(content note: sexual violence)
I have emotional motion sickness
Somebody roll the windows down
There are no words in the English language
I could scream to drown you out
(“Motion Sickness,” Phoebe Bridgers)
The Chariot is the rollercoaster card. It’s an experience that requires deliberation and focused attention and you’re not getting off until it’s completely over. Once begun, you’re not bailing. You must see this through.
The intensity of the Chariot can be overwhelming when pulled--oh, here we go, flying without reigns and propelled by opposing forces that are like two repellant magnets joined together. Everything feels like it should fly apart, and it might, but not as long as this ride is still going.
Bridger’s song about the emotional turmoil of missing someone toxic, missing a connection that was full of manipulation and abuse, is one that I’ve turned to over and over again as I deal with the mixed emotions of missing people who hurt me--a common problem in my life, as someone with C-PTSD from a cult, as someone with the ADHD side-effect of “rejection-sensitive dysphoria.” These are things I have done a lot of work in therapy around to mitigate, but the root of these struggles is twofold and both reasons are overwhelmingly good: first, I love easily and trust people perhaps too much, because, despite the complexities I’ve encountered in relationships, I mostly remember the sweet parts afterwards; and second, I have big feelings when I care about someone and want to connect with them, and I have to ride them out and let them pass in their own time if I’m going to stay centered in myself and self-soothe when things get hard.
I listened to this song on repeat the months following the Christine Blasey Ford hearing, because that week I learned that my most recent serious relationship had ended because the man I had loved so deeply didn’t want me to find out that he had raped his ex-wife. I learned this and then learned that I was perhaps the only person he’d dated who had not accused him of sexual assault at some point. I still missed him, and yet he was this complicated person who refused to recognize or take responsibility for the harm he had caused these other people. I hate you for what you did//And I miss you like a little kid, on repeat. My whole body hurt thinking about it, and there was nothing I could do to alleviate the ache. I just had to ride it out, let the feelings wash through me and exhaust themselves. I was on the Chariot.
During the time after this breakup, I got a puppy and took up photography. My dog bonded immediately with the dog of my MFA cohort-mate, and over the course of our last semester I joked about doing a major arcana photo series where these two dogs running together would be the Chariot. They loved each other so much that they would sometimes forget that they could stop playing, overloading themselves with too much stimulation until either me or my friend would step in and put them in time out to re-regulate themselves for a few minutes. Much like me and my strong emotions when I find someone I enjoy, learning how to self-soothe and coregulate with the other person in positive ways sometimes means putting myself in time out when I’m overstimulated.
The Chariot card comes right after The Lovers, a choice card like all the twos in the minor arcana: this thing I am drawn to, do I want to pursue it? The Chariot is what happens next, when you answer that question with a yes! You never know how being open to love and connection will pan out--but the act of choosing to pursue it is at its root a choice of optimism, of hope, of generosity with yourself and the world. I feel connection, I will be open to more.
Sometimes, you are met and matched with someone who attunes themselves to you with tenderness and generosity. Sometimes you are met initially and then abandoned partway through the ride, left to finish out the emotional metabolism of having opened up big feelings all on your own. Sometimes this leaves you feeling motion sick and angry. Sometimes it’s so good and overpowering that you have to pace yourself, learning to match stride with the other so no one gets yanked around. Run, run, run with these big feelings, but remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint and tomorrow you’re gonna feel it. Breathe through it, the ride will eventually end.
I feel good about my decision to not act on missing that ex, on holding the line of respecting myself enough to not invite trouble by remaining emotionally open to someone who has caused so much harm to others, even if he didn’t do that to me. The emotions have faded and I no longer feel like a live wire if he crosses my mind. I'll be glad that I made it out//And sorry that it all went down like it did might still resonate, but I also don’t regret having been open to that connection. I never regret loving anyone--I might regret the fallout, but keeping myself open to being tender again is important to me. Love isn’t ever wasted, even if it wasn’t appreciated. I finished the ride alone, and it was good for me to have done so.
Bridgers’ and others stories about the subject of this song, sex pest and musician Ryan Adams, were eventually reported by the NYT. Whether or not justice was done is subjective, I think, but Justice follows the Chariot in the major arcana. He publicly apologized, and his reputation precedes him--which means that other women will be warned away from his manipulative advances, hopefully. The women sexually assaulted by my ex have all spoken to me at various points, a strange sorority of sorts. There’s generosity there in the rubble and we’re glad to share it with each other as we’re able. I don’t know if he’ll ever see consequences of his actions, or that Adams will either. But secrets can’t stand in the face of vulnerability and sincerity. Committing to an ethic of openness and hopefulness keeps me tender, keeps me strong. I’ll ride the roller coaster again. The story never ends the way I expect it to, but it’s always worth it to see it out once I decide to buckle in.
The Lovers, 2018. Eve Ettinger. Models: Kathryn & Iris.
The Chariot, 2018. Eve Ettinger. Models: Lucy Marcus, Izzy & Blanche.
Eve Ettinger is an adjunct professor of English composition and literature at a community college in Southwest Virginia. They edit features for The Rumpus, write a weekly column for The Dogwood, and co-host a podcast about politics and Christian fundamentalism called Kitchen Table Cult. They are working on a memoir.
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