~~ 1st DRAFT free write ~~
I'm Your Lover, I'm Your Zero
Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanlinessAnd cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me. . . .You blame yourself, for what you can't ignoreYou blame yourself for wanting moreSmashing Pumpkins
I was five when I told God to go fuck himself. I’d never heard such words, of course, but I knew the sentiment, given the mother I was born to, and it was exactly what I meant. I was singing in Bible School, me and two dozen other quavering child voices, and as I listened to the words of the hymn, I knew: that sinner God promised to smite? that sinner was me. In the clarity of that moment, as I felt the smallness of myself, the greatness of God, and the black and white of sin and redemption, I decided, with a swift certainty and not so much as a backward glance to Gomorrah, God and I were done.
See, once you’ve had sex/knowledge of the forbidden you’re never the same. Just ask Adam and Eve. It’s not due to the pleasures of the flesh. It’s the shame of the lie. Whether you’re told to hide “our little secret” or you lie to avoid the lash of disapproval — a threatened backhand to the face, a metal spatula to soft flesh, a parent’s life-withering contempt, expulsion from grace — once you’ve lied when what you want, what you really need, is to tell the truth, you’re never the same. You’ve been expelled from the Garden and the door barred against you. Is this what the Bible says? Maybe. But what it’s really all about is the interpretation, isn’t it? But whether or not the Bible says it explicitly doesn’t matter because this is one of the unvarnished truths of life: the lie changes who you are. This is why we protect the innocence of children. This is why we teach them the value of truth. It’s why we say, It’s okay, I won’t be angry at you for telling me the truth. But that’s not true, is it? It takes an exceptional human being to take the truth in whole and unmolested, breathing it in like a dry heat, not rearranging it like moist clay. We slaughter the truth with interpretation, bleeding the life from it so that we might subdue its fearful countenance.
I was born into the Seventh Day Adventist faith. Both my mother’s family and my father’s sent their children to SDA schools and reared them according to the church’s precepts. If you’ve never heard of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, just think of it as a Southern Baptist religion for Northern WASPs: all of the fire and brimstone with none of the fun. Our diet is free of caffeine and our arteries free from the flesh of the swine. Our communion is purple grape juice and plain bread. And our hymns got no rhythm. We honor the Sabbath on the seventh day, just as God intended, which is Saturday, not Sunday, goddammit. The SDA faith is an Old Testament faith, or at least it was when I was still in the church, and we uphold the Old Testament ways of living life. And in order to do this we fence ourselves in tightly with God from sun up to sundown.
My mother was sent to/attended an SDA church school for all twelve years. I can only imagine what that did to her. I only had to endure it for first year of grade school, which was more than enough for me. I’ve always had a heightened sense of justice, which is very unfortunate. I have had so few opportunities to speak truth and even fewer opportunities to use it, to uphold it, to be the standard bearer. Sometimes I think I should have been born a slave or been captured and trafficked in the sex trade, noble versions of the ignoble. Instead I was a captive held in plain sight, one who could have spoken out but did not. Why was I not braver? Why did I believe the threats? Why did I let myself be cowed? I was four. And then I was six. And then seven. And ten. And twelve. And at fourteen I was unable to tell the boys no, so it was no longer my uncle’s fault, or my grandfather’s, or the church deacon who was our doctor. And sometimes our mother was nice and I wanted to be normal and, more than anything, I wanted to feel approved of. And loved. I wanted to believe I was loved. But there are days when I think I might have settled for a sense of justice, true justice, if it had been offered. At the SDA school Cathy Jones got special treatment because she was a deacon’s daughter and the teacher treated her as the smartest girl in the class, though she was no smarter than me, and when the chalk went missing all desks had to be searched but hers, though I knew for a fact she had it. At recess the favored game that year was cowboys and Indians and Cathy was the damsel in distress, always she had to be the one to be rescued and always she got her way. I used to envy her until I heard her laughing over how her father beat her for misbehaving. Afterward he always fell to his knees, she said, and prayed the same prayer over and over and over, begging God’s forgiveness. Stupid girl. There was so much she didn’t know. What I knew was that it would never matter how smart I was or how good or how pious, I would never be good enough. And I would never be seen as I was. Not in school and not in my family. But everything looked good on the surface, and that’s always what counts to the world, isn’t it? I knew what Cathy was and, worse, I knew what her father was and, even worse than that, I had a good idea why Cathy had to always to be the victim.
In the Seventh Day Adventist church following the rules was, well, for a child anyway, the most important part of church. Legalism they call it. I hear it’s changed, but you couldn’t pay me to go back. I was not free to rebel, and certainly any wrong answer to my mother would see a mark made across my face, but somehow some part of me knew when the wrong words could fall out my mouth. I say fall out my mouth because I swear I did it without any conscious volition. For example, in church one day my grandmother looked down at my fingernails, which were painted pale pink, and said of her own clear coated nails, “Don’t you think these look much better?” I knew what the proper answer was and I was prepared to give it, but when I opened my mouth something else fell out and, even more surprising, nothing bad happened when it did. My grandmother merely looked exasperated that I couldn’t see what was obvious. If only I had figured out how to parlay that into more freedom. If only I’d had any way to imagine freedom. But every time freedom slipped a sliver of sunlight through the shuttered window I got moved to a different room and I could never string enough rays of light together to make a meaningful garment, something in which to clothe and protect myself.
But I did know enough to tell God to go fuck himself, at least, since he was more inclined to judge than to save me, and I did know enough to realize that it is not okay to go to church on the seventh day and then park your kid on the curb on the first day because your mother wasn’t available to watch her. Soon enough I found wished I had a curb to sit on. The next visit to the latest boy friend who looked like James Coburn — yes, even at six I knew who that was, though I shouldn’t have — had me in the living room with a television and a stack of Playboys and the unmuffled sounds of my mother and Mr. Would-be Coburn. I’m that woman’s child. Even as an adult I can’t decide, yay or nay, whether my grandmother knew that’s where my mother took me once Grandma got a job outside the home and could no longer watch me and my sister. And as for my sister, the middle sister, who knows where she was. Not with me. All I know is that when I called out for her that day that I was left in the living room with the Playboys she called back to me and let me follow her voice until I found her in bed. Naked. With a man who looked like James Coburn. Who does that? Even at five I found myself thinking, This is not good parenting. Or the five-year-old equivalent to that. I may have been cowed, but deep inside I was still a canny kid. But no matter what direction in which I turned, there was an adult who told me, implicitly or explicitly, to be quiet, to obey, to not talk about what was not to be not talked about. Or they told me what a lucky girl I was to have such a good family. What if I lived in Africa among all those savage we were working so hard to save and bring to God? And I remember thinking about running away and knowing, even at a young enough age that you’d think I couldn’t think it through, that what would happen to me would only be worse. Even at 14, when most would flee, I could see that leaving home alone was courting more danger than I already had, more than I could safely control, and at 14 if I was already depressed and suicidal how was I ever going to be a decent judge of who was trustworthy?
At ten, I received the only thing I’d wanted since I was five, a father, a happy event that came with a side dish. We moved to the city, two and a half hours north of Grandma and Grandpa’s house, which was close enough to visit every weekend but not, blessed be God, so close that there was time for church. My mother had always counted on Grandma to take me to church, thereby giving her a day off, and without Grandma to do it, no church. I did miss getting a pretty new dress and patent leather shoes for Easter service, but that was all I missed. That’s all the church could offer me, that and judgment day.
I never let on, that I was on a sinking shipI never let on that I was downYou blame yourself, for what you can't ignore
It’s too bad you can’t hear the music. [This is in print form.] That’s half the essay. That’s half of every piece I write. Hell, that’s half the pleasure. You can hear it in the online version, of course. Or you can go to YouTube and stream it in the background if you’re so inclined, which is how I write. The only thing missing in that experience is a replay feature, although I suppose there is a certain elegance in being required to shift away from what you’re doing for the microsecond required to restart the music, like moving the needle on vinyl (something I’m actually old enough to remember from when I was a kid in a groove), like repositioning the hand to your sweet spot, whether that spot is in your head or on your body; everything takes focus. Even meditation has to turn back the mind, turn back the mind, turn back, turn back, turn . . . Pleasure has its necessities, its interruptions, its interrogatories as it moves toward satisfaction. In fact, it might be said that the slight edging away toward dissatisfaction is what creates so much pleasure in the end. Pleasure that sprints from A to Z with no stops in between is generally paid for — or should be — and offers little in the way of satiety.
Anyway, the music is a part of the plan, a part of the joy and the pain and the map out of the same. Were it not for music we humans would surely perish in short order. Or want to.
The music, the music, the loud, the pound, the pound and the strum the strum the strum strum, strum strum and the beat the beat, the beat and the pound and the heart and my legs in the kitchen the kitchen dancing with the speakers fucking thumping the walls.
Actually, I had a speaker leap off the wall once. Leapt to its death, that’s what I used to tell people. I was Blasting The Crow: City of Angels. I had a few ya-yas to get out after the end of my marriage. I mean, the first guy had me at hello. Afterward, I called my best friend and bragged, all breathless, “I let a man pick me up off the street!” big fucking grin on my face. That’s not true. I didn’t have a best friend then. Fact is, the husband got pretty much all the friends, fucking rats on a sinking ship they were. It hurt until I realized that it meant they all liked me better when I was half dead. So be it. But if I had had a best friend, I would have called and bragged. I’m not that kind of girl. I’m not a girl anymore. I mean I’m not twenty. I’m not even thirty. And I’m not saying just how far over forty I am either. Middle age is a late start for that kind of thing, but I’m not dead yet, and I could feel the sexual heat of him even before I heard his voice behind me. And that wedding ring? Well, that was his problem, wasn’t it?
It was summer and the sun and my summer dresses and the fact that I look so much younger than I am, and I feel it, oh, I feel it. I have aged out of all order and proportion. At twelve my mother called me old as she slept her way through the faculty at the university where my father taught engineering. She saw my attempts at keeping a stable life and providing some continuity for myself as stodgy, and I would have done any dance, taken any pill, seen any doctor, worked any program, stepped 12 or 20 or a 100 rules of continuity [different word needed] to create a life I could understand, a life that let me sleep at night and breath during the day. But by the time I was ready to divorce — divorcing the favored son — I needed some release from it all, and this this lovely chocolate man, tall and thick and wearing the most voluptuous lips I had ever had the pleasure of sucking between my own, he was exactly was I needed. He was the summer I never got at twelve. Or thirteen. Or fourteen. Or any age.
That summertime was lovely, and full of fucking, and it descending into a kind of sexual use and abuse a saner person would have seen coming, but I didn’t have that luxury. The luxury of sanity, that is. I was already in the grip of memory and part of the grip of memory what the jaws of habit and the habit was that I was to be used. A grown woman is supposed to know better. A grown woman is supposed to step out of such things, see clearly, step clear of, clear out, move on, whatever, use the hackneyed phrase of your choice. Everyone had a judgment, most of all my youngest sister, the one I was close to, LoLo’s mom.
My lover was a man whose hands dove deep into me the moment he walked in the door: hands, hole, thrust; then his lips met mine, soft, delicious, a lesson in satisfaction; then the door closed. In that order. This is not what I desired, but I lived for the banquet of those lips. And for the thrust of his hips. It was good. It started out good. Isn't that how all bad things begin?
. . . . .
And ... dear readers, peeps in my writing group, THIS IS WHERE THE CHAPTER FALLS APART; this is where the essay that Lucy is writing -- and, we're assuming, will publish -- has fallen apart. This is probably because the piece stopped being much of an essay. After all, this is a freewrite. So, do I tighten things up and make this chapter into an essay written by Lucy? Do I switch it over and make it into a regular first person narrative chapter from Lucy's POV? Haven't decided.
I had a different arc to the story here originally . . .
I had a different arc to the story here originally . . .
Anyway, moving on, I'll get back to it.