The Mosquito in Your Bed

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Illustration by Lillian-art/Deviantart.com/vi.sualize.us

Growing up I was never interested in, nor did I understand, politics. I was more of a hellion and a rebel than an activist, and I never really took a strong stance on any particular issue (to be quite honest, the very first time I voted in a presidential election, I voted for *gasp* Ronald Reagan because that’s who my dad was voting for and because he had a PhD in Political Science I just assumed he knew what he was doing), but could be swayed easily one way and then another. Looking back, I can see glimpses of what was to come: yanking my girlfriend into the fray at our very first gay pride parade and walking along with some nameless volleyball team down Christopher Street proudly holding hands; making sure that my partner and I dedicated ourselves to every March of Dimes walk after our son was born 10 weeks premature; signing up to volunteer with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Committee the first time I attended a transgender conference with my transitioning boyfriend.

Somewhere along the way I found that I had my own beliefs and they are strong indeed. They are rooted in radical love and justice (and forgive me if I overuse those terms but they mean a lot to me) and every single day I find myself growing more passionate about how I and my family and friends (and yes, even total strangers) are affected when injustice is served.

Years ago, I adopted a quote by Emile Zola as my mantra: “You ask me what I came here to do and I will tell you. I came to live out loud.” For a long time I thought that meant to simply be outgoing, outrageous, devil-may-care. Now I know that it means that I do the next right thing without thinking about how it looks to everyone on the outside. I can’t worry about the fact that my picture might show up in the paper or on the news because I had chosen to participate in the WE DO Campaign and someone on the street is going to recognize me and call me out about it. It was the right thing to do. Just as what I did yesterday was, I feel, the next right thing to do.

Yesterday I had jury duty. The summons arrived long before the vote for Amendment One and I didn’t try to postpone it for a year, thinking I’ll just go ahead and get it out of the way and then I won’t have to think about it again. The night before, I was instructed to call and find out if I needed to report and of course my number was included in the pool of jurors that must show up by 8:00 the following morning. I posted a silly Facebook status update along the lines of “Crud. I didn’t get out of reporting for jury duty tomorrow. Can I object on the grounds that I’m considered a second-class citizen under the new constitutional amendment? You give me my civil rights and I’ll perform my civic duties. Fair swap, I’d say.” And that, of course, got me thinking about the fact that the state of North Carolina had just taken away a large number of my civil rights and yet still expected me to act like any other citizen of the state. Well, hell no.

Rather than not report at all and run the risk of, well whatever they do to you when you just don’t show up, I picked out a nice outfit, got everything in order, plugged the address into my navigator, and then sat down and wrote out a prepared statement for the first person I saw who had any authority whatsoever.

After running the gauntlet of finding parking and waiting in line and going through security, I finally got to the fourth floor juror’s room to check in with the clerk. I pulled out my summons and my prepared statement. Before the woman with the kind eyes and short, salt and pepper hair could stop me, I said “As a lesbian, I am no longer considered a full citizen of the state of North Carolina due to the recent passage of Amendment One and therefore I decline to fulfill my civic duties until my civil rights have been restored to me in full.” She laid one hand as close to mine as possible without touching me and looked straight at me. I knew, without a doubt, that she had voted against the amendment. “I understand, and I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything. You’ll need to tell this to the judge.” There was a line forming behind me and a room full of people in front of me and everyone was watching me. I felt very much alone and the natives were getting restless. “However,” I said, “the very act of sitting here in this jury room means that I am enacting my civic duty and I do so under duress. I am registering this as a peaceful protest.” The clerk told me she would check with someone in a position of greater authority and get back to me and so I moved away and sat in the front row on the aisle so that there was no chance of being ignored.

I refused to wear my juror’s badge and clipped it to the front of my book. We were given instructions regarding the day’s events and how they would proceed. I stared stoically ahead, looking at nothing but the door. She turned on the film and shut herself in her office. There was no more information forthcoming. After the film she asked if there were any questions. I read my statement again, “The movie states that only citizens may serve on a jury. I am no longer considered a full citizen of the state of North Carolina. I am not even qualified to be here under the law.” Again, I was told to speak to the judge. At that point everyone was asked to either be affirmed or sworn in. I refused to do either. I remained in my chair during both, once again looking straight ahead at the door.

Afterward, conversations picked up around the room as people settled in for a long day with three trials that needed to be seated. The clerk came out once and asked me to tell her my name again. I repeated it and spelled it. She thanked me and disappeared back into her office. No one spoke to me. No one looked at me. I started to check myself for visible lesions or signs that I might have suddenly contracted Typhoid. I watched people come and go and was certain that there were at least a few of “us” in that room and yet even they refused to associate with me. I was a pariah. A troublemaker. I read quietly as the woman next to me moved further and further away, as though my “affliction” might be catching, although I had more to worry about with all her sneezing, coughing, and general snottiness (and I mean that in every sense of the word).

The first pool of jurors was called to report to a courtroom and my name was not among them. I had no chance to read my statement to a judge. Regardless of my conviction to do what I felt was right, I still began to feel dejected. With no visible action on the horizon, I felt that whatever I had set out to do, it was all for naught. Eventually we were let out for a long lunch and rather than try to find some place to eat a lonely lunch downtown, I decided to head home for an hour or so and then come back.

Once home, I posted a quick update on Facebook on my seemingly fruitless jury duty antics and then set about making a bite to eat. By the time I logged back on, I had an overwhelmingly positive response from friends and they were reposting my status update and their friends were reposting and holy virus, Batman! I actually did something here! People I didn’t even know, all over the country, were talking about no rights = no service. The encouragement was incredible. Buoyed by so much support, I headed back to the courthouse with a spring in my step and my head held high. I resumed my seat and went back to my book. Not 30 minutes later, we were being excused for the day as the other two trials were being delayed and would not be seated until at least the next day.

My assumption is that when the clerk went to alert her supervisor that she had an activist who was registering a peaceful protest, declining to serve jury duty due to Amendment One that she was told to keep it quiet. I would never have been called into a courtroom and I would never have had a chance to read my statement to a judge. Courtrooms often have members of the press and I’m positive that this wasn’t something the folks at the Forsyth County Courthouse of Winston Salem, North Carolina wanted getting around. I mean you get one lesbian telling you that she’s not going to serve until she gets her civil rights restored and word gets out, well, dayum…every one of ‘em is gonna be in here telling us the same thing and that’s really gonna muck up the system. We’ll be tied up in here every day sorting this out. How are we ever going to seat a jury if we have to deal with a bunch of gays running around telling us to give them their stupid rights back before they’ll serve jury duty?

Aside from that, I never swore an oath to serve jury duty. Hence, I could be held in contempt of court. Wouldn’t that make for some great headlines? That brings us right back to the “We don’t want any undue publicity” issue. So they got what they wanted. They kept me quiet all day and they sent me home. No harm, no foul. Nobody found out.

Except they did. A lot of people did. Social networking is a beautiful thing, my friends. And this morning, my friend and former editor at the now defunct Our Big Gayborhood, Lori Hahn, published a wonderful article about the entire event on the equally wonderful website, The Bilerico Project. And then other people took that article and started linking to it on their Facebook pages. This tiny little ripple I made by making a simple statement about something I so firmly believe in has created a tsunami and I still haven’t seen how far its reach is.

Yesterday, a very dear friend posted this quote by Betty Reese on my Facebook page: “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” I guess, after all these years, I’ve become the mosquito in your bed.

And, evidently, I reproduce quite well.

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In the Face of Denial

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Image courtesy of Campaign for Southern Equality

In May of 2004, my then partner of 11 years and I cried tears of joy to learn that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had decided it was unconstitutional to allow only heterosexual couples to marry. On May 17th we sat in our car outside our tiny town hall and waited for the doors to open, chatting with the one other couple there. There had been no formal proposal; no engagement; no long, drawn out wedding plans—because we had a child together, it was the thing to do, and so we did. When we entered the town clerk’s office at 8 a.m. we filled out the request for marriage license, handed over our respective identification, and were one of the first lesbian couples in the country to receive a marriage license.

And so, when I found myself standing at the registry of deeds in Winston Salem, North Carolina, on May 10th, 2012, with my partner of 3 years (although we’ve known each other for 28, but that’s a long story for another time), I had an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu and an unrealistic sense of expectation.

Unrealistic, because just two days earlier, this state that is once again my home state (the state that I grew up in) passed an amendment to the constitution banning gay marriage even though gay marriage has been illegal in North Carolina for 16 years. We were not there to get a marriage license. We were there as part of a peaceful protest organized by the grassroots Campaign for Southern Equality and we were joined by nine other GLBTQ couples and more than 100 supporters. The scene bore little resemblance to that chilly, quiet early May morning in Massachusetts and yet I still had this nagging point of excitement in my gut that had nothing to do with the media frenzy or the many faces of the county workers that stared down at us from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls that circled the courtyard in which we gathered for a blessing before our act of civil disobedience.

We had walked, undeterred by any antagonistic protestors, from a loft a few blocks away. A long, determined chain of average folks: young and old and middle-aged (us) and black and white and not and some with kids and some without and clergy in the front and police on bikes alongside and cameras following our every footstep and we each held our partner’s hand. Because that’s what you do in the face of adversity. You cling to the person you love and you show the world that you aren’t some monster that is going to rape and pillage and convert their kids as you’ve been so recently portrayed on television and in the papers.

And so we walked.

And when we arrived we circled the wagons and we were surrounded by loving support from all sides. We were blessed in prayer and we were led by the organizers of this incredible action into the building and up the escalator (or was it stairs—the details have become blurred by the whirlwind of the before and after, the little things slip away from me as the days go by). We stood in line, holding fast to one another and watched each couple enter the glass-walled “room of decision,” flanked by the director, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, at least one support person from the Campaign for Southern Equality, and any family or friends who had come along for moral support. Some couples came out so quickly I wasn’t sure that they had even been asked for their identification. It all seemed to be happening too fast. I was becoming angry. I wanted to have a speech prepared–something profound, something scathing, something that would go down in history. And still, for some inane reason, I kept expecting things to be different for us. I joked with my partner to use a really low voice and maybe we could trick them, forgetting for a moment that our identification would immediately give us away. Forgetting for a moment why we were there in the first place.

We could hear the roar of the crowds as each couple emerged into the huge group of supporters outside. They were cheering their bravery. We were buoyed by the energy, fueled by the wave of radical love. And before I knew it we were being ushered into the inner sanctum. Joined by a beloved young adult from our church, the three of us were beckoned to the far end of the long desk. I had a vision of a line of grave countenances of the county workers seated at their stations and behind them a sea of photographers, cameras everywhere. Right in our faces. All thoughts of saying anything coherent went out of my head.

I was holding my driver’s license, my social security card, and, in my other hand, a wallet-sized photo of my son, wrinkled and damp from my sweaty palm. I wanted to show it to the woman at the desk. I wanted to show to everyone. I wanted to hold it up to the cameras and tell them that this 11-year-old boy is who we were fighting for. We were a family. We needed civil rights afforded us under the constitution so that my son could be protected at all costs. I wanted them to know that we were just an average family with jobs and a great church and a dog and a cat and this incredible kid and two old cars and a huge family of friends and…and…and…my voice died in my throat and my partner was requesting a marriage license and the woman was blankly telling us that “it was against the law of the state of North Carolina to issue a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

No.

Oh, no.

No!

That weirdly irrational, stupidly unrealistic part of me just threw up a little bit in my mouth. I knew why we were there. I’m not a dumb woman, far from it. But dammit, I’m also an idealist and a dreamer and somehow I thought it would all turn out alright. I thought that if I could get a marriage license on a chilly, quiet May morning and marry someone to whom I had to pay an enormous amount of money to divorce just two years later (because sometimes you should really take the time to think things through before you leap into something just because it’s legal), then I should be handed a stupid piece of paper legalizing the big gay wedding I’d shared with my partner just seven months prior.

I felt deflated. All I could say–numbly, dumbly–was “We’ll be back,” like some female version of the Terminator. My partner asked if the clerk could document our denial and we were denied that as well with a flat statement that it was “not policy,” although we later learned that other couples did get their requests documented with the date and “request denied.” The rest became more of a blur as we somehow found ourselves outside and I had become deaf and mute and put on a smiling face for the paparazzi and quelled the hurt and ache by mentally punching myself in the stomach.

When the last of the couples’ requests were denied, three remained to await arrest. For some reason they decided to extend office hours until 7 p.m. and so we made the trek back to the loft to gather in a huge circle and briefly process what had just occurred. I talked a bit about my feelings of surprise at not receiving a marriage license. I fought for this once already. I lived in a state where I took so many things for granted. I now live in a state where I am a second-class citizen. I am viewed as “less-than” and “other.” I am fighting for my rights all over again.

My Pollyanna viewpoint is definitely tarnished. I’m feeling a little worse-for-wear these days. But I am sure that, like every one of the other “Winston Salem Ten” as they are now referring to us in the media, I am down but not out. My partner and I believe very strongly in the work that the Campaign for Southern Equality is doing and in the WE DO campaign itself. We’ll just keep on going. My skin will toughen up and I’ll get used to denial.

Sooner or later, they’ll have to say yes.

Home of the Brave

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Paul Prosseda/vi.sualize.us

I live in North Carolina. Perhaps you’ve heard of us lately. We’re the 31st state to pass an amendment to the constitution not only banning gay marriage (because in case you didn’t know it, gay marriage has been illegal here for 16 years already) but making the only recognized union a marriage between one man and one woman.

I first became aware of this amendment sometime last summer when a worker from Equality NC came to speak at our church and I immediately signed up for a postcard campaign to address my concerns as a voting constituent with my state representatives. Packet after packet passed through my hands and I, in turn, passed them on to friends, co-workers, and family (well, my mother, at least). Over time the groundswell of worry over the amendment passing grew and we became more involved in campaigning against it. The language was intentionally complex and the ramifications would be devastating to domestic partners and families – both gay and straight—all across North Carolina.

Rather than work the phone banks to call those who were already on our side to encourage them to get out and vote, my partner, Li, and I felt very strongly that we needed to engage people personally. It’s never easy to take 2-3 hours out of my day to volunteer when I’m a full-time mom who is self-employed with so many overlapping deadlines and Li’s job doesn’t allow for two days off in a row and rarely allows time for lunch, let alone any time for luxuries like volunteering but we felt we could get out there and do what we could in our own way. Both of us subscribe to the tenet of truly entering into relationship with others. Whether those relationships are deep friendships or passing encounters throughout a day—and that is how we went about engaging the “other” side in daily conversation about the facts regarding Amendment One.

I printed up dozens of flyers and kept them with me at all times. Everywhere I went I found opportunities to hand them out and talk to people about the truth buried in the rhetoric. “This is not a gay issue,” I kept repeating. Sometimes I’d feel as though I were beating my head against a brick wall but every day I’d find at least one person who hadn’t heard about the amendment or who had but didn’t understand that 38,000 children would soon be without health insurance if the amendment passed.

We attended rallies and interfaith services and we were buoyed by the overwhelming support among the throngs of people attending. The diversity was great and it made me feel proud to be a part of something rooted in social justice and radical love—the very heart of what we try to teach my son every day of his life. Eventually it came time for early voting and we headed out to the polls filled with hope and a handful of flyers, not yet ready to give up. I could still hear the fat lady sing.

Unfortunately, peace, love, and understanding abandoned me as we ran the gauntlet of volunteers offering last minute advice on who or how to vote. A woman held out a card and clearly said to me (in direct violation of State law—a volunteer is not supposed to tell someone how to vote but can answer questions or ask if you are familiar with a certain candidate), “Vote FOR Amendment One!” I immediately reached out my flyer stating the 10 facts about the Amendment and said “Vote against Amendment One!” She took a step back and I lost it. She started in like a broken record about the sanctity of marriage and I started in about gay marriage already being illegal in this state and before I knew it I was yelling and my blood was boiling and she was backing up as though she thought I might reach up and strangle her, which, in the moment, may actually have given me slight satisfaction. Some young girl volunteering against the amendment ran up and hugged me as the volunteer I had assailed fled into the building to whine about how “this wasn’t what I signed up for when I agreed to volunteer!” Waaaaah! Know your facts, lady, and don’t volunteer for something if you can’t stand up for your own cause.

We voted. I volunteered at the polls the following Tuesday. That night we watched the numbers roll in.

We lost.

I wandered around feeling as though I had somehow personally failed the state of North Carolina all by myself. I didn’t talk to enough people. I didn’t send out enough postcards. I didn’t raise enough awareness, post enough messages on Facebook, sing loudly enough at the Interfaith services, cheer boisterously enough at the rallies. Grief and anger and self-pity rolled over me in a wave that threatened to take me under. I felt crushed by the weight of a million self-righteous hypocrites who could throw the same Bible I have in my face and tell me that mine isn’t as good as theirs. Li and I talked of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and moving on. We’re well into our late 40s and we know what it’s like to fight for our civil rights and lose and fight again. So we slept in each others’ arms and we woke to a new day.

One that brought us an unexpected gift. Our president, Barack Obama, publicly announced that he supported gay marriage. While others saw this as a crumb thrown out to the GLBTQ population or perhaps as a political maneuver, those of us standing here in the buckle of the Bible belt, woozy from our knockout punch, felt the POTUS reach down from Washington and embrace us in a hug that said “I’m with you and one day it’s going to be okay.”

Our state is largely democratic but it is also a swing state and these days I’m not too sure Obama can count on the electorate vote. What he did was risky at best. As the first sitting president to fully support gay marriage, he lifted the spirits of so many who had spent the better part of a year or more fighting tooth and nail for that which so many take for granted that we think we are guaranteed in the constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are second-class citizens without basic civil rights but we are also strong and we are united and we are not going away.

We shall overcome. One day.

Crossing Over

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For the past five years the month of April has always been connected with the Blue and Gold Banquet. For those of you who don’t have boys involved in scouting, this will mean nothing to you. For those of you who do, you’ll understand the import of this event. Largely thrown together by volunteer (or arm-twisted) parents, it usually features a potluck dinner; plastic tableware; some sort of centerpieces gracing tables in a church fellowship hall (usually of the gold or blue sparkly variety found in the dollar store); and a large number of boisterous siblings with barbecue-smeared smiles and sticky fingers double dipping in the many chafing dishes lining the buffet table.

The banquet is a time to celebrate the scouts’ achievements for that year and also to move each scout forward in rank (if they have actually completed their requirements). This year marked my son’s last year in cub scouting and while his den leaders gave him his numerous pins and belt loops first, his “crossing over” ceremony had been planned out by the boy scout troop that he was moving into and would be held outdoors after the other cubs had moved up in rank. So we sat and ate our spiral-sliced ham and congealed macaroni and cheese and cheered the victories of the boys that my son has been working alongside for the past two years since we moved to this area.

Eventually we were asked to move outdoors and everyone busied themselves getting lawn chairs and cameras and settling themselves in the grass in front of an elaborate set-up created by the scouts. There was a sound system, long tables, microphones on stands, a beautiful wooden bridge, and (much to my dismay) a large rough-hewn backdrop displaying the hides of many dead animals. While I won’t get into the socio-political incorrectness of the co-opting of Native American culture by a group founded by a military Englishman in the 1800s (yes, we’re planning to ask our Native American friends to sit down with our son and talk with him at length about real Indian culture and how it isn’t represented honestly in scouting) I will say that these boys, ranging in age from 13-16 did an amazing job of putting together a very moving and somber ceremony—based on the spirits and the four directions and the seven virtues, etc. The important part is that my child has worked very hard for four years to achieve his Arrow of Light and he took this ceremony very seriously. He listened to everything very intently. Like a sponge, that child. To say that I wept was an understatement. I could not have been more proud.

So here we have this very conventional, unconventional family and up until now we’ve been embraced by truly wonderful den leaders. Most recently, our pack was led by a really loving Moravian family who couldn’t have welcomed us more if they adopted us themselves! We are all, right down to my son, open about who we are and what our position is in the community. We are a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, make-no-excuses, no-need-for-apologies, WYSIWYG family. We have our son in scouting because they teach many of the same values we try to instill in him every single day of his life. He gets camaraderie, discipline, a good moral base on which to stand, a solid belief system, and yes, it will help him stay out of trouble in the future.

But now we are facing The Boy Scouts of America. That misogynistic, homophobic, white-bread, elitist fraternity and I am a self-identified lesbian married to a self-identified transman and we are openly politically active in our community and our son does.not.lie.about.our.lives.

Last night was the first official scout meeting. I learned immediately that I am going to need to finally cut loose those apron ties that bind. There were no other mothers there with books to read while their sons worked on rope skills and played football. I watched my child, who I previously saw as being ten feet tall (he who grows out of his pants seemingly overnight), dwarfed by these six foot plus teenagers who immediately took him under their wings. Lanky, gangly boys who shave and have acne and drive cars. My heart beat just a bit faster and my tongue felt thick and my eyes misted. I resolved to drop him off next week and come back to get him later. Give him room to grow.

In the meantime, I needed to clear the air and quickly. After the meeting I asked my son to wait in the car and pulled the troop leader aside. I knew he’d been “briefed” on our family situation by our beloved pack leader and he was extremely amiable so I just launched into my spiel. I told him the whole deal. This is our story. This is who we are. We are this very conventional unconventional family. My worry, I explained, is that I know the BSA’s position on homosexuality and those they consider “others who don’t fit their moral code,” and I will not let that stand in the way of my son moving toward Eagle if that is what he is set on doing. He didn’t see an issue with it but I asked him to speak to the other leaders and share my concerns. I didn’t want this going any further than the troop. We weren’t going to be a line item in the Yahoo news. I explained my spouse’s situation and that this is something the two of them bond over; that it would be nice for them to be able to do the camping trips together someday. I know I’ve thrown them a curveball that they never imagined dealing with. Such is my lot in life. I foresee an interesting time ahead.

As we were driving home, my son asked me what his troop leader and I had been talking about and I told him the truth. I explained the BSA stance on homosexuality and the fact that they will not let an openly gay person be a leader in scouting.

He was very quiet for a moment and then he said, “Then why do they talk about honoring and obeying God in all of the scout oaths?”

To say that I wept was an understatement.

Waiting for Instructions

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vi.sualize.us

I am a dreamer. Head in the clouds and feet always steps ahead of tomorrow. This lack of attentiveness to the daily minutia of adult responsibility has caused no end of concern for those who care about me. I have never been very good at the whole 9-5 job thing—preferring instead the flexibility that comes with freelancing. I like to set my own hours, work at my own pace (that old adage “If it weren’t for the last minute, I’d never get anything done,” was written with me in mind), take vacations whenever I want, and always fit in a nap in the afternoon. I’m a big proponent of the siesta.

There are down sides to this particular way of life, however, and the main drawback is that there are definite times of feast and times of famine. When I moved back down South I landed a really wonderful contract design position that lasted just over a year. The work was great, I only needed to commute three days per week, the campus was beautiful, and the people I worked with were even better. But, as with all good things, it came to an end just a week before my wedding. I’d had my time of feast and little did I know, I was about to embark on the worst time of famine I have ever experienced.

My last check paid the last of the vendors. There were no pennies left in the coffers. We were bone dry. Just enough. We cut back as far as we possibly could and then we cut back some more by changing our honeymoon plans at the last minute. I held on to promises made from previous and prospective clients that work would be waiting on the doorstep upon my return. I came back to dry and brittle leaves and tales of cutbacks and delays. I began to come around to the reality of my situation: I had no job. I had no money. Li and I, not yet living together, still had to maintain two separate homes and I was already behind in rent and utilities. I looked at my child and thought, “Now what?”

I started applying for everything. Overqualified. Overqualified. Overqualified. Not to mention the number of scam artists out there that prey upon the millions of unemployed. Oh, the vitriol I spewed upon those who take the underprivileged for granted. As freelance work started to trickle in, I knew my situation would be temporary, but the plight of this country is far from over and I became infuriated at the sheer gall that anyone would try to rip off someone desperately looking for an honest day’s work.

As the days turned into weeks and kind-hearted friends began to quietly press handfuls of bills into my palm at church services, I wept in humiliation and slept in long bouts of depression. A dear friend sent me an email with a list of emergency services in the area that help those who cannot help themselves. It was two weeks before I finally pulled out the cardboard box containing all of my unopened bills that I knew were red-stamped for discontinuation of service. I would rather have faced a firing squad than faced what was in that box. An idealist doesn’t want to know that the reality of the situation is that they can no longer support herself or her child—even temporarily. She doesn’t want to admit that she’s reached the bottom of the barrel yet again and in order to pull herself up she’s going to have to swallow every ounce of pride and join the ranks of those who line up early in the morning to tell her story and lay her financial soul bare and hope and pray for the compassion of strangers. She doesn’t want to work a part-time, seasonal retail job for $7.75 an hour for the next two months to put a few presents under her kid’s Christmas tree while she waits 30 days for her freelance work to start paying off. What she wants is a miracle. What she gets is a friend who is willing to drive her there and sit with her during the whole ordeal.

So I found myself at the mercy of the volunteers at Crisis Control Ministry at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday morning. Armed with a legal pad, pen, and a blue folder containing all of the necessary paperwork, I was called into one office after another. Repeatedly telling my story of how I came to be there and why I needed help. Me. I needed help. My gut churned and a hard lump remained firmly planted in my throat. The physical manifestation of my abject humiliation. Just one in a room overflowing with humanity in need. Eventually, someone came to me with two checks. My heat would stay on. My water would keep running. Their lack of private funding prevented them from doing anything about my rent. So they gave me a list of other places I could go and I thanked them profusely and found myself shuffled into another room with a shopping cart placed before me.

Wait. What? I’m the woman who volunteers as often as I am able. I’m the woman who donates to food banks on a regular basis. I’m the woman who serves meals to the homeless and hungry. An unsmiling, tired woman with a clipboard is pointing out a shelf of canned goods and telling me how many dented cans of green beans I can take. I wanted to turn and run. I didn’t want this kind of charity. And then, somewhere in the back of my mind, a tiny little voice of reason spoke up and reminded me that I would not see a real check until mid-December and I had a child to feed.

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and backhanded the tears. I took the green beans and waited for my next instructions.

The following night our church held a concert benefitting a local food bank. The price of admission was at least one non-perishable food item. It has been a long-held belief of mine that you give even what you don’t have and so we showed up that night with four plastic bags of groceries. I sat in the second pew and watched the piles grow as my son took the cans, boxes of pasta, and macaroni and cheese from the parishioners and artfully arranged them. Everyone remarked at the bounty we had gathered. But my heart ached because I had the experience of being on the other side, of seeing how many people in just one morning needed assistance, needed help paying their bills, needed food for their tables—and just how small that storeroom actually was and how quickly those supplies dwindled. Our bounty wasn’t bountiful enough. It was but a drop. I closed my eyes and thanked God for giving me the opportunity to learn this lesson in humility and need, but also to know first-hand the lack of support we have in this country to fulfill the needs of the millions that are unemployed and underemployed.

I got my instructions that night: Pay it forward, child, pay it forward.

Keeping the Dogs at Bay

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vi.sualize.us

It was the last full day of our honeymoon. We spent the morning trail riding through the Smoky Mountains. The weather was perfect, as it had been all week, 75 degrees and not a single cloud to mar the robin’s egg color of the Tennessee sky. This was our second day in Cades Cove and we’d only seen a single wild turkey during our ride. We made occasional small talk, a few chuckles at my vain attempts to urge my lazy nag into a trot to keep from being run over by a much larger stallion on the way down a very steep decline.  For the most part we basked in the listening silence of the primordial forest, broken only by the flick of a tail, the twitch of a mane, and the crackle of the dry, fall leaves under our beasts’ heavy hooves.

We ate sandwiches out of the car, pulled over by a steep ravine. We talked of how we could have ridden all day. My inner thighs were sore and I was still getting my land legs back. Li got out to smoke a cigarette and I took a few pictures with my ancient Cannon. Lacking the immediacy of a digital camera, I still thrill to the surprise of picking up my photos at the drugstore, holding them in my hands. Tactile things, memories that I can place in an actual book to peruse on rainy days for years to come.

We returned to the 11 mile loop of Cades Cove, bypassing the buildings we’d stopped at earlier in the week. It was Saturday and the tourists were out in droves. We crept along at a snail’s pace. Bumper to bumper. I opened my window and slid in a CD of southern hymns played on the hammer dulcimer that we’d picked up at the Craftsman’s Fair the day before. Strains of Wayfarin’ Stranger echoed from our old Subaru and out into the early afternoon as we inched forward through the checkerboard. Light. Shadow. Light. Shadow.

It wasn’t long before we came across a huge field, empty save for one large fallen tree. It was long dead and stripped bare of its bark. The limbs were gnarled and created amazing shapes that criss-crossed one another. It begged to be photographed and Li stopped the car at the next pull-away. We both got out and started across the field. She was ahead of me as I stopped to take some shots of the breathtaking mountains flanking the fields all around us. They cradled us and I felt intense peace and happiness. Until I heard barking. Barking made by humans. Boys. Not young boys. Older boys. Young men.

I froze. I couldn’t turn around. I didn’t know which of us this abhorrent sign of disrespect was directed at but I was no longer standing in two feet of grass in a Tennessee field on a perfect day celebrating the culmination of the best two weeks of my life. I was 12 years old. I was walking down the hall of my elementary school. Lockers on one side, classroom doors open on the other.  A water fountain.  A group of boys. Faceless. Nameless. I am in that horrible awkward pre-teen phase of life. Large, thick glasses adorn my thin face with its mouth full of metal braces, I wear a plaid skirt that just skims my bruised and knobby knees, I remember knee socks white with blue stripes and feet clad in something we called earth shoes. Whatever I wore on top doesn’t matter. I was flat-chested, late in life to bloom. All angles, greasy hair, desperately unhappy, and…being barked at on my way to my next class.

The idyll was broken. Shattered. I forced myself to walk toward Li. Mechanically, I lifted the camera to my face. I framed a photo of the downed tree. Snapped a few shots. We spoke little. I looked at her in her cowboy hat and riding boots. No hips or breasts to speak of. Broad shoulders and wiry musculature. Certainly, they could not have, without hearing her voice, perceived her as female. No one ever does. So, was it me? Self-doubt and humiliation flew all over me. A lump settled somewhere between my stomach and my throat. I fled back to the car and rolled up the window. I wouldn’t look her way. I couldn’t. Hot tears flowed down my face. My breath hitched raggedly. Li gripped my hand. She was angered in ways she couldn’t express. In a single instant everything felt ruined. We had gone from being surrounded by an enormous amount of love and acceptance to…this.

Eventually cars pulled away and we caught up to those boys with only two cars between us. My focus became nothing but those boys. Teenage rednecks sprawled foolishly atop a compact car. Three boys and one girl with long black tresses, leaning back, laughing, kissing her boyfriend. I felt the hate as it bubbled up within me. I willed them to pull over so I could get out and get it out of my system. I needed to speak to them. I first thought of all of the hurtful, angry things I could say to them. Then I thought of all the witty things I could say, those things that would go right over their heads, lost on them but gratifying to me at least. Those things I could gloat about later. Laugh about with my friends.

I was solely focused on that car. Those boys. I stopped looking around me. The day was waning. Late afternoon and I had let those boys live rent free in my head for the better part of the last day of my honeymoon. They never did pull over. At one point a black bear crossed the road directly in front of their car and I inwardly chastised myself for hoping that it would drag one of them off into the woods by his sneaker clad ankle. I often say that hate is a wasted emotion and when it wells up in me I am reminded of why that is. It is a bitter black bile that hurts to swallow. That day…that day that should have been a perfect day…was marred by a little catcalling by some teenage boys who probably never gave it another thought. Boys who had no idea that their actions carried with them the weight of 34 years of emotional scars. Boys who, I hope, will someday learn that their silly little games and hoots, hollers, and barking, actually do hurt people and , perhaps someday, they may be on the receiving end of that hurt and may think twice before they do unto others.

We processed the events of that day together. And alone. I am still working out my issues surrounding those events. I suspect Li is as well. Her story may be quite a different one. I hope she tells it.

Happy Donor’s Day

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The other night my partner and I watched the movie “The Kids are All Right.” Despite the fact that it came highly recommended by everyone from my parents (who saw it in the theater) to many of our lesbian friends, we both found it absolutely abhorrent. I’ve read the rave reviews and can’t help but wonder what we were missing in what we both agreed was a slow-moving, predictable, and frankly Hollywood heterosexist take on a modern American family. I don’t think the problem lies with Lisa Cholodenko, the director who’s previous films, Laurel Canyon and High Art, are two of my favorites. I mean, she’s a lesbian herself, so was she made to bend to the whims of what mainstream media could tolerate? I get the premise, trust me: lesbian couple together for more than two decades has issues with complacency in their relationship. The spark has gone out. One is a Type-A, overworked, controlling breadwinner with a penchant for just a few more glasses of wine with dinner than should be acceptable. The other is at loose ends, having been the stay-at-home mom to their two children who are now older teenagers, lacking the daily hands-on need that she once provided. What I didn’t get (and I promise I will get to the point of this middle-of-the-night-and-I-can’t-sleep ramble) was the believability factor. These two straight actresses had no chemistry whatsoever. The motions and machinations were understandable, but I found them forced and lacking in true foundation. I felt betrayed when Julianne Moore’s character so easily jumped in bed with the children’s recently discovered biological father. There was a heterosexual crowd-pleaser if I ever saw one. So cliche: it only takes one straight, unattached sperm donor with a big dick (properly oohed and aahed over) to turn the dyke into a squealing hot mess, never giving thought to the consequences that might be wrought by her actions.

The real plot point of the whole fiasco is also the real reason I’m writing at this hour. The older of the two children has turned 18 and at the request of her brother, she makes a single phone call to the cryobank used to obtain sperm to create both children, and within days they are face to face with their bio-daddy (who miraculously lives in the same city, but that’s another contentious point). From then on, he becomes a central character in their lives, more than just a concrete face to go with a heretofore unknown name.

My own son was conceived in much the same way. Well, actually, the very same way. My then partner and I spent several years and an enormous amount of money trying to get me knocked up. Initially, we approached a friend to be the donor and were turned down–as he felt that he could never be truly hands-off when the child was born. In retrospect, this was a very good thing, as our relationship ended in divorce and the addition of a known donor who was also a friend might have made things much messier than they already were. For several years we exclusively used donors who were willing to be made known to the child when he or she turned 18, just as in the movie. However, when it came down to the cycle that resulted in the successful conception of my son, our top three choices were unavailable. Providence dictated that our son was conceived using a donor who had signed a clause stipulating that he was not willing to be contacted by any of his potential offspring.

As you can imagine, this movie–while I loathed the film itself–brought up more than a few issues for me. My son is young, not yet a teenager, just into double digits. He is, and always has been, fully aware of the nature of his conception. He has seen photos of his donor father. He has seen photos of a few of his half-siblings. At this point, he seems not to care. The circumstances of his birth served to bring him into an extended family of loving women. He has many friends who are being raised in similar circumstances and as far as I can tell, none of them are yet asking to know who their paterfamilias is. My child currently moves through the world easily and unashamed. He is very forthright about how he came to be. At 10, he is a bright student, a gifted athlete, and popular among his peers. He also has no qualms about his “three moms,” as he puts it and easily explains that his “mama” lives far away but they talk almost every day by phone. He is ever eager to share the news of his latest camping adventure with the cub scouts or the grades on his report card. When my partner had to pick him up from school one day when I was sick he was asked to identify her before they would let him leave with her. “That’s Li,” he said simply. The teacher said yes, but who IS she? He looked at her as if she had suddenly gone dull in the head, “That’s my MOM.”

Today, she is his “Maddy.” It is nearing dawn on Father’s Day. My son came to me on Mother’s Day with a dreamcatcher he had found in his room. “I want to give this to Li but not today,” he said, “today is Mother’s Day. I’ll give it to her for Father’s Day.” I just smiled and nodded. He identifies with her as the more masculine role in the family. She does the yard work, teaches him how to handle power tools, they work in the wood shop together, and go “man shopping” for my birthday and Christmas gifts. He has male role models in his life; some men have moved in and out of his life, some, like my father and my brother-in-law, are constant. But he is learning to be a man from my female-bodied partner. She is his “Maddy”; that strange combination of mother/daddy influence. When he has questions or concerns that are “boy-related,” he goes to her. She teaches him about loving and respecting women. She teaches him how to be the man of the house. Together, they exude this testosterone-driven miasma and until I recently acquired a female kitten, I often felt like the only woman in the house.

For now, my son has no interest in his biological father. When we talk of him, he quickly moves onto other, more interesting, topics of discussion. Meanwhile, I see this stranger’s face in the face of my child. His eyebrows, the shape of his mouth, his long and lean frame. I wonder what we will all do if he begins to exhibit interest in knowing who this man is today; if he will have questions as to why this stranger chose to father unknown children. In the meantime, I celebrate this day. I thank God for the chance I was given to bring this amazing child into the world, into my life, and into the lives of those who know and love him. This stranger, this unknown man, made a sacrifice (albeit a paid one) to provide me with the means to have a biological child. Whether we ever know who he is or why he did it, I will be forever grateful.

So, unknown donor man, I raise my proverbial glass to you. As we get together with my own father today, I will think of you as I watch my son play ball in the yard with his “Maddy,” and I will say a silent prayer of thanks for your assistance in this incredible creation. No matter what lies ahead of us, I am truly blessed. So, unknown donor man, I wish you a very happy Father’s Day. And no, I won’t be jumping in the sack with you, should we ever chance to meet.

Just in case you were wondering.

Wrestlemania 2011

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A few months after we made the 900 mile move to North Carolina from Massachusetts, my cat (formerly an indoor/outdoor pet–now  exclusively indoor) decided to begin sleeping in the pedestal sink in our bathroom. Because I’m fairly lax about such things and pick and choose my battles (better to have him in the sink than sleeping on the kitchen counters), I let it slide and even turn the water on for him when he’s thirsty so he can stick his entire fat head under the faucet, letting the water trickle down his neck so that he can lap it up as it pools by the drain. A couple of months back, however, we started to notice streaks of blood in the sink after he’d jump down (shaking the porcelain under his 20 pound bulk and causing me no end of worry that he might tear the sink from its moorings). I checked the areas where he normally slept (the end of my son’s bed, for instance, and the middle of his Lego table) and there was no sign of blood. Nevertheless I grabbed him up and checked him from head to tail-tip. Everything seemed intact but the blood streaks continued, sometimes appearing on the walls around the sink or even on the toilet lid, which he uses as a launching pad. Curiouser and Curiouser…

Several nights ago I decided to Google whatever information I could glean from the Internet. It’s a widely known fact that most of my knowledge is obtained from the digital ether. I determined that the blood streaks were coming from flea dirt. Yep, that would be the bloody feces left behind by a flea infestation. Now lest you think I should be reported for animal cruelty, let me tell you that my cat does not scratch; has only escaped the house three times in the past year and was returned to the house within minutes; I have seen no fleas on him, on our carpets, or anywhere else in the house for that matter (and I’ve had pets my entire life so I KNOW fleas!); in addition, none of the humans in the house have exhibited signs of bites. It’s really the last thing I’d have suspected.

Regardless, I determined to do something about the problem immediately.  A trek to Walmart yielded the motherlode of flea-be-gone products. Shampoo (that’s foreshadowing for you, in case you missed it), a three-month supply of drops, a new flea collar, and two de-foggers for the house. In spite of the fact that I’ve got a lovely case of the flu, my son and I embarked on the first mission. Shampooing the cat to kill any fleas, larvae, and eggs that might be residing in his thick coat of fur. I donned a grimy t-shirt over my capris, took off my sandals and cleared the bathroom of the throw rug and scale. I started running the water and grabbed the cat who immediately grabbed me back. Score one for Simon. (No, I did not think about gloves, long sleeves, or shoes…in retrospect, leather Falconer’s gloves might have been of some help but who knows?) As I used the washcloth to begin to wet him down he began the amazing and instantaneous transformation from housepet to Chupacabra. All gnashing teeth and bottle brush tail. His wailing could be heard for miles.

After escaping the tub once and slamming his head into the bathroom door in an attempt to get as far away from me as possible, I had the brilliant idea to get into the tub with him. Yep. Thus began the epic battle. Like the Frumious Bandersnatch, he extended his evil claws and cleared a runway in the top of my right foot. Blood swirled around us as I tried to manhandle my slippery feline into submission. Realizing I was no match for him either in strength or talons, he sunk two of his back claws into the fleshy part of the underside of my upper arm. Curved and honed into machete-like blades, they caught my veins and the skin around the puncture wounds turned black even before I could disengage myself. Meanwhile he worked away at other parts of the same arm and as I twisted away from him, I threw my back out.

Simon wins by a knockout. I didn’t even get a punch in. I stood panting in the tub, fur mixing with my own blood as it made its way slowly toward the drain. I hurt all over. The cat, meanwhile, sat in the corner, licking his wet fur and gazing balefully at me, daring me to try again. I gave up. I was beaten. My son gathered towels and I washed myself as best I could. Eventually I limped out of the bathroom and lay on the bed, ice on my puncture wounds. My partner, Li, arrived shortly thereafter to administer first aid. Concerned about possible cat scratch fever or blood poisoning she added insult to injury by washing me down in pure rubbing alcohol. I was not stoic about it.

I admitted defeat and mentally licked my own wounds as Li and my son applied the flea drops and encircled Simon’s neck with his new collar. As I write, he sits like a meatloaf, paws tucked under his massive body, grinning at me. The Cheshire Cat. Now you see him. Now you don’t. And nothing left but his victorious smile.

 

Anticipation

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“”Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.”
~T. S. Eliot~

According to Wikipedia, that bastion of academic standards (cough, cough), the purpose of Lent is defined as “the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” On this, the eve of Ash Wednesday, I have been doing some reflective thinking about the Lenten season. This, in itself, is unusual for me (reflecting on the Lenten season, not reflection itself as I do happen to utilize my gray matter on occasion); although I have been a spiritual person in one way or another all of my life, I grew up Quaker and we didn’t dwell much on the meaning of Lent as it leads up to that which I consider the holiest of the liturgical periods during the year. While there have been long periods in my life when I turned away from Christ because I felt that I, as a lesbian (a black sheep, a heathen, the one who stepped out from underneath the protection of  God’s umbrella) was not worthy of His love–I have since come to embrace my spiritual nature and celebrate the good works of God in my life and the lives of those around me. In doing so, I’ve discovered that while I love the Christmas season, it is that period from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday that truly moves me. It is a highly emotional time for me: the anticipation that builds during palm Sunday, the mournful voices raised up in my favorite spiritual, “Were You There,” in the darkness of the Tenebrae, the bitters upon my tongue on Good Friday as I can almost feel the physical pain God’s son endured upon the cross and the anguished cry, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Then, there is the jubilation of Easter Sunday. The glory of the resurrection. The knowledge that all that is broken can be made whole again and that we can be redeemed not just that day but every single day of our lives. Would that I had a better understanding of this season. Despite attending church my entire life, I am no Biblical scholar. I cannot quote scripture, I do not read the Mystics, I cannot carry on an easy discourse of theology. I am humbled in my rough-hewn attempts to explain my thoughts surrounding this time of the year. But bear with me, I meant to talk about Lent.

Lent. “prayers, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial….” Self-denial is what has always come immediately to mind when I thought of Lent. I did not begin the practice of giving something up for Lent until a few years ago–and frankly, it has never gone well. I’ve never made it 40 days without cheese, much less 40 days in a desert (either literal or figurative). I am an abject failure when it comes to self-control. This year, I vowed I would find something that I could give up for 40 days and stick with it. I wanted it to be meaningful, something that would be difficult for me, nearly impossible. It wasn’t until I received the monthly announcements from my church that I decided upon my own course of action. Our pastor wrote the following:

In the youth class on Sunday we spoke a bit about traditions in Lent of giving something up.  A fast from chocolate or meat or Dewey’s sweetcakes might just be the transformational sweet spot for you.  But this Lent there may be an invitation for us to “give up” something that is right in the path of our intention, our awareness of love and forgiveness.  This might just be a fast from inner self criticism that does not lead to constructive evaluation or a weekly Sabbath from internet/Smartphone technology replaced with intentional conversation.  This might be actually an intention to add one practice like a slow, mindful walk or attention to breathing at traffic lights, grocery lines, or washing the dishes.  Then, of course, the Carbon Fast is more than just an ethical endeavor; it may just help uncover a new place of joy and attention.

“…a fast from inner self-criticism…” The line hit me like a ton of bricks. I have been struggling terribly with my self-esteem of late. Oh, who are we kidding, I’ve been struggling with my self-esteem my entire life. However, in the nine months since I’ve moved back to the South, I’ve somehow managed to gain 20 pounds. That may not seem like a lot, but when you consider the fact that I am now 80 pounds heavier than I was when I graduated college, it’s a lot. When I realized I was fast approaching the 200 pound mark, I hit the panic button. I’ve agonized, cried, anguished, and generally thrown a giant pity party for myself loud enough for anyone within a 900 mile radius to hear. I look in the mirror and I think the most hateful, vile thoughts. I say things to myself that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. I have a deep sense of hatred for this body and automatically assume that the flaws I see immediately are picked up by anyone even glancing in my direction (that double chin, my stomach, the cellulite, on and on and on and on). It’s superficial and disrespectful. It’s a habit that has been ingrained in me for years and I abhor the energy I spend on such frivolity when there are people close to me dealing with life or death health issues; when there are countries at war and gas prices skyrocketing and our carbon footprint getting larger by the day.

This single paragraph from my pastor made Lent less of a time to be penitent and live in self-denial and more of a time to be truly mindful and nurturing in preparation for our rebirth. His words led me to decide then and there to give up self-loathing. My assumption, my fervent hope, is that by spending 40 days focusing on the affirmation of this vessel that houses my spirit, I may actually learn to give up this hatred of self altogether. I feel a sense of letting go, of hopefulness, of true intent. In the coming days, you, dear reader, may be hearing more of my affirmations–my coming to appreciate the temple of my familiar. In concentrating on this sense of self, I hope to let go of this concentrated self-absorption. In moving past the self-absorption, I hope to acquire a greater sense of peace with myself, my family, my spiritual journey, and the world around me. My intent is purposeful: to be reborn as a person of substance. Someone who has a better understanding and appreciation for all that this physical body can do for me here on the Earthly plane. I am awash in the possibilities that lay ahead of me. The coming days and weeks will no doubt be difficult and I may well stumble and fall back into the comforting habits of inner vitriol. But, as all is forgiven, I too shall know forgiveness. And I shall practice forgiving myself as I forgive others.

I am not going to be tempted into making jokes about Fat Tuesday. I will simply say this: We are given a great gift in this time before the Holy week. Use it wisely, be mindful, be present, learn from it, don’t dwell in self-denial, rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice.

Dear Son

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I had the best of intentions when I started the 30-day Letter Writing Challenge. How hard could it be to write a letter a day for 30 days? Evidently, pretty hard. Not only does my extremely packed schedule get in the way of keeping up with any of my writing, the actual writing of those letters can be emotionally draining. In keeping with the tradition of resolutions in the new year, I resolve to finish what I started. Today’s letter is the 13th in the series, and is written to someone I wish could forgive me. I am writing this letter to my 10-year-old son.

Dear Bug,

You are the one person in my world that I most need forgiveness from. You may not consciously be aware of the consequences all of my actions throughout your decade-long life have wrought upon you, but I ask you to forgive me now for all of the hours you will spend in therapy later in life. More specifically, I ask you to forgive me for all of the following and more.

Sweetheart, forgive me for not always giving you everything you ask for. I do everything in my power to give you everything you need, often foregoing many of my own needs or wants in the process. Forgive me also for constantly reminding you to be grateful that you do have what you need—there are so many that go without even the basic necessities in life, and you, my dear, have ever so much more than that. We are not wealthy. We are not even “well off.” But we are rich in our love and we have an abundance of the basics.

Forgive me for not always having the energy to entertain you constantly. I started trying to conceive you late in life and it took a while before you decided to set up housekeeping in my womb (three years, to be exact). At 46, I am a big fan of naps and I need to read to decompress. While I am happy to join you in a board game, a session of Rock Band, shooting hoops over at the school, or an outing to the park, I think it is important that you learn to entertain yourself as well. We all need time to be alone with ourselves and comfortable in that aloneness. If you can do that and do it well, you shall always be able to rely on yourself for companionship as you grow older and can never complain of “having nothing to do.”

Forgive me for passing my migraines along to you. I know you understand that I suffer from them frequently and you are so good about letting me take time out to recover. It is one thing that I’ve had to live with them since I was barely older than you are now, it is quite another to know that you’ve inherited that particular bit of nastiness from me. When I pick you up at school and your eyes are black, your face drained of color, and you lay down upon the seat as I drive you home, I know we are in for a long night. Stroking your hair as you dry heave over the toilet and then sleep the sleep of the dead, I curse the pain you are forced to endure at such a young age.

Forgive me for snapping at you sometimes (and yes, sometimes it feels like I’m always snapping). I do lose my patience. I hear myself when I am harsh and it hurts my ears as much as it hurts your feelings. Please understand that it is extremely annoying when you holler my name two dozen times from your bedroom because you are just too lazy to get up and get a glass of water on your own. It grates on my nerves when you ignore me whenever I ask you to do something (like put your toys away or pick up your dirty socks), but want to begin a heartfelt conversation the second I get on the phone with a client or good friend that I haven’t spoken to in weeks. I hate repeating myself and sometimes I feel like a total shrew when I just lose it and start yelling…but yes, sometimes I lose it and just start yelling. Forgive me. Someday when you have kids, you’ll get it.

Forgive me for not being able to give you the baby brother you’ve always wanted. Having you almost killed both of us. I never meant for you to be an only child and would love to have had another baby after you were born. It wasn’t meant to be. Physically, financially, or emotionally. We’ve been on our own (relatively speaking) for many years now. People have drifted in and out of our lives, but when the chips were down, it’s always been you and me, kid. I’m too old and tired to take on the responsibility of another child (especially a younger boy) at this point in my life. When you get a bit older, I encourage you to get involved in the Big Brothers program. Maybe you can provide another only child the opportunity to have an older, wiser, much cooler guy to hang out with.

I know there are many other things that I need to ask your forgiveness of, and they often creep up on me in the wee hours of the night when sleep evades me and my shortcomings surround me with taunts and jabs. I do want to ask you a big favor, however, and that does have to do with those that I’ve let into your life from time to time. I haven’t always made the best choices. You need to remember that parents are only human, and humans are fragile and often stupid creatures that think with their hearts and act from the gut. My instincts have often been wrong and for many years I was very, very selfish. I reached out when I was scared and lonely and latched on to the first person I thought would fill the hole in my heart and could help me make it through each day. I didn’t know enough to realize that only I could fix that which was intrinsically wrong with me, and that in the end, you were all I needed to think about while putting one foot slowly in front of the other. I know you bonded with people that abandoned you. I know you have a difficult time trusting. I know it has taken you a long time to get to the place you are now—a place of comfort, of openness, of happiness, of joy, and of peace with yourself and with me. You are wise beyond your years and you’ve experienced far more than any child your age should ever have to go through. Forgive me for ever giving you the impression that I was so weak that you needed to take control and parent me. I may not always seem entirely on the ball, bug, but I do my best. I will always be here to take care of you and I will do my best never to let you down.

I love you beyond words.

Your mom.