Lost and Found: Meet Virginia-Part 1

You know what I’ve found? Writing from the cheap seats of unfiltered bitterness and rage is easy. Give me Racism, or Narcissistic Abuse or Spiritual Abuse, or Sexual Abuse and the volcano will flow. Novelist James Baldwin said that clinging to our anger and hatred is easy because once it’s gone, we’re left to deal with the pain. I think that must be true, because as I write, and the laws of energy (Can’t be created. Can’t be destroyed) turn the anger into something else—hello pain. Which makes it all that much harder to sit down and write again. It’s an unexpected cycle that I didn’t see coming: the closer I get to those coveted front row seats of letting What Is and What Was, live as a mostly peaceful whole, the words and emotions get stuck. Because that’s what pain does. Gets stuck in our  minds and bodies like gum in the sole of a waffle bottom shoe, picking up so much lint and dirt along the way that we can barely tell what it is. At times like this, I sort of miss that ratty old low end seat with it’s peeling upholstery and half chewed taffy stuck all up underneath, because the story I’m about to tell is still riddled with scabby sores and bruises. It’s also full of indescribably joybut to feel it, to own it, to make it mine and mine alone—I’ve learned that pain has to take the first swing if I want peace to be the last batter up.

When I don’t know where to start, I open up a book that I bought on a whim at a New Age crystals and voodoo shop in NW Portland. I think it’s funny that we call anything “New Age” because the tricks we use to make sense of the fact that we’re spiritual beings, having a human experience that can be downright terrifying, aren’t new at all. We just keep reviving them like an old 80’s sitcom. Or giving them a new and improved poster child with whiter teeth, a better car, a bigger house, and a Ted Talk.

The book I found in the Not-So-New-Age store is called “A Year of Writing Dangerously365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement”. I knew I needed it from the moment I saw it because every time I sit down to write this blog, that’s exactly what I feel: DANGER. As if my stories are captive children who have been chained in a dark basement their entire lives, relentlessly begging for light. If I let them all out at once how can I keep them safe? What if they accept candy from a stranger or go wandering into the street. An entire book of encouragement from other fearful and doubtful writers brings me a comfort I can’t describe.

The pages that spoke to me this time were #187 and #188. They have big letters across the top titled  “Owning your story” and “An Army of Doubts”.

“A writer’s duty is to register what it is like for him or her to be in the world” says Zadie Smith.

“I wish I had written more” laments Cynthia Ozick. “I wish I had been more prolific. I wish I had had less fear of writing, more self-confidence, less terror of it.

I’m on it Zadie.

Me too Cyndi.

So I guess this is it, Virginia. After 49 years, our story is about to unfold. Are you afraid? I’m afraid. But I’ve got you and you’ve got me, so lets be afraid together, and see where this thing goes.

Virginia is my birth mom. My only mom now. I used to have two moms. Then I had no moms. Now I have Virginia. She’s with me all of the time, which is weird since she’s dead. I call her Mama in my head because that’s what my daughter calls me.  I like to pretend that’s what I would have called Virgina if the Mother/Daughter cards we were dealt weren’t from the trick deck of life, stained with tobacco and meth and shame.

I wanted to write this back in May, and publish it on Virgina’s Birthday, but here we are Mid-August and it’s still  eeking out slowly, in 20 minutes here or there. Timing has never been our thing. It took us 41 years to meet after all. She was only 15 when she got pregnant, and since they hid me away the minute I popped into the world, May of 2010 was the very first time she ever held me in her arms, or looked into the eyes of her first born.

The way I just said that sounds dreamy doesn’t it? Like one of those TLC shows where good looking entertainers with botoxed faces and teary eyes nod in approval as long lost family members run across flowery fields and fall sobbing into each other arms. That’s not how it happened for me. I met my mom on an overcast day on the Oregon coast in a run down park filled with dandelions and dog poop and a gummy eyed Tabby with a crooked tail yowling at my feet. She was mostly drunk with rotten teeth, sores on her face and the remnants of a botched surgery to remove a melanoma on her nose. The hole that was left gave me a whistling black view, clear into her right nostril.

Lying Rat Bastard Shows.

I used to meet with a group of adoptees, and not a one of us had the capped tooth, plastic smile, TV version of a birth mom meeting. Ok one guy did, but we managed to like him anyway. We weren’t the stereotypical sad-sack, poor-us lot who sat around in a circle singing “Somewhere Out There” in our tiny Fievel Mouse voices with our matching blue caps pulled low over our big teary eyes. We were a flippant bunch who inhaled frosted cookies and donut holes as we did backstrokes through black humor, and swam olympic laps in irreverent laughter while we joked about buying Bastard Bonds, or being that one unmatched sock left in the bottom of the Lost and Found pile. Looking back now, I think it was our way of declaring that we had survived, and of convincing ourselves that our pasts didn’t matter. And that it didn’t hurt to find out that your birth mom sold you and your 13 siblings for $300 a pop. Or that your heart didn’t break when you tracked her to another state, but were told she didn’t want to meet you, so you never got any closer than watching her thump a watermelon while you hid behind a tower of Pringles at her local grocery store. It worked in the moment, but it didn’t sustain me for long, because I still didn’t know the difference between the thoughts and feelings that kept me attached to trauma, and the ones that led to healing and peace. I don’t think any of us knew the difference, which is why the second our truths came up, we soothed the burn with camaraderie and laughter, and hoped it would be enough

In the beginning, I  felt like I landed somewhere in the middle of the meeting-your-birth-mom experience. Drugs, alcohol and mental illness had stolen any chance for a relationship, but at least she hadn’t sold me. And she didn’t tell me to get lost when I showed up out of nowhere on that Memorial Day weekend with four of my closest friends, over 8 years ago now. But as time has passed, I don’t think I’m in the middle anymore. I think I’m one of the lucky ones. Not because the facts changed and my story became perfect. But because it didn’tand I figured out how to stop needing it to be perfect to find the joy and purpose that had been waiting for me all along. And because almost every day now, I sit in awe of the miracles and the magic that led me to the exact time and place, with the exact people I was supposed to be with, to open the door to the family I’ve always belonged to, and begin the life I was truly meant for.

Even from my earliest memories, I knew I was adopted, but I don’t remember knowing I could have an independent thought or emotion about it. Looking back (from my own, limited perspective) it’s as if the Baby Brokers of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s gave everyone in The Triad a script that none of us knew to question. Birth Moms were to expected to schlep away quietly in their bad-girl shame, have their babies, and then curtsy dutifully back into their old lives as if they hadn’t just sacrificed their bodies to grow a tiny human. Adoptive Parents were encouraged to take their new lump of pristine flesh and mold it and make it into thine own family imagein spite of that pesky little intruder called DNA. Nothing a good beating couldn’t get rid of anyway. Adoptees were to supposed to sit like pretty little dolls in their matching dresses, with colorful yarnies that held fat pigtails in a perfectly sympetrical loop, and repeat “I’m a very lucky girl!” with a grateful  smile when the string on their back was pulled.

In many ways, I was “a very lucky girl”. And in many ways, I am also grateful. I had toys and dresses and dogs and trips to Disneyland and never wanted physically for a thing. But I also lived with the looming suspicion that I was terminally out of place. Like being piece 10,001 in a 10,000 piece puzzle: Not meant for that box. Not the right size or shape. But since the alternative was the trash can, I never stopped trying to shove myself in anyway. Until one day I did stop trying. Which is how I ended up where I am today. Even now, I find that deep sense of loneliness is easier to identify in books and movies than it’s ever been to put into words. Like when George Clooney floats off alone into the vastness of space in Gravity. Or in that Dr Sues Book “Are You My Mother” where the lost bird can’t find his mom. I still hate that book to this day. Before opening it when I was little, I’d shelter somewhere safe—usually under a chair in the corner, on a shag carpet that was olive green, I think. Even though I knew that Baby Bird would find his mom, watching him get rejected, page after page (“I am not your mother, I am a dog.” Of course the cat didn’t bother to answer) still made my insides shake like they were going to fall out. The part I dreaded the most came at the very end of the book when the rusty old backhoe picked him up dropped him safely back into his nest. In that moment I always knew there was no loud Snort coming to solve the mystery and show me where my mother was.

“I have a mother” said the baby bird. “I know I do. I will find her. I will. I WILL!”

Yes Baby Bird. We will.

It’s not like I was ever told I couldn’t find my birth mom, but since I knew my role (indebted adoptee and family dumpster. Hate something about yourself? Give it to me!), and was given a way to think about being adopted, and to talk about being adopted that kept me from knowing how I felt about being adopted, setting out to find my birth mom, wasn’t something I seriously considered. Most adoptees I knew at the time were raised with a similar ideological framework: “Your birth mom couldn’t take care of you, so she loved you enough to give you away” or “Other parents are stuck with their children, but we picked you so we’re luckier than them”. It clearly wasn’t an era known for it’s psychological awareness, but I believe the heart behind those messages was good: You were loved not rejected. You were chosen, not an accident. Then there was me. My messages, while similar on the surface, were more like Lucky you! We picked you! But never forget that you’re damaged goods and our perfection is all that can fix you. In return for this salvation, you will supply our ego until the day you die and do everything we dictate without question or we’ll disown your thankless, broken, disrespectful, mentally ill ass. If it weren’t for us, you’d be ‘nothing but a druggie in a ditch’, anyway. So remember that, darling. Ok?. I had the added bonus of being told that adopting 5 kids was the initial plan, but having me made them not want any moreand that adoptees who looked for their  birth parents were “Intrusive” and “selfish”.

Fast forward to May of 2010: Selfish, damaged, unfixable adoptee who belongs in a ditch and makes adoptive parents hate children, intrudes on drug addicted birth mom. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, a lot. But after an almost nine year journey that began as a secretpaved with guilt and shame, and  pockmarked with fear and doubt—I can finally see it for what it was: Absolutely. Positively. Exactly where I was supposed to end up.

We KNEW it Baby Bird. We KNEW it.

In January of 2010, the life and the family I used to have, had essentially disappeared. I won’t explain it all now, but if you read my older posts (Yes. Parts of them are angry), you’ll probably get the gist. But you know what? I refuse to turn my back on a single line that I wrote. That anger motivated me and protected me while I learned to have healthy personal boundaries for the first time ever in my life. I may not be the same open sore who wrote those stories when I began this blog, but they’re still who I am. And I love them. Because who I was then, who I am now, and where I’m going in the future have all agreedwe never want to be apart again. One day I hope my kids will find this blog, and read it cringing and crying and laughing and understanding with a great big bottle of wine. Because like it or not, my story is their story too.

In the beginning, people assumed that I found my birth family as a reaction to the one I’d lost. That simply isn’t true. I’d had the request for information from Waverly Baby Home for almost 10 years before The Great Escape from Cult Religion and Narcissism. Up until that point, all I felt was guilt when I wondered about my mom. But after my son Anders was born, and I was socked in the head with crippling morning sickness, a 60 lb weight gain, and an all encompassing, borderline mental, stab-you-in-the-eye-if-you-even-LOOK-at-my-baby, kind of love (followed by a month of postpartum depression. Ya think?), I had an overwhelming desire to thank the person who had done the same for me. At the time, I was seeing it all through the lens of a new mom who had planned her pregnancy at 29 instead of doing an Ooopsie at 15 years old. I would have died for my son. I couldn’t imagine giving him away to someone else, let alone never know what happened to him. If there was someone out there, still carrying that burden, then I wanted to release them from it if I could.

At a distance mind you. Like in a letter. Where we may or may not ever exchange names.

When my daughter Annika was born a few years later, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my birth mom again. What must it have been like for her, enduring the panic and pain that I found so hard as an adult, when she was only a child? Then one day, I read an article about a man who was adopted from the same agency that I had been: Waverly Baby Home. We were referred to as Waverly Babies back then. He and his Birth Parents had put their names on the agency adoption registry and were gifted a fairy tale reunion. Adoption registries were still fairly new because up until the early 1990’s, adoption records in Oregon were sealed. The battle between the rights of Adoptees to know their origins and the rights of Birth Parents to keep their privacy resulted in grief and gnashing of teeth. Oddly enough, I voted against Adoptee rights, and in favor of the Birth Parent’s privacy. Not that I had a choice. I wasn’t just told how to think and feelI was also told how to vote. The information in the Waverly article told me how to request the paperwork to put myself on their registry. But the feelings of guilt won again, along with the fear that my Birth Family wouldn’t want me, so it sat in a file labeled Selfish Intruder that I didn’t touch for several years. Then in 2007 when I was cleaning a drawer, I ran across the article again. On the verge of throwing it away, I reconsidered at the very last moment and sent a request to the agency for registry paperwork instead.

It came within a weekand then sat for another 3 years.

All of this is to say, that the journey to find my family had been in motion for many years. Slow motion is still motion. I was just waiting for the right catalyst to move me forward again. In my last post, I introduced The Whisper. You can read more about who that is to me here. But that post is long (who am I kidding. They’re all long.) so for now I’ll just say it’s the way I hear God. From here on out, the voice of The Whisper becomes a central part of this story. You’re welcomed to believe it, or not believe it, but it won’t change the truth either way.

You’re out of time” kept saying the powerfully soft voice in my dreams. “If you ever want to find them, you have to do it now.”

Then one morning, bleary eyed from another night of tossing and turning through urgently spoken whispers, I knew what I needed to do. Which is how I found myself standing in the medical marijuana line down at the Multnomah County Court House. I was so anxious and disoriented, it took me 20 minutes to realize that the window to request a pre-adoption birth certificate was on the other side of the room. When my certificate came in the mail a few weeks later, it was like the Secrets of the Universe had been revealed. I was white. And my mom had signed her name Virginia Lee Smith in the most elegant handwriting I had ever seen. Then right below that, she had written “Mother”. I stared at that word for the longest time. Even if it was only for the few seconds it had taken her to write a name and a title, I had been someone to her.

From there I sent the agency my birth certificate, along with a request to be added to the adoption registry. I fully expected that my mom had been writing me letters, dropping them like breadcrumbs through the woods for the last 40 years so we could find each other one day. I knew that’s what I would have done. But isn’t our own lens the one we look through first when we don’t know any better yet?

March became a blur as I waited for a response. I spent countless hours searching the internet and didn’t find a trace of her. Sometimes I thought that was good. At least she wasn’t an axe murderer, which was one thing I had going my way. On the birth certificate she listed a home town on the Oregon coast called Florence. My friend Crystal showed up towards the end of the month, to drive the 3 hours there to help me begin my search. We were careful in the beginning, not wanting to raise suspicion, as if members of my bio-family were going to pop out from behind a bush and run me out of town with their pitchforks and rakes (Git’ on out you mangy rat! Run back to that ditch you just crawled out of!) We went to the Pioneer Museum first. The people who worked there were exactly her age, and had lived there most of their lives. Not a single one of them had heard of Virginia Smith, and oddly enough, the year books we needed to find her high school picture were the only ones missing that day. From there we went to the library, city hall, and pretty much any business that was open and would let us in. At first I tried not to seem pushy, but after hours of  having no success, I was bleeting like a baby goat to anyone who would listen “My mom is Virginia Lee Smith. Do you know her? Do you know her?!?!?”.

No one did. It ended up being a 6 hour drive to find nothing but two so-so lattes and a junky chair from an antique store that we crammed in the back of my van.

I had given in to that eerie pull to the town on the coast. I had obeyed the relentless whisper in my dreams. But the way people were acting felt like The Smiths had never existed, and the door that felt so open, had been slammed in my face as if  a mean little kid with bucked teeth and a smirk said “Hey, want some candy?”, and handed me an empty wrapper instead.

I spent the rest of the month searching the internet, looking for names on Facebook, and sending messages to strangers who either ignored me completely or were flat out insulted at times.

“NO. I won’t ask my dad if he fathered any illegitimate children. Don’t bother responding. I’m blocking you right now.”

But there was one woman named Rose, who was also an adoptee, and had found her birth family as well. She wasn’t a relation, but she did become a key encounter that kept me from abandoning my search.

I’d like to encourage you not to give up” she wrote. “Finding out the truth gave me a stronger sense of personal identity. I really hope you find her. It’s been over 3 years for me and so far I have no regrets. I’m grateful for even the painful knowledge: it’s a true part of me somehow.”

I still tear up at those words. And I’m still amazed that it was the kindness of a stranger who gave me the strength to continue when I was so overwhelmed with disappointment and doubt. Then again, she was Facebook friends with her dog ( Bruno Isadog) so I knew she had to be a good person. She may not have given me the information I was looking for, but her empathetic words of encouragement ended up being equally as valuable in my search.

As I continued punching different combinations of people, places and dates into the Internet Oracle, I was also getting help from someone I’ll call AD. I didn’t know if she’d want me to use her name, but without her, this story would have ended right here. She had an Ancestry account and was nice enough to use it to help me with my search. We had both come up with several leads, but in my heart I knew they weren’t right. Then came late April when a response from the adoption registry finally came in the mail.  I sat in our laundry room for over an hour, with that unopened envelope in my lap. I’ve had some of my best breakdowns on that floor. It connects to the family room and if I braced my feet just right, I could still hear the kids in case either of them were dying, but they still couldn’t open the door. The envelope I wanted was thick. Like the one I would be given on the lying-rat-bastard TV show, stuffed with letters, and pictures of my birthday that had been celebrated in my absence, with hats and a cake and one of those You-Are-Special plates, because they had remembered me all of these years.

The envelope I held was thin.

I rocked back and forth and screamed “It’s thin. IT’S THIN. IT’S THIN!” from the depths of my innermost core, without ever saying a word. It wasn’t the envelope of a little girl who was loved and remembered. It was the envelope of a ghost.

When I eventually opened it up, I already knew what was going to be in there. The same worthless page of non-identifying information that I’d read a million times before. My mom was 5’3″ with blue eyes. My Dad was artistic and his father was a drunk. My Maternal Grandmother was a tiny 4’11”. My Maternal Grandfather was a giant over 6 feet tall, and he operated the lathe at a mill. But here’s what’s interesting, that last bit of worthless, non-identifying information that I’d read a million timesabout my grandfather and the millwould make all of the difference soon.

My kids were thankfully gone, because after opening that envelope, I became a foot-dragging, snot-wiping, middle-finger-flipping, shell of a person for 3 days straight. The only time that I wasn’t crying was when I was sleeping, except when I was crying in my sleep. There was nothing. NOTHING. That would keep me from my child. How could my mom not feel the same way? Yes, I knew there were situations that could prevent someone from looking. Like being dead. But I knew she was alive because I could feel she was alive. Not well, because her energy felt sick and weak, but I knew she was still in this world. Then one night while Eric and I were watching Animal Planet, it all hit me at once. On the show, a mama mountain goat had lost her baby. With a hand over my eyes and sweaty palms, I watched her risk her life as she separated from the herd to go back and find her baby. As the realization sank in, I turned to Eric with a beer in one hand and a tissue in the other and said “Holy shit. That’s it! My mom may not have the maternal instincts of a freaking mountain goat……..”

We both started laughing. Me hysterically at first.

Then crying.

Again.

For the 10th time that day.

In the following weeks, I painted the bathroom, rearranged the living room, made 62 batches of brownies (and ate them all) bought another expensive purse that I couldn’t afford, and tried to start my search again. My fire was virtually gone. I didn’t understand why the voices in my dreams and The Whisper in my ear kept telling me that this was my destiny, when it seemed like no one wanted to be found.

I prayed for answers. On my knees. In my car. Flat on the laundry room floor with my feet braced against the door. Not to the God of my youth, with the disapproving glare and the belt raised in anger who hated me for being bad and who seemed to wish I was never born. I prayed to the God that I heard other people talk about and hoped he or she would like me better.

Later that week after working a shift with my friend Mary’s husband (I was a medic at the time) I told her I was ready to to make peace with the fact that finding my Birth Mom wasn’t meant to be, and give this pointless search up for good.

“No” she said, “That’s not happening”, and spent the next week cold calling people with the last name Smith. Even I hadn’t been brave enough to do that. Then one day she sent me an address she had found that matched the one that was on my Birth Certificate. It was a few miles up Hwy 101 in another coastal town called Waldport. Yes. I was tired. Yes. I wanted to give up. But I was also seeing a pattern. Every time I told myself it was the end, I was sent one more person to say “No. No it’s not. Now stop your whining and get at it again.”

I called AD the very next day and asked her to go to Florence with me. I was willing to give it one more try. By this time it was mid May, and I knew the schools and offices would be closing for summer soon. When Crystal and I were there in April, Florence High said they didn’t keep year books. I didn’t believe them anymore. AD and I booked a room at the Three Rivers Casino, and put the high school on our hit-list first. I was ready to grovel, cry, stomp, beg, do whatever I had to do to get them to help me.

When we walked into the High School, I could still feel the block that had been hovering for several months. “I hate you.” I told it under my breath. The staff were very nice, but told us we couldn’t be in the library during school hours. They said the only way we could look at the year books was if we came back at 3 when school was over, but that the library closed at 3:10. Ten minutes. That was all they were giving us, and it wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Just about then, a student who had overheard the conversation said “Why don’t I go in and find what you need, and bring them back here?” The staff seemed ok with that, which was great, but none of it even mattered. Just as we had found at the the Pioneer Museum when we were there in April: the only years that were missing, were the ones that Virginia would have been in. Another loud clunk, from another closed door thudded dully my mind. “I hate you” I told it again.

A woman in the office, suggested we go to District Office and talk to a friend of hers who had lived in Florence for most of her life. Even though I wasn’t looking forward to another dead end, we headed over anyway and talked to her friend for quite awhile. She couldn’t help us either, but not for lack of trying. Then right as we were leaving, I heard a Whisper in my ear say “Show her the piece of paper from the hatefully thin envelope, with the worthless, non-identifying information that you’ve had since you were a child”. I handed it to her slowly. After thinking for a moment, this is what she said: “Your grandfather worked at the mill? The biggest mills were Mapleton. They’re all shut down now, but there’s a school down there that I’d look at it for sure. They’ll still be open if you hurry.”

It was the moment that changed my world.

As far as we knew, Mapleton was no more than the little store by the river that sold flannel shirts, Copenhagen and fried chicken in a basket that we had passed on our way to Florence. We would have never considered stopping there. Now we had a choice to make. Mapleton or Waldport? We didn’t have time for both. We had an address to search in Waldport, that I already knew wasn’t a match, but it still seemed more promising than Mapleton.

I hung my head like flea bitten dog. “Even if we make it to the school, they probably won’t let us in. I just don’t know anymore….”

“Well if you won’t decide then I will.” said AD “Put on your big girl panties and get in the car because we’re headed to Mapleton now.”

It took us less than 10 minutes to get to Mapleton, and as we followed the signs to the school, my heart started to flutter. “This is it….This Is It….THIS IS IT!” I kept hearing.

As I walked up the steps of Mapleton High it felt like the iron doors of a castle, were being blown open by a storm. Pictures of the graduating classes lined the walls. “I want to see if I can find her before they throw us out!” said AD as she took off down the hall. But for the first time since I had started my search, I wasn’t worried a bit. It suddenly felt as if the sole purpose of people I was about to meet was help me the rest of the way. Like the cruise directors of the SOS Finding-Your-Birth-Mom. “Watch your step! The dining room is to the left! Shuffleboard and The Secrets to Your Existence will be starting on the poop deck at 4pm!” I went to the front office and stared the man behind the glass in the eyes. “I’m looking for my birth mom. Do you have any year books you’d let me see?”

“Sure” he said, “but if I was you, I’d talk to Connie first. She’s lived here all her life”. I walked across the hall to the room he had pointed to and stood in the doorway until she looked up. Then for the last time ever, I said the words that I’d been saying for months. “I’m looking for my birth mom. Her name is Virginia Lee Smith. Is there any chance you know her?”

She looked startled at first, then her eyes became teary and soft “I knew your mother. And your Uncle Jack too. You look just like them in the eyes”. From that moment on it felt like I was floating through a warm fuzzy dream, from center of a superpuffed marshmallow.

We hugged and sobbed and hugged and sobbed and talked for quite awhile. She said that she was better friends with my Uncle Jack, because Virginia was only there a short time. “She disappeared one day and never came backnow I’m staring at the reason why.” As we talked a bit longer, I could tell that as much as she wanted to continue, Connie was also walking a very thin line between privacy policies and trying to help. While she couldn’t go get the year books we needed for us, she could tell us where they were, and suggest some years that may be of  “particular interest”. We found my Uncle Jack almost immediately. He was so handsome with a sparkle in his eye.  I couldn’t believe he was mine. It took me a little longer to find Virginia, but when I did, it was only her name. There were 20 or so girls lined up in on some risers and I tried to guess which one she was without counting positions and names. The first girl I picked had a striped sweater (I like stripes too) and features that I thought might match mine. Then my eyes landed on another girl’s face—second row up, second in from the left. We didn’t look as much the same, but she had a stance and an expression that felt strangely familiar. I brushed my finger across the page, gave her an unsure smile and said hello to my mom for the first time.

There were so many more questions that I wanted to asklike the names of my two aunts, and of my grandparents, and if she knew where any of them livedbut I could tell that we had worn out our welcome; it was time to photocopy what we could and leave.

On the way back to the hotel, we decided to stop where the mill used to be. There wasn’t much left besides a big dirt lot and shack that said Davidson’s on the side. The man inside was talkative and friendly, but said that Jack and Virginia Smith weren’t names that rung a bell. Then just as we were leaving, I paused for a moment and heard The Whisper say softly “Show him the pictures you just copied at the school”. He recognized Uncle Jack right away. “Hey, that’s Jackie! I know him. His parents live just up the road. Their names are Cora and Harlan. Let me get you their address”.

My Grandparents.

Less than 5 minutes away.

AD and I stared at each other in disbelief. After months of searching with nothing to show for it, we now had names, pictures and an address.

We said our thanks and headed straight for my Grandparent’s house, just to spy a little without getting shot would be nice. After winding up a hill, I saw a sign at the bottom of a steep, tree lined driveway that had their name written on the front of it. I was so nervous that I got myself stuck, and instead of easing out slowly like I’d always been taught, I slammed on the gas and dug us in worse. Gravel was flying and we were peeing ourselves laughing as I spun a crater in the bottom of their driveway. At that point I figured that yelling “Don’t shoot! I’m your granddaughter” probably wouldn’t have helped us that much.

By the time we made it back to the hotel my brain was crackling like a spider on a high-voltage web. There was no way I was sleeping, so I spent the rest of the night stalking all of the new names we had foundand it wasn’t long before I realized that there was something off with my Uncle Jack. I couldn’t find him in any of my searches, and I couldn’t “feel” him like I did Virginia. Not that I could sense her that strongly, but with Jack there was nothing at all. Contacting him first had been my initial plan in case my Grandparents didn’t want to meet me.

On the way out of town the next morning, we made a pit stop back by the mill. I just knew that guy had a little more in him. But when we walked through the door, Mr Information seemed a lot more reserved than he had been the day before. He said that he had talked to his wife (which explained a lot) who said that yes, she remembered Virginia, and reminded him that Jack had died back in the 90’s. He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t push, so we stared at each other awkwardly for a minute. Then right as we were leaving he mumbled one last bit of information, with two names and a marriage, that ended up being the final piece of gold we were mining. On the way home, we planned to stop by the Marion County Courthouse to scour their birth, death, marriage and property records. It was there, after matching the last two names that had been mentioned, to a marriage on public record, that I found my beautiful Aunt Sue.

“It’s her” said The Whisper. “She’s the one I’ve been leading you to all along”.

From what I could find, I knew she’d had several last names. I also didn’t know if she went by Sue, Susan, Susie or something else entirely. I sat down on Facebook the minute I got home and promised myself that even if it took all week, I wouldn’t move until I found her. As luck (not that I believe in it) would have it, I didn’t have to wait that long. I heard the name Susan B. whispered in my ear so I immediately typed it in. Even though page after page of stranger’s profiles popped onto the screen, I knew my Aunt Sue would be on the first one. Five faces down, I saw her. Her eyes (our eyes!) stood out to me first, but from the names on her friend list alone, I was absolutely positive it was her. I sent her a message the very next day. “I’m a normal person (if you don’t count the pound of chocolate and bottle of wine it has taken me to write this), and I don’t want to be invasive. I’m just hoping to make contact with anyone who could tell me about my birth family and help me find out where I come from….”

I never heard anything back.

Now I know it’s because she was never on Facebook, but at the time I assumed the worst. They’re mad at me. They don’t want me. They’re too nice to say “Piss off you mangy rodent! Are you still not getting the message yet?” But then every time I focused on my aunts and my grandparents, I felt a warmth like I’d been wrapped in a soft cotton blanket and rocked in a hammock in the sunwhich made it pretty hard to fully believe that they were cold or uninterested or mad.

The Blog Name for my therapist is Saint J. When I was a medic, people used call us life savers; but after being dead inside, and then brought back to life, I know the real heros are the ones who heal our hearts, souls and minds.  I remember telling her one day that I sensed my family so strongly that it felt like I knew who they were. Then I told her that I had lied when I said that I only wanted to meet them. “I want them love me. What if they never love me…..?”

My 4 closest friends and I used to spend the Memorial Day Weekend at the beach in Neskowin. On that weekend in 2010, I was distracted and depressed but was trying not to let it ruin our shopping and eating and movie watching slobbery while we inhaled bags of Peanut M & M’s in our sweats. We’d usually drive over on a Friday and spend all day Saturday at the mall. I remember sitting on a bench in a sun spot, and telling the girls that I’d catch up with them later. With my eyes closed and my face turned upward, I felt my friend Nika’s arm go around me. “We know you’re not ok. We’re all getting up and driving to Florence tomorrow, so matter what you find, it will be alright, because we’ll be with you the entire way.”

 *****

That’s far as I can go for now MamaI’m going to have to stop for awhile.

“I believe in you, Baby Bird. I believe in you. And I’ll be right here waiting when you’re ready again.”

*****

Stay tuned for Lost and Found: Meet Virginia Part 2. Hopefully not too far away in the future.

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 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 experiences I’d ever had, were getting gifts in December from a fat, voyeuristic stranger who could apparently see through walls, or finding a quarter from a magic fairy, when 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 couldn’t possibly 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 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 that 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 someone else. But even that wasn’t 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 the 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 fingers, 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 song by Nazareth, 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 opens 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 waiting for us at the ER door. 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 of what had happened to L, until that following summer when I overheard an EMT telling a friend about what she had seen. She said the beautiful vision, that 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, who 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 childhood friend, and then marched back to class to take a spelling test.

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 forgetting 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 it 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 curtains and baby names….

“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“, heard the message loud and clear.

In her newest book, called Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown describes “the wilderness” as the metaphoric 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 into 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.

The Itty Bitty, Big Things.

If a page in Open Office could be ripped out of my computer and tossed in the corner, you wouldn’t be able to see my floor right now. That’s how many times I’ve started this post.

And stopped.

And started again.

This is what happens when an agoraphobic story, desperately wants to be heard, but still isn’t convinced that it’s safe to walk out into the world. No matter how times you dress it up pretty and have it almost coaxed to the door, it may just as easily turn back around, and spend the evening on the couch, with a stale bag of Fritos instead.

So here’s the thing. Not only do I love stories. I need stories. Even if they never make it outside of my head, they’re my long walk on a stormy beach. They’re my wander through a sun-dappled forest. They’re my Prozac. My Zantac. My Xanax. They’re my prayers for peace and understanding: my arms lifted in gratitude for everything I don’t deserve, but I still, miraculously have; and they’re the unbreakable thread that binds my heart, to the entire rest of the world.

Tell them, and I will listen. Listen, and I will tell them. Put me in an uncomfortable position, and I’ll make stuff up that I probably shouldn’t say out loud. Like when I’m flying. I spend the entire time, with my face buried in a book, blasting 70’s classics or 80’s hair bands through my ear buds as loud as my neighbors can stand it. Then the book and the music, merge into one, and become a story of my own.  On my way to Chicago last Fall, entire scenes from Outlander fell victim.  Like the one where Claire leaves Jamie in the 17th century at Craig Na Dun. In my vodka spiked version, just as she slips back into 1945, the rocks morph into jumbo versions of those fake stone speakers that they’ve hidden all over Disneyland, like the ones that blast banjo music while you’re having your spine re-arranged on Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster. Then The Scorpions lyrics “Always Somewhere…….Miss you where I’ve been…..I’ll be back, to love you again….” roll into the Scottish countryside as Jamie runs back to fight the battle of Culloden. In red leather pants. And a long auburn perm. With an electric guitar raised in the air. And the battle cry “Je Suit Prest!”. In a voice that sounds exactly like Klaus, as he closed their last set to a sweaty, screaming, half naked crowd in 1989, at Monsters of Rock in Candlestick Park. (Which is an entirely different story on it’s own).

On another flight, a few weeks later, I birthed a Helen Redy /”I Am Woman”/50 Shades of Grey, mutant story-child, that came out looking like a Jim Carrey/Vera-De-Milo/Buffed, Beautiful and Bitch’in version of Anastasia. It talked like me, but with a baritone Vera lisp—and bent Christian’s pinkie back the minute he tried to spank her, and told him if he ever tried it again, she’d rip it off and pin him to the wall, like a bug in a science project, with his fancy leather riding crop. To which he immediately replied “I’m so very sorry. I respect your boundary. Can I buy you a Greek Island in apology?” Then Me/She/We tap our bucky front tooth in thought, and say “No thanks, but a new pair of Manolos would be nice.

“Size 9. Extra Wide. Bunions. You understand.”

Then he looks at us like that’s the hottest thing he’s ever heard, and donates a few million dollars to the Malala Foundation. The End.

In these situation, keeping myself completely distracted until the last bit of turbulence has finally rolled through, is the only goal. Along with making sure that those tiny Matchbox wheels, that have no business supporting the weight of an entire plane, don’t pop off the moment we land, or get ground to smoking nubs before catapulting us end over end.

Yes. Telling stories helps me cope. But these particular ones, and this type of coping have nothing to do with why I’m here.

Which means I’m stalling.

I use stories to do that too.

* * *

It’s been an entire week since I wrote that first part. I’ve caught myself on the verge of Googling “How do I write this damn story?” twice now. Not that it would do me any good. I never find my damn keys that way either. It’s the reason I can go months between posts. It’s not easy to sit in the bug-crawly discomfort of a stage-frighted story, let alone set it free, to run amok, outside the safety of my own person.

As a last resort, I asked Siri.

What am I afraid of ?!?” I half yelled into my phone, because sometimes it feels good to yell at something that can’t yell back.

Interesting question, Alyssa” she said in her superior, un-bothered way, and then sent me to an online game, where the pictures you choose, reveal your unconscious fears.

The first time around I got Fear of Death. Not a big revelation. I’m afraid of those creepy clown, pop up music boxes for the very same reason. Knowing the demented clown is coming out of the box, isn’t nearly as scary as not knowing when the demented clown is coming out of the box. So I took it again, and got  Fear of Failure.

WA-wa. Disappointed face.

I was hoping for something new.  They may as well have told me that I’m afraid of palm sized spiders. Or of accidentally swallowing that placenta-wad, that lurks in the bottom of my Kombucha.

But as I kept scrolling down, it was the obligatory pep talk at the end of the game, that suddenly caught my attention: Many of our greatest fears are unconscious beliefs, attached to untold stories, that may or may not be true. Tell the story. Challenge the meaning. Overcome the fear.

Which weirdly enough, leads me right back here, to the story that wants to be told. About a little girl. And a lost dog. Stuck way back in the recesses of a grown adult’s unconscious mind, creating shadows, and monsters, and limitations, and fears, for no other reason, than she didn’t know it was there.

And of course it’s afraid to come out.

It’s about a little girl.

And a lost dog.

And in the broad scope of childhood trauma, it ranks slightly above falling off the Merry-Go-Round or a badly stubbed toe. Yet here it is, calling daily, with the persistence of a telemarketer who won’t piss off, using every trick it knows to keep you on the phone. “But wait! That’s not all! For just $9.99, your Social Security Number, and the name of your first pet, we’ll include a free set of nose hair clippers!”

Which may be the entire point: Maybe it’s not the bigness, or the smallness of an event that defines the trauma. Maybe it’s defined by the person experiencing it, and their ability to know what they know, and feel what they feel, and to store what they know and feel in a place that they can find it, and name it, and make sense of it. Because when we’re not allowed to know it and feel it, our emotions, and beliefs, get warped and twisted and stuck where we can’t reach them; and before we even realize it, we’ve become a living, breathing legacy, to things that no longer exist.

*ITTY BITTY*

Bitty was my first child. The eat-you-up-adorable Yorkie runt, who was dropped into my world as I held her pregnant mom in my lap. One minute I was watching Donny and Marie, completely conflicted as to whether I was A Lil’ Bit Country, or A Lil’ Bit Rock n’ Roll, and the next minute, I was a new mom, to a blind, grunting ball of black fur and slime. I immediately named her Itty Bitty. Bitty for short. After she opened her eyes and weaned from her mom, she and I were inseparable. She slept with me, rode my horse with me, and shared Shwanz ice cream, straight from the tub, and a jumbo sized Sugar Daddy, as we watched Adam 12 and Emergency 911, under an orange and brown crochet afghan after school. She was Team Johnny too.

Then one day, I came home from school, and Bitty was gone. So were her brother and sister, that we’d named Fat Boy and Fat Girl, because they looked like black and tan sausages, with thick, grub-like tails, that wiggled non-stop. I knew they’d be going to new homes soon, because most of our puppies did, but not my Bitty. I was her Forever Person, and she was my Forever Dog.

No one knew what happened.

Maybe they ran out the door before anyone knew they were gone. 

Maybe they’re lost in the woods.

Maybe an owl or an Eagle carried them off.

Maybe they were picked up off the road.

Don’t get your hopes up looking. You’ll probably never see her again.

To a frantic little girl who had just lost her child, all of those possibilities brought unimaginable grief. Every day after school, I walked up and down our old country road, or combed the woods, calling her name. I slept with a picture of the two of us; her on my chest, me with a candy cane in my mouth, while she pulled it from the other end. I saw her in my dreams, hiding under a wet, mossy, rotted log, shivering in the rain.

And crying.

Always crying.

For me.

Her mom.

After not finding a trace of her, on the road, or in the woods, or from the people I showed her picture to at the drug store, or at the market, I knew I would never see her again. The ache in my chest kept me up at night, and when I did go to sleep, that deep feeling of  infinite loss, even followed me there. I didn’t speak of her again.

A few months back, I was driving my daughter home from soccer, when we saw a dog in the middle of the road with a massive head and paws and an awkward puppy body. He ran sideways, weaving in and out of traffic, tongue hanging out of his mouth, completely oblivious to the danger he was in. I did a U-Turn in the road and followed him down a side street.

We whistled.

We clapped.

We called down the road in those high pitched, Good-Dog voices, that only pet owners know how to use.

He ignored it all, eventually disappearing  into the maze of the neighborhood, and we didn’t see him again.

“If I ever lost Riley, I’d never get over it” said Annika, after we were on our way home again.

Riley is our rescue terrier. Although he’s older than us in dog years, he’s still the baby of the family. My husband is his person, but Annika is a close second. He sleeps on. Or by. But mostly on. Her bed every night. She says she knows what he’s feeling by the twitch of his feet, or the crumple of his ears, and we absolutely believe her.

“Have you ever lost a dog?” She wanted to know.

Thoughts of Bitty, were stashed so far down in my Bank of Things Remembered, they had almost disappeared, so my first response was to say “No”; followed by an ancient ache in my chest—and a painfully reluctant “Yes”.

Then I told her the story of Bitty,  with so much detail, color, and emotion, that I actually surprised myself.

She was quiet for awhile, biting her cheek, and glancing out the window, before finally turning to say, “You know you call me Bitty, right? Don’t you think that’s weird?”

Well, of course I knew I called her Bitty. It’s the name I gave her the moment she was laid on my chest, right after she was born. I just didn’t know it had anything to do with my little lost childhood dog. And yes, I suddenly thought it was weird.

If it was a matter of just being weird, I could have stopped right there. Weird and I go way back, and we get along just fine. But it was more than that. What I hadn’t realized, until that very moment, is that a 40 year old story of fear, loss, and grief, had been showing up for an encore performance, in a fully grown woman’s life.

From the time my kids were born, I’ve had a paralyzing fear of losing them. Like on a playground. Or in the store. Or in their own bedroom. I wish I was kidding about that last one, but at least the other two I know are normal. Most parents worry about losing their kids in public. Especially when they’re little. Then as they grow, and learn, and have the ability to protect themselves, and make safe-ish decisions, we as parents, begin to let those fears go.

Unless you were me.

If you were me, you had two teenagers, and still felt inexplicably panicked when they left for school, or walked to a friend’s house, or were in a public rest room for more than 5 minutes. Then in nothing flat, you could escalate from, “Wonder what’s taking so long…” to a vision of lying awake at night, knowing you’d never see them again, completely consumed with unimaginable grief, without ever stopping to consider, the far more likely possibilities in between.

Like hair gel.

Or lip gloss.

Or Snapchat.

Just that day, as I’d been watching Annika play soccer, I found myself searching for her repeatedly. If I didn’t see her familiar run, or the one brown ponytail, in a sea of brown ponytails, that I somehow knew was hers, my hands felt sweaty, and my guts felt jello-y, and my vision felt tunnel-y, and it only went away when I spotted her again. Those feelings had become so familiar, I’d never stopped to question their sanity. They just were.

Except now, I was doing more than question.

That ache in my chest, with it’s nose in the corner for all of these years, was suddenly free from time-out. It was just as painful as I remembered; and for the first time in my adult life, I saw how powerfully present, that decades old story had been.

The ultra-simplified, not-a-professional-so-do-your-own-research-or-get-your-own-therapist, lay-person version, of how this happens, has been explained to me like this: The Conscious part of my brain, that should have been saying logical things like “Of course she’s still on the field. She’s the height of a grown woman, not a teeny, tiny, purse puppy that can disappear without a trace, the minute your head is turned”, was completely oblivious to the story being told by the much deeper, Unconscious part of my brain. This part has no concept of time and place, or even a language of it’s own to say “Pssst! All is well. That terror you’re feeling right now, happened 40 years ago. Relax and Google crock pot meals like everyone else is doing“. Since it can’t tell the difference between what happened then, and what’s happening now,  familiar stimuli (like searching for your “lost” child), can cause us to think, feel and experience it, in the same jello-y guts, and tunnel-y vision way. As miserable as that is, the Unconscious brain doesn’t give two hoots about how it makes us feel, because it’s primary job is not to make us happy. It’s first job is ensuring our survival, so it stores events, feelings, emotions and beliefs in a way that it registers as “safe”—even if it keeps us attached to a painful story, in a clearly dysfunctional way.

This is how the memory of Bitty became trapped in a maze of sadness, loss and grief; a repressed sorrow, that was being told and re-told through an invasive, irrational fear. And blocking it’s path to awareness, was a single question, that created so much shame and despair, I’ve spent a lifetime shush-ing it down: “How do 3 expensive dogs, disappear in one day, without anyone knowing where they went?” Even as a little girl, I didn’t believe that no one knew. But by never admitting that I questioned the story, even to myself, I buried the painful possibility, that the god-like people who I trusted the most, may have sold my dog with the other two—which  kept the reconciliation of that loss, out of my reach as well.

Our pain hates to be shush-ed. It’s like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. “It won’t be ignored!”; and one way or another, it will have it’s say—in either a fully accessible, agreed upon story—Past with Present, Conscious with Unconscious, no boiling bunnies or jacked up hair. Or as an anxious, obnoxious mom, counting heads like Rain Man by the side of the field, or pacing outside of the men’s bathroom and calling “Are you done yet, sweetie?”, to her mortified teenage son.

Every now and then, when I’m at the doctor’s office, and they see that I’m a retired paramedic, they’ll say some version of “Wow. You did that job? I wouldn’t want to do that job. Have you ever needed therapy for all of the bad stuff you must have seen? Here, go pee in this cup”.

Then I respond with some version of “Nope. I’ve needed therapy for everything else, just not that. Do you want a fill job, or just a splash?”.

They look at me out of the corner of their eye, like I’m in some sort of denial or have a trailer full of bodies in my back yard; which sometimes makes me wonder, as I’m shifting in discomfort on that crunchy tissue landing strip, in my gaping floral gown, if I should come up with something else.

“Well, it’s been a struggle, but I do try my best”.

Then we could nod to each other knowingly, with a face that’s appropriately sad, and it would all make perfect sense. But the truth of it is, I don’t struggle. Not because I’m in denial, but because of the exact opposite, I think. Anything sad or mad or painful or gross from the years I spent as a medic, sit in a small, accessible box, on a fully conscious shelf, which means those thoughts, feelings, emotions and beliefs, don’t need to stomp their feet for attention, or get unruly, and misbehave, to be heard. Not the way Bitty did.

When my kids were little, I had a solid reputation as a Grizzly Mom, who most  didn’t cross more than once. I did what I knew was right, and didn’t apologize for standing my ground. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unless it shows up where it’s not invited.

And it did.

More often than I wanted to admit.

I used to catch people rolling their eyes, or hear them whisper behind their hands—”It must be her job, poor thing……”. Like I had a terminal illness that I wasn’t aware of, and no one wanted to break the news. Being a medic would have been an easy excuse, if I was ever inclined to make one. I do admit, I was way more cautious than most other parents, for pretty obvious reasons. But when rational concern, turned into scary monsters that I couldn’t explain, I knew it wasn’t “my job—I simply had nothing else to call it at the time.

In all of the years I spent doing what many would call a traumatic job, I only carry a handful of calls with me, and even fewer names and faces. Not because they didn’t matter, but because they did; and one way or another, they were laid to rest instead of being left to wander, like homeless ghosts in the door wells of my mind. Do you know what I do carry with me though? The way the ambulance smells in different weather; like oil, metal and pavement when it’s hot, and like a big, un-bathed rodent when it’s wet. And the weight of our block radio, as it hung from my peeling leather belt. And the grid of the city, like a GPS tattoo, etched into my brain. And the cloudy scratched plastic, blurring the buttons on the Lifepack, like a kid’s candy fingerprints. And the clunky laptop, pulling on my shoulder, as I lift it to write a chart. And the smell of 7-11 Nachos after being stuck for twelve hours, under the drivers seat. And the taste of a lukewarm Venti coffee, with chunky swirls of Half and Half, floating on the top. And the way my waffle bottom boots squeak when they’re wet, across the shiny ER floor. And the early years of Fail-Safe, blaring in our ears, when we took a corner over 40 miles per hour. And the bare dangling wires, when my angry lead ripped it off the wall, and threw it out the window. And the laughter of my favorite partners. Or which ones snore. Or who would only eat a one kind of Pad Thai, from one single booth down at Saturday Market. And who would eat anything, from a withered carrot found rolling on the cab floor, to a day old McRib, left in their work bag overnight. And the pure fun of driving code 3, especially when it’s dark. But there are no pop up surprises. No painful stories left unresolved. Nothing forgotten that should be remembered. Nothing remembered that I should forget. Which is my best explanation, for why a big traumatic job, left a much smaller imprint, than my black and tan Yorkie runt.

The events in our lives are funny that way. Whether we know it or not, they’re constantly weaving a fabric. When we can feel what we feel, and know what we know, the threads become part of a strong, resilient whole. But the ones we snip back, (or that are snipped back for us through shame, guilt or fear), are fragile, and weak and eventually leave a hole. The hole that’s left, becomes the untold stories that live on and on, through our destructive thoughts and behaviors, our liming fears and beliefs, our unexplained anger and control issues, our self-sabotage, addictions and relationship failures—and so much more. Like a highly anxious mom, who doesn’t know she believes, that her two beloved children are destined to disappear, like her beloved childhood dog.

I’ve always said that I became a medic because it’s fun. You learn real quick (like after you’re slapped down on your first ambulance ride-along), to never say “because I like to help people”.  But it’s ok to say it’s fun. And for more reasons that I have room to explain, it really was fun. But on a deeper, and yes, unconscious level, I know it gave a voice to some very different stories, that I also couldn’t tell out loud. Like chaos. And abandonment. And betrayal. And unimaginable loss. And being taught to believe that I was a disgusting, worthless, un-savable worm who was hated by God. And a crippling fear of death (For obvious reasons. Like burning in hell forever.Duh.)

If fear, anxiety, worthlessness, and visions of being flung into the pit of hell by a laughing, vengeful, god-monster was the disease, being a medic was the cure. When I entered that realm, I felt indescribable peace and calm, because when other people were depending on me, fear and anxiety lost their power. There were tools. There was a plan. There was a way to control the chaos that usually seemed to work; and when it didn’t, I knew, that the dying aspect of living, was completely out of my hands. I hadn’t caused it, or created it. I was only there to help.  And someday do something so heroic, that god would forget that he hated me. And hopefully pay my penance for being a disgusting, worthless, un-savable worm.

I ended my career, never feeling like I succeeded in that, but the one thing I did understand: in allowing me to tell my story in a way that my soul understood, it’s my patients who really saved me, instead of the other way around.

You know that saying, “When the past comes calling, don’t answer it. It has nothing new to say”? Well I think it’s exactly the opposite. When the past comes calling ANSWER THE DAMN THING. And then invite it over for coffee; and ask it to tell you everything it knows; and then tell it everything you know; and then keep inviting it over until the conversation becomes so incredibly boring, it doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.

Because here’s the thing. Dealing with our past isn’t like removing a tumor, where the bad part is cut away, and the good part gets to stay. The good and the bad are fully intertwined, and in shunning our past to escape the bad, we lose the rest of our lives as well. In knowing what we know (even if that means shaking your fist at no one, and screaming into the air “You sold my eff-ing dog?!?), and feeling what we feel (even if it means ancient tears, streaming down your face, that you haven’t tasted in 40 years); we not only preserve the fabric, but we create new fibers of meaning and belief, that weave in and out, through time and repetition, to eventually mend that hole.

“Letting go” doesn’t mean spinning around an ice castle, singing a Disney song. If we really want to let something go, we have to pick it up, first. That means facing our stories, grabbing them tight, holding them close, listening to what they’re saying, over and over, like a child who’s afraid of the dark, until we fully understand; and then, and only then, can we truly set them down. Feelings from our past, don’t go away, just because they don’t make sense in our present lives. Neither do the holes from the stories we’ve left untold. We may call it choice, or destiny, or being cursed, or “this is how I’ve always been” or “I don’t know why I feel like this but…”, or “how do these same things keep happening?”, when the truth of the matter is, it may just be an Itty Bitty story, that’s so desperate to be heard, it does whatever it thinks it has to do, to simply be invited in.

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.

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.