Misfit’s Monday Theme:
Take me to Dreamland
Don’t be afraid to dream today.
John Waters isn’t.
Oh man, I cried so hard when Fred got eliminated from America’s Next Top Model.
I get quite dizzy when I look at pictures of Renn Fayre and other Reed things and think about how much I needed to feel, for the first time in my life, that I belonged to a community—this community, the one in the photos, the one that felt so out-of-range for most of my time as a student.
Whenever I think about my place within Reed, all I see is how little I managed to move past the personal side of my time there—my past, my pain, my resentments—all the wounds that reopened each time I would hurry past Reedies on bridges with the unacknowledged recognition of small places. There were also the sunny afternoons I would spend on the front lawn by myself watching longingly as peers I should have known by the end of my freshman or sophomore year laughed and splayed themselves across one other on that tattered yellow couch with unselfconscious ease. There were all thesis hours I whiled away in the new pit where handsome, inaccessible classmates took breaks to whisper jokes to friends or offer shoulder massages.
This pain, this disappointment with myself-in-community, was at its starkest on the Saturday of RF2k14 when I sat in the planetarium with forty, maybe fifty, other people whose gazes were there to meet mine for once. I think everyone in that room was there to make amends, to look into the souls of people they recognized and to acknowledge what they found. No need for words. I saw the regret that everyone felt—and the regard. And I introduced those people, mostly strangers, to a boy who was only understanding at the end of it all how much he’d sold other people out in the service of an exacting past. I showed them a boy with only a feeble grip on the language of being together. With unblinking eyes sweeping across the dry room, four or twenty-two years’ worth of tears unshed flickering in the light-web of the spinning ball, I told them secrets I’d been keeping from them all. These were the same ones I’d kept from myself. And they listened. They cared. Some of them sat next to me and held my hands.
That was the impossible community that I wanted and expected, but I only found it at the end of a moment before it was gone for good.
I made a real budget. I’m adapting, and that’s a relief.
At some point this year I had an uncanny, almost physical vision of how people manage to survive life. I think I missed out on a lesson that many people learn early on, which is that things in the environment have to be shifted around in a rather mechanical fashion until your emotional life changes. One response to emotional tension and resistance is to withdraw inside of yourself with a magnifying glass until you find the termites that are chewing away at your heartwood. Maybe you believe that if you spend enough time stripping the bark away you’ll get to a point where you can turn your magnifying glass to the more productive work of incinerating these creeping things. You hope to fend off what feels like an invasion.
Sometimes, though, there’s another option: rearrange the furniture. Pour honey around the tree. Charm your invaders away, then stop up the holes.
I’m not even going to lie and say I’m not having painful second thoughts about having left Portland.
Here’s a video I found while perusing the Oxford American website which discusses Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, who graduated from my high school. The most interesting aspect of the video for me (and for my friends, I imagine) is that it features footage from my hometown, Arkadelphia, and discusses gayness in Arkansas. I certainly don’t buy completely into the narrative that it presents of being gay there, but the differences between my experiences and those of others might be generational and circumstantial. I was rarely overtly harassed in school, though there were one or two instances of vitriol (“you’re going to hell” moments). For me, the hardest thing was the fact that I was deprived of a chance to date and experience “normal” teenage social-romantic development, the isolation and the silence, but those facets of my life there were also woven into other features of my personal history: the fact that I grew up with a disabled single mother in a low-income, unchurched household, my lack of roots in Arkadelphia, my premature maturity, etc. Anyways, I thought I would share this.
I can’t help but think the only reason I would have to go on to graduate school any time soon is to rid myself of this creeping feeling that the past is done, which is a kind of violence.
If there’s anything I should have learned from the past four years, it’s that doing something based on a fake resemblance to the circumstances of the past won’t make up for the missing things, the foregone opportunities, the realizations that came too late and the choices that came too early, the objects that weren’t beautiful, these gaps that unexpectedly become something tangible when I consider what’s happened in light of what’s happening now.
Sometimes I worry that I’m going to lose my mind with fear.
Like tonight. I’m writing about this because it weighs on me, and I need to go to sleep. This is about the experience of fear.
One night in the spring semester of 2013—when the news brought pictures of explosive fire and police in pursuit of two brothers who had blown people’s arms and legs to splinters at the Boston Marathon—a fear of being attacked in my bed resurfaced unexpectedly. I was in a dorm of 6 or 7 people, the French House, situated in one of the safest neighborhoods in Portland and accessible only by swiping a college-owned ID. And even there I was beset with a fear I hadn’t experienced since I was 15 or so when I would force myself to peer behind the throw blanket I used as a makeshift curtain out onto acres of leafless trees encircling my house. Was it nearly day? The porch light threw the grey bark with sore-like black gnarls into stark relief alongside bands of black between the oaks where the land was too far away for the light to touch. On nights like that I would go to bed too late, lay still until the house creaked or thumped or went too quiet. I paid attention. Then I would become uneasy, and, without warning, my heart would throw itself against my breastbone as cold fear reached up and shackled me to my bed.
At those moments I interrogated myself about my priorities, obligations, and plans. What should I do? Should I stay here because I’m imagining things? No there’s another creak, another ticking, another rustle in the fibers of the carpet, another shake of the floor or the walls that I can feel from my bed. I shouldn’t lay here. I should go crouch next to the door so that I can catch the Intruder off guard, come at him from below right when he walks through the door. But I can’t move. My astigmatic eyes flit to the door, squint at the crack at the bottom, searching for signs of movement in the shadow or blue light. Without contacts or glasses, a blurred visual field undulates with creeping dots and lines and chunks of space that suggest heads with unseen eyes in windows or shoulders swooping over me, swooping away into the shadows right when I look. Don’t I have to save my mother and my brothers? Will the Intruder have hurt them before he got to me at last? Would it be my fault if I just laid here and did nothing? Like other emotions, fear finds proof of its own worth in the environment. Sometimes that proof is aliens.
When I am afraid I learn that I am capable of believing, however momentarily, in a menagerie of paranormal beings you might learn about at 4:00 in the morning when otherwise you might end up watching 30-minute infomercials or televangelism—for its anthropological interest, of course. Aliens, ghosts, demons, spirits. I catch myself wondering if extraterrestrials are keeping tabs on me after they abducted me years ago before erasing any memory of my time aboard their spaceships. Do they come hover in front of my window to take some arcane measurements before zooming away? Am I an empathic medium for ghosts who gather around me so that someone will know what it’s like to spend an eternity waiting for an unemployed 23 year-old to pay attention? Did I unintentionally (but with unacknowledged want) write down my name in the book of some wayfaring man who wore a black coat and whose face remained in shadow until he smiled maniacally once my signature was registered?
One night I was watching TV—I believe it was the film Finding Forrester—when an extraordinarily disturbing commercial for the series American Horror Story came on. Against a dark, blood red background stood a bald, androgynous clown-creature with a white head, a red mouth concealing sharp teeth, and hungry eyes. It looked at me for a moment before turning it’s head to the side and opening it’s watering mouth. It was one of the most sinister images I’ve ever encountered. Shortly after the commercial was over I realized that I had momentarily believed that there was something in the television that was directly threatening me. I was drawn into a menacing relationship with a commercial character.
Tonight I’m in my host family’s house, and I still don’t trust them. The other night I dreamt that my host mom came in my (her) room with a butcher knife that she held to my throat, threatening to kill me if I didn’t manage to find a driving school so that I can learn to use the clutch. It’s quiet, and a sliver of window shows where I didn’t pull the curtain all the way back. And this sliver slithers. And a green light beams from above the window that doesn’t open, and I don’t know where it came from. And my laptop charger lights up because the charging is down, and I sit up, transfixed because I don’t understand why a corner that was dark two seconds ago is now glowing. And always, I find myself wondering if someone is looking in without my knowing it. And sometimes, the atheist in me withers away like a rose petal in July and I pray for peace and deliverance and faith in the unreality of the unreal.