And another thing that makes friendship difficult for Traysie’s character.
Maybe she’s angry. She doesn’t want to be angry and she hates being angry and she hates herself when she’s angry but it’s a fact and there’s nothing she can do about it. There is nothing she can do.
She knows because she’s tried. She’s tried to stop being angry by telling herself that it’s wrong and by telling herself that it’s petty and by reminding herself that she’s blessed. That she really is. She’s tried praying. But still.
There it is and it’s always there lurking, just waiting for some stupid girl to complain about her difficult and embarrassing dad. Just waiting for some work colleague in his 50′s to whine about taking care of his sick, aging parents.To talk about how exhausted he is. The anger is just waiting to rear its ugly (God! Shut up you moron shut up shut up shut up you don’t know difficult shut up you lazy fat old man God just shut up you don’t even know sick you don’t even know tired) head.
There it is just waiting to see some dad picking his daughter up from school. Dropping his daughter off at college. And then there are whole armies of dads lockstep picking their daughters up from school and dropping their daughters off at college and giving their daughters away at weddings and calling their daughters on the weekends and walking their daughters through all the courses of life and there’s the anger whispering in her ear:
What’s so great about those dads? What’s so great about them? Nothing. Nothing. Those dads aren’t so great. All those dads should be dead and yours should be here. Do you hear me? Girl at the checkout and girl walking downtown and girl at the play? All your dads should be dead. Your dads should be dead, not mine.
Sometimes this makes her unlikeable. Rightfully so.
But maybe if you knew where she’s been and how far she’s come. Maybe if you could see the moments the way she saw them. The moment when she knew that everything had changed and the moment when it changed again.
Maybe she was in college and she had to write a response to J. Alfred Prufrock. And she wrote this:
Why do you scuttle with claws up and hard plate puffed out —
because your entrails are green and you are utterly soft at your core?
You are rich and light and sweet but ultimately unfilling;
You will never settle heavy in my belly
Too much of you makes me sick
Pearl-grit in your gut grinds to nothing,
You work sand over sand and no more.
You are very like a lobster — quivering, blushing —
While your scuttle I politely ignore.
And it was a silly thing but she sort of liked it and she showed it to her dad to see if he would like it too. Because her dad was the one who had taught her how to use words. When to write subtle and when to write sudden and surprising and sure.
Maybe he was sitting at the end of their family table, sitting in the antique ladderback chair (As in, Don’t tip the antique ladderback chair!), tinkering with something. And he put on his reading glasses and tromboned the page she handed him closer in and then further out and he wrinkled up his face as he read.
“You don’t like it.”
“No…I do. I do like it. I’m just. Digesting. This part where you say he’ll never settle heavy in her belly. Is that? It sounds a little sexual?”
She shifted from one foot to the other.
“Yeah. It is…it’s meant to be.”
“Hmmm. Yeah. I get it. I like it. But…these two lines about the pearl-grit and the sand. I’m trying to sort these out. They’re the same thing? The pearl-grit and the sand?”
“Yes — the second line is continuing, building on the first line.”
“So you’re saying here that he has these opportunities that he could turn into pearls but he isn’t? He isn’t making a move and so this woman is disgusted by him and these bits of sand are like obstacles or problems and instead of turning them into something valuable he’s just moving them around. Like that Greek guy?”
“The one in hell with the stone and the hill.”
“Oh. Sisyphus. Um…yes. And I also thought the sand would remind the reader of time, like an hourglass. Like, time is going by and this guy is getting older but he isn’t building anything valuable. He’s aging without getting experience—”
And then he scrutinized the page some more and thought and became so animated that he tipped the antique ladderback chair in his rush. He leaned over the page, curved his body around the page the way a kindergartner might if he was trying to hide his work and he scribbled heavily with his pencil. And while he scribbled he made pleased little clicking sounds with his tongue and he talked to himself he said I know…just…the…ticket. And he stopped writing with a flourish and snapped the page up toward her and lowered his reading glasses and looked at her and raised his eyebrows at her.
Maybe she looked down at the poem he had handed back to her and saw one of his signature carets just after the two lines in question and read his proposed addition:
In short, no pearl is produced for the pain.
And maybe she almost laughed at his joke. Because this was her dad who had taught her when to write subtle and when to write sudden and surprising and sure. But just before she was about to laugh she looked down at him and he was still looking up at her and at the poem and she noticed his sunken cheeks and the greige of his skin and the slimness of his wrists. And she saw that his eyes were glittering and she saw the clouds drifting across his sky-blue eyes and his joy, his sense of accomplishment, peeking through those clouds like the sun.
And she looked down at his face and it was like a child’s face and so she didn’t laugh but, instead, set the poem down on the table in front of him and nodded and looked thoughtful.
And then his smile really broke out and he made more pleased clicks with his tongue and he shook his head at his own cleverness and read the poem out loud.
“You see,” he said, “how this line clears everything up?! You see how much clearer it is this way?”
“You’re right…it is much clearer. Thank you.”
And he went back to his tinkering, pleased. And she went back to her homework, confused. And she went to bed sad and she woke up sad because she knew that everything was different but she didn’t know how. And she didn’t know why.