Thursday, May 29, 2008

Houses of the Holy


People sometimes tell me I’m a "people person." I laugh to myself whenever they do. I understand their reasons for saying so. I can be garrulous. But they don’t know how things really run inside of me. There are different levels inside of me. When I say I am a structured person, I don’t mean that I do things in an orderly manner. No. When I use the word structure in this way, I am referring to a dilapidated house of wooden crates and planks, warped and molded and glued together, melded by twisted, rusty nails, oversized bolts. My inner rooms are an amalgamation, a ramshackle clubhouse where people hide inside whatever room they choose.

One room is all purple, light and dark, and there are bowls filled with little bits of paper laced with drugs. These bowls are placed politely on doilied tabletops as if they held sweet candies wrapped in cellophanes. There are windows in that room, and trees outside, a park where children laugh and cry and shout.

In another room there is no light. This is where the half-people gravitate, those half-people whose transitional floors gave way too soon, planks crumbling beneath their feet before they had time to cross from adolescence to adulthood. So they fall into that gap, one that opens somewhere between a pimpled, glad invisibility and the somber space below, a dark space where they land, bodies thumping, among the shriveled skins of dried up selves piled around the room like buffalo hides.

There are rooms where people die too early and others die too late. Rooms full of sadists and idealists. Rooms where pretending never stops. Most pleasant are the kitchens, or the rooms with the overstuffed chairs. Some have greeting spaces and staircases. I have built this house inside of me.

It seems that I’m involved in something new, though nothing yet is clear. One thing not yet clear is whether this flimsy house will be demolished, or if I’m only adding on another room. There are levels here where what you see is seemingly what you get. And there remain too, sublunary hiding spaces where people (people like me at least) really live. For a long time I’ve been thinking that once a room is built, it’s built.

I’ve been trying to exercise too. It’s not my nature. I’m doing it because the world "out there" requires physical continuity. I’ve never been physical. When I was a child I could not run fast, could not skate gracefully. I lacked balance. Others seemed born with it.

When I was capable of real sleep, I’d have this recurring series of dreams based on real-life events. The dreams are set in the same summer I learned to ride a bicycle. My father had rented us a bungalow near the beach. That summer stays with me even without dreams. I’d fish for minnows in the bay. I'd stuff bread inside a milk bottle that I’d sink, a rope tied round its slender neck. Fat minnows swam in after the bread and I’d pull the bottle in. I discovered places crickets lived, in a nearby vacant lot, all sandy dirt and rocks, tall grasses clumped around.

One morning I walked up on a yellowish ball of larvae swarming alongside the body of a grasshopper who’d been nicked by the tire of a passing car. Apparently, her pregnant belly had popped. There they were, her squirming babies baking on warm tar. I killed a praying mantis too, behind the house that summer, just because. I hear talk about alcoholic behavior. I sometimes wonder if that’s the kind of thing that’s meant.

* * *

In place of sleep comes gravity; gravity and an unqualifiable peace—both fill the air I breathe, here in my bed, sober, detached. And as I put some sober days together I am finding this truth, that the more I let go the more I tap some hidden and sustaining principle. It’s as if when I do my part, taking care of what’s in a day, tilling the garden as it were, of my own hidden life, then whatever it is that’s out there smiles on me; not in a way that “honors” my daily endeavors because I deserve a reward or something—no, more in a way that these two operating principles, letting go and empowerment, simply resonate with one another. At Melrose House they say: “Just do the next right thing.” Not easy for a putz like me, but I’ve been trying it on for size and well, so far so good.

When, at night, I lie in bed I think about the day. That Monday’s instructors conference, or how far I walked, how many bars I counted (Seventeen. This is a college town for sure). I think about writing again, and my first class. My first class; I must admit it went well. Imagine my surprise when she walked in. Her hair was up, and she wore a flowered dress. Stunning really. I held my breath. I’ve got a good poker face.

And her dog—no one in the room batted an eye. Apparently she takes it everywhere she goes, that enormous, broadly muscled beast. Her silences. I’m unsure which is more ominous, the dog or the quiet that surrounds her. Everyone in class but me seemed to already know: she cannot speak.

“Have you ever felt really empty?” She handed me that note a few nights back. I had not recognized them then: the first six words of my first and only book. She’s a fan. How Glea would laugh at that notion. Maybe not. Glea’s the one that got me here after all.

I’m the one who can’t believe I still have fans, but in fact, ninety-nine percent of my student’s are there because they loved the book. My book. I don’t want to screw this up. God, please, don’t let me screw this up. “Let go. Let God,” they say at Melrose House. I close my eyes. Something near to sleep arrives. Gravity. It is quiet.

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