Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue…

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…And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

I have been trying to find the words all day. I have been searching and searching for the words to convey how I feel, the strange sort of empty happiness, the desire to run around hugging strangers and shouting for joy, but the burning, searing knowledge in the back of my mind that I don’t have anyone to call. I don’t have anyone to celebrate FOR. I don’t have anyone to cheer with, to laugh with, to fight with.

I want to call my dad. My mom has been gone for four years, but my dad- I could’ve called him just over a year back. We could’ve celebrated together. We could’ve talked about this, we could’ve been there together. He would’ve known what this is like. He would’ve known what to say.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in California two years back. It was thrilling, exciting, moving, and achingly painful. It struck in me this acute sense of just how much my mother missed, and how much I’m missing her.

And now it’s legal everywhere. The doors are off the closets, and theoretically it’s safer and happier and easier and BETTER to be gay in America today than it ever has been. So while everyone looks forward and celebrates, I’m stuck. I can’t move. I’m sitting here, staring into the past, bitter and angry and pissed off and desperately, desperately sad. I’m choking back tears and pretending they’re from joy when really all I want to do is cry my heart out and throw things because it’s so unfair. Life is so unfair. Everything is so unfair.

Today was a long, hard day in Australia. Same-sex marriage isn’t legal here, and while I don’t have a deep understanding of parliamentary governments it seems a lot like a sad joke to think it ever will be legal- though if you asked me two years ago, I would’ve said it seemed like a sad joke that Tony Abbott would ever be elected PM, so I apparently know jack-shit about the Australian people and their deep desires. (Every Australian I’ve ever met will agree with that statement.)

But today was longer and harder for me, in a deeper way. I got up, I spent two hours surfing news outlets and reposting everything witty and pithy and snarky and hilarious and heartwarming and cute and fabulous I could on every social media platform available to me. I went to yoga with a friend. We hung out and I came home and posted more on social media. I made dinner and kept looking at social media and finally felt like I could do this.

Because my mother, she was a lesbian. And today should’ve been for her, for her partner, for their loved ones, for us. And it’s not, because it took too long. Because there was too much anger, because of people who preached fear instead of love, hate instead of acceptance. I spent my entire life wondering what the hell was wrong with me that I wasn’t good enough, when, come to find out- it’s not me. It’s not her. It’s not us.

It’s YOU. You, who stand there and mock. You make jokes about the LGBTQIA community, you think mocking transgender people is hilarious. You’re terrified of gay people. You won’t let your kids play with the weird girl because she’s got two moms or two dads. You tell us constantly how we “can’t take a joke” because we don’t think the suicide rates of LGBTQIA youth are worth joking about. You tell us bisexuality doesn’t exist. You pretend to be better than everyone else, but really, you’re empty. You’re worthless. My mother spent most of my LIFE- she wasted YEARS- trying to protect me. She did everything she could to protect me from you, to her detriment. She gave up valuable time she could’ve been spending with the woman who gave everything for her, and instead tried to protect me. From YOU. It didn’t do any good. You were awful to me anyway. And I’m nearly 30 and I’m still trying to please people who will never, ever like me for the person I am.

I am weird. I am awkward. I am a raging feminist bisexual anxiety-riddled snob. I read ridiculous books and I love to write and I always say the wrong thing. My mother and my father raised me like this, and this is who I want to be.

And I’m the lucky one. I made it out alive. I almost didn’t, but I did- I made it out alive. And eve better, I got to witness first-hand what true love looks like, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get to experience it too.

You didn’t know my mother. She was amazing, and it’s your loss. And maybe I’ll never get over the years of abuse, the mocking, the jeers- maybe I’ll never get past the assault, the lies, the pain, the anger. But guess what?

I win. We win. Today is for us, and you can go lick your wounds and think about all those times you came out on the wrong side of history.

So I’ve been looking for these words all day, and maybe they’re not the best ones or even the right ones but they’re the ones I have right now, and I think they’re good enough.

There are people out there, halves of couples who are looking at this day as a bittersweet moment in history. It is possible to be happy for your friends while grieving for yourself, and there are human beings out in America today raising a glass to this moment that came too late for them. I know some of those people, and I grieve with them. We have every right to celebrate today, tomorrow, and the rest of our lives for fighting to get to this moment and I will never, ever forget today. Today is for us, to make what we can of it. Today is special. Today is a gift.

So please, please- make this the best Pride month ever. Celebrate with your loved ones. Wear body glitter and spray everything with rainbows because life is short and we just made history. And while you’re dancing, celebrating, loving, losing, laughing, fighting, crying, and jumping for joy, please- remember those who didn’t make it to today. Remember the people who, for whatever reason, never lived to see this moment. Suicide, cancer, AIDS- it doesn’t matter, but never stop appreciating how lucky you are to be here. Seeing this. Living this.

And if you’re reading this and you’re wondering- yes, it gets better. Better than this. I’m not sure how, but we’ll figure out a way to top it.

We always do.

This is America.

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

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When I was a child my parents told me that words have meaning. My words, all words- they had the power to persuade those around you, to change minds, to alter perceptions, to heal, to create. My words were special, because they were my own, and those words had more power than all the weapons on earth combined. Words are magic- they cast spells over us and they weave into being all your heart and imagination desire.

Words are weapons. They are poison, they are evil, they are cruel and hurtful and vile. They are spitting, angry monsters who seep into our consciousness daily and force us to turn on each other and explode like volcanoes, leaking acid and molten rock and leaving nothing but destruction all around us.

Words can heal. They can create, they can destroy. Words are the most powerful things in the world, and there is no one who knows this more than me.

I am an Italian, Hispanic, bisexual, immigrant woman, living in a country I don’t fully understand yet. But I do understand what I see and hear. I understand the undercurrent of tension in this land, I understand the words people say and the actions they take. I understand the anger, the fierceness of the people here to protect their country from anyone who would criticize. I understand how to love a country. I understand that loving and accepting a place can be hard, especially when that place so often makes you feel helpless and ashamed. I love America, but that does not mean I would not change so very much of it. I love Australia, but there are so many things here that must be altered, addressed, challenged, changed. It is possible to love something and want it to grow and become something better. It is possible to accept the need for change without it compromising your patriotism.

When you say you don’t understand racism, what you’re saying is “I myself am white. I have been so privileged in my life that I cannot fully fathom a world that exists where people dislike each other based solely on the colour of their skin and the stereotypes that surround that culture. I am lucky.” And as long as you own your privilege, your whiteness, your lack of understanding can be seen as a jumping-off point. You can learn. You can join in the race discussion as a listener. Because you have nothing to offer the discussion, nothing yet. But that doesn’t make you any less valuable.

The story America is writing today is one that needs to be told by the millions of black voices in our country. The words America speaks should not come from me, because it is not my story to tell. I will not be another white woman who steals the story from the millions of black women who are crying out in frustration, in pain, in anger, in despair. I am not here to tell that story, I am only here to listen and repeat the words I have heard and the lessons I have learned so that others can also hear and listen and learn.

I love America. But America has got to change. America must make a change. Not one state, not one city, but the country as a whole living, breathing being must change. It takes work, it is hard, but racism cannot continue. It must not go on. And to say that you don’t comprehend it, that you don’t understand- or worse, that you’ve been discriminated against because you’re white- you are wrong. And you can use your words to express your interest in learning about the real struggles of the men and women and children who are suffering, every single day, because of the colour of their skin. Ask them what it’s like to not only wake up and be told and shown every minute of every day that you are DIFFERENT, you are INFERIOR, you are WEAK. You are a stereotype, nothing more.

Words are powerful. Words can bring people together, they can tear them apart. Words spoken in anger cannot ever be taken back. Words spoken out of hate cannot be forgotten. Words spoken out of love can heal, but they cannot erase the scars left behind.

When I liken the experience of being black in America to being Aboriginal, Middle Eastern or Asian in Australia I am trying to use the words I know to help explain a situation I am only beginning to understand. I am not an expert on racial tensions in Australia; I am not an expert in racial tensions in America, either. But there are some universal truths that stand no matter what- casual racism is still racism. Saying you can’t be racist because you have “one black friend” or your sister married an aboriginal man does not mean you aren’t racist, the same way having two gay friends doesn’t make you any less of a homophobe.

Using the words “abbo”, “nigger”, “faggot”, “dyke”, “boat people”, “queer”, “retarded”- those say more about your character than a paragraph on tolerance. Screaming about immigration laws and how people come here to take advantage of you, ranting about the plight of the cisgender white male- those things say more about who you are as a person than any friendships you may have cultivated over your lifetime.

When I criticize Australia’s issues with human rights- race, sexism, LGBTQ issues- I am not criticizing as a way of saying “Here are all the things wrong with your country.” I criticize to start a discussion, to begin a dialogue so that we, as a community, can make this country a better place. The same way I do with America. The same way I would do with any place I loved.

You do not have any more right than I do to talk about race relations in Australia. You do not get to tell me I’m wrong, or offensive, or that I’m not allowed to say something because I wasn’t born here. If someone holds up a mirror, you cannot genuinely be angry at the mirror because you don’t like what you see. Racial tensions in Australia are bad. Every day I hear people speak and it mortifies me, it disgusts me. It’s not colloquial, it’s not endearing, it’s racism, sexism, homophobia- it’s wrong. If you don’t agree with me, use your words to have a discussion. If you attack me, the only thing I know from that is that you’re angry because I’m right. We need to change, all of us.

Words have the power to change minds. Words have the power to overcome great divides and massive boundaries, words have the power to bring us all together. Words can also tear us all apart.

When you speak, you have power. It does not matter if you’re addressing the dinner table or a crowd of a thousand people- your words carry weight, they hold in them so much power and strength that if you’re not careful, your words can cause irreparable damage. You can break hearts. You can damage souls.

Changing the way we view each other begins with a conversation. Between two people, between three. A conversation on the floor of government houses, a conversation in big rooms and in small. To change the world we must only use our words- the most powerful of weapons, the most glorious of gifts.

But before we can even begin to discuss changing the world, we have to respect each other. If you don’t respect me enough to value my opinion, to accept that I have a stake in this world as much as you do, then our conversation will go nowhere. The problem is not that you don’t see yourself as racist, or homophobic, or intolerant in any way- it’s that you don’t have the respect for me to accept that my voice has just as much a right to be heard as yours.

I was not born here. I was not raised here. But I live here, and I love here, and more than you- I chose this place as my home. I went out into the world and came here and I said to myself, “Here. This is where I’ll have my family. This is where I’ll plant my roots.” I left somewhere, someone, something I loved to come here, and I do not take that lightly. But you cannot love something and stunt its growth. You do not cut the legs out from under your child to keep them from walking- you cannot tell Australia that it cannot grow and change and become a more open, more welcoming, less hostile nation.

As much as America, this country is built on immigrants. It is built by immigrants, and we are all from somewhere else. In a land like this, how can racism not only be accepted but be government sanctioned? How can racism be a way of life here?

Words are the most powerful things in the world. For certain Dylann Roof killed nine black men and women as they sat in prayer with a gun, but hateful words made him the person he was. He believes that black people deserve to die. And so he killed nine men and women after they welcomed him into their church.

We can strengthen laws, tighten gun controls, we can install metal detectors everywhere and we should do some of those things. It should be harder to get guns. But this is not about gun control. This discussion, this fight, this entire piece is about words. And until we change our language, until we begin discussing the people around us like they are actual people and not animals- until we show respect to everyone, regardless of skin colour or sexual preference or physical appearance- this will keep happening. People will keep dying.

I believe that we have the capacity to be better. Racism is not in our nature, and it should not be in our vocabulary. We have a responsibility to use our words to make this country a better place.

Words can hurt. They can cause wars. They kill people, they destroy lives. Words are poison, words are pain. Words can bring into existence the greatest horrors humanity has ever seen.

But words are better than all of that. Our words can heal, they can create, they can break up the darkness and spread light through the world. Words are hope. Words create peace. Words are so, so powerful, and we have a responsibility to use our words to make the world a better place- each and every one of us.

It’s a trophy of your childhood…

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I woke up this morning with the taste of a dream still in my mouth, the images burned behind my eyes, the smell hitting the back of my throat. I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream from which I pushed to free myself, because it was the worst kind of dream.

It was the kind of dream that could’ve been real, if only certain things were different. If my father was still alive, if I still lived in the house I was raised, if if if if if. If things were different, then this dream could be real. But it was only a dream, a taste of how things could never be again.

And I felt relief, because it means that I don’t have to face the constant disappointment and hurt caused by the people I’ve known my whole life. It means my father will never yell at me again for something small, something stupid. It means that I have lived through 28 years of verbal abuse and survived them all. I felt relief because no one can make me go back there, ever. No one can make me.

And the sadness. Because this is the only way I remember my father. An angry, screaming man who was forever and always disappointed in me. A terrifying, hulking monster who didn’t miss a moment to tell me what a failure I was- what a failure I am. He is the voice in my head that tells me I will never be good enough. He is my worst nightmares, realized. He is all the things I never want to be but slowly feel myself becoming. The worst part of myself.

So much sadness- so much pain. Because I know that isn’t how he really was, not always. There were good times, good years. Praise and love and safety; there was always food on the table and a roof over my head and I never wanted for anything. But I was always afraid.

The last moment my father was awake he told me what a disappointment I was. The last moment I had alone with him was like so many of the others I had before- he reminded me what a failure and disappointment I was to him, and I tried to backtrack and make him love me. Because how do you convince a child that she is loved when you tell her she has done nothing but cause you pain?

He loved me. I’ll never doubt that. But this is what I’m left with- this is what I see and hear when I look for the memories of my life, growing up. My father was angry, he was mean, he yelled and he screamed and he made me feel worthless and unloved. He told me I was selfish, a liar, a failure, a loser. He told me that I was nothing but a disappointment to him, always. And it’s so hard to find all the good things he left me through all of the bad.

My childhood wasn’t nice. It wasn’t special, it wasn’t blissful, I didn’t belong with the people around me and I didn’t want to be where I was. I was ridiculed, I was taunted, I stood out like a sore thumb and in a small school where everyone knew everyone else, I was a loser. The daughter of a lesbians, whose father worked for the school district- that nerd girl, always reading her Star Wars books or playing with her Beanie Babies- even my Girl Scout Troop only let me join because they had to. I wasn’t cool, or popular, or even invisible- people were mean to me until my senior year of high school, when I guess everyone had other priorities. It’s also really hard to torment a girl when both her parents are dying.

Life wasn’t nice at school, life wasn’t nice at home, and life was definitely not nice after my mother died and my stepmother could say whatever she wanted to me without the fear my father would find out through my mother.

I don’t want these to be the only things I remember, though. I don’t want a childhood of only bad memories. I don’t want to feel the physical anguish and emotional pain caused by my father for the rest of my life. He’s gone, now. And there were so, so many good times, too.

I just can’t see them. I can’t remember them, I can’t feel them. My brain keeps bringing up the bad stuff. All the yelling, the screaming, the anger, the abuse. No, he never hit me, but maybe if he had people wouldn’t be so quick to tell me that emotional and verbal abuse aren’t “as bad”.

Why don’t I write? Why don’t I do something with my life? Why don’t I spend more time doing things that I love, with people that I love?

He’s gone now. He can never tell me again how disappointing and selfish I am, he can never yell at me for being a failure. He can never raise his voice or call me a liar or find a new way to make me feel utterly unloved.

Except in my head. Where he’ll always be. With all the bad things. And, hopefully underneath all of that, the good things, too.

I get by with a little help from my friends…

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I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. Not really consciously, but it’s been weighing on my mind heavily the last few months, and it’s something I go to in the moments between falling in bed and falling asleep, between helping a customer and alphabetizing the books, between episodes of The West Wing or even during them- friendship, and those friends that you never quite expected to go or stay- that is what occupies the empty spaces in my brain.

Leafing through a bridal magazine, I am momentarily shaken when I come to an article about choosing bridesmaids. Yes, I know it’s coming, and it shouldn’t be shocking to me any more than it was 9 months ago, but I still get caught off guard. Who do you choose, the article asks, the friends you’ve known since childhood or the friends you made in college? The ones you grew up with or the ones you’ve grown close to in your adult life? How do you let them down easy? How do you encourage your close work buddy, the one you get lunch with every day or hang out with on weekends, to befriend your childhood bestie- the person you only see when you go home for the holidays but who has remained a part of your life nonetheless?

As if life was simple, like a movie.

It’s these articles that bother me more than the ones about including your parents, or making sure you don’t hurt your mom’s feelings. Because I know my parents are gone, and it’s something I was prepared for long before I got engaged.

But I wasn’t prepared, not really, to be standing on the edge of my wedding feeling utterly alone.

I do not have a “lot” of friends. Certainly not ones that I’ve known for decades or shared lunches with in the elementary school cafeteria. I never have. My life is different, and always has been- I accepted that a long time ago. I was the girl with divorced parents in a small school where EVERYONE had parents who stayed married, even if they didn’t want to. I didn’t know anyone who was gay, and we had ONE child in our class who came from Mexico. Everyone around me was white, wealthy, and religious. I look back on it now and it breaks my heart that my mother had to cave so easily to my father- that my father was so wrapped up in winning the small battle of where I went to school that he did not notice that both my mother and I were suffering. He didn’t know how miserable I was, and that my experiences in elementary school and junior high would shape the way I saw the entire world for the rest of my life. How could he? He worked three jobs and yes, he was an amazing father, but it’s astounding what we can be blind to if we honestly don’t want to see it. He thought he was doing what was best for me, everyone else be damned.

So I’m bitter. I have been for years and I probably always will be. I’m self-conscious and awkward. I make weird jokes and I say weird things and it wasn’t until I escaped this country that I realized what it truly meant to be myself. On a bus somewhere in the United Kingdom I found someone, and crossing the Sahara Desert in Egypt I realized I LIKED her. But it wasn’t until the end of my journey, halfway through the middle of the South Island of New Zealand, that I discovered that other people liked her, too. It took me several years and millions of miles to figure out that not only was Modesto bad for me, but so is California. The same for Oregon, Washington, Texas, and New York. It doesn’t matter where I go in this country we call America, I will never feel free enough to be myself. I will never be far enough away from the decades of pain I endured and caused and felt and inflicted to actually survive.

But I came home. I had to. I had changed, but nothing else had. Worse still, no one I knew had allowed for the prospect of me coming home a completely different person. I have a picture, from the day I landed in San Francisco in April of 2012, and I look at that girl, and THAT is the person I want to be for the rest of my life. I have never felt more mature, more alive, more grown up or more free than that woman did, standing on the wall of the lookout over the Golden Gate Bridge. I loved coming home because I hoped things would change. I hated being home because I knew they never would, because yes, I lived here, but like Harry Potter returning to his aunt and uncle’s house for the summer, it never really felt like “home” to me.

So I left again, and came back again. And now I’m leaving again. Each time I’ve felt like I’m leaving something, something important. This time I wanted to feel like I was leaving nothing at all. But you cannot survive in a place for 28 years and not leave something behind when you go. So I go, and I leave family, I leave memories, I leave pain and hurt and depression and hatred. I leave bitterness and anger and history and love. I leave people and places to which it breaks my heart to say goodbye- I leave things behind I never thought I could part with.

But I’m leaving something shocking, too. I’m leaving friends. I’m leaving people who, against all odds, I found liked me. I can separate my life into two sections- the BEFORE, and the AFTER. Before my mom died, before something inside me broke and healed and broke again, and AFTER she was gone, AFTER I came back, AFTER I found the person so many people seemed to like. And I can count on one hand the number of people left from BEFORE, because they are few and far between.  There aren’t many people left from before, because there was a space between before and after that I only vaguely remember called “during”, and in that space I was truly lost. There were people I met in that space who held my hand and guided me, and for that I could never show enough gratitude, enough love. There is no amount of kindness with which I could repay them, there are no words in the English language to do justice to the way they saved my life. The friends I had in the “during”; those are the friends to whom I could never really say goodbye.

But people grow apart. People change. I’ve changed so much in the last four years that the only parts of myself I recognize from before are the ones I find when I hear a harmonica, when I put my hands to the keys of a computer and let loose. I recognize the laughter and the love I feel when I see my family. I recognize the smile I see in the mirror or in pictures where I am truly, undeniably happy. I recognize the handwriting on my left forearm, I recognize the pictures on my walls and I recognize the love of books. I recognize the righteous anger I feel when I can’t help someone in need, I recognize the person who talks and talks and talks for days.

I recognize the woman who carries a camera everywhere. I recognize the person who reads the news voraciously, who wants nothing more than to talk about current events. I recognize these people as my mother and my father, as the gifts they left me with that will never, ever fade away.

But I also recognize the person who pushed and shoved and fought her way out of a friendship that drained her. There are moments and days when I miss Kristin, and reading those bridal magazine articles are some of them. But I apologized, I wrote letters, I called, I begged forgiveness. I received no kindness in return, no acceptance, no response. I was hurting and lashed out, and when you lose someone you love that is an understandable, if not expected, behavior. So my list of “befores” is small. Only a few, and only one with whom I can truly say I have not ever lost contact. My list of “befores” is, to me, perfection. My befores are the ones I know I will see when I’m 30, 60, even 80. My befores are my forevers. My befores are proof to me that I am a good person, a person worth loving, and have always been, underneath it all.

I never expected the afters, though. The afters are shocking and lovely and wonderful because they love the me that I love, too. They’re the ones that I couldn’t have imagined if I tried, the ones that I miss now and will miss when I leave. They’re the ones who make me straddle countries and hoard frequent flyer miles, because they are everywhere. They’re the ones that surprise me, always, just by being around. The ones I don’t want to leave and the ones I’m running towards, the ones I want to surround myself with, the ones who make me smile at night and laugh at myself.

There’s no telling what will happen to a relationship when you put the strain of distance and time on it. Some relationships break, some stretch thin, and some grow stronger to make the distance easier to cross. The internet has made the excuse of distance nearly a moot one, but not quite- because some people are not made for waiting, for letters, for phone calls and emails and video chats. Some people are only made for the time they can spend with another person physically, and that’s ok too.

I have had a few relationships cross mountains and oceans and years- only a few. But that’s more than most people in the world, that’s many more than I feel entitled to have. I’m going to make a commitment to spend the rest of my life with one of those people, and the other ones has been parts of my worst moments and my best. One has seen me through days and nights I couldn’t fathom surviving, he has pushed me to be the very best of myself when I could only find the worst. He is a before, someone who knows all my deep, dark secrets and helps me laugh at them every day.

The befores, the durings, the afters- this is for you. You know who you are, you have saved my life and kept me alive. You are the best of me, the reason I am here right now, writing this rambling, long essay. You are my always and forevers, you are the light in the darkness, you are the greatest things to happen to a person, and I am so very blessed to call you my friends. This blog, this moment, this day, and all the days when just getting out of bed is a chore I cannot imagine accomplishing- the days when the lights go out and all I can see around me is the darkness- and the days that are so bright the darkness is completely eliminated from this world and all is green and good again- all of these things are for you. Here are some, but by no means all, of my befores, my durings, my afters, and in chronological order:

For Laura, who has known me since before I was born and has happily swung in and out of my life for nearly three decades, always making it brighter and smarter; for Caleb, who, for the past 18 years, has made me laugh at the pain until the pain shrinks and disappears; for MK, who swooped down and claimed me as her little sister and reminded me that guardian angels do exist; for Laura M, who took my hand and walked me out of the fog of despair and shoved me out the door and into the world; for Tiarn, who never once questioned that we were meant to be the closest of friends and who never forgets or misses anything; for Elise, who showed me that we are all of us broken, even if we look like the strongest women in the world, and proved to me that it’s ok, and will always be ok, because we’re fighting the good fight; for Stacey, who still loves me even though she knows how much I can keep her up at night, asking questions about the world, both existential and scientific, and who knows that it’s always worth it to climb the mountain, even if it nearly kills you; for Jess, who saved me in the most literal of ways many, many times; for Daniel, because I could not ask to spend my life with a better person; for Tahnee, who has proved in a million different ways that you cannot judge a book by its cover and that everyone has the capacity to surprise you in the most wonderful little ways; and for Julie, who let me in during her most difficult time and allowed me to help her, which no one has ever given me the honor of doing, who keeps me from losing my mind and laughs at my jokes and makes me feel like a FRIEND, which is quite possibly one of the best things a person could ever be.

You. You, all of you, are the best of me, and I am so grateful and honored and thankful to have you, and to tell you I love you isn’t a good enough way to describe the depth of emotion I feel for each and every one of you.

What do I do when my love is away?/ Does it worry you to be alone?/ How do I feel by the end of the day?/ Are you sad because you’re on your own?/ No, I get by with a little help from my friends/ Get high with a little help from my friends/ Gonna try with a little help from my friends…

Empty chairs at empty tables…

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It’s different, being alone in a place after someone has died. I don’t mean it’s haunted, or that there’s a presence here, more that there’s this lingering sense of overwhelming sadness, a choking sort of invisible mist, that settles in your chest when you think no one else is watching. There’s pain, of course, and anger and sadness and doubt and acceptance and moving on- there are all the steps of grief, but always this cloud, this mist, that follows you throughout the house, waiting until you’re well and truly alone before it sets up in the empty space by your heart, and fills your chest with lead.

Somedays I’m not sure if I’m alone here. Somedays L doesn’t leave her room, doesn’t interact, doesn’t get up to eat unless she’s sure I’m gone or in bed. But somedays, she does leave. Quickly and quietly, or before I’m home from work, she slips out without a trace and it takes me a while to figure out that yes, yes, I am alone here. There is nothing left. Only me.

I used to long for days like this. Days when I could watch TV- hours of “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Harry Potter” or “Game of Thrones” with reckless abandon. I could ignore the dishes and turn on the heater and curl up in the living room with my laptop, choosing whichever recliner I felt like sitting in.

I hardly ever use the big chair anymore. I don’t like to sink into its cool leather embrace, smell the hearty, musky, earthy smell, feel indentations where my father’s body used to be. Sometimes, occasionally, I’ll slip into it. I’ll forget, and I’ll jump right into the chair. For a moment, yes, I can forget. Can’t we all? Don’t we all, sometimes? Isn’t that the point- that life goes on, whether we’re ready for it or not, and we have to either jump on or watch as everyone and everything we’ve loved in this world just passes us by.

L and I, we use the small chair. The one that, if we’re honest, he used most towards the end. The one that has been with us longest. The one that most smells of him, feels of him, reminds us of him. The one that we feel comfortable settling into, because it was his chair, but it also wasn’t.

I look to my left and see the pillows and pillow cases I bought especially for the hospital bed we had set up for him. The pale, aqua green, meant to be soothing, meant to be fresh. The colour makes me ill. The pillows make me angry, irrationally so, wanting to throw them out the window, set them on fire, run them over with my car. His car. I want to make loud, angry noises, noises that don’t make any sense at all, I want to scream and throw things and break things and destroy things. I want to hit something, to beat something, to rip something apart until it is nothing at all, until my hands are bleeding and raw and dust is everywhere and I finally feel something other than this heavy, aching, empty smothering of grief.

So I am alone. I used to love this. I used to joyously push my parents out the door, tell them not to hurry back, and I would revel in their absence until I had to rush about, cleaning up the messes I’d left so they could return to a clean house. I’m trying to remember that joy, trying to access those memories so that I can feed a bit off of the happiness that the younger me felt, so that sitting here, in this chair, doesn’t make me angry and sad.

But it is all I can do to keep from sobbing. Choking back my tears makes me nauseous, I feel like I’m going to vomit. When I try, a guttural, angry, sick noise comes out of me, the sound of pure grief, the sound you make when you’re sure that you’re truly alone so that no one else can here. If losing both your parents in your mid-twenties, before you’d even begun to live, had a sound- it would be the one I make when I’m sure I’m truly alone.

Since I got engaged, I’ve realized this dark, secret desire lives in my heart- that she would’ve known, and prepared a stack of letters for me, for special events she knew she’d miss. That her partner would have them, and that I’d be presented with these letters on my wedding day, the day I have my first child, the day I turn 30, when I buy my first house, when I need her the most. The moments she had to know she’d be missing- I dream that she could see all of these things, and prepared for them.

But she is gone. My mother was prepared for everything, but I won’t allow myself to hope for this. I have nothing left of either of them, nothing to carry with me, no way to know if I’m wildly disappointing or if they couldn’t be more proud. No way to know if they’d love the person I’ve become, or if they’d discuss their disappointment on the phone, or over coffee, in hushed voices, not wanting me to overhear.

That is the problem with freedom, the problem with truly being alone- your thoughts can overwhelm you in the silence, and they can be louder than any crowd in the world. I’ve been so many places, thanks to them. I’ve been to so many countries, so many different cities and lands I never thought I’d go. I met my fiancé during my travels, and he was able to meet my father. I realize that all the desperate moments of begging for my mother back are gone now- I’ll never truly be able to trade the world I have now for one with her alive in it. Because asking for my mother doesn’t just mean losing the adventures I’ve had in the last five years, it means losing the people I met. It means giving up the one person in this world I could not honestly say I would willingly trade. And that, I suppose, is moving on. If my mother’s death gave me this wonderful man, and all the happy moments with him, then how could I willingly give him up?

There is a reason we can’t go back. We can try, we can go sideways and walk in circles and refuse to take one step forwards; we can watch as the world and all the people we love pass us by. But we cannot turn around. We cannot go back. We can look over our shoulders and stand in place and sob, we can be terribly, terribly sad, we can be resentful of the whole, wide world and all the people and things pushing us forwards. We can kick and scream and fight, but we can never go back.

So I sit here. Alone. Alone with my grief, with the heavy emptiness that sits in my chest, staring at the TV from the seat of my father’s favorite chair, looking around at the house that hasn’t changed but will never be the same, and I wonder. When will it get easier? And why am I still alive?

When I was young I knew everything…

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I had a day. I had my day fucking planned. I knew what I was doing and I borrowed the convertible and I had A DAY. PLANNED. FOR MYSELF. TO ENJOY.

And you ruined it.

I wasn’t in pain. You know what causes pain? Stress.

I used to think that people meant well. That it was only here, here in this place that I would be mistreated. If I got out there, if I took the time to get out of this backwards-thinking, incredibly restrictive area I would see that the world was open and loving and free. I would see that my belief in the good of humanity would be rewarded. People aren’t like the ones I knew in elementary school, kicking dirt in my face or yelling at me for having a lesbian mother. I can still hear a little girl’s mother yelling that her children weren’t allowed to be around me, like I was dirty. All because of whom my mother loved? Surely the world wasn’t this way. Nothing could be THIS unfair forever.

I should stop. I shouldn’t write when I’m angry. I say things I’ll regret. And I shouldn’t let the ignorance of stupid people get to me. I should just enjoy myself, surround myself with bright and intelligent people and ignore the rest. Just like ignorant people surround themselves with ignorant people to reinforce their views. But I stepped off that track a long time ago. Because if you just explain, I used to think, if you just explain then they’ll understand. They’ll see. They’ll get it. People aren’t like that because they’re hateful and mean. No one is hateful and mean on purpose.

Some people are hateful and mean on purpose. A lot of people are hateful and mean on purpose. For fun. And now I’m about to walk into a country full of mean and hateful people, it seems. I live in a country full of hateful and mean people. I’m leaving one country of hateful, mean, ignorant people to go to another country of mean, hateful, and ignorant people and this IS NOT THE WAY THINGS WERE SUPPOSED TO TURN OUT. NO. NO NO NO NO NO.

ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO BE UNDERSTOOD. TO BE LOVED. TO NOT BE FUCKING TREATED LIKE SHIT. I know you lose your voice when you start to curse, I know you lose your intelligence and your battle and your worth as a writer is compromised when you start swearing at people but FUCK FUCK SHIT GODDAMNIT!!! NO. This isn’t what I want.

This is hard. Why is it so fucking hard??????? Why can’t I just… I just wanted to find a place with nice people. I just wanted to know that the world wasn’t one giant racist, homophobic, snotty, superior, arrogant pile of crap.

I wanted to find a nice place to raise my kids, with supportive people who weren’t intolerant and who actually cared about other people. And now I’m fighting my ass off to move to a country where NO ONE WANTS ME. Even my own “family” posts anti-immigrant things on social media. “Oh, that’s not directed at you.” They say. Bullshit. EVERY ANTI-IMMIGRANT POST IS DIRECTED AT EVERY IMMIGRANT. I will stand for all immigrants, those who seek asylum because they are running from a country and government that treats them like cattle, or those who spend years and thousands of dollars to be granted the privilege of being allowed to touch our dirty immigrant feet onto your precious soil. Only to spend thousands more dollars and years and years of our time before we can feel “safe” in our own homes.

Australia, I want you. America, I love you. But why, why do you have to be SO DISAPPOINTING???

You are the girls of my childhood, the elementary school clique I could never join, the children who teased me, the harassment of my high school peers and teachers. You are the sophomore year English teacher who physically pinned me to a wall and yanked off my jacket in high school, to see the cuts on my arms, and then reported ME to the administration for abuse because I screamed and screamed for him to stop, to “Get the fuck away from me.” You are the boys who got me drunk and raped me. You are the family of the man who forced me to have an abortion, showing up at my workplace and telling me to “not ruin their lives”. You are all of my worst nightmares now, you are everything I have always hated, you are all that is left that can hurt me now that my parents are gone.

You have all the power, and I have none. America, Australia. I am at your mercy and you are merciless.

I’ve given you all, and now I am nothing

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It’s been two days of absolute terror and hell and fear and anxiety. It’s been two days of being hung up on and ignored and laughed at. But now I have confidence. Now I have a plan.

But to be honest I feel like the big, giant signs on the front of the Australian Immigration website homepage that say “You will not make Australia your home” are really, really offensive. I am doing my very best to go through the proper channels, and the people visiting your Immigration website probably aren’t the ones going there illegally. Because those people can’t even afford a proper boat, let alone internet service. Listen, Australia, I love you. I want to become a citizen of your beautiful country and add to its amazing culture. But when you tell me, to my face, that Australia will never be my home… I can’t help but feel like I’ve spent more than $5000 to be humiliated. You can say that sign isn’t meant for me all you want, but the truth is, it’s on your website. The website I, as a legal applicant to become a temporary citizen of your great nation, must use on a daily basis. It IS meant for me. All the anti-immigration slurs and demeaning comments made by Australians ARE meant for me. I want to call Australia home because that is where my family is now, where my friends are, where I want to raise my children. I am doing all I can to go about this in a legal and respectable way, and it’s next to impossible. 

My fiancé’s friends go around making comments about “brown people” and “towel heads” and other racist remarks. They think it’s completely ok to demean immigrants or just people in general if they don’t look exactly like them- white, Northern European descendants of explorers or prisoners. I’m not knocking Australia, or its citizens. There’s a reason I want to live in that country. But that reason is not because I want to be humiliated every day for the rest of my life. The reason is far more complex than that.

My parents are dead. My family here is small. But every moment of every day, I have a living, breathing family in that country. I have friends and sisters and brothers and yes, they are all in-laws, but they are family. My fiancé is all that keeps me going some days. He’s my light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. He is my safety, my happy place, my reward for pushing through another day. So to see such open and obvious hatred towards immigrants of all kinds- those seeking asylum in a country that hates them for no real reason, or those trying to go about making a new lives for themselves through the proper legal channels- it’s so frustrating. I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. I feel like I’m the only one on my side and it’s next to impossible for me to win. 

I’m not seeking asylum. I’m not seeking welfare or money or someone to fix my problems. I have been fixing my own problems for nearly four years now and I will happily continue to do so for as long as I am able.

I’m seeking my home. I’m seeking my family. I’m seeking the one person in this world I can count on to love me, unconditionally, for the rest of eternity. I’m seeking a place to raise our children, should we be lucky enough to have any. And I’m seeking a safe place that will welcome me with open arms.

I am sorry, Australia. But you cannot tell people they are welcome in your country as long as they go about things the legal way and then put up a big sign on your immigration website that says “You will not make Australia your home”. It doest not matter that you aren’t directing that message at me. Because like it or not, that message has gone out to everyone, all over the world, whether they want to make Australia their home or they just want to visit.

There is no kindness, helpfulness, or generosity found on your immigration website, Australia. I understand the message you’re sending, I’m hearing it loud and clear. And I desperately look forward to the day when I am a legal citizen and I can vote to change that message. Because no one should feel like they are superior to anyone else just because of where they happen to be living. I know what you’ll say- you’ll say “America’s no better”. And you’re right. There are some Americans that aren’t any better. But it’s not our official government policy. And I will vote to make America better every single time I get the chance.

For now, I will do what I can to obtain my legal visa to go to Australia, marry my fiancé on the date we’ve chosen in the place we’ve chosen to commit our lives to each other and then I will work my butt off to become a legal citizen. Of both countries.

All it takes is one person willing to make the world a better place. It only takes one. Australia, you are better than this. Please be better than this.