The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the month “August, 2014”

Keen Observer

Bread in Oven

Re

In the village where I lived my entire life, the roads were made of dirt and mud. Those people who could afford to, built their homes from brick or block, cement, and corrugated metal. Those who could not, build theirs of wood, metal scraps, and mud. Nobody had more than four sets of clothing: two for summer and two for winter. Many had only one.   Some people had shoes; others did not.

I suppose by some standards,  we lived in poverty, but since we had no idea how others lived, we had no basis of comparison, and so we never thought of ourselves as poor. Ultimately, it made no difference to the lives we lived, the lessons we learned, the love we shared, the pain we suffered. The human condition is the same everywhere.

Even among those who have so very little, there were the haves and the have-nots.   My family was in the middle. We went hungry from time to time, but mostly that was because of the weather, when the crops didn’t do well, or the animals starved. But then, most everyone suffered during those times, as well.

I never felt myself poor. We were not so different from most everyone we knew. I never longed for more. I was content.

From the time I was a young girl,  I enjoyed observing people,  watching how they behaved, how they socialized with others.  In my small village, everyone knew everyone. Keeping secrets was impossible. We knew who was happy in their circumstances and who was not, and why.  We knew who loved unrequitedly, who held a grudge, who envied whom. We knew who was stupid and who was wise,  who was selfish and who was magnanimous,  who could be relied on when you needed help and who you could count on to stick the knife in deeper.

From an early age, these personalities, these relationships, these behaviors fascinated me.

There was an old baker in the village who had built his brick oven himself,  long before I was born.  All the women brought their bread and larger meals to be cooked there. None of them could have built such a hot fire at home because it would have been impossible for a woman (even with the help her children) to collect that much wood. It was difficult enough to gather enough to keep a house warm in winter. A fire in the small stove might be enough only to heat a pot of water for tea or to boil an egg or to keep a pot of bits and scraps cooking until it became soup. Of course in the summer,  it was  too hot to keep a fire going inside.  And so we had a communal bakery.

Every morning,  the wives or their young daughters or sometimes a servant, brought their kneaded loaves or other ingredients to the baker, to be cooked together with everyone else’s.  The old baker, who everyone called Grandfather even though he had no children of his own, also sold his own bread and buns and some savories and sweets, which some villagers bought as well.

Grandfather was a nice man with a good soul.  Everybody liked him.  If a family could not pay, he would never shame them. He would tell them kindly to pay when they could, even when he knew he was likely to never be paid at all. It was not in his heart to let anyone starve if he could help it.

When I was about 8 years old, there was a young man in the village who worked for the baker. He was very full of his own worth,  full of important advice for everyone, always telling others the best way to run their businesses even though, he, himself, had no business of his own. He was always telling Grandfather how to improve things, but Grandfather had been in business since before this young man was born, and he did not appreciate the unsolicited advice.

Others advised the young man to mind his tongue and do his job,  for the old man would eventually pass away and then he could take over the business and do with it whatever he wanted.   But he could not wait.   So, he moved away to the city, which was very far. He worked there for a few years at something (nobody really knew) until he had saved enough money to start his own bakery in the village.

When he came back,  he built his own oven. In front, he built a low wall to create a kind of outdoor room. There he put some tables and chairs. It became a kind of spontaneous café for men to gather, to drink strong tea and eat a small cake or two, to smoke, to play cards, to discuss politics and religion.

The young man thought he was very clever because now he had both a bakery and a café, and was sure he could make twice as much money as Grandfather. The fact is, the bakery was where all the profit was. A café didn’t earn much. These men sat all day with one pot, always asking for more hot water.

In his foolishness and ignorance he expected the village women to flock to his bakery, which was larger and of course newer and offered some social activity. What he failed to consider, was that the women did not want to pass through a group of men, on their way to the oven. These women worked hard.  They gathered wood and carried water from the well. They minded the small animals. And the children, too, of course.  They worked like donkeys from sunrise until everyone in their families was safely asleep.  These women resented working hard while men sat idle. They did not want to be reminded of it.  It made them bitter.  And so,  they avoided the place.

Soon,  with no customers for his oven, the young man could not keep his business open. He lost everything. Ashamed , chastened, and once again poor,  he left the village for the city once more. I never saw him again but I thought about him a lot.

He had failed because he was a bad judge of human nature, including his own.

That was the first time I understood how tragic a human flaw it was not to understand others; how much more successful someone could be in life if they paid close attention to the needs and desires of both their friends and enemies.

And from then on, I made it a point to study others and to understand what they wanted most deeply.  I quickly learned this was rarely what it appeared to be on the surface.  A man might start an argument with someone of a higher status not because he was angry at the man but because he resented his own low standing. To win such an argument was to steal some of that man’s power. A woman might want a new piece of jewelry from her husband not because she needed more finery, but because it showed others that her husband valued her. She craved the status of that; not his actual love..  A girl might act aloof or tease a boy, not because she wants to hurt him or push him away, but because she likes him and doesn’t know how to express her own feelings.

Like everywhere, people desired the same things: love, power, status, freedom from pain and discomfort. And like everywhere, they often went about getting them the wrong way.

I observed these things closely all my life, and I thought about them as I went about my days. And the more I understood, the more things made sense to me.   I didn’t get upset when people behaved badly because I could see through it to the real reason, and I had compassion.

Many people came to me, asking for my advice. And from where I sit now, I still believe it was good advice.


Thank you for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog and/or sign up to receive email posts. New posts every three days, and they are getting more and more interesting. I promise! Comments are welcome here or at https://www.facebook.com/livesofthedead.   If you know anyone who would enjoy or relate to this,  please forward and/or share on Facebook or Twitter.  Thank you so much for your support!

 

photo: Roseman Creek Ranch

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Layers of the Seasons

Lock and Key

photo credit

Ka

He was the lock; I was the key. Or so I thought. Maybe it was the other way around.

I loved him because I could love him in exactly the way he needed to be loved. He was difficult (as was I!) and often tried my patience, but if I didn’t love him, who would? He often treated me badly, occasionally took his hand to me, frequently neglected me,  routinely said hurtful things, but even so, I knew he loved me in his own, often emotionally convoluted way. He knew I could find a man who treated me better, a man who deserved me more,  so it meant everything to him that I stayed married to him.

Over the years, friends and family urged me to leave him. He was no good for me, they said. He made me cry, made me feel less of myself. They made me question whether I was lying to myself about why I stayed.

But not good for me? What did that even mean?

Sometimes, I thought of myself as pathetic, desperate and needy. Other times, I felt proud of myself for taking the higher but more difficult road.

When things were bad, they were painful and awful and made me doubt. But when they were good, they restored my faith in the belief that this was the right choice for me.

When he was sober and contrite, he was loving and charming. He was intelligent and deep, but too often his demons got the better of him. He knew he mistreated and neglected me, and he knew that he had to make it up to me, double, when he was capable. That was how he held on to me through the worst of times.

I suppose I could say our marriage had its seasons. There were times of plenty followed by drought and famine. When love was abundant, I’d gorge. I’d fill up my heart to bursting. I’d squirrel away every bit of kindness, storing them in the hidden recesses of my soul and my memory. This got me through the lean times.

There were months, even years of famine when I felt it was time to pick up and move away. This soil was dry and dusty and nothing would grow here anymore. And then, just as I was about to leave, the rains would come and everything would spring back to life! Love burst back into bloom, and I’d think, How can I leave this place? It’s the only home I know.

I felt bound to him though never dependent. If I’d felt dependent, I’d surely have left him early on. No, that wasn’t the word. I felt responsible for him. As if I’d been put on the earth just to understand him; to be the only one he could love.

But that was only part of it. It filled a need in me, too, to be with him. I needed to be loved like that – singularly and deeply. As long as there was that, I could deal with everything else.

Most people search for a perfect, flawless human being to love and be loved by. They believe that such perfect person will provide perfect happiness.   In fact, nothing in life is learned from perfection. The lessons are found in working with and through the imperfections. I could not have expressed this while I was alive. I raged at the imperfection. I wanted the pain and frustration to end so all would be peacefully ideal.

In the beginning, I didn’t understand all the layers beneath the layers. But as we shed each one, I loved us more. We became closer, paring away our fears, one by one. We scraped off the veneer to reveal the truth below. We melted off of the coating that held everything neatly in place so we could deal the messy reality. Sometimes it felt like too much to process, and one or the other of us just wanted to run.

Apart and together. Apart and together. Apart and together. And with each together, another layer was gone, bringing us closer to the meat of it, to the seed, to the real reason we stayed with each other; to understanding the basis of our bond.

I don’t know if I could have done it for fifty or sixty years. I died before I found out. I am not sure we would have been willing to keep scratching away like that or if we would have eventually come to an end.   Or perhaps, one day, finally, all would have been exposed and there would have been nothing left to learn of or from each other. Maybe one of us would have reached that point first, and walked away.

Certainly, I was not so easy to live with, myself. I was often angry, impatient, demanding, frustrated, mean, ornery and occasionally violent. I tried my best to rise above my anger but I will admit to flinging the occasional vase or dish.

I know now that this was one of my tests, my lessons for that life – to understand and overcome anger. I was better in this life than I was in lives past, but I still have work to do.

I supposed I stayed with him because I sensed I needed to learn this.

But it could have been he who ended it. He might have decided that domesticity wasn’t for him; that he was no longer willing to do the work to maintain the balance. He might have been no longer willing to toil when the land was fertile; unwilling to stock the pantry in preparation for the lean times. Without me, his life would have been easier in many ways, but I understand now that he needed the challenge of me, too. I suppose he knew that as well.

This understanding, though unspoken and unconscious, is what bound us. We both heard that inner voice that told us that we were on the right path.

Running away from the lessons is always an option. Human have free will.   I doubt I could have stayed on that particular path for decades more.   Perhaps, if I had lived longer, I might have chosen another road,  leading to different but equally important lessons.

I stayed with him as long as I did because until the very end, I always felt I hadn’t yet solved the riddle of us.  It still intrigued me.

He is not here yet, but I will wait and we will do it again, in a different way.


 

Thank you for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog and/or sign up to receive email posts. New posts every three days, and they are getting more and more interesting. I promise! Comments are welcome here or at https://www.facebook.com/livesofthedead.   If you know anyone who would enjoy or relate to this,  please forward and/or share on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks for your support!

I Know What Girls Like…

Henry Darger from "In the Realms of the Unreal"

Pr

My life was just shame. The shame of who I was and of what I did.

The shame of who I was led me to do what I did. The shame of what I did led me further into the shame of who I was.

Where do I begin to explain? My sin is something few humans can comprehend. They can understand murder and rape, thuggery and genocide better than they can comprehend my particular crime. This is not to say they accept or sympathize with such crimes against humanity, but they can make sense of the perhaps irrational motivations – the need to destroy, the need for power, the need for money, the need for freedom or supremacy especially after a lifetime of repression. Perhaps even misguided religious fervor. The human mind can understand how such malignancies can develop because they can make sense of the root cause.

Not so for me.   Even here, looking back, I can’t say I totally understand it myself.  It was just a need, a drive I had. It was an attraction that I could not control. I suppose if I were different, stronger, I might have been able to control my behavior, but my feelings? No. Impossible.

The first time I felt it, I was still young, but old enough to recognize how wrong it was. This is when the shame began.

For most people, sexual and romantic attraction are age-appropriate.   A kindergartner might have a sweet first crush on another child in the class. A twelve-year old boy might try to steal a kiss from a another twelve year old.   Teenagers lust after other teenagers. And adults generally mate amongst themselves.  Certainly children develop crushes on teachers or older persons of authority, but most adults understand what the child has yet to learn:   any sexual relationship would be completely inappropriate and out of balance.

I, however, never grew out of my grade-school sexuality.   By the time I reached my teens, girls my own age frightened me. I felt too much a child, myself.   I sensed they could see right through me. I feared they could see things in me that I didn’t want them to see; things which needed to remain hidden but which I had no ability to conceal.  I suspected they would demand things of me – sexually, emotionally – which I knew I could not satisfy. I feared they would consume me whole or mock me.

I kept my distance.   I spent a lot of time alone. I eventually learned how to fit in. I wasn’t stupid, just emotionally immature with a tragic lack of impulse control.

At first, I’d just fantasize. There were times when my loving gaze fell too long on a beautiful little girl. The accompanying parent would quickly hustle the child out of my sight, while casting back a warning glare over his or her shoulder.

I learned to be more discreet. Not to leer or stare.

I used to masturbate to catalogs of children’s clothing, filled with adorable models. Even as I did it, I recognized how pathetic I was. I went to a couple of those junior beauty pageants, but they were too creepy even for me.   I recognized in the audience, other men with the same feelings as mine and it frightened me. I saw my future, older and just like them. I didn’t want to end up like that, even though I feared I would.

One day, when I was in my late twenties, a new family moved into my apartment complex. They had a beautiful little daughter, maybe 10 or 11. I fell instantly in love with her. I was obsessed.

I bought a puppy to attract her attention, which was the perfect ruse. She would come over to pet him. I’d give her little snacks to feed him. Then, I got her to help me teach him tricks. That gave me an opportunity to be around her longer, with her feeling happy and relaxed.

Her pure joy! Her unsullied innocence! Her translucent skin that allowed her inner light to shine through! The way she looked at me with those huge blue eyes when she asked me a question, and awaited my response as if having an audience with the Buddha! Truly, I was in love. It was as real and deep and meaningful to me as any kind of love is to anyone.

It did not feel shameful. It felt pure. I felt that if she could love me too, it would redeem me.

I was as nervous and afraid as any inexperienced young man might be about approaching a girl he likes. I didn’t want to frighten her. I wanted her to understand things as I did.

I complemented her. Told her how pretty, how smart, how good with animals she was. I gave her small gifts.  I invited her in for snacks. (Her single mother worked, and she was mostly on her own in the afternoons.)   We’d watch TV on the sofa, and eventually, we cuddled.

For her, it was no different than it might have been cuddling with her own father, who had all but abandoned her and whose male attention she obviously missed. But for me, it was absolutely romantic. I was in heaven, just to have her near me, just to smell her hair, to hear her laugh.

And then, one day, we got on the subject of boys. She wanted to know certain things about the facts of life, about male anatomy.   From where I am now, I recognize that she was just a normally curious kid. Her father was absent and her mother was barely there. I was a trusted adult. Who else would she ask?

I understood it as a seduction.  A black curtain inside of me blocked out all normal human emotional logic.  In my immaturity, I imagined that she wanted me, as I wanted her. I believed that this was her way of making the first move. It meant she loved me!

I started so slowly and gently, just touching and telling her how beautiful she was, and how sexy, and how much I liked her and how she could drive a man mad. And she liked it. She did. But she liked it because she was just a child and she had nobody else to tell her these things that she desperately wanted to hear. In her own way, she was as needy and lost in the world as I was.

Of course, she was just a child and I was the adult;  I should have known better. But it didn’t feel that way to me at the time. Emotionally, we were the same age. In fact, to me, she felt older. She seemed confident but in fact, she was just trusting and naïve, and was thus not nervous. She had no reason to be.

Eventually, we had sex. At the time, in my delusional state, it seemed she desired me as much as I desired her. I realize now that I forced myself too quickly on her. She was not ready — not physically and not emotionally. Even if I’d gone more slowly, she still wouldn’t have understood.

For a young girl who is just beginning to recognize her potential as a woman, to sense she has power over an older man, is a heady feeling,.  but is emotion that a ten year old mind cannot process in its full scope. She could not have understood all the ramifications. For her, it was a game: to have a man do whatever she asked; give her whatever she wanted. That was as far as she thought about it. She might well have played this power game with her own father against her mother if he’d been around more.   It was not a sexual thing. She was just a child, only just beginning to understand her power as a female. She was testing her wings.

She didn’t even understand, really, what sex was. She didn’t comprehend the brutality of it on her small body. She didn’t anticipate the pain. Or the terror of having a grown man upon her, essentially holding her prisoner.

When I imagine her face now, I know she was terrified. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. I was oblivious to her panic.

And when it was over, she cried. I tried to comfort her but she wanted no part of me. I will never forget the look in her eyes: they screamed “Betrayal!”   Her innocence was gone and it was all my fault. I had totally misjudged the situation (because truly, there was some part of me that was missing, and this rendered me incapable of understanding any of the dynamic in what had just transpired.)

She left and never came back.

I understood after the fact that I’d hurt her but I didn’t understand how I had so badly misjudged. Maybe I was also angry because I felt we were in it together, that our feelings for each other were mutual, that we both wanted it, and it wasn’t fair that she blamed me after she changed her mind. But again, this was a result of my immature thinking.

And in the weeks following, whenever I’d see her around, she would quickly walk the other way. There was a complete change in her demeanor. She had closed in on herself. She was no longer that open, trusting, carefree little girl. The joy had gone out of her eyes, replaced by shock, sadness, fear, mistrust. I’d selfishly stolen her innocence.

I was consumed by guilt.   I knew I’d done a horrific thing. I knew I had destroyed something in her, and that she would not get over it for a long time, if ever. And yet, I could not stop my desire. The worse I felt about myself, the more I needed the love of an innocent to justify my feelings, to restore my sense of self-worth.

It was not logical. I don’t expect anyone else to make sense of it.

She never said anything to anyone, at least not that I ever knew. Her shame and guilt were as great as mine.

I couldn’t bear to see her. I couldn’t bear to have her look at me like that.   I moved far away, to another city. Eventually, I went through something similar with another girl, age twelve. It, too, ended badly. And she also never told. I moved away, again.

The third time, the girl told her parents. I ended up in jail.

This was the right place for me. I fully felt I deserved it. It was a relief not have to worry about further temptation, because I knew if I were still out there, it would only happen again. There was something broken in me, but I couldn’t change it and I couldn’t stop it and with my limited emotional depth, I couldn’t even understand it.

Being in jail for this kind of crime is probably one of the most difficult sentences a man can serve. Even other prisoners are repulsed by such urges.   I did not last long in there, which was for the best. I was long out of choices.

 


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Henry Darger

artwork: Henry Darger from “In the Realms of the Unreal”

Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Artist: Mobstr/location: London

Sa

Genius. My greatest sorrow and frustration in life was that I was able to recognize it; appreciate it when I saw it; easily discern between the very good, the great and the brilliant; and yet, I, myself, could not produce anything of such caliber.   I could see the tricks and techniques the masters used to imprint their work with their unique creative flair. I was able to read between the lines and marvel at a turn of phrase or an especially apt metaphor. I noticed the nuanced underpainting and the way it brought life to the subject. I could hear the subtle change of key that lodged a melody in the head. And yet was not able to reproduce any of it.

I did not begrudge them their success. They deserved it. I only wanted to whip aside the curtain to see how they did it. Was there a trick? A skill I could learn? Techniques I might master?   The answer, I found was yes to all those things, and yet, the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts. There was something inside those people, something I didn’t possess. No matter what I did, somebody else did it better.   More naturally. More easily.

Perhaps if I’d had no aesthetic sense; if I’d not be able to catch that flash of brilliance that separated the journeyman from the prodigy, it might not have pained me so much. But I was able to see it and each time I did, it reminded me that I lacked what came so easily to them.

I plugged away at what I did best. I was moderately successful. I was able to earn a living, but few outside my immediate circle sang praises to my talent.

They stood at the pinnacle and I was left to worship from below.

I suppose this was the main thread of my life: To envy what I could never be; to live in the disappointment of not being able to be better than I was.

 


 

Thank you for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog and/or sign up to receive email posts. New posts every three days, and they are getting more and more interesting. I promise! Comments are welcome here or at https://www.facebook.com/livesofthedead.   If you know anyone who would enjoy or relate to this,  please forward and/or share on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks!

Artist: Mobstr/location: London

When the Whip Comes Down

http://www.westernwhips.com/

Kv

My desires were not normal to others, but they felt perfectly natural to me.  If people had known what I was, what I did, what I liked to have done to me, they surely would have shunned me

I loved pain. I needed to be beaten and whipped, kicked and abused. This gave me not just pleasure but comfort, a feeling that life was in balance.

Being tied and flogged was a strange form of intimacy. This satisfaction of my needs was a sharing of a deep secret which so few knew.

The physical pain masked my psychic pain. In the throes of a beating, nothing else existed except the whip. Lost in the welts and the blood was the guilt I felt for being who I was.

Bound, I was tied to the moment, experiencing only that. The sting was my penance, my punishment for not being someone more worthwhile.

In those hours of total submission, I could lose myself in someone else’s control. I was no longer responsible for my life. The snap of leather on my skin kept me in the here and now. There were no other thoughts, no other feelings except that sharp bite. This pain was real, tangible. There were marks on my flesh to prove it.   This was not some nebulous, esoteric angst which was impossible to identify.

In those moments, I could almost hear my father’s voice. “You want something to cry about!?” the lash mocked. “I’ll give you something to cry about!” It brought all my focus to my screaming nerve endings, and away from my head. It was a trade-off — one kind of pain for another. But physical pain could be healed, comforted, lovingly attended to. This is what grounded me and kept me in the moment.

It would take a thousand lifetimes to understand all the ways we hide from our true pain.


 

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photo: http://www.westernwhips.com/

 

 

The King, Inviolate

medieval-castle

 

I spent my life in avoidance. Avoidance of pain, certainly,   but also avoidance of risk of trust, avoidance of change, avoidance of the unfamiliar, avoidance of allowing myself to be open to anyone.

I was adept at sabotage, setting things up so nothing appeared to be my fault, and yet, I understand now how everything was on me.

A few women loved me but with each I played games until I’d made her cry and doubt herself, grow so emotionally brittle that she’d crumble. This made them easy to leave.

In many ways, I felt myself superior to others yet in fundamental ways, feared I was not as superior as I imagined myself to be. It was necessary not to let anyone too close, lest we all find out the truth of me.

I kept my children close by keeping them dependent. They were deeply damaged and this, too, was my doing.

By all appearances, I was a success but all the money and accolades never convinced me of my worth. Nothing external can ever assuage self-doubt.

I was very good at appearances. My ornate façade was solidly built of bricks and mortar. Traps were set everywhere. It was so impressive, even to myself, I often failed to notice the vulnerability I still felt within. In masking it so well to others, I masked it to myself.  In any case, I had no need to face my own weakness — that’s how thick my walls were.   Nobody got in.

I was so arrogant at my ability to play this game better than anyone else. I was proud of my fortress. While others inevitably showed their flaws and fears, I remained inviolate; the victorious king in his impenetrable castle.

But in the end, what did I gain by avoiding all the lessons I might have learned if I’d taken the risks? If I’d let someone in? If I ventured out?  I learned  that self-protection is not the same as emotional bravery. And very often,  by winning, you lose.


Thank you for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog and/or sign up to receive email posts. New posts every three days, and they are getting more and more interesting. I promise! Comments are welcome here or at https://www.facebook.com/livesofthedead.   If you know anyone who would enjoy or relate to this,  please forward and/or share on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks!

 

 

The Voice

fan

Si

Just when you think you have it all figured out, the proverbial ca-ca hits the fan. Everything is going smoothly. Your life is working. You feel safe in the illusion that you are in control. Then suddenly, it all blows up in your face.

The structure crumbles. Nature deals you a serious blow. There is illness, death, tragedy. Inability to control the circumstances. And then panic. Or depression. Or both.

The “luckier” and more privileged we think we are, the further we’re sent reeling by the smack down. We are unprepared. It feels as if we’ve fallen down a flight of stairs and had the wind knocked out of our lungs.

In many ways, life is easier when disappointment starts early. We learn the lesson at a young age that nothing is a given; that we must fight for every drop of happiness we experience. We come to appreciate the times when tragedy does not yank us out of our bed in the middle of the night and toss us out into the cold, dark night. We learn to value the moments when no pain pricks at our body or soul. We know that joy is fleeting, so when it comes, we embrace it and savor every second.

For some — those born into more “fortunate” circumstances — those lessons often don’t get learned until late in life, or perhaps not at all.

When we suffer, we rail against the injustice, failing to recognize that all of life is unjust, even for the so-called lucky ones. Joy is not a permanent condition, but we can achieve a kind of contentment if we can find the lessons and purpose in our journey.

From here, it’s easy to look back and understand all we cannot understand in life. The reasons for each journey are hidden from us behind a veil. Sometimes, we can see vague images, movements, the shadows of actions behind it. We may feel ourselves being pushed or led in a certain direction, but we never really know until we’re back here if we understood correctly, if we were following the right path, if we learned our lessons properly.   So many choices and no way to know, until it’s all over.

I was fortunate in that in life I remained strongly tethered to the part of me that remained here. My life was guided by this part of myself.   I was able to hear my true soul more clearly than others. I knew enough to listen for that voice, to heed its call, to follow its advice.

This is not to say I never made mistakes or suffered from sadness or pain which (at the time) seemed to have no reason. There were many occasions when I could not hear that guidance.  I lost my way, moving blindly and unsteadily through my circumstances, without any faith, hoping I didn’t make any irreparable mistakes.    Eventually, however, I’d rise through the pain with a sharper ear, listening more acutely, until finally I was able to distinguish it from all the background chatter, like picking out a familiar voice in the din of a crowd.

It was this voice that got me through.


 

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The Vaseline Jar

fog-man

Pe

Have you ever walked through a fog so thick, you can barely see your feet as they hit the pavement in front of you? You might hear voices, traffic, the sounds of others’ footsteps, but you can see nothing but yourself.

This was my normal state of existence — enveloped in an opaque haze which never dissipated.

Or perhaps it was more like living in a Vaseline-covered jar. I could see what was immediately around me; that which was inside the jar. I could feel my own feelings clearly enough, but could not see my effect on the lives or feelings of others. Beyond my immediate surroundings,  the world was fuzzy.  My future and the possibility of change were all out there, beyond my reach, and always out of focus.

Every so often, someone would come close and enter into clarity for a brief while, but inevitably they would move out of range, beyond my ability to see them clearly; outside my ability to understand; beyond my comfort zone which I could not step outside in order to follow or give chase.

I was too afraid to pursue my dreams in that terra incognita for fear I would stumble and fall. I knew there was joy and peace out there, but they existed in the midst of dangers and demons I could not see, and to which I would not allow myself to become vulnerable.

And so I remained trapped in this bleak brume, trying to hack my way through like a blind person tentatively feeling their way around new surroundings; waving my hands,  as if trying to clear the smoke out of a kitchen after a small grease fire without first bothering to put out the flames.

A few tried to lead me. Sometimes I would follow blindly for a while, clinging, but then the fear began to creep: What if they led me to a new, unfamiliar place and then abandoned me? I wouldn’t understand the rules. How would I cope in this strange landscape? I would be totally vulnerable.

I couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone that much, least of all myself.

So there I remained, safe in my Vaseline jar; in my smoke-filled kitchen, in my pea-soup-dense fog. Just me and my imagination of how it could be out there if I only could.


 

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When I Stick a Spike Into My Vein…

heroin bottle

Lo

I was famous. You probably would know who I was. I say now, with no attachment at all to that ego, and with complete modesty, my fame was well-deserved. I was a genius in my field, and will long be remembered as so. But what does that matter now? Fame was just my particular path, no better and no worse than any other. Genius was merely a means to attain fame, which afforded me access to the lessons I needed to learn.

I was born with a terrifying hole inside myself. That was the price for my genius and the source of my creativity. The fount of my talent was a dark place deep in my soul; a place which attracted and repelled me at the same time. It was as if I were suspended from a thin wire over a gaping, black, shark-toothed maw. I’d lower myself down carefully trying to snatch what I needed without falling, then getting out before the jaws snapped shut.

The deeper I went into the blackness, the more my genius spoke to me. I needed to go down there to retrieve what was necessary, but it cost me dearly.

I paid for my talent with pain and fear. How often I longed for less genius and more peace! It took all my psychic energy to cling to that wire!

I needed to numb the fear of falling. I needed some detachment.

This was easily accomplished with alcohol and narcotics. By the time I was 17, I’d settled on heroin as my drug of choice.   I wasn’t stupid about it. I guess technically I was a junkie because I was absolutely addicted for most of my adulthood,  but I never was one of those nodding-out smack-heads who slept in parks or shot up in squatters’ crash pads. Unlike others, I didn’t go from one ill-conceived smash-and-grab petty crime to another.   Well, perhaps a bit, in the very beginning, when I was just starting. But I became professionally successful early on. I was able to afford my own place, pay my bills. I had access to the good stuff whenever I wanted it. I had people to take care of me. I never (well, rarely) shunned my responsibilities when people were counting on me. I was able to enjoy my escapes with what I thought was little danger. I didn’t think the consequences would apply to me. I thought I could forever live this lifestyle with impunity.

I loved being high. I existed on an entirely different plane which felt as much like reality as reality. More so, even. I’d wonder, what is reality? The truth was, nobody was ever able to give me convincing argument that one was more real than the other. That was the beauty of it! Maybe the high was true reality and what most people thought of as cold hard reality was merely illusion.

Now, if a living junkie said that to you, you’d probably think their brain was totally fried; that it was just the drugs talking; that it was a way of denying the damage, of justifying the addiction. But just look at my current reality. I’m pure white light,  the state I’d long been trying to achieve through various means.  Maybe I wasn’t so wrong to have asked those questions when I was alive.

I guess always suspected that a state such as this was the true reality, or at least another valid reality. I was just trying to get to it, all the while playing a game of chicken with The Angel of Death and The Gaping Maw.

Reality, I have come to understand, is purely subjective.

 

Listen to “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground

 

addendum:  This narrative was channeled in early July.  At the time, I wondered if it was Lou Reed dictating.  I recognized that it was wishful thinking to believe that Lou had chosen to speak to me,.  I’ve always been a huge fan of his,  ever since the first “Banana” album.  He was famous and certainly qualifies as a genius.  But since I neither get (nor do I want) any personal details,  the narrator’s identity would have to remain a mystery.

Then yesterday (early August) I was working in the kitchen,  listening to my stereo which contains 200 CDs (about 3500 songs) and is always set to “random.”   Apropos of nothing,  I started to think about Lou, wondering again about this narrative, recognizing that I will probably never know either way if it was him or someone else or nobody at all or just a figment of my imagination.  As I thought about him, an obscure song of his popped into my head. (“This Magic Moment” from the Doc Pomus tribute album) and I kid you not,  the next magic moment,  that song came on the stereo!

Perhaps it was just a coincidence…or perhaps it was Lou saying, “Yeah,  that was me.”   Readers, you can decide for yourselves.

(By the way, I’ve never done heroin or any other narcotic.)

 

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Across a Crowded Room…

 

Some_Enchanted_Evening

Sa

I remember one particular moment of my life so clearly. It was a small moment, just a snapshot of an emotion set in a frame.

I am making tea for him in my kitchen. I am standing at the little corner counter top  next to the stove. I am facing the wall, pouring the just-boiled water into the tea pot. I see the striped place mat on the Formica. The counter it so small, the place mat almost covers it completely. I realize, “I really like this man…more than I have liked anyone before.” And in this instant, I am caught exactly and equally between two emotions: love and terror. Two trains of thought slap through my brain, like the ropes in Double Dutch:  “This love can change my life” and “If it’s not real; if he is just playing with me, I will not survive. The blow will kill me.”

But he was not just playing with me. And indeed, he did change my life.

I was working as an exotic dancer.   I was not a slut or a drug user or an alcoholic. It was simply the only work I could find that paid my bills. I knew I couldn’t do it forever, but I was still young enough not to have to think about that for the time being.   I was just happy to have a steady, decent income; happy not to be dependent on anyone. I’d learned young that no one else can be counted on. The job paid more than working in a factory or as a cashier in some supermarket or greasy fast food joint. I wasn’t stupid but I had no education. I didn’t have a lot of options.

But being seen, night after night, through the eyes of horny, lustful, lonely men — that slowly kills something inside a woman.  It’s kind of strange. You might think that being in a position of sexual power (the men were, after all, paying to be close to me while being forbidden to touch) would make me feel, well, powerful. In control.   It did not.   It made me feel as if that was all I was worth. That my mind, my feelings, my soul, were of no consequence whatsoever. I was only my body. It made me feel hollow. It numbed me to my real self.

Then, one day, he came in. He was with a bunch of guys; friends from work, it turned out. (One of them was getting married.) He seemed uncomfortable, as if he were there reluctantly. He wasn’t drunk; he nursed the same beer for an hour. He was pleasant looking. He had the kind of face you could feel relaxed just looking at. He caught my eye and smiled, a bit sadly. His expression was completely lacking any lust.   I felt his eyes on me all evening, and in the end, even though I didn’t do anything special for him, he gave me a very big tip just before he left. He looked me right in the eyes and said, without any sarcasm, “Spend it wisely.”

After that, I thought about him a lot. He’d really gotten under my skin.  Even through the whiskey haze of that place, amid the flashing lights, over the hooting and jeering and drunken remarks of the patrons, beyond the half-naked women who were adept at teasing as much cash as possible out of the men, in this room ripe with the overpowering scent of sweat and pheromones, he looked at me and saw a whole person.

It was unsettling and yet exhilarating.

It was a couple of weeks before he came back. This time, he was alone. He remained aloof. He did not look at or engage with the other girls. He nursed his one beer for a few hours, resisting all entreaties from the dancers and the bartender. He watched only me, but in the most respectful way. He never leered or stared , but his glance always returned to me, letting me know he was always at least peripherally aware of me. Once again, before he left, he handed me a large tip, and said, cryptically, “I don’t need any change, but I think you do.” And then he was gone.

I scratched my head over that for a while. Who was he? What did he want from me? And why me?

He returned a week or so later (maybe it was longer – my memory for these things is not so good any more.)  It went that same before – the watching me from the corner of his eye, just the single beer.  Again, he waited to leave until after my set was over then he came over, as before, to hand me money. This time I looked at him closely, noticing the details of his kind face. He appeared to be a few years older than I was (seven, I later found out). He was nicely dressed in casual business clothes. There was just something so comfortable about him. I’d never felt like that about anyone before. He handed me the tip and said, “You have something. Don’t waste it.” He smiled, and left, as usual.

I ran after him and caught up with him just outside. I was intrigued but confused.

“What…?” I said, not even knowing what to say, what to ask.

He smiled, “I noticed you the first night I came here, with the guys from work. There’s something different about you. You’re not like the others…”

I didn’t really know what he meant. I was, to my thinking, not so much different from the other girls. When I did compare myself,  I always felt myself coming up short. I knew I wasn’t as good as they were at getting the most out of the men. The girls who’d been there a while really knew how to play those drunken guys to perfection. Compared to them, I was nothing. I was just some loser girl, working a humiliating job to pay the rent. I didn’t feel in any way worthy of being singled out. So what could he possibly have seen in me?

“I don’t understand…” I said.

He was shy, which struck me as sweet. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”

At first I thought he was judging me negatively and was offended. He must have seen that on my face and quickly tried to explain.

“I mean, there’s something about you that doesn’t fit here.” I don’t remember everything he said exactly, but he tried to convince me that it was time for me to make different choices in life, and that they would pay off better in the end.

After my shift, he took me for coffee at the diner. We talked for a long time…about our lives, about our childhoods.   He was easy to talk to.  He really listened. Nobody had ever listened to me like that before.

I guess he saw in me someone he could help; someone he could save.  He suggested possibilities I’d never considered.   He made me feel as if I could choose differently and still be OK.

After that, he came to meet me every night at the end of my shift and we’d sit and talk in the same back booth.

And finally, one night, I invited him back to my apartment. That was the night I made him tea.

I was shaking with fear and uncertainty when I brought the tray to the couch. He was so respectful and kind.   I’d never met a man like that before. I was afraid to do anything, for fear of spooking him.

Finally, I fell asleep on the sofa. In the morning, I woke up alone, neatly tucked in, covered with the blanket.   Nothing had happened.  I was both disappointed and overjoyed.

My life changed after that in ways I never would have imagined. Just having someone believe in me made everything seem possible.

We were together for 27 years and I loved him more every day of my life, until the day I died. And he loved me the same.

At the moment we first saw each other, it was as if we recognized each other. Now I know we have been together in lives past; and we will find each other again in our next.

 

 

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