Set to Drain

I was one of the Six Troublemakers.

My senior year of high school was my second year of marching band color guard. If you’re unfamiliar, they’re the people in the marching band swinging around flags and other implements and running across the field all crazy-like. My first year I had nearly quit, but my instructor quickly turned from adversary to mentor, inspiring a fierce loyalty. My senior year, I was the only senior given too rookies to mentor, and both of them were difficult in their own way. I couldn’t tell you to this day if this was done to me out of a sign of respect or trying to get to me. Frankly, my paranoia from years of being bullied was pretty high.

There was a rumor going around that someone complained about or instructor being “too harsh.” Then there was the rumor that who our instructor wanted to be captain was overruled by the band director, who wanted the donor family’s kids to have dibs. Then our instructor was fired, our captains* showed up with “Captain” on both of their sweatshirts and six of us conspired to protest. We were defiant. We got together at one of the members’ houses and worked to sew our “ranks” onto our sweatshirts to wear at the next competition.

I was Sergeant.

It wasn’t about perceived rank, but more just pointing out what we thought was an unearned absurdity. Our stunt earned us being called out of class into the bandroom, where we were lectured (because we “threatened” the Captains), and the director looked at me and told me that the instructor I was defending didn’t like me and wanted me out in the first place. My response was that she told me that, and since that time we had become friends.

It’s true, me and some of the others actually hung out at her apartment.

Today was an incredibly rough day for me. As our guests were getting ready to leave for the evening, I had gone down to the basement to check on laundry to realize I had inadvertently drained the washer onto the floor of the room, where there is of course no actual drain. About an inch of water had collected in a pool, soaking a few boxes. One of our guests helped get stuff out of the way, and I wished them goodnight, and then set out for cleanup.

I used a squeegee from Daiso, a bucket, some towels, a mop, and a Muchkin branded flexible pitcher used to pour water over a baby’s head in a bath. After about 35 minutes of work, I had gotten the mess down to a single wet layer on the concrete. I thought about the story – likely apocryphal – of my Appalachian grandmother in the middle of winter, her husband away seeking work, chopping wood for the wood stove in the dead of night, to keep the family warm.

I figured I wanted to get an axe tattooed on me ASAP. Even ask for it as a gift, because I don’t have that kind of free money right now, too be honest.

I told Jon and he said that he didn’t want me to aspire to that – to the struggle. I said I aspired to the fortitude she had. I look at what the women in my family have done and survived, and my survival is thanks to their survival and sacrifice.

I know it has come at a cost.

Failure is not an option.

I know the pressure of late is starting to get to me. The flooding of the basement is evidence of that. My fatigue is making me sloppy. My attempts to offload some of the tasks I need handled have been unsuccessful, leaving me to feel like I’m fighting alone, even if it’s evidently not the case.

The thing is, for me, there is no question that I need to sleep, but that when I get up, there are things I must do. They aren’t just things that would be nice, they are set in stone. They are essential. They are uncompromising. They have to be done, and to be done right, most of the time, I want to be the one doing them. Whether I’m sick, or sad, or injured, the list of things that must be done does not go away, and my need to do them (or make sure they get done), does not go away. It is a mandate. What is good, what is right, what is just.

And my knees buckle. My basement floods.

I push myself to exhaustion because I want to wake up to see that the day is fresh and there’s nothing left undone. I push myself to exhaustion, because in my life I’ve never really trusted anyone else to do what I do. It is how I survived, even if I never wanted the job I’m so damn good at when I’m not falling apart.

I know how to survive, but I’m not sure if it’s a way to live.

To Venus and Back

I was finished with my first year in art school when I moved out of the dorm into my own apartment with another person from my dorm. It was in a neighborhood that had not been gentrified yet, and myself and my fellow art students were the vanguard. Three months into my lease, having not purchased any apartment insurance, I came home from my job at the MTV department in the Viacom Entertainment Store to find them boarding up my windows.

There had been an electrical fire that turned all but what was behind the closed bedroom doors into a bubbled and charred mess.

I stayed at a friend’s apartment a few L stops away until I wore out my welcome listening to The Bends. (It was probably more that I left one of the roommates waiting on a sketchy doorstep for too long.) I sent an email to some of my friends letting them know my situation – essentially homeless.

And.

A girl from one of my summer classes responded that I could stay with her at her parents house.

I had been relatively un-jaded and expected such charity to be a given, as that such charity was what I was taught. I have come to realize that beyond the obviousness of her welcome being beyond magical (she had a preternatural ability to anticipate needs), it was one of the many times in my life that in the face of disaster I have been buoyed by the grace of others.

I managed to find another place with my roommate not far from where we had initially landed, but it took two weeks, and my mother draining her savings. By the end of the school year I was transferring out of art school to go to a proper liberal arts college to get a respectable degree and a summer job working at Sam Goody and Urban Outfitters.  Both experiences granting me an enhanced music selection with a venerable discount.

From the Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos was assaultive. The cover art disturbed and fascinated me. It’s Tori Amos, lying on a giant flatbed scanner. It looks exactly what you’d expect of a woman pressed against a flatbed scanner in 1998. The beautiful, tinkling piano that marked her previous albums started to recede into a heaviness.

When To Venus and Back came out I loved and hated it. We had  promotional copy that we played on heavy rotation. It felt more familiar than Choirgirl, but also muted, dissociated. Like the last sip of a bottle of generic Robitussin before you start having a histamine reaction. Before you realize that everything actually sounds the way it’s supposed to, and what’s the use of dissociatives if you dissociate naturally from years of untreated PTSD.

I find both Choirgirl and To Venus and Back to be my favorites after all these years. I admit I stopped following her work closely as I started to favor more electronica, dark wave, EBM and goth. Those albums still hit me in the right way. The song Datura reminds me of a few things, mostly, though, the garden outside of my studio apartment that seemed to have purposely planted datura inoxia in the flower beds. When I would come home from work, usually around 10pm or so, the streetlights illuminating their night-blooming white trumpets, the orangey scent would carry me the last block home. And I’d smile appreciating how deeply beautiful, and literally intoxicating and poisonous, those blooms were.

Datura proliferates, and is considered a weed, and its toxicity, among the other things, would have seemed to exclude it from a garden breaking a street into two parts. The intersection of Malden and Sunnyside. Its presence in the time I spent in that apartment stands out twenty years later.

I was living in that apartment when I went to Massachusetts and then visited NYC for a party during a Thanksgiving weekend twenty years go this November.

Where I met Jon.

 

Superunknown

I was working in the kitchen earlier today, and Jon was in the parlor, laying in the recently installed hospital bed, listening to Neil Young. Searching for songs of comfort is such a personal thing. I can’t listen to the “Music Heals” special days that they run on KEXP, regardless of the theme: addiction, mental health, or more relative to Jon’s current experience, cancer. I have found that what other people find soothing, I can find grating or triggering. I’ve seen some shit, I guess.

Lady Gaga figured heavily in my recovery from trauma 10 years ago. “Just dance, it will be OK.” It was my anthem. It was my “power song” while training for a half marathon. I’d turn it up and it soothed my soul in a way not much else could. One of these days I’ll request “Just Dance” during a “Music Heals” day and wait feverishly for it to be played on KEXP. There’s a few DJs that might indulge.

Tonight I started with Soundgarden’s Superunknown. Chris Cornell’s death a few years go hit me harder than I ever anticipated. I wasn’t a Soundgarden super-fan. In my teens, I don’t think I would have ranked them in my top five, but I think that Chris Cornell was perhaps like someone that I saw all the time, never talked to, but knew somehow we could see each other. Great music, great art does that. The modern parlance is to “feel seen.”  Maybe I didn’t want him to see me – maybe I didn’t really want to see him.

After all, what gutted me the most was that I thought he had beaten the monster. He had survived when so many others had not. Beaten is incorrect – I mean – he was still struggling for sure – but he had that beast under control. Managed. Until he didn’t. Like Anthony Bourdain, the raw openness of that pain experienced was such a burden for them and also touched and saved so many people.

I don’t know exactly why I’m going on about this right now. I’m laying on a makeshift foam bed, on the floor, listening to Soundgarden while my husband drifts off in the other room, recovering from intense surgery, taking our next steps towards treating his cancer tomorrow.

Make the music loud. Make it encompassing. Tell the truth. Let us know we’re not alone. Let us continue the fight when those who have been beaten down have left us.