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photo by Sheri Dixon

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Know Just How You Feel

How many times have I heard that?

A hundred? A thousand? No matter- it's always untrue.

Because here's the thing. Although we're all human and may share a bunch of similar experiences, no one on earth has the exact same chemistry, personality and history as you do. No one.

I see many discussions (that devolve into name-calling arguments) that involve both black and white people and invariably some white dude says, "Hey- MY people were also oppressed- I know just how you feel." Because...really?

There was a thread on Facebook recently that started out innocently. Someone (female) posted a photo of herself and some friends out to dinner and captioned it "Good dinner with good company" or something along those lines. Several of us other gals agreed that we need to all go out soon.

Then some guy chimed in that he was down for that.

One of the women said that sometimes women just need to be around other women...no offense.

Well...

At first he was just insistently annoying, arguing that of COURSE he knows just how women feel in our society and that we were being unjustly bitchy to think otherwise.

So we tried to explain.

That no matter how much of a champion you are for women's rights and no matter how 'in touch with your feminine side' you are, if you are a dude...you don't know how women feel.

After a while we gave up because he just kept on about how we couldn't tell him why he can't know how we feel when we used up a million pixels typing it all out for him and we just decided he's really just an asshole, but that thread has stayed with me.

Because there's no way in hell someone of one race knows how someone of another race feels.

No way someone of one gender knows how someone of another gender feels.

No way anyone but your own head and heart know exactly how you feel.

Ward and I are as close as two people can be without actually sharing organs.

A little over a decade ago we became a cancer family.

We have walked that jagged path and clawed our way back up that slippery slope more times than can be imagined a human can do so. Together. Always together.

And yet...when he's being wheeled back for yet another surgery, waking up, recovering and experiencing the pain and the fear and the whole, "Jesus I'm so fucking tired of this crap"-edness there's no way I know how he's feeling. None.

And when I watch him being wheeled away from me and spend the four, six, eight, ten hours in the waiting room hoping for good news and dreading bad news, and then at his side as he's waking up and the days, weeks, months while he's healing there's no way he knows how *I* feel. None.

In addition, neither one of us can know how our son feels; never knowing anything BUT his dad going into surgery and recovering, over and over again for his entire lifetime. We can't know how he feels.

So when you talk about Ferguson and say, "I know just how you must feel" to someone of color when you're white, just stop it. You don't.

When you see that Robin Williams committed suicide after years of depression and alcohol and health issues and you say, "Well, I've been through tough times but that's a coward's way out- I know just how he feels and I got over it", just stop it. You don't.

If women want to go out to dinner to be just among other women because being female IS different than being male- not in a Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus sort of way, but like this-
A man sees a woman walking past a construction site and the guys are all catcalling and wolf whistling and making less-than-polite requests of her and the man thinks, "Geez, what a buncha assholes" and walks on.
That woman thinks, "Geez, what a buncha assholes" and walks on with a tiny but never-vanishing pit of fear in her gut. So no- you don't know 'just how we feel'. You don't.

We can sympathize. We can empathize, commiserate, project, speculate, role-play and make assumptions based on our own reality. But it's not anyone else's reality.

So what do you say?

In the case of Ferguson you say, "I'm so sorry- what can we do to help?" It's not an admission of guilt- it's acknowledging that a young man is dead and we SHOULD be sorry.

Robin Williams? "How awful for him to have been in such torment."

If that dude in the women's thread had REALLY been a true advocate? "OK- ya'll have fun!"

See? Short, sincere, and doesn't turn the conversation around to make it all about you.

Because that's what 'I know just how you feel' really does. So just...don't.







Monday, August 18, 2014

Looking Back Over the Decades

When I was five
I had my first crush.
His name was Mike Tatum
And he was in his fifties.
I made him promise me
That he'd wait till I was twenty five
And then he'd marry me.
Of course he didn't.
But I forgave him...
Eventually.

When I was fifteen
I was assaulted
And shamed
By a church deacon.
Took me thirty five years
Before I had the courage
To tell anyone.
My mother chalked up my
Rebellious teenage years
To rock and roll music.

When I was twenty five
And married for the first time
I had just had my second baby
And thought my life was perfect
Ignoring the gaping holes
In my heart and soul.
If I could just be a
Better wife
Better lover
Better mother
Better housekeeper
Everything would be
Better.

When I was thirty five
I met my Knight in Shining Armor
After shedding my second
Alcoholic abusive husband
Like a virus
Or a diseased cocoon.
A flaming, carnivorous, strangulating
Panic attack inducing
Cocoon.

When I was forty five
I held tight to my husband
(the Good One)
And my small son
As we bobbed and spun
And were dunked and dragged
Under the waters of cancer
Over and over again
Feathers without anchors
Fireflies without lights
But refusing to let go
Of each other.

And now I'm fifty five
And all I can say is
"Gimme my senior discount, dammit.
I'm old and by god,
I've earned it."
IHOP, here I come.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

No Promises

Sometimes people keep going on out of sheer cussedness. No matter what seems to be the limits a body and mind can take, they just keep going...because they have to.

My friend Edna was like that.

When she was 13 her mother died and she was left to pretty much raise her younger siblings (and herself) alone. This was in 1932. She got through it out of sheer cussedness.

When she was a reasonably new bride with a reasonably new baby, her husband was killed in WWII and she bucked all tradition and did NOT find another man to marry who could support herself and her baby- she'd seen too many stepkids being treated as literal 'red-headed stepchildren' and wasn't about to have that happen to her son. This was in 1943. She got through it out of sheer cussedness.

It wasn't easy. It was never easy. The worry of being sure there was a roof overhead and food on the table was deeply ingrained in her and in the last year of her life, when there was so much information and memories stuffed into her brain that it all started getting muddled she'd fret and become vexed and outright agitated. She was filled with a roiling core of sheer cussedness.

"We need to be looking for another house."

"Why, Edna? This IS your house."

"Oh, it is not!"

"Yes, it is- they built it to your specifications and we wrote a check for it and decided where on the farm it would set. I was there. This is your house."

"Well...if you say so it must be true."

"I promise you. It's true."


At 94, she was very slow getting around, but she got up every day these last few months getting ready to go to work.

"Where are you going, Edna?"

"I'm going to work, of course."

"You don't have to do that- you're retired."

"I am??? Thank goodness. I'm too tired to go to work."


Edna kept her own house, cleaned, cooked, did laundry, tended her garden and her dog, till about six months ago. It became too much for her physically and she was starting to forget the order things were done in...cooking, coffee making, laundry.

I said, "As long as she doesn't wander away and set shit on fire, she's OK."

One day, she did both in the matter of four hours.

A daily living service started coming for six hours a day. Then eight. Then twelve. In between and around, Joe and I took turns checking on her, sitting with her, tucking her in at night.

I had a baby monitor set up with one end on her refrigerator and the other on my headboard.

I slept with 'mom ears' for almost three years.

Twelve days ago at 2am, she got up for a drink of water and fell...hard.

In a matter of minutes, we were at her side and in another thirty minutes she was in the emergency room.

Fractured hip- three breaks. Cracked elbow. The X-Ray showed not only the fractures on her right hip, but a crack in her left hip. ICU. Surgery. More surgery when the elbow became infected. Home.

This was her third stay in our local hospital. The other two were for bladder infections. Every time she's rallied and come home, but just a bit weaker than before; starting out a bit lower on the strong scale. But rally she did...including checking herself out AMA, then sitting at her kitchen table eating pizza and drinking beer three days later. Cussedness, thy name is Edna.

They transported her home via ambulance, because of the two broken hips and all. We had a hospital bed installed in her living room to be her command station.

Something about the transport scared and disoriented her and she fought the EMT's, wearing herself out and hurting...something. Somewhere.

The assigned nurse came out, assessed her pain level and noted her failing circulation and accumulating fluid in her limbs and tummy and said, "You don't need me. You need hospice."

The hospice nurse came out, assessed her falling blood pressure and oxygen saturation even with constant oxygen and said, "It won't be long. She's just plumb wore out. Our goal now is to keep her comfortable."

When Edna and I took our epic road trips back and forth to Oklahoma, and even our run of the mill weekly trips to have her hair done and out to lunch, the boys would say, "Ya'll don't get into trouble now- no bar hopping and dancing on tables." We'd grin and say

"No promises."

Some days when I'd visit her on my way to work she'd say, "Don't work too hard and don't hurt anyone." I'd grin and say

"No promises."

Some days I'd be leaving her house and say, "So and so will be here in a minute to stay with you for a while- don't give her any trouble or try to run away." and she'd grin and say

"No promises."

By yesterday morning she was very weak and sleeping most of the time. When she'd wake up she was in pain so sharp it brought tears to all of our eyes. Before her next dose of morphine set in I kissed her and said, "I'll see you later." She looked up at me, smiled and said

"No promises."

Those were the last words she spoke to me.

The boys tell me that bringing her here after she got pneumonia and decided she couldn't live alone in Oklahoma anymore gave her the best three years of her life.

Having Edna for my friend was an honor, and an inspiration, and a joy, and a daily lesson in tenacity and cussedness, and I'll miss her every single day of my life.

Edna Hoskins, born at home in Oklahoma 9/15/1919

Died at home in Texas 8/8/2014





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