That one in your house will burn it down I tell but no one believes me I saw her eyes flash with fire She tried to steal my soul
She is a salamander
The one I trusted told me that truth But interspersed with lies A web he wove over me I claw from my eyes
I heard the rage Saw the strikes She bit He bit back
I raise the alarm, tell the truth But now he denies it Turns against me in rage I am betrayed, abandoned
The fire begins to rage It burns through all the rooms I try to pull him out but he won’t let me He is one of them too
[This poem is about witnessing abuse, and being told about abuse, only to be treated by the abuse victim as if you were crazy–then discovering the abuse victim is also an abuser who was manipulating you. It’s based on this story.]
On the 20th, during Christmas Break, I wrote in my diary,
I’m starting to wonder if I am in love with Shawn now. I remember telling him, on only the Monday before the Tuesday he almost took what wasn’t his [my virginity], over the phone that ‘I know I’m not in love with you.’ But I think that, even then, I was starting to wonder….
I thought–remember this?–that I only thought of Shawn as a friend at summer’s end. I badly wanted Peter to reform and return to me. But, as soon as I got back to school, I didn’t want [what I erroneously thought was a word from God that he would] to come true, at least not very much, and Pearl called me ‘obsessed’ with Shawn.
I go up and down with him, all smiling and teasing with him one day, and irate at him for something the next [one of his many criticisms, blowing me off, snapping at me, that sort of thing]. Sometimes, especially in the past couple of weeks, it changes in the same hour….
I want to tell him, Forget about [your ex-girlfriend], as much as you can–I’m here. What’s wrong with me? Maybe the real problem is, he doesn’t know me well enough yet, or his mind’s been filled by too many negative things from those people that judge me so harshly.
I feel so hurt when he does something that hurts me, like Tuesday night almost three weeks ago, or his constant criticisms. You’re never hurt so much as by the ones you love. I don’t use that word lightly, ‘love,’ and I never have….
I keep wishing Shawn would return this, and it depressed me when he says he doesn’t….
I hope that love will grow out of friendship, now that Shawn and I have agreed to start learning about who each other is. I’ve confided things in Shawn that I’ve never told anyone else but God. Such trust, to tell him such a thing.
(I did not say “I love you” lightly, differentiating it from infatuation.)
For days after our conversation, I kept crying or feeling cranky. And no, it was not my period: I was depressed about Shawn.
But on the 29th, I wrote a poem about a werewolf, the beast of character assassination. I eventually used it in Advanced Poetry.
It shocked people; it drew praise. Julie said she didn’t expect such a poem from me. It was published in a new, campus literary magazine called Farrago. I don’t remember if Shawn saw it.
This is the poem:
“The Beast of Backbiting”
They’re a werewolf. Each lie’s a tooth in a long mouth full. Long fur of self-righteousness, shadow-black. Pointed ears prick at the agreement of others of its kind. Watchful, red eyes. Help me, help me, it careers after me! It roars, cracking the air– Foul, hot breath of judgments. You have the gun; I grab your sleeve. Shoot it! Kill it!
Once it had you, tearing with dagger-claws, ripping for your heart, to make you one of them. I shot the gun, scared it away. I tended your wounds, plucked out a broken claw, an implant of perceptions. Your hand flew up from pain, knocking the claw to my chest, scratching me, though no blood drawn.
Now shoot a silver bullet of truth– The werewolf falls, eyes fixed, in death, in surprise. But it rises again, snarls, fangs bared, saliva oozing. Its pride is hurt. You shoot again, hit the shoulder. The beast rages, lunges. You shoot once more, hit the heart. With a pitiful whimper and a gush of blood, the beast dies.
I wasn’t the only one affected by rumors. Once, a teacher told his class to beat the stress of finals week by starting a rumor. They would see how far it got by noon. So one of his students did just that. I don’t know what the rumor was, but by lunchtime, it was all around the school.
I wrote another poem, a rant about the different meanings behind our actions. How I did not regret what we did, how my motives were love while Shawn’s were cold and lustful. The title came from Jane Austen’s juvenilia. The poem was full of longing. And no, this one did not get workshopped in Poetry class:
“Love and Freindship (sic)”
What shall I say? That I regret? What shall I do? Mourn innocence lost? Then I lie! Longing fills like never before (or maybe once). Lust, but for kisses and caresses. Tho’ a half-emerged wish for more. No sin here, but almost. I’m virtuous? I’m pure? Maybe, but what are you? Same hour, same acts (tho’ none a sin)! Float through the moat of motive: One kiss– I feel love; What do you? One caress– I feel hope; Where lies your heart? Tho’ your heart’s cold, mine stays warm; One desire– Yours from below; Mine from the heart. I float, I float, here in these cold waves, wondering, wishing– Will he yet be truly mine?
On the 31st, I copied a quote from Héloïse of Abelard and Héloïse: “I ought to groan at the sins which I have perpetrated yet I sigh for those which I am unable to commit.” I wrote, “That’s how I feel, though I don’t know if I have sinned. And not only do I long for Shawn to touch me in places that maybe should be forbidden, I wish I could do other things.”
I had felt the same way a month earlier. (There were things we had not yet done, but did later.) I copied another quote from Héloïse which reminded me of what I tried to get Shawn to understand: “The sensual delights which we enjoyed together were so dear to me that I cannot help loving the memory of them and am quite unable to erase them from my mind.”
(I have translated a racy passage of the letters of Abelard and Héloïse, here.)
Over break, I’d listen to dance music of various kinds on B96, especially late at night: mixes that went on for quite some time and got especially intense without words, techno, house. I wrote on the 23rd,
This dance music seems to express, in its technological style, my deep feelings–love, resentment, fear, strength, resistance, resolve, anger–all in one, all at once. Maybe that’s why I like it so much now. Maybe that’s also why sometimes I have to turn it of and turn on something tamer–when it overwhelms me.
An hour later I wrote,
I don’t want people to think my beauty is artificial–a perm or painted face; I want them to say, ‘She’s beautiful, inside and out.’ Peter’s mom, remember, told me that I’m one of those girls who just don’t need makeup.
So why couldn’t Shawn see that?
Hmmm….On Christmas Eve, I wrote that I saw a skit on In Living Color that included a wedgie, and “it reminds me of Shawn trying to do the same to me.” What?
I was glad to see the end of 1992. I hoped that 1993 would be better.
Reading Clarissa; My Drawings of Her
In my diary and letters from this time, I gushed over the book Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, which I found in the Roanoke library. I read some of it while sick with the flu, since I had nothing else to do. Over Christmas Break, I had no homework and nothing else pressing (except lunch dishes).
This was a wonderful, wonderful book; since my massive version (1200 pages) was abridged, I didn’t yet know that there were even more wonderful parts to it which would explain parts of the plot even more. I read 100 pages a day–which for me is a tremendous amount, since normally I probably would have gotten through 50 at the most, even reading all day long–and finished on New Year’s Eve.
I loved the Gothic feel of many scenes, such as Lovelace showing up in Clarissa’s hotel as a gouty old man. I’m not sure if it’s called pre-Gothic or Gothic; it’s been described both ways. On Masterpiece Theatre, which showed the movie version in the spring of 1992, it was called a Gothic. It came out before the supernatural tales of the 18th and 19th centuries, but had the traditional elements of a Gothic: A young, virtuous virgin is abused and locked up by a dirty, usually old, man.
Richardson’s book Pamela, an earlier work, had a similar theme, except that the dirty man was young and handsome, and eventually “reformed.” In Clarissa, the man was young and handsome, but did not reform.
The book was far more intense and intricate than the movie could possibly have depicted, with a remarkable understanding of psychology and the thoughts/motives of each character.
I laughed when Clarissa’s coffin arrived and she had it dragged up the stairs to her room. She shocked everyone in the hotel, who said, how could she bring her coffin into her room? She said, how could they be so surprised, since it was just a box to hold her earthly body? She expected to die and go to Heaven, where everything would be beautiful and peaceful.
Two songs became associated in my mind with Clarissa. The first was “Unchain” by Whiteheart, on a CD I got for Christmas. I listened to it over and over during Christmas Break, and the beautiful melody seemed to fit somehow as I read. Maybe it was the plea for God to “release my soul” and to “unchain.” After all, Clarissa kept pleading for Lovelace to release her, and no longer keep her a prisoner in the brothel where he had taken her.
The second song was “Ordinary World” by Duran Duran, a song which came out over Christmas Break and was played over and over as I listened to the radio while reading. I also taped it. The melancholy music and lyrics fit Clarissa well. The song may have been about a breakup, but Clarissa’s sadness was due to the rape, betrayal and abuse from someone who said he loved her. When she died, all the pathos made my eyes mist and my nose tickle.
I drew pictures of the characters, to help me visualize them and their period clothing, since characters are often a blur of emotion and action as I read. They rarely take on a concrete appearance unless I can look at a picture. This may be because of NVLD.
I based the first picture of Clarissa on a plate in the “Fashion and Clothing” article from our 1960s Collier’s encyclopedias. This was my masterpiece. I somehow got her haircolor mixed up: I thought she was a brunette and her friend Anna a blonde, though it was the other way around.
But Clarissa’s features–based on beautiful British actresses I’d seen over the years–were lovely enough to fit her description. I tried to draw Lovelace, but I preferred the one in the movie, Sean Bean. I’ve never been good at drawing men, who end up looking effeminate.
I admired Clarissa, the paragon of virtue, and the ending brought me close to tears. I admired her as my ideal, but did not act like her when Shawn got me alone. Maybe I connected with her on a subconscious level, since I knew what it was like to be lied to, lied about, and emotionally abused by men, though I did not yet know just how bad it could get (Phil, a year and a half later).
I had no clue why this happened. I suppose the natural gullibility caused by NVLD, and the ostracism I’d often experienced throughout my schooling for no reason I could see, made me an easy target. Boyfriends were never easy to find, especially when my faith said they had to be Christians–and even the Christians could be jerks.
I wanted to stop the abuse, but had no idea how. I couldn’t control Peter’s actions, and still hoped Shawn would stop criticizing me and fall in love with me.
Here are two of my best “Clarissa” pictures. The bottom one was drawn in 1997. When I showed the first one to my friend Becky in South Bend, she grabbed it with an “Ooh!”: