Everyplace. And Noplace.

The day I almost died probably wasn’t the first. We spend our entire lives almost dying in the hundreds of mundane decisions we make every single day.

Go here, not there.

Do this, not that.

One destination or decision over the other is really all it takes. The only difference on that particular day, is that I actually saw it coming.

The story I’m about to tell, is about souls and spirits and miracles and magic and premonitions and the afterlife and everything else I know almost nothing about. Depending on your upbringing, biases, filters, and beliefs, your opinions here may be strong. That’s ok. I’d still love for anyone who’s willing to feel free to come along. That being said, there are a few things that I need to make perfectly clear up front.

I don’t need permission.

I don’t need validation.

I’m not ashamed.

I’m not deranged.

I’m not psychic.

I’m not being “attacked my Satan” or “led astray by The Enemy”.

I have nothing to justify.

I have nothing to debate.

I want to know what I know, and feel what I feelwhich means the experiences I’m about to share don’t belong to religion, or to anti-religion, or to any belief factory in between. After thirty five years of loaning them out to all of the above, I’m simply claiming them as my own.

When I was growing up, the Bible was a book of hidden landmines that only the extra saved knew how to navigate. One wrong step could blow you straight into hellbut if you were extra-lucky, then the extra-saved, would share their super special secrets with you.

The Extra-Saved could talk extensively about the rules, but when it came to the supernatural, they were the last people you wanted to ask. On paper, we believed in The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In action (or inaction) we treated Holy Spirit like that unhinged relative who chews their nails and burps at the table that you hope doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving.

Because spirits are ghosts.

And ghosts are Satanic.

An invisible God was fine. So was a Savior who died, and rose from the dead. But a Ghost or a Spirit, even a Holy one I guess, was clearly the line in sand.

Outward displays of worship (like love and joy) were frowned upon as well. They weren’t controllable, or qualitative, and couldn’t be put in the weekly bulletin as proof of our success. “Three more baptisms already this month! Only 7 more to go to reach our goal!”, as if our souls were Target Red Cards, and they were aiming for that corporate bonus. Every now and then, when a stray emotion wandered through after hearing a favorite song or verse, I’d feel a flutter in my chest, or a sense of hope from deep inside. I learned early on, exactly what to do: pretend it was the holy jalapenos from my nachos the night before, and keep that spirit stuff where it belonged. With the “crazy” churches. Who weren’t extra-saved and special. The ones who held their hands in the air and their faces towards the sky like a child begging for attention. Adoration unashamed. The thought of it made me shudder.

Until the day I almost died, the most supernatural experience I’d ever had, was getting gifts in December from a fat, voyeuristic stranger who could apparently see through walls. Or finding a quarter from a magic fairy, every time I lost a tooth. So imagine what it would be like, to wake up one morning, with a terrible premonition, that you knew was going to come true. And from that moment on, it’s like a doorway opened up, to a place you didn’t understand. And in that place, you knew things you shouldn’t know, and felt things you shouldn’t feel, and did things you shouldn’t do.

Like talk to people who are dead.

When I first started writing this blog, I made a single promise to myself: I either write it real, or not at all. No filtering for a certain audience. No branding or labeling a thought, feeling or experience, to fit an ideology, religion, or belief. No pretending to know or understand, what I will never know or understand. At least not until this life has passed, and maybe not even then.

That being said, I’m a Jesus Girl. Not a particularly well behaved one. Or the kind that most other Christians accept, apart from a patronizing pat on the head. I don’t do sects, or memberships, or affirmations, or affiliations, or prayer on-demand, or food-for-your-soul ministries, or dogmas, or committees, or casserole baking, or ladies class, or group sharing of any kind, and listening to Joel Osteen radio for all of eternity, is my ultimate idea of hell. But a Jesus Girl is still who I am. I get it though. Claiming to belong, without being bagged, boxed and branded has a way of making people mad. But that kind of belongingwhere we filter thoughts, feelings, and experiences, to look like we fit inis the exact kind of belonging, that I never want again.

My favorite bakery downtown has a punch card. Collect 12 heart shaped holes, and you get one piece of cake free, as in “Yay you! You’re a cake eating superstar. Just a few more to go, before you and your insulin resistance win a free trip to Diabetes!”

I handed the cute Millennial in the blue apron and the fully tattooed arm, my almost-full card, for the second time this week.

That’s when I heard it. The metal punch, clicking through the card stock. It was a sticky click, where she had to turn her wrist and wiggle it a bit to coax a slow, reluctant release. It sounded just like the metal click on the crumpled paper card I used to carry to the fields, on those early summer mornings when I went strawberry picking as a kid. Except those cards weren’t a pristine blue and pink with cupcakes and ribbons on the front. They were smeared greasy red and brown with berries, warm bologna, and mud. And instead of a free piece of cake, the hole that was left, meant a Band-Aid tin full of dollar bills at the end of each picking season. If you saved your dollars, that is. I usually spent mine as quick as I  earned them. For Lemon Heads down at Sam’s Drug Store, or on an Orange Crush in a cold glass bottle that sweated cool drops of forehead heaven, or on a red, white and blue rocket-sicle, that always melted before I could eat it. One year though, I saved every single penny, and bought a lavender velour jacket to match the Shawn Cassidy bell bottoms that I got for Christmas the year before. His child bride face and Palomino hair covered the bottom left leg, from the knee clear down to the hem.

At the start of each season, it took me a week or so of distraction to remember that there was no lemon candy, or melty popsicles, or pastel velour until ripe berries actually made it into the flat. And that didn’t happen if you sat in your row and ate them. Or if you army-crawled between the rows and peeked your head up just long enough to pelt your friends in the back with the rotten ones. Or if you took an entire handful and smooshed them in each others hair, yelling “strawberry shampoo!!!” while hurdling over flats and maybe landing in one or two.

I can still see the field boss, with her work gnarled hands and a choppy Scandi accent, pointing to me with my red stained face and berry filled hair, and yelling at my sister.

“Christy! You gonna have to do someth’in ’bout your ‘lil sister!”

I used to wonder what that “someth’in” could be. And from the look of despair in her well-behaved blue eyes, so did my poor big sister.

It doesn’t take much, does it?  A sound. A smell. A slightly familiar object. To transport us back to a long forgotten time and place, that feels so right now, we think we can reach out and grab it, if we only tried hard enough. In that one sticky click of metal through paper, I could smell the wet, muggy warmth rising off of the fields as the sun came up over the trees. And I could feel the hot summer sun, baking my back as I picked (or ate) my way up rows of fat red and ruffly green. Standing at that bakery counter, absently pulling a loose strand of hair, I was almost surprised to look down to find clean adult fingers with manicured nails, instead of the chubby stained nubs of a child, sliding globs of mud and berries from her head.

The entire month of March, with it’s slow blooming trees, both bitter and sweet, and the feel of warm, wet days, that end in cool, dusky evenings, release a gauntlet of memories for me.

When I tried to write this story back in March, I couldn’t follow through. It felt too intimate. Too invasive. Like a close talking uncle on his fourth glass of sherry, who leans so far into your face, you can feel his breath across your cheek. It left me recoiled in my chair, thinking of polite ways to leave. So I shoved in April and May as a buffer, like that empty seat in the theater, to keep a shoulder, or a leg, or heaven forbid a hand, from accidentally touching anyone else. But even that wasn’t be enough, because here come the tears again. The super concentrated kind, like those cardboard cans of frozen juice, they sell five for five dollars at Fred Meyer. Just add water, or the truth, and you’ll end up with a whole lot more.

There are parts of this story that I’ve told out loud, many times before. Then there are some parts, that until recently, I’ve never even said to myself. I’ve learned that telling a story, and feeling a story, aren’t the same thing at all. Feeling it out loud, as I am right now, is like waiting for the trap door to open on one of those free fall water slides, with words like Death and Insanity in their names. Even though you know you’ll probably be ok, there’s still that lingering doubt in the back of your mind as you smile and wave goodbye.

Then WHOOSH.

You’re at the mercy of gravity until you reach the end.

 

-March 6, 1983-

Chores. My older sister and I were fighting over chores. I was 14, and she was 17, and for as long as I can remember, we fought over chores. Mostly because she did hers, and I didn’t do mine. Or at least not all of them, which meant that most of the time, she did mine and hers both.

“Christy! You gonna have to do someth’in ’bout your ‘lil sister!”

The usual, not-nice words were exchanged. I don’t remember exactly which ones, but I know they weren’t nice, because we weren’t nice to each other in general. Some of it was normal, but the majority of it was not. I like to believe that the love was there, but a relationship would never be possible. Not all parents want their kids to be friends

I was leaving for a church swimming party that morning. Not with my own church. My church was over an hour away in “the city”, although it wasn’t a city church at all. It was a suburb church. But since we lived in “the country”, anything not in country, was the “the city”. Where we were going, was a town in-between, that wasn’t the suburbs, or the city, but it was a bigger town than ours and had an indoor swim park and a pizza parlor.

The argument over chores came to an abrupt end when I heard the dog barking out front, and I knew a car was headed up our long wooded driveway.  I grabbed my bag to run outside, but then right as I opened the door, an overwhelming urge to hug my sister and apologize kept my hand paused on the knob.

Apologies didn’t happen in our family. Not for real at least. Especially not the hugging kind. And definitely not between my sister and I. We’d had an unsaid agreement for as long as I could remember, to touch each other as little as possible. We shared a bed when we were younger, with two Yorkies and a pile of dolls, and the nightly ritual went something like this: “G’night. Love you. Don’t forget to say your prayers………AND DON’T TOUCH ME.”

I practically had to chase her down for a hug and an apology that morning. “Love you…..and uh…..sorry” is about all I got out before she wrinkled her face and pushed me away like she’d just smelled something foul. Not that I blamed her. Huggy and sorry isn’t who we were. But in that moment, I desperately needed it to be us, to soothe the ominous sense of knowing that something terrible was coming our way.

As I ran out to the waiting car, and crawled over the front seat and into the back, the second part of that same premonition came barreling in out of nowhere.

“Wear a seat belt” it said.

“It won’t matter” came the response.

We were country kids in the early 80’s and as far as we were concerned, seat belts were for weaklings and whiners who couldn’t brace themselves on the dashboard, like normal people did. I ran my finger across the shiny silver buckle that was lying in the seat, but didn’t clip it in. There was an empty glass bottle on the floor and a curling iron in the back window. I grabbed them both and shoved them up under my seat, so when the car rolled later, they wouldn’t hit me in the head. That wouldn’t matter either, as it turned out.

Why this supernatural frequency opened up to me, is something I may never understand. Unless chronic fear was a spiritual gift, I had nothing special to speak of. I was just an emotionally constipated church kid, who worshiped eye shadow and flavored lip gloss and thought a lot about feathering her hair. But like the prints on my finger, or the color of my eyes, it’s become a part of me now. I can’t explain how, but I knew what I knew, to the tips of my rainbow striped toe socks: something awful was coming our way, and we couldn’t have stopped it if we had tried.

We drove to the neighboring town, while I waited for IT.  We swam, while I waited for IT. We ate pizza while I waited for IT. Then we laughed and joked on the way home, while I still, waited for IT.

Our older teenage driver was so good. Heartbreakingly good. She kept both hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road, even with the distraction of three middle school girls who couldn’t sit still in her car. She was no different than the rest of usthere was nothing she could have done to avoid what happened next.

About half way home, the three of us girls fell asleep—almost instantly it seemed. One minute, my friend L was waving her hands and telling a story while bouncing up and down in the front seat, and the next thing I remember is waking up with clammy hands, a racing heart, and a desperate need to escape. The third and final act of the premonition had arrived, and I had never felt so much fear in my life.

I pulled myself up between the two front seats, with an arm over the back of each. I listened for noises. A bump, or a rattle, but the air was calm and quiet. The radio was on low, and I heard that Nazareth song, Hair of the Dog, begin to play on KGON.

“Heartbreaker. Soul shaker. I’ve been told about you…..”

I stayed perfectly still, like a fly on a window, with the shadow of a swatter hovering over it. Then we headed into a straight stretch, gaining just enough speed to pass the person in front of usand our car began to shake and weave.

“Make it stop!” I remember begging. But I didn’t mean the shaking. I meant the IT, that had been gathering strength all day.

“I can’t….” I heard her say with her arms locked on the wheel as we drifted towards the ditch. Then there were bumps, and a fence, and we were headed straight into a field.

“This is it?” I remember thinking, with a momentary flood of relief, that we were landing out in the grass. Then we lifted off the ground like a plane rolling down the tarmac, and we were flying through the air.

Even when a car rolls multiple times (they put ours at around 6, end over end) the worst of it is over in 30 seconds or less. But time as we know it, isn’t the same, when Death decides to show up. It’s like a hidden doorway lets you in to a secret roomthat’s neither Here, in this world, or There, on the other sideand seconds and hours feel exactly the same.

The first thing I remember, is the sound of metal grinding on pavement as we flipped back towards the road. Then there was the crack of my skull on every roll, that hurt so bad I could barely even feel it. The firework show behind my tightly closed eyes looked just like Disneyland at nightand I knew if I hit my head one more time, that Death would be taking me away.

Then a sliver of light began to open in the distance, like a mouth full of braces, yawning in the dark. As the light became wider and began swirling with color, I felt a deep, ancient pull that I had known forever, like the tides must know the moon. Some dark fuzzy figures like a Rorschasch Inkblot, began hovering off to my right. Not good. Not bad. Just detached workers, with no authority of their own, waiting for permission to start their workas if spiritual housekeeping, can’t clean your room, until the Do Not Disturb sign is gone from your soul. 

Then a Voice who felt the way lightening looks, filled the entire room.

“It’s ok, Alyssa, this is supposed to be happening,” was all it said, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.

“Can you please get me out?” I immediately asked “I’m going to die if I hit my head one more time.”  The next thing I knew, I broke through something solid, and away from The Room and The Voice. I saw the pavement spiraling towards me as I flew through the air and the car rolled away in the distance. I was still fully conscious when I landed face down, in the muggy wetness of that old country road.

I’ve spent my entire my life, wondering who Lightening Voice was, but up until recently, I’ve never bothered to ask. Religion would give me it’s opinion, then Anti-Religion would give me theirs, but neither of them would know the truth. Then one day, not long ago, I got brave and asked God itself.  “It was The Whisper in your ear, who’s been with you all along,” was the answer I received. In my heart I know it was Holy Spirit, although now I just call it The Whisper.

The first thing I did after landing in the road, was to take inventory of my bits and pieces. Besides one hanging pinkie, my hands and arms were still there, which was a surprisingly positive start. Patches of hair were missing and my body felt sticky and wet, but I could see, and crawl, and I assumed I wasn’t dead, which I was still finding hard to believe. I laid down in the road, with my cheek on the pavement, afraid to move in the eerie quiet. Then I heard the windshield wipers scraping over broken glass, and Hair of The Dog was still on the radio, blaring at full volume now.

“Now you’re messing with a…..Son of a Bitch!”.

I still hate that song, more than I can say.

The details of what came next, aren’t completely mine to tell, but at the very least, I need to say this: my friend L, with her jokes and her stories and her effortless charisma, died when the rest of us didn’t. I’ve rewritten that last sentence over and over, using Oprah-eque phrases like “crossed over the veil”, or “stepped into the light, to try to spruce it up a bit. It’s a compulsion I guess, to give the ugly truth a new suit and tie, and hope no one sees it for the mangy rat it is.

There were no cell phones back then. No Trauma System to alert. No Life Flight to swoop in.  No Level I Trauma Hospitals with teams of nurses and surgeons. So my friend N and I sat by the road in the dark, with cloth diapers held tightly to our heads. Then the volunteer ambulance full of friends and relatives, bandaged us, and consoled us, and kept us safe, until we reached the community hospital, almost an hour away.

In the beginning, before help arrived, my friend N and I had gone to search for L. We were worried that the car was going blow up, like it always did in the movies. The man from the car that we tried to pass, had already found her first. “Don’t come down here!” he begged, with his arms open wide and waving back and forth, like he was trying to herd confused ducklings. But there was no amount of pleading that could have kept us awayshe was our friend, and we weren’t going to leave her.

When we finally found her, each of us grabbed a hand, but then we both stopped pulling in unison. With her perfectly feathered hair, and that smile on her face, we thought it best to leave her “sleeping” until help came.

Even later on, as we saw shaking heads and the  blanket that was reverently put over her, we still believed our friend was “sleeping”, and would wake up when she was ready. Then sometime in the night, between stitches and x-rays and being left behind curtains under bright florescent lights, we got the news that our friend was gone. I didn’t learn the truth until that following summer, when I overheard an EMT, talking about that night. She said the beautiful vision, both N and I saw, had never existed at all.

So how did two separate sets of eyes see the very same image of peace and joy, shining from the inside out? This is what I believe: we were given the gift of seeing our friend as she was, from the moment she died, safely on the other side. And it was an act of mercy, from a God who cared, that created a memory that we could both live with. Even after 18 years as a medic, that vision has never changed.

So if your God is so caring, then why isn’t everyone protected like that?

And why did your friend die in the first place?

And why are some babies sick and starving while others are healthy and fat.

And why…….????

How’s this for an answer: I don’t have one.

What I do know is that in 6 rolls of a car on pavement, my world was divided into two realities.

In one, I ate Doritos and Pop Tarts at sleepovers my friends, and I would have sold my soul to watch MTV. I also had a blue satin jacket that wasn’t soaked in blood, and children didn’t die.

It the second one, I was left with visions and voices from a place I didn’t understand. Dreams became night terrors. Fears became phobias. Rage became outbursts. Anxiety became self-destruction, compulsion, and recklessness. And guilt for surviving fed that old time religion, of shame for being alive at all.

No one did counseling back in the 80’s. It was half-heartedly offered, but even if I would have wanted it, I knew the right answer was an indignant “no way”.  Counseling was for weak people. For crazy people. For people who weren’t Extra Saved. Not that I didn’t talk about it. I talked about it incessantly. Exhaustively. To friends. To family. To complete strangers. Even more in my later teens, when I found the comfort of a boozy oblivion.

The best part about being hammered, was being able to talk about ghosts and spirits, and a Lightening Voice in a Secret Room, and how sad I was all of the time without ever having to feel a thing. As an added bonus, everyone else was wasted too, and they wouldn’t remember anything you said. Talking didn’t mean feeling, so for the longest time, a drunken ramble in the middle of the night was as real as this story ever was. And by never being able to feel it out loud, it became an alcohol soaked network of risky compulsions, that tried to destroy me in a different way. I know I wasn’t the only one.

I still grieve for the kids, who walked single file down the steps of our school, past the playground, and the baseball field, to the church. We said goodbye to our innocence and to our friend, and then marched back to class to take a spelling test that afternoon.

I still grieve for the boys, in the pew behind me, with tears streaming down their faces. It was the first time I had seen any of them cry.

I still grieve for the families, so paralyzed with pain, that they never knew what to say. And I hurt just as much for all of the kids, who mistook their silence for blame.

I still grieve for the siblings, who lost their sister. I didn’t know how to tell them I was sorry.

I still grieve for the parents who lost their child. I hope they know how much we all loved her.

I still grieve for the friend, who’s name we stopped saying, to protect all of the hearts that were broken. But pretending she didn’t die, hurt worse in the end, because it felt more like we forgot that she lived.

L came to visit me a couple of years ago. Dead people still do that sometimes.  I was sitting in the parking lot of my daughter’s school on a miserable, rainy evening. As I stared at the trees, checking off a laundry list of failures, I felt a familiar tingle down the back of my neck.  The Room was open, and L stepped through as if we did this all of the time, instead of being the first time in thirty some years.

“I’m sorry……” I said, starting to cry. I didn’t even know what for. For living when she died? For everything we had done without her? Like drinking hot chocolate on sleep overs with the mini marshmallow she loved. Or buying dresses for homecoming and prom. Or graduating from High School, and picking careers and spouses and homes and baby names and curtains and….

“Stop”, she said, in an older sister voice, that sounded nothing like the girl I used to know.  “You’re spending so much time on the things that don’t matter, you’re missing out on the ones that do. Like your daughter’s game, that you should be at right now—you’re already 10 minutes late you know.”

I looked at the clock. It was 10 minutes past 6. I gave her a watery thanks and dried my face on my sleeve. My friend Denise says when Souls are on other side, that God gives them jobs to doI like to think that maybe L’s job is me. As I ran towards the school, I heard a sigh of relief rush through the trees, that “‘lil sister“, had heard the message loud and clear.

In her newest book, called Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown describes “the wilderness” as the euphemistic wild place, where we all must go to feel what we feel, and know what we know, and tell the truth about who we are. Even if no one validates us. Or believes us. Or agrees with us. Or wants to hear what we’re saying at all.

“Belonging is being accepted for you who you are” she writes. “Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else. If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

We all want to belong. We need it, crave it, feel like we’ll die without it. We want our stories and our experiences to fit in everyone else’s boxes, as proof that we’re normal and ok. But unless we live in our own truth first, we lose the sacred parts that make us unique, in our insatiable desire to fit in.

In an interview in the early 70’s, Maya Angelou once said this: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place. You belong every place. And no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Everyplace. And no place. Being a part of it all, with the courage to stand alone. For the first time in 35 years, I know exactly where this story belongs.

That Time My Daughter Was Gay.

Before I even start, I need to say a few things up front.

1- I have my daughter’s permission to tell this story.

2- This is not an attempt to be an authority on something I know nothing about, like being gay. Or having a child that’s gay. The only thing I can be an authority on, are my own experiences, and realizations, and flaws, and regrets. Of the last two especially, I have more than I can count.

3- When I first started this blog, the Go Daddy Saint who helped me set everything up, asked me what my “brand” would be. I had no idea how to answer that, because I’m not a brand. I’m a person. And while brands are used to sell inanimate objects like vacuums, and razors, real people don’t come factory produced and sealed in a plastic bubble. They’re growing and learning and becoming. Or at least they should should be. And real stories—the ones that change our lives, or perspective, or who we are inside—can’t be tweaked and twisted for a label, or leave us feeling obligated to nip it here or tuck it there, like a tragically botched facelift, to fit the box we’ve created for ourselves. I’ve spent my entire life doing that. Living up to a tragically botched label. And it’s nothing but a lie. My experiences, and the beliefs I have surrounding them, don’t come from a pretty packaged box with a description of what to expect inside. (“Deeply flawed Christian mother who avoids groups, hates Kool-aid, and cusses as much as she prays. No guarantees. And absolutely no returns”.) They’re dug from the dirt. They’re The Whisper in my ear when I’m ready to give up. They’re the sores on my knees, after dropping in anguish to the middle of my bathroom floor. So at any given time, they may fit, or contradict, any or all of the different aspects of this journey I’ve set out on To Become. Which is the long way of saying: don’t let a single story or experience get you too invested in the parts of yourself that you may be expecting me to reflect back. Especially when it comes to faith, and God, and the 7.4 billion other humans, with their own thoughts and beliefs and realities and experiences that we all share this planet with. Because I reserve the right to live this life with all of the awe and wonder it deserves—and to change accordingly with every new shred of truth that I’m lucky enough to find. And I reserve the right to believe whatever I feel is right, and still say I’m a Christian. And I reserve the right to speak out against anything I choose to, and to love, and support, and stand up for people like me, and not like me, and yes, still say I’m a Christian. I’m just saying that up front, to save anyone the trouble of writing me a message, that includes the phrase “How can you call yourself a Christian and still……”. Let me give the only answer to that question that I ever will: Don’t worry about it. Me. My story. How I express it. Who I love and support. What I believe. Do not affect you, so don’t let it make you a victim of something you’re not. And on The Road To Becoming, I’ve thankfully learned, that another person’s rejection, or even acceptance, of my relationship with God, has no real power either.

So back to the story. Or maybe I should say stories, because when I really think about it, it isn’t just one. It’s four that collided into one, and they changed my life forever. I’ll call them Bloody Sunday, The Dream, The Decision and The Dog.

BLOODY SUNDAY: One Sunday night about 7 years ago, I came home late, and went in to kiss my daughter Annika goodnight. She was fast asleep in what looked to be an over-sized hoodie that had been pulled tight around her face and neck. Which was odd—but then again, she’d spent the evening home with her dad and brother, so who knew what they’d all been up to. As I came a little closer, I saw a band of white sticking up from her collar. When I gave it a pull, a big wad of gauze came out, covered in large amounts of blood.

“OMG! OMG! WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT HAPPENED? OMG WHAT HAPPENED?!?!?”

Yep. That was the Shit-Together-In-Crisis response from a seasoned Paramedic.

“I cut myself” she said in voice that was calm. Too calm. Creepy calm. Slither down your down your back and wiggle in your toes calm.

“Like on accident….?” I nodded, cuing her to say yes.

She stared me straight in the eyes, and shook her head no.

I wrapped her in a blanket and headed to the car, stopping just long enough to yell at my husband, who I’m not sure ever woke up. Not that I really wanted him to, because even though, unlike me, his Shit-Together medic response extends to our kids and their blood, I’m a lot faster, and I didn’t want to wait for him to get dressed.

The 10 minute drive to the hospital was spent priming her for what would come next. “They’re all really nice……..and they’ll make your cuts better. Then they’ll ask you some very important questions, and I need you to tell them the truth, no matter what.”

Even if it’s something your parents have done.

Please don’t let it be something your parents have done.

The rest of the night was a slow/fast blur. They stitched two deep gashes in her neck, that she insisted she did with a pair of nail clippers, (Wth…..nail clippers?!?), “because she just wanted to know what it felt like”. We left 3 hours later with wound care instructions and the name of a child psychologist, who after two months of weekly visits, came no closer to solving the mystery than any of the rest of us had. Although she did send us home with an ADD test (that we immediately threw away), and a pop-up tent “sanctuary” that filled Annika’s entire room, and a baby teething ring, “to chew on in times of distress”.

I may have used both of them myself.

THE DREAM: A few months later, after picking ourselves, and our lives, and every aspect of our kid’s environment apart, like the last bits of KFC from it’s crispy fried bone, we were still no closer to finding the answers we needed to move on. Prior to Bloody Sunday, there had been some intense family upheaval that we thought may be responsible, if for no other reason that we were desperate for a Scapegoat.

We were in the process of being shunned by our friends and family after leaving my childhood church for a new one. Nothing about our situation was unfamiliar: Step 1.) Grown adults attempt autonomy. Step 2.) As punishment, love and acceptance are withdrawn by The Herd. Step 3.) After punishment, grown adults attempting autonomy are expected to run back, fall on their knees renouncing their sin, and beg for forgiveness.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. It was the same game I’d watched being played, over and over, my entire life; the only thing that ever changed were the names and the remote control faces.

And now me.

Because I wasn’t running back. And there was no way, in this life or the next, that I was groveling for my autonomy to anyone. Or accepting punishment for doing what normal adults, with jobs, and a marriage, and a well cared for family, have earned the right to do: live the lives they were given, instead of allowing other people to live it for them. I was already prepared to do whatever it took, to raise my family on my own terms—with or without The Herd—because if we couldn’t have the freedom and respect we deserved along side of them, than we would learn to go on without them. What I didn’t anticipate, was the emotional toll that separating from the only life I had ever known, would have on me, my marriage, and my children. I went from thinking I knew everything, to being positive I knew nothing.  Up until then, my thoughts and beliefs had been manufactured for me, and I was trained to recite them, like a secret password, whispered at the door of an exclusive club. And not just any exclusive club. The MOST exclusive club. Full of the only people that God could ever love. So there I was, like an actor without a script. A Minion without a Villain. With no idea where their voice ended and my voice began. And I was probably going to hell.

Then came the morning that Annika sat down for breakfast, and told us about her dream: “Me and Selena Gomez got married, and Justin Bieber sang Baby at our wedding. You and Daddy said you loved me so much—but some people got really mad” And when I say “some people” she actually named names. The usual suspects, who always had something demeaning or negative to say about us, or our house, or our parenting, or our monstrous children who just needed a good beating to get em’ right with God. She wanted to know why people would be mad at a wedding when they’re supposed to be happy. She had no idea, at least not consciously, that the church we went to, and the people we had spent our lives with, simply didn’t do gay.  Not in a Westboro Baptist way, with signs and protests and lispy, inbred sneers. That would make them look mean. They didn’t do gay in a much nicer way than that. They may not demean anyone to their face, but if you were gay, and shook their hand in a business transaction, the minute you left, they’d look at their Club Christian Co-Workers and wipe their hand on their leg with an “Ick”. Apparently gay money was fine, as long as they didn’t have to touch someone gay to get it. The unsaid agreement within the church, was a Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell kind of thing, as if saying the word gay out loud, would make them appear out of nowhere like Voldemort. So were we the kind of people who stood in judgement, while some poor kid with their head bowed in shame, read an I’m-Sorry-I-Kissed-A-Girl-and-I-Liked-It letter in front of the entire congregation? No. Which I’m truly thankful for. The I’m-Sorry-I-Fell-On-A-Penis letters were bad enough as it was. And did we send children off for a soul saving summer at Camp Pray the Gay Away? No. We didn’t do that either. In fact, as far as I knew, no one in our sect ever was gay. All of that good, pure living of extra-marital sex, porn, divorce, addictions, gossip, and groping little girls must have bred it all right out of us. Although there were several people we knew who “never wanted to get married”, but adopted some kids that they raised with their “best friend”; or who moved in with their college basketball coach, and “never got around” to moving out; or who owned a house with their “roommate” of 20 years, and took yearly vacations to their timeshare at Atlantis.

After several months of reaching, and searching for any bit of probable cause that would force a 7 year old to hack her own neck open, The Dream was exactly what I’d been waiting for. So I put 2 + 2 together and came up with “My Daughter Must Be Gay”, figuring she heard the tones of disapproval, like only kids and dogs can do, and in her distress, she’d taken it out on herself; it seemed perfectly logical at the time.

I spent the rest of the day looking for ways to support her, without making it into a big weird deal.

Which means I made it into a big weird deal.

I pulled up famous gay people on the internet and forced awkward segues into bizarre conversations about how funny, or inspiring, or successful they were. (So speaking of the weather, have you ever heard of Ellen? I hear she loves dogs, just like you!)

If God was being merciful that day, he would have struck me dead right then.

Later that night at dinner, I asked the kids what kind of person they’d like to marry (“It could be a boy OR a girl you know!”).

They both stared at me blankly. Then Anders told me about the new Transformer he wanted, and Annika asked what was for dessert.

After they went to bed, I told my husband about the sign I was planning to make, for the next Pride Parade, of course.  “Christian mom who will F**CK ANYONE UP, who messes with my gay kid!”. Not that I’d ever been to a Pride Parade. Or knew when the next one was coming. Or if it was even normal for super triggered people to carry insanely aggressive, over-the-top signs, with claws and teeth coming out of them.

He said he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but that he did wonder, if I may be taking things a little too far.

The obvious answer was yes. But here’s what was really burning me, from deep inside, all the way out: until the minute I thought my own child was at risk, I knew I had never taken it far enough. I had sat back and allowed disrespectful,  dehumanizing behavior without ever speaking up. I stayed safely in the middle. Too quiet. Too docile. Protecting my position in my social group, above the rights of other people. Protecting the ministry I ran. Protecting my own ass. Now here I was, with a possibly gay daughter, and there was no way I was going to pretend that the slowly emerging levels of freedom, equality and safety, were a real reflection of society as a whole. Nor would they be, without a continued fight, for a long time to come. I also knew that any advances that had been made, on behalf of my possibly gay daughter, and my future daughter-in-law, and the children they may someday have, would be no thanks to me, and my no good, no help, ass saving self. I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed, and I wanted to fall on my knees in thankfulness, to those who had spent their lives, risking far more than I ever had, by standing up for her in my place. From that moment on, I vowed never to be passive, or quiet, or let fear and selfish interests stand in the way of another person’s right to safety and equality again. Because even if my child wasn’t gay, someone else’s was, and now they were my child too.

THE DECISION: So here’s the thing about being shunned by friends and family for leaving their church. As I’ve said before, in other posts, it’s not the same as being disowned. Compared to being shunned, disowned is an act of mercy, because it’s one big jab through the heart, instead of a long, miserable death by a thousand little poisonous cuts. Most people don’t admit they’re shunning. In fact, if they’re ever actually confronted, they claim that they’re not, because they know it makes them look like jerks. So here’s what happens instead. They don’t stop inviting you to birthdays and holidays and social functions. In fact, you may find yourself invited even more. But it isn’t because you’re loved or accepted. It’s so they can sit at table with you, and turn their heads away when you speak. Or so they can yell at your children and treat them like feral little monsters if they so much as breathe in the wrong direction. Or so they can give each other beautiful gifts and make a big deal out of each one, while your kids get clothes that are 4 sizes too small, and a baby rattle that’s “just perfect!” for a 5 years old. Or so they can plan trips and laugh at inside jokes that you’ve been purposefully left out of. Or so they can bring up controversial topics on religion or politics, and demean the “sinful”, “disgusting”, “trash” (like you) who are dumb enough to believe the way you do.

For several months before The Dream, I’d been on the verge of doing something drastic. It’s a last resort measure called going No Contact, and it means cutting off all interaction with abusive people and their environment. Not because I wanted to. Even if you’re treated like garbage, when it’s all you’ve ever known, no one wants to. But something in me finally understood, that this cycle of behavior, had been growing and thriving long before I was born, and with or without me, it was going to continue, long after I was gone. Gay child or not, it didn’t really matter, because if it wasn’t about being gay, they would have made it about something else: Politics. Religion. Who you marry. Where you live. What brand of toilet paper you use. Turkey over ham at Christmas. Their need for other people to be bad, so they could feel good, was a problem far bigger than me; and like any real addiction we use to plug the empty holes in our lives, there was no rational conversation or magical solution, to talk them out of their next fix. The only behavior I could control was my own. And if I really did have a gay child, I knew that staying in that environment, would set her up for a lifetime of hiding or being shunned: never fully accepted, with the cross of self-loathing hung around her neck, forced to apologize for being born, “an abomination”, “a disappointment” and “broken”.

It was all sounding strangely familiar—and over my dead, cold, infidel body, was I letting anyone feed their Narcissism, on my innocent little girl. 

I had to let them go.

THE DOG: Five years later, my then 12 year old daughter, who so far was not gay, and in love with Edward the Vampire and Twilight, came downstairs for school, and dropped a bomb that left me stunned.

“You know when I cut my neck open?”

Um. Ya. I remember it well.

“Well it wasn’t me, it was Riley (our anxiety ridden rescue Terrier). I was forcing him to hug me like you kept telling me not to, and his teeth got caught in my neck. I was afraid you’d get rid of him, so I said I did it to myself. Can I please sleep with my door closed again, now?”

Her older brother had apparently known for years, but until they were sure the dog was safe, neither one of them was going to tell us the truth. As she went on to explain it more, she said she yanked his head when he bit her, and it tore two gashes, instead of leaving more recognizable bite marks. But just to make sure we believed her, she used the nail clippers, to disguise it some more. As extreme as it sounds, they loved their dog, and what they feared was actually real. Had we known it at the time, there was no way we could have kept him, after vampiring a little kid’s neck.

“But all of those years…..” I couldn’t even finish the sentence, as memory after memory of sitting up all hours, listening outside of her door, and visits to the therapist, and late night soul searching, and forced, awkward talks, clicked like an old toy Viewmaster through my mind.

There’s a term used by Tolkien, to describe the good story, that comes from the bad story. He called it The Eucatastrophe. It literally means, The Good (Eu) Tragedy: a sudden turn in an impossibly bad situation, that leaves us breathless with surprise, to find something beautiful on the other side. Sometimes its a found attribute, like loyalty or courage. Other times its an arrow, that either points us to our Hero’s Journey, or puts us on a path to a much needed change. It’s different than a happy ending, because just like real life stories, Tolkien didn’t believe that a fairy tale ever ends—it keeps moving forward, To Become something else, after catching a sacred glimpse of the truth.

So what’s the good story in the bad story here? I got out. Even under the threat of hell, and damnation and no more lemon meringue pie at Christmas. And I changed. Not because of my abilities—I didn’t have anything special to speak of—but because I was offered the choice to be different, and I showed up long enough to say yes.  And I experienced Grace. Not the kind where Angels sing and all is well with the world, forever and ever amen. The kind that hauls you on her back and dumps you in Time Out, so you can sit and think about how you’ve been acting for awhile. And I broke the cycle. For my kids. And my kid’s kids. And for a sick and suffering world that desperately needs to hold each other, and rock each other, and beg each other for forgiveness.

Please forgive me.

I saw a quote the other day, that said “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in, can hope to escape.” It may seem strange to think of desperation as a positive, but it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. Knowing who we are, isn’t the same as being who we are–and when Dog showed up as God, and lit the path to peace and freedom, The Knowing, and The Being, moved closer to becoming one.

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 carrying around.

So I threw them out.

Into cyberspace.

why? Why? WHY?

Almost 5 posts down The Road To Blog, and I continue to ask 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. Continue reading Finding Peace and Understanding, in the Gross, Spongy Center of Life.

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. Continue reading Sinners, Honkys and Misfits.

It’s More Than Just the Poopy Revenge.

 

 

 

 

The first time I saw The Help, I fell in love with Minny. She was a Truth Telling Nightmare, who fought back, regardless of the risks; and shined a light so bright, that the Doers of Darkness, had nowhere left to hide. And while tale after tale of bravery and heroism had me cheering the whole way through, nothing compared to Bad Ass Minny, taking a dump in a Narcissist’s pie. Continue reading It’s More Than Just the Poopy Revenge.

Mostly Peace, Love and Light…….And a little F-You.

Every time there’s a big political event, our social media News Feeds fill up with fake news, ugly memes, and depending on who your friends are, flat out personal attacks, from people you thought were somewhat decent. Or at the very least, who had a base level of respect for highly regarded people–like say, a favorite High School Teacher–to not equate them to a “whore” for participating in a march; or call them a “cry baby” when they post their views; or tell them to stop their whining and “go make a sandwich”. Continue reading Mostly Peace, Love and Light…….And a little F-You.