Not With a Bang But a Whisper

 

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When my brain finished integrating last fall—last stage in healing the mental fractures that nearly killed me, after 25 years of misdiagnosed and untreated PTSD—I came back to myself less than two weeks after an illegitimate election placed an unstable and corrupt would-be dictator in line to be the next US president. In other words, I finally knew myself in the world just as the world I knew tilted on its axis and began slipping away.

The core challenge that posed has taunted me ever since: how do I normalize this overwhelming new sense of self I am experiencing, while at the same not normalizing this overwhelming new world, filled with political chaos targeting every social principle I believe in?

As a human being, feeling at home within my mind and body is everything. Is life itself.

As a citizen, feeling at home within this burgeoning autocracy would mean death.

*

Do you ever skip around when you are trying to broach a difficult topic? Sidle up beside your point, see if you can spot it in your peripheral vision without being seen in turn?

Oh, do not ask what is it.

I wouldn’t tell you yet anyhow. Instead, I’m going to share with you the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s early modernist poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

Continue reading “Not With a Bang But a Whisper”

The Writer Dreams of Rivers

[CN: rape, self-injury]


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“Survivors understand full well that the natural human response to horrible events is to put them out of mind. They may have done this themselves in the past. Survivors also understand that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. It is for this reason that public truth-telling is the common denominator of all social action.”
–Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

In a dream, I come across a toad in the woods. Squat, warty, with flat blank eyes. He belches up a stone that clatters over my feet. A ruby, I recognize when I bend over to look: big as my fist and red as death. I reach out to pick it up, to pop it into my mouth for safe-keeping, and grab the toad instead. I do not realize my mistake until I feel the toad sitting belligerent on my tongue, plumping up his blotchy abdomen to fill the space from my lips to my throat. When I look back for the ruby, it is already gone.

I wake up choking.

* * * * *

Most of the photos I have from my childhood live in a large document box, clustered together chronologically in clearly-labeled archival folders. My mother—trained historian and daughter of a news-photographer—made just such a careful box for each of us during the years after my grandfather’s death, merging countless stacks of inherited photos with her own files as she worked to organize his legacy. An inch into the box, in a folder simply labeled “GRADE 2,” one finds not photographs but a carbon-copy report typed onto two sheets of onion skin paper, preprinted with the words: CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.

I remember this report, even though I’d never read it until recently. Or, more precisely, I remember taking the tests that led to it.

And I remember Mr. Morley.

Continue reading “The Writer Dreams of Rivers”

A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen

[CN: sexual assault, incest]


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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden in possession of all her limbs [so every version of the Armless Maiden begins] lived in the forest with her father the woodsman and her mother, the woodsman’s wife. [Or sometimes her mother is already dead, depends on which version you choose to retell.] The woodsman is seized with sexual desire for his beautiful daughter—or perhaps greedy desire to trade her to the devil for wealth—or perhaps marital desire to replace his dead wife with similar product already close-to-hand and convenient.

[Such surface details of a father’s lust often shift, the critics agree, while leaving the underlying incest motif intact.]

Angered at her strong rejection of his plans, the woodsman chops off his daughter’s hands with an ax. [Just above the wrist, or a bit below the elbow, or let’s say he takes the whole arm—at this point, you really wanna quibble details with me??] He may even demand that she cleaver them off herself [though I am fuzzy on the mechanics of how this would be done]. She flees from him into the woods, to eat fruit from the ground where it has fallen and, in general, to survive like a brutish animal.

Now, since this is a fairy tale, you and I both know what’s coming: a handsome prince, true love, and marriage. [Still that tricky “look, ma! no hands!” issue, though. Happily ever after is harder with a princess who can’t hug her spouse, care for their babies, or even wipe herself after a late-night visit to the chamber pot.] So the story hiccups into a second half, during which our handless heroine flees back into the woods, communes with herself and with nature for a number of years, and becomes such an overall loving spirit, inside and out, that her arms and hands grow back entirely. 

At which point, the Armless Maiden—armless no long—reunites with her love, scoops up their baby [grown surly preteen, no doubt, in her absence], and takes over all the housework, allowing everyone to Happily ever after, for ever after…

Do you know this story? Have you come across it elsewhere? Can you perhaps then explain to me, because I really don’t understand, why our heroine comes back to herself all sweetness and light and not, for example, royally fcking pissed the fcking-fck off?

Me, I think I might pick up the first ax my new hands could carry and go hunting myself a woodsman.

[Or maybe I just like to think I might.]

[Me being me, I’m much more likely to pick up the first available pen.]

[Which is another way of saying: I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out how I want to write today’s post.]

Continue reading “A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen”

Within Every New Beginning Lies an Ending

 

The story of this blog begins, as all good adventures do, with a quest:

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In May 2012, a woman stops. Already retreated almost to the beginning of herself, she thinks: “Only death could be more silent.”

It is not the first time the careful construction of her days has collapsed. Her life resembles a too-often-rebuilt bridge still resonating at the frequency of past traumas as yet unacknowledged. Always she forges a new prosthetic self, a new stuttering engine of dreams and hope to propel her mind forward another year (or, if she’s lucky, a few) before her life crumbles once again.

She is tired of masquerades. She decides to find her own self instead.

This blog records her journey back into voice.

Into my voice.

Of course, this is simply the telling of the story of the story-that-became-my-blog. Events were actually far less poetic, and far more jumbled and chaotic, as they transpired. In a nutshell, after a year spent wrestling myself into and out of suicidal ideation, and following three serious attempts in one month that landed me first in a psych ward, then in intensive outpatient therapy four days a week, I decided to start a blog.

As a means of proving to myself how Totally Recovered And Fine I was now, y’see.

That first post—written 3 years, 5 months, 13 days, and 236 essays/ poems/ articles/ observations ago—seems faintly prescient now, what with its humorous threading of gender and cultural issues through the weft of patriarchal family patterns and pain. But my most recent post, written already 7(!) weeks ago now, belies every early assertion I made of quick or easy resolution. On that day, I was working through “yet another well of despair…another unresolved pocket of pain and grief.” The essential thing, I reminded myself, was to focus on every positive, no matter how seemingly small.

Uh, so.

Yeah. That was then.

And now? Wellll…

For any of you who read the last pages of a book first, let me spare you the suspense: neither today’s post nor my recent hiatus signals the end of Coffee and a Blank Page! In fact, once I can get back to a regular writing schedule, you may not even notice much difference (then again, maybe you will). But I am uncertain what its function for me will become, over the next months and year.

I’m barely certain what I’ve just become, myself.

Continue reading “Within Every New Beginning Lies an Ending”

Cold Hands

[NOT A TROMP POST. While this is a post-US-election piece of writing about the weird twists and turns of grief, beyond that, any similarities between my comments here and the Orange Cheeto-led sh!tshow that is our current political outlook is purely accidental. And sincerely regretted.]

* * *

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Alice, pre-trauma. Apparently very excited about milk.

One of the stranger symptoms I have discovered—as I claw my way back from the dissociative fog of PTSD that rotted out my brain over 25 years of squatting there like a toad, undiagnosed and untreated—is a limited ability to notice my body’s sensory input. I have to cook with overwhelming flavors, or I don’t taste my food. I must remember what I expect to smell, before I can detect an odor. If someone asks me whether a room’s temperature bothers me, without also specifying if they think it may be “too hot” or “too cold,” I often start to panic, suddenly aware that I have no idea what temperature the room is—and no clues from my companion to guide me.

But I noticed something interesting on my walk home this evening: I noticed my hands felt cold.

Continue reading “Cold Hands”

Recovery Is A Staircase

[CN: rape, self-injury]


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Nathan’s First Selfie #proudmom

The first time I told the story—or, rather, tried to tell it—was in 2001, twelve years after the rapes themselves. I had a psychotic break afterwards, where I heard a voice in my head telling me it would kill me before I talked again. My left wrist still bears scars of the stitches I required before that day ended.

The second time I told the story wasn’t until October, 2013. Afterwards, I stopped being able to sleep in the dark. For the next fourteen months, the only sleep I got were catnaps at dawn and dusk. Sometimes I tried drinking myself to sleep by mid-afternoon, anything to make the day be over.

In 2014, the morning of April 30, I got a call from the rape crisis center where I’d put my name on a waiting list, informing me that my first appointment would be later that week. Panicked at the thought of telling the story to yet another new person, I ended up slicing my leg open, an inch-deep trough running up the length of my calf. I lost close to a pint of blood.

Tonight, I told a roomful of people an aspect of the story I have never said out loud before. Afterwards, I stood a long time in the hallway outside that room, afraid to come home. Afraid even to move.

And then I did move.
And then I did come home.

Once back at my place, I cuddled my cat. I ate a peanut butter sandwich. I wrote this post to share on Facebook. Then I decided to share it on my blog as well.

I’m calling it:

I did good tonight.

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When he is not the photographer, Nathan bores quickly.

[“Recovery Is A Staircase” is part of an ongoing memory project.
The entire series can be found here.]