Monday, July 30, 2012

Only in America


I attended a women’s college.

In fact Stephens is the second oldest women’s college in the Nation. By nation, I of course mean the United States of America. I will openly admit that the main reason I am so adamant about sharing my beliefs and opinions with others is a direct result of the education I received in college. It was a thousand times more liberal and supportive than the one I received in my hick-town high school.

Some people call me obnoxious, others opinionated and I myself prefer the term honest. I’m not saying that every belief I have is right. (Who could possibly know everything?) I am simply saying that I have been well educated and it has encouraged me to share my voice with others in any way possible.

My favorite mediums have been writing, as well as photography. Two things that I have been blessed enough not only to enjoy, but to practice publicly. If I have something to say, I say it. If I want to post a photo, I do. I often find myself forgetting to step back and assess the world that I live in, because many people are not as fortunate as I have been. Even people right here in the U.S are being silenced, but let’s look further than that.

A year ago, a story came out about a young woman in Morocco named Amina Filali. I am sharing her name with you, because I believe that it’s important that NO ONE ever forgets that name. If you haven’t heard it before, please listen carefully.

This young woman was raped by a stranger. He forced himself on her, stealing away her innocence, and then instead of being punished was awarded her hand in marriage. If you are anything like myself, all you can think right now is “What the hell?!?”

Never in America, The Land of the Free, would this ever happen. There are a lot of things wrong with our government, and many poor decisions are made by our judicial system, but this isn’t one of them. Women were still considered property of their husbands in America You see, in Morocco it is shameful for a woman to have intercourse before she is wed, even if it wasn’t of her own accord. While her father was not in support of this wedding, her mother was fearful that she might not find a suitor since she had been publicly deemed “unclean”. The thing I’ve failed to mention so far is that this young woman was merely sixteen years old.

Even though her father was hesitant of this union, he gave in when the court called him and “strongly suggested” that he comply. After all it was a win-win situation for both parties… Right?

Wrong. This young woman married her rapist and was turned over to his family as their responsibility. He abused her, starved her and made every day of her life a living hell. She told her mother multiple times, “I want to kill myself.” But there was nothing to be done. It was the law. She was his wife.

Now until around the late 70’s, interracial marriage was still illegal in the U.S. Even now we’re still fighting for LGBTQ equality, but there are resources we can call for help if we feel suicidal. We’re not forced to remain in situations that are harmful to us mentally or physically. If a woman is raped in the U.S she can prosecute her rapist, and upon the instance that she were to be pregnant, she can choose whether or not to keep the child growing within her. As American’s, these are our rights.

In Morocco women are still considered property. Could you imagine what it would be like to be gay in this country? What if I, as a lesbian was not only forced to be with a man, but with the one who raped me? I weep silently for this young woman. For all young women who have ever felt as hopeless as she did.

After nearly a year of her hell on earth, Amina consumed a large amount of rat poisoning, and fell to her knees in the street in front of her rapist/husbands house. Vomiting and shaking, she found peace under the great big sky. Now hear me out. I do not condone suicide. I don’t think that there is ever a reason to harm yourself, because there is always hope. Well… at least here in America.

I can’t imagine what I would do in that situation. I can’t imagine the way she must have felt. She was publicly ridiculed for being attacked, forced to live with her attacker and became his slave, then even though she cried daily for help, none came.

I am so thankful to live in America. I am so thankful for the life that I live. The ability to speak freely and to love whomever I want. I am so thankful for my family and friends who support me wholly, and for a government, that although is still lacking in many areas, is more supportive than most.

When I find myself angry with the way our country is run, I have to remind myself how far we’ve come. Civil rights, women’s rights, and now LGBTQ equality. We fight every day with a voice that rings from Maine to California, and people hear us.

When you feel as if there is no hope. Start with me. Reach out to me. I will do everything I can to get you the help that you need and deserve. Don’t think that there is no other answer. Don’t give in to the pain. We have the ability here in this country to find happiness. You just have to keep looking. You are incredible. You are not alone.

Remember me,

I’m Tennessee.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

She Will Be Loved


Silence.

It surrounded us.

We lay there on my bed. She slept quietly, and I couldn’t help but watch her. She has been gone for so long. So much time has passed. I wondered if it would even be the same at all…

My best friend (and until that point the love of my life) came in from the Ukraine this past weekend. She visited family first and then Thursday I picked her up at the bus stop. When she got off the bus, I lifted her into the air. There she was. Right in front of me. I could see her. Touch her. That was her voice. Inches away from my heart.

We drove 45 minutes to get her a tattoo… It was incredible. The artist, Jared Ray is fantastic. He is a portrait artist in a hole-in-the-wall shop in Mexico, Missouri, and his interpretation of her great grandmother on her forearm was breathtaking. After genuinely intellectual conversation with a strikingly talented man, we continued on our way. One more memory that we could put down in the stories of our lives. The stories that I’m sure someday we will share with our grandkids. Grandkids that I hoped one day would be the product of us both, together. For nearly five years I’ve been in love with her.

We met up with friends from College afterwards at a crowded frat bar, and cringed as we looked around at all of the younger students. Is this what we looked like? Girls falling out of their chairs, because they’ve drank more than they could possibly handle, all the while hovering near the bathroom in case of an emergency.

It must have been, because two hours later, as the bar was closing, my girls followed me out into the street. As I’ve said before, I no longer drink. I’m completely sober, so I offered to drive everyone home to avoid a taxi.

When we left it took approximately two minutes for one of the girls to get sick in the back of my car. Luckily she managed to get her head out the window. Just in time to reveal her to a passing police officer. The police in Columbia have much bigger worries than a girl puking down the side of a car, so he just shook his head and continued on along his “not so merry because it’s College night in Columbia” way.

By the end of the night I had two girls in the back seat holding plastic bags, and one in the front sleeping with a spilled plate of nachos in her lap. I couldn’t say a word. There were way to many nights in college where I did some variation of the same thing.

My best friend and I dropped them off at the end of the evening, and made our way back to my house. We fell into bed, happy for the comfort of a pillow and blanket, and she quickly drifted off to sleep. Now mind you she was intoxicated, and not at all shy, so there she laid next to me in her undergarments. Fully covered by the blanket on top, but snuggled up against my chest.

Five years ago this very thing happened. It was my freshman year. I had just gotten back home from a bar (imagine that) and it was around 2 a.m. I was being followed/ accompanied by me ex-girlfriend. Again, I make terrible decisions when I drink. We were heading back to my room, and I just happened to live two doors down from the best friend. As we tried to slip past she spotted us.

“You (she pointed at my ex) go (she pointed to my door). You (she pointed to me) come here.”

Now I had only known her for a few months, but we were already very close and I already knew I liked her. I would sit outside her door and listen to her sing from her bedroom, along with half of our hallway. She finally realized what we were all doing, so she began to leave the door open. Hence, why she could see me passing by that night. I would do virtually anything she told me to, so I nodded to my ex to go on, and went back to my best friends room.

“Are you drunk?” She asked.

“No.” I lied.

“Tell her to go home. If you still want to see her tomorrow when you’re sober, then you can.” She was looking out for me.

I walked down to my room and told my then irate ex that she needed to go back to her room. That started a deep seeded hate between the two of them on my ex’s behalf that we still joke about today. I find it much funnier than she does.

When my ex left, I walked back down to her room.

“She’s gone.” My best friend looked at me and smiled. She had been drinking a little herself. She lifted her pillow up from off her bed, and threw it across her shoulder.

“Come on.”

She walked out of hr room, and down to mine. Walked in and climbed into my bed. I was baffled. Was this really happening? Was this even remotely real life? Mind you it was my freshman year. I had just gone away to college. Leaving the smallest town, with the smallest mind in Tennessee. Beautiful straight women didn’t climb into bed with lesbians.

But there she was lying next to me. We cuddled for a while. Face to face. Cheek to cheek, before my lips slowly found hers. We made out for a while, it seemed like hours, but I’m fairly certain that it was no more than thirty minutes. I just remember telling her that she had the most amazing lips.

Smooth, Tennessee.
Not.

She slept that night in my arms, and I stared quietly at her. Afraid that if I fell asleep, she would vanish. Of course she didn’t. The next morning we awoke. She gathered her belongings, and I walked her to the doorway. I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. She backed me slowly against a dresser. Her hands placed ever so gently on my arms and leaned in.

At that moment, the girl across the hall burst into my room.

“Tenn, have you seen… Oh!”

Naturally my friend stepped back. I jumped, and silently began freaking out in my mind. Did she see? Will she tell? Does it matter? There I was as close to perfection as possible, and this girl had to ruin it. My biggest fear was that it would change things between us. And it did.

From that point, I was in love. It didn’t matter how many times she told me that it was a one-time thing (that we just happened to repeat a few more times later on.) We would occasionally drink way too much, and find ourselves back in that same position. She had a few boyfriends, I dated a number of people, but she never left my mind.

I shoved it into the back of my head and moved on with my life. When I would feel scared, or lonely, I would pull out a picture of her, and play a clip of her singing. She had the most beautiful voice. Looking back now, I’m certain that had a lot to do with my attraction. I’m a sucker for talent. Especially of the musical persuasion.

We still stayed friends over the years. Her constantly blushing at my obnoxiously blatant passes at her. All of our friends became accustomed to the idea. One told me later, that had she not have grown up around, she would never have understood our friendship.

Fast forward to this past Thursday. She laid quietly, head on my chest and I looked at her long dark hair, olive skin and full lips. I realized that something in me had changed. While I still found her to be very attractive, it was different. I still loved her. My heart aches at the thought. I love her more than I love myself.

But I’m no longer in love with her. We can talk about sex, sexuality, friendship, partners etc, and I’m unaffected. Occasionally I will get a sharp sting of pain. Almost like a flashback. Usually when she sings. There I am. Freshman year. Staring eye to eye to the most beautiful girl in the world.

Then I am here again. I see my best friend. The girl I couldn’t live without. The girl whose grandkids will grow up knowing my grandkids. The girl who I will take family vacations with, only bringing along our partners as well.

I love her. I’m not in love with her. My heart is free. It is free to feel about someone else, the way that I once felt about her. She is straight. She has always been straight. She simply felt what I felt. An attraction. A love so strong that we misinterpreted it for something that it wasn’t.

She left today, and I cried. I feel like a piece of my heart drove off to Chicago, soon to be back in the Ukraine. She will always have a piece. Despite where we’re at. We joke that when she returns, she will come and live with me in L.A.

I would love that. Waking up, to the sound of my best friends voice, echoing through the halls of my LA apartment. Walking through the door to reveal those striking green eyes. My heart, whole once more. 

Hopefully you'll understand why...

Make You feel My Love- Rachel Gaynes

Remember Me,

I'm Tennessee. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Worth of Wealth


There were complications.

Like with anyone, my history is full of them. It began with my mother. She was born into a small town family in Corinth, MS. She was the last of three kids (the first two, boys) and was the light of her mother’s life.

They were your typical upstanding southern family. Poor, but they loved each other enough to make up for what was missing. That all changed when she turned two years old. Her mother’s life ended suddenly when she developed Cancer, and after a tough battle, lost. My mother’s father found her as a reminder of the partner that he loved so dearly, and since he had no idea what to do with a young girl, he sent her to live with her aunts and grandmother.

As a child, my mother grew up in a home with cracks in the floor so large that you could see the chickens pecking the ground underneath. During the winter, they would layer five or six hand sewn blankets over the beds to keep warm.

Her grandmother would fold the blankets down as she climbed quickly into bed. The draft from the floor was cold on her child sized feet, and she didn’t have extra socks to wear. When her grandmother tucked her in, the blankets settled around her like a mold. Her body stayed in one position the entire night through, unable to move from the weight of the covers.

When she would awaken the next morning, there would be a thin layer of snow across her blanket and the floor, carried in from a flurry the night before. She would wiggle her body back and forth until she managed to break free from the heavy restraint.

Around the age of seven my mother went back to live with her father. He remarried, and it was about that age that most young women in the south began to help take care of the household. She would help his new wife with the cleaning and cooking. They also picked cotton for local farmers to put food on the table. She would pick from 5 a.m until noon, and then her step-mother would let her take a nap on the rough burlap bag full of cotton that she drug along behind her in the fields for an hour or so. Whe she awoke she would help pick until nearly dark.

His new wife was a sweet woman, however his angst and sadness kept him from letting her get close with his children. Although my mother longed for the love and adoration of a female figure, what she got was relief from the full weight of household chores.

As a young girl, she had to wear clothes that her step-mother made out of large flour sacks. They were cloth, and often had prints of stripes or flowers on them. People often used them for their Sunday’s best.
During her teenage years she began to feel restless, so when she graduated early from high school she sprinted for the county line. She considered college, but got a wild hair and ran off to Myrtle Beach where she tasted freedom for the first time. She was a woman born under a wandering star and that is exactly how she acted. Traveling place to place, paycheck to paycheck she experienced a life that she never knew existed.

She worked as a desk clerk at a hotel, and on her lunch hour she would run across the street to the beach, her bikini on underneath her uniform just to watch the waves crash onto the sand. That same hotel is where she met Patrick Swayze. That same town is where she danced with the lead singer of Alabama.

In her early twenties her father became sick. Although she had a passion for adventure and travel, she also had a calling for care giving and a dedication to family. As a child when she would find stray animals with wounds and injuries, she would bring them home to her grandmother who would help her patch them up and nurse them back to health. They did this despite the fact they could barely afford to support themselves.

Her father told her constantly that she should become a nurse, but she had other plans. Those plans were disrupted when she received the call to come home. He might not make it. When she returned, the town was as small as ever before. She was wild and restless. Although she took care of her father, she also made her rounds through the few local bars, enjoying herself along the way. I always saw my mother growing up as a saint, one who cared for everyone and always knew the right things to say. I knew nothing of the woman, who bar hopped until 2 am before she landed herself at a local diner for a sobering cup of coffee. This woman was foreign to me, but there she was. At age twenty-two my mother sat in a small booth, her high heels on the table yelling back at the cook.

“Carol, make me two eggs and some bacon.” She would say, with her feet kicked up in the seat beside her, flexing her toes that had been stuffed into make-shift dancing shoes minutes before.

Two county officers walked into the diner and sat a few feet away from her. After a few minutes of listening to my mother recap her evening of betting the local football players she could out-drink them, and winning, one of the officers approached her.

“Evening ma’am.”

“Morning.” She replied.

“That your car outside?”

“Sure is.”

“And you’re driving it?”

At this point most people would be sweating profusely, certain of their mistake and soon to be doom. Not my mother.

“That’s usually what I do with a car. Yes.”

Wow, mom. Wow.

“Little Lady, It just so happens I have a place for you to spend the night.”

I would have been in tears.

“No Sir. I’m not going to jail.”

Let’s take a second to recap. My mother, check. Police Officer, check. Driving after drinking, check.
The Police Officer looked at her, and patted the gun on his hip.

“As long as I have this, you’ll go wherever I tell you to.”

His partner was sitting in the booth behind him amused at my mother’s sassy attitude. I’m sure they didn’t run into many young women like her. She was a free spirit with a Devil-May-Care attitude. Like a flash my mother reached out and snatched the officer’s gun from his holster. In one swift motion she had it in her hand, dangling it in front of his face. His eyes huge.

“But officer, you don’t have it. I do.”

In this day and age the officers would have tackled her to the ground. Arrested her, and probably charged her with a felony if not beat her with everything in sight. The consequences have to be pretty heavy for taking an officer’s gun. Instead, his partner busted out laughing. The Officer’s cheeks grew a deep shade of red, as he took the gun back from her grasp.

“I’ll tell you what, young lady. I’ll follow you out of town, and if you swerve even once, I’m taking you in.”

Her response?

“I’ll tell YOU what. I’ll follow YOU out of town, and if you don’t swerve, I won’t.”

The Police escorted her to the county line. She made it safely home, and while she is the first to tell you that driving that night was the worst mistake she could have made (because she, nor I condone drinking and driving) it has helped her understand that we don’t always make the best decisions.

I think that’s one of the reasons that she is so open to my wandering heart. I’m a little wild. A little reckless. In college I didn’t always make the best decisions, but my mother loved me unconditionally. She knew that I was young, and over time I would learn my own lessons.

After her father died, my mother entered nursing school. Ironic isn’t it? She waited until he was gone to do the thing he told her to all along. By that time she had been married once and divorced, and it was also around that time that she met my father. She clung to him during her emotional instability. She had a very difficult time with her father’s death, and found comfort in the arms of my dad. Unfortunately he was probably the last man her father would want her to be with.

He was young and wild as well. A skinny man with long dark hair. A crooked smile, and charm for days. They loved hard, and fought harder. Not just petty arguments, but with anger so strong that it hurt. They were a terrible pair, but the passion was intense. At this point he already had my sister by another woman, and was fighting for custody. My mother married him to help facilitate that battle.
Long story short she became pregnant. She was still in nursing school, and now preparing for her first born child as well. The fights became worse. My father was a wanderer, and stepped out a time or twelve. They fought day in and day out. He even often picked fights before big test days, just to watch her fail.

Three months before graduation, she went into labor.

Since she had been doing her clinicals and such at the local hospital, she knew all of the staff. They opened up two delivery rooms, just so they could hold all of the people who came to my grand entrance to this world. In my first few moments of life, I would be a local celebrity.

The only person who wasn’t there, was the one who ought to be. My father walked out of the delivery room hours before I was born leaving my mother to go through labor alone. According to my mother he ran off to Alabama with another woman. He got a job down there in construction “to support the family” leaving my sister and I behind.

 My “grandmother” (the one who now has Alzheimer’s) and her husband were there. My mother’s friends . All of the hospital staff. Someone even videotaped the whole thing (but the tape burned years later in a fire). As it came closer to time for her to give birth, the doctor noticed that there was… a complication. As I said. My life has been full of them. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck cutting off the circulation to my brain. The doctor would have to do an emergency C-section. After 36 hours of labor, my mother’s life was at risk as well.

During the C-section, the doctors knife slipped, cutting to deep. It went into the back of my skull, leaving an inch long scar for me to remember him by. Within my first few seconds of life on earth, I was in critical care getting stitches. It was just a preview of many years to come.
We both survived. My mother carried me every day to class (she was back in school three days after labor). My first three months alive, I spent going to school. My mother thinks this is why I have such a passion for learning. I think that I just get bored.

She graduated, and a week later was in her first nursing position. My father sent home twenty-five dollars a week. That was supposed to care for both my sister and I, my mom, and provide gas as well as pay the bills. One hundred dollars a month…

I didn’t find this out until I was nearly grown. I had no idea why my mother hated him so much. Why they weren’t together. I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t all be a happy family. My mother couldn’t afford to take care of us. She made the hardest decision of her life. I still cry when I think about it.

She took my sister to live with her grandmother on her birth-mother’s side. My mother says to this day that it’s the worst decision she ever made. She relives that moment over and over trying to think of other ways that she could have kept us both and survived. She’s still trying to figure it out.
Friends and family members would drop off old cans of vegetables that they weren’t using, so my mother’s dinner usually consisted of half a can of beans. She would save the other half for the next day. Living off of one meal a day, and still trying to feed me was nearly impossible. There is no way she could have fed my sister as well.

I feel guilty sometimes. I feel as if it’s my fault. If I hadn’t come along my mother could have kept my sister. She could have had a different life. Instead she was dropped off; much like my mother had been, at an early age.

It took me a long time to realize the struggles that my mother faced. The hardships that she endured. I am amazed at what an incredibly strong woman she is, and blessed to have her in my life. I still don’t know everything that she went through. How could I? I wasn’t there. I’m sure that there is a lot that she still hasn’t told me to protect me from the guilt and pain. It’s something you might want to think about before you assume that your parents or family don’t “understand” what you’re going through. You might not really understand what they went through either.

I’m certain that there isn’t a person on this planet whose mother loved them more than mine does. We obviously survived. My parent’s separated. My father stayed gone for the first two years. It was my mother and I against the world. Maybe that’s why she is so supportive now. It’s always been the two of us, and we faced whatever came our way. I wish I could say I’ve helped her as much as she’s helped me, but I’ll never be able to repay her.

My father came to my first birthday party. He was there long enough to rub cake in my face, which caused a severe allergic reaction. Apparently I was allergic to eggs. Great start right? We didn’t really see him again until I was around two years old.

Now my father isn’t a bad guy. So far everything you’ve heard has been from my mother’s perspective, and while I’m sure it’s all true to some extent, again I wasn’t there (well I was for part of it, but an 11 month old has a limited perspective). I know that both of my parents were stubborn and very, very proud. My mother says that my father didn’t want the responsibility, and my father and I have never really talked about it. I haven’t been able to face that conversation. I suppose I’m afraid of the answer I’ll find. It became so easy to hate him. It made sense. My mother was my rock, and he hurt her. He hurt me. However, the older I get, the more I learn and the less black and white I see it as. As far as the opinions f others, this is one of those things that I can be as angry with him as I want, but if anyone else says anything bad about him I become very defensive. I know that he loves me. And he and I have even begun to work on our relationship.

My sister told me recently that my father tried to see me occasionally, but my mother wouldn’t let him since he left us. When I was two, he began seeing another woman. Usually most people see this new lady as a bad thing, however she was the best thing that ever happened to my father. She encouraged him to take care of my sister, and to make me a part of his life. She would make him pick me up every other weekend to spend time with me. If he was working, then she would pick me up so I could spend time with my sister. I don’t remember much about that time in my life, but I do remember this.

My father had an apartment in Corinth. I was there with my sister. She didn’t really like his new girlfriend yet, so she gave her a hard time. I did everything my sister did because she was my idol, so I was sort of a brat myself.

We wanted to skate in our new roller blades, but it was raining outside so we were sitting in the apartment complaining about nothing to do. During that time we didn’t have I-Pads, Facebook, Angry Birds or Twitter to consume our time. We had to do things the old-fashioned way. Playing in dirt, rough housing with the dog or drawing was about the extent of our possible activities.
 My dad’s girlfriend (we can call her Kim) wanted what every woman in her position wanted; which was for the kids to like her. She did the unmentionable. She broke our fathers rule of “No skating in the house” so she could be the “fun girlfriend”.

As we skated room to room, she chased after us with a wet washcloth scrubbing up the black marks we left behind on the tile. After having babysat many times, and knowing the effort that goes into an activity like that, I now realize what a saint she was. There’s no way I would do that for my little brothers, and I’m the “fun sister” who breaks rules that my parents won’t. I do it because of Kim. I do it because I know that when they’re older, there is a possibility that it’s something they just might remember. That they might have a fond memory of me.

She really was the “fun girlfriend.” In fact she was also the “long term girlfriend.” She was with my father until I was sixteen. I still refer to her as my step-mom, because that’s what she was to me, even though they never married.

He never really grew up while they were together and made a series of mistakes. She finally left him, which I can understand. I actually wanted her to… But that’s a story for another day.
I was born partially deaf in my left ear. I have hearing loss in my right ear from numerous earaches as well, but the right ear isn’t nearly as bad. It actually comes and goes, depending on whether or not I have fluid built up behind my eardrum. I have had tubes in my ears since I was around the age of two. I am also legally blind in my left eye. I can see large sections of color, but can’t register definition. I can’t read with it or tell you how many fingers you are holding up. When my right eye is closed, the world is a big colorful blur. Despite those hindrances (they are not disabilities, I have managed just fine) I was smart for a child. I held adult conversations. I was very creative, and imaginative. I was also very sensitive. My heart was bigger than my body. Everything affected me. I “felt” emotions that most adults couldn’t grasp. I understood things well beyond my years. I loved unconditionally. This would get me in a lot of trouble as I got older.

I have had a lot of close calls… One of those came around the age of five. I was riding my bicycle, complete with training wheels through the apartment parking lot with my sister. Since she was so much older, she raced ahead on a ten-speed. We turned the corner behind our house and I got off balance. We weren’t exactly in the prime living area of Corinth, and there was trash and litter on the side of the road. Despite my training wheel assistance, I tipped over. When my tender wrists connected with a large beer bottle it slit it open, gashing them nearly to the bone. It took my sister a few minutes to realize where the screams were coming from. They were coming from me.

She ran to me. Barely fifty pounds, she drug me to our doorstep, banging on the door for Kim to open up. I laid there in a pool of my own blood. The entrance was stained for years.

When Kim came to the door, she nearly fainted. She carried me to the bathroom and laid me in the bathtub. I can actually still remember brief seconds, like photographs stamped into my brain of her hovering over me. Tears streaming down her face she called 911. When she called my father, he was closer than the ambulance, so he came home and lifted me in to the back seat. It’s a miracle I survived. There was so much blood.

I made it to the hospital, and they stitched me up. I was back to normal in a matter of days, but to this day when people see the scars across my wrist they stare…

I’m sure many people assume that I tried to kill myself. They sit in the perfect spot and reflect each other, but the truth is I have never felt that hopeless. At least not hopeless enough to try. It has crossed my mind… But again, a story for another day. I love life far to much to end my own. My heart aches for those who consider suicide a realistic possibility.

When my mother remarried, I longed for a father who loved me as much as I loved him. Someone who was proud of me. Who wanted me. Instead, I got Jake. He is a good man, but a had a lot of growing to do.

Understand that as I write this all, it is difficult. I know that it is possible that at some point the people I write about will see the words I’ve written. My biggest concern is that I will hurt them with what I’ve said. That is never my intention. My intention is to relate to someone else hoping I can help. Not only am I putting these words in print, but I’m sharing them with the world. On one hand it makes me feel a little nauseous. Absolutely vulnerable.

 The only thing that helps me put them on paper is that I feel like once I do, it will help me move on. That, and if even one person relates and finds comfort in feeling a little less alone, it will be worth whatever I face in the future.

 I’ll admit that I’m still angry. I’m no saint. The things that I have been through hurt like hell, and I often found them to be unfair. I’ve also made my share of mistakes that I plan to share. The truth is though, that everyone, everywhere is going through something, and maybe the reason I’ve dealt with so much, is because “God” is preparing me for something much bigger. He is making me tough. I can only appreciate his preparation, and trust that there is a reason.

Jake was a “Good Ol’ Southern Boy”. Opposite from my father in almost every way. Their size and shape are fairly relative, but the similarities stop there. Jake and my mother met in the E.R. My mom helped care for his mother, who had open heart surgery. As his family sat and waited to hear that she would be ok, my mother said she felt a connection. It wasn’t immediate, but he asked her to share a cigarette with him and they sat outside talking. (Ironic considering smoking is horrible for your heart. We still argue about this dirty habit. They both smoke like a chimney and I hate it.) He was sweet, and kind. He made her smile, and ultimately he was ok with children. In fact he had two of his own.
A family. That is what my mother saw. A chance for me to have a father, and be a part of a real family. What she didn’t know is that the family we were getting into had some serious problems of it’s own.
They married after a few short months. The changes started taking place almost immediately. The man who once helped do the dishes, and cook dinner then became the man who would refuse to eat his dinner if it was on the table a few minutes late.

My mother fried chicken once, and he told her he wouldn’t eat it. He wanted hamburgers instead. After all, his mother made him whatever he wanted. In fact his mother did everything for him, and every other person in the family. That was a woman’s job. (They wondered why she was having heart trouble to begin with.) Well. If you recall the woman that my mother is, she told him that he could kiss her ass and threw the frying pan out the back door. If he wanted dinner he could cook it himself.

In a lot of ways he tamed her, but in others she opened his eyes. After all, he had never eaten at a restaurant by the time she came along, and had never been outside a 75 mile radius. His parents didn’t even have indoor plumbing and that was in 1994. They were what I like to call “The Original Hillbillies”, only there was nothing Beverly about them.

I was different from them. Especially the children.  I consistently had a book in my hands. I loved to learn. I loved school. What I didn’t love was his children. I tried, Lord knows I did.
His daughter Jamie, was a year and a half older than me, and my polar opposite. She was blonde haired and blue eyed. Chubby cheeked, and significantly larger. She liked watching television and eating anything fried with ketchup. From as early as I can remember, she was boy crazy. My step-father made jokes as early as age nine that I was a lesbian, because I didn’t share her obsession. We had a severe love hate relationship. Mainly she loved to hate me.

She and her brother didn’t want me there. For a short time, she lived with her mother (who was known for her addiction and involvement with drugs) and when my mother realized what was going on, she demanded that Jake take her full time. That was one more thing that Jamie resented my mother for. Derek, the boy who was about six years older than me lived with Jake already, and soon our single wide trailer in Olivehill became very crowded.

Like I said. I was different. I spoke differently. I dressed nicely. I hated to be dirty, unless it was on my own accord. I loved being outside, but didn’t like to be incessantly filthy. The two of them often looked like they were afraid of water. Getting them to bathe was like pulling teeth. The boy especially.
He was much larger as well. Three helpings at dinner time was an average, and something he had been accustomed to since an early age. Their lifestyle prior to my mother, would easily be considered as neglect, despite the fact that their father did love them. Like I said, he left the childcare to his mother, and worked at the lumberyard. When he came home he went hunting or toyed around on his tractor. Whatever manly activity he felt like doing at the time. His mother had a lot of responsibility, and frankly they just didn’t understand the importance of hygiene. They had never been taught to. They were also left in the hands of his sister.

She deserves a chapter of her own, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis. Even as I say these words, I flinch. Janice is the type of woman, who would actually consider killing me if she read them. I wish that I was exaggerating, but I’ll try to paint you a realistic picture. She is a very large woman with a fear of bathing as well. She has no teeth, a flattened mullet and a less than cheery disposition. Her activities include sitting on the front porch, eating and playing video games. She has only held one job for as long as I can remember and it lasted for less than a few months. She has two children of her own (both by distant cousins). They did manage to step into the world of technology after my mother encouraged a bathroom into the home, but that was through a check from the state. She still lives with her parents (granny passed away February of last year, rest her soul. She was a good woman. Simple, but good.) And overall, she is considered the head of the household. She cares about no one but herself, but doesn’t even really care for herself or she would strive for a better life.

Let me take a moment and tell you again that this is difficult for me. On one hand, I’m nervous about the reactions that I’ll get from my readers. I’m nervous about the people who will see. I’m nervous. But I’m no longer ashamed. Where I come from is not necessarily who I am. While I have learned from all of my experiences, it has been mostly that I have learned who and how I don’t want to be. There are a lot of very sad people in this world. Sad people of different sorts. There are people like Jakes family who are poor and while they might not be able to afford to live better, they don’t care, and their lives reflect that. They are poor, and uneducated. They don’t try to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. They choose to spend their money on things like cigarettes and playstations, when they could as easily invest in an associate’s degree.

The truth is they don’t want to. They are content living off of welfare or disability. They are content being poor and lazy, versus actually applying effort towards a better life. Jake is not one of them. He is a very hardworking man. His father worked too, up until the point of his disability and his mother cared for everyone and everything. If anything she died from exhaustion. The others however, are capable of doing better and simply refuse. Jamie is following in the same footsteps. Janice’s daughter, while she is going to school is turning out much like her mother. In a matter of days she will have her first child. She has no intentions of getting out. Life is far to easy when you don’t have to try, despite the outcome. I hope she changes. I hope she offers her child more than that life.

There is also another type of “sad people” that I will cover more about at a later date. These are people who are wealthy, and have everything materialistic that their heart could ever desire, but emotionally they will never be content.

The goal of life isn’t to be wealthy, or to be poor. The goal is to be happy. If you are broke, and suffer daily because you can’t afford the necessities, then you’re not happy. Your route to happiness is likely through a passion. What drives you? What are you good at? What do you love and how do you make it work for you? Does your happiness involve an education or a tech school? Some sort of training or professional guidance? Likely.

Here’s the point. If you want a better life, you have to MAKE ONE. Don’t expect things to happen just because you want them to, or think they should. Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work for them and chase after them persistently.
It isn’t selfish to want a better life than the one that you have if you want it for the right reasons. My mother wanted a better life for me than she had as a child, and despite some of the things I went through, in many ways she gave me that. I never went hungry, I never had to wear a bag to school. I was able to play sports, and go to college. She helped me pursue my dreams. She gave me life. On day, I will do the same for a child of my own.

I hope that this post has a point for you. I hope that you find something in it. I went a little deeper than I expected to honestly. As I sit here quietly at my kitchen table, I read this post and I can see the direction in which my blog is going. I’m scared. This is my life. These are the intimate details of my childhood that I am laying bare for the world to see. I feel that it is only fair to share the bad with the good. It would be wrong of me to tell you all of the wonderful stories about my mothers support without telling you some of her struggle. To tell you about how great everything has gotten, without telling you how bad that it has been. The truth is no one is perfect. We all have flaws. While I am now a confident and empowered young woman, I was once a weak and helpless child, trapped by my own guilt and fear. In many ways I still am. I am trying to correct that now.

I refuse to continue to carry the secrets of others. I refuse to be shamed by my own secrets. I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to be ashamed of, because this is life. We live and we learn. We laugh, we cry, we feel love and pain. We grasp for the acceptance of others, when really all we need is to accept ourselves. You’re the one that has to look at yourself in the mirror each day, and as long as you can do that then you are wealthier than most people will ever know. Sadly there are people in this world who despise themselves. They despise what they feel, who they are and what they’ve done.
It is time to forgive yourself. It’s time to forgive others, and learn to love again. Start with yourself. So many people search for someone to love them, but you will never find a relationship based on secrets that is successful. You will never find someone to love you if you cannot love yourself.

Finally, nothing is ever as it seems. Don’t ever assume. When you can, show compassion. Share love. As badly as you hurt, and as difficult as the pain is that you feel you never know who is going through the same thing, or something far worse. All the days that you long for a kind word, a hug or a friendly smile just remember that someone out there is probably wishing for the exact same thing. Please extend your happiness. Share with them the love that you long to feel. If everyone practiced this method, then you too would be on the receiving end, and one day just might be.

Until then,
Remember Me, I’m Tennessee. <3

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Will


The sun rises slowly, peeking through the blinds.
I take a breath, uncertain of my surroundings.
I am safe. I am home.
Home is where the heart is and my heart is on my sleeve.
Home is wherever I rest my head.
Born beneath a wandering star, I stay until I’m gone.
I long to try, but try too long and then it’s over.
I wash my face, rinsing the night from my eyes.
Cleansing away the nightmares that linger.
The tears that are dried to my cheeks.
I stare into the mirror.
I see who I’ve been. I see who I am. I see who I’ll become.

I start the coffee.
It drips into the pot like experiences in my life.
One by one.
Filling me up. At maximum capacity I’ll pour them out.
Only to enjoy them for the moment and start over. Fresh.
I take a breath.
Happy to be alive inside.
Happy to be free.
Happy to be.
My heart still aches.
Something is still missing.
I fear that I’ll never find it.
Then I remind myself how silly that is.
You don’t find your purpose.
You create it.
I’m a very creative person.
All I need is to decide.
Whatever I want, it lies at the tips of my fingers.
Tangible.
It’s been so long since I’ve felt this.
So long since I’ve felt.
It’s been so long.
But here I am.
Alive.
Happy.
Me.

Here I am. A product of my own faith.
Absolutely certain that I will be whatever I’m supposed to be.
Whatever I want to be.
Wherever I want to be.
I have only a few stipulations.
I will be honest.
I will be kind.
I will be happy.
I will be me.
There are no exceptions.
I will settle for nothing less.
Nothing less than what I deserve.
I would expect nothing less than that from those who I love.
If loving me does not fall under those categories, I would expect we would not love.
Another day in which I go out and live fully.
Filling this life with fantastical hopes, dreams, memories and miracles.
I expect they’ll all come true.
And when I lay down tonight, I will dream a sweet dream.
A sweet dream of today.
Because in my days, I find bliss.
Only the night is dark.
Regardless… I’ll shine.

You + She = Me


Light peeks in under the edge of the doorway.
Heat resonates around my eyes.
The tears that spill softly,
I’m certain are near a boil.
My heart.
It beats slowly.
And echoes the truth that is still, you’re gone.

That simple smile.
Those dark brown eyes.
You used to be so happy. 
You used to be so… you.
Always laughing.
Always.

And now she replaces you…
This girl.
Those same brown eyes, darker though.
Deeper.
They have seen pain.
They’ve seen the things that made you so na├»ve.

She is still good.
I still love her.
But there are things about you that I miss.
Like how your love was effortless.
How your heart was pure.
I miss your enchantment with the world.

Are you still out there?
Are you ok?
Is it possible that maybe I’ve overlooked you?
Occasionally she reminds me of you.
I hear you in her voice.
It almost sounds the same.

There’s a slight quiver that tells me she’s different.
Your confidence never shook.
Certain.
So sure.
But maybe she will get there.
Maybe she will learn.

Maybe.
Maybe not.
She tries.
I see it in the way she moves.
She struggles to fill your shoes.
She struggles to be who I want her to be.

The truth is that she is me.
You are me.
We have been jaded,
But we’re learning to walk again.
We’re learning to love.
We’re learning to share this body once more.

So I pick us all up off the floor.
And I place one foot in front of the other.
Help me remind her who she is.
What she is capable of.
Help me love myself again.
The way I did before.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Like words on a page...



I’m scared.

I’m at that point. You know, the one that teenagers think doesn’t exist, and adults have warned you about since you were a kid. That point where you get the wind knocked out of you by this little thing called life. I’ve grown so much since I was in college even.

I can remember sleeping through half of World Cinema, because I stayed out so late the night before. My breath reeked like a brewery, and my clothes were the same as the night before (which often luckily consisted of sweatpants and a hoodie). We would throw huge Lesbian block parties at my friend Kate’s on any night that ended in y, and most of the time I would end up so smashed that I’d spend the night there, my body mangled into some obtuse shape across the sofa.

I loved it. I drank like a sailor, and partied like Snooki. That is if Snooki called all her friends Bro, and slept with women.

It took me a lot of hangovers and unforgivable mistakes before I realized “I can’t do it.” I can’t be that unpredictable. All of the external factors in my life make my head spin with anxiety. Why would I add to the list?

I’m obnoxious. I black out. I piss people off. I lose things. I get angry. I drunk text. I get stuck unable to drive and miss appointments. I do things wrong and then don’t remember how or why I did them. The list goes on and on.

The entire time I was in undergrad I used the excuse, “It’s not being an alcoholic when you’re in college. It’s called having fun.” Now looking back I realize that I missed so much. I could have applied myself harder. Learned more. Connected better. There are talents that I could have honed in on that I just let slip away. I had ample opportunity to seize one of the finest educations in the country, and I dropped the ball.

Did I learn? Yes. I even learned a lot, but had I have been sober more than drunk I could have learned a lot more. I remember sitting in The Dean of Student Service’s office. She looked at me solemnly and said “When someone approaches me in the future and asks about you, what is it that you want me to say?” Now I certainly wasn’t all bad, but that conversation did follow this particular time that I hung a 12ft x 12ft tarpaulin on the front of my dorm with a message to my roommate.

“Jamie,

I have your undies.

Happy Birthday.

Bros before Hoes.

Love Casey”

The Dean wasn’t thrilled, however after my very convincing argument that “really the tarp was just my freedom of speech in an artistic form of protest for the celebration of my friend’s birthday” she actually let me hang it back up. She shook her head as I left. She would never recommend me for anything, except maybe the debate team.

Looking back now I want to kick myself. I had no idea what real life was like. That kids do things like that. I wanted people so badly to treat me like an adult, but I was still acting like a child. Since graduation I’ve had a few reality checks. Life comes. Whether you’re ready or not it sweeps in. If you’re not prepared, not holding on to your gatherings, it sweeps you off of your feet.

It makes me appreciate the hard work of my parents more. It makes me admire my best friend. She’s been doing this for years. It makes me look closely at the miracles that have been my life. I could sit for days and tell you the insane stories, eventually I might, but you wouldn’t believe them. Looking back, I hardly believe them.

Life is like a book. This very moment you are writing a page in your own book about the time you sat for however many minutes and stared at a computer screen. Taking in all of the words and processing them to determine whether or not you agree with their concept. When you’re done you’ll write another paragraph about the thing you do next.

Ask yourself. Do you like your story? If not then change it. This is all we have. When we’re gone there’s a high chance we will be forgotten. Leave your legacy. Make that change. Stamp you heart on the page of life.

Be the person you want to be remembered as.

I’m packing up my car on September 2nd. It will be my last day in Columbia. My last day protected by the umbrella of “Stars”. (Alma Mater reference.) It will be the last day of the chapter that has been “College”. Even though I’ve been graduated for a year, working there has only reiterated to me that it’s time to move on. I’m an Alumna. Stephens prides itself on having some of the most amazing alums in the world. Now it’s time for me to attempt to be one of them.

I’ll drive home for a few days to say my goodbyes to the family that I’ve actually gotten closer to over the last five months. I’ll take a deep breath and then I’ll drive from Memphis to Los Angeles. I’m making the trip alone, but fully intend to live it up. I’ve done this trip before but haven’t really experienced it. I drove right through. This time I plan to make a few stops. I want to see things. Meet people. This time, I’m going to write my story. I want it to be filled with beautiful moments that only fate can produce. From this point forward, every day will be a recollection of a beautiful thing called life. 

And I fully tend to keep you informed. It’s been really incredible. Since I’ve begun to write this blog I have gotten the most amazing feedback. Genuine compliments from beautiful people. It’s invigorating really. I’ve since gotten to speak to a few really great and interesting souls, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my LIFE. Thank you.

So here it is. I’m a month and a half away from the next chapter. And right now, this part of the chapter was where I wrote another blog to whoever will lend an ear. It is so incredibly nice to connect with you.  

Small town girl takes that leap out to L.A. Meets a few good friends, laughs, cries, and hopefully one day paints a beautiful recollection of the things that she experienced which were far more incredible than she could ever convey.

Until Sunday.

Remember me,
I’m Tennessee. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

She Gets It


We're anything but a typical family.

I was raised predominately by my mother, and my half-sister, by my father. So our relationship has always been a little different. We didn’t live together full time. In fact we didn’t live together three-fourths of the time.

Like I said before. My mother remarried when I was 5, and we relocated to Tennessee. My father (who I only saw every other weekend) lived 45 minutes away in Mississippi with my sister.

I have so many memories of us. The time we were riding our bicycles and I tipped over onto a glass bottle. I busted it open with my wrist and nearly bled to death. She saved my life. I can remember her telling me that I had to hide in the backseat when we road down the strip because it was embarrassing to “cruise” with her kid sister in the car. I remember the time she promised me a quarter if I bit into a raw onion, and the time she and her best friend let me make a drink out of everything in our refrigerator cabinet. She was even kind enough to let me be the first taste-tester.   

-__-

She was your typical older sister. She got easily annoyed by me, but defended me to a fault. I can remember one of the first times she was ever around when my step-dads kids began to pick on me. I was 50 pounds soaking wet, with glasses and buckteeth. I didn’t help myself by the fact that I didn’t just have an imaginary best friend, but an entire imaginary crew. Including twin characters. (I’ve always had an over active imagination.)

The step-siblings were older than me. The girl by a year and a half. The boy by five. They despised me. They also were boring blobs of duddiness, and had no imagination what-so-ever. I can’t tell you how many times it took me to realize that when they tried to squash my imaginary friends, I could “pretend” that they moved. You have no idea how long I cried before I figured it out. I’m a little sensitive. (Not “cried during Steel Magnolia’s” sensitive. I mean “cried during the trailer of Charlotte’s Web”- and not even the cartoon version- sensitive.) Since I was a kid, my heart has been bigger than my body.

When it was just me with them, I was always the center of harassment. When my sister came around however, the game changed. I can’t tell you how nice it was to finally have someone on my side. They knew better than to pick on me when she was around. She protected me.

When I was harassed at school by the office staff, my sister was the first one to suggest that we sue them. Of course I was scared. I used to hate drawing attention to myself, and I knew that battle wasn’t anywhere close to being won. I was wrong. I should have listened to her. I should have stood up for myself.

Still, we never actually lived together. Not until this past January. For one month. We lived together. Imagine the most horrible experience you can conjure, and then visualize the opposite. It was great. We sat up late talking, she told me stories about when we were younger that I no longer remembered (she’s six years older than me), and I even shared with her stories about who I dated/ was dating in college… girls.  She was fine with the “lesbian” thing. She had plenty of friends in high school who were gay. In fact. She introduced me to my first lesbian community when I was 16 years old.

Segue: Here’s what I suggest to all lesbians. Network. Every lesbian knows a lesbian who knows a lesbian. Okay? You meet one of us, and you meet thirty. I can’t tell you how many parties I went to in college that had 4 or even 5 sets of exes there. Some of them were exes more than once (those girls were usually making out with someone else in the corner on the couch.) We build our own lesbian dynasty in every community. You just have to break into it. It’s harder for the baby dyke’s. You usually aren’t old enough to have a community yet. It will pick up around age 21. If you need company immediately I’ve got two words for you. Travel softball.

You’d be amazed at how soon you’ll find a friend.

Any way. I drove home this weekend. The entire 7 hours. My sister called and asked for help babysitting my little brothers. My mom had surgery Friday, so she was baby sitting. Going gave me a chance to see my mother as well. I went and it was just like living together again. We sat and talked about hilarious stories. One that she reminded me of was how often I performed as a child. I was a one man show. I would attempt to sing and dance, do stand up comedy, etc. She said that I was always the center of attention. It kind of faded as I got older. When I was fourteen I began to hide. I didn’t want anyone to see me. To figure me out. I stayed hidden through high school. Our drama program was a bunch of kids sitting in a class reading plays from a book.

When I got to college, I sort of found myself. I got degree in film, and in the process found my passion for story telling. I had always been a writer. Since I was young. But now I knew what to do with it.

In September I’m moving back out to California. Hollywood in fact. I just want to write. To inspire. I want to tell the stories of the voices that have been silenced. I want to tell my story. I want to touch someone.

I’m excited. I’m also a little nervous. My sister won’t be there. Or my mom. I won’t be able to go home on the weekends even if I wanted to. That drive is a two day trip minimum, or a $700 plane ticket, and while writing is fun... it won’t pay for much right away. I'm going to miss them terribly.

I’ll make it though… and I’ll love every minute of it. Because I’m taking a chance. Chasing my passion. I’m finding my voice. My sister would be proud.

<3 Remember Me. I’m Tennessee. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Already Home


Lauren Gray has been in the United States since she was four years old. Her parents brought her and her year old sister from England when their grandmother lost her leg in a farming accident.
Ian and Alison Gray came into the U.S on an E2 visa to work, and took over a small restaurant and hotel in Trenton, Missouri to support the entire family. Lauren and her sister Gemma were allowed to live under their parents as dependents. Her grandparents began in 2003 to apply for Lauren, Gemma, and their parent's citizenship. Lauren attended elementary, middle, and high school in the United States. When it came time to choose a college, she followed her dreams of becoming a classical dancer to Stephens College, in Columbia Missouri even though she didn't qualify for federal aid in the United States. Even though Lauren has waited for almost a decade for her citizenship, she is still living under her parents visa so she can't work legally in the U.S and can't help her parents pay for her education or support herself upon graduation.
On August 8th, when she turns twenty-one Lauren will no longer be allowed to be a dependent on her parents visa's. She will be forced to leave the place that she calls home, and deported to a country that is very "foreign" to her.  Her family, friends and everything she knows and loves are all here in the United States. In many eyes, Lauren is already an upstanding citizen.
Obama recently announced the DREAM Act which will allow illegal immigrants under 35, who came to the United States as minors, a temporary work visa. If they serve two years in the military or complete two years of higher education they are also granted six years of temporary residency. Lauren meets every qualification for Obama's DREAM Act, except she has done one thing wrong. She did everything right. Since Lauren is here as a legal immigrant, and her parents have patiently worked with the United States government since 2003 to legalize all members of their family, the DREAM ACT will not honor her.
In four more years her sister Gemma will go through the same thing. Their grandparents are now legal citizens, and her parents will remain here in the United States on their E2 visa's, to continue the fight for the family's citizenship.
Please sign the petition below and tell President Obama to allow legal immigrants who meet the same qualifications, the same same benefits offered to DREAM Act recipients so Lauren can remain in the U.S while she waits for her legal citizenship to be approved.

http://www.change.org/petitions/president-obama-allow-legal-immigrants-to-qualify-for-the-dream-act


http://fox4kc.com/2012/07/04/deporting-a-legal-immigrant/