Monday, February 17, 2014

Don't say I'm Sorry

After my dad died, I never stopped walking on the pads of my feet.

When you've lost a parent at a young age, you come to predict the types of reactions you'll get from people when they find out. One reaction you never get is relief.

I still have moments sometimes where I am yanked into my past.

I am 11 years old and I am walking on the pads of my feet. The curtains and blinds are drawn throughout the house. It is summer and our house is like a crypt. We speak in hushed tones when we speak at all. Dad is trying to sleep. The coughs from the bedroom at the far end of the house are a constant reminder of why we're so quiet.

I am 9 and it is late fall during a wind storm. The sun has gone down, the power is out and dad is drinking. We huddle together in the light of mom's hurricane lamps. As my siblings make jokes and try to scare each other about the dark, I watch mom as she watches dad.  Their dance is a familiar one. Dad is on his second beer and has just hit his happy buzz. Like mom, I know how short-lived this phase is, and how easily it can turn. I try to crack jokes to lighten the tension in the room. The other kids don't seem to notice. Dad asks me to get him another beer. Mom's lips tighten in the dim light and Dad says, "What?" with an accusing tone to her. I jump up and ask Dad if he wants me to crush the can. I join the dance, and diffuse the tension a little. I leave the room on the pads of my feet.

I'm 10, it is spring and we're on a good run. It's been days since anyone got in trouble. Mom suggests we eat dinner in the living room while we watch a movie. Dad agrees. In the blurry span of minutes, our house goes from laughing to screaming. A red plastic dinner plate flies from where dad sits to the dining room floor. We sit frozen, unsure of what we should do. The screaming goes on for a few hours, long after we're banished to our rooms.  We sit by our doors listening to the fight. I silently wish someone would come save us. We walk around on the pads of our feet.

I'm 6 or so. Our aunt and cousins are over and we're all in one of the bedrooms. Our uncle has beaten our aunt again, and my dad is shouting in the living room. Soon there's shouting outside and there are women screaming. Soon we see red and blue flashing lights from the bedroom window.  Later I overhear mom saying that my uncle is in the hospital.  I hear something about a baseball bat and dad. I sneak back to my room on the pads of my feet.

I'm 9 and one of us has done something bad. We're punished in turn until the guilty person confesses. Not for the first time, our youngest sister confesses even though we all know it wasn't her. She speaks up to keep us all from getting in any more trouble. Dad won't punish us, but forces mom to. Mom knows it wasn't our sister who did it, and sends her out to the living room to sit with dad. We all know she is dad's favorite and she'll be okay with him. My brother confesses, and when dad hears he pulls my brother into his bedroom and closes the door. That is the first time I feel true rage. This is the first time I think about killing dad. I walk past the door on the pads of my feet.

I'm 12 and it's summer. The street lights are just coming on, and I'm walking with my friend around the corner from her house to mine. As we draw near, I see the front door is open. This means mom hasn't closed the door so the neighbors won't hear the screaming. We walk in and it's quiet. I don't hear anybody, so I wonder who's home. I find mom in her bedroom, crying. She tells me my sisters are at a neighbor's house and dad is in jail. Either then or eavesdropping later I hear something about guns, suicide attempt, drinking.

I'm 12 and it's summer. I am walking down my friend's gravel driveway, my left hand feeling the tops of the messy white cedar hedges as I walk and I hear myself say, "I wish he'd just die." The echoes of those words reverberating through all the years between then and now...

I am propelled back to the present. Silence, which has been drilled firmly into me, is golden. I walk around my apartment on the pads of my feet. I find myself wondering what is must have been like for other kids who grew up without the fear of violence. I wonder what it must be like for the kids in our family now.  Now that he's dead and my mom has found her freedom and her happiness in a relationship with a good man who is raising the kids right.

It's taken a lot of years of honest inner reflection to face the demons that kept me in pieces.  I've overcome more than I ever realized I would need to. I am genuinely proud of how far I've come. Yet I still flinch when someone shouts suddenly near me. I still struggle making eye contact and being assertive. I still harbor a lot of anger and bitterness. I still walk on the pads of my feet.

I did lose a parent at a young age. A parent I loved very much. A parent I learned a lot from, was inspired by and who helped shape me into the person I am today.

But I don't need condolences. I need relief. Relief for having been freed from a life of lies, secrets, violence and manipulation. I need pride for my mom for surviving and overcoming all she did for us and for herself. Most of all I need patience and understanding. Because I still walk on the pads of my feet.

Friday, February 7, 2014

One of the Boys

I've always been drawn to boys' social circles more than girl circles. It's just who I am. With a few exceptions in my life (and living in a lot of different cities growing up), I was always welcome with the boys. It was great to be included and welcome, and the boys genuinely liked my company.

It never occurred to me that one day the playing field would shift, mindsets would change, and as those boys became adults, they would learn the ways of a culture I myself hadn't even become aware of yet.  I never imagined that one day the only social place I felt safe as a child would be the most unwelcoming and sometimes even hostile environment.

"You won - gender inequality doesn't exist anymore."

If gender inequality doesn't exist, then why are women so vehemently jealous of their partners having friends who are women (and vice versa!)

If gender inequality doesn't exist, then why do men treat women differently (and vice versa!)

If gender inequality doesn't exist, then why are men regarded as better authority figures than women

If gender inequality doesn't exist then why are men seen as 'assertive' and women seen as 'combative'

Stop saying gender inequality doesn't exist.  It does exist.  It permeates the behavior of men who genuinely believe that they are 'modern' men who have equal, respectful relationships with their independent, self-empowered wives.  The mindset is so ingrained that it leaks out in subtle ways constantly.  Each act in itself insignificant, but added up create a persona of superiority, dominance and indifference.

The obvious attacks are the ones you can prepare yourself for.  You can prepare yourself mentally for the comment about to come out of the loud mouth of the ass-slapping type of guy.  There is no preparation for being talked over in the middle of a thought; for watching someone open their phone as you start to speak to them; you simply can't prepare yourself for the subtle ways men have of cordoning you into a box in their mind, and their immediate aversion when you step outside that box.

Stop saying gender inequality doesn't exist.  It does exist.  What's between your legs does not matter.  Instead learn to judge people on the basis of who they are as a human being.

I'm not a kid anymore, and I can't just go hang out with the boys. I've been forced to accept my assigned role, and I'm required to feign gladness at my good fortune that I wasn't unlucky enough to be born in a less fortunate country as a woman.

Gender inequality does exist. And every time you treat someone differently because of gender, you contribute to the problem.