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.

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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

 

 

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

Sibling Bonds- Formed in the Belly of The Beast

I had a surprise visit from my baby brother over the weekend. Spurred by a recent health diagnosis that is not life-threatening but is life-altering, my brother decided I needed some cheering up. So he hopped on his motorcycle for the five-hour trek from North Carolina to Savannah. It was the best gift I’ve received in some time, for along with the familiarity of family, his visit gave me a new insight into suffering.

As most of you know, my memoir Transgressions in Rouge in almost complete. I’ve been working on it for eighteen months. It’s the story of my adopted father who beat, blamed and denied our family without remorse. It is the story of the family secret that made fists fly and turned suppressed identity into constant rage. My father Joe became Joann in her late seventies and died on the very spot where I had planned to kill her. His gender was my family’s albatross.

But, was it also a gift?

My brother’s surprise visit convinced me it might be. Re-framing the darkness of our childhood in the calm of sibling care, I found a long overlooked purpose for our suffering. In addition to a life estranged, the evil of my childhood gave me a life attached.

As I chatted with my brother about work, health, life’s struggles and triumphs, I found myself listening. I mean the most beautiful kind of hearing; an audio experience that transports one from inner ramblings and into the cosmos of another. I find that of all the people in my life; I listen to my brother best. Mostly because once upon a time, the ability to sense his state of mind and body was essential to avoiding death.

This weekend, I rode the waves of our conversation keenly. My brother’s presence calmed me. He was aware that it would. To have my brother nearby enveloped me in the same peaceful state I felt at ten years old, sitting behind my bedroom door, peeking through the crack, on guard for Dad’s approach.

Sibling love, when born of shared experience and years living under the same roof is a powerful bond. No other relationship can compete with the sharing of childhood wishes, secrets, survival tactics. We never have to explain the past. We know its scars and escape routes. Adopted from two different families, we are closer than any siblings I’ve met. Like Sully’s Hudson survivors, we faced what we knew was the end and survived.

Thank you, Rob, for visiting and for reminding me that sometimes suffering breeds miracles.

V.L.

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Help Author Panowich Raise Funds for Domestic Abuse Shelter

My author friend Brian Panowich is a superstar supporter for the Safe Homes Domestic Violence Shelter in Georgia. He is participating in a fundraiser, and I humbly request your help.Brian Panowich.jpg

As some of you know, my current book project Transgressions in Rouge chronicles my adoptive father’s abuse of two families, and his transition (late in life) to become a woman. I watched helplessly as my father brutalized my mother and brother for twelve years. The scars left by his madness will never fully heal, but are the catalyst for me to speak out about the pervasive violence that is happening right NOW.

When my mother, brother and I escaped, we stayed at a family shelter for victims of domestic violence. Housed in an old motel, the shelter was the first of its kind on Long Island, New York. Without that shelter and the amazing staff of volunteers who ran it,  we would have been trapped in the cycle of terror.

In America, one in four women are abused by their domestic partners.
Organizations like Safe Homes are their only way out.

Donating to this essential organization is easy.  Just click here and  choose the ‘Donate Toward a Team or Individual’s Goal’ option. Search for ‘Brian Panowich’ and give whatever you can afford.

Shelter is freedom. Freedom is life.
Blessings for a safe place to be,
V.L.

Waltzing with Ghosts (Forgive My Absence)

There is truth in memory. It is a truth laced with opinion built on years of re-framing life images. As I work on my second book (first memoir) spirits long since transcended, sit beside me urging me to their truth. I dig deeper and deeper to see them as whole human beings, frail, wanting to be loved, unsure, making their way in the best manner they could. mansion-1

Haunted. It is the best word to describe the process of trying to uncover beautiful prose in a past so horrifying that I often think it happened to someone else. The words never seem right. Never large or accurate enough to tell the tale of honing my faith in hell. How does one describe God’s grace? When my finger left the trigger of my father’s rifle, on the day I planned to kill him, I looked up to the marble crucifix. Porcelain Jesus looked back. His suffering was more than mine, and somehow at that moment I knew my tortured family would be okay.

Denial. I have spent more than thirty-years hiding from my truth. I did not know I was running, swiping away what my heart owned. “I survived. I’m strong”, I would tell those who asked about growing up in a constant state of battle. Shhh. Don’t mention your adoption anger. Dysfunction cast in a light of character-building is easier for others to stomach. So, I swallowed the loathing, fear, and vulnerability of abuse in a great big pill called denial, riding the effects until earlier this year. Now, as I experience inevitable withdrawals, I withdraw from you my readers, and friends.

As I write, monsters who choked the justice from my childhood encircle. Scratching at my soul, they fight the exodus that will free me. They crowd my mind, pushing and hollering to be heard on my precious pages.  I dance with and away from the exposure they flaunt.

Winter is coming as I work to complete this book. As frigid nights zap the green from marsh grass to reveal roots and decay, so topple barriers long forged to hide my truth.  If I seem distracted, please forgive me. I am waltzing a glorious, tortuous last dance with powerful apparitions.

Blessings for a peaceful, loving Thanksgiving,

V.L. Brunskill


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View the Waving Backwards book trailer-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_ufjmq0l-U

Awakened to American Hate- A Hermit Retreats

Struggling of late with the reality of hate. Hidden vengeful thoughts, that when shared among like-thinkers, explode into personal reality. Among the pretty, responsible faces of America, there is a shameful feeling of superiority. Witnessing this of late, in the judgement of all who are not like us, has spiraled my soul into despair.

A hermit at heart, I spend much time alone, thinking, reading, writing. So when I venture out, I am often slapped by the bigoted beliefs of others. Lowering noses, staring, judging.

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A Hermit Praying — Gerrit Dou

I am not beyond reproach in these matters. For awhile, I considered the viability of the wall. You know the one. A border to keep illegal immigrants from American soil. At first glance, I believed that illegal is illegal. That all who break the law should be ousted, as to preserve the integrity of our land and systems.

However, education, and a single young woman’s story changed my mind about casting one rule for all immigrants. Judging any group based on a label is dangerous. Labels are inherently biased. To broadly brand all members of a race, political party, gender, or religion as one thing will never equal truth.

Let me tell you about Carnita. Carnita is eighteen years old. She came from Brazil at a young age when her mother married an American citizen. She speaks three languages. She studied hard and graduated from high school. She carries herself elegantly and speaks with an eloquence far beyond her years. I have know Carnita for five years.

Three years ago, Carnita revealed to her mother a terrible secret. Her step-father had been raping her since the age of seven. The American was a pedophile. Carnita was terrified to tell, because she knew that her family would be in jeopardy should her mother and stepfather divorce.

Her mother divorced the American. The courts found him not guilty. Carnita never had a rape kit processed.  The court believed that she would have come forward sooner if it was true. The immigrant family had no legal recourse. They became illegal immigrants once papers expired. A rapist American gave them the right to live here and took it away.

So Carnita, now graduated from high school is at a standstill. Jobless, fighting for her driver’s license, and unable to attend college, she struggles to find her way. She watches her American friends move forward, frustrated by her inability to do so. I have told Carnita that I will sponsor her, help her file forms, whatever is needed to allow this sweet child to move forward. She wept when I offered this, but there was also fear in her beautiful brown eyes. Fear, I could tell, for her family who, if found out, could be deported.

This young lady reminded me that every immigrant has a story. Whether they arrive carried in by parents who marry Americans, sneak over boarders for work, or fly in as tourists and stay, each arrives with a human heart filled with hope.

Carnita was raped by a ‘born and bred’ American citizen. She will pay for it for the rest of her days. When she becomes a legal American, she will love this country. She will feel blessed to live here. She will not judge us based on one criminal American. She will not assume she knows all Americans because of the American who raped her. She will take each American she meets at face value, judging them based on their individual story, actions, and intentions.

I am weary, and embarrassed by the comments of racism, hate and bigotry that have been spit out in my presence of late. So I crawl, ever so quietly back into my writing cave.

Blessings for less ignorance & more tolerance,

V.L. Brunskill


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Waving Backwards book trailer-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_ufjmq0l-U

Ten True Things for my Daughter and the Graduating Class of 2016

Advice will come from many mouths as you finish the long journey to graduation. Some will wish you luck, but I wish you something more- karma. The future rests in your capable hands and if you choose the path of kindness, humility, empathy and charity, yours will be the most fulfilling future.

As I have passed the half century mark, I have learned a few life lessons.  On this graduation day, I share ten true things that I’ve learned along my way.graduates

Always say I love you. You never know when it will be the last opportunity to do so.

Travel often, and far. When you have an opportunity to travel, do it. Life builds boxes and boundaries around us. Break free, travel. The opportunity to travel may come with college or in business. Don’t be afraid. Take every trip you are offered. Someday your body will not be able.

Don’t take it personally. People are walking around with big insecurities, doubts, regrets, and they deflect these things to others in order to free themselves. Smile when they frown. Be gentle when they lash out. You may be the only happiness they experience that day.

Attend college to learn and grow. Grades are important, but opening your mind to care about what you are being taught is the truest education. Ask questions. Challenge opinions. Expand your mind and your heart through knowledge. Take classes even after you graduate.  Try to learn one new thing every day.

Marry the steady, constant companion who makes you smile, puts your feelings first, and makes your heart skip a beat or two. Marry with a lifetime in mind. Don’t rush. Don’t jump. Don’t take those vows unless you know you have found the other half of your soul.

Do good deeds, and don’t tell anyone. The things that will give you the greatest contentment are not things at all. They are the small actions– helping someone who is short of cash at the register, carrying someone’s groceries, holding a hand of someone who needs to be reminded they are not alone. These are the greatest gifts you will ever give yourself, and others.

Be true to yourself. Never, ever change to suit someone else’s expectations. Be your true self and you will shine for all of your days.

Worry less. If I had a nickel for every worry I fretted over, that ended up being for naught- I would be a millionaire. Bad things will happen. You will find a way to survive. Worrying steals years and precious moments better spent living.

Look for the light. When the days are dark and you cannot see your way around an issue, step outside and look for the light of life. Watch a bird fly. Feel a breeze on your face. Smell a flower. Howl at the moon. The light of hope is everywhere, and I have found that when I am down, forcing myself to look for it, eases the emotional toll of the issue at hand. There is power in changing your physical location and stepping into the light.

Make friends. Join clubs, organizations or churches, even if you don’t feel like it. Nearly everyone feels socially awkward. Even if you happen to like your homebody, introverted life, make an effort. Life is lonely. Social Media is okay, but you’ll need a hug one day, and that phone/pad/laptop will never be able to wipe away a tear, or hold your hand. Make the effort and even as friends fall away. Keep reaching out to make new ones. Social life is the spark that ignites great ideas, love, companionship, and social change.

Blessings from my heart for all graduates,

V.L.

Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
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Buy Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill
Waving Backwards book trailer-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_ufjmq0l-U