Ashes and dust and….

The song lyric goes, “Every generation, blames the one before, and all of their frustrations, come beating at your door…”

I know I was not a perfect parent.
I know I am not a perfect person.
I know I now live the story through ancestor eyes.

The sad truth is, you can only grasp this vista from the vantage point of age, supported by the tribal knowledge passed down in your family (documented if you’re fortunate). And no matter how hard you try to tell those who arrive after you, it never quite works. They have to walk their own path to the vista.

But apparently, humans are suckers for being the underdog because we always, always try. Like me. Here. Now. Can it possibly be coherent? Reckon we’ll see.

I remember when you were little; you were jealous of me in a way I could never understand. Only now do I begin to see I didn’t have the methods and means of demonstrating my love of and for you.

Only now do I see how my own issues kept you from KNOWING my love because I didn’t know HOW to show my love in the middle of trying not to tip us both right back into the street.

As stupid as it must surely sound to you, I assumed you knew because you never questioned me about it. And of course, because I was THERE.

You see, I couldn’t say that about anyone in my life, ever. Not for a period longer than 6 years in my entire life until I met J. So, being THERE, even if only by email or phone when it had to be, was the best proof I had.

I didn’t understand how you didn’t see that. But it didn’t matter, because soon enough, I couldn’t be THERE for very valid reasons. And both your fears and mine bloomed in the space of all the silence between the stilted conversations of email and telephone.

I don’t know how to tell you how much I love you. You hear my words, but it’s like you only hear the breath of them, you never seem to accept their truth. I can only tell you how awful it feels to know you really don’t know it. Mostly because I feel like I never got the chance, but also you’re not willing to give me that chance now that I actually have the time and peace of mind to prove it.

I’m so glad you’re functional and doing well. I can’t make you understand how I worried that my fuck ups would be something you would have to pay for in the same ways that I did raising my “family”.

Then I worried that being around men would put you at risk.

Then I worried that being in relationships was making you more distant and I didn’t understand why and you just… wouldn’t tell me.

Do you remember the day you cried in the car about being teased about being a boy? Apparently, it had been going on for a WHILE and you only told me about it when you just couldn’t take it anymore.

I was mad at myself that I couldn’t read your mind.

I was mad at you that you wouldn’t TELL ME what you needed and wanted so I could KNOW what and how to show you I love you.

I was mad at a world that taught children to hurt one another in the name of travesties of turgid, superficial culture, and madder still at the educators and administrators who are supposed to be able to support and help you when I couldn’t.

It felt like betrayal and like I was letting you down at the same time. THE. WORST. FEELING. EVER.

But I never felt I could tell you any of this because I always felt that you thought in some weird way that you were responsible. You even said that the first time you ran away. I was not equipped to understand back then that I was lacking. Or that you were.

Self-reflection was a luxury for me. Therapy too, but I researched that because I had to… I mean, really, think about it – in a world where our entire life depended upon the happiness of clients and customers who were all too eager to disadvantage me to benefit themselves – I didn’t have the luxury of privilege everyone talks about.

Hah. Who am I talking to, right? You see this stuff all day long every day. So you know.

I’m not sure how to convey this is not an excuse. It’s a reason. It’s harder being a reason because it means no one is to blame and that’s one of the hardest things a human will ever work to understand about life.

Sure, I can blame myself, but clearly that’s unreasonable. How is someone so profoundly ignorant of basic human affection and care supposed to show that to another human being?

Contemplate with me the realities I see today, from the vantage of but a few more years beyond where you and I, in this life, met…..

Imagine it is 1945 and you are raising a child alone in a culture where single parenthood sans widowhood was effectively “proof” of your immorality; you are channeling your great-grandmother, my grandmother, who was a single, unmarried mother in a time when you might as well have become a prostitute, the shame could not be greater.

But it could be piled on by marrying a divorced trucker so you could take care of your grandchildren. And that is what she did. And she bowed to no one in the doing, either. She was a buyer for Davison’s in the days when women didn’t get out of the stenography pen.

She had class. She had style. She had grace. And she was a product of The Great Depression; she knew the real value of labor in the country, even if no one listened to women that much yet.

I believe she married him to have someone to help her take care of us after our parents abandoned us with her.

Her parents were veterans of both the depression and the dust bowl. Retired and again, their stipend had no extra room to aid her.

According to history, for a time, it worked, too. Then, it was revealed that my step-grandfather had two children by a previous marriage (scandal; that she married a divorced man now fully eclipsed by the shame of having to pay to care for another family abandoned by their father).

It was a different time and that paragraph was real, and serious, and almost universally upheld in the nation.

Anyway, the burden of support was the straw that broke the remnant of family. My sister and I were sent to the children’s home precisely because it was the only way the state would cover our upbringing.

Of course, I didn’t discover this until well after all involved had died. So I spent all those decades thinking I was unwanted, unloved, abandoned, neglected, etc… I’m sure you recognize the feeling.

She had no choice but to place us at the children’s home because, literally, she had no way to care for us.

And no “family” would help because, well, shame!

So, with a full paternal family circle, a half maternal family circle, and countless relations by marriage otherwise, it still came to pass we fell through the sieve of culture and society into ‘orphanage’.

And look how many years my own ignorance kept me angry about the injustice of it. The sense of injustice was based on the axiom that reads, “Someone has to be at fault.”

Turns out that’s a delusion. Whose fault? Who is to blame? Everyone justifies themselves at the expense of others, usually while telling someone that’s a terrible thing for a human to do.

And still we walk, and there is but a slight shifting of the lens…..

Imagine yourself alone, without support, in 1967, raising those two girls. Really sit with it. You are now channeling your grandmother, my mother; who abandoned myself and my sister in sheer panic over being unable to do what had to be done. Or perhaps because she had accepted what had to be done. I’ll never know.

You see, I can now see both perspectives. But it sure took work.

I suspect that she, too, devoted herself to “that far-flung, future day” when all would be well, and we would laugh that we were so poor, so unable, so scared, whatever.

I don’t really know. I just assume that because it seems that is how humans generally are….

I do know that she was an alcoholic until close to her end; and I know that the only conversation of any depth we ever had was a horrible argument over her father’s treatment of her. To this day, I regret I didn’t get the chance to resolve that, say goodbye, attend her funeral, nothing.

It wasn’t an option. I was homeless in Houston when T called me. I didn’t bother asking her to help me attend because, let’s face it, the last time I reached out to her in need, she told me to go to a shelter. To this day, she believes that was appropriate. Worse, she was willing to see YOU go to a shelter.

I wasn’t. I would rather give you to your father than that. So I did. And then I was homeless for a while and couldn’t do much more than try to claw my way back up and out. The holiday that they flew me in to see you damn near broke me. They could not understand the cruelty of helping me VISIT but not REUNITE. It was too much. Too much.

I redoubled my efforts and took opportunities I would normally have shunned. New Jersey in particular. It was far from perfect, but it was what you said you most wanted…. to be with me.

Everything I tried to set up to keep you safe fell apart. I felt like that was “what I deserved” for trusting other people to care about you the same as I did and to protect you during a time I couldn’t do it myself.

I wasn’t willing to leave you forever and even though you didn’t believe me, I was sure I could finally prove it to you if I could just live through it and get to a place from which to rebuild.

It was 2003; I will never forget your face when you arrived. The entire time spent knowing you were impatient to leave the hellhole that was my current refuge and you couldn’t understand that you weren’t the only one who needed to be with family.

How could I even try to tell you such things? You had no context or frame of reference from which to understand them. So the waiting went on… and then, you were married. Then pregnant. Then having a baby. I was FINALLY going to be able to show you what I hadn’t had or been able to secure during your childhood.

But you don’t want me around your children. You think I’m unsafe. All of this time and all of your experience and still, you cannot see me, cannot hear me. I’m not blameless. I’m not perfect. I’m just your mother.

It’s not your fault. Life has been shit for me pretty much since birth. I’m sure that somehow, that’s my fault but I swear I can’t see how since until 2010, I was floundering alone in this insane shit storm we call life and somehow, managed to actually land exactly where I wanted to… even if no one wanted to celebrate and experience it with me when I got there.

Not the Zs. Not the scattered remnants of what might have been family. No friends, no colleagues.

Not my son.

Not my daughter.

I have earned my anger and my bitterness. But I never wanted either. I wanted the same thing I’ve always wanted: Family.

I cry at least once a month (I try not to count) for all the things I cannot change.

Then I cry for the things I won’t get to know because that is the case.

I get it. Really, I do. It is my hope that you have no cause or reason to ever be able to say the same.

I love you more than you know. I’m sorry I don’t seem to have what it takes to convince you.

You don’t have to send me gifts. Reality is, I don’t need presents, I need presence.

But it’s not your job to help me meet my needs. Particular not when, from where you sit, I’ve done such a pitiable job of meeting yours.

I guess I rehash what I have because it’s all I have. Probably because I’m one of those idiots who believes everything can be solved as long as folks want it to be.

It’s hard for me to accept that, for you, it IS solved. I am on one side of a hard boundary, and that’s where you want me to stay.

I’ll get there. It’s just hard to know.

I do love you. I have always loved you. Just like I love all my family. Even the ones I’m so angry with or hurt by or disillusioned in that I just can’t be around them anymore.

If I can’t have family, I just want rest. Quiet. Peaceful. Rest.

So I guess once I settle this noise in my head, I’ll have it.

But I’d rather have you, my family… maybe someday, from the right distance of time, you too will add your paragraphs to this loose outline.

I’ve decided to just try to write them all out in posts, since it’s the only way I can just tell the history I know without dissenting interruptions.

Ironic, isn’t it? That we both say the same things, yet mean them in such different ways.

But it’s not irony, really; that’s how life is… everyone has their own private world in their head. It may share in generalities with all humanity, but in detail? Ever divergent, every unique.

I get that you need to be affirmed in your experience and feelings. It’s unfortunate that there is no way to accomplish that without someone else taking the blame… well, until enough time passes that you become the me that you swear you’ll never be (so say we all, you know).

Try not to kick yourself too hard when you realize that the very “blames everyone else” card you tossed to me as “L. Painter” will be arriving like the karmic boomerang it is someday.

It is hard to explain to you that I do not assign fault anymore. That is a self-defeating act no matter where the finger winds up pointing and, like your great-grandmother used to say that you should not point a finger of blame without acknowledging that you still have three fingers pointing at yourself.

More accurately, she said, “Oh, you! You can’t point at someone else without three fingers pointing back at you.”

I was too young to get the imagery. I couldn’t figure out what the heck she meant. Were there friends of hers who tattled on us if they saw what she didn’t? Who had three fingers pointing back at me?

I can laugh about it now, but man, I felt SO STUPID when I finally “got it”. Almost as stupid as when I didn’t understand that getting “extra outs” in baseball as a handicap measure was a good thing. To me, if you were “out”, that was never good. Wrong again.

And so it went.

I’m unpacking this like I always do… maybe one day I’ll invest in a print to pdf plugin and book it up. Likely not, though. I can’t even get my family to try to absorb it all… what chance, the public?

And so it goes.

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