"Don’t forget where you came from" I haven’t I won’t. Every time my boys cry I remember My little brother Not even 7 Quickly wiping away tears Because he was being called a faggot A sissy boy. A “little girl” Those last two words hurled with a sneer Because we all knew, having feelings was relegated to the card carrying vagina members And that was shameful Pathetic. Uncles and his own mother MY mother Drug addled and bitter Insults as poisonous darts Piercing my gentle younger sibling’s soul. No. I don’t forget where I came from When I call them to me My weeping children Upset Bothered Sad Angry Feelings are everything and sometimes can only be expressed through tears. I hold them close. I ask them to use their words. Sometimes I am just as frustrated as they are. But I’ll not shame them. Ever. "Don’t forget where you came from." I fucking remember. I learned how to swallow the torrents of pain which threatened to Break through the dam of my lids I’m tough I’m untouchable Crying is for the weak You’ll never break me. I am Stronger Than All Of You. When my mother called me a whore after I had been raped at 12. When my grandmother told me I “shouldn’t have been out that late” after being assaulted and almost gang raped at 16. When anyone I had ever put trust in proved to be unworthy of that privilege. Yes. I remember where I came from. I came from The Vicious Cycle. I came from the Women Who Accepted The Very Least And Counted It As The Best, I came from the Long Line of Toxic Masculinity Disguised As The Norm I came from the Over and Over and Over And Over AGAIN Because That’s JUST HOW IT IS. I remember where I came from. My great-grandmother doing her best to shield me from the Bad Touch Uncles. Failing. Begging me to not anger my grandmother because she could not stand to hear her beat me. Shamed because it was a mirror of her past behaviors. My grandmother crying in silence when she got the news her mother had passed. Becoming stoic in less than a second of being noticed. After all, she had to be “strong”. More guilt than grief for she hadn’t been kind to her ailing mother. My mother nursing wounds in private which occurred decades ago because trust wasn’t her strong suit. Self-medicating in the worst way; escapism was easier than the thorny shit reality left to face. Homeless, drug addict, write off. I remember where I came from. I came from a great great grandmother who was married to a 27 year old man at the age of 12. A woman who had her first living child of a dozen at the age of 14. A woman married to a man who liked his little girls a little too much, which did not exclude his own daughters. A woman who never knew an easy day the way we know easy days. I came from a great grandmother who took her 3 little girls, left her husband and the boxcar they were living in to search for something better. A woman who started fresh in Chicago, working several jobs, never taking a husband until her girls had married on their own for fear of what they would suffer at the hands of a strange man. A woman who worked hard her entire life to leave something of substance for her girls. A woman who failed at being kind to her daughters, whose love and desire to protect became unyielding suffocation and unnecessarily harsh discipline. I came from a grandmother dedicated to never being as cruel in punishment as her own mother was, yet failing because she unfortunately had her mother's temper. A woman who decided that after all the heartbreak, she would rather spend the rest of her days alone. No one could hurt her if she didn't allow them into her life. A woman who raised her grandchildren in hopes to fix the past mistakes she made with her own. A woman who was sorry, but had not any inkling on how to apologize. I came from a mother with a heart so huge and compassionate, you’d never see it past her stony exterior. A woman with enough demons to stock a second hell. A woman who has not yet forgiven herself for things everyone else has already forgotten. A woman who could have been a good mother, had anyone ever given her the chance and belief. "Don’t Forget Where You Came From." People toss that around like it means money. Stature. Material Bullshit. I remember where I came from. A long line of women Who could have been EVERYTHING. Were they not women. Women Who were weak when they should have been strong, mistaking what it was to be either. Women Who loved and were never loved back Women Who woke up every day… wondering… Is This Fucking It. Women who tried. Who stopped trying because it just didn't seem worth it. Women fierce and soft kind and cruel quiet and loud Women who have taught me albeit inadvertently just how important it is to live life with compassion and forgiveness. How important it is to know my worth. I carry a piece of each In random memories of their grimaces, frown lines creasing foreheads. Black & white photos of forced smiles. Candid polaroids of true joy. Spontaneous thoughts and ideas of how to be better. Song lyrics out of the blue which they would hum during the few moments when they were happy (a character trait of which I am happy has been passed down through the generations) I'll never forget. I am well aware of Who I am. Where I came from.
there’s a lot of people who come through the corner bar. the neighborhood middle class regulars needing a break from the kids. labor guys covered in dirt and dust, always ordering domestic. the ones who NEED the drink, hands jittery, searching for the crumpled up twenty borrowed from a friend.
and then there’s the one offs.
the ones who stop in and you never see again.
the random passers-by who had a good day, a bad day, need to pass some time for an hour or so – i am always amicable and of service, but reticent. it’s my nature.
such is the way of the local watering hole…
i think as i clock in for my shift.
another slow night. more of the same banal small talk, random chit chat with the same people, repeating the same stories, retelling the same jokes.
he walks in. a one off. older, 60’s maybe, quiet at first. kind eyes. i can always see the truest intent of someone in their eyes. i am comfortably friendly.
the night goes on.
he likes to talk, he explains to me that he’s a first generation italian and an extrovert. i respond that i am neither.
“well, that’s a shame aaaand you’re in the wrong business, hon.”
don’t i know it.
i am tired.
the constant conversations with the crowd are draining me.
even the one off.
though we’re keeping it to a basic back and forth.
nothing too personal.
hobbies, dislikes, pet peeves…
and now the bar is emptying.
he asks to close out.
i hand him his check, he signs the slip, but before he goes – he grabs my hand.
“listen. i’m an empath.”
i am visibly cynical. there is no hiding the defenses going up.
“oh you.” he pats my hand with the other not holding it.
“listen, i’m an empath and i’m not telling you this for any other reason that i’ve known this about myself since i was a kid. and i can feel your hesitancy right now, but hear me out. as an empath, we can always tell when there’s another one of us. you, my dear, are an empath.”
i begin to disagree, but i am cut short.
“you can call it highly intuitive if you want. i get the feeling you don’t like labels. but i bet you probably know what someone is feeling before THEY even do.”
i am silent. he’s not wrong.
“the only reason i’m bringing any of this up is because i can tell you been through some things yet still remain a KIND soul. you have a good heart. and i just want to say that i think it’s wonderful that you haven’t let those things make you hard. your kindness, your goodness – are beautiful qualities to have. and to have kept them this long… *pause*… just be careful. there are people who will take advantage of that. know when to walk away.”
i think i mumbled thank you. i was a bit taken aback.
he stood up, fit his winter hat about his head, gave the smallest smile tinged with the tiniest speck of rue, and left.
were it not for the credit card slip, i’d say he wasn’t even real.
he was. and his words landed.
lately, i’ve been second guessing decisions i’ve made… this was a needed jolt to the senses.
and i know i don’t always listen to the Universe. 90% never.
okay, love. i hear you. loud and clear.
*paying attention… paying attention to the Universe when it is talking to me.*
It hit especially hard this morning.
It’s been a a good long while since it has happened. The weight of the past crushing me while I sat in my car waiting for the light to change to green. All because I took a minute to examine my surroundings. The neighborhood hit with gentrification. All the old replaced with new.
The burger place was now a bank. The corner pharmacy now empty, a For Lease sign clinging to the storefront, dusty and tattered. I knew this area once. Long ago, another life, a homeless teen sharing a basket of fries with the other delinquents. Lifting bags of chips and hygiene products from across the street.
I drove past the alley I slept in.
Before I learned that my body was a commodity that could be exchanged for a night out of the cold.
All the independent coffee shops with the bottomless cups keeping me/us warm during the long days…gone.
I felt my eyes welling.
I tried to shake the shadows off.
I kept driving. Taking deep breaths. Fighting against the rising tide of panicked sadness. And then I saw the greasy spoon I took my first child to when he was still in diapers. Yet another version of myself that I couldn’t bear to be reminded of. A young mother who knew nothing of receiving unconditional love but poured herself into loving a child she could barely care for and knowing it. Letting him reside with his father because she didn’t have her shit together enough to provide for him the way he deserved.
Drinking until the guilt faded into the next sick hungover morning.
The guilt turning into feelings of being unworthy.
Being unworthy turning to multiple attempts of suicide.
I always failed.
Because at my core, I was a coward. I didn’t want to live. But I was afraid of dying.
The pall was enveloping me quick.
My cheeks were wet with tears. This city, which I had tried to run from before, was bombarding me with all the things I had tucked away so neatly. Or so I thought. My mistakes, failings, friendships, loves, heartbreaks – my heart was flooded, drowning. No use now. So I succumbed to the tide pulling me under.
Sobbing, I thought of you.
How we were going to “make new memories to replace the old”.
There is no such thing.
The old will always resurface. Intertwined, reminding of us of who we were. What we have been through. We can be grateful that we have progressed. We have transcended the previous models. I am Me, Model 273. Maybe. I don’t know, I’ve lost track of the many skins I’ve shed. I just know that I will continue to evolve and that soon, the places and time we shared together will eventually join the rest.
Another shadow following me until I stop moving.
Well, I have.
In my head.
But you don’t know this
Unless you could creep around
In the Squoosh
Attempting to make sense
of the scattered bits
of mangled paragraphs
Make your way through
my glow worm caves
pooling into the collective
which I will eventually
strain into something
But I’ve “written”.
There are essays
and strong opinions expressed vehemently
sharply jutting out
here and there.
Gardens of prose
and the sickly sweet scent of dying lilies
making a mess…
The bees have been happier.
I just wanted you to know
That I have been keeping up
And every thought of you
You make me want
to bring order
to the chaos
mend and organize
my fragmented parts
light a trail
leading out of my darkness
the shards and
skin slicing edges
(though I can’t imagine
not getting a small cut
*bound to happen*
especially if you’re
so you can better make your way
deeper into my soul
There I can tend and tame
the prickly burrs
Not an easy task
Better for the bees
who will be keeping busy
with the new buds that have blossomed
Because of you.
“Your glance scatters seeds.
It planted a tree.
Because you shake its leaves.”
– From Letter of Testimony Coda by Octavio Paz
how wretched this predicament and how stinging the pain wrenching deep down into the place where i would run to be happy – to find an escape from the seduction of agony and her silky wiles of indigo blue dank
she follows it follows
and i might finally be done
how gorgeous this spot becomes – i just never before noticed the velvet of the violet hues – so vibrant – and how strange that this isn’t really my place anymore…. it has transformed into something completely different
in the corner a crumpled mass of sorts – what a marring sight to the dark beguiling magnificence of my secret grotto – beige and malformed it taunts me with its ugliness but i am too distracted to approach
i don’t want to know
how completely in awe i am that i begin to spin and spin and spin until the blues and purples become nothing but a hazy canvas and i am the center or maybe the circle on the right – perhaps the ? on the bottom left
i am everywhere and anywhere – nowhere – and i collapse into a pool of crimson that i soon realize is nothing but a river of my past’s tears that has collected into a quicksand pit around my feet and i begin to sink and sink and
the beige mass – crumpled deformity raises what i think might be its head but i can’t see past the thick of the deep maroon
all i hear is silence and my breath as it rasps swallowing my gargled delirious sobs
I’m not fond of it. And it’s something I can never put my finger on. I can be having quite the innocuous day – somewhat pleasant, fairly uneventful, nothing out of the ordinary will have occurred – when I am just dealt the most sucker of punches to my emotional sternum. I feel my mental legs buckling beneath me, slipping into the wash of melancholy, muddy and oppressive.
I am hit with the Sad.
A Bushel of Blegh.
You could lay at my feet all the smiles and laughter that had just been bouncing about, deliver happy chirps of well-meaning pick-me-up cliches, wrap me in the Tomorrow Is Another Day positivity that you keep handy for occasions such as these…
They will all be shunned.
Not because I don’t want any of those and more.
Not because I enjoy the depressing descent into Debbie Downerville.
I will ruin every last bit of bright and shiny you give me. I will dejectedly demolish every grin and chuckle with my clumsy clompy feet. Accidentally muffle and strangulate the once vibrant twittering of good intentions. I will shred to pieces the shawl of optimism, never a chance to warm against the shivering dankness of the dark.
I would rather you keep those bits to yourself. Keep every last piece intact. Protect each one from my awkwardly ambling slippery with the Sad self.
I may be a dumpy mess, but I am not a monster.
Starting again. There is never a brand new fresh start. Reincarnation may exist for a select population of the dead, but for the living we are all still the same leopards hoping that a few coats of dye will change the fact that we have spots. We train ourselves to walk on two legs instead of four, fooling ourselves into the thought that it might make us seem more civilized than our previous state of being. Alas, we are the same animals chained to our basic natures, our basic natures be damned.
I try every day to maintain self-honesty, but no one is perfect. Truth cannot be its abrasive thorny self when twisted into a pretty bow of a lie. And I’ve such a low threshold for pain, especially of the “harsh reality of it all” kind of anguish, so sometimes it’s nice to fool myself with logic because after all, logic has some sort of actual righteous standing, right?
So, knowing that a scorpion will sting the back of a frog even when it promises it won’t, I’ve thrown myself into the same situation thinking that perhaps the tail has run out of venom… maybe the scorpion finally got tired of drowning along with the frog – but unsurprisingly, no. Scorpions sting, the frog drowns. Leopards cannot help their blunt and bold spots wearing through the fade of cheap dye.
There is never really a Fresh Beginning. Not for those who have had the misfortune of having their hearts irrevocably broken. That kind of pain is carried for too long and it seeps in so deep it becomes a natural part of the System. Blood cells, check. Arteries, check. The emotional and psychological stain from the agony of betrayal and unrequited love, Check.
Self-truths… half-truths. They still love me. No… they love knowing that you’ll roll over in an instant just for the chance to spend a night in their arms, for any opportunity to feel their hands roaming across your body once more. They love that you refuse to pursue any other person because you are still under their spell and you just can’t seem to break free. They still want to be with me… They just need time. No, they want you when no one else is available or desiring them. They need time – time to find someone newer, younger, better, etc. You are a convenience, a rest stop, a layover until they reach their final destination.
It’s a horrible thing to be aware of your actual place and meaning in someone else’s life perspective. What is worse is to continue on with a blinding self-deluded belief that perhaps you and that person will start anew, all past altercations and dysfunctions magically erased, smiling faces, hands joined, Happily Ever After smeared across your consciousness.
Apologies to the hopelessly deluded. Reincarnation is for the dead. Repeat that daily and maybe you won’t be too blindsided when they finally find the better option that they had been holding out for.
Like the clumsy clingy kisses of an ardent amateur lover, I could feel the grotesque stickiness of the summer night fumbling over my exposed limbs. In my car, windows down, my fingers felt the steering wheel going gummy. My poor dilapidated beast of transport’s AC couldn’t even bother to sputter out lukewarm air.
And what the hell was that smell?
Having lost the space to roam in the soft cushiony crevices of my brain, thoughts were crashing haphazardly into the walls of my skull, headache soon to arrive. I almost ran through the red.
Stopped, engine idling, a small horde of hipsters crossed the street. Young, laughing, debating music, art and authors. Attired in mock jadedness and cynicism, the hope of possibility could not be shrouded by such a farce. Their stroll was far too strident, cheeks too rosy, smiles too genuine.
And it occurred to me, I knew this because I envied them. I was jealous of the world being their cliched oyster. Pensive, sweaty and sad, I accepted one of the first of many truths to come. I had lost touch with who I was. Lost sight of who I had wanted to be.
Green means Go.
Tired foot off the brake, I continued my sojourn home. Broke, poor, lonely, lost – I randomly eyed my neighborhood. The place I was conceived and born into. The same place I fled the moment I had the chance. The one and only place to which I returned when nowhere else would have me.
Back to square one. So it would seem.