Witness

Laying The Burden Down

I guess it is time for me to come out of hiding. It has been a hellish period in many ways, but I think I have finally turned a corner. So I am peeking out and coming up for air.

It is often difficult to explain a descent into the underworld to those who have not been blessed with a visit, but I kind of expect that those that bother to read my rants are somewhat familiar with the terrain.

I went down. Or rather, I came up. Or … I have been on a hellish journey.

Sometimes I feel like I need to say the following words as preface to my storytelling -- None of what follows is metaphor.

“I’ve been ‘buked, I’ve been scorned, I‘ve been talked about sure as you’re born.”

That is a refrain from a song by my friend Evelyn Harris, formerly of Sweet Honey in the Rock. It is a refrain that can be sung by most black women, yes. But for me it spoke volumes.

Sometimes, there is a terror so deep, it can take almost 30 years to build up enough strength to face it. Over the last several months, I came face to face with such a terror.

[…breathe] … In the mid seventies I was a member of a group infiltrated by the FBI’s counter intelligence program otherwise known as COINTELPRO. Their usual tactics included seeding dissension and causing miscommunication. In the movement where I was a member, they created a climate of fear and paranoia. This produced a whirlwind of violence, hysteria and endless purges.

Because of my PTSD, I am no longer sure of exactly when it happened. Let’s just say that the year was either 1975 or 1976. I think it was during the month of October.

So […breathe] … in October of 1975 or 1976, I was beaten, tortured and abandoned in an industrial area overnight somewhere in New York City.

That sentence above says it all, but it says nothing. I have shared this information before, most notably within the pages of Modern Pagans. But what I had not shared was the sheer impact of the abuse and just how young I was emotionally. Whenever I have shared this story, I always made sure to say it matter-of-factly, so as to appear tough and strong. What I was hiding was just how terrifying it was to be left out in the dark, hundreds of miles from home, with god knows what scurrying about in the darkness, and left alone by people who only days earlier had been my family, clan, kin and comrades.

In some ways it was a relief. I had already suffered countless hours of terror and physical abuse, where the psychological aspects of the torture were in fact the most painful and long lasting. Followed by hours of being locked up in a dark room filled with weeping and bleeding victims. I was finally rousted up and dragged from the room by the very people who had accompanied me from DC. I was thrown into a car and driven to an unknown location where I was even threatened for daring to look out a window along the way.

I stood in the darkness, in shock, watching as the car pulled away. At least the torture and accusations were over, that is how I initially felt. Then the stark reality dawned on me that I had no idea where I was and I had nothing to defend myself. I spent the night crying, huddled on a bench under a flickering streetlight, shivering with fear. I had money, but I was so traumatized, I was afraid to call anyone from the lone phone booth less than a hundred yards away.

When morning finally came, the dark shapes receded and revealed an industrial area filled with skulking warehouses. The day light also revealed just how desolate and unforgiving my site of abandonment had been. Slowly the area began to crawl with life, and a shuttered low building became a greasy spoon catering to the early morning denizens of this place. I bought some food and got up enough nerve to use the phone booth.

I did what any frightened child would do; I called my mother. Coming from a family of psychics, my poor mother had been up all night – she knew one of her children was in danger. A bit later, after the ghetto network of my family was activated, my New York cousin, Mary, called me back. Less than two hours later, I stepped off a transit bus into her welcoming arms and was on my way to her home for a bath and meal.

Over the next several months, I was suicidal, depressed and listless. It was during those months of despair that I made my unholy vow. I had somehow decided that in an incident where I had clearly been the victim (along with countless others), that it was all somehow my fault. Not the fault of the people who abandoned me in the darkness, or the fault of the people who had beat me, tortured me and betrayed my trust. No. I had obviously done something to deserve such brutality, I had failed and so I steeled myself to never fail again.

And so I shut off my outrage, my anger, my fear, my grief, and my terror -- I toughened up.

But over these past several months, all that toughness dissolved within the supportive container of my coven, my healers and my dear, dear friends. And I let it all go and I finally broke down. I finally experienced all of the terror, grief, and outrage I refused to feel all those years ago. I am in fact still experiencing it. And so it has been difficult to write, read, sing, dance, eat, sleep, walk, talk or even breathe without triggering thirty-year-old memories of sheer terror.

And yet … still I write, read, sing, dance, eat, sleep, walk, talk … and yes breathe. Because I have already given those brutish cowards more than thirty years of my silence … they will get no more.

And so I visit with my younger self often, and I sit with her in that dark and tormented place. I hold her in my arms and keep vigil throughout the night. Her pain and terror is real. I can still feel it in my flesh every single day.

And so today, I open my mouth and I say … I’ve been betrayed, I’ve been tortured, I have been abandoned, I’ve been raped, I’ve been abducted, I’ve been dragged out of my bed at gunpoint, I’ve been stalked, and I’ve been sexually abused by a Catholic priest. I say out loud all the pain I have been carrying in silence.

And so, as of today, I refuse to carry the shame and guilt that should have been carried by those gutless cowards. Yes, I have survived, but only just barely in many ways. Today, I will not toughen up. I will not soldier through. I will not walk it off. I have simply let go of a burden that should have never been mine in the first place.

Today, I may be mad as hell, and my heart is clearly broken. But being angry and broken hearted is not a detour, a distraction or a defect. My soul’s journey often seems circuitous even to me, but I am growing and healing with every step. I am not off the path; this is my path. And as Evelyn sang all those years ago, “I’m just going to keep on moving on.” My path, my journey continues.

Thanks for listening.
©2008 Katrina Messenger

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Sat, 05/03/2008 - 3:53pm.

A Daughter’s Love

I loved the film, Like Water for Chocolate, but when I emerged from the theater I was sobbing.

My friend Benito assumed I was crying because of the death of the lovers. He was trying to explain the mystical quality of Latino symbolism as a way to ease my sorrow. But that is not why I was crying. I was crying because I had recognized myself as the doomed younger sister.

I had not stayed at home to care for my parents, but I had never strayed to far from them, living less than 10 miles away for my entire life. Several of my brothers were far flung, but I stayed close … just in case they needed me. And as a result I became tied down, anchored, tethered to the madness of my childhood.

Oh how I had longed to run away, to break free from the binds that tie. And not once had it occurred to me why it was so hard for me. Watching that film answered that life long question. I had not strayed because as the youngest daughter, it was my responsibility to care for my aging parents.

That film opened my eyes.

And so my tears were of grief, shock and deep, deep rage.

And so to Benito’s surprise, I was inconsolable.

These past weeks I have watched another daughter struggle with the same resentment, rage, anger and grief. It breaks my heart to see her in such pain. But this time, the stakes are higher. She has been diagnosed with cancer and is struggling to find some room within that clinging web of duty for the life saving acts of radical self-care.

But how do you make peace with the screaming voices inside your head when for your entire life, day after day, you were inundated with selflessness, invisibility and silence?

I know from personal experience just how warped your sense of self can become under such an onslaught. Every act of turning inward is treated as a betrayal of trust, as an act of rebellion or as a declaration of war. How do you find yourself within this swirling web of lies? How do you learn to see clearly enough to remove the heavy blinders from your own eyes?

A counselor gave me a clue many years ago. He said, ”Katrina you could not be selfish if you tried.” His admonition shocked me. I thought I had been so selfish and self-centered, how could that be? It made me step back and re-evaluate my entire perspective. If I “could not be selfish”, then why in the world did I believe I had been?

And that began my journey back to myself and back toward self-care. I am still on that journey.

And so this past week, I sat with my dear, dear friend. And I looked into her grieving and frightened eyes. And I said to her the words that had shocked me all those years ago.

“ You could not be selfish if you tried.” And I watch as she too begins the path toward her self. And this time, I will be there reaching out my hand as this sweet, sweet woman finds her way home. Because although I loved the film, I would rather she find her freedom on this side of the veil.

©2008 Katrina Messenger

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Sat, 01/12/2008 - 1:28pm.

Buying a Vowel

My brother called me late last night. And although he said initially that nothing was the matter, he then proceeded to tell me just how hard his life has become lately. He seemed surprised that he was admitting this all to me on Thanksgiving just minutes before midnight.

And he laughed the entire phone call.

He said with what he was up against, that crying was not an option. His words seared into my heart and by the end of the call I too found myself laughing. And when he eventually hung up, I too found it impossible to cry, I was so heart sick, I was past tears.

I wandered blindly around my kitchen compulsively reaching for food till it hit me. The reason my brother called me minutes before midnight on Thanksgiving … is because I am the only person who he can tell the truth about his life. And at the moment, his life is fucking impossible. And that brought me back to brink of tears again, only much, much deeper. I fell asleep finally on the verge of sobbing.

This morning as I lay in bed, I thought about all the people in my life where crying is not an option at the moment. There is too much coming at them and it looks like it is starting to speed up. My brother is facing heart stopping stress, backbreaking work and utter exhaustion to hold off complete financial ruin … and he is losing the fight. My friend K is facing a life threatening illness with very slim chances of fending off having to make a terminal choice. And my friend S just buried her father and has to fly home to the west coast while leaving her grieving mother on the east coast. And then there are the myriad of friends facing hard choices about what to do with their ailing parents who increasingly need almost constant care.

Everywhere I look, I see loved ones facing some very hard choices and looking desperately for some new options, some alternatives to what seems like impossible choices.

And so today ... For my brother, my friends, and people suffering everywhere who may feel sometimes that crying is not an option … I pray to the gods. I pray that the tightness loosen, and that the rough areas recede. I pray for sweetness and joy to fill their lungs and heart in whatever way brings them some respite. I pray for concrete answers to desperate prayers. I pray for forgiveness and resolution. I pray for compassion and miracles. I pray for lightness and real laughter that eases away despair. I pray for divine intervention and love. I pray for second chances and fool’s luck.

Today, I pray that in this hard, hard world of constriction, restriction and limits, that my tears, my real and welcomed tears on their behalf, will give them what they need to buy a vowel.

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 10:46am.

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