I admit. The things I did not know:

I did not know how to grow up interracial. I did not understand how to be different in a world that demanded simplicity and sameness. 

I did not know how to fall in love after eating and sleeping and growing in a house that pushed love away, hid it in the corners, crushed its soul. 

I did not know how to get up every morning and go to work in an office, with benefits and meetings. I had not been exposed to such a lifestyle. Expectations that are created by invisible rules rather than by real needs. Real logic and follow-through. 

I did not realize how badly I needed to leave that childhood space. How much I had been brainwashed to see my small disheveled life as normal, as everything, as the only thing. 

I did not know for sure, although I always suspected, quietly in the back of my mind, that I could have a life that better matched my inner narrative. A life that better fit my expectations of and my reactions to the world. 

I did not know. But I know now. 

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On Father’s Day

Mom mom mom mom mom.

Mom.

An interesting thing happened to me yesterday. My roommate offered me fries. Hot, fresh, greasy, McDonald’s fries, and I refused. I was already in bed. The sun was still up. “But you love fries,” he said. “I don’t want them,” I said.

Some days it is like this. She creeps in oddly, in the crook of my elbow, and I am stuck, holding her there for the imminent future.

My mom.

When I was young I called her mamma. Something she later became nostalgic about, particularly when my brother and sister cried for her with “mommy.” Mommy was whiney, too needy. Mamma implied something else. A more genuine interest, maybe. Respect.

I’ve almost always had a genuine interest in my mother. For as long as I can remember, I have puzzled over her, tried to solve her.

I broke into her childhood suitcase, filled to the brim with letters I tried to read. I dove into her bed when she was awake, often falling asleep to the scents in the sheets. Something so soothing there. Cigarette smoke and Opium. Cedar.

My mother is an alcoholic. What I thought was a snarky quirk, something cute like hipster cat t-shirts–wine in her coffee cups in the afternoon–has turned into something vicious and gray. Like a splayed bunny in the road.

Mom mom mom. She made me unsure of her love, unsure of myself. She left me alone, she shut me out, she didn’t answer my questions. I sought her. She sought away.
I became a cheerleader because she was a cheerleader. I struggled with math because she had always struggled with math. I started writing because she was a writer. Writing to me in a journal before I was born. Rounded cursive words that she lost after my early birth.

Some woman I will never know, my mother. Someone who evaded me for years, who I in turn avoid now. Some woman who called me names and made me doubt the whole world. Made me sure it would devour me whole, spit me out, leave me with her. And what could she offer me, then?

I love my mother. I despise my mother. I do not miss my mother. I rarely think of telling her good news in my life, of any news of my life, or of inviting her to my home. When I was in college I fantasized about lunches with my mother, weekends with my mother. The two of us, as it had never been before. She evaded me still. She insulted me still.

I grew up. I stopped competing with my mother. I know and catch and try to correct the gestures I stole from her, the poor posture I copied from her, the grimaces I make like a mirror to her. I cut my hair. I keep off the weight. I tell myself, I’m doing what I want. Not because she didn’t do these things. Because she told me these things would hurt me. That I would break reaching for them, lose myself asking for them, as she had.

I am not broken. My skin bends and burns. It threatens to reshape, to leave me. It tries to break as it was so skillfully trained to do. I stand up straight, even though my mother taught me to curl around. I find my voice, even though my mother told me to shut up. I talk, and laugh, and succeed. Her anger is not my anger.

She wants me to come home to her now. To reclaim her. To miss her, as she misses me. She wants me to proclaim my success as hers. Me as a result of her. She wants me to bring the good things of my life to her. Like an offering, a sacrifice. Something to appease the Gods. I ignore her texts and block her on social media. Her rantings, so similar to my life lessons. So unnecessary. So unneeded. So uninformed. My feminist guy does a kind thing, but it reminds me of her. How she would steal my agency, silence my voice, prevent me from meeting myself. I know he is not like her. He has a different motivation, a different outcome. Seeks a different me. A me. I only cry for a minute. That feeling of falling rising in my chest. A sunken place. A moment of distress. Historical trauma.

She didn’t give me the words for things, the things I would find. I’m finding what I knew all along: I’m fine.

Sketching 

It’s not the hardest things that bring you to your knees. Maybe it’s because the hardest things are just meant to be survived. We don’t sit around trying to make sense of the hardest things, we move through them and outlast them. It’s too much to escape unscathed, so that’s not an expectation. 

It’s these more menial, simple parts of my life, of a happy life, that try me. Developing a professional self; falling in love; making plans for a future self, who will always elude me, yet will always exist. These are not things to simply survive. These are the things that require agency and meaning-making. These are the things that keep you up at night. That send you to biweekly therapy. I was not taught to thrive. So much is more complex than fight or flight. 

And so I learn the cycle of things. Of happy things that make you feel joy, disappointment, confusion, anger. My primitive brain wants to judge–good, bad, poisonous. I’m learning to engage my right brain, my evolved brain. But what does your heart tell you. I learn to breathe with a rhythm, rather than for the sake of filling my lungs with air. I learn to run for the distance, rather than the speed. It is not easy, but I have always been good at the hard things. I’m re-learning what the hard things are. Changing my definition of life. It’s the made-up things that I have to face. The human assumptions I have to resist. 

Synonymous with

I walk up the stairs carting the vacuum and the laundry basket, and in that moment I am that woman. My rage erupts and stays with me as I scrub the tub and scour the toilet and wipe down the tile floor. But I am not that woman, as I put away my (and only my) laundry. As I make lunch for my self, as I lace up my shoes and run alone, not talking to any passerby, not telling anyone where I am going or when I will be back. I am not that woman as I watch whatever I want on television, as I sit in my sweaty clothes on the porch. Quiet, but most importantly, alone.

He offers to make dinner and I offer to go to the store. To help. He doesn’t need that. I am free to sit longer, to stare off into space longer, to meet no one else’s needs other than my own. We are a house of unmade beds, and I am not that woman.

A victim of, a hostage to, complaisant in convention.

Mayday

On Mother’s Day and other things I’m generally frustrated about…

  1. A party at the house. Planned by my housemate, a man I admire. People I don’t know. People I don’t know if I want to know. People who smell good and look nice and use funny words. I bought flowers and drank champagne and cut cheese and arranged meats and wiped down surfaces. The house looked shiny and warm, buttery. The wood surfaces gleaming and inviting. I felt like home. I didn’t mind who came in, because it’s mine and they can enter but that doesn’t grant access. Too many people, too much time. I sat quietly and laughed at jokes. I sat outside on the porch by myself. I felt how I always feel. I wanted the last couple with their daughter to leave. The party ended at 8p. They were still sitting on my couches at 8:30p. I snuck away to a steamy shower. I started to feel invaded.
  2. College graduation and a reminder that college’s most valuable lesson was that I still had more to learn, and more people to meet. My desire to engage in critical conversation was fed and nourished by college, the first place out of anywhere and perhaps the most out of anywhere. I feel frustrated at a campus that limits my ability to engage in critlife. Because Midwest nice. Because love. Because people think to be in love is to be all-accepting. That is not my love.
  3. To be a woman on Mother’s Day, when so much of my life is spent mothering people. My students, my friends, my coworkers, my siblings, my parents. To feel like your fate has been decided. And not to want what maybe you truly want. Do I want to be a mother? When my whole life has been preparation for motherhood? The girl child running around my house last night. I did not speak to her. I barely looked at her. There was a boy child who needed constant attention. People find my avoidance of children cold and somehow telling. I think the U.S. coddling of children, the way we prioritize children, is disgusting. Is troubling. Is unhealthy and damaging. When I was a child, I wanted to be a peer to the adults in my life. I did not want to be treated differently or excluded from adult life. I now treat children the same way I treat adults. From a healthy distance.
  4. I want a sober attitude. I want a balanced mindset. I want new challenges to inspire me to try new solutions, rather than tempting me to throw myself on the floor. I show up to work because that is all that is expected of me. That is easy. I can accomplish that, at least. I can get here and be physically present, at least.

To wit

I want to wander and dream, and I’m tired of feeling punished for that desire. I’m tired of feeling constricted. Constrained. Is it a real punishment or only a feeling I have internalized? I don’t want a life you find in a catalog, in a magazine. I won’t pose myself in tasteful frames with artful filters in the trendiest fashions with the cutest smile. My bed sheets are clean, but wrinkled. My dresser is good quality but covered in a thin layer of dust. I comb my hair but let it swirl around my face. All this to say, what? I fight, I resist in my very own way. It’s important to me, although subtle. This is my rejection of values in a world I will not uphold.

Some days, everything hurts. I spend the weekend napping, swallowing ibuprofen, cleaning and listening and absorbing, trying to distance myself from the ache in my chest. Anything that feels good. I know there are days of surprise inspiration. Days of surprise hope. Days that turn that sinking feeling upside down. Days that feel like soaring.

Is it PTSD? Is it historical trauma? Is it nothing, other than an obsessive mind and a negative veil?

I take a break. A break from thinking about how I think. I read thirty pages and four chapters of a novel. A gift for my housemate I am trying to consume before I pass it onto her. I walk down the hall. I run my hand along the painted wall. All of this. And none of this.

Whiteys

The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black

I’ve been seeking out Oluo for a while now. I appreciate her journalism. 

I have been shaped by whiteness and yet lived outside of it. I don’t have the words for my experience. I may never have words for my experience. It has broken me in some ways. Some words will never come to me because of whiteness. I have a word for misogyny, and I have fellows in feminism, but when it comes to whiteness…I often feel alone and lonely. Unsure of where to put my hands or feet. Perplexed by the performances and the pleasure. The ignorance and the isolation.