A Life Not Lived

I think of my son, Carter, as a whisper. A glimpse of something in the wind that my mind, in the grand scheme of life, barely got a chance to capture. I have to paint his life in my head, every year, a portrait of who he might be.

I picture him as dirty blonde. I don’t know why. In my memories, his hair after he was born is gray, almost translucent. And my hair is brown. B’s was brown. But I picture Carter’s as dark blonde. For the longest time, I pictured him wearing suspenders, one side on properly and one dropped off the shoulder just so. I think I wore suspenders as a kid. Maybe. Or I just wanted to. When he would have been younger, I’d picture him finger painting. Napping. Eating graham crackers. Now I picture him as he’d be, nine years old. Maybe playing sports. Soccer? Soccer seems safe, so far as sports go. Musically inclined, a trait I’d be much more likely to encourage.

I picture Carter as my everything. My entire world. I think I’ve been looking for him, looking to fill that hole, for all this time. I tell my therapist that I want kids, desperately. There is nothing I want more. I tell my therapist I will never have kids. I don’t want the kind of relationship that creates them. I’m not even looking. She tells me to put my big girl pants on and get to a point where I can foster. Adopt. I look this up and I know that I don’t qualify, that she is hoping and believing in something for me that I will never hope nor believe in for myself. She tells me that the point of all our work is so that I WILL qualify someday. I don’t argue. Can’t.

It hurts sometimes to think about Carter, to realize that I’m getting older and I could be nearing the end of that time of my life. I’m just a girl with two unsustainable careers who goes home at night and reads and plays video games and watches tv because that life she thought she’d have, married with kids, is unattainable. It is harder this year, as I watch the people around me procreate, as I realize it’s been almost ten years and I am really the only one who remembers him. There were no music lessons, no sports. No snacks. No naps. No finger paints. That is all in my head. He lived a life not remembered. And this year, the ninth year, I wish more than anything that I could change that. Because it hurts more than anything.

Carter’s whole life can be summarized by the few minutes I got to hold him. I can see it in photos, the way his fingers curl around mine, the way he fit just right in my arms. The way his eyes never opened, but I knew, just knew, that they were like mine. He was beautiful, and I’m the only one who knew him. And I know that even though he was gone by the time he rested in my arms, he knew he was loved. I know he knows it still.

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Life Update

One year ago today I had a day that changed the course of my life. I mean, if we’re being real, I’ve had one hell of a YEAR. But we aren’t talking about that today. We’re talking about a dog.

One year ago, I was mauled by a client’s dog. Really no other way to put that. You can’t make being used as a dog chew toy sound nice. And quite honestly, as angry as I was at the rescue, it was largely my fault. I touched the big scary crate the dog broke out of. I should not have done that; I should not have gone to where the dog broke out of. I know that now. I didn’t then.

I walked away that day with a torn up coat, shredded jeans, a bloody leg and back, and a massively bruised dignity. It’s still bruised. I don’t like when dogs I don’t know run at me. I try to avoid situations where there’s potential for a bite to occur. I used to have a passion for working with dogs labeled aggressive and I don’t have that anymore.

But what I will say for that day is that it woke me up. The idea that that dog had me so firmly I could have died if I hadn’t gotten out of the apartment…it was the catalyst to many things.

I was wallowing in the past. So I got a brilliant therapist who I have an amazing rapport with. I’ve done things with her that I never would have thought possible.

I was fully immersing myself in a career that wasn’t going to get me anywhere further. So I began to write, in earnest. More than I’ve ever written, which says a lot. I sent out essays. I got published a few times. I finished a second book. I’ve been more honest in my writing, but scared to share that here.

I was not happy with my life. So I began to change it. And I’m still not happy with it, but I am making strides towards where I’d like to be.

I have new goals now. I’d like to publish more. I’d like to change my career slightly. Own my own business maybe. Still with dogs, but more training. I’m most interested in service dogs right now, specifically psychiatric service animals. The real kind, not the fake I want to bring my dog on a plane kind. I might not know how to start a business completely on my own, but what I learned this year is that I can, if I so choose.

I came to New York City for grad school, and I love this city more than anything. I have no desire to leave it. But grad school cost me a huge portion of myself at a time when I’d barely begun to get to know who I truly was. I forgot what I was really all about. And I’m finding that out again. I’m a writer first. An activist. A speaker, even though it scares the shit out of me. I love dogs. I want to help people.

I want to do for other people what’s been done for me.

So one year ago, I got mauled by a dog. And I woke up.

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I See You. I Believe You. I’m With You.

I, like so many, have been glued to my screens following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony at today’s Senate hearing. I don’t think I need to sum up the details of the case; if you haven’t heard, you haven’t been paying attention–and shame on you for that. Ford’s testimony today and her leveraging a sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is important for so many reasons.

I sat down on my bed and I watched Ford go through everything that happened to her thirty plus years ago. She was strong and consistent and an amazing witness. But it was one of her first statements that stuck with me: “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified.”

Terrified. But in four hours of questioning, Ford did not stumble at all. She was steady and sure. She did not ask for what happened to her so many years ago. She did not ask to have to relive the nightmare in front of the entire world. She certainly did not ask to be an example to others. But as she sat before that committee, in her strength, she is. And today, she is my hero.

If this brave woman can come forward and tell the entire world, because the world is watching, about this horrible thing that happened to her, that means the rest of us can too. The fact of the matter is, we live in a world now where the President of the United States does not support women. Where survivors are mocked, not believed, accused of having faulty memories. This sort of response is why so many do not report sexual assault. THIS sort of response creates a culture where sexual assault is okay. A lack of report does not negate the horror of assault. Survivors do not report for so many reasons–fear, shame, guilt, to name a few–but that does not make what happened to them any less real.

I think it’s important to remember on a day like today, as we look to Dr. Ford, that we also live in a world now where survivors are banding together, stronger together, and saying that this is not okay. Much of the world stopped today to watch this hearing. Work stopped. School stopped. People watched on the train, in waiting rooms, in their cars at the side of the highway. And that says something.

We are watching. We are listening. We are still here, and you will hear us. None of this is okay.

It’s time now to do more than just say words. It’s time to stand up. To do something. To believe. And so, Dr. Ford, I see you. I believe you. I’m with you. I was raped, and I can only wish I was as brave as you are. You are not alone. Your fellow survivors are standing with you.

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The Chair

I threw the chair first.

I’m not proud of that fact. But it is. A fact.

I remember precisely how the fight started. I was 200 miles away from home doing a store changeover, I didn’t mind the traveling. My hotel room was great. I got a king size bed all to myself, and there was even a jacuzzi. When I got the phone call, I was standing in the battery section fixing a merchandise diagram to the empty gondola with masking tape.

“S wants me to travel with him,” he told me before I could even say hi. No ‘I love you/I miss you/hi.’ Just ‘S wants me to travel with him.’

I fingered a torn package of Energizer AAs. “Where to?”

“On their tour! It sounds exciting, right?”

“That’s one word for it.” It didn’t occur to me as I replied that maybe he needed to leave home for a while just as badly as I did. That maybe he too sometimes pretended he was single.

“We’d be gone for a year. Maybe two. All over the country. I’ve never travelled. I’ve never seen anything.” His words were rushed, almost frantic in their excitement.

“What would I do?”

He was quiet. I knew then he hadn’t thought of me at all. After a minute he said, “You don’t want me to go.” It wasn’t a question.

I hung up on him. I didn’t know what to say without being angry.

I finished the merchandising job I was on a few days later and headed back home. It was a Friday night; where else would he be but his parents house? The family was watching a movie in the basement when I came in, sat on the stairs. No one said anything to me at all. I knew what that meant. If I couldn’t be happy for him, couldn’t celebrate his success, I didn’t matter.

After the movie was over, he walked up the stairs and into the kitchen, gestured for me to follow. And I did, because he was what I had.

“I told S I couldn’t go.” He sat down in one of the dining chairs and looked up with the expectation I’d do the same. But I didn’t. Couldn’t.

“You want to leave me that badly?”

“It isn’t–”

“Stop!” I interrupted with a double slap down on the table. “Just stop! Neither one of us is happy and you know it.”

“You aren’t happy?” He stood up, leaned towards me as he pressed both palms flat against the table in a match to my posture. “How long have you not been happy?”

I just shook my head. “You…You didn’t even think of me.”

He grabbed my arm then, his fingers sinking into the tender flesh, pulled me towards him until we were eye to eye. “I’m not happy either.”

I looked down to the basement. They weren’t coming. The “family.”

“You’re hurting me!” I tried to pull my arm back, but his grip only latched on tighter.

“You hurt me when you wouldn’t let me follow my dream.”

His dream? He had never once told me he wanted to travel with a band, not in the entire time I knew him.

“You stole mine,” I whispered before I realized what I was saying.

I had had dreams. I’d dreamed of owning a house with a white picket fence, of having a little boy and little girl, of owning a golden retriever, of not having to work so hard any longer in a job that I hated. I’d dreamed of being loved, of loving back. I’d dreamed of a happy marriage, a storybook marriage. I had had dreams. But I settled. I settled on him, and I gave those dreams away.

When he gave up his grip on my arm and slapped me, I stomped on his foot, in tears. And then I threw the chair, hard, right at his chest, and I wished that he would die.

I threw the chair first. Not him. And this memory, this time, is the one I always forget–because it was my fault. Because I went first. And because, I believe, it led me to believe I deserved everything that followed.

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The Next Woman

Dear A,

You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’ve looked you up online, of course. Who wouldn’t in my position? I wondered what it was about you. Were you prettier? Smarter? Better in some way I couldn’t see? Or was it that you were available? I’m not. Not anymore.

I wonder if you’ve looked me up too. I would, in your position. I’d want to know the crazy I came after if I was you. But note, I’m not crazy. He just likes to think I am.

You’re not either.

I watched an episode of a tv show last week where a woman had to deal with the fact that her rapist raped another woman after she didn’t report him. Silence is more comfortable, sure, but it comes with its own set of ramifications and that is one. You don’t know who will come after you. You don’t know who else will get hurt.

I didn’t think about the possibility of you at all. Not until I saw you that day in Subway so many years ago, holding his hand, waiting in line to get a sandwich like it was any other day. I realized then what I had done. I’d spent my entire life thinking about others before myself, but I never thought about you. And I’m sorry.

I considered emailing you. It would have been easy, what with your contact info on the website, to send you a message and tell you to drop his hand. To run. Now. I never did. It’s a few years later now and I saw this tv show and watched this character cry for the thing she did that was both her fault and not at all her fault in the same breath. And I wanted to cry for you. But I didn’t, because secretly I’m glad it’s not me. And I’m sorry for that too.

See, I have power now. I didn’t want to give that up. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I hope you understand. I didn’t set out to hurt you. I honestly just never considered you.

Stay safe. Watch for the ticks. When he pushes his glasses up his nose and turns away for a beat before suddenly turning back. When he sits back in his desk chair and crosses his arms over his chest by spinning around. When he leans against the doorframe/wall/counter just a hair too close to you so that you feel his breath on your neck. When he takes one too many beats to stare out the window. When you ask him a question and he closes his eyes before answering. Watch for these things. Watch for more things, because I’ve begun the process of forgetting and I know there are more.

If he ever brings you flowers, writes you a sappy love note in the most ridiculously cheesy romantic card ever, think twice about why.

And remember that this is him. Always him, and never you.

Never apologize.

And please tell him I’m still writing, and I’m coming for him.

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The Quiet Game

I started playing the quiet game when I was really young. I remember this one way I used to play where I would ride my bike up and down the sidewalk in front of my grandma’s apartment building and pretend the bike was a horse. The handlebars were the reins; the seat was the saddle. I’d had my first taste of riding real horses that summer I think, and I was greatly disappointed I couldn’t ride them every single day. So I made it work with what I had.

The point of the quiet game was, obviously, to be quiet. It was a silent purple and pink horse, probably a unicorn based off my knowledge of my obsessions at that age. I was a silent rider.

There were other variations of the quiet game. Sometimes I made up imaginary friends as I lay on my bed with hands on my chest and my eyes closed in the posture of a corpse, characters with awful lives that I would then write stories about. Sometimes I played the organ with headphones in and mouthed the words to songs. Most of the time I just read books.

I taught myself to talk when necessary, and it was hard because I wanted to talk all the time back then. But it wasn’t always right. That was a painful lesson to learn. There were some things not meant to be spoken out loud. I had to swallow them. I had to be quiet.

The quiet game proved useful in adulthood. Our marriage counselor told us to “never let the sun set” on our anger, so every night my then-husband would spend his traditional twenty minutes in the bathroom doing skincare and teeth cleaning before getting into bed and waiting, quietly. He too played the quiet game, only he played it differently. He played with expectations. I played for protection.

“I’m sorry,” I told him automatically, every single night. I knew what he wanted. I knew what would happen if I didn’t say it.

“Good,” he would smile, nodding his approval as we clasped hands resting on the mattress between us. The same routine every night before bed.

I never knew though what I was saying sorry for. I just knew that I was. Sorry. Or rather, that I was supposed to be.

I went to that other place in my head, to that little girl riding the bike-pony, that little girl playing organ and mouthing the words while everyone slept, that little girl who dreamed up fictional characters just to solve someone’s problems, even if those problems were only on the page and not in real life. I became that woman who would do anything to be quiet and I stayed her, because I had so damn much to say and none of it could ever be said.

There was so much I never said to him, so much that wasn’t appropriate to speak out loud, not then. Why was I always the one to say sorry? Why did he never apologize? What exactly was it that I was so sorry for, every night? Why was I automatically less than he was? Why did he claim so hard to follow The Bible in public but yet he never prayed a single time in private the entire duration of our marriage? How could he claim to be ruling me, controlling me, biblically when he never, ever prayed? What kind of person was he?

What kind of person was I for staying quiet, for playing the game, for never saying a word?

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The Sunset

I like the seat on the far end of the train car. Against the wall to the next car. Under the AC vent that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I treasure the times it does, especially when the residue of a long work day covers my skin in disgusting sweat. Sometimes, I even nap on the train. Sometimes, I read. Mostly, I write. It doesn’t feel like I spend that long on the train, even though it’s sometimes over an hour. I enjoy having the option to do what I want. I enjoy the commute home. I didn’t always.

When I was still married and lived in Wisconsin, I would drive an hour each way to work every day on dark country roads just to come home and cook dinner after a twelve hour day and cater to a husband that wasn’t even nice to me. I just wanted to go home some days and relax. He frowned upon that.

We were sitting on the couch one time after a fight. The why of the fight was not important. It was the after that was important, the two words I uttered. “Screw. You.”

I read an essay once where the narrator said her husband described his handiwork on her face as a sunset. A beautiful sunset.

“Screw. You,” I told him as I flung our single black kitty cat pot holder at his head.

“Screw YOU,” he volleyed back as his fingers dug into my upper arm.

And then later on the couch, in my pajama tank top and shorts while some ridiculously over-volumed action movie played in the background, he stared at my arm and he said it looked like a sunset. I never forgot that. I never forgot those words. I never forgot the look on his face as he told me I was beautiful, that I would always be his beautiful sunset. He did not say sorry. Neither did I.

She left her husband, the narrator in the essay. And I left mine too. Sometimes you do what you have to do, regardless of how the other person feels. Sometimes the sun has to set in one place in order to rise elsewhere.

My therapist told me recently that his voice is the tape that plays inside my head. The words there used to be in his voice, but they played so often, over and over again, on an endless loop, that now they’re in my voice. Now I tell myself that I am everything he saw in me. But I have worked hard to change this about myself. I have worked hard to become someone else. It is a different kind of sunset. It is the better kind of sunset.

The Leaving

The night I left the husband, I sat in the Walmart parking lot, slid my ring off my left hand, and dropped it into the car cup holder that was slick with spilled energy drink. It was an act of freedom, in a way. I had been bound for years by something I didn’t understand. We didn’t care for each other. Not really. When we said our vows, we quoted the Bible verse about love being eternal. Love was not eternal. Love was not real. Love was a piece of shit.

The next day at work, I punched the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom so hard that it came off the wall and sliced my hand open from ring finger to wrist. I told my coworkers it had fallen and I’d tried to catch it; this seemed like the right thing to say. The cut was so deep I should have gotten stitches, but I didn’t. I wanted to see it, the blood. I wanted to see that reflection of my pain. I wanted to see that punishment, the sentence handed down by the universe for forgetting my vows and removing my wedding ring. I wondered if he’d taken his off yet. I wondered when he would.

I’ve worn no rings since on either hand. Some days, like today, I’ll be walking and the sun will catch the aged scar, a few inches long and curdled white, and I’ll remember how much it bled. How much paper towel it took to stop the bleeding. That was the real act of freedom. The bleeding. I’ll look at the scar and I’ll think about how much my heart bled. How much effort and work and writing and pushing myself it took to stop that bleeding. How he made me feel worthless. How I needed to let that go.

I’m glad to carry this scar. I pawned my ring the first year I was in the city to pay my rent. I wasn’t sad. My heart didn’t bleed. That wound was already scarred.

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Life Update

Greetings!

I’ve largely abandoned this blog lately, but I haven’t forgotten it. I’ve been having a hard time with what to write and what to put in here. It’s difficult to get things together for publication, and I’m such a perfectionist that anything I write is eventually up for a shot at the great circuit. And anything published here cannot be published elsewhere. Truth be told, I am writing now more than I’ve written in a long time. It genuinely isn’t that I’ve forgotten y’all. It’s that my work is unfortunately elsewhere in the writing realm.

I have a new therapist named Lisa. She’s pretty fucking amazing. She’s really been encouraging me on the writing front, so you can blame her for my absence. This post, the winner of the most honest I have ever been in a blog award, was because of her. I’ve never had this kind of relationship with a therapist before. Literally every detail of my life is an open book when we talk; she knows more about me and the deep recesses of my brain than anyone ever has. And by talk, I mean write. Lisa is the most important person in my life right now, but we have never even met–and I’m okay with that (for now, anyway). It is easier to be open in writing than it is in person, at least for me.

Why did I decide to start therapy again, you ask? Couple reasons. One, I got bit super badly by a dog. Read about that here. And here. It freaked me out tremendously. The bite was bad; the attack was bad. I had a hard time working after that, especially with new dogs. Two, I’ve been told I need to be more reflective in my writing. Adult me and child me need to have some conversations. Soooooo enter Lisa. If you live in NYC and you want to start a therapy relationship in writing, she’s a gem.

I am still walking and training dogs. I am still working on my new book. It’s going well. There is a complete draft for the very first time. I blame Lisa for that too. We’ve been talking lately about the why behind my writing. Why this story/these story/this construction? Why am I so afraid of my own work? Why? Because the end is scary. Because I want so desperately to tell all my stories, to make people understand, but I also feel trapped by it. Ending it creates a door. I want to end it. I want to move on. I want to write MORE.

I want to be better at updating here. I say this all the time, but I really do mean it every time. I’d like to write more on my obvious themes of sexual assault, but it’s hard. I don’t know how open to be here. I don’t know what stories to share, what to tell, what y’all are willing to hear. I don’t know how honest to be. I’ve been considering starting my own website, just to have it. I’d like to create a community of sexual assault survivors, a safe place to talk, share. Hang out behind the safety of our screens. I’m also interested right now in branching more into training service dogs.

I told Lisa the other day that I just want a lot of things. A LOT of things.

All of this to say, I have not forgotten here. This blog has meant the world to me for many years, despite the lack of writing within it. Please forgive me?

Please keep reading.

Cheers, friends.

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Damaged Fruit

One of my only high school friends post-RED was a girl named Jennifer. We had more in common than I had with most people—for instance, we both liked superhero movies. And dogs. And…that was about it. I liked staying at her house because it made me feel normal, so I was perfectly happy to do whatever as long as we could hang.

She met a guy one day at the farmers market. He had a generic name that escapes me now, so we’ll call him Chuck. Jennifer wasn’t allowed to date, but she really wanted to get to know Chuck better. We were lying on her bed on our stomachs one night watching Ironman, and she said “Chuck has a friend named Chad. We could all, like, go to the movies or something and then it wouldn’t be a date but, like, a group?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Have you met this guy?”

“I mean,” she shrugged, “Chuck is fun? So Chad is too. Probably.”

I agreed to go to a movie with them the next day, my friend and her definitely not-boyfriend and his best friend. They picked us up in a big blue pickup truck, and what struck me first was how old they were. I was barely 17, but Chad was easily in his late 20s. Chuck had on a hat; I couldn’t get a read on him easily. It quickly became apparent that we weren’t actually going to a movie, but to dinner and bowling where we could separate and Chuck and Jennifer could do their own thing. Chad and I had been brought along as an excuse.

“Bye guys,” Chad said nonchalantly as they disappeared into the shadows. He sat across from me at our table in the bowling alley and fingered a french fry. “What now?”

I shrugged and tentatively reached for a fry from the basket, dunked it in ketchup. “I guess we could…bowl?”

“I hate bowling.”

“Me too,” he admitted. He took a long drink of his beer. “You want some?”

I nodded and took the green bottle from his outstretched hand. I held the liquid in my mouth for a second, the nasty weight of its flavor staining my tongue, before I swallowed it in one gulp.

“First beer?” he laughed.

I shook my head. No. It wasn’t. He wasn’t the first man to give me alcohol. I heard Jennifer laughing in the distance and I looked up to see her and Chuck attached at the lips in the farthest darkest lane of the bowling alley. He picked her up and sprung her around and then kissed her again.

“Do you wanna go outside?” The beer bottle made a hollow sound as he deposited it on the table.

“And do what?”

Chad tossed his head slightly so his greasy brown hair would get out of his face. “Sit in the truck? You don’t seem like you’re having much fun here.”

I wasn’t. “I guess?” I let him take my hand and lead me out to the parking lot, leaving the garbage all over our abandoned table.

He opened the tailgate of the truck and boosted me up before climbing in after me. “It’s a pretty night, huh?”

“Pretty?” I raised an eyebrow, but his lips were on mine before I could follow up the tease. I shifted slightly so my shoulder pushed against his chest, and we broke apart. “Hey now.”

“Too fast?”

I pictured Jennifer in the bowling alley being spung around, held, kissed. “Too slow.” I grabbed Chad’s shirt and steered him back towards me; my lips found his, tentatively at first and then more certain. Harder. I let him shove his tongue in my mouth but didn’t reciprocate, waited, analyzed, tried to find my opening. Lost in thought, I didn’t realize he was spinning me to be against the back window of the cab until I was trapped there and he was unbuttoning his pants. I broke my lips off his. “Stop.”

He kept going, his pants open, his state of readiness clearly visible.

“STOP,” I cried, louder, shoving him away.

“What? What happened?” He tried again to kiss me, but I turned my head and his lips glanced against my cheek. I pushed him off and struggled to my knees. “What the actual fuck?” He wrestled his pants back up. “Wait are you CRYING? What the fuck?”

I fumbled with the tailgate before giving up and hopping over to the ground. I touched my cheek. I was crying. When had I started doing that? I never cried. He was just another man, right? Right?

“Come on,” he called from above me, “what the fuck is this? Let’s just try again or something, don’t be dumb.”

I pulled my sweater tighter around me and walked across the parking lot, turned onto the dark country highway and walked along the shoulder back to Jennifer’s house, to my car. He didn’t follow. I cried quietly, the only sound the gravel I kicked up with my shoes. I can’t, I thought. I won’t ever be able to. I’m the damaged fucking peach and I need to go back to my god damn tree.

That was the last time Jennifer and I really hung out.

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