January 24, 2010

Gwen Bell, on The Seeds of Anger.

Inspired by a powerful personal contemplation via my friend Gwen Bell, I just posted my own contemplation (my reply to her post is only one of nearly 50 comments to date on her original post, which she has allowed ele to excerpt).

Excerpt via Gwen Bell:

The Seeds of Anger

The man I grew up calling dad punched holes in things. The walls of our house. The windshield of our car. Other things that weren’t readily fixed with epoxy and a paintbrush.

Early on I identified two safe places: my grandparent’s house and the classroom. My teachers became my confidantes and mentors. I got to school as early as possible – and stayed later than other kids. I developed the ability to juggle a full schedule of commitments. If it kept me out of the house, I did it. I excelled in nearly every subject.

The man I grew up calling dad wasn’t my biological father. I accidentally discovered that truth a few months before my mom died. It was on a to do list that included groceries mom needed, in her handwriting. The list was written on a sheet of paper shaped like a hen. Mom needed milk, bread and “Gwen’s adoption papers.”

When I asked my grandmother what it meant she told me to find mom. Mom took me into the bathroom and put down the toilet lid. She sat on it and then sat me down on the floor in front of her. I’m adopted? I asked. It was never the right time to tell you, she said. When the plan to tell me came up something else inevitably took precedence. For a few terrifying minutes there I thought mom wasn’t my mom.

It was a relief of sorts to find out. But I still pulled back the shower curtain every time I took a shower. I lived in fear he was out on my grandparent’s lawn with a shotgun. I continued to have recurring nightmares about firing squads lining up my family and killing everyone in it. In the dream I can see the scene play out. Even though I’m screaming, silence is all that comes out. It doesn’t take a Psychology degree to evaluate that one. I felt silenced and isolated.

When I reflect on it now from a chair in the sky 20,000 feet above the greater Atlanta area, I extend compassion toward myself. To the me of then, the me of now. Who am I right now as I tell this story? It’s just a story. It’s in the past.

Or it was. Until tonight at the airport. I saw two little kids, probably ages five and two, getting backhanded, yanked and thrown by the adults with them. Parents or friends of the family, who knows. If I had to guess, I’d guess parents. And it was like a moment out of Chuck. (Chuck gets a Matrix-like ticket to access some part of a computer that teaches him karate in an instant. If that were my superpower, I would have been tempted to use it tonight.) Childhood memories shot up from somewhere at the base of my spine. Memories of hair pulling, titty twisting and Army boot kickings.

My gut instinct wasn’t to feel pity for the kids. Nor was it to be angry at the parents. It was an immediate connection with the situation. I have been there, I thought, extending kindness toward the kids and adults. I thought: if he’s doing that in public, what he does in private may be worse.

I sat with it. I listened to the kids crying and moved to another location to finish a phone call and my tea latte. I practiced the breathing and meditations I’ve learned. I looked at it, at my visceral response to it. But I couldn’t shake it. I wanted to leave the cafe and wheel my carry on down to the gate, ignoring it.

Mom, after moving in with her parents (my grandparents, who raised me after her death) expressed remorse at not having gotten out of the situation sooner. She really did wait until the last minute. She was a few months shy of her death and made the hard decision to get out. I’m not sure why so many people ignored what was happening. Family members have expressed they wish they hadn’t ignored it.

As for the airport. Here’s what I did...

…for the rest, click over to Gwen’s site.

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