Two events intersected in one day, as sometimes occurs when we’re not expecting anything at all to happen. The first involved a news item. I don’t watch television news (as Kat will attest, I have not yet figured out how to turn our new television on – it arrived as a gift from American Express because I had spent such an astonishing amount of money on other things – and when the baby wants to watch a video I stand holding one of three remotes, by which I mean I just stand there); tv news would, without a doubt, do me unspeakable harm. I greatly dislike the way visual media sneaks up and imprints itself on your inner eye with such immediacy and then it can’t be unseen. I read The Times online, I look at all sorts of news blogs, sometimes CNN, but even then I can go two or three days without checking the headlines. Perhaps this is irresponsible, but I’ve noticed – maybe you have, too – that the news is seldom good. Oh, it is REALLY not good much of the time. Also Scott tells me everything I need to know so I am able to justify my ignorance.
A few days ago I decided to check in with the world. In truth, I’m always on the lookout for photographs of Obama in the Oval Office, or the words “President Barack Obama.” Just seeing them can make me happy all day. And I ended up reading an article about how the grandfather of the slain toddler, Caylee Anthony, was in the hospital under a suicide watch following the release of details of his granddaughter’s crime scene. I won’t repeat what he learned, but it was enough. It was enough to make a grandfather no longer wish to breathe, particularly if – as all the evidence seems to suggest – his beloved grandbaby was killed by his own daughter. As Joni Mitchell said, maybe it’s the time of year or maybe it’s the time of man, but there were at least five more articles about the brutal abuse and murder of children, all on that one day. I’m not counting the reports of children under the age of ten killing their parents with shotguns, none of the horrendous chaos we have brought upon ourselves.
Casey Anthony is innocent until proven guilty, and the evidence against her is so far circumstantial. (However, as David Rudolf points out, all evidence in every trial is circumstantial, and these circumstances are damning. Otherwise we would have no need of grand juries.) She was nineteen when her daughter was born; I was nineteen when my daughter was born. All similarities, and I mean ALL, end there. You might think I mean because I never harmed my child – I never raised my voice to her – but more than that I now have a 24-year-old woman, a daily presence in my life, who is the embodiment of all that is good and compassionate and funny and joyful and wise. We have each other. Casey Anthony didn’t just allegedly commit a crime so foul it boggles the imagination. She isn’t merely evil. She’s so bloody stupid she doesn’t realize she murdered the future; she destroyed the person who might have ended up the dearest friend and companion she would ever have.
That night, the night I read about a suicidal grandfather, I had my own very minor trauma. Someone who reads the blog had sent me a, shall we say, critical e-mail. It contained two lines in particular that made me believe I am not, in fact, a good enough person to be writing a public blog and perhaps should not write at all. Naturally, my response to thinking I shouldn’t write a public blog was to write a public blog post apologizing to my critic, while also attempting to explain myself. Two people I hold in very high esteem read the post and said I HAD to remove her name, which honestly confused me. She lobbed an accusation at me concerning the blog, I apologized to her in the blog – why wouldn’t I use her name? She used it in her e-mail. For some reason I couldn’t make sense of this, and our conversation became more and more contentious. I asked if I could use her first name. NO. How was she to know I was addressing her?!? One of my two Esteems said that it didn’t matter that I apologized; it didn’t matter that I tried to address her humbly – by citing her charge against me AT ALL I made her look like a fool, and by making her look like a fool I became a Michael Moore-sort of bully. By this point the conversation had gone on an hour, and in all that time my twelve-year-old son, Obadiah, had been sitting right there listening. John finally turned to him and said, “O., do you have any thoughts on the matter?” Now this was my quiet baby, a late talker, someone who keeps to himself, is a boy. He and I have always been very, very close – by instinct I’ve been more protective of him than I ever was of Kat. I thought he might be embarrassed to be asked his thoughts on a tricky ethical question, but instead – and even now I can barely type the words – he just rose up in spirit, he very quietly began to speak in the most orderly, loving way, and every sentence was an unmitigated defense of me: as a person, as a mother, and as a writer. I’ll skip to the last thing he said. “Anyone who could accuse you of being shallow? You? She must be the shallowest person on earth.” I felt a vise close around my chest. I had been arguing a silly point moments before, and with just a few sentences from my son tears began pouring down my face. I couldn’t speak at all. I looked at him and mouthed the words, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Obadiah, for being The Good Son of all the old stories; and thank you, God, for entrusting him to me. Thank you, Ben, for always being the best possible father to him. Thank you, Kat, for being nearly a second mother to him, and John, for loving him unconditionally.
As if that weren’t enough, this morning while John took O. to school, Baby Gus got into bed with me. He put his head on my pillow and let me kiss the side of his head until he said his ear tickled. He asked me, where did I get my face? Where did I get my head? “Gussy’s head is tinety,” he told me. Where did my big hands come from? Could he look at that blacelet again? Who make the blacelet? I told him my friend Carrie made it. He said, “What her make it of?” I told him the beads are glass. He said, “What flavor is dose beads?” I didn’t know. What flavor are my lips, he wondered? Would I like to feel the tag on his blanket, called Taggy? What flavor is Taggy?
I wouldn’t expect you to guess, but this post is really about my mother. There are the obvious reasons: because without her I’d have no idea what it meant to be a mother at all, and because she has always understood and loved my children. She told me a secret about Obadiah when he was four months old that changed the way I raised him – something she saw just by looking at him – and I don’t care how the knowledge reached her, it saved his life. Today I want to thank her because never, not once, did she betray me, even when I was a nightmare teenager who should have been thrown in a cage with jackals. I want to thank her because I sent her a photograph of my barn study, the Natural History Museum, and she not only saw the beauty in it, she said it took her back to the library of her cousin, Jay Warren, the very library I visited at the age of six and became obsessed with the preservation of animals. Most of all, she alone understood that at her darkest hour – diagnosed with cancer and facing the most violent surgery I’ve ever heard described – I could not be there, and she knows why. Even if it were legal for me to drive the 650 miles to Indiana after having a grand mal seizure, the thought of it fills me with a terror so black and deep I feel faint. I couldn’t tell her this when she was in the hospital; I could barely admit it to myself. As Christmas approached and the weather in the Midwest became treacherous I awoke every morning and thought, “I’ll just leave, I’ll just go,” and my heart would race so hard I’d see stars. I knew if I had a seizure while driving I would not only kill myself, I would undoubtedly kill other innocent people. And then Gus developed scarlet fever, and she alone understood that even though she is the home of my soul and my moral compass, I would always choose to stay with him. She never expected me to leave my sick family, as gravely ill as she herself was. Whatever is in her – DNA, magic, I don’t care what you call it – she is the reason I have been given this extraordinary blessing. Caylee Anthony’s mother didn’t have the basic animal sense not to destroy her own best hope; my mother doesn’t even hold a grudge. Imagine that.