Once upon a time (not so long ago), I lived in a beautiful — and frequently foggy — state. Many times, I woke in the morning to fog laying on the ground like a 40-foot tall endless wall of clouds; it obscured all but the closest branches of the lovely, lightning-split water oak at the center of our circle drive. Fog also led to my belief that I lived in a state full of idiots; I watched nearly everyone on my morning commute pass on two-lane roads with zero visibility. They didn’t care about what they couldn’t see. I always did, and I patted myself on the back for having enough sense to be afraid. But regardless of the fear, I considered myself an expert on the subject of fog. I saw it so frequently that I could predict within fifteen minutes the time until it would burn off. I was proud of this. It — along with other things — was proof of my Southern-ness, proof that I had begun to fit in. Actually, it was hubris. It was silliness. It was me lying to myself about something little that meant nothing, and transposing that lie onto the whole of my life.
During the 13 years that I was “expertly” navigating the actual fog, I was unfortunately ignoring the figurative fog that had enveloped me. I was trying to survive in a place where I had no family of my own and no friends to speak of, and in order to do that, I had turned a blind eye to both the day-to-day and long-term truths about my life and the people in it. I had learned to “stuff” anything that I couldn’t deal with. I ignored slights and insults and outright meanness. I pretended not to notice my partner’s unwillingness to defend either me or herself.
In the South, you can get by with damned near anything as long as you don’t advertise. You can be a drug addict or a drunk or a psychopath. Hell, you can even be a lesbian…as long as you’re willing to never (ever, as long as you live) pat your partner’s ass in front of company or refer to your relationship as anything other than a friendship. Initially, this was hard for me to accept, but soon enough I let all of it go. I couldn’t fix it or control it or face it, so it lived somewhere outside of my consciousness and awareness. I let it stay there (biding its time for a future explosion) while I dealt only with the immediate: the people and situations that were right in front of my face at any given time.
For a while, that behavior — that coping mechanism — enabled me to survive pretty much unscathed. I formed what I thought were good relationships with a few decent family members. I loved on my partner’s nieces and nephews as though they were my own (which, of course, they weren’t). I made a few “mistakes” over the years, but I avoided any major issues until I realized one day that I’d taken altogether too much shit from one particular family member, and it was high time I gave a little back.
But it turns out that — at least in the small-town parts of the South — I really wasn’t supposed to speak the truth on any subject. For example, even after she tried to turn the entire family against me, I was not supposed to call my (pretty much) sister-in-law a manipulative, hateful, lying, pretend-Christian bitch. I mean, seriously…who knew? Also unacceptable: suggesting (very nicely and entirely on the down-low) that maybe the other sister-in-law could take her sexually inappropriate, high, and drunk ass out of the public areas of the beach house we were all sharing while there were pre-teens around. I know it seems counter-intuitive to the rest of the thinking world, but rather than address any one of those issues, the rest of the Southerners in the house (including my partner) patted the addict on the back while she fake cried, and for days afterward, looked at me like I killed Jesus. (For the record, neither I nor my people were to blame.) And of course, they weren’t done making me pay for my transgressive use of the truth.
The point of all this is, I thank the universe and whatever higher power there may be every single day for putting me into an environment that forced me to address all those things head on. In the course of trying to include and protect my mom, my sister, and my niece and nephew as they mixed with my partner’s family, I saw a lot of things that I’d been willing myself to ignore for years. The way I had allowed myself to be treated (and used and looked down upon) all that time was unbelievable to me, and I saw it all in a flash — instantly — as my family and I carried our belongings to the car three days before the planned end of our trip.
[All of us had to step over the addict sister-in-law every time we went out the front door. She wasn’t sleeping or passed out. She was just laying there because she was a bitch and she wanted to demonstrate that she’d won. I’ll be painfully honest: at the time, I really felt like she had. But I only felt that way because neither my mother nor I (during any of our multiple trips down the steps) used her head as a football. Moreover, we didn’t say a word, which is totally out of character for both of us. In retrospect, we should’ve said whatever we had to say. We’re both good on the fly, and I have no doubt that either of us could’ve made the bitch cry. Unfortunately, even if we had, we still would’ve been 1-3 on the day.]
It was September when we returned to the land of fog. I was in the middle of my last semester of grad school, so I couldn’t go back home to Illinois with my mom, no matter how much I wanted to. I had to stay in that beautiful, foggy, mountain-y, backwoods, hillbilly, awful, repressive place for an additional two months with a partner who — every day — I was breaking up with. But I’ll tell you what: it was the easiest end to any relationship I’ve ever experienced in terms of its emotional impact on me. I couldn’t — I wouldn’t — go back to living in the fog. I had finally seen what was true and real, and I knew for certain that I’d never choose to turn a blind eye to my own best interests (or my family’s) ever again.
When my cat and I drove away from that place (and that warped ass family) two months later, there was no fog at all. It was days before Christmas — clear as could be with a light dusting of frost on the ground. I was singing carols with the radio as I turned out of the driveway for the last time. Mama was behind me driving an SUV full of my stuff, her small, feisty, and brilliant dog on the seat next to her, settled in for a long ride.
My former partner was standing on the porch, but I didn’t look back; I knew there was nothing left there for me. I think I also knew what was coming, sort of. I knew that ahead of me was Joy and better days, and I couldn’t wait to get there.
*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Foggy