As the years pass, my apetite for vindicating rock music has subsided. In my blunder years (cof, cof), songs that cattered to my emo self would have been “brilliant!”, but I can now admit that punk and screamo carry more of an emotional payload if you’re a teenager. That said, last year Tool decided to release Fear Inocolum, an album so truly brilliant that for months I couldn’t put it aside for more than a few days. Fear Inocolum incites in me a tempered reaction, one that I can now wield to a greater effect than I could as an angsty teen.
Following the trail of Tool’s discography, I arrived at Wings for Marie, both parts 1 and 2 — “Wings for Marie, Pt. 1”  and “10,000 Days (Wings, Pt. 2)” . That entire record’s dedication to MJK’s mother (Judith Keenan) prompts a response from me that I can only attribute to my own lost mother. In Wings, we find some pearls that only a troubled soul could come up with:
“(…) you believed in movements none could see, you believed in me. A passionate spirit uncompromised, boundless and open, a light in your eyes then immobilized. Broken, broken, fell at the hands of those movements that I wouldn’t see. Yet it was you who prayed for me, so what have I done to be a son to an angel? What have I done to be worthy?”
“Daylight dims leaving cold fluorescents, difficult to see you in this light. Please forgive this selfish question, but what am I to say to all these ghouls tonight?”
“Didn’t have a life, didn’t have a life. but surely saved one. See? I’m alright. Now it’s time for us to let you go”
“Listen to the tales as we all rationalize our way into the arms of the savior, feigning all the trials and the tribulations. None of us have actually been there, not like you.”
“Ignorant siblings at the congregation gather around spewing sympathy. Spare me. None of them can even hold a candle up to you. Blinded by choice, these hypocrites won’t see. But enough about the collective Judas, who could deny you were the one who olluminated your little piece of the divine? And this little light of mine — a gift you passed on to me —, I’m gonna let it shine to guide you safely on your way (…) home.”
“You were the light and the way they’ll only read about. I only pray Heaven knows when to lift you out. Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough, you’re going home.”
Judith Keenan’s stoic adherence to religion in the face of suffering is truly a testament to the power of faith. Yet, without trying to compare apples to oranges, I can’t keep myself from applying those lyrics to my own mother. The original muse for the album went through a true hell on Earth, suffering from “a brain aneurysm that left her paralyzed for the remainder of her life.”
To establish a parallel to the ordeals of my progenitor is folly, but her torments merit respect: divorce, poverty, domestic violence, depression, and a finally a painful death at the hands of a collapsing system. If Judith suffered for ten thousand days, so did my mother — roughly speaking, they both endured their lives’ downward spiral for 25 to 30 years.
As Maynard would be brought into an “‘intolerant and unworldly household’ where his intelligence and creative expression would be stifled” , his mother did her best to shelter him from the idiocy of generations past. Back in the old days everything was great, they would say, but glory must have come at the cost of women’s rights, racism, and intolerance in general.
Every October since 2012, I’ve done what I call The Great Reset. Last year’s reset was a call to arms, to fix my own mental health. These words I write are about my soul, and how it heals from the turbulences of an “unworldly household”. As I finish The Body Keeps The Score and process my own trauma in therapy, I’ve come to terms with what was expected of me as a child.
While a sexist society will give girls dolls to play with (and, god forbid, makeup!), so will it rewards boys with cars and guns. Both betray social prejudices that end up causing toxic masculinity and gender inequality. I’m sure I was the recipient of idiotic stereotypes, typecast into the bastion of male chauvinism of 2 generations that produced nothing but a vile stupidity.
Yet my mother would have little of it in how she connected with me through gifts. What did I get? Whatever spurred my curiosity. I’m not saying my father didn’t contribute, but his major contribution was a certain absence of mind, a hole in my masculinity and perception of how money affects a family, a condescending yet dismissing inability to validate me or cherish who I had become, a need to assault “this little light of mine” passed on by my female ancestor.
Wait, that’s harsh. I’d suppress a dry laugh if I could be moved to originate one.
It was my mother that called for a divorce, taking in all the blame for a relationship of two adults, and so I think she tried to overcompensate. I was never grateful enough. She catered to my every ambition. In a world where girls get dolls, I was given a chess set, more books than I could name or carry around, a nature’s explorer kit, some fossils and minerals, trading card games so I could go to the local club and play with other kids, all manner of LEGO kits, puzzles, a telescope, you name it. This is just off the top of my head.
This ‘failure of a woman’ (as seen by certain family members) contributed in any way she could, driving me everywhere, spending entire afternoons at the mall so I could be at Pokémon TCG tournaments. She tried to get me onto the local chess club (turns out I was too young). Even though she was poor, she still bought me a goddamn cassete-playing robot that taught you about dinosaurs.
That commitment to motherhood was some A-level game she was playing. And I was never grateful enough. In fact, in her later years I was absent (literally and figuratively), somewhat rude, never kind. What a contrast.
I don’t have the right words for this. It hurts too deeply.
As a straight white male, I have the job I wanted, a good career and a good salary. I have access to all forms of privilege, and had the chance to experiment with multiple jobs, different universities, and different countries. The leverage I was given is insurmountable, and a very good deal of that is thanks to a progenitor that never got the credit.
In a world where women and other underrepresented groups still suffer the price of the patriarchy, it was a member of said groups that propelled me onto a future of success.
As the anniversary of her death last year saw me completely alone in a trip to London, at some local church, I had to acknowledge that no amount of great resets will heal a fractured soul. But these words help. May she be at peace. And from the bottom of my heart, with the heaviness of privilege and a complex cultural pattern of what became my life, thank you mom. You were the giant whose shoulders I now stand on.