You Took Your Turn
When we went into the studio in December 2019 to record our new album, We're Only Family If You Say So, it was still fresh. At that juncture, my parents had stopped talking to me since July, half of a year. The single we released on 12.12.20, "You Took Your Turn," was written at nearly the precise moment of the breaking. Though I should know better than to hinge a severed relationship on a single event. Happy marriages don't end in divorce. Healthy functioning parent-child relationships don't end solely in an email that says, "We almost choked on our laughter at you." From what I am learning, whether trauma is large or small, the brain reacts the same-- fight, flight, or freeze. Whether that is something as horrific as physical abuse, or as seemingly harmless as a backhanded comment over Thanksgiving dinner, the body reacts, creating defenses and desperately trying to remove itself from or rectify the situation. Repeat those traumas again and again, and you have an abuse cycle, or you have to leave. I chose to leave, with the door swinging wide open for someone to chase after me.
No one did.
We are now one year from the recording of this song, a year and a half from the break up, a year and a half minus one day of where we wrote this song on a secluded small peninsula on the larger Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In this amount of time, we've written an album's worth of material, several blogs, journal entries, and have had more late night and early morning conversations to process it. I've oscillated from anger to fury to shame to grief back to anger and shame again. But then, in the last couple of months, a new feeling. I wouldn't call it forgiveness, but maybe a second cousin to it.
In late 2020, reconciliation is pushing itself to the forefront. A lot of families find themselves on either side of a chasm. Racism, a brutal election, a global pandemic-- you can throw a feather to land on something that is dividing us. But then, even if you agree on a "No Talking Politics" rule at the dinner table, there is the lifetime worth of familial hurt widening the gap. I tried for years to close it, but the cost was too high. The cost was being silent, alone, and entirely not myself. The desire to still feel connected-- to want to be part, as embarrassing as it was to keep trudging back to a place that didn't seem to want me and at times even told me so-- was somehow worth the humiliation. Until it wasn't.
It's complicated, of course. My parents fed me, got me school clothes, and loved me. My mother took me to the library and let me pick out the biggest stack of books her library card would allot and let me watch movies on Friday nights with just her-- movies I wasn't allowed to watch usually. My father demanded to sit at the kids table at holidays because of his belief that children and adults should be together, that kids shouldn't be treated as a separate part of the family. If there was not good, if I didn't still believe there was even now, then we wouldn't have written an album. The downside of love is grief.
I believe I can still get to the upside of grief. The first step is anger. In the last year and half, I've been trying to recognize Anger, not as an embarrassing sibling kept in the basement that I keep stuffing down. It only gets rowdier and tries to come out the side window. Rather, I've been listening to it. Anger is the emotion-- the helpful messenger-- who lets you know when something or someone has wronged you. If you ignore it, Anger only waves its hands wider and roils the room. If you turn to it and ask, "What is it? What are you seeing?" it has the chance to respond, "You are not being treated with kindness. You are having your pain mocked. I think we should take a breather" or, in some cases, "I think we should write a song."
My body was physically aching. I cried for almost 24 hours before I turned to my Anger and my partner and we wrote "You Took Your Turn." I stopped worrying about what people would think. I laid down my loyalty to a family that was not loyal to me. I scanned through and found that the words were already there, stored in smaller crevices of a chasm that had grown too wide to build a bridge. It was written in less than two hours, a long walk in between. It was at once excruciating and liberating. That's how the first step always feels. It's not easy to let out what we are trained to keep in, to keep appearances, to be afraid of. We've been trained to believe it's disloyal to be angry with your family. It's shameful. It's selfish. That's a lot of untucking to do.
I write this one day before the release of the song into the world. I had doubts. I thought by this point that my parents and I would be reconciled-- that their armor would fall, that I'd be having to explain to them where this song came from and that "no, no, I don't feel that way, anymore." In my fantasy reconciliation scenario, I am apologizing for who I am again. I guess I'm not ready, after all. I was still worried that the song wouldn't hold up. My training in anger told me that I would be embarrassed to have other people listen to this song. So, yesterday, I listened to it.
Yes, there is anger there. Of course. But also, something else. I am using language that my family used. I wrote this in colloquialisms and turns of phrase I believed made my family what it was. I am using words I've known all my life, that made me who I am, and making them my own. I am declaring by using this common language, that I belong, too. In speaking plainly and honestly, there is evolution of both language and feeling. I am reaching out to tap the shoulder the Future of Healing. It's like listening to past me and present me and future me meet in one place and say "It's all part." The feelings have evolved, but are no less true. In this song, I reclaimed those words and inflated them, making space so that I can be part of the family, too-- even if it looks different.
Thank goodness for anger. In her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd describes this transformation, "...anger needs not only to be recognized and allowed; like the grief, it eventually needs to be transformed into an energy that serves compassion... in such ways, anger becomes a dynamism of love."
A dynamism of love. I hope this is what this song brings. My experience with family severance is not new, or even unique. Broken relationships aren't the sole toil of a folk band. My hope is that in writing about them, even and maybe especially the angry ones, they become a dynamism-- an expansion-- of love. This song was an expansion of myself-- unwilling to be small, silent, or not myself. It was letting Anger lead me to set boundaries, to set a standard for kindness. I hope it gives you the feeling of not being alone, the courage to stop a toxic cycle, and the desire to seek reconciliation-- even if that reconciliation is only within yourself. Sometimes, that's the best we can manage. And then, to let it propel our energy ever forward in compassion.