I hate to disappoint you, but I’m no deity. I’m no daredevil. I’m the crown Prince of klonopin and I lie awake most nights reliving incidents where I wish I’d had the strength, the smarts, the agency to overthrow the dining room table, injuring every last deserving son of a bitch, and walking away like a strong black woman brandishing a grenade.
Instead, I said nothing. I’m small, I’m sick, I’m nonconfrontational for my own good. I can’t help but identify with my favorite Greek goddess– before she went 2.0.
But first, let me tell you: this weekend I was reminded of an old classmate who, thanks to our coincidental proximity in the classroom, partnered with me throughout the semester, and whether working one-on-one with me or within a small group, this warm, amicable young man with a face doomed to handsomely harden too soon and a voice that could coax a kitten from a treetop before setting off to command a Viking army to butcher half the earth referred to me exclusively as “Chief.” A friendly expression of acceptance, right?
I noticed soon enough that this take charge natural born leader was, as Gertrude Stein observed about Bakersfield, I think– maybe Alice B. Toklas was talking shit about Gertrude– but one of them brought up the classic line that there was no there there. He was a husk, his pet nickname for his small, skinny subordinate blistered with condescension, and his sole palpable, consistent characteristic was the stench of his cyborg caliber insincerity.
Yes, that’s judgmental. Now you know one of my most palpable, consistent, yet demoralizing characteristics.
Sometimes we are what we need to be. I was certainly no better than he; we were barely even adults, and my issues with him were mine to deal with. Or forget conveniently until the harrowing night twenty years later, or more specifically two nights ago, when I was beset by a cruelly mutated facsimile of this young man, an older, louder, mentally diminished hydra who coiled its necks around a bevy of equally dopey women, the kind of abomination wrenched into existence through the vengeful fury of a pissed off heavenly immortal.
And so, realizing this was no mundane slime-serpent, I asked myself the most rational question possible, the deal-breaking dilemma-buster that has saved my life at least a billion times: “What would Hestia do?”
Relax– Hestia’s not offended if you’re all, “Huh? Who.?”
It wasn’t so long ago that she was the most revered goddess in ancient Greece, the eldest of Zeus’s siblings, the first of the five Olympian deities swallowed whole by their psycho-paranoid father at the moment of their births (and thus, when things got back to normal and mortals demonstrated their gratitude through ceremonial sacrifices to the gods, she was always, always the first acknowledged with the most honorable inaugural portion of whatever the fuck they were slaughtering. Which was considerate if not a touch Old Testament-y). And when the fully grown Zeus, who’d evaded his siblings’ fate with the help of his mother’s trickery and a talking cow, returned home to rescue his family by slaying their father–some sources citing Cronos’s iconic Grim Reaper scythe as the weapon du jour– Hestia was the last to tumble out, no doubt slathered in the same chunky pink-candy delectable ectoplasm that blanketed Carol Ann and her mom-lady in that bathtub scene in Poltergeist.
I’d wager that throughout her childhood and adolescence, the radiant Hestia (or as her bootleg Italian passport reads, Vesta) accumulated one hell of a Freudian hornet’s nest while crushed and smothered against her sleazy, boorish brothers and sad, self-centered sisters, a glaring insight into the pledging of her eternal virginity and infamously delicate gag reflex which could be triggered as fast and furious as a trillion consecutive Vesuvius belches each time a brother, nephew, or first cousin slammed his entitled phallus atop her silver tea service, grumbling, “You. Me. Mom’s Dodge Dart at the Carl’s Jr. Drive-Thru. Be ready at 8.”
“Poseidon,” she’d sigh, stoking the fire entrusted as her solemn vocation by the one brother who wasn’t hot for his sisters, particularly the one he’d married. Zeus assigned her authority over the fire at the center of every household, which was the center of the family, thus the center of the community. Parents of newborns had to circle a ceremonial victory lap around the hearth as a primitive interpretation of social security. In her temple in Rome, six virgin priestesses– Vestal Virgins– whose lethal eye-rolling prowess would prove unmatched until the premiere of Mean Girls some three-thousand years later, tended her sacred eternal flame, and from there history spins off into several ugly and irrelevant tangents too gruesome to Google
As for Hestia, at a certain point even the splendor of Olympus couldn’t erase, compensate for, or protect her from the sick shit she dumbfoundedly witnessed on any given day in any given room while simply minding her own business or, on the occasion of a family get-together, sharpening her castration shears. Artemis and Athena, who were anything but meek and merciful, had their own reasons for opting out of the sacred bonds of copulation, but Hestia’s virginity could be interpreted as a protest against the overwhelming yet unaddressed perversion that eventually rendered her incapable of associating with the Olympians. She was never a holier-than-Zeus busybody, never harbored a Titan-esque superiority complex over her certifiable siblings, or if so was smart enough not to let on.
Maybe, had she been swallowed alive in a different place and time, she would have sought and found true love. Still, hers was a beauty could reduce any pussygrabbing bastard to dust should he try to move on her like a bitch. It was too much being surrounded by infidelity, illegitimacy, attempted rape, date rape, actual rape, Hera’s daily hurricanes of bitchery, that zapped Hestia into finally overturning that massive, luxurious dining room table, screaming “Fuck! Fuck this! Fuck you! Shut your rape-face, Apollo! Fuck everything except me!”
And she abdicated her position as one of the Ultimate Twelve, handing it to the least likely and, deliberately, the most hilarious choice amongst the wide spectrum of divinities, Dionysus, god of booze, frat-house toga parties, and “Well, I Never!” pearl-clutching.
The point is, this sweet, gentle, pacifist, despite her status, was essentially alone and invisible. She abandoned her throne at Olympus because she wanted something more, and not only did that take guts, it meant listening to her instinct and turning her back on who she was supposed to be in favor of exploring her true self and all of her potential as a citizen of Earth.
I wish that in my naive youth I’d exhibited even a modicum of that courage. I wish I’d carried myself like an approachable movie star, wish every step was taken in anticipation rather than apprehension. I don’t wish harm on the douchbaggerie I’ve encountered throughout the years. I mean, I wouldn’t have them suffer, just painlessly evaporate.
Because I’m a good guy. I try. And I turn my back on those in my family who celebrate overt racism, who seethe over everything and everyone they fear. I’m not afraid to tell them to go passionately fuck themselves, and when they’re finished maybe open a fucking book. Like Zeus, Hera and the others, they too are incorrigible, incapable. I don’t think we can measure if and how one person is inherently and spiritually “better” than another. But when people see us as evil, call us queer, wish us dead– we don’t have to overthrow anybody’s table. We’re nobody’s “Chief.” And that’s one thing we can certainly measure. We are better than that.