An Election Week Guest Post


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What? Tales From the Motherland is doing a guest post? Well, wonders never cease! I’ve stated, in a few recent posts, that I’m seeing things in a new way. Admittedly, I should have done this a long time ago, but I get stuck in my own silly boxes. I’ve also been stuck in writer’s block, struggling with change overall, and life as a whole. I’ve been rethinking positions I’ve held, and trying to figure out new ideas for this blog. I want to stretch and reach out to others; I’ve been struggling to find my groove again. This election has my head spinning, but I haven’t known what to say…

Meanwhile, in a galaxy quite nearby, another writer, who I know from a local writing group, was telling some (mutual) writerly folks that she had things she wanted to say, that she wasn’t ready to share on her own blog. They told her to talk to me, and lo and behold, I made it to the monthly meeting tonight–– that I’m never in town for, and… kismet! The stars aligned;  writers I admire were all on the same page, and Tela and I came together.

What follows is a post by Tele Aadsen: fisherman, writer, and all around kick ass woman. I’m honored that she trusted me with this piece of raw, deeply truthful writing. I relate to so much of what she has to say here, and feel grateful that we connected for this. I hope other bloggers will consider sharing this piece on their own sites. While I don’t ever ask that for my own work, I believe this deserves to be read far and wide!

Read Tela’s bio at the end, and see more about guest posts.

Making Change: My Mom, My Vote

            I was fourteen years old when a man grabbed me by the pussy.

We were in the checkout line of our Pacific Northwest town’s Payless drugstore. It was early evening, one week before Valentine’s Day, and I was buying a cassette tape – the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, seriously – as a gift for my best friend. My parents were waiting in the car. I’d stepped up to the cashier when a hand squeezed my ass.

I was not raised to fight for myself or others. My family consisted of three isolated people who neatly sidestepped not only conflict but engagement of any kind. I knew neither fight nor flight; I knew only to cringe into my body like a potato bug. To make myself disappear.

The man circled me. He cupped the front of my jeans, slid his fingers against my vulva, and squeezed. We were alone in the checkout lines – alone with the two women working the cash registers, alone with my frozen feet and pounding heart. No one spoke. I remained paralyzed. He released his hold on his own time, sauntering out of the store on his own terms. Change broke the silence. Coins clattered against the counter as I paid for the tape, never making eye contact with the cashier. I forced numb legs to step through the sliding doors, into the darkness where he might be waiting, and slid silently into the backseat of the Datsun. I didn’t say anything to my parents.

At fourteen, my ugly duckling childhood was barely a year behind me. The transition happened so unexpectedly and without warning, I didn’t yet understand the distinction between attraction and abuse. I didn’t understand unwanted advances weren’t about me, but power and predation – the flexing of rape culture’s muscle. I thought it was my fault that grown men suddenly evaluated me in a way they hadn’t before, openly, as their right. Some I’d known as family friends: the elder fisherman having coffee with my mom on our boat, who, when I described having “worked my ass off,” was quick to correct me, “It’s still there – I noticed!” Others, like the man in the drugstore, were strangers.

Several weeks later, my mom reeled back when I came downstairs one morning. “What happened to you?” she gasped, grabbing my chin and forcing my face up. “Who did this to you?”

I didn’t want to tell her. To acknowledge the long red wounds where I’d dug my fingernails into flesh and pulled, as if in opening skin I could open a door to step back in time, back to a time when I hadn’t felt men’s roaming eyes and hands… That was an exchange too intimate for our family. But she persisted. Finally I confessed, “I didn’t want to be pretty anymore.”

Twenty-five years later, I still see her face crumpling, falling under the weight of grief she didn’t have words for, outrage she’d never been allowed to express.

My mom.

My mom and I exist at uneasy arm’s length. We subsist on three-minute phone calls and occasional visits where stilted conversation clings to such banal topics as the weather and her friends’ health woes. Avoidance of anything more substantial is by mutual, unspoken agreement. I broke that agreement only once, when, exasperated, I named the tension between us, saying the time we spent together couldn’t be fun for her.

“This is fun for me,” she insisted. She just wanted to show me her gardens and have tea together, she said. “I’m not going to talk to you about politics or sex or religion! You don’t have any idea who I am.”

She wasn’t wrong. But she wasn’t entirely right, either. I know pieces of my mom, pieces I carry like coins in my pocket.

Born in 1942, she was her parents’ first child. When her brother was born four years later, her mother told her how relieved she was to have had a son. Boys were better than girls, she explained.

While all boys were better than any girl, my mom learned over the course of her childhood that individual girls merited varying degrees of value. She learned that she, a studious, quiet type, was the wrong kind of girl. Her mother told her so, wondering aloud why she couldn’t be more like the pretty, vivacious girl next door.

My mom didn’t pass that cruel measuring stick on to her only child. Instead my inheritance consists of stories and observations jangling against each other. She was one of three women in her veterinary program at Cornell University. One of few female skippers in Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon fishery, and the only one with a teenaged daughter as her crew. She spent her sixties as the only woman on her team at an oil refinery. Though she refused to apply a feminist frame to her achievements, that was how I viewed her. My pockets sag with gold, a coin for every powerful memory.

They aren’t all gold. Other memories are pennies, pitted and green with corrosion.

             One. We stand side-by-side, inspecting make-up in a drugstore. It’s the same Payless that will soon teach me the dangers of my femaleness, but today’s only lesson is a 50-year old woman turning to her 13-year old daughter, asking if a particular shade of eye shadow will help her look pretty.

Two. I am working at a truck shop across from her house. I am the only female on the shop floor, other than those spread-eagled across the walls. When I come home broken from a particularly hard day – when the n-word is used to describe Dr. King; when a staff meeting includes blasting a left-leaning local woman as an anti-war cunt; when my boss gestures to one of the posters and says he’d like to see me in that little black number – she waves a hand in discomfiture. “Oh, well…” She changes the subject.

Three. I perch on the edge of a chair at her dining room table. She’s urged me to come for dinner – “Won’t that be fun?” I’m watching her offer to cut a man’s steak. He’s had a seat at her table for the past twenty years, whenever the mood suits him, and is accustomed to being the center of her attention. Tonight he makes loud observations about the slice of cake on her plate and which parts of her body the calories will settle upon. I counter that she’s an adult and can eat whatever she chooses, but the defense is lost beneath the sound of my mom laughing at his “joke,” the sound of my mom agreeing, “I know, Bud, you’re right.”

Four, five, six. I watch my first and most defining female role model, the most capable and strongest woman I’ve known, bow to men unworthy of her, unavailable and withholding. I watch her opinions take on the shape of those of the men around her. I watch her make pieces of herself disappear.

This September, I returned from five months at sea. My mom was eager for me to visit, to see the improvements she’d made around her place. “I think you’ll be really pleased!” She yearns for my approval. In this way, I have been no better than the men she’s surrounded herself with: unable or unwilling to give what she seeks.

Driving into her rural neighborhood, I wasn’t surprised to see my old employer had erected a Trump sign in front of the truck shop, I just rolled my eyes. But the mirror image reflected across the street stunned me. I’d never known my mom to reveal her political preferences; she avoids at all cost conversation that might be controversial.

Staring at the sign jabbed in my mom’s yard, I felt the way I imagine she once did, seeing her fourteen-year old daughter’s self-hate etched into her skin. Horrified, helpless. Heartbroken. Both of us so far beyond each other’s reach.

What happened to you? Who did this to you?

If I could, this is what I would do. I would pull out my pockets, gather those gold coins and melt them down. One woman’s value: absolute, unmistakable. I’d draw back a fist to hurl the corroded pennies away – down a wishing well, maybe, drowning those images of subjugation – but would stay my hand at the last second, understanding just in time that pain is its own kind of protection. Into the flames the pennies would go.

After the smoke cleared, I’d place a breathtaking swirl of metal, a shield of unique sturdiness and heft, into my mom’s hands. No one would ever reduce it to “pretty.” With that shield I would give her anger and grief, the certainty to refute anyone’s assessments of her body, her mind, her self-worth. I’d give her emotions we have never known how to exchange – confidence, joy. Trust. I would pass on to her every survival tool she wasn’t able to give me. I’d give her everything she never received herself.

But that’s a kind of change I don’t know how to make.

So I draw upon what I have: my vote. I vote as if my ballot might take back every time we laughed at our own expense, held ourselves responsible for a man’s behavior, blamed our bodies as the offender, changed the subject rather than the narrative. Every time we made ourselves small. My mom and I may never learn how to be whole and visible to each other. Still, even if we just cancel each other out, I vote as if we might yet share a safer, more equitable world.

aadsen-guest-post

Tele Aadsen is a tree-hugging, tofu-eating, feminist commercial fisherman and a writer, identities that coalesce in her annual performances with Oregon’s FisherPoets Gathering. Her name is pronounced “Tell-ah,” and she is currently revising a memoir, Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon. You can follow her work at www.teleaadsen.com.

If you’re interested in a guest post on Tales From the Motherland, please send me a message and let me know what you want to share:  tftmotherland@gmail.com

*     *     *

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©2011-2016  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

 

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
Aside | This entry was posted in Honest observations on many things and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to An Election Week Guest Post

  1. Great guest post and let’s hope everyone hears and heeds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. HonieBriggs says:

    As with so many of your own posts, Dawn, this one, too, makes my thoughts reel, leaving me in awe of Tele, her mother, and the confluence of gut wrenching events that connect you, me, and these women in this moment. Tele’s experience is at once unique and familiar. It takes more than courage to share what she has shared. Mettle tested in the fires of hell, we steeled ourselves against ordinary abuses and somehow lived to fight another day. That day is at hand.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Steph. I thought of you when I first read this, as I now do whenever I read anything about trafficking. It’s a brave, transformative piece; I hope others read it and hear the message. xo

      Like

  3. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Dawn and Tele,
    I wish every woman who thinks they should vote for the T-man could read this with an open heart. It so speaks to me of the sickness of our culture wrapped up in an authoritarian candidate who makes up his own reality and spews it in the form of misogyny, racism and xenophobia. This election has become very personal to me and I honor the courage of you both to share this magnificent piece of writing. It touches me to my core.

    Cathy

    Liked by 3 people

    • Cathy, you know I appreciate your feedback every time I post, but this more than ever. I am so honored that Tele was willing to put herself out there, and share this very special piece. Her words are always beautiful (see her blog!), but this goes deeper. I agree with every word you’ve said here… the anxiety of waiting for the vote count is making me mad. Mad. On both counts. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  4. mamaheidi60 says:

    Wow! So raw. So personal. Much of it resonates with me. Makes me want to find the courage to write my story. Slowly, over the past couple of years, I have been writing it in my head. This year, it is hard to ignore. Thank you. Truly. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Write it Heidi, write it! You are a beautiful writer, and I KNOW there’s a story to share. I hope you will just sit down and start it. If you ever want to do a “write out,” I’m always looking for partners… but rarely get invited to the dance. 😉 Message me and we can write. And thank you so much for taking the time to read Tele’s story and share your feedback. I am sincerely honored that she chose to share it with me, and grateful that you stepped up to embrace it. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. sara says:

    That is a fabulous, moving, honest piece. Thank you Tele and Dawn for letting us read it xo

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Victoria says:

    I admire Tele’s honesty, insight, and grit in sharing difficult experiences, staying vulnerable and strong, and also amazingly compassionate, at the same time. This piece of powerful writing speaks for so many of us. Thank you, Tele and Dawn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Victoria for taking the time to read and comment. I am seeing more RWB folks than usual, and that’s nice! A testament to Tele’s support and her strengths. Thanks for joining the dialogue!

      Like

  7. shemaya says:

    It’s like we should have a Facebook page for all the stories from all of us who have been sexually assaulted in this particular way. How can the country be considering electing a president who brags about having done this. How can that kind of assault be so normalized that his election remains a coin toss, rather than him being an outcast former candidate. Where does the rage go. And the rage. And the rage. And all the women’s lives, in a society that barely knows how to name this, let alone to make it change.

    Thank you for naming, Tele. I’m sending you hugs. Through my tears.

    Like

    • Shemaya, welcome to Tales From the Motherland, and thank you so much for your powerful response. These are questions that so many of us are grappling with, in a culture that still works too hard to silence women, rather than empowering them. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment; thank you!

      Like

  8. Thanks so much for sharing that, very powerful read..

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Eva Balga says:

    Tele, my brave, articulate, rebellious friend: my admiration is too big for my inadequate comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dennis Parent says:

    Tele, I’ve known you and your mom via fishing for many years. This is to me an incredibly honest, insightful, and moving piece of writing. I do admire you and urge you to keep writing!

    Like

  11. Jackie Weber says:

    Amazing piece and a brave story! Thank you for speaking so truthfully. The world needs that.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: An Election Week Guest Post | ugiridharaprasad

  13. Dawn (and Tele) thanks for this beautiful piece. So many aspects of womanhood, childhood, growing up, becoming as strong as one can, is covered in this. Thank you Thank you Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. jtarney says:

    A beautifully open and honest piece. I’m so glad you two found each other. Jxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Julie. Right now I’m deeply saddened that women like Tele have to live with a man who mocks this kind of experience. Just shaken. Thanks so much for taking the time for this very important piece.

      Like

  15. Poignant and powerful words.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Making Change - Hooked | Hooked

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