|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,
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.