silver curtain

My dream was a party in Oz but with people from my old co-op. I couldn’t remember their names. My parents were there. At some point the scene morphed into being a cave and the giant dragon Quiburon (something like that) was chasing us. I was dragging them with super strength away from the dragon’s flaming breath – we plunged through a silver waterfall that turned out not to be wet but more like a force field. The rocks were rough and blocky and damp like the block faulted cave in Ench@nted Rock in TX. I was okay in the complete darkness because I had been in there before but my parents were older, were in a strange place, my mom was sort of sobbing horribly at being bruised and scraped and wet from the rocks. My dad was swearing in a sudden panicked way, as he does in traffic, losing his cool.

Woke up with a sore throat, thinking about my parents. How did they do it? Sometimes they seem heroic to me. Especially my mom as she forged onwards through her lonely days with little baby me, no car, nothing to do, walking around the little beach neighborhood with me in a stroller, a little neighborhood where she grew up a child in the summers hanging out on the porch with her sisters in their forbidden bikinis competing for boys and now, suddenly no longer in their world but catapulted into a grownup world, living on crumbs from her own mean parents in their beachhouse. I imagine faceless women in station wagons and Jackie Onassis dresses, frowning at her and raising their eyebrows, whispering, pointing out her and her stroller as a Bad Example, and no one speaking to her directly. Then the neighborhood emptying as everyone left, the leaves falling, the snow coming and the pond freezing over, the wind coming in harsh and strong from the ocean which would turn grey and wild. Her description of watching my dad pull a child’s sled setting out across the pond to go to the B0nnet M@arket for groceries or to go to work. He worked selling encyclopedias, he worked in some giant nursery riding in the back of a truck to get out there (and to do I don’t know what – some kind of hard physical labor). She would watch him set out across the grey pond into the swirly fog until he disappeared and she’d worry that he would fall through the ice all alone, her left with a baby in the tiny house, cleaning it for something to do, maybe watching a soap opera on the tiny fuzzy tv.

Even later in Detroit when they bought their first house and fixed it up. All the excitement over every little improvement, painted cabinet, rug bought. They seem so oddly alone when I look back at them. I was a little kid, loved, cared for, in a constant whirl of intense perception and emotion. They loved each other so much that it was possible to feel left out at times. I can’t explain how they seemed alone, but it was like they were everything to each other and had never been able to depend on anyone else – never been able to trust anyone else. They have remained hermits with very few friends.

The way my mom would just freeze up sometimes, not knowing what to do, becoming someone small and helpless. When she gets like this it is like she physically shrinks; she cringes and seems to take up less space in the world. Her vulnerability. My dad taking charge and gently explaining what was to be done about whatever it was – how to register for school or write her paper or get directions to go somewhere or open a can of paint. The sort of person who becomes very still in her effort not to cry as you try to explain the difficult math problem. I can’t think of any real examples of this common dynamic of theirs. In later years it turned more to her helplessness as an act, and him ignoring it, or being gruff and impatient.

As a kid I never for a moment felt that shrinking, that fear, that helplessness. I knew how to do everything, or didn’t care that I didn’t know and would barge on ahead. Strange people did not scare me, strange situtations were good, getting lost was fun, information needed could always be found, skills were effortlessly mastered, trivia read once and never forgotten, piano played in front of crowds with nary a qualm. How is it that she raised me to be this way? Or is it a matter of temperament? Her anger at me for being this way, for “being smarter than her”. How it affected me to be a 6 year old or an 8 year old and hear her say all the time that I was smarter than her. My snottiness and intellectual disdain of her as I got older. I was convinced she was an idiot.

Her tendency to shrink makes her a hero in my eyes for all the moments when she functioned normally and lived life and took care of us. For every moment she was freaking out, neurotic, yelling, crying, crying on the phone with her sister, confused, afraid, deeply mistrusting her own obvious intelligence, lost in the car with her brows drawn down, being mean and weird and then forgetting her earlier meanness as if it had never been, for every moment of shrinking she must have had thousands of moments of staunchly not shrinking.

I think my dad saw this core of strength and admired it. Her practical sense and efficiency. He must have admired and enjoyed her competent playing house for him. Her skills as supporter of him, developing: driving around doing the errands, managing things, house-fixing, keeper of his few clothes, cooking. Him accepting this support. Him not leaving her behind, her 16 years of college classes and finally having a job. I imagine him nicely saying things that my own husband has said: “Your parents are crazy, they are jerks, don’t even think about them, we have our own family now and we’ll do it right.”

How did they do it?

Our impassioned arguments about how to live life. (How to argue with a somewhat ignorant 11 year old freedom fighter, atheist and anarchist?) My dad’s speeches that were always like the end of Candide – “cultivate your own garden”. That is his lesson.

This is what happens when I go to sleep reading “The G1ant Horse of 0z.” I dream about rescuing my parents, and sit about dreamily imagining them as protgonists of a novel.

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