Follow the link here for an article I wrote that shines a spotlight, magnifying glass, and TRUTH screen on my time growing up in America’s Heartland.
For years, I believed I was the only one who loved reading the dictionary. The gigantic one that required its own special stand, and lived in my hometown library of Madison, Wisconsin , was my gateway drug to a lifelong addiction. But I’ve now discovered that there are many of us Dictionary Freaks, lovers of words and the alphabet labyrinth held within the bound pages of our brain excursions.
In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, I share this from the heart, something I wrote in 2015 out of love for an old friend…
Someone I love once told me, I am the Collector Of Broken Birds. She meant that I tend to bond with people who are in ownership of their pain, who have seen things in life that would leave others lost amidst the rubble. I knew what she meant. But I never looked at it that way. Instead, I saw it as an outgrowth of my understanding of pain, and my willingness to see it in others without shrinking away from it. Looking into the eyes of pain does not scare me, as it does so many other people. I don’t see it as contagious, or a sign of weakness. I see it for what it is, the remnant of survival. So, when some are fooled into believing that beautiful woman who is always smiling, is also the beholder of a perfect, pain and sorrow free existence, I am not so quick to be taken in by the smile worn across the battle scars. And for those of us who can see both the smile and the scars, without flinching, and also share a glimpse of our own scarring under the smile with that brave soul across from us, who also doesn’t flinch, that is a miraculous moment when it feels as though the universe, or god, is saying that it sees you, and loves you, no matter your imperfections and complications.
I met a woman who proved to be one of these rare souls, while I was in the throes of mommying my little trio of girls, and she was mommying her trio of one boy and two girls. She offered humor and irreverence and a kind welcome that doesn’t always come from a lifelong resident of a small community, towards a newbie interloper. But she never thought twice in making me feel welcomed and at home, without any of the once-over that can be used even by adult women in their leftover from middle school dynamics. After awhile of knowing one another, we chatted one day about a film I was blown away by, Searching For Angela Shelton, where 70% of the filmmaker’s namesakes she discovers in her travels across the US, share the same unfortunate background of being survivors of rape, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. But before I could get the name of the film out, she finished my sentence for me, sharing that she’d been blown away by the honesty and rawness and bravery of the film, as well. We each shared our connection to the film from our respective personal lives, and joked that we would forever be “Angela Shelton Sisters.” After that, we kept in contact with each other, and relished the honesty we could put forth with each other, facts we wouldn’t share freely with many others, not because of shame, but because not everyone could be expected to look into the eyes of broken birds, and still be able to see the bird, without only focusing upon the broken bits. This woman became my friend. And in doing so, she fortified my vision of myself as a member of an army of women who were strong enough to buck family secrets, and societal victim blaming, without crumbling under the burden of The Past, in order to build our lives with depth and love and humor and strength.
This week, she drove to a quiet spot, one she’d probably driven past a million times, on her way to take kids to activities, or running errands in surrounding communities, or even as a teenager, while looking for the perfect, secret drinking and make-out spot. But last Saturday, she navigated her way there for her own private reasons. Some of those, I know from our conversations, were most-likely the remnants of the shadows of what made her a beautiful, broken bird. She acted in the here and now, but the reasoning was put into play during those early years, when carefree, sun-dappled moments were darkened with unthinkable violation and betrayals of the highest order. When someone loses a limb, there can be excruciating moments of phantom pain, even though there is nothing there, to the naked eye. Today, as I think of my friend, I’m reminded that the scars we carry bring their own phantom pain. And, sometimes, that phantom pain is enough to move us to cut it off at its source, and life has to end in order to bring us the relief that living could not grant us. I pray that wherever she might be, she finds the laughter and love and kindness and beauty that she shared with the rest of us while she was here, along with finally reaching her own little patch of sun where what made her broken is forever vanished with the first shimmer of her ever after.
I’ve lost a couple of friends to suicide. One was a middle and high school friend who I teen party made out with a few times, but whose importance as a friend in my heart in those days, and for always, was far greater than I ever got the chance to tell him. My other friend was a fellow mom, a TRUTH speaker, and 80s girl, who shared heart and soul with me. She called me brave; I named her braver. Then there were the friends from my NYC days who were lost to passive suicide, via heroin addiction. I see now that each of them was an Empath—absorbing the energy of those around them. Each one was entertaining as hell to be around. Each one felt deeply. Each one left a soul imprint on so many they crossed paths with. I’ve often wondered why so many wondrous souls leave us “too soon.” Then it occurred to me this morning…maybe all the energy takers depleted their energy supply in order to live their lives, leaving the energy givers with no more to sustain themselves. And if that is true, if we consciously helped the givers to protect and preserve just a little bit more, maybe they’d be able to give those extra morsels of energy to their own weary souls. Just a thought.
As a writer of TRUTH, I’ve discovered that it is harder to give raw truth, that feels surreal and unbelievable and sometimes doesn’t paint me in the best light or might cause someone to look at me with that look of pity I detest, than to give a sanitized version that may be more palatable to The Judgers. But I’ve learned to get familiar with the discomfort that TRUTH brings. That’s a triumph in this life filled with duplicity and faux respectability. It has become my homebase. And my feet feel solidly planted for the first time ever.
A Personal History by Junot Díaz: I never got any help, any kind of therapy. I never told anyone.
— Read on www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-silence-the-legacy-of-childhood-trauma
This path of TRUTH has held many surprises and lessons. One is that not everyone is going to like your TRUTH. In fact, your TRUTH may seem wildly unseemly, distasteful, and farfetched to those who believed they knew you…but in fact knew only who they wanted to know, who they were allowed to know, who I was supposed to be…which was most palatable by design. But once the real you shows up, she arrives pre-loaded with zero fucks to give. There is no going back. And for that, I am thankful. Because TRUTH is the wake up to living this life in full. I’m not the first one to discover that. And I hope for everyone else, I won’t be the last.
“I’ve noticed the separated amongst us have evolved. Surprisingly they reach beyond simply wanting to belong, Turning rejection into elevated awareness…in turn, connecting them to everything else…The orphan does not wait to be seen. He doesn’t give up…Once he stopped chasing the flock, that was incapable of seeing him, an instinct emerged, like a whisper in his ear—-nourish yourself, the world will be drawn to you.”