I think I read a lot more than people realize. There are people who, knowing me, make fun of me when they see that books of 1500 pages or more haven’t been finished in a few days’ time. Everyone else, when they see me reading a very large book like that, they always stop to ask me how long it takes me to finish a book that size. I always overestimate, not wanting to let people know that I read very fast and that I can finish a book that size, if left to me own devices, in a matter of days. I tell them, “a week,” usually and go back to my reading, partially amused at whatever comments they make about it (usually, “I would fall asleep to read something that big,” or “It would take me a year to finish that”) or irritated that they feel the need to interrupt my reading.
I read a lot.
Most of the books on my bookshelves are books that I’ve read about a hundred times. Some books, I don’t read that often because they are so big. Nothing against the books themselves, but it can be a bit dicey, wandering around with a book of over a thousand pages in my purse for a spare moment to catch a few pages in. My purse is made of cotton and liable to break with sharp edged books residing within, so I don’t read the really big books as often as the others. Occasionally, I don’t re-read them because the next book takes years to finish (*cough* A Song of Ice and Fire *cough*) and I don’t want to be too irritated with having to wait so long, though I understand that the length of the books themselves causes a bit of lengthy time delay.
Whatever the case may be, I’ve read and re-read most of the books in my library a million times, but some, not so much as the others.
I’ve been re-reading a particular series that I have read from the first book, years ago. It’s historical fiction and it’s a love story. Well and good, I supposed, but sometimes, the books are a bit too graphic and the things that happen to the characters… well, anyone can guess what I’m alluding to. (And if you can’t, all I can tell you is that’s a particular relief that some people won’t understand.) Mostly, I read these sections with pinched face, in a sort of waiting for the other shoe to fall and end up getting through the section with a sigh of relief when nothing happens.
Something happened this time.
I knew it was coming because, well, I’ve re-read this particular series often enough to know when the “bad parts” can be. But I re-read them sometimes as a test, too. Sometimes I test myself with the triggers that I have, which are never the same – they’re all different and all weird and they come at me from different directions and of course, they’re never the fucking same one day, one year, one decade to the fucking next. Maybe I failed the test this time, but I don’t think I do. I think it was still a test, but it was… a different kind of test.
In the book, the main character is kidnapped and… well. She is married to a Highlander, a Scotsman who is a product from before the destruction of the clans at Culloden. And it is with his honor in his hands that he, and all the men of his new homestead, kill the vile cretins in an attempt to win back now only his honor but his wife’s honor. As the book continues, she has flashbacks but it’s not quite like I thought most post-traumatic stress disorder victims would go through. They’re kind of rare, all said and done, and I identify with her the most, not just because she is the main character, but because in this book, she has the moments so rarely… like me.
Even before getting to the part, the part where I would have a pinched face and rush through in an effort to test myself, I felt the snakes forming in my head. I tend to see them, picturesquely, like of red and black. They’re poison, of course, because that’s what a head full of snakes leads to. It leads to poison within your soul, eking out into the ethers that binds your soul to your body, and making everything ache in all planes. The red and black snakes hissed and snapped, looking a bit like the wild mane of snakes on a gorgon’s head. Only instead of turning people to stone, they turned me into a distant thing, unable to really string words together.
Periodically, TH would ask me if I was okay. I don’t remember if I was or not. The snakes didn’t lead me to a shame spiral. They have in the past. I am grateful they didn’t. I had other spirals to attend to, though, and I found this particular episode led me to look down at my body. I saw it all, clearly, the pouch left over from my son, and the spread hips, and the point of my nipples and all the other little imperfections that make me hide beneath oversized shirts and the pale hint of my skin – it’s so pale, it’s rather yellow in tone – and the sallow look of my face. The half-moon bruises are darker than usual and I’ve broken out, of course, because what thirty year old doesn’t deserve to have a fucking acne break out?
I wanted to climb out of my skin and slither away, a bit like the snakes in my head. It just seemed like I needed to climb out of it and set it aside for use when I felt well enough to use it. It wasn’t even, I don’t think, that I wasn’t fit to wear the skin, but that it needed to crack open and let me out; it was suffocating me. I know, literally, it wasn’t actually doing that. So, I worked on not feeling that way and was probably not a very good bit of company and ended up lost in my head.
I thought about that character and what her husband did to win back both their honors. He destroyed the guilty. He wasn’t alone; he had help. They were killed, every last one of them. I thought about that for a bit, turning it over in my head. I thought about it in relation to myself, really, and I turned that bit over in my head again. And I had to admit that, all things considered, it seemed like, possibly, it could alleviate all the stress of having PTSD because of bullshit.
I’ve had to deal with all of the ramifications of my own actions regarding what happened. I’ve had to contend with the fact that I will always felt just a little bit shameful and just a little bit guilty, even though technically, I shouldn’t. I’ve had to contend with the voice in my head that reminds me often enough, this will always be a part of you and you will live with it or you will not. I hate that voice; I don’t hate the person who said it to me, but I could wish that they had never said something to a young and impressionable seventeen-year-old, trying to contend with PTSD in an era where it wasn’t seriously thought of outside of what soldiers maybe dealt with.
I wonder if, maybe, the knowledge that he was dead would have helped. Maybe.
I don’t know if it’s really his death I want, ever. I should have liked him to go to prison, of course, and to have it on his record, but of course, state law had other things in mind. And then, of course, so too did the jury of twelve adults (allegedly my peers, but as we were in juvenile court, were they either of our peers? No.) came back and effectively said, “Well, you’re a big fat liar.” I’ve had to deal with that, of course, too, and I have to say that I don’t think his death, even after all of that, would have really helped me at all.
I should hope he bleeds in ways far more painful than my own. I should hope that his soul leaks out from his eyes, leaving nothing but a dried husk of a creature before everyone. And I could wish that upon his forehead was a scarlet letter R, carved deep into the flesh and filled with soot so that it scarred heavily, letting everyone know just what he was about. I could hope and wish for all of those things, but I don’t really see where any of that will lead either of us. I try to be a good person, on the face of it, and studiously not pray to the gods to unleash their chaotic Arrows upon him and let him feel their wrath. I feel, maybe, that is not quite in line with ma’at.
Then again, just to offer a second voice here, I recognize that magical protection and rites against people is absolutely indicated in just such a circumstance. But fourteen years later? It seems a bit late to unleash plague and pestilence upon him, right? Besides, I always have to come back to the idea that while justice, in my opinion, was not served, perhaps it was in his case. Two sides of a single story and I have what my side is and he has what his side is. However, I can remember the looks from that one girl… the one who he turned to all the time when he was bored and the look of understanding that passed between us when it hit the gossip mill of our high school… I remember her and I remember what she was like and I have to wonder how much of what she was like was because of him and how much of it was because of her own special brand of PTSD.
My heart quickens as I write that. I think it’s probably supposed to because these are things I don’t discuss often, willingly, either with myself or with anyone else.
Don’t fucking talk about it.
I can remember, and this has nothing to do with this entry per se, but just a single memory. I remember when I was in high school, I was in a very difficult phase, obsessed with serial killers. I spent a lot of time on the website, Crime Library, and read as much as I could find that interested me. I remember turning to my mother one day and asking her how she felt about Manson or Bundy and she looked at me in horror and said, “We don’t talk about that.” Well, she wasn’t talking about what happened to me – she was and is a big believer in therapy. But I think it always stuck with me a little bit?
Maybe it’s because it didn’t get discussed in family circles.
Okay, I have to stop and give some background.
We told my grandparents what happened to me, but only when we started going to trial. (The trial was continued three times and then some adults told me I was full of shit. It was a great thing to deal with at seventeen, I can assure you.) But we didn’t talk about it at all with anyone else. But when it happened, relatively recently (last few years; and you’ll be glad to know that he did go to jail for what he did), to TH’s cousin from a stranger who broke into her apartment, it was discussed. And the whole family was there for her, metaphorically and physically if needed. And the drastic difference between my family and his family was apparent.
I don’t think I would have liked to talk about it at all with my maternal or paternal family.
But sometimes, I think about what my mom said when I asked her about whatever serial killer and the shocked look on her face and the comment she made. I think about that and I think that I am definitely a product of that outmoded and outdated mindset, in some ways. I don’t talk about any of this with anyone.
So when the snakes come into my head, which is rare but does happen, I don’t know how to tell anyone that I am living with a rat’s nest filled with black and red streaks, scything through my brain like a farmer reaping what he has sewn. But have I really sewn anything? Not really. The snakes come in with their red and their black and push through the very center of my brain until I am left shaky and quiet, unable to voice a fucking thing that is happening in my head at all and I want to cry so very badly, but I don’t dare because I don’t want people to know what’s going on because it doesn’t even matter I won’t even be able to tell them anyway because we don’t talk about that. Yes, I suppose I very much am a product of that very outdated and outmoded mindset.
By the way, I don’t really blame my mother for that because she was also a product of that time, as if her family. I’ve done what I could to explain to my son that we can talk about anything at any time (unless I’m writing because, for real, that kid needs to respect that boundary as fucking sacred – kidding, by the way) because I don’t want him to become a hangover byproduct of a time when people didn’t talk about things. I want him to be comfortable enough to ask what he wants to ask and say what he needs to say. Sometimes, though, I would very much wish that I could have that ability.
I felt very much like jumping out of my skin all day. I thought maybe I could try it once or twice, but there’s something sneaky about skin. It’s all around you. And there doesn’t actually appear to be a way to get out of it. I know, I’ve tried before with any means necessary. It never really worked because I always woke up right the fuck back inside of it. I used other means than the horrifying ones I used to use. I tried to read some more, get through the bad part and into the better parts. That really didn’t help. I did dishes. Nope, didn’t help. I sat outside and felt the sun on my face, but I was too dazed to really notice.
I came alive a bit when the thunder rumbled in the distance, but it didn’t really do much for me, in all honesty, because it wasn’t a proper thunderstorm. It was just some thunder and then a fair bit of rain. It was lovely with the wind cool against my hot flesh and the gentle susurrus of the rain. It helped me to ground a bit when I cleaned the altar, I touched the prayer beads, and I felt a bit more relaxed in my skin again.
But then it came back later and I thought about crying, maybe. I hear that crying is supposed to be cathartic and sometimes, I force myself to cry under the principle that it is cathartic. Well, I wasn’t alone to cry. And I couldn’t think of words about the snakes and the skin and the shakes should TH or my son ask what was wrong. So, I didn’t cry, but I let Mother Nature kind of do that for me when it began to rain. A bargain, I suppose, but maybe I didn’t fully live up to my half, whatever it would have been, because it all came back and I was uncomfortable again.
It’s been a few years since I’ve had to deal with those fucking snakes. I thought I was doing better. Perhaps, it’s not that I was doing better but that I was just really that much better at keeping it under lock and key.
I don’t know if that’s really the way of all of this – to keep it under lock and key. I remember that voice telling me, across the dining room table in dim light. She had her usual diet Coke beside her in a goblet and she was earnest in her comment, “It will always be a part of you.” I had tried, at that moment in time, to look forward into the future and attempt to find bits of myself that were a part of that horrific rending of my soul when something I clearly did not consent to – at least I said no that time – ended up happening anyway. I didn’t want to be a part of me, but I think she’s right.
I am like the main character in my book in that the snakes don’t come so often. And I don’t really have flashbacks anymore, not of that single moment but of other things related to, I do. But not of that moment, at least. Maybe now it’s time to curl around myself and remind my soul that I am not rendered in shards of glass, easily broken or already broken, but rendered in steel and concrete, even if there are little dents in that steel and possibly some cracks in the concrete.
I lived with the snakes all day in some form or another. They’ve receded, at least. I can feel them a little, writhing in the recesses. They can retake me at any time and I have to admit that I am, at least, grateful that they didn’t overwhelm me on a work day. At least it was a weekend where I could give in to such things a little and be content with my own silence, even if I couldn’t quite remember what my day entailed fully because I was so overwhelmed with the snakes and their habits.
I remember those words about how it will always be a part of me. I hope that one day, it isn’t snakes that are a part of me, but something a little easier to manage. Snakes are things that slither around, poking and prodding at recesses better left locked. They can find ways into those recesses that destroy everything or at least make it harder to connect with the world in which we live. I fear that it will always be snakes, though, and I will never be able to tell anyone who it is that I go through; what it is like to have them writhe against me and want my skin to pull apart, my soul’s attempts to freedom.
I can see the cuts in my soul where I bled from other things as well as this one particular item that affected me so much this weekend. I can see the blood of my soul, welled up in its slash marks. I think about how the main character’s husband was able to buy back her honor with the killing of the people who hurt her so. And I could think that it may be an interesting experience or experiment to have something similar happen with someone who cared about me.
I don’t think there’s a way to get back whatever honor I may have had, though? I don’t even think there is a really way to re-forge my own soul into a working approximation of what it once was. I think it’s more than a bit battered and more than a bit shattered and quite possibly, it’s really just done for good. But I have the idea that I have been wounded thus in previous lives and I was relatively okay, I think, before all the horror came about and before I realized that I didn’t know how to consent or what consent was, really.
Even if I can’t find a way, in this life, to re-forge my soul, maybe I can do it much better in the next one.
Sekhmet laughs at me when I say this to her, sometimes, because it is truly she who takes the forge and rebuilds me to her specifications. I have no say in the matter and I don’t think I want to have one. She says to me in this life that I am stronger than I give myself credit for and I can do what I need to do in order to recreate the soul I wanted to be as a child. I don’t really believe her, not with the rending of those traumas I’ve been through, but other people have said as much as well.
I don’t think there’s a way to buy back my honor, either in blood or in pain or in any other way. But maybe, I can at least fit the bits of my soul back together again in a way that works. And maybe if I figure out a way to do that, I won’t have to deal with the red and black snakes that slither free and roam where I don’t want them to.