Out of the Woods

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27 November 2017

I found my son’s suicide note yesterday.

I have been sober 14 years and 2 days now.

My brain automatically looks for patterns. Common denominators.
My mother attempted suicide, too, and my ex ran several states to get away from me. His mental state has deteriorated, from what I’ve heard, and his family blames me for it. Course, he is still alive, albeit living in a homeless shelter in Iowa. And my mother ultimately died of cancer.

Nevertheless, I am a common denominator. I sowed something somewhere. Maybe it was born in my relationship with my mother.

Do not look for rational thinking here. This is not the time for it.

For the time being, I will ferry my son’s belongings. My car resembles a college student’s summer getaway car: stuffed to the gills with clothes and black trash bags and files and boxed food and cleaning supplies and boots that, I think, must have fit my son’s feet. Why do black trash bags make me think of dead bodies?

My car smells like the house he used to live in, and this has nudged out memories of the days we spent together before he disappeared. Boxes of tea conjure the times he asked for advice for his sore throat or for sleeplessness. The scent is not unpleasant, but the memories hurt.

I am unable to believe the suicide note. There’s no body. You can’t claim to be dead and then not show up. I won’t have it.


Since my adult son went missing I’ve learned to value connecting with people, even as I draw away.  My story has invited others into a circle of loss where mother-empties are the norm, where lifeless bodies and missing ones evoke a common grief, where no one backs away from the abyss in our gaze. The gossamer thread between my missing son and another’s murdered daughter surprised me at first. A mother whose daughter was murdered followed me on Facebook and offered her condolences there. Other mothers with similar stories follow me as well. We haven’t met but I know they stand with me. I am alone, yet not. We each have uncontrollable situations that have confirmed our worst fears.

I’ve learned that unresolved loss is a delicate subject for people. We are resilient, and we can walk through our own shadowy valleys, but hearing about another’s ongoing loss stymies us. Perhaps it’s the catch in the voice, or the careful breathing. Something alerts the listener, and they find they don’t know how to hold their own hands, how to stand, whether to breathe.

I’ve learned that being present is not my natural state, but the only time I really recognize being otherwhere is when I catch myself dissociating while driving. I don’t know how much of a menace this makes me on the road, but I do think driving may be when I am most present because I have to actively pull myself back. I check out so much now that I wonder if I was ever present when my children were little. I look back and see myself being present, but I’m very tricky with my cloak of pseudo-presence.  I may seem attentive, but I’m really trying to get through the next minute. Maybe I draw away from people because they interfere with my dissociating. It’s almost like being in an alcoholic haze; you don’t want disturbing no matter how sick you are.

I don’t like admitting this.

I also draw away because grief is a sneaky, rude fellow with no respect for others’ sensibilities. It’s a remnant of my childhood that I want to take care of people’s feelings of helplessness in the face of my grief. Taking care of a borderline stepmother’s feelings while enduring nightly visits from her husband created an unhealthy lack of boundaries. Not to minimize empathy. I just don’t know where the line is.

Since my son went missing, I’ve been caught in an in-between. Some might call it a rock and a hard place, but that denotes an inability to move between two hard objects. No, I glide between two difficult choices regularly. Don’t talk about mother-empties and thus spare people from feeling helpless, or talk about the yawning chasm I walk beside every day and then empathize with their helplessness even while I’m bereft of true connection. You can’t connect with people who simply feel helpless or sorry for you. They are there and you are here and that in-betweenness that you regularly navigate is impermeable to outsiders. Everyone must walk the pain path themselves, surrounded by love or no.

The problem with withdrawing is that your story doesn’t get heard and you don’t hear other people’s stories, and story is where healing lives. Whether it’s the stories we tell ourselves, or the stories we dream, the core holds life. Story saved me when I was little, and it is saving me now.

In 2016, on my birthday, my 27-year-old, 6’4″ wry, depressed son sent me a loving text–Happy birthday, Mom. I love you–and then disappeared. Went off-grid. Died in a ditch next to a sweet-smelling alfalfa field. Hiked the lush Pacific Coast trail up into Alaska and lives in an abandoned bus. Died out in the dry desert, skin shriveled and desiccated, mouth agape. Died of exposure in Wyoming during last winter’s horrible blizzards, unfound in some grassy valley. Or found in some grassy valley but unidentified because not enough of him was found. Or he lives homeless somewhere in an unfriendly city, hungry, alone, limping in shoes that are too small for him, disoriented and shaggy and unrecognizable. I struggle seeing him in any happy scenario because it means he is choosing not to have me in his life.

Since my son went missing, I have blamed myself for possibly driving him away by literally calling out the National Guard a week after he disappeared, putting him on the news, alerting every police department within 100 miles. He’d been grieving the death of a close friend and was not himself: he’d given everything he owned away, and I was worried he would kill himself. I still spend most days mentally cataloguing the ways I have failed him and his brother as though this will help me make sense of his disappearance: I wasn’t present enough; I let them have too much sugar; I didn’t put them in sports; I went back to school instead of continuing to homeschool them; I was not enough of a mom; I was too much. Now I feel the stories of my childhood vibrating in me, as though they somehow still explain the world to me as they did when I was a child.

I am Nancy Drew, following breadcrumb clues, including ones whose importance I possibly fabricated, like mysterious hits on my blog up in South Dakota, or the way his Facebook friends list disappeared 4 months after he vanished.  I’m a box troll hiding under the streets because this ordeal wants to disfigure my faith. I’m a Victoria Holt heroine in a story with this family curse of disconnection. And I am—have always been—a black sheep.

Since my son went missing, I’ve been more aware of the familial disconnection that drives me to make sense of my role as a child and as a parent, to make connections between the two, to ferret out cause and effect. I’ve also come to value being a black sheep not because of the rebel aspect of it but because the black sheep carries the story of the flock. For every hundred white sheep the farmer includes a black one, and it’s the black ones he counts. I have the sense that my life is a microcosm of the family, and if I can understand what I remember it’ll help me make sense of the whole. What does my single story tell about our flock?

My story of loss echoes other family losses and abandonments: On my dad’s side, Nana’s mother abandoned two sets of children with two different husbands before she had Nana. My mother and her sisters were put in a state orphanage when they were adolescents. By their parents.

Nana lost both of her children. When my dad died all I felt was relief, but she still grieves, thirty years later. Of course she does. He was a bad man, but his mother loved him.

I’m reminded of a story I read in a book about feng shui. A monk came home to find his television was stolen, and his response was, “Oh, I see they’ve come for the tv.” The implication is that everything has a season. Oh, it’s time to go into foster care. Oh, it’s time to give my baby up for adoption. Oh, it’s time to get a divorce. Oh, it’s time to sort of lose one of my sons.

At 1:06am one day shortly after he vanished I woke with a snap, his slurred voice in my head saying, “Where are you?”

I got dressed and drove to the house where he was staying before he vanished. Convinced he had spoken to me in a dream, in a stupor, helpless. Relieved because I’d heard him and might find him.

Climbed onto a white plastic chair, shined a light into the kitchen window and saw that yes, the dishrag was still dry, the sink was dry, the ramen noodles were still stacked next to the stove.

Sniffed around all the windows I could reach and the front door for a dead body odor. Sniffed and listened for his slurred voice, calling quietly into the crack of the window, trying not to wake the dog next door. Checked the porch steps to see if any of the powder I’d spread had been disturbed.

I’ve lived in my impermeable in-between space since May of 2016, and hope does not flourish here. Every dead body found is my son, every unidentified skeletal remains, every John Doe.

And life goes on. The sky is still blue. Onion fields still smell like ranch dressing. Bees hum in the alfalfa fields, busses trundle rickety roads, and I have other loves. My son is missing and I love to teach. My life is not on hold; I have lives to touch.  My son has vanished and I love Kiwanis. Our service project of giving away books fulfills me even while I mourn.  My son could be dead and I love to sew. Learning to stitch things together while I unravel gives me a semblance of control. I love the bright sharpness of living.

I wish mourning were a place I could visit and take pictures of that I could then tuck away to revisit in a decade. Ten years is not too far to dissociate. But mourning resides in me. It opens the front door and pops its head out any time it pleases, whether I’m teaching, sewing, or giving books away. Hope is just as wayward, appearing on the porch whenever she pleases, but I never let her in the door because I don’t trust her. She’s as rude as grief, and leaves footprints on the porch steps even though my son did not.

Life, and hope, and loss, they’re all uncontrollable. Like me. Like my son. My daily mantra is, “It’s harder to disappear by accident than to do it on purpose.” Every day I whisper it as a prayer, and I remind myself that if he’s not dead, he needs me to be present when he returns. This will mean a lot of driving.

how was heaven?

Harbinger Bird

Natashia Deón is light. She has a tiny frame, but her laugh has serious heft. You feel it in your chest and want to laugh with her. She is aesthetically stunning; I could look at her face all day long and not get tired of it. But it is her soul that captivates and awes. She does not look at you, or through you, but into you. And she likes what she finds. She likes you, and she wants your story. And by golly, you give it to her.

Her novel, Grace, is the story of a runaway slave girl whose first words to the reader are, “I am dead” (1). This catapults the reader into a riveting story of mothers and daughters, a story that breaks your heart but gives you this: “What’s done is done. Ain’t no justice. Only grace” (186).  Buy it at Powell’s Books, or the independent bookseller of your choice.


grace cover

I had dinner with Natashia recently, and it struck me then that I did most of the talking. About my stuff. I remember thinking, wow, Stace, ask her something about her life. And I think I did, but it came back to me.

I am self-conscious about this, a little, but I forgive myself this time. I’m weighing it as a whole: she’d just spent an hour talking about herself, and about her book, before a large group of students at SDSU-IV. This is exhausting. One needs a break.  And my story is interesting, anyway.

I want to say I feel wry, but it’s more that I’m awry, and I should talk more about my stuff. But I’m caught in an in-between. Some might call it a rock and a hard place, but that denotes an inability to move between two hard objects.

My in-betweenness is ethereal; I move between two difficult choices regularly. Don’t talk about the emptiness of having a missing son and thus spare people from feeling helpless, or talk about it and empathize with their helplessness even while I am bereft of true connection. You can’t connect with people who simply feel helpless or sorry for you. They are there and you are here and that in-between space is impermeable. Unless someone knows how to get there.

Natashia sat with me in that space. I think she got there by talking about my writing. She was sad for my experience, but she was determined that I see that I must share it because the stories will light the paths of others. I told her that Babes in the Wood was a harbinger of loss in my family, and she said, “No, Stacy. You are the harbinger here. I see a beautiful bird with many feathers with strands of jewels hanging from it, and that is you.”

Now I am obsessed with bringing this harbinger bird to canvas and to writing pad, and I’ve done some research on kiwis, ostriches, and other flightless birds. Note: Natashia said nothing of flightless birds. She may be imagining a peacock. lol

I’m dismayed by the idea of comparing myself to a fat, flightless bird, although it is funny. Wry again.

I’m also dismayed that the term “flightless bird” is derogatory.

Look at this revolting definition from the urban dictionary:
“A passionless woman who, though superficially attractive and financially independent, is romantically unfulfilled due to emotional underdevelopment.”

However, through further research I uncovered the Inaccessible Island rail. Smallest flightless bird in the world and it lives on Inaccessible Island. What an amazing name.

And the Elephant Bird of Madagascar, now extinct.  A terrifying flightless bird. Also large.

And the cassowary which, according to one writer, has “a face perpetually frozen in an expression resembling that of a frat bro who just challenged you to a bar fight” (Gonzalez). Take me on, bro.

I like the idea of flying. ‘Flightless’ has heretofore seemed powerless to me, but now I think, no. Not powerless.

Consider another connotation of flight: Avoidance. Escape. Retreat. Evasion. Never mind that they’re all nouns derived from active, lively verbs and not one of those verbs is related to the soaring verb to fly.

Oh, how I have flown. But this kind of flight isn’t freeing. It’s not even really flying. Fleeing is not flying.

This kind of flight traps you in a loop. You run from what scares you but you can’t get far enough away to feel safe. There is no safe just like there is no justice. But life is as safe as we make it for ourselves. We have control over what we feel and how we perceive the world.  We create our experiences even as life thrusts uncontrollable events in our paths. Maybe Harbinger Bird has broken feathers earned in the fray and in the flight. Still beautiful, I say.

Stop and square off, says Harbinger Bird. (I hear this in the voice of Randall, who narrated the Honey Badger video.)

Harbinger Bird. I can dig it.
p.s. Natashia, I’m writing. Thank you.


Note: This flyer is posted after the speaking date.

grace flyer

Two hundred twenty one days of lossfulness

It’s been, let’s see–
May – 31 days
June – 30 days
July – 31
Aug – 31
Sept – 30
Oct – 31
Nov – 30
=221 days.

I do this mental count like it somehow gives me a handle on things. Counting. What is that, anyway? You count what counts? What?

221 days

Three digits. Macro in micro.

Two hundred twenty one days since Jake went missing.
It’s winter now, and it’s cold everywhere.
I put on my slippers and I think of Jake’s feet.
Not just, “Are they cold?”
I remember him wearing shoes that were too small. That made him limp. I am fixated on this.
Why did he wear shoes that were too small? I forgot what he said. I don’t like that I forgot something he told me.

I walk outside in the morning, feel the bite in the air, and wonder where Jake slept last night. If he slept. If he’s even alive.

Yesterday was his birthday. I navigated through my responsibilities with remarkable aplomb, and gave myself space to breathe, and did some genealogy research on Susan B. Anthony because I’m pretty sure we’re connected, which resonates in me fiercely. Doing such research seems to be the way I get out of my head most effectively. It’s a problem to be solved that CAN be solved.

There’ve been several birthdays I didn’t get to celebrate with him because of our estrangement. I’d adjusted–I knew he was in town then. Mad at me for inexplicable reasons, but safe.

Every year I remember his 18th birthday and laugh, because that day I’d taken him to San Diego and on the way back got pulled over by CHP for going too slow in the second fast lane. Jake’d been making me laugh. If you know him, you know how he is. I hear the bloop of the siren and toodle over to the side of the road, roll down my passenger window  and the cop leans down to talk to me.

“Ma’am. Did you not see my lights in your rearview? Did you not see everyone passing you? License and registration, please.”

I know my jaw dropped. I got pulled over for nonspeeding. For driving like a granny. How can you not laugh at something so absurd? Oh, how I laughed.

The cop frowned at me. enhanced-29172-1417629865-22

It did not squelch me.
The cop asked, “What’re you laughing at? You think this is funny? Are you laughing at me?”
“Sir, no, no, no.  I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m the funny one here. I’m funny. I’m laughing at myself.” And continued laughing.
The cop stood up abruptly, and I’m guessing he might’ve been struggling not to laugh and it’s not good protocol to laugh with someone you pull over, right?


Jake’s looking at me like disapproving-husky-dog-is-judging-you



Then the cop bent down to the window, handed back my stuff, and said, “Lady, stay over in the right lane. You can go 40 miles an hour and it won’t be a problem. You can go as SLOOOOWWWW as you want.”

And he looked at me like tumblr_m79x1s5eac1rbnvj3o1_400


I wonder what Jake remembers about that. Did he think about it yesterday?

I thought about what I could have done differently that could have prevented …whatever this is. I don’t even have a name for it because I don’t know…anything.

Today is harder than yesterday was because I don’t have anyone depending on me for anything. So, time to think. And actually, no. It isn’t harder. It’s more feel-y.  Feely and thinky. So here I am. Counting.

24 days till the end of December. The end of 2016.
17 days till I get to see my youngest son, Josh.
140 books to Urban Life in San Diego.
50 books to one of my students for the ASES program where she tutors.

Today I’ll be counting squares I sew on my sister’s quilt.
Tomorrow I’ll be counting toys that my RWS 100 students are donating to Toys for Tots at SDSU-IV.

Counting what counts.
Nothing adds up. It doesn’t change anything. Counting doesn’t matter.
But it quantifies things so that I feel like my existence matters. I make differences that I can sometimes count in the midst of the intangible, unquantifiable fog of loss.  I’m enshrouded by the uncountable. We all are.

But I hear Morgan Freeman saying this in his “God” voice:



So, okay, it’s raining and foggy and uncountably lossful.
And I’m reminded of another Jake story.

He was five years old. It was raining outside, raining so hard it hit the sidewalk with fat splats that sounded like hundreds of small wet mops slapping the ground. Jake cocked his head, listening to it, and asked, “Mommy, what’s that pokeness?”

My heart still leaps at that word. I love its descriptiveness, its logic.

We went outside and stood in the rain, listening to it hit our faces and clothes and the sidewalk.  The wet didn’t matter. It was just part of the day. The dichotomy in the picture below is unnecessary and oxymoronic, but I think the underlying idea must be to move into the uncountable.  Move with it. Some of it becomes part of who you are, like the ache that seems normal now. The ache makes me weigh things differently. The rest of the uncountable will eventually lift. I know this because I’ve been here before and survived.




Shadow work

“According to Jungian Jolande Jacobi, in psychic inner reality the archetypal Shadow is a symbol for an aspect of the self (1959).    When we cannot find a way to work with our shadow through our dreams or in other ways, it becomes a symptom in our outer world. ” From http://www.eupsychia.com/perspectives/defs/shadow.html

In the compilation of shadow essays called Meeting the Shadow, M. Scott Peck writes,

“If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them?  The answer is by the consistency of their sins.  While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent….
A predominant characteristic, however, of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them.  They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection….
Scapegoating works through a mechanism psychiatrists call projection…. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad….
Strangely enough, [they] are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil…” (178-79).  (see here for more info on the book)


I think that when we cannot accept a certain aspect of our selves, we are then on hyper-alert for that aspect in others. This is why politicians and other public figures should shut up.  I’ve lost count of how many prominent figures have loudly decried sexual misconduct and then have been found guilty of that same “sin.”

We are loudest about what we hate in ourselves.
And the only way to combat this effectively is to accept those parts in our selves which cause us to be ashamed.

But we can’t if we don’t have a safe space to be vulnerable.
So not only is the accusing person hiding secret shame, he is in an environment which fosters such deceptiveness.

Where is grace?

Why is grace so difficult to give?

I’m noodling on grace because my mother was unable to receive it.
And because of that, she couldn’t give it.

I wonder if that is true across the board. If you haven’t ever received unconditional acceptance of who you are, right to your marrow, can you give that to anyone? If so, how?

I am also still formulating what my definition of grace is.

I experience it on a daily basis from my husband. I make mistakes. I get psycho/neurotic/depressed–and there he is, accepting that I am in a particular space, but I am still the beautiful girl he adores. This means, usually, that he walks with me through that valley all the way through to the other side.

Humility. That’s the key to grace.
And you can’t be truly humble if you don’t accept all parts of yourself, and you can’t accept them if you can’t see them, blinded by pride as you are.

This week I’m reflecting on all the ways I experience grace, and I’m looking for it in Mama’s life, too.


Exploring grace

My assignment this week with my writing partners is to articulate my definition of grace because I’m finally narrowing my focus on the theme for my WIP, Out of the Woods.  I thought I knew this definition, but when my partner asked me, I fumbled for what I meant.

After our meeting, I stumbled across this:

The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self–to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.  (Barbara Brown Taylor/An Altar in the World) –reference found here.

Her quote reminds me of people who point fingers at others in condemnation, not realizing that what they condemn is what is inside them. You are my mirror. If I hate what I see in you, chances are I loathe it in myself.  I recognize my shadow in someone else far more easily than I do in myself.

Grace forbids condemnation because there isn’t room for both.

And by accepting the other, we are sprung from our prisons.
By other, I mean that which is different from us.

I’m riveted by the notion of .grace because it was absent in my family. Actually, it pretty much still is. We are awkward in giving it, and we don’t recognize it when it is extended to us. I am convinced that my mother’s grief and sorrow over her choices made her sick. She never knew how much I loved her perhaps because she couldn’t accept it. If you don’t believe in something, can you recognize it? Ever?

Another assignment I have is to identify points of grace in my life, and in my mother’s life.  I’m surprised by how difficult it’s been to identify such moments of grace for her. In my own life, yes, but not Mama’s.   Not sure what that means.


What is grace to you?




Wrestling with the story

For the past few years I’ve struggled with what I –and others–have perceived to be a gaping hole in my memoir.  Today I realized that the gaping hole is actually the end of that part of my story; I think I need to focus on excavating what I already have and delete what comes after.

I have wanted to fill the hole with my years as a mom, since I learned to understand my mother as I learned to understand myself.

But I have resisted this, and now I get why:  those years are not about Mama and me. They are part of another story.

Such a freeing revelation.

I realized this as I was reading Emma BrockesShe Left me the Gun at 2am this morning.  She writes,

It is a virtue, we are told, to face things, although given the chance I would go for denial every time–if denying a thing meant not knowing it. But the choice, it turns out, is not between knowing a thing and not knowing it, but between knowing and half-knowing it, which is no choice at all.  (I don’t know the page number, only that it is location 99 on my Kindle.)

I half-knew my mother was dying, but it felt like not knowing because every time I re-read a letter from her, I re-discovered that she had cancer.  I, too, choose denial.

So as I’m reading Brockes’ story, I’m inserting myself into the text and peripherally excavating and then I read this:

If the landscape that eventually emerged can be visualized as the bleakest thing I know–a British beach in winter–she stood around me like a windbreak so that all I saw was colors. A therapist once described my mother’s background…as the elephant in the room….” (location 122/Kindle)

Did Mama windbreak for me?  I see that I have been resting in that choiceless place of half-knowing.

Resting. Resisting.

Because I’m afraid of what I’ll find in the excavation. Not about Mama, but about me.

I relate to both the author and her mother–I see myself in both roles because my childhood experience is similar to her mother’s.
So I am excavating my own childhood, too, and evaluating my role as mother, since I severed ties in an attempt to protect my children from the poison of my past.


About the book:

Buy it.
My favorite thing right now, a third through, is the way Brockes keeps the reader at her side on the journey. I have an idea of what she will discover about her mother, but I am hoping for more details (which, by the way, reminds me that memoir IS story, and suspense is delightful).  The story–and the way she tells it–will make you reflect on your own relationship with your mother, which to me is the mark of a terrific storyteller.






Snow White could give lessons on giving the cold shoulder

I am always the Princess.

I am Snow White, surfacing from a coma brought on by the apples of knowledge that both my mother and stepmother gave me.  I almost want to stop right there and leave it for you to noodle on–but I’d rather root the whole fairy tale up and dump it all in a big pile.  Please bear with me while I shovel everything out.

  • Apple (knowledge)
  • Snow White (Princess)
  • Dead mother (abandonment)
  • Stepmother
  • Sleep/coma—->blindness/emotional blindness/denial
  • Prince

Emotional or mental blindness–like hysterical blindness, y’know?  Blind like the sailor in Joseph Conrad’s story of the blind captain–the sailor had no idea his captain couldn’t see, and only realized it in a sideways leap of logic when he noticed a pilot fish guiding a whale.   (Dr. Stampfl–my former professor– calls that abduction.) The captain was physically blind, but the sailor was mentally blind.
Still thinking….

So. Emotional blindness and paralysis are Snow White’s problems.  My problems, too, sometimes.

Some’d say this is making a kid’s story too complicated.
I say no.
There’s a reason these stories have survived hundreds of years. They speak to us on some level beyond our ken.


  • I welcome your thoughts….





That Which is Forbidden to Exist

“When we are told that something is not to be spoken about,
we understand that to mean that this something
should not exist-
should not,
must not,
does not exist.
In that moment, our reality and,
consequently, our lives
are distorted;
they become shameful and
In some way, we understand this to mean
that we
should not exist.

To protect ourselves,
we, too,
begin to speak only of the flat world
where everything is safe,
commonplace, and
the very small world about which
we can all have consensus.
we don’t see
the other worlds we once saw,
for it is difficult to see
what we are forbidden to name.”
~Deena Metzger Writing for Your Life~


This was not written as a poem; I separated the phrases so the emphasis fell where I wanted it to.
Altered literary art. heh

I’m combining this with a writing prompt I read on Laura Davis‘ blog:   Brainstorm a list of things that would be dangerous to face in your writing. Then write about one of them.

It is, of course, dangerous to name the forbidden.

But consider this statement from Literary Trauma:  “…psychoanalysis believes,” Deborah M. Horvitz writes, “that crucial to recovering from an experience of trauma is the capacity and willingness to incorporate that traumatic event inside one’s self as an indispensable piece of personal history and identity.  Since, in the fiction in this study [Literary Trauma], narrative is inextricably entwined with memory and the process of remembering, the greater one’s ability to “make story” out of trauma, which is defined differently for each protagonist, the more likely s/he is to regain her or his life after that trauma” (6).

Telling our story is crucial to our recovery, but we’re forbidden to do so because:

  • it will disrupt the family
  • it will ruin the family reputation
  • an important member of the family may go to jail
  • the family will disintegrate–children will be torn from parents
  • it’s better left in the past
  • it’s not happening NOW, is it? Why can’t you let it go?
  • PTSD? Is that even real?  Besides, you were never in any war.

I wonder if the stories we cannot share nest themselves in our bodies and manifest as sickness….



Out of the Woods intro

When I was little, my mother read fairy tales to me. She never read stories about fainting princesses who languished until a handsome prince rescued them. She read Little Red Riding Hood to me, and Hansel and Gretel, and Babes in the Wood. When I learned to read, I read them every night before bed.  In a way, these fairy tales and others were harbingers of what lay ahead for me, although  I didn’t consciously connect any of the stories to my life, not even later, when life events mirrored parts of the stories. I had zero sense of impending doom.  In retrospect, though, it seems it was all spelled out to me in the stories, and later, in the books that I loved.

Of all the stories, Babes in the Wood is the one that has resonated most strongly in me.  It is a story of abandonment with no rescue, which reminds me of something my mother wrote me when I was in foster care and I had just learned that the father I’d never known existed lived in Oregon:  Stay away from Twinkies so you don’t end up fluffy, and remember: no Prince will ride in to save the day.  Not even your daddy.

I wonder if messages about my family’s history were unconsciously transmitted via folktales.  The children in Babes in the Wood were left to die in the forest. Five of the six children of my generation on my mother’s side were put into foster care by their mothers. I’m not sure why my little brother made the cut, and I’m not sure he fared better than the rest of us, after all.

Mama’s nonchalance–hell, her outright silence– about the story’s ending baffled me for many years.  Now I think that it was like a bad smell you get used to after you’re exposed to it for a while.  It was her own reality, after all:  her parents put her and her two older sisters in an orphanage when they hit adolescence.  Other families sent their children to boarding school, or to summer camp.  Ours sent the kids into the wilderness.   (Fortunately for the parents of both generations, none of us followed the path of Oedipus.)

Yeah, I did therapy.  Started with group therapy–safety in numbers.  Grew brave after a year–and by that point, desperate–and started seeing a therapist by myself.  The prevailing sentiment then was that people who went through  therapy came out psycho.  My Nana, for example, was very worried for my mental health because I was hashing up things that were better left buried.  I should mention here that it was her son who molested me.

When I entered therapy, I was aware only on a superficial level that my perspective was shaped by my childhood.  It seems obvious now, like how we marvel that the Columbine parents and teachers didn’t see the massacre coming. I didn’t know, for example, why I was indiscriminate in my sexual relationships before I got married.  Conversely, I didn’t know why I felt guilty when I didn’t want to have sex with my husband.   I didn’t know why I felt so ugly, even though people told me I had beautiful children who looked just like me.  And I thought there was something wrong with me that I felt so crazy around my family.

My take on the new person who emerged:  Yup.  She was psycho.  She went in psycho, and came out a new and improved psycho.  She was missing some of her cogs for functioning in her family machine.  She forgot her role.  The cliche is scapegoat; I reject that.  I like black sheep, and not for the obvious reason.  Farmers put one black sheep in their flocks for every 100 white sheep.  That way they only have to count the black ones to know how many sheep they’ve got.  I think the black sheep is the one who carries the story of the flock.  A friend told me once that families will often send one of their own out (by way of shunning) in unconscious hope that that one will bring back the elixir and heal the family.

I don’t know if I care enough to bring back an elixir.  This may change with time.  Or not.
The best I can do now is carry the tale.



to be continued