Give Me One Reason Not to Do It

“Elliott Smith had been playing “King’s Crossing” sporadically at his shows for four years before he recorded it in late 2003. But it was only in his last few months, in a streak of sets that ran from transcendent to painful depending on his chemical imbalances, that his half-sister, Ashley Welch, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, would add their responses in-time. At the end of Smith’s second chorus, after he sang the crippling line “Just give me one good reason not to do it,” they would scream back: “Because we love you!”

You can find videos and bootlegs of those late performances now, Smith singing the line before voices come in from off-camera, piercing the white noise. The one that I keep coming back to is from the Henry Fonda Theatre, January 31, 2003. He opened his set that night with “King’s Crossing,” stuttering and slurring through the track, losing his phrasing while his right hand struggled to stay steady, a warped cog throwing off an intricate machine.

And then there’s the scream: “Because we love you!”

King’s Crossing” turned out to be the last song that Smith recorded, on October 12 2003. In his essential piece on Smith’s last days, Liam Gowing writes about that session at New Monkey studios. He writes that Smith recorded the vocals and then invited Chiba in to record her line: “Because I love you.” He proposed to her there and then. Nine days later, off-balance after radically altering his narcotics intake, diet, and prescription meds, grappling with what seemed to be a resurfacing trauma from childhood, Smith killed himself at his home in Los Angeles.

“King’s Crossing” appeared on his posthumous From a Basement on the Hillas a terrifying centerpiece, a howl of voices that gives way to a funereal waltz before a cast of marionettes and skinny Santas show up to hurl viciousness at the protagonist. By the time it reaches the end of that frightening second chorus, Chiba’s voice is buried so deep in the mix that you have to listen through headphones and turn it all the way up to discern her line. Unless you’re really listening for it, all you’ll hear is Smith responding to himself: “So, do it.”-from an article by Alex Robert Ross

Bridget hung a picture on her door. In alternating colors of fat Crayola markers from the basic 10 pack, she wrote, “I love you, mom. You can come in my room anytime.” Then, she signed off with a little black misshapen heart next to the letter B. An invitation, an invocation.  A loving, yet beseeching, recognition of her mother’s emotional absence. Later, laying on my belly between her & her brother on the living room floor….we are building a Lego house for the three of us to live in.  They take over & make a brightly checkered floor for the house out of the little square tiles. In the living room of the brick abode, they stack the pieces to make a rainbow colored stool for me, so I can sit & watch the world outside the little plastic window. I have to get up and go in the kitchen to hide the tears in my eyes. I love you, guys. You can come in my room anytime…but… it’s best if you just don’t.

And I’m sorry your mother is so sad. I’m sorry that even when you build her a house & give her a window to see the world, she continues to look for the exit.

The other night, Rowan came upstairs. He said he wanted to “’nuggle” with me. I was drunk again, laid out on his father’s bed. He laid down next to me, wriggling up close to me like a puppy. My heavy hand smoothed his soft, golden hair and I told him he was a good boy, meaning it more than any other words I have ever formed in this rotten mouth. He told me, “I know. You a good girl, too, mom.” I couldn’t feel anything beyond the shame of knowing I had done nothing close to earning him saying that to me.

I went to R & K’s this weekend to see their new black lab puppy, Branson. I have always been a dog person…in a way that borders on pathological. I baby-talked him and lovingly pet him, as he chewed on the hem of my dress, licked my face, playfully nipped at the ends of my red curls…K. laughed, delighted at my rare show of genuine joy. It was a thumbtack of a reminder that my relentless, inevitable slow roll towards suicide is hard for them, too…the few people who do love me & just wish I could be happy. R & I rhapsodized about going to Woodstock, Ny and finding Amanda Palmer & Neil Gaiman and making them our new best friends. R, K & I get on these kicks, these pipe dreams…While I know it won’t happen, it seems to sustain us even in the face of its cosmic improbability. Idealism, naivete are their own pipe dreams, I guess. I’m too old for it, but I imbibe. Then while I was there, my mom left me a voicemail…in a rare affectionate move, she signed off, calling me honey. It’s too late for that, mom, you’ve already lost me.

Lately, as I feel the net of my life close in on me, I think a lot about the annual summer trips to Lake Ontario to our neighbor’s camp when I was a little kid…I remember sleeping in the girls’ bunk with my sister & the neighbor girls, listening to a Beach Boys cassette in the tape deck. Playing on the beach, sandy footed & happy, shrieks of joy carried away on the wind…our hair whipping into our open mouths. Memories of all of us throwing each other off their dock, then twisting in the water with the sleekness of otters. My mom and dad each holding one of my hands and swinging me into the waves. Eating salt potatoes and corn on the cob and hot dogs at picnic tables. Playing hide and go seek in the dark. I think about these summer moments a lot lately because those are some of the only happy memories from my childhood. It’s hard to remember any of us ever being happy.

I wonder what my kids will remember someday when treasure hunting their own difficult childhood…I have a feeling it will be our car rides together, oddly enough. This weekend, I took them on a picnic and to a park. In the car, I pointed out how we were in the dip of the Mohawk Valley…how we were surrounded by greatness on either side of our old car, speeding along with the death rattle. Pointed out the massive farms. Trees like green spears. Cows like little plastic animals stationed on a model railroad, grazing lazily on a hillside. We talked about the clouds…what we thought they felt like. Cotton candy, pillows, bunnies…We sang along to the Mountain Goats, to Concrete Blonde…I tried to tell then how much I love them, but my vocabulary feels woefully inadequate. A few weeks ago, in the restless, bad judgment of a manic spell, I took them out and drove them into a rainstorm. Found some green-hilled, curvy back roads…and headed straight for the dark roll of the storm clouds…I rolled the windows down and let the rain into the car, laughing & screaming, exhilarated with the rush of doing something inexplicable and dumb. Seeing their mother come alive, my children laughed and squealed, sticking their hands out their windows, trying to catch rain on their tongues.  We walked in our door and I shrugged at their father, as he appraised our sopping wet forms…goofy, sheepish grins on our faces.

Will they recognize my love for what it is?

I don’t know.

As a kid, I was sick all the time. I had asthma, severe dust allergies…leading to multiple bouts in the ring, fighting pneumonia & bronchitis each winter. Even then, my fluid filled lungs wondered if breathing air was worth all the work.  But my mom, my mom who I give so much shit, my mom would record herself reading my favorite books on my little Playskool tape recorder…I could listen to tapes of her reading to me while I convalesced on the couch, as she scrubbed the cracked linoleum in the kitchen on her hands and knees. Bleach drying her hands, cracking her fingertips…not even thirty years old, but already used up by having too many kids at too young an age and being too poor to take care of us. I remember this one book about a circus bear named Kissyfur and his father, Gus….She knew I loved that book and she read it the best on that tape, acting it out. Maybe she loved me after all. I should’ve built her a house with a majestically rainbow colored stool, facing out a window to a better life. It all feels too late to fix now.

Rowan just came downstairs. I gave him a kiss and a hug. I asked him if he knows how much I love him. “With all your heart,” he answered.

Give me one good reason not to do it.

In truth, there are many.

I am undeserving of all of them.

 

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August 13, 2019

*huge hugs*

You ARE deserving of all of them! ❤

August 15, 2019

@dancingthrough love you, boo.

August 13, 2019

Beautifully, painfully conveyed. I envy your grace with words and identify with the disconnection. My adults somehow know I have always loved them- from rosebud baby cheeks and lips to now and forever. Yours will know, too but you’ll just have to keep telling, telling, showing them. Stick around- more time for driving.

August 15, 2019

@e3 thank you for that bit of hope. the writing helps me to stay. i know it doesn’t seem like that, as my entries come off as depressing–but when i write (even when about wanting to die), it distracts me for a bit from actually doing anything.

August 13, 2019

My daughter has a giant sign on her door that says “Stay out!Or else” with the slender man symbol for the O’s and like  blood drips on some other letters. But in black on the bottom it says (Thank you)

I used to have those feelings of maybe I would completely mess up her childhood by not being right in my head, but as time has gone on I keep realizing how great she is, and how I must have had something to do with that. Helps a lot.

August 15, 2019

@thelastdonut your kid sounds awesome. my bridget is a creepy, morbid girl like her mama. i love it.

thank you for sharing that perspective. i feel like my kids have a lot of shit on their shoulders. it’s hard not to worry, but you’re right, maybe the proof is in the pudding.

August 13, 2019

Lady Gaga would also like to add that, though you may have one hundred million reasons to want to walk away from this world, all you need is one good reason to stay. Music is pretty good one. Drives, both delightful and daring, through the countryside are another. But I’d say that your very loving children (with whom you share your music while you take them on scenic drives) are the clear favorites. And I think that your son was absolutely right: you are a good girl, er, woman. Oh, and speaking of very good girls (and boys), stay for the doggos, as well!

You have my sympathy on the asthma and dust allergies. I outgrew the former by the time I was in high school, but the latter (plus mold and pet dander allergies) continue to plague me on a daily basis. Yes, even though I’m allergic to dogs, I have two of them (they make my nose almost perpetually stuffed up, but I still love the little pug creatures).

Thank you for sharing those sweetly nostalgic memories of your childhood trips to the big lake. Reading that me reminisce over some of the similar campground trips my family took way back in the day.

August 15, 2019

@drbajahi i don’t want to die. it’s just easier to commit to that than living, if that makes sense. but i’m working on it. i actually set up an appt with a new therapist who specializes in ptsd/trauma. we’ll see.

i had to get allergy shots to help with the dust allergies. (i was also living in a shithole that my parents were renovating, didn’t help.) the allergy shots actually improved my health like 99%. i hardly get sick anymore…despite a bout with pneumonia this year. otherwise, though…the shots were worth it. i don’t use an inhaler or anything….doggos are totally worth any discomfort though, i agree.

i’m glad you were reminded of happy family trips. those were the only trips i remember taking…but they were awesome.

August 15, 2019

You are not undeserving. Not even a little bit, not ever.
This entry made me cry for a few reasons.
Stay. Stay. Stay.

August 15, 2019

@mavis

i’m trying. i can’t leave the babies.

i made an appt with a new therapist who specializes in ptsd and trauma…i’m hoping if i can address some of those issues, i won’t feel so under attack.

thank you always for your kindness. it is such a beautiful gift of yours, your compassion.

August 18, 2019

Those are lies, but your true self is in there, and knows how deserving you are of all of it.

I know you can name many obvious reasons, but here’s a random one for you: your writing is transformational to me, and I doubt that I’m alone.