Although my traveling companion was passed out and I didn’t have to listen to him anymore as I drove through early morning Arkansas, I can’t say that I enjoyed the silence or populated it with pleasant revelries from my imagination. There was nothing in that car with me and a sleeping companion but my anger towards him and humiliation about being stopped by the police. I was flooded by my emotions, a state in which it is often best to stay silent and not make anything worse by saying too much.
I used to get flooded all the time when I was married, especially when my wife would say those words dreaded by every husband: we have to talk. Those four small words, pregnant with foreboding, would always be enough to confuse my speech and cloud my mind with resentments.
It got to be that one day I told my wife, “Don’t say those words if we have to talk, let’s just talk. Whenever you say we have to talk, then we can’t talk.”
She just rolled her eyes and went on saying it. Some aspects of the care and feeding of husbands are just not worth the trouble, I guess.
I’ve observed the phenomena of flooding in others as well. It’s not like I’m the only one it happens to. When I decided not to go with my wife and kids toKansasmy wife said, fine, but you tell the children.
“I’m not the one running off toKansas, you tell them.” I wanted her to bear the cost of telling; hoping then she would change her mind.
“You’re the one that’s separating himself from the family by not coming, you tell them.” She was already scheming to make me out as the bad guy.
We went around and around like this until, the day she was to leave, the kids noticed that all my stuff was still not packed. I gave up on our mad game of chicken and sat the children down to attempt to explain.
My son was nine and rarely sat anywhere, much less for his father to explain something difficult. As soon as he understood what I was saying, he took off down the road to sulk. Sulking is evidence of flooding.
Natalie, my daughter, then five, remained. I asked her if she understood. She didn’t say anything. She was lost in an uncharacteristic, stony silence. She sat at the kitchen table in a kitchen chair big enough for someone twice her size. It was a sunny day and a bright sunbeam turned her hair into a rich brown, as if someone had poured milk chocolate on her head. I was overcome by her beauty in that way that I described beauty affecting me. (It stabs me like a knife.) At that time, I loved her more than I have ever loved anyone before or since and recognized the folly of my actions in allowing my wife’s reckless move toKansas to separate me from my family. I took Natalie into my arms, if only so that I could not see her sitting there in that chair, looking so small and defenseless. I kissed her head, still milk chocolate. I exploded into tears and held her more tightly.
If she had only hugged me back, I might have changed my mind and went with them, but she was as stiff as a board, her arms held tightly at her side. She was flooding also. It was not as if she didn’t love me and was sorry to be separated. She loved too much and couldn’t handle the pain. Hugging her, I might just as well have been hugging the kitchen chair. I was already gone to her; I might as well let her go. The sun disappeared behind a cloud and the chocolate in her hair vanished.
I had hatched a plan to stop over at Memphis and lose my alcoholic traveling companion in the bars of Beale St. As I drove over the bridge to the Home of the Blues my eyes filled to capacity with tears so that I could barely see the Mississippi that had swollen to three miles wide and threatened to drown the city. I was glad that Curt was still passed out and couldn’t remark upon the rivulets of tears draining down my cheeks and dripping freely from my chin. My nose began to flood as well as I took the first exit and headed to where the signs said Beale Street was. Unfortunately, the Mississippi flood had reached that street as well and all the clubs playing the Blues had shut down. I pointed the car south and decided to race the deluge to New Awe Lands, where I would try that drink called a Hurricane and ride the streetcar to Desire.