You're the beginning of the end of me
I come from a long line of women with rhythm in their hips, juju at their fingertips, and enigma on their lips. Women who are sometimes afraid but still face the vengeful storm. We do not bite our tongues. In spite of our best efforts, even the most quiet, the most tactful the most gentle among us is known to speak truth freely. Because of these women, I have never doubted my agency even when my power was constrained by my gender, my race, my poverty, my body. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that these women could walk into a room and turn every head because of the beauty of their spirits; in spite of the fact that their laughter made you feel warmer than the sun; in spite of the fact that their delicate strong hands could heal any wound and handle any labor -- they were frequently weak when it came to love.
It would seem that there should be no downside to hope and resilience. When we, the women of my family, love, it is a primeval, vast, grinding thing. It is a beast we feed with our souls. It is a hope we sustain with our blood. Unfortunately, when we love the wrong someone, someone who is not strong enough to withstand the hurricane that is we, someone who lacks the acuity of vision to see the form within the chaos, someone whose spine is not limber enough to adjust to the infinite shifts of our moods, our creativity; when we love unwisely, we become unwell and are too strong to let go.
Most of us see the writing on the wall yet still wait until it's way too late to read it. So, we have to work to give up a little sooner, to be a bit less steadfast, to know when to cut and run, to be strong enough to be weak.
But there's something about love, something magical, that makes us want to dive deeply. When your body resounds like an instrument in your person's hands, when your heart beats to the rhythm of every love song you hear, when you are transformed into moan and sigh and gurgle just from catching a glimpse of your love's smile, well, it's hard to defend against that.
Defense Against the Dart Art
It's official. Google is old enough to drink today. And that got me thinking. About my kids who never knew a time without Google or computers in general. About how changed the world is. About how when illness stole my mother's voice, telephones were still attached to walls with long spiral cords holding their parts together. About payphones, and rusty playground equipment, and neighborhood cops, and walking places without adults because you could, and being forced to sit in the back of the classroom with the other brown kids.
When I was a kid, none of us were special. None of my friends believed the sun rose and fell just for them. No one expected to have 5 let alone 15 minutes of fame. You've heard us named before. The Latchkey Generation -- the ones who went home to empty houses and frozen dinners; the ones who learned that there's certainty and sometimes safety in being alone and taking care of yourself. Generation X -- the cipher generation, the unknown quantity who learned that no matter what someone calls us, it doesn't change who we are. No matter whether or not those who come before us see us, we're still here. The Middle Kid Creeps -- the ones who never got Big Government's attention because we were never showy, neither perfect or messed up enough to count, always flying in beneath the radar. We were the self-proclaimed losers and slackers and unworthy who took it on the chin and kept coming back for more. We were the sardonic grinners, the quixotic heroes, the persistent pains who understood the long game, the ones who still know how to bide our time.
Some of us are approaching middle age, and some of us are already there so, logically, if fairness was a thing, it should mean that the truly elderly should be passing the torch. Yup. You may not have noticed, but we're still here. In the race. In the thick of things. We're still here with our quirky ideas, our passion for the underdog, and our self-deprecating humor. We're still here. And we have kids that we nurture without smothering. And we have ideas about saving the planet. And we are passionate about social issues even when we are on opposite sides of the fence. We're here, and we're oddball adults. We understand the ones who came before us who continue to suppress us with their hunger for power, and we understand those who come after us who will eclipse us with their narcissism and greed. No need to be peppery; we get you and we don't resent you. Not really. It would just be kind of cool if you guys refrained from breaking the planet so that our kids could maybe not die in a high school shooting or maybe have oceans that could sustain life. Just a suggestion. It would also be cool if, you know, you would not undo hundreds of years of social progress either through active hatred or passive acquiescence.
Of course, it's hard to define a generation or to paint one broadly with only one stroke. We are, after all, a group of individuals as contradictory as that may seem. Nevertheless, since hitting my 50s, I have found that my comfort in my own skin has led me to be rather fond of the group that I am lumped together with. We speak in jingles and comic book heroes all the while trying to save the world and sell the disenfranchised hope for the future. We speak geek and have sharp tongues all the while wrapping our hurts in dark cloth humor. And even though we are not waiting for our closeups, each of our lives has a soundtrack which includes music for the lonely, the quirky, the resilient, the invisible revolutionaries that we are.
Tip of My Tongue
A couple of years ago, I was out on an errand for our 4-H club, delivering lollipop thank you bouquets to strangers when I happened upon a part of Laramie that I had no idea existed. My past experiences with trailer parks and rural poor areas filled with white people have generally not been good. I used to work as an outreach counselor to teach literacy to women from those areas, and let's just say that the people living in those places had a lot invested in letting me know that, despite the difference in our class status, they were better than me because of the color of my skin. In addition, I was the "do-gooder" interloper driving a wedge between husbands and wives, parents and children, abusers and victims by challenging generations with the belief that they could make their lives better by breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. I was always by myself and, while there was never any real violence, sometime things got tense. So, when I found this neighborhood of trailers and hodgepodge houses with yards full of rusty trucks and farm equipment, my body responded. My hands shook, my heart beat faster, my mouth felt dry, but I had the kids in the car, and I didn't want to teach them to fear and judge based on experiences they never had. I played it cool, voice laden with false cheer, music turned to low. The girl thought it was all some fun adventure, but the boy didn't quite buy my charade. He nodded, once, succinctly, and stared out the car window murmuring about guns. You see, he too is familiar with the South and rural areas. We drove in circles for a while over the dusty, gravelly, lanes, trying to find some indication of name or number to help us find the person we were looking for. When I finally found my destination, I hissed (gently) at the kids to stay in the car, picked my way through the tall grass and weeds pushing through the concrete driveway, and tried to decide which one of the many doors was the front one. I knocked on the one in the middle. It took a while, or at least it seemed like it did, for anyone to open the door. I was just about to leave when a man peered out of the third door. Besides him being white and older than me, I have no recollection whatsoever about what he looked like, but he was friendly. We chatted at cross purposes, his version of 4-H (animals, ranching, and markets) radically different from my own (science, technology, art). The kids, always happy to meet a new kind person, jumped out of the car and chased the dogs barking at us and weaving through our legs. I handed him his bouquet of sweets. He stared at it awkwardly while I muttered thanks for his support of 4-H, and the conversation dwindled and stilled. On our way out, away from this pocket of reality and back towards our home, I noticed that all of the piled up rusty cars, trucks and machine parts were quite pretty in their own way. Like hedges delineating boundaries, marking transitions between past and future.
Rust Truck Hedges
Ruminations on My 600 LB Life
600 lb Life (song lyrics)
There are a few things that my poor husband is forced to do on the down low like ordering Papa John's pizza, watching the republican and democratic conventions and debates, listening to crappy classic rock, and watching Bill Maher. I try hard, but I just can't keep myself from ranting for hours whether or not I'm standing on a soapbox, and Bill Maher, with his smug McDouche face is one of those people who just sets me off. Recently, Maher expressed his clearly well-researched and thought out position that fat people need more intolerance because, evidently, hate is the way to effect positive social change. It's brave stuff, that, bullying people for failing to live up to social norms.
James Cordon, who is also on my list of one of the sexiest humans (yes, there's a list, don't judge), had a brilliant response, but I wanted to weigh in (hee hee) as well.
It's well and good to tell people that hate and intolerance are wrong, but knowing that has yet to put an end to them. I think it is instructive, therefore, to consider exactly what bothers people about the size of someone else's body. And before you start lying to yourself or others that it has anything at all to do with concern for fat people's physical and emotional well being, well, let's just say that "concern" is typically not expressed through violence of word or deed.
I can't say that Death and I hold hands, stare into one another's eyes, and whisper sweet nothings. Nor can I say that I am so obsessed with his existence that I steal his diary and read it just to find mentions of my name. Instead, we are simply acquaintances -- being sometimes on friendlier terms than others. I have grown used to Death hanging out on the fringes of my friend circle along with his annoyingly pushy cousin Sickness (no boundaries, that one!). Still, in spite of the many times that he and I have had occasion to hang out in hospitals, restaurants, basements, and swimming pools, the truth is, the guy is no barrel of laughs. Over the last couple of years, though, the bastard has simply gone too far. It was one thing when Sickness, Death and I hung out on the regular. I mean, I have grown used to the idea of my own demise. And, while I am not rushing off to hand myself over to him, I'm not afraid of him either. At least, not for myself. Nevertheless, over the last few years, particularly this one, Death has taken way too many people that I love, and Grief just won't let go of my big toe.
We all know that love makes you vulnerable. From the second that your child takes its first breath or from the moment that "like" blooms into schnieke scheisse and you're in love, you know that something in you will always be held hostage. Those are the big feels for the big relationships. But what I've struggled with this year and the year before that and the year before that is how easy it is to lose people before you've lost them, and how impossible it is to recover any of that time once they're gone.
My step-sister died this summer and, despite having our lives yoked together for more than 40 years, we were not close. There was no real reason for the distance between us outside of an irrelevant origin story and inertia. I loved her and love her still after her passing, but my love for her was a pale, sickly sproutling that needed more tending to grow into what it was meant to be. We spoke infrequently. I am bad at talking to people and rarely notice time passing. It makes people feel forgotten since, most of the time, I neglect to tell them how much they live in my heart and head. Every once in a while I would reach out to her. Check up. Check in. But her life was more figurative to me that something real.
She had cancer, my sister. For years. I kept tabs on her through other family members, but I never called her directly. Not once did I ever cuddle her children, my niece and nephew, nor did I ever tell them that I was proud of the adults they were becoming. This is not self-flagellation. Certainly, I could say the same for the amount of effort she put into being a part of my life. But, this post is not about tit for tat. This post is about the emptiness that comes from understanding that you missed out on something good.
I was at my birth sister's house when my step-sister died. I had driven almost 1800 miles to see my nephews and to pick up my son. I had 4 other sisters (3 now) with prefixes like "step" and "foster" and "other," and while the act of applying a largely meaningless prefix should not have meant stipulating a condition, it did. I did my normal visit, keeping things simple, not reaching out to my heart shadows, and just as it was time for me to drive back home, she died. It seemed sudden, even though I knew she had been well acquainted with Sickness and Death. No matter how much I could tell myself that, logically, the loss of her, of having her on the periphery of my life, was not that great, it was a lie. It was a lie because, you see, I always believed that we would have time. Somewhere in my heart of hearts, I believed that we would go out to dinner together, share stories about our kids, talk about church, compare notes on remaining hope-filled in the face of despair. We would put aside outdated misconceptions and greet each other in the here and now. But I missed it. That opportunity. I missed her. I miss her still.
So, there I was at her funeral listening to people I never met talk about a sister I had barely known. I knew about the child, but the woman she had been, goodness gracious, the woman was spectacular. She was brave, and strong, and faith filled, and hopeful. She was an amazing mother not just to her children, but to everyone who needed someone loving and kind in their lives. She inspired passionate devotion in her friends, all of whom would have sold some part of themselves if it meant taking away a part of her pain. And yet, she never complained or asked for anyone other than herself to be responsible for lightening her burden. I listened and, like a voyeur peeping an unfinished masterpiece, I selfishly grieved.
It's been months now, and I still don't know how to frame this loss that both is and is not mine to feel.
Ashes to Ashes
The space between
The tears we cry is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
David John Matthews / Glen Ballard, "The Space Between"