I started writing this post in Houston, so it may jump around a bit now that I’m back in DC and have a lot more to say. I didn’t forget about you- just too busy to actually post anything while I was away.
There is dirt on my shoes. I hate dirt on my shoes… and yet, I cannot wash it off. The past two days have been a non-stop whirlwind of activity, and I don’t know where the dirt originated. Because it might have come from the cemetery, I can’t bring myself to wipe it off. It has become more than dirt; it’s a symbol of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced. Red streaks of Houston mud on dark black rubber and canvas that represent something… and yet, I know that if my mother was alive, I would have been scrubbing my Chucks with a toothbrush.
The entire reason I came to Houston was to spend time with my sister mourning our mother on the first anniversary of her death, and the tragedy in Las Vegas overshadowed everything. We couldn’t focus on our own pain, but those of others. I kept saying to myself that there was no such thing as competitive suffering, that just because those families were going through tragedies didn’t mean that ours was rendered invalid… and yet, it didn’t help. Or, perhaps it did. The shooting reinforced that bad things happen to good people every day, and life goes on because it has to- there’s just no other choice.
We, of course, did make it to the cemetery, and to St. Anne’s Catholic Parish in hopes of lighting a candle in my mother’s memory… but they didn’t have a place to do so. I just kneeled on the cushion in the front pew, laid my head on the rail, and cried like I hadn’t in a long time. Even though it’s not, it feels like it’s my job to be “the strong one,” and not because anyone’s ever asked me to. It’s just my personality to help everyone through their pain and break down later. The more chaotic it gets around me, the calmer I become.
Then, as an empath, once the chaos is over, I explode with my own pain and that of everyone else I’ve witnessed. To say that crying in the church at the same time someone else was grieving is unusual for me is an understatement, but it was cleansing nonetheless. I was able to feel stronger, and to stop pouring from an empty cup.
It is no secret that I love my family more than life itself, but physically being in Houston is very difficult for me. I prefer it when my family visits me on “my own turf.” There are too many memories that absolutely torture me here. It helps that my sister has a group of friends I’ve spent very little time with, making new connections and context in this city that I didn’t have before.
It’s just that I’ve been on the long road toward forgiveness at everything that this city has thrown at me, but I’m not there yet. There are old triggers of emotional abuse. There are triggers of loves past that ended badly. There are triggers of discrimination and homophobia on the parts of others, which only reinforces my internal homophobia and all of my kid fears. Having Dana and other old girlfriends live here pales in comparison to the feeling that I can’t really age up here, and in retrospect should have been a major consideration on my part before I dragged Dana into it. Everything that happened with Diane as a tween and teen tightens around my neck like a noose. I have no doubt that one of the reasons Dana got so tired of living with me in this city is that I just had this neverending monologue going about what happened here, and how it was so hard to let go, because the moment I thought I had, the air would smell the same as some night in my past and I would be transported in time, stuck in a moment I can’t get out of.
Breaking up with Kathleen after she personally & professionally embarrassed the hell out of me was almost 20 years ago, and we were both fully-functioning adults. I barely remember what happened in our day-to-day while we were living in Virginia. Therefore, I don’t have any horrible associations with the city and I feel much freer to move about without worrying that something will double me over with pain. In DC, I remember things that come to mind from other places, but I am not constantly walking around in them, living reminders everywhere.
However, my mother is not buried in DC, and her things aren’t there. Because my house burned down in sixth grade, I don’t attach much meaning to them… or at least, I don’t until I reach for something that smells like her. They’re too big, but I grabbed one of her Blue Ridge Elementary Staff button-downs and a knee-length leather coat I’ve been stealing from her since high school to bring back with me. I figure that I can put the shirt in my closet and take it out when I want it, because once I wash it, the magic is over. I can picture myself burying my face into the soft cloth, even when the scent is barely a memory. The coat being a little too big is not a problem, however. It gets cold enough in DC that I can make it fit with all my assorted layers, and “she” will be the outermost, protecting me from harm.
Last night my dad came over to my sister’s and the three of us went through boxes and boxes of pictures, old school work, and toys. I laughed to myself with my kindergarten report cards that I only got one satisfactory in the entirety of my first grade year in “Follows Directions.” There were also three requests for Parent-Teacher conferences. However, there were uplifting moments as well. I never thought of myself as a good student, and in a lot of respects, I wasn’t. But my mom kept a treasure trove of my old writings, ones in which teachers were floored. It made me remember that things weren’t all bad. However, it would have been a different picture if she’d kept all my math homework. 😉
She also kept a science project that I got an A on regarding coal-tar derivative dyes in things like Kool-Aid, and just FYI, pretty sure grape will kill you. In the “follows directions” vein, there’s clearly a grape Kool-Aid stain on the report itself. 😉 You would never know I’d ever done this project if you looked in my pantry and saw all the flavored water bottle mix-ins that are sugar free and still taste like diabetes- bright colored orange, grape, strawberry, fruit punch, the works. I figure that I don’t have any other vices, so if Kool-Aid is ever listed as my cause of death, you can be sure I was at least warned ahead of time… to the tune of about 10 or 15 pages of research.
Eventually, I’ll be posting writings and pictures from “my old life,” because they are priceless. There’s angsty, awful teenage poetry. there’s a few good essays, and pictures of me dressed in girly frilliness that just does not happen these days. When I was a baby, I was very small for my age. I was a preemie, and my dad had to go out and buy doll clothes to bring me home. The trick to being in Houston is to remember everything that happened before I moved there, that my family has an unending love for me, and it is where all my history is stored. I just don’t have room for it here. So in order to see the past in the future, it’s a fairly short plane ride away, and it would do me well to remember that fact.
I won’t lie, though, I am happy to be home. I went to a BBQ at Dan’s last night, and for some reason felt the need to eat everything in sight. The food looked good, yes, but I tend to eat a lot more when I’m with friends than when I am alone. Being with them stimulates my appetite because I feel comfortable, able to put away grief and just enjoy myself. I wish I could have that well of joy all the time, but for now, once in a while is enough. Although I could do without the “so full I think I might actually keel over” feeling this morning. 🙂
I was supposed to go out with Dan again on Wednesday, but she begged off because Autumn, her wife, is about to leave on a big trip, so we made plans to get together either later in the week or early next.
Before the party started, I went to Whole Foods Old Town and picked up some chips, crackers, pico de gallo, and vanilla bean ice cream, my contributions to the festivities. The vanilla ice cream was because I knew other people would show up with desserts that needed it, and I was right- an apple pie and a chocolate bundt cake. I chose the chocolate cake, but if I’d seen the apple pie, all bets would have been off. I probably would have eaten both of them. 😛
I also went to Tech Week in DC, which I thought would be the right move, but now I’m not so sure. I went to lectures regarding venture capitalism, and met a lot of people that wanted to start new businesses, but no one that was actually hiring for any. Although I thought about being petty and buying the domain names for their bright ideas so they’d have to pay me large sums of money to get them back. Then, maybe I’d have my own venture capital, but I couldn’t make myself be that mean.
I came up with the idea for a great app, but it would involve finding an iOS/Android developer because I don’t do that, and coordinating with WMATA to get it done. I talked to my sister’s friend who said that there is a technology in government department, and I might be able to work with them. We shall see.
There was a small party at the bar where we went last year after the funeral to pour one out for mom. I made everyone laugh because they asked me what kind of drink my mom would want, and I said, my mother would prefer we didn’t drink. I had one beer when I first got there, but spent the rest of the evening pounding Diet Cokes, my mom’s real favorite. Then, when it was time to toast Mom, we bought really cheap beer that happened to come in a tall boy. It took so long to pour it out that I thought, we have made a terrible mistake.
I stayed in Houston until Wednesday because my sister was on a panel in one of Annise Parker’s classes at Rice, and she was amazing. Then, the mayor took a picture with me. I have loved her since I was a teenager, because she used to own a coffee shop where baby gays who couldn’t drink sat out in front facing Westheimer and watching cars go buy as we overdid it on caffeine. The coffee shop was amazing, but so was the hug from the mayor and the picture 20 years later.