[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

05 December 2017

The Rapture, Ch. 7: I'm Your Lover, I'm Your Zero


 ~~ 1st DRAFT free write ~~
11/5/17
I'm Your Lover, I'm Your Zero

Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness
And cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me
. . . . 
You blame yourself, for what you can't ignore
You blame yourself for wanting more
Smashing Pumpkins

I

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 ship
I never let on that I was down
You blame yourself, for what you can't ignore

II

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 . . . 

Anyway, moving on, I'll get back to it.


The Rapture, Ch. 6: Her

 ~~ 1st DRAFT free write ~~
11/5/17
Her

She sat on the toilet and she screamed and she cried and she promised. 

“I’ll be good I’ll be good I’ll be good!”

Grandmother reached over her head to the brown cabinets above. The whole bathroom was brown. The old cupboards, built by Grandpa himself before they had money or jobs or anything but membership in the church and three small children, the painted walls, now streaked with water lines from steam rolling down, though Grandma scrubbed them regularly, the tiles on the floor and counter, the bathtub. The backsplash and the shower tiles were pink as was the broad sink, large like an open mouth, somehow both cheerful and frightening. 

Grandma pulled down the enema bag and turned toward the sink. 
She grabbed round her belly, though it made it hard to balance on the edge of the toilet seat — she didn’t dare slide off — pressed against where it hurt and squeezed in at her bottom. It hurt there, too, but she didn’t care so much anymore, as she watched the water run while Grandma waited for it to grow hot.

“Grandma,” she said over the rush of the water, “Grandma! I’ll go, I promise.”

And then the enema bad floating through the air, last thing she remembered as she sat on the toilet, tears streaming down, and she screamed and she screamed. Because that’s what scared children do. Children get scared. Just because they’re screaming doesn’t mean you’re hurting them. 





The Rapture, Ch. 5: Him

~~ 1ST DRAFT, free write ~~ 
11/14/17
Him

This is him as he closes is eyes, his mind casting back, black black, the quickening breath, the throat heart beat, the skin tremble. The first time. The first time he was afraid, so afraid, afraid enough run, might have run but for the law of gravity holding fast to his feet, creeping ivy-like up his calves. The air warm and clammy and sultry and sharp. Dead leaves and decay. Fresh fall air. Campfire somewhere. Near. Far. It’s hard to tell in the dark of his eyes.

This is him as he closes his eyes, him casting back and back and his breathing eases as his heartbeat quickens. This is him as he holds himself high and tight and still and invisible. The wind rustles. Something breathes. 

This is him in the godless dark, creation in the unmaking, light an eye blink away. Two worlds. Fear and fondness. Safety and ferocity. He’ll never be here be again but he’s here he’s here he’s here he’s here. 


The Rapture, Ch. 4: The Beauty of Bones

 ~~ 1st DRAFT free write ~~
11/10/17
The Beauty of Bones


She whips past the trees whipping past her and the dark the dark, the evergreen fronds the branches reaching upward into dark and, when it comes, the light, and she is not cognizant of it, but she loves the unchangingness of it, the natural and fully expected world, the trees that do not change color or shape or character. And while the dark may change to light, it comforts her now and the smell of damp earth as her feet slap against the packed path, bare, her skin, the earth, the air, the sky, her lungs pumping it all in like gasoline.

She rounds the corner, the outside of the wood, the one corner bounded by concrete: the curb for the square lines and defines lives to come. The wooded lot is gone and she is crossing over onto the street, coarse and level and rising up the hill to where a chain fence stands inviting those willing to believe: here lies sanctuary. She dashes up the hill, the well worn path is gone, in its place those places she must watch where her feet land, avoiding the spike of fallen nails and splattered wood, but she knows the way, up the hill, to the right, out of sight of the street lamp, round the back side of the houses in various stages of stages of stages . . . pound pound pound pound go her feet and her mind blank the way she wants it the way her lungs slam her air, head down, eyes not seeing not not not not; head shaking shaking, an animal pulling at its restraints, a boxer clearing his head, a sleepless driver seeing double lines on the road ahead thinking focus focus, wishing oblivion. Each night. This is how she runs. 

She hates running. Running is pain. She wants pain. Pain is oblivion. Pain reminds her to stay alive and, when the pain wears off, the pain that keeps her both numb and alive leads her into sleep, too exhausted to think or feel. Too exhausted. Too.

Walking now among the stick-built houses, the bare bones of some ancient reconstruction of extinct animal, some bing that should lie allowed to slide into evolutional oblivion: family, that thing that no longer fit to exist on the corporeal plane. Let it slide off the flat earth. Let it live in old songs and ancient holiday rites and the memories of the aging units it fades into mythology. Let it die the death of asteroid dust. It has no right to be granted a temple. Houses. Why build houses? Let us go back to living on the land.

LoLo has a book. The story of a young girl, a girl haunted by the story of her family, the everyday of her family, the things they expect. The duties. The silences. The pretty clothes and candles and lace. The dinner table. The fairytale bedtime stories. The girl does the best she can. Get up. Brush the night out of your mouth. Eat. Go to school like a normal girl. Come home. Take care of the children. Take care of her uncle and Grandfather. Honor her parents. Do her work. Go to bed. Lie awake, lie awake; go to sleep and shock up awake; think the impossible: sleep. Other escapes. 

The girl meets a boy. You’d think this is where the story changes, but it’s not. The girl thought that, too. 

Things go along. Things stay the same. Things, things, things. The family goes from . . . goes from . . . goes . . . the girl goes. Through the neighbor streets she runs, through the city, the countryside, the trees, she makes her way. Shelter, fire, a little food. Fantasy. This was her escape to a place where she would have, would have . . . . It was more about what she wouldn’t have, and when she went without as much as a body could go without, she died, head lying against the lush emerald moss of a decaying log. The moisture between her legs running forth like a fertile delta. The wind shook her hair, her clothes; the rain, the sun, the snow, her skin, running together, slipping away; and her bones, her beautiful bones, picked clean, a banquet for the forest, between her bones nestled the moist green of moss, the kind of family she could have embraced, just as she embraced and sheltered the tiny bones that lay cradled between her legs.


It is worth saying that her whole life, Dolores — once she was grown, LoLo chose to go by her given name — deep into adulthood and beyond, Dolores loved this story, the child woman who ran until she nearly reached the sky, the child who escaped what would kill her. That she did not escape death was of no matter. All life end in death. This was a true death, a worthy death, a death that all beings know; clean like the white of bare bone. 


Sitting on the unfinished floor of her favorite bare bones building holding her favorite book, he breathing back to normal, her body beginning to tremble with exhaustion, LoLo leaned her head into her hand and drew breath. The sky would be lighter soon. Her eye were heavy. Not tired but closing. She would have to go back. She would always have to go back.

She was twelve.

She was practical. She knew how the world worked.


She knew that dying a beautiful death happened like turning straw into gold: only in stories. There’d be no standing in triumph over her defiant bones. 


The Rapture, Ch. 3: Here Comes Your Man

~~ 1ST DRAFT, free write ~~ 
11/18/17

Can you hear that song? It’s Meaghan Smith singing “Here Comes Your Man”, a sweet, easy-going ramble down the street kind of song; pretty young woman peddling her bike, long hair, no rush, wearing — I swear! — the same navy blue dress with white polkadots that was my seventh-grade favorite, and a boyish man peering out from behind a tree with James’s Christmas-surprise eyes, that boy-joy smile. She peddles past, he runs fast. She lives in a song about that man to be and he, in a chase without words, he gives up. Why do boys always forget to use words? 


I

He was 14 and I was 14 and it was just one class, but from 5th period on, I couldn’t see anyone in my view finder but him. That grin. The flip of his hair. His eyes always smiling. That way he had of talking to me - his words quick and clever - and his hands so close. If I hadn’t known how to flirt, if I didn’t already major in flirting - which was my cover, so very shy was I beneath it all - I would have learned just to spend more time with him. All I wanted was time. 

But time intervenes. Time lets the door click closed behind you. Time asks for the hall pass you don’t have. 

He was 17 and I was 17 and in the years that came between us I learned of his kisses and his touch, his gentle restless hands and his mouth - Oh God! what he could do with his mouth - this beautiful boy, this boyfriend of my best friend. All that time, he was hers. All that time I didn’t know he wished he could be mine. All that time, he didn’t know I went out with the boys who asked me — he never asked me — and neither of us could know that the boys who asked wouldn’t be nice boys. They weren’t cruel; they just took what they wanted. No one had taught them better. No one had taught me. 

High school years feel like forever in the classroom, but oh how quickly time throws you out on your ass. Time doesn’t wait till you’ve made up your mind. Time tells you: get a job, get a move on, get your fucking act together. 

He’d been a stoner. I’d been a scholar. He went on to the Coast Guard and to addictions to bigger badder things. I went on to college and to a bigger badder depression than the one that nearly killed me at 17. He married, had a family, was happy till he wasn’t. I met a man, made a life, wanted to be happy, happier, happiest. I forgot the boy I adored, forgot high school, forgot most of the decade after grad school, too. But he never forgot me, not in all those years between. But of course I didn’t know that. 


II

Enter the 21st Century and the new world order: virtual reality, cyber sociability, global connectivity where we’re all social media information addicts. Napster Friendster MySpace; FaceBook Twitter YouTube; Google googled googling. Time warps and woofs under the strain of it, twisting the Mobious strip time slip until all things past become present again. 

I was halfway through life and he was halfway through life when we passed each other in the hall, names on a Face Book wall, the chalkboard whereupon is scrawled the graffiti of life’s passages. Death of a friendship, death of a marriage, death of a mother. And with death comes the past resurrected. Lessons learned the hard way. Roads not taken. All the time wasted in worry. We two confessed immediately: I had such a crush on you. 

It was my birthday, that zero birthday that knocks everyone on their ass, and it was lunch. Just lunch. He sat across from me and shared the pain and the triumphs. I sat across from him and stared. That grin. The way his eyes crinkled each time they smiled that mine. The curl of his clean-cut salt and pepper hair. That way he had of talking, genuine, thoughtful, and his hands so close. I sat across from him and my heart sang, Why oh why are you married? 


*   *   *  

  Well, it’s a start, not an essay, but a start.
Funny how you forget that you’ve done things. How I forget. I forgot I wrote that essay, or started it. It’s not really much of an essay, just a happy recollection. Joy on a Christmas morning. Joy until I get to the unwrapping part and I hear Auntie, venom in her voice, “You’re just like your mother!” 

We were sitting in a nice restaurant, our favorite, when she asked me, “When do I get to meet this new man of yours?” and I had answered, “You don’t.” I’d given it some serious forethought. The answer had to be no, definitely no. Though I wanted to tell her, the choice had to be not to. Too risky. You just never know who knows who, who is listening to who. Any hairdresser will tell you that.

“Why?” Now she looked mad. Sounds mad. Why mad and not concerned or confused?

“Because he’s married.” The bare fact. Another choice. I had assumed, wrongly, that if I laid it plain on the table, like a menu, the question would be about me: Why did you choose this? I had a reason. I wanted to share it, at least partially, and I trusted my aunt. She was the closest thing to a real mother I have ever known. 

But she spat it out, that judgement, and I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d reached across the table and slapped me hard, a grown woman, married, divorced, educated, and fully capable of sound decisions, slapped me like a child into next week. 

“You’re just like your mother! Totally fine sleeping with married men.”

I had never slept with a married man. Had it not been James, a man I had loved since we were just kids, just fourteen, I never would have slept with a married man. Alright, that’s not strictly true. I would never have had a serious relationship with a married man, the kind of relationship I spoke of to my auntie. Just sex is different. Just sex doesn’t count. I mean if it doesn’t count for him — he’s the married one — then why is it my job to worry about it? 

I should have left right then and there. This is true of most of my intimate relationships but it is most true of my family relationships. How would things have been different if I had just gotten up and left the restaurant? I know my aunt, she would had to apologize. She can’t stay mad forever in the face of relationship collapse. I’m not certain what would have happened after that, but I know she would not have sacrificed the relationship wholly. Then again, she was just fine sacrificing our auntie/niece turned mother/daughter relationship to her anger. She had always been catty, my aunt. She and my mother together were a couple of too-good-for-you peas in a pod, those two, and they were so funny with their arch commentary on the world, but as age bore down on them and the ravages of their choices broke them down to their constituent parts, my aunt grew angry and grew in her need of things to be angry about. And people. My mother’s drinking was a big target of my aunt’s anger, which worked for me; the effect of my mother’s drinking had ravaged me. I needed a haven in the hurricane and my aunt had provided it, but with my mother gone now, I have become the target. In retrospect, it took a long time before I could see, much less believe, that’s what had happened, that my loving, protective auntie had turned against me. So, I think I can be forgiven for not knowing what to do, but what if? What if I had gotten up and left the restaurant that day? 

What happens if the target moves? 


Years later the doctor would say to me, “Things might have been different if you had said no.” I didn’t know what he meant. I actually had to ask. 

“If you had told James that you wouldn’t sleep with a married man, that if he wanted a a relationship with you he would have to get a divorce, things could have been different. If you had asked for what you wanted.” 

Okay, first of all. First of all. First of . . . fuck it all. That never occurred to me. Point conceded. Maybe. I didn’t say it that way to the doctor, but I was flattened by that fact that it had never occurred to me that this had been a choice. How can you make a choice that you didn’t know you had? 

Second of all, the first words out of James’s mouth, before he asked me if I wanted to go to Vegas with him, were, “I don’t want to get divorced.” I took him at his word. 

Third, at that first lunch together, the way his eyes crinkled when they smiled into mine, the curl of his salt and pepper hair, that way he had of talking, his hands on the table, so close . . .  At that first lunch I promised myself I would do whatever it took to spend whatever time it was that we got to have together in this life. I lost him once. Childhood makes losers of us all, but adults get to chose. 

And fourth, fourteen, fortieth, four-hundreth, I could not get what I needed if James and I were free to pursue a real relationship. I needed us to be conscribed. Limited, hamstrung, netted . . . fraught. That last one is James’s word. “Our relationship is . . . fraught,” he would say, with that pause always built in. It was his way of referring to the fact of his marriage and, presumably, that he loved his wife; he certainly planned to stay married to his wife, and when we were still connected on Facebook and the logarithm kicked up shit it thought I should see (why, I ask you), he certainly looked happy in his marriage. I never asked. And as I told the couple of girlfriends who were thoughtless enough to go there, “James’s marriage is none of my business.” Did I tell this to the doctor? I don’t recall. Probably. I know I told him what I needed that only a relationship like the one James offered could provide. And I know that the doctor didn’t argue with me with I told him, didn’t tell me this was a bad idea. He knew what I was dealing with. After all, that’s the reason I was seeing the doctor in the first place, so how could he argue with my plan to get better? Unorthodox? Sure. But I don’t remember asking anyone’s permission for a Get-Well card that lists the approved ways of putting back together what someone else broke.  

So let me lay it out for you.

Lots of people understand rules and morality, properness and property, rights and (self)righteousness. Not so many understand passion or compassion, or safety. I put all three of those last ones in the same sentence for a reason. 

And pain? Everyone feels pain, but who understands it? Who willingly stares it in the face? Who steps into it? Who dances with it? Most people like pain escapes, pain numb-outs, and pain-away practices (church leaps to mind), and of course everyone loves an inspirational story to chase the pain away. I like all those things too, things that take away the pain, but — and this is important — pain is my posse. If it weren’t for pain, I’d be dead. Alive dead. The way most people are. The way those are who are doing pain escapes and pain numb-outs and pain-away practices are. This is because nothing zeroes out pain. We are human, therefore we feel pain. 

So, let’s do this again. 

Who stares into pain? Who steps toward pain? Dances with pain? Kisses pain hard on the mouth and says, “Make love to me”? Do we do this it for the passion of it? the knowledge? the release? Who laughs and jumps away from pain to dance with another, happier partner, one light on his feet before, dutifully, going home again with pain? All of us? Are you sure? 



The Rapture, Ch. 2: The Godmother

~~ 1ST DRAFT, free write ~~ 
11/3/17
The Godmother


Well, they took it. And they published it. And they didn’t use my name. And that’s really all that was required. So, I’m good.

Right. As if. I’m not good. I’m never good, but I fake it well. I look good. I do good. I fucking fake good like a Catholic school girl and that’s all that matters. That’s all that matters to most. Certainly all that matters to my family, especially at the holidays. All that’s needed to get by in most of my world. Faking good is all I’ve ever needed to keep myself free of the usual constraints that hobble most people: addiction, bad relationships, bad debt, hospitals, homelessness, jail, those lame groups where people identify with their illness first and as a person with daily struggles second. But, fuck it all, I am good. When the doctor asked what matters to me, what I have to offer that goes begging, I said it: I’m a good person. I have a good heart. It’s my best feature. But if I could be a bad person, a bitch — if I could just not care — I’d probably have gotten further. Power, that’s what the bitch has that I want, just a little bit of power. Not power over others, power over herself, power over her environment. Power over her choices. Power over whether or not she gives a fuck. 

I have made one little stride in that direction. It’s a feminist publication, where I’ve been published, strident (a re-embracing of that ancient insult lobbed at ‘70s proto feminists), pro lesbian, pro gender neutral, pro whatever might piss you off if you’re that unenlightened version of white, male, entitled, and just uneducated and selfish enough to think the world is made in your image and everybody else should see it that way or swing. Anyway, my one stride is my byline: The Godmother. That is, I hope to make is a byline. Right now it’s just a pen name to protect my privacy. It’s also a beard. I can be both published, all sleek and fat and sassy with the happiness of that, and also still too … me … to get my shit enough together to be able to submit to publication. I mean, I am that woman, the one who writes but who can’t promote herself as a writer. So. I get to be the old me and the new me simultaneously. Delicious. 

The last time I felt this delicious was James, the chapter of James. The Bible according to James. That all seems so damn long ago. Lunches, so chaste. Just friends, but I remember telling the heavens — God, the powers that be, call it what you will, I don’t have that many people to talk to — I remember saying I’d do whatever was necessary to have time with him, whatever time we got. I may regret my present — I regret it plenty — but I don’t regret a single choice that got me here. Last appointment, I told the doctor, “It’s all my fault. Everything’s my fault. All day long it’s my fault. It’s winter and the holidays and my worst time and it’s all my fault.”

“Well, obviously it’s not all your fault. Maybe we can start there. Say that to yourself.”

“Right. PTSD. Those PTSD moments, not my fault.”

“Exactly.” 

“Okay,” I say as I gather my things to leave, “I’ll try saying that.” I don’t tell him about being published. I don’t know why. No, I know why. It’s more delicious if it’s a secret from everyone. It’s more enlivening. And I’d kill to feel alive. Especially in winter. 


My family in winter. My family in any season, really, but in winter they are inescapable. The holidays. When I must fake family delight and holiday perfection. Everyone must go to the fun event du jour for the holidays. It’s tradition. Last year it was… What was it last year? I’ve blocked it from my mind already. Oh, yeah, batiking. We all went to a crafts boutique and made that awful wax fabric, only we had to use Elmer’s Glue. It’s easier with kids to use something that won’t scald, not too mention disinterested adults drinking spiced holiday wine, which came with the package deal, but probably not in the amount I was ladling it down. The theme was Christmas decorations, of course, and the kids loved making trees with festive balls and lights or Santa or, my personal favorite, penguins in striped hats and scarves. I made a martini with three olives. Made my sister laugh, the good one. The other one just gave me the look. She also gave me the perfect Christmas card, variations on a theme every year: perfect family, perfect fun, perfect sisterly affection. She could meet me on the street in a strange city and never know it was me. Worse. I would be the object of pity or scorn. The perfect mirror: yourself on your worst incarnation, that what I am to her: something she would never be. 

Two Christmases ago, when the inevitable — the only — question was asked, the answer du jour was both honest and accessible, unusual occurrences for me, but I am learning. “My best friend has moved in with me for awhile,” I replied. The response, however, was the usual. Silence, pause in the time/space continuum, followed by a continuation of whatever topic my father was speaking on before said question. That year he was remodeling the master bath. I know everything about how one expands a master bath to re-plumb for jacuzzi, install drywall when the studs are inconveniently located, how to choose tile for a shower, what things can go wrong and how long it takes to fix them, the torture of permits, etc. I patiently listen. I even try to converse. It’s just that there’s no room in the conversation for me. Strictly speaking, it’s a monologue. 

Last year Christmas was as my sister’s house. The good one. Fudge making. It’s easier than you might think. Of course I’m allergic to corn syrup, so I couldn’t eat any of the finished product, and there are simple recipes made with sugar, which I mentioned, but no. This was not the recipe that was chosen. 

I invited my best friend to join us that year: Christmas with the family! She was still living with me, of course, but the real reason I invited her was so she could be a witness. I needed some perspective. Is it just me? Or is my family that difficult to navigate? We had a plan, something she devised. Purse wine, two of those six-pack sized bottles of wine that you can buy at the supermarket. Any time one of us headed to the bathroom with her oversized purse, it was a call to arms: time to drink from the “purse wine”. As I recall, we had one on those bottle filled with vodka. Maybe it was two purse-sized bottles of vodka. Family. Can’t live with them, can’t celebrate with the holidays with them without alcohol. There are two ironies here. The first is that my mother was an alcoholic. Okay, that’s not ironic so much as it is an explanation for why holidays at my sister’s have very little alcohol and that mostly low octane. The second irony is that my mother offered me my first drink and, yes, it was vodka. I am not particularly fond of vodka. It was my best friend’s idea. Beth is a sweet girl, not too bright, but sweet and loving and the best friend I’d could ever wish for. She is very fond of vodka. And I must say, her taste in vodka is very good, good enough that I will drink it. Even — especially — at Christmas. 

That year, last year, was a good year. I had a place, a roll, a shot at happiness. I shot iPhone video of the family making fudge, the family making fun, making memories. They laughed. I laughed and shouted directions. I had the most fun I’d ever had at a family holiday gathering. Finally I’d found a groove, I’d relaxed into something like a self. If they didn’t know me, well, at least I knew myself that day, and I had fashioned something of a place for myself, a small victory. I was animated on the ride home with Beth and I was several sentences into my triumph when Beth interrupted with, “No!” What? “No, Lu, they aren’t nice to you. They aren’t good to you at all!” 

The familiar sensation of confusion set in, only this time the familiar confusion wasn’t familiar at all. Or was it unfamiliar because I was resisting it. I kept trying to get Beth to see how my family was good to me because they did this and not that and she kept saying, No, they don’t treat you well at all, and then she told me why and I was amazed at all that I’d missed while I was busy having what I imagined was fun. I did have fun. That was real. I also drank a fair amount. That was real. And I had Beth to talk to in the bathroom — at last a conspirator! That was real, and, so subtle, so obvious, I also had Beth taking the flak. Even in the midst of the day’s festivities I had seen it; Beth was taking my place. The quiet. The one sitting to one side. Uncomfortable. Unengaged. Not for lack of trying. Beth was the guest but my family had simply ignored her. It was a shocking breach of etiquette and I continued to circle back around to Beth to bring her into the fold until, finally, she apologize for her state, told me she was having the kind of bad day she’d never let me know about before and asked me not to worry. “Just enjoy yourself. I’m fine. I’m here for you as long as you like. Just let me sit quietly.”

Still, it was jarring, any time I paused to notice it. My family treated Beth the way they normally treat me, as the one ignored, the ghost, the cipher. 

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, merely conserved. Transferred. A closed system is always closed. 

This Christmas I answered blackjack. Blackjack is difficult for me. I have a virulent anxiety disorder and, even without it, an tenuous relationship with numbers that slips into a complete inability to read once the anxiety disorder takes hold. Still, I need work. I am finally, after decades of disability, able to begin work. Blackjack is work. Being in front of people triggers my social anxiety, and making errors while in a state of social anxiety ramps things up to the point where I lose that capacity to do simple things like remember names seconds after hearing them or manipulate numbers through addition; I can look at cards one minute but the minute I look away they no longer exist. When I look back, they are meaningless symbols to me. All the same, I am willing to deal blackjack. I like the people and the game and I capable most of the time. I can do this.

This year I answer, “I’ve begun dealing blackjack.” Brief silence followed by my stepmother’s head being turned by a question from my perfect sister behind her. The conversation turns away as well. I look across at my father who is talking about the as yet unfinished bathroom remodel. I know this will happen. It is predictable. Answering my stepmother instead of my father has not changed the pattern. Answering with a job or with a change in my living situation — things that seem mundane enough for my family’s needs — has not changed this. At the end of the day as they head out the door I will hear my step mother say to my dad, almost as a last ditch attempt to do what should have been done, “Did you hear? She’s dealing blackjack.” Followed by … blankness. Still airspace. Not even the drone of the small plane my father will fly back to their home. 


I am published. It’s an opening, but I’ve kept the system a closed one. I can’t say why, but I can feel it. Some days it’s a good thing, this choice, some days it’s not. But I know I’m storing up. Getting ready to make an escape. Getting ready is not the same as going. Going is not the same as getting away. Announcing is not the same as already being out of reach. 


The Rapture Ch. 1: Wild Horses


I'll be posting this in a jiffy.
For now you can find Chapter 1 right here: Wild Horses


Don't be confused by Chapter 2 -- or 3 or 4. This novel is in a style all its own.

Think shattered mind.

Think Picasso reality.

Think PTSD timeline.

Think Pulp Fiction the first time it came out -- way back in the 90s -- when no one, but no one, knew what the hell to make of it the first time they saw it. (Ask if you're too young to know what that means.)

Now you're getting the idea.

Just go with it. You'll see.


THE RAPTURE RETURNS

Dear Friends and Readers . . .

This is a placeholder for the beginning of The Rapture 2017.
Don't go away -- or at least don't go far -- I'll be right back.


24 May 2014

Everybody Out of the Water


I have been away. A long time. I came back tonight to Sins of the Eldest Daughter because some of my words came back to surprise me in the form of a poem I thought someone else had written. But I wrote it. I wrote it while I was healing. I wrote it as I was ripping apart. I didn't realize I could write like that-- still write like that-- I've been so focused on being head down and in the work. A long time.

Healing is time and energy intensive. Healing is tedious. Healing is terrifying. Healing is an eclipse of life as we once knew it. Anyone who's had a body part broken or torn or cut into knows what I mean. Psyches are no different. And because healing is terrifying and tedious and time consuming, I have not been writing-- not on this blog nor The Movie Lovers blog-- because I have been healing; I said that already; I'd like to be done saying that. And so I came to full-military-brass attention when I clicked on Sins of the Eldest Daughter and found healing waiting for me here. I thought I came to create a new post, but instead I found a post already written. And waiting. A post written today. Exactly one year ago today, I typed up a quick moment-to-moment experience of life as I have known it and left it here. Sometimes healing is a surprise.

Here's what I had to say.

PTSD is a funny thing. And by funny I mean fucked up in the most inexplicable Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-the-Terminator way. If you've never hit the deck in the middle of a sunny day for no damn reason anyone else can discern, then you'll never understand this brain disease. But I'm going to try and explain it anyway.

Listen to the song linked to the title, Everybody Out of the Water:
There’s too many bodies
There’s not enough room

God help me

And God help you
...
That bell

That you hear

That’s hell

Ringing in your ears.
The bombs that the burst in my brain aren't real and neither are the bodies, not in the way the bombs and bodies of a soldier's flashback are. I didn't see people blown into their constituent bits. All the bodies, all the parts, are mine. All explosions are mine. All bone shattering is mine. I am the ball in play and the machine. I am the bells and whistles. I am the flippers, the lights, and the wizard, and the game doesn't end until the ball falls into the drain, but the whole aim of my wizard brain's game is to keep the ball in play. It may take just seconds, but believe me when I tell you, it is endless.

But you won't know that. Why?

Because you won't see me dive for cover, not on a sunny day nor any other. You won't see me disappear, though I do, right in plain sight. You might hear me make an excuse, something plausible. You might notice I'm not around as much as I used to be. What you don't know, what you won't see, what only a rare few have witnessed and then only on the occasion I chose to let them in, is me: talking talking talking to myself alone, a Gollum who scrabbles and scuttles across the floor; me clutching a bombed out rag of a monkey, trembling and rocking like a child, even though I'm not; screaming, you won't hear me scream. Like a child, I have pillows. And because I have pillows and a stereo and a brain that works well enough to understand consequences, my neighbors don't hear me scream either. I tell the doctor it is the Edvard Munch of screams, which is appropriate. To scream on paper or canvas is to scream silently. Sometimes the sound becomes, well, sound. Loud. Vesuvian. And while I can't control when that happens, I've learned to read the signs. Like a seizure, these screams have a kind of aura, a brief period of time-- a feeling, a fullness, a Jack-becoming-the-Giant moment-- that directly precedes them. I have time to shove something in my mouth before the sound erupts-- it's over in seconds. As with anything that shatters, the clean up takes a bit longer. You might see that, even though I know how to cover well. We all know how to take cover.

For me, a PTSD event, with or without the fireworks of a siren scream, is not much different than a marathon or a stroke. It's an event. It leaves me spent and disconnected, mind and body in a slag heap. Now tightly pack that sound and fury into a parachute, and cram that parachute silk into the space of a skull so small that no matter how hard you pull the ripcord the rescue never inflates. This is your brain on PTSD.

And then there's the rest of my life: the tedium after the terror.... Soldiers call it the hump. The hump is the day to day after day after day business of marching on a mission. The mission is life. Legs are moving, lungs are breathing, eyes are scanning the ground the horizon the ground the trees the horizon the ground, as minutes and months pass by. The mouth takes in food, the bowels excrete waste, and in between the two, the heart pumps blood. The hump is the set point for everyday. The hump is the set point for my not-healthy-but-not-sick PTSD brain, the brain formed in childhood, the only brain I get. The hump is not the same as living. It is the business of maintaining life. It is the respirator. The feeding tube.
"We're wasting our time."
"Sorry guys. She's just grown more and more disconnected from reality as time goes on."

But I am built to live at high amplitude.

That's where it stops, this post, written a year ago and left to wait; dangling from the concept of high amplitude, hanging as a live wire just above the pool, reminding me that what breaks me also makes me. So.

I'm here. I'm awake. And what I know is this. What I am and who I seem to be look different only if you've missed the arc of the story. With PTSD punctuating my days, I lose the arc of the story-- my story-- over and over. Look back, though, and there it is. February 2010: Been Crazy, Bought the T-shirt, Making Copies to Sell. That's where I come out as bipolar. Then there's July 2013, the only post for the entire year: Freedom Letter. That's the place where I come out as someone who's not bipolar at all, just a woman living in a most inexplicable Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-the-Terminator movie in which that thing the doctor calls Complex PTSD is yet to be fully studied and understood. Oh.

I'm not crazy. I'm awake. I'm stretching my wings and waiting for my superpowers to kick in. And the badass theme song. Everybody out of the water.


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All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from its author.

05 July 2013

Freedom Letter


She's crazy as anyone can be
That's what they say, they say of me
What wanting love can make some do
Isn't my fault,
heredity

Standing on the outside, 
lookin' 
State of grace, state of sin 
Sheryl Crow On the Outside

Content trigger warning:  The following post speaks plainly on the subject of sexual abuse, specifically, sexual abuse that happens within families for generation after generation. It deals head on with the longterm effects that occur when a child is sexually assaulted by a family member and then raised within a family-enforced code of silence.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, particularly if family was involved, please pause to reflect on whether this content might be a trigger for you. 

For those who choose to read on, my hope is that these words encourage you in your healing journey. This letter, which I call my freedom letter, is what I wrote and sent to my family less than a month ago, and so I raise a glass: To healing and to living in the full light of truth. Blessings to all.

Freedom Letter


Dearest Family,

Grand- and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, mother, fathers, sisters, cousins; Bertocchinis and Schusters all; both living and departed. Each one of you is someone I grew up with, and whether elder or age mate, nuclear family or extended; a family member by blood or by virtue of marriage; each one of you has borne children into this family and so each one of you has a part in the story I’m about to tell.

Most of you know, if only by way of family gossip, that I deal with clinical depression and a bipolar disorder. We don’t talk about these things in the family, at least not my wing of it. All the same, I’m guessing that I am not the only one who takes medication to keep depression in check. Additionally, I battle post traumatic stress. The cumulative effect of mental illnesses and PTSD is debilitating enough that I live on disability, a state that carries some shame. I continue to work with doctors to heal what can be healed and to manage those deficits that will be lifelong. We all have deficits and burdens we carry alone, and mine are no more important than anyone else’s. What is important, what is worth sharing, is this: the originating trauma, the thing that broke me, is something that happened within our family. 

Beginning at age four, I was sexually assaulted, repeatedly, by no fewer than four people, none of whom were strangers to me. One was a trusted family friend. Two were immediate family members. Of those two, one is still alive. 

I know that some of you are feeling the shock of what I just said; you didn’t know, and you didn’t see this coming. I also know that some of you are shocked that I said it at all. You are among those who knew-- absolutely you knew, though you ignored and eventually managed to “forget”-- that family members used me for sex. I am not the only child in this family who was abused in this way; this is a secret we have all kept. 

Had I been someone else’s four-year-old or, better, kidnapped and held in the basement of a sex offender, the family’s reaction to my pain would have been outrage. The sexual abuse harmed me, there’s absolutely no question about that, but it was the isolation-- the emotional shunning from my family-- that was the true and lasting trauma. On the surface I was cared for and loved: good food, warm house, nice clothes, good schools, regular bedtimes and rules, hugs and “I love you”s. All those things were real, and I benefited from them. This was also real: I was allowed the expression of absolutely no emotion that was unapproved: no sadness, no fear, no needing closeness or reassurance, no anger, and certainly no talking about these feelings. It’s one thing to have your abuser threaten you with, “Don’t tell or....” It is quite another to have those who love you enforce that code of silence. 

On this point I want to be very clear. The isolation I experienced wasn’t simply painful or pervasive. It was absolute and immutable. I was expected to be a pretty dolly in a glass case. Perfect; hollow. It is this harm that has had the most lasting effect. 

Emotional and psychological development weren’t the only things affected. My neurological damage is this: a brain that was formed in an environment of trauma, specifically, a child’s brain that grew and developed in the potent neurochemicals that are released during trauma. So while it is true that I now have mental illness and other deficits, I wasn’t born this way; I was made. 

Why am I telling you this? Simple. I need to be done. Done not only seeing the elephant-- ALL the elephants-- in the room but also being the elephant in the room. Done seeing the effects of abuse perpetrated on other family members and having no way to stop it. Or prove it. Done pretending that everything is fine, that I am normal, that I have a job, that I can support myself, that I function well. I am not normal. Some days I function only barely. I am mentally ill and physically compromised, and I was not born this way. I was crippled by a family legacy of intergenerational sexual abuse and a code of silence. 

This is not my burden to bear alone, though I have done so until now. I don’t know what any of you will do with this information. I don’t know whether you’ll believe it or deny it, let it help you step forward in your own struggles or let it fall by the wayside, and it doesn’t matter. I have already been called crazy. I have already been told that what I know couldn’t possibly be true. So, believe as you will. This much I know for certain. The more I deal with the origins of my illness, the less suicidal I have become. The more I deal with the original trauma, the less chronic pain I have to bear up under and the less medication I need. Best of all-- and in many ways, saddest of all-- it appears that I am not, in fact, bipolar. All the craziness that is the hallmark of that illness has an external source, as it turns out, an originating trauma, and the more I deal with that trauma the saner and more balanced I become. 

There is no good way to end a letter such as this. So I will sign off with love. You’re all family to me, each and every one, and I value that connection. In far too many ways I feel I have never had a family connection, not truly, but I hang onto the kinship all the same. Must be all that Italian blood.

Wishing you well,
Dina

aka, writer of SinsoftheEldestDaughter


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Google: sins, sexual abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, PTSD, complex PTSD, trauma, childhood neglect, psychological abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, incest, long-term effects, adult survivors, family, sex offender, depression, bipolar, chronic illness, disability,

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All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com 
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from its creator.