By Cecilia Pinto
Featured Art: Resting by Antonio Mancini
Many years ago I watched a documentary about people with mental illness. One of the patients presented was a young woman who had been institutionalized. Despite being an adult physically, she acted like a little girl and lived in a room filled with dolls. She wanted more than anything to be spanked because she equated this with love. No one would comply with her request which made her desperate and upset.
I have remembered this.
In another documentary I learned of a girl who had been kept in severe isolation and abused for most of her young life. Her deprivation left her sensitive to light and without language. Partial rehabilitation was achieved but it was noted that the girl felt it absolutely necessary to keep multiple glasses of liquids in her room.
When I think about the first young woman, I see her story line in a candycolored palette, baby pinks, blues and soft yellows. The curtains billow, the bedclothes pool, there are fat, dancing animals with little eyes.
The second girl’s images are black, white and gray. The girl moves through her story like an animated charcoal drawing; sketchy, vibrating lines, electric black hair, skittering movements. I think of black crows flapping into the sky, the glint in their eyes, the glint in the water in all the glasses. She carries glasses of water in front of her as if she is a priestess.
I always thought it would be a fun trick to place multiple cups of water on the floor of someone’s room while they slept so that when they awoke they wouldn’t be able to leave the bed without stepping on the cups. I was thinking plastic cups, I was thinking a prank. It would be funny, right? There was a period of time in my early twenties when I thought about this idea a lot and imagined its
execution and consequences.
One day on the train a young woman sat across from me. On her shirt was rendered an image of a woman shooting herself in the head. Out of the head blood splattered but then turned into birds flying away. I felt like crying. Even now it upsets me to think about the congratulatory nature of the image. I experienced a strong sense of vertigo while writing down the words that form the description of the image on the woman’s shirt. I wish I could forget what I saw. I wish it could be exorcised.
I heard an interview with a woman who practiced a particularly stringent form of Christianity. She did not listen to popular music because it didn’t support her world view or her beliefs. She had listened to pop music for a short period of time and even now, many years later, she said she still had the secular songs she heard then in her head. This for her demonstrated the power of the devil to mess you up.
I understand that my mind is completely polluted.
Yesterday and today a storm rages along the east coast of this country. Here in the Midwest we feel its effects. The wind blows the lake water violently up and onto the shore and the trees sway back and forth like the nuns in Francis Poulenc’s 1956 opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites.
I don’t know why I say this. The actions of the performers in the opera depend on the production. In the final scene the nuns walk one by one to the guillotine. It’s possible to imagine they might sway given their fate. On the other hand, they are resigned to martyrdom and they are singing.
I ask my husband what he remembers about the time we saw a performance of this opera. He says he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. He says it must have been someone else.
It is cold here which is in part because of the storm on the east coast and in part because of cold air pushing down from Canada. The effects of the storm are heightened because it is a full moon. I learned from Dr. Odenwald’s “Ask the Astronomer” that, The moon tries to pull at anything on the Earth to bring it closer. But, the Earth is able to hold onto everything except the water. Since the
water is always moving, the Earth cannot hold onto it, and the moon is able to pull at it.
The desires of the moon. The desires of the Earth. The restless water. These are not complete thoughts. I have returned to this over and over unable to get at what is here. It pulls and holds and moves. I have stood on the Earth staring at the moon thinking about this.
And other things that might have been here remembered have been abandoned.
Where do these women I see on the subway and the television get these little necklaces they wear? What are they for? And why do they wear them all the time?
Once I heard the radio personality, Steve Dahl, say that something he had recently learned about was so cool that everyone would want it. He said it wouldn’t just appeal to a certain group as might seem obvious, but to all of us. I did not hear what the thing was, or to what group it might first appeal. I have no context for what it was we would all want. On a timeline I can pinpoint that I heard Steve say this sometime after 1988 but before 2008 because I listened faithfully to him throughout this time period. However I guess I wasn’t paying very close attention that day. It has always bothered me that I don’t know what it was he thought not just some of us, but all of us, would want. And it bothers
me that it still bothers me now.
Yesterday I found a young possum newly dead in the alley. Its lovely white and black fur bristled, its nose still pink even though it lay in an ooze of black guts and blood. I did not stand long enough over it but I don’t know how long I should have stood.
Cecilia Pinto holds an MFA from The School of the Art Institute. Her prose and poetry have appeared in a variety of journals. Her novella, Imagine the Dog, will be published by Texas Review Press in April 2021.
‘Cups’, was a notable essay in The Best American Essays of 2015.
Originally published in NOR 15