Memorial Day, 2019
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I had an uncle who fought in WW II, and he was never the same mentally. He was an extremely talented writer, and his PTSD from the war destroyed the rest of his life. It’s people like him I honor–and all the military people of color throughout history, and the indigenous people, who fought for rights they still don’t experience, who fought with little to no recognition, who fought and were betrayed by the very country they were fighting for.
I think especially today about my transsiblings who have lost their careers in the military–their years and decades of service–all because of trump and his religious extremist terrorist regime.
I have met homeless vets on the streets of Philly, in soup kitchens, when I’ve visited homeless shelters to sing–these people are in shock–not only because of the things they’ve witnessed, done, felt–but because of the way their country let them down once they returned.
These people and the trans service members are not just expendable pieces–nor were the people of color who served in the military….We all know that—but let’s not kid ourselves that this country really cares about the actual human beings fighting these horrific and most often unjust wars—If they cared they wouldn’t be so actively fighting to take away the rights of people like me—slapping the sacrifices soldiers have made to protect my rights and the civil rights of all people–in the face….only to watch their country erode into a cesspool of hate, bigotry, and a way of thinking that is so backwards mentally, spiritually, socially, that it’s difficult to see a way out.
You know I’m a pacifist at heart/soul, but a revolution might be what’s needed to change the shit going on in this country–and for those future veterans—the marginalized ones who will fight, who do fight everyday—-it will just be a continuation of daily battles.
And yeah, it pisses people off to hear comparisons of transpeople with military members–as far as us being “heroes.” –but the truth is, transpeople like me fight a war to exist every day–and that doesn’t make us heroic, it makes us victims in a battle we did not choose. We shouldn’t need to be called heroes just because we’re trying to live our lives in safety. I don’t believe the ghosts of the soldiers who fought for American freedom would be happy to know genocide is happening right on our very soil—-again–it’s never actually stopped.
Going out anywhere–to church, the store, to the post office, to any public restroom–is putting myself at risk. I am constantly hyper vigilant of my surroundings and those around me—why? Because my life IS a war zone. If people weren’t so scared of people like my why would trump and his weaklings want us gone so badly? So sometimes the comparisons are worthy to make between veterans and queer people like me.
And it’s not only queer people–people of color are at war in this country–young black men just picking up trash are veterans of living a life of war everyday—putting themselves in danger just because they wear a hoodie, Islamic people just trying to worship, to make a living–they are at war in this country–Jewish people, Latinx people….people in jail whose lives are completely destroyed for selling/using weed….Marginalized people–each and everyone of us is a veteran of wars we fight everyday because we are the hunted.
I am not saying I want to draw attention away from military vets–Far from it. I want us all to rise up and actually fight for what they fought for—a country free to all and for the rights of all. And as long as white-supremacist colonization and brutality is still going on there will never be peace. We will always be fighting.
To those who fight overseas, and to those who fight getting out of bed, to those that fight leaving their homes because of fears for their own safety, for those that fight who have no home—I honor all of you this day, and I will, as always, keep praying for peace, and keep fighting in the ways I am able.
Trauma Returns V
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There is a way of never reaching out to be held again that is like a tree standing in a spring clearing, never to grow leaves. There is a way of living knowing no arms could ever fill the emptiness you carry that is like walking alone down an endless dusty summer road. There is a way of existing that precludes any sense of being comforted that renders one’s spirit silent, like an empty house. There are times when pillows become the receivers of the kinds of embraces and tears a scared child should be able to share with a parent, or, in the best-case scenario, a dear friend, or even a stranger who completely understands such ambiguous and deep loneliness. There is a way of moving in the world with such grief and loss, that it’s like having undigested food sitting in one’s guts, and yet, still being hungry night and day. Today, the pillows are once again receiving hugs and the tears that come and go in aching waves, because no one can ever be trusted to hold this grounded falcon, this being of living fog, this feral heart that recoils—thrashing from the offered arms, this darkness that is like living in stone and yet somehow being able to breathe and watch, but never to soften again. All the while longing to be scooped up and rocked, like a nest in the arms of a tree in the light of the moon.
Trauma Returns IV
Jennifer Angelina Petro
We are all surrounded by invisible doors. Every step we take one opens and we drift through a threshold. Sometimes we pause outside unsure of ourselves, unaware doors are opening all around us. Once we take a step, whether we pivot the foot and turn around, or we move forward confidently—a door’s there—it opens—we’re through. Can’t we stay in a room, or a backyard, or place of worship for a spell, or do we just keep stepping through door after door—doors leading to other doors? That all depends on the needs of the soul. If the soul’s task is to guide a fairly whole heart, and a nearly unscathed spirit to their next living temple, then there will be stops along the way in living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens where banana bread is baking, and coffee is brewing, perhaps a teakettle is whistling, and children are laughing somewhere just outside, perhaps there will be walks through cathedrals and forests, farmlands, mountain passes, and around lakes and ponds. In cases such as these, the doors wait nearby, open just a smidge, letting the light from beyond its frame slant through over your shoes that you’ve placed by the previous door. Should the soul’s task be—as it is for mine–to carry a heart and spirit damaged by trauma, then it is more like door after door, searching for that peaceful place, that safe place, that breathing place, and sometimes it’s never found in this life—it’s just one threshold after another. Despite the soul’s wisdom and depth of wonder, sometimes the hurts she is trying to help heal are too deep, too sharp and festering, that the only doors that appear—appear like blackholes with wooden frames—doors leading into darkness upon darkness—into damp and moldy basements, into jail cells made of bones of ghosts. Sure, every now and again, a door appears, and it sails by like a strange boat, and light surrounds it, like a mandorla, and singing weaves through the key hole, but it’s soon gone down—down into the sea of inability to trust, handicapped abilities to feel joy, enhanced abilities to feel shame and terror. Right now, in this moment, I am standing outside an open dark door—and even if I try and stand still or change directions—as shaky as my knees are—the door opens like a maw and comes to me—moves over and around me, and I have no choice but to be in the dark belly of the door—the belly of I-Hate-This-Life-It-is-Too-Hard-to-Breathe-All-Hope-of-Peace-is-Gone-My-Body-is-Not-Mine-My-Innocence-Was-Stolen-From-Me-Damn-Dammit-to-Hell-Door. And yet still—I am born along as my soul searches, moving, like a winding river of light, towards the house of many mansions, believing the promise is true.
Trauma Returns III
Jennifer Angelina Petro
It’s hard to find a beginning when the end keeps moving away. Memories live—scatter-frozen—in each and every cell, like snow on each and every branch. Sometimes warmth comes—a little thaw—and healing rearranges the hurt into tears. Sometimes the roots of the heart are severed from the body, and the soul lets the roots and the heart live in her waters over years and decades, as she tries to graft them back together again. Until then the body exists with a mind that pretends to be a heart in that it knows what it should be feeling and doing and it attempts to be the way it thinks others think it should be. Except real hearts know the truth always, unlike well-intentioned minds. And the soul watches it all. And the monsters watch it all—snow shadows stealing towards bedroom windows. And the body searches for the beginning, while the heart longs for the end, and the mind wishes it could fix it all while spiraling into the dark. And the monsters slip through the cracks. And the soul moves the great folds of her waters around that heart and those roots, like a cloak of time and animal ferocity—making sure nothing hurts them again.
Trauma Returning II
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Is it a longing for the divine that burns just behind every moment and interaction with someone? No, it can’t be. The divine is everywhere I turn and in everyone I see. This soul-loneliness then must just be there, like an underground abandoned and crumbling church lit by a single, ever-burning candle. No matter how it flickers in the winds of sighs and the passing of ghosts, it remains lit—an ever-present reminder of solitary confinement. There are friends aplenty in my life. There are people who love me and whom I love. There are times our voices lift together in praise. There are times laughter fills the room. And yet, the soul-loneliness lives just behind every moment and interaction. Trauma does that. It is a severing of lifelines, a smashing of lifeboats, a drifting away on the sea. This is not to say I am ungrateful for your company. It is to say: that lost look in my eyes is a shadow on the wall of that little candle in that underground church, and nothing, it seems, can ever fill that space with light and singing, community, and warmth. Please, I beg you, don’t ever stop trying. It is your persistence and compassion, and my limited abilities to be present in your presence, that keep me going. And sometimes I can stand in that church and feel triumphant, and maybe even sing in my weeping. Mostly, the soul-loneliness fills me with dust, as the church slowly crumbles. Trauma does that. It defines a perimeter where wounds cannot be reached. And the divine is everywhere. Even in that church. I know that in my mind. Trouble is—all sense of comfort and safety from that holy, living light were stolen, and so the divine feels more like a wind from somewhere far away, trying to make a wish and blow out that little candle. Trauma does that. May the birthday one day come.
Jennifer Angelina Petro
It’s there, outside my window. I’m standing still looking out into the dark yard. It’s there, by the early-frost-eaten-fallow garden. It moves, like a loosened piece of the night. It might be human. It might be a walking tree. It is most likely another monster. It leans towards the shed, lurching forward, it’s face sideways watching me as it goes. It’s also inside the house—coming down the hall to my bedroom door. I could crawl under the bed. I could hide behind the clothes in my closet. Outside, it turns fully towards my house and is at my bedroom window in one great, terrible stride. It crosses the threshold into my bedroom. My heart strains to not burst into pieces. I can’t breathe. There is nowhere to hide. They’ve found me again. They always were going to find me again—from within and without. I shut my eyes, clamp my mouth closed as tightly as I can. And then it happens. My body is no longer my own, and years of my life disappear into the ceiling and up, out into the late summer night never to be seen again.
Remembering the Storm
And Putting the Box Cutter Down
By Jennifer Angelina Petro
Two years ago today, I stood at the threshold of the doorway to my basement apartment with a box cutter held to my wrist. I paced. I shook. I wept. I was filled with fear. It was cold. A light snow was falling. I felt utterly alone. It was the first fall I wasn’t teaching after twenty years. Other loses as a result of coming out as trans weighed heavily on my chest. The last school year I taught was devastating—aside from the most amazing and accepting students ever. The rest of it was traumatic. Now, I couldn’t find a job, and I missed teaching with all my heart and knew I would likely never teach elementary school again.
I stepped out into the snow. It drifted down gently on my shoulders. I was in my pajamas. No coat. No shoes. My socks were wet. My feet freezing. I pressed the blade against my wrist daring myself to end my life. Visions of collapsing right there in front of my door seeped into my mind—a mind broken—cracked—frantic. I stood there wondering who would find me. I feared for their hearts. I hoped the Divine would have mercy on my soul. Ending my life wasn’t a conscious choice. I was compelled by searing pain, depression, and the terror of a dark, uncertain future.
And then it happened. I closed the blade back into the box cutter. I went in and got my keys. I was drenched with snow, shivering. I put the box cutter down on my unmade bed. I looked around at the piles of dishes in the sink, the clothes strewn upon the floor, the plants unwatered, and, weeping even harder, reaching down for the box cutter again, only to drop it back on the bed. I forced my wet feet into my slippers, and went back outside.
The wind was wishing me onward. The snow slanting at an angle gesturing to my car. And I followed. Angry and frightened, disappointed in myself for ruining my life, for allowing myself to get this sick, wiping the snow from the windshield with my bare hands, unable to see what a courageous step I was taking. Unable to see the unseen forces of strength that were being obeyed by some part of my spirit that wasn’t sick—that deeply wanted to live—caught in a blizzard of mental illness. And I drove myself to the hospital.
When I got there, I gave my keys to a valet parking attendant—they stared at me. I must have looked wild—a scared animal—unshaven, sopping wet, snow-soaked. I walked into the emergency room and up to the counter.
“How can I help you Hun?” the nurse asked.
And I found myself, still weeping, snot falling, saying: “I’m going to kill myself.”
“Step around here,” she said, and they immediately brought me into a private room. Nurses gathered around me. They called a doctor. They gave me a gown and a warm blanket. They stationed someone outside my room to watch over me. The nurses were like angels—quiet, soothing, present, efficient.
I would spend the next ten days in the psych ward, missing Thanksgiving with my family. But I was alive. Somehow, I had survived a wave of mental illness.
The storm wouldn’t end there. I had more hospital stays and worse bouts of suicidality a month after leaving. For that moment though, I was safe from the sickness. I was surrounded by care.
The last thing I remember thinking as they injected tranquilizers into my IV, was: “Help me.”
Today, two years later—much more stable, and yet still struggling daily with passive suicidal thoughts and other forms of mental illness, those memories are falling like the snow, blanketing my heart. I watch the snow covering the trees with meticulous attention. I remember standing out in the snow holding the box cutter. I remember the depth of pain, fear, and depression—the echoing hopelessness. I remember feeling completely alone. I remember turning back, putting the box cutter down, picking up my keys, and walking, unsure, terrified at how sick I had become, out to my car.
All donations from this post go to Trans Lifeline.
I Think Too Much About Everything…Even Facebook Posting
Jennifer Angelina Petro
When is it OK to start posting silly puns and memes after events like the massacre at Tree of Life? Is it even appropriate to post anything silly at all in today’s frightening times? Am I exhausting my FB friends when I post all this serious-as-shit-trans-stuff? Do I offend them when I ask them to change their profile frames? Do I risk getting into arguments over politics? How do I handle feeling disappointed when more people don’t (won’t?) read my activist FB notes and blog-posts, and even my poems? Why am I even asking and sharing questions like these?
I am bipolar. My PTSD can exhibit similar symptoms to borderline personality disorder. I am aware my abuse history and addictions sometimes stir up codependency. I say these things to shed some light as to why I care so much about something as inane as posting on FB.
I have taken it upon my FB timeline to be an oasis of positivity and humor in the desert of horror going on in our country and around the world. I consciously chose to stick with funny posts because I know how important it is to laugh. And then, I couldn’t do it anymore. Not just because my life is more threatened now than it was even two weeks ago, but also because it just seems wrong to post silliness while such tragedies occur.
Of course, I am not responsible for how you feel, what you think, or what you do or do not do. Of course, you probably don’t have time to care about what I post or don’t post. Of course, I need to get my mind away from caring about any of this. Trouble with me is that I am thoughtful, highly empathic, and, am old-fashioned in the sense of treating the words, “FB Friends,” as friends in general—in “real” life. In other words—I think too much and I care too much.
As a bipolar person it’s very challenging to find “balance,” in anything in life, let alone something as inconsequential as FB posting. I need to be aware of-and-steer clear of all-or-nothing, black/white thinking, and so it’s absurdly hard for my brain to decide do I post something funny or serious, or do I try to balance them out, or must I post only one or the other, or do I leave FB altogether?
Not everyone is on FB as much as I am, and of course, it can be argued I’m on it too much. I am also unemployed and prone to hazardous isolation, so, for me, FB can be an important means for staying even virtually connected to the world while most people I know are off being gainfully employed. So, as goofy as it seems, the question of what to post is important to my broken brain.
I also understand FB has implemented annoying algorithms that prevent us from seeing things on one another’s profiles. I know we can also choose to “follow,” each other’s pages thus seeing more posts of those we follow than those we don’t. And of course, anyone is free to unfriend anyone or choose to stop following someone and still remain friends. You can even choose to stop seeing someone’s post completely and still remain FB friends, which, incidentally, I have done with some FB friends.
As so often happens, I am thinking out loud. I am telling all. No secrets with Jenn. Why do I do this? Because more than anything it’s important to share my vulnerable, messy, and stumbling humanity, and if that includes overthinking what I do or do not do FB post, so be it. Why do I think it’s so important? Am I being narcissistic? I hope not. I feel it’s important for the reasons I have stated many times—to humanize being trans, to help end the stigma of mental illness, and just to demonstrate that living in a radically open way is possible.
What am I going to do about the FB posting dilemma? Post what I post and let go of whatever happens. If my serious posts tire you out as just another preach-to-the-choir-political-poster, then so be it. If my silly posts cheer you up and lighten your day, so be it. It is my hope the serious posts will inspire you to action—clear and open action. It is my hope you will share those activist posts with your friends and family. It is my hope the memes and puns will be shared too and inspire you to remember it’s OK to laugh even when there is so much horror in the world.
Mainly, however, it is my hope that my brain becomes healthy enough someday to not spend this much thought power on FB.
Every Day Life
After the Attack
Jennifer Angelina Petro
The day after.
The slipping back
Into your body.
The stepping back
Into your life.
The sitting down
With your perpetrators
At the breakfast table,
In church, at Thanksgiving dinner,
The friends coming over
To play in a house
Where you were pinned down,
The getting up the next morning,
The shutting down
Of what happened,
The pushing it away,
The surviving by vanishing
In plain sight,
The slow forgetting
So that life can go on
Even though the innocence
Of running outside on a long, drifting
Summer’s evening, disappears
Like a firefly in the trees.
The terror burrowing
Into your body, into your spirit,
Into the fabric of your mind,
To be carried with you
The rest of your life, like
A railroad spike in your guts,
That stabs you again and again
When you least expect it—
When a smell, the sound
Of cicadas, the flashback,
The Thanksgiving dinner,
The priest holding up
The Eucharist, triggers it all again—
And you feel like
You’re going to vomit the horrible truth,
And you freeze as you’re walking
To the store, and you shimmer
Out of your body again,
And don’t come back
For hours, and yet, you go about
Your day, a living mist, a disappearing
Person made of sand,
And somehow you manage
To return to your life—
The stain on your soul
Visible in your eyes,
And yet, you move on, you make it,
You survive another wave,
You emerge from the dark waters,
And you stride towards the healing
Into freedom, into the reclaiming
Of your life—the fucking forgiveness
And twisted loyalties, the fucking
It’s a gift, the fucking it was meant
To be, the fucking you somehow
Made it happen or deserved it,
The fucking you will let it
Hold your life hostage anymore,
The wonder of who you are—
A warrior battling every moment
To live, to recover your innocence
From pain’s tangled trees,
Where fireflies still blink, like
Beacons in the night,
Reminding you that you still
Me, 5th grade, dressed up for a class play.