Mission Mae

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My mother’s name is Eve, which I always found fitting given how much the woman loves a garden. In the backyard of our Ohio home, she created this unbelievable little escape, where she went organic before it was cool. Along one fence grew a grape vine, beneath it she planted strawberries and tulips that would bloom in the springtime. My very favorite area was along the back fence where she created a big blackberry patch. We used to go out there in the middle of the summer with an empty pitcher, and fill it to the top with juicy ripe blackberries. Continuing along that fence you’d find rhubarb and currents, and the bigger of two ponds where tiny baby frogs would emerge and sun themselves on the rocks.

On the other side of the garden grew a raspberry bush, which lived next to the gooseberry bush. I loved eating the unripened gooseberries, picking them while they were still tart, green, and crunchy. In a shadier corner of the garden she planted a bunch of hostas and other perennials, which grew bigger year after year and we’d split them into pieces and replant them all around the house. We always helped pick the weeds around the paths and the garden beds, tanning our backs in the sun while digging in the dirt. We had a cat named Butterball that loved being outdoors and would keep us company, while the indoor cat Muffin would only visit the garden to confirm rumors about catnip.

Other times I would wander in there with a book, settling on the bench in front of the small pond, taking in the lily pads and subtle chorus of bees going to town on the daisies. I will also admit that I used to sneak out in the middle of the night with a net, imitate the mating call of the toads, and capture them to keep as pets. They would be carefully stowed in Chinese takeout containers for transport to my bedroom aquarium. I don’t feel too guilty about this now, knowing that my mom would make me release them after a few days.

From my mother and her garden I learned to identify flowers and herbs, to make fried green tomatoes, and that under no circumstances should you feed goldfish crackers to tadpoles. I’d say for the creator of this special little garden, Eve seemed like a very fitting name.

My mother and I have a very strong friendship and spiritual connection, and when I entered this world as the youngest of her four children, she named me for her own mother Mae. Growing up in that Ohio suburb, we were privileged, we were loved, and had a life full of opportunities – both culturally and educationally. I am so grateful to my parents for that, who came from pretty modest means and worked so hard for the life that we had.

Yet like any teenage girl, I went through a stage where I put my mother through hell. Somehow blind to all that she’d done for me, taking out all of my anger and complicated feelings on this amazing woman who brought me into the world. That stage in my life was further complicated by some really traumatic events that occurred, and on top of that we’d later learn that my particular brain chemistry is unlike that of the general population.

 

*Trigger Warning* 

One really awful thing that happened at that time, occurred in what you would think to be the happiest of places. Disney World. I was 14 years old, a petite little person smaller than most my age. We were on vacation in Disney World one summer because my sister was doing a hospitality internship there. We had been many times before, and had developed so many happy family memories in the park as children. Which is why we were all shaken to our core and shocked with terror the night I was violently attacked and sexually assaulted by a complete stranger.

I will spare you the details of what happened to me there because it is truly horrific. What I can tell you, is that the depths of terror, hell, and depression that I experienced as a result of that crime are beyond description. Remember the little girl who used to go into the garden after dark by herself? She died that night. She developed a fear of the world after sunset, and confusing feelings about men and sexual acts. Because no young woman should be introduced to the world of sex and sexuality through a violent nonconsensual act. It fucking destroys you.

 

Healing Adventures

My parents did everything they could do to be supportive, but didn’t really know how, for which I do not blame them. It’s not something that is widely talked about in our society at large, nor in our circles when we have conversations about parenting, because it is too dark to discuss. Only through later becoming a rape crisis counselor did I finally understand the effects of trauma on the brain and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which I suffered from severely at that time.

Over the years I was able to heal from that experience, using writing as an outlet, and curiosity as a fuel that brought me into the world of travel and adventure, but now with a new awareness of my safety and vulnerability at all times. I believe it was the adventure seeker within that truly saved me. Not only because it got me out of my comfort zone, but also because it helped me realize that the world is enormous and doesn’t owe me shit, I owe it to the world to try to be a good person.

Throughout the course of my life from that moment through my mid-twenties, I would periodically experience relapses of terror and depression, but ultimately got through it. I went through a period when things surfaced and I thought I had dealt with it, and decided to put it to rest for good. I challenged myself to condition my brain to be brave. To celebrate one mini victory at a time, from taking the garbage out in the dark to walking the dog after sunset. I just kept going and challenging myself to do things that scared me, without being irresponsible about risk. Empowered risks I would call them. I started traveling internationally solo, uprooting my life and replanting in one city after the next, building a network and making new friends.

 

Survivor Advocacy

When I felt that I had gotten to a really good place in my journey towards self-acceptance and courage, training as a volunteer crisis counselor became the next step. To help other women who had gone through something similar, lend an ear and make space for them to talk about their experiences, and help them to understand their options. To give control back to the victims, to make their own empowered decisions and heal.

As part of a team in Austin that responds to sexual assault and helps victims through the forensic exam, I learned from nurses and counselors all about helping survivors, providing comfort without giving unsolicited advice. I did this for several years as a volunteer, while working on the day to day in tech for an artificial intelligence startup. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before getting curious and breaking down what was science fiction and what technology and capabilities exist within the world of law enforcement and the intelligence community. It fascinated me so much that I sought out sex crimes detectives, district attorneys, forensic scientists, and all the advocacy and support organizations I could find to pick their brains about data. Oh what a journey. We had the strangest lunch conversations.

Although I had developed an amazing network of smart people battling these issues in Austin, my nomadic spirit was pulling me to San Francisco and I decided to continue on this journey there. Staying with the same tech company, we figured out my situation and I was given the okay to relocate. Then the universe asked me to slow down in its weird way, and in the following twelve months I suffered through two surgeries and a bad car accident. I still moved because San Francisco is great and I wanted to be here.

Throughout this time I received so much love and support from friends, family, and co-workers, which I appreciate so so much. People always say they’re so sorry I went through this, but honestly looking back at this past year I understand exactly why this is what my soul required. Perhaps my soul was using my physical body’s need to heal as a way of giving me time to connect with nature and the universe, get a change of scenery and create a vision for the next decade ahead.

 

Mission Mae

During this time of deep meditation and reflection, I thought about what’s in name. My own mother’s name is befitting of her identity as a gardener, and my grandmother’s name Mae embodies the courage and bravery of young women in tough circumstances, because that is what she stood for.

My grandmother Mae grew up during the Great Depression, in a family so destitute they were living in a tent. She and her brother Jack lived near starvation with their mother and her boyfriend. Their biological father was not in the picture. The situation was tense and I have no doubt abusive, based on how my grandmother and her brother ended up in foster care.

One night, when they believed the children to be asleep, my great-grandmother and her boyfriend discussed their desperate situation. Her boyfriend insisted that they face their only option of survival. That they would be forced to kill the children who would otherwise die of starvation, in order to save themselves.

My grandmother overheard the entire conversation. She waited in terror until the adults had finally gone to sleep. Then that night, as quietly as possible, she took her younger brother Jake and led him outside, where they ran into the night and distanced themselves from that fate. They wandered as long as their undernourished bodies would allow, until the found an abandoned car. The curled up inside and lived in that car for three days, surviving on only walnuts from a nearby tree. Eventually they were discovered and put into the foster care system.

We never even knew this until after she was long gone, may she rest in peace. This incredible act of bravery, when my grandmother Mae was only 12 years old, demonstrates such a strong instinct to survive and unbelievable courage. Reflecting on how we all go through our own journeys, and so many women suffer from traumatic events, poverty, and oppression, how they are all so interconnected… I felt more proud than ever to be named for this woman who was the mother of my mother.

Welcome to My Glampsite

The concept of Mission Mae puts a smile on my face and reminds me to take on the world in a positive way. Moving to California was a liberating experience and act of independence. When I sorted through my belongings and came across a tent, I was struck with this tempting idea to camp across the South West by myself, because I knew it was totally possible but would scare the shit out of  me. I invoked the spirit of my grandmother, the bravest woman I have ever known, and the wild woman nature so beautifully written about by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. With my middle finger to the air at every last delusional asshole who things it’s okay to prey on women – I did exactly that. I drove my car from Austin to San Francisco, camping across the desert by myself, with my feet by the fire and eyes to the unobstructed view of the stars.

While I no longer sneak around catching frogs at night, I finally feel reconnected to that brave little girl in the garden who always dreamed of exploring the world.  As I say when throwing together a pop-up paradise in a campground, vineyard, or national park, welcome to my Glampsite. Thank you for stopping by.

 

Miss Mae

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