I was raised to never get away.
Manipulation and abuse are what I thought family meant. I grew up in dysfunction. The physical bruises so much easier to heal than the ones that lay embedded in memory. Still, tender after all these years. The only time I ever stood up to her was when I said I was gay. I’d never kissed a girl, but I told her I wouldn’t change.
I left to save myself.
I still remember that final time in my wallpapered bedroom taking the one gay book I’d found at the Barnes & Noble from under my mattress. It had been my best friend for months, as I dreamed of the community I’d never seen but believed was waiting. I knew I needed to leave, but didn’t know when it would be safe enough to run. She picked the date without ever knowing. I watched the bruises blister purple and red across my face and arms. Waiting, for her to beat me enough times that I thought the police would believe me.
I didn’t tell that county sheriff that I was a lesbian.
The Polaroid camera whirred as they documented the damage. He asked me questions about her drinking, the manipulation that had kept me her prisoner. Had I stayed, I would have remained forever her toy. Had I stayed, she would have killed me. I looked like a good country girl, no one suspected I was a dyke so he released me into the world. I was free for the first time, but looking over my shoulder. Too much work to have me emancipated, too old to bother with foster care. The courts told me to ‘stay out of trouble’ until I turned eighteen. My friends parents let me crash in their basement for a few weeks.
We compared scars
I met kids on the streets, in the back of the queer youth center I walked into heart pounding afraid here too no one would want me. For the first time I was honest, didn’t paint a picture of a functional family. I told them I was alone, and waited for the laughter. I was met with rolled up memories to reveal scars that looked more like my own than I could believe.
This was family
I learned that family meant hugs shared when meeting and someone who would hold you at 2am when all you wanted was to go “home,” to a place you’d never been before. We named ourselves, claimed ourselves, and each other. We fucked in bathrooms and held hands under bridges, hungry for contact, for connection.
My mother still wants me back
I leave again everyday, when I don’t pick up my phone. She has never given up hope that I will change. She has never given up hope that she could get me back. My mother visits my website everyday. I never know what she’s planning. Decapitated chocolate rabbits at Easter, rambling letters about how this community has stolen me, how she wants me to move back into her house, acting as though I haven’t been gone for more than a decade, acting as though I didn’t run desperate to save my life.
We never stop being kicked out
I’m reminded of this everyday when I see the old jagged scars peek through my conversation, and when I talk with kids, whose wound are still oozing and just beginning to scar over. We build family and community on this bedrock, scars as proof of shared understanding. I’m one of the lucky, against the odds I “made it.” I got away. I built a life, a family, a community far beyond what I fantasized about in that wallpapered bedroom. I can’t forget all those who never did. The kids whose lives were lost to streets and violence and addiction, the kids I loved and built family with, and the thousands I never met. We trace gentle fingers over the ragged edges of memory, never forgetting where we come from.
The above photo is Sassafras as a teenager.