The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “wisdom”

The Lessons in Everything

NEW!

 

Nal

My grandfather’s hand held firm on my rudder throughout my life, even after he was long gone.

My earliest memory of a lesson that stayed with me throughout my life was at age 4 or 5.  We had planned a day at the beach, just the two of us.  I had him all to myself (and he, me.)  Before we got on the train,  he took me into a small shop that sold children’s clothing and toys, and let me pick out something special for the day.  I chose a colorful pail and shovel, imprinted with my favorite cartoon character.  I was as happy as a child could be.

We set out a spot on the sand.  He took me into the water and held me while we dove through the waves, me clinging to him tightly while laughing and giggling in pure joy.

Back on our blanket, he showed me how to make sand castles.

On the next blanket, there was a boy about my age, who did not seem very happy.  His mother was kissing and touching a man who I learned later was not his father, but his mother’s new boyfriend. They were secretly drinking beer even though it was not allowed on the beach.  They were in their own world and mostly ignored him, except to yell at him for some small infraction.  His older brother, maybe about nine or ten, entertained himself by harassing his younger sibling.

The boy seemed lonely so I invited to join me, building castles.  He was a fun and willing playmate, running down to the water’s edge again and again to fill the bucket to wet our pile of sand.  My grandfather had brought some lunch along, and I offered him half of my sandwich, which he ate hungrily. Even in my child’s mind, I had the impression he wasn’t very well-fed.

When it was time for us to go,  my instinct was to let him keep the bucket.  I recognized, in my childlike way, that I had so much more than he did.  I had many toys at home and he probably had none.  I had parents and grandparents who loved me and paid attention to me.  His mother treated him like an annoyance.    But the pail had been a gift from my grandfather.  I wasn’t sure how he would feel if I were to give it away.

I asked him.

“It is yours to do with as you please.  You have to ask yourself if it is better to keep it  or if it’s better to use what you have to make other people happy.  I have found that sharing with others makes me much happier than keeping things all to myself.  I am proud that you feel the same way.”

And so, I gave the boy my special toy.

My grandfather could have replaced it for me but he didn’t.  This was a good thing.  If he’d bought me another, I would not have remembered the lesson.  Missing it reminded me of the pleasure of sharing, the joy of making another happy.

A few years later, I was in the small grocery store my grandfather owned.  A boy, about thirteen or fourteen, came in and took some cans of food and hid them in his clothes.  Grandfather caught him.  I expected him to be outraged; to give him a lecture and call the police.  But instead, he recognized that the boy was poor; that he had stolen only to eat.  So instead, he offered him a job.  It didn’t pay much but it was enough to keep him from stealing.  Grandfather often gave him food to take home to his family.  The boy worked for him for many years, until he left to join the army.  From this, I learned that believing in someone can change their life.

When the school bully started harassing me, Grandfather explained to me that bullies puff themselves up so nobody will see how weak they really are.  They were not to be feared, but rather to be pitied.  And so, I learned to show compassion in the face of fear.

Even after Grandfather died, his lessons remained with me, guiding me in my judgment and   in my relationships with others.  He was then, and remains even here, my spiritual teacher.  We have been together in other lives previous, and will be together in the next life coming.  Not always as grandfather and child, but always as teacher and student.

 

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Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

The Pleasure in the Pain

first published Nov 30, 2015

 

crying eye

Ri

Life became so much easier once I learned to feel the pleasure in the pain. I do not speak of the passion of physical pain, which is not pain at all; I speak, rather, of emotional pain.

This is not to say I sought it out, but life is full enough of pain that there is no avoiding it. My life became easier when I no longer numbed myself to the inevitable. I stopped running from it wherever it found me. After time, I didn’t even bother to step out of its way.

I stopped fearing it. What a release to enjoy the beauty in sorrow! To savor the taste of my own tears. To climb down deeper into understanding on the rope of my pain.

Great emotion – both joy and pain – is opening. The heart is rent wide, laid bare without defense. No walls. No ego.   Only in this state — without ego — is it possible to connect to the universe.

I learned not to waste that state of grace.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

 

A Collection of Moments

First published November 21, 2015

Dungeness River, Sequim, WA - Magdalena Bassett

Jek

I can remember the screeching of the sea birds as they descended on the harbor to feed on the offal of the fishermen’s catch. At the time, I thought of them as a nuisance. But I remember them now with affection. They were so purely alive, exploding in a storm of biological imperative.

There are a lot of things I remember now that I didn’t take the time to notice then: The way the air on the skin changes from season to season – a floral caress in the spring; in winter. A slap on the cheek from an angry lover. The way a certain scent, not smelled since childhood, catapults you back to the nursery.  The quiet breathing of a lover, in the place beside, and the warmth left behind when they are gone.

Plodding along, one foot in front of the other, I never took my eyes from my path; I never noticed the small miracles lining the way.

Only later, perhaps too late, does it become clear: there is no prize or grand finale. What you have in the end is only the joy you’ve collected along the way.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.
 

 

Photo by my pal, the very talented Magdalena Bassett. Image: The Dungeness River on a rainy day in Sequim, WA

Love is the Way to the Truth

First published Sept 18, 2014

 Aya (a new voice)

I believe in the redemptive power of love. It is the prism through which everything passes. It is the path along which the most important lessons are learned. Love turns you inward; directs you to where the most important answers are.

When two people make a commitment to each other in love, that commitment is as much to themselves as to each other. It is a promise to grow and change; to bend to fit with an open heart; to see clearly both the good and bad in oneself;  to continually reevaluate beliefs; to rethink behaviors and view them from different perspectives; to see the world through another’s eyes.

To love is to commit to working on everything that prevents us from becoming our best self. We commit to knowing our own true self, and when we have discovered it, all things become clear. The result is true intimacy — with ourselves, with each other, with the universe.

In loving fully, we make ourselves whole.

[more from Aya later]

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

No Risk, No Love

First published Nov 3, 2015

Pra

Lies. Every sweet word out of my lover’s mouth was a lie. And once I recognized them as such, it all became clear. I saw how things really were.

I understood that every person tells the lies they must to get the things they want. The worst of them manipulate the feelings others so they may bask in the glow of being loved without the risks inherent to  loving in return.

Some lie without even realizing they are lying. They carve out their little corner of reality and abide in it. As long as they remain confined within this small place of reference, their truth is The Only Truth.

Some love only when the situation suits them, and easily withdraw their love to seek advantage elsewhere.

The more I paid attention, the more I recognized the patterns. I became a master of these observed manipulations, which made me wary and cynical. I felt proud and clever to have figured out how to protect myself. I would not give my love. I would trust no one.

Not that I didn’t suffer. It only saved me from the ignominy of publicly granting others the power to hurt me. I gave them no satisfaction. I licked my wounds in solitude.

This became the irony of my life. The more times I was hurt, the more wary I became. The more wary I became, the more I, myself, became the very nightmare I was trying to avoid

I never found the way out of that cycle.

From here, the route is clear.  This is the truth:  To love requires remaining vulnerable. Vulnerability inevitably, eventually results in pain.  Thus the quest for love guarantees pain.

With this understood, there are only three choices:

Avoid the pain by locking the gates to the heart.

Remain vulnerable in weakness, suffering every slight with no enlightenment.

Remain vulnerable in strength, accepting of whatever comes, marveling at the full range of the emotions of which we find ourselves capable, regarding each passion and sorrow as the first chapter of a lesson.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Losing Feathers

First published on October 25, 2015

aeg sky feathers

Ror

I could not point to any reason for my unhappiness. It was rather that because I was, by nature, unhappy, I found reason for unhappiness in everything.   It became worse as I got older. Perhaps it was hormonal or maybe it was simply that I was now on the downhill side of my life with narrowing opportunities or reasons for hope.

Gradually, I lost the taste for that which I once enjoyed. I ceased to care about the problems of others, both large and small. I stayed more to myself and found less tolerance for the petty interests of the general public.

I went through the motions of life without extracting any joy, making my last years sad and full of regret.


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Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

originally published August 22, 2014

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.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

 

Artist: Mobstr/location: London

 

Sooner Than You Think

Originally published Sept 6, 2014

calendar pages turning

Ke

Well, tomorrow finally came, and here I am.

I put off almost everything I dreamed of doing until it would be more convenient; for when I’d have more time, more money, more bravery than I currently possessed. That I would eventually run out of time or energy or opportunity was such an abstract concept that it had virtually no meaning.

Equally abstract was the notion that I could ever actually have or do the things I’d always dreamed about having or doing.

My dreams existed only in the future.

“Someday” became tomorrow. Tomorrow became next week. Next week became next year, until one by one, the windows closed for me on all my dreams.

I never completely threw myself into any of those pursuits.  In my heart of hearts, I never believed the things I most wanted were possible. I didn’t think I was good enough to deserve them. I didn’t believe I was clever enough to grab them and hold on to them, even if they were within reach.  It was easier and safer to simply fantasize, and perhaps blame others, or circumstances, or even some completely unrelated flaw in myself for my unfulfilled dreams.

I never started my own business, which I’d always fantasized about. Instead, I stuck with my boring but reliable job until I finally retired.   It was the safe choice but of course, I have could have achieved my dream unless I’d been willing to take a risk. Which I was not.

I never traveled to all the exotic places I thought I wanted to go; never explored the world. Truth was, I barely ventured out of my comfort zone. I never went to places where I didn’t understand the language.   I worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate; that the food would be too strange for me to eat; that I wouldn’t understand the money and end up being taken advantage of.

I always wanted to learn to play a music instrument. Maybe piano. Perhaps guitar. In my fantasies, I was quite good. I would entertain my friends at parties.   But in truth, I never took a lesson. Never stuck with anything long enough to even get past the most rudimentary familiarity with a chord or a scale.

Most problematic of all, I never really found love. None of those other things would have mattered if I’d given up those pursuits in exchange for another person’s happiness. But that was not the case.

I had several long-term relationships, but the longest one lasted only about seven years. Never a lifetime commitment and all that entailed. Maybe I never met the right person. Maybe I was never ready for it. Maybe I was not open to it. Maybe it was simply not my destiny in that life. I still haven’t figured it out.

I thought I loved a few, but looking back, although some relationships were passionate, they were not really loving. I felt no deep commitment in any of them. I was content as long as things were going well, but as soon as things got rocky, I saw no point in sticking around. I’m not even sure that more of a commitment on my part would have made any difference. Let’s face it, sometimes, you just have to cut your losses. But then, sometimes, you have to see it out past the bad or inconvenient stuff and hope it turns a corner.   I was never good at knowing which was which, nor very patient at waiting to see how it would play out. Perhaps the right person might have inspired me to put it more of an effort. Perhaps I was the one who needed to be the inspiration.

I never had children either. I always thought that, too, would just happen. But it never did. Never the right time. Never the right person.

I lived a small life; didn’t learn as many lessons as I could have, should have.

The main thing I’ve come to understand is that fear is the enemy of everything good.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

Keen Observer

Originally posted August 31, 2014

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.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is al

 

 

photo: Roseman Creek Ranch

I Know What Girls Like…

first published August 25, 2014

Henry Darger from "In the Realms of the Unreal"

Pry

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”

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