I spent my day today surrounded everyone around me ebbing and flowing and me, a jetty, stoic and unmoved.
That’s how it is for me, PTSD pushes me from one extreme to the other so emotional I cannot be touched then so far removed nothing can touch me.
Today I let the salt run down me and I stood in the midst of it eyes dry and heart still trying to find a way to reach out from the haze surrounding me to touch each and every one of you.
All I want to do is enfold you take each trembling drop of you and press you into stillness in each of my cracks and crevices build a home within where you can rest your weary bones.
You have been breaking for so long I don’t remember a time when I didn’t hear you, didn’t register your cries in the night, cold fingers of your hands grasping at me only to slide back into the sea and recommence your crashing melody.
Today I spent my day surrounded wanting to reach out, to do more but unable to shake myself from my foundation.
All I can do at times like these is stand. And hope my stillness gives you something you can safely break against.
I am sure that my definition of friendship is different from most peoples’. There is, of course, the laughter. Laughter is a big part of it. I cannot make jokes and have a person sit still and stare and blink. Because I’m fucking hilarious. Just ask anyone. They’ll tell you.
The laughter is a big part of it. There is, also, the understanding. The person who holds on to me in the darkness and who lets me see them. Letting me see them is important. And, though it is difficult, having them see me. The seeing and the being seen is paramount. Bigger than laughter.
Then there is the hard part. The part where the world sometimes tips. The part where I sit vigil over a telephone or a hospital bed and worry. The part where you answer the phone and I am weeping. That part. The part where one of us cracks open and the other fills the cracks with gold.
Standing by with precious metals is the hard part. Having metals melted. Having tongs to hold the dangerous, hot things away from yourself. Finding a way to fill in the cracks without getting burned. Without hurting. Without hurting more than you have to, anyway. Without adding trauma.
I am sure that my definition of friendship is different from most peoples’. I am so grateful that some people have written the same dictionary as me. Some people, when they look for that word in their private libraries find melted gold. Find laughter. And a telephone they always answer.
I close my eyes every time as I inhale the soft skin of your neck. The atmosphere of your pores rushing through me softens the inside of my mouth and shivers the deepest part of my stomach. You smell, my love, quite simply like the deepest, hottest summers of my childhood. Like ice cream melting across my hands and the rising heat of asphalt too scorched to press my naked feet against. You smell, my dearest, like endless afternoons spent lying on the couch, wrapped in each other against the winter cold outside our small apartment. You smell like home.
It’s so easy to sit in judgment of parents and children and zookeepers and strangers. People who you’ve never met.
It’s so easy.
It’s infinitely harder to person up. To pull loose your heart strings. To release the strict hold you keep on your borders and really look at another person.
Because really seeing means letting yourself be seen. Means being vulnerable. Means realizing that the things that we judge other people for are things that we do all the time.
Who hasn’t been guilty of letting our guard down for a moment? The only difference between all of us and certain mothers and zookeepers is that we weren’t the ones taking our eyes off of our child at that crucial second.
We weren’t. But we could have been.
And that fact is the thing that keeps us from true empathy with other human beings.
Because acknowledging that the only thing separating us and them is a cruel blend of circumstance and blind luck is too terrifying to handle.
So we blame. And we stand up and call for the heads of people who have made the same small mistakes that we make every day at a critical moment that ended in tragedy.
Blame is easier. Judgment is easier. Hatred is easier.
Love is hard. Empathy is hard. Compassion is hard.
Within those three things dwells the sharp knowledge that we, in all of our convictions and certainty, are as fragile and as vulnerable to harm as the people we are so quick to villainize.
Empathy is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The easier it becomes to do the hard work of looking at another person and recognizing yourself.
Last night I went to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society here in center city. I got there way early for my 6PM meeting with the other Grave Gardeners. Our talk for the evening was entitled Forget me Not: Planting a Cemetery Garden.
I am new to gardening, but in no way am I new to cemeteries. I spent my life up until I was 21 living across the street from Magnolia Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.
I spent most of my childhood running around that cemetery. We didn’t have much of a yard at our house, so the “cem” – a word that I have only encountered in the vernacular of my neighborhood compatriots – acted like a natural extension of my childish territory. Fully half of it was empty, so we used the half not occupied by the dead to play baseball, set off fireworks on holidays, play tag, and generally run amok on.
As I got older, I went to the cem to read. I had a favorite tree that I would sit beneath and friends that I would visit when I journaled.
I was fiercely protective of the cem. When I was 16 I caught a guy peeing on a grave and chased him with a large branch that had fallen from a tree. He ran, dick flapping in the breeze, terrified of the young girl threatening to beat him with a part of the very place he was defacing.
It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to any place as I was to the neighborhood where I grew up. The cemetery and the Wawa and the streets where my childhood was spent.
Recently Frankie and I moved to a house in West Philadelphia. It’s on a quiet little street and, in the months since we moved there, it has become a home to me in a way that nowhere has been since I left Magnolia Cemetery and my childhood home behind.
A few months ago, a dear friend posted a link to the West Philly Local calling for Grave Gardeners. I got deeply excited immediately at the prospect of beautifying a graveyard. And the Woodlands is not far from where I live, so it seemed ideal.
Along with my excitement came the immediate apprehension at the prospect of confronting my legendary Black Thumb head on. I have never been able to keep plants alive. It’s a serious detriment to my image of myself as a nurturing human. I recently got a plant for my desk that I have named Oscar. Oscar has lived for several months on the edge of my desk, in view just above the edge of my computer screen. He was dying in the office of one of my colleagues because she has no windows. But I have access to all the light Oscar could possibly want in my front office.
Against the calling of my Black Thumb, I sent in my application to the Grave Gardeners and awaited their response. I was surprised and delighted when they told me that I had been accepted. Our first class was last month and concerned a history of cemeteries in the United States, the transcript of which I will make into a blog entry at a later date.
Last night’s class was our second meeting, and the last one that will be held outside of the bounds of The Woodlands itself. And the most exciting thing is that, last night, we got our grave assignments.
It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to Mary Siffert Ruehmann. A resident of the 29th Ward here in Philadelphia, Mary was born to Frederick Ruehmann and Caroline Ludy on January 27th, 1846 and died on the 12th of May, 1909 at the age of 63. At this point, I do not know if she had any children. It does not seem likely since she died with her father’s name, but I am going to try to do some more research and see what I come up with.
I have not fully decided what I would like to do to pay tribute to Mary. I am going to visit her over the weekend and see what her grave calls for. Since it doesn’t look like there is any writing visible on the headstone part of her cradle grave, I will likely put roses or some sort of vine up there as a large backdrop to what I will do below.
Any advice that any of my gardening friends have would be most welcome. She is placed in such a way that her garden will receive full sunlight, so do keep that in mind.
I am very excited to begin working on this project in earnest. There will be a lot more blog entries coming as I learn more about gardening and as Mary’s plot develops over the summer. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!
The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.
But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”
It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.
Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.
I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.
It wears. It takes a toll.
I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.
We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.
That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.
In the LGBTQ communities, there is a lot of talk about chosen families. The original purpose of these families was, ostensibly, to serve as a replacement for families who had rejected their children due to their sexual or gender identities.
I did not start using this term until very recently, when I sat back and took stock of my life and realized how few of my blood relations I really wanted to call family anymore. And how very many of my close friends I considered to be members of a strange and beautiful tapestry of gorgeous and dependable souls.
This is not to say that I don’t appreciate and love my close blood relations. My parents, brother, and I all get along really well. And their support and love means a lot to me. But the lack of an extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents has been something that I have felt keenly in my adult life.
Last night, after my Thanksgiving meal with my parents and brother and his girlfriend, I headed over to the home of two dear friends just in time for post-eating hangouts.
In the warmth of their apartment, I felt a glow that was familiar to me and that I had not felt in many years. It was the same glowing warmth that I used to feel when I was surrounded by my aunts, grandparents, and cousins when I was a kid enjoying the holidays.
Surrounded by kindred souls brought together by choice rather than chance, I felt like I was a part of something greater. And it feels so much more special, given the fact that it is built of a mutual love for each other that is chosen rather than dispensed by birth.
More than anything else, if I had to list a thing that I am thankful for this year, my chosen family would be that thing.
As I said in my post yesterday, Thanksgiving brings up a lot of feelings for me. It’s not just the family members who have passed on that get me thinking, though.
Like Christmas, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday for me and for most of my family and friends. I don’t put on any pretense that this holiday has anything to do with something positive in our history. In fact, the history of Thanksgiving is pretty messed up.
This time of year always gets me thinking about historical revisionism and the way that we write history so that we come out looking like the best possible version of ourselves.
When I first started studying history in college, I was shocked to find that so much of what I learned at school was at best morally ambiguous, at worst morally repugnant.
That said, I have a hard time with the notion that Thanksgiving itself has anything to do with happy pilgrims and Native Americans holding hands and eating turkey.
What I don’t have a problem with in regards to Thanksgiving is the notion of coming together with the people I care about and preparing to usher in a time of cold and hardship with a celebration of warmth and love.
I also think it’s important that we remember to be thankful for the things in our lives that make the upcoming winter season easier for us.
This year I am thankful for my chosen family first and foremost. From my chosen partner and our furry babies to our friends and the people that we choose to have in our lives. When I think about it, I have a small army of people behind me at any one time. And that knowledge makes it possible for me to fight any battle, knowing that I will be backed up no matter what.
I’m thankful as always for my health and the health of those around me. And for my blood family that have grown so much with me over the past year, who support me in everything that I do, and who I love so much.
I’m very thankful for my job. And for the comfort that having employment at a place like that affords me.
I’m also thankful for turkey. And pie. And other delicious noms.
And for you, reading this. Because your support and readership means a lot to me as I’m growing this space. Thank you for being here.