[No pictures-- indicative, as always, that this entry is dark and intentionally hard]
I was walking home tonight, after a failed attempt to self-medicate. Played five games of practice pool by myself. Loser paid the winner with a pint of beer. I paid for and I consumed. My i-Pod was screaming like it has not in months, in my ears, all through the heated contest between stripes and solids. Damn those stripes. Damn those solids.
I got really good at (what I call in my personal journals) "loving at a distance."
Back in '89, I made vows which included being faithful to the monster behind the veil standing next to me before the Priest. I meant them. About nine months after that Rite, my love took off the veil she had worn all through our relationship and showed me the monster she hid behind it. You could see sets of four finger nail gouges across my face-- three swipes, each side of my nose-- a dozen creases of red, soon to brown over.
I told my priest that the I got scratched by the branches of the Christmas tree as I carried it on a windy day. I lied.
Moments after the monster laid into me, screaming something incoherent about my parents conspiring to undercut something or other, and then asking me for "make up sex" as I sat down on the carpet of the guest room of the house I once owned, bleeding, I wondered what sort of life I was to have: The world is frickin' insane! The women I love do such damage to me!
But I really did mean those vows: in sickness, and in violence, and in betrayal, and in insanity, I will love, honor and cherish the monster.
The "mother of my children" she would become. Sixteen years of un-provoked and unexpected violence against me. Sixteen frickin' years!
I cannot say the phrase, "sixteen years" without my fists becoming clinched in rage.
Before my firstborn, my beloved son, I was terribly isolated by my job which expected me to live a monk-ish life, and by my family which saw the monster I had married long before I recognized it or felt its claws ripping my flesh, its knuckles bruising my cheeks and torso, its knees causing my groin to swell, its accusations ruining my self esteem-- my family saw and stepped away so as not to see the horror to come.
I understand my family's squeamishness. I understand them not wanting to see me tormented and tortured. Still, I will never forgive my family for not watching. I never will. My family taught me courage, and then showed no such courage when it mattered-- saw my pain and looked away-- they blinked-- and I did not.
Father? Daddy? I don't think you ever blinked-- I think you stared and you shared my agony-- and how I need you tonight! You lived my agony before me. You knew, I think, because you taught me to know-- why else would you have showed me how? And how you hated yourself for showing me how, and how I love you for doing it. Love is pain and pain feels just like love. Real men know this.
So, I walked home tonight. I felt old. I felt beaten. I contemplated how only shreds of my heart remained, and what did remain was of no use-- held no power. I saw a shadow of a man connected to my feet as I walked-- the music screaming, still, from my i-Pod. It was a disconnect.
Late this afternoon, quite by accident, I saw a reference of sorts to my One True Love-- with a new name-- a new last name. I fell for her when I was fifteen. She betrayed me, broke my heart in the most treacherous way possible-- everyone knows what that means.
I never stopped loving her, but the pain was what I consider "growing up." When I was fifteen, sixteen even, I still believed the world was like storybooks, that love was like storybooks, that people were like storybook. When I was seventeen, I learned that someone who you love, and who loves you, can hurt you so deeply and without cause, without reason, without any shred of humanity able to stop it-- and do so in a way that cannot be healed.
I saw her again last year. Six years away from the monster, I saw my One True Love. We were passionate- yet broken. We were cautious, but uncaring about the risks. We were lovers. I was wise beyond my years at fifteen, but at forty-nine, she had at least caught me. I believed in the storybooks for a few months and then-- then it happened again.
That is why I ventured out to self-medicate tonight-- to be alone but in the presence of familiar souls who could let me be alone and know that I did not want to speak-- just to be near.
During that sixteen years with the monster, I had several relations with persons in which it seemed necessary to share intimate parts of my soul-- it was part of the job-description...
Two young children, sexually abused by their mother and their father-- a brother and sister, now my own age. The boy, grown and broken, was dieing of AIDS. The girl, now grown and broken, sitting across from me and next to her father both staring at the young man a few days before he died. The sister was beautiful-- broken and tormented souls know one another and so we locked eyes and held the gaze and loved one another's soul's without a word-- and without a touch. We repeated this every day and again every night in the hospital.
She knew I was married and I was excruciatingly aware of the fact-- the collar I wore screaming rage and denial of my humanity-- and I let it.
My best friends are all broken-- we were drawn to each other because tormented souls recognize one another and seek the protection each provides-- the sense of , "Not again!" It is something like that-- but I cannot define it exactly-- broken souls just know. Carol was such a soul, and our souls longed for each other, but only our eyes admitted it to one another. Our eyes, also broke off with the final shared thought, "It cannot be."
I wept, tears flowed but my voice did not break, at her brother's funeral. There she was, beautiful in the front row, and her eyes locked on mine as the tears ran. The newspapers and the press were there. It was show! Pain, intimacy, loss-- and the media thought it appropriateness to be there for my sorrowful expression of Christian grief. I told the truth from the pulpit so the press decided to report nothing as a result. Scum. Carol's brother had joined a politically and socially active church in Dallas. It was some gay-activist church. But her brother had wandered into mine one day. God does such things to us when we are too weak, and too broken. That's how I ended up shepherding the dieing man instead of making political and social statements.
Months before that funeral, David lingered after the fourth Mass celebrated that Sunday morning. I had sang and prayed the last two of those, but preached at all four-- it was a huge church. It took four services to get everyone fed in "word and sacrament." Broken heart and soul-- I saw it in him immediately-- it is a priest's job to be broken in heart and soul SO THAT he can recognize it in others. Most of my brother priests do not know that truth but that is so only because most of my brother priests are assholes.
Assholes think they are important and of value because they are holy. They are not important, they are not of value and they are not holy. I am only of value as a priest because I am broken. I am not important, and any holiness I have (if any) is all due to being broken and surviving anyway.
That day, David assumed I was the "head priest," because I had sang the liturgy and I had led the prayers and I had preached at the service he had stumbled into. I knew he was in crisis, because I knew the body language. I approached and I pried, and I offered coffee and we stepped outside and both lit tobacco products so we could talk without being overheard or interrupted by the throngs of "coffee hour" people.
This was in 1994 or 1995.
In those days, a gay man who was losing weight and losing energy was a pretty obvious sign of AIDS, and he began by telling me that about himself. He left his gay-activist church in Dallas and came to Fort Worth because he needed time to listen to his soul and not the "rah-rah, we are gay and in your face" crap. He told me he was so afraid of hearing what he already knew. Would I go with him? A complete stranger-- he wanted to know if I would go with him to the doctor's office when his test results would become known?
Of course. I hated the thought, but it is the job description of a human-- not just a priest.
He did not think his family would come, so I was there on his behalf two days later. But his mother came. She showed up and introduced herself to me in the waiting room-- not that she knew me, but that I was wearing black and a white collar, and her son's message had said he had asked a priest to be there for his support. She came in after her son had been taken back. The door opened soon after she and I spoke, and a nurse called for me and for his mother. I spoke, sotto voce, to his mother, suggesting that I lag behind, and she proceed.
David came out through the door and embraced her and then me, sobbing. The news was what we all had expected.
The next few months, I watched David die. I also fell in love with his sister, and she, I think, with me.
When the monster divorced me, with the help of a lawyer skilled in destroying men who were obviously, as I was, the best choice for caring for the children-- after that final blow to my heart, I sought out Carol. I never did find her, and decided it was best. I had never once said a word to her about my feelings and perhaps it was all in my imagination that her eyes, gazing into mine, said she knew, and said she felt the same.
At age fifty, I know better-- her eyes said what my eyes said-- but she is gone.
She was not the only person that I loved from a distance-- just the most difficult to forgive myself for the distance part. When I could not find Carol, I met a girl at work, and I loved her. She was too young and equally broken-- our souls recognized it in one another, but I knew her inexperience would not tell her what we shared-- would not tell her I loved her, and would not tell her why.
Then, it happened again-- also too young to know, another woman none-the-less knew something existed between us, and I stayed silent-- and my silence hurt her. It was complicated, and she was in a whirlwind-- so I kept my mouth shut against everything my heart told me she needed to hear-- she needed the truth from a friend and I, to this day, have never told her. Maybe it was cowardice on my part-- and I know that is her opinion of the matter, but it was complex, and I was used to loving at distance.
When I fell in love with the third woman not finding the first and letting the second use me until she no longer needed me, I took stock. All of the women I allowed myself to be near were married in one sense or the other-- "available" women were too dangerous. I realized, upon that intentional view from a step or two back from my own perspective, that loving from a distance was comfortable and safe and it at least proved my heart still worked. It was all I could do.
Then, my One True Love re-entered my life and I had a happy few months, telling myself that redemption was in sight, that healing was possible after all.
She did it again, shredded my heart more brutally than my face had ever been shredded by the fingernails of the mother of my children.
Toward the end end of those sixteen years in captivity to my own vows-- believing them as right and good all the while-- I woke more nights than not, being kicked, slapped, punched, and kneed-- cussed at, accused, and degraded-- at two, or three, or four in the morning. I had PTSD before I met her, but it was enough by itself-- my PTSD merely served to allow me to survive it.
So they tell me.
I would trade the heart ripping perpetrated twice by my One True Love for another sixteen years of such Hell-- the damage of treachery from the one far outweighing the continuous insanity-- the violent and psychotic behavior of the other. Going to bed with the monster, making love, and then turning out the lights thinking, Should I go sleep on the couch? Maybe go lock myself in the car or can I take it one more time and just sleep here and try not to wake until the beating started?
That, you see, is routine, and PTSD makes it "normal." The other? My One True Love? Day of bliss and joy after day of bliss and joy-- punctuated, only at the end, and only twice, with horrific betrayal.
That second and last betrayal was just over a year ago. It ended with a text message from her saying, "I'm sorry, I cannot change." I knew what that meant.
I was right.
Today, I saw the new name after her own-- the name of being married, and I had what has popularly been dubbed as "closure." Screw closure-- it hurt like Hell. It surprised me how much it hurt.
So I walked home and after passing under each street light, there was that shadow connecting to my feet. The shadow appeared to be a man's shadow. Strong stride, broad shoulders, hair "feathering" as it went along-- the shadow was confident and strong and purposeful.
The man that shadow led along the dark streets watched the shadow in wonder. As he walked, he felt old, useless, worthless, and weak. He thought about his son and daughter-- so long estranged by the wickedness of lawyers, borderline personality disorder, and a court system "stroked off" continuously by an angry and hateful "woman's rights" activism. When he thought about his son and daughter the tears welled up. He shifted his thoughts to avoid crying but all he could find was that today he had learned that his One True Love had married another. Still, the tears dried up with that thought-- that was pain.
He always had confused pain with love. The way to test the difference, you see, is that man won't cry because of pain, but love-- love can't be overcome.
That powerful, purposeful man seen in the shadow-- that was a father. The broken, weak, and worthless figure the shadow mocked-- that was just a man.
I was helping a friend earlier today. Already diagnosed with a terminal disease, she was worried about being diagnosed with depression. You know, if you are going to be dead very soon, being depressed means you are paying attention! Of course, I didn't say that. Instead, I helped her take a a test and evaluate the score. I taught her about being aware of the diagnosis of depression and how the symptoms might manifest themselves, but could not control her if she stayed aware that they were merely symptoms.
Well, to share with her brokenness, and since she knew I had PTSD, I took a test on PTSD, out loud, for her behalf. I didn't think anything of it until I got to the one question: "I feel a deep guilt that I survived when others with me did not." I sobbed, before I could catch myself, as I finished reading that question.
I'm not looking for sympathy nor pity, you see-- just a bit of forgiveness would be nice. I don't deserve it nor expect it-- I'm just saying it might help.
I stepped into my room, leaving that mocking shadow outside on the doorstep. My lamp had burned out and I fumbled in the dark and found two bulbs-- neither worked, and I since I was desperate-- perhaps for cathartic reasons-- to type all of this crap inside of me away by giving it the voice it demanded, I considered that the only reason two fresh bulbs would not work was likely to be that evil intended me to fail to get it out-- and I would, as a result, spend the third sleepless night in a row.
A third night sleepless because of failure to save? I think so. Hardly sufficient punishment.
But the shadow slipped inside, unseen, I carefully walked through my cramped bedroom to the closet, and turned on that light. I ducked my head under the clothes-hanger bar and between a row of freshly hung shirts and to the shelf behind where I kept a box of bulbs. I didn't find them. Instead, I stared at my rifle hidden there. The shadow and I both smiled.
Not long ago, the pain would have made that rifle a temptation. But the shadow and I grew up since then. Pain feels just like love.