Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Until you remember

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | March 05, 2008 12:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: fibromyalgia, incest, julianne moore, lgbt youth, queer youth, todd haynes

After errands I'm trying to think of something to do that won't hurt my hands, now that I've missed all the movies I wanted to see and it's too early to go to Blow Buddies. Then I can't decide what to do, so I'm trying to stay here and do nothing, but before you know it I'm checking email or reading the newspaper or scanning through that essay again and then everything is burning, this is the worst it's been because I've been editing my novel, what a nightmare.

I can only spend so much time with the stuffed animals, and then my hand's back on the computer mouse, the arrow keys, I better stop before I get to that point again where there's too much burning. Then I remember oh, I have a few movies here, I can watch Todd Haynes's Safe and maybe that will be comforting, since it's about a woman who becomes allergic to the world, everything really, item by item, starting with her husband. It's brilliant on so many levels, but one of those levels is that the woman, played by Julianne Moore, is hardly a sympathetic character -- she's a super-rich housewife living in Southern California who freaks out when a sofa set of the wrong color is delivered for one small corner of her expansive living room. But as she slowly starts to fall apart, the camera lingering over all this space around her that gives nothing like comfort, even while critiquing everything that she stands for it's still impossible not to see the hopelessness of her situation.

I have a particular relationship to this movie because, the first time I saw it, I remember Chris or maybe it was Zee saying: that'll be you in a few years. And that's the problem with watching it, because I'm watching Julianne Moore and seeing things that could happen to me, like when she suddenly can't breathe at a baby shower with all her friends and their permed hair. And especially when she's writing a letter to someone who runs a support group for people with environmental illness, and her husband comes into the bedroom and says what are you doing, and she stares at him and at first you think she doesn't know whether to reveal what she's actually writing, but then she says: where am I? Because she suddenly doesn't know.

That's where I'm sobbing with Julianne, I realize I stopped at this exact point the last time I tried to watch this movie. But it's just a movie -- I should be able to get to the end, right? Now they're talking about how sometimes people can have seizures and then Julianne Moore is getting conventional allergy tests where they prick your arms all over the place and then you see a close-up of all the red welts arranged on her forearms and it's that exact sensation that keeps triggering me, the repetition of mold on the red cabbage or beans stuck in the drain, something that makes me cringe I press stop on the mouse but then the image is frozen on my computer screen I don't know what to do until I realize okay, I can press eject on the DVD drive. At first that doesn't work and I'm panicking, but then out comes the DVD, it's okay.

I'm telling Chris about trying to watch Safe again, I'm talking about the scene where Julianne Moore says where am I? And then those red marks on her arms and how they triggered some kind of flashback I mean something about repeated marks on skin or something caught in the drain or mold on cabbage and then I don't want to get dramatic, but actually I'm wondering: where am I? I mean I know I'm in my kitchen, but I'm trying to tell Chris what those marks remind me of, I can't say it I put my head in my hands I'm scared of looking right at him I mean looking out at anyone.

Then my body's shaking, I'm sobbing, Chris has his hand on my leg that feels sweet I'm reaching my hand over for his I still can't say anything. Then I'm sobbing more, I say can you come over here? Chris moves his chair over, I say I'll write it down -- I mean it's not a memory, it's just something I'm thinking, okay? Chris nods his head but I can't write anything, I close my eyes again, I really want to say it aloud just to say it I say it reminds me of something rotting, something dead. Then I'm staring straight ahead, can I say it do you think I can say it I can say it, maybe I can say it. Then I'm conscious that I'm mumbling and then I'm staring straight ahead again.


I get that feeling like okay, now the world will end but also that feeling like okay, now the world will end but at least I'm okay. Really I'm thinking babies, faces smashed and decomposing, but somehow people is easier to say. Then I say: don't tell anyone, okay?

Which is funny, because immediately I think: who would Chris tell? And: my father is dead. And: I'm going to write about it on my blog later on.

I hate the way that everything can suddenly get scarier, that I want to feel safe but it never works, that my mother could at least make me feel financially safe but she hasn't, that my father's dead but I'm still a little kid saying don't tell anyone, they put that in your head so well that you can't even remember what they didn't want you to tell. Until you remember, but it's all warped images bent around feelings twisted tangled knotted rotting memory isn't the word for memory.

Mattilda blogs at

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It must be difficult to share some of these things, Mattilda. I salute you for it.

If Julianne Moore in Safe freaks you out, you really ought to re-watch American Beauty --- not because Kevin Spacey gets murdered by the closet case next door, but because Annette Benning plays a real estate agent.

Thanks, Bil -- I try...

And A.J., believe it or not I've never seen American Beauty, but I'm definitely afraid of real estate agents...