Pat Schneider says “Write something that feels too huge, or too dangerous, to tell.” p90 She gives a couple of examples, a short piece, a poem, where what’s really happening is revealed at the end. I thought I would try it.
Here’s what I wrote:
I travelled with a fellow Wellesley student to Europe the fall after we graduated, in 1964. She knew a translation of Rilke’s First Duino Elegy. It started: “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels? For beauty is only a seed of dread, to be endured yet adored since it disdains to destroy us.” Then toward the end “Ought not these sufferings of ours to be yielding more fruit by now? Is it not time that, in loving, we freed ourselves from the loved one, and quivering, endured, as the arrow endures the bow, to become in the gathering out-leap something more than itself. For to remain is nowhere.” I even remember the German of the last line: “Denn Bleiben ist nirgends.” I tried to find a copy of that translation without success. Compared to other translations I think it is rhythmically better.
Years later, I was sitting in my apartment, after another man I had gone to bed with once had told me he had a girlfriend coming the next week. This sort of one night stand happened over and over. I had frozen, I don’t remember what I said, or if I said anything. Maybe “Oh. Goodbye.” I never expected to see him again, and in fact I didn’t.
I wrote in my journal about what had happened but didn’t describe my feelings. No one ever saw my pain, or validated it, or offered comfort.
I stared at the blank page. Then I went to the bathroom and got a razorblade. I came back to my journal and drew the blade across my wrist. I put my finger in the blood and wrote in my journal “WHO IF I CRIED OUT” but there wasn’t enough blood for the rest.
There is still more to be added to the story. I thought that cutting myself was because I had been sexually abused as a child. Ellen Bass says this in The Courage to Heal, but I also was unable to have sex with my husband, so that seemed to make sense. This is the story I told in Journey Into Courage. I worked on the issue in therapy, but nothing ever came up. It wasn’t until ten years later that I realized I had been traumatized. People who have been traumatized, but not physically wounded, also self-mutilate, as if to make visible the wounds they feel that don’t show.
At the time of Journey Into Courage I wrote several poems, out of the energy that had been released by speaking the truth on stage. It’s the only time I wrote poems that really felt to me like poems. One, Blood and Stone, almost describes my experience of trauma, though I didn’t know that’s what I was up against at that time.
I have just spent 30 minutes revising this piece. Something new for me, trying to live up to Pat Schneider’s recommendation to make it the very best I can. Usually I stop a little short of this amount of revising, though often it’s important to quote a journal entry verbatim. This wasn’t a journal entry, but a writing to an assignment.