It’s five minutes before class begins and one student, a mousy girl who twitches occasionally and whispers answers to my questions after I respond to her half-mast upraised tentative hand that must be propped up by the other hand in order to give it any height, says, “I think no one’s here because of the shooting.”
The classroom is one third full, not unusual for the hour and time in the semester, about one third of the way through.
I wanted to doff off her suggestion as somewhat silly or illogical to assure her, actually, but as is always the case in teaching college students–or any students–sensitivity is paramount, so I pause a complete second. But in drawing up my response, I immediately flash angrily, “No, probably not. Why wouldn’t they be used to this sort of news by now? After all, mass shootings happen every other day now. It’s just become the new normal.”
I immediately regret my callousness.
This student has confessed in her second essay written for this class that she suffers from epilepsy, a recent discovery that has left her to picking up pieces, rescuing remnants of her former life that held nothing but unfettered future, the worst day up until then being when an elementary school kid called her a mop-head. She told me her medication affects her memory, slows her.
When she confided in me, I thought of my daughter in college two states north from home. She suffers from a recent sport-inflicted concussion, confused and depressed, her mind sluggish and stalling–going on too long now. She fears. I fear.
Last week at the head of the classroom, I repeated the line from a prose poem assigned for that day, “In the end, we are alone in the house of the heart.” I then asked the students if they thought that was true. Some thought so. Most did not know.
I offered my story of watching a cancer patient die, slowly, how, after months of gathering her family around her, then one by one sending each off not to return to her as she got sicker, she hunkered down inside herself the last three weeks, doing the difficult work of dying. It certainly looked like no one could help her do it, that she had to do it alone. To further illustrate, I likened that aloneness to being elbowed in the diaphragm, down on the soccer field, fighting for air. All of the hovering bodies above you as you lie on the ground can do nothing for you–you don’t even see them–as you fight the pain and fear of never breathing, diving deeply inside yourself for that will to bear it, to survive or brave surrender.
I thought the dying example was illustrative, poignant. Some stared in reflection, some in emergency-broadcast-test-pattern mode, others in churning liquid emotion. One young man gripped his head in his hands, face hidden, staring down the sheen of the teflon coated desk.
My heart winced.
I learned this term today in an elephant journal article. It means “ending a romantic relationship, by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out.”
Like the writer who defined the term, I am in the dark about new trends, words and expressions quite often despite having two teenage daughters. I often think how far behind the times I will fall when my contact with them is not daily–in my house. They keep me fresh and as close to hip and trendy as I will ever be (which is not very close), often with exasperated faces, slumped shoulders to punctuate the sheer agony of educating an older person.
However, rudeness is not confined to youth. I agree that ghosting is rude, excluding abusive relationships, of course. Treating people as if they are disposable plastic bags, discarded (probably on the ground) after use without a thought to future ramifications (pollution-physical and emotional) to other beings both human and animal is more than unkind, more than cruel. It is brutal.
The kindest gift is knowledge with all of its up and downsides. I may be rejected, feel bad about being rejected or even about myself, if someone dumps me face to face or in an email or text, but ice that rejection with someone’s cowardice or cruelty to keep me ignorant in the face of such dumping, well that is too much.
First, I not only wind up feeling rejected but ashamed on top of that. Once I discover the ghosting, I am bound to feel doubly embarrassed that I did not know the person I cared about was such a coward, such an unethical person. That is the part that would throw me into despair. How could I not know I was dealing with an asshole?
That realization–that I am stupid, unobservant and/or naive–kills me more than someone rejecting me for being me. I do not need validation from someone else, though it certainly feels wonderful to be appreciated. But I DO need to know who I am dealing with–for my own safety. For how do I make wiser decisions in the future if I have a defective bullshit detector?
The battle is always between the bravery and freedom to trust against cautiousness, the wisdom to discern others’ intentions and needs, and whether those fit my own. The difficulty, of course, is in achieving clarity, sorting through what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. They get conflated and confused sometimes. Is it me who wants exclusivity or am I capitulating to some unspoken or spoken desire of the person I HOPE to build a relationship with in time? It gets complicated picking through the nuances.
Knowledge is the best armor. Knowing the self and observing others is a lifelong study. I hardly ever get it right. The attempt is all I or anyone ever has, but the trick is to develop an intuition or listen to the one inborn, weak as it is, mixed in with recollection of tendencies and traits that are recognizably lethal.
I believe ghosters are detectable to those paying attention.
Barring the sociopaths, those who would do others harm smell differently, and I mean that more in a metaphoric than a literal sense. Tight listening to instincts, like wearing infrared goggles, reveal the dark hidden. If only we use the gear at our disposal: eyes, ears, heart and mind, take note of the signs, the hints, looks and words–not in suspicion but in curiosity, like an archeological exploration, seeing what the landscape bears underneath, hopeful of gems of discovery but mindful that the earth may be barren or even collapsable and dangerous.
Perhaps ghosting is more a phenomenom of youth with its inexperience, fewer notes on lived case studies. Or it should be. But even young people have inherent tools to sniff out fear, falsehood and feelings. If only they respect themselves and their abilities, without trepidation over likely mistakes.
Buddha proclaimed it way before I did. Suffering, though inevitable, is minimized in the mindful.
When they were little, headless operations I called them,
toddling about with no motion detection sensors,
oblivious to the science of mass in flight against
the immovable object, cause and effect, win and lose,
I feared losing their pristine purity, their soft roundness
drenched in new flesh, irradiant, to rocks and bumps
in the playground grass or sandbox, opening into
split lips or knobby eggs on their foreheads. I feared
losing them to cars in free fall, driven by madness
up on my lawn, taking my children with them, like
the newspaper clipping in the local Starbucks report.
I feared flus and asthma, pneumonia, broken bones
and stitches they could contract or suffer with
complication and then die in my arms or in their sleep.
I dreamed of kidnappings and wanderings off in
supermarkets or department store aisles, lost, lost, lost.
I walked them to school the block and a half every day.
And when they were in middle school, I dreaded
the treacherous row of absent-minded, harried
dropping-off moms vs. the brainless, twit t’weeners on
bikes, laughing and careening their wheels into traffic,
caring little for mortality the daily drive threatened
like that boy and his friend on a bike, on the same road,
on the way to school two days before the school year
start, picking up his schedule, leisurely, laughing,
peddling, looking back at his lagging friend just before
the swerve, the truck, the texting driver, the hit–gone.
I never let them ride their bikes to school, not with that.
I did not want to lose them to twenty somethings’ texts.
Just like I did not want to lose them to drugs, drunk
drivers and AIDS, cancer, concussions or accidents.
I did not want to lose them. And I lost them any way.
To friends, trends, music and driver’s licenses, to
social media and idealism, fierce loyalty and pride of
a generation angry in the wake of destruction their
parents have left them to navigate, chlorinate the gunk
of polluted finance and corrupt opinions and falsity,
falsity everywhere. I lost them to independence and
opportunity elsewhere, greener, colder, blue-skyed
distant and lonely, free and home away from home.
The hordes arrive, in families of twos and threes, all nationalities,
as I sip tepid tap water coffee, thirsty for succor in this jailhouse sweet shop.
Regulars, strangers, all alike, from the gym, retail store and pet trainer next door,
all drop by at an appointed day of the week coinciding with their weekly habits and chores.
And they ask the same questions, and look around with the same concentrated effort of choice.
The anesthetics of the daily hum through a storefront window surpass surreality–mere abstraction.
“They have too many choices,” one Yelp reviewer complained.
A desperate failure for sure, this absence of the given, circumscribed, delimited and allotted.
Failure abounds, thrives in the cracks and on roof tops, announced, derided, ridiculed and feared.
Professional success is a teflon mask of muscular smile, amused at fun house mirrors while
a stranger looks inside herself and winces at the truth: faking bemused stares.
Not a single one, no one is good enough, not since Caesarian born fær thundered alive.
A curious beacon, this failure, negative space, vertical inversion, binary split,
a vacancy, trip, stumble, snafu and inferno too–blazing bailiwick’s forest funeral.
Fiery mourning howl weeps losses unfathomable but not forlorn forever.
No one stumbles on a pavement crack unscathed, eternal-glimpsed of false stability:
reinstating an upright illusion, death defying gravity-riven, absolved, re-calibrated,
restored but bludgeoned awake by the faltering blow, newly armed in science or religion.
Yet Freud’s or the French’s little death (orgasm) requires total submission and trust–to let go of holding on without fear of being judged or betrayed by another, a body or self.
Different pathway to the same result, which is total obliteration, mind-erasure, loss of control over the world–fear and pleasure.
Both test humanity.
When terror burns its path through a being, however, surfing its electricity at sonic light, what remains is not so much silence as a spentness, a vapid stripping of nerves that leaves a permanent mark, maybe a tic, a recurring memory, or a dullness close to death.
Dopamine refuses fear the same experience as orgasm, though dopamine injects its life-loving pleasure-ful substance in both, pre-death.
Both are ineluctable surrender, an abandonment of reason and belief, a blackness in the mind’s hole.
But I’d take a cheap orgasm over a good scare any day.
Emerging from the mountain forests, Dunsmuir.
A few hours’ sleep at a rest stop north of Eugene and we rise early to greet the day bleary-eyed. Hard travel brings back the days of recent college graduate pals taking a road trip across country on $300.00, Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing on cassette the whole way. It was the 80s.
Passing through Redding, CA, I thought of you Holly and wondered how you fare. I saw your telephone listing for a massage therapist in the Redding White Pages a long time ago, which has not changed–no email address, no Facebook or Twitter listing. Maybe you no longer exist except in a journey I dreamed.
That trip marked me, the wonder and adventure of freedom: two young girls setting off to see beauty up and down the west coast and across the Rockies to DC where Holly’s pastry chef boyfriend awaited and our fabulous meal at the Watergate Hotel with chef Jean Louis pulling out the culinary stops to impress him. Best meal of my life up til then (not hard given my humble beginnings). The VolksWagen bug Don had us drive, the one built by a friend, gave us hell, but I would not have it any other way. That VW thematizes the adventures and misadventures of youth without plans or time to savor–just doing.
We laughed getting high and chasing deer in the Rockies until Holly got altitude sickness and I was tasked to figure out how I was going to get her out of the field and back to the car. I was so thin then, her too, which was unusual for her. She tended toward the thick. Her green eyes were fierce cat eyes, her brows perpetually shaped in perfect arches, a gift of her mother’s singing praises of electrolysis.
I still see her putting on lipstick, covering the thin bottom lip and then using that lip to coat the nearly non-existent upper lip. I watched that so many times. I coat my lips the same way, when I wear lipstick, which is not often. And I think of her doing that each time. Amazing how time sticks to the bones of memory, especially from youth. I recall reading that those early incipient memories recall to mind the clearest due to their being memory-etching first-timers, before much clutter dulls a mind to narrowing newness.
The green of Holly’s eyes are unmatched to the green everywhere outside Southern California, which refreshes always. Flying into LAX continually reminds me that I live on a desert, brown and brimming in short scrubby smatterings of life thrust. The effusion of greenery near Portland contrasts starkly. Of course the cloudy skies also remind me of why.
We search for breakfast. Driver’s choice so I prepare myself for sweet, blanched flour French fine pastry.
I have married my father, someone always looking for the next meal, the gourmand’s preoccupation. Only my father feasts at the other end of the culinary spectrum: Burger King hamburgers and fries.
The Columbia River pours by in majestic pines, thick lush Douglas fir lined highways guided magisterially by the Cascade mountain range overlooking its charges. Keep green. Between the Dalles and Hood River, the sun bathes the trees, big leaf maples, Ponderosa pine, cottonwood and Oregon white oak, green glossy frost. The heaviness of the dense foliage leans in to the road with a threatening call.
Crossing Bonneville dam, the daisies line the road spotty white among the tall wheatland grass and Western hemlock. Mountain crags, humps of black rock jutting through the pines decorating its crown like liberty, pop from nowhwere. Stone walls line a country road nearing the cobblestone bridge. And the clouds hover and stare.
Deforestation scars the mountain tops, golden grass exposed through the sparse trees, soldiers left standing in the war against industry, disrespect for the land, chunks of the grab gone for timber. Small vineyards orderly tucked behind a hill also pen the hand of man on nature’s back.
Hairy rocks, like my old man’s shoulders. What grows there on the spiny rocks fungus stained hard knocks of geological story?
4 hours outside Spokane.
The four hour rest at the truck stop outside of Eugene refreshed what little remains of our spunk and patience. Traveling with two teens and their corny-humored father wears the patience of even saints. I am no saint. I am not remotely patient.
The mugs and the fire burnished hills, repaired by time and patience, sprigs determined to fulfill their seeded destinies.
The Columbia Gorge, a myriad of textures and vertical measures, scrubbed to ethereal.
A huge expanse of farmland and chaparral heading east to Spokane peppered with silos and green houses on near barren landscapes under a great polka dot open sky. The clouds form cotton balls. Water sprinklers look like sin here in a drought. Perhaps Oregon has forgotten our drought. California certainly has not. Water will drive the next world or civil war, I am reminded.
The hills are dusted with aqueous green scrub, mid-high interspersed with deep forest greens and kelly greens, hunter and sage too. The nature paint protrays delightful. Somehow I think artifical irrigation is the cause.
Umatilla Irrigon region.
And she is gone. Her sister will wean her these two weeks before returning as the lone twin of upstairs living.
He complains of the enormity of it, the lack of planning, the endless driving non-stop, sleepless roadside napping round the clock and the expense of renting a van with its out of state costs, yet the real vastness of disbelief is in her leaving. While nothing is ever permanent and kids go off to college and come back, live back at home, the leaving and living on her own is an indelible shift forever away from the cocoon years that stretched from conception to that first departure.
She has left her childhood behind for good as the step back in will always be from a distance, a retrospect. Like unringing a bell, she cannot ever live the purity of those flexed years of growing up seamless from birth to first steps, first walking away to another’s hands in school, first kisses, first heartbreaks, and first flights of freedom. Thoughts of self, identity and independence color a life once only colored in coloring books, backyard swimming pools, trips to the candy store or tear-stained shoe box coffins for small beloved hamsters named Hammie.
No, your beef, man, is not with us, our slap dash, rag tag impromptu impossible road trip, the one with endless miles of road bearing insights among the natural sights and blights of countryside and cityscapes of the northwest, sorely needed respite from the daily doldrums of grinding work hours and spatial deprivation you also complain about as likely to kill you.
And here we are speaking lightly of the shame of it all, the clear cutting demoralizing the Oregon hills along the Columbia, deforestation in the Amazon rain forest and water wasted on the open expanses of thirsty crops along the Washington thoroughfare while our first born worries about being good enough to last, to make it under the pressure of intense competition and her own perceived weaknesses.
But I caught a glimpse of wince in you yesterday, the pinched frown of devastating knowledge held in check–but not enough. Despair leaked from your downward cast lower lip and fallen eyes, a momentary slip of the heart spill.
“Yeah, it’s just Jordyn leaving.”
And we each look to our respective windows for escape into the landscape upon which we hurl our pain masked in observation, a costume of the fearful. Tears haunt us. Afraid to unleash the avalanche of suffocating cold loneliness threatening to smother us.
I am sorry.
I brought her into bed with us again, she who worries
too much about her breath and her b.o.
all the wrinkles of offense, she who cringes at the thought,
the very idea that she may be seen,
imperfect as the smoke hiding the fireworks the other day,
left a trail of sooty stink looming,
threatening to mar our view, dim the shiny glee of us.
And now you know.
Though the end is not the all, not the being or culminating cause,
we were groomed to believe so,
such that her presence stays me, stems the flow, ebbing waves,
impenetrable shield, a barrier, firm and illusory, still
and empty as the notion that we need to be THE image
the key to keyhole fit
when with a flick of a switch, lights on to view the truth
veins and skin and twisted mouth
invisibly drawn to be erased in one full sweeping hearty sigh
honestly gut-of-the-mind uttered
by body belief in beauty larger than sight
holier than the mountain
we delve in for deliverance in undeniably desirous delight
release and respite, fulfilling
in its wholeness, this acceptance, this release,
this trust in blind care
for the principle, for the knowledge of us we share
enfolded, in threaded limbs
that nothing but fear she wedges between permeable doors
open-shut as the thought leaping over the falls
cascading down an embracing grip caught in the pupils’ deep
in careful sense, fragile fortitude as the spine of a lover.
photo credit: static.yourtango.com
In the Beginning, There was Stillness is in today’s elephant journal for your reading pleasure. Please enjoy, comment, like, share, email, forward, ignore and/or begrudge me the loss of a good ten minutes of your life–your choice 😉 I hope you do the first–enjoy.