Not Guilty. Full of Light.
Every night before I fall asleep I say, “Goodnight, God. I love you. Sleep well.” I don’t say it out loud because it’s just between us. I realized the other day that I began saying it after my mother killed herself. I’d always prayed. Or, I’d always talked to God. Nothing big really. I didn’t ask for things so much as talk about my day or sometimes I’d ask questions. I mean, sometimes I’d beg. When I was getting bullied in middle school I remember asking God to please help me because I didn’t think I could take it any more. I have such a clear vision of sitting in our narrow stairway in the late afternoon saying, “Please. Just please.” And then the phone rang and there was some boy on the other end of the line saying he was going to kill me when I came to school the next day.
I didn’t think to hold it against God. Even before my mother killed herself it never occurred to me to blame God for the lousy things that went on in my world. The boys who tripped me in the hallway were the boys who tripped me in the hallway. I was pretty sure most of their parents would trip me too if given the chance in a room where no one was looking. As far as I was concerned, God was good company. I didn’t go to church in the very religious town I grew up in, I just walked through the cornfield talking to him. I did say “him,” it’s true. Now I think of God as a kind of deep pressure and gong inside me that echoes into the world but back then that felt male to me. Anyway. God was who I talked to in a life where I didn’t have lots of folks to talk to. Walking through the fields, waiting for the bus, sitting in the living room in Vermont when my mother’s third husband brought a homeless man back from the liquor store and we all sat there as they got drunker and drunker. And later that night after my mother played a game with me where we got her husband up to bed and then asked him outlandish questions that he answered in his sleep. “Are you stupid?” “Are you stupid?” “What does a monkey sound like?” I lay in bed and talked it through: how weird it was and how I felt kind of bad for Jimmy, lying there with my mother laughing and getting him to answer one question after another. And I admitted I’d liked laughing with her, that I’d kept laughing just to keep being near her.
And yet, I did stop talking to God for awhile. In those first months after my mother died I don’t think I checked in at all. I’m not sure where I was really, or who I talked to. Those months are a blank for me. I remember I went to school the day after she died. I remember her mother calling me on the phone and saying I’d killed her daughter, how I could hear the television in our living room as if the voices were coming from somewhere very far off. And then she said, “It will happen to you too. I can see it in your handwriting. You’re very sick.” I could have used God then but I wasn’t sleeping so maybe that’s why I didn’t confide in him. I don’t think so, though. I think I felt she was right and that if that was true then I didn’t deserve to talk to anyone. Who was I to have a gong inside me? Who was I to sound it?
I don’t know how I came back. I just know that I did and sometime around then I began saying, “Goodnight” and “I love you. Sleep well.” I would think of the whole world, I’d picture the planet with all its blues and greens and then I’d imagine all these voices saying “It’s your fault” “It’s your fault.” How crazy is that? But it helped somehow. I’d imagine God getting to sleep and be at peace for awhile and then I’d fall asleep. First I’d make my whole body get as tight as it could until I was almost electric and then I’d shake all the tension out of me. Or like I was a gong ringing and ringing until I became the deep silence of nobody blaming me.
Tonight it’s Shabbat. We lit the fire for the first time in our little house here in Carrboro. We ate Brussel’s greens with coconut oil and garlic. We ate mung bean pasta and drank some red wine. I thanked God, which was like the twentieth time I checked in today. Is it praying? I don’t know. I saw the most beautiful burgundy leaves on the way home from my walk and said, “Look at that” to the pressure inside me. My student did the coolest thing with syllabics and I said, “There you go!” and it sounded the gong in my torso and then I was endless. I thought of how to explain what it was to be shaking on the BART all those years ago and how Robin would sit on the phone with me until I got home. How I’d say, “I am so crazy.” and she would say, “Honey, we’re all crazy.” and how I’d talk to God about it that night, about how great Robin was and I’d thank God for Robin and Brian and Julie and Ryan and Jen and always Angeline and I’d keep listing with the gong sounding until I’d fall asleep.
Another day I’ll talk about blame. About who and what I do blame. But not tonight. I will say I don’t blame my mother. And I don’t blame my God. And most days (though not all days) I don’t blame myself. The fire’s still smoldering and the crickets are making a ruckus even though it’s deep into November. Everything is so alive tonight. Including me.