Finding Peace and Understanding, in the Gross, Spongy Center of Life.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that was kind of about the B word (Bigotry) and kind of about the R word (Racism), and then sort of about some other things that weren’t doing me a bit of good to keep carring around.

So I threw them out.

Into cyberspace.

why? Why? WHY?

Almost 5 posts down The Road To Blog, and I’m still asking myself that same question, right before I close my eyes and press Publish anyway. And I still don’t know the answer to it, any more than I know why I buy a 3 Musketeers and peel the waxy chocolate coating off of that gross, spongy middle part, and throw it away. It’s just a compulsion that brings me peace. Reason enough, I guess.

The response to my stories, were pretty much as expected. Some Yays, some Mehs, a few cold shoulders, a nasty private message, and an icky face or two.

Oh. And one un-friend.

Helpful hint of the day: If you want everyone to like you, don’t write about real things.

And look. I’m not one of those people who flips their hair and shrugs like I don’t care. I never really believe anyone who says that. Especially not me. I just don’t care enough to stop doing it. There’s a difference.

I haven’t had any trolls yet, which when you toss around words like Racism and Bigotry (especially when they’re tied to the word Religion), is a little bit surprising. And a little disappointing too. Because apparently you’re nobody, until some sweaty stranger who tortures ants and eats generic Spaghettios out of the can, next to his blow up girlfriend in his mom’s storage shed, hates you on the internet.

At any rate, from the minute I pressed publish, I’ve had this back and forth conversation in my head on whether to leave that post up, or erase it like that guy I dated who saw ghosts, and manicured his hamster’s toenails. Never happened.

“You don’t have to keep saying this stuff out loud you know…..” the one part says.

“No. I do. I really, really do……” insists the other.

Ok, so that may have been an actual conversation between me and my husband, and not in my head. But all I can say, is after publishing that post, it suddenly felt like I was walking down the street buck naked—and a part of me couldn’t blame the ones who covered their eyes in disgust like “OMG for the love of all things holy, put a kimono on that mess! $9.99 at Target. I’ll drive you there myself”. Because, you know—in a world full of airbrushed fantasy, real things horrify us all.

But then came the cab ride home from the airport a week later, with a dark skinned man with an accent, and suddenly, I didn’t feel like erasing it anymore. And no, I don’t know where he was from because A.) I’m terrible at accents, and B.) I didn’t care. I was just glad to be in a cab with him, instead of the Uber I had taken to get to there. Those 10 minutes in the back seat of a car that smelled like Mr. Whisker’s litter box, with a 20-something guy, swerving all over the road while he and his girlfriend did that creepy play bicker thing than no one thinks is cute (You’re so bad! No, you’re so bad!), and watched YouTube videos instead of the road, were some of the longest of my life.

So there we were, me and my possibly-Middle Eastern-but-I-don’t-really-know-or-care cab driver, laughing and joking about my Uber ride in the Honey Boo Boo Express, when his face suddenly froze as he glanced out his passenger side window.

“Whoa……what’s his problem?” he said, eyes locked on the car next door.

And as I looked out my own window, I was met with the flat, hateful stare of a white guy in his mid-sixties, that went from me, to the driver, and then back to me. In fact, it was the same hateful glare, that the same kind of the people I just written about in my last post, had given me 30 some years prior. And what blew me away the most, is how even after all of these years, right down to their self-righteous smirk, it hadn’t changed at all—as if they’ve all passed along the same heirloom tutorial, like a highly treasured jewel, from generation to generation. “Good my boy. That’s right. But squinch your eyes just a bit more. Like rat. Yes, yes! And and now sneer. Like I do, when I hear some uppity woman flapping her yap, who isn’t asking what I want for dinner. Excellent. Excellent. Nicely done. I’d say you’re well on your way to conveying deep, dark hatred for another human being, without ever having to say a word.”

As if the death stare from Grand Dragon Old Fart wasn’t bad enough, here’s where it got weirder. Even though my cab driver knew exactly what was happening, and I knew exactly what was happening, it was like we were both sucked in to this slow motion time warp, where each of us was waiting for the other one to admit what was going on. If I had to guess my driver’s reluctance, I’d say it’s because from the minute he showed up, he was a professional, and he probably didn’t want to blur the lines with something so weirdly personal. That, and because he had no idea who I was, and being accused of being a racist, for pointing out the obvious, tops a big list of Things To Avoid On The Job. My hesitation was along those same lines, because the way our Country is now, anything you say, can and will be twisted and turned into something it’s not, by some extremist wacko; so keeping quiet, usually feels like the safest thing to do.

Except it’s not. In fact, I had just written a blog (that up until that moment, I was wondering if I should erase), on how our silence and denial long ago, had given us all a false sense of safety and equality; which I believe is one of the many reasons that the racism and bigotry that’s been hiding in plain sight for so many years, is now exploding all around us.

“That dude is a racist” I finally blurted out. “People like him, don’t like to see people like us laughing and having fun together.”

There was a little awkward laughter, mixed with some nervous agreement, and then we both went on talking as if nothing had ever happened. I told him about my old job, he told me about his brother the cop, and then he dropped me off, and it was done.

Except it wasn’t done. I was so pissed off I could barely sleep that night. How does anyone hate a complete stranger so much that they’ll sit through an entire light cycle, just to stare them down? And why hadn’t I pulled out my phone, and recorded the whole thing, and then sent it to that Dateline guy with the white hair and ghost story voice, so there would be undeniable proof for everyone see that yes, those people are real. And that no, I wasn’t making it up. In fact, I left the worst parts out, because I was too much of a wimp to say it all out loud. And that yes. A staring contest in traffic many not seem like much, but anyone who has been on the receiving end of a covert hater, understands it’s part of a larger, more pervasive destruction. And if we just had the right proof to get everyone on board, we’d stop sitting back and pretending it’s not real because it doesn’t affect us, and stand up for each other, right?

As it turns out, the answer may be no.

In fact, according to a comic strip called The Oatmeal, that I ran across that same night, there’s a brain function called The Backfire Effect, that causes the exact opposite to happen. Since the words “brain function” probably dropped me down to the last two readers I had left, let me just say that I’m not going in to a detailed explanation about the cartoon. But it’s titled “You’re Not Going To Believe What I’m About To Tell You”, if anyone wants to Google it. And you should. We ALL should. Because it explains so much, in the simplest way, about why we react with anger and denial when we’re presented with information that doesn’t support our core beliefs. The good news is, it’s not because we’re all just a bunch of jerks. Except for the Stare-inator. He actually is just a jerk. I mean for normal people. The ones of us who aren’t sociopaths.

And look what just showed up there. One of my core beliefs. The one that says that bigots and racists of the sit-and-glare-in-traffic caliber are most probably, un-fixable Narcissistic Sociopaths. And that’s exactly how it works. You could give me solid proof that Mr KKK spends every evening and weekend, hand sewing tiny slippers for homeless puppies out of his own shirts, and not only would it not change my belief that he’s a Narco-path, it would push me to assume that the only reason he’s doing nice things, is to camouflage his real evil—which makes him even more of a sociopathic jerk.

The bad news is, from an evolutionary survival standpoint, The Backfire Effect actually makes sense—which means we have very little motivation to ever stop doing it. The nutshell version of how it works goes something like this: The emotional center of the brain is called the Amygdala. (Aaaaannnd I just lost my second to last reader. Hold on last man or woman standing! I’m almost to my point. And no more boring science-y words, I promise). This primitive part of the brain is what makes us react to “threatening” information (i.e. that doesn’t support our core beliefs), the same way we would have reacted to a Saber Tooth Tiger who was stalking our prehistoric cave. In that situation, if we sat contemplating the pros and cons of defending ourselves, we would have been left dangling on the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder, long, long ago. We react the same way when our core beliefs are threatened, because if we trace those beliefs down deep enough, they’re like a fortress of protection around the way we see the world—which is closely connected to our perception of safety and survival—even if that perception isn’t particularly logical. To make matters worse, our primitive brains are also wired to love consistency and to hate change; so even if a thought or action is consistently bad, our brains will see it as safer and more survivable, than and a new thought or action that logical, healthy and good.

That’s why those drunk driving videos where everyone dies, have very little power to change the behavior of someone who believes that booze makes them sexier, funnier, and a much better driver. Because somewhere much deeper, at an unconscious level—as back-assward as it seems—their core belief about the benefits of booze, is vital to their perception of acceptance; which is always a key component to safety and survival. It’s also the reason why it doesn’t matter how many Bible verses on love and equality you show to a bigoted religious person. If their core belief is “This white hood makes me powerful and superior, instead of a hateful little Weenis who cries after sex with my grandma’s floral pillows”—not even the word of God can talk them out of it.

And yes. That’s my core belief showing again.

I have other ones too, that create all sorts of prejudice and biases, that aren’t always that logical. Take religious men in suits for example. True story. One time I was asked for a list of triggers that caused “a poor emotional response”. So I put religious men in suits. And Southern Comfort (but that’s a totally different story). Which makes sense. Because of all of the things that have threatened me the most (besides way too much of a sickly sweet whiskey abomination), an authoritarian religious person definitely tops the list. Not that they all wore suits. Or that they were even all men. But that’s just how the brain works. We fill in the gaps with our own bits of experience or bias, because a complete story feels safe and consistent (brain function #1), even if it’s not completely true. Take the Drive By Racist. It took no time for me to put a Jesus Fish on the back of his Lexus and a Bible in his lap. In fact, a part of me sees it so clearly, that I actually want to include it as part of the story. Except I can’t. Because he didn’t. So it wouldn’t be true. But since he’s the same type of person, with the same type of rat-eyed, sneer-glare from the authoritarian ghosts of tribal religion past, I want to make him into that type of religious person.

And put him in a suit. A cheap polyester one. That gives him an itchy pimply rash all over his butt. And a booger filled pocket hanky.

And look, I really do challenge these things. Every Sunday in fact, as I follow my kids to church and have purposeful interactions with religious men who are nothing like the ones who create “a poor emotional response”. Which isn’t hard, because the large majority of them aren’t like that at all. Along with that, I also try to consciously remember the ones who were good and kind, even long ago, instead of letting them sink to the back of my mind like some not-even-real kind of unicorn. But here’s another weird thing, that even with the best of intentions, can sabotage those efforts too. The survival part of our brain will under focus on the good things, and over focus on the bad things, just to make sure we’re not forgetting what we know about what is and isn’t “safe”.

Around Father’s Day last year, I actually did forget what I knew, and made the unfortunate mistake of reaching out for a bit of fatherly church comfort during a hard time I was going through. And I dunno. A simple “There, there dear” with a non-creepy, grandfather side hug would have probably been just fine. But no such luck. He tried to exorcise the Jezebel out of me instead. Because isn’t that what’s wrong with every woman who can’t just bury it all in a Cream of Gak smile, as she mixes up the green bean casserole for potluck? And here I thought I was just a normal person, experiencing a normal moment of sadness. But thankfully he, in his Supernatural Wisdom saw what was really going on: the most evil woman in all of Bible history, was living right there inside of me—and it would take a special boss like him, to boot that bitch out. I mean, it would have been an honor just to be nominated, but to actually be chosen as her unholy dwelling place? Well I don’t even know what to say, besides, I guess that explains those peri-menopausal mood swings. Nice catch Mr. Opportunistic Superiority Complex Man. Do you think it’s too late to cancel my GYN appointment?

And don’t worry, I’m actually saving that story for another compulsion, I mean, blog post, so I won’t go on about it now. But the point I’m trying to make is that the magnified effect of a really bad, rare interaction, compared with the far more numerous, but minimized good interactions, still leave me wanting to show up one Sunday morning, frothing with a mouth full of green Palmolive, and flopping on the floor in my old AC/DC shirt, hissing the lyrics to “Hells Bells” backwards.

And look, I’m still on my own journey to sort this stuff out, and to question the core beliefs that fuel my own prejudices and biases. And yes. There’s still a pretty big box to untangle. But the good news is, if we can convince ourselves to leave the door open—even a crack—and tolerate the skin crawly discomfort that new ideas can bring, then there really is hope that we can change.

Even Grand Dragon Old Fart?

I guess you can never say never, but I won’t be laying any bets. Because to make a change, you have to want to change—and anyone who’s that invested in superiority and hatred, doesn’t have the best chance of wanting it. But what about all of the rest of us garden variety jerks, who actually are willing to try if it can make the world a better place? Yes. I believe we can.

Maybe the first place to start, is to dig deep, and trace our own core beliefs down to the Backfire Effect. (And really. Go read The Oatmeal. It explains it all so well). And then maybe the second thing we can do, is actively question the places we feel the most resistance, even when it feels uncomfortable and wrong. Then maybe the third thing we can do, is try to remember that every single person we meet, has their own Backfire Effect, with their own fortress of beliefs, surrounding the World View that they’ve come to see as “safe”—and without any kind of awareness, we’ll all fight each other just as hard, to keep our own defenses strong.

Awhile back, I had a white friend tell me that it bothered him that I’ve had black boyfriends, and that he didn’t know how to stop feeling it. Not long after that, I had a black friend tell me that his grandpa always warned him that white people were “the devil”, and a no matter how hard he tried, a little part of him still believed it.

Both of those friends, were the last people on earth I ever thought I’d hear those things from. But the truth of it is, I think we all have racist, prejudiced and biased thoughts to varying degrees, if for no other reason than the experiences of a lifetime, are always forming an army of beliefs, to keep our world stable, predictable, and “survivable”. Recognizing similarities and differences and judging everything around us as “safe and predictable” or “dangerous and unpredictable” is a hard wired survival trait that all animals—including us—are doing every second of the day. I think the problem comes in, when we lose the desire to think deeper, and be better, than our primitive, tribal selves—and we let fear, greed, and superiority, morph into the unchallenged core beliefs, that protect a destructive, self serving World View.

And ya, I get it. No perspective is ever exactly right. This is just one—and not a fully developed one at that. Which is why I called this blog “All Who Wonder”, instead of “All Who Know”. Because the only thing I’ll ever know for sure, is that I’ll never, ever stop wondering; and compulsively peeling the waxy chocolate facade, off of the gross, spongy center of life—to hopefully find the peace and understanding, I know has to be buried inside.

Sinners, Honkys and Misfits.

I never have loved to run. But for whatever reason, every Spring, I try to convince myself that I do. That’s how I ended up here. Staring from the top of these old concrete stairs, completely out of breath—not only because I’m overweight and out of shape—but because of the staggering flood of memories that have just come rushing back in.

It’s been 30 years since I’ve huffed and cursed and clawed my way past this overgrown chain link fence, with my college boyfriend, C, clapping at my back. We met my Freshman year, at a Christian school in the Pacific Northwest. He was on the basketball team, and a couple of times a week, we’d drive up to this wooded park in the city, and run these stairs: him with his long legs and perfect stride, and me, whining and complaining and pretending to limp, while he yelled “Faster Honky Girl! You’re not fooling me with that!”.

I should probably mention that we were an interracial couple. Him black. Me white. It was the late 80’s, and in our predominantly white, passively liberal microcosm, bigotry and racism had kind of slithered back underground in that way that ugly things often do. But while everyone around us gushed and congratulated themselves on equality and open mindedness and “how much better everything was”, we knew that something entirely different, was actually going on.

We knew that Tom Metzger and his Neo-Nazi slobber dogs were well established in our area. And we knew that they had just beaten an Ethiopian college kid to death. And we knew that we were shadowed in stores by suspicious clerks, who kept an extra protective eye on their Little Debbies, any time we were around. And we knew that we were routinely pulled over by the police, for no good reason at all. And we knew that we had racial slurs thrown our way—mostly from whites, but sometimes from blacks—while we were shopping for groceries in Food 4 Less, or sitting in traffic singing our favorite song, or waiting in line at the bank, or eating dinner at the Taco House, or taking a walk along the waterfront with our dog.

One guy even yelled at our dog.

He was a demented little Shelty, who could eat all 4 legs off of a solid wood coffee table, in an anxious fit of rage. And who sharted minefields of crap around our bed in the night, if we left him for more than a few hours.

“That’s what we get” we’d joke sometimes, about the “messed up kids” that we were told “selfish people like us”,  would inflict upon the world. But then for some strange reason, if you were a swamp dwelling jerk off with a bugged out lazy eye, and a sideways front tooth, who screams racial slurs at dogs, you could procreate all you want. We all see how well that one worked out.

The Christian School that should have been our shelter, was sadly, anything but. It was just as bad the outside world, but in a more subtle and practiced way—which actually made it worse.

The outside world was like opening your mailbox to a find a Peeps frosted liver fruitcake, with a note written in cat crap, that says “Hey. By the way. I hate you.” Nasty, yes. But also to the point, so at the very least, you knew you didn’t want any.

Our Christian world, was like having a home baked pie, with a warm flaky crust, and thick fruity syrup, bubbling off the side, delivered right up to your door. But when you take a bite, it’s filled with fake ass sugar and tiny shards of glass, that leave you cut up and bleeding on the inside—with a sickly bitter aftertaste, that only The Nicest of Racists leave behind.

Not that it was always covert. Every now and then, they’d forget their Bless-Your-Heart Manners, and something downright overt would slip out. Like that day in the cafeteria, when the lady who took our meal tickets, grabbed my arm, and hissed in my face, “You would do well. To stay. With your own kind“.

I  still remember how I stood and stared, in a complete zombified stupor. The secret (that wasn’t a secret), had just poked it’s snaggly head out of it’s Louis Vuitton bag, and the unsaid rule about being hateful in the most Christ-like way possible, had officially just been broken. See, it was perfectly ok for her to smile right past me, and take everyone else’s meal ticket but mine. But to show outright disapproval without even bothering to cloak it, in some sort of Deniable Oopsy Bullshit, or a thinly coded Bible Bomb in a weird sing-songy voice (“Be ye not unequally yoked” or “What fellowship hath dark with light?”), was pretty darn unheard of.

Which sort of made me hate her less. Because at the very least, something real and concrete, without blurry lines of debatable insinuation, or deniable innuendo as to what was really meant, had finally been said out loud. Which was honestly better than running every little thing through the Passive Aggressive Decoder Ring, that was issued to us all at birth.

It didn’t take long after the cafeteria incident, for the rest of the faculty to join in. Many of these people, had known me for years. I had stayed in their homes. We had shared holiday meals. And when school first started, they had gone out of their way to ask, “Are you finding your classes ok?”, or “Is there anything you need?”. But the minute the image of a dark skinned boy, cast it’s shadow across my Lily White Mrs. Degree, they turned their heads and pretended not to know me—even if we were the only ones standing there.

The innuendo of superiority, was pretty hard to miss. I think we all suspected that the reference to Light and Dark wasn’t being used to describe our skin. They were talking about the light and dark of our very souls, not that anyone—including us—was ever going to admit it. Same goes with that “unequal yoking” bit. So just who was the weaker animal? Helpful hint: it wasn’t white. Although the animal reference, was pretty spot on, because that’s really how we were treated: like prized cattle, at the Higher Education Breeder, to create more superior stock like them. Moo.

The women’s dorm was completely fenced off, and was clear across campus from the men’s. They probably would have built a Piranha filled moat, if they could have pulled the city permits. We had to sign in and out, using a big spiral notebook, and leave a detailed list of of where we were going and who we’d be with. If you weren’t back by 10 pm, there was a “strike” taped to your door, and a nasty-gram was mailed to your parents. Although sometimes I’d get lucky, and my Accountability Buddy would sneak down and log me back in, as long as she wasn’t already out with her dealer.

The Den Hen, Miss G., was the stone faced creature they perched at the entrance to the dorm, to ward off Impure Thoughts and Unbecoming Acts from everyone who came and went. I always thought she looked like a perfect cross between the Church Lady, and that Golden Girl who never smiled.

Every so often, she’d lure me to her apartment, with special attention and a granny-like kindness. I’m thinking that must have hurt. A lot.

“I just wanted to know how you’re doing”, she’d soothe, as I picked and fidgeted in an old floral chair, that smelled like Dippity Doo, athletes foot powder, and corn nuts.

“And also” she’d add, offering a plate of stale cookies. “I’d like a list of everyone who’s having sex”.

“Well I’m sure it’s no one“, I’d say as convincingly as I could. “You know, I’m only an incoming Freshman.”

I had a list of Boot Bangers, a mile long—but she was the last one who was ever going to see it.

“Well, with the kind of company you’ve decided to keep……you seem like the sort of girl who would know…..”

Oh, how I  hate those high frequency insults—finely tuned—to just the right pitch, so that only certain ears can hear them; the kind that leave you slut shamed and humiliated, by a racist old gargoyle, who then pins it on another person’s skin color.

But isn’t that the brilliance behind Passive Aggression? It’s that Believable Deniability, that makes you look like the jerk, if you ever try to call them out on it. “What do you mean I insinuated that dating  black boys makes you a whore?!? That really hurts my heart. I was just saying you seem to be a popular girl, who obviously has a lot of friends…..”

What I wished I could say, was “Actually Miss G., I’ve been a slut for awhile now. Maybe it’s a result of that weasel fingered Holy Man, who put his hands up my Tinkerbell underwear when I was little. Or maybe it’s the one who swirled his paws down my sweater, as his good submissive wife watched it happen. Or maybe it’s that time, as a fully developed teenager, I had my pants pulled off, and my bare ass beaten. Beating the shit out of girls is The Lord’s work you know—how else will they learn their position below men? Or maybe it was all of those scripture quoting shame mongers, who reeked of fart dust and their own disappointment. Especially the one with a monster stash of porn piled high under his bed, with a lubed up “back massager” lying right next to it.

Or maybe it wasn’t any of that—and being a slut can just be kind of fun. But I’ll tell you what absolutely isn’t the reason: the color of another person’s skin.”

But I didn’t say any of that.

I nodded. And ate stale cookies. And appeased. And drank some tea. And never told another soul, about the Sexy Time Witch Hunt that was being launched all over school.

Looking back now, I wonder what would have happened, if I would have let the truth spill out like a bowl of our murky cafeteria soup, oozing down my chin. Not just about the sex, but about the addictions, and the pregnancies, and the abortions, and the STD’s, and the clinic runs, and the psych evals, and the suicide notes, and the Satan worshiper, and the gay kids who kept trying to be straight kids, so they didn’t lose their families and spend eternity in hell.

No. They definitely couldn’t have handled the gay kids. They would have taken Satan worshipers over that.

When all of us got together we were like The Merry Band of Misfit Christians. Minus the merry part.

We had far too many terrifying thoughts and haunting questions, about God; and Hell; and our harsh, legalistic, graceless religion, to feel much more than misery, shame and fear. But we didn’t have the words, to begin to say how we felt; and even if we did, we wouldn’t have had the courage, to ever speak them out loud. So we met in cars, and parks, or some rat-hole apartment that belonged to a friend, of a cousin’s, pissed off ex-communicated friend, and we’d use the biggest cuss words we could think of.

Like shit.

And probably damn.

And we’d drink, and smoke, and have unprotected sex, because everyone knew that the premeditated sin of using a condom, was worse than the accidental sin of tripping into the backseat of a Corolla, and unintentionally falling on a penis. (I guess that explains the pregnancies, and the STD’s, and the abortions). Then we’d cry and lament and wonder if the fires of hell would be a dry heat, or a steamy heat, which could have catastrophic effects on our hair.

We were like the blind leading the blind through the big stuff. And the hard stuff. And the real stuff, that people our age, on the verge of being adults, should have already known how to do. But being so well steeped in The One World Order, where ideas, and mistakes, and questions were a clear indication of Satan possession had left us stunted and delayed.

Adultus Interuptus.

Like watching Bambi and ET about to get bitch slapped by the world.

And we didn’t know what to do with the fact that we were slowly coming to see, that The Real Things in life, like sex, and addictions, and loving who we loved, no matter how long we’d burn in hell, and questioning our beliefs, and making mistakes, could no longer be rationalized by our religion, or explained away by the same old games of Twisted Scripture, and Pin the Satan Tail on the Sinner.

Because Real Things don’t work like that.

Real Things don’t come with a pre-written script, or neatly packaged, in the same old box, with the same toy surprise (that really wasn’t a surprise) buried in the bottom.

Real Things are unpredictable. And imperfect. And full of mystery. And of surprises, that really are a surprise.

Some good. Some Bad.

And we wanted them all; because it was better than living life as a church factory product, with predetermined lives, that were fully assembled for us, before we ever even had a choice.

But Real came at a price, because nothing—and I do mean nothing—made The Powers That Be more uncomfortable, than having the greasy fingers of humanity, smeared all over their shiny facade of perfection. And their rage and fear, of not having control, led to an entirely different kind of hell: the special kind, here on earth, that gets handed down from generation to generation.

My earliest memories aren’t of balloon filled birthday parties, or of hugging my favorite stuffed animal. It’s the fear of being scooped up, and thrown out, like a Hefty Bag full of human garbage. You know how some families pass diamond rings and gold watches, down from person to person. Our family heirloom, was being Shunned and Disowned—and it has yet to skip a generation.

There were lots of things that could get you shunned and disowned, but there were 4 that would land you there the fastest: Leaving our Sect was an obvious one. Being gay (or similarly abominated) was another. So was having too many questions in your “mentally ill” head, and spreading the poison of free thought through the herd. Then there was marrying outside of our religion—which was treated the same as marrying someone black.  I think that one confused C the most, because I already had a black uncle, and two cousins who were just like my brothers. But then again, in a tribal society full of disordered people, not making sense, is the one thing you can depend on.

Being Disowned was usually saved for irreversible offenses. Like that half black baby that couldn’t be stuffed back in, in hopes it miraculously came back out white. Or the son who lives in a one bedroom house with his “room mate” of 10 years, and the dog they named Barbara Streisand.  In these situations, there’s no point in shunning, because their sin can’t be shamed or bullied out. Besides, they’re embarrassing, so it’s really much better, to use The Magic God Eraser, and rub them out of existence.

Being Shunned, at least our way, was kind of the same, but it was more like Disowned’s little mean buck-toothed brother; and it came with this bizarre expectation, that no matter how bad it got, it was your Christian obligation, to keep showing up for more. I’m pretty sure it’s written in the Bible somewhere: “Thou shall accept every invitation, so that you, and anyone connected with you, can repeatedly be treated like shit, because you’re bad and you deserve it”.

Yes. I know it’s not.

But it truly is like showing up to a lobster and prime rib dinner, knowing ahead of time, that there’s a place for you on the floor, right next to the cat dish, with a stale biscuit and a cold wrinkled hot dog. But the minute you stop saying “Thank you for having me, that was the best shriveled wiener I’ve ever eaten”, they accuse you of being disrespectful, and of being the one who abandoned on them.

“We have no idea why she won’t come around anymore, especially after that beautiful dinner. I guess all we can do is keep praying, bless her poor little mentally ill heart.”

It’s astounding how we’ve been trained to give the same pound of flesh— over and over—one tiny slice at a time.

If I had to make a choice, I’d take Disowned over Shunned. At least when you’re Disowned it’s an honest transaction: you’re told up front that they don’t want you anymore, and then you leave.

Kaput.

The End.

Being Shunned is an endless game of abuse and manipulation—where you’re the one who gets demonized, if you ever decide to stop playing.

In the 3 years that C and I were together, we never had an in-depth conversation about the bigotry, and racism that we either experienced ourselves, or saw happening all around us, in our elite little bubble of religion. We may have touched on it now and then; mostly as we lay in the dark, taking turns humming songs, and guessing what they were, in our own version of Name that Tune.

“Do you think we can ever go to Mardi Gras? I hear they hunt interracial couples like nutria down south, and then skin ’em in the backs of their trucks”

“Would anyone come to our wedding, do you think?”

I thought his step-father probably would.

But then we’d distract ourselves with another song, and another guess, and we’d never take it deeper than that—because going deeper would have opened the door, to all of the scary places that we weren’t ready to go. Places that may make us see ourselves, and the world, and the religion that we clung to, in ways that we didn’t know how to talk about. Places that may make us question our belief in our church, and if The One True Way, was ever even true at all. So we went on treating the hatred we saw like it was my four inch tall mall bangs, or his Arsenio Hall flat top—just some kind of late 80’s fad, that somebody, somewhere, would someday say was over; then we’d laugh and joke about how weird it all was, and go Mardi Gras like everyone else. But it wasn’t just a fad. And we haven’t moved on. It’s a tragically repeating horror story, that destroys families, and lives, and spirits, and faiths; and the “somebody”, “somewhere” to finally say it’s done, ultimately has to be us.

As I stand here still, at the top of these stairs, pulling dark and dusty memories, out of a 30 year old trunk, a quote keeps running between them, like hard set rocks in the middle of a constantly moving stream: “We turn, looking back to see the broken image of what we were, in the journey to discover what we are”. I wonder what kind of journey C, and The Misfits, and even the people who didn’t treat us very nice to us, have all taken since we left school. I hope it’s been brilliant, and messy, and unpredictably imperfect, and full of mystery and surprises—some good, some bad—and that they wanted them all; because at the very least, they were Real.

I’m still on that journey, of constantly looking back to who I was before; and not just 30 years ago—sometimes 30 minutes ago—to learn to do things differently, or think things differently. I hope it always works like that.

But you know the one thing I’m pretty sure, hasn’t changed at all? This Honky Girl, still hates to run.