January 11, 2014

An Uncaged Life. ~ Karen Mary Castranova {Adult}

Warning: naughty language ahead

Home wasn’t always pleasant for my brothers and I.

We often heard phrases like, “Just wait until your father gets home.” It was actually better for Dad to be away because at least then we weren’t scared shitless anymore.

Growing up, we lived near a prison. It was not a maximum security prison, because inmates would escape from it all the time. Mom had a type of obsession with cleaning, and to keep the house really nice, we were often locked outside. That was always good when the large prison alarm would sound. Mom told us when we heard that alarm it meant it was time to come in for lunch. (What it really meant was another inmate had flown the coop and escaped.)

A prisoner once ended up in our backyard. I remember he looked sweaty; he was trying to run pretty fast across the lawn. His clothes were waving in the breeze, and as a seven year old, I imagined him as a batman type character. He didn’t smile or wave as he ran past us, and he didn’t stop to ask if he could save us like Batman probably would have.

As an adult, I realize my childhood was fairly rough. I remember when Dad would reach for the salt at the dinner table and my brothers and I would duck. The rod was not spared in our household.

I suppose that becoming a teacher was a mission in my life. I quickly learned that many of my students came from troubled homes, much like my own. As an art teacher, I embraced the kids who appeared tormented. Those kids were always the most talented and exhibited the most imagination when I’d dish out assignments. Their anger was often expressed in art form with much creative imagination.

To this day, I believe art transforms the soul.

I remember that in the 1980’s, the university I attended did a twin study. They wanted to prove that environmental surroundings would not affect children who had been raised differently, especially twins. Many twin studies tend to agree that socioeconomic status, inheritability and environment play a role in developing each sibling’s personalities and coping mechanisms.

It appears that there is an innate ability in all of us that either makes us fragile or makes us resilient. I’d say that my brothers and I are the latter. Who doesn’t have a fucked up childhood? Here’s a simply fact: No person is perfect. Thus, we will all be raised imperfectly.

I truly believe that after the age of 20, we no longer have any excuses. If you had a roof over your head and three square meals a day, then you had more than some. If you had a roof over your head, three square meals a day, activities, and parents who told you that you are loved, then you really can’t complain at all. If you felt slighted in any way, and you are reading this feeling sorry for yourself, then my best advice to you is to get over it.

It’s not important to go into detail about my childhood. Numero uno: because it is over. At times, it certainly was less than pleasant, but it is in the past. Although our past tends to shape us, it does not have to define us.

Home is created within your being and your heart. Material “things” do not create a home; people do, attitudes do, feelings do.

So, since I am much better at writing poems because they feel musical to me, with a rhythm that writing cannot emulate, I will end with one.


You’ve been locked up and for hours you are still,

It’s best not to make a sound, or rattle around inside,

For the still birds in their cages are often presumed dead,

Then the door is opened and often they can soar.


Your feathers may not be as clean as you might like,

The water may be dirty, yet the heart remains pure.

Your life has been held captive within your filthy bars,

Yet your mind sets you free within the soul you bare.


Time affords you newness, and life affords you now.

The past is but a flutter of a wing.

Your beautiful song is heard for miles around,

As the song of your soul beckons you to sing.


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Assistant Editor: Cami Krueger / Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Karen Mary Castranova & elephant archives

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