The Letter

sobonfu

THE LETTERS

Erica’s in a rectangular room with one-hundred and four strangers–people sitting in a semicircle, some in chairs, some standing against the walls, all facing Sobonfu Some, “keeper of the rituals” of African spirituality, traveling the world on a healing mission. Sobonfu talks for a few hours and people ask questions, discussing grief and fear and abuse and loss and pain and where it comes from.  Erica explains this in a letter, and she is getting ready for a grief ritual, a “transformative experience” she ”rites, and I am instantly sucked in.
Three altars were set up, she wrote, the grief altar with a black cloth, to the left of that is the ancestor/strength altar with red cloth, and to the right, in blue, is the forgiveness altar. [Read more...]

Starry, Starry Night

1bwstars

It was a clear October night.  My sisters and I piled into the old red Chevy with our stepfather Dan, and headed outside of town for the hospital where my mother was in the mental ward.  None of us spoke; we hardly ever spoke in those years.  Dan kept his eyes on the road, chain-smoking Dorals.  I stared through the glass, street lights passing over my hooded eyes.  As we neared the outskirt, the sky suddenly opened out into space.  I thought of nothing.  I didn’t think of my mother.  I didn’t think of the speed of change.  I stared up into the stars where I didn’t have to feel anything.  It’s okay to be lost when you’re reminded how small you are, how little your voice is.

We swung into the nearly empty parking lot and walked to a group of picnic tables under a street light where we were told to wait.  It was chilly but still.  My sisters and I stood apart from each other in the silence until we heard Dan emerging, escorting our robed and sobbing mother.  She looked terrified and helpless, and she kept looking to Dan to see what to do, not once looking at us.  We said hi and kept our distance from her and each other, and I turned, pretending nonchalance as I stared up into the sky.  I thought about God, about how the earth was really just this round ball He had in a box and for our nights, He put a lid on the box and punched holes in it for stars.  In my mind, God was a giant old man forcing us to love each other in a darkness we couldn’t see through.

A Moment with Grams

My Grams w/ Emma
My Grams w/ Emma

My Grams w/ Emma

It was a late Spring afternoon.  Mike and I sat across from grandma on the back porch in the shade, the hanging baskets of mixed pansies   fragrant on a gentle breeze.  I remember it so clear–she was wearing her light blue jeans and her pastel yellow, short-sleeved blouse with the white flower basket across the front, a lace collar.  We were enjoying the moment I remember, it was quiet between us–a gentle kind as sweet as Spring.  And then she said something to both of us that I’ll never forget.

“I want you two to know something, what happened to you–it wasn’t your fault.  Neither of you.”

It was quiet.  I choked up.  She’d never brought it up before.  And I wanted her to hold me and say it again and again, yet the one time was enough for a lifetime.

Mike, my cousin and best friend my entire life, has Rheumatoid [Read more...]

An Old Essay

benoitcourti

I found my flashdrive from college back in 08′ and I found this piece.  I wrote it when all my essays and poems and stories began spilling out in college like a damn fever and this, oddly, is before the PTSD hit full-force.  And it describes my current nightmares.  Weird, eh?

Amy Sprague

Eng 360

04-08-08

Meditative

The Nothing Caper

 It came in the night.  We were all sleeping in the creaky house and I woke to it lifting my sheets; it made my nightgown bleed.  My doll saw it all so I ripped out her eyes the next morning before breakfast.  Then it started coming in  my dreams, and I thought a monster was asleep beneath my bed, gathering my things.  On the scratchy carpet where the sun comes in, it branded my skin with its tongue, so I gave it my voice.  Mother and father swallowed it up.

They found me in corners and closets and they didn’t hear their words running from my mouth.  I didn’t know so I swallowed the words whole; they fed me spoonfuls of aches that echoed deep into my belly, burning my insides until it dulled.

I began to sweat them out my pores like a broken fever.  I washed and raked my skin when I saw them in the mirror.  They curdled and clotted the mainstreams of my heart as I took their pieces and ate them.  I choked and spewed out a doll that didn’t have eyes.  Her messy dress had burned away so they stitched her a new one and kept it inside, and I ran away, hungry.


Be Prepared

bw67

bw67I read a beautiful essay in Huff Post Parents on The Blog entitled “A New Season” by Lindsey Mead (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog–A Design So Vast).  And it struck a nerve.  A big nerve.  And I’m now going to confront exactly what I’ve been avoiding for a while now–my Emma is growing up.

You know what my trouble with parenting is?  I’m always so prepared TO BE prepared, I plan for the worst and hope like hell for the best–the idiotic thing about this is no one can control everything.  ESPECIALLY with children.  Emma surprises me daily from her new-found 10-year-old ways and seemingly closer to her teens by the minute, to coming home with a drawing she made of flowers that says “To Mom Love Emma I love you” on the back.  And man alive the looks she gives me-!  And that’s just it–welcome to……dut dut daaaahhhhh–your child growing up.

Em and I, it’s always always been Em and I.  And gradually her life is ballooning out in front of her in such healthy ways (compared to a lot of my moments growing up).  Now there’s a boy she has liked forever and she found out yesterday he likes her too.  And the greatest part?–she couldn’t wait to tell ME all about it.  But I’m becoming more of that back-pocket person now: i’m here if she needs or wants me, but she’s more than ready to take on many things by herself.  Terrifying.  Fucking terrifying.  And it’s okay, too.  Fear doesn’t bother me, it’s the lack of control and the speed in which this is moving that bothers me.  All of the sudden, she’s not my partner in crime.  No one can teach you this shit–that those years of pure joy and discovery and companionship only lasts so long, and you have to let go.  And the harder you love, the harder it is to let go.  In the essay mentioned above (read it!) Lindsey writes:

“The predominant emotion of this time, as Grace embarks upon the vital transition from child to young adult and to an autonomous and independent sense of self, is wonder.  Wonder upon wonder, so many layers I have lost count: there is awe, fear, and astonishment, and also an endless list of questions.  I gaze at my daughter, coltishly tall, lean, all angles and long planes, and wonder where the last ten years went.  It is not hard to close my eyes and imagine that she is still the rotund baby or chubby toddler that she was just moments ago.  At the same time I can see the young woman she is rapidly becoming in her mahogany eyes…..”

and lastly, and ever so eloquently, Lindsey writes:

“And all I know to do as we move into this new season is to pay attention, to look and listen and write it down.  Everything I write, and everything I live, is an elegy to what was and a love letter to what is.”

So, I think she sums it up best.  Pay attention, because this moments are so precious and yet slipping from our grasp, soon we’ll just be watching from afar.  Are we prepared in our hearts for this?  My guess is–never.

Found Something

wpid-Photo-Nov-5-2013-1013-PM.jpg

imageI was going through old writings and essays from college and I found a paragraph I just might use for my book’s intro (oddly enough, my book is going to be called “Small Parts”):

She’s pushing me hard. I want to say, “What is there to push?” I have nothing. She’s convinced someone is buried inside—some scared little girl. I’ve heard this shit before. I’m convinced whoever I once was is dying, because I’m trying to kill her. She doesn’t need to be anywhere around me. I enjoy watching her choke out and dim. I want to tell this psychotherapist, and ask her, “Then what?” What happens next? Because I can’t create someone out of nothing. I can’t start over. I can’t create what you want or he wants or she wants or I want. I don’t want anything but to float about through the day, but my body is always shaking and then I can’t breathe. They took me to the hospital and some small part of my mind wanted to go. Some small part of me. Small parts—that’s all we really are, aren’t we? And in the grand scheme of things this is all insignificant. We’re just statistics. Facts. Bodies filing into clinics for revival and pills and assessment. A small part of me wants to lay in a hospital bed for the rest of my life, watching tubes feed into and out of me; white coats, white blankets, white. Fix me, medical people. A part of your brain doesn’t comprehend the difference between physical and mental; all you know is there is no God and there is no point.

Needs a little cleaning up, but I like the endish area. :)

Free Write w/ Kellie Elmore

image

imageBetter late than never–I missed Kellie Elmore’s “Freewrite Friday” November first, and as I can’t sleep I thought I’d give it a go. Kelley Rose was her guest host last friday and you can read her free-write HERE.

The free-write challenge:

What was a pivotal moment for you, and most importantly, how did it change you?

Hmm, so many…

It was a clear October night. My two sisters and I piled into the old red Chevy with our stepfather and headed outside of town for the hospital, where my mother was in the mental ward. None of us spoke; Steve, my stepfather, drove and chain-smoked Dorals. In my peripheral vision I could see when we came to the only two stoplights in our town so I knew how far we had to go. But something was strange, well it is to me now–maybe then I was so accustomed to strange things happening. But I wasn’t worried or scared or nervous. I refused to look away from the night stars–believing that if I focused hard enough, time would still, and this wouldn’t happen, because I couldn’t believe the kind of family we were becoming. Because real dads don’t drink away their kids, because stepdads don’t touch you and hit you, because moms are solid strong things that don’t go away. [Read more...]

Eleven Years

image

I was coming back from my appointment at my psychologist’s this afternoon. Its a fifteen minute drive along Lake Superior in the country, through the changing leaves of fall, sun and shadows flickering on the windshield. I was trying to remain calm, noticing my hand squeezing the seatbelt, the sweaty palms (just ’cause, this always happens, the clenching). I was using my new “tool”–to notice my thoughts, just notice them and see what they are like they’re just a boat passing on the harbor. I always feel very intune when I leave there, I feel, for the first time….ever…understood. Bigger than anyone else has ever understood me-at least the workings of my mind and my deepest most private thoughts. My tears were dry, I was appearing normal for my driver, but I was lost in thought, lost in just looking at the light on the leaves blowing and suddenly out of nowhere my chest hurt. It ached, and tears came down, and I thought of my dad. Out of nowhere. I’d totally forgotten that tomorrow will be eleven years since he died. Just this ache, and it’ll always be there, my old companion in this life. So far anyway. Then I started thinking about how I wasn’t good to him. He was an alcoholic. No one was good to him. He was a little mentally slower. He couldn’t be responsible. He couldn’t quit drinking for us girls though he wanted to so desperately. Our visits went from weekends to nothing at all as he sank deeper and deeper into his illness. We moved, we were abused. We wanted our daddy but eventually gave up that hope, carrying the dream of him with us that didn’t exist. I remember in Green Bay how, at night, I’d cuddle up between my bed and the wall and cry so hard for him. Third grade? I’m beyond crying about things I never got–that’s such a waste of the heart. But I think about how I treated him when we moved back to our hometown on Lake Superior. I knew I had been molested, but by whom? I decided it was him, because he was an easy target. Because he maybe didn’t love me–and if he did I could hurt him. I’d show up (in my teens) at his house and ask him–scream at him–why did he do it to me. He was quiet and hushing and begging me to tell him what I was talking about. He didn’t once raise his voice. He came comin toward me, then back away in fear, his tall lanky figure in the dingy kitchen, wearing the same clothes he had when I was a little girl. I wanted this weak person to hurt, I was beginning to feel nothing and I needed to feel something. Anything. That silent, sleeping beast was just started to very gently stir. I left unsatisfied, as he begged me to stay saying “I love you’s.” I felt guilty, he was this lonely innocent man and didn’t even know it. Another time I broke into his place and went up to his room to sabotage it(ii guessed which room was his) and instead, I saw our pictures of us when we were little on his cracked walls, the cassette of me singing Patsy Cline by his bedside, our letters, the same orange afghan, the uncased pillows and bear mattress on the floor (this was after he’d lived in his car). I just stared and cried and left. And then, years later, I met him at a bar, and for the first time ever I sat with him and said “Hi, dad.” He bought me a beer. He kept saying he loved me. The alcohol had done a number on him, but it was his gentle, quiet voice just the same, and his same strange smell I’ll never forget. He took out his wallet and there were pictures of me and my sisters at the age we were when we moved away from him–no, a year younger. The years in there when my stepdad was molesting me. I look at my face in those pictures a lot, wondering what I was like, feeling a hint of an ache for her that I always shut off right away. Is that really me? Was I ever her? Was I anything. I never saw him again until after he died, in the funeral home laying on a table in the basement. The sweep of his long dark lashes. My aunt says I have his eyes, and that makes me ache and smile at the same time.

I guess I wonder, if he were alive now, and now that we’vechanged so much–would I have let him in my life. Would I have accepted and loved my dad for everything he was and wanted to be? There’s a picture of him when he was maybe ten with his eleven brothers and sisters in a row, and there he is, somewhat slouched and maybe embarrassed, his eyes large and no stranger to dissappointment. I think I would. I would invite him over and erase his guilt. I would tell him I love him, and that I missed him for a long time but it wouldn’t happen anymore. I’d call him dad. I’d smell his shirt when he hugged me and kissed the top of my head saying “I love you’s girls.” I’d have a beer with him. He’d meet his grand daughter when he wasn’t drinking, even if it was just once. He of course couldn’t erase all that’s been done and undone to me, but it’d be someone here, that loved me unconditionally–no matter what I did or who I was–he just loved me, all because he wanted to. Because I was his. Sometimes I just want to be someone’s.

Free Write Friday with Kellie Elmore

image3.jpg

Join in the fun at Kellie Elmore‘s Free Write Friday!  It’s fun and great brain exercise for all you writers out there looking for inspiration.  This week the inspiration for the Free Write is a beautiful summer picture with this quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Then followed that beautiful season…Summer.

Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape

galleryoncentral at Etsy

galleryoncentral at Etsy (not the image from the prompt)

lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

K, here goes nothing.  No editing, no self-criticism, just write:

Outside the decrepit white farmhouse, the lush yard is our menagerie of imagination.  Arching trees soar into the blue sky, their heavy limbs creating a canopy over the dirt driveway.  Two apples trees blossom near the fence, and when June’s breeze blows, the pink petals fall like snow across the green grass, a lazy hammock swaying between the trees.  Fat bumble bees buzz low to the ground.  Honeysuckle in the air.

I’m in a white summer dress, my white blond hair in a pigtails, my skin sun-kissed.  I’m standing beneath the plum tree, sucking on the bitter purple fruit, wiping the juice on my dress.  I bend over and pick the yellow dandelions, squishing the soft center into my cheeks.   I hear my sisters laughing on the swing beneath the pink blossoms, my daddy pushing them, one at a time, higher and higher.   I want a turn but I can’t help but follow that scent–the scent I’ll carry with me dearly for the rest of my lives.  I follow it and I’m taken to the lilac trees against the house by the humming bird feeder.  The aroma fills me and I crawl into the tree’s cavernous entrance and huddle down inside.  This is my summer–the summer of my life.  The summer I dream I will return to after so many cold years.

I’m About to Get Personal Whoa Shit

il_570xN_157355219

Getting Intimate with You Guys.  Thanks for listening/reading:

Tonight I’m wondering about what love really is.  Did I have it?  Are there different kinds of love?  I’ve always avoided writing about love, because I have this outer shell that believes it’s ridiculous.  Hmmm.  I had someone.  A keeper.  I grew into loving him.  Is that really love?  It is a genuine kind.  But then there’s the love that strikes you dead in your tracks and makes you uncertain of yourself and your heart pounds.  I was thinking, with my fiance of nine years–we didn’t have really any intimacy.  I’m a virgin to it.  I don’t know how I’d react if I ever encountered such a thing.  I never let him in.  Why?  I’m listening to “Slow it Down” by the Lumineers over and over 

I feel naked what I’m aiming to write.  It’s so easy for me to write about mental illness and shit like [Read more...]

Fragile Things

may 2012 255

image

At some point everything becomes clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean a good clear, but fact is preferred over fiction when you’re locked up in a mental ward. Again. And it’s snowing out–and worse–it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re thirtieth birthday is coming and you’re little girl must be looking for you. It’s all you can do to decipher the shell-shocked woman looking back at you in the tin mirror bolted to the wall above your sink. Here you get your own sink because this time, this trip into the bin, they knew it was much more serious than they had originally thought, and your “security” is upgraded. You have a thought you would usually have–that the upgrade only makes you feel more nuts–but at this point, you don’t feel nuts. You are nuts. I say to myself ‘I’m clinically insane’ and for a moment I believe it’s something to smile about. When the leading psychiatrist told me on New Year’s Day morning that I was clinically psychotic and suffering from complex PTSD, I thought about my mind–clearly–for a second, and I imagined a blue and orange brain-scan image showing clouds of lesions.  Then I slipped back into the room , in and out of dissociating, and the yellow walls were much too close and I could [Read more...]

Carry Me Like Water

(in response to the question “Do You Believe In God?” over at Storylane)

I was brought up strictly Catholic. In college I dabbled in Buddhism and Hinduism, studied the Qaran (Koran?) and Judaism. But I never understood what faith was, or God, or Love, until after I hit rock bottom. When I was 28 my childhood years of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse all came to a head and I had Complex, chronic Post-Traumatic-stress Disorder. I began having psychotic break-throughs daily, along with auditory hallucinations from my Bipolar Disorder. I was chronically dissociating and hearing voices and existing as if on a different plane, dissociating into a godless existential space where no one could reach me. I was spinning out of my life. I lost my job, my friends, my sanity, my house, and my fiance within a year. I admitted myself to “the bin” when the voices and the dissociating and the psychosis became too much to bear. I showed up there like a child in a woman’s heels, banging on their yellow security door, crying “help me, help me” into the intercom.
My entire life, for as far back as I can remember, I was empty. I spent most of my twenties searching for some kind of substance of me. I got lost in a city, drinking and drugging and sleeping with anyone. The emptiness only grew and darkened and it wasn’t until my biological father died on the bar room floor from drinking that I had my first major panic attack and psychotic break. I moved home and tried to recover. I went to college and had a daughter; I made the Dean’s list, I was nominated for a writing scholarship in New York, and my essays and stories in college were coming out like a fever. I began writing about my past, which I’d never done before. I was remembering things I’d never remembered before. And the sickness took flight. I had to drop out, being to ill to face class every day. Too ill to face life every day. The emptiness was no longer a pit but a festering wound that I knew I’d have to face head on. But I knew I couldn’t force it–I had to hit rock bottom patiently. It would come in its own time. And when I was engaged and living a happy, safe, comfortable life, my body broke down. My mind soured.
In “the bin” there was no god. There was no heaven or hell, just a pointless meaningless world where nothing and no one mattered–we were all products of chaos and chance. I’d have flashbacks where there was blood on my face and a blindfold on my eyes and I’d sort of come to and I’d cry for all the sadness in this world. I was beyond empty–the girl that was empty was now dead. She was gone. And not worth finding, I believed. I was gone. She was gone. I’d stare at myself in the safety mirror which was like a metal pan bolted to the tiles in my high-security private room, and I’d stare into my black eyes. There were no stars in them. No light. I was terrified of showering, terrified of the way certain lights fell across the carpet. I’d close my eyes on my cot and try to imagine my grandmother but all I pictured was this black creature with red eyes–every time I closed my eyes. I ended up in the bin four times, I couldn’t survive at home, being so afraid of everything, especially myself. The psychosis was an oily, hellish plane of reality where no one was real, no one could help me. My family would have to hold on to me and say I was ok and I’d shake and shriek and say “I’m not going to make it, I’m not going to make it!” I wanted to die. This continued for a couple years, every day, like that. And the nights were just as awful–I was afraid I’d hurt my daughter so I stayed with family. I was afraid my breath would quit this body too and that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. I don’t know how I went through two years of that. I don’t know how I survived. I was so afraid I’d kill myself (because when I was psychotic I thought I’d lose control of my body) that I avoided the bath with my pink razors. I’d slam the medicine cabinet on my pills and run away crying. In a nutshell, I was nuts. Clinically insane.
But one day, early in the spring, I was sitting on the back porch watching bees, and it was like I suddenly woke up. And it all made sense. The emptiness I’d carried around my entire life was gone. I wasn’t in pieces anymore. Sure the pieces needed sorting out, but they were back together somehow. And one night, I wrote a poem about Jesus being with me and God loving me and carrying me when I couldn’t walk–that I fell to my knees and sobbed, overwhelmed by some foreign love for me coming from somewhere. I knew I hadn’t been alone, because I would have died had I been. It all fit together–the teachings of the Buddha, Hinduism, the Upanishads, the Vendata, the Koran, the Bible, Jesus–they were all one and the same. They all meant the same thing. I was a child of God. I wasn’t alone on this journey. I don’t know how it came to be, I just knew it to be true with my entire being. Even now, every time I go to church I have to hide my tears because I’m overwhelmed by a power and love I cannot name. God, the Atman, the Godhead, Yahweh–whatever you want to call it–breathes into every molecule of our beings and the world around us. I have found a sort of peace. I have a certain kind of grace that is quiet and private. I’ve aged so much in so few years…and it was worth it. God was merely awaking me. In the dark–that cold, lonely, hellish place–he never left me alone. He/It carried me. Carried me like water.