One consistent thing I’ve always done with my blog is do a recap of the year. I was kind of itching to get to it, and I do have plans for the full recap, but I remembered something tonight. I want to talk about it as a sort of preface to writing about this year, because I think it was the biggest lesson from 2018. It’s actually probably one of the most impactful moments of my life so far, despite being a simple conversation.
This is such a long entry I could almost call it “Tennessee in Review,” but I won’t. Ha!
The Poisonous Home
After I was put in foster care, my contact with my family was almost zero. What contact we did have was rough, to put it mildly. Most of my Tennessee friends know that even approaching Polk County would fill me with an intense dread, (not the usual, normal dread of Polk County) symptoms of PTSD, and sometimes full-fledged panic.
My life, my history, had become a toxin to my own existence. I thought for years that I would simply never set foot there again, and I was mostly okay with it. In my mind, the place of all my sorrow became a monster, twisted and ugly, a dark spot on the map and in my mind. It seemed to fuse to memories of my trauma and essentially, over many years, became the visual representation of everything horrible that I went through.
Of course, I eventually went back. I would go visit friends or see someone other than my family for a day or two. It was like building up tolerance to a poison; slowly at first, in small tiny increments. It worked, to a extent. There were good moments and really terrible moments. The last time, I ran into my dad while attempting to visit our property, and sat while my neighbor cried in disbelief over my parents not wanting to see me. I wasn’t sure if coming back was good for me or my mental health, but that’s what us abused kids do. We turn back to the hand that fed and also slapped us.
It finally happened for the 14th or 15th time…my Dad reached out to me. (He does this, depending on his mood, every few years.) What was different is that my sister Amanda also found me on Facebook and reached out to me. I decided to go back in October of 2016 with no clue what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how my sister would be, or how my dad would be, or what home was like, or if the same fear and poison would take effect on me.
In short, it was a wonderful trip. I even daydream about it now sometimes: seeing everyone, exploring home, allowing myself to acknowledge that a lot of good happened here. A lot of sadness. Everything that makes me who I am. I felt, and still feel, at peace in a way I didn’t when I stayed away from Tennessee. Though, I still believe that place is haunted in a way that no other place on earth is; I would say that a lot of people who live(d) there would agree with me wholeheartedly. I still saw sorrow and decay everywhere. It hurts, but I’ve accepted it.
So I kept going, thanks to Frontier and their cheap flights to Atlanta. Allyn went, Ender went, without hesitation. But the conversation relating to this post happened when I rather unexpectedly flew back this year with a different goal. My dad needed help after a bad motorcycle accident and I wanted to pitch in where I could. It was definitely no picnic, and definitely not a vacation.
I stayed with Amanda, sleeping on the couch and waking up early every day to go do the hard work. I didn’t have much time for exploration, but I did take a day drive through a terrifyingly unkept road. Despite how beautiful it was, I was scared of getting lost, wrecking my truck, or being flooded out of the fords the entire time. The irony is that when I told my dad where I went, his response was a nonchalant, “Oh that’s one of the roads you used to go on all the time when you were little.”
Every time I’ve gone home, I see an owl near my house. I don’t know what to make of it, but I notice and report it anyway. It’s probably not the same owl, but it is in a similar area every time, on the road to my dad’s house. Sometimes it’s on a power line, looking down at me, sometimes on the ground, staring up at me. This day was no different, I saw an owl on my beautiful, scary wilderness drive. I finally had a camera and got some photos before the owl had enough of me and flew off.
(V tempted to start the next sentence with ‘anyhoo’…get it? No? Ok…)
I got home in the afternoon and was prepared to do more work, but Dad wanted me to go check another area of the property. I don’t even remember his reasoning; he was pretty mysterious about it. It was the same area I had tried to get access to in 2012 when he stopped me. I had a playhouse there, my horses and my burro Taco were kept there, our cabin was there. It was a bit like paradise to me as a child; it was my hideaway, my secret garden. I could go on and on about the memories there, but there’s a certain sacredness to keeping them to myself, at least for now. In another post, maybe I’ll talk about the best parts of my childhood.
I expected the area to be just as overgrown and impassable as everything else in Polk County. Even I couldn’t prepare myself for what I saw. My paradise, my playplace, may as well have never existed. I was disoriented as I walked on a road I had, decades before, ran ragged. The cabin wasn’t even visible–I tried to get a photo of it and couldn’t see it through the brush. Seeing my school forlorn and abandoned was one thing, but this was a whole new level of pain. To illustrate the decay, the first photo below used to be a well-kept, mossy picnic area with a gorgeous stone-encased grill and a green, sturdy picnic table where we spent Easters and birthdays.
Next is the playhouse, and one of the many ferns that grow in that area.
And now after this entirely too-wordy journey, we arrive to the conversation in question. I was very perturbed and emotional at everything I had witnessed (or, not witnessed, because it was falling apart and overgrown) and I returned home. I did work without talking for awhile, trying to process, because in general opening up to my dad with your feelings is the same amount of useful as sticking your arm in a barrel with 30 rattlesnakes. It’s pointless and it’s going to hurt. Eventually I couldn’t hold back and said something bland along the lines of, “It was so weird to see everything like that. It’s all just…gone.”
“Places aren’t meant to last forever,” he replied, and this shocked me so much I remember that I actually stopped moving, to listen. “It was there to enjoy when you could have fun. We had a place to be a family and make memories, and didn’t we do that?”
“Yeah,” and, I was still in shock of course…surprised I could even answer. “Yeah, we had a lot of great memories.”
“Then it served its purpose.” He said more than this, but it was the same conclusion. The place had been for us, for me and Ariel and him and Mom. There was no family anymore, not really. How I wish that could be different, but it isn’t, and it never could be, and he probably knows that even more truly than I do. It’s in plenty of people’s cards to have a family property and meet up for generations, have annual dinners and reminisce–even my mom’s family do this–but we are a different breed. Too wild, maybe, too broken. Too restless.
The best we could hope for was for an ephemeral sanctuary like that, a place that will forever live in my memory as the best place in the world. The best my dad could do was give us that place and allow us those freedoms. To ride horses, to wander the forest, to explore, to eat food and enjoy each other’s company. I think in that conversation he was only explaining to me why it was okay that there was so much sadness and decay; because there was good too. I don’t think he intended to make me realize how much he cared about us in his own way, or how successful he was in giving me the most wonderful, cherished memories…even if that’s all they are now.