Archive for April, 2020

Quarantine Flashbacks

virusComfortable with long stretches in the exclusive company of a computer, I figured a few months of quarantine from a deadly dryer-ball virus would be no big deal.  When articles about various quarantine-induced psychological problems appeared in the four different newspapers I read every day, they weren’t about me.  Not right away, anyway.

But then the flashbacks started.  Maybe one every four or five days, lasting only a split-second but, well, odd.  Not frightening or disorienting, but curiously intense.  Plato or Aristotle famously said something like, “The one thing even the gods cannot do is go back in time.”  An obvious truism, except I seemed to be doing just that.  Going back in time.

These are not dreams or memories or any sort of “thought.”  Neither do they feel like the giddy pot-or- Seagram’s-induced insights of much younger days.  What they feel is absolutely real.

Example: It’s probably about 1950 and I’m sitting on the Main Street porch of my friend Sue, waiting to watch the 4th of July parade.  Nothing’s happening yet; I’m just there.  I’m aware of my skinny, breastless child’s body, my feet happily swinging below the porch Buster Brownrailing in Buster Brown shoes and thin, striped socks.  And then it’s over and I’m incredulous and strangely pleased.

Or it’s even earlier, maybe 1948, and I’m coloring at a little table in my room.  It’s a “school” coloring book with straight lines running to words at the edges of the page, “red, blue, yellow, brown,” telling what color to make the spoon, the dog, the tractor.  Since it’s my own coloring book and not one from kindergarten, I can ignore the directions and color any way I want to!  The window is open and a nice breeze ruffles my hair as my parents talk in another room.  I know I am safe.  Then it ends and I am grown up and not safe.

These are not traumatic, major or even significant childhood moments.  They’re so ordinary, so mundane that prior to being them I couldn’t possibly remember them.  They’re just momentary flashes from a childhood lost in time, dredged from meaningless history and actually lived again, if only for less than a second.  But why?

My first thought was that I must be having TIAs, transient ischemic attacks, little strokes.  But none of the symptoms were there – sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of my body, slurred speech, etc.  “Becoming yourself as a child” is not listed anywhere in the stroke literature.

Okay then, I figured the source of these experiences must lie in the field of psychiatry.  No problem.  Having spent 30 years reading everything I could find about psychiatric syndromes and writing novels in which they figure significantly, all to understand the experience of a mentally ill family member, this stuff does not scare me.  Instead, I find it fascinating.  And indeed, 30-60 percent of people who are grieving the death of a loved one report “hallucinations” involving the deceased.  I’ve had such experiences and wouldn’t use the psychiatric term to describe them, but there it is.  So I must be grieving, right?

Not in the usual sense; nobody close to me, including a dog, has died for years.  But something larger and more amorphous is literally and irretrievably putrifying in front of me – the idea that was my country.  That American kid on a Main Street front porch was waiting for a parade that will never come again.  Sniff.

The grieving theory has a poetic charm and works, but doesn’t feel right.  I’m okay with the passage of time and don’t have any hallucination-producing unconscious obsession with the past.  I cringe in shame at the pitiful, embarrassing joke my country has become, but that shame doesn’t manifest as grief.  It manifests as very open loathing for an inept sociopath slathering on his orange makeup in the White House, for every cowardly, self-serving Republican officeholder and for their pathetically stupid supporters.  They are destroying not only my country but the planet, and the damage cannot be undone.  My reaction to them is far from unconscious, however.  It’s not the genesis of my flashbacks.                                images

Then I read headlines saying that the Pentagon has declassified Navy pilot videos from 2004 and 2015 purporting to show UFOs.  These videos have been circulating for years and the Pentagon declassified them to demonstrate their authenticity.  They’re real and inexplicable, but that doesn’t mean their origins are anything but earthly, and I’ve never paid any attention to UFO theories anyway.

Except when I was a very little girl.

Back then I expected explanations, for everything, that were not available in religion or in anything available at my reading level.  So I stood in my bed at night, watching through the window for extraterrestrials who would land their space ship in the back yard by my swing set and explain it all to me.  They never came.

alienA lifetime later I see, but don’t really read, something suggesting UFOs are really out there and not readily explainable.  Bingo!  Mindless fools continue to kill the only planet on which the human species can survive, an intolerable fact that makes no sense.  But maybe, and only in the curious, trusting mind of a child, sense can be made, the intolerable stupidity can be crushed.  Maybe in one of those split-seconds of lost childhood the extraterrestrials will show up at last and explain what happened here.

Do I think some metallic, cone-headed creature is going to appear in one of these fugue-states and tell me how to obliterate human greed and willful ignorance?  No.  But at least I get to choose the color of my tractor and swing my skinny little legs on a long-vanished porch again, and that will have to do for a while.

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