A WORTHY HOST
by Trinity Demask
My friend killed herself.
Her daughter called to tell me, to utter, “she took her life” in a practical, cordial tone that broke like waves on the rocky shore of those four words. In that moment, I became an unwitting participant in a thoughtless, invisibly violent act no child should be asked to endure. All the disbelieving questions died in my throat. I could not ask them of this woman who had been so cruelly drafted to bear and spread this toxic burden.
My friend undoubtedly had not considered the resiliency of her pain. She sought to escape it, diving into that gaping unknown where nothing could follow. In her dash for freedom she unleashed this plague upon all who loved her, binding her agony to their own, propagating a new suffering fresh in its virility and ancient in its will to survive; a parasite of misery perpetually seeking a worthy host to spread its seed anew.
I inherited this infection. The strain passed from my mother whose emotional firmament is fickle and flighty as the child she’d been when her father bequeathed his agony to his wife and four daughters. I carry in my mind two images of him, neither first-hand. My mother possessed only a single washed-out photo of a squinting, pinched-faced man in a gray fedora.
The other image I hold contains no face, only work boots swinging just above the reach of the basement’s dirt floor, an overturned bottle of liquid courage resting on its side on the cool earth. I imagine his suffering released, floating heavy in the air, briefly disembodied until it reached the nostrils of my grandmother whose maternal intuition stopped my mother from descending the stairs.
And so it was my strong, Midwestern, no-nonsense grandma who found him – she who had already borne the loss of two children and in that private torment had made acquaintance with the rising waters of despair and had learned to tread them quiet and steady – it was she who discovered her husband’s failed attempt to swing above those waters from a thick rope. And still, after all that grief and the hardship that lay ahead, she arose from that basement stoic and uncompromising in her will to survive: an unworthy host.
My mother hosted her share with a willful dissociation that kept the contagion’s touch at bay even as it crippled her ability to love and mother with any true connection. She passed it to me without instruction or explanation, a mark on my cellular memory like a smallpox inoculation scar for which I have no conscious recollection. Its ownership, however faint, serves as a warning against the spread of this engulfing despair, an unspoken pact to contain it within until it can be carried naturally, honorably into darkness.