By Carroll Ann Susco.
“I bury my feet at the water’s edge, in sand and silt, dodging jelly fish and sharks and clams and whatever lives in the Chesapeake Bay, while briars still try to grow within and without, undeterred by the water. I’m afraid I’ll be fifty and not know love still, even if it stares me in the face, like lapping waves that stretch forever.”
In Love by Michal Zahornacky.
Before my old writing professor Chuck knew I was mentally ill and that he had to use caution when speaking to me, he told me one night something I never forgot. It seemed simple at first. He said, “I knew a woman who loved a man she never slept with.” We were in his study: him by the old typewriter smoking a small cigar, me on the couch, still in my coat with arms folded. After he spoke, I unfolded them.
I looked into his blue eyes and at his crow’s feet. How had he sorted through my confused words? But he had, and there his words were, floating in front of me. It was okay for me to love Adam. He had given me permission, but it wasn’t okay. Chuck didn’t know that, and I was too ashamed to tell him why I shouldn’t love Adam, too ashamed to admit what was really going on. I had told Chuck of the yearning. But I hadn’t told him that Adam wouldn’t even talk to me anymore. And this was before my illness had fully manifested itself.
But in Chuck’s study, a door in my mind creaked open, too crazy already to stop swinging doors in my mind. I needed a cigar or something. I mumbled my request. He opened the pack and handed it and a lighter to me. I lit the cigar and looked up at the ceiling, reclining, letting go. I could love a man I did not sleep with. Chuck didn’t know how I would love Adam, clinging with fervor, giving unconditional love to Adam as my conscience and the voices dictated.
Actually, it might not even have been Adam I loved unconditionally. It was a man’s voice in my head, but I wasn’t sure who I was talking to. Whoever it was, I loved him.
But Chuck’s words were working their magic. The door swung wider and became a revolving one. I could feel it, the love I had for someone, or maybe there was no one and I just loved the principle of love and the attributes in and of themselves. Maybe I loved nothing, if that is possible.
So that day with Chuck, before he would later have to commit me, I was like the smoke from my cigar, going down the hallway, up to the ceiling, curling around the stairs. Through the door I walked and there was grass, a field of flowers, sky. I reclined more and watched the smoke spiral upward and spread as I was doing, out the door, down the street, anywhere I wanted to go.
I left Chuck’s with questions but settled for the gift I had been given: temporary relief. I was cold and buttoned up, got in my car and turned on the heater and the lights, pulled out of the parking spot and headed for home, when I could still be trusted to take myself home.
Now it only takes a small love to make me happy: a woodpecker coming to my birdfeeder, someone holding the door open for me, a passerby’s look and smile, all because of that one day when I was smoke. And I took that with me from Chuck as I drove down the steep hill, passed the dark houses. I asked for my love to be something pleasing to God. Meanwhile, I learned that what I felt when I was talking to Chuck was mania. Love is not a supernatural explosion.
I bury my feet at the water’s edge, in sand and silt, dodging jelly fish and sharks and clams and whatever lives in the Chesapeake Bay, while briars still try to grow within and without, undeterred by the water. I’m afraid I’ll be fifty and not know love still, even if it stares me in the face, like lapping waves that stretch forever.
I try to love in winter.
I set the water kettle on the stove and turn the heat on. The steam starts to rise, but that’s not love. That’s the manic H2O. Love is what lasts after the heat is gone, what’s left in the pot, what isn’t dancing to the fire. And so I watch the water boil down for my prize, as if the pan is a cracker jack box, and I get it: love reduced.
The Blood Pudding – April 24, 2023
Carroll Ann Susco has a chapbook, Bean Spiller, about her struggle with mental illness. It expresses the need for fortitude and resilience and offers hope and insight into insanity. It is available on Variant Literature Press. She has numerous publications, all of which are posted on her LinkedIn profile. Carroll has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh.
Artwork: Michal Zahornacky is a visual artist working with photography and the human figure. He is currently based in Slovakia. As a photographer, he tends to promote an artistic approach to each genre he focuses on. He sits his work somewhere near the thin line between reality and fiction. In recent years, he has been inspired by topics such as identity, dynamics, traditions or the body. You can find more about him here.