Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla

I’m sitting at a teahouse in Eugene listening to Mozart’s Requiem in my headphones… really loud. I’ve had trouble getting myself to write lately. Writing makes me feel so naked, I’m always afraid my underlying emotional volatility will spill out like a genie from a bottle, and I won’t be able to cram it back in again.

I have a separate peace with myself… I’ve figured out how to stay clean, but that’s it. Maybe I was naive to think that the same brain that forced me to shoot heroin for 11 years was a functioning brain in any sense of the word.

I’m not “better.” Will I ever be “better”? I am just BARELY able to keep the surface of myself from falling apart, keep up the facade that I am just like any other student going to class and sitting at cafes writing. The reality slips through every now and then, I say strange things in class and then kick myself later. I still can’t make eye contact. Talking to other humans is always an adventure… depending on the day, I might come across as a capricious eccentric or as a seriously disturbed basket case who can’t follow a simple conversation.

I remember 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 years ago, all the way up to January 2014, I prayed to a god I don’t believe in with the force of a million suns, that if I could just stop doing heroin, everything would be perfect, forever. Did I really believe everything would be easy after that? I think I had a hard enough time picturing a version of myself who was able to think about something other than heroin for longer than a few seconds.

You are shipwrecked in a stormy sea, thrown into the drink from your shattered hull, drowning in dark water. Suddenly you come to a tiny island and drag yourself coughing onto a rock. You kiss the ground and sob from joy. Then you look up and realize your tiny island has no fresh water and no source of food, and the ocean stretches out on all sides.

Life is change. That time I had an ego-melting mushroom trip in 2003, when I became the entire universe, I looked into the heart of everything that is, and saw the nature of reality. Exponentially increasing strangeness. That’s what I saw. I saw the infinite complexity of everything, laid out before me, and just when I would start to comprehend what it meant, it would jump up a dimension, get stranger still, strangeness squared, cubed… The strangeness is eating itself, is what I thought at the time, as I rolled around on the floor and bit Eva’s thigh so hard I drew blood. But that’s a story for another time.

I suppose things do improve, slowly. Remember when I wrote about my door last year? I think that was in my old blog, maybe? How relieving it is to have a door that locks, to have control over my own space, to have no one in my personal space who is touching me without my consent. I don’t stare at my door so much anymore. I still think about the door when I’m feeling extra panicky. The door tells me no one can hurt you here. Do I sound crazy enough yet?

Now I have more anger than fear. I imagine that every guy on the street is going to catcall me or try to grab me… even though that never really happened much in Eugene, it’s more of a big city thing. But I’ll see some guy on the street who is about to walk past me and imagine that he’s about to say something, and I involuntarily picture kicking him in the balls, scratching his eyes out, and this wave of rage flows over me just as I pass him… then he says nothing, walks past, and I try to take a deep breath and keep going. Not every guy is a scumbag, I try to tell myself.


There is this scene in Top of the Lake, maybe my favorite TV show, ever. It was a mini-series, six episodes. Directed by Jane Campion, who directed The Piano. Anyway. It’s a dream-nightmare of gorgeous, moody, blue-tinged cinematography. The main character, Robin, is played by a beautiful Elisabeth Moss. She’s a detective who comes back to her hometown and gets involved trying to find a missing girl in a town full of secrets. When she was 16, she was gang-raped, and one of the rapists is still around in the town. She has never dealt with the trauma, and being back in this town that time forgot, where misogyny is rampant, dredges up her memories.

One night Robin’s drinking at a bar and her rapist, Sarge, sidles up to her and tries to pick her up with a lame joke that serves as a metaphor for the whole story. He doesn’t recognize her as the girl he raped some 10 years earlier.

Random guy: Hey! – Do you know what the perfect murder weapon is?
Sarge: No, get fucked, that’s what I do.
Guy: Go on, you tell her then, Sarge.
Sarge: An icicle stalagmite. Ta-da! Cause after you stab them, it melts. It self-destructs. … I know you from somewhere, don’t I? You’re not a Sydney girl, hmm? Too classy for you to be a Sydney girl. I reckon it’s like a picnic races or something.
Robin: You don’t remember me, do you?
Sarge: Probably the royal easter show, I’m thinking.
Robin: No.
Sarge: Yeah? Did we fuck or something? We fucking did, didn’t we?

Robin is trying to control herself but a millisecond after he suggests that maybe they had “fucked,” she calmly, in one fluid motion, smashes her wine glass against the bar, stabs him with the broken glass, and starts screaming:

You remember me now asshole? You remember me now, asshole? Do you remember me now? Do you remember me now you motherfucker? Fuck you, piece of fucking shit! Fuck you piece of fucking shit! Fucking remember me now? Do you fucking remember me you piece of shit?
…as her boyfriend drags her out of the bar and throws her in a puddle, and she falls into the water, sobbing.

The first time I saw that scene, I had the most intense emotional reaction to anything I’ve ever seen in a movie or TV or read in a book… the whole show was very emotional for me, but that scene reached into the darkest corner of my soul, where all my hate and anger had been hiding, and pulled it out to the surface in the span of a minute. The scene comes out of nowhere — most of the rest of the show has a slow-build feeling — and then suddenly there is this flash of pure cathartic rage. I wanted to BE her, I wanted to be stabbing that guy, I wanted to be stabbing him continuously for the rest of my life. None of the drugs I’ve done even come close to comparing with the rush I got from that scene.

I didn’t even realize I had that much rage in me before I saw that. I would complain to M. or whomoever was around, telling them stories about my sick, horrible escort clients or my abusive exboyfriends, sure, I had anger. But that scene sliced through any defenses I had left. I felt like I was the one who had been stabbed, but it felt fucking good.

For days, weeks, and months after I watched it, I thought about that scene every single day, many many times a day. I would play through it in my mind in the shower, as I got dressed, in any downtime at school, lying in bed at night. No matter how many times it ran through my mind, it never lost its power.

Last Christmas I was home at my parents’ house. I had the DVD, and decided to watch it again. I watched the whole series from episode one, but the whole time all I was thinking about was getting to that one scene. It’s in episode four. I knew I was going to feel something when I saw it again, but I wasn’t prepared when I started sobbing, loud, ugly, with tears streaming down my face. I skipped back and watched it again. And again. And again. Probably 20 or 30 times, mouthing along with Robin’s words: YOU REMEMBER ME NOW? Then I pressed stop and just sat there rocking back and forth and wiping my snot off my face.

Those outpourings of emotion are good, I think. My therapist told me that people with PTSD don’t start feeling the fallout of their trauma until the trauma is over. While you’re still in the horror, you’re running on adrenaline and pure survival instinct. Whether that’s for a momentary attack or years at war or a decade of incremental abuse and violation…

I didn’t start having those emotional breakdowns until I got clean “for real” in January 2014. Before that I would have freakouts and panic attacks but the pain didn’t cut into my soul, it was surface pain. It was, how do I get through this moment, how do I get through this one situation… or usually, how do I make $300 today so I don’t get dopesick again. I wasn’t really FEELING the weight of everything I went through. It feels good, now, in a way. It feels good to cry, like I’m working through all that shit. I don’t think I ever cried about it — I mean REALLY cried, about all of it, not just about whatever was happening at that moment — until the second time I watched that Top of the Lake scene.

This entry probably makes it seem like I’m losing my mind… well I’m always losing my mind… but things have been good. I graduated, for one. I got an internship up in Portland, probably at WW. (It’s through a program, so I still have to be placed at a publication.) Just when I thought I was through with Oregon and Portland, 100% ready to move to New Orleans, I get this dream internship. “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.” ha. I can’t really handle Portland anymore. It’s always been perfect, well now it’s too perfect. I can’t handle being around people who have never had any real problems. I know I’m irrational and that people in Portland have problems too. Well, I’ll see if it feels any better now that I’m clean and (possibly) employed, or at least interning.

There were places where the luxury dropped away, where I waited. I saw something flash open then lost it.

XOXOXO

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When my idol left it broke. My back it broke my legs it. Broke clouds in the sky broke. Sounds I was. Hearing still hear.

her favorite flower as a childLast night I dreamed about Eva again. I dream about her at least once a week, usually more. Some of the dreams are amazing, like the one where we had on dresses made out of tiny lights (not like LED, something more glowy) and we were dancing on a roof with flowers that also glowed.

Most of the dreams are upsetting. Usually she dies and then I spend the dream consumed by regret.

Last night’s dream was more complex and subtle, though even more meaningful. She was helping me move to New Orleans. For some reason it was a big secret, we had to leave in the middle of the night and take a lot of weird precautions. (This reminds me of when she helped me run away from L., her boyfriend at the time, who was so psychotically angry at me for no reason, because he believed I hated men/him, when really I was just trying to stick up for Eva and not be a doormat in response to his abuse and his insistence that I give him all the money I was making at the political job where we were working. One night he started to completely lose it and she feared for my safety, so before he got back from the bar we came up with an escape plan for me. I have a flash of a memory of running diagonally across El Camino Real around midnight on a damp spring night, with her small green Oscar de la Renta suitcase she’d bought at a thriftstore, hastily packed with a few days of clothing and $80 she put in my hand, looking over my shoulder as I ran to see if he had gotten back to the motel yet, running to the bus stop at the corner and taking the bus to the CalTrain station, shivering into a couple hours sleep on a bench, wrapped tight in my jacket that my cousin N. had given me, that belonged to her best friend Jan who had shot herself the year before, the black coat had a plush lining and a fake fur collar, but even San Jose is cold in March at 3 am, then killing time with Denny’s coffee until dawn, then the train to San Francisco. I could never convince her to leave him. No wonder I’m still unreasonably afraid of being cold.)

Maybe in the dream I was reliving that night, but trying to take her with me this time. When we got to New Orleans, she helped me move into my apartment. I woke up the next morning and she was gone. The memory loss I experience in real life happened in the dream — I took my camera to the store to get some photos printed from my trip, and as I was looking through the photos on the store’s computer screen, I saw a series of images that I didn’t remember from real life.

My memory is like that — I’ll completely forget things that happened just last night, or even a few hours ago. I have several theories for why it’s so bad — MUCH worse than my memory loss when I was actually doing heroin! Most of my theories have to do with PTSD and having to compartmentalize my feelings when I was escorting, since I hated it so much it took every fiber of my being to keep going when I needed the money. By the end I was having detailed fantasies about killing my clients.

Anyway, back in the dream, I was flipping through my photos from the night before, and saw images of Eva and me, like flipbook, one taken every few seconds. I saw us walking down the stairs from my apartment, in frozen still images, through the entry way of my building, selfies of us kissing goodbye, and then I had taken a video of her walking away, pulling her roller suitcase, opening the door, disappearing into the dark. I couldn’t remember why she left.

The part of the dream that struck me most was at the very end. This part of the dream would seem heavy-handed with symbolism if I were writing fiction. Eva had left me a gift back in my apartment, the quilt she sewed in 1999. When we first met, freshmen at Reed, she had a very painful breakup with her first love. We bonded over our tendency toward obsessive and all-consuming love, and I would read her passages in my diary from when G. broke up with me, to try to show her that it would get better (not that I was all that healed either). We had a lot of fun that year, but it was only the first in a long line of traumatic experiences for both of us, and she was battling serious depression.

Somehow that year she got the idea to make a quilt that symbolized her ongoing recovery. I don’t remember anymore why a quilt, or what made her think of the design, but it was ingenious. There were only two colors, dark blue and white, each with a tiny, pretty blue and white floral pattern, like antique wallpaper. She always liked blue and white, and her taste was a little more girly than mine, though our aesthetics would meet, cross, divide, converge, and meld over the years. I can no longer remember what I would have liked before I met her, which part of my taste is mine and which is hers.

The quilt design was simple: it was essentially stripes of varying widths creating a gradation from blue to white, starting with a wide dark blue stripe, then a narrow white one, a slightly less wide blue one, a slightly wider white one, and so on until the other side, where there was a very thin blue stripe and then a very wide white one. It was supposed to symbolize how her depression and grief — the dark blue — would gradually get smaller, until happiness — the white — would overtake it and triumph. A dark blue border ran around the outside, and the back was dark blue. Amazingly, in between our mountains of homework, she actually measured it, cut it all out, pinned it, and if I remember, started hand-sewing it. When she went home for break, her mother or a relative helped her sew it on a sewing machine. The quilt lived on her bed ever since; for all I know it’s still there. Besides being symbolic, it was beautiful.

Back to the dream, and the most important and heavily symbolic part: As I was looking at the quilt and wondering why she’d left it for me, I noticed that it wasn’t finished: there was a section that had never been sewn, where the fabric and backing was still pinned together with dozens of straight pins. There were many more pins than would actually be necessary for holding together the simple striped panels — pins over every inch of the fabric, the sharp ends exposed.

I stared at it and couldn’t figure out how I’d never noticed before that it was held together by pins. Hadn’t it been in her room that whole time, hadn’t I sat on it, hadn’t we used it to cuddle when we were on drugs sometimes? How had I never been stuck by a pin? And why was it never finished?

We recently had a communication that was upsetting to me, and it seems obvious to me that this is related. But I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean.

The untranslatable word тоска, as described by Vladimir Nabokov: “Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ – Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness. “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. At the lowest level it grades into ennui. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.”

When my idol left it broke.

My back it broke my legs it.

Broke clouds in the sky broke.

Sounds I was.

Hearing still hear.

[anne carson]