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Authors: Laura Elizabeth Woollett

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The nineties: their decade in Arcadia. Weekends they would doze in a heap while I watched cartoons in the den, eating dry cereal with the blinds unpulled. Our house was rife with art, with freshly bought flowers, which mingled in a fatal way with the relics of his intellect. I watched petals fall over musty tomes, saw his eyeglasses abandoned atop her feminine, Art Nouveau furniture (spindle-legs, stained-glass panels, and everywhere, transparent dragonflies). Or else I would get a glimpse of her flitting into the kitchen in only her silk oriental dressing gown—a glimpse I would pretend not to see, staring fixedly at the screen.

As a free-spirited woman in her thirties, she was far more comfortable in her skin than I would have liked. When we were home alone, it was a habit for her to leave the bathroom door partly open during her shower and post-shower sprucing. To stop the mirror misting up or simply to allow her little girl to talk to her freely—it was a motherly nudity, spontaneous and confidential. In the yellowish lighting, her slick skin had the look of candle wax; her private flame would peek through the arc of a raised leg, to which she strenuously applied moisturizing lotion. Breasts bobbed innocuously. I knew that if my father were home she would have had the courtesy to close the door, to have at least a semblance of shame.

Although as a very young girl, I may have been enthralled by such displays of beautification, by the time that I reached a certain age, I began to find it abnormal, to take offense to the assumed intimacies between mother and daughter. A catty remark, of the sort only a seemingly innocent eight-year-old can make
(“Can’t
you close the door, Mom?”) soon set her straight, however, creating a new and welcome barrier between us. I had acquired my sense of asceticism over the years, as my consciousness broadened, becoming increasingly disconcerted by matters of the flesh.

My asceticism was different from his, in that it was a rebellion against excess and not, as I suspect was the case with him, a defense against deprivation. I was clean. I craved order. I shrank from the sluttish untidiness of her red hair clogging up the drains. Because he had been deprived, I knew that I should not condemn him too harshly for that hypocrisy—a hypocrisy brought on by love, or the Darwinian need to procreate.

I myself resolved never to be a hypocrite, to need no one, to remain forever a being of pure mind. But alas, what hope did I really have, when I was only half the god, half the mind that he was? When the other half of me was
she
?

The fallacy of conception: two halves join and expect to make a whole.

A
TURNING
point came the year that I turned ten, 1995, when he presented at a conference in Cambridge—afterward taking her on a tour of Western and Central Europe without me. I passed the month with my maternal grandmother in Fremont who, at almost eighty, was forced to withstand the worst of my ingratitude. Moping on the carpet, tracing meticulous maps of the continent, I spent my days imagining obsolete Moravia, glittering Bohemia, thatched rooftops and railroads passing over the black heart of Germany: ancient things, beautiful things, that were absolutely forbidden to me.

They were back in four weeks, burdened with art books, tissue-wrapped figurines, and a honeymoon glow that I resented (they had no right to be happy, I told myself, when everybody knew that they’d been doing dirty things in their hotel rooms). A poster of Klimt’s
The Kiss
was framed for our collection—how closely that blissful redhead resembled her!—while, unbeknownst to them, I destroyed the gorgeous, genuine Italian charm bracelet they had chosen as a gift for me.

I found bad omens in their photographs, though they looked innocent enough. Them pausing on bridges. Them in casual dress. Them blinking at churches and obelisks. In my eyes, their innocence was a testament to their guilt—for only the guilty could be so ignorant, so happy, for all my brute knowledge and unhappiness. The cold fury with which I regarded their artifacts and answered her maddening queries (“Did you have fun at Grandma’s?” “Did you go to the water park?” “Were you well-behaved?”) did not abate with time, but merely descended deep within me, adding to my ever-growing animosity.

The following year, my mother’s mother died: ostensibly from stomach cancer, truthfully from the callous conduct of her one and only grandchild. On the day of the service, I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in the mirror, eleven years old and intolerably ugly, with my snub nose and ill-fitting dress. I kicked up a storm about having to attend, which is one of the few times that I recall being disciplined. Afterward, I watched as my mother strode to the door, stiff with emotion—her hand burning with the heat of my impertinence, her eyes burning with tears (both of our eyes, actually, but only hers too disgusted to seek mine). I rubbed my face and looked over at him, hoping for a glimpse of acknowledgement, something conspiring in his eye to tell me that she had acted wrongly. My father was impassive, however. In the hallway, with his hands in his pockets, he returned my gaze without any expression whatsoever, the hypocrite. They turned to wait outside together for the funeral car, and neither paid any heed as I obediently picked up my purse and wiped at my eyes.

H
OW
COULD
they be so cruel, so supercilious? How could they, when I knew better than they who they were, what they did, what they were composed of? I had pried in their cupboards. I had found their pile of books. The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. Taoist Secrets of Love. Tantra in Practice. Not to mention the purely pictorial guides. Contortionists. Perverts. Westerners with Eastern predilections. Never mind that they sent me to a school of the Sacred Heart, that we went as a family to mass on Easter and Christmas Eve. All of that was just appearances. I had always believed in God, an intellectual and appetite-less God who would not allow me to be sullied. How could he be trusted to keep me clean, however, when he could not even keep himself from being defiled? Because I was a masochist, because I was compelled to know my enemies, to immerse myself completely in the things I hated most, I read those books. All of them. As thoroughly as I could with the mind of a twelve-year-old. Those books, I believe, more than anything else, were to blame for my unerring preference for doing things “the Christian way” in my first months of love. For all my sins, I tried to be a good Christian.

P
ROFESSOR
J
ONATHON
M
ARKS
: June 22, 1958—August 16, 2002:

Jonathon Ulrich Marks was born in Anaheim on June 22, 1958, the son of Emmanuel and Marie Marks
(née
Dreyfuss). A precocious student, he earned a Juris Doctor from Stanford University in 1978. After graduation, Jonathon spent several years clerking for Judge Alfred Browning of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. In 1983, Jonathon began his career with UC Hastings, rising to the rank of full professor in 1990. He was the author of three books,
A Condensed History of Legal Philosophy
(1992),
Modern Jurisprudence and its Aristotelian Foundations
(1997), and
New Traditions in Natural Law
(2001). Jonathon’s life ended tragically on August 16, 2002, after a three-year battle with trigeminal neuralgia. He is survived by his loving wife Elizabeth and their daughter Laurel.

I was her daughter, yes, but how passionately I denied it! Even my beauty attempted to suppress hers, making me mousy for more years than I could ever be considered attractive. I was comfortable in my plainness, as children of an ascetic persuasion tend to be: taking my Eucharist, studying the female saints, praying, in the belief that the inconsistencies I suffered through would someday be corrected. All my instincts were driven together, into a single urge for consistency, which hoped to see me emerge—shining, superior—over the Eternal Damnation of the hypocrites. I was pure, I was meek, I did not take lightly the claim that I would one day inherit the earth. I believed, and so my resentment became creed.

He had not felt the hypocrisy of being the man that he was and being with a woman like her. His punishment was felt, however—a jolt from within, a splitting of earth, by way of the trigeminal nerve; a punishment that
I
had willed. And yet, it was impossible for me to rejoice in my strength; in my new, shining body with its perceptibly reddening hair. Everything about this body weighed down on me, as heavy and dark as lead—hinting at my own doom, my own inevitable hypocrisy.

In vain, I tried to educate myself, to take arms against fate. Self-knowledge was my defense. It comforted me to know that my personality was anal-retentive; that an oral fixation led me to be irrationally independent, self-denying, and prey to eating disorders; that issues in my phallic stage meant that I was sexually repressed. Then there was the undeniable fact of my Electra complex.

There was a time when I had only been aware of them, the entity. What I discovered about myself, however, forced me to view him in a new light. Suddenly, my father stood out to me as an object worthy of fixation. He was a safe love object, someone I could love without contradiction. Moreover, I reasoned, my love would do him good as well. Through my chastity, he would at last be cleansed, cured of the ailments her sensuality had induced.

I began to make my advances, to develop my arts, to place myself in his path. Every day, I became more refined, more enticing, more incomprehensible—in short, more of a woman. At home, I went about in my stocking feet, drawing in my toes to accentuate my arches. I adopted ways of sitting with my legs stretched out before me and my spine against the daybed, or lying and reading on my stomach with my back and feet arched, emphasizing curves. There were times when I felt sure that he was looking; sure that he saw it all, and was not exactly sickened. In the end, however, my father was a sick man; too sick to survive the sheer, dark force of my fixation.

T
HE
MEDICINE
cabinet. Labels to read. Side-effects, including: dizziness, drowsiness, dryness of the mouth, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, aching joints, muscular pain, loss of appetite, and impotence. The opiates were all gone, on his person at the time, presumably confiscated. All that remained were the anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants, along with his abandoned shaving kit, his neglected toothbrush, and the cologne and alcohol-free mouthwash upon which he had become dependent.

BOOK: The Wood of Suicides
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