"Johnny, Can You Hear Me"
I feel a rushing sensation, a whooshing sound; like the sound you hear when you press your ear to a window facing a city street. My sense of sound is more a tactile vibration than actual sound and my entire body seems to thrum with it. The thrumming reaches a crescendo and as it does I feel tiny pieces of me, an outer layer, vibrate loose in a cloud around me. I slide away from the peak and the vibration becomes a soft AUMMMMMM. I am standing at the end of a very long, brilliantly lit hallway. Everything is a stark white except one long band of red that snakes along the wall from where I stand into oblivion. I am calling out to my mother, but she is impossibly far away…down at the end of this very long hall. She speaks and as if from a great distance I hear her words, they echo around me but have no point of reference and thus make no sense. As she approaches she becomes blurry and enormous. She towers over me and her words feel like thunder, each word booming its inarticulate meaning through the vibration that is rising again. I slip away feeling both isolated and completely connected, I want out. My eyes open or I am able to focus again. Bright white light scours into me, the intensity of the light casts a shadow of pain across my vision. I am trapped, strapped to a bed. My arms are bound at my sides, my feet to the end of the bed. I try to scream but there are tubes in my mouth and up my nose. I experience a distinct feeling of terror-gagging-breath. I hear my mother speaking. She is at the end of the bed and her words are calm, soothing, pleading. “Johnny, can you hear me?” my eyes open even wider terror gripping me, I nod. “Johnny, if you promise not to pull the tubes out, we can unstrap your hands and feet. Do you understand me, the doctors will remove the restraints if you promise not to pull the tubes out.” I nod with conviction. First one and then the other of my hands is unbound and then they turn to my feet. I look around and as they turn I reach up for the tube in my mouth and pull. Inky Blackness.
My fingers dip into the clear liquid. The small black vial was easy to get out of the freezer once I moved the chair. D-O-G sits patiently facing me. D-O-G has only one eye, the other eye was damaged in a fight and had to be removed. Where the eye once was, now a thin black line exists. The liquid is cold and feels slick. I reach out and up with my wet finger and gently rub some of the liquid onto the thin black line, and then again onto the long black snout along the thin scars. D-O-G snorts but stays seated. I put my fingers in my mouth and there is no taste. I bring the vial to my lips and tip it up. The liquid, cold and clear slides into my mouth and I feel its coldness as I swallow. I drop the vial and say, “D-O-G I fixed your eye!” He looks at me out of the one open eye, blinks, tail wagging. Awhile later my mother and a neighbor come into the kitchen. I am sitting on the floor with the dog, trying to focus on the particles popping into existence around me. My mother’s face becomes a storm of concern and we are suddenly in the car. Driving, I hate driving.
I wake up alone in the children's cancer ward of a Portland hospital days later. I ask for my mother and am told that she can’t be with me right now. A day and then two pass and I begin to learn about the other children on the floor with me. Some of them are very ill, frail and almost listless in their responses. Some are like any other child, silly, funny, playful…all of them carry the weight of serious illness. Eventually my mom does visit on a Thursday, the day of the week the clowns visit. Her eyes are puffy from crying, “You have been very sick,” I don’t feel sick. “You are getting better, you cannot come home yet.” More time passes, I am interviewed and questioned and develop relationships with the nurses and doctors and the dying children. I am finally released the day before Halloween. I am led to believe my extended hospital stay was the result of a life-threatening bout of pneumonia.
For most of my adolescence and more intensely through puberty, I would have these peculiar but hyperreal daydreams of my mother at the end of this long white hall. They felt like waking dreams.
During the summer of my 19th year, I decided it was time to tell my mother I was gay. I remember the morning was very bright, the sort of scorching bright that comes only with summer in Sarasota, Florida. The previous night there had been this intense thunderstorm with incredible lighting. The storm had left the morning air clean and clear. The metal antenna of the white cordless phone kept tickling the back of my head. With palms sweating and heart racing, I revealed what felt like the biggest truth of my life. My mother listened and said “Johnny, I love you regardless,” long pause, “but since we are being honest with one another I want to tell you something about your childhood.” Feeling a wash of relief I say, half joking, “Was I adopted?” “No…when you were five you drank an entire vial of LSD.” Silence. “Your father was storing it in the freezer. You must have watched him put it away. You rubbed some on D-O-G’s eye and drank the rest. We had to take you to the ER. We lost custody of you for awhile. The LSD overdose is why you were in the hospital. It wasn’t pneumonia. I am sorry I lied to you.”
Click, new frame of reference.
I spent part of my twenties trying to understand what had happened to me at five. I went through a period of being angry and then hurt and then very sad. There was a time when I thought no one could possibly understand what I had gone through; in essence my childhood had been hijacked. I even felt shame about the sort of moral destitution that must have allowed an innocent child to stumble into complete chaos. Then one day, after lots of work, something inside me shifted. I began to realize and accept how unique and outside the “frame” much of my childhood had been. I realized my parents in their own haphazard way had provided me with this rich and beautiful set of experiences for engaging with the world. What had been resentment turned into a deeply felt love for them and their process. During this period I also fell into my own vulnerability and in the process fell in love with the sensitive, strong, fierce, confused, highly tuned in man that I had become. Now many years later I have come across this woman Brene´ Brown, and her work so perfectly punctuates the process I believe each of us needs to explore. For those of us who survive trauma, it can be a tool for deeply seeing, for gaining insight into how to love ourselves and those who choose to show up with us. Being vulnerable is being courageous and the birthplace of creativity!
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown