Sunday, December 6, 2009

Questions of Blame

I traveled with my second family, all of us crowded into a small white car, on our way an unknown destination. Older Brother was there and Younger Brother as well, and Wise Father and Kind Mother, all of us together in the twilight of the small compartment. I sat between the two brothers in the back seat, alternating my attention between them, trying to make them look at each other, trying to make it so we would all truly talk together, but it was rare for their eyes to ever meet, even rarer for them talk directly to each other. The road outside was surrounded by long lines of thin trees that swayed lightly in the wind, and the night had a kind of gray quality that seemed somehow familiar.
I turned to Older Brother and addressed him, and since I could only think of serious subjects when I was near him, I spoke to him of destiny and of choice. He immediately responded and we mulled over the abstract qualities of these concepts while the road kept on going straight as an imaginary line and Wise Father listened carefully as he drove. I hoped he would say something but he only chuckled once in a while and leaned back his head to acknowledge a particular point. Older Brother looked under the covering of our mutual assumptions and I pushed when I felt that I had to, and I relented when I felt it was best.
When it seemed that I had talked to Older Brother for too long and I felt Younger Brother growing restless on my left, I turned to him and asked him about his own terrible experiences. He talked to me in measured words, and he had no concepts to summarize what he was saying, no abstract figurations to examine, so he simply told me what had happened, and how it happened, and, to some degree, how he felt as it was happening. He spoke of violent encounters and threats of death and painful marks that would never be erased and sudden moments of conversion when the world turned upside down and the heavy bars of the prison didn’t seem so heavy any more. I listened and asked questions when it seemed that he had skipped over an important moment, and when I asked a question, he would answer in as much detail as he could muster and then he would go on, and he would smile sideways, blowing air out of his nose in a kind of soundless laughter.
Suddenly, Kind Mother turned around from her post at the passenger’s seat and looked at me in the twilight. Her eyes were as sweet and gentle as ever, but there seemed to be a kind of heaviness in demeanor her as well, a heaviness that had never been there or, at the very least, I had never noticed it.
“I feel that you blame me for all that has happened. I feel, in the final accounting, you think that I was the one that caused it all. I hear it in your words. I hear it in the way you speak of thing.”
My own eyes opened wide in surprise since I had never thought these things, I had never blamed her for anything at all. But as soon as she had spoken, my mind started to form shapes around the words that were still hanging in the air between us, and the shapes reorganized my memories at breakneck speeds that I couldn’t follow, and suddenly my memories were no longer the same as they had been and Older Brother had changed form and Younger Brother had also changed form and Wise Father nodded as he usually did and the road kept on going straight through the gray darkness.
“I have never blamed you, not at all. I simply want to look at all the causes, at all the events, everything fits together and to place the cause in only one spot would be to make a great mistake. Causes are like roots, they extend from one event in all directions. Only fanatics grab on to one of the many roots and decide that that is the only one that matters.”
Her eyes closed and opened, and I might have seen a tiny tear rolling down her cheek but it was too dark inside the car for me to be sure. Younger Brother shifted around by my side. He wanted the ride to be over soon. Wise Father chuckled in that way that implied hidden knowledge and Older Brother shook his head. There was something that I had said that he was not pleased with, he might have even heard an insult in my words. It was through him that I had come to understand that insults are unavoidable once distrust has set in like a slowly growing cancer.
I tried to retrace my words, I tried to think of where it was that Kind Mother had found the evidence of blame, the implication that I was specifically blaming her. I couldn’t find the right spot, as much as I looked, as much as I examined. And then I remembered that our language was different, and that more than once someone had said that they couldn’t understand what Older Brother was saying to me, that they couldn’t understand what I was saying to Older Brother, that the words escaped them as if they were all being spoken in a strange unknown language. So maybe she just heard what she was afraid of hearing, and maybe because she was afraid of it, there was a kernel of truth in it. Not the entire truth, for the entire truth was too large to be held in any one thought, in any one sentence. But maybe a sliver of truth, enough of it to make her cry, enough of it to make my past into a different story from the one I had always framed as my experience. Maybe she had maintained a certain structure too long, maybe she had allowed certain imbalances to fester, to grow past the point when anything could be done about it.
Their faces were different now, but the road remained the same. Kind Mother had turned towards the windshield and was staring at the place where the road disappeared in the horizon. There always seemed to be a white cloud there, a bright white cloud that we never quite reached, and yet it always seemed so close.
Older Brother, with his new face and his new clothes, turned towards me once again and he said: “Each of us has to respond for our own actions. We can’t blame others for what we do.”
I nodded and agreed. There was no use asking who we would be responding to or why we were all so concerned with the placement of blame, why when I spoke of causes everyone thought I spoke of judgements and faults. Maybe we didn’t care so much where the blame rested as long as it wasn’t on us.
Younger Brother, with his new face and his new clothes, turned towards me and said: “You used to be my friend. You were my friend first before anything else.”
I nodded and agreed. There was no use asking how he had faded away from me or how I had faded away from him, how he had turned into a living memory that only danced in the distance. He was no longer the Younger Brother I knew and so I couldn’t touch on such delicate subjects. I could only listen and take in what he wanted to give me.
Kind Mother inhaled deeply and then released a deep sob. It was only then that I was certain she was crying. Wise Father turned to her and said: “Don’t worry, mama, we’ll be there very soon. Very soon this will all be a memory. “
I leaned back on the backseat and exhaled softly. It would certainly all be a memory and I now knew what ultimately happened with memories. In the horizon, the white cloud was shining bright, as distant as it ever was. Inside the car, there was only the very faint sound of crying and of soft, careful breathing. Soon this would all be a memory. And then everything would change. Just like it always did. Just like it always had.

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