Many have expressed disappointment that the original epilogue was edited almost entirely out of later printings of the book, saying that it was their favorite part. Sorry to disappoint. Here it is for those that miss - or never got to read it.
“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
I raced home that afternoon from the Castro, grabbed an old notebook and couldn’t start writing fast enough. “My mother says my father shone…” The words just came pouring out. There were times when I sat at my computer for hours, completely unable to make my fingers stop moving, and other times where I had to walk away for months at a time before facing any of it again.
Months turned into years and I kept working on it. I worked at my job full time, did the single parent thing full time, dated full time and I still kept hammering away at it. It was, and still is, one of the most gut-wrenching, exhilarating, and cathartic experiences of my life. Sitting at my desk day after day, month after month, year after year reliving story of my life after story of my life, over, and over, and over again has given me a perspective I never in a million years would have gained otherwise.
I always thought that my life sucked. Now I am certain of it. But it has sucked in the most wonderful, weirdly perfect, and hysterically beautiful way possible. I’m not even going to pretend that billions of other people haven’t lost more, suffered more, and been infinitely worse off than me. They have. But my weird life is mine. And it has taught me invaluable lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I’ve learned to stop shaking my fists at the heavens screaming that things shouldn’t have happened the way that they did, or shouldn’t be the way they are. I’m tired of arguing with reality. Life just is what it is. No amount of resentment or bitterness will ever change things that have happened. They happened. The only thing I can change is my mind and my perceptions — who I choose to be now and how I choose to see my world in any given moment.
I constantly have to remind myself that my thoughts and feelings are oftentimes just thoughts and feelings. They don’t always mean what I think they mean. Sometimes they don’t mean anything at all. They’re just there — blowing across the landscape of my mind. I’ve learned to breathe into them and let them go as quickly as they come. There were so many assumptions I made about myself, and my life, based on my interpretation of an experience or moment. These assumptions were totally false, yet they governed how I saw everything from that moment on.
As a little girl on Castro Street I decided that I was invisible and worthless because I was female. But what was going on had nothing whatsoever to do with me—and it certainly had nothing to do with my worth. Of course the men weren’t looking at me, they were cruising. I was actually only invisible to my dad when we were walking down the street because he was cruising too. And that was about him. It never had anything to do with me.
In fact, nothing regarding my dad had much to do with me—I just had no way of knowing that at the time. When he told me to stop calling him “Dad” it didn’t mean that he didn’t want to be my dad, or that I didn’t deserve to have a dad. It just meant he wasn’t a well person at the time. Developmentally he was a raging adolescent, having just come out the Mormon closet as well as the gay one, who had no way of handling grown up responsibilities. The fact that he couldn’t handle the weight of being a parent, again, had nothing to do with me or his love for me. When I got married, my father-in-law asked me if I wanted to call him dad. I tried and I shrunk back every time. But, I forced myself to do it. And all these years later I still call him dad. And it still feels weird. But I do it because I love him and because it’s good for me.
My dad’s behavior and choices he made to expose me to so much that was inappropriate has been thrown in my face for years as an example of why gay people shouldn’t be parents. I have been asked repeatedly if I wouldn’t rather have had contact with him be minimal or not at all. The answer? An unequivocal no. Would I rather that he had been wiser and grown up and protective over me? Absolutely. But the mistakes and lapses in judgment made by my father had less to do with the fact that he was a gay man, and more to do with the fact that he had screaming emotional issues that needed addressing. They said far more about the religious closet he had come out of than the sexual one. My dad failed at many, many things. And he succeeded at many, many things. And he loved me dearly. I’ve never doubted that. And he did the very best he could with what he had. Just like the rest of us.
There are so many people out there with their panties in a bunch over gay marriage and whether or not gay people should be parents. Give me a break. A person’s ability to parent has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their sexual orientation. I have friends whose straight parents, children of the 60s, exposed them to drugs and pornography and inappropriate sexual information at a young age, too. If a straight parent beats or neglects their child, or if they flat out just make mistakes, we don’t say, “Oh, well it’s because they’re straight.” No, they’re either just a bad parent or merely an imperfect human being doing the best they can.
There are wonderful gay parents and there are not so wonderful gay parents. Just like there are wonderful straight parents and not so wonderful straight parents. I watch my gay friends with children, those that have adopted and had babies through surrogates, and am, frankly, envious of the love, devotion and security they provide them. If I died tomorrow, there are several gay couples who are at the top of the list of those that I would be honored, and grateful, to have raising my children.
People ask me all the time my opinion on what I think causes homosexuality. Is it genetic? Is it a choice? Is it caused by sexual abuse? Is it a sexual addiction? Is it really caused by an overbearing mother and an absent father?
We want so badly to put people, including ourselves, in perfectly labeled boxes and it just doesn’t work that way. There are gay people and there are straight people and there are bi-sexual people and there are transgender people. And under those headings there are countless variations of human beings. Regardless of our orientation, all of us were enormously influenced by our families, friends, religions, schools, teachers, neighborhoods, cities, states, and individual life experiences. These things all influenced who we are sexually — our comfort zones, our hang ups, our appetites and our desires. Everyone has their own unique recipe that makes them who they are. It begins with biology and shoots in a million directions from there.
Reading through old journals I was horrified to recall that, after leaving L.A. I had taken a lesbian college friend to see a muscle testing, aura-cleansing, body working, applied kinesiology “therapist” friend who believed that homosexuality was actually a form of demonic possession. A disembodied spirit of the opposite sex had simply taken over and was wreaking havoc on the sexuality of the host person and merely needed to be cast out. He muscle tested her, cast out the spirit in the manner revealed to him and led her through releasing visualizations. Last I heard she was still gay. Go figure.
To me what makes someone straight or what makes someone gay isn’t even the issue. The issue is that people are not accepted for simply being who they are — whatever the reason. Saying that someone shouldn’t be gay is like saying grass shouldn’t be green. Saying it shouldn’t be so doesn’t change the fact that it is. It’s time to accept that gay is gay, straight is straight, bi is bi and transgender is transgender. End of story. And people should be able to marry whoever they want. And the earth is round.
When I was a teenager, watching men make out at the Gay Day festivals and hang out of their windows simulating sodomy was far less entertaining to me than other Castro events like the dog show where pets were dressed in little tutus, and pink, polka dot drag outfits to match their outrageous owners; or when the tour buses, filled with older Middle American couples, drove through the Castro and the men put on their finest impromptu, queer burlesque, can-can, street corner love show while Ma and Pa Arkansas gaped at them through the bus window, jaws dropped and eyes bulging, snapping as many pictures as they possibly could. I thought it was funny. I still do. And so did Gerald. But, at the same time, it made him sad.
“How will homosexuals ever overcome the stereotypes that keep us so misunderstood if we insist on perpetuating them every chance we get?”
My dad had such dreams of changing, not only the perceptions that our society and religions have of gay people, but he wanted to dramatically alter the view gay people have of themselves.
“Things will be different one day Em, you’ll see,” he told me over and over.
My dad was right, things are changing. Rapidly. Too many of us now are insisting on it. The train has left the station and, trust me, this is just the beginning. I saw the film Brokeback Mountain with some gay friends. You can’t imagine how unbelievable that was for me to sit in a movie theater in Salt Lake City, Utah, with an openly gay couple, watching a film my father could only have imagined in his wildest dreams.
And then there was Prop 8. I marched with thousands of other people outside the Salt Lake City temple in protest of the Mormon Church’s enormous, and inexcusably wrong, push to ban gay marriage in California with Proposition 8. Openly gay public officials spoke, gay activists spoke, a huge crowd of people cheered and chanted. And the message was clear: shame on you — enough is enough. It was a night I had been waiting for since I was twelve years old. And it was glorious.
As I wrote, examined and continued learning year after year, everything in my life began improving and moving forward – everything except for my relationship with men and where I placed myself on the totem pole in relation to them.
In my determination to be the perfect woman I, again, became the perfect doormat. I did anything to not argue, to not displease, to not ask or need. Once again I ignored infinite red flags and found myself in love me / hurt me relationships where I received crumbs, at best, and, once again, somehow convinced myself that it was okay. Time and time again I kept obsessively trying to fit square pegs into round holes. I was too stubborn to let go of another man that I loved. If he made me feel beautiful and desired and smart I thought I needed him to continue being those things. I kept creating different versions of the same familiar love story I had lived over and over again — the one in which I loved him far more than I loved myself.
A few weeks after being cheated on and demolished by Asshole #17, who I had actually dated for several years, I sat at my computer, sick to my stomach, completely agonizing over how I was going to re-write his involvement in my life. How would I handle it? I would have to change his name, but to what? Or, should I just delete him from the whole book? I fantasized about every rotten thing I could say about him. Would I write this? Would I write that? Should I leave things out for his parent’s sake?
And suddenly it hit me as hard as anything ever has. I threw my head back and laughed out loud because I finally got it. Holy shit – after all these years I finally got it. It didn’t matter one little bit what I wrote or didn’t write about him or what I called him. I could call him Asshole #17, or Spoon or Platypus, for all it mattered because, oh my God… it wasn’t about him.
This book isn’t about him, or Gerald, or Steven, or Scott, or Simon or Roger, or Jesus Christ or even God Himself. And neither is my life.
It is about me.
Men had been the grand centerpiece of my table for as long as I could remember. I believed that getting married and having a family was the end-all-be-all of my existence and that a romantic relationship was only truly valid if it led to an eternal marriage ceremony. Add that to every single Happily Ever After movie I ever saw and every single Happily Ever After fairy tale I ever read as a child, it’s no wonder that it was such an obsession.
But marriage, at least outside of Utah, is not some giant machine demanding to be fed all these little perfectly decorated couples. Love, and its subsequent coupling, does not exist to appease the Great God of Marriage. Marriage is just one of several options for two people when they have such an amazing and fulfilling relationship that they choose to build a life with one another. And that’s all it is — plain and simple.
Now I’m not sure how I feel about ever getting married again. There are so few marriages I see around me that work. I’m open to this changing someday but right now I tend to agree with the person that said that marriage is like a castle under siege. Those that are out want to get in and those that are in desperately want to get out.
I think I just want to find the man that is my perfect fit and simply stand as loving and supportive witnesses to one another's lives. I want to find the man with whom I can build my own love shack, far away from the big fat castle, and, married or not, simply live, love and be happy.
Ever since my dad died, a part of me had been lying around waiting for someone to come along and rescue me. For a prince to ride up on his horse and magically make my life happen. But I have been with men that wanted to rescue and fix me. And, while that proposition may seem appealing at first, the price for being rescued is no longer one that I am willing to pay. If I am willing to be rescued then I must also be willing to stay small and weak. I must be willing to stay needy and broken and that is something that I will no longer do. Not for anyone. Not for anything.
I had a dream a few years ago. I was lying in my bed feeling empty and sad. I looked around. Lying to the right and to the left of me was every Disney princess I could think of. Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Ariel… We were all patiently waiting together for our princes to come along and get us out of bed. I sat up. Looked to my right, looked to my left, yelled, “Fuck this!” leaped out of bed, and headed straight for the gym.
For the first time in my life I’m not looking for someone else to complete me. I’m already complete. I’m dating and I’m being smart about it — because I am now the proud owner of a fully functioning, straight from the factory, brand new Man-Picker. I am learning to trust again. And I know that I will love again — because that’s who I am.
Sexual abuse. Now there’s an uncomplicated topic. I am all too familiar with False Memory Syndrome and the devastating effect it has on people’s lives. And I do believe that many, many people are led, whether it’s by themselves or their therapists, to fervently believe in things that, in fact, actually never happened. I will be the first to say that memory is a very tricky thing that cannot always be trusted. There are random events in my life that I have always remembered in a very specific way. But reading through journals I discovered that, in reality, those events actually happened quite differently. But then again there are many things that happened just as I remember them.
I have looked and re-looked at the memories I was slammed with in my early twenties and there is no doubt whatsoever that those things actually happened. In fact, as time has gone on and I have continued to get stronger, and my life has consistently become a safer place to be, my mind has opened up and remembered more and more of what happened. Events that remained frozen in fuzzy and confusing mental snapshots in my twenties have come to life as vivid and sharply detailed memories in my forties. My brain is no longer an enemy that betrayed me – it is my fiercest and most loyal protector. Details have been corroborated by other people that were around me as a child and my friend Bonnie still stands by what she saw. She was there. We both remember the same event from our own vantage point of where we were when it was happening.
I tracked down my old childhood babysitter, the one who brushed our hair to keep us calm, hoping that she might have some insights into what had happened, and why. I wondered because she was a teenager at the time who often fooled around with the thirty something year old Jesus Freak — who also happened to be fooling around sporadically with a sixty five year old female family friend, in addition to being gay and having a highly inappropriate “friendship” with my father.
She couldn’t remember a thing. “I’m so sorry Em. I really don’t remember. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t there. The weird thing is that the abuse you describe is so similar to my own that it’s kind of freaking me out. There were two neighbor men, and some other people, that did some of the same rituals to several of us kids in a barn near our house. If I had been there when it was happening to you, I probably would have just disconnected and blocked it out like I did with my own for so many years anyway. I’m sorry I can’t help you more.”
She actually ended up being incredibly helpful. She pointed out house after house around my old neighborhood where abuse was reported to have taken place. And I’m starting to understand that the specific type of ritualistic abuse I survived, while it still blows my mind with its unbelievable sickness, was far more common than I’ll ever know — part of the sexual / spiritual dysfunction bred into twisted individuals by toxic beliefs and religious doctrines. I have since come to understand that it was imperative that my ties to the Mormon Church and the God it taught me to believe in be obliterated so that the same could finally happen with Satan.
What happened in my childhood was unspeakable. And, while I am weirdly grateful to the perpetrators for forcing me into a wonderful and intimate relationship with the part of myself that is indestructible, I still wish upon everyone involved blunt head trauma and a scorching case of genital rot.
Hi, my name is Emily and I’m a recovering religion addict. It has been roughly nine years since my last priesthood blessing. And last year I actually ran out of Savex. I am stocking up again but only because it’s annoying when I run out and keep forgetting to buy more — not because I am going to have to push a handcart carrying ten thousand containers of it to Missouri.
I remember, vividly, when I first gained a solid testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the Mormon Church. I was at the Aranda’s, paralyzed by depression. One morning I woke up and, after staring vacantly at the ceiling for quite a while, decided to read the scriptures. I opened the Book of Mormon and started at the beginning. After about half of a chapter I set the book down on my chest and said a prayer – asking, like I had been taught, if the Book of Mormon was true.
I didn’t even get a chance to pick the book back up again. I was flooded with warmth and power that penetrated every part of my body, every fiber of my being. My heart burned with truth. My mind was clear with it. I knew it was exactly what I was supposed to believe. The happiness I felt was something I had not felt in a very long time. And it was not something that I could generate on my own, certainly not then anyway. I had tried to feel anything but despair for months and had been unable to do so. That experience was as real to me as anything I had ever felt before and I clung to it year after year.
My testimony was taken from me the same way — through a very real and very profound spiritual experience. I sat at my desk after the wrecking ball hit with tears in my eyes, shock, disbelief, and fear in my heart, but there was the same flood of unmistakable warmth, clarity, and power. I wasn’t necessarily excited about what was happening at the time, but I felt a freedom unlike anything I had ever known. That afternoon, and the evening of my last prayer, I knew with the same previous conviction that it was no longer something that I was to believe. That it was no longer a good place for me to be. That it was no longer my truth. Countless people have stated that I obviously never really felt the Spirit to begin with and never really had faith at all. That is a gross oversimplification, and simply not true. I did have a testimony of the Mormon Church. A big, fat one. And now I don’t.
I no longer want to be associated with the Mormon Church or, really, anything to do with religion in general. I have had my name removed from the LDS Church records and am officially no longer a member. My children do not attend. They are learning to think and to feel and to trust themselves and they will get to question and figure things out for themselves like the rest of us. For me, religion did far more harm than good. I do believe very much in spirituality and in searching and discovering and wondering. I believe in reaching my heart to the stars while keeping my mind and feet firmly planted on the ground. But, I never again want to have all the answers. I much prefer the questions.
When my belief system was blown to smithereens, it left me vulnerable to a lot. I didn’t know up from down. There was no more black or white. I am actually very grateful that my religious beliefs at least kept me from using drugs, alcohol, and sex as a way of avoiding pain, as I unquestionably would have, when I was younger. Things could have been so much worse. I would very likely no longer be here. It gave me the opportunity to learn about choosing behaviors responsibly, as an adult who was already committed to her personal wellbeing, and for that I am deeply grateful.
I’m thrilled to have the freedom to choose, for myself, who I am and who I’m going to be. I get to be moral because I choose to be moral and I get to be honest because I choose to be honest — not because I’m afraid of breaking commandments and angering God. I am re-making myself in my own image and I am the only one that gets to choose who and what that is.
I have been told by many well-meaners not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater." Although the visual is quite horrible, the metaphor is highly effective. What could be more precious than a baby? And what could be more unthinkable than casually throwing one away? The message? Don't discard something of infinite value and unlimited potential simply because it is housed, or sitting, in something that has long outlived it's purpose.
Many individuals, including myself, that have left their religions have had to throw the baby out with the bathwater and start completely from scratch. This can be a very frightening thing to do because, again, who on earth would ever think of throwing away something so precious? Believers have said to me time and time again that they "have had too many spiritual experiences that they can't deny or dismiss." Well guess what? So have many of us no longer believers.
But, when my spiritual / religious world imploded, for my own sanity, every single belief had to go. The good as well as the bad. The warm and fuzzy along with the cold and prickly. I couldn't label something "True" simply because it made me feel good and something else "False" because it caused me pain. If I was willing, which was imperative, to be open to the possibility that the demons I thought were following me and crawling in my hair were more than likely hallucinations brought on by obsessive fear caused by the ritualistic abuse of my childhood and irresponsible and manipulative teachings at church — not to mention the Polygamy Week Players, an off the charts fever and a chemical crash from quitting anti-depressants cold turkey — then I absolutely had to be willing to question whether or not the angelic hands on my head and the personal revelations that caused my spirit to soar were caused by hormones, brain chemicals or were just things that I really wanted to believe. The brain has an amazing ability to imagine anything it needs to, wants to, or doesn’t want to.
And let's not forget the power of drama. To those that argue that a person can't just make up those feelings, I say, you wanna bet? I do it all the time. For a living. Actors create emotions and literally feel them as though they were real — because they are. That is what makes a performance so convincing. A piece of music, a play or film will dramatically manipulate the participants, both on stage/screen and off, to feel certain emotions. So, what is the difference between feeling something very real during a performance and feeling something very real during a prayer or at church? I think that, sometimes, there isn’t one. We can thoroughly enjoy them both, we just need to be smart about conclusions we draw from them.
What are spiritual experiences? Are they real? If so, where exactly do they come from? Do they mean what we think they mean? Are they fabricated out of nothing by our creative, and sometimes neurotic, brains or do we as human beings actually have the ability to connect to the world outside of our physical one? Does such a thing even exist? What was that voice I kept hearing? Was it the voice of God or was it my own voice — the voice of my very best and wisest self? Again, I don’t think there’s a difference. The problem is that I misinterpreted so many things. “It’s going to be okay” didn’t mean Gerald was going to live. I believed what I wanted to believe about both Gerald and Roger living. But the voice was right. It was okay. I am okay. It just took a hell of a long time for that to be the case.
Nine years, and a really good “time out” later I am still picking up piece after piece, experience after experience and belief after belief – examining, questioning, testing, exploring and sorting into piles labeled Truth, Bullshit and I Have No Idea. Many things are clearly mythical and harmful and have no place in my mind and heart. Others are good and based in light and love and are absolutely invited to stay. And then there are many, many things that I cannot dismiss, cannot completely deny, and yet am not quite sure yet where to put and what meaning (if any) to assign to them. And that's okay. I've got the rest of my life, and whatever lies beyond, to continue figuring it out. We all do.
The thing is, I no longer consider certain beliefs or undeniable experiences, no matter how lovely and heartwarming, to be The Baby. What I consider most precious is my bright mind with its ability to reason and search and change and process and figure out what it thinks is true or not; my passionate heart with its ability to love and feel and guide; and my powerful soul with its ability to survive and heal and create and take flight. Those are the things I hold most dear and define as being of the greatest and most infinite worth to me. And those are the things I will never, ever throw away. No matter what.
I gave up so much of myself in the name of a God I grew to violently hate — a God that I used as a bat to beat myself with for years. But I have come to realize that that God is a God that doesn’t even exist. He never did. The jealous and punishing God that constructed an unbearable obstacle course of trials and tests for me to pass was voted off my island years ago and is now being rediscovered and replaced with the loving being that introduced itself to me on the night I stopped praying. The God whose heart I have always lived in, and whom separation from is impossible, is the only God I have any interest in knowing.
And Satan can just go to hell.
Initially, my loss of faith and testimony was based solely on my own life experiences and not, as is the case with so many others, the discovery of a significant amount of Mormon history that was either sanitized, significantly altered or flat out fabricated. That never held any interest for me and I was far too righteous and frightened of being disobedient to ever look into such things. Even if I had come across the well documented information now available, I would have just pulled my faith card. Every time.
I believed that The Church was true because I had experiences that told me it was. I went to church and I had an experience. I read the Book of Mormon and I prayed fervently and I had an experience. I studied, meditated, went to the temple, exercised my faith... and I had experiences. Throughout my life I collected all these experiences that told me that what I was taught and what I believed was absolutely true. But I, like every single member, reached a point where I came across something that didn't fit – something that didn't work the way I believed it did, or just felt wrong to my soul. I got confused and I struggled and, after not getting any answers that completely satisfied, ended up deciding that it was okay to not know. I put the issue on the shelf and determined that it would be one of the first things I would ask God about in the hereafter. Then I moved along with my life and my testimony.
But, what happens when the collected experiences that tell me the things I believe are absolutely not true far outweigh the collected experiences that tell me that they absolutely are? What do I do when the shelf becomes too heavy to hold its load and it collapses — crushing everything I have built my entire spiritual, emotional and intellectual foundation on? What do I do then? What do any of us do? Well, we have some choices to make. And quite often those choices break the hearts of those we love, strain and often destroy relationships and make others uncomfortable, judgmental and fearful of continuing to have us in their circle of loved ones. It's not an easy or carefree journey, to say the least, but for those of us that have found ourselves embarking on it, for any number of reasons, there is absolutely no turning back. We cannot go back to believing something that we flat out no longer believe no matter how many hours we read and pray and fast and beg. It is simply impossible to go back to believing in Santa Claus once you've caught your parents filling the stockings.
Today the Mormon Church looks to me very much like I would imagine Oz looked to Dorothy after the curtain was pulled aside and she was face to face with the little magician masquerading as The Great and Powerful Oz. Only, behind my curtain there are a bunch of people. Those that started, and those that have continued to perpetuate, the whole thing; those that discovered the curtain long before I did but kept their mouths shut in their, perhaps, well-intentioned desire to keep me from inevitable disillusionment – and because they are still caught up in, and mesmerized by, all the smoke and mirrors and a strong wish to maintain their position in Oz; and then there is me.
I was a very willing participant. I chose to believe what I chose to believe. I chose to follow and obey blindly. I chose not to think things through, to study and learn. I chose to be ruled by my fear and I liked feeling safe. I chose not to be responsible for making my own decisions. I chose to be imbalanced and dive deeper than most mainstream Mormons into the "secrets" and "mysteries" and to not question those individuals that taught them to me. I have come to see that a large part of my Self was behind the curtain pushing brightly colored buttons along with the rest of them. But, ultimately, it's okay because I am okay. I learned a lot. And in the process I got a brain and a heart and courage.
And I am finally home.
Another huge and altogether false assumption that I made about myself was that I was broken. Not even close. I am resilient. I got derailed at such an early age, and year after year I got further and further off track. I have made it back, sometimes crawling on my hands and knees, sometimes dragging myself by my bloody fingernails. Baby steps turned into larger ones. Sometimes it was two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes one step forward, ten steps back. But it didn’t matter as long as I didn’t give up and kept going forward – step by determined step, issue by ugly issue. I’ve made massive mistakes trying to figure out my life. But who hasn’t? Welcome to the experience of being human.
For so long I considered myself to be a monumental failure. I focused so much on the countless times that I sat down and gave up on myself that I completely ignored all the times I got back up and kept on going. I was so deeply committed to the belief that life was my enemy, and a miserable place to be, that any evidence to the contrary went completely unnoticed.
"Em, why do you hate life so much?" a friend asked me several years ago.
"Because! Look at all of the shit it has thrown at me. It keeps trying to take me down, but I won't give it the satisfaction!"
"Hold on, how is all of that your life's fault? Life’s just a place where you live. If someone breaks into your house and trashes everything in it, do you blame the house? No. Shit just happens. You deal with it. And you clean up the house. You might do what you can to make it a safer place to live but, again, that's your job. Your life is no more responsible for the vandalism that has occurred in it than your house is."
Seismic shift. Taking a long hard look at my addiction to drama and depression was enlightening. For years I thought I was just chemically wired for misery. Forever destined to nap with my head in the oven. However, after examining it closely, it became clear that, most often, the depression in my life was a by-product of psycho-dramas and the anxiety they created. It was cyclical. My system functioned at off the chart levels of anxiety until my body couldn’t take it anymore. The stress became too much and I crashed into depression. The depression I felt was a direct result of drama and trauma, both of which I am done with and no longer willing to tolerate.
Truth be told, off-stage drama has become incredibly boring to me. Being sad is boring. Being depressed is boring. Being angry is boring. Trauma is boring. For years I had no idea how to make it stop because I was just as addicted to the pay off as I was to the drama itself. I got to star in my very own soap opera. I got to be an award-winning victim. Barf. I’m done. There is no strength in being a victim. There is no power in being a victim. And there is certainly nothing creative about being a victim. I am through being one.
Probably the hardest thing for me has been learning to forgive myself. I’ve always been fairly brutal when it comes to me. But I’m working hard on being patient and kind with myself, and I’m getting there. I’m forgiving myself for my mistakes and my misguided choices, for playing with the crazy fire, for loving men that didn’t deserve it, for bailing on myself so many times…for all of it.
And I am forgiving my parents. For everything. Being a parent myself has helped that enormously. So did turning 40. When my father died I had no idea how young he actually was. He was only 42years old. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I have actually outlived him. I crucified him for so long for not having it all figured out, for stumbling, for making so many mistakes. Oh my God, I get it now. He had just broken free from both the closets he found himself trapped in and was trying to navigate his long overdue maturation. We ex-Mormons have to go back and, in many very specific ways, grow up all over again. Holy shit, do I get it. Gerald Pearson is officially out of jail and back in my heart where he belongs.
I grieve the life he lost. But I celebrate the life I get to live. And that’s exactly what he wanted. I finally understand what he was trying to teach me and what he was so desperately trying to learn for himself. I was too young to understand it during his kitchen table lectures – I had to learn it for myself. And I have. I still give him responsibility for the things that he was responsible for. But then is he really the only one to blame there either? Ultimately whose fault is it? My dad? His parents? My grandma had scars all down her back from being beaten by her mother. Is it her fault? What scars did my great grandmother carry? Are her parents to blame? What about my grandpa? His parents? Where did it start? And where will it end? I can say with confidence that much of it is ending with me, but my kids are growing up and already have issues with their mother that they have to work through. I am well aware that there are things I do too much of and things I don’t do nearly enough of. That’s parenthood.
A friend once gave me the analogy that life is like a relay race where, as children, we are carried on our parents’ shoulders until we are able to run for ourselves. Then, in time, we carry our own children on our shoulders until they can run for themselves. The goal is to get your own children farther than your parents got you. I guess that means as long as your children aren’t sitting in their therapist’s office someday saying the same exact things that you’ve said to yours you’ve done your job. Shit. Considering they’ll already be discussing their gay dad and their mother that wrote a book about too many private things, I’m thinking I’ve got some sprinting to do.
At eleven years old I lost my dad, but my mom was still there. And she didn’t stand a chance. He was the cool one. He was the fun one. She was the booby prize. She was homework, and chores, and forcing me to practice the piano, and making me go to ballet and church when I didn’t feel like it. She didn’t wear much makeup and seemed so stressed out all the time. She hardly ever laughed. I knew Mom tried her best but she just wasn’t…him. Gerald drove me across the Bay Bridge with the convertible top down while blasting Boston’s “Don’t Look Back.” Mom picked me up from school in the yellow Volvo station wagon filled with yellow generic food in the windows where everyone could see, and was even on the grass once doing yoga stretches while she waited for school to be out. Oh, the horror.
Of course, now I know why she didn’t laugh much during those years. Being a single Mom is hard. I only have two children, and they are two of the easiest kids on the planet. My mother had four. And hers weren’t remotely as easy. I don’t know how she kept it all together but I will forever be grateful that she did. She has repeatedly apologized for not doing more, for not knowing more, for not being more. Hindsight is 20/20. We would all do things differently if we had the perspective then that we have now. But my mother was always there and she will always be there and she has never given up on her children, ultimately, that is more than enough.
My mom is an incredible woman who has helped and inspired thousands of people. Being her daughter has been both an enormous gift and a perfectly designed exercise in the continued fight to be my own person. Any child growing up with even a kind of famous parent has to learn how to actively step out of the shadow cast and to claim their own place in the world. When I was a little girl and was asked ad nauseam if I was going to grow up to be a writer just like my mommy, and my answer was always the adamant child's version of "Hell no." I never even considered whether or not I might like it or even be good at it. I just knew that I felt stubbornly determined to be my own person and that meant, of course, not being like my mother.
The complete loss of self I experienced in my relationship with my father only made things with my mom worse. I had no idea who I was without him and felt deeply threatened by any tiny way in which I was like her. But that posed a problem for me because I had blessedly inherited, through genetics and by virtue of the fact that she raised me, a good chunk of her talent, wit, strength... The list goes on and on. Did I really want to reject some of my best qualities, the things that make me who I am, simply because Carol Lynn Pearson possessed them first? Of course not.
Over time I’m learning, not only to forgive myself the Greek tragedy mirroring of her life, but to embrace and celebrate the fact that, although I have definitely added my own unique little skip, in many ways I am following in my mother's footsteps. Hey, we’re talking the Carol Lynn Pearson. I could certainly do a hell of a lot worse.
Although my brothers John and Aaron are somewhat secondary characters in my writing, they are not secondary characters in my heart. We are still finding our way back to one another. Still learning how to function as a family after the tsunamis we’ve endured. We are still a ways away from being the Musketeers I wish that we were, but we are fellow survivors. We bear similar scars. We have loved and lost and are learning to love again.
John is a professional animator and owns his own online caricature business. He is a handsome 6’3” swing dancer, a cook, and the most fantastically unique individual I know. Aaron has two daughters, a house overlooking Yosemite National Park in California, and is a musician, producer and entrepreneur with long blond hair spilling down his back.
One of my most exquisite memories will always be watching the two of them walk our little sister down the aisle on the day she was married. That moment was bought and paid for, by all of us, and will be carried with me until the day I die. John and Aaron are my flesh and they are my history.
My children are the greatest loves of my life. They are my best friends — my favorite people to play with and talk to. I live in constant awe of their resilient strength, their brilliant minds, their gift of humor and, most of all, their capacity for love. The Voice was right. Marrying Steven did heal deep dark places in me. I wish I would have chosen an easier way to deal with the massive unfinished business I had with my dad and to learn what I needed to learn, but I didn’t. I’ve wondered at times if it was all just a huge mistake, if we should never have gotten married in the first place. And I’ve accepted that, ultimately, it just doesn’t matter. What’s real is that we did. We had a wonderful friendship before we got married, one that we have, unfortunately, not been able to maintain. But marrying him ultimately changed me, for the better, and for that I am grateful. And if we hadn’t gotten married we never would have had Christian and Tara, and that is unthinkable to me. I would do it all again to have them. My children are two of the most amazing people I know, I am enthralled watching who they are becoming. A world without them is not a place I am interested in living.
I’ve waited for years to somehow reach the end of the road. To wake up one day and finally be healed, done, complete, finished. But that day is never going to come because it doesn’t exist. There is no end of the road. I will never be done or finished. Thank God. I get to let go of things I no longer need whenever I decide I no longer need them. I get to incorporate new things I want and need whenever I decide I want and need them. Every step I take brings me somewhere new with new things to look at, to learn, to heal and to challenge myself with. I get to evolve and discover and grow and never stop re-inventing myself until the day I die. And I don’t even think I’ll stop then.
I am done looking to people and things outside of myself for answers. I am finally learning to look to myself first and to listen to myself first, because I have experienced what happens when I don’t. I am learning how to protect myself because I’ve learned what happens when I leave myself unprotected. I no longer take abuse because I have learned how horrible it feels to be abused. I will never again be a willing participant in my own neglect and diminishment and I will never again audition for the role of a woman worth loving. I already have the part. I’ve learned how to say “no” by experiencing what happens when I don’t. I’ve learned to set boundaries because I know how wounding it is to have none. And I have learned to extricate hurtful and toxic people from my life because of the pain that’s caused when they’re allowed to stay. I will still make mistakes, I will still fall down, but I will still resolutely bounce back up and keep on going. That I can guarantee.
A few years ago I pulled out my dad’s old record album of La Cage Aux Folles and was stunned to see, on the label, my name in his handwriting above the song “I Am What I Am.” I had never noticed that before. The one thing he wanted me to know more than anything else was that life is to be lived freely from the core of one’s being, with courage and without apology — and that is exactly how I am living it.
I'm done apologizing for being who I am. Life is too short, too beautiful, too creative a workspace and too fun a playground to apologize for being. Live Without Apology has become my personal mantra. My anthem. If I cross stitched I would make ten thousand pillows screaming it. But I don't cross stitch. I make fun of cross stitching. However, one day I will put it on T-shirts and mugs and greeting cards and panties and pet sweaters. Most importantly, I want it permanently embedded in the souls of my children.
I am finally that woman I saw at the end of the tunnel so many years ago. That sublime sound I heard is the music of my own voice. I am finally at home in my own skin. And if that makes someone else uncomfortable well, that's not my problem. That’s not something I am willing to apologize for. Ever.
T.S. Eliot said that the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. I am back where I started. The world is my oyster and I won’t ever forget it.
Now… Let’s talk about my possibilities.