P.S. – You are Loved!

P.S. You Are Loved Project Tag Cloud in the shape of a heart

P.S. You Are Loved Project Tag Cloud

This took me a few days to write, but it’s finally done.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the P.S. You Are Loved Project on Facebook – veve.me/PSYouAreLoved (and forward the link to anyone you think might be interested in helping counter messages of hate to trans*folk that are coming out and getting hate mail)?


Dear Friend,

I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you to receive all those messages of hate, after finally having the courage to reveal yourself as you have known yourself to be for so long.  I doubt I ever will.

I, myself, have struggled since childhood with the knowledge that the sex and gender I was assigned at birth don’t fit with the sense of who I am, internally.  But because neither of the binary options available to me in societal roles of sex and gender fit my own private identity, because even if there were an option that fit me that I could outwardly transition into, I still wouldn’t come even close to fitting anyone else’s idea of a societal norm, I’ve chosen to simply accept the cis-assigned roles allowed me by the normie majority’s sense of acceptable “morality.”  I still don’t “fit in,” but at least this way I don’t stick out *quite* so much.

I’m not telling you all this to try to draw attention to myself – I’m mainly hoping to convey a sense of empathy for the difficulty of your position.  I know a little about feeling like my outside doesn’t match my inside identity.  I know about being a target for hate.  I’ve been beaten up badly more times than I can count, and I’ve lived with daily verbal violence, bullying, and severe public humiliation on a daily basis from my so-called “peers” for years before I managed to escape to the city and the more accepting communities here.  I know, and hopefully you do too, that no matter how “different” we may seem to be to bigoted individuals, there is no excuse for hateful words and actions.  No attribute or aspect of our expressions of identity caused either of us to deserve that kind of treatment.

The thing is, the more that I see hate in the world, towards myself or towards others, the more that I realize that hateful actions say nothing about the target and everything about the hateful person’s fears, insecurities, and guilty anger towards themselves.  It isn’t really *us* that they hate, even though we are the ones they direct it at (because they can’t face who they are and how they feel inside).

So now that I’ve given you a ton of bullshit background explaining why I think I might understand an iota of what you’ve been through with the deluge of recent hate – which, really, I can’t, no more than anyone can be sure they understand anyone else’s experiences but their own – now that I’ve said all that stuff, what is it I’m really trying to communicate?

I guess what I’m trying to say is just my own projections on your situation – not hurtful in intent, but probably almost as misguided.  In the end, the best I can really expect, I imagine, is to learn my own lessons and hope upon hope that this message to myself will have some value to you (or to anyone else besides myself).

The main lesson I’ve learned in life so far (mainly from a serious suicide attempt and from a long bout with severe hard drug addiction in which I wounded everyone who loved me deeply and drove away even my oldest and closest friends, ending up a homeless crack/meth whore for way too long) is this:

I have a responsibility – to myself, to those who love me (past, present, and future), and to all living beings to live life to the fullest – to do my best to change the world and history for the better, to leave a positive legacy, to to be a force for good in every moment that I can.  I have a duty to live.

No matter what I believe about any divine force or a life before or after this one, the only thing I can be sure is that I am alive now.  My only purpose is to live – *truly* live.  I have a mind designed to learn new things constantly, a consciousness to experience and reflect on events, a “heart” – to feel for myself and others, and a conscience (when I don’t try to silence it with denial or addictive behaviors) to help me find my way and live in harmony with the world around me.

It seems this letter may have degenerated into what is beginning to sound like a bunch of self-righteous navel-gazing, but what I really mean is this:

– I don’t know who you are, but I consider you a friend.

– I haven’t met you, but I admire your courage.

– We may never speak, but I urge you: continue being yourself, continue to seek out the fulfillment of your true will in this life, continue pursuing your purpose for existing.

Your sister in spirit,

V.A. Velatura

(P.S. – you are loved!)

Lasting Impressions

When I was fourteen, and just beginning to show the worst symptoms of bipolar depression, I experienced the death of someone close to me for the first time.

I still remember when my mother came into my room to tell me Nana (my mother’s mother) had died, from pneumonia she had contracted because the steroids she needed to be on to keep her autoimmune disorders (including lupus, among other things) in remission, had destroyed her immune system.  It was also the first time I truly understood the meaning of the phrase, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” as ultimately, it was the medications that kept her alive that killed her.

My memory of that event is different than most of the memories before that, in that I remember seeing myself from the door to my room, as my mom came in and told me the news, that Nana had died, and watching myself shrink away from my mother and curl up around the scruffy and worn long-eared rabbit that Nana had given me a decade before then.  It was then I began to understand grief (for someone else, I had dealt with a different kind of grief secretly on an ongoing basis for the last few years at that point following several severe sexual brutalizations), this grief seemed more acute than any feeling I’d ever experienced before.  The grief was so strong, that I feel it now still, in my eyes welling up with tears as I recall, in the feeling like a ball of iron is weighing down my gut, pulling on the bottom of my rib cage…

I started a photography class at a local college a few weeks ago, and instead of checking out a camera from the school a few days at a time, I remembered a recent offer from my mom for her to give me a 35mm camera.  I thought she was referring to the Canon that mom had used in college herself and that, when I was deemed responsible enough with the almost-disposable cheap snapshot camera I’d been given around age 5 when I showed interest in shooting pictures, I was allowed to borrow mom’s hallowed Canon.

The idea excited me.  This whole class excites me, really.  It had been so long since I worked with film, I’d forgotten how thrilling it used to be to me to hoard each exposure for *just* the right moment, because each roll of film and each print had to be begged for following endless hours of chores, and every exposure was priceless.   But I digress.

I was wrong.  I went out to mom’s for dinner after talking to her, she was tickled pink that I came to visit.  As I was getting ready to go, she brought out the camera.  It wasn’t the Canon.

The camera she brought out was a mid-80’s Minolta, a nice 35mm SLR that is IDEAL for the work I’m doing for the next three quarters for the film portions of my photography classes.  As she opened the case to show me, she said the camera had been Nana’s, that Nana bought it right before she started to get really sick, and had used it on her travels to see states she’d not visited before now that she was permanently retired from the hospital where she’d been an RN for close to four decades.  Mom said that it had been sitting in storage since Nana had started getting sick in ’88, that other than two or three times mom and the other kids had taken it out to check on it, it hadn’t been handled, and that it hadn’t been used.

I’ve been using it the last couple weeks.  Ineptly, because it’s been a little over two decades since I last shot film, but I’m anxiously awaiting my shot at checking out a canister and developing this first roll tomorrow.  Digressing again…

Tonight, just a short while ago, I went to clean off the dust that has been on the lens this whole time with a few cotton swabs and some rubbing alcohol, since I’d accidentally touched the surface today and left a fingerprint.  I swabbed the surface gently, switching swabs as soon as they started to leave lint behind.  When it seemed as clean as it would get, and it dried, I held it to the light to check the job I’d done.  Despite my work, a fingerprint still clearly reflected.

What the fuck?! was my first thought – how can that be?  Until I realized, the fingerprint is on the *other side*.  It wasn’t a lens surface I’d cleaned, but only a filter left screwed on the lens to protect it.  I unscrewed the filter to clean it, and then it struck me, hard.

This was the last remaining fingerprint that Nana left behind.

I almost looked for a box to save the filter, but I’m trying to work hard on not hoarding shit anymore (and keeping this would be a step backward on a moderately serious problem I have in that direction).  I would have taken a picture, if I had the right lights necessary to show its reflection on the filter’s glass, but I don’t, and so I didn’t.  And really, it seems to me that the purpose of death for me, as someone left behind, and of grief, is to learn to let go.

And so I let go, and gently swabbed the last traces of my maternal grandmother from the only thing of hers that I still own.  I wonder who will miss me when I go, like I miss Nana now — even though she’s been gone for most of my life.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on ideas for what legacy I hope to leave behind, especially since I have no children and plan to keep it that way (for many very good reasons – a discussion for later).  What fingerprint will I leave behind for decades after my death?  And who will be there to find it?

Learning to Die, Part One – “Fatal Attraction”

Today, write about a loss. The twist: make this the first post in a three-post series (Writing101, Day Four: The Serial Killer).

LEARNING TO DIE

Part One: “Fatal Attraction”

I always thought I would never even try a “hard” drug.  My dad had told me many horror stories of his friends that “never came back” from heavy acid trips and although he never mentioned that he had tried cocaine, speed, and heroin until after I was well into my own bouts with addiction (and recovery), I had been given enough information through his stories of girlfriends lost to addiction, through public education, and through the scare-tactics of the churches I attended as a child, that I was certain that the “harder” drugs were too dangerous to even try.

That being said, I still experimented heavily with alcohol and marijuana, consuming both semi-regularly from the age of 16 until my introduction to cocaine later in life.  I had tried pot once, in a very small amount, before moving out of my hometown, at 16.  Later that year, I decided my only escape from my mother was to choose voluntary psychiatric care at a nearby mental hospital for a few months, and when I got out I went to live with my father and to attend a nearby alternative high school.  There, the common practice after school was to go see the school pot dealer in the woods across from the school and smoke up with him.  I’m not sure how many times I did this, perhaps a few, but I know that I stopped when I had an experience that scared me straight (as far as going out in public when I was stoned).

One evening after smoking out in the woods, I got on the county transit bus to go home to the neighboring town where I lived, stoned out of my gourd.  I fumbled with my change for a long time, dropping quarters on the floor and stumbling around while picking them up.  Finally, I finished paying, got my transfer, and sat down near the front door.  When I got closer to home, a man in a dark blue sweat suit, carrying a navy blue gym bag that proclaimed in bright white letters across the side, “POLICE,” walked up to the front of the bus next to me, leaned over next to my face, and inhaled deeply through his nose.  That sniff seemed to last forever, and it freaked me the fuck out.  I was frozen in place.  He finally stood back up and said, “Sorry, I just had to do that,” and he exited the bus.

My mind spun faster than a gerbil wheel, my eyes watched the window through the back for following police cars, my heart jumped every time we went to make a stop, certain that uniformed officers were planning to board and take me in every time those doors opened up.  I finally made it home safely.

After that, I only toked up when I didn’t have to go anywhere or when I was sure I wouldn’t encounter anyone else while I was baked.

As far as alcohol went, I was able to get a hold of it regularly.  When I was at parties for older friends, I would drink to excess, getting pretty sloshed, then taking the bus home to my grandparents’ house where I lived with my dad in the basement.  He never said anything about me coming home smelling like a distillery, maybe because never really got into any trouble that way and I always came home, albeit pretty early in the morning.

However, one episode encouraged me to be more moderate in my drinking.  When I was 17, I and three other friends decided to try to finish off a full half-gallon of Everclear in one night.  I woke up two days later, praying to a god that I no longer believed in, hoping that he would just let me die.  The pain in every cell of my body took at least another three days to subside, and after that I didn’t drink to blackout ever again, usually I drank to get a small buzz going, and then would switch back and forth between alcohol and water to stay just a little buzzed.

Things changed the year I turned 30.  The fall before then, I tried mushrooms for the first time, having a pretty intense and partly uncomfortable trip, in which I lost my fear of death, or so I thought.  Shortly after, I was introduced to whip-its (nitrous oxide) and the wonders of its anesthesia.  Mushrooms did not become a regular part of my experience, but nitrous did from then on.  Nitrous, along with the things I would later substitute for it, would soon change my world.

Later will come Part Two: “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Three Songs That Saved My Life

Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you (Writing 101, Day Three: Commit to a Writing Practice).

Before starting: The exercise calls me to write for at least 15 minutes, and however long I spend writing today to be my average writing time for the rest of this month’s course’s exercises.  A lot of people have been saying on The Commons for this month’s course that they find the time passes too slowly.  Not for me.  I have, so far, found myself having to stop myself when I’ve already gone over.  I’ve heard the term “bloggorhea” (like diarrhea of the mouth, but transferred to blogs) used to describe tendencies like mine to just write endless posts about what I find interesting.  I think my challenge this month will be to find a better “economy of words,” as my friend Nancy (an acclaimed gallery artist and former high school English teacher) from my young adulthood claimed was the only real thing my writing lacked.  And here I go doing it again.  Time to just do the exercise.

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

1.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in C Minor, as performed by Vladimir Horowitz on a cassette tape recording made during the early 80’s.  Also called “Pathetique.”

I still have the cassette, somewhere.  The music encoded on the magnetic tape of that cassette has been fuzzed out by the noise created by having played it many too many times.  I would play its movements, then rewind, then play it again, and rewind, repeating these as often as I needed to until the tears would slow down and eventually dry up.  I was so often so lonely that I would pity myself my (total) lack of any friend my own age – all my friends were adults, who understood my plight all too well, but they couldn’t take the place of the scoffing, mocking, bullying adolescents who were my peers in school.  I often used to say, “I didn’t have friends, I had books,” growing up, but that’s not completely true.  I had Vladimir Horowitz’s fingers caressing those white and black keys, comprehending the absolute despair that overwhelmed me, soothing my pain.  No other interpretation of that sonata has sounded so right to my ears since, no other version does for me what that one did then.  I found another Horowitz version recorded a couple of decades later, but it doesn’t have the same passion, the same skill, it is a faded replica of the older one’s glory.

2.  For My Lover – Tracy Chapman

When I was 12 or 13, I was given my first CD boombox.  My dad had already started collecting CDs, cassette tapes were still sold in stores but it was clear that CDs were the wave of the future.  With that boombox, I was given the three CD’s that were my favorites of my dad’s collection: Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon,” James Taylor’s “Greatest Hits,” and Tracy Chapman’s debut album.  All three were rotated and played on repeat, but the latter was the one that spoke to my adolescence in a way the other two did not.  It was difficult picking just one song from that album – “Fast Car,” “She’s Got Her Ticket,” and “Baby Can I Hold You” were also top on the rotation of songs to get repeated on my headphones and sung along to under my breath at night, but “For My Lover” spoke to a time of great tribulation when I was 14.  I had been dating a 19-year-old, and he got me pregnant.  I miscarried soon after, but my mom (shortly after he had left town to go home to live with his parents again) went through my room, found my diary, and read the entire thing to find out what was going on in my life.  She tried to have the older boy prosecuted for statutory rape, to which I responded that I would volunteer to testify for the defense and appear in court wearing the sluttiest outfit I could find to prove that I had initiated the relationship and that he didn’t know my age until we were already involved.  I felt like I was in prison, I felt like I was being punished for my choice of lover and for protecting him and, in a way, that was true.

3. My Dad’s Gone Crazy – Eminem

This rap song starts out with the sound of someone chopping up lines on glass with a razor and then snorting something with a straw, only to follow with the sound of a toddler asking, “Daddy, what are you doing?”  The song speaks to the craziness of addiction, the anger and self-righteousness that goes along with it, the rebellion against society, and the grief at what is happening, what he is doing to himself and those who love him still in his life. ‘Nuf said.