Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Burning Plains.

I tuck myself into the booth at a cafe that's a block from my house. I've become obsessed with their cold brew, and however ironic it is that on my days off from my job making coffee I go to sit and read in a different coffee shop, I still do. Today's book is Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I haven't delved into spiritual memoir in quite some time. In fact, I've been avoiding it, just like I avoid the Bible. I can't deal with someone telling me I'm doing it wrong, or that they've found the right way to do it, when I'm struggling in what feels like this never-ending wasteland of figuring out faith.

But Nadia has tattoos, she uses the f-word, and I follow her on Twitter, so I feel like if anyone has a shot of speaking things to my fragile spiritual life, this book would be it. Not that I've got my whole faith hinging on a book, but I'm in a place where I need to hear something. Anything at all, really. And I am entirely desperate for it to not be another condemning sermon on how depression is a sin.

Shortly into my reading, I come across this passage: The Bible is not God... Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

My jaw drops, and I gasp out loud. "What. WHAT." I'm talking to myself in a crowded cafe. If the multiple times I've dropped a chip down my shirt and fished it out in full view of the baristas haven't convinced them I'm a little crazy, this will certainly do it.

I don't even care, because my god, this is the most revolutionary thing I've seen. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the gospel of Jesus Christ does not have the same authority. 

WHAT.

You mean all this time that I've been struggling, trying to figure out a way to reconcile all the horrible things the writers of the Bible had to say about me simply because I was born with the chromosome combination of a female with the quiet certainty of God's love for me that I've felt since I was a child, you mean that I can look at it all in this light, I can turn it on its head, I can say, "Sorry, Paul, but your words just don't matter as much to me as Jesus' do." I can be like, yo, I know you said in Timothy that you don't permit a woman to speak in church, but JESUS never made that rule, so fuck off?

I mean, WHAT.

This might just change how I see the Bible. I'm still not ready to read it again, but if I am, one day, it'll be with this in mind.

****

There was this woman in my parent's church when I was growing up who meant a lot to me. My family lived near hers in a rather remote area, so from a young age I would babysit for their kids. She and her husband were my pastors at one point. She took my senior photos, and functioned as a mentor for me. When things were rough at home, I could show up to their house and feel like I mattered, like someone cared about me. They were a safety for me, a place where I felt loved.

I don't know why I'm thinking of her today. Perhaps it's all the moms in the drive-thru where I hand out coffee, reminding me of how great she was with all of her kids. I left when the youngest was just a toddler, and I had a sudden pang when I thought about how those kids who I'd watched since they were babies were probably in elementary and junior high now. I wondered if, had I stayed, would I have been in their lives as they grew up like she was in mine.

When I walked away from my family, it also meant leaving church family. For those unfamiliar with church culture, it's a large extended community that knows your business, and you know theirs, and while there were so many issues in the one I grew up in, an undercurrent of love and community anchored it. I am able to see past the condemning theology, the sexism and tightly confined women's roles, and sometimes, the outright damage that community did to me - and I miss it. I miss knowing that the people I saw two and three times every week loved me and cared about me. I miss feeling like I mattered, like I was part of a big family that fought and bickered but also put food on my table when I had none, that gave me Christmas presents when we couldn't afford new shoes. They listened to my heavy heart and, at times, held me while I cried. I sang beside them, ate with them, put on community events and went to conferences and camp with them. I was part of a them, and we cared for one another.

So that's what I think of when I remember this woman. I remember driving her minivan with her three sleeping children in the backseat and feeling a little awed that she trusted me this much. I remember crying in her living room, awash in a fog of depression, at one of the lowest parts of my life. I remember the gift she brought to my high school graduation party and I remember picking up her kids from preschool.

I don't know what she heard about me, when I left. But I know that leaving my parents meant leaving their church, because my dad was a pastor there, and no one would believe me, and so I cut myself off and tried my best to forget. I didn't exactly go around asking for help, but after I was gone, she never reached out to ask why. Those ten years of my life in which she was a pivotal figure just...didn't matter, anymore. Not when there was a pastor's reputation on the line. And so she faded from my life, and I from hers, just like I did from every other family whose homes felt like an extension of my own. Multiple families who knew me, who I grew up with, and not a one asked me if the rumors were true, if I'd be home for Christmas. They receded into the back pews in whispers and dimming lights. I didn't lose just one family - I lost two.

This experience has left me, at times, bitter, saddened, heartbroken, angry. But more than anything, it has left me with this question: If Jesus left for the one lost sheep, and the Church is supposed to embody him, how come no one came for me?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Come Gently.

It's coming up on a year that I'll have been out of school. Less than that, since I officially graduated late last summer, but this month will mark the year anniversary of the end of my undergraduate career, and I get a little reflective around those kinds of milestones. Well, really, who am I kidding. I'm a writer - I get reflective about anything. But a year seems like a good marker. Progress made, shortcomings discovered, organs removed (I don't miss you at all, gallbladder).

When I moved, almost a year ago now, I didn't stop and look back. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, like I hadn't been able to really fill my lungs for far too long. I forgot to tell my friends that I was leaving - they found out the day before, or sometime after. I packed up everything I could hold and dropped the rest; possessions in the trash can, obligations left on my front stoop.

I won't say I was unhinged, or close to losing it. But I was desperate, and had been for a while.
I blazed out of there like a fire was at my back. I didn't want to leave, but I knew I couldn't stay.

Once I moved, I slept for perhaps a month straight. Then I started working, and threw myself into the task of learning to live like a normal human being. Not one with demons in her closet, with monsters breathing down her neck. I needed to live in a place where not everyone knew my story, where the looks people gave me were once of nonchalance rather than pity. I needed, in so many ways, a fresh start.

In some ways, that's what I got. But the idea is kind of a fallacy. You cannot leave everything behind, much as you might want to. It will all follow you, slowly, obligations and monsters wending their way up the freeway behind you as you blast forward in an attempt to shake them off your back.

****

I lean against the counter of my best friend's kitchen, yellow walls refracting the setting sun around us as I'm chopping a shallot for the very first time. She's teaching me how to cook, at my humiliating request. Tonight is homemade pasta sauce from scratch. We settle around the dinner table, blue mason jars filled with water, dog scampering around our feet. It is simplicity and laughter and peaceful and all the things I left looking for.

We pause the movie we'd been half-heartedly watching to talk about death and grief and the kind of sadness that permeates every breath you take. I tell her that I am dreading mother's day, that I will wake up depressed and lifeless and avoid the greeting card aisles. I say she'll feel that sadness that encompasses all, come father's day.

We agree that people think death, or tragedy of any kind, ends when it happens. She lives with her father's absence every single day; there is never a moment in which I've forgotten the peculiar and strange story of my parents and me. But people stop asking, because they think it is over and done. It happened, it stopped happening, you look happy, you must have moved on.

It's never that simple.

****

I may have moved far, far away from my parents, in body and spirit, but I still see them in myself and hear their echoes in my ears daily. A friend's husband asks me to compliment her on something, and rather than seeing it as the sweet gesture of caring that it is, I immediately flash back to my father's control of my mother's appearance, and it takes me an entire evening to work through the fact that this is different and not something to fear. I wake up from nightmares, and when my youngest brother's birthday passes again, with me not there, I cannot sleep from the crushing guilt. I have my father's hands, which is why I keep my nails short to the quick - the longer they get, the more they seem to take on his shape. I see the hands that hit me echoed in my own hands. My laugh, when I'm really laughing, is the exact same as his. We throw our heads back in the air with a cackle and a toss. No one else in this place would know that, because I am an entity devoid of context, an organism independent, not the pastor's daughter - just Becca, the girl who laughs with abandon. 

No one else knows that I have my father's hands. And as glad as this makes me, because this is the thing I fought for, this fresh start - this independence - sometimes it still makes me sad. Because I loved my father's hands. 

It is a complicated and ever-present grief and it does not come with a guide to help you navigate it. You simply learn to live with it. 

****

Last week I went out with friends four nights in a row. This time a year ago, that would've been impossible. Not because I didn't have friends, because I did - and they never stopped inviting me. I just physically couldn't do it. I did not have the energy, the life, the willpower to keep up in everything. It was all I could do to move forward each day, forget drinks at the end of it. 

But here I am now. Conversing over kitchen tables; watching movies and making jokes throughout; drinks and dessert in a crowded bar with coworkers; traipsing across parking lots and sitting above the city with knees bumping, picking out constellations with sticky ice cream on our hands. I have friends, new ones and old ones both, but now I can muster the strength to step outside. It's an amazing feeling. 

I am easing into normal, have been this whole past year. Going on dates, flirting with boys, free dinners and failed expectations. Going to friend's houses and laughing for hours and hours on end. I go to work every day and most of the time I even like it. I have an appointment this week to take my (very first) car to (my very first) mechanic. My room is gradually and gradually getting cleaner. I brush my teeth and floss every single night. Some days, I even remember to pack a lunch. This time I only kept the library books past two overdue notices, not three. I have a stack of clean work aprons in my closet. I bought new sheets. If I don't have an appetite these days, it's due to recent surgery, not a fatigue of heart and spirit. I sometimes even go to the gym. 

I no longer wake up sobbing at three am. Tears still come, but these days, they come gently.

This is why I left, for the moment when I realize that I am waking up into a brand new life that I built. I waited so long and fought so hard, and now? 

And now, life.

****

I do not know what is next. More late nights and early mornings and laughing til drinks spill from noses. More awkward first dates and set-ups and weird boys from tinder. More friends to hug firmly and more people to love and miss and hope good for. More songs to be sung, more fiction to be dreamt, more things to write and share and give away. More disappointments, more victories. More times to be wrong, more things to learn, more birthdays and Christmases and Fourth of July cookouts. More cooking in the kitchen, more midnight adventures. More surprises, more things I never could've seen coming, good or bad or both. 

Here, in this last year, I have had my taste of living.

I only want more of it. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This is the Part.

Dear Heart,

I know you've been at your wit's end as of late. Things have not gone where you expected them to, you've been frustrated, you've wondered why it is that every time you think you're getting somewhere, another obstacle pops up in the way. Two steps forward, ten back - that's been the theme for far too long now, or so it feels.

You think wasn't it supposed to all be better by now? You think you've tried hard for long enough and that it would be really nice for the universe to drop a life into your lap, neatly wrapped in brightly-colored paper, bow and all. Because you're tired, because it's been a long winding road, because your heart sometimes feels like a massive black hole in the center of your being and you think it might start to swallow you whole if you don't get a shot of happy straight to the beating middle of it all.

It is hard, I know. It's been hard for a while. But I think you've been forgetting something, or trying to forget it, because it's a rather inconvenient thing to remember all the time and honestly, it's easier to let these things recede to the back of your mind when things are making you tired and sad and you'd rather just sleep.

This is just the beginning of your story.

This is the time before it gets good.

This is the getting to the good, the part where you slowly began to stand up, stretch, look around you, and marvel at the world.

Isn't it big? Isn't it bright? Isn't it wonderful?

Do you think that sometimes, you maybe miss the point about what you're doing here? I think maybe you do. Getting out doesn't happen in one day, one phone call, as much as you thought that perhaps it did. It didn't happen in the years you spent toiling through school, multiple jobs, bills on your own, living situations that didn't work out, the insomnia, the night terrors, the sobbing into a pillow case behind two locked doors praying your roommates didn't hear. Life isn't neat and you don't get to phase quickly from one point to the other. It's a long, winding, messy journey, full of fits and starts and false endings. Life is full of shit sometimes, and it's all interconnected in one massive yarn ball of connections and turn-arounds and there's a time when you get rest and there's a time when you work your ass off and they can come six hours apart.

The point of you being here, right here, on the grass-colored floorboards of this house's back porch, here on the tiled floor of the back room of your work, here on the rug in front of the fire at your best friend's mother's house, hererighthere? The point is not that you're supposed to be okay, or happy all the time, or opening up a basket of life abundantly that's been neatly wrapped and presented to you.

This is the time when your character has been built, your walls have been scaled, and you have left into a new life and a new land. This is the time in the after but still the not yet, the in-between, the beginning of the rest of it all. This is the time when you're learning to live again, not just get through the day, not just slide by, but to truly live. 

This is the part where you open up and unfold your arms from around your middle and begin to dance again. Tentatively, one foot in the water and the other out, a bizarre version of the childhood ditty you once knew so well. This is the part where you let your hands fly out and encompass the sky just because that sunrise is so damn beautiful, and there will never be another one like it, and you made it to this point alive, and it's a good day to breathe the scents of spring.

And you don't care who sees, because they were not there to see you screaming silence into the dark. They cannot chart the lines between here, now, and there, then, and be proud like you are.

Those who do not know how far you have come can either learn, or stand aside. You are free to be in and of yourself, and it does not matter what they say. You cannot be brought down by it, and isn't that the best thing? Isn't it wonderful?

Isn't it bright, here in this part?

You will still spend some days in bed, swallowing the pills dutifully each day. It will still hurt to breathe sometimes, not all the time, though, and isn't that good? Isn't that wonderful, that in the times when it hurts and you feel like each inhale is a stab to the heart, you can remember that perhaps tomorrow, or the next day or the next, you will wake up again and feel less numb and more whole and this will have been a passing moment?

You will remember this one day, with a sentimentality that only distance can lend. I know it isn't fun in the thick of the bills you cannot pay, the screeching of your car engine that you cannot afford to fix, the almost daily questioning of your purpose and path, and the painful work of figuring out who you are and where you are headed and what you think and feel and what to do about it. It isn't anything you'd wish on anyone, that's for sure. But these days will not be like the ones that came before, the ones that distance cannot do anything but dull the pain of. And isn't that something? Isn't that something good?

I know it hurts still. I know there was that one night you drove home in tears, blurry streetlights telling you this wasn't the best idea. You sat in the driveway and sobs shook your car, and you begged God to please, please, please make this hurt stop and stop quick. You were honest, not for the first or last time, when you said that if it didn't stop you were afraid the sadness inside would become a black hole that would eat you alive. The glow from the lamp along the road touched your head, colored your hair orange, danced shadows across the windshield.

I think my point is this: now, here, this happens less and less. You breathe freely more and more. Every day that you woke up then was another chance to fight the battle to survive; every day that you wake up now is another chance to be happy.

You've been wondering where you're at, and I'm here to tell you: this is the part where you learn to live again.

Congratulations.

Don't waste it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Music & Surgery.

Hi there. This is a story with three parts. 

Part 1: I'm raising money to cover the cost of a much-needed surgery. Luckily, I have insurance, but my out-of-pocket costs are still high and are required up front. 

Part 2: I recently released my first EP of original music out into the great wide internet. You can listen to it here. It's a project that took half a year and it carries so much of my heart in it. Generally, it gets sold for $7. 

Part 3 (here's where it all comes together): I hesistated to do another fundraising campaign becuase I didn't want to be that person who is always asking the internet for money. But a friend suggested involvement of my EP, and that sparked a little lightbulb for me. I would love to give you this music that I made. I would also love to be able to pay off the cost of getting an organ that has caused me pain for months removed. Maybe both of these things could work together. 

So here's what I'm asking. Donate $5, or however much you want, and get my EP entitled "I Found You." You can get some delicious tunes for your ears, and I can get some delicious surgery for my insides. Sound like a plan?

Please head over to this page to donate and receive your download link. You'll have to enter your email when you donate in order to receive said link. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Recap

I walk to my car, tired through and through after what feels like the longest work day of my life. I have to summon the energy required to shift the clutch in and make the five mile drive home. All I can think of is achieving food, bed, and unconsciousness, in that order.

And then I see the mountain ranges in my rearview mirror as I'm shifting lanes on this tiny freeway. 

I have to tear my eyes away, back to the road in front of me, and they're a little bit filled with liquid.

I get small flashes of wonder that I've actually made it through, sometimes. I get bright bursts of hope and gratitude and holy shit I did it and crying after birthday parties because this new life is so much better than all the lives I've ever hoped for. 

But if this is a fairy tale and I have left my high high tower, I have yet to make it to the golden fields I was promised so long ago. I am still in the journey, and there are unmarked roads, burned bridges. Here be monsters, still.

****

I start to notice that gradually, I've had less and less energy. Maybe since the start of the year, really. I find myself not getting much accomplished outside of going to work and going to bed. Before, that's all I could've wanted - successfully being able to go to and from work and be a functioning adult was my dream, because it eluded me so often. And because I used to not be able to do even that, it's perhaps taken me longer to notice that just doing that isn't good enough for me anymore. 

I want to have more energy, more life, more happy bursting from my throat. I want to have time in the day to clean my room and go to the gym and visit a friend. I want the idea of hanging out with someone to not be so draining that I have to cancel at the last minute. 

I begin to wonder if this is depression's middle ground, if I am not so bad I want to die but not so good that I am able to fully live free. I start to contemplate asking my doctor to up my meds, because maybe since I've been on the same dose for so long the effectiveness has worn down a bit. I wonder if the people who think it's okay that I'm on antidepressants would still think it's okay if I start taking a higher dosage. 

I wish there was a way to tell them that this isn't a new thing, this isn't a sort of post-leaving-trauma, this is something I have been feeling since I was five and eight and thirteen years old. I can remember seasons and swells of depression fogging up on the entire timeline of my life. I used to crawl into cupboards and sit in the dark, above the clamor of the busy house, and breathe slowly. I would stay there for hours (eight). I used to cry and not know how to stop crying, and be terrified because I knew that there wasn't a reason for me to spend an entire afternoon with hiccuping sobs. I was young but I knew by then that you didn't cry for that long unless you had a reason to, and I was scared because I didn't (five). I spent months in a fog, unable to tell anyone and unable to get my head above water. I slept too much and ate too little and couldn't stop myself from drowning every single day (thirteen). 

I am not as bad as I once was, thank god and medicine and therapy and people who care. 

But neither am I where I want to be. I have no illusions of depression being something that can be "cured." I know I will deal with it always and forever. I do maintain a hope, though, that despite this being an ever-present gray, I will find a time where I can do day-to-day a little bit better and live a little bit fuller, happier. 

****

The pain first started about six months ago, leaving me shaking on my bathroom floor, examining the grout between the yellowed tiles in futile efforts to maintain composure. I finally cave and call my best friend, who talks me down and instructs me to go find hot water and drink tea and stay still til the pain leaves. 

It happened in fits and spurts since then, but never as intense as that first time. I chalk it up to an extreme bout of lactose intolerance and cut down on my dairy intake, which seems to curb the worst of it. But I still spend quite a few nights canceling plans due to stomach pain that I can't explain. 

It finally starts to become almost constant, and always unbearable. I miss days of work, which never happens (I have worked sick before rather than call out, which causes me to think this really is severe), and end up in urgent care all day on a Friday. 

Weeks of tests and unpleasant liquids and scans and x-rays reveal that I've got a gallstone the size of a quarter, and the diagnosis is surgery. I am relieved to have an end in sight, and doubly relieved to have generous strangers from this network of care I've stumbled into on the internet send me money to help cover the costs of taking time off work for recovery. My best friend tells me she'll take the time off work and have me at her house while I get better, which makes me cry some more. 

It's still surgery, though, and it's still working through more weeks of pain and exhaustion to get there. 

It's still medical bills and things I wasn't planning on. It's just proof that this year really isn't turning out how I'd expected. 

****

In an effort to challenge myself and get outside of my "comfort zone" (read: bed and books and no pants and no people), I've joined one of the myriad of online dating sites. I'm trying to learn how to date and how to relate to men and all this other stuff I've never had the opportunity to try and figure out. I am thus far finding it to be a highly overrated and underrated experience simultaneously. Crushes are amazing and being weak at the knees is a rare and multi-faceted feeling, but there is also the awkwardness of conversations in hipster coffee locations with a boy who's literally too scared of your intimidating womanly presence to even try to maintain eye contact with you.

There's also that thing of where you realize dating isn't serious until BAM it is, and you're left trying to figure out how the hell you're expected to be ready to fall in love and live life that way. 

It is an ugly and unbearable truth that I am completely and totally afraid of commitment, of trust, of letting someone hold my hand or my heart. I am not scared of rejection or the weirdness of getting asked out on a date by a proud satanist (this is a real story), but I am scared of what might happen if I meet someone I like enough to open up to and then that is met with woe and pain. In a strange way, I'm fighting against all the things I think about relationships by continuing to make myself available for one. It'd be a lot easier to give up, and I think about it a lot. There's nothing wrong with listening to yourself and knowing it's not for you right now, but I think this is less that and more the big OTHER. 

The other being learning how to view myself like I am worthwhile, like spending time with me is a good choice, like someone doesn't have to be crazy deranged to want to hold my hand. It's me trying to smash all the things that told me I wasn't good enough and it's me putting on an awareness of GOOD ENOUGH as a banner and marching outside to meet boys who then cannot meet me in the eye. It's me despairing of forgetting about the boy I wanted to fall in love with and it's me declaring that I am worth pursuing. 

Or, like my friend Emily said, dating: it's like 90% awkward conversations and 10% making out. 

****

This has been a mishmash recap of my first few months of the year. I'm sure I'll see you on the other side of surgery, and oh yes also, if you're one of the ones who have donated towards that cost, thankyouthankyouthankyou. Stay tuned for more weird boy times, depression talks, and waiting room selfies. 


Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Found You (an EP release)




I Found You is something I've been working on since last summer, or, perhaps, for much longer. These songs were written during formative periods of my life, in moments of weakness and strength. This isn't anywhere close to professional quality - I'm literally a girl recording noises in her room. But I hope you like it anyway and I hope it speaks to you just a little bit.

It will be available to purchase on iTunes within the next few weeks, and I'll be updating with links when that's live.

Until then, you can purchase the EP from my Bandcamp profile.  It's more unwieldy than iTunes, so I'm working on getting that up asap.

Thanks for taking the time to listen, and for supporting me on my journey.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What It's Like.

Possible trigger warning: abuse.

A thing you might not know about me is that I wasn't allowed to go to college. No, I didn't come of age during the earlier portion of this century. I graduated high school in 2009, but I was only seventeen when the first semester of what should have been my freshman year came and went. The details are too complex and too saddening to get into, but I was effectively prevented from using every avenue available to me to get to college. 

I wasn't allowed to go to high school, either. I was thirteen and at home, the primary caregiver for a younger sibling, being told that if I went to school he'd have to go to daycare and what kind of godly sister would that make me? The first semester of that freshman year came and went, too. I homeschooled myself, alone with a four year old, at home, on the computer - and failed almost all of my courses. 

All my life, people have been trying to cage me and shape me into something I wasn't, something I have never been. All my life, there have been people trying to control and contain me, smothering and break me. There have been people who have beaten me physically, people who have assaulted me with words most can't even imagine, people who have used threats and intimidation as a way to force my compliance and silence. 

These people have been, overwhelmingly, 99.9% of the time, men. 


****

Unacceptable. Worthless. Out of line. Rebellious. Too much, too loud, too needy, too little, too big, too brash, too opinionated, too sharp, too strong-willed. Disobedient. Disrespectful. Disgraceful. Worthless. Owned. 

Owned. 

Owned. 

These were the words I grew up under, their crushing weight battering at me every time I told myself I could believe in something more. Stupid and sinful and fat and worthless and owned. My father repeatedly, in that semester that I could not be in college, told me these things. A litany, over and over and over, beaten into my head and my skin and the fabric of my being until I believed it, until I screamed in agony when no one else was home because I remembered what it had felt like once to believe I was worth something, and I did not know what I had done to change that. 

I was useless, a waste of space and food and energy. I was hopeless, a lost cause. I was worth nothing. And he owned me. 

Maybe that's why, all these years later, I still begin shaking in anger when I read the words of some anonymous internet stranger telling his "future wife" that she's like a car. A thing to be driven, to be possessed, to be controlled. Maybe that's why I get so undeniably pissed off when I read this person's smug assertion that they are already owed things by their future spouse - simply because she will be a woman, and he's a man, and we owe them things, don't you know. 

We owe them our life and our laughter and our children and our beds and our censored thoughts and our carefully cultivated actions, stuttering around theirs so as not to be too much or too loud or too big and uncontainable. We owe them our piety and our bodies, our every article of clothing that we put on carefully tailored to their gaze. 

Be appealing, but not too appealing. Cover up in the way that they'd want you to but don't be a prude. They can go to bars, but you can't. You can go to church and prepare your womanly brain for a life of submission to a man's will. You can go to church and hold your lily white hands high in the air and pray that God, whatever god there may be, will save you from the horrible fate of a man who controls your life like your father does. You can pray to whatever gods that hear you to be saved from your miserable existence. 

You can pray and they will answer - the men, that is, they'll answer you - you are owned, and this I know, for the Bible tells me so. 

You can curse God for the crime of putting you in the wrong body. No, no, you accept your gender and have never felt shame about being a woman - except for when you do, because every part of who you are, the things you like best about yourself, would've been better in a man. Your humor and your passion and your intellect and sharp wit, those things would've served you well with just a subtle shift of chromosomes. 

But you were born a woman, born Becca. You were born in a body with large hips and damnable breasts and every single cultural convention that fundamentalist religion wants to place on those is the price you pay for your existence. You go to church and you bow your head and you don't tell anyone that sometimes at night your dad beats your brother because what would be the point, anyway? 

You are silent, you are submissive, you are a raging wind trapped in an airless chest. And you are dying every single day that you're forced to live like this. 

****

When I tell people I am a feminist, there is often a pinched look about their faces as they ask, "But..not a man-hater, right? Not a feminazi, right?" They want me to laugh and tell them that I'm not one of those kinds of feminists, the ones that are extreme and brazen and make you feel guilty. 

I smile and I say I am a nice feminist. I say, "Feminism is the radical belief that women are people too." I tell them not to worry, I'm not strident. I downplay their fears and soon, I become the token feminist at the party, the one people might ask an expert opinion of or say something incendiary to, as a joke, of course. Poke the angry feminist and watch her growl. Tell her she'll never get a man that way, then maybe joke about how since she's a feminist, she probably doesn't like boys at all.

I remember my first kiss. I remember the taste and the buzz and the tingle I felt all the way through my chest. I remember feeling scared but safe and I remember feeling wanted. I remember thinking, this, this is the best feeling in the world. Right now, this moment. I remember, too, the way that boy broke my heart, and the way I laughed it off through tears, saying, "I've been through worse before."

I've been through worse, before. 

****

I think I was maybe twelve the first time I told my mother I didn't want children; sixteen when I ranted to her in the car about the indignities of child birth and rearing, the submissiveness that I never could seem to master, the travesty of the birth canal and the unfairness of the teachings that birth control was a sin. She laughed and laughed, and I kept going, desperate to be heard, but she just laughed.

"Oh, Becca. You're so funny. It'll be different, you'll see. You'll change."

In the first semester that I went to high school, half-way through that freshman year, I remember the way that my father would avoid looking my direction. The way his head would turn when I walked out the door to walk the mile to catch the bus out of our rural area, the almost two-hour ride to the nearest public high school. 

That was the beginning of him not looking at me. It was like if he couldn't see me, couldn't see what I was, then he wouldn't have to admit what I was becoming. We wouldn't have to talk about the fire inside me that refused to die, the voice that whispered that I could do this, I could make it. He didn't look at me, and I avoided him, and for the most part, as long as I was good enough at scurrying around corners when he was there, that worked just fine. 

In the lost semester at the beginning of what should have been my college years, he started seeing me again. He looked at me to find fault and flaw, expose my character failings and the crevices of my selfish heart. He cracked me open under his gaze and though he seldom touched my flesh, when I left after six months of living life under his examination, I was bruised through and through. 

The only times my father really looked at me were the times when he was determined to reshape me, to make me something more pliable, to form my being into what he wanted of it. 

But I believe that the reason he stopped looking at me, long before that, was that when he did, when he saw me, he saw the fire in my heart and the iron in my bones, this thing that wasn't what he'd expected when he'd had a little girl; and he was afraid. 

It's funny, fear. It'll make you try and break something. 

****

I have often been told it is a wonder that I still believe in men at all. I rather think the opposite. Why would I not? I have three brothers whom I love dearly. I know their hearts and I know they are good. I have friends who are men earnestly seeking to build themselves into good human beings. There are many men in my life now and in my life before and I see them and know that we are all just humans trying to make our peace in this contentious earth. I see men in stories and books and in my best friend's family and I know that the majority of them, the widest swell of the gender, are good or trying to be. 

I am not a feminist because I think men are monsters. 

I am a feminist because I have seen how crippled men become when they believe they must be the best, the highest form of God's green creation. I have watched gender norms cripple and shame men alongside of women. I am a feminist because I believe in the goodness of the species, of men and women alike, and that for us to succeed, we must do it together or not at all. 

I am a feminist because no woman should ever be told she is owned. I am a feminist because I believed that about myself for too long, and I refuse to be told I should do so again. 

I am a feminist because I am so tired. Tired of men's expectations. Tired of being told my friendship is just a consolation prize and that it has been found wanting. Tired of being lied to in efforts to manipulate because they want more from me than I am willing to give. I'm tired of protecting myself against all comers, tired of men who just want and want and take and take and use but never care. I am tired of men playing the devil's advocate, as an interesting exercise for themselves, when I am sitting here beating my hands against the walls yelling but this is my life. This is my everyday life. I am tired of being treated like an interesting debate topic, tired of being told it's not okay to call a spade a spade and a sexist a sexist. I am tired of all the men who've ever used me or tried to and tired of being told I cannot use the term misogyny because that's just too hurtful. 



I am a feminist because for the majority of my life, a man has had absolute control over my hair, my clothing, my reading material, my schooling, my entertainment choices, my worldview, my food, my appearance, what goes into my brain and what comes out of it. I do not know if I can properly convey to you the level of stifling control I lived under. Picture a box, locked, pinholes allowing in just enough air and light to survive. Picture emerging from it after eighteen years with limbs too atrophied to walk. 

I am a feminist because I have a wild and untamed heart that had led me here. 

I am a feminist because this is what it's like, being a woman. And that has to change. 

****

These days, I have a college degree. It's one I earned fighting, and with a lot of help from unexpected persons and places. I provide for myself and no one calls me worthless anymore. I created a safe haven for my soul to rest in, and every night when I go to sleep I curl up in my bed, comforted by the fact that I am safe and there will be no one pounding on my door in the morning to hurt me. 

These days, I don't often speak of my parents. I haven't communicated with my father in well over two years. I don't know if he thinks of me at all, but if he does, I hope it is with the knowledge that I would not allow myself to be harmed at his hands, that he never did break me, that I am free of him and happier for it, and I hope that knowledge cripples him. 

Oh yes, I am an angry feminist. I am angry because I have the right to be. Go on and search my past, live my history, and then come back to face me and tell me that I do not have the right. 

But know that when I curl up safe in my very own bed, in my very own space, where no one but myself tells me when to sleep and when to rise and how to speak or dress or act - know that before I go to sleep, I pray for my father. I pray for the men who have used me and hurt me and done me wrong. I pray for their forgiveness and their absolution and that one day, they might be changed. 

And I pray that they never get the chance to hurt another little girl like they did me. 

****

I am fire and I rage bright. I am a wind that cannot be contained. I go where I please and I go where I will. You cannot unmake me. 

Trust me. They've tried.