Warrior for a gentle world

I was kept up all night by Julia’s new dog whining and feel spit out so when the young man at Jiffy Lube in the greasy jacket with no nametag gazes up at the TV while casually sipping coffee and says “Kelly Ripa looks so good for her age. What is she, like, 50?”, my irritation is a toxic brew of exhaustion and 50 year old defensiveness. Like, what exactly qualifies you, Mr. 20 Year Old Ballsac Express, to opine on the pleasing nuances of feminine aging when obviously I usually look better than this. Obviously. I was just, like, kept up all night and don’t even want to be here but my oil’s overdue and I’ve never even had a personal trainer/dietitian.

And I haven’t dreamt about mom and her husband in a long time but last night I found myself in a recurring one. In this particular one, I’m in a house with my girls and our pets and we’re moving and–standing around this almost-empty house–I suddenly knew my stepdad was coming. And like my previous recurrences of this dream, realizing he was coming brought on panic and fear, for in all iterations of this recurring dream, I’m grabbing my kids and my pets (and sometimes our foster kittens) to get out of wherever we are because my stepdad is coming there to hurt us. And in these unconscious spheres, it’s a horrible, helpless feeling, a feeling of being hunted by a foe large in size and rage, where I’m thrust into battle and being called to save from viciousness all the things I love most in this world.

And, as dreams usually work, the fear in this recurring one is based on reality. Mom got with my stepdad in ‘90–not fully divorced from dad–and not too long after (‘92) I was told I could either accept him or stop being part of her life. And during that time, I thought he was a chaotic post-divorce event as she rebuilt herself; he was an ex-con (sex offender), didnt have a job, a decorated cowboy on the rodeo circuit—a 180 from my dad who she’d been with for 20 years—so I thought he was her experimentation of self after my parents called it quits. But this was not the case and in the intervening decades, there’d been rages, screaming, silent anger– which if it wasn’t acknowledged would turn 2/…very dark–and a drastic moodiness covered up by pandering to keep him stable leading to events a la “I pushed him too far and that’s why he choked me,” punches to horses faces, convincing mom shooting my two dachshunds–and her dog Malone, among others–was an appropriate way to end their lives, etc.

And across my life cycle, I accepted, swallowed, became the powerless observer until blending together across time was the nonchalant creation of cruelty it was implied I’d just ignore. A cruelty which—after I became a single mother—loomed like PTSD to become—last night—the theatrical version. The version wherein he isn’t just coming for my mom, and me, and our former pets; he’s coming for my kids, the cat that purred on my lap this morning, and the neurologically impaired kitten I took care of yesterday. The version Wherein—in all iterations and settings of this dream— I’m doing all I can to escape but I can’t, and right up until I accept this unfortunate fact, I feel helpless and trapped then in the very next second, I’m calm and strategic and looking for the weapon I’ll use to kill him.

And at Jiffy Lube, waiting for my car—exhausted, old, and reliving— I can only just vaguely see the real emotion behind my nightscapes. The devastation and the tears I felt and shed are memories, and shadowy things I’ve since left behind to better embody love as a force for proactive helping and healing. Bad things do happen and people hurt vulnerable and precious things but I can’t live there; I live my days loving and protecting those same things.

Yet sitting under the TV, surrounded by greasy clothes, I relive shooting my stepdad in the chest, gasping as his flesh and bone exploded and splattered my face. And last night, finding an ax and strategizing how best to wield its weight so as to kill him with one strike.

What does it mean that erupting out of the spaces of my heartsickness has come not healing or love but the accepted solemnity of extreme violence?


A couple of years ago a friend sent me an mp3 file containing the testimony of a former gang member and ex-con. The young-ish man had gone before a panel of Utah politicians to try to inform them of how his life became that of a criminal, to dissect the trajectory so as to prevent other young men from following suit.

During his testimony, he talked about how he’d grown up in a violent home. His stepdad was psychologically wired to exact abuse of maximum potency and the young man detailed that this meant his stepdad learned not to spend the effort at beating the young man but rather to spend it torturing the things yge young man loved. So he’d make the boy listen while he beat the boy’s dog. Bringing the dog close enough to ensure the boy could hear, then abuse it, forcing the boy to listen as the dog yelped and cried and whimpered in fear and pain.

We start off in this world tender; as hearts that want to love and be loved, and which trust implicitly that the world wants the same. We aren’t born knowing what to do with cruelty and violence; aren’t emotionally inclined to the skill set of adapting to someone clearly lost inside themselves. So we spin events into alt-facts and create a means of empowerment to protect ourselves so that it doesn’t hurt us anymore.

We ourselves place on the menu a way to make peace with our helplessness.


That very first dream (circa 2010-2011?) is the one where I shot him in the chest. In it, my step dad wasn’t just coming for me and my girls and my animals: he was also coming for my mom. In waking life, I wanted her to get out of her situation but so many years and events had gone by that I didn’t have much hope. I’d learned you can’t make someone leave. You can’t make someone stop being cruel, you can’t make someone stop beating a helpless dog; you can’t take the rage inside someone else and nullify it without their permission.

And he was at least 7 or 8 feet away from me when I shot him. But his tissues exploded and—whether from the force of them landing on my face or from my shock and attempt to keep it from hitting me (I don’t remember)—my head was pushed backward as my mouth vocalized the gasp. I hadn’t wanted to shoot him but he’d left me no choice; and I had to kill him with the first shot because if I just hurt him he’d get up and we’d be in more danger. Sometimes when I’m alone, in my car, thinking about it, I reenact the gasp and my head flinging back. I wish I could reproduce for you what it felt like.

And this morning, in and out of my exhaustion—head resting into a Jiffy Lube window—I fell again into that dream, not fully knowing why I had it.

I stood—and stand, in all these dreams—to kill something because I want to. I create dreams in which I give myself permission to do so. And while I don’t necessarily know why and may never know, as I sat there, eyes closed, I gave all vulnerable and precious things the opportunity to feel safe and loved, slaying cruelty with an ax while waiting for my car and coming to terms with my place in the order of a gentle world.

Dreamer

Perusing a dusty Post Card Row fixer upper I could never afford, she arrived first and sat in a chair across from me, looking around expectantly. As my iPad told me the story of 714 Steiner in fifty-seven pictures on realtor.com, she kept checking her phone, sitting on the front of her chair, head craned.

Within half-hour he was there and they’d hit it off. Period ceiling medallions got almost a million over asking,…I’m scrolling through pics at Alchemy Coffee in Salt Lake City, the three of us separate/together, the six low-seated upholstered chairs surrounding a communal coffee table, and they laugh at first in tentative agreement—retaining their personal space—then succumb, leaning in, voices getting lower, private, secluded.

And I sold all my tools but 3.5 million dollars of dusty floors built in 1900 calls seductively, and my iPad flips dreams while their fingers touch, slowly outlining the hand of the other. Pointer poised, up his finger, and back down, and he moves over to whisper something into her ear, and there’s a soft laugh. Some of the molding is original, but thrashed, painted purple and red, and in spots, mold has taken over walls and bathrooms, mirrored tiles from the 1970’s reflecting only haze, and they speak sex into the air between us with quivering coffee shop etiquette.

And a song I haltingly-recognize makes words alive again, and I pause.

Take a dream on a Sunday, Take a life, take a holiday,

Take a lie, take a dreamer

Dream, dream, dream, dream, dream along

Dreamer, by Supertramp.

***And the antique stove sits on buckled linoleum floors, and in another section, hardwoods stretch East to west, edged by bay windows and Alamo Square Park, calling into the afternoon sun about long days and smudged architectural sketches, and Fingers. Fingers to the knee, up the thigh, fingers tiptoeing, flipping, scrolling, 2D digital pics coming to make a life inside me, on this Mid-February (2020) day, across from this coffee date not remembering why I myself ever gave them up (my fingers onto buttons, brushing lips to necks, faces flushed, trousers on the floor of bedrooms…)

And when the couple get up to go, my eyes follow, and I rally for us dreamers, calling out to the belligerence of desiring something out of this world.

Then as the door closes behind them, I go about my own business, and sitting cross-legged in the western sun of a fixer, trace myself slowly, up and down, into the magical history of dusty floors.

Embattled

And I really have to resist telling all the maleness at Jiffy Lube to go make me a sandwich because that’s just where I am today. I was kept up all night by our new dog Lady’s whining—separation anxiety; Julia’s on a trip, Livy needed sleep; I was on duty—and along with my dream last night, I’ve basically been spit out so when the young man in the greasy jacket with no name tag grabs a sip of coffee saying “Kelly Ripa looks so good for her age. What is she, like, 50?”, I’m irritated because he’s flinging around the face grades like he’s got a clipboard and right on the tip of my tongue is a “stfu, Amazing Arbiter of Beauty Evaluations, I’m usually much prettier it’s just I stayed up all night with my fucking dog OK?” “Give me mustard, red onion, and make it gluten-free. Dick.”

And I haven’t dreamt about mom and her husband in so long but last night (during a rare entry into REM) I was again in the recurrence of a dream I’ve had before—grabbing my kids and my pets (and sometimes our foster kittens) to get out of a house before my stepdad can get there to hurt us—and from the sound of Lady whining when I briefly woke, I felt the fear and the sickness that is the testimony of my real life with him. The unabashed anger—punches to horses faces, that day he convinced mom shooting my two dachshunds (and her dog Malone, among others) was an appropriate way to end their lives—and creation of the deepest cruelty and sadness you’ll be seeing forever, to where in the dream I wasn’t even that upset when I realized that from within the accepted futility of our escape plan rested the only other option, at which point I immediately started looking for the weapon I was going to use to kill him.

And I’ve often wondered about this recurring dream. What does it mean that in the limitlessness of my nightscape, I’ve shot him in the chest, gasping as it explodes and the warm tissue of his flesh splatters on my face? What does it mean for a shaggy lady flashing sass in tiredness at a tiring world that from the spaces of her own heartsickness comes not healing but violence?

And last night, within the space of the blending of realms, I woke to a sliver of knowing.

For leaning into a tender world too long steeped in insults comes a rage so powerful it can breathe even as it suffocates, and in the calm of knowing what it feels like to truly Love, stands a warrior forever fighting for the goodness of that which might be unable to battle such a foe.

So this morning, in and out of my exhaustion—head resting into a Jiffy Lube window—I fell into that dream, and looking around a living room in the franticness of protecting the love that is my air, slayed dark things with axes in the quiet of the night while remembering myself and my place in the order of a gentle world.

Her baby

December 17, 2016

As I was driving to a pet sit this morning–in the frigid air–I passed a bus stop on 5th East and saw a woman of smaller stature all bundled up with backpack holding a plastic doll the size of a real baby.

While waiting for my light, I stared at her–at first, just trying to figure out if it was a real baby, then after realizing it wasn’t, wanting to join her experience for a moment, to see if she was okay; if she was hopeful or despairing; what the story was; just to be with her for a minute before I had to drive off–and as I did, I saw her look at the baby adoringly, and snuggle it to her, then watched as she gave it quick little playful kisses under its purple, fleece, hooded onesie, as if she was trying to distract it from how cold and boring it was to be waiting out there in the air for the bus.

I just…..This world. Sweet and beautiful and amazing, and filled with surprises, because I didn’t feel sorry for her. The only thing I could think of was “Good for her.” Look at her loving that thing. Look at her unashamed and coping.

I don’t know.

Because in a life filled with trauma and a bevy of unhealthy behaviors–a world where people with mental issues can’t get help and heroin use often begins as self-medication–holding a baby doll at a bus stop and giving it loving kisses in full sight of a judgmental world seems infinitely more functional than trying to appear like you’re perfectly “normal”, nothings ever wrong, then going home to binge on shame, anger, and heroin.

Anyways, my prayers go to all those suffering with trauma and mental health issues who are unable to get help and find effective coping skills; my prayers also go to the rest of us, that we can help be a source for healing where it’s possible to do so, even if that means not pointing and scoffing at the older lady standing in the cold kissing the face of her plastic baby doll.

[This was so intense when it happened last year and seemed like I’d always remember it and yet I didn’t; it popped up on the memories on my old FB profile and I had to read it all the way through to even get the mental image of where exactly I’d seen her and what that moment looked like. Brrr. It was so cold that day, I stepped right back into that part of it, then she came in and the baby, which I don’t emphasize enough the size of but the proportions were interesting because the woman was so petite and the baby doll the size of an actual few month old baby. I originally posted it with that Circa video of the Mannequin Challenge for a heroin overdose which is so powerful but left it off this because I think they compete rather than complement.]

Yellow Ledbetter

Click for audio

“Eddie Vedder admits that he changes the lyrics and meaning of the song when he performs it, but he wrote the song with one story in mind.   The song was written during the first gulf war, when “Papa Bush” was President, as Eddie calls him. The story is about a young Grunger kid, all dressed up in his flannels with the long greasy hair. His brother goes off to fight in the war and gets killed. He gets a letter that comes in one of those yellow army envelopes and learns of his brother’s death. So, all upset, he decides to go out and walk it off. On his walk he passes by a neat, middle-aged or elderly couple sitting on their front porch having some tea, and he sees that they have an American flag out. He gives a wave, because he feels like he relates: “The flag, my brother, you know…” But they don’t know, of course. They don’t know what’s underneath the grunge and the long hair. All they see are the outward appearances, and they don’t wave back.”

Today I unfollowed a FB page when one of the members group-texted calling Bernie supporters ‘burnouts’.

It was all pro-Hillary and blah blah blah, look at how over-intellectualized we are followed by invented narratives and name-calling like five-year-olds.

And maybe I’m rushing too quickly to protect myself from those unlike me, but when time is short–and honestly, it’s actually short for all of us, all the time–it becomes less possible to entertain living within such an unsightly, formulaic dynamic.  Because I’m more than the sum of one-word branding and finding space inside to nurture myself has been hard, and I’ve grown intolerant of a world quick to call names while simultaneously wondering why the world is so messed up.

And interestingly, I didn’t get too upset about it, like I might have at one point in time.

It just made me think of this song.  They played it at the Bernie Sanders rally last year.

I went with my younger daughter, Livy (who’s named after Mark Twain’s wife; born in the year 2000–11 months after the Y2K “disaster”, 10 months before 9/11–on the same day as Twain, and gifted too with writing ability, and cursed, as he, with too many ideas) because as we walked back to the car, the sun was going down, and I was like, why not live the big dreams?

Why not believe in a better world? Why not use my passion to unplug a world that instinctively questions the goodness of a broken-hearted grunge kid? Why shouldn’t I live a truth in which the ideas spoken by an older politician gives me hope that the world won’t forget the tender people in tatty shirts?

For when you look at what we do with our thoughts–mindlessly cataloging human beings so as to protect our emotional selves–we are magic beings creating poison worlds, distancing ourselves from one another for no reason, lost inside a world in which somehow it makes more sense to create a docudrama of nefariousness out of someone waving than it is just to pick up our goddammed arm and wave. And why should I not let my heart hold to that hope we can do better? What is so unbelievable about a big dream?

And driving home, we turned up Yellow Ledbetter as we sank into the sky and clouds of a magic day, and passing the golf course, I was singing along with the mournful lyrics–and yes: I was so dreamy that day–but when I looked at Livy in the passenger seat of my car, window down, hair blowing in the air of a warm day, the earth was tilting towards a star and I was like “look at that big dream.”

Look at that art project of sky and skin.  The sky painted color that’s actually just air and the girl of tender-hearted benevolence imprinting the world with a more grace-filled future.

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Golf course, Salt Lake City, March 18, 2016

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Livy after Bernie rally, Salt Lake City, March 18, 2016