The more time I spent in Nature, the more I felt my strength, the conviction that I would make it through the obstacles and be okay. I remembered the distinct voices of the Grandmothers saying that there were lessons for me to learn and that I mustn’t give up. When they had talked to me in the lighted room many years before, they told me that life is like going to school. There were many lives, like many grades, they’d said. Each life-grade had lessons and tests that built upon the previous life-grade. To fail to finish any grade would mean to have to start all over and learn all the lessons again.
So, as I lived with the aftermath of childhood molestation, the gang rape and the continued passive aggressive manipulations of my mother, feeling mostly overwhelmed by having been so thoroughly discounted as a human being, I was able to find the resolve to be strong and to continue against the forces that were coming at me. I used the forces of Nature and my own courage to combat the forces of destruction around me.
I used other things, too. The others I hung out with were also dealing with not being accepted, not being able to “fit in” due to their viewpoint of the Universe and the workings of the world within it. Most of them were gay and in the mid-sixties that was such a foreign and un-addressed topic that, as my dear friend Bruce would say many years later, “The closet hadn’t even been built, yet”. We drank a lot, and often. We gathered at one of our houses or another each weekend and raided our parents’ liquor cabinets, sipping our cocktails in front of the fireplace while the Beatles and Beach Boys played loudly over our conversations and make-out sessions. On the nights I was assigned babysitting duty at home, I watched Johnny Carson fortified with a Tanqueray and ginger ale. I fortified myself quite heavily on the nights when I could hear the high school keg parties going on in the woods down by Buttermilk Falls. I drank then not to relax, or to rebel, but out of fear that they would realize I was in the house without adult supervision and the events of the previous Halloween would be repeated. They had caught me then, out in the village and on my way home alone; unassuming and defenseless. Armed with a baseball bat, I sat in the darkened house, listened for every noise near the house, and drank until I slept.
There had been no counseling at the time; no acknowledgement at all, really. A woman had seen me walking along the road, my clothes torn and my body slathered from head to foot in shaving cream and raw eggs. (“Give that to your sister!” they had taunted when they were finished with me.) This woman, whom I knew only because it was a small town and everyone knew everyone else at least by sight, took me to her house and let me take a shower and wash my hair. She gave me clean flannel pajamas and a robe to wear, and drove me up Red Mill Hill to the house. I know she gave some explanation of the circumstances to my mother; there had to have been some discussion as to the condition I was in when she found me. And yet, the subject was never addressed with me. No questions were asked; there was no follow-up or follow-through. My mother has been dead for twenty years and I still shake my head at her lack of caring.
There was a point after that, maybe not right away, but between Halloween and Christmas, that I snapped. I was walking through fresh knee-deep snow down the long lane from the house to the school bus stop at the highway, and the walking was very difficult. The hard work of it was made worse by the wind and the cold. I was feeling the difficulty and the work of the walking (and of my life) on a visceral level, and it all just became too, too hard. I came to the place where the lane forked off, one direction to the highway and the other to the waterfall. I stood there for a couple of minutes, wondering; wondering if I had to courage to take care of myself; to not go to school and have to survive the stares and the rumors for another day; to do something that would possibly heal me in some way.
My school books went in to the snow bank and my feet went down the lane to the Falls. After a while, my father was standing at the top of the Falls calling my name and telling me to get to the house. The housekeeper had found my books as she drove in, and called him. As he and I sat talking about what I had just done, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about what had happened before. I only said that I couldn’t go to school anymore, that I wanted to stay home forever. He must have known, and he didn’t know how to talk to me about it, either. He took me up to Albany for the day and we had a great lunch at a fancy restaurant and then he gave me a lot of cash and let me wander off alone to do my Christmas shopping. I had to return to school the next day, and my life came back to its reality, but I’d had a bit of respite. This time, I did not get punished for having stood up for myself. He didn’t know how to address it. He couldn’t fix it for me or take it all away, but he didn’t add punishment or making me feel shame. He stood by me the best way he could in the moment.
The thing that changed for me then was that I knew I had some sort of support. I began to take the train to Manhattan after school every few weeks, meet with Dad at his office and then we would go out to dinner and sometimes a Broadway musical. We always went to the bookstore. As I had when I was ten in Long Beach, I read a book every day or two. I began to write. I put my feelings and thoughts down on paper in poetry and in prose, and I became secure in being alone. I stopped trying to be one of a crowd. There is a great difference between being lonely and being alone. I was never, ever lonely.
I had my books and I had my waterfall with all its resident energy beings. There is a Sanskrit word, maya, which means the illusion of the world around us as opposed to the reality of the spiritual world within us. We become deluded in to thinking that things, people, status, will give us peace of mind and fullness of heart. I learned the myth of that early on.
My lessons about the spiritual workings of the Universe were underlined by sleeping out in open fields on summer nights. I would grab a sleeping bag and head out to seek relief from the heat and humidity in the cool breezes of the night air. As I watched the stars slowly move in the sky, or drifted off and woke to find the patterns had shifted, I felt my humility at the grandness of the Universe.
“In the huge workings of Life,” the Grandmothers had said to me, “there are times of peace and times of pain; but all the times flow in to one and are your lesson to learn. Do not give up.”