I want to tell you a story about love and family and belonging. I didn’t fit in mine, my family. Like so many of us who were born skewed, a bit off, I was alien to them. I was born an artist and I think, by nature, most artists are different. We seem to be wired for the lives we must live in order to make our art. My family and I were simply wired differently. It’s nobody’s fault.
At the same time I was born into air that was permeated with generations of violence. My parents weren’t physically dangerous but they carried the scars of their own childhood betrayals and it hung around us like rancid grease. Palpable. Hard to breathe. Even as an infant, I felt them.
My Dad was nearly killed by his own father. My mother was raped by her brothers. It’s a miracle they didn’t turn that sharp edge against us more. But I think it’s why they hardly touched us at all, except for the obligatory 1950s spankings and some pretty terrible threats.
Our lives were mean and poor. We were unwashed, untrained. We had worms. Our stomachs were filled with potatoes and noodles. Mom cut our hair and made our clothes and our white flour bread; mixed our powdered milk with room temperature tap water. It foamed.
My two sets of grandparents lived in an unpainted wood house and a tenement. Nine kids were raised within the place I knew with one bedroom and an out house. Mom’s brothers and sisters. She was already gone. I played in alleys and rail yards, a gravel pit.
I learned as a little girl to gather my kitten in my arms and hide behind the couch. But how does one hide from the air? I was told which uncles to avoid and I would run from them.
We were babies. We were children. We were helpless. And there was no one to stand for us. And I am somehow still living this.
I don’t mean to tell a pity story or a poor me story. It is rather a saying it out loud story. I think in order to finally get to the truth of me, to finally settle the past, I need to acknowledge and accept this basic bottom line. I was a problem for my family, unwanted and not at all understood, hardly liked even. I’m tired of being weakened by carrying it around. Now perhaps I can really begin the job of self discovery and deep healing.
So what about feeling some compassion for the innocent child who was born into this? All babies instinctually know they need their parents, but she was not protected by them, nor nurtured. Further, she was not taught how to care for herself. Love was never modeled for her. She, herself, was not beloved, because it was not a sentimental home. Her parents had never known family affection and so didn’t know how to offer it.
How do I finally get to her and somehow give her all those things she needed that she didn’t get, in ways that can perhaps fill in those holes and soothe the wounds of the adult that child became?
It’s something I’ve been trying to do my whole adult life with little success. But I feel I must if I’m ever going to be whole. Maybe my 70th year will be the year.
I adopted a puppy and I’m thinking that perhaps little Willie will be my guide on this journey of exposure and vulnerability. Through loving and nurturing and training him, maybe, at the same time, I’ll come full circle and do some of that for the lost little girl of my early childhood. Can loving be retroactive? Can self-love, if found, fill in the holes? I’m being told it can.
Willie is the first dog in my adult life to come to me uninjured. A good friend thinks that’s a sign that I’m healing, and maybe it is. I may no longer be collecting the battered and broken. Every other dog that’s been drawn to me has had baggage. A lot of baggage. Like me.
But this time I’ve been offered a chance with a healthy dog at the beginning of his life. God, I want to protect him! How do any of you with children ever let them leave the house?
And so we shall see. Willy will be loved and nurtured and trained and accepted as he is. He will know that he is a treasure, that he belongs, that he has a home and family that loves him. If he were human I’d give him paints and drawing pads and tell him to go for it with all his heart.
And for me? Can I repair a heart that seems never to have fully formed? Can I make my own place in this world, one of acceptance and love and celebration for the odd character that I am? Can I make up for a lost childhood? Can I learn to appreciate what I’ve been given? Can I fill the holes and create a truer place of belonging? Can I make for myself a home and safe haven? It is my job to do and, with Willy at my side, perhaps we will find our way together.
Love to you all,