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Message in a Bottle (Part 14)



Fear can either motivate you or it can debilitate you.

I remember when I was a kid the fear that was constant in our  house. Fear of my parent’s mood. Fear of my father being awakened early from a nap and coming downstairs to find a house not clean. Fear of my mother’s mood should she find dirty clothes in a drawer on a Saturday night before church. Fear of having our entire bedrooms tossed, being beaten and made to clean it all up before we went to bed that night.

But the fear wasn’t just internal. It was external as well. Detroit in the 1990’s was like a war zone. We lived close to three rival gangs, Cash Flow, Latin Counts, and World Wide Gangsters (Folks), all through growing up there had been minor gang organizations like Young Guns or even Camel Boys Inc. but they were killed off or chased away.

No, when I was a kid, these were the heavy hitters. You had to watch what colors you wore to school because you walked. Who you talked to. What street you caught yourself on. I remember one time being outside playing when a fight broke out between two rival gangs and watching them exchange gunfire with an Uzi. I was standing right there. I saw how a bullet hit the curb where one of the members had been standing just seconds before and seeing a chunk of it turned to dust.

I had a person I went to church with, die in a firebombing that was meant for his neighbor. The authorities scraped him off the basement floor because the house collapsed in on him when he was trying to escape.

In the summertime, gunshots ran out as frequently as children played outside. Houses burned all the time. Til this day I can smell smoke and it’ll wake me up out of a dead sleep to go and check to see if my house is on fire.

This combination of internal and external stress created in me a very unhealthy and often times panic-stricken individual. Add in the wrath of God from fundamentalism and the fact that I was hiding my sexuality in a deep dark place inside of me, I was in hell. Hell isn’t a place, it’s a state of being.

And my body took the brunt of it. At sixteen I was in a size thirty-six pants. I would eat and eat constantly. In school, I was tormented by other people, mostly male students, for being gay.I was shy, effeminate, and overweight. It made me an easy target. i always denied being gay since middle school, not only because that meant social suicide in Southwestern High School anyway, but because of what I was taught about homosexuality in church meant that I would go to hell. And I  put my sexuality in the box of, “I can’t be this  because I’m saved,” and went on, the best I could, with life.

Fear and violence seemed to come at me from all directions. You never knew what was going to happen from one moment to the next. I would refuse to defecate until I absolutely had to. I would hold my bowel movements and had done since I was little. A sign that, I discovered recently, I was in some way trying to control something. Something.

This was not a life of someone who lived in the United States of America. This was the life of someone growing up in a blown out old Soviet Bloc Country or some shitty little town somewhere in the middle east. (And speaking of the middle east, Dearborn was right next to us and for all the rumors about how bad Muslims are – Dearborn which houses the largest population of Muslim Americans in this country – looked like paradise in comparison to Detroit).

And I was there for twenty years.

I guess I’m sort of a veteran, of what I am not exactly sure. I don’t even know if it has name. But it does have a place in me. And because of that, one doesn’t simply move on. There is no get over it. It’s defined me. It’s walked with me through most of my life. If you believe the new data coming out ACES (Adverse Childhood Experience Study) it may have even shortened it.

(That’s why I quit smoking, watch what I eat, do yoga, and write books and poetry. The Health Department website and Center for Disease Control all  said that this was a good idea. )

And I was always afraid to talk about this. Like I would be letting open some Pandora’s box that I couldn’t contain. That what I would summon would hurt people because I told the truth. That somehow my parents would get hurt and I was protecting them. Or the people I went to church with, would somehow find these words and mock me. Or that people would pity me, or hate me, or be angry with me, or not believe me. I was afraid of opening my mouth to speak.

I hate what they did. I hate what happened to me. I  hate that I’ve carried the weight of it all my life. And I hate them. The church, parents, people who watched and did nothing to help. Detroit, you ugly, ugly bitch.

But fear is a terrible thing. And as I am writing this to sort of put this all down, place a value judgment on it, to say once and for all that this was bad. That there was zero good in this. And acknowledge that I was a passive recipient of this place and all of the evil that walked in it (to include the church). I am working through my fear. I’ve been in a perpetual state of fear all my life to some degree or other. This is an exorcism of sorts.

I wanted to end this in anger.

And then I get down on my knees and I thank God for it. For all of it. For the privilege of it. And instead of hating it. I am made to love it. Hatred binds. Fear controls. I tried running from it all my life. I tried so hard to get away. Afraid to turn and face it. Afraid to let it wash over me and sit in the middle of it. But not anymore.

So to let go. I must love it. I must forgive it, forgive them, and forgive myself. I must have the courage to do so. I must have the courage to not only love the skankiness of all of that but the skankiness and mess that I became as a result. And then, maybe then, I can know peace. I can know heaven. And know God. And then, maybe then, I’ll let go. I think this is the beginning of that process.

I owe it to my husband. But more importantly, I owe it to myself.

I’ll write more when I can.