Saturday, July 30, 2005

Like Some Changed Familiar Tree (Estella's Story 3.0)

Hello S, this is the third post which has nothing for us; thanks for passing by the second.

Part two of this series is here.

I notice, as I begin my tenth, yes tenth, Aubrey/Maturin novel that my writing is being affected, even the way I talk, including to students; my diction feels more formal. O'Brian's style is so strong it's unescapable, the same reason Keats quit reading Milton. Only I'm not willing to quit. So far, I haven't rigged a grating for anyone with a late essay, though I am about ready to toss my scrub dogs overboard.

But while I have some free time, more on Estella.

***

And so we were married. Had a medium-large ceremony, a beautiful upper-middle class reception (her parents, not me or my hick family) and drove together to our hotel.

Oh, stepping down into the dark and oily haze, fluid-thick...who wrote 'the old pain moves in me again...'

There were a few sweet things. I remember that we asked everyone for money, all the relatives at least, to pay for our honeymoon. My aunt B had donated a time share in Tahoe so our condo was free, but there are so many expenses to any trip like that and we had, truly, no money. I was making 8 dollars an hour working at a flying club at the airport (handing out keys, mostly; afraid to fly even then). E was working at a bank. Somehow the punch bowl got misplaced, in which were all the cards with their precious checks, and all we had was the cash from the money dance in a bridal white pouch with a nylon drawstring purchased for that occasion. (It is amazing, truly, all that comes in the distinctive bridal white, everything from pumps to panties to guest books). I remember thinking it was our first bank account. Her father, much to his credit, told us to use his credit card and we'd work it out later, but when we got to the hotel there was a message soon enough: the cards had been found. A friend brought the checks over the next morning.

The room we were supposed to have was not vacant. E was standing there in her dress in the lobby of the Ramada Renaissance and I was still in my tux, and we just kept pushing. I had reserved this special mini-suite weeks, maybe months, in advance. I have to say, the terror of the ceremony had mostly passed, though I doubt I was relaxed. I was never relaxed then. And here was this squirrely clerk telling us over and over that he couldn't get us one of those rooms. E, amazingly, as a small supportive crowd began to watch the debate unfold actually said, 'but it's the first time.' She may have said more, but she certainly said that. And she said it so openly. She confessed, without emotion it seemed, to a dozen strangers that she was in fact a virgin bride. Perhaps it's not so odd; it seemed odd.

Jumping ahead a little: what was surely odd was when her girlfriend came the next morning to deliver the checks and pick up the dress and the tux and E stood stark naked in the bathroom in front of the mirrors, door open, the light on, casually brushing her hair. E's girlfriend, a young woman from church who I learned later had in fact had a number of lovers, and wrestled with guilt because of it, (and who I wish all the best to now, wherever she is) was put back, even shocked. I believe E knew she was being provocative, ingenously nude in front of this woman and I; the friend and I exchanged a glance or two.

We never got the mini-suite, but we did get a comped room on an upper floor, free robes and I think maybe some champagne (though we didn't drink, we must have that night). And while I've thought long about how much I'd include here, I've decided on only the minimum. The most poignant moments and words will have to wait for another time. I like to write and talk about sex frankly. Why not? But some things, especially broken ones, deserve shadow even sixteen years later. Or maybe it's O'Brian. Would it be different if I were working my way through Henry Miller?

The first night we did not have intercourse. I figured that was okay; I had read the kama sutra which recommends waiting with a new lover. We had fifty years ahead of us. I had experienced the female orgasm from my teenage relationships, certainly I knew plenty about my own, and I did try with her, but she'd build and then it wouldn't happen. It never did happen the three years we were together as man and wife. In fact, if anything, our sex life began to slide downward from its awkward and stumbling beginning. We did have sex the second night after I brought it up jokingly (she had just taken her birth control pill, and I began to tease her about why). I genuinely believe I was gentle with her. It was my first time too. She cried after. I cried. I remember reaching orgasm and thinking: oh my god, sperm in the womb...she might get pregnant. Not likely on the pill, but my mother's old horror stories about never, ever, getting a girl pregnant came back to me even in that moment.

By our third night we were in Tahoe, and awkward became bizarre, even tragic. It was clear she didn't like sex with me, wasn't curious or didn't know how to get me to aproach her correctly. I remember we only had intercourse one other time on our honeymoon, and she propped up George, my little stuffed-animal inner-child monkey, on the lightstand above the bed beforehand. She wanted him present, which now actually makes me angry. She, we, knew so little about love, but what comes naturally to most couples did not come naturally to us. There was a very strange time she sat with me naked in the empty bathtub; it didn't feel adult, or mutual, or open. And she had nightmares several nights. I think I remember one night she got up and went into the living room of the little condo and curled up in a ball. The old film The Fly was on tv and she saw the final scene with the tiny man in the web squealing, 'help me, help me.' This affected, horrified her. I know I went to the casinos by myself a couple of the nights and ate off a taco cart.

And then one afternoon we went climbing on some rocks along the lake. I can still see her, a girl long since gone, one I can't even picture as she is now, sitting on a granite boulder, her gorgeous blonde hair blowing back in the wind, still with her wedding hair cut, and me raising my voice, 'but I feel as though you're pulling away from me, like I'm being abandoned.' She just smiled awkwardly, stared ahead as if I were asking a supertanker to stop in ten feet of water. Whatever forces were at work in her she didn't understand, or she couldn't control, or she wouldn't share. Perhaps she was already blaming me, a genuine possibility; I'm sure I was blaming her and myself at some deeper level.

Could I have been different? Would I be different now? Yes, I would. Though I'd see her anxiety and reticence as a very dangerous sign and head immediately for professional help (she was of course seeing Keith, but then he later showed himself a predator, and I don't know what would have been worse, if he had taken her or if things fell out the way they did and that honor was left for Robert, our second therapist). But driving home I remember yelling, even, I think, hitting the armrest in the car, crying, saying that she wanted me to hand all my sexuality over to her. And she did. She needed a sexually neutral Troy, perhaps a father or therapist or friend, certainly someone without sexual needs. And by that time...shit I needed a lover. I had sexual needs so deep and complex I didn't even understand them.

When we returned I tried to stay upbeat; I rarely quit at anything, and when things are darkest I'll look for that one ray of sun. Sure not much had happened for a honeymoon, but I figured we'd get better. A church buddy of mine helped me unload the luggage, a guy already married and someone I knew had long been attraced to E, and he asked me, 'well, so, how was it?' Fair question. I told him, 'it was okay, we only did it twice, but it's just our first week.' He replied, 'twice, we did it three times our first night.'

Ah, yes.

I actually believe that I didn't begin making excessive demands on E sexually as she later claimed (and I got this info third person; I can understand now she must have felt that way); I became depressed because I didn't know what else to do. First denial, then obsession, then my first major depression just nine months into our marriage. I still hold a lot of shame about my behavior in the marriage, but really, I was doing my best and I shielded her from so much rage, from truly strong demands that she change. Once when she started crying, openly admitting she had a problem (which was not common, usually it was glares at me) I told her, don't worry, we'll work it out, we'll figure something out. I am that kind of man.

Most important of all, I didn't kill myself during those dark months and years. Though my depression that next summer was extreme, and when I wasn't in school and using that to prop me up, became extreme again and again. I had a series of major depessions, and I survived, though I want to tell that tale in more detail in another series. For sure, my powerful depressions put pressure on our relationship, strained as it already was.

Our first year together was hard in other ways. The first time she casually asked me to empty the trash I went into a rampage, a complete mind-fuck, frankly, talking like my mother. But it lasted maybe ten minutes, and I knew then it was sick, and that I didn't want to talk like that. But oh those old tapes, the old vicious and cutting voice. I don't think I over reacted like that again. Perhaps I felt depression was a better alternative. As it could have killed me, there had to be a better way, some medium being hating her or myself. Therapy, right?

She continued seeing Keith; she began a women's group in our home for incest survivors; these I supported, though I began arguing with her about her incest again. I'd say, 'but there's just something about the way you talk about it that makes me think this is some other issue.' That's what I said. She still had no concrete memories, and I was young and angry and horny and astonishingly disillusioned and disappointed, and uneducated in things survivor, and that's just what I said when we fought over it. Sex, maybe, happened once a week, but it was like dragging her up a hill before, during, after. And that frequencey quickly diminished. Years later she told me that every time we did it she re-experienced her incest; she did not tell me that while we were married. She didn't say much of anything that specific.

She began to lose weight when she didn't need to, became incredibly constipated.

My own soul-shredding disappointment...I remember more than once taking a swim by myself in the pool in our building (we never lived at Ransom together but instead moved into Club J, a building full of Bethany people, and a move, a providence, which again may have saved my life) and coming out with the alive feeling, my senses tuned and my mind and body aroused (what is it about water that does that) and going into our apartment and knowing there was no way it was going to happen. Desire fueled her fear. There was so much fear. I made scary faces when we made love, she'd say. (Though one other time I remember her saying she wanted me to look in her eyes during, and it felt difficult, but then so much was resented by then). Another time she saw a shadow on our screen cast by the telephone wires and thought it looked like a sailor, hanging with a broken neck. Very abstractly and grotesquely, it did. Once, laying in bed, we actually heard the doorknob to our shut bedroom door click as though someone bumped it. We both froze in bed in terror, neither one of us able to move for long minutes.

There was some more mutual sex, yes. Oddly enough, usually when we went someplace else. In the early couple of years, a few times, we'd go to a motel for a retreat or when travelling and have long, long sex (though still without her ever coming). This didn't happen often because we didn't stay in places like that often. What I couldn't figure out was why this was the case? Why did she shut down sexually in our house but act so differently in a strange room, even, once, her old room at her parent's home? I never uncovered the answer to that. I'd read books about frigidity in the CSULB library and come across some strange theories, though the best seemed to tie back to childhood trauma. Perhaps her abuse occured in a home, and our home felt like that home.

Of course, in all relationships all problems are mutual, and I know if I had listened to her, I almost said humored her and forgive me still, by letting her off the hook sexually, completely, she might have relaxed and been able to heal; I tried to do this; later she blamed the fact that she was the same after three years together largely on me. I was deeply saddened, but I really think I could have had sex two or three times a week with her, especially if she enjoyed that time, and been fine, even in the beginning; less later. Not bad for a 25 year old guy who had never gone all the way. But I'll never know what might have been or what I actually needed; a cold lover feels cold. What actually happened was that things got worse and worse, my depression took up so much of the stage, and she never talked about her hard feelings. She didn't tell me what was going on in her head. I know my anger scared her, and that was part of it, but I didn't know how pissed and horrified she really felt towards me. Everywhere I went people were impressed with my wife, told me how lovely she was, but I lived a near-celibate suicidal nightmare.

There were a few touching times. Once we watched a movie called the Emerald Forest; in it, a teenager 'marries' a young girl in a jungle culture. They go off into the rainforest, begin touching and kissing, and then make teenage love on the forest floor. Watching that with me, E said one of the kindest things she ever said to me, a cry I could beat against God's door.

She said, 'I wish it was like that for us.'

And she meant it. But no matter what I tried or didn't try, it wasn't like that for us.

She would talk about how a woman she knew only felt like sex 'a couple times a month' (even though I knew from the husband the couple was fairly active). In some ways I was being hypnotized farther and farther from my sexual self, and I'm sure this was part of my depression. Predictably, I began to act out in old ways after a while: occasional porn video rentals, and I believe once just before she left me, phone sex, neither things I'm proud of. One night I even considered asking her to watch porn with me I felt so desperate; she was unlocking the front door while the video was on. I doubt that would have turned out well, but I fail to see how things could have gotten worse.

But mostly there was resentment and shock. One year into the marriage I remember attending a reception for another couple in the same room as ours at the Golden Sails. E and I sat on the steps outside, the sadness and grief so heavy I couldn't speak. Earlier I had danced the money dance with the bride of that day, a shy and even skittish girl who I knew was in therapy like so many of our friends, and when I asked her, truly innocently, where to pin the dollar bill she said relaxed and casual, 'you can pin it any place you want.' That girl was ready to be married, ready for her husband/lover.

Also, I remember I never wanted to watch the wedding video; even hearing the audio once in our car made me so angry and depressed; it reminded me of how I was exploding inside. At one dark point I told her I felt like she tricked me into marrying her: she had the husband, but I had no wife. That hurt her for a long time.

But this is getting overlong, and back to therapy. She was seeing Keith, a Christian therapist we found through our church. I began seeing him again when my first major depression hit, and he walked me through those first mind altered weeks. Not long after I got a call from him saying there was a meeting at my church that night and 'it was in our best interest to attend.' At the meeting the pastor who married us told a room with probably fifteen people in it, all clients of Keith's, that he was sexually involved with a patient. And he painted it in dark terms: attempted suicide on the patient's part, two homes broken apart, the relationship continued active. That almost killed me. I paged Keith and with E standing by watching tears and snot run down my face I told him 'this makes me want to hurt myself even more, to get back at you.' I was insightful. And he talked with me about it, but I saw him only once more as a client. And I told him at the final meeting I thought he was the Mozart of therapy, that I was going to write him a memorial poem greater than Tennyson's famous piece. Fuck him. I should have been screaming and overturning bookcases; I should have shown up with a lawyer. Turned him in to authorities. I just couldn't even think that way then.

I found another therapist (this was the second time that the lead therapist in the office couldn't fit me in and found me one of his people), Robert. Robert did help me, as did Keith, and I need to talk about him in much more depth, but this story is about my three years living together with E (only one more installment will be required I believe).

Robert encouraged me to let my anger out freely. I remember him kneeling on the floor and pounding the couch with his fists to show me what he meant. My urges to hurt myself were so strong then, almost unbearable, how I resisted I still don't know. But Robert's idea was to hurt something else. So I started carrying around a kneeling pad gardeners use (my first pad was E's, and she disliked that I was pounding it). When things got too bad I'd bust it out, even on third floor of the MacIntosh building at State in my adjunct office, and pound it until my urges to hurt myself diminished. And they did, for a while. Eventually I got a heavy bag, a boxing bag, and hung it in my garage. Every day, some days twice a day, I'd beat the crap out of that thing. This was helping. I'd feel the overhwelming pain and the urges, and I'd put on gloves and Nirvana and beat the bag wildly, great swinging hooks, not boxing, just slugging. Then I'd get through another day, or another few hours, before I had to do it again.

The only problem was that E was scared of my anger, so if I'd hit the arm of the couch during one of our rare but awful sex arguments...you see. She distanced herself farther from me, became very young. She began to try and find a therapist after Keith but had no luck; one lady even fell asleep on her during session. She knew another woman who was seeing Robert and she wanted to begin also. I had very bad feelings about that idea, but I agreed to let her meet him. He had mixed feelings, but he said he'd meet with her once, talk to her and then me about how it felt. He never talked to me about how it felt. She saw him once and was instantly hooked. She started bringing pictures of him home that she had taken in the office; a pillow, too, she began sleeping with. And now just under three years into our marriage, she started seeing him as a client in April, all rare sex came to a complete stop. She rapidly withdrew. I remember her coming home from an early session with him crying, crying to me, saying he had said that 'wow, he didn't believe you were molested, I can see being very angry with someone about that, so angry you wouldn't even want to be friends.'

That was Robert's therapy. Uncork everything, and fuck everyone but him.

That summer, our last together, 92, was very bad. She was playing Enya every night trying to sleep; eventually she began sleeping on the couch to be away from me. I don't remember much fighting, just her crying and telling me it was too hard, the feelings were too much, one day after church, and her very remote moods. I actually lost weight and got a tan, thinking desperately and foolishly that if I looked very good she might yet turn towards me.

I finished my M.A. and was the oustanding English grad. that spring, but I couldn't stand anything to do with academics for a while and my depressions were still very bad. I scrapped Ph.D. plans and began working day construction jobs (with scooter, no less). I tried to find work week to week, and ended up at the worst job I've ever had (but one I greatly appreciated at the time) doing electrical work in bakeries. I hadn't been at that long when I came home one day, exhausted, greasy and with cut fingers from threading nuts by hand, aware that I sucked at this kind of work though I now had my tool belt to find the note on the mirror:

'Dear Troy,

I've gone to stay with friends for a while. Please do not try and contact me.

Estella'

Or close to that. A few weeks later I found a note in the back seat of our car (she took the car also, and a true Christian sold me his truck for 1,000 dollars so I could still go places) which was a draft of the above but the with words 'I promise to come back' added at the bottom. She had crumpled it.

More next time. I don't want to do this anymore right now.

t

Friday, July 29, 2005

Uncle Frank and the Angels of Avalon

I had a very good vacation. First came four great days on Catalina, or great for the most part. I saw Clint, now finished with his master's in anthropology and actually looking at a probable published thesis; saw J and her father also. In fact, her dad hooked us up with several tours, very cool. S and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary (nine years as a couple, though) at the country club with a full dinner. I hadn't eaten up there; it aims to be the best restaurant on the island. In fact, the food was generally good, truly excellent lobster bisque with a sprinkling of roe (not true caviar) though the chef overcooked my wild boar in my opinion (I asked for chef's choice regarding doneness). But the environment up in the canyon where the Club is located, the lack of crowds and noise, the excellent martinis, made up for any defincincies. I only say deficincies because once a meal passes a certain cost, it seems fair to expect pretty high performance. S and I only spend that much on dinner a couple times a year. Overall, the Club did alright.

But I said my time on the island was great for the most part. I know I'm getting old, but it's so damned crowded now, with giant express catamarans running in and out at the mole more than once an hour (I remember the days of the red and white fleet, chugging away under diesel fumes and watching boy scouts chum over the side). Two cruise ships a week anchor off the island now also. S says she's seen it worse in the summer, and in fact the numbers are down a bit this year according to official reports, but still...I found myself wanting to be away from the mob. We mostly went where locals go: Pebbly beach, Buffalo Nickel, the Country Club, Pete's Cafe, the Dockside Cafe, the new (not really yet named) Boar's Nest. We didn't even dive, only snorkelled at Pebbly, though I saw some of the most amazing things I've ever seen under the water: huge schools of top smelt and mackerel, running in the unusually warm currents from the storm to the south, even a trigger fish swimming away, a tropical fish almost never seen on the island.

There was some true darkness, though.

I've written before about Lolo's barbershop. Lolo and his brother Frank. Getting a shave from either of them is a yearly ritual for me. I'm glad I heard the news the night before I showed up for my shave, but Lolo's brother Frank died this winter; in fact, he hanged himself. He shaved me and cut my hair last year, and his loss to the island is enormous.

From what I hear, nearly everyone on the island attended his funeral one way or another; shuttles ran up to the cemetary and the local cable channel broadcast the ceremony into every church. I found out from J and her father almost incidentally on my way to visit the cemetary which I'd never seen; they were talking about 'Uncle Frank,' or 'the Mayor,' and it took me a minute to understand. Frank would burst into song walking down the street, and when he was off he dressed in what I thought to be impeccable old school style. I knew there was some darkness in Frank, that he had spent years off the island when his brother was still cutting in the number one chair, had heard he had gotten sober from alcoholism a few years back, but I was still very shocked. Some said he succumbed to old demons; others, and probably better sources, said he had cancer and was in pain and chose to end his own life (though in a violent manner, I have to say, hanging...of all things). I wasn't sure if those who looked at his death as pure euthanasia were perhaps unwilling to look at what else might have been going on, but then this is none of my business, really.

We made it to the cemetary in J's father's golf cart, but we were unable to find his grave before dark.

The next day when Lolo shaved me I didn't bring it up. I saw the empty chair with the footrest in the seat, all the pictures still on the mirror behind. Someone, perhaps Lolo himself, had cut out part of the movie post for Barbershop 2 and it was taped to the glass door: Barbershop 2/Back in Business. Mr. Tony came in as he always does in the mornings before I was even in the chair. Tony is mentally limited, though as someone who has only met him and a non-specialist, I couldn't say if he is 'retarded' or autistic or something else. He speaks like a child, however, and with the same open nature, though he must be in his thirties at least. I know he runs the siren one Friday a month, the test, which any other time would bring the volunteer firefighters out of every corner of the valley. And I tell you the truth: if I had a tape recorder in my pocket that morning I would have dialogue for an award winning story. As it is, I can only remember some things, and I don't think I want to recreate it all here. What happened in the shop that morning is worth more than all fiction.

Tony brought Frank up only once. He said 'I miss Frank, Lolo, I miss Frank.' And Lolo said, 'me too, Tony, me too.' I muttered something about, yes, I heard I'm sorry, through the lather. But during my entire shave Lolo and Tony continued talking. And what struck me about the conversation was that Tony shared his feelings quite openly: his sister, if I understood, had miscarried the day before, a little boy lost, and he was very sad. Not only did Tony talk to Lolo freely, but Lolo spoke back, a comforting father. He took Mr. Tony very seriously. He said of course it was sad about his sister, anyone would be sad, and they moved from topic to topic, Lolo always comforting, parenting, nurturing. It was exquisite, enormously beautiful. As Lolo had his hand over my nose, so close, pulling and scraping my heavy beard into a clean shave I breathed deep, inhaled the scent of his hand, a father's hand, as I listened to his gentle and attentive tone. When Tony said he was being picked on by some kids, Lolo got very serious, what kids, what exactly and when; when he said he was looking forward to running the siren, Lolo listened as if it was the most important thing that would happen that day. Tony comes into that shop nearly every morning I'm told (he recognized me before he sat down, though he doesn't know my name and sees me exactly one morning a year: the long stare out from cloudy eyes, and then, 'I know you, you come here every summer,' and 'yes, you're right, I do'). I can understand why he comes in. Why I myself come in, though Lolo and I speak only a little.

When I was in last summer and Frank did my hair and shave he told me he thought I was in a movie he'd seen. No. He knew Huell Howser, a true Catalina and Lolo's Shop fan by the way, and we talked about him a bit. Frank, such a strong singer, told me he sang the national anthem before every little league game, a fact I heard from many. For Lolo, the loss of his brother must have been and continue to be enormously hard, yet he continues to embrace the living, or did that morning at least. I thought of Steinbeck and the heroes of Tortilla Flats and Cannery Row and I felt, again, he chose the wrong people to canonize. There are real Angels in Avalon, but they're not the guys drunk in front of the Marlin before noon, hustling the odd job; they're men like Lolo, like Mr. Tony, and like Uncle Frank.

I'd be very embarrased if Lolo knew I was writing this. All I can do is continue to overtip him, tell him he is the best barber I know, and make small talk. Next year maybe I'll try to talk to Tony more myself. But the natural comfort, the simple domesticity of their conversation, the sweetness, the human breath of it...I still ache.

And again, rushed with my draft (our house is a monumental mess) I have to hurry through a topic which deserves more time. I felt a calling sitting there in that chair that morning: to write about Avalon, to write stories like Steinbeck but without his naturalism and love for the comic irresponsible and tragically aberrant. Considering I visit Avalon less then ever, this will be a tough task; maybe, though, some day I will. My snippets here are notes for later recall, and beginnings of the process. Clint wants to do the same, though neither of us has shared anything.

***

Also, since I now know my brother and sister in law read with some regularity (they handed me an ad for a sharper image mouse repeller when I walked in) I must say that my brother and his wife are heroes also. Two sick children, one seven months and one just shy of four, yet continual patience with their illness and shifting moods. Beautiful, beautiful children, but so much work I was amazed to see it up close. My brother, with no decent earthly role model at least, is an impressive father in many ways. I must get some pictures of those babies up. Wonders beyond wonder. When I look at his home, his family, his new job...it's hard not to believe God is rewarding his committment to his faith. But however it has happened, he has become a true man, and he, along with his wife, are raising two beautiful little people. I saw it up close, and I know it to be the case. Best to them and their hospitality. How I miss my little nephew and niece already; it's enough to drive me out of the mountains if I didn't have a son who is so integrated here.

Peace to all,

t

Monday, July 18, 2005

Of Mice and God

I don't have time to put up a true post; today I'm finishing up my summer classes and packing for Catalina, Long Beach, and Ontario. Catalina first. Oh my gosh. The smell alone. Three nights, four days (at least) and our fifth wedding anniversary spent on the island.

But I will say this: I was scared, very scared, of hantavirus since the mice appeared. Irrationally scared. But more frightened, I would say triggered, than I had been in years. My wife, who has known me nine years almost to the day, said she had never seen me that scared. Somehow, someway, a very young part of me came out.

A couple of things: one, I opened up to her in a way I probably never have, embarassed as I was of my fear, I shared some childhood memories of being left home alone with bugs at four; of my mother telling me if I touched my mouth to a drinking fountain I'd get trench mouth (and I still don't know what the hell that is, but I'm still afraid to touch my mouth to drinking fountains)...and the emotions, the young emotions, came pouring. S handled it as well as any person possibly could. I expected, judgement, ridicule, what I would have gotten from my parents, my mother especially. What I got was a tender and supportive touch.

It was a moment I will not forget.

Two, I prayed. When my fear was so bad I was laying in bed sweating, nearly shaking, unable to eat, in a state which felt almost exactly like grief, I prayed. With S. It must have been one of the oddest prayers sent off this blue rock that day; I asked God to get all the mice out of my house. We could hear one squeaking somewhere in the bathroom next to our bedroom and we just shut the door. Eventually, I fell asleep.

How was it that deer mice, which are nocturnal, were all in the middle of my living room floor at 3 in the afternoon that day (before I prayed, true) and that I just scooped them up in a dustpan and tossed them out? My dog found one more that night in the living room closet, and he got tossed. The squeaker in the bathroom we never found. And we've looked.

I cleaned up the droppings under the sink with enough bleach and lysol to kill anything, bagged up the droppings and double-bagged; I know I was scared but I was doing the best I could. I put out four mouse traps with peanut butter in all the places we'd seen something.

But you know, not one mouse showed up in my traps. My exterminator came today, and it felt like Dad coming home. God how I needed it. I told him what I was scared of, and he kind of laughed and dismissed it. He looked everywhere in our kitchen. No new droppings. No sign of mice at all. It is reassuring to know that poison is now under my house and in my shed. That's why we pay the guy. To kill things.

What I'm saying is this: I broke through on a deep childhood fear, much more intense even than coit tower, and I worked through it with help from my spouse and a good friend in a way that brought me closer to Steph. And I prayed, and since I prayed there has not been a mouse anywhere in my house as far as we can tell; even my exterminator didn't see anything or even any signs of mice.

Could it be that God listened to my irrational terror-filled prayer? Or that he foresaw my terror (I would have stayed in a motel if I'd seen any more mice in my house I swear) and had every mouse in my house waiting in a ten square foot area when I came home in the middle of the day? Whatever, they couldn't have been in the house more than a couple of days. And there have been none since. Not one squeak, not one new dropping. And since I saw the exterminator I feel much, much better.

The skeptic in me could tear the hell out of this story. Fine. They probably came in through the open back door and after we saw them we shut that so no more came in. But that's not what this blog is about. It's about relationship. And I prayed, and there have been no more mice, and I'm coming out of the fear...

And I'm going to Catalina. My friends are all there right now. It's a good thing.

But I have to go. I just wanted everybody to know I was okay, more than okay maybe.

Be well all. Blog will be silent for a couple weeks. Wish I had left a better post for everyone to stare at, but I don't have time.

t

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Of Mice and Men 1.0

This is a continuation of the post below:

I did everything by the book; I probably didn't need to. But I bleached the heck out of the droppings in our broiler pan and under the sink, then bleached everything else in there, and then carefully scooped out the droppings using latex gloves, sealed all in baggies which went into tied off garbage bags.

Am I off my rocker? Maybe. But at least I felt like I could take some anti-hanta action.

And I had a great, great talk with a friend on the phone today, in tears for part of it. So many traumatic memories of being left alone as a child and having to figure everything out, not knowing what would kill me and what couldn't, having a very, very fearful mother...I swear it again, if I saw any other mice I'd be in the motel until my pest guy gets here Monday.

There is, still, one in the back bathroom, or was last night. I put a trap in there along with three others different places in the house. I must become a better housecleaner! But I'm doing a bit better. Anyway, S is home; keep you posted.

t

Fear, Take Two

Hey all,

I appreciate all the positive comments below; I know I grew by going up Coit Tower. Everyone has fears, surely, but my fear of flying greatly hinders my life, and when I was younger and my fears were greater, there were so many things I missed. I'd count the view from Coit as one of those things; it was nice to be there.

But today, frankly, I'm freaking out.

I've never been sure what to do with my blog from post to post. I began wanting to write about my faith and my doubt; then almost immediately I needed support (I felt much more isolated a year ago than I do now) and so I used the blog for that, as a place to share. Sure it's all visible worldwide, but I knew a handful of supportive people were reading, and out the issues came. I thought, too, that that was part of presenting my faith: yes I believe in Jesus, but look at who I really am also. Not what I'd seen modelled during most of my church years when the presssure for conformity, doctrinal and behavioral, was so great. When the dirty secrets were kept secret more than not.

Of course there are some things I don't share here, but not many. I've talked about an awful lot.

And this morning, last night...this is one of those times...I believe writing will help me to process what I'm going through, though I've already talked to S and my buddy Mike, and will talk to him again later on the phone.

We suddenly have mice. Suddenly as in Thursday night I noticed a few droppings in our broiler pan beneath our stove, and then saw a little live one right in our entry way as company arrived for dinner. I scooped him up with a broom and dustpan (the kind that close, like a plastic version of the disneyland model) and walked down the road and across the street and tossed him, alive still, into the weeds. I didn't think much more of it, though I made a mental note to call our pest guy because of the droppings. I noticed a few under the sink also.

Coming home yesterday I find three mice, quite alive, all on my living room floor. My dog was half-punking one of them, and the dogs may have dragged them out because they're supposed to be nocturnal. So one, two, three, scoop into the dustpan, down the road and across the street.

And now I'm thinking, wow, in 12 hours I've found four mice in my living room. What is up?

Then S mentioned how she couldn't sleep Thursday night because the fan kept squeaking. Once she heard the distinctive mouse sound, she knew that was what had been keeping her up.

Next I made the mistake, while she was at work, of looking up hantavirus. Oh god.

S and I had been driving on some Sierra dirt roads and came to an old lookout tower, still inhabited in the summer by someone with an amazingly powerful office view. On the property was an old building, boarded up with old hantavirus signs all over it. Maybe that gave me the idea. I think it was the only disease I knew one can get from mice, so I looked it up since we had mice and I'm the armchair physician, remember. Bad idea.

The bottom line is hanta is rather rare in humans. Most people have gotten it in the four corner states; a fair number of californians (but I think less than 50 in 12 years) got it in counties east of the sierra, in terrain similar to that of the four corner states. Generally only a handful of people in any western state get it in a year, though about a third of those die. You see where I'm headed...the panic built so fast I could hardly think. It is transmitted via the saliva, urine, or droppings of infected mice, especially when that content is aerosolized, brushed up into the air in an enclosed space. In most of the country it's transmitted through deer mice, which I'm pretty sure (using a laymen's eye) is what were/are in my home.

And that's where I am. We did hear one squeaker in our bathroom last night and we just shut the bathroom door. He's still in there someplace and I have to buy a trap to end his miserable little life. I'll get one of those enclosed kind which kill the mouse and provide a coffin at the same time.

Of course I read all about how to handle mice and mice feces to avoid hanta; I've sprayed so much lysol on my living room hardwood floor the entire room stinks, and I've sprayed it on the droppings I've seen though I have yet to clean them up, and anyplace else I thought a mice might have walked. This is supposed to kill the virus if it's around.

After four years in the mountains, these are our first mice, and that is probably part of my terror. We left our back door open for a couple days, and they probably walked in through there, or maybe through small holes where I have still to install baseboard (after all the work last year on the hardwood floor, I have two closets to go and all the baseboard and I hate every stinking piece of it). To top all, our exterminator can't come until Monday, but his wife said he'll keep coming back until there are no more mice and since I've seen what he can do with a couple huge ant infestations I believe her he'll exterminate the beasties if any remain when he gets here. And I get to leave Tuesday morning for long beach and our housesitter can deal with any that might be left alive after monday when 'the cleaner' arrives. I'm glad I get to leave the house in a few days.

Why am I so afraid of a disease like this? I prayed about it last night, though of course my weak faith doesn't help (though the prayer did, some). It's almost as if the fear comes from not knowing what to do or of being powerless, combined with a sure sense of impending disaster\. If I had any exposure, it would have been minor and when I opened the broiler pan and washed off the tray we used (before I knew the awful facts from the cdc). But I'm not obsessing about that as much as I am the continued fact that I'm still here, in my house. I have to grade online papers today and tomorrow and unless I find five more mice today, I see no reason not to do it here.

Sure I'll put out a few traps, keep spraying lysol, but considering how uncommon the disease is, how aired out my house is during these hot summer days, why such terror?

That I can't answer. It's not as bad as it was last night. But I know somehow it goes back to something very young. Sure, most people in my shoes would have some concern, would take some precautions as I've done or am doing (actually, most people would probably just put out traps and leave it at that). But how many of them would fall into heart-pounding cold-hand terror? As if death was right behind a door I'm leaning against, even opening? And not the Jesus death, but some other kind of final, catastrophic end. My hypochondriases, maybe that's not the best term, my fear of death by some disease doesn't crop up often, but it has roots back into adolescence, early adolescence, and I know those fears go farther back still. The carpet will be pulled. The disaster will certainly fall on my house, on me. My life will end suddenly and without warning. Doom, doom, darkness and doom, burning on me like a spotlight.

I guess right now I don't have to have any answers, I just have to go about my daily life. Grade for a while, then buy a few mousetraps and put at least one in the back bathroom. Then grade more and then take a nap (I didn't sleep more than six hours last night, and if I wasn't still taking meds for my pain, though less, I think I wouldn't have slept at all). But it really helps to write about this here, and I know I'm not the only scared person out there which also helps (KMJ has talked about the horrors of web.md).

Of course I may work outside on the wireless laptop I'm using now in my living room, which also feels safer.

So there I am. A major victory followed closely by a major terror.

So much of the faith, our faith, my faith, is about finding security in the midst of fear. It's all through the psalms, in the gospels and epistles. Human nature is part fear. I think of the story of the disciples in the boat in the storm. That would be me. Little faith, big fear.

I tell you, since I became senior warden and started to use my gifts in my church so much has hit me: my muscle spasms and the valium, overloads at work, two summer classes (by choice, but still) and now this...my life is better than 15 months ago no doubt, but new challenges have come which have kept me from doing all I want to do. Would it be superstitious to suggest spiritual warfare? Only if there is no such thing. St. Paul believed in it; Jesus seemed to also with what he told Peter (Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat) and what he told the same disciple on another occasion (get behind me, Satan). Perhaps this is all unrelated; the idea that it might be related actually gives me comfort, like a weak 'proof' for my faith. But now I'm getting metaphysical.

Thanks so much for listening everyone. I feel very weak, drained, right now. It's an old, familiar feeling. This will probably pass in a couple days, certainly after a few days out of town, but right now...so much fear. Writing helps. Being heard helps even more. I'd like to be able to hold up an image of strength, but this is who I am. Perhaps sharing that is a form of strength.

God's peace to all, including me,

t

Monday, July 11, 2005

Coit Tower

I can't write, or say, 'Coit Tower' without my inner Butthead making his Butthead noise, 'huh, huh, he said coit.' I know the name comes from Lillie Coit, who after her death in 1929 left money for the building (Butthead also wants me to point out that her middle name was Hitchcock). But it's so darned close to coitus, and the building is a 210 foot phallic monument on top of one of San Francisco's highest hills. Some say it's shaped like a fire hose nozzle; I don't actually know the truth behind that. But while the murals on the first floor (which are the only ones we were allowed to see; the second floor and stairway were not open for some reason) are beautiful, 1934 depression-era, and in places plainly political, often concerned with labor, quite worth seeing on their own, what concerns me is the, uh, tip of the thing.

If you read you know I'm afraid of heights, or am working through that fear. And I've been afraid of ascending Coit tower for over 10 years.

I often walk to the hilltop, sure. It's the perfect thing after a stomach-bloating dinner in North Beach (this time, at the old school italian Golden Spike); you can go up stairs near Washington Square straight to the hilltop itself. The thing is I've never been up there when the inside of the tower, with its elevator to the top, was open, thankfully I would normally say. Sunday night, when S and I were in the city again and we walked up there after dinner, it was open.

As soon as we got to the outside of the building she was like, 'oh look, there's people inside.' And I'm thinking, 'no, no, it can't be!' It was. And after a decent amount of time touring the murals (which are only inside), she said, 'why don't we go up the elevator.' I said, 'it costs money, but not much.' She still wanted to go. And horrified as I was I told myself I was not going to let fear stop me from doing something all on its own. If fear was my only reason, that wouldn't be good enough. We bought our death-passes I mean tickets and got into this little rickety steel elevator with a friendly, asian college-kid operator who actually closed the door and shut a steel gate behind it by hand.

He said something like, 'okay, is everybody ready; it will take about 60 seconds to get to the top and then we'll stop very suddenly, okay, very suddenly, so don't panic; this is all original stuff, original equipment, but they check it all the time, they just checked it yesterday,' everyone laughs...

And I am in this five by six box (maybe that) holding on to a side rail and beginning to hyperventilate while I listen to the elevator grind and groan. I didn't know what would be there when the door opened: I imagined it would open right onto an open balcony two hundred feet in the air, and I even said to S, 'I may have to go back down in the elevator.' I needed to say that, and she admitted later that was the first time she remembered my phobia. Oh I've been up in some high restaurants or bars lately, a few, but not in anything like Coit Tower. And not in an elevator like this since...well, probably never, but the closest I came must have been at Long Beach State.

The thing thrums its machine way to the top and then, slam, truly, it slams and drops an inch or two. It was quite dramatic, and if the elevator guy hadn't told me it was going to happen I would have had a heart attack and subsequently solved all my metaphysical questions.

Then he pulls back the gate and the door, and thank god, I was in an enclosed little area with stairs going up. This let me get out, hold on to a stair rail, and catch my breath; I thought I was going to faint. S was very cool, we hung out there for a while, and then slowly I went up, then up another landing, into the open top of Coit Tower.

There are balconies, and perhaps they used to let people onto them though we couldn't go there, but above these is an open landing with the tower walls going up around, like something in Tolkien, like Orthanc. Above us were big open windows without glass (is that a window; I know no architecture) and there were little windows all around (with ledges, ledges my god, covered in coins). Thankfully the lower windows, small as they are, had glass covers padlocked into place. People squeeze coins through the opening between the window and the building and there are representatives from all over the world, an impressive collection really, occasionally collected, I imagine, by the people who run coit tower.

So I was enclosed, but not enclosed, wind whipping through the room itself (again, open tower-top rooms like this must have a name).

It took me a while to get near the windows, and I was holding on to the square columns and the hand rails most of the time; though by the end I was fairly relaxed, looking out at the most magnificent view of San Francisco I know (and why did no one stay long; we couldn't have been up there more than twenty minutes and so many people came and went; the panic-stricken idea crossed my mind at one point that I might get left up there all night if were the only ones there but I decided that was groundless). The tower-top is not big, maybe twenty feet across total, and we walked from window to window and saw the glorious bay (the sea was comforting to me, even from that height) and the piers and simply the entire city. For while the tower is only 200 feet up, the hill itself is small, steep, and high, so that you actually look down from a considerable unobstructed height. What the grand canyon is to the natural world, coit tower is to the urban.

The fog was coming in hard and fast from the west, blowing in trails right over the building and through the upper windows, and we were about level with it, so that it was like racing through clouds. All the buildings of San Fran, or most at least, can be seen from up there, and treasure island, the bay bridge. The Gate was behind the fog, unfortunately, and we couldn't see Berkeley though we could see Alcatraz. Frankly, it was one of the most sublime and exhilirating things I have ever seen.

If you don't mind spending seven dollars and fifty cents per couple, it is one of the only tourist activities in the city I can recommend, besides a cable car ride (preferably in the morning) and Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista. Oh, yeah, well the ice cream sundaes at Ghiradelli, and the maritime museum, and the alcatra tour, and the other musuems, theaters, restaurants...

But you get the point: I did it. I freaking did it. It took me a while to calm down afterwards, but I acted contrary to my fear. Even before we went back down the elevator, I felt great, and that feeling just got better. My wife told me later I am a brave man, and I've never ever felt brave. Fear is still so much a part of me, and it has always felt like my master, an irresistable force of inner nature, and in its presence I feel cowardly and weak.

Even in my last blog, on sailing, I write about lifejackets as if I'm an instructor in a boat full of students. Why? Because I obsess about safety. Because I'm afraid and want to leave nothing to chance. I love sailing the Bay and feel comfortable there after only three days on it. My skipper friend has asked me to crew on a boat in September to Santa Cruz and I'm scared peeless. Scared of that dark, overcast and often fog-ridden coastline (though it's less foggy in September, he picked what should be the best month to sail); I'm scared of being in a boat on real swells and waves. All of southern california, below point conception, is not as open to the true pacific swell; the further south you go the more the channel islands, including catalina (in fact this is called the catalina eddy) block the sea; and simply, the higher the latitude the more wave and weather.

So while I know the coast guard would be at hand fairly quickly, I think, anywhere along that coast, and I wouldn't go without wearing a state of the art lifejacket, harness, and tether (better gear than my skipper has, though his is much the same) and probably carrying my own strobe light and radio (I don't think he carries a strobe in case he goes over even) oh geez, just talking about it I'm sweating.

Oddly enough, I'm afraid of getting sea sick more than anything. The ocean outside the gate moves up here, it moves and bumps. I'm fairly sensitive to motion, but the only time I've been puking sea sick was the day of my first dive and there were other factors in play (plus I took no meds).

I know I don't have to go, and I know this is much different from Coit Tower. In fact I found a sailing school in Santa Cruz itself which is much cheaper than the one on the Bay and I could begin weekend lessons before this alleged trip. Hah. Beat you. I will already sail near the coast there!

But you see. I didn't know I was going up coit tower until I got there or it would have changed my entire trip. I will probably have a good time on the boat, though I do have questions about the cruise first (will we be sailing at night, who else is going, can you really get there that fast, etc.) but sometimes fear kicks my butt (I think obsessive fear over this sept. trip was part of the reason I got sick) and sometimes I kick its butt. The key, for me, is to face it still. To not let it dictate my actions.

You will know I'm cured, incidentally, not when I sail to Santa Cruz but when I get on a freaking AIRPLANE (I would rather be covered in scorpions, eyes shut tight, hearing their clicking scorpion bodies). I know commercial jets are the safest way to travel, much safer than driving to los angeles and certainly safer than scuba, which is something I do with some anxiety perhaps but nothing close to fear; still, flying is the big one for me. That's why I take little steps...a high hotel restaurant, another, one higher yet, then the open coit tower. The nervous system adjusts, begins to realize there is no threat, repeated exposure finalizes the cure. I've met technical climbers who began because they were afraid of heights; same with small airplane pilots. And it worked. And I'll get there.

***

Peace to all. The weekend was good in many ways, good food, I found an incredible bar in the Hotel Majestic (in moderation, of course, but I tried a new gin, Juanipero from San Fran itself and it is world class) I toured the Balaclutha, a three mast square-rigged ship. I even found the name of the whaler my grandfather sailed out of San Fran on around 1900 (yes, grandfather, 1900); my dad kept saying the Alice Knows; it was the Alice Knowles, and I've found drawings and even a probable photo (the maritime bookstore at Hyde Street Pier is the best I've ever seen)...even crew lists, though I did not see his name I don't doubt the story. Every band that played with Short Bus was very good, well save one maybe, but the other four were very good, and Short Bus put on a good show and I got to talk to RAS and that was all good. They keep improving, and their drummer, Damian, is completeing his tranformation into John Bonham I am sure.

Peace to all. There should be recovery bracelets the way there are Livestrong bracelets. I'd get a fear one and take it all kinds of scary places.

Genuine love,

t

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Twice to the Sea (Part Two of Two)

I'm sick. A low grade fever, around 100 or a little over, since Monday night, and body aches. And while this is probably some 'normal' virus, it's taking a different course from the usual cold. I played it safe, called my doctor, and I'm going in this afternoon. Good for me. Again, probably nothing, but I'm one of those armchair doctors who evaluates my symptoms according to what I can find online; and I don't go in unless I know I need a med (an inhaler, say for the wicked chest colds I get after nearly every illness) when I know something is almost certainly viral. Still, why not play it safe?

I remember two springs ago I bucked up, cut up (excuse the mountain lingo) an oak that fell on our property. Later I had a bump inside my left arm; I scratched at it and something seemed to come off, but I thought nothing of it. Then, a little later, I noticed a faint red ring around the spot. I was the only person I knew up here whose (obsessive) reading over the years led him to understand that this could be the first symptom of lyme's disease. I looked it up, saw the pictures online, saw my doctor (who also lives up here, a true mountain doctor and regular cross-country skiier) and he nailed it right away: tick bite, lyme's circle, take this antibiotic and you will not get lyme's disease. I did, and I didn't.

So anyway, I rarely go in. Why not now?

And I'm going to SF this weekend to see Long Beach Shortbus, a band my wife has a friend in, a band we have met all the members in a few times (including Eric, from Sublime). Can I live anywhere near the lifestyle of those guys? No. Not even close, though I know Steph's friend is trying hard to stay sober from some very serious drugs (she knew him in high school, indeed, Sublime used to play backyard parties when she went to Jordan). But the music is good, the shows are fun, and we're staying in the oldest continually operating hotel in San Francisco, the Hotel Majestic. Apparently it's haunted, but then you know how they play that up for business. I do know it's decorated in gorgeous Edwardian style and they throw in a light breakfast.

After the tragic events of today in London, I may actually drive into the city for the first time in years.

But in response to my illness, and to today's horrific acts in London (which, disgusting as they are, form just one more piece of the murder which occurs every day on this planet) I've decided to write something upbeat. And now, after my overlong teacher-intro, the story of my first sail.

***

A year or so after my dip into lover's cove at night, Clint took me sailing on his boat in Long Beach inside the breakwater. This was where Clint slept when he was 'over town,' or on the mainland. Someone had just given it to him, and I'll get the specs wrong, but I believe it was a 16 footer. It did have a 'lid,' or cover to the boat and a small cabin below with the head, a little portable pottie looking thing that sat right in the middle of that tiny cabin. I don't think he even knew how to sail, or only very little. J and he were now a couple, and her father had sailed for years out of San Diego so she may have had some idea, but I think between the two they only had the very basics down. Mostly, Clint used his outboard and just left the boat in the slip as I understood things.

I knew even less. In fact, with the little I've picked up from sailing three times in the SF Bay and reading about sailing, dangerously less. No one wore lifejackets. I wanted to make sure we had them, and Clint showed me some old vests under one of the storage areas in the boat's tiny cockpit. This is marvelously stupid, even in the flat, and relatively warm, water of Long Beach. In fact, I actually peed off the back (with reasonable privacy, J at the mast staring upwind) while we were sailing; I'm sure I was holding on to a backstay, but it was and is very stupid to do that, especially without a pfd. I remember how nervous J was that I was doing it and I thought, why worry, I can swim, you guys could whip right around and pick me up. In fact, it takes consistent training to do that. There was no radio to call the Coasties. The two of them probably would have managed something, certainly would have if the engine started, but if I had fallen in I could have drowned waiting around for them to get the boat to me.

(Didactic interlude: I don't care how unmacho it looks, always, always wear a pfd; my own cousin Johnny went over at night and washed up days later just three years before my first sail; he was in the No. Cal. Delta near the Antioch Bridge and had spent a lifetime on boats; he wasn't wearing a pfd either, though in the fog alone at night on the water, even that might not have saved him; now, if I'm on water, I wear the lifejacket, and so does everybody else; a radio must always be at hand...if I were ever alone, a radio on my person and waterproof. Here's a story from just last week here about how eight people nearly drowned just before they were very nearly run over by a 600 foot tanker in the SF Bay).

Now that that is out of the way....I sound like a fearful parent, like my mother, but I mean well. My mother would tell me not to go out on the boat at all.

My first sail was an amazing experience for me in every way, stunning. I had a fair amount of obsessive content burning through my head at the time, and I remember that while sailing did not push it out completely, it opened another vista inside my mind. I had what I considered an epiphany; I've read the same idea since but I don't recall where. I understood that consciousness is multi-faceted yet simultaneous. Meaning that even though I was caught up in my own mental junk, the sea crept into me, fed me, and I felt that serenity, even ecstasy, in one part of my mind. It was a normal day; I was nervous, being out on the water for the first time with people I didn't know all that well, but amidst whatever my concerns, I felt my obsessions diminish, though they shared the mental screen still, as I left the land. And that goregous, sunny, calm sea. I didn't realize how gentle a place that is to sail until I began learning on the Bay, which is a much more vigorous spot.

I had felt nature touch me, even sustain me, at times listen to me sob, before this sail on many day hikes, on short backpacks, and probably more than a hundred times in the Nature Center in Long Beach, a place I used to visit often, usually alone, during my darkest years. But the sea was, is, something else. It's flat and without individual feature; it's one great Thing. As such, its impact on the soul is singular and enormous. Below the surface, it is somewhat like natural beauty above ground, though it's also deeply alien, truly extraterrestrial, and I float through it as I can float through no mountain forest. But on the surface, even though it lacks variety, it overwhelms...its breath, its color, its constant lights and movement. We spent a beautiful day tacking up and then back (we were under sail for this, so at least one of them knew how to set the little mainsail enough to push the boat). The feeling of being driven by the wind, of the keel-weight shifting: it was exhiliration. I came home and wrote a poem I felt it was so powerful. As this is an older poem I'm embarrassed to share it, but I think I can dig it up and put it here as an offering, really, to the beauty of the Sea, and, hope beyond hope, to the Creator who made both my mind and the ocean from which (some say) all life sprang in a miracle greater than any single human birth.

But the mysticism of the day was followed by one of the funniest things that has ever happened to me, and it's worth telling.

We came back, under motor with the sail furled, into the docks. Clint had the tiller, J had the bow line, and I was given the aft line (if I remember right). The way it's supposed to work is that the person at the helm steers the boat into the slip and lets it drift close to the dock. The person with the bowline steps (sometimes jumps) off onto the dock and then helps guide the boat in. This is followed by the person with the aft line stepping off; then these two lines are secured to cleats on the dock and the boat is at rest.

I don't know why I leaned so far out. There was a boat right near theirs in the slip and all I remember is losing my balance, trying to grap on to an antenna on this other boat (which I snapped off as I went) and then I was in the sea, unlaced doc martens and all (my poor docs, they never recovered; they held a faint but noticeable stink for years afterward and I finally had to stop wearing them). I swam the few feet to the wooden planking (J looked as if she was about to jump in after me) and I climbed out. I was apologetic, felt terrible, of course. It was just getting dark by now and a little breezy. I offered to pay for the antenna, but they said they'd take care of it, which they did, students that they both were (I was an adjunct, and didn't make much but more than the two of them together I imagine).

There was something else though that I became painfully aware of standing, utterly soaked in my jeans and shirt, there on that dock.

I had to pee, again (did we have a couple beers; I don't think so but I don't remember; another thing I would never do on the SF Bay). In fact, J's warning about peeing off the back of the boat must have sunk in, because I had been holding it now for a while. And with being utterly soaked, in cotton, with the wind blowing, I really, really, really had to pee. It felt like urination would complete my life at that moment; it was now the only piece in my hierarchy of need. And the wind blew. I stood there flooding the dock and beginning to shiver.

I told them I had to use the restroom; I couldn't stick around to tie off the boat, I'd be right back but I had to use the restroom. J gave me a plastic card, said it's right over there, nice restrooms for the boaters in the marina, go ahead and go.

I think I ran to the building; at best I did the pee-walk, that thing all men must learn sometime during or right after potty training. My entire being was taken up with the lust to let go.

I found the right building, the right door, men's, and was faced with something I'd never seen before. It looked like the outside of a deadbolt only with no keyhole, just a smooth round cylinder about that size sticking out of the door. The door would not open, not even budge no matter how hard I pushed on it. I couldn't see any place to insert the card. I probably waved it near the cylinder, pushed it against it, nothing. It was beginning to feel like a sick joke. And now my urge became desperate, truly.

Clint and J were too far off to hear me understandably even if I yelled. I kept trying to open the door and I just couldn't. The evening breeze was coming stronger now, and my soaked clothes were like one vast message screaming: pee!

Why I didn't try to go in the grass or someplace else I don't know; there must have been people around. It's a pretty manicured area and there are always a few boaters, though no one close enough to ask for help.

And so, dear friends, I peed, deliciously as a toddler in a diaper after his nap, and thoroughly, standing there in my soaked jeans.

I know I was not drunk at all. Now, I don't know what I would do, but this is what I did then.

After that I had to go back and tell Clint and J, my unlaced docs squashing with more than just sea water now. I knew there were showers in the bathrooms, and clearly I had to rinse off. Physically I felt incredible, though I was getting cold again, but emotionally...I can't remember what they said exactly, but J was the one who went back with me and she was very cool when we got there. There was a huge puddle on the sidewalk in front of the door and she said, 'well, we can tell where you went,' genuinely laughing, but kindly. Then she showed me how to rub the key card around the outside of the cylinder; I had never imagined that. It was like a puzzle in a computer game.

But open it did. I let her keep the card and I headed, still squishing, for the large shower at the end of the room.

I went in in all my clothes, boots and all, and the hot water felt so good. I figured I had to stay in there for a while, running water down my jeans as much as I could to get rid of the pee. Just as I was getting to a place where I thought I had done the best I could in the field, I heard someone else come in; his breathing, the noises he made...I knew it wasn't Clint. It was some strange boater who then began to grunt and poop. I figured well, he's in the stall now and it's time for me to go, and so I walked out of the shower, right past the closed stall door, water gushing out of my boots as I stepped and pouring off of me, all echoing in that enclosed tiled room, clearly a man who had just finished his shower in all his clothing, including shoes.

What he thought I'll never know. Perhaps I became a bar story.

I headed back to the boat, quickly again getting cold and embarrased, but they were waiting for me not far off. Then as we walked to J's parent's car, parents I hadn't even met, it occurred to me that I had to sit on the seat. In her parent's car. Clint said he had been thinking of that too. We found a towel; I sat on it and on the faux sheepskin beneath, immediately rolling down my window in case of any residual urine. They drove me home to my apt. in the shore and it was there that I finally got into dry clothes and knew the warmth and luxury, the space and dryness, of life ashore again.

***

That is an odd story, I know, or at least an odd second half to another story, but that is exactly how it went. I began calling my fall into the sea a kind of baptism even that night, and I suppose it was. I only sailed in Long Beach one other time with Clint (and that, actually, is a pretty funny story in itself, but I don't know if I'll go there; not now at least) and moored in his little boat at Two Harbors during one Bucanneer's Day, a weekend when we motored up to snorkel in Emerald Bay, then back to that very odd annual party which opens lobster season, and a day or two later we motored all the way from Two Harbors to Avalon, staying near the coast and just talking.

Later, Clint continued his tradition of the free boat (not uncommon, actually) by giving it to another friend in Avalon, a guy named Abe who used to run the fire trails in the interior almost obsessively; he had a remarkable knowledge of the topography of the island. Clint told me, seriously and with purpose, that he was giving the boat to Abe 'for housing.' Alas, somehow, Abe managed to sink it, or let it sink, somewhere near the shore (perhaps even when it was moored or at anchor without Abe; I never got the whole story). It is perhaps fitting that the first boat I sailed on, slept in, and fell off has been several years at the bottom of the sea, already become another thing entirely, as my own body will one day become another thing entirely.

In the Apocalypse, those who lie in the sea will be raised first.

Perhaps. But again, hope beyond hope (and I see sparse reason in all my reading or experience to believe in an afterlife apart from the witness of the gospels, which are explicit) I will be raised into something greater. Or if not greater, I will at least be with Christ, alive, forever, with the author of both love and the sea. May it be so.

***

Hymn

what is it when the white sail fills with wind

and the great keel shifts, while the gray sea slings
below like a vision, like a meadow seen in sleep?

how the pastures of the dolphin feed my soul.

as the waters' country breath, soft and citrus,
turns in currents through my skin and hair.

how the grasses of Poseidon flood the air.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Tom and Brooke

Theology mom writes about the Cruise/Shields feud over psychotropic meds. Look out all, great minds are clashing in Hollywood. I don't have time for a full post, but here's my two shiny lincolns on the whole psychotropic med thing:

with slight updates on second viewing a few hours later


for one, Tom is foolish to lump all mental illness into one category; schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression, not to mention other forms of depression and the whole catalogue of anxiety disorders (of which I've had all, I believe) are not the same things.

two, Tom's description sounds like psychiatry in the 50's and 60's, maybe 70's, perhaps what Hubbard had in mind when he was writing and alive. Shock therapy now is not what it was then. And meds have advanced considerably for most forms of mental illness.

three, I don't know a thing about postpartum depression and I'm not going to pretend; it sounds like a time of tremendous hormonal changes which might seriously affect mood. This is not the same thing as depression or anxiety which result from trauma or abuse or neglect in some form, though these things could of course blend.

four, medication can be combined with therapy, and often this is the best course: if someone comes in with very heavy depression or uncontrollable panic attacks, meds can be one part of their road to recovery; hopefully, they will eventually work the deeper issues and no longer need the medication.

Now I've tried meds and done long term therapy, and I will say this: the latest batch of meds, the new ssri's, are overprescribed and used as a cure too often; they can mask underlying issues, though in most cases those issues can still be felt if the client looks; I don't buy the chemical imbalance model, that all neuroses results from chemical problems, that the drug companies are selling me, and I have ocd. I admit I was unable to tolerate any of the ssri's and never experienced their therapeutic benefits, and the tricyclics did little for me, though I think they helped some of the very worst depression and I have no regrets that I used them then. I did use xanax way back in the day, and it helped a lot, but now is frowned on as addictive and a band-aid cure (and the ssri's are different how? well, they alter mood in a much different way).

In my own case my depression really was anger and other feelings bottled up; my ocd really is driven by said feelings and mostly anxiety, even though I know it carves huge cables in the brain. And I found that conventional therapy, support groups, self-care, and spriritual work (what else do I call it) made huge changes in how I feel, really cured my depression for the most part; I want to share this story, but I'm such a slow blogger!

For ocd, though, I found that conventional feeling based therapy helps, but only after I did exposure and response prevention, cognitive therapy, though I resisted it so much and still don't do is as I should (but then, I had already done years of conventional therapy, and perhaps that set me in a place where the exposure could work; I'll never know). ERP works for phobias also: do what you're afraid of in little steps and learn to relax there; same with ocd: working with a therapist, expose the mind to gradually worsening scenarios regarding the core obsession, and breathe through it, learn to still, recondition the mental reflex. It was very hard to start, and will probably be hard to end, but it works wonders. As the underlying anxiety diminishes, the brain is retrained away from the obsession/compulsion. Sounds deterministic; it's just one component of my reality.

Now all this takes work and time, and if someone wants to take ssri's his or her whole life, fine (many people have side effects, but not all). They do poop out, but there are always new ones. I'm a fan of getting underneath, when possible, to the underlying feelings in the case of a chronic neurosis (which postpartum is not, though feelings surely play a role along with hormones). I think that's where the deepest growth occurs. Is social anxiety disorder a chemical imbalance? I don't believe it. The pill isn't the final answer for depression or anxiety, at least in my limited experience. Most people with some chronic phobia or other have a learned fear, or more likely, the transference of other, earlier fears, and this anxiety tends to increase over the lifetime if it is not treated and the fears are not faced (my mother, for example, is much more anxious now than when she was in her twenties, though the roots where there then).

So in part, tom has a very limited idea of what he's talking about and he's sticking to his religious beliefs or religious culture in spite of the evidence; in part also, he's right, though perhaps not about brooke as an individual example. Psychiatry is still figuring itself out. Perhaps someday there will be a pill to actually de-traumatize the original memories in the brain; then this will be a different discussion.

But the ssri craze, though I know these help many people and I'm not suggesting anyone who is reading to stop taking them will, in my view, one day be looked on as better than the valium era or the barbituate era or the morphine era (or for that matter, the cocktail era), but only by degree. The mind still holds psychic wounds, and final healing involves dealing with those one ugly chunk at a time; it can take years (in my case, nearly 15 now, though I took some time off from therapy and had some special setbacks and didn't discover erp until just over a year ago); it will take money for a professional therapist and hard work. Plus, every fluoexetine pill is exactly the same; not so with therapists, and finding a good one can be hard, though it's worth the effort (the toughest thing is that a hurting person can't tell who is good and who is marginal or even incompetent easily). So, if the ssri does the job, I'm not telling anyone it's morally weak to take the med. Life is short, and I've had no choice but to take the long route. But know that in many cases, though not all, if the med is discontinued, the beast still lurks. And it's hard for me to believe that the essential personality is changed as much by the med as it would be by the hard feeling or exposure work, the tough and long process of healing naturally.

Enough preaching. We all need to get through this life somehow. Many times I've wished the ssri's did work for me, though I haven't felt that way lately. Certainly my life might have been completely different if they worked for me at 20. Someday I imagine they'll understand why I have the reactions I do and find new meds which bypass even that. But the mind, in the presence of a safe environment and the technology of therapy, modern, eclectic and ethical therapy, not that idiot Freud whose work is constantly used to ridicule therapists (and all too often by the cognitive researchers)...the mind can heal in marvelous ways.

For schizophrenics or those with bipolar disorder, it may be another tale completely. I can't imagine schizophrenia is ever curable without meds, and those meds have a long way to go still though they continue to improve. There is always hope.

***

And that phrase reminds me of the classic Crystal Method tune, which reminds me of this: those of you who know me may see a familiar face at the band's website. Look under photos for the show on 5/19. I'm back a little in the crowd in a couple. Like I said, confessions of a barbarian. What a night that was. Sometimes the best cure is getting out when one can. Rave on.

My heart goes out to all who can't. 'Saying a prayer for the desperate heart tonight.'

t