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How to Die Like I Am Living.

When the doctor said, “Now, I don’t want this to throw you into a tailspin,” my reaction was delayed. I said, “Okay,” to her, and thought, Why would I be thrown into a tailspin?

I went back to the front desk and handed over my credit card and listened patiently as the receptionist explained the next steps in getting the necessary biopsy. I nodded along, thanking her excessively, while thinking about what the difference is between something looking like cancer and something being cancer. By the time I got into the truck, I had begun to breathe more heavily, so I took off my mask while I stared at my steering wheel. I imagined my cervix, or rather the illustrated drawing of someone’s cervix that hung on the wall of the examination room, with little white faces popping up like zits, scowling like a Mr. Yuck sticker staring back at my doctor. That would look like cancer to me. Or maybe she just caught them at a bad time. My brain left the cartoon and started stretching forward to all of the words I knew to be related to cancer. Chemo was the only one that came to mind. And bills. By the time I called my Someone, I was in a tailspin, as the doctor had specifically not ordered.

I was surprised to find myself this alarmed. Of the two of us, I keep a level head, often waiting far too long to go to a doctor when I know that I should. But my impending feeling of doom that had landed two weeks ago seemed to have some legitimacy, and I was painfully sobered by the possibility.

“What do you mean, ‘they found something that looks like cancer’?” he asked me. I thought of the Mr. Yucks hanging out inside of me, unwilling to say one way or another. I felt heavy, dirty, and panicked.

“I guess just what they said. We are not supposed to be in a tailspin.” And then, as I stayed steady, the world spun.

I spent a lot of my early 20’s in Asheville, and even while it isn’t the town I remember now, the streets are mostly the same. My body made the wise choice of auto-piloting me to the parking garage I used for work at the art gallery downtown. I called my Someone again once I’d parked, just to hear the air on the line, hanging up again to walk. Everything became so serious. Everything became time. My life and the entire world were picked up like a piece of paper, curled and full of everything and everyone I knew so far, and was tilting toward a giant, ominous black trash can. In its new form, I assessed by responsibility.

A hot cup of tea to-go: Good. Will consume within one hour. I definitely have an hour.

The $12 tea mug bought by the register as a panic purchase: Medium. May use a few times, but then will only be clutter for my Someone later, causing him to ask the question “When did she even get this mug?” May also be a point of compassion, “She believed she would make it.”

A chocolate truffle: Great. Eaten within seconds. Second truffle, also great. Helps one forget that she is eating time itself.

A book about bookbinding: Poor. Who has time to get better at a new craft when one is no longer good at living?

Animal, vegetable, mineral were just time, moving around me, avoiding me, crashing into me. I called my Someone again. I don’t remember if we said anything. Hung up. I ran into Megan at the parking garage. She’ll be due in January. She is holding time still within her, and I am letting it eat me away. She is a perfect human, I remember, making a perfect human. We are all perfect humans. And then, there is time.

I picked my littlest dog up from Kristie’s house, who let me stay as I had doctor appointments and online classes. I helped my dog into the back seat and sat in the parking lot of the apartment complex. I called my Someone again, we said something, and I hung up again. I began driving toward Black Mountain, the town I lived in right out of college. Some of the best friends I have came from that time. I was going to pick up vegetables from a community based program that asks no questions and offers anyone and everyone a box of vegetables for showing up. I waited in line in my car for forty minutes, picking up my phone and putting it down, until I finally did what everyone says not to do. The results were strangely comforting. Almost 100% recovery rate. Hysterectomy. Survival. 

Easy, I thought. Then, said aloud, “It could be nothing.” My dog looked at me. I looked at her and watched her turn into time, a puppy turned into a middle aged dog with a limp in her back right foot, to a time when she would be here and I would not. I looked back at my phone and remembered the recovery rate. I put my phone down and forgot again. When it was my turn, a kind woman in a flowered mask said, “Lots of great veggies this week! Glad you made it!” I said, “Thank you.” She said, “We have one orchid left, and I think it belongs to you.” I thought, It does belong to me, and said “This feels like a metaphor to me, but okay.” They put a box of vegetables on the passengers seat and the orchid next to it. I looked at the orchid and watched it turn into time as I imagined myself feeding it two ice cubes a week. I imagined the orchid as a soul for my cervix. I imagined it looking up at me and saying, “You live if I do, lady.” I patted the moss on the bottom of the planter and said, “Okay.”

Orchid: Bad. Definitely a burden to someone else when I am gone. Definitely not rooting for me. 

I drove my truck and my vegetables and my orchid to Lake Tomahawk, a small little pond that has a full view of the Seven Sisters mountains. I walked my dog around the 3/4 mile pond. I recognized someone. I said hello. We talked. I wanted to ask her about cancer, but instead I asked how she was doing. I praised myself for being so put together, then I felt sick as I saw the sun on the mountains. It’s all just so fucking beautiful, I thought. I said, “Okay, let’s go” to my dog, and we climbed into the truck and drove my vegetables and my orchid back to Kristie’s. 

I tried to pawn my orchid off on Kristie.

It didn’t take.

I sat around a fire with four women I love. Most of them I met in Black Mountain. Before we opened the wine, Annie said, “How was your appointment today?” I cried. I told them. I asked if anyone wanted an orchid. I made a joke and everyone laughed. When I drove away, I felt more sure. Everything was going to be okay. 

I did not think: They will think I’m a fool if I don’t have cancer.

I did not think: I should not have told anyone.

I thought: I hope we can celebrate later when me and my orchid are cancer free.

I called my Someone and said something and ate the caramel truffle I was saving for him. I hung up. Later in my bed, the first time I’ve slept alone in five years, I was awake. I let the sadness take me so I could fall asleep like the horse in the swamp in my favorite childhood movie. No one was there to yell “Don’t let the sadness take you!” and it was more comfortable this way, and so the sadness became sleep. My dog and I didn’t move the entire night. When I woke up early, very early, I thought, I am wasting time. Then I got out of bed.

The world did not shift back like I’d anticipated. Not even after 6 sleeps. I told more people. I am not ashamed of being wrong, but I am terribly ashamed of being alone. Ann said to not panic, yet. We don’t know anything. But then she said, “But when you do panic, let me know, and I can take it from there. I’ll panic for you, so you can relax.”

I let Ann panic for me for five days. I worried that she’d grown tired from the marathon of panic, but instead, she called me and sounded cheerful and let me say things I thought might be true and could also be false, and also things that were definitely true like, “I’m scared.” I did not say, “I wish I had not said anything at all.” 

I fed my orchid two ice cubes on Sunday.

The biopsy was horrible.

There’s not a way around that.

But at least it was the next thing.

Bryan said, “That’s a thing. Now we wait.”

I thought, I want the next thing to be now. I said, “Yes. That thing is over. Now we wait.”

I like Bryan and the way he speaks in present “we” tense. I put him in a column of “People Who May Enjoy a Dead Lady’s Orchid” while I finished off the cookies Amanda had made and sent Steve to drop off for me in the parking lot of my biopsy. I was glad to have told Amanda because her baking is some of the best I know. And also, because eating her cookies made me feel less alone.

The day after my biopsy, I tried to get Jessica to take my orchid again. She did not. When I texted her and said “Your forgot your orchid,” she texted back “hahahaha.”

I suspected she also thinks it is the soul of my cervix. If she’s right, probably no one else should be in charge of it but me.

On Sunday, I fed it two more ice cubes.

It was only two weeks between the doctor saying “Do no let this throw you into a tailspin” and the second doctor calling with my biopsy results. Half of a month. In that time, I spent my time unusually. I could hardly read my books because the stillness made my thoughts more active. At the same time, I was trying so desperately to finish the four books I had started. I did not want my Someone to see a bookmark in them later and be overcome with grief that I didn’t even get finish my books. Then, I would scan the long shelf of books and bemoan the books I never read.

I watched the leaves fall from the trees outside in long episodes, like binging a TV show, and got trapped in my thought rotation of what-if’s-or-it-could-be-nothing’s. Another leaf would fall and I’d become overwhelmed by its beauty, swooning and desperately thinking– how? How can we ask for more than this? How can we get anything done for all of the beauty? But I would say nothing, even as the movement of the wind in the trees made my chest and throat feel like they were filling up with water and I could hardly breathe to keep from weeping.

When I would nearly explode, a call would come, or a text, or my Someone would remind me that it was time to eat. I was grateful for the distraction, even as I prized myself as someone who could face myself no matter the circumstances. But I had never been in this circumstance before. I’d imagined myself, in those dark daydreams, as someone who would quietly warrior her way through, silent and strong and stoic. It turns out, as I lived, so I was fake dying. I was greedy for life. I could not get enough. 

I said to my Someone, “I will not go gracefully.”

He said, “I know.”

I said, “We may find out. I will be kicking and screaming before I let them take me out of this perfect beautiful fucking place.”

And he would squish my head in his arms and be silent and strong and stoic before he would cry and I would try out a new cancer joke I’d been working on through the afternoon while I watched the leaves fall. 

He thought they were very funny, but not appropriate for the general audience.

For three days, we pretended that the election results were the only news we were waiting on. 

It was my first time being grateful to our president.

So, that was new.

The worst part about it is that I’ve already forgotten. But we aren’t there yet. First, the celebration. It went like this:

“Hello, hello, yes, it’s me.”

“Yes, I just want to tell you that we got the results of the biopsy back, and you do not have cancer.”

“Ohmygodthankyouwhatisitthenitdoesn’tmatterwhatisitIdon’thaveitthankyousomuch.”

“Yeah, this is definitely a time to celebrate! Go ahead and take the time to let the news sink in! We will figure out the rest later,” the doctor continued. “I’m so happy this is good news. We did not think that’s where this was headed.”

“Youdidn’tThankyoumetooIhadnoideawhatIwasgoingtodothat’snotreallyyourjobI’mjustsogladitworkedoutIwassoscaredit’snotcancer!ohmygodthatissogreat. What happens next?”

“Take some time. This is big. We will talk later.”

I ran inside where my Someone waited, staring at the front door.

“BENIIIIIIIIIGN!” I yelled.

“BENIIIIGN!” he yelled. 

Text after text after text after text– benign, benign, benign, benign.

We drank wine that night and made something spectacular to eat, though it doesn’t register now what it was. That’s where the forgetting begins. As I hung up with the doctor, so the world snapped back. I was no longer clammering my way up the slick sheet of paper, watching everything I’d accumulated tumbling past into the eternal trash. I was upright. Still. Full. 

As painful as was the waiting, so was it terribly tender. Everything mattered. I’ve known those moments briefly before this, and I will know them briefly again. But the cocoon of meaning, the nestling of every word and moment and kindness– just as I can’t live with that amount of worry, so I can’t live with all the sweetness. How could I get anything done? How could I enjoy my life while also recognizing the fullness of it? The beauty of the light in a room in the afternoon would be enough to paralyze me for days. 

I am turned, though, with my face toward empathy and my hands in the now. Death may be the end of life, but it is also life’s expansion. While I am not so sensitive to every falling leaf for the sake of getting emails out on time, I’m not immune to the sacred expansion as I wake up before the sun and walk the woods alone on a cold November morning. Or when I catch my Someone through the window tripping over our big dumb dog. Or as I feed my orchid two more ice cubes on Sundays.

Paper Thin.

I’ve been praying for mine enemies. Or, at least as close to praying as I get. I think it counts– thinking of someone kindly and wishing on a star and all the dog hair that’s accumulated on the floor that they can feel it. I think doing so while on a yoga mat covers most of my spiritual bases, either way.

It didn’t happen intentionally. I didn’t squeeze my face really hard and think good thoughts. So maybe, rather, it did happen intentionally, but in little pieces along the way like the best of intentions. Like when I told that story of my mother to my in-laws– the one about how she would take my breakfast order every morning before school and serve it alongside a cup of milky black tea with a half spoonful of sugar the way I liked it. Earlier than that, when I started making the recipes she would make and remember the smell of them walking in from school knowing they were made because I loved them. Telling my Someone about how my father loved a good joke– how he’d whittle it and retell it until he constructed the perfect version before moving on to a new one.

This morning, when my parents popped into my mind and a pseudo-prayer formed, it didn’t feel like a surprise. Or, maybe it did, but more of a natural surprise, if that’s a thing. Like the feeling you get when you see the leaves changing in September. You’ve hung around all summer knowing Fall is on the way, it’s the progression of enduring long hot days. But seeing the change is still a surprise. A soft one.

Maybe in the same way a white woman like me craves a pumpkin spice latte at the sight of changing leaves, an estranged child like me craves forgiveness at the sight of small progress. So I moved my weird prayer-creatures to my temporary writing desk and started a list of all the ways I am like my father that I don’t begrudge. It looks like this:

All the Ways I Am Like My Father That I Don’t Begrudge

  1. I am the owner of my own business, and have so far succeeded.
  2. my love for a good joke.
  3. my ability to make a boring story come alive, and a great story transcend.
  4. the twinkle in my eye when I’ve just had a funny or good idea.
  5. my ability to problem solve with efficiency and detail.
  6. my strong sense of justice.
  7. my love of solitude.
  8. my ability to be both the central and supporting character in my own life.
  9. my expressive face.
  10. my inability to resist music I like with my body– fingers & toes tapping, body swaying, head nodding against my will.
  11. my unwavering devotion to the one I love.
  12. my love of a good dinner.
  13. how I get quiet when I step into the woods.

I was shocked at the ease of it. I felt I could go on, but I worried about the risk of sinking into the begrudging– like adding my wild temper, my impassiveness in the face of compromise, the way I narrow my eyes when I’m about to say something dagger sharp in my anger. And once I stepped into that mess, I’d need a lot more paper.

Not that I’m in a shortage of it these days.

My Someone & I landed the jackpot of sequestering at the end of this year. For the last month, we’ve found ourselves in the kindness of friends in a historic house in Opelika, Alabama. The dogs have a big back yard. We have our own rehearsal space. The kitchen has enough room for me to experiment with strange Scottish confections I found on the internet and him to make big batches of sauerkraut & kombucha. And on top of having the opportunity to take an online book binding course, I’ve also had the pleasure of learning how to make paper on account of staying in the house of a paper artist. It’s really taken me. I spend late afternoons before dinner walking across the yard to the studio, swishing around and slapping water, both delicate and nonsensically haphazard, forming sheets with varying degrees of conformity. The process is messy and easily washed at once. It’s the kind of trouble I like to be in. I’ve relished being a novice, experimenting and playing like I used to with Play-Dough, but also feeling very grown up. Like an artist.

The process begins with boiling down bark– stick-like, tough stuff that’s been soaked for hours or days ahead. Then, when it’s been sufficiently broken down, you let loose and beat the hell out of it. To a pulp. Literally. The importance of beating it and not just throwing it in a blender is that you are looking to extend the fibers’ surface area, not cut them up, so that they have more room to latch on to one another in the vat. The vat, where the fibers are thrown in– a big tub of water mixed with a Formation Aid that helps the fibers go where they need to go– is my favorite part. It’s mysterious and murky, and you have to take your hand and churn the water so the fibers go every which way. The vat is a space for chaos, moving every inch of water until you dip your mould & deckle in and pull straight up toward your face, where you confront the chaos immediately– fibers land where they may– to make one sheet of paper. Unless it seems the piece isn’t complete, or is lopsided, or just doesn’t feel right. Then, you can turn the whole thing upside down and slap it back onto the vat in a fashion called “kissing off,” churn the water more, and try again. But when you are satisfied with it, these pieces are pressed and drained and dried in the hours and sometimes days to come. But that part– the chaos to creation that’s pulled up out of the vat and to my face– that’s where the transformation happens.

At least, until a week later, when I’ve formed the paper into a book where I am listing All the Ways that I Am Like My Father That I Don’t Begrudge. Though that transformation isn’t unlike the paper itself. I’ve boiled down my grievances. I’ve beaten every detail to a pulp, late at night, awake with a giant baton, over and over again. These thoughts, this hurt, it had to be beaten that way. It had to expand. I had to get it all out, beat it from every angle. When I’d fully beaten it, I kept throwing it in the vat, accumulating fiber and adding in water– small kindnesses, deep breaths, long walks– to ease the tension. I’ve been churning that vat with my own hands and pulling up that hurt, facing it in a new form, repetitiously.

We almost choked on our laughter at you…

I know you want nothing to do with us, but…

I’m never calling you again…

I press it, then write a new list, then dip my hand in and churn the vat again.

What happens at the end, however, is that if you stop adding fiber to the vat, the paper becomes thinner and thinner, no matter how much you churn. The fibers, since worked over and expanded, can still hold together. Thin, but there. But keep working a bit further, pulling the mould and deckle up again and again, and eventually, there is nothing left but a few misplaced fibers in a tub of water.

It seems I’ve finally thinned my grief to clearer water.

I don’t know what comes after that. Maybe what I’ve been pulling up all this time, piece by piece, hasn’t been complete chaos, but the small intention toward forgiveness. Forgiveness, I think, may not be the washing away of all those grievous fibers, but accumulating them in one place to repurpose the relationship. Forgiveness, in this way, may be paper thin, but durable enough to draft the next chapter. Or at least write a list of things I don’t begrudge.

With a little room in the process, still, to tell it all to go kiss off.

White Robe Privilege

My Book Club is talking about Heaven, and I just realized I didn’t buy a ticket.

They’re describing acres to run, perfect gardens, and even talking animals. I feel particularly jealous about the talking animals. I’ve been coaxing my littlest dog, Puddle, to talk to me every morning for years. I get into her face first thing and say “What is this? What is this cuting for? Tell me! Tell me right now! What is all this cuting for?!” There’s part of me that thinks if I just ask her one more time, that will be enough that she will finally have the answer to my question that only she has the answer to. But she just wags her tail and does this hoppity thing with her front paws that I interpret as “I love you so much” but is more likely “It’s time for breakfast.”

What I’m saying is, don’t think I wouldn’t swear allegiance on any damn book so that I could have talking animals.

Instead, I read through the text chain and feel a little smarted in my heart’s mailbox. They aren’t being exclusive. In fact, the invitation is in there– it’s always there. The problem isn’t the dress code, either. I can play the part, I can rent the tux. I did it for years. The company is sweet, and I love them each specially, and they love me specially.

But even for all of the talking animals, I can’t seem to enjoy a great party in Heaven while just under my feet, a majority of the world burns in Hell.

I’ve been connecting the dots these last couple weeks. Which is how I found out that my complacency in social justice– and my awakening– has been hinged on my ticket to Heaven as long as I’ve known. While my kind, compassionate, empathetic Book Club friends have found a way to live with the cognitive dissonance and love without bounds, it seems that I can’t ride the train to Glory and also love my neighbor.

For as long as it has taken me to see my white privilege, it should not be shocking that it took me years to find my salvation without examination. It appeals to a pretty base level of entitlement: I did the right thing. I followed the rules, or– more loosely– I invited Jesus Christ into my heart to live eternally forever. Or, I was born into the “right” religion. Pretty standard equations for getting in.

As it turns out, renting my heart’s room out to the Right Guy left little space for me to worry about who else was getting into the party. The party was at my house, after all. I’m already here. Sure, others were destined for the worst damned eternity of their lives, and I totally feel bad about that, but, really, it’s their choice, right? If they wanted to do something about it, they would.

It’s not for me to decide for them.

Let God sort ’em out.

There’s only so much I can do.

If I can do it, so can they!

They should work harder.

Do the crime, pay the time.

Even if these weren’t at the forefront of my mind, they were the pillow of peace I made myself each night to be able to sleep while being part of a system– real or imaginary– that benefit me. A system that looks strikingly familiar to a United States that often refers to itself as a Christian Nation.

That doesn’t seem coincidental.

There’s one big reason that I can’t get on board with the system of Heaven and Hell. That reason is dinner.

Of the two of us, I am far better at ordering the perfect dinner from the menu. Early on, my Someone would order haphazardly and safely, leaving him a little unhappy about his plate. Inevitably, when the meals arrived, I would say “We should just split it.” His visible transformation from disappointment to delight was better than fancy food all to myself, anyway.

When I occasionally have ordered wrong, the pattern continues. Food is emotional for me. Picking wrong feels like there is something wrong with me. My Someone knows this, and because my delight is his delight, we split it. It’s a good system.

If my Someone and I can figure out in our limited judgement and emotional baggage how to defeat a system of haves-and-have-nots, I find it impossibly short sighted and negligent that a Great Loving God can’t go splitsies if someone orders “wrong” from the Celestial menu. I can’t imagine Her golden peas and holy wine would be slurped down in good conscience while someone across the table from Her stares despondently at a turd on their plate when they thought– hoped– they’d ordered the Special.

I mean, this is basic human level stuff.

What if it goes like this:

There is a Heaven, and it’s true that only people who have rented space in their hearts to Jesus Christ get in, and the rest of us who either didn’t have space or evicted the guy for being too sloppy are sent to Hell.

They’re all there with talking animals and fruit trees with not a one of them forbidden, and its the Golden Age of Christianity. Assuming that not everyone gets their brains wiped completely clean when they get in and have to deal with the grief of also losing themselves for forever– one guy at dinner is like,

“Hey, has anyone seen Mallory around here?”

And there’s a murmur and people look down at their golden peas and lots of people take sips of holy wine to try and ease the discomfort, because we all known that she didn’t take the ticket on account of feeling morally conflicted for agreeing to a religion as Fire Insurance.

What if then, the guy is like “We should really think about bringing some of those Hell people up. I mean, what’s a good party without party people?”

And while no one says anything right away, there’s unrest. And soon, all of the Heaven people are thinking about the fiery prison bars of Hell and all of the people there who ordered wrong, and then realize that while there are acres to run, they are also in their own prison bars of their conscience– of their privilege.

There are protests.

And why wouldn’t there be? This was supposed to be a space where everyone could come and be free.

Here is what I know to be true: when I believed I was going to Heaven in contrast to those who were going to Hell, I created distance. I didn’t want to get too close to those who are inevitably going to run in different eternal circles. Especially the obstinate kind who seemed to be happy. God, those people were the worst. Laugh all the way to Hell, why don’t you!

Here is something else I knew to be true: when I consented to the system– Celestial or Earthly– as being “the way it is,” I did not have the imagination to believe it could be anything else. Because anything else, and all of my hard work at winning the system would be wasted. What a shame.

Here is something else I know to be true: as I have let go of my ticket to Heaven, I have more deeply connected to people here on Earth. I have also had a startling and rather rude awakening to my social inertia. It was painful, but I have not felt this alive since… before I was “saved.”

I hope it’s all true– the part about on Earth as it is in Heaven. While it may be a smidge uncomfortable for Christians to share the space they worked so hard for, I can’t imagine wanting to be at a party of only Christians. Partly, because what else would they have to talk about? I can’t imagine the lack of love, color, and perspective without those other religions, the Wiccans, the atheists, the mysteriously in-betweens like me.

So, I’m not reserving my ticket for Heaven. I’m not using salvation as a free pass on social justice. The mindset is inhibiting, complacent. After all, I may need the practice. We may need to burn down Heaven, too, to make it right.

Or, I hope to God or Lucifer that there’s at least one Buddhist dog I can talk to in Hell.

To Interrupt this Bloodcast.

I’m the daughter of a bigot, who is the son of an unashamed racist. She was also terrified of cats, any kind, not just the black ones. But the black ones sent her into a conniption.

I sometimes talk about my grandmother’s phobia of cats– or, ailurophobia– as a charming anecdote in conversation. She lived in a white house at the back of the family compound, behind the tall pine trees of her youngest sister, my Great Aunt Mildred, and kept a skeptical eye on the renters in her mother’s old house across the driveway.

When a stray cat would appear, she’d hide in her house, calling my father by phone to have him “take care of it.” My mother always blanketed it for me, but he’d often leave with a gun.

The power of fear is that it can kill cats.

And people.

I was never allowed to have a cat. It’s taken most of my life to come around to them. It required intentional interaction and continual effort. Cats were bad. Dogs were good.

I’m going to stop the metaphor, now.

Because part of becoming anti-racist is to look the racism squarely in the eye and call it by its name. And racism is not a cat. It’s a fucking disease. And I have it. It’s a public health crisis, and I am perpetuating it.

I knew which words were racial slurs and which were not by my father correcting my grandmother in front of us. After she passed, he started using the words himself, often during a joke at the dinner table or at the company picnic. Then it was his children’s responsibility to correct him. He’d laugh and brush it off. He wasn’t a racist. Grandma was a racist. He was having fun.

I thought that my dinner table objections starting at the age of 5 somehow disqualified me from being a racist. And yet, when I met a person of color, my brain would scan the information and find my father’s and grandmother’s voices, making those jokes, saying those words. I’d want to throw up. And then, I would remain silent. My interactions were stilted and limited, afraid that the voices that existed in my brain would somehow surface, that the people I was interacting with would somehow hear it and see me as a racist.

This is not how to become anti racist. This is suppressing the problem.

That’s what I’ve learned this week.

And now, I am doing things differently.

I am identifying those voices and I am chasing them out. I am admitting that they are there, and to do that I have to turn on the lights. Because the first step to change is admitting there’s a problem, and my internal narrative is a problem. There are too many people in there. As much as I believe there is generational trauma, I believe there is generational hate, passed through the DNA of my grandmother’s white racist blood through my father to me. I listen to it spew out of my sister and brother’s mouths. I hear it bubbling up from my nephews.

I hear it in my spiked heart rate when I pass through a “bad neighborhood.”

Dispelling racism is more than calling it out at the dinner table. That’s still making me the good guy. I have to do one better than just doing a little better than the generations before me. I need to recognize it in my blood and get a transfusion. And then, I need to do it again. Racism will never be in remission. It will require constant vigilance, treatment after treatment after treatment.

I’m not yet a cat person, but I am a people person, so it’s about time I cut the telephone cord to my past, step out of my white house, and act like it.

I guess the metaphor works, after all.

Like a Motherless Child

When I was 15, I had a job but no car, and a relatively cranky disposition from being held down by the powers that be.  When Mother’s Day came around, I was unprepared.  After church, I holed up in my room, and wrote my mom a song.  It was naive and tacky, like any early songs, but I cringe at it for a different reason.  It’s a solid start–

Moms around the world get diamonds and pearls
For all the things they do.
Those I did not buy, I hope you don’t mind–
I wrote this song for you.

Not a great songwriter, yet, but I was excellent at term papers.  Here is the synopsis– a brief overview, and what you can expect.  Do not expect to be given precious jewels on a 15-year-old’s pay grade.  Check.  Understand that there are better gifts, but you are merely getting a song.  Check.  Appeal to empathy and understanding in this hack job of a gift.  Check.

I was on a roll.  But it’s the second verse that stings–

In the years I’ve lived you promised to give
The love I don’t always deserve.
And without a doubt, I can’t figure out,
How you always live up to your word.

Sure, it’s all out flattery– a nod to the power structure, the binding agreement that she is, in fact, the mother, and I am the one she cooked for 9 months before spewing me out.  But what I can’t figure is, why was I undeserving of love?  When did it occur to me that being born and growing up and going through puberty with all of its normal human changes somehow made me unworthy?  Not to brag, but I was a straight A student.  I willingly went to church three or four times a week.  I participated in extracurricular activities and most of the time even dressed the way my parents preferred– with a brief goth period somewhere in the middle.  But even if I hadn’t been a picture, I was their daughter.  I didn’t choose to be here.  I didn’t choose to be someone’s daughter.

But wait, the self loathing continues into the minor key chorus:

Through joys and sorrow,
Though tears have fallen
And skies will turn to grey–
Through the changing seasons,
I know not the reason,
You’ve stayed with me all the way.

But I should know the reason.  The reason is because I exist.  I am a human being.  Which means, even with all of those shortcomings we have, I am deserving of my mother’s love.

My groveling humility may have been foresight.  After all, the seasons have changed, and my mother is no longer staying with me.  Certainly not all the way.  Maybe that happened when I stopped groveling and started asking for the unconditional kind of love.

girlsvsboysIt’s much easier to be a son than a daughter on Mother’s Day.  It may be true that it’s easier to be a son than a daughter any day.  But Mother’s Day, in particular, for all of the after-bedtime banners I crafted and jingles to the tune of “Rockin’ Robin” I composed, for all the bedazzling and, later in life, flowers and cards I’d give, it could never quite compare to my brother.  He would stumble out of his room, or call from wherever he was living and mumble “Um, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”  That’s it.

I couldn’t bedazzle enough handmade cards to catch that kind of glimmer in her eye.

mic

It was the local gossip at the dinner table, who’s having kids, who’s moving out.  I’ve been coming to this town for a decade, but never quite got the hang of the town patter.  My Someone chirped here and there, but mostly we sat, vaguely listening and occasionally side barring in the California sunset.

“I heard they had four daughters,” someone said.

“Oh, what a shame,” someone else replied.

My Someone got rigid.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he said.

I shook my head slightly and looked down.  I swallowed my anger.  He should know by now.  Hasn’t he watched it again and again?  Hasn’t he watched me doing my very best?  Hasn’t he heard me tell a story just to be interrupted– “But what about him?”

It’s much harder to be a daughter.  And not just because the whole world demands that you earn your love while it’s given freely to your brother.  But because our mothers never felt that they earned theirs.

What a shame.

scott

It was time to wrap this gift up.  I wrote the final verse–

There may come a day, though I’m much afraid
When I step out there on my own.
Come as it may, I might be far away,
But I know I won’t face it alone.

And I didn’t.

My mother cried when she sat in my bedroom listening to it.  She cried when I graduated high school and college.  She cried when I told her I’d been abused for four years right under her nose by a man who she and my father repeatedly invited into their home.  She cried when I moved away and never came back.  She cried when I asked her to let me be her daughter again.  She cried when I asked her, for the last time almost a year ago, to call me– just call me.  Just once a month.

I don’t know if she cries for me, anymore.  She’s sent a couple of texts.  She’s sent an email.  She’s even sent a large check I’ll never cash to bribe me back.  She’s tried every which way but the way I asked for, the way I know I deserve.  A phone call.

Or maybe the point of the silence is, I don’t deserve it.

That can’t be true, though.  Not anymore.  Here is how I know.

I’ve had a gaggle of women stepping up.  From a college professor to my college and post-college housemates, an estranged aunt, one good sister, and my friends’ mothers.  I’ve been called the daughter they never had.  I’ve been called a good friend.  I’ve been offered to join other peoples’ families.  I’ve accepted it.  Because there are a lot of people out there who have come to love being a daughter, and in turn love their daughters– and other people’s daughters.

In this way, I am getting the love I didn’t know I’ve always known I deserve.  In this way, I throw the line out–

“I don’t deserve this!”

I wait for the objection.  And it comes.

Yes, you do. 

I have a lot of hope for my friends’ daughters.  Because I have a lot of hope for me, too.

I’m a much better songwriter, now.  I reckon it’s time for a rewrite.  We daughters deserve it.

34.

000224790035When I was born 34 years ago, I tried to breathe too soon.  This story is one of my Someone’s favorites about me.  He gets teary eyed and smiles and pulls my head to his chest and giggles a little.  It makes me like that story, too.

What happened after I tried to breathe too soon, is that I inhaled fluid to my lungs.  I was stuck in Baby ICU while they sucked it out with what I like to imagine was a tiny turkey baster, and then I had to wait days until I was allowed to breathe by myself again.  For a lot of years, I believed that this was another story about how I messed up, how I was overzealous, how I couldn’t get it right like everyone else, and ended up holding myself back because of it.

I’m always quick to hop the nest.  And then I am caught midair, wingless, falling fast to the ground.  It gets me into trouble.

The story looks different at 34.  My whole life is centered around breathing.  Yoga, singing, keeping my cool.  There is no one who understands the importance of a deep breath better than I do.  It would make sense that I couldn’t wait to get started, to get my lungs full of what is next, to come out ready to wail.

And then, to wait.  To have tried– excited and untamed– and then to be still, waiting and watching and learning what it really means to breathe.  I didn’t mess up.  I took a chance.  And then, before I knew I needed healing, I was being healed.  I’ve been breathing ever since, for 34 years, with only a few hiccups.

I didn’t learn my lesson.  I didn’t learn to watch where I step, to pause before breathing.  But I don’t think that’s the lesson anymore.  It’s one of my favorite stories about me.  A little no-nothing baby who is ready before she is ready, taking a gulp of whatever is next before anyone can tell her so.

Way to go, kid.

A Sickening Snail’s Pace.

In our quarantine, we have found a rhythm to try and keep each day in its proper place.  Wake up.  Yoga.  Shower.  Drink coffee. Walk the dogs.  Then there’s the span in the middle that gets muddled.  Then dinner, another walk, and watch the sunset from the front porch and wonder where the day went before the muddy end with a movie or books or trying to stop working but feeling guilty if I don’t get one more thing done but there’s never time to have a break.  Through most of it, I am calculating when the living starts.  Presence isn’t my strong suit.

This isn’t so different from my normal life, except with running water and the consistent walk through the orange groves surrounding my Someone’s childhood home in Central California.  I wish for rain most days.  I like the weather matching the mood.  And lately, it’s complied, and caused new problems.  Any time I get what I want, it usually causes new problems.

I’m a vegetarian by choice, though I suspect also by nature.  It’s a difficult and conflicting reckoning for me in matters of pets and food, swatting mosquitoes and crying over grasshoppers.  For years, maybe in thanks to the racing snail in Neverending Story, escargot had been at the top of my cognitive dissonance list.  And with the recent rains I asked for, the snails have been creeping out every which way in the orange groves.  Including under my feet.

Our mental health walks became mental catastrophes.  I hopped around them, moving quick like a bunny, only finding the death toll increasing.  Then I tried moving slow, accidentally crushing one while avoiding another.

000573850008There’s a pandemic out there, I’m aware.  There are bigger, faster problems than snails.

But maybe it goes like this:

I wanted to give up.  And for a few steps, I did.  I closed my eyes and walked ahead, telling myself that the unfamiliar crunching wasn’t a real life.  It was a rock.  That it didn’t matter.  That my plans shouldn’t be disrupted by a crummy dummy little snail.  That it was beyond my control.  But then something pushed hard into my brain under my closed eyes and heavy feet–

You have to try.

You have to try.

You have to try.

Maybe one snail less in the world isn’t going to matter to anyone.  But it might.  So I opened my eyes again and looked down.  I tried.  Not always with success, but I tried.

I’m more grateful for sunny days on our walks.  I found a few crushed shells along the way.  When the crowded chaos is gone, the loss is much easier to detect.  I worry that it might have been my fault, and hope that it wasn’t.

I will keep trying, I tell the little gooey carcass.  I have to keep trying.

Hairy Armpits and Putting My Foot Down.

I’m not cutting kale with a knife very often, anymore.  That goes for broccoli, too.  These are added to the list:

I don’t wear makeup.

Or shave my armpits.

Or my legs.

There’s a proactive list, too.  It consists of things like:

Staring back when stared at– especially when doing yoga in a peculiar but public, and perfectly acceptable, place.

Saying things like, “That’s not what I said,” or “Let me finish what I was saying,” or “Excuse me.”

It might look like a slow descent into letting myself go, but that’s inaccurate.  I dress better and spend fewer days in yoga pants all day.  I don’t buy clothing that I know will make me feel bad about myself, or that pinches my glorious little muffin top that I’m becoming so fond of.  I spend much less time reeling over conversations with what I should have said.  I take quicker showers so that I have more time to massage my aching feet and calves, all the way down to my big hairy toes.  I’m eating what I like, and not too much of it.  But sometimes too much of it, and then I forgive me.  Or I celebrate.

None of these things feel rebellious or groundbreaking or revolutionary or even particularly feminist.

It’s not letting myself go.  It’s just letting go.

000431640022In ninth grade, I wore a silky red dress with straps a scanty two finger-widths wide, in black strappy clog heels.  I had entered– or maybe was entered– into the High School Talent Show.  In the weeks ahead, I agonized over which song to sing, practiced until my voice gave out, and stayed up late going over the future scene again and again.

As I stood shaking in the wings of the auditorium, peaking out to see my parents and friends watching expectantly, I tried to bolster.  I heard my name announced, walked to center stage, picked up the cordless microphone with one hand while my other hand clenched a single red rose.  The backing track began.  Just as practiced, I sang through the song, eking through each note and praying that my vocal idiosyncrasies would compensate for my poor intonation from shaking so hard.  On the final chorus, I walked toward the catwalk that stretched around the orchestra pit.  One foot after the other, the end of the song approaching, I made it to the closest point to the audience, the furthest from my starting point, bent down and handed my single rose to some shadowy boy figure in the front.  Then I stood back up and delivered the last notes.

Hot damn, I nailed it.

And I won!  I even beat out my friend Cody who played a Bach piece completely blindfolded (and flawlessly).

Afterwards, my parents celebrated by giving me chocolates and flowers.  They were always good for gifts, and had them on the ready regardless of the outcome.  On the short drive home, they told me I’d done a great job, that the dress was a hit– isn’t it so thinning!–, that the rose had been nothing short of a surprise twist.  And then–

“And your father said– and I agree– that the best part was that you didn’t clunk your way down the catwalk like those other girls your age in those heels.  Every step was completely silent!”

This was the one part I didn’t practice.

It dawns on me now that I learned much earlier than that to step lightly, and take up little space.  But that was the moment the mantra began.  With every pair of high heeled boots and shoes I mangled my feet with from that point forward, my brain accompanied, Softly, softly, quiet, quiet, easy, easy…

My parents were likely doing the best they could, trying to prepare me for the way the world really is.  Coaxing me with compliments has always been a successful tactic.  Especially for a kid who was always too much and somehow also not enough.

But I don’t wear high heels, anymore.  And I’m also learning to put my foot down.

000431630009I suspect this is why I resent my Someone so much for walking.  I can detect his gait from across a large echoing foyer over multiple polite conversations, from an upstairs room, from a distant sidewalk.  He’s a hard walker from cowboy boots to bare feet.  When we moved into our little camper home, it became problematic.  He shook the house just by going to the bathroom, leaving me splattered with boiling pasta water or tipping wine glasses.

But then, even outside the camper, I felt my irritation growing.  Particularly as my parents spoke to me less and less.  Until I exploded.

“You’ve never had to think of anyone else when you walk!” I cried, “You can stomp around all you want, and you can tip over water glasses, and it doesn’t matter– nobody says anything!  But I have to walk around quiet all the time and I never get to be loud and when I am loud I’m not acting right!  It’s not fair!”

I thought of the talent show.

No, it wasn’t fair.  For all the pretty singing and hard practicing I do to move with ease, I am judged by the ripple of sound my footsteps make.  I’d practiced walking “right” all my life, and it still wasn’t enough to be loved.

I went for a walk.  A big stompy one.

09900027From the Women’s Movement to my friends to my online free yoga teacher Adriene– they are all telling me to Take Up Space.  Other than a wide star pose on my mat, I wasn’t sure what that meant.

I’m still working on it.

On stage mid story last month, an angry venue owner with a reputation for condescending women stormed in front of me and told me to shut up and sing.  That if I didn’t start the song right that second, he was cutting me off.  It was shocking for everyone in the room.  I was, of course, humiliated.  But there was something else there.

The headliner of the night, a woman from Texas, performed her set with almost no talking in between songs, timid and lilting.  Afterward, the venue owner said I could learn a thing or two from her.  And that someday, when I was 80-something, I could earn the right to talk on stage, like his list of old white men he loved so much.

I didn’t learn a thing or two from her.  Likely, she and I learned it at the same time.  And now she, being praised into silence, was being used against me.  In this hostile environment, she was surviving, and I was bucking.  I was now all those other girls clunking around on the stage.

Our act hasn’t become quieter.  Sure, I was a little gun shy at first.  But now our show– it’s been foot stomping, story-telling fortified.

And I’ve added “Don’t listen to irrational chauvinists who try and make themselves louder so you will be quieter” to the list.

000431630021Maybe my friend won’t remember it at all, but I think of it with a significant amount of regret on a regular basis.  We were sharing a hotel room that night, laughing and listing the ways we didn’t live up to our mother’s expectations for us.  My friend, she’s been with me through most of it starting in early college, even housing my poor college ass for a summer where she welcomed me with a familial love that I had a hard time finding in my own home.  And she is a bright, exuberant person that can go from calm and nurturing to peals of laughter with a seamless transition that has you along for the ride regardless of where its going.

She was one of the first adults I’d met who made me believe that I wasn’t a oddity– that there were more like me out there, and that I was bound to find them.

So in a fit of high energy jesting, she sat up, leaning to one side with her head tilted and her hand to her cheek and said, batting her eyes, “But I’d say I’m rather regal wouldn’t you?”

I, still carried away, found a refresh of laughter and replied, “Oh, no!  You are a lot of things, but regal isn’t one of them!”

She deflated.  I stopped.  I tried to giggle sympathetically.  She brushed it off with another little laugh and changed the subject.

To me, regal meant stilted.  It meant reserved.  It meant quiet.  For her to be regal meant that she was not the comrade I’d known her to be– the one willing to sink in with a box of tissues and a bowl of ice cream and a sad movie while I waded through my divorce.

What I wish I had said, instead, was– “Regal doesn’t have anything on you.  You are kind and good and feeling and engaged and hilarious and a flash of light while also a burning ember and whatever everyone told you that you need to be in order to be better and more accepted– like regal– they were wrong.  You are perfect.”

But I stayed silent.

000383760009I don’t wear shoes much in the summer.  I downsized my purse to only be able to fit my wallet and one book so that I stop carrying everything around with me while my Someone carries just his tiny wallet.  My Someone has since taken to carrying a saddlebag.  He likes it, and it helps him have the space he needs to carry what he wants.  And it gives me the space to just take up space without my shoulders sinking me smaller and smaller.  My posture has improved.

My Someone works hard not to move the camper, now, when he walks, too.  I work hard to flop myself around on occasion.  Once, I even spilled a little hot wax from our candle.  It was glorious.

Blessed Assurance– Pastries are Mine!

My sister and my Someone and I were singing three part harmony to Blessed Assurance only halfway through a bottle of wine this week.

This is not normal.

I sing for a living, but I’ve never sung with my sister.  Even growing up, she remained tight lipped and glaring from the church balcony while I belted it out next to my parents in the fifth row from the front of the stage. I dutifully held my red hymnal and mimicked my mother’s loud alto that could be heard over nearly everyone else, barring Margaret Morris’ wide vibrato-ed, crisp soprano on the other side of the aisle.

Last Christmas break, I played a game with my sister called “Sing It When You Know It,” in which I would start a deep cut Sunday School Song and she would have to chime in when she recognized it.  She never let me down.  Even when Ananias and Sapphira got together to conspire-a plot *clap clap* to cheat *clap clap* the church to get ahead… 

My Someone would sit open jawed and wide eyed at our infallible recollection, our enthusiasm, and the horrific lyrics.

They knew God’s power but did not fear, they tried to cheat the Holy Spirit, Peter prophesied it and they both dropped dead! *Oof*

The “oof” is when you make fists and simultaneously cram both of your elbows into your rib cage.  It’s sort of like a celebration of Peter dropping those two people dead, while also showing how the Holy Spirit might sucker punch you right in the ribs for your cheating ways.  My sister and my’s simultaneous “oof” was enough for my Someone to shake his head and slide his chair back from the table with his hands up.  The song finishes up spouting how God loves a cheerful giver.  It’s a lot to take in.

But this year is different.

Maybe we aren’t interested in the shock value anymore.  Or maybe we are accepting it.  But as the three of us broke into the triumphant chorus of Blessed Assurance this week, it felt less like an outsider looking back in, and more like an insider taking what is ours back out.

This is my story, this is my song…

000431630008For this reason, I am eating more pastries.

It started in the summer of last year, as we were winding down our time in Eastern Michigan and doubling back to Ohio again.  We had a pocket full of cash and a tank full of gas, and were feeling like maybe with a little more luck and another generous audience, we could be ahead.  And so we stopped to deposit our cash and ended up next to a gluten free bakery in the same lot.

“Things really are turning our way!” we said, and went in to load up on a loaf of bread, an apple crumb cake, and two cookies for celebration.  On our way out, I was confronted with a freezer full of vegan gluten-free pierogies.

I hesitated.  Pierogies were for special occasions.  Pierogies were for the end of cold days, usually in February, when my mother wakes up early and works on them in a small Western Pennsylvania kitchen.  For being from a depressed old steel town of mostly European descent, where living generations can still identify the Polish part of town from the Italian part of town, where the Germans would hang out as opposed to the Irish, the ethnic boundaries of my culinary upbringing were a bit blurry– one rich in potato salads and pasta and French Fries on salads– a confusing configuration of carbs and meat and sauerkraut and Ranch dressing.  And two or three times a year, pierogies.

My mother would make the dough from scratch, rolling it out to fill with boiled, mashed potatoes and cheese, potatoes and bacon, potatoes and onion, and pressing the edges firming before tossing them in a big salted pot of boiling water.  Then she fretted over the pot as they broke or held, removing them with a slotted spoon and tossing them with onions and butter before presenting them ceremoniously at our small kitchen table where the six of us crammed in our designated seats.  Then, I was chastised for breaking them open and sucking the mashed potatoes clean out before eating the thick dumpling outside.

All this while standing in front of a freezer case of pre-made pierogies in Eastern Michigan.

“Let’s get them,” I said, pulling a bag and taking it to the register.

That night, somewhere in an Ohio rest area, I ripped open the bag and placed them in a pan of coconut oil and onions, humming to try and keep thoughts of my mother out.  My mother, who stopped calling me, who I missed more profoundly than if she’d died, who I’d be facing in a couple of short weeks to tell her that I love her and that I miss her and want us to be better.  I hummed louder.  Then I was singing.

Come home, come home– ye who are weary come home.

I stopped.  I was weary.  But I couldn’t figure out where home was.  I was tired of believing that I had no home, that I had no right to the inheritance of memory that my other, more dutiful siblings who’d stayed in Western Pennsylvania, had.  I didn’t need to reject my history to not repeat it.  I’d already tried that, and it only left me sad and a little hungry.  Just like I’d been taught– whether by God or my Mother or pasta– I needed to embrace it.  To be all in.  Whole.  Even if, when it boils down, a few tender pieces break apart.

Softly and tenderly, pierogies were frying.  And all at once, I was home.  Not in my mother’s kitchen, but my own.  I was allowed to love potato-filled pasta as much as anyone, and I was allowed to love it with no strings attached.  And I was allowed to love it anywhere.  Just as I loved the hymn that was falling from me– the melody buttery lilty and welcoming– without the shame of coming forward to the altar.  My altar was here: an old hymn and a plate full of pierogies across from the one who loves me unconditionally.

“These are kind of amazing,” my Someone said.

“You would’ve been so lucky to have them like I did as a kid,” I said.  “It’s like some kind of Holy.”  Then I told him about my mother, then about the people who dressed up like different pierogies during the Pittsburgh Pirates games’ 7th Inning Stretch and raced, everyone placing bets on which pierogi would win.  And as he laughed, it was some kind of Holy, too.  Like coming home.  No strings attached.

25640019It’s been over 7 months since my mother has called me.  I’m not waiting for her call, anymore.  Instead, I am taking a Pilgrimage of Pastries.  In Lincoln, Nebraska, I hunted down a cinnamon roll that tasted like the ones she makes every Christmas morning– and once a month in addition.  More caramely than gritty, more doughy than toasted, where the outsides are downright chewy with brown sugar.  I ate it slowly, with reverence, and also playfully, with delight as I remembered cramming them into napkins and sneaking them into my room, burning my mouth on the center from eating them too quickly for fear of being found out.  And I gave thanks for my mother.  I let the anger creep into my throat as far as it wanted, and when it was through, I soothed it down with a sip of coffee and another bite.

At my friend Kelsey’s house a month later, I missed my mother again.  And so I scavenged my cupboard for a flour mix and a crown of broccoli, then spent the morning preparing a crumbling version of my mother’s veggie roll, an original concoction she’d based on our favorite local pizza place’s ranch-and-cheddar based pizza.  I didn’t have a recipe, just a feeling.  I prepared it with a gentleness I don’t always possess, removing the giant roll like those patient actors always do in Duncan Hines commercials, letting the heat of the oven briefly close my eyes and smelling the bread deeply, as if being transported to their childhood kitchen.  But I didn’t go anywhere.  Instead, I stayed completely present in this state of home, being thankful for a mother who taught me to bake, and to cook intuitively.  And as I cut into it, the cheesey broccoli falling through the cracks of the swirled inside, and served it to one of my best friends and my Someone, I was satisfied with having done it out here on my own.  I waited for the anger, but it didn’t come.  Not even at the last bite, polishing it off within 24 hours.

000431630020Maybe this is a sign of forgiveness– these holy cinnamon rolls and half bottles of wine.  Or maybe it’s a sign of being tired of being tired.  Last year, in a game of “Sing it When You Know It,” we uncovered this gem–

One Door and only One,
And yet its sides are two–
I’m on the inside,
On which side are you?

Sitting in the Florida kitchen this year with my Atheist sister and my Agnostic Someone, prodigal me wasn’t so sure, anymore.  It seemed that where three or more were gathered, there wasn’t a door at all.  Just a wide open space where anyone who wanted to join in, can.  Sing it if you know it.  No guilt.  No strings attached.

I feel blessed assured of it.

On How to Break Up with Your Mom & Dad (Without Really Trying).

A Step-by-Step Guide on How To Break Up with Your Mom & Dad
(without really trying)!

(This is not recommended for all users.)

But First–
Determine if this is a good fit for you!
Let’s get started!  Answer Yes ! or No ! to the following questions. 

DO YOU—

  1. …beg your mom & dad on numerous occasions to call you, only to have the most un-ringing-est phone in history?

    YES !                  NO !

  2. …find yourself saying “I wish I had a Mom and/or Dad” only to have your partner remind you that, in fact, you do?

    YES !                  NO !

  3. …never get asked to attend family gatherings, holidays, or activities?

    YES !                  NO !

  4. …have a sister who lives across the driveway from your parents who they love better in an unhealthy codependent sort of way and spend their time conspiring together to hold random strangers who are trying to turn around hostage in the driveway for “trespassing” under the threat of guns?

    YES !                  NO !

  5. …tell your parents you want to be included in the family and they respond that they “nearly choked on their laughter” at the request?

    YES !                  NO !

  6. …often hear yourself explaining your parents behavior by saying things like “Well, I’ve always been the dispensable one” or “I get why they don’t like me, but I don’t really understand why they don’t love me, either.”

    YES !                  NO !

If you’ve answered “YES!” to any of these questions, breaking up with your Mom & Dad may be a great fit!

Sooooooo, let’s get to it! (after a brief intermission).

S     T     A     N     D     B     Y

69860029Until three weeks ago, I did not love my newest dog.  I calculated the extra cost of dog food, monitored her behavior with only one peg on the scale to measure for goodness, and spent an inordinate amount of time ensuring that my other little dog never felt left out.  I raged at her slightest indiscretion and rolled my eyes at her oddities.  I introduced her as an apology.

It’s embarrassing to think about, now that I love her.  And the love came as an old one– no butterflies or sparkling eyes.  Just the ancient kind that’s been there all along, underneath the surface of the Earth, waiting to have me sink in deep enough to be tapped.

It’s the kind of love I am supposed to have for myself.


And now–

How to Break Up With Your Mom & Dad (Without Really Trying)

  1.  You Say / They Say!

    “I don’t think I can come home, anymore.”  /   “Okay!  Fine by us!”

    “I want to have a better relationship.”   /   “I’m not talking about this with you.”

    “I just want you to call me sometimes, maybe once a month? Twice a year?”  /          “I’m not dealing with you or  that Voicemail bullshit.”

    “I know you wanted a family photo, and I do, too, but only when the insides match the outsides.”   /  “Don’t worry, I won’t be asking for a photo with you ever again.”

    See?  Easy.  They really do the work for you!
    So now it’s just a matter of a little cleanup.

25860028

The first part of the revelation came on a walk in Arkansas.  We came across the Mammoth Springs by accident, and circled the park and bright blue green water once when a stray dog began walking alongside.  I loved him immediately, without reservation.  I loved him like I wouldn’t love my own dog.

I wished for a trade with the Universe, a happy accident where the owner finds his dog and asks to have ours instead.

“Why can’t I love her?” I half yelled.  And as we kept walking, our tagalong– a hunting dog– reminded me something of the dogs I grew up with.  I looked at Magpie Mae.

“Oh shit,” I said, “she’s me.”

Magpie Mae came at the beginning of the end with my parents, after an incident wherein I confronted them for holding people hostage in their driveway last November.  The “intruders,” or rather, wayward strangers, were “being taught a lesson” on my family’s compound.  It was a long, uncomfortable discussion that included a guard dog sister, the police, and two hapless, wide eyed middle aged people in a camper whose GPS took them down the wrong road.

I’d spent the last four years showing up uninvited, checking in, calling, telling my parents I loved them.  I’d been trying to be intentional.  I’d been trying to be included.  I’d been failing.  And after November, it seemed I couldn’t make anything right.

That’s when we got Magpie Mae.

By July, it had broken completely.

In the last year, every ounce of otherness Magpie Mae exuded threw me into a fit.  She eats too fast.  She is too eager for love.  She needs too much.  She’s too big.  She moves too much.  She barks too much.  She’s too eager for love.  She’s too eager to love.

And, just like me, the only bit of otherness she was allotted was her ability to sing.  I let her howl along to every sad country song and Happy Birthday voicemail we left.  It’s when her weirdness paid off.  People liked it.

Just like me.

And if Magpie was me, then I was my parents.  And I made the same mistakes.

“Oh, Magpie,” I said.  She glanced up at me, ducking her head as if waiting for me to scold her.  I pulled her head to my leg.  “Oh, Magpie, forgive me.”


You now have time to–

2.  Tie Up Loose Ends!
Since your parents have already slammed the door on you mid sentence begging them to love you, so that they could run to church where they can be a good example of Love and Light, you have a little time.  Maybe start with these!

~ Block Your Mom on Facebook!
This encourages her to make good on all those empty promises to call you.
–SIDES EFFECTS INCLUDE the removal of hope that in some way, your mother does care & is secretly watching you via social media in some sort of Benevolent God complex.  Now, you must go forward with your unringing phone knowing with certainty that if she does care, she will not show it (AKA gives no shits).

~ Walk Around Family Compound Looking for Something to Indicate That You Ever Really Belonged Here, and For Something You’ll Really Miss, and Come Up Short!
Except maybe that maple tree.  It’s worked so hard to rise above despite its roots being stuck in the backyard in the ominous shade of the family house.
SIDE EFFECTS INCLUDE self pity and a sense of free falling.
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We landed in Nashville two days after my love of Magpie began, and I was eager to tell my friend Bryan my revelation.  How I was my parents, how Magpie was me, how ashamed I felt to have taken so long to figure it out.

“So, now, I need to start over with her,” I said triumphantly, “I need to stop raging at her for the things that make her like me.”

“Oh,” said Bryan, “I didn’t think that’s how that was going to go.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Magpie is you.  I don’t think you need to start over with Magpie, I think it means you need to stop raging at yourself.”

Dammit.


FINALLY…!

3.  Drive Away!
It’s important to drive and not be driven to give you a sense of ownership over your decision and reality, and to help combat your feelings of powerlessness in the scope of being unloved by your parents.
SIDE EFFECTS INCLUDE–
     – being envious of real orphans.
     – guilt.
     – relief.
     – guilt about relief.
     – incessant fear of your phone ringing.
     – incessant fear that your phone will never ring.

And that’s it, folks!  Easy as 1, 2, 3, (4).

000383760025It’s been five months, and my parents haven’t called.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still hoping for it.  I think that’s probably natural for a kid.  Last night, at my sister’s house– the good one– my mother Skyped with her grandkids.  Unwittingly, my niece turned the phone around–

“Look, Grandma!  Mallory and Scott are here!” she said.

My mother said she had to go, then.  My mother can’t even look at me.

In the meantime, I cry a lot.  I also love a lot, especially by big little dog, Magpie Mae.  She does these weird cute things all the time like lay upside down on her back and stretch back and forth like she’s trying to swim in the air.  She also has an adorable way of being at utmost attention where treats are involved.  She’s a great listener, and even when she’s not, she’s well intentioned.  She still sings, of course, but she also has a great way of sensing when I am so blue, blue, blue and places her big fat head on my lap while I am trying to type out a blog to sort out my feelings about my parents and myself.  Maybe it’s how eager and vulnerable she is for love that makes her so lovable.  I find that sort of eagerness irresistible now.