- Where We Are
I am driving a rental car down a Texas highway into the shadows of late afternoon. My face is flushed, my tongue a bottom feeder on a hook, my breathing startlingly loud. As I maneuver in and out of heavy traffic, headed for Waco, my left hand is pounding out “Yes! We Have No Bananas” on the steering wheel. I begin to wonder, out loud, why that song, of all possible songs, is the one looping in my head, which makes me think of the samba, and whether Eleanor Roosevelt was a good dancer, and FDR’s betrayal of her, and from that to JFK, and the day he died in Dallas, when I was 30 miles away in Fort Worth, a sixth grader watching a film strip about the principal exports of Venezuela. Bananas! I say, and for an instant am cheered because, somehow, I’ve pulled a coherent thread out of that tangled skein of thoughts. The cheer doesn’t last. In half an hour, I will be at my aunt’s house—the one who calls a spade a bleeping shovel—and I finally get it. I am manic as hell.
It is all I can do not to slap my hand against my forehead in a cartoon gesture of recognition, like a kid who’s forgotten her lunch money. It’s that obvious. But I know this dance intimately, and for the thousandth time, I know the recognition has come too late: after I bought a plane ticket, after I made plans to see my mother’s family, after I left my house, where I am safe, where I could ride this out until it’s over.
That’s the worst of this thing that’s wrong with me: I am in the middle, or near the end, of it before I understand it’s happening. Always, always, I am surprised. It will be another four years before I know for a certainty that I am bipolar. Now, on this road, I don’t have DSM jargon, prescriptions, or a psychiatrist to call; I only have past experience as a guide. I’m screwed. [End Page 149]
The big idea was that I would come to Waco, meet up with my aunt, my mother’s sister, and look for my paternal grandparents’ graves. They are buried somewhere in Mound, Texas, a wide spot in the road in Coryell County. I was 12 when my paternal grandmother, Clara Dotson Williams, died, so I have been in the cemetery with my family. But all I remember about that day is a vague impression of wrought-iron gates, and my new dress, dove gray, with cutout work at the neck. My shoes were gray patent leather, and I kept gently kicking one leg up, then the other, admiring each shoe in turn. I raised tiny clouds of red dust until my mother leaned across my father and hissed at me to stop it.
I can pull up no other memory: not the church service, when we would have sung “Abide with Me,” or whether my father, a former minister, spoke at the graveside.
My own parents once had plots at Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. I know this because after their 50th anniversary party, I was downstairs at their house, half watching a PBS documentary about Lee Harvey Oswald, when my mother wandered by in the middle of taking off her party dress. “Oh,” she said. “That’s where your father and I will be. We told you that, right?” She was pointing to a spot on the screen to the left of Oswald’s grave. No, they hadn’t told me, or my brother, which meant that we might have shown up in mourning at Rose Hill someday and wondered why tour buses were parked across from our parents’ graves. That led to a discussion of what else their children might not know, during which I discovered that none of us, not even my father, remembered the location of his parents’ graves.
Three days ago in Atlanta, it made sense, 30 years after my grandmother’s funeral, to come to Texas...