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?
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Gillian Gontard wants a lot of things--she's trying to change that..
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