By: Ashley Beth
- I Had A Dream–And You Were In It, and You and You
“I was trying to explain my situation to myself. My situation was that I was in pain and nobody knew it, even I had trouble knowing it. So I told myself, over and over, You are in pain. It was the only way I could get through to myself. I was demonstrating externally and irrefutably an inward condition.” ~Susanna Kaysen, ‘Girl, Interrupted’
These past few days that I’ve been home in Rhode Island, I feel like I have been awakening from a bad dream. A bad dream playing out in front of a brain that was enduring a very restless, feverish sleep. I remember the bit in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ when Tom Hanks’ title role character’s life long friend and partner, Jenny, finally returns to his ‘Mama’s home’ in Greenbow, Alabama. She slept. She slept for days. She was so exhausted. I’m exhausted.
Actually, I guess, I *was* exhausted. I have been resting so much since I’ve pulled into the driveway of that corner lot that my parents bought in 1991, right in the middle of the Rhode Island Credit Union crisis. It was yellow when we bought it. A few years later, my Mother would be inspired to paint the house after one of her favorite colors; Peach. And just like my Mother and my own forms of expressions are often misinterpreted and therefore criticized, so too was the color of our house. One disgruntled, male neighbor once remarked that the “orange” color made our home resemble a Jack O’Lantern. (Now, anyone who knows my affinity for pumpkins knows this would be a joyous realization to me. Indeed,—-I remember thinking: “Ayep. And what *exactly* about that is a problem?”)
Anyways, (squirrel was chasing an acorn), I have been finding myself dozing off and craving the horizontal bliss of a quiet, empty-except-for-me bedroom, for the first time in a very long time. For a very long time, the thought of retiring to bed alone, where my thoughts had me all to themselves and there were no distractions to rely on as I lay down to an experience of undoubtedly staring into the darkness, terrified me. I found myself needing a ‘Blankie.’
Now, I think we can all agree that blankies are one of most primitive coping mechanisms the developing human mind is exposed to. And they work. They work universally, across lands, cultures, religions and languages. And they’re cheap. They are washable. And mendable. However, just like any coping mechanism, a blankie must eventually be outgrown.
Well, you can’t really take your blankie to your first day of school. (Unless you’re Linus). Or your first date. Or the Prom. I mean, you could *try* to make a dress or suit out of it but the chances it will match the trends of the day and the odds that every bodily or otherwise fluid will be banished from its fibers after years of gripping, wrapping, chewing and wiping your nose- well, best to just tuck it away in a shoebox then.
For me, my blankie was a person to share the darkness and loneliness with. Don’t misunderstand me, it couldn’t just be anybody. I was absolutely selective of who I would introduce to the messiness of my house, the kitchen I never prepared meals out of, the store-bought clothing that were still in their store bags, or falling out of my closet, and of utmost intimacy—-my superlative stuffed animal collection. But it was a coping mechanism. A crude one, at that. A risky one that was disrespectful to the person that thought they were in for a partnered experience, and ultimately a coping mechanism that was destructive to my self-confidence and independence. In the words of George Carlin, “That’s never good.”
It became a pattern of behavior assumed every time I exited an establishment with a liquor license within 3 feet of a person who I was seen talking to. A couple times people would just happen to be exiting simultaneously as myself to merely smoke a cigarette outside. The more chivalrous would walk me to my car. Some would just come over to continue the stimulating conversation. But a lot of times—-I was looking for connection with people.
I was surprised and disappointed to learn how much other people picked up on the patterns of my behavior. It was like, “Really? You reflect on me that much? I don’t even reflect on me that much.” Something that I learned later was not necessarily a good thing. Then again, what you did is what you did, in the past, history, and only a learning opportunity. As Mainers say so well and so blissfully, “It is what it is.”
It was at this point in my life where I absorbed another layer of the meaning of the phrase the character named Marmee, the mother in Louisa May Alcott’s famed novel “Little Women,” remarked decoratively and enlightened: ”Nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself.” Oh boy. Did that fit my sentiments to a tee. I heard myself constantly saying “Who cares what I do? Who I do it with? Can’t they see I’m hurting? Can’t they see how lonely and far from my old friends and family I am?” ”Don’t they understand how demanding my job is? How far I have to drive each day? How many hours a day my hands are occupied serving someone else, and not myself? How critical it is that I pay attention to the task at hand lest I make an error filling a prescription and endanger the life of a patient?”
I asked these questions to myself. To other people. Hell, to anyone who would listen. Or who I thought was listening. Or worse, who I forced to listen to me. I pretty much got the same answer every time. ”They don’t care. Nobody cares. All they see is that you have something they don’t have. They see you doing something that they perceive they themselves cannot now or ever do. And that makes them speculative of you. It probably also makes them jealous of you.”
I have never known a woman to be comfortable with other people feeling jealous of her.
It makes a target of you. It’s like walking into the Coliseum full of unhappily married woman about come to watch Miss Scarlet O’Hara with the Scarlet Letter on her Scarlet Dress be paraded around in front of a bunch of angry bulls. Afterwards they will throw her ravaged body into a lake to see if she floats. Then they will burn her soggy body at the stake to dry her out. Then use the ashes to line the bottoms of outhouses. That is how hated I felt.
I felt like Nancy Kerrigan. Skating gracefully and angelically around the ice while Tonya Harding’s ex-husband lurks in the darkness behind the bleachers. Watching. Waiting. Waiting for that right moment to whack Nancy’s leg several times, just for good measure, all around her knee. I will never forget the video of Nancy sobbing on the floor of the ice rink on January 6, 1994 screaming “Why Why? Why?!” over and over again. To this day it is one of the most disturbing videos for me to watch. I cry every time. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do women become so viciously jealous of the blessings upon other women? What is the entitlement they feel they have to take them away? How do they believe that taking a blessing upon somebody else will be a blessing upon them?
We have seen throughout history that vindictive theft of the blessings of others do not bring peace to the thieves who feel justified for taking them. Rather, they are forever cursed with the anxiety that someone will take from them just as they have taken from others. They are doomed to feel they have to keep watching their back. Constantly asking “Who goes there?” Never again able to trust others around them to not commit a vengeful act that they themselves could not stop themselves from doing. And when they say Karma is a Bitch, They are Absolutely Right.
Vengeful acts tend to come back at you times three. Just like mindful acts of kindness do. Just like hedge funds do. As we can see—-hedge funds can also promote growth or catastrophic disaster. When Ruth Madoff was dethroned from being the Queen of 53 and Third in Manhattan, also known as The Lipstick Building. People weren’t just happy to see her husband sentenced to die in jail. They weren’t just happy to hear that she begged the SEC and FBI agents not to take her mink fur coats. ”Anything,” she cried, “you can have everything but my mink fur coats. Oh please let me keep them.The Winter of my Life is here. And it will be as cold as the Winters of the people who invested a lifetime of income to my husband’s Ponzie schemed hedge fund.”
People weren’t just satisfied with that. Nope. Ruth Madoff got things thrown at her while she rode the subway. Once a New York/Palm Beach/Mediterranean socialite riding Lincoln and limousine town cars down some of the most glamorous avenues on Earth, she would now live the rest of her days getting angry eyes and rotten tomatoes thrown at her while clinging to her paper recyclable grocery bag in the same underground tunnels at which she formerly raised her nose.
And I guess that’s why I never felt comfortable with sticking my nose in the air. Gliding around with the full knowledge, acceptance and exploitation of the assumed jealousy from others who were not blessed with what I was blessed with. Even if those blessings were things I had worked countless nights, weekends and student loan financed-with-record-breaking-interest school semesters packed with science courses to achieve. (I suppose you could say I was blessed with the Will to pursue those Earthly possessions.) But my loneliness, anxiety and the need for validation from others clouded the Grace to receive such gifts.
Eventually I would come to resent my blessings. I wished I was older. I wished I was bald. I wished I could walk around my workplace and certain nights downtown with a paper bag over my head. Don’t look at me as a piece of ass. Don’t look at me as a young thing. Don’t look at me as a loaded checking account. I just wanted to be seen for who I was.
In hindsight, I have determined that what that desire of being seen really was, was that I wanted to see me for who I was. It showed. If you asked anyone who worked at the bars I frequented often (pretty much on a daily basis) or anyone who worked with me, they would tell you I would often be seen looking at my own reflection of myself in the mirror.
Even when I was talking to someone. One male partner of mine even once passive aggressively remarked to me, as he was seated next to me at the bar, “You look good, huh?”
“What?” I would reply. Thinking inside my head, Does he really think I’m checking myself out? How can he think I’m that full of myself? I’m not. I mean, I certainly don’t love myself right now. In fact, I don’t even know if I know who ‘myself’ is. On most days, I’m disappointed, frustrated and disgusted with myself. How can he not see that?”
These questions I would ponder over with my own inner dialogue would never be justifiably answered. More importantly, I do not need them to be answered. That is, not in the context of how those questions pertained to the male who was next to me asking them. (He also turned out to be a complete dunce of an idiot who I was convinced could not utter a declarative sentence without punctuating it with the word ‘dude.’) He was therefore not worthy of those answers, and ultimately, to my disappointment, was not intellectual or empathetic enough to understand them. In the words of Simon Cowell, “You are so goddamned terrible and untalented, sweetheart. Never attempt to get in front of my attention again. Next!”
Anyways, squirrel. The best way I could describe my relationship with myself and the others around me during my ‘bad dream’ was the equivalent to being a sole species of exotic animal on a long-standing, well-respected and tight-knit farm. On this big old Northern Maine farm of my Life, with all the animals gathering round the watering hole, crying out for their fellow species, I was alone. I was also confused to my identity. I found I did not ‘moo’ like the cows. How come I didn’t ‘moo’ like the cows? How come?! Why not?! Ok fine, I’m not a f***ing cow. Eff cows. Bony, boxy animals just friggin’ standing there waiting to be tipped over. Go udder something passive aggressive, why don’t ya?
And the pigs. I was not welcome amongst the pigs. I found I was uncomfortable condescending to eating slops from a trough and I didn’t enjoy rolling around in my own Shit. To top it all off, I did not “oink” like the pigs. I was not easily tickled pink. And they turned hoof and stuck their curly tails in my face. I remember because it tickled my ears. And it smelled like shit.
And don’t even get me started on the goddamn chickens. Cluck cluck cluck, cluck cluck cluck, CLUCK. That’s all they ever friggin’ did. Texting rapid fire gossip to each other as they sat contentedly on their blessed eggs. In their coops. Ignorant to all the fisher cats and foxes of life. As much as I was amused and comforted by the surrounding echo of their “clucks” I was relatively more disappointed to find that I just couldn’t friggin cluck with the laissez-faire, je ne sais quoi that that these hens would produce from out their coop. Not to mention the submissive yet uproarious commotion they would make every time they were paid a visit by his Majesty the Rooster. Running around him like teenage girls would upon the awaited presence of Elvis, or John Lennon. It was friggin’ pathetic.
I Hated Sheep. “Baaaahhhh.” Oh give it the eff up. We all know even if anyone were to respond to your persistent, minimal input yet passive aggressive “baaaaaahhhhs” that you wouldn’t respond to them anyways. Nope. You would just go silent. Go mutedly silent while blindedly following any shiny shepherd whom they perceived to be their savior. I could never get comfortable with their silence punctuated by panicky “baaaahhhs.” Not to mention, for all that useless “baahh”-ing they would say not a peep and reduce themselves to absolute silence come Butcher time. I wanted to shake their woolly coats around and get them to wake up! Don’t you realize you’re about to be murdered? Betrayed by the very knife that slaughtered the lamb next to you? And the black sheep who went first before all the others? I guess not. Or perhaps they did realize. Perhaps they fell victim to the same trapping mentality of victims of domestic violence. What good would screaming do? What good would running do? In the end, we all end up in a tiny, pine box. (ya, Terrance Zdunich) or on somebody’s plate for nourishment.
That’s the definition of term Gothic, my mother would tell me. She told me from her literature course that “Gothic” is a term which refers to the act of offering a soul up to serve another. Who was I serving?
It certainly wasn’t myself.
Who wanted to eat me? Last time I checked, I didn’t taste that good. I would hear it from ex-lovers. Men who would perceive me as appetizing only to realize that what they thought was a soft veal tenderloin was really a tough, resistant piece of flank steak. Ultimately “too much” and indigestible to them. I still haven’t figured out what metaphorical farm animal I am. I would like to think I am the Owl. Or the Squirrel hopping from the rafters above the animals. Able to see everything, observe and report to his buddies as he flies from branch to branch on his way down to Florida, where the trees grow pineapples, maaan! I hear they grow friggin’ pineapples!!! And coconuts! And, oh shit—-another acorn just fell. Catch ya later, dude!
Anyways, squirrel. (Ha! See what I did there? Did you, did you pick that up, because—-ya, ok, wicked off topic. Congrats for staying with me this far. 30 days since my last prescribed, stimulant dose—-and Mikey he likes it! By George I think she’s got it. Pickering!!! She’s got it! Now tell me, ‘Liza, where does it rain????) I was able to determine that I did not utter sounds that were typical to the typical barn.
What is the definition of a barn anyway? My grandmother used to send my grandfather “Up Barn, where he Belongs” when he used to get too smart with her, or criticize her for being on her 20th cigarette of the day.) I remember being confused because this ‘Barn’ in question was more of a car garage/work shed than a big red, three story structure which housed the ‘moo cows.’ In the end, I found. I wasn’t cut out for a farm. traditional. Too Old MacDonald. (Old MacDonald was a grumpy dick, anyways. Especially after he caught the “diabetuss”..) And that “EE-EYE, EE-EYE, OH would get stuck on Repeat in my head to the point where I would sing it at an inopportune or inappropriate time and get a look far worse than any black sheep could ever be exposed to.
So here I sit.
Back on, what I ironically type, is a sea-side, stone-walled farm, atop a hill that belonged to the Tefft Family. Every morning I wake up to the view of their old farmhouse outside my bedroom window. I guess it took coming back to my childhood bedroom to get over my fear of sleeping alone. Of being alone. Of thinking alone. To realize the extreme necessity and benefits of being able to Be Alone.
I remember in one of my manic spending sprees I went into Books a Million to buy a journal. Just one journal. That was all I needed. That day, when I left that store, I ended up buying five. It might have even been more than five I was indecisive, and scared that I would leave the store with the horrific realization that I had picked the wrong one. It’s not that money was a limiting factor to erring in my purchase. It was that I did not trust my own decisions and self-control so much as to re-visit the store without screaming and making a scene in public. At that time, I could not go anywhere without screaming. The bar. The Mall. The hair salon. I knew I had to control myself at work. I knew I had to control myself for the privacy of my psychiatrist’s office. But on the phone, in the car, at home with my boyfriend, I would scream.
It’s tragic to realize how poorly I recognized that I was screaming. It’s confusing to ponder why so few people actually brought it to my attention. And for a time, I resented the people I used to scream at for not bringing to my attention the fact that I was screaming. Why they weren’t handing me my blankie, like I was so desperately asking for. I realized that what I was asking for was too heavy a demand for anyone to put on anybody but themselves. What’s worse, was that I had no idea how heavy the loads I was putting on others actually were. Or worse, how much I was pushing them away with my cries and needy clings for my blankie. I was horrified at the suggestion from my psychiatrist that the behavior I was demonstrating was not only disrespectful to others, but ultimately disrespectful and disruptive to myself, as this behavior would accomplish nothing more than the isolation of myself from the exciting, beautiful world I was screaming so hard to be a part of.
She was right.
Isolation is exactly what happened. Pretty soon, my employer didn’t want me. My boyfriend was afraid of me. A person who self-proclaimed themselves my ‘best-friend’ wanted to hurt me and my parents needed two Coors’ Lights and an hour of hot tub after a mere five minute conversation with me. I became a monster. A monster banished to a high dungeon tower, smoking like a fiend and sending out what I thought were intelligible, justified cries for help from social media and the telephone. All the while thinking I was progressing.
Instead what I found was that I was progressing ever closer to the precipice that is insanity. Pretty soon people started not just to avoid me socially, but to physically avoid me. I was unwelcome at after parties. I was asked to leave bars. People would just be trying to walk to the bathroom but would think better of it when they saw me in their path. I was the Villain.
At the time, my last remaining abilities of self-projection could only visualize Cruella de Ville, eyes blood shot, slamming her high-heeled foot onto the gas pedal of her roadster, manically chasing after the spotted skins of those 101 innocent Dalmations. Negligent and enraged after realizing that Love commands a priority higher than whatever monetary value she could write out with her black fountain pen onto her never-empty check book. (Later on I would refer to Disney’s portrayal of her fountain pen for the pen I now have tattooed on my right arm. A sign that my first tattoo has symbolized a right of passage to My Life After My Tumultuous Year at the Age of 27.)
But in the end, I am grateful for the incredibly valuable lessons I have learned in my 27th year of existence. Which is why I felt it prudent to mark a piece of my skin forevermore with symbols which remind me of What I Learned, What I Value and Who I Am. I have learned that Who I Am, is an Eclectic, Progressive Woman who has boundless Energy, Motivation and Hope to Improve the World around me. I have found this self-realization to be consistent with some observations of personalities born on November 4, which I will paste here for self-reference and “huh, wouldn’t you know” factor.
To instigate reform. The life path of people born on this day is to learn to take a more neutral, balanced perspective. Once they are able to tone down their enthusiasm to a level that supports but does not offend, their destiny is to effectively present their viewpoints to instigate reform.” Personal
Power Thought :
“The greatest excitement and adventure is found within”
Well, chicken in a bucket. I wish I had found that website ages ago. But I ask myself, “Ashley, would you really have been able to listen to it? To truly absorb it’s meaning? You couldn’t even listen to your favorite music without having the volume turned up to the highest decibel and even then it was never loud enough to break through the irritating Hum the stimulants you were prescribed and the technology feet from which you sucked consequentially and adversely afflicted upon you. Like every tough period in life, we arrive at the conclusion that there is no sense in wasting energy on Why Something Happened. But more, that It Happened. And that Everything Happens for a Reason.
The question is, What did you Learn from it? I have learned to never stop learning. I have found a great, inspirational teacher in Boston-hailed, Dresden Dolls pianist/singer/songwriter Amanda F Palmer. Also the wife of graphic novelist Neil Gaiman whose famed work ‘Sandman’ tells the story of the roles of Sleep, Dreams, Death and Loneliness that we all must face eventually. One of the most inspirational pieces of advice Ms. Palmer got from her Yoga teacher was this:
“You are alone. You will die alone. And most importantly, help is not on the way.”