She thought the transition back would take 2 months, max. A month to come back to civilization and a month to find a new space to create with what she brought back. She’s been home nearly four months now, and she can’t get back to that feeling of being inside. She is still outside everything.
She jumped. She believed that there were people who would be there when she came back. That there were people who’d be curious about what happened to her. When she left, she took that and them for granted. All those people were always in the back of her mind, making her feel secure, like walking out on this limb, alone and this far out, would be okay.
Mostly, she is okay. She keeps moving forward, working, working, working. A few times a week it happens, though. The weight of it drops on her, brings her to her knees. Literally. To her knees.
A night hike on the bluff. A nearly full moon. Stars, in a bowl over her, tipped upside down. Like desert stars. And it swamps her, the actuality that no one in the world knows her. That she has had no shared history with any other human being for the last four years. That, until CJ, they have been her choices all along. That she cannot fix this.
Acceptance that she won’t see herself in anyone else’s eyes dissolves the stars in hers, the drops falling, melding sand grains together briefly before the moisture evaporates, setting the grains free again.
I spent years in sales where I was taught that everyone’s a resource: a recruit, a lead, a sale, a quick fuck after a meeting. When I started working in sales, it was my father’s lessons I took with me. I owned a copy of Art of the Deal.
My father taught me that life is not a popularity contest—it’s what you do that matters, not who you know. He taught me that my will can change reality—that I could earn anything I wanted, if I wanted it badly enough and worked hard enough for it. He was wrong on both counts.
I don’t remember my father being a fan of immigrants. Or most non-whites, for that matter.
He gave me my own copy of Masters of Deceit when I was 10. He believed (like J Edgar Hoover) that communist fronts were invading the United States of America. He didn’t trust the feds. He voted for Reagan.
He died of lung cancer at age 37. (I used to think that was old.)
My father taught me that if a stranger on the street comes up to me and touches me, I should assume that that person was trying to kill me and act accordingly. He told me where to do the most damage to another child’s body when I fight her on the first day of school.
He, like the current Commander in Chief, also lusted after his daughter. My father acted on it. (I can’t speak for the current Commander in Chief.)
I live in a place where my father’s ethos is everywhere. Where the Commander in Chief emboldens and encourages men like my father. Where my father’s values show up in everyday interactions at the grocery store, at the gas station, at the post office, at the Home Depot, when meeting with contractors and negotiating with tree guys.
As hostile as it feels to me, I can’t hate this place. I can’t hate the people, even when they withhold warmth and welcome, when compliments are nonexistent, when they remind me every damn day that I’m an outsider. I’m only now learning how not to hate myself. I can’t just hate these people instead. I can’t just stand in judgement and critique. So much is out of their control.
I got it all wrong
She used to play a game in her head when she was little. “I wish [person to impress] could see my whole body and hear me right now.” If she wasn’t feeling good about her body (which was most of the time), it was just “I wish [person to impress] could see me from the shoulders up and hear me right now.” It was like a mantra. (Try it.) Then, if she wasn’t already, she would proceed to sing or dance or playact, or something she thought was pretty. Or cool.
She was 7 when she started the game. She felt invisible. In her 7 year old mind, if she could be seen, someone would know something was very wrong in her family and someone would rescue her.
In some form or another, she’s played the “see me, save me” game nearly her whole life. It made her feel like someone was there, watching out for her. That game helped her survive, even if she knew no one actually saw her.
She researched the area. She visited twice. She saw nothing obvious, nothing she thought might be a problem, a trigger. No big political signs, no obvious militia hardware. Yeah, sure, 45er signs everywhere, but she didn’t care. She was here for privacy, not to meet new people. She was here to keep working on herself, trying to be better. She was here to write. (She thought the militia freakout after HRC was POTUS would be interesting.)
After losing Michel, Lola, and Ellie in less than 2 years, she was here to make new beginnings with her new lilfam, her Bello and Sparkles. What was happening around her, who roared by on the highway, who lived next door—she didn’t care. She had Berkeley blinders on. She figured people lived here for privacy, for beauty, probably for some of the reasons she chose to. They’d get it. They’d respect that.
This was the dream: her better self—nearly two years in the making–would live in a little house in the woods with her kittens and her ideas. And she would finally finish those two books. And then she would come home and everyone would love her.
She knew nothing. She had no idea. Not a fucking clue.
He never mentioned it
She tried to be the best son she could. Her father never mentioned it, but it was obvious he was determined to have a certain kind of first born boy, even though he got her. He cut her hair short. He taught her how to fight. (The kids at school called her “tank.”) He taught her tricks to win fights. He coached her and drove her to other girls’ neighborhoods so she could fight them. He expected her to protect her younger brothers and sisters. (There were five more.)
Once, when she was 9 or 10, her father insisted she walk behind one of her brothers past the house three doors down. Her parents and those parents did not like each other. She didn’t know why. Her brother walked past the first two houses. As he passed the fence separating the second from the third house, a screaming boy with a belt in his hand flew down the yard straight at her brother. She was slightly behind him on the sidewalk. She ran at the screaming boy. She tangled with him in front of his house, and he lost the belt somewhere. They fought their way down to her yard, somehow. All the adults were out now, watching. Cheering. Yelling. The boy was on top of her, pulling her hair back. She was on her back. Her father commanded, “punch him in the kidney.” She tried and failed. She managed to muscle her way on top instead. Her father commanded again, “poke him in the eyes. Put your fingers behind and pop.” The boy underneath her covered his eyes and screamed “NO!” His older brother yelled “Are you going to let a GIRL beat you?!” Her father commanded again to poke him in the eyes. The kid screamed again. She was frozen. The boy wasn’t fighting. He’d stopped moving. She started to get up and the boy’s much older brother leaned over and yanked the younger boy up by his hair, calling him a pussy for being beat by a girl.
She doesn’t remember what happened right after that, but she remembers that just a little while later, she was in the bathroom she shared with her little sister, her mother not so gently brushing clumps of hair from her numb head.
She’s been edgy all day. Everything chafes. Nothing makes her content, slows her feet walking in circles, stops her mind digging, her frustrated intellect peering around all the corners, checking under the beds, incessantly looking, looking, looking. Trying to find the solution. “There’s work to do! So much work to do! Where do we start!”
She’s sensitive. She knows it now. It didn’t use to be problem—her ability to shut down, to let her metamind take over and run the show, is mega. She was taught well: “Shake it off.” “Sacrifice the body for the game.” “Crying will only get you more.” She learned to ignore her feelings, even as they ravaged her body. She taught them that they didn’t matter. They’re teaching her something very different now.
This unrest, her agitation, the buzzing melee in her body and mind is a warning. It’s a feeling of not being seen, of not being heard—of not existing in anyone else’s world–that splinters her rage into sharp shards of anger, that smashes the rest of the little pieces into pointy little granules of dread that make the inside of her gut bleed. It’s the feeling—she’s quite intimate with this one–of the descent into blinking out.
She wonders, really, what difference any of this makes, anyway. Her research? Who cares. Seriously. No one could give two shits about people trapped there. Without education. Without any outside information. With no resources. With no power. She’s seen and she has to tell. She knows we have something to learn. She knows we have work to do there. She is still doing work there. It’s her job to show what it’s like to live in a place with no choices, no options. Where people are slowly killing each other in a toxic soup of everyday authoritarianism.
Sparkles wanders into the room, his tail the perfect question mark. He makes a beeline for her and rubs just the front of his forehead, slowly and deliberately–just like Bello used to do–on the front of her calf. Her edginess dissolves into this grace note, surprising her.
she lives for contrasts
where the differences scrape, ignite
spark novelty, like roman candles
cool night startles hot wet skin
bubbles swirl, soothing, softening
milky swipe of glitter stars, dancing and winking
splashed across a dead black backdrop
gem-colored sparkles of blue, of yellow, alive
wind stage-whispers through towering hedgerows
muscles satisfyingly sore
a fence is built
a dangerous limb cut
a space created for sparkles
a promise kept
as the possibility of their escape
is made actual
in the endless sky
in the golden light
in the glory of the sea
in the magic of the trees
deep silent weeping joy crashes into her
deeper gratitude, like warm gold, fills her up
hoped-for heroes cave
the inevitability of self-fulfilling prophecy
eats itself, its emptiness infinite
deep weeping sadness crashes into her
deeper resolve, forged in fire, fills her up
Standing in a doorway
What if all the noise stopped? Right now.
All the defending, attacking, critiquing, reinforcing, clapping back, doubling down.
We know all we need to know. There is no more need. We are filled. Saturated.
Rationality and logic offered as support as though they carry more cred.
Hoping some outside force intervenes and sets things right.
Hoping that like a gale-force wind all those frozen in place will be blasted in the right direction.
Hoping more noise will change minds.
If all the noise stopped, now, who could we hear?
What if the addiction ended? Right now.
The sudden overwhelming craving to know what’s happening,
who’s driving us where,
which wall we’re headed toward this time,
how much time we have left.
The deeply visceral need to see,
to feel their pain,
to be moved by their urgency,
to be lost in their drama.
Empty life spaces seem to suck in the toxic.
Until the life is swamped by it.
Until the poison eats the life.
Back or forward.
Or frozen, under.
Or we die.