Dean's Journal
Empathy

When I was a kid, I was probably no taller than five feet until I sprouted in my late teens. It was an enormous source of anxiety for me, further exasperated by the ceaseless teasing that greeted me every day in school. I remember a bully named Derek who used to always say “it’s like talking to someone standing in a hole!” whenever I spoke up in class. If the teacher was gone, he’d push me over. Kick me on the ground. 

Later, when I had grown to my current nearly six foot stature, I ran into Derek at a convenience store while visiting home from college. He came right up to me and said hello. Couldn’t have been nicer. It was odd. I remember previously thinking about what I would say to him if we ever crossed paths again, rolling around the swear words and threats in my mind like a snowball gathering size. Possibly I would even shove him over, goad him into a fight, confident in my adult physicality. But when we talked, and Derek told me how he had dropped out of Washburn, started couch-surfing and was working for below minimum wage in his dad’s garage, I felt the rage subside. He was struggling. In middle school and high school, he was top dog, a leader, a facilitator. But in the real world, outside of his self-created kingdom, he was like any other anxious, unassured youth. Possibly he had always been that frightened, and his bullying was a way to alleviate it momentarily. By hurting another, he was passing off his own pain until it returned—not a solution, but a way of coping.

In my experiments now with Rain, and in my dealings with all human beings—be they frantic or otherwise—I try to remember Derek. The pain that people inflict on you comes from anger, and anger comes from fear. And fear, ultimately, is the worst kind of pain. Understanding this point, taking a step back and really feeling for the person trying to harm you, will ultimately help you both protect yourself and offer a window to healing the other person. Not saying it will always keep a bully from mocking you or pushing you over, but if you ever get a chance to really talk to that bully, outside of his or her pool of observing friends, you’ll be amazed by what you discover.

Choice

You’ve probably noticed in my past few entries an effort to soften or explain my activities with my wife so as to make them seem less offensive. I’ve tried to emphasize, “this is Rain’s idea; this is her choice.” To be honest, whenever you’re padlocking in a loved one and restricting both their freedom and mobility, you’re going to feel like you’re doing something wrong. It’s an icky, unpleasant guilt that rattles me these days.

I don’t like saying that I keep my wife locked in our basement and take her out once a day to restrain her to a chair while I conduct experiments on her to find a cure. But the truth of the matter is, that’s exactly what I’m doing. And Rain is okay with it, because she has to be. If anything—and, again, this is not to defend my behavior—but she pushes me to keep this system going, to never allow my sense of shame to change my daily routine with her. If I am to let my guard down even once, if I’m to forget to secure her wrists to the chair or leave the lock unfastened one night, all of us in this house are at risk. And that’s on both of us.

It’s an awful burden for her, and I certainly should not complain. But I can’t help but feel it’s an even bigger burden for me to have to do this to her. If could switch places, I would do it in a second, if only to lose this horrible feeling in my gut that I’m willingly hurting her every day…

Adrenaline

It’s amazing how little we understand about the physiology of a human being during moments of extreme stress, shock or anger. Take Rain. She can’t weigh more than 120 pounds—hell, maybe even less these past few months owing to her limited lifestyle in the basement. But somehow, when she gets upset and the transformation takes its toll, she becomes a 225 pound male, knocking over furniture, and ripping apart even the sturdiest of rope. She has certainly injured Todd more times than I can count. It’s why Rain and I eventually resorted to chains during our experiments. In fact, it was actually her idea, hoping never to break loose of her basement bondage and bring harm to Tristan upstairs.

During these episodes, nothing changes radically about Rain other than her cardiovascular state. She begins to breathe heavily, muscles tensing all around. It’s as if there is an unseen reservoir of strength that finds its way out. I had heard of this phenomenon before the changeover happened. Stories of mothers who suddenly possessed the strength to lift up whole cars if their son was run down.  

I’m almost afraid to know exactly how much power Rain possesses in these moments. It’s a careful study we’re conducting, and one that is not lacking in riskiness… Not just for Rain, but for everything and everyone around her.

Sun Showers

The water was shut down today. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but the air is getting warmer and dryer. In the winter, when the heat first went, it was workable. My parents had always stocked wood in the barn for those special fireplace occasions that rarely happened. I think my Dad just enjoyed the outdoors and the refreshing exercise that came of chopping wood, even while they piled on more than they would ever need.

Of course we were grateful to find that stockpile during those impossibly cold nights. But now, with the oppressive summer heat on its way, and those dry desert dusts circulating, it’s hard to cope without a running faucet or cold shower to cool you down. Todd and Tristan have set up buckets around the house and in the windows for those few and far between rainy days.

For us, those overcast skies, with their intermittent rays of sunshine peeking through their thick airy coats, are hopeful. And sun showers are the best blessing we can ask for.

Red Eyes

I’m writing this entry at a moment of sheer exhaustion. Rain has kept us ALL up the past three nights with horrible, multiple-hour-long fits of rage: moaning, screaming, tossing herself around in a dangerous, self-destructive way. Todd and I have done everything short of wrapping her in a straightjacket. I’m so tired, it’s even beyond tired. I am almost numb to my need for sleep, and my body is just this achey, lethargic weight that I am dragging around into whatever place I can sit for a few moments peace.  

If this doesn’t change, I don’t know what we’re going to do.  

The 11th Plague

I was looking through some boxes today and came upon a copy of The Good Earth, a 1931 novel about a family living in a Chinese village prior to World War II, who had to endure every kind of natural obstacle the world could throw at them: drought, famine, locust, you name it. Like Steinback’s The Grapes of Wrath, however, it’s not just the unpredictable natural world, but the contentious people within it, that pose the greatest threat. For the Lung family, the disasters that struck their land probably felt like something Biblical—but in the end, it wasn’t those crises that led to their rise and fall. It was the people that took advantage; it was Wang Lung’s own personal mistakes; it was, in a word, everything HUMAN about their experience.

When thinking about the problem we’re facing with this cancer epidemic, it’s important to remember—though I am seeking a cure everyday—that the condition itself is something currently outside of our control. What is in our power, though, is how we respond to it. How we treat each other. And how we conduct ourselves. If there was an additional plague after the 10 that Moses rained upon the Egyptians through the Biblical God, it’s not anything as dramatic or divine. It’s simply us. It’s the kind of humanity that we can choose to bear for ourselves and our loved ones.

Communication

I’m really starting to realize how much arguments stem from semantics. It’s the associations with words, the connotations that they sometimes inadvertently carry when someone—without meaning—expresses a point that is taken the wrong way. In my dealings with Rain, I’ve tried to really monitor my language, removing those words or phrases that could set her off. It makes me wonder, though… In the absence of a more diverse lexicon of communication, can bitter and hurtful feelings no longer thrive? If there is no word to assign the angst we feel or the hurt that we might inflict on others when we speak, can we avoid it altogether? But at what cost? 

Orwell’s Big Brother seemed to believe that reducing the English language could lead to a more ordered society. The theory behind “Newspeak” was that in limiting the pool of words that a culture is allowed to use, one would simplify thought and, in effect, minimize  the potential for original or creative ideas.

With Rain, I have a chance to do the same thing in our talks—completely peel away any subtext that could be construed the wrong way. Hell, I might even be able to bring her back upstairs again and into our normal routine. But I wonder if that’s any way to live. Is she better caged downstairs or in her communications with the rest of us?

Yogurt and Barbecue Sauce

It’s amazing to think how much we used to complain when everything was wonderful. Take Rain. She always used to insist on this one brand of diet yogurt—probiotics and all that crap. She wasn’t lactose intolerant or anything. She just thought milk was a strain on her system. Some “new age” doctor told her this back in Venice, California, and she just took it to heart. Needless to say, that jerkoff sent my bullshit meter through the roof.

But now, when the options are fewer, she’ll take it. Even 2% milk. It’s… amazing.

I had a brand of barbecue sauce I used to buy for my chicken and beef. It was just the perfect cooking accompaniment. Lord, I don’t know where that stuff went, or if there’s a store somewhere in the world that still sells it, but I’d hate to think what I might do for one more goddamn bottle!

Aperture

I’ve been messing with my video camera settings lately, trying to see if I can increase the quality of the image in that dark as hell basement. We only get so much light through those narrow slits of windows down there, and I’ve all but used up the bulbs in the house… Not that we have very many lamps left to burn out anyway.

I didn’t realize that there was an F-stop setting that was turned up way too high, and which was accounting for the dark grainy appearance I got when I turned the ISO way up to compensate.  The first few weeks of footage of Rain are really poor quality as a result. I wish I had more experience with this. But at least we have something—a video record of what we’re doing. I don’t know if there’s something I’m missing, but it might be there. And the clearer the picture we can get, the better.

She’s getting stronger. I can see it everyday. 

Family Talk

Living together under such tight circumstances can be draining. But it’s still important that I keep us all safe and under one roof. Family is everything.

I read a few pages from The Diary of Anne Frank today and one of the most important lessons that Anne learned from her life in the secret annex was that many of the conflicts that resulted between herself and her family resulted from misunderstandings (especially with respect to her mother).

When I lash out at Tristan and Todd, and vice-versa, it’s important that I remember this message. Taking time to talk it out can make all the difference, so that all the cards are laid out and everyone understands each other. It’s a cornerstone of my therapy with Rain, in fact.