The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter
by Naomi Shihab Nye
To you whose brain is a blunt fist
pushed deep inside your skull
whose eyes are empty bullets
whose mouth is a stone more speechless
than lost stones at the bottoms of rivers
who lives in a shrunken world where nothing blooms
and no promise is ever kept
To you whose face I never saw but now see
everywhere the rest of my life
You don’t know where she hid her buttons
arranged in families by color or size
tissue-wrapped in an oatmeal box
how she told them goodnight sleep well
and never felt ashamed
You don’t know her favorite word
and I won’t tell you
You don’t have her drawings taped to your refrigerator
blue circuses, red farms
You don’t know she cried once in a field of cows
saying they were too beautiful to eat
I’m sure you never thought of that
I’m sure nothing is too beautiful for you to eat
You have no idea what our last words were to one another
how terribly casual
because I thought she was going a block away
with her brother to the store
They would be back in ten minutes
I was ironing her dress
while two houses away an impossible darkness
rose up around my little girl
What can I wish you in return?
I was thinking knives and pistols
high voltages searing off your nerves
I was wishing you could lose your own life
bit by bit finger by toe
and know what my house is like
how many doors I still will have to open
Maybe worse would be for you to love something
and have it snatched up sifted out of your sight
for what reason?
a flurry of angels recalled to heaven
and then see how you sit
and move and remember
how you sleep at night
how you feel about mail my letter to you
all the letters passing through all the hands
of the people on earth
when the only one that matters
is the one you can neither receive
Monday: It was just after midnight when he opened the door. In the interest of brevity, I will leave out the next three hours, excepting my desire to be wanted, kicked in like a knife, a piercing pain that has yet to fade. Suffice to say, A. has gone away. Like in the old stories, antique, anonymous and trying, everyone a letter instead of a name, places expressed as an initial and an em dash. Off to the sanitarium, he cried!
After: I sat crumpled in the street where I had been dropped, left salty eyed blind and exhausted, my glasses on the hood of a stranger’s cold truck, too tired to stand, even as the the night evaporated as thoroughly as the warmth on my body where his hands had apologized and cradled me goodbye.
So that, for now, is that. After a multitude of absences and various failure situations, he has decided that he is not currently capable of being responsible in regards to my un/happiness and has withdrawn from my life. I do not know when he will return or in what state, but it is my hope, however small, however sad, that he will come home to me when he can.
I was going to be whisked away to DC, but it fell through at the very last possible minute, so now I’ve got nothing.
Yesterday was a long test of my breaking points, from every trying direction. An exercise in self immolation. I had put all my energy into preparing to put Matthew on a plane, I had nothing more. The bomb blast in London was not as shattering an event as it’s perpetrators were perhaps hoping for, (nice of them to choose a date which makes sense both sides of the water, I thought, very considerate), but they have managed to wash our increasingly small world with justified concern.
At work I checked my e-mail, the early morning having been spent on a death grip attempt to hold onto my last vestiges of restful sleep then by airport checks, is this going to delay his flight? Change his flight? and was informed that an old friend had died. A pilot from Hope had a heart attack and didn’t make it. He was a good man, watching out for Marrissa and I when we were much younger and more liable to sneak off to the other end of the airfield at night to watch the stars fall down and sip at Chetan’s family stash of Sweet Cherabim apple cider. I’ve been absent there for a long time, several years now, but I’d known him since I was ten.
The next letter was worse, a discovery of trust violated. There were other things in my in-box, a few girlish letters I was happy about, I’m pen-pal-ing someone like I promised, and that’s pleasant, but they were all overwhelmed by one tiny note. I had to excuse myself, leave my desk and sit instead on the floor of the lavatory with my head on my knees. The day I put my love on the plane should not be the day my trust base is assassinated, but it was.
This was where I began to be disturbed at my ability for composure, at how quickly I’m able to simply eat what’s hurting me and continue, as the day before was less than great as well. In fact, every week lined up since the beginning of May has had tiny shattering disasters scattered about within it. I’m half as worried about myself as what’s been going on, because I’ve no clue what to do with stress. I’ve no one I may talk with, no hobby that vents anything. No outlet. At first it was tucked away in small corners of my mind, goading me to cry when I was tired and alone, then I began to find it in my body, I would tap on things and flick my fingers, pressing my hands into fists and releasing them over and over. Now, I don’t even know now. My teeth are stones, my tongue contains acid, and I am so very careful not to let it show. Someone said the other day that I’m going to die of machismo, and they might be right, but I don’t know any other way. I only want my hands to stop shaking.
I was controlled by the time Sandi came to pick me from work. We made small talk successfully in the car on our way to Matthew and I even managed to laugh a little when we arrived. He was packed, his entire life in a giant black suitcase open in the middle of the floor. The rest of the apartment looked exactly as it always does, a hotel room set-up with a futon instead of a bed, all the personal touches looking committee approved. Even under the crushing weight of Matthew’s departure, I was glad to leave.
The airport was simply that. A hiatus place, where the food is merely something to do until enough time has passed and the people aren’t real, but props with which to make meaningless conversation. I’ve kissed three people goodbye there now, though never when I myself was leaving, only when I was being left behind while they continued their lives without me. he’s been here too Part of the reason why I haven’t applied for my passport again is that I know if I have one, I won’t say goodbye and leave through the doors, instead I will walk up to a counter, any counter, and buy the cheapest ticket possible rather than return to Vancouver proper. That’s dangerous behaviour and it’s good to have a yoke for it.
A baggage handler smiled at me fondly when I saw Matthew off. He looked over and you could read in his face that he thought we were sweet, our kisses seen with nostalgia. I wanted to hit him, but instead I turned away. I found something to take with me from the kiosks, a tradition of mine to keep balance, a mental koan of departure, and caught buses back to the office.
After that was my first day of work at the chocolate shop.
I was half an hour late but my supervisor decided to mark me down as on time anyway, my co-workers are the most friendly people I’ve ever worked with, (if a shop were to be run by the people who stay at global backpackers hostels, that might be similar), I must have had a quarter pound of chocolate and a half pint of ice-cream and gelati, rounding it off on my way home with a frozen chocolate dipped nanimo bar, and I still came home depressed.
The next five weeks are going to be long.
I wish I knew how to let people be nice to me.