red and green mistletoe decoration

The Corners of my Mind: Unexploded Christmas Memory-Ordnance

There are things I don’t tell anyone: not Ruth, not my Boy, not even this blank page that just waits to be sullied with my words. These things are serenaded by Lou Reed singing about the Sword of Damocles, and accompanied by cold glasses of water and colder thoughts. I keep my suffering to myself. I won’t name things here. They exist in my head and in my life like a constant blur on the lens of my glasses: I can take them off, but then I can’t see at all. Living with these yesterdays and the highly volatile nature of my tomorrows is bordering on the offensive. Living with thoughts I can’t shake off is not exactly comfortable. The thoughts exist and so do I. I retreat to my bed, or to my head. I retreat into Neil Young singing in that reedy falsetto, and to Joni’s cut-glass soaring vocals. Everyone is getting ‘blown away’, or heading out to California, or talking about the mix of ‘morphine and speed – we use it on the streets’ as Lou sings in the song that is playing on repeat out of the tiny speaker next to me. It is all setting off memories like a shotgun being fired in my general direction.

I remember being in Tokyo, singing songs with my Girl. We would sit with a guitar and youtube and she would make requests, sitting with me, her head resting on my shoulder, one hand on my knee, trying to get closer and closer to me. This one particular evening she had been sweeter than usual. It was Christmas time, and she was excited and wore little tinsel rudolf’s in her pigtails that I had got her from a small shop in Higarigaoka. I had scrimped to get her a few things, and the only one I can really remember are those little hair bands with sparkly Rudolf’s that sat on top and bottom of her plaited hair. I loved plaiting her hair. She was about ten years old, and in that goofy awkward phase girls go through about then. She was all teeth and cheekbones. I was overwhelmed by a sense of love…and also a huge feeling of impending doom. I ran after her as she left to go watch television, and hugged and hugged and kissed and held her so tightly, with tears running down my face. I couldn’t explain it. She couldn’t explain it. Neither of us could. We were both crying. I told her I loved her. Time felt as if it was running out for us, and no matter how much I tried to persuade myself that we had time, the reality was far harsher than that. This was some high grade memory-ordnance, that had sat unexploded for years in the corners of my mind. It got hit by the song, like a nine pound hammer against an eighty year old WW2 shell, and blew me out of my socks.

I won’t tell the song that was playing at that instant, but I will say that she crawled into bed next to me, and slept with her hand holding mine, the boy on the other side of the futon with his hand on my cheek. They needed me so desperately in those dark days in Tokyo that were marred by their father’s volatile violence against me, and around them. It was not long after that he threw the Boy against a wall when the Boy protested my being beaten up, yet again. It was, however, much longer after that we managed to escape for good. For good. For whose good? Mine? The Girl’s? The Boy’s? All of us? Hindsight cannot be my judge, and yet it feels like it is my executioner.

When you are in a fight with overwhelming odds against you, and everything and everyone conspiring against your survival, curveballs are devastating. I could not plan for the unexpected.

That is the trouble with the holiday period. Christmas has no mercy. It is a treacherous time of unexploded memory-ordnance. I can’t help but mark time by Christmases. I wonder if this will be my last one? Will I get another? Will I get another with the Boy? Am I making future memory-bombs that will sit in wait for the Boy? Will he sit there remembering riding the cable cars with me, the streetcar dressed in holiday finery? Will he cry, like I do, sitting here remembering Christmases past? Will he look at our photos and wonder where the time went and bitterly regret that we will never have this time again?

All I can hope is that the memory of love and acceptance and care is more powerful and more precious than the pain that will be left when all this is gone into the yesterdays of Christmases past. All that I can hope, is that in the final reckoning, that last adding up, that the sum of my fighting and battling for survival is not a paltry one, and is measured in love and fortitude instead of final successes. I failed, at least partially, and I have also succeeded, at least partially. I am absolutely damned if I can work out if the scales balance or not. I suspect I am absolutely damned whatever. In the end of everything I just wish I had more FUN in life. These last three christmases have been precious to me. I hope I get at least a few more. Townes Van Zandt has a song, You Are Not Needed Now. It was allegedly written for Janis Joplin, after her untimely death from heroin overdose. “Heaven ain’t bad, but you don’t get nothing done,” he sings, before he urges her to rest, because she is not ‘needed now’. I am still needed now. One day I won’t be. One day I can rest.

Townes is always better live without that awful over-production. This is a later, devastating performance of this song, just Townes and his guitar. It hits like a freight train. “Lay down your head with mine. You are not needed now.” Rest peacefully, Townes. Ill see you by and by…But I am still needed now.

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