Thursday, May 18, 2017

Loss of Tooth

They say for every child you lose a tooth.
Today is a day I wholeheartedly believe in coincidences, the kind where your mind latches on to a theme and that theme pops up to affirm and teach you. I lost a tooth. Not by accident, it was a scheduled loss, a necessary loss, a pre-emptive loss, a prophylactic loss. It will not be replaced, as befits my current class in life.
On this same day of tooth loss, my aunt posted a video of Big Rock, VA. In this video, Home Creek, the place where my grandparents lived, is shown. I was flooded with grief and memories. I spent so many summers there, catching crawdads with my cousins, making "suicides": where you'd take all the flavors in the pop machine and mix them, occasionally taking rides in coal trucks because we thought that was the bee's knees. As was going to the Piggly Wiggly with my Mamaw. My Papaw let me drive a Datsun when I was 13 and I almost drove it into the river until someone came running out of the house to show me where the brakes were. That's where he kept bees, where my grandmother grew peonies, where I was loved and held and cried so hard to leave.
2:30-3:12 shows the area where my grandparents' house was. 

In my youth I had no clue then that there were coal companies or that Appalachia was basically a colonized area. There were coal trucks and people who worked in the mines, people who were good-hearted and who stopped at my Mamaw's hamburger stand to hang out and talk and read The Virginia Mountaineer. I had no clue I was Appalachian, even, or what that meant. Of course, it made sense in my coincidental mind that losing a tooth would be coupled with seeing a video of my ancestral home, the mountains I loved. There is such a strong connection to teeth and class, and I immediately feared judgment, felt the weight of my own personal-coal-company's oppression since I could  not afford a more suitable treatment, and the sting of yet another loss.Why didn't someone tell me I was from Appalachia? That Buchanan County boasts the highest rate of people on disability in the nation, and for good reason? That "being Appalachian" is what I've been trying to simultaneously embrace and run from my whole life?
My grandparent's house doesn't even stand there any more. After they died, it was in gross disrepair and could not be salvaged. It needed to be let go, to be cleansed. It was time. My mother's marriage was a personal colonization and the wisdom of the broken system said the way to fix a personal colonization, the way to fix an abusive man is to exile her. It was an exile for her, but a cleansing for him...all the "hims" involved. Just another mountain top razed.
Loss. Not just loss of a part of me, a tooth part of me. A loss of ideas of myself as strong.  I am fragile, breakable, a part of me injured beyond reasonable hope of repair. Dead and gone to me.
But losing this tooth and connecting to my born class in life made me feel an even deeper loss: loss of dignity. Dignity that is so easily usurped by those who don't care. Dignity that richer people don't mind taking from poorer people. Dignity is fragile, class is immutable. That my dignity could be so threatened by a cracked and broken molar just indicated a life of trying to find dignity and hold on to it, of trying to leave Appalachia.
 The truth is, I don't want to "leave" Appalachia. I want to leave the stigma of being a commodity: to men, to culture, to others. I want to leave situations of oppression. I want to leave the feeling of being "pillaged and plundered", exploited, used up. I want to leave the feeling of being someone who deserves less than others. I want to leave the orbit of abusers and get to the good stuff: the beauty of the mountains, the incredible goodness of the people, the kind, giving nature of the souls there, and the make-do resourcefulness that helped them, and me, survive. I want with all my heart to identify with the mountain. I have loved those mountains my entire life, exile or not.
Pillaged and plundered. When I read this incredible article, I latched on to that phrase. My tooth was mined, taken from me, indicative of a poor diet when growing up. My dignity has been mined from me, indicative of a propensity for choosing the wrong men, pillaged and plundered.
For every personal colonization you lose a tooth. For every oppressor's judgment you lose a tooth. For every bout of poverty you lose a tooth. For every verbal or physical manipulation you lose a tooth.
For every reminder of being from coal country, you lose your dignity. For every trip to family court, you lose a piece of your humanity.
 Alice Miller in her book, "The Body Never Lies" speaks of the importance of having an "enlightened witness" to trauma. The stories of colonized peoples are the stories of trauma and traumatization, stories of the dance between those who traumatize and those who are wounded. I will just sit with that for awhile. I believe one of the gifts of consciously healing trauma, of becoming aware of why you were abused and where you came from to get there is to become an "enlightened witness". You understand better than anyone what went down. "Enlightened" in the sense of complete compassion.
Compassion does not exist in abusers, oppressors, those who colonize, those who harass others for fun. So we need more people who DO really hear and affirm that it is wrong and hurtful and inhumane to oppress another human being. We need more people who understand and seek to empower those impoverished and exploited by rich corporations. Unfortunately, that is the way it works. Compassionate others are the ones who end up cleaning up oppressor's messes.
And that is the path, to take up acting with dignity and value as a human being.
A friend of mine, on hearing my latest "tale from the colony", that part of my life where I'm just a miner in a mine and the coal company charges me exorbitant prices at the company store and takes, takes, takes, exasperated, asked me, "why? Why did you choose this?". Why, indeed, would anyone willingly be pillaged and plundered? To learn, I told her. I didn't know any better. Now I do. It's made me deeper and more aware. Tormentors are teachers. In their cruelty, they teach us how NOT to be. They teach us congruence through their manipulative hypocrisies. They teach us to stand up for truth through their gaslighting and lies. They teach us to tolerate no less than love, through their hatred.
Cause, Lord, if you can forgive a coal company, even a "relational coal company", you can do ANYTHING.




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