Sunday, September 11, 2005

Return to Righteous City


The danger of the sickness was its contagion. For the first time, I realized it, but it was too late. My knees trembled involuntarily, my head filled with images I could not identify, and I felt my stomach sink. I leaned over to touch the grass at the side of my grandmother's grave, hoping it would snap me back into the here and now. My grandmother's headstone of red Tishomingo granite was exactly the same shade as the sky where the sun had just slipped over the horizon. The cemetery was on a bluff that reminded me of the Seven Sisters Overlook just a few miles to the west, Arbuckle Falls Creek.

For years, I had lived in fear of exposure and humiliation because of my seizure disorder. Since Marcus, since I was a teenager, I could not stand anyone to touch me, for fear of being catapulted into the trembling and buzzing of the seizure, or worse, into the terrible lacunae, the empty lakes of time into which my mind drowned itself while in a fugue state.

Stanton had found where his father had hidden Tara and the other precious jade artifacts smuggled from Laos. He also had known that his father had been driven mad by the loss and by fear that monks or others were pursuing him.

from puente las cuevas, south of los barriles, b.c., mexico - photo by Susan Smith Nash

Yet, Stanton had deliberately withheld Tara from his father. Would that cruel refusal provide him the kind of satisfying closure that revenge fantasies seem to promise?

Did the fact that Stanton deduced where it was, and then seduced me with the idea of a treasure hunt, prove a dedicated, unwavering love for me? Or, did it reveal a delight in playing my weaknesses, a thrill of knowing that you have a secret hold over another?

How was Stanton able to divine the degree to which I would identify with his tragic, troubled father? How could he have known how deeply I understood the man who was plagued with post-traumatic stress disorder, bullied daily by the voice of a god as yet unknown to humanity, but a harsh one who proclaimed him his first adherent in a doomsday cult of one?

I thought of Dad, laboring away in his basement, where equipment flickered, sizzled, and printers connected to sensors and computers produced charts and graphs. I could smell fresh-brewed coffee; I could hear my mother's soft voice blend with the voice of my grandmother: "She has such a pretty face, such pretty blue eyes."

flowers in Hotel California, Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico, september 2005 - photo by Susan Smith Nash

With a great effort, I placed the flowers I had brought with me on the side of my grandmother's grave, then stood up. More unwanted and unrecognizable images flashed inside my mind's eye. Where could I go to heal? Where could I seek refuge? Would I awaken from yet another fugue state, possessed yet again, bruised, manipulated, torn, the very life taken from me? Did I even care any more?

A camouflage-painted two-way radio crackled from a bamboo hut on stilts somewhere in Laos. Mosquitoes whined, monks in saffron robes chanted the heart sutra. My head was filled with radio static and chanting. Somewhere quiet, soothing voices spoke to me.

I would be safe as long as I followed the voices.

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