Friday, July 03, 2020


“What an amazing old stone building!”  The two women friends were hiking on the trail through Macleay Park in Portland, a quiet forest walk along a wandering stream.  One had left her car at the old Montgomery Ward building, now housing offices, and the other had parked at the entrance to the park on the highway.  After days of sitting in small rooms trying to help people survive the culture, which they really couldn't do, they were ready for exercise in nature. They started their walk at the high point, almost at the Audubon reserve.  Now they had come to what some people called a “castle” part of the stonework done in the Depression.

“It was far from being a castle when it was built!”  In my childhood it was still a restroom with the traditional two sides, a little spooky to use.  Then for a while it was a notorious romantic spot for gay men to rendezvous.  To end that, the building was buried in dirt for a while.  No one wanted to actually pull it down.”

“Sounds like a good metaphor for the changing sex mores, mysterious and enduring but rejected.”  There was a bench nearby and the two sat down to enjoy the quiet green and leafy valley that guided the stream and its music.

“You were telling me about a patient you say is the most interesting man you’ve ever met.  The combination of the stream and rendezvous remind me of what you said.”

Her friend laughed.  “True.  But I don’t know whether it’s accurate to call him gay.  His desire doesn’t seem to be for the flesh but for the mind and — dare I say — spirit.”

“Would you say ‘soul’?”

“Maybe, but he’s not looking for traditional religious terms at all.  Instead he’s drawn to cosmic and quantum science, the vast theories of what exists.  Not just about who God might be.  He hates God.”

“Because he hates his father, I presume.”  

“Very damaging figure, a source of trauma and pain.”

“Not unusual.  A feature of both myth and religion in Western terms.  Evidently comes out of our social arrangements giving the male dominion over children and women.”

“Right, and the women in this case are rigid and slavish in their devotion to male achievement, both insisting on it on their terms, and criticizing it as never enough.  Their attitude to religion is the same.”

“Which religion?”  

They paused while a rabbit came out of the brush, went along the path a ways, then dodged back into the salal and buckbrush.  They held still quietly until the dodging little creature was safely hidden again.

“Interesting.  A mix of Christian Science and Methodism.  As though the first were an extreme of the other.  Both put enormous emphasis on saving oneself, but might have different terms.  In this case it was the basis of a deep competition between paternal grandmother and the patient’s mother, so he just rejected both.”

“That’s pretty classic.  Maybe it’s the source of the violence of the father — an inability to satisfy his women.”

They stood and began to walk again, the path just damp enough to be soft. Given that it was Oregon and down under the trees, it probably never truly dried out.  “Maybe, but I also think a big part is that the father was too powerful and too intelligent for his life.  If there had been money for university, it would have been well spent to educate either the father or son.  But both women would have balked because they were so dedicated to who and what they were and higher education can change that.”

“Did your patient ever find a way to survive, an occupation?  What about the military or mountain climbing?  Those often have a kind of spirit component.”

A small flock of birds went fluttering ahead of them and then rose into the blue sky that showed between the trees where the stream below made kind of cleft.  It was remarkable that they moved as one, not veering around as individuals.  The women knew that the quiet, even idyllic, Macleay Park had been the scene of attacks.  But they had happened at night.  Nonetheless, they were more alert when the birds might have been displaced by something or someone.

“He found two ways to solve his dilemma and they were entirely contradictory.”

“What can you possibly mean by that?”  

“The military couldn’t happen because of the trauma from abuse — real broken bones and other damage.  So he devoted himself to helping veterans who had been badly damaged — amputations and so on, but also PTSD.”

They walked in silence, considering how early damage causes lifelong trauma.  Their own occupation was based on it.  They knew a lot about it, even questioning their interest and whether it was motivated by trauma.  Then the listener called for a pause while she looked at a ferny bank and pulled out a small fern root.  “It’s a licorice plant!” she explained, and they tasted the little pale twist.  Sure enough it tasted like licorice, a taste they both liked.

“Are you aware of the small culture that developed after the Vietnam war around combat veterans?  A semi-secret group based on extreme physical eroticism because that’s all the men could feel at that point?”

“Yes, but I never had a client who found it either a problem or a solution.  It was a subject for late at night when a little drunk among trusted others.  What I know is mostly from books.”

“That’s the way I was, too, but this client has developed a practice of what I can only call oral porn.  He talks to these men until he understands what they are about — the same as we do — and then he tells them an erotic story that fits their world view.  They often cum.  Even the ones in wheelchairs.  And it gives them some kind of relief.”

"Do you believe all this stuff?"

"Strangely, though it's preposterous and wicked and transgressive, I do.  There's nothing I know that makes it impossible and a lot I know that makes it possible."

"I guess it's sort of like women who act as healthy sex surrogates for seriously disabled people who can't even buy a sex-worker.  Or to gestate a baby for someone who can't.  Our 19th century morality doesn't allow for such things."

“It makes sense for a kind of man who lives in the physical, the sexual as well as the violent.”  A breeze made the trees rush their sounds into the music made by the little creek, a kind of counterpoint.  “But what did he come to you for?  Sounds like he knows what he’s doing.”  But the two women were still unsure, uneasy.

“I think he has lost himself.  He’s so dedicated to listening and controlling others that he can’t feel much himself.  He lives through others and their issues.  But what are his?  Moral? Spiritual?”

"I can seriously understand this problem!  We get a little numbed and needy ourselves."

The two women had emerged at the end of the path and walked in bright sun to the parked car.  “Life is a search, isn’t it?”  They laughed and agreed.

"Yeah, a search for a better culture."

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