How chronic illness helped me uncover my trauma

Photo by Andrea Scher

My friends who know me well know that for years I have struggled with mysterious and chronic health problems. When I say years, I mean, since I was a child I have been beset by strange symptoms and conditions, which led to vague diagnoses of various autoimmune illnesses that never really explained all that was happening to me.

When I entered university as a piano performance major, I had already been diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The pain had started three years earlier in my left elbow and was at first considered…

That night we slept in a not-very-quaint pensión that we’d found in our budget guide. Our room was on the 3rd floor, the stairs leading to it narrow and dark and smelling of garlic. Other than the rather lumpy bed, the main feature in the room was a television. The room was too cold. We silently got into bed and turned away from one another.

We’d had a strange interaction earlier in the evening while walking back from dinner — one of those circular arguments we sometimes got into that seemed to be about anything but what our words were…

Found image, no name to credit.

There’s a noise in my head, specifically right in front. I hear it where my forehead meets my hairline, is it white noise? Or is it a moving thing rather than a noise? A moth, bumping up against a lighted window: it flutters and bangs, directionless, churning and reaching towards something, a worrying habit that is instinctive but not understood. I don’t want to die like this.

I walked into my favorite new café the other day, opened by friends a few weeks ago. Lately I’ve been going there to write. The food is always good, the playlist is always…

(Monica in Barcelona, March, 2003)

Do I have permission to do this how I want? I was going gangbusters with “The Story of Tom and Monica” for quite a stretch until one day I felt I couldn’t. I didn’t want to look back, I needed to move forward and heal for a while. Now I find myself thinking of different times, maybe not exactly in order, but this will probably work itself out in the end.

The first 15 “chapters” mostly came easily. I was in a space that was vibrating, electric with emotion. What had been suppressed for years was pouring out of me…

Inspired by the poem “She had some horses” by Joy Harjo and mostly written in Laurie Wagner’s Wild Writing class

Art by Hugh D’Andrade for “Is Fortune a Wheel”

She had birds. Everybody commented on it. She never even noticed how many there were, how they appeared over and over again when she wasn’t looking, when she wasn’t thinking.

She had birds and what did it mean? …

(The Story of Hissy and Monica)

This story is written as a series: you can start here

Sometimes the shifts are almost imperceptible, little quivers deep below the surface. When friends ask me how I am, I pause. I need to take inventory before I cautiously answer . At other times the jolts are sudden, closer to the skin and I am forced into an immediate evaluation of my life: I am alive. I am here. But also, I am fragile and temporal. Things are changing too quickly, the very ground I stand on is shaky and unpredictable.

One of…

This story is written as a series: you can start here

At the top of Waimea Canyon in a rainstorm

I floated above a sea turtle at Anini Beach in Kauai. It lay against a rock in the shallow waters, a rock that was shaped almost exactly like the turtle. Its head was tucked into a crevice…it was resting like that, like a poem waiting to become a song, and I was hanging above, patient, suspended, at peace. When he was finally ready he flapped his little flipper legs and swam to the top, took a long breath, sank down and swam. I followed behind, gently waving my own…

This story is written as a series: you can start here

Tom goofing around with his newly arrived-at-the-studio computer. Photo by Maria Villarreal

I spoke to Tom this week. Idel, one of the amazing women who takes care of Tom in my stead called to tell me that she and Maria thought it was time. He’s been focusing on Oakland a lot, calling friends and asking them to drive him “home”. Calling me several times a day and leaving messages that he wants to come back. One day he cancelled his appointment at Steppingstone, telling them that he had plans to be in Oakland that day.

I still don’t know who I’m…

This story is written as a series: you can start here

This is not easy. No matter what I say to you in a couple of hours after I’ve finally forced myself to sit on this couch by the big front-room window with a sleepy cat nestled against my neck and a vase of fresh daffodils waving gaily at my peripheral vision, forced myself to sit here five hours later than originally planned, (actually, make that about two months and five hours) — no matter what I say after two hours of typing about how it’s all about flow, it’s…

This story is written as a series: you can start here

I brought Tom over to Oakland yesterday afternoon. He wanted to load all his new CD mixes onto his computer: a desire driven by a custom that at some point, long ago, made sense but that now is simply a comfortable act without reason; a vaguely remembered purpose deeply rooted in habit. I have those old habits, too, old longings that lurk furtively, irrationally behind the optimism; comfortable desires that linger beneath the thrill of new-found freedom, of open possibility, constant excitement and edgy fear.

I left Tom to…

Monica Pasqual

Singer, songwriter, composer. You may know me from Blame Sally or Monica Pasqual & the Handsome Brunettes. I’m writing a serial memoir about Tom Erikson and me.

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