For Estike, in a Fugue State
I found Estike at the edge of the shore, her dress blowing in the wind, her dead cat under her left armpit, solid as if already taxidermically preserved. Despair wrecked a house inside of her—its new tormented poster child. Physical abuse by a damned sensation worming through her body
madness, or love,
Have you ever met road, someone turned road, a physical manifestation of road?
I was supposed to attend the Mother’s Day gathering at my grandmother’s house at 2 p.m. the afternoon I sought the shore. I was afraid to attend the event, as I couldn’t tell anyone I loved them. I couldn’t utter the words, even if only as a speech act—I didn’t want to hurt them, I cared about them insofar as that—so I, so I stayed away.
My grandma made an elaborate spread for our Mother’s Day gathering. My grandma puts a lot of effort into making things lovely. She has a dish for each dish she makes
yet we still eat off paper plates. Everything is salted and made with love.
I bought her flowers wilting on my backseat. I know I belong there in her hands that look like mine,
wilting skin around our bones.
I hear the words of the worst things people have said to me and want to spread them, get them out, out away from me. “Fuck you,” from eyes I loved and trusted. I want to say them to all. I want to run away and start again. Make this life a past one that I forget. Is reincarnation a metaphor created by those who endured grief, rolled through their graves?
I once felt love for everything. Everyone. The sandwich dense with condensation Ziplocked in my backpack, the librarian down the street, the rubber soles of basketball shoes, the squeaks they make. The dentist, my mom, the uncrinkling of noodles in a bowl of Top Ramen, I was full of love and I loved earnestly. These days are different; I don’t possess such a feeling to dispense—saying it is much harder.
In one of twelve chapters from the Hungarian arthouse film Sátántangó, we meet a young girl abused by her mother and brother. Returned home from psychological treatment, she’s told to wait in a chair outside while her mother tends to a man in the bedroom. Lasting only a few minutes, she slides off the chair and rambles about the rafters of a nearby abandoned building. She hums and pets a purring cat in her lap, then gets up and draws a white lace shawl from a nearby trunk,
wraps it her shoulders.
A fugue flaring up, the scene takes a turn: she torments the cat, shaking its body, wrestles it to the ground. Wrangles it in a net, then casts it over the ceiling’s beams, holding it there while she fetches milk—and rat poison. When she returns and pours the mixed concoction, she smashes the cat’s face into the bowl, her hand pressing its head down over and over, until stopping to wait, and watch time finish the death.
She walks with the cat’s body to the local bar, no affect. Through the window, she sees the adults in her life imbibing, spilling wine and flesh and spit and sweat—two make out with a baguette shared between them, tonguing the bread. She runs up to the town’s alcoholic doctor as he approaches the bar; rebuffed, she runs away.
The frame follows her walking all night, several hours, many cinematic minutes, the day’s events writhing through her psyche or rendering it numb, or both, as is often the case. She clenches her cat under her left shoulder
draped by the shawl.
I want her to walk into me. I want to take her in my arms, the poor frightened girl, and wrap her in a towel and feed her and help her along. She wasn’t so wrong.
My sister texts me Where are you?
I say You’ll get used to this paradigm shift in time.
I’ve gotten used to shifts, to losses, to change, it’s all fine, they’ll get on without me.
I wonder if I’m killing my grandma, pressing her face into the rat poison, die, die, to my family, like the young girl killed her cat—making others experience an experience, passing it on, reincarnating the pain—I’m withholding my presence, disappearing, disappointing, wanting them to feel grief.
I had on a loose black tunic over black bike shorts and brought over the boxes he’d stored at my place. Greeted with hugs and kisses by his mom and dad and brother, I don’t remember the boxes being lifted from my arms. It was a small studio apartment, under 300 sq. ft. and there was hardly any room to turn around, much less help out. After a few remarks about how good the place looked, I’d completed my delivery and resolved to leave. Five minutes later, I sat at the bistro table breaking bread with the family, laughing at the story of the time his mom and dad broke the first bread at their new home—one of the few Jewish traditions they still did—and ants came spilling out like quarters in a change machine.
by the time it was over, I didn’t know how I’d gotten so tangled in places I shouldn’t have been.
Passing around bottles of rosé, laughing loudly, lovingly, in front of teases and jabs; sincerity in between gazes when the talk turned, supportive limbs swung over shoulders. I was a voyeur, but their invitations barred insistences, wrapped in love and no excuses, and don’t think too much, enjoy yourself, filling my cup and cupping my hands—my time spent with them will always seem unreal.
Perhaps I’m not trying to cause hurt, but rather I’m withholding my presence in hope of entering a dimension that would reveal where those who’ve left have gone.
If I’m not where I’m supposed to be, where I belong, where the I that is an I should be, then can I be where I’m not, where you are, transcending my form?
Looking for absence, she becomes absence.
Looking for the void, she becomes the void.
Accomplice in her disappearing, it appears she drowns.
I want a confessional,
like the lovesick writing poems in their phone notes, on anonymous or pseudonymous blogs
But by whom do I want to be cleansed, what greater judgment, knowledge?
When human ceases to believe in god, god ceases to exist in human’s suspending belief—
As females in a patriarchal culture, we were not slaves of love; most of us were and are slaves of longing—yearning for a master who will set us free and claim us because we cannot claim ourselves. – bell hooks, Communion: The Female Search for Love
There were moments I wanted to leave those lonely lovely evenings, as one wants to run away from places they don’t really belong. Once on the sailboat, I was there alone. He
was dropping acid and talking to rocks in the mountains. I flirted with a guy who talked about the rocks he
collected from around the city and a special gloss he
bought to put on them to make them look like they’re underwater, give them that everlasting gleam, sheer surface—frozen in their cleanness.
I had the overwhelming desire to jump right off, swim away, to somewhere that was mine, that I could see myself reflected in, where I wasn’t a guest with a passport either feigned or expiring or practically invalid.
And if I claim myself, as a god, or merely a meaning-making agent, let there be one—
There persists the disappointment that turns us away from parents toward god to—what then—oblivion? We seek to transcend:
How much can I eat before I become the food / sleep before I become sleep only / sing before I become the melody / thrust you inward until we become new initials on the periodic table
I want to rub meat on my genitals as Carolee Schneemann does in Meat Joy
But what happens after, do we take a nap
“At the end [of a performance], it’s just me, you know—simple, vulnerable, alone.”
– Marina Abramović at Town Hall Seattle
On the island is where we’ll start again, putting up a white flag to surrender to basic humanities
we’ve fucked. We’ll start again and bury our cats, or we’ll nurse the cats like the babies dropped at the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence, left in the basin at the entrance, or rotated away on a lazy Susan contraption later installed for anonymity. We’ll set it up like the bucolic garden Shirin Neshat captures in Women Without Men. And we’re not so naïve to think it a gendered utopia, pedestaled by Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto and reinforced by such short tales recurring in The Paris Review, e.g., Rebecca Makkai’s “A Story for Your Daughters, a Story for Your Sons,” no such sorority is the place of dreams.
The flowers are flaccid, I turn around to check—irredeemable at this point; I’m tired of waiting for something I can’t name.
In the film, after walking, Estike reaches an abandoned fortress and lies down under a tree, sets the cat’s body beside her, smooths out her dress, and takes the rat poison—waits.
I wait, too, as we all do, but unlike Estike, my waiting has no known end point itself.
To transcend really is to
transcend the desire to transcend
coming back to Earth
Back to being a question, a study in waiting
As long as there are humans there will be
yearning, creating, surviving, and
priming the polyester that stuffs
the verbs that transform
waiting without end to not waiting at all,
humankind’s continuous endeavor,
always finding reason, renewed strength,
in the autotelic element of contemporaneity
—that demanding patron.
At the housewarming party—after breaking fresh bread—I smoked the second cigarette of my life with the aunt that I wanted to be mine. She told me I needed to get a partner, unaware or vaguely hinting that my connection to her was via someone I was hoping would be a partner. Their motto was TML: too much love. Her love was abundant, transcending, I could float on it
all the way from the sailboat to the island.
We’ll rely on having some social system, some order, some faith, which is neither flanked by nor founded on love but upon whose shores it washes again and again.
It’s only when commonly understood that love must precede the showing up or sharing life—in family, in involvement—that I falter in performing these things.
For what is love really—a noun
like economy—intangible, empowered—but we say,
It doesn’t describe the state between you & I—
You are you and I am I and together we are together—love is exactly invisible and nondescript and within people to be exchanged, color studies between gold pots for physicists, but characterizes no ties between them; those ties are much stronger, infallible, deeper than feelings or nouns fostered through language’s sealed container, rainbows in the roots.
Carolee Schneemann pulls a scroll from her vagina, materializing literature from the birth canal, the multiplicities of the female sex made visible, vocal. I want to put one in.
Don’t tell me to take up space, I am space.
Don’t tell me I’m enough, I’m immeasurable.
Don’t tell me that I’m beautiful inside and out, that I have value. Believe that I’m outside of value, from ever having it attached to me.
This scroll is a douche.
You say I don’t understand my worth. You’re right. I don’t understand myself as a subject of worth, I refuse to self-commodify.
So let me in, I whisper, I beat.
Let us feel joy.
keep a little road.
I dove from the sailboat that I loved being in and washed upon the shore with the white flag at half-mast—mourning the time we surrendered to what we thought was better than us. Let the cat wash away in the water.
I helped clean up that night of the impromptu housewarming party, stayed hours past when I said I’d swing by with the boxes, said goodbye to the family that I wanted to be a part of. Never told you about it—the you that is in me like yearning, straddling doubt and the request that you stay, seated at the table next to yesteryear’s god, but I tell you now. And you, the you from my concept of you, more of me than you ever were objectively in this world, wash my hair and take the girl from my arms and the cat from her armpit and send the card to my grandma, saying I love you
/ a speech act you know is true. And you, existing in the same place as waiting, as love, die, and break bread upon these pages.
Natalia Rainier Sloan is a writer, performance artist and activist. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Better Than Starbucks, Tupelo Quarterly, Wildness Journal, and elsewhere. She resides in Seattle, WA where she splits her time between working and teaching.