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"Tetanus, You Understand?"

By Ellen Morris Prewitt

September 2, 1994:
Has anyone ever loved you as much as me?

October 12, 1995:
My possessions thrown into the arms of skeptical moving men, my three tiny dogs snatched and trundled into an apartment with white-painted walls, my mother arrived from North Carolina and sleeping on the floor inside the frame of a mattress-less bed. Fled, while D. was out of town, with fear billowing behind me.

October 17, 1995:
Ensconced with the lawyers, I plead: slice to the bone, quickly, uncleave what was cleaved; and protect me from the spurt of blood. For in striving toward business success, D. turned himself inside out — personally, financially, sexually – so that I do not know him, and not knowing him, I fear him.

The petition is filed. The legal gears grind.

October 31, 1995:
I follow my tank of a lawyer into the low-ceilinged courthouse. Seeking the court’s ordered protection, we step into the hallway leading to the judge. The downward slope cuts off the sun; the windowless length stretches dark. Against the wall, D. sits on a bench, head bent. Alone.

He raises his eyes.

How are the puppies? he whispers.

And the severed flesh bleeds.

September 25, 1997:
The trial over, the divorce decree entered, the line final.

March 23, 2002:
Time to die to the grief.

But how?

March 28, 2002
My grief. My guilt. My love.

Turn from the plaintive, excavate the me into the clear light.

What do you see?

I was not the one.

For D.

August 30, 1993:
D. and I sit on the patio of the Gritti Palace, Venice, Italy. We are on our tenth anniversary trip. So far, we’ve been down the Amalfi coast, through Sorrento, around Palermo. Now, we are harbored in the hotel that has housed kings, U.S. Presidents, movie stars.

The black water of the Grand Canal slaps against the stone. It is night. Lights on the church across the way turn its marble hard, brilliant, but authentic, so that you can imagine the dents of its porous surface. D. wears a white polo, black and white slacks, black belt and watch. I wear the dress that makes Italian men look.

A waterbus spilling over with people lumbers by.

“What are they doing?” I ask.

They’re riding, D. says.

Heads and arms and trunks in stripes and bright colors jut from the windows of the fat-bellied bus.

“Why are they just riding, in that thing?”

D., who grew up with one good pair of shoes, who was rich in his community because his dad took him to the Saturday movies, who was the first in his family to go to college, studies me. They’re touring the canal, he says. Look at you, he says, with your ass just off a &130,000 gondola, your butt sitting on the terrace of the Gritti Palace. D., who’d kissed me in the gondola, his hand trembling as he touched my back, swags his jaw to the side, the way he does when remembering his unmonied past.

And I, whose family has lived in the same white-columned spot for a hundred years, whose great-grandfather was one of the first bankers in the state, whose father wore hand-tailored shirts, sit stunned. For even though my father died when I was three, even though we phoned ahead before visiting the white-columned house, I did expect – to take the gondola, to be sitting on the terrace of the Gritti Palace Hotel.

The waterbus chugs past, continuing on its rounds.

Earlier, at the end of day, I had stood inside an alley that led upwards to a church. Buildings towered overhead, slanted shadows darkened the stones. D., head hanging, trudged up the hill, said, You’ve just about whipped this puppy.

The alley stones pressed into the papery soles of my sandals. I leaned, slipped off the straps. A woman stopped. Thin but with the ropy muscles of a nurse, her gray hair tucked in a bun, she pointed to my bare feet. “This is dangerous. Tetanus, you understand?”

Tetanus. I did understand: the threat that comes with childhood’s rusty nail. Where the toxin gets in, and can’t get out.

The woman’s black, oversized eyes stared me down.

Later, D. and I would take a watertaxi to the land, a car to the train. Full of my love, I would kiss D. on the back of the neck while we waited on the platform, then we would run to catch Car # 4 before the train left the station.

 
Ellen Morris Prewitt has remarried and lives in Memphis on an island in the Mississippi River. Her commentaries can be heard in the PublicNewsRoom at WWW.WKNOFM.org and a print essay is forthcoming in Fourth Genre. In her new life, she has given up her legal practice of 19 years and now walks the runway as a fashion model: keep your center of gravity low, walk into your hips - no arm swinging.

 

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