Placing Oneself

Placing Oneself

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PTSD is a bit of a paradox, at least as I experience it.  On the one hand, it separates me, the in-this-moment me, from every other moment I’ve ever had.  My brain has stopped recording time in a reasonable, measured chain of actions and emotions that I know I am experiencing; each link in the chain now feels quite distinct, as though it had no connection to any other link.  So my memory has gotten quite strange.  I can remember some things (numbers: car mileage 162,584, addresses: next job 1490 Camellia) quite well, across the chain of time that I can’t feel but that I know is there.  Other things get dropped as if they never were.  Did I say I would be here til Sunday, or did I say I would leave at noon Friday?  Am I supposed to pick up the car, or is Jerry picking it up?  What did I eat today?  Did I eat?   When did I last eat?  Where did I say I would be tonight? (Damn, I have GOT to start writing this stuff down.  Love, Unk.)

On the other hand, of course, PTSD can be an instant transporter beam to some past link in that chain.  I sit in the moment that is separate from all other moments, during a break in the testing I know is occurring, waiting for a signal that it’s time for me to return to the testing room.  I glance up and see a deputy leaning against a counter, and there’s a smell of sweat, and my eyes focus sharply on the knees of his khakis … and suddenly I’m 60 miles, 7 years away, it’s midnight, cold, there’s a dying deer, blood everywhere, smell of blood, am I in danger from the aggressive man standing nearby with his baton out?  Is the deer in danger? So damp, so tired, too scared, can’t be scared, pulling on my calmness like a cloak of invisibility as I [am ushered into the room] try to convince the guy to leave [am being asked for a name] and have to stand up, can’t keep kneeling, too submissive a posture [do you need a moment?], calm, calm, calm, calm [walking quickly outside, picking up a rock, where did the rock come from? But it’s real, it’s real, it hurts when I grab it tighter and tighter and say, “that was then.  It was real then.  Now is different.  Now is real.” (Oh, hell … what did I just do in there?  One more thing I can’t apologize for enough.  One more show of weakness to the predators all around me.)  Calm.  Calm, all around me, like a cloak. Toss the rock over my shoulder, it’s gone. That, and my past, is gone.  [Sorry, thank you, I’m ready to continue now.]

It really would be a lot easier to explain if this were Star Trek.  I’m caught on multiple permutations of the space-time continuum, that’s all. Sometimes I’m in two places at once; sometimes I’m in no place at all, all those times when I sit blankly for hours and only realize I’ve been sitting blankly for hours at some snag in space, some moment that breaks the endless loop of thinking about … what?  I don’t know.  Seriously, I have no idea.  But I know I am someplace else, a being that is someplace else, while my physical head and hands and hips and feet are motionless, on this side of space.

Is it any wonder, really, that I cling to the sadness, the fear, the distress?  They’re the only thing that’s the same on both sides of the jump — not a jump, really.  More like a cliff-fall. “The more pain I train myself to stand, the more I learn. You … won’t learn anything if you don’t invite the pain. And the more you learn, the gladder you will be to stand the pain.”

If I were who I thought I were, would I be more stationary?  Beats me.  Who am I?  Ask God.  Hungry.

When did I last eat?

A Significant Dilemma Has Arisen

My hero - Wllm Shakespr smAnd you, and only you, can spare me four weeks of dithering about trying to decide what to do.  My chosen housesitting nom de plume, “Animal Answers,” doesn’t have an intuitive web address available.  Should I change my name to “The Gentle Gypsy,” which does?  Is there a better option, please God? All suggestions cheerfully accepted; be ruthless.  I can take it.  Well, I can’t, of course, but I really would like honest opinions, here.  I like Gentle Gypsy a lot– more “me,” whereas Animal Answers sounds a little corporate to me — but it’s a lot less descriptive of what I do than the other one is.

The Ghost in the Footnotes

The Ghost in the Footnotes

My life has been embounded by my work as an animal control officer for the past 13 years, in both senses: as “defined” and as “confined.”   As well as in the senses of specialization, of territory staked out; like a battlefield, like a theatre, like a sphere of operations; a dominion, a realm, a long-lost estate.  And in all the senses of vocation: in joy, in murderous rage, in sweating fear, in despair and sorrow and unhealable awareness that is like the grate of dew-damp, rusting steel against one’s teeth. In speaking of it, every word is a red-hot memory, or two, or a dozen.  How does one describe it?

Poets should not become soldiers.  Yet another thing Philip Sidney might have mentioned. And yet somehow he didn’t.  Maybe he didn’t survive long enough. (1)

It’s a strange job, defining that strange job. An ACO is like a cop, without the salary, benefits, protection, or status.(2) An ACO is like a paramedic, without the carefully engineered equipment(3), a direct line to a doctor, or breaks between calls.  An ACO is like a teacher, without books, blackboard, mandatory attendance, or parental backup.(4)  And yet we live AMAZING lives.  We meet, handle, and help all kinds of animals, every day:  hawks, doves, deer, bobcats, rats, dogs, cats, rabbits, cows, you name it.  We get to be courageous and noble (5), or kind, tender, or forceful, even aggressive, if the situation calls for it (6). We have camaraderie (usually) with each other, and (sometimes) with other agencies: the brothers in blue, the brothers in red, and the sisterhood of selfless rescuers.(7)

But let me be precise.  We go (we went) to work in our undershirts and pants and boots.  We added (we add) battledress shirts, badges, and belts, in the locker room.

When is the past not the past? When it survives, I suppose. Then it’s just one big mish-mash of itself.

Out in the shed, we collect our beat sheets (lists of non-emergency calls and investigations to be done), along with our boxes of forms and license tags and code books and the individual tools we can’t live without.(8) We head to the lot to collect our designated truck of the day (9), checking out all the working parts and stocking towels, gloves, animal boxes, syringes, drugs, weaponry, and caging.  We get in the truck, we drive out of the lot, we check in with dispatch: “L7 to Comm, Code 8 from AC, I’ll be working North beat today, thank you.”  And we hear back a cheery, “Good (morning/afternoon/evening), L7, clear for traffic?”  And the long list starts:  the deer hit by car, surrounded by spectators.(10)  The dog in a hot car.(11The dead things, the wounded things, the lost things, the sick things, the baby things next to their dead mothers, the kicked cat held by the child with the haunted, kicked look. Interspersed with the cute things, the ducklings and kittens and puppies and baby opossums and raccoons.(12)

If poets DO become soldiers, they should turn to writing dirty limericks immediately, instead of trying to keep feeling.  I suspect David Jones knew that, deep down, and did accordingly, at least in the trench. (13)  And then he survived and tried to feel and write at the same time, much as I’m doing now.  Silly bastards, us.

And we handle all that, and we come back to the shelter.  Most days, with a few new bruises and smelling icky.  Some days, with a sense of accomplishment.(14) Every day, with a truck full of animals and dead things and cleaning to be done and gas to be replaced and equipment to be checked over again.(15)  Everything back to the shed or the locker or the file cabinet or the clerk, self into the locker room shower (if it’s really bad) and some clean clothes.  And we’re done for today.  Grab a glass of wine with someone, go home, sleep, hope you don’t dream.  Write an article for NACA (16) in the morning, give it around for a look, get told: “It’s very … Winnie.”  Apparently, not a good thing.  Rats.

If poets become soldiers and survive long enough to write anything else, the end result seems to always turn into long and elliptical works of strange, baroque opacity.  Interesting, perhaps, only to those who have become baroquen, themselves, the soldiers and the ACOs and the children of abuse.  Perhaps this is my pearl, þat pryvy perle wythouten spot (17), if it gets written.  If it survives.  So many things don’t.

I was a poet, if I’m remembering correctly.(18)



1.  Killed by forgetfulness, actually: Forgot a piece of armor, running out excitedly, eager to answer the call, as one sometimes does. (back)

2.  In one state, it’s actually a misdemeanor to assault an ACO, but a felony to assault a dog.  No, I don’t want them to lower the penalty for assaulting the dog.(back)

3. My old lieutenant, Steve: “Yeah, ideas, whatever.  You can’t have everything.  Work with what you got.”(back)

4. Now my friend Janice is laughing and reminding me how rare THAT is.(back)

5. Training.  I missed the shot; the buck is up and hirpling away on three legs, straight down 500 yards of 45-degree incline covered in fall leaves and rocks, between the hard winter trees. My sergeant, Robbi, runs past me in a tall blonde blur and leaps down the incline like a Valkyrie, or a deer herself, hair flying behind her, and disappears in seconds after him.(back)

6. “Oh, believe me, it calls for it!”  Saint Rick of Cairo, patron of all those who kick at the end of a rope.(back)

7.  Holy and blessed saints, mostly (Coral! Francoise! Astrid! Jill!), although, as ever, in the shadow of the altar are the unholiest of the unholy.  And I smell the cat even through the box, and look at the woman as innocently as possible, reflecting nothing but gullibility, and say, do you mind if I come in for a second and use the ladies room?  while I watch for the signs that always come, in the eyes and cheek and forehead, when she says yes.  Or no.  Either way, I can misunderstand and step in, and maybe she’ll let me.(back)

8. Mine is the famous netknife of my own invention.  Alright, famous in my own mind.(back)

9. Vans should be abolished for animal services work by Act of Congress. Not that they will, the slimy bastards.(back)

10. Terrified, bloody, screaming, surrounded by predators who, at any moment, will start biting into her wounded sides (she thinks). Adrenaline’s already rotting her heart muscle, probably.  Thirty minutes away — can I get there safely in 20?(back)

11. Since it’s past sunset, and 60 degrees, the dog is doubtless fine, but you never know, and a domestic trumps a wild, so goddammit, I’m sorry, sweetheart, an extra hour of suffering for you.  Or two. Or three.  Please, please die quickly. Don’t wait for me, love … (back)

12. and, oh, God, aren’t they going to let me cut the wall open?  The hell with it, I’m cutting the wall open.  Exigency. Loss of life and limb. PC 597.  Everyone’s afraid of big words and numbers, even this blustering idiot who’s “going to get me fired.”  Fuck it.  These two raccoon-shaped baby starfish … I wonder if I’ll get fired. I really should have saved up more. (back)

13. David Jones, In Parenthesis. Click here for Wikipedia link. (back)

14. Holy Christ, I’ve actually GOT her!  She’s safe!  Oh, my GOD, I’ve got mom!  Six healthy baby owls AND a pissed-off mom … wait til the wildlife hospital sees THIS. (back)

15. God DAMN it, I forgot the bat net at that last call.  Have to run back and get that, curses, curses, curses, late out again. Aaaaaand reaming from the lieutenant starting in four, three, two … (back)

16. The National Animal Control Association: The Professionals.  (Pause for eye-roll and sigh.) It’s a dentless problem, professionalism in animal services.  Mostly people who advocate for animal services workers are stuck pretty much professionally teaching expensive classes to try and stay alive, and many shelters, like mine, won’t send us to those. I’ve heard NACA’s classes are great, though. Maybe I could get a new job somewhere down the coast? Where they send people to training?  But wait, this is 12 years past, or ahead. I don’t work there any more, nor does anyone I know, really, because we all burned out or gave up or got sent to Coventry.  Fuck, I’m doing it again. (back)

17. Unknown medieval poet, “The Pearl.” For original and English text, click here, then click on page to toggle from one to the other). (back)

18.  Do ghosts remember things? (back)

On Leaves, Beetles, & Gypsies of Various Ages

The emergency calls, and the not-so-emergency calls, have kind of piled up on each other, since I began working with animals in late 1999.  Like leaves in autumn, they bury lost tools and rain-soaked gloves, muting stair edges and sheltering those awful Goliath beetles of insight or emotion (either way, too frightening when they leap out at me).  Each little check mark “done” — so individual, so difficult — is another badge of honor for that intrepid woman warrior I wish I truly were, dauntlessly riding onward despite all temptation to stop and sleep in the endless flowering meadows and green pastures of the unpurposeful Now.

Apparently, though, I have indeed run from my Goliaths, after all.  I’ve never gotten around to writing all these stories down, the ones I want to remember even after Alzheimer’s kicks in.  I’ve made notes, but they’re pretty much impossible to track now, spread across hundreds of little pieces of paper, drifting through my in-box and my must-do box and my sometime-soon box (to say nothing of all the other boxes and books and drawers that may be lying in between).  Very safely dissolute, my notes.  A diaspora of meaningfulness.

Blogging, too, has always seemed so pedestrian; vieux jeu, my dear, seriously, this is the second decade of the millennium!  Do we still leap into those piles of rustling litter in the yard, or do we get precise, even meticulous, in lopping off our deadheads?  Every leaf is so much like each other leaf; each insight, each emotion, just a dead, brittle remnant of a lifestyle past.  No, some say: and our fingers get sore, trying to twist springtime chaplets out of the old debris, pushing away any lurking recognition of which season we’ve been stuck with living, here at the end of the world.  No, some say: and we rake it all up and burn it, pretending that the yard is still green and the roses still have one or two more blooms coming.

But maybe I’m starting to find some value in being myself, me, just one little pedestrian leaf among the six billion leaves of the world tree.  I am real, me; a rag-cloaked peddler walking on a chilly autumn road, wishing now and again that I had a glimpse again of the glittering green forest of Spring and a crown of flowers for my heart. But despite that wish, starting to see the beauty in the red and the gold beneath my feet.

Or maybe I’m just crazy, sitting down among the debris, trying to make friends with the beetles.  I guess we’ll see.

Gypsy and Cart c. 1920