We Are the Repeating Progenitors of Our Own Pain
This little vignette is my submission to themonthly symposium. Each month, members of the STSC make art around a set theme, and this month’s theme is “superstition.” My symposium submissions are usually longer than 500 words, and this one is 200+ more words.
The little one preferred meadows to sidewalks because the former had no cracks. No gaping gullets between squares of concrete. No linear edentulous mouths emerging thirsty for rain and bone. Her walks to the market required acute ocular attention whereas she could run in a meadow without the overwhelming fear of snapping her mother’s spine.
Step on a crack, and you’ll break your mother’s back.
This threatening lesson became fact.
Hops, skips, and tip-toes over every split in the road was her attempt at control because one result of trauma is a critical need for sovereignty.
“Why can’t we just walk on the sidewalk?” Her companions would whine.
“What’s wrong with taking the long way around? There are raspberries along the gravel, but just grass along the sidewalk.” She was influential, not from coolness or skilled oration, but from certainty. No one else at the age of 10 had enough certainty to disagree, so they’d all walk the circuitous path of gravel instead of the steadiness of cured cement. And she breathed easier for it.
At the slight age of toddler, she witnessed the beating of her mother who ran from room to room just so the little one wouldn’t see.
Hiking boots stomping breasts.
Horizontal hail of fists to back.
The metallic snap of bone is buffered by the muffle of flesh, so it’s more a thud than a crack. Childhood amnesia protected her from the clarity of memory, but surely she heard the snap of her mother’s moon skeleton under the cover of flesh and fear. She could not bear being the perpetrator of yet another break.
If bone is made of moonlight,
is the moon made of bone?
Her superstitions didn’t end at the sidewalk of childhood.
The little one grew, as did her beliefs. But what we believe to be true is rarely so. As with our lunulae that aren’t white at all, they’re just thick enough to block out the pink of capillary below. The moon merely curtains us from the blood.
Superstitions are available when you need them, and true enough to keep you hooked; they’re basically a good booty call. Helical cocks corkscrewing their way into your brain to open a tunnel for light.
But concrete-crack skipping turned into wood-knocking and earlobe-pulling, which swelled into compulsive counting and obsessive organizing.
The little one’s friends in her 30s were less apt to avoid a direct route than her 10-year-old compatriots. Her crumbling turned to avalanching, so she started to strangle her superstition with science. Petri dishes took the place of dinner plates. Bacterium took the place of pets. Her nervous energy found a focus in research. Anything to keep her mother’s bones whole.
It took more than several months but less than several years for her to develop a bacteria-based self-healing concrete. With each spine-threatening crack that appeared, her bacteria were there to catalyze the invading oxygen and water and convert the nutrients to limestone. From fractures and fissures to fixed and firm, the process repeats itself again and again and again, a reliable restoration. Urban living became liberating. The sidewalks, undulating with various shades of gum, from lung-colored to tar-colored, basked in the once-little one’s not-yet-insouciant footfall.
Her fear of being the progenitor of her mother’s physical agony should have evaporated now that the world was devoid of concrete cleaves. But her ache wasn’t remedied.
The fear of flesh, torn and saucy.
The fear of hair, uprooted like weeds.
The fear of eyes, timid with betrayal.
It was all still extant. For while concrete could heal itself, she could not.
Could one step on a crack have saved her years ago?
One day far in the future, the little one will find herself scaling a mountain where Nature thrills in mars and flaws, and stone relishes in its wrinkling. The crevice will feel her tentative sole, the heft of a lifetime of alarm settling in and filling the emptiness. A stillness of silence.
No hammer to glass.
No door jamb to skull.
She will be set free. A life of making love on Friday the 13th and fearlessly moving mirrors to reflect the moonlight.
But for now, she is standing alone in a meadow waiting for rain because even the earth has betrayed her with its drought, and the clay is separating itself into claw marks and cracks.