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Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.
At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.
He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.
Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard. He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.
Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.
It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”
Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”
Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.
He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”
The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”
“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.
“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.
“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?
“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”
Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.
I am proud to say that I was among them.
I’ve had the edited photos sitting on my desktop since the evening of the 21st. Waiting to be posted, and shared. Waiting to spread that energetic joy and solidarity. I began an effervescent post that day, in my heady, giddy evening, finally thawed and dry again. I was too tired to finish it that night, but this is part of what I wrote:
“I joined what event organizers estimate was 100,000 people who turned out in the cold rain to support inclusivity of all people, and mostly women. I saw thousands of Pussy Hats (on men too!), which I had never even heard of prior to arriving, but soon enjoyed the joke with everyone else. I got totally soaked and my fingers became so frozen I couldn’t even operate the camera function on my iPhone anymore, and missed some good shots, and through it all, I was laughing. And the men and women next to me were laughing. And the police were smiling at us. And the bystanders on the sidewalks were smiling and waving, and some of them were singing to us. Singing! Women’s voices lifted in spiritually bolstering sounds of protest songs.
Downtown Portland was jammed. Shoulder to shoulder, and you-could-poke-an-eye-out with that umbrella, jammed. When it was time to start the march, at noon, the police escort vehicles could not get from the organizer’s stand to the front of the crowd to begin the march. Their lights flashing, they inched forward and people smooshed aside, and we did not begin marching till 1:00pm. There were so many people that when I was all done marching, and in the Jeep running the heater to get warm and dry again, people were still under the Morrison Bridge, waiting for the press of people to thin so that they could begin their march.”
…and on January 22nd, the wind was knocked out of my sails. And I was so angry I began a second post, which still sits in my WP drafts folder, filled with damned good reasons why I’m angry. Because I, personally, have been attacked by my own President (because I’m female, a veteran, mother of a transgender child, a person with disability), and then explaining how all of us were not only ignored the next day, but shown an enormous orange middle finger. Not only was the administration working as fast as possible to repeal a plan to reform our nation’s health care system, but the President’s immediate reaction to our exquisitely clear message (i.e. women’s issues are important to many, many of us, and it is so important that we need our country’s leaders to know it), was to wipe out U.S. assistance to overseas organizations that provide healthcare and counseling to include family planning. Read: women’s health issues.
No attempt to acknowledge that there were millions of us asking for the total opposite. No explanation for why we were ignored. And just to make it perfectly clear, an executive decision that was a resounding slap in the face. “Here’s what I think of women’s issues, and of your opinions, bitches.”
After an event that manifested into so much more than promised, after it spread not only to all parts of the U.S., but to places around the world, our movement should have been undeniable. The polite and democratic – and LOUD – message from men, women, and children of America should have been undeniable. That is, undeniable to anyone whose finger is on the pulse of current events; anyone who realizes that leaders are supposed to reflect the voice of the people. And the one man we were trying to poke doesn’t have those qualities, apparently.
Though I use this blog to post my soapbox rants periodically, that day I didn’t. I was seething, and I do not want to spread that nasty energy out into the world, so I couldn’t post. My anger turned to sadness and disillusionment with time, and I still did not want to send that out. I love you. I want to share my perspective, but I do not want to stir up your darkness just because mine is stirred. Yes… sometimes I do it anyway… but I like it best when I can cool off first before spouting off.
See look, it might be relevant background information to know I just finished reading Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance. Wouk methodically tracked, month by month, the devastating sweep of dictatorship in WWII. The gradual shift from one man’s delusions of grandeur to his psychotic reign of terror. The hesitant but acquiescing actions of first a political body, then a nation, and then the neighboring countries of Europe, remorsefully handing over their citizens because it was easier than pissing off Hitler. I saw how possible it was then (and could be now) for so many people to help him with his goals, and how many of them had facts right in front of their faces, but instead yelled about lies spread by the opposition! I’m telling you, I was freaking out. I sort of still am.
But the people of the world are shining their light and it turned me around. This is 2017, not 1941, and maybe some of us remember history. The day that turned it over for me was January 27th, when the President signed another executive order, banning entrance to the US for anyone from seven specific countries. Almost immediately, lawyers were rushing to airports, actively looking for people in need, pro bono.
I lifted my head and realized that a lot of people were still just as loud about human rights today as they were last month, or in November, or last summer. People are on fire, and the fire is not going out!
There is organized opposition to the confirmation of various people selected to run our government, particularly Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary, and Scott Pruitt for Environment Secretary. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates declined to support Trump’s immigration ban. And was fired. When the administration enacted a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency, halting all action on projects in progress, removing information from their website related to climate change and emissions, and banning all communication with outsiders, memos were leaked, and staff of the EPA began immediately sharing their stories on a personal level to make sure the information got out anyway. Local activists on the city level began using Tea Party tactics as a guide to mount a different resistance. These are just a few stories off the top of my head.
I don’t know the facts of all of these issues, so I can’t endorse the arguments of the opposition but I DO endorse the opposition itself. I am not in the let’s-give-him-a-chance camp. Not one bit. The buffoon has already made it clear that I, Crystal, have no value to him, and so my response is in kind. When my leader proudly announces that he refuses to lead me with honor to the best of his ability, then I owe nothing to that leader. Our job, as democratic citizens, is to watch his every move like hawks. And to come down hard when something is illegal or counter to American values that we are famous for: freedom from religious persecution, equality for all citizens, progress, and engagement. And when we can’t fight him directly like Sally Yates did, then we will have to settle for annoying him and jamming sticks into the spokes of his demagogic mechanisms.
I do have a little hope now. Maybe you do too. Please enjoy these photos from the march. It was *pouring* rain the whole entire time, and it was so cold. If it had been a little colder, it would have been snowing, and then we would not have all been soaked to the core. But despite the wretched weather, spirits did not seem dampened at all! There were thousands of women, and thousands of men, and people with no gender at all. There were people using wheelchairs. And people on prosthetic legs, and people who couldn’t see. And people who didn’t speak English. People who weren’t old enough to talk yet, and people so old they had seen this all before, a hundred times, and were responsible for some of the rights we hold today. People were holding BLACK LIVES MATTER signs, ACLU signs, and people holding signs in Hebrew and Russian and Arabic and Chinese, that I couldn’t read. One in Spanish I could read: Somos Uno (We Are All One!).
Half of them were wearing Pussy Hats, which I had never even heard of before that day. I could tell the hats looked like they had cat ears, and I got it right away, because my President was caught on camera joking about grabbing women’s pussies. When told it is offensive, his response shows that he thinks we’re overreacting. Basically implying that boys will be boys. So it turns out, zillions of people found the knitting instructions online, and made these caps in all colours, but mostly in pink, and men, women, babies, and police officers, and group organizers, and everyone was wearing them. Many people held signs that said, “Pussy Grabs Back!”
Two favourite signs of the day: Babies Against Bigots! It was pinned to the coat of an infant being carried in a backpack on her father’s chest. The other said “I know signs. I make the best signs. They’re terrific. Everyone agrees.”
What did women achieve that day? (And men. Do me a favour and skim all those photos and notice the men in every one) Oh gosh, I just don’t know. What was it all for? Were we only preaching to the choir? At least I spoke up, but it doesn’t seem enough. And I feel too small to do more. But my hopes are up again, and I still have my voice, and I’ll continue to use it.
In my “About Me” page, I say that this blog is my online journal. And it is. But it’s public, of course, and thus some of the more complicated personal stuff is left out or glossed over. Happy happy happy: that’s me.
I have been sensistive to the fact that I nearly dropped out of the blogging world completely this Spring. Some of you I haven’t read in a year. I can hardly stand it. I miss you more than seems reasonable for a group of people I have mostly never met. I’ve been resisting telling you guys what’s going on with me for a long time, but I now have a way to bring it up that isn’t painfully awkward. Just painfully real. Sorry. Like everybody else in the world, I’ve got layers. 🙂
I’m leaving in a couple of days for Chile! Isn’t that awesome and amazing? It is! A couple days in the capital, then down south to the wine country and the lake country. I’m nervous and excited and hopeful, and I’ve been casting meaningful glances at my Nikon, every time I pass her, sitting on the desk. “You are getting ready for this, right? You have a lot of work to do.” It’s the first last-minute, spontaneous overseas trip I have ever taken. It’s the first trip I have not been the one to orchestrate. All that is kind of surprising, so let me explain.
One of the most brilliant things about me is that I have a crazy intense will to Live. And by Live, I mean that with a capital “L.” Not staying alive, but living with intent, Consciously Engaging with my life because it’s the only one I’ve got and I am loathe to squander it. Things knock me down, and I do not stay down. When there is an obstacle that threatens to make my life begin to resemble merely existing and surviving, things inside kick into gear and get me out of that spot. It is a very good thing. That’s why I’m going to Chile. But…. let me back up a little bit.
Because of some traumatic events during my military service, and the fact that I had no support group of friends or family back then to ease me through it, I developed posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. I didn’t know it at the time. Over the years I built a toolbox for myself of defensive strategies to get through life that are good in times of crisis, but unhelpful when there is no crisis, which is nearly always. So after 20 years of wondering why I was struggling so much, I finally got a therapist that specialized in military trauma, who helped me learn how to give up my crisis strategies. She began to teach me a more accurate way to view my life: not as this enormous, uncontrollable, scary place, but just a place with good and bad things, and none of it was to be taken personally.
In May 2015, my therapist retired. I was doing so well with her that I announced that I did not need a replacement therapist. In July 2015, I moved from the city out to a big property in the country and began country living for the first time in my adult life. In September my only child left home for college, and I began life alone, really alone, for the first time in 18 years. In October I got a new, challenging job. Blam, blam, blam, all these big life events. And it was too much. I sort of lost control of the organization of my life. The old crisis strategies took over. And by November, a year ago, I nearly fell to pieces.
I worked too much. I drank and smoked too much. I was depressed and angry and irritable and yelled at Tara when they came home from college. I didn’t clean the house. I didn’t buy groceries. I cried. It has taken me all this time to come back, and I’m still not totally better, but I am confidently on the path to better. I got a new therapist. I’ve been binging on your blog posts now and then. I even won the award for Most Comments On Blog Posts In A Single Day, on Curt’s site, ha ha!
My girlfriend Margaret called me earlier this month and said, “What’s new?” Because something is always new with me. I am a woman who keeps pots going on all burners at all times. Even the small stuff is interesting and exciting. And I replied, “Uh, I’ve been working. And Tara’s still at college. And…um…” While I was saying it, I realized that when she called the last time, 4 or 5 months earlier, I had said the exact same thing. Margaret must have noticed it too. “Meet me in Santiago at the end of the month,” she insisted. “yeah, right, Margaret.” In my mind I was thinking, now wait…in what country is Santiago? She said the trip was already plannned, I’d have to split the Air BnB costs, and taxis and stuff. I explained about the big property, and the chickens, and the fact that vacation time at work is always set in January, so it’s too late anyway. She wasn’t buying it. “That’s no obstacle,” she said. I think it was her brassiness that caught my attention. I mean, we’ve been friends for 16 years, but was that appropriate? I asked, “Did you just tell me that the responsibilities I have in my own life are no obstacle?” “I did,” she said with no humility at all. “Crystal, I know you. You are smart and capable and you can figure it out. I’ll call you in two days and get your answer.”
And that will to Live sparked up like when a breath of wind hits a bed of coals.
I realized the trip was just the slap in the face I needed. I made a bunch of phone calls and 24 hours later I texted Margaret to say we’d be on the same plane from Houston to Santiago.
My flight leaves Portland at noon on Tuesday, and arrives in Chile at 10am on Wednesday. That’s a lot of time in a plane. Wish me legroom and no crying babies! (I know, impossible request) I’ll bring the laptop, and with any luck, my brassy friend will indulge me at an occasional wifi hotspot. If not, I’ll be gone two weeks and my beloved Nikon and I will share our stories with you when I get back.
When I went for a run Wednesday morning, I passed the sweetest sight. A man was carefully removing falling leaves from a chalk message on the sidewalk. I couldn’t read the name written there (I was too close to the sidewalk to see the giant letters well). It said, “[NAME] I love U!” The word love was actually a heart.
It’s a ritual on this block: people send chalk messages to inmates held in the jail across the street from where I work. Apparently, they must be able to see the message from the jail and pass it on to whomever is named. Messages show up on both sides of my building, kitty corner on the sidewalk intersections, silently sending love up to the people in the towering building.
A couple hours later, I left my desk on the third floor and walked over to the windows to see if I could read the chalk name with a better angle. I looked out the window and felt like I was socked in the gut. All I could see on the sidewalk corner was a wide wet area, where the chalk had been scrubbed off. No, it wasn’t that the whole sidewalk had been sprayed. Just the message. Washed off.
I don’t know why it hit me so hard. I suddenly thought of oppression. I thought of a stifling work environment, and a totalitarian regime. I thought how easy it is for those in power to take tiny steps to squash the people. The people who scrubbed the message off probably weren’t even directed to do it by anyone related to the jail. The slightest details, perfectly, hegemonically aligned, will have devastating effects. And yet, no one can point a finger and legitimately make it stop.
“Take a stand! We must FIGHT the scrubbing of chalk messages!” See? That wouldn’t go anywhere. And yet, think of how devastating it could be to someone who has been waiting for a love message, to keep up hope while waiting for the court date or something. What does it mean to that person, who was assured by a loved one: “It will be there. Wednesday morning. You look out that window. I promise.”
Arno suggests that I could look at it with an entirely different perspective. “It’s a very positive idea, though,” he said, “that there is a means of getting messages to the people in the jail. They have a way to send their love.”
Arrggh. Pandora you wicked one.
On a plane over the Pacific Ocean, I have an unfortunate juxtaposition of two opposite emotions when I think of Arno. I am more confident and trusting in this man than ever before; more than seems reasonable or rational. I am nearly certain of a future with him, I am on the edge of ready to commit completely. If he asked me today, I would marry him. That is how self-assured and healthy I feel. I am coming back to life again, becoming the woman I knew was buried somewhere deep, deep inside. A woman who is now filled with joy, peace, faith, and eager anticipation, and hopefulness, and expectations of being finally able to enjoy the goodness and beauty of having a regular life without constant damage control. And I am scared to death.
On a given day my emotions wander all over the place, of course. I’ve been mostly on a happiness track ever since I met him. Well, actually, ever since the pain of leaving my last relationship with Mark began to fade, I was happier. My reality includes many ups and downs, and within the happy path that has gradually traveled upward (and out of the muck of my dark history) – in the way that awesome corporate earnings might climb up a chart – there are times when I have been merely pleased and times when I’ve been euphoric, and it averages into a happy medium. (forgive the pun) Today, though my emotions overall remain happy, the track plunged.
This morning I was looking for a notebook to take onto the plane with me, since for some unexplainable reason I always want to write when I am airborne. I came across a spiral-bound notebook that I recognized as one of my old journals. I flipped to the back in case there were some empty pages and I could add my Hawaii trip entries. The journal was filled to the very last line of the very last page, and in discerning this, my eyes grabbed at some of the words.
I was talking about Mark. I couldn’t discern the date because I only marked the month and day, not the year. So… not sure about what part of my Mark experience it was. We were still living in Fitchburg, possibly new in the relationship, because I was talking about trying to ignore my fear and trying to allow myself to feel love again. That’s similar to my current thoughts with Arno, so I stopped paging through, and read it.
At one point I had written that I had “a history of living with ill men, and becoming an ill woman,” and though my past self didn’t recognize this: my journal entries about Mark were a continuation of that sickness. I didn’t see it then, and my intent was to point out how Mark was different from my terrible past men.
I wrote about his selfishness, his lying to me, and his own self-deception. “Of course I can’t be mad at him,” I wrote, “because he doesn’t do it on purpose. He doesn’t even realize he’s lying. When I point it out, he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.” How can a person be so blind to the fact that she is embracing a poisonous environment?
I wrote how he didn’t take responsibility for his own positive emotions. Rather than express his pleasure first person, he asked questions so that I was forced to carry the weight of expression. “What are you doing to me?” he asked over and over in his moments of pleasure. He wouldn’t even wear his own emotions, but made me express it for both of us. I felt like I could have been a blow-up doll and he would have been equally pleased and equally present.
I kept reading in the journal, and saw right there, in black and white, how I had clearly analyzed what was wrong with our communication, but would then go on to say how he was a good man deep inside, so the only obstacle to our improved communication was my ability to perceive his intended messages differently. I made him into some kind of hero. I talked about how he ignored me, disrespected me, and I wrote that since he is such a great person, then it is my job to “re-frame” his words and behavior into something that makes more sense for a good person. “He just doesn’t realize how hurtful it is, so it really isn’t his fault,” I wrote. “I know with patience I can understand the true meaning behind the mindless, empty comments.” Or, “I know he means well, and he’s very thoughtful and caring, so I must remind myself of that more often so my feelings don’t get hurt.”
Oh my god! What in the world makes a woman as sick as that? I have always been intelligent in every single aspect of life EXCEPT for relationship dynamics, and there I am a complete idiot. Why?
I wasted six years of my life being mentally sick with him. I got so unwell I spent the last two years of our relationship going to therapists who never helped a damn thing. I took medications that made me even more miserable, but at least they stopped the panic attacks and the voices and laughter I heard that were terrifying and frequent. My last therapist even tried to tell me to get out of my relationship, but I didn’t realize it till much later. In one of our last sessions, she was saying, very gently, “Some people, when they are feeling the way you are, might consider a change. Sometimes the options they consider might include different personal relationships, perhaps a change in setting. Please don’t think I am encouraging it, I only want to suggest what other people might have in their minds.” I had no idea what she was talking about. And I didn’t ask. I just let her words slide incomprehensibly past my mind.
Alright, alright. My intent here is not to simply to portray what a bad relationship I was in. No really. My point is that I didn’t know that I was in one even when it was making me crazy. In the past I had not seen for years how ill and abusive Tara’s father was. And how self-absorbed and sick Vic was, and Kevin, and Miguel, and all the awful men I always end up with. What is frightening to me today is that I could NOT SEE what was going on. I wanted to be in love and wanted to be loved so badly that I willingly allowed myself to be blind. I saw the abuse, recognized the betrayal, and then spun it somehow into a story about my own shortcomings in not being able to forgive enough, not being sufficiently understanding, or not accommodating the obvious signs of a wounded man who needs to be loved for who he is – because, wasn’t I asking to be loved for who I was? I told myself that I was the stronger person, and therefore I needed to be the one to accommodate his weaknesses, not vice versa.
At one point recently, I broke down and cried when I was with Arno, and told him of my secret terror. I want to love and to trust, but I am very aware that I cannot protect myself. At least I never have. The only means of protection I know is not to fall in love. Or, if I can’t help myself, at least to hold part of my heart back and not give all of myself. Loving Arno is frightening to me because I do not know if I am seeing things clearly. Since I could never tell before, how can I know if I can tell now? Am I currently blind? Do I love him because I am lonely? The fact that I opened up enough to allow myself to express those thoughts shows how deeply I care for him. If I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t be so scared. Thus it also tells me that I am sufficiently emotionally involved to again be at that dreadful place where I cannot see what is happening in my own life.
Am I there? How is it possible to know?
But remember I said ‘a juxtaposition.’ There are emotions from opposite sides of the spectrum pulling at me: isn’t that how it always is? Fear, yes, but also hope. No, even better than hope: certainty. Assuredness. Confidence and deep unconditional trust in Arno. I am not making excuses for anything about him. I don’t need to. He’s got his own self-assuredness, patience, practicality, and joy to carry him along, so he doesn’t need to suck it out of me. He has no need to bluster and sputter about things I say that could be twisted into a far-fetched insult. He does not remind me of how I should be grateful for what he gives me. He does not tell me how I could be better, or how my behavior is superior and distasteful. Or childish and immature. He does not spend any time at all bragging about himself (unless I remember to ask), but seems intent on convincing me that I am a wonderful person. Arno lives a full, satisfying life, and has chosen to make himself available to me. He loves me unconditionally. And he already told me that if things don’t work out between us, he won’t be sorry we met, because he is already happy with the positive impact I’ve had on his life. “You have already shown me that I can live my life in a better way. You have proved that there are other people like me in the world. You physically express what I have in my mind; you ACT what I am feeling! I can’t envision my life without you in it,” he said to me.
Fear, yes. But happiness as well. And each new day as I learn more and more about him, and find that his words are in perfect resonance with the way he lives, I can trust him more. There are no incongruities, there are no shameful character traits to learn to tolerate, there is no embarrassing bravado, there are no heartbreaking nights of trying to defend myself from misinterpretations. Every new morning I wake up with a peaceful heart, and the fear evaporates a little more. One day it will be gone completely. With Arno I believe I can become whole again.
My vision is slowly clearing up from the frosted glasses I wore in my last relationship. For me, three months is a long time to snap out of it. I am used to feeling freedom and joy almost the instant I get away from whatever man I’ve leeched myself onto.
What explains the gradual drift away from him, rather than a sudden snap to consciousness? I’d like to believe it’s a sign that I have grown as a person enough to leave a relationship before I am on the edge of despair. In the past, I have left relationships as a last-ditch effort to survive. My grieving the betrayal and loss of most relationships occurs while still officially in them. This time I left earlier in the process, and so maybe I continued the grieving once I was gone. Maybe I’m getting wiser.
In any case, my cathartic experience was Monday, when I finally moved the last of my stuff out of the house and over to my new rental place. In the process of hauling stuff out of the basement, I passed a sickening sight. He’s got a bunch of trash and furniture strewed at random along the side of the house. Who knows how long it’s been there – a month? Plastic, wires, broken things, tools, and painfully- furniture. For example, a pine hutch for the kitchen with cupboards and a drawer. It was in perfect condition when I left. It is now beyond salvage; warped and bleached from rain and weather. One of the pieces was a large oak entertainment center that I had come to get. He had at least laid a piece of plastic on top, but the base was in three inches of standing water. The bottom trim is warped and blackened with mold.
“Just like common white trash,” I thought to myself. “Leaving a bunch of stuff outside in the yard to get ruined.” I wondered: Who is this person who is so thoughtless and careless?
And it hit me: there is no difference in this behavior than anything I knew about him in our six years together. This is how he has always been. He has carelessly smashed half our dishes over the years. When we moved he piled everything in a jumble in the moving van so nearly all our wooden furniture is damaged now (that is, the stuff that wasn’t totally ruined). He stacked spare tires on a rocking chair, so that when we unpacked the chair the fabric cushions had ground-in black rubber. Ruined. It doesn’t occur to him to place any extra value on things that are expensive or of quality construction: to him, no things are valuable. In one way, it could be said that he is not beholden to material objects, but on the other hand – since we have often struggled for money – he was thoughtless and careless not to consider that everything he ruined had to be replaced. For a price. Sometimes the things he ruined had nostalgic value to me and can never be replaced.
The difference is that I am no longer there to walk behind him and clean up his messes.
My transformative thought was that the whole damn relationship was probably me! The catharsis is that I am relieved to know that I was correct to leave him. He isn’t only careless with furniture; he is careless with his life. He does not cherish his friends, and he does not cherish his family. I thought back over all the catastrophes he helped create and maintain, and I thought back over the lies that I told to my family and my friends to protect and support him, and to protect myself from my embarrassment and shame. Like when he was unemployed for 14 months and I helped him maintain all his excuses and lies about why he wasn’t employed. Yes, the economy was bad – a perfect alibi. But I didn’t tell anyone the truth. Such as the time he got a job offer, and let it go.
I am angry at myself (No, not at him; I feel sorry for him.) for not learning this lesson yet. I am a world-class enabler and after forty years and hundreds of relationships (well, it SEEMS like it!), I just cannot seem to learn to stop it.
I need to stop valuing people according to their potential, and begin placing value on what they actually do with their potential. I glom onto a man believing that with support and encouragement, he could be the man he truly is inside! I give, and give, and give until I am sucked dry, and there is nothing to show for my investment. And my bonus gift is that they always (Always.) find a way to spin it so that I am the one who betrayed. I am the one who let it fall apart. I am the evil trickster.
He said to me recently that he has watched me fall into deep depression in the past two years (actually, I have indeed been depressed a lot). He said I am the most depressed person he knows. “I am truly worried about you without me there to look out for you,” he says. “Now that you’re gone you will withdraw from life and sink more deeply into your depression. It drives me crazy because everything you want, I give you, but you can’t be satisfied with anything. You think leaving me will solve all your problems, but you had all you ever needed with me, and refused to see it.”
For the last year I’ve believed him when he told me what a dark soul I was, dragging him down when otherwise he would be happy. Today I say back to him as Eowyn said to Wormtongue, “Your words are poison.” I will no longer listen.
I am now free to try again to live up to my own potential. It is a beautiful, limitless path with brilliant possibility.
Mark wrote a letter to everyone he could think of, explaining our languishing home mortgage modification process. We were hoping for two or three form letters in response to the six he sent out. We finally received this one via email.
Of note is the fact that the Congressman highlights the Making Home Affordable program, and recommends that we contact our lender and ask about the plan. This confirms our assumption that our letters would not even be read, since the reason we are agonizing is because we ARE in the midst of trying to make the Making Home Affordable program work for us, and it’s been a big cluster-* from the beginning.
From: Congressman Earl Blumenauer <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 11:56 AM
Subject: Reply from Congressman Earl Blumenauer
November 19, 2009
Thank you for contacting me about your mortgage situation and the state of the economy. I am deeply concerned about for the thousands of homeowners in my District who are in foreclosure, or on the verge of becoming delinquent on their mortgage. I have heard horrendous stories of people who have been in their homes for 10 or even 20 years and never missed a payment, but due to unforeseen circumstances such as the loss of a job or a medical crisis in the family, are now struggling to make ends meet. Worse, they often find that their property is worth less than their debt on the house, are as a result, they are on the brink of losing their home.
I have been outspoken in Washington DC that in order to stop the economic freefall, we must take immediate steps to shore up housing values and provide families with some degree of financial stability. That is one reason why I am adamantly supporting legislation that will allow judges to modify mortgages for individuals who have declared bankruptcy. It is outrageous that judicial modifications are allowed for speculators and vacation homes, but not for regular homeowners.
Recently, the US Treasury announced details of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan (http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/).
This plan will allow expanded refinancing options for homeowners who are currently in foreclosure, or who are still current on their payments but concerned about becoming delinquent. Lenders and homeowners will be offered direct financial incentives to refinance their loans into lower interest rates. While refinancing will not reduce the overall amount that is owed on the loan, it will help borrowers secure safer, fixed rate loans with lower interest rates, thereby reducing the amount of interest that would be repaid over the life of the loan. Homeowners are encouraged to contact their lenders and ask about the plan.
The following resource is also available to help Oregonians find additional information about avoiding foreclosure, as well as contact information for HUD-approved counseling agencies. These counseling agencies can help with answering questions about the Making Home Affordable Program, as well as contacting your lender and clarifying information.
HUD Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure <http://www.hud.gov/foreclosure/>
Through HUD’s online guide, homeowners can find and contact local housing agencies to determine what free services are available to help avoid foreclosure.
It is also important to note that unfortunately, there are some fraudulent foreclosure prevention services and hotlines are attempting to portray their organizations as affiliated with honest efforts. Be sure that you are working with a HUD-approved counselor, such as those available via the above website.
Our nation is committing unprecedented resources towards stabilizing the economy. I am hopeful that these new programs will provide Americans with some fiscal security, and help to stabilize the value of what in many families is their greatest asset, their home. Thank you for contacting me with your concerns.
Member of Congress
In January we did our taxes and got another shock: Mark owed thousands. In 2007 he had panicked, watching his stocks fall, so he gambled and took everything out of the previous investments, and put it all into banks. Hindsight will tell us all that it was an unfortunate move. Investors will know that when you pull stocks out of one place to buy something else, it’s counted as income. Though Mark never saw a penny of it, the IRS saw that he “earned” about $140 thousand in 2008 by selling stocks. In his despair at seeing banks fail and all his savings evaporate, Mark did not remember to hold anything aside for paying taxes.
24) We did manage to talk the IRS down from owing $46 thousand to owing $18 thousand, but what’s the difference when we have nothing to pay it with regardless?
25) I was thankfully spared from owing taxes, because of my incredible loss on selling the Massachusetts home.
26) Eventually the stay on foreclosures was released. We chewed our fingernails. In April 2009 we received our foreclosure notices.
The paperwork that went into our response was tedious, but we were willing to play their game for a chance at a new agreement. We began hearing stories about how people had their interest rates reduced to 3%, or had the amount financed reduced from $400 to $300 thousand – huge benefits offered to those who were willing to work with their lenders and to pay off their debt somehow. We had hope, and pressed on.
Part of our requirement was that we had to call a credit counseling agency. I called one of the numbers listed in the Wells Fargo paperwork. I talked with a wonderful woman who asked a million questions and gradually began to lose her assurance that she could help us. “There is no way my company could get you better rates than what you have,” she said. “You are managing your finances very well.” Hm. Small amount of good my smugness did for me at that point. But regardless, I had talked with the credit counselor. I had upheld my end. What would Wells Fargo do for us?
27) We had been asked for budget spreadsheets and copies of taxes and pay stubs on three separate occasions. We had been asked for letters explaining why we wished for a mortgage modification. Finally they responded that we had been approved on a trial basis. Rejoice! They came up with a new, lower monthly rate, and said if we paid that new amount for three months in a row, they would consider installing it permanently. They had reduced our obligation from $1624 a month to $1185. We were thrilled. Now we could afford everything on my salary alone.
We paid $1185 in May, June, and July, and then called Wells Fargo. They had stopped the foreclosure process, and our house would not go up for auction. Whew! But that’s all they could tell us. “Keep paying that same amount,” they always said. “We will contact you as soon as we get to your case. We can’t guarantee it, of course, but the $1185 you have been paying will most likely be your payment from now on.”
Months trickled by. My student loan forbearance with Direct Loan expired, and they requested that I begin paying another $210 a month in addition to the $223 I am already paying in student loans to Sallie Mae. And, in the time since I had last reviewed my account, I saw that the amount I owed in student loans had climbed to over $80 thousand. Why, again, did I go to school? What an idiotic thing it seemed to me. What a fool I was to buy that classist ideal that school is the path to a better life. Well, not from what I have seen. I put that portion of my loan back into forebearance.
28) When my tax money came in, I paid off a credit card, and paid off Mark’s student loans.
29) Mark got a job in July, after 13 months of unemployment and no unemployment compensation.
Finally we didn’t have such bitterness when hearing news about unemployment benefits extensions. We had applied for food stamps, medical care, housing assistance, heating assistance, and were turned down for everything because I make too much money.
Finally we didn’t have to listen to all the ignorant comments from people intending to help, saying, “If you haven’t found a job, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough.” Or “Lower your sights and you’ll find work.” And, “Apply to 10-20 jobs a day. Unemployment is a 40-hour-a-week-job.” And our favorite, “Have you tried looking outside your field?” Thank god there are people who have had an income through all this, and have had no reason to understand what it has been like for suffering families. But still, if you think you’re helping someone by saying those phrases to them, you aren’t, so shut up.
30) With the new lowered mortgage payment, and second income, you’d think we’d finally be in a comfortable place, but it didn’t work out that way. Suddenly, we had the option to take care of more responsibilities, and all of them cost money.
We scheduled dentist appointments for everyone. We took both of our clunkers to the shop so that they would pass emissions tests and we could renew our tags and drive legally again. Both cats went to the vet. I paid off a loan from my 87-year-old grandmother (I HATE owing money, and especially hate owing people I love). I started getting the mental health therapy that was long overdue. Bought our kid new clothes that she desperately needed. Paid off another credit card. We continued our pared-down lifestyle of no cable, no home phone, very few dinners out, no splurging on little things that catch our eyes. We ate tons of food from our small but unexpectedly productive garden.
31) The last week of September our final paperwork from Wells Fargo finally came through! But we were confused with what it said. Rather than the $1185 we had been paying, they had finalized our bill at $1536. And even though we had been making payments on time since May, the money had been held in a separate account, and not paid against our debt. Their records showed that we had not paid for months, so 1624 x 7 months = 11,368 + 207,000 still owing = a new financed amount of $218,000 at 4.625% = $1536 a month.
Ok, yes, I concede that 4.625% is a great rate. However, we previously had a great rate of 5.875% that was fixed. Now we had an adjustable rate and the amount financed had jumped drastically! Months of fear, anxiety, and paperwork all amounts to this? A savings of 88 dollars a month? Yes, we defaulted on our mortgage, but we were under the impression that this “Making Home Affordable” plan at Wells Fargo was going to, er, help make our home affordable.
With Mark’s new job we could possibly afford the new payment plan (if we made a few more cuts), but we were furious. We had been abused. I saw it as a breach of contract. Mark called to ask what happened, and was told that the people who first worked up our paperwork had made a mistake by using our net income rather than our gross income, and the $1536 was the absolute best they could do. I called someone else at Wells Fargo, and she said if we don’t like the new terms, don’t sign the new contract and send it back with a letter explaining why we won’t sign it. So we sent it all back.
32) Then we wrote our congressmen, the CEO of Wells Fargo, President Obama. We’re hoping for a couple of form letters from someone, but so far haven’t received even that.
33) The IRS called and said, “Enough dilly-dallying! You must pay!! $300 a month, and that is our final offer.” So, I guess we must pay.
And here it stands.
November 13, 2009, we have two reasonable incomes and are as broke as can be. How is that possible?
- Mortgage – 218,325.79
- Sallie Mae – $57,570.70
- (Direct Loan Student Loans – $19,487.35) – in forbearance till April 2010
- IRS – $18,461.60
- Discover Card – $14,125.37
- Chase Visa – $4,737.38
That leaves a monthly amount of $289 to take care of: utilities, school clothes, food, phones, home&auto insurance (we have no health insurance), internet access, etc.
You try spending only 289 on every expense for an entire month for a family of three. It is not POSSIBLE. When my forbearance expires, it will drop to $79 per month available to live on. I don’t know what we will do. Wish us luck.
Here’s a quote I caught this morning, and I’m going to take courage in it: “Despair is for people who know beyond any doubt what the future will be. Nobody’s in that position. So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but it’s also a simple mistake.”
…than this day a year ago.
- The last time we went out to eat, I had to shell out more than I’m used to. That upset me until I realized it’s because now there’s three of us instead of two. Today is better than this day last year because my daughter is living with me.
- When I dried off in the gym this week, my towel was scratchy. Today is better than this day last year because we are using a clothesline to dry our laundry.
- My President spoke in Ankara, a message of peace to Muslims, which my President last year would not have done.
- We are unpacked and settled into the house. Last year at this time, we were maneuvering around boxes. We didn’t have a stove/oven. The house smelled like stinky dogs and mold and tired generations. We pulled out the horrid drapes and a lot of the carpet and opened some windows.
- Today I know a lot about my job. This time last year they were just beginning to let me leave the books and start working on real veterans’ claims. Today they let me make decisions on behalf of veterans without any assistance.
- I no longer live in the same state with Barney. Woo Hoo!
- T has braces, and they are paid for, and I ended the years of agony, wondering how we were ever going to get the braces she wanted. Her teeth are already noticeably straightened.
- We’ve had many happy days in front of a roaring fire. A year ago today, we never used the fireplace for fear it had been neglected too long to work properly.
- Today I know that it snows in Portland. Last year I would have bet a whole paycheck that Portland would never see two feet of snow in a week. And I would have lost. Ha ha! All four seasons, baby! This place is awesome.
- The huge tree is gone. No more roots crushing our foundation. No more squirrels spreading millions of pine cone shells all over the patio as soon as I sweep it, or filling the rain gutters of our house and the neighbor’s with pine cone pieces.
- Our home has had many improvements – new paint, carpets gone, new buffet and bookshelves. The front porch steps have been rebuilt and painted a reasonable color, rather than Kelly green.
- The ivy is gone!!