When the pillars came down, language was the first casualty.
This was no surprise. The things I held precious had long been persecuted, sweaters my Mom had chosen or ceramic chickens from my big-eyed aunt. Those that survived cycles of “purging” were wrapped in brittle newspaper under the bed, under the radar.
But my beloved words were unwise, incapable of taking cover. No crash helmets would fit, and they pranced as though we were in peacetime. I saw them square-dancing in the street, innocent as sparrows.
When the lights went out and the dusk came hungering, I found them broken. My comforters and playmates bled in the rubble. All my life, language had been my cathedral and my compulsion, the forest where my fairy-hair grew long as a story. Now it was ash, smoking in the dark.
V. would have called this preposterous, or more likely “dumb.” He was just having fun. He was just “being cryptic.” He polished his “non sequiturs,” jabbing unbidden absurdities as I washed the dishes. “Baked Alaska! Baked Alaska!” he shouted.
It did not follow. I tried so hard to follow.
If God is merciful, a day will come when I won’t hear that slide-whistle voice. I am glad for my words that they can’t convey it, oily as it answered my every question, “that’s troooooooo!” I will not spell “true” in his mouth. I will not betray my friends, the words, again.
It did not follow. I cut my hair. I nicked my sentences. I frenzied my “forevers” and my “beloveds” and my “irrevocables,” crossing to the other side of the road so I wouldn’t see the fallout.
He assembled a military band, strapping me into my seat for their marches. The music he favored confused me, limp word-salads with no protein. Strings of images knotted my stomach. I tried to follow.
I know the pleasure of putting words in the same room, introducing them to friends they’ll love. I know this is always in danger of becoming a self-indulgent cocktail party, shiny non-nutritive prose. I know words long to be in service to truth. I tried to follow.
But if the music on the speaker was unsettling, the sting-songs in the kitchen rattled pillars. “The Father of Lies, the Father of Lies, the Father of all the Lieeeeeees!” I laughed. Just having fun. I tried to follow. I asked the Word for forgiveness, guidance.
The answers came in absurdities, confusions stacked like cannonballs.
At dawn, when he took his goo and his “troooooo!” to the city, I slipped into the forest. I wrote breadcrumb trails to the river and washed my face. I wrote the dutiful words of a Development Director, leaving no newsletter or case-for-support undone. It was clear, kind, sequential.
But I survived on feral words not found in my job description, wild grapes in abundance. I bled all over the blog, storytelling the tenderness I knew was true. I firebombed bleakness, mothering my donors, responding line-for-line to laments. I told cats and people and cat people that they were safe, and everything was going to be very okay, and they could not possibly cease to be loved.
I came home by 5:30. I tried to follow. The cathedral creaked.
Why did I underline my books so recklessly? Wouldn’t it be fun to create a counter-blog that questioned all that sunny stuff? What if God was hands-off? (His eye twitched like a trigger at the scent of serendipity.) He had better never hear me using one of my third-order words in front of his working-class family. I did realize, didn’t I, that I was very, very unusual?
Baked Alaska! Baked Alaska! That’s troooOOOOoooo!
My words ruptured, glassy eyes trying too hard to see forever. His words churned like the wine in his glass, a strange vintage not found in my forest. It did not follow.
I reached for language, but it was languishing. It had tried so hard to follow me, as true friends do. Pterodactyls had eaten the breadcrumbs. Time and syntax tumbled.
There are moments when language delights in its own demise, when it can do nothing higher than fall. Think of the psychedelic angels in the Old and New Testaments. No willowy glitter-ladies, God’s messengers are terrible glory, heaven in all its mystery. Language buckles as the prophets, breathless, grasp at metaphors: six-winged windstorms covered in eyes. Towering firewheels that spin in all directions.
Angels have reason to begin every coffee date with “fear not!” Language has limits.
Limits serve the word. Love and truth stay close to the river. It follows.
My friends did not die.
Not one stone was left standing in the cathedral, and dawn is stark over rubble. Bleeding and disoriented, I needed bread, not salad; angels, not assurances.
My forevers and my irrevocables forgave me. My tenderness and my beloveds followed. I stopped hemorrhaging. I put on my sweater. I unwrapped the ceramic chicken.
It followed. I wrote. I square-danced. I cried. I listened for angels. I fell on my knees.
My comforters and my playmates live. It’s true.