The Owl and the Apple Tree: Powerful, Defiant New Year To My Femme Fam.

Cis-hetero-fellas, take a break. Ladies, femmes, transwomen, nonbinaries, real actual intersectional feminists, listen up: this post is for us. Sorry everyone else. Click here to go to the other post, for what’s happening on New Year’s weekend. I separated everything this week so that I could be real with y'all in a safe (-ish, I mean it IS the internet) space. 

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If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you might have seen a post from me about some real toxic masculinity that I was so privileged (SARCASM, if you’re new here) to receive recently. I’ve been thinking a lot about cis-women and cis-men since then, as I am a cis-woman and I primarily date cis-hetero-men, and I’m trying to like, keep it all in check, you know, like, to not be super negative or try to spin things in a way that’s so positive that it feels contrived, but… internally my compass cannot at all find its true north right now. So we’re gonna write this thing out and see what comes up. Let’s try to make sense of a thing.

Here’s what I know: in my logical mind, things happen. Things happen, and I can look at them and observe them and I can see a linear progression of events in which I follow a logical path that stays true to my core sense of self, respects my boundaries, leaves me feeling good or at least not worse than I was before the things happened, and hopefully leaves other people feeling okay as well. I don’t like to leave a negative imprint on people, and I don’t want to carry one around myself.

That’s the logical side of things. My logical fantasy world of how I like to think things work. But when things ACTUALLY happen, I have absolutely no compass at all, and I transform into this soft, twisted, ethereal plasma, a limp, raw, boneless skinless cutlet entirely made up of emotion, intuition and self-hate. The world crumbles down around me and I drown in a midnight blue whirlpool of everything and confusion, and the only thing I can see is what I did wrong.

What I did wrong.

What I did wrong.

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I keep coming back to that, time and time again. 40 years. It’s a lesson I was taught at a very young age: when A Man gets angry at me but is unable to explain to me why he is angry or exactly what I have done to make him angry, it is entirely my responsibility to make assumptions about what I did and inflict self-punishment accordingly. And then it is also entirely my responsibility to alleviate those negative emotions for him, to relieve The Man of his anger, since it is my job to ensure that A Man is comfortable at all times, even if I am crawling out of my skin with discomfort. The child performer, a suburban Shirley Temple with dark circles and stringy hair and crushing social anxiety.

I must sacrifice myself to pacify The Man.

Sometimes it made no sense why he got so angry at me. Sometimes, now that I’m an adult, I suspect he got angry with me because he was angry at himself, or my mother, or something that had happened at work that day, or my brother, or some long-forgotten, primordial frustration from his own childhood, triggered by who knows what. But it never felt that way, and it doesn’t feel that way now. I am responsible for making The Man angry. I will forever be responsible for making The Man angry.  

Don’t make The Man angry.

It’s my fault The Man is angry.

It’s always my fault The Man is angry.

I am a bad person who deserves bad things because The Man is angry.

A good person who deserves good things wouldn’t make The Man so angry all the time.

I will work harder to make The Man love me so that he is not so angry all the time.

And on and on and on forever and ever amen.

All of this was unsaid in my family. Nobody ever spoke about it. I would watch my uncle go through my aunt’s grocery bag and flip the fuck out on her if she bought something that wasn’t on his list. I would watch my father viciously belittle my mother in front of his work associates at a fancy dinner while she stood and smiled, that all too familiar shimmering flicker of pain running over her face that only women can see as we absorb the anger of The Men. The silent heaving of my chest as I sat in the back of the car, enduring the untethered rage of The Man when he discovered his car window was broken and blamed it on me. The desperation and confusion and the WHY DOESN’T HE LOVE ME of thinking I had done everything right - captain of the cheerleading team, A+ on the paper, director of the school play, completed degree from a prestigious college, full time job days after graduation - only to be shunned, shamed. Fathers shaming daughters, Husbands shaming wives, comments about fat bodies and imperfect skin and dressing like proper ladies and how we should do our hair and how much of a fucking disappointment and embarrassment we are, just ALL. THE. FUCKING. TIME.

The warm secret joy of sisters and aunties and mothers and daughters and girl-cousins and nieces huddled together in a kitchen, giggling and joking and planning and hoping and feeling special, loved freely, always stirring, stirring, stirring, onions, butter, potatoes, cabbage, dumplings, beets, keep working, keep working, head down, stir and stir and make it good, or else.

The silent knowing to shut the fuck up when A Man walks in to “check on dinner” or tell you with disdain not to “let the broccoli turn to mush.” Wait to roll your eyes until he leaves the kitchen.

We were strong, Balkan women and girls with our own language and big fingers with chunky knuckles and recipes with no measurements on ancient, stained index cards. We could tolerate anything.

We tolerated everything.

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Today, I feel like nothing. An invisible wisp of a pointless little girl who doesn’t mean a fucking thing to anyone.

I said “please don’t yell at me.”

“Don’t play the victim,” he said. “It doesn’t suit you.”

I’m sorry, I said.

“You aren’t special. You are just another broken little girl who is selfish and hateful.”

I said nothing.

“You fake broken cunt. You are not worth caring about. Evil soulless human. You’ve clearly deserved and asked for everything you’ve gotten bad in life. You want to be treated like trash? There you go.”

I said nothing.

“Enjoy hurting me for the last time you disgusting pig.”

Still nothing.

“You ruin everything. No wonder everyone threw you away.”

“You are simply unloveable.”

“I was done with your scabby fucking nasty body anyway.”

Nothing.

And you couldn’t make me cum anyway.

Nothing.

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An apple tree stands in a vast old orchard, her branches barren of fruit among the lush red spoils of the trees around her. She gives shade to the chickweed and mosses growing at her feet and her branches hold the nests of grackles and starlings chased from the boughs of her fruit-bearing sisters. An owl escapes the wind to digest her meals of fat field mice, and cleans her talons in a hollow in her thick, sturdy abdomen. The children swing from her lowest arms and climb into a perfectly kiddo’s-butt-shaped cranny in her upper reaches. She is an entire world to many, hidden colonies of ants and aphids, mushrooms bursting from her bark after a spring storm, roots twisted up with squirrels’ hidden acorns and infinite labyrinths of chipmunk burrows.

But she bears no fruit for the Orchard Keeper. She is of no use to him.

He approaches from the farmhouse, axe in hand, a slow approach as his anger builds over her wasting his time, wasting his precious soil, his precious fertilizer, his precious water, and she bears nothing he could sell. How dare she spend her life not in His service, not dedicated to making Him money, making Him food, making Him comfortable, making Him whole.

A murder of crows cyclones up through the gray sky, frothing their magick, squawking about what’s to come. The sun passes behind a thick cloud, hiding her eyes from below.

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He raises his axe as his long, intimidating stride builds momentum, and his first strike lands firmly at her roots. A burst of community shatters from her branches like a demolition, a puff of smoke. A tiny, empty nest falls to the ground with no sound at all.

He swings again. And again. Harder. He curses under his breath, sweaty and red faced, full of bile.

After all this.

After everything I’ve done for her.

After I tried so hard to make her worth something, this is how she repays me.

After wasting all my time, she has the audacity to make me do the work of cutting her down.    

The Orchard Keeper drags pieces of her lifeless body against her will to become firewood, furniture, fertilizer. Her uppermost branches become kindling that night for the flames that cook his dinner and warm his feet. If she won’t give him what he wants, he will take it from her.

He has the axe, after all. It’s his birthright.

And she is merely an apple tree. It’s her heritage to give until death.   

The moon rises, as it always does, as the sun descends to her western quarters. The owl perches far from the carnage, graceful and mysterious as nightfall. She stretches her wings out to touch the twilight and alights on the breeze. She hunts through the night, to find a new home, a place where her ancient wisdom and murderous claws and powerful beak, her imposing size, and all of her self-reliance, for these and for her heart, she’ll find a place where she can keep them safe.   

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A new year is a time in which we get to enjoy the perception of an end, and a new beginning.

We don’t have to be beholden to old things, old emotions, old ways.

We have a cultural opportunity to create hope, for each other and for ourselves.

2017 was a year in which I watched myself allow men with whom I’ve been romantically involved (shout out here to Will, Justin, Ian, Amos, Nick, Lee, Pat, Mo, Tim, Jake, Terry, Sean, Dan, Taylor and all the other EXCELLENT, supportive, platonic men in my life) to treat me disrespectfully, violently and hurtfully, despite feeling more powerful, creative and successful than ever before. Everything is a lesson, but I am not diminished. It’s almost as if the more self-realized I become, the more tiny people want to bring me down. But I’m not nothing no matter how much people want me to be nothing so that they can feel like something. And neither are you. That’s scarcity mentality, as if only a few people get to be something. But when we view our lives as abundant and wide, there is plenty of room for all of us to be something, side by side, in our own special ways.

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In this new year, I hope for us to be brave for each other, to honor our vulnerabilities as beautiful scars to be treated gently and with kindness and respect. I hope for us to be tender with each other, and to have the strength to look inward and identify the mistakes we’ve made and forgive ourselves for not being “perfect,” whatever that word means. And once we’ve forgiven ourselves, I hope we can apologize to those we care about, and make amends. And for myself, when I feel cut down, when I see my strength being stolen from me, I will do something about it.

I won’t ask what I did wrong. I won’t auto-correct to “my fault” anymore. I will instead ask how I can best serve myself and others, given the circumstances. That’s my new year’s resolution. Service to others, and self care.  

Happy New Year everyone. I fucking love you.