I am living primarily off of chocolate coconut Luna bars and smoking in the car again– such are my peculiar signs of impending break. I wake soaked in sweat– I wake hearing the anger and disgust in his voice, again, the specific words he said, although now weeks have passed– my heart cringes and crawls like an experimental lab rat, fearing the shock it knows will come and is helpless to prevent. Nightmares bring family and home, Christmas and slaughter, my grandmother’s corpse and bears in the bedroom. Nothing feels heavier, more pathetic and insoluble than the weight and dampness, the stink and wind of the sheets tangled around my neck and thighs. I wake bewildered and terrified, tail tucked, in tail spin. Such are the manifestations of home, family, love. I understand nothing. I yield to cover and the repetition of breath. I count hours, empty pillows, the things I know. I study the blinded streetlight bending round the metal bed frame; I try to remember what I’ve forgotten. I make bed and home in wretchedness, bewilderment, sheeted and bound in the intimacy of my own peculiar breaking.
All night I wrestle, I wind. These ribbons mean danger. Turn up the femme, a fierce and unyielding light. A thin line between birth and death. Listen for the crack. Relief in the determination that I never have to be okay again. And because I don’t have to be, I will. This is the blood-boil bewilderment before the fever breaks. I can lose a few brain cells, a few dreams, a lover. Sweat out the impurity of want and certainty. At least I sleep on the groundfloor, now. At least I can sometimes sleep.
Laugh in the morning. This is what healing looks like. A sloughing of skin and want, a lamp left on through the night. We made it through again, we slipped the trap, the shot guns, the hounds; the plywood held against the bear, the kitchen knives stay sheathed in sheets. This really happened. I will tell you, I have to tell you. Over and over and until the terror is limited to words. We lived in hiding in a shed on a mountain. We filled bags with rocks. I lay with knives, baseball bats, a hatchet. Every night the bear came. A real bear that I never saw, only heard, measured paw prints and claw marks, counted tufts of fur. I couldn’t believe it myself, shock paralleled with fear and a fierceness that I will never be able to stick words to. I cannot love without ferocity now– I love like a bear now, a mother bear, guarding. Worry billowing wider than want. I didn’t sleep so that they could. I couldn’t sleep so that they could. I age slipped to a helpless want of comfort that I never really had– 28 years old, I hugged a stuffed fox through the night to hold myself, with knives and bats nearby. More than I have hungered for anything, I wanted to eat that bear’s fucking heart. I wanted to warm my fish-cold feet in his disambiguated flesh.
My body can’t believe that it ended. But it did. It did. From garage to shed to car to motel to collective to shelter to shelter to shelter to shelter. Home is the hardest of four letter words. It’s over now– when I remember I sing this to my heart, a lullaby. Hold my ribs in my palms and remember– it’s nearly over now.
It will be truly over next month. We will pass through from homeless to homed. Pray that it sticks. Pray that never again will we plummet. It is time to heal now. I am ready to heal now. I have been healing, slow spiral to the deeper fixing terror of it. I can handle that now. I will handle it now. Tell the snow, the sheets, the plywood, the rats: I can sustain unspeakable loss. Frost creeps in. Femme flares out. Sweat and steam and all the mud and suck of thaw. My bed is the bewilderment of spring, sharp pungent shoots sprung from rot and loss. I broke into parts to survive. Now the most wounded of us is healing the hardest. Parting the earth with root and hunger. We will risk to believe that the sun will come again, that grief will pass on the inevitability of breath and time. That we can push and pulse and slip past stone, against gravity, part layers of transfigured history– from dust to dust– to welcome heat and light and simply stun, stun, all those little parts of us that didn’t know we could turn waste to breath, that from the pitch dark and deepest pulse of burial we could flare the most beauteous and blinding of greens.
76 hours from now, I will be in the place where this bullshit started, if bullshit ever starts in any one place. Atlanta. My mind says, time to writhe and thrive, to break into a fury of potentials. My body insists that returning to Atlanta means that I will die. My fool face splashed all over the news, even middle school friends saw me. His fist, my throat, the stairs, the rape. Hunger and mold and cold and rupture. Atlanta is generations of personal and familal history wounded from the roots. Holding tenaciously in the piedmont, the foothills of the mountains, to the south the flatlands, the sunk and trembling lands, dark alligator waters, shotguns, sharks; to the north the bear, the shed. A terrain of violence, impending. Now is the time to part layers of transfigured history– from dust to dust, mold to glitter; from what was to what may be. I’m bringing my fucking heels, a sharp tongue, a short skirt. I’m coming.
I am stumbling to get words out. Profound and enlivening shifts are occurring with the same old nightmares, body aches, anxieties, and sleeplessness cycling through the background. Grief is still riding me, hard. My dreams are full of bears and bodies. My libido has tanked again.
And yet– I feel that I’ve found a true, legitimate, and plausible/possible calling– one that I feel will integrate fairly easily into the work that I already do, and working for and with people to whom I, in my deepest and most intimate roots, resonate with and do not feel alien to, after a life in which I, almost without exception, have felt alien. It feels like going home. It feels like falling in love. I’m enlivened and burning with ideas. More on that later.
I’m writing, of all things, a trilogy of Greek plays. I have a reading next month, am likely returning to the Lambda retreat this year, and am easing myself back into the writing world. I have a real and plausible opportunity to finish Nuthouse Birthdays this year. I have a chapbook of poems to edit and hopefully publish. My writing has changed in ways both startling and fucking exciting.
After years of what constitutes almost unspeakable personal devastation, I feel like life is starting again. I’m getting back into activism. In three months, I will no longer be legally homeless, and the level of governmental control and interference in my life will lessen. I am connected with my body in ways I never believed possible. I have family and community.
And seriously, I have the fiercest femmey-est fucking bedroom ever. Even with the sweats, with bears hunting my brain through long hours of the night, it is hard not to feel kinda fucking fabulous, what with all the gold string lights and flocked fleur-de-lis.
So. A grand and joyous (and belated) welcome to 2014. Let’s see what we can make happen.
The new apartment finally passed inspection today. We turned in the keys to the previous shelter on Monday; I hauled off the last stack of boxes to recycling this afternoon. Although there is still much to do in terms of moving in, the move itself is over. Last night was the first night that we were able to sleep in the new place.
It occurred to me today that the terrific and terrifying odyssey of homelessness that began on January 2, 2010– the day it snowed, the day we found a pink eviction notice taped to our door– is almost over. Technically, we are legally homeless; the new apartment is now a shelter, according to the HATC program at HUD– we will not “graduate” this program until April 2014. Which means the government still has a solid fist up in all my tender private places, and social service visits will continue. But this move marks many differences.
For example? We chose this place to live. In the shelter system, you are told where and how you will live, typically with a day or less notice. We were transferred from 3 different shelters, each with their own respective social workers, rules, and requirements, many of which followed us from shelter to shelter. This place we chose on our own.
And, we don’t live exclusively with other homeless people. Although predominantly low-income, this apartment complex is not the projects, nor is it strictly a shelter or reserved for low income people. Which means that not everyone we live with is as traumatized and triggery as we are. Which means that, in ways small and dense and complicated, prickly and a little hurtful, I feel more human, more not-homeless.
I used to scrutinize my appearance and compare that to the appearance of other homeless people, the ones who were visibly homeless and often on the street. I became extremely stringent in attending to my child’s appearance and behavior. I did not want to look homeless, I did not want him to look homeless. Even in the emergency shelter, we brushed our teeth and wore pajamas when we laid on the mats on the floor to sleep. Somehow, not-looking-homeless became innately connected to one-day-not-being-homeless. It was the power I had, the ledge I fiercely gripped to, so as to never find out how much farther we might fall. A toothbrush, a comb, clothes that mostly matched. When possible, clean socks and tea tree scented body wipes. These were my arsenal against the uncertainty of whatever weather or future awaited us.
I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to find words to frame the devastation of these last few years. Today, however, is the first day that it seems actually over, or nearly over. From the rape in 2007, to the failing of my mental and physical health, to the lay-off, eviction, and consequential homelessness, the cross-country odyssey for a safe school for my kid, the rats and bears and shelters, the snow and mold and bone-biting cold, I could count each link, each antecendent and consequence; I saw how each bitter peeling back of safety and skin had exposed us, raw, opened us, barely able to catch our breaths, to the next bitter coming.
And now, it feels almost over. We chose a safe place to live. D. is in a good school, my mother lives here, my mother lives, L. and I somehow survived through it and are better, now, although living seperately, than ever before. I do not speak to or hear from the vast majority of my family. We have friends and community. I am back in college, writing again, and in my body, happy in my body, with less nightmares and moments of terror.
I still sometimes forget where I live. In moments I will think I’m in Atlanta, I will write down my address as Townsend, Georgia; I give the wrong area or zip code. Sometimes I see my step-father and my heart stops, until his face passes from a shadow to emerge as a stranger’s face in a foreign city, a city where I live, a city where I have a home. Sometimes still I yearn to be near my grandmother’s ashes, my grandmother’s bones; to oak trees and spanish moss and fiddler crabs. Savannah passes through my mind like a fever dream; I smell the ocean, the body of the shark that night on the pier, fierce and limp and cold.
I still sometimes forget who I am. I still sometimes feel terrified that I have forgotten something, that I am in the wrong time and place, that I am caught in the parallax of a dream while horror rushes headlong towards us.
But I wake up. My child attends a good school. My mother lives. I have friends, community, and love. I wake up; for years I ceased to sleep, ceased to wake. How I lived at all.
I may be human– this is my first thought of the morning. The next: and I have the anonymity that I want.
In love– what I thought was love, what I still hope, was love– or maybe I don’t?– in love, I stopped eating for a month (except for coconut chocolate luna bars), I lost 40 pounds, I took up smoking again, I spent 7 weeks in the nuthouse (inpatient and then outpatient), my career tanked, I abandoned the vast majority of all of my professional contacts, I divorced my co-parent and partner of five years, and I came very, very close to actually dying, and wanted to.
Obviously all of this was not just love– nothing is ever just one thing– nor do I blame the person (I thought) I loved who (I thought) loved me. It happened, the way hurricanes and earthquakes and volcanos happen, and it was beautiful and terrible and terrifying. “The process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay”– and in this cataclysm I have transformed, I have decayed; I will never be the same.
I integrated– I think?– I came out as someone with DID. I learned to be in balance with my parts and their necessary expressions, although this balance is sometimes imperfect. Only rarely now do I feel the hard and shocking switch of parts, emerging bewildered and often ashamed into moments shaped around the contours of someone who is me, but also very deeply isn’t. In the beginning, in love, I felt loved in my parts, for my parts, in ways that I never imagined possible, and I built my life around this expectation of love, even when it waned.
I took up body work, diet, and movement as part of my healing processes, and went from being someone scared to leave the shelter to take out the trash, to someone attending school full time, volunteering, going out to bars and movies, restaurants and studios. I rejoined the world. The panic and body shock of triggers, the drift and rolling wane of disassociation, the sick and sucking grip of anxiety have not left me entirely, but I manage them better; I now love and know my body, it is no longer an alien thing aching with pulse and tension.
I was broken and I am better. I learned much about my own flaws, my wants and fears, my strengths, needs and expectations; I understand my own failings, my own weaknesses, better than ever before; I have new tools and insights with which to manage the tectonic shifts of deep uncertainty. I have learned of triggers and patterns that I thought that I had outgrown, and in encountering them again have the opportunity to heal through them.
My primary relationship was broken and now is better. The energy of this love abrupted and nearly destroyed us, but we found our ways back to each other, with greater space, greater health, clearer boundaries and expectations, new understandings in a dynamic that better fits. Ultimately we were cleansed and strengthened.
And in many ways, large and small, through this love I’ve become better prepared for my mother’s death.
So, despite the pain and shame and fear that threaded through it, the bewildering devastation of its abrupt and awful end, I am, in this moment at least, glad it happened; grateful, for him and what we called love, although it unfolded like an animal with animal fears and wants; grateful for the animal want and draw and agony of it. And just as grateful that it is over.
First I left, because he couldn’t; then he left, because I couldn’t. Sometimes leaving is kinder than love, is deeply an act of love itself, wished for and intended or not.
A bottle of rum; a bottle of bourbon; a $647 ticket; a mallet; a crowbar; a fine of as of yet unknown quantities for putting busted up living room decor in the dump; a bitter, explosive, unexpected, and heart-rending break-up; at least one breakdown; and about $1,500 in credit debt later, tomorrow I clean the old apartment and relinquish the keys to that shelter forever; tomorrow the move is complete.
Edging this close to the new year I felt it necessary to pack in just a few more regrets, I suppose.
This morning I thought, “I don’t know who I am or where I am, but I know I’m wrong.”
In the nuthouse we like to call that an Old Message.
I’m toxic. I’m worthless. I’m pathetic and despicable. I am unnecessary and expendable. I am Wrong and Unwanted.
I ache with these old thoughts like a heartbeat; I pulse with them; I can barely breathe.
I wonder if this was the hurricane Llyncilla warned me was coming.
It’s all fucking stirred up, folks!
Oddly, out of keeping with this trigger fuck-fest of ill-timed implosions, I feel hopeful. But that might just be the relief of my perpetual sense of impending doom now being in actual real-time resonance with lived emergency. So much less cognitive dissonance when the sky really is fucking falling, hey Chicken Little?
FUCK. Fuck. Who the fuck even knows. One thing that is certain? My goddamn living room looks fabulous.
Been on hold with social services for the last two hours. Typed that and laughed. I have honey and cayenne breath– hot toddy — and what is either an ear infection, withdrawal from my happy pills, or both. I’m in that place of intense stress, horniness, anxiety, and extended sleeplessness wherein the best possible self-care plan is to fist fuck myself and then sleep for three hours.
But– on hold. Two hours in I no longer like piano instrumentals. Piano instrumentals, in fact, make me want to heave up spurts of hot bile. So does withdrawal from my happy pills.
We may still be moving. We may still have food stamps and healthcare. Isn’t that a blast? So much uncertainty I could just shit.
It was the kind of moment where you wonder what, specifically, happened in your life to bring you to such lows.
Imagine: the lingering flavor of vomit. Your spine cushioned from the chilly rubberized floor of an airplane galley by a thin complimentary blanket. A plastic oxygen mask pinched to your nose; a long metal oxygen tank tucked to your flank like a dear friend. Already you have filled two complimentary barf bags and divested yourself of three layers of clothing. You are aisles away from your wool sweater. You have shared vast swatches of your backside, boxers, sports bra, and armpit with an onboard doctor, the unfortunates sitting alongside you, and anyone else who cared to crane to look. The fevers and sweats have long passed- now you are merely wretchedly cold. Your stomach aches with the exertions of its propulsory forces. Curious bathroom goers pause to gawk. You discover that stewardesses wear pantyhose with rubber crocs shaped like flats. Periodically said on-board doctor squats beside you to ensure your continued recovery.
Unfathomable distances separate you from the ground, plus a couple tons of metal and a few layers of suitcases for those with the funds to check baggage. You lacked the funds. Your baggage was carried on. Your baggage caught you fifteen minutes into a 3 hour and 45 minute flight from Chicago to Seattle, and there wasn’t shit you could do but grab another bag. The first bag you puked into you discreetly folded and sealed, slipped neatly beneath the seat in front of you, tucked in the folds of the wool sweater you yanked off before vomiting, slick with sweat. You hoped no one would notice; demurely you took the racing of your heart, the numbness of your lips as long as you could, gasping with your head between your knees and your ass crack generously bared to your seatmates. Then you were seized with the growing suspicion that you were very likely to beshit yourself; knowing yourself too dizzy to stand, you did it- you pressed the attendant needed light. Swiftly then your baggage was displayed to half the plane; oxygen mask affixed, a doctor called from his first class seat to attend to your coach emergency, your pulse and blood pressure enumerated, the racing of your heart attentively listened to and assessed- thus you became That Person, the asshole who had a panic attack on a plane, the thousand mile high club that no one wants to admit admission to.
You began to regret having graduated yourself from the service dog who used to accompany you. You discovered a certain sensibility to your previous habit of never stepping foot outside your bedroom. Stinking, cold, and hideously embarrassed, it occurred to you that the cost of personal growth was attendant public humiliation. So you rolled to your side, embraced your new friend the oxygen tank, and counted the minutes to landing, fervent with a renewed respect for grounding.
It will not always be this hard, you reminded yourself, as you were led by your elbow back to your seat for landing. People turned to stare, with fear and curiosity and a certain kind of awe. You are grateful for the kindness of the doctor and stewardesses. You are grateful for the return of breath and stable heart beat, for the teapot and the chipped seal mug in your cabinet, for the kitten and the kid in the home you are heading toward. Later, you brush your teeth and re-apply deodorant; later, you call your mother and your ex and recount your great adventure of miles-high humiliation. You survived it, like everything else, and this is what survival is- sealing the puke bag, brushing your teeth, and moving on slowly, trying not to shit yourself.