Today is my first full day out of bed since Saturday, when I was hit hard by the Sauna Flu (my own name) many days of sleep, sweat and chills -the sore throat, coughing and body aches were minimal, so basically it was a Spa Sauna flu -a purging of bad humors and the beginning of the end of the wtf-fugue. My feverish mind has found delusional clarity and loss of carefully constructed restraints, so here goes… blogging under the 102.3º haze…
The fugue began building slowly in September, like a fog spreading across a calm sea approaching the shore. The logical mind prepares for a cool, refreshing mist, full of soft edges and skin-tingles. The older mind full of experiences and genetic memories looks at the fog and wonders what evil hides inside, silly childhood fears –the monster-under-the-bed stuff. The nation, perhaps even the world shared these fears. Women who’d experienced sexual traumas or have been bullied by narcissist creeps at work began having panic attacks and night terrors. Angry women embraced the worst with angry pride -the Nasty buttons and the Pussy hats swam around the media pool like dolphins attacking a killer whale.
I’m an older survivor, one who has only recently surrendered to the fact that a childhood trauma has sabotaged most of my adulthood. The impossibly old, scar tissue began giving way to a force that shredded the tightly woven tissues. The hubris of the angry, powerful men who feel power through giving pain and then the largess of stopping the pain. The feeling of no escape, every attempt doomed to failure, all efforts for naught.
Several times during my life, I found my safety net missing, the support is gone, but you embrace the adventure of being on one’s own. This was the general feeling we entered New Year’s 2017. Somehow, without conscious intent, my husband and I both began listening to wartime music of the 1940s. One day, the hopeful lyrics of the White Cliffs of Dover caused me to burst into tears. I pulled off the road and allowed the tears to drench my face, neck and scarf. A school bus drove by, as I sat in my car at the scenic roadside rest area. The future stolen from today’s children hit me and broke my heart. This idea seems to have been the theme of my generation. Our future was stolen, killed several times before our innocent eyes.
Tiny leather MaryJanes and ankle socks that never stay up swinging under the wooden desk attached to the metal seat eager for another day to start. Dick and Jane were going places with their little dog. On the chalkboard, evidence that three apples plus five apples equaled eight apples. Sister Agnes Paul glanced out the large windows to the cluster of trees under an impossibly blue sky. She smiled as though she shared our eager anticipation -everything was brand new again. Other than the fear that satan –in Russia, threatening to drop a bomb on us, as we hid under our desks, holding our knees in what I later learned was child’s pose, the world was a groovy adventure.
Suddenly, the door swung open and Mother Superior entered. Her arrival usually froze the breath in each child’s lungs. It was her weekly disciplinary visits to whack upturned palms with her long ruler of the children whose names were listed on the far right end of the chalkboard tainted our otherwise happy lives. Until that day, she was our real cause of fear and terror. While, she heralded other indignities like vaccinations and clean fingernail inspections, she rarely surprised us. She was a constant in our lives. She wore a long black wool habit that grazed the floor and left a dust edging on the cloth as it slid across her polished black shoes. She seemed to swoop rather than walk. Without glancing at us, as we held our breaths, she whispered in the Sister’s ear. Then, Sister screamed a horrible keening wail that triggered shrieking cries from all the little girls and a blanching of blood from the boys who grabbed their desks. We knew this was it, the ‘big one’ was coming. Then, Sister fainted and I might be mistaken but in my memory, but I remember Mother Superior cursed under her breath.
Our first panic attacks were rapid in our chests as we were rushed through the playground in single file to the Church. Inside, we kneeled on padded leather kneelers, crying tears for the President who was shot dead in Texas. It didn’t seem real. We all knew people died when they got old or sick and then went to heaven or the babies who went to limbo or the good pagans who went to purgatory and finally the sinners who went to hell but not so sure about being shot? That was the stuff of Perry Mason, in black and white on TV, not our world of recess, spelling bees and multiplication drills. We saw the nuns cluster into groups, terrified of the bomb headed our way. I was momentarily distracted by the dark polished wooden pews, where I assumed we’d curl under holding our knees -we’d never been under a pew, another new thing to mark the day. It calmed me as I felt safer in church and the pews look sturdier than our desks.
All of our child-minds were focused on little Caroline and baby John John –their Daddy was dead, this is what made us cry. And their Mommy, the beautiful, saintly Jaqueline Kennedy -she must be crying too. She was the Pieta in our broken hearts.
That was the day that ended our innocence.
Soon, there was the war. Every night on the news, soldiers fought in a far away jungle, the numbers of dead and injured flickered on the TV, as we each sat behind our TV trays and ate TV dinners. Then Martin Luther King was killed. Then, our last hope, Bobby Kennedy was killed. Grown ups became hardened, they went about their days quietly. What hit me hardest was the images on our new color TV of the National Guard shooting college students. We were not safe. There was no safe place. A drunk driver killed the most popular boy in our junior high class. The war was still going on, every night the number of dead and wounded.
Hippies danced in wild colors around us. Laugh-In poked fun at subjects we didn’t understand. Eventually, even the hippies began to settle down to care for the babies they named Moonbeam and Windstar. We signed petitions and watched the sit-ins on TV, even the most stoic newscasters seemed tired of the dead and injured they announced nightly.
Then my own brush with mortality. Christmas of my senior year, I got a stomach ache, it got worse but my parents were deaf to my complaints. Unaware that they thought I was pregnant, I thought they didn’t think I was worthy of an expensive doctor’s visit. I finally stayed in bed and stopped complaining -another hallmark of the abused child, I was getting what I deserved and didn’t deserve a doctor’s visit. Somehow, I managed to survive over three weeks of a leaking appendix as my abdomen filled with puss. Mind-numbing pain was my every waking minute. I prayed and prayed. Finally, my prayers were answered, I had peritonitis, a lethal condition with 80% mortality, add in complete systemic toxicity and my chances of survival dropped to 5%. The whole experience is still a blur to me, surgery followed by three weeks in a coma. I remember the coma as the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life.
On waking, I spent a lot of time looking up out the window, tree tops of naked branches against blue skies. Why was I alive? I asked a God who had changed in my consciousness. The warm, fussy Jesus, Mary and Joseph of my childhood become the indifferent marble God of Michaelangelo, with frozen curls in an angry beard that looked like a barrier, drilled holes for eyes that did not see us and a hand grasping a scepter not open and welcoming. His fierce archangels stood at his side ready to strike down both the innocent and the guilty. Yet, I was still here and I didn’t know why.
The nurses were angry at my parents, who claimed innocence and glared at me. Later, when the nurses left the room, I got the full force of their anger –did I know how I’d made them look? I’d embarrassed them. I responded to their anger with a spectacular display of projectile vomiting. It was the vomiting that made me think I was dying and I became really angry.
My survival took the top off the volcano of anger I never knew I had inside me. The nurses had long conversations about the ‘other’ world, that place called adulthood, the place I had to flee. It wasn’t until I was older that I noticed the absence of anyone else, my sisters didn’t visit, no grandparents –unless they came during the coma. One cousin, who’d been in a car accident visited and helped me feel normal. But, I was still the one who’d shamed the family with my birth, ruined everything for my parents, deprived my sisters of a rosy future. I still wore the family’s shame and now robbed them of the pity-party.
My father showed me sketches of the tombstone he’d designed –just for me and how they planned to ‘never forget me’ -the candles they’d light for me in the cathedral. But, that was not to be… all that planning and once again, I let everyone down. I didn’t die. His treasured drawings were now impotent. I surprised him by not sympathizing. Sorry, Dad, I lived, I survived, too bad for you. I was brand new and angry, born in a foam of rage. I stormed into the military recruitment building, looking for my escape. A hungover woman Marine Gunnery Sergeant, who looked like a fashion model, took me to lunch and said: “Listen, just treat the next three years as an 8-5 job, with great benefits -then you go to college and the world is your oyster.”
Why I would want the world to be a squishy, slimy mess in a shell I didn’t know… apparently, knowledge of the origins of pearls would have been helpful to me at the time.
I never told anyone about my surgery and no one asked. Sit-ups in bootcamp a few months after being disemboweled were a unique kind of hell and required a super-human determination only an 18 year old could accomplish. I had escaped and I was alive. I still feel sense of pride for that girl.
Now, I am the old lady in bed with the flu. I drench the sheets and pillows with sweat, I think about the kick in the stomach each generation received after mine. We Baby Boomers had our heroes and innocence assassinated, the mortality tallied for our evening prayers. Next came the generation I was supposed to birth that was born into a terrifying world of AIDS and herpes viruses, –affection and love were lethal and saviors battled over for who’d make the most money. Now, this latest generation, they watched helplessly as thousands of people die on television and know the world is even more dangerous than the scariest dystopian movies. It’s little wonder it was so easy for so many to lose themselves in reality television. Digital media became the meth of the masses. The borders blurred allowing alternative facts to even become reality.
This week my mind was swimming in Nyquil revisiting memories, trying to sift through the reality of the new ALT-World. Each emotional global kick in the gut bled into my mind’s eye. How did we get here and my fear that WWIII is so damned close. I know who goes to war.
On my 19th birthday, I was in an enlisted club, forced to stay on base; because, someone stole my wallet with my ID in it. I sat at a bar waiting for someone to buy me a beer because my wallet also contained every penny I had. Suddenly, free cold beers were being passed around by stoic, unsmiling Marines. The ‘old men’, the older, combat-hardened Marines -old guys in their mid-twenties, clasped the bottles as tears streamed down their faces. All eyes were on the television hanging from the ceiling at the end of the bar. Hanoi was being evacuated. My first thought was surprise that the war was still going on, you’d think as a Marine I’d be more aware of it. Then, an old guy sitting next to me, choked and made an odd sound. It looked like he’d been deflated, like a balloon. We watched the huge helicopters lifting off the top of the buildings and the bodies left behind, lying on the roof. Marines. They were leaving Marines behind. Beer bottles were crushed and smashed in despair, not anger.
“They left us behind.” The old man, probably thirty, said quietly. He looked at me with watery eyes and his tears poured down his face and he became young again. I looked around in shock… suddenly, I finally saw that we were still kids, we were all children, boys, young boys and girls, young girls. Those weren’t battle-hardened movie-trope Marines lying dying on the TV, left behind, alone, abandoned -they were kids. We all cried that night, lost children, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.
These memories still sit in the back corners of my mind, they aren’t going anywhere. I know that the Marines and even the uber-tough Seals are just kids, forced to wear the adult suits for real old men who insist on causing wars to ease their minds of the battles they never fought because they had fallen arches and shin splints. Now, we have a President who equates a purple heart with being pretty cool jewelry, sacrifice is something we all do in our day to day work life, rather than bleeding out in a dusty roadside crater or swamp. The banks that took advantage of our post 9/11 rage to pillage mortgages and rob pensions are taking their bailouts back to the bank. I suddenly understand the quiet aunts and uncles from the so-called greatest generation, who sat stoically watching the numbers on the TV during Viet Nam as I am watching now –more generations lost.
Yet, it somehow feels worse. Somehow, more doomed. The projectile vomiting out of the carefully fed altFacts and lies, the force-feeding of fear, resurrection of old hates. The blurred lines of virtual reality, click bait rating soaring.
The spa sweat flu seems to have purged a lot of anxiety from my pores and my memory and then came back with a sucker punch. Will, my blog memoirs combine with others, will they resonate somewhere with someone in the future? Will the future know we froze in terror? My feverish mind’s memories triggered by the last smoldering embers of the hate that I read in all the comments on the bottom of news articles. Another shot of NyQuil because this has to be a bad dream. My next blog posting will be all hearts and flowers and rainbows and unicorns…