How I have struggled with what to write for this second column.
After last week, I was up on the mountain, beating my chest with my proclamation, “I am the proud mom of two transgender kids!”
Hear me roar!
Then on the heels of this pivotal moment in the lives of my children and myself, Orlando happened.
Unless you’re living under a rock somewhere with no internet or television, you know I’m referring to the tragic killing of 49 people, and 53 wounded, at a gay night club in Orlando called Pulse.
My heart sank as I read this news on Sunday, returning from an exceptional day and evening the day before with my step-daughter. My husband and I drove from Chattanooga to Knoxville where she lives so he could help our son-in-law watch her three boys while she and I went to Nashville to see Stephen King at the Ryman on Saturday night.
I was immediately fearful. One of my sons lives in New Port Richey, FL and he works nights and weekends as a veterinary technician at his father’s emergency animal clinic. My other son, though he is back in Oklahoma, had lived in the Orlando area for several months while completing an internship at Disney. I could not help but think, “One of my kids could have been there. Dear God, those poor, heart-broken families…”
Then I started thinking about other family members and friends. Are they okay? Updates began to trickle in on Facebook and in texts. My cousin reported he was “safe” and another family member let his mom know he was okay.
Still, I have had trouble this week, not only with my writing, but with my thinking—and most of all, with my heart.
My first article was a candle flame in the vast darkness of this world, as my friend Brent Sanders called it, “Restorative.”
But other news these past few weeks leading up to the killings at Pulse, and in the aftermath, have resounded with constant reminders of how ugly and despicable our fellow humans can be.
A rapist gets a slap on the wrist because his father and mother have money and connections, and his consequences for his brutal act “would have a severe impact on [him]…for 20 minutes of action.”
Politicians use hate speech to incite the masses, saying the Orlando massacre was an act of comeuppance for those people.
The media has spun this horror into an US VS THEM dichotomy and an entire group of people, Muslims, have been blamed and vilified, nearly 90% of whom are tacitly opposed to “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term President Obama refuses to use as it ignites such hate and divisiveness and in his words, then the terrorists win.
People are having screaming matches on social media, always ready to blame someone else.
A two-year-old boy is dragged into the water by an alligator at a Disney World resort and instead of having compassion, people are blistering the parents and basically saying, “They should have been more careful and watching their child more closely!”
Seriously? How much more hurt are we willing to pile on one another in our time of need?
Here’s the thing. People are scared shitless. Our great nation is disintegrating into a crappy pile of hate-mongering mouth-breathers just ready to pounce on a person or group of people, kicking them when they’re down, puffing up their chests with arrogance, piety, and false pride.
And why do we do this to our fellow human beings?
It’s a question that has kept me up at night since I was a kid. My dad used to tell me, “When the tough gets going, you gotta get tougher.” He knew I was sensitive and I pondered all kinds of things about the world around me. He knew it hurt me to see him and mom fight, to see my grandmother drunk, to see him using drugs, or to take the verbal derision from kids at school who looked down on me because I came from that other side of town.
Maybe I can mark that “Caucasian” box on a job application, but that’s as far as my so-called white privilege has ever taken me. The rest I had to earn on my own, knowing that as a divorced woman without a high school diploma, the single mom, the one who bounced around from place to place and relationship to relationship—I didn’t live up to most people’s standards. When my kids came out, it sealed my fate. I knew I would be working the rest of my life to shut out the noise of those who saw me as less successful, less worthy, just…less than them.
So here I am, still burning with desperation to write what calls to me, and to be a voice in the wilderness for those who feel marginalized for any reason in this life.
It would be so easy for me to assign blame instead of pulling myself up by my boot straps and trudging into the muck and mire. Some days, I wish I could just quiet my mind and squelch that voice I finally found so late in my life. It would be easier. I could jump on board with so many others and just blame someone else for the despicable condition of our world. I could point fingers, alienate people, and not give a damn.
But not really.
Because I do care.
I care that my sons who are transgender are safe, but I know in reality there will always be a risk for them because of vicious people who love to tear others down. I know this as I know my daughter and I are at greater risk to be sexually or physically assaulted than my husband or my cis son because as women we face a greater risk of harm. I know people with developmental, physical disabilities, the mentally ill, the elderly, and children often fall prey to perpetrators who see an easy target.
So, do I assign blame? For years I did. I hated my mom and dad for how they destroyed their marriage and put my sister and I through hell. My dad killed himself and I thought how selfish he was to leave us so early. I despised the man who molested me when I was eleven-years-old, and others like him.
I was brought to my knees when I had to make some difficult decisions and I divorced my three ex-husbands, when I lost my beloved career as a case manager for people with developmental disabilities, my home, my kids—everything I had. These life lessons taught me we are all flawed, capable of great things, but also prone to screwing up.
So who’s to blame?
I don’t know the answers, but I do know this: blaming others for our unhappiness or lack of success in achieving our dreams is not the answer. Even my transgender sons know they have a greater mountain to climb but they don’t flinch at the work they must do to assert themselves in this world as human beings deserving of love and fulfilling their purpose.
Therefore, I stand fast and face these waves of self-doubt and fear head-on. At the very least, I can be an example to all of my kids that no matter what, love and kindness come first. Hope is all we have and we must cling to it despite our obstacles.
Instead of blaming others, I choose love. Love of myself, my family, friends, and my community.
As Charles Bukowski said, “What matters most is how you walk through the fire.”
Today I choose to let that fire cleanse and shape me further into the warrior I was always meant to be.
Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. She is currently revising her first novel and finishing her second, as well as co-editing an anthology. Publications: MORE Magazine’s Member Voices, The Pull of Strays; Issue 3 of Firefly Magazine, A Journal of Luminous Writing; Writer’s Digest as part of editor Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. She lives in Chattanooga, TN and is the mother of four grown children, three boys and one girl, and “Nim” to her husband’s grandchildren. To connect, she can be found at kimbaileydeal.net, Kim Bailey Deal Page on Facebook, @wordjunkie1966 on Twitter.