Posted by: terrapraeta | May 24, 2010

Trial By Fire

Janie’s got a gun
Janie’s got a gun
Her dog day’s just begun
Now everybody is on the run
Tell me now it’s untrue.
What did her daddy do?
He jacked a little bitty baby
The man has got to be insane
They say the spell that he was under the lightning and the
thunder knew that someone had to stop the rain

Aerosmith, Janie’s Got a Gun

I am surrounded by amazing, beautiful people.

Is it surprising that the most amazing of all, are people that have endured horror and violence and depravity?

Perhaps not.

I spent the morning talking with a friend, a becoming dear friend, about her early life. The depravity that was her father, the cowardice of her siblings, the sadism of her ex-husband. I have no experience to compare. The violence I have overcome is Disney, hers is snuffer porn. I ache for her and others that have seen such terror.

And yet, here she is now. Vibrant. Free Spirited. Caring, compassionate, affectionate. She sees the people that surround her and allows them to see her. If only there were more like her in the world.

Yesterday a dear friend moved across the country. Son of man that gave ten percent of himself to his family, while the other ninety percent went to drugs and mistresses. Thirty years later, my friend gives up everything that is his life to live near his children: children that he had joint custody of until his ex wife decided to play fast and loose with the truth – behind the facade of a bought and paid for attorney. So he steps up to be the bigger man, uproot his life, and refuses to entertain the notion of taking his children away from their mother even once they are old enough to decide for themselves. I made him swear to me, before he left, that if I called him some day and told him to head for the hills, that he would pack up his children his ex and her new family and hie them all to wherever I am. I fear there is not enough time for his children to fully grow up before the end of life as we know it. And I won’t let them be lost to us.

And dearest of all, beaten and abused as a child, a runaway at sixteen, married and divorced before he was old enough to sit in a bar, and now battered by the legal system and the weight of small town opinion…. yet he carries the weight of guilt for people that, like he, got caught in a web of police maneuvering and stand to suffer for it. As if he could have prevented their troubles, when they, too, knew the fine line that they walked. But he was there so he picks up that burden and carries it, in hopes that some day he can make amends.

And so I sit here looking back on my own family, my own experiences that have brought me to this place. I have no horror stories to tell. Perhaps I am Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club. My folks never hit me. They never called me names. They were supportive in many ways. But emotion was rare. Affection virtually non-existant. It occurs to me that there is a coldness in the chaste kiss on the mouth, when compared to a simple hug. Oh, how the hug amazed me when I found myself in a group of huggers in high school. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. But let me clarify, I never felt that loss when I was young. It was only years later when I saw how different things can be… long after my mother came to me in tears and apologized for my childhood… after I had raised my son from infancy to adolescence, that I really began to understand. If it had been sooner, I would have done better, myself. But at least my family life was far more affectionate than my childhood had been. I did the best I could and I am proud of my son even if I sometimes regret not giving him more.

But all this brings my thoughts to my parents. My father was… not exactly cold, but logical. Visions of Spock being the best explanation I can give. He was away a lot. Working. And I honestly believe that is all it ever was. He is a good man. He grew up in poverty, in Southern Baptist land. Yet the church was dead to him early in his life. He worked hard. He escaped. As a young man he divorced his first wife and endured a scathing condemnation, hell and damnation, from his brother, in response. I never knew about that until recently, but now I understand why I barely knew his family. Beyond that, I still don’t know his story.

My mother was the opposite in many ways. Very emotional. Yet now I know it was not so much emotional as depressive. She would be very practical and utterly… ordinary… most of the time, until the depression hit. Usually in concert with a little more to drink than was good for her. She would get a grip and get off the booze for a while. Then return to social drinking for a good long while, then anxiety would take her again and she would swim through the shame spiral. I was in college when I finally found out why. And today as I pondered I finally came to understand it.

When she was three, her sister only two, my grandmother divorced their father. Small town Wisconsin, 1940. The girls were sent to live with other family while my grandmother found a new husband. There was perhaps some bitterness in my grandmother at that time: over being saddled with two young girls and alone. I’m sure she never said such a thing to them, but children are far more aware than we acknowledge. Even if that was not the case, the extended family was certainly shamed by my grandmothers divorce, and whether they meant to put it on those two little girls, I am certain that their position as evidence of that shame was palpable. They were sent from relative to relative for a good year or more until my grandmother re-wed. The man she married: my grampa in every way that matters, was an incredibly good man – but she didn’t marry him for love. She married him for security, for her girls, and perhaps for her honor in the community. Yes, my mother felt unwanted in her earliest memories and that has shaped her entire life.

I don’t feel anger. Perhaps a sadness for the things that shaped the lives of my family. Well, yes, perhaps anger toward the systems that created those situations: church, community opinion, closed minded bigotry. But compared to other families it is as nothing.

And so I come full circle, thinking of my adult life. Just once I allowed violence into my life. The worst part of all was the shame of admitting to myself that I had done so. The guilt. And it occurs to me today that for just a short time I began, myself, to lash out. I have never understand that particular reaction. Frustrated, so you hit someone else? Angry so you degrade one that you supposedly love? Hurt so you make those who depend upon you hurt as well? I have never understood that. It makes no sense to me intellectually, but even more so, I have never felt that desire, or fallen back on that behavior pattern. Except once I did. When I became accustomed to being abused, I turned it around and did the same. Not to another. Never to another. But when I hurt, I would verbally lash out at he who hurt me. I never fully realized that until today. Thank the gods it did not became a habit – I know I have not done the same to anyone else since.

Arriving back where I began, I wonder at the incredible people I know who have endured so much more than I can honestly imagine. They say that which does not kill us makes us stronger. I’m not sure those are the best words to describe it, but perhaps it is exactly the case that those will the strength of will, the indomitable spirit to survive the worst depravities of a system designed for the depraved — perhaps those individuals are an icon of what is truly possible in the human species. For all the horror, it suggests incredible promise for what we can be.



  1. Often those that have suffered one extreme – can better appreciate its opposite…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: