Cafe Hitch-hike


Telling those stories

As I walked through life and shared some of my experiences, I often was told not to talk about some of them or to say much about them at all. At times, I got certain looks which I learned were signals to wrap it up. Then, I learned the subtle art of reframing certain truths.

Example: My involvement in my estranged birth father's end-of-life story is extremely unusual (and I'll spare the details). The version I tell the public is my father died in 1990 from cancer, and I was there at the end. I know the truth isn't really anyone's business, but for the purpose of simplification, to at least do some self-disclosure, and to cut off certain questions at the pass, my public side is full of adaptations such as these.

As I went through college, I was told not to disclose my activities with minority or religious causes. Those things are too personal, so I shouldn't disclose those, I was told. I often wondered if underneath that was the message that connecting myself with ethnic interests would work against me. One mentor told me outright that employers might assume I wasn't interested in assimilating if I showed too much identification with a group. With that, I was also encouraged to pass.

That was easy enough to do because I had enough activities that didn't disclose anything about my origins. I also learned with time (and because of necessity at times) how to pass.

Then came the part of my blue-collar background. 'Blue-collar' is a higher description than what my family's socioeconomic status actually was. At least we weren't migrant workers, which my birth father and his family started. As I navigated a more educated and middle-class world, I learned to shut my mouth when it came to talking about what little we had while I grew up, or what had to be done to make ends meet. I knew about welfare checks, Reagan cheese, free hot lunches, food stamps, and how to sidestep activities that required money or dues.

I then traveled to Latin America these past few years, where it occurred to me that my family lived extremely well in comparison, even while in the North American definition of poverty. At least I have perspective and don't feel nearly as bad!

Last year, I watched Moonlight and over the weekend, The Florida Project, which are about children who lived in very marginalized settings. I watched the first one with Rafa, and I was truly overwhelmed. It was like I got the front-row seats to addiction and what it can do to families and children, and got to see it all over again. At least my mother didn't trick herself out for money to support whatever habits she had, but I knew others who did.

What struck me was remembering the crushing sense of hopelessness that came with poverty, drug abuse, neglect, and having to find one's own way in a world that often didn't care. Just like the boy called Moonlight, I also found support and validation through some off-the-wall people and least expected places. Yeah, sometimes they weren't optimal and I would never want any child of mine to ever have to do that, but it helped me float.

Florida Project had a similar effect on me. This one had a 6-year old girl who lived with an immature and irresponsible mother who truly loved and cared for her. They lived in a motel with other people who were in a similar state. Moonee, the little girl, looked just like me and was definitely a little shit like I was. However, she was still a girl who liked little girl things and exploring, just as I had at that age. My mother wasn't as bombastically clueless as the one on the movie, but she made some choices that were destabilizing and not as great. Again, I knew quite a few women like the mother while I grew up. It was another movie that told the story of a kid being a kid in a setting where it was not the best place to be a kid.

These were all things I had to silence in my adult life. I'd admit a little here and little there in quiet conversations in the night, as if saying them during that time made them less visible, or I couldn't as easily see someone's pained expression. Now I know where I learned how to keep so many secrets. I had to treat some obvious parts of my live like they were.

I know I'm not the only one who's had to do this. I've met others who also had to hide being in foster care, broken families, and other very embarrassing things about their origins. I just find it odd that some groups can be open about them while others keep a light lip; they probably got the message to hide it while others either didn't, or maybe just didn't care.

I don't know what to think now that some of my experiences are being made public on the big screen. I feel a sense of validation because I now feel that I'm not the only person who undergone certain experiences. They had to have happened enough times for them to made into movies!

Moonlight was based on a semi-autobiographical play and was written by 2 co-writers with similar backgrounds. They got their stories out without getting the usual Hollywood sanitization treatment, which was probably how it was able to come out as gritty as it felt. The point I get is sometimes we have to find our own way to tell our own story and get it out there.

Florida Project was different because it was written by someone who came up with idea from reading about people who had to live in motels because of the recession. He researched the topic and came up with a pretty accurate, up-front depiction of life in that setting. With that, someone doesn't have to directly experience something to be able to create something and is able to capture large parts of it. I'd say it requires large doses of empathy, understanding, and abilities to communicate and express them.

I often wish I could had told my stories somehow (and this blog is the best proxy I can create at this time). I don't want to tell these stories so people would feel sorry for me. It would be nice to be able to do something that helps others see the many complexities that exist in people and in this world; we are all not the same, and not everything can or will be. It would also be nice to transform a lot of that pain, shame, alienation, or loneliness into something can can be beautiful, life-affirming, or bring more understanding. Yes, those would be nice!

Maybe I just feel relieved that someone has the courage and perhaps support to tell those stories so they don't just sit in the dark, untold and treated like a dirty secret.

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