The Search for Understanding

BLM Protest Indy

Early on, I was wounded by words from someone I once believed to be a friend. I was recovering from back surgery, in a great amount of pain, on even larger amounts of drugs, and I saw the picture pop up on my social media. It was of three of my friends and Chris’s new girlfriend. They’d come from the next state over and were right down the street from me, attending a fundraiser. The caption said, “These girls. <3.”

In my shock and sadness, I texted my friend and said, “I’m sitting in bed recovering from surgery and you are all five miles away, partying as if I don’t exist? Not a call? Not a text? Nothing? I guess I’m a fucking idiot for believing my friends were my friends.”

She replied, “Don’t you dare cuss at me, and don’t take your issues out on me.”

And before I could say anything more, I was blocked. Via text and on every social media channel. Erased. Eliminated.

A few weeks later, I told another friend that I felt I was being replaced so easily. There were so many pictures of Chris and his new girlfriend hanging out with those who used to be my friends, too. It was like an Exact-O knife photo: Cut this one out, add this one in, no one cares about the difference. When I told this friend how I felt, she said I was “making it all up in my head.”

Earlier this week—nearly two years after the other former friend incidents—I wrote this to another friend:

“I wanted you to know that my unfriending you on Facebook wasn’t personal. I had to unfriend everyone who immediately became friends with Chris’s new girlfriend. I wasn’t emotionally ready to see it all play out online. I’ve healed a lot since then. If you’d like to someday be friends again, I would love that. I miss you and your kids. But if you don’t, I understand.”

And after explaining to me how her divorce was far worse than mine and how her pain usurped anything I might feel, she replied, “I’m sorry you blame me for doing something that you perceive as hurtful to you.”

I texted back, “It’s not a blame thing. It’s just an ‘I was hoping my friends might think it through and give me a little more time to heal’ thing.”

And she said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Two years later, still unseen. Still unheard.

~ ~ ~

Last week, I watched 13TH with Sam—my tall, broad, blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy who had marched over 100 hours in the Cincinnati Black Lives Matters protests. He texted me every time he left and every time he returned home. I was worried about him, of course. He planted his body on I-75 to stop traffic. He could have easily been caught up in unintended violence. I worried about white supremacists, rogue cops, stray bullets. I worried he might be a random casualty.

But you know what I never worried about? I never worried about him being a target. His white skin and the blonde curls peeking out from under his ball cap kept him protected. He was not at the end of anyone’s scope. He was no one’s target.

~ ~ ~

For 400+ years, our black community has been beaten, incarcerated, killed. They have lived within a country that silences them because their skin is dark. They have endured systemic racism in every institution that is considered American. But this country was never meant for them. They were always intended to be slaves. And the 13th Amendment confirmed that. When it was no longer fashionable to hang them from trees, they were thrown into jail cells instead.

Controlled. Quieted.

No matter how much they protested, screamed, cried, begged for mercy, we have refused to hear them. Their voices have meant nothing to us. Their words, empty.

~ ~ ~

In the microcosm of my own experience, I think about the pain I have known since I came out and left my heterosexual life and marriage. It has been enough to bring me to my knees, to consider jumping from 9th floor balconies, to cry myself to sleep on so many dark, lonely nights.

And my personal pain?

The pain and erasure that has threatened to destroy me over the past three years?

It’s all-encompassing. It consumes me. It paralyzes me.

And it’s nothing when you consider the collective pain of American black lives.

~ ~ ~

Perspective.

~ ~ ~

I spent most of my life protected by white people who loved me and by white picket fences that separated me from the rest of the dark, ugly underbelly of this country.

I knew so little about systemic racism because it wasn’t about me.

It didn’t affect me.

It didn’t threaten me.

Or my mother.

Or my sister.

Or my children.

So I chose to continue not knowing the things that were vital for me to know.

~ ~ ~

In a recent Psychology Today article about the importance of being heard and understood, this quote was the one that resonated:

“… if we don’t, or can’t, experience others as understanding us—who we are and what we’re about—then all of our other wants can end up feeling relatively meaningless. Not feeling that others really know us can leave us feeling hopelessly estranged from the rest of humanity.”

I wanted my former friends to see me… really see me. To know me. To look beyond their own white picket fences into the world of same-sex attraction… and confusion… and fear… and tumult.

To see both sides of the end of my marriage. To understand that a divorce is never one-sided–not even if one spouse finally understands her true sexual orientation. The other spouse always contributes as well.

To still be considered part of the humanity I’d always experienced.

I wrote about all the things that went wrong during the divorce, including the things that were my fault.

His, too.

But no one wanted to read them.

No one wanted to know.

It was so much easier to use the Exact-O knife and cut me out of the picture. The edges were much cleaner, the resultant photo less messy.

The words were there. The story was there. My friends refused to see it.

They declined the invitation.

~ ~ ~

So, too, have we collectively declined the invitation to hear the stories of our black brothers and sisters, to acknowledge their pain and loss, to make reparations, to move toward peace and understanding.

Stepping outside of a comfort zone is hard. It challenges in ways that make us uncomfortable in our own skin and within our own experience.

But there is no true transformation until the butterfly fights its way out of the cocoon with unsteady, untested wings.

There is no understanding until we agree to dig deeply, to place our fingers in old and unrecognized wounds, to endure the pain of what we’ve chosen so far to ignore.

Internalized racism.

Internalized homophobia.

White privilege.

Heterosexual privilege.

To deny it is to refuse to hear the story.

But within the story is where the truth resides, where the hard work is done, where the next chapter begins. Or perhaps, the next book. The one where the stifled protagonist steps out of the darkness.

The one where the understanding and empathy begins.

But we must be willing to read or listen to the story to begin the understanding. We must accept the pain the words may cause. We must pick up the book and crack the spine to reach the deep, unfamiliar insides.

We must listen.

And then we must listen some more.

 

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Quarantine Thoughts

Sleepy Sissy

Everything feels especially raw right now. For the world. For each of us individually. Collectively. For me.

I have to scroll past animal rescue sites these days because I cannot save all the dogs, and there are so many dogs who need saving. I cannot look into their sad eyes and their lowered heads knowing my rescue plate is full. I simply cannot.

I’m on and off social media because it feels like a minefield. Every like—or lack thereof—on my posts and on others’ begins a story in me that I can’t stop telling, true or not.

I cannot look at pictures of those who were once in my life and who have chosen to no longer make an appearance there. I know the old adage—reason, season, or lifetime—and I know not everyone is meant to be there forever. But a mass exodus takes some extra healing time.

There are still open wounds, electric nerve shocks that are exacerbated in this time of solitude and quiet.

So much is revealed to us in the empty spaces.

Sometimes in the darkest hours of night, the memory of holding my tiny children in aching arms and inhaling their milky breath makes my whole body tremble with the corporeal loss.

I turned 50 at the beginning of the quarantine. There was no fanfare, no party, no trip. Even the dinner with my best friends was cancelled. I received two cards in the mail. Two. One was from my former babysitter, our dear family friend. In the 50 years she’s known me, she’s never missed a birthday. If no one else remembers, there is a card from her. Always. Even in the cloud of grief that followed losing her beloved husband, she showed up for me. She reminded me that I was remembered, loved, held. I want to be that kind of good. That kind of generous.

It’s interesting being 50 and approaching the first anniversary of my divorce. I am refashioning a life that’s very different from the one I knew for so many decades.

I am still becoming.

I like to think of myself as a butterfly, beautiful and free, but I am not quite there yet. I am still wrapped in the sticky, messy goo of transformation. Who I once was is still too often mired in guilt and grief while who I am meant to be shines like a faraway, lustrous beam of possibility. Yet, when I reach for that beam, my wings are still too unsteady. They need more time. I need more time. More growth. More understanding. More hours, days, months to master the art of flight. More practice in leaving behind what does not belong to me, what never did. More time learning what is, what has always been, mine to have and hold.

Perhaps I will not fully reconcile it in this lifetime. Perhaps I will never fully understand. But I am awake and aware and cognizant now. I will no longer walk through life in blind acceptance, bound by who and what I thought I should have been.

I will keep learning.

There is always so much more to learn.

Stay safe, friends. Stay healthy and whole. Be kind to yourself.

We’re all still becoming.

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Stay Gold

Zack's Lake

I hit an animal driving away from Mom’s nursing home on Christmas Eve. It was dark on the back country roads, and the little one came out of nowhere, white and fast. The thunk she made on the front of my Forester was like all the animal thunks–nauseating, heart-wrenching, far too loud for her tiny size.

I circled back to find her, searching desperately in the glow of multi-colored Christmas lights strung on rickety fencing, but she was gone. All she left behind was white fur and saliva streaks on my car, and an endless stream of tears running down my cheeks.

“Please don’t let her be a pet,” I cried into the darkness. “Not tonight. Not on Christmas Eve.”

I’ll never know if she was a pet. I just know that I hit her. My car is big, and she was… so small.

I wracked my brain to find meaning in the knowledge that I killed an innocent animal on Christmas Eve, but the only lesson I found was this: Life happens. Death happens. Relationships change. Marriages end. Families rearrange. Loved ones are lost. People come and people go. Friendships. Pets, too. Even white, small, unexpected ones. Nothing stays the same. Not even on Christmas Eve.

My four grown kids bonded over the holiday over bad beer, board games, and trail hikes. They skipped stones on the frozen pond and played catch with the pups. They ate vegetarian lasagna and peanut blossoms and molasses cookies. They half-completed a puzzle of pastel ice cream cones.

They were here. And four days later, they were gone, off to celebrate a second Christmas with their dad. I cried as I washed their sheets, and I smiled as I packed up the gifts they gave. So much happiness contained in such a short slice of time. So much sadness, too.

Our lives are different now. Reassembled in a new way. Not just by divorce, but by the passing of time as well. Sam starts his new job in July after he travels through Europe. He doesn’t yet know where he’ll be assigned. The other three will be in different colleges in three different states.

My job situation leaves my own life unsteady and unsure. I, too, could land anywhere. A different city, a different state, a park bench.

So, these days together that are few and far between? I will do my best to treasure the messes and the crumbs and the smell of stale PBR cans. I will fold their clothes and listen to them laugh and yell at each other over heated games of Yahtzee. When they ask if I want to play backgammon, I will say, “Yes. YES!”

Robert Frost knows. Ponyboy, too…

Nothing gold can stay.

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