I have been spending a lot of time and energy over the last two months uncovering my CSA story and writing it down in my journal and sharing some parts with you. Some of the darkest parts surprised me how something could be so close and not be seen or comprehended until decades later. Visiting some corners was like thawing out a deeply frozen shred of my young mind and reexperienced over with the same set of feelings, preserved intact within the simple frame of a 12 year old. I have never experienced anything like this last month ever before. Some days I wish I had never started it, like yesterday. Other days I have seen it as a chance to be better, more real, healthier, a better man..... and want to embrace the chance. Some days I wonder if it will make any difference at all, but I have to remind myself what I have learned and felt and known. It has been good overall.
On a walk by the ocean a couple of weeks ago, feeling exhausted by the whole experience of thinking through so much ugliness, sadness and shame, I had a thought. I knew I didn't, actually couldn't, spend my life down here processing all this as a permanent state. Fuck, that would be sad.
It sort of reminded me of caving. In the 1980's I was a member of of the American Speliological Society and a Grotto, or caving club. Explored the limestone underworld of Pennsylvania and West Virginia for a few years. Sometimes underground for up to 12 hours at a time. If you haven't gone there, it's a magical world... beautiful, mysterious. Always the same temperature, a world that exists in total and complete darkness. Things get preserved down there and if they are there long enough calcified into the very bones of the earth itself. It's a place that operates by a completely different set of rules than the world we live in and it is there just below our feet. A few times, waiting for my turn to go through a tight passage, I would lay there, turn off my light and feel the deep darkness, being in the womb of the earth, close and strangely comforted.
But it is a world we don't belong in. We cant survive for long down there. It is a place of mud and slime and mold and bat shit. Timeless, cold and completely dark. Stay too long and your light burns out and you are left in total darkness, helpless. Death is slow down there.
I remember many of the times coming back out into the light. Even at night the world above ground always seemed like a miracle. The light from the moon, almost blinding. The sweet scent of spring air. We are creatures of the light. We can't live down there for long. We are just visitors.
Thinking about this on my walk the other day I saw it as sort of a metaphor for going down into my hidden childhood memories. Shining my headlamp into corners that have not seen light in almost 40 years, sometimes being surprised by what I was finding, I had an image. I imagined finding this kid down there, he is cold, pale, shaking, eyes hollow with fear. Having worked in search and rescue and emergency medicine years ago as a ranger, I know that look. I am bringing him out. Back into the light. My hand is warm and firm. I know the way out. I am going to bring him back to the world of the living. I know who he is.
Part of this whole process has helped me remember some of the good stuff from my past too. Staying late at work the other evening, I remembered a post I had seen weeks ago where survivors recalled good things, favorite memories, best toys. When I read it I honestly couldn't think of what I would add if I was tasked with putting this down in a writing session. But last Friday I tried. Started a list of what I loved when I was that kid. The words at first came slow, guarded, unsure and then more and more...even on my way home the good stuff flowed back. Some of it is a little weird, goofy, but that's okay....here it is:
What I Loved:
First covering of snowfall
Halloween night with friends
Wild Kingdom on Sunday nights
National Geographic Specials
Japanese Monster Movies
Jacque Cousteau and the Calypso
Winter Olympics - especially the men's downhill.
Looking at the stars with a friend
Jane Goodall and her chimps
Chorus of spring peeper frogs outside my bedroom window
Sledding on the frozen road
Grandpa's hay loft
Swimming in the ocean
Grandma's poppyseed roll on Sunday morning
Being safe during a big thunder storm
Finally learning to swim
Natural history museums
Early morning mist
Sucking on ice sickles
Orange soda on a summer afternoon
Popcorn at a matinee with a buddy
Mom reading when I was home sick from school
Dad saying he was proud of me
Finishing my first book
Hearing the geese high overhead going south for the winter
Spitting watermelon seeds
Skating by lantern light
Coach saying "good swim Dave"
Picking apple blossoms for Mom
Trees ablaze with red and yellow in the fall
Old canvas tents
Last day of school
Remembering the good stuff today. I wish you all peace.