A woman’s anger.
I am named after my grandmother, Katherine, Katy.
As detailed elsewhere, she and her husband took care of me from 4 months to 9 months.
My parents had major trauma when I was 2 and 3 months, in Knoxville, Tennessee. They had a graduation party for a friend. They invited everyone at the “liberal” table at the University of Tennessee. It was a big party and there were both black people and white people there. It was 1963.
The police raided it and dragged my father and others off to jail. My mother used to joke about it. From very little I wondered why it was funny to other people. Or what was wrong with me that I didn’t find it funny.
My mother would say that in court a policeman took the stand. The prosecutor said, “Tell us…..” The policeman said, “I looked in the window and I saw a sight I hope never to see again….. I saw a nigra a’ dancing with a blond.” That may have evolved over time, but essentially there was a hearing and then it was dropped.
My mother would joke and people would laugh: “They didn’t know what to do with Katy, so they didn’t take me to jail! I was terrified that the neighbors would come over and lynch us.”
Yes, I didn’t find that funny either. I was two years old. I imagine that if my mother was terrified, I was too.
My parents were lucky. There were no drugs. Only alcohol, legally. The two black women who were underage were church goers and were known not to drink. The case was thrown out. My father was reinstated from the University of Tennessee that had suspended him. My mother refused to go back.
I have copies of the newspaper articles that were on the front page, describing a party that was raided, as a drunken drugged sex orgy. I imagine that my parents lost some friends. They were certainly notorious. They has planned to stay in Knoxville, but instead they moved to New York, to my maternal grandparents house for a year.
It took me years as an adult to sort this out and realize why I approach parties warily. I don’t get drunk. Do not want to. I don’t feel safe, and anyhow, now it makes me sick. Drugs? Yeah, I don’t think so. I might lose control. Tried pot three times in college. Didn’t like it.
So now we were living with the grandmother who I think was the person I was most bonded to as an under one year old. But she had given me away. So what is love? I think I concluded that people do love you but you can’t trust them. They will give you away, they will lie to you, they will trick you, they will be mean. And yet they do love you at the same time. And if you are going to love, you have to love these frail imperfect beings. But you do not have to trust them. It’s easier if you don’t, because then you aren’t surprised when they stab you in the heart.
And my grandmother? I always thought that she was angry. She shimmered with anger to my eyes. She had PANDAS too, of course, and nearly died in her 50s. Couldn’t eat food. They thought it was cancer. She got very very thin and survived.
Why angry? I think she was angry because of how she was treated. Her husband was the physician, the psychiatrist, the Cornell Professor. She was the doctor’s wife. She played the role with glittering perfection, but the gloved hands were edged inside with knives. She could tease down to the bone, knew right where to insert the dagger. Discrimination against women and her anger at the role she was assigned to play. I don’t know if that anger was conscious for her. I’ve had intimations that her husband, the doctor, the psychiatrist “contained” her anger. Maybe it didn’t like being contained.
My most vivid dream as a child was before 3rd grade. I dreamed that I was in a huge armchair, way over sized. I had to lift my head to look out of it. When I did, there was a witch, black hat, black cloak, stirring a steaming cauldron. She lifted her head slowly. It was my grandmother, smiling wickedly at me.
“Didn’t you know that I am a witch?” she said laughing.
And I fell through the chair and bounced three times.
Yet I was not scared. It was not that she was a bad witch. It was that she was complicated and accepted both good and bad. And she didn't worry too much about what people thought.
I am thinking about the roles assigned to women and about the roles I have been asked to play, past and present. I think that I am done with assigned roles. I’ve always played them rather sullenly anyhow, muttering, “So why do you think THIS is a good idea?”
I’m happy, in spite of PANDAS and a broken heart and all the anger and fighting and misery.
Like the IT, my daughter, if I don’t like the game I can always play alone.