Reclaiming Faith- My Childhood Companion

I wrote this a while ago and just discovered it in my draft file. As I reclaim spirit in my life and strive to heal physically, it is especially important to recognize the faith that has always been with me. 

I am a Christian. I am also a survivor.

My adoptive mother and brother were heinously abused by my adoptive father for more than a decade of my childhood. I lived in a secret turmoil that I was not allowed to share. Fear tucked me in at night, and the shining reality of stress woke me every morning.

I was the older sibling, the responsible one, in-charge, and overwrought with a deep need to save my family. I spent every waking hour wondering which path would secure our safety. I worried until my stomach burned with ulcers. I ached with every bruised lip and broken bone my loved ones suffered. I lived a self-imposed world of escape plans, daring rescues, and invisible castles with locks galore. I spent every non-school moment creating realities and wishing so hard, that I spoke those wishes in my sleep.

Yet, inblogj6 all that tumult and pain, I never once felt I was fighting alone.

When people hear the story of my childhood, they ask me why I am not more damaged. I often credit the strong genes I inherited from my biological/first family. I have a fortitude forged of hearty Newfoundlanders, and fight born of West Virginia mountain people who were soldiers even when there was no war.

Yesterday, when I heard Trisha Yearwood sing Oscar Hammerstein’s song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in a Fox television production of The Passion, I recognized a gentle dreamer sitting by my childhood side, watching over every plan I penned in my hidden notebooks. I felt the sweet embrace of my miraculous companion and knew that every hopeful word I wrote was his to share.

I felt the presence of spirit as a child. I  called it my guardian angel. Today, I wonder how any abused child finds a way to believe they are watched over? I was optimistic when optimism was not an option. I believed we would survive when survival was impossible. I held steady in my plans, hopes, and dreams of escape when escape seemed the last thing we might accomplish. I saw riches where there was only want.

When you walk through a storm
Keep your chin up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

I was too young to know the source of the light that carried me through.

Now, at fifty-something, I know that I never walked alone.

Blessings for light and healing,

V.L. Brunskill

Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

 

 

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Cat Cuddlers- An Enlightened Species

catthreeWhen my daughter first suggested that we stop in at the Purrvana Cafe & Cat Lounge at 1402 Barnard Street in Savannah, Georgia, I was skeptical. I pictured a dining experience marred by a mess of furry seasoning. If I want pet-hair in my soup, I can eat at home.

As we approached the café, a billboard welcomed with an appropriate sentiment for the chilly Savannah day- “It’s kitty cuddling weather.” As we stepped into the slim shop, we were greeted by a croissant menu, wafts of freshly brewed coffee, and a large window divider that separates the café from cuddling headquarters.catone

We ordered our grub and thirty minutes of cat cuddle time for $5 each. The pretty cashier explained that the cats I watched leap to and fro in the Victorian style parlor behind the glass were available for adoption. All cuddle fees go to their feeding and care. Since the café opened in October 2017, the café has placed twenty-two cats in forever homes.

As soon as our food was ready, we were taken back outside to an outer door (separation of kitchen and animals is the law in Georgia) and into a small vestibule where we were asked to sanitize our hands before entering the surprisingly sweet-smelling feline abode.

Upon entry, we were warned that Noir (a large black cat with a leopard face) could swipe our bakery goods at any time, and that eating while standing might be best. We sat in a couple of wingback chairs, drinking coffee and eating without a single swat from the curious critters.

Melted onto high shelves without a care, diving and dancing up the bars on the front window and lazing in the noon sun on a window seat, a dozen creatures occupied the lounge. A laser pointer toy rested on a highboy armoire and I used it to entice a pretty gray gal into play.cattwo

While spending time with the lovelies was wonderful, the true benefits of the cat café were not clear until more patrons arrived. The first, a young woman wearing a heavy wool coat and cat-eared knit cap, sat next to a curled-up napper on the elegant sofa. She stroked its fur and chatted with us about missing her animals. They lived out of state with her parents while she attended college.

A light, tendril of artistry entered the café next. Calling himself Flannel, and wearing red plaid pants and low, button-covered hat, this young man might be taken for a musician in some circles for his long locks and sprite-like appearance. When he spoke, I found him to be enlightened beyond his years. An illustrator, protector, and lover of animals, he illuminated the room.

It turned out that both of our cohorts in the business of cat cuddling attend Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). At fifty-something, I oft forget the bright wash of twenty, when life stretches in front of you like an endless prairie to be inhaled and explored at a gallop. I also forget (and part of my healing journey is to remember) that there are still so many creative, humble, gentle conversations to be had with the generations of now.

At the Savannah Film Festival this year, I brushed sleeves with these young people, intoxicated by their sparkle. At the cat café, I was privy to the depth of the light they encompass. They are a generation of twenty-somethings not content to follow old rules or expectations. They are forging paths of love, planning escapes, and walking toward a light some of us older folks have allowed to dim.

Perhaps, healing this old soul is best accomplished by seeking the youthful light of younger souls.

Animal lovers are earth’s meek, yet mighty warriors and I already adored them before we visited the café.  However, a love of animals is not the only reason to visit the Purrvana Café and Cat Lounge.

In our fair city, the café attracts young art students and the lessons they can teach those of us who have lived long (and perhaps lost touch with our spiritual gifts) are worth far more than the five-dollar cost of admission.

P.S. The croissants are warm, buttery bliss.

Blessings for cat cuddles and renewal,

V.L. Brunskill

Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

Reclaim Your Gifts- Secret to Healing?

My world slowed to an introspective, desperate spin in May 2017. It was eight months ago and yet it feels like forever. My family and I had returned from a beach weekend on my beloved Jekyll Island in Georgia. I awoke that Monday morning with a huge bump on the back of my neck and swollen lips.

Jekyll_C_LisaWestberry

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island. Photo by Lisa Westberry

The doctor assumed that either fried oysters or a new medicine were the cause. I stopped consuming both. I took steroids and antihistamines. But nothing worked. I was soon covered with plate-sized welts that itched and hurt.

Off to an allergist for food testing. No allergies found.  I was diagnosed with chronic  idiopathic urticaria, a fancy term for hives. I was told that they are not food related and that they will someday go away in the same mysterious way they arrived. The allergist suggested that I take truckloads of antihistamines (five different kinds at a time) and wait.

Two trips to the emergency room later (with a swollen tongue and closed eyes) I sought out fellow sufferers on Facebook. It was there that I discovered how urticaria ruins lives, breaks hearts and tests the fortitude of the human spirit. Doctors gleefully remind us that our condition cannot kill us (as long as we keep an EPI pen close by). While it is not fatal, we live the torment of being covered in raised patches that move, change size and shape, and itch like a constant case of poison ivy.

I have looked at every treatment under the sun, including Chinese medicine, herbal teas, supplements, and finally rearranged my life to a Paleo, low histamine food lifestyle. I still have hives. I still cry at night as I tear my skin from the itch and cringe at the pain.

This brings me to a phone call I had last week. I was chatting with a prospective speaker for an upcoming webinar. I am a conference producer in addition to writing books. The woman, also an author, asked about my forthcoming memoir and when I explained the topic (my trans dad and how hiding ‘her’ gender for a lifetime stole her ability to be human), she inquired about my health.

Now, here’s where I go out on a limb. Risking a ridicule, that I spent the last twenty years avoiding. The author I spoke with last week is a Reiki master. According to Wikipedia, Reiki is a form of alternative medicine developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. When I explained my itchy woes, she asked if I considered myself to be spiritual. I explained that I am spiritual and have a strong faith.

“Are you an empath?; she inquired. The question stopped me in my tracks.  An empath is a hypersensitive, intuitive person who feels everyone’s emotions times ten. 

“I used to be,” I replied.

She laughed, “Well, then you still are. When did you start blocking your gifts? I think this is the cause of your illness.”

Now, I am somewhat science-minded and this explanation sounded ridiculous at first. How could blocking out the painful absorption of other people’s angst, hate, hurt, and moods cause hives? Ridiculous, right?

Maybe not. I was once a gifted tarot card reader. It started as fun. Yet in readings, I told people they were pregnant before they knew it and foretold many things that I could not know by any earthly knowledge. I stopped reading cards when my daughter was born for fear it might bring negative energy.

“Reclaim your gifts and the illness will leave you,” my new author friend told me.

The first step in my journey of reclamation and healing is this blog entry. Admitting that the gifts exist is difficult in a world mired in insular, earthbound ministries. People will think me mad for writing this. I may lose credibility. Yet, I felt the force of her words and think the message may be my truth.

I reclaim these gifts today. I will share my journey to wellness of mind, body, and spirit here, and pray that other’s will find healing as I learn the medical, and spiritual path to a cure.

  • Have you blocked your gifts?
  • Are you having medical issues?
  • Did you find your way by reclaiming your power?

Please share your story in the comments. You can also email me at vbrunskill at gmail.com.

Blessings for healing and love,

V.L. Brunskill

Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

 

 

 

 

Domestic Violence Awareness Month- Memoir of Abuse (We Survived)

For the three women murdered every day in the U.S. by current or former romantic partners, and for those still trapped in abusive situations, I share an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir Transgressions in Rouge: A Father’s Gender Rage, a Daughter’s Reckoning.

This represents a typical night in my childhood home.  Domestic abuse is family abuse.

——Christmas Eve——

     Mom did not answer, and something about her silence made me inch towards the bathroom door. It was open when I peeked in. Dad had the bloody towel pushed to Mom’s face, obstructing her nose and mouth. Unable to breathe, I watched her fall to her knees.          

     Preying on her low position, Dad let go of the towel to grab her curls with both hands. Hurling her towards the toilet, he slammed her face on the porcelain bowl three times before immersing her head in the water.  Mom moaned, her breath bubbling at the surface.

     Fed up and fuming with adrenaline, I crossed to the corner of my brother’s room where his finally useful baseball bat rested. Taking the bat in hand, I closed Robbie’s door behind me lifting the weapon over my head. My heart slammed against my ribcage as I entered the bathroom swinging. I had no idea what I might strike as blind rage engulfed me. I only knew I had to end him. The weight of the first wide swing knocked the extra roll of toilet paper with the crocheted doll cover from the partition between the sink and toilet.

     Dad ducked, releasing Mom who came up for air, gagging and spitting. My next swing landed on Dad’s arm, which he’d raised in defense. “Why are you doing this?”, he asked in the victim’s voice he slung on like a holster after every battle.  I lost my footing then, which softened the impact on my father’s hand to a mere tap. He squealed like a newborn pup, grabbing his barely bruised hand with the other.

     Mom sat on the toilet in a trance, staring at the cheap butterfly art on the wall in front of her. Dad howled, “Look what you made her do. You turned my daughter against me. You see this, you bitch?”

     I grabbed my stomach, the angry scream of the ulcer and seism of my muscles nearly bringing me to my knees. My voice ricocheted through the bathroom, “It’s you, Dad. It’s always you. You’re evil. I hate you. We all hate you.”

     Dad stopped his venomous blaming to look at me. The mask of hate melted into a pathetic mourn of false accusation. He tightened the drawstring waist of his red and green pajamas which had loosed in the melee. I raised the bat again; sure he would punish my mother for my tirade.

     Dad turned away from my hateful stare, his voice deflated. “All you had to do is clean the fucking bathroom. Now, see what you done to my daughter.” He pushed past me, leaving through the master bedroom. I knew he was headed to his chair. The sulking throne where he rocked away his perceived wounds.

     “My daughter. You made her hate me,” he mumbled over the indignant creak of the rocking chair.

     Inside the bathroom, I coaxed my mother to her feet helping her rinse her face. Patting her cheeks dry, I watched her retreat to the semi-conscious cave that was her refuge. Her eyes were open, but she did not see me.

     Guiding her to her side of the bed, I kissed her forehead before pulling the blanket over her motionless body.  She stared at the ceiling, not blinking at my father’s rant in the other room.

    “You made them hate me you bitch” Dad chanted his spent soliloquy. “You turned dem against me.”

     Confirming that Mom was breathing by laying my head on her chest, I left my parent’s room to check on Robbie. He stirred as I shut the door, “Santa?”, he asked as I caught my breath, wiping away tears to hide my upset.

     “Yes, Robbie, Santa,” I lied, wondering if there would be any gifts under the tree. Spooning my brother’s back in the twin bed, we slept five hours as the malevolence of my birthday morphed into Christmas.

     I woke with Robbie’s finger poking the small of my back, “It’s light out. Let’s go see.”


If you know someone who is being abused, find a local resource and help save them.
My family escaped to a shelter for battered women.

If you are being abused- please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Blessings for the safety of women & children everywhere,
V.L.
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Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

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Santini Shrugs- My Wound is Paternity

My wound is paternity. Southern author Pat Conroy wrote in Prince of Tides, “My wound is geography.” I disagree. Pat’s life in our low country became a healing irrigation for the legacy left by his sulfur-veined father. I believe, paternity is our mutual wound.

I once shared my life story on a Southern writer’s panel, and a fellow panelist proclaimed, “Whoa, That beats Conroy.” No one will ever beat Conroy. That’s a given. But when I tell you that my Daddy died a woman on the steps where I hoped to kill her, you might have to take a breath. I do. Living with something so true and outside, robs me of clarity, self-definition. I can hardly believe it is my story.

Hating my father was easy. A New York City iron-worker, he was a tall drink of water with a leathered, fists-up attitude and a penchant for killing cats, dogs, and (if rumors hold true) men. Kids ran from him, coworkers fell from bridges he worked on. His size twelve work boot left an indelible mark in my mother’s ribcage. He was that ugly, domestic monster you hear about and pray your daughter does not marry. I came to my father’s home in the arms of a social worker.

To exit the womb on Christmas Eve and fight jaundice without a parent’s love was easy because it transpired before language. In the fleshy dialogue exchanged since I found my biological family, the reality of my given home singes. I spread roots in assigned cement, only to watch it crack under the constant pummeling of my adoptive family. So went adoptions in the 1960s. In the best interest of the child, they sealed me from familiarity and set my feet on fire.

Dad could not love the families he decimated. There were two. Ours and another secret clan, which ran from him changing their names for safety. Dad could not stop his angry tornado from pounding us into a shelter for battered families. His storm formed in the windswept years of his youth, while stealing women’s underwear from a laundry line in College Point. Gender was a given, so German mamas punished with rank sternness, and German papas crushed any hint of girlishness from their sons.

Act like a man, I told my ten-year-old self as I sat in the hall closet, clutching my father’s weapon.  Risking death if discovered, I reminded myself that Dad wouldn’t hesitate. Just kill him, I thought. Faith and femininity ordained my failure that day. I chickened out at the sight of the marble crucifix in the hall. Did Jesus move? Dad’s malevolent masculinity would always win in my teary eternal truth.

The truth, not beholden to scared little girls or damaged women, held its tongue for five decades. Dad died in 2015, on the stoop of the three-bedroom prison I once called home. He wore rouge and the full form of a female. The vile man who spun to toss my baby brother against the dining room wall died a woman.

Hyper-masculine behavior? Madness born of hiding her truth?
A risk too painful to take until it was too late?

My wound is paternity.  Daddy’s was her gender.
My forthcoming memoir explores both.

Blessings for healing of all wounds,
V.L.

—————
Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

 

 

The Placement Poem

Familiarity slips away, noticed.
Metallic taste-buds pant milky.
Silent Night nurses wave, embracing end of shift.
Shrill-voiced newcomers mingle, pipes untested.

I wait, finding my way from yellow to white.
Retinas flash, sad for the unnamed.
Fingers swish down sallow cheeks, cooing songs from someone else’s childhood.

Cold wool. Leather gloves. Pen scratches paper.
Tucked and whisked in borrowed things.
Yellow cab. Four journeys- clandestine.

Slats surround. White walls.
Looming lookers, feed, change, retreat. No tethering. Foul foreign breath.
Floating without- what?

Eight months on.
Curly nose tickler. Silly smile.
Lace bonnet belonging.
Kisses on top, bottom, front.
Mom.

 

Blessings,

V.L.

—————

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Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

Jekyll Island Club Resort – A Writer Retreats

Last week, I retreated to Jekyll Island Club Resort where I completed my book about growing up in an abusive home, having a transgender father who hid his truth until he reached his seventies, and finding a way to forgive her and myself.  I had planned to share a pictorial of my writing residency and not get too wordy. However, when I opened WordPress this morning, I found a draft of this blog entry. So it is with gratitude beyond measure that I share my Jekyll retreat.

There is grace in an ancient oak tree, creaking entry doors, and floors so old they weep and moan as you pass over them. I arrived at Jekyll Island Club to find myself housed at Crane Cottage in a room with a majestic view of the Intracoastal waterway and a courtyard garden. Spiral stairs led to my room at the end of the hall where inside a jetted bath, and comfy-as-a-cloud bed awaited me.

Dinner in the Grand Dining Room found me alone in the front dining room and waited on by Ola, who works three jobs and still finds time to smile. At least when she’s not sad, which she had been of late. She lost her son last year and can’t seem to get over it. Can anyone ever get over losing a child? We agreed no one could, or should.

After dinner, I headed to one of my favorite spots at the resort, the rocking porch. Newly decorated with comfy wicker seating, the club has moved its famous white rocking chairs forward to give guests a better view of the spectacular sunset.

There, I met six-year-old Sarah, whose family was visiting Jekyll to celebrate her 7th birthday. An only child, like my now 19-year-old, Sarah told me she did not like Junie B Jones books, and that she liked St.Simons Island better than Jekyll for its restaurants and for visiting friends (who she called family). What a joy it was to recall my daughter at Sarah’s age as we watched bats spin through the night nibbling up pesky insects. Sarah was sure that at any moment the bats would dive into the pool for a tasty beverage.

Back in my room, I contemplated the story at hand. The one that had given me hives (literally). The one that Ola said must be written for all the “hiders and heartache” in the world. Contemplating Ola’s wisdom and the task of completing the second draft of my story, I stepped out on the balcony amid a cacophony of cicadas. There in the grass, nearly camouflaged by a massive oak,  meandered a mama deer and her fawn. I watched them munch on the lawn or whatever they found so delicious, and quieted my breathing for fear I might rush them from their meal.

For the next three days, I saw less of Jekyll. Immersed in my luxurious room, I wrote for seven hours one day and eleven the next. As I hit save on the completed book and headed to the balcony for a private toast, the phone rang.

It was my mother, and she was sobbing. My dear Aunt Shelley had died. A cherished friend of our family for 40+years, Shelley and her husband Ronnie, were the rescuers of my childhood. Celebration turned to sorrow in an instant.

While I will mourn my Aunt Shelley for all my earthly years, I find some solace in the fact that she will live on in the pages I completed at Jekyll. She was there in good times and bad. Mostly bad, when she would stop whatever she was doing to come and get my brother and me. When Dad had Mom committed to an asylum after he beat her into delirium, I called Aunt Shelley. When the parents in my life could not parent, I lifted the phone to dial her number.

Transgressions in Rouge is complete. Aunt Shelley is gone.

My writing residency at Jekyll Island was a bucolic, heartbreaking slice of life. The whims of fate are fickle. But in the end, all that matters is that we love deeply and share our stories.

Blessings and heartfelt thanks to the Jekyll Island Club Resort,

V.L.

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Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
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Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill