…no [one] … however wise… has not at some period … said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is so unpleasant … that [we] would gladly expunge it. And yet [we] ought not entirely to regret it, because [we] cannot be certain that [one] has indeed become …wise… — so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise — unless [one] has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded.
– MARCEL PROUST, Within a Budding Grove
When I was seven I told my mother that I sometimes had bad thoughts. She looked scared, like she was going to cry. Three decades later my Jungian analyst asked me if the bad thoughts had been sexual. No, they were about punishing people I didn’t like, meaning people who had wronged or harmed me in some way. I put them in a cartoonish “Tunnel of Punishment” where they spun around, screaming and newly empathetic, improved. My mother asked no questions and the look on her face was my tunnel of punishment.
When I was ten I broke my wrist sliding down an icy hill at recess she told me not to. I thought of her and changed my mind halfway down slamming my hand down to stop myself, and it obviously had not healed properly the first time, when I broke it roller-skating in my living room wearing a long nightgown. I told the school nurse that my mother would be sooo upset that I hadn’t listened to her. Hurt.
It had never occurred to me she’d be angry. But she was angry. Angry at what I said to the nurse, who had told her “not to be too hard” on me. She thought I could be taken from her; that all my accident-proneness might look like child abuse. When I realized all this I woke her up in the middle of the night sobbing, and her stoniness was, again, not what I had expected from my doting and overprotected savior.
When the plaster cast came off and I saw my pasty, scrawny arm, I wanted to vomit, or faint, but I didn’t.
Teaching me to drive my dad yelled to brake and I hit the gas and the only tree for blocks in any direction. Without any more practice I nonetheless did OK in driver ed, because the dual controls made me feel confident. After I got my driver’s license mom had me drive her around the block in the same old car with touchy brakes. I stopped too suddenly and the rickety rear-view mirror fell on her face and she was bleeding a little and I asked if I should pull over and she said no, she was fine, but she was shaking and crying while pretending not to, and I knew it was not about the minor cut, and it was definitely not about being proud and sad her baby was growing up– it was because she was afraid I never would, although, of course, I did.
An alum of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, Julie Benesh is recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Her writing can be found in Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Tin House Magazine (print), Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Cleaver, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, New World Writing, and many other places and is forthcoming in Hobart and Drunk Monkeys.