Every Dungeons and Dragons player, especially game masters, know about the oubliette. In the foundations of towers in the castles of the French you often find a windowless room with the only entrance in the ceiling. It is a dark hole where you throw captives you want to simply forget. In fact, the name comes from the word in Middle French, “oublier” which translates to “forget”. Now, of course, as a former school teacher, I know about oubliettes. I have been in one more than once. I have tossed bad kids in there more than once. But the thing I had to learn about “forget holes” is that there is always a way out.
I had a principal who decided I had betrayed him because he overheard me talking sympathetically to a teacher he had been berating for asking that he discipline students she sent to him for disruptive behavior. He overheard me saying that he would be more understanding if he tried to manage a class himself once in a while. For my indiscretion he took away my gifted class and gave me in its place a class composed entirely of students who had been repeatedly sent to him by teachers for being disruptive and unmanageable. It was a class from hell. Really… from hell… Satan’s stepson was the first student he put in that class. I was told I would have to discipline them entirely without help from him. But as tough as it is teaching twenty dysfunctional learners at once with no outside help, it was do-able. In fact, I liked some of the kids in that class. (Hated some too, though, because you can’t always like every kid no matter how crappy they act.) I didn’t manage to teach them much English. They all spoke Skuggboy fluently the whole time. But I did endure. In fact, when that principal was suddenly jobless two-thirds of the way through the year and replaced by a new principal, I got a chance to get some back. She overhead Satan’s stepson doing his comic stand-up routine in response to my specific directions and came in to remind him who was in charge in the classroom and who deserved respect. That reminder lasted for a good fifteen minutes and was a prelude to a parent-principal conference that same afternoon. I saw his evil smile turned upside down for the first time that school year.
Whenever I put a student in the oubliette (asked them to stand outside the classroom door until I could talk to them about their bad behavior) I never left them there more than five minutes. I would quickly give the class the directions they needed to continue on their own, and then I would go out to execute the prisoner. It usually was an explanation of how I wanted them to behave, and then giving them a choice, whether they wanted to go back in and do the right thing, or they wanted to visit the office with a written explanation by me of exactly what they did wrong. Even though nothing would probably happen to them in the office, they rarely chose that option.
So, there is always a way out… but there are many forms of the oubliette, and no one is immune to being sent there.
It is raining again in Texas, and cold enough to make the leaves turn red and yellow and orange. The cracked and useless swimming pool is filled with rain water. The sky is gray. El Niño is here for a visit. And he is not a well-behaved little boy.
I am confined indoors again by arthritis pain and breathing difficulties. But I don’t mind. I can travel by the wings of my imagination. Things in my world are soaring once again amongst the clouds… and dancing like kites in the wind.
I have not taken any depression medication in six months, and I seem to be happier for it. We have hot chocolate to drink and… mmm… pumpkin pie. The cool winds are a reminder of what is was like as a boy in Iowa in the 60’s and 70’s. Thanksgiving now past… Christmas coming… I haven’t celebrated those holidays in 20 years, my wife being a Jehovah’s Witness, and I myself still identified with the congregation… even though my faith is somewhat stumbled… not in God himself, but in how men make pronouncements about what to think and what to say and who to be… in the name of magical rewards that the universe is not capable of delivering. No higher power will step in to rescue us from our fears and misfortune. That is not what God is there for. He does not ask for slavish devotion, or rituals, or the sacrifice of your firstborn son. That is superstition. He only offers the chance to live, and laugh, and… love. It is the only reward I need. I do not fear the coming winter. The weather may erode my mountain fortress and the rains may eventually make the rivers of life to drown me, but I have lived, and loved, and laughed. And not even God can take that away.
I am sorry if this sounds somber and depressed to you. I hear a different music than that. I hear a resounding joy. And even if I die right this minute, I am happy, for all is complete. “Whether or not it is clear to you… the universe is unfolding as it should.” (The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann)
I would like to say going in that there are good reasons why young people can become obsessed with death and suffering and the color black and the dance towards the grave. I danced that jig too when I was younger. At age 22 my experience with sexual assault came back to me in dreams. I thought they were only dream images, but as I continued to think about it and be tormented by it, I began to clearly recall the terrible things he did to me that I had been repressing for twelve years. And I deal with traumatic experience with art for some crazy reason. I took a week in 1981 to get all the horrid feelings out on paper.
You will notice the tombstone lists the date of death as being before my eleventh birthday in 1967. That is when it happened. It was not actually a sexual experience… it was torture. He took my pants off and did things to my private parts to cause me intense pain. And he even said to me that it was my own fault, that somehow I had told him that I wanted this horrible thing to happen. For several years after I intentionally used the furnace in my home to make burn scars on my lower back and the back of my legs. I believe now that I was hurting myself in order to extinguish sexual thoughts and feelings. The worst thing he did to me was make me feel guilty about what happened.
When you go back to the art of the middle ages, the paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hans Holbein the Younger, and other European artists both young and old, you see artists grappling with mortality, the fact that all people, including me, will die. At times it can seem to the immature mind that death is the only possible escape from suffering. This artwork comes from a time when I was contemplating exactly that.
If you are looking at this closely, you will see that I signed my name to it backwards. I signed my art as Leah Cim Reyeb, or simply Leah Cim. I put these four panels into my big black portfolio and never showed them to anybody until after my abuser passed away from a heart attack. I don’t believe in Hell and I don’t believe in ghosts, so now, I finally feel safe about sharing this artwork with others. The terrible secret is a secret no longer. He can no longer reach out and hurt me any further.
I apologize for not being funny… even remotely funny… in this post. Funny is probably not the appropriate thing for this post. You may be wondering why I even bother to post it. Isn’t this a private matter, best kept to myself? You tell me. This is a terrible thing that happened to me. I am now honest about it in a way I could never be before. I can explain it without worrying about any retribution by or against him. I can finally forgive him. I can overcome what happened and be the stronger for it. And if you have read this far without being so revolted by it that you stopped reading and stopped following my blog, maybe you need to do the dance with me. Is there something you need to overcome? It can be overcome. So dance with me… and rejoice.