When I moved back to Kentucky, I was freelancing for an NYC publishing house and that gig was about to end. They had hired someone new and I had yet to find a job in my hometown. I had just bought, on a whim, a dog off Craigslist, I was missing the pace of NYC – ya’ll don’t even know how long it takes to get a coffee in Louisville—, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing back in a place I swore I wouldn’t return to. I also couldn’t exactly remember why I had sworn never to return.
Things I did know: Louisville was affordable and I could skate by on my savings for another two months. I knew that my relationship with my immediate family was weird and that I didn’t understand who they were and how I had become so different than them. I knew I was a freak to the cousins who ranted on about “Obamacare” and how he was “an idiot” who didn’t care for the layman. I knew that my grandmother would bumble and smile and latch on to her grandchildren for fear they would disappear again. I knew that they would complain about the milestone victory of federally recognized gay marriage and the “deterioration of religion” in our country, before I could chip in that “good things were happening” and that we were progressing to a society of love and acceptance. I knew that I was ignored. I knew that they would change the subject or that I would simply leave the room. I knew that alone, with my fiancé, I’d sit tired and slumped in the passenger seat on the drive home trying to understand who these people were and how they were my family. I knew that I was always upset and full of venom after leaving their presence.
I didn’t hate them but I didn’t love them. It was like I was sitting at the top of the highest peak of a roller coaster. I could see the whole park clearly and yet I was trapped there—stuck in a strange limbo of awe and fear. I was waiting for the fall, for that moment when it’s all just a blur but there is still the memory of the excitement of the peak. I was at the peak of my awareness in my socio-political opinions and I was ready to battle. But I was trapped there, surrounded by their fear of change. I, somehow, could not make the roller coaster fall. I was worried it would crash and instead of the memory of excitement I would be left with the memory of fear. If it fell, I risked, or at least I thought I risked, losing my history. Losing all of the people who raised me, who had taught me that the greatest gift of humanity is love. I thought it was an all or nothing situation, I had yet to understand that one can love someone who has problematic opinions.
In both this “knowing” and “not-knowing,” I was a wad of frustration and sadness and despair and disgust and pain and anger and annoyance and anxiety and uncertainty. I wanted to wish them away to another world where I would never have to speak to them again. And, at my darkest, I wanted to wish myself to another world, where I would never have to face that peak again. I didn’t want to risk the fall, I wanted to skip past that part, to the blur of exchanging ideas and the excitement of healthy debate. But I knew that I couldn’t skip past it and that the fall meant an exchange of ideas that would probably cause me to resent them and possibly hate them. It was easier to wish them away.
I also knew that I wasn’t okay. I’d get headaches before we left to visit either sides of the family. I’d struggle through small talk with a woman I had known for 26 years, a woman who had given me life, a woman who had taught me the world, and who would hold me close to her breast when I was upset. I couldn’t understand why it was all so hard or how any woman could love their mother or even have a relationship with their mother. How was something like that even possible? I was jealous and baffled by those who had celebratory relationships with their parents.
Living in Louisville, I romanticized New York. It was the perfect solution for managing a “positive relationship” with my family because I was so far away and it was impossible to attend all the birthdays, holidays, Sunday dinners, volleyball games, football games. In that distance, I could be myself because there wasn’t the pressure to look a certain way, or speak a certain way, or to argue when they made rude, racist comments about their country. Back in Louisville, I never felt okay about saying white lies in order to get out of their invitations. So, because of my lack of understanding of myself and my needs, I would go and be uncomfortable and I would fight their comments with “that’s not true” and “studies show” and “that won’t help us progress forward.” And then I’d leave feeling defeat. One can say as many facts as they want, but when the audience is dedicated to Fox News and football, one gets dead end responses like “but, we [white people] are being pushed out of work,” “those lazy ‘thugs’ are taking my hard-earned money,” “women aren’t paid less than men – they just need to work harder.” Actual quotes from my actual family.
What I didn’t realize 20 months ago, when I was trapped in my head and nearly crying every day, was that I was engaging on a daily basis with those feelings of anger and resentment. Moving “back home” meant that I was no longer able to take a plane away from the intense spaces of my blood. There was no longer an escape on the horizon—it was just an endless stretch of forest. I had been walking for 61 days before I felt the unforgiving weight of the trees and fog. It was impossible to see the horizon but I knew that the only way out was to go deeper in. And, so, I emailed the Center for Behavioral Health at Spalding University on June 22, 2016. It would take a year and six months before I could see the horizon again. Which brings me here, now, to this documentation journey, where I understand that it is up to me to walk through this fog, to keep moving because eventually it will lift.
It already is.