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Pandora’s box opens itself, part 1

February 23, 2014

The events of 1985 and 1990 are tricky and troublesome in and of themselves. But the parts I wrote about in the poem and the prose piece have felt impossible to ‘resolve’ because another person is involved. And I do not, any longer, have a relationship with that person. (And I — emphatically — do not want a relationship with that person.) So what could ‘resolution’ mean?

It’s starting to dawn on me that those two pieces are not actually about the other person, at all. They’re about my relationship with . . . someone I do want to be involved with. Someone I do miss very much.

Another piece, or pieces, of my self.

I’ve been sundered from pieces of myself for so long that, when I meet them again, they seem like strangers.

But . . . stuff happened, in 1985 and 1990. The other person did things to me. And I wrote about those things, didn’t I?

Could what I wrote about somehow not be the external events themselves, but . . . upheavals . . . that were internal?

And are those wounds what the wasp witch was trying to heal?


In 1985, I uprooted my imploding life and transplanted myself to a place far from where I was born. The concept of ‘home’ no longer seemed to apply to me — definitely not to where I came from, but not this new place either. I’d had lots of ideas about striking out to ‘find my fortune’, post-high school, but my parents wouldn’t let me do any of them. They made me go to college when I didn’t want to; I flunked out. Shouldn’t I have been allowed to at least try my own ideas at that point? Well, that’s not what happened. How I think my parents thought of what happened next was, they packed me off in disgrace and sent me to live with relatives in another state. I definitely know — because they told me directly — that, unless and until I had a college diploma in hand, they did not want to see me again. But I still didn’t want to go to college. So I was presented with ‘a second chance’ to do something that I had zero interest in doing, and had already failed at doing.

I can’t do things that I don’t want to do.

It’s not defiance, it’s not trying to be a pain in the ass. It’s not a character flaw, at least, not the way that term is commonly used.

If every fiber of my being absolutely refuses to do something — and that was the case here with college, at age 18 — nothing on earth can make me do it. Not threats. Not draconian punishments. Not being kicked out of my family and told I was worthless and stupid, and everybody hated me, which was — obviously! — entirely my own fault, for thinking I could choose a future that my parents didn’t like.

Now, it is true that, I looked at the options my parents insisted were the only ones I had, and I ‘voluntarily’ chose to go live with my aunt and uncle in Oklahoma City. (As an outcast. Dependent on the goodwill of relatives I’d never spent very much time with.)

My reasons were these:

  • if I never have to see my parents ever again, that’ll be a win. No matter what else happens.
  • If I’m no longer ‘from’ Illinois, that’ll be a win. No matter what else happens.
  • The one cousin still living at home is my best friend. I usually have to share time spent with him, with my siblings, whom I don’t get along with. And when he’s trying to curry favor with them, he’s mean to me. But that’s not what he’s ‘really like’, deep down inside. He really is my very best friend, and if I go live with his family, we can be together all the time. That, by itself, is like winning the fucking lottery!
  • I still don’t want to go to college. But maybe community college is different. Maybe it won’t totally suck. And maybe it will, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

It’s true that, growing up the way I did, I did not anticipate that my cousin-who-was-my-very-best-friend-but-only-in-private would turn out to hate my guts, for real, and that being together with him all the time would be the worst thing that ever happened to me. Because he tried to kill me, and he came very close to succeeding.

And, in desperation, when I went to my parents for help, they told me I was imagining things. That I needed to ‘try harder’ to get along with good decent people. Because they still didn’t want me back.

Is it any wonder, then, that the parts of me that were kind and gentle, tender and sensitive, sweet and innocent, disappeared from my awareness? They still existed, but they separated themselves from my conscious mind, trying to save all of us. Just surviving the next five minutes was almost too much for the shell of me that remained.

I started drinking. I got addicted to sleeping pills. I cut myself. I dissociated almost constantly. I tried to kill myself, before he could do it.

Somehow, a person I called myself did live through all that. She was a nervous wreck, afflicted with trauma onset PTSD. She in no way resembled the person who had gone to live in Oklahoma City just a few months before.

My parents apparently could not tell the difference. Because they did allow ‘me’ to ‘return home’, a concept that would have had me laughing hysterically if I could spare the energy.

I could not . . . bear to be in the same room . . . with my father or either of my two brothers . . . for months and months, because they were male, and I was afraid of all males.

My parents made me get a job so I could pay them room and board for the privilege of living in their house. I had to work with men, most of whom were very nice people. When I spent social time with men, including some I was attracted to, I had to be drunk to even sit near them, otherwise my skin crawled with fear.

I had actually never drunk alcohol while I was in high school — I had been a total straight arrow. But now I went out drinking a lot. I did enjoy dancing at clubs, especially if no talking was involved, but even more, I needed to numb how shitty everything felt. Nothing felt good anymore. I couldn’t trust anybody I lived with, these strangers who insisted they were ‘family’, now that it was convenient. Now that my life had been destroyed. I was still alive, technically, but what made me me, the unique and amazing parts that I had always loved the best? They were gone. Which meant that I might physically look like the person who had left for Oklahoma City in January of 1985, but ‘I’ was not that person.

This other person who was living what passed for my life? That was the version of ‘me’ that heard the words I had waited all my life to hear — for the first time in my life, my parents told me they were proud of me.

The amazing achievement that had finally gotten their attention? I consistently showed up for work on time.

Not even that I was doing a good job at my job. (Although I was. But they didn’t care about that.)

What made this even more unbearable was that my mother had told me in private (and I’m not sure now that my father knew she’d said it) that if I did anything that she didn’t like — which would certainly include losing my job, but could be all sorts of other things as well — she would throw me out of the house, into the street, and she would not allow any other family member to help me. She told me that some tenderhearted relatives might be ‘taken in’ by my ‘sob story’ of difficulties endured. So, she directly told me, she would tell them ‘whatever she needed to’, up to and including lying about my behavior and character, so that they could not feel sorry for me.

Under those circumstances, knowing not just a misstep on my part, but my mother having a bad week — possibly for reasons totally unrelated to me — could mean I was thrown into the street, I was very very very careful to keep my job. Despite the flashbacks, and other assorted issues related to my (undiagnosed) trauma onset PTSD. Even though I managed to kick my addiction to sleeping pills, only to have to start it up again, because my nightmares were so bad. Even though my new best (girl) friend was predatory, and my (first) boyfriend was not much better, but I was having trouble making other friends.

Somehow well-adjusted people, psychologically healthy people, certainly felt sorry for me, were . . . sometimes . . . kind, but I guess something about me just seemed . . . off. Too much trouble to ask me any questions. Definitely too much trouble to, you know, help me. I wouldn’t have dared ask.

Nothing good had ever come of asking for help.

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