Monday, July 06, 2009

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 11

I lay on my bed and stared up at the galaxy. My dark blue ceiling was covered with the constellations: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion, Gemini, Leo, Cancer and Cassiopeia. They glowed a pale green at night but somehow seemed more real when daylight filled the room and each star was revealed as muted and imprecise. My dad had painted them, painstakingly, with a National Geographic map for reference. My dad painted the stars.

This is what I did when my parents fought. I stared at the fake stars. I thought of the planets surrounding them, populated by howling beasts or, more often, some enlightened race: a world where death does not exist, with its glittering city of levitating streets and telepathic streams; everyone allied in the promotion of truth. I traced a route there in my imaginary spaceship.

My mother was a fury. Sometimes, suddenly, she would become extravagantly angry. Scream bursts of bitter, cutting invective between stifled sobs, pointing, trembling. The extreme amplitude of her rage, out of proportion to the here and now, made the true source of it seem far away in space and time. If she was yelling at my dad she was not his wife; she was every wife, punishing every husband who had ever lived for his selfishness, his profligacy, his laziness. If she was yelling at us she was not our mother; she was every mother, raging at every child ever born for its whining, its stubbornness, its ungratefulness, and not least the ravages it had committed upon her body. For its very existence, really. When you were on the receiving end of my mother's anger you got the feeling you were paying the price for some ancient and irredeemable sin. The sin of being, perhaps. The universe's fall at the moment of creation. It was a pure, abstract wrath; this had the curious effect of making it both more commanding and less personal.

I now heard her muffled shouts punctuated by the smashing of dishes on the kitchen floor. In spite of her enormous temper, it was unusual for her to break things. I somehow knew I had to exit my room and bear witness to this. My dad was pacing in the dining room, haltingly trying to reason with her, hands up in a gesture of pleading. My sister sat on the couch in the living room, body stiff, arms folded. Instinctively I sat with her.

"I'm scared," I said.

"Don't worry," she said. "Everything's going to be OK."