I never let my “gimp” pills get too far away but I often get too far away from myself. For example tonight I thought it would be good for me, wont as I am to isolate and now semi-recovered from the fly-over of the bird flu, to enter into the great lemming-spawn tide of our local super store– Wal-Mart, natch– on the day before Christmas Eve.
I pulled in and I saw teenagers taking the handicapped spots and I laid on the horn and waved my sticker, the bent little blue placard with the white silhouette of a person in a wheelchair.
They moved and I began to leach tears at my own mean-spiritedness. .Can’t you put up with less than an ideal world, I asked myself. Can’t you cultivate a little tolerance? It isn’t all about you, you know.
No. Not now not here. It is supposed to be this way. There are a precise number of places for the handicapped which now, unfortunately, include me, and in the grand foyer, once you park, there are electric carts for the halt and lame and the overweight. They are to be plugged in, fully charged, well oiled, cleaned off with some of those medicated wipes. You can’t be too careful in these days of lingering HIV, HPV, flu season, unreliable man-sized diapers—it is after all, a really dirty world.
Just as I was about to lecture the girl who can’t talk but holds down the impossible job of keeping carts ready for each member of the human tide roiling toward her an old woman I’d never seen before came lurching out of the store weighted down with bags of loot. Where is my car. I don’t remember where I parked my car. She burst into tears and then I did as well, in unbidden empathy.. I rode my cart to the curb and went with her as far as it was safe to go with old men on cell phones high up in their SUV’s speeding past, wives barking at them like Dobermans with glasses on the front seat. I pointed to a sunlit top of a van far away and she brightened and imagined it was her car and disappeared.
I blotted my eyes on the collar of my faded denim jacket trying to remember why I had come here if it was going to be so hard to make headway from the antacids to the talcum powder to the sweat shirts to the roasting pans to the bedding without all of this distraction, and I did well until I came to the linens, where there was no one to help, and I didn’t have my glasses. I thought I would get myself a flowered twin duvet for the white comforter that makes me sad with its plainness. I couldn’t see and so I thought by some Braille I could feel my way along the faux fleece and the down alternative and the microfiber throws the camo ones not for me and the Better Homes and Gardens ones too high to reach for an old woman in a state of the art hospitality scooter.
Then an angel appeared—her wings discreetly tucked into the back of her sweatshirt. I thought perhaps she would be puzzled when I asked about “duvets”, but she lit up; oh , no dear I’m terribly sorry to say that we were carrying duvets but they didn’t sell. They were terribly expensive, you know. Not everyone can afford this amenity in her bathroom. I would love to have one myself, you know, she dimpled. Have you tried online?
I had tried online, and I watched her kind mouth with its careful formation of vowels and her carefully reapplied lipstick, her neat grey hair and I wondered if she were a widow working the linens on the day before Christmas Eve and then I had to turn away.
I thought I was crying for myself but then I saw a cluster of parents who were milling in the aisles looking at the toys, speaking in low voices, their children raising hell, nagging, pulling at the frayed hems of their coats. Suddenly I was a waterworks again, as unseemly as a bidet proffering its question-mark palliative stream in public. I wanted Barack Obama to drop from the ceiling and hand out bonus checks for these parents and for the children to brighten and throw their arms around those that love and clothe them.
The parents, children and toys had formed a blockade; I veered around a stack of aluminum roasting pans that leaned to the right, to the left, and then fell like cymbals in Valhalla. I hid in the bath towel aisle, calming myself, couldn’t make up my mind about the candles; should we get red or since we’ve been ill does it matter, shouldn’t we be content with just a little flame thrown off against the often deep and dark silences between us as we head into our twentieth Christmas together. The thought of a small flame, how a grand passion has dwindled to a small flame, brought me to the edge of tears yet again but then I saw a mechanical Chihuahua running in circles and a laugh broke through me that was half-sob.
But that was a lie. I only wanted to see one there for the sake of a bit of levity, peace on earth and good will toward unruly children.. I looked out at the abruptly vacant stretch of linoleum, the great polished taut satin expanse that is Wal-Mart during a lull and there wasn’t a soul, by fiat, except me, coming along in their new cart, passing the artificial flowers and the fake pampas and palms that leaned out of the oasis of the shelf inviting me to construct a bedouinette’s boudoir in my own living room, with her desert duvet/bidet, to lie in wait for an Omar Sharif with an I’m glad to see you and this isn’t a gun-tent in his pantaloons for the record books, sending my servant out to water his tired white stallion and giving him succor from my patchouli-oiled breasts.
Before I knew it, visions of candy-cane phalluses dancing in my head, I had taken a wrong turn and was sandwiched in between the talking dolls that simply reminded me that I have never had a child and I bore up and admonished myself again for my self-pity. Here is the danger with these realistic toys; such a doll can seem like a real friend, a real sibling, a real child and you can rock it all night long like a bereft mother panda given a stuffed bear in her ice cave, her stillborn young taken away. Suddenly I was briefly ashamed that during my protracted depression I had made half a dozen such dolls from kits and had them all over my apartment and that they slumbered away now in boxes in my closet, having been replaced with compulsive writing day and night.
These are but a few of the things that have made me cry on the day before Christmas Eve but there are more. This tide of parental love and obligation bearing down on the stuffed lambs with the open mouths. The small brown boys with shaved heads placing their pudgy fingers on the keys of the “net book”, imagining the status they would have in the barrio if they had a net book—but then, he with such toys is robbed and likely dies.
I wasn’t doing well either in thinking I should get my companero a new nonstick pan for his eggs. But he shouldn’t be eating eggs anymore. What about a flannel shirt—but the last time I gave him a flannel shirt he looked at the floor and smiled and put it in a drawer for ten years. Thinking of the shirt makes me think of other things– that we observe a certain etiquette of distance now in spite of our many victories over fire, flood and famine; And he is not my love but he is because I keep coming home here to him and he keeps a home here for me and we sit together in the long advent as if we are waiting for some light to break over the hills that will animate the stiff trees with sap that we can tap and drink to make us throw caution to the winds and cling to each other like the drowning because we are.
I am the one who sinks into the Sargasso of the impossible like one damned, and so I mustered myself to grab a Butterball Bird as pristine and round as a swaddled newborn baby albeit from the freezer case, and came home the way I have always come home, and I saw the mares in the field fattening with foal as they always do; I saw the foals turning in the wombs and I knew that we are running out of the reprieve by means of which a storm coats all that lives out in the open with sleet and sends it dreaming into itself in a trance uncomfortably close to death. I saw that everything is doing what it does because it has no choice. No one keeps the stallion from the mares, or builds them a shelter. No one keeps the drunk father from shorting out the yard lights and canceling Christmas; that is what he will do because it is what he has always done. The reindeer made of lights will rot in the garden….
That they were still there, those mares whose lives I follow and keep a record of, made me cry. That I keep missing the turn and going all the way up to the junction where I was a girl to see our old house dwelled in by someone else, who has dared to set out the posada of paper bags and votives as if they were real New Mexicans when it was our house, made me cry. It must be precisely nine paper sacks each with half a cup of sand with a votive set in the center lit at sundown Christ’s Mass eve, three for the holy family, three for the Magi, three for the shepherds and we must imagine that a battalion of angels follows. I am suddenly as anal about all of this as a Muslim at Ramadan about to butcher a lamb. No stun gun. A very sharp knife. Look directly into the eyes of the lamb: praise an Al…ternative god.…..
That ashes to ashes we left father’s under the pine trees and mother’s under the roses and didn’t tell the realtor, and had to walk away so that now we go by and the windows call to us; we miss you—makes me weep on..
I think of our two tone green Nash Rambler sputtering here in ‘60 with a family and a load of dreams and a mother newly released from a mental hospital and a father not yet diagnosed with emphysema, a brother drawing dinosaurs, a girl writing and drawing horses and I see that they are all with me in the Ford Ranger as I motor home, unable to will myself to go the other way or to move even to another town.
As I was leaving Wal-Mart with the few things I relaxed enough to buy: a roasting pan, a small turkey, even though we have said we’ll have no appetite after such bad flu and complications: (Two days ago I looked down at him in a state of the art bed after his ischemic event and I wanted to sleep through Christmas–)
He is home and that is why—no, I am home and we have an involved and attenuated and extended home encompassing half a county with tendons and roots and so there will at some point be a turkey, I was thinking and on a whim I bought slab bacon thinking I will be innovative I will wrap this thing in bacon to flavor the beast with a wild taste, and I will look upon what I have made and call it good–.
Just then I notice, I’ve left my lights on and the dog has steamed up the window. I have shoulds rolling through me now, my inner commandments, the interior critical parent abjuring me in full swing; you can’t even live in your own apartment and make a home for yourself. You keep trying to go home again, and you can’t.
It is because no one is there but me. It is because that is not enough. It is because I am weak, I am human, I am fallen, it is because I love and ache. It is because it is cold. Please, die back, let go of me.
But this is how it is: a boy who walks sideways like me in an orange vest who works there, one of the handicapped workers comes to my aid. I’m Ott, he says. Otter. His badge says “Arthur.”
I’ll help you, he says, smiling at me. The tears are coming again.
Don’t cry, he says. I’ll come with you. Together Art walking carrying my walker, me driving the cart we cross the dangerous Rio-Grande-in- spring swell of eyeless drivers in SUV’s on their cell phones; we make it.
“Don’t cry. Look on the bright side. If your battery’s dead, you’ve got a stick shift, and it’ll be easy to jump you.”
To someone else it might sound as though he is speaking Urdu but to me he is singing a kyrie at Midnight Mass.
He puts the walker directly behind the cab just as I’ve asked him to. At last: someone understands how desperately I need order in my world.
Are you married, he smiles,
He nods empathetically.
I get in and the car starts.
I knew it would start, he says in elation. I just knew it.
Thank you Art. You did a wonderful job, I say. You are very good at what you do, and a very kind person.
I can barely swallow the tears that are welling again as I rev the engine and wipe Tess’s slobber from the windshield.
Good-bye, Lady, he says.
Merry Christmas, Art, I say, rolling up the window.
He limps away, his back receding into the immense maw of the store and I watch him go, some gratitude leaping up in me, as if I had seen the Christ Child as a young boy come to life out of the pages of a great and formal tome, and nearly missed it.