Words I used to Speak
The gold went first. That warm light. It took months to recognize it for what it was. Surprisingly, the sudden shift to cold LED white isn’t really evident to the eye. Seeing is in the reflection, though; off the slant, if you will. Thousands of blown out shots. A monochromatic gray-green backdrop in the valley. Lightened blue eyes from shooting straight into the sun. Clothing that fades in weeks. This is not a basking sun. It is a force that demands respect, without question. It is the authority. Submission is the only appropriate response. Nothing democratic here.
An overwhelming sea of whiteness. Of white people. Visceral, immediate, consuming. Something to be endured. Drowning in white people. No eye contact from anyone not white. Difference must be passing-careful or withdraw entirely to feel safe or trusted. To embody a full range of expression. To have any chance at a lasting sense of well-being. To have the choice to feel fully human. Whiteness is the authority. Submission is the only appropriate response. Nothing democratic here.
Power is scarce. Steal for it, lie for it, cheat for it; debate, fight, kill. No collaboration. Nothing student-centered or client-centered or customer-centered or patient-centered. No power-sharers. No old people sharing power with young people. No one practicing with power. No. No. No. An enduring wall of no. This is not a place for the soft, the sensitive, the young. There is no place in a power scarce culture for vulnerability, for the grey areas, for uncertainty. They eat their young. Power is the authority. Compliance is the only appropriate response. Nothing democratic here.
On October 24, 2016, she took possession of her property in Kerby, Oregon. Kerby is in Southern Josephine County–two miles outside of Cave Junction, in Southwest Oregon. She was unplugged from October 2016 to June 2017—no internet access at home. Although she dipped into the electronic world occasionally, her time was spent mostly without the distraction of technology. Isolated in a new world, she devoted herself to making a safe, comfortable place to live and work for herself and her two feline companions, Bello and Sparkles; to exploring the woods and wilderness; and, to creating a life in conversation with people at the health clinic, the grocery store, the post office, the vet, mechanic, pharmacy, hardware store, with contractors, tree guys, etc.
Since arriving, she’s seen more guns in the first three months here than she’s seen in her life. Guns openly ride on the hip of the 70-something white guy in front of her at Taylor’s Sausage Factory in Cave Junction and on the hip of the seriously sketchy looking dude with the hard blue eyes at the KerbyMart. She hears them, too—hand guns, shotguns, semi-autos—and she hears them regularly. A Bay Area native, gunfire sounds to her like violent crime. Even when she knows the shots aren’t crimes here, her body still feels the roar and the violence, and it responds accordingly.
Everyone told her to buy a gun. Literally, from her first day in town, every single person she interacted with asked her if she’d gotten a gun yet. The same tone as when they asked about the wood burning stove. When she replied that she wasn’t going to get a gun, it was like they couldn’t understand her. They frowned, presented her reasons, shared experiences, knew someone. They were not concerned about wildlife. They advocated for gun ownership to use for protection. Shit was going to go down in this country. Race war shit.
She could feel their aggressive fear and was, frankly, a little pissed at the presumption of their insistence. Immersed in this culture, she sees nothing around her (or hears anything from other people here) that contradicts all the information—the interpersonal churn–about the dangers and the need for a gun. That churn is like air—everyone breathes this stuff in, but it’s invisible. It is a center, around which everything revolves. Like whiteness.
Sitting at her Table
Fog drifts slowly across the meadow, rustling through the sea of golden grasses. It filters the setting sun, splashing reds and oranges and yellows across rough rock outcrops. Except for the white noise of waves kissing the beach, all is as soft and quietly muffled as a whisper into cottonwool.
Bright red and orange ice plants contrast with the caramel colored sandstone sculptures. Blind bluff houses stand watch, empty of summer visitors, while seals return from off-shore meals. Busy pelicans gather in the melee of fish and waves and rock. The tang of salt smartly stings. The clean cold chaser of mist soothes.
Lights begin to flicker on, here and there, on the bluffs, up the meadow, into the hills. Candlelight glows in the windows of the houses at the top of the ridge. Little light bubbles of life and warmth pop into existence like night blooming flowers.
She needs to see the ocean tonight, needs to feel the power of the waves. She needs to know there is something stronger, more vital, far bigger than the human drama. She needs to feel the force of time, of the universe. See it in the lines carved in rock. She needs to be reminded that this will fucking end.
i watch him
the way his deep round amber eyes hold my soft round blue ones
the way the very top of his head smells, between his ears, when i kiss him there
the way he intentionally and slowly rubs just the front of his forehead on my calf
the way he risked his life every time he sped up to beat the heavy closing door
the way he listens to me sing, eyes closed, like warm water washing over him
the way he stretches just his paws, toes splayed wide
the way his being, his presence, makes everything matter
the way he tracked the lines of ducks as they flew over him to the duck pond
across the two lane country road
across the redwood highway
the way he patiently tolerates my clumsy clipper efforts
the way the heft of him settles into the cup of my lap
the way he closes his eyes and smiles, kneading my thighs with his paws
the way my body knew before my mind did that he wasn’t coming back this time
bello, bello, bello
i sing your name every day
“Hi! So, what’s the messaging for tonight? Will we reference Roger Goodell’s decision to force the players stand? Will we show the people of color here that the dems have their back? I’m so ready to lend my voice!”
She’s excited. The GP dem chair texted her with info about a big anti-hate rally. Said she could stop by the dems HQ to meet others, then head over. After the militia meeting in the park and the white supremacist posters all over town the last month, we’d finally say something, loud, so that the people who are targets in this county know we’re not passively standing by. That we have their backs. That we will stand and say so publicly. Her body and spirit cannot bear another day of silence.
She walks alongside the woman from HQ, whose pace forces her to jog intermittently.
“I don’t know!” the rapidly walking woman responds. She’s smiling, eyes forward.
“Okay! So, do we have an overall theme? A focus, maybe? The Goodell decision connects to all the stuff in town.”
“I don’t know!” The HQ woman repeats, and she just keeps smiling and walking. Very fast. This time she also offers a shoulder shrug.
We’re coming up to the stairs of the city hall building. There are 30-35 other people here. That many people could really make some noise, get some attention, if they wanted to. Such a good turnout for this place. (A protest a few years earlier drew militia members, who stood around the 7 or 8 protestors, intimidating them into silence.) Her heart starts to rev up. The HQ woman veers off to meet up with some other folks.
She stands in front of the protestors at the second rally of her life (her first was last month in CJ). Little groups are gathered on the landing in front of the building, loosely forming a semi-circle around a man passing out flyers to them. She walks up to the man, who seems to be in charge.
“Hi! I’m Cathy! Brian texted me to join you. I’m so glad we’re all here! Can I ask what the messaging will be tonight? How we’ll do this?”
He’s probably late 60s early 70s, maybe more years. I notice now that they all have some years. Lots of white hair. That’s cool. She also notices it’s only white people. That’s par, and not so cool, but we’re in Josephine county. Whatever. She’s ready to stand alongside anyone who will publicly object to the blatant white supremacist politics inflicted on the NFL players who kneel in honor of dead black men, women, and children who have been murdered by white badge-carrying men and women.
“What do you mean” he replies. Not really a question, adding that “oh here comes the kid” tone. The “slow it down missy” tone. The “she’s just overwrought” tone. The “she’s been watching too much tv news” tone. She’s heard this tone literally thousands of times since moving here.
She smiles, trying to connect with him. She looks around at the others. “I thought we might reference Goodell, you know, and show the people of color here what the dems and Josephine county Indivisible is all about. Maybe we could stand on the corner where all the cars are driving by. We could raise our fists, shout our support for the players, shout our support for people of color, for free speech.” She looks back at the man, hopefully, waiting.
He doesn’t respond to her. He looks at her as if she’s speaking another language, one he doesn’t understand. His face looks like it hurts his head to listen to her. He turns and starts handing flyers out again.
She notices now that they’re all just kind of looking at her, all the people with the years. As if she’s from another planet.
Her rage rises. The months and months of silence she’s been forced to endure. The disconfirmation. The wall of NO she slams into on a daily basis. She doesn’t really give a fuck what they think of her at this point. It really just does not matter.
“Isn’t this an anti-hate rally? Rallies are where people raise their voices and bear witness. Let’s raise our voices. Let’s speak truth to power, even if power isn’t listening. Because it’s good for us. Because it empowers us. Even here. Especially here! We need to raise our voices to show support to the people of color in this community. We need to join hands with them, empower them, show them we’re here. If we don’t speak up, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves as white people and dems and Indivisible people. It’s our job to speak up!”
They looked at her. They said nothing. The man passing the flyers stopped a second to squint at her again, then walked with his bag of flyers to another group away from her.
“Come on! We have a responsibility as white people in this community. We have a responsibility to speak up and support those who are targets in this community. The posters. The militia barbeque last week. We need to say something. That’s what the good guys do. That’s what dems do. That’s what we’re about. That’s who we are!”
“Why, so we can be like them?” The woman’s disdain hits her between the eyes.
“What?” She looks around. They just stare.
“Who?” She asks no one in particular. Stares.
She’s confused. It’s like they can’t hear her words. They feel her urgency, know she’s frustrated, but it’s like they can’t see her or hear what she’s saying. Like being in a dream when you can’t run.
It is slow. As she expresses her outrage, her shame at being a white person like these people who won’t stand up for what’s right, the loose circle of groups begin creeping backwards. Like the whole loose circle is moving in the opposite direction. They are looking at her and backing up, very slowly.
She realizes they think she is mentally ill.
not a smell, not a sight, not a sound
nothing tasted or touched
a body without familiar physical reference points will look in
to a time when disassociation was a well-worn survival tool
when the boundaries of a small body were smashed
when sleep was a refuge
to light that was alive, sparkling with anticipation, full of possibilities
to light that made her heart and body and spirit soar and sing
to light that protected her
warming her, welcoming her, holding her;
she belongs, she is seen, she is heard
she is home
Path to the Lake
She used to believe that she could never become homeless. She knew too many people. Worked too hard. She couldn’t even imagine what a life of hers would have to look like for her to be homeless. It was just impossible. She was right, that she hasn’t ended up homeless. What never crossed her mind—what wasn’t even a possibility real enough to make its presence known–was that she just might become alone.
Alone. No one else. No friends. No colleagues. No family. No partner. There have been a few reconnections since returning to California: an artist who hopes she’ll buy more; an aunt in another state; her former boss, who waits, hoping there’ll be something else she’s done for which he can take credit. Half a life gone. Pages of accomplishments. No human relationships. That’s some shit to reckon with.
You can tell a lot about the kind of person you were by the way the people you left treat you, if you ever turn back. In extremis, she turned to people she’d convinced herself would care, even though she didn’t know that she wasn’t in their worlds anymore. That their worlds had closed to her. Some were kind. Others took their pound of flesh and left her to fend for herself. Others told her they loved her, never reaching back to her. Still, the short time they gave her their attention changed everything in her world. Everything. Like magic.
She could pretend she wasn’t really alone out there. That someone actually cared about her, even though she left. She failed completely as a human, but she could pretend second chances were real. She could pretend they could see how much she’d changed. She could pretend they saw her. It was the “see me, save me” game all over again, only this time she was lost in another world, by herself, with her kittens. And she couldn’t see herself in anyone else’s eyes.
Every time someone softly closed a door—and there were many—the pain was the same. It seared. It was hard to breathe. Tears choked her. She was gutsick. After the weight of the loss let her stand again and move forward, she realized she was lighter. That she could move. She wasn’t tangled up in what she thought she was supposed to be for them to love her. Wasn’t tangled in the idea of the son her father raised her to be. She could make herself again. Start over. She was free.