Friday, January 1, 2016

Mission Control

My family lived with my maternal grandparents on and off throughout my childhood. And when they moved to Apple Valley when I was 12, we lived in that same house until they sold it when I was 21.

We had many different people live with us during those first twelve years. It ranged from strangers, to missionaries, to family.

One of my first vivid memories of one of my grandparents tenants is that of a rather large redheaded blind man everyone affectionately called 'Red'. I don't believe I could have been much older than 5 years old when Red moved in. I was fascinated with him. He reminded me of Paul Bunyan, he wore flannel and appeared to be dirty even after he showered. At the time, I was also watching the movie "Ice Castles" on repeat. My mother had taped it off of TV and as soon as it ended I hit rewind and patiently waited to start it over again.

I would close my eyes and try to walk around the house. Wondering how difficult it was for Red to navigate our home. He didn't stay very long, but during the time he was with us, I formed fond memories of his smile and kindness. Shortly after he left, we started a run of LDS missionaries who stayed in Red's room. They were busier than Red, they were constantly going to appointments and dinner engagements.

After a year of missionaries living in Red's room, we had a few church members stay for short periods of time, as well as cousins and aunts and uncles. I shared my room with various female cousins and we would always pretend the floor was lava and that the beds were crumbling rock. So jumping from bed to bed became one of our favorite past times. Only second to singing Wilson Phillips songs in the backyard to clumsy choreography.

After a few years of church members and cousins the missionaries returned. Elders, as they are called, don't stay long. They serve a mission of two years, which isn't all spent in one location. When they are called to serve, they are assigned an area which covers different cities. So sometimes a missionary would start off in our home with his companion, then a few months later he would be moved to a different city with a different companion.

We had some really awesome young men serve as missionaries and stay with us. They would play with my brothers and me, tell us jokes, eat dinner with us, and even though they weren't quite as intriguing as Red, it was nice growing up and learning about the places these young men were from.

One young Elder moved in with us shortly after my grandparents opened our home again for missionaries. He was crass and seemed not thrilled to be serving a mission. He taught me and my younger brothers curse words and racial slurs, and had an attitude that I hadn't seen with the missionaries before. My brothers thought he was awesome, and I thought he was rude. I was almost 11 years old when this Elder moved in with us. I didn't really like him, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he would be on his way too.

He would sit next to me at the piano when I was practicing for my upcoming recital. The piece my piano teacher had chosen for me was Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach, it is also referred to as the can-can. As I would practice, he would randomly press keys and laugh and tickle me. He would whisper in my ear to call him Eric. I would smile and continue to try to play. He would whisper about how the women who danced to the song I was playing would often show off their panties to men, then he would ask me what kind of panties I was wearing.

He made me uncomfortable. I told my mother about what he was doing and she told me that he was just being crude and that he would be moving out soon. I adjusted my practice schedule to times when the Elders weren't usually at home.

Shortly after telling my mom about how much I didn't like Eric, he started visiting me in my room at night.

The first night he climbed into bed with me and spooned me. He didn't say anything, he just existed quietly next to me. I could hear his breath in my ear and feel his arm around my waist. I thought that maybe he was sleepwalking and accidentally ended up in my room.

A few nights later, it happened again. He slowly opened my door, climbed in my bed and put his hand over my mouth. He whispered how god had told him to sleep with me to protect me. That he had a feeling that someone was going to try to break in my room and hurt me or kidnap me. He told me that god didn't want me to tell anyone. That he was called to this mission, at this time and place, to protect me. And if I was a good girl, I would do what god wanted.

He spooned me for a little while longer. And then left. It was difficult to sleep for the rest of the night. I kept looking at my bedroom window expecting someone to break in. I finally took my pillow and blanket into my closet and closed the door. That way if what Eric was saying was true, I would be difficult to find.

During the day when Eric and I crossed paths in my grandmothers home he would smile and tell me everything was going to be alright. That god told him that this night or that night was going to be okay. He would let me know if tonight was a night he needed to sleep with me for a little while, to protect me because he had a premonition or a feeling.

After I got used to him spooning with me and whispering that everything was going to be okay, I started feeling safer when he was with me. I started to worry about what was going to happen when he had to move on.

A few weeks went by of spooning and comforting. I would look forward to his visits because it meant that god loved me and wanted me to be safe.

He normally wore pajamas, but this night was different. He came in just his garments. He climbed into my bed and wrapped his arm around my waist like he normally did. Then he asked me to pray with him. I closed my eyes, folded my arms, and bowed my head. I remember him praying to god to protect me, and that he was so blessed to be chosen to protect someone as helpless and sweet as me. I remember him asking god for permission to touch me and then acknowledging that god granted him permission. As soon his whispered prayer ended he ran his hand down my leg and up my nightgown. I was frozen. Did god give him permission to touch me? Was I his reward for listening to god? If I were to fight back against him, would he stop protecting me? Would god be mad at me?

I held perfectly still, waiting for him to go back to his room. I felt him push up against me, I closed my eyes tighter, silently asking god for help. He gently kissed my neck and thanked me for being such an obedient child of god. After he left I got up to change into different pajamas, I couldn't sleep with the cold, sticky, wet spot that had formed where he had been pushing up against me.

I got back into bed and stared at my canopy. How could god think this was okay? I started singing primary school songs to myself and slowly started to feel comforted. I knew that god was helping me feel better because I allowed a man that he called to a mission to protect me and be rewarded like god intended.

This continued for months until Eric was moved to a different city to serve. It happened suddenly and for the first few weeks I slept in my closet or under my bed just in case someone was still out to kidnap or hurt me.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Children of Married Same-Sex Couples

What do you do when you have LGBTQ folk showing up to your church, and you don't want them there? Do you continue to attack them? Something that hasn't worked as well as you had hoped over the last two decades. Or do you rethink your approach? Maybe you go after their children. Maybe.

The Mormon church has decided to make up and enforce a new policy banning the children of same-sex couples from receiving the "blessings" of the church. This new policy was confirmed by the church on Friday, November 6th.

At first I was happy. I was truly excited that, once again, the Mormon church was showing it's true colors. By labeling homosexual members as "apostates" it was freeing all these people from the clutches of it's brainwashing program. I felt relief for these members and felt happy for the futures of their children, to be raised free of all the guilt and pain.

But that was very short lived. Ten seconds in I realized that this wasn't a lottery ticket. This wasn't what they wanted or hoped for from their church. The reason why they still attended and brought their kids along and paid tithing was because they still had a glimmer of hope that they would be viewed as real people, real children of god... one day.

Then I remembered the guilt and heavy heart I had as a member who never felt worthy enough. (And the church never came out and called me an apostate.) My heart ached for these individuals.

And this wasn't a way out, it was a slap in the face. As a straight ally, I left the church with Proposition 8. That was my breaking point. That was when my accumulative doubt added up to just too much to bear and Proposition 8 was the extra push that I couldn't handle. This wasn't the case for these members. They stayed. In the face of discrimination and judgement they believed enough to stay.

My relief quickly turned into frustration and anger. Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ never said anything about sexuality. And the church isn't bothering to focus on anything else Leviticus has to say about abominations. They aren't calling out folks who eat shellfish as apostates and prohibiting their children from baptism.

Children of murders, rapists, adulterers, and abusers can still be baptized, blessed, go on missions, get the priesthood (if they are male), get married in the temple, etc. But if your parents are in a committed marriage and love you enough to want you to be baptized and therefore 'saved', too bad so sad. The church is communicating to the world that they firmly believe that the messages you receive at home from a committed loving couple are worse than those you receive from abusers.

That is a new kind of bullshit.

I have read plenty of Mormonsplaining and I think I understand the motivation the church has for this dickhole move. They are protecting themselves from having to ever perform a same-sex marriage in the temple. They are lashing out against LGBT individuals by calling them apostates, pushing them away by punishing their children, and by doing so they are protecting the 'holiest of holies' - the temple and their plagiarized Freemason rituals. That is how I see it.

While existing in the church between 1980 and 2008 I have heard so many discussions with Mormon family members and friends about if 'gay' marriage passes, then 'they' will try to force the church to perform 'gay' temple sealings.

This new policy seems to be a last ditch effort to protect what the church has been trying to avoid for years. Because the church firmly believes that worthy members get their own planets after judgement day, and that the planet they get needs one man and multiple sister wives in order to make spirit babies, and you can't make spirit babies with two dudes or two chicks via spirit coitus, then they must be stopped from entering the temple. And the only way to do that is to make it a belief within the church so the government can't interfere.

I hope that this change causes LGBTQ members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to question their beliefs in Mormonism. I hope they have the support structure to leave. But I know that isn't always the case, and sometimes living an uncomfortable lie is better than living an excruciating truth. They are loved and worthy of so much more than the Mormon church has to offer.

Some LGBTQ members may believe that this policy is only temporary, like the policy regarding African American members up until 1978. Some LGBTQ members will live their lives in the closet, preferring the love of their family and community over the backlash they feel (or know) they would receive if they left the church. Some members will continue to go to church believing that 'god works in mysterious ways' and this is a test or something they shouldn't question.

No matter how you look at this new policy it hurts good people, it hurts families, and it hurts children.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

30 Things for Which I am Thankful

30 days of November. 30 days of Thanksgiving.

1. I am thankful for two little girls who came into my life and changed it in more ways than I ever could have imagined. I am thankful for their health and well being. I am thankful for the little whispers and sweet songs. I am thankful for the new words they teach me and who I am becoming because of them.

2. I am thankful for a husband who married a crazy lady, but loves her all the same. Who has stood by my side through the loss of my religion and the discovery of something so much more fulfilling. I now only identify with a small remnant of the woman he married, but he has always been there for me; he is my best friend.

3. I am thankful for science and medical science. It has saved my life, protected my babies from infant death, and has given us peace of mind through some very scary times.

4. I am thankful for my family. Yes, those I live with, but also the folks who still talk to me even though the years, the miles, and the lies that enveloped my youth seemed to try to block a deep relationship from forming. Those who did not have to keep in touch, yet still have. I love you.

5. I am thankful for my friends. The very close ones, who I never get to talk to as much as I would like and the friendly acquaintances who I wish I could get to know so much better. I know my insecurities and awkwardness sometimes prevents me from reaching out, but I am still so glad I have all of you.

6. I am thankful for my job. And the job I had before this. And the job Dustin had before that. I am so grateful for being able to provide for our family. Even when times were tough and we depended upon food pantries and the government for help. I am so thankful to live in a country where my children may have had to go to bed hungry, but didn't have to starve while we were unemployed. 

7. I am thankful for my home. I am grateful that we own it. I am happy that even though it started as a run down house, we have made it into a warm, inviting home. Who says a 110 year old can't have charm?

8. I am thankful for my colleagues, old and new. I am thankful for Michelle and Sue. On the days I really didn't know if I could make it through the day at my last job, they were always there to help me laugh about life and help me keep my cool. I am thankful for Frank and Andrew, they always help me find answers to my questions and have helped me adapt to my new job, even though they didn't have to.

9. I am thankful for the city where we live. It is growing and improving every day and I feel so lucky and fortunate to have landed here. I am so thankful that I started here without a friend within 2000 miles and am now surrounded by awesome people.

10. I am thankful for our vehicles. They may not be the newest nor the best, but they get me to work, and the girls to school everyday. 

11. I am thankful for my daughters' teachers. I am so grateful that they teach my children reading, writing and arithmetic, along with a bunch of other things. I am thankful that I don't have to pay much for my children to get a basic education. 

12. I am thankful for progress. Progress in my life, in my dreams and goals, in our society, and science.

13. I am thankful for social media. It has allowed me to keep in touch with some very awesome friends and acquaintances that I would have lost touch with otherwise. 

14. I am thankful for quiet moments. No matter how few and far between they are.

15. I am thankful for my dog. Yeah, he isn't the brightest, and ofttimes a little rambunctious, but he calms a part of me that I had forgotten about since I lost my dear Phoebe.

16. I am thankful for the written word. I don't have as much time for it as I would like, but it's wonderful to get lost in the imagination of others.

17. I am thankful for the freedom that my grandfather and so many others fought for. I hate that we still have to fight for many freedoms here at home, but I am grateful that many freedoms have been recently won.

18. I am thankful for the internet, Wikipedia, and oddly enough, the Craigslist ATFO. I am so thankful that I have had to opportunity to learn so many things in the past five years. Many things led me away from Mormonism, and for that I am forever grateful. I am thankful that when I don't know the answers to my daughters' questions, that I am able to hop online and we can find out together.

19. I am thankful for unconditional love. Something that I had never thought I had felt, until I had my daughters.  Growing up I felt the love from my parents was contingent upon certain things being met or achieved. I am thankful that isn't my mindset in raising my daughters.

20. I am thankful for my local UU church. I don't go as often as I would like, but when I was struggling out here in a new place, feeling so alone, they helped me feel less so.

21. I am thankful for my abilities. I am thankful that I can do what I can do, even when I feel like I should be able to do more.

22. I am thankful for spaghetti, pizzelles, biscuits and gravy, coffee, chicken 'n dumplings, and every other smell and taste that reminds me of my two beautiful grandmothers.

23. I am thankful for being able to create. I am thankful that I can sew, embroider, darn, crochet, paint and bake. That even though I love them as hobbies, I know they are also post-apocalyptic life skills.

24. I am thankful role models. They are different today than they were when I was a child, but I know that I always have looked up to others and have striven to be more than I am.

25. I am thankful for charity. The charity of others that has allowed me to have things that I would otherwise not been able to afford or obtain, and the charity that I do that allows me to have those happy, warm fuzzies.

26. I am thankful for my parents and my brothers. I no longer talk to them, but I still love them.  I am thankful for the strength it took to end my relationship with them, even though it was extremely painful and the hardest thing that I have ever had to do.

27. I am thankful for pictures; the few I have of myself before the age of 17, the boxes of pictures of Dustin's grandparents and mother, the many I have of my own children and little family. I don't know why, but having them makes me happy.

28.  I am thankful for my sense of humor. It has kept me out of prison, has led me to a life of fandom and it has helped shaped two little girls into little sassy pants.

29. I am thankful for holidays. I love the traditions, events and memories that are made when a day is set apart from the rest to celebrate life, love and family.

30. I am thankful for this one life I get to live on this tiny speck of rock hurling through space. It is way too short and way too small, but it's mine and I get to share it with so many cool people and cool things. 

I am so thankful for so much more than I could possibly say, but I am so thankful today and everyday for every single person reading this. I hope everyone enjoys their days of Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ramblings of a Broken Mother

Some of the things my Mother has said to me have really stayed with me. They aren't all verbatim, as I didn't write them all down when they were said. Many are worded exactly how they came out of her mouth and each one shaped me into the person I am today.

~"You're too old for hugs."
(I was 12.)

~"Tuck your butt in, suck in your tummy, and straighten your back. At least TRY to stand like a lady."
(I was about 14 and standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes.)

~"You have really chubby knees."
(This was an ongoing comment.)

~"Boys like long, blonde hair. If you ever want to find a husband, you have to keep it that way."
(Every time I asked to get my hair cut or dyed back to my natural color.)

~"You should get acrylics, I think they would help distract from how fat your nail beds are."
(I think I was 15, she made mention of my 'fat' or 'chubby' body parts constantly.)

~"How dare you ask me that! Do you know how hurt your father would be if he found out you asked that?"
(I was 14 and asked her if my father was my birth father after she had spent 30 minutes hinting that he wasn't... and he isn't.)

~"Don't sing. You weren't given that talent. Hopefully you'll marry a man that can sing, so you'll have someone to sing your babies to sleep."
(These kinds of comments usually happened when I was singing along to something I was playing on the piano.)

~"You are so melodramatic."
(This was also a constant remark. I heard this more than I heard her say 'I love you'.)

~"Now you can date a good Mormon boy."
(After I had my heart broken for the very first time and mistakenly went to her for consolation.)

~"So when is the baby due?"
(After I told her I was eloping with my husband. I wasn't pregnant.)

~"I hope your baby has a birth defect."
(When I was doing research with my first pregnancy about possible anomalies and complications that could happen so I would be prepared. She said this, then stomped down the hall into her room and slammed the door.)

~"The reason she was born that way is because you aren't going to church."
(After my first child was born with an incomplete unilateral cleft lip she let me know that god was punishing me for not going to Mormon church.)

~"Did you read the story about (insert news story about a child getting raped, murdered, abused, etc.)?"
(Even after I told ehr to stop only sharing horrific stories with me because I couldn't handle it emotionally.)

~"I am going to call CPS if you don't start taking my grandchildren to [Mormon] church!"
(She threatened this more after we moved out of California.)

~"I am going to file a missing persons report if you don't give me your address."
(We had to go to our local police office to let them know we weren't missing.)

~"If I ever find out where you live, I will wait for you to drop my grandchildren off at school, I will go in and get them and take them home with me."
(She would threaten to kidnap my children via email.)

~"One day you'll understand. When the moon is in the first house of Aquarius of the morning sun you'll understand."
(This was her response when I asked why she lied to me my entire life. It isn't verbatim because it was so odd, but she told me when certain celestial bodies are aligned that I would instantly gain the knowledge of her motivation of her actions.)

I could totally see all of these as motivational posters. Thanks mom!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Today is my Grandmother's Birthday

 “Grandma, tell us a story,” my cousins begged in perfect unison. We all knew that if we had been well behaved that day we would be rewarded with one of my grandmother’s in depth and extremely detailed bedtime stories. My cousins, brothers, and I looked at her with bright eyes hoping we earned one of our favorite rewards. Some of the smaller cousins wiggled with anticipation inside their sleeping bags that were sporadically spaced across the living room floor of my grandparent’s house.

  “Which story would you like to hear, my little angels?” She knew we all wanted to hear about the secret garden that could only be accessed through a secret passage in an old castle back in a magical place called Ireland, as that was the only story we ever requested. But she always asked us anyway.

  “Grandma, can you tell us the story about the garden? The secret one?” My eldest cousin, Samantha, was always willing to ask for things. I always struggled with expressing myself because I felt like a burden, but she had no fear of burdening others. My grandmother started her story with immense detail. She would describe the castle, the stairs, the door, the flowers, the vines, the weather; almost to the point that it wasn’t a story at all.

That night, after she finished her long detailed narrative, I looked around the living room at all of the children that she lulled to sleep with her visions and voice, and I felt like I had disrespected her by not falling asleep to her story. I looked up at her and told her I was sorry I didn’t fall asleep. She smiled at me and said, “Oh, my Sweet Leilani, don’t apologize. Let me tell you another story, this one is shorter, but I think it can be our secret.”

  I listened to her soft voice as it began to paint a picture, one that just she and I would share. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t as detailed as the tale she had shared moments ago with me and a handful of her other grandchildren. She started by sharing details about her mother, Polly, and her mother’s only sister, Fern. She talked about how they were the best of friends and the worst of enemies. She told me that their favorite thing to do was tease each other. Fern would sing, “Polish it in the corner” and Polly would reply with, “Furnish it in the corner.” I snuggled down and smiled as I drifted off to sleep enjoying the sound of my grandmother’s voice sweetly reciting our secret story. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand exactly what the story meant at the time, though once I was old enough to know what curse words were, it did finally dawn on me. The only thing that ever seemed to matter when I was with my grandmother was how much she loved me.

  Many children grow up living in their grandparent’s home, so it wasn’t unusual to me being raised there for almost my entire childhood. Our situation was a little different because my parents lived there too. My maternal grandparents owned a five bedroom house on the corner of North Cashew Avenue in a city named Brea, in California. It had a fenced yard and a tree swing, as well as a two story fort my grandfather built for his grandchildren in the backyard. One thing that made our situation peculiar is that we often had other people living with us. Sometimes one of my grandparents other eight children and their spouse and children would move in with us. I would share my bedroom with various female cousins, and my brothers would make room for our male cousins in each of their rooms. My parents lived in the finished garage, so my aunt and uncle would move into the extra bedrooms upstairs, near the children and my grandparent’s master bedroom. Other times my grandparents would rent out the extra bedroom, either to missionaries, or strangers, or even church members. Growing up with the rotating door that was my grandparent’s home was oftentimes a strange experience.

            Out of everyone who lived with us through the years, my grandmother was my favorite. She had a way of loving that could never be doubted. I loved her more than I loved my mother, and for good reason, my mother was often mean and cruel. My grandmother would sing to me as a young child and tell me those detailed bedtime stories that she kept filed away in her memories. I remember her hands vividly; at times I am convinced I remember her hands better than I can remember her face. I recall the topography of her hands, the way puffy veins created mountain ranges and how the valleys were the place where her liver spots gathered. I know they weren’t always so wrinkly and shaky, but that is how I remember them. I remember how it felt for her hand to hold mine and I remember how my hand transitioned from feeling so small in hers, to hers feeling so small in mine. I remember how gentle she was when she did my waist length hair; my mother wouldn’t allow it to be cut and was always rushed when she braided it. I remember searching my grandmother out in the mornings, hoping she would have time to braid it before my mother got a hold of me.

  I hated having long hair. It was the bane of my childhood existence. It reached down slightly past my waist, just long enough to be in my way every time I sat down. I went through the morning torture of my mother braiding it for school, and the same ritual every night for bed. She would rip the brush through the tangles, as though having to brush it at all was burdening her beyond my young understanding. I would look for my grandmother some mornings, hoping that she hadn’t left to run errands, or decided to sleep in, so that I could have her put my hair up. My mother didn’t like the sloppiness of my grandmother’s arthritic hands. And I definitely couldn’t do it myself for multiple made up reasons, but mostly because I would have pulled it loosely back at the nape of my neck, which always upset my mother.

  My mother would start by putting my mane in a tight, gelled down pony tail. So tight that there were days that I felt my eyeballs were on the brink of popping out. Then she would jerk my head about as she braided over two feet of hair. The last step required a can of AquaNet as she sprayed my bangs to the point of immobility. I do not believe there are words to describe how much I hated it. I would ask daily to have it cut. She always had a boy-based answer to shatter my wish. Her favorite was that boys liked girls with long hair, and the second place answer was that she didn’t want people thinking I was a boy. No matter her reason, the answer was always no. That is, until one morning before school when I was in 4th grade. I was trying my best to stand still during the morning pain session when I asked her if I would be able to get a haircut. She snapped. Before I realized what was happening, my mother was standing behind me with the kitchen shears. She asked me over and over if I was certain that this was what I wanted and I can remember staring in the mirror at my long locks, which were happily nodding along with my head in the affirmative.

  I can still see my mother shaking her head in disappointment. I remember the feeling of her pulling my hair back in one clump and the sound it made as she cut through it with one hard slice of the scissors. She pulled her hand away, holding a symbol of multiple years of pain and headache up for me to see in the mirror. I waited for her to straighten the haphazardness out, but then I slowly realized that she had no intention of helping my new haircut look cute. She was smiling at me in the mirror, still holding the tail of hair, looking very proud of herself for teaching me a lesson. I stared at her for a little too long and realized that she was rewarded by the tears forming in my eyes. I quickly looked back at myself, at the haircut I knew some of the kids at school were going to laugh at, and I realized something. I was never going to be able to be the daughter my mother wanted me to be. My new haircut wasn’t perfect, but it was too short for a ponytail and braid. That second realization caused the corners of my mouth to begin to turn upward. I really wish my mother saw the beginning of my smile, but she had already tossed the hair into the bathroom trash can and stomped away victoriously.

            By the time my grandmother picked me up from school that day, my best friend and I had already evened out my hair the best we could in the girls’ restroom during our first recess. My grandmother didn’t say anything about my hair. I wasn’t sure if she was as disappointed in me as my mother was, or if she didn’t know what to say to console me. I was so relieved that my grandmother picked me up that day; I don’t think I could have stomached sitting in such close quarters with my mother. I looked over at my grandmother as she drove the winding way home and whispered that I loved her so softly I almost wished she hadn’t heard me. She took her eyes off the road, which she was known to do for extended periods of time, and smiled at me. She put her hand on the nape of my neck and tussled my hair. Her soft, wrinkled, arthritic hand in my hair caused my heart to warm my chest and the tears to start to roll down my cheeks.

  My grandmother would often drive me home, humming a song from her childhood, always ready to fling her arm across my chest if she stepped on the brakes suddenly. I remember watching her twiddle her thumbs at stoplights. I remember watching her hands roll out pie crust, or knead bread dough. I remember how her hands felt on mine as she showed me how to whip eggs into merengue and how to create clothing using her sewing machine. The smell of fabric and warm oil still causes my brain to recall memories of her and how she became more and more dependent upon me threading the machine for her. My favorite thing to watch her hands do was play the piano; it was the highlight of my week. I can still see her hands gliding up and down the keys, her voice traveling through the house like a lost opera singer looking for the stage. I tried to mimic the way she effortlessly made beautiful music sing from the belly of the piano, her hands never seeming to stay on a single ivory or ebony key for too long. I remember the way I felt when she told me I was old enough to learn as my hands could easily span over half an octave. I couldn’t hold my giddiness inside, I was swinging my legs back and forth on the piano bench, like the young child that I was, ready to learn the majestic piece “Mary had a Little Lamb”. She numbered the five ivory keys starting with middle C up to the first G above middle C, with 1 2 3 4 5. She sang 3 2 1 2, 3 3 3, 2 2 2, 3, 5 5. And I followed her voice to make my own music bellow out of the gorgeous instrument that I slowly learned how to play without the masking tape.

  The year I turned twelve my grandparents moved out of their house on North Cashew Avenue and I desperately wanted to go with them. They had purchased a new house in Apple Valley, California. I begged my mother to let me go. Her answer was absolutely no; I was absolutely shattered. I remember helping my grandparents pack their belongings, sorting through years of memories that I wasn’t alive for, wishing that each thing I touched could stay with me. Standing out by the moving van I saw movement from the corner of my eye, a mound of blue blankets taped together and moving on wheels; it was my grandmother’s piano. I became hyperaware of my entire body in that moment, all the emotions I had been fighting back all week became ripples on the placid surface of my expression. As my grandfather, uncles, and father struggled to get the piano on the lift gate, I struggled to hold back the beads of tears that streamed down my face. I felt someone come up beside me and I turned to see my mother looking at me with her brow furrowed together. She angrily said, “Stop being so melodramatic,” and stomped into the house.

        In late 2009 my grandmother died. She died quietly on the morning of her first born daughter’s 54th birthday. She died in peace in the hospital alone, after begging my sleep deprived grandfather to head home to get some sleep, assuring him that she would be fine. I wasn’t there; no one told me she had passed away until the day of her funeral and by the time my mother told me, there was no way to make it to California in time. But I can imagine her hands, resting across her chest with her spots, and mountains, and valleys, and it breaks my heart that I will never learn from them again. I see glimpses of her in my children. Though they only met her briefly while they were very young, a part of her lives on in them. I see her hands in my own hands, as I grow and age I see mountains start to form and my freckles gather like spots in the valleys, wrinkles magically appear that weren’t there before and I know that because of my grandmother, my hands are able to do things that they wouldn’t have ever done otherwise. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sometimes I Wonder

I was born to an unwed mother in July 1980.

My parents married in Las Vegas in July of 1981. Granted, the man my mother married would not be my adoptive father until a few years later, but since he is the man who raised me, I always refer to him as my dad.

My first half brother was due in April of 1982, but was two weeks late and was born in May.

In August of 1983 my father adopted me, and that same year in October my brother and I were sealed to my parents in a temple ritual.

My second half brother was born in December 1983.

My last half brother was born in April of 1985 and shortly after that my mother under went many surgeries trying to stop cancer from taking her life. She was in and out of the hospital dozens of times between 1985 and 1993.

In 1994 my parents separated, then divorced.

In 1996 they remarried.

In 1998 they divorced.

In 2001 the remarried.

In 2006 they prepared for another divorce, but decided to stay together.

After they divorced in 1998, my mother decided it would be best to tell me that the man I always knew as my biological father wasn't my real dad.

She reached this decision after one of their many fights. That night I had spent time with my dad and brothers at Disneyland. We were annual passholders and it wasn't uncommon for us to visit for a few hours here and there when we knew the park wouldn't be too busy.

It was my dad's weekend, but being a full grown 18 year old adult, I preferred to sleep in my own bed than on the floor of my dad's apartment. So after we decided to call it a night, my dad drove me home and dropped me off.

I walked in the house, let her know I was home, then headed to my bedroom. She called to me and told me there was something important she wanted to tell me.

I plopped down on the couch and she told me that my dad wasn't my real dad, that my brothers were only half brothers, that she was raped and that is how I came to be, and that I had older half siblings, but she wasn't sure. I stared blankly at her for a short while, then she said that I couldn't tell my brothers because they didn't know.

I was dumbstruck. I didn't know how to process the information. I borrowed her car and drove to my boyfriends house. He held me as I cried and tried to help me process some of the emotions I was experiencing. He asked me if she could be lying to try to hurt me, and even though it wouldn't have surprised me, I knew she had told me something true.

My dad was Italian. 100% full blooded Italian. I had always had a sense of pride knowing that I was 50% Italian. It gave me a sense of belonging. I loved watching my Italian grandmother cook and I wanted to visit Italy one day. That was all taken from me in an instant. I could still go to Italy and I could still find joy with my grandmother, but I felt like a piece of me was confiscated. A piece that I realized never truly belonged to me, but something that I identified with and found pride in.

When my dad found out how she told me he was furious. He felt that he should have been present when I was told the truth and that they should have done it as a team. My mom felt that I was more her daughter than his and since I 'aged out' of child support, he no longer had a say.

My world was shattered. My two younger brothers who were closest in age found out almost immediately after I was told. It was important to me that the lies stopped. My mother begged me not to tell my youngest brother. He was delayed due to the medications my mother was on during pregnancy, and she didn't know how he would handle it. I decided to respect her wishes, as I didn't want to upset the already frail balance of the household.

That didn't last long, my youngest brother struggled with boundaries and walked into my bedroom a few nights later when I was talking to my boyfriend about it.  He overheard enough to understand that I wasn't is 'real' sister. It broke my heart trying to explain it to him and I could tell that he was equally as hurt.

As time went by I started to wonder why she kept me. If she was raped, and knew her attacker well enough to know that I had older half siblings, why did she choose to keep me? I understand why an abortion probably wasn't high on her list of choices, but why didn't she give me up for adoption?

I decided to ask her to tell me more about my biological father. She said his name was Michael Craig Hobbs and he was a customer that she spoke to every so often when he would come into the convenience store she worked at. She knew he was married, but they became quick friends. One night after she got off work, he stopped by and asked her to come over to his place for some dinner.

That is when he raped her.

She said that it was brutal enough that she had dark bruising for months afterwards and when she realized she was pregnant, she panicked. She hadn't told anyone about the incident and now that she was pregnant, she knew she had to.

She said they called the police, he was arrested, she pressed charges and took him to court. But before the trial started she decided it was too painful. And canceled the court hearings.

Three years later when my dad wanted to adopt me, she said she drove me out to meet Michael for the first and last time and he signed away his custody.

I felt bad for her. She was only 19 when she had me. I know working at a convenience store wasn't the most glamorous job, but because of what happened that Autumn night in 1979 she lost a lot of her choices for her future.

It wasn't until a decade later, when I was 28, when I decided I wanted to look for Michael because my genetic history had become important after my first child was born. As I searched, I found there weren't any arrest records for him in either Orange or Riverside County. I looked for court records, I looked for marriage certificates, and it was almost like he never existed. I went down to the Family Court in Orange County to try to find something, anything, that would lead me in the right direction. I came up empty handed.

Because I was adopted by my dad, my records were sealed in the State of California. I didn't have access to anything. If I wanted to find out anything, I would have to ask my mother and trust that what she told me was the truth.

That didn't go well. She immediately became the victim. How dare I try to hurt her like this. How dare I viciously attack the man who raised me by wanting to know about her rapist. How could I be so selfish and so shallow.

After talking to her a bit more, I started to doubt there was a man named Michael. I started to wonder about if she really did know my biological dad, but they were both Mormon, if she had to lie in order to be able to stay in her parents home. I wonder if he was going to be leaving for his mission and if she had been honest, it would have ruined his life too. I wonder if she loved him and would have married him if she didn't get knocked up. I wondered if her life would have been better without me. I think there is a very good chance it would have been.

Friday, September 11, 2015

When the Towers Fell

Today, I hate religion.

Every September 11th, I hate religion.

Ask me any other day and I will be willing to admit that there may be a limited amount of beneficial things in regards to organized beliefs. But not today.

I was still a Mormon when the planes stuck the Twin Towers. A Jack-Mormon - one who doesn't follow the letter of the law though they believe in the religion - but still a Mormon.

I wasn't at home when the towers fell.

My mother kicked me out in March 2001. My mother had decided that I was a bad influence on my three younger brothers because she caught me talking about condoms with my (boy)friend who I met on AOL in November of the previous year. These are all horrible things.

My choices were simple:
I could be homeless,
or try to impede upon relatives to whom I was not close,
or move across country with a complete stranger that I had met on the internet in November 2000.

After asking around to try to secure a couch until my mother 'forgave' me, I realized that I was going to be homeless. This had been the third time my mother had kicked me out of the house for trivial things that any good parent would have coached their child through.

I decided enough was enough.

The first time she kicked me out was in September 1999 because I called letting her know that I was going to be 5 minutes late for curfew. I was with my Mormon boyfriend on a typical dinner-and-a-movie date, and I called her to let her know the movie got out later than we had thought it would.

She told me not to bother coming home if I couldn't make it home before midnight. So I slept on his couch that night. I went to church the next day and went home afterward. She told me because I didn't come home that night, that I needed to find another place to live. I moved in with my best friend Tina and her mom.

A few weeks later, my mother called Tina's mom and asked her to ask me to move back home because my brothers missed me. So I did.

About midway through October of that same year, she kicked me out again. This happened shortly after her noticing that I didn't take the sacrament (body and blood of Christ) one Sunday. This was a personal decision and one that I was meeting with the Bishop about at the time. Because she didn't ask, and I wasn't about to tell, she assumed the worst. She leaned over and "whispered" rather loudly, "Why didn't you take the sacrament? You're not a virgin anymore, are you?" She stood up and left. As in, she stomped out of the quietest part of the Sunday service and went home and left me and my three younger brothers at church. Her voice almost echoed, so I knew everyone heard what she said.

The four of us walked home from church that day because she never came back to pick us up. When I walked in the door she said that I was being a horrible influence on my brothers and asked me to leave. I once again moved in with Tina and her mom.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my mother asked me to move back in so we could be together during the holidays. So I did.

She and I never got along from that point forward. I never forgave her for embarrassing me in front of the entire congregation, and she never apologized. I tried to act like nothing happened, but she had made her mind up about the reasons why I had stayed out that one night in September and she made it very clear that she thought I had lost my virginity to a young man who still went on his mission. It's as though she believed that I single-handedly sent him to hell.

I want to put this out there. Jeremy and I never had sex. Even after he came home early from his mission. Even when I slept in his apartment that September night. Even though I really wanted to and so did he. Not once, not almost, not ever. But it didn't matter. And she never bothered to ask.

A year and a few months passed with me spending most of my time at work and school. I had filled my days to be away from home as much as possible. I worked overnight sleeping at the homes of elderly folk to make sure they had someone with them. If I wasn't in class during the day, I was working at my full time receptionist job. And if I then found myself with time, I was with Tina.

But that didn't stop the inevitable. She picked up the phone line one night in February 2001 and decided to listen to a conversation that I was having with a boy that I had spent many nights speaking with about life, love, dreams, poetry, and sex. Had she picked up the phone 10 minutes earlier she would have heard a conversation about Disneyland. But, of course not, she picked up the phone, quietly, with the intent of listening to a conversation her daughter was having with a boy. And she heard me asking questions about condoms. Because of course she did.

She didn't wait for the conversation to be over and talk to me about things one on one later that night. She didn't call my father for advice on what to do. No, she started yelling into the phone that she wanted me out of her house tonight and I was never welcome back. Terrell stayed on the line, through all of her berating and slut-shaming and name calling to make sure I knew that if I couldn't find anywhere else to go, I could live with him.

So I moved to Georgia a few days later, to live in a dorm, with a boy I had never met in real life, because I felt like I had nowhere else to go.

I packed up my car and drove across country. I called Tina every night to let her know I was safe, but she was the only person who cared.

When the towers fell.

I arrived in Georgia with Terrell in early March 2001. I got a job at Dave and Buster's in April and we moved into a small apartment in July. No one from my family had been in contact with me since I moved out of California.

I was sleeping with the first plane hit the first tower. I often worked late, so Terrell would wake up and go to class at Georgia State University in the morning and many times I would sleep in until 9 a.m.

I was awoken by our phone ringing. We were beyond 'college poor' and had a phone without caller ID. I thought it may be Terrell calling from school as he drove an older Camaro that wasn't without its problems.

It was my mother.

She was in a panic. She was speaking really fast and it didn't make sense to my half asleep brain. She was stumbling over her words as she explained that something was happening and she just wanted to make sure I was alive. She told me to turn on the news. I flipped on the television and saw grey smoke coming out of the first tower.

I explained that I was fine and that I wasn't living in a big city with tall buildings. Then my thoughts went to Terrell, he was in Atlanta at school. I started to panic. He didn't have a cell phone, we couldn't afford one, so there was no way for me to contact him.

After my mother's curiosity and concern had been placated, she went back to working and let me off the phone.

I watched the second plane fly into the second tower and I felt tears start to fall down my face. I didn't know if Terrell was safe, if Atlanta was part of the plan for this horrible event. They were talking about grounding all planes. The news people who didn't know if it was intentional a half hour earlier were now claiming that this all had to have been done with intent.

It seemed like forever waiting for Terrell to get home from school. His parents called a little after my mother got off the phone asking about his safety. I told them when he got home, I would have him call. When he came home we both sat watching the television for most of the afternoon, trying to understand what had truly just happened and how.

I cannot imagine how it felt for those who waited and waited only to find out that their loved one would never come home.

I was scheduled to work from 4 p.m. until midnight. I was working the front door that night checking IDs and maintaining the entry way. When I showed up to work, it was empty. Our manager decided to close early that night. The only people who came in were the family of a girl who had planned to celebrate her 21st birthday that night, but most businesses were already closed.

My mother didn't contact me again during the time I lived in Georgia. My dad would call every so often to check up on me. But I didn't speak to my mother again until May 2003 when I moved back to California.

Imagine No Religion

All religion seems to do is separate us. Someone has to be the heathens or the infidels or the sinners. It paints a group or many groups of people into 'lesser thans' and it gives permission for horrible atrocities to take place.

When we label people as different than ourselves, it makes it easier to no longer see them as people. It makes it easier to hate them for pointless and trivial reasons. It makes it easier for people to fly planes into buildings and for others to refuse to give people marriage licenses.