Is this the right answer?

I’ve been watching a lecture of Roxane Gay’s, and she talks about the craft of writing. One of the things she’s talking about is … finding your voice. About being unapologetic about your opinions. About communicating your trauma, your feelings, your experiences. About knowing what it is that you want to say, and then knowing that you are done once you’ve said it, and not before. About revising your work, which is the act of re-visioning. Taking another look at it, seeing it in a new way…or the same way. It may be just fine the way it is.

I have never wanted to revise much of anything. Most of what I write comes straight off the top of my head, like that solid lipid layer that you can separate from cooking oil after it’s been used to fry up something tasty. What I write has generally been what’s knocking on the inside of my cranium and begging for release. I’ve always been like that. In high school I learned about outlines and index cards and thesis statements and how to make several drafts. The index cards were mysterious, and I figured if I was going to write a brief synopsis of topic areas on the index card, I may as well write the whole damned paper and let it flow like it needed to. I usually did OK with that.

In college, I always waited until the last minute to complete writing assignments…so there was little time for drafts and outlines and sipping a relaxing cup of tea in between writing spurts. My papers usually got pounded out on a manual typewriter at 3am, the night before they were due. I don’t know if I got much sleep during those years, but I didn’t ask for any, because it would have cut into my drinking and partying time. Ah, to be young and stupid and 20.

Actually, I’m not sure I would want to go back in time to be 20 again. I was one of the most miserable people I’ve ever met, even today. I could never get in step, could never be cool, could never understand how to dress or how to stand or where to be or move the right way when people line danced. Never. I remember my mother saying that my father wasn’t a good dancer, either…but she was no ballerina herself. I don’t think I ever saw her even moving to a beat or anything like that, so I come from a long line of rhythmless people. We’re all musicians, though, so go figure.

But I digress. I’ve never been one of those kids who seemed to know where they were going and ‘what time it was’. Some of that I attributed to being an only child, and being raised in a house full of adults. Those adults were not particularly social, either, so there wasn’t a lot of social input for me. But, I survived.

My parents were largely self-absorbed, because they were possibly even more miserable than I was. They were in a very bad marriage, and I believe the only reason they got together was obligation. They did what they were supposed to do. Men and women of their age were supposed to get married and breed, and so they did.

I have said many times that I cannot imagine how in the world my mother became pregnant, because I never once saw even the vaguest sign of a romantic spark between them. My story is that a highly ambitious sperm leapt across a great distance to tackle an extremely recalcitrant egg, and then I showed up.

Anyway, there was always lots of fussing and fighting and accusation (mostly coming from my mother). They might start arguing about something innocuous like whether or not my mother got the larger piece of meat at dinner, and the argument would drone on, long past dinner. I would leave them arguing and go off to amuse myself, eventually go to sleep, and wake up the next morning to find them still arguing about the damned piece of meat. Sometimes I think arguments came to an end, or at least a pause, only because my father had to leave for work.

Growing up with my parents gave me an odd view of relationships. It seemed they were to be endured, to be survived, to be overcome. There was never any fodder for love, or affection, or even for dreams. I was neglected on certain emotional levels, but they neglected themselves on those levels. They didn’t have it to give, and what I needed was probably incomprehensible to them. Not because they were mean, or uncaring, because they had never received it themselves.

Like I said, though, they were pretty absorbed with themselves. I am surprised they didn’t forget me on top of the car and drive off when I was an infant and toddler. When I was a teenager, my mother did forget things on top of the car and drove off several times, with cars honking and dodging things like books and record albums that were catapulting into lanes of traffic. Oh, well.

When I was little and we lived with my grandmother, I did fine. I knew what was going on. I didn’t think I was ugly, or fat, or an idiot. I didn’t stress over clothes or being a klutz. I did normal kid things, I had neighborhood friends. I don’t remember anybody telling me I was stupid or bullying me. Life was good. Until it wasn’t.

When we left my grandmother’s house and tried to do the obligatory nuclear family gig, things started getting weird. My mother didn’t work, and I remember her taking me to the City Park, and I would play on the fairy tale character swings with other kids. When we got home, we would color and watch television (well, i would watch – she always fell asleep). By that time, my father would be coming home from work, and it was time for dinner. My mother was religious about cooking dinner, because he worked and he needed his dinner. (huh?)

By the time I was ready for school. my mother was still suffering from agoraphobia, and I was sent to school alone in a cab. I sometimes wonder if anything happened in that cab – the driver was an older Black man, thin, didn’t say much. But I got there every day, and did whatever it was that I was supposed to do.

Life was rather uneventful, only punctuated by the fussing and fighting, which as I recall was somewhat intense. They got into some kind of conflagration one day, and it seemed the screaming was worse than usual. We were all in the kitchen…I was a few feet away from them, at the table I think. They were both standing at the sink, and on the counter was the percolator. It had just been plugged in, making coffee (my mother usually made a pot in the morning and reheated it throughout the day), and I remember hearing it kind of whistle, like it did when the coffee had boiled.

They were just kind of going at it, about who knows what, and then all of a sudden my mother whirls around and grabs the percolator, and in the same motion she swung it at my father. It was her habit to not tighten the lid on the machine when she was reheating coffee, so the boiling hot liquid flew out in a wave. My father had been turned away from her, and the coffee landed squarely on his back. He had been wearing only his undershirt, so he was burned rather badly across his shoulders and upper back. He yelled.

Once my father yelled, I was a little scared, because my father never yelled, or really raised his voice at all. Hell, most of the time he didn’t even talk. But he yelled, and even I recognized it as a spontaneous utterance of pain. The undershirt was all but melted, and he peeled it off, and made hissing sounds through his clenched teeth. I shrank into the woodwork at that, trying to be as invisible as I possibly could.

Some time later, the next thing I remember was being in the back seat of the car, and we were going to the hospital. I heard my mother saying it, so that’s how I knew. My eyes must have been big as headlights, and I had no words. Not that anyone was asking me anything. We got to the hospital, and I don’t remember much of what happened…my father must have been taken into a treatment room or something. When he came out, he had some white bandages on his back and one shoulder. We got back into the car and drove home. My father had to drive, burned back and everything, because my mother was still too scared of the world to do anything like drive. Plus, he was the man and everybody knows the man does things like drive and cut the grass. And have dinner ready when he gets home. And stuff.

My mother used to tell my father the most outrageous things, hurtful things about his how his mother died, about how he had skinny legs, how he had no neck. He was actually a pretty nice looking guy, if I might say so myself. But that was how my mother showed caring, I guess – she made fun of you in all kinds of ways. His head was too square, his handwriting was terrible (it actually was). Always something that she berated. So, this is how it is to be married, huh? Well, that ain’t happenin’ for ME. I decided that I was never going to have children when I was eight. Everybody thought I was kidding. I was not.

Learning about relationships is one part of it, I guess, but truth be told, I don’t believe I ever had the yearning for it. What I had a yearning for was companionship, but it was kind of twisted somehow. I wanted a companion that was all mine, all the time, with nobody else to intrude. If someone seemed to understand me, like me, made me feel good, then I wanted to be with them only. I guess that was how it was being with just my mother. I guess.

Companions are dandy, but once hormones started to make their presence know, I understood there was something more than talking on the phone and watching movies together. I understood there was something else, but I didn’t quite know what the something else was. It was a jiggly feeling that I didn’t know what to do with, so I kept it pretty much to myself. Anything I learned about people doing adult things I learned from television, because I never saw my parents hugging or kissing or even holding hands. They slept in the same bed for a while, but even that fell apart before they separated.

So, to me, the whole thing about relationships was some kind of chaste and sterile arrangement, except for what went on inside you. I knew that was different than just going to school with friends, or riding our bicycles, or hanging out in front of the house. I knew it was different, but I didn’t know why. I felt like it must be something dirty and not allowed, though. Any time my mother or her sister talked about adult things, they whispered it, as though maybe God wouldn’t hear it if they whispered. Lord, have mercy.

I suppose there is still a part of me that isn’t quite sure about why sex is such a big part of a capital-R Relationship, especially if you are not planning on having children. I never wanted to have children. Really. The bug just never bit me, and I am fine with that. But I felt as though I wanted to be in a Relationship, with someone. I knew it had to be a woman, but…even at 30, I was still the awkward kid who didn’t quite know how things worked, had no social skills, and behaved more like a 14-year old boy than a 30-year-old woman. Some days, I’m still a 14-year old boy, punching girls in the arm and making armpit noises.

In some respects, I am furious that I never learned better. But, I have to cut my parents a break. First, they could not give to me what they never had. Second, there is no guide book or owner’s manual that instructs people on the care and feeding of a GLBT child. I think my father knew something was up, but he would have died before saying anything. My mother was naive enough to believe that I was suddenly going to come home with a gentleman caller who asked for my hand in marriage. Like in the old movies, and the romance novels. I felt very guilty for a very long time about disappointing her. Really, I did.

I never had any kind of conversation with my father about who I was, in really any meaningful way, not just about my sexual orientation. When I was coming to terms with that, we were estranged. I didn’t speak to him for nearly ten years after I found out that he was married, and he had not told me. I hated him for that. He never came after me, either, so … both of us just pretended the other didn’t exist. I know that made me nearly insane, so I have to believe that it did something to him as well. No, I’m sure it did.

I know I’m not the only one who still has relationships like some adolescent goober. I know I’m not, because I attract my kind like flies are attracted to dung. I have a wack magnet – if they are wacked, I will attract them. If they are toxic but covert narcissists, that’s the particular flavor of wack that seems to do really well in my orbit. I’m trying to give myself a break about that, but…one would think I’d be able to change that pattern by now. My chief strategy is to keep low, stay down, shoot to kill. Stay. The. Fuck. Away. From. Me.

Believe it or not, all of this is to say, again, that i am no longer bitter toward my parents. I have made peace with them, as they exhaled their last gasps of life. I expressed my gratitude for the gifts they gave, for my life. I told both of them I was grateful for what they did, and that I wished things had been different in many ways. There are really no words to express that, but I am confident they both heard me. I am confident they are both still with me on some esoteric level, some place intangible. I am confident in their presence, but not so much mine.

I have lived for a long time between heartache and misery, which is a narrow sliver of this plane of existence. Somehow, I wedged myself into that small opening very tightly, so that I could neither go forward nor backward, and so that even light could not penetrate. Too big to fail, in the very literal sense. Too big to let in more hurt, more despair, more attackers. Fortified, impervious, impenetrable. But somehow, I failed anyway, because I walled myself off from … my Self. That takes some doing.

These days, I just want to be in peace. There’s not all that much to prevent that, except for the details like money, health insurance, vehicle repairs, bills. Nothing big. My mother told me not too long ago that she wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to me. I choose to believe her. I choose to believe that I haven’t walked all this way, worked this hard, deprived myself of this much just to be deposited at the bottom of the well. Not even Lassie will find me there…because best defense is no be there (thanks, Mr. Miyagi). I’m walking up top, and from all indications that’s where I’ll stay.

There’s more. There has to be more. I suppose I learned a while back that I’m essentially a late bloomer – I have to have the lesson run around the flagpole more than once before I get it. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean that once I get to the party all the food is gone. I think I’ve got it now, or I’m closer than I’ve ever been, but I am going to have to catch up (some jet lag or something). I’ll be OK. My mother said so, and I say so. I’ll be OK. And not because I lose weight or get the dream job or strike it big in the lottery. Not because some loser with a nice smile pays attention to me. Not because my dog suddenly ceases to be an incessant barking machine. Because…it’s just the way it is. There’s nothing insurmountably wrong. It’s all OK. (and yeah, I took my meds this morning).

Do you see what I see? I suppose that depends on your perspective.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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