Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Me and My Anima

by C. Sanchez-Garcia


This is the story of a Bardo. In Tibetan Buddhism, Bardo means transition, a state of changing from what was known to something unknown. Death is a "Bardo", the ultimate transitional moment. In the case of this Bardo - I was haunted by a ghost. This is the experience that became the early inspiration for my novella "The Color of The Moon."

In my past life, though in this one, I lived as a dedicated member of a spiritual community. I was active for over twenty years, all the years of my young adult life, a life of celibacy dedicated to the pursuit of God and enlightenment. These were difficult years, but in many ways the very finest. I was surrounded by idealistic young people from all over the world, dedicated to an ideal that someday all the world might be a spiritual family under god. There are worse ways to spend your youth. When you're single you can do these things. When you have a family, its much more difficult. That was what we all found out.

A young man, who disdains money and cares nothing for material things, will learn to tremble for his wife and child's next meal and shelter. He'll worry about it all the time. My son was just a few years old, but already we were dropping him at daycare, working long hours, my wife and I, and then coming to pick him at the end of the day. I saw the school system in New York City and knew that without a family life behind him he wouldn’t stand a chance. My wife's family in Panama was having terrible problems and she worried for them. I looked at our future as it was, and thought "A third world country? How bad can it be?" So we got rid of most of our stuff and in 1995 we moved to Panama.

The first couple of years were very hard. I was an immigrant with no job or working papers. I had to go through the system to become legitimate. We sold fish on the street, which was a lot of fun, but didn’t make much money. We met a man who spoke fluent Japanese and English and began a small business translating Japanese documents into Spanish. Soon my working papers cleared and I shopped for a job in the Canal Zone. I had been a photographer in America, but no one needed a photographer in the Canal Zone. I had some home grown computer skills, and in a hugely lucky break was picked up by the Army and began to work with computers there.

The transition from my old life to this new one was terribly painful. The military people I worked with in the Canal Zone were so different from those I grew up with I couldn’t relate to them. A few of them treated me badly. My family was at stake. I needed this job. They needed me to keep this job. I didn’t have the luxury of telling people to fuck off. But still I was filled with rage and regret. I was dying inside. One of my bosses ordered me to wash his car. I think that was what finally made me crack.

In the Canal Zone, near Fort Clayton, there is an old cemetery, filled with the graves of Panamanians and Americans. Some of the graves are very old. One afternoon, I walked through the cemetery, thinking about the life I had known before, remembering the old faces. They were fine people; I never knew how fine they were until I'd lost them. It had been in its way a life of soaring spiritual passion and adventure, globe trotting in the company of saints. Gone, all gone. Now there was only this petty life grubbing for money, working among strangers, people who were so different from me in everyway, and I was so strange to them. As the afternoon rainstorm gathered, I sat down under a mango tree, among the whitewashed gravestones, while parrots scolded overhead, and for the first time in many years I cried hard. I cursed God. I cursed my life. Above all I cursed the small, frightened person I had become.

The next day it began.


I was sitting in my bedroom, going through boxes of old books I'd brought from America. Among them was an old high school yearbook. I opened it and read some of the messages scribbled inside the cover from names I couldn’t remember anymore under photos of kids I hadn't looked at for years. The problem of living a life of perpetual rambling on the road is that after awhile everything becomes a dense hash of different times and places. Because you've never had a home things never quite stick together right.

I came across a face I hadn't thought of in 30 years. We'll call her "M". M was an unusual girl, exotic, smart and funny. She and I had shared an art class together. We became good friends in the class but I was too shy to ask her out or get to know her in any way after school. Gradually we drifted apart as people do. Her picture was everywhere in the yearbook, a real go getter she was, little miss M. I pu5t the book away.

I was startled awake that night when a lizard dropped from the ceiling and landed on me. I lay in the muggy dark thinking about M. The more I thought about her, the more I thought about her. I lay awake all night thinking about her. All the next day I thought about her. Her image stuck like a mantra that kept repeating itself. And all the while I was thinking of her, I kept wondering - why am I thinking of her? We were nothing special to each other. If we met today we'd be strangers with common memories.

But no matter how I tried, I absolutely could not stop thinking of her. After a few days of this, something else happened. She began to take on dimension. She became real. I could feel her presence inside me, like another independent being coexisting in my consciousness. Tangible, mystical, as though I were carrying her with me everywhere I went. She was splitting off from me. I could converse with her.

My mother had gone crazy by stages when I was kid, and later as an adult, she turned schizophrenic. She became homeless and was eventually picked up by the police and placed in a nursing home. These things can carry on genetically and it began to worry me. Did I have the bug? Had some genetic time bomb been ticking off the years until it reached this moment and gone off under deep emotional stress? I had a teenage girl living in my head. In a foreign land, with a wife and child who depended on me, I had to consider the possibility I was becoming insane.

After work, I went back to my little cemetery and did some more thinking. A cemetery is a good place to think. The problem with mental illness is that it is transparent. My mother thought the world was crazy, but never herself. The fact that I was considering the possibility at all was a good sign that I still had most of my marbles. I was doing well at my job. The checkbook was balanced. Life was being managed. What were the other explanations for this second personality living along side my own? I could come up with three hypotheses:

1. M was a real ghost. M had died at some point and her disembodied spirit had attached itself to me. But this begs the question - why me? Why not somebody she was close to in life?


2. My mental stability, maybe a little dicky genetically, was disintegrating under emotional stress. I was having hallucinations and this was only the beginning of something more dire.


3. She was an artificial construct of consciousness created to serve some purpose on some other level.

Whatever it was, when I turned my eyes inward, she was there looking back. Waiting for something. Watchful. The fact is I really enjoyed her company. It was nice having her around. If a lonely person is going to be haunted its better to be haunted by a well mannered and beautiful young girl. Even if she was a ghost, I wasn’t in any hurry for an exorcism. No, it wasn't M that frightened me, and she didn’t seem to want to frighten me. It was the fact of her being there that frightened me. There was something there I wasn't getting. If she was a ghost, I could live with that. It would suggest things about the nature of life I would like to know. If possibility 2 were true and I was going nuckingfutz, I would have to watch myself very carefully, and learn the lessons of my mother who refused to be helped. I would have to be willing to do whatever was necessary if someone told me I was acting weird. The third possibility was the only one I could really act on. I started with that

Sherlock Holmes was famous for examining not only the facts that were at hand, but the obvious facts that were missing. You can learn a lot by asking "Why is it this instead of that?" Why M? Why not my first girlfriend? Why not a complete stranger? Why a girl, and not a man? Why not an old friend? Why not a commanding voice from a burning bush for that matter? What did M represent that was unique from others?

One afternoon, after getting off work I went to a secluded spot along the Panama Canal. M of course went with me. Off alone, on the canal bank, I retreated as far into myself as I could, conjured M as vividly as I could. We need to talk, I said. Who are you? Are you a spirit? What's the deal with you? Do you need help? Are you something within me?

M had a cute way of cocking her head and looking quizzical. At first it was hard to get anything out of her. But she liked the attention. I'm not leaving here, I said, if I have to sit here till dark. You need to tell me what's going on.

She became irritated. Finally she took off her horn rim glasses and sighed. "Alright." She folded her glasses and looked off in the distance at a big Taiwanese ship passing by. "This is who I was." She began to describe herself as though talking about someone else. She had come from a solid family, comfortable with authority and had been a brilliant student in her day. An office staff helper, a national honor student. The soul of excellence, a professional waiting for that clear straight shot into the future. Anything she put her mind to, she would be successful at. I held my peace and let her speak. Finally I had to ask her something, a scene which I reenacted in my story "The Color of the Moon".

"Are you dead?" I said.

She looked away, and for a moment her beautiful eyes looked as though they were going to burst into tears. "All things die." she said. "You will too." Then she was gone. I was alone.

That night I had a strange dream.

What The Demon Said

In my dream I was at a gas station I used in real life. I had filled my car with gas and was about to leave, when a rough, dirty man came up to me. He asked me if I wanted to have a woman, for free. I wasn’t sure, but I was curious so I followed him to the edge of the parking lot. Suddenly, out of the clean air a beautiful, fanged, demonic woman sprang at me. I understood instantly. I had been set up and she was going to kill me, and not just my body but my soul.

I jumped straight into the air and flew up as fast as I could. But she flew faster, like a falcon running down a sparrow and I knew there was no hope. I was going to die now. But it was my soul I was worried about. I could not let her kill my soul, my soul had to survive. Below I saw the Panama Canal, and a concrete lock. If I threw myself at it hard enough my body would die but my soul would be untouched. I dived hard and head first. As the concrete rose up, suddenly she had me, her clawed fingers digging into me like a bird's talons.

"Don’t kill yourself!" she cried. "Please! I know you now, I know you’re a good man. I won’t hurt you! Don’t!"

She turned me around, her bright enormous eyes looking into my face. It was M! "Whatever happens, trust me. I'll never hurt you." Then I woke up.


Now I knew something was going on, but it was benevolent. I'd always had an interest in Carl Jung, and used Jung’s ideas as a reference in interpreting dreams. Jung had been an early disciple of Freud but had broken away to form his own theories about dreams and the engines that drive our personalities. One of the ideas I had read about a long time ago came back to me and I studied it again. Jung had a theory which he referred to as the Animus and the Anima. When a person is developing, there are aspects of character that are chosen and others that are put away in an evolutionary process as that person grows and adapts to the world. If the person is female, the male aspects of her personality are sublimated and suppressed, but they never really go away. These discarded things remain in the persona of the Animus. If the person is male, these discarded feminine things remain under the surface in the form of the Anima. I thought about M. I thought about the demon woman who had spared my life.

I had known the real M at a particular moment in my life. I had known her at the time just when my parents had divorced. Until then my life had been conventional and typically lower middle class. But after that time, my family disintegrated, we became poorer, my grades fell apart and my life took an entirely different direction. I was rebellious, complicated, barely graduated from school, and filled with regret and anger. And M? She was the very best. M personified the kind of person I might have been in a better world, in a better life. It made sense to me. The ghost of M was the living soul of all the things I had left behind in order to live the life I chose. She was my discarded life with a young girl's face. M, my living Anima.

But what was important was the knowledge that M was not some self destructive creature of regret. She was on my side and had pronounced me a good man. She had told me she would never hurt me. This was a tremendous source of peace. I was protected by her spiritual firewall against my own rage . The only real ghost here was me. The things I had been living my life for, for almost twenty years had been washed away, but though those years were lost, they weren't for nothing. I had had a spiritual family of very fine people. I had been in the company of saints, had traveled the world, known poverty, had some wild adventures and friends from many countries. If I were to die now, I would be thinking of what an interesting life it has been, filled with fine people. A passionate life.

For awhile M went away and I missed her terribly, but soon I found peace with that also. If I needed her, I knew she'd be back.

In 1998 the Internet was still young. A new web site called began to advertise itself and I joined it to see if any of my old friends might be there. One dull evening I was going through the names and updates at the site and stopped dead. M. She was there. Even her email address was there.

Well, possibility #1 had thankfully been ruled out. At least she wasn't dead. Should I do it? I just had to know if she would write back. It tortured me for a day and a night. I had to know, if I could, what had really become of her.

So I wrote to her.

The Real M

She wrote back the very next day. She was probably the second person I've ever gotten an email from. She was friendly, and polite. She seemed happy to hear from me, though between the lines it was obvious she didn’t remember me at all. But she was willing to talk. I sent her two emails, filled with all the questions I had, and no mention of ghosts you can be sure. It had been almost a year to the month since I had first been haunted by her. She wrote back twice, answering all my questions with astonishing honesty. She had gone to medical school, become a therapist and married a doctor. My image of her clear straight shot into the future was right on the beat. But then, just a couple of years ago, her life had taken a turn. She'd rebelled against her comfortable suburban life, and divorced. Happier and more authentic, that way of life she had known for twenty three years, a way of life she'd trained and educated and prepared herself for, had been washed away overnight. Though much poorer than before, she was her own woman now and much happier. Not really so different from me in the end. As Lady Dainagon might say "Shigata ga nai." What can you do?

I wrote to her again, but I never got anything back. That door was gently closed. Like other ghosts, gone with the dawn.

The following is a scene from “The Color of The Moon”. The dialogue in this scene, at least in its earliest drafts, was directly inspired from my experience by the Canal with M, and my dream of the gas station:

* * * * * **
Outside, the storm had subsided to a soft rain. Shoja and Tsuke-Kage had fallen silent and there was only the sound of the rain, and thunder rolling, in the far distance out at sea. Her breath was in his ear, as his cock softened and withdrew from her warm sex. In the dark, she stretched upon him and caressed him, enjoying her ownership of him.

She lifted herself off and lay on his ribs, damp with their mingled sweat. “Stay." She whispered. "I don’t want you to leave.”

“I’ll have to leave soon. People may worry.”

“I would never hurt you. Or allow you to be harmed. Stay.”

“I should go soon, but I’ll be back.”

“Are you afraid of me?” she said.

He felt her pressing closer. Her hand wandered over his body. “Should I be?”

“Maybe you should be.”


He couldn’t see her in the dark, but he felt her wrap herself around him possessively. “Do you believe death is the end?”

He was about to answer when he felt her fingers play upon his lips, and reach into his mouth. He was about to tell her some correctly comforting thing when her fingertips touched his tongue. “Do you, love monkey?”

He felt compelled to speak only truth to her. While her dry fingertips pressed upon his tongue, he saw himself clearly with painful clarity, as he really was, the good and the bad. She had done this to him. “I had believed so.”

Until this moment, he hadn’t realized that he didn’t really believe in the soul or the Buddha or in anything at all. With the supernatural press of her finger upon his tongue, she had unclothed his soul by force and he was truly naked in her presence. He wanted to crawl from her, but he was unable to move, held captive by a finger. All that he had been living for, had told others, his being as a monk and a man of faith, tapered down and down into this one glowing moment and withered under her touch.

She withdrew her fingers from his mouth. She sighed. “I know you have a question now you want to ask me.”

“Great lady,” he whispered. “What is it like? To be dead?”

Cool hands moved in the dark and found his right hand. She lifted it and placed it snugly between her warm thighs. “It’s not so different, really.” She squeezed his hand with her
thighs. “A sleeping person wants to sleep. A dying person wants to die.”

“Tell me.”

“I don’t want to.”

“But can you love, if you are dead?”

“Love is only a cloud hiding the color of the moon,” she said, and kissed his ear. “Love is a fog, Shoji-chan. It hides the nature of things, until it burns away.”

“I wish I could stay with you. You must let me leave.”

“I will come to you then. Tonight.” They heard the sounds of steps coming up the veranda. A hand moving the door aside.

The samurai was there.

* * * * *


  1. I don't really know what to say other than thank you. Your posts about yourself and your reflections on life are always fascinating, always from a unique and fresh perspective.

  2. Your take on things always makes for a fascinating read, Garce. Interesting post!

  3. I know that I have heard something of your life in Panama before, but I loved reading the heart wrenching details. You write with a wonderful insight and clarity of self. A poignant tale. And a journey not yet complete.
    The other part of my reaction is reading with interest how one's personal experiences are then later translated into a creative work of writing.
    thank you for sharing.

  4. Thanks for reading my stuff RG. You keep me going.

  5. Hi Jenna!

    Thanks for reading my stuff!


  6. Hi Renee!

    Thanks for reading my stuff. You've heard this story before too.

    Glad to know you're still there.


  7. Garce, yesterday was insane here, but I wanted to take the time to read your post and comment. What an amazing experience, or series of experiences. A little frightening to though. I'm not sure I'd be able to deal with all of it as well as you did. Amazing post, thank you.


  8. Hey Jude!

    95% of it true too. Don't ask about the other 5%. . .

    Thanks for reading my stuff!


  9. Coming back to the e-world after dealing with (too many) physical things for several days... I had no idea that Color of the moon was so closely inspired by your own life experience. Thank you for sharing a beautiful, frightening, and hopeful view of your life.

    Warmest wishes,