Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Little History

The Backstory:
My father and I became estranged when I was fifteen, when I wrote a letter to the courts explaining why I didn't want to attend visitation with him anymore. He never met my husband. He wasn't invited to my wedding. And he died two months afterwards, a couple days after Christmas 2006. In between that time, right around my senior year of high school and into my first years of college, I tried to mend fences. I wrote him letters. I sent him three framed copies, a set, of these linoleum block presses I'd made. I had carved into the blocks a fishing scene with two people in a boat, my most treasured memory of the two of us on the Quabbin Reservoir when I was kid. He was high, but it was just the two of us, and he was so nice to me that day. I'll never forget it. I never received a reply, but grapevine messages that my paternal grandmother thought I was an ungrateful, hateful girl. For all I know, that's how my father thought me, too. He never wrote back to me. As in ever.

When he died, he didn't leave a will, and there was no sign of the presses or any of the letters I wrote him. Nothing. I'll never know if he received any of them.

Today -- or rather, Last Night:
It's no secret that I dream strong. They're the initial source of my stories, my writing. My dreams are vivid and colorful. There are smells, actual smells where I'll wake up and look for the cause of the smoke in my nostrils. And taste. Do you ever taste things in your dreams and it's not the memory of the taste, but The Taste? I do. Although, I'll admit it's rare.

Last night, I was cleaning out my grandfather's house. My grandfather passed away a few years ago, something I still feel, and his wife, my granny very recently passed away, so in the dream I was putting their home to rest. I found a secret bedroom in an elevator (because it was a dream), and along with my grandfather's real estate secrets (apparently, he bought and sold Grange halls and Odd Fellows halls -- again: dream) were my father's affects.

As I went through the framed pictures on my father's dresser, I was so so hurt because he didn't have one of me. The pictures were old, from when the four of us kids were, well, kids, but it was as if I didn't exist. Graduations, holidays, frolicking snowy days -- it was as if I'd been wiped clean. And it made me realize that I was the ungrateful, hateful daughter my grandmother always said I was.

Then I came across a folder, tucked under the happy moments and shrine to my siblings, mixed in among Grandpa's real estate secrets. They were letters, unsent by my father, to me. It was his handwriting, which, despite not seeing for nearly two decades, I still recognized immediately. The paper was thin, translucent even, and the pen -- blue ballpoint -- was so faded and fat to be almost completely illegible, but they were his. And those illegible words were to me.

I didn't read them, at least not in their entirety, because it was so difficult. The date on the most recent one read 2005. I remember thinking in the dream, but this is 2016! That's a full 11 years since he last tried to write to me! And a twinge of that ungrateful, hateful daughter came to me. That's how he saw me. But then I noticed the post-it notes stuck to the corner of each letter. The post-it on the corner of the 2005 letter read, "I'll send her this one."

It was so clear, in that moment, that he had been trying to reach out to me, but he couldn't because he was my father, and I was his daughter, and things were so very complicated between us.

I awoke this morning with my alarm. As in fiction, so in real life, it interrupted the dream. It wasn't until I was standing in the bathroom smoothing my hair, puzzling over why the last letter he wrote in the dream was from 2005, that I remembered he died in 2006. And that difference, isn't so very big after all.

Friday, November 11, 2016

In which I publicly admit (in part) to something I've never told my family...

I grew up on a small farm in western Massachusetts. Our only source of income came from our farm stand, an 8 by 12 shed made from pallets my father had pulled apart. When the door to the shed was open, which it was from dawn to dusk, our farm stand was open for business. At eight years old, I tended to the customers, weighed their vegetables, cut the grubs from the end of the corn (we were organic), counted change, and recorded all our sales in the ledger. Sometimes now, I'll be out with my mother and an old customer will remember me as that little girl. Mom will say, "Oh, you remember So-and-so," but I don't. I don't remember any of them. Except Ben.

Ben had two cars, one gold and one maroon. He was in his sixties, and he came to the farm once a week, sometimes twice, to buy his vegetables. The first time he kissed me was after my parents had stacked a whole bunch of milk crates against the shed. The crates made it so the door wouldn't stay open all the way, and thus, they blocked the view between the shed door and our house. He blocked my way, so I couldn't get out of the shed. And then, when he was done, he gave me fifty cents and told me to keep it. It was my tip.

Once a week, sometimes twice, he came to the farm. Sometimes he drove the gold car, and sometimes he drove the maroon one. I tried and tried and tried to get my brother to tend to the stand when I saw Ben's car in our driveway. I tried and tried and tried to slip out a different door before my parents could notice. But the money in my wallet grew, fifty cents at a time.

I remember the feel of his tongue in my mouth. It was mushy, and while I never saw it, I can still see its pink, because the eight-year-old me imagined what it looked like. And the nine-year-old. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. That has never left my mind.

Do you know what else has never left my mind? Anyone someone steps in front of me to block my path, even if it's in jest, my heart flattens. What else hasn't left my mind? Snickers bars. I can't see a Snickers bar without remembering the one time I went trick-or-treating and accidentally ended up at Ben's house. He gave me a full size Snickers bar. My daughter got one this year when she was trick-or-treating. From an older gentleman. And every time I see it in her Halloween bucket, my heart flattens.

And then there was the time I was in seventh grade, when a boy from my science class would grab my butt because he thought it was funny when I turned bright red and hurriedly asked the teacher if I could go to the bathroom so I could get away. And then there was the time...I wanted to kill myself because it was so bad. I almost killed myself because I couldn't cope. You know the time. You were here for it.

I've been doing better. You haven't heard from me in a long time, I know, but I haven't had a panic attack since June. I've stopped hearing screams at night. I've started sleeping again. My dreams are almost normal. My psychiatrist has lowered my depression meds. And I've stopped taking my anxiety meds altogether. I've started sewing again. I've even started to write again.

You didn't know this, but this is where I've been, putting my life back together. But since the day the video of Donald Trump was released - you know the one - things have been harder. I wake up screaming again. I've had to take my anxiety meds to fend off the attacks I feel coming. My dreams are stressful and violent again. And sometimes, I have to get out of bed at night to make sure that those screams I know I hear are not my daughter's.

So, when I post on my private facebook page, that I think we, as Americans screwed up (that's not the word I used), it's not because I'm being a sore loser. It's not because I'm hating on or bashing anyone who voted or didn't vote in any particular way.

It's because I don't feel safe.

And there are millions of other people - POC, LGBTQ+, women - who don't feel safe either. And millions of their family and friends who see that they don't feel safe. We're going to surround ourselves by people who love us, people who will protect us.