Seems I cannot shower enough during these dark, chilling days of autumn. For reasons I still find curious.
What reasons, you ask.
I could tell you. I could say that I like the heat and how the wet steam rises, or that I am washing off the stench of each day’s ever more rancid news, or that I have a new-found dedication to feminine conventions and shave my legs now twice daily, maybe my pubes too. In fact, I like these answers. I think I will tell you one of them. Or you just pick yourself a favorite, and pretend it’s what I said.
Pretend I did not tell you the truth: that I am still learning what it means to feel, in all the senses of the word and of the senses, and it is only when hot water hits me everywhere and all at once that I can remember the names of human emotion.
Most of the time I spend standing in the shower I am crying. Don’t read too much into that, though.
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”:
“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.
Y’know the fable about that monkey who grabs a fist of nuts out the bottom of a narrow-necked jar and then can’t get his hand back out? Chimp-boy standing there like a putz, cuz he don’t wanna let go his booty—and won’t see if he just lets a few nuts go, he can pull a few others out and actually eat ’em?
Yup, that’s the one. You got it.
Is not that story.
Offer me a jarful of nuts, I won’t just turn ’em down; I’ll gnaw my hand clear off while you watch. I know it’s a trap you’re holding, even if you’re still kidding even yourself on that score.
Don’t bother pointing out any gaping abyss in logic here—I’ll take off your finger too, in a single bite, and t’hell makes you think I haven’t seen your logic myself already?