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THE HEART OF IT ALL
Kim tells me that these days she's just wild about cilantro and that, since August, she's suspected everyone of being a suicide bomber. "I put it in so many different dishes, Martin. I eat meat now, too, did you know? Tony convinced me, during the pregnancy. But the cilantro I really got into through this recipe circle I've joined. We do lots of macrobiotic stuff, which doesn't have to be vegetarian at all. I never knew that. So much Eastern wisdom includes meat. The emphasis is on awareness of heat and cool -- and not just in terms of, like, ovens or spices, but the internal spiritual energies and karmas of the food. I've learned so much about healing and the Sanskrit terms for things."
We are at the fabric store, shopping for pipe cleaners. Kim wants to teach her son how to build dinosaur skeletons.
"It gives me such a good feeling of being in control," she goes on. "I do a lot of cooking now with a couple other girls from my yoga class. We have similar goals, young mothers wrestling with stress and our weight and the world situation. Making a nice lamb vindaloo, and knowing how to calm the energy of that slaughter, how to incorporate it into your own aura, your own soulů. That's priceless, and so good for Teddy."
Yards of jaguar print, yards of silver sheen. Drifting through the dreamy deja vu of strip malls: the square yardsticks laid out along the cutting tables, the giant cardboard sheers, floating in the ventilation.
"Maybe you'd like to copy down a few of the recipes -- some are really good for bones and muscles, not to mention the psychic angle, after all that's happened to you."
She gives me a hug, squeezing my bad shoulder, driving the crutch up into my ribs.
I am back in my own country, about as deep as it goes -- Ohio, more autumn than usual, the morning of the masquerade. After six years and a child, Kim and Tony are finally getting married. Theirs is to be a Halloween wedding.
"You know, after our scare with the cervical cancer, we didn't think we'd ever be able to have a child." She bites her lower lip, her eyes going misty. She makes like she's going to hug me again, and I flinch back into an aisle of foam spheres and squares, cones, rectangles.
"That's the hardest thing in all this, the most difficult thing about this situation: trying to raise a child. Imagine, Martin, the sorts of questions he asks at night, in bed. Or putting him on a bus every morning, which of course I don't do, and, anyway, the Montessori school is right around the corner, practically, as much as anything's around the corner out in the suburbs. I just use bus as an example, a figure of speech, which is probably not something you even need to think about right now, but I also feel maybe I can talk to you about these things, these issues, that maybe you can understand my anxiety. Like, it just feels like everything's tainted now. And, really, every bulge, every layer of clothing. I see these people with their hands in their jacket pockets and I just imagine them turning into a flash of light, into a rain of nails, scrap metal, shrapnel. I never thought a fanny pack would make me nervous, you know? I get wet palms when I see someone with a little paunch, a potbelly. Thank God my family all live close; I can't see myself ever flying again. And restaurants, restaurants make me so nervous. I dream of restaurants exploding -- cheap franchise places, the kinds of place I don't even eat at, have never eaten at, deep-fried places, family-style places, places with heat lamps and fatty, fatty foods."
Kim holds some shaggy orange against her arm, says something about learning to make her own clothes. I run my hands across certain reminiscent textures: silk and velvet, corduroy, pleather. She sighs, scrunches up her face, gives me one of her constipated smiles."We're all so glad you're OK," she says, "I mean, assuming you're OK. OK on the outside. We're all so glad you're alive, let's say. I hope you're OK. Are you OK? Teddy's been having a horrible time with it all, bed-wetting, night terrors, even a case of hookworm. He sometimes hides the mail, afraid I'll catch anthrax. Even the words are poisoned now. Domestic. We can't use the word domestic without it coming off, you know, like a reference to something else, military lingo, Homeland Security, that whole jargon, that whole agenda."
Here they sell bags of googly eyes, popsicle sticks free of ice cream. Here they have sequins and rhinestones, star-shaped confetti and glitter-glue, adhesive-backed Velcro tabs, doll arms and doll legs, ethnic and otherwise, ready for the stitch, the needle. The fabric store is homey. Its targeting and subsequent destruction by extremist elements would be best characterized by the adjective domestic.
I read the obituaries of elderly folks in nursing homes, their hobbies, their survivors. There is a page of ads for farm auctions, a page of ads for church services. Here they sing songs about a different Jerusalem, a city in the sky. The always expected. Our double, our better, our terminal hope.
After the paper -- which is quite slim -- I fish through my bag for some of the more interesting pieces of mail that have accumulated in my absence and that I haven't had a chance to read until now. Solicitations, clippings, cards from people I used to know. An elementary school teacher mails me only a picture of my face, reprinted in her local paper, along with some floral cursive words about my gifts and God's protection. There is a more formal request from a group called the Youth Leadership Board, offering to fly me to Boca Raton in December, to give a short speech and help raise funds for armored buses in the occupied territories. The letter uses the phrase "armored buses," but it does not use the phrase "occupied territories." I dump all my mail in the trash can by the door and eat some airline peanuts from a foil package with a warning printed on the side. "These peanuts contain peanuts," it says.
Kim has her head under a dome-shaped machine. She is quiet, at last.
With all these mirrors around, I decide that I could use a trim, and I ask for something severe, close to the scalp, though I warn the woman with the shears to "be careful, there are some scabs." The woman who does the cutting is in a plastic apron and smells of a harsh chemical simulation of fruit: kiwi, perhaps, or pomegranate. Her face is wide, doughy, and honest. She helps me remember how easy it is to love this place when you are only passing through. She calls me "sweetheart" and "hon" and "doll" and "cutie." When Kim comes out from the machine the woman says to her, "Your friend here's a war hero."
Kim, checking her new hair in a hand mirror, with some suspicion, says, "He's just a civilian casualty."
I'm in a pith helmet, jodhpurs, khaki spats. Kim's old roommate, Eliza, who's dressed as Indira Gandhi, keeps holding my face in her hands, kissing my forehead, my cheeks. "Such a mess," she says, ruining her mascara. "You probably know more about it than I do, since you were there, in the middle of it, but I watched a special on PBS and, oh, I tell you -- everyone's just crazy, aren't they? They just hate each other for no reason."
Janis Joplin and O.J. Simpson talk about peace for a while, and the dangers of the media. I don't mind that. I tell them that "the situation" is a marketing term. "It avoids the tricky particulars, gives the whole scene a certain palatable romance." Then they ask me if I've read Left Behind. They ask me if I know about the Rothschild conspiracy. They ask me to hold their hands in prayer.
Somebody who I figured for the Wolfman but who insists that he's actually "an ironic reconsideration of Teen Wolf" keeps using the terms Zionist occupation and capitalist stranglehold as if they were synonyms. Then Richard Nixon starts making out with this purple-haired chick in leather over by the gift table and I get distracted. Maybe she's supposed to be a dominatrix.
Kim has come to her own wedding as Sylvia Plath, which isn't much of a costume, really, just a bathrobe with cornflowers on it, "from that scene where she throws all her clothes away." She insists that the avocado pears on the buffet table are part of her character as well.Jesus tells me what we need most in this situation is a belief in the fantastic, in something greater than ourselves, our shoddy mortality, our constant fear of death. He tells me he cried at Spider-Man, starts in on a lecture about comic books and redemption until his date, the samurai, puts a palm over his mouth and pours us both another drink. Jesus is a little drunk, keeps asking Kim to tell the story of how she and Tony decided to get married, which, of course, she does, over and over: "And so I said to him, 'I want to spend the rest of my life with you,' and he just looked back in my eyes and he said, 'Babe, that's what we're doing.'"
A giant blue M&M waves his inflatable tuba over the hors d'oeuvres table, punctuating his point that every action is a political action, "Surely you intended your visit as a show of solidarity, and I'd say you accomplished that."
I haven't seen some of these people in five years, and even back then, if I'd had a crutch handy, I would have wanted to hit them with it. The guy in the hard candy shell lectures me about ramifications and the boycott. He puts a hand on my good shoulder and says, "I know that it must feel as if your personal experience is removed from all this, and that must be the hardest part, to have gone through that sort of trauma and be unable to ever speak about it without phrasing it in partisan political terms."
I've always only been able to tolerate Kim, and never when she's around these people, in performance mode. She comes over, interrupts my current chastisement to let me know they're going to open the champagne. "There'll be a loud pop, OK? I just wanted to make sure you were prepared. We can do it outside if you'd prefer."
Corks fly. Toasts are toasted. Some wretched poems are read, both those written by guests and those culled from websites devoted to wedding toasts. Kim has a poem of her own she wants to recite, about her love for Tony, for Teddy, her "two princes." Thankfully, Jesus, who isn't such a bad guy, starts yelling that everyone needs to watch his newest trick -- pouring whiskey through the stigmata on his hands.