“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Friday, August 16, 2013

The First of the Paradoxes: Traveling Light, Part Three

I have said before that I am always excited, happily so, when I find myself in the presence of a paradox, because it means that I am approaching truth.

[Dear Truth -- such a strange figure, isn’t she?  Elusive and, when available, so often unpleasant, yet she remains for us the beloved, the one true love, doesn’t she?]

The last thing MRM said to me, as I was cleaning the kitchen floor on my hands and knees after our spat over the turkey, was “You’re going to jail -- and you’re going to have a record!”  He was trembling with fury, shouting at me while he dialed 911 on his mobile.

And all I’d done (I say disingenuously) was agree with him a short time earlier, when he had said, “You don’t really love me!” in the petulant tone of a manipulative child working his parents.  I almost responded as I had many times by denying his statement and affirming my affection for him.  But this time I caught myself as I began to respond.  I felt the impulse to argue that I did indeed love him, primarily as a knee-jerk reaction to being bullied in that way.  But instead of acting on that impulse, I took a breath and said, “You’re right.  I don’t love you.  In fact, I despise you.”

Those words sent him running downstairs, where he stayed long enough to strategize, I guess, and to scratch the back of his neck so that he could tell the police that I had attacked him physically.  He wanted me to suffer the worst thing that had ever happened to him, which was being arrested (in his case for dealing methamphetamine in Los Angeles).  Having a record was continuing to cause problems for him 10 years later, especially as he tried to find work.  Being the son of a cop and having exploited the domestic violence laws many times in the previous ten to fifteen years, he knew what he had to say to guarantee my arrest.  All he had to do was to allege physical violence and to say that he was afraid of me.

I remember that as one officer led me, in cuffs, to the squad car, we passed MRM, who was standing with another officer in front of the house.  I looked hard at MRM and said the only thing I could think to say.  In my most sarcastic tone I said, “Thank you.”

Though I meant the remark sarcastically, I realize now that I might as well have been completely sincere.  For over a year, I had been living with MRM and his alcoholic cousin, RA, a psycho-therapist specializing in Post Traumatic Stress who drank himself to sleep every night and rolled out of bed just 15 minutes before he had to meet his first client of the day in the downstairs office.  They treated me as their house-slave.  I did all the cooking and cleaning, cheerfully shopped and gardened and ran errands for them both, washed and ironed clothes, etc. without receiving a penny in wages.  In fact, I paid rent and contributed to other household expenses, even covering MRM’s portion when he spent his earnings on drugs and who knows what else.  The only time I was paid was when RA gave me $50 to take his bi-annual exams to re-certify as a therapist.  (Ironically enough, one of the fields I tested in for him was Professional Ethics.  I scored 100 on all three tests.)

I had also been working in a gift shop for months, hoping to save enough to cover first and last months rent, security deposit and whatever other moving expenses I would incur by leaving.  MRM consistently took any money I tried to save from me, leaving me constantly frustrated and desperate to find a way out.  The one thing I did not consider was walking out the door and taking up life on the street, homeless, in order to escape the abusive pair.

In a sense, life on the streets was an imaginary world that I could not imagine.  As if the life of the unhoused were an alternative reality very like my own but in some other dimension, I could see no gateway, no passage between worlds, that could allow me to step out of one and into the other.

I remember my arrest and the ensuing days as dream-like, the kind of experience you cannot believe you are having.  Survivors of natural disasters or shipwrecks know what I mean.  Many people feel the same way about September 11 of 2001:  the real world became unreal, as if the fabric of that in which we live had been rent and some other place was revealed behind it.

You might say that I, like Alice before me, fell down a rabbit-hole and landed in another world.  I had remained a prisoner because I did not think I would know how to live without the furniture (both literal and figurative) of the life into which I had been born.  But when MRM took from me everything I had been sacrificing my freedom, my dignity, and my very self to hold onto, I discovered that I did not need any of it.  I could stand on the beach in the midst of the storm, without shelter or support, and the waves broke over me.  I did not break.

Fear of losing the trappings of the life I knew had imprisoned me and enslaved me to my abuser, and when he meant utterly to ruin me by wresting those things from me and tossing me out into the street, all he did was set me free to be myself truly, perhaps for the first time in my life.

What you call your possessions possess you.