Dear Mr Palmer,

if that’s even really your name. I searched a little, but nothing came up . . .

You sir, are a predator.

You are the reason that women don’t go to bars and restaurants alone.

You are the reason that honest, respectful, thoughtful men get verbally or even physically attacked by us:  we have become terrorized by men like you—who, by the way, are a dime a dozen—and we literally feel panic each and every time we step outside our front doors.

You are the reason I have become incapable of telling real men how I feel about them, men who really do care about me and want to protect me. I’ve been burned so many times that I’ve come to expect to be raped or abused or played with emotionally or touched or shot down or looked right through or interrupted as I’m trying to finish a sentence, and I hide my inner self deep down inside so that they don’t use my feelings against me.

Today I was so terrified again that I stayed home, stoned, in bed, curtains shut tight. Unable to face people.

Tonight, I’m starting my first speech to present at victims support groups and I’m going to tell them all about your attempt to get me into bed.

I’ll explain to them that it’s actually “our fault,” or what was it you said, after I told you that I was celebrating the wrap-up of my story of my first rape by having a cheeseburger and fries because I had only been eating celery, peanuts, and chocolate for the last week, something about, “well, what do you expect us to do when you take your clothes off?”

. . . mine were on, but the way your eyes were burning through them, I felt stark naked and under a microscope.

I felt penetrated just by the way you were staring at my body—with the composure and confidence of a monitor lizard, hunting its prey.

I will tell them about you and all the other men like you who threaten me; every time that I leave my house it seems to happen in some shape or form. I will tell them that you are to be watched out for, suspected—no avoided like the Zeka virus by every woman and girl on the planet.

They should post warning signs with a picture of your face and a list of your pick-up lines on bar room doors.

But don’t worry, I’ve been a very good study, and I’ve also been taking notes. I’ve compiled a list of your character traits so they can see you coming a mile away and run for cover.

I can still feel your hand on the small of my back, and it makes my skin crawl and my stomach knot and every muscle in my body spasm; it’s that muscle memory that comes right back . . .

Thanks so much for bringing those memories back again, just when I was trying so hard to forget.

I had ventured out yesterday afternoon to be around people since I’d been alone in my studio, which resembles the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for nearly a month, going back through all of those horrific, agonizing memories . . . many that I had not allowed myself to face for 40 years . . . and I was seeking a little human companionship.

But instead I found a snake.

You may have passion and creativity and maybe even caring somewhere deep inside you, but those things have gone dark—like mine were most of my life—and believe me, I know when I see a lost soul. You are seriously disconnected from those things. You endlessly recite your past because you’re desperately trying to get back in touch with the part of you that wrote it, but you don’t just get it back with liquor and fornication or by puffing up your chest and strutting around, boasting about how rich and famous you are . . . maybe you were somebody once, but what are you now? What are you doing now besides throwing money around and being the life of the party, even when you know that it only makes you feel like shit the next morning because all that pain is still there, though it’s masked with feelings of nausea and drilling in your brain.

And all that I said to your face, after all of that, was that you don’t listen, which you don’t. You “let” women speak for five or ten minutes while you contemplate your best moves and you don’t hear a thing we say before you take the stage and start your show. Then the only voice you hear is your own.

I get it. You’re hurting. But you know what? We ALL are. Stop taking it out on us. Pick on somebody your own goddamned size.

And remember:  women are not the brainless lesser beings that you think. We do have brains, and we are wiser than you. And all we want is love, also, but you refuse to listen to a fucking word we have to say. You don’t need to know more than we do. You don’t need to educate us. Show us a little respect and compassion and REAL appreciation instead of cheap flattery on our appearance and empty offers of help:  like when I asked you what you knew about agents but as the true sexist pig that you are (you are no feminist sir; having 5 ex-wives does not make you so), you instead wrote down the names of books I should read to learn how to write.

Because again, you are so far above me, all you need to do is throw me a bone or buy me a drink and you think I’ll swoon and drop to my knees?

Really?

To you, a new woman is merely something to try, like a new flavor of vodka. And your insatiable appetite for both is truly astounding.

Even I, an expert on narcissists and psychopaths (since I have spent so much intimate time with them), even I kept my mouth shut and didn’t say a thing about your sick behavior. I had my voice stolen from me at a very young age, and I still have a hard time using it, but I should have told you the first time you swept my hair behind my ear to get your fucking hands off of me.

I had to get over my initial reaction of physical pain first though, and identify the cause of my pain before I could confidently defend myself. I’m always afraid that my “blowups” may be over-reactions and can also sometimes be completely wrong . . . like recently with a very dear friend of mine; one of those real men that I mentioned before.

I can’t believe that I allowed you to do that to me. I was an emotional wreck, and you took advantage of that fact, plain and simple.

You sir, are a Rapist.

Rape   (rāp) n. 

1. a. The crime of using force [*or coercion] or the threat of force to compel a person to submit to sexual intercourse.

*Co·erce  (kō-ûrs′)
1. To pressure, intimidate, or force (someone) into doing something.

 

 

 

the doormat

There is something about myself I have never discussed with anyone (not even my therapists) or allowed myself to think about, not until now. Not the entire chain of events, not from beginning to end. Not how I allowed my desperation of being accepted by someone I believed to be “better than me” and who I thought had all the answers, turn me into a life-long, boot-licking victim.

Until today.

I’ve been forced to face these memories because of a recent misunderstanding that caused me to blow up at someone I care about. I realized that I am incapable of sharing my intimate thoughts with anyone because I never learned how. I am not even capable of letting someone I am interested in think that I might like him. I stay frosty and keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.

And if I start sleeping with a man; even worse. My voice seems to literally become muted. I start searching his every word for hints of betrayal and deception.

I was taught that love is just a word and that sex is something that men just do to women, and many of us give it away like it was nothing, because nothing is what we feel that we are

And I learned that if you give people access to your true thoughts and feelings, they’ll use that information to fuck with your soul.

I became an easy target because of:

*the withholding of information regarding sex, love, and my body by my parents; they would not discuss my fears about heaven and hell and they drove my faith right out of me. They would not discuss what a girl could do with her life if she didn’t want to get married and I got myself into “trouble.” They robbed me of my passion for life; they made me despise myself and always feel that I was somehow bad, or dirty or just plain evil,

*the severe emotional abuse by my father. I was desperate for love and acceptance, and it was written on my face,

*my other guardian, my extremely strict ballet teacher, made me despise my body and my “attitude.” I spent at least an hour and a half with Miss Barker each evening (5 days a week by the age of 12, up to 7 days a week by 14); her criticism was served with that downward-looking, English sneer she reserved especially for me. She admittedly didn’t like me, and she made me ashamed of my disgusting belly and “bad” arms and shoulders and feet, beginning at around age 12; the same time my father started being especially cruel to me. I was never strong enough or thin enough or fast enough or high enough, and I never understood that her jabs were a reflection of her frustration about my lack of effort, for always arriving late for class (because of my mother), and for the look I always got on my face when she made corrections. Inside, I was ashamed and I wanted to hide, to disappear, to die. The “sullen look” I always got on my face was my trying not to burst into tears in front of people. I had no joy in living:  that is what my problem was. But Barker insisted I had a “bad attitude” and my mother agreed with her, one hundred per cent,

*and, most importantly, the inability, for whatever reason, whether it was weakness of character or laziness (or perhaps something worse) on the part of my emotionally disconnected mother to give me unconditional love, support or guidance. She made me want to die. I felt like I was drifting alone, with no safety net or any safe place to turn.

I was an extremely sensitive child, an empath, whose sensitivity was scolded and used against her. I didn’t learn how to protect my innocent, trusting nature, not until too late, and not in a good way. My openness and passion to help other people, mixed with my overly-revealing clothing, desperate loneliness, and a great thirst for alcohol made me a magnet for those who prey on socially clueless geeks. Just like me.

Let’s face it, I was a geek, a nerd. I was the loser who let people use her and bully her around. I was desperate for acceptance, and it showed. Others though, those who felt even worse about themselves than I did, hated me for my posture or my clothes or some other superficial thing, and they would taunt me and call me snob or lesbian or whatever made them feel better for not being able to talk to me.

The fact that I wore my mother’s old silk-lined suits from the 50’s to school, properly accessorized, of course, with nylons, makeup and my grandmother’s vintage purse, high heels and costume jewelry probably didn’t help me look any more approachable. I guess I separated myself intentionally, beginning in junior high.

I usually walked from class to class alone.

Still, no one knew how terrified I was of absolutely everything, because I walked with the grace and arrogance of a ballerina. A part of me was arrogant, because I felt that I had talent. No one else seemed to know it, however, and I starting losing faith that I was anything special at all. I never had confidence to begin with in my worthiness to be alive.

I had always felt that I was unique in some way, but my parents always reminded me that I wasn’t, that I was no different from anyone else. “Who the hell did I think I was?” my father would ask me if I got any “big ideas.”

By high school, I was wearing snakeskin platforms with seamed nylons to school, along with my tacky rabbit fur coats. And I had no modesty from ballet, and felt completely comfortable revealing cleavage, legs, form. I was used to being naked in groups of people, in the dressing room, back-stage . . . I liked my clothes back then, but when I look back at photographs now, I looked like I was going to a Girls Gone Wild Reunion party.

If I had been my mother, I would have never allowed me to leave the house in those suggestive, trashy rags, much less buy them for me. She might as well have slapped a giant note on my ass that said,

I’M A STUPID,
ALCOHOLIC SLUT
WITH DADDY ISSUES!

I was Carol from the Walking Dead; completely alone, armed with only my overwhelming emotional pain to battle a world of zombies, and so accustomed to abuse that I was unable to tap into my own power to speak up for myself. My voice had been silenced. I felt gagged, choked; I was incapable of defending myself from my violent, abusive father, much less the world, as hard as I tried. I was made to feel that I had no value and that I somehow deserved to be treated the way that he treated me, and as long as I existed in the world that saw me as that powerless victim, I continued to believe it myself. I didn’t feel that I had the right just to make the simple request to be not to be ridiculed and laughed at or told that I was “overly emotional,” or that I’d “better snap out of it, or else” or that I was a “drag to be around.”

I certainly never entertained the notion that I deserved to wish for something more than they saw me as. Even though I knew I had something Special inside of me. A power, a calling, a gift; I began to doubt myself. So I put that feeling away somewhere safe where they couldn’t find it and finish destroying it, only it took me a very long time to find it again.

Too bad, that ‘gift’ was quite literally my soul.

I hate it when I do that: I hide things so well, I can’t even find them myself.

I finally realize, after 40 years, why I’ve been distrustful and suspicious of men who are interested in me (lordy I’m exhausted). I have firmly believed, until only just recently, that men were inherently Bad and that they had no emotions except for anger and aggression; that they only cared about controlling me and using me, and that beside a handful of them, they were all against me. That they saw me as nothing more than a Plaything, a Joke, a Piece of Ass or worse, often quite literally a Receptacle. I used to hear the term “mindless gash.” That pretty much describes how I’ve been feeling about myself for some 40 years, from the way I’ve been treated by men, as well as by many of my women friends, especially by the women in my family.

And my self-hatred and my belief that I deserved to be abused drew me to the to very men, as well as women, who were very likely to treat me exactly the way I was afraid of being treated.

I was as drawn to psychopathic narcissists as they were drawn to mirrors.

I was a willing target. I practically begged to be used. And used I was.

My father viewed women as either Good or Sinful. Both he and my mother, maybe in their sick attempts to bring me “back” to Christianity, seemed to enjoy road-blocking me and sucker-punching me and watching me fail at life, but dad’s taunting and fear-and-ignorance fueled cruelty and my mother’s hurtful, thoughtless reactions made me hate god and Christianity even more fervently.

“Oh no, not again, Chris! What did you do this time?”

She said it every time I “failed.” Which I did often.

And my dad:

“Goddamn it, Chris. I guess I’ll have to bail you out again!” He was incapable of offering me a loan, or helping me get out of my financial “fuck-ups” on my own, I mean, no one ever taught me a thing, and everyday things like money and finance make me want to vomit to begin with. Dad would toss me just enough to “get me on my feet,” but my ground was at a 75 degree angle and covered with nails.

And the money always had about a thousand strings attached. And future reminders, in case I ever forget what a Fuckup I am.

Once, when I was a teenager, and crazy with emotional pain, I lashed out about my father, and my mother hit me. She had never spanked me, or punished me in any way whatsoever, not ever, and I was not expecting that reaction.

Just at the time when my father’s abuse had me feeling especially powerless, attacked, worthless, hopeless, and unloved, my mother proved where her loyalty lies, once and for all, just in case I hadn’t already figured it out.

In between racking sobs I screamed, “I hate him! He’s a fucking asshole!”

She slapped me across my face so hard it turned my head. I never realized she had it in her. I was shocked and stunned.

She glared at me, like one of the mean, super-popular girls, who didn’t need to be nice to anybody.

“That’s my husband you’re talking about!” she sneered, and she turned on her heel and stormed out of the kitchen.

It was the most devastating kind of betrayal that I have ever felt, before or since.

I clearly saw the line in the sand. It was deep and I was standing all alone one side after she stepped across and stood behind my father. And she erased that line behind her.

Mom often warned that I should be more understanding of my father, after all, “he had had a very difficult childhood.”

 

Dear Linda Belmont,

Words will never describe how sorry I am for dropping you like a hot potato the moment that Dawn Chaney lit up my dark, emotionally damaged world.

You were right about her. You were right about me. And I was ignorant to your pain when I turned my back on you. You did not deserve that, you were sweet and simple but that wasn’t good enough for me. Not when she made me decide between the two of you.

I made a very bad decision.

You were real and I thought that meant weak. Because I had been real, and my parents had shamed me for being that way. I learned that I needed to hide my real feelings and real desires and honest emotions from the world. I was learning that I had no power over anything that happened in my life.

When Dawn found me and took me under her wing (under her foot), and made me her Best Friend Forever, I felt like I was the Center of the Universe. She was a magnet. And yes, I was a walking cliché.

Dawn had been popular since junior high. Every year, there she was again in the school annual, posing with the football jock at prom, or doing back-flips at a gymnastics tournament (which her team naturally won). She sang and acted in all the musicals, dated the most popular boys, performed on stage during lunchtime in the cafeteria . . . she was Golden, but the things that she touched didn’t seem to have much longevity . . .

and I had no idea that she was filled with nothing but BLACK on the inside.

She was my friend. And she was a Prima Donna, a Diva; a Super Nova that lit up my world so brightly, I would do anything to stay basking in her light.

From day one, she had me wrapped around her little finger, with her baby-talk and cute little love notes to me during class, my otherwise mind-numbing, soul-sucking classes; and her wanting to share clothes and shoes with me, even though she was much larger and stretched out everything I owned, made me feel like her Specialness would somehow rub off on me.

She introduced me to music and people and places I didn’t know and I ate up her empty flattery and glittery charm with a spoon while I ignored the fact that I had become her personal assistant, chauffeur and emotional play-thing.

I would fix her tuna sandwiches with Constant Comment tea after school while she napped on our family room couch; she always seemed exhausted, and I didn’t know why and I never bothered to ask.

To me, we were “best friends,” because that’s what she told me. But she said whatever I wanted to hear. And she could read my mind.

I was a virgin when I met Dawn. I had made out with a lot of boys, but touching is as far as I’d gone. On one hand, I thought about sex probably about as much as most boys, yet I still wanted to wait for someone I at least liked and trusted.

I have no idea when Dawn popped her cherry, but I’m certain that she had gotten around all of Redmond and most of Bellevue well before we ever met. But she put on a fabulous show to convince me otherwise; for whatever reason I have no idea. I doubt that anything she ever said to me was the truth.

I don’t know how she kept it all straight.

She convinced me to go out on a “double date” with her and her “boyfriend” and his friend, who I had met before, I don’t really remember. His head was tiny and he was bald and he had empty, beady little eyes. He was thin and sinewy and he towered over me. He reminded me of a tall, dark, ugly serpent.

I was just 16 and never had any “cool” friends (I didn’t have any other friends), and I’d never been on a double date. I was deathly shy around the male gender, and barely spoke. I mainly just answered their questions and hoped they liked me.

It was Christmas day, or right around there, of 1976, and I vividly remember waiting by the front door for them to pick me up. I was looking at the lights on the Christmas tree. I could see my reflection in the faux stained “glass” in our entrance way; my milk-chocolate colored, skin-tight, platform leather boots with four or five-inch heals and my brand new rabbit fur coat.

Kind of like the ones that hookers wear.

It was dark and snowing, but it hadn’t started sticking. I was excited. The memories are spotty . . . I don’t remember saying a word while we drove south on I-5, which was dark and deserted. Dawn and her boyfriend and his friend were all talking about something . . . but I had my head tilted up and I was looking out the back window at the black sky and the flashes of snow that were lit up by the “passing” streetlights. Fly Like an Eagle came on the radio. I felt happy.

I had only been to a handful of parties in my life. And only with a girlfriend, not with an actual date.

But all I remember is going into the basement of a house, and then I was in a tiny, darkened bedroom with a twin sized bed. I kept giving excuses why I wasn’t ready . . .

He got up and walked across the small, dark room. I could barely see him, his skin and clothes were so dark. I heard rustling, then he came back toward me. He was towering over me, completely naked, with a glowing green condom stretched out over his enormous erection.

Maybe it was just average, but I had never seen one like that; I had never even been near a naked man and it scared me because I had never seen a naked man before (except for my father), and it was obvious what he was going to do, even though I had told him I didn’t want to . . .

I was terrified about what he was going to do to me. I was scared about what I’d gotten myself into. I was unable to utter a word; any word other than a soft, barely audible, “no.”

It is impossible to describe that kind of helplessness, that physical reminder of vulnerability that all women share just because we were born with something that men have turned into something else; something we are to be ashamed of and embarrassed about; something they want and some feel entitled to.

All I could see from the gleam of the nightlight was that glowing green hard-on, pointing right at my face, threatening me. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

I didn’t do anything, except to repeat the word “no” again and again . . . but he didn’t listen. I cried when it happened, even though it didn’t last long, thank god. We got dressed and left that stuffy little room.

The first thing I saw was Dawn, standing next to her boyfriend, both of them laughing at what a baby I was. They had heard my “nos” and my crying. I was humiliated.

The fucking rapist was laughing, too.

I don’t remember any other details about that night. I couldn’t tell you if there was actually a party or not. I don’t remember going home. I do know that I allowed myself to be emotionally raped that night as well as physically raped, because I kept my mouth shut, and never said a word about it, not to anyone, not until now.

And still, I remained “friends” with Dawn.

And she hadn’t even gotten started with me yet.

 

Linda,

I wanted to call you and talk to you about that fucked up night when it first happened, but how could I? I had abandoned you, and I had felt badly about it as soon as I did it.

I kept that shame and embarrassment to myself. I mean, who the hell could I tell?

I don’t know how I could possibly trust Dawn after what she did to me, but I did, and when she introduced me to my first boyfriend, Seth, I didn’t have the first clue that she was doing him, too. Or, maybe she waited until after I stated dating him . . .

I didn’t have a clue what kind of nasty, disgusting girl she was until she showed me photos of a the enormous erect phallus of a pimp she was doing;

But this was much later on.

Seth was as wounded as I was, and he loved to cry on girl’s shoulders about how badly his ex-girlfriends all treated him and how broken up he was about it. He found that he could get a car-load of pussy that way. I fell right into his back seat, with all my ignorance and gullibility and desperation to feel loved.

His mother lived in a mental institution and his father had children with all of his mother’s sisters, so his cousins were also his brothers and sisters. He slept on his shared-father’s living room couch in a dilapidated old house near Woodland Park Zoo.

We consumed racks of “malt liquor” while I listened to his stories about how the world was against him, and I felt the same way and it bonded us; our shared loneliness and confusion and abandonment and terror.

But he was also the best teacher I had in the art of sex,

which apparently, all the girls at my high school were privy to as well

even though he was only two years older than I, because he had read The Joy of Sex as a teenager and had studied and mastered it and he was very apt student. At least in the arena of sex. But that’s as far as his studies went, I’m afraid.

Seth is another tome of a story which I don’t want to face at this particular time, so maybe another letter, but suffice it to say, I was clearly not paying enough attention to Seth when Dawn was around. And vice versa.

I was always much too trusting. And blind to the truth.

Here are the facts:

  • Occasionally I would run into Seth (back in the 70s, Bellevue and Redmond were very small) at the beach or at the mall and Dawn would be with him. I never asked her a thing about it, but I would grill him for hours, sometimes days, and it would hurt me but I’d always accept his lies and never even discuss the issue with that evil, damaged she-devil. Because to my face, she was sweetness and Light, and her words were carefully devised to get me to do what she wanted me to do. I just kept on letting it slide.
  • I once skipped a morning class and went to this party apartment, a place where we’d all go get drunk and hang out and sometimes have sex, and there among the dozen or so passed-out bodies sprawled across the living room floor lay my boyfriend and my best friend, nearly spooning, fully clothed, but side-by-side. When Dawn hadn’t arrived at school, I had gotten suspicious, knowing that there had been a party the night before . . . but because their clothes were on, I let it slide. I was never able to even bring it up; or more likely I was twisting the facts in my head so that I wouldn’t see the truth. Makelas are excellent at not seeing what we don’t want to see.
  • My ignorance must have been amusing to Dawn, because she played me like a broken fiddle. I was so blind that I still kept my eyes shut for several days after she fucked my boyfriend in her parent’s bed . . . I even helped her change the sheets while she laughed.

 

She had told me that she was having a party one Friday night when her parents were out of town. She managed to make me believe that there would be someone there that didn’t want to see me and that I didn’t want to see; but the truth was that “my boyfriend” had spent the night with her.

She called me the next morning, and I didn’t have wheels, so I got a ride over to her house right away like a good little doggie (did I see his car driving down the hill as I was heading up?), and I helped her clean up and strip the bed (was it still warm?) and she was happy and laughing and joking around.

I kept my blinders on just a little bit longer, long enough to get home and fall down into a million pieces on my bedroom floor (thank god I could lock myself in and my parents never bothered to check on me), until I could finally face the fact that Dawn had used me and played with me like a dying mouse, since the very beginning.

I wanted to hurt her. I wanted revenge, but I never learned how to strike back. I wanted her to think about what she had done to me, how devastated she made me feel, but I didn’t know how.

Several days later when Dawn and I were sitting in Mr Green’s biology class, after I had been acting perfectly normal, or as normal as I possibly could act, she passed me one of her stupid, baby-talk notes, that said something like,

“Boo boo, I miss you so much! I haven’t talked to you for so long! Can we go to McDonalds’s after school? My mom and sisters won’t be home, but if you drive, I can give you a dollar for gas . . .”

I looked at her and I let her see the real me, the enraged me, backed up by the beginnings of Jessica, my alter ego. I glared at her, straight into her blackened soul, and told her that I knew about everything; that I had just been waiting for the right time, and that time was now, and that I saw what she truly was.

She actually cried. She acted as if I had punched her or something. All I did was to calmly let her know that I could really see her, and I knew that she was ugly inside. She got up and stormed away and from then on, she avoided me in the hallways at school. And she wrote a message to me in our high school annual that said,

God’ll get you, CM.

I never did understand what she could have possibly meant by that sad, pointless threat.

But that is the ONLY thing I ever did about it.

I had finally seen the pattern, only after having the wool drawn across my stupid eyes again and again and again.

It is truly astonishing, how we can make ourselves blind to obvious truths when we don’t want to see them.

I don’t remember if I ever even faced Seth with that humiliating, soul-crushing blow.

 

Dearest Linda,

I thought you’d find it entertaining to learn that I ran into Dawn last week.

And I am truly shocked at what happened when I went to meet her.

Yes, I know. I never learn. But she seemed like she had really changed, and she was acting so nice, and let’s face it: she still has the Light, and I am merely a moth.

She was babysitting at a condo near 156th. She invited me to go swimming at the pool there.

I kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t say much at all. She prattled on about her singing and other things about herself. We were floating on air mattresses in our bikinis. The sun was scorching, so while Dawn was becoming even more golden brown, my skin was beginning to burn.

Silence.

Then, she asked, with all the sincerity of a child,

“Remember that time that I had Seth over to spend the night, and you came over and made the bed? That was sooooo funny!”

The world stopped spinning. I stared at her, trying to detect some trace of life, some sign of humanity in her eyes, but there was absolutely nothing. She had a huge grin on her beaming face, but her eyes were as dead as the dogfish’s eyes that I caught in the Puget Sound when I was ten.

I picked up my things and left. It took me that much to realize that she was truly incapable of feeling anything at all, and that she was capable of doing just about anything. I went home and I don’t think I talked to anyone, not for a very long time.

I kept my blinders on with my “boyfriend” for another several years. I still didn’t understand that love is not supposed to be apathetic, distrustful, and cruel.

He wasn’t a bad guy, not really. He was just as weak and injured as I was. Besides his problem with infidelity, he actually treated me very well, in his extremely limited way. I lived with him in three different apartments, at which he covered all of my expenses. I don’t recall ever making dinner or cleaning or washing clothes; he did everything, I think. I never paid a bill or wrote a check until I was nearly 23, which caused a completely new set of problems for me.

Seth brought us to Jack-in-the-Box every night, and we’d sit in the car at a park or wherever and eat our cheeseburgers and listen to Earth, Wind & Fire or Parliament on his 8-track while we drank beer and we’d joke and laugh and it was fun when we were alone.

But then we started getting those fast food orders to-go, and we’d sit in front of the TV and re-watch Moonraker or the Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls, and he and his ever-increasing entourage of groupies would howl and drool and I became just a symbol of a human being; I was never taken seriously even when I did join in conversations at the every-night-all-night poker games. I just tried keep up with their drinking and smoking and raunchy jokes.

I was the token girl. I was once again daddy’s second-best son, the unwilling tom-boy, the butt of all sexist jokes; listening to their legends of sexual conquest and whose dick is bigger than whose and other fishing stories, nightly embellished by the background noise of belching and fart-lighting.

I nagged at my boyfriend to go to school. I believed that he was intelligent, but it never occurred to me that maybe I could benefit from an education myself. It never crossed my mind that I could even make it into college. And he didn’t think he was capable of much, either, because he never did do anything with his life.

But look who’s talking.

I let people use me the way they did because I was taught that I deserved it.

It crushes my soul when I witness mothers talking to their daughters the way my mother communicated with me. The way my sisters communicate with their daughters. They’re not listening. They hear only what they want to hear; they are only listening for tidbits of information that they can use to somehow manipulate them further down the line.

They only want to control their children, to own them, to corral them into thinking that their parents are their “best friends” so they’ll buy a house just down the road, then mommy will ALWAYS have a drinking buddy when daddy goes on his huntin’ trips.

I hope that my nieces and nephews all RUN as fast as they can, away from the people who share that fucked up mentality that drives the lies and manipulation and fear that they seem to feel that we somehow need in order to be just like them.

You and I were friends for just a short time, Linda, but I can’t tell you how many times I wished and prayed that I had never rejected you. My life ended the day I met the Beast named Dawn Chaney.

I paid dearly for that bad decision, and it was just the first of 40 years worth of mistakes, many with consequences that made me want to die.

notes about my father

My father lived the majority of his life in a constant state of terror.

I didn’t realize this as a little girl because he was very good at keeping it hidden. He hid his pain and put on a solid front of strength and intelligence and power.

But his buried fear never stayed buried for long: it needed to express itself and it became anger. And the anger wanted to express itself and it festered and stewed and then it woke up in the evenings when fueled by the six o’clock news and doused with whiskey and it burst forth as rage.

Not every night. But I was always ready.

And when that front door opened and he skulked into the house after work each evening and I heard his briefcase drop to the tiled entranceway floor, I kept my mouth shut and stayed small until I was able to gauge his mood.

Some nights it was just simple irritation to accompany his always-present anxiety. He would yell at the news anchor; or should I say that he yelled with the anchor, because he wouldn’t even entertain the thought that the white men on ABC or NBC or CBS might be speaking anything other than the truth—nothing but the truth—and what they were saying terrified him and he would consume those fearful words with every bite of meat and potatoes, and he would regurgitate the same words of hatred from the news like gospel, horrific stuff like:

‘Goddamned welfare mothers are sucking up my hard earned tax dollars!’ or

‘Goddamn niggers, always causing problems! Look at them, destroying all that property!’

He seemed to have so much hatred for people he’d never even met. And such a reverence for material things.

We religiously watched the evening news in silence on our black and white TV. The females were silent that is; dad yelled and seethed as the television blasted sounds from Viet Nam and from violent protests brought on by injustice and inequality in places like Compton and Watts; and of the warnings of gas shortages and layoffs at Boeing which really stressed dad out because that’s where he worked.

He was reminded every single day how close he was to losing his income. As was I reminded that I could, at any time, lose everything.

And it seemed like the news men were forever talking about the shrinking economy and the gas crisis and always of war . . . and of those horrible, lazy welfare moms, sucking greedily from the teat of society; and dad didn’t want to shell out his hard earned money to people who were ‘taking advantage.’

And the news brought back my father’s terrifying memories of spending his nights in the bomb shelter in Helsinki and the other bomb shelter in northern Finland, and he clearly remembered never having enough to eat because he talked about it often. He’d say,

“Chris, clean your plate! You should feel lucky! You never know when you might go without . . .”

He loved to reminisce about starving as a child; and of trying to run in the deep deep snow at five years old with the Russian planes dropping bombs and the blood and guts and body parts all around him . . . and the very real images coming from Vietnam fueled his fear which called for even more alcohol and increased rage.

And when I was younger, it never occurred to me that when my father emigrated from Finland in 1947, at twelve years old, he had moved from a literal war zone to a country which was about to start building bomb shelters and talked incessantly about war and worried non-stop about the Big One.

It must have seemed to him that the Russian army had followed him from his little country of Finland and had somehow found him in the United States of America.

I used to ask my father about what it was like to go to a new country and have to learn a new language at twelve years old with no help, no ESL courses or tutoring or assistance from any adult. He was tossed, sink or swim, into the Berkeley public school system without understanding a word of English. His studies lagged seriously behind his American counterparts’ since all of his subjects were taught in one of the most difficult languages to learn. And knowing my father, he felt shame and embarrassment beyond containment. And knowing my father, he would hold onto his shame and plan revenge; he would show them, he would get ahead somehow.

But in front of me, he always acted like it was just a big old cake walk.

‘I don’t know why all these Spanish people need special help! I never had any and I did just fine!’ He was enraged whenever he learned about someone getting something without “working for it.” Or getting something that he didn’t get.

But he always maintained that he assimilated into his new culture without any problems. It was easy as apple pie for him, by golly!

But, he never mentioned this little factoid, which I learned of when I was a teenager: My father cut off his own foreskin with a razor blade because all the other boys in his new school were circumcised. He nearly bled to death.

I’m no expert, but I’d say that he had some issues.

Talk about self-mutilation.

I’ve always marveled at human beings’ ability to rewrite history by holding onto certain memories and ignoring others. I guess a person would become an expert at keeping his head in the sand if his entire childhood had only provided him hunger and terror and abandonment, as far back as his earliest memories.

But sometimes, when I was young, before my father and I stopped talking altogether, before all dialogue between us was hateful and cruel, before my thirteenth birthday, he would wake me up at four or five in the morning by whispering loudly,

‘Chris, wake up ! Let’s go fishing!’

I’d pull the sheets over my head and complain. ‘Daaaaaad, it’s too early! Let me go back to

sleeeeeep. . . .’

‘Aw, come on. Get dressed and bring your waders. I’ll be in the kitchen packing our lunch. . . .’

I never got a say in the matter. Nor in what scary thing he put together for lunch. And neither can I say that I enjoyed standing in the bone-chilling Tolt river while it was still so dark I could barely see; me, a vampire like my mom who stayed up until the wee hours every night, watching the Tonight Show or reading until we could no longer keep our eyes open.

And I didn’t always love night skiing and I froze my ass off in my blue jeans and wool mittens because dad was too frugal to buy me waterproof gear. But afterward we’d sit in the lodge and dad would have a hot toddy or whiskey and something and I’d sip on a hot chocolate while the feeling came back to my fingers and toes and we changed into our after-ski boots (which humorously became some kind of odd fashion statement in the 2000s and beyond).

Some weekends I’d lay awake for hours in the tent, listening to my dad and his German buddy laugh and cry and tell jokes while they drank by the campfire by a pristine, deserted mountain lake or stream. I think they passed out once outside until morning, fire still smoldering, beer cans everywhere.

Those dug-up memories with dad are important to me now because looking back, maybe he didn’t hate me like I had always believed. He probably just didn’t want to go alone, and if there had been a boy in the vicinity, or if my younger, blonder sister had been older, I would have been dropped like a hot potato. But still, he did do his best to bond with me, before he realized that my mind was not as pliable to his wishes as he expected it to be.

For a while, I was his token boy. I was taken fishing and camping and skiing and to Seattle International Raceway, especially whenever any Formula cars came through town. He’d fry up chicken livers for the two of us since mom wouldn’t eat them, and we’d share jars of pickled herring with boiled potatoes and beer.

He told me stories, but I don’t remember any conversations. I doubt we ever had a real one. And he didn’t talk to me like I had a brain because after all, it was 1960s America and I was just a stupid girl. He talked down to me. He certainly didn’t listen to anything I had to say. In fact, he argued with me on every single comment I ever made, all of my life.

And his disgust for me was palpable, once he realized that I had a mind and a vagina of my own and I was going to use both organs as I wished, not what his stupid religion told him to tell me to do with them.

The man was an emotional child; severely emotionally disturbed; and he honestly had no idea what being a parent was supposed to look like. Or that girls aren’t lesser than boys, or that children need to be tended to emotionally or that they might actually have something to say. His ideas about child rearing, and of life, came from either what he witnessed on the farm or from the bible. Human beings, in his narrow point of view, especially female human beings, are filled with sin from the moment they enter the world and need to be tamed and assimilated and controlled.

My father’s mother had never married and had to work around the clock to support herself and her son and she was as cold as Finland. She was a furrier: she made fur coats and stoles and wraps on her sewing machine in their little apartment in Helsinki, and working seemed to be pretty much all she ever knew.

Dad spent summers with his grandfather and great aunt north of Helsinki on a farm, where he was pretty much on his own at five years old because his aunt didn’t like him and didn’t feed him and beat him with wet dishrags. He had to learn to defend himself soon after he learned to walk.

And he held onto his hatred for his spinster aunt all the way to his deathbed. And he always made sure I remembered that I was a spinster, too.

He got drunk for the first time on mead at age seven. And he started me drinking at the age of ten, when he gave me a boiler-maker. I nearly puked. He laughed, and I vowed to practice so he wouldn’t be able to laugh at me again.

Boy, did I practice.

From what I know of my father’s childhood and from what he was able to reveal in his writing, he was always highly resourceful and creative. But he was also oppressed; put to work in the fields in Sweden at age seven, having his life dictated by war and misogyny. His mother, being deathly ashamed of being an unmarried mother, lied to her young son, telling him that his father had died. It wasn’t until dad was up for a promotion at Boeing sometime in the 1980s to work in the military division, designing weapons of “defense,” that there was no death certificate for his dad because the old man was still alive and living in Helsinki.

Dad nearly had a breakdown. He cried and yelled and ranted about being a bastard. I can still see him clearly, pacing back and forth throughout our rambler, crying and yelling and pacing around the dining room table like a hamster on a wheel.

I had already been knocked up twice when my father began his rantings about unmarried mothers, bastards, tramps, sluts, and whores.

And I asked him just that one time how he could even think of designing military weaponry; he of all people, who had experienced the effects of war first-hand. He flatly told me that they’d be built with or without him, and the money was very good.

I was speechless. And my respect for my father took a nosedive that day. And I agreed with him that yes, he was indeed a bastard.

My father traveled to Helsinki to meet his father, who was in his 80s. The two men went to a pub and had a beer or two.

And that’s all I know of my grandfather. I don’t even know his name.

***

Neither of my parents knew how to parent. My father raised himself and my mother was spoiled rotten. She never learned how to share. I know because I became very close with my mother’s mother, who was incapable of saying “no.” Mom moved directly from her daddy’s house to her husband’s house at 18 years old (and now lives about fifty meters from her son-in-law).

She didn’t know a thing about the world, but acted as though she did. And all of my questions were answered exactly the same way:

‘Just have faith in God and everything will be okay!’

But I did not believe in God and it frightened me since mommy and daddy told me I’d go to hell if I didn’t and it scared me nearly to death; and I had a gazillion questions about boys and friendship and love and hate and heaven and what the hell was going on with my body . . . and all the other things that I couldn’t figure out on my own but neither dad nor mom had the answers so they would brush me off with,

‘You ask too many questions. Just have faith and believe.’ Or,

‘Just be happy! That’s what I do!’

And they’d pour themselves another “stiff one.”

My parents withheld information from me, critical information about my body and about the world that affected my life, it made me make decisions that were against my own best interest because of my narrow, skewed perspective. I had no idea how incredibly cruel people could be or how to protect myself from predators.

And if I ever complained to my father about anything, I’d get a sermon of hellfire and brimstone and about how bad it was when he was a boy and I should feel lucky. He loved to remind me how quickly my life could go from ‘carefree’ to horrifying and I needed to be appreciative for everything I had. I didn’t turn to my father for much.

He passed his fear and anger down to me and I became frozen stiff, afraid to talk or question anybody. It kept me in line because it that’s what fear is designed to do. It kept me from believing in my own power. I learned my place. I learned that men have the all the answers and the money and the power and that women are to be quiet and submissive and are to always keep our legs crossed; we are to be polite and not argue with anyone ever, especially men; we are to get married and wait until then and only then to uncross our legs . . . and if we don’t, we’re dirty and disgusting whores and tramps and sluts.

Which my father thought of me, because I didn’t believe in ‘waiting’ until marriage, in fact I had no plan to ever marry anyone and become his slave and I was never ever going to bring children into this fucked-up, uncaring world.

My mother was too embarrassed to talk about sex or anything to do with body parts or emotions or those pesky things called thoughts; she was unable to utter words like vagina or penis and she probably had never even heard of a clitoris. So dad gave me The Talk.

When I was eleven (I think), he called me into the ‘den,’ the tiniest of the four bedrooms on the dark side of the house. It was cold and dank and crammed full of furniture. I sat on the bed while dad stood over me. He could just as well have been talking to a coworker about a blueprint:

‘ . . . then the man inserts his engorged penis into the woman’s vagina. He thrusts and thrusts until he ejaculates his load . . . and his sperm swim up the woman’s vagina and fertilize the egg and that’s how babies are born. Just don’t ever do it yourself, not until after marriage.’

I had no idea that boys had a completely different dialogue with their parents (if parents ever talk to boys at all), and no one explained the double standard to me. I still don’t understand it, except of course, for the reason it was created: to keep control of women’s bodies, especially the baby-making and baby-feeding parts.

It felt like about a hundred and three degrees in that stuffy little cave because I was sweating and felt like I was going to hurl.

And before, during, and after his scientifically detailed explanation of the sexual act, told from his black-and-white engineer’s perspective and learned by watching mares on the farm in Sweden get ‘serviced’ by studs with massive erections and from farm-hands fornicating with dairy cows, dad stressed several times that I was expected to wait to even think about sex until after I was married.

Otherwise I’d be a tramp and no one would ever want me.

But I already knew that I was never, ever going to get married. So, in reality, I supposed that I decided to become a ‘slut.’ I always instinctively knew that sex is natural. It was around before marriage and other man-made laws. Animals do it. Didn’t make me feel less dirty, though because my father made sure he displayed his loathing for both sluts as well as spinsters.

Who was the asshole that said ‘words can never hurt me?’

My lack of access to information about what sex should be and how to have it responsibly made me vulnerable and I became pregnant twice with a cheating, irresponsible, boy. My only rational option was to abort. And I had to make those decisions in a vacuum because I had no one to talk to about it except for girls my own age who were getting the same non-information.

And I have never regretted those decisions. Not one moment of my life. Yes, I sometimes wonder what my nearly forty year old children would be like now. Sometimes I talk to them, but I never allowed myself to get emotionally attached. I was unable to care for a child, and I knew it. They would have been as emotionally fucked up as I was, we’d be forever linked to their father, and most likely, we’d all be living on welfare.

And the first time I had sexual intercourse was not exactly special because my spirit and my voice held no power and my protests were not taken seriously by the man who raped me that time and stole that gift from me. I wasn’t ready to give it away, not to the creep who took it; not yards away from my ‘best friend’ Dawn who had laughed at me because I had cried.

I was literally powerless and speechless. I was obedient and frozen with fear. And I didn’t even know what I was so scared about; I had no one to talk to about it.

I just knew I didn’t understand anything about life; that other kids seemed to ‘get it,’ so I went with the flow and I let things happen to me that I didn’t want to happen.

I should have spoken my thoughts. When you don’t express yourself, people assume things about you that are very wrong, and if you don’t speak your mind you become a person who is easily manipulated, used, lied to and cheated and you don’t even realized they are doing it.

I was frightened of everything and didn’t know what to say to anyone. I had very few friends and some that I picked were not the best of people. And I was terrified on my first day of school; at every new school I attended all the way through college, well into my thirties. And the times that I attempted to return to school in my twenties, I felt worthless and stupid because I was daring to act like I was smart, and after one five credit class and many painful hours of staring at blank pages, I’d give up and break down into tears and feel like I was just a waste of oxygen.

It’s hard to believe you are capable of anything worthwhile when your father asks you when you don’t understand his confusing ‘help’ with homework:

‘Are you just acting stupid right now?’

I watched my parents’ marriage and the marriages of the other fifty or sixty young, white, middle-class cookie-cutter neighbors in our cookie-cutter neighborhood in Redmond, Washington, and knew that marriage was nothing I wanted to be involved in: key parties, fights and divorces oh my! and all the stay-at-home housewives so bored with their empty lives that they began drinking at noon, marinating their malnourished brains because after all, women were not meant for the workplace or anywhere else in the world, not in the 60s.

They spent their days alone in their cookie-cutter cages.

And I saw the way that children and teens were treated, especially youth of the female variety. We were looked upon as possessions, not as conscious beings with ideas and fears and souls of our own.

And it makes me crazy watching my sisters do the same shit to their own kids because they did not escape mom & dad’s dysfunctional upbringing unscathed, with

my children this, and my children that . . .

As a female, my playing field was limited to a kitchen or secretarial desk while the rest of the world was wide open to boys; they got all the contacts and attention from teachers, and doors swung wide open for them while those same doors slammed in my face and I was tossed a mini skirt and a cocktail tray.

Even in the restaurant world, the best paying jobs ALWAYS went to the man and still do. I had years of experience but was passed over time and time again by untrained men for bartending jobs at damn near every joint I ever worked, while I worked the floor in my crotch-length mini-skirt and four-inch come-fuck-me pumps, getting pinched and grabbed

and poked.

Dad showed me what life was like for a boy, but reminded me that I am not a boy and that I had no right to act like one. I was taught to appreciate the good things in life, but I was never given a single tool as to how to acquire them, not unless I gave myself over to a man.

I saw that men could do whatever they wanted, that they controlled the money and made all the decisions and had fun and went out to bars at night and drank and drove and did whatever they wanted to do; while mothers did the shopping and cooking and laundry and all the cleaning up, and they never complained because it might upset their King of the castle, who was working so very hard at his 40/hour a week office job.

Women were to be seen and not heard. We were to take up the least space as possible, and never ever get involved in things we didn’t understand.

I still hear women say “I’m sorry!” over every little thing.

When it became clear to me that I wouldn’t have any guidance in ballet or dating or school or life from anyone anywhere; and that my mother was never going to defend me against my father or any other man, I just gave up trying. I settled into a life of mediocrity, the bare minimum; plus empty sex and alcohol, not understanding that it wasn’t because I was just too stupid or too lazy to do anything else.

I just had no idea that there were options.

I honestly believed that all my ‘bad luck’ came to me because I was fundamentally bad or broken; that I was fucked up and should have never been born. That’s a hard way to spend your days.

My soul had been starved for understanding and affection and knowledge; I was screaming out to be listened to and understood, but neither mom nor dad had time for my nonsense. I was just a ‘moody,’ ‘overly sensitive’ female who needed to “buckle down” and work and believe in god and wait for marriage and do what I was told in the meantime.

Because: They Said So.

My father didn’t see that what he was doing to me was wrong or not working. And he took the sides of adults who called and blamed me for broken lamps or spilled paint and he didn’t believe me when I told him that I hadn’t done anything wrong, that my friends were passing the blame, but he didn’t listen to my pleas for reason and he laid me and my bare ass across his lap and he slapped me so many times as hard has he could and my ass turned red and I hated him for the injustice; I hated him for taking a random adult’s word, a virtual stranger’s word over mine.

And he didn’t understand that it is not normal, it is not okay for a father and his daughter to hate each other, to scream at each other like enemies. He didn’t understand that I was intelligent and creative and curious and that if he had only talked to me as a human being and not as merely a walking vagina that had to be guarded and controlled, he could have been a real father to me and he could have helped me through life instead of always challenging me, making me feel worthless and dirty and wrong.

I was not to be trusted with my body or anything else and my father ran off the few boys who were interested in me by intercepting phone calls and knocks at the door. He threatened those testosterone-filled boys by glaring down at them through his steamed-up glasses as they cowered outside the front door.

And once he drove me to a secluded, wooded drive behind the elementary school after hours and stopped the car and he scared me more than he ever had before because he shut off the engine and he turned to me on the huge station wagon bench seat and stared at me through those glasses. And he threatened to kick me out of the house at sixteen years old because he found out that I was dating an eighteen-year-old black man.

‘If you go out with that nigger again, you may as well pack your bags, because you’ll be out in the street. You will never again be welcome in my home.’

My already thin sense of security was ripped away from me in that instant. I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt safe ever since that warm sunny summer day in the Audubon Elementary School parking lot.

And he drove me right into the backseat of the car of the type of boy he thought he hated even though he had never even seen the guy.

And true to my father’s immature behavior, he used to go out to bars and get drunk with that boyfriend just two years later, when I was away, living in New York. I got an earful from my emotionally damaged boyfriend about their discussions about cunnilingus and fellatio and how my father had tried and tried different things, but he couldn’t get any interest from my mother. He had to take her to Europe in order to “get lucky.” And those two had been the ones acting like they had all the answers!

Unfortunately, I know a lot about all of my family’s sex lives. Both of my sisters are as emotionally immature as my parents when it comes to intimacy and sex. They got even less “education” than I did. And they got less guidance as well, which in my parents’ naïve minds meant being scolded whenever we made too much noise or bothered them too much.

I began to rebel in any way I could think of and my quick wit became acerbic.

When I went back home for holidays, my father and I barely looked at each other and walked out of rooms when the other walked in. It wasn’t until dad made the deathly serious, bible-thumping lecture which he referred to as Grace that he glared at me over those glasses while he droned on with his platitudes about God and Jesus and how we were all his adoring children; or at least he hoped that we were all devoted to Father and Son, and his disgust for me was clear. The others dutifully kept their heads bowed while I shot daggers back at him and wished I could punch him in his hateful, judgmental hypocritical face.

Our ‘style’ of communication was toxic and mutual and you could feel the hatred in the room.

What joyous memories.

Dad (therefore mom) never realized that people are people, whether rich or poor, black or white, Christian or not. He became brainwashed through his blind religion and fear to be untrusting and suspicious of people based solely on how they look or how much they own; and if you are poor, you are certainly suspicious by nature.

He refused to have garage sales because ‘that only encourages thieves to come and case the joint.’ He never lent anyone anything or gave anyone a loan to get a career or business started, anyone like me, for example, or my boyfriend with a good business idea, or his old ‘friend’ Gus, who needed backing for a restaurant. Dad wrote us off as some kind of lazy, devious takers, just for daring to ask him for a loan. Hell, he did it on his own, therefore anyone can. He didn’t believe in “hand-outs.”

And he thought everyone was out to take advantage of him, and his suspicion and fear mixed with a heavy dose of ignorance made him a target. When he traveled abroad, he wore the typical Ignorant American uniform: alligator shirt, khaki shorts, black socks, tennis shoes, fanny pack and a baseball cap.

He may as well have worn a giant bulls-eye and the message:

COME AND GET IT!

I’M AN IGNORANT AMERICAN!

He was jumped on the subway in Mexico City and he never forgave the entire country. Dressed in his Ignorant White Man uniform, he took cash out of an ATM on the street in a busy tourist zone and walked directly into the subway where four or five men attacked him and tried pulling him off the car as they dug through his pockets, taking cash, traveler’s checks . . .

And he forever hated all of Mexico and vowed never to return to that horrible, disgusting place of thieves and dirt and crime. After all, it couldn’t possibly be his own fault. It never is.

And he would NEVER understand, no matter how many ways I tried to explain it to him, that his perfect United States of America is a huge reason that Mexico is and remains poor, not to mention that the exclusive resorts that line Mexican beaches are owned by and rented to People With Money. Mexicans can’t afford to go to their own beaches anymore, unless it’s through the back door of a hotel, straight into the kitchen or maids’ quarters.

Dad refused to understand that inequality and oppression create crime, not poor people. That he, as a white American male has directly contributed to inequality with his tax dollars and his apathy. I hated his attitude about other people and other cultures because it was the same judgmental ignorance that made him hate his own daughter.

One of his favorite mottos was,

‘There can’t be rich people without poor people: we need poor people.’

He actually believed that. As long as he wasn’t on the poor side, anyway.

He paid for a security service on his house on Whidbey Island overlooking the Puget Sound:

His house with clashing, tacky wall colors picked from random sample cards at the hardware store; his house filled with mounds of newspapers and pens and stacks of computer paper everywhere; the unimaginative furnishings of those who need experts to tell them how to decorate, professionals to tell them what looks good and what doesn’t . . . but who are too cheap to pay for it, so they end up settling for shit that resembles what the rich people buy.

Mom always wanted only the best for herself, but she had to wrestle dad over his purse strings. After he died, she went fucking berserk.

Dad bought the very cheapest brand of everything. I had never even heard of the company that made his shitty computer.

My father would have shot himself before he took a word of advice from his daughter. It would have made him weak, lesser, in his mind. He had to beat me in everything or he would have felt inferior as a man.

If I pointed out that the world is round, he would firmly argue that it’s flat, merely to ‘play Devil’s advocate.’ He loved ‘debating,’ but he always won. Often just by declaring:

‘You can’t possibly understand; you’re too young, you’re not an expert, you don’t know what you’re talking about. . . .’ and between the lines, I clearly heard his words from times before: ‘Are you just acting stupid right now?’ and ‘What the hell do you know? You’re just a dumb girl.’

He wouldn’t even consider hearing me out when I told him that Excel would be better than Word for his purpose of listing every book and video cassette that he owned so that he could track them if one of his daughters ‘rented’ one; I tried to show him and explain the functions of a spreadsheet, but he knew exactly what he was doing and made it crystal clear that I should keep my know-it-all-ness to myself.

And I tried to explain that one of the main purposes of computers is not having to print everything, or have a gazillion books and notebooks full of paper, but dad and mom both printed out every ‘interesting looking’ recipe and advertisement for resorts and cruises and filled dozens of huge notebooks which added to the clutter and chaos of their “library.”

Which is now taking up space in some landfill.

I tried talking to my father about nutrition, but he only listened to his White Male Doctor, who doesn’t know the first thing about food. I know this tidbit first-hand from my 14 years experience watching doctors eat lunch, and from a lifetime of getting bad advice from them.

Dad did cut out fat and salt but ate meat and white bread and plenty of fake cheese and margarine and highly processed wheat, corn, and soy products; he drank non-fat milk and liquor and coffee and he never entertained the thought of wasting his precious money on ‘that organic shit.’ His standard salad ingredients consisted of conventional iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and conventional plum tomatoes picked hard and stored in the fridge and completely void of both taste and nutrients.

Plus, dad had been mixing his heart medications with Viagra. I’m not a medical doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV, but even I know that that’s not a good combo. Even I know that penile dysfunction is a warning sign of heart disease, and if he had actually taken care of his heart by eating real food and ditching the chemicals instead of trusting the Medical Industrial Complex and the white, male heads of Big Pharm, he might still be alive today.

Fuck you, Pharm, and those who push your wares.

And frankly:

I also blame the billions of patients that never question

what they are being told to ingest for the sake of our broken, unjust medical system.

I educate myself about my health; how can a person who sees me for an hour a year understand my body better than me?

Dad had just finished his own memoir while I was taking an English as a Second Language Teaching course, and I used a paragraph from his childhood as the basis for a children’s story, an assignment for my class. I had to create a fictional story in English that described a child from a different culture.

I enjoyed the process and created a wonderful little story with dialogue and illustrations of my six-year-old dad. It was about the time my father and his little Swedish friend nearly burned down an entire forest in Sweden by lighting fires with their magnifying glasses. I couldn’t wait to show it to dad. I was hoping to do more stories based on his life.

But he didn’t see it the way I did. When he finished reading my story he stood silent for a moment. Then he said,

‘So, you’ve plagiarized my book.’ He was visibly pissed when he stormed out of the room.

I never brought it up again. And I destroyed my artwork, per usual.

***

I think that the process of writing his memoir helped clear out my father’s mind; he examined his childhood fear and terror and made it inert; he began to volunteer his time to Habitat for Humanity and the Rotary; he helped design and build the skate park and the salmon hatchery, and he took in exchange students (which even as an adult, made me green with envy because they seemed to like those kids so much better than me).

For the first time in my father’s life, he started to do something for other people. And his heart was exposed to the joy of giving to others instead of just worrying about them taking his things.

***

Dad and I were standing at the still-raging bonfire at my sister’s house sometime during the wee hours of the morning in either late fall of 2004, or early spring of 2005. It was cold and dark and the others, my sister and her hubby and their wife-swappin friends and neighbor, were off on one of their drunken stumbles through woods, or maybe they were busy groping each other in the hot tub again.

Dad was wasted. For some reason, I was sober. I usually drank as much as possible around my family to numb myself, so I don’t know how I was still upright, but I remember this ‘conversation’ very clearly.

Dad was slurring and it took me a few times to hear what he was trying to say,

You’re so strong! I’m sorry. I’m soooooo sorry . . . you’re so strong, I’m so sorry . . .”

He was trying to hug me and slobber on me, but it was much too little much too late and I couldn’t tap into my sentimentality so I just said ‘thanks’ and walked away. I don’t know if he even knew what he was trying to say exactly, but I imagine that he was apologizing for basically fucking up my shot at a happy life.

He had just begun to see that I am actually pretty savvy, and he was beginning to appreciate my self-trained mind instead of feeling threatened by it.

On one of the few road trips we took together in his later years, from Palm Springs to San Diego in the 911, he watched me think fast on my feet after I lost all my cash, credit cards, and passport (or so I had thought). At a branch of my bank in San Diego, he saw me solve problems that the bank officials told us couldn’t be solved. He saw that the bank manager was respectful of me; that he was impressed with my logic. He was beginning to see that I was creative and intelligent, and he relaxed and looked like he might even stop competing with me on every single thing I thought or said.

And we did have one real conversation. After I got my DUI in the spring of 2005, I called him and confided in him about it, and luckily for me, he had also gotten a dee-wee when he was probably around the same age, so he was unable to treat me like a criminal because it had also happened to him.

He offered me advice: to plea guilty. And I did it, because my court date came after he died and I figured I would do it even though it cost a lot more money and counseling and AA meetings; but I would do it in honor of doing just one thing for my father.

Oh how my duty is Done.

Now I see how my father and I were a lot alike, as my mother liked to remind me with disgust: but not just because we’re both hot tempered and ‘overly’ emotional (aka we don’t hide all our real thoughts), but because we are both problem solvers; we are resourceful survivors and we are strong; even though our mothers didn’t have the tools to give us the nurturing that every child requires, we managed to hold onto our souls and our strong sense of justice, misplaced as it may have been; even if we had to hide for most of our lives; hide our true selves because what we are was not enough for those around us; not even to the people that supposedly loved us.

And as a man, he was able to succeed in the world, in 1950s America, which still had seemingly endless opportunities for white men to take advantage of.

But for me, a woman, not so much. I was never expected to succeed at anything except office work, or marrying, breeding, cleaning and cooking,. But since I was not planning to use my womb, I was basically, in my parents’ eyes, a throw-away. The Bad Seed. That’s probably why mom wanted more than one; in case one was rotten.

My father was beginning to soften in his older years, after he got away from the disease that is corporate America. The pressure and fear of losing his job was eliminated and he was able to breathe.

He had amassed a small fortune over the course of his life, coming from such poverty and horror.

And my mother was able to blow it on herself in less than ten years.

My father had just begun to learn who he was before he died from severe heart failure. He was just learning how to sit still without having a drink or a blow-out (which were most likely panic attacks). But he began facing his fears much too late in life; the decades of PTSD from a war-zone childhood, mixed with the stress of having a mortgage and money in the stock market and of maintaining two cars and a family, combined with a toxic American diet and a lifetime of alcohol was just too much for him.

I’m sure that his medical doctor prescribing Viagra didn’t help much, either.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t be emotionally present at your memorial, dad, but it was just too fucking phony. That’s why I took my chair and I pulled it outside onto the patio and I listened to the Praises of your Goodness from the comfort of pine trees and away from my emotionally absent family members. The spectacle made me physically sick.

You were a great man to many, and you did have a lot of amazing qualities, but to me, you were always just a reminder of what a Fuckup I am.

You were the only one who knows what you really did to me, and now I am the only one who knows; now that my family has made you into a fabulous legend, some god-like super-human who was kind and generous to everyone . . .

Just not to me.

***

What makes me the saddest these days is the fact that I was talented and could have been a successful dancer or singer or photographer or actor or choreographer or director, and maybe my work could have made a difference in the world somehow.

And maybe my father and I could have worked together to make beautiful furniture or cabinetry, we could have taken road trips in the Porsche and discovered new places, we could have come up with some outrageous ideas between the two of our untethered minds. What a dream.

I’ve gotten past my anger for my father. Especially when I see that I’ve acted a lot like him. I lacked intimacy and nurturing, but more importantly, I finally understand why we were like we were.

How can you communicate your thoughts effectively to others when you don’t understand them yourself?

I’m done being angry with dad, but my sensitivity to xenophobia and apathy is finely tuned and when I hear a thoughtless, programmed comment, no matter how ‘benign,’ I no longer keep my comments to myself.

Because I have experienced enough to know that what I believe is correct, that mom and dad were children of depression and war and they reacted to life instead of taking its reigns and fully living it and they just didn’t have any information to offer me.

It wasn’t personal after all.

Unfortunately, I never took the reigns of my own life either, until now.

 

 

CONNECTION

girls in fountain

During the last four years I have been psychoanalyzing myself.

The beginning was sheer hell, but my only alternative was suicide. My emotional pain was just too great to keep reliving the same pathetic, abusive relationships and situations over and over again.

I had tried talking to therapists, reading self-help books and I listened to spiritual gurus on You Tube for years. I had turned to seers to read my cards and do my “numbers.” I began meditating, which gave me eerily insightful messages, but nothing I did ever got me to a place of feeling safe or secure.

My family certainly was never willing to take my thoughts or emotions seriously, not except for the youngest member of the tribe, who shared her own thoughts and fears with me since her own mother is incapable of hearing things she doesn’t want to think about.

My niece was the one person in my family who was able to help me see things from my own point of view, from my own childhood confusion and pain. I learned a lot as my own memories flooded back to me during the years that I counseled her through her own confusion and terror.

For many years, at least since 1987, I have had interesting, deep, intimate conversations with strangers. Before that, in my teens and twenties, I often hung out with other “freaks” like myself, those who were on the outside, wishing they knew how to break in. I would listen to their stories, and tried to give them good advice, but I didn’t understand the “others” any better than they did.

And since the summer of 2012, I’ve been searching for Truth on the World Wide Web. Thank god for real information and communication.

I’ve recently realized that I had been analyzing people and what makes them tick since childhood. I was trying to figure myself out through talking with other human beings. Until then, I had only looked at the world through the lens of my camera. I began that habit at the age of ten.

The word connection began to enter my thoughts. Because I had always listened to people who had problems; because I had met and had intimate conversations with hundreds if not thousands of strangers over my lifetime, I began feeling this overwhelming urge to connect people somehow.

I started looking for some kind of pattern or design of trains of human thought.

I’ve listened to “important” married men talk about themselves like they Knew if All while simultaneously trying to get me up to their hotel rooms; I’ve listened to sensitive, honest, loyal men complain about their cheating wives; I’ve counseled traumatized soldiers who were talking about Ending it. I’ve listened to countless women tell me about how their fathers or brothers or uncles or mothers’ boyfriends sexually abused them all their childhoods and how none of their mothers “ever saw what was happening” . . .

Oh, how we are trained to protect good, church-going, hard-working family men. . . .

I listened to men talk about wanting to change gender, but not knowing how to tell their wives or children or families. I’ve heard the complaints and real concerns of the housekeeping and cafeteria and maintenance staff at the UW because no one else ever listens to those at the “bottom” or gives them (us) any assistance since they (we) are merely Human Resources to be used to their (our) utmost capacity.

I have listened to drug dealers and pimps and prostitutes and have tried to imagine what kind of a life leads you down those roads. One of my old friends went to prison for life for being an accomplice in a drug murder at Lake Sammamish back in the 80s. The last time I had seen him was maybe a year before I heard that news, when he came to my apartment after my bar closed one night and we stayed up all night drinking and talking I was trying to understand his rationale for dealing heroin to high school kids and I told him that what he was doing was Wrong . . .

But he didn’t hear my words.

I have never been afraid to get down to the nitty gritty; to do the work it requires to get to the root of the problem. I am not afraid of emotional situations since I was weaned on confrontation. I’ve heard so many real-life horror stories that horror movies no longer frighten me like they did for the majority of my life. I used to be terrified of the dark; now I am a guide through the darkest stretches of thought and the otherworld.

But in my attempt to understand other human beings, I avoided thinking about my own biggest fear: connecting on an intimate level with other human beings myself.

ANALYSIS IS ONLY A TOOL

I spent all of 2015 and the majority of 2016 writing about my life. I’ve been a recluse. I’ve spent weeks at a time in bed, stoned, barely able to function from the pure exhaustion of my emotional anguish, writing tomes of unbearably difficult stories and experiences.

When I was no longer able to be alone with myself and my circles of thoughts any longer, I’d venture out into my neighborhood bars. I’ve always felt more at ease at a bar than anywhere else. Since my first cocktail waitress job at the age of 21, I’ve pretty much lived in bars. My childhood home never made me feel safe or secure. In fact, my childhood home was a War Zone. Strangers and bars made me feel like I was in my element.

I have not tried to sensor myself. I have needed to analyze myself at 100% full-speed-ahead Christine; the person who everyone in my family (and many friends who no longer talk to me) says is so unbearably wicked. The one my mother disowned back in the 2000s.

I began taking notes and writing about my confrontations with (mostly) men. I began noticing patterns of when I blew up and why. Sometimes they’d make me feel like the ugly, stupid, spinster slut that daddy always said I was (and the women in my family believed and maintained). Sometimes I’d get so angry, I’d get some extremely violent thoughts.

But I have learned a lot. I’ve realized that:

  • I have always felt powerless; at the mercy of others.
  • I have never been able to trust anyone. Not one person in my life, not fully. Not since my own mother and sisters have lied to me and betrayed me and sold me out to save themselves over and over again by lying about their hurtful actions, simply to save themselves from facing their own awful behavior.
  • I have always been attracted to men that had my father’s qualities: antiauthoritarian with a strict moral code; intelligent, curious, creative and strong willed. They were often also severely emotionally damaged in some way or had otherwise lived their lives on the “outside.” Many of them emotionally raped me, just like my father did.
  • I am very much like my father as well, and that I identified with him and not my mother. I embody both his good and bad sides. I inherited his terror and rage and addictive behavior along with his curiosity and strength and perseverance in the face of adversity. I realized that my anger and aggressive behavior is a defense mechanism, just like his was. And I’ve been feeling threatened for a very long time.
  • I’ve often chosen women as friends who lie to me. Some of them have no issue with stabbing me in the back if it will get them ahead somehow or “win” a man or make them feel superior to me.
  • I realized, most importantly, that I am incapable of telling people I care about and like, people who I admire and respect, how I really feel and what I desire. Because I’ve never felt that I deserve anything good. That I’m worth it. I’ve never felt any hope for the future, or happiness in the moment, not until recently. Except for special moments of connection that I’ve shared with people from time to time for moments or hours, I have never been able to find the joy in anything in my life. I’ve never felt hope or excitement for the future. Even before leaving for my month-long trips in Mexico, I would always carry with me an impending, crushing sense of doom. Because I knew I’d have to return to my life of extreme isolation and despair.

My messages of connection were important, but up until now they were misconstrued. My higher being was not telling me to connect other people together; it was telling me that I need to connect with other people. I have been hearing this word connection in my head for years, but true to my self-defeating nature and the overwhelming drive to help other people, I was unable to see what I was being shown: that in order to save my own soul, I need to feed it some love and connection or it will die.

I’ve been searching for the “good” side of myself that I hid away years ago to keep her safe from the nastiness of my tribe.

I am filled with passion and love and ideas and creativity, but have no idea how to express my deepest feelings in words. I feel like I’m six years old again, off to my first day at a school where I would not know one single person, and the fear is consuming me. I won’t know what to say or how to act, because whenever I say what I really think, people turn their heads and snicker and they’ll all laugh about how stupid I am.

At least, that is what my family members have always done. And the bosses I’ve had. And the men I’ve dated. And the female friends who have injured me beyond what any man has ever done to me, including date rape.

I either need to keep my thoughts to myself and stay away from other people, or find people who are conscious and conscientious and strong enough to handle my not-so-typical views of the world, and engage with me in discussing them instead of trying to gag me and make me lie about what I know to be True.

The most important things I’ve learned are:

The more I know, the more I realize I have to learn.

I need to be more careful who I choose to reveal myself to.

I need to listen and take the time to learn the truth before I react.

I won’t allow anyone else to hurt me twice, but I am more than capable of forgiveness if the offender is sincerely sorry for his or her mistake and if there is a willingness to talk about it.

I need accountability and transparency and truth in my life.

I am an open book because once you care about nothing further than stopping the pain, you are willing to expose it all.

Here I am, exposed for all the world to see.

One thing I have to hold onto: Not once did I ever sell out my beliefs, not willingly. I fought everyone and anyone who tried to justify injustice, and I always will. Because I am once again in touch with my vulnerable, soft side and I am no longer afraid for her soul, and I know that I can let her come out from time to time, under the right conditions, with the right crowd.


I was the sensitive child in this article. Not even my own caregivers could keep themselves from harming me. I was armor-less; no wonder I’ve never been able to feel safe.   http://www.anxioustoddlers.com/sensitive-children/  I believed nearly all my life that human beings were bad, since I had never experienced any compassion or empathy from the people who supposedly care about me.

Mommy Dearest

I used to call her Mommy Dearest after I saw the movie about Joan Crawford. And she called me Christina Darling, just like Joan called her daughter. She even chased me around the house with wire hangers, and we would laugh and laugh and laugh . . .

What my mother did not realize is that I meant it. Because while her public image showed that she loved me and was a model mother, what no one realized is how she rejected and abandoned me emotionally and spiritually, and her lack of caring for my emotions made me want to die.

When people say that people who commit suicide are selfish, I want to punch them in the mouth. Because I felt suicidal all my life, and when it came down to the actual reason that I wanted to end it was that it was too painful existing in my own mind. When someone kills herself, she is trying to tell you what you don’t want to hear; that her soul is in pain, and it feels like no one cares. Being alone physically is one thing; being completely spiritually and emotionally empty is beyond toleration.

You can’t show your emotional/spiritual pain to others, making it impossible to prove. Just like I am incapable of proving that I can’t use my hands any longer to those who are in charge of the purse strings for disability. They can’t measure and quantify my pain, so it doesn’t exist to them.

The only outward symptom of depression and self-hatred and self-doubt is anger. The anger that comes from no one caring about how sick you are inside. I lash out at people when they hurt me. I haven’t yet learned how to use my words since they never worked with the people I grew up with. Experience taught me that only the very strongest of language will produce any results.

That, and lashing out has become my defense mechanism.

Suicide is the last resort. It’s the last message to those who have somehow rejected that person. It says to us, ‘See? I told you I was hurting!’

I know how it feels because my family members will not discuss my emotional pain with me. They don’t like thinking about how abusive my father was to me. They say things like,

‘You were treated no differently than anyone else!’ In other words, they are somewhat acknowledging that they also felt his wrath. But that’s as far as they’ll go. In general, they paint the man as if he had been some kind of fucking saint.

They forget one important difference between them and me; I defended my beliefs and took stands against his tyranny, unlike the rest of them who avoided his rage and just shut it out and pretended that everything was hunky dory.

My mother’s avoidance of my father’s emotional instability was the other reason that I became emotionally damaged. Her dismissal of my cries for help reinforced his messages of anger at me (calling me stupid, for example) She refuses to see anything she finds unpleasant or distasteful. She completely forgot all about her husband’s vile temper and sexist influence on her children. She literally turned her back on me and allowed her alcoholic husband to terrorize her daughter.

Oh, how he terrorized me, in so many ways.

All my life, I wondered how a mother could be so very cruel. It took me 56 years to realize that I never bonded with the woman. When I hugged her (I no longer see or talk to her), I only felt embarrassment and shame and guilt. I never knew why. Until now.

Her love is one-directional. I never felt it coming from her. She takes it, but never gives it back. She hid that side of herself. She exchanged it for financial security.

She “loves” like Lenny loves his rabbits. Like Father Gabriel loves his flock. She loves to have life around her to draw from since she gave up on living a life of her own. She “loves” dogs, so she always has one sitting next to her on the floor or in the backseat of her car. The two of them walk from the couch to the car. She even drives to her mailbox. The dog is just another thing she keeps next to her to make her feel less lonely.

Her dogs are not allowed to be dogs. They’re more like footrests.

Since she always found it too bothersome to talk to me in any way, and getting her to be open and honest about my life before it All Went to Shit, which was at the age of 3, when my baby brother died is all but impossible.

I doubt she remembers, though, because her life went to shit the moment she realized that she had married a Monster.

She discovered that the Monster had a split personality. She had married a wonderful, intelligent, passionate man who became Mr Hyde with the proper mix of chemicals and the pressures of life.

The Monster was terrifying. My mother admitted this to me one time only; when I was nearing the bottom of my emotional existence, and I was beginning to connect the dots.

‘Mom, how can you honestly sit there and tell me that the man was okay? That he was normal?’ He could be a good man, but his rage was horrifying!

‘Well, how do you think I felt? My parents were wonderful, sweet, kind, quiet people; I was terrified when I discovered that my husband had such a horrible temper! I didn’t know how to act; he was so loud.’

Tell me about it.

Bingo. I finally got a puzzle piece of proof that it wasn’t “all in my head.” At 52 years of age, but what the hell. It was only my life that went by unlived. Just like hers, I guess. Because besides breeding, my mother didn’t do anything else at all with her life. (No, mom, shopping doesn’t count.)

The way that my 18-year-old mother decided to deal with her husband’s explosive rage and anger was to pretend that it didn’t exist. She became the Master of Denial.

Dad’s memorial service was the proof of that. The show made me physically sick and I sat outside for the entire thing.

And the death of her son, her only son, her Pride and Joy (since men are so much better than women in the minds of my parents and the world I was born into) made her even more withdrawn. I believe with all my heart that she wishes it had been me who had gone away. She got stuck with three girls. She tried, but never struck the jackpot again.

And I was just a sad reminder.

My 4-year-old self used to ask about heaven and hell with an urgency; I needed to find peace for my own soul; I was scared to death about what had happened to my baby brother. Mom never realized that his death may have affected me, after all, I was just a stupid child. Dad even said so.

I became obsessed with the afterlife and with spirits and the occult since her thoughtless responses of ‘Just believe in God and everything will be okay” didn’t work with me, I began to think that I had the Devil inside me.

She didn’t feel it important to ever actually talk to me. She dressed me up like a little doll and pushed me around in my stroller and took pictures of me but the rest of the time, a potted plant could have taken my spot on her living room floor next to the television. A fake plant, that is, because she killed every live plant that she brought home. Which weren’t many.

And when dad blew up, she threw me under the bus to save herself. She somehow managed to shut out his booming voice that seemed to rattle the windows. I could not.

I was always braced for the force of my father’s rage.

When dad was in a good mood, he was a child. He loved to play tricks on people and tell jokes. He drank a lot and most of the time he was okay. Sometimes he even had the capacity to be fun. He took me places with him. I became his son. He took me fishing and camping and to the auto races.

But since he never grew up (he began drinking at age seven and began working to help pay the bills at age 12 or 13), he didn’t understand how to act around children. He treated me the same way he acted with his drinking buddies, at least when we were camping. He let me drink beer. When I was 10 or 11, he gave me a boiler maker and laughed like crazy when I choked.

He loved to frighten me. I mean, besides keeping me on the edge of my seat from his explosive and unpredictable temper, he thought it highly amusing to tell me horror stories. Once when I was six or seven, I had a friend spend the night. We set up the tent in our back yard and dad came out and told us the most frightening story about people turning into stone; it was one of those cautionary stories designed to scare the shit out of children to keep them in line. It worked with me. I tried to go to sleep that night in the Phoenix heat in my army surplus sleeping bag pulled tight around my neck. I was sweating and could hardly breath, but I finally began to drift off.

Until I jolted upright suddenly in terror; something huge began growling and scratching and shaking the outsides of the tent, right next to our heads; my little friend and I began screaming for our lives until we heard the laughter and dad popped his head into the tent and I couldn’t believe that anyone could be that mean. I clearly recall my terror and how it made me feel like I needed to get out of my body and go away somewhere safe.

The exact same feeling I woke up with nearly every day of my life.

Dad also had a fascination with car accidents and used to rush off anytime he heard of one near our house to photograph it. Once he got a shot of brains on fire on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The photograph that scared the life out of me was taken just next to our little house in Shoreline. He would set up the movie screen at night and we’d gather around in the dark and watch daddy’s accident images.

At first, the slide didn’t bother me too much. It was a shot of asphalt with a blue piece of cloth covering something about the size of a bowling ball.

‘This was a woman who died in the back of the car. When they pulled her body out, her head fell off and bounced and rolled on the street. That’s her head right there!’

I was traumatized. For years after that, I used to “see” a severed head in our oven whenever I went into the kitchen and forgot to turn on the light, which was not very often. I used to imagine her headless body walking around, trying to find its missing part, but unable to see. . . .

They used to put me in the back seat and take me with them to drive-in theaters to watch Alfred Hitchcock movies. I vividly remember watching the Birds, and the Iron Curtain which was sidelined with a cop movie with a ton of shooting in it.

And I saw things. To this day, I don’t remember what I was seeing in my room in the middle of the night when everyone else was sleeping, but the things I saw around me and over me were vivid and real and I couldn’t talk to anyone about them because no one believed anything I said. And after my last four years of altered states and soul searching, I know for a fact that what we see is not all there is.

I wish my parents had understood that my soul needed attention.

All my life I hated God. My parent’s unwillingness to talk seriously with me about the afterlife gave me a very wrong view of the world and the people in it. All my life, I have been working under the assumption that people are generally evil. I guess I believed it because the bible-thumping technique of “believe or else you’ll go to hell” didn’t work with me and only made me more confused. I denied and hated God for taking my brother, and at the same time I firmly believed that I was evil and would go to hell. I seemed to see only the bad sides of things from early childhood.

And my mother’s technique of ignorance didn’t work, nor did the only life-tools she gave me: television and alcohol.

My obvious disappointment that I could never hide since I am unable to be phony like the rest of them, made her get frustrated with me at Christmas and birthdays when I saw yet another sweater that I’d never wear.

‘Well, I never know what to get you, you’re so picky.’ I wish I had been smart enough to tell her what she should have noticed: that instead of stuffing my stocking with booze, perhaps film or canvas or books or music would have been good choices.

Maybe her unhappiness in the fact that she was stuck with me (instead of her son) drove a wedge between us, maybe she never bothered to bond with me to begin with. Whenever I look at photographs of her holding me as a baby, it’s obvious that I was merely one of her possessions.

She is a poser. She smiles and agrees with everyone (but me) and never gets involved or makes waves. If you ignore stuff long enough, you never have to deal with it.

She avoided me all my life. So she no longer has to deal with me, either.

I have the capacity to forgive the woman, but I will never be able to talk to her again. She has a way of altering facts to fit her version of reality, exactly like the Church does. There is absolutely no way to win any argument with people who are unable to use logic, and she justifies and makes excuses for her bad behavior and twists facts and I become so confused that she begins to make sense.

And she excluded me from my family home, which she has since sold and handed the “proceeds” over to her son-in-law, who she forgives for anything and everything, no matter what it is.

In mom’s mind, everything I do is wrong, and everything her “son” does is absolutely forgivable, after all, “he works soooooooooo hard. . . .”

She has sacrificed me for the last time. I will not give the woman one more chance to make me feel like the trash that she believes I am.

But one thing I need to tell her, another thing she was dead wrong about:

Men still want to sleep with me mom. I’m over 50 now, and I didn’t have to become a millionaire to pay them to do it, either.

Actually, when I look back upon my life, I did everything exactly the opposite of what she did, so, she showed me how not to live my life, just by living hers.

My mother abandoned me time and time again. I have never felt safe or truly loved. I have never felt protected. As I write this, I am in bed, stoned, with my curtains drawn tight. It’s a beautiful summer day, but I am unable to cope with the world sometimes when I get this sad. It comes in waves; mostly I am happy these days, and I am even learning joy. My joy comes from connecting with people, random people; people I meet on my walks around the city. I feel most connected to others who are also in pain, or have had been oppressed in some way. I have an understanding with them.

But when you discover that you never bonded with your own mother, you realize that you really do have good reason to be damaged. I am not letting myself feel guilty or evil for hibernating like I’m doing. I need to find my sense of security before I can face people again.

The reason that I am writing publicly about this is that my voice was silenced by the group of people that is my family. The reason that I don’t go to my mother with this discovery is because she would obviously not support it; she would deny any “wrongdoing” and say something very much like,

‘So typical! Mothers are always being blamed!’

I really am sorry to have to do it this way, but if I don’t get this out of me, it will rot me from the inside. As it is, I have a lot of cleansing to do. . . .

I’ve been trying to communicate with my mother all of my life. I’ve begged, pleaded, screamed for help, but she is deaf to my confusion and pain. My words were ignored; I was ignored. My pain was of no importance to my caregivers; they were causing it, and I was just a tiny young girl of no importance to anyone.

And my voice became silenced. All of my forms of communication were blocked. I lost my love for dancing and simply quit after 15 years, and although I used to sing all the time as a girl and even hoped to sing professionally, I lost my love to sing as well, especially in front of other people. I just gave away or lost all my music. What is the point of singing, when you feel nothing but pain inside?

I became unable to paint or do photography. I became incapable of expressing my true self in any way whatsoever.

I turned to writing as my last resort to connect with other human beings, since I was never socialized in any good way, and I’ve never been able to tell people how I feel. I assume that they will laugh at me, or not listen, or simply reject me and walk away.

This is no joke; when I am in a crowd and I hear laughter, I “know” that people are laughing at me. I’ve always felt this way. Why shouldn’t I when my own mother and sisters gossip about me as if we were still in high school? They are the mean girls who make themselves feel better by ripping me apart.

And I know how easy it is to slide into that way of thinking and being; I was right there with them for many years.

It never helped that I was a ballerina and have “perfect” posture. I look like a confident “normal” person on the outside (some would say I look like a snob), but it looks quite a bit different here on the inside.

I have become the canary in the global coalmine, and as much as I didn’t want the job, I am forced to talk about how fragile and how resilient the human psyche is, and how it can be derailed without proper guidance and care.

I am in the process of rewiring my brain; I am creating new synapses. I am trying to destroy the circuits that were malformed; the thought processes that send my thoughts back to how hopeless everything is.

I’m still desperately searching for just a small place somewhere on this globe in which I can feel safe and protected and loved. But I no longer feel helpless because I know for a fact that good people exist, and that I can be one of them.

Just not around them.

 

NEXT: My uninformed decisions and how they led to worse outcomes

How I Found My Reason to Live: My Escape from Entitled White America

If it seems that I am attacking my family, or white people in general, that is not my intent. It may seem like anger is all I have for many people, but this particular expose is for me (and the kids), not for my critics, of which I seem to have many. I am hoping that it helps me, as well as others, heal and move on, even if some scabs are ripped open.

Injuries can’t heal without a little air.

I do have other stories to tell: brighter, sunnier, funnier stories, but the good stories are trapped under dark, debilitating emotions and memories that need to be exorcized in order to set free the happier times that I can only barely recall.

I am a white person. I’m just not a “normal” white person because I was never able to assimilate.

My mixed-up thoughts and emotions were established and restricted by the fear of God and eternal damnation, as well as the hand of my father on my bare derrière. I was a second-generation, first-born child of a Finnish immigrant (of only 12 years in the States), so I was not strictly American. But I didn’t speak Finnish or care about the culture; I hated the sound of the language because that is what dad and his mother fought in. I wanted nothing to do with their mean, ugly way of life.

I did pick up Finnish habits and tendencies, however, as hard I as fought against it. And I learned culture: I began taking ballet classes at the age of six (and continued them for over 15 years), and I regularly listened to my father’s classical and jazz albums, as well as Hungarian and Romanian and Russian folk songs (and learned how to sing along phonetically), and I learned about food from all over the world.

I had witnessed nature and diversity and authenticity as a child . . . and I also saw extreme poverty and misery, as well as the lack of reaction to it from my parents. Like when we stopped at a Navajo trading post when I was six or seven years old, and I bought a turquoise ring from a Native girl. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her dirty face and sad, hopeless eyes. I can still see that girl’s face, and I still have the beautiful, silver ring. I don’t remember what my mother said when I asked why that girl had to live the way she did, but it was something to the effect of,

‘That’s just the way it is.’

Period. But to this day, I still choke up when I go back there in my mind.

As my father always told me,

‘You can’t have rich people without poor people!’

‘Why do we have to have rich people at all?’ I would ask.

‘Oh Chris, don’t ask such ridiculous questions.’ He would command, ending our “conversation.”

I was immersed in the mediocrity of the beige, antiseptic, segregated, one-size-fits-all American lifestyle, and after 1967, I never saw anything other than middle-class white people all around me. And the things that other kids did to amuse themselves I found boring and unimaginative (except for my horse friends, and a few others). Plus, they all seemed to act and communicate differently from me; I always felt like they were reading from some invisible script, only they didn’t give me a copy.

In the summer of my sixth grade year, after returning from a five-week trip from Scandinavia with my family, the other kids had moved on. I found myself completely alone. They banned me from the group. I had run down to Connie’s house the minute we got home from the airport, and I dug out the Finnish candy that I had bought for everyone. They all grabbed a piece from my outstretched hands and ran away from me and that was the last time any of them ever even looked at me.

I told my mom how sad and lonely I was. It was truly painful. That Christmas, I got a TV for my bedroom. ‘That should keep her occupied,’ is what mom surely thought. We didn’t know back then, how bad that fucking idiot box is for one’s mind and soul. Mom had been using it as a babysitter since I was able to sit up.

I remember watching the Jetsons (pure capitalistic propaganda) and Bugs and the Road Runner when I was very young. I saw violence and the suffering of others as comedy. And all the main characters were male. In Arizona, I spent my days watching the Mike Douglas Show (variety), The Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone and I became scared of my own shadow. I watched That Girl and Love American Style, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie; The Brady Bunch, and Happy Days . . . and I learned that the purpose of women all over the world was to look good, stay dumb, serve men and take care of children. We were supposed to laugh at our husband’s boss’s sexist jokes while waiting on him hand and foot. We were supposed to always look our best, and keep our stupid opinions to ourselves.

These days, when I look back at myself and my family from those other kids’ eyes, I see why they thought we were really fucking weird:  we were.

Whether I liked it or not, these were my people, now, the matchy-matchy, sweater-set white kids that filled my world. Their reality was my reality. I had to hide my weirdness at school, so I was never myself outside of home (if I was ever myself at all).

And although I fought against their illogical ideas, they still infected my mind. I picked up the “knowledge” of the clan, the “common sense” that binds groups of people together. The information does not need to be correct, merely agreed upon. And after many years, it is nearly impossible to see the world any other way.

(There was a time, for example, when everyone agreed that the mullet was a good idea.)

And it is those at the top of the food chain, whether that chain is a group of children, or a family; a community, city, government, institution, or even the Church (especially the Church). . . . It is those with the most power that are making all the decisions about what is real and what is not. And who deserves what. And who does not. Those in charge like to think that they know what we are and what we are thinking, but they do not have a clue. Their rules and regulations were created to help them feel safe. Safe from the rest of us.

“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
Voltaire, The Age of Louis XIV

I understand the selectively blind, exclusive world of white privilege: the unspoken “knowledge” that is somehow passed down from generation to generation that tells us to be thankful for what we have, yet at the same time, we also feel that we somehow deserve it. For whatever reason, I could never figure out. We give Thanks for our blessings, even as we lock our doors and install security systems and build walls and prisons and places of torture. Like Guantanamo. And Sunday school.

I did have glimpses into the real world:

  • From my year living in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1964-65, where I witnessed segregated restaurants, bathrooms, and drinking fountains, and where I later learned that the KKK held meetings within walking distance from our house (There were also stacks of Playboy magazines available in that house, and lots of cocktail parties, and drinking and smoking. . . .)
  • Through the wisdom of a nine-year-old white girl named Shelley, who put me in my place when I repeated a racial slur I had heard my father use
  • When my sixth grade teacher read us books like Black Like Me and Diet for a Small Planet
  • Returning to school at 32, and studying a variety of humanities classes
  • Learning languages other than English; and using them
  • and certainly from my travels in Mexico; far away from the pinche gringos: throughout the jungles and the countryside and in the inland towns and cities, where real people live.

Now that I am on the outside, I see how narrow-minded and blinded the white world really is, even though I felt like I Knew It All on the inside. I use the term white world as if I don’t belong to it and as if all white people are entitled, but of course that is not the case. And I realize that the term is a stereotype, but it’s a stereotype that’s true for the majority of white people. And you don’t have to be white to feel entitled. It has become a class and power issue as well.

Although I was able to hang onto my own strong beliefs and intuition about the world against a lifetime of pressure to “fit in,” I was not immune to the brainwashing. I’ve only recently recognized my own white-washed views of the world, such as it being completely normal for white North Americans to own condos on Mexican beaches with Mexican maids to cook and clean for them. At one point, that was my biggest goal.

Now, I’m rather disgusted with myself for even thinking that way.

I remember ‘knowing’ somehow, when I was about ten-years-old, that Mexicans were dirty and poor. That was one of the reasons I chose to study French.

I had the makings of an entitled, soulless snob.

I believe that the Human Race is facing a serious pandemic. Joy, or the spirit of god, or whatever it is that makes human beings want to live, is being driven out of children; whether out of confusion, or embarrassment or as a means of control. The withholding of information is one method; giving only partial information, or telling plain old lies is also effective for those who aim to condition and control.

And sexual molestation seems to always do the trick. Because it’s not simply physical rape. It’s spiritual rape.

There seems to be a lot of spiritual rape going around.

When I was a child, no one admitted to not believing in God. Now, people are uncomfortable if you do bring up the subject of God. Because everyone and his cousin has become an atheist; because religion has become a vile thing and church only a place where people go to pretend to themselves and others that they are good.

Geez. I’m always on the wrong side of the fence.

I lived a life of fear and confusion and self-hate, stemming from a lack of information, as well as lazy and incorrect “answers” by adults that didn’t have a clue about the world. And every day, I see the same hopelessness and powerlessness in the eyes of children (as well as adults) all around me. It comes directly from their parents, whose beliefs about reality were passed down to them by their confused, misinformed parents and guardians.

We all believe we are so informed about the world. Perhaps having access to anything we want to know, anywhere we want to know it makes us feel that way. But what are we paying attention to? And why? Why do we make any decision that we make?

Every word that we utter, every emotion that we feel, and every decision that we make stems from our own personal, internal “guidebook,” our individual set of memories and experiences that give us our own unique perception of reality.

Entire lives can be lived out harboring the thoughts and feelings of confused, frightened children. The bad information in our heads from our Bad Educations does not magically resolve and sort itself out with time. Children do not just “figure things out.” And since most human beings barely talk to each other about anything (other than sports or fascist presidential nominees; about how much money they make or about their car or their house or their kids—the mindless chatter is enough to drive me mad), we don’t learn a single thing about anyone, including ourselves. Children are talked down to and adults thoughtlessly lob socially-approved catch phrases and meme headings back and forth, mindlessly nodding and agreeing while they simultaneously text and watch the game. Because being positive and agreeable is Rule Number One.

Even if you aren’t sure what you’re agreeing with.

I lived nearly my entire life believing that I was broken and evil and I have never been able to really trust or love anyone. I’ve spent most of my time alone, or in bars, and although I’ve had more insane adventures in my 55 years than most people will ever have in their entire lives, I woke up nearly every morning wishing I were dead.

It bothers me a great deal that I need to make the following thoughts public, but if I am not seen, there is no reason for my existence. I need to be understood, or at believed, by someone, if I ever hope to find a moment’s peace in my life. Also, the kids in my family deserve to have the information that it took me a lifetime to collect.

I came to the decision to post this heartbreaking tome of a letter that I’ve been writing (and rewriting, then shredding or burning and writing again) after two recent events:

A week or two ago, I was talking to two young men who felt strongly that I should “spill my guts about “everything.” One of the men’s mothers had experienced lifelong pain similar to mine, and she was writing a book about it. He told me that he wanted to know everything that she had gone through. He understood that he was affected by her trauma, and understanding her, and why she is the way she is, would help him understand his own issues.

My final decision to post this very personal “letter” was made after watching the movie Spotlight, based on the true story of the molestation of children by priests in the Catholic Church, of the systematic cover-up, and of the phenomenon of how the good people of Boston were somehow completely unaware of it. There were over a thousand children who had been abused (in that one city); their ability to feel love or happiness or joy completely crushed. I cried during many scenes in that film because I understand that kind of pain and godlessness—and the loneliness caused by the refusal for anyone to listen to your cries for help. Or at least understand why you are different or why you drink to excess or why you would possibly want to off yourself.

Victim from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), talking to a group of Globe reporters about pedophilia within the Catholic Church of Boston:

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: You had a woman in your group?

SNAP: Of course there was a woman. They don’t discriminate, not when it comes to abuse. And this has nothing to do with being gay. What this is, is priests using the collar to rape kids. Kids. Boys and girls. . . .When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, religion counts for a lot. And when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal . . . you feel special. It’s like God asking for help. So maybe it’s a little weird when he tells you a dirty joke, but now you got a secret together, so you go along. Then he shows you a porno mag, and you go along . . . until one day he asks you to jerk him off or give him a blow job, and so you go along with that, too, because you feel trapped, because he has groomed you. How do you say no to God, right? See, it is important to understand that this in not just physical abuse, it’s spiritual abuse, too. And when a priest does this to you, he robs you of your faith. So you reach for the bottle or the needle. Or if those don’t work, you jump off a bridge.”

Spotlight

I felt that loneliness and despair, my entire life, because I was not able to, in my mother’s words of advice:

‘Just be happy—that’s what I do!’

Even my counselors and psychologists proclaimed:  Positivity is the key!

The main reason, however, that I need to make my story public, is because all my life I have felt powerless, voiceless and invisible. I have never had any power over my life. I have not been able to freely express myself in front of anyone because I never knew when people were being fully open and honest with me. I’ve trusted no one. I used alcohol and sarcasm to hide my personality, which has been buried for so long, I have no fucking clue as to who I am.

I’m frozen. I cannot start a single thing: not a painting, nor a story, nor my life without my pain oozing out in every direction. I can be writing about the funniest story ever, and I’ll sort of ‘wake up’ and realize that I am once again typing yet another story of my pain, and it always goes back to the beginning, to the same old shit.

And under the influence of alcohol, the debilitating, hopeless feeling can be crushing.

I find myself home alone . . . a lot.

I have let my thoughts and feelings control my life and they have kept me paralyzed with fear. I need to get the weight of these soul-crushing emotions out of me, once and for all.

Broken, different, and odd people are disturbing, so we are routinely shunned. We are simply dismissed as “depressed,” or “crazy,” and parents, bosses and others do everything they can to pass us off to someone else so that our “negative” thoughts don’t have to be dealt with, and the injured individual becomes someone else’s problem. Someone who passes us off to someone else, and so on.

For example, my father used to dream about the day I got married and was no longer “his problem.”

And once, when I was working as a low-level administrative peon at the University of Washington, I overheard my female boss on the phone, explaining her diagnosis of me to Human Resources (HR:  the office that extracts as much from each human being as possible, before finding a way to dispose of them without any compensation):

‘Christine shows the classic victim mentality. I’ve never met anyone like her, and I don’t know what to do with her, so I am assigning her to someone else.’

That boss had come from a white trash background and was desperate to Arrive; to grab those Golden Rings: the Advanced Degree and the enormous house(s) and cars and other “proof” that she is better than the everyone else. For which department she worked, it didn’t seem to matter, as long as the money was good. American Happiness equals money, houses, cars and status. And the outward projection of “happiness” which, in the 21st century, is easily accomplished, at any given moment, by posting a “selfie.”

My boss was incapable of seeing me. She sat on her perch in her corner office and ruled that my intentions were No Good. She had gone from thinking that I could do no wrong one day, to assuming that I was up to No Good the next, just because I can’t sit at a desk for an entire eight hours straight. My character, my intentions had been judged and a sentence was issued. My boss decided that I would be edged out of the department entirely with all the other undesirable old relics.

I saw exactly what you were doing, S . . . I didn’t notice until much too late, but you and your pool-boy Josh aren’t as sly as you believe. Just entitled, judgmental, and unethical.

Luckily for you, your boss wouldn’t hear my complaints. Chain of command and all:  I needed to go through my direct supervisor first, which was the person I was complaining about: You. It was a Catch-22.

I really like the Director, so I was disappointed to be the recipient of his selective blindness. But what did I expect? Why would someone so far above me ever listen to a peon like me?

***

I was never sexually abused (as far as I know, although I spent many nights sleeping on “coat beds” at drunken parties . . . I was raped the first time I had sex at 16), but my parents did rob me of my faith. They drove me away from my true spirit and they made me hate god. My father was an unquestioning, obedient servant of the Lutheran Church, and he was determined to make me a Christian, too. Even if he had to pound it into me.

Which he tried his very best to do.

The Church, besides being a place where people of (widely varying degrees of) faith gather to feel good about themselves, is a finely-tuned instrument of control, and the perfect refuge for evil. It is a powerful, worldwide delivery system of propaganda and fear, invested in driving the souls from innocent children, or at least, the ones who are unfortunate enough to be desirable to pedophile priests who hide behind robes and rosaries and are protected by the entire Catholic hierarchy. According to the movie Spotlight, it is estimated that six percent of Catholic priests have a “condition” that not only causes guilt and shame and confusion regarding sex (and love and self-image), they drive the spirit of God from the hearts of thousands upon thousands of children all around the world, year after year after year.

I am quite certain that that percentage is much higher among the general population.

The family unit is the grass-roots level of manipulation and control. If the Church successfully brainwashes its parishioners into following its tenets without question, younger generations are groomed to assimilate and obey by their own parents long before they ever even enter a place of worship. And in my neighborhood, our Christian Churches were just as oppressive as could be. That was where we really learned how we were supposed to be:  silent and subservient.

‘Just have faith and believe,’ is what my mother always said.

My parents’ attempts to assimilating me into their narrow-minded, plastic and vanilla world didn’t work. I was too stubborn and curious, just like my father, ironically. My questions and doubts did not go away just because my parents got tired of dealing with them. And I began to regularly fight with my father over his ugly perceptions of reality.

My disbelief in God or an afterlife, along with my father’s violent, drunken explosions of anger (based on fear) which were nearly always directed at me, made me the angry, empty, soulless “fuckup” that daddy (therefore the others) believed me to be. My family members all seemed to agree:

There is something seriously wrong with Christine.

My mother used to actually tell people, right in front of me, when I was eleven or twelve and upward,

‘She used to be such a nice, sweet little girl.’ She would turn and look at me with unmasked disappointment, bordering on revulsion. ‘I don’t know what happened to her.’ She would add, with that voice.

Well, Mom, it took me long enough to figure out because I didn’t have a lot to work with, but I finally have some answers to that question. Hopefully I can get my point across in the next 30-something pages.

***

I was never socialized, for one thing.

I was feral.

I realized this, seeing myself through my youngest niece’s eyes; and from a couple of stories about me as a child that my mother used to tell.

My sister and her husband and I were at a pub. Their daughter was pushing a toy truck all over the joint, and the place was busy. I was watching the waitress maneuver over and around the three-foot tall child. I saw my sister’s obliviousness and realized I needed to do something. I got up and took the truck away from my niece. She got it again and continued pushing it around. I took it away and snapped at her, and gave her a menacing stare. Not five minutes later, I saw her little body bent over, pushing that dump truck right past the waitress, who didn’t see her.

I walked across the room and took the truck away. I sat down and looked at my niece. I asked her,

‘Do you know why I’m telling you not to play here?’

‘No.’ She replied. She looked at me, waiting for an answer.

‘I am not trying to be mean. See that lady with the coffee pots?’ I asked her.

‘Yeah’ she said, following the waitress with her eyes.

‘Well, what if she trips on you? That is boiling hot coffee in those pots, and if she trips, all that hot coffee and broken glass will burn and cut both of you.’

My niece’s eyes were huge. ‘Ooooooooh,’ she said, and you could almost see that light bulb over her head. She picked up the truck, put it away, and went back to the table and sat down.

I knew what had not worked for me as a child: my parent’s favorite go-to reply, and one reason I didn’t understand much of the world:

‘Because I said so.’

My mother used to talk about the times that I:

  • Climbed onto a large stage at Six Flags over Texas when I was just shy of four years old and danced in fr a group of Latin musicians in front of around 500 people
  • Climbed onto a table at a Shakey’s Pizza and did the twist, right on top of the pizza tray

She used to tell me that I was such a well-mannered child, that I didn’t need scolding. Apparently, she didn’t believe I needed any guidance, either. I thought of her stories about my behavior often during my 20 years of waiting tables, while I was picking cheerios out of the carpet after other oblivious parents had paid and left; all those many parents who believe that

their children are so FUCKING cute.

Here’s a tip: They’re NOT.

Which reminds me of the time that my sister and I were laughing hysterically while my then 10-year-old niece was singing “opera” in a Mexican restaurant. She has a very strong voice, and can belt out a high C that will make the glasses vibrate. We not only laughed, we encouraged her. Only after several arias, a man at another table, just ten feet away, said,

‘Seriously? I’m trying to eat my dinner!’

We still thought it was funny, and we honestly didn’t think a thing of it. In fact, we made fun of that poor dude, all the way home. ‘Why can’t you eat your dinner? Don’t you have a fork?’

S:  The adults at your table were completely out-of-line. We should have laughed the first time you did it, then asked you to stop until we went outside.

I was neither American nor Finnish. I didn’t have many friends, ever, and when I did, it was just one at a time. I didn’t even realize that I did that until rather recently, when my sixth grade teacher, Jan, with whom I am still in contact, told me that he used to try and get me and my one and only friend, Lisa, to branch out and make other friends. To diversify. Jan told me that Lisa and I were inseparable and cut off from the group, so that whenever we had a fight, we were both lonely and miserable. We wouldn’t talk to anyone.

But I was terrified in groups of people. I preferred just one or two people at a time, people I knew I could trust.

I also had to keep my real emotions hidden away from my family. Except, of course, the few shades that I couldn’t control: my rage and impatience and anger . . my general “moodiness,” due to my hateful relationship with my dad.

My father emigrated from Helsinki, Finland, in 1947. When I was little, he drank and sang and danced around the house. He loved to cook and take photographs and build things. He was curious about everything and talked to people everywhere he went. He also had a hair-trigger temper, and you never knew what would set it off (olive oil, for example, enraged him for over an hour one time) He also hated wearing clothes and often walked around nude or in his “bikini” underwear.

My friends often asked me,

‘What kind of accent does your father have?’

That was a perpetual reminder that we were different. Boy, were we different.

Dad never had adult guidance or support, not in his entire life. And I believe that his emotional intelligence never exceeded 14- or 15-years old. He didn’t have the luxury of a “childhood,” and his boyhood trauma—his most base emotions of pain and abandonment of fear—stayed with him all his life. He finally faced and wrote about his memories of childhood in Finland and Sweden, at age 69. He was beginning to face his demons . . . he even apologized to me the spring before he died (for what exactly, I never found out—he left before he could put his thoughts about me into words).

My father’s mother worked as a furrier out of her apartment in Helsinki, and struggled to make ends meet. And the time that my dad spent away from his mom (somewhere between the ages of four and eight, because of the danger of Russian bomb raids), fared no better for him. Food was scarce, all over war-torn Europe. And years before my father ever reached manhood, he was working and helping to provide for three.

My father’s only sources of information about the world came from his poor, single mother, Lutheran dogma, and a few rural farm men in Finland and Sweden (one of which he witnessed screwing a cow).

At five years old, my father witnessed first-hand what Russian bombs can do to human bodies. He experienced extreme hunger. He was abused. And he began drinking (mead) at age seven and became drunk the first time he tried it. And he loved the effect. Drinking was just a normal part of daily life, dad learned very early on, and it helped to forget the ugliness from his long, miserable days. He had been put to work in the fields, picking vegetables, at age seven as well. . . . Funny how working for others drives one to the bottle!

At 12, he and his tough, single mother (she had to be fierce; existing as an unmarried woman in a man’s world was dangerous—let alone a world of war) moved to Berkeley, California. Neither of them understood a word of English. Dad got a paper route, to help with bills, but knowing dad, he must have been extremely lonely; he needed things to do to keep himself occupied. Back in Europe, he had had trees and greenery all around him—as well as friends—but in the US of A, he was surrounded by brick walls and confusing laws and a foreign culture that looked at him with suspicion. And, the one and only person he had to communicate with was his mother.

Which, I’d wager money on, was perfectly fine by her.

Dad entered the Berkeley public school system without any help learning his new language, which is a nightmare of a language to learn. There were no English as a Second Language courses in 1947. He had always boasted to me that he had “managed to assimilate just fine,” but that was far from the truth. It was a blatant lie. Not just to me, dad lied to himself about it as well. The memories were much too painful.

Two years after their arrival, my grandmother had another child. A daughter. Now, my father’s paper route was necessary. He had to help provide for three. I never learned anything about my Aunt’s father, other than he was absent—for the most part—but I know that he was abusive to her whenever he took her out for visits. And he got away with it, Scott-free, because we just do not talk about such things. Who the hell would have believed her, anyway? Her mother doted over my father, but she barely saw her daughter~

Because girls were unimportant. They were just wombs-in-waiting, waiting to be “given away,” by their fathers to their husbands, to breed and cook and clean and be taken care of financially by their new “owners.” That was the expectation of the 50’s and 60’s bride, anyway.

That is the way that I view marriage. The Mad Men version of life back then is no exaggeration:  Women were bred to be docile and submissive and unquestioning, and to stay in the home. Of course men don’t want things to change. But they are. And men are confused as hell about what to do about it. I can’t say I blame them. (Maybe they can look to the South, to find out what all those plantation owners did when they lost their free help.)

I often wonder if my grandmother chose to have children. I wonder what my father’s father was like (which an insane story itself), and whether or not he knew about my dad. I wonder if my grandmother had access to birth control. Or abortion. I know how men love to control women: inside and out.

***

It’s been over a year since I spoke with my youngest sister. It’s been three of four years since I’ve spoken to the middle one. The last time I spoke with my mother, I told her that I’m moving away and breaking off contact with the family, or what is left of it. I actually said,

‘You should just pretend that I’m dead.’

I hung up immediately after those words oozed out of my already deadened soul and I broke down into racking sobs, because I knew for a fact that I was, and had always been, emotionally and spiritually alone in this life. Godless. Broken. Wicked.

It’s horrifying that I actually said that to my own mother. I feel sick about it, but getting away from my toxic family members was necessary for self-preservation. I had destroyed almost every self-portrait that I’ve ever done, and I realized that every time I had slashed a canvas, it was immediately after talking to my mom.

The people with whom I was sharing my feelings were unable to see or hear me, although they acted as if they did; and they acted as if they had all the answers and where morally superior to me: they went to Church on Sundays and I did not.

All my life, whenever I called my mother for comfort after one of a multitude of bad experiences (those which she was willing to discuss, excluding sex or love), I felt even more confused and depressed after our conversation than before I had called her.

She did try helping me. Once, she sent me to a “career counselor,” who was really a psychologist that told me that in a past life, I had been an “ancient Egyptian princess who had sent thousands to their deaths and that my current life was so difficult because I’m paying for all my past sins.

And she tried directing my “career” by sending me to shorthand class. And how-to-get-a-job-at-the-post office class. My mother didn’t have a lot of confidence in my talents, apparently. I realize now that she was doing her best, but at the time, I felt like the most pathetic, worthless piece of shit on Earth. Because I was an artist, but my own mother never even realized that.

Probably why I never believed it either.

The way my mother and sisters view the family history is the way in which an entire village saw a naked emperor strutting around in the finest silk linens. They saw something they wanted to see and the strength of their shared disillusion made them impervious to the truth. Even when an individual, someone of no importance spoke up and pointed out the truth, they were blinded by their ability to ignore what they don’t want to see: at least, if it is coming from an “inferior.”

Someone like me.

My father’s memorial service made me physically sick. I sat outside on the patio, listening to the long, extravagant entertainment show through the sliding glass door. What a fucking farce. Yes, he was a great man in many ways, but he helped destroy my life, and no one in my family even fucking noticed. In fact, they told me that my memories were dead wrong.

Oh? I guess my obsession with death was just something I did for fun. . . .

‘Oh, Christine, you just need to be more understanding; your father’s had such a difficult childhood.’

What about my childhood? Are fathers and daughters supposed to hate each other? Do all fathers call their daughters “stupid” and “tramp” and “slut,” and terrify them with their tempers?

I realized just recently, that my mother never even noticed me to begin with. To her, I was no different than any other little girl. I needed to be fed and clothed and bathed and schooled. And in that area of motherhood, she was very good. She woke up every morning and made everyone breakfast and lunches to take to work/school and cooked dinner every night. We rarely ate processed food, at least, not in the early days. Mom drove me to ballet class every weekday and on Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays (although she was always late, both to and from class), and she always came to my performances. Also, for three years, on Thursday nights (after a full day of school and 90 minutes of ballet) she brought me to the church where bible stories were crammed down my disapproving throat for three hours. I loathed her and my father for that. And, I do not remember a thing I heard at that place of hypocrisy.

Back-to-school shopping was always special. Seriously. It was way better than Christmas, because I got to choose what was bought. Mom sadly never figured out what I liked, even when I tried to give hints, like less-than-bubbly enthusiasm. I couldn’t help it. I had pretty sophisticated taste, even at a very young age. I don’t know where that came from. It must have come from my ballet teacher, who was practically a third parent, the silent partner, if you will.

Each August, Mom brought each one of us out for our own entire day, to the original Nordstrom Best. The original Bellevue store was small:  about the size of your average Microsoft employee’s house, these days. We’d spend hours trying on expensive clothing, shoes, and accessories, followed by a fancy lunch. Mom always loved going out to eat.

That was her one true love, Shopping. Or more accurately, Spending Money.

(‘Shhhhh, don’t tell dad we spent so much money!’)

I also have some fond memories of my father, contrary to popular belief.

I vividly recall dad, all dressed up in his blue leisure jacket and slacks and drenched in Old Spice aftershave, dancing around the living room, singing along to Henry Mancini with a highball in his hand, waiting for mom to paint her nails so they could go out to dinner. Whenever I hear the soundtrack from the Pink Panther, or Herb Albert’s Tijuana Brass, I feel the sense of excitement that my father projected:  excitement for a night out on the town.

Once a month, either mom, but usually dad, would make a special candlelight dinner for three. My sisters and I got to take turns dressing up and having a late-night dinner with mom and dad, with wine and all (liquor was introduced to us as children, and it was always around; all three of us started drinking in our preteens). Dad’s specialties were Chicken Kiev, Rindsrouladen, and Souffle Grand Marnier. Drinking and dining became part of my DNA. (I cooked my first four-course meal for my family at about nine years old: Mad Hatter Meatballs with Flopsy-Mopsy Carrots, Mashed Potatoes, and a Peter Cottontail Salad. I still remember it.)

My parents both believed that children must be managed and controlled; seen and not heard (although all rules went out the window once dad had two or more glasses of wine, which is how it was so easy for us kids to drink). We were expected to blindly believe in the Christian god, although neither of my parents ever talked about spirituality, nor did they take my questions about heaven and hell and life and death seriously. My baby brother’s early demise at 11 months old made me nearly crazy with fear. I was just a month shy of my fourth birthday when died. I desperately needed to know what happened to him.

“No doubt I asked my parents about death . . . I can’t recall a specific conversation on the subject of death, but I know exactly what the response would have been: There is no afterlife; we are here and then we’re gone. Death is a fact; get used to it. And why are you standing around with nothing to do?”

― Barbara Ehrenreich, Living With a Wild God

I asked over and over and over about what it takes to get into heaven. All I remember hearing is,

‘Oh Chris, you ask so many questions! You need to just have faith and believe!’

But I didn’t believe. And eternal damnation scared the hell out of me. I didn’t believe in my parents’ hateful god, and I was too scared to admit that to anyone. From the age of four years old, I hated God and believed that I was evil and would burn in hell, which is a paradox, but I too young to see that.

I was really confused.

I was extremely concerned for my baby brother’s soul. I was worried that he was already in hell. I may have even believed that I had something to do with his death, because I vividly recall, at the age of seven or eight, picking up a doll from my little sisters’ toy crib. I picked it up by the neck and held it there, suspended over the floor. I realized how easy it would be to kill an infant. And I was scared to death of my own evil thoughts. They confirmed what I had suspected for years: that I was evil.

It has been extremely difficult, not only to find pieces of the puzzle of my broken life, from clues from my aunt and mother and old photographs and letters; even old books with notes and scribbles in them, but to arrange the twisted pieces so that they make any kind of sense.

Two important links had been missing until only recently:

  • When my mother finally admitted, about four years ago, that she was horrified when she realized that her husband, who she married at 18 years old, had a frightening temper; that his violent explosions and booming voice were terrifying to someone who came from a quiet, happy home. She had been an only child to one of the sweetest couples on the planet who never fought or argued, not once. My teenage mother went from her father’s home to her new husband’s home. And her new husband was frightening. She climbed into her shell, emotionally. On the outside, however, you’d never suspect for an instant that she may have been unhappy.
  • When my aunt admitted to me, just a couple of years ago, that although her own home life in the Bay Area was horrible, she was always relieved to go home after spending any time with my father. At our house, she had her own room, a swimming pool, the use of a car . . . but she preferred to go back to the tiny, cramped apartment and her disapproving mother. Too bad, she was the one and only person in my life that took any interest in me. She introduced me to funk and soul. She taught me the lyrics to Paperback Writer. I wish she could have lived with us. She was around twenty the last time she came to stay with us, only ten years older than me; just four years less than the age difference between she and her brother.

Up until that point, all my life, my mother had insisted that my childhood had not only been just fine, but that I should feel grateful and lucky for having such a warm and loving home. I had been told over and over and over again that my bad memories were all in my head. No one would verify that my feelings of hopelessness and despair were justifiable.

And I really began to believe that I was insane.

The last message my youngest sister sent me said something like,

‘Dad treated us all the same. You are no different than anyone else.’

I’ve realized that my reality is very different from the Disneyized version of reality that my family members (and most white North Americans) seem to share. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone most of the time, where I am an alien who finds herself living among beings she cannot understand. And who don’t understand her.

Noam Chomsky, one of the most brilliant minds of our time, stated once in an interview (that I can’t find!) that the reason that no one will interview him is that his answers are too long for corporate media. Media has cut response times so drastically, that interview answers are reduced, basically, to sound bites. And if you have an idea that is different, or unique, or “disagreeable” in any way, it is impossible to express your idea in a sound bite. New ideas require time for thought and consideration, for questioning and more time for processing.

But in the land of corporate media, you need to get your message out in ten seconds or less (I pulled that number out of my pipe, but the figure is not far off, I’m afraid). And with most human beings, you don’t get much more than that before people’s eyes glaze over and they start texting, and all they remember is your opening sentence, which sounded insane.

I’ve always sounded like a freak.

Whenever any of the adults in my family (or politicians, or other people “in charge”) bring up some warm and fuzzy memory or event, everyone smiles and nods and toasts and agrees, even though most of us know (besides the children, or the oppressed, or those at the bottom, who are always kept in the dark), deep down inside that the memories are all lies. The “good times” were always fueled by booze and we have become unable to recall even recent history. Especially when it is too embarrassing or “shameful” to remember.

And all the bad memories disappear like vapors from a bottle of gin.

It’s all about showing the world how perfect we are. How “happy” we are. We hide our “flaws” and always put our “best foot forward.”

Every family unconsciously assigns a role to each of its members. In our family, my middle sister K was the “good” one, just as dad was the Boss and mom was the happy, smiling housewife and doting mother. My youngest sister C was The Brain.

K was the perfect, outwardly obedient Golden Child (literally—she was the only one with blond hair, hence the name, The Blonde Princess) who went to church and college right out of high school and got a job, got married, and started procuring. K is the one with three houses and three properties (that I know of), and is just as selfish and all-knowing as you’d imagine any uninformed conservative to be. She used to charge our youngest sister for eggs from her chickens, even though our youngest sis was divorced with two young children and was struggling to get by. K sees herself as liberal and progressive, but her views on politics and society are just as ignorant and narrow as my mother’s, which are straight out of the 50s. She is the perfect, unquestioning consumer: caring only about acquiring more stuff than everyone else.

She also used to grab the asses, and crotches, of nearly every boyfriend I brought around, I discovered, after the fact. I eventually stopped bringing them, at their request. The last time I brought a guy, who I’ll call Carlos, up to the ‘swingin’ island, he made me see myself—and what I had allowed my sister’s friends to get away with—through his eyes. K’s adulterous, redneck neighbor slapped my ass, and I was so used to that kind of shit, I honestly didn’t even notice. Carlos insisted on leaving shortly after we got there. Carlos was as machismo as they come, but even he was appalled by the total lack of respect that was shown toward me at the family gathering. His disgust for what he had seen was clear during the entire ride home.

I had allowed that kind of shit my entire life because I had been led to believe that it was okay. Everyone did it.

In my parents’ eyes, K was the perfect, successful one. The nurse (god how we idolize medical people), the one they could boast about to all their rich white friends. Photos of K and her family adorned every wall in mom’s house; as well as her refrigerator, microwave, and computer desktop. There was one photograph of me in my mother’s home, hidden away from view in the furthest corner of the house, away from any and all activity, shut inside a wooden cabinet with glass doors. I had given her the framed 8 by 10 once many years ago, but the last time I visited, I took it back since I am obviously such an embarrassment. Eventually, it would have made its way to where all my other artwork went. Where that is, only my mother knows.

A landfill, most likely.

I was never a professional (I never sold anything, still haven’t), so mom didn’t consider me a real artist. She never put anything I painted or shot on her walls (not for long). She took a trips to Taos, New Mexico: the land of ridiculously overpriced, tourist art and spent thousands on strangers’ works. I nearly begged her to let me help decorate her home just for fun. I knew I’d never have a house of my own, and it would have been a good way for me to show someone what I could do. I even offered to paint anything she wanted.

Another time, she paid a professional to shoot her photo with my dad on the beach. It never even crossed their minds to pay me—I would have even done it for free. Even though I was desperate for support, neither of my parents ever gave me a leg up in any way. I never seemed to occur to them.

I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking.

And I helplessly watched in horror as my mother took the “proceeds” from the sale of my father’s Porsche (which he had promised would be mine when he died), and blew the entire wad on her living room, the centerpiece being a monstrous flat screen TV and a Bose system and DVD system so complicated, that I never even figured out how to use it. Mom had to ask her grandchildren for help. And Bose. I’ve never witnessed my mother listen to music.

But I was not considered worthy to any of that furniture.

One afternoon, mom called me. That was a rare occasion. She only called if she had an “excuse.”

‘Oh hi dear! I’m rewriting my will, and I wanted to know what you’d like from the estate.’

I was not prepared for the talk of a will, so soon after my father had died. ‘Geez mom, I don’t remember what’s in your house. . . .’

‘Well, just pick something!’

‘Okay, I do like that brown leather couch.’

‘Oh, that is going to K.’ She said, matter-of-factly.

‘Oh, well then I’ll take the love seat.’

‘No, that goes with the couch.’

I thought about what else she had in her house, anything that was actually authentic or had an sentimental value of any kind. K had already been cleaning out her house for years.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I do like that wooden chest. . . .’

She sighed. ‘Chris, everything in the living room is a set. And anyway, where would you put it?’

I didn’t actually said this to her, but it’s what runs through my mind whenever I think about it:

‘Why the FUCK did you even bother to call me?’

I actually get it now. It’s how the haves trick us into thinking that we have choices. If you’ve ever had to ask for help in the way of unemployment or food stamps, you know what I’m talking about. And those who haven‘t ever had to ask for that kind of help seem to love to ridicule those that of us who do.

‘Well, I did ask you what you wanted, and you didn’t want anything. . . .’

Kind of like an Enron Pension Plan.

One of my extremely comfortable doctor bosses shouted out to me one day, when she saw an article in the paper about Welfare. It featured a photograph of a man sitting on a porch drinking a beer.

‘Look at this. That‘s what they use their food stamps on. If they’re too poor to buy food, they certainly should not be drinking beer.’

I kept my mouth shut, but I was itching to point out that job hunting is an absolute nightmare when you are “uneducated,” as is standing in line for hours (or days, or weeks), trying to find someone to help you at one government agency or another . . . and that I can understand their need to drink more than hers. Any time I visited her home, her beautiful, enormous home for one, the wine always came out. (This is the boss that gave me a five dollar coffee cart card for Christmas and a tiny box of chocolate . . . which she ate half of. I didn’t offer it to her, either, she asked. (Just like the head of the department, with his daily strolls around the staff’s offices, searching for sugar.)

This is exactly how the rich have everything and the rest of us can go fuck ourselves, as far as they’re concerned.

One thing my father had always promised me: That he would make sure that I was provided for. He told me that he had made sure that I would have some type of inheritance to rely on. He scrimped and saved and so did we all. We practically froze in the winter, and reused everything we owned until it fell apart. It was good to learn how to be that way. But to my mother, thinking green is good enough, which she surely does as she drives her mini-van an hour away to her nearest Walmart to buy her third copy of Forest Gump, since she always forgets what she already owns.

My mother may as well just physically kicked me into the street, for the sense of safety and security and comfort she makes me feel.

***

K, like my mother, chose the safe, unimaginative, puritanical path. She chose the church and society-approved version of life for a woman: a brief “education,” followed by marriage, procreation, housekeeping, and annual two-week vacations with the family. And lots of shopping. And not much else before a downward spiral, which begins with the first doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical and the belief that women begin to decay at age 50.

‘Women should keep their hair cut short after turning 40, mom always said, ‘and wear only long skirts . . . and only the most tasteful jewelry, nothing too big. . . .‘

K has a lack of self-knowledge or of any understanding of the real world, because just like mom, she is has lived in a tiny, white bubble. I’m sure that she has no idea why she feels so hollow and achy inside when the lights go out and everyone goes to bed (just as I didn’t know why I always wanted to die). But maybe it explains why she acts so judgmental and entitled and aloof when she talks about other people.

She and my mother love to speculate about other people; comments such as, “Oh yes, I’m sure that she’s with him for his money.” Or, “Did you hear about so-and-so? She’s pregnant again, and still not married, what a slut!” My mom’s go-to comment for people that don’t merit her approval is, “He’s really weird.” The last word drawn out and uttered with a sneer. Weeeeeeeeird.

Weeeeird, like me.

For those of us on the outside, if we showed up late for a holiday at the Tangela’s house, or dared to not observe the mindless waste and greed and consumption called Christmas by say, texting someone who actually cares about us, or if any of us dared to bring up things that were disturbing to them: we were OUT of the family.

Out—like me.

My cousin was kicked out as well. My cousin, A, who nearly died from not one, but two bouts of rare cancer. He was still recovering from his second course of chemotherapy (at just thirty something years old, and he had to use a cane) and was going through a divorce. Plus, he had just lost his father, a wonderful man with whom I really connected, just a few years earlier. A had moved to Whidbey Island only a couple of years earlier from the Bay Area, and before he did, my mother and sister were so encouraging. They convinced him that he should be around family. So he left his entire life behind: all of his friends with whom he grew up. And his new life in the Pacific Northwest was wonderful—until his marriage didn’t work out (let the Judgment Games begin) and both the recovery of his health and of his financial (as well as emotional/spiritual) stability became a heavy burden.

My family was not the support system they had led him to believe. Luckily, he met a lovely young woman with whom he was perfectly suited. But his new girlfriend was certainly not welcome in my mother’s Christian home! Especially for Christmas! How scandalous! What would the neighbors say? He was still legally married, so rules had to be followed. My cousin A was texting the one person he had found in this cruel world who made him feel whole, while five kids violently ripped open nauseating numbers of packages and the room became a disgusting display; a veritable whirlwind of children, simultaneously screaming and shredding and throwing meters of toxic wrapping paper atop mounds of boxes and plastic waste whose entire life cycle had no life affirming point whatsoever.

K and my mother find this annual massacre so very touching, and how dare A not pay attention and show his appreciation and gratitude and respect for just being included in the land of the haves.

‘Hmph! He wasn’t even watching the kids. How disrespectful!’ they all cried, every time the poor guy’s name came up. If only my aunt knew how K and my mom talked about her son. And her, when she is not around. You know, if people spend the bulk of their time talking about other people; they are certainly talking about you, too.

C and I are regular topics of nasty speculation. We always have been.

My youngest sister, C, was not nearly as consumeristic as the others. She was called The Intellectual because she got a double major in history and Spanish and became a teacher. She was also known as the Dancer, which also denies my existence, since I danced many years before she did. But because there were no photos of me (even though my father was into photography—thanks again, mom and dad) and there were stacks of photos and videos of her, she is The Dancer in the family’s collective memory. My mother went to visit her in New York City when C went there to study, but neither of my folks bothered to find out what I was doing in the Big Apple when they put me on the plane at eighteen years old. They had no idea for example, that I had an abortion there. Or that I was almost violently raped on the street at four AM. Or that I became so depressed, my death-wish took over my life. (I had to destroy my NY journal because I couldn’t even read it myself.)

Completely alone, I rode the bus to and from the “dusting and cleaning” of my second would-be child. I lost all hope for a future for myself and drank myself to sleep every night shortly after that and after the subsequent death of my only love:  ballet. I had not one single adult in my life to guide me, and all I remembered from my ballet teacher (who on her death bed, said, ‘Christine was very good and could have Made It. I wish I had been nicer to her.’) were her insults about my weight and other hurtful comments (aka “corrections”), so I quit. I gave up the one and only thing I ever loved because I didn’t believe in myself and had no idea of what to do, where to go, who to turn to.

I didn’t realize that my ballet teacher’s tough, English manner was just that; I assumed that she hated me, just like everyone else.

Why shouldn’t I? No adult in my life even listened to me, let alone believed in me. I was only ever told what was wrong with me and the things I made.

Like me, C also ‘debated’ with our overly-opinionated-yet-ignorant, xenophobic, sexist father, but his “devil’s advocate” approach didn’t affect her as harshly as it did me. Whenever I tried to debate him, I became emotional and my father and I would end up screaming at each other, storming out of rooms, slamming doors. But C shows no emotion. It has taken me many years to really see this. And since I have, I sometimes wonder if she even has any emotions at all. She must. She’s human. But she doesn’t allow herself to show them. And she doesn’t let her thoughts touch upon any unpleasant emotions, any feelings of vulnerability or weakness at all. I’ve seen her angry and I’ve seen her happy. But she is unable to talk about her true, heartfelt feelings, not any that are confusing or hard to face. Certainly not to me.

Nor is she able to listen to me talk about my deepest thoughts and fears, or when I get mad at her. Her face goes blank and she becomes a veritable zombie. She makes me so crazy when she stands there silently and blankly smiling at me with her arms crossed . . . I can stand two feet from her and scream into her face to try and get some kind of reaction. But her eyes remain blank as a doll’s and she becomes incapable of speech.

I often use the role of the mother in Ordinary People (and sometimes Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead when I’m especially angry) to describe the other women in my family, especially K and my mom The fictional mother, played by Mary Tyler Moore, was so out of touch with reality that she was incapable of expressing a single honest thought or emotion. Her house and cars and clothes and hair were impeccable. She could handle any type of tangible mess, but she was incapable of dealing with emotional mess whatsoever. She was terrified of her “friends” finding out about her son, her embarrassment of a son who did something unforgivable: he tried to kill himself.

And she couldn’t talk to her own flesh and blood, her one surviving child who had been committed to a mental hospital after witnessing his older brother drown before his eyes. His mother couldn’t forgive him for living when her favorite son died. She was determined for the entire mess to disappear, only she had no capacity for real human connection, and was unable to “fix it.” Instead, she chose not to see it. Her damaged, suicidal son became invisible to her.

Just like me,

And Natives,

And African Americans,

And the elderly,

And all the homeless families, living in their campers along the edge of my neighborhood and all over my city.

I’ve often wondered, after watching that movie, if my parents didn’t like having me around because I reminded them of their son. My little brother died from a hole in his heart. A deficiency that he was born with. The hole in my heart grew gradually over years of emotional abuse from my father and of being emotionally neglected and overlooked by my mother; and from being talked down to by both of them like I was too stupid to understand.

My mother and sisters are very much like the Mary Tyler Moore’s characterization of the aloof, outwardly-perfect mother. I had nearly forgotten that my youngest sister also carried the Makela apathy/narcissist trait, until very recently. I’ve learned that it’s pretty standard for alcoholics to be this way; the way I was when I used to drink at home alone.

I had made myself forget, or at least overlook, all the selfish and hurtful things my sister has done to me—which was easy since she chooses never to remember any of them. Memories, when stuck in the mind of just one person, tend to lose their potency.

Once, when she was a teenager, C lied to my parents and said she was at my place for the weekend and then picked up some guy and went to Vancouver BC with him. She didn’t bother to tell me, though, and my parents were pissed when they called me and she wasn’t there. And I was worried because A) I had no idea what had happened to her and B) I was responsible for her because she was only 17. She had lied to me. She had called me from a pay phone and said that she was with a friend in Seattle. But she was actually riding on the back of some guy’s motorcycle, heading over the Canadian border. She didn’t find it necessary to clue me in.

Then there was the time I asked her not to see a man who I had been close with and she did anyway and tried to hide it; and the time that she was “too busy doing homework” to talk to me after I had been attacked and nearly raped in my apartment, and the time she got me kicked out of our shared house, over a man, after I had spent weeks cleaning and painting the entire place. . . .and I just kept helping her again and again; moving her into and out of apartments and taking care of her stuff and thinking about her needs.

I had forgotten all about C’s lack of thought or respect for me until I was painfully reminded of it just recently . . . the experience helped me understand that it wasn’t because I was so hateful and worthless that my sister and everyone else dumped on me; it is because I’ve just always allowed it. My little sister simply never gave it a second thought whenever she did it because she didn’t even notice. Plus, everyone else does it all the time. It’s just a part of the family dynamic, I guess.

To better understand my relationship with my sister, the universe sent me a “gift,” in the guise of a young man who I’ll call Steve. Steve’s lack of empathy or compassion became quite obvious within just a month of knowing him. He had recently experienced the same “connection” to our higher power that I had felt about two years earlier. We became friends instantaneously, and talked about how to change the world together.

But it took me a while to realize that Steve’s understanding of the experience that we thought we had shared was very different from mine. I made the assumption that since he had made a connection to our higher power, that he had learned the same things as I had. But that was not the case. What I had experienced was a revelation of what I needed to do in life, and that everything is as it should be, that everything would be okay. I needed that assurance: my abandonment and rejection issues gave me feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing that I had never gotten over and I desperately needed a lifeline.

I know in my heart that I was being watched over and guided. I know that there is a higher intelligence and that it gives me snippets of information that I am able to understand, when I really need it (or ask for it, strangely enough, but true). What else to call this energy, this all-encompassing power that knows what is going on in our hearts, other than God?

What no one ever tells you is when you’re little:

It is up to you to find your own path, and not follow the path you’re told to take, because the entire system is dysfunctional and very few people are telling you the truth, either because of their own biases of the world, or because they want to control or use you.

This was certainly not the god my unquestioning mother and father believed in. This one was not wicked and would never send me to hell. Mommy and daddy were absolutely wrong about everything. God never hated me for having “sex before marriage” or for smoking weed or for breaking stupid white-man-made laws that protect only rich white men. God sees that my intentions are good.

Something my own parents never suspected for an instant.

Steve seemed to believe that he was actually Jesus Christ and that I was his follower. He even told me once that the meaning of my name is ‘Christ follower,’ and that his name meant ‘Christ-like.’

His lack of compassion or concern for the results of his actions became evident when my very good friend, spiritual guide and father figure, Raoul, was dying. His “routine” heart surgery had failed. He was on full life support, and we had just learned that his organs were beginning to shut down.

Steve had taken apart my Volvo’s engine—he was supposedly fixing it (although it had not needed fixing)—and I had to take three busses, each way, to visit Raoul at the hospital. I visited him twice that week. I sat for hours on Metro transit, makeup cried off, feeling lonely as shit.

Losing Raoul was just as bad as losing my father. Maybe worse. Because Raoul talked to me like a human being and actually listened to me and was interested in what I had to say. We had had a strong connection; something I never had with my father.

I texted Steve and told him that I needed a hug and some company. He told me to meet him at the Columbia City Theater. I had brought him to meet Raoul and Steve had really liked him; in fact, he had only just mentioned that he’d like to see the old man again.

After a nearly two-hour commute on the bus, it was dark when I arrived at the CCT. I was exhausted from the long, emotional day and all the crying. Steve had earned enough money to buy a car, which he had picked up earlier that week. He had told me that he’d give me a ride home afterward, which is the only way I agreed to meet there—there were no direct bus routes to my neighborhood from Columbia City. And I had driven him around quite a bit when he had been without wheels, when my car had been running just fine.

When I walked into the bar, I immediately realized that I should have gone home. Steve was sitting at the bar, pretending to read Joseph Campbell, one of three books that I had lent him (all of which he kept). A pretty young bartender was working, one he told me that he wanted to date. Someone was setting up for karaoke.

After a pint and one teary karaoke song, I told Steve that I just wanted to get something to eat and go home.

“Why don’t you just stay and have fun?” Which is what he wanted to do.

I fought back tears. “No. I need to go now. How do I get home?” I asked, not the most direct way of asking for a ride, but I figured he’d get the pretty obvious hint.

Only he wasn’t to be ready to leave.

“Oh, just walk down that way and catch the number seven bus going downtown, then get off on Third Ave and transfer to the. . . .”

My eyes welled up with tears. Partly from anger and from grief and a very large portion of abandonment; both from knowing that my wonderful old friend Raoul would be leaving me soon, and now this display of pure, unadulterated narcissism. I interrupted him.

“Yeah, I think I got it.” I grabbed my things and stormed out of the bar and did not plan to see that self-absorbed boy ever again. I suppose I should have been more understanding or communicative, I mean, Steve had attempted suicide about a year earlier. But I was not strong enough to behave rationally. And he never even asked me about Raoul, who was going to be taken off of life support the very next day. His only question was which karaoke song I was going to sing.

He tried to get me to do Bohemian Rhapsody with him, or in his words, ‘Let’s do a duet!’ Thank god I said no. He got the bartender to do it with him. She didn’t realize that she had signed on to be his backup singer while he took over every verse, motioning her to back off any time she tried to sing with him.

Me me me me me. . . .

As for my car, in his half-assed attempt to change the head gasket (which my Volvo mechanic had said had another couple years, but S was determined to “help” me), Steve had dismantled the timing belt (and many other mysterious parts) and there was also a stripped head bolt to deal with. Not a single mechanic I spoke with was willing to touch my car (on which I had just spent over $1000 in December). They all said that it was stupid to attempt to change the head gasket in a driveway, without proper equipment. Steve had originally told me he’d have it back together in one week, which is what I had told my landlord, whose driveway my Volvo was occupying. Two weeks came—and went. I tried to be understanding, since Steve told me that he had been “working a lot of hours.”

I told him that I needed the car driveable as soon as possible.

He replied, with strong emphasis on the “I” that,

I had to take the bus for an entire year.”

He may as well have just said that if the bus was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. Although, I had had nothing to do with his transportation issues, while he was directly responsible for mine. How could he not see this?

Happy and oblivious, in his bubble for One.

I began getting really angry when I realized that he was getting off work early to go to the gym, followed by a hot shower, dinner, then off to the bar. When it was going on three weeks, I sent him a message, “Are you ever coming back to fix my car?” It was a bad idea to be my typical sarcastic self, I guess, but I felt totally abandoned and my defenses came out: an angry, a knee-jerk reaction to my life-long feelings of abandonment by my entire family, coupled with my inability to communicate my feelings to them.

Steve never did return to put my engine back together. He sent me a message on Facebook that he didn’t want to deal with my “erratic emotions.” If he meant my stress caused by my complete sense of powerlessness and of being so completely disrespected, I don’t consider those feelings to be erratic. I lost about four thousand dollars because of that thoughtless boy.

But that is what men do. They fuck us over, then they call us “emotional.”

Well, Ish, fuck you, too.

In less than a week, I lost two of the handful people I had felt close to: Raoul, one of the most remarkable and creative and enlightened people I have ever known, and only for one short year; and Steve: someone I thought I would collaborate with in building some kind of partnership. Only he was so wrapped up in himself that he can’t see past his own beer-and-a-shot. He is living in the Matrix, shielding himself from reality with cars, sex, and lots and lots of booze on a daily basis with the occasional addition of stronger substances . . . man, is he is running from his pain. But he refuses to admit to himself that he is anything other than perfectly adjusted and connected to God.

I wish I could have been able to calmly and compassionately explain to him why we could no longer be friends, but I was nowhere near that kind of conversation. Instead, I called his sister and told her that I thought he was setting himself up for another crash. I believed this because he went right back to his egocentric, empty, capitalistic lifestyle. I told his sister that I couldn’t be friends with him, but that she should talk with him as much as possible (I found out later that he totaled the car that I never got a ride in).

Since everything in life offers a lesson, I did a lot of writing (I finished an entire book that is too depressing to read even myself) and talking with friends to find the reason for this painful, brief, and expensive encounter. It took several months to discover that I had been drawn to Steve because he reminded me so much of my youngest sister, who had also recently hurt me deeply.

Steve was very intelligent and we had wonderful conversations, like I used to have with my sister. He was also quite talented; he played piano beautifully. He was a carpenter, and had built an enormous wooden table, some fifteen foot monstrosity which made you feel like one of Arthur’s nights when you sat on one of its long, massive benches. And he had seemed curious and adventurous and willing to work hard to create something. Like me, he had little respect for rules. But not for the same reasons, I think. I believe that rules are made to accommodate the lowest common denominator (those who can’t think for themselves!), made up by, and to serve the upper classes.

Steve hates rules because he just doesn’t give a shit.

What I had not noticed at first was Steve’s and my sister’s shared lack of empathy, or any concern for the results of their actions. I now realize that my sister never thinks about other people—no one other than her tiny nuclear family—because she never learned how.

Once, years ago, when she was going through a divorce and needed emotional support, she asked me to be a part of her little family and I helped her have “family meetings” with her kids. But now that they are older and my sister basically has two little buddies and she doesn’t need a second adult any more, my ideas or movie choices or dinners are never considered, because she and her kids now have their own likes and dislikes and those don’t have anything to do with mine.

I’m on the outside, once again.

‘We don’t like this movie . . . we’re watching something else.’

‘God you take a long time making dinner!’

I had been spending hundreds of dollars on my sister and her kids, on haircuts or clothes or sometimes just to take them out to do stuff. I didn’t mind it at all because I love the kids and enjoy hanging out with them. But I had begun thinking more about my sister than I did about myself—which meant that no one was thinking about my best interest at all.

And I realized that I’ve done this all my life.

Whenever my mother sent me money for my birthday or Christmas (a hundred dollar check with a flowery hallmark card and two words, “Love, mom”), I’d take one of the kids out for a haircut and golf and lunch, or to the museum, or to Gameworks. . . . I felt hypocritical using it on myself, since my feelings for my mother were not exactly warm and fuzzy.

Often, when I went to C’s home, I washed the dishes and deep-cleaned her kitchen (she only surface-cleans to make things look good) and bought organic food for them since they live on mostly processed, GMO shit. It was rather pointless though, since my organic food was routinely forgotten about and later thrown away.

Because C has never had to worry about her weight and can eat anything she likes and so she does . . . and her kids eat the same, toxic shit since they have no choice.

What was it that my sister did that upset me to the point that I stopped talking to her? It happened on December 23, 2014. I wonder how many relationships dissolve during this trumped-up, corporate holiday. Christmas has always been a dreaded occasion for me anyway, thanks to my parents’ twisted idea of the event: make everything look good and threaten and scream at everyone to make them show their appreciation and respect.

Kind of like the Pledge of Allegiance.

Over the years, especially after my dad died, my mother would become almost militant about holidays. Since she and K live 15 minutes apart on Whidbey Island, they plan everything around their schedules and always have. They are BFFs. In fact, my brother-in-law’s hunting trips were routinely put above my work schedule. If I had to work in Seattle, well, that was just too bad, because B is hunting until 5 o’clock on Sunday, so we’ll be eating a day earlier this year. Sorry if you can’t make it, Chris. . . .

Mom would start calling C and I about two weeks ahead of any holiday dinner.
“Oh hi dear, it’s Mom. I’m planning dinner for Thanksgiving—we’ll be eating at 2pm SHARP, so DON’T BE LATE.” She would call with updates, one week ahead, four days, two days . . . but it never failed. We would bust ass to get a spot in the two to three-hour ferry line, only to wait another three or four hours for dinner to actually be ready. Four hours of nasty gossiping about what all the friends and neighbors were doing, and to whom. It was unbearable. Each time, I’d tell myself I wouldn’t imbibe, but every year, the animosity that permeated our reunions was too much to take, and I hit the bottle—hard. It was difficult to avoid anyway, with two refrigerators for beer and wine, a fully stocked bar, plus somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 gallons of booze in the garage. And my mom’s favorite son, my sister’s husband, often brought his own ice chest for his private stash of Crown and Bud.

And before I even took my coat off, the question was asked:

‘Would you like a drink?’

My “negativity” was the reason my mother used for uninviting me to family gatherings. That is what she tells people, but the real reason is that I “make B feel uncomfortable.” I’m sure it’s because I know some things about my mother’s son-in-law that are less than savory and he knows that I know. And they all know that I don’t avoid unpleasantness; I speak the truth. It’s highly doubtful that B knows that I’ve told my mother about him since mom is incapable of communication and would NEVER say a word to him about anything unpleasant.

Woman:  There was a lot of pressure to keep quiet.

Reporter:  From the Church?

Woman:  Yeah, from the Church. But not just the Church. From my friends. From the other parishioners.

― Spotlight

My mother sees only what she wants to see, and she sees me as mentally-unstable or “a drag to be around,” just as she sees a Prince in her daughter’s husband and looks up to him because he happened to be born a male. I was not, and she discredits me and everything I feel or have to say. I have little respect for my my brother-in-law, especially since he took over as the Man of MY FAMILY (with my sister as the First Lady) after my father died. Since my mother looks up to men as the ones who “understand” the world, the ones who are in control, the intelligent ones; she puts her son-in-law over me, again and again: from never even considering serving something other than ham and scalloped potatoes for Christmas, which I hate (Oh, but B just looooves his ham!), to not being invited to meet my very own Finnish relatives. My mother did give me the chance to meet them when they visited from Helsinki: with strings attached.

She called me and said,

‘If you apologize to B, you can come and meet your Finnish relatives.’

I wasn’t about to apologize, so my brother-in-law got to meet my blood relatives, and I did not. To this day, I don’t even know their names.

Plus, I do not respond well to blackmail. Never have. But what the hell, my mom wouldn’t know that. She can’t even remember that I don’t drink coffee or eat pie: she offered them both to me every single time I went to her house, every year of my life.

For years, I left the country for the holidays. I would travel to Mexico, or take a short trip to Vancouver, BC or Portland, Oregon. Or I’d make dinner for other “orphaned” friends.

On Thansgiving 2013, however, C decided that she too had had enough of the family nastiness, of being the riff-raff and made to feel like she should sit at the kids’ table. She had continued going to holiday events because of her children—they understandably wanted to spend time with their cousins. But, like me, she just couldn’t do it any more. The nasty, inappropriate “humor” and empty, intoxicated joking at others’ expenses coming from Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush (my sis, her hubby and my mom, respectfully) was too much to bear. C had called me in tears from that year’s Cannon Beach Thanksgiving Extravaganza. Both she and her daughter had been traumatized by the verbal abuse (not-very-well-disguised cruelty, topped with sugar and spice) and laughter from our “perfect,” hypocritical sister and her snickering husband, and the silent but undeniable agreement by our mother.

My sister and I made plans to start our own new Christmas tradition. I would not take a trip that year; instead, I would go to her place in Bellingham, where she reserved a room for me at the shared common space in her co-op, for the nights of December 24th and 25th. The first night, she would invite friends and neighbors over to her place for drinks. On Christmas Day, we would bake with the kids and make ornaments and make a big dinner for the five of us: our aunt Kat, C, the kids and me. We talked excitedly about it both in person and on the phone. Later, I decided I would come up on the evening of the 23rd and hang out with C and a bunch of the cool artsy neighbors.

The holidays always make me extremely depressed (my father and I had always fought at Christmas), and this year was no exception. I had hit rock bottom and quit my job earlier that month. Three days before Christmas the brakes went out on my car. I had to bring it in for repair. C called me the evening of the twenty-third. I was a little out of my head—so I’d been smoking a lot of herb—and I thought that it was the 22nd. Obviously I would not make it there after all that night. I told her that I was supposed to get my car back around noon the next day, but if I didn’t, that I could still take a bus or train and be there for cocktails with the neighbors by late afternoon.

“Oh, but we’re not going to be here on the 25th! We’re leaving about one o’clock to drive down to the island. . . .”

She had decided that they would be heading to mom’s for Christmas day after all. She said she was “talked into it” by our niece, K’s daughter, once my God-daughter, with whom I have never been allowed to spend time (I had asked, practically begged, for ten years, to allow my niece to spend the night with me, but I was never trusted by my sister or her husband, and I finally gave up asking).

I was not about to take a three hour bus ride to hang out with my sister’s neighbors for a couple of hours and go to bed; only to get up and get back on the bus for another three hours.

Merry Fucking Christmas, once again.

C had forgotten all about our plans. I guess that maybe to a well-adjusted person this wouldn’t be the monumental thing that it was to me. Me, who had been outcast from her mother’s home, and never noticed to begin with. To me, it was pretty damned big. You would think that my own sister would be sensitive to my having been expelled from the family, especially since she had also felt as shitty around them as I had . . . I mean, I had broken down in tears when talking to her about it nearly every year for many years.

I spent the holidays alone in my tiny studio apartment: no car, no food, nobody to talk to. My neighborhood was shut down tight and there was not a soul to be seen in the streets. I rode a nearly empty bus downtown on Christmas Eve and went to the only bar open, in the sketchy part of Pioneer Square.

C’s only response when she finally realized that she had indeed forgotten about me and our plans was a text that said:

‘Oops. My bad.’

She may as well have slapped me in the face for all the good that did. Her lack of emotion or sensitivity in that dismissive response was almost worse that no reply at all.

That’s all I’ve ever gotten from her. “Oops! Hahaha! Silly me!” Just another family joke, how absent-minded she is, but I’m no longer laughing. I’ve let her know that I require an apology this time, but she refuses to say those three impossible syllables:

“I’m sorry.”

She did send me an email message seven months later, which was extremely eye-opening. It said something like:

We’ve been thinking about you and hope that you’re okay.” As if I just had some inexplicable sadness for absolutely no reason, and it was merely my mental illness, my mental instability that had “upset” me so much. And I realized that everyone had been doing this very thing to me for years. They would verbally abuse me—then act like I was crazy for reacting.

And I realized that everyone in my family has considered me mentally unstable, all my life. They see me as a “fuck-up” and a “loser.” I had never considered the fact that:

They made me that way.

Just have faith in god and everything will be okay’ is what mom always told me; just about the time I abandoned god and my own soul. Yeah? Not when you find out that uncaring, self-centered narcissists are the ones who you have been confiding in; trusting with your delicate, injured thoughts and feelings. . . .

I feel emotionally raped.

Whenever my mother and the others in my dysfunctional, alcoholic family shit on my soul and I feel badly about it, in their eyes, it’s my “depression” that is the cause. ‘Are you taking your antidepressants?’ they would often ask.

I believe that I understand why African Americans need reparations. It’s not so much the money that was stolen from them for all of the work that they did, all the fortunes they helped a handful of families amass, as it is the need for white people to consciously face—and acknowledge—all that they’ve had to endure, and that they continue to be left out, excluded, on the fringes. They need to feel that somebody sees them. That their lives matter. To let them know that their pain is justified and that they’re not crazy for feeling excluded. Because they are.

They need to be included in our emotionally segregated country, and not just for their sake. Monoculture is what is destroying our world. Segregation. Exclusion. Apathy and blind, fearsome religion are what are making otherwise “good” people evil and blind to the suffering of others.

 “Attention is what we focus on in our visual environment. It allows us to select some aspects of our world to be seen and others to be ignored or filtered out of awareness. . . . Change Blindness is the failure to notice surprisingly large change from one moment to the next. When we look at our world, we take in a far smaller subset of it than we think we do, and that’s because attention is limited. We can only really focus attention on one thing at a time, and that thing is what we really process in a lot of detail and become aware of.”

― Dan Simons, BRAIN GAMES, season two

Many white Americans refuse to see that they themselves are racist, misogynistic, xenophobic . . . it was bred into us. Those in denial don’t hear what they sound like when they utter such (unknowingly hurtful) comments as,

‘There’s no such thing as racism anymore! We have a black president! You’re crazy . . . I don’t even notice color. . . .’

That is because you surround yourself with your all-white friends. If you had any friends of color, you would never even think such obviously racist remarks. You would be able to see people of color, if you had any of them around you.

I noticed that my mother’s only friends of any shade other than a rich, milky white were the ones that mowed her lawn. Her real friends were rich and white. And republican.

Like my own memories being denied by my mother (the one in power since she controls my father’s estate, although I found out years ago, via an outside source, that K was given power of attorney), the history, the collective memory of black people in the USA has been denied and ignored and swept under the national carpet by all of us, and their access to information that the ruling class is privy to is classified as well. Knowledge and access to information is Off Limits to them. Doors that remain wide open for white people (the right white people) are not only closed to them, the doors themselves are a secret.

And black people in history are never talked about, nor are many women. And those who do rate the history books are not presented in the same kind of glory that describes every white man who ever picked up a gun. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot more about Black History, thanks to public radio and Black History Month. And lately, I’ve had some great conversations with black people about race.

For instance, when I helped answer phones at the last KBCS fund drive (showing my support for real music and information), I overheard two black men talking about racism. My ears perked up when they heard one of the men say something like,

‘I study their body language. . . .’

‘Excuse me,’ I interrupted, a very bad habit of mine, but if I don’t do it, I’ll forget my question. I’m like a two year-old sometimes. ‘If I’m not mistaken, are you talking about watching people to try and figure out what they’re thinking?’

‘Yeah, I mean, how can you tell who’s a racist, and who’s not, since no one ever says what they’re really thinking?’ he said. Then he laughed. ‘Especially in Seattle!’ I laughed too, but only in agreement, because I’ve realized that Seattle is the epicenter of fake acceptance and phony friendliness. Of people so very concerned about not offending anyone, that they are incapable of saying anything at all. The very reason that I’ve been disconnected all my life. The reason that I dated mostly black men in my teens and twenties. It was not really about “getting back” at my dad like I had always suspected. It was because black men were the only men who were able to see me, and the only ones who even talked to me. Without my white script, I never learned that white boys are simply too shy to approach me; that I was supposed to chase them. At least, that is what I’ve witnessed, on my time on this alien planet.

Either that, or every single white boy at all of my schools hated me and had no interest in me any way.

‘I know exactly what you mean, about having to study people. . . .’ I was excited, because this man, whose name was David, would be able to see me. ‘Women have to do the very same thing, because we don’t know which men want to hurt us, who will rape us or beat us.’ Or who just be a sexist jerk, in general, really, because everyone sticks to what they think you want to hear, they stick to their “best behavior” in the beginning, when everything is sunsets and lust and a temporary vacation from logic.

I continued. ‘I look into people’s eyes. I can usually tell if they are being honest.’

In fact, I have gotten very good about spotting someone with good intentions, versus bad ones. And who is lying. I am very good at spotting liars.

Something lit up behind David’s eyes, and he looked at me a tiny bit differently. With a mutual understanding. He knew exactly what I was talking about, making him also realize that I must be aware if I am able to get the connection between our common perception of the world. We looked at each other and smiled. We made a connection, if only for a few seconds. But it was sweet. He understood me.

When I was four or five, we visited the some of the beautiful Southern plantation homes, where hourly tours were given by beautiful, young, creamy-white-skinned girls, all of them giving Scarlett O’Hara a run for her money. They were bubbly, vivacious Southern Belles, and they didn’t discuss such bothersome, dark subjects such as slavery. We were shown the slaves’ quarters, but there was no blood, no sweat or tears. Only nice old wood.

I believe that my father had told me about slavery because I remember looking around, outside the old mansion. My mother was enraptured by the beautiful décor and elaborate, hooped dresses, but I can’t remember what the inside of the buildings looked like. My only strong memory is of looking off to the left of one of the historical sites, into the darkness, underneath the weeping willows, and imagining myself living there. I must have known, because a darkness came over me. I had feeling that something wasn’t right. I have always been empathic, and feel things that others don’t feel, and on the plantation, the entire place felt somehow wrong.

Most Americans assume that the persecution ended with slavery, but slavery still exists. Just take a look at our privatized, for-profit, industrial prison system and the corrupt, militarized, racist police system that fast-tracks African Americans to a life without parole.

If they live long enough, that is.

White people don’t act unconsciously on purpose; they honestly don’t know any better. The racist, sexist disinformation that they base their reality on has been woven into their collective white “common sense” by literally everything around them. If there is to be any hope of forming actual community, in order to stop poverty and hunger and terrorism and murder and rape; there needs to be an open discussion about the skeletons in our closets, both our personal and collective closets: about Jim Crow and all the laws that have been written (and the ones that are unwritten) to keep women and people of color down. Because racism, like sexism, is alive and thriving.

Please, believe me.

I want to hear more stories from African Americans. 12 Years a Slave made me realize that there is a lot about slavery that I know nothing about.

We need to discuss why most white people don’t have a single black or Latino friend, not that they have over for dinner.

(Oh, you did invite some, and they turned you down? That right there should be a red flag!)

And we need to stop protecting rapists and child molesters, especially the ones in our own families (and Churches, and police departments, and institutions. . . ). And after a year of talking to women born before 1970, I have found that there was a hell of a lot of incest and molestation going on, and I imagine that there still is. There must be, because nothing has changed.

The majority of women I’ve spoken with have given me a horror story or two:

  • Of being forced to have sexual intercourse, for many years, with her father, who was in elected office and very well known . . . she refuses to talk publicly about it, since it may “damage any good that he may have done while he was in office.” But she is in deep, emotional pain and always has been. I see red when I hear people say about politicians, or others whose ethics are in question, ‘Oh, but he’s a family man, and a Christian!‘ Yeah? So?
  • Of being put in charge of a household of her several younger siblings cleaning and cooking for all of them, and being molested by her older brother for many years. Her mother refused to see it, and refuses to this very day. She has become a good friend, and I know that I have to walk on eggshells around her; I need to reign in any dark thoughts of my own, and I completely understand (I have spent most of my life feeling like an unwanted mutt that the family forgot about and left tied up under the porch; I tend to bite a hand that comes at me too quickly.)
  • Not to mention all the mothers who didn’t realize that their own daughters were being molested; many women confessed to me that they had suspicions, but they couldn’t believe that their husbands (or boyfriends) would ever do such a thing.

I have spoken with dozens of women who have told me similar stories. And they are more than willing to talk. Some were abused themselves. Others have sisters or daughters, or mothers or aunts or grandmothers who were abused; some of them driven mad.

Rape and incest seem to occur, systematically and regularly, in the majority of families. And no one notices, or thinks it’s important enough to talk about.

In fact, when the beer rep, Scotty, tried to rape me, and I told my white, male boss Tom about it, he replied,

‘Scotty would never do a thing like that!’ He actually laughed. (that was my rape attempt that my sister didn’t have time to talk to me about, so I just added the whole affair to the memory file of other shitty events in my life that no one wants to hear about or believe).

What did I expect? Tom had gotten me drunk one night on Booker Noe and grabbed my ass. It was so slick that I barely noticed, so I never said a thing about it. But the feeling never left me. It still makes my skin crawl.

Besides, what the hell? I’d been raped before anyway, so I guess I should be used to it.

We need to get over this idea that we shouldn’t get involved in other people’s lives. How separatist! How damaging! And how frightening for those of us who need help.

As for the reason I had to cut off ties with my youngest sibling, the one in whom I had always confided; the one to whom I had always poured out my soul: I can no longer go on pretending that her lack of thought for me doesn’t affect me. I can see now that both she and my mother are able to ignore unpleasantness and also disremember uncomfortable events, and that in C’s mind, it was my fault that I was alone on Christmas 2014 because I didn’t make it up to B’ham early enough.

And I am quite certain that C told people that I didn’t make it to Bellingham that year only because my car broke down. I know her so well, I’d bet cash money that she didn’t reveal to anyone that she forgot me. Not anyone in my family, anyway. If any her friends know, I’d be quite shocked. And I’ll bet she doesn’t even remember what really happened herself; only the prettier version of events remain in her head, the version she told people. That’s probably what my older, pickled self would have done. I blacked out a LOT of painful memories. They never happened, not in my memory.

It was only after my brief but revealing friendship with Steve that I understood that my sister doesn’t think about me much. When I was out of sight, I was out of her mind. Her main concerns are like those of Steve’s—and like my mother’s. And my mother was right when she complained to me, that last time I spoke with her that ‘Carol only cares about having fun.’ I agree. She makes sure that she and the kids have plenty of fun. I often wondered where she found the money to drive to Canada on the weekends to go to the water park or to the movies or for take-out at least once a week. . . .

Mom, maybe you should take a good, long hard look in the mirror . . . maybe one of the mirrors in your $2600/month Palm Springs rental home.


 

I saw that my sister, with the help of a plethora of new-age spiritual books she’d been reading since the age of seventeen, had seemed to have found bliss. She acted so put-together, so well-adjusted, that I thought of her as my touch-stone. I thought that she knew me better than anyone. She is a truly free spirit . . . free to do whatever she wants without any concern about what her actions might do to others. I’ve met a lot of people like her over the years. They feel that they are free and conscious, but really they are living in a bubble, because they only see what they want to see, and if someone close to them gets trampled in the process, oh well. That’s life. C’est la vie. “Just be happy.”

I know it’s not a malicious, conscious thing that she does. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

I was the same way. Because I was angry at god for being alive. Only I didn’t believe in god, which made me feel empty, and I took my emptiness and my anger out on myself by letting people do whatever they wanted to me. I often hurt myself and anyone else who got too close to me.

11.11

A friend lent me a book that helped me immensely: Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul. I have a much different approach as to how I think about my sisters and my family and myself. The authors of that book assert that each sibling in a family takes certain qualities from each of their parents, and that each sibling gets different qualities. I got my father’s insatiable curiosity and knack for languages, along with his impatience, stubbornness and “moodiness” (which were acceptable for him, but not for me, in women, moodiness equals “overly-emotional” or “bitchy”) I took on the darkest aspects of my father, like his explosive temper, while my youngest sister picked up his confidence and carefree attitude about life.

I, on the other hand, have always felt that everyone hates me.

My middle sister studied chemistry and science and became a nurse. What she received from dad was his knack for memorization and love of power and order and control. And the need to hoard. She has no interest in art or philosophy or anything other than shopping and gossiping (and drinking, of course), because that’s all she had to do. For a very short time, she made large Santa Claus dolls that she sold to friends and neighbors. I’m afraid I was not very supportive in her hobby/business, but hopefully that had nothing to do with her giving it up.

My sisters missed out on much of my dad’s really good drunken years, during the time period after his son died and when his miserable mother lived with us. I had absorbed all of his bad juju, so their lives were not as violent as mine had been. By the time my sisters were forming their memories and opinions, the worst had been long buried, way down below our thick, green shag carpet. My father still blew up, but nearly all of his outrage was directed at me because I refused to obey his mindless orders without question. My sisters don’t remember my father being that bad to them, or at least he didn’t affect them nearly as much, so their memories are not nearly as dark as mine.

Plus, they probably figured,

‘Better her than me.’ Which I probably would have been thinking, too.

I have allowed myself to be a punching bag my entire life with bosses, friends, boyfriends and family. I have never been able to trust anyone; I kept picking friends and lovers who were like my mother and father, either abusive or emotionally unavailable. Many of my best friends regularly put me down, and even as an adult, my friends would call my thoughts and ideas “stupid” if their white toast upbringing had never exposed them to anything other than fucking football and apple pie. Even though most of my friends had no concept of how spoiled and entitled they were, they were also opinionated and apathetic and would not even entertain the thought that they may be mistaken. About anything. I began to delete phone numbers left and right.

My threshold for apathy is almost nil. If a person is unable or unwilling to listen to me or others, or step outside of their own belief system and comfort zone for just once and take my word that I may know something that they don’t, then I am not going to waste my breath trying to make them understand me or why I go ape-shit crazy when people brush me off.

I have been an avid study of human nature since, at least, the age of ten, so that I could find a way to connect to someone. When I wasn’t looking through my camera lens, I was reading books or watching movies or asking questions of people who were different than me. I spent years meeting people from around the world (at the Warwick Hotel, for example, my “living room” away from my studio apartment across the street) who spilled their guts to me after a couple of cocktails.

I have a knack for drawing people out. And men on business trips: they feel liberated, anonymous, and their lips are likely to loosen up, not only from the liquor. Plus, when they looked at me, all they saw was a small, “uneducated” woman. A waitress. An artist. Surely I had no brain in my head! They felt safe, telling me secrets about all sorts of things. I have a PhD in human nature. I don’t give a shit if I have a piece of paper or not, I know what I know.

I traveled the globe, and talked in depth with its inhabitants, without ever leaving town.

My entire life has been dedicated to trying to validate my existence to myself and to anyone else who can see me. Hopefully someone will read these words . . . and believe them.

Other outcasts, like myself, will surely understand. Their families however, that remains to be seen.

I feel very badly for my mother. I don’t hate her. I don’t even blame her. She did the best she could. It just didn’t do me any good.

I am unable to even think about talking to my mother. I am still irrationally angry (I realize that she didn’t mean to damage me) and extremely hurt that I was, and still am, expendable to her. She overlooked me out of sheer sadness after my brother died; then she was in turmoil herself, moving across the country four times before my seventh birthday, catering to my bi-polar, alcoholic father with PTSD (he was forgiven his “mood swings” because, after all, he is a man) and I became mere luggage. When mom finally found a place that made her feel like she had “made it,” aka white-bread, middle-class, upwardly-mobile Redmond, Washington, she latched onto that vapid, spoiled, wasteful culture with her apple-red varnished nails and never looked back. She joined the Rat Race and fell in love with it. She won her Prize. Maybe not as big as Betty’s, but not too shabby for the daughter of a poor truck driver!

And I became invisible. My mother felt that we all had found Nirvana, but I found myself living in the hell that is all-white, middle-class, cookie-cutter America.

I went to jail earlier this month. The only phone numbers that I knew were those of my family members. I waived my phone call. In fact, it never even crossed my mind to call anyone in my family. Instead of support, they would take the opportunity to tell me what a loser I am. The weariness and pity in their voices would be clear. They wouldn’t understand the situation that had landed me in the slammer, I mean, they don’t understand the first fucking thing about me to begin with. No, a day in jail is preferable to a conversation with my disapproving mother.

Many months after my separation from my family, and after taking yet another break from my old friends Whiskey and Beer, I made a horrifying discovery. Even though I had always tried to be honest and sincere, and even though my intentions were nothing but good, I realized that my own alcoholic crutch made me quite oblivious to the results of my own actions. Or words, anyway. . . .

After my party days, after I no longer felt like being the fun girl, the one who made everyone laugh, the one who made everyone feel good (everyone but me); I hit a very low point. I realized that my life was meaningless and that I would most likely die alone because I was incapable of connecting with other human beings. I had gone back to school and was learning about the world and learning other languages and traveling and meeting real people, people of color mostly, who I spent time with (they weren’t just cleaning my hotel), I realized that it isn’t human beings with whom I cannot connect. It is the majority of white American people (as well as most men, no matter what color) who seem to be incapable of hearing or seeing me.

I can’t count all the times my ideas were stolen;

the men who took them not even noticing that

they heard their ideas from me.

I stopped going out and I started staying in, with a six-pack (at least) and a cordless phone. I drank and dialed and pretended like I was doing well: staying out of the bars, saving money. But what I couldn’t control was my vice. I drank to ease the pain, then I dialed to ease the pain a little more—it was never really gone—by “connecting” with friends and family. Unfortunately, when my brain switched over and the alcohol took control (an old friend called this alter-ego “Jessica”), I became mean. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Because I honestly cannot recall anything I said to anyone (except when I called my bro-in-law an “asshole” to his daughter, which was a horrible thing to do and I told her I was sorry—although I will never apologize to him), even moments after I had been talking, when my listener would stop me and say that I was being rude, or insensitive, or whatever it was, I literally could not remember a thing that had just occurred.

So I’d get really drunk. To forget.

This is not an excuse for my assholery. I was horrible to many people for many years, and I didn’t even realize it until I saw how Steve and my sister are. And I realized that I had been just like them. Completely oblivious because I was in too much pain.

I’m so sorry, Johnny D. I love you, but never knew myself, or what I wanted.

I’m so sorry, Cat. Thank you for being honest with me, and telling me how it is.

And I’m truly sorry to everyone for infecting them with my pain.

An interesting observation: my closest friends, the ones who say to me, ‘I know exactly how you feel!’ . . . these people are not white. And it finally dawned on me why my best friends have always been of color or otherwise outcast: my father oppressed my spirit so much that he turned me away from god and myself. He looked at me as a thing rather than a feeling, thinking individual; I was just a womb with a vagina attached that had to be controlled; breeding was my obligation to god, according to my confused, ignorant father. I was chattel. I belonged to him. He’d say,

‘I can’t wait until you become another man’s problem.’

But I shunned my “duty” to god and church and he saw me as inferior, a disgrace. He was truly ashamed of me. And I’m sure that he felt sorry for me. He assumed I was alone because no one wanted me, that I was a “spinster,” when in fact, I was alone because my soul was dead and no one could have possibly been able to “make” me happy.

“God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”

C.S. Lewis

That expression, god is in all of us, it is literally true, and when you deny god, you deny yourself. My hatred for god became a hatred for myself . . . because there is no difference. The power IS all of us, and it is what connects us and makes us complete.

Even during the times I lived with boyfriends, I felt lonely. In fact, whenever I lived with a man, I often felt much lonelier than the times I was completely alone. Because their presence made me aware of how separate I am. How distant my soul was: how strange, how foreign. But since I didn’t know and accept myself, I was choosing men that were in no way a match, so they had absolutely nothing to offer me.

I do have white friends, but most of them keep me at a distance, because I am scary. I talk about things that most people like to keep hidden. I stir up white guilt. And I point out sexism. I make most white people uncomfortable. But I have come to grips with the fact that it is their problem if they are uninformed, or chose to ignore other people’s misery in order to be “happy.”

Because I honestly don’t give a shit any more about what people think of me. Because after the way I thought of myself all these years; fat, ugly, stupid, worthless, and evil, I finally see that I’m not any of those things. I know who I am. I am fucking powerful.

I need to have some acknowledgment, some justification for my very existence, so I spend a lot of time talking about some rather ugly things to anyone who will listen. Funny that the thoughts are no longer disturbing to me, the rapes and abortions and abuses themselves are not. The physical memory went away very shortly after the events. But most people don’t want to hear the “disturbing” truth that the oppression of women is alive and well.

It exists in our own families.

That is why there are so many “depressed” people. Our pain is guaranteed to remain imprisoned in our minds since no one, not even our family members, are willing to talk to us about it. And the “professionals” have no personal interest invested in their clients, nor do they know us or our lives whatsoever, so how the hell can they help us find ourselves? It is our histories that we need to explore, and those of everyone who came before us.

I am unwilling to open myself up to people any longer, not until I know for sure that their intentions are good and that they use their minds for more than absorbing television or playing solitare or video games. I need to learn how to protect myself from emotional vampires and to not let people in, not until they understand me, because I can’t trust anyone with my feelings if they don’t understand who I am.

Many people may be wondering why I chose the Catholic Church to “pick on.” But I use the analogy for one important reason. Catholic priests are not the problem. Men—and women—are the problem. Evil is not restricted to groups or “race,”or even gender. Evil lives in every single one of us. Some of us choose to act on it, and some choose a different path.

The reason that pedophilia is an issue in the Church, in my opinion, is that since homosexuality, historically, most often meant a death sentence; gay men, like women, found refuge in the Church, and became priests and nuns. That would have led to a higher percentage of boys than girls who were being victimized by priests. This, in my opinion, is the real reason that we focus on the Church.

In other words, if it had merely been little girls who were being prayed upon, it would have never become an issue.

It took another four years after my “experience,” my touch from god, or whatever it was, for me to understand what it was. Sometime in January 2016 I realized that I am a Christian after all, and always have been, in my heart, although that is not all I am. I still don’t take much stock in the Church or the Bible. I prefer my local pub and Tarot cards. That confusing book, whose meaning no one can agree upon, was written—and rewritten, countless times—by men.

***

I hope that after reading this, my family might consider that perhaps I’m something more than just a “fuck-up.”

If not, I have a couple last stories to try and illustrate how badly I’ve been feeling about myself, since 1967, when we moved to Lake Hills, Bellevue.

We had just followed my father back to the Seattle area from Arizona. He had rented a house for us, so that mom could shop for the house she wanted.

The rented rambler was infested with fleas. I was covered from head-to-toe in bug bites, to which I am allergic, and the bites turned into swollen, red welts. I remember sobbing from the pain and begging my mother to take me away from that place. I was in agony. We stayed there for at least a month, I think.

Even though we were not staying, I had been enrolled in the local elementary school, into the second grade. Another new school, and again, I was terrified. And angry for having to leave Phoenix, where I had met the first friend that I’d ever had, Kathy, who was three years older than I was (I think I have more memories of her than of all of my other childhood friends put together. I thought she was magical. I didn’t forgive my parents for many years for making us move).

I can still see that long, empty hallway at the one-level school, that sat up on a hill. I don’t remember seeing even one other kid, isn’t that odd? I can recall the artwork up high along the walls, and the shiny tile floor. I found my room number, and I went in and sat down. I still can’t see a single face. . . .

I remember the class beginning, and the teacher talking, calling names. When she called my name, I raised my hand. She looked around the room, and then finally spotted me. I was very small. She walked over to my desk and said,

‘Little girl, you are in the wrong classroom.’

She took me by the arm, led me out the door and down the hall. I wondered what I had done . . .

I was escorted into a room with tiny chairs, and the alphabet across the top of the wall was ENORMOUS. There were no words to be seen, only pictures of apples and balls and and kittens and such. The teacher holding my arm told me to sit down at one of the desks, then she said something to another teacher, and left the room.

I had been sent to the kindergarten class. That second grade teacher had assumed that I was two years younger than I was: just because of my size. But I didn’t know that. This was my first taste of discrimination, and I hated it. I was humiliated and ashamed and confused and I thought that the teacher thought I was too stupid to be in the second grade and that’s why she kicked me out.

That was the first time I felt like I wanted to Disappear Forever. I told mom, but she said I was being “too sensitive” and I needed to just forget about it.

Fast forward to 1968, and I’m coming home from playing with Dori B. Dad is waiting for me, sitting on the edge of the bed, next to the phone. He calls me into the room. The curtains are closed.

‘Dori’s mom just called. She said that you broke her vase.’ His face was puffy and red. And dead serious.

‘We didn’t even go inside her house,’ I replied. ‘We played outside the whole time.’ I felt confident that I was okay, because I really hadn’t gone inside. I had Truth on my side.

‘Why would Mrs Barrett lie?’ Dad was not budging. It was the Parent Pact: They all stick together, and don’t listen to their kids, not at all. The Thin Blue Line of parenting.

‘I don’t know . . . maybe Dori did it, and she blamed me ‘cuz her mom saw me over there?’

‘Nice try. Come here and pull down your pants.’

The pain of his slapping was nothing compared to the rage of the injustice that I felt. And betrayal—he took the word of a veritable stranger, over me—his daughter. He expected me to have faith in a god that murdered my baby brother, but he didn’t have the first ounce of faith in me.

Truth & Justice became my raisons d’être. I would spend the rest of my life in pursuit of them, for myself and for other underdogs, like me.

Only, now, I have the self-knowledge to know why I’m fighting. And what I’m fighting for.

 

 

SWEATING IN CHURCH

 

hombre con catedral
Hombre caminando por la Iglesia

‘Damn it’s hot in here. I’m sweating like a whore in church!’

That’s what the bartender said to the two men sitting in front of him. All three of them chuckled.

I was sitting several bar stools down, writing. It was summertime and we were sitting in a brick building; a virtual oven, but it wasn’t the heat that made me hot. I am sick to death of women being the brunt of every joke and slur and insult I hear. And I’m sick of the double fucking standard that still permeates our culture, as well as the judgements and condemnations casually tossed about—by both men and women.

My misogyny breaking point is anything above nil. After a lifetime of warding off the advances of lecherous men in the bars and clubs I worked in or frequented; all the leers and pinches and whistles and winks and the inane sexist jokes (leaving money on the floor, then shouting out, ‘Hey look! This one will go down for a buck!’); all the times I had to defend myself against unwanted sexual assaults by bosses or coworkers, or even at family gatherings—to this day I find their feeble attempts neither flattering nor funny.

I was yelled at just a couple of months ago in Hillman City. A man driving by in a mustang yelled at, at 3pm, with kids coming home from school,

‘I’m going to tap that pussy!’

I’m fifty-fucking-five years old, and I still have to be subjected to that shit. I stood in the middle of Rainier Avenue, flipped off the *^#!* with both hands, screaming, ‘FUCK YOOUUUUU!’ Embarrassing, but true. I still go off sometimes. And,

dynamite comes in small packages.

I grew up with Playboy and Penthouse and Hustler being part of our home library, albeit the “off limits” section of our library, aka the family rec-room closet, up above the stereo equipment and LPs. I clearly remember all those cartoons featuring loose, barely clad women. “Whore,” is one of the terms used in those rags, it seems to me. I think that’s where I learned it.

How do you separate the women in those magazines from women in real life? Was I the girl in the centerfold? Is that what my boyfriends thought of me? Is that all my own father thought of me? I never got married and was obviously having sex with the men I was living with, and in my father’s mind, that made me a slut. Since those were my father’s magazines, that is how he had to have seen me.

Hence, mom saw me that way, too, since she agreed with everything he said or did.

And he was the biggest “off-color” joke teller of them all. My dad told the bluest jokes on the planet at every cocktail party and gathering they had, while I listened from my tiny bedroom just meters away.

And he told me once that of course men will talk to me the way they do (when I mentioned a man asked me, ‘How much?’) because after all, I work in bars.

‘What the hell do you expect?’ he asked me once.

I expect to be treated with respect and I should have told him so. Instead, I just sulked away, like I usually did when our “conversations” didn’t escalate to all-out war.

In Manhattan, when I was eighteen years old, I kissed a lot of the guys I knew, but I never even came close to having sex with any of them. One guy, a guy I had really liked and had known for months, after a date at a nightclub, got a bit of a feel, but not a stitch of clothing ever came off. The rest of them never even touched skin. But, I was still stamped with the label: SLUT. I’ll never forget when one of my real male friends told me that’s what I was known as in the neighborhood. I went home and wept myself to sleep—after about a dozen gin and tonics.

No, I’ve heard enough thoughtless anti-female bullshit to last me two lifetimes. And “whore” and “slut” are interchangeable, so I took offense, being a “slut” myself. I decided I had to say something. Because the sentiment of woman-hating is alive and well and I am determined to flush it out—at least within my immediate vicinity.

‘I think that saying needs to be updated,’ I finally said.

‘What?’ the bartender asked, already having forgotten what he had just said moments ago.

‘Oh, I just think that that saying needs to be updated. I think we should say, “I’m sweating like a priest in church.”’ I smiled and waited for a response.

The three men didn’t know what to do with that. One of them got up and walked away. The other two cleared their throats and went back to gazing into their phones.

Maybe one day, when they are watching their daughters cry about their “ruined reputations,” or hear about yet another man who went through hell as a boy, they’ll understand what I meant.

But I kinda doubt it.

 

 

tits and ass

Tamara trapeze lady105
Tamara the Trapeze Lady

It is impossible to know what it’s like to live in another skin. Even a skin of the same color. I no longer assume that anyone who shares my skin tone or social class understands the first thing about me. When and where we are born affects our lives and our world-view just as strongly as whether we are born male or female, large or small, “caucasian” or “colored,” rich or poor.

I used to make the assumption that all white women understood each other, at least, at some base level. I assumed that even young women understood that the world is filled with racists and misogynists, and that those of us born twenty or thirty years before them had a much harder time than they have now.

It’s not difficult to learn. It’s well documented.

I assumed that they knew that we older women paved the way for them and that we may have actually learned something along the way. I assumed that they respected me for just having gotten through life in a man’s world. I should know better than to assume anything.

Everywhere I went, from the time I was little, I hit man-made walls and roadblocks that kept me from doing the things I wanted to do. Every skill I acquired was insufficient, or outdated by the time I mastered it, or my time and labor was simply taken from me. Not only that, I had more rules placed upon me as a girl than boys ever even had to consider.

In the 60s, girls were still required to wear dresses to school. At seven years old, I used to have to climb the monkey bars in a dress, and the little boys would run underneath me and announce to the entire playground a full description of my panties.

‘Blue with pink flowers! Ha ha ha ha ha!’

Damn that used to piss me off.

In the fifth grade, I picketed in front of my elementary school with a pants-shaped sign, shouting,

‘We wanna wear pants!’

We got our way, and in the sixth grade, little girls at John James Audubon Elementary School played on the jungle gym without having to worry about little boy eyeballs stealing glimpses of our private parts.

Little did I know that this particular “privilege” would last only nine years; it would only last until I turned twenty-one, when I was handed my first crotch-length cocktail-waitress skirt which I wore with a plunging neckline and five-inch stiletto come-fuck-me pumps. My destiny had been preordained, it seemed to me. Even my parents agreed that I should be grateful: I was lucky just to have a job.

Talk about being seen without being seen. I was merely a body. Walking tits and ass. What was in my head was not of interest to anyone. Men felt it was their right to comment on my face (smile!) and my body: they frequently commented on my legs or my breasts. One short, overweight, balding restaurant manager told my 24 year old self that I should wear more makeup. I saw red.

‘At least I can always wear more makeup, if I ever choose to do so,’ I told him with a sickly sweet smile on my lightly made-up face. ‘But you’ll never be able to grow more hair.’ He fired me. It was worth it.

Many of them felt it was their right to touch me. Some offered me money to sleep with them, and (as young as sixteen years old) adult men offered me money just for showing them my “rack.” I have always been thankful to my young self for never selling my body; not in any way. I’m sure I never would have remembered what I had spent the fifty bucks I had “earned” on. Whatever it was would never even come close to the piece of mind I’ll always have.

From the time I developed breasts, even in my own home, men made crude remarks and found reasons to get close to me. At parties, family “friends” and distant relatives flirted and teased. Some succeeded in getting a handful; one of them touched me when I was asleep; he thought I wouldn’t notice. But I had been transitioning out of sleep and I woke up as he was leaving the room and I realized that he had been doing something to my breasts, which were completely exposed. I didn’t bother to tell my mother about it since she always brushes off unpleasantness and tells me that I “dwell on the past.” And I’ve been reminded countless times that my memories are not accurate; that I never remember all the fun we used to have.

Never happened. To my mother, protecting her men has been, and continues to be, more important than my (“overly”) emotional well-being.

It was “common sense,” if you were born before 1970, that females were lesser than males. Everything that we were taught and had heard and read and saw all around us told us that men were more intelligent, less emotional (as if emotions are a bad thing), responsible, strong, and independent; and that women were emotional, weak, and needy. These views were confirmed by our own mothers. We were not to be trusted with information about things we couldn’t possibly understand, nor with material possessions: expensive camera equipment, for example. We were not taught how to fix engines or even change a tire or the oil of our own cars. It was never explained to us how to manage our money or even how to earn it; we were not taught how to pay bills or invest or even balance a checking account. It was well established that women bleed and that event makes us crazy; that we are pure emotion while men are in full control—of everything.

And since the other women in my family learned how to always be positive and happy and just smile though the pain, and I was not, I became the familial scapegoat. Society distinguishes women as emotion and men as power and control. My father was pure power and control, my mother and two sisters were neutral, and I was the emotional one. I never allowed myself to ignore injustice as they did.

I have felt the exclusion—all my life—by men and their institutions and businesses. I’ve had more doors slammed in my face than I can count. What makes this really painful is that it is often women who are the ones who are doing the slamming.

And I have noticed that many young women are often the worst when it comes to pointing out what they quickly assume to be an old-world view of an older woman; when in reality they should be shutting up and listening to me. They should listen to my stories and hear what women from my generation have had to deal with, instead of questioning my opinions or actions. Or even my terminology:

Several months ago, I received a long, condescending email from a twenty something activist asking me why I felt it was necessary to mention that I was going camping with an African American friend, and she schooled me on what I should have said. This young woman, a girl, really, who believes she has all the answers (as did I at her age), likes to discuss which terminology is acceptable and which is not. Little did she know, or bother to find out, that many of my boyfriends have been black (most of the men I have known prefer being referred to as black while women of color that I know seem to be divided on which label they will accept to define them) and most of my female friends are either African American or Latina. Or they emigrated from another country, or speak at least two languages or at least have traveled a lot. Not taking self-centered selfies in front of tourist attractions either, no, I’m talking about really learning about another culture. I grew up in white-washed America and I’ve had quite enough of its ignorant, entitled, egotistical opinion of itself.

I had mentioned the ethnic background of my camping buddy because this camping trip was the reason that I was going to miss the young woman’s “diversity dinner.” I had attended one of them. She had given a presentation about why it’s important to have diverse relationships. And I think she likes to come up with acceptable labels for people so that we don’t inadvertently offend anyone.

God forbid.

I wish I would have asked her how many of the people she spends time with are not white. And I should have told her that when I asked my African American camping friend (or did she prefer to be called black? I can’t always remember individuals’ preferences) about the entire affair, she said,

‘What’s the big deal? It’s obvious to me why you mentioned it. . . .’

Women are just as conditioned as men to be misogynistic. To believe men over women and to ignore horrific things that men do in order to keep the peace. In fact, I wound up keeping horrible events to myself since no one, not even other women, ever even believed me. They certainly don’t like discussing such unpleasantness. Much easier to pretend that everything is just wonderful. I did what was expected of me: I shut my mouth and went to work and paid my bills.

That is why psychoanalysts exist. Most families, as far as I can tell, will not allow its members to talk about its ugly secrets. Off limits. Oh, but he is such a pillar of our community . . . church-goer; such a family man. . . .Best not drag his good name through the mud. . . .I have lost count of the women who have confessed to me that they were sexually molested by their own blood relatives: brothers, uncles, even fathers.

I rarely mention any of this to people I meet. Most people don’t want to hear about any unpleasantness. We stick to meaningless small talk, in public and even within our own families. Although I, for one, feel it is imperative to talk about the pain if we ever hope to find peace. . . .

If I bother to try and teach someone why what they say is so offensive to me, I am simply brushed of as being a diminutive, uneducated, irrational, “overly-emotional” woman. And hitting the half century mark did not help; now my opinions are brushed off as outdated as well as wrong; and my looks, which were merely average to begin with, have melted away; so I am now physically invisible as well as mentally non-existent. Perhaps it will be better this way. . . .

But outdated is far from what I am. I am in the process of rebirth and am rediscovering all the things I was forced to put aside; all my loves and talents that I was too ashamed to express since I was always ridiculed or ripped apart . . . or simply ignored.

My new life has just begun. I’m still angry for having let my life get away from me; for allowing people to pigeonhole me and use me based on my gender; but I’m especially angry with myself—for not having faith in my own beliefs or potential—and for allowing my connection to spirit be destroyed by the fear and ignorance of those who were “educating” me.

It may have been rough, but I sure got some good stories from my wild and reckless life. Plus, there is very little that frightens me any more—not after all I’ve lived through. Not now that I’ve found my way back to my soul.

And it looks nothing like I do on the surface.

 

 

Save