So I stayed up until after 1am finishing A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burroughs’ memoir about his father, who is portrayed as a man so sociopathic and terrifying I was afraid I might not be able to sleep after taking the stories into my head. I’ll admit this to you: I did some skimming. I wanted to get the book done. It’s presented as a prequel to Running with Scissors, and gives some interesting backstory and depth to that book, in which the mother is presented as simply selfish and wildly unhinged, resolutely putting herself first before anyone or anything else, including her son. A Wolf at the Table gives me a different mother, one who was able to at least attempt to protect her son from the damage and violence his father / her husband brought into their home. I read the book like I might a mystery, trying to figure out whodunnit, only in this case, I wanted to know, just like any tabloid reader: what did he do? Burroughs book is filled with mostly psychological terrorizing, which was familiar to me in my teenage home, too. I’m left with images from the book that I can’t erase. I can’t tell yet whether or not I’m glad I read it.
I managed to fall asleep and didn’t have any nightmares I can remember. I woke up grateful that I was finished with the Burroughs book, though. There’s not a great deal of closure at the end of Wolf, but then again, how do we really get closure after being tortured by a parent or someone pretending to be a parent? What does that mean, closure, when there’s someone we love or loved who said they loved us and then stuck their pinkies into the soft skin at the lowest part of our backs, pushed in and tugged at our spines until everything in us collapsed? What does closure look like when our minds and bodies, our childhoods, and thus our adulthoods, have been warped out of all recognition, bent fully away from wherever we might once have thought we were going, could become? How can I expect closure from such a text? Wouldn’t it be more authentic — that is, less mainstream trauma narrative redemptive story arc — to end the book with no closure at all: These fucked-up things happened, and I am fucked up as a result. The end.
It’s been a day of reading. I read the paper in the morning — Bill Cosby felt entailed to lure young women into his gravitational pull with promises of mentorship and assistance. He kept a stash of quaaludes around just so he could offer them to young women. He “helped” the women he was finished having sex with, paying for school or other bills, so that they wouldn’t reveal anything to his wife. He is our cultural father figure, our Mr. Huxtable. Doesn’t that tell you’ll you need to know about our culture — this is our father figure. This man. They have two sides, our father figures: the side the public sees and remains determined to believe in no matter what, and the side that the people inside the house, behind closed doors, are forced to know.
Who can we trust? What does trust even mean?
If I were a man, a man who didn’t rape and who didn’t condone other men’s rape, I’d be pissed as hell — why do I have to be associated with these assholes, this history? I’d be doing everything I could to try and undo this culture that leads women to understand that, because of my maleness, by virtue of my masculinity, I am not to be trusted — I am guilty until proven innocent. Women have developed this intuition, this need to assume the worst, for our own safety. Wouldn’t that break your heart, if you were a so-called “good” man? Wouldn’t you get crazy at night, sitting alone in your little apartment, thinking about how much distance there was between you and the women you wanted to know, care for, befriend, love? Thinking about all the work you were going to have to do just to prove that you weren’t a rapist asshole. Since all the rapist assholes do such a good job of prsentinging themselves to the world as “good guys.”
(One might ask the same sorts of questions about white folks who want to think of themselves as “good guys,” too, though, huh?)
What else? At the beach it was mostly grey, the atmosphere fuzzy and chilled, and the sand dollars are hiding themselves from our eyes. We walked the beach a couple of times, and did spend an hour or so stubbornly lying out on the beach reading our books in our bathing suits even though the sun sucked itself back under fog and clouds almost immediately after we lay down, and the wind kicked up and I had to wrap my shoulders with my beach towel to keep warm. I started Tery McMillan’s The Interruption of Everything, and it satisfying and good reading. Makes me want to find some April Sinclair, though. And then, mid-morning, when it was clear that the clouds were socked in for the time being, I took out my own pages and did some work, editing, revising, a couple of hours settled up on the porch of this sweet house, cosseted in by grey and good music, working on the book that I hope someday will be a thing that sits in others’ hands, when they are curled up in a comfy chair or in the corner of the couch or at a cafe table with their notebook open and a pen uncapped and a cup of coffee warming their hands they are reading these words and these words make them think and they put down the book and start to write their own words. I edit with them in mind. So this work was a good part of the day.
Later we found a bookstore in Portland that had a miraculously kick-ass poetry selection — all the books from Writebloody Publishing (including Tara Hardy’s Bring Down the Chandeliers)! A collection of prose poems and micro fictions from Australia. A collection of Nebraska poetry (what?). And Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, which contains (we were delighted to discover after we took it home with us) one of the first poems my sweetheart ever sent me (back when we were serenading each other with poems every day, wooing each other with words, wooing ourselves, too, back into the poems we had each once loved and had forsaken for different reasons over the course of our separate lives), as well as one of my most recent favorite poems, “Rape Joke,” which includes these lines:
The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.
The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself.
(now go read the whole thing)
We bought the collection of prose poetry and the Lockwood, just because we were so thrilled to have found a Lockwood collection on the shelf of this small bookstore’s small poetry section. Then we went to a little bar in the Old Port and got decaf coffee and she got blueberry pie and I got a slice of dark chocolate torte and the decaf coffee was just brewed and was strong and good (unlike at most places where there’s no decaf or it’s been sitting on the warming plate for 3 hours and so tastes like the scrapings off a piece of burnt toast) and the dark chocolate torte was dark and rich and strong and good and not at all too sweet. We sat across from each other and read our poems and exclaimed. It was a good date.
Now there’s more reading. The sea is serenading itself not far away from us. Outside, the headlights brush through the neighbors’ yards, spotlighting mist and nightshadow.