After an AA meeting in Jamaica Plain, I got to talking with a friend of mine. I told her that my father was losing his mind. I added the caveat, “You know, in the way men in the Southwest do.”
She was from Texas and immediately understood.
“You mean he’s out in the desert shooting cactus?”
That was precisely what I meant.
I once had a girlfriend from Puerto Rico who was so butch that she was called sir, and folks thought we were straight. Once, she was looking at old pictures from when I was young, and she suddenly fell silent.
“I didn’t know you were white like that.”
I drew a breath and said, “I am white like that.”
What happened to the girl from the desert? The girl who dropped acid on Mill Avenue with her first boyfriend, gravel stuck in her knees, as they hid from the cops behind cars. He would recite to her all of the German words he was learning, and showed her the swastika carved on his thigh. No one in her young life, not a single adult, took her aside and said, “Tell me about this boy you’ve been hanging out with.”
(She’s been hiding out in New England.)
“Are you from East Boston?” the cashier asks.
“All of my life! Never left!” (See, it didn’t happen. None of it happened.)
Was it all bad? Of course not. Nothing ever is. There were things to love: vast fields of flowers that we wandered freely while the adults tended to their preoccupations. And there were horses. Pintos that my grandfather bought from Native Americans, half wild and furious, I raced on their backs straight out of my childhood.
But there are scars that are etched on my body that will never fade. “You have to understand that your dad loves you,” my mother said tucking me in at night. This was given to me as a payment, of sorts. My mother’s debt to me was created by my father’s closet full of guns, the shots that rang out by my swing set, the carcasses of birds in our yard.
And now there’s a new man who has laid his tiny hand’s on Lincoln’s Bible, and we are being told to “see what is in his heart.” Unfortunately, I feel as if I have a pretty good idea. I cannot help but think about the thousands of nuclear weapons that are on hair trigger-alert.
And it’s just a regular day, you are getting your kids ready for school, looking for their coats and their shoes, when you find yourself on the floor.
I am not whispering into the devil’s ear that I am the storm.
I am no storm.
Forty-seven years of life has beaten all pride out of me. I understand so little of what has happened to me.
But my life whispers to me, “You’ve been here before. You can fight this. You can fight this and live.”