I hear when most people are kept up at night about stresses and worries it is about upcoming events. This is not so much the case for me, at least not typically. My chronic late nights come from the past; ghosts and demons.
Ghosts stand there lurking about, not doing much and never utter words, but always persisting with their expressions of despair and helplessness. The demons grapple and bite my mind, body and spirit. The tooth sharp and punctures deep, sometimes to the bone, especially when they grip onto my skull in attempt to pop my brain with unbearable stress and pressure.
The dreams, where the ghosts and demons portal, usually start off nice and peaceful-ish, as I presume most dreams do. You know, normal like. But always, and I do mean always, the disruptions come.
Usually it’s the demons. The loud thud of a child’s body banging up against the wall, being tossed down a stairwell and told “you are worthless,” followed by the open handed smacks to the face and ribs.
Then there are the demons I created. The ones that pounded skulls into pavements and brick walls. Gun shots in the quiet nights that disrupted the ambiance of Harry Connick Jr. The shrieks of men when stabbing my fingers into their eyes or the shattering glasses smashed straight away into faces. The loud hollow thunder of a steel toe boot to the head. Those demons come more often than not. Those I have accepted. I can usually get back to sleep after their rotted stank disappears.
The most difficult nights are those when the ghosts haunt me, fortnight. Those are the visits I can’t seem to shake. The expressions on the faces of these ghosts with their slumped shoulders, hung dead with helplessness. The scared drooped voided eyes. The drawled tone from lipless mouths of children, Like I, and the beaten mother who had her spirit raped out of her. The scars from men that linger in our family, which cannot be settled until death himself finally takes me in the night; often, a welcomed foresight when worn out from sleeplessness.
The slumped over moans and long drawn out chronic sleeplessness settles into my most vital organ: skin. The stress also wears out ambitions within hours. Life obligations cantilever over the cesspool I dive into when I leave my warm bed and out the front door into a society that walks a bleak path of unsustainability.
Crass as it is, I desire the awakening humankind needs. A catastrophe of nuclear war to ensure that we all disintegrate as we let mother earth heal well for the next billion years, until she is ready to try again; then back to my home and bed that I reluctantly attempt to retire to. Only to awaken in an hour or two, so I can hang out with ghosts some more.
Twelve years old, blackened eyed and sore bruised ribs. Eyes puff swollen and dry from the tears. It is hard to believe that salty tears can become an abrasion on a child’s eyelids. I was stressed from the destruction of my home life. So stressed I had a skin condition, psoriasis, that attacked my eyelids. When I cried the dry edges of my lids would flake and feel as if hot needles were forced into them. Each stream of tears would scorch my eyelids. Literally. The bled abrasion bumps would swell when dry, then inflame worse with each and every tear to follow.
I would stay up as late as I could, awaiting for the old-man to sleep. Then I would play my music on my headphones. The metal would enter my blood flow from the ears and pump through my body. Eventually the music that activated my adrenaline would wear me out and I would literally pass out as if I had been drinking. This repeated until the day I left home, not long after my first suicide attempt at twelve years. Leaving home, probably the worst ghost of all.
All the beatings my mother and I endured, all of the screamed words and wails, cannot amount to the haunting destruction of the nothingness that I was flung into at age twelve. That ghost has no face. His body small and elevated high from the floor. Head slumped as if no neck, or perhaps snapped from the noose. No wails, no moans, as if sound, expression and voice abandoned the child who walks cold winter highways thumbing it city to city just to stay warm.
I recall, my mother’s face literally peeled dry skin from guilt. It was her turn. Her skin bled and burned with child abuse. My eye blackened from the gifts of an angry and drunken step-dad, charged on attack ordered by my mother. I did not want to leave, as bad as it was. I cried and begged my mom to come with me. To bring our siblings: “we can all just go mom, please” I cried.
I hated life, this was true. But I knew nothing else, except my mother. My only rock. She was all I had, her and my annoying lil’ brother; and the other two babes I would not intimately know. I was the gone’d big brother. Mom was fucked, no doubt. But the day I had to leave…and the years of homelessness and sleeping in abandoned buildings, vehicles and jail cells that followed…those are the worst ghosts ever.
The silence between concrete walls. Ghosts drift and float in hordes. Demons grip onto my skull with their teeth as their claws dig into my shoulders. Those nights that took eons to end. The ringing in my ears caused by the silence on the outside and the chaos on the inside. Those nights come back.
The institutions where children, like myself, are housed and contained, so that we do not burden society with the sight of our own failings. Unwillingness of neighbours and family members to intervene, fraught with excuse and denial. The dismissiveness of police, teachers and those useless fucking social workers who believe they are helping the world as they get paid to pretend they help abused kids. Denial is the echo in cold caverns where ghosts dwell.
The years I spent just wanting to die because the moans of ghosts and bites of demons are just too damned much to take. My friends from up north, most from surrounding Indian reserves, knew exactly how I felt; albeit they faced a few more challenges than I. That is why so many of my friends killed themselves in quiet violence. A few said goodbye before they left as they knew I would understand.
Ghost expressions haunt and demons bite memory that inject infections of our pasts. Heart throbs rapid and limb veins pulsate, while ears ring loud. Ghosts and demons only visible inside.
Each morning people (colleagues, bosses, professors) ask, “how are you?”
This poem was published in an academic peer reviewed journal aspeers – emerging voices in american studies (V. 6, 2013, Institut fur amerikanstik, American Studies Leipzig, Germany).
The latter narrative was written in 2012, and is a part of a collection of writing I refer to as my “long form declarative poetic narratives.”
When I was a child, we moved around alot. I went to eleven schools across Canada between grades three and eight. Throughout our families dysfunctional travels we lived in many places across Canada in three separate provinces. My parents liked taking pictures to savor the alleged ‘good times’ we shared as a family.
My position on cameras and pictures was indicative of my perspective on our family’s ‘good times’. I did not want any part of the family, the ‘good times,’ nor those damned pictures. I dreaded going on family outings to zoos and game ranches. I seen these animal sanctuaries as prison for animals, but there was even a bigger reason why I did not want to go. I was always berated when we went on these family outings because I complained a lot about my allergies; I did not know I had allergies.
My parents would bring the camera and we were told to smile. I hated cameras. I hated being told to smile. There was not much to smile about. I felt like I was being forced to lie about how I felt. I was expected to pretend we were a happy family even when my body screamed in pain on these family outings.
My eyes felt like I had pins sticking in the corners of my eyes. The only relief was to itch my eyes, but when I did so I squished the animal hair and dander further into my swollen flesh. After each rub the burning red sensation would ignite a fire in my child eyes.
My nose would dry out instantly. I was so allergic to the animals that the mere memory of the last zoo visit seemed to cause a major snot factory in my nostrils. Then my nostrils would dry out so rapidly that every breath dissipated every ounce of moisture in my sinus. My nose would get itchy due to the rapid drying and I would try to scratch. With each touch no matter how gentle my dirty lil’ boy finger attempted the dried out snot shards would cut into the insides of my nose. The nose bleeds would continue for hours as I attempted to dig out each dry clump of fractured boogers.
Consistently I was called a liar and a faker when I expressed discomfort as a result of these outings, no matter how much evidence there was on my child face. My eyes would get itchy, and swell up, while my breathing became difficult as my nose began to bleed. I would be called names that suggested I was weak and not worth the air that I struggled to breathe.
“liar! sissy. cry-baby. little girl. faggot!”
These words were not only stabbed into my heart when we went to zoos, but also when we went to family gatherings across the country. I was berated for complaining about me discomfort with travelling in a car filled with my parents’ cigarette smoke. We drove across Canada with the windows were rolled up in the middle of winter. I would choke, gag and cry on the smoky nicotine-stenched air. Powerless over adults’ decisions, afraid that if I made too big of a deal, over my need for air, a beating would surely follow. Often mom would reach into the back of the car with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth as she would yell at me. “Just take these and quit fucking complaining.”
She handed me a few assorted colored pills. My body would begin to feel weird and I would feel myself slip into a coma. Later in life I learned that these pills were Valium, Ativan and Gravol. When we arrived at our familial destination, the picture taking began. I was expected to be happy that we arrived to our families holiday cheer. The beer, smoking and dirty jokes. The incessant teasing of children followed by clicks and flashes of what are now called vintage cameras.
Our family outings were always filled with long drives, yelling, cigarette smoke, beer and sedatives. This had to have some long term affects on my little body. During my last year living with my parents, when I was twelve, we discovered that as a result of exposure to allergens a polyp had positioned itself in my nose. I had a giant sack full of pussy fluid blocking my nasal passage. I was forced to go into surgery. I was scared. After surgery my parents did not stop smoking in the car, nor taking me to the zoo. Shortly after my surgery I was tested for allergies and it was discovered that I was allergic to cigarette smoke and many animals. The allergy tests revealed I was allergic to 42 of the 56 things I was tested for.
I had severe allergies, a bleeding ulcer and a bad case of psoriasis. My doctor attributed all of these ailments to extreme stress. The doctor suggested that perhaps I had experienced some sort of trauma, whatever that meant. I didn’t know what “trauma” meant. My parents were not going to admit to any reason why I might be a stressed out twelve year old. They just called me crazy.
Thus, this ‘crazy-lying-little-faggot-sissy-girlie boy’ with an earring and long hair hated family trips. I hated zoos and those god-damned fucking cameras that were always winding and clicking and flashing stories and reminders of how much I wanted to die. I hated everything, including my life.
The camera clicked reminders of my self-hatred. I wanted to die. I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch everybody. I wanted to stick my middle finger up to the camera. My first memory of having my picture taken was at a family reunion. I remembered hating it. And hating everyone around me. When I look at that picture today, I see a wounded bruised faced child who was only living in order to anticipate death. I hated my picture being taken, except for once.
(spot the only one who does not want to be in the picture: me)
October 31st, the glorious hallowed eve was the only time of year I welcomed cameras and pictures. I could be anyone I wanted to be on halloween: Michael Jackson, the ‘black faggot’ as my step-dad would say; a rendition of KISS’ Paul Stanley, who dad also called a ‘queer’; or the character I created, Count-Punk-ula. Halloween was freedom and cameras were welcome because I could always express myself and hide at the same time. It was the only time that I could genuinely smile at the camera because I was somebody else.
Tonight I am unable to shake the memories of a conversation I had with a friend last year. It is more like an internal haunting. The conversation I had with my friend (R) reminded me of two other conversations I had with other friends (f) and (D).
Conversations about the tormenting ongoing agony of experiencing victimization. The child physical and sexual abuse that we all shared, perpetrated by different people in different spaces. Our experiences so different but the spiritual scars so similar. Every one of these three friends and conversations is about life and death. Tragic stories. My friends dead.
I am left with so many questions…
First the back story:
I was 17 (21 years ago) and nearly completed an 18 month sentence in juvenile detention. My friend (R) called me at the center to tell me our close friend (F) hung himself. My friend (F) who killed himself told me several times when we were younger why he wanted to die sometimes, we both trusted one another with our secret suicidal ideation and the abuse and pain that wouldn’t go away.
(This poem was written when I was 17, then edited and added to in 2012)
(R) and I never talked for years, and years. Then last year (R) called out of the blue. He wanted to change his life. And he said “Daniel you are the only one in our circle of friends who climbed out of the hole we grew up in. You understand me and I trust you like a brother. I want to kill myself. I can’t live like this another day.”
We talked about sex abuse and beatings and the crazy violent years we shared. He was hurting so badly, and secretly so was I. He was drunk, and I was sober, for twelve years. I invited him to get help and then he could come stay with me and clean up instead of suicide. “ok. I will be there in a week,” (R) said excitedly.
He never did show up.
(R) called again a few weeks later pissed drunk and said “I am finished. I can’t keep living like this anymore. With this. I am done Daniel. I had to call you because I know you are the only one who really knows me and understands me. We been through the same shit.”
He reminded me of the conversation we had years ago after he was convicted of raping a girl.
“Daniel, you were the only one who sat with me and told me to my face what you thought of it honestly. You did that without telling me I was a piece of shit. You understood why I did it. If I even did it. Hell I don’t even remember if I did. But I do know I could have done it. It was done to me. You know that Daniel. You know what those bastards did to me. When you told me our friendship had to end but you will always love me. You were the only one who ever did that.”
I couldn’t lie to (R) because I loved him, and I sure as shit could not lie to him last year when he called me on the phone disclosing that he could not continue living anymore. I did know in my heart why he wanted to die. It made sense. It was logical.
When you live with the memories of being a victim of child sexual abuse and physical abuse, which we both suffered and cannot trust anyone, or feel close to anyone, life feels pretty pointless. Its awful feeling like the world is pitted against you and the pressure inside the skull hurts so much you just want to die for relief. I understood the issues and thoughts (R) was describing. All of the stress from dealing with perpetrating abuse on top of all the abuse he had endured must have been way to much to deal with. I know I would have killed myself if I had to deal with that. I am glad I never did those ‘things.’ I was sad and hurt that he did. I watched my mother get beat and raped. That was an unforgivable act. I knew (R)’s spiritual tearing was very deep.
I couldn’t lie to him.
“Dude, you know I won’t lie to you. I love you. I often think sometimes that dying would have been easier than what I’ve had to live through in order to get to where I am. I lived for years on end in sheer emotional and mental agony, and suicidal, just to get to a place where I do actually want to live everyday. It would have been easier to die, but I had chosen to live. It does get better. It takes a long time, but it can happen. It ain’t easy bro.”
We talked a little longer. (R) said he had to end it all. I told him that I would miss him and that he knew I trusted him to do what he needed to do out of necessity and not malice. He just wanted the pain to stop. Me and (R) understood each other deeply. We both cried and said “goodbye.”
Soon after (R) was gone. He died blue, in a house that I used to party in when we were young.
When I got the news that (R) was gone, I was instantly reminded of a time when I was (D)’s twelve step sponsor. He was a former white supremacist skinhead. He would often call me upset that he couldn’t stay clean. He was proud he was not being violent or racist. That was a big accomplishment for him. But the benzos had him by the balls. Then one night he called me and said he was going to get high instead of meeting me like we planned the week before. I gave him alternatives. He declined. We got off phone.
(D) called back later that evening, he told me that he was going to kill himself. We talked awhile. He said that I understood him like no one else had. (D) said his hatred burns so deep because of the abuse he suffered and he couldn’t continue living and putting his parents through more hell with his addiction. I had to be honest with him. I was sad about his decision, but I could relate to his feelings. I explained to him that I could be there for him as long as he lives to the best of my ability. But we both knew I could not relieve what ailed him. He was calm cool and collected. I know why he felt he had to do it.
I told him I would miss him and asked him not too do it. But he had too.He said good-bye and hung up the phone. I was standing there in my kitchen crying. I knew he was slipping away.
He overdosed hours later in a hotel room. That was eight years ago.
Why did I survive?
How did I end up being the go-to “goodbye” friend?
Why am I still alive?
Will living get easier when I am in a silent room alone?
Will the memories of my screaming bloody raped mother ever leave my mind and body?
Will the pain of my childhood bruised face ever heal?
Will my bruised ribs ever heal, so I do not have to continue breathing memories of constant short breathes?
Will I ever dream in peace?
Will I ever be loved enough that someone wants to be next to me everyday in the most vulnerable ways?
Will it be possible to find a person to be a constant in my life every night?
Is it possible to meet someone who does not intentionally or inadvertantly hurt me?
Where are my three friends now?
Will I see them again?
Or is it only in my words that I am able to help them heal through my healing?
Do I miss them?
Or do I miss the connections I shared with them?
…so many questions, but the biggest one…
How and why have I survived this long?
This is not a poem. One of the things I have learnt is that my writing, much like many things about me, doesn’t fit inside a box. I colour outside of the lines and often end up challenging systems, institutions, and social norms as a result of that. It seems resistance, rebellion, and revolution are elements within my molecular structure. Ingrained to walk against the grain.
Time and time again the feedback I get on my poetic narratives are too declarative. So I have decidedly to stop calling my writing “poetry.” I had only adhered to the term poetry because everyone else calls it “poetry.” From now on I will refer to my writing as declarative poetic narratives.
Here is piece that comes from my first manuscript: A Declarative Poetic Narrative of a Bruise Faced Child
This piece is called to the blogosphere tonight after I was flooded with several memories from my childhood. The brutal rape of my mother that I witnessed at a young age, the beatings I endured, and the lonely wandering on BC highways and the mean streets of down town east Vancouver. Sometimes the best way for me to push out these memories is to write declarative poetic narratives, other times to read my already written memories and only sometimes am I compelled to blog ’em.