Hi. It's me, your daughter. The one you didn't know you had. The one that your "son" hid so well that "he" almost drowned in its spill-over. It's been too long, I know. Life gets busy. Days turn into years and then I realize that I haven't called upon you.
Haven't called your names; in the way of all children; in so long that dust settles on my tongue when I finally do.
I'm nearly 40, now. The number itself makes me not believe it. The thought of "his" bedroom at our old house flashes memories through my mind like a runaway train. Fast and beginning to blur. I didn't belong in the clothing you bought. I didn't want to play with the boys. I wanted to read. To enjoy my Star Wars toys pretending to be Leia but always having Han at hand. I stared at Barbie and her dream house like a starving person stares at a roast beef sandwich. Then I discovered Mom's closet.
The first time, you both were afraid you'd failed "me" by age seven..
The second time, begging that therapist to help "me" and me beating him in chess instead of talking to him.
The third time brought slight respite. But it was because of the door between you both and "he" that I closed out of my own fear. That I locked with white lies and reinforced with paranoid self-awareness that kept my body moving as expected, kept my language as expected, kept my expression of my heart as expected. I shut you all out, for fear you'd do it first. I should have known better. I should have tried harder. I should have been open and honest and had those long discussions for which we, all three, were unable to find the wherewithal to have. I didn't even know what words I was afraid to use, at that point. I was just afraid.
Afraid of my tomorrows. Afraid of other people. Afraid of classmates. Afraid of friends and family. Afraid of the bullies before they'd even known there was a target on my back. Afraid of myself. Afraid of you.
Your "son" sang in choir...bass, baritone, 2nd tenor (that was me). Played in band, third chair trumpet. Dated as required by rules I'd never heard or agreed to. Mom, I wanted to be your daughter. I wanted to make you proud of the strong young woman who knew her mind and excelled in what she invested of herself in. Dad, I wanted to be your angel. For you to feel protective of me and for me to get annoyed by it and in stepping out from under your wings make you proud of the not so little girl that idolized you.
I would become emotional. You told "him" to stop being melodramatic. You would get onto "him" for not being social. I would curl tighter into myself. You would become incensed with anger and worry that "he" was throwing away my "potential" in school. I needed you to see something that I hid from you and for you to say it was okay. Being my parents was not merely challenging. It had to be frustrating to the extreme, with your hearts tearing as I produced lifestyle slight-of-hand and mental gymnastics that would have required emotional quantum mechanics to follow.
Then I left school. Went out into the world and started clearing a road less traveled that was masked by my own terrified self-delusion and practiced social/physical lies that I couldn't have stopped even if I had understood them or even known that I was falling into them as the default person that I was programmed to be, by then. Disastrous relationships, non-committal attempts to work, light-year deep anguish and stress and doing everything I could to self-destruct without simply loading one of Dad's guns.
Then, metastasized breast cancer. And you raged against it like mother nature unleashed.
Your Mother falling into dementia and sickness.
I couldn't take it. "He" was her primary care giver but I fell to the ground and mourned for years. For all your desperation to protect your child from this, and fight your own war, and trying to heal from the battles and there always being yet another shoe to plummet down upon you while you grew so worn, then bald, then pale and finally, "he" heard you'd opted to stop chemo.
I raged, I screamed, "Stopping treatment?!? You're quitting on me? You can't do that. You can't die."
Later that year, your light was smothered, and I was utterly shattered...but they saw "him" bear it.
Forty-four days later, a dimmer light faded away and she was ground down even further, but they saw "him" weep and tend to the estate..
I ran. I ran to the city and resorted to a survival, not a life, that you never wanted for me. That you both would have stormed the gates of Olympus and the pits of Hell to protect me from. But by then, I was so destroyed that I didn't care.
Another year passed and a third light turned crimson stained and darkened. Dad, go to the doctor. Dad, you're coughing up blood and it's scaring the hell out of me, let me take you to the doctor. "He" begged you, "he" took you, "he" sat there with you. But it was I that heard him say it. The size of my fist, he said. You'd smoked Winchesters since before I was born. Months, he said. Treatment, he said. No, you said. You were tired, 77, weathered and drained from having watched it drain another. Like you did as a Corpsman. You triaged yourself out. You missed her. Six months later, you died in "his" arms but I wailed and begged and pleaded with you to breathe.
"He" went to both of your funerals in a suit and tie. I burned that suit and that tie.
Why didn't I meet your departure from us all as I was? Why couldn't I have been open with you in those last years? Why weren't you able to know your daughter the way she so desperately wanted you to? What robbed me of knowing you as daughters do their parents? How could I have continued the falsehood with stark reality rushing the twilight of our family? Why did you never know my real name? Why did I never get to hear either of you say it? Why will I never get to introduce you both to the love of my life? Why did I flail and cling to that which hurt me most? Why do I have so many regrets of lost time, lost opportunity, lost experience, lost memories, lost celebrations, lost discoveries, lost growth, lost shared moments, lost comfort, lost laughter?
Fear. My fear. It was my own, and society's, and yours, and that of strangers, and of religious leaders, and of homophobic peers, and hetero-paranoid authority, and that of the state, the law, that of doctors, and that of therapists, of imagined reprisal against you both, of failing to be what everyone wanted or expected me to be, of neighbors judging, of other parents recoiling from us all, of today and tomorrow and the far unseen terror of the future, of being alone, of never understanding myself, of being diagnosed as sick or perverted by people with no right to judge, of caring again, loving again, of finally and forever ridding myself of "him" to stand naked, cold and ....afraid.
But, I'm not afraid anymore. Fear will not rob me of what is precious in life anymore. I will not give it the reigns. I will not subsume my needs for the comfort of others any longer. I will not cut whole parts of myself away and attempt to pretend they never existed. I will not submit to the opinions of those I don't know and who don't care enough to try to know me. I will not let oppressive dogma of any kind dictate the path of my life, or have sway over my opinion of the person that I am. I will not fret the coming seasons, because I've friends and family who won't let ME starve, or freeze, or remain in suffering because every ladder towards independence is yanked up out of my reach. Likewise of finance, or employment, or medical care, or equality, or to life and happiness, or contentment, or protection from abuse and victimization under the law.
I am my mother's daughter. Of strong Irish blood. I am my father's daughter. Of deep, sturdy ethical and moral center. I am my half-brother's sister, a mirror reflection and proud to call him my brother. I am a friend that is imperfect but never stops trying be better than my failures. I am the owner of my actions, and the responsibility inherent within them. I am a woman, with a woman's heart, a woman's soul and the peace that comes with accepting that I always had them and that nobody can take them from me.
I am Dana Higgins. And it's wonderful to be in this world...and to be free.
Mom? Dad? I love you both. Rest now. I'm gonna be alright.
(Please share and let me hear your thoughts. Part of this is exploring the world with others, or myself, as the case may be. :) )