Lots of talk about husbands.
In your kitchens. Wearing aprons.
(And yours is secretly gay.)
Husbands who lie, husbands who don’t.
Husbands wanting sex, husbands who don’t.
We can’t bear boring lives without lies.
Lots of talk about sex.
How we get away from it. How we can’t get enough.
How we care less and less.
And lots of talk about beginnings.
How many there have been now. How insignificant they seem.
“I’m addicted to beginnings.”
Empty lives without the cheating.
She didn’t want to talk about it, so we didn’t know. Later, I took down her story. By her account, she waited in the lines, clutching paperwork as proof. Her husband insisted on life and waited in the second concentration camp. She found sponsors in the US. She waved her finger at the Nazis as she approached the front of the lines: “Give me my husband.” Her one year old made it to his first birthday, his teeth had blackened. Her husband came back to her. They left Vienna. In London they separated again, another camp, more waiting. A long boat ride to the States nearly finished them. They didn’t eat. New York, where relatives offered to take them in. But they chose Atlanta, with her synagogues, and recovered in the quiet warm woods.
She smoked. The grandchildren – five of us – couldn’t bear it. We drew pictures of her holding long cigarettes to her mouth. We wrote bubbles over her head, reminding her that smoking killed. That’s what they told us in school. She said she only smoked when she had guests, but finally she stopped. We sighed.
When she died, her grandchildren each swore confidently to be her favorite. Me too. She sent me care packages, in college, and again, when I moved to Portland. She called frequently, more so when the senility crept in, she called insistently, forgetting she had just called. She told me to call her. I promised. I didn’t call enough. My mom sat in the hospital with her when she needed a feeding tube. She could hardly talk, so I talked and told her about my life, my new job, my first real job. She was proud, in the way that grandmothers are.
When the family celebrated her 90th birthday, I didn’t fly home. I picked my new job. The morning of the celebration I dreamt of my family, my cousins. I could see them in the big room where everyone gathered. I felt like I was flying.
She survived the Nazis. She survived moving to a strange country. She survived losing her husband early, after they had two more children in Atlanta. She survived her middle son killing himself the summer after his sophomore year in college. She survived finding him, and his gun. Then she survived multiple gunshots to her chest, when two men robbed her jewelry store in downtown Atlanta, her husband’s jewelry store, the one she ran after he died so she could put her children through college at Yale, Northwestern, Emory, and American University. She survived living in the house where everything happened.
She would never have told us these things. We pulled the stories from her for the camera and the transcripts. She hid her history, stayed silent until the end. Until she unleashed her anger and steadied herself on my arm as we walked through the Holocaust museum.
She drove me to music lessons, embarrassed me with her thick accent, gave me the gifts my parents wouldn’t. One afternoon after school she opened the trunk of her car and handed me a long cardboard box. My first electric keyboard. She met us after school when our parents divorced. When I passed my learners license exam, she let me drive every day. She mailed me letters. She set aside bracelets and earrings, my name handwritten on the small white tags.
This is the story my family tells now.
Someone got it right last week when they said, I only want to know you if music breaks your heart.
Well, that’s a little extreme, but sometimes sound in our eardrums brings out the extreme.
First Aid Kit came through Portland last week and not surprisingly needed a venue upgrade to meet the size of their new audience. That’s after their second album kids.
Here’s their heartbreaker, Emmylou, an extra track they gave away via iTunes for a bit.
And then, the heartbreaker of all heartbreakers, aging, and battling a mammoth stadium. It’s Jeff Tweedy, singing his quiet heartache to an audience wandering and indifferent.
And while this might not tug at your heartstrings the same way, likely this will tug at your jeans. St Vincent at Coachella 2012 crowdsurfing! Skip to 37:45.
“A Working List of Things I Will Never Tell You”
When I said I wasn’t with another girl
the January after we fell in love for the 3rd time,
it’s because it wasn’t actual sex.
In the February that began our radio silence,
it was actual sex. I hate the tight shirts
that go below your waistline.
Not only do they make you look too young,
but then your torso is a giraffe’s neck attached to tiny legs.
I screamed at myself in the subway
for writing poems about you still.
I made a scene. I think about you almost
each morning, and roughly every five days, I still
believe you’re there.
I still masturbate to you.
When we got really bad,
I would put another coat of mop water on the floor of the bar
to make sure you were asleep when I got to my side of the bed.
You are the only person to whom I’ve lied, knowing
I was telling the truth. I miss the way your neck
wraps around my face like a cave we are both lost in.
I remember when you said being with me
is like being alone with company.
My friend Sarah wrote a poem about pink ponies.
I’m scared you’re my pink pony.
Hers is dead. It is really sad. You’re not dead.
You live in Ohio, or Washington, or Wherever.
You are a shadow my body leaves on other girls.
I have a growing queue of things I know
will make you laugh and I don’t know where to put them.
I mourn like you’re dead. If you had asked me to stay,
I would not have said no.
It would never mean yes.