Four-Way Humiliation Part II
Please read "Four Way Humiliation Part I" posted on September 25, 2016.
So, I am driving this stranger to Providence Hospital up on NE Glisan, because she has apparently attempted suicide by punching her fist through her apartment window and then slamming her wrist down on the jagged glass of the window pane.
Naturally, she is quite shaken up and not very emotionally stable at this point. I pull out off of SE 33rd onto Alder, and head towards Stark. The moment we're moving she starts talking about her life and whatever it is that has prompted her to do this act of violence against herself. There are a lot of words and some stuff I could understand and some stuff I couldn't. I turn right onto Stark and head towards SE 39th (now Cesar Chavez Blvd.) She confides that there is some guy involved and that she hates herself because she's fat and ugly. I had already generously assessed her as "plain" looking--but she was translating "slightly heavy" into "fat". She continues on about her body and how she HATES IT, HATES IT, HATES IT.
As we reach SE 39th and I maneuver into the left-hand turn lane I muse about the somewhat hostile relationship I have with my own body--American women are unusually hard on themselves concerning body image--white American women in particular.
The light turns green and I turn onto SE 39th. Suddenly there is a lull in her bloody rant and I glance over at her. She's (now) silently shaking with fresh tears--as if she suddenly became aware of how much noise she had been making and has decided that quiet crying is more respectable. I've never been one to deny another person my opinion about anything. (I had a habit of thinking I was right most of the time--a habit of which I have now been thoroughly disabused!) and I confidently offer up my sympathy and claim to relate to what she is talking about. It's really hard going through each day when you hate your own body. I, myself, have experienced extreme mental anguish over this.
Before I continue, let me just say that my statement to this young woman was absolutely true. I know now that a lot of my "mental anguish" at the time was due to a lack of conscious living--I was, rather, living quite unconsciously--with the help of copious amounts of alcohol and drugs. But I grew up in an unconventional and unstable situation and as a result I was severely hurt as a child. Brutally. I only say this in order to qualify that my lack of self-esteem and this itch I had to jump out of my skin was real. I never felt comfortable with flesh in general. It seemed too fragile and just having it made me feel "fat". I always wanted out of the physical and this discomfort manifested in being extremely disrespectful to myself and my body. I felt ugly and fat all the time, even though that was not quite the reality of the situation. It was also something I kept to myself because I hated women who were overly sensitive about this issue--they looked like victims to me, swallowing the Kool-Aid offered up by a consumer driven society. I refused to show my weakness on the outside, but on the inside I had a hyper-distorted awareness of my body at all times. That's why alcohol saved my life! Feeling nothing was a daily goal.
So, when I say to this bleeding woman, "I know how you feel." I honestly thought that I knew how she felt. (For the record, no one ever wants to hear anyone say, "I know how you feel." but I didn't know that then.)
My impudence in claiming to know how she felt tripped her off. The quiet crying woman sitting in my car was replaced by the first woman--the raging angry woman--only this time the rage was directed at me. Just as I was turning off of 39th onto NE Glisan she let me have it.
What the FUCK was I talking about? Who the FUCK did I think I was? Had I LOOKED at myself lately?! "You're gorgeous! You're thin! You're perfect!!" Each adjective was like an accusation. I was the enemy to her. Whatever I thought I understood was bullshit! Don't tell ME you KNOW how I FEEL.
I received these comments cooly and silently. I actually didn't know what to say. Normally I would rage back at anyone who dared to rage at me--but that didn't seem right considering the circumstances. The majority of me wasn't sure what she was seeing. And for a fleeting moment I got excited that maybe I was thin and beautiful if this bleeding woman was yelling at me about it. But there was another part of myself that suddenly saw what she saw. She's right. I am thin. And enough people have told me I'm attractive. And honestly, I knew I had the capacity to be beautiful at times. In my lifetime people have compared me to various famous beautiful people; I've had people who've wanted to paint me or photograph me. I've been serenaded, an object of desire. At that time I had a small satchel full of romantic letters and poems written to me by various men.. But I was black as tar on the inside--empty and absent. I had no way of experiencing what this woman claimed to see when she looked at me.
I didn't even know that I benefitted from the way I looked every day. Things that I assumed were "normal" I found out later are actually selective. Random people holding doors open for you, people coming to your aid with no benefit to themselves, being noticed and served right away, getting away with breaking the rules, being given free stuff, being allowed to borrow things, drive things, go places, and cross boundaries. I thought people were just randomly and generally courteous to each other in society. Until this woman pointed out that that was reserved for only a certain population of people. While the "fat and the ugly" went unnoticed and unheeded, I was awash with recognition.
We finally arrive at the hospital, in silence. We are both completely self-absorbed. I park at the emergency entrance and walk her in. The nurses or doctors or whoever come flying out at her and whisk her away. There's a woman behind a desk who wants to talk to me for admissions. What is the woman's name? What's her address? Does she have insurance? Does she have an emergency contact?
You, I am sure, can already guess this punchline: I don't know the answer to any of these questions.
The desk woman is shocked that I don't even know her name. But I don't. I never asked and she never said. Even though she lives in my building and I can give them a partial address, I decide it's none of my business and they can just ask her later.
The desk woman wants to keep me there but I say I have to go and I walk out.
I spend the entirety of my therapy session talking about this event. (You may recall, I was on my way to an appointment when the story started.) I do my life. I don't recall feeling much differently about anything for very long and eventually I turned an edited version of the story into something interesting to tell my friends while we sat around drinking micro-brew. All that mattered is that my life remain interesting--I didn't necessarily want to bother changing anything.
I never saw her again--I guess she moved out. But one day a couple of weeks later I opened my apartment door and there, on the floor, was my hand towel, washed and folded with just the barest shadow of discoloration patterned throughout.
When I first started this post it was to tell how the beadboard I had coveted for months, and that my loving husband had purchased for me, came flying out the back of my pick-up truck, not 10 minutes after leaving the hardware store, when I accelerated after coming to a stop at a four-way intersection. It was raining and there was plenty of traffic--of course. Flume! All nine sheets shot out onto the wet pavement in the center of the intersection. Horns started honking and I quickly pulled over to the side of the road exclaiming semi-hysterically: "My beadboard! The beadboard! It's in the street!" My husband said, incredulously, "Really? Seriously?" and we both jumped out. Traffic had come to a standstill--which was a good thing. I suppose people could have run over it--but that would have been blatantly weird. I was horrified--like disproportionately horrified--and I ran over to the heap. "Grab it! Move it! Get it out of the way!" I was experiencing this deep humiliation. My husband was perturbed and unhappy, but not humiliated. I could tell by the way he strode quickly over to the pile. I, on the other hand, ran into the street and pulled one of those superhuman mom-lifts-car-off-baby moves by grabbing half of the stack and just dragging it 25 feet to the side of the road--uphill!-- behind the truck. I still don't know how I did that. My husband called over to me, "You're just going to drag it on the ground?!" I'm all a-flutter, "Yes! Yes, just drag it! Get it out of the way!" I realized then that I was waiting for someone to get irritated enough to run over my beadboard--and I had been waiting and wanting this beadboard for the cabin for months. There was an emotional attachment to it that was just unnecessary. My husband, who prefers to do things properly, is not happy about dragging our brand new beadboard across the wet road and while he is gathering his resolve a man jumps out of his car, into the rain, and helps him carry it "properly" over to the side. Now traffic can resume and I wave a fake smiling "thank you!" to the motorists, while it rains down on my brand new ceiling. My muscles have had it. Loading it up in the first place was a stretch for me, pulling it out of the street was really pushing it, and now we need to get it quickly back under the bed canopy before it's ruined. I start yelling at my husband to hurry and he's saying stuff but I'm not listening--I just want the beadboard out of the rain. Finally it is loaded back up, Rich is going to triple secure it, and I go and sit in the cab trying to decide if I want to cry or not. (I didn't just then, but I did later. Again, that's how I roll.)
After days of wondering if it was warped and ruined and trying to decide how to prevent that, we finally got it out to Vernonia. It was nighttime before I got the first piece up. As I type this my abdominal muscles are killing me--I had to lie on my back, hold the board to the ceiling with my feet while I used a brad gun to set it in place, and then nail it in after that. It is scratched and smushed on some edges, there are a few weird water damage spot, but all and all, it is everything I wanted it to be!
It is far from pristine, but then again, so am I.
Isn't it beautiful?
It is the 28th of September as I write this…9:19am. My battery is at 28% (the computer’s battery that is) so I don’t know how much time I have. But I don’t need much.
I wanted to officially report to MyGreenAge.com that I have finally told my husband about this blog. It may seem strange that I had not told him before, but I was saving it for our 18-month wedding anniversary, which was two days ago. We came out to Vernonia to celebrate and have been staying in the cabin for the last two nights! It is a pretty big deal:
This is the lower area of the cabin—not the loft. As you can see, there is still no facing on the walls and we haven’t had a chance to install the woodstove we want for the space, but it was amazingly cozy and mild. Open windows obsess me—I NEED them open—so I put up screens to deter bugs and allow for the fresh air I crave night and day. I was amazingly mild and comfortable for September.
In the middle of the second night, I awoke to the sound of coyotes! Yipping and howling! I had never heard such a lovely racket until a few hours before we went to bed. My husband—who is very familiar with indigenous wildlife-- told me who was making the strange sounds (which is why I was able to identify them in the wee hours). What an amazing cacophony! Like singing and laughing and screaming—it was some sort of coyote Bacchanal. (I have always identified with Coyote as a folklore figure—the trickster teacher. I love the idea of tricking someone into learning something they may not want to know. I studied oral storytelling for a while, years ago, and Coyote is still a favorite.) I have to admit the sounds were a little intimidating---especially when it sounded like they were getting closer. But that, I believe, is healthy fear and it is good to know it still operates in my city-saturated experience.
Back to the big news: Rich knows about the blog! Finally! I’d been keeping it from him to use as an anniversary present--the irony being that we went somewhere where there is no Internet service for me to tell him. I took a few screen shots before we left Portland—the Dedication page, the Homepage and the About page. He is a very private person and I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about having some parts of his life posted online. I really wanted to document our “salad days” so—barring a Zombie Apocalypse or a Demise of Technology—this blog could be a record of where we started.
Huge relief: he loves it!
That means I can start blogging more about what he’s been doing. I didn’t want to do that before I asked him. He’s been working so hard storing nuts for the winter. I am really excited to share what he’s been doing.
I also want to write a bit more about how our relationship in essential to our being here in Vernonia together. Not for the obvious reason that if we weren’t together we would be anywhere together—but that what my inner life looked like before I meet him and what it looks like now…well, those changes have enabled me to take risks and to dream to be me more than I ever have been before. Now that I feel loved unconditionally for the first time ever, I feel like I can really explore who I am and what I have to offer. It is a real gift. Not looking for a mate anymore, or not pretending that I’m not looking for a mate, or not wanting a mate but not having one either, this has freed me up in ways I had no idea about.
So, MyGreenAge.com enters a new era—more inclusive and hopefully, more courageous!
Next: Four Way Humiliation Part II
Four-Way Humiliation Part I
I am a white middle-class American woman--I know what privilege feels like. Actually, I am (I've been told) an reasonably attractive white middle-class American woman--which has even more privilege attached to it. But that was a privilege it was difficult for me to discern for a long time because of my phenomenal lack of self-esteem. Please don't confuse self-esteem with self-confidence--I was brimming with gumption. Here's something that happened that tested that foxy and gave me a different view of myself pretty fast:
In 1991 I moved to Portland to attend the Pacific Northwest College of Art. My second year, in 1992, I was living on SE 33rd and Alder in a pleasant enough Portland-style studio apartment--hardwood floors, built in cabinetry, and a large 9-paned bathroom window that opened up onto a central shaft of the building that was open only to the sky three floors up. Other people had bathroom windows opening onto this shaft. It was a way of getting some fresh air into the bathroom, but not much light. If the window was open, it was also a way of hearing things sometimes--nothing clearly, just background voices and such.
I'd been clinically depressed forever. I had some bona fide hair-raising childhood trauma--(I'm pretty sure I have some sort of brain damage)--but nothing that would be noticeable to a casual outsider. At this point in my life, 2016, I've been diagnosed with PTSD. Yes, it is the disease du jour, but it turns out I really have it and addressing it directly has helped me immensely. But, in 1992, I had no idea. I was just angry, violent and intense all the time.
One day I am in my apartment getting ready for an appointment with my psychologist. For some reason, I am ready to go 15 minutes early--this never happens. I usually don't bother to be ready until it's time to leave, but in this case I'm ready to walk out the door and I still have 15 minutes to go. I am standing in the middle of my tiny studio trying to figure out how this happened when I think I hear something. I listen closer and it sounds like it is coming from the bathroom. I walk the 7 or so steps it takes to peek in the bathroom door and the first thing I notice is I've left the window open. As I cross the small room to close it I hear the noise again. But it's not just a noise, it is someone...wailing? It stops and starts again and it is really loud--screaming for sure. It sounds like... a woman... yelling in pain? It's scary actually. I immediately picture some jacked up domestic violence scene. I do NOT want to be involved in whatever this is--but here is where the gumption comes in handy--I refuse to be one of those people that doesn't help someone when she has the chance.
I open my front door slowly as if the fight is going to be right outside my apartment. It's not. I'm not sure where to go because of the shaft--the noise could have been coming from anywhere. Then--oh goody!--I hear a window break and it is easy for me to quickly follow the sound down the hall.
There's this really great Dutch movie called The Vanishing. In it, one of the main characters asserts that when we witness another human being in danger, stranger or not, we are wired biologically or spiritually to try and save them. The character insists that in that moment we no longer differentiate between the person in danger and ourselves. As we take action, often before reason has kicked in (you'll never survive the freezing water, fire will burn you too, etc.) we no longer feel that we are saving another being, but ourselves. It becomes that imperative--as if your very life is in danger.
Well, I had not seen The Vanishing at this point in my life, but even if I had, I don't think I would have thought of it. All I knew was I didn't want to do nothing--I hated people who did nothing. I could hear crashing and yelling coming from behind one of the doors. I (foolishly) knocked on the door, hesitated, and then screwed up my courage and tried the doorknob. . The door swung open. Inside was a young woman, probably my age, 21 or 22. When I appeared suddenly in her doorway, she started yelling and crying and staggering over to me, blood smeared on the ground, streaming down her arm, on her clothes, her face. I quickly took in the broken window with shards of bloody glass sticking out of the pane, the trashed apartment, and...the fact that no one else was there but us. I remind you, these apartments were small.
I don't remember what I said, but it was probably something predictable like, "Are you alright? What happened?" She was so hysterical it was hard to understand her but I quickly surmised that she had done this to herself. Her right hand and wrist was bleeding so I ran back to my apartment, ducked in real quick,--I had left the door open--and grabbed a hand towel out of my bathroom. I ran back and it was gross. Like mangled gross and fleshy and bloody. I can't remember if I thought about calling 911 or she insisted I take her to the hospital--but I found myself loading her into my car and driving off to Providence up on SE 49th and Glisan.
I remember thinking, "Well, this is ok because I have 15 extra minutes and the hospital is on the way to my appointment."
I promise this has to do with Vernonia. Everything has to do with Vernonia. The sum total of my life has been leading me to this small town. Part II soon to come.
Gillian Gontard wants a lot of things--she's trying to change that..
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