I have been witness to people saying some things that, as they came cascading out of their mouth, I could see them wishing to high heaven that they could reel it back in, wipe it all away, hit rewind and DELETE NOW! At times, they have been horrible, mean things. Other times the words that have just spilled forth, judging by their facial expression, were mortifying and embarrassing truths that were never meant to be uttered aloud.
One such event keeps playing in my mind, although I’m not sure why the memory keeps coming to me.
A little back story…
I was raised in a religious household amongst an extended family in which every family member was raised in the same religion. As a child, because I was raised in this religion, I had no idea that things that were “normal” for me weren’t normal for everyone. I didn’t know that everyone on the planet didn’t have the same beliefs as me. I didn’t know that there were other definitions of “God” or that other people believed there is no “God.” And, I had no idea that the strict moral code by which my family abided – or were supposed to abide – was not how all of the world behaved.
Due to that strong moral code, there were words that were never supposed to be spoken because they were “bad,” activities that should never be part of life and if – and that’s a BIG if – you did happen to participate in those activities, there was no way in hell that you were supposed to E-VER! speak aloud about them.
One of those activities that were not supposed to be part of life was sex out of wedlock and if, by some sordid trick of the devil, you found yourself in bed with someone to whom you were not married, it was a secret to go with you to your grave.
Now… to the event that is dancing around my mind today…
One Easter weekend, my family got together. Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and cousins all together for festivities. Because our family is so large, we had reserved the church to accommodate all of us. By this time, there had been many changes in the dynamics of our family. My parents had gotten divorced as had one aunt and one uncle. Three out of the six family units had been broken up through divorce and to say that was scandalous would be an understatement. The energy of the gathering was fractured and tense, as people tried to pretend that everything was as it had always been. The kids played games in the rec room. The men sat around talking about work, sports and other “men-appropriate” topics. And the women gathered in the kitchen – all the married women and soon to be married women only.
In the kitchen, we talked about all manner of things related to being a woman. Somehow, astoundingly enough, our conversation digressed to the topic of sex. I’m not sure how it happened because it was a topic that was never meant to be discussed and certainly not in the presence of so many people and definitely not into the intimate realms of which we traveled.
As the conversation trickled down into the depths of hell amongst titters and proper giggles behind hands, we somehow got to talking about The Drip and The Wet Spot. Suddenly, women were divulging who got to sleep in The Wet Spot in their marriage beds and their personal practices concerning The Drip. I was stunned to hear these proper women and young newlyweds talking so candidly about a topic that had never heretofore been discussed amongst us. For a moment, I felt overflowing love and gratitude for these women who were breaking the rules.
Then, the woman who was dating my divorced uncle, unconsciously spoke clearly and loudly, “Oh! That’s easy! I just use a tampon overnight! It works wonders!”
It was so silent in that room, you could have heard one hair fall from her head and hit the floor. No one blinked. No one breathed. No one moved. Jaws gaped and closed silently, like fish out of water, and the stillness was so thick it could have been cut with a butter knife.
She stood there, hands frozen mid-pour, eyes wide and looking absolutely stunned and petrified. She began stammering, busying herself with finishing the pouring of the dressing onto the salad she was making. She quickly covered, “I mean, that’s what I used to do with my husband, of course.”
It was a lie, I knew. But all the women in the room seemed to buy it, breathed a sigh of relief, quickly changed the topic and went on about the day as if we had not just trekked through the bowels of hell and returned only slightly worse for the wear.
It is a conversation that I thought about for many days afterward because it was such an enigma in my life. Why it came up today and is plaguing me still is something I have yet to figure out. What has struck me is that in that split second of intimate bonding and revealing, a comfortability had been formed and in that space, a truth tumbled out innocently, but with much regret afterward. Suddenly, the space that was comfortable and secure became prickly and loaded with judgment and scorn.
There is something about being able to speak clearly without fear of sentencing and dismissal, to share your deepest secrets and know that you’re going to be loved all the same. That was not the case in my family. The love and acceptance was hinged on whether or not you lived up to all aspects of the strict moral code – the code that was spoken and taught from the embryonic stage and, even more important, the code that was never verbally expressed but rather taught by the crossing of the arms, the tilt of chin, the narrowing of eyes, the raise of one eyebrow and an oh so subtle shake of the head.
If someone happened to go astray, everyone in the family knew about it because it was discussed in whispers with very little lip movement and pasted on smiles, as though they were ventriloquists who had misplaced their puppet-partner. And, in no uncertain terms, that person knew they were “bad” and had better repent soon or they would be kicked off the island. And, god forbid if they didn’t want to repent!
I’ve learned a lot, especially over the last couple years, about unconditional love, specifically because I’ve put myself in a scientific experiment, so to speak, by committing to being fully alive and living in love. I had to learn what it meant to love myself which was such a foreign concept in the beginning. And, in the process, I had to learn that being accepting of myself – especially in those times when a sudden and unexpected slip of my tongue gives away my deepest, darkest secret – is the most important part of loving unconditionally.