Thursday, May 16, 2013

Persona non Grata

The goal of this project, Talking Back, is to be honest. To post my real reactions. But now that I know it’s out there for everyone to see, it’s hard to be authentic.
So we’re going to try again:
Continued from  July 8 (Sat), 1995
I made out my suicide prevention card and put it in my wallet. I wrote a letter to Paul G. Quinnett, Author of Suicide, The Forever Decision, because I was grateful for his listing reasons why suicide is not a good idea.
When the police and paramedics were swarming our barren apartment after she passed, they needed to gather all of her current medications. I tried looking in her purse, but it was so full of half-used tissues, candy, diabetes equipment, and old receipts that I simply apologized to the people around me and upended the whole thing on our table. Some of what I found were cards she had made for herself. I found these in the pile that had come from her purse, in her wallet, and later—when we cleaned out her apartment—all around her living spaces.

Throughout high school and college, I had this persona. I was brash. I was independent. I was an unrepentant freak. I dressed up every Friday the 13th as if it were Halloween, usually in a Vampire Bride costume of some sort (My mother was not opposed to this; she even picked out a few wedding dresses for me). Part of that persona is real; I am weird at the best of times, but I’m generally repentant about it, or at least dreadfully sorry about my fears of embarrassing those I love. The thing is, no one I loved was around back then. My mother was lost, gone, either out with dad or, after the Attempt, sleeping. I didn’t love my father (who was absent anyway when he wasn’t a jerk), my sister lived elsewhere when she wasn’t caring for me. For two years I had a boyfriend I loved, but he was as much of a freak as I pretended to be.
So the persona held.
Part of this mask I wore allowed me to believe I had some control over my life. I pretended to be predatory, seductive. I flirted with everyone and everything, and I always, always thought I wanted to have sex with people. But the wrong people would be seduced. There’s always a “Howard Wolowitz”, but creepier, everywhere you go. People who have decided that if you so much as breathe in their general direction, you are “asking for it.”
You know the oldies song “Lightning is Striking Again” by Lou Christie, where it sounds like the singer is date-raping the girl? Yes, that is the excuse men use: I can’t stop. You brought me here (sexually), we’re past the point of no return.
Well, this brash persona would crumble right about then. I didn’t know how to defend myself. I took a guy on a date once, when I was in college, and I drove him in my car up a mountain with a barely-maintained road. There was a hatchet in my trunk (there was always a hatchet in my trunk).  And those were the only terms I would go out with him. I was even very clear about it to him. I said, “I’m driving, because if you fuck with me in any way, I’m driving your side of my car into a tree and killing you. And if you’re not dead, I’m going to grab my hatchet and cut off pieces until you are.”
But would I have done this? No.  As soon as he did anything I didn’t want (and he did), I just went passive, like I always did. Like you do, when you have a history of men ten times your size holding you down. Like you do, when you are used to having your ass kicked.
Many people asked me why I was so quiet during sex. 
I’m not. I’m quiet during rape, right when I shouldn’t be.
I despise—completely despise—people when they say, “If that had happened to me, I would have. . .”
You don’t know what you would have done. You are not that person. You probably have never been in that position. And if you were in that position, you might be just as frozen as the next girl.  I applaud women who find it in themselves to fight off their attackers, but I sympathize strongly with women who freeze, or who go along with the act just to get it over with. I sympathize with that moment where you believe you have absolutely no control over your life or even your body, because I’ve been there. Many times.  Hell, I lived there for probably fifteen years.

When my Mom tried to commit suicide this first time, her persona got ripped away in a very public fashion. The person she sometimes was but always pretended to be—happy, funny, joyful, powerful—froze, and the person who left was “The Little Brown Girl” as she called herself.  She couldn’t stand to fake it anymore, and I think she was starting to realize she had even been fooling herself about the person she was, like I had been doing for almost my whole life.
I’m glad my mom made these cards. I look at them all the time; they are put on display in our house.

 I just wish they hadn’t been necessary.

I wish my mother had known that suicide was not a good idea, and didn’t need someone to tell her. I wish she knew she was strong, instead of hiding her natural strength with a false shell. I wish she had always been this vulnerable, so she’d have learned to live with her true self long before the persona was taken away from her.
I wish she had known the wounds she needed to heal before we all dumped salt into them.
Personas are needed, sometimes, to get through lifes requirements. But Personas are not welcome--non grata--when we are alone. We should be ourselves. We should be present. We should count ourselves "in" when it comes to life. We are here, personas non grata.
It's up to Me.


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