That Time (19)
Something Icky This Way Comes
Throughout the telling of my story I’ve worried about how some of you might perceive this. Might perceive me. What makes me think my pain is relevant to anyone outside my immediate family? Am I being selfish? A narcissist? Hey everyone! Look at me! Woe is me!
Pity is the virtue of the law, and none but tyrants use it cruelly.
- William Shakespeare
I have no idea what that quote means. Wanting to sound literate, I duckduckgoed “Shakespeare pity quotes” and that was the first one I found. Is it working? Here’s another:
The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.
Um, OK… fools aren’t allowed to speak their minds while wise men get away with spouting nonsense? That doesn’t make sense. Is he talking about wise fools? Foolish wisdom? Next!
That he's mad, 'tis true,
'tis true 'tis pity,
And pity 'tis, 'tis true
—a foolish figure…
Nope. Nothing. Nada. Nice alliteration, though. Read it out loud to yourself.
Oh fuck! It was a typo! I meant to search for “Shakespeare pithy quotes.”
Last one, I promise…
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Maya Angelou and Natalie Goldberg explained this one to me.
Why are the best stories always dark? Because they need the light.
Since a very young age, I have wanted to write. I have written but not really. I’ve been holding back. You’ve heard of writer’s block. I didn’t have that. I had writer’s terror. Sitting in front of an empty page was standing at the edge of the abyss. Not an but the.
Don’t be confused. I mean, do be. I’m not trying to make sense. Of it. Of this. I spent my life trying to make sense. Of it. David Byrne was write. Time to stop. Making. Sense. There is no sense.
Looking back at my lifetime of dream journals, poetry, invocations, blogging, and experimental writing, I can now see that what was missing was me. Him. Little Eric. He was always there. Yes, I know I just contradicted myself. Himself. The saboteur. A subterfugist. A subtle fugue-ist. Silently screaming.
Writing couldn’t happen because he would always show up, wanting to be heard. But after a lifetime of keeping him under a bushel, I was terried to let him speak.
So this has been for him. From him. He made me do it.
I can hear a train passing by as I write. (It’s software.) I used to play on railroad tracks. Put a penny on the rail and look for it after the train passed. Flattened. No longer a penny.
There was a train bridge in the center of Franklin, my childhood town. The tracks passed under the main street of down town. The trains moved slowly so they were easy to jump. Just run alongside the train, near the back of one of the cars, where there was a little metal ladder. I did it one time. I simply put one foot on the bottom rung and lifted my other foot off the ground. Held on like that for about a hundred feet, then stepped back down. I did it just so I could say I once jumped a train. I once jumped a train. I heard later that another kid did that, fell under the train, and had his head chopped off. Did that really happen? No idea. They also told me my penny on the track could have derailed the train. Could that really have happened? I have no idea.
I am out of ideas.
Trigger warning. Something icky this way comes.
In my therapy sessions, I was a lot like Steve Jobs. As much progress as I made, I always felt like there was ‘just one more thing’, but whatever it was eluded me. Until I just casually mentioned it in a session with Joanna without intending to. Because, like my other story, it was always there. It wasn’t buried, suppressed, or forgotten. It was ignored.
I was close to resignation that I would have to live the rest of my life without ever finding the last piece of the puzzle. The last peace. The peace I sought. The piece that was hiding in plain sleight.
Typical therapy experience. Me on a couch. Therapist on an easy chair facing me. We’re talking. Casually at first. Then probing. Then remembering. Then feeling. Then… the abyss!
The abyss is complete, total, abject fear and paralysis. I’m about to say something. I’m about to remember something. My fear becomes so overwhelming that my brain has to shut it down. My body has to shut it down. It is an existential threat. If I go one step further, I will die. Wait, what? Where was I? What were we talking about. Times up. See you next week. (Been there done that, I know. That’s just how it works.)
This was also the form my nightmares took. And my paranoid episodes. Getting close to something that will kill me. Freezing in a panic. Running away. Waking up.
In order to heal from the sexual attack, I had to eventually take that final step. To enter the abyss. It took years of trying. Practicing. Preparing.
In 1982, a friend wrote a poem about/for me. I was 22 or 23. I keep the poem with my most important personal documents.
How weird is that? Fucking guy knew me better than I knew myself. I tried reaching out to him when I began this substack but never heard back. We didn’t know each other long and he was a few years older than me. He was one of a very few men whom I considered a mentor, as well as a friend.
So, I’m talking with Joanna and I’m saying, maybe I just need to let it go. Maybe whatever else happened was when I was too young to comprehend or remember it. I don’t know, maybe it was that time Ethel gave me an enema as a punishment. Maybe it was that time Ethel gave me an enema as a punishment. Maybe it was that time…
Abracadabra! Just like that, I was five years old. We were in the bathroom, just the two of us. I was naked. She was screaming at me about something. Again. Always. I’ve done something wrong. I’ve been bad. I must be punished. I’m screaming, too. Please, no, no, no, don’t, please don’t!
I jump up off the couch. I fall to the floor. On my side. Curling up into a ball. Crying. Bawling. It’s happening again!
She picks me up, drapes me across her lap, all while still screaming at me. I’m still screaming and crying. Bawling. No, no, no, please don’t do it!
She did it. My mother took this scary plastic turkey baster looking thing and shoved it into my tiny clenching rectum. What do you call that?
I don’t know how long I lay on the floor, sobbing — just like that day in the bathroom — just like that day in the chicken coop — but I eventually stood up and sat back on the couch. I survived. I didn’t die. But some part of me did. Every time.
i talk about
as if they are two apart
but he is me
big eric is me
little eric is me
it’s just me
i’m just me
i’ve been here all
i didn’t forget my childhood
i didn’t forget my pain
i didn’t forget what happened
i didn’t forget what they did
i didn’t forget that time
i forgot me
i forgot myself
for a while
i remember it all
i remember me
did it have to be told?
yeah, it did
because my story is a selfish blanket.
because a story ain’t a story
until it’s been told
this is it
my story about
you can’t give it back
i can’t take it back
i can’t put it back
i have to set it free
to let it go
[sound of a train fading as it passes into the distance]
This is the end of my story about that time but it’s not the end of this substack. Not just yet. I want to share some of the good stuff in my life right now. About a podcast I’m participating in. About my self-published poetry books, two completed, and a third in the works. About how I’m going to take this material and shape it into a poetry chapbook. About a website I’m developing for male survivors. I’m in a very good place right now. I’m feeling positive, hopeful, creative, and excited.
However, I hate that I’m finding my groove while the world is on fire. There’s nothing more that I’d like, than to turn all my energy towards art and creativity and re-connecting with people socially. But I must admit I am also doom-scrolling and paying a lot of attention to the pandemic, a white supremacy that is refusing to die, rising worldwide fascism, the capture of our legal and political systems by apocalyptic religious fanatics, and, oh yeah, a climate catastrophe that is no longer looming but happening right here right now.
In a visceral way, it is no longer the future that looks dark, but the present. Shit is real. But I’m not giving in to it. I’ve spent a lifetime overcoming trauma and its effects. I have shifted from living in survival to living in thrival.*
Still, we must not despair. We must keep pushing forward. We must keep trying to connect with each other. As hard as it is to watch what’s happening in Ukraine (or at any of the other atrocities that are always occurring) I can’t help but be moved and inspired by their courage, their dignity, and their humanity.
Enough for now. Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Love your people. Love yourself. Do good things.
* I looked it up, it’s a word. It doesn’t mean anything like how I’m using it but I couldn’t help myself. OK, it’s not so much a word as a name. It’s the name of… never mind. You don’t want to know. Don’t look it up! (We survivors are known for our dark humor.)