“Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?” (or Mulan, Fundamentalism, and Me)

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It was 1999 and I was twelve-years-old as I sat on my bed listening to Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut album on my Walkman to prevent the parental units from hearing some of the racier lines that weren’t exactly church-sanctioned—“Hormones racing at the speed of light / But that don’t mean it’s gotta be tonight … I’m a genie in a bottle baby / Gotta rub me the right way honey.”

I was an extremely sheltered Christian homeschool kid whose only real friends were other Christian homeschool kids at our church. The closest thing I ever got to sex ed., even while in high school, was when I was assigned to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Passion and Purity. The basic premise of the books when it came to sex: Just say no. We never even talked about anatomy, that was the Forbidden Zone.

But despite being so isolated even I knew that some of Christina’s songs could get her added to the ever-growing Banned List—the list that included things like Pokémon, almost all fantasy worlds besides Narnia, some Disney movies, computer and video games and movies that had magical components, and anything and everything that seemed to be going against my parents’ conservative Christian beliefs. Even I knew “rub me the right way” didn’t exactly fit with my family’s abstinence-only and no-dating/courting-until-you’re-old-enough-to-get-married rules.

So Christina was my little secret. But what that album showed me as I sat in bed listening to her sing through my crappy Walkman headset was just how many secrets I had hidden away. I cried every time I heard her sing Reflection from the movie Mulan.

I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter.
Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.

I was hiding so much more than some sexy lyrics on a Christian Aguilera CD.

Earlier that year my mother had confronted me regarding my clothes. The modesty teachings at church and home were already underway. I’d already began to feel like my body was wrong because it had the power to cause men to sin, so it needed to be covered up and hidden. However, when crop-tops are in it’s extremely hard to find anything in the Juniors’ Department that meets the modesty guidelines, and middle-school femininity felt so foreign and uncomfortable to me (lip gloss, glitter, and the works—although I did make an exception for butterfly hairclips because, after all, it was the 1990s). So I’d started dressing more androgynously, buying unisex t-shirts and cargo pants.

But it turned out that wasn’t okay, either.

“If you didn’t have long hair you’d look like a boy,” my mother said one Sunday afternoon once we were home from church.

My frizzy hair was nearly to my elbow. But I would’ve chopped it off if it’d really been an option. I was told I’d have to wear a hat to church as sign of my submission to God, but it had felt more like it would have been a sign of shame. And I was instructed that I would have  to carry a hat everywhere I went because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to pray. Getting a haircut had sounded like a lot of work and a lot of guilt, so I kept it long. But I hated it every time I looked at my reflection.

After the comment about my clothes my mother asked: “Are you a lesbian?” In our world lesbian wasn’t a word used in polite company.

She asked if I’d been sexually assaulted, to which I responded no. I’d been taught homosexuality was a form of sexual perversion. There were degrees of perversion, but having a crush on another girl was just one step away from making love to a cow. At home I’d been taught that homosexuals had become perverted as the result of trauma; their sexuality was broken. Perverted. My mother thought I was perverted. Broken. My mother thought I was broken.

She said my clothes were ugly and that I looked like a dyke, a word I’d never heard.

I began to cry. “I’m not a lesbian! I’m not a lesbian!” I didn’t know if what I was saying was true but it didn’t matter.

My mind raced and the world felt swimmy as I thought of the time earlier that year when Misty, a girl from church, had grabbed my journal, refusing to give it back. Terror had surged through my whole body at the thought of her seeing the page of doodles I’d dedicated to brunette at church’s name.

I was terrified Misty would know what I couldn’t even put into words; what I didn’t even know yet, myself. I was terrified she would tell people what I couldn’t find the words for. But as she held my diary out of reach she flipped right past the incriminating evidence without knowing what it meant.

But can you be a lesbian if you still like boys? I wondered. I’d only learned that “gay” could mean more than happy the year before, so “bi” was nowhere in my vocabulary.

“I’m not a lesbian!” I cried again, unsure if I was telling the truth. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t be one. I couldn’t be that word.

My mother began to get angry. She said I was lying.

“I’m not lying! I’m not a lesbian.” I wasn’t sure if what I was saying was true. But it didn’t matter because I planned to make it true. Or at least I would make everyone believe it was true.

She called me butch, an unfamiliar term I could tell was intended as an insult so it stung even without a definition. She called me an ugly lesbian.

Ugly. Lesbian.

And at that moment I decided that if this is what happens when you’re a lesbian, then I would never be one. I would do whatever I needed to do, say whatever needed to be said to avoid ever being called that word again.

She said I disgusted her. She said I made her physically sick.

I needed to get away from the accusations so I pushed past my mother, throwing my bedroom door open so quickly that it shatters the mirror behind it with a crash. I ran down the hallway and out the front door. And I didn’t even notice that I’ve forgotten my shoes until I was already halfway down our street.

Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.

I chose to be a good Christian girl. I eventually got rid of my secular music, even Christina. I didn’t go on a single date in high school, or even for years after high school. I didn’t go to prom. I said I only liked boys. I said I loved being homeschooled. I read my bible and prayed every day. I was actively involved in my church. I said I was theologically and politically conservative. I tried so hard to squeeze myself into the box that everyone said was mine, but I’m not a contortionist so I got pretty bruised up as my arms and legs knocked against the walls of my prescribed identity.

They want a docile lamb,
No-one knows who I am.
Must there be a secret me,
I’m forced to hide?

I hadn’t listened to Christina’s song Reflection for years, but heard it by chance not that long ago. It brought 1999 back in all its butterfly-hairclip, crop-top, Christian Aguilera glory. It brought back the tears as I remembered the identity question Mulan and I were both so quietly whispering that no one even heard.

Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?

Rainbow-Soul

I’ve wanted a secret box for as far back
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍as I can remember.
One of those book-cloaked boxes that can
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍hide in plain sight.
An unsuspecting little book you would never
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍think to crack.
A place to whisper and then lock away what
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍wasn’t allowed.
But I never found my little secret box, so
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍I became one.
In a world of black and white, I learned that
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍boring was safe.
And so I carefully locked my tender and wild
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍ ‍‍rainbow-soul away.

Saying Goodbye to Grandma

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At my wedding Grandma wished me as long and happy a marriage as she had with Grandpa. And she said we were off to a good start because there was just as much love at our wedding as there had been at theirs.

“This one,” I said to my sister Shannon as we stood in front of the largest bouquet in the store. She nodded.

I didn’t know the price of the bouquet that I didn’t think I’d even be able to lift and things have been financially tight, but it didn’t matter. We’d make it work. Nothing else would do.

/////

The siblings and I stood glancing past balloons for birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries. The Get well soon! balloons with their bold primary colors made me physically flinch. Deep breath. 

We settled on two metallic-y I love yous. And then asked the clerk to show us every single solid colored balloon that even semi-matched them.

“What’s the special occasion?” asked the clerk as she finished tying the last strings on our balloons as our giant flower bouquet sat in the cart practically towering over us.

“They’re for our grandma,” I said, trying not to sound as somber as I was feeling. “She’s been sick.”

“That’s so sweet,” she said. And then added with an encouraging smile, “I’m sure she’ll love them.”

/////

The five of us—three great-grandkids and two significant others for moral support—sat snuggly together, squished onto Grandma’s twin-sized bed.

Grandma sat in her brown-leather recliner in some sort of state between waking and sleeping. She was completely unaware that her great-grandchildren were sitting just a few feet away, passing a tissue box between them.

It felt for a moment as if we might be able to reach her through the fog. “Grandma, it’s your grandkids!” we said together. We called like we were trying to find her in a very large house and we weren’t sure what floor she was on. “Grandma, it’s your grandkids! We’re here! Can you hear us?” She smiled and nodded.

And then we burst into tears as the fog encompassed her again.

/////

We held a mini service of sorts. Shannon, Riley, and I taking turns reading the cards we’d written for her. I wanted her to be able to hear me, so I tried to make my voice as strong as if I were reciting a sonnet on stage, sending my voice to the back of the room. But then I got to the last line and I could barely choke out the words—“I miss you already.”

We told stories standing around her in a circle. We told her about some of our favorite memories with her. We told her about how much we’ve always loved her strength and sharp, witty sense of humor (which was often, to our great amusement, inappropriate). We told her how lucky we felt to have her as our great-grandma. And we told her how much we loved her.

I couldn’t tell if she was able to hear any of our memories or cards, but I felt some comfort in the fact that at least we were able to say it when there was still the chance she might hear.

/////

I’ve already said goodbye, but I’m still waiting for the final word. I’m still waiting for the finality. Grief feels like it’s on pause. And I’m unsure what tense to even use. But I miss her already.

Do you enjoy my blog? Will you help keep it going?

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I haven’t talked about it online, but we’ve been in the middle of a serious family crisis (which has been taxing in many ways, one of which is financially). The way things currently stand, if I were to get a sudden influx of traffic that my blog wasn’t able to handle or I ran out of storage, I’d have to at least temporarily close shop. 

I love blogging because it provides me with not only a community but also complete autonomy. I can write whatever I want, whenever I want. This means that I’m able to share stories and thoughts and poems that an editor wouldn’t touch.

The only catch? Blogging can turn into an expensive hobby. Once you begin getting serious about blogging, the blogging-related bills begin to pile up (renewing domains, updating storage, buying copy-right free photos in order to not steal from other artists, etc.).

Monthly support from readers will allow me to keep doing what I love (and what you seem to love, too) without worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to cover the next blogging bill that comes my way.

Do you like my blog? If you’re a regular reader here, will you consider pledging $1 a month to help keep my blog running?

As a thank you:

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The Haunting Wood

I found it in the Haunting Wood.
Fragile, familiar sobs reverberating
In the corner
of my mind

Sent me searching off the trail as
The voice as innocent as childhood
Called me
Onward.

Running as roots grabbed and
The darkness thickened towards
The voice,
My voice.

I found her in the Haunting Wood.
Leaking hazel eyes staring into mine.
Her eyes,
My eyes.

“We’ve failed,” she says locking eyes,
Hooking my soul as the haunting words
Hang in
The air.

“We were never enough.” Old fears
Beckon as they begin to rise and walk.
Her fears,
My fears.

I found me in the Haunting Wood.
Didn’t notice its oily shadow hovering,
About
To bite.

As I listened, captive to old fears, the
Child’s shadow rose to its full height until it
Towered
Over me.

The darkness seeped in through my pores,
Aggressively choking me out of my body until
I was
Gone.

You can find me in the Haunting Wood.
Now I’m the haunt that calls you onward,
The voice
That lies.