Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Cheerful Slogans and Sweet Euphemisms Saved Annabelle From the Valley of the Shadow

One day when Annabelle was in the third grade, she was called into the Principal's office and told not to walk home from school as she usually did. Instead, a friend of the family would be meeting her outside the main entrance. "Why?" asked Annabelle, but the principal. a thin, elderly woman who looked something like a nervous egret, merely fluttered and preened uncomfortably before pushing Annabelle gently out the door.

As it turned out, the friend of the family, aka Aunt Nettie, was the bearer of great news:  Annabelle's mother had been "called home."  "But," Annabelle protested, "the house where Daddy and I live is Mommy's home."

Turns out Annabelle was wrong and that her mother's real home was with Jesus and the angels up in the sky. The minister of Annabelle's church soon confirmed this, tears of joy collecting in the creases of his jowls.  Even Annabelle's father joined the celebrants though his professed delight over losing his wife to God seemed a tad wooden and unconvincing.

What was required of Annabelle in this situation was that she rejoice in her mother's good fortune and look forward to an eventual family reunion in the form of a celestial banquet with Jesus himself presiding. Annabelle wondered if her mother would be making her special pineapple upside down cake to bring to the feast or whether they'd all have to eat fish (which she didn't much like) and loaves of butterless bread.

As Annabelle grew up she noticed she had a hole in her heart -- not an anatomical hole, more like a metaphorical one. It felt kind of corporeal though -- a cavern full of dark wings and mournful echoes sucking her down, piece by crumbling piece, into its depths. She began to find Aunt Nettie annoyingly perky and the minister of her church a pompous, blubbering fool. As for her father, the years of stoic acceptance had pretty much turned him to stone.

As an adult, Annabelle knew she projected a kind of sad sack image, one of plodding obedience to a life of endless drudgery. No one wanted to be her friend or marry her. No one even wanted to be around her. Her only companions were the disturbing echoes from that dark pit at the center of her being.

One day she saw a bumper sticker that suggested she "practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Was this the pathway out of perpetual gloom?  The escape route away from the abyss?

During the next few days Annabelle went around offering to carry grocery bags for elderly people with thin, blue-veined arms. Some of them were happy to accept Annabelle's help, though others seemed to resent the implication that they were too fragile to fend for themselves. Annabelle also offered a twenty dollar bill to a homeless man who snatched it out of her hand and headed, hell bent for leather, to the nearest liquor store.

After that, Annabelle tried to concentrate on senseless acts of beauty. But what did that mean exactly? After thinking it over for awhile, Annabelle bought a packet of mixed wildflower seeds and proceeded to toss them hither and yon -- in vacant lots, along sidewalks, even into the bare patches on people's lawns. This latter action got her in trouble with a homeowner who insisted she was trying to sabotage his yard by planting weeds.Eventually Annabelle gave up on random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Meanwhile, the hole in her heart grew bigger, the mournful echoes louder.

She tried to concentrate on the larger picture -- visualizing first inner peace and then world peace but the only image she could conjure up was a cliched picture of a lion lying down with a lamb. The lamb even had a sign around its neck that said "Eat me."

Annabelle grew older and the hole in her heart grew bigger. One evening she was watching the news on TV when a sign some protester was holding rekindled her hope. The sign said "Occupy your heart."

"That's it!" Annabelle cried aloud. She turned off the TV and also all the lights in her apartment. Then she sat down on the floor and closed her eyes. She breathed deeply for awhile until all the tension of resistance had left her body. The hole in her heart grew larger and larger until there was almost nothing of herself left outside of it. The echoes were loud now. They flooded her mind with their wild, unbounded sorrow. She could feel the wind from the dark wings fan her face.

Annabelle knew exactly what was required of her. "My mother is dead," she said and jumped into  the abyss.

No comments:

Post a Comment