This I Believe

Erin - Park Ridge, Illinois
Entered on May 26, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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The Body As Lexicon, The Spirit As Spiral Notebook

I believe we are the stories we tell ourselves and that is all. We must be cautious narrators, and alert, when deciding which stories to pick up and which to pass on. Consider the consequences. This is a story about prayer and spinal taps, junior high literary canon and the closet, and the family I emerged from. In essence, a scar-ridden and sometimes gorgeous pilgrimage from shut eyes to light.

Growing up Lutheran, the church made it clear that heterosexuality was the proper path, by never making mention of any others. I’d been queer since preschool, and I’d known it, when Ms. Ganzer dazzled me with her Bookmobile. Books, then, were a novelty, a medium with which to build forts, travel, prophesize.

Not until junior high did books begin to terrify me. We read often, and much, and I should have been grateful. What I needed was space to find my own place in these stories. Tom Sawyer had Becky, Romeo could tell Juliet of the pounding in his chest, and in the Bible, everyone was married. Where were the girls who liked girls? Why didn’t we read about them?

When I was twelve, my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Not Singular or Triad Sclerosis, but Multiple Sclerosis, many lesions, in time legions of them, none of which were going away. She had experienced an random blindness in one eye, which had led doctors to the diagnosis. After a few years of isolated flare-ups, she no longer needs a prescription. If avoidance of a pulsing issue is denial, forgetting a virtually invisible one is anything but.

Seeing my mother in a scratchy white gown, groggy and with tubes in her back, changed things. I felt I had little to offer her, but knew from puzzles that fragments could be assembled to make a whole. So I pieced together a mix tape, a collection of excerpts from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and Dr. Suess’s Sleep Book. From then on, I would keep journals, my attempt at a narrative whole. I would look to books for guidance and general divination.

Eight years later, I came out of the closet, half on purpose, half accidentally. Never mind the chiding, the crying until I was an empty chalice. Where were the stories I was a part of? Why weren’t they still being told? What I found, slowly, was the work of writers like Carl Phillips, Anaïs Nin, Jeanette Winterson, and Stacey Waite. I would discover others like me, and resolve to write what is not discussed, give voice to those that aren’t often heard.

My partner calls my desire for words an addiction, though we both know I’m better for it. We are the stories we tell, and we are the stories we are told. I have come to recognize the redeeming power of the word, however it is a person finds it. The word is not one, but many, vessels carrying with them the possibility of community. This I believe.