Tuesday, May 23, 2006

And we: onlookers, always, everywhere,
always looking into, never out of, everything.
It fills us. We arrange it. It collapses.
We arrange it again, and collapse ourselves.
I'm having trouble sleeping tonight. Just, you know, thinking about Rilke, and how my daddy never loved me. Helicopters are making their throbbing heartbeat sounds outside. A migraine is beginning to develop, and every time I turn my eyes, curtains of light oscillate wildly, all around me. But don't worry, it's not painful yet.

Because I just picked up the last gift my father gave me and deliberately broke it beyond repair, it feels vitally important to me right now to tell a story in which a member of my family proves herself to be an honorable and compassionate person beyond all normal limits. This story involves a level of ugliness I ordinarily wouldn't inflict on other people, and I'll try to make it brief (and vague), but I just can't make myself leave it alone.

One day when I was something like 10 years old, my mother — a woman who quite literally considers cats to possess a higher level of mental sophistication than many human beings she knows — found a tiny kitten in our neighbor's driveway, mewing piteously and obviously injured. It became clear that the kitten had been shot in the head with a BB gun, and that it was hurt far too badly to recover. My mother wasn't the first person to realize what had happened, but she was the first and the only person willing to do anything about it. She smothered the kitten with a trash bag. First she told the crowd of children gathered what she was doing and why, and because she couldn't make us leave without leaving the kitten herself, she just hid from us what she could. I kept insisting that there was something we could do to save the animal, but she knew better and she didn't waste time humoring me.

So, my mother: she stumbled onto a situation that was absolutely harrowing for her, a situation which someone else had created through cruel negligence or just plain cruelty, and through her shock and horror she managed to find a way to help the victim — even though it was excruciating, she couldn't make the children leave, and she couldn't stop crying, and it took an unspeakably long time. It was an absolutely appalling thing to watch, and it was still the most heroic thing I've ever seen. I'm sick to my stomach from thinking about it, but at the moment, it's very warm comfort indeed to know that I was raised by at least one person capable of heroic acts, and not just selfish, cruel, and hurtful ones.

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