This morning I was busy getting ready for my weekend escape out of the city. I was both excited and relieved to get an reprieve from the New York madness when I happened to look at my facebook and saw a post that infuriated me. Sent my heart racing. That made me remember my Millie.
Yesterday..Pope Benedict XVI blessed Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the Uganda Parliament who promised to pass the “Kill The Gays” bill as a “Christmas gift” to Uganda’s Christians. The New Civil Rights Movement
I am angry. I am hurt. There is no way for me to be poetic about it. I’m fuckin pissed.
Pray tell how this is Christ-like? Pray tell how Jesus, who communed with outcasts, lepers, adulterers, would ever condone this kind of hatred?
Mahatma Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
I understand that not all Christians are this way. I know plenty of Christians that are not. That exist in love. That go beyond dogma and credo and look at people. Their hearts. It is the Pope kind of Christians that I can’t take.
This news sent me reeling so that I ran out of my house because my energy was too much for even me to take. It pushed onto my red walls. Exploding. I was suffocating.
I tried to go for a walk. Pa’ sacudirme. But nothing would give. I prayed. The frantic in me didn’t wane. I came to the café to drink tea and write porque here on the page, I always find relief. An ebbing. A desahogar.
I first wrote “Millie’s Girl” last year when California’s Prop 8 was overturned. When I watched footage of gay couples crying and holding each other, joyous that their relationships were finally recognized by our government. An acceptance of sorts. But it was the images of children, children my daughter’s age, six and seven and eight years old, carrying signs and wearing t-shirts that read: GAY means God Abhors You. What the fuck?
I reworked the essay for a while before walking away, knowing it wasn’t done. I trusted in the process. I knew life had to happen for this piece to be done. To exist. Then, months later, just a few weeks ago, Uganda passed the “Kill the Gays” Bill and incited the rage I needed to finish the piece.
There are people in this world, including the Speaker of the Uganda Parliament, who would have killed my Millie. That equate her love for women with murder. I don’t understand this kind of hatred. I don’t understand how anyone would want to kill this woman, my Millie, who loved me so much. Who showed me tenderness. Who believed in me. Who when I told I was thinking of writing a book, before I embraced the writer in me, said, “Pero negra, you’ve always been a writer.” There was no questioning in her tone. It was matter-of-fact. As if to say, “But of course. That’s no surprise. It’s who you are.” She gave me permission so many times to be who I was, who I am.
When mom berated me, called me retardada, ordinaria, told me “dejas la inteligencia en la escuela,” it was Millie who whispered in my ear, “You can be anything you want to be.” “I love you.” “Tu eres mi negra.”
When I decided to go to boarding school, it was Millie I first turned to. I started the application process without telling my mother. I forged her signature. Mom would never give me my wings. I was going to have to snatch them up and run. Millie knew, if I didn’t go the right way, I was going to go anyway I could. I was hell bent on leaving. I had to save my own life.
This woman, my Millie, helped the dim capacity become shine, bright, super Nova. And these mothafuckas would have killed her.
Where would I be without her? How would I have survived? How would I have thrived? How would I now have the gall, the bravery, the ovaries to do the work I do? To write what I write. To believe in my stories. To teach writers to believe in theirs.
According to these bastards, a heterosexual mother would have been a better mother, more suited, solely based on her sexual preference. How the fuck does that make sense?
I’m crying as I write this. I’m raging. My fingers are flashing across the keyboard. And in my desperation I am even more resolute about writing these stories, my story, the story of a girl who learned love from a butch. These mothafuckas better be ready!
Excerpt from Millie’s Girl:
Millie had been diagnosed with breast cancer six years earlier. She had her right breast removed and repeated stints of chemotherapy. But the mastectomy and chemo were not meant to save her life. The cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes by the time she felt the lump in the shower, so Millie knew eventually she’d die from the disease. She carried her mortality like a heavy load that shrank her will and faith. And even her pride.
She said the breast that remained looked like a deflated whoopee cushion. She slapped it so it bounced and her double rolled belly jiggled. “Si yo fuera una mujer femenina, estó me molestaría,” she said about the keloid gash, bubbled and sagging to one side…
One day when I walked into the hospice, she was whimpering into her pillow. I ran to her. “What’s wrong? Te duele algo?” I reached for the nurse button but she grabbed my arm with the hand that was forever swollen after the mastectomy so it looked like a blown up latex glove.
“No, I’m okay.” She wiped the tear that clung to the tip of her nose. “Hi negra.” She kissed and hugged me. She was trembling. “Pasame la nena.” I put Vasia in her arms, sat on the chair next to the bed and watched.
I knew better than to ask any questions. Millie didn’t talk much when she was emotional. She did so in her time. I get my “I need to process this” tendencies from her.
After she drank the coffee (con leche y dos azucar) and ate the old fashioned doughnut I brought her every morning. After holding Vasialys and cooing at her. After explaining to Vasia what was going on in whatever show she was watching, in between her stories about life and love and how blessed Vasia was to be my daughter “porque yo la crié,” she looked at me. “Tengo miedo, negra.”
“Why? What are you afraid of?”
“¿Te sacastes mas leche o le vas a tener que dar seno?” Millie preferred that I pump my breastmilk so she could feed Vasialys until mom came in the early evening and sent me packing, telling me I needed to go home to my marido, though by then my daughter’s father was more roommate than partner. But the hospice was no place to reveal that I had failed at yet another relationship.
“No, Millie. There are two bottles in the bag. Don’t change the subject.”
“Que subject, ni subject. Eh!” She shrugged. “Dos botellas no es suficiente.”
“Millie, there’s plenty of milk in these tetas.” We laughed, staring at my swollen breasts that popped out of every top I owned. “And I brought the pump just in case.” I pointed at the bag hanging from the carriage.“So, ¿que fue lo que tu diji’te?”
“Ay na’. It’s nothing.”
I grabbed the remote and turned off the T.V. Only I could do that. Anybody else would have gotten an ice stare and something thrown at them. Usually the closest thing to her. I raised my eyebrow and waited. She looked down at Vasia who was sleeping on the bed next to her. She adjusted her onesie and rubbed her back. Her hand was trembling. “What if it’s true? That I’m going to hell.”
“What do you mean?”
“Vanessa, la biblia dice…”
I cut her off like I always did when she brought up the bible. These kinds of conversations never ended well between us. I’d listen for a while, rolling my eyes. Then I’d get frustrated and go on a rant about how the bible didn’t come to earth via fax, that it was biased, machista, and contradicted itself. She’d call me atea and we’d stop talking about it. But this conversation felt different so I held my tongue, or at least I tried to. “Millie, you’re not going to hell.”
“¿Y tú que sabes?” She stared out the window, one hand still stroking Vasia’s head.I leaned in and ran my fingers through Millie’s hair. It had re-grown after her last chemo session, but now it was gray and wiry, not thick and jet black like it used to be. She started to cry softly. I held her head on my chest until she calmed down.
“Tu huele a leche,” she giggled. Comedy was how she kept her sanity.
“How can God send you to hell? You showed me love, Millie.”
She brushed the hair out of my face. “Tu eres mi negra, you know that?” I bit back the tears. She needed me to be strong. This was no time to get lost in my grief.
“You’re really scared, aren’t you?”
“Si negra. Yo viví en pecado. ”
“¿Quien dice? Who is this God you’re talking about? The God I know loves you.”
“Si, pero la Biblia dice que yo viví en pecado, Vanessa, y Papa Dio no perdona esa cosa.”
“¿Que pecado ni pecado?” I was getting mad. I felt helpless. I knew that I couldn’t do anything to save Millie from what she learned as a kid en Lares. From her three brothers who were all pastors, especially the one who was extra self-righteous because he found God after being an alcoholic for twenty years. If he could give himself to God, anyone could. And then there was Millie’s mother, who died begging her, “Deja esa vida, hija. Te quiero ver en el cielo un día.”
My helplessness got the best of me. We didn’t talk about it again. I found her a few times whimpering in the bathroom and sobbing into her pillow. She sometimes confessed to being scared, before an exam or after a really bad night. I held her until the shaking passed. It was all I could do.
For some time I’ve been trying to reconcile my spirituality, my longing for a closer, stronger connection to God. This leaned in extra heavy when my daughter was younger and I wanted to introduce her to God. I didn’t turn to organized religion. I can’t. Not after the hatred I’ve witnessed from so-called religious folk. I turned within. To prayer. To nature. To the God I see and feel around me every day, everywhere. The God I feel in love.
I’m still reconciling that relationship. But I’m doing it my way. To what speaks to me. And my daughter helps me see God in the mundane. In the unusual. She has brought me God.
During pregnancy my longing for God grew with the fetus inside of me. How could I feel my baby squirm, push her foot into my rib cage, sit on my bladder, and not feel God?
I introduced her to God when she was very young. Through prayer. By expressing gratitude for everything we had. Then when she was three and more able to understand, I told her a piece of God exists in all of us, in everything. One day we were walking to school and she started pointing at things. “Mom, is God in the lamppost?” Her eyes were wide and she was smiling that wide, two full rows of teeth smile that gets me every time. “Yes, Vasia, God is in the lamppost.” “Is God in the light?” “Yes.” “Is God in this? Is God in that?” She kept pointing at things, at pigeons, at trees, at buildings. Then a dog walked by and pooped. Vasia giggled, “Mom, is God in poop?” We both laughed. “Why, yes, God is in poop, too.”
Through my daughter, I’ve found a relationship with God that eluded me for many years. She’s the reason I can see God in everything around me. In the woodpecker that visited yesterday. The hawk that screeched through the canopy. The shooting star that I saw last night. The dimple on my nena’s right cheek. In these words that started as a firestorm in my throat, that made tears rush down my face, that eased as I typed so that my hands aren’t shaking anymore. The knot in my chest has unraveled. The rage is now on the page.
I’m using the hatred this pontiff and his brethren propagate as fuel. To bring me closer to the love that is God through my stories. They are trying to silence people like me. It’s not happening. Que se preparen. I’m coming.