I am thinking about transitions. Then I find this:
— Dean Young
You can read almost anything
about angels, how they bite off
the heads first, copulate with tigers,
tortured Miles Davis until he stuck
a mute in his trumpet to torture them back.
The pornographic magazines ported
into the redwoods. The sweetened breath
of the starving. The prize livestock
rolls over on her larval young,
the wooden dwarf turning in the cogs
of the clockworks. I would have
a black bra hanging from the shower rod.
I would have you up against
the refrigerator with its magnets
for insurance agents and oyster bars.
Miracles, ripped thumbnails,
everything a piece of something else,
the frolicking despair of repeating
decimals because it never comes out even.
Mostly the world is lava’s rhythm,
the impurities of darkness
sometimes called stars. Mostly
the world is assignations, divorces
conducted between rooftops. Forever
and forever the checkbook unbalanced,
the beautiful bodies bent back
like paper clips, the discharged
blandishing cardboard signs by the exits.
Coppers and silvers and radiant traces,
gold flecks from our last brush,
brushfires. Always they’re espousing
accuracy when it’s accident, the arrow
not in the aimed-for heart but throat
that has the say. There are no transitions,
Outside the classroom of the preschool my son attended last year, there hung a shoe organizer - the kind with pockets for each shoe to slip into. Lining the walls of the long corridor of classrooms, these “pockets.” Communications home. Newsletters. Permission slips to be signed. Snack lists. “Check your child’s pocket,” we would be told. “Don’t forget to check your child’s pocket.”
At the end of most days, the pockets would be empty. I would walk halfway down the hall to check, then walk back toward the parking lot, my son in hand. On the worst days, though, all the pockets would be empty, except for one. A sheet of white paper, that had been folded in thirds and stapled shut. An incident report. Something had happened during the day. My son - screaming in class, a tantrum. Or kicking. Or throwing himself around, his arms flailing. “We took him from the classroom,” written carefully on the lined form. “He apologized and then we took him back.”
The teacher tells us: “He is having trouble with transitions.” When they move from one activity to the next. He needs to be told several times, in advance, what will happen. If something happens that he is not expecting, he will fall to the ground and cry. As if leaving one thing and going on to the next is more than he can bear.
I sit at my desk in my office which is no longer to be my office. There are white binders, stacked. File folders, bulging. Tacked up on the wall - cards and notes written to me to mark various occasions long passed. Lists of phone numbers.
In the late afternoon, I begin taking these down, slip them into a large envelope. I stand up. I pace. I walk to the window, watch people crossing the street at the light. A man in a black parka waves at the driver of a bus passing by.
We take him to a doctor. We talk about transitions. About what we are and are not doing to assist him. We hear the names of the various conditions he might have.
We take him to occupational therapy, where he sits on a wide swing while a woman throws beanbags at him and he tries to catch them. He rides a tricycle down the carpeted hallways. He stacks foam bricks and knocks them down.
My friend shrugs her shoulders and frowns. “He’s four years old,” she says, “maybe his condition is that he’s four.”
“I am sorry,” my son says, we approach the pockets, my heart sinking. I take the white sheet, tear through the staple. “I’m sorry, mommy,” he says again. “It was by an accident.”
How is it, really, that we are to live? To know what path to follow? When to search and when not to search? What impulses of the heart to suppress and which to bring to light?
When to leave one thing and go on to the next?
When to fall to the ground and cry?
One evening while I am still in college, I get a call from one of my closest friends, S., who is home, unexpectedly and having a party. “I want you to come,” she says, “everyone will be there.” I am hesitant.
“We miss you,” she says. “We haven’t seen you out in so long. Not since.”
She doesn’t finish the sentence but she doesn’t need to. Not since my mother’s funeral. It has been several weeks. No one knows how to speak about it.
It is a three and a half hour drive to her house.
“You can spend the night here,” she says. “Sleep over. It will be like the old days. Just like it used to be.”
It is already growing dark as I head to my car.
By the time I get there, the party is loud and sloppy. I wander through the rooms of her house, looking for her. Across every surface it seems, there are people draped in various stages of disarray. I spot her in the kitchen. We hug and she hands me a plastic cup of pink liquid. “Drink this,” she says, “and all your cares will disappear.” She says this last with a wave of her hand.
“I’ll be right back,” she says, as she heads off carrying another two plastic cups. I don’t see her again that night.
I lean against the counter and sip the drink. There is a giant bowl of it on the table, with several plastic cups floating in it. A couple stumbles in, refills their cups. They raise them to me and I raise mine back.
I don’t stay the night. I am tired from the drive and the weeks of weariness. I know that S. will be upset with me, but I slip out and walk down the block to my car. The night is clear and cold.
There is very little traffic on the highway. The sky is filled with stars. I speed back in the darkness toward my apartment, to the bed I share with a man whose voice, whose hands I will eventually forget.
Another goodbye I will have to say.
But not tonight.