Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Six

She woke up for maybe the tenth time at around 7:00, before the sun was out. She stayed there on the couch, staring out the window and waiting for dawn to break. After the sun was up she put off getting up another hour, and then she went back and showered in the dark for a good twenty minutes. Other than one long, blank stare, she stayed clear of the mirror, and dried her hair with a towel while sitting under the comforter on the couch. She considered calling Father Adamowicz, thinking that he’d be more than happy to hear from her, but decided against it. She wasn’t scheduled to work that day, which seemed to be a stroke of good luck. She didn’t really feel like talking with anyone, though for some reason a part of her thought she should. She thought about pulling out her diary and writing her thoughts down there, but they were thoughts she wanted to get rid of rather than look over at some point in the future. She decided to take a walk, so after a small breakfast she got dressed and started up towards Capitol Hill.

During the night she’d dreamt of her childhood home, a small house with a short driveway in front and a backyard that was surrounded by a hedge and had four good sized trees. She thought about both the dream and some other memories of the house as she walked. The dream itself hadn’t been so bad; her mom had been trying to tell her something, but even though Diana could see her mouth moving, she couldn’t hear anything. Thinking back on the dream, she still had no idea what she might have imagined her mom trying to tell her. To take better care of herself? To find a boyfriend? Diana hadn’t a clue. Maybe some dreams have no real meaning at all. If this is true, Diana wondered, doesn’t that in itself mean something? It would, she thought. It would mean that without intention our minds work as randomly as the universe apparently works. Of course, sometimes dreams do seem to have meaning – just as things in our waking life seem to have meaning. Is it all just seeming? Under the circumstances, she felt this was comforting.

She was thinking of death because of Pete, but also because the dream she’d had that night had reminded her of something that happened just after her dad had committed suicide. Her mom was understandably having a difficult time of it in those first few weeks. She’d tried sending Diana to her own parents, but of course Diana needed her mother then, and her mother was also realizing how much she needed Diana. She had told all this to Diana in the years that followed. In their first few months alone together they stayed very close, which may have contributed to some of the difficulties that came up in Diana’s teenage years.

Diana remembered coming home from school one day just weeks after the suicide and seeing a big truck parked in the driveway. A large man with a scruffy beard and wearing orange coveralls was carrying logs from the back of the house and throwing them into the back of the truck. She heard a loud buzzing sound all around her, and when she went inside and looked out the back window she saw that it was a chainsaw. Another man in orange coveralls and goggles was cutting up one of the trees into smaller pieces. Diana thought he looked like a strange, ravenous monster. Behind him the stump rose up no more than a foot off the ground. Her mom was in her favorite chair, smoking a cigarette a little more aggressively than usual and drinking brown colored liquid from a glass with ice in it. Looking back on it now, she thought it had probably been Kahlua. Her mother’s head was resting on the back of the chair, and she didn’t move it when Diana walked into the room. Diana remembered wondering, “what did the tree ever do to you?” She didn’t say anything, but sat down on the sofa across from her mother, then turned around to look out the window as well.

All these years later she remembered a lot of what seemed to be unimportant details: her mom’s drink, of course, but also the way the sawdust was scattered across the grass; that the chain on the blade looked a more menacing version of the one on her bicycle, and that one of the workers was big and fat while the other was skinny, and that even to a girl of six this seemed too pat to be true. When she turned around to look back at her mother she saw that she had left and gone back into the bedroom. Diana stayed and watched, right up until the thin man came back with a big vacuum cleaner that took up most of the sawdust. Even now she thought that was a little strange, especially since the stump was still there.

A few weeks later Diana came home from school again to find that a different man was there, digging up the stump. By this time the surface of the wood wasn’t so pale and the stump itself didn’t look quite so forlorn. Her mom didn’t watch the man work this time, and the whole operation took several days. He alternated cutting with digging, and eventually he got it all out. Diana came home a third time to a different back yard. This time there was just a pile of fresh dirt and several smaller bushes where the tree had once been. By this time she was also glad to see that the tree was gone.

At the end of the school year her mother sold the house and they moved into an apartment complex less than a mile away. That way, her mother said, Diana didn’t have to change schools. The apartment was nice. It had two bedrooms and new carpet. Sometimes it didn’t smell very good in the hallway when the neighbors were cooking, and as the years passed she spent less and less time there. She couldn’t decide whether she missed the backyard or not, but she liked the swimming pool in the middle of the four buildings. A few kids from school lived in the same complex, but none of them were close friends. She continued dreaming of her old house every few nights, and still did even all these years later.

It might seem that Diana could have benefited from counseling, and while this might even be true, she had refused it at almost every opportunity. On a friend’s recommendation her mother had taken her to see a psychologist, but when Diana declared that she really didn’t want to talk to the strange lady again, her mother didn’t press the point. And in fact Diana seemed to be doing as well as any teenager. When she got older the counselors at school naturally knew her history, so they eagerly made themselves available to her, should she ever want to just someone to talk to. She did not. If they had known about her habit of making tiny cuts around her ankles, they may have been more insistent, but Diana was careful that nobody found out about this and eventually took care of the habit on her own. There were times when she thought of herself as a loner, but because she realized this she was very careful about staying in contact with a few close friends. Except for a few decisions she’d come to regard as mistakes (mostly concerning her boyfriend at that first job out of college), she was aware that she lived her life pretty much the way she chose to live it.

The sky was clear and the sun was out, and she eventually found herself in Volunteer Park. There were a few people milling about the museum and the greenhouses, but she kept her head down whenever anyone approached and kept her eyes on the scenery. For a few seconds she would feel just fine, and then it was as if everything was crumbling away beneath her. She recognized the thoughts that led to this feeling, but she really couldn’t stop herself from thinking them either. It was good to be walking, and once or twice she even began jogging a little, though never pulling her hands out of her pockets to break into a run. After she’d started jogging she somehow felt even more desperate, so she went back to walking.

She had trouble believing that Pete was really dead. Not that it didn’t make some sense as she looked back on the last few months. He’d seemed tired for quite a long time now – really about as long as she’d known him. Which meant that he really shouldn’t have seemed anything but normal, but she felt that on some level she had known how he felt, and knowing that she should have known suicide was possible, even probable. It was when she thought this that she actually stopped walking and stared at the pavement in front of her, frozen. Hadn’t she known? In a way, she had just been waiting for it to happen. She thought about some of their conversations, and then about some of those silent looks across the bar. Why had she ignored the signs? Respect for his privacy might have had something to do with it, but she wondered whether it was chiefly out of fear. What could she have possibly said? And this is when she felt everything beginning to crumble away again: the thought that she should have said something more during those silent moments when he was alone at the bar. Something. Anything at all, but something. This, she went on to tell herself, was normal. This was common among people who had known a suicide. She’d read this in dozens of magazine articles over the years, and perhaps had heard something like it from the counselor she saw at school in the years following her father’s death.

It might seem helpful to normalize the desolation following suicide by considering a generalized condition of human helplessness in the face of death. In this particular instance, however, there was also the fact that she had served him four beers inside of an hour, not long before he’d decided to launch a vintage Ford Mustang into a cement wall. This was why Bill had been upset, and rather than being angry with him, she saw the entire incident from his perspective. There was the legal issue as well, which he’d been hinting at (or so she thought). To what extent was Diana responsible, having served Pete those drinks the night he died? What she thought Bill probably didn’t know was that she actually wanted to be taken away by the police; that would be a fitting ending, and would tie up a lot of loose ends besides. It wasn’t as if she had to try to see things that way; she couldn’t help it.

Seeing the entire episode from Bill’s point of view, she became even more angry than he’d been the day before. Then the anger was her own, and directed at herself. Then it wasn’t so much that everything felt like it was slipping away; then it was as if everything was lined up against her. She was angry enough to pull out her hair. She actually stopped walking several times while she did this, or at least started to. Once she yelled out loud. Even the trees in the park seemed to stand against her, waiting for her, and thinking about her dream and the house, she gasped and then laughed. At first she laughed on purpose, as if to ease the tension building up inside of her, but as soon as it was out of her mouth it sounded cruel. Then she heard the beginning of a crying jag, and then also a tone she didn’t recognize. She was laughing again, harder than she’d originally intended.

I’m becoming hysterical, she thought to herself. I can’t cry anymore, so I’m laughing instead. She found a park bench at the edge of a field that was relatively isolated, and with her eyes closed she tried to concentrate on the feeling of the warm sun on her face. After a few minutes she opened her eyes, looked out across the park, and tried to put her feelings in perspective. She couldn’t. By the time she went home it was mid afternoon and getting colder. She felt like she’d done her duty by going for a walk, but she was also getting tired of the day and was looking forward to night.

An overwhelming feeling of depression never seemed to be far off, and to the spirit of self-destruction she so often felt circling above her she would sometimes respond with the most ridiculous of suicidal thoughts. A hanging (the inherited form) was simple, readily available and therefore frequent, but as it had for so long gone untried she had begun to conjure up increasingly inventive endings that sometimes became unintentionally comical. A self-inflicted gunshot wouldn’t do (she didn’t have a gun anyway) – she had to blow herself up with a couple of sticks of dynamite, like a terrorist. The jump from a bridge or a tall building became a swan dive. Slitting her wrists became something managed with piano wire (she’d seen this in a horror movie), and a bottle of pills was replaced with a vile of botulism (once available, with some difficulty, from the lab where she used to work). This also made her want to laugh, although the feeling was different. It was a good laugh, even if it still sometimes happened on the verge of tears. It alleviated the desperation a little. It was also very sad, and usually tears of resignation won out in the end (okay, so I won’t lop my hand off after all), and she just went on living.

When she did cry, she felt a little better. If she cried for an especially long time, it was as if she was able to slough off a thick layer of skin. Afterwards she again felt strangely calm. Then the cycle would begin all over again.

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