The Trolley

Trigger warning: this article discusses subjects that may be difficult for readers. The topics include suicide and young death.

My thoughts have slowed since yesterday afternoon when he left for the last time. They trail behind me like washed up buoys I thought I had disposed of, becoming more tangled with each waking hour. How does that work? I’m supposed to feel lighter now that I’m free from the sadness of not being appreciated. I do feel lighter, but also diluted, a paler emotional hue.

When you break up with someone part of you drops away, like chunks of earth over a worn cliff edge. That person is gone and it’s up to you to figure out how to stretch into things he used to occupy, like the other side of the bed. The French hand soap he liked remains in the medicine chest, blissfully unaware that its primary owner will never press on its plastic head again.

That other body, his voice, and firm tissue are gone. But the fray of emotions and the experiences shared don’t simply vanish. The way the memories feel and the soundtrack that plays each time you take stock change with the muscular flutter of the heart or a jolt of anger. They become iridescent. A pretty purple morphs into the creepy blue of a fly’s bodice or maybe a colour that isn’t real at all.

Everything is adrift.


My eyes land on the abstract image that graces the cover of the curious, fascinating novel by Susan Taubes called Divorcing. I think it’s a woman because the figure has elements of pink and floral patterns placed upon her form, which is rounded. She wears what looks like decorative doily on the front ‘chest’ area or maybe it is her blouse that is revealed through a sweater with an exceptionally large V or scooped design.

An oblong shape that is faded pink in colour rests atop the figure like a head and a cord hangs through its middle. A misshapen nose or an ant-eater’s tongue? From behind the head a lime green pole juts up and sprawls in a jagged shape across the book cover, up and over the space devoted to the title and the author’s name. It then connects with what looks like a telephone receiver and a large column.

I recently discovered this novel and the author who took her own life on November 6, 1969, one week after the book was published. Susan Taubes was a Hungarian-American writer and scholar, with a Ph.D. from Harvard. She was also close friends with cultural luminary Susan Sontag, whose son wrote the introduction to Divorcing, which begins with the line: “There are cult books, so there are cult people.”

Susan Taubes is one of those writers who leads us into the Narnia that fires our imagination. This semi-autobiographical novel explores the process of becoming divorced, not only from marital partners but from the ideas of life and death. This fantastical work flips big issues like sex, marriage, and genocide on their head while inviting us into the intimate universe of one woman’s life. We hear her inside voice.

This line from page 201 strikes me: “Sometimes it was possible to change yourself just by pressing your cheek against the window of a trolley.” I’ve done that, haven’t we all? Those tiny acts, the charge of feeling and knowing that things are now different. That click of the keyboard, an outstretched hand, the firm slip of the seatbelt, and then you open your eyes…

Called An Ear in a Pond, the installation that inspired the book cover was created by Yale-trained artist Eva Hesse. A pioneering force in Post-War sculpture who explored women’s experiences, she is quoted in a 1970 interview for Woman’s Art Journal as saying; “The way to beat discrimination in art is by art. Excellence has no sex.” I was saddened to learn that she died that same year and was just thirty-four.

The genius and the tragedy of these young artists has invaded my sorrow, and for that I am grateful.  They loved, struggled, and created just a few years before I was born. Half a century later their lives stand, but for what? How little women have been released from the grip of the male, post-industrial world? Yes. But they also stand in their power to create great, magnificent art that continues to light our way forward.