Namasté; the inner light in me honors the inner light in you…
For years, I thought I had no roar. Quiet and sweet, determined perfectionist… my voice, my creativity, my fire was quiescent. I did not trust it. I ignored its whisperings, its warnings, its urgings… another voice spoke over it.
“What happens in the family stays in the family,” he says with finality. “We do not discuss our problems with outsiders. We have it very good, we have a good family, and others wouldn’t understand.”
I believe him.
Diaphanous light from the picture window floods the table between us. It obscures his features, disembodies his voice. My stepfather can do no wrong – he is the be all and end all and seemingly knows everything – so why would I argue on this point?
My mother works all day every day at an enormous desk in our living room, repairing and recreating Native American artifacts. Sometimes my sister and I sit next to her, sorting porcupine quills for the right length and thickness and making threads for beading out of long dried-out sheets of buffalo sinew. Her dedication keeps our family fed, clothed, a roof over our heads, bumping merrily along the poverty line.
My stepfather doesn’t go to a “real” job but has one, nevertheless. He putters; cleaning, cooking dinner, working on his latest and greatest business idea – even though the one before and the one before that never got off the ground. His self-imposed position, though, is overseeing our moral and mental development.
I am special; I am talented; but I am lazy. I do not pull my weight around the house. My sisters and I hear weekly lectures on our behavior and faults. Still, we believe we are lucky. Other families don’t support each other as we do. Other kids aren’t so lucky to have parents who push them toward excellence and don’t pull punches.
But – silence is the price of being exceptional. Self-reliance is the only way to succeed. Asking for help, asking for recognition – that is weakness.
Twenty years later his words will still echo in my head.
What happens in the family – stays in the family.
I sit in partial shade on raw, rough-built stairs in the kitchen. Late afternoon light slants through the picture window next to the dining table, creating stark divisions of white and dark, but very little light penetrates the galley kitchen.
A drawing – two little mice in Disney’s The Rescuers style – is in my hands. At this moment, a pencil drawing of a frog in Victorian-era clothing hangs in a local art gallery. I’ve experimented with different mediums over four years of art classes, but I still love simple colored pencil and am drawn to fantasy art. The mice are not animation quality, but they are still cute, and I plan to draw more. I proudly show them to my stepfather.
“You need to do serious art,” he tells me, and turns back to his cooking.
In the fall, when I pack for college, I leave behind my colored pencils, my watercolors, my acrylic paints. There is no space for them in the room of a “serious” college student.
“Your mother is mentally ill,” he says, rust-red sorrow tinging his voice.
The house is always dark, at least in memory. My mother moved out three days after Christmas into the evening darkness and cold of a Montana winter. My stepfather tells family friends that she is selling drugs out of a green backpack as she walks around town. He parks on the street behind her new apartment, and monitors her movements.
His lies are nothing new, but my realization that they are lies is.
It is early morning. Chilly spring light kisses the new leaves on maple trees lining the sidewalks. I am walking to a therapy appointment where I have begun spilling my story, hesitantly, slowly. I do not tell her everything. Some stories stay locked up, though I will regret withholding them later. The habit of silence is hard to unwind.
College has been difficult. I continually wish someone would just point me in the right direction and tell me what steps I need to assure happiness. I am only just realizing I can question my neat little boxes and assumptions.
I’ve chosen print journalism as my college major, but realize that while I love to tell others’ stories, I do not love digging in their hampers for dirty laundry. I do a year of Master’s work in a technical communications program after graduation. That year, and the technical writing job in the year following, are a gift to my inner ditherer. I learn – decisively – that I hate writing about software even more than I hate writing about dirty laundry.
Desperate for creative fulfillment, I start publically blogging about my gardening, crafting and homemaking attempts. The writing is terrible, in truth, but among posts about gardening and (later) parenting, I share words about depression and anxiety and uncertainty. It feels scary and vulnerable, there is no thrill in the pit of my stomach as I hit publish. But slowly, slowly, I realize this is a service – to myself, to others – to break the silence, to say I am not alone, that only together we rise out of our own mire.
Mid-morning light is the best. Not too harsh, not too soft. I balance a sketchpad and colored pencils on my knee while my three year old plays at my feet. Lightly, I sketch the outline of a mushroom and slowly, tentatively, layer colors on color, seeking half-remembered luminosity found in the slow buildup of pigment. Ideas and hopes I’ve not acknowledged in years flow out onto the paper.
The truth is, there is no earth-shattering revelation here. There is no split-breath where I suddenly realized my light, my voice, my authentic self was just one coaxing tone away from escaping.
I am still quiet unless you know me well, in which case I might talk your ear off. My roar is often hidden unless someone opens themselves up and is willing to be vulnerable too. But I wish I could go back and tell that girl-child sitting at the table, on the stairs, walking down the street: You are strong, you are worthy, you are passionate, and you are unstoppable.
I have found a voice in my writing, in my art, in encouraging other women, in reaching out to know someone else and feeding their fire until the whole forest, the whole world is aflame with passion and magic and love and authentic, roaring loud feelings.
I am the light and you are the light and we are the light together flooding forth and burning up, exploding, sweeping aside the lies and the falsehoods and pretenses and the fucking wool pulled over our eyes and hearts and inner lights. No more, no more… no more.
I will not be silent.
Author’s Note: As with all stories, there is so much left unsaid. My relationship with my stepfather is a complicated, snarling beast. Three things of note: My stepfather’s past is his own, largely untold, story – but I do know he endured things no child should have to. He is the only father I knew growing up and he never gave me cause to believe I was not his daughter by blood. He is a very talented artist himself, and despite his later words about serious art, patiently gave me my first drawing lessons at age 4. It is one of my dearest wishes that he find the light within himself.