A story, kinda sad & a dream, rather awkward

In highschool, I had this boyfriend. We started to go out the second month of my freshman year, and broke up in February of my sophomore year.

I loved him lots.

This story isn’t really about him, it’s about a lot of other things.

That boyfriend’s first gift to me was a ring: A small, gold colored band with a stone that looked like a tiny diamond in it. It wasn’t a diamond, but it slipped over my third finger just so, and it felt a lot like a promise.

That ring could have been brass and granite for all I cared, I still would have held it more precious than gemstones. Later, there was a more appropriate ring with a heart and turquoise and silver, a gift from Mexico, but that first ring fit me more. It seemed to fit into my fairy-tale of us. 

And I lost it. Not in an absent-minded way- I lost it big.

The summer between Sophomore and Junior year, my dad took Bryan and I to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. There we were cordially encouraged to take a hike… a six day back-packing trek into the wilderness with girls/boys of our age group. We went in all confident, but being inexperienced hikers strapped with large back-packs and faced with 8-12 mile days of uphill switchback trails at high elevation, well… suffice to say I pretty much thought I would die that first day. And it seemed like a peaceful alternative to the gasping impossibility of going to sleep and doing it all over again the following morning.

I had a terrific leader on that hike though, her name was Terri, and I swear it’s true that you can make people do things through confidence alone: An unswerving, if staggeringly misguided belief in someone’s success can prompt them to actually exceed their physical capabilities. This method works better than torture, totalitarian threats or coercion. It’s an amazing thing.

The week we took our hike, I happened to be the only 13-15 year old girl in all of Philmont Ranch, so- since there were rules about the minimum number needed to hike the back-country, I ended up going with five college age girls- two leaders and three other people who worked on the administrative side of things. To them, this was great fun: a chance to backpack with friends without a bunch of bratty youngsters to contend with. 

So being the only girls hiking the back country, we were treated kind of special. I know that Terri chafed against that at first. We passed many boy groups hiking, sometimes as many as twenty in a group. My brother was in one of these, and I remember waving to him as we passed each other on adjacent trails. He wasn’t having near as much fun. I’d been lucky, in a way… the anxiety of fitting into a peer group was lifted, because I was the only teenager. The older girls were nice to me, and since I was sort of shy, I didn’t pester or ask questions, and tried not to complain when my lungs were bursting, and that made them open up, let me in on their stories and the intrigues around camp, which was interesting.

There were outposts we tried to reach each day, permanent sites, a few of them with bathrooms and running water, but as we got further away, usually more like an outhouse and open-ended sheds for sleeping if the weather was poor. The first night we meadow-crashed. I never wanted the night to end, and fought sleep from snug inside my mummy-shaped sleeping bag, staring at the sky gently outlined by the long grasses on either side of me. But I was so tired, and morning came much too soon, with the conundrum of repacking. Backpacking fact: Your stuff expands and seemingly reproduces on the trail. Nothing ever fits snugly just the way it did the first time.

There was so much packed into those days, I could write a book about it. Weather and lightning hit us during the trip, and that was the first time Terri seemed happy enough to be treated like a girl. We made it soaked to an outpost way up in a wide meadow, sort of a mountain plateau. Many other groups were there at the same time, many of them had been forced to lie in the grass when the storm hit, ferociously, because being too close to one of the tall trees on the perimeter was like standing next to a lightning rod, but so was striding out across the meadow in a patch where you could count as the tallest thing standing. They huddled around the eaves of the cabin, while inside, the three main guys that supervised that post made a delicious stew and corn bread for their dinner which smelled exactly like heaven. 

They picked us out quickly from the mob of boys, and invited us in for dinner. I remember those faces peering into the small cabin window as we ate our beautiful meal. I felt a little guilty, but my hiking mates ate with such gusto, toasting the miserable creatures outside, and they were all beautiful, their hair wet, mouths wide and laughing. It made me understand a little bit what it is to be a goddess— a creature of fertility and sensuality. Even damp and dirty and exhausted our skin shone, and I’m not sure the boys at the window only looked at the food with hunger. 

The night most relevant here was soon after  this one. Another post where we were given special treatment by the guides, mainly because Terri had an off again, on again liaison with one of them- a great bearded fellow (and this puzzled me. Terri had hero status in my eyes, and she could have plucked the hottest fellow from all the guides and rangers, but she wanted him. This also made me understand, subtly, that he must be special in ways I could not discern.) This time, it was not cornbread in a cabin, but a chance to sleep in a place that was usually forbidden. As a part of their educational outreach, Philmont had erected a line of tipi’s here in this back country spot. These conical tents were used for special presentation, and visits from the genuine Native Americans who sometimes held conferences/retreats at the ranch. That’s also why a sweat lodge was along the trail somewhere, but no one was allowed to sleep in the tipis, for the insides were just as decadent and startling as the out, lined with animal skins and furs, and rich bead work. They were show pieces.

But we got to sleep there. The bearded fellow bent the rules for us, and I didn’t even know how privileged we were until I saw all the girls exchange startled glances, and Terri smile a very un-Terri like, proprietary smile at the results her suitor had wielded.

We slept that night in two separate tipis: Four of the leaders and me in one, Terri and her fella in the other. I don’t know how it came about, but I was directly in the middle, under the little hole in the top from which I could see the stars as I lay there. It was a strange experience. Even in that atmosphere a part of my mind kept needing to tell me that these weren’t ‘authentic’ tipis, they were for show. A museum recreation- but the skins were real. There’s a smell, even to clean animal skins that never leaves. A sort of spiciness, maybe enhanced by the methods they use to preserve the hide. That smell is part of my dreams, and also the fact that it was only soft sounds. Amy, one of my leader people had a tendency to snore, but I remember vividly looking up through the hole way up high, at the apex, and feeling around my periphery the young women who slept, all faced inward, in a circle around me. Their breathing was soft, no one snored, no one shifted.

I laid there and thought about Chris. We had broken up months before, but Chris was still all over my heart, and I had brought him with me by bringing the ring, that tiny little gold band. But the day had been cold, then hot, then cold again, and as my fingers warmed they swelled and tingled, making the ring uncomfortable on my finger. Not even thinking, I slipped it off.

It’s blurry— I know I put it on my first finger, the upper part, just to keep it, but it was too loose there. I think I put it in a plastic bag, I remember that, but I don’t know why I had a plastic bag on me. My stuff was far away, on the perimeter of the tipi.

I put it in that baggie and slipped it under the skin I lay on, under my head. I felt like he was with me, and drifted off, thinking that.

And in the morning it was gone.

It wasn’t worth much, except to me. I don’t think someone came and stole it, it just… disappeared. I upended a lot of skins, looking for it. I dug around and threw stuff. It became more and more of a long shot. We were moving on, going to have breakfast with those fellas then hike out, but I asked Terri if I could return for something I’d lost, and she nodded, so I rushed back up the grass slope to the line of tipis which looked completely different- too whitish, and canvassy, and odd in the daylight, not the glowing things that fit into the night scene.

There was no bag, no ring- my fingers clawed dirt, though this doesn’t make sense to me now. It was gone.


There’s relevance, or I’ve drawn it as such, in my head, what happened a few nights ago. My dream.

In the dream, I am in a room, and there is some urgency due to the circumstances, but the room is a room in my grandmother’s house that I don’t recognize. I just know it is. And I’m looking for something, but where I end up looking is my uncles pack. It seems he’s staying there and he discovers me looking there, and it’s inappropriate to be looking in his stuff like that. I’ve established some sort of intimacy this way, being alone here with his things, and now with him. I know that I did this. And then he’s taking me on the bed. I see a roll of wrapping paper extend out, and it’s crinkling underneath us. The white side is up, but the whole wall is red, and the paper is too, where it creases up.

I’m not unwilling, but I’m upset, way deep inside, cus I’m getting away from something terribly important, and I can’t seem to make myself stop yielding to it. He’s not the one I wanted, and in the act he seems awkward, solid, his face grows red. He’s not unkind but I understand that he is doing what has to be done and will move on from it without passion when the time comes.

And the scary part is that I’m cleaving away from something that I know is very important but I feel so divorced from what it is, and what it feels like. I am letting it happen.

I know what that dream meant. I know what it represented, and why. It was about the person I talked to the night before, and how I let an old, established intimacy build a sort of… potential situation between us. I was sort of lulled into letting a moment of closeness stretch out because it was familiar and safe, and the more I talked the more it seemed like that was an act of letting go, slipping a ring off my finger, yielding. And I didn’t want to do that at all, so I don’t know why I almost did.

For a moment  I was that easily swayed-  a moth perched on the end of a grass-blade, letting the wind push her whichever way. And I despair  at that..

In the morning, I was disgusted and shaken at my dream, and also by the passivity in me that yielded it. I felt sort of sick inside, and then the phone rang, and there he was: Recognizable, real, recalled. The precious, unidentified thing that my night carried me away from was right there.

It was like finding that ring when I thought it was gone for good. Thank God it wasn’t lost irrevocably.

It seems important that the dream was so startling and warped. Like a warning. I’m glad it couched my actions with more authenticity- the gross, unnatural aspect of the scenario-  no matter how ordinary it all played out, I can recoil from the idea of letting something happen.

And fight. Fight for what I want, not just be stupid and passive and lose something important to the seductive darkness.

Cus there’s a hole in me, sure, that seems predisposed to that, but it isn’t heart-shaped. It’s a circle. The circle of patterns that keep repeating, the circle of  a tipi, the round absence of weight that a circlet forms around my finger. Circling back to the scene of old crimes to try and find new beginnings.

In real life, my uncle would have seen me there, and sent me on my way. ‘This isn’t where you belong.”

In a way, my ex did the same thing, he did it a long time ago, though we came to miss each other. It was in a goodbye speech he made from the circle of his own thoughts. 

“Reach out and take what you want, Alissa. It’s right there, reach out and take it…”

What are you waiting for?


An historical glance at 4-20

It is the twentieth day of the fourth month of the Gregorian calendar. The date 4/20 is of particular note because…      gregorwatch

* Today, the territory of Wisconsin was created, in 1836. It’s a beautiful state if you have a taste for sweeping agricultural vistas, and the big north woods. If you’re going to go explore, leave your Mary Janes at home and wear some hardy hiking boots.

* Today, in 1861, Robert E. Lee resigned from the U.S. Army to serve as senior military advisor in the newly established confederacy. His tactical intelligence nearly thwarted the union at several points, but his decisive defeat at Gettysberg marked a turning point. When the new Union Commander, Ulysses Grant  took control, Lee’s forces could not sustain their losses, and the North won the war. Many Southern states still have their nose out of joint about that.

* Today, in 1770, Captain Cook allegedly discovered Australia (with a band of interesting fellows who got some ambitious notions about how things ought to go when their Captain tromped off to explore for awhile) Bill Bryson, in his book ‘A Sunburnt Country’ points out that this discovery was a bit less trail-breaking then it sounds:

“At some undetermined point in the great immensity of its past—perhaps 45,000 years ago, perhaps 60,000, but certainly before there were modern humans in the Americas or Europe—it was quietly invaded by a deeply inscrutable people, the Aborigines, who have no clearly evident racial or linguistic kinship to their neighbors in the region, and whose presence in Australia can only be explained by positing that they invented and mastered ocean- going craft at least 30,000 years in advance of anyone else, in order to undertake an exodus, then forgot or abandoned nearly all that they had learned and scarcely ever bothered with the open sea again.

It is an accomplishment so singular and extraordinary, so uncomfortable with scrutiny, that most histories breeze over it in a paragraph or two, then move on to the second, more explicable invasion—the one that begins with the arrival of Captain James Cook and his doughty little ship HMS Endeavour in Botany Bay in 1770. Never mind that Captain Cook didn’t discover Australia and that he wasn’t even yet a captain at the time of his visit. For most people, including most Australians, this is where the story begins.”

Yup. Our intrepid (proprietary) European Might !! sort of takes a hit against the backdrop of historical accuracy.

* On this day in 1889, Adolf Hitler was born. Approximately 50 years later, all of Europe went to pot. Seriously, you couldn’t get a decent latke if your life depended on it. Between 8 and 11 million peoples’ lives did depend upon a reasonable and basically decent political culture. They died while friends, neighbors and family members stood by, paralyzed by fear.

Happy birthday, dolfo. If there’s such a thing as Hell, you’re gonna have trouble blowing out your candles.

* On this day, in 1916, Wrigley field opened in Chicago. Gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. was the team owner at the time. The site of the stadium was previously home to a Chicago Federal League team, the Chicago Whales, but has been home to the Cubs since then. Sometimes they smoke their opponents, and sometimes their opponent smokes them, but it’s generally agreed upon that the hotdogs are decent, regardless.

(Here- A ‘colorful’ but very entertaining account of the ‘Wrigley Field Hotdogz’)



What a funny thing

There is a passage in Michael Crichton’s book ‘Congo’ which has always kind of stuck with me. Before I go on, if you aren’t familiar with the book, Congo is the story of a research crew who take an expedition into the African Rainforest to recover a particular kind of diamond which will change the technological future.

As in so many Crichton novels, the human tendency to assume conditions may be controlled with technology and human intelligence proves fatal to many of the explorers. An ancient and unknown species of gorilla guards the diamond mines and ends up thrashing the efforts of the adventurers. A big ol’ volcano takes care of the rest.

Congo certainly isn’t my favorite Crichton novel; I think it’s probably one of his most far-fetched and least engrossing stories. I’m a big Crichton fan generally: Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and even his lesser known novels like Timeline, combine science and ingenuity with a palpable emotional sense of tension and drama. Crichton was a tremendously talented and thoughtful author- not something I expect of mainstream novelists.

But the passage that caught me up was an observation by gorilla trainer Peter Elliott. The crew has taken a gorilla named Amy and her trainer with them on the expedition. Amy seems to immediately recognize the other species of gorilla. She uses sign language to identify them as ‘bad things’. These gorillas had something to do with an earlier trauma in Amy’s youth.

Peter is startled to observe that Amy, when faced with the absolute, inescapable fact of having to confront these enemies, becomes not overwrought or hostile or frantic, but rather… apathetic.

The overwhelming specter of her fate produces lethargy.

It’s like- it’s too much to react to. Almost a paradox: The most horrifying doom has descended, and Amy responds with boredom. What a strange reaction. Is it realistic?

I think so. I think I’ve gleaned a little insight to that very striking dynamic in what otherwise was a fairly farfetched and forgettable adventure. And I believe, though I can’t be sure, that Michael Crichton probably had some first-hand experience of post traumatic stress disorder which informed his description.

Major conflict takes place in the brain when we find ourselves in a situation where incompatible ideas arise side by side within us. People are a paradox, and cognitive dissonance is the natural byproduct of a consciousness that requires consistency, encompassing a nature that will tend toward intuitive rather than rationally informed choices. The vast landscape of human perception requires that inconsistencies will exist, and that there will be instances of hypocrisy between beliefs, behaviors and emotions.

For instance, you may abhorr violence, but feel satisfaction at the graphic death of an enemy. You may sincerely believe in inclusiveness, but silently house a prejudice that deeply influences your life choices.

People are a paradox. Striving to maintain a workable balance between conflicting thoughts and feelings is probably as good as most people can get to consistency.

In post-traumatic stress disorder, there is a similar conflict that takes place in the mind. People who suffer PTSD have been in a situation of intense harm or prolonged threat of harm to their person. Their view of the world and their place in it changes after the trauma, and so they tend to see things as before and after the traumatic event.

People who experience PTSD tend to be in a constant state of tension, because part of the brain is trying to resolve the traumatic event, trying to create a framework which reasserts the ego. But the ego also finds this painful to the point of impossibility because the obliteration of the self was the threat, and avoiding that scenario and the emotions correlated to that scenario are of utmost importance to personal well-being. So no sooner is the mind trying to resolve and process the trauma, then the mind is also, simultaneously repelling itself from that same process and everything associated with it.

The handbook of experiential psychotherapy states it this way: “The part of the self that expresses these avoiding processes often adopts an explicitly protective stance in which the reexperiencing processes are viewed as a threat to the person’s physical or mental integrity.”

This inner conflict becomes so seamlessly woven into the way you perceive and respond to things, that the person doesn’t really know what’s happening. They may recognize certain patterns, but not have any understanding of why such responses consistently play out.

It’s not unusual for their behavior to puzzle friends and family members.

For example, I am able to get close to people romantically, but when I become close to someone, it is usually followed by becoming easily angry and pulling away for the slightest of reasons.

What happens inside my head is I feel vulnerable when someone gets close, and I become extremely sensitive, attuned to any words, any behaviors, quick to close off from that nearness. Being too close is a threat. Push… pull. That phrase is a repeating mantra in a series of doomed relationships.

And so, it isn’t really that surprising that I feel a sort of despair when I recognize that I have fallen in love. It is an extremely agitating state, and the more deeply I feel, the greater the despair. Due to the emotional conflict and unpleasant feelings of hurt and anger associated with the hypersensitive receptors to threat, it isn’t a very pleasant prospect to find myself deeply, emotionally engaged. Part of me *wants* that very much, wants to be close, wants to treat the one I like a lot with care and tenderness. But it is extremely difficult to sustain. It’s like trying to keep your finger off of a hair-trigger, and still hold onto the gun. It would be a lot safer to all involved just to throw the gun far, far away.

Our gorilla friend, Amy… her apathy was despair. Faced with a situation of immense threat, a situation that she had avoided for as long as possible, one that she could not meet or overcome or escape, lethargy was the natural response. If you cannot face a situation and you absolutely hafto, yet you absolutely cannot, what do you do?

You give over. You don’t fight. You don’t respond. You are the plaything of fate, and you submit utterly to the circumstance because there are no alternatives. You shut down. Amy shut down.

I know that Michael Crichton worked as a doctor, and was a writer/producer for the television show E.R. Maybe this was the source which prompted insights into the mind of someone with PTSD. Or maybe he had first-hand experience. Anyway, it’s a funny thing: Horrifying doom producing boredom, crazy love inspiring despair. Such contradiction thrives in fictional accounts, but its home turf remains at the heart of human nature.