Embracing Age, Madness and Misanthropy.
"...That’s all. Out of a lifetime, a few words, a few pictures
and everything you have lost is lurking there in the dark, poised to strike."
(From Louis Jenkins' poem, It Was a Snake)
Marlea Evans: Introducing myself to readers with an eclectic group of true stories, some written in the 1990’s, some in a poetic style, and some brand new in essay mode, Seventy is the New Sixty Nine stands simply for the fact that I can no longer take twenty years off of my age and get away with it. As for the subtitle, I can hear a reader saying, "that doesn’t sound very inviting.” I understand, even being smart-assed or ironic about it, why would anyone want to embrace age, madness and misanthropy? An antidote to positive thinking? If you are tired like I am of "follow your dream," and "you can be anything," proliferating the airwaves like religious mantras, and you'd like to read about a person's long work of finding out what that really means, then, "I'm your man."
Of AGE, I have no choice. Here I am, over seventy, a little Botox, a smidgen of Juviderm and even the strength of my young attitude is just not cutting it anymore. I don’t look a day over sixty-nine. I am deluded sometimes, like one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons: a large glass of hot fudge sundae looks in the mirror and sees a svelte, fresh green-topped carrot.
Of MADNESS, the opposite of sanity (whatever that is), I’ve lingered around the edges of it since I was a teen, suffering what I call seasonal and metabolic depression, hospitalized for two weeks in my late 20’s, and wrestling with it for the rest of my time. I believe that to be human is to be aware, unable to understand what that awareness means, and therefore, to be mad.
On MISANTHROPY: There are many definitions of it, starting with the Greeks, but most commonly it means to despise mankind, like Moliere's Misanthrope, Alceste, because it simply does not live up to your moral expectations. I experience it as a hatred of crowds, of noise, of group think and group ideologies that push you to act and feel as they do. And I love spending time alone. Here is a quote on misanthropy from Wikipedia: “It should be added that misanthropy does not necessarily equate with an inhumane attitude towards humanity. Schopenhauer concluded, in fact, that ethical treatment of others was the best attitude, for we are all fellow sufferers and all part of the same will-to-live.” I embrace misanthropy on that basis.
Seven memoir pieces are published below. Links to each separate story will be coming soon. Meanwhile, the seven stories can be found by scrolling down, one after the other.
Trio - Farm Funeral - In Training - Boom and Gloom
Death is the New Prom - Body Bags - Horoscope Rag
© 2003 marlea evans
The farmhouse, vintage 1902, is freshly painted white with white trim. A wrap around porch has been enclosed to give the family a generosity of space. To look through a plate glass window in front is to see zebra-striped climbing ivy divide the living room from the den, an entry pair of planters, like boxed messages from the jungle. Rounded mound of the old storm cellar rises outside the back kitchen door, covered in grass, the boy and girl’s favorite place to play, a place of underground protection in a tornado, where lines of glass put-up vegetables glow in the candlelight, and where botulism poisoning comes up as a topic of conversation. Are the jars safe, were they sealed properly, an entire family found dead south of Wilbur. Beyond the cellar is the gate to the slanted chicken house of egg-finding fun, and on down a crusty path is the big red barn with white trim. From the hayloft, the girl and boy hide from chores to watch their father work on the family garden. He looks like an alien presence in his overalls pumping DDT in clouds of grey mist on the vegetables. The market in town has everything they need. He is superintendent of the schools, why does he hoe and plant? Pastures of fescue and rye dominate both sides of the house delineated by whitewash wooden fences, and at the driveway entrance, large painted wagon wheels with iron spokes give artistic finish to the perception that this spread is a gentleman’s farm. Cows and steers all the same brown and white Holstein are in the barn, down dozing in the darkness like mounds of irregular stone.
The girl and boy’s faces are smashed into pillows in their back bedrooms at four am in the morning, quiet, breathing in and out the verdant, blossoming spring air of the plains. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. A scream rings out from the girl’s bedroom—father and mother clamber out of bed in alarm. Brother groans and turns over, grumbling to no one: she’s having that nightmare again. The girl had told Brother what the dream was like—it was the end of the world. Two massive orange planets move overhead, collide and burst into red flames hurtling toward earth. From his advanced age, two years older, Brother had explained to her that she was seeing Mars or perhaps the moon colliding with an asteroid, exploding and enveloping the earth in fiery orange flames. It was a scenario, he’d told her with eleven-year-old certitude, which was very likely to happen someday.
Shaking and crying into her mother’s chest, the girl burrows deeper, choking with fear. Mother and Father look at each other, ashamed and concerned; what’s wrong with her? Is it my fault? Is she ill? Is there poison in the well water? What will people think? Will she be normal? Why is she always dreaming of the end of the world?
Mother speaks, her mouth is moving, but nobody hears:
I’m dying. I know that. It’s a hospital, I can hardly breathe, I’ve been sick a long time. Who is the girl, what is she doing? Taping something to the wall, a photograph, a painting, it’s one of those impressionist things. She’s sticking it to the wall so I can look at it. Blues, greens…some mauve. A good one, not one of those goopy, bad Parisian street scenes that everybody just loves. Maybe Monet? Where did she get that idea, to tape up a print on the wall of the dying—from some morning show on TV? Helpful hints from Heloise, home beautification for the walking dead? My homes were always attractive. I could have been an artist, but a woman’s got to get married, you know. In my time, you got married! That girl is slender, but she’s not that young, thirty something. She looks like Father—of course, she’s his daughter. Oh. Good grief.
Why is she still alive and I am dying? I’m not yet seventy years old and I don’t want to die! It’s she who should be hightailing it off the planet; she never believed in living a life, always waking in the night afraid of orange planets exploding over her head, the world ending, always leaving one perfectly good life for another questionable life, as if sticking to a job or a man or a city would give you the plague. In Philadelphia, we saw her in that dreadful sad play by some English witty person. Father fell asleep; I loved the language, crisp and learned. But she doesn’t have what it takes to be a movie star on TV. You are born with that, and she is an inner girl, a closed door. She never had a decent apartment in the city of brotherly love, and now she’s in New York. The first place was on Park Avenue with some lovely Hispanic guy, yes, Raul. Father called him Rawl; he came out here where the winds sweep down the plains, and sang to me with his guitar. “Good Night Irene,” he sang and wept. I didn’t cry, I was all cried out. I admit it, I was jealous of her then, that she had loved different men with different skins.
But then she left him. No! It must be that he left her because men leave women who don’t want anything from them, don’t demand children and homes and bank accounts; men don’t want women who only want to be loved. A woman in a kind of trance. Now I hear she’s in some five-floor walk up dating a man too young for her and she’s poor, like she wasn’t raised to have nice houses, well-appointed rooms with a bit of flair. Freedom, she says. All she wants is to be free, but doesn’t she know it’s just nothing left to lose—even I know what Janice Joplin taught us before she overdosed. Is it my fault my daughter never believed in the world? We made navigating it too easy for her, cleaned it up, gave it pretty fences and gardens, kept out the polio germ, paid for her college. She didn’t have to work, and we kept her from the grimy business of killing. Doesn’t she know that life is killing, chickens or cows to eat, mortal enemies like Hitler. You’ve got to kill the competition. We gave her cars, now all she can afford is public transportation. Now she stands over me, a tragic mask of a face, waiting to be told how pretty that is on the wall, that splattering of paint from some Monet living on a placid pond outside of Versailles. She thinks it will make the medicine go down. Dead soon. Me. What if she is poisoning me? She is poisoning me. Are you poisoning me? Help. Help. You are poisoning me!
I wake up with a start, a little spit in the corner of my mouth, on the couch, in the middle of another end-of-the-world dream—the Hollywood version. The smell of three cigarettes I smoked seep into my nose. I have no desire to get up and brush my teeth. There is something comforting in the garlic from supper and nicotine hanging on in my mouth. I don’t want to move and go to bed. Bill snores. He is warm, though, and the night is cold. I’ll throw my leg over him, he’ll groan, oh no, I’ll laugh and stay until my body temperature reaches his. But, I don’t move from the couch. I want to stay here in this twilight of gods and man and sleep, because in this in-between mind, I can almost comprehend the hypothesis that I might be a hologram on the rim of a black hole, that replicates of me live in alternate universes, that I swim in dark matter, that every stroke of my arm, every flight of a butterfly, the kind and unkind movements I make disturb and ripple out into the massive invisible ocean of the universe.
I am the same age now as she was when she died. Mother. Looks like I’ll make it to seventy, whether I like it or not. She disapproved of all my actions and felt that they were her fault at the same time. But I still feel like a girl, the one who witnessed a strange funeral in red-dirt country, of a cousin who died in a fire. I’m a woman who never raised a child, only loved the men she loved and finally found a man who only wants to be loved. I’ve written closets full of pages, boxes full of words, but I can never find the story I am looking for. When the spaceship crashed into the eye of the Man in the Moon in Melies’s early silent movie, 67 years later our spaceships landed on the craters of the moon. Jules Verne and his lunar modules, solar sails, Spock and Captain Kirk and their cell phones and laser beams—all of it happened. The movie on our already-out-of-date flat screen Blue Ray HD, is telling us to get ready, the world will be ending, but if you can fly planes through crumbling skyscrapers and over massive erupting volcanoes, and are a movie star, you can save your family.
Was it her fault that I dreamed of the end of the world? Mother? At the end, she believed I was poisoning her. It was her failing kidneys, the handsome young doctor told me, that made her look at me with eyes wide in horror and claim that I was killing her.
The world is essentially toxic, isn't it, and wonderful and marvelous to behold in all of its creation, but much too beautiful and poisonous to last forever.
“At the moment, the Baby Boomers are pretty glum. Some of the gloominess, however, appears to be particular to Boomers, who bounded onto the national stage in the 1960s with high hopes for remaking society, but who’ve spent most of their adulthood trailing other age cohorts in overall life satisfaction. Fully 80% say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today, compared with 60% of those ages 18 to 29 (Millennials); 69% of those ages 30 to 45 (Generation Xers) and 76% of those 65 and older (the Silent and Greatest Generations).”
-Pew Research Center
A sample of true stories in different styles from Oklahoma, Philadelphia, New York City, and Los Angeles.