DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY
I have to admit to being a tad weird when I was a teen. I grew up in a pre-Civil War era house with no insulation and lots of cracks and crevices where mice, rats, squirrels, and spiders roamed. I’d often hear scurrying in the walls and the creaky groans of a cold and tired old house. Once or twice, I recall even stranger sounds, perhaps cats that got stuck in the wall joists and died there. Something sounded like human babies moaning and crying in the dark. There were enough strange sounds emanating from my old home’s walls and attic eaves over the years to permanently scar my psyche.
And then one night when I was 13 or 14, the Gray Lady appeared. I’ll let my character Glory in PERSEPHONE IN HELL describe the experience.
“Gloria woke up with a panic. She tried to calm herself. Just then, the closet door next to her bed opened, and a ghost, all in grey, appeared from the dark.
She is floating into my bedroom. No, walking – well something in between. The ghost has a sternness on her face and a pointer in her hand. But she isn’t menacing; she doesn’t seem to mean any harm.
The Gray Lady didn’t stop or look around. She didn’t appear to notice the girls in the bedroom. She walked right past Gloria, took a turn at the bedpost, and passed by Penny sleeping in the next bed. Then she floated out of the room with a whispered wind-like tune. “Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse…”
In the course of a few seconds, the ghost was on her way to someplace else. Glory was in shock. Her forehead burned. Her cuts felt razor sharp. I don’t believe it. I must be going off my rocker. In la-la land, for sure.”
I took to keeping a baseball bat next to my bed just in case I had to defend myself. And I was visited by the Gray Lady for many years, though no one else ever saw her. Was I insane? Psychotic or schizoid? Simply bursting with an imagination that couldn’t be controlled? Or, perhaps, I was in tune with an underworld I couldn’t begin to understand. Hades, messing with Persephone yet again. That old goat just can’t leave her alone.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
What is hell but the fury in me? The hatred that can explode without warning. That self-immolation, that despicable, vile loathing that imprints an image into my cerebral cortex. I am not good enough, insists the graven image, that revolting torture carved on my flesh. I will always be less than I desire. Never happy. Unworthy. I turn to golden calves for wanton relief. But the truth is there for the remembering. It can cut me down at the knees. Its relentless driven message – directed, precise. It permits no escapes. I am useless. I am a waste of a human being, a waste of a living being. Let me descend into my own rot, make my appalling mistakes. Let the faults speak as loudly as my tattooed skin shrieks foul to a sick universe. This hell, this fury, this determined rip, this unyielding tear. This afflicted place.
I just can’t control it lately. I’m messed up, messed over, crazed and running in circles, can’t figure it, so messed up. I suppose you’d never know it. Because you never guessed how difficult and savage the teen years were, how cruel. You can’t see me even now in this old, graying body. We only see ourselves; we know no one else’s despair. We don’t know each other, not really.
[Excerpt from PERSEPHONE IN HELL]
“[Sir Billy’s steel]
Billy was insistent. If Glory was ready to puke, he didn’t care. “Aw, come on,” he said with a nasty whine. “You know why we came out here. Don’t play all innocent with me.”
So much for chivalry. I’m tired and I just want to go home. The bleachers are damp. My foot aches.
He pulled her toward him and kissed her with an ugly impatient passion. “Stop it, Billy! Cut it out!” she demanded. He wouldn’t listen. He held her with one hand while the other pushed its way under her shirt to her bra. He shoved his hand under it and felt her naked breast. Gloria tried to pull back. I didn’t mean for anything like this to happen. I’m not ready for a boy like Billy.
She slapped at Billy’s face, and as she did, he suddenly let go. “No broad is worth this!” he snarled. She fell onto the bleacher seat. She hit her back and tumbled down the steel steps to the ground. She lay on the damp dark grass.
Billy was infuriated. He said, “I only went out with you on a bet to see if I could get you laid. You’ll never be popular. You’re a joke, always in la-la land. You’re probably a lesbian, that’s what everyone says.” Billy the Cruel walked away as though he were king conqueror of the world, back from a successful crusade. “I showed her,” he announced to the dark field and hidden woods. “Must be a lezzie.”
When he was gone, Glory pulled herself up off the ground and slowly limped through the field, past the diamond, past the carnival, past the gate, and home. She couldn’t remember ever feeling worse. Couldn’t recall a time when she felt less like the queen she had always imagined herself to be.
She closed the bathroom door, and with a dull razor she found in the drawer, cut fifteen slashes on her thighs and on her breasts. One slash for each year of my failure of a life.”
Sometimes my emotions sit right on my skin. Sometimes they stick in my brain. Sometimes my thoughts are so muddled with unidentifiable emotion that they flood my head and sweat my skin. I don’t know what I’m doing; I don’t know where I am. Where am I? Where the hell am I? Crazy. Strange. Strange, old friend, inscrutable strangeness, you’ve been with me a long time.
“How I hitched into Boston just the other day. How the glare of the sun in the trucker’s eyes had blinded him for a moment, how we’d almost crashed into the guard rail. It was lucky – he’d had his hand on my leg for balance; I grabbed the wheel and turned us back onto the pavement until he could recover his sight.
It’s pure luck I have a body so many men want to touch, so many seem to need. Like the guy on Tremont Street who confused me for a street walker, who offered me thirty bucks to have sex. When I said no, you’re confused old man, he looked sad as he walked away, as though he had missed the experience of a lifetime. I would have been so lucky to be with you, he seemed to be thinking.”
In this excerpt from PERSEPHONE IN HELL, teenage Glory is confused too. She’s wondering what her life amounts to. She can’t think of what she’s worth. Her thoughts are all muddled up, circling round and round that grey matter, searching for a way out. Circles never end; there’s no way out. It’s crazy, weird. Strange, damn strange. No way out.