Potatoes in Tacoma

The US Army Sends Us Packing

The kids’ dad and I moved to Tacoma with an Army transfer. We were at the bottom rung of the pay scale. Poor. Poorer than poor. Tristan was 16 months old and I was several months pregnant with Meghann. It was a wrangle to get a lease on a house, but we did it.

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8 Rips Lane, Tacoma, WA

(I swear the house did not look like this when we rented it. This is the new & improved exterior.)

Our Household goods were super-slow getting to us, so we were given a few things to tide us over… one of which was a crib mattress for me to lay on. Tristan slept in the playpen and the kids’ dad slept in a sleeping bag (if I recall correctly).

One middle of the night, I heard something skittering above me, in the attic. Humorously, my former husband put his boots on (and nothing else) and grabbed a trenching tool and stomped around looking for the noisemakers. He didn’t find anything, but I laid there listening to the scratching far after he fell back to sleep.

When our household goods still hadn’t arrived a month later, the Army bought us a bed. A waterbed. How time-warp is that?!? We had those rainbow sheets on it.

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We also had satin hearts in a swirly mobile hanging over the bed.

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Meghann & Me

I had Meghann at home, in an Unassisted Birth (called a UC or “freebirth”)… the stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life. You can read her story here if you are interested: Meghann’s UC Birth Story.

Relevant to this story, however, is my never-ending time breastfeeding.

I’d nursed Tristan for a mere 4 months and had big expectations to nurse until Meghann weaned herself (which she sort of did at 2.5 years old). So I was a nursing zombie. I was so tired, but then we got our tv and (we had to have gotten) cable because voila! there was MTV.

Meghann was born May 27, 1984. MTV had been around since 1981, but it was really in its heyday during the time I was watching it in the middle of the night, baby at my breast. In fact, the first Top 20 Video Countdown began in March 1984 (and it SUCKED! Watch it on YouTube!), so right before Meggie was born.

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The songs that stood out most for me, the ones I waited for with baited breath:

Cyndi LauperGirls Just Want to Have Fun – (WOW! The people in it are incredibly diverse for that time period. I never noticed before.) Tristan loved this video, especially the part where the girls are floating in the bubbles/circles and going around. I can see him as if it was yesterday, in his footie pajamas, dancing and pointing at the TV.

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Michael JacksonThriller

Because Thriller was so so long, it came on rarely. I would nap with one eye open so I could catch it. The dancing still is amazing, even 30 years later.

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MadonnaBorderline

While Holiday was Madonna’s first hit, her first video hit was Lucky Star. From the first moment I saw her, I was enamored. She came out with a string of hits in 1984, but when Meghann was a newborn, Borderline was the video I salivated for. (Clearly, I know wayyyy too much about Madonna’s early career!)

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The Couch

We’d inherited a sofa bed from the kids’ dad’s parents, a little larger than a loveseat, with two big square pillows to sit on. I’ve scoured my thousands of pictures and the Net looking for the sofa. This is the best I could find.

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Here is how the sofa opened into a bed.

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I sat on the couch on the right side. Every time. Before Meghann was born. And after she was born. That was my spot. I plopped a feather pillow with the rainbow pillowcase under my right arm, holding up my elbow, and I would nurse for hours. Sitting on that right side of the couch.

At night, we just sat nursing by the light of MTV. We kept the volume low for her dad who had to work the next morning, but we still bee-bopped to whomever MTV put on in the wee hours.

One dark early morning, I was nursing on the right side of the couch and out from behind the huge square furnace we had in the living room, came a rat. Then another rat. Then 3 baby rats.

I screamed bloody murder and the kids’ dad ran out, scaring them so they skittered back from whence they came.

How to Kill a Rat

When the Landlord finally came over, he gave us some mouse traps and rat food. He walked around showing us where they were getting in. One place was behind the toilet which freaked me out every time I had to use the bathroom. Picture fat pregnant me with my legs raised while I did my business. Ugh.

The landlord gave us the perfect solution to keeping the rats out.

Crush some glass and sprinkle it where the holes are.

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I stood there blinking.

“Uh, I have a toddler! I cannot have crushed glass around the house.”

“Well, that’s the best idea I have.”

We checked the traps and poison a few days later and the bait had all been taken, the poison eaten… and the rats twice their size and twice as active.

We had to move.

By the time a solution appeared, Meghann was 4 months old.

The Apartment

Some friends of the kids’ dad were managers at an apartment complex and said they had a place we could move into. The challenge was we did not have the deposit, so they said they had not cleaned it yet and if we were willing to clean it ourselves, it was ours.

Done.

We headed over right away to go clean, taking some more friends from the military. When we opened the door, ghastly smells wrapped around us; cigarette stench was the main foulness, but there were others we could not parse out.

The walls in the living room were vile. Drips of nicotine painted them.

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Where the previous tenants removed photos, we could see what the once pristine white walls had looked like.

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Looking at the white areas, we saw we really had our work cut out for us.

We set to cleaning.

Being fat and not able to climb, I chose the kitchen. Kitchen HELL I should say. Not only were there nicotine streaks, the people before us cooked with grease. A lot of grease. A lot of spattering grease. Within 5 feet of the stove, the grease and yellow cigarette goop challenged each other for dripping space.

The only way I could think of cleaning this disgusting mess was with SOS Pads. Steel wool with soap on them if you aren’t familiar. I set to wetting the SOS pad, then  scrubbing the wall, that blessedly, had glossy paint. Small favors.

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I was cleaning madly (literally, not very happily doing this hard work) and got right there around the plastic plate where the plugs go in the wall when suddenly there was a huge -POP- and a giant blue flash that zipped up my arm and threw me against the refrigerator across the kitchen. People ran in to see what happened and I innocently told them what I was doing and their eyes all bugged out.

“THAT’S METAL AND WATER YOU PUT IN A LIVE SOCKET!”

I didn’t know!

What I did know was my right arm felt like it had been smashed with a baseball bat from fingers to shoulder.

I was banished to the couch that had just been brought in. I quietly smiled, grabbing Meghann and sitting on my side, nursing not only my baby, but my really hurting right arm.

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We cleaned as best we could, the place looked normal again, but there were lingering smells we just couldn’t seem to get rid of.

One night, while I was sitting on the right side of the couch nursing Meghann, Tristan playing on the floor, their dad had had enough of the growing stink. I told him it smelled like rotting potatoes and maybe we accidentally left some in a box somewhere in the closet.

He set out to find the horrid stench and pulled the boxes out, throwing stuff wildly around the room. I yelled asking if he couldn’t please be neater? He did not answer. I just heard him as he went from room to room, under the bathroom sink, into the kitchen, under the cabinets… digging digging… and throwing things, many of which ended up on the hall floor.

He came up empty. Then looked at me menacingly.

“Get up.”

“What?” I was still nursing Meghann.

“GET UP NOW!!!!”

I jumped up, Meghann  still attached and he pulled off the cushion I always sat on and there, on top of the mattress mechanism, was a rat. A dead rat.

A SQUISHED FLAT AS A PANCAKE DEAD RAT.

It had been under my ass! FOR MONTHS!

My former husband began laughing his head off. Reliving the rat’s last moments.

“I can see him! ‘Oh, some peanut butter and jelly leftovers!’ Then SQUISH, you flattened A LIVING RAT!”

He jumped around the room, doing the killing-the-rat routine half a dozen times.

Yeah. Me and my fat ass had killed a rat that had been 3 inches from my lap and my baby. I started crying which made him laugh even harder, telling me how funny it was.

Then he said he was going to get something to get the gross flat thing off our sofa. I begged him to throw the couch away. He refused, loudly reminding me we had no money for furniture and it was the only place I could nurse. He came out of the kitchen with Playtex yellow gloves on and a spatula. I could not watch.

He laughed and laughed as he scraped the disgusting animal off our couch’s pull out bed top, then danced outside to the dumpster and threw it all in.

The room still reeked and he looked in the kitchen, finding the Carpet Fresh. He came back and sprinkled the carpet fresh where the rat had been squished to death by my flopping-on-the-couch butt.

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To this day, the smell of Carpet Fresh reminds me of that horrid stench. The smell that lingered until we were able to throw the couch away a year later.

Potatoes Revisited

As you can imagine, I hate rats. I can barely write it without shuddering with revulsion. Because of my rat-phobia, everyone in my life has agreed to call them “Potatoes.”

And damned if that flat rat didn’t smell like rotten potatoes.

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Brownies

I have always loved brownies. My mom made amazing brownies. Later, I learned they were from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, one she gave me when I got married.

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Deliciously chewy, not cakey (too dry), when I made them, I underbaked the treat so they were even a tad wet inside.

I also doubled the batch and put them in a 9×12 pan; that helped the middle of the pan’s batter to be gooshier than the edges, which were never burnt because I took them out right when they smelled ready.

Yes, smelled ready.

I have a weird skill of being able to smell when baked goods are done cooking. Early, when I was learning to cook, I was meticulous with the time the recipe said to do. Then, as I got more relaxed, I realized that I could smell when things were done.

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I remember baking brownies so often when the kids were little, I no longer needed the recipe. We always kept a decent stash of unsweetened chocolate squares, plenty of sugar and flour and, of course, butter!

In Germany, when I was with my new lesbian love (he was really transgender, but had not come out yet), I made brownies at least twice a week. Between brownies and snickerdoodles, I was nearly a specialty bakery. This was when I was baking bread, too. The years when we were isolated in Germany with very little to do but BE with each other remain some of my favorite memories of my life. The kids were hilarious, Zack and I were always nursing one or the other of the babies and I attended lots and lots of births.

Zack loves nuts, but I am allergic to them, so I would sometimes make the 8×8 pan recipe with nuts for him.

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When my youngest was living with Zack and me in San Diego, it became clear that brownies were her PMS food of choice. The day before she started her period, she would break out a box of brownie mix, crying while she stirred it all together, and bake a batch that she alone would eat over the next 2 to 3 days. None of us ever asked for one; we knew better.

(I just asked her permission to add this information in my piece and she said she had no idea she did that, that she ate brownies all the time. I smiled into the phone and told her it was like clockwork, her brownie-baking-while-crying session.)

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I rarely eat brownies anymore and I never make them. If I partake, someone has made them, always from a box.

The memories of mine are much sweeter.

My Brownie Recipe (really, Better Homes & Gardens’ recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped if desired

Baking Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350℉ (180℃).
  • In medium saucepan melt butter and chocolate.
  • Remove from heat; stir in sugar.
  • Blend in eggs one at a time.
  • Add vanilla. Stir in flour and nuts; mix well.
  • Spread in greased 8x8x2-inch pan.
  • Bake at 350℉ (180℃) for 30 minutes.
  • Be careful not to overbake. Cool completely.
  • Cut into 16 squares.

Having My Words Stolen

I’ve written since I was about 8-years old, journaled since I got my first diary on my 8th birthday. You know, the kind with the tiny lock on it?

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When I was 11, I let Suzette read my diary. Stupidest thing I ever did. In there, I wrote that I’d tried smoking and she went and told my mom who let me know if she ever caught me, I would be eating a pack in front of the family.

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I stopped writing in a journal for a couple of years, but when I was 15, an older friend said I had a lot to say and gave me a lovely hard and cloth-covered journal with no lines in it and an amazing Japanese-inspired cover.

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Mine looked similar to this picture.

I wrote in it a lot, wrote about my boyfriends, my gay boyfriend (when I was 16-years old), going to the gay bar (when I was 17-years old) and sleeping with my first girlfriend Kelly (at 18-years old). By then, that one book had turned into 2 and then into 3.

My dad had a new girlfriend and, when I was 17-years old, I came home from school one day and my Japanese journal was laying on the dining room table. I was horrified. She had gone into my room, snooped to find my journal and then read it aloud to my dad. Their excuse was they were worried about my going out all the time and didn’t like my friends.

I felt incredibly violated.

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Rising Cairn, Celeste Roberge

I hysterically called my mom who came and got me. I gathered all my journals and put them in a box and carried them with me, getting into mom’s car and going to see La Cage aux Folles with her and her boyfriend. It is one of the funniest movies ever, but I sobbed through the whole thing, my mom wrapping an arm protectively around my shoulder as she laughed and laughed.

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I grew up in a house where words were sacred. Privacy was maintained. None of us would have considered reading another’s words/letters/journals without being given specific permission. To have my father be a party to that betrayal was horrific. It was the first moment I hated the woman he eventually married. (She betrayed me and my siblings many more times after that.)

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Mom kept all my old journals (I knew she would never even take a peek inside any of them) and I carried my Japanese one and the one I was writing in with me everywhere. I never left anything home for them to see or read.

Once I moved out, I felt relief in having my words back with me.

Many years later, after I married and had 3 kids, I came out as a lesbian with my (now) former partner of 28 years. My first husband was crazy mad (as one might expect) and went into our storage unit and found all my old journals and those funly-folded notes from junior high school and tossed them in the Dumpster by our house. It wasn’t until I was packing to move that I learned he had stolen my words and threw them away as trash.

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That time, I was heartbroken.

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MissPoe, Heartbroken Art

And when the Love of My Life, my partner of 28 years, sent me from Germany to San Diego to live with his mom (me and the 4 kidlets), I wrote him every day. He, someone who has never written a letter he wasn’t forced to, wrote me about once a week or so. I cherished those letters, knowing how rare they were. I kept them neatly in a shoebox under my bed.

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Haley Fischer

When he broke up with me a couple of months later, I took the beloved shoebox and put it on the headboard of my bed, touching it and crying often. All those words of love and honoring our commitment to each other… all just memories.

A year later, I finally got up the nerve to read the precious words he’d written to me. I’d mourned the entire year, face on the carpet listening to Melissa Etheridge sing her pain-filled songs directly to me, endless tears soaking the fibers on the floor as well as throughout my body.

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I took the shoebox one night after the kids were asleep, sat on the floor and began opening the envelopes.

Inside the first one was a blank piece of paper. Confused, I opened the next one. Two pieces of paper, folded exactly how my love’s letters had been. Realization began to set in as I began opening more and more of the envelopes, finding blank pages inside. Every single letter, gone… replaced with blank sheets of papers.

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I called the person I still loved so very much and asked who would do such a thing?! He said he would call me right back.

It was his mother.

She told him she did it because she thought I might publish the letters one day and they would ruin his life if people knew he was gay (he was presenting as a woman then).

As badly as my heart was broken when he left the kids and I, I was 1000 times more hurt with his words being burned in the fireplace. He knew how important words were to me, having held me as I recounted the stories of others reading and then stealing and dumping my words. Regarding his mother, he apologized dozens of times, but there was no fixing it. (Tears are falling even as I write this.)

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When we got back together a few years after that, the first thing I insisted on was his mother apologizing to me. She did. It did not remove one iota of the pain that still lived inside of me.

When I have told this story, people point out: but you blog! I have considered this truth and even worked on it in therapy.

I am thinking that I blog because I get to choose what comes out to the world. I get to share my thoughts. I have control over the experience of who reads my journals.

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I do not censor much, my thoughts fall out of my fingers without much planning. So it isn’t like I am not sharing deep, intimate details with you all; I am. But, I feel empowered that it is me who hits the Publish button and not someone who has no right to my thoughts, feelings or words.

And that feels magnificent.

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Breaking Free, mdderouin

Blog Refocus: Life Through the Eyes of Food

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At My Daughter’s Nudging

So, after my Baking Bread Memories post, my daughter Meghann, also a writer, insisted I start another blog and talk about my life through the eyes of food. Not wanting to start over with yet another blog, I decided to edit this one and begin the project my daughter asked me to write in this one.

Besides the food refocus, I could not edit out my Bipolar and Diabetic experiences. I really feel my mental illness as well as my diabetes are intertwined with my life of eating; they are inextricably combined.

Long List of Memories

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My mama’s hand.

I began a list last night of times in my life where food took more than center stage and already have 29 potential posts!

Come along with me as I jot down memories for my children and entertainment for you readers.

I better get to writing.

 

Diabetic Neuropathy Begins

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Legacy of Diabetes

I’ve had Type 2 Diabetes since I was 34-years old… for 22 years now. My entire Cuban family had diabetes as well; skinny, fat and inbetween. My entire life, I watched my pot-bellied relatives manipulate their insulin so they could eat and drink whatever they wanted. I watched as they lost their eyesight, had heart attacks, then had feet and hands cut off from infections. My grandfather died before I was born from complications of diabetes. My grandmother, aunt, uncle all died from diabetic complications. It seems I am next on the list.

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Added Challenges

My Blood Glucoses (BGs) are almost impossible to control. I have been having to take steroids (SoluMedrol & prednisone) because of several allergic reactions lately. (One reaction was to Azo… the other to the 6th iron infusion I had… that one sent me into the hospital because I was scratching myself bloody and using scissors to scratch my back… also bloody.)

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My diet is comprised of almost all carbs for a variety of medical reasons, including dental. Exercise is impossible. I am destined (doomed?) to using insulin to get my BGs under control.

Doctor Visits

Whenever I see doctors, they ask if my feet are numb, tingling or hurt. I have said no for many years. Now, however, they are beginning to hurt more and I realize the pre-pain feeling I’ve had has been like a tight sock on my right foot. Now, at night, there is distinct pain.

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I’ve never read about Diabetic Neuropathy before today and now I am scared.

Besides the foot pain, I also have what seems to be untreatable diarrhea. Taking 30 Immodium a day does nothing to quell the issue. Lomotil doesn’t do a thing either. The GI Doc said I need to get the Endo to help. I see the Endo on Monday. Hope they are able to give me something else. It is distressing, always having to dash to the toilet… pretty challenging trying to work.

I have some Cymbalta from when I was rx’d it for depression and read that was one good medication for the neuropathy. Hopefully, someone will rx it (or something else) to help with the pain.

One More Medical Problem

I have an ongoing list of medical crap I am dealing with, all because of being fat. My fat life is (quite literally) piling on the complications.

All my fault.

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My Disgraceful History: KKK

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Racism, Hate, Hate Groups, Black History all discussed.

The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.

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Hero, Heather Heyer

My Sordid Family Legacy

These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.

My great-grandfather, Eddie Johnston, came from Sweden when he was young. His family (whose name was Johnson) had been bigoted before they even got to Ellis Island. When my great-great grandfather was asked his name, he added a T to his last name… because far too many blacks in America had the last name Johnson.

Memories of Racism

  • I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
  • In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
  • A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
  • My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
  • When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
  • You know the child’s game of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, yes?

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When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.

  • Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”

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heavy sigh

Add the KKK to My History

I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well.  I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.

How I Was Raised

My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.

For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.

It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.

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Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.

After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.

In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.

Confronting My Own Racism

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It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.

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I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.

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I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.

“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”

Amendment: Out loud.

After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?

The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.

(This is much harder to write than I expected.)

I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.

Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.

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My Apology

I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.

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Some Things I’ve Learned

“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”

James Baldwin, Ken Burns‘ America: Statue of Liberty

Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.

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It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.

“What’s different, he said, is that the world now has a history of what Nazism is and what it led to, which it didn’t have 75 years ago.

“We don’t have the ability to pretend like it’s not happening,”

Listening Hard

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