Friday, May 16, 2008

The First Hour (Prologue & Chapter One of My Novel, Killing Lilith)

This is the most recent version, completed in Baltimore on January  30, 2012:

this is the day the universe opens up to me... the day that i throw off the chains of gravity and bound around my old home. earth. california. october 12, 2006. i remember my first, but i will never forget my last. slowhand will kill me while i come, & i will go to god.

First hour’s the longest. Waiting. Forty-five minutes in the parking lot of El Pollo Loco staring at the opposing arrows flashing on the dash of my Infiniti. Onoffonoffonoff. Not too late, I whisper to myself; if I turn around now I can go home, start dinner, pretend nothing happenedwould ever happen. I look at the dashboard again; the blinking blurs. Nothing. Fear. Been waiting too longmost of my damned existence. No more. Desire is finally stronger than fear. I turn off the hazards, twist the key in the ignition, and start driving towards Sacramento.
Guilt. It should be weighing me down, keeping me from achieving escape velocity, but I don’t feel much of it. Two children and a husband left behind, left to fend for themselves. I can imagine the confusion when they come home hungry and expecting. Haven’t I been blaming myself long enough?
Maybe they deserve better. Not really. If they did, I would have provided it. I did provide it for the past twenty years without much complaint and gradually diminishing expectations that any of them would ever truly appreciate it. I’ve bottomed out.
I know what people will think, tooanother cruel and insensitive bitch abandoning her litter. I can already hear the cries: But those are your children. They didn’t ask to be brought into this world. YOU are accountable for how they act.
Bullshit! In the end, we all have to be accountable for ourselves. They’ve had everything they ever needed and most of the things they wanted.
I know I’m not free of all responsibility, but I was barely the moisture in the clay that formed them. The earth itself is the problem. It comes from this society we’re trapped in. Gray. Fetid. Epidemic. If I’m corrupt, it’s because the earth has stained me as well. I too am its waste.
Sure, parents should be the hands that mold the clay, but we’re much too busy working hard to maintain this contrived sanity we build around ourselves for even that job. We’ve long since passed on the responsibility to their teachers. Of course, they don’t want it either.
No, usually it’s our children’s peers, other children, providing the indelible hand. But what guides their peers? Spongebob, Pokemon, MTV, America’s Next Top Model, Eminem, Lady Gaga. Jersey Shore. Snooki? Really?
At least we have the Oprahs and Dr. Phils of the world to solve our problems in an hour minus commercials, right?
We start the kids off on Sesame Street and Barney while we get some dishes done, and before we realize it, Emily’s skipping breakfast and having nothing but a Diet Coke for lunch so that she can try to maintain her Olsen Twin figure. Is it still Barney? I suppose today our kids’ first fix is Yo Gabba Gabba!
Jacob got his first tattoo last spring at that music festival in IndioCoachella. He hadn’t even turned sixteen yet. My father, The Cantor, would have waved Leviticus at himrailed on for hours about how scarring the flesh prevents one from being buried in sacred ground.  But coffee-stirrer figures and indelible skin art are the least of my children’s problems.
Emily wanted to hang out with the “cool” girls at Brentwood during her freshman year. She started smoking pot with them. By the end of sophomore year, she was snorting Ritalin. Bumping Rit, she would tell her friends thinking the lingo would fool me, not realizing I had sources. Not even halfway through her junior year and she was bumping Ya, cocaine.
My useless excuse for a husband Jack and I did what we could, put her in a twenty-eight day program over Winter Break and cut off the generous allowance that had financed her drug use. Little good it all did.
She became so fascinated by the kids in recovery addicted to heroin that she had to try it for herself. We convinced the counselors to let her come home for Christmas. They sent her with a sponsor, someone to keep an eye on hersome skinny little thing named Sara.
We found both of them passed out on Emily’s bathroom floor, the needle still poking out of Emily’s arm like an enormous wasp stingerline of blood tracing her elbow. Poor Sara. She’d been clean for nearly a year. Her parents ended up emptying her college fund to send her to a residential recovery community in Florida. The average stay is three years.
When we wouldn’t give Emily money, she started dragging Jacob with her with the promise that he could hook-up with some of her friends so she could mooch from his funds.
When we caught on to that and cut him off too, my infinitely innovative children came up with new plans. Last spring, they used the gas card, the only one we still let them keep because it would only work at BP stations. They maxed it out buying cartons & cartons of cigarettes at station stores on their way to Coachella. They were able to make enough selling cigarettes at the show that they could spend the whole weekend fucked up on mushrooms & crystal meth with enough cash left over for Jacob to get his tattoo and for Emily to get her tongue pierced.
I gave up after that fiasco, after getting the bill for their experiment in Capitalism. I realized that we’d gotten to the point that they didn’t care what we thought of themwhat any body thought. Not that anyone else cared. Brentwood still takes our money.
“They’ll grow out of it,” Jack had said. “Remember all the shit we did when we followed The Dead?” They were just typical children testing their boundaries. Let them test their boundaries. I’m breaking mine. If they’ve stopped caring, why shouldn’t I?
As I head onto the freeway, (I’ve already been on & off twice, doubting myself because we are taught to doubt ourselves from childhood) I can’t help but wonder about everything I’ll miss. Emily’s prom this year, Jacob’s the next. Graduations. Weddings. Grandchildren. Stints in and out of rehab. Abuse. Divorces. Bitter loathing. The ever-penetrating hatred that spreads across you like a California wildfire until it consumes you and there is nothing left but scorn and ash.
Maybe they can grow from my death, avoid my mistakes. Regardless, the years they’ll spend in therapy, if they’re smart enough to turn to therapy, won’t hurt.
Will they even miss me? Think I didn’t love them because I abandoned them? Blame themselves? Screw them!
Children think all life revolves around them. That’s their greatest faultwhat separates them from the barely sane adults. Like early Christians, they imagine themselves the preeminent Earth, the absolute center of their universe. Everything else is supposed to revolve around them. Nothing’s personal, nothing’s private, and parents can’t have any aspect of their lives that doesn’t encompass theirs.
Well damn it, this is mine, and if they can’t accept that… accept my decision… Well, I suppose they need the sudden reality of losing their mother to blow them sober. I am Copernicus, Galileo, & Newton at once, the new perspective. Evolution. I am gravity, force & friction.
 Let them decide.
Jesus Christ! Can’t stop sobbing. Can’t even get a grasp of all the shit that’s ricocheting around my head right now. The over-intellectualized byproduct of a liberal arts Berkeley education mixed with years of guilt, angst and self-loathing. Twenty years wasted climbing the social ladder with Jack before plummeting off the top. The twenty years before that spent living under The Cantors shadow.  Is that who I am? Or am I something else? The demon that has reemerged with SlowHand’s guidance? Lilith come forth one last time to face God and demand a reckoning!
Jack. What about Jack? My dear-in-the-headlights husband. A part of me believes he loved me once. The rest of me knows that I was just a chance at another notch on his belt at Berkeley when he first saw me walking across the campus. I don’t have many questions left regarding Jack. I know he won’t miss me. I’ve become a burden to him of late. He’ll mourn, but he’ll eventually appreciate being unencumbered by my absence.
Will he blame himself? Probably not. Jack’s too self-involvedtoo self-righteous to accept blame for anything. If anything, he’ll blame me for ruining his life.
He may wonder, for a moment, if he could have done anything to prevent this? No, Jack. Postpone. Maybe. I hope he’s ready for the new reality. But if the prick can’t take care of himself by now, he deserves a life more painful than the death I have planned for myself.
We met in an auditorium at Berkeley. Ginsberg was howling, one of the last times toorest his soul. As I walked in, I was distracted by Jack’s eyes. I could feel them on me, scalpels dissecting and analyzing. I wouldn’t say I was flattered, but I was definitely intrigued. The sharpness of his eyes matched his face: ragged cheekbones, jutting jawline, a crooked rook of a nose. They all looked like they could cut glass, snip tin, pierce hearts.
"What’s the matter? Don’t like Ginsberg?" I asked as I took the empty seat next to him. He avoided my gaze when he realized I had noticed he had been ogling me. I could see the sweat breaking through his skin, the thought that I had caught him lost in my tits setting his face aflame. He was coy. I wasn’t.
"Well…" And that’s Jack! All hesitation and uncertainty. He plays it off as wisdom, claiming that he likes to mull things over, think about how best to answer any question. Bullshit! It takes him that long just to understand there was a question. But he’s charismatic and it comes across as charming, at first. He hides his narcissistic ignorance well. Better yet, he uses it to his advantage.
He was Pre-Law back then. I was an English major, minoring in Religious Studies, with the same aspirations to write that bestseller most English majors share. It took an effort to find some common ground.
"God?" I asked the next evening over coffee.
"Do you believe in God?" I clarified. I often found the topic a useful barometer of where a relationship might go.
"Well, no. I can’t say that I do. I think God is a product of the past. I like to think we live in a more enlightened time. We don’t need gods to explain our mysteries; we need Louis Pasteurs and Immanuel Kants. How about you?" He didn’t seem certain. Any relationship with him would prove precarious at best, I thought.
"I don’t know God. Who does, really? There’s only one way to be sure, and I’m not ready for that, yet." I was certain that nothing was certain.
We started dating, enjoyed what little common ground we were able to find or create. The one thing we truly shared was a sense that artists and their art, always under attack by those who understood them the least, needed to be protected in order for society to thrive. We figured that we had enough brains between the two of us to do something about it.
We got married after he passed the Bar. I taught English to middle-schoolers while he tried to establish himself in the field. After a year of marriage, I got pregnant and he got a job offer in Los Angeles doing what he was destined to do: Lawyer to the Stars. What a shame he got lost in the glarebeen blind ever since.
It didn’t take long to forget that sense of idealism we had shared. I can’t even imagine why we’ve stayed married this long. I suppose we used the children as an excuse for that, too. No, not really. We were both just a bit too comfortable. I was well kept. The house was well kept. We both wanted something different but were too afraid of change.
The dynamic was altered when I caught him having his little virtual affair. Now we’re still married because there are things I know about him that would humiliate him if they became public, things that would send his clients running like hypocritical cockroaches. Fear no more Jack. I’m leaving and I’m taking your dirty little secret with me.
We did thrive for a while, though, enjoying the first child, the first house, the first decorator, the second car, the second child, Jack making partner. Mutual Funds & IRAs. A second house in Aspen. Living Wills & Trust Funds. Corporations & Foundations.
We were worth more than many of his clients until the dot-com bubble burst in ‘01. But we managed to survive that. You never run out of celebrities fucking up.
Of course, things have changed since the real estate market crashed. Lots of our money was in derivatives, basically bad loans. Too much. Lately we’ve been getting more bills than checks. Most of our Beverly Hills friends have recovered just fine, but Jack’s afraid of the market, nowtoo shy to let our money make more money.
Our lovely little chalet in Aspen has been on the market for three years, now. Nobody’s buying. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was foreclosed on by next spring. At least we had it all for a while. Life seemed perfect.
Life, by most accounts, should’ve been perfect. Life should be perfect, shouldn’t it? I never did write that bestseller. The ideas filtered out as fast as the children and money filtered in. It looked like my fate lay in more domestic domains. Martha Stewart became my God, and I worshiped her willingly.
Now, if I were to turn around, I would go home to three days worth of dishes piled in the sink, mold feeding on the grout in my bathroom, and my compost bin infested with rats. Not a good thing. Martha would be very disappointed.
Unlike Ms. Stewart though, I won’t see the inside of a jail cell. SlowHand however… He deserves betterbetter than being relegated to acting as my handpicked executioner followed by the rest of his life under incarceration, a fate I doubt he can escape.
Fear again. Doubt again. If I hurry, I might get back and have dinner ready before Jack gets home. Maybe I can just blame it on hormones, get a couple of family meal deals from Carl’s Jr., and tell Jack I was just out running errands, doing some early Christmas shopping, finding a new therapist. He thinks I need a new therapist. That would make him happy… happier.
Dayenu. Enough. There’s not going to be a third time. I’m done turning around. I drive. As the last Los Angelic palm disappears from my rearview, I know I am never coming back.

 [FQ31] 3:18pm Chapter One (Los Angeles, CA)

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