bloodteethandflame

A life in threes

Tag: memories

5 years.

A Poem for Pulse

By Jameson Fitzpatrick

Last night, I went to a gay bar
with a man I love a little.
After dinner, we had a drink.
We sat in the far-back of the big backyard
and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?
I don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon, I said,
though the crowd was slow for a Saturday,
and he said—Yes, but one day. Where will we go?
He walked me the half-block home
and kissed me goodnight on my stoop—
properly: not too quick, close enough
our stomachs pressed together
in a second sort of kiss.
I live next to a bar that’s not a gay bar
—we just call those bars, I guess—
and because it is popular
and because I live on a busy street,
there are always people who aren’t queer people
on the sidewalk on weekend nights.
Just people, I guess.
They were there last night.
As I kissed this man I was aware of them watching
and of myself wondering whether or not they were just.
But I didn’t let myself feel scared, I kissed him
exactly as I wanted to, as I would have without an audience,
because I decided many years ago to refuse this fear—
an act of resistance. I left
the idea of hate out on the stoop and went inside,
to sleep, early and drunk and happy.
While I slept, a man went to a gay club
with two guns and killed forty-nine people.
Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed
recently by the sight of two men kissing.
What a strange power to be cursed with:
for the proof of men’s desire to move men to violence.
What’s a single kiss? I’ve had kisses
no one has ever known about, so many
kisses without consequence—
but there is a place you can’t outrun,
whoever you are.
There will be a time when.
It might be a bullet, suddenly.
The sound of it. Many.
One man, two guns, fifty dead—
Two men kissing. Last night
I can’t get away from, imagining it, them,
the people there to dance and laugh and drink,
who didn’t believe they’d die, who couldn’t have.
How else can you have a good time?
How else can you live?
There must have been two men kissing
for the first time last night, and for the last,
and two women, too, and two people who were neither.
Brown people, which cannot be a coincidence in this country
which is a racist country, which is gun country.
Today I’m thinking of the Bernie Boston photograph
Flower Power, of the Vietnam protestor placing carnations
in the rifles of the National Guard,
and wishing for a gesture as queer and simple.
The protester in the photo was gay, you know,
he went by Hibiscus and died of AIDS,
which I am also thinking about today because
(the government’s response to) AIDS was a hate crime.
Now we have a president who names us,
the big and imperfectly lettered us, and here we are
getting kissed on stoops, getting married some of us,
some of us getting killed.
We must love one another whether or not we die.
Love can’t block a bullet
but neither can it be shot down,
and love is, for the most part, what makes us—
in Orlando and in Brooklyn and in Kabul.
We will be everywhere, always;
there’s nowhere else for us, or you, to go.
Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you.
Around any corner, there might be two men.

Kissing.

~~~~

5 years ago today, many people were killed or wounded in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Jameson Fitzpatrick, “A Poem for Pulse” from Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence.  Copyright © 2017 by Jameson Fitzpatrick. 

2021 Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation 61 W. Superior Street Chicago, IL 60654 USA

The thoughts I have today.

I cannot believe that it has been 15 years.

September 11th 2001 was a day that changed my world in many ways that I will never forget.

And my memories of this particular day highlight many of the personal changes that my life has gone through since.

My oldest son, N, was my only child.

While N had always been an insatiably curious kid, what I remember most about the few months before the September 11th attack was the frequent conversations that we had that seemed centered upon his newfound life goal to become a soldier, and later, a police officer.

It had become obvious that he had a deep, intuitive respect for those who helped others, as well as those who were willing to put their lives on the line to defend what was ‘right’ and ‘good’ and ‘just.’    For N, it wasn’t just the idea of being a hero, it was the concept that there was a profound meaning to be found in service to others.  He admired people in his world who felt that it was important to stand up for others, and he wanted to be one of those people.  He saw the future of accomplishing this ideal by joining the military, and he had a deep respect and admiration for those serving – or who had served – in the military.

So, as you may imagine, the highlight of his summer in 2001 was attending our local Memorial Day parade.

I remember him begging me to allow him to stand as close as he could get to the front of the crowd so that he would be able to see those who marched in our local post contingents from the American Legion and the VFW.   He spent the next forty-five minutes waving and saluting all the soldiers, sailors and airmen.  I watched him sit with quiet, rapt attention during all of the speeches, prayers, and moments of silence that followed those parades.  But he had been the most eager and honored to shake the hands of so many local veterans and politicians that day, he’d been barely able to contain himself.

It was a day full of bright spots despite the atmosphere of respect and remembrance.

I remember most of all, the elderly WWII veteran who stood at the podium and spoke of the ultimate and extraordinary sacrifice that his brethren had made in service to their country, and how we as a society must honor them, and we must never forget them.   While I can heartily agree with that sentiment, I found myself taken aback by his next point, and his next action, wherein this veteran suddenly pounded the podium, as if in anger or frustration, that ‘young people these days do not understand the price of freedom.  People today do not know the meaning of honor or sacrifice, and perhaps we need a war to remind them.  Damn your innocence!’

I was shocked and dismayed by the blunt thoughtlessness of this veteran’s comment that day, and even today, I am haunted by that sentiment – as if the only way that society can progress towards understanding honor and sacrifice is through experiencing grief at the loss of human lives, and the damning of youth and innocence.

I do not know what happened to that angry WWII veteran, but I do know the focus of the conversations that I had with my son revolved around that man’s words that evening.  My son asked me if America should feel badly that we are not at war.  My son asked me if I knew what going to war felt like, if I knew how war changes things.  And I was honest with him, and I told him that we had been lucky thusfar, that America was not at war, and it seemed a foolish thing for a soldier – present or former – to wish that a war would occur.  I told him that that veteran was likely just upset because he had likely seen and experienced a lot of terrible things during the war in which he served.

~~~

How hauntingly ironic that 106 days later, the world changed.

My son was 7 ½ years old.

~~~

And in the intervening years, my son has gotten to see what America looks like when it goes to war.  He has listened to the debates and he has known several soldiers (older relatives and family friends) who have gone to fight, defend, and protect others in the Middle East.

He has seen how his world, and the world outside of us, has changed in innumerable ways.

My son did not become a soldier.  He had developed other personal life-goals in the meantime between then and now.

But today, I cannot help but think – likely somewhat melodramatically – have our young people learned enough about the price of freedom?

Do we as a people know the meaning of honor and sacrifice yet?

Month for Loki, Day 9: Beginnings.

This is my third year of making July a Month for Loki, and I feel a bit like I’m cheating to be using a writing prompt.

I figured that I might as well answer this particular prompt today for two reasons.

First, for the three years that I’ve been dedicating July to Loki, I’ve always found myself at one point or another in the month attempting to answer this question in a post.  So, in that regard, I have written perhaps six variations of my answer to this question in the past three years, but I’ve always been reluctant to actually post it for various personal reasons.  So there’s that.

Secondly, there’s the ‘inevitable nudge’ reason: this is a question that has come up on several occasions during five – count ’em five – separate conversations that I’ve had with others this week.

So, here goes…

How did I first become aware or know of Loki?

The truth is, I’m not entirely certain.

On the one hand, I could say that I’ve known of Loki since I was a kid, but I’ve only been considering myself as Lokean in the past three years.

There seems to be a weird dichotomy there – how could I have always known of Loki but never noticed Loki in my life?  This is the reason why I read other’s answers to this question with great interest but I’ve been reluctant to post the answer to this question myself.  Simply because I don’t like to share a lot about my upbringing or childhood because it was, in a word, dysfunctional.  And the shame factor gets pretty high when I consider that, yes, there is no doubt that I was considered a ‘weird’ kid by family and strangers alike – and not to put too fine a point on it, I learned at a young age that the way that I experienced the world was not normal.  When pressed, my mother and my three older siblings often attempt retroactively to put a positive spin on things by insisting that they thought of me as simply an ‘imaginative’ and ‘sensitive’ and ‘easily spooked’ child,  but they are reluctant to admit to how they reacted towards my imagination, my sensitivities, and the reality of why I was often deeply affected by — if not terrified — of damned near everything on a daily basis until I was about 13 or so.

In short, it had become deeply ingrained in me that there are many thoughts, feelings and experiences that, if I talked about them with others, garnered me anywhere from looks of mild concern (oh sweetie, that sounds scary) to grimaces of discomfort (oh my goodness, that’s an awful thing to talk about [swiftly changes the subject]) to lectures of outright dismissal and warning hissed through gritted teeth (If you keep talking about that, people are going to think you’re crazy, so stop talking about that right now / Shut up!)*

And so, here I am.

But I did have an imaginary friend.

I suppose that a lot of children do.  I often wonder if other children have imaginary friends as moody,vivid and strange as the imaginary friend that I had had.  I mean, I suppose that every child has an imaginary friend that is uniquely theirs – a wonderful, engaging, usually benign being.  I was always delighted to find others who had imaginary friends, and I mostly enjoyed sharing details about mine.  I guess that everyone thinks their imaginary friend is different or unique…but I didn’t notice how different or how unique that mine had been until I was an adult.

You see, I had an imaginary friend in kindergarten. I thought that I had made up that imaginary friend because I was lonely.   I had made a ‘real’ friend named Jenny Glickman in first grade, and she had an imaginary friend, so I made up an imaginary friend for myself, too.  The ‘friend’ I made up was supposed to be a lot like Jenny’s; but hers was a young girl, and mine…was sometimes a girl, sometimes not.  Jenny’s looked like her, she said, and shared the same birthday and everything.  Mine had a birthday, but I thought that it was a secret (which Jenny thought was weird but funny) so I didn’t know how old mine was.  And mine – even though I made zir up – didn’t look like me at all, which Jenny also thought was weird.

She couldn’t ‘see’ hers, but I drew pictures of mine all the time.

Jenny and I made up stories about our imaginary friends, and we spent recess either telling each other the stories that we made up, or pretending to ride horses with them.  The ‘riding horses’ detail kinda sticks out in my mind, I think because it seemed to be the only interest that our imaginary friends seemed to share.  We could all agree that we liked horses.

I remember going home and telling my mother about Jenny Glickman and how I had an imaginary friend just like she did.

And I remember my mother’s response: ‘Well that’s nice. So you have two imaginary friends now?’

And I laughed, and I felt confused.  I argued that no, I only had the one that I had with Jenny Glickman.  And I’ll never forget how she corrected me, saying that I had had an imaginary friend long before I went to school or met Jenny Glickman.

Truth is, we were talking about different things.  She was talking about the Shadow in the Dark.

(You may remember that I’ve written about the Shadow in the Dark here).

So…yeah.

If you want to consider the Shadow in the Dark  as an ‘imaginary friend,’ that’s fine.

The Shadow in the Dark was, at first, quite terrifying to me.  Hardly like an imaginary friend…since aren’t imaginary friends supposed to be ‘friendly’ rather than terrifying?

But the Shadow in the Dark was the reason that I would have done almost anything to avoid going to bed at night.  Looking back on it, I had typical elaborate bedtime rituals that I had hoped would prolong the process, such as needing a snack, brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom, needing to have a story read or a specific stuffed animal in order to fall asleep, etc.  As it is with most, my parents were only slightly annoyed by many of those typical avoidance maneuvers — unless I was still awake three hours later trying to prolong my actual bedtime. (Sometimes I would be the only one left awake at midnight or 1 AM, when they’d notice light leaking out from the bottom edge of the closed bathroom door, and they’d find me sitting on the edge of the tub, praying for sunrise.)   They were baffled by my behavior because they couldn’t understand whatever in the world that I could have been so afraid of.  They thought it would comfort me to assure me that I wasn’t alone in the dark, since I shared a room with my older sister; but I quickly realized that the presence of my older sister didn’t seem to deter the SitD from showing up.  (If anything, the SitD would simply stand quietly by my bed until my older sister fell asleep.)  A few times, I thought that I was being clever by burying myself underneath a layer of assorted stuffed animals, thinking that I could fool the SitD into assuming that I wasn’t there…or maybe I could make myself so difficult to find in that pile of toys that the SitD would give up and leave.

Psht.  Right.

At any rate, I gave up trying to avoid the SitD, and over time, I began to feel less anxious about zir presence… but I still wouldn’t have considered zir much of a friend.

First of all, it seemed obvious to me that the SitD was an adult…a moody yet soft-spoken adult presence that definitely felt much older than my parents.  Whenever zie spoke first, it seemed only to ask me either of two questions, in a curiously business-like manner:

Do you know who I am?

or

Do you want to come with me?

~~~

Do you know who I am?

Zie never answered who zie was, no matter how many times that I would try to guess.  It seemed an endless guessing game, and in the end, the SitD’s identity a remained a strange, puzzling mystery for many years.*

Though there were times when I thought that I was so close to figuring out zir identity, because zie would allow us both to abandon the yes/no pattern after a while, and zie would give me a tantalizing hint:

Are you older than my dad?  Yes.  Do you live in this house? No.

Does my dad know you? Yes.  Are you a friend of his? No.

Are you a stranger? No.  Do I know you?  Perhaps.

I don’t think so.  I don’t remember you. (Zie chuckles)  [calls me a nickname that my grandmother calls me.]

Do you know my [grandmother]?  Yes.

Do you want to come with me?

I didn’t say ‘no’ right away.  I asked zir to tell me where we were going, or why zie wanted me to go with zir.  As it was with the previous question, zie would usually only answer yes or no to questions that I asked, and offered very little information otherwise:

Where are we going? Somewhere with me.  Can my parents come (with us) too? No.

What if they won’t let me (go)? It doesn’t matter.  Why not? Because I am asking you.

At first, I feared falling asleep, because I was afraid that I would be taken away anyway…but then. later on, it seemed to be very important that I make the choice whether or not to go.

It still strikes me today as to how profound that felt – to have an adult -invisible or not, in dreamspace or not – seek my consent, and then, to realize that same adult would honor my choice.

But, at any rate, it took a while before the SitD went away.

And despite what my parents may have hoped, there was nothing imaginary about the Shadow in the Dark.

~~~

And, in 2008, like sneaky tons of bricks often do, I began to connect the dots as to Who my Shadow in the Dark was, a little over three decades since He went away.

~~~

* Gods please forgive others who would demand that a child discuss their experiences (paranormal or not), only to respond to their experiences with such invalidation and aggressive dismissal.  But not surprisingly, it was not until I had my own children that I began to realize the fear that was obviously inherent in the responses and reactions that I received from others; it concerns me in that I have come to consider myself in that ‘skeptical  onlooker’ category as well — but perhaps that is a shadow-work entry for another day  this month.

**In writing this entry, it occurs to me that He may have considered our guessing game to be quite an entertaining pastime rather than the frustratingly repetitive process that I thought it to be.