Thursday, July 13, 2006

Razor Sadness

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse
With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by
And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
till you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen...

9th and Hennepin (Tom Waits)

So I started out with bad directions, driving everywhere at once. I put through one call and she couldn't tell me where to go. She said, you're too far away, I don't know how to direct you.

She spoke in Malay. Her voice, a gentle tragedy. But I didn't know then. I hadn't seen.

So with rising irritation, I pushed on, eyeing the petrol gauge with slight consternation...great, it had to be today I be given bad directions, when there was less than a quarter tank left. Anyway, I went round PJ which is made up of roads that go everywhere, edge back on themselves, spread out, full of drivers who swear and swing into your lane, full of people needing to get somewhere, people who know where they're going.

And there was I, tentative, hesitant, inching my way forward, peering at the signs, praying for a miracle. A second phone call and I figured it out.

I was half an hour late. By Malaysian standards this was still OK. But I had spent three years in Australia. By Aussie standards it was unacceptable. How rude, how rude, how unaccountably rude. She would think I was taking this lightly. She would think...I didn't know what she would think. You see, I didn't know what to expect.

I parked across the road and made my way to the gate where an elderly looking Indian woman with a kind face let me in. I thought she was the one I had come to meet so I apologised profusely in Malay (or rather as profusely as I could in a language that after a lifetime of learning, I still speak badly). She smiled and gently steered me towards an office.

Some of the kids came up and smiled at me. Severely handicapped. But they looked happy. They wanted to shake my hand. They wanted to touch me. And the lady steered me away.

There she was in that little office. Little more than a girl. In reality, a year older than me, but still, so young, so lost, so tragic.

Her face pale and shadowed, she tried to smile. But her eyes kept tearing over. It had only been two months, you see. Two months since her much beloved husband had been snatched away in a freak car accident. All this was his. His dream. A home for handicapped children run with love.

They had been together since she was 14. He had a video shop, she used to go over to borrow tapes. They fell in love. She got married at 17. She was now 36. And he had only been 44.

"We were never apart, never, not until now. When he first started this, I was afraid of the children, and he said, if they were ours, you would love them anyway. They are ours. Love them."

It took her all of a week to adjust.

I asked how she coped. What with her grief, and the sudden burden of running the whole show herself. Again that smile: "You do what you have to do. You find the strength somehow. These kids, they have no one else."

The centre had been running for 15 years. He had big plans; physiotherapy, massage therapy, voice therapy, a bigger premise (he insisted that the kids should have a pleasant place to live, rather than be heaped together like sardines, as in most government-funded welfare homes); he had wanted it all.

Love, he said, it's always the love that is missing. That is what they need. That is what we can give them.

When they first started out he bathed the kids himself, fed them, looked after them. Slowly word got out and volunteers appeared to help out. He was a tireless fund raiser, a good speaker and he believed so deeply in what he was doing.

She worked alongside, a helpmeet who loved him and looked up to him and would have done anything because he asked her to. She just hadn't known he would ask her to do it alone.

"My husband was educated. Right up to college. I didn't even finish Standard Six which is why I can't really speak English. It never seemed to matter before. Now, I suppose I will have to learn. I can run this place. I know how to handle the children or manage the staff...but raising funds, talking to these big people..." she trails off.

Tears again. She reaches out to touch the leg brace in the chair next to hers.

His chair.

His leg brace.

His presence.

How could someone like me possibly hope to understand?


Jenn said...

Hmmmm your joy being your sorrow unmasked and all that?

Wow. That is interesting. About your grandmother. These eternal love stories always get me right there.

So are you English? Because you sound American.

My title is somewhat what?

goldennib said...

Jenn, you made me cry at work.

She must have had many good years, but when you are so close to another person, their passing hurts all the more.

It's stories like these where I have to remind myself that it is about the process, the journey. She has a new journy ahead of her.

Oh, I don't know. You can envy her for having a great love and pity her for now being alone with his dream.

Does this teach us to make sure that we are living our own dreams? Not that they can't be shared with others, but that we must be prepared to go on alone?

Q does sound American, not English, even though he mentioned pounds when refering to money. An Expatriot?

QuillDancer said...

Death is like a razor, it slices, the wound runs deep, and one is forever marked by its cut. Your title was perfect, Jenn.

Q -- I was also raised by my maternal grandmother. Do you ever notice that your value set is "older" than that of your age peers?

I pray that this young woman finds a way to honor the husband she loved, the children he loved -- and herself.

goldennib said...

Q: I believe in multiple existances. I believe when we die, we go back to a universal everything where we feel perfectly at home and content and whole. And we connect with our loved ones gone before us.

I am more sad for her sadness than for her actual loss. In Austria, where I spent quite a few of my younger years, they have a connection to their dead, also; a sort of ancestor worship, so their dead are never far from them. I believe she will certainly see her husband again, but I am sad that she is sad.

But I bet she does ok. If her husband was so wonderful and he thought she was wonderful and had confidence in her, I think we can, too.

part-time buddha said...

quasar: people don't post their full names on their profiles for a reason. Commentors should probably respect the blogger's wish.

part-time buddha said...

Jenn: I think you've captured the spirit well enough that we can say you understand. Maybe you can't sympathize, but I can feel you empathizing from here.

Jenn said...

Quasar: I can understand where you are coming from, and probably even respect it, but it doesn't follow that I agree with it. I believe in the messy human emotions such as sadness, despair, anger...and I think that most people who believe they are above it are only pretending to be. I lived through a friend losing her father and saw what the awful severance did to her for several years and what it meant having to be there for someone I loved, who had lost sort of her centre. Sadness is selfish? Maybe. But I think those who cannot empathise and who stand around and tell them to get over it and spout cosmic jargon are even more selfish.
And how on earth did you learn my name? It is nowhere on my website and I haven't sent you any emails. Also I will have to delete that comment, sorry, because this is, after all, as PTB pointed out, an anonymous site. I am a Malayalee Catholic - when they were converted way back when, they changed their names to reflect the conversions - most of them ended up with Spanish or Portuguese sounding names like Pereira or Fernandez. Which is why a whole bunch of us, with no Caucasian blood whatsoever, have names that do not reflect our origin. And since I am second generation Malaysian, and have rejected a lot of the culture of my country of origin, I don't wear sarees.

Jenn said...

PS: I don't think we ever really get over the ones we love. It's all very well to talk about how the soul carries on etc etc, but you miss their physical presence, you want them here and now, you want to curl up in their arms and fall asleep.

I never mourned any man for long, but I did weep for a dog I loved for about 16 years.

Jenn said...

Nessa: Thanks dear, I know. You may be glad to hear that just from talking about it to the PR company who hired me to interview her, she will be getting some funds and some help. They are redirecting their charity contributions her way, as well as the charity budgets of a few corporates. The PR I am liaising with called to ask me for more information about it today, and take down the name etc. It felt good. Some difference and it will be a long term difference...

Jenn said...

Quilly: Thanks. That's what I thought. I loved Tom Waits' song because the words "razor sadness" kinda got to me. I have felt it to degrees (although nowhere near what this woman was feeling). I do think love sort of helps you to carry on, especially when untinctured by bitterness. And she had so much of it. He was still there you know, in the office, while I was talking to her. His presence was all around.

Jenn said...

PTB: Thanks Bo. I appreciate it. I tried because it meant something to me although I realised that it wouldn't go down well with everyone.

Grey Shades said...

Oh but you did understand and you did feel what she was feeling. Its sad but I know for sure that this lady will not give up so easily. Her grief will be there and in a paradoxical way it will be her strength and her weakeness at the same time!

Jenn said...

I believe people should not get caught up or lost in the drama.

Hmmm, that is asking a little much from someone who has just had a limb chopped off like two months ago. You can stand there and exhort her not to get "caught up in the drama" but it's likely she'd just turn around and chop your head off.

No, by all means, don't tell any woman, young or otherwise, what she wants to hear, you are not obliged to agree with anyone.

By the same token, they don't have to buy into your take on reality. And I don't consider it drama when people are processing their feelings. It's not pretty, but it's nature's way.

Jenn said...

Grey: I felt sad and tearful, but I don't think I could even begin to fathom what she was going through. To feel what she felt I would have had to love someone the way she did.

So far, I haven't. Nor do I think I am ever going to.

Jenn said...

Gosh you ARE like the stock market. Bullish one minute, bearish the next, trading sideways...gosh look at all the permutations that make up our Quasar boy.

I think it's a little mean of you to suggest that someone who empathises with someone else's pain is "acting". The empathy may be genuine. No, me bawling all over the place would not help. I didn't say it would. It's just if I was going through something hurtful, I would prefer friends around me who understood and empathised rather than cold fish who were "detached" and congratulating themselves on the fact.

No, I don't think we had our "first falling out". I think that sounds remarkably over the top and drama queenish for two people who have only communicated via their blogs. (feel free to say touche)

I guess we are both individuals who stick to our points of view, and I respect that about us.

You don't have to agree with someone to like them.

And I didn't realise that sex was on the cards. Very sorry but I happen to be obsessed with someone at the moment. He doesn't care for me, but until I get over my obsession, sex with anyone else is out of the question.

goldennib said...

I think I need to take up smoking again. I'm exhausted.

Jenn said...

Quasar: you make me feel so bad. I do appreciate your interest and comments. And I know you were not serious about flying out so I didn't treat it seriously. Maybe I'll catch you in England when I come up there later this year, OK?

Nessa: Do we seem like a couple of teenagers to you? :)

Jenn said...

That smacks of chagrin and hurt pride. I guess I did get under your skin after all...

Jenn said...

Well how about the "so you still talking to me" bit?

Jenn said...

Btw, I went to your site and tried to read into hopeless tangle in your discussion with Cynthia about event horizons et al.

I would like to say something but the most I can muster to your awfully erudite and need a PhD in Physics (I spent most of high school writing odes to physics - like how much I hated it) to understand words is, huh?

And I have already said huh before. It gets boring to say huh too many times.

Jenn said...


What is that?


Jenn said...

I love it when people say "some people" and mean me. It is so comforting to think that some things never change.

OK I am checking out now. This exchange is getting more and more acerbic and while I view it with the detached amusement necessary for conversing with a Zen Master like yourself, I realise you may not be having the requisite amount of fun necessary to sustain a non-flirtatious discussion.

Quite quite.


QuillDancer said...

Oh my.

A thinker said...

That is an incredibly beautiful love story, and an incredibly beautiful story of what that man and his wife did for those kids. Sad, but I hope she will find the courage and ability to carry on.

Wonderfully written.

Jenn said...

A thinker: Thank you. That is very sweet of you. And there are suddenly people emerging out of the woodwork to help her carry on.