Tag Archives: novels about trauma

Coup De Grace

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Having some difficulty with the novel, The Situation. Some of you are reading it, for which I am grateful, but some of you are not getting it, about which I am…hmm…chagrinned, to put it politely. I know. I’m a whining, narcissistic author, starved of understanding. I should accept the partial appreciations I am receiving, the enjoyment some are having, taking what they like, as they say in 12-step programs, and–and the corollary is huge–leaving the rest.

To hell with that.

I wrote both CFTH and The Situation, for various reasons: 1.) to express myself creatively, 2.) to entertain, and 3.) to teach something important as an adjunct to my psychotherapy practice, which happens privately, behind closed doors, thus generating a need to venture outwards. There are in my novels several themes of note, and as my own process is sometimes unconscious, I can’t account for them all. Not that I don’t try, so here’s a rough list of succinctly-termed ideas present in the text and subtext: addiction, trauma, the tyranny of workplaces, of secrets within closed systems, like workplaces and families; about the ubiquity of dissociation, of impotence, and indifference; about the distance of friends, the lingering power of the absent, and the tense battles between lovers, for each self to fit in.

I guess that should be enough, but especially for The Situation–the follow-up and coup de grace–there needed to be something special (not to mention positive), something to make sense of, tie together the story as a whole. Empathy. That was the quality–the redemptive, sobriety-supporting (as one reader puts it) quality–that came to mind, as the point. And so, the novel delivers a climax with empathy as its thematic core, and everyone, author, characters and readers alike, should get the point and transport said point, somehow, back to our (or their) daily lives. And they seem to, those supportive few. But there are clues along the way–words unfortunately skipped, I suspect–that are getting missed; and it’s important. Why? Because you might notice something in relationships as in art: you shouldn’t miss the details.

Anyway, much misunderstanding centers around a contentious section of Situation, entitled “Nightmare”. Bryan “Weed” Tecco, my cardboard villain from CFTH, referenced only in his absence in that novel, is thereafter my protagonist, and he’s alive, contrary to the suppositions of my other characters, and in all likelihood, readers of CFTH. Emerging not-quite drowned from a lagoon in West Marin, he holes up at an old friend’s house in villagy Bolinas, then hitchhikes back to suburbia, only to be picked up and later drugged by a man, Dan Pritchard, with a sadistic streak and an apparent diaper fetish. Apart from recalling Chris Leavitt’s wayward new diaper invention from the first novel, the notion here is to have my character make a psychic return to helplessness: to a time when all needs are taken care of (and Dan Pritchard does take care); to a time when the body is uninhibited; to a time when the mind is bewildered, and possibly terrified. Weed is humiliated by Dan Pritchard, and though he appears to escape uninjured, there lingers the suggestion that Weed has been violated, while asleep no less.

Attentive readers, those who stuck with the various backstories of CFTH, may think this just desserts, this victimization. After all, according to Chris Leavitt, Weed introduced friends like Chris to not only a drug using lifestyle, but also a milieu in which prostitutes, sex, and consent for sex, moves freely (from one POV), or inchoately, dissociatively (from another). Regardless, I had plans for Bryan “Weed” Tecco–plans to make him an unlikely hero, back from the dead, but more importantly, back from infamy and indifference. In the chapters that follow “Nightmare”, Weed resolves not to talk about his ordeal with Dan Pritchard, but as many in my practice have discovered, not talking about something far from means that one is un-impacted. However, time is short in drama, and therefore serendipity: Weed meets Jill Evans, a shared “friend” of Chris Leavitt, and as she accompanies Weed on his road-trip search for his friend, she lets slip the clumsy near-rape Chris had attempted in CFTH. For the determined separatist, Weed, this presents an opportunity for his own suffering to quickly metabolize so that he might support another.

And later, as he finally connects with Jules Grotius, the creator of the subversive online game, ‘The Situation’–the self-styled guru of a new medium through which conscientious activism can be achieved–he listens, half-percolating the needs of his re-emerging self, half-reconciling current events with past traumas, while absorbing the heroic purpose he has unwittingly lived over the previous several days. Weed the drug dealer may live on. Weed the woman-distrusting bully may even persist with old habits. But Weed the game-fixated, insular enigma has been dealt a death blow.

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A Disappearance

 

So, as some of you know, I’ve been presenting Crystal From The Hills, my psychological fiction, as a story about an accident, a disappearance, a trauma, and a mystery. On one level (perhaps the only important one), these descriptions refer to an incident in which Chris “Crystal” Leavitt inadvertently drives his truck into a lake; the result in which he emerges from the quietly lapping surf but his friend Weed doesn’t; the fall-out that is his dissociation, wandering avoidance of life, preoccupation with so-called shadows, and faultly memory of the event; finally, and plainly speaking, the mystery of what really happened with the accident at the lake, and why.

But, if you’ve been paying any attention at all to these pages, or if you’re one of the handful of people who have managed to sit through all ten or so minutes of my YouTube videos, you’d be gleaning that the accidents, disappearances, traumas, and mysteries of my novel are not only multiple in number, but multi-layered. The dissociated syndrome of Chris Leavitt unfolds over the course of the story, and his supporting cast–his friend Sweet, his girlfriend Jill, and the autocratic Aunt Jenny, are his would-be therapists, or life coaches, if you prefer that sort of thing. Meaning, they confront, encourage, advise, boss him around, and witness. But they don’t see him, not really. They miss his sensitivity to abandonment. Then there’s Costman, a wildcard character inserted about two-thirds into the action (or inaction, as Kirkus reviews would have readers believe). I haven’t written much about Costman prior to this point, haven’t said much. He is, as my drive-by readers might suppose, something of a random character whose meaning is elusive; possibly enigmatic, if one was feeling sympathetic. To review the plot point: Costman is a gardner who works for Aunt Jenny. He’s sort of a societal drop-out, kinda like Chris, or maybe like what Chris might become if he gets his drop-out act together. Thing is, he and Chris have known each other for several years, which is unusual for Chris, as most of his relationships have been short-term or peripheral. Costman is in the latter camp, but nonetheless knows stuff about Chris and his past–he knows enough, at least.

Chris figures he knows enough about Costman also. Like myself, he imagines the gardner is someone who can be taken for granted; can be overlooked and not spoken of, or written about. He further imagines that Costman is undisturbed by such things. Above all, Chris believes that Costman is no threat to him, that he is enviably disinvested in others’ lives. Costman won’t reveal any of Chris’ secrets, neither to Aunt Jenny, the police, or to anyone else who might be interested. He will listen to Chris’ soliloquys, his delusions about shadows, paranoia about authority, and respond with an indulgent chuckle. But ultimately, Costman, whose name is a play upon his one-time job in a money market, will offer little of substance in terms of advice, encouragement, or straightforward provocation. Surprisingly, however, Costman offers what few have given Chris so far in his life: at once a jolting yet mirroring experience, one that helps him feel not alone in feeling alone. How does this come about? Well, Costman, it seems, was once a most unlikely consumer of psychotherapy. Turns out he knows something about others’ disappearances. Read:

“Alright, so he wasn’t always professional. That part was bullshit. The last time we met—our last session—he fell asleep on me. Actually, I think he’d been holding back for some time, I’m not sure. For a while I thought he had this sleepy look in his eye—this lazy kinda drooping—in previous sessions. Then on our last meeting, I was talking, don’t remember about what—probably about my wife’s cheating—and I guess I didn’t look back at him for some time. In fact, it wasn’t even his eyes that gave him away, come to think of it. It was a snort—ya know, like a snore?” Costman let out his latest burst of laughter; a release following his punch-line, designed to preempt reaction. Unflinching, and without any pretense of matching the gardener’s effortful jubilation, Chris ventured another question:

“What happened after that?”

“Nothing really,” Costman replied, quieting his amusement. His tone and his body settled, like a raucous wave being gradually stilled. “I think I waited for a bit,” he said quietly, frowning. “Then I got up and left,” he then said chirpily.

“What? You just left without saying anything?” Chris intuited the latter piece, having pictured the scene.

“I didn’t wanna disturb him,” Costman offered, incredibly. Chris’ jaw dropped perceptibly, eliciting yet another round of laughter from the gardener. “I know,” he uttered amid chuckles, “I guess I should have said something, huh?” Before Chris could respond, Costman stretched out his arm in a gesture of self-defense: “But can you imagine the look on the guy’s face—what he must have been thinking—when he wakes up and sees that I’m gone? Can you picture the ‘Aw shit!’ expression on his face? I didn’t pay him for that session, either.” Costman lay back, continuing to douse the memory with comic emollient. Chris let his head drop.

 

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Disconnect/Reject

My novel, Crytal From The Hills, is looking for a place to live. Give it a home, readers. Or give it an agent, or this blog a directory. Otherwise, it might become a rejected story of rejection, about a guy named Chris Leavitt who’s left home, looking for a place to stay in the aftermath of an accident, a disappearance, a trauma, and a mystery–the novel’s pitch. Irony? Actually no–it might be apt, this quiet response, this absence of yours. You see, this is a tale of disconnection/rejection; disconnects and rejects; relationships with the absent highlighted by absent relationships with the present. Longings: dream about longings, why don’t you. I thought about all this when I started this thing three years ago. That’s planning, I say. That’s contrivance, some might think. Anyway, I sought feedback. Really. I made calls, wrote e-mails, did what you’re supposed to do–I connected, and asked what others thought. But phone calls get dropped, and e-mails sometimes land in junk. Sorry, says the world: we didn’t get that.

Here’s another passage from CFTH:

“So, what are you gonna do after you check your phone.” Chris thought for a moment that she was mocking him, referring to his phone task like it was his major chore of the morning. Jill flung her purse on her bed—the only major piece of furniture in the unit—and stepped over to a desk to check messages on her land line. Almost simultaneously she pulled out her IPhone and began checking its messages; multitasking, like she was showing how it was done. To her left was a several square foot space she’d created against a wall. She gestured towards it, indicating several of Chris’ belongings. Chris had already moved in, it seemed like; he’d colonized her space with his motley collection of goods, things he’d once thought he couldn’t live without: a backpack made of hemp; a Nick Drake CD sticking out the top. Inside, there were several smaller items, such as another Ziploc bag, filled with Percocets. There was an IPhone that had been “blown up” several times, such that its memory was now full. Taking up the most space was an oft-malfunctioning laptop and a seeming trail of electronic dependency: wires, cords, stray flash drives. Somewhere in the backpack were a toothbrush, a bottle of arnica gel, and a thin squib of a soap-bar. His clothes, which included two shirts, a spare pair of jeans and one extra pair of socks, were strewn in a pile, looked aged and stiff. Chris appeared to be aiming for a staleness wherein some items would soon be able to stand by themselves, encrusted with dirt, dust, the curled up lint that hovers above tufts of carpet.
It all came back to him now, the minutes he and Weed had spent here the night of the accident. Chris and Jill had one argument that night amid the flurry of plans and excitement. To her he’d seemed manic—spun, in all likelihood, despite his subsequent denials. Weed stood in the background, grinning, watching them bicker, and staring at Jill especially. Greasy strands of hair stuck out from beneath his baseball cap. They actually looked like weeds, thought Jill, catching sight of him. Chris had a poster of James Dean which he’d plucked from a tube that he wanted to place next to the bed. Jill vetoed the plan, said it didn’t go with anything. Chris stared in protest at the sparsely decorated walls of her apartment, and appealed vainly for “logic” on the matter. Jill was having none of it, either the poster, or the premise. Logic? She’d swat that notion away easily enough. But the real issue, the underlying divide, was something else. She didn’t want him to feel at home.

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In broad daylight

The darkness of the city: in broad daylight. Jill Evans, Chris Leavitt’s nominal girlfriend in Crystal From The Hills, schools him earlier in the story, about his arrogance and naivite. It’s naive to wander the streets of West Oakland, patronizing the locals, imagining he is free and safe. She envies him. Women, I think, envy (and thus are irritated by) carefree young men who take for granted their advantages. And so, the next passage, a pre-climactic wake-up call for the similarly traumatized Jill, is foreshadowed, like all of the events of the story. It’s just a matter of what gets noticed really. For all Jill’s faux streetwise warnings, not to mention Chris’ obsession with Shadows, who used to follow him only at night, it is Jill who is caught off guard, thinking she is immune.


To cap it off she was jumped on the way home the following morning. Her mistake had been stopping at a light, obeying the rules of the streets, but not those of the street. Leaning back on her bike, Jill took a brisk swig from her water bottle, only to feel a hard thump against her back wheel. As her bottle tumbled away with water spraying from her mouth, Jill felt a strong tug upon her backpack; the force threatened to drag her along the pavement and for a split second she imagined that somehow she’d been ensnared by a passing vehicle. Feet shuffled around her as the bag was torn away. Her assailant turned to throw Jill’s backpack to a partner, the action resembling that of two basketball players executing a fast break. But with his back turned, the first of the two young men was rendered vulnerable. Without a second thought, Jill lunged at him and began wind-milling her arms, surprising herself with her own intensity. Instinctively, she opened up her right hand, and with a scything motion, slashed through his blocking limbs, scratching his face on the way through. The partner ran and faced her. Seeing him face-to-face scuttled assumptions, and reduced him in years. No more than fifteen, she guessed, regarding the gaunt, angry face of the boy. He reached for his back pocket; no small task given that his pants hung halfway to his knees. From the front, a web of denim hung between his legs, placing him at a disadvantage should a chase ensue.

 

 

It was as if she recognized him—not the boy per se—but the type: meaning, the age, the demeanor, the ephemera, and the race: black. She could hurt this boy, she realized. In her current state, that is—she could do real harm. And then she might treat him. In fact, it seemed to her that she had done, on countless occasions. She’d nursed young men like this. She’d dressed their wounds, their grisly knife and gunshot injuries. She’d replaced their bedpans, brought them food, and seen them wince as she’d replaced their catheters. With a look of sheer rage that masked humiliation, the boy brandished a gleaming firearm and dangled it with a fashionably downward arc towards Jill’s face.

            “OK!” she cried breathlessly, and held up her arms in surrender. The boy’s face shook. Looking around, seeing odd witnesses, he appeared to take stock of this moment, and decide what humiliations—past, present, and anticipated—will merit the ultimate retribution. With a deft turn, he then sprung away and disappeared, showcasing an impressive sprint. Later, she estimated that the entire incident had taken less than a minute of her time.

            Unhurt, Jill gathered herself, assessed her apparently undamaged bicycle, and then resumed her journey back to her apartment, though not before remonstrating in the street to no one in particular.

“Really. In broad daylight!” she exclaimed, feeling angry and bewildered at the community she’d chosen to live amongst and help.

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At a loss for words

Listen. Bad things are happening: accidents, enemy action. Dissociation, which leads to a loss of words…silence. My body shook today from the news. It knew more than I did, whoever I am. In Crystal From The Hills, my non-conformist fiction (No heroes, and no love. Sorry) that is destined to live on the outside of literary establishment, characters are at a loss for words and therefore some part of themselves. Perhaps it’s for the best, this mutedness. Memories are diffuse. Trauma has served to conflate past and present, and secrets keep both peace and status quo. Say anything about what’s really happening then you’ve broken the rules: expect to be fired, ostracized; transferred to that job you don’t want, that trivial life you never bargained for. Phones symbolize what’s happening in CFTH. They’ve stopped working or else they’ve disappeared–gone down with the ship, disappeared. In an emergency authorities can shut down the service apparently. That’s right. They can shut you up. But of course phones are just like people, really: easily replaced, I mean. Observe:

Jill was gone: gone from Chris’ presence, mothballed from his mind. Upon reading Sweet’s message, he immediately began texting his reply; his relaxed fingering suggested a fixated pleasure with such toys; a need that had been starved over the last several days. Yet Chris Leavitt thought of his phones as nemeses. They cut out, dropped calls; went silent for no reason, or else they exhibited letters or numbers he hadn’t pressed. This particular one, which he’d left behind at Jill’s place, was the worst offender. It defied him, gave him the silent treatment, and if he’d get his act together, he’d go down to his carrier’s office at some point and ask for a divorce. Negative thinking: he might actually qualify for an upgrade, he then reasoned. Minutes later he was done, having finished his reply to Sweet. He was done for the moment with his deputy phone’s aggravating, petty resistances, and looked up and about the neighborhood. It seemed for an instant that he was lost; that is, without something to do, without a plan, an identity: he was a cipher, he briefly feared: he still felt dead but for the fact that others spoke to him, which, he supposed, proved otherwise.

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