The Other Side of Beautiful continued

Her mother stayed home with her, hating every minute of it. Everything about her was cold and disapproving. Everything but her food.

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The graceless way her life had developed was not novel. It was not even unusual. Her world seemed to the onlooker like a once delicate, yet slightly tragic garden overgrown and marked by neglect. She thought about how she saw pain and loss in each direction she looked. Her failures sprung up all around her, as the only flowers left in her sad little garden. The petals were colorless and with twisted stems, choked by weeds and sorrow.

Her mother wanted little to do with her, Her father even less. Often as a child she felt like there was some kind of clear partition between she and them. At the dinner table they would sit there, her father reading any one of a number of articles on corporate finance, the rise and fall of whatever company, international trade. Her mother would smoke cigarette after cigarette, her mouth a thin angry line. Sometimes the line would open. “Eat your peas.” Her mother would eye the pile of green orbs she kept piling on top of one another and letting roll back onto the plate. Her mother was an excellent cook. But Arabella was lonely. A battle over peas was better than nothing.

“I don’t like peas.” She would answer defiantly craving the attention an argument would bring. Unfortunately even that was beyond what her parents were willing to give.

“I didn’t ask if you liked them. I told you to eat them.” Later, after dinner was cleared, the kitchen cleaned and her parents watching television in the next room she would kick the table leg rhythmically with the tip of her shoe watching the peas bounce against each other. She would take her fork and smash them into the plate, their sides splitting and green flesh spilling out. “Eat the peas Arabella or they’ll be waiting for you in the morning!” The edges of her mother’s voice sailing through the doorway over the muffled sounds of the television set felt like tiny knives up and down her arms. She pushed the plate forward and laid her head on the table in silent protest, knowing exactly what the cold peas would taste like gulped down with water the next morning and not caring.

Her father ran a consulting firm. He had a head for numbers and a firm grasp on the market. He was well-respected and his firm had netted their clients millions of dollars in revenue from their well-placed changes. He was proud of his work. It was essentially all he cared about. He was not an emotional man. He was sparing with his words, his advice, his affection. Her mother stayed home with her, hating every minute of it. Everything about her was cold and disapproving. Everything but her food. Yes, she was an excellent cook. She made Arabella oatmeal and blueberries in the mornings with a sprinkle of sugar on the top. Sometimes she made pancakes or french toast on weekends, the dough always gold and fragrant under the swirls of melted butter and caramel syrup. A cascade of soups- tomato bisque, cream of chicken, southwest chili- appeared on the table at lunchtime always with a side of four buttered crackers. Her dinners were flawless; tender slices of beef paired with roasted carrots and potatoes steamed from china plates. Bowls of clam chowder beckoned. Crisply fried chicken dripped deliciously onto neatly folded paper towels. It was as if her mother put all of the love she had into the food she cooked. There was none leftover for Arabella. Truthfully she had no need to smile. Her cherry pie smiled for her. She would stare angrily out the window, smoking her cigarettes. Almost as though she were waiting for something or someone to come and rescue her.

When Arabella became pregnant with Luke her mother sniffed and said to her father without looking at him “Well I could have told you that would happen.” Arabella stared at her mother, clutching her abdomen.

“My baby is not a mistake.” Tears slid from the corners of her eyes and tumbled over her quivering cheeks.

“Tell that to the rest of the world.” Her mother spit the sentence at her before getting up to clear the breakfast dishes.

Her father looked at his watch and then back at his article.

“You have always been a liability, Arabella. Twenty-four with no college degree, no job and now pregnant by a man who’d as soon slap you as look at you.”

“He’s rich and smart and he’ll marry me, you watch! I don’t need your judgment or your ridiculous pity! He loves me! He said so! I’ll never come back to you for anything ever again!” She yelled these words even as she herself did not quite believe them. He was rich alright and he’d probably marry her. But Love? That was a whole different story. She doubted he could truly love any woman. Not after the life he’d had. But she loved him. And in the back of her mind she swore she could make him love her back if a thing were even possible. She knew she was THE ONE. It just might take all she had to prove it to him.

*to be continued

The Other Side of Beautiful

She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.

She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.

”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.

“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.

”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.

“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.

“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.

”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.

“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”

”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.

”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.

”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.

”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”

“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers.  She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.

She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.

“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.

*To be continued*

My Life Is My Own

I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color.

So I live in Wasilla, which is basically 99% white. I don’t love this, I wish my daughter could grow up with more diversity. She’s at the perfect age to really fall in love with all different cultures and we are living in such a homogenous part of Alaska it’s depressing. Her only regular exposure to someone of color is me. I have to wonder what does this mean? I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color. I am this multiracial, multicultural human who is definitively unique, artistic and compassionate towards those who are different. I’m an advocate for persons with mental  illness and am committed to fighting the stigma. So who cares if she is surrounded by the same white faces on a daily basis. Her home is not that way and never will be. Her brothers, especially her oldest brother, don’t look white at all so summers spent with them enhance her world view and round out this homogenous little world we’re raising her in.

My last blog was intense. I dug deep and talked about some pretty tough subjects. I’m glad I did, there are so many women who have been through the same things and are ashamed to admit they were abused. They just hold it inside and it literally tears them apart. I need to share something that happened to me after I posted my blog. My ex-girlfriend contacted me and tried to manipulate exactly the way she used to. She accused me of lying and airing her dirty laundry which is a contradiction in terms and interspersed it with compliments about my daughter and my advocacy work. She tried to rope me into a dialogue which I resisted and accused me of cyberbullying her by telling my story, while at the same time apologizing for traumatizing me all those years ago. She then started bullying me the way she always did, telling me what I could and could not write about in my blog- basically I could not write about her. Honestly my first reaction was fear. All these years have passed and I still reacted like a terrified child. Then I was angry at myself for feeling afraid and agreeing not to write about her, because it’s not my fault she was abusive. It’s not my fault she’s as sick as she is and refuses to take responsibility for it. I know plenty of borderlines who admit they are skilled manipulators. That they often find themselves doing it without even trying. I know borderlines who are actively seeking help even though success rates are low, they are there, trying. Fighting their illness. Taking ownership.

Was I perfect in that relationship?  No…but I don’t even call it a “relationship.” She used to make me lay there with my legs spread and conduct what she called “examinations” to make sure everything was “ok down there.” You’re probably wondering how in the hell did I let someone do that to me? Well I had just come from a sheltered cultish belief system and I was only a child when I joined it so I was an easy target. I tried to get away from her in so many ways. I mentioned the first time my poor oldest son from whom I kept all of this loved her and didn’t want me to leave and so I stayed for him. I also knew in my heart I needed a man. In the way a gay person is born that way and cannot change, so is a straight person, so is a bisexual and so on. I needed a husband. I would tell her this and she would tell me over and over I was wrong, I was a lesbian, I didn’t know what I was talking about. At the end I would literally have dreams about men, about being the straight woman with bisexual leanings that I was and how badly I needed my man. I thought maybe if I slept with a man I would know for sure and it would be enough for her to finally leave me alone. So I did just that and it confirmed it for me. So I immediately told Janine exactly what I did hoping she’d understand and finally let me go, but not only did it not work she told me she realized she was transgendered and wanted to get a sex change operation and would I stay with her until she had the sexual reassignment surgery and then we could be a traditional couple which was what I said I needed. My God. I thought. She’ll never let me go. I mentioned in my last post that she threw a bicycle at me. That was her last act of violence towards me and the most obviously violent act. That was the turning point. As soon as the bike hit my legs my mind snapped. I knew things would go in only one direction. It was then that I finally called my parents and told them the truth about what was going on. They had suspected but had no idea how bad things had gotten. I was so desperate to legitimize this nightmare I went through a commitment ceremony with her. Somehow I thought this would make things better. The ceremony itself was beautiful. The truth behind it was tragic.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is for all of the women who have been through this. Who have made these same seemingly crazy choices. When you are in an abusive relationship you forget who you were before your abuser began filling your mind with negativity. Before your abuser began stealing your independence of mind. You forget you once stood on your own two feet. You forget you were noble, beautiful and worthy of love all in your own right. I was so paralyzed by my own victimization that after leaving her I tried to go back to her. I thought I could not live without her. I had forgotten how. Thank God she only wanted to sleep with me. Thank God I was only temporarily under the delusion I needed to keep being abused. Thank God she found someone else to debase. I was forced to heal and heal I did. Day by day. Week by week. Month by Month. A Year passed. Then a miracle. I was working, going to school, running several days a week and I started to fall in love with my life. I started to fall in love with myself. I was staying with my parents when I had my sons, with a girlfriend I had known since we were nine years old so basically my sister when my boys were with Ian and I was having fun. Living the life I never got to live in my twenties. It was one particularly beautiful day and I was running along the coastal trail and I decided to message a guy I worked with at a television station as an intern. KTVA. His name was Nick. And he became my husband.

Of course there’s MUCH more to that story, but the most important part is that he also helped me heal. The parts of me I didn’t realize were still broken. Anyways, before we had gotten married, when our daughter was almost a year old. I invited my ex-husband over to the house to help the boys with their homework. It was a landmark moment. I reached across the divide that was our fighting and extended an olive branch. That was the beginning of what can only be described as a miracle. Now his new wife is my sister and he is my brother. I’ll be taking my daughter to stay with them next summer so I can spend time with my sons and Jaden can work a summer job. If you consider where we began, and where we are now it’s almost unbelievable. This entire story deserves its own post but I’ll at least say, it’s due in no small part to my husband and his wife. Nick and Nicole.

I’ll end this post by saying it doesn’t matter how lonely, crazy, stupid or hopeless you think your situation is you are not alone. Someone else is going through the very same thing. Listen to your friends when they tell you to get out. Let them help you…and above all, love yourself. My daughter may be living in one of the whitest, typical, homogenous cities in America but her family is anything but white, typical or homogenous. Of this I am proud.

Queen

I looked for you in the darkest of places
Where the people had the whitest of faces
Your hands were in the dirt
Your back was bent
I couldn’t see you clearly
But you smelled like victory
You didn’t notice me
I thought
But in truth I stopped your heart
A year later we were running from the grotesque, swords in our hands
Dripping animal blood
Our daughter ferocious asking when can we stop and fight
When can we destroy them?
Soon love. Soon.
I could see their hulking beast-like shoulders just over the hill and above them the white faces of their soulless guides
I suddenly saw heaven:
The entire world was in your pale blue eyes
The warmth of your Scottish beard
Against my cheek reminded me of grace
Our hands tightly wound. My dark one with your light one.
Our middling princess with her fire hair and all the power of heaven and earth at her feet.
I found the last white man who was not a ghost.
And you gave me back my royalty.

Kimkoa 2018

 

Rain Dance

We cannot live our lives in fear of missing moments, of moments ending, of failing to extract every meaningful drop out of our children’s existence as though they were dishrags to be wrung out, to be twisted.

This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
Cause we won’t
Although we’ll want to…

–Billy Joel

Truer words were never written. As much as we try to hold onto those precious moments they end up slipping away from us like the soft cotton of a dandelion head. And all we have left are our memories.

When Jaden was a baby (he’s sixteen now) I remember one afternoon willing myself to commit him to memory. This won’t last I told myself. The way he smells, his little, chubby hands and feet. His big, wide, innocent eyes. Remember this! I willed myself. As if it were possible. As if time, the great thief that it is, were not lying in wait to steal that and so many more moments from my mind like an ever empty and waiting void.

A poem by Langston Hughes reads

“Life is for the living.

Death is for the dead.

Let life be like music.

And death a note unsaid.” 

The beauty of these words is that they speak to our deepest fears and then tell us how we  should handle them. Life is indeed for the living. I could spend the rest of my life trying to memorize each moment with my children, or I could simply surrender to the joy those moments with my children bring me. It is a choice. I could not have known this at twenty-four. I barely know this at forty-one. Another aspect of this philosophy and a truly important one is that it relieves us of guilt. Here’s an example; my daughter is playing and I’m writing and she calls for me. Does she absolutely need me? No. Does she want time with me and is that important? Of course it is and I will give her that time. It just doesn’t have to be RIGHT NOW. Life is for the living and that means my life is for me as well as hers is for her. If I want to really play with her, I mean really be engaged I need to give to myself first so I’m not this empty vessel. Will I miss out on time with her? Of course I will. Will the sky fall? No. Assuredly it will not.

We cannot live our lives in fear of missing moments, of moments ending, of failing to extract every meaningful drop out of our children’s existence as though they were dishrags to be wrung out, to be twisted. It is simply impossible to stop the hands of the clock of time. The earth will spin regardless of what we do and our children will grow older as painful a process as it may be. Why not enjoy the ride? One thing all children need to learn is how to entertain themselves. It’s a shocker I know. In this age of immediate gratification it seems an almost foreign concept. It’s important to remember that by catering to her every need I am in a sense robbing her of her ability to live her life to its fullest. I don’t want her running back to me every time the rain begins to fall. Rather I want her to dance in it.

I want her to dance in the rain and think nothing of the thrilling splash of the puddles, the gentle spray of droplets on her face. Because that as well as anything else is part of the human experience. Whether the rain trickles down lightly so we have an afternoon of damp cavorting, or in great sheets so we are soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes, the rain wakes us up, pulls us from our complacency and drowns out the sameness of our otherwise predictable lives.

Life is for the living. That means each moment is a gift for us to do with as we please. There is no guidebook. There is no test with a looming answer sheet lying in wait to point out all of our mistakes. On the contrary. Our life is ours. To jump up and down in the rain, to wrap ourselves in a blanket and binge watch Orange is The New Black, to change careers ten times, to drop out of college. To teach our children to swear in preschool. To lose at poker, to win at poker. To get pulled over five miles from home after drinking one too many glasses of wine at dinner. To run out of gas in the middle of the intersection and laugh hysterically about it. To fart in church. To be gracelessly, embarrassingly, unabashedly imperfect. To live. Because life is for the living. So my darling…LIVE.

Destiny

She kept fucking up.

She kept swallowing the goldfish, running over butterflies before they had a chance to flutter past gorgeously.

Who could love a died-in-the-wool screw up like her? Not even the cat who eyed her warily.

She was too fat for her best dress. Too thin for her mother to worry about her. “You have control over that girl! And it’s that sour attitude of yours driving them away, not your ass.

She hated her name. Grace meant all the things she wasn’t. Her name should have been Selena or Georgiana. Or even Tia. The last of those evoking a kind of reluctant sympathy. But no. Her name was Grace and she had yet to live up to it.

It was long after everyone was asleep and the clocks smiled 3:15 that Grace became Rita. Armed with only a braided satchel containing lipgloss, a passport, some valium and one ticket to Brazil scattered with greasy fingerprints she disappeared into the night.

She was never heard from again after that rainsoaked, changeling evening and her mother was satisfied.

Kimkoa 2018

The Conversion Machine Part 3

I put my arm around her and said “Who cares what anyone thinks. It’s your baby, your body. You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to feel like God is disappointed in you. The price has already been paid long before you were the sparkle in your mother’s eye. Just make a life for your little girl and for God’s sake it’s just sex people have it all the time. You just got lucky.

Somehow I made it through eight years of that life. I remember the strangeness of our Jamaican honeymoon where all the tourists were white and the servants were black. The heartbreaking shanty towns, full of barefoot children playing among huts constructed out of cardboard and discarded metal with tin roofs. There were no playgrounds for them. I remember A woman getting arrested while braiding our hair for not having the proper paperwork. I remember the shops; clean, beautiful and full of white people. The rich white vacationers disgusted me. I hated the flippant way they ordered about the help. I wished they would suddenly switch places with their servants. The thought of it made me smile. I remember men constantly trying to sell Ian weed. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing I’d married the wrong man. I tried to be happy in Jamaica but the whole thing felt like a lie. I’ll never go back there. You’d have to drag me.

We didn’t stay long in Alaska as a married couple. Ian had a ton of friends in Oregon, a posse really, and it seemed like we could start our lives there. It didn’t really work that way though. I felt so stifled by the bahai faith, by this set of laws I was supposed to follow. It brought me nothing but pain from the outset. Of course they mindfuck you by saying your misery is a result of tests from God and they are gifts. The more tests and difficulties the more God loves you. It’s practically foolproof.

Until you start looking into the life of Baha’u’llah, prophet founder of the Bahai faith. He married his first wife Asiyih Khanum, when she was just fifteen years old in 1835. He then married his second wife Fatimih Khanum, eleven years his junior when she was just twenty-one in 1849. He then married his third wife Gawar Khanum some years later. This is of course in keeping with the custom of muslim men in the middle east and this is what Bahais will tell you in defense of his multiple wives. They’ll claim he was just following the laws of the land and hadn’t yet written his own. Really? So he just wanted to fit in I suppose. I didn’t know prophets cared about “fitting in.’

On behalf of the Universal House of Justice 10-23-1995

Regarding the wives of Baha’u’llah, extracts from the letters written on behalf of the beloved Guardian set this subject in context. They indicate that Baha’u’llah was “acting according to laws of Islam, which had not yet been superseded”, and that He was following “the customs of the people of His own land.”

When Baha’u’llah did write the Kitab-i-Aqdas (His book of laws) following the laws was so ambiguously difficult they had to be translated and explained to be understood and even those doing the explaining were unsure.

A synopsis and codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas:

The text of the Aqdas upholds monogamy, but as it appears to also to permit bigamy The Gaurdian was asked for a clarification, and in reply his secretary wrote on his behalf: “Regarding Bahai marriage; in the light of the Master’s Tablet interpreting the provision in the Aqdas on the subject of the plurality of wives, it becomes evident that monogamy alone is permissible, since bigamy is conditioned upon justice, and as justice is impossible, it follows that bigamy is not permissible, and monogamy alone should be practiced.

Several things bother me about this entire subject. To my mind, if Baha’u’llah truly were a prophet he would not have married three different women, especially not a fifteen year old girl, and then excuse himself from breaking his own laws by claiming his marriages occurred before he revealed the laws. Another issue I have with this thought process is that the only reason for prohibiting polygamy is His Revelation. Not because women were deserving of feeling at ease, loved and protected in their homes and NOT having to share their husbands. Because maybe women didn’t want to feel like property, just one more shiny object of desire their husband has racked up. No, simply because at this time the laws don’t allow for it and should that change we’ll be back where we started.

I tried to fit in with the other Bahai women in Portland, Oregon. I washed my face and kneeled and prayed the memorized Bahai prayers because of course as a Bahai you are not allowed to use your own words to pray, you must pray the prayers written for you. We were all so young I guess we thought we were making a difference. We all abstained from alcohol, smoked (because that healthy habit was allowed) drank a ton of coffee and tea, had as much sex with our husbands as we could stand to keep them happy and did our best not to gossip although we did, with relish. I was the first one to get pregnant. The only words to describe the feeling is sheer joy. I knew my baby would be beautiful, loved and perfect in every way. Like dominoes the rest of them fell. It was like I somehow made it ok for us to move on to the next step. One after another they got pregnant. I related most to a couple of the girls. One in particular I spent most of my time with. I couldn’t stand her husband. He wouldn’t let her use the air conditioner in her car even when it was in the 90s and she was SO pregnant because he got it in his mind that the air was impure and somehow the baby would breath it?!! He also made her drink gallons of milk because he believed she needed to store it up to breastfeed their daughter. It was such an ignorant belief I had to resist laughing in his face. He was insistently, consistently wrong as hell, but I adored her. I couldn’t understand why she married him other than her family was devastated she had broken Bahai law. I remember sitting at the piano with her, her eyes full of fear and guilt. I could see the tears threatening to fall. I put my arm around her and said “Who cares what anyone thinks. It’s your baby, your body. You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to feel like God is disappointed in you. The price has already been paid long before you were the sparkle in your mother’s eye. Just make a life for your little girl and for God’s sake it’s just sex people have it all the time. You just got lucky. Don’t have a cliche shotgun wedding. You’re better than that. Of course that’s exactly what she did. And they fought tooth and nail until they decided to live separately. I wanted more for her. After Ian and I headed back to Alaska to be closer to my mom and have her help with Jaden, I thought about her every day. I even wrote her a song:

Under a Veil

You and I used to get mad, plotting escape like two thieves                                                                Walking the baby in circles you cried, He’s no lover!                                                                       Afternoons spent at your place, doing laundry and watching the kids                                           We’d try not to drink too much coffee…years later I wonder…                                                

Were you happy baby living under a veil?                                                                                               Is it sweeter there where you don’t have to think for yourself?                                                                               When he holds you close does he shut out the rest of the world and all of its darkness…                        knocking you senseless…

You and I used to get mad, and then laugh at all their words.                                                     Knowing we knew more than they did, it was one of our secrets                                               You’d play piano for me, and I’d sing our babies to sleep                                                             That life seems so far away now…since I chose to leave it

But were you happy baby living under a veil?                                                                                               Is it sweeter there where you don’t have to think for yourself?                                                                         Are you still the same girl who talked about running away,                                                                          Who longed to be free…Do you ever miss me?                                                                      

Kimkoa 2015

She’s different now though. Too busy to call, too busy to text, too busy to remember we were young girls together once, learning how to be mothers. Life does that to women. It steals the essence of their youth, not by an obvious hardening but by a gradual forgetting we were young. Young enough to walk in the rain at midnight smoking under umbrellas. Young enough to run through the rose gardens drunk on the fragrant air, young enough to giggle like school girls when we talked about sex and husbands and how we thought we knew so much but in reality we knew nothing at all. We’d give each other advice on how to please our husbands in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Sometimes we’d laugh until our sides hurt.

I connected deeply with another girl who wasn’t part of our core group of Ian’s friends and their wives. She was different. There was no callousness when it came to Sarah. Her essence was as gentle as a breeze on an almost still lake in the sun. She was one of the purest hearts I’ve ever known. There was nothing I couldn’t tell her. We’d go to this hipster fancy tea place on Hawthorne Blvd and order flowering Jasmine tea. We’d watch the tea bloom, the cream colored blossoms popping out from the olive green leaves. We’d share our lives, our hopes and dreams. We’d share our struggles and our grief. We’d trade places crying on each other’s shoulder. Sarah had no pretense, no ulterior motive. She often cried about work and how they treated her. She was scientist, she worked in a lab testing foods for the state. I remember I called her once from Hawthorne. I had been walking and it was raining and I just was hit with a feeling of intense grief. She showed up and made me get in her car and she had made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was so Sarah. Of course she did. It was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich to this day I’ve ever had.

As much as I loved Portland’s lush summers, I was terribly allergic. As much as I loved the culture, the restaurants and the shows we had no money to enjoy them.  As I wrote in my post: A day Without Rain the endless rain of the winter months depressed me terribly. By the time we left we had moved across the bridge and were living in Washington for the public assistance and health care. I was lonely for a life I couldn’t name. I felt I was living Ian’s life, all the while drowning for lack of oxygen in my own. This was the beginning of Jaden’s love of music. He had such a hard time falling asleep and so I would drive him around listening to all my favorite cds that I figured weren’t too exciting so he’d be able to drift off. We listened to Joni Mitchell (he used to ask me to sing “Little Green” to him every night.) We listened to Coldplay, Carole King, Billie Holiday, Gillian Welch, Elliott Smith, Rufus Wainwright, Louie Armstrong, Norah Jones, Aimee Mann. He loved getting in his car seat, he knew what it meant.

Jaden doesn’t remember much of Portland in those early days. The walks we would take in his stroller with the other moms in the group. The late night gatherings. I remember saying goodbye to Sarah. It felt like I had a glass heart that shattered. I knew I’d never find another Sarah. And as hard as I tried to stay in touch we haven’t talked in more than fifteen years. After all this time I’m still looking for her.

Landing in Alaska the smell of the evergreens was indescribably beautiful. After living in the city for so long I’d forgotten how clean and pure the air and the water is. I was excited to have help with the baby and to be able to have our own cozy little trailer to call home. I couldn’t have been any more naive if I’d been hit over the head with a cinderblock and thought it fell from the sky. The trailer was on Ian’s parents’ property and it was literally crawling with bugs. It also had mice in all the cupboards. I have a distinct memory of waking up and walking down the hall to the living room and Ian was jovially spraying a line of massive ants with raid. “Mornin’!” He called out to me as if he were making pancakes. I think I turned on my heel and went straight back to bed. I used to have to boil the silverware regularly after cleaning up mouse turds. Yes, it was quite a palace we lived in.

The worst day was when I woke up and flying ants were dropping on me from the ceiling, and crawling down my nightgown. I screamed and threw off the nightgown, pulled on jeans and t-shirt, grabbed a laundry hamper and filled it with some clothes. Then I ran into Jaden’s room put him on top of the clothes in the basket and carried the whole thing out to the car. Jaden went in the carseat, the hamper went in the trunk and I peeled out of the driveway, not stopping until I reached my parents’ house. I think I was already driving by the time Ian figured out what was going on. I called him from their house and told him I wasn’t coming back until he fixed the insect problem and the rodent problem. He said “Ok” in that way of his when he has no idea what else to say and no plan to fix anything. I did eventually come back after finding out I was pregnant with Elliott. The trailer had been fumigated, but unfortunately Ian decided he wanted to build a mini studio at the opposite end of the trailer and he used manure board to do it. So although there were less bugs, and less mice, the kitchen smelled like, well, shit. As summer marched on the smell got worse and worse and worse. I couldn’t figure out why and I couldn’t stand it. I complained to Ian to no avail so I took the issue up with his parents. As usual they told me I was being difficult and oversensitive probably due to the pregnancy. I complained and complained and complained. They did nothing. Until one fine day they were cited. A neighbor called and complained about the smell emanating from their property and an investigator was dispatched. As it turned out they had raw sewage bubbling up all over the grass not more than a few feet from the trailer and surprisingly close to where the kids like to explore. I remember Ian’s mom telling me they’d be working behind the trailer and I might want to keep the window closed without mentioning a damn thing about the fact that I was aware of a problem months ago and she put us all at risk. In my mind I punched her in the face. In reality I just stared at her until she left.

By the time Elliott was two and Jaden was four I had had more than enough of the trailer, Ian’s ridiculous parents, our charade of a marriage. I remember coming home from work and Jaden was dragging his little brother down the stairs in his diaper. “What are you doing?! Where’s your father??”

“He’s sleeping and I’m taking Elliott for a walk.” Jaden said matter of factly.

“Of course he is.” I sighed. Another time I came home from work to find both boys in their rain boots eating cheerios off the floor. There was milk everywhere.

“We’re having breakfast mama!” Jaden was proud of himself.

“Yummy” Elliott smiled cheerios falling out of his mouth. “I love mama.”

“I love you too pumpkin”

“Ian! GET OUT OF BED!” I yelled down the hallway, furious, but half laughing a the spectacle.

“Huh? What happened? I didn’t hear anything…Oh Jeez!!” Ian’s reaction was unreadable. he wasn’t fully awake.

“Have fun cleaning that up” I said, and headed down the hall to the bedroom.

A few days after that I was sweeping the kitchen floor and Jaden was watching me. Suddenly he made the statement that changed everything for me. “Daddy and me and Elliott make all the messes and you clean them up Mommy!” I stopped sweeping and looked at him. I looked at the run down trailer, at the mass of cords and instruments tangled on the floor. I looked at the shabby little window that opened into two panels of greenish glass. I looked at Ian’s speakers and his mix board and his manure board and inside I started screaming.

“You know Jaden, you’re right and I’m sick of it.” I realized in that moment I had to get out. Out of the marriage, Out of the Bahai cult, out of all of it. I looked at my sons and promised myself that whatever happened They would not grow up and become Bahais. I swore I’d show them a different life, a broader and brighter one with more color and life and less rigid rules designed to imprison them.

I’ll never forget when Ian said you know I’m only with you for the kids. I thought I could say the same thing! I had tried over and over to convince him we weren’t right for each other. The last time I told him I was leaving him he told me “I’m not going to be the first one in my family to get divorced!” His face was pinched and his eyes were like daggers. My answer was easy.

“You know Ian, it’s not really up to you is it?!” And I walked out the door. It took me eight years to get physically free of a loveless marriage and a religious cult and many more years to heal from the brainwashing and nearly obliterated self esteem. In the early days I would almost throw up every time I had to drop the boys off with Ian for his custody weeks. I also walked around feeling like I was going to be struck by lightning because the Bahai faith teaches you that there are special punishments for those of us who hear the message and reject it. I also took a dive in a completely different direction and threw myself into a relationship with a woman who had borderline personality disorder, which is tale for another day. But once I did get free, truly free, the air was the purest I’d ever breathed. The water tasted like sunshine. I felt taller, more centered and the master of my own free will for the first time ever. I was only nineteen years old when I signed my life away. And I’m forty-one now. For all the good, the bad and the ugly, I can say I’ve lived. And what is life for, if not to be lived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Conversion Machine part 2

She was the first friend I had who didn’t care that I was mixed. She just wanted me to dance with her, to do gymnastics in the yard, to talk about all the secret wonderful things about being a girl.

I have to talk more about Desiree. Funny and sweet, she was the kind of friend every girl should have. She was beautiful but unaffected by it and we spent all of our time relishing our childhoods. As I mentioned in part 1 her father was a vietnam veteran and as sweet as his daughter. The man did not have a racist bone in his body. He was a large man with a belly that hung over his camouflage pants and surprisingly kind eyes. He would start drinking every day in the early afternoon, and not long after that his best friend, another vet and a black man would show up and join him. They would share stories of their tours in Vietnam often crying. Rick was a kind drunk, a watery-eyed, wistful, lost drunk, a true casualty of war. He had my picture on the wall next to his daughters. He used to call me his other daughter. Not his black daughter, or his daughter’s black friend. He was never like that. I was his daughter. He would squeeze me and I never minded his beer breath or his sincere sadness. I was just happy to belong. Desiree would do her routines for him and he would get so excited clapping his huge hands. “That’s my girl! Knock ’em dead Desi!” Her little sisters Julie and Jessica and I would watch her in awe. I was endlessly proud of my pretty blonde friend.

Sharon was nothing like Rick. Desiree’s mother was cruel, spiteful and jealous. She would turn on you when you least expected it. She was an angry drunk and she was drunk all the time. We learned to ignore her except when she was yelling at Desiree. After that Julie would cry, Jessica hid and I balled my fists in anger.

When things were good, they were really good. we would play every game imaginable. We would make up dance routines to Paula Abdul and Madonna. We would play at the school twirling on the gym bar. We would stay up late watching scary movies. We would play imagination games in the bedroom, the one bedroom all the girls shared. Eventually we’d fall asleep, a tangle of little girl arms and legs. Those nights were marvelous. And then the birthday party happened. My mother dropped me off at Desiree’s house, and there was a horrifically violent war movie playing. Now we were maybe eight years old at the time. My mom came in and said matter of factly,

“My daughter is not allowed to watch those kinds of movies” (she had no idea I had regular nightmares from the kinds of movies I saw at Desiree’s house.) Sharon just sneered at my mom several drinks in by that point, smoking at the kitchen table. Rick immediately turned it off and apologized profusely. My mom wasn’t exactly comfortable leaving me there but I desperately wanted to stay so she relented. As soon as she left they put on “Bachelor Party” and I couldn’t figure out why there were so many breasts on the television. The majority of us turned our attention elsewhere and began playing. Unfortunately things began to get worse from there. Sharon decided she was going to really tie one on. Jealous of her daughter’s popularity and desirous of attention she began making a spectacle of herself. If you’ve ever seen Sharon Stone in the movie “Casino” that was Sharon. I was walking from the living room to the bedroom to get barbies hoping to not have to be Ken or the one legged black one when I heard Sharon call or rather slur my name. I looked over and she was sitting on the toilet, her pants around her ankles, a cigarette hanging from her mouth. The bathroom smelled like hairspray, perfume and stale cigarette smoke. She had blue eyeshadow on up to her eyebrows and bright spots of blush on each cheek. She had lipstick on her teeth.

“So are you having fun?” she slurred at me.

“Um, I guess so.” I wanted to get out of there, had to get out of there.

“You guess so? You can’t say anything nicer that that?! Hand me that toilet paper.” She was angry now and I knew I had to do something, anything.

“Yes ma’am. Um I have to go, I have to get the barbie dolls for everyone.” That seemed like a reasonable way to leave.

“I have to get the barbie dolls for everyone. Jesus Christ!” She mimicked me in a cruel, high pitched voice. “Get out of here then!”

I booked it out and down the hall. I found Desiree. I didn’t want to upset her on her birthday but I had to say something.

“Des…Your mom’s drunk and she’s going to the bathroom with the door open.” Desiree looked crestfallen.

“Ok, I’ll deal with it.” She left the room and headed down the hall. I could hear Sharon yelling at her, berating her, calling her snob, a little bitch,

“I guess I’m not good enough for you and your little bitch friends!!” I did what I had always been taught to do. I called my mom.

When my mom showed up I had gathered up my stuff and Desiree stood in the doorway crying her heart out, My mom kneeled down and hugged her.

“Desiree? Do you you want to come with me? I can call your friends’ moms and you can come to my house. We’ll get you a cake and you girls can watch movies and have popcorn and no one will yell at you or make you cry.”

“I can’t.” Desiree said between sobs. “I have to take care of my little sisters.” She cried and cried,

“They could come too. I know your dad wouldn’t mind I’ll talk to him.”

“He’s passed out. I have to take care of my mom.” So we had no choice but to leave her there. I heard Sharon call her a cunt as I walked to the car. She stood in the doorway crying, and watched us drive away. I’ll never forget her pale little face streaming tears surrounded by falling snow.

I clung to my friendship with Desiree like a child clings to a favorite toy. As time passed she started to grow up and grow up fast. Finally past the barbie rule I was just one of the girls at her parents’ little duplex and if I ran fast enough I could get to her house from mine in less than ten minutes. She lived right next to our elementary school and after my horrible ordeal with Eric the bully from Hell my parents moved me from that school to one across town with an optional program and kids from “the right side of the tracks.” Truthfully I loved the new school, fifth and sixth grade were an oasis compared to my earlier elementary school years. I made friends, some of whom have lasted until today. One was a friend and then family member until recently. She was the one who invited me to the bahai coffee house where I first encountered the conversion machine. In an ironic twist of fate I married her cousin. I suppose we’d still be friends/family if I hadn’t confronted her in a bipolar rage about the abuses and humiliations I suffered as a member of the bahai faith. Don’t feel sorry for her. I’ll give you an example.

Right before my ex-husband and I were supposed to get married, his entire family wanted us to go to Seward (a neighboring town) and get couples counseling from a man named Ivan. Now I was completely and totally against this for good reason. My first encounter with Ivan was walking into Ian’s (my exhusband) house and everyone was sitting around him as he was talking. We took our seats and what came out of his mouth I’ll never forget. He had a thick Belgian accent and was extremely fat. Even his ears and lips were fat. As we took our seats he was talking about “gays.” He was relating a story about a “gay” he knew who was a complete pervert. “They keep their pee and poop in jars under their bed. They are very perverted. You must stay away from them at all costs.” What?! Did he just say that?!  I looked around the room and everyone sat calmly hanging on his every word. My god, I thought, there are children present. I looked at Ian and said

“We’re leaving.” Unbeknownst to me in their family it was a cardinal sin to leave when Ivan was pontificating his sick drivel.

“Oh that’s just Ivan, trust me he means well, he’s an awesome guy,”

“Uh-uh, no way in hell am I staying around to hear anything else this guy has to say and I don’t care if your family kisses his feet when he enters a room, I AM DONE.” Needless to say we left and that was not the end of it. Not by a long shot. So back to Lindsay. My friend of thirty plus years and then family. She took it upon herself to convince me Ivan was worth the effort despite his disgusting side tangents. She felt Ian and I absolutely had to go to Seward and I told her NO WAY. So she, Ian’s sisters, his parents, several of his brothers and best of all Ivan himself all organized an intervention. Ian took me to his house under the guise of hanging out and suddenly I was sitting at a table with everyone staring at me and asking me questions about what I was so afraid of, and why couldn’t I be open with everyone and why didn’t I trust Ivan. Let me tell you I gave them ten minutes and then I was out of there. They called my name, I didn’t care. When Ian finally got to the car I started screaming at him. I told him if ever did anything like that to me again it would be the last time he’d ever see me.

“How dare you?!!” I was filled with rage. “He’s a pig, and I don’t know what the Hell is wrong with you people!” (He really was a pig, he would tear open packages of raw ground beef and eat them by the fistful.) Ian was all apologies and shitty explanations. In the back of my mind I knew I’d have to go to Seward and listen to this blowhard. I was beginning to see the dark side of the bahai faith. The side the conversion machine so cleverly hid from me. I rode with Lindsay to Seward. I just wanted to get it over with. She was chattering on about Ivan’s accomplishments, that he took in wayward youth and helped them get back on track. That his methods were unorthodox but he saw results. Her endless blathering made my head hurt and I tried not to be sick over what I knew was going to be a shit show. I didn’t know how right I was.

When we got to Seward things were fairly benign. I found Ian and he was at ease, which he often was, he never rattled easily. Ivan’s wife ushered us into another room where we sat across from Ivan who had a large white paper notebook on an easel that he could write on and flip when he wanted a clean page. Most of what he said was difficult to follow and made little sense. But a few things are burned into my brain forever. One of them was when he was talking about Ian’s cousin Tea, a minor Ivan had taken in because she was having troubles. He related to us that not only did he let her sleep in bed with him and his wife, he told her as a way to be more comfortable with her heavier stature that “making love to a fat woman is like making love to a cloud in the sky.” Is that really how you should be talking to an underage girl? I thought. But I felt stuck, caught up in the machine. It was as if the longer he spewed his bullshit at me the more my brain started leaking out of my head. I kept looking at Ian for some kind of sign that this was all so very, very wrong but he showed nothing. Nothing but a blind acceptance and reverence. When we finally got our assignment I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We were to have sex that night and make as much noise as possible. He wanted to be able to hear us across the compound. So like good little soldiers we did exactly as we were told. I hated every perverted minute of it. I kept wondering when my brain would find its way back into my head. The next morning when we went to the restaurant part of the compound everyone was all dirty knowing smiles. Ivan laughed loudly and said we put on quite a show. He was right in that regard, it was a show. There was nothing real about our entire visit and it was just as terrible as I feared it would be. I had little contact with Ivan until the wedding where Ian and his family wanted him to make a speech. It was uneventful and I heard nothing more UNTIL

Ian’s mom broke all ties with Ivan because he was accused of molesting several girls at his compound for wayward youth, among them Ian’s cousin Tea. It was a huge mess, Ian’s sisters were under Ivan’s spell and went against their mom to defend him. Ultimately he was guilty and just like insular religious communities everywhere, he was not prosecuted by the authorities like he should have been. He merely lost his voting rights. It’s appalling the way the assembly handles these things. One has to wonder what would be bad enough for them to involve the authorities? Not rape apparently, or child molesting. God only knows. Needless to say Lindsay and I are no longer friends. I mean the whole Ivan thing and then she invited me to get a pedicure for my birthday and I ended up having to pay for myself. Luckily I had cash on me.

So I didn’t want to lose Desiree as a friend but I could tell she was running with a faster crowd than I was and I didn’t even understand her new way of being. It was middle school and I was pretty much the same, but suddenly she was all hairspray and eyeliner and miniskirts and boys. So many boys. One of the last times I saw Desiree was just before her mother almost burned the house down. Drunk as usual Sharon passed out in bed with a lit cigarette in her hand. The bedroom went up like a lit match. I never knew if Sharon was burned or if she woke up in time to deal with her bedroom engulfed in flames. I know they kept living there, the back of the house black from the fire.

Ian and I had over three hundred people at our wedding. Neither one of us had any idea what we were doing. After Ian proposed I said yes because I didn’t know what else to say. I had no idea what love was. I’d never had a boyfriend other than Sir Rapes A lot (Actually After Navid raped me we went to the local spiritual assembly about it and they did nothing other than advise us to pray about it. Truthfully I’m quite sure they didn’t believe me. The whole process was humiliating at best. Shortly after that I heard he did it to another girl. Someone new to the faith, naively investigating it and blindly trusting. Someone just like me. A victim of the conversion machine.) And then Ian. We were kids. We’d followed Bahai law and stayed chaste, Ian’s mom really pushed for the nineteen day engagement period. She wanted us signed, sealed and delivered. I don’t know why she pushed for it since its an encouragement not a law, but I can guess. Bahais take that chastity law pretty seriously.

So it was a flurry of activity. nineteen days is not a long time to plan a wedding. especially when everyone we knew plus the entire Bahai community would be there. The night before the wedding I called Ian and told him we were making a mistake.  He said it was just cold feet. He showed up the next morning with a dozen red roses. It was the sweetest gesture, I thought he’s right, this is just nerves. Of course it wasn’t just nerves.

This next part is the hardest part for me to write. The wedding ceremony was beautiful, my father sang, I felt like a princess. Then it came time to say our vows. Bahai vows are different than other vows. All you say is “We will all verily abide by the will of God.” So our vows said, it was time for the kiss. I didn’t know what to expect but I hoped for butterflies or shooting stars or even fireworks. But I felt nothing. It was like kissing my brother. I felt tears of shame and ager start to well up behind my eyes. I blinked them away and made the kiss long and dramatic so no one would catch on to how I really felt. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, waiting until marriage to kiss someone, to have sex with someone is a terrible idea. The few people who make it work are just that. Few.

I cannot say I regret the marriage. I would never say that. I have two beautiful sons from that union that I wouldn’t trade for the world. There was just so much hardship, judgment and pain they had to endure from the divorce. They say children are resilient and they are, but they are also fragile in ways we are not. They want to be held, reassured. They need security and they need hope. Children are hopeful creatures. In the midst of great turmoil they carry with them a heart shaped balloon of hope. They carry the hope that behind the next door will be an angel, fairy, leprechaun, unicorn…happiness.

Julie came by my house many years later. I hadn’t seen her sister Desiree in years. She said she just wanted to say hi, to see how I was. She said her father died, that he kept my picture on the wall all the way until the end. My other daughter she said he called me. she said I gave him great joy and she thanked me. I looked at her freckled cheeks and pin straight blonde hair. Her blue eyes sparkled.

“Julie you look exactly the same. Like time stopped for you.” She laughed and shook her thin hair.

“I could say the exact same thing about you!” I had to smile.

“So how’s your sister?” I hoped she was free, free of her mother and all of the pressures of being too pretty too soon.

“She’s gone, she left right after dad died, I’m never sure where exactly she is maybe Colorado. She doesn’t like to feel trapped anywhere. She drives an awesome truck, sometimes she visits but she hates mom so she never stays long. I miss her.” Julie lowered her eyes. A single tear slid down her freckled cheek.

“I miss her too Julie. All the time. Next time you see her you give her my love. Tell her I say good for her for going her own way, It’s a brave thing to do.”

After Julie left I smiled, thinking of my friend traveling the country on her own terms. She was the first friend I had who didn’t care that I was mixed. She just wanted me to dance with her, to do gymnastics in the yard, to talk about all the secret wonderful things about being a girl. Not once did she ever make me play with the broken barbie. That was Julie’s thing. Desi didn’t even like barbies. She was always ready to grow up, she liked magazines and cars and makeup. She liked walking through the neighborhood and checking in with all of her followers. She loved going to the movies. And she could spend hours playing Super Mario brothers. For a while at least, she was my sister and my best friend.

To be continued *