Thursday, September 30, 2010

Haunted

In 1946, at Zelda Fitzgerald's last evening at the home of friends, all were sitting on the porch, waiting until it was time to leave to take Zelda to the train station. As the time for the train to depart grew closer, the hosts kept stressing that perhaps they should be on their way...: "Zelda said we didn't need to worry, the train would not be on time anyway. We laughed and said, perhaps, but it was a risk we didn't intend to take. 'Oh, no,' she said, 'it will be all right. Scott has told me. Can't you see him sitting here beside me?'"

Scott had died in 1940. And when they finally arrived at the train station, they had a half-hour wait because the train was late.

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And then these excerpts from her autobiographical novel "Caesar's Things":

An encounter between the main character and her brother:
"...Before she could say anything, her brother had his thumb in the eye-sockets and the child died of horror as the eye-ball came out in a film of white plasm. It was a pale blue eye; and that was the first indication that the thing he was playing with was a corpse... That God would let this happen had broken her heart forever and that was the way she would live."

An encounter between the main character and neighborhood boys:
"Then the boys assumed the air of authorized committee 'You won't have any friends -- nobody else will come to see you. That I promise you.'... They went up to the haunted school-yard so deep in shadows and creaking with felicities of murder to the splintery old swing and she was so miserable and trusting that her heart broke and for many years after she didn't want to live...."

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And a story that the Fitzgeralds' friend Gerald Murphy told about an incident in the summer of 1929, when the couples had gone to see a documentary about underwater life: "There were all sorts and varieties of strange fish swimming by the camera...and then the movie began to show photos of the predatory fish in their natural habitat. Quite nonchalantly an octopus, using his tentacles to propel himself, moved diagonally across the screen. Zelda, who had been sitting on my right, shrieked and threw herself all the way across my lap onto my left shoulder and...screamed, 'What is it? What is it!' Now, we had all seen it and it moved very slowly -- it was perfectly obvious that it was an octopus -- but it had nevertheless frightened her to death. She was hardly a timid woman; I mean, she was really absolutely fearless and she was an expert swimmer. One simply didn't think she would have been so frightened by what she had seen, unless, of course, she had seen it as a distortion of something horrible."

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All of the above made the hair on my arms literally stand straight up. So exact a portrait of what it is to be haunted. The woman was haunted. In my late teens and early 20s, I had to deal with a few "otherworldly" incidents that spooked the hell out of me, but they for the most part faded after my mid-20s. Still, they gave me a taste of what I DIDN'T want to live with. I don't know that I had a choice; the spirits just kind of left me alone after a certain point, so I was lucky. I take that back: Maybe I did make some kind of conscious effort to "toughen up" psychologically, i.e., not leave myself so open to the haunts... By praying, for instance, to God, begging for peace... Not asking for more other-worldly knowledge, which I'd been as a young person been so hungry for, but rather for much, much less... Cowardly in a way, I suppose. But also life-saving. (Perhaps, also, the fact that I've had to actually earn a living for myself has prevented me from giving in to the extremes of my nature, has forced me to construct a workable way of dealing with everyday life. I financially have never had a choice in the matter. That mundanity also life-saving. As was, come to think of it, my overtly talkative and tattle-tale nature as a kid... While intellectually curious as a youngster, I was also very puritanical about boys lifting my skirt on the playground, Dad wanting me to sunbathe without my shirt at age 12, etc. It soon got around that I was the girl who "would tell." A junior Hard Bitch, in other words. But a little bitch who didn't get bothered.)

I think I admire people like Plath, Sexton, Zelda (and, yes, Sandra) for daring to go much further psychically and psychologically and artistically than I have been able or willing to go. My sense of outrage, and innate sense of self-preservation, have kept me linked to the mundane world that I constantly criticize so for its very ordinariness!



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