Islands In The Stream
The D-Train #34
Around ten years ago I went to see a palm reader in New Orleans with my ex-husband and some other friends. We had some drinks and nobody was taking it seriously, but the palm reader told me a couple of things I have never forgotten. For one, she read my ex’s palm, and then she looked at my hand, and shook her head. No, this is not a good match. This relationship is not going to end well. I laughed, but she had a grave look on her face when she said don’t get married. This is not meant to be.
She also told me that I have what is considered an extremely unlucky sign in palmistry – an island in my head line.
I don’t know much about palm reading, but I gather that it’s a pretty big island. If you believe in such things, it’s basically considered a sign of mental illness or nervous breakdown at worst; distraction or memory loss at best. With my father’s mental illness always somewhere in the background of my thoughts, I have been walking around for more than a decade wondering exactly when my mind will start to go. Is it happening already? Will I even recognize it when it starts? Did my father have any idea that his mind wasn’t right?
I try not to worry about that island in my head line too much or too often – the woman who read my palm was not exactly a ten-dollar street corner messiah – but I do find myself gazing at my hand from time to time, wondering. But the truth is, I don’t think I’m mentally ill, and I don’t think I’m going to wake up suddenly one day untethered from the ground. Instead, growing up with a mentally ill parent left me on a different kind of island.
After my parents divorced, my mother did not start dating again until I was well into high school. My father on the other hand lived with his girlfriend, Ginny, for at least a decade, for most of my childhood through high school. I would stay at their apartment once or twice a month, but mostly our routine was that my dad would take me out to do things without Ginny. I have no idea if that was his choice, or hers. Ginny was a huge Elvis fanatic – their apartment was filled with Elvis memorabilia, and Elvis always on the stereo. She had one adult daughter, whom I never met. I wonder if my father ever did? I cannot think of a single other detail about her besides her tightly permed hair and her eyeglasses with thick lenses that made her eyeballs look distorted. How on earth did she and my father meet? Was it desperation that kept them together? They moved constantly, from one basement apartment to another, always in the poorest areas of New Jersey. I imagine now that she probably had nowhere else to go. How else could she have stayed with him that long?
When my father died three years ago, my siblings and I talked about Ginny a lot. The two of them never married, but my dad and Ginny lived together for most of my childhood. We wanted to look her up and let her know that my dad had passed away, but none of us could remember her last name. We weren’t sure if we had ever known it.
If I had a stepmother, Ginny was it.
After they broke up, he got an apartment by himself. The place was an absolute wreck, just horded to the ceiling with trash. Ginny had kept things in order. After she left, things began to spiral.
There are times, I will admit, that I wonder how much my ex-husband, like Ginny, was responsible for the order in our lives. I have bad spending habits. I forget to pay bills. I am incapable of saving money. I don’t plan for emergencies. I get panicky over everyday problems. I drink too much. I can’t cook. I forget to buy groceries. The house is dirty. The dog is an untrained nightmare. The cat keeps peeing on things. I don’t return phone calls. I forget appointments. I feel like every minute of my life is just one step away from total and complete disaster. Some days that island in my head line feels bigger than others.
The other day I looked at my palm, tracing the lines with my index finger. Besides the island in my head line, there is also a huge fork in my life line. About halfway down, the line splits into two, distinct directions. While this is sometimes interpreted as a divorce, it mostly means a change of paths, a redirection.
Sometimes when I look at the island in my head line, the fork in my life line, the stepmother whose last name I never even knew, I think, this was a predetermined car crash, this divorce. I’m sitting in the middle of that deserted island in my head line, looking down two paths of a life line that was always divided, and I just don’t know which way to go. But lamenting it, somehow, feels wildly off the mark in this moment, when everything is fucking terrible and I’m hard-pressed for alacrity. I don’t know which way I’m going, but my resolution, I think, can’t be one of deprivation, or indecision, but must be to live as loudly, and as weirdly, and with as much abundance, and abandon, as possible. Not to reduce myself, or wither away; but to expand, to ring alarm bells, to shout in the streets, to see a friend at the bar and have another shot, why not, before I go. To be Double Me, Triple Me, Quadruple Me – whatever it takes. I won’t say no. I will make music in the night and someone will listen. This is gluttony of the spirit. It’s the only road to take.
ps. I think I found the perfect song for right now. Why don’t you come on over Valerie? Sounds like a dream.
Listen to The D-Train, The Playlist, a soundtrack for a shit show: