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

24 December 2010

Stealing Tomorrow from Today

I haven't crash landed yet. I haven't crash landed yet.
It's eleven on a Thursday night and it's the 23rd of December, which means that in an hour it's officially Christmas Eve Day. And tomorrow I will be fine with that. But tonight, well tonight I had to steel myself against that feeling. You know the one, everybody who's single does. I was married for, literally, half my life and so this experience of steeling myself against feeling the envy of coupledom during a holiday was new, but it passed quickly. A glass of wine. A phone call from a girlfriend. Poof. Turns out I’m cool with the single-at-Christmastime thing. Sweet. But that still blue quiet ghost of Christmas passing even as it squats as a fat tree in the living room window, *that* feeling I have known my life long. And it was that feeling which surprised me today.

This year I am giving myself the gift of a family-free Christmas. Point of fact, I have given myself a completely family-free holiday season altogether, Thanksgiving to New Years, and so far it has been the happiest, most relaxing, and socially satisfying of my life. Bar none. And that's saying something, because as a child, I had the brief and happy experience of a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Really. It wasn't a Norman Rockwell family I grew up in, but at Grandma and Grandpa's house on the holidays it was perfect. Everything from my velveteen dress, sewn by my grandmother, to the tiny tinkle of bells on the tree and the tray of dates, figs, and old world fruitcake, everything was perfect. Not picture book perfect. Happy. There was love in every detail. Every year. It is the only sweet thing from childhood that I miss. Every year.

But that feeling I mentioned? That still blue quiet ghost of Christmas passing even as it squats as a fat tree in the living room window feeling? Yeah, that feeling is the hollow Christmas cavern I have inhabited every holiday season since. It’s the feeling of living on the outside of one’s skin, floating just above a bloodless interior, a kind of anemia of the emotions; the perfect antidote for fear. Terror is an overused word, so is hell, and those Christmases with my perfection-driven bipolar mother and new dad are long past. As an adult, when I went to my father’s home that first Christmas, I was surprised to find the feeling waiting for me there, a tiny hitchhiker in my belly. And it was there, again, with my step dad and his new wife, with my in-laws, with my auntie-mom, and now, with my sisters and their families. The hollow travels with me like a rig with an empty vial; needle, no morphine. But this year, given the pleasure I have experienced in the holidays so far, well, I guess I imagined that I had escaped that feeling.

I tell myself I won’t mess up again. I try to fix it good. I try to patch it up. I’ve got a a manual that tells me how we have to look... Why don’t you let it go, let it go, let it go?

Tomorrow night I imagine I will be feeling the joy of sitting on my ass watching a marathon of Criminal Minds while I eat yummy high-fat and even-higher-sugar foods. But tonight I can hear the psychologist saying, when I tell him it is only television that can reliably calm me, television that helps me to close my eyes to sleep, “You like crime shows?” he says, “Why is that?” Because the television is a syringe and the crime show is morphine, a perfect high wherein the ugliness of non-Rockwellian reality is subdued by good guys with guns.

This year I’ve given myself the gift of a Christmas without baggage, but come the New Year my resolution is to slay the dragon. Not morphine, not heroin, pain; my body is addicted to pain. It comes of a life lived in the grip of a post-traumatic stress that just never took the hint. A permanent couch surfer. I’m thinking that when it hits the road I might be able to crawl back inside my own skin. I might even like it there.

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

24 July 2010

One Last Breath

Please come now, I think I’m falling
I’m holding on to all I think is safe
It seems I found the road to nowhere
and I’m trying to escape.

One Last Breath

I just spent thirty hours with an addict, a man who’s demons make him one of the cruelest and most self-centered assholes I know; a man whose heart shines through him like the eyes of a boy who would spend his last dime to bring you happiness; a man of unyielding truthfulness who sees into me in ways no other human being ever has; but an addict all the same. I am not an addict, I haven’t been an addict, but I regularly do things others find wildly foolish. Things I brazenly embrace, though they have the power to harm me. Things that cause others to fear for me. It’s what I choose. I am a sojourner in the belly of the beast, here to learn the forbidden from the inside out. When the consequences arrive, and they do, I simply suffer through them. The thing is, between the moment in which I make my choice and the consequences that follow, I find pieces of myself I didn't even realize were missing. And I make myself more whole.

Z, which is short for *Ezekiel, arrived at my doorstep a dozen hours later than he said he would. 2 AM. After grabbing some lengua tacos from our favorite drive thru, a hole-in-the-wall with food and prices like you’d find on the streets of Mexico, we came back to my place, ate, and fell into bed. Our first twelve hours together we spent sleeping, a deep, sweet, restful sleep the likes of which I have known only in his arms. When we woke he took me out to eat a good meal and I took him on a walk through the neighborhood. Our walk took us past the oldest local watering hole and we stopped in to see the walnut bar, massive, imposing, a thing from times gone by. Z ordered some smokey scotch, enjoying the opportunity to treat me to something I’d never had, and I remembered the first time he told me alcohol was his gateway drug. “Alcohol and heroin work on the same receptors in the brain,” he said, and I thought no wonder my mother loves alcohol. Scotch, actually. That was when Z was first in recovery. That was when we were in love. That was awhile ago.

This is the place where most stories cue the violins as the sad saga of one man’s downward spiral unfolds, but this is not that story. I’m not here to feel sorry for my friend or to pity him or be angry about the effect his life has had on mine, nor am I here to wax righteous. Z’s life is what it is: a desperate struggle for normal. He fakes normal as best he can. On the outside he keeps up appearances, keeps up the pace at work, and on the inside he lives in a private hell. He’s not the only man to live such a life. He’s not even the only one I know.

During the eighteen hours Z and I were together, together and awake, I watched my friend go from having an enjoyable afternoon with me to needing a drink to feel normal to wanting coke for a bit of that better-than-normal feeling in order to take the edge off the crazy he feels in every situation involving people. Eventually he was driven to using a needle until he needed liquor to encourage sleep, a sleep that never came. Satisfaction never came either. It would touch down and then fly off again, like a plastic bag whipped about in the wind. During that last night together, sleepless in the dark, in a quiet voice that might have been choosing from a lunch menu, Z said, “I want to die.” The sentence was effortless, slightly emphasizing the verb, like a child making a choice he realizes he may not get. “It would be a relief to have the struggle be over,” he said.

My life has also been a struggle, as anyone who reads this blog knows. I have fought lifelong, over and over, to recover and maintain physical and mental health. If anyone could find a high horse to stand on and lecture about addiction, it would certainly be me. But we are the same, my friend and I, except that his drugs are illegal and mine are paid for by insurance. Moreover, his drugs offer a transitory satisfaction. Not only are the drugs I take not an experience of mind-expansion-while-the-universe-vibrates-in-the-key-of-G, in my dark days the side effects of the drugs I was given were positively Medieval. The very best that could be said of them: they offered a wardrobe of undesired options, like wearing wet cotton or wet wool, living with your mouth covered over in cellophane or rubber, choosing whether your mind is to be bound in rope or leg irons.

I know that from the outside it appears addicts are creating their own struggle; you get addicted to drugs, your life gets hard. Duh. Stop the drugs, idiot. And while it’s true that addiction is a black-hole system of existence, the ultimate state of being out of control, what’s more interesting is that addiction is the end result of desperate efforts to control a bad state of mind. Let me say this another way. I see this struggle from the inside. First of all, I have had a doctor say to me that I could a) take the drug that made me so anxious I wanted to tear my skin off, or b) be in constant, unyielding, thought-obliterating pain. Furthermore she was mightily annoyed that I thought this side effect worth reporting to her after hours. From my perspective, Z is addicted to drugs because drugs are addictive. His attraction to drugs? That’s a result of his desire to find normal, his struggle to learn how to approximate the very simple dance steps that comprise normal, a struggle he has been losing his entire life.

What is normal? Just a word, people say; a concept, an average of highs and lows, a social construct, and maybe it is. But I can also tell you that normal is a shiny desired thing -- just out of reach -- a kind of forbidden fruit for those of us who live our lives off balance. We don’t simply idealize this thing called “normal” and wish we had it. We know we don’t have it. How do we know this? How do you know when you have a broken bone? You just know. Having broken my share of bones, two of which showed no outward signs, I can tell you that it is a pain distinguishable from all others. And so while it hurts to watch my friend, to watch this man I was once crazy in love with, spiral out of control as he swings high and low aiming for normal, I have no judgment about the fact that this is his life. Right now, it’s the best he can do.

* * * * *

I lay myself down, back to earth and the cool of the grass, eyes to heaven. Night is all in the trees, and coloring the sky; clear, dark, punctured by stars; vibrating so subtly. I take off my glasses and look deeply into the only jewels I will ever own; search for landmarks, a Dipper, the broad belt of Orion, the dance of the Pleiades; find only diamonds scattered across the night sky. Behind me, in a tiny stand-alone garage inhabited by college boys and dirty dishes, a sagging couch and a sink full of last night’s vomit, Z is slamming cocaine. The inside of his arm is still bloody and bruised from the afternoon he spent stabbing his way into himself.

A thin boy in black stumbles out, pukes into the bushes next to the house that belongs to the young couple who rent out the garage. “It’s a nice night,” I say, “if you’re not upchucking.” He turns as he wipes his sleeve across his mouth, sees me on the ground, walks over to reach out a hand. Any boy man enough to puke into the bushes and then have the presence of mind to introduce himself to a woman twice his age is okay by me. Later, when I say this to Z his only words will be, “He’s an addict.” And even later, when the birds are chirruping like the world is new and the sky has dropped its daily veil over the stars, I will watch as Z calls the boy in black and makes arrangements for them to go where I will not.

* * * * *

After eighteen wakeful hours of Z’s world, I found myself too tired to do anything but breathe. So I laid myself down on the floor cushions and watched Grey’s Anatomy reruns. I am not a doctor or paramedic, nor a nurse or self-appointed super hero. All the same, I resonate with stories where the main character stares down death as she tells the person in front of her that everything will be fine. It won’t, of course, but her job -- my job -- is to give that person courage, to walk them through the one thing they don’t want to do, whether that be living or dying. Year after year, life places me close to the ones I love when they gaze into the captivating eyes of death. Perhaps this is because I rest easy being in the same room, because I have danced the two-step that death and disease do. Some have judged that I foolishly run toward pain, but as I lay on my floor yesterday, sleep-deprived and sleepless, blinds drawn against the day and the shrill birds, I began to see that what I’ve run toward is intimacy. It just happens that the deepest intimacy in my life, thus far, has been with pain and the swan dive of death.

On the second night, after the stars and the college boys and the skinny kid puking, Z and I retired to his bed, a disheveled pad in a disheveled room where all things lay equal upon a carpeted floor, everything but sleep. So, after some hours of taking comfort in each other’s arms, I kissed him and rose to go. He begged me to drive with him to the other side of town, two maybe three hours away. When I said no it was a complete sentence, but since my apartment lay halfway between where we were and where Z planned to go, I drove him that far. On the freeway, I watched as he pulled out his used syringe and a small bottle of liquid morphine. My response was calm. Final. When his buddy reached for the needle, Z said simply, “She’s not down with it.”

At home on my own pillowed floor and still unable to court sleep, I sent a text to Z and asked how he was doing. His response: “A little tore up.” His remedy for the consequences: “Drink fiercely.” I found that a couple antihistamines and twelve hours of sleep was mine. It left me with bags under my eyes and a dream about maple bars. I love donuts, I really do, but I’m gluten intolerant. Celiac disease. Anything made with wheat is essentially poison for me. I know this. I knew it in the dream. But I went straight to that maple bar, picked it up, ate it, and went back for another without any regard for my condition. I woke in a state of wonder. As I recorded the dream, I found myself adding another sentence: I will always go back to what is forbidden if it makes itself available.

Forbidden fruit, the sins of the flesh, these fascinate me. I take sin very seriously, and by sin I mean the things we all do to cope with this amazing dream of reality. That’s what the Buddhists tell us: reality is just a dream we make up as we idly play in the sandbox of time, lost in our own heads. My sin, one of them, is that I prefer being a student of sin to being a judge. It can be dangerous, this point of view. And so illuminating.

Consider the Oracle at Delphi, which is inscribed with the one true goal, "Know thyself." Consider Eve, the so-called original sinner, who taught us that self-knowledge follows closely behind knowledge of God and, of course, that self-knowledge means knowledge of sin. Now imagine, just for a moment, that sin is not the source of our downfall but rather the source of all insight, a master teacher. Imagine that sin offers to show us the parts of ourselves that we fear, the parts that we hide or deny. In the I Ching the sixty-first hexagram is entitled Insight, and it declares that to gain insight we must yield to the object of our inquiry. Just think of it as giving into sin. Becoming “totally open and unprejudiced toward its true nature.”

Go beyond objectivity into pure observation and acceptance... fully influenced by what you’ve observed and experienced. Now stop. Pull back . . . taking with you [both] a penetrating understanding and INSIGHT based upon actual experience. . . . You will not lose your perspective or jeopardize your principles in this empathetic voyage. Instead you gain a valuable INSIGHT into something that may be, in fact, controlling a part of your life.

I know that to choose poison is self-destructive; I was raised by a drunk. And I know that choosing self-destructive behaviors is tantamount to sin. Just check the list of the Seven Deadlies: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, sloth. Pride starts the whole thing off, and I confess that I know the sin of being certain of my capacity to do what I set out to do regardless of the consequences. For some, the consequences of desire are addiction, which brings us to greed (aka, avarice), lust, gluttony, and sloth, each one an element of addiction. Throw in a little obsession, which covers envy and anger, and you’ve got them all; seven deadly sins inside a sunny afternoon. All you need is the lying that tags along behind sin like a pestering little sister and you have the icing on the poisonous cake. I prefer chocolate, but my mother would have made apple or carrot cake. More nutritious.

My sometimes loving, sometimes raging, always self-medicated mother, who has since been reduced from scotch to boxed wine and cheap vodka, was the reason for my suicidal childhood. Another sin. Of course I didn’t let this defect show. It was my baby sister who ended up hospitalized with an overdose. My own nearly successful attempt wasn’t until long after I left home, after depression had invaded my body like an army of worms sliding through a barrel of abandoned fruit. That’s when it became impossible to disguise the fact that my mother’s voice was the trigger for my desire for death, for expulsion from the garden of hellish delights, and so I quit my mother with the same swift motion that friends might now advise me to quit Ezekiel. I held onto that “No” as tightly as I held onto the tincture of morphine I found in the medicine cabinet after a friend died of AIDS. It could have worked, too, the morphine. It was working; I could feel it. But then I realized what I wanted was not so much to die as to have the pain taken away. Dying was overkill. Go figure.

“No matter who she is,” my therapist said, “time with our mothers is essential.” And so when I was better, well, at least not as bad, I reestablished contact in small carefully measured doses. When my mother fell to the concrete floor of her garage, I didn’t ask my sisters what they wanted to do, I just drove. At our mother’s hospital bed on the other side of the state, I learned she fell because she was having a seizure and that she was having seizures because her liver was shot and her liver was shot because... well you know the rest. Maybe it was her kidneys, I don’t remember. What does it matter which organ is the rotten apple when all the rest follow suit? The doctors put my mother on detox. If her body was to heal, it had to be free of the poison in her veins. However, it wasn’t much more than a week between when I arrived to take charge of my mother’s care and when I made arrangements for her transfer to hospice. Somewhere in the middle was 27 consecutive hours.

Detoxed and fully lucid, my mother regarded me with eyes from which the veil had been lifted. For the first time in my life, I knew the caring person my aunt grew up with, the charming woman my father fell in love with, the woman who loved me, her first born. I can’t recall a word she said, not one, but I do remember when my mother surfaced; a sensation that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. I remember promising myself I would be present, expecting nothing, open to anything. And I remember the feeling, the summer-sun-on-my-skin feeling, of being loved by my mother. For 27 hours I knew exactly what is meant by that clinical phrase unconditional positive regard, and I imagine it is this feeling that Z is chasing when he sticks a needle in his arm. I know it.

I love that man and he is lost, and so for thirty hours I sojourned in the world in which he wanders alone stabbing at connection and comfort. The ties that bind us are sometimes impossible to explain, often connecting us long after it seems the tie should be broken. Some bonds defy time, distance, and all common sense, but then so does love. There is nothing scarier than real love, breath-taking as it is in its straightforward simplicity. Inexplicable in its beauty. As crystalline and clear as the insights Z has given me. Refracting. Fiery. Winking. Joyful. The closest thing to stars I will ever have.

As for my mother’s story, the rest is all but Biblical. With less than twenty-four hours before death was sure to claim her, family filing past her bedside, my mother did the miraculous. She lived. Despite the strokes, the seizures, the organ failure, she made a complete and speedy recovery. She went home. And, as her middle daughter said, you’d think she would have learned something from almost dying, but noooo. My assessment: my mother has cockroach DNA. It’s what all three of us girls say now. Then we laugh. We love our mother. We know longevity is a positive attribute. We also know that longevity is not so positive when the person living forever is as mean as a snake and twice as deadly. But one thing is for certain. Snakes make powerful medicine. It either kills you or cures you.
What is snake medicine? It’s the cure created from the poison, the original hair-of-the-dog remedy. After surviving many venomous attacks, not only do we conquer our fear, we are opened up to the world of the snake's medicine, which is alchemy. With snake medicine, that which holds us back or weights us down is transmuted into that which propels us forward, upward. Snake medicine demands that we let go of what we do not want in order to make space for what we truly desire, like letting go of wrath to make room for love. It takes courage to accept the lessons of the snake, the lessons of insight, and being a student of sin is part and parcel of that. At least it is for me.

Now comes the question and answer part, just like in Sunday school. You want to know if I really think sin is a good thing. You want to know if I understand that my apparent need to love an addict means I’m co-dependent -- I believe that’s still the current term -- and you want to know if I understand that co-dependency is, itself, a kind of addiction. Maybe you doubt my ability to see that by spending time with Ezekiel, I am potentially putting myself in harm’s way. Forget snake medicine, what you really want to know is whether I did any of those drugs I watched Z do to himself. Maybe you’re scared for me. Maybe you’re scared of me.

Here’s what I know about fear. It has everything to do with desiring the stasis of normal. When my friend who diffuses bombs in Afghanistan is walking the dark neighborhood streets stateside, he knows there is a one-hundred percent chance that no one will jump out and try to kill him, but still he finds himself wishing he carried a gun. “I never carry my gun,” he says. “If I carried it here, I’d kill someone.” The last time I saw him, he drew on a cigarette, considered his body’s permanent state of high alert, and said “I’m afraid I’ll be like this the rest of my life.” He said it like he was describing a favorite shirt that was now worn beyond repair. For some of us, normal can be lost forever. Back when I fell into a black-hole existence, one doctor paused to consider the cumulative effects of the chronic pain I carried. “I don’t know how you’ve managed to stay human,” she said. For the first time in my life, I felt seen. Normal can be as simple as having the obvious acknowledged. When my mother was still the most poisonous presence in my life, an addict who loved me, a man who grasps at normal like his last breath, observed the insidious roots of my mother’s madness in me. He held me fast in this reflection and would not release me but that I looked that fearsome blessing full in the face. Sometimes normal comes in ugly wrapping paper.

So you can keep your questions and your fears, all of them. I am immune.

Is that pride? Probably. Is it hubris? Maybe. But I know that self-knowledge doesn’t come without sin, mine or someone else’s.

In that last night together, me and my sweet, loving, hopeful, hateful, helpless, hollow of a man; a man in whom I still experience that longed for sensation I call home, if only for moments at a time; in that night, I scuttled suddenly across the floor, ragged, bare, and in drawing me back to him, Ezekiel clothed me in the gift of something once lost and now returned. For he is held fast in the grasp of fear and such beings know, without a word, when fear holds you, too.

*Ezekiel - You didn’t think I’d really use his name, did you?

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

23 July 2010

Carnival of Rust

I’m on deadline. I have exactly 19 hours and 10 minutes, from this moment, to finish and post my last blog entry of the summer, One Last Breath. It’s nearly done. Or it was. Today, as I read the penultimate draft, it fell apart. Every writer knows what I’m talking about. And we all know that the work will be better -- much better -- in the long run for not having been rushed through a crucial transformation. But in this moment -- GodDamnItAll2Hell!! -- it has just fallen to pieces. This is the point at which spouses and children scatter. If they are wise. Pets, too.

In 19 hours and, now, 3 minutes I must get my ass dressed and out the door for my meeting with the shaman. Yes, I’m reentering the shaman’s version of My Personal Hell, also known here as boot camp for the woo-woo set. The shaman and I have agreed that I can post One Last Breath and then I will refrain from blogging for two solid months. So, as you can see, time is of the essence.

Off I go, then, scotch tape in hand, to finish the blog. I’ve got ~looks at watch~ 18 hours and 48 minutes. See you soon. ~Dina

Poets of the Fall – Carnival of Rust

11 July 2010

Hello from Me and My Monkey

The deeper you go, the higher you fly.
The higher you fly, the deeper you go.
So come on. Come on.
. . . .
Everybody’s got something to hide
‘cept for me and my monkey.

Your inside is out when your outside is in.
Your outside is in when your inside is out.
So come on. Come on.
. . . .
Everybody’s got something to hide
‘cept for me and my monkey.

Dear Sweet Readers. My song tonight is a little wink to you. Anyone who’s a regular reader here knows I don’t hide much. Alright, who am I kidding? I don’t hide anything! The funny thing is, if you knew me in my everyday life you’d also know that I’m rather a private person and that I don’t tell tales out of school. In other words, if you confide in me, your secret is safe. My own secrets are safe with me, too. While I would lay odds that most of you can’t imagine I have any secrets, given my writing style, the fact of the matter is that we all have things we keep to ourselves and we all need a hidey-hole from time to time, no one more so than those of us who are in the habit of laying our lives bare.

So tonight I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. It is all the truth, what I write; it happened. It’s also performance art.

Recently, I had a new Twitter friend express some worry that, and I’m interpreting here, I was too nice for her to be nice to. Which made me laugh. It’s true, I am genuine. And sincere. And happy. At least most of the time. I am also a bipolar being with big baggage carried by even bigger demons who shed heavily and shit everywhere. No joke. My house is a wreck because my demons live here. They’re worse than teenagers on drugs. I try not to let ‘em out in public if I can help it. It’s bad enough they have to live with me. The only thing they’re really good for is fodder for the stories I tell. But y’all knew that. Here’s my point, and also what I told the woman who’d witnessed only my helpful, sincere persona and thought me a little too sweet for her taste: I'm a happy person who writes like Marilyn Manson performs; a demon in lipstick. I mean, you don’t think Marilyn wears those costumes to the grocery store, do you? Neither do I. My life works best when I regularly take the monkey on my back out for a spin with the top down and the radio blaring. It’s what I do. But do my everyday peeps, my friends and family get to see this? Not on your life, not unless they read it here. Out in the everyday world, me and my monkey are chill.

It’s all performance art, people. Think about it. Isn’t all life that way?

Doesn’t circumstance lead us all? Forcing us to decide, daily, which parts of our personality to put forward and which to relegate to the background? Don’t all of us have parts of ourselves that only our lovers or partners see? And parts we save for church, for children, for chatting with the neighbors? Another part that comes out at parties and family gatherings? And then, yes, there are those few who make a living by saying and doing the outlandish things that we all think but dare not say or do ourselves. This would be where I sigh because I don’t make a living at this just yet.

That’s it. Nothing profound to say today. The real reason I’m here is to say hello. It’s been three weeks since the last post, way too long for my taste. I haven’t been lazy. Okay, I’ve been a little lazy. And exhausted. And sick. By turns. Yesterday I had just enough energy to lie in front of the television and watch three Harry Potter movies. On better days, I’ve also been happily slaving away on a blog that has gotten larger, longer, and more interesting than I had originally anticipated. So I’ve been giving it time to fully ripen and mature. In the mean time, I feel like I am ignoring you. I kinda am. So this blog is my check-in, my place to say WATCH THIS SPACE for “One Last Breath”, which is what I’m currently working on. Here's a taste:

Eventually he was driven to using a needle until he needed liquor to take the edge off and encourage sleep, a sleep that never came. Satisfaction never came either. It would touch down and then fly off again, like a plastic bag whipped about in the wind.

I’ll be posting “One Last Breath” just as soon as I can bring it to completion. Middle of next week is what I’m guessing.

One more thing. I’m starting work with the shaman again. We have struck a bargain: two months of intensive work and then I’m done. During that time I will not be posting a blog. So somewhere around the 21st, 22nd, 23rd of July you’ll see me post my last blog for the summer. Then it’s two months of putting my darling demons through their paces, separating the low-level energy suckers from the true blue freaks. Just think of me as being on a two month retreat into my hidey-hole. With hairy things that go bump in the night.

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

19 June 2010

Another Loose Cannon Gone Bipolar

I created the sound of madness
wrote the book on pain
somehow I’m still here to explain

Sound of Madness

I’m starting in the middle of the story tonight. It’s not a literary device I’m choosing to employ, it’s just the easiest way for me to get started, and tonight getting started is what it’s all about because writing is often my salvation. Tonight I’m all about salvation.

When the shaman and I locked horns, to the point of my being put on leave, it was over my behavior, behavior I see as rooted in the fact of being bipolar. He argued choice. I argued chemistry. I've been under-medicated for several months due, he believes, to poor choices; I argue that the poor choices were due to my being unaware I was under medicated. Whatever. My brain chemistry is off kilter, has been off kilter. What this looks like to others is me overindulging in vices, withdrawing from family and friends, and struggling to cope in general. What this looks like to the shaman is me not following orders. In other words: I have a bad attitude and am unwilling to change, or even be motivated toward change.

A bad egg fated to rot rather than hatch. Willfully rot.

To be bipolar is tantamount to being a slacker on welfare, and by that I mean that those around us are driven to distraction with what looks like a willful refusal to straighten up and fly right. Again with the chicken/egg metaphor, I know, but the fact is that with bipolar disorders it’s never clear. Is the situation causing your mood or is it your mood that is causing you to reinterpret the situation? It can be nearly impossible to tell. So here I am, someone who matriculated magna cum laude from her graduate program, a scholar who walked away with the plum graduate prize, and for awhile, a successful editor and writing coach, but now I know exactly how the juvenile delinquent feels; there’s no winning for losing. Like I said, a bad egg.

In retrospect, which has the staggering clarity of the larger perspective, I believe I was misdiagnosed when a major depressive episode laid me out after grad school. Oh, I had a major clinical depression all right, that much is inarguable, but from today’s perspective I’d have to say that my all-consuming, at-one-with-the-wallpaper-and-the-furniture experience was the hallmark of a bipolar depression, a very ugly and until recently a very misunderstood state of mind and body.

My state of complete incapacity, accompanied with my fierce focus on making sure I got the right treatment if it killed me -- for surely not getting the proper treatment would kill me, and by my own hand at that -- this is what led to my being misdiagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. I know that schizophrenia can easily be considered a much heavier cross to bear, but I must disagree. I have a cousin who carries that cross. We all know that meds are everything for him. And we all know that what he does when improperly medicated is about brain chemistry, not attitude. But forget all that because I didn’t grow up in that, the sane, part of the family. A person with a borderline personality is one considered, by diagnosis, to be a person with no regard for anyone’s welfare but her own. Worse. Traditionally it has been considered by the mental health community to be an untreatable condition.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a life sentence. And it is your fault, all of it, bad egg that you are.

At the time of my diagnosis, there was one treatment for BPD, experimental, and it was practiced in Portland, Oregon, my home town. My family and friends went to the clinic’s intro-to-your fucked-up-loved-one and came back saying, That’s you! They were genuinely relieved. I knew in the deepest part of myself that this was not, in fact, the name of my trouble, but I wanted to get well so I sucked it up and accepted the unacceptable.

Here’s the best part. The treatment for BPD is a behavioral program completely free of the coddling of emotions. It focuses on the patient learning to control her emotional state so that she might also control the actions that are the outgrowth of those emotions run amok. Conversely, the hallmark of a bipolar disorder is behavior that is not only uncontrolled but uncontrollable. Let me put it another way. Once I received the proper diagnosis and treatment, my new catch phrase became “Better living through chemistry.” It was that obvious.

Upon being properly medicated for cyclothymia, which I like to call Bipolar Lite, I saw behaviors that I had struggled with lifelong all but disappear overnight. Overnight. I took a pill and suddenly I could deal with the previously undealable. The mood swings slowed down to a little tick tock at the center and the chaos abated. I quit having what psychiatrists “suicidal ideation”; I knew the feelings weren’t real, but they felt real. Imagine that going away with a pill. Now imagine this: the actions of my harpy of a drunken mother suddenly made perfect sense to me. Now that is what I call clarity.

The worst part about being bipolar, in my experience, is BEING BIPOLAR. The life bipolar is a fucked up existence that requires constant re-evaluation and adjustments to maintain a delicate balance, and even then, balance is lost over and over and over. I’m all about meds. I take my meds like daily communion. But this year, just this month as a matter of fact, I learned that I can be properly medicated and still have an episode. How fucked up is that? Well, okay, I used to be on seizure meds and still got seizures, so... never mind. I get it. It’s just that clinical depression, even the black-hole-sun, death-star variety (with which I am intimately acquainted) is easier to medicate; when the meds work, they work. Bipolar Spectrum Disorder, which is the brand new shiny term for what used to be called manic depression, is a cycling disorder; just when you think you have a handle on your symptoms, the situation changes. And so do your symptoms. Without notice. Suddenly, what used to be fine is not fine. It’s a lot like being the crazy person you were before getting the proper treatment. I’m still getting the hang of it.

Enter the shaman.

You remember the shaman, right? That’s where this rant started. I came to the shaman by way of my osteopath. For over a decade, my osteopath and I have been working on undoing the tangle of a lifetime’s worth of chronic pain. From her perspective, I had finally come to a point of wellness, but something, “some energetic glitch” as she called it, was telling my body I was not well. She’s learning healing techniques from the shaman and so she asked if I would be willing to see him. Fast forward eight months. The shaman is angry with me because.... oh, let’s just skip the details. At this point it’s a he said, she said. So why do I care so much that the shaman is angry with me?

Before I answer that question, let me say this. Mistakes get made. Incorrect diagnoses will be given and incorrect treatments will be prescribed. It is inevitable. Neuroscience is still a young field, especially in the science of so-called mental illness. (I argue that “mental” illness is just as physical as diabetes or heart disease; it’s all chemistry. But that’s just me.) What is known about migraines, memory, and mental illness today is huge as compared to what was known ten or twenty years ago. I have spent my entire adult life gamely slogging through mistakes and missteps with my doctors, and I have respect for the fact that we are all learning our way through this brain chemistry stuff together, but... Forgive me. I’m unable to write this next part without rancor, so I’m going to let a couple of Ph.D.'s say it for me:

The most heartbreaking mistakes come when patients get blamed for failing to get better.*

I have been that patient. Only in my experience, the moment I start to be blamed for not getting better is actually directly after the moment our doctor/patient relationship has reached its zenith and it is time for me to find a doctor with greater skill. So far, my assessment of this shift has been accurate, and I have been well served following my judgment. My assessment: the shaman is angry because I am failing to get better on his terms. It’s the same brand of anger I heard from my first behavioral therapist, the one practicing the “cure” for my mistaken borderline personality diagnosis. Both of them have yelled at me these very words: “I’m not here to do it your way.”

I get it. I have not done everything the shaman told me to do. In addition, I have refused to let go of some of my less-than-stellar habits. But this, I argue, is not because I am willful. It is because I can take only so much stress and only so much change before I unravel. I know this; it did not require a diagnosis for me to know this about myself. I used to think this was a failure of character -- it certainly looks like it -- but what I’m coming to understand as I learn better living through chemistry is this: I am bipolar. Bipolar symptoms are stress-related. When my brain chemistry is balanced, I am balanced, but add stress and things shift. I have, just like my undiagnosed but undoubtedly bipolar mother, habits and coping mechanism that I developed long before my diagnosis. Bad habits. Bad coping mechanisms. However, unlike my mother, I did not settle into self-medicating with alcohol, sex, and pills. I began the search for wellness at sixteen. By virtue of a few key decisions, an education, and some decent breaks, I have avoided my mother’s hell, mostly -- a huge accomplishment -- and more importantly, I have avoided imposing my hell on children. Some days that is enough. Other days, that is everything.

So, do I want to live a life that’s better than that simple summation?
Is a pig’s ass pork?

You didn’t see that coming, did you? But here it is, the question that everything comes down to: chicken or pig? In a meal of ham and eggs the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. This is how committed I am to getting well. At ten I knew something was very wrong. At fourteen I knew I was in the kind of trouble I couldn’t get out of by myself. At sixteen I paid for a psychiatrist with my own money. I paid my way through college and grad school and when I was done, I got myself to the kind of doctors that could help me with my botched biology and neurology. I am nothing if not committed.

Here’s my problem. In his zeal to get me to snap out of my complacency, the shaman missed my bipolar spin out. He is also a master level therapist, so you’d think the shaman would have noticed, but my psychiatrist didn’t notice either. How could he? I didn’t know to report the symptoms I was having. Why? Well, the shaman assigned my experiences to “energetic shifts” -- as did I -- and I was experiencing a shit load of shifts. But there was more, and until now I didn’t know some of these things could be symptoms of my bipolar condition. I now have new list of additional signals that, like the idiot lights in my car, I ignore at my peril. I mean, Fuck me! I haven’t been this wrong on this many fronts since I was a teenager.

When I was a teenager I lived with my aunt, my mother’s sister. I knew that living with my parents would be the death of me (again, by my own hand) and so I moved to where someone would be watching, someone to reel me in when I got too far up a certain creek without a paddle. My aunt was a great disciplinarian. Firm. Fair. Fun. She was perfect for my much needed teenage rebellion; I could count on her the way a trapeze artist can count on the net. That is, until my uncle moved back in and took over the discipline. At a critical juncture in my young life, he missed the opportunity to see into my heart and instead focused on one night’s out of control behavior. His response was to give me what I call “the sweat off my balls” speech. I don’t remember a single word of it, just the start of that sentence: “And I wouldn’t give the sweat off my balls...” My uncle gave me much worse than the sweat off his balls. He gave me enough rope to hang myself when I didn’t need any more rope. What I needed was the net.

Like the shaman, my uncle was sending a message. I got the message, though it wasn’t the one he thought he was sending, and it scared me, which is what he wanted, but it didn’t scare me straight; it scared me deaf. And so did the shaman’s anger. Now the shaman will tell you that he is fighting for me and he’s waiting for me to fight for myself. He doesn’t know that I am already fighting for myself. This fight in me, this fight for the person I know I am and against the person I am (again!) being wrongly seen as being, this got me suspended, put on leave. It got me the shaman singing the lead in this damn song:

Yeah, I get it, you’re an outcast, always under attack, always coming in last, bringing up the past. No one owes you anything. I think you need a shotgun blast, a kick in the ass....

All my life, I have fought the effects of botched brain chemistry, the side-effects of medication, and the roadblocks of bad habits. And chronic pain, just for good measure. I object to brain chemistry being called mental illness, but there it is. And I sure as hell object to brain chemistry being called a bad habit. More than anything else, however, I object to the idea that when I argue for a clear vision of the human being that I am -- so that I might surrender to change -- I must be accused of arguing for my limitations.


That line of stars? That’s a stand-in for the look on my face and sound of my voice, both wordless with frustration. I have come so far. I have unravelled and repaired so much. I want to tackle and take down this last “little glitch,” I do. I do not want to be bound by my limitations. They are there, yes, both my neurology and my biology are anything but standard, but it is workable. Here’s the thing. For the last several days, as I have returned to write and rewrite, think and rethink and rethink, whether I played Shinedown’s song or not, this is the only line I’ve heard:

When you gonna wake up and F I G H T ...
When you gonna wake up and F I G H T ...
When you gonna wake up and F I G H T ...
for yourself.

I’m just not sure which direction to throw the punch.

* Break the Bipolar Cycle: A Day-by-Day Guide to Living with Bipolar Disorder, by Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D., and Xavier Amador, Ph.D. (p 36)

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

16 June 2010

White, straight, married. Educated.

These are my credentials. And I use them.

Education allows me to speak with authority, and it’s not because of the letters after my name. I can think and speak with authority because that’s what an education teaches you to do. That I was married for longer than anyone I know who isn’t over 70 also gives me cred. Clearly I know how to make things work. It doesn’t hurt that I’m still young enough for my words to count with more than just the over-the-hill set. That I am straight is something beyond my control, but I know such things are the norm, the assumption, and I use that to my advantage. Why? Because I can. For the eight years before my husband and I married, while we cohabited, we used the gender neutral term partner, as in “my partner and I just picked out a kitten.” It was purposeful. I wanted to make people think. I wanted them to have to consider who I was, who I might be; to ask, rather than assume, if they wanted to know personal information. It should go without saying, then, that a good many of our friends are gay, lesbian, or transgender, but I would have done it regardless. I use my straight status as a personal protest against bigotry. Because I can. In the HIV-ravaged ‘80s and ‘90s, that was particularly important.

White. That is the best credential of them all. It is also the best weapon; nobody sees it coming. With the current unrest -- and outrageous rhetoric -- about immigrants, my white skin lets me say... damn near anything. In the ‘90s, when my friend Jose, a Nicaraguan immigrant with a strong accent, was treated poorly by clerks or wait staff, I had something to say about it. Subtle, but perfectly clear. If someone wanted to take me on, I had my Uncle Joe, born and raised in Puerto Rica. Two of my cousins have brown skin so dark they could pass for black. Of course all of my family members are citizens under the law, so such cred only goes so far. But now I get to pull out the big guns. Grace and William Bertocchini, my great grandparents, both Italian immigrants.

What no one but the family knows, and then probably only those of us who have seen the birth certificate, is that one of our forebearers is listed as “white” and the other is listed as “dark.” Which is code for "too brown to pass but not yet negro..."? Who knows. Clearly that’s a standard that was - and now is no longer. Except that it is. Just not on birth certificates. It is enough that my blond-haired, blue-eyed grandfather was considered white while his wife, with dark hair, eyes, and skin, was not; but there’s more. They came to the US without papers, at least Grandma did. Grandpa died before the opportunity to learn his citizen status ever came up. Grandma was brought here by two church ladies as an indentured servant. They paid her passage. Once in the New World, she owed them labor. Honestly, I am not making this up. That means she came here to do work that other Americans would not do or were unwilling to do for the pay offered. It also meant that Grandma earned her freedom the old fashioned way: by the sweat of her brow; purchasing it with years of her life in service. And now here am I, the first great grandchild and proud bearer of academic letters after my name. Imagine.

Those of you who are regular readers of My Zero BDay Blog know that I am all about full disclosure in the service of speaking what usually goes unspoken. Many cannot speak their truth - and the range of reasons is staggering - but I can speak, and so I do. Like I said, credentials will get you everywhere. I have spoken here about my days caring for my friend Jose as he died from complications due to AIDS and I have spoken here about the fact that I am bipolar. Today, I am here to speak about domestic violence.

That was kind of a long lead in, wasn’t it?

The fact is, I was preparing a very different blog for today, and yesterday, and over the weekend. And I will post it, just soon as it stops eating me alive. It’ll happen. In the mean time, I’m posting someone else’s blog. Sort of. You’ll have the link because her blog is beautiful and courageous. What I have for you here is...

My response to “Breaking the Silence” written by H.C. PALMQUIST

Dear H.C. PALMQUIST, I'm going to write my response before I scroll through your reader comments, because if I read that first, the images in my head will submerge and be lost to consciousness. I have no doubt you know what I mean.

Like you, I met my man at twenty and, like you, I was just grateful to have someone love me. David, I’m going to call him David, was a dozen years older and therefore, in my eyes, wiser. The subtle game of emotional push pull not only sucked me in, but so activated my childhood wounds that I quickly fell into the role of very unbalanced girl to his very patient man; he was my savior.

It was easy to isolate me. My family relationships weren’t healthy and I had no friends to speak of, except a best friend who was busy playing mother superior to my recalcitrant child. Moreover, I was so damaged that I could not honor my own response to feeling isolated and controlled, except to struggle with my partner, which was perfect because feeling crazy was my set point. My childhood, which included sexual abuse in conjunction with being raised by a Jekyll and Hyde drunk, had made me an expert at walking barefoot on broken glass and making it look like I was dancing Swan Lake. I was tailor made for an abusive man.

At the start, David’s abuse was so subtle that I didn’t see how I was being groomed to be the crazy (and battered) woman to his wise Zen master persona. Before I left, however, he had beaten and controlled me in all the obvious ways; I wasn’t clueless. Like you, I responded by taking us to counseling where I was told that flowers weren’t a real apology for a beating, but I wasn’t buying it. We got engaged. I was so invested in things being fine - being fixable - I didn’t see, until long after I left him, that David was both a drunk and a sexually violent man. For abused women the truth submerges, and all that remains is the glassy surface of a perfect lake. That’s all we want.

Here’s the lucky part, just before my 23rd birthday, I walked away from David and into the arms of the man who married me, a man whom my family adores to this day, even though we’ve been divorced for years. In retrospect, my husband was both very good to me and also a “healthier” more socially acceptable version of abuse, but that’s another story, and I’m not here to cast blame.

My wake up call with David, I kid you not, was a soap opera. In a single scene I saw that, no matter how angry they get, a man and a woman simply do not resort to the kind of behavior I was being subjected to. I still shake my head when I remember that.

Here’s the real corker. Upon meeting my fiance, my abusive alcoholic mother immediately saw through him. Of course she did; takes one to know one. But I could not hear her words. Her own behavior had so damaged me that I could not see the love she also had for me, nor believe her concerns for my welfare, which were genuine. Whatever doubts I was harboring at that early point in my relationship with David, I dismissed them in that moment. Like you said to Jason: The problem with a handbook [or a warning from family] is that every woman thinks it won’t happen to her.

Thank you for everything you have shared in this blog. I am SO proud of you. Not only did you pull yourself out of an insidious and lengthy cycle of abuse, but you took the risk of telling your story in a public forum. There is no greater courage.

I also have a special, personal, thank you to say. Reading this entry in your blog brought me the clarity I needed to finish my own. I’ve been struggling for far too long with the latest piece, and now I know why. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.

aka Sins of the Eldest Daughter

PS - I have decided to post my response to your blog (with a link to you) as preamble to the post I am currently writing. I hope you don’t mind. Truly. Like you, I have taken my struggle to a public forum as a way of encouraging understanding for and conversation about difficult topics. Again, my thanks for your courage and your willingness to speak out. May your new life open to you with the sweet beauty of a budding flower.

Dear readers of My Zero BDay Blog. The next time I post, it will be the blog I just referred to - Another Loose Cannon Gone Bipolar - and I hope to have finished it before the end of the week. Until then, may all your hours bring you the surprise of possibility and all your days end with the satisfaction of having acted on those new possibilities. ~Dina

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

07 June 2010

The Shape of My Heart

Dear Sweet Readers,

You have no idea how happy I am to be saying those words again. Well, perhaps you do. I have received tweets and blips and emails saying that you love reading MyZeroBDayBlog, that you miss me, that you wonder what the shaman was thinking when he told me not to blog, that perhaps I’d feel better if I just wrote again. Indeed I will. And I’m pretty sure that the happy dance I did over blogging again could be seen from space. I am THAT happy to be here.

Having said that, I present to you the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago, a blog I had wished to post for Memorial Day but couldn’t. How did this happen when I was officially not blogging? Well, the shaman decided that writing was good and so I was given the green light to blog, just as long as I emailed them to him instead of posting. As a compromise, it seemed good enough. Better than not writing at all, right?

The Shape of My Heart (lyrics)
Thursday 20 May 2010

Tonight I found myself thinking of #MilitaryMonday, the day when we post onto Twitter our support of those serving in the military. I always celebrate #MilitaryMonday by posting music on BLIP.fm. It goes to my Twitter page where I have many followers who serve or are in support of those who serve our country. Earlier on Blip, I was playing Sting’s “The Shape of My Heart,” sending it out to DJs in thanks for supporting me. My support of those in uniform and the support I have received as a writer not writing, those two conflated. Because the hour grows late, I will skip any attempt at explanation for that. Just let me say that the lyrics of “The Shape of My Heart” say much of what is in my heart tonight about the shape of why I write. I don’t write for money or respect or even readers, though I love knowing that you are out there. No, I write as a meditation. I write “to find the answer, the sacred geometry of chance, the hidden law of a probable outcome... [as] a dance.” That my words bring pleasure to you, that they may also bring you a measure of relief or recognition, this is a privilege I enjoy, but it’s not why I write.

If I said that I write because I love you, dear sweet readers, you might wonder at my sincerity and the shaman might think that something is wrong, imagining that I have lost myself in the need to be validated by others. But that’s not the shape of my heart.

Back to #MilitaryMonday. The reason I post music for our troops isn’t just that I married a Marine; in three tours, he saw no combat, though he had the once-in-lifetime experience of evacuating refuges from VietNam. It isn’t just that my father was in Special Forces for three grueling tours of duty; I didn’t grow up with him, though he later shared with me the details he could share with no one else. And it’s not because I have a friend serving in Afghanistan, though he defuses bombs for a living and has just been deployed to the China sea where North Korea is flexing its muscles. No, I post music for #MilitaryMonday because I know death. I have known, since the age of three, the gut-wrenching loss that comes with the death of a loved one and I know the loss of loved ones who die long before their time. I know the loss of someone who dies in your arms. I know the feeling of loss compounded by loss compounded by loss compounded by loss; AIDS brought that to me. But mostly I post music for our troops because I know the exhaustion of fighting what others consider to be a hopeless, perhaps even useless, cause.

Those of you who are regular readers know my memoir of love and death, The Movie Lovers, which describes my friendship with and eventual care-taking of Jose Sequeira as he died from complications of AIDS. But despite this experience, despite many losses in my life, I do not know the loss that the man I now call my best friend has known. Before the time of AIDS, he and a friend from his hey day in the gay bars started listing their tricks, a game of one-upmanship. For those not in the know, a gay man’s “tricks” aren’t johns but one-night stands, the mecca of gay sex before the blight of HIV. My friend and his friend stopped when they got to a hundred, no point in gilding the lily, right? After my friend lost his partner to AIDS -- which is how we met, in a grief group for survivors -- he and his friend did a reprise list, this time of the men they knew who had died. Again they chose to quit when the number reached one hundred. Through this friend, I now know the experience of death that is of so great a proportion that all sense of perspective is lost.

This is why I play music for our men and women in uniform. This is why I write. The shape of my heart demands it.

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

06 June 2010

"Zero": My Zero BDay Blog Resumes

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Tonight I’m courting the perfection of nihilism, which is just another way of saying that I’m playing Smashing Pumpkins as I write this, exercising the right of the artist to draw, paint, write, sing, or dance what it is we see in front of our eyes, what we see inside our own heads, in our dreams, in our nightmares, in yours. As artists we come here to engage with the fullness of life and the emptiness, the hope and the despair, the heaven on earth, the hell on earth, and the confusion in between. It’s what we do. Most of you know that I’m on a spiritual trajectory, working with a shaman. I have both spiritually focused friends and friends who are drug addicts. I have friends in the full range between. I have said it to each of them, I am saying it to you, and perhaps I should consider saying it to the shaman as well, my raison d’etre:

I came here for the full meal deal; nirvana or nihilism, it’s all a human state of mind. My job as an artist is to reflect that.

Last time I was here, dear sweet readers, I was taking my leave of you. I had been ordered by the shaman to cease and desist my blogging, and while it was painful choice, I did sign on with this man to create healing and change in my life, so cease I did. Those who have been reading this blog or my Twitter stream (@SinsoftheEldest) know that I have likened my work with the shaman to boot camp. Well, today I broke ranks.

Intoxicated with the madness
I’m in love with my sadness

I’m pretty sure that’s what the shaman believes of me, hence Smashing Pumpkins.

I don’t have permission to post this blog. What I do have is an understanding: if I choose to do those things I’ve been directed not to do, then I’m on my own. Now before y’all go and react to that (and first of all, thank you; I love that you are fierce about my well-being), let me tell you this. I am on leave. Normally one does not get leave from boot camp, military or shamanic, but my work with the shaman has been a struggle as of late, a tug of war. His solution: a month’s leave. And so, suddenly, here I am. On my own. Doing what has been forbidden.

Wanna go for a ride?

I know that readers come to Sins of the Eldest Daughter to taste of the forbidden fruit, whatever’s on the menu, and y’all have been steady in both your support of me and in your desire that I kick the shaman to the curb and write already. But I am committed to the work I began, the spiritual work, and I have no intention of quitting. I also know that in the shaman’s eyes, I am recalcitrant, a truant student who is absent even when I am present; a victim addicted to the drama of my own story. And maybe I am. My student/teacher agreement with this man is that I will submit to his will as a way of learning how I unwittingly submit to everyone’s will, whether I intend to or not. It is a tough lesson and one I very much need to learn.

The problem? I am also committed to my way of doing things, by which I mean I am committed to being the person I came into this world to be, something apparently only I can see for this attitude has been the bane of my life. I regularly find myself student to a master -- whether counselor, professor, or coach -- a role I sign on for in order to learn what I do not know, but while I desire the new skill I’m learning and need that skill to get to where I want to go, I also need to be who I am. Struggle ensues.

I did not win the struggle with my shaman today. Like any child, which is what I am in this situation, I do not in fact want to win. Winning out over a parent when one is still undeveloped is to find oneself without guidance or safety. There is no greater fear for a child. The struggle for control, self control, by which I mean control over one’s being and one’s choices, is too often a losing battle because it is waged upon the wrong field. This battle is not with others but with oneself, one’s habits, indulgences, vices, and it is a battle I have lost my whole life. I struggle with others; I lose myself.

This is what the shaman is trying to teach me, and he is teaching me as a drill sergeant teaches a Marine. This method has one rule. Do as you are told or be punished. As behavior modification goes, this is very effective. Just not with me. And I am not afraid to say so, punishment or no.

To the shaman, my arguments are those of one who is willful, one who cannot get where she wants to go, who is at loggerheads with life, and yet who continues to expect to do things as she has always done them. As he rightly points out, this is the definition of insanity. For my part, I know I am arguing for understanding. I also know it is not possible, this understanding, until I have proven that I can do both what is expected of me and what I wish to do. Scratch that. I do not wish to do anything. I am driven to do it, as a fish is driven upstream to the waters of its birth. There is no arguing with this instinct. And so I have argued with the shaman.

I never let on that I was on a sinking ship.
I never let on....

I grew up having to hide everything that was important to me. I grew up not being allowed to feel pain or fear or need. I survived by refusing to yield. On the outside, I submitted. The inside was another matter.

The problem, as the shaman sees it, is that I remain steadfast in my refusal to yield. I can submit, which is to say I bow to that which is unavoidable, giving in to the authority, power, or desires of another -- I have done this my whole life -- but I cannot yield. This behavior has its roots in an abusive childhood. I have overcome the childhood, the anger, the belief that I can be hurt but cannot cause hurt, and my need to regard my mother -- or anyone -- as toxic or bad or wrong. Such pejorative points of view do not serve me. But being stubborn has.

Today I told the shaman I knew the expected answers to his questions and that I would acquiesce because that is our agreement, but whenever he named the problem with my thinking, I had to disagree. Let me put this another way. Throughout childhood, I was told by my mother I had brown eyes. One day I looked into the mirror and discovered that my eyes are green. They are green like the forest: dark, with a smoldering brown at the center. Today, all I heard the shaman telling me was that my green eyes are brown. Struggle ensued. Then, mid argument, he let go.

There can be no tug of war if you are the only one holding the rope.

Immediately, I felt a rush of freedom. It wasn’t the I win! brand of freedom. It was just freedom.

Now some of you may be thinking that the shaman has given up, that he is deserting or punishing me. And some of you may be chuckling as you imagine him giving me just enough rope with which to hang myself (and undoubtedly, you are parents), but that’s not what I see. From my perspective, I have been given the gift of control. All of my relationships have been dominant/submissive relationships, with me in the submissive role (Jose being the exception, the only exception, so is it any wonder I wrote a book about our friendship?). I have struggled, I have cried, I have blamed and raged, and even attempted suicide, all in pursuit of having control over my life.

Let me say that again. All of my relationships have been dominant/submissive, with me in the submissive role. Today, when the shaman announced that for the period of a month I would be on my own recognizance, I received something I have never experienced. A person in a position of dominance over me chose not to dominate.

My experience of freedom today was not the freedom of the self-possessed -- I have a long way to go to be the sole person in charge of myself -- but it IS freedom. For the first time, my chosen jailer swung open the door. I did not have to charge the gate nor chew off my own leg to escape the trap. So, what do I do? I come here, the land of the forbidden. I pull up Smashing Pumpkins on YouTube and play “Zero.” Zero for MyZeroBDayBlog resumed. Zero for these lyrics:

My reflection, dirty mirror. There’s no connection to myself.

Those are the shaman’s worst expectations of how this could turn out for me, I know it. He undoubtedly has a set of best expectations as well, but those aren’t so clear. So I am playing Zero and writing my blog and singing, “Save your prayers for when we’re really gonna need ‘em.” I am not a saint. I am not a sinner. I’m someone who came here for the full meal deal. And I’m not settling for anything less.

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

05 May 2010

Final Straw

Every artist knows that a song isn’t a song until somebody sings it and a story isn’t a book until somebody reads it.

Dear sweet readers, by enjoying and responding to both my daily blogs and the first five chapters of The Movie Lovers, you have given me three and a half glorious months of heaven, a kind of virtual publication, which for me has been an experience not to be missed. Thank you, all, from the center of my writer’s heart.

I have pursued what I believed was the right path for me with purpose and ferocious desire and it led me here to you, but now it leads me away. I’ve reached a crossroads and find I must turn where I had planned to go straight. As for tonight’s blog title and song, both from Snow Patrol’s Final Straw album, that’s what I drew a week ago. I just didn’t know it. But the shaman did, and we all know what happens with the last straw.

I have reached a point where there aren’t enough indulgences or vices or fuck-ups; no matter what I do to endure or escape or decorate my life, I come back to the same unsatisfied place. When the Buddha met this realization, he renounced everything. I am no Buddha and I am not renouncing everything, just everything I have known and desired up to this point in my life. It is enough.

Here is the last of what I will be posting from The Movie Lovers, at least for the time being. It’s a paragraph from the middle of Chapter 6, One Easy Thing. I know some of you read it at my last posting, but I repeat it again with purpose.

In college I earned money as an art model, dropping my fuzzy yellow bathrobe (a favorite cast-off of my auntie’s) to pose on a dais. One artist, a quiet man in his forties who worked in pen and ink on toothy white paper, invited me to the opening of his show. “I drew you as Caesar,” he said. It wasn't the androgynous cast of my face that occasioned his portrait. It was what he saw behind my face, behind my every nude pose. “It's the purpose in your gaze,” he said, “your ferocious will.”

Being outwardly naked and inwardly ferocious is no longer sufficient for my life, not even metaphorically, not even if I wanted it to be. I signed on to learn from a shaman because I have things to do that, no matter how ferocious I am, I cannot accomplish with what I know now, with what I do now, with what I believe now. God knows if I could, I certainly would.

So I leave you with Smashing Pumpkins, because I know that everyone of you knows how this feels:

The world is a vampire, sent to drain.
Secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames.
And what do I get for my pain?
Betrayed desires, a piece of the game.
. . . .
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.
. . . .
Now I’m naked
nothing but an animal.
But can you fake it
for just one more show?
And what do you want?
I want change.
And what have you got
when you feel the same?

I came to the shaman for change, and then like all seekers, I told him I wanted to be able to act the same. I didn’t actually say this - I’m no idiot - but I might as well have; my actions said it.

Bottom line? I have been told to cease and desist my online nakedness. I will still be writing but I will not be posting, not for the foreseeable future. So this is goodbye.... I sincerely hope that you, my dear sweet readers, have experienced some sense of having been seen and known as you have read my story and Jose’s, for while the words may have been about me and my departed friend, they are intended to reach out to you, all of you, who may be feeling secretly exposed and yet unknown and wishing to be heard.

You can still find me on Twitter @SinsoftheEldest
and also on BLIP.fm @4Sins.
If I start up MyZeroBDayBlog again, y’all will be the first to know.

Peace out,

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

30 April 2010

On the Borderline

Remember when I said that I had entered the shamanic version of basic training? Boot camp for the woo-woo set, I called it. Well today I came close to losing everything I’ve worked for. Actually my fuck up was Tuesday, during the nighttime hours of the Scorpio full moon, and it was a doozy. Today I confessed my wrong doing to the shaman and took my punishment like a good soldier. It was painful but not permanent. Afterward, the shaman said that he had decided he wouldn’t drop me. I did not know I’d done something for which I could be dismissed.

The shock of the true nature of my offense was much worse than the pain of my punishment.

I am a natural iconoclast, it’s true. Daily you can find me kicking down barriers, dancing around the rules, and flirting with disaster, but I’m a good kid. I am. I’m the four-point honors student, not the fuck up. I have friends who are fuck-ups. I love them. But as for me? While I love a good mess and I love my messed up friends and I will make messes with them if they want me to, I have never had an intractable fuck-up on my record. Ever. It’s not my style. I was shocked when I heard the shaman’s words. I have never done anything that would cause me to get kicked out of a place where I wanted to stay. I have never made a wrong so intractable or inalterable that I could not backtrack, apologize, make amends.

Today I learned what my father meant when he said that kindness could often be the best punishment. My father didn’t raise me, but in addition to a second family, he did raise and care for many messed up foster kids. I’ll never forget when he told me that showing kindness when the swift kick of punishment was expected often brought contrite tears to an otherwise unreachable child. Today I was surprised to realize: I am that child.

There has been no writing nor any editing of The Movie Lovers this week. Shamanic work has been all. Plus many, many fuck-ups. . . . So, with apologies to my enthusiastic readers, here’s tonight’s teaser from Chapter 6.
One Easy Thing:

* * *

In college I earned money as an art model, dropping my fuzzy yellow bathrobe (a favorite cast-off of my auntie’s) to pose on a dais. One artist, a quiet man in his forties who worked in pen and ink on toothy white paper, invited me to the opening of his show. “I drew you as Caesar,” he said. It wasn't the androgynous cast of my face that occasioned his portrait. It was what he saw behind my face, behind my every nude pose. “It's the purpose in your gaze,” he said, “your ferocious will.”

* * *

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are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

28 April 2010

Turn Right Over to the TV Page

The TV page is where you, my dear sweet readers, will be getting your entertainment tonight. Me? I am off to bed, and in the interest of sparing the social media world of just one little dose of TMI, I will skip the details.

Let’s just say that some of you can imagine I had way too much fun, which I did, at least in theory, and some of you can imagine that I am rather ill at the moment, which I most definitely am. And then there are those who know that I do Secret Santa Shaman Stuff. Give a kewpie doll to everyone in group three! Why? Well, I may or may not have done any and all of the detail-free things I mentioned, but the Secret Santa Shaman Stuff is what really has me wishing for a case of the flu. Yes, you heard me right, and no not the ACTUAL flu, just something like it. Something I can say I have and everyone will say, Oh... I’m sorry. That must be awful. I hope you’re feeling better soon.

See? Everyone feels for you when you have the flu.

That’s what I have, a thirty-six-hour Secret Shamanic Case of the Shits and no sleep and a need to be babied. Just a little bit.

Luckily for me the Universe has my back. My cat, Zoe, has put me on the well-kitten fitness program, which demands lots of cute kitten lounging, posing, and purring directly at the center of my lap so I must sit still, watch TV, and recuperate. Night all. Sweet dreams.

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are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

27 April 2010

Powerlines: The Transformation Landscape of Nowhere

Dear sweet readers, I have just lived the week from hell. I know, I say that rather often lately, but this time even the Tarot agreed, tagging me with The Tower card. The Tower is one of the highest cards for healing and transformation. Awesome, right? Well maybe, sorta. As anyone who has been broken will tell you, the road to healing is one that leads straight through the landscape of nowhere. Luckily I find dust, scrub brush, and power lines oddly soothing, at least to look at anyhow. Good thing, because my journey though the energetic version of this landscape is akin to wandering in circles without food or water under the tutelage of the desert sun, buzzards optional. To everyone in the real world, of course, it just looks like I’m malingering. Some lessons come hard. But I am possessed of an iron will (thank you, Mother) and I cut my eye teeth on Marines, so it takes a hell of a lot to make me quit. Mostly what that means is that I learn things the hard way. Also, it means that the Universe is very happy to grind my nose into the dust until I cry uncle. But I digress.

Eight days ago, which is the last time I was here, I knew that everything I had to say was rooted in an old life, a life that had fallen away somewhere between an energetic shift at the hands of my shaman and the final posting of Chapter 5, Longtime Survivor. Well... I foolishly thought that a day or two of contemplation would be all I needed before continuing along my merry way.

The Universe said, Hah! It is to laugh!

This state of affairs, my pathetic state, has made my shaman very happy. He says I’m making good progress. He says don’t push, in fact, don’t do anything, which is funny because I couldn’t if I wanted to. It’s not that I couldn’t write this past week, not that I couldn’t edit, and not that I couldn’t talk, though I neither answered my phone nor posted much on social media; no, this past week I’ve been unable to do anything. Anything at all. Each morning I woke up in more pain than the day before. And before y’all begin wondering, let me tell you, physical pain, emotional pain, psychic pain, spiritual pain, at a certain level, they’re all the same damn pain. No matter, I tried to push my way through it, which only made the pain worse but I am nothing if not persistent. So four days ago the shaman grounded me. I am now playing a game of Shaman Says. If it’s not shaman sanctioned, I don’t get to do it. Think boot camp, only for the woo-woo set. And before y’all start assuming this is for pussies, let me say this. I will marry and financially support the first Marine to undertake and survive this kind of spiritual odyssey. I was married to a Marine, people, a three-tour Marine, and he made it his personal mission to toughen me up; that Marine has nothing on this shaman.

So, to the point of this post. As I said a week ago, I had planned to review and input the edits I’d previously made to Chapter 6, just as soon as I found them.... Well, I found them alright. This morning. Here’s the best part. I looked everywhere. I mean I looked everywhere and then some. I turned the place inside out. I could have printed the chapter again and started from scratch, but what I wanted was what I’d already done, dammit. Chapter 6 is a tome. Last I looked, it was in need of some serious from-the-ground-up editing, and I had done that....!

The irony is not lost me that this chapter, Chapter 6, is entitled One Easy Thing. ~sigh~ For my part, I am working diligently to remember that going through old shit, which is what the shaman says is happening right now, that going through old shit is just that and not some divine comeuppance. I am not convinced. Again the irony: One Easy Thing is about a time in my life when not a single damn thing was easy. Not one.

Cut back to the week from hell. For the first four days, I was a dog with my tail between my legs. Then Friday night I partied on BLIP.fm with a couple of friends. I partied till nearly 5 Saturday morning and it was Hey-la-my-mojo’s-back! kind of night. Along with my lost mojo came a lot of penis jokes, penises being one of the things I am currently forbidden, and I don’t remember what brought it up but I wasn’t kidding about having a penis pen, and YES, it did just appear by my car. Three times. So I finally gave it a home. But I digress. It’s what I do best these days. Before I move on, however, I have to say that there are actually bands named Butch Penis and Crazy Penis. Hand to God. It was too much to resist. But that was Friday night.

Saturday I slept till three in the afternoon, ten hours, and I awoke in such a state of pain and exhaustion that my body could not roll over in bed and my mind could not turn away from a depression the likes of which I have not experienced since I was a very sick puppy on a dozen medications and suicide watch. I could do nothing. I called the shaman and did as he said. I sat in the sun. I breathed. I worked at remembering that going through old shit is just that and not some divine comeuppance, which is how it’s felt, no matter what my happy shaman says.

I keep falling off the planet and Saturday was by far the worst, but I had a pile of laundry that’s been building up. Doing laundry is not hard. I did laundry. It took three months. Or maybe it was three months of piled up laundry I was doing, honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. It’s still not done, but I no longer feel as though I am living in quicksand, and this morning I got out of bed and to the computer without pain. I sat at my computer where I sit every day, looked to the left, for what reason I have no idea, and there on the floor covered by a single sheet of paper was One Easy Thing. Edits and all. I went right to it, picking it up as if I knew what was there all along. And who knows, maybe I did.

Tomorrow I go back to plan A: edit Chapter 6 - maybe with my penis pen, who knows - and keep moving forward. The chapter looks in pretty rough shape, so it may not make its appearance tomorrow, but I will: me and my old luggage, trudging past the flea bag motels and the power lines.

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

19 April 2010

1 a.m.

Dear sweet readers, tonight’s title song, “You’re My Star” by the Stereophonics, is one I include here as a thank you to a reader on Blip.fm. He sends it to me when I head for my writer’s cave. I’ve become quite fond of it.

It’s one in the morning and I have nothing to say. Usually this is prime writing time for me, but I have reached a transition point. It’s time to sit and ponder: what has gone before, what can come after. I’m rather happy to say that I’ve had no time to truly ponder, which isn’t usual, but the Universe has seen fit to send friends to drag me out into the world, a place I seldom go except as a way to get to the gym, the shaman, the doctor. But for two days I have enjoyed wonderful food, wine, and real conversation, my favorite form of recreation. Tomorrow evening I get to do it again, and I get to talk about my work, too. It still astounds me that this should happen.

At this point I have no ready-for-prime-time thoughts to share here, not even any not-ready-for-prime-time thoughts. Everything I could say is a rooted in an old life, and that life fell away somewhere between Thursday’s shamanic work and yesterday’s blog post. I felt it go. I’m not sure what that means. I do know that I have allowed my life to spin out of balance or, wait, maybe the out of balance part is just the old life falling away. It is still too early to tell. This is why I’m happy that I’ve been out in the world, for had I been home, I would have spun my wheels trying to sort out what is not ready to be sorted and I would have stranded myself in mud.

So for now, know that I plan to review and input the edits I made to the next chapter, just as soon as I find them. My life, and my apartment, looks like a hurricane hit it; change is messy, very messy.

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are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

18 April 2010

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

Yesterday I looked up and realized that 1994 was gone, that it is, quite literally, history. That was a realization I thought I might never have. I have carried the bodies so far. I did not anticipate ever setting them down. Today I sat in the living room of a new friend and heard him say, “When our class, 1994, when our class left...” and I did the math. He was speaking of his high school class. I finished grad school in 1990. I knew, even before I answered his questions about The Movie Lovers and this blog, that I was speaking to the generation I’ve been waiting for. It is so fitting that this should be the class of ’94, and I know Jose would appreciate that as much as I do, being a writer of fiction and a man of consummate timing.

I used to do so much counting. Days since Jose died. Years. 1994 became my Year Zero. Everything from that moment separated into two categories. Before Jose’s death. After Jose’s death. People began to ask “Isn’t she done yet?” They didn’t mean the book. “It’s been a year. Isn’t she done yet?” Grief doesn’t have a time line, but today when I heard that year and I did the math, today I realized that I no longer needed to say “It’s been a decade and a half since Jose died.” I no longer wanted to measure my life from that fateful point; I no longer had to.

Tonight I let the bodies hit the floor.

LONGTIME SURVIVOR (HIV University), part 3/end

It was May of ‘94, early in the month I think, and it was hot, too hot: too hot to stand in the sun, too hot to move without sweating, and too hot for an already nauseated Jose to ride comfortably in the back seat of an old car without air-conditioning. Somehow I feel I should have known that last one, but we can only see as far as our experience allows.

Jose’s parents and I had brought him home from the hospital in the heat of the afternoon, and I parked my Rambler next to the back stoop because it was the quickest way into the apartment. But Jose was disoriented that day and uncharacteristically stubborn and he simply, for no reason we could discern, refused to go. A debate broke out in Spanish. Standing in the heat of the sun, what I noticed was the side of the building. Its gray paint had begun to blister but not yet to peel. A moment’s observation. In the time between that day and Jose’s death I would have many hours to study this tabula rasa, hours spent in five and ten minute increments sitting on these steps or atop the retaining wall, Frank chain smoking to the filter, me picking at the brown grass and dirt, both of us breathing the overheated smell of garbage as we worked to save the man we loved, something which we both knew couldn’t be done. I ended the debate between Jose and his parents by taking Jose firmly by the arm, walking him around to the front of the building, up the front steps, over to his front stoop, up those steps, and into his stuffy south-facing apartment. A distance of maybe forty or fifty feet, the trip took ten minutes and left us bathed in sweat. At each set of stairs, each step, I instructed Jose how to walk. Which foot to lift. When.

I got him inside. I got him comfortable. Then he began to vomit. And vomit and vomit and vomit. The jarring ride in my old car, the unseasonable heat, the long walk to his apartment, the toxoplasmosis, the drugs for the toxo, all these had conspired against him. His mother grabbed a bucket. His father brought a cool cloth. I held Jose close to my body, held the bucket close to his face, stroked his hair, and told him, “It’s all right sweetie it’s all right sweetie it’s all right.”

When I got home that night my left eye burned with the splash of vomit that was no longer there and my head burned, as with a fever, with the words Jose had spoken so often: all body fluids are dangerous. Even urine might have blood invisible to the eye. Certainly bile could have blood from an inflamed esophagus or stomach. Later -- days? weeks? -- I called an ICU nurse who told me it’s standard procedure to wear goggles when intubating a patient; when a person coughs or chokes, internal fluids get sprayed out along with the exhaled air.

“How careful is too careful?”

“It only takes once,” she said. It’s what we once heard in sex education classes about the risk of getting pregnant.

That night I returned home to my husband after holding my best friend in my arms while he puked, holding him not because he was drunk or heartbroken but because he was too sick to know what was happening to him; home to my husband and the dark of our back deck, home to make small talk and then to quietly to say, I’ve been exposed; home to make love -- the first time in a long while -- with no questions and no protection.

Jose died a month later.

The year Jose died, Philadelphia made a star of Tom Hanks and the title song remains an anthem to the devastation of that opportunistic collection of diseases we call AIDS. Philadelphia, as I mentioned, also bears the dubious distinction of being the first feature-length film to deal explicitly with AIDS since Longtime Companion came out in 1990. But in the summer of ‘89, the year in which the story of Longtime Companion draws to a close, I didn’t know anyone who had died of AIDS. I hardly knew anyone who had died. I wasn’t yet thirty. Thirty was when AIDS was still considered news and Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act and a small but certain segment of the nation was saying, It’s about time. Thirty was when Frank and Jose were becoming fast friends with Cliff and me, when the four of us saw Maya Angelou speak and heard the resonance of truth in her voice when she said, “Those who have gone before you have already paid your way.” Thirty was when Jose called weekly to announce which movie he and I just had to see. We were crazy about the movies and crazy about each other; seemed we were best friends in an instant, though that can’t be true, but it was. Thirty was the start of Jose’s tenure as my best friend, the very last best friend I’ll ever have, because to be best friends you have to be young in a way that I’ll never be.

It took me a year after Jose’s death before I worked up the courage to have myself tested, a year of alarms sounding in nightmares, a year of immobilizing grief. At some point during that year I finally realized, for certain and forever, that the world isn’t safe. It never was, of course, and I can’t tell you if the moment at which that became clear to me was when the bile hit my eye, when the best friend I’ve ever had stopped breathing, or if I simply found myself having a lot of those moments and finally stopped counting them, stopped tracking, stopped backtracking, and began letting it all wash over me like waves on the beach. What I can tell you is this: what they say about ignorance is sometimes true.

Wondering whether I’d been infected was frightening, but I needn’t have worried. At the turn of this new century, the CDC Surveillance Report on HIV and AIDS cases in the US had three things to say about how a person is exposed: Sex, drugs, and blood. It’s a chant that plays like the B-side to the boomer generation’s mantra: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll! All the rest, all that we imagine about how we may become exposed to HIV, is simply variations on this theme, variations on a theme of fear. I’m okay. But I’ve been watching my little corner of the Postmortem Bar, and it’s filling up like a last minute barbecue on the first real day of summer, filling up with my close friends and family friends, casual friends, co-workers, acquaintances. The three people walking on the beach at the end of Longtime Companion are very much alive. How they get to be at that bar as their dead friends and lovers reappear, I don’t know, but miracles like that are just one of the things I love about the movies; Jose, too.

Here, then, is the miracle in my movie: at the Postmortem Bar I’ll get to see Carl, the English department secretary from the university where I was a graduate teaching assistant, and I’ll catch up with a beloved linguistics professor there, too; I’ll see Jim, the eldest son of my grandmother’s best friend, like an uncle to me, the man whose mother still believes, as the Seventh Day Adventist church wills it, that her son’s death was caused by the sin of his lifestyle; I’ll see Gryphon, the clothing designer with the sterling bone pierced through his nose, who hand-constructed one-of-a-kind, antique-fabric kimonos for my auntie’s boutique; I’ll meet the young men, fifteen or twenty of them, whose pictures were pasted in a handmade shadow box that sat atop a red silk-draped altar in Jose’s room and to which he had gestured and said simply, “My friends who have died”; I’ll see Randy, my younger sister’s best friend and roommate, so dear to the family that our aunt referred to him as “one of the kids,” the man who would later arrive at my doorstep with books and pamphlets, tissues and kind words, and answers to questions I didn’t even know I had; I’ll see Garrett, who was always “going to beat this thing” with yoga, special diets, positive thinking, and who looked so bad after Jose died that Frank locked eyes with me and said, “Garrett’ll be next”; I’ll see Aaron, who died a year after Jose, and he’ll hug me and tell me he was always one to feel that he had to take care of those he loved, that he was dying and didn’t have the energy to take care of one more person and that’s why he sent me away, tears, astonishment, and all; I’ll finally get to meet Michael, the partner of my closest friend, Jim, the love of his life; I’ll meet the brothers and partners dear to all the men and women I met in my AIDS grief group; I’ll most likely see the neighbor from across the street and he’ll see his live-in “nephew,” whose empty hospital bed was all I ever knew of him; I’ll see the acquaintances, co-workers, and neighbors who haven’t died yet but will; I’ll see Jose; and I’ll see all the friends I held in my mind’s eye when Jose entered the hospital for the last time and I called my father in tears to tell him something that, even then as a man of fifty-odd years, he could not imagine: “In ten years, half my friends will be dead.”

It’s been nine years so far, and that circle of friends is gone. All dead.

Or shell shocked.

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