from What Remains

Video still from “What Remains”-Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

Over the year, since we met, I have loved her, lusted for her and tried to save her. We are 22. I can’t really talk about it.  But it all leads up to something that was important for me and still is and I still forget it and have to relearn it although with less self-destruction involved. We are at a party I don’t remember except we are outside and the house glows with music and people. I am wearing my black mini-skirt and velvet leggings with my soft purple shirt. I am wearing my big boots, always big boots. The ones with the soles worn through and I have put cardboard in the boots to cover the hole but the cardboard is wearing through and the earth is under my feet, trying to get in. I have a big purple Vaginal Pride sticker squarely over my pussy and I wish it said pussy pride because I have always liked that word and vaginal sounds so clinical. I haven’t learned yet to make my own stickers at Kinkos, but when I do I plaster the town with Pussy Power, Heal the Wounds of Sexism because all women deserve pleasure! I am wearing that sticker with bravado but when we first got to the party I wondered if I should go in the bathroom and un-peel it or at least re-stick it in a less provocative place, like on my boot. Maybe for once you should just be at a party and not walk in like life is one big protest, I think to myself, but it’s too late and there I am, there like a challenge.

On the way to the party in her silver truck, we cry to Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” and talk about colonization and blowing things up, revolution and our sacred earth. We were laughing about the time last year that we almost ran out of gas in Montana and coasted into the Flying J. We took pictures of each other praising the gas pump. A year later, we were laughing so hard about those pictures, joking how they will get out and expose us. Two of the most strident anti-gulf war protesters in Olympia, WA caught praying to a gas pump.

We pull up to the party at the Sunny Muffin. Lots of houses in Olympia have names: Mingos, Delphi, The Yogurt Farm. Sort of like Hippie Frat houses, The Sunny Muffin is where the hippie royalty live. There is a band in the living room and lots of beer and joints going around. The band is not particularly good or bad but is energy as only live music can be.

We drink a beer in the kitchen where the keg is. She chats with various people she knows. I don’t know anyone but her. I am the strange one—always. By chance, by choice. I can almost hear the hippy men ask themselves—“Why are they friends? The tall angry one with the Death to the Patriarchy T-shirt, the vaginal pride sticker and her short unnatural hair and this sunshine of a girl?” They flirt with her and pretend I’m not there. “Because we are a revolution in motion!” I shout back to them in my head. “Because we are more complex and ancient and new born than all your linear male bullshit that you think you are so free from! Because I love this woman in a way you will never ever understand.” I think but do not speak.

And I do. I love her so much it hurts. It is my reason for living. And it makes me suck down cold beer and accept every joint passed my way. Somewhere in that, I hope we will break through to something but I don’t know what. Sex? Love? Freedom? Sitting next to me on the kitchen counter she turns to me in a moment of wild intimacy and all the other people fall away: she looks right at me like no one ever has before in my entire life and says in a whisper, “Let’s get really fucked up tonight.” I hear a manifesto of liberation in those words. “Yes.” I say, “Let’s go crazy.”

We become loud, vulgar and political. We dance and rebelliously touch ourselves while dancing. “We should be able to touch our own bodies for pleasure without men thinking it means we want to fuck them!” she says to me.

Last week we saw Andrea Dworkin speak and all the riot grrrls were there and they don’t like her because she tells Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill that she will regret sex work someday. Which sucked. And yet her rage is so visceral and she wants all the stolen girls back. And I love Bikini Kill so much and I want to be with them but I feel on the outside. And I am kick ass crazy and yet not a part of that scene partially because like anything it is a scene and I don’t fit in. But it’s not anybody’s fault and this is how you can be right there when something is happening and aligned but not on the inside.

I want a different conversation. I want to talk about how porn fucked up my sexuality when I was a teenager, made me far away from my own body. I want to talk about capitalism and I could never understand how all the radicals are so down on capitalism and where your food comes from and labor practices but not where your porn comes from and who labors and who profits. I wanted to talk deep about pleasure but I didn’t speak at all.

We go smoke another joint out by the fire in the backyard with a man who holds forth about how we must “be here now” and his sweat lodge experiences and how much he is meant to be a teacher because people aren’t natural anymore. I just smoke and smoke and I feel alone because she is turned towards him seemingly with her full attention and lost in that moment is us as vulgar, wild girlfriends against everyone. Against the world.

I feel like I will say something then that will be too angry for that moment, it will come out wrong and alienating and she will look uncomfortable and not have my back. It all feels very dangerous and so I keep it in my mouth like smoke and look out into the dark pines and want to fly away.

Then sometime later I am out in the front yard, flat on my back in the weeds, looking at the stars overhead. There are people coming and going in the driveway but I am beyond any inhibitions. The yard is big and overgrown and I feel safe. I can feel the dampness of the ground under me, that strange taste in my mouth—beer and tinny like blood. I am spinning, not because I am drunk but because everything is always spinning and only when we let go can we open up enough to feel it, to bear it. We are so fucked, so long gone that only by being altered in this way can we feel what is real. Everything I’ve ever known races through my veins and I am not afraid of the speed with which my mind works and I am not trying to hold any of the thoughts—just let them race through me, spin as fast as the earth under me.

At some point she is beside me in the grass holding my hand and we are laughing and laughing at the oldest joke, which is that life is hard and beautiful and crazy. And I am voracious with want. I want to eat everything, the laughter, her voice, the trees, the Earth under me. 

Then it all spins off and we are back at the party and she is playing the tambourine with the band and she is for the moment attractive and normal appearing. I am not dancing any more and the spinning is getting way too much for me. I marvel at her, how she can move between these two realities. But I worry for her too. She is so beautiful and seemingly carefree in this moment but she is brilliant and powerful too. She understands about the spinning. She catches my eye again and winks as if to say, it’s okay I’m just having fun with it all, trying it on.

And it is all tangled up together—what I knew laying in the grass—about how we can’t bear it most of the time, to feel connected to earth, because that means we have to feel what has been done to earth, to all of us and how she is my sister in struggle because she understands this. I feel I am on the verge of something big and scary and life changing.

Then she comes up to me and hands me a tab of acid. I take it. Thinking yes, this is what we need to really go deep, all the way in to earth, to each other. It will be great. We will trip together and be really close. Then I think no, this is not a good idea, you are already on the edge. So I spit it out. I tell her I don’t think I should trip. But I already took mine you can’t leave me alone. So I take another. I don’t know what the hell I am putting in my body. Putting stuff in to get something out. The american way! I laugh to myself and two hippy girls dressed like they are in a reenactment of Little House on the Prairie move away from me.

But I was right and wrong. Right to leave the vaginal pride sticker firmly in place. Wrong to think tripping was a good idea. We leave the party after a while. Leave all the white hippy boys treating tripping like another thing to fake your way through. Be cool, be cool. We get back to our house. We live with seven other people at the 14th Street house. It’s a big Brady Bunch style home with an empty in-ground pool in the backyard. We get there and I head right for the stereo. I need music and movement and to let all this swirling settle into some conceivable pattern. There must be a pattern or is it a rhythm? I want to talk about patterns and rhythms. Or I want to dance them which feels like talking. Really I want to dance and suck and fuck and laugh and crack open but I will settle for dancing and that knowing shared smile when the song goes all the way in.

But then she is distant. She says she needs to call her boyfriend. She needs to lie down. Lie down? How the fuck are you going to lie down with all this going on. She says don’t be mad at me but this is too much. I hear her saying I am too much and deep in my heart I know that I am. She goes upstairs to her room and shuts the door.

I just stand there with a Jimi Hendrix record in my arms.  It’s gold and glowing and Jimi is wearing a feather boa. He looks at me slightly reproachfully as if to say, Well? Now what? I hug the square record album. It smells like childhood. Like the library in Dayton, Ohio that felt magical and smelled woody and a little sweet. I walk to the bottom of the stairs and can see her light is on and I can hear talking. She must be on the phone with her boyfriend. I think she is crying but I’m not sure. I feel scared. For the first time in a very long time I let myself just feel how completely scary life can be. I think of calling Mom. If it’s 5 am on the west coast then it’s 7 am where she is. She wouldn’t be mad. She would talk to me. She would talk about patterns and rhythms. She would say, yes love life is scary but it is also beautiful. Remember to be kind to yourself. But we don’t have long distance on our phone. And a collect call feels like more than I can muster. But it’s comforting to know that option is there. I put it in my back pocket so to speak.

I’m still standing there unsure what to do when I hear car wheels on the gravel drive. One of our other housemates is arriving home. Several are out of town. I think it’s spring break at Evergreen State College where most of them attend. I do not go to Evergreen. I do childcare for a 4-year old boy and 6-year old girl. But I panic. Mom or Hendrix I can handle but not my house­mates that I live with mostly by default. I run to my room and as if I am making a serious escape, I pull a big wool sweater over my dress and a pair of jeans.

With seconds to spare I am out through the back door and scrambling down the long wooden stairway that leads from the big wooden deck to the pool. The pool remains empty and has a lot of trash in it. It was like that when we moved and will be like that when we leave. I strike out across a field behind our house headed to the woods. There is the hint of dawn in the sky as I tromp through the field but in the woods it is thick and dark. I make my way slowly and within 20 feet I come upon an old fence. The posts are rotting and it is half way leaning towards me. The fence enrages me. It’s violence, it’s symbolism. It is anti-pattern and rhythm, anti-finding your way. Even here in these woods the mark of property and ownership like a permanent scar. I kick at the fence post with my boot. I kick and kick and it collapses. Like the tower in tarot. I smile for the first time all night. Truly smile.

I hear a sound in the distance, as familiar as the wood smell and the gold record album. I make my way towards it along the fence and knock every rotted post over. The fence runs along for maybe twenty more posts and then ends at the water. A small pond. I step out from the cover of the woods the sky just slightly washed pink at the edges and listen to the spring peepers. Their patterns soothe me. There is method to this madness. Break off the hard edges for the moment I am soft and round and held by the horsetail and skunk cabbage growing in abundance by the pond and by the beauty of this green song. Their soft wet bodies hidden but their voices insistent drowning out everything else as they demand. Birth, Life, Birth, Life.

I return to my room. Everyone that is home, is asleep. The sun is just finishing its rise. I fall down to my futon exhausted. As I roll over I look up at my ceiling. There is a giant sheet spray painted like an american flag and in big bright red letters it says, “America, a bright and shining lie.” It is the flag we use for all our street theater. The piece is called Imperialist Choir. Everyone stands on the flag and I as the chorus director lead us in operatic singing of words- Freedom, Collateral Damage, National Interests, Patriotic Duty and on and on until the singing gets more shrill and desperate and we all begin the jump up and down screaming the words at each other. The last time we did it at the march in Seattle just after the ground war began we were told by the peacekeeper for the march that this was a non-violent march and they would appreciate if we kept things peaceful.

She was the one who pushed to the front of our group and told the peacekeeper that expressing rage and anguish and our country murdering people was peaceful and peaceful doesn’t have to be quiet. She said don’t tell me as a woman to keep my voice down or we have a real problem. He just looked daggers at us and walked away real peaceful like.

It occurs to me why do I think I need to look at that when I lay in bed? Do I worry I will forget my own rage at this to quote bell hooks “white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy?” Why do I think I need to rub my own face in horror when I am trying to sleep, to dream. This too is a pattern revealed. Punishing instead of healing, fighting even with your own spirit. I climb precariously on my bookshelf and reach out managing to just grasp the corner of the sheet. I am losing my balance, I am walking that fine line between survival seeing you through the madness and survival owning you.

And so I jump with the corner firmly in my hand pulling everything free, landing around me, rearrange, carry history but learn to make it too.