Protection. A Story

When I was a kid, I liked to watch as my father welded pieces of metal together. He’d wear that big dull grey mask that always seemed dusty and, when I tried to lift it, felt as heavy as the world. That was his protection. It saved him from going blind due to the overly bright light.
It worked – he never did go blind from welding. But as time passed, and my young eyes, accustomed to being wide open when I watched him at work, gained more focus, I began to notice a different blindness in his movements, opinions, and habits.
He’d go tired for days. I could see it in his movements: the fatigue of the muscles; of the mind, perhaps; the back pain that stooped him more and more every day. When he watched the news, he did it without the agitation he once showed at the mention of any one topic that stirred opinions. His own opinions froze. He stopped paying attention to what he ate. Lard sandwiches day in, day out – he didn’t care what it was doing to his heart.
I think he was blind to it. His heart, I mean. It sounds foolish but what else could make a man shut himself off from friends and family and go on like he was the only person in his own world? Not talking for days, not sharing any of his pain, physical or otherwise? It must have been blindness. A wise woman once told me people go blind due to bad experiences because they don’t want to look back at them.
It’s fall, and I’m remembering him again: his muffled voice when he explained to me about welding from under the mask, the prolonged periods he had of being alone with books, which later turned into days, weeks, months of not talking at all, the shaky gait and eyes that were forever avoiding us.
I wish I had that welding mask of his but I couldn’t find it even though I’ve tried to every November when I come to see our old home after visiting his grave. When fall comes in, I start to feel unsure. I spend evenings thinking of how, as a kid, I saw a man go blind and become a different person. I’m worried this could happen to me; to my future, which then would get as if erased; to my family, who’d probably be scared.
I need some sort of protection against it. At those times, I have this silly idea that the mask would help.
But it’s just a mask that a man mislaid somewhere and died. I must come up with something better.

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Writer’s Anxiety

It was autumn, and a strong south wind was blowing in Buenos Aires.

He was facing the sea, and occupied with a desperate strife to recall his younger self into being, “Proust lies,” he was thinking, “you can never succeed searching for lost time…”

He sort of missed his younger self — the trembling, helpless being who wanted to be a writer, but once got criticized harshly for a novella, and suffered, suffered truly and shamefully, not willing to admit that critique could make him suffer…

All that was left now was an imperfect recollection, and the ability he now had, as a great author, to offer support to that young man he once was. To say, “here I am, you know. You’ve made it.”

But it was imperfect, and the helping thoughts he thought to help the young Witold Gombrowicz got lost to the wind…

***

And some sixty years later, a young would-be writer was sitting in front of her laptop, rereading the passage describing it from Gombrowicz’s Diary, and then — with caution, with some bashfulness — she started to type.

All along, she was thinking, “we’re in this together. Me, you, and this great author. And you, too. Yes, you.”

***

I based this on a passage from Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary. The book isn’t available for free on the internet, and all I can offer is a quote in Polish I once shared here. Those of you who can read Polish, and would be interested in what I wrote about this passage as a nineteen, even more bashful writer, can also go here.

Otherwise, just go buy the book. It’s totally worth it.

Driving Home for Christmas

I’m driving home for Christmas, bitch, I intoned, and they all laughed. Such a happy carful of people it was that I almost opened the door to throw myself down and roll behind on the highway, and get lost, get lost, I so much wanted to get lost on the way.

We were driving home, for Christmas, and for the sake of decency I remained on my seat. It wouldn’t be nice to get killed on the way to celebrate a birth. Whose birth it was meant to be I wasn’t sure.

But there is always some birth at those times when your sense of self sways, pushed by a gift you don’t like, and by how it makes you feel older, or different, than the giver expected; by a brother-in-law wishing you a merry shmerry and that you’d be made happy by something you least want; by the snore that resounds in the vast empty chamber of your skull as the rest of the table gets livelier and more unwelcomely familiar with every passing minute.

It felt heavy all the way. We arrived, finally, without any miscarriages.

I spent that last Christmas like a decent, healthy neonate should: mostly, I slept.