I write from beyond the grave. My children will not want to hear what I have to say and they will certainly not be quick to believe me. I want them to know that I did better than my best. I had to invent from scarce to non-existent resources inside myself the fumes on which I ran. So why am I writing? Why do I trouble the peace of eternity? It is not a matter of self-justification but rather of clarification.
While living I was somewhere else. I was held captive in another realm, not precisely against my will, because I was complicit. My fascination made me complicit. To break away for even an instant required heroic effort. I seemed to be a mother in the world. My fascination was with something indefinable, but dynamic, perhaps even non-existent, but nonetheless real to me.
When I say that to break away even for an instant required heroic efforts – which I made – I am not flattering myself. It took intense, painful spasms of the will to light my face up with something resembling a smile for even a brief instant. The vast majority of the time my face was not exactly dark, but abstracted, empty. In short it was a face that was not quite a face. Yet not a mask because it lacked that measure of definition.
That realm, that other realm, was cruel and subtle. There was, possibly, a split second upon awakening when the light of the world, the remarkable ordinary world, was not affected, but this instant was never prolonged, so it seemed only yet another ghastly reproach. The other realm where I lived, to which I belonged, embargoed information, any description that had enough detail to carry conviction. I forget even as I begin to remember. How the fascination was produced I have no idea. I know I was there. I know I was there and that I seemed to see and what I seemed to see – the possibility of an impossibility – attracted me.
I was the repository of secrets I could not tell, because they slipped away as I began to think to try to grasp them. I followed them although I did not know where they might lead and could never map the pursuit. Somehow the grave has liberated me so that I am able to talk about who I was, who I might have been, my peculiar manifestation in the world.
The father of my children – your father, if you are one of my children now listening to me – fell in love with me because he believed that my vagueness held the promise of something rare and dazzling, The biological machinery worked which is how I came to have children and my children came to have me. It was all outside the realm of anything like my will.
I am only too well aware that testaments from beyond the grave, testaments from after a last will and testament, are apt to be met with skepticism and suspicions regarding their authenticity and authorship. This is only to be expected, for the end of life is a border with perfect enforcement. Time is the ultimate builder of walls. Crossing the border of the end of life would require not just a new psychology but a new physics. However, I can assure you – and passionately so – that this voice is only my own, no one else’s. Perhaps you could call it my immortal remains.
Sometimes I could sense one or another of the children searching for me. I could say that I struggled to respond. I could say that I struggled to be found. But this would be at best only a half truth, Sometimes I would have liked to struggle to respond, but it was mostly out of the question. If something like a felt response did break through it was an accident. I could even characterize it as a regrettable accident. Regrettable, because intermittent reinforcement schedules are the most powerful conditioning schemes. These intimations of the possibility of response gave the children hope. This hope made the subsequent disappointment and disillusionment painful.
In the beginning I said that my children would not want to hear this and would be quite unlikely to believe that I did better than my best as a mother. My best was nothing because I was so rigid and ruled by something quite alien to the spirit of mothering. I was locked in and locked up. I know that I taught my children to mistrust me, not as a result of intent but as a result of incapacity. In teaching them to mistrust me, I might also have taught them to mistrust themselves.
There is no good reason why they should pay attention to this from beyond the grave. Yet I wish them to do so. I mothered from rote, compromised instinct. Death has liberated me from rote. It allows me a spontaneity I hardly knew existed in life. This spontaneity even verges on humor, a dark humor, even a bitter one., but still humor, a shifting of the frame, if a slight one.
Occasionally my inner situation became intolerable. I don’t think that it showed on the surface, I was the same as ever. That is to say, for others I wasn’t. At one point I snuck off to see a doctor.
“That’s easy,” he said. “I know what is wrong with you. It’s called depression. It sucks your vitality from the marrow of your bones. You are lucky we have new medications to treat it. You will be a new woman.”
It felt to me that I had asked a difficult question, one I hardly knew how to phrase, and been answered with an axe. I never went back. I threw out the medication he gave me – samples from a drug company – without swallowing a single pill.
I always felt there was a gleaming beyond the inner haze. I wanted to reach it. I always felt there were new stars to be discovered in the inner firmament, not only new stars, but radically different stars that obeyed unknown and original laws. You might say, perhaps with a measure of accuracy, that I was in the thrall of ambition. “Go in and learn” it said. Now the root of ambition is almost an irreconcilable distaste for what actually is and for oneself as part and parcel of what is.. In some cases, like mine, the distaste runs so deep that its roots can not be found and it is both mute and absolute. I look for myself and never find me. How could I expect anyone else to know me?
I was remarkably separate from my body, but not wholly free of it. I regarded it as a stranger, an automaton to which I was arbitrarily and incomprehensibly tethered. Nor was this about my lack of vanity. Quite the reverse. This body? This me? What a falling off from imaginary possibility. Another form of ambition. Another way to go about detesting the simple facts in the name of fantastic transformation. How my bones are tempted to dance, being now free of their flesh Yet, alas, they do not take even the first step, the constitutive step of dance, because they are, after all, only bones. Life for me was not a dance. If only, I say, it could have been! But this wish reflects a complete ignorance,
Sometimes I think I hoped wordlessly that I would turn out to be a prophet. Prophets, of course, have no choice but to separate themselves from their ordinary lives. Their mission demands it. This radical separation from ordinary life is what makes it possible for them to castigate ordinary life and demand of it more than it has heretofore been able to realize. A prophet is without honor in his country. But an angry prophetess inside herself…a wholly different case. By a devious and secret route, the reward can come before the work.
I have become talkative not in my old age but in my young death. It has something difficult to name to do with my children that I never could realize or explore when I was alive. Perhaps there was a dam in me with an enormous lake not just of words but of feelings behind it in which I was drowned. I recognize now that my children tried to take care of me, each one in his or her own way, but I was a difficult patient, extremely resourceful in frustrating their efforts. I used most of my resources against myself and was proud of this. Perhaps I drove my children to the edge of despair to bring them closer to me.
It is unfamiliar to be allowed to speak. There was no me. That is the truth. So what little there was of presence was not only a miracle but, like most miracles, an impossibility, even an absurdity.. I had an affliction. Or rather the affliction which was a series of guilty thrills, like foothills rolling up into a high mountain range had me. I wanted to go up into those mountains. I wanted to reach their peaks. I wanted to find myself – and here I am in the bare bones of the beyond. Did I do better than my best? I think so, because my best was nothing, not dust, but even less than that.
Of my own mother, I know very little, possibly because there is very little to know. I believe she was just a tad warmer than I was. However that may be no more than an inverted, not to say perverted, competitive instinct on my part. I believe there has been a long tradition of maternal emptiness in my family. Now emptiness can verge on rapture. Mysticism may be what is born when emptiness finds some way –any way – to express itself, But this is a difficult, even ravaging birth. It creates a zone of devastation around it, an extensive area which is hardly habitable.
I will stop here because I find myself on the verge of self-justification, a cliff off which I do not care to plunge.. Better than best, an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms and yet I maintain that there is meaning in it. Life contradicts itself and then, in my case finds itself in death. I want to assure all my readers that my death was a natural one even if my way of being alive was unnatural. I did not seek this death out. If any of my children are listening still, I hope you are able to hear the echoes of my emptiness. I am quite aware that making myself less of a mystery to you is impossible, but what I gave really was better that the best I had to give.