I met my life-partner in Rita Dove’s poetry class in 1992. Or was it Charles Wright’s class which came after. I think it was that one. We met in the old airforce building and there were photographs of fighter jets on the wall. For some reason X thought I was in the airforce and he believed this to be so for a long time. Memory, perception, perpsective is fraught, we all know. I often tell people we met in Rita Dove’s Workshop. But I don’t remember him being there actually. And yet, someone might say–see, she is an unreliable narrator! Don’t believe anything she says! How can we believe anything she says if she can’t get the facts straight? As a woman, I’ve heard variations of suspicion, doubt, disbelief, questioning all my life. Under patriarchy, anyone who identifies as a woman or femme will face this kind of constant doubt, the micro-aggressions of doubt all day long. People of color have it even worse we know.
I’m going to blog about my divorce. I’m going to blog and be judged for it. My first thought is that I could be killed for it. Today I spilled the tea on my soon-to-be ex partner and my first reaction was fear–instant terror. Will he kill me? But also, worry–fear that he could kill himself. Will it be my fault? Am I a monster? I am a woman, non-binary, queer, a wife and a mother. Therefore I am most certainly a monster.
Let’s stop and point out how T. thought I was in the airforce when we met. Isn’t that just like him? Isn’t that just a metaphor for the whole marriage? He never paid attention. He didnt understand me or know me. He made assumptions. But that whole line of reasoning would be silly, ridiculous. He just made a simple mistake and it was funny. I laughed. Maybe he told his friends or family he met this weird girl in poetry class and she was in the airforce. I loved imagining myself in a flight suit. Actually, recruiters had called and called begging me to join, and I talked to them on the phone telling them how I was a poet and they certainly didn’t want me. They said of course we want you, there’s a long tradition of poetry and war.
But for me, as a woman most of my life, as queer all of my life, as struggling with the aftermath of trauma and my own childhood abuse, after rapes, after all of what it means to be oppressed in a patriarchal system, for me–every single mistake I make is weaponized against me. The ultimate purpose of this weaponization is to keep me silent, submissive, and if necessary dead.
I attempted to take my own life this past March. The thought of suicide has been with me all my life. I always envisioned it as a friend of sorts, usually I imagined suicidal ideation to be one of the skeletons from the Danse Macabre. He was a friendly skeleton. I imagined him as a silent, invisible witness, but I kept him at a safe distance. I wanted to live. When things got particularly hard, when I experienced another trauma, when I was raped by a stranger in San Francisco and thought my rapist would kill me, Death would maybe make himself known–but I’d just wave and say, nope. I got up and took care of myself. I was what they call “crisis competent.”
As I describe this skeleton, this apparition of Death, I am using my imagination. I am not having a psychotic episode. It’s a metaphor and a visualization for my thoughts and feelings. It’s OK. I’m OK. But you see, I have to defend myself, justify myself. Those of us in this certain cohort of outcasts, misfits, marginalized, oppressed, hated, have to defend ourselves in ways most white men never have. They don’t know, can’t even imagine what it’s like to live day in day out having to prove you are not bad, crazy, evil, damaged, dangerous. White cis straight men go through life never experiencing that fear deep in the marrow of their bones, day in and day out.
So now, I have tweeted my truth and my partner will be faced with this feeling of attack for the first time maybe in his life. Because of his male privilege he has never worried about being disbelieved, doubted, under suspicion, questioned–at least not nearly to the extent, the very existential extent that I have had to experience. Maybe he will be so enraged he wants to kill me. Maybe he will be so humiliated he will want to kill himself. All I know is that men who are never questioned or challenged or never have to face accountability, often crumble when under pressure. Patriarchy gives White cis straight men their power, but those of us who have to survive are the strong ones. And I can’t imagine the strength and courage and depths of wisdom BIPOC know in their bones.
Humiliation. That’s what began my husband’s rage. I told my inlaws that my husband was leaving me after 26 years of marriage for another woman. I said I didn’t mind the girlfriend. I wanted him to be happy. But why was he doing it this way? Why was he trying to leave me without support? Couldn’t we do this divorce more gently? Why throw everything away? His hostility turned to rage after that moment. He was so humiliated that I had told them about the woman. Even though they knew everything about me, a past lover, my perceived faults, failures, humiliations. I lived with my life joined to theirs for 26 years, and in that time, I lived under their judgment, suspicion, & paranoia, their contempt for me. My mother-in-law would tell me often how her son was “so sensitive, could so easily be taken advantage of.” I was called “different” by the family, as in “well, she’s…different.” Different was of course bad. I came from the East Coast. I was very “lively” and “outgoing.” Right away there was a palpable fear of me. For one, I had grown up in an abusive home. I had experienced trauma. That meant I must be “troubled.” That meant I was dangerous.
Contempt. That was the feeling I got from my husband. He told me he loved me. But it didn’t feel like he loved me. This was blamed on my trauma. After all, don’t survivors of abuse have trouble believing they are loved? There seemed to be something wrong with me to doubt his love. He was married to me, wasn’t he? But I felt contempt. I convinced myself it was my own insecurity. I was imagining it.
I am 49 years old and I tried for 26 of those years to love my husband and my children and to make marriage and motherhood work. We would have a liberal, egalitarian marriage and I would balance my own needs with my partner’s and my children’s and we would live the possibilities of feminism and love out loud. But it was a failure. The powers of white male privilege, the entitlement of our own whiteness, the corruption of capitalism and white supremamcy and the indoctrination of men to make war, all of these currents would destroy us. I am alone now. and I am trying day by day to stay alive and grow. I’m going to write about that here, what I am processing and learning at this point in my life, out of a commitment to radical honesty and as a warning.