Enough

My Children are on lock down.
They’ve been practicing drills since school began;
just in case a shooter ever decided to come in.

My children are on lock down.
Here in this land of supposed freedom and tranquility,
I mourn the dead, and wish for modern civility.

In two short weeks, hiding in closets for kindergartners became the norm.
I used to practice my ABCs, they practice surviving gunfire
that rains like an unforgiving hailstorm.

Now fire drills are the least of our worries, and so take a back seat
to hiding from our precious guns,
as my community’s news anchors are gunned down,
conducting an interview in the street.

When will we have enough? When will we say no more?
Each community plagued by short bursts of violence must pay with permanent scars.
Mine was this week.
Will next week be yours?

Author’s Note: I did, in fact write this while my children were on lock down at their
elementary school in Roanoke, Virginia following the on-air shootings of journalists
Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Watching the coverage on TV, I pelted this out, frustrated
and emotional not only that my children had been practicing lock down drills at school, but
that such a practice is now necessary and we are completely apathetic to how
they must feel hiding in a crowded closet with a flashlight, waiting for the intercom “okay” to
come out. At Sandy Hook, in a terrible twist of torment, the intercom played only more gun
shots. When preserving the right to violence becomes more important than preserving
the right to a peaceful education, we as a society have forfeited any notion of freedom.
Freedom is not expressed when kindergartners must hide in closets at school, and middle
school teachers place the wall shelving just so— and let the students know
that if ever there’s a shooter, they are to hide behind the shelves since they appear to be
flush with the wall. This is not a mental health problem, it’s not a parenting problem, and
it’s not a media problem. This is a gun problem. This is an American Problem.

A Cup of Tea: in Response to Tipsy Lit’s Tuesday Prompt “Stuck in a Good Book”

Exhausted from a long evening spent answering what seemed to be the same questions repeatedly, Jane returned home from the police station to the imposing, Victorian home she had happily shared with her Husband, Ed, until his death last May. Since Ed died, and especially following the horribly gruesome murders of the Matthews family, a family that Jane barely knew beyond her annual contribution to their children’s school fundraisers, Jane had felt uncomfortable living alone in such a large house. The very life itself seemed to have drained from the house when Ed left, and in its place, an uneasiness settled upon its dried, leaf scattered lawn, and its blank, empty windows. Then the break-ins started. Each week it seemed a new house was targeted for random pillaging, and while nothing much was taken, the close proximity in time to the murders was a coincidence which could not be ignored.

As the police sorted the details and searched for motive in the Matthews’ murders, rumors were rampant. Connections to organized crime, the illegal drug trade, and human trafficking were all investigated as potential motives, especially since the Matthews’ sixteen year old daughter, Lucia, was missing, but presumed dead due to what appeared to be a snuff film anonymously posted to 4Chan the morning after the murders. As Jane tried to clear her thoughts of poor Lucia and the rest of her family, she decided to brew a cup of chamomile tea. Her heart literally ached, and she felt as if she may be sick. As the tea pot loudly screamed in the dim lights of the kitchen, Jane poured a cup and headed upstairs to bed.

Back at the police station, line one rang obnoxiously.
“Jameson.”
“Hello, Officer….?”
“Jameson.”
“Yes, Jameson, Hi, my name is Janet Simpson. I’m calling because I haven’t heard from my Parents in a couple of days, and I was wondering if someone could run over and check in on them and make sure everything’s alright? I would do it, but I’m out of state and it would take me at least 10 hours to get there.”
Officer Jameson took down the address to Jane and Ed Thomson’s house, and, promised to call Janet immediately with any word. The arriving officers found the doors locked, and everything appeared to be in order. Three newspapers were piled neatly beside the front door, and a cat could be heard mewling pitifully from inside. After repeated attempts to rouse the Thomsons, officers made their way in and immediately noticed the stench. Upstairs in the bedroom lay Ed Thomson, a gun in his right hand, and a wound to his temple. Next to him was his wife of 35 years, Jane, dead with an unfinished book across her chest and a blood spattered cup of tea by her side.

Author’s Note: If you like this story, please consider giving it a thumbs up in the comments section of the prompt “Stuck in a Good Book” over at Tipsy Lit, located
here: http://wp.me/p3LMOJ-3×8

Blacklisted

“I came out on Instagram,” She said. “Oh?” My casual reply to this type of admission within our household, especially from my thirteen year old daughter. Still, I had to pry a little further. 

“Sexuality?”

“No, No, Noooo…..” Chuckling now. “I posted that I was Atheist on my Bio.” 

This didn’t surprise me. Hell, I had discovered by the age of six that, try as I might, I was incapable of belief in a higher power, but that I had better play along, not just to keep the adults in my life happy, but to avoid being awarded the title “Devil Worshipper” in the small Bible Belt community where I grew up. After all, I went to Sunday school and church every Sunday, I could recite The Lord’s Prayer, I knew the Ten Commandments, and I had even memorized Psalms 100 in return for an irresistible candy whistle. Still, as I sat in the plush green pews Sunday after Sunday in beautiful dresses, I realized I was a fraud by participation; I didn’t belong. The individual inside me that was awakening did not agree with the harsh world that was being taught within these walls. I approached my parents to confess in different ways over the years, but doubt is easily written off in the church as work of the devil. In the deep south, the devil is tangible; a real force that moves about causing mayhem and wrecking lives. Teenage rebellion and rock music. The wrong crowd. That’s what this is about. 
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I asked of the Instagram Bio, “So what happened?” She plopped down next to me, unconcerned at this point, and sighed, “I lost some followers but gained a looot of hate.” She cracked a smile. Ah yes, I smiled back. I remember those days.

The Gullible

Guns on a shelf.
A box filled with lies.
The preacher says clean house
before everyone dies.
A manipulative woman
a story well told.
Lips red like cherries,
a heart completely cold.
Leave town at once,
fear and confusion in your wake.
Leave terrified children,
their own decisions to make.
Run, coward, run.
You lie to meet your needs.
An empty, soulless shell,
on their very innocence you feed.

Certain Death

A heated topic online,
and without warning the air is gone.
The next palpitation, an endless flutter.
Fluttering down into my belly like a sack of rocks.
Has my heart stopped? What if this is a real arrhythmia?
Inside.
Shirt comes off, bare breasts to the floor. Cool air rushes from the vent.
I just need more.
I’m here alone with my children and I’m going to die.
Alone.
I can’t breathe. Here logic does not apply. The only certainty is death.
My heart is fluttering, skipping, beating around.
Changing rhythm with every breath.
I cannot seem to get off the floor.
For as soon as I do, I know I would fall,
and this whole life before me with its beautiful
laughter and happiness would cease to be at all.
Help soon arrives 45 minutes condensed into one.
My heart rate still a mess; and I, still naked and clinging to the
vent on the floor, he wraps me up and leads me to the door.
Help.

A Bus Stop Conversation

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It’s not often I get a chance to chat with a fellow parent about sex education, but this morning was decidedly different. Here in our mega-hood, we have a collective bus stop at the end of the street, and all of us with elementary kids meet up each morning -bleary-eyed- with fresh coffee in hand. We regularly chat about dogs and other mundane topics, but this morning, another parent and I (we’ll call her Sherry), sparked up a conversation over her daughter’s shoes, which I had complimented. “They may not actually be appropriate for school since they light up,” Sherry looked skeptical, “but I think she can turn the lights off.” I remarked how the schools here in Virginia allow all sorts of things that my schools growing up back in Georgia never did. My admission seemed to pique her interest. “Like what?” She asked. I explained that my oldest daughter, the one with the pink and purple hair (unusual dye wasn’t allowed,for one) who’s in her last year of middle school, had recently been troubled by all of the rebel flag gear she’s seen this year, especially since the racially motivated murders of eight in Charleston, and the subsequent calls to remove the hateful banner from the Capitol grounds. My daughter returns home talking of all the “Heritage not Hate” filth she sees each day, online and at school, and my mind is blown; at least in part because at my middle or high school, both which sat roughly 60 miles north of Savannah, Georgia, such a display would have warranted a write-up and a ride home for a change of clothes. These kids don’t even understand what it is they’re advocating.

Still, Sherry seemed to be on a different quest. She awkwardly prompted me to name more things that were prohibited, but I couldn’t quite grasp what she was seeking. She kept mentioning that some “changes were coming down the pipe that would change a lot of things.” “Well, good,” I shrugged. Change is generally a good thing when it comes to racist assholes. That’s when she brought up Fairfax county and the transgender curriculum.
Ooooh, I see where this is going now. I needed desperately to refresh my memory on the particulars of the school board’s decision, but I decided to wing it for the moment. Sherry appeared afraid that the decision was headed to our Family Life Education program and that our precious children may possibly be exposed to the reality of people who are different. Worse, it seemed to escape her thoughts that one of our children could be different. She asked me about my oldest daughter, and when we started talking to her about “gay people.” I couldn’t really remember. It’s been such a long time, and such a normal part of our life  to talk about sex, alternative lifestyles, birth control, and safe sex, that I couldn’t even put my finger on an exact time.

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“Six?” I said. Not quite sure. Maybe younger. I explained that I didn’t want sex to be one of life’s big mysteries. Sex is why we’re all here. It drives much of what we do, and how and with whom we choose to spend our time. However, when in doubt, put up a flag. “We’re pretty progressive on these kinds of issues, so…” I trailed off as she waived my qualifier. I explained that my ultimate goal  is keep the lines of communication open regarding sex. Transgender curriculum is not going make the children of Fairfax County decide to be transgender. Imagine the power of American education if we believed all education to be as equally transformative? If you listen carefully, that is the real fear here. The thought seems to follow a pattern something like this:  If I talk openly with my daughter about sex, she’ll be a slut, and if my child is educated about homosexuality, she’ll become gay. If that’s the case, I’m more than willing to take my chances.

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Dust

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On the dusty path I stumbled,
the loose stone I kicked.
The journey, arduous. Never easy, Never quick.

The fire grows in response to a single strike.
The doomed take cover, the intelligent take flight.
Oh, Disaster of Comfort, Oh, cost of repair;
abandoned by those who would never dare,
to forsake one task in pursuit of the other,
a wealth of dreams forever shuttered.

Now must we answer for our foolish mistake.
And repay that which was never ours to take.
Once she’s shed her burden, Earth will remain,
another species to rise for its fifteen seconds of fame.

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Incompatible with Contemporary Standards of Decency

 
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In 2012, when Connecticut became the 17th state in the U.S. to abolish the death penalty, like many other states before and since, the legislature faced the question of what would become of the remaining eleven condemned inmates on death row. Following Connecticut’s lead, in May of 2013, the state of Maryland voted to eliminate capital punishment, and soon enough faced those same questions from an anxious public, albeit with far fewer inmates’ fates to consider. What would be done with the state’s (supposed) most dangerous offenders? Would they (could they?) still be executed? In response, outgoing Maryland Governor and current presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley, a committed and outspoken opponent of capital punishment, commuted the sentences of the state’s remaining death row inmates to life without the possibility of parole, cementing his legacy in December of 2014.

Now, with news abuzz that the Supreme Court may be poised to accept a challenge to the constitutionality of capital punishment, Connecticut has sent a strong message this past week in declaring the death penalty incompatible with their state’s constitution. Connecticut has in efffect declared capital punishment cruel and unusual, owing in no small part to the fact that state killing is considered by the court to be “incompatible with Contemporary standards of Decency.” And as state after state follows suit in abolishing this arbitrary, barbaric practice, one can only hope the highest court in the land can recognize the simple truth recognized by the highest court in Connecticut: We are better than this.

 
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Shaping Humans

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                                                                                 “She would be a new person, she vowed. They said no matter how far a mule travels
                                                                                                                  it can never come  back a horse, but she would show them all.”

She need not change, only to learn and grow. Simply transforming into a ‘new person’ neglects the years of struggle, hardship, and learning that come together to form the experiences that shape us. The very events that make us who we are. A small slight, the most unintended offense, may set in motion a path to confirming life’s worst negativity. For years we may search for confirmation that things are indeed just as bad as they seem. The confirmation that our fellow humans really are the loathsome, selfish, blithering idiots we suspected all along. Likewise, a small favor- a gentle kindness, a bit of knowledge shared, or, an open door, can lead to a different search for confirmation. It is with that search for positive confirmation that openness to different perspectives is possible. Learning is often uncomfortable. Learning challenges biases and breaks barriers. Learning opens doors once destined to remain closed.

Lies & Shackles Part III: Explanations

wpid-wp-1439353456739.jpegI suppose now would be a good time to take a little stroll down memory lane, not that we weren’t already doing so with my experiences in  YDC, of which there remain many stories to tell. Rather, I would like to explain the abusive dynamic between my Mother and I in greater detail to bring a slightly better understanding to how we arrived in the courtroom, not speaking, on that fateful day back in July 2000. Until the age of 14, I had served as my Mother’s closest friend and confidant as she abused, slandered, and ridiculed my Father with wild fantasies of imagined threat and harm (“He’s going to kill us all!”). Their marriage lasted a miraculous 25 years, a union which produced two daughters. I was the youngest by 8 years; basically an only child. l was reminded by my Mother on a daily basis, whether implicitly or explicitly, that my Father could notbe trusted, that somewhere behind that kind, gentle persona lied a wild, vicious, killer.

wpid-wp-1439353435789.jpegMy gut never agreed with her indoctrination, yet I felt it was my duty to protect her. I became obsessed with the idea that she would be harmed, usually in a car accident, and I wanted to make sure that I would be there so that I would die, too. If I couldn’t be there, I would send a stuffed animal in my place, with the understanding that as long as the stuffed animal was there, it would be just as if I was in the back seat. This practice continued well into middle school. As the marriage began to completely come apart, I was dragged to marriage counseling sessions, some as far as an hour away, where I would often sit in the waiting room and watch Family Matters while preparing myself for the hell that was the ride home. Mom used the sessions to gain knowledge to use as ammunition against my Father. She used terms she learned to pelt him with her newfound proof that he was sick and that he “had a problem.” She was not working to fix their marriage- she was working to destroy my Father and sound good doing it. 

Once, a particularly apt counselor seemed to get a little too close to the truth after listening to their problems. He casually asked my Mother after a few sessions if she had ever been sexually abused, or molested as a child. She denied it, and they never returned. As Mom crawled deeper into the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus self-help black hole that constituted the late 90s, she became the self-appointed mental health home expert. She got a prescription for Prozac, and soon she was ready for divorce.

wpid-wp-1439353450919.jpegAnd boy was she angry. Mom was always angry. She got a fat attorney from out of town and took my Father’s entire inheritance. Still, she was angry. Soon, her anger would have a new direction, and while she couldn’t force Dad to go to different doctors for his “problems,” she could certainly force her 13 year old daughter. And this would be how I ended up lactating in art class.