Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Fulfill the contract you entered into at the box factory, amen."

     "In[to the car] climbs big-footed David [Foster Wallace], red bandana around his head, along with a[nother] guy from our [AA] group named Jack.
     "Jack of the red curly hair, skittery-eyed Jack, whoon being introduced to me firstexplained that he had a little touch of the schizophrenia, as he held his index finger one inch from thumb.  Mostly he stays medicated enough to hold down a job at the box factory.  But he once showed up to arrange chairs with a tinfoil over his head molded into a knight's helmet with a kind of swan shape on top, convinced that his girlfriend was beaming messages to him through the radio.  It's a tribute to the radical equality of the room that I never heard anybody ever challenge the reasoning. . . .
     "Riding back to Lexington in the backseat, I sit between passed-out, openmouthed Jameshis breath on the side window spreading and receding like a tideand curly-headed Jack.  I think with rue of Joan the Bone's injunction to ask the first person I saw about my marriage.  I'm still angling to prove what crazy bullshit her much vaunted surrender-to-the-group concept is.  Whatever Jack's brief spells of clarity, he rarely goes to a meeting without jabbering out something nutty.
     "So I start whispering my tale of marital woe to Jack, who sits in the hunched posture of somebody tensing against a blow.  Occasionally, he'll tug a red curl over the crease in his forehead.
     "Eventually, I wind down and ask, what should I do?  And I wait for the word salad of his scrambled cortex to spew forth.  Instead, his eyes meet mine evenly, and he saysas it seems everybody saysYou should pray about it.
     "But what if I don't believe in God?  It's like they've sat me in front of a mannequin and said, Fall in love with him.  You can't will feeling.
     "What Jack says issues from some still, true place that could not be extinguished by all the schizophrenia his genetic code could muster.  It sounds something like this:
     "Get on your knees and find some quiet place inside yourself, a little sunshine right about here.  Jack holds his hands in a ball shape about midchest, saying, Let go.  Surrender, Dorothy, the witch wrote in the sky.  Surrender, Mary.
     "I want to surrender but have no idea what that means.
     "He goes on with a level gaze and a steady tone:  Yield up what scares you.  Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry.  Enter into that quiet.  It's a cathedral.  It's an empty football stadium with all the lights on.  And pray to be an instrument of peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is conflict, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope . . .
     "What if I get no answer there?
     "If God hasn't spoken, do nothing.  Fulfill the contract you entered into at the box factory, amen.  Make the containers you promised to tape and staple.  Go quietly and shine.  Wait.  Those not impelled to act must remain in the cathedral.  Don't be lonely.  I get so lonely sometimes, I could put a box on my head and mail myself to a stranger.  But I have to go to a[n AA] meeting and make the chairs circle perfect.
     "He kisses his index finger and plants it in the middle of my forehead, and I swear it burns like it had eucalyptus on it.  Like a coal from the archangel onto the mouth of Moses."

     Mary Karr, Lit: a memoir (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 230-231, 233-234.  (She means Isaiah, I think.)

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