“In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Sandra grew up in a small town in Northern California. She never spoke of her family. She never once mentioned her childhood. When Sandra was small, her house was full of chaos. Sandra’s mother tried as best she could to raise her and her three brothers by herself, but she failed. She failed miserably. So miserably that Sandra often could not say that she had done the best she could with what she had. Because she didn’t really do anything.
Sandra’s mother had been absolutely beautiful when she was younger. She had started college with the hopes of becoming a doctor. Before she had finished her freshman year, she had gotten pregnant with Sandra’s oldest brother, Arlo and married his pathetic father. Sandra’s mother did not have the help or support to return to school, so she waited tables and tended bar. After Sandra had been born, her pathetic father left her mother for booze. Sandra’s mother had been sad, she had been a sad child who grew into a sad young lady and finally ended up as sad woman. She had gotten married young, hoping that marriage and kids would somehow protect her from the chaos of the world around her. It did not. When her marriage fell apart, so did her mental health.
The sad woman turned into a broken woman. A woman who battled her mind on a daily basis. Sandra described the way her mother lived as a person who was destroying her body in order to be able to live with her mind. Sandra’s mother was an alcoholic, and there were always strange men in the house.
Sandra’s magical childhood was a front row seat to her mother’s implosion. Instead of her mother attending soccer games, she watched her mother drink herself into a stupor. Instead of swim lessons, she fought off the men her mother brought home in the night. Sandra’s mother could not cope with her sadness alone. Her companion was booze and pot. She loved them equally and indiscriminately. She watched her mother’s body begin to break down and she knew that the breakdown of the body was the soothing of the soul. When the soul is troubled, it demands payment. The payment can be costly. It was always morbidly fascinating that the only means her mother had to survive emotionally was to destroy her body. The two seemed to cancel each other out.
Sandra left home at 17. Ready to see the world, already afraid of the world. Sandra learned to be afraid of her emotions. She had been taught nothing other than dulling the sensation of feeling by medicating. Sandra was so afraid of feeling sad like her mother that she was obsessively vigilant. She thought about it all of the time. There were days that she had woken up feeling a weight on her chest so tight and heavy that she struggled to breathe. She struggled to move. Sandra had been so close to suicide so many times that she grew to fear sadness, not because of sadness itself, but of what it could do to her, through her. Sadness uses people as a vehicle to destroy themselves.
Her emotions affected her body in a different way. It made her feel like she could not move, that there were no muscles in her body. She thought about herself in ten or fifteen years and could not shake the feeling that she was walking down the same path that her mother had taken. She knew that it could just as easily be her fate as well. Sandra wrote for the paper, she wrote for companies and she wrote for herself. After Harriet left she tried to make sense of where she had started to go wrong. She wrote:
Tonight it is writing or the end. Maybe this is a confession, maybe the last gasp. I have starred so long into the abyss that I have locked eyes with the evil that lies within. There is no point where the Abyss ends and I begin. No separation between where I begin and the Abyss ends. I have yelled, fought and screamed into the Abyss for so long. The fight has only served to bring myself further into the shadows. Is it a belief that has brought me to where I am right now? Is this belief that has kept me on the edge? Is it a belief that has brought me so far out of the light and so deeply into the shadows? Are these questions worthy of answers? Am I worthy of looking for those answers which I have so long sought?
The loneliness is deafening. Is it that I am incapable of connection? Or is it a self fulfilling prophecy? The noise and light of life have poured so long out of me. The intimacy of living is overwhelming. The closeness to which I have existed within the world, on the edges of life have left me drowning. I can’t get away, I can’t stay. Tonight, I live on that edge. My dismal failure haunts me. It is the physical presence, the hot, sour breath of a stranger on the back of my neck. I run, screaming toward escape, only to find that escape is in reality, the end. Do I keep wondering when the time should be? Or should I just jump? Tonight could be the night when I escape for good. When I find the solace of nothingness. I stand in wait.
I want permission. I want the world that has touched me so deeply to give me my escape. Instead it grabs hold. It clasps it hands around my tender neck. The hold is like a lover. A lover that takes breath, until the last moment, then releases with a rush of pleasure. Tightening, loosening, keeping me in its grip, never too tight, never too long, but always there. In limbo. It holds, but does not release completely, it holds but does not tighten to release. The pleasure is terrifying, deafening. I wait for the precious time. The precious moment where it miscalculates its grip and the stars that I see finally go completely black.
My breath is not mine. It is owned. You will wait, you will give yourself over to your lover. Your lover has control. Your lover tells you how and when to move, your lover makes your path. The intimacy with which I have lived in the world has given the world the control over me that I crave and despise. It gives and it takes hope, all hope completely. I answer the call. I obey. I live alone and in the shadows. No one knows my mind but me. Yet I only have my mind to know it with. It sets me apart even further. How long can I go on like this? How long can I stagger through the disorienting cacophony that I drown in, that I gasp in, that has disoriented me for so long? I don’t know if I have lost the path, or if I have never walked a path.
I stare my failings in the face, blatant, brazen, heartbreaking failings. They grate on my soul. They take. They take away my ability to think, to function to feel to move to breathe. These failures are personal, professional, relational and everything else that a person can possibly add to that list. Failure. All encompassing. All powerful. The god of my life is failure. I soak in failure, I am suffocated by failure. I am being slowly boiled alive in the deep marrow of my failure. Failure and I are one. We are intertwined, Wrapped around each other like two desperate lovers. I feel failure by continuing to indulge it, it won’t fucking leave me alone. We exist within the shadow of one another. The raven in this story is failure, and my soul dwells in its shadow.
Some people think that choosing to share your life with another human being is the most intimate relationships that one can have in this world. I can tell you that the relationship that I share with failure is far more intimate. Another person can never touch all of you the way that failure can. Failure seeps in, Failure starts small. Failure flirts with you in a text message. Failure slowly eases its way into your life. Failure lies to you and tells you that if you are failing you are growing. You fall for it because otherwise it’s just loneliness. Failure is not growing, failing is just fucking failing.
I was too young to know and too young to understand that when you start down a path in life you are locked into it. A path in life quickly turns from a choice into a prison. Fail to chose correctly and the worse your cell is. Failure strokes your face and tells you that you just need to work a little harder. Failure whispers, “You’re beautiful, I want you” with a soft warm sensual breath on your neck. And you sink into the gloriously soft oblivion, with no defense where you feel full and peaceful, then it tells you that you are not enough and asks to invite another into your starlit universe. Failure entices you into intimacy and then slaps you so that it smarts. The slap leaves a bruise and the bruise marks you for the failure that you are.
I was young once. I was looking desperately for love. I believed in my innocence the myth that we were once one and were split into two, roaming the earth in search of my other half. I found glimpses of it as I walked through my older teen years. Making out in a dark room with a boy from another high school. He lived 20 minutes away. That made him so much more desirable. He wanted another. And another. I would never be able to fulfill that hunger. He would always be Tomas, I would always be Tereza. I did not know that that would be the theme that marked my life, marred my life so profoundly.
I had to widen my search. I have to go thousands of miles away as MY hunger gnawed at my heart and my body. I had a need, a craving that could not be satiated. I dare not stare my hunger down lest it consume me in its quest. I met Saul in England. We talked about the strangeness of our childhoods and our love for Bob Marley. We talked about the thrill of danger and adventure. Every night I would come down from my room and he would be waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me. I looked at him like a lion looked at a bloody piece of meat. My hunger was larger and more powerful than I could control. And it drove me to madness, I wanted to consume him so that like Christ and the communion, his flesh would become mine.
We were at a tiny Bible School in rural England. Living together in a large manor house that had history oozing out of every crack. I would walk in the cold for miles just to see him drive by in his tiny car. He was working on a house on the other side of the dark green fields. Past the cattle guard, past the sheep, right over the horizon. My hunger drove me on. There was a distinct pleasure in simply knowing that I was drawing nearer to him. When I learned that he existed, all others vanished. We broke all the rules at the school and went camping. That night at the pub, he asked me to marry him. I flushed with pleasure when he followed the question with the statement, “Because my best friend lives in Canby and I want a green card”. I bit my lip, it bled. The sacrifice of my own blood. I still went camping later that night. I still snuck out with him and got drunk in his car.
Is the consumption of another the only way to fill the void? I drove across Europe with him. While we were in the car he told me that while I was gone over Christmas break he slept with another girl. He said it was by accident. She was climbing out the window and he saw her thong. He just had to have her. I was in his car. I told him that he should have told me that before I drove to his house. He told me that we weren’t dating so I couldn’t be upset about it.
I decided to let it go. I let the hard lash of the sting rip across my heart in wordless silence. I had been taught to take care of my own needs. Always being left alone to suffer had created a fantastic reality within myself. A world where I alone lived, suffered, laughed and died. I went there to find peace and accept the unacceptable. I had been taught that what I wanted and thought was not important. I did not understand that what we choose puts us on the path, the path puts us into our particular type of prison. I never stopped to ask what it all meant. I did not know yet that that would be the driving question of my life.
We slept in a tent at a truck stop in Germany. It was cold that night and we lay close to each other. The feeling of rejection and lust intermingled within my burning heart and kept me awake most of the night. We drove the next day to his house. We got in very late, I was exhausted. I wanted to go to sleep, he wanted to go out. I went with him. I would do anything for him. I had no limits, no boundaries as my hunger drove me and nothing else. You cannot truly exist as a slave.
I told him that I was tired, he told me that I should sleep with his friend who spoke English. I had to leave the club. I walked alone through the dark streets, the barely imperceptible outline of the Alps at the cusp of the small town. I thought, the deep and full thoughts of youth. Only in youth can one so fully and comfortingly believe that life matters, later, we only wonder what it all means. The expanse of the mountains began when I was a baby and faintly trailed off at my death. I had so much more to fill in. I thought that sex and love were intertwined. I did not know that one could most pleasurably go without the other. But that is for a later time. I told him that I wanted to be with him. He said he wasn’t sure.
He was never sure. I was hungry. We flew in a helicopter up the side of the Alps to his father’s cabin. At the top, the expanse of the mountains displayed themselves in the bright glow of the daylight. We were drinking beer out of tan cans. The writing was in red. He started kissing me so hard that my lip bled. I could taste the sacrifice of my blood, in my mouth, on my lips. It was the wrong blood. I wanted someone else’s but did not think that I would ever have to give my own. I felt him on me. All I could taste was beer and blood and everything was unclear. I could not speak or understand what was being said to me. I was starving. I was not yet prepared to eat. He told me that if I took off my clothes then he would know that I wanted him. The world does have monsters in it, and I am certain that I am one of them.
I had to pee. I went outside and drew myself back in. I put all of the parts of me that had begun to come undone carefully back into their places. I straightened the shelves. Organized the drawers and went back into the cabin. Just as Frankenstein had sewn together his monster, so I rebuilt my inner life, my stinking, mangled far flung corpse collection of a soul. I told him that I just was not ready yet. I asked him if he loved me, He just said, “I don’t know”. He never knew. We went to bed in bunk beds that night. I was not admitted into his. I slept alone. I woke up confused. My hunger had driven me out into a lonely wilderness that I was not prepared to survive in. The food I craved would complete my transformation, a transformation I was not yet ready to undergo.
The next day, on the cusp of my awakening, we hiked down through a glacier to a high mountain lake. The expanse of the mountains towered over us and obscured the view, they were the view, we could not see past them, only to them. We didn’t talk much. He told me that it was a shame that I would not sleep with him. We could have had so much fun over the next two weeks he told me. I didn’t know that all of this was fun. I wasn’t ready and it wasn’t right. He ran ahead of me down the trail. He told me to run as fast as I could and not stop or else I would fall. I did what he told me to and I still fell. I told him that he had no sense of self preservation. He laughed and said that he loved learning my phrases in English. ”Cross continental” was one of his favorites, I told him that he was going to die young. He did.
We went out with his friends the next night. We went home drunk and I reluctantly and fearfully agreed. I thought we were going to have fun. It hurt so so so much. My blood sacrifice, my body when I wanted someone else. I was being consumed and the giving made me even more hungry. Hunger had made me a slave, slavery had taken my existence and the lack thereof made me the perfect meal. I asked him again if he loved me and he said, it doesn’t matter. Nothing mattered to him. I told him again that he had no sense of self preservation. He laughed and wrote it down so that he would remember it later. I lay next to him, alone, loneliness seeped out like a dark cloud out over the roof of the house. I looked out the window and could only see a few peaks of the mountains above the meadow. It was night, the moon was brilliant and illuminated the short stretch of time that I existed in with in that moment. I took a picture of my tiny blue striped thong laying on his dark, leather belt. Like a child, I glued it into my diary the next day.
Over the next two weeks he stayed away all day and offered me to his friends at night, I would say to him, “I’m with you”. That never made him stop. I grew desperate and weary. I would wander into the woods and sunbathe naked, my body grew more and more thin. I would eat nothing but oatmeal. I thought I was craving love. I thought I was craving intimacy. I did not know how to get it and I did not know that the fulfillment of such deep things lie within yourself. But that understanding does not come until much, much later. That hunger drives you, but no one else can ever feed the deepest part. Nothing outside of yourself can make what you need within.
I drank then. I drank every night to oblivion. On the good nights, he would sleep with me. On the bad nights, I can’t remember. I was smoking constantly and running for miles and miles on the trails around his house. I grew reckless. I hitchhiked down into the tiny town at the bottom of the mountain. I had friends going to school down there. They were the ones already on the right path. They were driven by consciousness and thought. I was driven only by need. Need does not think of the whole person but only on its fixation which makes the one in need so desperately uneven.
I told those friends my plight. I jumped into a roaring glacial river with all of my clothes on. I was wearing a white shirt, there were the good christian boys and I knew what I was doing. I was punishing their purity. Enticing lust is the only and most powerful way to punish them, for their false piety and roaring, hungry eyes. I used to think that men looked at me with disgust because they did not find me attractive, or I was weird, now I know the truth.
I always went home to him. I spent the day talking about God and holiness and safety and comfort and I rejected the finality of it and went home to him. He had become my god. The god that soundly rejected me under the pretense that he could not feel. He told me that he had gone his entire life living in the same house as his father, yet his father had never spoken to him. His mother brought other men home when his father was away. His brother, the only person he was close to moved away. He had a girlfriend for a few years, but they were stoned all of the time. He said it wasn’t me, he had always been that way. I felt. I felt everything, intimately and strongly sometimes it took my god damn breath away. I fought to stand under the weight of these emotions. I fought with everything within me to function while feeling so deeply. I hated that he did not. I loved that he did not. He could not feed my desire. The hunger and lust were not assuaged by his presence. He only served to make the hunger more pronounced. He was fatal.
I ended up back in my parents house. Emotionally gutted and struggling with culture shock. I wrote him an email. I told him that I loved him, and hated him and wanted him to die. All the glory of my teenage angst fleshed out in that one email. He said, “You’re an amazing writer, you should pursue that.” I said, “fuck you.” I asked him again if he loved me. He said, “I’m not sure what that is.” I throbbed with the rich, fullness of life. I overflowed with anger and hate and fear and lust. I felt love in its most precious, childish form. I felt all of the heartbreak of youth. My virgin heart, touched for the very first time. I felt taken advantage of, violated and torn. I felt a deep gratefulness that my first love could be such a wild one.
My first love is connected with the breathtaking beauty of wilderness and mountains and danger. My first love walked the razors edge of consent and conversion. My first love was wild and full and wonderfully one sided. I took that full, wild, and complete experience and I folded it up neatly and tightly. I smoothed out the rough edged and I placed it into a box far too plain and small to hold such fury, and I locked it up. I put that box up on the highest, tiniest of shelves and I pushed it quite far out of the way. I packed it just so I could never open it again or it would burst out and make quite a mess. The box is plain, the lock is plain, the shelf is plain. It holds the golden dawn of my youth and beauty and fearlessness. It holds the origins of the wild spirit that I simply will not yield to anyone. It holds within it the infancy of my now untethered sexuality. That box is the most brutal, and most beautiful The fullness of life, the first blush of youth. The moment of lost innocence and emergence from the cave into knowledge.
That wild spirit keeps me somewhat isolated, but has allowed me to survive all of these years. The darkness seeks to overcome, but the hot fire in the middle sustains.
To say I kept that experience near my heart is an understatement. I kept the photograph that I took of my panties laying on his belt, the morning after that first night. I got in trouble for it later but that’s another story for another time. He came to Oregon that summer to visit his friend. He came over and we went to a party together. He touched my back. I got drunk. He told me that his friend liked me and that I should go out to the car and keep him company. I did what he asked me to. I wanted him. I asked if I could see him again and he said he was going to be busy.
Sandra submitted this essay to a hundred publishers, none of which were interested.
For all the fuck’s sake. Sandra knew she was physically beautiful, men had been staring at her, touching her, suggesting things to her her entire life. It was not that she was not beautiful, that she was unlovable, it was that there was something fundamentally wrong with the fabric of her being that made men come thus far and no farther. She wondered if the road sign between her vagina and uterus that read, “Abandon Hope All ye who enter here!” Causing men to run in fear.
So she was, so she is. Broken and terrified and wandering. One of the few joys she had in life and one of the few ways that she could find companionship and understanding was through her books. Sandra would have killed herself a long time ago if she had not had books to tell her that she was not entirely alone here in the darkness of the abyss. The abyss that Neichze talks about is not a physical place, but an ephemeral one that lived inside of Sandra. She was constantly staring into it, afraid of what monster would emerge next. The fear of the world rested largely within herself. She could not trust herself, she knew that she could not predict what she would do next.
It was however this love of books that ultimately led to her writing. She wanted to write a book, but she wouldn’t let herself. She couldn’t bear the weight of it. She she had gotten a degree in journalism at a small state school and worked her way up to writing a small column for the LA Times. She was not famous. In fact, she was almost certain that no one ever read her stupid column.
She existed, living on. Hoping each day that she would have the strength to make it to the next one. Life was dark. Life was almost completely unbearable for her. She went to work and laughed and talked. She followed all of the rules that came with being a woman. She smiled, asked questions and was overly polite. She looked in public like any woman wants to look. Though she had gained a bit of weight over the years, it strangely suited her. She was a woman, she was a woman that men looked at. She could see the greed flicker across their faces as she walked by. Always want to fuck, never want to date, she would repeat back to herself like a mantra. It kept her hidden. When she got home, she curled up under a blanket alone with her cats and watched tv. It was almost meaningless what she watched. When she felt that her heart was hurting so badly that she could not take another second of it, she picked up the bottle or pot and she stopped the pain and the panic just like that.
Just like that it was gone. She could feel the tension leave her body, she could feel her lungs open up to let the air of life back into them. She came back to life. Sometimes during these times she would write short stories. She sent them to every publication that she could find and then deleted all of the rejection emails from her inbox promptly. This went on, Sandra, hiding in plain sight, until Harriet started working at the paper.
She was a real writer, Sandra had thought. Harriet was real. Sandra was a meat puppet who had given herself over completely to the marionette of the world. She was just, but Harriet was alive. Her eyes were bright. The first time Sandra heard her laugh, she felt different. And for fucking once, it was a good different. Sandra was assigned to be Harriet’s mentor for her first year at the paper.
On the first day they met, they sat across the desk from each other. Sandra made a joke, Harriet laughed, really, really laughed. She laughed hard and long and uninhibited. Harriet met Sandra’s gaze. Harriet began to notice things about Sandra and make little jokes about her. She would walk by a 10 am and say, “Isn’t it time for you to put all of that hair in a bun?” Simply because Harriet had SEEN Sandra, and Sandra did in fact put her hair in a bun every morning at 10 am when she got so caught up in her work she couldn’t stand it in her face anymore.
The comments were simple, playful and benign, but Sandra could slowly feel something begin to switch within her. Where she hurt, there was a small seed of joy, where there was oppression, she began to feel relief. She was seen, and not rejected. Harriet and Sandra started texting. At first it was under the guise of work. On the first day in the morning Harriet had texted Sandra:
We have no meeting today Mr. Miyagi? Sandra felt a flood of joy rush up her heart and into her brain. She immediately texted back:
Just watched an Evil Karate Kid video on youtube.
That was all she said, but what she felt and what she thought could fill a vault. And at that moment when she had just about given up, she found red hot love.