By Gerri Ravyn Stanfield
I had to kneel and stand, kneel and stand and plant my sore butt on an unforgiving wooden bench. I turned the thin white hymnal pages, to reveal the Christmas music I couldn’t read. My belly felt hollow and electric when they sang to the blue and gold stained glass, the vaulted ceiling. Jesus was my crush. I liked to move the characters around in the small nativity scene in our living room. I hooked up Mary and the tallest wise man, introduced the shepherds to the angels. I prayed that Mary would stop my mom from yelling and my father from taking off his belt. That morning, my brother stole the chapter book I was reading and wouldn’t give it back. I grabbed his worn out teddy bear and positioned my left hand like a claw over the bear’s head to rip it off. It was a hostage situation and we negotiated it like the villains we were. We never voluntarily involved our parents but my father burst in and unbuckled his belt. My child body shrieked flee, fly, run, swim. You can’t win a fight. You have teeth and claws and red fur but you are outmatched. You have to be smarter than they are, you have to find the exits or contort yourself into the most bendable postures to escape. He made me drop my underpants and expose my pale butt. Through some secret formula, he knew how many times to hit us per offense, but I never saw a law book. Now, we all sang in church for the birthday of my buddy, Jesus. I shifted in my seat from one cheek to the other every few minutes and prayed for it to be done.
When she strokes my skin, I cringe. It’s irritating like a screech of tires. The numb crawls over and drapes itself between us. I can’t reach through it, I do my tantric breathing from the earnest new age guy in the YouTube video, in through my pelvis and out through my lips. Raise the energy up. Except there is nothing there. I make tears but I can’t get wet. The glass is not just empty, but dusty dry in the cobwebbed hand of a long dead cowboy in a ghost town saloon.
I am naked. She is slow. I call up all the erotic fantasies, parading them before my inner eyes, spanking her or my wrists bound up or hot sex with a delicious stranger or her blindfolded up against the wall or…
There is no firecracker in my spine, no sun in my throat. The nothing inside me just pulls up a chair. Eros remains underwater, lips pursing like a fish. Lexapro. Nortriptyline. Wellbutrin. Seroquil. Sometimes Ativan. Sometimes Valium or Ambien. The gang wins the turf war in my bloodstream. I don’t want to kill myself anymore and the panic attacks are gone, but I lost my wings. I am fallen.
When I was little and couldn’t sleep at night, I had a giant brown bear who would stand sentry at the foot of my bed and sing lullabies of dark blue and fresh green. He was born from a story that my Russian grandmother used to tell me about a faraway land, west of the moon. My bear gave me songs of faery wings and jewels growing in caverns deep inside the earth. I coaxed him into my twin bed and somehow, he fit perfectly around me. He made one demand of me, only one promise. He asked me never to look upon his face.
But that promise ate at me and I could feel it gnawing when I stepped outside at dusk to play for one more hour. I felt it hissing as I drank my milk in the morning. Who was he? Why can’t I see his face? Something must be wrong. And once that viral thought took hold, it began to invade every cell like fire, like ice. Something is wrong. This makes no sense. Why did he come? And suddenly the songs of foxes crooning and snow tumbling on the rushing river no longer seemed comforting. In fact, they seemed jagged, uncivilized. I begged him to show me his face. Only once, only for an instant to ease my spinning mind and steady my trembling hand. He growled at me never to speak of it again.
My father slapped my mom full handed across the face, I think I saw it but my brain started to buzz right then. Black and white fuzz moving fast. Did I see her clutch her cheek or raise her right arm to block her face? Did I see him tower over her, pink faced and wild, shutting her down. Her yelling “We don’t need another dog! I can’t take care of the one we have and you are always gone, I know you are fucking someone else!” Did this count as hitting? My father never hit us. Except with the belt. Except with his hand. Except with the rolled up newspaper of whatever town we were living in at the time. Everything freezes except the whine of the offending new dog in the garage and Dakota’s barking. He always barked when they fought. I played with how slow and silent I could move from one foot to another. I was a spy. No one could see or hear me creep through the house. The floors would not creak, I could walk on the balls of my feet and into the side door of the freezing garage. Dakota wagged at me and put his furry head in my lap. I squatted to meet the new pup who wiggled and grunted and rubbed tiny needle teeth on my finger. It didn’t hurt. I put my head on the floor and the nameless puppy sat on top of my head, panting. Dakota put his head on his paws, staring into my eyes. We have to get out of here, he said. Or maybe it was me.
My clit is raw from our desperate efforts. I push her hand away. I pretend I don’t hear her sigh. Blame is on my tongue because I am so tired of it being my fault. Maybe she’s the one who isn’t touching me right. I know that I need to stroke her until she glows, touch the places where her hip meets her soft brown belly, unfold her. Instead, I roll onto my side and face the cream colored wall.
When I wake, something else will be gone, more flights departed from my sex drive. This is the new routine. Every day, my body dismantles itself. I lie there with her alone in the broken glass between us. I reach out to pick it up and slice my finger and hiss and drop the shard and hiss and put my finger in my mouth and suck on it, salty metallic blood drawn by my own desire to touch broken things. There are a thousand pieces in this coming apart. My hands want her bones but I stay silent, shaking, unbuilding our love.
I say “I have to piss,” and get out of bed. I don’t even know what she can see.
My junior year, I smacked my ex friend and pushed her to the ground. Friends pulled us apart, hustled her far away from my red face. She wouldn’t try to steal my boyfriend or whisper about me behind my back again. I felt the Father course through my vessels. I spread out into the room for the first time. I loved it. To expand into space, to never apologize for the thwack of your hand against her cheek. I never really hit someone before, open or closed hand, against soft face or muscled arm or even a swat on the ass. I beat her this time, I settled it the guy way.
Except I wish I didn’t hit her. We did not ask for genitals that curve inward.
I wish I had told my ex-friend about my mother barring the door. She did not allow me to leave the house unless I changed into a shirt with a high necked collar. Men cannot control themselves, she told me. You must hold yourself back, don’t let anyone see you. If you are visible, you are hunted. Don’t be wild. They will chase you.
I wish I stood before my ex friend and showed her the force older than war inside my chest. The ragetears, the ugly cry.
I wish that I said: Please let’s clasp hands. We cannot let go, because we are tied together.
As always, there was a mother. This one did nothing to ease my fears about my secret bear friend. As I grew into my female body, she pelted me with questions. How did the bear get in the house? What did he really want? Could a bear ever be trusted? She gave me a brass candlestick and some wax made from the most industrious bees. She instructed me to wait until the bear fell asleep. Then, light the candle and illuminate his face. He would never know. If it was the face of a beast, I would sneak away and get help. If I felt warmly towards his face, I could rest much lighter in my bones. I took the candle to bed, hiding it and a book of matches under the coverlet. I stayed awake until my bear came in, drenched in light from the full hunter’s moon. He sang me songs of salmon jumping, lightning splitting the sky, the first forest and kestrels swooping. He folded himself around me, dark fur smelling like autumn. He drifted down the river of sleep. I listened for the deepening of his breath and produced the candle. I set the stick on the bedside table and struck a match. On my third try, I lit the candle and lifted it to gaze upon him. My bear became the most radiant youth, wild, angelic, fey. This face had seen thousands of suns. The candle dribbled and one drop of hot wax fell upon his skin, burning him. He opened his eyes and saw me with the candleglow, open mouth, my own skin burning with a bitter fire of shame. I broke the one vow. He was gone before I spit out a word.
What if you loved a bear who sang to you and wrapped himself around you and then disappeared? What if he made himself your bearloverfriend and protector? What if he showed you how to eat thousands of cutthroat moths to acquire the fat you needed to sleep for months? What if you sang back to him, unafraid, standing on your own legs? What if he bit you and you bit him back? What if you become lost in that bear? What if he disappeared at peak hunting season because he no longer wanted you? How would you find him? Where would you look?
Urine tinkling on porcelain. I clench my bladder to squeeze out a few more drops. I need to tell my lover to get out while she still can. I should tell her to run. I suspect love isn’t for me, not for me anymore. Stupid Eros with piercing shafts that split you open, no one gets out alive. Go on without me.
The bathroom mirror is slightly crooked because when we hung it, I said we didn’t need to use a level, it looked fine. She giggled but didn’t push, didn’t even mention it when afterwards, we both could see perfectly well that I was wrong.
Hello, I mouth to myself. Hello death, I have been waiting for you. Hello love, I am here to end you. What else must die?
whatmorewhatmorewhatmore do you want from me?
I don’t answer me. I am not brave enough.
I blink and the light under the door spills on my face in the mirror like candleglow.
What if you
did not leave this time
What if you
found something inside yourself that was so much larger and dangerous than what you thought?
Furry. Frightening. Untamed.
Please, let’s clasp hands.
What if you said
I will unbreak myself. Out loud
like a spell.
What if you
marched back into the bedroom and
cradled her exhausted skeleton against you and
growled and sang to her and
let that be enough for tonight.
Gerri Ravyn Stanfield is the author of Revolution of the Spirit: Awaken the Healer, a guide to liberate the healing super powers within us. She has been published in Nailed Magazine, Voice Catcher, Rebelle Society, Elephant Journal, Wake Up World and Tattooed Buddha. She is the executive director of Acupuncturists Without Borders, a nonprofit organization providing trauma relief in the wake of natural disaster and human conflict. She designs trainings for emerging leaders and healers in the US, Canada, Europe, Nepal, Israel/Palestine, and Australia.
Ravyn is a cultural alchemist, writing to transform the heartbreak of our times and reveal gold in what seems worthless. She creates modern ritual and theatre art, combining music and poetry to make contemporary offerings of the human imagination. She uses her background in trauma recovery, neurobiology, psychology, writing, and performance to coax more of the extraordinary into the world through the cracks in Western civilization. www.gerriravynstanfield.com
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