no one is luckier than me

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

love the life I’ve been given to live. I love where I came from, the hard dirt and big skies and pump jacks and men on horses and nothing more than what was needed. I love that I survived unimaginable horrors and lived long enough to look at them with new eyes. I love the love I’ve been given, and the love I was lucky enough to give. I love that I had my three beautiful children, and I love the way I struggled so hard to raise them with only lint in my pockets and screams in my mind. I love the long road I’ve been on that has taken me almost everywhere in Texas, and to Connecticut, and Virginia, and Alabama, and Arkansas, and several places in the state of New York, and New Jersey, and soon to the Catskills. I love the places I have been lucky enough to see in this world, and the surprise of finding homes in so many places — Hanoi, the Mekong Delta, Laos, Bali, Paris, Scotland, Greece. I love the little girl I was, and admire no person on earth more than her.

I love that books mean so much to me, and that I have been lucky enough to love so many. And poetry, I’m so grateful it belongs to me too. I love that words are my gift. And I love that I was born with talented hands, hands that weave cloth and spin yarn, that knit beautiful garments, that hand stitch beautiful quilts, that made my children’s clothes, that make bread and delicious food, and a spirit that tells me I can make anything at all.

I love that it’s been hard sometimes because I learned I was harder, even if that meant I was curled up and hiding. I love the accidents that meant I survived even myself. I love horny toads and pillbugs, and dinosaurs and trilobytes and clouds. I love most of the people I’ve met along the way, and if friendships had their season I loved them during that season. I love the ones that persist and that I still carry along with me wherever I go.

I love that I’ve been given the gift of noticing, the gift of easy happiness. I love the smell of rain on dirt, and snow cone juice dripping down my arm. I love biscuits and gravy, pintos and cornbread. I love yellow squash and onions, and fried okra.

I love my Katie’s quiet smile and deep wisdom, and her delight in her children, and her dry sense of humor that’s so much like her dad’s. I love my Marnie’s fierce intelligence and laugh that’s like bubbles, and her adoration of her son. I love Will’s smile and laugh and intelligence and humor, and hope that one day I will be lucky enough to share it with him again. I love Oliver, with his sweet thick lisp and his ‘Hi Pete,’ and his big smile. I love Lucy, with her loud voice and soft coloring and the way she bursts with joy and spreads it all around her. I love Ilan, with his curiosity and gorgeous smile and cuddly love. I love my sons-in-law and can’t believe how good my daughters were at picking husbands and fathers for their children; they did not learn that from me.

I love that there are people all over the world who pause and send me notes when they see something about a donut, or a pussy hat, or something they know I love. I LOVE THAT. I love that there are people all over the world who watch over me, somehow, who send me notes at the right moment, somehow, and who send me books like this, from the Paris Flea Market, because Catherine knows what Quasimodo and Notre Dame have meant to my life. She saw it, thought of me, and SENT IT. All of this says everything about you, not me.

I’m even lucky to have been tenderized SO HARD by the events of my life, and by my life-long struggles with worthlessness and depression because I’ve had to wrestle that in the dark. I still retreat to that cavern sometimes, and sometimes unexpectedly quickly, but I have survived.

Super, super, super lucky me.

disorientated

It’s so cute the way Brits add that extra syllable to the word ‘disoriented.’ I want to be disorientated too! If I have to feel the way I’m feeling, let me make even the word itself be different. BOY am I disorientated.

All night long I keep waking up not knowing where I am — such a literal experience of my metaphorical state. And not only don’t I know where I am, I’m just so confused in time. After I figure out that I’m in my own bed in Austin, certainly a familiar place, and certainly a place that feels like my home, then I have to make sense of the next day. When is it? Is tomorrow going to be Tuesday? Or Saturday? And what do I have to do, am I meeting someone, when, where? Is it a day I can just hunker down and pack? What’s going on? When is it?

And last night I fell asleep to a playlist on Amazon Music of rain sounds. I either sleep with my kindle in my hand or my phone in my hand every night, and last night it was my phone. Every time I’d wake up, I’d start the playlist again and eventually fall back to sleep. Once I woke up and heard thunder and rain sounds and I was so confused; my playlist wasn’t going, what’s happening? It took me several minutes to realize that it was really raining and thundering, in real life.

It’s obvious why I feel all this, no need to explore. I’m moving after 4.5 years. I’m back and forthing and my days have no rhyme or reason. And I remain deeply disoriented by the election and what has happened since. I still can’t get my feet on the ground. Most of us on this side of the fence are feeling this. Our hair is falling out. We’ve put on weight. We have sudden bouts of rage, or sobbing, or confusion. We are disorientated — not just by him and his government, but by his supporters who remain happy with him despite all this chaos. So that’s underneath my real confusion, but I wish I weren’t so psychically fragile, or tenuous. I’m not happy with either of those words, I don’t think they’re exactly what I mean, but I wish I weren’t so whatever. I wish I were more emotionally solid, psychically immovable, psychologically stable. I wish I weren’t so easily pushed around by things.

I wish I weren’t so rattled by this move, because I am very happy about it in 95% of the possible ways. I know how to do this, it will be my 82nd move (a conservative number, to be honest), no one knows how to do this better than I do! Why am I disorientated. Get boxes (check!), put things in them, arrange for utilities to be disconnected (check!), arrange for movers (truck and transport, check! helpers, still TBD), change mail (check!), say goodbye to people (ongoing, Lori Farewell Tour[TM] underway, and sleeping at Katie’s the last three nights for baby kissing, check!). I know how to do this! I want this move! I daydream about my new home in the Catskills and easily see myself there! Why am I rattled?

Flux has never been my favorite state, I’m much happier in a solid state, and God knows I’ve lived in a kind of flux for 4.5 years…so maybe it’s not simply the flux I’m in the midst of at this specific moment but rather the accumulation of all these years of it. That feels a little better. Maybe now that I’m facing the end of this period (which includes its own necessary period of hyper flux), maybe it’s just catching up with me.

And what a waste of time, hating that I’m like this. I’m like this. I’m 58, and I’ve always been like this, and I can smile sagely and wax on about the probable good side of being so psychically fragile, but it’s the downside I’m in the midst of and can’t seem to get on top of and it sucks. It sucks. I’m not breathing well. My shoulders remain at my ears. My teeth hurt from all the jaw clenching and teeth clacking. My hands ache from being clenched. My throat ought to hurt from having my heart up in it all the time. I can’t sleep worth a damn. I don’t know what day it is. (All this has been true since early November, post-election, although it was true and coated in fear during the campaign, too.) (But it’s all ramped up and so in my face right now and it sucks, I tell you. It sucks.) (And I’m so happy to be leaving this hateful state, and to be going to a state run by Democrats, and to the most beautiful Catskills, and to my own home, my name on the deed, my own property, my own private paradise……so COME ON, LORI.)

There’s an article I’ve been meaning to read on Medium about how to cope in this horrible time in the US — it’s bookmarked and flagged and I want to read it closely but I keep forgetting. The first point, I think, is that we have to accept that it IS. We set aside judgments about it and find a way simply to say IT IS. It is. No more “I can’t believe this!” or “Did you hear, I can’t believe, can you believe?” That state feels terrible. Yes. Believe. Accept. It is. It is. And of course the challenge for doing that is it feels like it requires a fuller kind of acceptance — acceptance of his message, his tactics, his actions, etc. But no: a simple acceptance that it is. It exists. He exists and has been elected. That is.

I suspect that’s my task. I’ve been trying all the various coping techniques I know (or not trying them, feeling unable even to look at my yoga mat, or lace on my walking shoes). Trying to lower my shoulders when I notice them, etc. Or trying to rail against myself: don’t be this way! You know how to do this, snap out of it! What’s wrong with you! Get it together! Why are you like this? Why are you being like this! COME ON.

Accept. Accept that my psyche is a fragile one. It is. Accept that I’m going to be feeling disorientated by this move. I am. Accept that the country is being held by looters and traitors. It is. Accept that his followers continue to think he’s great. They do. Accept that, like Popeye, I am what I am and that’s all that I am ’cause I am what I am.

Time to grow. I hate that. As my dearest former therapist always said, nobody likes the FGOs. (fucking growth opportunities) But I’m tired as hell of scootching along the floor with my shoulders up by my ears and my teeth clacking and insisting that I know how to do this so what’s wrong with me. Accept, dear Queen. Accept.

longings

One thing I have never understood is the desire to have a mansion. Even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t want one. Partly this is because I have a poor person’s mentality — one of my first thoughts is Who’d want to have to keep it clean all the time? Lori: rich people have maids. And it’s not just because too often mansions reflect a poor person’s idea about what ‘rich’ looks like (see Trump’s vulgar all-gold manifestation, pure obscene vulgarity); it’s just that my longing is for a bungalow. I just want to have my own little place, my own little home.

I just love this style so much

Since I first heard about them when I was a late teen, I’ve wanted my own little Craftsman-style bungalow. Hell, even the word bungalow makes me fill up with longing. Cottage. I saw a little home in Huntsville, Alabama that has stayed in my imagination, not even a Craftsman style home but definitely a cottage, surrounded by a beautiful little garden, and I’ve lived there in my imagination ever since.

Look at the interior of this Craftsman home:

AARGH that is such perfection for me. I don’t have much of an imagination, and without a mind’s eye it’s not as if I daydream the specifics of that life but I have it elaborated as story.

This is in conflict with my other dream of having a little yellow house; Craftsman homes are brick or stone, and yellow trim is odd — and my yellow house is full-on yellow, not just yellow-trimmed. Big Daddy’s house was yellow, back when I was a child, and I know that’s the source of my longing. It was just a plain little stick house, not one thing fancy about it in any way, so that daydream of mine isn’t really elaborated beyond little yellow house. But I could be very happy in that kind of small home, too.

And then there’s another fantasy house, also small, also in the bungalow/cabin/cottage realm. The first time I went to Woodstock, NY, in 2005, I spotted a little cabin sitting on a rock outcropping over a creek. It was bigger than a creek or stream, smaller than a river — rocky, so the water burbled and splashed past the cabin. I took a picture of it but can’t find it to include here. It had shake siding, and a peaked roof, a beautiful front porch you could sit on and watch the water flow past, over morning coffee or evening wine. It was surrounded by trees; I first saw it in the fall, so it was surrounded by those flames of foliage. In my fantasy story of it then, it had a living room with a woodburning stove, and a small kitchen. Walls lined with bookshelves. One very cozy bedroom, and another room with walls of windows and a giant loom, and a spinning wheel — a version of a life I once had.

I also love mid-century modern homes, and extremely modern glass homes, and can imagine a life in them too but it’s the bungalow, the cottage, the cabin in the woods that always sustains my heart and my imagination. I’m a big city girl — a real city girl, New York, Chicago, Paris — and feel so alive there. Some days the city beats me, and some days I get tired of how hard it can be to do any damn thing, but I never want to leave the city. I could live in a big city until the day I die and remain very happy.

In some ways I have distinctly different people inside me: the NYC happiest one, and the cabin lost so far back in the woods one, and both are real and true. Since one of my two personal mottos is “Well, oh well!” I can fully inhabit where I am and be truly glad. SO: Well, oh well! I live in a big city and not a wood-surrounded cabin, oh well! I’m happy! But that doesn’t mean the other couldn’t be fully true in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat.

I assume everyone is like this, right? What’s your fantasy home(s)? 

(I was looking on the internet for a little cabin like the one I saw in Woodstock so long ago, to replace the photo of mine that I can’t find, and saw these gems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in these?)

Oh gosh, this is a version of me heaven.
And this is a very different version of me heaven!

layers of time

up from his morning nap one day — classic Ilan move, pointing

What a wonderful time I had in Chicago — too short, as always, but filled with all kinds of wonder and happiness. Every morning I got up with Ilan so Marnie and Tom could get a little more sleep; he usually wakes up at 5:15am and is up for two hours and then goes down for a nap, so it was my pure pleasure to take that 2-hour segment of time with him.

I went to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s 32nd birthday (Friday, March 3) and Ilan’s first birthday (Wednesday, March 8), but I arrived mid-afternoon on March 3, and left mid-morning on March 8 so the celebrations were a bit more formless and leaked into the surrounding days. On Saturday March 4, Tom and Marnie spent the day out on a birthday ramble (their birthday specialty), so I had the whole day with Ilan, all to myself. I was playing music for us, my ‘iphone playlist’ which is just a random assortment of music I love, while Ilan ate his morning snack of goldfish crackers laid out around the perimeter of the coffee table, and this song came on. Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park, remember? From 1968?

As it does for most people, I guess, music jerks me around in time. And suddenly I just saw and felt all the layers of time going on in that moment with Ilan, generations of time, generations of moments and experience. I was simultaneously 9 years old, listening to this song and for some reason feeling how much I loved my dad, living in a terrible house of violence and the impending divorce of my parents; 19 years old, listening to Donna Summer’s great disco version of the song, living secretly in the office where I worked in Austin; in my late 20s, giving my own little kids a snack of goldfish crackers and watching them be my beamish little ones; and 58 years old, watching my littlest grandson do the same thing and being my daughter’s (and my) beamish little one. All those layers, all those moments, all those very similar experiences, all felt by me in that one light-filled moment. It made me cry, and it made me so grateful to be my very age, able to hold all that life and world together.

One of the hundreds of most-wonderful things about Ilan is how much he loves the Feist song, 1234. (I think Oliver loved it so much too — what is it about this song?)

He just couldn’t believe it.

Marnie got Ilan a small handheld bluetooth speaker of his own, and when she plays this song he just holds the speaker and stares at it with an extraordinary expression. He’ll glance up at her, and at me, and at whoever is in the room, with an expression I can’t exactly name but I know it completely.

Of course he’s one, and being one you put everything in your mouth at some point, but there were times he was holding the speaker and listening to a song, and he put it in his mouth and I thought he was really wanting the music to be inside him as much as anything else. I thought about this great story that Maurice Sendak told:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

I remain filled with all the wonder of my time in Chicago, the hours I got to spend with Ilan, the hours spent with Marnie, talking, and the evenings with Marnie and Tom over dinner. And I’m always grateful for those brief moments of seeing how time and life work together, and it’s all right there inside you all the time, waiting for something to break through so you can see it.

Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

life

This morning I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and was stopped, as I often am, by _nitch. It was this post that caught me by the throat:

David Bowie // “Life. I love life very much indeed.”

A video posted by NITCH (@__nitch) on

“I love life very much indeed,” he says. Something about that specific articulation felt fresh to me, even though the sentiment is familiar and true for me, too. I think I usually say I love my life, or I’m grateful to be alive, truths for me no matter the weather, but to love LIFE very much seems different.

To love my life is to note the personal: my cozy little home, my people, my interests, my longings, my struggles, my thoughts and feelings, the range of my experiences. To be grateful to be alive is to recognize a greater context. There were times I might not have survived, how grateful I am that I did. It automatically places the thought in connection to not-alive.

But to love life very much is notice the miracle and wonder of existence. To love others’ lives. To love the existence of all living things, the wonder of that. To love the persistence of it all despite….despite….despite. To note and appreciate the sheer miracle of consciousness, of birth (despite… despite… despite….), of endurance. To hang on to wonder, to remember to see dandelions forcing their way through sidewalk cracks, clouds drifting in the blue, whales (blue or otherwise) singing through the oceans, friends helping each other along, people helping loved ones live and die, people rallying or disappointing, inspiring or scaring.

What a gift, right? Remember.

just real tired

hillbillyI’ve been reading J. D. Vance’s excellent book Hillbilly Elegy, in part because it’s supposed to provide a window into the angry, poor white Trump voter. Another reason I wanted to read it is because I suspected it would feel very familiar to me, and it does. The immediate and easy violence; the shouting rage and broken doors, windows, dishes, faces; the threats of murder that aren’t always just a threat; the ‘with us or against us’ mindset — yeah, it’s all just so very familiar.

And coming squarely on the heels of my re-encounter with my past, and my fear, now, that things are going to explode in that old violence and some or all of my childhood family are going to get caught in it, I just feel so tired. (I seem to have a knack for reading exactly the wrong book at exactly the wrong time — A Little Life when I was suicidally depressed, and Hillbilly Elegy when I’m dealing with this stuff. Hmm.)

When I was first involved with Jerry, who I would later marry in 1979, he was once complaining about his junker of a car. It needed work, and it would still be a junker. Without even thinking about it I said, “I can get someone to steal it for you and set it on fire.” I didn’t look up because, you know, this is just how things are done! Perfectly ordinary, every day, the clear solution to his simple problem. I did look up when he remained silent, and I saw that he was pale, and his eyes were big and he was licking dry lips, swallowing hard. Huh? Why? What was wrong with him? Later he told me that my remarks had scared him — what if I got tired of him, what would I have done to him? (I didn’t tell him the answer that would’ve been obvious to me.)

But his response was an eye-opener for me. Huh. What’s that about — he seems to be horrified. And that began my re-education, at the age of 20. I remember being so bewildered, and having to ask him tentatively what would be a normal response to this thing or that, for a very long time. Years.

My long-lost family member who just contacted me has not been re-educated, and in fact he has more than 50 years of that life under his belt, all with this kind of framework and reinforced by years in prison. And I’m so tired. Because it feels like no matter how far I go, no matter how far away I run, no matter how much I change myself and my life, no matter how many years I put between us, this family I came from is going to win in some way. I’ve completely forgotten how to live watching over my shoulder, taking a big breath before leaving the house and dashing to the safety of the next place, watching parked cars with suspicion, scanning all perimeters and all people, and fearing that it won’t matter because it’ll come from the person or place I least expect it. I used to know how to live like that, to the point that it was just second nature. I forgot that, and I’ve forgotten how to tolerate the constant fear.

I also no longer live among people who understand any of this, so people respond to me with bewilderment, with a version of “buck up!” or with a side glance that says they believe I’m being overly dramatic, crazy paranoid. They don’t know, and so I feel all alone with it. I never lived in a hillbilly holler, but I did live among people who all knew the rules, as insane and unstable and explosive as they were, and that’s at least something. Now I live among straight people, and as I have always felt, I feel the outsider standing in a bleak world, looking in the windows of Technicolor rooms of calm, sane people doing ordinary things.

And it’s exhausting, it really is.