John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LII: A Burden Shared

(Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash)

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, thinking about God and the burdens we carry and share.


John Michael moved to the Keys
to put his tired soul at ease;
he bought a Back Country boat
and a bobber to float,
his dream of a life with calm seas


I was actually going by “James” when I wrote that and was working as a newspaper reporter in the Florida Keys. There is a lot of irony in that little poem. I was scared and enraged every day trying to do a job I didn’t feel I was qualified to do. I also had a memory that had recently surfaced of a darker part of a molestation that was haunting me already.

My biggest problem at the time was, and I know this only looking back and after much reflection, I didn’t think that God, who I was deeply afraid of and very eager to please, loved me. Otherwise, why would he allow me to be molested in such an ugly way?

I found myself in tears this evening as I was thinking back. You know I have struggled with my family a lot, but until recently had never really put myself in their shoes. To have a half-crazy fella running around, never sure what I was going to say or do, and who might just disappear with nary a word for seven years? I imagine I would have been be pretty worried too, if I were them.

After I was homeless for just a minute, I found myself in jail a couple of times for what I considered petty things, like loitering. The second time in, I was passively refusing to change into the jail outfit from my street clothes, because I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong.

Well, after a while, a few jailers came in, stood me up, and started to undress me. I panicked a little when they went for my waistline, changed my mind, and said I would change my clothes. One of the jailers, and I hate to use a new-age-y term, but his energy really reminded me of my attacker. Pretending to be all “meek-and-mild-and-kind” but clearly bottling a bunch of sadistic behavior.

He said it was too late to change my mind and continued to undress me. I didn’t resist at all physically, other than to sit down as a way of stopping the process. He proceeded to spray me in the face with mace, which caused a major anxiety attack.

This was in Islamorada and, later that night, they moved me down to the Key West jail as I was still in an elevated state—they had already called on some EMTs to check on me after a couple of hours and my blood pressure and heart rate were still through the roof. Key West had a better medical facility, which is why they moved me.

Things got worse in Key West and I quickly found myself in isolation and in a cell with some sort of fella who I’m sure was a fine guy, but I didn’t trust him at the time. 23 hours a day is a lot of togetherness in such a small cell.

Here is the memory that caused some tears. By that time, my family had figured out I was homeless and my mom and brother came down to Key West to see what they could do.


Here is the memory that caused some tears. By that time, my family had figured out I was homeless and my mom and brother came down to Key West to see what they could do.


Well, my mom showed up at the jail to try and visit. In my defense, I was a sad combination of fear, panic, and mania, but in truth it was mostly vanity that didn’t let me see her. I just didn’t want her to see me looking as bad as I was looking. I always tried to put on a happy face for others, and thank God that facade was cracking, but it was just too soon for my psyche to let her see me like that. I deeply regret not seeing her at the time, is what I am trying to say.

After time served, my family had me committed. Looking back, I mean what the hell else were they going to do? But, at the time, I deeply resented them for it. I had been hospitalized and lithiumed up before and simply did not want to go that route again. That is even still a sore spot between my family and me. I just felt like they had more of a trust in the medical establishment than they did in listening to me and my wishes.

The State facility in the Keys was overcrowded and understaffed. I was sleeping on a mat in the hallway. But, after three days, they had to let me go because I wasn’t suicidal or threatening to anyone else. Looking back, had they not been so crowded, they would have tried to keep me on for a while for funding reasons.

Long story short is that my mom has always been there for me and has wanted the best for me all my life. I was talking to my Uncle John the day after Mom died and he said that when his own mom, my grandma, died, it was like a rock was gone.

I have written in the past that I felt I was trauma-bonded with my mom a little; and after her divorce and me being molested, a large part of my psyche was committed to keeping that rock in my life alive and happy. That, of course, is too much of a burden for one individual psyche to bear.

That is why I am an advocate for building strong families and communities. A burden shared is a burden that dissolves is how I like to think about it. A burden shared with a wise and calm person, I should add. A burden shared with the wrong person can lead to more of the shame you were hoping to release in the first place.

I wrote about this when I had the realization a month or so ago. But one day when I was driving away from her window at Royal Plaza, I had some tears flowing. I had always thought that after the divorce she had lost some affection for us kids. But I realized I had run from that affection. I just felt dirty and not worthy after being molested. After that memory, any love I was secretly holding back from her dissolved.

Mom used to say at the window of the Royal Plaza a lot, “You are my rock.” I would shrug it off because I felt like a leaf in the wind. Last thing she said before she died, she changed the tense and said, “You have been my rock.” As I move into a real life with calm seas, I am so glad I got to return the favor.

I don’t want to take too much credit, however, because, community or not, I have become adept at surrendering my burdens to the God I used to fear who didn’t love me and who has since become my best friend. I’m so glad I had Him with me helping me watch over her a little bit.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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