Saturday, February 25, 2006

Like Joan of Arc, coming back for more

This past week I have been trying to "honor" my feelings, to use the nomenclature of Oprah, which I've just been dying to do. (Speaking of Oprah, I feel that I should address that million little pieces controversy, since what I'm doing here is in essence a memoir. This is all true! I did not make it up! Isn't that scary!)

Anyway, I'm "listening to" and "respecting" my feelings, trying to take how I feel into account. Since our rational, thinking brain is generally regarded to be the opposite of our feelings (just ask Myers-Briggs), I expected some resistance in that area. Much to my surprise, my rational self gets along famously with my feeling self. For example-

F: That person's behavior is hurtful and frustrating to me.

What I expected to think-
T: Shut up, loser.

What I actually thought-
T: I think you should tell that person to stop treating you like that.

Shocking! I am glad they get along. But my week of listening to my feelings was not all harmony and joy. Part of me felt bad when I stood up for myself. You may wonder if it was the drama junkie, my previously identified attraction to unproductive situations. Maybe you're thinking, as I am, that I sure do have a complicated personality, and why can't I just get over myself? Pipe down, critical self.

No, the part of me I am referring to is my martyr. The martyr thinks I should sacrifice my own feelings to go along with what other people want. Where did I learn to do this? My childhood, of course. Abusers do not come out and say, "I am treating you unfairly because I am a bad person." They tell you that your asking for it, you are misbehaving, you have a bad attitude, you are a bad kid, you deserve it. When you are a child and your parents and other adults tell you that, you believe it. You believe it is your fault, if you were a better person people would treat you better.

Pretty much my whole life, I have tried to win my dad's approval, despite how he treated me. I cannot be myself and tell my mom how I really feel, because people's feelings upset her, dealing with reality upsets her. I felt I needed to take care of my brother, that I was responsible for him. I felt that my family was dependent on me playing along. After I was put in a foster home, I talked to my mom and she cried that they had to hire a lawyer and I hurt the whole family with my selfishness. My family clung to the mythology that every problem was my fault. (I was the lightning rod, hence the title of my blog.)

I feel guilty when I say no to people. I feel guilty when I tell someone they hurt my feelings, or even just burden someone with my feelings. I feel guilty when I hurt someone's feelings, no matter how justified. I feel guilty when I listen to my feelings (besides guilt, of course). This blog makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty that you are reading this. I am wasting your time. I even feel guilty about stuff that has nothing to do with me.

Should I sacrifice my martyr? It is not as easy as that. Having a martyr complex is not all bad. To quote my friend (yeah, I wish) Tori Amos, you're just an empty cage, girl, if you kill the bird.
My martyr is the part of me that is irrational, passionate, and impulsive, disregards sensible advice, willful, endearing, pathetic, sympathetic, exuberant, skilled at laughing at myself, and painfully human. It always believes in people and situations, no matter how foolish and ill advised that might be. It is the part of me that is skilled enough and strong enough to keep picking myself up, surviving through anything, still loving life and knowing that I will always be happy no matter what, and yet clings to the despair that keeps dragging me back into dark places that make it hard to be at peace with myself.

So, what do I do with myself? The good news is I have a role model- Set, of the Ancient Egyptians. Set killed His brother Wesir (Osiris), and fought His nephew Heru (Horus) and His sister/sister-in-law Aset (Isis) for control of Egypt. The struggle for power tore the family and the Egyptian pantheon apart. He does not sound like a great role model, does he? If it was not for the battle with his uncle, Heru would not have been strong enough to take rule of Egypt. Set is the God of appropriate action, and when Ra (the Sun God) decided against Him for Kingship of Egypt, Set accepted his new role at the front of Ra's sun boat. While the sun is down, Set is battling evil so the sun can rise the next morning. Without Him, the world could end.

Even though the Ancient Egyptians had no shortage of Gods and Goddesses, their religion is a monolatry, that is, many gods that are really aspects of one god. Everyone has their role, their place in the whole. The way to deal with destructive energy is to make it constructive, recognize the positive. I suppose that's the point of all this; different parts of me have been going in different directions, had different goals, and were clashing with each other for control. I cannot get rid of these parts of me, and I don't want to. It is not like a puzzle either, where everything fits perfectly together. Regardless, there is only 1 of me, and all of these parts of me are me, as fragmented and scattered as they sometimes seem. I am gathering together my million little pieces. (Could I be sued for that?)

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Only Dream I've Had About My Brother, Lately

The Only Dream I've Had About My Brother, Lately

Jeff, I dreamt I was looking for you.
It was like an X-Files; dark
blue and black, cold and vivid
like when Mulder followed that alien
to the North Pole and almost died.
Scully saved him, of course.

My dream was like that only somehow
I knew what had happened.
You and your friends
had climbed a glacier.
They made a snow cave to sleep in.
During the night the cave gave way.
You refused to leave.
The glacier enveloped you
as you froze to death.

The night after you shot yourself
mom dreamt you were standing there,
in her bedroom, tall and brown
like the wheat fields around the house.
She talked to you and you were so real
she woke up, screaming.

I’m still waiting, Jeff,
for my visitation. I’m losing faith
in spirits and signs, maybe aliens,
because the sky is thin,
clouds wisp to white film and I know
you would have come to see me
if you could.

Even in my dream I’ve come too late
to save you, too late for anything
but your corpse. Your hands
are still tan and thin,
delicate, but your face
has swollen strangely,
turned blue as the horizon.

copyright Kristina Coker

Sunday, February 19, 2006

My Heart

Yesterday I was cleaning my apartment, and I needed to get into a chest where I keep most of my brother's stuff. A year after he died, my dad was just piling things in his room, and it was full of all sorts of junk mixed in with things that meant something about my brother. Pens and pencils, camping food, 3 or 4 sleeping bags, pottery that he made, things that he wrote, a box of Kleenex, and a calendar from the year he died. It was stuff for someone who is still alive. Dead people do not need stuff.

It disturbed me that his room was just sitting there like that. What really disturbed me was that he left it that way- it was a mess. You'd think he could be bothered to clean his damn room before he shot himself. I mean really. Then my aunt picked up his clothes off the floor and washed them, and then put them away in his dresser. What was that for? It's not like he would be wearing them again. Well, my weird thing was to clean up his room, throw away all the stupid, worthless stuff, and give some of the worthwhile stuff to my dad, some to my mom, and some to me. I have kept the stuff that meant something to me in the chest, or around my apartment, like his pottery, pictures of him and a picture he took, and 1 of his paintings.

In the chest I have some of his t-shirts that say funny things that I remember him wearing, his video game player and games that he loved, his high school yearbook, books that his girlfriend gave him, which is kind of creepy of me because she wrote things in them. Not explicit things or anything, just affectionate things. The way she writes reminds me of a friend of mine from high school. I also added other things from him, like a copy of an email poem he sent me-

Hello, its your bro.
How does it go?
I have a job and you should know,
I will now be rolling in the dough.
Now I can buy a hoe
And make my garden grow,
And find some grass that I can mow,
And get a boat that I can row.
I think I will brew some joe
And dance to and fro.
Oh no!
I've stubbed my toe.
Oh woe, oh woe.

As you can tell, talent for writing poetry runs in our family! I think its clear he also had a sense of humor. We had a never-ending supply of inside jokes growing up. Of course I have lots of memories of him- when Mt. Saint Helens blew up and darkened the sky to pitch black in the middle of the afternoon, and Jeff woke up from his nap confused and angry because he thought we had let him sleep too long. He came over in his Grover pajamas, snuggled up under my arm, and glared at my parents, who were laughing at him. Playing in the sand box with Star Wars figures (he was born the year Star Wars came out, and died the year it was re-released.)

When he fell down our grandparents stairs and split his skull. How after that he was afraid to go over bridges. When he was in high school, he told me he'd had multiple concussions, 4 or 5, some that our parents did not know about. He fell off his bike, he hit his head rock climbing, one time he woke up with blood matted in his hair. How they played "Jungle Boogie" at his high school graduation and he told me he made them do that. The crazy letters he would send to the Pullman School Board, the type that would make Grandpa Simpson proud.

When he was going to college in Eugene and I went to visit him, we spent all night talking and calling 1 of the local radio stations trying to get them to play the long version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" until they got annoyed with us. Everything he did made me laugh, and everything I did he was proud of me for. How devastated he was when 1 of his best friends died of a congenital heart defect when he was 18. How he questioned his own life. When he became withdrawn. How he seemed to be going through the motions near the end. The call that I got from him a month before he died where he seemed to want to tell me something important, but instead talked about The Simpsons and a crossword puzzle.

The memories, the things, what people say about him, are like clues or pieces of a puzzle that don't go together, no matter how hard I try to make them fit. It doesn't make sense, even if I look at the "clues" that he was self-destructive and depressed. Most of his injuries were accidents or happened in Boy Scouts. Their friend's death from the heart defect affected all of his friends, but none of them killed themselves. However, that is not really the issue with me. The problem I have is that I remember Jeff the way he was when he was alive- funny, active, goofy, fun, sweet, and now I have a whole other collection of memories- when I got the news, planning his funeral, seeing his dead body at the viewing, cleaning out his room, and reading the police and the autopsy reports. I have the image of his bloated, blue corpse forever in my head, and phrases in my mind: "a rifle on the left side of the body, dried blood in the area of the mouth and nose, pool of blood on the ground, cool to the touch, rigor mortis, lavidity, self-inflicted gunshot wound, a light beard with side burns, dark black soot, pink frothy fluid within the oral cavity, significant amount of subarachnoid hemorrhage, missile tract."

It may seem twisted for me to obtain and read the police and autopsy reports, as the clerk at the Pullman Police seemed to think when I showed up there the day after the funeral insisting on a copy. The coroner was more understanding; he even told me he could see why I would want to read it. Pullman is a small enough town that everyone knew what happened, and knew who I was. So why did I need to read these things, and why do I feel the need to write about it? Because for me it is reality. That was how my brother died. He was a lively person who had a ton of friends who loved him, yet he died in an isolated part of the WSU campus and a stranger found him with rigor mortis setting in. It was an "apparent suicide" so an autopsy was performed. Then his body was put together, cleaned up, dressed up and put in a coffin with his bike helmet, where I looked at him for as long as I could stand (a few seconds). That memory will never leave me. Somehow, it was easier to look at his distorted face, then to see that his hands still looked like they did when he was alive. In fact, they looked like mine.

That is the reality to me. That death is cold and unresponsive. That it is distant, it is clinical, and it is final. It is incomplete, because there are no answers. It is just over, whether you are ready to say goodbye or not. The closest thing that I have to a suicide note is what Jeff left in his room:

Brahma the Creator
Vishnu the Preserver
Shiva the Destroyer
Find a path with heart and follow it to the end. -Castanada
He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. -Nietzsche
Welcome to my nightmare

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Damaged Goods

If its hard to believe that some creep forcing himself on me 17 years would still be tearing me up, I can’t believe it myself. Note to self: this is still affecting you. I’ve kept hoping that I would find someone I could learn to trust, and would be patient and stick around long enough that I could get comfortable and open up. The problem is, I choose to be in situations where that’s never going to happen, and when it could have, I still couldn’t let go of my fears. Something inside me is terrified of letting other people know how I feel, and revealing that part of me that is so hurt and damaged.

I hate that part of me. I’ve been trying to suffocate it practically all my life, but it won’t die. I think the books I’ve been reading would say this was my inner child. That scared part of me, the part of me that can’t toughen up, the part of me that is confused and doesn’t know what to do, the part of me that wants to be close to people even though the dominate part of my personally thinks that only leads to emotional entanglement, dependency, and then betrayal, abandonment, and pain.

These same books say that abused children often develop 2 personalities- the one who hurts and the protector, the strong one. When you’re able to identify with the strong personality, that persona insulates you from the pain that the other part of you is bearing. It’s no wonder that the hurt side of me is suicidal, while strong side can’t even understand that feeling. The protector part of me has tried to take over, thinking that other part was weak. That other part of me seems whiny and needy, which is very threatening and discomforting to the rest of me.

I blamed everything that happened on that half of me, and then tried to drive it out of existence because I thought if that part of me were gone then all the pain, depression, rage, and self-destructiveness would go with it. My protective side made the decisions (seemingly), and these decisions were always based on the rules of self-preservation I learned growing up- never trust anyone, never show any weakness (that is, emotions), be decisive, pretend bad things didn’t happen, always put up a front that you’re in control of the situation, and assume everyone is looking for a way to take advantage of you. I’ve shut out the part of me that could have balanced out my tyrannically guarded, overdeveloped defensive side, and I thought I was doing it in my own best interest.

I am at war, and since I’m no longer living with my dad, or visiting my great-uncle, or being ambushed and raped, I’m at war with myself. My strong side wants to destroy my emotional side, and my emotional side threatens to destroy everything. Its no wonder I’ve been afraid to let that side of me out. In its confinement its grown and grown. The more I ignore it, the stronger it gets, and the more it colors everything I do, all my interaction with other people, the decisions I make.

It’s not bad, it’s just the feelings I haven’t been able to face- why did the bad things have to happen, and why did they have to happen to me? What is it about me that invites some people to take things out on me? Is there something wrong with me, am I damaged goods? Is there always going to be something wrong with me, am I a victim? If I acknowledge what happened to me as a child, I have to acknowledge that it is still affecting me, which means I haven’t escaped. I didn’t fight my way out; I didn’t run away- I’m still there emotionally. And what if that mean I’ll always be there?

If I invite that damaged part of me to rejoin the rest, I’m letting the abuse be a part of who I am. I’m admitting to myself, I was victimized, and I was damaged. Other people hurt me, and even though I tried, I wasn’t able to protect myself. No amount of me damaging myself is going to take that feeling of powerlessness away. When I feel powerless, I feel like a child, and when I feel like a child, I feel overwhelmed with fear, loneliness, and betrayal. When I’m the strong one, I’m able to pretend that I’m always in control, that no one has or ever had that kind of power over me.

Of course, if you think you’re always in control, you blame yourself for everything that happens, past present future. I’ve blamed myself for the abuse, for the rape, and for Jeff's suicide. I think I should be able protect myself from anything, and if I don’t, what happens is my fault. It’s just too threatening to my strong persona to let other people be responsible for what they do. If I did that, I would have to accept that bad things don't happen because I failed, they just happen. I can't change what happened, and I can't prevent bad things from happening in the future.

Monday, February 06, 2006

How I Became a Nereid

How I Became a Nereid

What was it like for you, little
nymph, when that sun god plunged in
your waters, the eternal
father of horizon, his flaming hand
holding your delicate foot; did your skin
burn as you lay on the sand?

a waterbed will absorb most anything an embar
rassed teenager open mouth pleading under his 24yearold
body pushing me down to sinking every movement
a gentle undulation my face pressing into damp low
I’ve stopped breathing.

Andromeda’s stroke is slow and even.
We are in the same ballet company. I call out
to her- river water rushing in my mouth.
I cough and spit, “I can’t swim anymore.”
Paul turns to me. He is a senior.
“Roll over on your back.” Melted ice flows
from mountains into my muscles. I am
floating. The sky is gray.
I rise from the Snake river palms open.
Andromeda’s leg is against Paul’s.
They lie on the sand.

I am restless tonight; the bed creaks as I rise;
when I return you rub your toes along
my arches, dancer’s feet once, ten
years now I am twenty-four and feeling you
suck your breath, suck your breath in deeper
sleep, you move your feet, you tread water.

Copyright Kristina Coker

Sunday, February 05, 2006


17 years ago, I was 17. 17 turned out to be a seminal year for me- it all came to a head that year. Before that, I was just being a teenager the best I could. My mom thought that I had a boyfriend. I found her insinuations annoying. I still was not a big fan of being touched, and I was afraid I could never have a boyfriend. Still, Jack drove me home from school every day and dropped me off last, even though I only lived the closest to school. He didn't shoot fireworks at me, even though his friends called him a pussy for making me immune to that particular ritual of friendship. He never purposely shot me in the butt when we played paintball like the other guys did. He was nice, patient, and not angry at all even though he had a very large gun collection (paintball and real). He was the perfect guy, but I was afraid to be his girlfriend. So, I hung around him, hoping he would wear down my defenses eventually.

That summer he moved in with a college guy he knew. A block down the street 2 guys I knew from high school moved into a house with a 24 year old guy named Tom that no one seemed to know much about. He was tall and skinny, and he was creepy, hanging around a bunch of high school kids, leering at us. I avoided him. I had a friend, Laurie, who was only in town during the summers thanks to one of those creative custody arrangements, and she would come over and we would walk over there. We would basically ping-pong between the 2 houses. I was friends with 1 the high school guys, Brian, and Laurie had a thing for the other one, Vic. Laurie had figured out that there was something going on between Jack and I, so we balanced our time between the houses.

We were teenagers, it was summer, and both houses had access to alcohol through the roommates. Jack also had a beer-making project going on. His beer tasted horrible, but if we started at Brian and Vic's, we'd be a little tipsy and then we didn't care that the homemade beer was disgusting and drank it anyway. One night we went back to Brian and Vic's after Jack's on the urging of Laurie, who had unfinished business there. We were all hanging out in the living room, but soon Laurie and Vic were in his bedroom. Soon after, Brian, whose "bedroom" was the living room, went into Tom's room to lie down. I didn't want to go back to Jack's because it was late, he was in bed, and I wasn't exactly ready to crawl in bed with him. I didn't want to bother Laurie, knowing she had been crushed out on Vic all summer. I was afraid Tom, who was lurking in the kitchen, would try something since I was basically alone with him. So I thought the safest route would be to lie down next to Brian.

I curled up on the edge of the bed, trying not to move much since it was a waterbed and I didn't want to disturb Brian. I closed my eyes and breathed, hoping Laurie would be done soon. Breathe, in and out, in and out...

Suddenly I felt a weight on my back. Tom's long legs were pressing down on mine and forcing my legs open. I cursed myself for wearing a skirt. He had grabbed my arms and pushed them up, and was holding an arm and pressing his forearm against the back of my head, shoving my face into the waterbed. My first priority was trying to get my head in a position so I could breathe even though his weight was on my head and the waterbed was enveloping my face. At the same time, I was thrashing around, trying to get away, but he surrounded me with his limbs, and his body felt like a thousand pounds on my back. I had no leverage on the waterbed, which took my struggling and slapped it back on me. He whispered in my ear, "this is my bed. You came in here, now you have to sleep with me." I thought what about Brian? He's in your bed. And I thought, why isn't Brian doing anything? I thought he was my friend, and I could tell from his breathing that he was not asleep.

Then the nightmare really started. Tom had pulled down my underwear in the struggle and was trying to shove himself inside me. Because of how I was positioned, and because I was completely dry, and he had to hold me down at the same time, he kept stabbing and stabbing at me but couldn't get in. It hurt, it hurt, and I was trying not to cry and I was afraid he would just rape me in the ass and I thought that would hurt worse. I managed to turn my upper body while he was distracted by his efforts. He came down on my shoulder but I quickly said, "please just let me turn over." First, he said no, and I said, "you're not going to be able to get into me like that and I can't breathe. Just let me turn over." So, he did, but told me "you are going to have sex with me. You can't get out of it."

He kept holding me down and it still hurt. I lied there and tried to block it out, the way I blocked out my great-uncle. I looked at the walls, which were bare, like a prison. The window was behind me. I prayed for him to finish. I cursed myself some more for wearing a skirt and I was still trying not to cry. When he was done, I pushed him off me and stood up. He grabbed my arm and tried to pull me down, but ejaculating must have sapped his strength. I guess he wanted to cuddle with the high school girl he just raped.

I pulled up my underwear and went outside. I wanted to vomit. My head was throbbing. Laurie came out and wanted to know why I was outside. I didn't tell her.