it’s just one word, but it is fifteen characters of deep relief i have been waiting to hear for weeks, although it doesn’t take away the deep-seated terror, the one that creeps up at night when the world is silent. this used to be my sacred time, the moment of the day i would long to receive as quiet would descend and i could clearly feel and hear my thoughts, the block that belonged to me and me alone. now darkness swoops and as i approach sleep my body is a restless warrior fighting imaginary demons, and my eyes close but my mind never stops churning, sometimes spitting out fresh new horrors of things that haven’t come to pass but could, the imagery so flagrant, such as the night i dreamt my daughter was taken by a faceless man who stood directly in front of me as i stood motionless and passive, unable to stop his arms from circling her mouth and then pulling her into a black abyss where she dissolved. then morning smacks me in the face and i am scraping whatever energy i can from the 5-6 hours per evening of disturbed slumber to try to face the day, so i exercise too much to pump some fuel into my veins to make through the 9-10 hours i exert helping others when i barely feel i can help myself. sometimes in the middle of nothing, the sorrow sneaks up out of nowhere, and i find myself wiping tears away even though i cannot place their origin, and i seek refuge in places where i know i won’t be found. other times my heart bursts with a volcano of rage that i never knew lived there, bubbling, frothing, seething, and it is all i can do to keep my voice from soaring to a volume that will not burst eardrums or knock people over with its fury.
it doesn’t erase the agony of watching my elder children grapple with losing the only father they knew and trusted, the one who they felt earned the designation, or hearing my son plead with me to date women because he doesn’t want another patriarch, and i think that maybe he is onto something because the safest i have ever felt was in the grip of arms that resembled my own, finding comfort and beauty in a body so similar to myself it was like tracing a mirror. except i don’t know if i can ever love the same again, because that requires trust, and that has been stripped away from me as if layers of my flesh were peeled until the soft meat of my soul lay exposed and bare, and then doused with flammable words that spontaneously burst into a fire that engulfed everything i thought i knew about intention, promises, and truth.
dread still permeates everything between us. i am afraid that anything and everything could be mistaken for something it’s not, and so i weigh out every word carefully, and i try with futile effort to wrangle and control the minds and instincts of children who just don’t know that what has been spit from their tongues could be interpreted a 1000 different ways, how a simple phrase can be molded and shaped by twitchy adults into an arrow whose sole purpose is to maim, and permanently wound. i live in a world constructed of eggshells, herringbone china, and brittle nails, where i walk with such intention that i can barely allow my lungs to fill with confidence, holding the same oxygen until it is sucked dry, so panicked by the mere thought of ‘what if this happens again?’ that i nearly forsake breathing for the cold comfort of never having to live this nightmare again, except the only love that still exists for me in the world exists in them. as much as the river longs for snow and rain, or the sunflower turns its body to its warm god, they turn and long for me as the rock amidst the chaos of the churning ocean, and even though i can barely draw in air and feel as vulnerable as an open heart, i know they need me, and that will always be enough.
Lately, I’ve been pondering the abstract beauty of love, how multifaceted it can be, how it evolves to mean so many different things to so many different people. Part of it is living through the grueling process of divorce, where you begin to question why love suffocates, withers, dies. Another part is reflecting backward through my experiences with love to present day, and seeing how much of my own perceptions have been tested, altered, and stretched in new dimensions. Or as writer Tom Robbins stated, “Love easily confuses us because it is always in flux between illusion and substance, between memory and wish, between contentment and need.”
I think we have a distinct cultural desire to place love on a pedestal and make it the star of any romantic relationship. And I feel that creates an impossible standard by which we strive to maintain those connections. In any relationship, there are so many different aspects to consider: affection, friendship, intimacy, compatibility, desire, to name but a few. Yet, the one we laud and cherish above all others is love. But what is love, if not the combination of all those other areas working in a syncopated harmony to give us that euphoria? What happens when we ignore the parts, thus inevitably sacrificing the whole? What happens when our expectations, so high from our cultural pandering to this one thing, can’t be sustained or met? It seems we fall apart at the seams, relationships falter, and we are left wondering why things didn’t work.
I believe one of the roots of this problem is our presumption that the people who incite love in our hearts need to be, or have, a certain something: a certain height, weight, look, personality, age. We come to the table with our long checklist of what we are seeking, and sometimes ignore the beauty that screams at us to be noticed. How much emphasis is placed in society on finding the ‘right’ person? Are we not trained from a young age to seek the ‘fairy tale’? Often, I think we overlook feelings of affection because they do not fit a template of what we have been conditioned to believe we should want or need. In the process, we ignore what could be meaningful, passionate relationships, merely because our expectations get in the way. Rather than living in the moment and taking love as it comes, we wait in reserve until the right conditions are met. And yet, sometimes our most amazing opportunities manifest themselves in ways we couldn’t conceive or imagine, and it throws us off guard. Usually these situations require us to delve into the unknown, and sometimes into uncomfortable spaces, that stretch who we thought we were, to know the beauty that can be. If we can get past the tiny voice that whispers we must seek endearment via a formulaic design, then those openings we might have otherwise disregarded may be exactly the portals we need to truly enliven and touch our hearts, if we are brave enough to enter. Tom Robbins eloquently sums it up, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”
But what is the ‘perfect’ love? I’ve especially been mulling over the notion of non-traditional dyads, or what I like to call ‘Alt-Love’: those couples who test our own comfort and boundaries by shucking the societal norms that we use as a perimeter for our relationship ties, yet who find a way for love to endure. I think of Anais Nin and Henry Miller: he was married, and she not only carried on a passionate affair with him for years, but also felt enormous affection for his wife, June, often showering her with trinkets and gifts. Or Frieda and Diego, whose stormy and passionate romance ended in divorce after he slept with her sister, only to find them remarried for the last years of her life. Reading her journal, she is very clear in her belief that Diego completed aspects of her own self, despite both of their dalliances, that no one else seemed able to fill. Perhaps it was those affairs themselves that gave them the breathing room to reconnect, and find each other anew, reigniting their passion for each other. Anais and Miller also allowed for the freedom for each to come and go as they please, with great affection and respect. There is something daring and graceful about having enough security in your affection to grant your partner the freedom to wander of their own free will, confident they will return.
Although I’ve never cheated in either of my marriages (being fiercely loyal is a blessing or curse- discuss), one of my most passionate and long standing relationships found me playing the role of the ‘other’ woman to a man who was in steady partnerships over a span of several years. It’s not something to boast, but for me, that liaison was like a torchlight burning in my soul. I carried so much physical and intellectual passion for him (and I believe he for me) that perhaps us connecting in the everyday, banal world would have seen us burn one another to smoke and ash. The intimacy we shared was unlike anything I’ve experienced. He was the first man to help me overcome a lingering sexual frigidity from the childhood trauma I had experienced. I could confide in him things I had never entrusted another living soul with, and he didn’t judge me, nor betray that confidence. He was beautiful, charming, intelligent, and sexy, and despite naming it otherwise, in hindsight, it might have been its own unique version of ‘love’ I’ve not experienced with anyone else.
I flogged myself for years for that relationship, mentally and emotionally, staggering under the guilt and negative karma I saw myself racking up. I felt awful for my behavior, and questioned my morality frequently, despite how blissful it made me feel. I quit him, then returned, several times over: there was an undeniable magnetism, a dynamic push and pull, and it could be deeply fulfilling even if I was left wanting more. When we finally parted ways, it happened organically, with distance and life pulling us in separate directions. But he is that man that could reappear in my life and it would be as if time stood still, not a beat lost between us, my want of him as strong as ever. He was as much my Superman as he was my Kryptonite, and in my more mature years, I have made peace with what we were, despite its unorthodox nature.
Love is so complex in how it operates, and how it designates why you fall and for whom. There seems to be no true rhyme or reason, despite scientific studies and our persistent need to attach answers to every mystery, and no ‘perfect’ answer. Some days I feel I could fall in love with everyone I meet, and others, the world seems to be cold and frosty to my bleating heart. I can see potential in so many, yet potential never seems to be enough. It is elusive and slippery, this thing called love, and I am slowly discerning that cultivating it within myself seems to be the best thing I, or anyone, could really do to try to garner its attention and grace to capture it. As Tom Robbins surmised, “Let us live for the beauty of our own reality.” I believe, and hope, if I can do just that, then maybe love will follow suit.
Today marks two years of your passing. I still carry this heaviness in my heart that I can’t shake. It lies in wait, then in quiet moments it drowns me, and I feel the day of your death all over again. Despite the days that have past, my soul still feels this jagged tear you left behind when you surrendered your body and took flight.
I remember the day you told me you were going to die with supernatural clarity. We met at Iconik on Christmas Eve, and you gingerly sat with me and explained how they had found cancer taking root in your spine. We had sat in this same coffee shop just weeks before, discussing how you were going to build an online shopping business, your eyes full of enthusiasm for your new venture. You were in remission, then. You were in the clear. You were going to make it. You were a survivor. And in less than 21 days, you found out that cancer had different plans.
I could see the resignation in your eyes that morning. Even though you were one of the most impassioned and determined women I have ever met, you just didn’t want to battle anymore. You didn’t want the burns from radiation and the unending nausea of chemo, a life that felt less lived because it was filled with fighting something dead set on claiming your body.
It was one of the hardest mornings of my life, hearing you talk about how you planned to just wrap it all up, your wild and precious life, over a casual morning coffee. I still feel the helplessness that washed over me like a furious, unleashed gale. I run a finger across the invisible trails left by burning hot tears. I taste the bitter, curdy feeling of coffee swirling across my tongue. I’ve only been back there once, and walking in was like opening a time warp. I saw you sitting in the window seat all over again, your scarf wound around your neck, and I couldn’t bear to stay.
After you broke the news, I took you to an appointment to get a vitamin infusion. You lay on the table and I sat next to you, holding your hand, both of us absorbing and appreciating the silence. You had the softest hands of anyone I’ve ever met, a cross between silk and cashmere. Someone came in and introduced a doctor, and they spoke to you of how illness is manifested on a spiritual level, and how that was where your battle would be won. When they left, you muttered how they didn’t get that you were just going to die, and how you wished that people would leave you to it.
So much has transpired in your absence. Some good, some great, some awful. I would give anything to have you here, to hear your drawl, to see your big, green eyes transmit emotion as you listen, to have the chance to hug your warm body that was always infused with the scent of flowers and delicacy.
I haven’t been to your resting place yet. I drive by the cemetery all the time, your ashes sitting in wait, but I just can’t bring myself to visit you in a place that can’t possibly be big enough to hold everything you were. For me, that will be the day when my heart has recovered enough to fully acknowledge that you left. It will be the day that the scar you’ve left on my heart has finally grown so faint that it blends, becoming barely discernible, but never gone.
My Darling Land of Enchantment,
You may be the only lover I’ll ever need. You get me. You fathom my unending quench for the sublime, for splendor, for the sensual nature of earth meeting heaven, and place me smack in the middle.
I never tire gazing on your immaculate beauty. The sky, reaching beyond my vision, the deepest azure that feels like the ocean has taken residence upside-down. Burnt soil rolling for miles, from cowboy kicked brown to brick red, punctuated by the verdant Juniper dotting your hills and lowlands. I love that you inhabit various forms over different miles, that your crags can become ebony as night followed by fields of sand as milky as the sun’s palest rays. You are a multitude of lands crisscrossing into one, much as I embody many women.
There is a quality of tranquility here that I have never felt anywhere else. The solid sense in my heart that I have arrived home. Whenever I leave, I think of you like I would a swain left behind, and when I return, my eyes can’t drink you in fast enough. I feel giddy at the approach, recognizing the outline of the mountains, scorched sand, sweeping plains, and the tumid clouds, low hanging and longing to be touched. You own me in a way that no one ever will.
I admire that you are wild, open, and free. Unconquered. Untouched. That some of the best parts of you are left for you and you alone. Mostly, you sit in passive grace, but I love that there is an element of danger to everything you touch, despite your allure. Anything could be extreme, and in a moment, you may change your mind to engage the world through furious rain, or blistering sun. You tame my own ferocity, but you also respect when it needs unleashed, and I feel safe in my skin with my feet touching your ground.
I know you like I know my own body, the curves and valleys, the peaks and rises. Driving across your unending vistas, dipping down and up, the sun steaming your surface, is pure sensuality, as if my hands were rolling across the surface, soaring when you ascend, sinking when you fall. It takes my breath away, and it only leaves me wanting more.
If I could love you any more, I would become a part of you, melting into your skin, evaporating into your scarce bodies of water, softening to become another outcrop. I would evanesce into the breeze, carried by the zephyrs you exhale as your moist, sacred breath. Perhaps when I have perished, my body licked by flames, it will join your own, scattered as sooty ash across the places I love best. My soul will meld into your own: wandering, unbound, and feral. And in that moment, I will taste my one true love, and finally know her kiss.
Don’t tell me I’m strong.
Tell me I can be frail in your presence,
that I can fall apart,
let tears slink down my cheeks
in ribbons, bearing secret fears.
Let me be limp, pliable,
lying my head on your rugged knees
to rest my screeching mind.
Stroke my hair,
let me inhale the sweetness
of my toppled guard.
Allow me to just be,
without having to paint
an iron mask.
At the sink, the tension is palpable. I brush my teeth haphazardly, because I am rushing to bed. My mind is an endless whirlwind of indecision, and I just want silence. I want my head to sink into a pillow and stop the tape that has been playing in my mind:
How did you get here? How did I get here? How did we get here?
I catch your reflection in the mirror and immediately avert my eyes. For days now, I have been compiling a list of all the reasons why I cannot leave:
You are the breadwinner. I own nothing. All of our savings were used when you lost your previous job. There is nothing to divide: how do you split the air between two people? The kids will be devastated. The older ones will manage because you are not their biological father, but the younger ones…our son has been through so much in the past few years. Bullying. Homelessness. Death. He is finally in a good place, although I have not recovered.
I cannot afford our rent, or any rent. We can barely manage one home, let alone two. I might have to give up my dream of going to graduate school. I am so close to touching that dream. Who will get the dog? I want the dog. You hated the dog when I first brought her home. How will the kids get to school, or dance if we are not together? Will they have to stop dance lessons? Will they hate me? Will you hate me?
A mental onslaught kicks in:
You are being selfish. What will it do to our daughter? Will she stop gleaming with joy? She cries for you at night when you are just down the hallway. Who will get custody? Will we fight? Will you be angry, angrier than I can imagine? Can I handle breaking your heart? You are my best friend. Can I let that go, even though there is so much winter between us?
I let the guilt bathe my body from head to toe. Shame clings to every pore:
Do you really want to be alone? Do you know what’s like out there for someone rapidly approaching forty? Your body is a plumper shadow of your former self. No one will want that. No one will want you. This was your second chance at happiness, and it will evaporate. Couldn’t you live with it, even if it feels like you are drowning a little bit more every day? Do your feelings even matter?
I get a very short respite when anger fights back:
I hate that you are the social one that steals all the air in the room, when you always seem more fun to be with. No one sees what I see: the angry bursts, the flares you call passionate and I that I call fury. You yell at the kids too much, and force yourself in my older son’s face in a way that makes my heart sink and revolt. It’s not fair that time has barely touched you over the past 9 years. My body has been tortured and stretched and altered into a frame that I barely recognize, and I hate that you have stood still in this world. I have given up my career and time and longings, and those years are irreplaceable.
An optimist chimes in:
There has been so much good here, and so much love. Why is it not enough now? Remember the moments that are tattooed on your heart. He knows you more than you sometimes know yourself. He mostly loves you despite your worst. Isn’t that enough?
Finally, as my eyes finally seal together, and as my soul settles in to find peace for a short span of hours, I hear truth bubbling to the surface of my consciousness.
Shake off the fear. The timing will never be right. He deserves to be loved by someone who is fully committed. He will love again. You will love again. You will survive. You will heal. You are stronger than you could ever realize. Listen to that steadfast inner voice. Your heart never lies.
And then I slee---dream.
This past week, I’ve been thinking of my grandfather, who was a veteran of WWII. Growing up, I spent an enormous amount of time with my grandparents, including spending every day before and after school during 3rd and 4th grade, as well as entire months over the summer. They were my safe place, and they left an indelible imprint on who I gradually become as I matured. Their intrinsic love of the arts inspired my own, and through them, particularly my grandfather, I learned to appreciate opera, musical theater, and especially literature. He collected volumes of classical works and French philosophy, several of which now sit on my shelves. He especially loved Montaigne, Camus, and existential thought, instilling the same in me.
He voluntarily signed up to serve in the Navy when he was 17, lying about his age for what he thought would be a grand adventure on the water. He served on a carrier in the South Pacific, and he forever harbored a special love for Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical of the same name. Jacob, aka Jake, whom my son is named for, was the seaman who distilled cherry moonshine in the bowels of the ship, and arrived back home with dreamy photos of him and exotic women from a variety of ports, such as Shanghai. Despite his exploits, my grandfather hated the war, and despised even more what it robbed from him.
After returning, the underbelly of the war slowly ate away at his soul, nibbling and swallowing parts of himself as time marched on. He was a raging alcoholic. Not just the ‘get loaded at the VFW and drive home’ type of drinker, although he was that too. He hid bottles across the house, only surrendering and making a go of sobriety when my grandmother, whom he loved fiercely, would threaten to leave. I can remember going to the basement to search through my stash of toys and finding bottles of clear liquid I would later understand to be vodka, pushed into random corners and inside barrels. He and his younger son, also fond of liquid courage, would have confrontations, sometimes jarringly physical, when both were imbibing.
My grandfather would often pass out or go to sleep early around 8pm, rising at 2am, in the middle of night, to sit and watch either playboy (when he knew/thought I was sleeping when I visited), or the history channel. I can remember being awake, reading, and hearing the television recounting missions and escapades of the war. Sometimes I would venture downstairs and join him. If he were drunk, he would regale me with slurred tales of his service: the bodies floating in the ports as the carrier cut through the sea, the empty eyes of those who lay scattered and dead, the horror of having to see humans treated like pieces of discarded meat. If sober he sat silent, absorbing the documentary, or movie, he had stumbled on. His favorites were Bridge Over the River Kwai, and anything John Wayne.
He once told me if he could go back in time he would have never enlisted, seeing it as his biggest regret. The war strangled his faith. He was an active agnostic on the verge of atheism. He had seen the absolute worst that humanity could enact, and he could no longer believe that there was a god that would allow such horror. It vexed my grandmother, an avid churchgoing volunteer and dedicated Catholic. But it gave him an ability to see people for their core humanity. Out of his six brothers, he was one of the most liberal and non-religious, a black sheep in a sea of white wool.
With the resurgence of fascist views and acts of hatred propagating the country, I can’t help but imagine how incredulous he would be to it all. How frustrated he would be with the direction we are headed, the slow march to a possible clash between those who understand that we must refuse reverting back to where we came from, and those who want nothing more than to turn back the hands of time for their own self-interest, despite who it harms. How this might be a trigger for him to turn to the bottle, where he might drown the agony from the mere thought of watching what he survived take root in his home soil. His past revisiting like ghostly memorials, the atrocities he witnessed resurfacing, demanding to know how we find ourselves here once more.
Dear President Trump, and the rest of white America determined to oppress others,
You don’t know me, for which I feel fortunate. But I know you, as do my children who identify as Mexican American and African American. This past weekend, we looked on in horror and silence as you lost your collective shit and decided that it was okay to publicly display your disdain and hatred for others who do not look like you, think as you, or love like you. It was a low point, amongst many in our history, harkening back to the era of the Civil Rights movement, which, in this moment, almost feels like a dream.
I’m not sure what your end game is, or what you hope to accomplish. We’re not going back. Not in time, not in values, not in law. Most of us have evolved and recognized that the color of one’s skin, or one’s origin, has no bearing on the capacity of human potential. There is nothing superior to be proven, or gained. Many of us know this, understand it, and better yet, enjoy diversity and the multitude of viewpoints and perspectives it brings. You are the anomaly. You are on the outside looking in, which perhaps is the point of your protest. You are outdated and no longer feel at home in a place where the landscape has changed, where you are losing the edge of utilizing the color of your skin to gain instantaneous advantage. Instead of cultivating thoughts of acceptance, you have remained mired in the bog of your own hatred, blaming everyone outside yourself for how unfair things seem to be in the world. You are the cultural toddlers who dropped their cookies on the playground expecting an endless supply, threw a fit when you discovered there were none left, then blamed the children on the playground who were eating fruits snacks, for your own ignorance.
At some point, you must say to yourselves: do I really think I am going to get what I want? If you can’t critically think the answer for yourselves, I’ll help you out: the answer is NO. We’ll be damned if we will allow our children to grow up under the banner of fascism and white supremacy. I say ‘we’ because ‘we’ is this country of beautiful, rainbow people who all understand that there are not ‘sides’ in this discussion. Either you are a hate mongering racist, or you’re not. And even as I have grown older and recognized the endless shades of grey that permeate the world, this is definitively an issue that is black and white. Love and hate. Inclusive and exclusive. There is no in between when it comes to basic human rights and existence.
I will tell you, for myself, that I refuse to live in a world where my children ever know oppression, or where they are discriminated against simply because someone deems them as lessor. As lily white as my skin matches your own, strip that away and you will find fire, endless flames of a mother’s white hot, burning love that will singe you raw. I hope you are ready for the Pandora’s box you are opening, that you understand how many of us are willing to jump in and make sure that what has happened before never becomes again. We will not see this world revert to a place and time where we treated any human being as less than the precious object each one is to this world.
Stop blaming anyone but yourself for your myopic view of the view. You have fed from the loathing that has clearly been handed down through the years like a journal of communal ill. It is a disease, and it is rotting you from the inside out. There is no way to come out of this without damage. You will not win. And I know this because I know what you seem to ignore over and over: Love trumps hate, and always will.
Conversations about race are strenuous, delicate. They require courage, listening, and sometimes just shutting the fuck up. But these are the days, more than ever, when those exchanges need to be initiated.
It is incredibly hard to call out family and friends that you feel might be racist. We all want to belong, especially to those who we consider a part of our birthright. We worry about losing those we love. At some point, we need to be concerned that our friends and neighbors are also losing those they love, regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexuality. Eventually, that loss always circles back around.
In my family, my godmother regularly used the word nigger at family functions. She would toss it out at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, as we sat around my mother’s table, everyone quietly allowing the slur to penetrate their ears without an utterance of objection. It was something she had learned from her own father, my great-grandfather, whom I remember to be a mean, miserable man who hated anyone whom did reflect his own comfort. Growing up, I didn’t know many people of color. My mother had a few diverse colleagues and friends, but otherwise, Pittsburgh was racially segregated (it could be argued that hasn’t changed) and we didn't venture outside of our comfort zones.
It wasn’t until after the birth of my eldest children, when I was teaching African American students documentary film, and I ventured into parts of the city I never explored, that I really had interactions with those with different lives, experiences, and skin than me. Those moments changed me in endless ways, and expanded my own perceptions of those who were diverse from myself. Eventually, my circle consisted of a mostly divergent group. I became part owner in a business where my partners were mixed race. I spent most of my time socializing in the ‘black’ sections of the city, and found a treasure trove of intelligent, talented, and beautiful humans who were artists, politicians, and musicians. It was an amazing time filled with exceptional people.
When I met my second husband, a tall and proud African American, my parents struggled. They counseled me on ‘cultural’ difference, which was a polite way of saying that we were too different in their eyes. My first husband, a Mexican national, had challenged their way of thinking, and the relationship had been tumultuous for several reasons, including some clashes of expectation related to heritage. They took the same worry and fear and transposed it onto this relationship. From day one it was an uphill battle.
After we had been dating awhile, I realized I could no longer sit in permissive quiet when my aunt was using language that was hurtful toward someone I loved, so I wrote her a letter. A really, long letter, outlining how I felt about her use of the word, and how deeply it offended me. My aunt had been very generous to me at various moments in time, treating me like a daughter, especially since she bore no children of her own. Because of this, my mother was upset when I sent it to her, as if munificence could wash away the ill that her language created when voiced. My aunt was pissed too, and called me to let me know. We had a quasi-confrontation where she primarily vented her anger, and then we didn’t talk for a period of time.
It was tender to feel I might have lost the love of my godmother. But it felt even worse to allow her to continue to use a word that disparaged someone else that I loved. When I became pregnant, acutely aware that I was about to become the mother of a mixed-race child, I felt even more anchored in the feeling that what I had done was right. After the birth, my aunt gradually melted, and eventually, slowly, we repaired our relationship. She fell in love with my son, and became very fond of my former husband. Children have such a spectacular ability to promote healing, and bring people into the light. She never used the term again in our presence.
My aunt passed away at the beginning of the summer. I felt fortunate we saw her in person when my sister married a few months earlier. She hugged and loved on my children, so thrilled to see them in person, and not just via the endless photos that were scattered across the wall of her room. They have taught her, and others in my family, how to expand their hearts and re-evaluate how they view those who differ from themselves. You cannot love just pieces of a person, but must accept them whole, even the parts that may make you feel uncomfortable, or foreign.
I’m begging you to have those difficult conversations. They’ll probably be painful, and scary. You may lose someone along the way, you may not. But approach them with the intention of love for others. Know that standing up for others who are being oppressed is the only right side in this world. Reticence is passive agreement. Silence is complicity.
I am lying in my hammock, at the crossover when sunset still leaves a slight aura across the horizon. The breeze, running its hands across the trees, carries a chill that indicates fall will soon be sweeping down upon me. It is a last-ditch effort on my part to cling to summer during its slow demise. Lounging outside also allows me to avoid the quiet that fills the rooms inside when I am home alone, when there is no chatter or the invisible presence of another breathing soul.
Silence has taken on new dimensions after experiencing the temporary loss of my children. Whereas once I relished the hollow echo I could feel throughout my home when I was solitary, I now dread the empty space and its reminder of how it felt to be torn from two of the people I love most in the world. It is the hush of injustice that seeps into every corner.
During that nightmare, the elements of which still leech into my life, I heard from a lot of well-meaning people who were fearful that my writing, and recording of my emotional state during that experience, would create even more damage. And while I respect and give thanks that people cared enough about me to make their opinions known, my writing, and my voice via my words, was the salvation that carried me through.
One person suggested to me that I should continue to write, but hold onto it until a later time, when it might be safe. It was a valid suggestion, but not one that suited me, or my well-being. Writing and shelving such expression, for me, is akin to holding everything inside just the same as before it graces paper. It has taken me years to have enough courage to allow myself to sit in vulnerability and share my work. To regress from that space would be a blow to everything I have worked toward as an artist and human, because for me, it could feel so easy to just lapse back into a comfort where I don’t take risks, or expose my creative work to others. It is way too easy to want to feel safe and secure when vulnerability feels so incalculable.
After I began hearing from other women who contacted me privately to tell me about their own experiences with abuse, or parallel experiences with their children, it was no longer a consideration to keep my voice hidden. They bared their souls and hearts, and in some cases, showed enormous courage reaching out to someone who may have been a social media contact but was still a total stranger in life. I cried over their experiences, and felt the acute pain of all they endured, many mirroring my own. Frequently, we are told relentlessly by society that we should bury those moments that crack the façade of perfection that society constantly shoves down our throats to achieve. Many of those who reached told me that these were experiences they had never shared. It broke my heart a thousand times over to imagine how long some of the secrets had remained buried inside these beautiful, kind women because we do not foster a society where we know how to support those who are wounded.
I am so weary of the constant messages that shame should be privately endured, that we should veil moments that can tear us limb to limb, and then pretend that we can still walk upright. It is a silent suffering that eats away at the very best of us, the parts that allow others to love us and enable us to feel whole. When such moments happen, when we endure the kind of heartache that sends violent shivers through our souls that can leave behind irreversible changes and invisible scars, the last thing we should be is alone.
Often, we can be our own worst enemies, because society would rather have us pitted against each other for its own benefit. Warring women aren’t the ones that will stir the status quo and fight the forces that enable oppression. It is to the victimizer’s advantage that we remain complicit through silence. I believe in the healing power of community to grant us strength to enact change. When we can surround even one of us with loving acceptance, peeling away the layers of hurt, grief, and unmistakable degradation that may have been weathered, then we stand for all of us as a universal whole. This can only happen when we muster the audacity to make ourselves heard.
I trust in the incredible power of words, the iron clad resilience of even one voice that refuses suppression. As I told one friend when describing the fear others kept bringing to my attention about the negative impact my writing could bring: “If what I am voicing seems dangerous now and could cost me those I love, just wait to see what I write next.”
my ultimate fantasia roused by her twilight.
Shimmering silver strands swim
through my rusty waves, from when the
full moon cast its rays upon my locks
and left behind mementos
to revive our exchange.
She whispered she loved
my body, her moonshine tiptoeing across
my curves, hills, and meadows,
her soft grace and black art touch
illuminating my skin with a burning glow.
She moaned, her balmy breath in my ear
prodding the raging combustion
engulfing my heart, and blistering
every inch to sooty and crumbling ash,
spilling a trail of rapture in my wake.
I burned in daring phosphorescence
my body tingling with heady joy
pleasure billowing from pore to pore
an arresting mingle of hedonism and necessity,
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...