Pyromania Watered Down
Auld Lang Syne Grows the Fuck Up
In both flicker and flame
A child taught by love to violate
Lives to bring focus to
Violation as but Love’s embrace.
When I first submitted this poem for publishing in the publication, “The Power of Poetry,” I had been promised an open, experimental forum to display the fruits of my many labors. This particular publication, because I used a personal photograph of my first love, from college, post-breakup, sitting in a Ferrari, stylized to blur out her face enough to miss her identity but not her beauty and adding a black and white image of her eyes in the reflection of the car, refused to publish my piece. The reason? Copyright violation. No right of appeal to date.
So here it is, in a more open forum in Medium, in your face and with a twist. So now I will tell you a story to add “value” to the piece and the how and the why of the artistic expression behind it.
Lisa was a year younger than me and my sponsor for my Confirmation as a Catholic. Neither of us have retained that particular denomination in any active sense to date. But when we started dating in 1979, we were both on fire with the faith. I was barely 18. She was 17 on the way to 18.
As an older adult, some 25 years later, she would fly home from Las Vegas, before I reconnected with her in 2010, to attend Catholic Mass with her grandfather by his request and her sense of honor. She was in Vegas as a massage therapist at the spa of a large casino, having decided, for love and money, to leave Pebble Beach Company’s spa to be with her boyfriend of, maybe, a year or two. Who could blame her? Owing to the utter inability of the usual kabillionaire to properly hydrate and care for the suppleness of their physiques, the average massage therapist lasts, maybe, ten years before the repetitive motion injuries and stresses effectively ends their careers in the fine art of human to human touch. So, “rock on, sister,” was my response to that move from home to parts unexplored.
But anyone who knows math realizes that some 30 years passed between 1979 and 2010, so much water had traveled under the particular bridge that once connected us, person to person. She had left me, in the wayback machine, for some goofy-looking 23 year old male living in Morro Bay, known for its prominent, and rather large, volcanic plug that sits just offshore, proudly portraying its role in the “stuckness” of that particular geographic locale. But before the move to Stuckville, USA, they had become “Mr. and Mrs. Tower Zero,” in the college dorms that Summer, a place I had suggested she go when she was denied entrance into the English program at the school where we would matriculate, according to our plan, through our respective college curriculums. She was devastated by the academic denial, but yours truly came up with a speedy workaround that had her enter the program during the Summer quarter, rendering the denial of entrance null and void. But also setting the wheels in motion for the opening up of her world to a larger pool of available men and our sudden and heart-breaking (for me) ending.
The month before we broke up and she proceeded on with her life onward into Stuckville, she had told me that she would have my child. Say that to any conservatively-oriented 19 year old male as lonely and alienated as I felt and you can guarantee that an iron-clad bond will be formed between a man and a woman — really, a man-child to a woman-person — under normal circumstances. But the circumstances were not entirely normal for me as my mother had finally gotten the divorce from my father just prior to this Summer, a divorce my mother had promised would come to pass from the time I was in elementary school until the Summer of 1980, leaving me in the awkward position of working daily for my father at his service station, yet living at home with my mother, “relishing” the drama of the triangulation of their divorce and the emotional shredding that couples and children endure with the breakup of their families. It doesn’t matter if you see or hear the choo-choo coming; when you become accustomed to living on the train tracks, the pain of bouncing off the cow-catcher is still quite lethal to everything still left on the tracks at point of impact. My relationship and iron-clad bond with Lisa was the, “beloved Nell Fenwick,” I tried desperately to wrestle from the oncoming train. Poor Dudley. That Ronald Wilson Reagan had become the President of the US as the first Republican after Richard Millhouse Nixon only contributed to my sense of alienation and the collapse of my entire cartoonish sense of reality from the relative stability my life had once known. I was completely swept away by the events of 1980 by the Summer. In one two week period after I finally got the heave-ho, I managed, perhaps, 10 hours of sleep and lost 40 pounds from my already Auschwitz-worthy frame. To suggest that I was shithouse-rat crazy would have been an understatement. I wasn’t blathering with aphasia like my mother used to get, but I couldn’t shut off my head with the thoughts of what Lisa was doing with her new boyfriend, how they were doing it, when they were doing it and, most importantly, WHY they were doing it. It was OBVIOUSLY because of ME and MY FEELINGS. Narcissism knows no boundaries, victim or perp.
Once ol’ Doc Turner, our family physician and patron of the local jazz festival (cue the chorus line throughout the city where I was attempting to work in the public for my Dad) put me on sleeping pills for a few weeks, my sleep pattern returned to normal and I went from enormously hurt, sad and obsessively sad to just obsessively angry. Simply prick my finger and I would gleefully and ruefully recite, chapter and verse, how totally fucked up my life had become because of one single woman, my life’s uncontrollable circumstances and a pervasive sense of betrayal that I had been subjected to by this trashy woman I thought I’d fallen in love with. I mean, it all came out: the violence of my 1960’s neighborhood and the horrors I’d seen, the bullying and misery that any gifted kid goes through when tossed in with a cohort of statistically normal kids and how sick and sad my mother had been my entire life…all this came out in machine-gun rapid report and all you, as a woman I barely knew, asked for was for me to pass you the salt.
What followed for me was 30 years of more of the same and the sudden realization that being like my Dad was getting triggered by my sheer dislike of the man on whose stoop, like my mother before me, was placed all of our life’s travails. That I felt like I was getting bum-wrapped by, “the Man,” was, indeed, a reflection of the bum-wrap my father had been getting from me since the age of about 5. In some cases, for good reason, but, c’mon. Someone needed to teach me how to let that shit go, but no one was bothering to tell me how because, well, nobody I knew really understood how to do that. We all just grinned and beared the intractable misery, whatever it happened to be. The rash of teen suicides that we see in contemporary America today was pre-saged by the occasional teen suicide (I think we had one at our high school during our 4 years) that we had as children of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I think we can blame the Reagan Administration for that sociological innovation, too, as kids were suddenly thrust into a world where zombie-like mental patients, recently released from mental hospitals and psych wards from all over the State of California were suddenly and unceremoniously made available for the inspection, chagrin and astonishment of teenaged kids in my hometown. Hopelessness in the lower and middle classes always accompanies the expansion of privilege among the well-monied elites of society who have long since evolved beyond the need to work for a daily living. This, of course, gives them much more to time to indulge in the child abuse and neglect that eventually causes an even grosser generation of pathetic sociopaths to emerge from among the ranks of the idle rich. Bottom line, why should teenaged kids already saddled with hormonal instability and the usual teen awkwardness bother to think anyone cares about how they feel about anything with all this misery spilling into the streets of their hometowns? Street people with REAL problems exist to serve as a dire warning to any person past the age of 10 who doesn’t already know what their life’s master plan will be and how close to a million dollars their trust fund presently is. The miracle of our times isn’t that kids recover from suicidal depression, it’s that more kids aren’t opening a vein on behalf of laissez-faire capitalism and the fraud of, “Reaganomonics.”
But I digress.
I eventually had to crawl out of the bottle I crawled into as a result of the events of the Summer of 1980 by the Spring of 1991. It wasn’t cute to be passed out drunk in public anymore. I was 30 years old at that point and beginning to realize that Lisa, my first love, was as good as my life was ever going to get and she had betrayed the living shit out of me, just like the woman I had presently fallen in love with in 1989. This new love had no tight curves and was 14 years my senior, and there I was, 210 pounds of raw cougar-meat about to be fed to the lions the location of which the singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn had been wondering about since 1979. Women betrayed and terrified me and I hated them for it, but I was not worthy of anyone or anything any better. To suggest I had no self esteem would be to imply that I had a “self” to start out with. I didn’t. I had no idea who the hell I was and liquor, along with other pharmaceuticals and street drugs, had kept me safe from achieving my own fullest potential. This was actually a stroke of luck for me because at this particular bottom in my life, my “potential” simply would have afforded me a lid for the trash can I had placed myself in.
Fast forward to 2010 and the blowout of the Macondo Well in the Gulfo de Mexico. I saw the film of the gas escaping from that well, the oil that went everywhere, the carnage to sea life that was kept hidden from public view and, well, I thought this was finally it. Extinction-level event. Global warming was getting a kick into overdrive and we’d be lucky to make it through the next year or two. I had to find Lisa, again, and I had to reconnect with her. I’d not seen nor heard from her in 3 decades and I was convinced that I still had a fondness for her, regardless of the way her face changed from grief to glee as
I drove off from our dramatic break-up scene to seeing her suddenly smiling and carrying on with her new lover in the rear view mirror of my car as if nothing had just happened. I thought that was a bit harsh and cold, but so was my life. Turn the page. I had a breakdown and more public humiliation to get back to.
I eventually found my first love in 2010 and we began catching up. She told me about the waste of time the guy she broke up with me for was, how she’d been married a couple times and been subjected to physical abuse and, I thought, “it wouldn’t have been much different sticking around for me,” and told her so, which went in one of her ears, out the other, before she started treating me oddly for such an online encounter. She could have been drinking or maybe I had changed alot from her recollection of me, but she clearly was playing a bit rough for my taste. Hmmm. Then she told me how she had responded to the physical abuse she had suffered: she volunteered to join the US Army and landed in the local Presidio’s language school where she was trained in Russian. An unexpected dose of, “badassery,” but let’s give credit where it is due, I thought. Then, once she had mastered the fine art of not requiring any of the verb tenses of the English language to get her points across, the military was preparing her to be a spy inside of Russia. She also made mention of her special physical training and I think she was telling me that she was about to be asked to serve our country in ways that she wasn’t willing to serve it. So she packed her duffel bag and left after a tremendous cost in training to the taxpayers. I was intrigued that the former delicate flower of my fantasies was being courted by the US Government to participate in assassin-like activities, but I didn’t give it much more thought. She was involved with her current partner for about five years at this point and had been living with him for the entire time; she was concerned about how his children had been treating her, but she was convinced that he loved her. They moved back into the old house where she had grown up and where her grandfather, who had raised her from the time of her parent’s divorce, had rebuilt the second house on their property after it had burned to the ground for God knows what reason, leaving the main house available to them. So Vegas was in their rear view mirror, she was pushing fifty years old and I had already received that particular teeshirt of chronological aging and was willing to give it back. Putting together what I knew of my relationship patterns at this point with what she had shared up to this point in 2010, I was curious to know more about her. But I was far from falling for her a second time. I saw where she had posted an article on Facebook about the Cuttlefish and how she identified with its ability to change colors nearly instantaneously, and that struck me as odd but very much in keeping with my recollection of her that day in my rear view mirror, 30 years prior. In fact, it was damned eery to the point of being creepy.
Then, quite suddenly, a bomb dropped and she left her partner of five years having just moved back from Vegas less than a year prior. Strangely, she was hardly sad or stressed about it at all. He had apparently been sampling some wines in preparation for his upcoming exams as a sommelier and had gotten “verbally abusive” with her. To be precise, he informed her that no one else could be bothered to love her as she was such an “odd” person to be with. That was all she needed to hear and, immediately, she was living in a new boyfriend’s apartment on the coast, 20 miles away. I responded with some concern not only about her, but also about her partner, whom she’d left at the house with her grandfather nearby. But she assured me he would be fine and that all would be well soon enough. He would move out after his sommelier exams and life would go on. Whammo.
At the tender age of 50, I realized, this woman was doing the same shit she had done to me 30 years prior. Had we actually done more than shake hands and exchange bodily fluids? I thought it had something to do with my drinking and all the warping caused by my traumatic childhood that lead to our breakup, plus our relationship had only lasted two years — shit, eighteen months — and we had only been, “high school sweethearts.” Who the hell was I to her compared to this FIVE YEAR RELATIONSHIP? Snap. WTF. Was it really this easy for her to go from zero to fuck-off after five years of adventures together? Survey said, “you bet your ass, sweet cheeks.”
Other of her friends and peers had posted their condolences over her jarring announcement, some being rather pointed, which raised my eyebrows, indeed. She had left for Vegas with this guy she met while working at the spa in Pebble Beach after hardly a few months, claimed she was moving with him for love, was sure he loved her, came back and after five years, had a minor spat while he was tipsy and…el dumpo? Nah. Something isn’t adding up here and I told her so.
Her response to me was chilling, but very open. She told me something she hadn’t told me before. She had told me about the donkey who had “hung itself,” off the cliff just up from the main house; about the fire she had started as a little girl on the property; about a fire (not sure if it had been the same one) that burned down the house where her family was living, just up from the main house, about her father’s addiction to heroin and his marital problems, the estrangement with her older brother and the way I caught him looking at her when I met him; but not this new piece of the puzzle. She told me that the reason she had this odd, almost demonically-shaped forehead that she always hid behind a comb-over of her bangs was because her mother had, unsuccessfully, attempted to abort her using a kerosine, “douche.” As a result of this bit of childhood abuse, she was able to recall that she had been born bathed in her mother’s own blood.
Far from being unceremoniously dumped because of my deeply flawed nature and all that that had entailed for me personally, I had actually been spared what likely would have been a close encounter with a real honest-to-God psychopath. She had come by it honestly, her grandparents had obviously worked very hard with her from the time she was two to teach her how to behave, but neither her mother nor her father were willing to raise her after their divorce. She was certainly very charming and so forth, but I was simultaneously horrified and grateful for my good fortune. Mr. Volaar, sir, you dodged yet another bullet that you had aimed straight at your own heart. Suddenly the whole cuttlefish-sudden-face-change-in-my-rearview-mirror made shocking sense. Further information I had learned from others who had worked with her at a local newspaper when she was in her twenties fit right in with my diagnosis. I was so sad for her and yet so grateful to my lucky stars that we hadn’t gotten back together during the college I never finished due, in large part, to my grief over having lost my first love. I thought my refusal to go back with her when she later approached me after all of her strange betrayal had been because of my foolish pride and my loyalty to my new love, but, truly, this miserable break-up was an intervention that had likely saved my life. There was just no way a psychopath attached to me at the hip could have let me live with all the anger and rage I still had left inside me to process. Along with all the booze and drugs, too. No way.
And what of the US Government’s exploitation of the diagnostic tests that reveal a recruit’s predisposition to treat betrayal, or even homicide, like just another person to person transaction? Sending her to Russia? For what? This world is so fucked up I don’t even want to deal with it. So I haven’t, until now.
Early in the process of our reconnection, Lisa gave me a copy of the photo, above, she took as a gratis model in college for a chance to ride in a Ferrari with a cute guy. I scanned it in, Photoshopped it eleven different ways from Sunday until I came up with something that spoke to me. The poetry and thoughts flowed from there. Short and sweet. Understated. Non-judgmental. Kind…but to the point. Timeless, in my opinion.
Fuck whatever the Power of Poetry, Medium, or what anyone else has to say. This photo and the poem are art to me and it’s as much mine as it is every person who has ever had a close encounter with a psychopath or, as en vogue as it appears to be these days, a narcissist.
If you think it’s cool to censor art because of some bias, prejudice or fiduciary excuse, go right ahead. You might laugh at me for my tortured life experience and our differences, but I’ll laugh right back at you people because you are all so much the same. Sweet dreams, sleepy-heads. I won’t tell you to go fuck yourselves because, clearly, you’re already doing so at an ever-accelerating pace.