Thursday, December 02, 2010
Girl On Fire
Hi everyone! My chapbook, Love One Another Constantly, is now available! I'll give details in tomorrow's post. For now, I'm posting the first half of an essay (second half to follow tomorrow) called "Girl On Fire."
Girl On Fire
The year I became a Catholic, a student of mine named Kelly gave me two cardboard boxes filled with her medical history.
"Maybe you can write about my mental illness. My mother would never let me. It's all in there," Kelly said. She'd recently completed a creative writing workshop with me where she sat dead center in the front row each Friday afternoon and produced a set of black rosary beads which she wove around her fingers for the duration of the three hour class. Flanked to her left by a suicidal young man with a large winesport birthmark that covered half his face and to her right by an ex-skinhead, recently rehabilitated heroin addict who had a swastika on his bicep which he was in the process of removing by a series of laser treatments, she sat whispering Hail Marys over and over, a melodic chant that became as commonplace as asbestos-lined tunnels that ran underneath the community college where I had been hired as a full-time faculty member.
I took the boxes and put them in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet, thanking her even though I too had begun to shed myself from my past life and was looking to get rid of my possessions, not add to them. Like St. Francis, I wanted to believe, but his writings didn't inspire me to such noble action. Clear Your Clutter With Feng-Shui by Karen Kingston motivated me . Kingston preached the dangers the clutter -- everything from weight gain to depression. So I purged almost two thirds of my stuff in a month, abandoning everything from my Snoopy Snow-Cone machine, old dresses, books, and my boyfriend of seven years, an emotionally remote man twenty years my senior.
After our break-up, I moved into a dismal one-bedroom apartment in a complex across from the school where I taught dubbed The Misery because of the scores of divorced faculty who had used the place as a holding pen during times of emotional and financial distress. In a particularly grisly touch, all the surrounding trees had been hacked halfway down because of blight which forced the owners to offer Free Heat as an enticement for potential renters on the sign advertising Apartment Available. No one never removed the sign -- an apartment was always available at The Misery. I called it The Tomb, in hopes I suppose, of an eventual resurrection.
I peeked into the boxes from time to time where medical terms and treatments popped up at me like jack-in-the-boxes: manic depressive, schizophrenic, four point restraint, ECT, bipolar disorder. Words have power, I often intoned to my students. These felt like bombs, the boxes landmines of suffering. Like many of my students, Kelly was a few years older than I was and like most of my students, had Seen It All.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
“By "guts" I mean, grace under pressure.” Ernest Hemingway
My favorite guilty pleasure is back -- Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew
Benedictions and Maledictions