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.

anyone can get to normal.

When I was a child growing up in rural Michigan with my nine brothers and sisters, life was normal. Our Father, who was married to someone else the entire time he and my Mother were having children together, had multiple women friends all over the state of Michigan. Our life was normal. Normal? Yes, because it’s all we knew – and what could we do about it anyway? We were children.

When my Father’s wife finally left him and he had had enough time to convince my Mother that he had changed, she finally married him. This became the new normal.

My Father wanted to raise us right, so he took away the freedom that my mother allowed us – to run wild and free in the swales, swamps, and forests of our small town. He turned off the tv and turned on old music from Jim Reeves, like:

He’ll have to go

Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone.
I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low.
And you can tell your friend there with you, he’ll have to go.

At where I am now in my life now, I see that he was trying to help and trying to do something good for us in the only way he knew how, but there was one thing missing.

A conversation.

This guy moved into our house, he was a man I barely knew, even though he was my Father – he changed the rules, changed the locks, changed the tone, without ever telling us why he was doing it, what good it would be for us, or ask what we thought about it.

We were children.

There was one thing he couldn’t take from us though – the fact that we never invited him, we never asked for him – we did not vote for this. And those of us in the family that were young and had many years left to live with this guy, had to figure out how to cope.

Initially, at ten, I tried to kill myself, by hanging myself from a curtain cord in a Days Inn motel room, in Ocala, Florida, where we were on vacation. Vacation for us, meant that we lived in a motel room in Florida, instead of in a house in Michigan, there was no trip to Disney, no fun for a kid. My parents played cards and my brother and I, who were the two youngest, sat in the air conditioned room, longing to be home.  This new normal was not anything I wanted to be a part of. I was getting out whatever way I could. I wasn’t successful in this cry for help and no one even noticed that I tried. My Mother came in while I was hanging from this cord and said. “Get down from there Amy Beth!”  I never tried again. I knew it wasn’t the answer – and I know that it is not the answer.

I don’t know how or why – even at ten – I knew that one day I would not have to deal with this guy anymore. He could control this small part of my life, but he couldn’t control how I related to it, or my future.

This memory serves me well today, in this time, when we have a President-elect that is not normal. Someone who thinks he’s the only guy with the answer. Where millions of people did not vote for him, where his idea of a rigged election became our nightmare.

Where he’s trying to make us believe that everything will be fine. Where he’s implying that he’s got this. And all along, he’s installing men, who are exactly like him in positions of power. It’s not normal and yet –  it’s the new normal

What’s missing?

A conversation. Our president-elect has not engaged with us in any appropriate manner. That’s what narcissists do. It is not normal.

We should not let it be normal.

We cannot let it be normalized unless we want to fade away.

What can we do?

We can contribute in the way we know how. Whatever your talent, you can offer it out to the world, if you are a healer – heal, a writer – write, an activist – act, a mother – raise your children to think for themselves, a father – have that conversation with your children, a teacher – teach, a reader – read.  Do what you know how to do.

Now is the time to create the new normal within ourselves.

We are not children anymore.

and some day – he’ll have to go


Hope does not come from being in the light.
Hope comes from being in the dark.

These are dark days – even the season is pushing us to go into the dark and reflect and find hope for the Spring.

It would be easy to turn away from the darkness – to turn on the light.
Sometimes staying with and holding onto the darkness is what we need to find the light.

I think back to when my Mother died and how dark that time was for me.
I turned away from grief then.
I was young, I did not yet have the skills to cope or understand that I needed to grieve and to wallow until I was ready to inch forward.
Instead I moved full-steam ahead, grasping at any light that would get me through.
It only brought me more darkness and with that came emptiness.

If we always look for light out there, we are starting in the wrong place.
The light is not out there, it’s in all of us and sometimes we have to have to go into the dark and be gentle on ourselves and grieve for the light we’ve lost.

It may take a long time, it may take 4 years, but what is four years in a lifetime? A long time to grieve, yes, but life is long.

I want to be angry, but right now, there is nothing but sadness.
I want to grieve and allow the time for uncontrollable sobbing.
I want to take a long look at myself and try to understand my own fear, hate, and bigotry – because this darkness is somehow a reflection of all of us. I want to stay with this darkness.

Darkness gives us the chance to find meaning. It gives us the ability to make change. It gives us the ability to make real change. Not ones that we’ve known before, not what we think change looks like, but what it really is and sometimes that is the scariest place – not knowing.

While this might sound a lot like hope, there’s much work to be done to get to hope

David Whyte says it this way in his poem Sweet Darkness:

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

Now is not the time for hope. It is time to go into the sweet darkness. Hope will come, it always does. And you know what hope does?
Hope gives us the ability to see that there is light, our challenge is to find it.

Our challenge is to help those that don’t have the skills to grieve, help those who have only known darkness, help each other find our way through this darkness.

This is our wake up call – are we willing?

The only way out of this darkness is through.