There are countless numbers of people who walk around each day with a gaping hole in the middle of their heart and as a result they leak.
On one hand they are convinced love no longer exists, but on the other hand, they have devoted their entire lives to finding it. They become their relationships and their relationships become them as they take up the pursuit of a soul mate as a full-time occupation. These are the very people who walk, jog, run, and sprint aimlessly in whatever direction love was last seen in. Their every relationship is staggering and earth shattering.
Every one is the one.
Every disappointment is a devastation.
Every day is greeted by yet another opportunity to fall for the least unavailable human being on the planet. Every heart-breaktacks another six months in therapy onto time already served. They are so desperate for love they become stalkers of their own vision, seekers of their own illusion. And perhaps this is the most tragic element of all.
They will hunt it down.
Capture and inevitably kill love before realizing that the thing they search for is intangible and evasive. It is also aloof and fragile. These are also the same people who will spend their entire lives searching for love before realizing it does not make itself available to be found. They will extend themselves beyond heaven and earth to catch a glimpse of it before coming into the devastating knowledge that it is indeed invisible.
These are the people who entered the world hungry and needy, crowning headfirst from their mother's vagina with both eyes open, supercharged in their quest for love. They have transcended worlds, generations of time, and shape-shifted through many souls to find that which makes them whole and human. And of these people, I am the foremost.
I must officially introduce myself.
My name is Michael.
I am a girl.
I know the name rings of masculinity, but the day I was born these were the conditions: my father wanted a boy and mymother was on morphine. And that's how I came to be Michael Morgan for life.
My parents were seminormal, I think.
My parents may have been anything (read between the lines "everything") but normal. Don't take my word on it, though. You will come to your own understanding of their idiosyncrasies in due time and this much I promise you.
Please allow me to introduce my mother, Colleen. Sometimes I refer to her as the Mama Bear, probably a direct result of my childhood obsession with Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Mama Bear had beautiful brown skin.
Hips to the east and west of her small waist.
Plump breasts and big hair.
The moment I was expelled from her uterus and went "air born," she started tripping, and this was my genesis. The early days included random lullabies by the Mama Bear, which foreshadowed clues of her emotional instability.
Hush little baby don't you cry, 'Cause I jump out of my skin first and then I'll die. Hush little baby don't shed a tear, 'Cause the Mother Goose will run away from here.
What version of "Hush Little Baby" was that, Mama Bear?
"Isn't she perfect?" declared Mama Bear one night whilepausing from her illogical nursery rhyme just long enough to consult with her husband, Sergio. Sergio was my father, but naturally, I often referred to him as the Papa Bear.
Papa Bear was the son of a Cuban immigrant and a black ditch digger. He was a beautiful mix of two struggling cultures, but I always felt that his greatest struggles were those found within the iron chains of matrimony, because Mama Bear was no picnic. No picnic at all.
Papa Bear bled into the background and was often upstaged by his wife's theatrics. He had two full-time jobs: street sweeper by day, punching bag for the Mama Bear by night.
"Isn't she perfect, Sergio?" snapped Mama Bear again because the Papa Bear did not answer her right away. "I didn't hear you say how absolutely perfect she was today. Aren't you listening? You're not listening to me are you, Sergio?" she asked, beginning to pout.
No one listens.
No one cares.
No one listens.
And no one cares.
Pouting was the norm for Mama Bear. As a matter of fact, I can hardly remember a time when Mama Bear wasn't pouting and pulling at Papa Bear's sideburns for all of his attention. Mama Bear didn't work outside the home, but she did work the last nerve of everyone in it. Tiresome and laborious were her daily mantras.
I need you to do this.
And do that.
I need you to be this and to be that.
Can you fetch, sit up, bark, and roll over?
Can you jump over the moon?
Chase after the sun?
"Sergio!" she snapped. "I cannot believe you're just standing there like a deaf-mute! Aren't you going to acknowledge how perfect your daughter is?"
"She's beautiful, dear," he would say just to appease my mother. Not that he didn't think I was beautiful, but was probably sick to death of his wife reminding him of it every second of every day for the last five and a half years.
"Perfect!" she would counter with a hiss. "I didn't ask you if she was beautiful, I asked you if she was perfect!" Papa Bear would pretend to ignore her, and she would be reduced to yet another dramatic performance.
"You don't love me anymore, do you?" wailed the tiresome Mama Bear. "And my twenty-eight hours of labor to deliver this child was in vain. And this nasty C--section scar on my bikini line was all for nothing," she pouted. "Sliced like a pig at the slaughter and it means nothing to you!" she bellowed, grinding on her husband's patience.
"Come on, Mother," said Papa Bear extending a stern voice and a free hand to his wife's tense shoulders. "Calm yourself down," he said coaxing his size eleven shoe between the truth and her attitude.
"I went through hell so I could have your child!"
"Will you let the child be?" Papa Bear said. "Come on, Colleen, and let her sleep."
"I love to watch her sleep," said Mama Bear with a great sigh. "She is perfect, isn't she Sergio? Just perfect."
"Come on, Mother," said Papa Bear, pulling on her pajama sleeves.
They would eventually leave my room and let me be, but Mama Bear would never let me be for long. How could she allow anything to be when she was so desperate to find her own blend of human perfection right here on earth?
I was six when I discovered how critical perfection was to Mama Bear. It was the day my mother decided to teach me to ride that evil demon known as the bicycle. The day would have been a blur if I didn't have such a sharp memory for details and devastation.
"It's time for you to learn how to ride a bike," she said one hot, muggy summer day, walking me to an abandoned field near the railroad tracks by our house. Dressed in all white, she yanked me down the road by one hand and the bike by the other. I stared at the bike with big eyes, taking it all in. It was so much bigger than me--to the point of being a monstrosity.
"Mama Bear," I said, because that's what I always called her. "How do you ride a bike?"
"I'll show you, angel," she snapped impatiently.
Mama Bear looked frantic and nervous, which at the time didn't alarm me because that was her typical look. By the time we found the "perfect spot," the Mama Bear had begun to sweat and her hair was unraveling from the inside out.
"Okay, angel," she said, pointing to the bike. "Pay attention. You're going to get on this bike, and I'm going to push you. Then I'm going to let go, and you're going to pedal fast and ride off into the sunset and catch the moon."
"Where am I going?" I asked again for clarification. Off into the sunset to catch the moon seemed like bogus directions to a six-year-old.
"Off into the sunset!" she shouted. "Like the old movie stars in the classics ..."
What the hell?
"Everything has a happy ending in the movies," insisted Mama Bear. "Now get on that bike and ride off into the sunset."
Come on Mama Bear, even slow kids know that not everything has a happy ending.
"Come on, angel," demanded Mother, impatiently tapping her foot.
I cautiously mounted the bike as Mother held it steady. What the hell happened to the training wheels? And then without warning and like a raging bat out of hell she sped down the dirt road like a Lear jet, laughing wildly with her hair blowing in the wind. Her white flared pants looked like giant sails on top of ocean waters.
"Pedal! Pedal!" she cackled and hollered. "Ride off into the sunset!" was all I remembered her saying before she let go of the bike and I rode off into the side of a tree, flying headfirst over the handlebars, landing on the hard part of the dirt.
And jacked up. I thought I was entitled to some short-term sympathy from the Mama Bear, but when she finally caught up to me the last thing on the menu was sympathy.
She looked mad. Stark raving mad with her hair swarming all around her head, hands on her hips, face twisted, lips curled upward holding firm to a pouting stance.
"What happened?" she screamed. "I told you to pedal! Not crash! Pedal goddamnit! Pedal!" she shouted in slow, grinding, overexaggerated motion.
I was mortified, standing in the back draft of her anger, which was tainted with coffee breath and the not-so-subtle whiffs of Aqua Net hair spray. And for the first time I was actually frightened of her, my mother.
Call her what you want, the chick was nuts!
"What happened?" she shouted so loudly that her eye sockets began to shake and roll back into her head. "What do you call that!? That was a long way from perfect!" she snarled. "A long, long way from perfect!"
"But I'm not perfect, Mama Bear," I said in defense of my entire six years on earth.
"Bite your tongue!" she gasped. "Let's go!" she snapped as she snatched my broken bike from the ground and with what seemed like superhuman strength or superhuman anger, shestomped all the way home with me on her heels like Lassie or Old Yeller.
How could she scream at me like this? Why hadn't she bothered to check me for cuts and contusions? Hello. Didn't she just see me do the tango with a tree? Instead she chose to wail, howl, and make a grand production out of an itsy-bitsy event. I wasn't try-- ing to learn to fly the space shuttle, I was just trying to ride a bike for crying out loud. But that was no small feat to Mama Bear, it was everything. Come to think of it, everything was everything to Mama Bear.
There was no decent barometer for measuring stuff. Simple things became complex and everyday occurrences became chaotic. An uncomplicated show became a full-scale production and a glitch became a full-blown state of emergency. So me learning how to ride a bike at the age of six was as critical to my mother as an airline pilot learning how to land a 747 without taking out all of the passengers who had actually paid to have a seat on the plane.
It was times like these that I ran to my Papa Bear. He always found a way to make me feel less like a child of my mother and more like a normal kid, whatever normal was.
I would sit on his lap and he would read to me from my favorite book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I had a special fondness for this particular story because Goldilocks was adventurous and bold. She seemed so free and had she not been a fictional character, I would have summoned her as my friend. I, too,wished to be bold and free like Goldilocks, but Mama Bear had her big foot on the nape of my neck and this snapped the freedom train in half at the neckline. There was also something special in the way that Papa read the Goldilocks story to me--it was the only calm part of my day and reasonable pause from my mother's mania. By the time Papa finished the story, I had begun to cry real tears while he supplied TLC to the tender spots.
"I crashed my bike today," I confessed.
"And so I heard," he said gently with one brow raised.
"Mother's really mad," I said, "isn't she."
Papa always looked around to make sure Mama was out of earshot and then he'd whisper, "Not mad. Just a little cuckoo." And then we both would laugh though we knew there was nothing funny about Mother being cuckoo all. We tried so many times to disguise my mother's obvious "imbalance" by swirling our fingers around our ears and labeling it "koo-koo."
Mama Bear made weekly visits to her therapist and frequent trips to the pharmacy to fill a bottle "to the brim" of whatever the hell it was that she needed to be kind of "normal" like the rest of us. But normal rarely lasted for long. My first day of school was a perfect example of just how abnormal she could be when unsupervised. As usual, she was jittery and impatient while driving me to school, cursing under her breath as though I were deaf.
"Get out of the way you motherfuckers!" she would yell to nonattentive pedestrians, then turn to me and smile as if she had just wished them good morning.
She'd smile and wink. I'd wink back, but when she turnedaround I would roll my eyes and think, koo-koo. And I'd also think, God I wish Papa were here. I felt like I spent my whole life wishing my Papa were here. And he was here, just not here.
I remember the smell of Mama Bear's crisp white linen pantsuit as she escorted me across the street. I also remember her toting a white leather bag with matching white shoes. She wore a face full of makeup, which soon turned soggy when she took it upon herself to give way to the drama that she was so famous for.
"Oh God!" she suddenly began to wail at the gate as I struggled to pry my hand loose from hers. She had me in what felt like a death grip as she continued to dig deeper into her emotional outburst. That's when I began to feel marred for life--humiliated in front of people who did not know me well enough to judge me independent of the koo-koo woman who had given birth to me.
"Oh God, I just can't bear it," she mumbled and stumbled about. This elegant woman with such a pristine look was making a bumbling fool of herself in front of all my potential playmates. The boys snickered as they walked past my mother, whose dripping mascara made her eyes look like those of a raccoon. The girls looked on in awe that someone her age could act up so.
"Mama Bear," I whispered almost in a panic. "It's okay," I said. "I'll be home before dinner." Now that wasn't funny. Or should I say it wasn't funny enough for my mother to start laughing, cackling, and howling so inappropriately that I knew she had gone well beyond the limit of my living down her behavior.
"You are my perfect angel, aren't you? My perfect little angel and I love you so," she declared, kissing me on the forehead, smearing red lipstick across my forehead like a faded tattoo. By now I had come to despise the word perfect and knew that if there was such a thing as perfection, I wanted no part of it.
"I'll be here when the last bell rings!" she yelled. "I'll be standing right here!"
I smiled, then turned away and rolled my eyes, almost sprinting toward my classroom, hoping to seek refuge from the emotionally unstable woman otherwise known as my mother.
"I love you!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. "I love you so much!"
"Love you too," I replied under great obligation. It wasn't that I didn't love her or accept her love, it was just that her love came with so much drama it felt more like a burden than a joy.
By the time I entered the third grade, life had gotten complicated--really, really complicated. I was maturing rapidly, though I was still a long way from a driver's license and a legal sip of alcohol.
I no longer saw my parents as the Mama Bear and Papa Bear, but finally came to see them as people.
One night while Papa was reading my favorite bedtime story, I saw sadness hovering around him. It had been there for some time now, but in recent days, weeks, or months, it had really began to manifest.
"Papa?" I questioned.
"Yes," he replied.
"Are you sad?"
"No," said his lips, but his eyes said yes.
"You look sad," I said challenging him.
"Not sad," he said. "Just tired." And with that Papa closed Goldilocks midstory and sat the book down on the floor. He mechanically kissed me on the cheek, turned out the lights, and slammed my bedroom door.
What the hell?
Nothing had happened, but something had happened, because Papa was changing. Or maybe Papa had already changed. But there was no justifiable cause for change because nothing had happened. But maybe at the end of the day that in and of itself was the problem. As the weeks progressed, Papa Bear seemed to take up residency inside a well of sadness that he never ventured far from.
He stopped reading me bedtime stories.
He stopped being in touch.
He stopped being a silent buffer for my mother's madness.
One day he just up and stopped.
As my father regressed, my mother decompressed, taking to her bedroom for hours upon end listening to opera and staring into space. Still frames of her staring at the walls with tears running down her cheeks are what I remember most about the days that lead up to our Armageddon.
Mother was constantly exasperated because Father had begun missing his curfews. And then there were nights where he almost skipped coming home altogether.
"I can't take it anymore!" I heard my mother cry out on one such occasion, waking me from sleep. "Do you know what time it is? Four A.M.!!! Where have you been, Sergio? Where have you been?" she demanded.
"Taking a holiday from you," slurred Papa, cutting Mother's heart to shreds.
"What's happening to you, Sergio? Don't you love me still?"
Don't you miss me?
Don't you care?
Don't I matter?
And more silence. Papa had stopped answering those questions a long time ago. I do believe my mother had finally worn him down and out. She had successfully managed to push him out of love with her.
Papa turned dark overnight. I don't know, maybe it was a long time coming and neither one of us saw it. He didn't need us anymore because he had a new friend. His first name was Jack and his last name was Daniel's. And whatever the situation was with him and Jack, this would be the last night Papa would come home late. Matter of fact, this would be the last time Papa would ever come home again. And I would go from a child to an adult in less than one night and then I'd go from crazy to sane in even less than that.
"I want you out of my house!" screamed my mother to my father. "Get out of my house!"
"I paid for every damn thing in this house!" Papa yelled back, slurring his words. "Everything!"
Oh Papa, I thought. He sounded so unlike himself. His manhood had peeled away with time.
"I don't know who you are anymore, Sergio! But I want you out of this house! Out! Out! Out!" she insisted, pulling his clothing from the drawers, throwing it onto the floor. She raced madly into the kitchen to collect several large trash bags and began transferring the clothes from the floor to a bag.
"I want you out of here before sunrise! I want you out of here before my child wakes up and realizes her father is useless!"
Too late, Mother.
I had already realized too much. And as I stood at the entry-- way of their bedroom and their demise, I was reduced to tears as I watched my father stand against a wall while my mother continued to pummel him with insults.
"You ain't shit, Sergio!"
"Ain't never been shit!"
"Ain't never gonna be shit!" she said with words that leaped from her lips with a fiery edge.
And just like that he socked her. Laid one good punch across her face and shut her down for good. I was horrified, evidenced by my eyes growing wider. Mother grabbed her face and began to scream. I held onto my own face as I also began to scream.
I will never forget the look on my father's face that night. He looked truly horrified by what he had become. He retained justenough sanity to know he had succumbed to being crazy. He looked at my mother and then at me, and back to my mother. He quickly gathered his car keys and fled the scene. He started his automobile with great urgency and backed wildly out of the driveway, burning rubber as he took off.
My mother went into the bathroom, closed the door, and began running water, probably to pour all over her face, or perhaps to drown herself in. I wasn't sure which.
I stood outside the door for six, seven minutes, almost hypnotized by the sound of running water before coming back to myself and retreating to my bedroom. I pulled out Goldilocks and the Three Bears and began to read it aloud, but it just didn't sound right anymore, so I threw it in the trash. Perhaps this foreshadowed how drastically my own life was about to change. I had a feeling that part of my life was done. It was the part where I had the extraordinary privilege of having a father once upon a time.
At 7:42 A.M. that same morning someone knocked on our front door. My mother and I were simultaneously shaken from our sleep only to find ourselves meeting in the hallway. She looked at me, tired and worn, with a fresh black eye, courtesy of my "gentle-natured" papa.
We did not speak.
Two policemen stood at the door.
I could almost smell the blood on their shoes as they lay in wait to ruin the rest of our lives.
I was instructed to wait in my bedroom, but of course I disobeyed and hid around the corner so I could listen. But sometimes we do not like the things we are privy to hear when we do. Things like a police officer announcing to my mother that Papa had been killed in a collision this morning shortly after 4:30 A.M.
My mother collapsed, and I do believe that at that precise moment, she lost what was left of her mind. One of the policeman caught her, but he wasn't close enough to catch me. I had collapsed, too, but no one knew it because I collapsed while standing up and quite still. Amazingly, I didn't even cry, at least not right away. I shed a few tears, but not many. I couldn't fall apart because my mother was hanging off the deep end of ocean and needed constant emotional support.
I opted to shut down my heart and go dormant instead.
Oh, Papa, how could you leave me to deal with the koo-koo woman alone? In an instant, he withdrew his bid from my world and my mother would have to replace him.
And this, dear reader, was my genesis.
CRAVE. Copyright © 2004 by Darnella Ford. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.