Intimate Conversation 3

Ramon (Ray) Sender Morningstar

 Ashes. The symbol of mourning. Scatter them in the garden for healthy vegetables. Aboriginal storytellers explain that stars are the scattered ashes of their ancestors' campfires. Mourning = morning. Star - estrella - aster - ash. Morning Star, my tribal name and totem. Ashes, the badge of humility in Hinduism. They have brought me far along the self-healing path and away from the periodic cycles of depression I have experienced all my life. This last summer, after a manic creative peak in June-July, the Dog Days of August bit the bottom out of my high and my psyche plummeted. I became restless, irritable, emotionally frozen. I rang up my unconscious mind for some new ideas, but no one answered. Disgusted at my life, I slunk around the back yard with a beer in my paw, growling to myself. If that was how August went, September went far worse. I lost my unconscious mind's phone number and switched to hard liquor. Slump, Block and Cramp, the writer's triple-threat nemesis, rode on my back like an obscene baboon.
For the previous year I bad been having bi-montbly hypnosis sessions in an all-out attempt to remember my traumatic early years in Civil War Spain. Buried under two language changes and a number of foster families lay the festering memories of the time around my second birthday when I lost my mother (mentioned in an earlier essay). I turned out to be a lousy hypnosis subject, incapable of reaching much depth, but the psychologist and I became good friends. And I appreciated the post-hypnotic suggestions he gave me concerning my writing. We continued to work together and my trust for him grew. An intermittent communications channel to my interior opened a crack. It was like bearing a voice fading in and out on a vintage crystal set sizzling with static. Then last week, he put me into light trance and suggested to my unconscious that it 'give me a present.' I returned home, little knowing what a tremendous gift I was about to receive.
The following day I couldn't stand it any longer. Liquor was no help, hypnosis was getting me nowhere and, as for my writing, the wellspring of inspiration from which I bad drawn daily buckets of solace, had dried up to where I could only grunt out a few pages a day with the greatest effort.
 My imagination was growing hemorrhoids. So I jumped in the car and lit out for the big city to score the one chemical that had helped (!) me before ­ PCP, or Angel Dust as it has been euphemistically nicknamed. It rots your brain and sends countless numbers of young people over the edge of sanity every year. Why, you may ask, was I so determined to destroy my mind? At that point I could not have answered you except to say I was looking for some psychic dynamite. To top it off, I was extremely sensitive to the substance. Two years earlier I had come to myself in Mt. Zion hospital after four hours out of my mind on a PCP overdose. Although it had almost destroyed me, I had enjoyed a clarity and elation for months after.
 Did it affect everyone the same way? As far as I could tell from the literature, PCP was a very unpredictable drug. For some it was an aphrodisiac. Junior high schoolers were the heaviest users, presumably for the hallucinations it offered at a cheap price ­ cheap unless you included the cost of obliterated brain cells.
I returned home, toked up and zonked out. A hot September afternoon lay on the hillside like a gravid buffalo. I lay under the semi-shade of the tickbush ­ "wild lilac," I preferred to call it ­ and watched the sun turn the leaves into a fiery plasma. Ecstasy! By suppertime it had worn off but when my lover Debbie went to bed, I was too restless to accompany her and returned to my study for a late night at the typewriter. Needing a little altitude, I toked up on PCP again. Whoom!
The next thing I remember I was lying on the couch in the living room, Debbie beside me. I was caught in some sort of repetitive spasm, my right arm jerking over and over again above my bead.
 "Yo," I said each time. "Yo."
It was a spastic, tic-like gesture, as if my band was attached to the top of my bead by a rubber band. Yo-yo, I thought. I've been yo-yo-ing away all my life as the human yo-yo and this is the first time I've ever seen it. I'm a freaking freak!
"Wow! I've never seen that before," I whispered in growing horror and amazement.
"You've never seen that before," Debbie echoed, a time-tested counseling technique.
Just then the door opened and in walked my dear friend Steve. What was he doing here in the middle of the night? I got up and stared at the kitchen clock. Three A.M.! Where had five hours gone to? My God, I had 'fudged out' again and scared my woman to the point where she had phoned my friend! What an asshole I was! To whammy myself into states so crazy that I couldn't even remember them and terrify Deb into the bargain. I began apologizing to both of them profusely.
 We sat around and talked for a half-hour until I convinced both of them I was all right and Steve drove home. I followed Debbie to bed and lay staring at the ceiling, experiencing the most intense hallucinations of my life ­ and I'm a non-hallucinator. I felt I was traveling into the most central part of my brain, up the optic nerves through the portals of the pituitary. Off in the distance I saw a hairy ellipse with an eye in the center ­ the one-eyed Cyclops ­ or was it a mouth? It floated closer and closer. I shut my eyes and still saw it. I felt no terror, only an amazed wonder at my body's ability to conjure up strange images. What part of myself was I seeing? It approached even nearer until it was subjectively about a foot away. I studied it. It was an elongated, paramecium-shaped, hairy disc with a nodule in the middle, puckered up in some strange manner. It hovered at nose-tip level and then suddenly I passed through it into a fairyland of dancing, blue, elongated houris, the female enchantresses of Moslem paradise. Their edges were constantly melting and scattering into nothingness. At last! Not only two-way audio with my unconscious but color video as well!
I don't think I slept. The following morning I felt very ashamed of myself. I was as manic as a prizefighter before a bout ­ feinting and shadowboxing with mental explosions and grandiose schemes. Everything was too serious, I decided. We should all live in Sillyland, U.S.A. I would become Zero The Clown and play the Hungarian Rhapsody on the concertina while I rode a unicycle. What a good back-up career while I waited to be published! I drew a sketch of my costume and called a bicycle shop.
 Around four o'clock that afternoon the houris turned into The Furies as the basilisk cyanide, to which PCP is related, was unlocked in my system. My self-congratulatory mood dissolved when I noticed how sensitive I was becoming to sunlight. Restless and hot, I ate a couple of tablespoons of dolomite (magnesium and calcium) and lay down in the shade. The discomfort kept increasing geometrically and I began chewing up Vitamin C's as quickly as I could, my body grabbing them off my tongue and screaming for more. Debbie left to search for her brother, our local healer, and I started having trouble breathing. My cells were not getting oxygen. I began panting and threw off my clothes. My unconscious telegraphed the technical term 'anoxia' and I started hyperventilating. A tingling sensation began in my hands and feet and I began to get worried. I panted harder and headed for my reference books. The tingling increased to trembling and the trembling into paralysis. I was turning blue while I flipped through anatomy books and herbals, looking for a cure for anoxia. When the paralysis hits my diaphragm I won't be able to breathe and I'll die, I thought. This is it! Good-bye, world! God, what a way to go, crouched naked over three open books. My body was doubling over into the some sort of tetanic convulsion when the phone rang. I managed to grab the receiver.
 "Huh-huh-lo?" I panted.
 It was Sandy, our Tai Chi teacher.
"I'm dying," I croaked, and described what was happening in between huge wbooshes of air.
"You're doing the wrong thing," she said. "Empty your lungs and then breathe slowly. Calm down."
 I obeyed and immediately felt the shaking and paralysis begin to ebb away from my vital centers. She was right! I had been doing exactly the wrong thing. What was hyperventilation, I wondered. I was oxygenating my blood but it wasn't getting to my cells. The membrane around them was impenetrable for some reason. A sudden wave of coldness washed through me and I ran to draw a hot bath. Another mistake. The minute I submerged myself I felt I was suffocating. My skin needed to breathe. So I wrapped myself up in blankets with every vitamin and mineral in the house in front of me in a semi-circle and started to psych out my malaise.
 Magnesium-calcium for the hot flushes, Vitamin C and potassium for the shakes, then B15 to help my cells breathe and B 6 to help me absorb the magnesium. Iodine ­ an antidote for cyanide poisoning I had read somewhere. My thyroid was desperate for it! All I could find in the house were kelp tablets and some dried seaweed so I began crunching the brittle strands in my teeth. My kidneys were aching ­ no, it was the adrenals right above them ­ ooh! They were swollen up like sausages. What was good for adrenals? Ah, garlic! I munched down two cloves and the swelling subsided. Lots of liquids. A peeled cucumber tasted delicious but by then I was blowing off carbon dioxide again in puffing exhales and heating up. More magnesium-calcium and then all the way around the circle I went again. B vitamins and potassium, Vitamin C, garlic, cucumber and liquids. More kelp for iodine again. What was going on? I couldn't seem to balance out. My tongue became sore and I took the appropriate B vitamin. God bless my tongue! It was telling me what I needed and absorbing things into my bloodstream so quickly! And I was chewing all my pills so I could 'taste' their effect on my body.
All that night I was on a merry-go-round, tripping a dark Danse Macabre with a grinning skeleton. In the morning my thyroid had settled down to a steady ache for iodine, but I was getting the message that the salt in the seaweed was contraindicated. It triggered the hot flushes that required the whole cycle of pills. I needed iodine ­ pure iodine and there wasn't any in the house. At sunrise the depression bit. Ooh, the worst I'd ever experienced! Paranoia first and then tears and sobs. I was ruining everything good and pure and wonderful in my life. I sat down and wrote up a list of promises. No more tobacco, no more alcohol. I would clean up my addictions, learn my clown act and get my shit together before the neighbors turned me in. Like Nebuchadnezzar, I saw the writing on the wall. There was just barely time  ­ maybe  ­ before complete disaster ­ to put things into shape. Weeping, I woke Debbie to tell her everything. But I still needed iodine. I felt like I had been karate-chopped in the throat.
A friendly goat-lady up the ridge had a bottle of strong iodine tincture she used for dipping the umbilical cords of newborn kids. I drove up and whiffed the fumes from the uncapped bottle. Ah, absolute ecstasy! Just the smell sent shudders of delight through me. She poured me off a small amount and I returned home with it and dripped a few drops in water, sipping at it as if it was the elixir of life.
 That night I slept better but awoke around three A.M. with the old song 'Rum and Coco-Cola' running through my dreams. The skeleton was back again, singing
"Cal-cium. and phos-phor-us,
  Are what is good for us.
  Else we will turn to dust,
  Cal-cium and phos-phor-us."
I got up and chewed a few bone meal tablets and some liver pills. My bones were complaining. At least the communications channels were wide open, I thought. A huge block bad been removed. But something kept bothering me. What had been that strange, freaky incident that first night, that spastic jerking and that "yo" word I kept saying? Early that morning I asked Debbie about it.
"You said something like 'I never saw that before,"' she said.
"I saw myself as some sort of terrific freak," I explained. "It was as if my hand was attached by a bit of elastic flesh to the top of my head and whenever I said "yo" it snapped in the air. Yo, yo, what does it mean?" I thought for a moment. "It's 'I' in Spanish." I started repeating it over and over. "Yo, yo, yo no something." What was the phrase my that unconscious was yammering at me? And then I had it. "Yo no quiero ir, yo no quiero ir! That's it!" I shouted. "Now I understand!"
Debbie was gauging my sanity with a guarded eye. "Are you all right?"
"I just remembered what happened to me the night my mother was arrested," I said. "That phrase - 'Yo no quiero ir' is the key!"
 "What does it mean?"
 "I don't want to go!" I translated. Oh my God, now I see it all!" I grabbed her band. "You see, it all started back in mid-July of 1936 when the Spanish Civil War began. Some of this I've heard from other sources, but now I see the complete picture. We -­ that is, my father, my mother, sister and I ­ were in a little mountain village outside Madrid for the summer when, in a series of coordinated uprisings, fascist-monarchist elements in the army captured a number of towns. The larger cities stayed firmly loyal to the Republican government but as the fighting neared Madrid and the little village where we were staying, my father and mother decided to that the safest thing would be for her to take us to Zamora, her home town near the Portuguese border. From there it was an easy journey across the frontier in case things went against the Republicans. My father returned to Madrid to get some necessary clothing for us and also to make preparations to join an artillery battalion.
 "While he was gone, the battle lines came close enough to the village to terrify my mother and she decided, after one nightmarish bombing-strafing attack, to leave with us at once for her home town. We took one train as far as Medina Del Campo where we had to wait to change to another. She decided to telephone our father in Madrid to let him know of her change in plans. Unbeknownst to her, Medina Del Campo was in the hands of the Fascists and she was phoning across the battle lines. All phone conversations were being monitored and it wasn't long before soldiers arrived and arrested her as a spy. Somewhere during this incident I was hit in the lip and still carry the scar. It was from this moment that I conceived a terrible fear of soldiers and uniforms, understandable under the circumstances.
 "My sister was a six-month-old baby at that time. We were taken to jail but released a few days later through the good graces of my mother's relatives who were Monarchists and vouched for her integrity to the fascist police. At that point they did not know that she was the wife of a well-known radical author-journalist or she probably would have been shot on the spot. So this first time she escaped and we continued on to Zamora.
"But Zamora also had fallen to the Fascists and her brothers had been arrested. She decided to apply for visas for the three of us to travel through Portugal to France. Her application was scrutinized by suspicious Fascist police who wondered why she was so eager to leave the country. It was a small matter to ask around the town and find out she was the wife of a noted 'Communist' writer. That tore it. Late that evening, soldiers were dispatched to our cottage. Bang bang bang! They pounded on the door. "'Open up! Open up! "I ­What is it?' "'Amparo Barayon Sender?' "'Yes?' "'We have orders for your arrest. "'But my children - I  "Come with us.'
"'Wake them and bring them along. Come on, come on, we haven't much time.'
"I awoke to voices and stared in growing fear at the uniformed men carrying rifles.
 "Hurry, we must go,' my mother whispered, trying to dress me.
"Yo no quiero ir!" I screamed. "Yo no quiero ir"' I remembered our last encounter with soldiers all too well. Still yelling, I threw myself on the floor and pounded my arms and legs. "Yo no quiero ir!"
"My sister in her arms, the soldiers bustled her towards the door. She must have begged them to carry me but they only shrugged and laughed. She was a hated Communist. Why should they do anything for her? She must have pleaded with them not to abandon me ­ to send someone up to the cottage - but instead I was left there all night by myself, screaming and throwing tantrums. Towards morning I fell asleep only to awaken hungry and depleted. I got up and went to the fireplace and ate ashes from the grate. Heavy stress drains potassium from the body, so I was instinctively doing the right thing. A little after sunrise the housekeeper arrived. She probably hadn't heard about the arrest and was dumbfounded to find me there alone and the house in disarray. Putting two and two together ­ there must have been many already jailed in town ­ she answered my questions about my mother as best she could.
 "'She has gone away," she said. "She will come back."
 "'I want her now!'" I bellowed.
 "'She has gone away on a train to Madrid and will come back with many presents for you.'"
 "I don't want presents!' I screamed.
 "'Come, little one, we must dress you and go with me to my house. You will like it there. I have a pig and a goat and a ­ '
 "'Yo no quiero ir! Yo no quiero ir!'
"'Probably she had someone carry me kicking and screaming to her house. She would tell my mother where I was, she insisted. My mother would know where to come and find me.
"With  Zamora in the bands of the Fascists, there were many arrests of Republican sympathizers. My mother's two brothers were also shot in spite of their family's connections. The incredible horror of civil war, that turns brother against brother, decimating families with the constant paranoia of who will turn you in! Who is the spy? Who a friend? Even I had denied my mother in her hour of need. Somehow even  at that tender age, some sort of Catholicism had seeped into me. When the roosters crowed at dawn that terrible morning, they had mocked my cowardice.
 "Cock-a-doodle-do! Yo no quiero ir!"
I stopped for a breather and a glass of juice. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were fitting into place some forty-odd years later. The plug of trauma and distress, buried under English and French, my two foster languages, had loosened and melted away. Memories were thundering into consciousness that had been submerged for so long, connecting with the bits and pieces my sister had retrieved in Spain the previous year, despite her lack of Spanish. I took another sip and continued.
 "According to my sister, our mother was given some sort of military trial and shot by a certain Enrique Viloria, may God have mercy on his miserable soul, on November 16 after some three months in jail. They took my sister away from her the day before and, intuiting that her death was not far off, she had smuggled a note in the baby's clothes for my father that read, 'for myself, I do not care if I die because I die for you. But the children. What will become of the children?'
"It took four months for my father to receive word of her death at the front with his artillery battalion. He applied for leave and went to France to appeal for help in finding us. The Red Cross Director himself, according to one story, drove across northern Spain to Zamora. He found my sister in a convent orphanage (why there and not with my mother's family?) At the old woman's farm they also found me and told me they were taking me to my father.
"No quiero ir! No quiero ir!" I screamed and threw a tantrum.
"My ability to throw tantrums had grown with practice and I could now perform with great virtuosity. In fact, I would go into near convulsions that scared the old woman so much that she had gone to my relatives who arranged for me to see a psychiatrist. I think he gave me some sort of shot, which of course triggered a fresh outburst. Anyway, the sight of my little sister Neon in the ambulance convinced me that I should go. I was so happy to see her again! She was like a little piece of my mother given back to me once more and I could not caress and hold her enough.
 "'MI Nena, mi Nena,' I would say over and over, while I kissed her.
"In France, anotber great joy awaited me - the reunion witb my father, altbough perhaps tempered by guilt at the way I had not protected my motber, especially since Papa had told me to 'take care of her' when be left for Madrid. I now understand who this guilt-cowardice  thing had been like a strange wall between us all those years. Anyway, be took us on an airplane to Barcelona and the house of our Tia Maruja. Of all the cities, Barcelona seemed the safest, defended by the strong., nationalistic Catalonian workers. Red-haired Tia Maruja took us in with open arms, her own husband Guillermo away fighting for the Republicans. We must have spent about a year there with her, living througb the terror of the night of March 16, 1937, when Mussolini's Majorca-based bombers began a series of eighteen raids on the city spaced over the next three-and-a-half  days. It was the first saturation bombing of a city in the history of mankind and a terrible portent of what World War II would bring to Europe. The Fascists employed two new types of bombs, the first designed to pass through the roof before exploding inside the building. The second type exploded with a strong lateral force and sent a deadly bail in all directions a few inches from the ground.
 "With an international arms embargo on military supplies to the Republicans, their cause faltered in spite of the heroism of the people. With the situation worsening, our father took us out of Spain again and placed us in a children's refugee camp in Duremont near Calais. My God, it's unbelievable the way these names jump out of my unconscious! We were in the camp for the winter of 1937-38 during which Nena contracted pneumonia and became very ill. My father must have left Spain before the final surrender (which was after the fall of Barcelona in 1939) because it seems we joined him in Paris in the spring of 1938. He told me that we lived with him and a woman named Elizabeta for about a year. I have no recollection of her at all or of that time. He was writing for a Spanish refugee journal, attacking both the Fascist Right and the Communist Left whose betrayal of the Republicans in a number of instances had outraged him. Before long, both sides attempted to silence him permanently and by early 1939 it was obvious be would have to flee for his life. Luckily he had a diplomatic passport from a previous visit to America on a fundraising tour and was able to grab my sister and me and get on a boat for New York City.
"After a two-week stay in Greenwich Village with the family of a TIME correspondent friend of my father's, we were transferred for health reasons to the country home of an American family where a loving American mother added us to her flock of waifs. We began to forget our Spanish and Spain and to learn English and play American, absorbed into the suburban New York children's community. My father became a peripheral figure in my life from his hermitage in Mexico, finally more of a warrior-uncle to be admired from afar. Sharing time together stirred vague discomforts in both of us. He was so sensitive to the damage I had suffered and, in turn, I was riddled with guilt over having failed him somehow at two years of age.
 I sighed and smiled at Debbie. "Sorry to put you through such a cataract of words."
 The pillows looked inviting and I laid back with another sigh. What an outpouring! My dates might be a little off but the flow - the continuity felt right on. How amazing the human mind! Everything for which I had been searching had been there all along, locked up somewhere deep inside.
"My new foster mother only made one miscalculation - that if the most obvious symptoms of our maternal deprivations were treated, the rest would take care of itself." I smiled with sudden understanding. "She put a lid on my tantrums unintentionally by spanking me after an hour of my bellows one late afternoon. For a healthy child, a smack on a padded rear end is certainly not going to keep him from ever blowing off steam again. But with me, the reasoning went like this. 'I like this new tia ­ that means 'aunt'. I know she loves me and everything here is peaceful. There are no cannons or bad airplanes. If I am bad and she spanks me, she will send me away. Therefore I must be good and turn on the positive juice so we can stay with her.' Actually the Spanish-speaking nanny she had hired was using threats to have us 'returned to Franco' to get us to eat our supper. When our 'tia' taught herself enough Spanish to understand the abuse, that was the last we saw of that nursemaid.
"Months turned into a year and we had become her children to all extents when our father came back from Mexico for a visit. 'What is that funny man saying ­ gobble-gobble-gobble?" Nena asked when our father spoke to her in her mother tongue. I felt the same way. Spanish and all things Spanish, including my own father, stood for something painful and full of distress. I wanted nothing to do with Spanish. I wanted to be like my new American friends. I wanted to be an American and salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance with pride and fervor for this great, green, peaceful country and my new tia who I had grown to love so much." I laughed suddenly. "I just thought of how my hypnotist's suggestion to my unconscious has been more than fulfilled. I've bad a moving van full of presents delivered with a big red bow! UPS, door to door!"
A day or so later, at another session with him, I went over the whole story again, filling in more details I bad remembered.
"Watch this," I said. "No quiero ir, no quiero ir, no quiero ir, no quiero-ir, no career. No career ­ that's been the story of my life! And this soreness I've had for a few months in my right arm and elbow ­ it's from pounding on the floor as a child. And know what?"
He grinned at me from behind his mustache. A friendly sort, this shrink. "What?" be asked.
"I'm healing myself! Want to know my diagnosis?" I flipped a page of my notebook. "Early childhood cyanotic breath-holding spells  brought on by a traumatic loss of mother with an ensuing potassium deficiency. And I need a lot of Vitamin E. Of course the cure I followed was unusual, to say the least, and I don't - repeat - do not - recommend the PCP part of it to anyone. I will never take it again. I now have a better way to open up communication with my unconscious. And the call letters are hidden in my mantra: no quiero ir, no quiero ir. The first letters are n-q-i. N-q-i-n-q-i equals new key. It's the new key to my unconscious. Also 'nukie' ­ isn't that baby talk for 'pacifier" Also, how about 'nukey' for the little atom bomb it took to blow that im-pacted shit outtathere?"
 "Ramon, you're fantastic, " he said. "You've really gone and done it!"
"With a lot of help from my friends and loved ones," I said with blushing modesty.
I returned at home at peace with myself and in harmony with God's sweet creation. And this is a good place for me to stop. Let me just add that I have had a number of conversations with my father over the phone and our relationship, terrible for years, has blossomed into something precious to us both. I'll be visiting him in about a month and expect it will be a peak experience in my life. I'm so thankful that I didn't have to wait for the death experience to remember all this material. I still have half of my life to push ahead and forge a career using all my talents.
 As for my writing, I can now see why my novels haven't found a publisher. There was a frozen undercurrent that kept me from creating depth for my characters. They were all out of touch with their unconscious! Instead of eliciting empathy, they skittered about on the surface of their lives, unable to dip down under. I've got a file cabinet full of stuff to rewrite one more time, but then I'm sure it will be published. At last everything is green-light GO!
Maybe in another ten or twenty years I'll be ready to write the full story of those early years in some sort of meaningful fashion. It will take a trip to Spain first. And I'll have to re-learn Spanish. By the way, my last name "Sender" means "path" in Spanish ('sendero').  Sender-sender-cinder. Path of Cinders. Sendero de Cenisas ­ Path of Ashes. The Milky Way. Hey, how's that for a name! Grandma Hattie Galaxy! Hear me out there, your million of light-ears away! Here I am, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great  grandson yoohoo-ing at you on a tiny planet way out on one of your spiral arms! Qué barbara, esta anciena!

NOTE: In 1989, The University of New Mexico Press published A Death In Zamora, my recovery of my mother Amparo's life story by traveling to Spain for two summers with my wife Judy. Without her fluency in Spanish and emotional support, I could never have succeeded in recording the interviews and making the connections with Amparo's family and friends.  Although now out of print, I am preparing a second edition with more photos that soon will be available via I'll link to it here when it's ready.