The October People. Chapter 36: Deliverance?
"Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods."
"Though much is taken, much abides,
And though we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven,
That which we are, we are.
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and Fate, but strong in Will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
Alfred Lord Tennyson
I don’t know how long I’ve got, but at least I’ve lived long enough to remember. I’d like to live long enough to tell this story. Time to write.
I do love Melissa’s flower gardens.
Sometimes, when I’m standing on the deck looking out across that enchanting, fragrant landscape of flowers and trees and see that beautiful woman bathed in the evening light among them…I ache so bad. It’s so beautiful.
I’d hate to have to leave this all.
Extraordinarily pain-filled day. Crucially necessary none-the-less. Stand up and take it. Look at yourself.
To be told by the one you love how much of a ‘driven man’ you were for all those years was disconcerting, to say the least. All the stress she’s been under finally exploded.
To really hear and understand how much I put her second behind my children, behind my plans and expectations, how bitterly she resented living as we have, how unappreciated she had felt, was crushing.
I was under tremendous pressure from all sides back then and felt like I was living five lives at once. But I believed I had it all under control; I was the only sane, effective man left in the world, the only one who saw things clearly, the only one who saw goals incisively and drove straight at them regardless of any opposition. Everyone else was incompetent, not working with me, or deliberately fighting me.
Now I see that wasn’t so.
It wasn’t only Melissa that I wouldn’t listen to. All our friends tried to warn me. And Jackson’s psychologist told me bluntly that my son was deliberately trying to break up our marriage when he was living with us.
Only now do I see how much I hurt the one person who loves me.
It feels like I’ve been away a long time, and upon returning have gotten reports on the man I left in charge. I can’t believe how poorly he did.
I could argue, make excuses…But it’s all true. At the end of the day; there it is. It all happened and I was the one on duty. I cannot go back and undo it, as bad as I would like to. I can’t give her back those years. I was blind and stupid; and that’s a bitter taste.
All that I can do now is accept the responsibility for what I allowed to happen and resolve to myself: Never again.
Mel felt awful later, and kept apologizing to me, saying that I didn’t need all that dumped on me on top of everything else. I told her there was nothing to apologize for, that I was so sorry she kept all that bottled up for all these years because I had no ears to hear, no eyes to see.
August 5, 2008
I never paid attention to my emotions. I never honestly looked at how I was feeling, never tried to describe to myself how I felt and why.
I ran roughshod over it.
I told myself how I was supposed to feel, how I wanted to feel; if I considered it at all. I acted as if how I really felt was unimportant, meaningless.
Only now have I begun to see the price I’ve paid, how one-sided my development was, what mistakes I’ve made because of that.
Paying attention to your emotions does not mean becoming an effeminate, blubbering, sentimentalist sop. It means learning to rely on how you feel about something as a court of higher standing than reason.
Reason is an excellent servant, but a fool as a master. It tells us how to accomplish a task, but not why we want to do it: Feelings do.
And it means becoming aware of when and how others manipulate you by emotions. It’s a source of strength, not a weakness.
It was only by re-feeling the way I felt as a boy which enabled me to find my way back to those tombs of buried trauma and unlock them. Those emotions were all that was left of the path back to my past.
And it was those emotions and memories of sensory perceptions that played a large part in finally convincing me that what I was re-experiencing were indeed memories, and not delusions or fantasies: You can’t smell a fantasy, but you can smell memories.
I’ve had to stay ‘living in the past’, my past, until I had caught up with myself and incorporated my missing parts. I needed to learn from all of that in order to go on from here.
This refrain I’ve heard from people to “Just get over it” is moronic. You’re not supposed to just shrug your shoulders and forget about it. You’re supposed to seek, find, heal and then grow. It is a call to adapt more fully to your life.
There is no set timetable. It’s done when it’s done, and when that is depends on how much time and effort you put into it. And the more effective effort you do put into it, the faster you can move on as a more mature person.
This is all about learning, not wallowing. That would be even more of an error than forgetting it all again because wallowing, or stewing over it, paralyzes you and accomplishes nothing.
There are memories, ones I dubbed “Trailmarkers” or “Marker Buoy” memories, which either precede or immediately follow upon events that were too traumatic to remember. These are often of innocuous incidents, and usually extremely clear. I had often wondered why I remembered such trivial things.
But it was by ‘entering’ through these ‘Marker Buoy’ memories, that I could gain access to what had been hidden away as too painful to keep out in the open.
Freud, I’ve since learned, referred to these as “concealing memories”. An unfortunate label: They don’t conceal, they mark the way. I suspect that the word “concealing” was the translator, Dr. Brill’s choice, not Freud’s.
A great deal of what people call ‘memories’ doesn’t consist of actual memories, but rather the knowledge that such-and-such happened at such-and-such time. If you ask them for details, for what they actually can remember, the usual response is something like:
“Oh, I can’t remember that, I just know it happened.”
So: What is memory?
It’s said that every cell in our body dies and is replaced over, say, the course of a year. If ‘memory’ is supposed to reside materially in our brain cells; how is it possible for some events of 50 years ago to be retained in all visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory ways, complete and perfect, when all the cells that ‘recorded’ it are long since dead?
For 30 years a pre-eminent researcher in the field, Dr. Karl Lashway, tried to find out where in the brain memory was stored. His method was crude and cruel but empirical. He trained rats to run a maze, then cut out bit after bit of their cortical tissue until it was all gone.
All of the rats continued to remember the maze with, even if they could only drag themselves through it. In his final paper he stated in apparent frustration that “memory was not possible at all”.
Yet the clowns still think it resides physically in some part of the brain. They don’t see they fall into an ‘Infinite Regress’, the ‘3rd Man Argument’, by trying to go from an ‘Engram’ physically located in the brain to a non-physical entity: Memory.
Wilhem Reich, for all his failings, was probably more right, when he said when you put your hand on the body you have touched the unconscious. He felt memory, mind, was systemically spread through every tissue in the body.
Bergson felt the brain was akin to a radio receiver, one that picked up memory from ‘somewhere’ outside of ourselves.
Again: What is memory?
Images of some personal content perceived internally through the vehicle of your ‘mind’? (Never mind what is meant by ‘mind’).
Whatever memories are, they are accepted as being accurate only if capable of being corroborated by another source outside of yourself or by majority opinion. Otherwise it’s inadmissible. It might be the ‘Gospel Truth’ or it might be hallucinations; it doesn’t matter.
What matters is corroboration and belief.
Without either of those, it’s just ‘gases in your brain’.
I did a ‘thought experiment’ yesterday.
I imagined that I knew a man, older than me, one who I had heard was institutionalized when he was young and had no memory of that at all. I tried to imagine how I’d view him if I knew something like that about him that he himself didn’t.
To my astonishment I realized I would feel superior to him, regardless of how much compassion I might have. I also saw how easy it would be if compassion were lacking to feel contempt for him as well.
The behavior of the ‘family’ fits neatly into this. The lack of similar treatment from friends, acquaintances, and strangers fits as well. If only the family knows my ‘past’; they react one way; with contempt and superiority. All those who don’t know of my past; react to who they see before them as I am.
September 1, 2008
Melissa was reading “Anna Karenina” when she came across a passage where Kitty recalled being a child and sent to her room as punishment while everyone else was enjoying a party.
It triggered in her the sudden recall of a time when she was sent to her room during a party as punishment too. She remembered listening to all the sounds of fun, knowing that she was missing out on all the snack foods.
When she told me about that, I asked her if there was anything else about it that she could remember. At first, she maintained there was nothing more. But then she sat back quietly, letting herself “sink back into it”. Within a little while more had “leaked in, or oozed in” as she put it and become clear. She was able to draw back even more.
She described her mother coming into the room later and giving her permission to come back out. She remembered telling her: “No.”, and turning her back on her. She felt she had been treated unfairly and to go back out now would have been humiliating and an admission that the punishment was justified. She defiantly stayed in her room.
Later one of her aunts came and tried to cajole her into returning to the party. She still refused.
For Melissa, this was fascinating and enlightening. It was another example of just how far back in her childhood the battle of wills between her mother and herself had existed. She had no doubt this was an actual occurrence that she had just remembered. She only wondered where this memory had been ‘hiding’ all these years. Why hadn’t she remembered it before tonight? But she had no doubt it was a real memory she had just recalled.
For me this was electrifying.
The way she had spontaneously remembered that, and then pulled more back was exactly the way I remembered too. Seeing her recall that long-buried memory was the first time I’ve had a chance to see someone else do it. The fact that both of us had identical experiences was a very gratifying verification of what I’ve been doing.
The crucial difference between us is that I doubted myself, and she did not. I had to agonize over each recall until I could unearth something I could use to test their veracity.
Doubt is like beating a dead horse. You can do it till doomsday and accomplish nothing except paralysis. Sooner or later you just have to say:
By all means, examine yourself; but recognize when you’ve diligently done all the doubting and checking that’s reasonable and then just cease. At some point you’re just going to have to trust yourself.
Because Doubt is like a vampire that sucks the life out of you.
It seems I was wrong.
A rough sort of justice was done.
That lunatic, Lily, lived to see the prize she plotted and schemed to get for 50 years slip out of her grasp just when she thought she finally had it. Then she seems to have been done in by the one she had kept as a virtual slave all their life together.
Very fitting, even if not personally satisfying my desire for vengeance.
I often think of what some people have told me about the need to forgive my enemies. That’s neither possible, nor commendable. I will not forgive them, or any others like them. For Christ's sake, they tried to kill me over and over.
"Well; it really was just 'attempted murder', right?" some may say.
Schopenhauer and I agree: The penalty for attempted murder should be the same as first-degree murder. Why would you reward incompetence?
Al and Loony Lily never asked for forgiveness, never acknowledged what they did, never showed the slightest remorse.
You don’t ‘forgive’ things like this.
You condemn what they did and who they are. You give them the stinking name in history that they deserve. If you don’t: By ‘forgiving and forgetting’ you elevate those who do evil to the same level of worth as those who are good. Civilization, justice, and ethics are then all destroyed bit by bit. All because of an unwillingness to call Evil by its name.
It is hard for people to grasp anymore that there are ‘people’ who are evil, period.
Perhaps in a spiritual sense forgiving is admirable. Perhaps. But it’s also dangerous. If you think you’re going to affect your foes by your saintliness; then you’re a Fool Saint. They will eat you alive.
If you think you’re going to gain spiritual ‘brownie points’ by your noble forgiveness, but you haven’t purged yourself completely, then you’ve done worse than nothing. Because if you’re only pretending to yourself that you no longer have those emotions, you’ve only stifled the pain, fear, and rage.
They’re not gone.
You’re not healed.
You just reburied them alive.
Only someone who has worked through all the long hard struggles and attained a very advanced level of wisdom and maturity can possibly forgive like that without doing harm to themselves and others.
You cannot fake matters of the spirit. I know I’m not there, and I’ve never met anyone who is.
“If there is no justice in the world, if Evil prospers and the Good fail: Why try to do good; to be a good person?”
My answer is: If you’re trying to do good hoping to be rewarded, either in this world or the next, then your ‘virtuousness’ is no more than wage-earning.
But if you strive for virtue because you cannot do otherwise, if you honor virtue for itself; then you are nobler than the Universe that contains you.
My dreams have fallen silent. Ever since I remembered ‘The Death by 1000 Cuts’. Before that they harassed me to remember, and they harassed me to accept my memories. Now they are satisfied. At least for the time being.
So: What have I gotten from this anamnesis? Nothing of material value. At least not yet. Actually, it has cost me plenty; and dearly.
On the other hand, I have just been introduced to myself over these past four years. And I’m surprised to find I behave, and am, and are seen, as an entirely different man than I thought I was. No; 'thought' is the wrong word: Assumed I was.
I’ve seen now some good points I never expected I had; and some bad points that have shocked and sobered me.
I understand now what Heraclitus meant by his enigmatic aphorism:
"Ethos Anthropoi Daimon". (Your Daimon is your Fate.)
The unchangeable nature of my essence means I will act and re-act in an individual way, one that ensures that external events and biological changes will be met with my characteristic behaviors, which will eventually form a Fate; a destiny for me.
“Gnothi Seuton”: Know Thyself.
I am what I am.
I understand that I, and Melissa, will be very lonely…no…very alone old people. And whichever of us survives the other in our weakened old age, will be incredibly alone. I understand that, and it saddens me, yet it leads to acceptance and a peace.
We will never know, have never known, the warm feeling of inclusiveness of family. Friends, yes. Yet ironically, we do not need or desire friends. No amount of self-knowledge will change that. That self-knowledge leads instead to that acceptance of who you really are.
I am, have been, and no doubt always will be a Solitary and all that implies.
A cantankerous Steppenwolf.
I’ve realized that in the end I, too, will tire, grow old, and lose interest in cultivating the soil, but Nature will not tire. I’ve seen how quickly she reclaims her own. Even in the cities, Nature seeks any crack and crevice to begin undermining the works of man. After all the work repairing this 200-year-old house, it will still eventually be gone.
We have no one to take over our work here, and sooner or later we’ll have to begin to withdraw. Within five years of letting our land go, all this hard work of decades will be choked out by Sumach, wild roses, and weeds.
The weeds will win.
The forest will win.
The Wild will win .
No one escapes aging except by dying. All those decades of teeth-cracking work-outs will be to no avail. This powerful body will begin to fail me. The speed of my hands and feet will slow. My joints will lose all their suppleness and become brittle. This mane of hair will thin and disappear. Even my ever-ready phallus will eventually fail to rise to the occasion.
All I can do from here on out is to fight a holding action, keep trying to maintain myself as long as I can; knowing it’s doomed to fail in the end.
So be it.
I cannot say what this is all about, why this has all unfolded as it has, or who or what is guiding this. Only that something is.
Three years into this, I’m not the same man. Where it’s all leading; I don’t know. For the first time in my life I understand that I’m not the one doing the leading.
I know this much: I still could try and retreat from this strange ‘Call’. I could drop it all and scurry back to find some mouse-like sense of normalcy and hide there until I die. Or I can continue to take the proffered hand of Fate and follow it to the end, shrinking from nothing that must be done, accepting whatever may be.
And that is what I intend to do. At least when I come to die, like Thoreau I’ll know I have really lived.
October 9, 2008
I have now finished writing out my account of these past four years.
The conversations involving the ‘family’ are either verbatim transcripts or taken from my notes made at the time or shortly later.
In some cases, the conversations between Melissa and I are constructions, but most are just as I remembered them.
For the sake of aesthetics, I’ve polished some of my journal entries’ grammar and phrasings.
The few dreams I elected to include were selected after all else was written, and were chosen for the foresight they displayed of what I was going to remember or do. Their significance was only seen in hindsight.
I stand by what I’ve written about my childhood. Are some of the details probably wrong? I don’t doubt that; I concede that. But I’ve done my utmost to relate it accurately.
What of the memories of my grandfather telling me he was leaving something for me when I was the head of the family? I had said those would be a touchstone, a prediction. Is it possible that I may fail the test? I must concede that as well. I’ll know better after Al is dead, because I think this was all based on an insurance policy on his life taken.
Where is the proof of what I’m asserting? Where is the corroborating evidence? Other than the scars I carry, there is little or none. There will no doubt be some who attack me for saying all this without that proof and demand I retract it, demand I back down.
My response is what another said when asked to recant:
“To act against conscience is neither safe, nor sane. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
"...And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The hairy gown and mossy cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell
Of every star that heaven doth shew,
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain...."