Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Now Is Not The Time

I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My father was in yet another drunken rage. This was easily discernible by the fact that he was loudly reciting his favorite alcohol-fueled litany to one of my older brothers. The litany was, "You're no damned good." There were other epithets and insults thrown in, but that was the catch phrase and it was repeated often. I whispered to my mother, "I want to tell him to shut up and stop being a jerk." She shut me down, saying, "Now is not the time. You can't argue with a drunk. And we don't say shut up."

I wanted to confront him the next day, tell him that I didn't like the way he had talked to my brother. I wanted to tell him that it hurt to hear him talk to anyone in our family like that. He sat, slumped forward at the kitchen table, cup of coffee cooling in front of him, the ever-present cigarette dangling between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. My mother whispered as I walked into the kitchen, "Daddy's not feeling very well." Now is not the time.

Now is not the time took up residence in my mind right next to you're no damned good. Those two phrases together were a vitriolic cocktail that taught me not to speak up for myself.

Years later when I was the teenage subject of a similar drunken rant by my father, I wanted to say, "Shut up! You're being a jerk." But I heard my mother's voice in my head, "Now is not the time." Instead, I ran out the door and spent the night at my boyfriend's house. When I returned the next morning, Dad was in the same slumped position he'd been in so many years ago. This time he was crying. He looked up when I walked into the kitchen, and with breath that still stank of alcohol, blurted out, "Oh, Punkin, I'm so sorry!"

I wanted to tell him that his apology didn't mean anything, but that action would. I wanted to tell him that the hurt I felt wasn't hurt that would go away with a simple "I'm sorry." I wanted to tell him that I'd graduated from thinking of him as a jerk to thinking of him as a fucking drunk asshole, and I wanted to tell him that no daughter should ever want to call her father that. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I'd do whatever I could to help him change. But I stood, silent. Now is not the time.

I wanted to tell my school friends about my home life. They thought we were a good, happy, Catholic family. I wanted to tell them what it was really like. I wanted to say that although I was never beaten, some of the things that were said left scars that hurt so badly that it was painful to be alive. I wanted to, but I didn't. I was the friend who went along with whatever the rest of the group wanted to do. I was the friend who knew all the words to all the songs and all the good jokes. Now is not the time.

Shortly before my father died of cancer in 1982, I spent an afternoon at the hospital with him. We held hands, all the unsaid hovering between us. Now is not the time.

I never told my father how I felt. It's only been in the past decade that I feel I've really found my voice. It took a lot of hard work and courage to wave that figurative banner that reads: Now IS the time.

My circle of friends will tell you that I'm fond of saying that I wouldn't change a thing in my life because it's all made me who I am today. And I really like who I am today. Still, I can't help but wonder what would have come of that girl if she'd been allowed to say what she had to say, to take a stand. How much more of a dynamic force would I be? I don't know and it's impossible to speculate. Silly even.

At the very least it has all led me to this moment. Yes, this very moment as I am typing this and hoping someone who needs to read it is reading it. That will make every second of my life worthwhile. You see, bullies aren't always kids on playgrounds or snotty teens writing insults on Facebook. Bullies can be found anywhere and everywhere, no matter what age we are. Bullies can be found at our jobs, in our homes, in our churches, in the parking lot. Everywhere. Sometimes the bullies are even our own parents.

Please. If someone is hurting you, don't listen to the voices saying, "Now is not the time." Speak up. Keep speaking up until someone hears you. Please. Now IS the time.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: Now is not the time.
I gave SAM this prompt: I had forgotten all about it, but that fragrance/scent/smell brought it all back.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

All the Difference

Six years ago I woke up to a very different kind of day than today. Six years ago, I was busy saying goodbye to my beloved mate, John who lost his life to cancer.

I've spent this past week being somewhat pensive, reflecting on the myriad changes in my life since then. I am in awe of how changed, changed for the better, my life is.

A couple of weeks ago I was part of two different conversations where "negative" emotions were being discussed. Among those emotions were sorrow, fear, anger, and guilt. Talk centered around getting rid of those emotions. I said, and I believe, that we need those emotions. They are necessary.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our reason. We decided that the only things we should be allowed to feel are positive things. We often refer to unpleasant emotion as baggage, as if it's detritus we stuff in a shopping cart and haul around from place to place, occasionally bumping into others with it. We are quick to try to numb the so-called bad feelings with drugs. We do everything we can to make "bad" go away. We work harder, we play harder, we party harder, all in an attempt to banish what we falsely perceive as "bad."

I'll let you in on a secret. The people I love best are people who are in touch with all that "bad", who don't try too hard to mask it. Seeing that frailty in them, and seeing them rise above it, is what makes me love them so much more. The open, raw, naked honesty with which they present themselves - that unashamed "here I am in all my ugliness" - is what makes them so beautiful to me. They don't wallow. That wouldn't do for either of us. But they don't hide either.

So, if I have one wish for people, it is that they allow themselves to feel everything - and not just to feel it, but dive into it, look at it long and hard, find some kind of understanding or at least an acknowledgment. As a very astute artist said, we need those dark spaces because they enhance the light spaces.

That I lost someone I loved so much makes me that much more aware of how very sweet and precious is the love that I have now. That pain, that sorrow, that anger, that fear - that just makes me acutely aware of how extraordinary and wonderful my happiness is now. I believe the reason for this is that I allowed myself to fully experience those darker emotions. Rather than try to out run them, I ran to them. I faced them and found that they were only emotions. They couldn't really hurt me unless I let them hurt me.

That's the key here. Yes, let yourself experience and feel everything - you can't make any of it go away no matter how much you want to - just don't let feeling everything rule anything.

That last, precious kiss on the cheek six years ago was bitter and salty. By comparison, this morning's kiss on the cheek was a sun-ripened strawberry. The part of me that allowed beauty to grow from the shit-strewn fields is glad that I know just how sweet both of those kisses are.