from “my mother’s sadness” in the history of love:
2. WHAT I AM NOT
My brother and I used to play a game. I’d point to a chair. ”THIS IS NOT A CHAIR,” I’d say. Bird would point to the table. ”THIS IS NOT A TABLE.” ”THIS IS NOT A WALL,” I’d say. ”THAT IS NOT A CEILING.” We’d go on like that. ”IT IS NOT RAINING OUT.” ”MY SHOE IS NOT UNTIED!” Bird would yell. I’d point to my elbow. ”THIS IS NOT A SCRAPE.” Bird would lift his knee. ”THIS IS ALSO NOT A SCRAPE!” ”THAT IS NOT A KETTLE!” ”NOT A CUP!” ”NOT A SPOON!” ”NOT DIRTY DISHES!” We denied whole rooms, years, weathers. Once, at the peak of our shouting, Bird took a deep breath. At the top of his lungs, he shrieked: ”I! HAVE NOT! BEEN! UNHAPPY! MY WHOLE! LIFE!” ”But you’re only seven,” I said.
18. MY MOTHER NEVER FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH MY FATHER
She’s kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met. In order to do this, she’s turned life away. Sometimes she subsists for days on water and air. Being the only known complex life-form to do this, she should have a species named after her. Once Uncle Julian told me how the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti said that sometimes just to paint a head you have to give up the whole figure. To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.
My mother did not choose a leaf or a head. She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.
19. THE WALL OF DICTIONARIES BETWEEN MY MOTHER AND THE WORLD GETS TALLER EVERY YEAR
Sometimes pages of the dictionaries come loose and gather at her feet, shallon, shallop, shallot, shallow, shalom, sham, shaman, shamble, like the petals of an immense flower. When I was little, I thought that the pages on the floor were words she would never be able to use again, and I tried to tape them back in where they belonged, out of fear that one day she would be left silent.