Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where the Hell is Bobbie Gentry?

Today I have provided beginning students of physics a perfect example Of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. For every force, there is an equal and opposite force. Really simply put, there is no net gain or loss in the universe. There are mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies that are equal and opposite.

Yesterday, I had a lovely visit with a friend I haven’t seen for a long time. It was good. It was easy. I didn’t feel like I had to pretend to play host. We just were. And that’s a very cool thing. I encourage you all to do the same. You’ll thank me for it, and you’ll rest easier to boot.

This was all great until after several hours of honest-to-god energy and genuine enthusiasm flagged like a car on empty. Then, I have to try real hard to maintain some verve (I like thinking I have verve. Yummy word, that one. Verve. I’ve never had any need to use it in the past and that’s what popped up when I thought about how mine just withered away.)

Dudes. This is three and a half years since I took ill. Is this all that I’m ever to expect? Today (back to physics 101), I pressed the PTSD button.
Everything fucking thing frightened me. This is extremely annoying and horribly unproductive. The stretching and shit I do every goddamned day to maintain a normal looking body was one hundred times harder than it usually is. (FYI, my other choices, if I don’t try and stay fit, are becoming a super-fat load who is unable to get up from the couch or the other, camp survivor chic chica. I don’t like either of them.) Wasn’t that Peggy Lee? Is that all there is? But at least she could keep dancing.

All the love from Saturday turned to fear on Sunday. My inability to get a hold of myself made it so much more difficult to breathe. I finally asked Chip, after I’d spent the entire morning in bed feeling queasy, if I could I put my head in his lap and conk out. Bless him, he said yes honey. An hour and a half later, now awake (but shaky). He had taped Sixty Minutes which he knows usually absorbs my attention. (But not as much as Real Sports. That show fucking rules.) We watched. It helped.

So I thought I’d whine about it to you. And don’t you get all high and mighty about Sir Isaac. Hey, all my love on Saturday turned 180 degrees on Sunday. The universe is behaving as it should. No space-time continuum problems here. My feeling especially rotten today proves it. Physics 101.

Let’s talk about cutting. I saw a week or so ago that Secretary was being aired on one of the 10,000 HBO channels. I never saw it when it came out, and a friend I love whose tastes very often dovetail with mine, liked and recommended it. In it, Maggie Gyllenhaal is an unhappy young woman whose means of comforting herself is by making cuts in her skin (Or painful burns on it.) Either choice, same goal, relief. No, this isn’t a preamble to suicide, because I grok that. I know that. Suicide is something else entirely. Cutting is to provide relief from the otherwise unrelievable. Suicide is just cutting loose.

So as I looked at the many Band-Aids on Maggie’s legs, I found a kindred spirit. No, I didn’t cut. Nor did it ever occur to me. Even it had, I don’t think I could ever achieve the sense of relief, because I think that cutting is way to out of control for me. Maggie should have been a surgeon. I not.

But I could scratch off every scab, bump, mosquito bite, as well as anything else I’m forgetting. And make them bleed. This provided me with that very same relief. I also chewed my cuticles like crazy. If there was a piece of skin to pull, I pulled it. Sure, the first part didn’t hurt. (It was already no longer a living part of my body.) But what it pulled with it was quite alive. Just regular old flesh doing it’s quiet flesh job. I tore it. And boys and girls? It bled. Of course it did, my pets. And in the strange minds of people who have nowhere to turn, this was comfort. This was control. I controlled my pain. Not somebody else who had power over me. (Usually teachers, occasionally fellow classmates in the Port Washington Union Free School District.)

Now, we cutters, pickers, bleeders are ashamed of ourselves. And god forbid anyone see the evidence of your work. Here it was, bright and bold- youaresopatheticlookattheshityouhavetoresorttogethroughtheday. When other girls were “cute as a button,” I was so damned ashamed. Of myself. That I had no power to stop doing It. That no one would ever love me if they knew how sick I was. That It actually made me feel better. Oh, this is all wrapped up in shame. Not so easy to have be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I needed to make myself bleed to cope. What am I, some monster? Shameful.

For me, the most pivotol scene in Secretary which made me teary is when James Spader showed his cards. He knew what she did, and he didn’t judge her for it. He says to her, to paraphrase, “Lee, you are to never, ever to cut yourself again.” After that, she then goes to a bridge (the Tallahatchie? Sorry, couldn’t resist) and throws her neat box of sharp instruments into the river. (Like when I finally figured out that the critical scene in Gone With the Wind is when Scarlett makes it back to Tara and finds her mother dead. It is at that moment, when there no longer Mommy’s arms to run into, Scarlett begins to become the tough, unlikeable Scarlett many of us love to watch over and over again.)

Believe it or not, through my bout with hell, I’ve been able to control my urge to comfort myself with controlled pain. Maggie, as narrator says “Each cut, each scar, each burn, a different mood or time. I told him what the first one was, told him where the second one came from. I remembered them all. And for the first time in my life I felt beautiful.” I got there too. No more shame. Even with my crapass life.

By the way, Jill Sobule has a great song on her latest album, “Where is Bobbie Gentry?” It’s denouement:

Yeah I was the baby

Thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Postscript: D- It really was a horror suffering from a desire for self mutilation and having no way to stop it. I was so ashamed of it; I couldn't talk ever talk to anyone about it even though my mother was well aware of the problem. But she was stymied as to what to do about it. How do you tell a kid to take control of something that was uncontrollable? That requires that this problem be a logical one. (Like using the Gaussian Number System to solve the square root of negative one, remember? On our math field trip in tenth grade?)

My little problem came from some place in my person to which I had no access, let alone Mom. (No fucking way.)

One of the most mortifying moments of mine was when a high school (Paul D. Schreiber High School of the Port Washington Union Free School District) friend of Eric's asked what were all those spots on Franny? Now this was elementary school Franny. Covered with every damned place I had picked at it, especially then, when I really had absolutely no will power to stop it. I was crushed. (Eric, thanks for sharing.)

The older I became, the more intelligent I became in "hiding the evidence." I assumed, like Lee in Secretary, no one would ever find me beautiful after seeing my shockingly mutilated body.

Oops. As you get older, you learn things. If young, eager college guys are going to get some, they don't give a shit about a scar here and there. (And by then, those horrific bloody spots had long healed any faded into history.) And if a boy loves you, you're beautiful. Period.

But yeah, when I'm stressed, I find something to pick at. And I no longer feel the need to draw blood. I'm content to remove an ingrown hair. Now that's what I call progress.

1 comment:

  1. Dermatillomania? Conpulsive Skin Picking (CSP)? why didn't we know that it had a name ( and - even better - an acronym) in high school? I was a sufferer too - still crops up - but to a much lesser extent than when I needed control years ago.