Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

It's not time for you to go

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | December 17, 2007 7:50 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: child abuse, incest, indigo girls, lesbian folk music, queer youth, rag dolls, rape, seattle, smoking, soy latte

It's helpful to remember there was a time when I actually could sleep, I would invite people over from clubs just to sleep with them -- I mean really sleep. It was an experiment -- I wanted to show that intimacy didn't have to be about sex, I mean these were people I wasn't attracted to sexually but I didn't want that to stop me from getting to know them, I was 19 my boundaries were clear my dreams just coming into focus. When people visited, they slept in my bed -- that's just the way it worked. Maybe they even came over my house if a meeting or a club went late and they didn't feel like taking the bus all the way home. This was when I first moved to San Francisco -- 1992, 1993. Before then I wasn't physical with anyone who I knew, in San Francisco I was trying to change the boundaries so that I could actually feel safe.

Don't get me wrong -- I never felt rested, but I also didn't have trouble with the gestures of rest: you close your eyes and stay there. That's when I remembered I was sexually abused, going to sleep became a problem because I thought my father was under the bed with an axe, behind the curtains, but once I got there I still slept. This was the time when San Francisco was always falling apart for me I mean I was always falling apart. But one of the times when I was really really falling apart, when I was breaking up with my first boyfriend and my closest friend at the same time -- the friend who I'd moved to San Francisco with, the first person who I’d trusted with my emotions instead of always trying to hold it together -- I decided to go to Seattle for a month and stay with JoAnne.

JoAnne and I shared a bed for a month and there was always space, that was what was so amazing. During the day, she’d go to work and I'd go to a café to read The Courage to Heal. It's funny -- I was just picturing two of the cafés and how the smoking section was upstairs, and I was wondering: why did we always sit upstairs? Then I remembered: wait, that's when I still smoked. Really? You mean I would sit there and read The Courage to Heal, and smoke a cigarette? Or sip a soy latte, and read The Courage to Heal, and watch all the goth kids who got dressed up to go to cafés, in some ways I was one of them. Really?

JoAnne lived in this little cul-de-sac that was like a series of townhouses that was one building, I don't know what you call that kind of thing. It was very Seattle -- wall-to-wall carpet and new appliances that were already falling apart if you looked closed but you weren't supposed to look close. Three roommates and they each paid $200, this was the very beginning of 1994 I don't think it was considered cheap for Seattle. One whole floor was the living and dining area, plus the kitchen, and that's where the CDs were -- JoAnne's roommate’s CDs. I'm not sure where JoAnne kept her music, maybe she didn't have any CDs because she’d sold them all to pay rent, I can't remember. There were only two CDs we could deal with, one was Yo Yo and the other was Belly. Wait -- maybe there was Queen Latifah too. And the Throwing Muses, I think. Actually, I think the Throwing Muses was JoAnne’s CD, her one CD. The rest was the Indigo Girls and other types of lesbian folk music. I want to say there was L7 too, but I thought that was even worse than lesbian folk music.

The roommate with the music lived in the basement, she had her own door that opened to the back and she would make music there, it was quiet for the neighbors and even for JoAnne and the other roommate, who were two floors up. When JoAnne and the other roommate were out at work, sometimes the folk musician would be home and I would be in the living room doing breathing exercises or yoga -- the funniest thing is that later I learned that the folk musician was afraid to come upstairs because she thought I was jerking off -- she was the kind of lesbian who was afraid of fags. I was okay with that because we didn't have much in common, no one in the house really liked her and she didn't like us but I remember once we visited her at the pizza place down the street where she worked and she got all excited.

This was Seattle in the winter when it always rains and the air is so fresh it's like you're in the mountains. After work, JoAnne would meet me at Paradiso usually, or Bauhaus which had just opened, and we’d talk pretty much until the café closed and then we’d walk back home in the rain we were both dealing with heartbreak and heart opening, rape and abuse and trying not to do drugs and eating and learning to breathe and taking care of one another and trying not to get too overwhelmed, cooking, channeling rage in the right direction which was out, if we believed in anything we believed in our rage.

It's weird when you put on an old CD and suddenly everything is the same and everything is different. I want to call JoAnne up and ask her about the way memory works -- you must've had some CDs, right? Or was all your music tapes? That's right -- everyone still listened to tapes, we thought Anne was a rich kid because she had so many CDs -- Anne was her name, right? That's funny -- remember when a rich kid just meant someone who still had access to their parents’ money, that was like the worst thing to be accused of.

Belly is such maudlin music, every song could be about abuse or it could be about standing in line at the supermarket. Stay-ay… whoa oh oh oh. Stay-ay. It's like I'm talking to JoAnne, JoAnne who's been dead 13 years now. Stay-ay… whoa oh oh oh. Stay-ay. It's not time... for you... to go-oh.

Actually, wait -- the lyric is: It's not time for me to go-oh. I guess I changed it for you.

The only way you can dance to Belly is to spin in circles and let your head fall like a doll, I don't know if it's a rag doll or whatever doll you've got, honey, let your head fall, fall, fall. Arms in the air like things you throw, let go -- lose your balance and throw, throw, throw.

Mattilda blogs at Her recently updated webpage has moved to

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That was a very good read..
What a good way to enjoy a cup of coffee before heading out to the post office to drop off Christmas cards and pick up the mail...

Take care

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 17, 2007 4:25 PM

Wow, Mattilda. Wish we woulda crossed paths. I was in SF in 1994, too. Don't know if we would have clicked, but your writing resonates with me now. Take care of yourself over the holidays. xo

Sue, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And Brynn, that's hilarious that we were in SF at the same time -- perhaps we will run into one another at a different point...