we’re in the checkout line at one of those big, sad stores that has seen better days.
the plastic crap is crowding in. the lady ahead is counting change with shaking fingers, like she has been for the past thirty-seven seconds. the five people behind – me included – are beginning to flare nostrils. i think of my grandmother, small and bent in her last years, and force my tongue to be still. i am all impatience these days, a fuse primed and twitching.
Oscar’s head turns on its swivel and he catches sight of the racks of cheap Hallowe’en decorations far to the right of the cart. his face lights and he peers round me from the front of the cart and announces to the entire line, seemingly apropos of nothing,
For Hallowe’en, i’m gonna be a WINO!!
a beat. i look at him askance. ten ears behind me prick up.
you know, mom, with a big HORN on my nose!
OH, i nod. i turn my head slightly, encompassing the crowd, and repeat, a rhino, honey. you’re going be a RHINO.
i feel the same.
not that i’m planning to become a wino, though the urge to dive off the high wire into a cheap bottle of Hermits in a paper bag sometimes sounds deceptively pleasant. the seedy promise of respite. just that i too need a translator, a mother, to ruffle my hair and explain to the staring throng what i’m really trying to say.
my words are a tangled mess, these days. it’s like i swallowed a cauldron of alphabet soup and can only work with what i burp up.
i snap at the kids, because suddenly all the hours are accounted for and still they are slow and dawdling, or twirling in circles rather than putting on boots. the words i find are not the ones i want. i mean to say, i am sorry i am so rushed, so distracted. i love you, little you.
but it comes out all edges.
in the car, stuck behind timid drivers and the omnipresent construction workers at the four brand-new roundabouts on the brand-new commute to French school, i choke down the round, raging words like cocksucker and GO the fuck already, do you want an engraved invitation? but still i growl and i hear Posey in the back shout Bad Driver! at a car she cannot even see and i am humbled and shamed and i bite my tongue, my errant tongue.
i sit in class and try to find the words to dig behind what “normal” means on those Bell Curves we are inundated with like some kind of fact when i remember all too well what they mean is some children fall outside and get labels slapped on them and yes, sometimes that means funding or meds and sometimes that helps but i know too if we never interrogate this concept of normal in its arrogance and its taken for grantedness, we perpetuate the idea that we all can fit in boxes and so be understood.
i want to say, THAT is a crime no funding or meds can alleviate. i want to ask Oprah and my professor why they are so sure a good education is something you can test.
i try to dredge up the words to explain that i can learn the Bell Curve and parrot it but that i want to engage with it, but my frail newborn chicks of ideas fall helpless into the no-man’s land between irreconcilable views of the world.
she says to me, 68% of the responses will fall between -1 and +1 SD and that is normal and i nod, because the words fail me.
i write, notes and papers and presentations, trying to pull the ineffable from the sky and pin it down, to find my balance amidst methodology and paradigm and epistemology and ontology. they are big words, big ideas. just when i think i understand some other paragraph comes along to destabilize it all.
i love it. i hate it.
i am exhausted, stuffed too full. i fall asleep reading Lacan or Giddens or some sociological theory critiquing the ways reflexivity is predicated on mobility and wake up minutes later to a small coughing human calling, Mommy! and there it is, the start of another day.
on Thursday, Oscar was sick at school. and so i left my computer screen gaping emptily at the bones of another paper and half-jogged out to campus where Dave had parked the car after dropping the kids off.
there was more construction.
it took me longer to get the car out of the parking lot than it had taken me to walk to get it in the first place. the new roundabout at the campus exit would have wheeled me jauntily off in the direction of my waiting children, except that traffic was backed up in the other direction and the geniuses on the other side kept blocking up the bleeding traffic circle so they wouldn’t lose an inch of ground.
i noticed i was crying.
and i remembered this post, the woman i saw weeping in July, and i smiled at her under the tears, that unknown sister. i looked around guiltily, wondered if anyone was watching me. i wondered, more defiantly, if they really wanted a show and whether it wouldn’t be kinda jolly, really, to go flatout apeshit in the middle of a petty Charlottetown traffic jam.
but then i shrugged because this is not despair, only stress and frustration. and i sat in my car repeating that like a mantra, grateful for the truth of it, grateful to have finally found the right words, for a change.
yesterday, an English professor i’ve always quite liked but barely known came up to me at a conference.
I have a poem for you, she said. For Women Who Cry When They Drive.
she saw me! i panicked, in the roundabout lineup the other day. and just as i was about to open my mouth to say yet again the wrong thing, she saved me. That post you wrote about the woman at the traffic light, it reminded me. I need to send it to you.
she sent it today.
i read and for a second, i stopped still, suddenly one of a thousand passengers on the same road of too many words and not enough words, the wrong words, maybe the wrong choices, overwhelmed in the middle of an ordinary day.
the writer’s name is Sue Goyette. like me, she is a Maritimer: perhaps this crying in cars thing is a local specialty. but her words wove me a story in which i knew both parts. in which it wasn’t my job to find the words. Thank you, Ms. Sue Goyette. Thank you Jane.
it is Goyette’s words i lean on today, offer up in lieu of my own, so unwieldly and congealed and ungentle. today, she is my translator, the mother who knows what i need to hear, what i want to say. maybe you need to hear them too.
For Women Who Cry When They Drive
Blame it on CBC stereo if anyone asks. Blame it on
the viola. I did and it worked. I never even had to mention locksmiths
and lovers, how close the two are. I never had to name
each white-knuckle grip of his on the steering wheel. I’ll name it here, though
for you. Surrender and all its aliases. I feel at home in two places now.
One’s here, the other in the library surrounded by reference books
To the stars. Driving doesn’t help. But you already know that. Remember
when you stopped, pulled over on the Cole Harbour Road and wept,
bowed to the wheel and the long road ahead, the long road behind. I tried
signalling, pulling over, but the traffic was stubborn. If you are reading this,
I did try to stop. The passing lanes of loss and love and the speed limit
to this life. I held you for days in my heart, dear, sad woman in the dark green Volvo
next to the Dairy Queen, next to the Royal Bank, feeling like you have no choice.
And you don’t. You don’t, except to fasten your seat belt
– Sue Goyette
from CV2, The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing, Winter 2004