“Marriage is like a series of opposing reflections, inverse images getting ever smaller like nesting dolls, each one of you trying to squeeze yourself smaller to fit inside the hopes of the other, until one of you cracks or stops existing.”Jabob M. Appel
When one person is happy in a relationship, and the other is not, who is at fault?
This question has sparked many an argument in my own marriage. My husband has said (on more than one occasion) that he is happy, and that I am not; and therefore, I am the one with a problem.
To a certain extent, that is true. I am the unhappy one. Not because I do not love my husband, nor do I lack appreciation for what he brings to our marriage. No. It is because my needs are not being met, and according to him: his are.
To be married is to be in a permanent state of waiting. One of you is always waiting on the other.
Sometimes, it’s a husband waiting for his wife to finish putting her make-up on… knowing they’ll never leave on time. Other times, it’s a wife waiting on a husband to make good on long-awaited promises to complete household chores. And then – in the most ruthless round of the waiting game – there are times when one is waiting on the other to “come around” to their own point of view.
This can be as simple as one spouse waiting for the other to accept that a clean home is more comfortable than living in a sty. Or, it can be as complicated as one spouse waiting on the other to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
You might think that such opposing world views would prevent two people from coming together in the first place; but… what if over the course of many years two people change differently? What if those changes cause their once common path to diverge in wildly different directions? Suddenly, the person that you’re sleeping next to each night is not the one that you married. What then?
In my own marriage this has happened on more than one occasion. Mitchell takes a step forward, and I take a step back. Sometimes I take a step forward, only to find that Mitchell is knee deep in quick sand.
To wed is to embark on an arduous journey of give and take, push and pull, victory and defeat… and it is utterly exhausting.
My son is twenty-two years old, and thinks that he may have found his “one.” That mystifying individual that seems to understand your every fault, and accepts them as they are. That elusive other half, whose attributes compliment your every deficit.
He is far more comfortable with his current girlfriend than I have ever witnessed before. He seems happy and relaxed. I can see that he is in love with this beautiful, intelligent, funny, young girl; and all I want to say to him (again) is, “Please. Never, ever marry.”
Perhaps there is fault in that statement. Maybe it’s not a condemnation of the institution itself, but a commentary on how the marriages in my life (not just my own, but also the marriages I’ve had an intimate portrait of) are horribly strenuous, with very little reward (for either party). Either way, I don’t wish for my child to struggle as I have struggled. As I have seen others struggle.
I’ve told him how I feel. It hasn’t been specific to any relationship, but a general statement: “Please do not let love blind you to the pain and complications involved in loving another person for life.”
People change over time. It’s an inevitability that none of us escape. It’s also a wild card in every hand we’re dealt.
Some years my husband is holding the joker… and ends up visiting his wife (whom he thought he knew better) in the booby hatch. Other years, the lil’ joyfully dancing bastard shows up in my hand… and I no longer understand who Mitchell truly is, and lack the skills (that I know I once possessed) for effective communication with the alien-man now standing in my kitchen.
I won’t speak for Mitchell; but, I myself, am tired of dreading the dealer of our ever-changing deck.
Louis May Alcott once said that marriage “…halves one’s right, and double one’s duties.” F*ckin’ amen, Sister!
Mitchell is a hostage to my mental affliction. He wakes up each and every day knowing that I may not be the same person I was yesterday, or will be tomorrow.
He knows that I may quit my job – as I have many jobs – on a whim (with very little regard for our financial needs)… and might perhaps declare, with unwavering certainty, that I’m going to be a Parisian astronaut. (For the record, I’ve declared even stranger things.)
He knows that I may devour crate upon crate of raspberries on Monday, only to declare that I have never liked the fuzzy little berries on Wednesday.
My husband lives with the knowledge that any given day may be the day that pushes me over the edge, and off the wagon. That one drink could send me spiraling back into a self-destructive, sexually irresponsible, suicidal harpy. A rampaging monster of pain and despair. An unrecognizable creature of rage and destruction.
Mitchell lives in a constant state of flux. His right to stability has been halved, and his duty to maintain our household doubled (years ago).
I, in stark contrast, live with a man who deals only in facts and certainties. In his logical, carefully arranged state of mind there is no room for flights of fancy. (I, however, am a flights of fancy junkie.) His emotions (and I sometimes question that he has any) are buried deep… and rarely come out to play.
Mitchell is unreadable. His facial expressions and body language are non-existent. As a Borderline, I read more into these things than most. I measure them, and then adjust myself accordingly. In essence, I am a reversed (or inverse) reflection of what I see in other people. I try to be whatever it is they need me to be.
My husband often declares that he has no needs. This is incredibly difficult for me to work with. I am co-dependent as f*ck (as my mother was before me, and her mother before her); and without being able to sense Mitchell’s reactions, I falter. I end up feeling numb, and mask my own emotions… only to have them violently resurface with a vengeance.
Most recently, Mitchell and I decided that if we attempted to once again share a bed (and said bedroom), that it might help to reinvigorate our sex life. After more than a decade of sleeping in different bedrooms, we have now been sleeping next to one another for nearly a month. And nothing has changed. (Well, nothing aside from the fact that neither of us is sleeping very well.)
We each take our respective side of the mattress, Mitchell now giving me thirty minutes to fall asleep before coming to bed (he says if he doesn’t, I sleep more fitfully). Then, we sleep.
Two feet apart, on separate sides of a deep and lonely chasm.
When Mitchell made the decision to end our sex life, I was not a part of the discussion. He declared it was no longer necessary in his life, and therefore just so.
I did fight against it. I yelled. I screamed. I hit. I threw things. I begged. I cried. I broke.
I used to make snarky, sarcastic comments as we watched affectionate couples in television shows and movies… sometimes when we saw them on the street, or encountered them at a family dinner. I’m better than I used to be. I don’t say them anymore, but I’m always thinking them.
The harpy inside drools over the sharp edges of my words, cajoling me to open my mouth and viciously wield the blade. Fortunately, I have learned that this does nothing to improve our situation: not his, and definitely not mine.
Mitchell is fond of saying that a marriage is more than sex. I agree. It’s much more. When he pulls that all-too-familiar punch of, “Why is sex the only thing that matters?” I now respond with, “It’s not the only thing that matters, but it does matter.”
I have tried to reason with him. I have pointed out that if sex was not an essential part of relationships, it wouldn’t be so prevalent: not only in the media, but in the psychiatric community, and as the leading cause (in the form of infidelity) in divorce.
I have attempted to appeal to his deep-seated emotional core. I have flayed my heart and soul wide open – tears streaming, unbidden and uncontrolled, down sullen cheeks – and shared with him how discarded, undesirable, and lonely that lack of connection to him makes me feel.
Man! I feel like a woman… ugh.
As a woman, walking away from a twenty-year relationship is a terrifying, daunting decision that cannot be made. Especially if you’re the crazy one. (And I believe we’ve established that I am the crazy one.)
I do not have steady employment; and probably, never will.
I own nothing. We rent our home; and without Mitchell’s income, I would not be able to make the payments on our one and only vehicle.
Mitchell has paid for nearly all of our possessions. Not only does he have a financial claim to our belongings, but I would never wish to take them from him.
I would have to walk away from this life – a life that I have been an invested (emotionally, and I do keep house) partner in, for two decades – with nothing.
I live in this sh*thole of a town, because this is where Mitchell’s job is. He is a talented, respected, astronomical phenomenon. He is a self-made optical and mechanical engineer (with no formal schooling), and he loves his job.
Mitchell has earned everything he has with blood, sweat, an undeniable inner strength, and hidden tears. Under no circumstance, could (or would) I take any part of that with me, if I were to leave. (Though Mitchell has said he would gladly give it all. He’s kind like that.)
My husband is my best friend, and my most trusted confidante. He has picked me up from the destruction of many a fire (that I set ablaze), dusted off the ashes, pushed me off the cliff (in an attempt to teach me to fly), and then rushed to the valley below to catch me as I fall.
He has a wickedly dry sense of humor, and never fails to make me laugh… even through tears. (And I am awfully fond of making him laugh.)
Mitchell is content in our life together; and most days, so am I.
For me, though, contentment is not enough. Borderlines thrive on extreme emotions (high or low, doesn’t matter). I miss the passion that he and I once had. A time (now long gone) when we couldn’t keep our hands off of one another.
I miss the looks that misted the rest of the world to a hushed gray, and made me feel like the prettiest girl in the room (even though I am far from).
I waited ten years – ten chaste, faithful years – for that look to return to his eyes. It never did… and I broke our vows. Not because I wished to leave him, but because I needed him to see me.
I know that Mitchell did not arrive where he currently stands on his own. I realize that my devastating second suicide attempt on his watch (after having promised it would never happen again, following the first) made him bleed.
I understand that extramarital affairs (ones that were allowed, and ones that were not) have shattered the thin safety glass of trust that encompasses even the strongest of relationships.
I can even take a deep breath, and acknowledge that (in his own way) he is trying to reconcile his sexual indifference with my intense desire for that same intimate connection.
It’s been more than a year now. More than a year since he promised he’d come back to me – emotionally and physically – if I could make a monogamous commitment to him once more.
I have done everything he has asked of me. He is starting to fulfill promises that he has made. I believe that we both sometimes think, “Is this all too little, too late?”
He loves me. I cannot dispute this one simple fact.
I love him. A declaration he has never (to my knowledge) called in to question.
But how, how I ask you, do we communicate that love to one another when we speak it in different languages? I suppose we both continue searching for the evasive tablet that decodes the other’s ethos… until one of use irreparably “cracks or stops existing.”
Last year, around this time, I landed the job of my dreams. I was hired as a paraeducator in the local school district. (Paraeducators are essentially teaching assistants dedicated to students in exceptional/special education programs.)
My first assignment was in a closed containment classroom for “emotionally disabled/disturbed” students. Nine boys, one girl, two paraeducators, and a teacher who was on medical leave.
It was a difficult assignment. The students themselves were volatile, misogynistic-ly profane, and highly uncooperative. Substitute teachers rotated through the classroom on an inconsistent basis (often proclaiming at the end of the school day that they would never return), and there was very little structure to our days. Still, I found my rhythm.
I was able to create trust between myself and a few of the more challenging kiddos. The problem was that there was little else my students could trust.
The rules changed everyday. Classroom leadership changed everyday. What was expected of them changed not only everyday, but sometimes from hour to hour. Adults don’t function well in that kind of an environment; my students even less so.
On top of that, district policies and guidelines were not being adhered to. There was not always a certified teacher in the classroom; the special education coordinator often forgot to drop off daily assignments (and when she did, they were dismally subpar); and the other paraeducator spent much of her day on the phone (mostly texting guys on dating apps).
As a result, the students often felt abandoned and frustrated… and expressed it the only way they could: by behaving erratically.
Other staff members responded to these outbursts with the use of safety restraining (which only served to provoke the poor kids further).
Restraining is always, and only, supposed to be used as a last resort; reserved for when a student poses a physical threat to him/herself or others.
In our situation, it was being inappropriately used as a punitive measure. A student didn’t want to do an assignment? Restraint. A student didn’t want to adhere to vocal instructions? Restraint. A student said something inappropriate to a classmate or staff member? Restraint.
On several occasions, one of our boys (who had severe ADHD, and could not sit still to save his life), was put in a corner and told to stand there for hours at a time.
On other occasions, furniture was used – tables and bookshelves pushed toward, and sometimes into, students – in an effort to block and contain an outburst.
Rather than sit idly by as a witness to such abuse, I documented everything. I reported to the principal on a regular basis, and begged for help. When that failed to work, I took video of what was happening in the classroom. I showed it to the school administration, and was again ignored.
I then took my complaints to the district administration. In response, the regional district administrator cited me for taking video without parental consent (which is required if we are using photos and/or videos for promotional use… something this clearly wasn’t), and then forced a transfer.
My kids were devastated when I left, as was I.
At my next school, I was assigned as a 1:1 to a student with Autism. He was bright, funny, empathetic, and kind. His special needs had, however, been mostly ignored in his mainstream classroom; and he had fallen academically behind.
Fortunately, his parents were active advocates for fair treatment and equal education, and made sure their voices were heard (which is how they were able to get district approval for a 1:1 in the first place). Mom was always available to lend inside perspective, and was willing to provide modules and assistive learning supplies as needed.
But again, this child was in a less-than-ideal classroom environment.
Originally, the classroom was blended – two teachers in one room, teaching two classroom rosters as one. Later, one of the teachers went on personal leave; and was not replaced by a substitute instructor. This created overwhelming strain on the teacher left behind, who had several students (from both rosters) with special needs.
My student was quiet. His disorder was less noticeable than some of the others – who had behavioral issues that dictated constant attention – and once again, he started to lag behind academically.
I took this issue to the classroom teacher, the special education coordinator, and the principal. This time, measures were put in place to improve the situation; but without constant supervision from a certified staff member, they were difficult to maintain.
My stress level was beyond maxed out. I managed to enter the school with a smile, and somewhat renewed energy, each morning; but by the end of the day, I would be shaking (literally shaking) with frustration. And too often, I was angry on behalf of my student.
I continued to advocate for change – on a daily basis – but eventually was labeled a “trouble maker” of sorts, and ultimately assigned to a different student in another classroom (a student who was experiencing similar treatment by school administration).
In the end, on advice I received from district administration, I resigned my position. Currently, the school itself is being investigated on charges from the student’s parents; and I hope that it brings about the change that is so desperately needed in the district.
These experiences did not deter my desire to continue as a paraeducator. In fact, after resigning, I continued to study for the certification exam, and received “the first perfect score that the district had seen in fifteen years.”
Sadly, however, I have been unable to find employment in the field. I have had several promising interviews; but they always end in apologies when my references are checked, and prospective employers are (quite illegally) told that I am a known “whistle blower.”
It has been a disheartening endeavor… one that I don’t know I will ever fully recover from.
But, as the Anonymous cliche goes, the universe shall provide.
I have a dear friend in the program who works at an understaffed assisted living center. When she heard about my troubles, she offered to put in her recommendation to have me hired as a caregiver. I turned in my application, and was hired on contingency.
In the state of Arizona, caregivers must be certified. Paraeducation certification is similar in many ways; but not the same. Therefore, I am required to take a course (with mandatory skills laboratories), and a state certification exam.
The center was able to find a program that offered these prerequisites for $275.00 – a cost that they were willing to front, on the agreement that half of the expense would eventually be taken from my earnings.
I started the course last week, and was on my way to gainful employment, when the world – once again – came crashing down.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, the course has been rescheduled to begin on July 20th, and my employment now hangs in a limbo state.
I will find out next week if the center is still planning to hire me on, but I’m starting to lose faith… not only in the universe, but in myself.
I was a stupid youth. Rather than put my nose to the grindstone, and acquire an education; I got pregnant, and became a single mother at the age of twenty.
I do not regret the decision to have my son. He is by far the brightest star in my universe, and I adore him.
I do regret that I had him so young, and in such precipitous circumstance. My life has been harder for it; and more importantly, his life has been harder for it.
Now in my forties, with grown-up responsibilities, I am unable to return to school without working while I do it.
My health is not as good as it used to be. My mental acuity is not as sharp as it used to be. My optimism is not nearly as strong as it used to be. Most days, I don’t know how in the hell I’m going to make it until tomorrow… but I always do (sometimes, to my disappointed chagrin).
When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. Somewhere along the way, that morphed into wanting to be a teacher: an English teacher. I still want to be a teacher, and a writer… but I’ve become too old, and too embedded in a stable, comfortable life, to risk it all.
I could move into more meager housing, and perhaps then swing tuition for school. But this most recent education endeavor (the state caregiver certification) has shown me that I do not have the energy required to work and go to school.
Energy aside, working while attending classes would also mean that a degree is at least six years away (at which point, I’ll be nearly fifty, and competing with much younger people for employment).
With these thoughts roll thundering clouds of despair and wistful regret. The if only storm is constantly brewing just outside the field of conscious thought. The cold wind of inevitable fear blows fierce – howling of unpaid bills, and yet another small apartment, should I choose to take a risk. (And Mitchell and I have worked too hard to live in a comfortable home, and to drive a car that now receives regular maintenance. To go back to less would be devastating.)
Still. I don’t want to be a caregiver. I don’t want to do anything as a j-o-b anymore. I want to do something I love for a living… but unfortunately, the things I love to do either don’t pay (i.e. reading and writing), or require a formal education – ending in a degree that I am nowhere near acquiring.
I can’t move forward, and I cannot move back. I am paralyzed by poor youthful decisions, and a financial situation that can only be described as “struggling” (and that’s on a good day).
I sit, typing on the laptop, relishing the joy of once again writing… but am also unable to escape Sasha Sloan singing softly in my head:
I’m too sad to cry, too high to get up
Don’t even try, ’cause I’m scared to f*ck up
Don’t like to talk, I just lay in my bed
Don’t even try to go out with my friends
I lied to my doctor, she knew I was fakin’
Gave me some pills, but I’m too scared to take ’em
I try and I try
But I’m too scared to cry
Can’t tell my Mamma
It makes her worry
I’m not suicidal
But sometimes the lines get all blurry
I am truly, truly tired. I don’t know what to do, or how to do it… but I need to get busy living. Trouble is, “making a living” requires that I do said living outside of my wants and desires… and I have to yet to reconcile that.
Adulting is such painful bullsh*t.
An angry Borderline can be a dangerous thing.
Since joining Quora, I’ve been asked a couple of times, “What is being a Borderline like?” Innocent though it may be, this question infuriates me. It makes me want to snap back, teeth bared and snarling, “I don’t know. What’s being ‘normal’ like, you ignorant spaz?!”
An angry Borderline can be a dangerous thing. Just this morning, I mentioned to my husband again that we had items that needed to be returned to Amazon. Items that I requested returns on nearly a month ago (May 18th to be exact). Items that he promised to take to the UPS store; and to date, hasn’t manged to do. It fueled unimaginable anger. I kept my tone in check, but I know that my body language did not belie the thinly-hidden ire within.
For most couples, this would be a routine exercise in marital frustration. For me, it’s much more. It’s not being able to see past the anger. It’s black thinking (as opposed to white – Borderlines suffer from “black and white” thinking, in the most extreme of measures).
Every nasty thing that my husband has ever done – years of real and imagined slights – flood the damn of rationality; and I can’t escape the irrational water demons that reside in the reservoir below: Resentment and Blind Hate. Those nasty bastards get their claws in me, and I feel a burning desire to destroy – no, to obliterate – everything in my world. Literally, everything. Including myself.
When I experience a negative feeling, I live in it. Everything goes dark, and it feels as if I will be cloaked in the futility of aggrievement forever… shedding said cloak will never be possible; and I will do anything to attempt an escape – up to and including ending my life (which I have attempted, multiple times, in the past).
Understanding this has only made it easier to recognize the signs, and to keep myself in check. I no longer violently explode the way I used to. No longer do I run out into the world like an angry harpy, get black-out drunk, possibly f*ck a stranger, and then use the sharp blade of guilt to slit my wrists. But I still suffer from the crushing despair of dark emotions and black thinking.
Right now? Trapped beneath crushing anger over a silly return? All I can think is, What the f*ck am I still doing with this untrustworthy son-of-a-b*tch? God damn it! He is forever letting me down! Leaving me in the cold with no where to seek shelter!
Ridiculous, right? F*cking A-right, it is! Yet, it’s where I’m at.
In this moment, my husband is a villain (as opposed to a hero). Until I can breach the roiling surface of the sea of wrath, he will only be a villain. My mind cannot sew together the threads of his entire personality. There are always two separate looms: one weaving his good deeds and positive traits, and one weaving his not-so-good deeds and negative traits. I can see one or the other. Not the pair as a whole; even though I know that both tapestries exist.
There is a deep separation between the plain (pun intended) of rational knowledge, and the volatile valley of my feelings. (Both truly existing solely in my head.)
What in the f*ck is taking the man so long to leave the god damned house?! Does he not know I’m out here, thirsty and waiting for a drink? You could get up and do it yourself. F*ck that! He said he would do it, and he’s gon’na do it! You are so irrational right now, it isn’t even funny. Yeah? Well, that’s just where I’m at! Go to hell, rationality!
Seriously, that’s what I’m thinking at this very moment. I’m reliving all of the times that he has let me down; not able to draw from the memories of when he hasn’t.
A month ago, we bought a very pretty ring at Walmart. An $8.98 costume piece, to temporarily replace my wedding ring. (A ring my husband lost a month after we were married, and did not replace by our tenth wedding anniversary, like he said he would.) I was thrilled to have a ring back on my finger. A very simple, but treasured, symbol of the wedded revival we’re working towards.
But now? In this moment of anger and grief and frustration, all I can think of is the promise that was broken January 13th, 2016. Our anniversary came and went, without a ring. I was heart-broken, and emotionally shattered… and I am (quite literally) reliving the pain and the hurt of that moment.
I look down at my right hand and think, Why have I settled for a tawdry token of fourteen years of marriage? I deserve better!
Then a quieter thought whispers, You’ve done a lot of horrible sh*t, too. You need to own that, and give this man some room for flexibility and growth. Credit for the fact that he’s still here, for Christ’s sake.
But the first thought is louder. It is the dominating voice of my current existence, and it bullies its way through my emotional center. It drags up all of the agony of the past, and demands recompense. It wants my husband to bleed.
Two and a half years ago, I wouldn’t have heard the whisper. It’s a sign of significant progress that it’s even there.
It’s easier today to reign in the storms of vengeance than it once was; but they do rage on. Dark grey, menacing clouds that collect wrong-doing; and then rain down like hellfire when they get too heavy.
If I had been weaker this morning (less sleep, hotter temperature, stress from exterior sources), I might have screamed at my husband. The terrible maelstrom of sadness would have leaked forth from my eyes, and wild gales of disappointment would have violently assailed my spouse. (It is common for me to shout the most atrocious things when this happens; and the fight only ends when I’ve worn myself out.)
Fortunately, I was not weak this morning. Though I know my husband felt a bit of a cold front, and saw ice slowly frosting across my features, he did not hear any vile words that could not be taken back.
Instead, I recognized the foul stench of cynical pessimism. I put down the book I was only half-reading (because my brain was too busy being furious to fully concentrate on anything else), and picked up the laptop; knowing that I could bleed on the page, in order to spare my husband the hurt of vitriolic retribution.
I’m still steaming mad; but the blazing heat of my anger has begun to cool. I can look at the ring on my right hand, and think, It’s sparkly, and I’ve never been a fan of diamonds anyway. (Which is true, by the way.)
I take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that I could have taken care of the Amazon returns at any time, and didn’t. (Mostly, because he said he would; and we’re working on rebuilding trust through seemingly insignificant – but significant – small tasks.)
He has left to do some shopping, and to finally drop off the returns; and I am comfortable inside our home, where the air conditioner fights diligently against the hellish Arizona heat, and a hair dryer hums on a cool setting. I am safe. I am fortunate. I am blessed.
Angry still? Yes. But this, too, shall pass… and I’m no longer suffocating beneath that damnable cloak of futile aggrievement.
This is what it’s like (for me) to be a Borderline.
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Black lives matter because they rise. They rise. They rise.
I took a trip to Barnes & Noble yesterday afternoon for a safe (I wore my mask, and followed safety protocols!), brief, somewhat indulgent escape from solitary confinement – a little retail therapy in these troubling times.
I was looking for Jewell Parker Rhodes’s grown folks titles, but had no luck finding any. Standing in the check-out line, with an already hefty stack of books in my hands, I noticed this title on an impulse buy table… and obviously, gave in to my lack of control.
I am thankful that I did not recognize it as a Young Adult title (as I usually won’t purchase them), because it was a terrific read! One that I managed to complete in a single evening. (Not an easy task for a slow reader, like myself.)
Much like her writing for adults, “Ghost Boys” is steeped in relevant, heart-breaking, socio-political themes. Rhodes does an excellent job of turning racial bias and tragedy into a compelling story of hope for young minds (without dumbing it down).
The narrative is told from the perspective of a young African American man (twelve years of age), named Jerome. He has been killed in a police shooting, where a toy gun is mistaken for a real threat. (Sadly, not an unfamiliar tale.)
Jerome’s spirit rises from the corporeal shell and settles into an ethereal, but Earthly, plane. He stands as a witness to the aftermath of his tragic death – the pain and desperation of his family; the sorrow and frustration of his neighbors; the guilt carried by a friend; the confusing deception of a police officer; the oft-failing justice of the courts; and the anger of an ever-waking nation.
He meets Emmett Till (a fourteen-year-old brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi in 1955), crosses paths with Trayvon Martin (the seventeen-year-old killed in Sanford, Florida in 2012), and sees thousands of other “roaming” spirits: the spirits of young African American males who became “Ghost Boys” via similar irrational, unjust, and tragic ends.
Present in the courtroom during the preliminary hearing for the officer who shot him, Jerome is seen by Sarah – the daughter of the officer who fired on Jerome. Sarah recognizes Jerome from a photo in the newspaper; but is shocked to see that he is her age, and more importantly, her size. She is outwardly confused by the conflicting description her father gives of the assailant (in essence a “hulking,” dangerous, black man) while on the stand; and points helplessly toward Jerome.
Compelled by the realization that Sarah can actually see him, Jerome later visits her home. Like any twelve-year-old child, Sarah adores her dad. At school, she is receiving congratulatory messages and hateful admonitions. The whole world seems to be lost in their warring opinions about her father’s actions; and Sarah is having trouble making sense of it all. Her parents are arguing and angry. Her friends are non-existent. She tells Jerome that she is lonely, and could use a friend.
Jerome is uneasy with the seemingly effortless comfort of Sarah’s life. Her posh bedroom (with a television set and personal computer), her big backyard, her quiet street, her beautiful school (complete with librarian and science labs)… none of it seems fair. But despite the tranquil security of her existence, Sarah seems deeply troubled; and Jerome shows little interest in harboring negative feelings toward the girl. (Though a small part of him wishes he could.)
Together – with Emmett Till’s indomitable spirit in tow – Sarah and Jerome form an unlikely alliance, and begin to examine the differences and similarities in their divisive worlds. Neither can understand how an officer mistakes a child for a man; nor explain why Sarah’s father seems so frightened by his experience. Recognizing that Officer Moore did in fact feel threatened, Jerome asks “When truth is a feeling, can it be both? Both true and untrue?”
Jerome then experiences the terrifying end of Emmett’s life; and though he recognizes that Emmett did nothing that could justify the violence of his death, he also finds himself whispering discouragement in the face of Emmett’s benign actions… not yet fully understanding why he does this.
“Be safe.” Jerome finds himself crooning. He sings to the young men of color still walking among the living: while they travel to and from school, while they play in the poverty stricken rubble of their neighborhood, while they laugh alongside their families. His protective song descends on deaf ears.
Jerome begins to comprehend that black folks are still unseen. They are unfairly judged, feared without cause or reason, and are disproportionately targeted by the police and the justice system: a fact that Sarah reiterates to him toward the end of the story.
Officer Moore does not go to trial for his grave mistake. Instead, much like Jerome’s parents, he tries not to feel. Seeing the officer’s despair – and recognizing that his feelings (not his actions) were true – Jerome encourages Sarah to see his death from both sides. He asks her to remember the tragedy, but also to forgive the bad judgement that caused it. He prompts her to be an instrument of change… to try and understand why it happened: to prevent it from ever happening again.
This novel is not a story of despondent anguish and resentment. It is not a story told in fear. On the contrary, it is one of unconventional friendship, universal connection, and the hope for change. It is a statement of why black lives matter.
Black lives matter because they are often misunderstood and sometimes horribly stereotyped. Black lives matter because we do not know the names of all the souls taken out of misunderstanding, fear, and/or hatred.
As I reached the end of this tale, I heard the voice of Maya Angelou reading “Still I Rise.”
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Black lives matter because they rise. They rise. They rise.
May we all learn to rise.
Notes for Educators
At the end of “Ghost Boys,” Jewell Parker Rhodes provides a thought-provoking, insightful Afterword with additional history.
Following the Afterword is a seventeen question discussion outline, and a very useful list of additional resources for discourse on racial divide, and the grassroots “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The text itself is appropriate for sixth through twelfth grades (and beyond).
I woke up this morning thinking about my break from the Catholic Church… about lost belief, and waning faith: What it’s meant for me, how we have reached such polarizing opinions about religion (all religions) in modern society, and what it might mean for the fate of our people (which is to say all people – without misguided regard for their color, creed, gender or sexual orientation).
Losing My Religion (i.e.Belief)…
The oldest of three children in an Irish-Finnish-Italian household, I was the only child who chose to be confirmed in the Catholic Church.Belief: an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists; trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something
My younger brother found a home in Young Life and a less-specific, but still Christian, religious practice.
My baby brother became an atheist. (This does not mean that he worships the devil; only that he does not believe in the existence of God.)
I attended weekly mass through the first part of my freshman year at University. At which time (this was the fall of 1996), I started hearing things in the Sunday sermons that made no sense to me. I couldn’t understand being told to “Love all except for… [X, Y, Z].”
Author’s Note: I had recently been sexually assaulted, had an abortion; and someone I loved was turned away from services, when a priest was informed that said individual was homosexual.
Confused by ideas that seemed contrary to unconditional love and acceptance, I went to my priest for guidance.
He instructed me to pray for both myself, and my loved one; stating that neither of us would escape the fires of hell (for “murder” [i.e. abortion], and the “perversion” of homosexuality), if we did not repent.
The priest also told me that I had to forgive my rapist, as God would.
When I asked if my attacker would be accepted into heaven if he did not repent, the priest said, “Yes, child. For God acknowledges the sickest among us, and has made a covenant to care for them.”
I walked out of the rectory deeply hurt, and wildly confused.
How could a God that had “made a covenant to care for” rapists, ask us – who had never violently attacked another – to repent for minor (in comparison) infractions; or damn us to an eternity in hell?
In search of an answer, I researched other religions; but found similar ideology distortions in each of them. They all seemed to say, Love thy neighbor as thyself… unless you don’t agree with your neighbor’s choices, lifestyle, religious affiliations, or lack thereof.
God, as I understood him, would never make such an absurd and contradictory statement. After all, didn’t His son love the whores and the righteous alike? (If he didn’t, then I’ve misread the Bible.)
Unwilling to accept anything less than a doctrine of pure love and understanding for others, I never attended Catholic – or any other religious – services again (except for the occasional wedding, or funeral).
Lack of Belief ≠ Lack of Faith
I have had many, many late night (albeit, somewhat alcohol sodden) conversations – with both of my brothers – in regards to religion, and their own beliefs.
My younger brother often bemoaned that he would not see my baby brother and I in heaven unless* we accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, and his teachings (as interpreted by man, I must point out) as infallible.
(*This seems to be a very important word in religion: unless.)Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something; a strongly held belief or theory
My baby brother, of course, thought we were “idiots” for even thinking that there might be a “puppet master in the sky,” or a grand design for our lives.
These warring dogmas caused a lot of drunken tears, anger, and hurt feelings; but they never stopped us from loving each other. From having faith in one another.
When Belief Falls Short, and Faith Still Stands…
My younger brother was a devout Christian. He lived his life more in-line with the teachings of Christ than anyone I have ever met. He was active in the youth ministry, and attended services on a regular basis. He also never asked for much. He prayed for the salvation of his wayward siblings, and health and happiness for his family.
In his late twenties, my younger brother fell very ill. A former surfer, inline skater, and adventurer; he lost the ability to move freely.
When medical science – including multiple back surgeries – failed him, he turned even harder into his faith. Racked with unbearable, crippling pain; he prayed for just enough relief… enough to allow him to actively raise his young son.
After more than a decade of unanswered prayers – at the age of thirty-seven, with an eight-year-old son – he put a gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.
I was angry. Not with my younger brother, but with God.
Two years later, I still ask Why? Why would a God, who most loves those who follow His word, so blatantly abandon one of his flock? Where was God when my brother drove into the mountains – all alone – with a gun?
Being raised Roman Catholic, I should believe that my brother’s soul has no hope of making it to heaven. Being his sister, I know better.
His own pastor stated at the memorial service that he himself had absolute faith in my brother’s admittance at the pearly gates. (Words that brought little comfort to a family still longing for him here.)
My younger brother’s death has made me less afraid of life. (I can’t explain this, it just has.)
It put a damper on my belief in God, but strengthened my faith in the power of love.
If God does exist (and these days, I’m more of an agnostic than a believer), then my brother’s soul is with him. I do not believe that it was a part of the Heavenly Father’s plan to take him away, especially from his son.
Perhaps God saw how much pain my younger brother was in, and gave him permission to come home – to a place where there is no hurt.
Maybe my brother just returned to the creative “stardust” of Sagan’s all encompassing universe.
I can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure is that the love we feel for my younger brother (and the love he felt for us) has only intensified since his passing. We remember the good, forgive the bad, and try to be kinder to each other. Gentler with those he left behind.
Is it sad that it took his death to bring these things about? Yes. But in some small way, it also gives his death – and more importantly, his life – meaning.
What a Family’s Grief Can Teach the World…
When I logged on this morning, I read a very powerful post by my writing friend, Michael A. Kuch at KUCHED; and realized that it is our current state of social unrest that brought about today’s religious soliloquy.
George Floyd’s death was unspeakably tragic, and utterly unnecessary; but the social awakening in the aftermath lends both the horrible event itself – and more importantly, Floyd’s abbreviated life – historical meaning.
In a world where we lose far too many lives (especially minority lives) – to racism, bigotry, inhumane living conditions, poverty, etc. – a catalyst was needed to spark the conversation we’ve too long been hiding from (and I wish with all my heart that we had hearkened the call sooner, and in a less violent way).
Why? Why did it take such a grossly shocking event to open the narrative about the hate that currently defines so many misguided perceptions?
Why? Why is our nation’s leader talking about the need for 19,000 people to journey to Charlotte, N.C. for the Republican National Convention, instead of speaking on the current state of the world at large?
Why? Why is Trump standing in front of a church with “a Bible” (not his Bible), in a shameful, elicit demand for support from the very people who should abhor what has happened the most? (Those who should love others as Christ loves them.)
Why? Why have we allowed a lack of belief – in religion, in politics, in crappy leadership, in ignorant individuals – to effect our faith in each other, and in the inherent goodness of mankind?
Global, peaceful protests have demonstrated that we can come together for the betterment of society, but…
Why? Why do we always wait for a tragedy to assemble?
Why? Why do we wait until the plane has crashed and burned to acknowledge the faulty engine?
Yes, the old adage of “better late than never” is true… but can our memories hold on to the pain of this moment long enough to unify us at the polls in November?
I’d like to think the answer to that question is Yes.
Two years after my younger brother’s death, my family is still reeling from the shock and the pain; but we are healing. We are treating one another with more kindness and respect than before. We are honoring his memory as best we know how… we don’t always do it perfectly, but we make every effort to get as close to golden as we can.
I hope – as a nation, as an international community, as one (And there is only one, folks!) species of homo sapiens – that we can heal, as my family is trying to heal. That we are moved to treat each other with more accepting hands, further-opened minds, wider eyes… and to stand together, for what is right.
Whether you are among the whores or the righteous, someone – somewhere – acknowledges that you are a worthy living being; and all living beings are capable of growth, and love… we need only be willing to try.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation, please call the National Suicide Hotline at:
1 – 800 – 273 – TALK (8255)
Or visit Lifeline to chat with a counselor online.
Here I am – again – trying to make this whole writing/blogging thing work, after yet another psychotic break.
I started spinning over the possibility that my writing could potentially hurt the people I love the most.There is fear in truth; comfort in pleasant lies.
I also thought, I’m not being fearless; and if I’m not being fearless, I’m failing as a writer.
How to tell unpleasant truths, and not hurt anyone? Hmm… wheels are spinning. Wheels. Are. Spinning. Wheels are spinning. (My monkey brain was going bonkers in response to this question.) Gasp! Light bulb!
I went out, purchased a separate domain (unknown to my loved ones), and started a new blog under different credentials (i.e. username and email address). I started writing on that blog, and… well, the same sh*t happened. (Big, fat f*ckin’ surprise!)
My monkey brain thinking was that if no one had the URL address to my writing, it would allow me to write without fear. It didn’t. Instead, I ended up paralyzed on two sites, instead of one.
Absolute truths are difficult for me… and the more I write, the closer I get to having to truly face them. (And some of those f*ckers are mean and ugly! Who wants to face that sh*t?!) That, or I doom myself to a fate of writing the same sh*t over and over… boring myself and my readers.
(Also, I swear a whole hell of a lot when I’m uncomfortable.)
I prefer starting over to continuing on. I cling to the deeply embedded delusion that if I just delete, erase, burn everything to the ground (my friendships and personal relationships included), I can emerge from the ashes a brand new human being. (Of course, when I share this out loud, it sounds beyond stupidly absurd.)
I keep trying to move forward with my ankles in the heavy shackles of my past. If I just drag them long, and far enough, maybe the f*ckers will fall off of their own accord.
You would think that forty-two-plus years into this routine, I would have learned something. (This is ridiculous, perhaps. Or, This is why your back hurts all the time!) You would also think that I would tire of the weight…
The truth of the matter is, I don’t know who I am without the balls and chains… so much so, that I am terrified I am nothing without them. Who am I, if I’m not the woman who can balance and spin plates with fetters on her feet?!
If people can’t see my pain, how can they be expected to see my strength?
Mental anguish is exhausting. It is crippling not only to the mind, but to the body. It affects everything I do… and creates this endless need to be seen as a survivor. Acknowledged for what I’ve overcome. I’m still standing motherf*ckers! What more do you want?!
Lately, however, I’ve begun to contemplate how this isn’t enough for me. I’m not enough for myself. And the hardest part of that realization is having to acknowledge that it’s no one’s fault but my own.
Yes, I had a troubled childhood. True; some awful, nasty sh*t has happened to me. Have I had a few unexpected curve balls hit me in the back of the head and knock me off course? Absolutely!Where I went wrong was in allowing only the bad sh*t to define me.
For forty-two-years, I have lived solely in response to trauma. I have been stuck in survival mode. My measure of success has been based on whether or not I’m alive at the end of every day. (Did I eat? I think so. Am I breathing? Check. Well, now that’s taken care of, let’s sleep!)
Occasionally, there are additional requirements added to my definition of “alive.” (Did you get through the day without a drink or a drug? Yep! Did you make it through without tearing Mitchell’s head off? Done! Did you f*ck a friend, or a stranger? Nope! Gold star!)
Don’t misunderstand. Every single item – on those seemingly simple checklists – is beyond difficult for me; but I still have an innate desire to be the standard definition of normal.
I don’t want to have to actively think about not acting like a crazy person… but I do; and that’s where my true trouble lies.
At the end of every day, having to congratulate myself for not acting like a lunatic addicted whore, just feeds my anger. I cannot believe this has to be enough!
It is extremely difficult for me to reconcile my reality with the reality of others.
I do feel at home in the rooms of the Anonymous; but the fact is, I have to live the majority of my life outside of them… and I don’t really know how to do that.
Today, trying to do it looked like this…
I got up and did twenty minutes of Yoga.
(Twenty minutes?! You are beyond sad!) Shut up. You’ve done nothing for days. Twenty minutes is phenomenol!
I took a shower.
(Goddam it! Your hair looks awful and dry! Why do you even bother?!) Shut up. It is necessary to feel clean… otherwise you’re embarrassed all damn day. It might look awful, but it smells pretty!
I made my bed.
(I don’t wan’na!) Shut up. You’re gon’na. You feel better when you do.
I apologized to a friend for being a sh*t pen-pal.
(Oh, my God! What is wrong with you?!) Really, b*tch? You know what’s wrong. You’re crazy, and this sh*t will happen. We’re acting grown.
I wrote. Here. On the blog. Desperately trying to do so without fear. In order to conquer what I am afraid of, I must name it. I must say its name aloud, and try to wrest from it the power. I am hoping to never hit that damn delete button ever again.
(…but you know you will.) Shut up! I could surprise you!
Author’s Note: I’d like to thank the readers who have stuck by me through the destruction and recreation of this blog. I promise you, I’m trying.