Some of this will sound like I’m bragging. Forgive me.
See what I did there? Please don’t reject me over being proud of my accomplishments. Let me erase some of who I am for another’s approval.
When I was a kid, we lived in rural Texas. My brother drowned while on my big sister (at 4 years old) duty, making me an outsider in my own family. Dad’s 24 hour/48 off rotations at the fire station left me at home with a mother who couldn’t look at me.
I learned to read at three and spent my childhood as a tomboy/athlete/bookworm trying to fit in one of those categories of kids while still belonging to the other. I was the only girl on a all boys’ soccer team. I cut my hair short and was proud when people mistook me for a boy, so my mom put me in dresses. My fifth grade math teacher told me in front of the class, “If you can’t do honor’s level math, then you probably shouldn’t be in honor’s reading either. We moved back and forth between this little country town and Dallas suburbs – perpetually the outsider new kid.
I joined the Army. Work harder, do more, or be labeled a cock-holster, barracks bunny, or some other pervasion of slut. Got passed over for a promotion because I was female. Because the men won’t respect a female leader. All of this in the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I was an outsider.
Got married. Spent ten years in an abusive relationship. Other soldiers avoided me or asked, “Why are you with him?” But they didn’t help. Physical abuse. Verbal abuse. All of it easy to hide when my training and PDS took me 1200 miles from home and I moved 13 times in 4 years. And then when I finally did leave, that family doesn’t understand, doesn’t think it could have been that bad.
In 2001, I suffered a traumatic brain injury. For as much as the aforementioned sucked, I lost some of who I was. I now forget things, can shake uncontrollably when I’m tired, and can get easily confused. I am an outsider in my own head.
Had a relationship with a woman. It was beautiful and amazing and so was she. Except it was a secret. She didn’t want anyone to know. Again, the person I loved made me an outsider.
My friends at home are published authors. Named, for real, honest to god, multiple books with actual NY presses, AUTHORS. One of them asked me when I was going to get serious and get published so I could sit at the big kids table with them. Subtext: I don’t belong.
There’s more. There’s the job that I work with a bunch of females who have never seen the outside of their own backyard, They clutch at their rigid ideals like so many imaginary pearls around their necks. They fear me. They cannot or will not understand me. I am the weird one. They wonder why can’t I just teach Where the Red Fern Grows and be satisfied?
I’m getting there.
Sirens. I see myself in these people. I walk out of discussions heady, drunk on the ideas and words being shared without shame – without judgement. The Ft. Collins/Springs/Aurora crew with their warrior hearts and thoughtful talents, the PacNorWest thespians and play writes and poets bring out a joy (a motherfucking JOY, do you hear me?) I thought I’d lost. These are the people I’ve been looking for all my life. These are my people.
A thoughtless phrase almost killed it for me.
Up on the 5th floor, the club floor, the elitist floor, you have to card in with your key in the elevator. It’s where my friend and I shared a room for this conference. Through the Club Lounge windows, I saw a few folks as we headed to our rooms after the dance. I smiled at the person I’d had a very pleasant encounter with earlier in the day and we, my friend and I, used the key card to open the door. Happy to be in this woman’s presence again, I was going to ask if we could hang out with them. I wasn’t ready to give up the feeling of Sirens just yet.
Didn’t get the chance. I was met with this instead, “Do you even belong on this floor?”
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I belong at Sirens. And so does she. We both have a lot left to learn.
TL;DR: Don’t be a classist asshole, mmkay? And don’t let one bad encounter sour an otherwise great experience. That’d be a Rook mistake.