Monday, August 30, 2010

The Blue Meanies

I had a serious case of the blue meanies today.  That's what I call it when I'm deluged by a tsunami of self-loathing and life despairing attacks.  All sides converge on me in a liquid rainfall, and I drown for a bit.  It's a common thing that is particularly malevolent in us insecurity addicts.  August has been a tough month of blue meanie attacks, and they all culminated into a firestorm today.

It could be because of my memoir FREAK coming out in such a short time.  We're slotted for a late November, early December release.  The publication of this book, whether it proves to be lucrative or not, is going to change my life forever.  My family are not going to be happy.  Some of them are very dangerous people and I am imagining violent revenge scenarios, many of which involve some sort of sexual deviancy coupled with dismemberment.  I am already familiar with the sexual deviancy and that's scary enough.  The dismemberment is hopefully all in my own paranoid head.  Truth be told, I'm scared.  Physically, mentally, emotionally terrified.  These people are capable of monstrocities and I'm legitimately frightened of what they might do.  But the book is too important to let fear stop its release.  I want my story to help people.  I know it will, and I'm willing to do what is necessary to get it out to as many as I can.  I owe it to all the other little Beckys out there, both grown and pre-pubescent, who've been beaten or had their uteruses shattered and cigarettes put out on their scalps, and to the ones, both male and female, who've had it so much worse than I did.  I want to help and I'm going to do it, no matter who wants to harm me. 

But I'm still scared.

I think it began with a letter from my son.  He hasn't contacted me in seven years.  I forced him into rehab when he was fifteen and he still hates my guts.  Called me a cunt many, many times; said he wished I was dead.  Broke my spirit and my heart, and that damage caused me to become suicidal for the second time in my life.  As before, I resisted the soft grey dream of killing myself and I'm very grateful about it.  That was three years ago.  This recent letter states a wish to re-establish a positive relationship with me, even though he is still "waiting for me to apologize for all my mistakes with him."  I love this letter, even though he still hasn't contacted me again and it's been a month now.  This is the first connection with my beloved child in a long, long time.  I have it sitting in pride of place by my photo of Charles the Man, my stepdad.

The rest of August has been eventful as well.  My mother, who lives in a nursing home in the MidWest, has advanced Alzheimer's.  She's recently begun to relate all sorts of gruesome tortures, like chopping off people's hands, grinding them up and making them eat them.  Really sick shit.  That might be where the dismemberment fears are coming from.   Her health and mind are terrible things to witness, even over a long distance phone call.  She's only a five-minute drive from my sister's house and the staff at the home are excellent, but it's still tough to not be there sometimes, especially when she tells me how much she misses me and wishes I'd come back.  My own fears, financial hassles, health problems and a cracked tooth have added to the mess.  Worry set in, the earth opened up, and I was swallowed whole.

Here's my mindset of today: I was working with two very talented artists/friends, the usual Monday get together of creativity and cameraderie.  I loved it, every minute of it, as I always do.  Few things are more stimulating to a passionate artist than being with other passionate artists, creating.  We had a blast.  But it's exhausting and I hadn't slept much last night.  Insomnia's very common when I get worried about anything.  My defenses were down, and good ole' self-doubt grinned and pounced.  Easy prey.

I looked at my one good friend and suddenly thought, "He thinks I'm full of shit.  Oh, hell...they both do.  They're just putting up with my presence.  They're too nice to ask me to leave.  They don't want me here.  I'm a piece of shit to them.  They're the talented ones.  I'm just a forty-eight-year-old loser and they're young and cool.  They have their whole lives ahead of them.  I've pissed mine away.  They look at me and think, 'What the hell did she ever do?  She's never succeeded at anything.  Why does she think we give two shits about her opinion?  Why is she even alive?' 

Jesus...they hate me."

I'm grinning as I type this, but that is legitimately what I thought and felt.  It's like the early days after my divorce, where I was so screwed up in the head, I truly believed my own hideous ugliness would cause people to crash their cars if they saw me walking on the street.  The same illogical thought processes hit me today.  The gentle plow horse called Rebecca's Psyche suddenly turned into a bucking bronco, the reins were jerked out of my hand, and the screaming panic ride began.  It took five hours and my darling roommate's patience and understanding to help ease the maelstrom.

But you know what's great about the Blue Meanies?  They end.  Like sunshine melting a long winter, they do eventually end.  You have to be your own sunshine, though.  You have to recognize that you have that power as well, that you're not limited to only the negative, even though the negative sometimes holds sway for a long fucking time.  We are, like everything in nature, a series of seasons.  Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer: golden sunshine and frigid ice, black clouds and silver linings, all in one intricate, multi-layered and eternally fascinating package.  I wish, many times, that tornadoes didn't strike, or that ice storms wouldn't chill my very soul.  But no matter how bad things feel, or how worse they sometimes get, there is always light on the horizon.  There is always something to warm us again. We only have to look up and see it. 

I got away from the eternal night of terrible relatives and gobbling, greedy users.  I escaped that war zone; found fertile soil in which to plant myself.  I am creating again.  My friends love me.  My roommate loves me.  My darling daughter Rhianna adores me.  They are my aurora, my dawn, my blush of early morning light.  They help me to see my own worth and it is formidable.  Despite my own inner voice and its occasional bitchfest, I am worthy.  Very worthy. 

So fuck the Blue Meanies.  Sure, they took a big gnarly bite out of my ass today.  They'll leap and rend again when my defenses are down.  But that's okay.  I weathered the storm, and the ground's even a little richer than it was, drenched and full of life.  You take the bad with the good.  I'll just shovel this recent pile of shit onto a bed of roses.  You take care to do the same, all my friends out there, whenever the Blue Meanies grin with a bit of you in their teeth.  Bite the little fuckers back.

Love, R

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thee and Sympathy

I read a friend's email the other night.  He wrote, in a moment of disgust with general humanity, "I've learned that you can't trust any mutherfucker out there!!!"  I wrote back, "Of course you can't trust mutherfuckers.  They're mutherfuckers.  Trust good people.  They're harder to spot, though, so pay attention."

This exchange got me to thinking.  It's been a busy month; I've been communicating with a lot of my brothers and sisters of circumstance about all sorts of bubbling crap that's been percolating in their lives.  Like me before I grew a brain, they keep fumbling their way into scenarios of suffering.   I know all about digging that hole deeper and deeper until you disappear into the familiar world of pain and hopelessness. 

But therein lies the paradox.  Why the hell do we do it?  What is so attractive about hurting?  Perhaps even more important, what is so attractive about people who hurt us so much?  Why do we seek them out?  Sure, there's the tried and true answer that the familiar is comfortable, that the known is less scary than the unknown, but I don't think that's all it is.  I think the main thing is our need to be of use, in a variety of ways, to our tormentor.  How many black-eyed battered wives have I talked to, who swear allegiance to the men behind the fists that wounded them?  How many adult abuse victims have I listened to, who keep going back to vicious men and women whose personalities and habits resemble their incestuous parents?  The reasoning seems to be the same, no matter the specifics: we are of use to the abuser.  Our abusers are in need and we're sympathetic to their suffering.  In our heads, we actually become heroes every time they hurt us.  Whether it's physical, emotional or mental, we stick it out and give ourselves to them, like willing sacrifices at a holy altar.  Here's how much I love you.  Look at the swollen, bruised sight of me and know that no one else could ever give you this.  I know I'm the only one who can help you with this need to harm.  Don't be afraid.  I'll never leave you.  Someday, my bloody loyalty will finally heal you, make you happy.   I'll be rewarded and you'll finally be purged. 

So we stay.  We let them take it out on us.  We let them shatter our bones and break our spirits because we'd rather it be us than them.  We recognize their weakness; we know that something wounded them in the past and they became violent or sadistic because of it.  We also know that without us, they'd have no one.  They're assholes, and we know they're assholes.  No normal person would put up with them.  But we were raised on abuse.  We know the score, and we'd never allow them to be lonely.  Besides, we hate ourselves anyway, and deserve the pain for letting our parents make us tainted in the first place.  We welcome the chance to pay for that crime.  If you think about it, we're really doing a noble thing.

That's the mindset of the insecurity addict.

Insecurity is like a forest fire.  It has to be fed or it dies.  I had a big fat flaming squatter of insecurity inside me for a long, long time.  It's still there; noisy, needle-toothed and scalding, but much smaller than it was.  Before, it ruled me.  Now I boss it around, or at least douse it from time to time.  Like any other addiction, insecurity can consume you, make you do wrong, make you harm yourself and others.  You have to treat it like any other addiction, too.  One day at a time.  Change your mindset.  It's slow, it's painful, it's irritating and humiliating, but it can be done.  Become your own reward.  Heal yourself and you'll be a much better hero than somebody with a split lip or broken spirit.  There's so much love in the world, even if you don't believe in it.  Open your heart and let it pour in. 

Take care.

Love, R

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Headbanger Hoe Down

Danced in the living room with my roomie last night.  We rocked out to Ultra Spank, a band I'd never heard of until she introduced me to them.  Enormous fun and lots of semi-blasphemous dance steps.  I showed her some square dance moves while Ultra Spank shrieked, then insisted she lead us in a conga line.  There was even a bit of scary disco thrown in.  Don't get me wrong; we did the obligatory grunge stomping and head bobbing too, our sweaty, soaking wet hair flying everywhere. Rage music and guilty pleasure  guffaws.  Glorious.

There's something about just going crazy on the dance floor that's marvelous and freeing.  When I was a teenager, I'd run out to the park in the dead of night whenever there was a thunderstorm, whirling and dancing with the lightning, drinking rain water as it cascaded down my cheeks, slipping and sliding in the wet grass as I leapt.  It was a cleansing, a purging of the soul, a way to lance all the emotions twitching within my fleshy frame, giving them an outlet. 

In my fourteen-year marriage, I allowed all my emotions and free spirit leaping to be slowly curtailed by my control freak husband, until there was very little left of the spontaneous, passionate creature I had been.  He said he found me "too emotional, too sensitive, and too boisterous," as if there were something uncouth and crude about my passion.  Being an insecurity addict, I bowed to his judgement, even though something inside me knew it was wrong.  In doing so, I lost myself.  My own son once screamed at me, "I watched Dad fucking you up.  Day after day, he fucked you up and now you're fucking ruined and I FUCKING HATE YOU!"  Strange how, in the insecurity addict's mind, what they try to do to please everybody ends up pleasing no one and earning only contempt.  Unless you love yourself, few others will, either.  It's like we give off a stink, a pee-yuu of misery and self-loathing that the rest of humanity can pick up like a bloodhound.  That includes the predators of our species too.  There's nothing more delicious that a suicidal piece of pretty meat.  Like the bite of a komodo dragon, we leave a trail of scent that attracts anybody bent on feeding.  We were beaten as kids?  We draw abusive brutes, both male and female.  We were molested?  Pervert noses positively twitch when they catch a whiff.  We grow so used to attracting only the horrible and equally screwed up that we think that's all there is.  That's when death begins to look so damn good.  At least it's quiet and only worms are eating us.  There's a creepy satisfaction even in that.

I wish I could claim to have had a sudden epiphany; that I looked at my husband and realized he was terrible and I was going to be noble and leave him.  It was far less impressive than that.  The high school counselor called my house and told me of my sixteen-year-old daughter's very serious thoughts of suicide.  Again, the blindness of my insecurity put my own children at risk.  When you're as miserable as I was, you're consumed by your own suffering and don't see the forest for the trees.  You think everybody else is okay or at least not as much a mess as you are.  Ego and self-loathing are trademarks of insecurity, and they lived inside me in equal measure.  So I have my two children, my daughter Rhianna in particular,  to thank for opening my eyes as to the absurdity of our situation.  I got us out.  Ten more years of cleaning up the hellacious mess of four decades ensued, but clean it up I did.  I'm still cleaning it up.  I always will, although the pile is nowhere near as towering as it was.  Now, I simply keep an eye out for any squish piles of memory shit in the corners and even the occasional dust bunny of self contempt.  It's like cleaning your house.  A constant but not so terrible maintenance.  And oh, what a difference a little room in my mental home makes.  There's space on the dance floor again and I've begun to twirl and leap once more.  What a beautiful, unexpected blessing after such a long time of being such a miserable whiner.  May you all find your dancing shoes and strap them on.  My God, it's wonderful to have fun again.  Go put on some head banger music and have a hoe down.  A delicious mix of rage and silly two-steps, and a balm of healing as well.  Roll up your sleeves, get out the scrub brush and mop, and take care of yourselves.

Love, R

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


When I'm messed up, trees help a lot.  Weird but true.  As a kid, whenever something ghastly happened in the house, I'd fly out the door and run, run, run until I couldn't breathe anymore; until all the filthy air from whatever argument or brutalization was out of my lungs and I could fill up with something clean.  Fresh air.  Any other air, period.  I grew up in a little farm town: endless fields and sporadic trees were everywhere.  I liked the lonely, open spaces empty of humanity, but it was the trees that gave me the most solace.  They talk in whispers, trees do, and their voices change depending on the season, the weather and the wind.  In times of stress, I like the comfort of green voices like that.  They weave songs in their branches, whether rippling with the air at twilight, shifting almost imperceptibly with the dawn breeze, or crackling with ice in winter.  They're deliciously moody in the dead of night, all black branches and hidden murmurs.  Then, their voices are heavy with an earthy perfume, and I walk like a shadow myself, drawn into all that mystery and darkness.  At noon, they're stiff and soldier-like, ramrod straight and reaching for the sun overhead.  At such a time, I can almost feel their roots beneath my feet, pushing up toward all those life-giving rays.  My own step grows lighter, pulled up by their exuberance and steady strength.  Late afternoon becomes a dance of light; all the extremes of sunlight and shadow dapple everything like ripples on a pond.  I often stumble as I stare up at such intricate choreography.  I love how there's always one leaf twirling in a frantic, happy circle, as if trying to corkscrew itself to freedom. 

As a teenager, my son used to yell, "Mom!  Stop staring at everything!  Just walk!"  But it's an impossibility for me.  I just have to gape.  Throughout the years, trees have been a sort of bastion for me; always there, always rooted in the ground, ancient even as saplings.  When I moved to New York, I was surprised at the amount of trees everywhere.  Even on street corners, there are often leafy shadows on the sidewalks.  When Leland was in rehab, and life was harder than it had ever been, I found solace in a single weeping cherry tree that grew by the facility.  Beautiful, with branches like a woman's hair: dressed in glorious rose pink blossoms in the spring, limpid with fresh green in early summer, dancing with gold in the fall, blanketed with her own fallen leaves in winter, when her branches moved like they were underwater.  Renewal.  I think that's another gift the whole existence of trees means to me.  Even in the depth of winter, snow and ice, thaw will always come and green will return.  In all the songs of all the trees I've walked beneath during my life, that's always been a promise fulfilled.  In the whistle of pine, the macho roar of oaks, the fey whisper of willows, I've always found silent, steady companions everywhere in the world.  Even when I lived in a city where trees were few and far between, there was one I used to visit.  It stood on a corner by a 7 Eleven, bracketed by steel, trunk painted white to the waist: a lovely, steady, city girl of wood and shadow.  I liked to buy a Big Gulp and hover beneath her, watching the world go by with lottery tickets and microwave snacks.  Trees are soothing companions when you run into chaos.  Grab a snack and cop a squat under one.  You'll feel good will seeping into your bones and have not a clue where it came from, so foreign a feeling it'll be.  Give it a try.  The comfort of trees can blanket your cold soul if you let it.  It's just a matter of noticing their existence.  They're there for you, in sight, in sound, in mood, in breath.

Love, R

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pavlovian Dog Slobber

I was thinking about Pavlov's pooches today.  Do you know the story?  Pavlov did an experiment with his dogs where, every time he rang a little bell, he'd feed them.  He recorded their saliva count and found that the sound of the bell ringing, after a time, caused them to drool.  That got my "two-and-two-makes-green" brain to thinking.  I certainly drool at the sight of a hamburger commercial at three in the morning.  I'm just as conditioned to stimuli as any other mammal or, for that matter, probably any living creature on earth.  Even plants respond to music, and I get a kick out of how much they seem to love heavy metal in comparison to Mozart. 

Clickety clack, the knitting needle synopses in my brain began weaving together a scenario about lifetime conditioning; how environment affects everything.  I despise thousand year-old-eggs but my buddy from China thinks they're delicious.  He, in turn, hates buttercream frosting, which I can't even wrap my mind around as a possibility.  Physically, our taste buds are virtually the same but our environments were vastly different.  He was raised on a diet totally dissimilar to my everything-fried-in-bacon raising.  We were conditioned, like Pavlov's dogs, to react a certain way due to our environment.  And that's just our taste buds.  What about emotions?  Why can't our emotions and reactions be conditioned to stimuli from the past, just like the ringing of those little bells? 

I remember going through a phase in my teens where I hated to have my head touched; would react violently at times by something as simple as fingers brushing through my hair.  I just couldn't stand anybody to touch my head.  At first, I thought it was because Dad liked to taunt me with face slaps, over and over, until the side of my face was puffy and sore.  He considered that a kindness due to my gender.  He punched my brothers.  With the return of some of my memories from early childhood, I think the head touching goes deeper and grosser than mere slaps to the face. 

The same knee jerk reaction happened when I received even the slightest hint of criticism from anybody.  Insecurity made me a rabid dog in the criticism department: stomp your foot and I'd charge.  Even when I knew I was wrong, I couldn't accept it.  I had to defend myself with every fiber of my being.

The only thing that came out of that is, I ended up looking like a horse's ass.  And I knew it.  I fixated on criticism to the point of obsession.  Even a stranger calling me "fat bitch" from across the street thirty years ago still sits in my mind.  I remember what I was wearing, I remember what he was wearing; every thing. 

I think I'm the only person in the world who burst into tears during the scene in the movie Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts tells Richard Gere, "The bad stuff is easier to believe.  You ever notice that?"  To an insecurity addict like me, it was true.  Cruel comments far outweighed the kind ones because they were the only ones my memory kept.  That's what I was used to, what I'd conditioned my brain to do.  My mind threw out the compliments as untrue.  Unimportant.  Not needed for survival.  I had a vast library in my head of thousands of thoughtless, unkind, or vicious comments and actions, all categorized and stored for future suffering.  Dog slobber cupcakes in my own Easy Bake oven, and I drooled at the ringing of each bell.  Thus began the cycle of self-recrimination and silent litany of clever quips I should have said, all ending up in a messy stew of insecurity and humiliation that I slurped down daily.  God, I hated my own guts. 

But therein laid the answer.  I was reacting like Pavlov's dog.  I was conditioned by a hostile environment from early childhood.  All the catch phrases and popular abuse slang that colored my daily life helped to condition me to believe it.  Dad called me "an accidental cum squirt" and I reacted.  My conscious mind recognized the fact that he was a shithead for saying such a thing, but the subconscious mind believed it, felt apologetic about it, betrayed by it.  Even mammalian bonding came into the theory: baby mammals bond with the parent immediately, instinctively.  It's a survival mechanism: obey and live or disobey and die.  If my parents tell me I'm garbage, something in me believes them, far beyond mere conscious thought.  It's instinctive. 

I read a paper on torture once, a disturbing article on brainwashing.  The principle is simple: torture, then don't torture, then torture again.  The victim quickly becomes grateful for the cessation of pain, not for any real kindness.  The cessation of pain becomes the only pleasure the victim knows.  When their mind is broken thus, control becomes easy. 

That's how insecurity nibbles its way in.  I have an enormous library of crappy memory for it to draw on to control me.  Insecurity rings that little bell and I react to my past conditioning. 

I talk to lots of my brothers and sisters of circumstance.  In their past, they all reacted with the same drooling that I did for so long.  The same self-destructive decisions, the same downward spiraling relationships, the tried and true methods of rage and sex and violence, the bitter ranting and wrist-slashing fury that lives in all of us who've been brutalized. 

But we don't have to keep on that path.  We don't have to accept our original conditioning.  We can change it.  Sure, it's hard as hell, but nothing's as hard as what we've already faced, so fuck it.  Give it a try.  Forge a new bell; a beautiful little silver bell with a pure ring that stimulates us not toward self-hatred but self love.  Let the sound of kindness, giving, laughter and joy fill up some of those sewer-filled rooms in our hearts and minds, until one day, they outweigh the shit altogether.  It's possible.  Preachy sounding, sure, but true nonetheless.  I work on my own rooms every day.  I have a lovely little bell with a graceful handle and I ring the hell out of it, grinning like a dog myself.  It's incredible to look in the mirror and like what I see after so many decades of loathing.  It's miraculous to find myself happy, despite everything that's gone before.  All because of the new environment I've put myself in.  All because of a little conditioning.  Good luck to you all, as always, with your own beautiful recreating.  You can do it.  Ring the bell and begin. 

Love, R

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gleaning the Gold

In Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park," Mr. Rushworth, the dumb ox rich guy, is trying to memorize lines from a play called "Lover's Vows."  His character is describing all the things he's learned as a world traveller.  That got me to thinking, in my usual convoluted way, about all the things I've learned in my travels.  I'm not a world traveller, at least not yet, but I have travelled many byways and side roads of emotion over the years.  Up and down, over hills and valleys, weeping and laughing, snarling and snapping, I've discovered many nuances of emotion as I've tramped the woodlands of my own heart and mind.  What a ride it's been.  So as Mr. Rushworth learned "delicacy in Italy" and "sincerity in England," I'm trying to decipher the things I've learned in my own travels.  It's been a fascinating mixed bag, with good and bad experiences all tossed into the pot; a recipe of spice and sugar sweetness, shoved into the oven to roast a bit.  What kind of cake shall I be?  What frosting and filling will I end up with?  I like to think I'm something sweet after being so bitter for so long.  That's the funny thing about truly screwed up human beings: we're excellent actors and often very, very funny.  I used to be witty in my youth, a biting wit that cut and damaged.  I used it against my own mother when she was drunk and I used it for two reasons.  The first was to show my contempt of her; a sort of clever revenge that always got a laugh.  The second was to avoid screaming with rage at her weak selfishness and repulsive neediness.  I didn't want to hurt her too much, stab too deeply, so I used wit to score nicks and paper cuts across every inch of her.  I didn't use wit on my father.  He'd have just backhanded me.  Mom was an easier target.  As I grew older, I realized the true cruelty of wit and turned my funny side to humor instead.  Humor is far more benevolent and doesn't need a victim as a sounding board.  I like humor a lot more. 

With my father, I was courageous to the point of self-destruction.  But I firmly believed in not backing down and was legitimately willing to die for it.  It was a matter of principal for me.  Death before dishonor.  As I grew older, I realized that part of that seemingly noble courage was also revenge.  I would not give him what he most wanted, what he fantasized about, what he admitted he wanted from me more than anything: my tears.  I wouldn't cry, I wouldn't beg, and I would have let him kill me rather than hand him such a gift.  In the film "Good Will Hunting," I cry every time Matt Damon tells Robin Williams about choosing the wrench from the list of tools to be beaten with. When Robin Williams asks, "Why?"  Matt Damon replies, "Because fuck him.  That's why."  That's straight out of my heart and that's precisely how I felt.  I still have that stubbornness.  I still wouldn't give him a single tear. 

When I was married, I subjugated myself to not one, but two unworthy men.  The first was a perverted brute, the second, a cold-hearted control freak.  With both of them, I cried a lot.  Strange.  I thought I loved them both, but I only truly loved the idea of love.  I wanted the romance, the kindness, the bonding of true love, and I would work hard to insure that my husband knew I loved him, that I'd do anything for him.  Therein laid the trouble.  I picked two men who would never be content with anything I ever did for them, who would suck me dry and chastise that I didn't have any more to give.  I didn't realize that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than it is for a severely insecure person to be happy in any relationship. 

So I was born, I had great hardship, I experienced great joy, and I grew older.  Everybody's a wheat field and every moment can be a time of harvest.  A time to separate the wheat from the chaff, to glean the gold in the center of every life-giving grain.  What lessons have I learned?  What gold have I found in all that mess?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.  What a surprise.  In my youth, I used wit but experienced regret at the wounds I inflicted.  So I stopped using it.  I turned to humor.  In that regard, I learned thoughtfulness and forgiveness, even to those who'd harmed me so severely.  I discovered a kind heart at the center of me.  With my stubbornness against my father's determined torture, I learned that pain is something that doesn't necessarily have to be feared.  Pain, both physical and emotional, are a part of life, as important as joy and pleasure.

In my marriages, I curled up into an obedient ball and lost myself  to men who wanted nothing more.  I learned that such a relationship is terminal to an already fragile spirit.  I found the will to get out.  In that regard, I learned that I had courage and insight.

In all these things, the best discovery I've found about myself, the brightest gold, is empathy.  I understand so much more about people than I ever would have if I'd lived a quiet, peaceful, loving life.  I know suffering.  I know despair and loss and shattered dreams.  I've had a trampled spirit, I've experienced the blackness of hopelessness, I've known the ugly, pock-marked face of self-hatred.  I've wanted to die, not once but many times.  I've wanted it all to just stop.  I've wanted to sleep forever and never to dream.  I know the feeling.  I understand it.  And that's the gold.  That's what I've drawn on now to help so many people.  That's what I've used to save my son's life, to talk others out of suicide, to cheer up bitterly vengeful and broken-hearted wrecks over the years.  I've tapped into that well of misery that is my past and used do good.  How's that for a twist?  The suicidal basketcase has learned how to do something heroic.  Incredible.  Unbelievable.  And true.  I hope everybody reading this can find their own treasure inside, can see how useful bad memories can be if we only turn them to good.  I've gone from a miserable loser to a happy woman, all because Fate has been so kind as to show me the flip side of all the shit in my life.  Manure grows some pretty gorgeous roses.  Plant some seeds in your own shit and watch them grow.  You'll be surprised at all the radiant colors inside of you, just waiting for a little sunshine and rain.  Take care, all you gardens.  Be happy and well.

Love, R

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Choice of Friendship

Family above all.
Nobody loves you like your family.
Blood is thicker than water.
You'll always have your family.

You can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives.
The phrase, "Blood is thicker than water" was created by undeserving relatives.
Nobody can get under your skin like family.

Catch phrases are a dime a dozen, but quips about family tend to take on a religious mania at times.  When I was growing up, my mom often spouted platitudes about the importance of family, how nothing was more important than family, how what happened in our house was nobody's business.  It was a family thing.

Thank heaven for the Incredible Hulk.  I was thirteen-years-old, torn between telling or not telling about my father's unfortunate (and secret) tendency to climb into bed with me.  I'd just gotten a new batch of comics at the drug store and was leafing through my Spider-man when I saw an advertisement with the Hulk.  He was smashing through something or other and his green rage caught my eye.  The advertisement was about being "hurt" by an adult, and encouraged me to tell.  So I did.  I told my mom. 

It didn't go quite the way I'd envisioned.  She blamed me and told me to keep my mouth shut.  But I never forgot the Hulk.  I never forgot my pleasure when someone was being mean to Bruce Banner and he went all green in a way that had nothing to do with being eco-friendly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the carnage of smashing that commenced, issue after issue, with that living, breathing mass of emerald fury.  The Hulk was my rage, my anger, and I was grateful that he cared enough to encourage me to tell my terrible secret, even if he was only a drawing.

In hindsight, Mom's reaction to my secret shouldn't have been the shock that it was.  That was a common thing in our house.  Keep your mouth shut.  All the beatings and black treacle gropings, the insults and vicious cruelty; none of those were anywhere near as terrible as betraying the family's code of silence.  Even today, knowing better, I still feel that ice water chill at the thought of "betraying" my family.  What loyalty can possibly link me to them?  They raped me, beat me, abused me, destroyed my siblings until they willingly poured themselves into the same poisonous mold...what possible reason can I have to care about what happens to them, or if I anger them?

I think the paradox of family is the fact that it is a paradox.  Even the crappy ones have good points.  I fondly remember fishing with my dad, helping him build something, playing catch in the backyard and bonding over stories about history and nature.  I remember my mom, praising me for something, playing card games and peek-a-boo, taking me to the movies or listening to my long-winded descriptions of comic books.  My brother, my sister...all with equally fond memories sprinkled throughout the bad ones.  We bonded, and I felt the truth behind the phrase "blood is thicker than water."  That bond, that love I had for them, kept me in thrall, just as it had our screwed up families for generations.  We each forged a new and willing link in that awful, endless chain of abuse.

You can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives.  Somewhere during my late thirties, that phrase took on a whole new meaning to me.  When I first heard it as a teenager, I laughed and said, "No shit, Sherlock" and left it at that, cynically amused and contemptuous as only a teenager can be.  Why state the obvious?  As a mother in my early twenties, I again said, "no shit" but this time, there was no cynicism.  There was only misery.  I held the misery opinion for the next fifteen years. 

Then something happened.  I removed myself from miserable relationships.  It was as simple, and as difficult, as that.  Being an insecurity addict, I had surrounded myself with the warm and comfy horror of what I'd always known.  Security is security, even if it's awful, and the unknown is definitely not secure.  I'd married a selfish, controlling, contemptuous man and spent years beating myself up about it.  I stayed in the marriage as a punishment for my own stupidity in marrying such an asshole in the first place.  My own self hatred allowed the mistreatment of my children, my friends, and myself.  I never allowed physical abuse and was somewhat smug and proud of that dubious accomplishment.  I thought in terms of fists and dicks in the wrong places as the only real unacceptables, and was blind to the damage a cruel tongue can produce.  I had become a link in that eternal chain.  It was only after my daughter's life was in danger and my son had turned to drugs that I realized I had to get out, and get out immediately.  Another ten years would go by before I had all the mess cleaned up and only myself to take care of.

But like a soldier after war, something happened in the quiet solitude.  I moved away from all my relatives.  A friend of mine got an interesting prescription from her doctor, which I've thought of often over the last few years.  She had a family so similar to mine, they could have gone bowling together.  They devoured her until there was little left but a hank of hair and bone which limped into her psychiatrist's office.  He listened to her stories, took notes, and prescribed an unusual remedy.  "Now, I've studied your case, and I want you to take this prescription and don't deviate from the instructions whatsoever.  This is very important.  Do you understand?"  My friend nodded and reached a hand out for the prescription, thinking it was a new bottle of something.  When she took the piece of paper, it had one sentence written on it: Move at least one thousand miles away from all family members.  That's how I met her.  She'd moved from California to New York one month after he gave her the prescription.  In the two years since then, her depression vanished, her health problems disappeared and she'd made friends.  Loving, generous, magnificent friends.  I seem to have stumbled onto the same solution.  I moved not quite so far away from all my family, but far enough.  I have many friends now; people who love me for me, not for what I can do for them.  They don't want to eat me, or devour me, or control me.  They actually care about my welfare, my future, my happiness.  That balm is like nothing I've ever experienced, and it came about by the simple act of breaking a chain.  The simple and all but impossible act.  So yes, I've chosen friendship over family loyalty.  Respect and loyalty must be earned, even by blood, and poison is poison, even if it's people you grew up with. So anybody out there reading this, don't sell yourself short for someone who doesn't care about anything but their own reputation or interests, no matter who they are.  Bad relatives are just an accident of birth.  Go out and find new ones, and remember the other old adage:  The phrase "blood is thicker than water" was created by undeserving relatives.  Heal and become deserving of yourself.  If I can do it, after all this time, anybody can.  Good luck.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Split Personality

A few months ago, I was talking to my mother and she hit me with a world-shaking revelation.  We were discussing my childhood and what a strange kid I was, especially after my brother Ian was killed.  It's common knowledge I went nuts for a while.  I was eight-years-old, he was nineteen.  I have a year of traumatic amnesia from that time, but for the last few years, bits and pieces have been coming back in my memory and much of it is extremely disturbing.  When my son was in rehab, my therapist had warned me that "trauma unlocks trauma" and that there was a chance memory could come back.  She was right.  I've remembered enough to realize what was going on during that awful time, but my mom's recent words shook the foundation of all of that.  We were talking about my aunt, her sister, who was a paranoid schizophrenic since the age of eleven, when she was gang-raped by a group of teenage boys behind the school.  My grandma never got medical help or any other kind for her and it was simply shrugged off in the usual redneck way: oh, she was a slut so deserved it.  If she didn't want it to happen, she shouldn't have been there and she shouldn't have been female.  My aunt was in and out of institutions for the rest of her life and diagnosed with a split personality.  I asked Mom what life was like for that poor shattered creature.  Was it like Sybil, where she'd wake up a year or so later and have no idea what was going on, or was she aware of the other personality?  Mom said she had two distinct personas.  During this conversation, I mentioned my own traumatic amnesia.  Suddenly defensive, Mom blurted out, "Well, you were nothing like her.  She had one good personality and one bad.  But you didn't!" 
Confused, I asked, "I didn't what?" 
"You didn't have a bad one.  Both yours were good."
"Both my what?"
"Both of you were nice.  You were a good kid no matter what."
This after calling me a slut at three-years-old only a week or so before.
"Are you saying I had a split personality?"
"Yes, but they were both nice. Even the boy."

At first I thought this was garbage, just rantings.  But as I thought about it, things fell into place to form a pattern that now made sense: dreaming I was a boy, walking and talking with people who weren't there, fainting all the time and waking up somewhere else... I had the spooky feeling there might be something to this crazy fish story.  I decided to try and find out.

Thus began my search for some proof of this allegation.  I wrote to the clinic where the pediatrician who took care of me worked until he retired.  He died decades ago.  My medical records, forty years old,  have all been destroyed, save for one immunization record when I was six months old.  My third grade teacher taught only one more year after I finished third grade and we're now trying to track her down.  Mom tells me that the reason I was in that teacher's class at all is that her father was my psychiatrist.  I don't remember any psychiatrist; the only medical treatment of any kind, that I recall, was getting my eyes dilated and they wouldn't go back to normal for over twenty-four hours. 

Since Mom now has Alzheimer's, fairly advanced, I have no idea if any of this is crap or not.  But there's a disturbing ring of truth to some of the other things she said; enough to make me start digging.  I wrote to Carol Sizemore, an old school friend, someone I now only hear from at Christmastime with a holiday card.  I finally got a reply a week ago.  Carol said she didn't doubt that I was diagnosed with split personality but didn't see any signs of it herself; just my being loopy sometimes and not remembering things we'd done together the day before.  She told me Mom had me on psych drugs, which she put in my food so I wouldn't know, but doesn't know which ones they were.  Her own mother told her.  That might explain the amnesia bouts, at least up to a point.  I was also gang-raped during that time; that might explain Mom's linking me to my aunt when we were on such an awful subject.  As to the reference to my being a slut at three, her exact words were, "Oh, you were a slut at three.  Men can smell it on you.  You can't blame them for taking what's offered when you stink of it."  Since then, she's made quite a few points of mentioning me at three.  That's disturbing too.  One of the really interesting things is, my father molested me when I was thirteen.  That I never forgot, so I know he was capable of anything.  He himself was molested from at least the age of five.  Frank, my other brother, who's still alive, told a story a few years ago: that he and Ian planned to kill Dad when Frank was twelve.  That would have made me three-years-old.  He said Ian and he were very serious, but finally gave the plan up when they realized they wouldn't be able to do it and get away with it.  All of this is background enough to get me going on finding out what I can about this new allegation of split personality.  So, my own creepy sleuthing has begun. 

One of the bizarre reactions I had right after Mom hit me with this news was overwhelming rage.  I was absolutely furious all day.  People at work eyed me sideways, wondering what was wrong with the usually sunny Rebecca.  A friend asked what I felt like.  I told her, "I feel like going to a bar and finding some drunken redneck sack of shit who's bothering a woman, pick a fight with him and beat the shit out of him."  That made my co-workers go pop-eyed.  I'm not like that normally.  I despise giving in to rage; it's as addictive as any other drug and I refuse to do it. 

I never went to a bar and I didn't pick a fight with anyone, but a friend looked at me after I told her this story and said, "You're going to hate this, but your initial reaction of going to a bar to pick a fight...sounds like something a man would do."

Wish me luck on my search for the truth.  We may never know.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Art Therapy

There are very few things that can't be helped by being creative.  Art definitely soothes the savage beast.  I saw the famous video of the troubled elephant relaxing through art therapy, watched college classmates' scowls smooth out as they sketched during life drawing.  I taught art classes at an abused children's home and witnessed how scratching charcoal against newsprint could lance a wound few psychiatrists could touch.

People strive to get disposable income so they can collect art.  That's a common thing.  Even the cold and calculating find something important about great art, even if it's a only a reptilian desire for a good investment.  Even the poorest of humanity likes to adorn their walls with something creative and meaningful, woven together with ingenuity and artistic creativity.  Art touches the heart of the whole world.

Many of my friends ponder my own existence.  Out of generations, I am one of only a handful of people in my family who never turned to drugs, alcohol or sex during my youth.  We have a genetic propensity for addiction and we oblige it, year after year, generation after generation.  Why, then, did I never have a desire for it?  Why didn't I turn to the obvious to alleviate any of the pain I was going through?  One of my best friends made a suggestion as to the cause, something I'd never thought of.  Art.  I was constantly creating, even as a small child.  I took crayons and carved faces on them with a pin when I was in second grade.  I wrote stories and illustrated them, acted out haunted house scenarios with my friend Carol and drew all the time.  When things were really bad, which was often, I drew monsters with gaping mouths and lashing tails.  When things were sad, I drew beautiful fairies and angels and Greek gods, all smiling and mysterious and always loving.  When things were unbearable, I drew super heroes and super villains with equal relish, making sure they kicked the shit out of each other for at least five pages.  I got my angst out as much as I could.  I lanced the rancid boil that was my existence and I did it by sketching on a pad of paper.  That was my secret weapon.  Secret even to myself.  I liked to draw.  That's all I knew.  I felt better when I did it but I never paid much attention to the philosophy of it. 

So there's another weapon in the arsenal of soul preservation and temper dampening.  Create something. Buy some clay, a pack of copy paper and some pens and just let your hands go nuts.  Draw a picture, squish out a clay sculpture, paint a masterpiece, write a song.  Hands and minds love to run loose, like hyper puppies after a bath, and who knows what they'll come up with together.  They're magical creatures and they come alive when asked to do something so wondrous.  Through them, we become wondrous too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Sacred Day

Went to a friend's birthday party last night.  It was outside on the back deck of his house, the air fragrant with barbeque and cool breeze on a gorgeous night.  I sat in the corner and watched all the strangers milling about, grinning with the joy of being with Randall, bouncy in their early-twenties exuberance.  There were slaps on the back, randy comments, manly dares during beer pong, and a general air of gladness.  I knew no one except Randall for the first half hour, and shyness kept me back.  I also love simply watching people; their interactions, the silent glances that tell a story altogether different than the words coming out of their mouths.  Then mutual friends arrived, gathering around me like a warm blanket, disallowing my hiding in the shadows and dragging me into the light.

I stayed a few hours then left, walking home under the stars (Randall lives three blocks from my house), enjoying the ability to stand in the middle of the road and stare straight up at Orion, my favorite constellation.  That's the fun thing about the after midnight hours: abandoned roads and hushed expectancy, as if something magical might dart across your path in this shadowy world.  It's also a great time to think.  The world's asleep and their busy brains and mouths and fingers are at rest under the covers.  My thoughts turned to Randall and his birthday, to the birthday of a cherished friend only a month ago.  Tic toc, my brain touched on all the birthday parties and celebrations and bemoaned age progression of everybody I know, every conversation about birthdays I'd ever overheard, weaving together a jumbled mass of contradictions in my crazy brain.  When do birthdays change in the minds of people?  As they get older, they often grow to dread them, hide the fact of them, lie about the true number of years they've been alive, as if that weren't the miraculous achievement it truly is.  When you're little, birthdays are a time of celebration: cake and ice cream, a year older, presents and well wishes and family get togethers.  Even when I had to bake and decorate my own cake when I was a teenager, I was determined to have a celebratory dessert, come hell or high water.  It was my birthday.  A very important time.  I was going to eat cake and nobody was going to stop me.  I bought the mix, the eggs, even the sprinkles, then proceeded to create the ugliest birthday cake known to humanity.  Didn't matter.  It was Devil's Food with buttercream frosting.  Who cares what it looked like?  I wrote "Happy Birthday Beautiful Child" and had a few friends show up to gnaw it to pieces with me.  Glorious. 

My roommate calls me "the anomaly."  I don't quite fit in with any one set age group, finding toddlers and ninety-year-olds, not to mention everybody in between, equally fascinating and fun.  Their bodies may be one age but who knows how old their souls are?  That's what's fun to me.  Maybe that's why I've never changed my view about birthdays.  I always adore them.  I don't care that I'm long in the tooth, that my body and face look like a wax statue that's been out in the sun a little too long, that each new birthday marks one year closer to death.  They also mark one more year I've been alive.  A thing to celebrate.  One of the perks of being boot-stomped by Life for so long is, once you worm your way out from under those steel-toed cleets, everything is such a gift.  It reminds me of the war veterans who say, every time they feel like they want to bitch about something, "At least I ain't in a stinking foxhole."  That's very true.  I was beaten and raped as a kid, brutalized and sodomized as a young adult, and spent the next decade and a half horrifically sick and married to a control freak emotional sadist.  I contemplated suicide for the majority of that time and even got to the planning stage twice.  But I'm still here.  Somehow, I didn't die, even when I really, really wanted to.  I lived long enough to be where I am now, surrounded by loved ones who love me back, blink-eyed with astonishment that I'm actually...happy.  I've written my book FREAK, which I hope will help other perennial fuckups like myself to try a new view on life, like I did, and find their own path out of hell.  That makes my existence a wonderful thing that can potentially help thousands, but even if I only helped one person throughout my whole life, it would be worth it, and everybody's done that in some way.  Birthdays aren't something to moan or grieve about.  They're joyous, magnificent, wondrous things of magic, darting across a dappled path only once a year, precious and fleeting.  We're all pebbles dropped in a pond: little pearls or diamonds, sentimental emeralds and sassy rubies.  Our ripples spread far and wide, touching everything else in ways we can't begin to comprehend.  Your birthday isn't just for you.  It's a sacred day to everybody, whether they know it or not, whether they comprehend it or not.  It's the day the world was given the gift of you.  It will always be precious.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Pit Bull with Pointy, Pointy Teeth

I just had a long and heartbreaking conversation with a beloved friend of mine.  Her name is Vivienne.  Our backgrounds are similar, but her ex-husband was physically abusive while her children watched, and the guilt of that crime is eating her alive.  It wasn't until her youngest son stepped in and threatened his father (while Daddy was beating her), that she found the courage to leave.  If the boy hadn't intervened and made her see how awful the situation truly was, she'd still be married to the brute.  Of that, she has no doubt.

She's in the obsessed with "ifs" phase.  If I didn't marry David, if I hadn't stayed with him so long, if I'd gotten a college education, none of this mess would have happened.  If I'd married a good man, if I'd been a decent mother, if, if, if.   Egomaniacal insecure freakazoid at its worst.  The self flagellation bounced from bad choices she'd made, to unworthy physical appearance, to complete responsibility for everything wrong in the lives of anyone she loves and a few she doesn't even care about. 

She has three children, two of whom are clean and one who's been a violent drug addict for four years.  In and out of institutions, jail, psyche wards, hospitals, rehabs, her addict child, who's now eighteen, has taken the usual toll on everybody in the household.  They're exhausted, disspirited, hopeless, bitter and angry.  That too, according to Vivienne, is her fault.  My poor boy,He's such a victim.  He's suffered so much and it's my fault.  This in between exuberant oaths that she'll never allow him back in the house, that she's done with his shit, that she doesn't even feel bad about not paying for his car insurance.  The car he didn't set on fire, that is, but the new one she bought him with the money from her second job.  Or third.  I can't remember which.  she says, referring to the addict. 

Insecurity is a pit bull with pointy, pointy teeth.  Once it latches on, the jaw locks and it's hard as hell to escape from.  Blind as a bat, too.  It makes us blind as a bat to the truth of any situation that has anything to do with us.  One of the great things Daytop taught me (that's the rehab my son Leland was in), is that unless I held him down and crammed that cocaine up his nose, the only one responsible for Leland being a drug addict was Leland.  But how do you get the same point across to somebody who's addicted to their own insecurity?  Who stubbornly refuses to believe one word of praise you give them?  I know what it's like to hear a compliment and not believe it.  Back in my uber basketcase days, my feelings boiled down to one of two emotions when praised: gratitude that the person complimenting me was kind enough to lie to try and make me feel better, or contempt for their idiotic statements.  That was it.  That's a hard wall to scale when you're on the outside, even when you know its dimensions.  I told Vivienne the truth as I saw it about her situation.  I think her son is using her, that she's enabling him, that she needs to stop beating herself up for things she can't change and get to work on the things she can.  I told her I think she's addicted to being kicked like a dog and if her ex-husband or troubled child aren't available, she does a pretty good job kicking the shit out of herself.  I suggested trying some gentle self-love techniques, such as simply saying goodnight to herself before she goes to sleep, and for a time, I thought I might be getting through.  But then she veered back into the groove of self-hatred and began hating me for my big mouth.  Oh, how we adore the rend and tear of those teeth, how we crave the vivisection and gnawing pain of it.  What a comfortable pair of old socks it is, well worn and familiar.  God, I was just like that.  I still feel it in the back of my head, like the phantom friends in the movie A Beautiful Mind: always there, always wanting me to come home to them and their beautiful incisors.  I wish Vivienne could see what I see in her.  She's a beautiful, brave, infinitely kind woman who's been through hell; someone whose biggest crime was loving people who needed a swift kick more than a pat on the head.  They were all about tough love at my son's rehab and good God, it was tough to do after years as a marshmallow.  Once again, I refer to the airplane scenario of putting on the oxygen mask first before you put it on your child.  Vivienne is starving for air, dried up and hollow with the lack of it.  She needs to learn how to breathe in life, to see value in it, even when everything's been grey and awful for most of her existence. 

But I believe in her.  She has spirit inside that sad shell, and she's always gotten up when life or some ham-fisted scumball knocks her down.  After about an hour on the phone, she'd finally had enough of my advise and told me it was horseshit, bullshit, melodramatic blah, blah, blah and she was going to hang up.  With a hasty "I love you" she slammed the phone down.  But I hope she thinks about our conversation.  I want her to see with clear eyes what everybody who's not an addict sees when they look at her: a treasure.  A highly-detailed, exquisite, one-of-a-kind masterpiece, full of colors both dark and light but still breathtakingly beautiful.  Sure, she made mistakes with her life.  But she doesn't have to keep making the same ones.  She ought to throw the lot out and begin screwing up with a whole new set of fuckups.  I highly recommend it.  The old ones get rotten after awhile.  New mistakes keep us fresh and sometimes help us stumble onto good ideas.  I was once a miserable, whining, bitter, disgusted and disgusting piece of grinning self-hatred.  Now I'm not.  I'm still insecure.  It's always with me.  But it's not as loud as it was and I don't let it dominate my every thought and emotion.  A slow, tough process but worth it.  So is Vivienne the treasure. Worth it, a thousand thousand times over. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Pompous Hilarity of Pissiness

I'm one of those freaky people who gets a kick out of other people's pissiness.  Not close relatives or dear friends - their pissiness makes me pissy - but strangers and acquaintances.  Prune faces, wrinkled noses, sneering comments - I get a strange thrill in witnessing such silliness.  Nothing is sweeter or more endearing to me than to see the protective masks all the rich tapestry of human nature uses to hide its own vulnerability.  The myriad tattoos and brutal piercings of the bristly leather clad set: they remind me of porcupines, prickly and dangerous but infinitely lonely.  I adore them.  They've lost a bit of their scary enigma since tattoos have become more mainstream.  There's the eternally angry, spoiling for-a-fight scrappers: they're wolverines, snarling and snapping but always alone in their self-dug holes.  There's the academic snobs, pouring disdain and over ripe vengeance on the rest of the non-genius minded: they're rogue elephants, cast out of the herd long ago and unable to forget that bitter rejection.  Having been a waitress for a vast majority of my life, I see them all and I've waited on every one of them: bitter housewives, angry husbands, disgruntled teenagers, broken-hearted shrews, unhappy couples, control freak tyrants...the pissy parade, all marching to their own tune of teeth-grinding displeasure.

I think some of the most misunderstood, ironically enough, are the wealthy.  When we poor folk see all their treasures heaped high, we sneer when they seem so unhappy, or cold and distant.  What the hell do they have to complain about?  They can buy happiness.  They don't have any problems. 

There is a partial truth in this: nobody suffers like the poor, as the late great alcoholic once said.  But the rich don't necessarily have it great.  They just have a lot of stuff.  But oh, how I love that particular mask of pompous pissiness worn by the old money rich.

Some years ago, I worked in a fine gift store, very high end, and there marched through those doors such a parade of pompousness as to be the stuff of legend.  I adored watching it all unfold, especially when they tried to put my gabby, grinning self "in my place."  Oh, it was delicious and strangely endearing, like kittens puffing their fur out to look threatening but only ending up looking cuter.  One man came in, sneer firmly in place, eyelids lowered, silver hair perfect, suit tailor-made.  He was looking for a small gift for his and his wife's anniversary.  I, in my usual uncouth bluntness, asked how many years?  He looked startled, then froze me out with an icy, "Five."  I was still married at the time and replied, "Puppy.  I've got you beat by four years."  This was too much for the poor man.  Nostrils flaring with disdain, he told me, "This is my fourth marriage.  If you count all those years I, in fact, have you beat."  Delighted with his defensive freeze out, I laughed and sang, "Well, na na na na naaa!" and stuck my tongue out like a five-year-old.  He stared in amazement, then laughed himself, shedding his iron mask and showing me his human side.  How very beautiful it was, too.  "My wife always returns everything I've ever gotten her," he told me.  "Everything.  Now I've already bought her jewels and a new car for this anniversary.  I just want a little something wrapped in a box that I can hand to her."  I felt very protective of this poor man who obviously had a bad habit of choosing unwisely in the spousal department, so we roamed the shop in search of the perfect small gift.  I showed him Herend porcelain and Saint Louis crystal, Armani statues and inlaid music boxes.  The whole time, he kept muttering, "She'll return it.  She'll return it, I know it."  He finally settled on an exquisite Meissen vase, a breathtaking morning glory handpainted on the front, his face glowing like a child's at Christmas.  Hopeful.  I wrapped it carefully, crowned the package with a graceful silk rose, and wished him well.  A week later, the wife returned it.  She was so ingrained with her disdain, she wouldn't speak to me.  I kissed that work of art after she'd sailed out, but didn't have the heart this time to laugh at her pompous pissiness.  I thought of his face, and all the wives he'd gone through, women he probably heaped as many gifts on as he had this ungrateful one.  I thought of the wife, and how empty she must feel inside, that nothing ever given was enough, that not even something given in love was enough.  What had happened to her to create such a persona?  What had shaped his ideals to actually want such a relationship?  Who had not loved them?  Who had betrayed their youthful trust and shaped their delicate minds when they were children? 

We're all products of our environment and we usually learn only what we're taught.  Voluntary or involuntary, we absorb lessons from parents, peers, enemies, friends, loved ones.  I sucked up a broth of poison myself for the majority of my life.  It was all I knew.  But I'm trying to gain a scholarship to a new school right now.  The school of the not-so-obvious, the hidden lessons in the sledgehammer tactics of obvious circumstance.  The art of beauty from shit, the patch of blue on the garbage heap, the rose blooming because of manure heaped on its base.  After all these years of being just a curled up, brown-leafed wilt of unfulfillment, I've begun to bloom.  Out of tragedy.  Out of my own personal pile of shit.  Holy hell, my friends.  I've become a garden and I didn't even realize it.  My original goal was to just stop thinking about suicide two weeks out of every month.  I began to step outside of myself, where I realized the world didn't revolve around my own shortcomings. 

I don't look on other people's unhappiness as my fault anymore.  That's a weird thing with insecure people: we think even strangers are unhappy because of something we did or didn't do.  So try an experiment: every time you see a pissy person, think of what animal they are or, as I sometimes still do, what kind of pajamas they wore as a kid.  Pink bunny slippers on a pompous windbag are just too delicious an image to not cultivate.  That way, you're a little less hard on yourself and a little more agreeable to the rest of the world.

Try not to go too far, however.  Guffawing at a tent revival in the Deep South can get you into some real trouble.  Just a word to the wise. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Moment of Change

"You know, I was a golden child, Rebecca.  Straight "A" student, on the chess team, popular.  I had a girlfriend, my parents were proud of me, I had friends.  Then I went to one party.  One.  After that, everything changed and now my life's shit."

That's a quote from a good friend of mine, describing his first brush with drugs.  I hear a lot of train wreck stories like that; blink of an eye moments where life is altered forever or eradicated altogether.  The horribly ironic thing with substance abuse cases is, all sides are tragic.  My brother Ian was killed by a hot-rodding teenager who smashed into him on his motorcycle, killing him instantly and maiming his fiancee on the back of the bike.  We lost him, she lost her mobility and the world lost a truly wonderful person. 

But what about the teenager?  Whatever happened to him?  How did his parents and family feel about his awful, avoidable crime?  I think of him a lot, wondering where life has taken him over the past forty years...if he's even alive.  Many people get their hackles in an uproar over such a question.  "Who gives a shit what happened to him?  I hope he's suffering.  No, I hope he's burning in hell, the little murderer."  That's a common reaction.  But how would I feel if I killed somebody?  If my dumbass, ridiculously selfish quest for fun crushed a human being under the wheels of a car I was driving?  If I wanted a friend to experience how awesome it feels to get high and it eventually killed them? 

We had a plaque up in our kitchen when I was growing up that read, "Never judge a person until you've walked a mile in their mocassins."  Can you imagine the dreadful weight of such a pair of shoes?  As to the teenager, I know what happened to him.  He was seventeen years old at the time of the accident, a good student himself, driving his new car and wanting to see how fast it was.  That was all.  Just a need for speed, a laughing joy in the rush of air, a kick in the blood from the roaring acceleration.  Then he blinked.  In that moment, his life changed and my brother's ended.  The boy had a nervous breakdown at the inquest and had to be carried out of the courtroom.  He stalked Ian's fiancee for years, trying to make it up to her, begging her forgiveness, in and out of institutions for decades.  That's one of the sad stories.

Then I think about the really bad cases, the mean spirited ones, the unrepentent aggressors.  There's my dad and his retelling of sexual exploits at the dinner table, my nephew's rhapsodic retelling of unspeakable crimes, my other brother's laughing tales of animal abuse...and I wonder.  When did they have their moments of disclarity?  That's probably not even a word but it's apt.  A loss of clarity, a moment of change.  A blink.  They weren't born monsters but they're monsters now.  What's worse, they like it too much to stop.  Even the cruelty itself has become just another addiction.

I believe in the possibility of change.  I've seen miracles happen.  I've witnessed horrible offenders come back from the wastelands and become drug counselors, college students, good and highly protective parents, reliable and loyal friends, all after their own personal split-second epiphanies.  Another blink.  Another life change, but this time for the better.  Monster to hero.  Scuzball to soccer coach.  Sleazy prostitute to life-saving nurse.  Born pure, gorged on a banquet of filth, ruin and redemption, all in one mind-numbing set of circumstances.  We are all gods and monsters, saints and sinners, scumballs and heroes.  That's the wondrous, marvelous, ghastly truth of it all.  We can choose, even if we don't want to, to change.   Everything's a tapestry and the Fates are weaving every decision we make into the design.  Choose colors that enhance life, even if you never have before.  If you're disgusting, weak, immoral, addicted or broken, that's simply what you are now.  It's not who you are.  It's just a suit of clothes that sucks.  Sluff it off and start again.  Hope is eternal.  That's as certain as death and taxes and even more powerful.  Let go of anything else but don't ever let go of hope.  Even when you're hopeless. 

Especially when you're hopeless.    Take care.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fate's Twinkly Toes

My mom taught me how to waltz and do the polka when I was a little kid.  She always loved to dance.  There's something magical about it: the whirling joy of your body spinning, letting the music take you on an entirely voluntary ride.  Giving yourself up to it.  Music, or at least great music, becomes somehow sentient and alive, playing your emotions and heart rate in much the same way as its musicians play their instruments.  One could even call it a sort of possession, a lilting, graceful control that everything in you hears as well as feels. 

I think Fate is like music: all twinkly-toed and whimsical, headbanging moshpit, or moody serenade.  Whatever the tune, we all dance to it.  I believe that Fate is what we make it, and if we follow the right path, dig ourselves out of any pit we've become stranded in, whatever is needed will be opened up to us.  I also believe that shit just happens.  There's no reason, in my jumbled head, why Fate and our own free will can't coincide.  We can waltz together or step on each other's toes, but the music will go on regardless.

This year has been a monumental one for me.  I moved back to my beloved New York after four years in limbo, and everyone here has welcomed me with open arms.  I've met a kindred spirit, a real one, twenty one years my junior, and it's like looking in a mirror to the past.  I wish, with all my heart, that this person finds their fate and grabs hold with both hands.  I stumbled and fucked up my own path so much when I was their age, it's taken a decade to clear away the brambles and see the road again.  But the path is always there, thank heaven, whether we dumb humans wander off it or not.  There's always a guidepost wherever we end up, pointing the way back.  All we have to do is unbend and look at it.  I've reconnected with a very dear friend from my past, I've met people who seem like angels, I've found a home among the most beloved people in the world to me.  All of this is Fate; all of this is my own doing.  It's like the old saying about clinging to a rock in a raging river, getting half-drowned and bludgeoned by debris, when all you have to do is let go and the river will carry you safely to shore.  For years, I refused to listen to the music, to hear what was best for dance at all.  Everything was grey, miserable, in mourning, and even my great optimism and sense of humor began to crack under the weight.  But I've finally cleaned up my mess, put on my dancing shoes, stepped out on the dance floor and began to waltz.  With Myself.  With Life.  With Fate.  And wonder of wonders, it seems there's a beautiful tune playing right now and we're waltzing along to it.  I've let go.       

Monday, August 2, 2010

Earth Shattering

There are moments that change everything forever.  I had one today.
You can feel them coming sometimes.  All weekend, I was antsy as hell, impatient, pissy, unable to sleep.  I told my roommate that I felt something was near, something life changing, something positive.  I was right.  Someone I love very much, a lost family member whom I haven't heard from in seven years, wrote me a letter.  I went for my walk and when I came home, casually opened the mailbox...and there it was.  He'd been gone so long, sworn I'd never hear from him again.  It was more than mere moodiness.  He'd been in very bad trouble for a long time and when he vanished, I didn't know if he'd live or die.  Apparently, he lived.  Not only that, he's doing well.  Of all the deaths and suicides and murders from addiction in my family, I worried about him the most.  And he's alive.  Clean.  Actually reaching me!  This is an earth shattering, life changing day.  The one who lived, my own personal wizard, my own beloved prodigal.  Don't think I'll get much sleep tonight but I don't give a damn.  I'm literally buzzing with adrenalin right now.  For anybody out there who's lost the will to reconnect, who is scared to try, who's tried but been rejected: hang in there.  Don't stop believing in magic and miracles, no matter what.  They do exist.  Today proves that for me.  In the words of Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never quit."  Don't ever stop believing in yourself.  Don't ever stop believing you can overcome anything.  You can.  I'm dancing on air right now and feel like I've been hit by a truck simultaneously.  Whew!  Right now, I'm going to create, the best thing for relieving tension.  Art is the ultimate balm.  Be well.