Journal: Hiding in the Broom Closet from Family

Editor’s Note: I’ve gone back and forth on how deeply I want to dive on this as it involves another family member. While I have gone to great lengths to keep this (online and real life) part of myself quarantined from my family, there is always the possibility that they somehow stumble upon this blog. If they ever read this, to them I would say: I believed you were genuine when you said you wanted to build a relationship and so was I. If you have gotten past these issues enumerated below (or would like help in doing so), I am open to continuing forward.

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A few years ago, my father reconnected with a woman he had known overseas and quite quickly married her. There’s a lot of history between this woman and my father, my father and her husband, and my father and my mother. Like my mother, I had no idea about most of it. I’m not sure she even knew all of it before she died as my father had only spilled the beans during their first separation (which happened six months after my mother’s passing). This post is not about my father’s marriage to my mother and their subsequent divorce just as it’s not about the shenanigans he and my (now) stepmother participated in before my mother came along or their eventual surprise reunification and marriage. My mother had remarried (and divorced) in the intervening years so I had already dealt with a stepparent/family situation before. Again, that dynamic isn’t a factor here.

This entry is purely about my stepmother and how she has impacted my journey as a Baby Witch.

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This first time I met my stepmother was the Thanksgiving before my mother died. I had no idea what to expect as my father was very stingy with information about her. All I knew was that she was Puerto Rican, had worked overseas at the air force base where he was stationed, and the love they felt then was just as intense as they felt it now nearly forty years later. He was the happiest I had ever known him to be in my life. Seriously.

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It did surprise me that he was attracted to (let alone married) a woman of color. My father and his family are from the Ohio/Kentucky/Virginia(s) area. Their roots go back hundreds of years in that region. And while he isn’t the type to go burn a cross or beat someone with a baseball bat because of their skin color, it is not uncommon to hear him use racial slurs when he watches sports, reads the news, or things like that. I have never seen my father speak disrespectfully or attack someone face to face based on their culture, ethnicity, or background. However, I would still describe him as a racist. My mother also told me that she believed my father had a problem with the fact that when she remarried her husband was a black man. I think that might have also went so far as my father saying he could never fully reconcile a relationship with my mother because of that.

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But, you know, I stood there at my mother’s funeral and watched my father sob into the arms of my stepfather as they mourned her. He didn’t cry to me, or my mother’s sister, or even my stepmother. My father is complicated. My mother was also a mystical as fuck Scorpio.

Anyway. I cooked for our first meeting. They were stopping for dinner in my part of Florida before continuing on down to Miami to spend Thanksgiving with her father and introduce mine to the rest of her family. My mother was very gracious (I was living with and taking care of her because of her declining health) and allowed the three of us to have time to bond over conversation. A lot of the places where her family lived in South Florida were also places that my family had been or where I had grown up during the years away from my home city. It was nice to have a lot of connections and also share a love for Hispanic/Latino food and culture.

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My father doesn’t allow her to speak Spanish (or anyone to speak any language other than English) around him. A lot of her family still lives in Puerto Rico and like most of her siblings, she speaks Spanish. Her English is very good, but she does have a very subtle accent on certain letter combinations. This is going to sound awful (probably because it is), but when I saw her I knew immediately why my father wasn’t having a problem with her ethnicity. She passes. Straight up. She’s just as fair skinned as I am and when she talks to certain people (my father and what I would describe as other Southern Whites), a bit of a country accent plays through her words. One of the greatest sources of discontent for her is that he doesn’t allow her to cook. She loves cooking, especially traditional food. He won’t let her. My father didn’t fall in love with a Puerto Rican woman. My father fell in love with a woman who happened to be Puerto Rican. I think he overlooks that part of her.

My stepmother is not Catholic. She’s a Born Again Evangelical Christian like my mother was. I found out her first husband was a white guy from Georgia who was in the military was raised as Evangelical. When they got married, she embraced it and left Catholicism. They went on to have a kid. The kid (he’s in his 40s now) can’t speak a word of Spanish. The son married a white chick and if you look at family photos of them with the grandchildren, they look like a typical white family from Georgia.

I’m talking about these rather uncomfortable details because I’m laying a much needed foundation for this discussion.

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Fast forward to my mother passing and my father and stepmother driving down to help me. I handled the funeral on my own, but needed help cleaning out the home we had been living in a for a few years because I was unable to stay there. My stepmother was by my side helping me go through all the closets, clothes, boxes, shelves, bins. I had just buried my mother and then had to spend the next ten days sorting through all of our possessions, her clothes, personal files, everything from 9am til 7pm, every day.

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Towards the end of the second week (a few days before they had to leave), I just broke down in my room and sobbed. My father has a very limited ability to deal with emotional situations. He was great. He really stepped up in a lot of ways to be there for me. I was proud of him to see his growth as a parent. But this was beyond his ability. So, in came my stepmother. She held me and we cried. She told me she had never had a daughter and hoped that the two of us could bond and have a strong relationship. I was so relieved to hear that. I think no matter your age, a person always has that fear that their parent’s new spouse will reject them. What an amazing experience to feel the love from her. We prayed and I felt better. Just really great experience. Very healing. Again, I feel it important to reiterate that I don’t doubt her love for my father or the sincerity of what she said to me.

After they left and I moved, I would come to drive up to see them that summer. She had gone to Miami to visit her father and I got to spend time with mine. On that trip, she and I had like a day or two to interact after she returned from down south. Not a long visitation. It was mostly us exchanging family gossip and whinging about our respective relatives as I cooked for them. Girlfriendy, I guess.

Not long after the visit I described above there’s a massive blowout between she and my father. It’s over. She packed up their car and left. Back up there I go to help my father clean out the house they had been renting and get him a vehicle of his own. My questioning of whether she was a positive influence in his life began after that visit and continues to this day. My father really needs stability. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, but if the people he loves (and relies on to a certain extent) are just as volatile as he is — it’s a recipe for disaster. He’s manic depressive and needs structure and discipline. From the fall of that year to the spring of last year (roughly six months), they would rekindle their relationship, sneak around, get caught, blah, blah, blah.

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Finally this past fall, I drive up there to spend two weeks with them because her father (who is in his 80s and now lives with them) has gone back to Puerto Rico to visit family. They have rented and moved into a house, which has been turned into a lovely home. She has subsequently made the decision to step away completely from the First Husband as a means of support/safety net and my father is going to try and do better. I’m excited for this trip as it also coincides with when I usually take my yearly vacation. All year, I save up to go somewhere for at least a few days away from everyone. They’re now living in northern Georgia, so I have plans to swing over to Savannah and down to St. Augustine in Florida on my way back. This is going to be great. I am super excited. It really seems like they both have their shit together and this will be a wonderful, loving experience. The phone is loaded up with hours of music, my camera gear is mounted and ready, let’s go.

This is the first time I’m really getting to be around my stepmother and see how she thinks. There’s a lot about her I really like and admire. I truly believe she loves my father. She was able to get him to attend church regularly, which was a very good experience to help him expand beyond the emotional turmoil he struggles with. They would go on little day trips and go to restaurants — mind-boggling to hear my father voluntarily pay other people to cook food for him. It was very easy to see the positive influence she had on him in helping him to blossom. Seeing how loving they are and the happiness there was helping me look beyond the on/off-cycle they tend to fall into. Things were okay the first four or five days. Then the cracks started to show. She confided in me about some things that happened after they reconciled and it was pretty bad. The hurt and resentment she felt was intense. I could still see the love for my dad, but they had blown a few engines and were losing altitude. The odds of them making it based off that intel was less than 50/50, in my opinion. Again, this is slightly beyond the scope of this post, but helps to give some added context.

Obviously, this is a year into Trump’s presidency. Social discourse on race relations is on fire. Discussions about misogyny and sexual abuse are playing out all over the media. Immigration, Dreamers, ICE detention, gun control take center stage in campaign adverts in the run up to the elections in the fall. Florida is a pretty red state, but Georgia is even more so. My father hates all politics and politicians. He thinks they’re all liars. I’ve never asked him directly about Trump, mostly because I don’t want to lose respect for him. But as a man who grew up through a very difficult childhood and is very conservative in his money, I can’t imagine he likes how wasteful and entitled Trump behaves. He is, however, anti-welfare and especially anti-welfare for recipients who aren’t white and/or have a bunch of children.

This is where it all went to shit. The things that came out of my stepmother’s mouth directed at other Latino/Hispanic people as we watched these campaign adverts shocked me so much that I just sat there and stared at her for a few minutes. As a Gemini with a Gemini stellium that includes Mercury, that’s a pretty big fucking deal. She happily continued on her elitist entitled rant while my mind bogged down trying to process what I was hearing. When she used the term (w*tb*ck), I very nearly lost my shit.

Look, I get that I’m a little white girl from a solidly middle class family. I’m very much aware of how (at the very least) my family’s financial privilege of being (big) small business owners only amplified this privilege. I also understand that the small episodes of racism that I experienced from some People of Color who realized that I was the white stepdaughter of a black man who also married a blonde woman will never compare to the ongoing, ingrained, systemic racism that People of Color live through on the daily and certainly struggle against when interacting with the major machinations of society (eg: criminal justice system, politics, health care).

Nothing makes me angrier than unfairness, injustice, spoiled behavior, an entitled attitude, lack of empathy, all that. Here this woman is going on about how she didn’t get any freebies in coming to the mainland and that she chose to make English her primary language. My father is dead silent. At this point the shock is wearing off and I’m smoldering with outrage. And as she’s saying all these things, I am suddenly aware of her demeanor and expression as she’s talking to me. She’s looking at me with the vibe that she has assumed or is expecting me to 100% back all this. That these are my politics. That my father’s politics are my politics. I’ve never met her First Husband or her son. I do wonder though about theirs. I really shouldn’t be putting so fine a point on this so early. Let’s continue on.

I wanted to confront her badly. Man, the things I wanted to say. Do you really think you were on the same footing as the groups you contemptuously ridiculed? Do you think, as a Puerto Rican woman who married a Southern White officer of the US Military and can pass for white herself, faced all the same types and amounts of racism and discrimination as the girls you described from Miami? You never enjoyed any kind of benefits that being married to that man granted you when it came to health care, benefits, employment, and preferential treatment? Okay. Keep talking to me also about how the ‘more urban’ areas make you uncomfortable and can’t stand being in Miami anymore. I will never forget the face she made when she went quiet for the few moments it took for her to settle on using the word ‘urban’ when describing how certain parts of Miami shifted from Latino to Black majority and that it’s also this ‘urban element’ that prevents her from going to Atlanta.

The way the furniture is arranged in the living room, I have an ability to watch her without being too obvious. And that’s what I did for the next couple of hours. I’m finally at an age where I know myself well enough to just not talk. If I were to have opened my mouth, I would have been yelling. The goal is always to try and reach out to somebody to encourage them to see things from a different perspective or gently challenge their logic with facts. This may sound idealistic, but what has our modern political extremism gotten us? This country is more divided than ever and we either shout at or ignore each other. This is the woman my father loves and while I know he loves me, I’m also not interested in find out what the limits of it are when it comes the two of us arguing in front of him.

I was so disappointed. As sensitive and loving and forgiving as she is with my father, for her to be so heartless especially when it came to the children caught up in this immigration war astounded me. Again, maybe this makes me idealistic. While I don’t think everyone should be of the mindset that they have to be champions for the rights of their groups (ethnicity, gender identification, sexuality, etc.), I believe they should want to. Or at least don’t work against them. Discrimination will continue to exist especially if we do nothing. As a white person, I feel it is important to be as informed as possible on the issues, to try to understand and empathize with the perspectives of different people, and reach out to others in different groups for a variety of reasons. While I will never fully understand what it’s like to live as a Person of Color in today’s society, I don’t think that’s a legitimate reason for anyone to sit out the fight for equality and justice.

On a more personal side, this troubled me about any future relationships I might have. My mother had a way of challenging my father’s racism that was effective as opposed to antagonistic. Again, screaming at someone to stop behaving/thinking a certain way doesn’t get results. It just drives that person further away from the goal. I’ve always dated people in and outside of my own cultural background. Having my mother around gave me a safety net to ease my father into at least being open to knowing his daughter was dating a black or Hispanic man or whoever it is that comes into my life. I’m not going to have that with my stepmother. I feel like if I dated anybody other than a white guy, God forbid marry someone who wasn’t white, she’d look down on the relationship at the very least. What if I had kids? I know that’s what-ifing this scenario to death, but these are thoughts that ran through my mind as I sat in the living room.

This, unfortunately, was not the worst revelation. Looking back, it’s almost comical how it played out. I mean, what are the chances that she decided to spontaneously start talking about witches on this trip? Yea, she went there.

She has a brother who lives in Florida who has married a Latin/Hispanic woman that my stepmother describes as being from ‘one of those countries’ over in Latin America. Based on the practices she described during the course of her rant, I think the wife may be from Brazil. I’ve never met the woman nor have I seen her so it’s just a guess. But my stepmother really does not like her sister-in-law. There’s a pettiness there that I find to be so basic and distasteful. I’m sure she knows exactly what country the woman is from. But to elevate herself further (as she already views this woman to be beneath her), she plays this charade about not being about remember what country it is. Every time we talk about family, she brings this woman up and the animosity is super thick. This is after the racist outburst a day or so earlier.

On this particular occasion, she’s annoyed because the brother has informed her that he won’t be able to host their father for a few days after he flies back to Miami from his trip to Puerto Rico. One more thing to add here, she loves PR. I enjoyed so much listening to her descriptions and stories about it. I would have loved to go with her to a trip there. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to explore and learn about in the flesh and not just in research that I’ve done. But after this, I cannot imagine traveling with her. Anyway, she’s convinced that the wife has a lot of power over her brother and got him to change his mind about letting their father visit for a few days.

I asked why she thought that, did the wife not get along with the father? She’s a witch, was her reply. At first, I didn’t take it as literally as she meant it. Women will call other women witches so as to avoid cursing. So when I laughed, she reiterated that her sister-in-law is a practicing witch. She’s into all that ‘Devil stuff’ with the candles and things. It’s just evil and disgusting. Blah, blah, blah.

I’m not really sure what made her shudder and sharpen her tongue more: calling other Latino people less than with slurs previously or describing her brother’s wife a Satanic witch in this conversation. Maybe she does do left hand work. Maybe she does walk the ‘dark path’. Maybe she is a member of the Church of Satan. But I believe the characterization of this woman by my stepmother has less to do with the nature of her practices and spirituality and more to do with my stepmother’s Evangelical-inspired hate. Another very popular belief is that meditation is an evil act that opens the individual up to being vulnerable to negative influences. Just like how all witches are evil, Pokemon cards are an invention to lure children away from Christianity. Faeries, folklore, mythology, all of it is to lure people away from God.

Though I am white and was hurt and offended by the things she said about People of Color, when she went in on witches and other magical practices I.. even now I could cry just thinking about it. The comments she made about Mexicans, black people, Latin Americans, was more about contempt and from a place of privilege and entitlement whereas her words about witches, the occult, all that were so venomous. It’s the type of vile rhetoric that is unique to the religiously motivated.

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At that point, I had been less than a year into my spiritual journey of figuring out what path I wanted to walk. I still wasn’t even entirely sold that I wanted to come back to witchcraft. Some of that was tied to fears instilled by my Christian upbringing (surprise, surprise). But when my stepmother said what she said and the way she said it, it cut me so deep. She had no idea. Neither of them do. I had never spoken to them about anything remotely close to the topic. They didn’t even know I had been learning tarot for nine months and had brought my main deck with me on the trip.

In that moment, I knew it was unlikely I would ever have a close relationship with her. Even if she managed to grow beyond this moral contortion she does to fit into the conservative Christian Southern ideology, the way her energy, her face, everything about her, all of it, changed and the way her feelings manifested when talking about her sister-in-law basically killed any chance I’d feel comfortable being vulnerable with her. It made my skin crawl. I wanted to leave. I wanted to pack my things and leave.

Let’s just take the witch and religion part out of it for a moment. Her sister-in-law is not a blood relative. I’m not a blood relative either. I am the daughter her husband had with his previous wife who is now dead. There is no evidence that I’ve seen that demonstrates she wouldn’t turn on me, talk about me, hate me the way she does her sister-in-law. She doesn’t owe me any kind of loyalty.

My relationship to my father is very important to me. Not just because he’s my father, but because he needs a solid support system to help keep him grounded and my brother refuses to talk to him. I don’t need this woman to hate me and try to sow discord between me and my father. And honestly, the way she talks about family members who irritate her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she would be just as petty with me.

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On one hand, I’m a little bit sad that my moment of realization that I am a witch and this is the journey I want to take was borne out of a very upsetting conversation. Very upsetting doesn’t come close. But, on the other, the emotional reaction I had to it was so deeply rooted that I cannot deny that this is who I am and what I need to be about. It completely eliminated any hesitancy or doubt I felt. If returning to witchcraft wasn’t something that resonated with me or wasn’t an important part of my identity that I need to nurture, I just would have been as mad and upset as I was about her racism. This is a very fine point of distinction, but it is an important one. It was so disturbing to me that I excused myself to the bathroom so that I could bury my tarot deck and study books in the bottom of my luggage. There was fear there, rational or not.

I spent the last days of my trip in the guest room or mindlessly watching whatever crime investigation documentary they had on television engaging in conversation at a minimum. If only she knew how lucky she was that she made those statements after I cooked her a special dinner. I say that not because I would intentionally work harm into my cooking, but rather because I know that my feelings/energy go directly into what I make. If I can’t get my head and heart right, I will not cook for others. The food winds up horrible if I do go ahead with preparing something beyond a sandwich.

This is going to sound judgy, but it truly isn’t meant to be. I can’t understand how she can love people who hate part of who she is. How can you marry a racist? I can’t speak about her first marriage. Can I make assumptions based on the political comments she’s made regarding her son? It would reduce him and his father to a certain stereotype. It’s just so sad to me. My family is completely divorced from our culture and heritage. I had to take a fucking DNA test to learn what the truth was about who I am and where we came from. As a kid who was denied the facts about this information, I felt cheated and alienated. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for her grandson one day to realize that the reason why he doesn’t speak Spanish is because of racism within his family.

I really think she adopted this bullshit borderline nationalistic ideology to fit in with the men she married. Somewhere along the line though, that hate really took root. It wasn’t just someone reciting a script to go-along-get-along. She meant those words. That was real. I still pray that my father comes to see the world differently. I hope she does to. I can’t imagine living that way allows for any real amount of self-esteem. It’s basically self-hatred. Rather than be mad at her, I should work on developing more empathy for her. It’s complicated as I think about it more. I care about her. I know she has felt compassion for me. Kids deserving to be in cages though? Man. How do you get to a place mentally when you’re okay with that?

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Ultimately, I didn’t go see Savannah. I didn’t go see Saint Augustine. I just wanted to go home. The money I had saved for my vacation I spent on witchy books, a couple of tarot decks, and supplies for my Book of Shadows. Every cent was well spent. I’m the happiest I have ever been. Walking this journey that began with tarot has helped me heal so much. My whole outlook on life has changed. I so wish my mother was here to be my co-pilot. Though we sometimes experienced friction over her religious beliefs (I will discuss this in another post eventually), she always was open to learning. Her views about the LGBTQ community were changing and growing. Though I never openly discussed my sexuality with her (this is something I’ve only accepted in myself in the last year), I think she eventually would have gotten to a positive space about it and potentially would have been as strong an advocate for sexual orientation/gender identity issues as she was for inner city youth and cross-cultural relations. I think she would have enjoyed being in the car with me on my midnight drives along the beach listening to podcasts about mythology, folklore, and witchy things.

[Update: It has now been a handful of months after this visit and at some point around Valentine’s Day, my father separated from my stepmother again. He says it’s for good. I hope so. For a lot of reasons. He texted me a few moments a go to tell me he has already moved back out west. Earlier this week, I emailed my stepmother because it was her birthday (Pisces Season is always a roller coaster). I wished her and her family the best and she opened up about their split. She says she wants to stay in contact with me. I don’t know. It unnerves me how loving and kind she can be, but also have the capacity for so much ugliness. I’m a Gemini and I fully understand duality. Pisces with the two fish, I can kinda get that type of duality or rotation of emotion, but good Lord. This dynamic was one of the major factors that dissuaded me from returning for a Christmas visit. Truth be told, I’m relieved I won’t ever have to visit again or agonize over things like that.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to share my practice with my father. There was a moment of panic when I worried that he might show up at my door (he does this when his life is upside down). What would I do with my altar and books and candles and all the evidence of my practice? Luckily, he decided to go straight out west as opposed to driving south to see me. I don’t know when I will get to see him again. He sounds good on the phone. I think there was a lot of relief on his end. She is rather high maintenance (doesn’t have a job) and her father requires a fair amount of care. It hurts that he’s choosing to live so far away, but I know it has nothing to do with me. He wants to be in the mountains. As long as he’s safe, happy, healthy, and going to the VA for regular care, I’m at peace with it.]

As for my local relative, my mother’s sister, she’s the only one I’ve told about my practice. The jury is still out on whether her interest in it is anything more than a passing curiosity. But as long as she doesn’t malign it or get in the way, I’m okay. There is one concern that I have with her and it bleeds into everything with her. She tells everyone everything. When I first moved into this building, I walked into the laundry room and some woman who I have never met or seen knew my name, knew my mother had passed, knew what I did for a living all because my aunt chats to whoever is in the laundry room with her. When my mother was terribly ill, we had to stop telling her about it because she then told nearly every living soul she encountered. This is not an exaggeration. To this day, I occasionally catch her on the phone remarking to someone about it.

Again, Florida is a very conservative state particularly in the area where I’m living. I have no desire to socialize with my neighbors (for a lot of reasons beyond politics) and don’t want to deal with the fallout of them learning that I’m a witch or no longer Christian because my aunt enjoys the novelty of having a niece who is a witch. Since my admission to her and she voicing a desire to learn with me, she’s made no attempt to co-ordinate a time to do anything. I even made her something special for Valentine’s Day and it’s still sitting on her desk unused. That’s why I think she isn’t taking this seriously. Perhaps if I continue to keep my practice to myself, she will eventually forget about it all together or think I was just going through some experimental experience.

Unsure where my uncle lands on the subject. I kinda don’t think he cares one way or the other. He designs artwork for oracle decks. Very peculiar cat.

While there very much is a part of me that would like to have someone to share my discoveries and experiences with as I grow in my witchy-ness… a partner in crime, a study mate, I think the lovely people on Tumblr and Instagram are filling that void for me. In real life, I keep my practice to my bedroom. I don’t want my enjoyment of this rediscovered aspect of my life to be tainted by the bad vibes of others. As such, I am likely to keep this all to myself for as long as possible. Maybe at some point in the future, I’ll seek out a local group to connect with. We’ll see.

For now, I very much enjoy my broom closet. It’s quiet, peaceful, clean, happy, and comfy.


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