Shame

I am concerned for my soul. I hear myself over lunch and I am not who I want to be. I have not taken the care I ought. I have let my heart grow hard. Again. At thirty-three and a distance of several states, I am pissed at my parents. And it shows. I want to have a pleasant lunch with my husband and friend. I want to learn things. I want to be generous and curious and capable of surprise. But perhaps not as much as I want to have my husband and friend side with me against them: my parents. I tug the conversation in the direction of my pissedness: How horrible my parents are! And were! How sad for me! Poor me!

(And behind the “poor me,” a plea: find my edges and cut me out of here, a clean victim.)

I know people who have no concept of sin. I do not disbelieve them. I simply wonder at them.

In my concern for my soul I have taken to walking the high grassed levee that begins near my house and continues along the water treatment plant and compost facility, past trailer parks and industrial parks, until, crossing two highways, it lands in a recreational park with a pond and fountain, two playgrounds and a pool. It is guesswork—perhaps if I take my body for a walk, subject my senses in this way . . . A second guess: I am listening to a Librivox recording of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I do not relate to Anne Elliot. She is too independent of her father’s silliness, too reconciled to her mother’s death. She is not inclined to wrath or envy or pride. She does not succumb to resentment and is justly self-satisfied. She is strange to me, but I enjoy her company and am glad for her example.

I rarely see others on the levee. A middle-aged couple in khaki shorts and polos taking quick, evenly paced steps, wrists rigid, elbows bent. Two women in black leggings and hot pink tanks, jogging, stopping, bending over their knees, straightening, walking haphazardly, stretching their hips before jogging again.

It is three miles from where the levee begins near my house to the park with the pond. I am just past the water treatment plant; the smell of sewage giving way now to the smell of rotting yard debris. Louisa Musgrove has thrown herself from the Cobb and cracked her head. Something is cycling toward me. I don’t understand. It has overtaken me before I see it clearly: The head of a large buck turned on its side and lashed to the front rack of a bicycle, its neck packed with bath towels, its eyes open. A smell. And a man riding the bicycle. I turn. The man turns, twisting his head over his shoulder. We lock eyes. I am afraid. I see my fear in his face. He is terrified.

I continue with my levee walks. I do not see the man again. Several days later I am driving a church bus full of tweens home from the waterpark. It is near dusk. We are just out of Possum Trot, still fifteen miles or so from the church and my home and the levee. To my left I see an emptied headless deer body lashed to the back rack of a bicycle. The legs are stiff. I can see inside the belly. The man is riding against traffic on the far shoulder. We are moving in the same direction. I overtake him without seeing his face.

In bed I ask S if he ever feels shame. He pauses. I clarify: I mean now, as an adult. He takes his time thinking. Finally he says, “Yes. A couple times. I’ve been ugly to my mom, impatient with her. I’ve teased her. Not in a nice way.” I search his face. He acquiesces, “That was a while ago. I realized what I was doing and I didn’t like it so I stopped. It was easy for me to stop. It’s been a long time.” We are quiet together. I know that he heard the same thing I heard over lunch—my pissedness at my parents and the pettiness of it. I know that he knows that I am ashamed of myself, that I want to be better than I am, that I do not find it easy to stop. “I am ugly like that so much more than you are,” I say. I  am not complaining. It is explicitly a comparison, but it doesn’t feel like one. No wrath, no envy, no pride accompanies it. He offers a small smile and pats my thigh. I know that he loves me. And I trust he will not contradict me. To contradict me on this score would be to lie and—because we are not in the business of lying to one another—to break faith. He says, “Well babe, you’ve got a fire in you.”

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