She keeps me warm

There is no way to write this post without sounding like a whiny brat. And I sorta feel whiny. I don’t want to, but there you go…

I’ve never felt so lost, so misunderstood, so much of an outcast as I do moving in, around and through social justice circles.  I don’t belong with People of Color. Though there are so many aspects of the community I resonate with and understand, I don’t share the Black experience. I’m not likely to be killed in a traffic stop. Hell, I’ve been driving around since April with expired tags and haven’t even been pulled over! I am caucasian and I have a middle class income and advanced degree, but I don’t belong with the White Middle Class.  In fact, I feel out of place there. Like I’m faking it – or expected to if I want to “fit in.” Even though I grew up with a single mother on welfare, I don’t really belong in the White Working Class anymore, either.

I have no tribe.

Did I chose to be a white civil rights activist? I grew up with all the White Southern racism you would imagine and somehow recognized it for what it was. Maybe I chose it when I chose to have children who are people of color. Maybe it chose me. All I know is, all roads lead to race for me.

I can’t change. Even if I wanted to. Even if I tried.

Black people ask if I’m expecting some kind of prize for fighting for their justice. White people call me a nigger lover. If I talk about my own experience in raising people of color, I’m speaking for a community to which I do not belong. If I look for support from my friends of color, I’m asking the oppressed to educate me on their oppression.

Like people of color, I am constantly aware of racial dynamics. On television, ordering in a diner, pronouncing the name of someone I’m talking to on the phone. And it’s exhausting and frustrating and overwhelming.  Still, I can hide in a hole and not think about it for a minute which is something people of color cannot do. I recognize my privilege.

It has to be worth it, right? To continue the conversations, even if (when) I offend people I love? Even when people call me names?  Who am I kidding. It’s who I am. Even if I had a choice, I would chose justice.

She keeps me warm.


Go Set a Watchman – My Review

Oh, the sensitivities that emerged this week when Go Set a Watchman was released! My social network feeds were clogged with declarations of betrayal by Harper Lee, refusals to read the book and assurances that Lee was taken advantage of in her old age: No wonder this was never published before. Harper Lee never would have destroyed our hero and icon Atticus Finch and all he has come to mean to us!

But if Mockingbird was a racial treatise in 1960 when it was published, Watchman is no less relevant in 2015. Rather than a pat on the back for how far us White Southerners have come, Watchman reminds us that our history with racism is complicated and the tendrils run deep. The racial attitude of Atticus Finch (and Jean Louise, if we are honest) are believable depictions of this world of 1950’s Maycomb, Alabama that Lee has so eloquently built. And the book provides the influences around it: junk science about the inferior intellect of African Americans, fear of sharing resources with them and anger at the Yankees for imposing their way of life on Southern America. If Mockingbird gave us a White Southern Racial hero, Watchman makes him more human.

Generations of Dirt

When you live on a farm, there is always dirt in your house. I don’t mean your house is always messy. I mean that physical dirt is almost always a part of the decor. After you’ve been working in the field, no matter how careful you are to shake off, it rides in on your clothes and hands. When you’re preparing food that was pulled out of the ground, it falls out of your harvest basket and onto your floors and counters. And if you have a dog? Well, farm dogs are a special kind of excited to roll in the rotten-smelling mud that still stands from too much spring rain. It’s a pain in the ass, for sure. I imagine in the days of old, women spent a good part of their day removing it from their homes. Dirt. Soil. Earth.

When I put up food (a Southern term for storing food we will eat later) I pretend I’m in the kitchen with the women who went before me – not hard to do in a house with no air conditioning and calfs ungratefully being weaned outside my window. My grandfather’s bow hangs just across from the picture of my great-great grandmother.  Except for the radio and wine, there’s only a  hint of my being a person who could bop down to Kroger to buy food, so I imagine that what I’m putting up is all we will have for winter. Most of what I put up is  ‘farmer food’ – produce that doesn’t look good enough to sell but is perfectly edible. I peel as closely as I can, cut out dark spots and do my best to make the most of what I have.

The winter could be long.

Putting myself in other people’s shoes helps me stay grounded. Reminds me that I am more than the person of privilege typing this blog post. I am generations of women who figured out how to feed their families on precious little and made medicine from the herbs that grew in the forrest.  Women who hunted for meat and strapped babies to their backs while they foraged for mushrooms. I am women who watched the people they loved die from disease. And I am the warrior who defended my village against those who would take what was not theirs.

God damn I’m fierce.


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On betrayal, identity and deserving more

There’s  a film on Netflix called Little White Lie about a woman who grew up believing she was white when in fact, her father was black. Her white mother, unbeknownst to anyone, had an affair with a black man and got pregnant. As a child,  Lacey Schwartz, spent her life looking and feeling different from everyone around her – a fact that was brushed off by her mother and father.  As an adult, she bravely made a documentary about finding herself and her identity. She now identifies as a black woman.

Near the end of the film, Lacey’s father refers to his wife having  a child that wasn’t his as ‘the ultimate betrayal’ and I said out loud, “No. Betrayal of your child is the ultimate betrayal.”  I know. I betrayed my daughter in much the same way. The story isn’t one I’m proud of.

Please note: This is the truth as I experienced it.  Others may remember it differently.  Be kind to my memories, please.

Kingsbury Elementary, Jr. High and High School plus a small Baptist private school were on the same campus.  To boot, kids from other high schools were bussed in to go to the Kingsbury Vo-Tech Training Center.  If there’s a way for a child predator to get closer to his prey than living a half-mile away from that campus, I don’t know what it is.  Eddie was his name – his real name.  I’m not changing it to protect him because he doesn’t deserve protection.  If there’s a person in this world living or dead that I can say I hate it would be him, may he burn in hell.

We all called him Queer Eddie, which in retrospect isn’t a fair shake.  It should have been Molester Eddie. Pedophile Eddie.  Worthless-piece-of-shit-waste-of-oxygen Eddie.  But it was the 80’s and we were teenagers, so the most we had the maturity to process was that he was male and he had sex with males, so that made him queer.  Never mind that the males he had sex with were ten, twelve, fourteen years old.

Eddie owned a plumbing company – or at least he owned a van with the name of a plumbing company painted on the side.  He trolled our blue-collar neighborhood in it, looking for young men who were willing to be “plumber’s helpers” for a few bucks or a nickel bag of weed.  On Friday nights, they’d go in groups to the Mid-South Coliseum to watch the wrestling matches.  For the boys who stuck around, the rewards got larger.  Bicycles. Concert tickets. One boy’s first car – a Cutlass Supreme – was a gift for his 16th birthday.  Everyone knew who worked with Queer Eddie, and I guess we all knew about the sex part.  The destructiveness of it all was lost on us, though. Even the ones who were involved.  Even after Eddie was arrested and charged with Child Endangerment and four of the boys were called to the police station for questioning about their relationship, nothing much changed.

I met Jeffrey at a gang bang when I was 15.  For real.  I was all fucked up about sex from the years when I was traded to the dope man for a Dilaudid.  Jeffrey was all fucked up about sex from working with Eddie since he was 12.  My mother was a junkie and his father was an alcoholic.  My mother’s abuse manifested as her complete denial that I was a human being rather than a game piece that she could use to get her own needs met.  His father’s abuse came by way of violent outbursts at the dinner table about Jeffrey “spreading his ass cheeks for some faggot to fuck him in the ass.”  We each thought the other had it worse.

So, Jeffrey and I ended up stoned and naked in the same place and it was the beginning of my first love affair.   We understood each other, didn’t judge one another.  We both had sex with other people because we had to…every fiber of our being pushed us to.  David worked with Eddie every couple of weeks.  We were perfect for each other in our brokenness.

Almost two years later, I got pregnant.  Jeffrey asked if it was his and I said, “I don’t know.”  By now, I was 16 and he was 18 and we pushed forward.  He was by my side when my daughter was born.  I don’t think either one of us cared whether the biological process that created the baby included his DNA or not. We needed each other too much to consider any alternatives other than staying together.  But his family cared and society cared and time spent together became harder and harder.  He moved in with Queer Eddie. I moved on to another broken relationship.

By a year old, it was obvious that my daughter was black. My white family, like Lacey’s family, found it easier to overlook the fact but there was no denying it. Soon thereafter, a man came to me and asked if she was his. The father I was hoping for had moved on. This man was black and we had sex. I told him yes without thinking much about it.

His family loved and accepted our daughter immediately – taking her on vacations, buying her Easter dress and doing her hair when she visited every other weekend (thank the gods). They supported me emotionally as well as I made my way through figuring life out and often took my side over his when things got sideways between us. My daughter even lived with the man she knew as her father when I was struggling emotionally and financially to get myself together.  All during this time, I knew the truth – I was not sure that the people she knew and loved as her family shared blood with her. There were a few other people in my life who knew this, including my mother and my relationship with her was rough. I lived in fear that she would one day reveal my secret and so, when my daughter was sixteen, I took her to lunch and told her the truth. This led to a conversation with her father, which led to a DNA test which led to a 99.8% chance that he was not, in fact, related to my daughter.

The pain that I caused to people I care about is sometimes unbearable. Though they have maintained their relationship, I know my daughter wants to know who she is. And rightfully so. I hurt people – I hurt my own child – when I lied that day about her paternity.  But I’ll tell you a secret – my daughter had a better life than she would have if I had told the truth.  That lie gave her a Daddy. A family. An identity that she would not have otherwise had. Because of that lie, my grandson has a Grandaddy and a role model and another person on his side in the world. When I look back, it’s hard to say that I regret it.

What about Jeffrey, you ask?

Some time during the 90’s – by then I was married and had my son,, Joshua –Jeffrey stopped by my mother’s house to report that he’d had twins of his own.  In my early 30’s,  I heard that Jeffrey was HIV positive. Just a few years ago, I got word that he had overdosed.

I’ve never stop thinking about this man and how much more he deserved than what he got.  How much he had to teach the world about love and forgiveness.  Sure, we were kids but we we both lived in a very grown-up world long before we should have. His willingness to be vulnerable and broken down made me a better person. His wisdom and his heart changed me. And he deserved more than what he got.

So did my daughter.

We all did, I guess.


Who’s bad?

I should acknowledge up front that Joshua’s birthday is next week. Like the week leading up to the first anniversary of his death, I’ve got a bad case of “the feels,” to use my teenager’s term. To be honest, I’ve had the feels since Joshua died. Losing a child has destroyed one of the layers that kept me cozy from the cold, cruel world. Life is more intense for me now – perhaps because I’ve been reminded of how preciously short it is. The first year after his death, I poured my feels into writing Wailing Wall. Now that it’s done and sent off to the publisher, I’m figuring out what to do with the emotion that has been dialed up.

I don’t mean to imply that the emotion is only there because I happen to be a grieving mother, because it doesn’t feel that way. It feels more like I’m in touch with emotion that I’ve closed myself off from for years, decades. Emotions that I thought made me weak, were too scary to process or that seemed bigger and badder than the capacity I had to process them. Now, they’re front and center. Slapping their chests and challenging me to step up like Michael Jackson. “Your butt is mine…”

My sister, Jessica, four years younger than I am, was a scrawny little thing. We fought. A lot. And she figured out early that she needed an equalizer: she’d sharpen her nails to a point or pick up a Whiffle Ball bat. Once, she stabbed me with a pair of scissors from her cardboard pencil box (fortunately, they were round-tipped). During all this, I just laughed at her. No matter how much it hurt, or how mad I was, I laughed*.

When men touched me in ways that made me uncomfortable, I zoned out and went to a place that was safe. Years later, when I was in an abusive relationship, I just stared at him while he hit me. Hard. Hard enough to bust my eardrum and give me a concussion. But I just looked at him, refusing to cry.

In many ways, my technique worked: none of the assholes stole my soul. I was a pretty smart kid to figure out how to save the best part of me in the face of danger (who’s bad?). What it left behind, though, was sadness. Sadness that I’ve cried out bit by bit every day since my son died. Now, we’re hitting the anger. Sometimes, even rage.

Here’s what I’m learning: My anger not is not frivolous. My rage is not unjustified or extreme. Some things deserve my rage.

And, though I don’t have much experience with it, rage can fuel passion and be used in a way that is productive and honorable and makes the world a better place.

How to do that is the next lesson.


* In no way am I comparing being hit by a four year old to the other atrocities I mention. I only use it as an example of how I developed this coping mechanism early in life.