See the Cripple Dance | The sparks that build The Tower & then burn it down

Writing about The Tower has come slower to me than expected.

As I was undergoing The Tower’s destructive, yet reparative, process in one area of my life (my body), its shattering effects reverberated through another area, too (my relationship). This, in turn, had devastating consequences for my mental health and sense of self, where, only a day after claiming to embrace the message of the Page of Cups that I shared in my previous column, I underwent a severe dissociative episode and suicidal crisis, during which I could barely move my body or form coherent sentences for days, nor could I eat, write, or stop crying.

During the first couple weeks of recuperation from my hysterectomy, the four incisions on my stomach and hips, once the bandages were removed, oozed blood and a clear, thin, mucus-like substance. Coughing, laughing, or crying would exacerbate the pain – from the gentle throbs of giggling to the heaving sobs of unstoppable tears, these bodily motions would surge through my core, rippling through my slightly-relocated-and-still-settling ovaries and other organs, and tugging at my unhealed wounds, my itchy stitches. My innards felt all cut-up. I held my hands on my belly to soothe them. When I woke up each morning, my wounds would have small scabs, and my belly button would be encrusted with dried slime.

A friend of mine screenprinted a t-shirt for me, gifted it to me by surprise. White ink on black, The Tower, Pamela Colman Smith’s initials in the corner. But she replaced the name of the card: The Gender Binary. A desired destruction.

A handful of times before surgery, I referred to my uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes as soon-to-be-missing. ‘Missing’ wasn’t the correct word, though. Instead, they’d be rightfully removed, excised, expunged. “-ectomy, a suffix from the Greek ??-?????, “act of cutting out.” I wanted to invent more adequate words, to create something more precise.

Surgery-wise, I’d been thinking of this card with lightning bolts representing the surgeon’s scalpels, the windows and turrets as the laparoscope and the incisions, and the bodies falling to the earth as organs being removed. It was a planned change, even an uprooting, but the ramifications, good and bad alike, couldn’t be foreseen.

The Radiant Waite Tarot, the Marigold Tarot, the After Tarot

In the After Tarot, bats swarm the collapsing structure, encircling the flames, witnessing the scene. Have they come from a distance to give us a sign, or were they released from the inside? Flying signifies freedom. With wings, there are no tracks to follow, no painted lines on concrete to remain within, no curbs or stairs or broken elevators. Though bats are typically cloaked in darkness, they become visible here, illuminated by jagged shards of lightning. They portend confronting our fears, surviving the annihilation of what we thought we knew, and entering a new life.

While bodies lay dead on the ground, the bats live on. They’ve been freed

The dissociative episode came after a sort-of-expected break-up with an unexpected suggestion of maybe-we-shouldn’t-be-in-each-other’s-lives-at-all. As I read the final paragraph of a long email, a response to my equally long email, something in my body hollowed out and something in my psyche shattered. A Maranda-ectomy? It had been at least a couple years since I’d felt this way, and it was familiar and unfamiliar at once. An abrupt spiraling away from reality, losing my sense of self and worth quicker than a flash of lightning. Crumbling to the floor.

I’d tried my best to create a safe, solid, reliable relationship, and it ended at an exceptionally vulnerable time. When we met, I remember listening to Pulp’s F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. and, attempting to assess whether what I was feeling was love, lust, or both, texted my twin to ask, “Did you do the same thing the last time you fell in love??? Listen to the same songs on repeat?” Yes, she said.

It doesn’t make no sense, no
It’s not convenient, no
It doesn’t fit my plans, no
It’s something I don’t understand, oh
What is this thing that is happening to me?
So what do I do?
I’ve got a slightly sick feeling in my stomach
Like I’m standing on top of a very high building, oh yeah
All the stuff they tell you about in the movies
But this isn’t chocolate boxes and roses
It’s dirtier than that
Like some small animal that only comes out at night
And I see flashes of the shape of your breasts
And the curve of your belly
And they make me have to sit down and catch my breath.

And when I said, “I think I’m falling on love with you,” my voice was squeaky, questioning, seeking reassurance. Not knowing what would happen next, whether or not I was alone with this. But after a long hug as we sat on the ground in a park looking out on a busy street, a response, “I think I’m falling in love with you, too,” and the next day, after crossing a bridge to the lake, watching swans and baby ducklings, and then walking back toward the bridge holding hands: “I’m definitely falling in love with you.”

The Wild Unknown Tarot, the Spolia Tarot, the Herbal Tarot

The Wild Unknown Tarot shows lightning striking a tall pine in the darkness of night. The tallest tree in the forest might be awe-inspiring, might cultivate the deepest roots, might be closer to the stars. But it’s also the most vulnerable to thunderstorms, within reach of the sparks that could tear it down. And yeah, maybe a breakthrough is on the way, but we don’t need to find it right now, don’t need to sugar-coat what’s going on or placate ourselves with sappy platitudes or motivational quotes. As difficult as it is, as frightening as it is, this kind of turmoil can’t be avoided, can’t be fast-forwarded.

The Herbal Tarot uses garlic, a plant symbolically used for encouraging personal discoveries in relationships, and becoming more attentive to others. Foregrounded in the image, the plant remains firmly rooted in the ground, unaffected by the disaster happening so nearby. But I know I’m still on unstable ground.

The night after we broke up, I dreamed about bats.

In my dream, I was on a date with a stranger, walking through a house I’d never been in before, feeling self-conscious. The house was being renovated, but heavy machinery left behind by workers overnight had been parked too close to the building, awkwardly crowding the walls and arching over the roof. It was raining. The walls were crumbling and the roof was collapsing. A bat flew with me, and I held it in my right hand, where it clung as it kept its wings spread. The fluttering of dozens of bats trapped in small crevices around the house was getting louder.

Like the bats on the card, they’d be free soon, too.

Between a few friends, I was kept on something like an unofficial suicide watch. The partner I’d broken up with last Summer is still my BFF, and he came over during the onset of my dissociative episode to hold me as I screamed. There’d never been anyone around to do that for me before.
When I could speak, I could only say, “I have never felt so alone.”

For the first time in a long time, I felt like nothing but a bundle of symptoms. Dehumanized / dishuman. Stripped of something. The refusal I wrote about with the Page of Cups, the refusal to hide from pain or despair or disillusionment, felt unbearable.

The divinatory meanings attributed to The Tower according to The Herbal Tarot are awakening to truth, preparing the way for realizations and revelations, becoming humble, and being called down from a position of arrogance. While I do love to reimagine The Tower as signalling the end to oppressive systems, to cruel institutions, to unjust power dynamics, and yes, to gender binaries, sometimes it’s much more personal than that. Sometimes it’s about interpersonal relationships, internal changes and epiphanies, and a reclamation of a desired sense of self and purpose.

So, what’s salvageable here? What might rise from the ashes, emerge from the rubble? What’s worth reconstructing, and what needs to be discarded altogether?

I don’t know yet. I don’t have any words of reassurance. I feel lost and confused and left behind, and I have a near-constant sad, anxious lump in my throat.

I’ve been listening to Feist’s Let It Die.

Let it die and get out of my mind
We don’t see eye to eye
Or hear ear to ear.
The saddest part of a broken heart
Isn’t the ending so much as the start
The tragedy starts from the very first spark
Losing your mind for the sake of your heart.”
I’m still buried in the wreckage. I’m thinking about construction and reconstruction ñ of bodies, of relationships, of genders, of plans, of creative work ñ but I’m trying to go (or stay) at my own pace. Slow slow slow.

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  1. anon says:

    the card in the middle of the first set is attributed to the Golden Thread Tarot, but it’s actually part of the Marigold Tarot by Amrit Brar. i couldn’t find a clear picture of it on her tumblr but she did re-use the artwork in one of her zines seen here:

    i’m sorry if this comes across as sounding callous! i’ve admired your column since it began because you articulate things i’ve felt about disability so well, but i’ve never been able to find the words to comment.

    • Beth says:

      Thanks for the correction, anon – I’ve corrected the attribution now. (My fault, not Maranda’s – I added the captions to this post.)

      It’s not callous at all to point out misattributions – it’s important!

  2. Indigo says:

    Thank you for giving me words and images to go with the planned destruction I’m experiencing now, too. Planned destruction sounds inspiring – in stories, only a hero emerges from destruction like that.

  3. Erin Marie says:

    Thank you for letting us be part of this time of your life. Your words are so raw, so beautifully capturing your experience. While you feel lost and confused and left behind, I will hold hope in my heart for you, keeping it warm for when you’re ready to pick it up.

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