I am a romantic, in the self-absorbed capital R sense of the word and all that that entails. Celebrating the antihero, embracing organic form in literature and life, it just makes sense at a deep and satisfying level. Perhaps that's why I want to talk to you about ducks today. To be specific, mallard ducks. To be precise, the pair which started nesting in the pond that only recently emerged from underneath the ice and snow beside the path that I walk to work everyday.
This morning was the first morning that a fragile ice skin did not cover most of the water. That ice always succumbs to the sun, by mid-day I would imagine. I amuse myself thinking that the water, the world of the ducks, and my own consciousness open up gradually throughout the morning; we dance our way through old rituals as another day of possibilities unfurls in the sunlight. My primary goal was to capture a picture of my mallard friends in their wilderness home. The tangled elements of wood, rock, and water that appeal to the ducks are the same aspects that led to our own home selection. Lynn and I need nature; puncturing through a wall of asphalt, cars, and stress simply to reach a workplace is not what we want from our daily lives.
As I brought the mallards into the frame of my camera, the antihero--a third
duck, a male (so predictably)--quacked and landed at high speed between the nesting pair. The domestic ducks' peace dissolved and within moments all three splashed out of the water and into the air, circling fast and gracefully and dangerously in the ancient drama of desire, denial, and defence. How do you make love stay? More importantly, how do you make love arrive? I watch the ducks until they leave my sight, and worry about them all: no duck should be alone, yet no couple should be torn apart.
Of course, most of my heros stand outside of themselves watching as they do the horrible things that humans do to one another. Sitting at a table with Bukowski, buying him a beer and laying out the money for just one more bet so I can absorb his wisdom on races (both horse and human). Bukowski and his broken people, Miller and his whores, Nin and her base patrons; always the conflict between the high and the low which breeds comedy or insight. Pushing myself under the unforgiving iron that Rollins loves because it never lies, and teaches you what it means to be hard, all the way hard, and so alone. Rollins gets coffee from me, because he taught me about the basic black liquid and wouldn't want a beer anyways.
And that loneliness, that recognition of solitude, is what makes it so hard and so easy to love: letting go of the fear of being alone, so that you don't have to be alone because you're too afraid to be exactly who you are. I understand how nothing needs everything, I have broken my world into the smallest of fragments, and I have built it back up again. Metamorphosis is a daily ritual.
There are moments when I race my bicycle at high speeds in the dark with sunglasses on and earphones blaring music.
There are moments when I run until pinpoints of light dance in front of my eyes.
There are moments when I listen to a song I've heard a hundred times before and hear the words for the first time.
There are moments when a coloured line shimmers into life and I feel an art-beat pounding in my chest.
There are moments when I stare up at the sky to see the billions of stars washing light throughout the universe, or the northern lights undulating ruby red and green.
There are moments when two ducks shape my entire world.
So anyways, that's what I wrote over the last couple of hours. And I like it, it's definitely a part of me, but then I made the mistake of reading Maven's talk about sex etc. and realized that there's a story that I have told to very few people that would probably take me about fifteen minutes to tell and which might make somebody out there feel better about themselves (if only because they realized that they weren't as alone in having a fucked up life as they might have otherwise thought).
So here goes:
I hate my family, specifically my father's side of the family, because of an incident that happened when I was about six. It was the time of the annual summer family reunion: my dad had 11 brothers and sisters in all, and they had all reproduced quite successfully, so I had about 40 cousins. Now, a few months previously my older brother (he's six years older than me) had started to tell me about sex. I grew up on a farm, I knew enough about sex, and my dad had lots of copies of Penthouse and Forum and Variations and stuff like that around, so it's not like Dave was telling me much that was new. However, he was a master of mind games, and told me that he would tell me all about the sex he had had with an older cousin of ours if I admitted that I had had sex with another cousin L (who was a couple of years older than me, and not a cousin by blood, but whatever).
I wasn't going to admit that, because it wasn't true--but then the mental warfare went into full effect and Dave started saying that there was no sense in hiding it, he knew that we had had sex and that he would tell me about his experiences if I confessed it. At this point, I was awash with shame and guilt and anger because I felt trapped; so I decided that the easiest way out was to admit to this crime that I had not committed so that I would at least get the story out of him. Of course, as soon as I admitted that he laughed and told me he was lying, but took great satisfaction in knowing that I had had sex with L.
After that, I felt incredibly depressed, indignant, enraged at my brother, afraid at my parents being told -- everything all at once. I still have no idea why he decided to play that mind game... but it gets worse. Since I lived on a farm and kids to play with were few and far between, L was one of the only kids I could play with. L's father, my blood uncle, had a porn collection that was probably even more extensive than my dad's, and one day shortly after my admission L and I were looking at some porn. Things happened, and I remember thinking that since I was already considered guilty I might as well do the crime. When you're a six year-old boy, you can't actually come, but you can get an erection, and while the height difference between me and L was a challenge we persevered.
L and I had a few other encounters after that: I remember watching her pee, and arranging to camp out in a tent. Then the reunion came, and I have two more memories: one, in which my brother had put together a 1000-in-1 science kit as a microphone under my bed with an earpiece in his room so that he could eavesdrop and share anything that happened between L and I with our cousins, and a second memory (most graphic of all) in which he had somehow convinced L and I to get together in her bedroom. She lived on the second floor, facing out on the lawn, and I remember hearing voices out on the lawn -- taunting voices -- and realized that almost all of my cousins were out on the lawn, aware of what we were doing, and laughing at us.
After that, L and I didn't get together anymore. I remember being involved in a game of tag with L and my brothers, and feeling sad that she was much more interested in catching (and being caught by) them instead of me. Other opportunities came up after that; I had my hands down Bonnie's (no relation, happily) panties on our schoolbus, and ended up getting a black eye a day or two later from her older brother (who also happened to be the grandson of the school bus driver). I spent a good chunk of the next year or so fearing that I was going to burn in hell for my sins, until I decided that it was irrational to believe in God anyways.
If my parents found out, I never heard about it. I have no idea what they would have done. I know that as a parent-to-be, I will have no illusions about what my kid might be involved with at what age. My brother has never explained why he did what he did; I guess it's like trying to explain why you tortured animals as a child; it must all come down to power.
My survival strategy since then has simply been to avoid that side of the family. I have seen them a handful of times since I was ten, and while the intensity of the shame and fear of confrontation has subsided, it is still an incredibly uneasy sensation. The events are always at the forefront of my mind.
Oh, and in case you're wondering what that kind of an experience does to you longer term: my next sexual activity occurred when I was about 14, and my oldest brother's 17 year-old girlfriend seduced me after I resisted for about an hour. It wasn't revenge, because it was the wrong brother; this was an encounter with a sexual machine. However, due to all kinds of factors I was completely impotent; my penis was as shrivelled as it could possibly be. That didn't stop me from falling into an incredibly intense crush and indulging in cunnilinguus, but after a while she lost interest in me (she was busy having threesomes or something like that) because of my impotence.
I had a few other girlfriends, and things got hot and heavy with us, but I was completely impotent until I was twenty. No surprise; adding previous experiences to the loss of my brother's girlfriend _due_ to impotence leads directly to more severe impotence. Eventually my high school friends found out that I hadn't actually had sex with this girl, but was impotent, and I suffered some mocking there too. That didn't help. When I said earlier that I broke things down and put them back together, I meant it. I was broken down, and I needed to fix myself. Contemplation, philosophy, time, and isolation all helped. For the last ten years, I have been in an incredible relationship. Our confidence is high, our sex is good, our family is about to begin... and I can deal with becoming a father.
I don't have a moral to the story. But I do like the ducks, and hope that they work things out.