Most of us would agree that in life there are dark times and there are stupid ones, and we need fiction writers to help us know the difference. The world is shallow, stupid, and mean – so what difference does it make that a writer would construct a story of hopelessness and ignorance that sits at the ready to antagonize generation after generation? The human condition is depraved and sad; why not see it for what it is? Consider the story of Enola whose death will free you and emancipate you all at once.
Enola was the sort of woman who couldn’t be happy no matter how hard she tried, but the truth is, in all of her 41 years of enslavement to this life, she never did get around to trying. She never could overcome the lavish gloom that wrapped her mind tightly around herself. The depth of desperation began as an orphan, the splitting of herself into two tombs when her parents divorced. Now you and I both know that when parents divorce children are not orphaned; however, Enola felt differently. Her childhood became the blandest of backgrounds upon which to usher in the rest of her life -- she would sit at home during the week with her mother missing her father then lay around during the weekends at her father’s apartment longing for her mother. The pain was rigid. With her heart leeched of the comfortable experiences of family, she would tolerate the moments by twisting her tongue inside of her mouth or hanging off of her mother’s golden recliner up-side-down, letting the blood run to her head then blinking uncontrollably.
“Enola, go outside and play with your friends,” her mother said, digging at her forehead with the broken fingernail of her right index finger.
“I have no friends,” the girl’s up-side-down words defied gravity and floated up to her mother.
“Sure you do, that girl next door. What’s her name? Mildred, I think. Go play, honey.”
“I have lost all of the Sundays of my life and I cannot find any of them. Don’t bother me, mother. Not you or anyone else should bother me now. I need to be alone.”
The mother would often laugh at the daughter’s instantaneous remarks, touting the girl as clever and unique, never once considering that each strange phrase could be moving her toward her destiny of mind-clotting melancholy. Too bad her mother couldn’t have learned that unchallenged capacities will always fade eventually, that the girl’s time would be up before her own, or that sometimes life is further away than most people realize.
Enola’s lagging heart moved her along the bumpy continuum of school and college, leading her toward the bloodshot-colored images of dating and marriage. When she first saw Frank, he was standing in a tilted, irregular pose reaching up into the intestines of a ’57 Chevy Stepside Pickup. She had brought her own car in for an oil change and inspection; it had been making a clicking sound that had been annoying her for several months. When he turned and noticed her watching him, his eyes smiled at her. Enola would tell her best friend years later that she never did love Frank, but that she married him because his dark eyes were warm and protective and it made her think about him with a feeling of curiosity rather than with anything else, and that to her way of thinking, it seemed just as noble a reason to marry a man than any of the high-flouting romantic, love-sick reasons that most people married for.
“I don’t agree with you, Enola,” her friend said, gobbling up the last of her cheeseburger.
“You can’t disagree with me, I’ve been married for 17 years to the same man and you’ve been divorced three times.”
Enola let the comment sit heavily between them for a long while until her friend couldn’t take it another second.
“What do you really know about marriage? How to stay, that’s all. Anyone can stay in a marriage for the sake of staying, especially if you don’t love him and you’ve never loved him. Your dim feelings for each other are never negotiable and would never get in the way of leaving or staying and your physical needs are driven by nothing else but pure need.” The friend crossed her arms over her chest, her mind humming with satisfaction.
Enola watched her friend with a keenly observant gaze, then let out a gradual breath.
“Sometimes the slightest flicker of emotion for him fills me with distaste and there is nothing I would rather do than be left alone.” She whispered the words toward her friend.
Her friend’s hand found Enola’s on the table and she squeezed it with understanding.
“I suppose we all expect something from marriage, even if it is only ‘til death do us part.’” Her friend offered.
Enola appreciated her friend; they had known each other since college and although revelry and cynicism was a perfect part of their rounds with each other, they seemed to reveal in it, needing it in some unique way in order to manage the day to day stuff that each of them faced. The friend allowed Enola the distance she craved, validating her seclusions inside herself. Yet others around Enola disagreed. They were unable to see that withdrawing was Enola’s only hope of sanity. They failed to understand it was in the depths of isolation where she discovered that dealing with even a tiny portion of this pain – the stench of it, the rattling and the filth, its deformed posture – was crucial for her. Inside of her things were important, they were real.
Enola went through most of her days between college and death with her mind stuck in synoptic vision, with thought after thought lunging her toward one crucial moment of cathartic truth after another.
The day she learned she was pregnant felt like her brain had suddenly become a pinball machine that the gods where lined up to play. The sprawling torment of the idea of being a mother made her mind bend toward destructive tendencies and despairing measurements of staring and crying. Frank took her to the doctor where she was diagnosed with depression. The doctor told Frank that these types of symptoms don’t usually begin until after the birth of the baby, but that he could still help. He offered to write her a prescription proclaiming that she would be feeling better in a few weeks.
Enola took the medication, then a few weeks later had a dream that her internal organs had sprouted tentacles and were crushing the baby to death within her. When she went to the doctor again for her three month checkup, he couldn’t find the baby’s heart beat. He was sorry, he told her, there was nothing he could do. But she was young and healthy; she and Frank had many years ahead to have more children. He sat with her while she cried, then told her he would step out of the room and let her grieve in private.
When the doctor left the room, relief like a thrashing wind storm clarified every notion she had ever had about being a parent – she didn’t want it to happen, ever. When the doctor returned to schedule the surgical procedure that would remove the remains of the baby from her uterus, Enola scheduled a tubal at the same time. No, she told the doctor, don’t tell Frank. I’ll tell him about the baby, I’ll discuss the procedure with him. He’ll understand if I talk to him about it.
At dinner that night, she told Frank about the death of the fetus. He cried tears so hot and painful that they moved private tremors through his body for an hour. She compared his response with the tearful sense of release she had experienced at the doctor’s office. Enola watched his suffering and found it interesting that one could grieve to such heights for someone they didn’t even know.
“We’ll try again, Enola. We’re young. We have time to have two, three, even four children if we want.” Frank spoke through his agony. Enola nodded.
For the next fifteen years, Frank couldn’t understand why they weren’t getting pregnant. When he turned 39 years old, he felt within himself a needing to be rescued and identified it as the fact that he had never fathered a child. He told Enola he was indeed disappointed and terribly sad that they had never had children. Something special, something lingering is missing from my life, he told her.
“It has allowed more time for yourself, hasn’t it?” Enola asked.
“I suppose,” he tried to see the bright side.
She brought his birthday cake in, “See, even more cake for you.”
He blew out the candles, offering her a watery smile and a limp thank you for the cake.
The goings-on inside of Enola were just too huge and fast and interconnected for words to do any justice to understanding her person. Seeing her on paper, in these words, Enola’s life swimming through a haze of blustering vapor, it appears barely a sketch, less than an outline of all that really happened. Real life is like that though, but fictional life is worse; however, after a few more pulls of the syntactical pencil across the page perhaps you’ll have a completely fragmented vision of Enola’s inflamed desperation.
“Life is like a private square of cheese. There is the fear of being eaten, which is the destiny the cheese, but this fear is mixed with the terror of being left alone and eventually being consumed with mold and decay. What is the answer?” Enola asked her therapist one day.
“Is that really what you want to talk about today?” He asked.
“I don’t pay you to question my questions.” She snapped.
“Your depression has been manageable so far, Enola, but I’m wondering if a change in your medication might be in order.” As always, he was leery of posing the question.
She inserted her gaze between his head and his throat, letting it decapitate him completely before saying, “Doctor, give me an answer about the cheese.”
“I’m not sure. Do you suppose the cheese represents your life?”
“It’s hard to say for sure. The truth is it’s hard for me know what to really think about my life. It’s always tempting to just sit back and make finger temples with my hands and let it pass by. But then this concern, this crazy idea about the cheese consumes me and I can’t shake it. Do you think, Doctor, that it reveals that I may be desperate for something?”
“Maybe you are concerned because the cheese is alone?”
She looked at him, unappreciative of his verbal swerving away from the truth.
“Everyone has a dread of both relationships and aloneness. I don’t think that’s what this is about at all.” She said.
“Well, perhaps it’s the demise of the cheese that concerns you then . . . how its life will end?”
“So it is about life? You know, I do carry around a certain angst regarding death. I know I’m going to die and that I’m going to die very much alone. We all die alone, while the rest of the world goes along its merry way. But, no,” she shook her head, “I don’t think that’s it either.”
“I strongly suspect that a large part of this goes back to your feelings of isolation and the need to withdraw.” He said.
“You are deliberately trying to antagonize me.” Enola said.
Later that day, Enola telephoned her mother. Although she didn’t know it was her final telephone conversation with her mother, their talk that day ended poorly. Enola was forcing her personal reality as usual, while her mother twitched and dodged it.
“I don’t care what you say, mother. I think illness is intimately tied to personality. You would have never gotten cancer if your personality hadn’t been bent toward expecting it, receiving it.” As always, Enola exuded a course and delicate shade of selfishness that others often overlooked or were too afraid to confront.
“You don’t know what it is to face something like this, Enola. You have no idea.” Her mother cried.
“You’ve manufactured it within yourself. The sooner you see that, the sooner you’ll find your way out of it.” Enola said.
Her mother sobbed into the phone, “Enola, oh, Enola.”
Enola hung up on her mother that day, promising herself to call her later in the week. She would give her a few days to calm down.
Later that night, Enola stood in her bathroom with yet another new medication in hand. She pushed her bottom lip forward in contemplation, peering inside the bottle, studying its contents. She thought about her mother. How the last two years of chemotherapy had changed her, altered her in some grotesque manner that made her unrecognizable to Enola.
To Enola, the great transcendent horror of all time was change, was facing the idea that good things like families could change into bad things like divorces. She thought about the cheese again and how it really had no choice. It would eventually be consumed one way or the other. People change and leave, they die, they become ill. Her mother had changed. People lie to you, they go mad, they betray, have sickness, and leave for good. Strange the things that will outlive us all, she thought, like a worthy cause or a neighborhood even.
She suddenly felt bloated with enough agony to float a cruise ship. Her insides rising with a pressured longing for an end of all things.
After flushing the entire bottle of pills down her throat with a large glass of water, she opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the old prescription, downing the rest of them as well. Barely aware of the brittleness in the air, she shivered and took another drink of water. She crawled into bed beside Frank, who seemed somber and tired. He turned his back to her, settling in for the night.
“I’ve been thinking about death quite a bit lately. What do you suppose it’s all about?”
“Oh, heaven and hell, I suppose. Things like that.”
“So, it’s not about life at all then?”
He flipped over onto his back, sighing, peering at the clock. “I have to be up in five hours for work, Enola. Any more life-altering questions so I can get some sleep?”
“What if . . .” She thought for a moment, wanting the words to fall orderly from her tongue.
“What if I’ve lived my whole life wrong?”
“How is that even possible? Go to sleep, will ya?”
The thing about people who are truly and malignantly crazy is that most of the time they will eventually be right about something.