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Entries in Suzanne Vega (2)


Blue Highways: Fifield, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

This post will be my second personal "letter to the daughter I will never have" in this series involving William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) and a teenage runaway hitchhiker traveling with him to Green Bay.  I'll touch on issues of abuse, based on the quote from Blue Highways.  The ribbons at right represent awareness of child abuse (blue) and sexual abuse (teal).  Fifield can be found by a quick trip to the map.

Book Quote

"At Fifield we went east toward Minocqua...'Can you tell me why you took off?'

"'Angus lost his ass in a taco franchise and things got really bad at home  I mean, you know.  The business got worse, and me and Kevin started catching hell worse.'

"'Who's Angus and Keven?'

"'Black Angus is my dad.  Kevin's my brother.  Anyway, like Angus was losing it.  I mean, he'd always find an excuse to beat up on us like maybe a low grade or using a buttertub lid for a Frisbee in the house, so he'd punch us because he was losing his ass...Anyway, the night his partners and him gave up the franchise, Black Angus's face started twitching like it does when he's tense.  Mom told us to look like we were studying even if we weren't.  God.  Two days later he was trying to parallel park, and Kevin didn't tell him he was getting close to a pole, and Angus dented the fender.  Right there in the shopping center, he starts yelling and slapping Kevin.  Kevin didn't say anything then, but he ran off that night.  He's in New York now, but I'm the only one that knows where.  He's into Hare Krishna."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Fifield, Wisconsin. Photo by Billertl and hosted at Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fifield, Wisconsin

This post will be a continuance of a letter that I am composing to the daughter I wanted to have but, because of life's circumstances and my own inaction, will not.  The catalyst is LHM's rider in Part 7 of Blue Highways, a young girl named Stacie who is running away from home.  If you want to see the first part of my letter, please see my Blue Highways: West of Minong post

Letter to the Daughter
I Will Never Have
(Part 2)

You may wonder why before I made reference to things in my life that I didn't explain more clearly.  Well, it's because I had a hard childhood.  Had you existed, I would have done everything in my power to protect you from any sort of harm so that you could grow up with an unmarred, positive, strong and secure sense of self.  That sense is what I, even at my age, am still trying to develop.

There are lots of broken people in the world.  I am one of them, and it is that brokenness that has also possibly been a reason I was never able to get my act together so that you exist in my life.  The thing I've learned about brokenness is that it hardly ever just spontaneously materializes.  Of course, there are some people who have troubles that get the best of them without any prior exposure.  However, most of the people who are broken were harmed or marred by someone, who was probably harmed or marred by someone before that.  Much of the brokenness can be traced in a remarkably tight and strong chain back through generations.

My story is no different.  Born as the result of an affair, given up for adoption at birth, put into a happy home only to be taken from it when another child was born, put into another home where I was raised and where my adoptive father was an alcoholic and a pedophile.  He taught me many lessons, including that adults did bad things too.  When an adult, the person who says he's your father, tells you that you can't tell your mother what he is doing to you, you know that there is something wrong even if you are only 5 years old.  When you can't tell anyone what is happening to you, and you have a deep, dark secret that can't be shared, you reside in your own special kind of hell.

It's not worth dwelling upon except for the fact that it, and the other family dynamics that swirled like a horrible emotional maelstrom, shaped much of the rest of my life.  I became the fixer, the mediator.  I became very dependent on displays of affection directed at me.  Inside, I felt like I was the worst person in the world.  I felt undeserving of love.  Outside, I lapped up displays of affection whether they were real or not, even though inside I waited for the eventual disappointment and the loneliness.

Thankfully, I didn't get involved in bodily harmful addictions, such as drinking or drugs, to ease my pain.  I didn't become a malicious person, though I've done my share of manipulating.  I did develop a "rescuer" mentality, which meant that I tried to fix other broken people's lives.  It never worked.  Broken people cannot be fixed unless they are willing to be fixed and I was like any other of those people.  I understood what being broken was, but I was unwilling to let people rescue me just as others were unwilling to let me rescue them.

I have gotten into trouble time and time again because of this.  There are broken people who have become malicious, abusive emotional bullies who prey upon broken people who are rescuer types.  They give rescuers false affection, play to their needs, and when the rescuers are hooked into their stories or emotionally invested, the abusers begin to belittle, manipulate and play emotional games in efforts to control them.  Abuse happens to both children and adults, and it takes the same form.  It starts with candy, and ends with bile.

You'd think that adults are better able to guard themselves, but we can't, because often situations or relationships take us back to our childhood desires and fears, and we play out harmful situations over and over again.  I've been there...even recently.  The key to breaking the pattern and therefore breaking the unbroken chains that seem unbreakable is knowing oneself, knowing how one responds to those "triggers," and ultimately being kind and gentle to oneself.  That is what I'm learning to do.

I don't know whether having a child would have helped me earlier in life.  Perhaps I would have discovered what I needed earlier and gotten helpful guidance.  Maybe being childless was something that needed to happen so that I could work on mending myself.

Regardless, I know that if I'd had you, I would have protected you.  You would have never had reason to fear from me.  There would have been no emotional mind-games played upon you.  I would not have manipulated you, or gotten disappointed if you didn't meet some kind of "ideal" that I would have expected of you.  Ultimately, I would have hoped that you would have someday been proud of me and what I came through, and how well I parented you.  I would have reveled in the knowledge that you knew you could talk to me about anything - that there would have been no deep, dark secrets eating away at us and our relationship.  Above all, I would have felt accomplishment in raising a balanced and happy child into adulthood.

Musical Interlude

For a long while, I have been in love with the waifish voice and lovely simple poetry of Suzanne Vega.  I especially resonated with this song, Luka, about an abused child.

If you want to know more about Fifield

Price County: Town of Fifield
Town of Fifield
Wikipedia: Fifield

Next up: Minocqua, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Dos Cabezas and Willcox, Arizona

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapAfter an arduous journey over the Chiricahua Mountains, we pull into Dos Cabezas and Willcox with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), and I ponder on the nature of odysseys.  Click on the thumbnail at right to see where Dos Cabezas and Willcox are located.

Book Quote

"Onion Saddle Road, after I was committed to it, narrowed to a single rutted lane affording no place to turn around....The compass swung from point to point, and within any five minutes it had touched each of the three hundred sixty degrees...

"....Finally, at eight thousand feet, I came to what must have been the summit...but the descent was no less rocky or steep.  And it went on and on.

"....I could only trust in the blue-highway maxim: 'I can't take any more' comes just before 'I don't give a damn.'  Let the caring snap, let it break all to hell.  Caring breaks before the man if he can only wait it out.

"Sure enough, the single lane became two, the dirt macadam, and Pinery Canyon led out to Arizona 186, crooked highway that dipped into arroyos rather than bridging them; but it was smooth beyond measure....As for Paradise, I never found it.

"The towns were Dos Cabezas, a clutch of houses under worn twin peaks like skulls, and Wilcox, clean and orderly."

Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 14

The oldest continually operating store in Arizona, located in Willcox. Photo by Dan Ouelette at Click on photo to go to site.

Dos Cabezas and Wilcox, Arizona

In high school or college, you may have had to read The Odyssey.  This epic by Homer told the tale of Odysseus' journey from the Greek victory at Troy to his home on Ithaca.  It takes him ten years.  For three years, as he and his men sail, they experience adventure, peril, and last minute escapes.  Odysseus and his men encounter the Lotus Eaters, who drug two of his men into forgetting who they are.  His meeting with the Cyclops Polymephus, who Odysseus blinds with a stake, earns him the wrath of Polymephus' father Poseidon.  Odysseus is thus cursed to ten years of wandering.  He is given a bag of winds from Aeolus but his men open it thinking it's gold, and the escaping winds drive them back whence they came just as they were in sight of Ithaca.  He loses all of his ships to cannibals, and then encounters the witch goddess Circe, who turns his men to swine and tells Odysseus she will return them to human form in exchange for his love.  Escaping Circe after a year, they sail past the island of the Sirens, whose song will enchant men and cause their ships to crash on the rocks.  Because the men stop up their ears, and Odysseus ties himself to the mast, the ship makes it past.  Finally, as punishment for hunting the sacred cattle of the sun god, all of Odysseus' men drown in a shipwreck and Odysseus is thrown onto the nymph Calypso's island.  When he finally escapes after seven more years, he returns home to find his faithful wife Penelope beset by suitors.  In disguise, he wins a contest with bow and arrow, kills the suitors, and takes his rightful place at home.

I give you a blow by blow account, in synopsis, of the Odyssey because if you really think about it, we embark on an odyssey called life from the moment we draw first breath.  In between the time we leave our original state of nothingness and get cast naked into the world to live our life's odyssey, until the end when once again, we go back to our original state, we undertake many side odysseys.  These odysseys can involve physical travel, or they may involve journeys of emotion, spirituality, mentality, morality, or any other aspect of the human condition.

The point of an odyssey is not simply getting from the origin to the end.  Rather, the odyssey is the trials in between and how we handle them.  It involves the choices we make in dealing with difficult situations.  Otherwise, it's just a trip.  If LHM had simply traveled the United States and not had any type of difficulty or hardship, no situations where he had to question his decisions and make unsettling choices, then he really would not have had anything to write about.  However, his trip is full of small odyssey's, one of which is his travel over the Chiricahua Mountains.  As he goes up the mountain on a rocky, pitted road that seems suspended over the void, and which offers no relief going down, he questions himself, wishes he had stayed in bed, wonders whether he will hit a dead end, and finally decides not to care any more.  Of course, that is when the road smoothens and he sees signs of humanity again.  He never found Paradise as he has more journey to make, but he did test his own mettle and the hardiness of Ghost Dancing, and passed through.

I think that in any odyssey, one might reach the point where the end of the journey seems really far away.  I have been in those situations both in physical travel and emotional journeys.  I remember traveling with my wife and a friend to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico a few years ago - a place not too far from the Chiricahuas - and we drove one day from our campsite over dirt roads to Mogollon.  We had a little car, an Infiniti, and we were sure we were going to puncture the oil pan on the rocky dirt roads.  My wife drove, and clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles.  When we finally reached Mogollon, we had literally been through a wringer worrying about whether we had made the right turn or if we were going to be lost in the Gila.

My life has also been filled with emotional journeys.  My dissertation was a journey that tested me, involved lots of obstacles, made me question myself and my abilities, asked me to take on difficult situations, face down potential debunkers, and ultimately gain my goal of a PhD.  Similarly, my relationships, whether good or difficult, are often journeys where I've made choices both brave and cowardly, avoided or fell into traps and entanglements, fought pitched battles, made wrong turns, encountered perils, resisted or fell for temptations, endured long bouts of captivity (to anger, sadness, depression, despair) and experienced moments of joy and victory.  After I've argued with a friend or loved one, it can feel like I have fought the Cyclops.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.  There are always Sirens and Circe's to tempt and capture me if I am not careful.  My recent entanglement, which I spoke of generally in my last post, was a very difficult odyssey full of trials and temptations and ultimately, sadness and anger.

Add up all our odysseys, and they all combine into our life's journey.  Some of us seem to brave the perils, skirt the difficulties, and reach home in one piece.  Others of us bear many scars, emotional and physical, that are in themselves a road map of our lives' journeys.  Some of us get captured and held in captivity to dysfunction, despair and sorrow, while some of us meet those trials head on and prove ourselves to be heroes and heroines.  Regardless, as we journey on our odysseys, we encounter each other, walk along each other's paths, sometimes help each other and sometimes sabotage each other.  Without these experiences, our lives would be just a trip, a smooth movement from point A to B.  Ultimately, a smooth trip would make life boring and not allow us to learn about ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses.  We need trials and tests to become ourselves to the fullest.  When we recount our odysseys, at the end of the day or at the end of life, we can say that we've truly lived.

We may not find Paradise at the end of our journeys, but after a long and arduous path, a clutch of houses at a Dos Cabezas or a clean and orderly Willcox at the end of the road at least offer comfort and peace of mind, and a well-needed rest before our next odyssey.

Musical Interlude

If we are all making our own odysseys, it's easy to forget that there are those who are affected by our journeys, and making their own choices based on ours.  Sometimes all ends well, sometimes not.  I think of Penelope, waiting for ten years, not knowing if her husband was dead, but choosing to hold out against her suitors in the hope that he would return.  (Too bad he was giving it up to nymphs and sorceresses, but she either doesn't know that or lets it go)  Suzanne Vega, an amazing singer-songwriter, touches on the sometimes tragic aspects of mutual odysseys, when it is "not the man, but it's the marriage that was drowned."  The woman she sings of in Widow's Walk continues her journey after her faithfulness has been betrayed, but she has learned from the pain and waits for a better day.  Isn't that what we all hope for at the end of the journey?


If you want to know more about Dos Cabezas

Dos Cabezas is considered a ghost town.  Willcox, which LHM misspells, is not.  Here's what I have gathered for each of them.

Arizona Range News (newspaper)
Associated Content: Dos Cabezas
City of Willcox: About Willcox
Dos Cabezas - Arizona Ghost Town Dos Cabezas
Wikipedia: Willcox

Next up: Texas Canyon, Arizona