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Chapter Twenty-three: In The Forest

A Sufi saying: “Religion is like a garment.  One has to know how it fits before one can take it off”.  I was now proposing to myself that I should put it on as an adult.  I knew that it was necessary to do it fully and completely, and to do this I needed to submit my mind to the authority of the Bible.

Does this mean I had stopped thinking?

All my life I have been a “seeker” of truth and meaning because it is essential to me.  Some people are content to not know; but I have never been content.  My curiosity burns at a white-hot heat almost constantly.  And behind it is a driving force that makes me unable to truly rest until I have discovered all I can about the nature of existence.

But my personal choices  resulted in pain or disaster over and over again.  Looking back, I could have held firm against Grant.  I could have “seen through” his machinations and avoided a painful experience.  I could have “seen through” Carol, not a true friend.  I could have seen through Charles and refused to get in a situation where my judgment was impaired.  I could have seen through Richard and refused to be betrayed by one who was supposed to be helping me.   Most of all, I could have sought out and extirpated that deep lack inside that seemed to be at the root of my intense sensitivity which seemed to amplify each emotional blow so that my experiences were so utterly devastating.  Never mind that, in all my seeking, that is precisely what I was trying to do.

Of course, doing all of these suggested things would have meant that I needed to “see through” things that happened to me during my formative years that conditioned my perceptions and reactions.  In the end, the same can be said for everyone.

William James, in his “Varieties of Religious Experience” asks: What is human life’s chief concern?

Thomas Jefferson spelled it out in the Declaration of Independence: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.  It is, essentially, the inner motivation of everyone: how to obtain, keep or recover happiness.

I was most definitely seeking all three.  And it has been promoted throughout the millennia that religion is the mode of success in such endeavors.  Each religion has the inner path to supernatural happiness.  Members of every religion regard the “happiness” they experience within the fold as the proof of the truth of their own religion.  Religions teach that the “nearness of God’s spirit” is the source of this happiness.

We are told that this is the proof of the reality of God.

Some people can experience all kinds of dreadful events but, for some reason, they refuse to feel it in any deep way as something “wrong”.  They may have hardships and struggles, but it doesn’t faze them one bit!  It also doesn’t seem to matter what religion they are born into: if there is a sinister theology in their environment, they can ignore everything that doesn’t mesh with a basically Pagan “union with the Divine”.  For them, God is the giver of all good things, and evil has no sting.  The foundation of their thinking seems to be that God and Nature is absolutely good.  They are full of enchanting innocence and can think no ill of anyone or anything.  God is neither judge nor ruler but merely the animating spirit of a beautiful and harmonious world, benevolent, kind, merciful and pure.  If they are involved in a religion, they seem to go to church more out of a need to socialize than to obtain salvation because, essentially, they have no consciousness of any “burden of sin” from which they need to be delivered.

There is another interesting thing about such people: they have no metaphysical tendencies and do not “look at themselves” at all.  They accept themselves and their own “imperfections” totally.  What’s more, they accept others “as they are”.

It seems to me that such people are children who were taught very early that they are “God’s child,” and this was exemplified in their caregivers in terms of acceptance and freedom and love.  They are not told that they were born in wrath and wholly incapable of being worthy of God’s love.

Well, clearly that was not the case in my experience.  However, it seems that the initiating event of my “soul sickness” was well outside of the control of anyone with influence over my early development and experiences.  And how many millions of others have suffered such battering of the soul at so young an age that no free will choice of such events could possibly be considered to have been available?  In such cases, what does that make of the “All Powerful, Loving God?”

The twisting of society and culture that warps minds and brings about destruction of souls is at the root of what we call Evil.  From the Humanist, or Darwinian-evolutionary point of view, the evils of society are created by religion.  And religion creates the disease of acute guilt and prescribes the cure and sells it like a snake oil salesman.

But there was the “Face at the Window” to consider.  A strange series of events in my life were simply not explicable in ordinary coincidental terms.  I sought to explain them in rational and normal ways, but the undercurrent of disease kept emerging: There was something Evil out there, and it was after me, and I needed protection.

At every turn I had been side-tracked, slammed to the ground, or otherwise shown by experience that, at the very least, I needed a safe harbor in the cultural milieu in which I existed.  My experiences taught me that in a man’s world, for a woman who had no wish to compete with men or anyone else, I needed to compromise a bit and find an environment safe from male predation.  The promise of spiritual safety that Larry held out was an additional lure impossible to resist.

Awakening in the night to the barely articulated thought reverberating in my mind: “where is he?” repeated at odd intervals.  The darkness gave no answer.  I was utterly lost and bereft.  I very desperately needed to find out what might be “wrong” with me that I felt such an absence in my life no matter how I sought to fill it with activity, family, and all the accoutrements of modern society.  No matter what I did, no matter who I was with, I felt alone.  Repeating dreams that circled around a theme of tragedy and loss were a puzzle as well.  I awakened from these dreams soaked in cold sweat, my heart pounding, crying in soul deep grief.

After the battering I had taken for 28 years, my hopes of finding The One had faded.  I’d bought into the psychological interpretations of my tendre and became convinced that I must “be happy” if I expected to “find happiness”.

I shoved my dreams under the rug and married Larry (after his divorce), securing my life to an anchor that I thought would normalize and stabilize me.  More than anything, I was tired.  I was tired of searching, tired of fighting, tired of being used.  I put away my books on mysticism and metaphysics, gave up my classes in meditation and hypnosis, and focused on going to church and devoting my attention to learning how to be a born again Christian under the tutelage of my chosen partner.

Larry was chosen not because of love or lust, but simply because I was too tired to fight anymore.

Believing that he was going to be a father, (yes, I engineered relations in time and I lied), Larry left his wife without much more than a second thought.  In retrospect, I see that I was as good an excuse as any other for him to do what he wanted to do anyway.  But there was something more subtle and destructive in operation here: the Fundamentalist nature of the religious upbringing he had been exposed to.

Even though I needed him more than she did, two innocent babies also needed him, and his wife was a “millstone about his neck” with her drunken ways and rejection of God, Larry still felt guilty because he was also doing something that gave him pleasure.  He wanted me physically, and that was, in his mind, the sin.  And so I had to be punished.  He was willing to fulfill his duty, but it must not be enjoyed.  And when he found himself enjoying it, he had to punish himself and that other participant in his happiness:  Me.

Larry’s parents, despite their indulgence, also crushed his natural self with threats of hell-fire and damnation and demands that he perform to a certain standard that was, I can assure you, completely unreasonable and even inhuman.  So he felt a lack of motivation and enthusiasm that soon became emotional paralysis.  As he grew up, he began to identify with God and his parents – the oppressors – and his mode of action was to treat himself and others in a harshly judgmental way.  His religion would not allow him to be overtly abusive.  There had to be a “righteous” reason.  He was full of anger at God and his parents for not accepting him as he was, but terrified of the possibility of unleashing this  rage.  It was easier to just turn off emotions than to have to deal with the truth.  He loved his parents, he loved God, right?  His parents and God must be right, right?  So, how could he be angry?

Well, he was.  But he could not express it overtly, so he managed to express this anger by his inertia; this emotional and psychological paralysis; he was a master of passive aggression.  He could not allow himself to succeed at anything, whether it was a career, a marriage, or even a fairly simple task, because that would have given his parents something to be proud of.  Larry didn’t care what other people thought or expected.  He was a rebel.  But he was truly a rebel without a cause.

I saw it as my job to heal him.

Larry was not a self-starter except in activities that would most assuredly not lead to success.  Of course, once his engine was turned on – in an activity that was not a threat to his need to be a failure – he could work like a machine.  I never saw anyone who could work so long and so hard at something that was almost completely useless.  Larry could put in a shocking amount of time to very little effect.  He didn’t seem to know why some work is valued more highly than other work.  Because of his religious training, he did believe that you’re supposed to work and not be lazy.  So, he kept himself constantly occupied.  He seemed to be doing it just to say that he was working, to get admiration and establish his power.  After all, if he was working so hard, the family must honor that!  Yet, over time I noticed that when he worked, he didn’t really pay attention to what he was doing.  He seemed to prefer the easy way at every turn, with the end result that he managed to be a workaholic and extremely lazy at the same time.  Larry measured his work only by how much time he spent on it, not by what he produced.  He sought my praise and approval for the fact that he exerted the effort and could never understand why I valued results, not energy expenditure.

Larry seemed to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

There was another aspect to his workaholic behavior.  It often seemed that he held himself to a grinding work schedule to make himself unavailable to others’ emotional needs.  If he was tired from working, he could not be expected to give anything of himself to others.  Not only that, he derived no pleasure from his work at all.  More than that, he derived no pleasure from life.  Anytime I urged him to work at things he was good at which could have produced success, his response was “Why should I do something that I don’t enjoy just because I’m good at it?  It would kill me to have to do that!” So, he could commit to nothing.

He did, however, have grandiose dreams.  As a boy, Larry had experienced sort of a double life.  At home, he was subjected to the obsessive control of his mother.  Because she was so afraid of hell-fire and damnation, she wouldn’t allow him to do anything for himself.  He had no responsibilities or obligations, and, as a result, never experienced any consequences.  He loved his mother because she always provided, and he hated her because she demanded his freedom and absolute loyalty and adoration in return.

Larry’s step-father kept his mother in line.  She was treated like a porcelain doll to be petted, admired and displayed on demand.  This, of course, included her prowess as a cook and housekeeper and mother.  Perfection was expected because, after all, her husband provided her with a nice, new home with a swimming pool, two cars, yearly vacations, and the obligatory pearls to be worn while vacuuming.  Her home was her domain, but only to the extent that her husband was satisfied when he arrived home from his job.

Weekends were, naturally, a man thing.  Leaving his wife to keep the home fires burning, Larry’s stepfather went hunting and fishing at every opportunity with his brothers, friends, and Larry in tow.  The freedom from his mother’s obsessive control (and she had to be obsessive to please her husband!) on these extended and repeated trips to the Florida Keys and into the Everglades were, in Larry’s mind, paradise.  Objectively, no one can say that it wasn’t true.  The result was, however, that he became stuck in this fantasy of life in the wilds, free from all constraints and controls and obligations of all kinds.  This idealized Huck Finn character dominated his dreams and fantasies.  His life was focused on this dream image and away from the real world and its practical needs.

It would have been different if his dreams had not been static, stuck in this single scenario of the glorious freedom of a boy in the wilderness with only his fishing rod and his gun (and maybe his airboat).  His fantasies were tableaux or scenes, fixed stage sets that he believed reflected his true self.  He couldn’t see himself doing anything but this.  The only room for any other person in this fantasy was someone who adored him at a distance for living in the wilderness, totally free from responsibility.

It was easy enough for me to vicariously share this fantasy and to admire the pure soul that produced it.  My error was in thinking that it was just a nice memory and here was the real world, so let’s put it away and get to work.  Larry didn’t see this image as either a memory or something that might come to pass in the future.  For him, it was the way he wanted to be seen right now.  He was the very model of the perfect woodsman, free in nature.  Anything that caused a ripple in this image was resented, and the person who tried to pull him back into the real world was violating his divine image.  Because, in the end, it was interpreted in his mind as the way God intended man to live.  It was, therefore, “right”.

The rightness of his ideal was the standard by which he measured all others.  The role his mother played in his life was projected onto me.  The role he had played, as Huck Finn to his stepfather’s Tom Sawyer persona, was projected onto our son when he was born.  He was unable to accept that his son had a different personality, different interests, different talents, and even different inclinations.  Because his own physique was powerful and well-developed, he was contemptuous of anyone who did not match this ideal.  Every night of our years together, Larry stood in front of the mirror and spent ten minutes or so flexing his muscles as “exercise” but I was naturally expected to admire him.  Larry’s role as a child who never had to do anything, who had no duties or responsibilities, he projected onto all the children, and all of us were weighed and measured according to this static dream world.

In the end, his dreams of success all centered around this “Wilderness fantasy”.  His application of the idea to anything remotely resembling a career was to engage in fish farming, or aquaculture.  But, even here, his ideas of application were completely irrational.  Just like my mother and her husband, he soon began to talk about making money with “other people’s money”.  I cringed when I heard these things, but I felt that, with love and devotion, he would soon learn to channel his efforts into successful activities.

Part of the acting out of the “Free Man in the Wilderness Fantasy” seemed to include the idea that Larry must never give what he knew I wanted.  It could also have been an aspect of the “control the little woman” dynamic, but whatever was at the root of it, he wanted me to do what he wanted because he wanted it and not because I wanted to do it.  This was horribly puzzling for a long time.  I carefully observed him to try to find out what he wanted and needed.  As soon as I thought I had it figured out, he would become angry at my presumption and all the rules would shift again.  I wanted to work beside my husband, helping him and supporting him, and the instant I did, he found some reason to get angry and quit whatever we were doing; and it was usually my fault.  Even projects he talked about in glowing terms: as soon as I became interested and wanted to support him and help to make it a reality, he didn’t want it anymore.  In the end, what he could not ever share was himself.  And, in the end, that was the only thing I needed.

As he now had a mate and children – one present and one on the way – he began to recreate the household of his own childhood with us as the occupants.  He was captain of the boat and we were the crew whose job it was to jump to fulfill his whims and who must endeavor to fulfill his perfectionist standards of behavior, most specifically in religious terms.  He pounced on minor crimes and infractions of his rules, which were never clearly defined or consistent, and he had something critical to say about most everything.  To this day, I cannot remember ever producing a meal that received a compliment that was not delivered with a series of instructions about how to do it better next time.

Larry also liked to mock people.  He did it in what he thought was a “gentle and helpful” way.  He teased me and the children about fat, the way we walked, looked, acted, dressed and, most especially, our spiritual state.  All of us were under this constant, judging scrutiny, and it produced feelings of unbearable self-consciousness.  Larry’s jokes were mostly directed at the egos of the children.  He liked to play practical jokes that were designed to humiliate them.  When I objected, I was, of course, the wicked witch  for criticizing such loving family fun.  He was contemptuous of my view that teasing was a form of abuse.  He had a completely dismissive attitude towards my (and the children’s) feelings, wishes, needs, concerns, standards, property, and even work.  If anybody else did it, thought it, said it, felt it or wanted it – it was worth nothing to him.  He had absolutely no empathy for any other human being unless they were in total agreement with him and I don’t think you can really call that empathy.

Even though he constantly teased me and the children, he had absolutely no sense of humor.  Larry berated me for having no sense of fun when I protested against his practical jokes.  He was, indeed, a specialist in sarcasm about others, and he thought this was witty.  He was incapable of irony, which to me was true humor.  He could make fun of others, repeat jokes he had heard others laugh at, and laugh at jokes that were essentially the kind that ridicule weaknesses in others.  He just never knew that knowing how to make people laugh is not necessarily the same as having a sense of humor.

Larry also had no sense of time.  Living in his fantasy world of perfection, he would often underestimate the time it took to do something.  This wasn’t just a slight miscalculation but a consistent pattern that caused a great deal of misery to a lot of people.  If he said it would take an hour, it would really take about five hours.  But to ask him to postpone doing something until adequate time was available was tantamount to an insult.  He would complain that “no one ever supported him” and this was why he had so many failures in his life: no one had faith!  No one loved him!

Of course, this was the hook designed to focus my attention on the immediate need of loving and supporting Larry.  Having lived my entire life doing for others in order to be loved, I was in total empathy with such a remark, and I fell for it every time.

In these ways, he made victims of all of us by imposing his will, his views, his opinions and his beliefs.  He criticized and demanded perfection, but with no defined parameter in which to operate.  His demands were based on his moods, and none of us ever knew what mood he was going to be in, or whether his demands would tend in this direction or another.

I decided if I worked to fulfill these standards, to direct the children in ways that would elicit praise from Larry, winning approval for myself as a good and faithful wife and mother, then maybe Larry could relax a bit.  He’d begin to accept us and know that he was truly loved.

Larry did honor helping others.  He’d drop everything to go help a friend – or even a stranger – fix or build or move whatever.  He’d go out to do an errand and run into someone who had a problem.  He’d listen for hours and offer advice, forgetting his own task.  He gave away his time and energy, and when he worked for anyone, he always undercharged them.  But then, this did fit with his Huck Finn fantasy image of himself.

He constantly gave advice to everyone, solicited or not.  Friends tried to make him understand that he was overbearing in this respect.  Many put up with his overbearing intrusiveness because they were charmed by his generous, compassionate and self-sacrificing mask.  Larry was considered a “good ole boy” who would literally give you the shirt off his back. Why not?  It proved what a great guy he was!

In the end, he walked away from applying himself to life in a successful way because it “doesn’t interest me”.  Worldly things were not important to Larry because they were transitory and meaningless.  He was a talented and compassionate man to outsiders only and, in this way, created a life for himself without internal meaning in order to both fulfill the demands of his God and his parents, and to punish them, himself, and now me.

At the time, however, I simply saw his willingness to help others as proof of his goodness and purity of heart.  All I had to do was figure out how to support him properly and all his good works for others would, in the end, act in beneficial ways for his family.  After all, if a person does good works, he is promised to be taken care of by God.  Doesn’t the Bible say “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the mighty, but God rewards those whom he loves?” If we loved God, and demonstrated this love by helping others, we would be loved back by God, right?

I think that the reader realizes at this point that I had, in fact, “married my mother”.

Yup.  I was so sure that I wasn’t going to repeat the mistakes of my mother and marry anyone who drank or was violent or who would not be a good parent.  I had proof that Larry would not abandon me or the children because he had raised the children of his ex-wife faithfully and dutifully, right?  Being convinced that Larry was the right one because it was “God’s will,” and because he was a righteous, church-going, non-drinking, hard-working man, I was sure that I had managed to score a coup here.  I had avoided the mistakes of Mother.  What is so gruesomely ironic was that I simply replaced her with Larry  in my life.  They were like two peas in a pod.  Only I didn’t see it then!

Children do have a powerful tendency to grow up and marry the kind of person who is similar to the parent of the opposite sex.  Girls “marry their fathers,” and boys “marry their mothers”.  I was on the look-out for that one!  What I didn’t realize was that this was not necessarily a hard and fast rule.  We marry a person who reproduces in our life the conditions of our childhood.

Every child loves their parent, no matter how abusive that parent is.  We love our parents even if all we can remember from our childhood is pain and suffering.  We also begin to associate this pain with the occasional moments of love that we experienced from the parent, and most definitely, we associate this pain with our own love for them.

If our beloved parent(s) never kept their promises to us, we marry someone who forgets their obligations to us.  If our parent made a slave of us and did not help with the work, we marry someone who leaves the lion’s share of the work to us.  If we felt constantly insecure and unanchored by a parent who did not provide for us financially or materially, we are attracted to mates who cannot or do not earn sufficient income to take care of us.  If our parent was not one who touched us in sincere affection, we marry someone who only touches us for sex, never for simple affection.  In the end, we weep for our suffering childhood and cannot see that we have recreated it in our present.  We block out the fact that we love our mate because he or she mistreats us in exactly the ways we have come to associate with love.  We can’t see the fact that we have chosen a partner who exactly duplicates the conditions in which we did not receive love and nurture as a child, to continue to try to find the way to get that love from the parent.  In the end, the most terrible realization is that we have married someone not because we really love them, but because we need to get them to love us in order to get love from our rejecting parent!

As a child, every time my overtures to my mother were met with coldness and rejection, there was a feeling produced in me that somehow I was to blame for these responses.  The fact that I had also felt abandoned by my father, even if the true conditions of this event had not been truthfully communicated to me, added to the idea that I wasn’t lovable, nice, acceptable or pretty enough to be admired, loved and respected.  This psychological abandonment became my model for love, and the actions of the child who constantly watched and sought ways to get close to the parent were focused in an obsessive and addictive way upon Larry.  My goal was, as with my mother, to love enough, to give enough, to sacrifice enough, to turn Larry into a loving, giving and available husband and father.  I kept trying, and the worse it got, the harder it was for me to stop trying.

When we discussed our future together, Larry promised me the sun and moon.  I discovered he expected it from me!  I fell into a pattern of asking for change in a tentative way.  I had to get up very early to figure out ways to talk to Larry that would not set off his rejecting diatribes that included all the faults I was known to possess.  These were, according to him, the reason for his own behaviors and even his failures.  His rejection mode was like a stick of dynamite that could go off at any moment, and I had to think hard and choose my words carefully not to light the fuse.

Larry demanded attention and consideration from all of us, as our family grew, but seldom gave any back unless it was in the specific context of what he wanted to do.  I used to joke that he was “strategically helpless,” but it was a constant oppressive burden to deal with his lack of interest in the practicalities of life.  He denied this, pointing out how hard he worked in his garden to grow fresh vegetables for us to eat, and how he caught fresh fish for the family on his many fishing expeditions.  Wasn’t that “for us?” Couldn’t I see how much effort he was putting forth “for the family?”

Well, fine.  Now, go out and make enough money so we can pay the bills and I don’t have to lie awake all night worrying how I am going to keep a roof over their heads, clothes on their bodies and shoes on their feet!  That would be a real help!  I could send him to get milk for the children, and he’d return hours later.  He’d stopped to pick up a hitch-hiker whom “God directed him” to drive to his destination instead of putting him out where their routes diverged.

As a child, Larry was bailed out of his problems by his mother.  In a sense, I became his mother.  Larry was like a baby holding onto me for dear life.  Like an infant, he was unavailable when I needed him, and uncooperative when I tried to get him to face the facts of the real world.  He hid in his religion, leaving the management of real life to God, his preacher and me.  Fishing and hunting were good enough for him, so it should be good enough for us, too.

The only material thing that really concerned Larry was that the children and I should be right there, available to him, at all hours of the day or night.   His reason for this was that the world was so dangerous a place that we could not be allowed to go anywhere or do anything at all.  The terrors of the “outside” world were described to us in graphic detail.  Satan lurked around every corner.  Corruption was in everyone we would meet, so best not to meet anyone.  Of course, none of this applied to him.  He joked regularly and repeatedly about the possibility that I would meet someone and Satan would take hold of my mind, and I would leave him.  Women had to be guarded and suppressed because, of course, they were the reason for the fall of man from grace.  Any pleasurable activity for a woman meant that she was a “delicious woman,” and that was only a euphemism for a whore.

My perceptions of Larry in the beginning were that he was also a rebel against the “empty and meaningless” life.  I was deceived by his seeming ability to survive in unconventional ways.  I was so oppressed myself, that his defiance against the world and its oppressors, couched in religious terms, made me think he was like me.  By attaching myself to him, I’d have a champion to stand up for me, protect me, and most of all, love me as I was, with all my perceived flaws, even though I had been pursued all my life by a Face at the Window.

In the end, I had grown the way I was bent.  Because I loved my mother, and she was incapable of loving me back, I was conditioned to continue to try to get “blood out of a stone”.  Sure, you can’t – but I was trained to keep trying.  I think that I felt that by bonding with Larry, I could somehow cure my Mother.  If I could find the key to his heart, I could heal my mother also.  I learned to love people who could not love me back.  And I was conditioned to tolerate and even actively work to maintain a relationship with someone no healthy person would have tolerated for one minute.

At the same time, to Larry, love was weakness, a trap.  When I said “I love you,” I was essentially asking to be hurt.  Larry never trusted me, and our relationship was a continual test of my total devotion.  If I did not submit to his ideas and will, the threat of being discarded as no good was dangled over my head.  If I persisted in disagreeing with him or resisting his demands, “I give up on you, you are worthless,” and he stormed out.  I was required to agree with his opinions, spiritual positions, or treating the children like little automatons who should never have a thought or feeling of their own.  As time went by, his regression into ever more bizarre and paranoid fundamentalism made these demands on our minds not only outrageous but also impossible to fulfill.

One day he was courting me and wanting me and swearing devotion to me and my child and the coming baby.  We discussed it reasonably, and made our commitments to one another.  The next day – and I am not joking here – he informed me that no woman was going to dictate anything to him.  Not even so much as a gentle suggestion that he tuck in his shirt to go to church.  (That conversation really happened!)

My expressions of love and concern actually triggered these nasty reactions.  Larry was aware that I was emotionally attached to him, so he expected to be able to use me like an appliance.

In the end, he even added the children to his nasty and insulting diatribes, but only the ones who had the courage to stand up to him.  Like all women who “love too much,” my own blind spot was unknown to me.  I fell into the hands of an angry, Narcissistic rebel looking for revenge.  And I had a child and another on the way.

Well, it’s a fine mess I got myself into – again.

There was my mother, conditioned to fail at whatever she did, always on the look-out for someone to blame.  And now Larry, the angry rebel who needed to screw up so he could punish his parents for their oppression.  In the middle there was me, Grandma, and my little girl, all trying to give love and support to these two.  What do you think was going to happen?

Continue to Chapter 24: The Poisoned Apple

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