I’m Derelict

I blew it! I wanted to write on the 20th of every month for Hindsight 2020, and I totally forgot July. Covid furlough has a way of running days into weeks, and all sense of up and down and time and place are skewed.

I realized two days later that I missed a post, but then got busy in catastrophic and bizarre ways and couldn’t get to you by now.

My friends’ house burned down!

I was on vacation in Bear Lake, and called my landlord the night before going home, to ask her to check on my Penny. She informed me that Robin and Maurice’s home was destroyed by electrical fire. They were lucky to get out alive! Their pup did not.

It was quick, devastating, and total. Robin was out running errands but Mo, works works late, laid down for a nap, as he does when the teenager naps, which she did that day. It was she who awoke and saved her father. Confused, they walked out of the back, to find the living room consumed by fire that hungrily gnawed at the ceiling. At that moment, flames burst through the front windows, enveloping the roof. They were still inside!

Last week, I went over to help empty the basement of their business inventory, for insurance. It was an overwhelming, emotional job that Robin couldn’t have done alone. Thousands of garments filled dozens of bins. We counted every piece.

It felt good to have purpose! It feels good to be useful. It feels good to do good. I love being idle, I can’t lie. But, lord, how blurring it becomes.

bear lake

I can’t believe I grew up in Idaho and Utah but hadn’t been to Bear Lake, which straddles both. The Caribbean came to the farm!

 

farmland at sunsetsunkissed

Oh. My furlough turned into a firing. I saw it coming. Donation is backed up in a way the economy is not. Everyone wants so badly to get back to producing, earning, spending, consuming, but we have such a backlog it will be an age before we return to home pickups. And as the generation of folks dies, who call for appointments as opposed to scheduling online, my redundancy was felt more with every passing year. I figured it wouldn’t be too long before they noticed I’m not needed. ūüėČ

It was a good job, a good crew. We were a team. And though mine was the most menial of customer service jobs, I did it well. It mattered deeply to be a tiny cog in the wheel of an organization that does good for our community and in the world.

And I worked with drivers. I outswore them all. It was a huge hit for the fucking lady to brandish the filthiest mouth in the room. God, I love cursing.

On days when I grew weary of the same, unrelenting donor queries and frustration, I would hear that wavering senior voice and remember that she might have very few people to visit with anymore. Why shouldn’t I let her catalog the quality of every beloved item? Or this person was newly widowed. Or children lost a parent. Was I going to rush this need?

I was reminded of my stint answering phones for a hospice. It was a temp job that included assisting the Bereavement Coordinator, and I learned that I have enormous space and comfort in the mourning of others. I became an intuitive and caring listener.

Still, impatience crept in, as it does. But 9 times out of 10, my caller was elderly and I remembered my grandma. The thought of anyone being short or dismissive with her so filled me with indignity that I found I liked to listen. You learn a lot about personalities and values by the way a person describes things. Priceless, inconsequential things.

21 Days of Meditation

I swear! The Universe is conspiring to benefit me!

Penny’s no better, but life is life is life. Love is hard. Love is good, and life goes on.

Last night, my betches called a double/triple birthday party. The Twins and Natalia just got older! It surprised me how hungry I was for company. I’ve been enjoying my solitude, but it was a breath of fresh air to get out of my house and the angst of the last weeks.

We danced alternately to Everly Brothers and Metallica. Talk about Gemini variability! And yes, I moved. My back is relenting, praise Whomever!

gemini

My girlfriends are identical Gemini twins! 41 years ago, ultrasounds weren’t so clear and Mom didn’t know they were TWO. She, singular, was supposed to arrive in Leo; Instead, she doubled in Gemini! WHOA.

And today, a girl from the book club I joined started an online guided meditation with The Chopra Center. Today’s mantra is I AM, and our task is to create a list of 50 people who’ve influenced our lives (and to put energy and intention behind our gratitude to them). Off I go!

Y’all! Do new stuff! Why did I wait so long to join a book club? I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO.

Duh. (There’s Jeffrey, haha! He’s Top Three.)

Just what I needed. I feel supported. Embraced. I feel like I inhabit a loving, if inexplicably random Universe.
om

No Man Is An Island

How do we reconcile shortcomings in others with our boundaries? What’s the line between forgiveness and finally expecting our worth to be reflected in the way we’re treated? Unless I accept my people as they are, I’m not going to have any friends left! My circle is getting very small indeed.

I told my friend I was hurt when she and her husband rode Zafod’s art car after what he did to me. I hadn’t planned to. “She’s my friend,” I decided. “I can’t hold her as close as I once did, and I love her. Not every wound requires discussion.”

I gave it real thought. I knew that either way, I would continue to spend time and be her friend. I’d been hurt, and it was done. I harbored nothing. Not the end of the world; certainly not intentional. I knew that.

I know, too, that it’s unfair to demand the same expression of camaraderie that I offer. I see something in my friend now that’s hard to know. It’s still friendship.

But… We were hanging out yesterday. She wondered why I had stormed off one night at the burn. I hadn’t, but I understood why it seemed like I had. In truth, some plastic women boarded an art car we were on and threw shade at me. (I have no objection to cosmetic work, incidentally, until they look freakish. Even then, knock yourself out. But silicone, starved, filled, frozen, Botoxed, and bitchy? ‘Bye.)

I hadn’t worn makeup all week, until burn night. That’s normal for the day. (Sunglasses hide many sins.) You might think the face of a middle-aged redhead with faded eyebrows would be especially bleached-out and colorless in the bright sun. In fact, I look more washed out at night. Featureless, pallid, even sickly.

I didn’t care. I wore my cute outfits, but I was all about comfort this burn. I couldn’t be bothered with makeup. I will again. I love turning it out. This year, when evening rolled around, I just didn’t want to. Makeup felt like a chore.

It was similar to my first burn, when I hadn’t known to bring all my fabulous gear and wore gym shorts and tennis shoes the whole time! (Why I didn’t Google it when my boyfriend told me playa would ruin all my nice things is beyond me, haha!) In 2007, I was intimidated and uncomfortable. Slacks at a black-tie affair.

What I gained was the experience, for the first time in my life, of disappearing. No one noticed me! It was discombobulating at first. Then, it felt like a secret superpower. If I had a meaningful conversation, it was a meeting of people, not finery. Yeah, I was snubbed, but those I spoke with mattered in a new way. No angle.

Showing up with only myself was a humbling, powerful lesson that I cherish. (The next year, I’d already learned it. I brought the glamour.)

This year was like the first. The difference was I chose it, and this time I needed nothing from those who overlooked me. Twelve years ago, I was shaken. It took work to bring myself up when someone looked down on me. Now I’m bored of people who tear others down, so when those derisive bitches sized me up, I was out. (One sneered, audibly.) I wasn’t mad, not rattled, not interested.

“Do I look like I’m dying of cancer?” I asked my friend at the time.

She said yes! I needed eyebrows.

I knew. If I cared, I’d have drawn them on.

I sat it out for a minute or two, but I don’t like mean girls. Those chicks changed the vibe for me, so I left. Simple. (We were just sitting anyway, and I wanted to move! Ecstatic dance is something I only find at Burning Man. Wordless conversation is magical, especially for one so blessed and cursed with words. I had an awesome night.

Oh, what was the name of that camp? Multi-level dance floors and mini-trampolines! Anyway, the beats were going off at some unicorny location and I danced deeep for hours, woke up sore. “Ooh, I’m getting my legs on now!”)

Back at home, my friend told me that she and her husband determined then that I must have been offended. Reasonable. Wrong.

“That being said,” I teased her, “when your friend asks if she looks like she’s dying of cancer, the answer is always no!”

“No,” she disagreed. “I don’t want anyone lying to me. Be straight!”

“No, man! There are certain things the answer is always no! ‘Does this dress make me look fat?’ NO! ‘Do I look like I’m dying of cancer?” Always no!”

We drank for a couple of hours. I don’t know if that opened the door to the truth. I wasn’t so drunk, but maybe it emboldened me to confess what I was wrestling with.

What difference does it make? I asked myself, again and again.

Be straight with me, I heard her say, again and again.

If this sat on my heart unsaid, it was between us. I needed to share my feelings with someone I’ve considered a close friend for five years.

Did I, though? Do we have to get everything off our chests? If I don’t need her to answer for it, do I need to offload something that won’t stop me being a friend?

But isn’t that making allowances for people who don’t value me? I hoped she’d care, and we could close the first gap our friendship has known. I had to say it, or the new distance between us might grow.

I want authentic connections, not acquaintances and drinking buddies. I spoke my truth. I didn’t accuse or attack. I owned my feelings.

“I was hurt when you rode the art car after what Zafod did to me.”

“When?” she asked.

“Anytime after he kicked me out.” What did that matter?¬†

It devolved from there. She was defensive, deflecting. It didn’t happen to them. (It’s inconsequential, then, that he endangered me in the middle of the desert after harassing, deceiving, fondling, violating, and expelling me?)

Wow. Compassion matters to me, and that’s the definition of its absence. No amount of explanation could communicate why that hurts.

In the end, all I could say was, “If the tables were turned…” Over and over.

She came back every time with confusion, and no feeling. It didn’t involve them. Why should they stand by me and not hang out with my attacker?

Now I’m screwed. Now I know.¬†The obstacle is real, and growing. Empathy’s important to me. Recognition of unintended injury. Basic concern for friend.¬†“I can see how you feel. I’m sorry.” They’re not. They don’t.

I want a little loyalty. All I got was discomfort, her own. She was in trouble.

“I’m not mad,” I told her. “I just wanted you to know how I felt. I haven’t blamed you or yelled. I shared my feelings.”

“But you’re the one who got fooled,” she shot back.

Oh. My. God.

I gasped and walked away. “Oh! I’m getting mad now.

“That is victim blaming!” I turned back. “I didn’t do this. He did this. It was traumatic and scary, and it hurts that my friends don’t care.”

It didn’t happen to her, and I’m the idiot.

You think I don’t already feel stupid enough? Every victim of sexual assault hates themselves for it! Not an ounce of concern. Not a moment’s consideration. Not even his mugshot was enough to convince her. He’s a serial predator, but I’m an idiot.

I paused in the kitchen, grabbed a drink, and went back. We were going in circles. “I know this has been hard to hear,” I sympathized, “but I wanted you to know how I felt and you said you wanted it straight.¬†Maybe it’s the beer,” I shrugged.

I get that others haven’t spent 30 years in therapy. I get that others haven’t had to focus their whole lives on restructuring healthy relationships, and learning effective, loving communication. But void of empathy? For a friend?

Today, I’m anxious. “Are we good?” I want to text. “Thank you for hearing me.”

But she didn’t, really, and I think, why am I worried about a friend I rarely see anymore, who’s married and doesn’t need relationships outside of her husband and her twin, and openly rejects the concept of caring about others?

Is that a friend?

She did say in the end, “I feel guilty,” and she actually said the words, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” I rushed to her. “That’s all I wanted, for you to understand and care how I felt. I know you didn’t mean it. I feel closer to you if we can be honest about the hard stuff.”

Apologies matter to me. Not everyone will give that, so I respect it. Still, I’m sad and worried. No matter how fairly I handled a challenging conflict, now I’m “drama.” They think feelings and drama are the same thing. I don’t.

I don’t think it’s drama to ask a friend to care. They don’t want to be bothered. I can work with differences. Indifference to the pain of a friend, not so much.

My heart hurts. I can’t help that my regard changes, knowing this. They’ve stated their boundary. “What I do has nothing to do with you, and keep your shit to yourself.”

They can’t undo unintended consequences. Our choices affect others, and I can’t feel closer than I do to people who don’t care. I’ll enjoy their company¬† – can’t help that either; I like them – but I no longer feel close. I don’t feel valued.

Soon I’ll be happy that I expressed difficult emotions well. I was afraid of the possibility that she’d reject me, and she did. It’s the first time I’ve failed to get eye-to-eye with someone, but didn’t keep pushing. I accepted it and closed the conversation. It was relatively brief. I remained calm, respectful, and earnest. I’m getting better at this. I’m pleased with that, but today my heart hurts.

Murky Full Moon

I still feel spun near the center of a Universal smack-down, but I’m ebbing out of the survival zone. Last month’s eclipse is still with me and hurting, specifically because my ability to have fun with it made it all the more bittersweet. Sometimes it makes me sad to see how good I am at making the best of a bad situation. I don’t know how to explain that, except to say that the little girl growing up beaten, abandoned, furious, and scared to death just figured out how. And this middle-aged gal still has it. How can that be sad?

It’s bittersweet, too, because though I was able to make a joyous occasion of it, I could simply have gone home and enjoyed my family, the spectacular countryside, and the magic. I chose instead to scrape out another miracle of mood-alteration. I guess I needed to believe I still could. Nice it didn’t take drugs, like the old party girl would.

I hope in the second half of my life, I’ll finally let go the need to prove myself to myself. It’s like the first half was so hard, especially the nascent beginning, that I simply refuse to believe that anything is real or solid or sticking around if it doesn’t just suck.

Thing is, that’s childish, and I’m the only one who can grow up, or refuse to. I’m in danger of not doing it at all if I don’t get this shit behind me, like, yesterday. I’m 44.

Christie, trust that the skills are in there to enjoy and appreciate magic and beauty every day. They don’t disappear or stop coming if you know that. Expecting miracles is different from taking them for granted. They’re your right and your routine.

I suspect that they’ll become more powerful if I let them in every day, rather than needing each one to be epic. It’s just the way it is. I’m connected and I know it. So are we all. Nothing special, just a walking marvel, ‘s all.

So, here I am in full moon energy during the day, a red-gray sun snuffed by wildfires severe enough to cause evacuations in northern Utah. It’s bad.¬†The throat and eyes sting, mountain beauty’s blotted out, and the whole damned planet is burning or flooding or turning night at midday, just 2-odd weeks ago. It’s eerie and spooky, and everyday run-of-the-mill. It all is, and I’m busy cleaning up the mess I’ve made, of my life, my family, my namesake, my most important friendship, and my last relationship.

****

Today, this memory popped up on Facebook. It seemed especially poignant and timely, so I’m marking it here to make myself accountable. Of the memory, I wrote:

“Two years ago, the last of my 3 best girlfriends left Salt Lake City. At that time, I began planning my move, too, to the next phase/location of my adventure, but found continued wonderful reasons to stay, as one does. The last month+ has got me asking the Universe, sincerely, “Is Utah kicking me out?” I’m anchored through November with a passion project 24 years in the making, which would make any big transitions impossible until the end of whatever lease I’m able to come up¬†with next month, which tells me: ONE YEAR. My life purpose for one year is to look at 20 years in the Promised Land and squeeze in all the personal goals I meant to reach but didn’t, face character deficits I ignored or pretended away, and set myself up for the second half of my life. I don’t want to leave next year, but I’ll have a picture of and real progress toward a clear 5-yr intention, with no particular destination in mind. What’s next? It’s terrifying, exciting, bittersweet. It’s time.”

jojo's good-bye

Jojo’s good-bye… Germany, here she comes! Aug. 29, 2015

 

Post-Birthday Post-Script

maybe more later, maybe not. probably. i’m still processing just how meaningful the day was and just how profound it is that my life-altering epiphany occurred on the actual day of my birth… and you know how much i have to write when i’m working through “it.” suffice that my birthday was the best day of my life. truly! THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE thus far. i think i had to be old enough to be present enough to recognize it as such. and it wasn’t cuz i jumped out of an airplane or drank so well i don’t remember how it ended, haha! it was a blessing, and i knew it when it happened. i’ll tell ya if i tell ya. ūüėČ

“GRAVITY HAS A WAY OF ALWAYS WINNING IN THE LONG RUN,” he said to her on her fortieth birthday. “So you might as well jump out of an airplane!” she said back.

[to facebook] April 27, 2013: “i have to say i’m a little disappointed in my birthday so far. i LANDED after jumping out of an airplane. let’s be honest: i never meant to decline into mid-life and old age. FIT FORTY FABULOUS! and flying!”

today: “i’d like to give a quick shout to all the good people who made my day so special. if you weren’t able to make it, no worries. it was good to ‘look forward’ to you and to have you in my thoughts as i celebrated this landmark passage. those of you who were able to attend made me feel so blessed, so happy, and so utterly, deliciously WORTHY. it was a true “aha!” moment to love myself as much as i love all of you, and you gave me that. ON my actual day! i’m so grateful… to be alive, to muddle through another day, and to be surrounded by such insightful, intelligent, strange, extraordinary people, to call you community and family. i love my life. i must be really kickass to warrant your friendship. i love you all.”
freefall 2jumplaughing

Reframing

I came into this life keenly aware of what I didn’t get in the roulette and randomness of birth. I don’t necessarily remember feeling like I was owed bounty and ease, but I certainly recognized that I didn’t have it. What that created in me was a curiosity about those who did. That interest grew into entitlement. Resentment. I don’t know that I was jealous, quite, but it was inequitable to have been born a Have Not, and I knew it.

Today over lunch, I mentioned to a friend how I was always aware, even very young, that I had been robbed. I made it a joke over the years. “I must have been royalty in another life,” I’d say. “I was born to have a staff.”

Somewhere, that “lack” switched.

“Lucky me!” I said today. “For the last few years I’ve noticed how odd it is that I have so little, yet I always have enough. I have what I need, when I need it. Isn’t that lucky?”

“Well, you did that,” she insisted.

“How do you mean?”

“You’re always talking about how best to view things, the gift in this, the lesson in that.”

“I guess I do,” I remembered. “No wonder you call me PollyAnna.”

“No,” she corrected me. “I call you F***ing PollyAnna. I wouldn’t want to piss you off.”

“That’s wise” I agreed. “I do have edge.”

Then, neither of our cards worked to pay the bill. No, really.

I love good friends. I’M RICH.

Cheffrey

I’d gone a year without knowing where he died. A couple of weeks afterwards, I did go into the convenience store I suspected and asked if a man OD’d in their restroom, but I felt so gross as the words came out that I ran away. “Nevermind! I’m sorry!”

(“I don’t need to know where it happened,” I chided myself. “It certainly doesn’t matter to him. And why would I wish to put that picture in someone else’s head?” I felt disgusting and morbid for wanting to know.)

Around the anniversary mark Christine told me where he died, a few blocks east of the store I imagined. “I sit at the bus stop across the street every morning!” I exclaimed, delighted for reasons I don’t understand. “They’re tearing it down!”

“Oh, no,” she lamented.

“Are you kidding? Good riddance. He LIVED!”

The next day, I arrived early and wrote his name on the not-yet-demolished building, plus hearts and smiley faces. “Hi, honey!” I said to him every morning thereafter. “We always did share a twisted sense of humor. Why not greet each other here?”

Today, I lunched with friends kitty-corner from that place. When I drove by, I dismissed my intuition. “You’re just thinking of him because of the corner, Christie, not because he’s with you every time he crosses your mind.” But then I passed a license plate that read, “Chef On,” and if you’ve read other posts about Jeffrey, you know my culinary friend talks to us through license plates, too.

“Oh, alright then,” I teased us both. “Hi, honey!”

Happy One-Year Blogiversary! A Review:

Have I accomplished the goal I set with this blog?

I’ve chosen estrangement from my parents. That feels like failure, so I’m inclined to answer, “No.” However, my stress set-point is reduced. Knowing I expect nothing from them has calmed me down. I still get depressed; I still get annoyed; I’m still attitudinal. I’m less defeated. Until I sent that letter to dad after Thanksgiving, I still hoped to someday be included in the circle of things/people they accept/love. Now I don’t. Nothing’s changed. Any change took place more than a year ago, when I realized, “Holy crap, I’ve been delusional. They’ve never accepted me and they never will.” Once dad saw that I would never tow the line, I became second-class, a stepdaughter. Mom is silent. I am the former Mormon whose disapproving family merely tolerates her. Somehow, writing them off, literally, put me at ease. It’s profoundly sad, but it’s done. Now I can heal.

I feel like I’m lying to myself, that the only true healing is reintegration with them. Maybe that’s the lie. I don’t know how I feel about my progress. I guess I’ll tell the story.

****

In November 2011, I was fired from a job I worked for over 5 years. It was a very untoward sacking, and I didn’t handle it well. I had a breakdown and called my mother for support. She panicked, hearing only my “attack” voice, and began attacking me. We have never communicated successfully, peacefully, or even kindly. Since I was born, it was war or walking on eggshells. Offended, and out of habit, I did, then, attack her. She went crazy. It actually scared me. She was speaking nonsense. It was so strange and confusing it shocked me out of our pattern, fight to the death. (In my youth, I won by getting smacked around. “When you lose your temper, you lose,” she advised me, not intending irony. “Brain over braun,” I gloated. I remember taunting her that she had to hit me because she couldn’t outwit a 6 year old.)

On this day in November 2011, I realized for the first time, “Wow. I cannot turn to my mother for comfort. She has none to give.” It was ultimately softening as to my lifelong strife with her. She is at wit’s end at all times. There’s no comfort, even for herself. I was sad for her, and ashamed for taking so long to notice that my continued demands on her were chipping away at her sanity.

I was disappointed in myself. I have wonderful support. I couldn’t be satisfied by my mother’s past attempts to help me, because I wasn’t satisfied by her understanding of me. And I didn’t trust her. Anymore, she can’t even try to help. She’s… different. She’s old. She doesn’t have to do this anymore! It was actually one of the most freeing, loving moments of my life. At the time, I was in such a state that I simply got off the phone quickly and called my best friend, as I should have done in the first place.

Then the texts started. Mom has generational electronic anxiety. She’d never texted me before. The messages were vile. They were crazy! I asked her to stop. She didn’t. I called and explained precisely what I wrote above, that I understand now something I’ve never seen before. “I was wrong to keep coming to you. I’m so sorry.” But she wasn’t listening. She was screaming more disturbing, frightening things than she’s ever said before. In our long violent history, she’s hung up on me innumerable times, often rightfully so. This was the first I’d hung up on her. The texts kept coming. I took the bait, and three days of verbal volleys ensued.

Finally, I sent an apology to mom for participating in the latest battle, and promised it was the last. I told her I loved her, but wouldn’t be speaking to her for now. “I have to set new boundaries in order to avoid falling into our traps.” She mocked my new-found maturity, finding it “interesting that [I] would set these boundaries without first consulting [her].” (“Personal boundaries don’t require consensus!”) My friend forbade me¬†reply.

(I saved the exchanges for weeks, rereading and reliving them until my friend insisted I delete them. I needed my proof and righteousness so badly I’d let it kill my soul, but she loves me too much to watch me choose my demons over my truth.)

I called dad. “Obviously, you’re privy to what’s been going on. I want to apologize for my participation in it. I was wrong, and I’m done. I tried to explain it to mom, but she can’t hear it right now so I want you to understand that this time is different. I see things in a way I never have before.” I explained the life-altering epiphany I had, that she has no comfort to spare and I was hurting, even damaging her by continuing to demand it. “I’m telling you, this will never happen again. I’m sorry it took so long for me to see.”

“Okay.¬†Thank you.”

“Thanks, dad. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Christmas 2011

I was nervous, but excited to see my mom. I felt, like I said, a new softness for her. I regret the years I’ve made her pay for the abuse that started my life and shaped the way I see the world. She made very serious mistakes that caused me real, lasting harm, but I see in the lines on her face how deeply she regrets her choices. I’m her greatest heartache. That makes me sad. She’s just a little girl with a cold, disapproving father (spare-the-rod sort), who’s known since she was twelve that she was depressed, whose life ran away from her, whose anxiety took over in the form of blinding rages against her mouthiest child. (No, I will not shut up!) I hate to say it, but I pity her. I love her so much and I admire what she survived. I admire her convictions. I admire her intent to live a righteous life. She is the least hypocritical Mormon out there. She lives her life quietly, honestly, honorably, by the credo, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” She is self-sufficient and shy, and loves the Church for reminding her to extend a hand of service to her fellowman. She’s just the well-meaningest thing you ever saw. I feel so bad for her.

At dinner, my father and brother in-law started throwing out hypothetical situations with which to hate homosexuals. I hate my sister’s husband for this change in my family, and I am endlessly disappointed in my father for not noticing, and participating. We didn’t spend all of our time judging others before Dan appeared. Now it’s all they talk about! My sister married a good ol’ boy from Mississippi, who told her when they were engaged that he left his home because he didn’t want to raise his family around black people. Now, we’re from the potato part of Idaho, not the neo-Nazi part, but a boy that far away wouldn’t know to make the distinction. He handpicked Idaho for reasons of complexion. Once there, he found the Mormon church. I’m ashamed of how easy it was for a weak white man to find empowerment in the priesthood, as well as a pretty girl who survived a turbulent family by disappearing into the woodwork, a properly opinionless woman.

You might think, knowing me as you do, that I disliked him from the beginning. Well, yes, I did. I was bratty and snide. But I grew up. I began to appreciate his talent with animals. Mostly, I came to respect how much he adored my sister’s growing family. My biological father didn’t care if I lived or died, as far as I knew, and it meant the world to me that my nieces knew their daddy loved them. I thanked him again and again for that, and for being a good provider. I went out of my way to use specifics and make it personal. My sister is happy, and I’m grateful. I gave my brother in-law thoughtful presents, like Church magazines on Daddy Daughter Dates and a framed black-and-white I took of his beloved golden retriever, Maggie. I took endless photos of him and his daughters laughing and playing. He’s never spoken to me, except to make fun of me once in front of his buddy. (I didn’t know that Bear Lake is one body of water straddling Utah and Idaho and not 2 lakes with the same name.)

One time, I drove my brother and I to Mel and Dan’s for Easter dinner. “Every time we’re there,” I complained. “He’s going on about another group he hates.”

“You don’t know him,” he responded, annoyed. was in junior high then. “You haven’t been here for a long time.”

“Fair enough,” I replied. “I haven’t.” Maybe he was right.

Walking through the door, we were met with Dan’s voice. “Well, I don’t know about you,” he jeered, “but I wouldn’t want to live next to a bunch of Jews either.”

I shot my brother a look.

“Don’t!” he ordered.

“Mmm hm.” I walked off, sanctimonious.

No, I never liked my sister’s husband. It is with much chagrin that I think of my girls learning his values. But it is in this that I find purpose. That’s what Fun Aunt Christie is for! Someday, somehow, they might see, “There is another view.”

Christmas 2011 was different. It was never so egregious as to take place at the dinner table, or if it started to, dad would joke, “Watch out for Christie.” (Hilarious.) Til now, it had always been conversation I could avoid or disagree with in a passing manner. I knew Dan would rather I just shut up, but I had a job to do. And for heaven’s sake – literally! – can we not talk about hatred on the night of our dear Savior’s birth? You call him your Lord and yet you seem to forget the very message of his life: To love the OTHER. This is the holiday! Get it? HOLY DAY. And you use it to advance hatred? I expect as little from that Klan member Dan, but not my dad. I sat in silence for as long as I could, but I just kept thinking, “What if one of my nieces is gay? What if a little heart is breaking right now? What if someone at this table at this second is just dying inside?” I don’t think any of my nieces is gay, but that’s not the point. It’s not okay to teach that, ever. At Christmas, it’s downright sinful.

And I was embarrassed! My brand new, young sister-in-law was meeting us for the first time, together. This is Christmas here. This is who you married.

I was adversarial, I won’t deny. I didn’t yell, but I was self-righteous. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! I cannot believe [such and such]…”

(Dad argued that a gay urbanite would be more likely to die in the Alaskan bush than a straight city-sweller. I think sexual orientation has no bearing on adaptability, but in our dictatorship family, dissent is not allowed.)

I’d never seen my dad so angry. He’s¬†very mild-mannered, but he was hateful. “You can call me a bigot if you want, Christie,” he snapped, “but that’s how I feel.” Whoa. I never saw my father as a bigot, until he accused me of calling him one. That’s what bigots do. My sister’s husband is a bigot, racist, sexist, all of it. My father’s just a guy from another generation who’s only ever known people who look, think, and act like him.

(I consider my restraint heroic for never having screamed at him, “How do you not see that your brother, the tap-dancing rancher, is GAAAAAAAAAAY!???) (I admire and love my uncle more and more. Faithful practicing Mormon, celibate, never-married, one of the most pleasant, generous, loving people I know. A kind, joyful man. And fabulous.)

My folks left after dinner. Mom thanked me for their gift. Dad wouldn’t speak to me.

Before bed, my sister pulled me aside. “Christie,” she started, “I don’t know how to say this.” My stomach dropped to my toes. “Don’t go to mom anymore.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“She can’t handle it anymore.”

“I know. What are you talking about?” I asked again. “Oh.”

It all made sense now, dad’s hostility. He didn’t believe me when I shared my epiphany, or if he had, he didn’t care. He was still mad at me, and talking about it behind my back to the rest of the family. They get together, decide what my behavior means, and tell me about it during the holidays.

“You can come to me,” my sister offered.

“I’m the one who said I wouldn’t turn to her anymore.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she cut me off.

“Melanie, you just said I could come to you…”

“Go to bed, Christie,” Dan ordered me from upstairs.

“My sister and I are just fine,” I told him, turning back to my conversation. “Melanie, you can’t unload misinformation on me and then not listen to my perspective.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she said again.

“Are you even listening to yourself? ‘Come to me. I don’t want to hear it.'”

“I’m not as smart as you, Christie.” (Such an unfair cop-out!)

“Wait,” I pleaded. “It didn’t happen like that. I told dad I wouldn’t go to mom anymore – and I haven’t – so there’s no point in you saying it now.”

“CHRISTIE!” Dan roared.

“I’m having a conversation with my sister,” I stopped him.

“NO!” he screamed. “SHUT UP, you¬†BITCH!” My face must have betrayed shock. “You are a bitch!” he doubled-down.

(I was surprised. At his behavior. That brand new sister in-law was behind the door he was standing next to, and all four of my young nieces were sleeping in the living room. I could see them!) (Oh, and all strong women are called bitch. Idiot.)

“My sister and I are working this out just fine,” I sneered. “Thanks.”

He charged down the stairs with his fists clenched, chest pushed out, face purple, and veins bulging. Melanie jumped out from behind me and held him back. The whole time he’s screaming, “Shut up, you bitch! You’re a bitch! Shut up!”

“All I’ve ever said to you is thank you,” I yelled. “Thank you for being a good provider! My nieces know their daddy loves them! Thank you! All I’ve ever said is thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Again and again, a mantra.

“Shut UP! Shut up! Don’t you ever shut up? Shut up, you BITCH! You’re a bitch!”

Melanie finally screamed, “DAN!” and broke his gaze from me. He wanted to kill me. He wanted me to know he could.

I ran upstairs. I cried all night, had my brother take me to the bus stop in the morning. “I don’t mean to put words in your mouth,” I said to him, “but I wouldn’t mind if you told Dan that you don’t appreciate him talking to your sister like that.” (He didn’t.)

Later, instant messaging, Melanie denied that Dan ever attacked me. Then, when proof forced her to admit it, she excused him.

“His veins bulge all the time. And you didn’t seem scared.” (So it’s okay?!)

I reminded her that I grew up beaten and learned Fight over Flight, to the death. I remember two times specifically as a small girl that I believed I was going to die, once while watching my arm turn blue and once running down the street in stocking feet in the rain. I didn’t get far. Flight fails. Stand your ground and show no fear.

New Year’s 2012

I began having a strange cluster of health problems and pain that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis in March of auto-immune disease, but not before going under anesthesia for tests. I reported a reaction to Sudafed when I was a baby. The doctor wanted to know what happened, and I couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t put me under until he knew, so I called my parents. They, of course, screened the call so I left a detailed message. And another. And another. Finally, I said, “I understand. I won’t answer when I see it’s you, but it’s very important that I get this information. Please leave me a message. Thank you.” NOTHING.

I left one last very stern but calm message. “How long are you going to shut me out? This has gone on long enough!” I scolded them. “I require medical treatment and I cannot proceed without information that you have. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Within an hour I received a breezy voice mail with the info I needed and not a hint of acknowledgement of having ignored my pleas for weeks.

We never spoke again.

Thanksgiving 2012

My parents have held Thanksgiving for my immediate family at their new house in Twin Falls, ID, for years. I didn’t have a car so I rode with my aunt to Thanksgiving at Grandma’s in Pocatello. I’ve been the only representative from our branch for years, so I had no expectation of seeing anyone last year other than cousins and my beloved grandmother.

Imagine my surprise when, days before the holiday, I received a text from my sister. “Mom, dad, Ren and Alicia (brother and sister in-law) are coming over after dinner at Grandma’s. You’re more than welcome to come.” I was sick. (And astonished. In what world am I welcome in that house? WHAT COLOR IS THE SKY ON YOUR PLANET?!) I was only just beginning to look at the pain from the year before. Whenever that anger and heartache would boil, I just looked away. That’s not my style. I believe only by facing our fears can we hope to understand, learn from, or conquer them. This one was so big I gave myself permission to pretend it didn’t exist. It worked. And then that first anniversary was here. I had to look. I was furious. I allowed myself to seethe. I know me, and I know anger is part of my process, but I was terrified to see those people. I was too bottled up, too disgusted to see them. This was a holiday, a time to celebrate gratitude and grannies, not a time to explode.

I sought the council of my best friend. “What do I do? I can’t talk to them! I can’t face them!”

“Stick to your Grandma,” she advised me.

“I can do that.”

Wednesday night, I had total insomnia. Thanksgiving Day I was fairly twitching with fear and lack of sleep, but doing okay. I was enjoying the company of my cousins and nieces and feeling like maybe I’d worried for nothing. Coming down the stairs, however, I realized that dad and I would be bottle-necked alone and I began to panic. In my mind, I was running. Looking back, it feels like I had tunnel-vision on the bottom of those stairs. My dad elbowed me in the side and laughed, “You still not talkin’ to us? Har har.”

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!!!

I flipped around, finger in his face. “You owe me an apology!” I yelled under my breath. “You accused me of calling you a bigot. I have never called you a name in my life!” No one was the wiser and I took a seat with an uncle’s family rather than with my own.

I didn’t sleep again that night. I didn’t sleep for sixty hours straight.

I wrote my dad a letter apologizing for snapping at him. “I’ve learned that anger is easier to feel than pain and that pretty much sums up the first half of my life,” I wrote. “I really want a better second half.” I told him that 2012 had been one of the most difficult and rewarding years of my life, “and I did it completely alone, without support from my family and very little communication. I must conclude, then, that I’m better off that way for now. May it bring peace for all of us. I love you both.”

****

I don’t know. I’m still in it, I guess, far from forgiveness. I look at what I just wrote and think, “Is this just more evidence-gathering?” Am I just arguing my case to an obliging faceless, virtual public? “I’m RIGHT!” Is that all this is? It might be.

Or… Is this out of me at last? I’m the kind who has to tell the whole story until I’ve worked it all out. I try to be conscious of that dangerous place where you switch from working it out to rehearsing the script. I’m not even close to getting stuck in this. Right? I feel like I’m barely beginning to look at it. I was so raw last year, I couldn’t even think about it. It took more than a year to process the indignity of how I was fired! I only started looking at the holiday collapse of my family during the holidays. I think I’m gonna cut myself a break and say it all this once without judgment, without questioning my own motives. That’s my experience of what happened. There. It can only get further and further behind me.

Cluck like a chicken if you read all that, ha! That’s alright. I wrote it for me. Now I’m done.
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Christmas Miracle

I turned off the radio as I drove to visit my two little ladies. I said aloud, “Well, angels, now’s a good time to talk. Help me get through to [Jane]. So far, my face has not seemed to comfort her at all. I don’t care that dementia has made her angry. I only care that she does not seem to receive any benefit from my being there… so I leave. Please bring her angels in with me today so maybe she’ll recognize something familiar. I don’t know. Just… help me find a way to bring her peace. And let them both let go easily when they’re ready.”

I sat down with [Joan] first. She’s blind and a little confused, but her personality’s in full force. She’s¬†quick, clever, kinda wicked, and pleased with her own jokes. I adore her. She hasn’t eaten for weeks but she’s still drinking, so she’s not quite active[ly dying]. But she’s slept through my last two visits. I miss her. I held her hand¬†for¬†15¬†minutes or so. It’s hard to stick around when her roommate blares the TV. I sent her my thanks and love, and left.¬†

Then the long walk down the hall. I felt the fear creeping back up in me. “How do I honor [Jane’s] feelings without mirroring them back?” I prayed. “How do I bring joy without invalidating her anger? Walk in with me.” Oh, thank goodness! She was asleep.

I turned on some¬†instrumental Christmas music and sat down, continuing to pray. I sat for about 20 minutes, longer than usual during naps,¬†just enjoying a feeling. At last I decided to go.¬†I quietly gathered my things, then turned back to say good-bye. And there she was. “Oh,¬†hello!” I said, introducing myself again. “Do you remember me?”

She¬†didn’t.

“I was just¬†going to¬†play some¬†music and sit with you. Would that be alright?”

It would.

So I started over.¬†Her garbled¬†noises began. I felt the fear creeping up. (“Stay with me.”)¬†Finally [Jane] enunciated clearly, “Heeeelllp! Help, heeellllllp,” over and over.

“How can I help?”

She indicated a string just out of her reach.

“Would you like the light on?”

She would. *click*
And she quickly changed her mind: “HEEELLLP! HELLLLP!”

“That’s pretty bright. Do you want it off?”

She did.

“We had a Christmas Eve blizzard all day yesterday, [Jane], and the sun came out today for the picture-perfect white Christmas! Did you know that?”

She didn’t.

“It’s gorgeous¬†out there¬†and it’s¬†all the light we need, don’t you think?”

Yes.

“It is so beautiful today.¬†Merry Christmas!”

She pointed to the closet.

“What a pretty sweater! Looks like Santa came¬†last night. You musta been good,” and I’ll be damned if she didn’t burst out laughing! So I did too. [Jane] indicated that she’d like to wear it, but I was scared to move her. That twisted body looks like it hurts.¬†(“Stay with me!”) I pushed her crash pad aside, sat on her bed, and gingerly tugged and lifted and wiggled and pulled until [Jane] at last wore her new Christmas sweater.

“We did it!” I sighed. “It even matches your nails. You look beautiful.”

And then the most amazing thing happened. Her eyebrows raised and she began to tell me in an excited, indecipherable whisper about this girl and that girl, pointing wildly at me.

“Me?” I asked.

“No, me!” she corrected.

“Of course! Tell me more.”

And she did. I kept praying that she wouldn’t feel patronized, knowing I couldn’t understand, when I had the thought, “For god’s sake, Christie, you’re an actress. Mean it!”

So I did. It was fun! This woman told me everything. She was so happy to tell me everything. I held and squoze and shook her hand and heard her everything. It was so wonderful to¬†touch her! I was overwhelmed at the immediacy of their answer/ attendance. I was crying and laughing. I was playing, for heaven’s sake, and I stayed for an hour!

I thanked [Jane] for a wonderful Christmas and left to see Les Miserable with my family, my best friend and her daughter. My bestie whispered as the show began, “I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years!” We¬†both fell in love with Les Miserable in high school: Me,¬†the theatre geek onstage; she,¬†the gifted flautist in the orchestra.

Les Miserable does not disappoint. See it! “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Some timing, huh? Sometimes you just have to believe in magic.

Thank you, angels. You seriously rock. Merry Xmas. Love, Xie