I’ve been having nightmares. Not the kind that are irrational and scare the crap out of you, but full cinematic pictures that mirror real life, deep-seated psychological thrillers. The kind where you wake and you question if it was real.
This election has really done a number on me. My childhood memories of a bullying Father who knew no boundaries has me wrapped in a child-like coma, rocking in the corner of my mind repeating “I want Momma, I want Momma,” creating nightmares underneath all the outer wrappings of adulthood. I know that that little girl from way back then needs me more than ever and this is my time to help her, to help myself, and in turn to collectively help all of us.
It’s also a time for great anger and whenever I see anger, I know that anger comes from fear and behind fear is something missing, some longing. So, for me it’s a chance to look back and see why this is causing such a deep fear and deep mourning for myself. That’s how you get out of anger, fear, loathing and into elation, wonder and curiosity.
When I was 17, in May of 1988, I graduated from high school.
In April, I had come home from school to find my Mother sitting in her rocking chair on our screened in porch next to the washer and dryer.
She looks very serious, which is not unusual for her. She’s like that and I’m like her, I can switch my mood from serious to hilarious in a moment’s notice and so can she. There is something different this time though. I don’t want to talk to her, because I can sense it underneath, something is very wrong. This is something I’ve always done and we can all do, if we pay attention, we can feel what someone else is feeling.
“Mom – what’s wrong?”
“I’ve got cancer” she says in a whisper “Gaaaaddamnit.” she says, always drawing out that sound in the front and saying it like it’s one word.
I look into her eyes and all of her suffering, all of her pain, all the light that brightens her eyes is gone. She is very serious.
I hold my fists tight and start to cry and then I’m out the door and I run, down the street, around the corner and into the woods until my lungs are heaving and my legs won’t go anymore. I bend over, hands on knees, tears rushing, mind racing, heart pounding. Giant long pine straw needles cover the ground and a tree is down on the ground next to me. I put my hands on the trunk of a pine tree, look up and scream, because there is nothing else to do. My life is beginning and hers – is ending.
I am going off to the College of Charleston, on a shoe-string volleyball scholarship, a pell grant (which is government money for poor people to go to college), and no cash. I have no idea what is in store for me, but I am going, it is the only way out.
My brother Jim’s wife Tina just had a baby and I’m going to stay with them for the summer in Florida before I start school in August. I’ll watch the baby while they work. My parents are moving back to Michigan because of my Mother’s cancer. Most of my brothers and sisters live there and I guess they’ll help out while Mom is sick.
My high school graduation is a few days away and no one from my family is going to it except for me and I don’t even want to go, but Mr. Bobby Whitehead, the high school principal tells me if I don’t go to graduation I can’t get my diploma and I need that diploma to get to college.
I don’t have anything to wear and I’m definitely not wearing a dress, which is what is required for “young ladies.” I don’t have any shoes to wear either, but a friend of mine had a pair of old ugly white flats, with a diamond cut-out pattern on them that she gave me, so those are what I’ll have on my feet.
I decide that no one will know if I wear my cap and gown without anything under it except my bra and underwear. They will all think I am wearing a dress, because technically my red graduation gown will be my dress.
So, I go to graduation in my gown, we are told we cannot throw our hats a the end because it’s inappropriate and that if anyone does throw their hat they will not get their diploma. I want to throw my hat anyway, but I don’t risk it. My graduating class is 89 people, we had 93, but 4 didn’t pass, so we’re 89 now and I’m near the end of the graduation order and it feels like all day long sitting in this heat, by the dirt track in back of the school.
I finally graduate and catch a ride with someone who is “going that way.” Everyone else is going to lunch with their families or doing something to celebrate. I’m going home to pack and get the hell out of this country town.
At home, I have a bunch of journals that I wonder if I should keep, but decide that I don’t want to hold the memories in those too closely to myself. I want the freedom to become someone new, so I throw them in the trash bin.
My boxes are packed. My room is empty. Jim and my Dad take the trash up to the green boxes, where country folk take their trash, because there is no weekly trash service in the country. When they come back, Jim comes into my room and tells me “Dad took your journals out of the trash and kept them.”
“You let him?”
“What was I supposed to do, he said you were wasting good paper.”
He’s still trying to do this thing to me, to have power over me, from the time he moved in to now, it’s always a struggle to decide who is in charge. He wants me to come talk to him or challenge him, so he can prove something. That’s what guys like him do. They try to control you. They invade your privacy. They say things that cross the line of inappropriate about you. He wants to stop me from going and he’s not going to do it.
“He can have my stupid journals. There are a lot of thoughts about how much I hate him”
What I don’t say is there are love letters to girls that I have a crush on, poetry, and private thoughts that are not private now. He wants me to feel shame and in this moment – I do –but I won’t forever.
On Sunday, I get in the car with Jim, Tina, their 6-month-old baby and we drive away. Forever.
What I didn’t know then was that I was angry. I felt slighted. I felt terrible about myself and I went on that way for years. Slowly though, those things fell away. That small girl inside of me saw a way out and she took it. She couldn’t stand up to her Father, but she could get away. She didn’t know that leaving all that behind was about curiosity. She could have stayed, but she didn’t. She was curious about the world. We have a chance to stay curious, we have a chance to wonder and through curiosity and wonder, we can find elation. They are on the opposite side of anger.
I only wish I could breakthrough to the other side of this anger I feel about the election faster than I am. It took me 13 years last time. I’m hopeful that it will take much less.