The Racist Bones in Our Bodies

I have racist bones in my body.

When I went to Germany, I was really struck by how they owned their ugly history. There were monuments and memorials, very much a country of "this is not who we are, but we will not erase this ugliness, but rather, own it, so that we do not do it again." I mean - I'm not speaking for Germany, but that was the impression that I got. And it struck me that as Americans, we really prefer to sweep our ugly history under the rug. To pretend that it didn't shape who we are today.
The thing is, there isn't anything wrong with saying, you know, yesterday I had some beliefs that were kind of fucked up. Today, I have fewer. Tomorrow, I hope even less. But fucked up beliefs have always been part of my history and in order to purge myself of them, I have to be willing to admit that they're there. I can't sweep them under the rug.

These pieces of my past...
My grandparents used to make me cross the street when people of color approached. It was ok, though, because they were just being cautious. Right?
My 6th grade boyfriend was black, and my mom and stepdad made me break up with him, not because they were racist, you know, but because "society wouldn't approve." I mean, how could they be racist? They had black friends. Right?
When my husband and I opened a business in a very diverse neighborhood, I spent the first 6 months hoping we would be ok, despite what I perceived as the neighborhood's "sketchiness." (it wasn't sketchy. It was economically challenged and it was diverse.)
I've let my sticker on my license plates expire for up to 9 months at a time, drove up and down a street where people of color are regularly pulled over, and never received a ticket. I've actually only been pulled over for it once. And they let me go.
I went on vacation once to a southern plantation and thought nothing of the history of such a place. Thought nothing of the fact that I would be horrified if someone wanted to vacation at Auschwitz, but plantations are cool because they're houses and maybe haunted and look at all of the pretty trees.
I am 100% positive that I have made jokes or insensitive comments in the past and still put myself in the "not racist" category.
So I went through most of my life thinking that I wasn't part of the problem, because I believed segregation was wrong and slavery is wrong and racist insults are wrong and discrimination is wrong and I'm a good person and I don't have a racist bone in my body, right? Because I don't see color, right? And it's not my fault if the police don't want to pull me over EVER, for repeatedly breaking the law, for 9 months, while people of color are pulled over all around me.

Looking back, it's embarrassing.


And then a couple of things happened, and I had a "holy shit" moment. The moment I realized that I am indeed part of the problem. And ever since, I've been trying very hard to recognize that and work against it. I'm sure I fail regularly. Part of that failure is probably being really willing to point out racism in other people, but shoving my own past under the rug. It's not me, it's you. So here it is - have some of my history. It's gross and this is just a tiny chunk of it, and probably not the worst. And it makes me feel gross. I'm not better than you. I'm flawed. I've made so many mistakes, I couldn't possibly count them all. But here is something that I'm glad that I eventually learned:

We do need to see color. Privilege is a thing and if you're white, you've got it. Systemic racism is real and if you're surrounded by mostly white folks, there's a reason that you're not seeing it. If you were raised by people who regularly said racist shit and engaged in racism, you were influenced. And I know that everyone wants to believe that they're not part of the problem and that they're "one of the good ones," but man...if you really don't want to be part of the problem, you're going to have to take a very hard look at who you are and what you believe and how you were raised and how this American society currently benefits you in ways that it absolutely does not benefit others. When we say, "this is not us," and people of color are saying, "no - this is how it's always been. People are just feeling a little more emboldened these days, and also, you haven't been paying attention," we should listen. We should pay attention. And we should examine our actions and our belief systems and the things we casually say and do and we should listen to people's stories and see color and not try to sweep our history under the rug because we're embarrassed. It sucks to be embarrassed, but I guarantee you it's far worse to fear for your life and the lives of your loved ones and to watch your rights be trampled on while people confidently tell you "I don't see color."

We have racist bones in our bodies. It's not helping anyone to pretend that we don't. Those racist bones are there - we have to be conscious of them so that we can work against them every single time they try to come to the forefront.

If yesterday we were very wrong (and so many of us have been so very wrong - I have been very wrong), we can be thankful to have been given today to correct our course and do the work to be on the right side of history.

I wish we were better.

I've read approximately a million stories this week on Chester Bennington's death and the impact he had on people who were/are struggling with mental health and/or traumatic pasts. Each one made me cry.

Like so many others, his death hit me hard - much harder than I would have expected. And it wasn't because I knew him - I had met him once, but did not know him. But for some reason, I was and am absolutely grief stricken about his death.

I'm a pretty sensitive person - I cry about everything and I feel things intensely. But this is different.

I'm gutted.

You know that cliche about being "raised by rock and roll?"

That's me. In 1999, I was fresh off of a failed marriage (I am a failure). I had serious childhood trauma (even your family hates you), so no family that I spoke to. I had no education (you're stupid) and no skills (worthless), so I was a stripper (slut). I was worthless. I was a failure at everything. I had terrible self esteem. I slept all day, I was haunted by memories and feelings of inadequacy and I would spend my nights taking my clothes off for strangers, being told by some that I was the most beautiful woman on the planet while others flung quarters at me, commented on my fat thighs and called me a whore.

I went out a lot. Got some tattoos. Pierced my face. Slept around. Probably drank too much.

I was deeply, deeply unhappy.





It was ...not the best version of me.

I didn't have much, but I had music. Korn, Linkin Park, Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Cold, Marilyn Manson, Tool, Nine Inch Nails...I was angry and sad and fucked up and the music was angry and sad and fucked up and for me, that was home. I went to concert after concert. I went backstage. I became a metal version of Penny Lane, only dirtier. Sleazier. More naive? Didn't matter to me. We were all in it together. Some musicians and crew were less than kind. Some were beyond kind. I was the same. For me, it was family. I took the good with the bad. They sang and screamed what I felt, and I really needed to be around people who felt the way that I did. It felt...less lonely.




So I did meet Chester once, backstage at Ozzfest. My boyfriend at the time (we're still friends to this day) knew him and introduced me to "Chester."

I didn't recognize him - I had a few months to go before I *really* got into Linkin Park. He was talking about his throat being sore and me, being ever so helpful and not realizing who he was, told him it was probably the midwest and allergies and that he should drink some tea with honey and he would probably be just fine. He didn't look at me like I was crazy or "don't you know who I am" or be dismissive or any rock star type behavior. He was polite, said it was nice meeting you, and walked off after our conversation. Uneventful. Nice guy. Who was that?

Later, we were backstage for their show and I was like...oh. These guys are so good. Oh. That's the same dude. I'm an idiot. But really - what a nice guy. He didn't seem like a rock star at all.




And I really loved Linkin Park after that. They got it. There are only a few bands whose music still resonates with me today, all of these years later, and Linkin Park is one of them. So Chester dying...it feels like losing family.  In a way, it is losing family. And losing the same battle that I fight? It's scary. And the grief is compounded by the fact that some people just love to be mean and no matter how often I witness it, I always feel like I get sucker punched. Like -whoa. People are mean? Why? When did that happen? It's like I forget...

The internet is a front row seat to cruelty, so people have been predictably heartless and terrible and judgmental. It's ok to joke about people dying, as long as they're famous, right? It's ok to call them cowards for losing their battle, because it's not like they're here to defend themselves and anyway, you get sad and you didn't kill yourself, right?

And there are a couple of things to say about that. First - why? Would you walk up to someone in WalMart and ask to take their picture so you could publicly shame them online for the outfit they're wearing? Would you make jokes about the dead at their funeral, to the people who loved them? If you say terrible things about your neighbor online (and it's ok because you're not facebook friends anyway), would you say it to them in person? Be who you are, all of the time. Stand up for your words. And if your words are terrible, at least have the courage to say them out loud, in front of the people they are designed to hurt. Or, recognize that your words have power, that the internet reaches every corner of the earth and famous or not, absolutely everyone should be off limits when it comes to you being hurtful and cruel and indulging in shaming behavior. Use what you have to shine a light in the darkness. Don't increase the darkness. Don't make an already hard life worse.

And cowardice? No. No. Absolutely not. And no.

For me, childhood trauma and depression and anxiety is a bit like being afraid of needles. Only, imagine that the needles have really hurt you and also, the whole world is actually needles.

THE WHOLE WORLD IS NEEDLES.

And so the whole world is needles and you have this awful history with needles, but every day you get up and you go out into a world that's all needles. You are grateful for a day where you're not triggered, where you don't cry, where you don't drink, you don't cut yourself, where you actually left your house, you did something productive, you are grateful that you made it through 24 hours in a world made of needles. But you're tired. And you try to focus on all of the great things that happened today and what will happen in the future, but goddamn it, you just wish that the needles weren't there. They're really, really difficult to navigate and you're really, really tired. And to make matters worse, your brain is all messed up and keeps telling you that 1.) the needles are bigger than they actually are and 2.) that things that aren't needles are actually needles. It's exhausting.

Someone who fought that battle everyday, who not only went into a world full of needles but talked about how hard it was and gave comfort to people who knew EXACTLY what he meant, but who also had legions of people who love to be cruel on the internet tell him how stupid his battles were and how the songs from his heart didn't matter because he sucks because hey! It's fun to be mean to people on the internet! - that person is not a coward. That is a person who did battle every single day, 100% of the time, publicly, and gave countless people hope in the process and won every single battle ...until he didn't.

And so the answer isn't to jump onto our high horse and talk about the cowardice of others while bragging about how well we manage our own pain. The answer isn't to make cruel jokes.

I don't know what the answer is... but I know what it isn't. And I KNOW we can be better. I know I can be better.

We can hold the hands of people walking through darkness. We can not add to that darkness. We can show people that in a world full of needles, there are safety measures. There is protection. And here is my hand. I believe that your battle is real. I will go with you. I will be with you.

Shine a light. Be that light. The world is very, very hard and we can all do better. Please let us do better. We need to be better.


The Edited Version of This Week's Anger


They say grief is a roller coaster.

I'm going down.

I'm so angry. I'm sad. I'm miserable. I'm furious. I want to break everything. I want to crawl into bed and never get out.

I feel nauseous.

My head hurts.

Every post I write is a different emotion and here's where we are today:
I'm really, really angry at my parents.
I'm really angry at God.

I've tried sorting through every one else's experiences. I've tried to honor their feelings. I've choked my own feelings down until they made me physically sick. I have smiled and laughed and cried with everyone else and their wonderful memories of my parents and I have tried to see them through a different lens and I have tried SO HARD to pretend that my parents didn't hurt me more than I have ever been hurt by anyone and...

I'm exhausted.

Most people have better memories of my parents than I do. Which can mean a couple of things. Either my memory is completely wrong, everyone else is lying, or I just wasn't someone my parents could love.

I still don't think everyone else is lying. And I have witnesses and a box full of history that backs up my memories.

So my parents just didn't love me. It sounds whiny and bratty when you say it out loud, but when it's true, it absolutely wrecks your life.

And when you look at a bunch of pictures and hear so many stories about how much they loved everyone else and the great things they did for them...it's hard not to just completely lose it.  Even when people who you know and love and respect promise you that you are NOT a garbage person and that you ARE worthy of love...

It's hard not to be angry and sad and confused and to try and pretend that you're not angry and sad and confused until you make yourself physically sick....and just repeat. Over and over and over again.





I am not perfect and I have made more mistakes in my life than I can count. That is true. I have done a lot of good in my life. That is true. My mom was mean to me and my mom lied to me and my mom lied about me and my mom did a lot of damage to my soul. That is true.  My father disappeared and reappeared just enough to make me love and miss him and just enough to do a lot of damage to my soul.  That is true.  My parents were also good to a lot of people and most people have a lot of praise for them and their memories. That is true.



So now, I'm stuck. How can I have a relationship with people who have all of these great memories, when everything hurts?  How can I honor their memories but be true to my own? How do I exist with them in the middle of these opposites? How can I let go of my own awful bits and focus on being good but not only focus on the good in others? Why do the bad parts hurt so much? Why are they so BIG?

I don't know that there's a space for that. For this mess.  I don't know that there's a place for me not to remain isolated from my family. And that makes me sad. And scared. And angry. And sick.

I've been sick for weeks.


And this bothers me: Do they get to be in heaven now? Because they said the right words and poured water over their heads and broke the bread and drank from the cup and went to church, they just get to be in heaven now? Forever and ever, amen?  With nothing to be sorry about? And all of their sins forgiven and forgotten and a rotting pile of garbage, sick and sobbing daughter left here on earth to try and figure out what this all is, exactly?




I found myself screaming at the sky, "ARE YOU EVEN FUCKING SORRY?????"

I found myself thinking that God sure has a funny way of building character in humans and that all of these trials and tribulations and the constant pain for everyone, all of the time, is really just starting to piss me off.

God and I are fighting right now.

I found myself arguing with myself. Maybe there is nothing to be sorry about.  Maybe you really are garbage. Maybe your memories are false and your parents are in heaven where everything is forgiven and forgotten and they don't worry about you because this is all in your head, and you are nothing, nothing, nothing...

My husband pulls me back from that.  He reminds he that he is my witness. But he leaves and I spiral again...

I'm angry about the spiraling.  I feel like I should have a better handle on this, but I just don't.  I posted this yesterday and it was all anger and only anger. And I deleted it, and this is the edited version, because I am trying to be fair to my family and to be fair to their memories. This space, where I tell my stories, is now tied to other people. And I can be fair to me about this or I can be fair to them about this, but I cannot be fair to everyone. My truth is the opposite of theirs. And writing is my therapy. So I'm stuck. I don't really know what to do. But I'll figure it out.  We always figure it out, right?


Mother's Day


Mother's Day is hard. It always has been.

I didn't want to go to church today. Mothers everywhere. Mother's Day in your face.
But I went.

We're in the process of cleaning my mom's house and packing her things.

It's hard for my sister and my niece. Less so for me, to pack up the things of this woman that I didn't know, but who somehow was my mother.

I said goodbye years ago.

I did, right?


I asked my sister if I could organize the photographs and letters, put them into order, and give them back to her. 

My mom and I fought. She was better than me. I was all wrong. My mom had everything under control. I needed to get my shit together and find Jesus...or something. We fought. And we fought. Until we didn't. Nothing but space between my mother and I.

I didn't like her. I didn't think she was honest.

But I took these photos and letters and documents home and I read and organized for hours and I did not meet the saintly mother that everyone spoke so highly of...

But...

I met the mother who was human. Who struggled. Who suffered loss. Who was scared. Who was tired. Who struggled but cloaked her struggle in unhealthy coping mechanisms and so much kindness towards others that she didn't leave much for herself. 

She lied to me about who she was. She lied to herself about who I was. 

My mom was broken and flawed and human and she didn't know how to be broken and flawed and human so she tried to be perfect.

It doesn't work, mom. I tried that. I know.

I never really met my mom until she died. And now, it's like she's everywhere.

Lilies of the valley remind me of my mom. It's a positive association, from when I was much younger. I've tried for years to grow them, but they never came. 

Until this last month, right after my mom died.




Church today, and dread. I go early because I like to sit in a certain spot (with a quick escape route because anxiety anxiety anxiety). I also go early because the music keeps me still. 

I like the stillness.

My mom liked church music. There was only one song that my family really wanted played at my mom's celebration of life - "Oceans." They said it was her favorite. I'd never heard it before, but it's really beautiful. They played it at her celebration of life and the pastor spoke in depth about my mom and the meaning of that song.

I've never heard that song at my own church.

Until today. Mother's Day.

I cried and cried and cried through the whole thing.

Life is weird, right?

My mom is everywhere.




I know.... I KNOW... that my relationship with my mom was the only way it could have been. I still don't have any regrets about that. We weren't going to change each other. But it makes this whole thing...this appreciation for the side of her that we found in boxes in deep corners of closets, so much...so...

...it's...

...it's hard. And beautiful. And eye-opening. And healing. And strange. And constant. And weird.

It's really weird.

I did not like my perfect mother. But I have so much respect and empathy and love for my broken, flawed human, struggling and trying so hard mom. That's the mom I wish I could have met before.

That's the mom I'm meeting now.




A friend from church posted this today and I thought it was beautiful and it fits even if it doesn't quite fit:

“They offered to take me sightseeing. We had time for only one major attraction: they suggested either Sonoma Valley or Muir Woods. I remembered the postcards and photographs of the redwood forests, where branches grew higher than houses, and cars could drive through trees. I chose the woods.
I knew nothing about redwoods, except what my mother had told me about their size – which, as it happened, was pretty accurate in Muir Woods, except for the part about the cars. I’d never seen trees so big.

As we shuffled through the ferns and sorrel, we reached a small, odd group of redwoods growing in a circle around a charred stump. The burned down trunk stood maybe six feet high, but the trees surrounding it were young and healthy. Park rangers call these clusters “the family circle”. The less botanically inclined usually call them – and I swear this is true – the mother tree and her daughters.
Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture, and Muir Woods is no exception. Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests, death produces life.

This is what I mean: In the redwood exosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire – when, in other words, she dies – the trauma stimulates the burls’ growth hormones. The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives, are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.”

Motherless Daughters
The Legacy of Loss
Hope Edelman




Life is weird ...people tell you how to feel and you tell yourself how you're going to feel but the truth is, we just don't know how life is going to hit us.  

This is hard...

...and life is weird and full of struggle and loss and confusion and pain and light and joy and suffering and loss and...

... And we keep going because there's beauty and wonder and love and amazement and...

We keep going.

We just keep going.





Hello, Anger.




...I knew it would come.

Have you ever noticed that no one dies who was less than perfect?

Everyone who dies is elevated to sainthood.

There is no room for complicated grief.  Just perfect memories of perfect people.

At her Celebration of Life, people kept telling me how much my mom loved me.

"She loved you so much."

I smiled. I nodded. I hugged them back. I told them how sorry I was for their loss.

And I was. I am.  She sounds amazing and I'm so sorry that you will have this hole in your life where she was. These stories are incredible.

I wish I could have met her.

And I wanted to scream.



I wanted to beat my fists into the floor and scream and break things and disparage her memory and...

I smiled.  I nodded. I hugged people back.

I can recognize and appreciate who my mother was to all of these people.  I can appreciate the deep affection and love that they had for her, and all of the good that she brought into their lives.

I am not mad at people who saw the good in my mother and who loved her for it.

But...

I found myself writing my own obituary this week. I implored my husband, "if I die first, don't let them make me perfect.  Tell them I was flawed and broken and struggling and succeeding and failing and trying and human. Don't let them put me on a pedestal."

And I cleaned my house for hours and days because everyone dies suddenly and my house has to be clean...just in case...

And I walked around the house dazed and I asked my husband," was I fair to my parents?  If my mom was so perfect and my relationship with her was just this...mess...was I fair? Am I awful? Am I crazy? Did I make all of this up? Was I fair?"

And he assured me that I was fair. That he was my witness.  That I was not crazy and that yes, I was fair.

This mess...

My mom said "our secrets make us sick" and I laughed.

My mom had a secret.  And I believe, and I will always believe,  and I know that she sacrificed her relationship with me in order to keep her secret.

When she died, people who knew her well but had never met me looked at me with disgust.  People assumed that I was an alcoholic, a drug addict, in trouble with the law, any number of things I must be that would lead me not to speak to this woman who was a saint among saints.

I must be a bad child.  There must be something wrong with me. I am terrible.

And through the years, I isolated myself from everyone because...everyone thought I should speak to my mother.  Everyone thought I should be nicer to her.  She was such a good woman and it hurt her so much that I wouldn't speak to her and why was I so awful and...

No one believes me anyway and she always said that I was a liar.

I just closed myself off. And now she is gone.  And there is no room for complicated grief. There is no room to wish that your mother would have actually loved you the way that everyone says that she did. When people tell me how much she loved me, there is no place to do or say anything but agree. There is no place to refute the perfection of the deceased.  There is no room to say that this hurts me too, but in a different way.

She is gone, a saint in Heaven. And I am her child in continuing isolation.

And no one dies who was less than perfect.