PTSD begins in earnest, about two hours after the election results roll in.
November 9th, 2016, 1:30 a.m U.S. Mountain Time: I sit alone in my adobe house in rural New Mexico, shaking, nauseous, glued to Facebook.
As a community member of both local, national and global networks of artists, storytellers, activists and friends, I am part of a technological vigil. We write shocked and horrified posts in the middle of our respective days and nights across oceans, states and continents. We do our best to comfort each other and call out for resiliency, and activation, even in the earliest moments after the election.
2:30 a.m., I light a candle. A text comes in from my nineteen year old daughter, who is a student in Boston. She and her friends have been up all night.
In a few texts back and forth, I do my best to reassure her. She does her best to do the same for me. We tell each other that we love each other.
Then, I cry myself to sleep.
Dreams come in snapshots for the remainder of that restless night:
Damascus, Maryland, 1969
I am a small quiet girl with wispy blonde hair, an early reader, who draws and writes poetry. Roses are red. I am too shy to speak much to anyone outside of my family. I wear frilly pastel dresses in the summer with Mary Jane’s and white lacy socks. In the winter, I don plaid dresses or kilts with turtlenecks wool tights, picked out and purchased for me my my grandmother.
I will spend my childhood longing for a pair of jeans that I am not allowed to have.
One warm day, I walk upstairs in search of my mom, who I love more than anyone or anything else on earth.
Suddenly, my mother, who has put on her scary face, raised arms over her head, curled fingers so they look like gnarled witches hands, jumps out of the master bathroom and yells: “RARRRRRHHHHHHHH” in my face.
Like a ghost in a horror film, the intention is to scare me. It works.
The incredibly attuned nervous system that I was born with, melts into rapidly beating heart, sweaty palms and adrenaline fueled terror.
I run down the stairs and outside onto the beautiful, enormous plot of land that our house sits on. It’s vastness surrounds me and holds me. The land that we live on, one hundred acres, with a pond where my ducks live, a brook and woods, is my refuge. As an only, lonely, child, the land becomes my family.
My mother does not come looking for me that day. Later, when she sees me, withdrawn and sullen, all the tears cried out, she will say:
“Can’t you learn to take a joke?”
That question will haunt me for decades in a way that only other empaths and introverts will understand.
That, and “Why are you so serious?” when I confront injustice or denial around the family dinner table are said over and over to me like undercutting mantras.
A black joke is told. A gay joke is told.
Laughter surrounds me. It is not funny. It makes my heart hurt. I run out of the dining room. I feel violated to my core. Also, confused how people I love so much, can say such things as they do.
2002, Charleston, South Carolina
My daughter and I visit my mother at her new vacation home over Christmas and New Year’s. The thick heaviness of racial inequality and the legacy of slavery is blatant and obvious in these parts, in a way that shocks me.
There are black women, living, making baskets that they sell, in small shacks by the side of the road. They are like apparitions from another era. But they are not. They are real people, living in the South in 2002.
Older male black waiters in restaurants are deferential, eyes down cast, saying “Yes, Ma’am’s” in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable and stricken. I observe other white patrons around us, jovial and condescending. They clearly expect this demeanor from the “servants” to the “served.”
I mention my discomfort to my mother, after we eat a meal at an upscale restaurant built on the dock, where African men and woman, were bought and sold by white men.
Her response stuns me, “At least the blacks aren’t so uppity down here, as they are back home.”
Another piece of me, that ever hopes to have a relationship to my mother, dies inside.
2001, Santa Fe, New Mexico
In the midst of a divorce at thirty-five, I am experiencing my own sexual awakening, with my first real relationship with another woman.
One day, I am speaking to my mother, on the phone.
Out of the blue, she wants me to promise to never send my half Jewish daughter to Hebrew School.
“You don’t want to turn her into a little Jewess. We’re WASPS, you know. Nanny and I are members of the D.A.R. You need to not forget who you are.”
“I know exactly who I am,” I retort. “It will be Chloe’s own choice to go to Hebrew School, when she is older, or not.”
I am twenty-four years old and my gay friends and community members are dying of AIDS. Handsome men on the streets have ugly purple splotches on their skin; KS. Young, former Adonis’s, skeletal thin, walk on canes down Bleecker Street.
My friends and I are young. We want to dance at clubs and drink and snort cocaine and feel alive in New York City, like so many who came before us. We all have big aspirations as writers, actors and singers. Some of us will live and manifest these things. Some of us will wander down other roads. Some of us will die.
My best friend is diagnosed. He is twenty-seven years old, blond, tall, beautiful and so much more. He is a Catholic former altar boy, molested by priests, someone I am in love with, though we each sleep with other people. I have still never been able to write the full truth of that story.
I have never been able to write about what it was really like for me to lose him; to lose his love. I’ve never been able to write about his rage, and how he projected it on me, because I did not have the virus myself. I may never be able to write completely about his alcoholism or how he pushed me away at the end of his life – collateral damage of the disease.
I have not been able to write about how his severing ties at the end both killed me and liberated me. I look back and understand it was too painful for us both to talk about it in any real way.
He slipped away into the night. I slipped away to the bubble of Santa Fe, where I arrived unseen, to this haunted desert; to a place where I thought at the time, I could run from my grief.
Washington D.C. 1978
I am sitting at The Capital Center, at one of Reagan’s Inaugural balls with my mother and grandmother. Donny and Marie are singing that night, as is Ben Vereen. I am excited to see him because of “All That Jazz,” the film that has just come out. I am obsessed with it. I want to be an actor. I want to be a star. I want to make it, as Ben sings about “On Broadway.” I am sixteen years old and I hate what I am wearing. My grandmother, the life-long Republican and leader in the local chapter of the Ladies Republican Club of Maryland has bought my outfit for me. It is a long, raw silk, plaid skirt from Lord and Taylor. I am wearing it with a white, puffy sleeved, high necked blouse.
She and her friends have stuffed countless envelopes for the new president, who will, a few years later, allow my friends, Americans each one, to die from AIDS through targeted apathy and silencing. I am sure that as my grandmother and her entitled white friends, awash in their own unconscious colonialism and privilege, stuffed and addressed those envelopes, they chatted and drank tea. Perhaps they also ate little sandwiches of cream cheese and olives, cucumbers and mayonnaise, all on Pepperidge Farms white bread, with the crusts cut off. Those were my grandmother’s favorites after all.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2002
I end an eighteen month relationship with a woman, callously, with no regret and no remorse in the moment.
My words to her: “I met a man.”
It is a relationship that I have kept, primarily, in the shadows.
“I will leave you for a man,” I have said to her, over and over, after our long, hot, afternoon lovemaking sessions.
The sex I have been experiencing with her is the best of my life, by far. However, at the time, I never even remotely entertain the thought of staying with her.
My internalized sexism, homophobia and classism, drilled into me on levels that I am not yet aware of, are still firmly in charge and running the show.
Every time, the boyish woman who turns me on leaves my home, I hear my mother’s words echo in my head:
“Nothing is more disgusting than lesbians.”
And, my own thoughts; “I can’t make it in this world without a man. I need a man to take care of me and Chloe.”
In the years to come, I will look back and wonder if I could have loved her and created a real life with her had I been able to get underneath the patriarchal conditioning sooner. She would have been a much better partner to me than any of the men who would follow her. But, I never even got that far, in my own mind.
Three men come and go, over the next dozen years, after I unceremoniously dumped the woman that winter day. There are a few short-lived affairs with women mixed in there. All of the relationships, except for one, end disastrously.
The man I choose to marry, to be my daughter’s stepfather, is the most toxic of the bunch.
He has family money though. I will drive a Lexus and live on the Eastside, in a large, but cold house that never feels like home, while we are together.
The sex is mediocre. He is a serial sex addict who acts out with other people on business trips. There is no real intimacy between us, though we do have a creative connection as well as some soul resonance.
With him, the real pay-off is that I do not have to worry as I had been, before he came along, about how to pay my mortgage, or if my daughter can go to private school.
For the six years or so that we are together, I divert myself by learning to cook gourmet meals and drinking too much red wine. I do not see myself as a prostitute of sorts. Neither do the thousands of women I have met over the years who have lived or are living, some version of this story.
With him, I am deeply alone again, as I was as a child. This time, the cage of my own making. This is the classic “deal with the devil,” that we women, particularly those of us who are white, who are pretty enough or sexy enough according to this society’s standards, are still told to play. We do this because we want to be ok in this culture and for our children to receive the “goodies” of the world.
This is what the memes point to that say “Free Melania,” but she will have to free herself from the deal she made with her own personal devil.
June, 2016, El Rancho, New Mexico
It’s a gorgeous evening and I am walking on the dirt road, outside my home. The sun is setting over the Jemez mountains to the west. A pink and apricot burst of color, envelop the sky.
It’s been more than a decade since I walked away from some of the more poisonous aspects of my conditioned privilege.
This is the night I will call my mother, breaking a chain of despair and denial that has haunted me all of this lifetime.
“Don’t die, estranged from me, your only child.” I implore her.
“Accept that I have always been bi-sexual. Accept that I have always been different than you. Accept that the person I love is transgendered.”
That day, my mother, at aged seventy-seven, assures me that she does indeed love me. It has been a hard journey for her, I have no doubt, being my parent. She says that she accepts me, and my sexuality. She affirms that I had always been different; “eccentric” is the word she uses, from the time I was a child.
Christmas Eve, 2016, Frederick, Maryland
At a holiday gathering, I have a blow out with an old family friend, who voted for trump and expressed his clear and sharp racist views to me. I take him on, head to head, in an environment thick with silencing and complicity. I walk out the door, with my head held high, even as I know that I will be the one demonized for his hateful words and embodiment by those who remain inside. As a DC area broker, he embodies white male privilege, turned victim in his own mind, of the highest order. His female family members, enablers and hostages of the patriarchy themselves, will likely never forgive me. I trust that in their souls, they all know that he is wrong to his core.
My mother, I have no doubt, is ashamed and embarrassed of me that night. She can barely look at me on the drive home.
I ask her not to apologize for me. I’m sure that she did, regardless.
I am sad, but not regretful of my decision to speak out strongly against the new fascist order and its collaborators, that is underway and undermining human and environmental rights, every moment that they are in power.
January 2017, Santa Fe, New Mexico
My lover reads me all the pages that have been taken down from the White House website since the swearing in: Climate Change, Health Care, LGBTQ Rights, Domestic Violence prevention.
I remain stoic as he continues to read them aloud to me, from his Twitter feed, until he offers up a double whammy on Saturday afternoon:
“The AIDS page is down,” he says.
Every cell in my entire body returns to the 80’s in NYC, to Reagan, and ACT UP parades, Silence=Death. To my best friend, the one who died; the one I still can’t write the whole story about.
We are lying on the bed, my head on his stomach as Cid continues reading aloud:
A journalist, standing in front of the lines at The DC Holocaust Museum just tweeted:
Two white men just walked by the line and shouted out, “Six million Jews? GOOD.”
All at once, the hot tears come, as they always eventually do. I don’t say a word. My body is suddenly wracked with sobs, even as I just produced the incredible “Election Monologues” shows the night before, even though millions are marching across America and on every continent today in love and resistance and solidarity. Even though I have so much to be grateful for.
Things feel crystal clear these days. The veils have been lifted, experience and maturity has integrated itself on the inner and outer planes.
I know that for those of us who truly want to, and are willing to see and feel, all the way down the rabbit hole, have the opportunity to do that now.
Untangled racism, classism, privilege, hatred and disempowerment simply must be addressed.
Love and deep concern are more activated in billions than ever. I am noticing that people in my own circles are taking on work of the heart and soul that would have been avoided or minimized, even a few years ago.
There is Civil War that is now being fought in full view. It is a war of consciousness. It is a war for the rights of the earth to survive for new generations or continue to be raped and pillaged. It is a war on the poor, the disabled, women, everybody who is not white, wealthy and male.
The fact that it is so obvious, may be our saving grace.
The great turning that we’ve been waiting for, appears to be held in the kernel of a story. We are currently writing The New Origin Story for America.
My prayer, is that the new story is one of inclusion for all, one of putting the old ghosts of slavery to rest, the open acknowledgement of the genocides endured by all Native people on this land. My prayer is one for sovereignty, where each individual is able to be free in expressing who they are. Where greed is seen for the aberration of the Spirit that it is, where it is condemned and shamed, rather that elevated and celebrated.
Where women, as Mother Earth Herself, are revered and treasured, their sexuality a precious gift to be given and received.
Where men and women, as well as the third and fourth gendered people (acknowledged in indigenous culture for millennium) all create from a place that honors and channels the dynamic fires of the masculine and the creative nurturing power of the feminine. Where both are experienced and vital and necessary to our wholeness unified, yet diverse, human beings.
As a story gatherer, story coach and story teller for many years, I am cautious, yet ultimately hopeful.
There are many passages and tests on all hero and heroine’s journeys. There are always monsters and villains on the road to Awakening. But, there are also opportunities for Divine intervention, grace, and lucky breaks. Angels appear beside winged monkeys. Sometimes, the winged monkeys, when set free, become angels.
We are now in the time of doing the literal footwork for change: marches, creating art, writing and speaking deep truth, getting involved in local and national politics. And, most importantly, clearing out the cobwebs and blind spots in our own consciousness. That is the only way I know that we become available to love.
Love, the Medicine, for all that has been uncovered in this Civil War.
Love, our only chance.