Friday, June 26, 2015

I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, When I Say Hello

I write about transition a lot.  Probably because my entire life has basically been a series of hello, goodbyes.  A therapist friend of mine, who is also an MK (she wrote a fabulous book, you should check it out) once told me, after I had called her sobbing on the phone, "Transitions will be a trigger your entire life."

But maybe I should back up.

I called her after a day spent slumped over my kitchen counter.  Literally.  Well, maybe not literally, but all I remember of that day was wandering into the kitchen (to clean?  Get a glass of water?  Plug in my phone?), my feet feeling like they had been encased in fifty pound blocks of concrete, my body heavy, my ears muffled like someone had stuffed cotton balls into them then duct taped the cotton balls into place.  My hands swinging and strange from my arm sockets.  My tongue swollen in my mouth.  My eyes puffy and itchy.  By the time I got to the counter, I forgot what I had even gone in there for.  Bending at the waist, I rested my chest down onto the cool laminate.  My arms out like goal posts, anchoring me.  My cheek heavy and slack on the scuffed plastic.

I closed my grateful eyes and slipped into a blessedly dark, quiet nothingness.  When I was younger, I used to slip out sometimes to the lagoon and wade in to where the water lapped warm and gentle at my collarbone.  I'd pull my feet up off the sandy bottom, close my eyes, and let myself float submerged in a world where the only sound was the distant tinkling of sand and the only feeling was the embrace of the Pacific.  This is how it felt now.  Except that it seemed my brain was also suspended, because I couldn't think.  I couldn't feel.

But maybe I should back up.

It began with a stupid argument, one that we'd had a million times and probably will have a million more.  But this time instead of our practiced and honed draw-away-come-back-together dance, I drew away and couldn't come back.  For some inexplicable reason I backed up too far and found a cliff I had never realized was there, misstepped, and found myself tumbling over the dark edge, arms windmilling, hair slapping my face, clothing tearing against my body.

I landed in a crumpled heap on my bathroom floor.  Propped against the wall.  Sobbing and unable to stop.  Unable to catch my breath.  Unable to think.

I think the clinical term for it is disassociation.  Or maybe it was a re-association.  Maybe my younger selves had been there all along, waiting inside me.  Because that's suddenly where my mind went.  I was eight and crying and saying goodbye to my room on Devereux Street.  I was nine and hiding from the laughing Islanders.  I was eleven and confused at the middle school lunch table.  I was fourteen and my Island sisters were rubbing their tear-wet cheeks against mine, as the boat slowly pulled away from my island for good.

And curled in a rumpled ball on my bathroom floor, I raised my wet face to the heavens and sobbed, "Why, God?  Why?  Why did it have to be MY family?  Why break up MY family for YOUR gospel?  It's YOUR gospel.  Why did MY family have to suffer for it?"

I said it but expected my words to fall back from heaven around me.  I expected empty silence.  I expected a turned head and a deaf ear.


Jesus was there.  He stepped in with me, into the ball of pain, and put his hand on my shoulder, and smiled in the most gentle way.  "I know," he said.

"I'm here," he said.

"I'm sorry you hurt," he said.

And somehow, that was enough.  Enough to calm my racing heart.  Enough to settle a blanket of blessed numbness over my bruised awareness.  Enough to receive the loving and worried ministrations of my husband.  Enough to get the kids off to school the next day, and then slump in heavy release over my kitchen counter.  Enough to call a therapist.

Enough to finally start facing the pain and the trauma and the anger and the joy and the loss and the love, to start untangling all the mixed up experiences and feelings, that had lain patient and waiting until such a time as this.


I want to encourage you, sister or brother, fellow TCK survivor, that you are not alone in your lonliness.  You're not alone in the always-leaving.  You're not alone in saying hello goobye with a smile on your face.  This is something that every kid growing up between worlds, experiences.  Therapy helps.  A lot.  Talking about it helps.  A lot.

Finally looking at the anger and the pain, in a safe place, frees you up fully live and fully feel in other areas in your life.

Here's to holding the goodbyes and hellos with open hands and tender heart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thoughts on the Naugler Family - A Conservative's View

A story has come up in the past few weeks about homesteading and unschooling family, Joe and Nichole Naugler.  The controversy surrounding the seizure of their 10 children by CPS, followed by subsequent criminal charges against the family's patriarch, has touched my little corner of the country because most of the people in these New Mexican mountains are rough, tough, and don't take kindly to government interference.  I've heard it said that New Mexico is the 'last frontier' in America, and in many ways it's true.  We are an independent, surly lot, and many pockets of this state greatly resemble the lost-but-not-forgotten Old West of cowboy and gunslinger lore.  Leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone.

Except when it comes to children.  When a person's expression of their civil liberties causes harm the helpless and voiceless in their life, then they have gone too far.  Just as 'free speech' doesn't mean you can stand up and yell, "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, 'the pursuit of happiness' doesn't mean you can subject your vomiting children to a 'camp out' around a fire pit.  In the Solomons once, my mom, sister, brother and I ate tainted meat from a can (fed to us by an Islander who didn't know better).  I have experienced food poisoning without indoor plumbing.  Projecting fluids from both sides of your body, into a metal basin, while laying on a pallet on the floor, is just a half step above literal hell.  To subject your children to it when there are medical facilities within driving distance is unspeakably cruel. 

Homescholers Anonymous published a wonderfully analytical piece by a former off-grid, homeschooled child that goes into far better detail than I can about how the Nauglers are doing homesteading all wrong.  It is highly recommended reading.  Also recommended is a perusal of the family's own Facebook page, Blessed Little Homestead.  Truly, the pictures they post are evidence enough in my mind that the kids are being needlessly subjected to a lifestyle that is physically and psychologically harmful.  

I also wrote a piece for HA, telling about my experience on Luaniua and comparing it to the living conditions of the Naugler family. 

My hope is that the state of Kentucky does its job in prosecuting the Naugler parents and protecting the Naugler kids.  My hope is also that those who are defending the Nauglers will come to the realization that this is not a civil liberties issue.  As a libertarian-leaning Republican, who also lives many aspects of the homesteading lifestyle, whose parents built their own home from scratch while their young kids lived in it, and who lived in what many would call deprivation while on the island, I can confidently say from personal experience that the Naugler lifestyle is, simply put, abusive.  Please don't let political dogmatism cause you to lose sight of what's really happening here.  Because then you become part of the problem.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Goodbye Islands, Hello Western World

Leavings have been the paragraph breaks of my life.  My life has a lot of paragraphs.

The Solomon Islands' main airport is known colloquially as Henderson Field.  The long airstrip was first laid into the jungle by American GI's so they could better fight the Japs on Guadalcanal.  International flights still use it today.  It was the portal through which we transitioned from Island to American.  Like some sort of SciFi warping mechanism that sheds a person's skin, on the Solomons side of that departure gate I was Danica, the white Solomon Islander.  Once I stepped through, I became Danica, the awkward American.

Whenever anyone in our missionary group would leave the country to go back on furlough, we'd all gather at that gate to say goodbye.  The leaving family would be dressed in their very best clothes and everyone was smiling.  Because that's what you do when family leaves, you smile and say, "See ya later!", not, "Don't go, you're making a hole in my heart."  If you happened to be the ones leaving it was double hard, because stepping into that void meant you were losing the family everyone else got to keep for a while longer.  My memories of actually stepping through the gate and onto the Western bound plane are pretty nonexistent, but I do remember my stomach feeling like a school of bonito had taken up residence in it, and the air being muffled, and not being able to hear much or really even breathe.

Another family from our missionary group leaving at Henderson Field.  I'm the awkward one with a strained smile at the very right.

Our first stop as we leapfrogged across the Pacific was usually Vanuatu.  Vanuatu at that time was more Westernized than the Solomons were, so many of the locals we came across on our layovers there spoke pretty good English.  I usually didn't speak at all to them, though, and let my mom and dad do the talking.  It felt immensely strange to be talking to an Islander in English, the white man's language, instead of Pijin, the shared trade language of the Solomons.  Speaking in Pijin in the Solomons was always my way of cuing in the locals that I wasn't some random ex-pat.  I belonged.  I was one of them.

Except that they didn't speak Solomons Pijin on Vanuatu, and I didn't belong there.  My otherness started getting more apparent.

The next stop was Guam, which we always looked forward to with great anticipation.  This was because Guam was the first 'Americanized' stop on our trip.  We always held a traditional heated argument on the plane flight from Vanuatu to Guam, which revolved around which American fast food joint we'd eat once we landed.  After years of deprivation, we'd discuss in detail the merits of each one, salivating over the little (free!  They give them out FREE!) sauce packets from Taco Bell, and how McDonald's burgers dripped delicious grease.

One time we took our McDonald's out into the parking lot to eat, and I spied a tree growing in a median.  I rushed over to it and set my food on the hood of the car beneath the tree.  "This is perfect!"  I said.  My siblings followed suit and when Dad saw all of our food bags and drinks on the hood of this stranger's car, he blew a gasket.  "Take your things off that car!"  he said.  "You can't touch other people's cars in America!"

We were flabbergasted.  "Why?"

"Because in America people view their cars like their houses.  You can't just touch someone else's car like you wouldn't go up and touch someone else's house.  It's taboo."

So many things were taboo.  We were stepping on land mines unknowingly throughout the entire trip from the Solomons to America.  Don't speak to someone who has brown skin in Pijin.  Speak to them in English and don't be surprised when they answer in an American accent.  Don't spit.  Don't blow your nose by holding one nostril and snotting through the other into the grass.  Don't look down when a man speaks to you but look up into his eyes.  Don't take your shoes off in the airport and especially don't take them off in a restaurant.

There were huge escalators in the airport in Guam.  My little brother Matt's eyes got huge when he saw them for the first time.  The rest of us hazily remembered escalators from the malls in Texas years ago, and while Mom and Dad rested with the baggage, we went up and down and up and down and up and down again.  Matthew finally tried but he was scared to put his foot on it.  We had to teach him how to time the stairs, then step quickly with both feet onto the magically moving, interlocking metal slats.  It was exactly like a scene from the movie, Elf.

We had people we knew in Hawaii, supporters who kindly let us use their beach house to decompress before getting to the American mainland.  A smiling white man who was big, so big, and who talked so loudly and who expected you to look him in the eye when he talked to you, who talked to you even if you were a kid.  Mom and Dad slipped easily into conversation with this man, conversation that looked different from how we talked in the Solomons, and it sounded different, too, even the conversations we'd have among other missionaries.  This man seemed to project himself into our personal space.  Mom and Dad immediately assumed this puffed-up-loud-smiley way of talking while us kids sat quietly on our bags and stared.

The man took us and our bags into his big car that was not dusty at all and smelled like something luxurious.  I sat on the cavernous inside and Mom had to remind us to buckle up, then had to help us buckle up because we couldn't remember how it worked.  And then he drove us out into the night.

He drove faster than I ever remember driving, and the road was huge, with more shiny vehicles speeding around us in amazingly straight and orderly lines.  So many people going so fast.  So many people and each in their own bubble.  The road suddenly took us way up in the sky and the man did not slow down at all.  I clutched the seat belt and could barely breathe from fear.  Dad turned around from his front seat, and said brightly, "Kids, this is called a 'freeway'!  Wait until we get to Houston, you'll see the spaghetti bowls!"

All I knew was that we were going way too fast into the dark of this strange place and home was far, far away.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday School Shoes

All of the girls in my Sunday School class had pretty flowered dresses with ruffles.  They wore little white socks that folded down and also had ruffles.  Even their hair looked ruffled, fluffed out about their shoulders and secured away from their faces with huge ruffled bows.  And on their feet, they all wore identical black patent leather Mary Jane shoes.

Oh how I wanted a pair of those black patent leather Mary Jane shoes.  One day, Mom took me shopping for a new church dress, and I begged, “Please Mom!  Can I have some church shoes?”  

“No, Danica.  You don’t need new shoes.  Your school shoes do just fine.”  

My heart burned within her.  It was so unfair.  It was so unjust!  My school shoes didn't 'do' and they weren't 'just fine'. They were old. Scuffed. The pink was faded and now looked more grey. The sides of the soles had black marks from the ashphault on the playground. No. They would not 'do just fine.' But, Mom had spoken, and so let it be written, so let it be done. The injustice of it continued to fester in my heart until Sunday had swung around again and it was time to put on my pretty but practical church dress, plain cotton socks, and the old, scuffed tennis shoes with tattered laces.

Dad rounded everyone up.  “Come on!  Time to go!  Into the van!  Let’s get to church!”  I sullenly climbed into my seat next to Anna.  I hated this van.  “You know when I was a boy,”  Dad said as he backed out of the driveway, “Grandaddy wouldn’t wait for everybody to get in the car.  He would say, ‘We’re leaving at 9:00’, and if 9:00 rolled around and somebody wasn’t in the car, he’d leave them!”  I had heard this story before since Dad told it every Sunday when we left for church.  I hated this story.  

We pulled up to church, which was really a school and was only a church for us on Sundays, and everyone piled out of the van.  We joined the stream of families trickling into the foyer, all holding black bibles with gold trimmed pages, all wearing their Sunday best.  Inside, there was a little group of men clustered around a tall, steel canister.  They were all using the little black handle on the bottom of the canister to pour coffee into their white styrofoam cups and then they tore little paper packets of sugar and dumped that into their cups, and stirred with little back sticks.  Usually the ritual fascinated me, but today I was trying to look angrily at the tiles right  in front of where I was walking, instead of at my feet clad in the horrid used up shoes.  I hated that coffee.

We passed the mural that always fascinated me, too, and I had to peek a glance in spite of myself.  It was painted down the hallway that led to my Sunday School class.  It depicted a monkey that started standing up straight, and every time the monkey straightened a little bit more, it started to look more and more like a man, until it was walking completely upright and holding a stone hammer in its hand and looking exactly like a person.  Dad said that this showed ‘evolution’ which was something evil and bad, because God made the world in seven days.  It said so in Genesis 1:1.  

We had reached the door of my Sunday School class.  All the girls sat at their tables, with coloring sheets in front of them, diligently digging through the buckets of crayons to find the ones that weren’t broken.  A flannel board stood on its easel in one corner, ready and waiting for my teacher to stick the magic figures to it that miraculously stayed in place while she told her story.  Usually I longed to touch that board and figure out how it worked.  Today, I hated it.  

I found a seat and immediately tucked my feet under my chair.  Everyone else was coloring compliantly.  I hated their calm.  I hated the injustice of it all.  They didn’t have to worry about dirty old stinky shoes with torn laces.  They didn’t have to wear plain cotton socks that were the same as the socks they wore to school.  They matched from head to toe in their ruffles and bows and lace.  

When it was story time that day, I sat on the carpet and immediately pulled my feet under my dress so that nobody would see.  I didn't enjoy the teacher sticking the pictures to the flannel board. I didn’t even enjoy the snack like I normally did. Usually it was a delight to eat the animal crackers that Mom never bought at home.  Today, I hated the animal crackers. It was a relief when the grown  ups started showing up at their door to pick everyone up and take them home.  

The only thing I did not hate, in fact, was the little white paper bag my teacher gave me to put my coloring sheet in. It had 'Danica' written on it in black marker, like every week, and like every week I carefully unfolded the top where she had folded it down. At home, I would make it into another paper bag puppet to add to my collection. I loved those paper bags.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Do You Have a Pack?

On my way into town, there is a call center.  It is a bleak, low building set deep in a parking lot, sandwiched between the Public Defender's office and a Dollar General.  The cars in the parking lot always huddle close to the building, so that the call center's sign stands alone, far out next to the road.
One morning as I was driving past, I saw a man standing, alone, next to the thick red supports of the sign.  He was smoking a cigarette.  His back was hunched against the morning chill, and he stood facing the sign's posts, almost embracing them.  I got the impression that he was blocking out both the call center on his left, and the traffic on his right.  Alone, in his little psychic bubble, baggy jeans pulled up under the round ball of his body.  A stretched out polo shirt spread across his belly.  Uncut, shaggy hair.

Every time I drove past the center after that, I looked for him.  And invariably, he was there.  Alone,  Smoking his cigarette.  Bracing himself to go in to work or bracing himself to go home.

And then.  One morning like all the rest I was driving into town, and I looked for him and I found him, but he was not alone!  Standing with him were two other men and a woman.  They were all smoking their cigarettes together.  Turned in towards each other around those bleak red posts, the four of them shut out work and the traffic and suddenly I felt it - the magic that comes when a few people gather and their connection creates a reality unique to just those few.

I was happy for the Lonely Man, and I was happy for his friends, too.  What struck me the most was how connectedness could create magic even in a bleak parking lot under an obnoxious sign, with traffic zooming by.

This is a connectedness, I think, that we all need.  It is a connectedness I know my heart craves.  It's what Zach Galifianakis' character is talking about in The Hangover, when he toasts the guys on the rooftop:

"You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner.  I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack.  But when my sister brought Doug home, I knew he was one of my own.  And my wolf pack ... it grew by one.  So there ... there were two of us in the wolf pack ... I was alone first in the pack .. it grew by one.  So there ... there were two of us in the wolf pack ... I was alone first in the pack, and then Doug joined in later.  And six months ago, when Doug introduced me to you guys, I thought, "What a second, could it be?"  And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack.  Four of us wolves, running around the desert together, in Las Vegas, looking for strippers and cocaine.  So tonight, I make a toast!"

So.  How about it?  Do you have a pack?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Leaving

When I was 14, I left Luaniua for good.  We were on our last village visit before furlough, a furlough after which my parents had already told Nathan he would have to stay in America and not come back to the Solomons when they returned.  He was 16.  For me, though, it was more open ended - they said that I could return to the island after furlough, or stay in the States with my brother.  Apparently I was in an 'in between' age where I wasn't 'too old' to be overseas anymore (something about identity being formative in the teenage years), but wasn't 'too young' to be left behind in America if that's the way it played out.

For the months leading up to our leaving the village, word was spread that Nathan wouldn't be coming back.  And that I might not be coming back.  It was too difficult, too painful, to tell the villagers the truth - that we were getting too old to be in the village and that we were beginning to identify too closely with them instead of with American culture.  It was too difficult, honestly, to even tell myself this.  Because underlying this was the assumption that American culture was the superior choice to Island culture, and that was a rejection of all that I loved and all that was real to my heart.  So I made up my own story.

"My aunts in America want me with them," I told everyone.  "My parents took me away from them for so long and now they want me to be with them, it's their turn to have me."  This was the only reason any child would leave their family in island culture.  Kids were often shuttled between extended family members, if someone had a baby and needed extra help, or a child showed potential and needed better schooling in the capital city, or simply just to acknowledge and strengthen the bond between the family members.  The reality, however, was that we had no idea who I would stay with if I ended up remaining behind in America while the rest of the family went back to the Solomons.  When the time came, there was an advertisement put in the church bulletin, and we found my foster family that way. But that's another story.

When the time came for my final night in the village, I found myself sitting, with my family, in the place of honor at a goodbye feast with the entire village spread in a circle around us. The ship was waiting like an ominous portent far out in the lagoon.  We were on mats right up under the overhang in front of the church.  Bright pressure lanterns cast artificial light and intense black shadows over the gathering.  I wanted to be back in the shadows, where I knew my friends were, flirting and joking and delighting in the thrill of being gathered for a purpose with the rest of the village.  Instead I was trapped at the very front.  With mounds of food in front of me that I couldn't get past the tightening of my throat.  I tried to eat some, since it was superbly rude not to, and also because I knew this was the last island food I'd eat.

Spread in a huge, rounding circle, at which we were the apex, was the entire assembled village, also on mats, also feasting.  Men kept coming up to the front and pontificating about our family on a megaphone.  My dad would bow his head and nod gratefully when each one came.  I kept my eyes on the mat and tried to memorize the weaving.

I don't really remember much after that, but there are fleeting flashes.  I remember when the time for dancing came, and my friends performed the dances they'd prepared for the occasion.  I remember the insistent drum beat and knowing I'd been excluded from the dance practices as the 'guest of honor'.  The leaving had started weeks ago, apparently, and I hadn't even known it.  For their last dance I got up off the mat and danced with my friends, in the back, in the dark shadows , surrounded by the warm brown bodies and swaying hips the feeling of unity as we all together created something beautiful.  The last dance of togetherness.

When the dancing was over, it was time for villagers to present gifts to us, and to say their goodbyes.  They lined up, brown bodies stretching back into the dark shadows beyond the reach of the pressure lanterns.  I had to sit there, as one by one they brought keepsakes for us - traditional leis, hardened coconut shell water holders, things woven from pandanas leaves.  They'd place each token on the mat, then embrace me island style.  Cheek to cheek, inhaling my essence with a loud snuff through the nose,  and then breathing out their essence into me.  Crying, my entire world reduced to the four corners of my own body, I sat dumb and uncomprehending as islander after islander grabbed my face between both her hands, brought cheek to wet cheek and mingled our breaths and our tears.

It went on forever.  I remember sitting stripped and flayed beneath the bright lights of the pressure lanterns.  I remember the smokey smell of turmeric and the yellow streaks of grief where the women's body paint rubbed off onto me.  I remember being trapped in the moment that was forever and yet was bound by the inevitable pulling of time, the ship angry and waiting in the lagoon.

This was my leaving.  Not my first or my last, but I think the one that fragmented the deepest parts of my self.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


About a year ago I lost my footing.  It felt like a slow accumulation of Things on my to-do list, but they eventually became so great, that I lost my balance and fell into them.  I have been drowning until about a month ago.  What happened, you ask?  Something about renovating an old house, moving into a new house, then jumping into a fast and furious reelection campaign.  After the campaign drew to a close in early June, I just lay and panted on the shore of my sanity for about two months. Which brings us here.  I'm looking around and suddenly realizing that I'm *not* struggling through the pounding surf anymore ... I've got my footing on sure ground and the sun is shining overhead.

A (no longer cold nor broken) Hallelujah.

One sure sign that things are coming right in my brain again is that I've got a deep drive to clean and organize the house.  That's what I did this week.  The two Bigs were off on their first week of school, and Manasseh (2) isn't too hard to distract while I get work done.  (Side note:  This is the first time I've been alone at home with one child since Sophie was a baby.  It is so.  Much.  Easier!  I don't know if my endurance has deepened, or if he's just an easier kid than she was.  Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining.)

My meandering cleaning brought me eventually to the living room bookshelves.  Collections of books from college (Buzzed:  The straight facts about the MOST USED and ABUSED DRUGS from alcohol to ecstacy), our slowly growing inventory of classics (David Copperfield, The Count of Monte Cristo), the requisite assortment of nerdly fodder (the complete Harry Potter, CS Lewis, Tolkien, George Orwell, George RR Martin), and my childhood collection of every book ever written by L. M. Montgomery.

Also on a shelf all of their own, my dad's collection of Hardy Boys books, gathered over a few obsessed, preadolescent years.  These were sent to me by my aunt, when she found them tucked away in a box, in the corner of a closet, in my grandfather's house.  I keep them out because they make me feel connected to a past I am too young to know.  A past where a young boy in the 50's escapes into the adventures of two young brothers.

When my dad and mom came to visit recently, I came upon my dad, alone in the living room.  He was perched on the arm of the sofa, squeezed back by the end table and wall of bookshelves.  He had half of the Hardy Boys books out on the end table, and as I came upon him, was holding one in his hand, his fingers cupping the spine in an old and familiar way.  I stopped for a minute, watching.  His face was one of a man deep within himself.  Something about the way he held the book, had the others stacked out, spoke of this being an act his hands remembered.  I saw for a minute through the years to a young boy's obsession.

Turning from past to present.  Manasseh had found, as I cleaned, a stack of his brother's pogs.  He picked them carefully out from the flotsam and jetsam of their room - the Legos, Playmobil characters, blocks, race cars, clothes and puzzle pieces.  He brought them as I was working to the living room, and had them all spread out on the cushion of an armchair.  Spread out in a grid.  Each had its place.

I watched him finish up his project with a satisfied, 'now my world is safe' look on his face.  And identified that same look as the one on his grandfather's face, in that same room, a few weeks ago... and, I would guess, on the same man's, then boy's, face, sixty years ago.