It started with a pair of heels clicking down the hallway of a dream.
I have a great grandmother I’ve never discussed here. She is a family legend and, like most family legends, a family shadow. She and I were never alive at the same time but she looks out for me like no one in my line but my mother’s mother Alice May, who died when I was 18.
This great-grandmother’s name was Rubenfire, which I learned long after I named my now-deceased kitty Ruby. Growing up I was only told that she was a very cruel woman who’d made a small fortune selling rags. Later I learned she was brave, charismatic, and resourceful, and that when she’d arrived here from Poland as a non-English-speaking teen, she’d done the only thing she could to support her children upon discovering her husband had started a new family in Brooklyn: She turned tricks, and eventually became a successful brothel owner in the Salem area of Massachusetts.
Yes, that Salem.
Rubenfire was by no account an easy woman but I inherited from her a quick wit, a strong instinct, and a tendency to drop winks that cut through all kinds of bullshit. My father and his father, who was her son, share these qualities as well as her famously bad temper. We are survivors in my father’s family, and our fury topples obstacles that despair only cements.
I first met Rubenfire in a dream when I was a 30something malingering in a relationship that was helping nobody, least of all myself. I think she’d had enough of watching her family founder, so she stepped through so forcefully that it straightened my spine and taught me about her real business as well as my own. The story of how she made herself heard is one of my favorites but also very long. I only will say here that, since the connection has been made, she has offered excellent guidance, especially regarding my career. (She also has taught me to be what I call a psych-dick, but I’ll save that story for a different day as well.) In turn I try to honor her legacy of creative independence, and frequent her once-forgotten grave, always bringing the cognac and pictures of handsome men that she requests.
In the last few years, she’s been quieter, maybe because I have been handling things on my own. So I was surprised and worried when I heard her heels clicking last month. In the dream she sashayed toward me, her hips rolling like a panther prowling its prey. Her message was typically direct: “You are vulnerable to attack,” she said, and rose a cigarette to dark painted lips.
In the morning I knew I had no business shaking her off her words. The impending doom I experience from time to time had seized me so fiercely that not even my coffee was landing right. But it is my habit to soldier on, and so I snapped open my laptop and began the workday.
“Bless whatever you can with eyes and hands and tongue,” writes Marge Piercy. “If you can’t bless it, make it new.” My lifelong policy has been to embrace the positive and let go of the rest. Any other approach has seemed indulgent–spoiled, even–though mine can read as callous, especially since I rarely bother to discuss what can’t be fixed, especially with people invested in their dysfunction. I always say it’s good I don’t take my self-esteem cues from others’ opinions of me. I’m an unplugger, and at times the line between dissociation and optimism is infinitesimally small. Still, this is how I’ve gotten through things: make myself well, hope others do the same.
Later that morning, I looked up from my work to see a text from a mentor who is also a dear friend. “Do you know anyone who can undo a hex?” he wrote. I sent back a light obscenity, assuming he was mocking my work as an intuitive. He texted again. “I’m serious. I’m pretty sure I’ve attracted a lot of bad energy that is causing destruction in my life.”
“Hexes only work if you believe in them,” I wrote back. “I find it interesting that you don’t believe in divine energy but you do believe in bad energy.”
An hour later, I noticed a ton of odd traffic on this blog. Pornographic google searches were driving people to my site in droves. I’m not a prude by any means but these terms were super nasty; some were racist, too. While I was trying to sort out what it all meant, a friend hipped me to something awful that had been posted about me on Facebook.
Normally, I let everything on social media go without bothering to respond. Though I’m hardly a famous personality, some viewers have a seismically bad reaction to a middle-aged lady on television who has the audacity to take up space. Normally I view their ugliness as peanuts thrown at the boxing ring, but in this case I knew the person who had posted about me. She was one of the people from whom I’d unplugged after I’d assessed being in touch wasn’t helping either of us. I’d never bothered to restrict her access to me on Facebook because it hadn’t occurred to me that such measures would be necessary: I bore her no ill will though it now seemed clear she bore me plenty. Her method of airing it validated my impulse to disengage from her, but also called into question my method of separation.
You are vulnerable to attack.
An hour later, another friend messaged me that my blog was down. “Did you do that because of what M wrote about you?” she wrote. I checked my site. Though not actually down, it was loading incredibly slowly. I checked my analytics again: By now, I’d received about 400 times my normal traffic, most of which was coming from pornographic searches. Feeling sick, I googled my own name. My website came up, but the blurb beneath the link was some of the sickest shit I’d ever seen.
Panicked, I called my hosting company, who “ma’am”-ed me till the cows came home but offered no insight, let alone solutions. I posted a help request on a WordPress board, and within ten minutes attracted even creepier traffic than I’d drawn before. And then it hit me: I had no way to figure out this problem, which was literally and figuratively besmirching my name and my life’s work. I couldn’t just google “hacked site” because any online solutions could be planted by the very sort of characters who would install hacked code in the first place. For the same reason, I couldn’t trust the online profiles of programmer advertising themselves as de-hackers. Vulnerable to attack, indeed. I put up a request on TaskRabbit but everyone who assessed the full breadth of my problem went so far as to violate the company’s policy so they could back out of the commission. While I was sorting all this out, the lightbulbs in my office popped, my wireless router shorted out, and my phone stopped receiving text messages.
By the next evening, I was collapsed in a ball in my apartment, sobbing like a child who’d never be rescued. It is my least favorite feeling, one I’ve gone to even greater lengths to circumvent since my first and most violent breakup from Mr. Oyster. I cried myself to sleep.
Two people appeared in my dream that night. Rubenfire was there, smoking a lipstick-tipped cigarette, intoning the same message: You are vulnerable to attack. Now she was flanked by Alice May, from whom I hadn’t heard in almost ten years. You need to listen, Alice said, cleaning her spectacles with a corner of her apron. You haven’t been listening. Rubenfire nodded. We had no other way to get through to you, doll, she said, and exhaled a sexy cloud of smoke.
I woke with a start and saw it was 3:50 am–the time I always get yanked awake when my higher spirit or guides can’t get through to me otherwise. Okay, I thought. It’s true that a lot has gone down since my birthday, and I’ve responded like a whirling dervish. It’s true this is how I’ve been coping with the uncertainty underscoring every area of my life–professional, creative, romantic, domestic. And it’s true that I am using the term “coping” loosely.
I breathed deeply, got on my knees old-school, and had what Stevie calls “a talk with God.” What I discussed is my own business but I will say that I asked for help, said thank you for the love shone my way, and gave up some of my pain. I slept deeply after that, and knew when I woke what had to be done.
It took me two weeks but this blog is now clean and (I hope) secure, and I have apologized to my former friend and thinned out the list of people who have access to me, including her. I also have more deeply connected with friends and family members whom I trust. Rachel came into town and we prayed together, hands clasped and heads bowed as crowds streamed around us in Union Square. Another dear girlfriend had–and remembered!–a dream that clarified some of the messages in my own. My retired computer programmer father and I talked for the first time in years about something besides our disappointment in each other. A newer companion calmed my central nervous system with the kind of long, strong hug that Temple Grandin, dying cattle, and apparently I require. Who knew?
And I have sat back on my heels and considered how and from whom I attracted such powerfully negative energy. I have a sense that the hack was personal now, am even pretty sure I know who injected the malware. And this revelation has provided me with enormous information about how much more consciously I must protect myself, as well as others. There is darkness all around us and there always has been; it is our starting point as a planet and as individuals. To really live, we must channel light but also acknowledge that darkness lest it eclipse us. It’s a lesson I loathe so much that I keep being held hostage by it. Mindful receptivity, delicious receptivity, is my goal, yet it looms just now like a utopia–no place, perfect place.
In the meantime, I’m back. I don’t exactly know what this means, for I realize I’ve also used this blog to avoid moving forward. I fear exposure like never before, I’m humbled by the revelation of my tremendous hubris, I’m overwhelmed by my many loose ends, and I’m deluged by everything I want now that I’m allowing myself to experience desire again. But I’m back, and I have so much work to do. I’ll see you soon.