Bendy Sea Stars & a Hardass

Dear Amy,

I’m feeling my Angry Feminist vibe right now because of my hometown’s excitement over their NFL team’s win today. I struggle with football as a cheer-able sport anyway because I watched my son bruise and sprain his body and get more than one concussion throughout most of his childhood and into college for the specific purpose of doing what was expected of him (not by me, but by his father and the community) by playing football and playing it exceptionally well. So when others are watching “players” abuse their bodies and the bodies of others, I see sons. And the last time I attended an NFL game, I looked at the primarily black players and the primarily white coaching staffs and the primarily white fans in the stands getting served food and beverages by the primarily black concessions crew….well, I just couldn’t help but see what I saw and I can’t unsee it now that I’ve seen it. On top of this, my hometown’s football team is the “Chiefs;” a reference to the Indigenous Americans who were killed in the genocide that made room for the United States to be formed and whose land upon which the Chief’s stadium is built. Just in case anyone misses that subtle reference, sometimes that fans wear “headdresses” complete with feathers and several times throughout the game they will do the “tomahawk chop” and chant that really drives it all home. (Click here – it is so cringe-y you’ll think it is a parody. I wish that it were but it is exactly what it’s like at every single game.)

But if I stay on that kind of note too long, I will end up feeding the Angry Feminist vibe and before I know it, this entire letter will end up being a diatribe against everything that is wrong with everything everywhere. I’m sure you don’t need any reminders of these things. I’m a little disappointed in having started out this letter on such a sour note anyway and need to turn this around quick before I end up writing a long apology instead! Sooo…

I have to admit something here that isn’t necessarily more upbeat but it’s more “I had this moment” and has a somewhat happy ending. After the big storm that rolled through here yesterday, I woke up early this morning to watch the sunrise and see what the huge waves had left behind on the beach. (Angry Feminist wants me to tell you about all of the trash but I won’t go there.) One of the things I found was several starfish washed up on the beaches. On Christmas Day I found my first starfish and I was really excited about it. I’m not sure if I wrote to you about it already but I’ll risk repeating myself if I did. I’ve been collecting seashells since I’ve arrived here and all my life I’ve only seen starfish as the hard shell-like creatures that are used in decorating. Somewhere along the line (early on), my mind connected starfish with shells and I cataloged the hard things in decorations as starfish “shells.” When I found that first starfish, I thought “Huh! This one is all soft and bendy! It must be because it is wet.” and I brought it back to the condo to dry so that I could set it up on the counter to display with my other shells.

A day later the starfish wasn’t dry and hard. It was still soft and bendy and seemed to still have a moisture to it that really puzzled me at first. And my understanding of these creatures was so far removed from reality that I even wondered for a while if something had somehow leaked or spilled onto the starfish and rewetted it before suddenly it hit me….this wasn’t a shell, this was a carcass! And with that realization, I suddenly became hyper-aware that I had celebrated upon finding the carcass of a dead creature in anticipation of how it might look lovely in decorating my countertop. I felt the biggest wash of incredulity mixed with disgust mixed with guilt! How could I have not realized that a starfish…was a FISH?

As it turns out, there is a lot of information on the Internet about starfish. First of all, it’s not a fish after all and is more related to sand dollars and other sea creatures like that. So marine biologists have renamed them and they are now called “sea stars” which makes them sound magic and, instead of making me feel better about celebrating the discovery of a dead carcass and harvesting it for decoration, I now have the guilt of having harvested a MAGIC carcass. I. Am. Shit.

So determined to make sure I knew what to do the next time I came across a magic sea star washed up on the beach, I took some mental notes that I should look at the tiny tentacles on the underside to see if they’re moving and curl up one of the tube feet to see if it moved. None of the washed up sea stars this morning appeared to be alive after I used these two tests on them and finally I just took a picture of three of them against the white sand and left them there for someone else who might be excited about using them to decorate. (During my search for info, I discovered there is a whole process for drying them out and people even HUNT LIVE ONES for decoration. I don’t feel like quite the monster I thought I was before reading that.) A little later, after my beach excursion, I posted my pictures on social media (including the dead sea stars) and my older sister commented with this AND included a little story about how to not be a shit person:

Amy…my sister is so kind to me and has always been so patient with me. Throughout my life, I have always felt like she was more my mother than my big sister (most likely because her love felt unconditional and safe) and therefore I have always had such strong reactions anytime I felt reprimanded by her. When I saw her comments on my sea star picture, I had a little dissociation event and felt so much like a “bad girl.” Despite having looked up how to know if they were dead and having used those methods of knowing before taking the picture and leaving them behind, for a good two or three hours after reading her comments I was The Sea Star Killer – my sister called me on it in front of all of my friends, I wasn’t even as good as the good little boy in the story she posted, I was bad and everyone could see it.

Even though I know my sister and there is no way she would ever chastise me or “all me out” as bad in front of my friends, my internal flow of energy will very quickly drown me in shame if given even the smallest window of opportunity. And once that flow starts, it will wash away my reasoning and logic and it will be all emotion born from a sudden rush of survival juice. And that, my friend, is when my mind pulls in an alter to take my place and feel and do things on my behalf. There was a little moment after reading my sister’s comments when I was just feeling a little irritated by them but it quickly changed to being affronted and a little panicky. That pulled in “The Groveling Pleaser” and I commented back letting her know I’d checked them first and assuring her I was a “good girl” but even as I was typing those words, I could hear a voice saying “No you didn’t. You did it wrong. Because you’re a bad girl and you do everything wrong. They’re dead now because of you.”

Who’s that I hear knocking? Did someone say “bad girl?” Is that Little One ready to march in and take over my day?

I’ve more of less recovered now and I have regained most of my self assurance in knowing I’m a good person and not a killer of magic sea stars. But I’m left with a vulnerable feeling because after months of feeling self-confident and centered, two less than “you’re a good girl!” comments on social media from the one person I have who has loved me unconditionally all my life and I switched like I haven’t made any progress at all! Overcoming my agoraphobia and reentering society depends on my overcoming my agoraphobia and overcoming my agoraphobia depends on my being able to trust I won’t “act crazy” when I’m out among others. For the past couple of months I’ve been feeling pretty groovy and thinking I might actually have something resembling a normal life before death arrives. Now I’m thinking I should probably plan on getting a couple of cats. And maybe a subscription to Netflix and Hulu. Maybe…I don’t know if I’m ready to give up home yet but it sure is tempting to just acquiesce to the life of the ultimate homebody. I mean really….what’s so great about being out in society after all? Cats are awesome. Streaming is awesome. Inside is good.

Agoraphobia has been a big part of my life and while it may look to some like I’ve overcome it in some way (because I drove myself 1,000 miles to the beach and I leave the condo several times a week), I don’t really “go” anywhere except the beach now that I’m here. Just the thought that I have to go somewhere in 5 days in order to pick my sister up from the airport has been causing me to feel anxious for the past two weeks. I probably won’t sleep the two nights before she comes in because of the anxiety from the thought of having to drive to pick her up. And, knowing me and loving me as well as she does, my sister already has a plan B and plan C to get here without me in case I don’t make it there. I have come a long way over the years and I am more dependent than I was last year and last year I was more independent that the year before that but I can’t even remember what it felt like to just get in my car and go somewhere without having to really work hard at even getting myself to consider it. A one hour trip to the grocery store will take me all day to accomplish; several hours to prepare, one hour to shop, several hours to unwind from the anxiety from having gone. It’s a recurrent theme in many of my journal entries over the years.

Speaking of journals – I spent a few days going through all of my old journals, making notes and taking pictures of the things I wanted to preserve and throwing away years worth of my crazy note taking. Becoming a minimalist really demands that I stop literally carrying around my past and the threat of death demand that I rid my possessions of anything I don’t want my children to read or see. So my trash bag full of crazy is sitting in an industrial sized trash container in the back lot of the condos and I’m a little more selves-aware than I was before the effort. In looking through everything and reading things I hadn’t seen in years, I discovered there were just as many journal entries that I don’t remember seeing at all. And in taking a closer look at some of them, I started to notice a theme in their tone and handwriting and I think I identified an alter I have never noticed before and with whom I have zero co-consciousness. And I’m starting to wonder if it was Nasty who wrote those mean “cunt” things in my journals and wrote the weird messages on different parts of my body.

If my suspicions are correct, Nasty may not actually be the one who did those things and this other is actually the one who is so mean, illusive and often hostile. I have a notecard on which I have a running list of the alters I know about and think I might know about and there is an entry on there of “The Hardass.” I don’t really remember adding that to the card and I’m wondering if maybe my new alter named herself. I don’t know…this part is always so confusing. But even when it raises new questions and shifts so much out of focus, it is exciting each time I find another piece to the puzzle of the we’s in me. Especially a piece that may be responsible for the scariest of my journal entries and odd behaviors.

Maybe, if I make my acquaintance with Hardass and can get a little integration going on, she could give me a little backbone when I feel like someone has called me a killer of magic sea stars. Maybe Hardass will be the piece with whom I need an connection in order to play hardball with the world again. Maybe I don’t need cats and Netflix after all.

That’s enough for now. I’m not sure this has been a successful translation of my stream of consciousness into a letter but I’ll send it along in the hopes that if you run out of cereal boxes to read, this letter might be a suitable substitute. /sarcasm/

Always,

Me