When you wish you were a witch much sooner

The family that moved into the rental next door had a reputation. I sort of ignored it – people in Crown Point were petty and spiteful as a rule, quick to spread rumors, and since the daughter was a bit darker-skinned I assumed that the rumors about her grew out of the toxins the townspeople expelled with their CO2.I had encountered the daughter once or twice and liked her. She hadn’t bothered me any, and not bothering me was pretty much all that was needed for me to think someone nice or OK.

Clock at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco

My mother took one look at her and the spite began. She commented that the daughter could have made “two of me at my largest.” I had no idea what she was talking about – the girl was average size as far as I could tell, and even if she wasn’t, so what? I liked her, or at least I didn’t think of her as another tormentor, so I was happy to let it be.

Unfortunately, this girl’s family was just as toxic as mine, and their toxicity got a lot more exposure to light, likely because of her brown appearance. As it turned out, the entire family was fond of stealing – constantly borrowing things, never returning them, and delighting in violating the trust of others. An attempt on our family encyclopedia set was thwarted by my mother, and then when they showed up after seeing she left to try again, I was somehow blamed for my sister inviting them in the house. Over the years of living next door the toxicity between our mothers escalated, with weird phone calls about me backing the car out of the driveway when I didn’t drive yet, vandalism, this girl’s brother following me home and the entire time just spewing vile comments about me and my body and the way I dressed, that escalated every year in a fucked up standofff over Halloween candy. My mother hated Halloween – or she hated being generous to those she had no reason to manipulate, just as likely.  So every year she made a stand about teenagers being too old to trick or treat and leaving me stuck telling the kids next door that I couldn’t give them candy. (She never did this herself, she just dumped this duty on me knowing how the consequences would land at school.)

Years later I heard from my mother – but oddly, no one else – that this girl had spread rumors about me the entire time I lived next door. I don’t know if anyone believed them, or maybe they did, just for the sheer, heady, toxic spite of it. Supposedly she told people that I climbed out of my bedroom window at night, and then ran down the block to visit boys that lived in the condominium complex at the end of that block. I have no idea how my mother even heard these rumors. The only reason I thought it might be true this girl was spreading them was because she got very weird and intrusive at a high school event I attended with my boyfriend, acting like I was a huge slut for holding hands with someone I had been dating for more than six months at that point.

I don’t know if anyone questioned it and no one repeated these rumor to me when I lived  in that town. Those that had been to my house would have dismissed it immediately: my bedroom window was barely three feet by three feet, and even if I could have made that squeeze there was no safe way to get from the garage to the ground – and I was a chickenshit about heights. The boys down the block were vile, violent, and they hated me. They wouldn’t welcome my company and I never sought theirs. I tried to avoid talking to them at all because they were so violent, and extremely sexually violent even in word and tone with girls. At one point there was even a turf war over me riding my bike back in the condos as a shortcut to my house and one guy assaulted me for daring to bike through “his” territory. I don’t know if anyone thought to question this girl – how did she know what I was doing after I snuck out of the house? I didn’t talk to her.

What I was doing was reading on my bed for hours at a time. I had a few friends, not many, and my parents controlled who saw me and when with a great deal of stringency.

The other gossip case was another neighbor, across the street. We had been friends until she took to shouting very nasty opinions at me and then running away before I could respond. Rather than connect the end of our friendship with her behavior,  or talk to me about why I withdrew from her, she and her mother began concocting stories about why. I was jealous. I was competitive. I talked to my mother about them all the time, badmouthing them.

My mother certainly badmouthed them. I was just hurt by her behavior towards me and trying to understand it.

Looking back, I wonder if some gossip stopping witchcraft might have helped me. If it might have reduced the strange looks and weird attitudes that followed me through that town. Then again, when a violation of my privacy brought out that I do practice witchcraft, my mother made sure I knew she was spreading rumors about me doing that as far and wide as she could – basically making the town the most toxic environment possible and then expecting me to move back to it.

Gossip stopping, I suspect, may be one of the better defensive magics out there. A lot of trouble can be shut down just by stilling tongues. There’s so much female social violence tied up in gossip, and tied up in judging one another, that it amazes me anti-gossip work isn’t one of the first things high school students are taught to work for themselves.

Witchcraft would have helped me back then, but without it, I was motivated to get out and stay out. Now I just wonder if I’m still some gossipy anecdote – or if, Facebook or not, I’m forgotten in the wake of much more satisfying scandals.

It’s OK that I wasn’t a witch – I built faith. I built prayer. I was made of something different from the rest of my family, something less toxic, something less delicate – and I got out, because that was not my native habitat. I can’t thank my Christian past self enough for that.

Paganicon 2017 Schedule

For those of you in Minneapolis, I will be at Paganicon this year! I’ll be teaching my urban magic workshops to help you feel a little more organic in your city. Also, contact me via Facebook for a tarot reading – I am charging a $20 flat rate and have room for about five people!

Event Date
Book Signing Friday, March 17 2:15 pm
Finding Nature in the Concrete Jungle Saturday, March 18 1 pm
The Journey to Our Own Personal Underworld Sunday, March 19 11 am
Connecting to the Urban Spirit Sunday, March 19 1 pm

The Changes at Patheos

There’s a lot of good writers getting ousted from Patheos Pagan channel. It’s unsurprising, given it was run by a right wing Christian organization. I’m not sure what their theory was in having the diversity of faiths represented – “know thy enemy?” maybe? Once they found out exactly how impossible it is to convert people to Dominionism when they’ve all heard it, thanks, there’s a lot less reason to keep those dissenting voices around unless they breed hella revenue.

I’m possibly guilty of … I dunno, being a bad Pagan? Like I’d care? I lost interest in Patheos pretty quickly, and I am also pretty disinterested in Pagan Square. I think this is mostly because I see religion as something that takes care of itself. You have spiritual experience, or you don’t, and you evolve your beliefs – sometimes right out of the original package – or you don’t. I’m a religious woman. I engage with deities. It evolves and shifts back and forth between all the theisms based on what my life is teaching me in the moment.

I suspect it’s supposed to work that way.

The identity politics matter. The ethical talks matter. The relentless definition, re-definition, and “you can/I can’t” stuff just…annoys me. It all matters, sure, but I have a hard time staying engaged with it on a daily basis. If someone isn’t Pagan anymore, I see no reason to get butthurt. It’s their path. Your religious choices can’t betray me, it’s not a shared experience, even when you share community experiences around it. Wicca does not define every magical experience. The longer you practice magic – what really interests me – the less “right ways” you have to do anything.

I’m sorry to see so many good writers at Patheos displaced. I’m especially upset at the upending of the Daughters of Eve platform. That said, maybe shifting platforms will bring up some new conversations. We need them.

Upcoming Appearances at Pantheacon and Paganicon


photo by Diana Rajchel


Come say hello and get right with the spirit of your city – as an activist, urbanist, and yes, naturalist! These workshops at Pagan conventions are all about the urban magical perspective. I will have copies of my Samhain and Mabon books available for purchase.

Sunday, February 19th Pantheacon How to Connect to Your Urban Spirit 11am - 12:30pm
Saturday, March 18th Paganicon Finding Nature in the Concrete Jungle 1pm - 2:30 pm
Sunday, March 19th Paganicon The Journey to Our Own Personal Underworld 11:15am - 12:15 pm
Sunday, March 19th Paganicon Connecting to the Urban Spirit 1:30pm - 2:30 pm

Psychic Witch Talk will still be happening!

For those that didn’t catch my posts on other social media, I am now producing and appearing in a Youtube show called Psychic Witch Talk. While I have moved on from the Mystic Dream, we’ve been having such a great time shooting the show that we’ve decided to continue anyway! We’re looking to shoot at different shops in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz – so if you have a spiritual shop or location, shoot me a message through the contact link. We’d love to set up a live or pre-screened show at your location!

Irrationality and Divorce

This entry is part 25 of 25 in the series Divorcing a Real Witch

How’s this for a redundant statement? Divorce is a divisive topic.

I feel like I should pay the Muppet Studio to have Fozzy read this blog post – anything that obvious deserves a good “wakka wakka” at the end of every line.

I of course have a strong point of view on divorce and marriage – and I am open about my very uncomfortable place within the construct of marriage and divorce as its establishment has evolved since 1929. I am no fan of the institution nor of the practice. I am, however, a big fan of my partner and she is a big fan of marriage. Blame Iowa.

I say I blame Iowa because I can, not because of any historic reason. I blame Iowa because Iowa is there to blame. Marriage and divorce is, in nearly all situations, irrational. It is irrational to believe marriage strengthens society (good marriages, maybe.) It is irrational to believe divorce is a social ill. (Shouldn’t bad/abusive marriages be viewed as the social ill?) It is irrational to think that divorce is still “merely” a women’s and children’s issue.

It’s very easy to assume that divorced people are exploitative and jerky. After all, there seems a collective belief that only selfish people file for divorce. Even in the face of overt violence and battery, the person that files may still get blamed and shamed – even as welts blossom befoer the witness’s eyes. It’s irrational, a projection, a dredging up of associations for our unique pasts that we try to apply to absolutely everyone – an inversion of special snow flakism. Sweeping statements are made. Politics are enacted. None of it makes a damn bit of difference because none of it can cover every situation.

There is no single character flaw all divorced people share. But consistent personality disorders appear among those who have opinions about divorce in relationships they have never experienced.

You just don’t know the whole story. I can say this much:

plenty of people get married for stupid and shallow reasons. No one gets divorced for a shallow reason.



Note: This was written in 2014. In the context of the changes that followed my move to San Francisco, it’s poignant how very much this was on my mind.

Goodbyes have been on my mind a lot lately. Certainly, I’ve said them a lot.

truck after an abandoned house is cleaned out. -photo by Diana Rajchel 2013
truck after an abandoned house is cleaned out. -photo by Diana Rajchel 2014

For those in my life with any degree of immediacy, the reason is pretty well known: I’m moving to Silicon Valley. My partner has been hired by a giant. When the Valley calls a techie from the Midwest, it’s THE call up to the majors. I had asked once about a dream job we are not people of dream homes and dream lovers, but ones of dream jobs – and the answer: “Valley Giant.” Not too long after, the Valley Giant called. It was part of a long, strange trip that began when we moved into our current dwelling that looks like it will continue once we hit the west coast. My feelings are complicated, sopping wet with ego confusion, hurt pride, frustration with the situations at hand, and love for along with pride in my sweetie.

I’ve uprooted myself twice in my life already, and both times were incredibly hard, and the first one would have been impossible if I’d let myself know how I felt about it while it was happening.

The most recent uprooting was in 2002, when I divorced my first husband and moved to Minneapolis. In some ways it was much more gentle than the one that brought me to Minnesota: I had friends in Mankato who acted like real friends. They packed up my house when they recognized for me that the emotional strain of placating my ex got to be too much. They helped me move.  My ex and I tried to be amicable, in part because we were both in denial about how very much we needed to split up. The same mysterious spirit that had moved me to wander as far from my family’s reach as I could get was moving me away from my ex as far as it could persuade me to go. There was even a small farewell/congratulations party at the wine café before I started my new job and new life in the apartment I couldn’t really afford but still look back on fondly.

-pic by Diana Rajchel 2013
-pic by Diana Rajchel 2013

By that time I already understood Minnesota treated all its outsiders like cattle thieves, and I was unsurprised that in the first year or so, new friends were not immediate, and few friends proved real friends in the long run. That is Minnesota, and that will always be Minnesota.

The farewell I received was loving, and when friends moved on they paused to tell me about it as it happened. By then it was easier – email and chat programs were ubiquitous; it was even a solid part of my social life, both with people I met in person that lived nearby and with those that lived farther away. My time on messenger services was roughly equivalent to what most women spent on the phone in prior years. I often am unsure about closeness; frequency of contact and initiation thereof are to this day the only real factors I have to go on.

There weren’t a lot of other dates before I met my partner – the as-yet unnamed specter of social anxiety caused me all sorts of weird misery, from tolerating people that didn’t deserve tolerance to trying to engage with people that I knew would reject me. I often wonder how my love life would be without that particular problem, but ultimately, like my fat, it has not limited opportunity so much as it has filtered out the bad choices for me…most of the time.

There were friends kept from my Mankato days, though divorce, consciously or unconsciously, caused some distancing. There were friends made as I became more involved with activities outside my very small core of immediate acquaintances.

It took a long time and there was a lot of hardship along the way but I did build a life in Minneapolis, one made easier when my partner and I decided to combine our living situation. I had married too young to have any real salad days as most single people knew them, so the years of tight finances prior to moving in with my current love were those days for me. My financial decisions were terrible and like most divorced women obtaining the divorce was bad for me financially. Still, I got a few years to live on my own, to learn how to hear my own voice (which was harder to do than I thought), and to only answer to myself. I cherish the experience, though when it ended, I was sick with something I still have, life was unstable, and I didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to myself and that period of my life in a way I would have liked.

The last goodbye I had was relatively quick, pulling the band-aid off on a bad marriage. At the time I still felt the need to try to look good to society so I kept babbling some shit about working it out with my ex someday. I’m over that now. Pleasing society is a zero sum game, and the people that think poorly of me don’t think that way because of my behavior.

The first uprooting not fueled by a graduation, however, was different. It sticks with me to this day. Had I had a genuinely healthy upbringing, I never would have been there with those people in the first place. I’d have gone to school somewhere that actually suited my talents, that supported me, and the good parents I never had would have done what they could to help me towards independence.

Instead of that idealized past, I landed in rural Wisconsin with no car, complete with an unrecognized social anxiety disorder that was to bloom like mushrooms on a wet patch into PTSD as I managed to decrease but not eliminate my family’s control over my life. I of course had trouble making friends. My neurons were wired wrong, and I was told to admit it meant admitting craziness – and losing all social validity.

My newspaper editor persuaded me to skip freshman orientation – the time when most freshman meet their first friends – to help rearrange a newspaper office. Because of my conditioning it didn’t occur to me to say no to this request. If I had been normal –if normal is even the right word – I probably could still have recovered from that particular gaffe. But I wasn’t normal.  I kind of knew I wasn’t normal, even though my not-normal wasn’t named to me until I was well into my mid-30s. I was introverted, and struggled to approach people. So when people approached me, they faced lively, intense force – to the point where it only a few noticed that I almost never initiated.

This intense force at approach and constant quiet elsewhere confused people as I was quite outspoken in class – the terror of failing a participation grade was enough to prompt my tongue to movement – but when it came to approaching people outside of class, to have a friendly conversation, my mind would go completely blank. I could think of NOTHING TO SAY to someone I wanted to engage in conversation. I couldn’t even muster a question about “what are you doing this weekend?”

It got so bad I sometimes scribbled some ideas in the back of notebooks to help with those awkward moments. I even wrote down opening lines before I made phone calls, and I always erred on the business-like over the personal. Sometimes, someone would approach me outside of class. It was usually either out of kindness, someone who recognized my problem when I didn’t myself, and then the pity flavored the friendship in an uncomfortable way. Or it was someone who was as desperate as I was, but who made me feel uncomfortable, even burdened. To my frequent sense of overbearing guilt, I was often bored by these people but felt horrible at the thought of saying no to spending time with them – for myself and for them.

It wasn’t long before an observant, exploitative young man trapped me in a relationship and my isolation began in earnest. His attempt to make me into a beaten-down, soul-dead thing really should have worked, given my lack of real support. But it didn’t, even after he tried to discover and take advantage of every negative opinion I had about myself, and any one he could curry in those around me. Looking back, that was where the mysterious spirit really appeared in my life. Something gave me enough sass to see through his shit, even if I didn’t quite have enough power or support to disengage. I was the only friend I knew for sure I had – and when it matters, I am fucking loyal.

In the mix of this was a young man that took an intellectual interest in me. To this day I am unsure about what prompted that interest. From what he said to me, I loaned him a pencil during placement testing and for whatever reason that made an impression. The only thing I really remember about that day was my mother insisting I eat frozen custard instead of studying for placement exams, combined with social and test anxiety, and some guy  – apparently this kid, from later conversation – saying he never took the SAT, which inspired an irrational dislike in me. Oh Christ, one of those, I remember thinking. “Athletic scholarship?” I said aloud.

He was in two of my classes our first semester, and through some weird twist of fate he lived in the dorm room directly below mine. I did have a crush in him in that desperate-for-a-boyfriend way (or desperate for the social status safety of a boyfriend, really) that I had at that time, but when he introduced me to his sex-friend and frequently mentioned his girlfriend I pushed that hope aside – and it was likely what was best for us both.

I did want to get to know him better, but when I tried to speak in a personal way, no words would come out, or I would say something weird and aggressive that shoved him away, scrabbling and failing to put forth my questions free of judgment.  This was contrasted with our during-class discussions, where my persona was almost exactly the opposite of my true interior.

In class I was spirited, funny, pugnacious – and he loved it. When, after a day when our argument was particularly disruptive to the class, the professor suggested we go on a date and talk things out. I suppressed an eye roll, presuming clueless adult didn’t know enough to see real hostility. I don’t think this young man wanted to take me out on a date but he didn’t find the idea as objectionable as I did – and I was, at that point, very used to people making it clear that the idea of spending any time with me, especially a date, was very objectionable. I thought I was rejecting myself for him.

Somehow, he was always nearby the entire time I went to that school. He just kept showing up, long after most people gave up on talking to me. Every time I brushed him off, assumed he was an idiot, he just came right back. He didn’t do anything sexual, he never made a romantic overture, he was honest about every woman he hooked up with, and was quite vocal when he fell in love with his girlfriend.

When I was vehemently disparaging about sports – he was a football player – and the Greek system- he joined a fraternity our second semester – he acknowledged my feelings, explained his…and continued our friendship.

One day after I had solidified things with the abusive boyfriend, I surprised myself by turning to him and inviting him to study. I did this even after I told myself it would probably be a de facto tutoring session since something something dumb/lazy jocks. He surprised me by saying yes. He surprised me more by showing up at my room and actually knowing the material. My ex left when he appeared at my door, ostentatiously kissing me goodbye. “That’s your boyfriend?” he asked.

When things went far enough south with the boyfriend that I recognized the icky feeling I had had about the guy came from truth, and this friend finally got me to give him a straight answer about what was going on, my boyfriend somehow lost the ability to await me in my dorm. My friend used his considerable social influence to protect me. As far as I could tell, he did this for no other reason than that he believed it to be the right thing to do.

During that second semester we only had one class together; he borrowed my notes during his Hell Week and we did study together or at least side by side into the wee hours during midterms. I went to his initiation party and he and his brothers were shocked – one of them, fueled by drunkenness, literally ran around the party yelling “Diana showed up!” When I hugged each of his brothers and congratulated them, I told them “Some things are more important than my opinions.” I meant it. I disagreed with the fraternity life – but I could see that my friend and his pledge class got something out of it, and it mattered to them, and I was okay with accepting that even if I didn’t understand it. This friendship, and actually knowing this person, changed my mind about who frat boys could be, even as today I struggle with who the younger generation are choosing to be.

By that time we had become real friends, and while he likely doesn’t remember, my world filled with stories of him as an instigator. He had given me my first illicit drink – by accident, thinking I was joking about my “no drinking, no smoking,” and later, on purpose.  I tried to only come visit when he explicitly asked me to. I kept to that rule the entire time I attended that school. The second semester of our freshman year, he called me almost every night, somehow always timed to be right after I had taken my before bed shower. I would come down, my hair still wet, and we would talk about high concept nothing. I suspect those calls were placed when they were because his roommate at the time enjoyed women with wet hair, even if one of the women was me. I suspect it was also a way of making sure I was away when the creepy boyfriend found excuses to drop by – in many ways it was more about protecting a woman than it was about spending time with me.

Just knowing this young man was the most enriching part of my experience at that college.

There were days where he was the most empathetic and tolerant guy I knew, and other days where I would throw my hands up and yell “You’re fucking Zorg!” as Aquarian abstraction and obscure political views burst out of him, well thought out but impossible for me to connect with.

The last night of freshman semester I didn’t know if I’d be coming back – money was tight, my family was weird and silent, avoiding conversations about several promises concerning my education that they had roundly broken or were adamantly denying they had made. My mother had become steadily more vituperative and bitter every time I saw her; I didn’t want to give her excuses to deny me further education, especially not the excuse of a hangover. She had predicted that I would “go wild” and while I hadn’t, to her mind anything I did that involved interacting with other class members merited slut-shaming. When he asked if I’d go to that last frat party, and I declined, explaining about my mother picking me up the next day, he just smiled.

At one in the morning, he was knocking at my door, begging me to come down the hall. So I went – and there was a room party filled with people from the freshman class. I actually felt comfortable, and was joking and flirting with him when a guy that had taken to throwing beer on me at parties interrupted us. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” he demanded. My friend, by that time, had a girlfriend but apparently my boyfriend was an issue.

“Yeah, I have a boyfriend, technically,” I answered.

“So what, are you a slut?” My brain blanked out.

I started retreating into myself, the first retraction before leaving the party, when my friend bellowed, “Will you let her relax?”

The hostess, who had no qualms about cheating snapped in, “What are you, the boyfriend police?”

My attacker faltered. He had not expected this turn of events – he did have a weird fixation on me, and was often very nice to me in class only to come very close to assault if I let him anywhere near me outside of class.

My friend turned to me and said, “If you want him to leave, I’ll kick him out of here.” The hostess seconded this notion, asking me to make the call.

I thought about it, and if I’d asked him to be removed, I have no doubt it would have happened. But I decided it was better to make an ally than exacerbate an enemy, so I said he could stay.

Shortly before the party was broken up by an over-vigilant and bitter hall director, my friend persuaded me to tell him my childhood nickname. He climbed up my outstretched legs when I refused and said “C’mon, I’m your friend.”

I knew what he was doing, and he knew I was vulnerable to him. I also told him. I actually wished he had called me by that name, something specific and private for him and me. But he never did. He stuck with Di, or Diana when he was mad at me or talking about me as an academic.

When the party broke up, someone with serious beer breath demanded a kiss, he got one on the cheek, someone yelled “I love you” down the hall at me and while I think it was him and certainly wish it was, I am unsure of my own memory after this long.  I also recall assuming that whoever it was had beer goggles and would not want a kiss or anything else from me while sober.

The ex-boyfriend thought he’d set things up so I’d pine over him that summer. His plan failed. I was relieved to be free of him, and recovered fast, having a summer full of friends, playgrounds, shitty jobs, and random make-out sessions.

Almost every day, I thought about my friend, and how he opened me up to fun. I tried to make a courtesy breakup call to my ex and his mother – herself quite awful – insisted he wasn’t home. They weren’t important to me. I also called my friend, because I really wanted to know how he was doing. He sounded puzzled when he answered the phone, causing my stomach to make an unhappy drop, but he was nice enough when we spoke. He was really enjoying his time with his girlfriend and family. I had just gotten a job offer at the horrific newspaper customer service job, and I was considering it – it meant I might stay in Indiana and never go back to Wisconsin.

Right after this, my mother worked herself up to fever pitch in the controlling and invasive department, which included her finding an excuse to delay taking me back right on move in day. Rumors sped. So when I came back, most people were surprised to see me, and my friend was at football practice, unavailable to help me unload my mother’s car. I told his roommate not to tell him I’d stopped by – that I would surprise him later.

I remember brushing my grown-out hair and putting on lipstick. I put on a funeral home T-shirt I’d been given the year before, assuming it would evoke a smartass remark from him. I figured I’d see pictures of his summer and his girlfriend.

I knocked on his door and he opened it – and froze. I was standing their with a half-smile, expecting him to read my T-shirt and mock me for it. Instead, he looked in my eyes for a moment, and without smiling, pulled me into his arms.

Our bodies fit really well together,  I remember thinking, followed by Lay off the romance novels. This is your friend. If he wanted you like that, he’d do a lot more than this. 

We just kept hugging, not letting go of each other.

Some girl in the room behind us yelled “Get a room.”

I yelled back, “We’re in a room!” and felt him laugh, surprised by me saying such a thing. It was something I absolutely would not have said to anyone the year before.

It was just one girl jeering at us – most people just looked and went “Uh…what?” since no one saw any reason for her rage at me.

He asked me how my summer was, and I told him it had been wonderful. He told me he’d fallen in love and found god. I wasn’t surprised – he’s been heading that way after some weird hypnotic experience the previous spring. I felt a dip of disappointment I shoved aside and said, “I’m happy for you.”

The second year was different from my first. I spoke to him with ease, without thought. I spoke to several people with ease, especially the men in that corner of my dorm. Women were still more difficult for me then – there was a constant underlying fear of attack, made worse by the newspaper editor who actually did attack from time to time, usually with late-night phone calls where she raged about any petty insult she could concoct. I showed up at frat parties, especially those thrown by his organization. He still asked me to stop by and hang out. We studied. He got a bit vicious about a crush I had on one of our professors, and I snapped, “You’re lucky I love you!” He made an unpleasant face at that, and it was clear he was biting his tongue. I took that to mean I should never go there again – like most men, he didn’t ever want to hurt a woman’s feelings, but he’d tell me to fuck off if the situation was warranted.

Even though we were comfortable, even though we almost always wound up laughing together, some part of me always wondered how close we really were. I knew I had to take a lower priority – he was in Love, big love, life-changing love. Sometimes he would make a face when I talked about my love life, partly because the ex-boyfriend was still on campus, and still vying for my attention, even getting his new girlfriend in on the action. He got angry once when my anxiety over a new boyfriend’s upcoming visit left me in tears. He told me everything would be just fine – and he was wrong. Mostly he wanted me to stop crying. So I stopped telling him about my love life, except when he specifically asked. When he did ask, I left most of the details out.

I desperately wanted to ask him how he felt about me, or about what we were, and I didn’t. The thought made me so anxious my brain would shut down.I did what I did with my love life: I took those needs to give to the people that I cared about less than the one I cared about the most. And it was OK, because the guys I did this with either got it, or just didn’t think about it, accepting what I had in the blind entitlement of men who don’t think of women as people.

I fooled around with a couple guys, and when I got to the second semester of sophomore year I realized a few things. First, that I had to get as far away from my family as I could or I would have a career dead and loveless future filled with unwanted children, and the path of least resistance was Minnesota. Second, that my romantic feelings for my friend had caused me to fall into a caretaker role that was starting to make me hate myself, especially since there was no one on campus that wanted to date me and therefore distract me, and third, for the first time we had no classes together. While realizing I was in love with this friend was a fairly bleak moment, I admire how my brain went to an avoidance-and-dealing plan with immediacy.

I simply stifled my urge to get him out of bed on time for class, taking myself to breakfast and turning all my anxiety energy towards getting myself into a college that I could afford, since the school in Wisconsin had added to the pile by deciding I was more trouble than I was worth and cutting my financial aid to nothing.

It didn’t occur to me in all this that my friend would notice my absence – I assumed he was too busy to care – or that he might, in turn, have doubts about my real feelings about and for him.

I had no inkling he had doubts about me, too.

I had assumed he knew my opinion had changed about fraternities, that my concerns and energy were far, far away from the stupid teapot dust-ups of our college. I thought he understood that my friends were actually far more important to me than some stupid newspaper gig, but then, I had so few friends and I never felt safe enough to be open about who I did hold dear.

Then his fraternity got in serious trouble as a byproduct of some rivalry with another Greek organization. Things did not go well, disciplinary hearings were invoked, and the motivations of the fraternity that turned them in for a rule violation they often violated themselves never did become entirely clear. This friend of mine was a really laid-back guy – even when he took down the slut shamer at the freshman end of year party, he did it from a place of powerful calm.

One evening I was hanging out with my friend’s roommates when he appeared with his hand wrapped in a bandage.

What happened?

I was all pissed off about this fraternity suspension stuff that I put my fist through a wall.

I found that disturbing, but said nothing. I’d just been reading some peer education about warning signs and violence in men, and it flipped more of an alarm than he deserved. After he left, one of his roommates commented to me: He put his fist through the wall because he was mad about you leaving. 

I’d just red a Cosmo article mentioning something about red flags when guys did that.

A girl on my floor the next morning said something similar to me the next day.

I scoffed both times. He had a girlfriend that he was in love with. He wasn’t putting his fist through walls over me. He was him. If he punched a wall every time a friend left that school he’d be without knuckles. The fraternity was about to lose its charter as the situation unfolded and got worse – now that was some wall punching bullshit.

The campus newspaper wanted to cover this story, but no one else on staff could get anything beyond “no comment.” I insisted vehemently  on a conflict of interest, one overrun with “it’s a small campus,” and, despite my best to fight it, wound up assigned the story.

On the way to my friend’s room, I ran over every way I could phrase the interview request to get a “no comment.” I did not want to do this story, I didn’t want to feed the beast, and above all, I didn’t want to hurt him. I remember thinking “Please don’t be home, please don’t be open,” as I walked down the hall past his room, but sure enough, he was there, right by the door, saying hello an waving me in.

I asked. I even think I started with “It’s OK to refuse.”  At that point, I wanted to be alone with a glass of cold whiskey and my  Doc Johnson vibrator.

I was utterly unprepared for his response. For the rage. For the yelling. For the accusations that I was only his friend because I had know this story was coming. For the sudden, terrifying feeling that this person I loved so much didn’t know me at all.

I can’t even remember everything said, I just remember looking in those wounded brown eyes and feeling the depth of pain at the very idea of him believing those horrible things saying “No!” Him looking in my eyes, seeing something, and relenting. I remember in the middle of his tirade thinking, Oh God, it will kill me to lose you so much sooner.

I went upstairs shaken, and my roommate found me crying. I vaguely remember her saying “I’m going down there,” when I told her what happened. I told her to leave it alone, it was fine.

I can’t remember how the next part happened – a phone call? At the time? I just remember agreeing to meet him at his room, that we would talk, that yes, it was for the story. I hoped it might be a talk about our relationship, too – something I wanted, even though my social anxiety left me without the basic mammalian skills required for it.

I spent the afternoon putting myself as professionally as I was capable. I did wear jeans – just cleaned – and a sweater. I think I even put on some lipstick. I wrote extensive question notes. I cultivated as much distance as I could, because suddenly I had to deal with credibility as a reporter, and credibility as his friend.

When I arrived, he had cleared the room of the usual group of guys always hanging around, and he had pulled up a chair by his desk. It was a familiar position. I had spent hours in just that spot, in just that chair, chatting with him and his roommates, drinking, watching Lois and Clark (only when I requested it) and helping the guys spot the fake breasts on aerobic programs.

He pulled out a glass and some whiskey from the refrigerator. Evidently I had left the whiskey behind after a party months before, and he simply kept it in the fridge in anticipation of one of my visits. I had probably indicated a ceding of ownership to his roommate; I am not clear on why this rule of transfer had been refused. I certainly drank enough of their liquor.

He had just poured me a drink when his fraternity president showed up. It had to have been planned. I can’t imagine that it wasn’t. The president had always been polite and friendly to me, and I was always surprised by that. The pres looked at our glasses and said, “Am I interrupting something?” I played along with the setup, dismissing the idea and hoping my friend knew what to say.

The short story – I got my interview from my friend and his fraternity president together.

I’m not sure what led to it but we wound up over at the president’s apartment, located right behind our dorm. We played Asshole, and I lost – so I had to drink an entire pitcher of beer.

My friend had seen me drunk in other situations, and on more than one occasion got on me for trying to beg off of drinking. This time, he had an odd look on his face as I explained truthfully that if I lost a second round I’d like to beg off drinking the pitcher because, with some recent weight loss, I was having a hard time gauging how well I handled my liquor. He was ready to let me away without drinking the first pitcher. I knew I was in some kind of test, so I insisted on drinking it for honor’s sake.

Then, tired and deciding if I hadn’t won their trust with the truth I wasn’t going to win it, I decided to go back to my room and sleep off the beer.

I had walked home drunk and alone after midnight in the dead cold of winter all the way across campus more times than I could count. My friend had never been particularly concerned for me. This time, he insisted on walking me back to my room.

This isn’t necessary, I said. I don’t remember why, I just wanted to shake him off. The head of security isn’t going to see me – our dorm is just across the parking lot.

It was a very small parking lot.

The year before, I had gotten drunk by accident after downing a cup of some concoction he himself had handed me, not realizing I had thought he was joking about all the alcohol he had put in. It was the first time I had ever been drunk. At that time, after he realized I was drunk he had left me to stumble from the dining hall, to my overnight shift on the newspaper, to my dorm room (where the magnetic key proved a challenge), and then on to my room. He skipped the classes we had together the next day, either from his own hangover or to avoid my wrath.

18 months later, he wasn’t willing to let me walk 100 feet by myself. It made me wonder who he knew that had been roofied. In hindsight, I wonder if that was what really happened with his fraternity. Not their fault, but on their watch and thus under their realm of responsibility.

The sexual assault rate on that campus was abysmal. The investigative journalism I had done into it the year before had made that clear. It was why administration wanted me to leave.

I knew this, but I didn’t ask. There was nothing to fear with him, although the outburst with the punched wall hadn’t left my mind. What happened with me that night was the sort of thing used an excuse to call rape a “grey area.”

My room was empty. I don’t know where my roommate was. I told him to go, I’d be fine. I half kicked a shoe off and gave up. Instead of leaving, he leaned down and removed my shoes, got me under my covers on my bed and kissed me on the forehead. I gave up and just let him do it. Part of me wanted to say something, anything. Something needed to be said between us. But I was drunk and he was acting like it was a thing in a way he never had before. I didn’t know what to do with this, and as much as I wanted to blurt out “I love you,” was actually drunk enough that I couldn’t trust it any more than he would…even if that really was how I felt sober.

I went to sleep after he left, and then woke up an hour later, still drunk. I tried to call him and he was nowhere to be found so I wandered over to his neighbor across the hall. We had been messing around for awhile – to this day I am unclear on my motivations for doing what I did where he was concerned and for the most part chalking them up to deep flattery that someone that attractive considered me in a sexual light at all, and simple touch starvation.  I knocked on his door, announced I was drunk, and minutes later I was having the roughest and most ecstatic sex I ever had in my life – I certainly haven’t done something like that since, and if I hadn’t had a pitcher of beer I don’t think I would have done it at all.

Of course, the next day, with my entire upper body bruised and bitten, I had an outdoor lab and it was eighty degrees outside. I could not find any cover up and in my desperation I even asked my friend if his girlfriend had left any. If I hadn’t been hung over the look of horror on his face would have been priceless. As it was I found myself reassuring him that no, I had not been raped on his watch, and to stop him from going on some panicked interrogation of my ex, I told him who it was. He didn’t look at me. He just looked to the side, away from me, and said “Interesting.”  We didn’t really talk again until the bruises cleared up.

I think there was another attempt to talk to me but it went sideways, like it was some sort of mentalist game. Deep down I think it was his way of avoiding his anxiety and uncertainty with me. I kept expecting him to take me aside and say more, to say whatever it was he was really going to say when we had sat down in his room and he had poured me cold whiskey, just the way I liked it. Just the way he had noticed I liked it.

The day before I left for good, he had me come down to play poker with him and the guys. I lost, probably. I finally knocked off early – my mother was going to be there early in the morning and I had one last final. I wasn’t going to be given an extra day or two to party like everyone else, or like the year before. I hugged him last. He leaned his forehead to mine, and said “I hate that you have to leave.” It was followed by some promise to bring his buddies up to visit, one I chalked up to promises that would go drunken and unfulfilled. I wanted to say Don’t hate this, please try to be happy for me. Please try to understand why I’m doing this, why I have to, why I wouldn’t ever leave you if there was a better way.. Instead, I said “I would LOVE that,” so at least, this way, he would hear the word love from me, even if I never actually said the words “I love you” like I wanted to. I didn’t know if it would be welcome from me, and I didn’t want to ruin my welcome with him, the one he had given me so generously even though I did not deserve it.

It wasn’t the goodbye he deserved. He deserved so much more from me. But my social anxiety just wouldn’t let me risk showing him everything that was going on with me; one annoyed look would have shut me down anyway. When I think about that time in my life, I wasn’t saying goodbye to the school. I had my experiences there, but the school wasn’t what mattered – he did. He had told me once, our freshman year, that he was planning on transferring to another school in pursuit of his dreams. I remember thinking, unbidden, I can’t imagine this school without you. At the time, I told him I planned on seeing this school and its writing program through to the bitter end.

We both ended on far opposite ends from our life plans.

When I think about that time in my life, there were people I liked – but he was the one I loved. He was the one I gave a damn about leaving. But I didn’t tell him for fear of killing our friendship…although not telling him may well be what did.

Now, I’m facing a move that is just as emotional. The person I love most in the world is coming with me this time – a luxury I have not enjoyed in my previous uprootings. Hell, he’s leading the way. I’m a bit jealous and insecure about the support system he has out there.  But I am going to be starting life in Silicon Valley – the land of cutthroat youth – as an officially middle aged woman, who is aware she has social anxiety and PTSD.  I had those conditions the other times I moved, too, I just didn’t know what they were. I know I’m not crazy or sick – both of these “illnesses” are your mind’s sane pullback to really crazy shit.

Things are different in other ways now, too: I know how to pick female friends that I feel safe with. At this point in my life, I almost have more female friends than male friends. Making male friends is harder for me now, not because I don’t want to have them, but often because men feel a social obligation not to connect on a friendship only level with married women. This makes me sad, sometimes, but personal morality is complicated this way.

I have also made friendship work – including occasionally having to slough off bad or abusive friends – in the one state in this union where making friends is damned near impossible. And I am going to be leaving behind some of the finest people I could ever have the pleasure of knowing, and praying every day to find my soul family in California. My social anxiety has already jumped on its deep fears: what if people reject me because I’m fat (it’s an idiot filter, Di); what if people don’t like me because I’m not their trad, what if people just feel sorry for me and befriend me in the insulting way?

I don’t know if I’ll ever have a friend like him again. Probably not. It takes a unique person to take the treatment and projections I dished out, dig his heels in, and say “We are going to be friends, woman!”

They say you only regret the risks you don’t take. Now, there are plenty of things I actually did that I really do regret. But he is the one thing I didn’t do/say that I regret. But I can’t imagine he’s unhappy. He always had the astonishing ability to be happy most of the time. I learned a lot from that outlook.

So yes, I am preparing to say goodbye to Minnesota. I don’t know if “no regrets” is the right word. And this is going to take one hell of a lot of mental preparation. But I want to acknowledge that 1)I’m genuinely scared about it and 2)it won’t be like last time or the time before. This will be the first time I haven’t done this alone – and that in itself is a new adventure for me.

Essay: the Yellow Dress

In 1997 grunge still ruled the day. In Indiana, that really meant that nothing changed between 1983 and then. Farmers wore the plaid shirts, their kids probably did listen to Nirvana and have vigil/keggers in the cornfields for Kurt Cobain and Shannon Heun, and the metalheads of the previous decade passed down the T-shirts of their favorite bands to their younger siblings.  I did not participate in either trend – I never so much as curled a bang upward. Most of the time, I couldn’t afford clothing that fit me and I considered it a small miracle at all when something stayed on without ripping.


In 1997 I had just completed my first year of study at Mankato State (to become Minnesota State, Mankato before I graduated.)  I had no car, about four different jobs, and the majority of my clothing came from Salvation Army or what I could grab from Target that did not immediately disintegrate in the wash. All my money went to what I could scrape together for tuition, room, board, and the occasional $2 roll of nickels for nickel night at the Albatross.

There was no asking my parents for help, based on profound dysfunctional reasons, well beyond my control. When my grandfather died, I could either afford to attend the funeral or look appropriate at it. My parents were not going to hand me $40 to buy a black dress.

There was also a factor unknown to most: when I was 18 and my grandfather was still neurologically functional, had asked me not to wear mourning weeds to his funeral. He was explicit – he didn’t want me wearing black or looking somber. He had actually wanted me to wear a red velvet dress he once saw me in, one that was far more inappropriate than the sole light yellow dress I did own at the time of his death.

Besides, a roommate had stolen that dress years before. So I went, wearing the yellow dress and the Land’s End sandals, because it was what I could afford. Several hundred dollars in gas money both ways and 16 hours altogether to Portland, Indiana later I faced a roomful of relatives I only ever heard from when making demands, asking questions about when I planned to finish college, giving my dress the whole judgmental “up and down” look, and in two cases actually following me across the room to attack me for some slight that, under normal circumstances, would require interaction to actually happen.

No one was talking about my grandfather except my grandmother. No one was even looking at or acknowledging her.

Rather than responding in the conciliatory way expected, I responded in the way any sane person would: I walked away. In the case of one cousin I did this while she was mid-sentence.

My relatives responded to my behavior as though I’ve pulled up my yellow skirts and pissed on the corpse. Recognizing that no matter what I did I was going to be attacked, and that I was swimming in an unwarranted pool of rage from people who had never sent me so much as a birthday card but clearly had made some plan for me I had not followed, I decided to do whatever the hell I wanted to – which was what my grandfather had quietly encouraged me to do every time he saw my cousins ostracizing me or treating me like a servant.

The fun part was telling my then boyfriend my uncle was Satan. I hear he’s calmed down but back then? He made Don Draper look like a class act even with the bottle behind the curtain. (If you think Don Draper is classy you have NOT been paying attention.)

I left tired, confused, angered by the people that were much too busy asking me demanding and shitty questions instead of, say, telling me some things I didn’t know about the life of my grandfather. According to my mother, most were angered because I wore a yellow dress.

Crap will happen to you, too.The reality is that I tried to respond to all but two of the conversations politely. In every case, my anger and rudeness was provoked. My uncle had removed the picture of my mother and their sister from the stand displaying my grandfather’s children, so that only he and his children were depicted. His sister had died of multiple bone cancers three years prior; my grandfather had explicitly asked that pictures of ALL his children be displayed at his funeral. So it was more than just his usual narcissistic insult to my family; it was also an insult to the dead…twice. Three times if you count the long talk he gave about what a hero he was for dealing with having a sick dad in lieu of giving a proper euology. I tried to correct that with some real memories about my grandfather, but I started crying, and it’s a cardinal rule I broke: you don’t cry at a funeral attended mainly by narcissistic WASPs. You especially don’t do it when you’re only *half* WASP. Actually, try not to be half WASP. They hate that shit.

I am still disgusted at both my parents for not handling him as he deserved. His daughter had accosted me two years before at our aunts’ funeral, mostly to talk about her car for some reason. It was clear to me that it was all predicated on a subtext of “I have and you don’t,” that failed to account for the way gas-run cars have always offended me. ((I now drive a status vehicle, an EV, in an ironic twist.)) It had been prompted by her father, and to this day I don’t understand what he thought he was going to accomplish with that. It’s not like I ever asked them for anything, and if I wanted to talk to a vapid, self-centeredninny, my own sister served the purpose fine.

I genuinely tried to be polite but I was met with emotional assault everywhere I went at my grandfather’s funeral.

I was beyond relieved to get out of there, back to my life in Minnesota. For months after, my mother and sister would “report” to me that they were “handling” the “trouble” I’d caused. Of course, since no property was damaged, no money lost, and no relationships damaged it’s not like I had one with any of those people – it was just meaningless drama. It gave them something to do, something more to badmouth about me, something more to try to hurt and control me with since they stopped getting their attention feed after I broke up with the black guy.

When my mother phoned eight months later and my grandmother went on the phone, ready to scream at me for making my uncle’s daughter feel rejected – something she had apparently never before experienced, despite dishing out quite a bit – she was perplexed when I answered, sincerely, “good for [Dumbass Cousin],” to my grandmother’s aggressive bragging and explained I was out of breath as I’d just gotten back from my shift at the Battered Women’s shelter.

My mother, in all the badmouthing, had no interest in mentioning that I spent a significant chunk of my waking hours helping women run for their lives.  Not one cousin, aunt, or uncle ever tried to have a talk with me about my behavior. Their instinct was to demand I be controlled by other people. None seemed aware that having such an instinct about any adult is inherently fucked up and abuse behavior. It certainly didn’t occur to a single person to talk to me directly about the incidents.

What they cared about was that I wore a yellow dress to my grandfather’s funeral.

When my own father died in 2009, it was again a long drive, this time from eastern Minnesota to Northwest Indiana.  He had gone to hospice and wanted to spend a few of his last days with me, and after he reassured me his wife was too drugged on Xanax to be her usually safety-threatening nightmare, I took my fiancee and went. He died while I was there, and so the plan to come back for the funeral with the appropriately somber dress hanging in my closet was dashed. I found a black and floral print sweater set dress at Fashion Bug, dowdy enough to satisfy my mother and her best friend.

In an attempt to make small talk while standing in the funeral line with my mother’s old college roommate, whom had greeted me with a guilt trip for “not visiting enough” (her kids were total assholes to me for as long as I can remember, so the idea of seeing them had no appeal), I mentioned that I wished I had the dress I’d intended to wear. I mean,  this lady talked about her grandkids, her daughter in-law, and her effing shoes. She gave me that up-down look that all fat women know and sniffed. “At least this is appropriate,” she said.

Fucking bitch.

All this because, in a moment of poverty, I wore a yellow dress to my grandfather’s funeral.

I strongly suspect the snapping back at people wouldn’t have been remembered if I’d worn something I couldn’t afford in 1997. But then they’d have tantrums because I didn’t go – a convenient Catch 22, usually reserved for woman.

My dad had wanted me to give his eulogy alongside my sister. I refused. He watched all this abuse play out, but because it was his wife’s family and not his, he did nothing. So when he passed, I said nothing. I gave her family no more excuses and leverage for their constant abuse. I gave them nothing.

It was the right choice.


My aunt died of cancer at the beginning of my senior year. It had been a second or third time with it, and the treatment had run long, with my mother constantly using buzz phrases like “the miracle factor” and how “positivity allows greater room for healing.” When she wasn’t carrying on about my aunt, my mother was obsessed with my sister’s at-best dubious lifestyle choices. This left her approximately no room in her consciousness for me.

Sophomore and junior year of high school I became the ignored family member, as my mother’s entanglement with her sister and her preferred daughter grew. Sophomore year was difficult – I’d had a big, complicated breakup, a suspension related to that breakup, and different friends of mine noticed my depression and attempted to flag my mother. Yet, while that year was rough, I did heal, unimpeded by my mother’s attention. By junior year I thrived in my mother’s neglect, easily sidestepping her micromanagement and control thanks to her own distraction. I had my first serious boyfriend. I brought grades up without tutors. I had friends, all nerdy creative outcasts. I understood what was happening with my aunt was very, very bad but I understood constantly dwelling on it did nothing.

My aunt having cancer I understood as serious and dangerous, but it was not an upsetting part of my life. Part of it came from being a teenager living in hellish situation: I could only focus on so much at a time, especially during those hellish moments when mother and sister turned attention back to me. There were a few times, with stress and sabotage having nowhere to go, they would corner me – even though it was far less than typical years for them.  My aunt lived far away, almost four hundred miles; she wasn’t a big part of my life. That was part of why her cancer never became a Big Deal to me until the memorial service (she didn’t have a funeral) itself.

The other part was that I simply disliked my aunt. She was mean to me, at any given opportunity. When I was seven, she made a it a point to sit down next to me at a holiday dinner and monitor every bite I ate, editing all my food and making a celebration for everyone else a long-running humiliation for me. This activity was repeated by her nearly ever year, as though fat shaming me and encouraging others to treat me as less than a person might, in a single holiday session of elbows in my ribs until I had to run to the sole bathroom in my grandparents house and vomit, make me thin. She would bring presents for my sister, and then some yard sale crap for me, saying something about how she “didn’t want me to get jealous.” On my own birthday, the yard sale crap would continue – if she bothered at all. Since I’d never demonstrated jealous behavior about my sister, it was clearly a projection. My aunt had a very low opinion of fat girls, in part because like my grandmother, she used to be one.

When I was 12, she was having gall bladder surgery and had been transferred to teaching the sixth grade. She smirked down at me and said, “I’ll especially hate twelve year olds this year.” I knew she wasn’t kidding, and I knew my family including her would insist that I just needed to learn to take a joke – even if I was 12, even if she was especially a bully to me.

I was named after this aunt, forced to share an unsuitable middle name, but my sister was her obvious favorite. This aunt had two children of her own, older than us by 15-20 years. Over time my sister came to manipulate both her kids with the expertise of a South American dictator. One of these cousin’s wife persists in behaving as though she is connected to me even though she is not – another fat girl defying familiar expectations, and while her kindness has always been appreciated, she brought with it expectations that made me feel pressured for all the wrong reasons.

This aunt’s husband, however, was kind to me. I never fully understood why; maybe he just saw dozens of kids like me in his job as a high school band director or maybe he just liked to root for the underdog. We would take our clarinets to family gatherings, sneak off and he would tutor me in my technique. He and I both knew I never wanted to be a professional musician – but it didn’t negate his kids’ resentment of me, especially his daughter’s, since I suspect he gave me positive attention denied her.

This was, of course, compounded by my sister’s remarkable adroitness with manipulating negative feelings towards me, lying with just enough truth to qualify her for a job with Fox News.

I didn’t care about the attention from the uncle, though I liked him – I just wanted to get away from the room full of people that openly hated me, and get a break from being treated like wait stuff by his children, my uncle’s children, and my own family. In my teen naivete, I considered that my cousins might resent their father’s kindness to me, and dismissed it as too petty for adult children who were equal enough to speak honestly to parents. His daughter was near 30, beautiful, and successful – resenting a fat 14 year old girl made absolutely no sense. At the time I had no idea that almost no one in my family, or in adult life really, actually deals with feelings honestly, especially not when it comes to their parents.

There was one thing that my aunt did for me that was good. I don’t think she intended it to be a positive thing; in fact, I think it was the summation of her complaints about me, her unworthy namesake who reminded her too much of herself. “You can’t compare [my sister] and [me.] You can only contrast them.” It served as a reminder that my sister and I were indeed separate people and my sister’s choices would never be repeated in my life.

When my aunt died, this seeming awareness that I never imitated my sister’s choices died with her. When my sister got pregnant at 22 while still living with our parents, I had to awkwardly sidestep a lecture from my grandmother about how my trapping a man that way wouldn’t work for me and might not even be possible because of my size. Since I had not even been on a date in six months when she said this to me, it was especially bizarre. When I went away to college, there was shock and anger instead of the congratulations. Extended family didn’t really acknowledge my graduation at all – apparently doing it for my sister was enough, and since to their minds I was a mere shadow of her it didn’t matter. Even my father seemed to forget the years of pressure to go to college cultivated by my mother, trying to convince me to just go to massage school or become a paralegal instead of using the money I had earned, saved, and inherited over the first 18 years of my life to get higher education and real independence. Both he and my mother expressed an assumption I would flunk out, since my sister performed very poorly at both the private school and the state school she attended.

When my first semesters of college proved these assumptions dead wrong – no pregnancies, all dean’s lists – my mother acted like the straight As I got didn’t exist, and behaved as though I might be cheating on my coursework. In any phone call with her that wasn’t a monologue about every trivial detail of her life, or every trivial detail of my niece, she alternated between slut-shaming me and nagging me to hurry up and find a husband for grandchildren that I instinctively knew she would abuse.

All the sins of my sister were projected onto me, the way my grandmother would take beatings when her sister misbehaved. My mother assumed I was sleeping around and, on a surprise visit filled with aggression and need for control, said so to two of my male dorm mates. My dorm mates knew me. At that time I didn’t say a word against my mother, so their conclusions were their own. They were not \sympathetic to her constant derogatory manipulations like my cousins were, and made it pretty clear I was none of the things she was calling me. I don’t know what they said, but my mother told me she found them “disrespectful,” suggesting they called her out on the way she talked about her daughter.

My actual behavior didn’t matter. She imagined me a certain way, and despite a void of evidence in my behavior or results,she was determined that I was malicious, manipulative, and promiscuous.

I can only imagine how it would be if my mother’s sister had lived to see me get through college. I don’t think I’d have bit my tongue around her as I got older. As a kindness to my mother in her grief, I had my full name printed on my graduation announcements, even though it cost me more and I always hated my middle name. But my aunt, who was a community pillar, was not that for me.

I don’t want to bear the brunt of her name. I’m a good person who left behind the life of abuse my aunt contributed to. She doesn’t deserve to have me carry her legacy. Let someone else take the name, someone who has reason to celebrate her – she made a positive difference to a great number of people, even as she made a deeply negative impact on my own life.

13528360813632What she hated and feared in herself she took out on me.

My first name, Diana, is a sort of accident: my mother had ruled out Rosemary or Rose Marie after meeting my father’s cousins of those names. It’s just as well, with a wife named Marie. Diana is an expansive Goddess: in one aspect an independent hunter, in another a mother, in another an arbiter of wisdom, and ultimately one who frees the abused from slavery. Diana is an honor I bear with joy, and not just because she takes pleasure in it being a cosmic fuck you to someone she views as undeserving of the child in me she was given.

My last name is the name of people who had their lives taken away, and reclaimed them with blood, tears, and toil. My surname is the name of people escaping Krakau, it is the third name read off the list in the movie Schindler’s list, it is the name of the freedom fighters that somehow survived the uprising of the Polish Underground. Whatever the failures of my father’s parents – and they were considerable – these damaged ancestors are part of my power, and have given me the gift of just not caring that I might fail, because the fight alone is what matters.

This leaves me the middle as my missing piece. I have an idea, one that honors my relationship with plants, my love of herbs, my love of the rooted mystic. I will be making a legal name change soon – to disavow those who did not love me as a child should be loved, but also to honor the love I was given, from the land itself.