Down a Country Road- Pandemic Blog Two

We drove today, my college-age daughter and I, desperate for an escape from the walls and windows that have become our cocoon. We chose today’s path based on traffic levels and the promise of natural views. We left our still bustling burg for the kind of country highway where 1950s restaurant signs dangle, rusting slowly to dust. It is a sleepy township in Southern Georgia with one main road, one small grocery, a handful of steeple-less churches, and yellow wildflowers strewn like stars across every open space.

At the blinking yellow crossroads, where I usually slow before heading straight towards the wonders of The Plunder Box, a consignment, antique, oddity shop that has outfitted my screened-in porch with its plastic peacock, and gruesome facial shelf brackets that look like characters straight out of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, we turned right.

Past caving roofs, ramshackle sheds, and double-wide mobile homes we drove, looking for nothing, something, anything novel, interesting. I spotted the stacked brickwork of the gate, immediately taken with what must have once been a majestic entrance way. Iron fencing extended from the open expanse. A field of weeping grass and unwieldy green extended beyond and up a small hill. We wondered, my daughter and I, if it might have once been farmland as the weeds seemed to grow amid the remnants of trenches, lines plowed repetitively for so long that the earth holds them like muscle memory.

We did not spot any structure. I wondered if a fire leveled whatever dwelling place stood there, resulting in the gated nothingness of the large lot. We drove on, crossing a four-lane highway to reach a bright yellow oasis we’d spotted in the distance. The fruit and vegetables beckoned, a sharp visual contrast against the clay-laden dirt and sandy top of the unpaved lot. A large black pickup truck pulled up next to us in the makeshift lot, its sides zebra striped with the muddy remains of a ride through side roads wet with tipped tidal rivers and risen creeks.

We sat in the car, eyeing the green carpet of smallish watermelons, cantaloupe pyramids, and too-soon tomatoes. A rainbow of freshness, the produce sat atop three rows of yellow painted, rough-hewn wooden tables. A couple of Prius people perused the stacks, touching, squeezing, testing for the choicest fruit. My daughter and I looked at each other.

“No one is wearing gloves or masks,” my daughter said, sounding disappointed.

“Yes, and touching everything,” I agreed.

We watched the Prius with its Florida plates and backseat piled with fleshy finds, leave the lot.

“Let’s go,” I announced, returning to the paved road. Another day, I thought, as we continued our destination-less ride.

Back down the same road we went, perhaps both thinking how good that watermelon might have tasted with a pinch of salt. When we approached the section of road where the gate stood sentinel in front of the once plowed lot, I slowed to look again. So much land, forgotten. I wondered, Why?

Then, I spotted her. She stood at least 200 yards back, with stunning gables, faded white clapboards and six immense top floor windows, each a backdrop to a small balcony. A regal giant, she brought to my mind the house made famous by painter Andrew Wyeth, muted, on a hill above the overgrown land, she took my breath and ignited our imaginations. Who lives there? Is it abandoned? It must be a hundred years old, I thought.

My daughter interrupted my mental story-making and said, “It looks like the house from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

TXGRAchainsaw_sarah

House from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Driving past the lone structure, I wondered at our different perspectives. How wondrous that my melancholy Wyeth is her macabre, horror classic.

I let out a deep sigh then, for the house and our trip down a road never taken before the world went inside, refilled my worried synapses with wonder.

If that beautiful house could stand through war, storms, famine… and look out over once fertile land, now lacking commerce, activity, or growth, we may follow suit. Our mysteries may endure, and our balconies remain tethered by the strength of a well-built foundation.

Down a country road, we discovered strength, longevity, and perspective for a worldwide pandemic, and beyond.

Note: I Googled the house used in the original 1974 film and it does indeed sit above a field and look eerily like the one we discovered today. For travelers seeking the famed movie house. It is in Granger, Texas off Highway 95 and County Road 336.

Blessings that you find your hopeful road,

V.L. Brunskill

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The Queen Knows Her Name

I wrote a letter to the Queen of England and received a reply.queen2

As most of you know, I am adopted and found my first family in 1991. After I was reunited with my first mother, we travelled together to the tiny town in Newfoundland where she grew up. There, I met my Nan and Grandad- two hardworking, salt-of-the-Earth people with enormous hearts and dignified spirits.

Because Newfoundland was a British dominion from 1907 to 1949, my Nan had a special respect and love for Queen Elizabeth. When I wrote to Her Majesty, I had Nan on my mind. I wrote to share the inherited sentiment that I felt for the Queen.

This is the letter.

October 22, 2018

Dear Madam,

There are very few women in the world whom I admire as much as you. Since I was a child, I have studied you on television and in American newspapers. I am a first born American and never thought I would write to you. However, in these trying times, I feel the urge to tell you that your grace and dignity is appreciated.

I was adopted as an infant, into an abusive family. Yet, even in childhood, I found a reason to hope. I always had a strong faith that my prayers would be answered. They were. My adoptive mother escaped to a shelter for battered families, and went on to work three jobs, raising my adoptive brother and me alone.

Even though our means were few and the road difficult, I felt a kinship and fascination with the royal family throughout my life. Especially, with Your Majesty. I would watch television in awe of your elegance. Your eyes, for some reason, calmed me. I never read a British tabloid, and so your infrequent media appearances were all I had. Yet, I saw behind your sometimes-guarded eyes, the same look of struggle that I saw in the mirror every day. And so, I believed that we had something in common. Which I know sounds silly, but is true if you believe that we are all one mankind. That we, no matter what our lot in life, share the same dreams, fears, needs and hopes. We are all simultaneously divine and human.

As a young woman, I searched for and found my birthmother, who had given me up after moving from a tiny town in Newfoundland, Canada to New York City. It was the way in those days, to force unwed mothers from their children. When I travelled to meet my Grandmother Alfreda Edwards, she had your photo hanging in her small, oceanside home. It was the home where my mother and her siblings were brought up.

As I considered the source of my brown eyes for the first time, you watched over us from a framed portrait on her wall. You became a common admiration which we could share. She adored you and always considered herself to be part of the British Empire. I feel perhaps some of my royal admiration was passed from her.

One reason, that I have decided to write to you, is the television series ‘The Crown’ that is being shown here in the states. While I’m sure they get many nuances wrong and take liberties with the truth in places where they cannot possibly have the insight to know what happened, the series does indeed paint a lovely picture of your struggles, strength, honour and heroic undertaking of what must be one of the loneliest roles on the planet.

For me, it has been a pleasure to learn more about your family’s history and recall the way your photos and appearances enthralled me as a child. Your reign has been an uplifting light in my life, and I want to thank you.

Far too often, people live and leave this earth without putting into words how much others mean to them. So, I decided, that even if this letter never reaches you, at least I have tried to share a sliver of the way your life has mattered. You are a great woman, Your Majesty.  God bless you.

One small request. I wonder If you happen to have a self-portrait/photo you can send. I will hang it on my wall as my grandmother did so that my daughter and perhaps someday, a granddaughter will feel the same warmth and honour that I experienced all those years ago.

With sincere gratitude and admiration…


When I received the Queen’s reply, I was overcome with emotion. Her Majesty insists on reading all of her daily correspondence. A Lady in Waiting pens replies with notes from the Queen herself.

So, it occurred to me as I held the Queen’s beautiful letter and photograph, that I had gifted my late grandmother with something rare and magical.

The Queen knows her name. 

Queen 1

Blessings for a world where ancestors are honoured and hearts overflow,

V.L. Brunskill

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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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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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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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Decades after Reunion- What Bond is This?

I lead a blessed life. My family is healthy. We have a roof over our heads, and we are free from hunger. Having known times with my adoptive family when this was not the case, I appreciate everything. I am content and feel pretty darn accomplished…until I call my first mother.

Twenty-five years after the reunion, conversations with her turn me back into the given away infant in the photo I keep on my desk to remind myself how far I’ve come.  firstphotoI know this is my wound (Primal, I guess), and an issue I really should have worked through by now.  I do use the brilliant coping exercises in the book Adoption Healing by Joe Soll, which gave me the background chant I use when first mother contact spirals me into an infantile turmoil.

“It’s not happening now. She is not leaving me. That was a long time ago.”

I can hear readers of this blog (especially those who are still in search) clucking their tongues at my daring to deflate the bliss of knowing who bore me. I get it. I am sharing this as a warning, a guidepost to help you understand the feelings of woe that often surface long after the honeymoon of reunion ends. (To be fair I must mention that there is nothing she can say or do to change this. She is kind to me, and giving.)

Despite the effectiveness of Joe Sol’s Adoption Healing exercises,  I still wallow after our conversations in a strange limbo of being an alien in her made-up world.  I belong to my first mother by blood, but unlike her other children (the kept ones) I cannot experience the true/unconditional state of her motherhood. Unconditional love is a feeling I understand and define by my adopted mother.

If you ask me what makes conversations with my first mother so debilitating, I would say it is that she reacts to the kept siblings in a manner consistent with shared experience. While I have shared two adult decades with my first mother, the essential bond of being present in my formative years is missing.

We have all witnessed the ribbing, joking and comfortable behavior of family units. Most have a relaxed, informal way of acting around each other. This family interplay is a representation of years spent living together, agreeing, disagreeing, and seeing the world through shared experience. They are a unit.

As an adoptee, I can never be an ordinary member of my first family. No matter what is said or shared, she raised my siblings. She acts differently around me, less comfortable, more formal, guarded. For years, I thought I imagined her awkwardness when we visited, and the opening blossom of her real self with my half-siblings. Only a close family friend’s comment assured my that it was the truth when he said, “she acts so differently around you.”

I am a grown ass woman and a long-reunited adoptee. Still, the ripples of my relinquishment tear at my heart in ways I was sure reunion would settle. Bonds stolen at the moment of separation can be yearned for, but never fully repaired. I am still happy that I searched, but hate the awful truths that adoption has cast on my life.

Blessings for reunion and healing,

V.L.

—————

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Bully President- Daughter of Transgender Dad on Trump Rescinding Bathroom Law

Yesterday, President #Trump rescinded the rule on #bathroom choice for #transgender students. Without an iota of empathy or understanding the President (under pressure from right wing, ding-dong Attorney General Jeff Sessions) took away non-discrimination rules put in place by the Obama administration.

Our bully president demanded that Education Secretary #DeVos agree with his bold-faced bigotry. Telling her, according to The New York Times, “that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.”

The reason behind this heartbreaking decision is right winger’s fears that transgender people using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity will create an unsafe environment for children. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As the daughter of a brutally abusive man, who transitioned to become a women in her seventies, I have a unique view on this topic and can tell you that fearing transgender people in the bathroom is about as set in reality as having Mexico pay for a border wall.

Here’s what I want all the bathroom quaking, fear-mongers to know:

  1. You are already using the same bathroom as transgender people. You have been for years. Are your worse off? Have you been harmed? Attacked? Please get over it.
  2. Forcing a person/student who lives as a girl/woman (or visa versa) to use the men’s/boy’s restroom will incite violence, bullying, depression, and suicide. In the case of public schools, yesterday’s ruling is nothing less than publicly mandated child abuse.
  3. Forcing trans people to hide their truth is a ticking time bomb in terms of mental illness and suffering. My father was from an entirely different generation and denied her truth for more than sixty years. While it was by no means, the cause of all her dysfunction, denial and hiding certainly ignited hyper-masculine, coping behaviors which resulted in the brutal abuse of two families.
  4. Transgender people do not want to be called out for being different. They are not trans for attention. It’s not a phase. These fellow human beings were born into the wrong bodies. Like squeezing a size fifteen foot into a size four shoe, their bodies never fit, and no amount of force will make it so. They are not the gender of their birth. Genitals do not define gender.

The idea that Secretary of Education DeVos, is so weak-willed that she kowtowed to Trump, sentencing a segment of America’s school children to torment, torture and horrific discrimination, further proves her unworthiness and the hateful spirit of this administration.

A transgender woman (living in denial) beat my family into a homeless shelter. Yet, even I can see the truth. Why? Because as I write my memoir Transgressions in Rouge, I am taking the time to learn. I have researched my father’s behavior, her transition and what is means to be a transgender person.

Please, right wing America, I beg you to take your head out of the toilet and attempt to understand the truth of being transgender.

This nation needs to quit worrying about who has balls and who does not. It’s none of your business. Except for when it comes to Trump, whose actions yesterday are a clear indication of a testicular deficiency gone wild.