Pink

I was 5 when I found out two things. The first was that my mom was having a baby. The second was that I was now the proud owner of a younger sister. In my mind, this doesn’t mean my mother is having a second child so much as she is giving me a living, breathing doll to play with that I never have to give to Goodwill. She will sit on my closet and always be a baby, because when I was that age I had not heard my friend Karen’s sage advice, which was “that’s the problem with children… they grow.” Even so, one of my earliest memories is creeping into her room, lifting up her arm, and slipping a teddy bear into the well between her shoulder and chest.

When I was old enough, I changed her diapers and fed her meals. As she grew, she was my only ally in the tempest of church life. In my teenage years, I have said often that I was shy and withdrawn, especially after meeting my abuser, because my personality changed almost immediately. Two things happened… my sister knew that I was pulling away from her, because I was pulling away from everyone. I knew that because I was socially anxious, it was often a relief that her friends were all over the house. I had company and conversation that was easy and free without worrying about making my own friends. I ended up babysitting for some of them, and one made a special bond with both of us, because I was his babysitter and Lindsay was his best friend.

In retrospect, I believe that it was really hard for my sister after I met (name redacted), because all of the sudden my attention was completely redirected. Emotionally, I missed a lot of years of sharing secrets late at night when Lindsay was old enough to “hang.” I wasn’t particularly approachable, either.

However, she was the first person in my family that I told I was gay, but indirectly because I was talking to the girl I liked on the phone (one my own age). She sat straight up and said, “I KNEW IT!!! It’s the way you talk about (name redacted)!!!

The girl hung up, obviously, because run.

Another memory that really stands out is that I was getting ready for my homecoming dance at Clements, and I saw my rainbow ring on my dresser. My male date was minutes away from coming to get me, and I had a panic attack… full on, with shortness of breathing and everything. It was spectacular.

I was freaking out because I knew how untrue to myself I was about to be. I didn’t live in the same place as the one I loved, and she’d said many times she didn’t feel that way about me, which always resonated logically, but never emotionally. Regardless of how she felt, I still felt responsible for making sure she was okay. To me, asking for me to forget that for a few hours and just have fun at a dance with a boy that was clearly just my friend felt like I would be letting her down… from 250 miles away. Clearly, my seventeen-year-old logic was laughable right up until it wasn’t.

My sister is a large part of why I felt sane enough not to be hospitalized. She stepped up and just loved me as I was, without questioning why or how I was all wrapped up in (name redacted) and just let me ruminate all over her, even when I defined new heights of anxiety. She’s definitely not the only person that has listened to my logorrhea, but she was the first. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve learned how valuable that was as a coping mechanism, and how much I am grateful.

I’ve also learned that my abuser affected my sister through me, because I told her was was going on- that she was with an alcoholic- which she already knew because she’d heard that this woman had come to the choir party at our church and thrown up all over the host’s house. I told her that she was a drug dealer, and I’m sure managed to scare her as well.

None of these thoughts are about blame, They are about reevaluating the behaviors I exhibited when I was a child and trying to make sense of them now. I realized that when I was leaving Portland and had a panic attack on (name redacted)’s voice mail, I acted out my first fears when she left the first time… going full circle to the place where we started.

It was my sister who understood the most where I was coming from, just watching me drown the more anxious I got. She understood that she couldn’t do this for me, and she just let me talk. To date, she is the only person that has ever asked how I am regarding my abuser, which meant the world to me because it said out loud, “I get it, and I’m here for you if you need me.”

It tears me apart the number of times that she’s been there for me in a way that I’ve never been there for her. She has quietly taken care of me not by telling me what to do, but by being that non-judgmental sounding board as I began to heal.

It is no accident that my favorite words in the English language are, “it’s a girl.”

Sisyphus

One of the symptoms of a really great depression (because hey, if you’re going to do it, do it right) is rumination. You just turn things over and over in your head that have no answer. In my case, the reaction is particularly severe because I’ve been doing it for so incredibly long. The endless reevaluation of the situation with my abuser has been going on since we met… taking the emotional temperature all the time, constantly up in arms over whether her life was stable, safe, and loving away from me, when I couldn’t protect her if something bad happened. It never occurred to me that at 5’2 and barely a hundred pounds, I honestly wouldn’t have been that useful.

I just wanted to be a hero to her, because she was such a hero to me. I was trying to create this mutual admiration society where I didn’t have to feel lesser than because I was so young and small… and because I could never be bigger or louder, I retreated into my own head, because I was never sure that she was listening- but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have my own feelings about things- and I had to ruminate about that, too… and on and on and on and on and on and on.

I become more silent and introverted as I isolate, and I notice it’s happening more and more. I don’t want to be around anyone else, because I’m sort of anxious if I am, because she knows. She’s the only one who knows. She’s the only one who knows I’m coming out, knows that I have all this information about her life and am powerless to do anything about it, knows that I’ve expressed that as “I love you and I want to marry you.” Even then, she never put it together that the game was hers. I just had to live in it.

moo.

Some Stuff Happened

I’ve discovered a new podcast in the iTunes store called “The Mental Health Happy Hour.” If you go to the web site, you can find all sorts of surveys, which Paul will usually read anonymously on the air. After listening to the show for a few months, I went to the web site and looked at the survey section. I chose the one on shame.

One of the questions was “have you ever been a victim of sexual abuse?” One of the answers was “some stuff happened but I don’t know if it counts.” This is absolutely the crux of the problem that I’m trying to work out. What really happened? What was I supposed to feel that I didn’t? What was I supposed to discard that I didn’t?

I can start with the axiom that she never touched me intentionally. That part I know for sure… however, it is also the *only* thing I know for sure… which, as I’ve said, was brutal because at least if I was being sexually abused, I would have known it was wrong. In this situation, there is so much grey area that it’s the main reason it’s been turning over in my head for as long as I can remember. I have said this before and I will say it again that I have very few memories of my life before she came into it, especially as I get older and my childhood fades away.

The two memories I have of her touching me unintentionally are things that she would never remember in a million years.

We were standing next to each other, and I swear to God I don’t remember how it happened, but she accidentally kneed me in the clit and I had never experienced that kind of fire. I remember it hurt, but I also remember wishing she would do it again… accidentally, of course.

The next time, we were both in a USO show and I think there was fake snow falling. She was trying to brush off my military uniform *in the middle of the performance.* I am hoping that there was fake snow on my ass, because I remember thinking that it was taking a long time to get it off… and then it was over and it wasn’t long enough.

Keep in mind that in both of these experiences, I have already read the college journal that she gave me on my 14th birthday, she is regularly telling me everything going on in her life, age-appropriate or not, and doesn’t seem to understand that if she wants me to leave her alone, she’s not doing a very good job of saying it out loud.

I am trying my dead-level best to keep up with her, but it’s difficult. My mom knew there was something up and banned all contact between us. We went underground and continued the friendship despite what my parents wanted… and I can’t even really say “we” because as the adult, what right did she think she had to cross my parents like that?

The flip side of the story is that she knew I was coming out, knew I would need her. I thought it was the better and safe thing to do to distance myself from my parents… which led me further down the path of being manipulated rather than away from it. Once we were beyond my parents’ control, we could talk about anything and everything.

I did need her, desperately, which is why the grey area is so tremendously large… and I would like to believe that she needed me, too, although I doubt she would put it that way. When we met, her life was in as much upheaval as mine, just in different ways due to our ages. She’d just graduated from college, about to turn 24. I had just graduated from sixth grade, about to turn 13. My life centered around coming out. Her life centered around an abusive alcoholic/weed dealer that I begrudgingly called her girlfriend.

I got to be a part of all of those discussions, and I would wrestle as a 14-year-old over whether she was going to be arrested in connection with her girlfriend, whether she would ever find the strength to get out of that relationship, and whether she would ever see that the one who had the best intentions toward her got the least in return.

I remember that I was standing in line to turn in my band uniform at Clements when I got out the card I’d just received. It was yellow, with gold ink on the inside, which made her handwriting all the more “unique.” The one thing I could read for sure is that she’d left her wife. I instantly regretted opening it at that time because I was just trying to speed up the wait. I was crying and blowing snot all over everywhere. It was the least attractive I think I’ve ever been. My heart was so full I couldn’t help it. The tears of relief started coming and wouldn’t stop. I fell into my best friend’s arms since my abuser was now four hours away. I was just so happy that her life could begin again, and still sad that I hadn’t been there to see it in person. Seriously. I would have enjoyed the chance to throw things and spit in her face, like a statistically crazy lesbian does when someone’s hurt the one they love. It was the best moment, I was so happy and smiley, and I couldn’t share it with her. I had to settle for having it with someone else. I was so in love at that moment, because she’d absolutely fulfilled my hopes and dreams and happiness for her. Her victory felt like one for me, too, because I didn’t have to worry about the drug dealer anymore. I also didn’t care how she felt about me. I knew that even if there had been some shenanigans in our past, that didn’t mean I was all “this is my chance.” It was just a bit of flirtation from someone who wouldn’t hurt me, not an expectation that just because I wanted to be with her was a reason for her to fall in love with me. It doesn’t work that way.

The only question I’ve ever had is how the fuck she could unintentionally knee me in the clit – when we were both standing up? How, given the present laws of physics, could that happen? How could it, like, be a real possibility that she had no idea what she was doing? It’s the same thing with the journal. How could she not have known that giving me a journal that included her college sex life would turn me on? Those two questions have been torturing me in my dreams since they happened, always leaning toward nothing being intentional. I was mature enough for this. I could handle this. It was normal.

But I don’t know if it counts.

The Wheat and the Weeds

Yesterday Christine (my priest) preached on the parable of the wheat and the weeds, and the rest of the congregation melted. Well, that’s a bit overstating it, but what I mean is that it felt like everyone else in the room was far away and only Christine’s voice was coming through… like, Christine is preaching in real time but the rest of the scene is in slo-mo. That’s because her sermon preached to the part of me that wrote “Slash and Burn.” In it, I described what it was like to be in an abusive relationship as a child with an adult, and when  that I discovered that truth, at first I wanted to slash and burn all the parts of me that reminded me of her… just like trying to weed a wheat field and setting everything on fire. The question in the pericope is, “how do you get the weeds out of the field without destroying the wheat?” The answer is “you don’t.”

I have gotten many, many, many laughs to myself today as I’ve thought, “so is it wrong to call my abuser my weed?  That way, at least I could fit her into a Zip-loc. Right now we’ve moved from a four-bedroom house in my head to roughly a 1 BR with Den. I’m not done healing, and I won’t for a very long time. That’s the thing with long relationships. The longer they are, the harder they are to get out of your system. We were in each other’s lives for something like a quarter of a century. I’m doing now what I should have done a long time ago, which is trying to resolve those issues so that I am not suckered into giving myself away so easily. She was my first love, and by the way, it still feels weird to call her that even though it’s true.

However, clinically, it makes a lot of sense. For my readers that actually know us, I didn’t meet the woman you did. I met the abused kid, and I tried to comfort and console that abused kid and I ended up falling in love with her over it. I didn’t fall in love with her because of some crazy childhood crush where there was no reciprocity. We became very close in a relatively short period of time and within three years or so of comforting the abused kid in her, I realized that all I wanted was to protect that kid for the rest of my life. My intentions were pure because I was so incredibly young. As she grew, she couldn’t relate to me as an equal anymore because her inner child grew up and I was still, well, I don’t know. Sixteen? Seventeen?

Maybe I’ve been looking at this situation the wrong way. Maybe because I was so much older emotionally than she was when we first met, she’s trying to live up to my standards when I’ve constantly been trying to live up to hers. It’s a nice thought, anyway. It comforts me to think that I might be right, because since I know for sure that I would burn up trying to get rid of our memories, I have to make peace with them.

Amen.

 

Pat the Bunny

Here I sit on a Saturday afternoon, cozy in bed as I type this. Charlie, my sister’s dog that stays with us frequently, is curled up at the end. Enya is playing in my headphones in an attempt to put myself in a writing mood. Dana is mowing the lawn, and it is also going on in the background as I type antiphonally.

Using a music term brought be back around to my voice lesson, and how grateful I am for them. The voice that I thought I’d lost has been found… and now that I see my teacher once a week, I have the chance to perform some amazing repertory that I previously thought “unpossible.” In fact, when I was talking to him about what to sing for church, he said, “How do you do with Bach?” I could only quote another singer, which at this moment I cannot remember but is in the pantheon of singers that I have met between church music and my sister being in the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, but I digress. The singer said, “not well. It shows all my flaws with breath control.” It is so absolutely, completely true that I could not put it any other way. Melismas that go on for three pages are not my idea of a good time.

I will sing Bach, eventually. I will… and none of that wimpy “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” crap. I’m talking Et Resurrexit, people. I’ve done it once before, with Trinity Cathedral choir in Portland, but it was truly a half-ass kind of fumbling in the dark. I figured if I got 40-50% of the notes right, I could hide behind the real sopranos.

My whole life, I’ve thought of myself as “the velveteen soprano,” because when my sister and my abuser were both in my life at the same time, I couldn’t have wanted it more and I couldn’t do anything about it. The attention was on my sister as a singer and me as a trumpet player. I chose trumpet in the sixth grade, and once you’re on the track, it’s moving without a place to unload.

There was one time in the 11th grade where I made varsity choir and varsity band in the same year (and was the first person in the history of Clements High School to do so… or, at least, that’s what Mrs. Buehler told me and I’m going to believe her because it strokes my fledgling little soprano heart.

Anyway, it comes time to try out for All-District, and I make both of them. Turns out, All-Region tryouts for band and choir were on the same day, and thus ended my academic singing career. The All-Region contest was actually for marching band, and we came in 7th. Maybe I should have gone with the choir.

Anyway

I had a God moment during Jeopardy!, and for once I am not talking about when I tell Dana that I am the Jeopardy! GOD because I got a really obscure question right and she has no friggin’ clue how I managed to pull it out of my ass. I mean I had a real God moment, the kind that makes you pick up your notebook and jot it down so your ADD doesn’t stop you from really analyzing it later. It’s later. The category was “Amen,” meaning that all the questions were words containing the letters a-m-e-n in order. The 100-watt bulb that went off in my head was due to the question, “what is sacrament?”

According to Wikipedia, the catechism included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer defines a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” Those are very fancy words, but what do they actually mean?

I have a different take on communion than most Anglicans/Episcopalians because I grew up in the Methodist church, where we practiced open communion. In the Anglican/Episcopal church, it is a Rite to be able to come to the table- you are prepared for it and the chair is pulled out. In open communion, it doesn’t matter what you look like, how you’re dressed, if the curlers are on or off. It doesn’t even matter what age you are. When you go to your family’s house, you eat.

Yvette Flunder has a great sermon about it. We’re all family, and we all show up for this meal with each other once a week. The part that Dr. Flunder leaves out that I am adding is a new take on what miracle actually occurs- you get food anyway.

You get food anyway.

Years before I started dating Dana, I was dating a woman in my church that I really liked, but it was a disaster of an idea from the start. We were just too involved with ourselves to care. We broke up, and the fallout was nuclear in its blast radius. That Sunday, I came to church with the clothes I’d been wearing from the night before, hadn’t brushed my teeth, and had clearly had a very good (or very bad) night. I was a walking accident, and to add insult to injury, I was also crying. I got in line for communion and went to the rail.

I was so sad that if there had been an altar, I probably would have put my head on it… and when my minister reached me, she saw my pain, my distress, my utter disarray… and she gave me food, anyway. The miracle of communion is that everyone who comes to the table is fed, regardless of anything that might divide them. The example is confessional, but our stories are the same.

We are all fallible and irreplaceably human and all have those moments where if the grace of God was placed directly on our tongue we’d have trouble realizing it was RIGHT THERE! RIGHT THERE! WE ARE TOUCHING IT- WE ARE SO CLOSE! What keeps us all from breaking the barrier between “almost” and “really” is our part of the deal- the one where we openly, freely accept God’s grace. In fact, if we’re not open to it, we won’t even accept grace from ourselves, much less God. Receiving grace is opening yourself to the possibilities of the universe and simply saying, “let it be so.”

sacrAMENt