BECAUSE: AN ETIOLOGY
Because she says she’s a simple lady. Because I don’t believe her. Because
she called herself convoluted just a minute ago. Because I’m trying to
charm her. Because I say the path to simplicity is convoluted. Because it’s
five bucks for a beer and a shot. Because we have forty between us.
Because we’re riding the Q train home. Because my bed frame collapses
beneath us. Because we’re already doomed. Because breathing suddenly
feels so much better. Because she forgets about the pill. Because her best
friend kicks her out. Because she moves in with me and my wine-stained
mattress. Because she sleeps with her ex before moving in. Because now
she’s ready to love me too. Because they vacuum her cervix. Because we
visit her mother in Zambia. Because she hasn’t seen her mother in ten
years. Because she was twelve when her father summoned her. Because
education. Because the fuck kind of education was she getting in Texas.
Because his wife was not her mother. Because his wife told the neighbors
she was adopted. Because she wrote home everyday for a year. Because
she vomits on the plane. Because she keeps vomiting when we get there.
Because her mother thinks she’s pregnant. Because I think we’ve been
safe this time. Because she thinks she’s a stranger to her mother. Because
she grew dreadlocks and six feet tall. Because she never learned to speak
Lozi. Because she never learned to cook nshima. Because she learned
how to be Zambian but now she forgot. Because she needs a new
passport. Because you’re not allowed to have dreadlocks in your
passport photo. Because you have to pay a bribe if you have dreadlocks
in your passport photo. Because her mother still ceremonially attacks
her with a hairbrush even after paying the bribe. Because I’m not there
for her. Because her brother takes me out drinking. Because he keeps
me out drinking until the following afternoon. Because she can’t wait to
fly home. Because she no longer knows what home is. Because she’s a
stranger to herself now too. Because she wants to break up with me.
Because she doesn’t mean it. Because she takes it all back. Because she’s
either broke or broken. Because she’s still living with me even though
we broke up for real this time. Because the apartment looks like every
dresser drawer and closet just held a projectile vomiting contest. Because
our house is disgusted by the way we squandered love. Because I find
her a room in a friend’s apartment. Because four hundred a month is a
miracle in this city. Because she was supposed to move out yesterday.
Because she hasn’t started packing. Because our mattress is sheeted with
wrinkled dollar bills. Because it’s where she threw all her tips. Because
she can’t stop sleeping with strangers. Because she hasn’t slept in three
days. Because she says make love to me. Because I miss her like flame
misses water. Because no hold me first. Because she can’t trust me.
Because somebody’s been putting voodoo on her. Because she isn’t
making sense. Because my heart reminds me she’s like a poem so she
doesn’t have to make sense. Because she heard a gunshot. Because that
means the bartender’s dead. Because or maybe her mother or sister.
Because somebody’s gotta be dead. Because she keeps killing people
with her thoughts. Because she’s Medusa. Because it’s New Year’s Eve
and she’s in love with the bartender. Because it’s her shift at the restaurant
and also her wedding day. Because the restaurant is actually a secret cult.
Because she’s disturbing the customers. Because her boss calls her sister
to take her home. Because she tells her sister she murdered me. Because
her sister believes she really did stab me and leave me gasping my last
breaths in a pool of blood. Because her eyes are dancing flames. Because
her sister is the Antichrist. Because her niece is also Satan. Because she
needs me to take her to church dammit. Because the apocalypse is
happening right now. Because her hair is Satan. Because she stabs at the
back of her head with a razor blade. Because one of the Satans is chasing
her. Because she’s running shoeless out the door. Because she tosses her
phone in a trash can. Because it won’t stop ringing. Because her sister
calls 911. Because it’s never safe for a crazy black woman to be running
loose in the streets. Because her sister says that not me. Because the
cops show up before the ambulance. Because she asks if she’s going to
jail. Because the cop shrugs did you do anything to go to jail for. Because
he’s got a gun not an MSW. Because she steps into the ambulance with
her arms spread balancing one foot in front of the other as if walking
across a tensioned wire. Because she signs the consent form The Devil
and that means she’s officially The Devil. Because she knows people are
being tortured behind the curtains. Because the nurse asks if she’s been
here before. Because what about drug use. Because were you smoking
every day. Because was it once or was it twice. Because keep going it was
more. Because do you have a diagnosis. Because her mother has high
blood pressure. Because she’s been drinking too much coffee so maybe
it’s just high blood pressure. Because the doctor interviews me in
another room. Because recent mania. Because previous depression.
Because prolonged breakup. Because in my opinion coming to America
was the experience in her life which could most clinically be described
as traumatic. Because couldn’t moving from Zambia to Texas at the age
of twelve make anyone psychotic. Because the doctor doesn’t laugh at
my joke. Because who said it was a joke. Because she asks me to marry
her. Because she’s been issued a pale blue gown. Because my eyes are
bleeding grief. Because this isn’t poetic. Because this isn’t romantic.
Because deep in my gut I wish I could marry her. Because she darts into
the corner like I’m going to bite her. Because Fuck you’re the one who’s
there in the madness who else am I gonna call Ghostbusters? Because it’s
Judgment Day. Because provisional diagnosis. Because at least (2) of the
following. Because each present for a significant portion of time during
a 1-month period. Because delusions. Because hallucinations. Because
disorganized speech. Because grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior.
Because negative symptoms. Because an episode of the disorder lasts at
least 1 month but less than 6 months. Because when the diagnosis must
be made without waiting for recovery it must be regarded as provisional.
Because the hospital discharges her. Because her clothes are still
scattered across the living room floor. Because I didn’t pick them up.
Because she packs them all up. Because months pass and she still has a
set of my keys. Because she’s naked in my bed and cradling one of my
dashikis when I get home. Because I get home drunk and lonely. Because
I don’t have to be drunk or lonely to crave her touch. Because I wish I
could do it all over again. Because she snatches the condom off my penis.
Because she says she’s still on the pill. Because I want to believe her.
Because I believe her. Because she’s lying. Because she’s pregnant.
Because she says don’t say I tricked you. Because I don’t say but you did
trick me. Because God and her mother don’t want her to get another
abortion. Because this wasn’t an accident. Because this was flailing for
control. Because nothing says control like a squalling malleable creature
of your very own. Because she’s too terrified to leave her apartment.
Because she still thinks the world is ending. Because she flies home to
her mother in Zambia. Because I fly there the week before she’s due.
Because of God’s grace I’m not drunk when you are born. Because you
are a miracle. Because you squeeze my index finger in your tiny wrinkled
paw. Because joy is shooting up my limbs. Because it melts into regret
the second it strikes my heart. Because I know how soon I will be leaving.
Because I rock you to sleep singing Suzanne. Because Jesus knew for
certain only drowning men would see him. Because I hate the sound of
my quavery nasal voice. Because I keep singing anyway until my limbs
are tingling. Because any appendage may tingle long after it is severed.
Because these lopped-off arms of mine will keep bearing your weight
after the rest of me flies home. Because at home I need anesthetic.
Because I go drowning at a friend’s pad. Because a line for each nostril.
Because whiskey when we hit the dive. Because we crush his dexedrine
pills into an iridescent orange powder on the counter. Because the
bartender doesn’t even flinch. Because maybe he thinks we’re snorting
Pixy Stix. Because we dip into the club next door. Because I dip my
finger in a little Ziploc. Because translucent crystals cling to my
fingerprint. Because they dissolve on my tongue. Because Soul Brothers
Six wails a rare B-side. Because it must be a love song to Jesus. Because
I feel so fucking cleansed in that shower of strobing lights. Because
maybe I’m not alone after all. Because I hear my sneakers squeaking on
the beer-slick floor. Because we crash at Ari’s house. Because our
nightcap is a couple tabs of acid. Because sunrise catches me dancing in
my underwear sucking on a Dragon Stout and trying to convince Ari
the noisy air conditioner is actually his mother. Because if you think
that’s crazy guess what happens next. Because Donald Trump is elected
president. Because a lawful permanent resident (LPR) normally may
travel outside the United States and return. Because however there are
some limitations. Because a Permanent Resident Card (PRC). Because
acceptable as a travel document only if the person has been absent for
less than 1 year. Because if an LPR expects to be absent for more than 1
year the LPR should also apply for a reentry permit. Because to obtain a
reentry permit file Form I-131. Because the LPR must actually be in the
United States when he or she applies for a reentry permit. Because your
mother has been absent for two years. Because your mother has never
even heard of a reentry permit. Because that means you’re getting on a
plane. Because you’re a baby you fly in her lap. Because the customs
officer says welcome home. Because according to his discretion. Because
the president isn’t yet ranting about shithole countries. Because he isn’t
president yet the inauguration is next week. Because I find you a sublet
with bedbugs. Because the next sublet falls through. Because you move
in with my parents. Because you move to your auntie’s pad in Bushwick.
Because your mother doesn’t believe in therapists. Because she doesn’t
believe in taking pills. Because you say take care of me. Because you say
Mama cries all day. Because Mama can’t get out of bed in the morning.
Because she stops taking you to day care. Because she turns off the lights
and tells me to come get her. Because she looks like a train ran over her
soul. Because she looks at me like I’m a menacing stranger. Because I’m
not sure I recognize her either. Because I get her in a cab to the hospital.
Because she won’t talk or put on the gown. Because now I’m full-time
daddy. Because being your daddy is my first full-time job in ages.
Because I’m not a serious person. Because I’m terrified. Because I think
my world is ending. Because I’m becoming a more coherent person.
Because therapy. Because anti-depressants. Because so much for all
those last-call nights. Because you’re sleeping on my couch. Because so
many drunk and transient friends slept there before you. Because I’m
waiting for your mother to lurch down the hall. Because glazed eyes and
a papery green gown. Because she hasn’t spoken all week. Because
another patient stomps at me. Because he’s a real person. Because look
at the walls the ceiling the lights. Because they’re real. Because I can
touch them. Because he is real too. Because the nurse tells him to stop
bothering me. Because his pulsing eyes scare me. Because my own eyes
itch for my screen. Because distraction is downstairs in a locker. Because
I’m even more scared of my newsfeed. Because the thumbnail won’t go
away. Because the little boy’s eyes spit tears. Because he grips the links
of his cage. Because he sought asylum. Because here I am inside an
asylum. Because I have to scroll past never clicking. Because my
government is abusing children. Because my government is putting
them in cages. Because my government is doing it on purpose. Because
the boy’s face is pried open with grief. Because it looks too much like
yours. Because you howl Mama. Because your jawbone will fly out of
your mouth and slay me. Because your breath skips. Because a looping
blurt of noise. Because a broken record repeats itself. Because cords of
your snot smear my shoulder. Because you claw the buttons on my chest.
Because you were nursing and then Mama vanished. Because I have no
milk in my nipples. Because you’re not in a cage you’re safe. Because
whose mind is really sick. Because what is a border if not a hallucination.
Because your mother has a new diagnosis. Because an uninterrupted
duration of illness during which there is a major mood episode in
addition to criterion A. Because Criterion A is as follows. Because two
or more of the following presentations. Because at least one of these
must be from the first three below. Because delusions. Because
hallucinations. Because disorganized speech. Because hallucinations
and delusions for two or more weeks in the absence of a major mood
episode during the entire lifetime duration of the illness. Because
symptoms that meet the criteria for a major mood episode are present
for the majority of the total duration of the active as well as residual
portions of the illness. Because don’t cry baby we’ll see Mama soon.
Because your mother has supervised visits. Because she’s taking the
meds. Because she’s starting to feel more balanced. Because I’m a flailing
funambulist on the tensioned wire of fatherhood. Because I let you
sleep some nights at your mother’s apartment. Because she lands a
barista job. Because she decides she doesn’t need the meds. Because
various factors have been linked with nonadherence in patients with a
similar diagnosis. Because side effects. Because akinesia. Because
akathisia. Because relapse of positive symptoms. Because poor
therapeutic alliance. Because poor insight. Because younger age.
Because low socioeconomic status. Because substance abuse. Because
she’s stoned at drop-off. Because she smokes all day when she smokes.
Because you tell me Mama leaves you alone in the apartment crying.
Because you’re only three years old for Christ’s sake. Because your
mother says she would never do that. Because I want to believe her.
Because I can’t believe her. Because I let you sleep there again. Because
it’s the night before your fourth birthday. Because your mother won’t let
you sleep. Because she wants to blow candles at midnight. Because she
forgot the cake. Because she dashes you out to the bodega at midnight.
Because your mother FaceTimes me after midnight. Because I know
something’s wrong. Because you are crying for Daddy. Because your
mother is personally insulted. Because it’s almost 12:35 and you were
born at 12:35 so don’t you realize how this makes her feel. Because
Come get her she’s being a brat. Because she’s ranting and pacing when I
get there. Because she’s waving a flambeau of incense sticks. Because it
stinks of weed or evil spirits. Because I see no safety in the blaze of her
eyes. Because I pick you up Baby it’s time to go home. Because you
scream for Mama. Because I’m used to you screaming for Mama.
Because this twinge in my heart as I think up anything to distract you.
Because your mother shouts Look now you’re the one traumatizing her!
Because you stop wailing when we get home. Because I already wrapped
all your birthday presents. Because I put them in easy-to-find hiding
places. Because the next day you wear your new mermaid swimsuit and
all your friends come to your party at the Splash Pad. Because your
mother has fun at the party too. Because Mama’s not psychotic just
stoned off her ass and snorting wild laughter. Because you will cherish
your fourth birthday party as incomparably joyous not as that time your
mother cracked up. Because your mother will crack up again. Because
there’s no way of knowing when. Because it’s just a few months later.
Because I call when she doesn’t pick you up. Because she keeps trying to
leave her apartment. Because she just can’t make herself leave her
apartment. Because stop it. Because stop it. Because I can’t see through
the phone but I swear she’s slapping herself in the face. Because it’s
another month in the hospital. Because this time I don’t even visit.
Because I’m still her first stop after discharge. Because she’s coming to
borrow a screw gun. Because unspecified damage done to her apartment
before the mobile crisis unit took her away. Because you don’t even ask
about Mama this time. Because you only remember to cry when I
mention the hospital. Because you have already learned to
compartmentalize. Because otherwise you are rolling with it. Because
your teacher says you are just as ebullient as ever. Because you still make
more friends on a Tuesday at the playground than I’ve made in years.
Because you are so fucking radiant. Because how can the best thing that
ever happened to me also be the most traumatic? Because I’ve never
done anything better than being your daddy. Because think of what I
would have done otherwise. Because my idea of living my best life was
giving myself hangovers. Because I didn’t consent to your existence.
Because I can’t regret your existence. Because cherishing your existence
does or does not admit your mother did me a favor by tricking me.
Because most of my adult interactions are with your friends’ parents.
Because I don’t want them to know your mother is a mentally-disturbed
woman who tricked me into impregnating her. Because that’s so very
private. Because it’s ethically questionable that I’m even writing about it.
Because someday you will feel disturbed that you were made by reckless
deception. Because if we want beauty we have to be just as dumb and
wild as God made us. Because sometimes I do want the world to know
your mother is indeed a severely troubled woman who tricked me into
impregnating her. Because that’s my inconvenient truth. Because that’s
the alarm that wakes me up every morning to brush your teeth and play
a game of Candy Land before walking you to school. Because if they
don’t know the unflattering truth about your mother they will assume
some unflattering truths about me. Because call me vain but I don’t
want the whole world thinking I’m some kind of asshole. Because
consider a man who intentionally impregnates an African woman then
dumps her then leverages his socioeconomic privilege to gain custody
of their daughter. Because he sounds execrable doesn’t he? Because
that’s not who I am. Because that’s just who I look like. Because a
multitude of paradoxes contains me. Because my silence is a child
ripping the limbs off a daddy long-legs. Because I remember how
severed my arms felt twitching. Because you lived so far away from me.
Because now my arms feel like they will fall out of their sockets carrying
your weight wherever I go. Because I can’t let you walk across this
tensioned wire all by yourself. Because I once told your mother the path
to simplicity is convoluted. Because simplicity must not be where this
tensioned wire is taking us. Because I can’t see what’s on the other end.
Because I can only read the map. Because they used to write Here Be
Dragons. Because your mother is the dragon and she’s out there
somewhere shrouded in her own smoke. Because that’s exoticizing.
Because that’s pathologizing. Because that’s stigmatizing. Because
nevertheless. Because studies of identical twins indicate genetic
predisposition. Because factors such as urbanicity, migration, cannabis,
and childhood traumas. Because your mother came here when she was
twelve. Because you came here when you were one. Because your
mother was separated from her mother when she came here. Because
you were separated from your mother when she was hospitalized.
Because your mother resented her father for taking her away from her
mother. Because your father is me and I am all I can do. Because your
childhood is trauma. Because schism. Because etymology is etiology.
Because history is a broken record. Because lies scratch it. Because it
skips then repeats. Because it’s catching its breath. Because experience
has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle
against mental illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the
unique history of our childhood. Because that’s the first sentence of The
Drama of the Gifted Child. Because here is a whole lot of truth. Because
do you really need all this truth. Because if I were actually talking to you
how much of this would I say. Because for starters probably not the
parts about having sex with your mother. Because nobody wants to
know how they got here. Because you’re here though and I’m responsible.
Because you call it Daddy’s house even though it’s your home now too.
Because here is a home. Because take it please before the very concept of
home is snatched away from you. Because look at you. Because you
found a sparrow in our backyard. Because its body was pulsing with
ants. Because one lifeless eye pinched shut. Because it’s bedtime. Because
I cradle you in my arms no matter how they tingle with desire to go out
writhing on some hazy strobe-lit dance floor. Because you still whisper
Daddy sing Suzanne. Because I probably sound like a drowning man
not a father. Because that’s what coming up for air sounds like. Because
you look up at me and speak. Because remember the birdie who died in
the backyard. Because you saw me tie it up in a bag. Because your eyes
ignite with manic revelation. Because you’ve been performing since you
were a baby. Because if it wakes up what will it say? Because of those
times your mother was catatonic. Because you shake your fist like a
campy little spirit medium. Because the only defibrillator you had was
your personality. Because you channel that bird. Because shocking your
mother awake was a matter of survival. Because the bird is grouchy and
baffled to find itself trapped in stygian plastic. Because not every child
is gifted such drama. Because I’m in a bag! Because it’s not fair! Because
I don’t want to go to sleep! Because you are my child. Because a child
knows death is the nap you don’t want to take. Because death is when
you pass out somewhere that’s not your home and wake up in darkness
slung over a shoulder. Because every impulse that rooted you to the
ground snaps like a brittle wishbone. Because that’s the strange world
passing you to yet another place.