undoing the weapon of relax

(whatever will happen, don’t turn back!)

(yes again: some language of sexual violence in here – just be easy with you.)

It’s 9:30pm, and people in the neighborhood are still out for their evening walks — kids on bikes and scooters, couples with happy, wagging dogs on leashes, everyone moving slow, leisurely. There are pop-pop-pops in the distance, and at first, I wonder if they’re gunshots, and then I remember the fireworks we saw above a copse of trees on the way home from the ice cream stand. The mosquitoes came out tonight, as did the first of the sand dollars — we found a mid-sized one this morning, and then two babies tonight: tiny grey sand dollars smaller than the tip of my pinkie finger. The ocean was cold today, colder than it was yesterday or the day before — I can’t understand how that happens. The ocean is itself, no? There was something I wanted to tell you this morning, but it’s gone now. Do you know how thoughts fade like that? I finished the Terry McMillan and have moved onto another beach novel. Today we talked with friends, supped with family. I didn’t have any incest thoughts or rape theorizing. We had sun all day and soaked in it. This was my theme song. My legs are mottled with salt, my skin tacky with sweat and sunblock and bug spray. I fell asleep on the sand — a nap! — and woke up not feeling sticky and gross inside, not feeling as though someone had painted me from belly to brainstem with the residue of  incest dreams (damnit. I guess I was wrong, what I said before).

Mostly, naps haven’t treated me well, as an adult. I’m not much of a napper. My stepfather always encouraged us (or just me? I can’t say more than that) to nap after the “sex” we were forced to have with him, at least he did if it had happened in the time after we got home from school and before our mother got home from work. Just rest for a bit–relax, he’d say, with a weird kind of encouraging or even parental smile that looked like maybe you could trust it, even though you absolutely knew it would be a mistake to do so. And so I slept, waking what had just been done to me, what I had done, into the deepest places of my unconscious, severing my conscious body from its reality — and when I woke up, I would have to occupy a third self altogether, the one that put itself together with penny nails and torn fabric and whose lies duct-taped inside, the one that was made up for the mother.

Relax, he said.

How many ways can relax be used as a weapon?

Then relax becomes entangled with violence and tense becomes the safer place to live.

That is to say, relaxation has been an unsafe place to live, and naps, in particular, have not treated me well as an adult. They have been sites of difficult dreams and slithery body memory with no words attached. I don’t nap, I told people unequivocally.

I’ve napped several times since being here, however — always on the beach, my belly pressed to warm sand, the sun resting gentle and steady on my back — and have awakened without having to wade through the tarry old murk. Who knows why this is so; today, I refuse to interrogate this gift. In the late afternoon, when I woke from my little cat nap, I bounced to my feet and ran headlong into the cold water, diving into the shallow waves of still-high tide. It wasn’t to rinse the nap out of my synapses. It wasn’t even to celebrate a nap well done. It was the animal in me, seeking this particular pleasure – rest now, now cold plunge and salt, now — ok, now — ice cream.

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