American Nightmare (after James Arthur)

The red, white, and blue lights
of a white Ford Crown Victoria
flash in my rearview.

A mix of local punk from a student ghetto free box
“You and I could be lovers on the run in 1933”
drowns out the roly-poly siren.

Ford decided to retire the model this year.

I pull onto a side street. I got a warning last time.
The news won’t be good.
I expect citations, but not handcuffs.

He makes me stand against my sky-blue Hyundai Accent
and pats me down.
Boyish with a crew cut,
he reminds me of my brother, the Army captain.

It is night.

Soon I’m in Orwell’s place of no darkness.
The sun shone as I drove to Carlsbad
one of the last times I saw my mother
before she died of stage four liver cancer.

Speeding on old Coors, I got pulled over.
Life and death happen and make one forget
trivialities like unpaid traffic tickets.

In the holding cell, I tell a woman
about something I read online:
warning signs that one is in a bad relationship.

A good feminist, I say she doesn’t have to stay
with the boyfriend who gave her the bruises she displays
on her body.
I can’t remember where.
I have always had problems with insomnia.

I watch the waif coming down from heroin,
in my black cashmere sweater.
Valerie Stevens,
a thrift store find, but still.

Thinking my experience was interesting
is a defense mechanism.

c. Arlaina Ash 2012



My Early Years

I wrote the following about 10 years ago and copied and pasted from my private blog. I did a Google search for Pet Sematary recently after having seen that movie. I found a blog entry from someone who was scared of some scenes from the film and it reminded me of a time I was similarly affected:

I was born on February 24, 1979. My birth certificate says it was Saturday afternoon at Dimmit County Hospital in Carrizo Springs, Texas. It’s a small town south of San Antonio and almost to the border. I went elementary school with migrant kids, and Spanish was spoken more often than English, so I felt some kinship with Gloria Anzaldua, because she wrote about this area though I’m 100% whitebread and have no right to co-opt her work. A nearby town, Crystal City, housed some of the internment camps during WWII, so there is some history there. Someday I might make a roadtrip down to south Texas to visit those areas again, but for now I have a job, and gas is too expensive.

My parents, who met in college, moved to the area because my dad could get his college loans cancelled for teaching school in this poor and depressed area. As a white, middle-class family, we were comparatively well-0ff, though that wasn’t something I thought of at the time. My parents owned a house with 3 bedrooms, perhaps anticipating another child after me (my brother was born 4 years later). There was a fig tree between our house and the neighbors’, and a tangerine tree and some mesquites in the back. It was an ethnically mixed neighborhood with some Mexican/Tejano and some white. The neighbors across the street had calves in their backyard and I remember being scared of the low noises they made.

I don’t remember much about my first 4 years, but I guess that’s typical. My relatives say I used to be so happy, always laughing and smiling, insisting to anyone who would listen, “Read me!” I learned my letters by age 2 and I remember in first grade I brought our reader home and read all the stories, then was very bored the rest of the semester while the rest of the class stumbled along through them. I wanted another book of stories to take home. I had the same problem a year or so later when I started piano lessons. I played through all the songs in the beginner’s book and expected another one at the next week’s lesson. The concept of “practice,” of playing the same song over and over to get better at it was lost on my. I just got bored to quickly.

Probably because my mom was so religious, but also because we were too well off to qualify for Head Start, I went to a pre-school run by the local Episcopal church called Holy Trinity. I didn’t get along with the other children, a trend that would continue all through my school years. I remember groups of girls coming up to me and saying, “we don’t like you,” and saying back to them, “Just remember I like you.” I saw myself as being like Jesus or something. Probably something I learned from my mom. At one point I started stealing toys from the other kids. I’m not sure if I did this because I was angry at what they said to me, or if they said they didn’t like me because I took their toys. I do know I was alone a lot, in my own world, making up fairy-tale-type stories.

When I was 4 years old, my brother, S, was born, and after that something was wrong with my mom. She would stay in bed, or get up but stay in her bathrobe all day. She must have had her first hospitalization soon after that because we went up to visit her at a hospital in San Antonio while S was still a tiny baby. We stayed with friends of my dad, and I think another family from our church had my brother, though I remember them bringing him. The only thing I remember from the hospital was a constant message over the intercom for the nurses to “please come back to the nurses’ station,” and somebody, maybe my grandmother, buying me an old-fashioned cloth doll that looked like a pioneer woman in a bonnet and stood up by itself. It must have been what I picked out at the hospital gift shop. I also have an image of ponds with lily pads, which we could see out the hospital windows, or maybe that we saw as we walked past. But I could be describing several different hospital visits over the years between age 4 and 8.

I don’t remember what I was told, if anything about what was wrong with mom. Back then people didn’t talk as much about mental illness as they do now. I was probably told that she was sick, but I didn’t understand why she didn’t get better, and I may have wondered why they took her away / locked her up, if she was just “sick.” I may have even been afraid that “they would lock me up” too. But that’s just a hypothesis.

I do know that images of people being locked up in jail used to really upset me, make me feel sick. The first time I remember this was when I saw Disney’s Robin Hood, probably at age 6. I recently found footage on youtube of the scene where the poor people, depicted as harmless, helpless animals like mice, are put in jail, for not paying their taxes, if I remember correctly, though I don’t think that made any sense to me at that age. For a Disney film, it is very dark and bleak, speaking of utter hopelessness. Too much for me to stomach at age 6. The only thing that makes me any thing like that as an adult is the scene in The Pianist where people in the Warsaw Ghetto are fighting over soup, and then when it spilled, a man got down on his hands and knees and ate it off the ground. The youtube video cuts out before what I remember as the most traumatic part, where the sheriff and Friar Tuck are fighting, and the vulture/guard pulls his monk’s hood over his head and clamps a chain around it. If I saw it now I’d be think, “It’s off to Abu Ghraib with you!”

For a long time I was ashamed of how upset a cartoon made me, because the other kids seemed to like it. A couple of years ago I told my therapist about it, and she said “something must have happened” to me for me to be that upset, even though she knew my history. To me, it seemed most logical that it had to do with my mom (though of course they don’t chain people to the walls in mental hospitals anymore) but after my therapist said that I started worrying about some other trauma I may have repressed, and I spent more than a year having panic attacks and being afraid to go to sleep for what I might remember. I think that therapist, who diagnosed me with PTSD, actually gave me PTSD, or at least a much worse case of it. Fortunately I no longer see her. Still even writing about this now upsets me.

After a couple of years of not “recovering” any “repressed memories” I’ve decided that the best thing to do is to use Occam’s Razor and deal with what I have, what I’m sure did happen instead of obsessing about something horrible that might have happened.