I never inquired why my mother named me Stephen. She was an extravagant drunk and there were just too many other things to ask, like, “why did you set fire to our sofa?” Or: “why did you flush little fishy down the toilet?”
Anyway I’m named after a martyr. The word means “torture witness” and that’s that.
As for the new year, let it become itself without infliction.
Random thoughts as 2020 comes to a close.
Yes my mother was a drunk and often silent in the house. We always kept that silence, my sister and I, for we understood and felt adult sorrows much as dogs sense the unhappiness of their owners. Silence is always the giveaway in tragedy.
But a weird and wonderful change would come over my mother whenever she was on the telephone. It was a fifties phone: black, made of bake-light and of great density. It was heavy as a paving stone, squat as a porcupine and like an animal it sat in its corner in a nest of paper scraps and broken pencils. Because the phone was stationary my mother stood in the corner and leaned into the instrument and talked in earnest.
That was when she laughed.
While much of her day was spent in retreat, while she slept at midday with the curtains drawn, while she often scowled in her privacies, the horn offered her a district of hilarity. She swayed in the corner, elbows propped on formica and laughed.
In her laughter she was living and open.
I heard names—Doris, Anna, Sonya—the names were the governing order of the laughter.
I was busy whittling the points of pencils with a jackknife. Blind kid with knife working diligently in the adjoining room…and then a windstorm of laughter—high, musical, ascendant, open, rushing forward…
She laughed then listened, laughed again.
The laughter was like soap on the floor.
It was like the light at the end of the garden.
When she put the receiver back in its cradle she went absolutely silent.
I wanted the telephone.
It was a vessel.
There were people below decks.
When I was alone I picked up the heavy receiver. It was heavy as a hammer. I put it to my ear and heard the steady and flawless dial tone. It was like hearing a sound from beneath the house.
And I knew that if I waited a few moments the operator would speak.
She would tell me the time. Call me sweetie. Her voice, distilled from the darkness.
She was just a bit of the shy, unasked for sweetness of things.
Is it folly to imagine the best?
What would happen if I discovered folly and optimism are wings?
Here’s to the New Year with its starch and flute.
Here’s to no more shut ins.
No more “walking while black” or “shopping while autistic” and no more smug, dishonest lawn sigs proclaiming “all lives matter” which is the biggest social lie of them all.
No more martyrs.
I’ve so many wishes for the New Year.
Here’s the primary one: let people get the help they need, medical, financial, civic, educational, environmental.
Let this be a year of help.