Madness Is Remembering


First, he reminded you of Eros in the cave. In Paris, you saw Canova’s sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss shortly before you met him, and when you invited him into your bed, you saw his naked form and remembered the statue, and named him Love: delicate, yet masculine, waif-like but sure as the white stone that made his body. Not your usual type but that made him enchanting, refreshing: this one is different, this one is Love. Love reads Beckett and can speak eloquently on Milton’s Satan. Love kisses you with soft, bowed lips, full of vodka, beneath red velvet. Love leaves you with a taste that is sometimes sour. Love collages his speech from Greek myths and constellations, and reminds you that poetry is meant to be spoken off-the-cuff in cold, dirty streets. Love reminds you just how much you don’t know and makes you wish to be better. Love reminds you that you’re damaged and your memory is not to be trusted.

When, a few short years later, you are married, and you say you’d like to go for a walk, Love maintains that he did not dissolve into rage, as you remember. "And no, you can’t walk by yourself, and why are you always wanting something? Why can’t you just be happy?" Love did not scream at you for hours, as you thought, as you crouched in the bathtub, shook, and wept. You’re just terribly sensitive from being raped as a child over and over for years and years, and from the boyfriends who beat and broke you near to death, and now you’re crazy, and who can blame you? Love only raised his voice a little. Love puts up with you because he adores you. Love will heal you. This is why Love makes you give the details of your years in Hell. Memories are a vraˇzba, you tell him, in the Romani language you are reclaiming. If I speak them aloud then they are conjured into something real, and I can’t live in that world. Love shouts that you’ll never heal if you don’t talk, that you’ll malinger in silence and your abusers will win. You say, There are certain things my family doesn’t talk about— the shame is too heavy to peel from the tongue. He presses, break open, spill the memories haunting your body, rip open for Love, but the pressure makes you seizure and collapse.

From the floor, you see yourself as a wooden sarcophagus floating down the river like the Lady of Shalott, your tongue as stiff as the coin that ought to lie beneath it. You come back around after some time and shame on you—you scared Love half to death. Later, when you ask him not to push you so hard, when you remind him that your body is a complex system of defenses, Love says, "You are a minefield—too much to handle." You think, Love has fashioned me so. Love pushes. And when you can’t speak, Love tells you, "Write," so you scrawl in your notebook and pass it to him like a study hall note, My cousins fisted me in the backseat of the car and I was wailing and my father was driving and my Aunt was in the passenger seat and they did nothing. I was so hysterical that he crashed the car but I was grateful because they stopped. No one spoke of it. I was 10 years old.

In a way, it does feel validating that now someone knows, but then Love stomps around the apartment hollering obscenities, firing curses so loud it’s like he’s trying to make your father hear him from seven hundred miles away. You shake—shouting gives you flashbacks to the men who broke you. Love knows this. "They fucking fisted you not three feet from your father and he did nothing!" And hearing Love scream these facts at you, eyes bulging as they do, makes you sob even though you pride yourself on stoicism, but you are past the point of control, you are the animal of impulse trembling in the aftershock. Curled into the carpet, you’ve been sobbing for hours, for weeks, for years really, since you both eloped and Love unbuckled his fury.

Love stops his pacing and comes to you, but you are now the memory of that ten-year-old girl imploding in the back of a Volvo, and Love kisses you. Love kisses you deeply through the snot and tears of ages. You’ve unhinged and Love puts a hand on your breast and you are eight years old being undone in the basement. And while Love fucks you, the present comes in and out like radio static and you ask yourself, Why now? Why does he want to fuck me now? And you wonder if he is aroused by your woundedness, if he has to break you down to want you, because most of the time he won’t touch you even though Love says you are the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Love says your trauma history puts him off. Love assures you that he’s not impotent; Love masturbates regularly. Love will remind you that when you do have sex, it’s usually great. So you hope that Love will tire himself from this, from rage, but he doesn’t. There is always something.

Love is very disappointed that you never reported anything to anyone, and it’s your fault that your cousins, great-uncle, aunt’s boyfriend, doctor, exes, schoolmates, and six strangers are probably raping people as we speak. You remind Love that you tried to report an assault when you were sixteen and the police officer said, "But were you asking for it? Deep down, didn’t you like it? Didn’t you like the attention? Be honest now. It’s important that you’re honest." And besides, you remind him, Gypsies don’t trust the police for this reason and more, so many more, so many Molotov cocktails and anti-Gypsy task forces and more." But you have an uncle who’s a cop," Love says. You say, He hides his blood because he hates his blood and the shame is too heavy to peel from the tongue. And most of all, We do not speak of this, not of our blood, not of our rape.

Your uncle is a good cop, and you love him, but he drinks to forget the condemned house he was born into with rats fighting in the walls so loud that he and his brother stayed up all night shooting them through the cabinets. He drinks to forget his white father who made the kids line up against the wall at gunpoint after dinner while he lived out World War II in his mind, who raped his daughters and beat his sons with camel whips and rifle butts, and the rest of the unspeakable stories. Your good cop uncle drinks to forget his own children who don’t speak to him, the exwife who threw away the family heirlooms his mother fled with from Germany when she was just a poor Gypsy girl plucked from the wreckage of O Porrajmos. He drinks to forget that violence begets violence begets violence. He drinks in the unheated trailer that he sleeps in beside the lake. You understand.

Your whole family lives to forget the American soldier who wanted the Gypsy girl and took her, took their children the same way, then shot himself in the face. This is why you were taken too. Your mother drinks in madness to forget. She split herself many times over to scatter the threads, and doctors say Dissociative Identity Disorder, as if this clears up the issue. This is why you walked out that day when your high school psych class was watching Sibyl. You told the teacher, I have enough of that at home. And besides, you rarely went to school—what’s the point when there’s so much to forget? You live to forget that predators on your father’s side were loosed on you while he looked away and your mother looked inward. You live to forget that nearly every boyfriend you had before Love beat and violated you. You live to forget that strangers grope you in the street. But instead of beer or madness you drink in Love, the one who maintains that you’ve remembered it wrong, everything wrong, and you must agree.

You’re so lucky, and now there’s Love who cares when even your parents don’t, but telling your stories to him reminds you that, really, you have no one to turn to and any fortune you have is born of a chaos that you cannot predict, like Love. You used to pray to Sara la Kali, Romani goddess of Fate and Chaos, protector of the unprotected, until Love jeered and asked, "Did she ever come to you when you prayed each night? Did she come for your mother? Your grandmother?" You have to say she didn’t. Your one comfort slips under the water, deep beneath her floating flower wreath. You replace God with Love but in quiet moments, you doubt your faith. But remember (in case you’ve forgotten) that Love thinks you’re the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Love doesn’t talk about other women, not even celebrities.

Love even yelled at your parents once. "How could you let this happen?" Love shouted at them in their kitchen, his eyes bulging as they do. "Why can’t you just love her?" You know why they can’t: love was raped out of your mother, your mother was raped out of your mother, and all that remains is a conglomerate of ghosts. And all your father’s family knows is how to cover up abuse, as they have for generations, and your father has told you before that he doesn’t feel empathy like other people do. He cares for you, but he’s missing the chemical gist of what caring entails. You can’t be sure that’s a good enough excuse, but it’s what you know. Does it help for Love to scream at them? No one has stood up to your family before, but you wonder if perhaps Love just enjoys the fight.

But when Love holds you and says you are safe and this will never happen again, you melt into him and think what you never thought you could: I can trust Love. Fifty percent of the time, Love is the most wonderful thing.

Two years later, Love will bomb a job interview and you will both get drunk, and Love will get drunker than you’ve ever seen anyone before, and Love will stumble back to the hotel with you and rape you up the ass. You ask for Love to stop but he doesn’t. You feel yourself rip open to him, you wonder how this happened, you wonder why you ever thought it wouldn’t happen, you realize all of your relationships have gone like this, and you think, so this is Love. You weep, briefly, because you are so damn surprised. You stop, feel your blood running, and you’re still because when you were four years old you learned that it hurts much more to fight. Your eyes deaden, as they do, and behind them you pray to unlace your consciousness from your body, your body from pain, and slip under the frozen river of yourself. Love pants over you as you drown down to Camelot, where the ice is rent apart, and you are afraid to turn and see his face, but you do. His eyes are full of drink and something else you should have noticed before, so you bury yours in a pillow and clench your teeth. He falls asleep immediately after he comes. You will not sleep. You will stare in the mirror and watch Love’s reflection slumber, like holding up a lantern to reveal him in this cave. You will only spill the oil on yourself, over and over, ruining the flesh where sensation returns, whispering, wake up wake up wake up.

In the morning, Love sees blood on the sheets and ripped clothes, says, "What happened last night?" Love doesn’t remember, and you don’t know whether or not that’s a relief. Love asks if he had a nosebleed. "Why is there so much blood on the sheets?" You walk toward the bathroom and Love wonders why you’re hobbling. "Why are you so distant?" You look at the floor; the carpet is a moving sea of beaded color, of fibers like muscles ripping open, and you want to dive in. You can’t say it aloud, but then there is a surge of something, an eternal spring in your mouth. He will be so upset. You are not sure if you hope he will understand what this all means or not, but you tell him you said Stop and he wouldn’t stop, you fought and he wouldn’t stop, you cried out and he wouldn’t stop. You hope telling Love will let him undo the conquest. But Love is loud: "What are you accusing me of? After all I’ve done? I love you." Love weeps, then stops abruptly. "I don’t remember it so I mustn’t have meant it." Love pauses before asking, "Is this going to ruin our whole day?"

You apologize for upsetting Love, but you resent the fear that makes you do this. You believed in Love, and what a foolish thing to believe. For years, you will stay and he will never discuss it. You will remember that madness is remembering what no one else remembers. You will remember that Love never remembers his rages roiling on for hours because you let the dog in the bed when you were sick and she was whining to be near you, because you needed that uncomplicated affection.

When Love finds dog hairs on the sheets at 2 am, he doesn’t remember accusing you of trying to poison him with dog bacteria, plotting to kill him in this absurdly roundabout way. He never remembers then chasing you into a closet where you dissolved into memory for the rest of the dark day into night, sometimes remembering that you have to teach Adrienne Rich to college freshmen in the morning. The truth is, Love has something to say and deserves more than anyone to express himself however he wants, whenever he wants, because he is free, dammit! "You want to hear what shouting is? I’ll give you shouting," and delivers a meaningless bellow in your face that reverberates off the closet walls and you remember now that you are screaming too. Maybe you are being born, crouching at his feet beneath the wire hangers. You are being born.

You remember that time, a few weeks after you wed, that Love threw a bottle of laxatives at you when you got the wrong one from the store. It seemed out of character at the time. Even though he swears he just meant to throw it at the wall, you wondered for a moment why he needed to throw it in the first place. But then you thought, that’s just Love. You are the offspring of the Holocaust. What do your people know of safety? The story of violence is too familiar to question. Whenever Love retreats into spells of depression for months at a time, irrational, refusing to bathe, paranoid, and furious, you feel yourself collapsing at the center, the cracked center, and you remember and remember and remember again the night Love finally broke you open and you can’t sleep for many nights after, for years of nights. You try to tell someone, anyone, but you can’t extricate the story from the mass of blood, and clothes, and cum, so heavy on the tongue.

One night, you will write the story out then tear it from your journal because you know he reads it. Or what if you died and someone else read it, and the story got out? He would be so upset. You don’t want him remembered this way. Somehow, this cannot be his fault. That would invalidate the very existence of Love. You want only the memory of walking with Love in Italy through a farmer’s wet field, antique keys clanging in your coats as you wandered, half-starved and laughing. You want only the memory of Istria, of holding Love’s face in your hands and lightning striking over the Adriatic. You want only the notebook full of small, fat cartoon birds he drew for you on the train.

So you burn your story at the new moon and ask to forget as the notebook papers curl in on themselves and vanish. You are relieved that no one can read the horror in the smoke. Your Gypsy grandmother could; you wish she were here, and then ask to forget that wish too. These stories are too heavy to peel from the tongue, too polluted, so they repeat in a different way, in action, in silent internal narrative constantly cycling through the blood. If you told anyone this story, that would ruin the myth of transnational infatuation, of so-young elopement, of the first man who was kind to you. This was supposed to be a love story. And if you told this story, then you would have to remember, and if you knew what you remember, then you’d have to walk. You come from nomads who walk from violence (until bombed or hemmed into stillness), and still there is no country for us. But there is a spring in your mouth and you can choose to spit or swallow. There is a road forming where before you were only pacing; this is how you know you will light yourself with lamp oil and walk ablaze, chanting, wake up wake up wake up.