Thursday, February 28, 2008

in which hyperventilation ensues

I came back from my first dissertation meeting, yesterday, with my marching orders. I promptly stuck my head between my legs and made pathetic little noises until someone handed me a beer.

*eee, eee, eee, eee, chug*

Perhaps this would be a good time to state that I have been writing thinly veneered autobiographical fiction. It is helpful to write what you understand, and I've had an... interesting life, so I'd been writing fictional stories containing 90% or more of details of my own life. I chose to fictionalize it because the content is poisonous and I'm afraid of being taken less than seriously when people find out what I've been up to, and because of the effect my story is going to have on the people around me. Specifically, I am very afraid it will come up in a re-shuffling of custody arrangements and because, frankly, when you end up being the family secret keeper, it is really, really hard to convince yourself that you are not going to be beaten or otherwise punished for telling or that anyone will believe you or gives a shit. The people I told growing up, the few of them, certainly did not. My youth pastor, in Texas, told me not to be a whiner when I tried to tell him. He had a huge button that had a black circle and slash through the word 'complaining.'

Nobody likes whiners. Unless it's amusing.

My marching orders are, predictably, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They are good orders. And I have to get this story out of the way before I can start telling the other stories I have to tell.

But it's dark back there and I'm afraid to go back in.

In fiction, I can pretend it all happened to a character who I can name after anyone: people I knew growing up, people I dated, names from a naming book, whomever. I have to go back as me with non-fiction, fighting the fear that comes from what I experienced and what I have been beaten into believing (I'm saying that on purpose, because even if you don't believe something, if you've been put in enough pain, you'll say what the fuck ever to make it stop. Jesus? Sure, I'll believe in anything you say. Abstinence? Well, only while you're watching.)

I'm being funny. But it's not funny. I'm scared pissless; the worst of it is about the two people who have done to my life what the Vikings were supposed to have done to coastal English villages; my parents.

Do you freaking ever outgrow the need for approval from your family? I really shudder to think what I would keep secret if I thought that they would love me. You know, without telling me that I have to earn it by keeping my mouth shut or by agreeing with everything they say. Of course, if my parents did love me, I don't know how I could tell. And yet, and yet, some part of me, some cowardly, terrible part of me wants to keep my mouth shut because, get this, I'd hurt their feelings. How much does someone have to hurt you before you can totally shut them out?

Do they have to torture you? Check. Viciously abuse you? Check. Keep you awake for nearly a month to get you to sign custody papers after you tell them you're queer? Oh, double-fucking check. Tell you, the court, your sig-o and everyone in sight that you should be jealous of your own daughter, who is so much more loveable than you'll ever be? Mom does that every few months, just in case I forget. Both by just telling me and by comparing me to my daughters, petting their hair and smirking at me. Do they have to tell you that you're ugly and the only way anyone is ever going to love you is if you get lucky? Got that the first time at 12. Give you to people they knew were molesting you and beat you for being a lying slut when you talk about it? Fucking Bingo at nine or ten, my memory gets a bit fuzzy around that period. Try to get you committed when they figure out they'll never make that perfect little girl out of you? I had Yahtzee at fourteen. Being a homeless teenage hooker, which, FYI, is the rapist equivalent of winning the lottery, was a better choice than living at home.

I can tell myself these things until I get cross-eyed, but the minute I see them, all I want out of life is to be told, sincerely, that they love me, that they're sorry. That they don't blame me for what happened between us and they're sorry they ever told me I was just born evil.

Why? Why, for fuck's sake, do I still care? I'm thirty and there's a mom and dad shaped hole in my guts that won't ever come out and cannot be otherwise filled. It will be there until I die, but leaving it gaping is still better than trying to make them fill it.

I will dance on their graves if they go first.

And cry for them. It wasn't enough to alienate their natural children, I'm watching them alienate their grandchildren. They seem, to me, to hunger for that familial love, both of them active church elders who teach Sunday school classes and whom small children (that they are not raising) adore. But when it's offered them, they will fuck you up for being vulnerable. There is no trick too nasty, no surprise to painful, no statement too condescending. No pleasure, no matter how small, that they will not stoop to rob me of.

When I graduated with my BA, my mother told me it was nice to see that I have something, since I can't make a relationship with a man work. My father told me that it wasn't like I was doing real analysis or work or anything, but that he feels so much more tolerant of this kind of stuff now and he's really proud of himself for the personal growth.

When I was a kid, he told me an artist was an unsuccessful whore. I was taking painting classes at the time. If I ever get a hold of a time machine, I might amuse myself by stepping back in time and saying a few things. Writing is the next best thing. I'll be retrospectively witty.

It's an MFA I'm earning. In writing, but still an arts degree.

In some ways, writing about it is exquisite revenge. I could not make anything up that is nastier or more bleak. It's out there, I know it is, but I cannot imagine it. In other ways, if I can step out from under it, I'll be free. They won't be just my secrets anymore. And all the relatives who have told me to can it, accused me of trying to 'ruin their love' for my parents will have to see. Or not, if they never pick it up.

I may lose my family. More than I already have. For telling the fucking truth.

Since I was a little girl, I've been dreaming of being able to give those experiences away. To be able to touch someone and get perfect understanding, albeit horribly, by making them see me. I have been horribly invisible. Some of you, if anyone's reading this, know what happens to invisible children. We become vessels for things, for urges and actions which no kid should have to endure, and it shapes our adult life. Sometimes it breaks us.

I came so close. So very, very close. And I will make other people see it. Will they hate me for it?

If I show you who I am, you can judge me. I will have to chance it. In some ways, I am eager to be judged, to know what I can blame on myself. I am secretive and full of judgments. I am my own hell because I have everything I've done and everything that was done to me with me almost all the time, breathing over my shoulders.

I don't want to go back into the dark. But that is where I will find myself. And I am not a child, anymore. I will go, and bring back what I find.

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