I opened the text, and it was simply a photo of a man sized purple rooster sculpture.
I had no clue why she would have sent that, maybe she was trying a new tactic, maybe she had lost her last marble. It wasn't until I was describing it to my little sister over the phone that its meaning finally struck me.
Years ago, my mother would load up my younger siblings into the car and prepare for a road trip to different Podunk towns to go visit my step father in one of the many penitentiaries across the state of Florida. As a repeat offender, he ended up in places we would never have traversed the flat ribbon of road and scrub brush to stay in for a few nights, for a few hours of visitor time on each day of the weekend. I went to watch over them, my only family. I stayed awake as we drove in the endless darkness of night, a large worn atlas in my lap, my younger siblings (his children) asleep in the back of our massive 78'chevy nova, the one with 8 cylinders and no speedometer. It was practically a boat. My little brother and sister fought like cats when they were awake, all claws and teeth and slaps and screeches, but in the back seat together, the always slept shoulder to shoulder, head leaning on head, looking so similar they might have been twins.
The freckles on my little sister's sleeping face will be forever merged in my mind's eye with the stars in the huge, indigo, bowl shaped sky that we drove under, dwarfing us against the landscape. Delilah kept us company on the radio, listening as people called in to ask for a song, and to tell her their lovelorn stories. I learned so much about sadness and longing and the pain involved in loving someone, on those midnight drives, and about these individuals living their entire lives in little spread out towns with less than 500 people and only one church to gather in, that loneliness can seem as vast as that sky at midnight sometimes. How perspective and priorities can be engulfing or freeing, depending on the context.
We began to notice, my mother and I, that almost every gas station we stopped at had large photos advertising a fried chicken bar inside. The Florida sunshine had bleached away the yellow shades needed to make brown tones, and had left washes of blue and pink that pooled into dark purple in the crevasses of the fried skin of the pile of drumsticks. Once when she came back out from paying for gas, her nose wrinkled, she told me that the photos weren't lying about the color of the chicken in that particular establishment. It became a joke, asking if anyone wanted any purple chicken before we ran inside to pay, even years later on other kinds of road trips.
Its a tangy sour memory she brought up with her text. Its impossible not to feel a sharp twinge of almost nostalgia, for childhood where we laughed so we didn't have to feel the horror of living our specific reality. Impossible to ignore the intimacy of that shared experience, something that no one but the two of us could really fathom in its fullness. What I find unfathomable is that she probably cannot conceive of the images it calls out of my body even now: of my then-newly ripe, pubescent body, terrifying in its stark sexual suggestiveness that seemed impossible to hide in the baggy clothes I draped myself in, being offered up to this adult world I wanted no part of. Shaking my bra out for the guards, rarely women, before we could pass into the room full of inmates and their visiting loved ones. The stepfather I hated, openly talking about my budding body, how large my breasts were getting - to my mother, who giggled inanely, unwilling to make the boundaries I could not, unwilling to protect me in any way. Right in front of my young siblings, embedding god knows what into the brain of my baby sister, about her body and its boundaries. Feeling naked in that prison visiting room, undressed by the words and eyes of the one person I hated most in the world with no one to defend me, while he stuffed himself with Hot Pockets from the vending machines, since the prison food was so bland.
Since I had to construct my own shield, without parents to protect me, I am finally starting to see how the truth of my upbringing bubbles up and chokes me as I wade through deep and thorough intellectual territories. As a creature living in between worlds, my inheritance is unclear, everywhere I go I feel like a little bit of an imposter. I can't tell what character I am in my own story, so I don't know what my boundaries and freedoms are composed of - that my background will invalidate me in a room full of thinkers and theorists, realities of a brutal animal existence that dispels the beauty and symmetry of so many ideas; that I can't possibly be as experienced as I am in the labor world because I am white, college educated and female, everything I have must be from my privilege made manifest, rather than the blood and sweat and tears and rage and hunger of my human body.
What is my domain, my territory, my home? How can I be defined by the sad, gross, backwater world I was raised in? And how does denying relationship with so much of myself hinder my relationships with others? How has this shield become a wall, this shield that has defined me for so long, who will I be without it, but that voiceless, pubescent girl, naked in a room full of strangers?