It took me fifty-five years to figure out what life is about. It took me that long to find myself and to realize that my family members have never had a clue as to who I am. I realized that I had spent over forty years without expressing myself from my heart in front of anyone. I realized I’ve never experienced real love. And I believed that there was something seriously wrong with me.
Which was constantly confirmed by my family.
My view of the world and of my role in it were mysteries to me. The information that I had been given as a child, from my parents and from school and church and from everywhere I looked, was completely wrong.
I have had a very full, if not extremely self-destructive and emotionally painful life. I have experienced more than most people could ever even envision. I’ve been an avid student of human nature since the age of four, and as someone who never learned how to ‘properly’ communicate with other human beings, I have spent nearly all of my inner life feeling abandoned, rejected, and alone. I had very few friends. I spent most of my teen years alone in my room with the door locked, immersed in books or drawing or singing to sad music or just crying.
And I woke up nearly every morning of my life wishing that I hadn’t.
I ‘knew’ from childhood that I was different from other people, especially the people in my family, because I said what I thought instead of what I was expected to say. I refused to blindly believe in god or do what I was told to do if it didn’t make sense to me, and I was looked upon as disobedient and a huge disappointment by my parents and others. I became the black sheep, the throw-away kid, the non-believer. My father called me “stupid” and “tramp” and “fuck-up” and my mother buried her smiling face in the sand and pretended that everything was just peachy and she threw me under the bus to save herself.
Being positive and agreeing with others is what girls and women do (which is what all of America seems to do now, at least face-to-face). But I was unable to pretend. I still am. And when I tried to tell my mother how sad and lonely and confused I was, her lazy rote response was always,
‘Just have faith and believe in God, and everything will be okay,’ or
‘Just be happy! That’s what I do!’
My mother is expert at not seeing anything uncomfortable or disturbing to her in any way, and she is always smiling and happy and everyone just loves her.
Dad gave me a boiler maker at around ten or eleven, and I was a regular drinker by the age of sixteen, a full-fledged alcoholic by eighteen; booze flowed freely in our house. So did violent fights between my father and I. We hated each other until just about a year before he died, after he did some soul-searching of his own. Unfortunately, he never really knew me. Too bad. He would have actually been pretty fucking impressed, if he had only stopped ripping me to shreds long enough to get to know me just a little. If only he had believed in me just once, or took me seriously about anything I ever said. . . . I didn’t know him either though; he was a deeply damaged man who only found some peace in his very difficult life just before he died.
sleepwalking through life: letting things happen
I was painfully shy as a teen. I was incapable of talking to strangers, even on the phone. This shyness and belief that I was a horrible, ugly, stupid and evil human being made me silent, small and apologetic. I barely spoke, when I wasn’t acting manic, and my silence, along with my self-loathing and my nightly mission to drown myself in booze, made me a pretty easy mark by horny young, and not so young, men. My abandonment issues and negative self-esteem made me desperate for affection, which made me a willing mark as well.
I allowed myself to be used and mistreated and date-raped—more than once—and I became pregnant—twice—before the age of eighteen. I was voiceless and powerless. My thoughts were dark. I became extremely self-destructive. I found myself, quite often, in dangerous situations. Alone, drunk, and crying in the subway tunnel at 42nd Street at 4:30 AM or wandering the streets of Mexico City with only one year of college Spanish . . . I’ve been involved in car chases, I’ve outrun police and have had a gun drawn on me, I’ve played pool with narcotraficantes . . . and I used to wander around late at night downtown back in the eighties when Belltown was frequented by crusty old drunken sailors, queers, drug dealers, and fringe elements like me. I’d stumble through the darkened alleys, just hoping that someone would kill me and be done with it.
But not only did no one bother me in those downtown alleys; I became pleasantly acquainted with some of the drug dealers. They were just trying to make a buck the only way they knew how, and some of them were actually really nice (if only daddy could see me now!).
My search, for what I didn’t know, led me down some very dark and disturbing roads. . . .
Until the day that I was so filled with fear and rejection and hopelessness about absolutely everything that life had to offer someone like me (as well as the state of the planet and the fact that no one seemed to care), I threw in the towel. That day when I could not tolerate one more second at my hateful job. And I was no longer able to take any more of my mother’s hurtful, ignorant bullshit nor her inability to see what she has done to me and continues to do. And the very last straw, on top of so many others on my broken back, was my sister’s inability to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, so many very shitty things she’s done to me, including the last shitty thing that I’ll ever give her the chance to do: forgetting that she had made plans with me on Christmas Day. Since my mother had long since banned me from holidays (because I make my morally deficient brother-in-law “uncomfortable”), I spent Christmas eve 2014 alone at a dive bar in Pioneer Square, and the rest of the year, as well as January 2015 in bed, drunk, stoned, and so very close to ending it.
The way I saw it, I had only two choices:
- kill myself
- quit everything and everyone and cash out my pathetic 401k and try to find just a tiny bit of joy before I left this apathetic, uncaring world.
I chose the latter.
And in the process of writing my story and of finding some people who care enough to talk to me and hear me and accept me with my flaws, I found my way back to my soul, my spirit, my voice. I found my way back to god. I am so very thankful for the people who have been in my life over this last year, even if it didn’t seem that way. I’ve learned from every encounter I’ve had, good and bad.
And my mission, for the rest of my life, is to try and make others understand that we need to start listening to each other. Because I see the look of despair that I felt all my life in the eyes of people all around me. People who feel powerless. People who have been forgotten about, rejected, abandoned. Like a dog that’s been left tied under a porch without love or affection. Like me.
I want them to know that it can get better—if you face your dark side or your secrets or your fears and render them powerless. Or at least manageable.
I am facing that side of myself every day, and sometimes it still takes control of me and I react from my go-to place of terror and powerlessness and fear and I lose control and I lash out . . . or have a panic attack, or tear up self portraits or other artwork. . . . But not nearly as often as before. Before, when I still believed that rules had to be followed and that I was lesser than others. Before I escaped my family and the pain I felt when I spoke with them and before I stopped drinking at home alone. Before I started smoking cannabis for my chronic pain and to calm my spinning thoughts. Before I took the red pill. . . .
I feel an overwhelming need, now, to write about my experiences, as many of them as possible, so that my nieces and nephews can have a chance to know the real me. And so they can know that they are not alone. I understand what they are going through because I see their mothers doing a lot of the same shit my mother did to me . . . and she is still poisoning young minds with her blind-faith ignorance to this day.
I write to try and validate my existence somehow; to try and make some sense of my sad and wasted mess of a life so that it doesn’t all seem so pointless.
So that perhaps others can avoid some of my mistakes.
And I feel an urgent need to write and explain how I know the things that I know, and why I may become upset if you tell me that my experience is mine, but that yours is different;
because what I hear is
I believe what I believe, therefore I cannot believe what you are saying.
And that is that. I feel ignored, dismissed, like I don’t matter, and I go back to feeling like a child: overpowered, unheard, brushed off. I feel physically attacked, like I’ve been punched in the gut and I may lash out. . . . I still over-react to even the most subtle hidden messages in people’s comments sometimes because I still haven’t figured out what it is that has even triggered the bad feelings.
But it is taking less and less time to figure out why I have my outbursts of anger and panic and overwhelming sadness, now that I’m writing every day. But it is nearly impossible to explain it to the innocent victim of my rage or aloofness or other unpleasant mannerism—let alone apologize—since they had absolutely no bad intent. They were only speaking from the place that I had been before, before I faced my skeletons and demons and started taking away their power over me.
I have finally found my soul and my bliss and my passion, but now the hard part really begins.I have to figure out how to survive in a savage, corrupt, and evil world that benefits a few and does everything it can to keep the rest down and at war with each other. A system that continues to consume and pollute and destroy and murder in cold blood and in full disclosure, yet no one seems to even notice.
I need to convince the world that I have something to offer and that I am wiser than I appear. I need to find a way to co-exist with those who refuse to see what they don’t want to see and those that hear my words but haven’t yet learned how to understand them. I have to stop being open and honest with people because most people can’t handle honesty. It makes them extremely uncomfortable when I’m so “negative.”
More than anything, I want people to stop agreeing with each other all the time, and being “positive” about everything and avoiding difficult realities. We need to disagree about things, so that we can talk about them, maybe even solve some problems. I want desperately for people to stop, and close their eyes, and imagine what it would be like to be the homeless heroin junkie living under the bridge or the old cat lady who never talks to anyone . . . I want people to question their own biases that make them say and do the things they do.
And I’ll do the same as I continue writing my stories about my crazy experiences, using as much humor as possible since the subjects are often pretty dark. I’m going to use analogies from movies and books and music to explain situations or events; I’ll use a lot of photography to illustrate my stories, and I am planning a comic series (and a graphic novel) for some of the really tough subject matter.
Even some of my best friends are going to wonder,
‘Who the hell is this person?’
My intuition, which I follow religiously, led me to a sweat lodge in the woods outside a Snohomish collective for the fall equinox.
I had no idea what to expect. I feared it would be a bunch of new-age hippy wannabe’s, dancing around with flowers in their hair and chanting about how everything is beautiful and amazing and glorious without any substance.
That new-age bullshit is just as annoying as my parents’ flimsy religion. I was prepared to flee.
But this sweat lodge had been well researched and practiced and the entire event was treated with reverence. Most of the people there were fully invested in the experience. There were a couple of young professional women who seemed more like tourists than truth-seekers, but they did their best to be present. Several people seemed to be in a lot of emotional/spiritual pain, the kind of pain I had been feeling all my life. It’s easy to spot when you live it.
But like Fight Club, the first rule of Sweat Lodge is that you don’t talk about Sweat Lodge…
I can say that our facilitator invited in the spirits of several enlightened individuals such as Jesus Christ and the Buddha…
I actually did meet Jesus in a sweat lodge…
…and for the first time, I accepted him into my heart. There were no threats of hell-fire, no shame, no fear. I had always been embarrassed around the entire subject of spirituality because it seemed so insincere and frivolous and phony– it was truly devious in the way it had been shoved down my throat, used for the means of control and assimilation…
which did not work.
But in that tent in the woods, laying in the dark on the cold, damp, muddy ground, I only felt joy and love and being – in nature – with other souls who were experiencing their deepest core emotions, their pain, their fears. We weren’t there to be seen, dressed to the nines in our Sunday best. We were there for healing and strength and maybe some sense of peace and love…
that is what church should be all about.
We banished the bad spirits as we brought in healing ones.
I invited some lost friends into the tent. My friend Raoul, (whose guidance I’ve missed terribly since he died last March) was there. So was my baby brother. My dad was suspicious as usual and didn’t come in.
I felt a powerful feeling of love, like an enormous, sweaty, warm hug, emanating from the inside out.
And I saw something really freaky. I’m not sure if I even really saw it because it was pitch black in the tent, but somehow I saw a black figure, flying around over our heads.
Of course, very few Christians would believe such a thing; we are supposed to be suspicious of people who sense spirits, who are open to other worlds
people like me.
I’ve been sensing things I didn’t understand since I can recall. Which really freaked me out when I was young; I thought that I must be evil to feel spirits or ghosts or the dead or whatever it was that I felt around me. And I saw things; enormous flying insects that hovered over my face in the dark and once my friend’s eyes were glowing red in the middle of the night…I’ve sensed presences in theaters and apartments and other places in which I later learned that people had died, or that the place had been deemed ‘haunted’ by others long beforehand…
I became addicted to ghost stories as a pre-teen. I bought every book of the occult that I could find. When I ran out of ‘real’ ghost stories (those cheesy rattling chain and ghost ship stories), I started reading fiction: The Exorcist, Interview with the Vampire, The Stand, Pet Cemetary…of course, Christine…
And I’ve always hung out in cemeteries with a book or sketchpad or camera. I got some of my favorite shots in cemeteries.
I feel like I’ve been tiptoeing atop a fence all my life, trying not to fall to the side of evil, but evil was all around me and inside of me…it’s even inside the church. Maybe that type of evil should have its own category: the kind that disguises itself with robes and rosaries to brainwash or otherwise use the most vulnerable, because church is where one is supposed to be able to go for protection and guidance and support for the soul…
I didn’t go back into the tent for round three. It was extremely hot and intense and I needed some space and to cool off in the forest air and clear my mind. The fire was still crackling, and there were still five large, hot rocks waiting for round four.
I didn’t know if I’d make it to round four…
I walked up the hill a little way and sat on a bench. The breeze was subtle and just tickling the tops of the old birch trees, making their leaves sound very much like dozens of souls whispering…
And I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was behind me in the woods. It wasn’t a frightening sensation, more like a feeling of being beckoned. I got up and walked further uphill. I found a shaded little clearing underneath a grouping of pines. I sat on a huge, rotting old log
and I realized that sitting right next to me was a huge, ancient-looking fungus of some kind, nearly as large as a Frisbee in diameter, but more the shape of the Mad Hatter’s hat, and as hard as a softball but with a deep, umber skin.
And then I realized that Raoul had brought me to this spot and the fungi and I sat there and I crossed my legs and closed my eyes and just listened…The leaves were speaking to me and I kept my thoughts out, which was easy. I felt a peace like I haven’t felt for many years. Like I’d felt during a good meditation –but without even trying.
The trees were telling me secrets and they were reassuring. They were music and laughter and home. And melancholy…
And I felt Raoul’s presence just as if he were sitting right there. Right exactly where that fossilized old fungus was sitting. And I knew for certain that he would always be with me, and that I wouldn’t have to feel alone any more…and that he would always guide me when I needed it.
I did make it to round four. The entire ceremony seemed to come full circle, back to a place of calm, peace…
And the raw emotion – that total workout of my spirit – and the combination of the smell of the fire outside and the palo santo, the intense heat, then the cool forest air and the silence…it was the most reverent and balanced and whole I think I’ve ever felt in my life.
“Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too-all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides-made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions… Suggestions from the State.”
Brave New World
“Goddamn it! Nooooooooo! Not now, not here!”
I tried to grab my car door as it was shutting, but missed.
I’d locked my keys, phone, credit cards, cash – everything except a notebook and a pen – inside my little red Escort at a park in the middle of white, middle class, north Seattle, about 30 miles from my house.
If you are not connected—the way most people are these days, in the acceptable, electronic way—it puts one at a considerable disadvantage.
On top of that, I had been unemployed for going on a year and living off of my declining retirement savings, cashed out early, with no hopes of the inheritance that my father had promised me nor wishes to work for destructive corporate America, so I did not have money to blow on locksmiths, or towing. And I didn’t have one single phone number memorized. This is what it’s like to really be on your own—without any family to turn to.
I began asking football parents for help. They were coming and going from the parking lot to the football field, escorting their blank-faced brats that were glued to their sides—waddling in their pounds of padding and protective gear.
No one would help me. I could see the looks on the faces of the people I approached. They actually pretended like they didn’t see me. One woman literally rolled up her window and drove away as she watched me plead for assistance.
“I need help!” I cried, as her blue and green face disappeared behind the tinted glass of her half-ton driver’s door window, the enormous vehicle plastered with Seahawks colors – so very original.
Seriously? I was just talking to you ten minutes ago, and now I’m invisible?
Two puffed-up football dads went through the motions of helping me, but both were easily stopped from completing their ‘humanitarian’ missions by nonsensical ‘roadblocks,’ such as not knowing what to say or do. Not one original idea between the two. Both drove off in their big-ass SUVs, most likely forgetting all about me as I disappeared into their rear-view mirrors.
When I approached the field where his sheltered son was playing football, yet another stick-up-the-ass football dad escorted me back to the parking lot as he searched for the Seattle Police Department’s non-emergency number. He kept his distance, silently walking me back to my parking lot where I belonged—away from the impressionable ten-year-old boys.
I was crying. I had been walking around the park, calling out for help and was feeling like a leper as people walked away from me.
Boys should not ever see tears. Emotional individuals are dangerous. I was ushered away like I was contagious.
The Seattle Police Department desk jockey told the expressionless football dad with the phone that instead of using a Slim Jim to open my car door that
“The only thing that we can do is break the window.”
Thanks, SPD. Which glass company kicks back for breaking car windows? Oh, there may be a ‘rational explanation’ for this asinine answer to lock outs, like there’s not enough funding for cops to spend time actually doing some good instead of just driving around, responding to crimes, shooting black people. . . .
But when you are the person who is experiencing the stupidity and laziness and the ‘I can’t’ mentality of Americans, the reasons offered up are neither helpful nor desired. And corruption and greed are so often the root causes of stupidity in government and society, it’s hard to take rules seriously for those of us who are thinking. And it’s not even a secret any more: the stupidity and apathy is commonplace and never questioned, just explained.
Jesus’ blind sheep never question authority. And good girls, (especially girls) always keep quiet.
The suspicious, white, football dad held up his phone so I could hear the cop’s robotic, uninterested reply, and when I heard the monotone, authoritative voice coming from the phone, I realized that I was not going to get any help at all. It was getting dark and felt like rain and I was beginning to feel the panic that overwhelms me often when I’m in the city. . . all these people around and no one to help you. . . .
They look down upon you if your car isn’t as nice as theirs or if you aren’t wearing green and blue and have a big-ass number 12 flying from your monster truck. I can’t even begin to explain how stupid it looks: matchy-matchy, every single Seattleite with his and her ‘Twelfth Man,’ Brave New World uniform. . . .all as one, all as one. . . .consume consume consume. . . .
And if you are different, you are not to be trusted.
Like me, in my own family.
I know what my mother would say if she saw an ‘artsy’ person with a battle-scarred, fifteen-year-old Ford Escort who was crying and needed help:
“Who knows what kind of stuff she’s into, she looks kind of weird . . . better roll up your window. . . .”
This very type of I’m-better-than-you attitude from football dad annoyed me almost as much as the cop’s uncaring, unthinking response. I yelled into the smartphone, to the counter cop’s suggestion:
“YOU CAN KISS MY ASS!”
Which completely shocked and offended football dad. He backed away like I had Ebola. He was worried because it was his phone . . . and he fled the scene, kowtowing to the cop on the line as he skulked away.
I could almost hear the wheels of his tiny, malnurished, two-track mind:
“Police gooood, crazy woman baaaad . . . run away, run away. . . .gotta get to the game!”
Spineless, entitled wimp.
I crumpled onto a curb under a tree and broke down crying and wasn’t even trying to hide it because my heart was broken. It is true that I should have a spare key, or better car insurance, but it’s pretty hard when you don’t have much money. And I couldn’t afford a new window.
People walked by me like I wasn’t even there.
And it’s true that I should have some phone numbers memorized so I could call someone for help. But aren’t I entitled to some basic human compassion?
I thought about walking a mile or so to a strip mall in the hopes that I could find a pay phone, and someone to give me change.
Except that there are no more pay phones in the Not-very-united States of America. The NSA.
I was sure that they could see me right now, from one of their many satellites. I flipped them off, my arm suspended in the air above my head. I must have looked insane. Maybe I was.
Maybe I am. But what does that mean? What is insanity? Not thinking the same way as everyone else? Not believing in the same things, the same way?
But who knows what anyone is actually thinking? We are not communicating; everyone is keeping her twisted thoughts to herself because they are too depressing for good people to hear. . . .
Good people like my mother.
I was in that wooded parking lot for over two hours, walking around, trying to find someone to help me.
The only man-made place in sight was a small white building across the road from the park, a Christian church. I ran across the busy road and knocked on the door. A woman peeked out and I asked her to use a phone because I was stranded and needed help.
“I’m sorry, I can’t let you in, there are children inside; this is a day care…”
Before she could finish, I cut her off as I turned and walked away defeated,
“Really? You can’t even get help from a CHURCH?” I shrieked.
My countrymen and women are so fearful and distrusting and judgmental that adults are not allowed to be in the same room as children. Have you been to your library lately? Not the children’s section, not if you are an adult . . . yes, I know, I know there are reasons . . . there are always reasons for all the multitudes of laws we have that leave people cut off, left out, excluded; but reasons don’t make our debilitating rules right. Does anyone ever think that there may be alternatives to the way we have set up the rules?
And did we even really set them up or have we been guided into our way of life, herded, like sheep through a field?
I went back to my curb and really lost it. I was sobbing so profoundly, I could barely breathe. What the hell has our society come to? What the hell was I going to do?
I was rescued by the woman who had opened the door at the church. She had been the only adult there when I had knocked and she couldn’t legally let me inside because she was running a day care.
Whenever I talk to or look at a child I am glared at with suspicion and fear.
Kristine was the name of the woman who, after all the parents had come and gone, drove over to the parking lot where I had collapsed into a puddle of tears. She got out of her car and came toward me. I had stood up and was walking away because all I knew is that a strange car pulled up next to me and I was startled—I just wanted to hide under a rock and die at that point. I felt like I had always felt around my family; like the unwanted dog that the family tied up under the back porch, and I tended to snap at any hand that came toward me.
I had a hard time following her words because I was an emotional wreck. My thoughts were very dark, and those old, pesky, suicidal ideas were tugging violently for my attention. . . . I was angry at injustice and inhumanity and evil and was venting my pain.
And even though I was a wreck, we talked (in a crazed fashion) and I learned that she had had a horrific childhood, and had justifiable reasons to hate her father, but that she didn’t. She had learned to forgive him. I’m glad for her. I hope to conquer that battle one day, but I’m still working on anger. . . .
And although I was practically rabid at this point, she did not give up on me like all the others had. And unlike the others, I didn’t have to corner her with my pleas for help, she came to me.
But I snapped about the church, because beside a handful of true Christians that I have known over my lifetime, my opinion of church and churchgoers was pretty damned low.
Kristine defended the church by explaining why she had not been able to let me in to use a phone. And I understand, but I also know that every time I confront anyone about anything unjust or unchristian, I am talked down to like a child, always given an explanation as to why things are the way they are, which never makes any sense to me:
“They removed 200 trees and built a parking lot in South Park because they had to have a place to park the buses.” Period. We just had to rip up every single tree. We just had to use standard, toxic materials instead of thinking of reusing tires or other less damaging materials, and we didn’t stop to think of all that run-off that will spill into the ailing Duwamish River through storm drains, or than maybe school buses shouldn’t be based in one of the neighborhoods with among the worst air pollution in the nation. . . .
“It’s just the way things are, Christine, you can’t have rich people without poor people,” dad would explain to me when I complained of injustice.
And I feel like a child who doesn’t understand why we have become so apathetic and fearful and incapable of doing anything at all, and why every law seems to support Those Who Have, and if you are broke and struggling, it is extremely difficult to get any help, from anyone.
I snapped hard and practically bit poor Kristine’s hand right off. I don’t recall much of our conversation, but I heard her say something about terrorists and America, the kind of soundbites heard on conservative talk radio and Fox News . . . that kind of fear-fueled talk that keeps our attention off our real problems; that acceptable—if not expected—patriotic kind of fear; that good old, American Pie, Us versus Them kind of fear.
We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit, how about YOU?
A variety of the fear that kept my father from having garage sales because people would only come by to ‘case the joint,’ the fear that made dad threaten to kick me out of the house at sixteen because I was dating an eighteen year old black man.
fear makes us literally blind to anyone who is different; especially if they are less advantaged than we are, and we idolize them if they have more than we do
It’s fear that justifies my South Park neighbors’ collective decisions to call the police and report the families living in their campers on the street~
“They’re so dirty, leaving garbage all over!”
It’s fear of The Other that escalates to the erection of walls around entire countries to keep out the riff raff—because they’re not really human, not like us.
I was deep inside my pain, which is the pain of the world. I was feeling sorry for myself, but more so for all the homeless living in tents on the sides of the roads (especially the women and children) and along the railroad tracks and in the green belts all over Seattle. My mind went to Europe, to the hundreds of thousands of refugees: the abandoned, the forgotten, those who we don’t concern ourselves with. I’ve heard hatred and fear against the Syrian refugees right here in Seattle; an Estonian woman I met complained that the “refugees are mostly young men who are raping women and demanding Halal food!” She made up her mind, based on an online photo and post, that the refugees were no good; not worthy of assistance.
She sounded like my mother and sister, sitting snug in their large houses with their cocktails in hand, deciding who is worthy and who is not. . . .
Jesus, how can we wake up your lethargic followers? Why is everyone ignoring you and the Buddha and Muhammad and John Lennon and all the other visionaries? How can we get people to give a shit about anything at all other than their own shallow, cookie-cutter, football-crazed, fast food lifestyles?
I lashed out, in my crazed state of mind, and Kristine unleashed counterattacks, defending her good intentions and the policies of her church.
I told her how anti-Christianity I was. I told her about some of the garbage that was crammed down my throat by my uninterested, uninformed parents. Kristine pointed out the obvious to me, only it had never been obvious to me before because I had been in the middle of it; I had been a part of it. But,
It was the way that I was taught Christianity that was wrong.
I wasn’t taught anything about spirituality, or soul, or heart or love; not one single notion. My parents’ version of religion was to believe, obey and not to ask questions.
That’s not spirituality. That’s thought control.
Not only that~
I never understood how my parents could call themselves Christians; how they could believe that they were better than non-believers or believers of other faiths. They often acted like complete hypocrites with their entitlement and destructive behaviors and oft-disregard for people who they knew nothing about.
I remember my father yelling at the television at African Americans—although he called them something else—demonstrating (how dare they act up!)!
Or about welfare mothers, especially those of color, the Reagan-era “terrorists.” My father despised and feared them and other “enemies of the state,” just as he was trained to do by American media and its corporate bosses.
We were not very Christ-like. My alcoholic household was emotionally deficient and verbally abusive. Liquor played a key role in all of our lives, but really kicked the shit out of my father and me. Our emotional instability—probably our chemical makeup as well—made us more potentially volatile than the others. To make matters worse, neither of us had an “off-switch.” We drank until there was no more left to drink.
And when dad and I were in the same room, it could get very loud and extremely vicious.
Our family pain, that underlying, unspoken tension that all families possess, included secrets that we never even hinted at: the embarrassing truths that evaporated with the fumes of whiskey and vodka; stories of murder and insanity and incest and even attempted rape; horrifying memories of war that bubbled to the surface, often erupting from the deep recesses of our darkened, shared memories with anger and fury~
shared, thanks to daddy; the one thing he was willing to share.
All of us hide truths that are too painful to consider, which is not difficult in my family because our pickled clan can’t— or won’t—remember any unpleasantness. Our mismatched memories dissolve like ice cubes in our gin and tonics. Any transgression is forgotten as long as you laugh and toast the next stupid joke about republicans or terrorists or unmarried pregnant neighbors or whomever it is that you hate that day…and don’t act sensitive or moody, or bring up anything politically incorrect or you are O. U. T..
We were suspicious of others yet ignorant of all of our own asinine behavior. We never gave a shit about the results of our actions, or even noticed the mess or hurt feelings that we left behind in our wakes . . . we didn’t notice because we were always distracted by finding new ways to avoid our pain. New reasons to “celebrate.”
Booze is the standard go-to in my family.
Even though I hurt Kristine’s feelings—because I say what I think and I wasn’t thinking straight—she still helped me by calling AAA. She bought a brand new membership for herself on the spot so that they could come and unlock my car.
I know that she does not have a lot of money either; she works multiple jobs and day care doesn’t pay squat and she still bought triple A to help a perfectly crazy stranger.
I was a raving lunatic. I wasn’t thinking and blurting my tortured thoughts, but still,
She didn’t leave me.
It was getting dark and it began to rain.
We sat in her car.
She told me about homeless people she tried to help in the past. She actually opened up her home to someone who was down on his luck. It did not work out well and she was robbed.
Maybe hand-outs aren’t the best way to help others . . . empowerment is much more effective than charity . . . giving a man a fish keeps him dependent, teaching him on the other hand. . . . Handouts don’t ease our fear or give us a chance to take care of ourselves.
But she tried. She opened up her heart and offered her home to another human being. Who wound up stealing from her.
My mind was exhausted and as much as I wanted to talk to her about religion and spirituality and the differences between the two I just didn’t have the energy or focus. I wanted to explain to her that I can be just as spiritual as she is without belonging to a cult, and that shamanism, which I am interested in, has nothing to do with witchcraft or devil worship or whatever negative thing that she seemed to assume without knowing one thing about it (it is not the opposite of Christianity . . . funny how it is acceptable to slam paganism or shamanism or anything but the number one organized faith in our country), but my emotions were raw and all I could think about was getting home and into a hot shower to try and wash the sadness and emotional pain from my body, smoke a bowl, and go to bed.
The fast and friendly triple A guy (AAA is the bomb) that arrived on the scene opened my car door in less than three minutes with his Slim Jim—and the apathetic cops would only break the window: wasteful, stupid, lazy—and I was grateful and relieved,
but still angry at the laziness and apathy and fear of so many human beings
which seems to be everywhere I look.
After several weeks of thinking about what Kristine said, I’m convinced she’s right. Everything that I was taught about Christianity (and pretty much everything else) was wrong.
Which makes me very nervous, because what about all the Christians out there that aren’t as stubborn as I? The millions who did as they were told—like all of the Christians I knew growing up. Those who believed without really doing much real thinking? Why is thinking so unpopular? Or reading, or being curious, or asking questions, or pointing out something bad. . .?
Just like mom and dad, my good, patriotic, Rotary and country clubbing, pillars-of-the community, church-going parents who obeyed and bought and never questioned anything rich, white men told them to believe. And they only saw the world in black and white:
If you go to church, you are good, and if you don’t, you’re bad. Married good; not, bad. Employed good; not, bad. . . .
I was bad at life, according to my parents’ narrow, judgmental, and misogynistic points of view.
Organized religion can’t be accused of being logical. You are not encouraged to actually think.
No wonder I could never get anyone at my corrupt places of employment to do anything when we were being treated badly. No wonder people kept their mouths shut and were fearful of unions . . . I actually got myself fired for defending other people, but I still have only met two or three individuals who had the balls to stand up for themselves . . . and this explains why I was always so miserable at all my restaurant gigs and at the university and everywhere else I worked:
the majority of human beings do what they’re told and never question or talk back.
They are literally incapable of speaking their minds, no matter how power-hungry and controlling and stupid our bosses were.
Americans are frozen stiff with fear and nearly incapable of straying from their cookie-cutter, stamped-by-approval conversations and routines. Much of this, I believe, is learned in church. If not, then why are churches filled with young families with children? Parents always say things like, “well, I want him to get a good, solid, moral foundation.”
Yeah? Then run as fast as you can from organized religion and spend 40 days or so in nature. Nature doesn’t lie, and it doesn’t need a two thousand year old storybook to tell it what to do.
My biggest problem with Christianity is that most Christians don’t seem to ever consider: could their viewpoints be skewed because of their own understanding of god, and of life, and of themselves? Do they really have all the answers? Is that what makes them feel that they have the right to decide how others should live their lives?
Of course they don’t. But many believe they do, even people in my own family. And those types scare the hell out of me. They are easily persuaded into just about anything, accompanied with the right bible quotes or charismatic leaders.
And I have witnessed the linear connection from the belief in God to a belief in our public officials. No one seems to question his or her leaders anymore, no matter what they do, which is frightening because those at the top have become completely disconnected to real people and are interested only in their careers and making money. They dream only of acquiring more money, more cars, more planes, more houses. . . .
and I have been noticing a new programmed response from unthinking, lazy liberals online, updated from I believe in God to:
‘I believe in the Science.’
Really? To which studies are you referring?
Anyone who is truly Christian should be calling out these lost and evil individuals who have lost any sense of compassion or true connection to soul...
Even worse: we don’t question ourselves. Never. We avoid thinking about our foibles. We only defend ourselves or lash out at those who question us.
And some people can justify absolutely anything in their minds. Think: GW Bush, Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead, Hitler. . . .
We need to stop worrying about terrorists and start worrying about the human condition, beginning with our own hearts—love is the answer, not war—there is so much suffering across our planet, I don’t understand how anyone can go about their daily routine without taking some kind of action. More than half of Americans don’t even do the bare-ass minimum by voting; and many don’t even understand the first thing about the issues or the candidates.
A television celebrity was elected as President of Guatemala because less than half of the population voted.
And we are doing exactly the same thing; allowing the rich to take control of our system . . . placing evil, cartoon puppets like Bush—or Trump—to do what they’re told to take the rest of our social safety net away and hand it over to the laughing rich on platinum platters.
Since the religious seem to always brings these issues up, I want to add my two cents:
We need to stop worrying about controlling women’s bodies – as if our wombs are merely an issue!
‘Pro-lifers,’ ask yourselves:
Are you anti-war? Are you against the death penalty? What have you ever done to stop genocide or murder or rape? What have you done this week to make a positive impact on the world? Or are you more interested in just controlling—and condemning others? Where will you be when all of these women and girls are forced to carry out unwanted pregnancies? Now women are having babies deformed by a virus which is transmitted by genetically-modified mosquitoes, or more probably, a chemical fertilizer that was used by their own Brazilian government.
We need to stop worrying about the mirage of the importance of the American economy (why the hell should we care how much the billionaires are making?) and pull our money out and pool it together and buy back our power.
Blind-faith Christians need to get over their misled fear of Muslims or liberals or socialists or other entire groups of people they know nothing about (are we so enlightened and all-knowing that we can’t learn from others?) and do something about real problems in their own communities.
Stop listening to Fox ‘news’ already…and find many sources of information, not just one…
Let’s start confronting evil – let’s start by helping the disadvantaged, the homeless, the sick…let’s start actually acting a little more Christ-like. Let’s make an effort, step out of our comfort zones, and get to know people of color, people of different faiths, people from different classes…
In the meantime, I am destined to continue my mission:
To make the uncomfortable comfortable and the comfortable uncomfortable. To support whistleblowers and to promote the outing of immoral individuals, whether from elected office or the pulpit.
The time for niceties is long past. If we don’t pull our heads out of our selfish asses and find our compassion and empathy and find our lost souls that were repressed as children, I’m quite certain that we’re headed back to the era of the Wild Wild West (or Mad Max) – not the cinematic version; the blood and guts and lynching version. I know that the houses around me are stockpiled with weapons and fear…
and overpopulation and homelessness and the extinction of public services in favor of war and walls . . . and it continues to spiral . . . and the football moms and dads don’t ever notice because it would take away from their busy, busy lives.
But thank you, mysterious guide or higher power or god in the sake of simplicity, for sending your assistant Kristine to me on that crazy sad, tear-filled day. We were meant to meet, if only so that I could see that there actually are good people left in the world.
On that particular day, I had lost my faith, and I needed to be shown that there is still a reason to go on. There are people who walk the talk. Not many, it seems, but they are out there.
I love you, Kristine. Keep walking the talk, and always stay curious.
“There is only one rule that binds all people. One governing principle that defines every relationship on God’s green earth: The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.”
“Christine, poor people must exist, because without them, there can’t be rich people.”
I was just about to write about my impressions of the online critiques of Cloud Atlas when an authoritative white male voice* coming from the radio caught my attention. My thoughts about that confusing but thought-provoking film can wait: I need to get this off my chest.
It may have been the Morning Edition that was playing on NPR when I thought I had to have misheard this ‘expert’ of some sort talk very authoritatively about Germany’s announcement to take in 800,000 refugees. I was wondering if she, the collective national she that is, may be feeling the need to atone for deeds done past when I heard:
“These are educated people, doctors and lawyers and such. We’re not talking about the bottom of the barrel . . .”
Those words hit me like a punch in the gut. Because these kinds of terms reflect a sickness that seems to have infected so many people—people who make judgments on others based on what they studied, or didn’t study, what they wear or how they look, or even what they eat or what they have in their possession to value their worth as human beings. In other words, if you were not able to afford an education and don’t have the cash to grease the right palms, you are at the ‘bottom of the barrel,’ and don’t deserve any assistance of any sort.
Some of my bosses at my university job made disparaging remarks when they saw photos in the newspaper, “Look at these people, living off of welfare – but they have enough money to buy beer!”
I hear this type of message each and every day, on the radio, online, in my neighborhood, and even within my own family.
My father was one of those at the bottom of the barrel; just another one of those faceless, nameless slobs who was invisible to respectable, hard working people like ourselves.
Dad had been a child refugee in the Russian-Finnish war. He was put on a ship alone (with several hundred other ‘orphaned’ children) at five or six years old and sent from Helsinki to Stockholm. The trip took nearly a week due to the thick, winter ice and fear of being attacked at sea. He spent another day traveling north by train to live on a feudalistic estate.
My father, at seven years old, was put to work in the fields picking vegetables. He slept under a bench in the kitchen of a two-room “apartment” over the dairy on a straw “mattress.” His early childhood was so horrifying that he wrote about it shortly before he died. It wasn’t until he retired and had amassed a healthy savings that he could breathe for the first time in his difficult life and face the nightmares that he had buried since childhood.
He frequently warned me at the dinner table that I had to be grateful for every scrap I was given; I had to think of this meal as perhaps my very last. My father buried his war wounds only far enough to get through the day, but they often bubbled up far enough to seep into my psyche.
What I absorbed terrified me.
But I can’t even begin to imagine what a refugee or homeless person lives through each and every moment. The feelings of fear and abandonment must be overwhelming. I can’t imagine begging for food, shelter, clean water…and being treated like a disease.
They’re human beings, but we look upon them as completely different than ourselves. We walk right past them and don’t even treat them like they’re same species for all the concern that we give them.
We walk just inches away from them in the streets and don’t even see that they’re there.
God forbid actually touching one of them.
I may have gotten a glimpse into how it feels to be treated this way. I’ve seen the sickness and apathy actually seeping out through their eyes . . . the same kind of apathy and ignorance I heard on the radio.
One quiet, sunny, Sunday afternoon, I was wandering alone in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. The old buildings were still there, as were some of the old, crusty businesses that have weathered the weekly onslaughts of sports fanatics since the dawn of super stadiums, although I don’t know how. Pioneer Square, once vibrant and filled with artists and musicians and spicy people has become not much more than a grungy destination spot on Seattle tourism maps—and a parking lot for mindless herds of screaming, pumped-up yuppies.
I was turning the corner at First and Washington when I came upon a woman who was sobbing in a doorway. I mean she was really losing it. She was in a very bad place.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No, I’m not,” she sobbed.
She stood up and came toward me. She had desperation in her eyes. She didn’t seem to be an addict, but I am really blind to that kind of stuff, so who knows. I got the impression that she had ‘mental’ issues, which is extremely likely.
Thanks again, Reagan.
She was a very skinny black woman who may have been in her thirties or forties, but she looked about seventy-five.
She grabbed my arms. “Please help me!” She was still sobbing and could barely talk.
I looked into her eyes and saw that she meant me no harm. She was simply a human being who had reached her limit.
“What do you need?” I asked.
She pulled me toward her and I tried to pull away. She smelled like she hadn’t bathed in many months and the odor was almost unbearable.
She pleaded with me, “Please, I’m sorry ma’am, please: may I ask you: do you have any change that you can spare?”
That ma’am nonsense always makes me feel horrible. Even though I did live in the south for a very short time…
I stopped and listened to what she had to say. She leaned toward me and whispered,
“I need to get some women things! I won’t spend it on booze, ma’am, please believe me, I just need to get me some women things!”
I finally noticed that she was kind of bouncing and crossing her legs.
I saw myself through her eyes, or maybe I saw inside her, I don’t know. I felt her emotion and understood her. Suddenly, she wasn’t a reeking homeless woman, she was my sister and she needed my help.
Her eyes had told me that no one had touched her in a very long time, so I hugged her. I held my breath and hugged her and she broke down again, but it was a little different this time. I sensed her gratitude for just the tiniest shred of compassion that she felt and it gave her enough strength to go on just a few more steps. . . .
I gave her all the cash I had, which was only five or ten bucks, and she looked deeply into my eyes, then hugged me again.
She and I shared a very deep connection.
I turned to walk away and standing there, with mouths agape, was a well dressed, upwardly mobile urban family: a mom and dad with a couple of kids and a dog or two. And a baby in an SUV-sized stroller.
It was the man that caught my eye. He was staring at me like I was some kind of alien behind a window in a lab. His face wore an expression of sick fascination.
He had no idea what had taken place, but I could see that he, an educated, young, white, male, urban professional, had assessed the unusual occurrence from his narrow and entitled point of view and was already giving it a label and mentally writing his Facebook post:
“The homeless are out of control!” or something equally inane and incorrect.
He himself would have never gotten involved.
I saw that revulsion as clearly as I see the clothes he was wearing as I passed him. He seemed to almost jump away from me.
I felt like he had backed away so that I didn’t infect him.
“They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps! I did it, so can they.”
Although, my father was a white man. He has no idea what it’s like for a woman. Or for a person of color.
And in the mid 1900s, the world was the white man’s oyster – and there were still a lot of pearls left to grab.
In 2015, however, the powerful are doing all they can to make as much money as they can no matter what the cost, and they are changing international law to try and achieve this (and no one is paying attention).
Deep down, my father was not a hateful man, but his own fear of going without kept him susceptible to conditioning by church and state. He was raised Lutheran. He was a ‘believer,’ and never questioned anything that came from the mouths of his leaders.
Later in life, he nearly accepted a position at the Boeing company in which he would have designed military weapons, even though he himself had nearly been killed by bombs in Finland.
He honestly didn’t see any problem with it.
After all, it paid well. And Making Money is the American Way. Dad had denounced his Finnish heritage the day he mutilated himself to ‘fit in,’ but that is a story in itself.
He became all American.
It is absolutely amazing, the ability in human beings not to see the world as it is. We create nice versions of it in our minds and ignore the ugliness, unless it affects us directly.
Every single one of us is capable of being inhumane and apathetic. In fact, I submit that by not doing anything, we are just as culpable as those who are pulling the trigger, or building giant walls to make sure that those without don’t take what’s “ours.”
I saw a meme that is staying with me all week. It stated that we should be building “longer tables, not higher fences.”
I agree wholeheartedly.
*I do not hate white men. I know many whom I adore. But everyone agrees – even aware white men – that after 200 years of having control, it’s time to have a real representation of the US in charge so that women and people of color can earn the same wages as white men and not get arrested for no reason, or denied access to contraceptives – or even to have control over our own bodies – or shot on the streets if you are not white, or left homeless, which is becoming an epidemic…we need real people in charge, not the rich, corporate puppets that we currently have, who look upon the hundreds of thousands of homeless refugees as just a few more ‘casualties of war.’
For more than 15 years I had been living my life vicariously through international and domestic travelers’ stories at the bar at the Warwick hotel.
Over the years, several men assumed that I was a prostitute and asked me how much I charged.
My father told me I should expect no less; what could I possibly be thinking: a single woman, sitting at a hotel bar?
I watched countless restaurant managers come and go. There were so many of them I invented a game for my favorite bartender Annie.
I would call the manager du jour over and initiate a conversation. It only took me a few minutes and direct eye contact to give my friend and liquid pharmacist the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’…
I became extremely accurate in character assessment.
“You were right again, Christine! This one’s an absolute asshole!” staff would confirm.
There were some good ones – usually women – but they didn’t last long.
I wish I could go back and change the night that I met Eartha Kitt.
(photo of Ms Kitt by Robert Lebeck, 1960: the year I was born)
I had been talking to her drummer, who was the first one of the group to leave the club. He was sitting at the bar. I had no idea that Ms. Kitt herself would be joining him…
We chatted like old neighborhood friends about living in New York back in ‘the day,’ and how it had been so vibrant before it was Disneyized by political puppets and corporate greed. I thought about all the famous people I had spotted, but like a true New Yorker, I had learned to act nonchalantly and ignore them – in order to give them their due respect, and space.
Then, she appeared, walking across the room toward us.
She was tiny.
And absolutely radiant.
She was a legend, and she was standing right there, right in front of me, exhausted but beaming. She was eighty years old.
Her presence filled the room and beyond.
She acknowledged her drummer, then smiled and looked at me. She extended her hand as she purred,
“Hello. I’m Eartha Kitt.”
It was her one-of-a-kind, sexy, alto voice and it was surreal.
I took her hand, smiled, and said,
“Hello. I’m Christine Makela.”
She and her drummer moved to a table.
I learned shortly after that that she had died.
I wish that I had let her know what an inspiration she was, to have Made It in a white, Man’s world. And not only did she make it; she became a Legend.
I, of all people, know how difficult it is for an artist to survive, let alone thrive, in the version of life that we are living- the version created by greed and apathy and entitlement…
I should have dropped to my knees and kissed her feet.
Ms. Kitt, it was an extreme honor and joy to have met you: You were loved.
(photo of Ms Kitt found on Dailymail.co.uk)