Author’s Note: Yes, I’m okay. But you don’t live with CPTSD without feeling both chemically and emotionally the ripples and shutters from time to time. I often find myself wishing that, due to many years of child abuse, bartering with myself and managing my symptoms were not a part of my daily life.
A bit about myself, I have lived in Minneapolis for over three years. The riots are taking place in my neighborhood, as did George Floyd’s murder.
Like many others I am on edge tonight watching the events across Minneapolis and St. Paul unfold. However, regardless of the tension I feel there is also an overwhelming sense of catharsis and pride. In many ways it’s a relief to see people rising up and finally doing something. It fills me with hope. The government has proven time and time again that it doesn’t listen to people’s complaints on social media. The government entity does not hear when people wave signs, walk through streets and then go home in a day. This nation with its ever flashpan level attention span will consume itself, moving onto the next outrage in a blink of an eye, in a day, in an hour.
I can’t help but smile as I see people of color, youths of this nation, people of many backgrounds marching beside one another. They are celebrating in the streets, the streets that their tax dollars pay for. There is a playful, childlike joy in watching them dismantle buildings, remove pieces off of structures, build bonfires under traffic lights, dance, cheer and drink their spoils. There is something beautiful about watching fireworks erupt in the sky over a burning precinct that housed these murderers.
Property is replaceable, lives are not. And the only ones destroying lives are the police this group is attempting to hold accountable for blatant murder. Without due process, without fair incarceration, America is nothing less than tyrannical.
I marched on day one from the place of George Floyd’s murder to the Third Precinct. The only fear I felt was towards the officers. The feeling on the ground among these heroic voices is one of unity, sanctity and companionship. People are dowsing strangers’ eyes with milk when the tear gas hits them. I’ve seen them carry those injured and convulsing away who were shot by canisters or rubber bullets. They are embracing, rapping, calling out warnings to one another.
We live in a nation that does not think we are entitled to our own lives, to our own health or the care of it. Black people are systematically oppressed and disproportionately targeted time and time again. Capitalistic entities tilt our elections and our so-called representatives in their favor. They are the greatest polluters of our world and in many ways the greatest oppressors. I do not mourn their brief financial inconvenience at the hand of those truly traumatized and in grief.
These are the American people. This is the composition of this nation. Not one percent of the population who have gorged themselves on enterprise and hoarded the wealth from their hands. Not the CEOs of them which are consistently white men.
This IS America. Outnumbered, out financed, out gunned but finally saying we will be treated as human beings or we will burn an infrastructure that has cultivated our demise to the ground. We will not go silently into that good night. We will no longer bow to bureaucracy. Until black lives matter, no lives matter. These are what modern day patriots look like.
Author’s Note: In November of 2019 I went to live off grid and work on an organic farm outside of Austin, Texas for a month. I stayed in a camper from 1973 I renovated and wrote small memoir blurbs. This is one of the most poignant.
MEMOIR POST 2 - THE DEAD HEN
“They’re dead,” I announced sagely. "Everything and everyone dies.“ It was a finite statement made desperately upon a patch of sandy earth in southeast Texas. I loosed a guttural, “Huuuugh!” Into the sky, literally hanging my head back for additional dramatic effect. For a moment, I was vaguely self-conscious about this display but no one was around other than the chickens at my feet, clucking and strutting. One chicken crowed and stomped a single foot. It flapped it’s wings as though acknowledging the death of the grey hen crumpled at our feet. I stared at the odd ritual, then back to the corpse.
I understood both then and now that this level of gravitas is likely not befitting the life of a nameless hen. She is just, “chicken.” But I have no direct experience with dead things, or escorting them to their final resting places. When I was young I had a small dwarf hamster named Tutter that had died. My dad had gently carried him into the computer room, cradled in a large, callous palm, and offered kindly, “Do you want to see him?”
“Nooooo!” I howled, and ran out of the room. Death is natural, but there was something terribly unnatural about it to me. I wish I could say that uncanny feeling vacated with age and maturity but it didn’t exactly. All I know is that I couldn’t bare to see my little Tutter lifeless, even if he was but the size of a pair of cotton balls.
Those strong but tender hands that had once cupped my little dead hamster were cold when I wrapped my own hands around one of his palms. "His hands are so cold.“ I’d remarked through a shutter and then tears broke free as I stood by the casket that made him seem so small. I didn’t sob. I just cried, hard, like a helpless person does. When my father died we knew he had wanted a close casket funeral but somewhere along the line that idea had received an override by those left to grieve. He hadn’t wanted people to remember him that way, and after the funeral, I had an inkling as to why.
As I stood both staring and trying to not look at this chicken memories flooded me of pets I’d known to pass. I was there for my boyfriend when his cat was put to sleep, and when the other began to labor and then died right in his arms. More than once I had considered how grateful I was to Spooky and Baldric that they had let me be there for them at the momentous occasion that is the end of a life. Yet, when each feline was buried I had let Jason go alone, unable to look on their corpses. Afraid of what I might see as they disappeared underneath a bed of loam.
I had always been this way. When I was a girl and our dog delivered a stillborn litter I sobbed outside on the suburban sidewalk of our street in my nightgown while my younger sister (who wanted to be a nurse) helped my mother deliver the unmoving pups. When my step-father’s brother killed himself I cried terribly at his funeral and was a ghost of myself for weeks. It didn’t matter that he and I hadn’t been close. I barely new him. At a young age, every one of Death’s intrusive visits were otherworldly and bitter.
And now there was this nameless chicken, it’s death incomparable to my father’s own. This defiant chicken, who had decided to die during my journey of healing and renewal. Rude.
She had been refusing to sleep in the coop for days — opting to hide under it at night instead. While the others piled into the coop to be stowed away from the jaws of coyote or other predators, she scrambled under it to take her chances. Only when the sun warmed the sky and the coops were opened to let the others flutter out to feed, did she enter to perch alone.
Looking back on it, this behavior was likely indicative that she was nearing the end of her life. That night she had died under the coop and now she was laying there so still — like a pile of slate feathers. Morning dew glistened on her neck. When I’d come upon her I’d gasped in surprise. It was apparent immediately that she was dead, lying in a completely unnatural slump unachievable in life.
I knew right away that it was unsanitary for her to stay lying there. It was also my first day completely alone on the farm. There was no one I could defer the task of moving her to. No one to set upon this task that I myself had always avoided. So now here I was howling into the sky, trying to convince myself that this chicken was dead and that no matter how much I didn’t want to touch it I had to touch it and move it out of the pen.
I stood in the sand trying to force my brain to reckon with the fact that the chicken was not going to move. "It isn’t sick or debilitated. It’s dead. It’s not going to move now or ever again. Really? Are we sure.” I had to process, “No it’s really never moving again and nothing I do can change that. It’s final.” I felt cold some where deep inside.
I’m on a farm. And chickens die on a farm sometimes. "Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock,“ John (the farmer and my host) had warned me with a chuckle.
"Goddammit.” The sentimental, mostly vegetarian in me, wanted to say something to mark this occasion which I’m sure my hosts, now callous to chicken death, would’ve have groaned or laughed at. This chicken didn’t even have a name. It’s just a chicken. And now it died. It’s no one’s fault, it just died and that’s how things were. "You were a good chicken,“ I finally decided on with a gulp. Was she? I have no idea.
I reached down with my work gloves, the body felt heavy and everything in my body crawled. I stepped back. Another five minutes explaining to myself things die, and this was my task. I was going to hold my own on this farm, so help me.
Another round of my mind flashing back to the pets I’d watched surrender to darkness and what I had learned from those moments. I thought of what it might be like when my dogs pass. Would I be so remiss then to cradle their small bodies one last time? My heart broke a little at that thought but I knelt down, took a deep breath and very gently lifted the hen from the ground.
It’s bony feet were curled. It’s tiny head and bushy neck lulled back almost delicately. I rested the little body in a tote and found myself adjusting it so that it wouldn’t lay on its head or neck, as though it might find that uncomfortable. I had to remind myself that she no longer felt anything. I carried the tote away from my body illogically anticipating the chicken might spring out at me, and then as my boots crunched up the hill I huddled the tote more comfortably to my body. I trekked along in resigned silence.
I got to the house in time to see that John was just pulling out. I hadn’t missed him after all. He lifted the creature by its feet and rest it in the back of his truck. "It took everything in me to pick up that chicken.” I confessed. He gave me a smile that was both sympathetic but rueful.
“Sometimes chickens just die, it probably won’t be the last time.” I nodded and wished him safe travels. He bid me a good day. I crunched back up the hill and stowed the once again empty tote in my Jeep.
I embarked on this journey largely in part because my father’s death had left me feeling changed, hollow and wounded. Stowed in the confines of a suburban household I was listless, heavy. The walls became a reflective chamber with no tunnels or corridors towards escape. There was only rumination of thought like chewing on already regurgitated cud. I could not obtain peace through anything side of me, it was time to reach outward.
During my walks among the rustling leaves and cool nights however, I had felt free. Something called me beyond the shores of a linear lifetime spent roaming a cage of drywall. I yearned to — if not attain my father’s joy for life and those he loved — then to at least strive towards it. I wanted to work with my hands, feel fatigue in my body at night and go to bed satisfied with my day’s work.
I thought of my Zazen Buddhist practice and studies. I recalled, as I often do, the stories of the Buddha, sitting in meditation, legs crossed with his fingertips pressed to the earth. It’s called the Earth Witness mudra. The story goes that as Siddartha obtained enlightenment under the bodhi tree he reached down to touch the earth, quite literally grounding himself, and the Earth cried, “I am his witness.” Fibers of carpet and scored linoleum did not offer the same effect I yearned for. I wanted to go to bed with dirt under my nails. I wanted to touch the earth.
So I embarked in a camper that’s older than I am and took a chance on this gorgeous farm in southeast Texas ran by one of the most generous married couples I have ever encountered.
The stages of grief and the stages of enlightenment share a certain quality. The pursuit of acceptance. Part of life is sitting with death, and I am grateful to this nameless chicken who taught me another lesson. As I took that small body into my hands, and lifted it from the sand I believe I cradled acceptance there too. Maybe there isn’t as much gravitas in the death of a single bird as I wanted to assign to it, but maybe there was just enough.
I started writing this before he died and finished it after I found out. I will always be here with you — looking for you and seeing you everywhere. Dedicated to my adopted father and grandfather who privileged an abused and broken girl with knowing unconditional love beyond two singular lifetimes.
Years since that girl looked up, longing for escape I must wonder when? When did the darkness enraptured me instead of the stars? I once pursued those distant suns but it was the endless sky of void that encompassed me on my way to them. Shadow of nothingness interspersed with glimpses of light. It is the darkness I received like an old friend turned lover. It was the darkness, I realized, that had been with me all along.
The stars, though beautiful and bright, remained an ideal some where intangible, otherworldly and make-believe. Perhaps their place as a totem served it’s purpose, but it was not enough to satiate the lust that they had planted in me. For that, the darkness was there.
My paramour - never meant to be overcome. My muse, rarely embraced though it can not be out run. When I turned with outstretched fingers we met at last. The tips of my fingers burned. I pressed my hand to something more profound than my singular existence and greater than fear. How many before me had come to this same place? This holy ground where I feel the most at peace despite a slight obligatory note of reverent unease? How long have you been here - waiting for acceptance? Longer than any one of us will know.
I kneel at this temple, light to my back. Before me a pyramid of imperceptible obscurity. I sit in silence, waiting at the fault line where the shadows stain the light gray. A lack of light permeates the world in the deafening shadow of a wedged obelisk.
My pursuit of those intangible stars has relented instead to the whims of their host. The darkness enveloped me with deceptive easy. It wound its way into my threadbare life and reinforced it’s gossamer folds. The chisels edge, the needles prick - you’ll find my lover there. My tapestry is woven anew with abundantly dyed fibers that slip, indiscernible around those cheapened, mass produced parched threads on which I once relied.
Assimilation shatters to the ground and what remains is carved by the hand that’s taken me. Soon, I stand faceted with a multitude of sharp smooth faces. My shoulders are draped in my lover’s heavy cloak. I am pulled in deathly close. I am bridled by my need to be shaped, released and pulled from the constraint of my shell. My body is a husk that will never reflect the art you’ve made of me.
Do we love what we fear? With their hand on my neck I flirt with the abyss. When my back arches on a bed of soft, twisted cotton my chest breaks open like the wires of a cage pried apart or the guts of a crushed grape. Everything my body contains escapes unseen in that place where eyes fail to see. Let me ferment - make me wine. All of those things, unbound by atoms stretch out and I am one with rapture. I occupy nothingness. I am the sky that holds those stars. I obtain them, swallow them, touch them like I touch my own beating heart every moment it sits in my chest. I am the stars themselves.
I carry that expanse of void in my belly. Breath stolen from my throat, no oxygen to speak of. Force bearing down on me. I am immersed in a pressure that suspends my form even as it threatens to demolish me. I am cradled wondering - is this the time I am wholly devoured?
Just as we reach the zenith where fear and delight align I am guided back down. I recede into a scaffolding of bone surrounded by a pillow of flesh to the muted gentle whispers of a union - promised some day unknown.
Tethered by ropes of arteries, bound by strings of nerve I am constrained once again. In your domain I was free.
One day, I know, you will permanently absolve me from this prison of choices. When that day will come I do not know, and when you take me there will be no words to speak. Granted liberty, in the recesses of my own mind I loath you yet yearn for the respite of you. I am greedy for the terrible pain you inflict if only to feel exponential relief in it’s absence.
May we always meet in the shadow of ambiguity until you guide me into the darkness. May I meet your masterful touch with bravery, now then and eternally.
Author’s Notes: I’ve been dealing with death a lot lately. My dad has been in the ICU since December (four months as I’m writing this.) We thought we would lose him many times now and we still may yet. At one point the doctors told us that if we didn’t opt for surgery he had an hour and a half to live. Quite the diagnosis.
This hasn’t been easy on me. I’ve struggled to live. Anxiety is such a tragically overused word but I’ve experienced some of the worst attacks of my life and struggled now to form a reliance on medication in the process. It’s been a battle for him and for myself.
At some point through this process I realized my family and I had begun to talk about death in a very candid way that might even seem callous to some. This discussion was sired out of necessity. It’s cliche how pertinent the stages of grief are. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and here we are. We followed that map to the letter, although of course you’re never self aware enough to realize it fully on the way along.
Not unexpectedly I’ve been questioning my own life. My love of the macabre, my relationship with death and even the level of violence I enjoy in the bedroom. Part of adapting to the level of acceptance that I’ve had is greatly looking at hard truths. I feel this has elevated me to one of the truest forms of myself that I’ve ever experienced. It’s incredibly liberating although desperately sad to genuinely internalize how finite life is.
When I wrote this piece I was thinking of Freud conceptualizing that we all secretly love what we fear and how are sexuality ties into the maternal and paternal experiences we have as children. While some of his more shaky attempts at trying to pass off his philosophy as hard science have been dismissed he still has some relevant points to this day.
It is also likely important to note that as a pansexual woman I felt it necessary to refer to void in gender neutral terminology.
I wrote this piece thinking of what I feel when I am being dominated and how it all ties in to something so much deeper in the (or should I say my) psyche? The faces change but there’s been a love of BDSM in my bedroom for as long as I’ve had a tangible sexuality. What does it all mean? I’ll likely never have the whole answer but I do feel that it’s better to love the dark parts of existence and the meaning they bring. I’ll take that over blind self-righteousness any day.