Truce

I was young then when my mother was a social smoker and my father a jovial alcoholic. They called me Karina because it was short for Karen, though it really wasn’t. The first time I saw past their plastic smiles, I was bleeding all over newspapers in the backseat of my father’s car, having fallen – or been thrown off – the bed at two-years-old, too young to understand their fighting, but not too young for the sudden awareness of the counterfeit faces they now wore; and I quickly realized that the deep gash on my leg had not been the only part of me bleeding.

Tell it to my future self when the heart bleeds deeper than a wound, and the wound cannot heal itself for when the heart breaks it leaves fragments of shrapnel embedded in the soul like the bullet my father still has in his leg from a trip to El Salvador and can no longer remove because he waited too long to see a doctor (did I wait too long to love you?). I learned early on that the ocean does not want to swallow me up; that life on shore had already successfully done that; that crab-hunting had become a customary bullying that I had enjoyed for longer than I had stayed, where pain was most forgotten when I inflicted it instead of garnered it in my bones.

Love was a golden word that looked more like bronze corroded by time rather than a shiny band around my finger. It was no more a halo that sealed my faith than it had become a dagger under the breast, where my heart pumped too close to its blade, and so silenced itself to stealth mode, evading the enemy within. Not that my family did not love, but simply that they had been bruised one too many times under the skin where no one could see the contusions that branded them with family members’ names so that their own reactions to love was abrasive and swollen much like being welted with my father’s belt, the one with his name branded onto the leather strap and beaten into my skin.

Having lost my voice within a sleeping bag that had time-capsuled abuse, I found it lingering in the halls of my high school that first friendless year. It was casually perusing through the pages of my experience where I first fell in love with words and they bookmarked me, where they became a reflection of my emotions, echoing in the journals that still hide between my mattress and the box spring, seeping into my dreams like ink onto parchment to remind me that my heart still beats in my chest though no one hears it, that despite the invisibility that followed me in the shadows of disillusionment and struggle, I was still alive, blood pumping through my veins with such vigor that cutting them only made them breathe life into another’s soul.

That was when my wanton affairs began, novels shamelessly dancing naked in my head even as I read them to no one; poems struggling to escape the shackles of poverty and the Welfare system that wrapped its stubby fingers around my throat but could not strangle the words within, an underground railroad having been carefully built to escape the master in a labyrinth of other people’s words, other people’s dreams; love letters left unmailed to a lover unknown but who would come to me decades later in another chapter with no name. I had cheated life by fighting back and he despised being cuckolded by one so young so he bound me in the chains of conformity and pietism, numbing the poet I had become, but not killing her for God had made him promise to not lay a finger on my soul. But somewhere in the expanse that had become my small world, something died and left a fetal corpse in my womb, calcifying it there forever until the weight of it brought me into a darkness from which I never really recovered.

And so the pills filled the cracks in the sidewalk, grouting me until I lay flat under everyone’s feet, pretty but unstable like rotting wood under a platform made of marble. Years of psychotherapy and experimenting with new drugs fused into my being like too many mixed drinks at Donnalee’s party when I had to be carried down the stairs and taken home in a dream I can’t remember, though I do recall being sober for a year after that. I had lost a battle with Fate, and she stitched a new dress for me made out of my own synthetic synapses and the heartstrings that had once played music for the Muses, a blue one that wrapped around me so tight my breath came in shallow puffs, a Victorian queen in modern-day America. And as the poems within my rib cage threatened to implode, I heard the whispers of requited love hovering near my ears where the buzzing of self-doubt tried to drown it away in a cynical grave of despair, but only managed to make it swell until it filled my head with confidence like monarch butterflies until the poetry burst forth in cascades of beautiful knowledge mingled with experience, once again filling the sponges of my dried soul.

So I wrote, and I wrote until my heart bled on each line, until each word was bloated with emotion and I trembled with desire, until I convinced myself that my words, though unread, held the golden love I’d always yearned, the truth I always sought, the acceptance I thought I needed. I wrote until I was loved with such radiance I could not see it at first, but felt it all around me in wind-swept chasm, penetrating my beliefs with such honesty I knew I was being seen through the blinded eyes of a seer, who told me that my destiny was to know that I am loved but never to own it as mine. And I dared, I tread through the unknown like a Joan of Arc into battle, wielding the double-edged sword that cut with words and lay open the rawness of my heart, my soul, my deeds. For it was that brilliant love that helped me see beauty even in the darkness of a world not my home, and that told of secrets whispered only to me, to tell no one and everyone at once.

Skeletons

Skeletons

When I was younger, I was afraid of crazy, maniacal killers that lurked under my bed rather than the iconic monsters that lived in my closet.  It turns out that I was wrong.  There is so much more to lose in a closet than under a bed because those secrets hidden between the floorboards will catch up to me no matter how long they’ve been buried.  Those pesky little skeletons can only stay still for so long before squirming back into my life and wreaking havoc where stability had once reigned.  And when they’ve escaped their intended confinement, everyone living in the house is suddenly affected and confronted with the fear of pretenses and dismissals, affirmations and judgments.

But how was I supposed to know that these skeletons could lay so dormant, obediently repressed in the darkest corner of the closet where I’d forgotten all about them,  only to rise up with the vengeance of having been scorned and hidden away for far too long?  And who am I to rage against the pain of having lost and gained, only to lose again? No one but a specter with skeletons in her closet.

Bone Church, Czech Republic

Your Kingdom Come

Your Kingdom Come

My father was my world, the one person who showed me that who I am is something of which to be proud, that I was more than just a gender because he treated me like the surprise little girl that was born and the little boy he had been expecting.  He would watch out for me and my sisters like a cock around his hens, and then crawl under the vintage Mustangs and call out wrench numbers while I eagerly passed them over to him with knowing and expertise.  I was not even six-years-old then, but I knew what he wanted and earnestly aimed to please, not so much so he could accept me, but because I wanted to love him the way he knew how to love.

Decades later, after the uprooting to Costa Rica and the bilingual private schooling and the weekends at the beach and the family outings and dramas, after the divorce that brought me back to the States and to the other family, and the Welfare visits and the poverty, after years of loneliness and sadness and teenage anger and confusion, of lies and half-truths and hurting and reconciliation, I realize that what my father taught me those early years of my life when I lived in a world where he was king, was that I was indeed his princess and his prince, that his man-cave under the hood of a car was our castle, and that in those precious moments when we spoke our own language, we were a kingdom of two, just him and me, ready to take on the dragons that surely came.

Desperately in Love

I remember when I last got baptized; I was thirteen at the time, impressionable and desperately in need of love.  It was a Pentecostal circus of white-clothed enthusiasts with good intentions, but my heart was in the right place.  The service had already begun and I was anxious and excited, scared and tentative of what this public step meant to my family, to me, and to my faith.  But the loud percussion music was laid on thick as molasses and I let the emotions of the fervent parishioners propel me toward the front where the makeshift baptismal pool awaited along with eager church leaders – including my aunt – ready to duck my head under water and bring forth a renewed, better me.

We lined up in the aisles of the crowded, hot church, tightly packed like marshmallows stuffed in a bag.  Hands waved wildly in the air or filled the empty spaces with clapping and tambourine-playing, with singing and shoutings of “Hallelujah” and “Praise-the-Lord” bouncing off the walls.  It was a beautiful chaos of passionate maelstrom and emotional upheaval, everyone waiting in anticipation as the Spirit of the Lord descended on the baptized as He had with Jesus, to shake the Old Man from us, either literally or through manifestations such as dancing, speaking in tongues, or other such displays of rebirth.  And this frightened me the most, the expectation of what I was to do, or not to do, in order to comply with the movement that was taking place.  I distinctly remember focusing on the sea of white clothes in front of me and behind, so many of us ready to be cleansed and purified by a God who forgave those of us who were coming to His waters so stained and soiled.

So as I approached the altar, the music’s crescendo reaching a maddening peak as if the world had lost its balance and we were all falling from its edges, I jumped and danced and smiled and laughed too, like a drunken teen trying so hard to fit in.  And I saw the look of dutiful pride in my aunt’s face as she led me into the pool of warm water, two men at each side, screaming out prayers and praises drowned out by the music, but which I nodded to as if I could hear.  My heart beat faster and louder than the music now, and I was certain everyone could hear it as loud as I could in my head and my chest, bursting forth like a gushing waterfall.  Tears sprung to my eyes as I realized what I was doing: not simply going under the water in hopes of rising a new person.  This was a sacrament of admission and adoption; admitting that I was a hollowed gourd waiting to be filled by love, and then being adopted into the family of God, becoming part of the family but perhaps never truly accepted as such.

I realized this instantly after coming up from the waters and quickly being ushered out of the pool so that someone else could come and take my place.  I looked for immediate acceptance from my aunt, hoping for a hug, a welcoming embrace, but she had moved on without a glance, and while this was a spiritual rebirth for me, parturition does not come without pain.

Years later, sitting on the window sill of a hospital room staring out the window at the parking lot, I realized I had tried too hard but only gotten so far, and then ended up in this place, alone and undone.  And it took years to restore what had been built on loose sands in order to rebuild on firmer ground, no longer a desperate teen, but an accomplished woman whose faith now stands upon the Rock rather than a church, an emotion, or a movement.

 

Written February 2015

Well-Intentioned Misconceptions

motherdaughter

When I was a teenager, a “well-intentioned” friend of the family told me that my close relationship with my mother would cause me to become a lesbian.  Of course, she did not say it in front of my mother, and now, years later and as an adult, I reflect on her comment and pity the poor woman.  Clearly, I am not a lesbian, and am convinced that there is some perversion to associating the love between a mother and daughter to that of sexual attraction.  But thinking back on this woman’s own children and experiences, I can see how she may have made that “well-intentioned” statement based on her own relationship with her children.  Now I am not saying that I knew her or her children very well, but I do know that she must not have had a close relationship with either of them to not be able to correctly recognize the mutual love and respect between my mother and me.  This leads me to believe that perhaps her “well-intentioned” judgment may have been clouded by her own loneliness and sadness, her own inability to reach her children in a loving and mutually respectful manner, and that despite her impression of wisdom, perhaps it was envy and discontent that led her to tell a young girl that her relationship with her mother would somehow alter her sexuality.  And instead of dredging up bitter memories of that awkward time when, unlike her own children, I was not dating boys (or girls), getting pregnant, and smoking weed, I deeply pity this woman and wonder whether she has been able to finally find what it means to feel deep, filial love with her grandchildren, or whether she still lives in the lonely world of suspicion and “well-intentioned” misconceptions.

(Written in April 2015)