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Pure As the Driven Slush (Personal Journal)
July 7th, Two Thousand: Fear Trumps Apathy

I am very afraid right now, and I am feeling world-weary.

My father has said goodbye to me several times over the last couple of weeks, and it has me in this perpetual state of terror. B. says it's not fair of him to keep saying goodbye, but I don't know. My Dad has been through a lot, far more than I have in my lifetime, and I have not had it easy by any stretch of the imagination. So, I can't really say if it's fair, but simply that it is the way it is, and in his position, in his phase of life right now, I don't feel comfortable saying I would be handling it any better.

I'll have a couple hours of normalcy and then I'll stop and look at what I'm doing, and think, "What if my father is dying right at this minute?" I then wonder if it's okay when someone is dying to be in the bathtub reading a book, to be working, to be casually watching a movie, to be sleeping, to be on the porch in the sun smoking a cigarette, to be having sex, to be worrying about what I'm doing at all when it isn't me who is dying.

I vacillate between going to Chicago right now and not going. Mainly, I am just deathly afraid of walking in on someone who has died or committed suicide again in my life. I barely made it through that once, and I'm just not sure I can -- with my sanity intact -- again. I am not as strong as most people think I am. I wonder sometimes if I'm even as strong as I think I am.

You know, it's crazy, death is, or my experiences with it, anyway. I can't say I've experienced it in a normal, natural way yet. My great-grandmother on my father's side was raped and murdered at 76. My grandparents and uncle on that same side were killed and mutilated in a truly horrendous car accident, and his two other brothers woke up on the floor of the car to see their parents heads on the seats. My boyfriend in high school splattered his face across a wall with a rifle; my favorite professor in high school died of AIDS, and he never told anyone he had it. My mother's father died of diabetes, which is a bit more normal, but due to our history, I was glad he was gone, and so there was nothing for me to mourn. So, for me, though intellectually I know it happens, it is inevitable, I connect it with awful things that I do not want to fill my eyes with. I don't want to see it. If that is weak, so be it.

So, I am in limbo. I was able to write a good deal about my father in this week's Femmerotic editorial. That is one of the boons of self-publishing: being able to be self-indulgent when you need to, and to be sure someone sees what you've written. He read it as an obituary. That isn't what it was meant to be. He also still could not see his worth in it. I am fairly certain that I just cannot make him believe in himself the way I have always believed in him. And that is a tragedy, more than dying, I think.

I've offered to move my Dad up here so he can get out of the hell of a neighborhood he is living in, where he just got attacked again, on top of everything else, but he won't consider it. Close to ten years ago, at this point, due to a run of really terrible luck, I took him in and helped him get back on his feet, and I'm not sure he ever forgave himself for us ending up in that position. I certainly didn't mind, and it made me feel a lot better to know he was safe with a roof over his head, but he -- like me -- is so proud and self-reliant that it really tore him up.

I've been trying to distract myself, but you know, right now (probably in part because of all of this) I see so much suffering around me, it's almost hard to breathe. At the Scarleteen boards there are kids posting who were raped or abused and who never told a soul, and have let it tear them up inside. People brag about not practicing safe sex elsewhere, flaunting the notion of endangering themselves and everyone else. Right now, a multitude of people are arguing about Andrea Dworkin's story on what she suspects was a rape she never reported a year ago, and I can't even say a word. I don't want to; there is nothing to say, neither I nor anyone else can validate or invalidate someone else's pain and trauma, and it isn't anyone's place to. I am, however, choked by the idea that anyone can tolerate a situation in which someone so intelligent and visible cannot, or does not, report a potential crime to a single officer or person, but yet CAN to an entire nation, and then, worse still have it "tried" as it were by every Tom, Dick and Harriet, and not be bothered by that. That deeply, deeply disturbs me.

Meanwhile, a teenager at my boards had been having sex with a 40-year-old married neighbor since she was 11 years old and no one had even mentioned to her that it is an abusive and damaging situation. In her consenting to sex with OTHER neighbors since then, again and again, no one has helped this kid. No paper would print that story unless it went to court, or one of those people was someone whose name people knew.

This is disjointed, I know. And I'm too empathetic. I know that, too.

Someone was arguing that sex ed for kids is a non-issue because they couldn't care less if they lived or died, and hell if it was their responsibility. Really, statements like that just make my heart skip a beat. I just cannot wrap my brain around the notion that there are people who truly believe the existence they are living affects no one but themselves, and even if it does, that isn't their problem. In truth, when I hear things like that it nearly makes me ashamed to be human. Other pack animals of far lesser intelligence know how to think for the pack. It is the truest pity that we do not.

Last night, I was sitting out on the porch here and a woman walked by, barely able to balance she was crying so hard. We live on the busiest street in St. Paul, full of bars, and so I'm wary of running from my porch and asking if someone is okay or needs something with incidents like this, mainly because I'm afraid I'll scare them to death and make them more upset. So I sat, my ass cemented to the stairs, feeling just awful that I didn't feel it was okay to get up and ask her if she needed something, and that I live in a world where I have to be afraid of scaring someone by caring; where it is scary for someone we don't know to give half a damn at all.

When I was teaching, at the time I was running the alternative school I ran for a while, I had as a student, one of my best friend's sons. He had already had it rough: his dad had died of AIDS when he was just a couple years old, and he was also incredibly hyperactive and attention deficient. One day at school, he kept telling me his mouth hurt. I looked at his tongue a few times, it looked fine. I gave him some chamomile tea, took his temperature, everything seemed fine. But he kept telling me it hurt.

After a day of this, I finally took him into the bathroom with a penlight and a tongue depressor, and looked very intensely. The roof of his mouth was burnt: alternately blackened or bright red, with blisters all over it. When I asked him if he had eaten anything too hot (I was reaching, hell if I knew how a mouth could get burnt like that), or if he could think of anything at all that hurt his mouth lately, his reply was, in a flat voice:

"Well, maybe it was Mike's lighter when he put it in there."

Because his mother worked late nights, he had an overnight babysitter whose house he stayed overnight at a few nights a week, and her husbands name was Mike. Trying to be calm -- don't scare the child, don't lead, don't assume; you know the drill -- I asked why a lighter had been lit in his mouth, to which his answer was that Mike didn't like it when he took it or played with it, so he'd put it in there.

I went and called his mother/my friend, and told her she needed to come from work immediately. When she did, I filled her in on the situation, at which point she was as aghast as I was. Because I was teaching, I had had to sigh a waiver that said I would report any incident of abuse or suspected abuse to the department of children and family services. That aside, I would have anyway. The child in me who told a number of adults about things going on at my house as a kid, and yet who never had even one report any of it, and thus, felt I had been completely ignored and left to the wolves, gets very demanding for justice and attention in situations like these. Anna and I agreed (though she, as a parent, wanted to go to the sitters house and beat the life out of both of them, which certainly was understandable) that we needed to make a report fast. We got her son to a therapist ASAP, so she could get the info in a way neither one of us felt qualified to do without getting really emotional, and then all three of us each made a report to DCFS.

Within two days, DCFS went to the house (where the one sitter was watching a multitude of children and infants while her husband laid around drunk on the couch), TOLD them WHO had reported them and why, and left, getting back to us by saying it all looked fine, and there wasn't anything they could do since they had not been reported before. That sitter and her husband called the little boy's house for days, threatening he and his mother every time they picked up the phone. They changed their number and moved. Nothing was ever done. Needless to say, I was so terribly, terribly angry and upset that I really had been of no help, and couldn't do for him what wasn't done for me, either. I felt truly ineffectual.

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about. We live in a world that isn't even set up to be able to assist people who can't assist themselves, and in truth, had I known what DCFS was going to do, I probably would have told Anna to go ahead and beat the crap out of the couple. At least her son would have known someone did something, for crying out loud.

In truth, this sort of thing makes my father as crazy as it makes me, and on another level, he has been a victim of it all his life. When it all comes down to it, I have a hard time blaming anyone for getting sick of trying to live a life surrounded by apathy when they need sympathy. It doesn't seem unreasonable or weak to me to feel unable to take it, especially if you're struggling with other things already, like poverty, illness or more suitcases than you can carry, unable to close them because the emotional baggage inside just won't be contained.

So I don't like feeling afraid. But I like it a whole lot more than not caring at all.


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