Monthly Archives: January 2018

On Hand Holding and Being a Proper Adult

He told me once that he wanted to leave me.

I don’t remember the conversation with him itself, but I remember the aftermath, the driving down the highway doing sixty and talking on the phone to the one person I trusted to dole out Christian-ly relationship advice.

“He wants to go on tour with this guy, this singer. Run sound for him and his band. He’d be gone for at least a year, and he’s not sure he would come back.”

And I’m not sure I want him back, I thought, but did not say.

She told me to be strong for him, to be supportive, that things would work themselves out because we had a good marriage. I was afraid; who was I as a Christian wife if I did not have my Christian husband? Would that even make me a Christian at all? Or would it make me a nobody? Didn’t I need him in order to be somebody, in order to be a proper Christian and fulfill all the duties that had been placed upon me? Wasn’t I failing if he left?

She was sort of right; things didn’t suck then, but they were not great either. They were a state of neutral that had taken a lifetime to perfect, an average of the high of the marriage ceremony itself and the day he told me I could only have a dollar a day to eat on, of getting to control the remote control each night with the inference that I was a stupid idiot who would never be a good Christian adult.

I didn’t get it then. How was I supposed to be supportive when he clearly wanted to go, wanted to leave me behind in our dreary small town and live out his own dreams and desires while I wallowed as a retail manager? Why were his wants more important than mine, and why was I supposed to promote them OVER mine? We had barely been married a year at that point, and he was already giving up.

I look back on our debacle of a marriage and I want to remember the good things, because a book that is written of all the bad things will never sell. Because I beat up my readers and I give them nothing back. But I don’t remember many good things. Well, honestly, any. It is easier to remember bad things than good.

It took stepping back from Christianity, leaving organized religion completely behind, for me to realize that my wants and needs are important too. Not necessarily more important than anyone else’s. But equal. I don’t miss him. I don’t miss him telling me what to do, and I don’t miss having to DO those things. But I do miss the sense that I was a “proper” adult, a feeling I blame solely on the base Christianity sewed within me. That I’m not right if I’m not married, if I’m not serving, if I’m not under someone else. “Proper” adults are married and have kids and do not live paycheck to paycheck while they struggle to actually finish the things they have started. Quite honestly, I no longer want to be that kind of “proper,” but I have to CONSTANTLY remind myself that I am good the way I am, because the opposite is just so ingrained within me. And that scares me most of all, the fact that I actually know I can do anything. I can BE anything. I don’t need anyone else to tell me how or to hold my hand. I will hold my own hand, and I’m okay with that—and pity the person who doesn’t understand this.

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Sex and Power

My first real kiss happened when I was sixteen years old, in a dark basement coffee house by the flickering light of an ancient Coke machine. He was tall, blonde, a bit sleazy so far as high schoolers go, and he had a bit of a reputation for “getting around,” as people call it.

I did not kiss him because I liked him; no, I kissed him because I wanted to know I was capable of feeling something when I kissed a boy. But I wasn’t. I felt nothing. It wasn’t anything he did, wasn’t the atmosphere of red and white blinking lights; it was me. There was something wrong with me because I did not like that boy.

High school told me lots of conflicting things about sex:

  1. Don’t have sex. You’re too young. You need to wait until you’re married.
  2. Have sex with everyone. You only live once.
  3. Have sex when you’re ready, when YOU want to.

I opted for a cross between one and three. I did not have sex, but it wasn’t because I was too young, or not married. It was because I wasn’t ready, because I just didn’t want to. Sex was never about love for me, you see. It was a power thing, a thing that other people took from me. And once it was mine to give away, I found I wanted to keep it, just for a little while. Just to hold onto some of that power when I still felt so small.

Even once I was married, I had zero interest in giving it up. For our honeymoon, B and I made plans to go to Niagara Falls. We made a pitstop on the drive there at the Knight’s Inn in the next town over—it would take too long to drive to Canada and he wanted the sex asap after “I do.” We took their biggest, fanciest room with a giant jacuzzi tub. We absolutely could not wait to get our clothes off—him for the whole “finally gonna consummate our relationship!” Me, for the fancy tub. Sex won; I said yes because I was supposed to—not out of desire, out of obligation.

I guess that was the start of it, then, my compulsive need to keep B happy. For a beginning, it’s super cloudy when I try to remember it. My first actual, consensual sex, and I remember so little. Nothing of the actual act, not really, but many of the surrounding details:

I remember my dress was white; his mother bought it the week before when we were together at the mall. It had a zipper that ran from my neck past my butt, and she joked it would be easy for him to get me out of; I cringed.

I remember his shirt was blue and his jeans were the fancy not-denim kind. He made me unbutton them and slide them down his legs. He made me take everything off. I did what he said because I thought I was supposed to.

I remember the sheets were scratchy, cheap hotel sheets, no pattern, but my underwear had brightly colored flowers. I hadn’t cared enough about my wedding day, about this moment, to wear “sexy” underwear.

I remember I moved wrong, so he told me to just lay there. I found out two years later that he’d learned via porn. I’d learned via childhood. So in retrospect, our arrangement made sense.

I remember that the jacuzzi was amazing. It was shiny white and big enough for two people. There were two faucets and eight jets, four on each person’s side. An army of different soaps and bath salts and bubbles lined the wall in a coordinating rainbow of pastel colors. I chose the bubble one that smelled like strawberries without asking his permission, and I tipped the bottle over under the running tap. The tub filled quickly; the bubbles covered my naked body. I had to encourage him to get in; he seemed afraid of the water. When I teased him, his cheeks turned rose pink and he slipped into the tub all in a huff. I bent down to the bubbles to discovered they smelled like the hard strawberry candies I used to steal off the counter when I was a kid. I slipped down within their grasp until I was buried up to my mouth. I knew the instant we came out, he would want more sex, and I did not want to come out. He told me that I smelled like a fruity pebble and tried to nuzzle me up and out of the tub. The faucets made me picture Niagara Falls.

It didn’t even occur to me that the things I was feeling weren’t normal. I thought that if I kept doing the things I was supposed to I would eventually feel the things I was supposed to, and I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to love the man if I didn’t want to. I thought he was my only shot, and I wanted to make him happy, so I let him take my power–and I let him keep it. I didn’t understand then where it came from. I didn’t understand then that it was my choice to make.

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Less Than

He was not allowed in my apartment. Yet, the night he proposed, he baked a chicken there. And potatoes. The little ones, red, chopped up and coated in some sort of butter and garlic. His need to do the thing he wanted overrode what I wanted, and I had no way to stop him. I wasn’t even home; I’d been traveling that weekend, leading a youth retreat with his mother to the Thunderdome for some religious concert whose frontliner no longer seems important. His mother let it slip on our way back that he was there, because I mentioned wanting to take a nap after spending the weekend with so many young kids; when I expressed my discontent over his presence in my apartment, she called me ungrateful for the meal he’d provided.

“A better girlfriend would appreciate all of the effort he’s put in. Would say thank you.” Her precise words still resonate. A better girlfriend. I had tried to be that. I had. But nothing I did was enough.

The first time he threatened me has stuck with me in strange technicolor detail that floods me at such random times–when I see a flower, when I hear a song, when someone gives me a card. We were sitting on the couch in the apartment I shared with his sister, a red and yellow plaid deathtrap that I covered with a gray blanket, watching a movie. He pulled the blanket over us to have what he jokingly referred to as “happy movie time;” I said no. It was the first time I said no. It was the first for a lot of things. It somehow escalated from there, yelling and screaming and me wanting to cuss but not because I was still a good woman of God then, or so I thought. I remember the precise moment it occurred to me: You are unhappy here. Go.

So I did.

My keys were in the always empty crystal fruit bowl on the two-seater kitchen table, and I stood up and scooped them up without fanfare. I said nothing to him. He may have asked where I was going; he definitely paused the movie we had started. We hadn’t gotten to the pants-off stage of things, so all I needed was my coat and I was gliding out the door before he even knew what was happening, on an elated high because how had I never realized before that it was as simple as walking away?

I mean. It was never that simple.

He had me by the elbow before I was at the door to the parking lot, said some words about how I couldn’t go, how we would fix it, how I could change. Me. Me change. I didn’t want to change then. I opened the door and he dug in with his fingers as I stepped through, sinking through the coat like a falcon on prey.

“You can change, I promise you can.” He was so certain, so, so certain that it was me that needed to change.

God, his fingers hurt. Asshole.

We were suddenly at the car, a tornado of emotions and rage and something called love that wasn’t actually what it was named for. He threw me to the ground like I was nothing because I was nothing, so I screamed fire because it seemed like the thing to get people to come. He backed off; I got in the car and drove away as he banged the back hood and then threw himself down like a toddler in a fit. It was dark, but I still saw his shadow in the rear view. My elbow stabbed; I cried.

Fast forward a few weeks. I told myself that I loved his sister too much to leave. I didn’t know, then, what that love was. I thought I could go back to the apartment she and I shared and not be involved with him, just with her. We made a rule that he was not allowed inside, but I came home the week before Valentine’s Day and there he was, on the tattered couch, ready and waiting with the blanket and a very clearly planned agenda. I locked myself in my room. He came every night that week with gifts I had no need for–a teddy bear, roses, chocolate–and then the Phantom of the Opera tickets. It was a limited run engagement of the movie starring Emmy Rossum as Christine, and it was playing at one moviehouse in Wisconsin. Like the Phantom himself, he had banked on the fact that I wouldn’t be able to resist the music. He guessed correctly.

There were red rose petals on the seat of his Chevy when I opened the door; the car smelled of sickly sweet flowers layered over the normal blend of Axe and All Spice. He took me to dinner at Outback when we normally only went as expensive as Chili’s, and he told me over an onion blossom and then filet mignon that he was sorry for his part in things but he knew I could change. “You can be better. Then we can be better.”

It’s my fault you’re not better?

I didn’t say anything.

He paid, for everything, when before we had always split. Was he actually changing? Was this how it was supposed to be between us, a quiet storm held back by steak and movie candy? We got in the car to go home after, me quietly humming after Emmy’s haunting vocals and him clutching the wheel at ten and two. His hand slipped down to my thigh.

“So we’re together again, then?”

It was a choice, a simple yes or no in a car going nearly 70 miles per hours down the freeway, and I said yes because it seemed easier. I had to be with someone to be whole, and if not him, then who? I let his hand stay on my thigh. I let it drift. I forgot how my elbow had hurt and resolved that yes, yes I would change, because it was better this way.

I always went back, and that is how he knew he could push the envelope, he could bend the rules that I had set for our relationship. He could make an entire meal in my kitchen where he wasn’t supposed to be, and I wouldn’t like it, but I would say nothing. He knew that I would go home and let myself in and sit at the cheap Target kitchen table that he’d disguised with a fancy fringed red tablecloth topped with silver candlesticks and eat baked chicken and my favorite potatoes off of what I could only presume was his parents china set, because I owned nothing more expensive than a Goodwill plate I’d gotten for a dollar.

I wasn’t surprised when he got down on one knee the instant my too-fancy knife and fork touched down in their after-meal positions. A week and a half prior to my trip, we were sitting in his parents kitchen when he presented me with a ziplock bag filled with rings.

“Do you like any of these?” He opened the bag and unceremoniously dumped the collection onto the table. There were a plethora of choices—a simple gold band, a silver ring made of an ivy pattern, some random sparkly pieces that looked like costume jewelry. The one that stuck out to me was made of leather, a peace sign about  half an inch high that spoke to me and slid onto my finger as if it had been created for me.

“Will you marry me?” he half laughed, half joked.

“I mean, I guess?” I twirled the ring around, admiring the fit. “But you’re joking right?”

“Yeah I’d definitely get you a real ring,” he quipped.

The peace sign ring was his mother’s. To no one’s surprise, he used the size to order an engagement ring and wedding band duo, which he presented me the night he cooked me dinner.

“Am I supposed to make a speech here?” he knelt beside me at my dining table, the real ring box open and extending in my direction. He’d done a good job picking it out, the diamonds were small and just my style. I carefully took the ring from the box and slid it on; I don’t think I ever actually said yes. It seemed like taking the ring was more than enough.

B and I sat together on my ugly plaid couch and snuggled; I clutched the remote and he clutched my vagina. He had preloaded the remake of Amityville Horror into the DVD player before I arrived, and it played and I sat and I thought about my life, and I made a choice to be less than.

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