The iconic “Big Tex” burned up last week. Anyone who grew up in Texas, going to the State Fair every year remembers vividly that big booming voice, and the arm waving and welcoming you in. He was so enormous, and so literally larger than life. I can still hear his voice in my head from all those years and those many, many trips to the fair.
Well, last week, apparently due to some sort of electrical fire, “Big Tex” said his final, “Howdy, Pardner” and went to wherever giant robotic cowboys go when they die. A lot of people were pretty sad about it. I saw calls for flags lowered to half mast at the State capitol building, and people really sort of heart broken. A few were very nearly freaking out.
I felt a little like Maria in “A Chorus Line”, when she heard that Mr. Karp had died. I felt… nothing. See, growing up, Life was my School for the Performing Arts , and Texas was my Mr. Karp. You know, actually I think it would probably be more accurate to say that my family of origin was my Mr. Karp, but since my growing up years happened in Texas, there’s a mental association there. And too, as messed up as my family was, there were still a good number of things about growing up in Texas that were pretty messed up as well. It was messed up enough that before I hit double digits, I knew that I was going to get out as fast as I could, one way or another.
I had always been the black sheep, for no discernible reason other than I couldn’t go with the flow. I always had to question. I always had to challenge. In their eyes, that made me a trouble maker. To this day, my family of origin celebrates holidays around the table with a child molester, but I am still the black sheep.
I saw this said recently on a forum that I visit that deals with dysfunctional family and extended family:
When someone in a highly enmeshed, dysfunctional family system rejects their assigned role and starts to become independent, the rest of the family system will mobilize to try to force that person back into their old role. Why? Because family systems in general seek homeostasis and resist change. But it’s also because nobody wants the scapegoat role, and if the scapegoat refuses that role, that means that it’s eventually going to be reassigned to somebody else. It’s easier from the system’s perspective to just force you back in line than it is to reassign the scapegoat.
This is what happened to me. There was so much that deep inside that I knew was just…. off. Of course, if I tried to express and question that feeling, I got lots of gaslighting. No, this dysfunction is normal! What is wrong with YOU that you can’t see it’s normal? YOU must be crazy.
And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says:
“Okay, Morales, what did you feel?”
And I said…
“Nothing, I’m feeling nothing,”
And he says “Nothing could get a girl transferred.”
They all felt something, but I felt nothing
Except the feelin’ that this bullshit was absurd!
I tried to fit. I tried to make everything make sense. I tried, for a while at least, to toe the line. But, none of it made any sense. Even as a child, I knew that there were things that were just plain wrong and inappropriate and no matter what anyone said, I was NOT the crazy one. I couldn’t always verbalize it, or even put a finger on exactly what the problem was, but I knew. It was also understood that if I bucked the system too much and didn’t get back in line, that there was only utter rejection awaiting me. Acceptance only was given in return for quiet acquiescence.
Mister Karp, he would say,
“Very good, except Morales. Try, Morales, all alone.”
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see how an ice cream felt…
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried to melt!
The kids yelled, “Nothing!”
They called me “Nothing”
And Karp allowed it, which really makes me burn.
The were so helpful, they called me “Hopeless”,
Until I really didn’t know where else to turn.
And I did feel all alone in a sea of crazy. And I felt hopeless. Nothing was ever good enough, and no one would ever admit that what I was seeing was even there, much less that it was a problem. I really struggled with despair tremendously.
Went to church, praying, Santa Maria,
Send me guidance,
Send me guidance on my knees.
Went to church praying, Santa Maria,
Help me feel it,
Help me feel it pretty please.
Since my family was so deeply entrenched in church culture, I associated much of my situation and the bad things that were happening to and around me with God. That only served to deepen my anger and despair, as I felt God had abandoned me.
Eventually, I was able to act on that voice deep inside, and get out. I left central Texas for central New York, and boy was that a culture shock! For the longest time, I have felt very much homeless. Texas was my home state, but it wasn’t my home. New York was where I lived, but it wasn’t home either. If I loved it at all, it was because it wasn’t Texas. I loved it for being Not Texas.
And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul
Came up to the top of my head
And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul,
Here is what it said:
This man is nothing!
This course is nothing!
If you want something go find another class.
And when you find one
You’ll be an actress.
And I assure you that’s what fin’lly came to pass.
Just a couple of weeks ago, and right before Big Tex burned, it occurred to me that I had begun to love New York for more than being Not Texas. I had begun to view it as home. It was a bittersweet moment when that realization hit me. It was also a warm feeling of relief though! I had a home! I belonged somewhere! I was all Jay-Z up in here!!
And then I heard the news…..
Six months later I heard that Karp had died.
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
‘Cause I felt nothing.
I had mixed feelings at first. I saw everyone upset, but I just laughed and I was confused at my own reaction, but then it started to make sense to me: I’m done. All those painful years in Texas, and all those painful people there… they are done for me. It’s over. I’m FREE! It has been many years of healing and sorrow intermingled, but I have come SO far. I’m certain I still have more work to do, but I. Am. Free!
The timing of Big Tex’ passing was very poignant and symbolic for me. It represents everything I have overcome, everything I left behind, and the inner peace that comes from putting it all to rest and moving forward. Finally!
Goodbye, Texas! I will likely never see you again.
I’ve got an Empire State of mind now, and I’m home.
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,