violetcheetah: (butler)
Thirty days ago, as I wrote about at the time, I adopted a new cat, Precious; she'd been at the shelter where I volunteer for three years without allowing anyone to pet her, until I started working with her and essentially tricked her into allowing touch.  I am borrowing a kennel-type cage until she's ready to explore, and while I've been leaving it open at times, she's not yet ready to venture into the first actual home she's ever been in.  I'm sure it will come with time.  Until then, I do what I often do with kitties at the shelter, and clamber inside the cage to pet her.  And on that front:

She loves belly rubs, but sometimes she's too antsy to lie still for one.  I'd been occasionally rubbing her belly while she was standing, my other hand rubbing her neck.  Then I started lifting her front half up an inch or so sometimes, just to get her used to the concept.  Then one day, she was on the fleece on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And I pressed my luck: I let her turn her back, and then I lifted her slightly and pulled/walked her backwards into my lap.  She didn't stay, but she didn't freak out.  I tried again a couple of minutes later, and she paused longer before leaving.  The third time, she didn't leave immediately, and after 30 seconds or so, she slowly, suspiciously settled in.  She stayed for nearly 5 minutes, partly because I managed to refrain from giggling in shocked, hysterical glee.

Now I put her in my lap every time she's on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And she stays, for half an hour or more.  Including, the last couple of times, lying sideways enough that I can rub her belly. She can only enjoy belly rubs lying on her left side, so she ends up facing me, so I could see last night as her eyes got that drunken, half-closed look.  Then, for a solid minute, her eyes closed entirely.  It's the first time I've ever petted her when her eyes were closed.  

I've realized that, in a lot of ways, she reminds me of Butler: the type of caution about anything new, the befuddledness of her face, even the texture of her fur, so soft it's like a plush toy.  Looking at her face with her eyes closed, I could see Butler again, feeling him sitting in my lap, settling into contentment and letting go of vigilance.  I miss him dearly.  I love her dearly, for her own self, but I'm also so grateful that she can bring him back so clearly in my mind.  That will fade, I know, and eventually her face will not remind me of another.  There's a way I'm grieving now for that loss, too, for the day when my memories of him will be memories of memories, not ghosts but just wisps of fog that look a little ghostly.  So for now I treasure the pain of the strength of the memories, smile and cry at the same time, and think, "This is right; this is what I should feel."


violetcheetah: (butler)
I did not choose Butler. And no, he did not choose me.

I went to the Animal Rescue League in Dedham, a week after I'd put Kia to sleep. She died at the tail end of the Great Depression, and the drugs were starting to work, but I was still too muted to feel anything like joy or even contentment yet. And then she died, a year after Jenner, and being muted wasn't that bad, because the grief for her was quieter than it had been for Jenner. Of course, she was a quieter cat, less needy, less volatile, and her absence wasn't as blatant.

I was not sure I wanted another cat. I didn't really want anything, because the drugs hadn't yet kicked in to the point where I felt desire or drive. But more, I wasn't sure I had the energy left to love another cat. Or more, the emotional capacity. It takes effort to love, and just thinking about starting over with a stranger made me tired. I remember seriously thinking that I might not have the ability to love something, that maybe that was gone forever. Maybe it wasn't a matter of wanting; maybe I shouldn't subject a cat to my apathy. And definitely not a kitten. There was no way I needed a kitten. But maybe an adult, I thought. I didn't really want, but I knew I probably needed another cat, regardless of whether I could love it as it deserved, and of course even considering it that way made me feel guilty. But I realized I needed to be selfish; I needed to do whatever I could to stay functional. It was a chore, but I would at least go to a shelter and see what happened. If I fell in love, great; if not, I'd go it alone.

I went with Michele, both because she had a car and because as my housemate, she should have some say.

And I loved the first cat I saw when I entered the room at the shelter. But she was a long-hair, and I'm too lazy to maintain that much fur. I walked farther down the aisle. And there was the cat. A demure little black girl, purring before I got close, rubbing against the bars of the cage, not in a frantic way, but almost contented: I have company, and that's all I need. She looked nothing like Kia, but there was something in her self-sufficiency that reminded me of Kia. And I'd always wanted a black cat. The way in the right light, all you can see of their face is their eyes; the regalness. I opened the cage, and she rubbed against my hand with self-assurance, appreciation without aching, demanding need.

Michele was farther down the row. I was not paying attention to her, because I was in thrall. At some point she said something like, "You should at least spend a little time with the other cats." So I left the black queen for a bit and took a cursory look at the others. "This guy, for instance," said Michele, kneeling in front of a lower cage. "He's a real sweetie." He was butting his head against her hand, a bit imperious, a bit too demanding. She moved aside so I could reach in, and he made a petulant "murp" noise at being left alone for 10 seconds. He was a tuxedo, black and white, and something about the markings on his face, almost symmetrical but not quite, gave him a constant expression of befuddlement and consternation. He was cute enough, but he didn't sing to my soul like the black girl. I looked back at her. "I don't know, I think she's the one."

I think Michele said a few other things encouraging me to give the others in the room more time, to be sure. But I knew. And then she said, "Have you considered getting two?" "Uh, would you be okay with that?" "Would one of them be this guy?" "Uh, that would kinda be the point." "Well, he needs to come home with us." And so that was that. He was an afterthought, at least for me. But Michele's own cat was old and cantankerous, and the new cat could be hers as much as mine, maybe more, since I didn't really have any feelings for him.

I renamed him Butler not just because he wore a tuxedo, but because he reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in "Remains of the Day," buttoned-up and confused by playfulness. He came home before Chess (the black queen) because she had to stay and get spayed. I missed her already, ached for her to be home. I sat down in my usual easy chair and put my laptop and lapdesk on my lap. Butler jumped up and stood between my thigh and the arm of the chair. He stared at the laptop with consternation, but with something else: an incredulousness. How dare this interloper take up residence in his seat? The laptop was Meathead, and my lap was Archie Bunker's chair, and there was a natural order to things, and no, this would. not. stand. He leaned his head down slightly and rubbed the corner of the screen, not marking it as his but shoving it out of the way.

"Uh, no. I have to work. That's how I pay for your adoption fee and your food and the litter you pee in. There's plenty of room beside me." It was a large chair, and there was a good foot between my hip and the chair arm. I pushed him gently back so he was comfortably nested in, petted his head to indicate my approval, and started typing. He stayed meatloafed against me for maybe two minutes. He put his chin on my leg, his nose against the lapdesk, for maybe another two minutes. Then he moved his face forward. It seemed like there was an engine, a means of propulsion, in his forehead, and his body just followed. He wasn't so much trying to shove the lapdesk off me as he was just trying to occupy its current space; if he could just get under it, that would apparently be a victory.

"Okay, fine." He was new, in a new house after being in a cage for some number of weeks or maybe months. Who knew what his life had been like before that. Also, he'd ended up coming to the home of someone who did not really care about him. I felt sorry for him. And I felt guilty for my inability to love him. Besides, going by my previous experience with other cats, he'd get bored in 10 minutes. I leaned forward to set the lapdesk and computer on the coffee table, and he was in my lap before I had straightened back up.

He purred. Loud and low and rattly, and somehow vaguely ominous: keep me happy, or else. Perhaps I just got that impression from the expression on his face, haughty and petulant, an expression that I knew probably had more to do with the markings than with his emotional state, but that I still couldn't ignore. But also, he stared at me, his eyelids slightly lowered, and lower in the middle as if he were frowning, which of course was impossible because he was a cat. I stared back. He didn't look away, and I thought I saw something other than the threateningness: not adoration, exactly, at least not of me, not of my face. It was the look God must have given after each of the first six days of the universe, when he finished his work and looked upon it and saw that it was good. This lap pleases me; you seem to be attached somehow to the lap, so I like you. At least so long as there is a lap. You're good; you can stay.

He did not care that I hadn't chosen him, did not feel betrayed or unloved or less than Chess. I had a good lap, and he was in it, and my feelings one way or the other didn't matter in the slightest to him. For entirely selfish reasons, he liked me. I was making him completely happy. And out of the blue, a wave of gratitude nearly washed me out to sea, nearly brought me to tears. I could give him everything he needed. He did not ask anything of me that I couldn't give. I did not have to change; I did not have to pretend. I was enough — even now, unfeeling, unloving, I was enough for him. It was a gift so huge I couldn't see the whole of it. I felt heavy and sleepy and wired and so light I could float away.

Butler proved to be a champion lap cat. He would stay until my butt had gone numb, and then, when I was about to tell him I had to move, he would curl his head so that his body was a crescent, with his forehead against my belly, and look at me with that one crazy eye. After a few days, when it became clear that this wasn't just a matter of being in a new home, I created a "desk" by putting a 3-foot-long shelf board across the arms of my chair, which were not sloped and which were fairly high — close to a foot from the top of my lap. I set my laptop on the board, and Butler could have my lap while I typed. For 13 years, for some part of pretty much every day that I wasn't out of town, from the duplex, to the house Michele bought, to my first condo, to the condo I live in now. My other cats benefitted from the arrangement, but only if he wasn't already occupying me; and if he wanted an occupied lap, he simply sat to the side and then steam-shoveled his way between the other cat and my abdomen until the interloper gave up and left. My other cats benefit now, after he's gone. They cannot take his place, but they take his place, and they do not care in the slightest that I might be conflicted, wishing it were him in my lap even while not wishing it weren't them. My feelings are unimportant. I have a good lap, and while they are in it, they are completely happy.



Three

Mar. 1st, 2014 09:11 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
[Written May 22, 2013]

I started volunteering at a small cat shelter in November 2011. Precious had been at the shelter since July 2010. She came in as a mother cat, estimated to be about 2 years old — already too old to ever be socialized — and the reasons why she wasn't just spayed and released have been lost to time, but now she's, well, institutionalized. After nearly 3 years in the shelter, no one can touch her. But: she loves to be brushed. Her brush has been duct-taped to a two-foot-long stick, because that's as close as she'll allow a hand to get to her without freaking out. When she's being brushed, she purrs until she drools, falls over, rolls, lets you brush her belly.

I never really cared for Precious. It's odd, because I'm a sucker for scaredy cats. For the year and a third I've volunteered at the shelter, I've spend countless hours with dozens of unsocialized cats, sometimes doing nothing more for weeks than touching a nose, then learning that one spot on only one side of the neck that makes that one cat push against my hand against his will, or that this girl can't resist having her shoulder blades scratched. And many of them get adopted, and it's bittersweet because I miss them, but it feels so good when the untouchable cat seeks you out, then makes in impression on a stranger and gets to have a whole house, a whole human, to himself. I love it. But for some reason, I never tried with Precious. Maybe it was just that tortoiseshells don't do it for me aesthetically; maybe it was just that there were others who were younger, seemed less settled, seemed like they had a chance. Maybe it was that there were other people who spent time with her, had spent time with her for years, now, and it hadn't mattered.

I had an idea four weeks ago. It was something I'd tried with Caleb, another cat who hadn't let anyone touch him but who liked being brushed. Ages ago, my friend had bought a double-thickness fake-fur mitten from Petco, big as an oven mitt, so that she could wrestle with one of her cats who loved to play-fight but didn't know not to use his claws. Unfortunately, the glove wigged him out and he'd run away, so it sat unused in a drawer for years until I brought it to the shelter. I also bought a pair of cheap, stiff leather work gloves. First with Caleb, now with Precious, I donned a work glove, then put the mitt on over it, so that when she inevitably freaked out and lashed out, as Caleb had, her claws wouldn't penetrate.

I didn't hold a lot of hope. Caleb had only been about 9 months old when I started working with him. Precious was probably 5 years old. The first weekend, I spent fifteen minutes at a stretch with her, several times each night, brushing her with one hand, resting the other one — in the doubled gloves — on the cage shelf. I moved the gloved hand a little occasionally, kept brushing. That Sunday, I had a chance and I took it. Her head was to the left of the brush-on-a-stick that was in my left hand, with the gloves on my right hand. I brushed her neck and cheek, and then rested the gloved hand on her back. She's no dummy, and the glare she gave me and my gloved hand said so. But: brush, cheek, yeah, right there, hey, there's something on my back and it's, wait, ear, yes, ear please, hey, what's on my... oh, fine, whatever.

I only work at the shelter on weekends, so it was six days before I was back. That weekend, we went from the gloved hand simply resting on her back during brushing, to the gloved hand stroking her back in unison with the brush stroking her neck and shoulders. This garnered more dirty looks, but finally resignation. Sunday, I started with the brush stroking her cheek while the glove petted her back, but then after a few minutes I moved the brush aside and rubbed her cheek with the gloved hand. Her eyes burned with the fires of hell, but she couldn't help herself. Even her cheek couldn't help itself; it would push slightly against the glove, and she would glare at me with reproach — perhaps mixed with self-reproach — pull her head back a little, but then slowly relax back to her original position.

The next Saturday, I moved the gloves to my left hand, rubbing her neck and shoulders with the glove. And then rested my bare right hand on her back. Over the course of the night, I stroked her back a little, a little more, always in unison with the gloved hand on her neck. She glared at me, and then — maybe I'm reading too much into it, but still — she seemed to deliberately turn her head away from me, so she couldn't see my bare hand.

Sunday, I started the night with the gloved hand and the bare hand. Then I pulled the gloved hand back. The first couple of sessions, she turned her head away, and I had a pretty strong worry that when she did finally see my bare hand on her back... well, I've never had stitches yet. But by the end of the night, she saw. She wasn't pleased when she saw, and she turned away again to ignore me, but she didn't freak out.

The next Saturday, I didn't even ease into it. Opened the cage, showed her my bare hand, let her glare, set it on her back. Waited. Stroked her back just an inch or so. Did it again. The third time, she turned her head away, and when I moved up to her neck, she leaned into it. She was still glaring at the wall behind her, but she was purring. We did this several times that night, and the next. She was restless, flinching sometimes when I moved abruptly or touched her cheek, but then leaning into my fingers five seconds later. Then she got more restless. Half-standing, meatloafing back down, tucking paws in, reaching out to knead, falling over, immediately standing back up and glaring. Then, late on Sunday, she fell over onto her side and stayed there. Her back was to me. I petted the side of her round belly. She twitched, perhaps mad, perhaps ready to strike, and I tried not to tense up as I thought about stitches. But she didn't stop purring as I kept petting her. And then she stretched, rolled just a little so I could get to her belly itself, still half-turned-away. One paw kneaded the blanket, one paw kneaded the air, and I stood rubbing the belly of a feral cat that no one could touch.

I was floating above my shoulder. My mind seemed to dig its claws into my collarbone to keep from leaving completely, because the joy was so strong it hurt. My eyes stung, and I concentrated on not sobbing, on breathing without whimpering, my mouth open to pull in air silently and let it out. This was real, but it couldn't be real, because nothing this perfect was real, as perfect as my daydreams about it had been, and nothing real is as perfect as the daydream. But in the daydream, my arm wasn't screaming with cramping pain from being held straight out in front of me with no support under it for 15 minutes.

***
[Written Wednesday, February 26]

When I wrote that in May, I did not know I would be starting a job in August that meant working weekends and giving up volunteering. I thought when I wrote that in May that it was the start of months of wonderful work with Precious, socializing her to the point where maybe someone, someday, would adopt her. She'd been destined to spend the rest of her life in the shelter, which is a nice enough place, but I wanted her to want more. But I had to work weekends, and that meant getting to the shelter once every few weeks as a treat. I still petted her when I went, and Michele worked with her when she was in on weekends, and a few others could pet her. But she plateaued socially. It was my biggest regret about leaving: I'd made her start to want, and then left her hanging.

I didn't know that one of my cats would be diagnosed with cancer in October and have to be put to sleep in February. I didn't know another of my cats would have to be put to sleep without warning in December. I went from a four-cat household to two in two months. I have room, physical room in my condo. A dining table that I never use except to stack sewing projects on, just the right size for a kennel-cage for a few weeks until she gets used to a new place. I have room.

She went to the vet's yesterday for her rabies shot. And then she came home. I didn't expect her to want attention for a while, prepared myself to let her be and give her time and not burst into tears when a week went by and she still hated me. She let me rub her neck yesterday afternoon. She purred. Last night, she gave me her belly, and when she raised her head for a minute, a drop of drool plopped on the blanket under her cheek. This morning she'd moved from the small carrier up onto the hammock shelf, which means she's feeling secure enough to be partly in the open, and also means I can climb into the cage and sit and pet her without my neck and shoulders cramping. I still need to steel myself for regression, and steel myself for joy, and the tears that both will bring. The joy even now is dagger-sharp in my ribs, makes me forget to breathe. But she is home. She is where, a year ago, I didn't know she would belong.



violetcheetah: (winry)
So, people keep comparing the current "religious freedom" bill in Arizona and now Georgia to pre-civil-rights lunch-counter stuff. But the thing is, it's not an analogy: it's a tautology, because there are in fact white-supremacist sects of Christianity, and if these bills become laws, adherents to those sects would have every right to refuse to deal with anyone not Aryan. For that matter, that stereotypical Arab-ish cab driver could take a look at the cross around your neck and leave you at the curb. My boss could find out that I don't believe in a deity and fire me. Hell, my boss could find out I have PTSD and say, "I don't believe in PTSD; you're possessed by demons," and fire me. A restaurateur who belongs to the "Quiverful" movement could refuse to serve a childless couple if he believes they are childless by choice.

Everybody is one of "those people" to someone.


violetcheetah: (chess)
I wrote the following the day after Chess died last Monday, with light editing the next day. Time to post it.

-----


I put Chess to sleep Monday night.

Sunday before I left for work at noon, Chess wasn't interested in eating, although she finally had a few bites. She's had a couple of days like that in the last few weeks since the cancer grew back, but they were false alarms. Still, I knew I was closer now than those times. But it's not like I can take off work every day I worry about her. Work was okay as long as there was something to do, but we ran out of mail to process before the first break, even, and I was too unfocused to read my book, so I listened to music with my noise-blocking earbuds even though it isolates me and can lead to a sensory-deprivation shutdown, but I did it because at least then if you keep moving your hands, it's in time to something, or people watching as least think it's in time to whatever you hear. It got me through that first quarter of the day, and through break, and work picked up afterwards, but then after maybe 45 minutes we were out of mail again. This time my hands weren't moving. it was hard to move at all: my body, my mind, both hard to move, dangerous to move. The day was not yet half over, and I thought, I can't get through the rest of the day if it's like this, thoughts of Chess at the edge but not looking, and I finally got up and found Mary, the supervisor, and asked if it would be a problem if I went home, and she said no, it'd be fine. So I went home, and Chess came to her food dish like she always does when I get home, because she only checks for food if someone is there at the dish, so I put out fresh food, and she sniffed, hesitated, and walked away. I busied myself cleaning the living room and dining nook, and she would walk into the kitchen for food, but then walk away without eating. Then she sniffed the water bowl and walked away without drinking. I knew then, with the water, the way she walked two feet and then turned and sat and stared at the bowl, which was betraying her somehow by not having something she wanted. I didn't admit that I knew until tears were falling on the floor by the water bowl while I rubbed her head. I knew. I didn't want to pester her, and the urge to follow her and coax was so strong my fingers curled. So I went to michele's to watch tv like we'd planned to do. I didn't tell Michele. I came home, and Chess walked toward the kitchen, stopped five feet from her bowl, and sat for a minute, and then walked away. I emailed Michele and told her I'd probably need a ride to the vet's tomorrow, and told her why. If I had a car or a license, I'm not sure I would have said anything even then.

I called the vet when I woke up, and since Chess wasn't in pain or distress, they said it was less hectic at the end of the morning or the end of the day. Michele needed to go to work, so I made the appointment for 7:45. I've never made an appointment to put a cat to sleep. I never had advance notice, never had to choose a time or even make a decision; always it's been obvious, there's been no choice to make, really.

In the morning, she sat in my lap and purred while I rubbed her ear and cheek, but then it was too much, she often gets overstimulated or something, always has, and she left, looked for food, didn't want, came back to my lap, stayed longer while I only petted her a minute or so at a time, but then she left again, restless, sitting five feet from the food dish, five feet from the water bowl, wanting but not wanting what was there, maybe I read too much into it, but it seemed like she wanted to want, that she missed the longing for food, missed thirst. Restless. She lay on the bare floor, but she was restless each time I passed by. So I put up the shade on my bedroom window so the bed would be in the sunlight, and I set her there, and petted her for just a few seconds, stopping before she got restless again, and through most of the day, I just let her sleep. I wanted to spend the day just lying on the bed with her, but she wouldn't have stayed, would have been roused to restlessness again, and I knew, it would be less uncomfortable for her to just spend most of her last day unaware of time passing. So I left her alone, and I cleaned all day, petted her only if she was already awake, and then only for a minute or two. Twice I lay down across the bed, on the covers, and stayed for maybe five minutes, but I didn't dare stay longer. At around 7, I lay down again, for maybe 20 minutes, but for the most part I didn't pet her; I'd rub her ears for a minute or two, then just lie looking at the ceiling while she kept purring, rub her ears again for a minute. I left for 10 minutes, then came back and sat rubbing her until Michele got there.

I did right. I did what she needed, not what I wanted, and it should comfort me, but it doesn't. I want to feel guilty, somehow, I want that to fill the hole, or distract me from it.




violetcheetah: (Default)
Two short pieces from workshop tonight:

***


Suffer, little children,
And then you may come unto me.
How can I take your pain if you have none to offer?
Your father, like mine, is holy:
He is only doing what must be done
To mold you into what you need to be
If you are ever to join me in heaven.
I know you can't tell the difference now
Between the fires of hell
And this forge you are living in,
But some day you will understand.
You will sit at my right hand
And my own daddy will kneel before you
And beg your forgiveness.


***

"You will be the Good Shepherd," he told me. "You will be perfect and pure and whiter than snow, and they are sheep, after all, so they will follow you."

He left me with them on the mountainside, never doubting I would succeed, because I was his son. He expected me to know what to do, to tell where the wolf howl was coming from and to lead them away, but I'd never even heard a wolf, and it's a beautiful song, enticing and intoxicating and hauntingly sad, and nothing that sad can be a danger, anything that sad should be comforted, so I sought out the maker of the melancholy melody and the flock followed me without hesitation. With no one left to shepherd, I had no choice but to be his lamb, and lead myself gently to slaughter.



violetcheetah: (butler)
From writing workshop. The prompt was the sentence "You're not the boss of me."

Read more... )



Yearning

Jan. 10th, 2014 10:40 am
violetcheetah: (Default)
[From workshop Wednesday night; not inspired by the prompt, but just by that particular word that had come into my head earlier in the day]

I miss things. Things I never had, things that never even existed. Yearning, that's the word I used today; I usually say that I ache, but today I found the word "yearning."

I miss God. Miss believing in God, in a higher purpose, in a kind parent who puts us through hardships — or allows hardships to happen — only to make us into the better people he knows we can be. I miss unconditional love. I don't understand it, can't comprehend someone or something loving you no matter what, but I used to imagine God weeping every time he had to cast someone into hell, because he'd tried, he'd done his best to make them fit for heaven, and he wished he could bend the rules. He wished he could go back and make them do the right thing, relieve them of the burden of free will and shepherd them into his kingdom. My God ached for each soul that would never join him, had a hole in his own perfect soul for each of them. I knew he had a hole where I was supposed to be, knew I would not be with him in heaven, but it was enough that he yearned for me.

I yearn for my mother, of course, or the mother I thought I had when I was a child. I yearn to believe that the problem is me, that the hole in my own soul is my own deficiency, because if it were, then I could do something about it.

I yearn to be hidden. I know, I know, it was a horrible, twisted existence, walking around unseen behind whatever mask I'd made that day, silently screaming for someone to notice that I wasn't there, and I often leaked through the mask as if it were a diaper, usually at the most humiliating times. But this thing now, this pathological inability to hide anything from anyone: it's shameful, and tiring, and out of my control, and I yearn for a middle ground, where I choose what to reveal to whom.



violetcheetah: (Default)
There are two main aspects to my job at the USPS; people work in two-person teams on each machine, with one person "feeding" unsorted mail into the machine, and the other person "sweeping" the sorted mail out of the "stackers," which are arranged in four rows of 50 to 75 columns, looking kind of like a big wall of PO boxes, only with little flip-up gates instead of doors. You sweep the mail from each stacker as it starts to get full, which sounds simple, but depending on the type of sorting the machine is doing, and the mail you get, the stackers may fill up in sudden and unpredictable ways: stacker 15 fills up, and you empty it and 10 seconds later stacker 119 halfway down the big machine fills up, and so on. That's the type of mail we usually run on my shift. But Sunday night at work, Finness and I were running "first-pass" mail, which usually has stackers all filling up slowly and steadily at the same time, and sweeping is pretty methodical and mellow, especially for the first half hour, when about all the sweeper does is clear the occasional (or not-so-occasional, depending) jam. The lack of anything to do usually drives me crazy and I'd rather feed, but Sunday I went with it, and Finness and I were just generally talking and joking as he fed, and the machine jammed, so I strolled about a third of the way down the machine to deal with it. And I smelled smoke. Not burning rubber from one of the many belts, but wood smoke, or paper. This does happen sometimes, if a piece of mail gets caught somewhere and doesn't cause an actual jam: not actual fire, of course, but enough friction to blacken the paper. But not that often. And this was pretty strong.

So, one of the things my father used to do when drunk was threaten to burn down the house with us in it. I used to be terrified of fire, and yet compelled to watch when we burned burnable trash, because otherwise I'd spend the time while the fire was burning worrying about it going out of control. I needed to watch and be prepared. So that was going on in my head at work, smelling this: a desire to run before the house burned down, but also needing to know what it was, where it was, to figure it out and fix it and stop something bad from happening. Of course, in the present, nothing bad was going to happen. A piece of paper getting so hot from just friction that it bursts into flames? No, I knew that wasn't going to happen. But the smell, and the not-knowingness, triggered an adrenaline dump and a need to do — if not to run, than to stay and rectify.

I couldn't identify the spot it was coming from, partly because of the overhead fans blowing, maybe; all I could tell at first was it was somewhere in the middle third. I discounted the last third or so of that, because the fans would have wafted the smokey smell that direction. So I started at the far end of where I thought the smoke could be coming from, clearing the stackers of mail. I started at stacker 130, and worked my way forward, up one 4-row column, down the next. It was getting stronger. Eventually I was pretty sure it wasn't on the bottom row, because the smell wasn't as strong when I bent close enough that the ceiling of that row was inches from my head. A couple more columns up, I was sure it wasn't the next-lowest of the four rows. But I kept clearing all the rows because they needed clearing, anyway, and because I needed that methodicality to feel like I was in control, I think: no emergency here, no urgency, just doing the job like normal. Then I got to stacker 52, and I found a flyer, flimsy like a small sale bill, with the edge caught under a belt, but in such a way that the belt could still turn, just kept grinding away at the paper. I got Finness to stop the machine and I pulled the paper out, its edge charred, with a drop of congealed... Ink? Lamination? I don't know... brown-black stuff on one corner. I'd found it. I took it up to the feeder; Finness marveled at its condition; it was done.

And then the terror hit. He knew from a previous conversation we'd had about my issues with fire, and he's seen me melt down way more than I was doing now, so it wasn't surprising, and I didn't have to do anything as far as working, so I stood and let my hands spasm until the run of mail on that machine was done, and then we moved on to another machine, and I said, essentially, I'm going to sit down, on the floor, and it doesn't mean I'm freaking out any more than when I'm standing, I just need to be sitting. So I sat, and grasped my shoulder where it vibrates, and I was jumpy but okay, so I just stayed like that, still not understanding why I'd delayed freaking out until the smoke was done. Then I realized what I'd been thinking while I was looking for the source of the smell, even while I wasn't consciously aware of thinking it:

I'm imagining it. I'm making it up. There's nothing here, I'm being a drama queen, just pretending there's something here to get attention, and convincing my own self at the same time so I won't have to admit I'm pretending. I was actually so sure of this that I convinced myself so thoroughly that there wasn't anything there, that when I saw the paper, I still didn't entirely believe it. I had to show Finness and see his reaction to be sure it was real, and when it was real, that was so at odds with what I believed that I... The world was not what I thought it was, and it was terrifying. Even though I was right. I was so sure I was wrong that when I was presented with objective evidence that I wasn't wrong, I nearly lost track of the present because of the cognitive dissonance.



Hair cut

Jan. 1st, 2014 10:43 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
Somehow, Finness — my usual partner at work — and I ended up on the topic of hair cuts, in particular in childhood. I think this started with him telling about his older brother playing barber when said older brother was about 7 and Finness was about three or four, and of course involved a bleeding ear. He said he was scared to death of barbers for months after that. I said I'd been afraid of getting my hair cut when I was a kid, but that was just because I was afraid of everything when I was a kid, anything new and unknown.

When I turned four, my mother decided to take me to have photos taken at a little shop in town. I don't know why; we didn't sit for professional portraits, and this wasn't the whole family, just me. But first, she wanted my hair trimmed. Up until then, I'd never had the back of my hair cut, just my bangs, and only by her. What I said to Finness was true, but only part of the story. Partly I was freaked out by the experience because when my bangs were cut, my mother was in front of me, and I could see everything that was going on. Partly, I was afraid that the hairdresser — my aunt, who I loved dearly but who had short hair — would cut my hair short like hers. What I didn't explain was that, when I was four, my hair was the one girly thing about me that I liked. Everybody talked about how pretty it was, and it was the one part of me that I believed was pretty. It was part of who I was, a part that everyone approved of. I was sure that if it was gone, there would be nothing about me left that wasn't ugly.

I didn't explain that part, so I was surprised by what he said. Something about, "Yeah, that's part of your body they're messing around with." And somewhere in there, he said, "That's some intimate shit." And that word, "intimate," caught me completely off guard, because it was the perfect word.

Touching my hair was more intimate than probably touching any part of my actual body. I didn't own my body. It was foreign, uncomfortable, unwilling to do most things I wanted it to do. I was unaware of it most of the time, and when I was aware of it, it was usually because something was unpleasant. It didn't feel like the temple my soul was housed in, but more like the metal lamp Aladdin lived in. It housed me, but it wasn't a part of me, was as much a prison as a home, and was something I was just as glad to leave when I could.

And then there's praise. Compliments. Compliments are intimate. Especially compliments of one's body. Even complimenting your clothes is not the same thing; perhaps they just like the pattern, the drape, the fabric. The beauty might be in the way it hides your body, masks your hideousness. It's hard enough for me when someone says they love my skirt, even more my shirt. But when they compliment my hair, I don't just want to hide, I want to run. Because I've been seen, and approved of, and now that they've seen me and approved, what will they do? Will they take the part of me they like, take it from me and make it theirs, twist it somehow into something I never intended? What are they thinking? What other parts of me do they see? What other pieces of myself are no longer mine?

But even as I think these things, I cherish the words, pull them to me and clutch them to my chest. My hair is me, and I want to be seen, I want someone to think I am beautiful, not even so much out of pride, I think, but just because they are so pleased. Joyful. I woman at work, not even someone I like very much, passed me in the hall and paused and said, "You just have the prettiest hair." There was no envy, no cattiness, just the earnestness that comes from surprise. It was as if she were walking down the street and passed a flowerbed and saw something unexpectedly beautiful. I brought her joy, and it felt good. and I didn't hesitate when I said, "Thank you." I wasn't thanking her for finding me pretty, but for... for having allowed me to cause joy. I had brought her joy because she'd taken time to notice. I'd made someone's day better. It was another couple of seconds before the desire to run set in, before my mind reminded me of the danger that always comes with being seen, being noticed. But this time, she was gone before I could run, or stand frozen in terror. She said her piece, moved down the hall, and left me to savor the memory of a compliment without (much) repercussion.

***

I wrote the above over three weeks ago. It was random chance that later that same week, I'd see blue hair dye at Walgreens, of all places, and wonder if this brand would actually "take" in my hair. I've wanted to dye my hair blue since I first saw a blue-haired girl my freshman year at MIT. I didn't know at the time that there were any connotations to blue hair, or pink, or green, didn't know it often advertised non-mainstream sexuality, or at least was believed to advertise something kinky to most people. I just thought it looked cool. It took a year before I got the courage to ask her where she got the dye, and went to Hubba Hubba on Mass. Ave. I was 19 and a virgin, and I had a vague notion of what some of the leather goods in the store were for, but I didn't even blush, I don't think. I bought the dye, and the bleaching kit the clerk said I'd need, and did a strand test, and: nothing. I'd have gotten more color with a magic marker.

I did not buy the dye three weeks ago. I gave it some thought, waffled, and the next week when I was there, it was on sale, which either meant it sucked and they couldn't sell it, or the universe was telling me to go for it. So I bought it. Bleached the ends of my pigtails Sunday night, and put the dye in Monday night. And it took. Not only took, but is exactly the shade I wanted. I know it will fade, maybe the next time I wash my hair, and in a month I may grow tired of touching it up and cut the ends off. I don't know. But half my life and more I've waited, and at least for now, at least that part of me is 19 going on 10, knowing I'll be looked at sideways and presumed about, but maybe that's the point. It's me doing the misleading, me controlling what they see, me hiding in plain sight.


violetcheetah: (butler)
First, a product review for a product I've never used.  As you might imagine, we've been processing a rather larger-than-average number of cards (versus letters, postcards, etc.) for the last few weeks at the post office.  Some of these get ripped through no fault of their own: a corner gets caught on a diverter gate in the machine, or they get involved in a 7-card pile-up behind some card that has frickin' BEADS as part of its decoration.  But there's one puzzling thing that I've noticed several times a day.  A card will come through the machine, and the envelope will look like it's been slit with a letter opener, only on three or on all four sides.  This is kinda a problem when the side of the envelope with the address maybe ends up no longer with the card; sometimes all that ends up in the tray is that single side of envelope, with no clue where the card is; sometimes the card ends up envelope-less in the reject tray and we can't find the envelope.  Particularly awesome when there's a check inside the card; I don't honestly know if we mail those back to the address on the check or not, because it might not be kosher since it's not a return address per se, so there might actually be rules that prevent doing that.  Anyway, I noticed a couple of things about these envelopes: they were all the same off-white/light-grey color, and they were all of a texture rather more like newspaper than like a normal envelope.  And, since the envelopes are open on 3 or 4 sides, and since I needed to check for a check in case the card needed special handling, I couldn't help but notice the company name on the back of each and every one of the cards was the same: Paper Craft.  Now, I don't know how many of their cards do make it through the machines intact; maybe this problem only affects one in a thousand, maybe less.  But this particular problem doesn't seem to be happening with any other company's envelopes.

Now, back to the beaded cards.  Also, this new trend than I can only refer to as "Bedazzled" cards, with little faux gemstones on the cards.  They probably look really cool when your first get them, but be aware, once they've gone through a postal machine, which moves the mail through lots of narrow slots, there's a good chance that the envelope over those little gemstone thingies is now going to be punched through like you've used an awl.  It actually makes for a pretty cool-looking envelope.  But probably not the look you're going for.

Finally, a word on sealing your envelopes: DO!  Seal them with the adhesive strip pretty much all envelopes have.  Seal them all the way across.  Don't just stick an adorable little snowman or Santa sticker in the middle of the flap and think that's enough.  Because there's a good chance that your envelope is going to end up in a tray with another piece of mail that slides under that unsealed flap, and the two fornicators are now going to be fed as one into the machine, and they'll go in just fine, but somewhere along the path in the machine, they will have a falling out and each go their separate ways, and chances are decent that when that happens, it's gonna rip off the unsealed flap on your envelope and the twee little sticker, and now it's not so frickin' cute, is it?

Of course, all of this is moot for this Christmas-card season, because presumably you've either already mailed your cards or you've said, "Screw it, I'll save them for next year."  But file the info away for upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, get-wells, what have you.




violetcheetah: (Default)
[I had actually had this idea come into my head a few days before Butler died, so that wasn't the cause, but it certainly added impetus to actually writing it. I wrote it last night at Write Here Write Now, and I figured it would resonate, but yeah, rather a lot, I gather.

----


Mary's Monologue

I know you fight back tears every time you hear the happy Christmas carols: Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World; O Come Emmanuel. And I know you are stabbed with shame as your eyes sting, because it's Christmas, for God's sake. Everyone's supposed to be happy, with lights and presents and candies and eggnog, and eager children with shining eyes, and everyone is a kid this time of year, aren't they, flitting from gifts they want to gifts they want to give, and rush and bustle, and you: are just tired. You're so tired, and you can't tell anyone because you don't want to bring them down, not this time of year of all times. So you let them read what they want to read into the glisten in your own eyes. Well, hide the tears if you want to, but please, please don't feel ashamed. You are no more tired than I was, and I cried every day.

The trip took forever. Even with our one blanket as padding, the donkey's spine pressed against my own tailbone, each hoofstep ricocheting the two bones off one another until I had to ask Joseph to stop and let me walk, but of course walking was agony after ten minutes, with my pelvis splayed in anticipation of delivery, and back I'd go on the donkey. I stopped trying to hold in my urine after the first day, because it didn't do any good; it wasn't like anyone was around to smell me, anyway, except Joseph, and we were both rank with sweat, anyway.

And then we arrived, to a town I didn't recognize, overflowing with people, surly and tired and often drunk. I cried constantly, in front of every innkeeper in town, some more than once, and of course you know, reading this now, that it didn't do any good. If I hadn't already been in labor, I don't know if we would have been offered even the stable. I wept harder when we closed the door behind us, but it was almost joy: so quiet after the rush and bustle of the streets, the scent of the ruminants' dung sharper and cleaner that the human waste that was everywhere outside.

The night of labor I don't even remember clearly, except that each of my screams was always echoed by one animal or another, an urgent bleat or bray or cow moan, and even in the agony that every grown woman I knew had warned me about and none had truly prepared me for, some part of my mind saw how funny it was, and in those moments, I felt God watching, saw him in Joseph's eyes, loving and rueful and sorry, and for just an instant I felt unalone.

And then there he was, my son, not Godly or holy, but squalling and blood-smeared and just like any other baby, and I wept, but not for joy. I grieved. I knew as he nursed that I would live to see him die, that his father conceived him within me for that, because somehow this all-powerful creator of the earth and the waters and the plants and animals hadn't seen fit to make a world that didn't require blood to atone for its wrongs. And not just a ram or a dove anymore, but a human lamb, not one to be simply shorn for its wool but to be butchered. God had stayed Abraham's hand as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac. There was no one to stay the hand of God.

For unto us a child is born? No! Unto me! My baby, from my body, now suckling my breast. To be taken from me now, given to the world that doesn't deserve him, so that the world can deserve him? Maybe I don't deserve him either, because if it had been my choice, I would have fled, not just from Herod but from God, from man, from Joseph if I had to. There were caves, everyone knew about the people who lived there, odd people, but they would have welcomed us, and my son would have been the one to lay me to rest, as it should be. As God intended.

So cry now if you feel like it. Hide in your bed all month. Sleep through the grey days. The world has enough shepherds and wise men out there to make merry and rejoice at the gifts they've been given and give gifts that no one really wants. You are welcome to stay here with me, nestled against the donkey's freshly rinsed belly, working up the strength for the long journey ahead.




violetcheetah: (Default)
Let me start by saying that I realize that having too much work is an awesome problem to have. I like money. I like that, depending on exactly how much dental work I need and how much of the expense will be paid by my insurance, I am likely to break even for the year, even after having spent the first half of the year working not-quite-full-time for 9 bucks an hour. Also, by and large, I like my job. I like the people I work with regularly, and I have a supervisor who doesn't treat us like either idiots or lazy jerks who will only work if she stands over our shoulders every five minutes; neither of those are true in all parts of the Boston mail processing plant, and I am lucky. However:

Sometime in October, us newbies — "Postal Support Employees," who are in a limbo between temp/contract workers and fully vested lifetime workers — went from a six-day week in which 4 days were 6 hours and thus we worked 40 hours, to six 8-hour days. It was supposed to be for two or three weeks as they tested a new mail-sort scheme or something. Sometime around the week before Thanksgiving, it became informally clear that this schedule would continue through the Christmas rush. I was "lucky" this week to have a dental appointment that I ended up just taking the day off for, so not only did I have two days off, but they were two days in a ROW! Tuesday and Wednesday.

Well, now the rush is even rushier. I've worked 10-hour days Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and will do the same today. Monday will be a 12-hour day. After that, except for Wednesday — my day off on which I have another dentist appointment — I don't know yet if the remaining days before Christmas will be 10 or 12 hours.

My cat, Butler, died Wednesday morning. I've had him for almost 13 years. I've been too busy to mourn. Until I'm too tired to keep moving, at which point exhaustion and grief create a perfect storm of stinging rawness, and I drown for a while.

Chess, who I've also had for 13 years, had a malignant spot removed from her chin a few weeks ago. She had another lump, but it was smooth at the time and also not in a place that the vet felt would heal easily, and the cancer had pretty much definitely spread, anyway, so chances were good that one of the other two little spots would turn problematic, anyway. That other lump is now indented in the middle, which was what the first lump did before it got raw and angry; this lump already feels a little raw, though it doesn't seem to bug her. So at some point soon, I need to take her into the vet, who will give her a steroid injection to keep the cancer at bay, for a while. I'd like to do it sooner rather than later. Wednesday is my one day off, and I have a dentist appointment. I may be asking my friend to swap telecommute days so she can drive me there on Wednesday morning. It's either that or wait at least another week.

Anyway, that's my holiday season.



violetcheetah: (Default)
I CANNOT believe I ended up following this particular writing workshop prompt, since I loathe Christmas, and never liked Santa.  But here it is.  The prompt was to write a letter to Santa from your younger self, or one of your characters.  This is what I would have written when I was somewhere between 7 and 9 years old, had I been articulate; I remember having each of these thoughts at some point around that age.

-----

Dear Santa,

I'm not sure what I want this year, but I know what I don't want.

I don't want a doll this year. See, I really like the dolls you brought me last year, especially the one with the straight black hair, because I've always wanted to be an Indian and have my hair not frizz and tangle and not turn red at the ends, so, I know this sounds weird, but when I play with her, I pretend she's me as a baby and she's going to grow into what I want to grow into instead of what I really am. And she doesn't look like a baby, really, she looks like a two-year-old, so I can pretend she can talk without feeling stupid. But Jenny's my favorite doll ever in my life, and I want her to always be my favorite, so if you bring me another doll and I don't like it as much, it won't be fair to the new doll, and maybe someone else would love it as much as I love Jenny, so you should give it to them, instead. And on the other hand, if you bring me a doll I like better than Jenny, I would feel really bad about not loving Jenny best anymore, and anyway, she deserves to be loved best. Actually, if you want to, you can take my other dolls and give them to other kids, if you know someone who will love them better. Except Lilly, because she and Jenny are friends, and I like her almost as much and some days maybe even a little more because she's older and can go on adventures.

I don't want any more Matchbox cars this year, unless I can have another U.S. Mail Jeep. Darrell and me have too many cars already, and it gets confusing. Oh, except if the Matchboxes are for both of us, that'd mean he wouldn't get any either, and I don't think he'd like that.

Mainly I guess I just want fewer things, period, at least at Christmas, because Darrell is too old to get many toys anymore, so he only gets like six things, and mom only gets three, and dad just gets the one from mom and the one from both Darrell and me, and then I'm still opening presents after everyone else is done and it feels quiet and weird and the air is heavy and I feel greedy with all the stuff around me.

What I really want more than anything is for the church to have the candlelight service every Sunday night and not just the one before Christmas. I don't know if you have candlelight services where you live, but what they do is, they turn off the lights, and then Brother Bob lights one candle in the front of the room. And he uses that one to light two other candles, and two deacons take those candles and start with the front row on each side, and light the first person's candle, and then while that person's lighting the next one, the deacon moves to the next row, and the next, and then in like five minutes, everybody's holding a lighted candle and there's enough light you can see the hymn book to sing Silent Night, and it all came from that one candle, and I don't know why I love it, but I want to do it every week until I can figure out why I feel so light and full and like crying and laughing and flying and curling up in bed all at the same time.



violetcheetah: (Default)
[Prompt: Write about something you've always wanted, but that you hope you never get.]

I got baptized when I was 11. I'd been wanting to since I was 8, but I always chickened out when the call went out at the end of service and I'd think about standing in front of everyone and having to say something. It wasn't until I was 11 that I realized I could talk to Brother Bob beforehand, and he could say something for me, and all I had to do was stand and stare at the floor.

The baptism was the next week, and in between we happened to have a revival, so by the time Sunday came, there were three of us. Brother Bob explained what would happen, everything from "The water will be a little cold but not too cold" to reassurances that when he dunked me, it would be quick enough that I would absolutely not breathe in any water through the folded handkerchief he would hold over my nose and mouth. And he was right. The actual baptism wasn't a big deal: I went under, I didn't feel any different when I came up, but because I'd declared my faith in public I wouldn't go to hell if I died.

Herb Broughton was one of the other two baptized. He was probably close to 40 years old, and he'd been baptized before, but a lot of people rededicated themselves to God this way. After we'd all been dunked, the three of us and Brother Bob were going to hold hands and bow our heads while Brother Bob prayed. I was disappointed that I ended up between Herb and the other guy I didn't know, so I was holding hands not with my much-loved pastor but with two near-strangers. Herb started to reach for my hand, but then he shifted. He cupped my shivering right shoulder in his big hand. It was a firm touch, but not pushing, not demanding. And as we stood with bowed heads and closed eyes, I could feel the warmth from beneath my skin meet the warmth of his quilt-heavy hand. What I felt was sacred. Safety. Acceptance. Connection. Peace. At that moment, I adored, not God and Jesus, but this comforting man and his palm that brought me the comfort I didn't know I'd been aching for.

I sought him out every Sunday after that. Before church started, then between Sunday School and preaching, then after the sermon was over. We mainly talked, mainly the sarcastic teasing that was the only way I knew to show affection. Not every week, but often enough, he'd put a hand on my shoulder, or sometimes his arm around me to hold the far shoulder, buddy-like, father-and-son-like, and he'd smile with a slight squint that seemed a little self-conscious, and he'd keep me from floating away into the nothingness where I mostly lived.

There was never anything dark in it. I was primed to expect something sexual in any touch, and to suspect even where there was nothing, and it was never there with him.

He was, I know now, the first parent-I-wanted. Less than a year later, my mother switched from that church, where we'd gone all my life, because of a feud with another member. I was adrift again, unmoored, floating.

In 7th grade, there were three physical education teachers supervising a gym full of us. At the beginning of the year, the court was set up with about 10 different "stations," and we were divided up into small groups and rotated through half of the stations each day doing each of the activities. One station was juggling, which was Mr. Huffman's forte. He wasn't there the whole ten minutes or so each group spent, because there were more groups than teachers. But one day, when my group was ending the period there, he came over. Ora Decker excitedly told him that I'd actually been juggling the scarves. Not just two, but all three at once, in the right pattern and everything. He wanted to see, of course, and I wanted to show him, but I knew before I even tried that there was no way my hands could do what I wanted with a teacher watching. I made the attempt, though, three or four times, until I finally gave up and stood still, begging the tears not to fall in front of the rest of the group. I glanced for a second across his face, risking that moment of eye contact in hopes of telegraphing into his mind that I needed an escape. And I saw such sympathy in the curve of his eyebrows that I felt in a way sorry for him. But he was also smiling softly, and he reached out, touched my shoulder for a second, father-and-son-like, and said, "That's fine, I'll see it at some point."

For two years or more, I daydreamed of him somehow becoming my guardian.

He wasn't the last: Mr. Jacobs in 9th grade, Mr. Huffman's wife that year, too. Mr. Berryman in 10th and 11th grades, Reverend Parrish at the same time, Mr. Tyler in the summer program before 12th grade, Mr. and Ms. Lee that last year of high school. Countless others in between, including the foster father from the three weeks I lived away from my parents. Then after I "grew up," there were professors, fellow college students, coworkers, my shrink to some extent, men I thought I wanted to be my boyfriends because that's what intimacy and intensity is supposed to be about. I at least know now that it isn't sex I'm sublimating. It isn't even a parent I want, a different mother or a different father, a replacement. I don't understand what a parent feels like, so that isn't the cavity I'm trying to fill, or if it is, I have no idea what the hole is shaped like or even where it resides within me. I want. I want. It is relentless and insistent and the shame of it makes me back away always from the person I want, makes me shove, bite, run.





violetcheetah: (Default)
He'd just finished the semester at the Southern Baptist seminary, but he hadn't started preaching yet. He was 8 years older than her, one year older than her brother, and he'd always been so earnest, so gentle, that when she was a child she'd thought he was very smart; he had seemed like a college professor when he was still a teenager.

She only came back to Kentucky once a year around Christmas, so she hadn't seen him since she graduated high school five years ago. Hadn't seen a lot of people from the church, people she'd grown up surrounded by, the one place where no one made fun of her, where the grown-ups doted on her because she could memorize bible verses and then tell you what they meant. The church was home back then, back when she'd believed that she believed in God because she desperately needed to believe, needed there to be some kind power behind everything, some outside meaning underneath all of it, conducting the world like a painful symphony that would someday, someday have a happy ending, even if that day was after she died. It had been four years now since she had broken away from religion, but she still ached for it, for that sureness that there was a higher purpose and that pain was not in vain. She envied the people she'd grown up with, but atheism was as much a matter of faith as belief had been.

Not many people at this New Year's Eve gathering asked her about her faith. It probably didn't occur to them that the devout 10-year-old would have grown into a heathen. But he did ask; not if she went to church, but where? Did they have Southern Baptists in Boston? Yes, but she'd stopped going to church. He frowned, puzzled. "But surely you still believe." She thought, yes, I believe in many things: my friends, music, love; we differ on this one thing is all. She just said, "After a fashion." It wasn't enough of an explanation for him, and he pressed, and she knew he didn't want the answer she'd give, so she softened it.

"I'm a Christian Atheist." He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. She'd known it would break his brain, and there was a certain glee she wasn't proud of, but she realized she'd said it because she truly wanted to explain, wanted him to understand. He wouldn't understand, she knew, but she could still explain, could still try.

"I don't believe in God, so I don't believe Jesus was his son. As to whether the version of Jesus in the Bible is real, whether the historical Jesus actually said all the things that the writers of the Gospels said he said, I don't know." He opened his mouth again to break in, but again no sound came out, and she gentled her voice further. "But even if the Jesus in the Bible is just a fictional character, that Jesus is still an incredible role model. He helps the poor, he's kind to outcasts, he forgives horrible wrongs, he loves everyone. I try to live up to that example. I try to treat others the way the Jesus in the Bible would have treated them. I don't always succeed, but no one does."

His eyes were bright but clouded, like someone with a fever. Confusion, urgency, fear. Sadness. "But that's not enough," he said. "That doesn't earn you a place in heaven."

"Why not?"

"Because. Because you must believe, that Jesus is the Son of God and he died for your sins and was resurrected."

"I can't. I can't will myself to believe that any more than you can will yourself to believe in Zeus and Athena. If your God exists, he created me without the capacity to believe in him. So why would he condemn me for something I have no control over?"

"I don't believe you lack that capacity. You just need to find it within you."

"Well, that's another thing I lack the capacity to believe."


[The prompt for the piece: each workshopper wrote down a noun and a verb on a card, and the next workshopper was supposed to use those two words in three sentences in their piece.  My words were "She" and "Broke."



violetcheetah: (Default)
From last week's writing workshop. The prompt: Start with the following line, and don't let you pen/fingers stop writing: "That long-distant day when your father took you to discover ice."

-----

I am supposed to write without stopping, but just saying father is enough to paralyze me with scenes, or flickers of scenes, ominous but unformed, the memory of the feeling without the memory of the event.

The flashback I've been having recently is an actual flashback, a "real" flashback. It used to be that I'd slip out of my body and hover over my left shoulder, and I was remembering a feeling, that moment before something happens, but I couldn't' remember the actual event, or events. I felt that something's-going-to-happen feeling all the time growing up, so the flashback was just of that eternal moment, hundreds of times over, infinity squared inside a black-hole singularity. My mind would swirl — I always tried to remember the event, any event, it seemed like if I could just put a scene to the feeling, it would stop. But my mind played dozens of scenes at once, all superimposed over one another on the movie screen until it was just a blur of grey and black.

Now, though, I end up in that night with the gun. Not when he fired the pistol into the wall, not once I'd turned the swivel rocker around and could see the gun pointed at me. I am in that moment in between. I have heard the first shot in the bedroom, known and not believed what it was, heard the second shot and known and believed, and in a second I will be turned around and see the barrel in front of my father's swaying body and vacant eyes. But I have not yet turned, and I do not yet know what I will see, I just know it will be bad, and it may be the last thing I see, and I need to see it, I need know what's going on, whatever it is, it's worse to not know, and right now, I have no idea, and so every possibility still exists, so many variations of blood and smoke and holes, and none can be ruled out.

I can hear the echo of the shot. I can hear it in my shoulder, the back of my left shoulder, as if there's an eardrum vibrating above my scapula, see, I was sitting sideways in the chair, my back against the left chair arm, my right side against the chair back enveloped in the curve of the chair, and my left arm, my left shoulder, out and exposed and I felt the sound there. I am 41 now and it happened when I was 16 and I saw a shrink for 18 years, not counting the crappy shrinks before him, and I described the scene dozens of times, hundreds, to shrinks and friends and in writing, over and over, and not until a week ago at work did I remember feeling that sound in the shoulder, the shoulder I hover above when I dissociate, the shoulder I look over when I don't hear someone behind me, always exposed, always cold, burning cold. I never gave it a thought; I was born with that shoulder dislocated, that collarbone cracked, probably too big for my mother's small birth canal, it's not uncommon, and I did a repeat performance of the same shoulder and collarbone at a year and a half. It's my earliest memory. Not of falling off the bed and dislocating it, not of the doctor's office. What I remember is standing in the kitchen, I remember the tabletop taller than me, and I'd just dropped a crayon, and I was left-handed, very left-hand dominant, but my left arm was in a sling, and it apparently never occurred to me to just pick up the crayon with my right hand, because what I remember is reaching over with my right hand, pulling the sling off my elbow, reaching down and picking up the crayon and standing back up, and then crying because my arm hurt. That's the shoulder, it's never been right, always too loose, prone to popping out of place, weird-feeling, just not right, but not cold and hot and vibrating with the sound of that small snap that wasn't even that loud. That feeling was that one night, and after all these years I know where I am when I'm not here, and it's such a relief to finally know, even thought it hasn't made it stop happening.



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Violet Wilson

March 2014

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