Borderline

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Whoever is near me is near fire,
and whoever is far from me is far from the kingdom.

– The Gospel of Thomas

The film opens with a close-up of woman and a bottle of wine. With head turned toward the sky, she suckles on it like a baby, desperate for the kind of sustenance only Mother can provide. As a cigarette burns below, tiny rivulets escape her mouth’s embrace, tracing lines of red upon her naked body, less a measure of an infant’s sloppiness than an urgency that cuts to the bone, the very heart of her existence. Both signal an unquenchable desire – for nothing short of spirit – for that something which will calm the noise and feed the pit of need that refuses to be quieted. One suspects: precisely because it was never really met.

The film’s poster shows how, for our protagonist, both breast and bottle are exchanged for the body of another, drawing energy from the belly of her lover. And it is this substitution, less a conscious choice than an act of desperation, that defines the core of Borderline. A trail of blood – the wound of separation – leaves its mark here as well: an ever-present gash on the edge of her world, against which she so valiantly does battle. Paradoxically, and quite cruelly, it is also the very condition of (her) bliss.

It is appropriate that she – Kiki – will use the language of a tortured body to describe her torment. For she is caught in a web of loss that has left her without a sense of her own corporeal existence. Robbed of weight and permanence among the world of the living, she is (seemingly) condemned to a floating life, destined to seek spirit wherever it may show its face, even if only in the poor surrogates her environment is able to provide. Absent any real rootedness, and denied a center that unifies, she will find herself flailing against dispersal into nothingness.

My skin is inside out.
My insides are all tied up.
I feel like everyone can see into me.
I’m transparent,
so transparent I have to scream so that people see me.

The question that so consumes her, the central thread of this, her story, is how to find a way back to earth. So that she can find ground to stand upon and finally be seen. By herself and others.

Trapped / from Without

I say, if you are whole, you will be filled with light,
but if divided, you will be filled with darkness.

– The Gospel of Thomas

The opening credits will provide us with another (brilliant) portrayal of her dilemma, an image – one that also revolves around a border – that speaks of the perverse Neverland to which she’s been banished, a world that requires that she shout in order to be heard.

For those who speak French, the language of this film, the “ne” points to the negative and the process of negation (as in Je ne sais pas, i.e., “I do not know”). It provides a visual depiction of what it means to live on the border – to live in a no man’s land – in which to be also means to be unknown … and, not incidentally, to not know.


It is a frightful existence, ever on the edge of disintegration, forever split in two, and unable to fully tell where one’s body ends and the world begins. To be condemned to such a border/line is to be forever unrecognized in the eyes of others and, not incidentally, in one’s own, as well. Invading the body and mind, it is to be robbed of any and all certainty. For if “I” do not exist, who’s to say anything else is “real” either?

Significantly, in this borderland, the “ne” – the negation – comes from without. It is, and has become, the (external) condition of her existence. Which is why it’s particularly appropriate that, in French, “né” also serves as the past participle, also known as the passive voice, of the verb “to be born,” “to come into existence.” For someone who has been negated like Kiki, this indicates how one is reduced to an object in a world where one’s fate has already determined by a reality other than one’s own, not only in terms of the timing of her birth, but the very nature of what she has come to be.

In other words, this “ne” speaks to the conditions of her emergence into the world, of her birth as an absence. Defined – and negated – from without. An obliteration: I am not.

I AM.

This not is the demon with which Kiki does battle. In particular, it is played out in her tortured relation to love. For what is her love other than an attempt, borne of desperation, to flee this sentence of non-existence? The resolution of this struggle, if she is to find one, will require divining how her skin got turned inside out in the first place. For until now, she has found herself bound to the Other – whether it be breast, bottle, or the belly of her lover – in an endless search for nourishment that has, quite ruthlessly, brought her nothing but pain.

Husband/Lover

How miserable is the body that depends on a body,
and how miserable is the soul that depends on both.

– The Gospel of Thomas

Out of the face of the unknown comes a light. His name is Tcheky, and he is a professor of literature … and married to another. Therein lies the rub.

For reasons unknown, he cannot fully consent to their relationship, is unable (or unwilling) to choose between the two worlds that define his life: one with her, surreptitiously squeezed between the cracks of the other, without her. This will bring her no small sense of bafflement and great despair. For when they are together, he seems to share in her recognition, of that something that arrives as on the wing of a dove. And yet, in his indecision, he seems to deny its very existence. So over time, her bafflement will turn to anger, giving birth to a rage that knows no bounds. How can he bless this not-quite, this never-to-be, this non-consummation? How is it that he can sanction a life, his other life, which would cast her to the wind, as if she had no import other than when he is able to steal time from his obligations to another world, and another wife?

He carries the mark of the divine, a fact of which he’s well aware. But with time, and despite the heavenly secret they have shared, she cannot and will not let it stand. Their moments of paradise cannot erase the yawning abyss that has come to define her existence, cannot compensate for what is left behind when he returns home to another. Slinking around to avoid detection, forced to live with the shame of his double-life. This is the burden he has asked her to carry. For the heights to which she has been elevated – his savior and his salvation – is equal to the depths to which he willingly allows her to descend. It is a condemnation of which he will attempt to wash his hands, perhaps by offering a different name for that suffering or a rationale for enduring its terrible weight.

Such is the hell of being the other woman, even a kept woman: shielded from the light of day, secreted behind a wall of lies, vanquished to a life behind the veil. A virtual (non)existence, in which animation, when it comes, arrives at the whim – or convenience – of the one who is already married.

In other words, he is – or has become – her demon-lover, one in which he remains her lifeline, the very condition of her earthly existence, as well as the one who destroys that which is most dear to her heart: faith in humanity, in herself, and the promise of love. The unasked question, the one that continually haunts her, is plastered over the apartment wall. Silent because it is already understood, even though he may feign otherwise; perhaps also because she fears she knows what the answer will be.

Quitterais-tu ta femme pour moi?
(Would you leave your wife for me?)

What was once an angelic union has become a marriage of guilt and shame or, more precisely, his guilt giving birth to her shame, of being reduced to a fallen woman, a fall from grace sanctioned by a lie – his lie – that she might be The One. For her, the whisper of doubt would only come later, after the game of seduction, after it was clear (to him) that she had already become hooked. Already belonged to him.

His inability to live up to that promise – or, alternatively, to come clean – has doomed them both to a descending spiral, one premised on the economy of desire that is the province of Man. For in countenancing this “arrangement,” he insists on the terms of his double-existence, insists on the imperative and nobility of his other life, even while drawing upon the hidden coupling that enlivens and invigorates, a replenishment of which he is too ashamed to bring into the open. It is his fatal flaw, a failure she had been willing to tolerate, believing that he might find a way to become a man. To finally see her as a woman rather than nursemaid, as one who deserves an existence on the other side rather than one relegated to tending the wounds brought on by the pained existence he seems unable and unwilling to leave behind.

Clearly, this failure is not uniquely his. It could be seen as a inheritance bequeathed to all men, the gift of a civilization in which women are doomed to accept boys from their mothers and who, after marriage, are expected to produce a new batch of the emotionally stunted for the next generation of women. In this awful scheme of things, should a man’s wife fail to fulfill these obligations, he will sneak around like a child to find a replacement-substitute to service his desire. What’s left unaddressed – and, ultimately, put to shame – in this abysmal arrangement is the very promise that brought them together in the first place. An unfulfilled promise relegated to the dustbin of his-story, precisely because Man’s priorities lie elsewhere. It’s nothing short of a stalled revolution. An im/possibility.

It’s not a question of whether their love was real. Instead, it’s a question of allowing for its transmutation. So that – rather than a submerged existence, secluded (and secreted) away in the dark, for the benefit of one at the expense of the other – a new kind of life can be born, one among the living. Redrawing the relation between the sexes, between man and woman. Rewriting the story of one’s life. This is the promise that was denied her, and them. A possibility always available but never fully acknowledged, much less tapped. Life denied and cut short. An abortion.

By (her) story’s end, she will probably come to be seen as the villain in his eyes, for she will find the strength to refuse this stillbirth. As a consequence, and decidedly not due to the lack of effort on her part, both will be kept from the horizon they had witnessed when they first met: that line in the sky marking the point where earth’s lips first kissed heaven.

Possessed/Without

Foxes have their dens and birds have their nests,
but the human child has no place to lay [her] head and rest.

– The Gospel of Thomas

Through a series of flashbacks, we will – slowly – begin to develop of sense of Kiki’s story, the one that has brought her to this life on the border/line. Because she is so enmeshed within it, the story and its morale has eluded her, precisely because she is its protagonist. Caught in an abyss of the unknown.

For a brief moment, we will witness a young Kiki playing with a doll, alone. An image quite different from the idyllic portrait of pretend with which we are familiar, in which a child imagines what it means to be a mother. In its stead, the enactment is reversed: the doll as an object of scorn. With locks shorn from her tiny head and caught within Kiki’s angry grasp, the doll endures a torrent of abuse. And most notably, the doll has acquired her owner’s name.

Kiki, Christ!
What are you doing?
Making a fool of yourself again!
I’ll sell you to a bad man
who’ll send you into white slavery!
Kiki! If you don’t behave,
a maniac will come and cut you into little pieces
and cook you like a steak.
Is that what you want?

Like many others before, Kiki has inherited the spirit of another, one whose sole task, it would seem, is to corral the young child: curbing her enthusiasm and inducing a shame so deep that she learns to make herself the object of disdain. In this way, the “ne” that would come to define her life makes its first appearance, at least as far as we can tell. We also begin to see how Kiki’s I AM came to be built through an uneasy alliance with her (unseen) tormentor – aligned with the one who berates her – buttressed by an even more dangerous threat “out there” in the world: the “bad man” who would cut her to pieces.

We are never told from where such a dire warning comes, or why. But its effects on Kiki are unmistakable: she becomes an alien, split against herself. Forced to live in the shadow of an angry love, making it her own, forever in fear of an even more dangerous Other.

We will witness the outcome of this split – this I AM and this Danger – through another set of a flashbacks that take us to her life as a young adult, a time when days blurred into each other, haunted by a never ending string of failures. With nights of drunkenness giving voice to a torment that had yet to find its name, her bed would become a refuge from the searing pain that refused to go away. And yet, even this was short lived, as any and all attempts to cobble the semblance of a normal life would slowly crack, giving way to that familiar absence within her soul, one only able to speak in the language of rage.

It’s almost as if there were something attempting to undermine these efforts at normalcy, as if there was a force within her that would not allow this kind of pact with the world. Finding herself in the grips of this unknown power, it will be those closest to her, her friends and her lovers, that will bear the brunt of this fury.

It would seem that the danger she had been warned about was continually showing its face, as if she were surrounded by bad men intent on consuming her, chopping her into tiny pieces. As if any attempt at building a normal life were tantamount to her obliteration. And perhaps they were: boys masquerading as men desiring nothing else than to merge with her, even while defending against an emotional dependence by asserting their autonomy or their enfeebled sense of superiority. Or perhaps not.

One day, she will show up at the Professor’s door, an excuse ready at hand should she be greeted by his wife, instead. The reasons behind the impulse are not clear, even to herself. In part, it’s to hand him the chapter she’s finally written, part of the novel that’s taken more than ten years of her life to complete. But both of them will know it’s just a pretext for something else, the knot of impossibility within which they both find themselves. Much to her chagrin, she will find herself playing her own game of seduction and, later, mustering the courage to ask that all-important question. When she hears his answer, she will turn against him, her anger vindicated, having found reason to let loose on him. Again.

I can’t control myself, I explode.
I’m my own bomb.
My brain’s a permanent Hiroshima.
In my wake, a cataclysm.
I’m my own worst nightmare.
Even worse, I found myself without even looking for me.
I found myself and can’t get rid of me since.

And it is this realization as well as her infuriating dependency upon another – her married lover – that will bring her to her knees, seeking the help from other fallen souls like herself.

The History of Longing / The Genealogy of Desire

You have disregarded the living one among you
and have spoken of the dead.

– The Gospel of Thomas

Sometimes I feel like sex reduces me to a state of slavery. It kills my freedom. It kills me. … I’m proud of myself. I haven’t visited porn sites in 12 days. … This self-loathing makes me fuck even more … My head and my dick, all the same thing. … I’m sorry, it’s the first time I’ve talked about it. I called my sponsor and I prayed. … But he loved me so much. His eyes shone so brightly when he looked at me. I felt like I was needed.

Perhaps she has hit what twelve-step groups have long called “the bottom,” what in earlier years was a requirement for admittance to the program – losing one’s home, one’s family and career – for only then is one able to confront the “will” that has kept one in bondage for so long. But at first, this cacophony of voices with which she is met will bore her, seemingly distant and disconnected from her personal experience, and so she drifts into a reverie of her own, into remembrances of the past and present. And it is through these memories that we begin to glean a more complete sense of what it is that has had its hold on her.

In the midst of her unending torture, and in the midst of these visitations to the past, Kiki slowly comes to realize that the depths to which she sinks is not an unfamiliar feeling. It is, in fact, a theme that has repeated itself from years gone by, a long lost melody evoked by a return to her childhood home. For this return to the past, partly motivated by the need to look after her (maternal) grandmother, will bring her face to face with a woman no longer able to take care of herself. According to the neighbor, she’s always falling down. Collapsing to the ground.

Almost immediately, one sees that this “home” is a space of absence and neglect. The rooms shrouded in darkness, and cluttered with the debris of an empty life knowing not what to value – believing that anything and everything should be hoarded and kept – as her withered and wheezing grandmother, sunken into the couch with cigarette in hand, complains angrily about the nosy neighbor unable to mind her own business. Side-stepping Kiki’s inquiries about her well-being, the old woman asks whether Kiki has visited her mother who is so alone, housed in a sanitarium, it would seem. So, with this brief introduction, it’s easy to see why her family would be a sore subject, much less something to revisit, either for her novel or for the purpose of healing.

My childhood’s stuck in my throat like a potato chip.
My family!
Even my shrink’s fed up …

It is in this house of women that Kiki grew up (her father largely an absent figure), haunted by a loss too terrible to bear. In fact, the loss seems to have bound mother and grandmother in an alliance that would exclude Kiki, as we witness the two of them through a darkened door, huddled together and bawling, seeking consolation against a searing pain that refused to go away. The house itself gave evidence of that awful absence as well, where the most basic household tasks were put on hold, making room for their mourning. In this world, left out of the loop, Kiki would learn to build a fantasy life – imagining herself a princess and entranced by the screen – since the one who would care for her could only vacillate between huddling in a corner, stricken with grief, or seek comfort and companionship, smothering her young child with a neediness to heavy for her to bear.

It’s as if both women – mother and grandmother – were banished to a kingdom not their own. As if the institution of marriage and the imperative to raise a family forever condemned them to a solitary existence in a foreign land. Robbed of their language and denied access to a life of the spirit, it’s as if they had shriveled up and died, leaving Kiki to grow up in a household of ghosts mourning the dead. The only voices she would hear would be the moans of inarticulate grief and shouts of exasperation, bewailing the senselessness of it all.

And then, as the three of them walked home one day, an enigmatic encounter with her father. On a bridge. As he approached, wanting to speak with Kiki, her mother would turn apoplectic and her mother’s mother would turn to stone, while young Kiki’s face, at first showing signs of welcomed surprise, would slowly shift to horror. It will be unclear which of these reactions came first or which came to influence the others, but it will be impossible not to see who the “bad man” turned out to be. As if virgin, mother, and crone were wedded to each other in a revulsion unable to speak its name, an unholy marriage wrought in disgust and despair.

That bridge would become the site of many crossings throughout Kiki’s life, as if marking the transition from her world – the world of her mothers – and the treacherous world of the beyond. And though she would remain unmarried, it seems as if she had inherited the burden unique to women seeking to live a life in a world ruled by men, forever required to cross onto foreign soil and, as a result, forever required to retreat into the private world of her forebears which, in light of their shared banishment, failed to bring any comfort or relief.

And so, years later, Kiki will find herself confronting her mother, seeking insight about this fractured existence. But what she finds, instead, is a broken woman – mute and unmoving, like a petrified tree – a wall of silence, unable to provide the clarity she so desperately needs. And yet, Kiki will continue to try, vacillating between anger and affection, seeking some way, any way, to draw out a semblance of life from the one she still considers to be her mother. But whatever she tries, the woman remains unmoved, entranced. Stuck in another time. Trapped by a horror that will not let her go.

And then it strikes, if not for Kiki, then at least for us. What we are witness to is the primal wound, one that crosses the generations like an unholy inheritance from which no one can escape, at least not without being brainwashed. For those of us born of woman – at least those lucky enough to be born looking – one is groomed to serve another, the cost of which can only weigh heavily on the soul: boys raised to become their father and girls raised to adore him, even if he hasn’t earned it. Unless, of course, the mother has a sense of what is being asked of her, in which case the child can only grow up in confusion, inheriting the despair of the denigrated m/other. And yet, as daughter matures enough to begin a family of her own, the cycle is merely expected to continue. The “lucky” few who, like Kiki, are able to escape this fate will find themselves on the border/line, not unlike a young boy rocking himself, as if marooned at sea.

But despite what we might expect, the tears don’t come, at least not in the way we might expect, since this heritage worms its way into our lives in unanticipated ways.

I didn’t cry.
I don’t cry.
I kept it for later,
lying in the bed of a cheap motel,
after being screwed by a professor of literature.

And then, out of the blue, a voice from elsewhere will pull her out of her reverie. Not from the past, and neither from her mother, but from the here-and-now. Words that emerge from the cacophony of voices that had previously left her bored but which now stand out, alone, as if calling for her attention. Words that speak to her, giving voice to the experience she thought was hers alone. As if words carried vibrations, able to speak to the core of one’s being. Speaking a truth that shared the wavelength of her solitary life, one she thought she was doomed to suffer alone, banished from the world of the living.

Slowly, those words – the words of another – will give way to words of her own so that, finally, she can become the author of her own existence, giving it a meaning that is hers alone. Speaking these words, her own truth, to this audience of fallen angels will grant her access to the world, one different from the bridge of her youth. Another kind of passage. One that lends a new “objectivity” to her existence, outside the murky realm of torment within which she had been trapped for so long. And after a brief moment of anxious laughter, she will find herself telling a different kind of tale –

It’s weird.
When someone loves me,
and I should feel good, comfortable,
I run away.
And when it hurts, I cling.
It’s like it has to hurt.

– and finally, she’s on the path to acquiring a different perspective on her pain, finding herself in a position she had never found herself before. One in which she can exercise some choice over the kind of life she wants to lead.

Overcoming the Divine / Other

Where the beginning is, the end will be.
Blessings on you who stand at the beginning.
You will know the end and not taste death.

– The Gospel of Thomas

To find oneself amidst the jumble of genealogy, even when not looking, is no small feat. It’s nothing short of beginning the task of reclamation, one that requires traveling to the heights and depths of one’s soul. For among other things, it’s a journey that requires a descent into madness to divine the origin of desire, the very basis of one’s (former) existence. To finally become whole. Which is probably why some have suggested that the road to enlightenment involves leaving one’s lover. For whatever guise he or she may take – whether nymph or faun, angel or demon – that “other” is invariably a substitute for what has been lost, a salve against a primal wound. In leaving the lover behind, one is then faced with the task of re-placing what was never given the opportunity to grow, a unifying center of one’s own. One that can withstand the vicissitudes of living, and provide the kind of home that existence on the border/line had kept alive, through hope and desire, even as it lay maddeningly beyond one’s grasp.

For Kiki, an unexpected encounter with another man would ease her state of unknowingness, help her rearrange the split into a different way of being-in-the-world. Out of desperation and no small sense of loneliness, Kiki had tried to bed him, as she had done with others before. Yet, he resisted the rough-and-tumble coupling that had become her second nature, leading to no small sense of confusion. And yet, in some small way, this meeting will have laid the groundwork for leaving the Professor, enabling a certain kind of initiative she had been unable to find before. The few moments she spent in the arms of this man will have provided a different sense of the purpose for which bodies are made. And yet, because her heart still belonged to another, she would take this discovery to the Professor in the form of a complaint, pointing to the (missing) elements of their relationship she knew he could never provide. The prison to which she had been condemned in loving him.

An unwanted revelation. Yet one that would lay the groundwork for rebuilding her life, freed of the pressing im/possibility that had left her gasping for breath.

She will meet with the Professor one last time. In fact, it will be one of the few times that he actively sought her out, since her attention had already begun to turn elsewhere, in service of the growing imperative to build a new life for herself, without him.

This felicitous meeting will provide her with the opportunity to say goodbye. One aided by props that would help give voice to her newfound insight about her life, including the (fractured) one that she shared with him. For she has finally learned the power of reversal – of turning her skin right side out – of refusing the reflection thrown back at her and taking it as her own. No longer does she consider herself the clown who would wait around for him at his convenience, helpless in his wake. That was his doing, as much as her own: the terms of his love reducing her to the repetitive, and ultimately sterile, cycles of (his) desire. Her banishment from public life, the surreptitious meetings in service of his social honor, was but one side of her exclusion from his imagination. For in protecting his wife as his life’s partner and mother of his children, even as he worshipped Kiki as his spiritual partner and lover, he denied both women of their humanity. Robbed of the very meaning of partnership – and basic human dignity – including the possibility of rebirth, growth, and transformation.

The border/line, in other words, belonged not to Kiki but to him – to Man – and the (empty) Spirit in whose name His public life had come to be organized. It is that split which sanctioned the surreptitiousness and shame that came to define their failed relationship: no place for a woman beyond the two roles of wife and lover, where marriage and family are seen as antithetical to the kind of love they shared. In the end, whatever names he might have given her, they came to nothing, since their love reduced her to the act of their copulation. There is a name that the Professor’s wife would probably have for Kiki. And despite his protestations to the contrary, and whether or not any money changed hands, his furtive behavior would only confirm that – deep down – he agreed with her. And Kiki would no longer have any part of it.

/ Becoming Whole /

If two make peace with each other in one house,
they will tell the mountain, “Move,”
and the mountain will move.

– The Gospel of Thomas

Surely, the Professor was not the first to make her feel like a clown. For better or worse, there were many others before and, at this point in her life, it mattered little whether the doing was theirs or hers alone. For she has come through an enormous battle, one that has left her scarred. Tiny marks on her arm give evidence to that struggle. For in a world where it is easier for Man to defend democracy and justice – rather than speak the language of love – a world in which the “modern woman” will model herself after Him, recruited for that endless battle, Kiki had committed herself to a different fight, for what has been buried beneath all the noise and fury.

How is it that “love” has become a dirty word? Relegated to private grapplings that have no place in the world-at-large? Split off from the business of men and the government of the living? And why is it that even the most celebrated (and powerful) personalities find themselves caught in the same web from which Kiki and the Professor were unable to escape? Why is it that men the world over will seek out what they cannot find at home, their wives caught unaware, pulling out their hair, unsure whether it is him or themselves to blame?

Ten years earlier, in a moment of despair, Kiki had donned the mask of the clown, drawn in her own blood, a measure of what eluded her and what she was unable to bear. For in the mirror, she had already begun to see the face of her mute and stricken mother: fractured and broken, seemingly beyond repair.

Having survived those hollow years was no small feat, an achievement of which she remained unaware, for it was then that the Professor arrived on the scene and – much to her chagrin – replaced one dark night with another. Only now, having separated from him, is she able to recognize how her weddedness to pain (and to Him) was a fidelity to a possibility, yearning for a life beyond the split, and a sign of her faith that the trip could and should be made together. In opting for the possibility of love rather than the security of marriage, she remained more true than He who would seek to have his cake and eat it, too. Her only loss is the audacity of hope, her belief that a man, this man, might find the strength to make a go of it, courageous enough to stake a claim, not only in her life but his own, as well. Her fault, if there was one, was putting too much belief in the other, perhaps even requiring it of him. And so, in his absence, she is forced to make the journey on her own.

It is appropriate, then, that Kiki would turn to another more like herself, seeking an end to this, her story, an ending different from the one for which she had initially hoped. She turns, instead, to the other One with whom she shares her story. One who, because they are not so different from each other, bestowed this awful inheritance upon her. The one who gave her life, as well as this slow and painful death. The one who raised her, but also failed to nurture her. The one who gave her breath and, simultaneously, took it away. That person – that Other – her Mother.

It is from her that Kiki first witnessed the power that came to reside in the face of a clown. At first, it made no sense, a source of hilarity to those surrounding her within the institute that had become her mother’s home. Mute, garbled, and misunderstood. And yet, on the edge of consciousness, there it was. A simple gesture, both elegant and pure, capturing the pathos of what it means to be a mother’s daughter, the awful inheritance of living in a foreign land. A world not of their making, nor one made in their own image. Dis-placed in the Father land, only to be raised by his banished bride. Consigned to a life of quiet desperation, reduced to silent suffering. Unable to put a name to the shrouded malady that invades Her soul.

Before Kiki could make this gesture her own, there was another gift she would need to receive from her mother, one that would allow its appropriation in the absence of anger, to see the Professor – not as God or Monster – but merely an ordinary man. A gift that would allow her to say her goodbyes while remaining true to her love, insisting that her life meant more than what he was able to provide.

In the midst of another infuriating soliloquy – her mother, as always, mute and unmoving – there would be another gesture. One made with great effort. One requiring that she climb out of the cave of pain that had become her home. Faced with an angry and confused daughter, yet unable to speak, much less explain what had produced this yawning absence, the mother would reach into her pocket to retrieve a treasure that had been secreted away, locked behind this wall of grief. Silently, and straining against the shell within which she had lived so long, she would hand this treasure to Kiki, the rightful inheritance of any daughter. For the two of them, it would be this: a tiny piece of paper, folded and worn. A document that held the promise of explaining the eternal stand-off in which each had found herself, mother against daughter.

As Kiki discovers, the treasure is nothing other than a painting she herself had drawn as a child. Not a portrait of her family, nor a picture of the dead. Neither is it a depiction of her absent father. Instead, it’s close-up of a face, overwhelmed by sadness: tears run down her face, with a mouth, painted in red, wordlessly agape, unable to speak. There is no body to speak of, even her head appears to be absent. Just eyes, nose, mouth, and brow. A portrait of loss, an amputation of Being, drawn in the hand of a young girl.

When we first saw Kiki creating this picture as a child, she (and we) were led to believe it was a portrait of her mother. After all, newly sensitized to the evaluation of others, her mother had become a source of embarrassment and shame, her grief no longer confined to the home but following the young Kiki everywhere. A haunting presence that shadowed her like a hungry ghost condemned to a certain state of unknowing, unaware of what it was looking for. Kiki’s teacher would not know what to do with such an ominous portrait. So, to be polite, she would hang the painting at the back of the room, away from the others, hoping to avoid drawing too much attention to this dark vision of despair.

Slowly, Kiki (the adult) will begin to realize that the tears of this childhood portrait belonged not to the mother but – much to her surprise – spoke of her own. (uncrying, secreted away) Disavowed and disowned, even devoured by the other. Through the long detour that was her life, the absence and negation against which she had struggled for so long, the hole she had so desperately sought to fill with another, would finally find its home. This (second) gift of the mother, dedicated to a daughter who, through her valiant efforts, would earn a price far above rubies: “Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.”

This second birth – this second separation – is the gift only a mother can provide. For in the confusion of bodies and the mixing of blood, in the cacophony of plaints and regrets, in short, in the fury of love, mothers and daughters so often come to be fused as one, each fighting for dignity and the right to exist, even as they look to the other for confirmation of who they are. When the mother, mute in the face of her own grief, is able to turn to the daughter and return the gift of tears, it is a quiet moment of redemption. For in that gesture, the daughter gains her freedom, often unrecognized and frequently misunderstood, precisely because accompanied by a profound sense of solitude, of finally finding herself alone.

My mother, who is me and not-me, she has taught me, no matter how dimly or how garbled the tongue, how to become what I want to be – who I AM – and the difference between being desired, being loved, and being known.
.

Show me the stone that the builders rejected.
That is the cornerstone.

– The Gospel of Thomas

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~ by mistified on April 11, 2010.

One Response to “Borderline”

  1. This is beautifully written. A lot of the elements of the narrative became more coherent. Thank-you!

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