It seems impossible to separate the “good” from the “bad”, at least when it comes to memories. After all, love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Most of the pain I experienced growing up was in the care of the people I loved, my parents. Many people have told me that our parents are the first gods we have in this life. They’re entrusted, sometimes for the worst, with making sure we’re fed, clothed, etc. Our very survival usually depends on them for a good while. The first experiences I had with love/comfort/belonging/nourishment were powerful and the love and connection I have with them will never die. I’ve separated myself (moved across the goddamned country to be exact), become independent, learned how to access and release the energetic and emotional hold they had on me..but it doesn’t change the facts. Like they say, “you can’t change what people do/have done, only your reaction to it.”
My therapist loved to use the analogy of forgiveness being like tug of war, it’s not forgetting what happened, it’s letting go of the rope. Writing has become more like searching out those ropes to let go of; noticing where my circulation has been cut off and loosening the knot. Until 2 years ago, I would only write after I let the pressure build inside me to the point that purging it was the only option I had. Luckily, I’m a pack-rat and have held on to almost everything I’ve written throughout the years. The following italicized writings are from these purges and may seem sporadic, but I promise- most of it is important to my story.
The earliest memory I can produce is being carried out of the church my parents were attending, my father holding napkins on my bleeding head. I had fallen off the plastic slide in the nursery, which for some reason was remarkably close to a brick wall. I don’t remember the fall or any pain. I do, however, recall my father pausing on the way out to take a drink of a woman’s coffee. There was a stain in her ugly shade of hot pink lipstick on the styrofoam cup, I saw it as she handed my father some napkins for my head. This was one of the three times I busted my head open badly enough to require stitches before I got out of the 1st grade.
There’s a personality type I found in my studies that was so dead-on it shook me when I read it. It’s called Thuja and it says the person will be born into a large, over-crowded, hyper-religious family where anything sexual is seen as perverse and wrong. It said the unusually high number of children is due to a need for approval and social standing. It also mentioned that the child would have a traumatic birth or multiple head traumas early in life due to the fact that they are born into this world with a foot in another dimension and therefore resent being born. There were a few instances in early life where I saw things I couldn’t explain. When I was 11 or 12, I was walking into the kitchen and turned a corner, right in front of my face, there was a snake mid-air, slithering fast towards my forehead. I had no time to react, I was startled but felt no malevolence. The snake disappeared into the space between my brows and I ran to my mother. She was convinced for the first, and sadly, not the last time, that I was inhabited by demons. This happened a few times- seeing random animals and once what looked like a human hand on my friend’s shoulder. Hearing my mother, who I trusted at the time, say that these apparitions were evil took it’s toll. I decided I didn’t want to see them. I was afraid and started to imagine monsters around every corner. Eventually, the visions were no more. When I began my journey into spirituality and self-discovery, I was incredibly upset and felt robbed of this gift I had been told was a curse.
The next recollection is a little less traumatic. I was probably around 3 or 4 yrs old, I was playing outside and noticed the little boy next door playing in a small plastic pool. I walked over to the fence and quietly said hi. The boy and his mother, Vicky, greeted me, maybe we exchanged names, maybe not. I awkwardly just stood there, envious of the pool in that horrible Texas weather. The mother eventually asked if I wanted to come swim, the look on her face made me think she was a little resentful of my timidity. I said I had to ask my mom and ran fast to my house, she laughed. I came through the door and saw my mother sitting on the floor with her floral-print sewing kit. She must have said that I could play with the boy because we were friends for as long as I lived in that house on Berwick Ln.
I remember a lot about my mother, she always looked comfortable, no matter what she was wearing. She has always been beautiful. She didn’t look like she was from, or belonged to, Texas. You could tell she was southern, but you could also forget. Her name even means “noble”, which she thought she was and could be at times. Her hair was always long, going from dark red when I was a child to platinum blonde nowadays. She kept a healthy body, even after giving birth to so many children. She was goofy, loving, and a phenomenal cook. She gave off such a sense of comfort and warmth, at least to me. She had many endearing qualities, such as a weakness for chocolate and any movie involving Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Steel Magnolias with her. (Did she honestly expect me to be heterosexual?) I used to hold my breath for the locker room scene in that movie and cry my eyes out when Sally Field’s character screams about how she wished she had died instead of her dear Shelby. It makes perfect sense that a young gay man wrote that screenplay about his beloved family.
I realized at a young age that my father was a child. This worked out great until I surpassed him in maturity. Who do you look up to when you’re looking after your parents? You look to yourself. I avoided my father as best I could. I realized he didn’t have a lot to offer me or at least not enough for me to put up with the hateful verbal diarrhea that fell out of his mouth. He got through life winging it, paycheck to paycheck, all the while spending unknown amounts of money on things we didn’t need, like a monster truck, with a system that blared his shitty music. He hid all of his mistakes from us kids, sweeping them under the rug as opposed to learning from them. He clung to religion like it would take care of all of his problems. I’m reminded of a man who asked “God” to take the steering wheel because he was eating a cheeseburger, the car fucking crashed.
One winter, we took a road trip to see my father’s sister for the first time. We were on the way to Tennessee when we stopped at a Target. My “momma”, as I call her, was rushing through the parking lot, big smile on her face, arms crossed, shrieking about how cold it was. I’m not entirely sure why, but this is one of my favorite memories of her, just that walk from the 15-passenger van to the store entrance. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the last memories not tainted by judgement or fear, before I had to mourn the mother I knew.
I must’ve been 15 yrs old on that particular pit stop, I remember buying some notepads that had bare trees and the word “Thoughts” on the covers. I also got a James Blunt cd…which I listened to nonstop for the remainder of the trip to and from Tennessee.
I don’t remember much about the time we spent with my Aunt and cousins. She was very welcoming and I could tell she was good people. I don’t think my father had seen her since they were teenagers. I remember thinking her older son was attractive, and feeling like a pervert for noticing. At one point, she asked if my sister and I were “gothic”. We found this amusing. I had shoulder-length, thick, straight, dyed black hair. Taylor had dyed black curls almost to her waist. I was wearing a hoodie from The Crow, which I had never seen, and black JNCO jeans. So, I guess I can’t blame her for asking, genuinely concerned about the fate of our souls.
My direct family, at least the ones I grew up with, are incredibly bent on serving “the Lord”. By the time I was born, my parents were a few years into being brainwashed by the pentecostal faith. This made for some entertaining pictures of my mother, in ankle-length blue jean dresses with her long bangs hair-sprayed into a huge curl on her forehead. Somewhere in the next few years, their church labeled itself non-denominational, instead. The only thing I noticed changing was the way the women dressed.
Some Sunday mornings (or whenever the mood struck him) on the way to church, my father would tell us horror stories about the “end times”. He told me that I was never to denounce my faith. He said that if someone took Taylor, who was 3 years my junior, and started cutting her up piece by piece in front of me, until I said I didn’t believe in “God”, that I was to let her die. If the god I’m supposed to serve would rather an innocent little girl be tortured to her bloody, awful death as opposed to a 8 year old boy denouncing his faith in him, then fuck that god and fuck my father for using fear tactics on a child.
When you stop and think about it, some churches are doing a downright professional job of brainwashing children to grow up and brainwash their children into believing in ridiculous rules and to fund the very institution that governs these rules. My father used to tell me that I was always to tithe and give an offering. That’s 10% of my pay, plus gratuity and all I get is some guilt, unleavened bread the size of a nickel, and a shot of grape juice. There’s a Dashboard Confessional song that comes to mind, it goes “Lay my bones at the feet of the ministry, I need the guilt and the company. I need the chance to be judged and then long forgotten. Lately, I just can’t shake it. I count the days in seconds and minutes. Hours and hours as subtle as shards of glass in the skin.”
If I wasn’t sneaking out of church completely, I was working in the kid’s church to escape the sermons. I had joined YSIT (youth servants in training [gag me with a crucifix]), to have an excuse to miss church every Sunday, and see my “girlfriend”, who turned out to be queer as well.
There was this incredibly pale and definitely rude blonde girl, Mel, who worked in the nursery. One Sunday morning, I walked up to the half door at the nursery and peeked inside. Mel was in a rocking chair that looked like it wasn’t built to hold her weight rocking a baby to sleep. Seeing as my mother had born at least 9 children by now, I was accustomed to taking care of babies.
I said something like, “I wish guys could work in the nursery,” to Mel.
She looked at me with a you’re-such-a-dumbass look on her face and said, “They used to, but someone couldn’t keep his hands to himself.”
Thinking for a second, I whispered, “Ohh, was it Stan?”.
Her expression held a little bitchiness, but changed more to one of pity.
“No,” she said. I went on with my day.
Stan was this mid-thirties guy who was always at our church. He had never done anything to me or anyone I knew to give me a negative association with him. There was just something about him that creeped me out as a kid. Maybe it was because he was a loner. Maybe it was his hair, he was completely bald and shiny on top, with thick, dark brown hair on the sides. He was pale, had hairy arms and was thinner than what seemed healthy. He always smiled at me and was kind. When I started attending the school that was attached to the church, he worked in the lunchroom. The only thing I remember him doing was manning a table at which he dispensed ketchup and possibly plasticware and napkins. After a while of obtaining my condiments from Stan, we started saying hi to each other in the lunchroom and on Sundays. This is as far as our relationship ever progressed. I remember feeling awful for him when his father passed; to my understanding, he was all that Stan had left. I wished I had known how to offer him some kind of comfort.
My first real friend in life was Chance. We grew up together in the nursery, then wee kids (toddler’s church in the form of coloring scenes from the bible), kid’s church, then vacation bible school and youth service. We were always getting into trouble, but we never really got punished horribly. We would talk constantly in service, sneak around, make photocopies of our asses (I remember when Sister Kunty caught us in her office, good thing we had moved on to xeroxing our middle fingers instead of our cheeks!), anything but sit through that miserable sermon..
Me and Chance were always different, but always brothers. He has an inventor’s mind. When we were kids, there was always some sort of rigged contraption in his room; always something that had required an engineer’s thinking. I was more emotional in my thought processes. Chance always had a thicker, stronger build than mine. We both knew it, but I was taller, and we rarely got into fist-fights, so it was like having a bodyguard and best friend for both of us. Kind of like Jay & Silent Bob. His house was always incredibly comforting, thanks to his mom, Sun. There were always warm colors in every room: burgundy, soft browns, forest greens, pale whites. There was so much of life in that house; always something being made or tended to. Plants watered, quail fed, quail eggs harvested, ottomans covered, chairs re-upholstered, pillows sewn and stuffed, chicken marinating..you get the idea.
Sun was my mom’s one and only true friend. I can’t speak highly enough of her integrity and compassion. Not to mention her talent, she’s a strong woman. She is Martha Stewart with a hot-glue gun or sewing machine. She cooked the heartiest meals, though sometimes strange, like beef & bean tostadas with ketchup. She taught us how to make a nice hot cup of tea with sugar after dinner. I remember for a long time she had one or two foster children staying with her. They were little beautiful mixed toddlers. I think it left a hole in her heart when she had to give them back. I’m not sure of the details, but I know it wasn’t an easy choice, or maybe not a choice at all.
Sister Sun, as everyone called her, instilled values in her children, but she never gave them post-rapture scenarios to scare them into believing..at least not to my knowledge. Once, after hearing too much of our Austin-Powers-inspired penis jokes, she got understandably upset. She was raising her voice for about the third time in my presence, this time at me and Chance. She was flustered and angry, “Why does every joke have to be about a fart or a penis?!?” I couldn’t help it, I was dying trying to hold in my laughter. Chance gave me a shut-the-fuck-up look as I hid behind a cabinet door. I was thinking, “Dude, your mom just yelled ‘penis’, it doesn’t get much funnier than that.” Soon after my outburst, she threatened to call my parents and tell them the joke, that shut me up.
When Chance and I were around 7-9 yrs old, we were a big fan of the british comedy, Mr. Bean. In one episode, Mr. Bean gets all comfortable in his bed with his Teddy, only to realize he’s left the ceiling light on. So, like any normal adult, he opens his bedside table drawer, containing light bulbs and a pistol, takes the pistol and shoots the light bulb out. Obviously, the next time we were bored in my room, we gave it a go. I had an old BB pistol that my Aunt Karol had given me. We thought about it for about 30 seconds. I loaded the old, metal pistol, took aim, and pulled the trigger. The light bulb instantly shattered, giving a small but satisfying noise, and we fell to the floor in laughter. I think we almost pissed ourselves laughing so hard.
For my 12th birthday, I decided I wanted to go paintballing with Chance, then go to Steak & Ale. We did exactly that, the paintball war was fun, if nerve-wrecking. We forgot to hold our guns above our heads on the way out and got about 5 cheapshots in the back and legs each. The dinner was amazing, I lived for the tender, juicy steak and the fresh salad bar, at which I would make a mixture of shredded cheese and ranch dressing to put on the warm brown loaf of bread they served you. After we all finished, we dropped Chance off at his house; I wasn’t sure of why he couldn’t spend the night.
Once we got home, I received my presents. I was obsessed with The Matrix at the time. My mother got me the entire set of rubber-ish figures from the movie. It was huge, and I loved it. I think they got me some other gifts, but that was the only one I cared about. Looking back on that day, I still feel such love and admiration for my mother. I had no idea she was in such terrible pain from gallbladder stones. She hid her pain to make sure I had a good birthday. It was stupid, and I want to yell at her for taking care of something like my happiness above her well-being, but I guess that’s what good mothers do, or crazy ones. They left for the hospital right after I opened my presents, I never saw it coming. She was sitting in a truck with my father, hiding her pain so I could play paintball. Even as my father helped her to the door, bent over in pain, she told my older brother, Robert and older sister, Rose, that I was to have no responsibilities tonight. This meant I didn’t have to help clean up after dinner or help bathe and dress the kids for bed.
I was crying on my bed, when my Rose came into my room and guilt-tripped me into helping. I felt guilty about not helping out anyhow, but not enough to stop crying and help, that is until Rose manipulated me into it.
The next couple days were awful, all I remember was crying..a lot. My Aunt Karol, who was like a big sister and mother to me, was there through most of it. Her and Robert tried to cook us the meals that momma usually made. The most memorable were hamburgers that were still raw in the middle and had to be cooked again once bitten into, and fried chicken with lumpy mashed potatoes. My father was incredibly stressed out. I remember Rose talking on the phone to a friend about how many times my mother had almost died in the hospital. She found it comical and even imitated my father crying as he recounted the three different mistakes the doctors made that almost took my mother away forever. He said that she almost died every time he left the room the first night, that it was like “the devil” was trying to take her.
The only details I know about the actual surgery are that the doctors made four small incisions; two below the ribs on either side of the abdomen and two in line with those, but closer to her waist. After the surgery, my mother was in her room recovering, at some point, my father left the room. When he returned, probably with crappy coffee, my mother was pale as death. Unconscious. Doctors and nurses were frantic around her. Apparently, they had left something bleeding inside of her. They did an emergency incision down the middle of her abdomen and fixed whatever they had broken. I don’t remember the other two instances of my momma’s near-death hospital trip; I take that as the gift that it is.
One thing I’ve learned about hardships is that they tell you who you are rather quickly, in this way they can be seen as hard and fast lessons..crash courses that bring you to life. Makes me think of the adrenaline rush you get while watching a horror film. Life, death, pleasure, pain, love and hate- they’re ideas..you have to decide what they mean to you, not as an obligation, but a gift..an awakening. You get to decide where the line is. What makes your soul sing and what disconnects you from your highest self- the one who knows and loves you without hesitation? Whose ideas are you carrying around because you never asked yourself for the answers? Charles Addams said, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” I don’t wish to eternally learn things the hard way, and I’m not saying I have in every aspect. I will say this- nothing teaches you where your boundaries lie quite like someone else trying to define them for you, and nothing will help you get in touch with yourself like being alone with nature. When you sit on the beach, allow your breathing to dissolve with the rhythmic tide, feel your awareness reach into the ocean and let it take away anything that has worn its welcome in your reality. When somebody steps on your foot you’re very aware of where you end and someone else begins, start to give your thoughts and emotions as much importance as your physical body. If you listen to yourself, or even start to learn how, old ideas and ways of thinking seem almost comical in their antiquity. Dust the shelves of your mind, friends. Don’t forget everything that’s happened. Know that your future defines you just as much as your past, and most importantly, know that you are the only thing between them. Even though some days will feel like you have to carry a sword in each hand, severing the vines trying to pull you into the past while attempting to clear a path to the life you know is waiting for you, the view from the other side is worth any snare you encounter. Safe travels!