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

image

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.

image

“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.

image

Dust

image

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.

image

Incompatible with Contemporary Standards of Decency

 
image

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.

 
image

Shaping Humans

image

                                                                                 “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.

Lies & Shackles Part II: The Refusal

I eventually settled in to this alternate universe of girls who knew what it was like to be homeless; girls who took medication for STDs; girls who quizzed me constantly about the pleasures of middle class life, and the exotic privilege of being landed in youth detention by a pissed off (though entirely mentally ill) Mom.
image

I tried to fit in as much as possible. We were denied hair accessories and the like, so I learned to tie my hair in a knot so that it would stay out of my way. I began, for the first time, to drink milk, as we were often served only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with milk. My Mother would often send cards to me, which she would spray with her perfume, Design, I believe it was called. She would tell me that she missed me and wanted me to come home. I remember very well the Fourth of July, and knowing that my boyfriend at the time- for whom my Mother’s annihilation campaign was in large part responsible for my current situation- would be attending Ozzfest 2000 in Atlanta. I remember peeking through the small bars of my cell wondering if I would catch a glimpse of fireworks…from somewhere.

I had a court date of some sort approaching. I was never told why I was going to court, or who would be there, just that I would be transported. So again, I was handcuffed and shackled, and placed in the back of a police car and taken to a courthouse in Effingham County, Georgia, a county to which I had never lived and had no discernable ties. Of course, nothing up to this point had been making sense, so I really was numb to confusion, lies, and fear. Or at least, so I thought. At some point, it was my turn to appear before a judge in my convict’s drab. Never would he have guessed that before him stood the top student in her class, the student who had spent the past year being doped by her mother on various medications to the point of sedation. Nevertheless, beyond having no idea what this hearing was about or what I was supposed to do, I was even more surprised to see my Mother there in the courtroom. I became really excited at the thought of sleeping in my own bed again. And of showering without the need for foot protection. No more squatting, No more coughing. And, no matter what wrongs my Mother had done to me, there was always that comfort of the card with the scent of Design lingering in my head. “If only she could love me like I love her.” I often felt that way about Mom and I couldn’t understand- I was too young to understand- that something fundamental inside of her was broken.  I sensed that she was out to destroy Me, I just didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t about me.
image

The hearing became a blur. A short burst of formalities. Then the judge addressed my Mother directly, and all I remember is him asking her if she “felt like I could come home.” She replied “No” without shedding a tear. I was led out of the courthouse, still with with my hands cuffed and my feet shackled, back to the deputy’s car. My Mother and I never spoke. I never smelled her perfume that day.

 

 

Lies & Shackles pt. 1

On the outskirts of the sleepy, and often stinky town of Claxton, Georgia- a town best known for its famous fruit cakes and massive chicken processing facilities- sits the Claxton Regional Youth Detention Center.  With the capability of housing thirty youth, most of whom are without families or permanent homes, the majority are wards of the state awaiting placement in a different foster home following some sort of mischief, whether drugs, fighting, or some other infraction. And while each has a story to tell, none seems to believe she has a future.  

The inmates here seem to feel at home; resigned to this life of predictability that is afforded by institutionalization. In fact, most inmates seem comfortable with their current circumstances except for one: Me. I arrived here handcuffed, shackled, and asleep in the back of a sheriff deputy’s cruiser, in a sicken stupor from a Benadryl shot I had been given prior to the hour long transport. I remembered Mom picking me up from a friend’s house and pretending we were going home, but driving in the opposite direction of where we lived. I remembered realizing her plan when we pulled up to the local jail. There, as I sat shackled to a chair, watching stumbling adults come in for booking, I began to grasp how sick my Mother was; I knew then she was willing to sacrifice me to meet her own needs, though it would take years for me to grow the courage and independence to fully separate myself from her. For the time, though, I was completely and irrevocably under her control. Worse, she was a very attractive woman who had powerful men who believed her. I watched her put on the show for a while, a sick form of entertainment that, as an insider, was often as hard to ignore as it was to watch.   

Still handcuffed and shackled, I was given a courtesy ride over to the hospital to receive the Benadryl shot, ostensibly to quell the softball-size mound growing on my right hand thanks to a sting from a yellow jacket earlier in the day. Soon enough, a single deputy and I, the fifteen year old soon-to-be juvenile delinquent, were on our way along the dark, deserted country roads to Evans County to see what lay beyond the razor wire. The intake officer in Claxton, assuming I was high on illicit drugs, was absolutely amused that I was so doped on Benadryl that I didn’t know my address, and soon enough, I was later told, everyone was in on the fun. After I was able to provide a few laughs, it was finally time for the shackles and handcuffs to come off, along with anything that was mine. As I began to regain my faculties, it was time to strip down, squat and cough, and take a shower with RID. Lice free and thoroughly inspected by the female guard, I was issued Ill fitted clothing and shoes, and placed in a temporary cell. In what I thought was just a first night ritual of some sort, the light was turned on and off by a passing guard each hour. Silly me.