2/22/2023 0 Comments
Gray Matter Revisited
Five years ago I sat in a hospital room gazing upon the body that brought me into this world as machines kept her alive. She eventually woke up and will spend the rest of her life in a nursing facility, a shell of the woman she use to be. As the wheel of life turns and I age, checking off preexisting conditions with each new year, I try to give myself some hope. “You’re not her” my doctor mutters over his notes, doing his best to reassure me that while we have the same conditions we aren’t living the same life. I can count on one hand the number of alcoholic beverages I’ve had in the past two months. I’ve never touched hard substances. I still mask in public spaces, and around those outside of my vetted bubble of trust. I don’t overindulge, I exercise regularly, and I operate from a place of love, compassion, and an occasional ass-kicking. I take my medications every morning, attend every appointment, and see every specialist I’m instructed to see.
I do my best to do everything right to combat genetics and the stress of systemic misogynoir, and yet at night when the house is quiet and I’m left to my own thoughts dread fills my spirit as my memories drift to her. The fear that encompassed every fiber of my being as I grappled with estrangement and my own mortality still lingers five years later.
I sometimes wonder if the fear is merely guilt. I’ve spent my adult life doing my best to prove I wasn’t her. I wouldn’t abandon my kids, I would fight my demons and win, and the demons wouldn’t steal the moments that make life worth living from me. When my brother and I arrived five years ago at the place she called home, a transitional apartment complex, those in charge weren’t even aware she had children. Nothing in her records indicated that she once lived in the south where she walked her children to a small pier and told them stories about Medusa, or sold Avon and let us lick the bowl after making brownies. No one knew about the butter on the walls from thrown dinner rolls, or the specially named belt that left welts covered by stockings with little hearts.
No one knew anything.
That decade of life didn’t exist for anyone but us. I tried my best to soothe my inner child while reminding the adult me that I’m not her therefore I can’t end up like her. As I packed up various bits and pieces that were her life and saw pictures I never knew existed, a life lived without us, I did my best to breathe through the rage, sadness, and fear.
Death is the great equalizer and always does his best to remind us to stay humble, and even after he packed his bags and left us in limbo I struggled to unpack my baggage.
“You’re not her” I whisper into the wind every chance I get, hoping it will echo back and appease the anxiety that grows with each passing year. At the beginning of this year, one of her sisters reached out to me and asked if I would write to my mother. She thinks it would be good for her to hear from me. But what does one say to the person who left the hole that depression nestled into? What do I tell her?
She missed 28 years of my life. There’s a lot I could say.
Births I could recall, the strength I pulled from a place I didn’t even know existed inside of me. Parenting moments that challenged me to rise above my own abusive childhood to create a home where my children felt safe and secure. I have failed, god have I failed, countless times at being a decent human being and I still get up the next day and try again. I could recount each failure and the lessons learned. I’m stubborn like her, but I have compassion that neither of my parents ever showed me. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine hellbent on making the world a better place before I take my final breath. I could tell her all the ways I’m not her, I could show her who I am, and I could tell her that with every choice I make I still can’t shake the fear that my path will still end in a hospital bed, in a dark room, alone.
Those who love me will assure me that my fear is unfounded. Even if I experienced the same medical emergency she did I wouldn’t be alone when it happened. I would be rushed to the hospital, I would have people fighting to ensure I got the best care possible, and when I finally opened my eyes I would be surrounded by the living embodiment of all the love I’ve tried my hardest to put into the world.
I’m not her and yet as I stand at another crossroads, to either reintroduce myself or to continue pretending that we’re just people we use to know, I find myself questioning the decision I made over 20 years ago to go no contact. I know where she is now and I can contact her whenever I want, that’s all I wanted when I was younger to the point that I would cry myself to sleep from longing. Now I have it, I have what my heart ached for and I don’t know what to do with it. Instead, I’m left wondering if true healing is in forgiveness granted on my own terms.
Does a simple letter have the power to grant us both peace? Only time will tell, but I’ll never know if I don’t at least give myself the opportunity to say what my heart never got the chance to speak all those years ago.
Nothing is final until the curtain closes and the coffin is lowered into the ground. Until there is always an opportunity to write a new version of your story. Here’s to a new story.
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
1/26/2023 0 Comments
Gold From Pain
In addition to this being a year of no for me, it’s also a year for examining my proximity to whiteness from family and personal relationships, to where and how I’m using my professional skills. And more importantly, the areas where I need to cut ties or remove the looking glass and where I’m willing to dig in and fight back to create the world I know we can have. In order to figure that out I have to start from the beginning.
I grew up confused.
My father was born in the early 60s, before Malcolm X and Dr. King took their last breaths, in the front seat of a car to a white woman named Karen and a Black man named Sam. In a time before Loving v Virginia, my father was five before his father’s name graced his birth certificate. They eventually married and divorced before I set foot on the scene. I don’t know much about my grandfather, he was born in the 20s and I’ve been told he was mean but when I look back with informed eyes on the dozen or so times we were around him before they lowered his coffin into an unmarked grave, I’ve realized his malice was the symptom to a larger condition. He was traumatized. And he inflicted that trauma on everyone around him. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, because he caused real harm to his children, but it does help me understand my own rage better.
We spent summers with my grandmother and extended family. I don’t remember when it started, but when I think back on my childhood summers they center around a small house built in the 40s that invokes more fear inside my mind than my grandfather ever has. It’s where I built the tunnels for how deep my rage would go as I learned all the ways I wasn’t right. How the way I moved through the world wasn’t Black enough while I simultaneously received praise for performing the white way, straightening that hair, losing that weight, clutching my bible, and cranking up the country music while carving myself into tiny pieces. Taking every comment on the ways my skin, my feelings, and my mere existence wasn’t right and filling in the gaps left behind with quiet rage that lead to a labyrinth of trauma.
Part of healing means acknowledging that people are operating from the various traumas they’ve tended into sparkling personalities and growing from those places is often harder than maintaining the illusions they’ve created for themselves, so they tend to keep with the status quo. You’ll never get closure from them because in their minds they’ve done nothing wrong, so you have to find closure in your own way. Half of me began when two people, operating from trauma, fetishization, and rebellion brought forth life. In their minds, I imagine, as so many do now, they believed they didn’t need to do more. That simply creating that life was enough, they could be colorblind and everything would sort itself out. That’s not how it works, though, we can’t fuck our way out of generations of oppression. That must be a deliberate act and it requires a lot of painful work.
When we play racial politics in the bedroom and then aren’t intentional with how we raise the outcome we create confusion and pain that ripples through the bloodline. We can’t learn to love ourselves wholly as we are when the kitchen table we’re feeding from was built by white supremacy and the meal we’re being served is poisoned by those who claim to love us.
On my maternal side, I come from a long line of Black women whose skin was kissed by the sun and whose trauma is nestled deep inside my veins. I’ve given up asking myself how different my personality would be if I had been raised knowing that being Black simply meant being myself. I’ll never be the sugar and spice, light-skin-compliant Barbie with an alphabet of letters after her name that everyone wanted. I’m an unhinged ray of fucking sunshine that’s sick of being told by whiteness how she feels and who she is allowed to be. There is no going back now, there’s only forward out of the confusion.
Forward means embracing the rage. Yes, I’m angry. I’m tired of keeping a constant log of names while agents of whiteness flail about acting confused about the current state of things when they’ve cosigned this hate with their silence after every dinner, meeting, and opportunity life has thrown at them to course-correct themselves and their fellow white brethren. I’ve had a front-row seat to the creation of Black bodies from a “well-meaning” white woman who skipped her happy ass down to the voting booth in 2016 and 2020 to cast her vote for Donald J. Trump and had only the vilest things to say about President Obama. Completely indifferent to the fact that her son looked like the man she called an un-American agent of terror. I grew up hearing she didn’t know any better. She’s from a different time. I grew up hearing my own father spout the same anti-Black tropes while picking Black women to warm his bed. He patted me on my head and told me, like all Black women, I would only be good for one thing.
He was my father, but he sounded like my grandmother. I was told that my skin color ensured that I had no real worth. I told myself, before I understood the weight of my choices, that I would prove everyone wrong. I would get approval from those who sat atop the privileged mountain. I dug my nails in. I kept cutting myself into pieces. Smaller… and smaller… swallowing each piece with a dose of rage. I birthed babies of varying shades and tucked away every comment the outside world threw our way that screamed we weren’t enough as we were.
I tried to keep my trauma from pouring over my babies because someone had to get this right, but trauma is like grains of sand. It gets in so easily. When you think you’ve got it pegged whiteness rears its ugly head and reminds you that nowhere is safe, that your guard must always be up, and once the sand is in it takes diligence to remove it.
I went into my 30s bucking everything I had been taught. I went natural. I expanded what I read and where I received information. I pushed back against the notion that my worth was to be dedicated by those who burn in the sun, trying my best to remember that I was the sunshine. And yet, the sand still got in because for all my internal growth, externally the circles were still the same. The same pale faces that smiled when I was sprinkling magic into their lives, but would morph into serpents the moment I asserted my worth and boundaries. It was the same shit again, I was a kid crying for help while everyone asked why I was whining.
I’m tired of crying.
I’ve watched white folks who claim to want change attempt to be relevant and hip when in reality you’re making a mockery of Blackness for approval and giggles while patting your chosen Blacks on the head for knowing their place and letting you behave in such a manner. I’ve watched the way you cut us the minute we don’t want to play your game. It doesn’t matter if we’re kin or acquaintances, when dealing with whiteness if you’re Black you’re disposable. Everyone knows this and does their best to ignore it, but true trust and growth can’t exist as long as you always expect us to be compliant supporting cast members in your life stories. This means you must be uncomfortable at all times if you really want Blackness to thrive. If you’re comfortable, we’re suffering. Either make the changes or admit you like it that way and stop pretending otherwise. You can’t have it both ways.
I grew up knowing that whiteness will always seek out those in the Black delegation who are broken and willing to sit their humanity on a shelf and be paraded around as a “good one” for the twisted acceptance that whiteness will never really provide. I’ve spent years learning how to sharpen my tongue while keeping it sheathed so I don’t upset whiteness. My father’s voice is always so clear in those memories… “There’s mixed company here, watch what you say.”... “You know the white people in your life can see this Rayven! What are they going to say?”
Fuck. What. You. Have. To. Say.
My anger is real. It’s valid. The hit dogs will always holler the loudest and I owe no one an apology for speaking my truth. I’ve spent nearly 40 years spinning gold from my pain and I won’t dull my shine any longer for any of you.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
― Anne Lamott
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
1/13/2023 0 Comments
The Myth of Perfect
This article was originally published on Ramblings of a Dysfunctional Homeschooler in 2015. Previous pieces from that blog will be uploaded here as I am willing and able to. In the piece below, The Spouse refers to my now ex-husband.
A little over a month ago I tossed an inflatable into the room we’ve lovely dubbed “The Library” and fired the first of what would be a series of shots on both ends that ultimately brought about the moment every couple swears they’ll never experience when they get married. The “we need to divorce” talk. There have been tears, rage, and more tears, because even when you know it’s the right thing to do that doesn’t erase the emotions that went into the relationship. Instead they bubble up, unexpectedly, encompassing you without a moment’s notice. You find yourself standing in a group of people completely in control and then out of nowhere the air leaves your lungs and your balance feels unsteady.
You struggle to regain your composure before anyone notices the haze filling your eyes, it’s painful and frustrating especially when the world doesn’t know the truth. You are at war with your emotions and logic, and even some days your spouse, but to the rest of the world you and your family are as they always have been. That’s the myth of perfect at work. Two weeks ago, The Spouse and I started the uncomfortable process of letting the outside world know where we were headed. His outing involved work. I went with social media because, I figured it would be like pulling off a band-aid. Quick and virtually painless. While it was quick, painless it was not.
Our lives go through filters. This isn’t a new concept brought about by social media, no matter what the newest trending article claims, it’s something we as a human race have done for generations. Always smiling and putting the best image of ourselves, our family, and our relationships forward. Every now and then a bit of the truth slips out, but, for the most part, our lives are heavily edited to produce a show we want people to believe really takes place. Maybe that’s why reality television is so popular, we’re all doing it and reality television reminds us that we’re not the only ones using more than Instagram filters when interacting with the world. Of course when bits and pieces of the filters fall away and people get to actually view the unedited footage there are questions. One question, or a variation of it, that I keep encountering is “You guys looked so happy and perfect, what happened?”
There’s that word, perfect. I won’t lie, we did look pretty damn perfect some days and not all of those conversations or pictures were put through a filter. Plenty of them were, though, and even more were left on the cutting room floor to never be gazed upon by anyone other than myself. Why? Because they didn’t support the myth of perfect. The myth that my marriage and my life were aspirations that others should reach for. I would often cringe when someone would tell me that they longed for a relationship like the one the Spouse and I had. Of course, they only knew the bits I shared and I made sure to never share the ugly bits. Having to share the ugly bits, or at least acknowledge that we had enough of them to terminate our relationship, has been painful. A variety of things seems to happen when you tell people where you truly are in life, you either get support, advice which isn’t always useful or solicited, questions you often don’t have the answers to, or booze and trauma vultures. And because you can’t peel away the veneer that the perfect myth places on life without taking some flesh with it, you get plenty of pain.
The pain is a double edged sword, on one hand it begs you to go back to the safety of the myth. It wants you to bask in the comfort of those rose colored filters where the reality of your life was lived alone and isolated from the prying eyes that would offer their half-baked thoughts and opinions on your situation. Then the pain grabs you and reminds you why it exist. It shakes you and rocks you to your core, preventing you from going anywhere but forward. While the truth hurts, pretending kills. So you stop pretending.
Now that you all know that dysfunctional wasn’t just a cute blog title, but an actual indication of the insanity in which our family has lived, where do we go from here? I know the question portion is coming.
*Engaging announcer font* Will The Bringers of Mayhem still be homeschooled? Was it the military that caused this breakdown of such a lovely family? Did you try hard enough?
The line of questioning folks throw at you boarders on fucking insane, while some are legitimate and ok to ask, others are not. I would say most, actually, are not ok to ask. I have to tell you all before you hit that comment button, think first!
I will go ahead and answer the most asked questions, because I’m nice like that: that’s what we all want to see happen, it’s not completely to blame nor is it totally blameless, and I don’t understand that question. What exactly is enough and who gets to determine when you’ve reached it?
If you ask me I will say yes, if you ask The Spouse he’ll probably say no. We see our relationship and its end through a different set of eyes and experiences even when some of those experiences were shared. That’s the reality of any human relationship. We all see the world through different eyes and different experiences. At some point in time those differences either become the relationship's strength or it becomes their weakness. No matter how many filters we apply or edits we make for the world, we still have to view our relationships with our eyes wide open no matter how much it hurts.
Copyright(c)2015 Rayven Holmes
5/1/2019 2 Comments
Oops I Did It Again...
Second weddings are strange. From debating on if you can wear white, obviously, the virginal jig is up when you’re walking down the aisle with three kids. To who gets an invite, it’s a no on your ex folks. It can be overwhelming. Factor in the immense anxiety that accompanies remarriage and you’ll feel like you’re drowning in a sea of bullshit instead of a comfortable bottle of wine.
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
4/19/2019 0 Comments
Ask The Smiths
We love our holidays and celebrate them with wild abandon. Each has traditions that have been tweaked and fine tuned over the years. New Year’s Eve is no exception. On New Year’s Eve, as part of our annual countdown to midnight, we do end of the year interviews. For the past six years, I’ve pulled out a list of questions and placed each of the Bringers of Mayhem in front of our Christmas tree. It is one of our traditions I look forward to the most each year. As they have developed as individuals their answers have morphed from simple words into eloquent thoughts. Watching this change happen every year has been immensely enjoyable. In accordance with my “if I want you to do it I’ll do it too” parenting style I would also position myself in front of the camera. I didn’t put much emphasis on the way my answers changed. This past New Year’s Eve my sister had a request that The Bearded One and I answer some couples questions. While this may seem like an adorable request to make of a newlywed couple he and I weren’t feeling the newlywed love vibes.
Our first holiday season as married partners attempting to blend our two worlds was a series of train wrecks. Factor in holiday financial stressors and we weren’t feeling anything but frustration. My sister knew this. My sister is one of my closest friends and my rock. She also firmly believes that 90% of relationship problems can be solved when you remember why you’re building your life with that person. The other 10%? Well that’s what divorce lawyers are for. I won’t say she’s right, because she already knows she is.
So on New Year’s Eve, The Bearded One and I sat next to each other, engulfed in our strife, and answered questions while my sister live streamed it on Facebook. By the end, we were laughing and she was asserting we are a strange couple. We are. But sis, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wandering around the woods at night as long as you’re prepared! Did the Q&A solve all our problems? Absolutely not. That’s what therapists are for. But, working on your shit should be fun sometimes and answering random questions about our life together was fun. Later that evening a few friends shared they would love to see us answer questions again. We figured why not, but the questions would have to come from others. The decision on when it happened was tossed into my court to figure out. After some thought, and seeing how busy our life is, I settled on twice a year. May and December. Yeah, next month. Surprise!
Here’s how this will work, on May 10th at 9pm we’ll go live on the Malice in Wonderland Facebook page. Questions are due by noon on the 10th. Either comment them below, send them through a Facebook message, or text me if we’re cool like that. We’ll hang out for about fifteen minutes on Facebook. If we make it through the questions sent in then we may take some during the live feed but do NOT bank on this. If there is something you want to know, and there is literally no limit to what you are allowed to ask, then send it in by NOON on the 10th!
I’ll post the aftermath either on here or YouTube or both. Who knows. Like with my life, I’m making this shit up as I go and calling it a plan when it all comes together.
If you got questions, get to asking!
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
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Photos used under Creative Commons from slgckgc, Eskling, Tomasz Stasiuk