Taking Responsibility

We were having so many problems for so long, I still don’t think people understand how all encompassing it was. His grandmother says, “I called and invited you over,” but it’s the way she says it and I wish I could say to her, “I just couldn’t. He was so broken that I became broken and I look at you with all of your expectations and it takes all I have to stay in this room.” But instead I smile and turn to his father who feels more like my father every year, and I think of his mother and the ways I’m trying to repair what I’ve damaged and I begin to feel like I’m on solid ground. I love his family because I try to love everyone, but I love his brothers and his grandmother because I love him and because I love his parents.

That is what I never understood: love is a choice.

And when I’m talking to my own mom, relieved to be hearing her familiar voice, she says, “Isn’t it nice to be around family during the holidays?” I tell her that it makes me miss our side of the family, but I see our side of the family in his more and more, although I’m still not sure if this sharpens or eases the ache of feeling so far from people who express love in exactly the ways I was trained to receive.

 

I talk about college to his middle brother, who is still an undergrad, and I just feel exhausted. I’m tired of explaining my interests. I’m tired of wondering if my jargon is isolating. I am insurmountably fatigued of people telling me not to give up on my dreams, as if the entirety of my dreams is held in writing academic papers and teaching undergraduates about rape as a product of gender inequality. There is some part of me that appreciates the encouragement, but I am beginning to read it as an inability to listen.

You see, dear reader, I have done the unthinkable. I have obtained a job.

After 40 hours of training and First Aid and CPR certification, I am to emerge, transformed by an information cocoon, into a residential counselor at a group home for at-risk youth. I am told that I will primarily be serving children placed outside of their homes because of neglect or sexual abuse. The day of my interview I walked into the office of this non-profit and it was so familiar it felt like a second home. My hours are to be similar to my partner’s, and we are to be poor in materialistic wealth, but already I feel enriched.

The therapist my partner has been seeing has somehow gotten through to him. I have not met her, but I sense that she knows him like I know him and this goes a long way in easing my worries. And, with less worry I am free to cook and bake and clean and read. These actions are satisfying and sustaining in a way that writing papers never was.

 

Truthfully, I don’t miss academia. I felt a little displaced after I was graduated because it was such a large part of my identity, but it forced me to make my self. Gender is a social construct. Race is a social construct. Sexuality is a social construct. Our society is intellectually manufactured, but removed from academia I feel these beliefs deep inside me in a way I didn’t when I felt as if I had to constantly justify and “prove” them. I don’t miss having a long-term plan, which nearly everyone is academia has. I enjoy living in each day and I am finding that outside of the academy my secret self has begun to bleed into my external self.

I don’t care anymore about impacting the academy with my theories. When I was still in my undergraduate studies, I thought scornfully of social workers, believing that they were too focused on the micro to make any lasting impact. Since leaving university I’ve realized that without foot soldiers there is no war.

And whose life is it if I give it up to the judgments of others?

Now I know that this life is mine. Owning my life has instilled a more clear sense of strength and purpose than receiving my degree (which was rather anticlimactic) ever did.

 

I wish you happy holidays, dear reader. I wish you a sense of peace and sense of purpose, and wish that those feelings and that knowledge stay with you year-round.

Advertisements

The Yellow Wallpaper

It isn’t me he’s talking to. It’s someone else. He doesn’t share this trauma. It’s mine alone to live and relive. Every time we go through it together, but I’m the only one there. It feels like mine alone. It lives inside my body where it echoes inadequacy that compounds until I begin to believe.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the label given, and it gives and takes with a purpose all its own. Me and him and Post-Traumatic Stress.

I have long suspected, have said for at least a year that it is not me he’s responding to. But it is me who takes it and takes it in until it is me and I believe. So I begin the frantic scramble:

What have I done wrong?

How should I have behaved differently?

What can I say that will bring different results?

When do I finally break?

 

But I don’t break, and I thank God for resilience. And I don’t break, and I am scared because I can feel it coming but it has been coming for so long. What could it possibly look like?

 

He has been well socialized. He is a strong, logical male who takes everything in and feels nothing. He has been told to eat his emotions, and he purges in a trance, unaware. He is the boy mocked as effete. He is the adolescent who dates, who plays sports, who watches baseball because he is supposed to. He is the young man who defines himself by his work and nothing else because it is the clearest barometer of his worth.

I am less socialized, more concerned with my self, attracted to breaking rules and always questioning everything. I feel wild by comparison. And even as I attempt to ingratiate myself, to avoid the script he must play out, I feel a howling, shrieking beast of self-awareness distorting my face into secret snarls.

 

And maybe now that he’s willing to admit, to try to acknowledge and incorporate the pain from decades ago, my role will be done and I will finally rest.

Or maybe nothing will change and whatever is in me will carry me off to safety so that I can metamorphose because it is so long past due.

 

I have been attempting to move forward. I have been applying to jobs in lieu of certainty about reapplying to graduate school. I go to an interview in my high heels and my smile and I am transformed because I am not afraid. What could be worse than where I have been? Disenfranchised of my own volition. What could happen in a job interview that is worse?

It may look as if I have stayed stagnant, but these pains have been knitted into growing pains and the ferocity of the promise of my emergence pleases and startles me.

All possibilities lie within me and I cannot wait to see who I become.

Some Thoughts on Adoption (that are just a little phenomenological)

At some point in my early life I became convinced of my own mediocrity. I used to draw pictures, but I don’t anymore. I went through a kind of abstract primitivist phase in high school in which I would deconstruct a portrait I found in a fashion magazine and then attempt to reconstruct it on an 18” x 24” piece of paper using crayon. Before that I tried to only draw people from life, resulting in a sketch book filled with attempts at drawing people’s backs in charcoal. Before that I took Salvador Dali as my greatest inspiration, which translated into everything I drew either oozing or being afire.

But I gave all that up.

I convinced myself that my ideas were contrived and clichéd, and that my execution was only mediocre at best because my media were so superior.

 

I have always felt typical in my heart, but in the context of my life I have and continue to feel deeply strange. I am curious to know: how many people who are raised by their biological parents have been regularly told for as long as they can remember that their parents are very nice and that they ought to be thankful to them because their biological parents are raising them? I have often wondered what kind of impact that can make on a person.

Surely in this land of choice, it is seen as a glowing compliment to proclaim that another’s status as “child of” was a choice. But it’s not. Really. I would not have ceased to exist. I may have had a more difficult life. I may have had an awful life. I may have not. It feels as if an important fact is being overlooked by those who congratulate me on having such nice parents after learning of my adoption; chiefly, that these alternatives could have been true no matter what. It is in this way that the ordinary things about me—my parents, my skin, my hair, my nails—have been portrayed to me as extraordinary boons, while the things I have loved and have valued have fallen away like chaff.

I am curious to know: how much of this is my adoption, my phenotype, my sex, my height, my perceived vulnerability? Because I can’t disentangle them. They’re bound up in me where everything is still in sharp angles and primary colors and soft, deep pockets of black, smudge-y charcoal, and everything oozes fire. I have lived analytically, phenomenologically, before I ever had the word “intentionality.”

 

I am not ungrateful for the bountiful circumstances I find myself in. I love my parents, and I experience all the complications of loving people outside of one’s self. But my life has felt usurped by the blank pauses when I speak up, when I insist on being heard, when I tell people I am adopted. And because such attention has been and is paid to things so outside of my control, I feel like a fraud whenever anyone compliments me. Is this what happens as girls turn into women? Is it what happens as children become race-conscious? Is this the result of spending a whole life feeling as if one’s parents are doing the monumental good deed by choosing to raise what is supposed to be their child? It could be any. It could be all. I can’t disentangle them, because regardless, they are me.

On Choosing Words Wisely, Christianity, and Me

In 9th grade, I got really into Christianity, by which I mean, I went to church two days a week and was attempting to start a Christian group at the high school I attended. I did not think I could teach anyone anything about Christianity. I simply wanted to meet with other students during lunch period once every two weeks to discuss passages from the Bible and what they might mean to those in attendance. I had planned to bring up issues like homosexuality, abortion, slavery and its extreme inequality, and so on, but mostly I wanted to find a place where I could talk to people around my age about ethics from a Christian perspective. I did not think that homosexuality was a sin. I did not call abortion “baby killing.” I did not think that all Black people were the descendents of Cain. I did not think that women were the downfall of men. I was fourteen. I hadn’t made up my mind about anything.

There hadn’t even been one meeting of the Christian group I was trying to set up before an acquaintance approached me between classes one day asserting, “I’m straight but not narrow.” I was taken aback.

I think I said something like, “wha???”

She repeated herself and then went on to explain that she was “sexually straight” but not “narrow-minded.”

I am certain that I gave her a look that reflected how shocked I was at her sudden and weird outburst, said, “okay” and then closed my locker and walked away. I knew what she meant the first time she said what she did. My surprise was at her narrow-mindedness in declaring how “not narrow” she was.

And that is my trouble with that sentence, “I’m straight but not narrow.” It implies so much. It implies that our desires, our affections are set. It implies that liberal enlightenment is a switch to be turned on or off, and not the battle of varying lengths and degrees that is highly personal. It implies that there is something brag-worthy about not being a bigot, and that one knows if one is a bigot.

 

My favorite Bible passage was (and still is) Matthew 7:1-5

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (NIV)

This is my Christianity. It is the kind that calls the audience to participate in introspection aimed towards greater empathy, greater action, greater love.

I have made up my mind about homosexuality, about abortion, about people of color, about women, about all sorts of people and issues that are usually seen as divisive. I have made up my mind to withhold judgment in favor of abundant joy and love.

I’m not straight. I’m not narrow. I’m a human being with flaws who is unashamed of the possibilities of her faith because those possibilities house the greater possibilities of what we can accomplish when we choose love. And I believe that part of our amazing potential lies in crafting our sentences more carefully so that we spend more of the time saying exactly what we mean to say and nothing more.