There are some changes on the horizon

It’s been a while. Then again, that cycle of summer processing seems to be upon me. In my defense, I’ve also been trying to put off processing through a few recent developments. Prop 57 has impacted my mother’s sentence, as well as a few programs she’s involved herself in over the last decade. It looks like she’s out on early release. Nine months from now actually, give or take. I thought we had another couple years.

I don’t really know how to feel about it yet. I’m not as freaked out as I thought I would be but that’s also because it feels like I’m sitting in the road watching a truck come straight for me. Obviously, that’s mildly dramatic. That truck could be a figment of my imagination.

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I think the most profound aspect of this news that has me boggled is how this will affect my art. For most of my life, my writing, art, and other coping mechanisms were populated with prison themes: time, loss, abandonment. I never had to dip my pen in different ink.

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty sick of dealing with prison themes. I never wanted to let her life choices define my own but I also couldn’t deny myself the experience of them. What a weird, tangled web I found myself in.

The good news is she’s more freaked out than I am. I’m trying my best not to have sympathy for her but I can’t help it. It’s going to be really weird for her. When she went in, dial-up was common place and people still used AOL.

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The transition process is going to be shocking to her system. She claims to be all hardened and whatnot (and I’m sure she is), but I know there are going to be a LOT of midnight phone calls where she’s crying and frustrated because something in her house keeps making a noise or she can’t figure out how to listen to a voicemail or something. I expect this.

I will also not be her metaphorical crying shoulder. I will be a helpful daughter on my own terms, with lots and lots of boundaries. I might finally be able to start throwing away some of her mail.

My sister just told me she’s been throwing her letters away. I’ve kept every single one, including envelopes, for this whole damned sentence. I sort of just want to burn them but I feel like there’s a really good art project in store for them. Hopefully with a different theme.

Does this mean that I can give myself permission to stop fixing all the broken pieces? I’ve long known I’m awesome and been grateful for the challenges she’s thrown my way but I’m still a product of my circumstances. I’m actually sort of concerned for my own children. They won’t have nearly the amount of depth I do, which both worries and delights me.

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She’s going to make it to my college graduation.

It’ll be the first graduation she’s ever made it to (besides elementary school which doesn’t really count). I’m actually really happy about it.

God, I hate writing about this stuff. It’s all so damned heavy and while necessary, I can feel myself sounding like a broken record. I’m just ready for it to be over. Maybe I’ll actually go back into my darkroom again. Maybe I’ll shoot some film again.

I swear, if she tries to bake me cookies and do my fucking laundry though I’m going to lose it.

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Rumi always taught me to break things down

Do I pick male relationships and friendships because I know they will end? Is it some form of self destruction? Is it to punish myself, ensuring that eventually they either fade away or destroy me, so that I’m stuck in a constant cycle of grieving? Is it that I am obsessed with feeling pain or going totally numb?

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I have lately been trying to cultivate my female friendships. This sorority has opened up doors for me in a way I never knew or thought possible. Everyday that I talk to a sister, I realize I’m missing the guidebook that most girls learn throughout their lives. I think that scares me. I always keep everyone at arms length. I do my best to be authentic and genuine but sometimes its necessary to smile and nod with everyone else because their nuances I don’t understand yet.

I find that when I choose a male friend, I already know what kind of personality they have from the moment I decide to invest energy in that relationship. When I find a female friend, I stand guarded, as if preparing for battle. I can feel this rustle of dragon armor, alerted by any possible action out of place.

I think that’s why I’ve avoided them for so long.

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It only just dawned on me that it’s not that women aren’t good friends and I’m saving myself from inevitable pain. Female friendships are potentially lifelong in a way that scares me. I’ve only ever had lifelong friends in family members. Except for the occasional boyfriend, I’ve only ever left myself raw with my sister.

I had one best friend in high school that was a girl. We were so close it was like family. I never worried about judgement or anything like that because we were so open with each other, we had no fear. And then something changed, I think it was just a natural progression of growing up, and I never really got over the idea that every future girlfriend would be some sort of backstabber or painful enemy. Weirder still as that even that specific best friend and I never really stabbed each other in the back, we just went our separate ways.

I know how to deal with break ups on some level. I’ve never dealt with any intensely long term ones but the few men I’ve loved, I’ve loved more deeply than I think I’ve let myself feel for my friends. It’s like wild abandon when I fall in love, both freeing and unbelievably merciless. It may be cheesy but it’s totally like the buildup before a roller coaster. My heart unfolds like a lotus releasing water and slowly builds up to a strong exterior.

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It’s like I decide to let all the men I love be the ones with the power to heal me. In the end they’re the only ones I let in. And for the longest time I had always chalked it up to mommy issues and even though that may be true, is that the whole truth? Have I been slowly convincing myself that I should live alone quietly just to avoid peace and happiness? I definitely hesitate more when I think about going out with girlfriends one on one. My first thought is always, what will we have to talk about? What if they don’t like me? What if I say something stupid or there’s a lull in the conversation? What joke will I make then?

My last relationship was a doozy. But it also taught me a lot about dealing with manipulative people and so for that, I am grateful to have felt the pain. But what about with women? I’ve had girlfriends in most of my life and while we weren’t exactly sisters, we got pretty close. And then something would happen, so and so talked crap about this or blah blah hooked up with this guy and people would disappear and it felt petty but I’m realizing slowly, that stuff does matter. It’s important to know where your loyalties should lie and it’s important to also build up those kinds of skills in yourself. I thought they were petty because I’ve always been a fiercely loyal person, except I’ve made mistakes in the past too and people learn at different paces.

So then I realize that my role in most relationships has been “the mother”. Which is definitely something I’ve been working on. I do not wish to mother anymore. So if I can’t mother, what the hell do I do? What other role is there?

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I don’t even know what positions to apply for. I think back on qualities of friends I’ve observed and I get most of my information from books and movies. I observe as much as I can in real life situations but it doesn’t always apply because I haven’t memorized the moves yet.

I have a friend I want to let in. She’s the most terrifying adventure on the horizon. It’s so silly but I can feel it, we could be friends for a ridiculously long time. Like really, really good friends. So why does that scare me so much?

It’s taken me several months of dipping my feet in the pool to prepare myself to jump in. I’ve set it up next semester so that I’m hugely involved in all of the events and I’ve joined this suicide prevention organization that will be working on campus too to help remove the stigma associated with depression. This means lots of working one on one with feelings and listening and lots of sisterhood commitments. I’m taking Tai Chi right afterwards and I feel like that’s going to be my favorite class. I know that all of this will work its way out and I can feel time slowly peeling off layers on my exterior. I always thought you had to heal something from the inside out for it to feel better. I think I really needed to do that for a while. Now, I’m going to try something different.

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Fall, Metaphor, Fall

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I keep complaining that I’m too old for college. I keep seeing everyone else I know on Facebook with their new careers and various professions, and I think to myself, ‘god, why am I taking so long to get my life started?’ And then, just a minute ago I realized that college is really damned good for me. I don’t know how to be a friend to people, I don’t know how to have fun responsibly, I don’t know how to be an adult. I don’t know how to get my shit together. I picked a great fucking time in my life to really just get it all out. I think my mother failed because she had a kid so young. I mean I can’t imagine having an eight year old by my side right now and I know that I’m like that old kid in college but whatever. I’m learning so much about myself right now and I honestly can’t imagine having to do it differently.

I got that dating app, Bumble. I don’t know why exactly I decided to use it. Most of those things are usually catered towards booty calls and fuck buddies like Tinder but I think because it’s so fledgling, there are actually a couple people on there worth texting. It may sound naive, but honestly I can’t imagine being apart of some crazy circle jerk with frat guys and I swear, I’m no homie hopper.

There are definitely the creepers on there but for the most part, the guys seem pretty tame. I am constantly reminded that I am behind. Seeing as the format is such that the female starts the conversation, I have no idea what to say to someone who’s already in the midst of their career. Usually, it’s just random shit I think of that theoretically I would say to someone in a bar or in public. I try to be as authentic as I can. Sometimes, it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In a weird way, it’s totally liberating.

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What it has made me realize though is that I have a lot to learn. There is someone real. There is someone out there who totally fits with me. I may not find him on some online dating app, but he’s out there and I’ve discovered I’m on a quest for something real.

Sex sucks sometimes. Relationships suck sometimes. Everything, on some level, really sucks sometimes. But I think what determines whether it’s worth fighting for is the good stuff too. How high can I get when I’m happy? How much does it fill me up? How do I attempt this task without getting too invested too soon?

I have an attachment problem. I know this. My life coach and I talk about this. It stems from my unconscious abandonment anxiety. It lives, it breaths. I can feel it whenever I walk through campus. It perches on my shoulder and tells me everyone is leaving me. It lives in my mind as I try to sleep.

I see the ghosts of all the faces I miss and all the people I’ve lost and I constantly grieve for people that mean nothing. In the end, I know that I will find peace and so I live my waking moments grasping at straws trying to piece together a puzzle I seem to never fully understand. And that’s okay. Because I think I still have a crap ton of stuff to get out of my system that I didn’t know was alive.

My aunt told me that your mind can only process one emotion at a time. When dealing with trauma, it is largely incapable of deciphering things it doesn’t want to recognize as part of the problem. That’s why things move so slowly. One minute, I think I’ve processed enough to move past old problems, and the next I’m bludgeoned over the head with something I dealt with years ago. All the anger aside, I recognize that life is about struggle. I wholeheartedly embrace that part. It fuels my need to create, express, articulate. It is a part of me.

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As the air to cools and I remember last fall, I know why this is my favorite time of year. I send my blessings to the people who fill me up with frustration because it drives me to refocus. I feel the humidity change and I know it’s time to begin the next phase of evolution. I can’t wait to change I can’t wait to be different.

Letters I’ll never send pt.2

Dear mom

I’m frustrated that our relationship takes place over the telephone. I hate that I don’t recognize your hands or your face, that I don’t instinctively know how tall you are next to me; that I haven’t seen you age.

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I hate that I’ve had to create boundaries and walls because you don’t respect my space. I’m frustrated that it took you leaving to finally appreciate my value. I hate that leaving made you crazy and institutionalized. I am angry that there are so many times I’ve wanted you next to me, and now after all these years of learning to do it all without you, you’re soon to be released. I am terrified of seeing you all the time, of letting your craziness into my beautifully crafted existence. I have nurtured my soul for so long, healing it from the pain of your absence. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do once you’re actually present. What kind of healing will I be forced to endure then? What kind of anger or apathy will course through me at that point?

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I hate to say this, but I think you should stay where you are, alone in Bakersfield where you can’t hurt anyone else. But I also know I don’t believe that cuz I’m kind of curious to study you and your strange tendencies. Like some sort of flower I planted and forgot about.

For so long I mourned your loss and now I’ll be mourning your arrival. It’s so strange that time moved by so quickly. I never thought this time would come. I remember being 12 thinking, wow 14 years that’ll never get here fast enough. It’s been a long time coming and I wish I could just press pause and slow it all down.

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I know I’ll never send you this draft and I have a couple other letters where I call you a bunch of ugly names and say terrible things. I think I even wrote you a hate poem if that’s what I should call it. A hate poem. Lots of stuff your devout head would cringe hearing. Then I think about the meeting we had last where you said all those nasty things about daddy and manipulated me into visiting you and all the torturous terrible crap you pulled TEN YEARS LATER after you claimed you had changed and now I realize more and more all the things your brother and sister said about you were one hundred percent true and I really DO remember more than I want to because I’ve repressed so much evil stuff you did just so that I could actually enjoy talking to you on the phone. I used to pray I could compartmentalize like all the men I’ve dated. I realize I already have that talent, I just only apply it when it comes to you.

I hate that I enjoyed our phone conversation yesterday. I hate that we actually laughed and I wasn’t furious with you when we hung up. Because annoyingly enough, I felt a lot better when the call ended. I felt like I had lifted myself up and began more healing.

Sometimes I wonder if school is just my alone time. Like my whole life revolves around you and your actions and then I go to school for a semester and it becomes about me again and when it ends, I finally have the energy to think about my feelings. And I hate that I feel like I ALWAYS NEED TO DO DEAL WITH MY FEELINGS. I hate that I’m also grateful for them. I hate that I do not regret the way things have gone and that I wouldn’t want to be anyone else or have a different life because for so long and as countless journals full of hate poems over the years will tell you, I used to. Acceptance is a bittersweet feeling I have come to terms with and yet I find myself rebelling against my own acceptance. And now the ramblings of my once angsty self have quieted and yeah, fuck you.

I feel much better now, thank you for being my constant outlet for anger. Now onto the next draft, the one that won’t hurt your feelings.

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I remember

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I like this time of year because I’ve always lived in the same place. Every time I smell the air and feel the chill or the wind picks up at just the right moment, it’s like this transportation back to random moments that smelled the same or felt the same. Depending on the music, it’s like I don’t even exist in this time or place.

I remember being very little, perched on the edge of the top of the staircase watching my mom vacuum the hallway to her room. There was this awful orange shag carpet throughout the whole house. It never got clean but she vacuumed it all the time. I used to hum to the sound of the vacuum, trying to harmonize with the loud sounds. I think it somehow soothed me. I was driving home today and remembered there were two closets in that hallway. I’d completely forgotten them there. One was for the vacuum the other one I don’t remember but I think they had wooden sliding doors. The vacuum closet makes the same sound closing as my vacuum closet does now. I never noticed that before.

I remember the smell of the carpet, the smell of the house. I remember sitting in the office and the smell would sort of build up in that room when all the doors were closed. My brothers room was next door. I don’t remember what we did with it once he moved out. I do remember it was a man cave for her ex husband at one point. Beyond that, I don’t know what happened to it.

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I remember the CDs my brother bought my before my first semester in middle school when he told me it was his job to make sure I was cool. He got me Sublime and Ima Robot. I remember being in the auditorium after violin or improv classes listening to those CDs as I jumped around the wooden fold down chairs. I remember the smell of that place too. Very cold and tall.

I remember when my first real love in high school came to my house and wore my favorite pajama bottoms even though they were too short, I have no idea what became of those either. I had another dog at that point. She drowned a couple years later.

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Facebook has this weird ability to remind me of all these people and the lives they still lead. I forget that time goes on for them too. My best friend in high school has been messaging with me and it’s kind of like a lot of things have come full circle lately. Weirdest part was remembering that was 8 years ago when we got high and sat on a neighbors lawn looking at their blow up Christmas lights. I remember the pants I wore not fitting properly and a rather unfortunate camel toe. I remember when I had no hair and hats helped me stay warm. I pity you short haired men during these months. You must have endless supplies of beanies.

I traded cigarettes for friends

Last weekend I discovered a major dissatisfaction within my life: the inability to understand women both globally and individually. I’ve been missing out on a fundamental aspect of most girls’ lives. Growing up, my mother did not have any healthy relationships with women. I’m beginning to understand that even the few girlfriends she did have did not like her very much.

I’ve always felt like there was something missing in my life. I’ve tried filling the hole with a ton of different solutions and while they may work out temporarily, often times they fail and leave me with even more confusing questions than when I began.

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I’ve been going through this sort of reinvention phase of my life. I ended a failed relationship with my ex-boyfriend, moved into my own apartment, went pescatarian, quit smoking (finally!), changed my wardrobe, deleted all my social media (I’m back on it now), and really took stock of what my life contained. When classes started I knew I needed to join something, some sort of club or sports team or anything really that would get me involved with a bunch of people who enjoyed the same things I did. Only problem: I have a broken toe (the most annoying injury ever that’s likely going to take about 6 months to heal) and a torn rotator cuff. Suffice to say, my dreams of sports and activities were put on the back burner right around the same time I officially started classes at my new, four year university. Goodbye community college, hello student loans! Except, here I was completely stranded and totally alone. Although I wasn’t far from home, I wanted to taste that independence I’d dreamt about.

I think I called a few people crying during my latest meltdown. I spent the days questioning my decisions, terrified of the idea of failure and total loneliness. In the back of my mind I think I knew it would get better but it kind of felt like everything was falling down and all the hopes I’d prepared were doomed from the get go.

Part of my list of activities I’d wanted to investigate were the campus sororities. My brother was in a fraternity and loved it. The morning after my meltdown I figured, fuck it, why not just see what it was all about. I did the online training (anti hazing, anti drugs/drinking information), paid the $60 and headed off to the info seminar Friday afternoon. I think by the end of the info session I was pretty much sold. I saw how all the girls on the council flowed together.

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The most intriguing part was by far the organization itself. As I came to discover over the recruitment weekend, there were so many traditions, rituals, and rules set down to make the experience as unbiased as possible. I had no idea what any of the house reputations were, what the rumors were, anything. I just knew the women in lines around me. For those few days of uncertainty, before we received our bids and decided our chapters, we all timidly decided to be friendly to one another. We marveled at the decorations and each other’s outfits. We discussed make up and shoes and our nerves whenever we heard the clapping and chanting coming from behind the closed party doors. We lined up in alphabetical order and speculated what the reasons for it were. Come to find, the recruitment process had been so detail oriented, the chapters researched us in depth before we even entered the room. Our online applications had been thoroughly examined and pairs pre-made.

The first day I left and walked home, I felt so insanely connected with the mass of women I’d spent the previous hours with. I knew that I didn’t like all of them and yet it didn’t really matter because we were all experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. We all wanted the same thing: a place to belong, a home.

We weren’t allowed to talk to one another as all 400 of us waited in line to put our final bids into the computers; but we did. We weren’t allowed to call our parents and ask their opinions; but we did. We weren’t supposed to check our facebooks or anything; but we did. And we all rolled our eyes when we got yelled at and we all laughed when the group leaders walked away. We stood nervously, anticipating the end of the weekend and the ensuing festivities. 

When I walked to get my bid the next day, I forced myself to wait an hour before getting my final answer. I cried when I opened up my manila envelope. I cried when I ran down the aisle of screaming students, hoping I didn’t face plant. I cried as I hugged everyone. 

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These women would make ice if you let them

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            Feelings for me get pretty tricky. I used to feel them so much and so often, I had to turn them off for a long time. Eventually that would erupt into some kind of giant crying scene complete with me writing poems for hours and smudging around the ink with my tears, feeling very sorry for myself wondering how the world could have wronged me so. But then again that was fourteen for most I believe. Then all those angry years took all the tears and turned themselves into screams and broken glass from all the bottles I smashed in my alley when I couldn’t figure out what to do with all those feelings.

            It’s taken some time but I don’t really do any of those things anymore. I know part of the mess was hormones but it was also that my mom and I were learning how to grow up together. She went through a lot of passive aggressive attitudes and dirty maneuvers before she became someone I wanted to talk to. She told me I was a druggy (because I’d smoked weed and drank alcohol at a friend’s house in high school). She told me I was neglecting her because I didn’t come to visit more than twice a year – even though it’s a four and half hour drive (one way) and I was only fifteen. She called me repeatedly throughout the day to talk to me even if my friends were around and I couldn’t hang up because of the guilt I felt if I didn’t stay on the phone – not to mention the manipulation I’d be unwittingly forced to endure for days (even weeks) on end.

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            And then I she wrote me her last horrible, seven page “intervention” letter for my 18th birthday and I didn’t talk to her for a year. She stopped. We’ve both grown up since then.

            It took me a long time to visit her after I started talking to her again. I’ve been back once or twice since my 21st birthday.

            But it doesn’t fail to amaze me each time she makes me feel better when I don’t even know I’m down. Since I’ve never had a conventional mother-daughter relationship, I’ve never had one to compare myself to. I’ve seen things from a window I’ve always looked in on but never experienced. And I still don’t really know what it is that I’m a part of. It’s like a horribly unhealthy relationship that finally blossomed. I feel like our bond is kindred to tales of those old, aging sisters that live off in some secluded house on the top of a hill somewhere who spend their days making jam and painting.

            Whenever there’s a separation from someone who’s supposed to be an instrumental part of your life and they come back, there’s this awkwardness. What do we do now? How do we act? Where do I put my hands? Is it okay to laugh at this? Am I holding on too long? Can we sit in comfortable silence? What now? And even at visiting, there’s still a little bit of that. But over the phone and via letter, it’s completely washed away. Ironically enough, I feel closer to her when I only hear her voice than when I hold her hand. Because in person, she’s still a stranger to me — but her voice, I know it by heart.

            She tells me I’m a good person, that she wants me to dream big, that I’m smart, tough, strong, loved, needed, beautiful. She tells me things I’ve never known I needed to hear. My dad has always said those things (albeit sparingly, he stresses the intelligence thing, that I’m the spitting image of him and therefore beautiful, all in good humor of course) but for whatever reason, hearing it from her makes it feel a little realer. And I feel bad that I didn’t know I was unsatisfied with my dad’s validation but to be honest, a mother’s love is different. Plus, considering she’s somewhat of a hardened OG nowadays it’s even more of a ego boost than it might’ve been before.

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She told me today that she makes 15 cents an hour. That she’s happy she got a new job and took the pay cut even though she was making significantly more before (enough to support herself). She said being able to work at night and see the moon and be surrounded by quiet is worth more than money. She said it was the first time she’d been outside at night in nearly ten years. That made me cherish the moonlight a little bit more.

 

Park Rangers, shotguns, and misconceptions

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Last night my friends and I ended up surrounded by a couple of park rangers. We were camping at a relatively active ground and to be honest it probably wasn’t the best place to set up for the night. But it was our friend’s birthday and we didn’t really have the time or resources to make it happen anywhere else.

So mid-shotgun, freshly popped beer can in my hand, my index finger poised at the aluminum tab, came very bright flashlights and a stern voice telling us to stay where we are. Now this being real life and whatnot there were a few of us there who weren’t of age so they hassled us, ticketed the minors, and required that we empty out the rest of our alcohol because we were giving it to “children”. It felt like pouring liquid money out onto our prohibited wood fire burning off in the distance. My few sips of Riesling were used to douse the lingering smoke. It smelled awful when we finally finished pouring out the beer.

When I was sixteen, I had my nose broken by a police officer. He elbowed me in the face while he was strapping my arms and legs onto the stretcher in the back of the ambulance I totally didn’t need or request. Because I had refused medical service, I was deemed unfit to determine my own needs and therefore they were able to send for one anyway. A year later when we got the $900 bill for the “medical attention”, it burned hot with the blood in my cheeks.

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Three armed cars and six fully loaded officers had us surrounded in the two bedroom apartment. By my shoulders, they dragged me handcuffed and barefoot through the glass from the window they’d broken as my cousin and aunt cried from the inside of the house. I was in pajamas and my uncle had called the police on my aunt as a means of vindictive revenge because she’d taken a bath too long the night before and they always had a sick and twisted relationship, filled with abuse, both mental and physical. My father, his brother, was furious when he came to find me in the hospital with a bloody nose, handcuffed to a bed and surrounded by police officers. I was detained for several hours while I waited to speak to the chief. I had serious back, shoulder, and neck injuries and I still hear my nose click when I wiggle it around. It took months for all the glass to leave the bottoms of my feet.

For a long time when I went to visit my mother, this memory haunted me. I know it’s not quite like the PTSD most soldiers experience when they come back from war but it was still freakin’ traumatic and it took me a really long time to refrain from shaking openly in front of the guards at visiting.

To this day, I still feel my pulse quicken as I stare at the uniforms processing me into the prison.

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So when the park ranger told us that if we weren’t breaking the rules we had no reason to be scared, I told him that wasn’t true. That a police officer broke my nose for no reason and I had to live with that for the rest of my life and when he asked me why I felt like I needed to share that, I told him he shouldn’t make false statements based on nothing. So even though we were all breaking rules I would have been brought back to the same place in time, the same screams and tears I heard as the six officers arrested my aunt for a bath and the time when they put my mom in the back of a police car where she’d be shipped off to live for the next sixteen years.

The lady cop tried to say I had been a danger to the man who hit me and that his force was probably necessary to protect himself but all I did was look her in the eye and think how full of shit she was.

Don’t get me wrong, police are people too and the guards at visiting are actually surprisingly nice. I know there are a lot of good ones out there and I can’t say the exceptions prove the rule, but to be honest everyone has skeletons in their closet and I hope they think again before guessing someone’s tolerance to a uniform.

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Fluff & Mold

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Sometimes, because of all the events that have happened with my mom, I forget to remember my dad. Which is a shame because he’s probably the most genuinely good person I know. I’ve heard it said that daughters look for men like their fathers. I really hope that’s true. It used to kind of freak me out a little, I’m not sure why but it did; the idea that I’d be with someone like him.

When you’re little, it’s so easy to see the faults in a person, especially family. When you get older, I suppose the only thing you really try to overcome is that stupid voice in your head that gets judgmental and cynical, the one that tells you what you should and shouldn’t do based on even sillier reasons, ideas you develop about someone when they’re based on nothing but fiction.

I’ve had this anxious voice in my head telling me who I should be and what I should do for most of my conscious adult life and the strange part is my dad is nothing like that. I have no idea where that voice came from. I’d like to say it’s my mom’s fault, but I really don’t know if I can blame that part on her. He’s the only one who’s never hurt me. He’s kind of dork sometimes but as the years go by, I’ve come to cherish that about him. His heart is so kind, so understanding, so sweet.

 

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When I was around five, I stole money from the man who cleaned our fish tank. My mom wasn’t looking and I’m not sure why I did it but the minute I was alone with the stack of twenties on the table, I grabbed a few and stuffed them between the couch cushions. When the man counted his money and asked my mom why she’d shorted him, she was probably so embarrassed she gave him a fat tip to compensate. I don’t know how much money I took or why I did it but I do know that my mom was furious. Her lips curled up in a snarl when I finally fessed up and told her, they turned white around the edges like they did the time I told her I hated her for throwing away all my toys.

She did that periodically, decide we had too many dolls and throw them all away in giant white trash bags, calling my sister and me spoiled brats for manipulating my dad into buying us things.

Manipulate was one of the first “big” words I learned. “Don’t manipulate your sister” “don’t manipulate your dad” “don’t try to manipulate me”. To this day, I still have a problem with manipulation. I can twist any story to make myself the victim, I can use every excuse in the book, I can even look someone in the eye when I do it. Because I was always taught that lying by omission wasn’t actually lying. So I learned how to fluff and snip out the parts I liked or didn’t like. I could just learn to laugh at jokes I didn’t understand so I wouldn’t have to feel stupid asking questions.

When she dropped me off at my dad’s house later, he picked me up and asked me why I was crying. I had to tell him what I did and express my shame. The only thing he said was “don’t worry honey, you don’t ever have to steal. I’d rather just give you money than have you feel like you’d need to steal”.

I think that’s when it started. When it occurred to me that my dad was a softie and I could go around twisting the truth. If I could logically reason out to him why I didn’t deserve to be grounded for yelling at my sister, he’d acknowledge it and let me off the hook. His only exception was violence. You kick your sister, you’re dead and there’s absolutely no way of getting out of it.

So I learned to give the world’s worst guilt trips. I learned how to say the meanest possible things I could think of to make you wish you were wrong. I learned how to snarl just like my mother and I want to say it’s genetic, that snarl, but really I think I never forgot how small it made me feel to see my mother’s lips curl in such a way, to see the blood drain from the edges as her eyes turned into slits and all I wanted to do was curl up in my closet and forget I was alive.

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And yet, all my dad was trying to do was get me to use my words. What a shame the things I did with that lesson.

I learned cruelty all by myself.

Willfully inflicting it on everyone around me because I was angry. Slashing my father’s heart when it suited my fancy. Vomiting up derision just because I could.

And for all the things I wish I could have done differently in my life, I am grateful I can see the malice in that part of me, that cold bitch that lives deep in there somewhere. And I think it’s because of the warmth and innocence in my father’s face that I’ve come to detest that nasty side. I think it’s because of his kindness that I fight everyday to be a better, nicer person.

To this day, I don’t think you’ll find me go a day without smiling. It took me a long time to embrace that teaching but it’s taken me quite a long way.

I was me and she was she

            I visited my mom today, one on one for the first time in ten years. I knew even before going into it that I was building it up to be bigger than it needed to be so that when I finally got there, it would be better than I expected. I do that a lot, spice up the mysterious and end up finding out reality is a lot better than I could have hoped for.

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            I was scared to see her. When I finally got there, I must say I was strangely peaceful. I cried a lot today. I can say truthfully that not a single tear was shed in sadness. It was all out of gratitude. I am grateful to say she’s my mother.

            We sat down next to each other and talked for a few hours. Those hours are more precious to me than anything I can try to explain. I didn’t have any roles to fill. I wasn’t the older sister, the middle sister, or the friendly one in the group. I was just myself. I was just my mother’s daughter. She wasn’t just an inmate either, she was my mom. I was me and she was she. Which is more than we’ve ever been.

            I have this fantasy for when she gets out that we’ll own a horse ranch or some kind of autoshop out in the countryside. We’ll work on the horses or cars or bikes together and she’ll get a big dog and name him Honey or something and we’ll spend our warm summer evenings sitting on the porch drinking lemonade and talking until the moon is well in the sky.

            I can hear the crickets and smell the cold soil and I can even feel the blankets we’ll have wrapped around our knees. The lemonade is perfectly sweet and I can tell it’s not from mix or a can. It’ll be fresh squeezed and homemade.

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            When I visit, the most profound thing that I have come to understand is that once I enter those doors, everyone around me is exactly the same. There is no social, economic, or political status to be found. Age? What age? We’re all protected by this filmy prison layer that joins us. Families coming to see loved ones, inmates waiting to be visited. We’re all just people trying to pass the time together. There is no need to create more barriers than the ones that already exist. It’s unfathomably humbling.

            Some people find that feeling in nature, or travel. I find mine in prison.

            I took a couple years away from her when I turned eighteen. I’m glad I did because had I not, I don’t think I’d ever have come back to be where I am right this moment. I write her now, I look forward to her phone calls, and I cherish the moments we have together. I miss her less because I don’t hate the world for taking away the mother I once had, but am grateful for the woman I’ve been given. She’s grown so much and she’s so much nicer and I can’t say she’d have turned out this good if she wasn’t forced to change. She never would have changed if I hadn’t taken the time for space. So all things lead up to now and I wouldn’t want to imagine it any different.

            I have the chance to learn from her mistakes and actually be grateful for my parents before they pass. I’ve been given the gift of living for the moment.

            So for today, I’ve got to say I’m happy. I’m happy to be alive and I’m happy to share it with everyone and I’m happy. I’m just really frickin happy.

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