Heather Palmer

The Work of Artists and Brides

The day the bride left for Germany the father locked himself in his study. His wife knocked softly on the door. She heard from inside the violence of an ink pen, then tearing. Pages to the floor.

Each heart knows its own sadness.

The woman-girl has lived alone for five years without her family. When they come to visit she sees in herself who she was and who she is. She calls this double vision a first-person psychosis. The only way to find peace is to create a third person that can see her past and her present. This third person has the same eyes as God, and in this way she feels bound to divinity. She goes to the bride with her fear.

What with the ocean and the years between us we will surely drift apart. The bride pulls her sister in. But you are my sister.

The woman-girl sits on her hands to arouse herself, pushes fingers against thighs. And her sister, so far away, walks fast through cities because she cannot bear the heat.

She figured out that it didn’t matter much what people wrote. They wrote in profound and beautiful ways about babies and love and marriage and sickness and addiction. She realized herself inside a life- sized sandwich of passion and need, with some part of her pressed in the middle, squished between loves. As soon as this realization came, then another, and all her writing took the form of note cards taped to the wall with words: work: apartment: boyfriend: passions: God. When she saw the writing of others she looked for a word from her note cards. Art, she decided, is indistinguishable from life.

When reading the work of artists, seek desperation.

I time came when all the woman-girl could do was think of herself. She thought in the heat of summer, inside an enclosed room with merely space for a bed. She thought standing on highway bridges looking over rushes of cars between lines. She thought of a list she wanted to write down to bring herself to clarity and certainty. The list would read of everything possibly on her mind that brings about stress. She recites the list to the moving highway, but she thinks not of the list or the highway, but the train she will surely miss if she continues to stand still. She heads in the direction of the train.

In a small town live a fox and a rabbit, the brother tells the woman-girl a story. Not only is the rabbit fast, but he is swift. So swift he knows the fox to be more so. The fox and he meet for coffee and set across the countryside at dusk. When they pass a beautiful young girl, both seek to impress her. The fox inquires of her name and occupation before blithely going into his own. The rabbit says nothing.

A week before the bride’s wedding, the woman-girl remembers, she read a book that changed the way she thought. The book struck a deep fear and a deep calm inside her. The deep calm validated her intuitive belief that reason is nothing without emotion. It challenged her in thinking reason was nothing; hard work, perception, and attachment were everything. She thought of her past, and thought of her future, she realized she knew nothing.

Nothing at all. Not even the tip of the iceberg was clear to her, and she fell into a terrible hunger.

The bride had planned for the wedding flowers, a photographer, spaghetti, hotel stays, entertainment for the days before the wedding (ought of guilt), music, and even bought the dresses for her bridal party. Despite all this, the bride felt lost, and the mother grasping for something to hold to, knowing soon enough the object she really wanted to hold—her daughter bride—would be an ocean away herself.

David Brooks believes humans are higher animals not because of their intelligence or their consciousness but because of their need and complex ability to connect to others and form attachments.

One random Saturday the brother calls the woman-girl before her morning workout. Usually she allows no distraction, but her brother is the only person she feels the firm and weighty need to protect, and she takes the call, not because she is afraid for him, but because her need to protect is persistent and expanding into sustained availability, something her father unconsciously taught her means protection. She takes the call. She asks if he’s okay (why did you call?) And he says he’s fine (Just to talk).

And they talk into one of the extremely few conversations the woman-girl has with another human that truly enriches, fuels and lifts her spirits for the day. Only later does she realize it might be exactly her desire for his protection that gives her so much joy when hearing he is well.

The mind learns with metaphor. Neurons send messages to other neurons. The woman-girl gets a teaching job and she knows nothing but this one concept. She tells herself she comes from a long line of educators, and she knows how to make a metaphor with ideas.

Periodically the bride calls the woman-girl to chat. Back before the marriage she would call to share her joy and anticipation. Because the woman-girl did not need the bride, or felt she did not, she rarely called back.


The bride had left America.

Summer came with a sticky, focused heat unmovable. The heat welled into the rooms of the woman-girl’s house. She felt she could not escape it and yet the feeling was not unusual or even unwelcome. It only reinforced her ideas of reality.

A metaphor.

Her mentor told her to visit three churches before their next visit and continued to repeat the phrase “I’m the fly in the soup bowl.” The woman-girl did not know what that meant, but the mentor did.

Government must make a decision to raise the debt ceiling or go bankrupt. Raising the ceiling sends the message that more debt can solve debt, which, to the woman-girl, defied logic. Going bankrupt means inflation and unimaginable consequences most Americans could never begin to perceive. The woman-girl thinks of Iceland. The fear is the loss of power.

Power, and greed, most world religions say, cause the most evil, which is found fundamentally in pride. To arrive at happiness, one must kill or dissolve all pride and greed for power.

Bankruptcy is the sustained state of the mystic.

What the woman-girl didn’t know about the levels of her unconscious scared her to such a degree that she hungered. She knew she could not know if she was merely smart, or, to be preferred, a hard worker; if she had a secure attachment, or if she perceived the world in ways that led to good decisions. She did not know how her past developed her into her present. Everything she didn’t know stuck together in her brain as a giant black question mark.

She read Jesse Ball’s The Village on Horseback and felt like lice on a beetle’s back.

Nothing so small as herself could create something so complex as his imagination.

Because fear has an inverse relationship to a person’s perception of their souls (the larger the fear, the smaller a person feels), a person must say to themselves, “That is not me. That is an experience that is happening inside me.”

That’s what, the woman-girl read, David Brooks writes as a tactic when struggling with emotions that mold the self.

The woman-girl wrote the quote down, sent it to her father, and waited. For all big decisions, for all realizations and awakenings, she waits.

The father said I don’t know if you are ready to hear this, but I want to be useful to you. And she wrote back saying, I’m ready to learn. Tell me what you are willing to share.

This, all, before the wedding.


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