What Was Always Underneath

You can always count on people to comment on two things: tattoos and bandages. In combination, they are irresistible. As a result, I’ve spent a relatively large portion of the day trying to explain the significance of a 3400 year old mound builder site and why I now have one of the hallmarks of the culture on my hand.

First things first: background.

Poverty Point is remarkable for dozens of reasons. It was a ceremonial center and city with thousands of permanent residents sustained, not by agriculture, but by hunters and gatherers. This is important to note because there was outright disbelief that such a thing was possible when the first papers on the site were published. “There’s no way to sustain a population of thousands without farming,” I imagine a very stodgy man with a pipe shouting.

But Poverty Point was built in the right place at the right time. It is situated on what is today known at Macon Ridge, a deposit of very fine and rich soil that runs a few hundred miles and was blown into position about 10,000 years ago. A vast lake sat at one edge of the site, providing a variety of aquatic culinary options. Coupled with the surrounding forest’s plant and wildlife, these people had more than enough to feed themselves by virtue of the natural environment. They had no need to change the earth by farming.

They did it by building.

The architecture of the site’s six half moon concentric ridges is ingenious enough (people living atop could throw waste out into the dips and it would be washed away by rain or possibly a controlled flood from the lake). But the mounds…the mounds are special.

Mound A, or the Bird Effigy Mound, lies to the North of the site. Built as a great Thunderbird and once standing nearly 200 feet tall, she contains millions, millions, of basketfuls of dirt. Basket.fuls. And she still stands around 170 feet. Because after a layer of dirt was placed, a layer of red clay taken from the the edge of the lake was placed on top and allowed to dry in the sun. They essentially made natural armor to ensure that their work would endure. And there are at least five more mounds on site and in the general area.

The Poverty Point Culture had no rival in size or scale in the Americas before or for millennia after. It remains a mystery as to why, after such a run of prosperity, the culture vanished from the site seemingly overnight. But my money is always on disease in those scenarios.

And back to the present (kinda).

I grew up only a few miles from Poverty Point. I spent a lot of time out there as a kid. It was somewhere I always felt calm.

Dennis LaBatt was running the site back then and since he was a family friend, I was allowed into the lab when they were doing digs to see what new microflint or plummet fragment had been unearthed. The whole process of identification and categorizing the finds was fascinating. But every time I went to the lab after a dig, there was only one thing I was really interested in. Had they found an owl?

One of my earliest memories is in the museum there, looking up into the half moon display for the red jasper fat bellied owl beads. My fingers moved along under the words as I read them, hovering just over the glass because I knew leaving my fingerprints there was a bad idea. “Don’t Touch.”

Small white bulb mounted in the top of the stand. Adults wouldn’t see it but I was tiny and on my toes, bouncing slowly from the ball of one foot to the other to keep my balance. Clear plastic made to look like delicate branches had the bead lashed on with fishing line. Again, most wouldn’t notice, but I was looking carefully.

The biggest owl was no bigger than two inches. The smallest, about the size of my 1st pinkie digit now. All easily identifiable as owls, all with a different personality, all so terribly tiny. And all carved with stone tools before a hand drill was used to bore holes so they could be worn.

Even as a kid, I could feel the significance of these beads, their Weight. Macon Ridge has no natural stone deposits so everything had to be brought in from a point along a 1600 mile trading route. The red jasper was a prized item and I can’t imagine they didn’t draw parallels between the red of the clay they used to make cooking balls and the red of the stone. One to nourish the body; one for the spirit.

Weight to the ball of the left foot, weight to the ball of the right foot. I leaned closer, nose so close to the glass I could smell it. There. One of the larger beads, fastened so that it was in profile. It too seemed to be lost in thought, studying something. “That one was made by someone like me.” The thought is shocking in its clarity and its conviction. I remember it more than 30 years later. It was the first time I had a connection to something beyond me, to the idea of a Past that I would’ve had a place in.

Humanity became encapsulated for me in these strange ancient objects. Crafted by human hands for human wearers and now one is embedded in my very human skin.

I had thought that of all the ones I’ve got in my head, this was the one that would hurt. But it didn’t. For me it doesn’t feel like they’re putting anything in. Just feels like they’re clearing something away so you can see what was always underneath.

And as for that burning question you didn’t know you had? Did I, in fact, ever get to hold an owl bead? The answer, as so many are, is maybe. The summer before I went to college I was working on site while a Tulane group did an excavation. They found a very small fragment of red jasper with what looked to be the “feet” of a potential owl.

It was good enough for me.


What Would Lisbeth Salander Do?

Wake up. Climb out of bed. Stumble stiffed legged to toilet to pee. Wash hands and go to kitchen for coffee. Discover you are out of coffee. Curse whatever Trickster God made you forget you were out of coffee and go to brush teeth.

“Ah well,” you think and dress for grocery making, the phantom taste of cold brew still in your mouth.

Walk to bus stop. See man you loathe coming from opposite direction. Take book from purse and wait. Outside the shelter. Positioned with room for a fight if need be.

Roll shoulders back when he approaches like you’re Old Friends. Like once, when you were sitting & reading, he hadn’t asked a question so that, when you looked up to answer, his crotch was eye level and much too close.

You have never spoken to him again. He has also never spoken again but sometimes mimes bowing as you step past him. Let him bow. Walk with back straight and head up.

He says the bus is coming. And there it is. The opening you’ve waited more than a year for. Because to speak to him first was to lose. Either you would’ve been polite as a lady is supposed to be or you would’ve attacked and been forever labeled as a crazy bitch.

Speak when spoken to.

Lock eyes. Step forward. “You realize you never have to say another word to me, right?” He draws up and begins one of those faux apologies. “Oh I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to offend…” He babbles for a moment more before stopping and turning to the side. He is visibly paler and unsure of what to do. Because you, you beautiful berserker, never blinked. Instead you let naked hostile contempt for this pathetic creature boil out of your eyes.

And suddenly, he’d gotten it. That hadn’t been you telling him to shut up. That had been a warning. He walks on visibly unsteady legs back into the shelter. Fury still has your nervous system wide open but ever so slowly, the chaotic hum that has filled your veins gives way to satisfaction.

Open your book again. Realize that you’ve read it so often the pages are coming out. The Girl Who Played With Fire. Right corner of your mouth raises. Lisbeth Salander would no doubt approve of you today.

Fighting My Internalization of the Hierarchy of Disability

I understand this so well.


I have had my autism diagnosis for a decade now and yet I often still hesitate to publicly identify myself the label. For quite a while my Twitter profile only listed me as having cerebral palsy. I never thought twice about sharing that I had cp but I had misgivings about coming out as autistic. Ultimately I was more annoyed with my reticence to identify as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder, than I was about how being openly autistic might affect the way others perceive me. I however think that talking about why I felt that discomfort in the first place is important.

Disability, regardless of form or type comes with significant stigma in out society. That stigma leads to prejudice and discrimination, so it isn’t difficult to understand why some people who can hide their disabilities choose to do so. In the end it is a personal decision for…

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An Open Letter to People Magazine

Aspie Catholic

Image Description: A boy is kneeling and has blue masking tape and wears a necklace with the autism neurodiversity symbol on it. Next to him is Suzanne Wright, the head of Autism Speaks. She has an unkind expression and is saying “They’re voiceless, the poor things.” Credit is Idrawhumans.

To Whom it May Concern,
First of all, I never read your magazine. Celebrity gossip doesn’t interest me. However, when I saw one of your articles for your July 1, 2015 issue, I had to respond.
Autism Speaks is “Crusading” Against autism? How dare you? Do you realize what you are implying? A crusade is a holy war. You are implying that autism is akin to cancer. Like Suzanne Wright, the head of Autism Speaks–who you interviewed, you are saying that autistic people like myself are better off dead. Do you seriously believe that a person who is diagnosed with autism…

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On Knowing

We seem, as humans, to constantly be moving between the need to be known, seen, & the desire to remain hidden.

Everything that we do, from the clothes we choose to the grooming we do or don’t do, the reactions we have, the words that spill out of our mouths and fingers,.. they all, each and every one, reveal ourselves.  Whether the people observing, or if we, ourselves, can see the truth of our own admissions is purely subjective.  Everyone is going to come away from “the experience” with a different piece of truth.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot control how others see or react to us.  But that rarely stops us from trying.  Some are good at doing their own PR.  Some of us are awful at it.  Not because we don’t care but because we don’t care enough to consistently keep up a facade.  And a facade is absolutely essential to controlling those simultaneous desires to be known and to be hidden.

I’ve had a great deal of practice with “the facade.”  But that’s not to say I ever actually mastered it.

I’m a 34 year old Autistic female living in the Deep South.  I was raised in a family that taught me to be ashamed of my differences and employed abusive practices to “break me” of my Autistic habits, like hand flapping to stimulate/regulate my central nervous system. I figured out early that to mimic others for social behaviours was to survive.

*And Now: to lighten things up!   You there!  Yes, you in the front row.  Think of the Minions from Despicable Me trying to mimic behaviour.  Can you picture them?  Well, I was like that. For a whiiiilllleee…*

And we’re back!  See, the idea that there are significantly more male than female autistics is quite simply and wholly false.  Females are socialized differently (particularly in the Southern United States cultures to which I’ll be referencing) than males and are made to believe that more cooperative and socially polite activities are their lot.  Not the rough play of boys who as we all know will do as they do until we call into question why it is that girls can’t just be girls in the way that boys can be boys.  (Autistics are often creative with words and I can go off on a tangent sometimes.  Consider yourselves warned.)  We female Aspies avoid detection because we learn to appear socially competent.

Or we try to.  Some of us, of course, have no desire or intention of pretending to be anything other than what they are.  But what we all have in common here is wanting to be able to connect with people. And constantly feeling like our noses are pushed against the invisible barrier that being able to socialize well enough to actually do that is.

I learned my manners from my Grandmother and from a trove of books that I read as a child, particularly from those Edwardian comedies of manners.  As you can imagine, I’m a real scream at parties.

My mother was a librarian and as such there were all sorts of books that I had access to.  And fate smiled on me for a brief moment way back when.  See there’s this condition called hyperlexia.  Dont’ worry; it’s not contagious.  It’s just a language processing ability some of us have that makes figuring out words easier.  Basically it’s the opposite of dyslexia, where the brain has trouble processing written words and numbers.

My hyperlexia had me reading full books by the age of 3.  And I mined them for that most precious of gifts: information.  

Information on the world, on people, on music, on BOOKS, on everything.  No scrap of information was dismissed as too meager, and as I read more my brain began to crave more and more knowledge.  I could knock out a novel in an afternoon and often would leave school on the weekend with 10 books only to return them Monday morning and take 10 more. (10 was the maximum allowed out to one student at once.)

My family saw me as robotic, inhuman.  To my way of thinking I was fulfilling my purpose.  Obviously if my brain functioned in such a way as to interpret language at an accelerated rate, surely that was what I was meant to do.  I was supposed to Learn.  And that felt good.  It felt Right.

I now know that reading was my first “special interest.”  I also know that I’m far from the only Autistic who did this.  Stand together my hyperlexic siblings!  And let’s start a book exchange.  Cause that’d be sweet.

I’ve been re-evaluating my life lately.  Lately being the last 18 months or so.  But hell, time is relative and probably doesn’t even exist at all so fuck it.  Doesn’t matter what I spent my “reclusive” period doing so much as what I’m now taking from it.

And that is my long lost ability to just relax and let myself be who I am.  Some people will like me.  Some people will hate me.  Most will be completely indifferent and get back to obsessing over their own lives.  Because that is how humanity works.

We search for those who are compatible in values, beliefs, and interests.  Those who don’t meet our qualifications for enjoyable encounters quickly get written out of our social scripts.  And that is how it should be.  We only have the capacity to be really close to so many people at once.  Beyond that they become acquaintances or just flatly neglected.  Because social connections take upkeep.  And believe it or not I’m just now figuring out how much upkeep and all the various ways to do that.

To me, if I meet you and I like you, I like you.  Full stop.  It takes a lot to make me change my opinion and I’m always sorry to do so.  But I understand that most humans take several encounters of gradually increased social vulnerability to determine their stance on a person.  You probably have it right there.  I’ve gotten myself into some truly shit situations because I had the wrong first reaction to someone. And I know that I must appear as a very cold sort to most people.  I don’t speak much and tend to come off as very pedantic or pretentious when I do.  This isn’t because I feel the need to show off in some way but rather because I never feel like I have “fun “things to offer a group.  I instead offer information, knowledge, to the group.   Obscure fact/oid(s) that most people will remember only because they find my popping out with it so odd.  What most people would rather have is a good joke; not the explanation for why cream of tartar and sugar stabilize egg whites and give you better rise in a cake.

You can imagine how bad my social anxiety became over the years.  Although coming to terms with myself over the past months is really helping to lesson that.

I am an agender, demi-sexual Autistic woman.  That means that I am gender fluid or, even more accurately, that I do not identify with any gender at all.  I’m just me.  I know that probably seems odd to many of you, particularly as I’m told how feminine I present.  But appearances are deceiving.  Particularly when I take so much joy in subverting mine.

As many Autistics do, I have a form of prosopagnosia, or face blindness.  It takes me a second to recognize people even if I know them well.  If we pass each other, it may be half a block before I realize you were you.  The other, even odder, part of that is the fact that I don’t really know what my own face looks like.  I have a distinctive nose so that’s how I latch onto my face.  But just today I styled my hair in a way I never have before and every time I caught a glimpse of myself, I had to remind myself that it was me.  To me, I looked in the mirror and saw predominantly large eyes.  Like Disney princess big.  I’m not sure how much I liked the hair because of that but that is an entirely different matter.

Anyway, I understand that I was born in a female body and I have no need to change that.  I also have to need, want, or desire to ever be constrained by it.  Because biology is one thing (not destiny mind) and the performance of gender is quite another.  Too bad I wasn’t born in some ancient culture/society where the norms weren’t so rigid and incomprehensible.  But here I sit in this year of our human imposed Julian calendar system, 2015.

And how do I subvert those expectations that others place upon me because of my clothes or makeup or lack of?  By being exactly who I am regardless of any of it.  I startle men when they see me in a petticoat and think me a piece of fluff only to have me whirl, fully aggressive, when they are inappropriate.  Men never seem to believe that women can have even more rage than they do.  Those men are wrong.

I have the manners of an old world gentleman, all those books you know, and will tip my hat to people when I wear one.  I hold the door open for everyone and offer assistance regardless of gender to people.  I have been rebuked multiple times for these things.

I’ve been told to not wear makeup because it was buying into a patriarchal beauty ideal.  Well, I don’t paint my face to look beautiful.  I do it because we humans have painted ourselves in various ways since the infancy of our species.  I do it because I like it.  Because with the stroke of a brush I can highlight some aspect of myself that is unusually keen to be let out.

And that is often where the confusion about my sexuality (or lack thereof) comes in.  Sexuality is a spectrum and it’s not just between homo- or hetero- sexual.  Humans are far too complex for that.  The spectrum actually goes from asexual to sexual with bi, homo, hetero, etc… being on the sexual end.  I fall into the demi zone in that I am basically asexual but can develop the desire for sex with someone after a strong bond has been made.  For me that starts intellectually because, remember, I really really like information.  And a good conversation is great foreplay…

These are just rough strokes mind.  There are a thousand nuances that can’t be touched on yet.  Because it is late.  And I am tired.

Rest well, dear reader.  I hope we meet again soon.

We Are Not Your Burden, We Are People

There is a spot on Magazine where children and their caretakers from a special needs school get on the bus. It’s usually 6 or 7 kids and 3 to 4 adults. The bus was pretty full when they got on yesterday so they had to spread out. One boy, probably no more than 10, sat next to me with a caretaker and another child behind.

The kid next to me began rocking back and forth in the seat, not violently, just enough to make a nice “whump-“ing sound when his backpack hit it. The caretaker reached over the seat and put her hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Sit still,” she said and waited a moment before sitting back. I turned to say “It’s cool. I’m Autistic and I get it,” but before I could a tall man standing by the back door looked at the caretaker and said “Not to speak out of turn but y’all are amazing.”

She said, “Thank you.” And then the man continued on about how he only works in a restaurant but he had to have drinks and a smoke after work and what must the caretaker’s lives be like. “Oh, I need a drink after work too,” she said. And I thought “Don’t we fucking all sometimes?”

The kid by me had started rocking again, more vigorously, after the man had started on his little speech. The caretaker stilled him again as the bus made a stop and the tall man got off along with several others. Another caretaker sitting across the aisle now had a seat open and asked if the kid would like to sit by her. He reached a hand out and she guided him over.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to the situation. I am an observer by nature and when the kids got on I started to watch the other passengers over my book. A handful paid on attention whatsoever, some people looked at the children and then got back to their own thoughts, and some openly stared with most of those portraying visual discomfort in their postures and expressions.

Since the bus was full two kids and a male caretaker were standing near the front door. A larger lady made her way down the aisle to exit and instead of saying “Excuse me” to move past them, she instead chooses to shame the kids for not immediately moving out of the way as she approached. “Y’all need to watch out for people.” Her tone was harsh and loud.

One of the boys looked to the caretaker and moved aside when the caretaker indicated through hand motion that he should. The woman exited shaking her head and still talking. The people on the bus who showed signs of discomfort were even stiffer now. Those people only began to relax when the first set of kids exited the bus.

Now let’s take a look at this scene more closely. I don’t know what disabilities the kids had or to what degree they are affected by them. That doesn’t matter. As a member of the disabled community myself (and yes Autism is classified as a “developmental disability or disorder” even though that classification is flawed but that’s another fucking post) I have a much different view of what was happening on that bus.

First, the rocking kid. I need all you neurotypicals to think about a time when you were over tired, over stressed, or maybe just chemically altered and the world began to be overwhelming because of strong smells and too loud or persistent sounds. Or maybe a time when you were hungover and light was not only bright but physically hurt you in a way that you could not control.

Those bad days for you are often what it is like for many members of the neurodivergent community. I know that’s what it’s like for me. I was dreading the trip yesterday because the noise of the bus engines is so fucking loud to me and when I’m tired my usual ways of blocking them out don’t work. (As I sit on my couch writing this the hum of the generator at the school next door is combining with the air conditioner and my computer’s fan to make an ever persistent Hummmm in various tones. The world is never truly quiet.)

The kid next to me seemed to be having the same problems. Being on a bus or public transit is annoying to most people. But it is a completely different thing when you’re a child, most likely just learning blocking mechanisms, to deal with. Rocking is an extremely common stim or way to regulate the nervous system. And that’s ok.

He wasn’t hurting anybody or even being noisy like the assholes who think the bus trip is a great time to call everyone they know. He could be comforted by touch and was when the caretaker stilled him. His renewed rocking started when a complete stranger began talking about how he, and others like him, must make people’s lives so much harder.

That kid was not deaf or the caretaker’s would have communicated with him in sign language. Did the tall man not think the kid had the mental capacity to understand what it was he was actually saying to the caretaker? Well yea, probably he didn’t. Because our society is shitty that way.

Caretakers are amazing people. They have to be empathetic and calm even when things are going wrong. I have great respect for good caretakers. But here’s the thing people don’t acknowledge.

The Kids Have To Be And Do All Those Things Too Or They Are Punished And Ostracized By A Society That Just Wants Them To Go Away.

And they are working at a disadvantage. Even when they sometimes act out or “get it wrong” they are still fucking amazing.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not meant to be some kind of inspiration porn. That shit pisses me off to no end. There is a huge Grand Canyon style chasm between inspiration porn and this.

This post is about awareness.

Just like that lady who had to be snappy because she… what, felt ashamed that she was larger and couldn’t fit through comfortably? Or she was heading to or from a job that she hates? She has too many bills and a terrible marriage? I have no fucking clue why she felt the need to be mean to children. I only saw the fucking action she took. And in a lot of ways that is all I really need to know. In the end you are always, ALWAYS what you DO.

Society is built for the comfort of neurotypicals (and White ones at that, but again that’s another post). Because y’all motherfuckers outnumber us by a wide margin. (Not said to be mean, I just have the mouth of a very well educated sailor. Or Samuel L. Jackson.) Being different in this is never easy. The different are expected to conform to you even when it is painful or potentially harmful for them to do so.

So I’m going to ask you to do something “different.” I’m going to ask you to be aware in a way you might not have been before. I’m going to ask you to reconnect those empathy chips in your head and really look at the world. Contemplate it. Look at the bizzare (often unwritten) rituals and rules of American, southern, etc… society and then decide if they are worth keeping. If you find that they aren’t tell others about it.

Because things need to change. Embrace the differences people. If we can’t do it here in New Orleans then…well, all of us here, we’re all fucked.

A Grand Name

“Katherine Taylor P—–s.  With a name that grand you’ll either be a writer or the President.”

My maternal Grandmother held my small, battered, newborn body and said those words.  She obviously never had high expectations of me.  Of course, Florence Allan Young Taylor’s own moniker was none too shabby either.

Born just after the century turned in New Orleans, Louisiana, Grandmother had a story every bit as long as her name.  And as all good legends begin with tragedy, so too does hers.  You see my elegant, poised Grandmother was born a bastard.

Her mother, whose name was never spoken in the family, had fallen madly in love with a salesman.  The two married quickly and just as fast, she discovered she was pregnant. Somewhere around the fifth or sixth month, her husband (William, I think his name was but there were quite a few William’s in the family and I could be misremembering) went out on a sales trip and never returned.

Great grandmother was panicked.  Her husband had surely been killed and how was she to raise a child alone?  Fortunately (or not) her parents had Wealth and began to search for the missing man.  He was discovered alive, well, and already married with a family in Meridian, Mississippi.  By this time Grandmother had been born and William? had no interest in claiming a girl child even if he could’ve.  Great grandmother’s “disgrace” was given to her Grandmother Allan for raising in a house on Dublin Street, close to St. Charles.

Meanwhile the mother of Florence was married off to a man of modest means in Biloxi, Mississippi.  She bore her new husband, Mr. Smith, two children, Claire & “Smitty.” Grandmother would often be carted off to Biloxi for a month or two to care for the children when her mother was “in a bad way.”  As Uncle Smitty once carefully told me, “That betrayal didn’t just break her heart, it broke her mind.”

So there was my grandmother, Florence, caring for children she wasn’t supposed to acknowledge as siblings in public, in a house owned by a man who hated her for being a badge of impurity upon his wife’s honor.  Grandmother didn’t grow up easily.  But she did grow up determined.  And strong.

Grandmother Allan was adamant that Florence go to college at LSU now that women could do such things.  So she did.  And it was in her second year there that she met a man named Roy Taylor.  Or Taterbug, as she came to call him.

They married about a year later and though Grandmother Allan was so upset that Florence wouldn’t finish her degree that she refused to come out of the kitchen during the wedding, she softened considerably by the time the first of four children was born to the couple.

Florence and Roy survived the Great Depression with three young children.  They came through all the many war years after, not unscathed by time but mostly unburdened by it.  And then in the mid 70s, Granddaddy Taylor’s smokers cough became the raspy struggle for air of emphysema.  He had a few small strokes before the big one stilled his breath forever.

After his death, she never considered finding another love.  The nearly 50 years with her Taterbug had been enough to sustain her for the next few decades.

Florence Allan Young Taylor died at the age of 91.  She’d lived with my parents, my sister Fran and I for the last year of her life…

This is reading far more like an obituary than I’d intended it to.  But I’m not sure how to condense the force of nature contained in her barely 5’4 body into a few hundred words.

“Why try,” the defeatist part of me whispers seductively, insidiously in my ears.  I stop writing for a moment and mull over the question.

“Because I have to,” is the answer, the only answer I have to that.

Just as the imperative to return to New Orleans after I graduated was too strong to ignore so to is the urge to write now.

Just as her grandparents cast her away and irreparably fractured a family, I also have found myself an orphan of sorts.  But instead of blood to take me in, I had only the city that saw the start of the whole dark saga that led to my own birth.

Cruel beauty that she is, New Orleans is in my blood just as it remained in Grandmother’s until her heart stopped pumping it.

I suppose this is a kind of wake.  I’m saying goodbye to the illusion of my life and embracing the reality of it.  Just the way Grandmother would’ve wanted me to.  There is no could-have-been.  There is only what is.

And if what is isn’t all you want it to be, you may not be the only one to blame, but you are most certainly the only one who can fix it.

So here I am.  Tools at the ready, beginning to repair all the wrong in my life.  A daunting task, no doubt. But a worthy one.

You see, the woman who began life as a “disgrace” was no angel, no saint, no superhuman attempting to change the tides of the world.  She instead was a very flawed, very human lady who clung so hard to the idea that her family had once been noble stock that she never admitted the only French blood she could lay claim to was that of a Huguenot who fled France, leaving behind any holdings he might have had, to seek sanctuary in Scotland.  She could never let the idea go for fear her own polished manners and clipped speech would be pretentious instead of elegant, fraudulent instead of natural.

She lived for nearly 40 years in the same small city and never let anyone, aside from a handful of very close friends, call her anything except “Mrs. Taylor.”  She had to have people know that her marriage and her children were legitimate.  The pain of years of being an outcast, a bastard only good for tending to the needs of others, left her with the toughest of shells.  It was only in those waning years of her life that she sought out someone to confide in.  And that someone, for the most part, was me.

I am more like my Grandmother than any other member of my family.  Although I do have more than a few traits from my paternal grandparents as well.  But I know how it feels to have a secret you can’t tell anyone, a dark stain that consumes things that should be bright.

As fate…no, not fate.  I don’t know that I believe in fate anymore.  As I, myself, have consciously chosen it, I can take the lessons of my Grandmother’s life, both good and bad, and make something better.  Something whole.  I can conduct myself with dignity and kindness while remaining firm so as not to be taken advantage of.  And (perhaps) most importantly, I can chronicle the events of the past that will illumine and make moving forward easier.

Because I am the last and the first of my name(s).  I’m casting aside the name I inherited from my father.  No longer branded as if I somehow belong to him.  I’ve chosen who I want to be and I’ve chosen the name that will define me.  I have become a kind of shaman, walking between the worlds of my past and my future.

Someone has to remember these things.  Someone has to make sense of them so that the right lessons can be learned.  It seems this task has fallen before me repeatedly throughout my life and I am continually helpless to do anything but pick it up & take on the mantle of “she who speaks unpleasant truths.”

I am the observer, the witness, and the professor.  And this is not the end of the story.  Not at all.  This, dear readers, is only the beginning.