Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Gods themselves

By the way - not sleeping, thinking stupid things, writing lots of bright shiny stuff to distract myself, moods fairly shit. I have rung the appropriate specialists, moved the dose of medications up a notch, and aim to run this without making everyone around me suffer.

And I think I have seen something remarkable today.

For some months I have wondered about meeting one of the Gods in the offices of the Drug and Alcohol Clinic. A Hermes or a Maia, a Cybele or the Great God Pan.

I don't know where this idea comes from. It may have something to do with childhood stories of Morpheus and Hypnos, the gods of poppies and sleep, or some image of the island of the lotus eaters receding in the south, while Odysseus's sailors shuddered and sweated and spewed. And some part of it is an admiration for these people, the patients, the way some of them seem... timeless, untouched by things that would crush me and thus eternal.

But anyway. Without wishing to cause alarm, and making it clear that I am speaking metaphorically, you can draw correlations between the ancient gods and my patients.

Athena - a silent, grey eyed woman, early forties, smarter than I am, a tattoo of an owl on her left scapula, pupils like pinpoints, looking inward.

Poseidon - a bearded crayfisherman, big hands red as lobster claws, bringing in speed on the boats.

Ares - a tatoo'd, broad-shouldered man, in and out of Mauro, given space in the waiting room, feared, but not loved.

That's a danger, of course, to treat a person as an incarnation or an idea, to mistake the image for the thing. That's the intellectual jab-jab-cross that leads to someone joining the Klan, or believing advertisements for soap, or getting the crush on the unsuitable coworker - none of which are associated with smart decisions.

And I know that that the radiant blonde couple holding hands out there are not Apollo and Aphrodite, and more than the fellow sitting next to them with the long nose and the pot belly is Ganesha. But sometimes you do glimpse Hermes in a slim young man, garrulous on amphetamines, or Hades in the grim-faced older man, black goatee, wealthy with a younger wife. Not literally, I stress.

But then again, I met Jesus in the mall about three months ago, and I mean that much less metaphorically, I mean that as a sacred truth.

So - the ancient gods, having finally grown out of all that worshipping and sacrifices and adulation stuff, no longer that desperate needing to be needed, dwindling down to earth, retiring by the sea, in a similar climate, heroin instead of nectar, dreaming away the dusk of an eternal life.

I saw Mrs Smith today. For reasons that shall become obvious, every single possible identifying feature of Mrs Smith has been removed.

Mrs Smith is small, almost dumpy, large-bosomed, a diminutive woman of Willendorf proportions. Her eyes are cornflower blue, the fringe of her hair is dyed carrot orange, she has cheeks like Jonathon apples. She lumbers into the room, shopping bags clenched in each hand, manouvres herself into the seat, freely perspiring (it's the methadone - you sweat and your teeth rot) and says "I've got a bit of a problem, doctor."

I look back at the notes. A few scratchings about her isolation - she's out near Fang Rock, where nothing grows and the buses won't grow, acres of prime saltmarsh someone zoned up as suitable for housing during the Great Local Government Methamphetamine Binge of the late nineties. A note about her interest in a course for survivors of sexual assault. A brief precis of her life story, the need for anonymity (silent phone number, post office box address, notes filed under a different name) a few concerns about her eldest sons, and her assertion that the younger one was going wonderful, the apple of her eye.

"We're here to help" I say.

And she describes the last three months. Her ex, the man who owns the house she lives in, he's her only transport. He drives her to the methodone clinic three days a week, without him she'd be in withdrawal. He's been pressuring"" her for sex, she says, and he'll kick her out if she doesn't give in. She doesn't really want to, what with the methadone and all. No drives in that area at all. And him, he's got very strong drives, powerful urges - even after the quadruple bypass and then the heart attack (part of me notes that this problem may solve itself in the very near future). He also demands sex in exchange for taking her - and even a Pollyanna would detect an element of irony in this - to her course on sexual assault.

Anyway, I call the social worker in and we talk about how sex obtained via threats is actually rape. And we say that this problem is going to keep on happening while she lives in someone else's house, and if she wants to exchange sex for accomodation and transport then no problem, but if she doesn't, she is going to have to change the situation, rather than wait for his powerful urges to settle down. We look at alternatives - all the way from moving to a women's refuge to getting a bicycle.

She trundles out with the social worker, and I am left with the uneasy feeling that this is somewhere in that penumbra between sexual assault and sex work, that there is something in the way Mrs Smith thinks that leaves her vulnerable to this.

Anyway. After she's gone I flick through her notes. Like a kaleidoscope, one small shift and it's a completely new picture. THe pieces fall together. It's that Mrs Smith.

Forty five years old.

Has given birth to twelve children.

Of the twelve, eight are dead. Two died in infancy, the other six by violence, a car crash, a stabbing, "fell in with bad crowds".

Of the four who are still alive, three are in prison. One for a further eight years, another almost finished twelve, the milksop of the family for only three.

And the one surviving non-incarcerated child, the thirteen year old, the one who's stopped going to school, spends his time smoking pot, quiet, very withdrawn, never bothers a soul... he's no trouble at all. And to think she was worried about how he'd do without a strong father figure in his life.

Because, of course, he can never meet his real father.

And who's his real father? I remember saying.

He's one of the Saltwater rapists. The Saltwater rapists - and I am attempting to disguise this as much as I can - were pretty much this regions most loathed criminals during the nineties. Five young women are dead, ten are stil missing, and the Saltwater rapists are serving extremely long but doubtless inadequate sentences behind bars in the various prisons dotted around the state.

A client once told me he'd been cell block D with one of them, and the thing is, one of the group by himself wasn't anything special, just a weedy little bloke, a bit stupid, never said much. But if two or more of them was ever gathered together, it was cold. They'd bunch together, tight as fingers in a fist, and one would talk and the other one or two would laugh and laugh.

Cold, the big man had said, with a troubled look on his face, and frightening.

Anyway. Before Mrs Smith left my office she had smiled - she'd smiled shyly throughout most of the discussion with me and the social worker - and said how she wasn't that keen on going back to live in Mordor (once we applied for higher priority housing, Danny Boy), but she supposed that "Life was what you made it".

I read this, and I tried to come up with some kind of lesson from it, tried to let my brain do what it has evolved to do, and I failed. You know that thing where you try to learn something, try to make sense of it, the thing where you take disparate events, chunks of data, thread them into a story. Something our ancestors could memorise and retell and learn from.

I sat there for a while, but nothing came.

I don't know. She's an example of how complex we all are, how we defy classification, simplification, reification. How when you make someone a god or an idol or an incarnation of something you lose whatever made them intersting in the first place. She defied that. You couldn't sum her up as weak, or strong, or wise, or foolish... you couldn't say if her endurance was something to be envied or pitied?

How could someone endure all that and smile, and shrug, and say "Life's what you make it, I suppose"? You get the image of the Furies shrieking and whipping, and frustrated by her endurance, beating her more and more.

I don't know. I don't know how anything we can do can make any difference at all.

Maybe I've got the wrong idea. Maybe I wasn't dealing with a god after all.

Prometheus, who stole fire from Heaven, was punished eternally by a vulture tearing at his liver. He was a titan, one of the people whom the gods supplanted, and towards whom they showed such eternal hatred. Every day the vulture tore Prometheus' liver, but every night the liver regrew - a miraculous thing. But Hephaistos, who was an Olympian and a child of Hera, when he fell to earth and broke his hip, he never healed, walked with a limp thereafter.

Perhaps, thought the gods and the fates and the furies, you harmed the titans and they healed, so you had to harm them again and again and again. Perhaps that what was happening to our Mrs Smith.

I don't know. Gods and furies in the waiting room, a titan in the methadone clinic. Be assured that this is a long long way from any owl-headed people, and well before that there are the appropriate specialists, and the demonstrably effective medications, and so forth.

Anyway, thanks for listening,


Blogger Niamh Sage said...

Another one of your posts leaves me lost for words.

Will you ever tell us about meeting Jesus in the mall?

1:34 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Do you know how many Australian new sites I read to try and figure out which criminals you were talking about? Your an evil, evil man. And no, I don't have OCD. Not at all.

Amazing that you see so much in others and with such empathy. I worry that the ability to see others' pain so clearly makes you more vulnerable. Skinless, or at least not near calloused enough. But then I think Chad, His Eminence, and Danny (not to mention Camilla and Mme. Chat) will help you be tough enough. Keep taking the meds, of course. I'm thinking of you often and wishing you well.

11:36 AM  

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