The recital over, her mother hovers behind the judges, tries to smother E with a display of affection. E recoils from her, clinging to my leg. Her mother goes on and on about how proud she is of her, and how wonderful she is with the guitar. I want to play back a recording now, of her saying the guitar is for idiots. I would like to spit on her face for all of the pain she has caused, for us sneaking around the city to buy E the right instrument, secretly going to classes. All a magnificent waste of energy now. Now she is telling everyone E is great because of her.

I smile. E holds my hand tight. I don't need to say anything now. All of the pissing and moaning has played itself out. The vinegar is gone. Nothing but the madwoman's bloom remains, stale and desperate in the hallway.

We are going home in a minute, maybe get an ice cream on the way. We need to make some banana bread to leave for Santa who is coming tomorrow.


Annie said…
Acceptance. Empathy. That's all you can do. This poor woman is so full of shame, that everything that happens feels like a slap in her face.

These posts about Eva's mother make my stomach twist into a huge knot and my heart seize up, or so it feels. I see my Aastasia becoming her - but, not (I wildly hope) if I can work fast enough!!!

All my therapeutic parenting is not just for Nastia, you remind me, but for her children, and so many others....
Annie, these posts about E's mom make me think of getting on a plane and meeting up with her and opening up a can of whoop ass!
silly I know, but E deserves like every child to be the center of everyones universe..She will feel this tension..Marco, do everything in your power to give her a sense of safety..I can't share what is happening in my class with one of my kindergarteners...Change, off balanced life, it affects lil ones. best, j
Elizabeth said…
Never mind the bollocks. Indeed.

Take care,
Banker Chick said…
It seems that E gets a little bit stronger, as she has these moments of triumphs over her mother's madness. What a sad and miserable woman she is and what a bright shining stat E is.
Sue Allport said…
E will undoubtedly find your blog hugely useful to look back on when she's older.

You're giving her a powerful tool for the future (and are clearly a positively unshakable presence in her life now)

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