Category Archives: Essay

Why the meek and mild will inherit the Earth.

If you look hard enough, and you will have to put forth substantial effort, you will find a beautiful wisdom living inside of the shy.  Something wonderful happens to a person who spends more time involved in quiet observation than thoughtless chatter and self promotion. Listening rather than talking. Studying life in all it’s forms and functions. A purposeful intelligence is inherant to the meek.  And they’ll be the last to tell you they possess it. If you earn their trust you’ll be in awe of what they have come to know inside of their silence. Listening. Watching. Paying attention to anyone but themselves.  

The silent thinkers who’ve spent hours awake in the dark know nearly every corner of their own minds and have felt every soft and rough fiber of their being. They’ve scratched every itch from the inside and know themselves too well.  With the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, they look outward for more truth. 

Rarely able to muster enough courage to ask the questions they need answered,they look to actions and behavior to solve their curiosities.  They often sense the discord between what’s said and what’s being done. They see more than you’ll know. They know more than they’ll speak. A beautiful knowledge of humanity belongs to people such as these.

The traveling memorial

Something amazing happened today.  My dad took me with him to the traveling Vietnam memorial wall.  

Last night I couldn’t sleep in anticipation.  I was certain I’d lose it entirely at that wall, watching my dad read through names.  I imagined him finding someone familiar.  I imagined him feeling things he hadn’t felt in years.  Turns out the old man is a good bit tougher than I am.  Or far better at hiding his feelings. 

I cried like a baby when I saw the length of that wall.  I tried to be discreet and the wind did help, blowing hair over my wet eyes repeatedly. 

Then we reached this spot. 

This section, July of ’68.  That’s when dad arrived in country.  From that spot onward, I struggled with my composure. 

That’s when I really felt it all as my father searched for names he knew.  The meaning in the wall was crystal clear. 

I read a lot.  Lists of names and words in print tend to lose some meaning as time passes and I grow used to the sight of the letters and lists.  But here, with him, lists sprung to life. 

Each chiseled letter made out a name.  Each name was once attached to living, breathing human.  Most were young.  Dad was 18 when he got there.  

The wall came alive with faces I’d never seen.  They were flashing through my mind.  Sweating, smiling, filled with courage and honor and a sense of duty.  Filled with hope and a hell of a lot of fear.  I tried not to get into the dark reality.  I would have collapsed where I stood had I allowed my mind to imagine it.  All those young souls.  All gone. I erased the blood from the memories I’d just created. 

What lies in the picture below took the breathe from me.  I gave it to their memories so they could breathe once more as they appeared before me just then. 

Do you see the flags above the wall down the way?  One is yellow.  

Those flags flew dead center atop the long wall.  They mark the end of my father’s time in that place.  Not the end of his service,  though.  He had forest fires to fight when he got back, after all. 

I started thinking some thoughts just before I snapped this photo.  The names on that wall, as the height of the list gradually increased to plateau in the center to be feet higher than my head, were names of service men and women who had died while my dad was there with them.  

I nearly threw up. 

There were so many.  It was nearly half of the wall.  My mind was spinning.  

All of that loss of life. It was happening within miles, feet, inches of him.  I don’t know.  He doesn’t talk much about it. That magnitude of suffering, fear, the last moments of so many; the death must have hung heavy upon the humid air.  

That tragic effect of war must change the atmosphere of a place. I bet you could taste it.  I imagine the energy there was stifling and soul smothering.  

I wont ask him to describe it.  Though I’ve always been curious, we learned not to pry.  

Once, when I was in elementary school, I had a project to do.  I had an assignment.  I was to ask someone who had been to a different country about their sensory experience there and he was the only person I knew who had ever been outside of the United States.  Well, there were some who had been to Canada.  But, Minnesota and Canada are practically the same thing.  I didn’t think anyone would be excited to hear about that report. 

He agreed to it.  We did just fine with sight.  

Jungle.  Trees.  Lots of green leaves.  

I bet. 

We were still good at taste.  

He described some type of soup with fish eyes in it.  

Yum.  

Sound was where I noticed some agitation.  I don’t recall what he said exactly. I remember his answer being related to something loud. 

But, smell is where I stopped.  I stopped mid word while I wrote.  

After I asked he paused.  Then he simply said, “Rotting vegetation and bodies.” 

I closed my notebook and walked away. After thanking him of course. 

I remember peering back at him in his recliner from the end of the hall.  He seemed sad and slightly angry.  As an adult I now know that I have no idea exactly what he was sad about or who he was angry with.  

I didn’t ask things for a long time after that. 

I learned more today than I have in the last 32 years of my life about his time there while visiting that wall.  

This war thing is something no one can understand unless they’ve lived it, but is often described as the most painful and cruel experience a human being can withstand.  And each war is unique.  Each battlefield is different.  The jungles of Vietnam must have been sheer terror as so many veterans of that war in particular refuse to recall what occured. 

Or maybe it was the treatment they received upon coming home.  Shameful words of hate.  No parades.  Pure torture. 

He read some names aloud and I honestly couldn’t bear to think he’d known them.  He knew a few it seemed.  Some from bootcamp.  

The section of the wall in the photo below signifies the end of my fathers time there.  November of ’69.  Nearly every name on the wall before this spot, aside from a couple of short panels, were soldiers who lost their lives while my father shared that soil. 

Upon additional research I discovered he was there during the deadliest years of occupation. The numbers varied slightly by source, but only slightly. In 1968 around 16,800 American soldiers lost their lives there. In 1969 around 11,780 died. The year 1967 was heavy in losses as well. 

These are only the numbers for the American military members who died there.  So much death in such a brief period of time.  And he was there to feel it all.

Tears flowed forth.  I tried to hide them.  Dad was talking.  Then he tilted his head down so he could look up at me from the top of his happy blue eyes, and he smiled at me.  

I patted him on the back and we walked on.  

On to honor the rest.  Reading unfamiliar names and letting those strangers live in our hearts if only for the moment. 

He answered more of my questions.  How many people a plattoon was comprised of.  How hot it usually was. 

His best friend there was Azel, from Chicago.  A nice black dude.  They had a lot in common.  Azel must be an awesome fellow.  

He was also close with a T. C. and a Bobby.  One from Arizona.  The other he wasn’t sure. 

He recognized a name on the wall.  A guy from bootcamp who loved to smoke.  He frequently got caught smoking when he wasn’t supposed to so he would often be seen standing outdoors with a rifle hoisted high over his shoulders until he could no longer hold it there with drill Sargent’s yelling, all so he could get a puff. 

To think that he was gone.  

I wonder what stories his fellow soldiers would tell about my father if he had landed on that wall.  

I kept thinking of a picture he had once shown me.  He was standing with two young Vietnamese boys under his arms.  They were all smiling. They were all so young. 

58, 307.  Conflict. Something about that doesn’t sit right with me. 

We walked out eventually.  We walked past a chopper. He said he’d been in one of those. 

I asked if this was the one they hung from and jumped into the jungle from. He said, “No.  Those were bigger with men jumping from the tail end.”

We were driving out and he mumbled something about a deuce.  

A two ton truck.  He drove lots of those.  With jet fuel for downed helicopters, land mines, explosives, etc.  All of it rattling around in the vehicle with him as he sped through rough jungle roads.  No wonder they threw men like him into forrest fires in California when he got home. No one was crazy enough to go into the blazing inferno where they freely drove knowing one much worse was behind them. 

He was 17 when he enlisted. 18 when he went. Stayed over a year there.  Came home and bravely battled on to protect and serve for many others before his contract with the Marine Corps was over. 

His oldest daughter was born the month he deployed. 

He sold his uniform when he came home. 

Many pictures he had sent home were destroyed while he was still away. 

I grew up knowing hardly a thing. I learned more today than I have ever known.  I always knew one thing, though.  I’m proud to be his daughter. 

I always was. I always will be. 

He doesn’t have to tell me one thing about that war. His behavior and actions every day that I’ve known him are more than enough proof of his honor, sense of duty, and his selflessness.  

What he’s seen. What he’s been through. Only those who served alongside him will ever know about that. I just know he came home and rose above. He fought on. He didn’t let the unthinkable destroy any part of him. I’m sure he was lost for awhile. He was so young. But, the man I’ve always known has served me with a dignity,  integrity, and intelligence that is truly uncommon in this world. 

Thank God he isn’t on that wall. Thank all of you who ended up on it for sacrificing every piece of yourselves.

He said one thing to someone who thanked him for his service while we were there that I won’t soon forget.  

While many men walked the street with veterans hats and even uniforms, my father felt no need to let anyone know who he was. I made mention of his service to a man who handed me a pamphlet to see if there was a way to find military members from Minnesota.  As he walked away and thanked my father, dad said one simple thing that truly changed me. 

He said, 

“I would do it all again.”

 

Weak and strong

I have my moments.  Some I’m weak. Some I’m strong.  I prefer to have my weakness alone for I fear what would become of me.  Feeling the comfort and relaxation that comes from another carrying my portion of life’s burdens. I may become dependant upon it. I may search for the ease that once came with that feelinging of solidarity. I prefer to travel alone through the darkness.  That way the only one deemed absolutely necessary for survival is the one who’s always there.  You don’t want to be a crutch here. You don’t even want to be a band aid. I’ll be alright. Who knows how strong I’ll become. 

Father’s day adventures. 2016

I’ve written about my Daddy before.  I love him.  We all know that.  He’s my HERO.   He’s stuck here in this foreign land with me for the time which makes me feel awful knowing how much he loves his home.  That’s part of the reason I wanted to let him know how much I appreciate him today. 

Father’s day,  2016.  I don’t have much to offer.  I gave him bedding for the mattress and box spring he has in his room here.  The one that sits directly on the floor with no frame,  no head board.  For months he’s been sleeping without even a fitted sheet.  So,  I got him a sheet set and soft blanket,  king size naturally.  It must fit who it’s meant to cover, after all.

He loved it. 

Yesterday on my excursion to the book store I bought him a trivia book.  He loves filling his head with interesting (yet less than useful) facts.  He’s been reading it since I gave it to him.  I think he likes it.

Today,  I panicked.   I had no idea what to do.  If we were home we could go fishing or see family.  Have a party, or,  at the very least,  share the day with my sister.  But,  it’s just the two of us.  Living in a borrowed home.  None of his personal belongings within 2,000 miles. 

He likes to drive.  I tried to find a cool scenic highway.  There aren’t any nearby.  I remember the Sunday drives growing up.  We would change clothes after church and get in the car.  We’d get lunch or pack a picnic and we would take off into the country side. 

My memories of these trips are all filled with warm yellow light and hazy sunshine.   There was no music playing on the speakers, only stories being told.   We would pass something interesting or familiar and Dad would spin his tales.  My sister and I would often look at each other and smile, often giggling under our breath when we wondered if what he said was true.  Our Dad is one of the goofy one’s.  Always willing to make a fool of himself to make his little girls laugh.

I’d poke at my sister.  She’d take it for awhile.  Then she’d say,  “Mom!”.   I’d stop and do my best to look innocent.  It never worked.  That woman knew me better than I’ve ever known myself.   I remember watching her from the backseat when the car was silent and the bumpy roads would bounce me toward sleep like my mother did when I was just a baby.  Her face was often the last thing I saw before my eyes finally closed.  They’d put up a good fight but slumber won out.

Today there was no drive, though.  Nowhere to go.  No memories to recall fondly.  Another plan needed hatching.

I thought about the museum.  Civil rights or art.  I didn’t think he’d enjoy either of those.  No go.

I thought about a movie but nothing he would be interested in was playing.  Again, I had no idea what to do for the most deserving man in the world.

My sister wired me money.  “Take Dad somewhere.”, she said as she sat alone without a Father to celebrate with today.   My circumstance forces uncomfortable absences on people who don’t deserve it.  She misses Dad today and she has no mother on Earth to talk to about it.  Sorry, Sarah.  It will all be sorted out soon enough.

So,  I took him to the bookstore.  A passion we share.  He had no idea I was taking photos.  He didn’t know I’d write this either.  I wonder what he will do when he finds out I’ve secretly documented our day. Like a ninja.

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Off we went to spend Sarah’s money.  Woohoo!  I LOVE spending Sarah’s money.

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THIS is where I get it from.  It all makes sense now.  Give me books. ALL of the books.  BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS!  I NEED them ALL!

He got seven books for himself, and one for me, of course.  If there is one thing my parents were ALWAYS willing to buy, it was books. I’m sure he’d have bought me as many as I’d asked for (within reason) but, I’m gratefully spoiled, not rotten.

Then we went to eat.  As we were trying to pick a place I wasn’t very helpful.  I will literally eat any type of food and enjoy it.  I like food.  I like it as much as I like books.  THAT’S saying something.

My Dad and I decided on a place eventually.  In a surprising way.  I didn’t see it coming though I probably should have.

He asked me, “What would Mom like?”
I listed a place we ate at a lot as children. It rhyme’s with schmerkins.  They don’t have those here, though.  Her next favorite was a popular “italian” chain.  Luckily for us, the local equivalent was right next door to the bookstore.

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There’s Daddy.  Embracing the age of technology.  Making sure I know all about the interesting facebook stories,  whose birthday it is today (happy b-day Pickles), and how to get an alligator to open it’s mouth if one ever tries to eat me.  Good to know. 

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There’s my masterpiece.  I call it “moonlit flower by pre-k student”.  Medium, Crayon.  Pallette, orange, blue, and red.   Canvas, butcher paper tablecloth.  It’s one of my finest creations.  Before leaving the table I wrote “To Mama” above my signature.    I don’t really know why.  I suppose I was just trying to invoke her spirit somehow.  Especially since I killed a cardinal with my car yesterday.  That sh** f***ed up my whole day.  Poor bird.

We got back “home” and Dad started reading.  I took a nap, on accident.   Dad grilled steak for supper.  He’s still reading now.  He shared with me why he loves to read and I felt like I’d heard his words before.  In fact, I had.  When they had come out of my own mouth.

When we read,  we aren’t really here.  We’re in a story somewhere else.  Better than a movie because we create the imagery. We decide what characters look like. We decide how their voices sound.  We decide how they move and glance at the other characters around them.  While reading a book, we write short stories of our own while taking breaks away from the pages, imagining where the story goes next.  How would we continue the story if we were the author?  We have hopes for the outcome of the imaginary lives that only live inside the binding.   I find my mind is much more colorful than reality or even movies can possibly depict.  I suspect that my Father’s is, as well.  He taught me how to use my brain.  He taught me well.

Happy Father’s Day,  Pops.  Thanks for teaching me to create.  Thanks for teaching me to be kind.  Thanks for teaching me to work hard.  Thanks for being there, always, without fail.  I enjoyed our day together.  I hope you did as well.  I hope we get another year together.  We both know there is no guarantee.  But, today, I hope you saw how appreciated you are. It’s always difficult to show emotions so grand as there is no action, gesture, or material item big enough to properly express it. 

The sentiment would be best expressed if I could take you to the moon for a picnic.   I would tell you tales on the way up of all of my memories of you.  Of lessons you taught me.  Of character you gave me by simply being an outstanding example.  Looking toward the Earth and then out to the stars, I’d tell you then that that is how much you mean to me.  You were the Universe when I was small and as an adult I see it clearly.  The abilities I possess, the attributes I claim, my ability to travel through this life are all mine because of how you raised me.   Yes, a spaceship picnic.  That’d be the only fitting gift.  That’d be the only proper expression of how grateful we are for you.

Maybe next year.

Love ya Dad!

Candy apples

Typically you will see a candy apple in a bright shade of red.  Typically I don’t do things typically.  These bad boys are delicious and they look like marbles!   There was a strange excitement in the twirling and twisting after I dipped them in the syrup.  I knew I wouldn’t have a clue what they’d look like.  I knew they’d each be unique.  How delightful.

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A great lie

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That’s me.  No filter. No make-up.

I was never the girl who couldn’t wait to wear make-up. Nor had I been one who wanted to shop for trendy clothes and look like all the others. I remember wondering why women wore that stuff and all of the boys and men got to continue being themselves.   I was in the 9th grade when I realized how superficial standards would drastically effect my life.

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9th grade. Still hopeful. I was only just beginning to feel the weight of what I grew to believe the world expected of me but it hadn’t yet begun to choke the fire and life out of my young soul yet. It was after I grew out my awesome nerd ‘fro that the other kids started to take notice of me in one way or another.  Late into middle school I was basically forced into one of those supremely awkward and speechless “relationships” that were common during that age in the mid 90’s.

A “cool chick” I knew who eventually became a pretty righteous homecoming queen suggested my dorky behind be girlfriend to the jock type’s less brawny friend. He was a stellar freckly faced ginger boy, adorable, skinny, and according to the other’s we would be just oh so cute together.  Okey doke.  The problem was he and I were both as shy as anyone ever had been in the history of time.  Ever.  In all of the years that man had existed.

We never spoke.   NOT ONE TIME from what I recall.

I remember he and his friends called my house once.  I basically just let his more extroverted friends speak at me. Occasionally I would interject a one word answer in response but, I still don’t know what my first boyfriend’s voice sounded like.

That relationship dissolved amicably enough.  We just stopped being together.  I didn’t want a boyfriend anyway to be honest.  We never held hands or kissed.  There was no physical contact whatsoever outside of the one time we slow danced at school.  It seemed to be a huge deal for everyone but the two of us.  They even made sure to take a photo of this magical moment in prepubescent awkwardness and put it in the yearbook.

I remember that we were both so sweaty that we could barely hold on to each others hands.  That’s right.  Hands together, the other hand on the shoulder.  I’ve always been a classy broad.  I had seen that sh** in the movies and I assumed that was how this was done.  I felt gross, we both smelled bad, and it was the quintessential depiction of puberty in all it’s bumbling glory.  That was enough romance for me, thank you very much.

The next year things changed even more and with an even greater sense of dis-ease and discomfort.

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I’d been an awesome nerd all of my life.  Tomboy through and through. I spent my early formative years in the library at least once a day.  It was only a few blocks from my house and there was a kick ass park outside of it.  My friends and I always sported scraped knees from bicycle accidents and playing “War” in the yard with my walkie talkies.  I had a bag full of nail polish but my favorite thing to do with it was to chip it off after it had been applied.  I played the clarinet in a marching band, man.  I had not been what most would have considered “cool”.

Hitting high school was rough. I was skinny and short in middle school but grew several inches the summer before my sophomore year.  I wasn’t waddling around on my size 9 duck feet with a 4 foot frame anymore.  Boys who’d never seen me before from the grades ahead of me began to take notice.  Soon after the popular type, male and female, began to take notice, as well.  I’ll never forget the day when “they” sent one of their henchmen to my locker.

She told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You know, you could be so cool if you just dropped all of your geeky friends.”  Gulp… I’ll never forget those words or the feelings they made me feel.  Invisible was comfortable.  Being noticed was terrifying.

Her words angered me greatly, though I know it wasn’t her fault.  They weren’t really her words, after all.  Those “geeks” were my best friends.  So I simply stated, “If my friends are geeks I guess that makes me a geek too. ”

My friends were awesome. They still are. Individual, kind, good people. They were all a part of the positive force . I love them dearly. They were, and still are, incredible people. These flawless creatures were being talked down about by girls who were cool because years ago someone decided that they were cool. I honestly don’t know how we all came to that conclusion. I denied their offer and “They” had it in for me after that.

My school was very “cliquey”.  Some of the chicks in the cliques were nice enough.  Some had been friends of mine when we were small.  They were kind, sweet, good people.  But, some were insecure, cruel, vain, and vicious. Those b****** and I had words from time to time throughout high school.

Having someone say those words to me got into my head.  I wasn’t any different than I had been when I was younger.  At least not at that point.  I was brainy, wild with my friends and reserved around strangers, kind, always willing to stick up for the underdog. The only thing that had changed was my hair, clothing, and the powder I had started wearing on my face.  Suddenly, like some kind of s*** out of the Devil’s Bible, a spell had been cast and pervy old dudes were harassing me left and right.

Sophomore year was f***ing hell.  A senior boy liked me.  A senior boy who had been dating the same girl for 3 years, nonetheless.  He’d pop up in the windows outside of my classrooms to make strange faces at me.  He’d leave notes in my locker.  He stood outside of the door of his classroom that was on my way to choir every day just so he could say hello.  I had been to his house once with friends and he talked my ear off all night, told me that a boy in my grade asked him to put a good word in for him, all while he flirted his ass off and in return only received a shy yes or no answer to his millions of arbitrary questions.  He even fooled me into thinking there was a “Hug a Senior Day”.  I hugged him, he giggled, I felt stupid.

I worked at a pizza place at the time.  He worked there too.  I honestly can’t remember who got there first because his employment there was of little importance to me.  My best friend worked there and they had no problem hiring a 15 year old.  One night he took me on a delivery with him so he could talk to me.  He told me he felt he’d led me on, I said nope.  I told him we were cool.  It didn’t turn out to be so cool though.  After he graduated sh** hit the fan.  Hell got even hotter.

His girlfriend was a senior now.  She. F***ING. Tortured. Me. And the b**** was merciless.

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Junior year while working one night she and the entire softball team she was part of, all in the cool kids club, took turns yelling sh** like home-wrecker, slut, and b**** back into the kitchen through the buffet line.  I cried because of their cruelty.  It didn’t end there.  They harassed me at school and sporting events, anywhere I was and anywhere they saw me.  They keyed my car.  They would park so closely to it that I couldn’t open the doors to get into it unless they moved their vehicles.  They spread rumors and smeared things on my locker.  Ripped pictures in my locker down and stole from it.  They were relentless.

I’m a nice girl, forgiving and empathetic.  I knew what she thought had happened so I didn’t retaliate.

In the meantime I decided to take up drinking to numb the pain of all of this bullying and to take a break from thinking about the identity crisis I was trying to find my way through.

Boom.  I was immediately great at it.  I was praised for the volume of booze I could tolerate.  I was a gold medal Olympian in the sport of intoxication.  Why not do it as much and as often as I could?  It shook the shy right off of me.  I could finally corner all of the scary b****es I hated and scream obscenities at them during parties.  I never actually remembered doing it but I heard plenty about it at school the next day.  Jesus.  I quickly lost my sh** altogether.

Shortly after turning 17 I started dating a dude.  He was cool and all, but romantic feelings were never really in my nature.  I submitted to his persistent requests to date him because he was funny, sweet, and, well, persistent.  We broke up every 2 weeks for one reason or another. He’d get me flowers and we’d date again.  My favorite thing about him was his patience.  He was a good guy.  At that point I had never kissed a boy and he was never pushy about it.  He continued to treat me like a valuable individual despite the absence of affection. He waited without making me feel pressured.   But, while he waited it seems others were plotting.  His best friend stole the first kiss.  What a jack ass.

One night after work we were all drinking and his buddy decided I needed a shoulder rub.  Sure. Why not?  Just as long as I can move my arms so I can drink copious amounts of this lime flavored vodka. When I had had enough, I turned around and thanked him.  He said, “You owe me more than that.” Mother F*****, I don’t owe you SH**.  These words were bouncing around between my ears but before I could open my mouth to say them aloud, he kissed me.  On the lips.  My very first time.

I ran up the stairs and told my boyfriend what had happened.  He punched a hole in the wall.  I cried under a table in the dark all night.  We didn’t date anymore.  Men were too much f***ing work.  They were also terrifying beasts with carnal urges I simply wasn’t willing to fulfill.  See, all the while those girls were calling me a slut, their boyfriends were calling me a prude.  What the f*** was I?  Good God, I was confused.

It wasn’t long after that I experienced something that further solidified my idea of men and what they thought my purpose was.  I had developed an idea of this as a child.  After being molested, bummer, I repressed the memory of the event but all of the concepts and feeling lingered.  Men were dangerous.  Men were beasts.  Men were expecting things of me I wasn’t willing to give.  I had high defenses and, to me, men were all the same.  Every man I didn’t know well or trust was to be treated as a suspect.  A dangerous predator.  One got by me, though.  He snuck right by security and did some damage on the inside.

I’m going to need to explain something here.  I no longer hold any bad feeling for this boy anymore.  I am, by NO means, excusing his behavior.  But, to be fair I feel I need to disclose that in that time acquaintance rape and date rape were hardly discussed.  Even now the laws regarding this matter are being debated and reformed.  As it stands in most states now, a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol are not considered able to give consent.

I got wasted with a person I thought was my friend one night.  I don’t want to smear this man because he is a man now. Not a boy. He is no longer who he was then. But this event deeply impacted my life so I feel the need to speak about it.  I remember telling him I wasn’t interested in “fooling around” before we started drinking, but, with each drink he pushed further past my boundaries and when I woke I was no longer a virgin.  I don’t remember much about it.  Only flashes.  And at the time it was pretty common for people to get their date “loosened up” with alcohol.  He was just a kid.  But so was I.  When he denied that it had happened when my friends asked about it, I felt he was ashamed of me, not of what he’d done.

I felt at that point that I was just a conquest, a prize, a trophy on a mantle, a plaque on a wall, something to be looked at and used up.  Further and further down I went. “F*** being cute”, I thought.  This make-up.  These jeans.  Nothing but trouble.  Who the f*** was I?  Am I a slut?  Am I a prude?  Am I an angry belligerent beast on a crusade for justice like I am after 12 beers or a liter of vodka, or am I a shy and nerdy introvert like I am when I’m sober? What the f*** am I and where do I fit?

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Years and years and years of struggling with my identity, my purpose, and my traumas went by.  I barely made it out alive. The added torture of recalling bits and pieces of my childhood rape while blacked out felt like a rotten cherry atop a sundae made of vomit and dog sh**.

Based on what I had seen of the world, what most of the folks around were showing me, I had one purpose.  To be a toy.  To be viewed for pleasure and not heard or referred to with respect.  As they say, my insides didn’t match my outsides but every time I dyed my hair brown and wore glasses people called me a poser.

When I started putting that make-up on I started hiding the most valuable parts of me.  It was a literal mask I felt left a film no astringent could wash clear.  When I put on the make-up my true sense of self was concealed and I allowed it to smother my soul for decades.

There was a discord between what I thought people valued in me and what I actually valued in myself. I had no chance at happiness.  No shot at comfort.  Inevitably, I had no desire to live.

It took a long time and a hell of a lot of pain, but, at 200 pounds I finally realized that my outsides were only there to protect what lies within.  The skin protects the flesh beneath it.  The flesh protects the bone.  Bone and flesh protect the organs that create and use the fuel that carries my precious soul through this particular plane of existence.

All of it will rot.  All of it will change constantly and decay eventually.  The only thing that will last for eternity is the spirit I carry inside.  I know that for a fact because, as confused as that part of me was for all of those years, it stayed essentially the same.  Brave, kind, forgiving, solicitous, empathetic, impetuous, wild, humorous, emotional, hot tempered, sensitive, etcetera.

New behaviors can be learned and bad habits can be broken but I have to be who I am at the core in order to feel a necessary sense of self fulfillment.  That is what seems to drive me forward with stability and a sense of safety as I’ve seen all of that that is external waver and flicker in and out of my personal existence.

I have been lucky. I’ve had some incredible friends who are truly angels on Earth.  The difference between the one’s who’ve stayed and the one’s that went away was an unconditional appreciation and acceptance of who I REALLY am.  Some walked away, with great difficulty, as they were watching me destroy my true self.  No one should be forced to watch that. But, when I returned, there they were, waiting for me to return.

People I’ve been desperate to keep around, people I was convinced were good for me destroyed me slowly to bolster their own survival.  They fed on me and siphoned my energy.  When they were taken away I was made free, one piece at a time so long as I was willing to do the work to reclaim what I’d lost.

Then there were those that I lost but truly needed.  With their departure they left me great gifts.  In the wake of their loss I learned I was more than I had previously thought.  I inherited parts of their spirit that I now honor by allowing it to live inside of me and in my actions, words, and mindset.

The great lie I once lived has been proven false by circumstance, experience, and triumph over cruel turns of fate.  I have realized I need to maintain my sense of self.  I fought for it.  I’m keeping it.  I will nurture it.  It would be selfish of me not to.  Harming myself to suit the needs of others will do no one any good.  If they truly need me and I’m not truly me I am lying to them and dying inside.  No one can benefit from such an arrangement.

I knew who I was and then, I forgot.  32 years old and I’m back.  I’m finally able to be a real benefit to those I encounter, confidently aware of my assets, humbly recognizing my weaknesses, and, most importantly, unafraid to let everyone see it all in it’s entirety without the illusion of that worn out old mask.  Ready, willing, able, and unafraid to let some go or let some in because, within myself, my spirit is whole enough again to live without the ones I lose and strong enough to stand tall in the presence of any other.

All I need, I find within myself.