I don’t know why Pele called me home to Hawaii exactly at that moment, but here are my top three ideas:
- When I first visited the Puna Coast, near Kilauea, I felt unsettled. My life and thoughts were moving more quickly than the island’s energy and we weren’t in sync. Five years later, life events had slowed me down and voila. We were in sync; I could hear the call.
- Life events crippled me and in my disabled state I was unable to live anywhere else. The planet has a pulse, after all. Just like in the body, blood flows all beneath the surface. But you can’t feel your pulse in your elbow. You can feel it in the tender places where the blood is close by. The planet is like that. Near an active volcano, the pulse is palpable. I’m developmentally disabled and had forgotten my connection to the earth. So she called me home; it was a benevolent act.
- I have business near the volcano. And it’s not my business to know it. I just have to show up. Bam. That’s it.
She started speaking to me. That’s what I know. Pele woke me from a sound sleep. It’s not like she’s speaking English but somehow my head translates the telepathic messages and I know what to do. Yes, I sound like some kind of woo-woo self-centered friend of the faeries to say a volcano took an interest in me, but people somehow believe “angels” take an interest in finding them a parking place that keeps them from walking and that’s way weirder. You can buy figurines and plaques and stickers depicting parking angels. Maybe I’ll make up some stickers that say “Listen to your volcano” and sell them online. People would buy them because as fruity as my story sounds, people wish it would happen to them.
You know those moments when you’re so stressed out you’re not in your right mind but you have a feeling that jittery, off-balance, emotional explosion feeling actually IS your right mind? Yes, I was in that state when Pele called me.
My relationship with my lover had dissolved. More accurately, she took up with someone she thought was hotter, simpler, funner and she no longer wanted to continue with me. What does one do with that? We had exchanged promise rings and were planning to spend our lives together. I still wanted to continue, but in the silence left by her absence, madness started to creep into my bed. It felt good, in an awful way. I had frequent past-life flashbacks in which she and I were playing out scripts of love and betrayal again and again. In one script, she was the Roman emperor who could not acknowledge a relationship with me, a common prostitute. In another, I was an angry, confused queen and she was the knight who loved me but found me somehow unapproachable, un-rescuable. I respect madness for its peculiar wisdom and though this felt like the worst breakup of my life (I would say that again and again “the worst breakup of my life”) a deliciously painful change was occurring.
Look, it’s not like I’d been longing for Hawaii. It’s beautiful and the air caresses you giving you this tiny little skin-boner all the time. Sure, the water is alive with friendly mystery and sea turtles and dolphins are your neighbors and they really DO know more than humans. I had no particular relationship with Hawaii, nonetheless. I’ve never worn a little gold plumeria charm on a necklace to remind me of my time there. I didn’t tack up pictures of palm trees pining to return. I had been there five years before the volcano called and, yes, whatever, stunning beauty. I felt … nervous. There was an eerie non-human presence that made me feel slightly unwelcome. Suddenly though, I was not just welcome; I received a direct order to come.
The breakup, and the capitulations prior to it, caused financial havoc in my life, so travel was not timely. And yet, so clear was the message, I got on the phone the following day to the retreat center where I had previously been in residence and then, for good measure, I called all of the female-owned bed and breakfasts I could find to explain that I was a writer and that I needed to come for a week or two. For free. Or, almost free. Inexplicably, within two days, I had three suitable offers. I purchased a plane ticket and departed that week.
Pele had not been specific about what I was to do there, so I figured I should just walk out onto the lava each evening and wait for the next message. Fields of pahoehoe lava stretched before me, as beautiful and awful and dangerous as my life had become. I was at a crossroads, and yet, there were no roads – just acres of ropy black, curly black, amazingly colorful, hard planet before me. The destructive, generative paradox – hard enough to walk on, but hot just beneath – comforted me. One night, I returned to my room in a daze. The next morning, I could barely move. Every part of my body was sore, though there was no bruising and no particular source of the pain. Fricking volcano! Pele had kicked the living shit out of me somehow. As I struggled to get out of bed, she said, You are made to be torn down. That was the only message.
Later that day, driving through Pahoa after a short walk onto the lava, I felt the car turning into a lot and parking. I got out of the car and read the sign on the building to see where I had parked. Pahoa Realty. The woman on the lanai said, “What can I help you with?”
And I replied, somewhat bewildered, “Apparently I need to buy real estate.”
“Well come on in then.” She said, as though this sort of thing happened every day.
I had no money with which to buy a house, but I looked at a few that day. I called my friend Pammie to say, “This feels nuts!”
Pammie had known me for years and she was no stranger to passionate moves. At that moment, she was living in Oregon because she needed to be closer to a river and ducks. Usually adults don’t move state for ducks, so I guess I expected support for my madness. In a way, I got it.
“Well, it is nuts. And look, maybe the volcano is speaking to you, but here’s what I know: never buy or sell property during a breakup. Give it three months and if the volcano is still speaking to you then, go ahead.” This was the voice of reason. So, I waited three months and it was like a gong went off. I made an offer on a small two-bedroom cottage near the active volcano and less than a mile from the sea. I learned later that my new home was in an area sometimes called “Pele’s lap.”
When I called the mortgage broker recommended by my realtor, my tax return showed an income that wouldn’t buy a pack of gum, let alone a house. With complete confidence, I said, “I’ve just put an offer on a house. I need a no-document loan at 100% financing. I have excellent credit, but no cash and no provable source of income.” The man on the other end of the phone chuckled a bit and I heard his chair squeak as he leaned back, probably shaking his head.
“Just take a look and see what you have,” I said.
“Okay,” he said in that sing-songy Hawaiian English. He put me on hold for less than a minute and returned flabbergasted. “I think I have a loan you might be right for. This product just came in today and it can be no doc, if your credit’s good.
“That’s the one.” I said confidently, already giving him my information.
“Unbelievable,” he murmured as we hung up the phone.
What makes one break-up harder than another? Or for that matter, harder to accomplish? Why are some people harder to leave? I’ve never believed the story about finding “the one.” During another breakup, my ex seemed merely absurd as she said unkind things to me. But this lover’s words wounded me to the core. Why did I let her do that?
My mother remained married to my stepfather for eight years after she learned that he had been sexually abusing me from age twelve to fourteen. She chose him over me, and simply constructed a story about how she still had us both, even though I was more and more absent from her home. It became her home, not mine. She divorced him when I was 22. Or maybe he divorced her and I never got the full story. She’s a story-spinner that way. A different story for every audience. She didn’t see him as a pedophile or a rapist, that’s for sure. I should’ve behaved differently. She should’ve forced me to behave. She was angry at something she perceived as competition from me, but what had I won? Her husband was just being himself. When you tell the story that way, how could he be to blame?
During my “worst breakup” I started realizing how difficult it can be to make choices that match one’s values. She had become my partner, my beloved, and my Daddy – the one who would rescue me from all relationship difficulty. I couldn’t easily give her permission to opt out of those promises.
“Do you think I was sexually abused as a child and just don’t remember it?” She asked me at times. “I mean, I come up with some pretty specific scenarios when we’re doin’ it. Could those just come from nowhere?”
I considered it, sure. So many of us women have been messed with when we were children, by family members, by people who should be raising us. And if it’s sexual abuse, it’s usually men. Well, they are raising us into the world of adult expectations: women should prepare to take it; shut up and take it; look good and take it; take it and not want anything else.
I couldn’t see sexual abuse on her. Sometimes I can see it on someone who’s just walking down the street. I had to stop looking for it on strangers because that can really ruin the day, seeing one after another. But she and I were in it, so of course I looked for it. I couldn’t find anything special, just the usual bullshit of being raised a girl. And maybe that’s enough for re-enacting the particulars of patriarchy. We can pull the pattern for gender subjugation from so many small childhood experiences – the way dominance and submission lurk in so many corners of cultural and personal experience. Often, after asking questions like those, entertaining a few of my theories, she’d throw up her hands and say, “Whatever! I don’t need to figure everything out. The sex we have is totally hot. That’s what I know. So I’m a sick twist. You’re right there with me and it’s totally hot.”
“Yes, but why is it hot?” I would ask. We had this conversation three or four times in the 18 months we were together.
She’d plant her feet in a dramatic stance and say. “I love the theatre of it. You are obviously strong and capable and don’t need a Daddy. And I’m not your Daddy. I’m not even a man. I’m a dyke, playing a man, playing your Daddy.”
And there it would end. Still, I wondered why she needed to get so far away from herself in order to feel hot. Or why the need for Daddy was so close that she was never playing. We see things on each other before we ever have the words in our mouths. Some mouths don’t grow words the way mine does. She knew – strong and capable as I was – that part of me wanted a good daddy, more than I wanted a lot of things. I couldn’t articulate it – or wouldn’t – but I couldn’t have let her hurt me like she did if I wasn’t looking for some big reward.
Go ahead. Think the simple thing about me. But what about her? And what about all of the millions of men and women who can only get off on feeling their respective gender roles are being acknowledged and adored. Big and strong, small and fragile. Protect me while I take care of you, Daddy. Go ahead, keep thinking the simple thing about me. I’m damaged. You’re so different.
My lover never seemed like my stepfather and that was the important part. I never felt like I was “reliving” my incest experience. Gross; who would want to do that? She was bold and assertive. She would come to me in the kitchen, after dinner, and tell me to go into the bedroom, take off my clothes and get in bed to wait for her. “Daddy needs you,” she’d say. And she’d hug me and kiss me and I’d feel her hard cock, ready for me. My breath would quicken, my cunt slicken and I’d do as I was told. It was hot. Nothing like with my stepfather, who never spoke of need. He just had a creepy entitlement. For instance, as we’d sit on the sofa he’d grab my outstretched leg and place it under the blanket on his lap when my mother left the room. He always wore pajamas, maintained decorum as he took took took took. He’d use my foot to rub his penis and when he was done; he’d just shove me away and not look at me for the rest of the evening.
My lover looked at me. A deep soulful gaze, one hand on my chest – my heart – as she moved onto my body. I’d hold her around the waist with my legs and she’d fuck me deep and hard. “That’s a good girl,” she’d say. “You take it so good.” And I was dizzy with the sensation of being seen, felt, her weight on me, the quiet joy of our breathing. I’d come and cry and cry and come again. Perfect connection; perfect catharsis.
Once I had purchased the house, and a car, the crazy deepened and I thought the crying wouldn’t stop. I stayed in the Kurtisstown hostel until my house was out of escrow. That’s where I read the news from my mother.
I often received email from her. Sometimes it was a check in. “How are you? Give me a call when you have time. I know you’re busy.” Usually, she forwarded me pictures of kittens sleeping with bulldogs, or the earth from outer space or cautions against smelling perfume samples in shopping mall parking lots. I wasn’t expecting real news when I opened the email.
She told me that my stepfather had died. She read the obituary in the newspaper. Since their divorce, they had not kept in touch. He remarried and so did she. His children were angry with her for leaving him and had not invited her to the funeral. She wrote about her surprise and relief. She wasn’t sure how she felt about not being told more personally that a man to whom she was married for twelve years was dead. She had decided not to go to the funeral, even though the date and time were listed in the paper.
My stepfather was a minister and author and had once been a well-respected orator and social activist. Her email was maybe a page long and in it, she tried to make sense of her love for him. She tried to make sense of her persistence in waiting for him to be a better person than he was. I wept as I read. I didn’t feel anything particular about his passing, other than relief that he would not hurt others. Instead, I felt an overwhelming connection with my mother. It crept over me slowly as I read. My mother and I were cordial with one another but had not been close since my childhood. She made decisions in her life I felt I could never make – abandoning her child in favor of her spouse, chief among them.
As I read her words that evening, I began feeling that I was she – a different generation, different scenario and god willing, I’d never be faced with the choices she made. I read, with amazement, as she conveyed things I had said verbatim about my lover. She wrote: “He always had so much potential, so much passion and a desire to do great things. But he was never able to get past his own ego. He was never able to get past his ego and a feeling that other people were just there to comfort him, to serve him. I tried so hard to stay with him through the dark times, but I could never make a difference. I guess it was always up to him. And I needed to take care of myself.”
I really had been sleeping with my stepfather all over again. Or, perhaps more accurately, I had been investing too much in the possibility of a better outcome with a Daddy – one that wouldn’t leave me or hurt me or betray me. And that’s just not real.
My life is all I can change – funny how a person needs to learn that over and over again. I live in a landscape that called me and I rumble with fire and newness. Pele is not a Daddy – she is the destroyer and the creator. She is not here to nurture. And thus I began the next chapter of my life – living on the lap of a goddess. No caretaker. Burn it down and build it up. This is a story about Daddy, in all the forms humans create. This is a love story, a hard and brutal love story. Once the burning is done, there’s nothing left but love.
It is time for something new to be created, but something needs to be destroyed, first.
I love you and I’m worried about you. You seem confused and saddened by my absence. When I spoke to you the other day, you said you loved me and you missed me and that you’ve been kept up nights wondering where you went wrong. You didn’t go wrong, Daddy. I tried to tell you on the phone, but you just couldn’t hear me. You couldn’t hear me though you thanked me for my kind reassurances.
I admire your cordial concern for me. You are the best of the overseers, Daddy, always looking for my welfare. I have been at a loss to tell you how worried I am for you though. You are the one with whom I am intimate, yet formal. I must address you with certain respectful language, fold my hands just so and sit up straight and quiet at the dinner table. I must hold your queer silence under my tongue, like a sugar cube that fills my mouth with syrup, but I can’t swallow. I can’t speak and I do not swallow. I never swallow until you tell me to, Daddy. But this lack of speaking that has served us cannot carry us any farther now. I must speak frankly. I am an intimate, after all. We are more than intimate; we are related.
I am writing this letter because your state of mind worries me and compels me to intervene with comfort so that your pain and confusion do not turn toward harm. I dare not speak of what imperils you – your own hand, isolation, illness, or the brutal sanction of those who would have you be a different Daddy – hold me in line, chin to my chest, crying out your shame. Or worse than broken skin, through others’ pity and loathing, you could come to loathe yourself. I am kept up nights sometimes too, wondering if harm is seeping under the doors of your house like fog, filling your lungs with a moist anger. External forces invade your cells, replicating rage. You contain a quiet rage. Breath in. Breath out.
I feel to blame, (though the feeling wanes) when you turn your pain inward, or outward. I know how easy it is for you to hurt yourself and this distresses me. I will not find you strung lifeless in your closet, hung by what you could not name. I am asking you to rally, Daddy. I know how easy it is for you to find another little girl to lick your wounds as she balances, kneeling, precariously on the foot stool next to the brass lamp with the green brocade shade, her wrists bound with pink ribbon, blood rushing to her head, flushing her cheeks as she licks, looking up at you with loving eyes. I know how you long for loving eyes looking up at you when you let a girl lick your wounds, Daddy. I know the difficulty with which you unbind those wounds. You have given me the gift of your gore; don’t think I’ve forgotten. Even as I have taken the pestilence into my own body, holding my throat open and swallowing what comes, even as I have loved your bondage, your surrender, your release, even as I have left the room to heave out the poison you were made to carry, I have been blessed. And I had to leave you. But then, you knew that.
Every child, well parented, grows up and leaves home. Every one. Only the poorly parented stay behind to sleep in their parent’s cupboards, nursing the wounds of the aging without first exercising the limbs of youth. My own mother was 32 when she left home. She loved to be needed after years of feeling tangled and unkempt in the corners of rooms she longed to inhabit. My mother’s childhood home became her home. She began to live there rather than just rooting temporarily, until the pot broke, and then stretching forth toward deeper soil. She folded back on herself and bloomed within those walls. That is the way of children who stay children when their peers become adults. I love how you have needed me.
I didn’t understand at first, and I’m not sure you did either, Daddy. I didn’t understand what language we were speaking at the dimly lit corner table of the bar where you sat with me, so no one could view my age and ponder your impropriety. I didn’t know why the barmaid cocked her head queerly when you and I spoke and laughed together. Each time she passed the table, she searched for meaning in my eyes. She seemed to think she knew me, seemed to understand what we were saying though her tongue spoke differently when it was time for the bill to be paid. I didn’t understand why our language intrigued and horrified her. I didn’t know why we seemed to be foreigners, even though we had always lived nearby, in the little cottage with the sloped roof, hollyhocks and pomegranates growing in the front yard of our tiny elegant house. We lived there our whole lives, you and I. We never left home and we never arrived from elsewhere. How could she treat us as though we came from afar and act as though our language was foreign?
But Daddy, I digress. I am writing to console you. I want you to know that I know what you have given me and I’m grateful beyond measure. I want you to know that my current distance is the proper way of things. You will come to see this too if only you do not harm yourself in my absence, if only you do not replace me with the girl down the block who doesn’t have enough parents of her own and needs love, or the girl at the feed store where you buy oyster shell for the chickens. She thinks you are funny and kind, because you are, and though you tell me she isn’t pretty enough for someone spoiled by my beauty, you could invite her over for gingersnaps and sweet lemon tea, Daddy. But I hope you reconsider. I hope you don’t do that. I hope you don’t do that.
Some part of you must surely feel abandoned, Daddy! And I want you to know that you are bright and capable too. Not just capable of being a good provider, of being in charge, of being a load of fun, of sucking it up and being strong, of carrying all of my baggage up five flights of stairs when we go away from home for a few days and stay in a hotel whose elevator is always in need of repair. You are so much more than that Daddy. You are capable of so much more. You are worth so much more.
Who would you be if you grew up too, Daddy? This letter is a gold-leafed invitation: Please find the tub of warm water for soaking in your own soul; light a candle for dinner with yourself. Every candle lit must not find its way to my skin. You can make sweet light for yourself; your fingerprints need not be sealed onto the envelopes of my body’s messages in order for you to feel you’ve made your mark. I want you to come into your body and rearrange the furniture and throw away anything that has rusted or become musty or grown green with mold. Your inner barometer is screaming, Daddy! Why am I the one who dreams of drowning? Who would you be if you grew up too? Would you be able to rest and breathe and listen and relax? Would you be able to really relax, like when you hold me, like when we laugh together, like when you let the fluid part of yourself pour forth, rushing into every corner of my crayon box, touching all of my colors and howling with the delight of it? You have tinted the page on which I draw all of my life’s pictures, Daddy. And you have shown me so much love. You have loved me and although I still hear you not-crying, not-begging, not-looking-longingly-at the back of my head, and my shoulders the curve of my derriere and my ankles, I have left you. It only makes sense. I have left you. And what I really want to know now, because I am not moving back to our home, is …
How can I help you grow up too?