This morning, it is hard to see the worth of waking up from a nightmare when every single headline in woken life reads like this: ‘Berlin Terror Attack: Lorry Plows into Crowd at Christmas Market’ or this: ‘Terror Attack in Kashmir Today | Latest Terror Attack News, Videos’. What does one have to scream to save as many lives as possible when a truck plows into a crowd? I imagine I’d scream something like ‘run in zigzags’ or ‘throw the kids as close to a building as possible’. ‘Throw the kids’. When does the adrenaline fade out to let the weeping begin once there are no more kids to throw?
‘This honorable woman saved dozens of lives by screaming that we had to run in zigzags and throw our kids. She was on the receiving end of the kid-throwing maneuver all-along and she helped all the children make it inside of a building safe and sound. A truly, cool-headed heroine.’ How does one know if they screamed to throw the kids out of heroism or out of egoism? The whole ‘Plows into Crowds’ and ‘Terror Attacks’ headlines would have been quite different; ‘Throw-Your-Kids Lady Thought she was Having a Bad Day, but Wait for the life of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that Ensues!’ These considerations are one’s daily bread in this world.
This morning, the mirror is giving me rule number one again. In my first class at the Beaux-Arts, they told us to look at clouds, to really look at clouds. Rule number one. ‘No cloud is white,’ they said. ‘Observe all the colors in a cloud, and do not ever paint a cloud white. See the grays and the pale violets, look at the still sadness of a blue never challenged, ever, as official sky color. Try to find where the light comes from and discover where it goes to hide.’
My gray skin has burgundy paint strokes where my eyes rest. My skin is scarred and hairy and bumpy, like a loose-leaf sheet on which a strange person would have cleaned sanguine chalks before actually starting to draw something else somewhere else. It also appears that my skin looks somewhat ethnic, as they would call it. Whenever I work at the Egyptian restaurant, people ask me ‘You Egyptian? You look Egyptian.’ Whenever I work at the Italian restaurant, people ask me ‘You Italian? You look Italian.’ Whenever I am tired, people ask me ‘You tired? You look tired.’ Talk about a headline: ‘Canadian Woman Who Can’t Make Ends Meet Uses Own Face as Metaphor for Identity/’ Now that’s something other women would read.
There is something utterly cadaveric in the thing the mirror shows me this morning. I woke up with a conscience to the nth degree of the tremendous pettiness that lives inside of me. I woke up from the nightmares knowing that the day ahead was going to be shitty. ‘Oh Lord,’ I say to get the ball rolling on this shitty day, for my mouth is very ripe and my talk very corrupted. Then I pray for the crowds at Christmas Markets, I pray for truck drivers, I pray for Holocaust survivors, I pray for SS soldiers.
I pray even if I don’t go to church. We only go to church for corpses and baptisms; ‘days of deaths and days of birth,’ if I remember my Ecclesiastes correctly. I used to go to watch the band play because a Christian boy I fancied played the drums. He gave me the Beaux-Arts pamphlets first, he had this thing where he would draw lighthouses with expired oils and say that they were symbolic phalluses emerging from primordial waters.
Organizational skills were not exactly a forte at church and guest bands would often play exactly what we had just heard our home band play, the good church songs being very unanimous and very scarce. I went only once after the bands merged (what do you expect, it’s church, they don’t break up). For heartbreak reasons. The priest asked me: ‘What is it exactly that you want me to do with this?’ Christianity is not to be mistaken for witchcraft, nor is it to be accused of being a world-denying creed. There is nothing to do with heartbreak at confessional. Though there was a bit of solace to be found in the people who patiently waited in line near the confessional for their turn to come after mine, the people who sang with enthusiasm when the same song was played twice with unequal talent. Their patience was a virtue.
I wonder if I would have become a sculptor if I had grown-up with the idea that women could become priestesses. I am contemplative enough and connected to the world around me enough. Fred would disagree. Any time I become a tad too contemplative, Fred, Polish, Jewish, asks: ‘What are you thinking about? Musing about forgiving Hitler again?’ He makes fun of me ever since I told him that I thought about forgiving Hitler for his sins every day for a whole week and only came to almost be able to do it on the seventh day. ‘Forgive but not forget,’ we now invariably say at the same time, like an Amen, before hanging up our phones. He can laugh all he wants. He provided me with the best headline ever when he asked me what it would change in the world whether I forgave the worst tyrant or not, implying that it would change very close to nothing at all: ‘Kingdom not yet Fully Realized until Oblivious Woman Completely Forgives Hitler.’
When they explained rule number one and went on about where the light came from and where it went to die, a girl who did not speak English very well said something about how it came from Heaven. People laughed at her so hard that she never came back to class. I know what’s up with Heaven-girl because I still see her. I know she wants to sleep with me when she turns the book on my nightstand around, so it faces the wall. ‘I am uneasy when Charles is watching,’ she always says, hiding away Charles Taylor’s black and white press photo from the cover of my enormous, revised Secular Age. It is, truly, a secular age. However disconnected I sometimes feel from him, I cannot help but think that the Son would understand love at first sight. I look into Heaven-girl’s eyes and I always ‘already-love’ her. Always ‘already-forgive’ her. I hope she feels the same way about me. ‘Love is still as much of a Traumatic Event after the Fifth Time, Expert Says’.
This morning, I draw the face I want to have over the one I was given. Not an insult to the Creation or anything. I thicken my brows with a simple finger gesture. That is a thing us sculptors can do. I truly love being a sculptor, but maybe I ought to become a potter, for I really understand the concept of being a vessel, mornings like this. Thickened brows I need to keep dust and grime from entering the fragile ponds that are my hopeful eyes. Lids I need to recognize a stain when I see one. I need to face the facts. There is evil in my nights, and cynicism in my heart, but maybe I can sculpt it all again and make it all into some sort of life I would like to live. You’ve got to have hope. Without hope, all is lost. Maybe I’ll make ends meet after all. ‘Woman Putting on her Makeup One Morning Turns into a Whole Thing.’
Josianne has had essays, poems and stories published in French and in English. She is a contributor at À l’essai, Moebius, Matrix Magazine (Canada), water soup, Helen (USA), Les Éditions des Femmes d’à Côté (France) and others. She was a semi-finalist for the CBC Fiction Prizes in the Short Story category and a judge for the Hysteria Writing Competition in the poetry category (U.K.). She is currently working on a short story collection.