Saturday, February 28, 2009
I got up this morning to find a message in my inbox from someone I had not seen before. Curious of course, I opened it and discovered it was from a company asking if I would write a review for their product on my blog, for payment or for a free sample.
"Someone wants to pay me for my writing!" I gasped. "My first writing inspired pay!"
And then I looked more closely at the product. It was an enhancer for men... Not sure, really, how I would have reviewed the product, since the necessary equipment is not exactly...at hand.
Sometime this month our Bissel vacuum cleaner gasped its last, dusty breath. I wasn't really fond of the thing, it seemed to spew out as much dirt as it was picking up and it was always covered with a thin film of grit. It had many parts that needed to be taken out and cleaned and then dried and then wedged back into place, with much effort and some profanity.
I complain like this and yet, not so long ago, I would have been dragging the rugs outside and beating them on a line with a broom.
I saw the funniest clip about a comedian who was talking about a recent flight and the young person beside him had been complaining about how horrible the flight was because it was delayed for twenty minutes and then they had sat on the runway for another forty.
"And then what happened?" asked the comedian sarcastically. "Did you fly?? Did you fly though the air??? You were in a chair....in the sky!!" (I'm paraphrasing)
How quickly we can lose the wonder of things.
In any case, when I told Keith about the vacuum cleaner, his response was that we could fix it together, over the phone.
"I thought about that," I confessed wryly. "But then I decided that destroying our marriage over a vacuum cleaner probably wouldn't be worth it."
He dismissed this fear as groundless. "Just do exactly what I tell you," he said. A short five minutes later he sighed and admitted that the vacuum was indeed broken. Our marriage escaped unscathed.
I reminded him of the housecleaning situation yesterday and his voice became light with boyish enthusiasm. "I knew I had set some money aside for somethin'!" he exclaimed. "Hon, I'm gonna do some research...unless, do you wanna pick it out?"
"No, no," I said nasally, prostrate on the bed where my head cold had left me amid the litter of discarded tissues. "I wouldn't have the faintest idea which one was better and I know you love doing this kind of research."
Several hours later he called again. "Hon, now, don't be angry," he started off humbly.
"Oh no," I groaned, getting off the bed and put my fingertips to the window, as though this might help me bring him closer. "What did you do?"
Inwardly, I was recalculating all our expenses. "We'll be fine," I was reassuring myself, "we'll pay it off monthly...we can afford monthly payments..."
It turned out he had bought a second hand Kirby at an astoundingly good price and as he rattled off all the attachments, the guarantees, the qualifications of the on line site where he had bought it, my heart swelled up with so much love for him that I thought it might burst like a balloon.
"...an'," he continued, excited, "it even has this motor where it senses if you're gonna push or pull an' it goes with your motion. I thought that might help with your back. An' it's got this heppa... somethin'...where it blocks the dust from comin' back out an' I thought that might help you with being sick an' all..."
I love the sound of his voice when it is all light and unselfconscious. I love how he says the word "hundred," as in, "It was just three hundert and fifty..."
It reminds me vividly of his youth; he so often looks and sounds at least ten years older than he is. And that is dear to me as well, but when his voice is all light I'm reminded that I have a young and virile husband somewhere out there in the world. And maybe he can't come home and take care of me when I am sick and warm our cold, too large bed, but he can spend hours finding me just the right vacuum cleaner when he should be sleeping.
"You are such a good husband!" I exclaimed, in wonder at the fact of it.
"Well hon," he replied, surprised. "You're such a wonderful wife!"
I have been doing research on my story, I have a timeline and character studies going. During the day and often the night I am wrestling with what happens. How did they meet? I get side tracked by small questions, like, if they met because her car broke down, what car would she be driving? Why would she be driving it alone? How could her family afford a car in the thirties?
And then I spend hours on line doing research and not writing a single word. But I do know interesting things about that time, like the fact that food was rationed at a time when America was producing more food than they ever had before in history and that Monopoly came out then and when Congress was debating whether or not America would get involved in World War II (before Pearl Harbor) a group of mothers sat outside the session, wearing black veils over their faces in wordless protest.
I have discovered her name and fortunately, it is not Kitty. Her name is Helen Sophia Carr. Her father is the dean of a small college in the mid west, her mother is on women's committees and wears brooches on her ample chest.
Helen's husband is known as Red but she calls him Everett. His family has a repair shop the next town over and when he is not working on cars, he plays checkers. He keeps a board in his ruck sack and he played on the beaches of Omaha, in the days after D-Day, with buddies from his company, using bottle caps for missing pieces, faces grubby and exhausted, before they were reorganized and sent out for the next battlefield. In his letters, he calls her, "My darling girl..."
I suspect that I am capable of doing research indefinitely and at some point will have to actually force myself to begin writing.
Oh, and tomorrow I will be able to say that Keith will be home in five months and thirty days. Five months! (and thirty days-I highly discount the days in order to maintain moral.)
I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
However, in my own mind, since writing about my abuse, I felt the need to then clarify how that impacted my faith in and understand of God. As I wrote that blog, I kept thinking to include it, but I found it impossible to do so, mostly because I would have been trying to cover too much ground in one blog and the impact of both subjects would have been lost.
Also, lately I have seen a lot of posts about Lent, which is, if I remember correctly, identifying in a personal way with the suffering of God as He redeemed us. Perhaps it was not coincidence that I finally wrote out this blog at this time and so obedient to what seems to be providence, I will publish it. But I have taken out the personal references to my family's story, as I'm not ready to put it out there.
When I was on the verge of eighteen years old I spent a lot of time in my room reading the Gospels. But not just reading them; bringing them to life. One of my favorite chapters to read in this way was when He quieted the sea. He was asleep in the stern on a pillow before the storm came up and I would read that and then pause.
I would imagine the sea spread out around Him, quiet now and hot and sunny and the overwhelming smell of fish everywhere. And the little boats that followed around Him, the quiet voices carrying over the water and the lap of the water against the sides of the boats. And how He must have been exhausted and dirty.
And I would imagine that I was an apostle, the forgotten woman apostle, nameless and lost to history, but there all the same. What would I do if I were in the boat with Christ? Why, I would lie down close to Him, my head on the same pillow and listen to His even breathing, the rhythm of His human heart, made to be broken, and I would fall asleep curled up next to Him, the sky bare and bright above, until the storm came.
I read the entire four Gospels like this; it took me weeks. Reading through the last chapters was sometimes such agony I had to put the Book down and not finish. It was during this time that I had a particular dream, one that has stayed with me since.
In the dream I am lying in a hammock high above a jungle, in the tops of one of those astoundingly high trees, where the air is fresh and all one can see is the verdant green, rippling tops of other trees spread out around one. Christ is in the hammock with me, I knew Him well. We did not speak, there was no need for words.
We had been there I do not know how long when He sat up and got off the hammock, leaving it swinging. I felt annoyed at Him, left behind. Why would He leave me? But He didn't come back and so I went after Him.
I found that the hammock was actually close to the ground, I swung my feel out over the edge and found that I stood on the jungle floor. It was close and crowded with green. Winding away in front of me was a narrow little path of damp dirt. I followed this, bending and twisting to avoid the branches in my way and caught up with Him.
"Where are you going?" I asked. "Why do we have to go this way?"
He did not answer, but He lifted the branches out of my way and made sure they would not snap back at me. There came a light between the trees and then we stood at a little clearing. The sky was overcast, low and heavy with rain. The trees stood close and dense all around. The clearing was carpeted thickly with moss, deep and green, thicker and more luxurious than any carpet.
He went into this, knelt down and picked something up off the ground, and then another piece. I went over to Him and saw that He held a shard of pottery in His fingers. It was very old and worn and had ornate carving on it. He fit the one piece to the second, carefully trying all sides before putting one piece down and reaching for another.
I looked around me more closely; I saw that the entire clearing was embedded with shards of pottery. Some had made their way to the surface entirely, others were half buried; I knew there were more buried so deeply they couldn't be seen. The entire surface of the clearing was littered with them, thousands of pieces of broken pottery.
"Don't bother," I told Him, putting my hand on His shoulder as I stood beside Him. "It's impossible. You'll never get it all back together again." I shook Him a little, but He went on with His work, slowly, carefully, intent.
And then it came over me like a wave and it rocked me back on my heels. The shards of pottery were myself; my heart, that had been broken and battered and beat into a thousand tiny pieces. He would be working on it for the rest of my life, it would take Him that long but He would not stop the work of slowly picking up piece after piece until He had it all put together again. The force of this realization caused me to wake straight up.
This is how I know that God is good. I know because I see Him at the beginning of creation, when it was all in His thought and He looked over everything that was and everything that would happen and He saw my face and He said with decision, "Her. I cannot live in a world without her."
But He had such a bitter choice. He did not want my automatic companionship, my adoration without conscious choice. He wanted me to be able to look around me and choose Him because I wanted to. This meant that I was free to choose anything else I wanted, and so was everyone else.
This meant that unspeakable damage would be wrought. In a personal level, this meant that I would be raped at the age of three by my great uncle and that he would go on doing this, unchecked, until I was seven or eight. Christ saw all this before it even began. He saw how I would be unable to choose Him; I would be lost in the death of my own choices and those around me from the time He choose to put everything in motion. So He determined to take my death upon Himself.
But that did not save me from suffering. It did not protect me as a small girl, it didn't stop history at large from unravelling in its irrevocable and terrible path. After all, God died for my abuser as well. God wanted him in this world as much as He wanted me. How does this make God good?
It makes Him almost complacent, amoral; seeming not to care what consequences came about from His burning desire for our companionship. When I look at Him this way, I rail at Him for setting me up.
My mom told me a story when she was trying to come to terms with the fact of her abuse and the goodness of God. She told me that she imagined God in the room where it was happening, in grief throwing furniture around, destroying things, tears running down His face.
I saw this, but it did not satisfy me. God was impotent in this picture. Grief stricken, yes, but standing in the wings while travesties occurred before His very eyes. How could He stand by? How could He have allowed it to happen?
When I was a young girl, every Christmas season began with the first weekend in December. During the first weekend in December, enthusiastic amateurs, classical music lovers and members of church choirs the country side round would all gather to stand in line, bundled up against the cold, chattering away in friendly tones, as they waited to register for the Messiah Festival held by Franklin Pierce College.
We would make up the choir; professionals were brought in from Boston or maybe even New York city to sing the solo parts. As one, in a crowd of hundreds of others, I would rise to my feet, my score book heavy in my hands, and lift my voice to music written hundreds of years ago, to words already ancient.
"Surely he hath borne our griefs," I sang before the sea of faces, "...and carried our sorrows. . . . the chastisement of our peace was upon him..."
At some point in my life, I no longer know when, it hit me, what that meant. If He has borne my grief, this means that He wasn't just standing by, watching what was happening to me. He was feeling it upon Himself.
This means that, when He looked over creation before He spoke it into being, and when He decided that He could not live without me, He did not merely say, "Well, she will suffer, but it will give her character and then she'll be able to minister to others."
He did not even stop at saying, "I will take upon myself her sins and die in a human body, in incredible agony, so that she can walk right past the angelic, holy host and into my arms." No, He did not stop there.
He said, in essence, "If unleashing the harrowing power of free will upon the world means that I must suffer upon myself the rape of a three year, I will suffer such; I will take that grief and every other that she will suffer upon myself. She will not suffer alone. I will not hold myself back from any bitter and humiliating consequence of My beloved creation."
When I understand God in this way, I know that I will never leave off being the nameless woman apostle, even if sometimes I smell like fish and get into angry, one sided arguments with Him.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Only about five minutes into the walk and my mind was delightfully clear. I've been thinking more about the character I made up on in a blog a while ago, I've been kind of curious about her. As I was walking, it struck me, out of the blue.
I have no good excuses not to write. I used to believe somewhere inside me that I wasn't good enough as a writer to actually write a book. Well, I can't hold on to that belief anymore. I certain can write that well.
Which means the only thing preventing me from beginning is fear of failing in the endeavor and down right laziness. I have managed to fail magnificently at many other things in my life, I don't know why that should hold me back in this area.
And how exactly would I fail? By starting and not finishing? But finishing and not getting published? Or by finishing, starting another and finishing that and still not being published?
I could go on and on. Essentially, it's a meaningless fear. So what if I don't get published? Who does, on the first try? Those rejection slips will be like stamps in my passport, on a journey all my own. I'll look back and think "Ah! I remember that one, what a milestone..."
And laziness, well, that needs no elaboration. Other than that, my only other feeble excuse is that I can't do plots. Well that's ridiculous, of course I can. Anyone can do an outline.
And truth be told, I have written a story, a large story with an outline and chapters and most importantly, an ending. It happens to be about vampires and is not exactly um... staid in anyway possible and if I did ever try to publish it, it would have to be in a pseudonym because I would never be able to look my mother-in-law in the eye again, but the thing is, I've done it. I can do it again, it just takes persistence.
After I came back from my half an hour walk, I simply grabbed up my purse, got in the car and went directly to the library, so I could investigate this character further. I want to know all sorts of things, what was her favorite song on the radio, how much did her socks cost, does she clip coupons (no, she has rationing stamps, is the answer), under what circumstances did she meet her husband, what is around the corner from her house, what is her middle name, why doesn't she have children?
On my way to the library, I was wearing grubby corduroys and an old turtleneck, my hair up in this messy bundle that it erupts from in all directions. My appearance was in direct contrast to my new handbag, a fact that has me wondering if I made the right choice in purchasing it.
It was on sale, it was a deep red leather, it appealed to me. I considered carefully. It had to be practical and work with many different outfits, as I never seem to be put together enough to own more than one bag at a time. And it seemed to me at the time that the bag in question had a classic design and the color would indeed work with black, white, creams and browns.
I bought it. However, now I wonder if I'm going to be able to live up to it. The purse clearly says, "I am sophisticated and confident." It may even be saying this with its nose in the air; I wonder sometimes. I don't think it appreciates being hauled around by me and rubbing shoulders with my mediocre outfits. I think it feels let down.
"This is not the life I was made for," mutters my purse into its large, gold buckles. "I was meant to be in Miami or New York. I was made for little cafes, to be paired subtly with suitable shoes and skinny jeans....I'm a deep ruby red leather, for god's sake."
My hair seems to be getting away from me these days as well. I've almost given up on styling it any way other than pulling the front part back out of my eyes with a black elastic tie, leaving the rest to fall straight down. This is a style that works well with daisies tucked behind the ear. But if I try to put it all up, it won't all stay and starts to hurt my head.
The other day it was terribly windy and as I was trying to put gas in my car the wind took my hair, at the time completely loose, and whipped it completely back from my head like a flag streaming in the wind. I had to actually brace my neck to keep from being dragged back. I'm not sure what I was signalling with my hair, except that I desperately require an appointment with a hairdresser.
And I would make that very appointment except that my husband forbids me. In pictures, he looks to be sure all of it is still present and accounted for. So my fashion choices are to look like I'm about eleven and carrying around my mother's purse, or to look like Nature Girl and as though I should be wearing hemp. Lots of hemp.
In any case, unshowered and sweaty still from the walk, I took myself, my hair and my purse to the library for some reference materials and to face up to my hugely overdue late fee. I left the nonfiction section carrying seven heavy books, a pile I could just see over and teetered up the stairs to the check out counter.
It turned out my late fee was only nine dollars and ninety cents. How silly of me to have worried about it this long; I almost think I hold on to fears on purpose, as though I needed them for some obscure reason.
Once home I plopped myself down in the chair on the back deck and began my research. As I read, hazy ideas began to emerge. I won't blog about them though, because they will evolve considerably as time goes by and I'm not sure of anything yet except for two things: one, I like her and two, her name is not Ethel. Thank you though, Dad, for the suggestion. Maybe her grandmother's name was Ethel.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Recently I left my cell phone in the bathroom over night. I never know when Keith will call, so even when I wake in the middle of the night, I carry it around with me. Unfortunately, nothing can change the absentminded nature I was born with and I went back to bed without the phone in hand.
When I woke, my first conscious thought was surprise that Keith hadn't called at four thirty in the morning to wake me and talk excitedly about the new exhaust system he'd ordered for the four wheeler and other engaging subjects.
My heart sank to my very toes at the sight of the phone lying innocent upon the bathroom counter, and dropped even lower when I opened it and saw that I had missed nine calls from him. Nine.
I met Keith when he was at a point equidistant between his painful divorce and his upcoming deployment; about five months lay between us and each event. It is a position perfectly placed for marital mayhem and downright foolhardy of us to marry when we did and I don't recommend doing anything like it, if it can be avoided.
Naturally, incredible amounts of strain were put on our union from the beginning. It required us to be very specific in our language. During our first real fight, I could tell that Keith had been used to a fighting style that took no casualties.
I remember sitting on the tailgate of the truck, listening and feeling the pull to give in, to simply give way to anger and outrage; not just at him, but at anything, to simply engage, to go down guns blazing. I didn't.
"You won't fight!" he burst out suddenly, twisting around to look me in the face, exasperated.
"What am I doing?" I asked him, curious to know what it felt like to him.
"I dunno," he said, spreading his hands, frustrated. "You're...you're always taking the highroad an' stuff!"
The fight didn't end there, it still took several hours more before we each felt as though we had been heard and before we had laid down ground rules for the next fight.
Part of my huge dread of deployment was my understanding of how the dynamics would put incredible amounts of strain on us, and after we had had such a short time to grow into one another.
The first time I missed a call from him it started off a huge fight that took several calls and a couple of hours to move through. Eventually, we developed a language all our own to deal with the issues that kept coming up. Whenever Keith lost his temper and his perspective, we called this "shooting the moon." This has proven very helpful for us.
"I know you are in orbit right now, but when you come back down, just remember I'm here and I love you," I have texted him.
Recently I missed several of his calls while downstairs, where the reception is not good and on top of this, the last he had heard I was going to be at a house party where purses would be displayed for sale, with a group of primarily other army wives, none of whom he knew.
I didn't end up going; I had written the blog about my childhood abuse and knew that I didn't have energy left over to socialize, but I hadn't told him this and when I didn't answer his calls, he most certainly experienced lift off. When I did talk to him, he was rocket propelled. However, we were able to talk it through in one phone call, a most amazing thing.
"Jenny, don't you do that; stop doing that," he cautioned me during this, when we were in the thick of it. I could hear the humor cracking through his anger; I knew he was trying his damnedest not to smile.
"Stop what?" I asked with a grin. "Stop being reasonable?"
"Yes! You stop that!"
"Next time, Sweetie," I asked him, as we were concluding, "just try and assume the best of me. Just try. Just consider that there might be a reasonable explanation to why I am not answering the phone and I will try to remember that an e-mail or a text letting you know of a change in plans would be greatly appreciated by you."
I was listening to music the other day, music that I used to listen to at the beginning of deployment and that I hadn't listened to in months. I can trace the length of deployment by the long graduation of music that has gotten me through each stage.
I remembered the first stage, the feeling of shell shock that I carried around inside me, the oppressive feeling of months and months, unknown, so far away that I could not imagine them or who I would be by the time I reached them.
This thought was so unnerving that I couldn't admit to it, I went blindly about each thing that I needed to, holding adamantly to routine, as though I were a work horse with blinders on, just plodding around and around in my little trodden path.
Now, here I am at the unimaginable place of half way through; I have now been much longer apart from my husband than we have been together in person. We have not yet known each other a year.
I picked the phone up and stared at it ruefully, that morning I found it, reproachful and abandoned, on the bathroom counter. I sent Keith a text explaining and that I loved him and about ten minutes later it rang. I prepared to engage in landing procedures.
"Sweetie!" I greeted him.
"Hi honey," he replied, his voice sounded tired. "I love you."
"I love you," I replied, a little surprised. I began to explain, but he stopped me.
"It's ok, I know," he said. "I've done that before. I was just a little worried."
I sat on the edge of the bed, stunned. Who was this man?
"I expected you to be angry," I said.
"Well, hon," he replied, "I thought about it, but I got myself a good woman; I don't want to lose you."
Well Sweetie, that would be impossible, to quote a very famous and important person, "You're stuck with me now...ha!"
Besides, I have an important date that I have to keep with you. I have a date to meet you on our back porch thirty or so years from now. The tomatoes will be ripe and dusty in our garden and the grass thick and green and the sweet, fresh smell of it just cut will linger in the air.
There will be country music from the open windows of your garage and the grandchildren will be there. They will want a ride on the four wheeler with you and you will take them up on the back trails around the house, in the woods that we'll know so well by then.
You'll be grey haired, no doubt, (though it'll still be cut military style; some habits die hard) and you'll be covered with grease as usual. You'll be just as tough as you were back in the day; you'll be wearing saggy jeans and a ripped shirt and your face will be all bristly because you hate to shave but I'll kiss you anyway, lots of kisses because I'm sure even by then I won't be paid up on my kissing debt.
This is a very important date and I absolutely cannot miss it, even though it's very casual and I'll be wearing no makeup and an old pair of jeans, and dinner will be spaghetti and fresh beans from the garden and the grandchildren will make a mess and we'll look at each other across the table and grin because we get to send them home to their parents. Ha!
Until then, Sweetie. I love you.
Friday, February 20, 2009
This is the downstairs and I usually run of out of cleaning energy by the time I get down here. Also, Abbie the Black Lab loves to sit on the white couch, with unfortunate results.
Below is Keith's bar. The Hooters Girls and I have had a long time to come to terms with one another. I know sooner or later they will end up in the garage, but for the meantime, we coexist; I've even grown kind of fond of them. This is the view coming up the stairs into the main living area.
The TV is Keith's baby, of course. The plant is mine. It's a ginger root.
Keith let me put together the John Deere puzzle that he has kept for years only if I promised then to display it on the wall. Hence the tractor on the wall.
Two guesses as to what I was doing that day.
How many brown or black shoes can one person own? Apparently there is no limit, because I bought yet another pair today. (These are the ones I wear most often; others are lurking in the closet above.)
The gas fireplace currently Valentine's Day themed.
This is the kitchen, obviously.
More kitchen, and box of granola. I've been trying to eat a breakfast of granola, yogurt and berries every morning. Also, I love that picture of Keith and I kissing. I didn't mean to order it quite that large, but it worked out well.
The dining table, and Abigail. She always wants to be in pictures for Daddy.
This is the top of the dresser in the spare bedroom. I love that print.
Below is my bedside table. I want to get new lamps, but Keith is very fond of those.
And now I should head up there and curl up in bed with "Rebecca." I am reading it for the zillionth time. It does hold up well though.
I went shopping yesterday. It has been a long time. Keith and I have been aggressively paying off the credit cards, our financial plan for deployment. And we have paid off two already and now can turn our undivided financial attention to the one remaining. I sit and watch the evening news with an unending hymn of Thanksgiving rising wordless from me that we are so blessed as to be able to pay off credit cards in this economy.
We had a conversation yesterday, while I was sitting outside on the deck, my bare feet in the block of sunlight that reached over the neighbor's roof line. The dogs wrestled in the dust of the back yard and little birds flew back and forth from the roof of the deck to the bird feeder, quibbling over their breakfast.
"I can't spend any of my own money," complained Keith teasingly.
"Oh,you spent it all right," I countered gaily. "You just spent it so long ago you can't remember what you spent it on anymore. But it's sure spent."
Not long after we met we were visiting with his good friend from the same company and he said that he had once been young and wild and then he'd met his wife and been broken in. "She shredded all my credit cards. Now I have an allowance," he admitted with a grin. Somehow, he didn't seem to mind this, but Keith looked at me.
"Don't even say it," I said. "Have I asked for them? Have I?"
About two weeks later I was shredding them.
We talked also about the tax return money, how much would go toward bills and how much to spend and without blinking an eye my husband gave over a huge percent of it for me to spend. On anything.
"It's your money, you paid in taxes too," he keeps assuring me. Yes, I did, but never have I gotten a tax return even a half of what is mine this year to spend.
So I went shopping and the bags are still on the couch upstairs. I bought a sweater worth fifty two dollars at Bass for eight bucks. Eight dollars. I'm spoilt forever, I'll never be able to pay full price for anything now.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
After I figured out that I always sentimentalize the past, I determined that I would simply live in the present as though it were already gone. (This is along the lines of realizing that one will never be more attractive than one is right now, a line of thought that has justified many an unnecessary clothing purchase.) I don't always succeed in living in a prematurely cast nostalgia for the present; now is one of those times.
So I'm going to pretend to be somewhere else. Or some time else. Lately I've been fascinated by the late forties and early fifties. I see the old, old neighborhoods in this town, with the tiny little starter houses from that era and I imagine all those home makers, proud of their plot of grass, their piece of the side walk.
I imagine the brand new, pastel colored appliances; each one a prized possession and longed for for months and maybe years before they could be bought. I like to think of curtains moving in the open windows, curtains that the woman of the house actually washed and possibly ironed; in fact, she might have made them herself. She would routinely bake things that required cream of tartar, cornstarch, and tapioca pearls.
I think of her sitting at her Formica kitchen table with a cup of coffee. She drinks it black. It's a sunny day in a mid-western state; she wears sturdy two toned shoes. Even though she has the whole day in front of her, and the sunlight falling on the bright linoleum floor, she cannot move from her chair.
The thought of everything in front of her to do, her constant battle against the dust carried by the constant wind, the endless cycle of her days wears her down. It lies in wait for her; everything that she should do, that she must do. She hears nothing but the wind rushing through the cotton wood trees behind the house, where the canal runs by and the barking of a dog.
Maybe in the mail today a letter will come. She has them all in a hat box under the bed, hidden by the white tufted bedspread. She rises now, moved by impulse and walks into the bed room, gets on her knees and pulls out the box, sifts through the letters with her open hand. She cannot read them; she shoves them back and walks quickly through to the front door.
She can look out over the small front lawn and over the crest of the hill the neighborhood is on she can see the long, flat horizon, tawny colored in late summer, hazy with dust. The sky is so large it's almost oppressive. She simply steps through the door and starts walking, the wind whipping her thin cotton dress around her legs.
...and I'm too tired to figure out who she is and where she is going. But I empathize with her.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
These days I find myself taking long, deep breaths of air, almost as though I had forgotten to breathe for several moments and all of a sudden feel suffocated. In less than two weeks Keith and I will be at the half way mark of deployment, and I've got to be honest, I don't feel as buoyed up by this knowledge as I had thought I would.
Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly grateful for every day and moment that has passed by and that I need never go through again; I am grateful for everything that is already behind me. But I feel weighed down by everything yet to move through. Half way point means another half a year.
I'll feel better when I make it through March. Traditionally, I have loved March. I have loved it for its dripping water running off the points of icicles, for its sheets of water running rippling across the road from melting snow banks, for the clumps of soaked and tangled grass that begin to appear on south facing slopes.
I have loved March for the mud, which is traitorous of me, I know; there are some roads in New England that become literally impassable due to mud around that time of year.
I love the tin buckets that appear on the sides of gnarled maple trees. As I child, I would tip toe up to these and in wonder lift the lid. The clear liquid dripped down so slowly into the pail; its taste only hinted at sweetness.
But right now March is like a giant boulder between me and fresh air. It looms on the calender, countless days of snow and grey and nasty gloop on the car.
And Keith keeps calling me to tell me how much he misses me; last night he woke at four thirty in the morning and got out of bed to call me, despite the cold and the dark. And this drives me crazy, because I'm all the way over here and I can't go to him.
And the insurance information about my teeth getting worked on is abominably complicated and I can't understand a word of it and I can't find my last year's AGI number for the taxes, whatever the hell that is; and when I call the IRS they always tell me that due to the volume of calls received in this topic they cannot take my call and hang up on me, and I sorted through the papers that I did manage to save and although I kept the W-2s from last year's taxes, I did not keep a copy of the form itself.
I am terrible at keeping track of papers. It amazes me that at work I have now organized and put into proper order nearly every paperwork system there is in that building. I have audited every chart, put in place ticklers and mass e-mail lists, I have updated emergency files and binders.
However, at home in my expandable file folder I found such assorted things as a recipe for shrimp coconut soup, the manual for my coffee maker, old insurance information from jobs long past, and a birthday card from my parents. What was I thinking? Where is the important stuff? How can I be thirty one years old and have no records?
I am determined to change this. I am going to buy hanging file folders with labels and everything from every random place that currently holds papers (two kitchen drawers, a cupboard, one plastic drawer, the paper file folder, my purse, etc, etc...) will all be consolidated, properly labeled and alphabetized.
In the meantime, I must go and finish up cleaning the kitchen. Maybe I'll try the IRS again, just for the heck of it. Who knows, they might miss hearing from me.
Monday, February 16, 2009
So I went out into the heart of coupledom. I got to the restaurant first and kind of wandered around the waiting area, looking at the delicious menu and being torn between roasted vegetables or crab ravioli, looking at the lights draped over the potted plants and listening to the water trickling in a little fountain.
Then I wandered over to one side of the main door and found a huge, gold plaque dedicated to all those military men stationed at the post who have lost their lives in the war on terror. Not expecting that at all and feeling unsettled, I wandered over to the bench and sat myself down, determined to do no more exploring.
Fortunately, the girls arrived soon after and we all settled in to enjoy ourselves. There were four of us and all of our husbands are deployed. Two of them are expecting their men back very soon for R&R and a lot of the conversation was about plans for their arrivals.
Our waitress finally arrived at our table and the night went down hill from there. We were told that we would get water if there were glasses available. This statement caused some puzzlement but glasses duly arrived some time later, as did our appetizers, but not our utensils. Eventually we got those as well.
The salad came with cheese, though it had been ordered without, because the girl in question is lactose intolerant, and then the rest of our meal arrived. It was not good. My crab ravioli was stiff and rubbery and sat upright and leaning against one another in a small sea of Alfredo sauce. The pasta was striped with wide, red bands of food coloring. There was nothing else.
Another girl's chicken had a large piece of already congealing cheese on top of it and someone else's lemon chicken was almost inedible due to the incredible amounts of garlic it was seasoned with.
Meanwhile, an unknown couple the table next to us were engaging in displays of physical affection normally reserved for (I'm imagining) bars just before closing time when everyone is well and truly sloshed and looking for someone to go home with. The sounds, let alone the sights, of their physical delight in one another were hard to ignore.
My friends decided they would speak to the manager about the quality of the food, and I myself thought this a good idea, despite the fact that I had never done that before, due to my confrontation aversion. Besides, never before had I felt the need to either send something back or to complain.
We asked for the manager; the waitress asked us what about, we didn't wish to discuss it with her; she had begun the evening being irritable and off hand and hearing our wish for the manager did nothing to improve our relationship with her. Eventually a nice lady wearing glasses and a sweater came and leaned over our table, to ask us what she could do for us.
We were all tongue tied, so I leaped into the gap, telling her that I felt very sorry and that I never did this, but that my pasta had been...etc, etc and then we all got our turn and her face turned stiffer and stiffer and then she said stiffly, "I'll see what I can do for you," and then she never came back.
We all felt bad, but also determined to be heard. Eventually the waitress came back, her body tense with anger.
"I'm sorry you had such a bad experience," she began and we all poised ourselves to make conciliatory comments and wrap up the evening on a positive note, when she continued, angry and upset, "I've been in this business for twenty years and never had a complaint," and literally threw our check onto the table and walked away.
"Well, you just got one now," I shot back, though she was out of earshot. My god, I was angry!
I've been a waitress, we all at the table had been. We've had our fair share of pig headed customers and awful nights and dealt with it.
I've sat at the other side of my desk and listened while the integrity of my care managers, my ability to manage them, the quality of the food and the general service were all ripped to shreds by a family member and then apologized, took out a notepad and said one of the following, "This is what I will do for you, this is what I will put in place, how can I make this better?"
I did not make excuses and I certainly did not get angry and vent at them, ask them if they knew how hard it was go get their crotchety mom into the shower and dressed each morning and would she like to work an over night shift and try keeping all the laundry straight at three am in the morning and by the way, would she like to try ordering the food on the budget the kitchen manager was allowed?
We got thirty dollars taken off the check, which we split four ways. One of us almost asked for the manager back again, and we all groaned in chorus. But it was too late, one of the waitresses must have overheard her declare her desire for the manager again, because she came back! We were mortified and apologetically sent her away again.
By this time all we wished for was escape and to never, never come back to that restaurant again. However, another waitress came up to the table as we were configuring our checks.
"I'm sorry about your service this evening," she began and we all began to relax. "Your waitress has been working with us..."
Now, we all discussed the following statements among ourselves later and each of us was convinced beyond doubt that she was going to finish up with "....not very long and we've gotten a lot of complaints about her, I don't think she'll be with us much longer..."
This is not, however, what we heard. "....for twenty years. It's been a really hard night and we've all been running out of silverware and glasses. She's fifty years old and a single mother..." etc, etc.
I don't know about the others, but I felt like a Bad Person, a Difficult Customer. Who was I to harass an older, single mom with flagging energy and scarce dining resources? But on the heels of this, I felt a sweep of resentment.
We all could have played that game too, we could have said, "Our husbands are right now in Iraq, risking their lives for her freedom and security, and Mrs. Lactose Intolerant here has been a single mother to their three children for a over half a year and will be for a half a year more, and all we wanted was to get out and try not to be depressed on Valentine's Day, with glasses for our water and silverware for our food and to have a waitress that did not yell at us."
A couple of the girls did engage the waitress in a discussions of their experiences of being a waitress and expectations of professional behavior, but all that happened was that everyone got emotional. As soon as I signed my name on the slip of paper, I shot out of my seat and we all escaped as one.
As we did so, a lone man at the bar was heard to say in a slow, amazed voice, "One...Two...Three...Four!....single ladies...!" We were too quick moving for him to act on his dawning realization; we were out the door and laughing on the sidewalk in under a minute.
We were all amazed and feeling somewhat shell shocked. I still have mixed feelings about what happened. I felt badly that we were so obviously causing a raucous in the restaurant; I felt badly that we hurt the waitress's feelings and I felt bad that she was having such a bad night. I still feel guilty about that.
On the other hand, I keep thinking back to the hundreds of other restaurants I have been to over the course of my adult life, on all kinds of nights when the staff was obviously strained and the place hopping. And how never have I ever had such bad service or such poor food. I have never complained before, but the people I've been with have at times, and in those cases immediately it was made right, in a professional manner.
I'm still processing what happened. In the meantime, Keith's gift to me is sitting in its pretty lavender box on the dresser table; he got me a pajamagram. I'm going to keep it there until he gets back, as it's not, shall we shall, for practical, every day kind of wear...
He has recently discovered sound effects on his computer and so our conversations lately have been peppered with a backdrop of audible highlights. Some of my statements this morning were met with the sound of applause, others with the unmistable sound of a bomb dropping. When I told him it was that time of the month, I heard a long, piercing scream of terror.
"Alright, honey, I'm done playin'," he said meekly, after that. I didn't even have to say a word, he just knew. "You love me!"
Yes, I do. And next Valentine's Day we'll eat at home.
Friday, February 13, 2009
The earliest tradition was the trip to the Grandparent's house. The trip itself took a couple hours along winding back roads. The high light of this trip was being the first person to see the large, illuminated blue eagle that decorated a tall building in Concord, NH.
There was much clambering around in the back seat as the city drew near...I can remember the slightly claustrophobic feeling of the back seat like it was yesterday; the hampering seat belt, the squirming bodies of my younger brothers and the way their hair lifted in the air from the open windows. On car rides, the middle seat was fought over, because the lucky person could lean forward and converse with mom and dad.
Normally a ride to the Grandparent's house meant it was a holiday. During holidays certain things were sure to happen, like Aunt Karen bringing her rightly famous lemon bars and pumpkin pie for dessert.
In addition, there would be a battle for decibel control between the kids watching TV and the adults trying to talk. We watched a lot of nature shows at the Grandparent's house, I remember the thrill of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and the eerie world of Dr. Who. We wouldn't be able to hear the show well, due to the animated conversation of the adults still seated around the dining table, and so would turn the TV up; the adults would simply talk louder.This usually ended in Grandpa bellowing at us to turn the thing off and sometimes we were banished to the attic or outside; we being the swarm of cousins that were in attendance.
Most of us grandchildren were arranged in age by tiers, as though our aunts and uncles had somehow agreed to produce grandchildren in measured stages. I was one of the oldest group of grandchildren and the only girl for some years. We were used to ruling the roost but faced serious challenges from the next tier down, who liked to mouth off and tempt fate.
We ranged far and wide in the wooded hills, along the back trails to the power lines and the gardens up in the woods, where Grandpa was prone to garden with a pistol in case of bears. We shouted like Indians and stalked like wild cats, we ran in and out of the house like a pack of wolves and always left with things to eat in hand.
If there was barbecuing in the picture, Grandpa traditionally charred the chicken. I grew up thinking this perfectly normal and developed a taste for the burned bits. If it was summer, frequently a game of wiffle ball was organized on the front lawn. In any weather, a hike up the trail to the power lines always happened after eating the huge spread of the holiday dinner.
Also, inevitably, Grandma would rush around the kitchen, the aunts would command her to sit down and let them help and she would refuse and there would be much fussing around in the kitchen along those lines. There was a cookie jar always full in the kitchen; this was one of the best things in life. I loved the spicy cinnamon bite of the windmill cookies and the sweet, white frosting on the chewy raisin cookies.
One of the most venerable tradition in my family is the telling of the Soup Story. This could be called for by the advent of any soup, but most strongly connected to the ground beef stew my mother often made and that is now a comfort food among my siblings and I. We would demand the Soup Story noisily and Dad was the one who told it.
It had many versions over the years but the simple version was always my favorite, that of the tired and worn soldier returning home through the deep woods and stopping for shelter at the home of a greedy old woman, who was outwitted in a beautifully ironic twist of fate.
Additionally, it became tradition to always hold hands during the blessing and unfailingly, someone would squeeze one of the hands they were holding and that person would then be obliged to pass the squeeze along. This happened without any kind of organization and so there could be countless hand squeezing making their way around the table under cover of the prayer, in conflicting directions and rhythms and the point, I believe, was to distract Dad.
Birthdays were celebrated by the birthday child choosing what they wanted for dinner and by a homemade cake that Mom spent a great deal of time and energy on. She made beautiful and amazing cakes, her most recent that I know of being a beach with Lego pirates hunting down the treasure; there was an x marking the spot, a palm tree and a shark off the coast, lying in wait. Birthday presents were usually more imaginative than expensive; for many years Jesse and I traded back and forth a velveteen red bull that we both loved.
During dinner, unavoidably, colorful stories of every one's best experiences in the health care field will be shared, to Mom's unending dismay. Featured among these stories is Dad's "Will We Ever See the Washcloth Again?" story and my "Storming the Kitchen at Dinner" story and Scot has had many recent additions and frankly, can best us all, I think especially of the "Bowel Surgery Gone Horribly Wrong" story.
The playing of Rook is a long established and especially important family custom. My earliest memories of Rook are of Mom and Dad rushing around tidying up and then later, having people over and tempting goodies on the table, and how intent the adults were and the smell of coffee, and hearing someone cheerful call out, "Rook bird, Rook bird!" and "Lead out, on Kinky Turtle!" was often uttered happily, its meaning lost to me at the time. It was during Rook that I had my first taste of coffee; I learned to play by watching over my parent's shoulders, careful to keep my face empty of expression.
Memorably, we played during summer vacations in Maine, during rainy days. I was often paired with Dad, who played fast and loose and viciously; his take no prisoners tactics so enraged us that at times we would slam our cards down and refuse to play the hand out. Mom was a careful, focused player who didn't say much but could suddenly and unexpectedly decimate the other team and was the calm and steady partner.
Garage sales also featured in our lives, especially during summer vacations. It was very difficult for my parents to pass one up and some of my favorite toys and a great deal of our family home was decorated from garage sale finds.
Whatever house we lived in, it always looked as though we had always lived there, due to my parent's decorating ability; we tended toward the shabby chic, with colored glass bottles in the windows, unframed pictures on the walls, a piece of ancient farm equipment over the mantelpiece. There were lots of lamps, many without light bulbs-spots with good light were premium real estate in the family home, as we all read.
Books were everywhere, all mixed up. There were piles of them beside beds, books in boxes, books overflowing their shelves. Favorite books would disappear, only to resurface months or even years later.
CDs did the same; in fact, I am certain that our home is where bad CDs went to be punished, a veritable CD purgatory. They never stayed in their cases; one never knew what might be in a case; nothing, the wrong CD or possibly two back to back, as though desperate for protection. No matter how one tried to hold on to a favorite CD, the day would come when it couldn't be found and it might never be found again.
No matter where we lived, we were surrounded by the beautiful gardens that my father made, whether there be cherry tomatoes growing up and over the gateway, or flowers overflowing their pots, or brick walkway laid down by hand. No matter how tired Mom would be, there would be dinner waiting on the stove, lids on to keep it warm; Mexican chicken, stir fried beef or stroganoff.
Going home, I know the towels in the bathroom will always be slightly damp, there will always be milk, butter and bread; (a little plate with crumbs and an empty glass always meant that my brother Scot had had his usual meal of toast and milk there, while reading.) There is always a book one had forgotten about sitting around on a side table or on the stairs. The windows will be open, the curtains moving in the breeze, the dishes mismatched but each one beautiful in it's own way and with its own history and there will be plants everywhere, on windowsills and in sunny corners and sooner or later, someone will always say, "Let's go rent a movie..." That's home.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I always make incorrect assumptions, like "I'm a patient person." As though this were on the list of things to achieve and I could check it off my box. But no, not so much. Sitting in the semi-dark, watching TV with no sound, listening to the excruciatingly slow drip of the medicine from the bag into her wrist let me know that I was not as patient as I'd thought. This was around one in the morning.
She wasn't dehydrated, but they gave her an IV anyway, which caused her a lot of pain because it's hard to find her wrists and she told them that. She used to be a nurse. She told them exactly what kind of needle to use. But no. They used the wrong size.
It took over an hour for her to get the fluid and then instead of giving her the medicine in pill form, they had to attach another bag. She could have simply swallowed the pills in two minutes, with a nice glass of water and then I could have taken her home to her own bed. Her blood pressure had long ago dropped back down.
Instead, I watched a mute Jean-Claude Van Dame take down all the bad guys and she tried to sleep on the hospital bed, with her feet dangling off, until all the medicine went in.
It was fascinating to sit behind the curtain and hear the small talk of the staff at the nurse's station right across from me. Their desultory conversation was of The Melting Pot vs other restaurants and then how one lady nearly died due to internal bleeding on the operating table. One nurse announced to the world she as passing a kidney stone, right now.
I didn't get home until past two in the morning, so I don't anticipate being very productive today.
I can't write the second chapter of that story, I found out, after I wrote the first. Even though I checked in with Keith about him being ok with me talking about past relationships and even though it happened over seven years ago, somehow, it just feels too disloyal.
I've thought about it a lot, why this should be and it doesn't make sense, it's just a feeling. The writer in me is annoyed, because that story is imminently writable and as I was writing, I could see all the way down to the end.
So, I am sorry to leave you all hanging, but there it is. My writing is just too vivid; everything comes alive and it feels wrong to be talking about, even in the past, loving someone else. I'll have to save that story for another time.
And now I must go upstairs for some coffee; strong coffee!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
But you for you- for daring to love me- your shoulders will,
under the touch of unexpected mercy, straighten.
Your springs will be longer than the life of the cherry
trees and your summers will be heavy with rain,
thunder down the dust of your dragging steps and
cause your hands to open under your umbrella in
wonder at mist rising from the pavement.
If your heart never opens to me again, still
the trains will come on time, stopping before your
patiently aligned feet and the doors will slide
smooth for your entrance, the seats to cradle
in lulling rhythm your quietly composed body,
and I will pray that the paths my hands have
traced over your skin become scars of a battle
you won, after wrestling long and alone with Jacob's
angel, those marks now will never leave you
desolate and following that thought I will come
at last to the reality of you, separate and sovereign,
a country I gave up the rights to.
Expatriate, I will watch from my farther shore
and bless those wooden chopsticks nestled in
agile hands unthinkingly before the tv and
bless the bed that made up, will rest you in
each night from now without me, waking to
perform your duties exactly and resigned
now to order and necessity.
(And as for you-
may your segmented heart consign
each guarded territory to the truth and from the
fear of unity may you be released into the awful
realization of love. And for giving me my poetry,
I will never cease to be grateful.)
Saturday, February 7, 2009
There was a time in my life when not speaking aloud of what I went through would have been a protective and self nurturing choice. However, in the last few weeks, I became aware of another choice I was now ready to make; the choice of revealing my story in the hopes that it might touch another person's life.
When I write I am aware, first of all, of the immediate language that I am choosing, the words and the sentence structure themselves. Secondly, I am aware of the direction in which I am going; I usually see about a paragraph ahead as I write. Lastly, at a mostly unconscious level I am aware of the entire point of the story, the thread running through it that makes it cohesive.
But when I am writing about something so personal, I am living through it all over again. My last story took about five hours to write and I had to get up and walk away from it so many times I was beginning to frustrate myself.
Before I began that morning, I called my mother to ask her permission to include her story, as I found that her story and mine were so closely intertwined that I couldn't write them separately. My mother was incredibly strong and said firmly, "Put it out there."
I then cleared my schedule because I knew I would never be done in time to visit the elderly lady for lunch, and that I would have no energy left over to attend a house party where a new friend would be displaying purses for sale.
That done, I settled down to write. Early in the afternoon I sent the draft to my mom and dad, needing their feedback before I could post what I had written. My mother called me, tears streaming through her voice. She said, "Release it."
So I did. I wept throughout most of the writing of that story. I wept the most at the last few paragraphs. After posting it, I had to go back again and again to reread it and each time a healing grief would wash over me and I would be in tears.
By the end of the night, I had released all the grief and was left with an abiding sense of completeness. I know now that I'm going to put all my stories into words and release them. I will know the right time and the right words for each. And when I am done, they will be like streamers in the wind; beautiful, symbolic and holding no more power over me.
Friday, February 6, 2009
I am always aware when I write that after I have finished writing, and have released the words into the public arena that I then lose control over them. When I am writing, the words are my own mirror and I can look inside them and see myself. But what you see when you look at the words I will never know.
Despite the fact that I must release control, I never lose sight of the fact that I am always responsible for what I write. I know full well that I am writing my own story; I get to choose how this story is told. I could make this story into a tragedy. I could make it into a hopeless drama. I could use it like a tool to drag people down or I could use it like a search light and hope that it will illuminate the darkness, even if just a little.
There are certain experiences that are common for all those who have endured sexual abuse. The first is the burden of unthinkable shame. For me, I thought this must be a normal part of life; I had no point of reference for any other experience. It penetrated every area of my life.
For example, when I was in third grade I was invited to a sleep over. This was thrilling and terrifying for me. I showed up in the evening with my dad, sleeping bag and pillow case in hand, and knocked expectantly. We waited a long time. When they answered the door, they looked quizzically at us and then chuckled good naturedly; we had arrived a day early.
Even though I returned the next night, the shame of having arrived early did not leave me for years. I wrote about it in my diary, decorated by a Precious Moments girl, in my scrawling handwriting, and then I never read it again. I could not physically look at the page. No one had teased me. Nothing bad had happened. But it was marked in my mind with shame that was almost painful to the touch.
For years I had dreams that fungus were growing out of my skin, all over my body. This was terrifying and disturbing. In the dream I would brush them off frantically but more would simply grow back up. It was as though I were contaminated from the inside out.
Another thing that marks sexual abuse survivors is anxiety. Anxiety is by its very nature illogical. It does not arise from an instinct for self preservation like fear; it is not a signal helpful for navigation. It is pervasive and destructive and unrelenting. It prevented me from raising my hand in class because I had a question about fractions. It prevented me from making phone calls, even to my friends, for fear of someone else answering.
It takes away the ability to think clearly, leading to my first boss to ask me sharply if I was dyslexic because I kept entering the numbers wrong on the cash register. Behind the counter at the bagel shop I felt like an animal in a cage, no place to hide. Every customer was terrifying. Eventually I made my way to the back, where I made the bagel dough, safe behind the closed door, just the recipes, the floured counter, the whir of the machines.
Because anxiety is illogical, it does not respond well to reasonable thinking. It did not help for me to tell myself that I had nothing to fear, that nothing bad would happen to me if I spoke up in class, if I made a mistake. The only way to handle anxiety is to face the fear over and over and over again until it wears off. It is difficult to convey the kind of courage this takes.
Or the time. I have been more than ten years wearing down my anxiety; I went from huddling in my parent's house on the couch, script in hand, trying to find the courage to pick up the handset of the phone, to running the secured unit in large organisation, with twenty plus employees and thirty residents all under my care; I never loss the marvel of the fact that without fear my hand could reach out, almost arrogantly, elegantly even, and pick up the phone.
When I was fifteen years old, my mother collasped into darkness. She lay, it seemed, barely alive in her darkened bedroom for an entire year, moldering away. On the infrequent times when she rose from the bed, she looked ravaged, her face pasty, her eyes dull and glazed. The rest of the house turned dark and cold, the linoleum floors grimed and gritty; my father fled the house.
My mother had gone down into the darkness of her own memories and it was a journey she could not avoid and one that she could not take the rest of us on. We were all of us cut adrift. It started one morning when she woke to a voice, the small voice of a very little girl.
"Someone hurt me," she whispered into my mother's ear.
And it had been so many, many years and my mother had built up so many defenses against ever hearing this story that she did not recognize her own voice. And she resisted at first, but the memories came back, each one a bitter blow, each one rocking her to the core of who she was, each one tearing away the innocence she thought she had possessed.
All her years of nightmares about bears chasing her through the house and toilets overflowing with filth, with no doors or no locks, all of them came true in the most brutal way. She was not a virgin, she had been raped as a three year old. She had not been safe in her own house. She had been preyed upon repeatedly, in rooms and in the bathroom in the cellar with no lock. She had turned for help and been verbally abused for even suggesting the things that were happening to her. Worst of all, the deal she had made with the devil, to stay silent and endure in return for her sibling's safety had been for nothing; he had preyed on them all.
In fact, this man was like a pestilance that raged through my entire extended family; but those are not my stories to tell.
By the time my mother was able to acknowledge her own voice, it was too late for me. When I was seven or eight, I remember going up the hill to visit him. I choose to. This stuns me even to this day, that I willingly went to visit him. But such is the bitter and terrible edge of the sword, the one that divides the nightmares from the daylight hours, the one that allowed me to grow up with the damage stuffed out of sight, but that left me wide open to my enemy.
I remember going to visit him but I do not remember returning; how I left, when I left is not an accessible memory. But this time, afterward, I remembered how the abuse began. It lingered in my mind and a few years later when my mother asked me if anything had ever happened to me, anything that felt wrong or bad, this memory leaped to mind, like an x on a map, it was a flag of something.
When I told her of this, her own memories were still buried. She could have turned me aside, she could have treated me the same way she had been treated as a small girl. She did not; she leaped to action. I was banned from ever seeing him again. We no longer visited, they were no longer welcome in our house; my mother did everything she knew to protect me.
This created shock waves through her family and throughout our church. My great uncle was considered a prayer warrior and a pillar of his church. It was only years later that he was asked to leave, after he brought a butcher knife to church with him and went on sharpening it during the service.
My mother was considered a liar and many of her extended family members refused to speak with her. She took the heat for this, I don't remember feeling any. She never doubted me once, despite what it cost her.
It was not until I twenty seven years old that I was forced to face my own damages. I was forced to because I was running out of the energy to keep my defenses up against them. It takes incredible amounts of energy to not remember something, it does incredible internal damage. After a while, the weight of this wore me down.
I remember talking on the phone with my father and he asked me what was preventing me from going to therapy and I broke down into tears at the same moment I began to speak; I was afraid of falling apart, like Humpty Dumpty, unable to be put back together again.
It is a ridiculous thought, that people who go to therapy are weak. No one will ever know the kind of courage it takes to face one's own personal darkness. My first therapy session I was terrified the entire time. As I told my story, I felt the weight upon weight of it, the chaos.
My therapist carefully and slowly prepared me for what is called trauma therapy. She told me the work we would be doing would take a long time. She told me it would take courage and energy and that I would have to take very good care of myself throughout.
There came the moment when my therapist asked me, very quietly, if I thought there was a part of myself that wanted to speak. It was very quiet and dim in the room; it was a very comfortable, with a deep couch and lamps, a roll top desk in one corner. It was a small room with no windows, the walls painted a soft gold.
In the quiet of the room, at her question, I felt the chill of goosebumps run down my arms, I felt the hair on the back of my neck go up. I felt eyes open up deep inside me, eyes dark and impenetrable. Terror washed over me. I could only nod, electrified.
But I could not and would not speak in that therapy session. However, in the week that followed, I felt the weight of this new awareness and I was terrified of myself. I did not want to hear what I would say. I was terrified of my own unrelenting rage.
Years ago I had seen that horror movie, "The Ring." In it, there is an image of this dead girl coming crawling up out of a well. Her body is disjointed, she clings to the wall like a spider, with deadly and disturbing speed she comes crawling up the slimed stones, legs reaching over her shoulders, her hair obscuring her face.
I felt as though this girl was inside me and I did not want to meet her. I felt that if I released myself, I would not survive. It was with great relief that I came in for my next therapy session. My therapist immediately told me I should not watch any more horror movies.
Furthermore, she explained that I should not allow myself to relate to myself as though I were the girl in The Ring. That part of myself was not evil but because this part of myself had carried the abuse she had become saturated with the feelings that the abuse had caused. I would have to separate the feelings from the girl and release myself from the darkness.
She told me instead to realize that what felt like a daemon girl was actually a part of myself that had sacrificed herself for the whole, she had willingly chose to be shut up in a small, dark place with the abuse alive inside her so that I could grow up as normally as possible. Now it was approaching the time for her to come out and to let go her burden but first I would have to be strong enough to survive the backlash of it.
She explained to me a model of thinking called Internal Family Systems, which describes how any one person can have different parts to their personality. For example, she explained that a different part of her personality came out at work than at home, a different one with friends, etc. This was natural and healthy and just a part of being human.
But when a person has been subject to severe trauma, the personality takes on rigid roles to contain and survive the shock and the aftermath. Parts of me had guarded my mind from the truth for so long that it would take time to no longer respond in that way.
She was careful to explain that this was not in anyway indicative of multiple personality syndrome, though there were times throughout the two years of therapy when I seriously wondered. It was not fun to even wonder if I was that broken.
I think I would have been unable to deal with this had my mother not gone before me. Her therapy had progessed along the same lines and what she had suffered was so destructive that many of her memories were viewed with co-consciousness; that is, she was outside her own body, floating above and looking down, feeling great sorrow over what was happening to the little girl far below her.
It is hard to imagine the kind of pain that my mother was going through as she went with me throughout this journey. Despite the unthinkable horror and pain that my mother must have felt, she never once withdrew from me or my experience; I knew at all times that she was there for me, she would not turn away from one bit of my story.
At one point, she flew out to be with me. I will never forget sitting on the couch while she held me in her arms, feeling her body shake with the force of her sobbing.
Part of preparing to hear my own story was my therapst explaining the specific form of trauma therapy that she would use, called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I have cut and paste a paragraph or two from this site; it describes better than I could how it worked.
"When we are exposed to overwhelming events, our brain is unable to process them.
The distressing thoughts, feelings, images, and body sensations are memorized, becoming locked up in our nervous system, to be triggered over and over as we are exposed to anything that reminds us of what happened...
For over 20 years, people around the world have used EMDR to process symptoms of traumatic stress (PTSD) into more adaptive ways of being.
Clients use EMDR to engage the brain's innate healing ability:
1. integrating the brain's two very different hemispheres,
2. unblocking dysfunctionally stored negative thoughts, feelings, images, and body sesnsations,
3. and reprocessing them into more adaptive ways of being.
The result is accelerated insight, resolution, and genuine healing."
My therapist and I did a trial run; I was to bring to mind something distressing but that had nothing to do with the abuse. I was to let all those feelings come over me and to state aloud the conclusions I had drawn about myself; that I was worthless, shameful, helpless, hopeless.
She then asked me to go back to the memory and reprocess those conclusions, to tell myself a different way to believe. I told myself I was full of potential and courageous even to get out of the car, that in a few years I would become known for my ability to handle responsibility, my excellent follow through and problem solving skills. Then we went back to the memory again and my feelings of shame, worthlessness and hopelessness were measurable decreased.
This was the process we would be using over and over again in the coming months. Even in the trial run, in the midst of a memory removed far in time and in distance from the abuse, I felt the whistling cold wind coming from a long, deep tunnel just at my feet; the memory went down deep into the dark; I told my therapist this and she said not to go down there, we would go down there when I was ready.
The first time we did this, my therapst told me to view the memories as though from the windows of a train; I wasn't there anymore, I was just watching, to let the memories fly past me, not to hold on to them. My body was physically twitching in terror, I felt the muscles in my face spasm in horror, but the images I saw were disappointingly unclear. Most of the time I didn't even know what I was seeing; they were like broken shards of mirror, all reflecting a small piece of the large picture.
It took me a while to realize that I was expecting to see them as though it were a movie and I were looking at a screen. Of course I wouldn't remember them like that, I would remember them from the stand point of the victim; I would be looking up from a prone position, or my face would be stuffed into a pillow or bedcase, or it would be physically too dark to see anything in the room.
The memories were further obscured by the fact that I had been three when the abuse had started, I knew this because one of the few things I ever saw clearly were a tiny pair of big girl panties, cheerfully patterned and in a strange relationship to myself in the memory. Finally, the memories were obscured by the fact that I had absolutely no reference point for what was happening to me and no words.
I sat in my therapist's office mute and stunned. I was alone in the dark with the unthinkable. I wanted my mother, my father; I didn't know how to find them, I was unable to call out to them. My therapist told me to talk to the little girl and tell her that is was all over and she wasn't alone anymore. I was to take the little girl out of the dark room and make a safe place for her stay.
In my mind, I built a room with no windows and no doors, all the walls were padded with carpet. There was no bed because beds were not safe places to be. She slept in a corner with pillows and bedding bunched up. There was a doll house, but mostly it was empty, clean carpet and quietness.
My therapist did not allow me to process more than one memory per session. Besides, sometimes more than one session was required to process even one of them. I had to see these memories again and again, until I could look at them without fear, until I was released from their hold over me.
During this time my regular life went on. I met what seemed to be a nice guy on eharmony and eventually moved down to the city to live with him; I lived in a large and sunny house in a very upscale neighborhood, I was taking on more responsibility at work. I paid my bills, went shopping, went out to eat.
Sometimes I would get flashbacks during my day to day life, I dreaded these. Once it happened when we were up in the mountains, at a sky resort. I had finished brushing my teeth when I suddenly felt as though something were jammed down my mouth and throat. Immediately I wanted to vomit but I couldn't and I couldn't let myself come to the obvious conclusion of what I was experiencing. I put both hands on the sink and leaned forward, I told myself I absolutely could not have this memory right here, right now; I couldn't take care of myself under the present circumstances.
I made it until my next session; I was driving more than an hour to still see my same therapist. When we went back to the memory, it exploded onto me with a vividness that was physical, I literally smelled. I didn't just remember what he smelled like, in the dim quietness of the room, I physically smelled the rank odor of my abuser; that is how tightly wound up and preserved that memory had been, locked away so tightly that unlocking it was like opening a jar of rotten mayonnaise.
Another time I was at the symphony. The music had lulled me into a sense of perfect peace and contentment and as I sat listening, the shadows across from me suddenly became a room and the door opened and in the light I could see a figure. Terror and helplessness washed over me. This time I was more prepared.
I physically looked away and down. I told myself that I was no longer in that room, that I was right here, right now at the symphany, I looked at my own hands with the thin twist of silver on one finger. I told myself that I had grown up, that I lived in a beautiful house, that I wore a timeless and expensive suit from Ann Taylor and that when the symphany was over, I would go home.
I told myself that in fact, he had not won. I had survived and he couldn't drag me down anymore. That little girl had taken the worst that he could dish out and had grown up into someone strong, elegant and full of light. I was free to choose who I was; he did not define me.
I no longer dream that spores of filth are growing out of my own skin; I no longer dream, as my mother did before me, of long, unending bathrooms full of clogged toilets, some on platforms, without walls or doors, the filth overflowing the floors.
It may be that at some point in my life I will have to go back and revisit the memories, perhaps more will come to light. My therapist explained that this is very probable, but that it is the rythm of life to break from this work for years and then return to it when the time was right. She encouraged me to let myself do this as well.
When my therapy sessions turned into small talk, I knew it was time to let that part of my life go. By then I had recognized the abuse patterns within my relationship at the time, and had found the courage to end it; not abruptly, but with thought and self awareness and then I had the courage and confidence to step out into life on my own.
I write my story not only to experience freedom from it, but also because if there is a chance that there is even one little girl out there lost in the dark, I want you to know that is it possible for you to put your burden down now. You don't have to keep on carrying the weight of atrocities.
You have already survived and now you can walk out into the light.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Keith was stuck on his tank in the desert in CA; someone ahead of him in the line had run over a mine (not a real one, of course) and so the entire convoy had stopped. Consequently, he had a lot of time to talk with me and as my husband's love language is Chevrolet, it's not surprising that this is the story he told me.
He had made an appointment to go up and see a man about a truck. It was time, he had decided, to get a new truck and not just any truck, the truck he would keep for the rest of his life. He approached this undertaking with the same attention to detail and bullheaded determination that he lends to any of his projects and had called the dealership at least a week in advance to let them know he was coming and what vehicle he was interested in.
The day arrived and he headed off. However, when he got to the dealership the truck wouldn't start. Salesmen scurried around, looking for cables, for other trucks to show him. He asked if they knew of another Chevy dealership in town.
They of course, said no. He went across the road to the Dodge dealership and just for the hell of it, asked them. It turned out that there was another Chevy dealership and just across town.
As soon as he got there, he saw her. He knew it right away, that was his truck. She was up on a platform, huge and black and had everything he was looking for; a moon roof, leather seats, a diesel engine, just to name a few accessories. Ominously, there appeared to be a couple wandering close to his truck, he parked quickly and strode over to them.
"This is my truck," he declared, leaning against the door with arms crossed. "The salesman is off doing paperwork."
To me, as he was telling the story, he confessed in his soft mid-American accent, "I lied to them straight up, Hon. But I couldn't let them get my truck...")
The first time I drove the thing, I was terrified.
"You look good driving my truck," he drawled lazily, watching me. "I could get used to this."
We made it there and back again and Keith encouraged me to drive it all the way into the garage.
"No, no!" I cried out in terror. "I can't; if I wreck or even just dent this truck...""
You'll be fine," he said soothingly. "You just listen to me, I'll tell you exactly what to do."
He did; he was very good at giving directions and I didn't even bother to check my mirrors. I simply listened to each instruction he gave, and lo and behold, I found the truck safely parked in the narrow space between the work truck and the right hand wall.
"Careful opening that door," he cautioned. "You don't want to hit the Ranger."
With great caution, I cracked the door and attempted to squeeze through the gap, my purse and heels clutched up. I was still struggling with this by the time he had come around to my side of the truck.
"Ya little cutie!" simply burst out of him, in a great rush of tenderness and he strode over, opened the door wide and lifted me out into his arms. With one hand he closed the door and with the other carried me, purse and shoes out into the clear space by the tailgate and set me carefully down, still chuckling.
When we went to Indiana on block leave, I drove the truck a great deal. Mainly because the combination of block leave with high school friends led to one long, beer party that simply moved from house to house and I was always the designated driver.
The roads in southern Indiana are twisty and narrow, the land beautiful and reminiscent of upstate New York, only the houses and farms so well kept and orderly, evidence of the strong German heritage there. Beautiful roads, but not conducive to stress free driving, especially with such a large and cherished vehicle.
At one point I was carefully navigating the route to Bubba's house...yes, he is called Bubba. I need say no more about this; everything that you can infer from his name is true...but I digress; on the way to his house I was driving extremely slowly and there was a scooter behind me that was looking more and more fed up with me.
"We are about to be passed by a scooter," said Dirkle, from the back seat in a dry voice. (Yes, Dirkle. Yes, exactly like that.)
"Honey," Keith said, his voice a little amused. "You can go faster than twenty five miles an hour on this road."
"Stay sober and you can drive, it's that simple," I shot back at him, which made him laugh aloud, his eyes crinkled. He said nothing more; he knew he was got.
Also, we frequently would get into arguments stemming from my not instantaneously responding to his instructions.
"This is not your tank and I am not your driver!" I have snapped at him on many an occasion.
His uncle still owns the family farm, the fourth generation to do so. The original homestead was burned down by native Americans and rebuilt by his great great grandfather who had come over from German to find a new life.
By now only the barn stands, though the fields were covered in the rippling green of corn rows; rented out to the neighbors. High up on one of the hills is the family deer camp, which Keith helped build and we spent some long and lazy hours up there with his uncle, looking over the orchard and gardens, the open fire pit and the sunny front porch.
Coming back, I was turning off the driveway onto the main road, looking both ways, and cautious as usual. Keith was on the phone. I spotted a car in the distance and decided I had more than enough time to pull out. However, under the pressure of making it in time, I turned the truck too sharply to the right.
Keith barked something out to me, but it didn't register that he was talking to me and so I didn't listen; the back wheels of the truck jolted down into the ditch and back up again with a sickening lurch and Keith swore, shut off the cell phone.
"I told you to pull straight out!" he cried. "You could have bent the axle! You can't just turn like that, this truck is way too long!"
"I didn't realize you were talking to me!" I cried, "You were on the phone."
"Honey," he said with heavily, "I'm always on the radio; I can multitask."
"Well, I can't!" I protested. We drove along in silence for a little while; I was focused on the road, my anxiety level miserably high.
"You little kitten, you're all nervous now, aren't you?" relented Keith with gentle amusement.
"Yes!" I burst out, resentful and angry. "If I dent this thing, or cause any kind of damage at all, you would never forgive me!"
"Ah Hon!" he drawled, contrite. "I love this truck, Sweetie, but it's just a pickup; I can always get a new one. I can't ever replace you."
I looked over at him in awe. Later that night we ate dinner at his uncle's tidy and prosperous ranch in town. We sat out on the covered porch, the men drank highballs and we watched the twilight come settling over the back gardens.
Keith told the story of pulling out of the driveway and looked over at me. "And then what did I say?" he prompted me, his eyes twinkling.
I considered him; he had a cocktail in one hand, his booted feet firmly planted on the flagstones, his whole posture lazy and content.
"You said it was just a pickup," I repeated, still in wonder at this statement.
A stunned silence fell over the little group, a significant look passed between our two hosts. I'm sure they were not too surprised to learn of our marriage a few weeks later.