Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Snow that Never Drifts

One of my very early childhood memories is the day I nearly drowned.  It was a non-dramatic incident; I was 2 years old, standing in a pool-- at someone's beach club, maybe… my Mom was sitting on the ledge in her sexy black one-piece (she had that Jackie Kennedy vibe back then) with her sunglasses, and her long legs, and her manicure and her cigarette, holding me with the other hand...and I decided I'd lie down on the lovely blue wavy bottom, only to discover that I couldn't quite find the surface.  I could see my Mom, clearly… fanning her hand carelessly through the water--- laughing, joking with her friends in that language I couldn't quite grasp… and I was rolling awkwardly, trying to yell, breathing in water…

Anyway, I guess they fished me out and cleared my lungs, and I was fine… and no one ever spoke of this, that I remember; I was too young to blame, or even to feel sorry for myself, and I grew up with this childhood sense that my mother belonged to some slightly removed womanly 'cult' that I'd never quite infiltrate.  I never pointed a finger at her, or resented her for her failings, or even her politics, until she began to dislike me for mine, and by then I'd left the house.

There are lovely old photos of my Mom in maternity clothes, with a cigarette.  Middle class women didn't nurse babies in those days; they were given diet pills immediately after birth to lose extra weight. We drank milk-- not formula.   Babies in strollers were left in the sun outside the market while mothers shopped.  They nearly always travelled in packs or cliques, and the kids were expected to form alliances and amuse ourselves.  We didn't nag or beg for food or whine.  We wanted them to like us, to give us their attention willingly, to turn their powdered and lipsticked faces on us and smile like magazine mothers.  There was a sort of innocence in this negligence; no one was policing our parents and they were a little carefree and careless.  We walked ourselves to school, we played unsupervised in dangerous dirt piles and woods,  and we grew up.

Something about snow always takes us back to our childhoods, when snow seemed more plentiful, more omnipresent-- cleaner, quieter, less problematic.  Something about the disappointment of the much-hyped Blizzard of 2015 underscored my sense that some innocence has been lost forever.  I had this image of patients in their hospital beds overlooking the city-- feeling comforted that even healthy people would be paralyzed and unable to participate in their own lives-- that the world would stop, beneath a blanket of magical muting white fairy dust-- that every building, squalid or grand, would for a few hours look exactly the same-- -that Porsches and old battered Buicks would all be rounded white mounds on the side of the road.  That everything would be whitewashed and quieted and blessed… and for those of us who have already failed at our New Year's resolutions, well-- we could all have another slate.

Last night I went to sleep with hope and a sense of relief, in a second-chance-Christmas fog.  I'd have a 366th day-- no schedule, no counting, no obligations.  I'd be a shut-in; I could clean my house, or not-- I could turn on the last string of Christmas lights I've yet to put away, and read poems.  But it didn't happen.  It hiccuped and embarrassed and bombed.  People woke up feeling guilty they had overslept.  People felt duped.  We got sort of a tainted snow-day. By afternoon, I could pretty much navigate the streets in sneakers.

My Mom, who is perpetually covered in her own snowdrift of dementia, called to wish me a wonderful summer.  I've begun to save her messages, because they're so unpredictable they actually seem brilliant and philosophical, like that Peter Sellers character from whatever 1970's movie that was.  She leaves her telephone number incessantly, because she has no idea where she is, but worries that I won't find her.  The number has evolved.  It used to be my number, the one she'd called.  Now sometimes it rhymes; sometimes it contains letters, names.  Her television set has become a kind of God in her bedroom.  The Bloomberg commentators are her neighbors; the commercials provide the weather, her music, animal visitors, friends.. .a narrative of non-sequiturs that populate her life.  Sometimes she consults the TV for her own telephone number.  It can mirror the price of gold, the Nasdaq, or, last night, she carefully spelled out 'Celebrity Apprentice' on my voicemail, after the area code.  'Words', she said.  You know, it's 'words'.  'Call me back if you can,' she says, and then 'Call me back if you can't'.  

I can't help thinking in some way she is apologizing for all the childhood milestones she glossed over, or downplayed, or refused to process.  The school plays and concerts she attended but was careful not to applaud because everyone knows that women who become performers or artists don't have happy marriages.  Sometimes she even tells me she detests her husband.  Those are the conversations I like the best.  But I realize I am grasping at honesty straws in a bathtub of milky memories where snow both melts and falls at the same rate.  And I know for my father snow was quite a different symbol.  It was the responsibility of shoveling, and maintaining the cars, and the claustrophobia of being shut in with children and a wife who performed and cooperated but never really understood things.

I remember reading in college about the many words for snow among Eskimo people; how there was a word for fresh fallen snow and another for snow on water, and another for deep, soft snow.  It was sexy.  In college everything is sexy.  I also remember a word for 'snow cornice' which actually meant snow that was about to collapse or avalanche.  Father snow, for me.  I told my Mom about this tonight and she laughed like a child.  Lately she either laughs or cries when I tell her things.  She no longer knows how to react, but has all the inflections of normal conversation.  In a way, on the telephone, she is the same watery Jackie Kennedy silhouette I saw through the surface of the water--in 2 dimensions, as she is, as she needs to be.  She waves, she laughs--- she doesn't process sorrow or disappointment or shame, or guilt, or the weather, or the season, or the time of day.

I used to dread certain seasons-- they meant being sent away, or going back to school.  But I have never dreaded winter.  It feels safe and dark and the promise of snow is the promise of forgiveness, even if it disappoints us and doesn't arrive, because we still have the dream of snow, the sleep of snow-dreams.
Fuck the salt and the plows and the shovels and the MTA.  We New York dreamers got our snow day in spite.

1 comment:

Billy said...

Yeah, my mom makes no sense either...And the blizzard was just manipulative bullshit