We had so many family road trips over the years. My mom and dad seemed to enjoy piling us into our brown conversion van and taking off to explore strange new lands, and familiar ones too. That van carried us all over the country, and now this van was taking the road trip of all road trips– to Texas and our new home in Granbury. I stared out the window to watch the scenery change as we headed south, and I couldn’t help thinking about Iowa and if I would ever return. I refused to say goodbye in hopes someday, somehow I would. Even so, the trees were growing smaller and sparser. I closed my eyes so I could dream.
Texas seemed like a dream. It was surreal from the moment we stepped foot upon the land. It was the middle of the school year when we arrived in Texas. I was in the 6th grade, and I was not sure how to relate to the girls my age. In Iowa, we were not acknowledging boys yet, let alone liking them. Only a couple of my friends had started to wear a bra and no one had make-up. We were pretty plain and simple, and happy at that. We hung out at the library after school and sat together at lunch. We played four square ball obsessively, and we all got along. We didn’t exclude anyone who was different. I remember watching some kids make fun of a peer because he “still watched Sesame Street”. Well, I was confident enough to put a stop to that, after all, I still watched Sesame Street, too. I took my stand in the 6th grade hall, as I began to sing, “Rubber ducky, you’re the one…I’m so happy that we can be together…you and I forever…” And so it began - the rubber ducky fad. Pretty soon, it seemed every child in the school was singing that catchy Sesame Street song and carrying little yellow rubber ducks as they traveled the middle school halls between classes. I felt like such a little activist!
In Texas, I felt like an ultra dork. All the girls were wearing bras, and I was pretty sure they had been since they were like 5! They shaved their legs, wore make-up caked, and their hair was oh-so-high. I had no idea how they did it. It was so humid, and my hair just fell flat when I tried!
Most girls my age had boyfriends, and if they were cool, they had French-kissed those boys, too. There were so many clicks that I was not sure where I fit in or if I fit in anywhere. The popular girls took me in, but I think I was more their mascot than anything. I stood around silently listening (selectively mute) to their conversations of which I had no point of reference to join in or make a reply. These girls were friendly enough to my face, and one was even kind enough to fix my hair up high, just like theirs.
Everything felt different in Texas. I went from Iowa where I had experiences with a wide diversity of friends to a friend group in Texas of one type, WHITE. This was also the first time in my life I remember witnessing and recognizing overt racism, and I was in shock (which was another reason for my selective mutism at school). Overt racism is described as “the most evident type of racism and the easiest to spot. This is deliberate and intentional prejudice or discriminative actions directed towards someone from a different race. These actions include but are not limited to attitude, hateful speech, gestures, and stereotyping” (1).
Although my school clearly had Latinx children in attendance, “those kids” were ignored and basically invisible. The rule was that if you were white you did not talk to BIPOC folks. PERIOD. END. STOP. Also, if you have ever attended Texas schools, you will know this is true - Texas history is a BIG DEAL! There began my extensive education (or more accurately miseducation) of Texas history. These lessons were about the formation of the state of Texas, the brave Texas Rangers, and the beautiful white people’s fight for freedom from the evil Mexicans led by the despised and merciless Santa Anna. The message was loud and clear, Mexicans are evil and we Texans got rid of them all, thank God! (as if God had anything to do with it *eye roll)
Additionally, when filling up our car for gas in Texas, I noticed if you were white you were allowed to pump at the tank without paying first, but if you were BIPOC, you had to pay first, then you were allowed to pump. There were different rules for different people everywhere I went. At that time in Texas, and to make matters worse, they doled out “licks” to kids who demonstrated bad behavior. I was never able to figure out what the rules of bad behavior were, though. So, I walked on eggshells without knowing exactly what led to getting singled out for this particularly humiliating Texas form of public punishment. <<<In case you do not know, licks are spankings with wooden paddles handed out at school to bent over students by upset teachers>>> I wonder what the rates of licks are when we compare white kids to BIPOC kids in the great state of Texas.
I recall there were a total of three Black boys in our school, and they stood out in a sea of mostly white faces. When I transitioned into the 7th grade, the first of these boys asked me to go steady, and I said, “Yes”. Throughout my 7th and 8th grade years, I went steady with two of the three Black boys at our school, in addition to a couple of white ones (all the girls were steadily going steady with someone after all, LOL). I noticed how the Black boys were kind to me, interested in me, and I felt more comfortable talking with them than with my group of white girlfriends. I also did not feel pressured by these boys to French kiss; I couldn’t say the same about the white boys I went steady with. One day after school, my older brother picked me up and noticed I was holding hands with my boyfriend, who happened to be Black at that time, and we may have even hugged as we parted ways. When I got in the truck my brother gave me a stern talking to, something to the effect of, “If you ever decide you want to marry a Black man, I will disown you!” I was 12 years old mind you. WTF?!?
Something about living in Texas made it OK for anyone to say and do hurtful things to folks who were not-white and not like them, and although I loved my brother, I lost a lot of respect for him that day. Shortly after that, my brother stopped picking me up from school, and I had to take the bus. On the bus, I was constantly harassed and molested by the empowered and privileged white boys I was surrounded by. One day after riding the bus home, a white High School boy hopped off at my stop. He asked if he could walk with me, and once we were alone, without warning he grabbed me and planted a French kiss on my young and tender lips. It was my first French kiss. I was stunned.
I remember Texas summers. I could never wait to leave all the confusing social pressures of school behind. To keep myself company (and sane), I invented an imaginary world, a dream world, and in that world my name was Samantha (but people called me Sam for short) I was beautiful, rich, and my life was constantly televised. Indeed, I was so popular that the entire world tuned in to watch the “Sam Show” daily. <<<this was way before the Truman Show movie came out - it was a good idea :) >>> Everyone knew my name and face. I had lots of money and the sky was my only limit. I got to have amazing adventures as I wandered around our property, and when I was certain no one was watching, I talked to myself. Laying out the plot of each new day, I proceeded to act it out. I imagined there were hidden cameras everywhere capturing each angle, speech, smile, and breath. I was the star, and I was happy in my make-believe paradise. Sam was cool, and she got to do anything she wished. She was in control. People respected her, admired her, and tried to understand her. The hours I spent alone exploring our home and property in Texas when I was Sam somehow didn't feel so bad.
Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey talk about trauma and healing in their book “What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” (I highly recommend this book!). In it Dr. Perry says something that really stuck out to me. After briefly acknowledging the buzzword aspect and lack of clarity around the meaning of “trauma-informed”, he basically says that while there is a lot of talk about trauma informed systems, there is no such thing as a truly trauma informed system without an antiracist focus in said system, school, or community. Dr. Perry states, “I believe that a truly trauma-informed system is an anti-racisit system”(2. Pg. 220).
When I think about my adolescent years spent in Texas, I see the truth in what Dr. Perry says. That was one of the most traumatic times in my life for many reasons and certainly in large part due to the marginalization and dehumanization I witnessed in the Texas schools and communities I walked. That trauma was combined for me with the absolute powerlessness I felt to do anything about any of it, as I was a young white pre-adolescent female simultaneously falling prey to the toxic masculinity and sexism of the colonizers, the white men in power there.
Dr. Perry says, “If we don’t recognize the built-in biases in yourself and the structural biases in our systems - biases regarding race, gender, sexual orientation–you can’t truly be trauma informed” (2. Pg. 220). It is my belief if you are an adult not doing something, engaged in some kind of antiracism action or activism, you are not truly engaged in trauma informed practices. This is one of my “why’s” for writing these blog posts - I believe we must ACT for the healing and restorative centered business practices we hope to create at Coalescence Health.
How can we call ourselves trauma-informed therapists or healers without a willingness to do the antiracism and anti-oppression work inherent in our systems, schools, communities, and selves?
Amongst the harshness of my Texas trauma were beautiful rays of light. Often I awoke to the soft sun seeping in through my window. Often, I felt a slight haze in the air from the humidity I loved so well. During those long Texas summers, my skin would get darker every day, and I watched my freckles go from brown to black effortlessly. My hair also changed in the sunshine and humidity. It became waiver, softer, and a much lighter shade of blond. I remember after my first summer in Texas, I returned to school the following year to the white girls making fun of me and laughing, while teasing that I was wearing a wig and fake tan. The Black boys I called my friends just approached me and said I looked like one of them now. The truth was I had no idea who I was anymore. Did any of us? The trauma of racism was already sinking deep into my bones, my body.
Dr. Perry says he is optimistic and that our human family has always lived with “ebbs and flows; there have been times of tremendous humanity and times of terrible inhumanity” (2. Pg. 242). He writes, “I’m hopeful that by teaching about trauma and the power of connectedness, things will improve. We could invest in building neighborhoods, building trauma-informed services, supporting artists, rebuilding the infrastructure, building spaces where people would create community. We could have a quantum leap in humanity. We could. We can. But first we need to understand the pervasive and complex effects of trauma. We have so much unexpressed potential.” (2. Pg. 242)
Sometimes while living in Texas, I stared out my bedroom window and reflected on moving there. I thought of my white middle school teachers/coaches who flirted with me. Now that I was 12 and 13 years old, I was subjected to the male gaze a bit more; I was more noticed for all the wrong reasons. I wondered if my life would ever feel the same. I noticed there was a different kind of beauty just outside my window that was difficult to describe. Up close it was dangerous and scary (with all the scorpions, rattlesnakes, and spiders abounding), but it was also lush and green, beautiful and serine. I spent most of my Texas summers outside on that wild land, and I grew wilder with each passing day. It was hot there, so I swam in any water I could find - which often consisted of neighborhood stock ponds. One such stock pond was my favorite destination, just far enough from home but close enough for comfort. I would dive in without a second thought or care in the world about the water moccasins I shared the pond with. All that mattered in that moment was the cool water bathing my warm skin in glorious delight. At the water’s edge, I sat and wished I wasn’t all alone. Surely my community would enjoy this dipping pool. Surely there is healing here, in the wild - especially in the wild.
Journey with me. Into the wild…where we all belong to the earth and she to us. Where all are welcome and whole.
Until next time.
- “What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” by Oprah Winfrey, Bruce D. Perry
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