Friday, September 23, 2016

an observer’s measurement in the present determines the behavior of a particle in the past

My first day of kindergarten I was so nervous I just stared at the piece of toast with butter and jam that my stepfather made for me. This man I didn't like was the person dropping me off in this new environment and the thought of eating that toast seemed arduously painful. I waited until he left the room, then ran down the hallway to flush it down the toilet. I couldn't just throw it in the trash because he would notice it, and I would be in trouble, but there was no way I could choke it down. 10 minutes later, as we were getting ready to leave, he called me into the bathroom. That piece of toast had betrayed me, it floated on top of the water in the toilet.

At our previous apartment, I remember clearly having a similar reaction to food, I couldn't take a single bite of the dinner put in front of me, and didn't have the words to convey my distress. I was given the option to take a bite of everything, or receive a spanking. I chose the spanking because it felt safer than trying to force food into my body. I exaggerated my cries so my mother wouldn't hit me as hard, or have my stepfather's ruthless hands do it. For years I had a hard time eating in front of people, even through high school, if I had prepared food, if one of my brother's friends walked in, I would leave it at the table and hide in my room, come back for it much later. Even now, when supervising labor crews, I often drink coffee instead of eat lunch, something about having a full belly makes me slow, feels vulnerable, like I've lost some essential sharpness that I need to see everything and respond at a rapid speed.

Earlier still, when we were still living in Sarasota, the daycare that my brother and I went to was a place of terror, where the people who worked there were unafraid to slap any of the children left in their care. I was constantly in trouble, because I apparently always looked guilty, I knew they particularly hated me. It was impossible to sleep during naptime, but I learned to pretend after countless days of them discovering my eyes wide open, even though I was silent, and I had to lay in that cot alone as punishment, watching everyone else play. Years later, my mother admitted she knew they were abusive, but felt like she had no other choice, could afford no other solution.

In the years of dealing with my stepfather's addiction as he moved between jail and our home, we experienced increasingly dangerous scenarios. I remember all of us huddled in the hallway with the lights out, hiding from windows like it was a hurricane, but it was my stepfather banging to be let in. I don't know much, but I know my mother had filed a restraining order against him. I remember being in the fourth grade, on the playground at school when he walked up and tried to convince me to leave with him. I refused because I was not stupid. Fast forward to the seventh grade and he lived with us again. He would clench and unclench his fists whenever he spoke to me when we were in the house alone together. I woke up in the middle of the night often to see him in my doorway with my light on. I would walk home from school as slowly as I could and lock myself in the bathroom with books for hours. I pushed him in every way I could, using large words, speaking to my brother only in French, I wanted him to hit me. It would have been easier to remove him if he did. So when his wealthy mother informed us she wouldn't send us Christmas gifts if we didn't send her thank you letters, it seemed like an odd stipulation. We wanted nothing from her. That same year she sent us a bunch of wrapped gifts, and my mother and I opened all of them in confusion. The bright packages turned out to be things like a loaf of bread, a box of waffle mix, pop tarts, other various things that might be lying around someone's house. My mother also received a box of used makeup and a broken ornament from my stepfather's sister. Horror and comedy often live close to each other - we rewrapped everything and put it all under the tree for my siblings to experience. We laughed ourselves to tears.

I don't remember ever having any illusions about Santa Claus, since I went with my mom every year to purchase Christmas gifts for my siblings. For all the times we had to scrape together quarters to buy milk at the gas station, or take the bus to go grocery shopping cause we couldn't afford a car in suburbia, or couldn't pay the electric bill sometimes and kept all of our food in coolers - watching my mother wrestle with what she thought we might be excited to open that she could afford was awful. All of our gifts, from everyone in the family had a similar desperate cheapness that seemed to have nothing to do with knowing who we were or what we needed. Year after year I received Barbie stuff I never played with, because I was never interested in dolls. I drew constantly growing up, and it wasn't until I was almost in high school that someone caught on and sent me dollar store watercolors and cheap sketch paper, even though I was already working with sophisticated media at that point. All we really cared about was the food, because we could eat our fill of delicious things for weeks afterwards, and we could see our cousins, who understood us in a way my school friends never could. The closest person to me growing up was my cousin Elizabeth, her and her brother were all but ostracized from the family because of her mother's death, leaving them with the shady man she chose to marry and have them with. My aunt was disowned by my grandfather on her deathbed at 30 years old, and her children grew up starved for a feeling of being inside of a family. Every Christmas Elizabeth and I would walk my neighborhood for hours discussing what we had heard the adults say about each other's parent, desperately trying to figure out what was true. We wrote letters for years, while she was trapped in the house with that man and no phone. The two of them eventually joined the airforce to pay for college, since their father hadn't reported taxes in decades. They are making their own families now. I am so proud of them.

I've started to notice that I choose people with walls, I find impenetrable surfaces and I patiently push against them until I find myself inside of them. If you were to ask my closest friends about how we met, they would tell you variations on a single story - I showed up, and I kept showing up until I was familiar. I think I get a sense of being held inside of other people's walls, like I can let go a little because someone has my back. There is a sense of kinship in our closed offness, our tactics of protection. It is a specific kind of intimacy, much like the kind you might share with a sibling, and we can speak frankly of our distancing techniques, proudly of the coldness we bring to passionate situations, disdainfully of people who are unaware of their lack-of-affect on us.

The more you don't need me, the more I can trust you.

I had a tarot reader/professional therapist call out this false premise during a reading recently. 'You are misidentifying the source of the disconnect', he told me. 'I get the feeling that for you to win, someone must lose in most cases', he said. I can't stop thinking about that, how often I come into situations and walk away the hero - I know often someone is cast as the villain, the failure, the incapable by a necessary comparison. To be right, someone must be wrong. Am I fighting for validity by invalidating the people who made me question that? -'Who would you be harming by being you?' he asked. I don't even know what myself feels like, because it always seemed like a threat to the people I needed to keep me alive.

'If you are the ground, what do you step onto?', he asked me.

Walls can't move. I have to give up my identity as a wall, if I want to take a step on the path towards myself.

It is amazing to me, how we carry these experiences with us, how they become bricks in the walls we build around ourselves, forming the foundations for how we perceive and react to all the people and situations we encounter in our lives. My story is specific, but not unusual, and the rawness of my presence makes perfect sense if you consider all the ways in which I've learned that I am alone, because my feeling safe was inconsequential in the minds of the people making choices for the child that happened to be me. I learned that feeling safe was unnecessary, rather than a vital part of establishing how we engage with the world. As an adult, when people are sharing their childhood memories around me, any time I bring up my experiences, it is met with extreme discomfort, and I have learned that my history is shameful, is something I am not allowed to share, is somehow not as valid as everyone else who can exist around me. And my mother insists I forget, that I focus on the things she offers me as indications of a happy childhood as if I can erase her trespass to make her feel less guilty, at the expense of my shining a light into my own shadows, forever trapping me blindly inside of them. It seems daunting, as I listen to other's stories - to consider the idea of feeling safe, a luxury that I cannot relate to, like owning a hot tub, or vacationing in Europe . I wonder, looking back, if my mother also didn't have a sense of that word in her vocabulary. I wonder if the seeds of that were sown in my great grandmother, who had my grandmother at 16 years old, in the Great Depression. Maybe Safety was something lost long ago, maybe that gaping hole is my heritage, that absence IS the thread that connects me and my relatives through time. Maybe learning about that word is the key that might release the unheard little girl trapped in my body, in the web of fear and fight or flight responses, where my 'self' expression constantly requires dangerous situations for me to mobilize around, to feel called into action.

Though it has gotten me this far, I'm tired of being a tank.

"Remember The Tinman"

There are locks on the doors
And chains stretched across all the entries to the inside
There's a gate and a fence
And bars to protect from only God knows what lurks outside

Who stole your heart left you with a space
That no one and nothing can fill
Who stole your heart who took it away
Knowing that without it you can't live

Who took away the part so essential to the whole
Left you a hollow body
Skin and bone
What robber what thief who stole your heart and the key

Who stole your heart
The smile from your face
The innocence the light from your eyes
Who stole your heart or did you give it away
And if so then when and why

Who took away the part so essential to the whole
Left you a hollow body
Skin and bone
What robber what thief
Who stole your heart and the key

Now all sentiment is gone
Now you have no trust in no one

Who stole your heart
Did you know but forget the method and moment in time
Was it a trickster using mirrors and sleight of hand
A strong elixir or a potion that you drank

Who hurt your heart
Bruised it in a place
That no one and nothing can heal
You've gone to wizards, princes and magic men
You've gone to witches, the good the bad the indifferent

But still all sentiment is gone
But still you have no trust in no one

If you can tear down the walls
Throw your armor away remove all roadblocks barricades
If you can forget there are bandits and dragons to slay
And don't forget that you defend an empty space

And remember the tinman
Found he had what he thought he lacked
Remember the tinman
Go find your heart and take it back

Who stole your heart
Maybe no one can say
One day you will find it I pray

Monday, September 5, 2016

Out of respect, we will paint our faces silver.

I sat with an older woman and her grandchild, in a convoluted past where I was dating someone and lived in the heart of their family for a brief space of time, years ago. We talked about the weather, the lush Richmond heat, the mosquitoes, lunch. I remember the smell of old varnish on wood, and natural light filtering in wherever it could, struggling to penetrate years of dust and sadness. The little girl, maybe 7 at the time, played on the floor surrounded with a myriad of pieces and parts of popular toys - tiny worlds for Polly Pocket, shoes and perfume bottles for Bratz dolls, Barbie stuff. She was silent, focused on her activity, putting things on and taking them off, her processes and curiosity hidden inside her slender frame.

'You know it's a Blue Moon tonight?' the grandmother asked me.

'A Blue Moon must be made of Blue cheese because you can't have a blue rock unless you paint it.' The little girl replied matter-of-factly without looking up, without pausing in her exploration of fitting pieces to parts and considering them. Her hands continued to move, but the fringe of straight blond hair kept her face hidden. I remember feeling a hit, like a singular drum beat in the center of my body, I was floored by how pure and logical her reasoning was within the scope of her awareness of the world and how it worked.

'She painted a rock blue in class today.' The grandmother smiled indulgently. The girl didn't respond.

A few weeks later the whole family took that little girl on a whirlwind vacation at Disney World, paid top dollar for the full Princess experience. A handful of aunts and great aunts and grandma pooled their resources to wander around in the Florida heat, their heavyset, aging crew shuttling her from Cinderella makeover to dinner with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. When they returned, their suitcases were packed to the brim with princess paraphernalia, they had taken a bunch of empty suitcases just for this reason.

Not long after that, the little girl informed her grandmother that she didn't want to hurt her feelings, but she was over the whole princess thing. Even though the grandmother couldn't help but see the humor in the situation, I could see that she mourned the loss of that experience. I'm sure part of her recognized it was more for her than the little girl the entire time.

That relationship fell apart, and the current has drawn me far from those people, but I think about her sometimes, that little girl. Her wide blue eyes are framed by sturdy glasses now, and I wonder how that shifts what adults see when they look at her, with her long, lean build and long blond hair.

A blue moon is an additional full moon that appears in a subdivision of a year: either the third of four full moons in a season, or a second full moon in a month of the common calendar. The phrase has nothing to do with the actual color of the moon. The suggestion has been made that the term "blue moon" for "intercalary month" arose by folk etymology, the "blue" replacing the no-longer-understood belewe, 'to betray'. The original meaning would then have been "betrayer moon", referring to a full moon that would "normally" (in years without an intercalary month) be the full moon of spring, while in an intercalary year, it was "traitorous" in the sense that people would have had to continue fasting for another month in accordance with the season of Lent.