On his fiftieth birthday, my husband intends to take our son skydiving. Okay, he’s not my husband, not anymore, not legally, but our son will always be our son and what else can I call him? We’re not even hetero, never were, except those few years when we were in love, raising a baby, having sex like straight people. “Oh, so he was the sperm donor?” All the marrying gays used to say. “Well, sort of. Only I got the sperm straight from the spigot, and every bit of him came with it.” I have nothing against husbands. He’s not an ex- anything. We’re still everything, even though I only see him a few times per year.
The image of them jumping out of a plane together—along with my son’s wife—fills me with pain. Well, she’s not his wife, not legally, but she is everything; he wouldn’t jump without her; do you see what kind of family this is? It’s the kind I never had growing up, the kind where we matter to each other in a hundred different shapes and ways.
Or, maybe I came from a family of changers, but a lot of the changes were painful. I mean, my mother and I worked it out. We’re working it out. She is likely to die before anything works out. I left home at fourteen because she chose to stay with the man who started sexually abusing me at eleven. She knew, and wanted to stay with him, and besides, by fourteen I was queer and had orange hair, so maybe I was easier to let go. I sometimes have orange hair now, but it’s “cute” these days. More hair-salon, Saturday-latte than fucked-up, Tuesday-2 a.m.
Skydiving. Filled with. Is it pain? Maybe it’s emptiness. Can one be full of emptiness? Yes, when emptiness takes up residence, there’s a fullness to it. In Hawaiian, the language describes this. You don’t use a verb tense to describe the past. You talk about fullness. The word that means done, means full, means complete, means past tense. I become past tense, done, all the way finished when I think about the three people I love most, their arms and legs spread in mid-air. It doesn’t matter whether they’re smiling. The pain of them jumping and not surviving makes me both past and tense. Why can’t I imagine the part where their parachutes open? Where they land on their feet, exhilarated, congratulating one another on their great adventure? I can’t see that part because I have already become nothing by watching them fall.
I wake up sobbing with the image moving down into the infinite part of me, the part made of space and stars, the great void. I drive along in silence, unable to speak, unable to do anything but flutter my hand about like a moth trapped in a light fixture, like a moth, a mothe, a mother, like something small that disappears into a stain, and if anyone wonders, they wonder, “why did she have to annihilate herself like that?” Silly moth. er. Er, er, this is my life.
I stumble, unable to speak, unlikely to do anything but sit in alleyways, pondering the dirty seams of my clothes, the way filth is an embedded layer between self and self and self—when you don’t belong, when you live outdoors and it seems like everyone else lives inside, and when you bathe, even then, you’re not clean. You’re close to the ground, yet unable to touch it, hovering in the human-made filth that isn’t even clean enough to be dirt.
That’s where I’ll live after they’re gone. I didn’t know I was so close to the edge. Didn’t know I could still feel so lost. Of course, I’ve been there before. Lost, dirty. I thought I’d never go back. Now I see just how easy it would be. Thinking about it, I recall—as though recalling a fact I’d forgotten—that no one will ever love me, and life is worthless. This feels especially true when I see them in my mind’s eye, forever falling.
There are other times too. I see them and suddenly, all of the moments in which I feel nothing, fill up with it—even if it’s just a little temporary bit of nothing—connect with silky threads like a spider’s web to the central image of them, falling. Suddenly, aware of these moments, I climb along the thin strands of my lovelessness, my lostness, toward the center of the web where I may hang, stuck, forever.
I’ve noticed, for instance, how emptiness explodes inside of me, briefly, when I’ve just left the classroom. Explodes and subsides like fireworks, if I’m lucky. It’s there when I’ve done something good for others, when I’ve published something worthwhile and been praised, when I come off the stage and the applause continues to fill the air. I explode inside and the applause drowns out the ricochet in my ribcage. I prove my worth, but it is never proven to me.
It feels like I can’t do anything good enough to deserve love. Everything is futile and if the only people who love me—if the only person who loves me, my son, is gone—nothing will negate my emptiness. That’s how abject I am: I had to create a human to love me. He is an invention and also not mine. I know he loves me, but my son is sovereign and if he wants to jump out of a plane with his loved ones and they never come back, neither will I. The air will take me too, dry out my bones and inhale my voice—I’ll be nothing but a whistle in the wind throughout eternity. Something cannot turn into nothing, so I will be but a whistle in the wind—no matter at all.
Who knew I was this close to the edge? Everyone has one, an inner precipice over which one can fall into oblivion. Some people never find it at all. They have troubles, some moments of darkness; they get a little dirt on their hands as they push through it. Some find it by surprise, struck by tragedy, and sure, they almost fall, but others pull them back. I pulled myself back when child-me found the edge.
I pulled myself back, seemingly by my own will, because I felt like no one else cared enough to do it. But now I see that surely I had help. Someone’s prayers, so long ago that I cannot know who said them, must’ve lifted me up, held me when I started to slip. I tell myself this, and it seems more likely than prayers said by anyone I knew. I lived by the edge of my abyss, sat on dirty pavement, cried alone and used a pen and paper as rope to tie me to the earth, not falling.
How could I be this close to my inner edge now, decades later? I’ve always kept it in sight, kept myself from wandering near for the sake of curiosity or madness. How can the thought of open air around my son, my most precious person, take me so close to the drop?
Maybe the air isn’t empty. Maybe it’s actually full, full of falling bodies and whistling bones, things that can’t be seen from the ground. Maybe that’s what keeps some of us from hitting bottom, the way the air is peopled with everyone else drawn to the edge. We are not happy adventurers who jump out of planes for fun. We are lost in the midnight of our own souls, falling, with nothing better to do than to wish the living well.
That’s all I knew to do when I sat by the edge before, slipping, in my youth. I knew I could remake myself in the service of others. Maybe that’s who prayed me over: other versions of me who’d already dropped, already become full and done and complete.
Kimberly Dark is a writer, mother, storyteller and sociologist. Her essays, poetry and editorials have been published in a wide range of print and online media. Her work aims to remind audiences that we are creating the world, even as it creates us. Her storytelling performances have been produced at hundreds of venues, internationally.
Of her work, The Evening Echo in Cork, Ireland says “the balance between objectivity and intimate analysis certainly gives Dark an edge and has made her a force to be reckoned with on every level.” The Salt Lake Tribune says “Dark doesn’t shy away from provocative, incendiary statements, but don’t expect a rant. Her shows, leavened with humor, are more likely to explore how small everyday moments can inform the arc of our lives.” The High Plains Reader in Fargo, North Dakota says “Dark’s skill as a storyteller gets to your heart by exposing hers.”