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.”
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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.