***CW: i'm talking some about an admission to a psych hospital & self harm & therapy session. i'm also processing some familial trauma related to home, but am not explicitly detailing anything. as always, if these might be things that trigger feels that hurt more than heal, please be gentle with yourself & keep breathing.
I'm in the midst of moving right now, & facing the ever present trauma of trying to dream & create home. I felt like now is the time to share this because my intuition tells me it is one of the many reasons I keep finding myself in a home where I do not feel safe, where I am not respected, where how I feel & what I share are not valued, & my boundaries are so blatantly shit on. This is a story as old as me. Probably older.
Old patters of home not being a safe place, I release you.
I once dreamt of a fire in a field that existed in a shopping mall. Before I saw the flames I saw the smoke, clouds flooded the ceiling & nobody seemed to care or notice. Alarmed, I tried finding the source (my whole life), & what I found was a dry grassy hill in flames. Once discovered, I tried frantically to warn my family, “We need to get out! There’s a fire!” but everyone ignored me. I tried to go along with whatever activity everyone was doing, but was too upset to focus. It wasn’t until later that other cries of FIRE! engulfed crowds & they began to evacuate. I didn’t leave right away because I had to search for my family. I only remember feeling sick as I looked all over, wandering through dressing rooms full of mirrors. I think we got out. I haven’t yet died in a dream.
NOT A HOMECOMING
The first night I returned to my family, after being released from the psych hospital for the second time & staying with family friends for about a month, our house was kissed by a fire. We could have died.
I had been hospitalized because my suicidal ideation was intensifying, & during my routine therapy appointment I confessed to taking more pills than was perscribed. I was not taking enough to die, but enough to fuck me up, to begin hallucinating etc. This was one of the many ways I practiced hating & trying to destroy myself.
Some part of me was worried, maybe it was Future Ancestor Lettie, maybe it was someone else, but there was something, someone who did not want me to die. So when my therapist asked if I could keep myself safe, I said no. & when my therapist asked if I might need to be hospitalized again, I said yes. I needed to live.
My cousin, who was living with us, came to pick me up. I knew my mother was cooking dinner, that is why she sent him instead, & I imagined her making frybread & tortillas, meat cooking on the small stove, lights always dim. Instead of taking me home to have dinner, my cousin ended up sitting with me during the admission process.
I remember crying, curling myself into a ball, wanting to become so small nobody would ever find me. I was also scared of what my mom would do, what she would say. I was afraid everyone would be mad at me because I had failed to “get better.”
My cousin was probably the most perfect person to be there. All he did was love me & tell me stories, stories about survival & love & what family really means. Maybe he also knew that I was too close to death all the time, everyday. When I remember back to myself or time travel back to baby dyke Lettie, I can see it. & I wonder how others could have ignore it so easily.
Once I was admitted, I was there for over a week before my mother visited me. She was mad. For almost ten days I wore the same clothes, sat alone amidst groups of families on family therapy nights, & cried all the damn time. When it came time to discharge me, my staff & parents had decided that going back to stay with my family was not the best option, that I should be placed elsewhere. My parents picked family friends for me to stay with, & that was that. I wasn’t averse to the plan because I also agreed that going back to my family was not the best for me. We all hoped this interlude would change something--probably me.
TOO HOT TO LOVE
I liked my new place. I lied about being able to receive mail, & my then boyfriend would send me an occasional letter telling me how much he loved me still, & how someday we could be together without my mother who hated him interfering. This family friend owned a local café in the small rual town I had actually lived in when I was born. I thought about that a lot, how time had made some kind of fucked up loop. I didn’t consciously know then about time travel being something I can do, but I imagine that this was some of the training grounds for time traveling to love myself.
My routine was set. I’d wake up with this family friend, we’d drink coffee (we drank so much coffee), get ready, go do all the things you need to do to open a café, work until late afternoon when should would bring me home, cook there, eat dinner, read, write, work on school packets, shower, daydream, & go to bed. Some days I’d stay & close with her. Some nights we would stay up so late talking that we’d get hungry again & she’d make us tuna sandwiches, which I still remember, to go with our pot of coffee. She would smoke while I would add more cream & sugar to my cup, & we’d share stories.
She believed in me. & she listened to every story.
As time went by, it became clear I could not stay as long as we had planned. She was letting me know it was time for me to go with sentiments like, “You’re getting along easier with your family now, huh.” She was referring to my mom picking me up for my appointments, us being able to be around each other, & the occasional sleepover when she was too tired to drive me back to where I was staying.
Our family friend had a lot of love to give, which is probably why everyone thought it was a good idea for me to stay there in the first place, but there are always limits. I suspect that her other two children did not like all the time & attention I was receiving. The older one was almost never home because they were gonna get married later that year & was spending all their time taking college courses & staying with their sweetie. & the younger one was spending time with their friends mostly.
Even with the caring of me, her own children were never neglected. She doted & loved as before, the only difference was that I was there when they weren’t, when they didn’t want to be. In my opinion, everyone took her for granted. They really didn’t know how good they had it. Even though I was taking their scraps, that was threatening enough. My time was up. I had to return home to my family.
While I was gone, my family of 6 had moved out of the 25 foot long travel trailer we had lived in for about 3 years, & into the west side of a two level duplex. Nobody told me we had moved. It was a fuckin surprise. But not one that felt good.
My mom was so excited to show me & my dad the new place! She was even making beans & frybread to commemorate this new beginning. She turned the stove on to heat up oil for bread, then took us for a quick look upstairs. We took longer than we thought, & when we came back downstairs, there was a fluorescent glow on the wall opposite of the kitchen--it was a fire! Luckily my sister knew it could be extinguished with salt, & the flames were gone. My dad put the hot pan on the porch to cool off. We later realized that doing that left a big scorch mark that would accompany my family the whole time they lived there.
This was also the night I realized there was no room for me. Everyone had a room with a door that closed except for me. I got to stay in the small library-maybe-office space by the front door. I once told my therapist, “I felt like I was put out on the porch.”
For the few remaining months that I lived there, I never had privacy, but that was nothing new. Living in a 25 foot long travel trailer, where the only place you can get privacy is the tiny bathroom in the middle, had prepared me for all the ways I would be surveiled. & I know how to cry so others won’t hear me.
One morning, a few years ago, I was watching a cooking show segment about how to handle grease fires. They had a fireman in all the gear standing off to the side with a fire extinguisher as the host created a grease fire. It was amazing to watch it catch, seemingly pop out of thin air when the oil became too hot. I was instantly reminded of the grease fire in the kitchen when I first came home to a house where there had been no room made for me. The on air host simply covered the flame with a cooking lid & all was well. The host then turned to the camera, stove at their back, continuing their dialogue about cooking or whatever, & then THE FIRE STARTED AGAIN.
The fireman who was on watch used the fire extinguisher, & the cooking host nervously laughed & said something about that’s why an extinguisher in the kitchen is important. But they still looked uneasy.
I took this story to my bruja therapist at my next appointment.
Bruja: Feel into that. What did you feel when saw that the flame could not be contained with the lid?
Me: I was afraid…
Bruja: What does it remind you of?
Me: That time there was a fire in the new house…
Bruja: Why were you afraid? Just feel into it…
Me: WE COULD HAVE DIED! [cries]
Bruja: Yes, you could have died. What else? What else was put out on the porch because it was too hot?
Bruja: Yes. & that dream where there was a fire & you saw the smoke first. You knew something was wrong, but nobody listened. They wanted proof, but even when you discovered where the smoke was coming from, they didn’t listen. It was only when enough other people started acknowledging the danger that they began to listen, but you still had to go & find them. You wanted to save them.
Me: [crying & feeling something old finally being released.]
Bruja: & you. Nobody listened to you when you were trying to tell them about what was happening to you. Nobody listened to the smoke. Nobody believed that there was a fire somewhere. & then you burst into a flame. & then what happened? What happens when you burst into a flame?
Me: I’m dangerous.
Bruja: Yes, to them.
Me: I can burn them down. I’m too hot. They're afraid I'm gonna kill them.
Bruja: So where did they put you? Too hot truth teller. Crazy girl who can’t get better, who is always smoking & talking of a fire with her body?
Me: On the porch.
Bruja: Yes. & who can’t be contained?
Me: [laughs] Me!
Bruja: So what do they do when they can’t contain you?
Me: They try to extinguish me--
Me:--this patriarchal figurehead that smothers...puts out my fire...
Bruja:...tries to control your heat. Because you’re dangerous if they can’t control you. You’re not gonna let them ignore that there is a fire somewhere that is hurting you. & probably hurting them, too.
Me: Fires need oxygen, they need to breathe.
Bruja: Yes, you do.
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