Fawn Rising and Papa

She is 27 years old.  The year is 1977. The place is Gainesville, Florida, United States. In college as a “student over the traditional age”, she is asked to write a paper about her religious journey. The course is Comparative Religions with Professor Bernard McFadden, a former Catholic priest:

There is a restlessness in Fawn Rising. Is it that God never intends for her to be at peace, at all, ever? She muses, hypothesizes, and questions each memory.

Looking back on the main incidences in her life, she can see them looping around each other to form a basis for this first phase of her growth.

She is born in Japan, the fourth of five children. She later learns that Mother harbors wishes for the family to become Catholic. She also learns that Papa does not permit his children to be any religion other than one they have chosen themselves, when old enough.

Thinking of Papa makes her smile. Papa never forces an idea or philosophy on his children ~ nor will he discuss his own religious beliefs or political preferences. He does ask that each child examine all sides of an issue and then make a decision for him or herself.  He is so pure in his attempt to accept his children and their choices. Many times he neglects his own feelings and finds himself experiencing frustration.

Their lifestyle is typically military. Papa is an officer and parties are given every week with Mother hosting. Sunday dinner is a special occasion with the family china, crystal, and silver laid out in the fashion of the day. Mother is gifted musically, and very proud of her possessions yet has difficulties coping with depression, appearing to be exacerbated by alcohol and prescription drugs. There are attempts to end her life. We learn too late of a mental disorder. There is no help or acknowledgement of her needs.

At times Mother is violent combined with deep sadness and harsh words. As naive children, we labor to stay out of the path of her anger and frustration.

Additionally, there is a family secret which later is exposed. We are First Nation Cherokee and our mother is deeply ashamed. It is a sad and difficult process for her.

Christianity means several things to Fawn as a child:

  • One, you always say you are a Christian when the subject comes up among friends;
  • Two, anyone who is not a Christian is not to be disliked, but rather pitied; and
  • Three, she hasn’t the slightest idea what a true Christian really is and wonders secretly if it is inherited genetically, much like some propensities for diseases.

In Germany, where she starts grade school, she is told that if one is not a Christian, then one will go to hell. She certainly does not want to go to hell, so she always speaks of being a Christian with great authority.

As for believing in God, she supposes she believes in He, She, It, or They, yet is not sure in what way. One day, as she is preparing for her first competitive swimming meet, Mother’s watch disappears and she is accused and thrashed for taking it. Before leaving for the swim competition, Mother finds her misplaced watch. The entire family leaves for the meet. No words are spoken.

As she waits to compete in her event, Papa approaches. He gently tries to reassure her. He tells her not to worry about it now, that he is sorry it had happened, and would she please try to think about the competition coming up. She hardly hears a word he says and cannot respond to his warmth.

So numbed is she by the odd injustice in her life, she neither hears nor feels anything as she slips into the water. She places at the starting block for the event of 50 yard backstroke.

Every breath is one moment and she is every moment.

She is all alone and nothing matters.

Somehow she knows God is with her. She finishes in first place and later recalls it as her first religious experience.

As a child her life is filled with emotions. She does not know how to cope. She is the only one of five children who is punished daily by Mother for wetting her bed in the night. Yet she makes straight A’s, is always a group leader at school, performs classical ballet, and breaks swimming records, aching to win Mother’s approval. She feels deeply for Mother. At times she feels hatred and disgust and then shame for these emotions.

Many days Mother drinks heavily and tells her, weeping, that she is an ugly child. Then Mother sinks into a depression. Fawn feels keenly what it means to be alone and powerless.

Papa is not home much during this time, yet when he does come home, Mother does not hit her as much.  He takes her for long walks at night on the beach and holds her hand. They make plans about the “someday when” they will leave together, and she will sew buttons on his shirts and cook soups for him. Life is bearable by these little excursions into fantasy. Still, she does not really know her God. She only knows she must wait . . . perhaps for a long time.

The years of Mother’s and Papa’s divorce is a difficult two years. At ten years of age she makes a decision to try to be allowed to live with Papa. She goes into court in front of Mother and Papa, their attorneys, and a judge, to say why she wishes to go with Papa. Mother’s eyes are glassy and fixed upon her, piercing her armor of bravery. She can barely breathe. Knowing it means a possible life with Papa, she speaks her feelings, perhaps for the first time ever.

Although it takes two years of battle, the courts finally award her to Papa.

Life with Papa is chaotic, warm, and funny. Welcoming guests into their home (even her little friends) is exciting.  Fawn sews buttons on shirts, Papa cooks, and Fawn is allowed ice cream and sodas. Best of all, she finds acceptance and is mentally challenged.

Papa works to restore her self-confidence by encouraging her to develop new friends, keep up her ‘A’ average, and break new swimming records. (Papa had broken the national record in backstroke at the age of 16 and will later place 3rd in the world in the mile, at 73 years of age.)

He supports her efforts toward a musical career. The entire living room is set up as a recording studio and life is filled with laughter. There is little money and Fawn would catch Papa with his head down a bit, thinking, bent over his desk. Later she finds there are days when Papa worries about how to feed her. He never complains.

Papa sits and discusses life and philosophy for hours with Fawn. He stresses the idea that one must accept other people’s right to have opposing views. She sits and thinks about this for long periods of time and tries to understand why she carries resentment toward Mother. Sometimes she screams. Sometimes she just cries.

Fawn’s question is not to be answered, yet. Instead she is placed in a position dealing with three deaths, all unexpected, whereby she plays the role of comforter.

Her sister’s fiancée dies in a minor automobile accident that ends with a two-inch pipe passing through his skull; her best male friend is killed in a teenage fight involving two exchanges of fists; and, Papa’s only brother dies of a heart attack.

These three deaths occur the year she is turning sixteen. With each death she is called on to be strong and rational. Papa has a lesson to teach her.

She hears him say “…let the warming sun turn your sorrow into joy for the rebirthing of tomorrow’s faith…” Not until later will she appreciate the full value of what he has given her that year.

Still, wondering what God has in store for her, she grows well into her sixteenth year. Life is full and good yet she is still alone.

Within one year she is a wife and mother. It hurts her to watch Papa witness the things that are happening to her. Her child is stunning and there are times when one thinks they might be sisters. At last Fawn has something that is hers. No one can take her away.

Two years later, there is another birth, and again, she feels the sweet sadness of motherhood. Along with this she feels the vulnerableness of becoming open to any and all wounds her newborn might receive. Between birthings she finishes high school and begins college.

The time of her next birthing she is awake when her third child, a little boy is born. He is named after his father and born on his father’s birthday. Everything is perfect and Fawn thrives in the glory and bitter sweetness of a son. She is at this time at peace with her God.

Three months pass. She awakens to pick up her dead son from his crib after spending his first night alone in the nursery. She breathes her breath into his mouth. This time there is no one between her and death. Her body is rigid as her husband peels her dead son from her arms.

Papa speaks at her son’s funeral. The thought of someone there who had not held him repulsed her.

Papa speaks. He speaks about applying the balm of budded hope to those who had known his grandson. Friends say it must have been God’s will. They say it could have been worse. “Don’t say that,” she would silently scream to no one in particular.

She then begins a process that reaches over a span of five years. She damns her God, their God, and every person’s God who was thought to be anything better than the lowest of slovenly creatures.

With every cell in her body she damns Him and throws Him into the scum of her mind and tries in vain to bury Him along with the memory of her son’s cold and discolored corpse.

Three years pass when she gathers her daughters and their belongings. She leaves her husband. It is her first time in her entire life to be on her own.

Her struggles are great. God is still an ugly word to her. Her heart skips beats and her face flushes red with the mention of His name. For the children, she tries several churches. Yet they too feel dirty and tainted.

She works several jobs and worries about a father figure for her children. Her career begins to rise and the day arrives when she can return to her beloved schooling. Nothing can touch her.

Her children’s father is placed in a psychiatric hospital for the use of heroin. He is sent to prison for grand larceny. He attempts to run over her and the children with his car while on drugs. Later he holds her captive for hours, children asleep on her lap, a pistol to her head.

During a weekend visitation he leaves the children alone late at night. They are molested by a stranger.

Through all this her God is dead and appears to have no mercy. She refuses to let the children be alone with their father and takes away all his legal rights to be with them. One day, because he loves them so much, he disappears.

One year later Fawn finds herself crying out to God. Where are you? Why aren’t you with me? Am I part of your plan? Are you real? Is your story true? Are you there? Can you hear? Will you come back to me? I need you, God. Please come back.

Concluding thoughts ~

One day I meet a man who is overheard thanking God for knowing me. We become best friends. We marry. He is an attorney. I complete my AA degree, work in advertising and shoot freelance photography for a local daily newspaper. We raise my girls, now eight and ten years-old.

This story is written in the third person hoping to maintain a degree of objectivity. This is my story.

God has returned. While I do not attend church regularly I do feel that the church fills a critical need for guidance in our society. It would frighten me for humans to turn away from religion altogether.

I believe my Papa played a major role in molding my beliefs. I find it interesting that there were three deaths followed by three births and believe my Papa influenced my method of dealing with these events.

My relationship with my mother increased my desire to have a healthy relationship with my own children. While I feel a closeness to my precious children sometimes I see my mother in me. I get scared when this happens and I struggle to push her out. It terrifies me to think of my own children turning away from me. Children are sacred to me. Family is my first priority.

It is my belief that I feel a deep and abiding love for all humankind. There is a universal belief seen in humans. We are one, separated by our ignorances.

Death is seen as a continuation of life. Our souls live within others before passing into another physical body. While not fearful of death, I do fear leaving something unfinished.

I believe in my right to determine my own destiny. God has allowed me to see far too much not to know that I would take the knowledge learned and run forward.

My experiences with death and birthing were in preparation for an ultimate purpose in life. I do not know what my purpose is, yet. I will wait and keep searching for more questions without answers.

Through death, while respected and accepted, I learned we are impermanent. Our accountability must ultimately be to oneself. God is my guide and my companion while traveling through this world.

Spiritually I find birthing to be among my most cherished of memories. It cannot be described with words. This is my religion.