Tag Archives: beginnings

The Beginning

 

We met when I was nineteen or so. His fingers stretched over the strings of his guitar like no musician I had ever seen; his tongue glanced across his lips as he concentrated on the beat. I didn’t notice him, not at first. A bit of a diva, I was more interested in holding a microphone and singing with the church band than I was in looking for a relationship. He gave the appearance of caring more about his music than the people around him, just like his mother who played piano beside him. I’m not sure he ever looked my way. I only looked his way because his mother was our leader.

Actually, it was his sister who noticed me first. She was desperate for a best friend, and I was just lonely because I never really hung out with people. One night after rehearsal I went over to her house for dinner with her and her family. He was there, of course, with his mother and father and brother. His mother suggested that we rent a movie, and he drove us to the video store on the corner between the Shell gas station and the liquor store. I wandered the aisles as he laughed and horsed around with his siblings. They wanted me to pick something to watch, but my only real knowledge of them was that they were deeply religious. We rented something silly, something from the line of Beethoven movies with the giant St. Bernard.

It was more fun to hang out at his house than mine; I was renting a small room from a coworker at that point with a closet and a computer desk and a murphy bed that folded up into the wall during the day. It was so much fun, in fact, that when his sister invited me to move in with them while we saved to get our own apartment together, I said yes. I don’t remember how it happened, whether it was before or after I moved in, but he asked his sister for permission to take me out on a date. It was very important, he told me later, to ask for her permission, because she had claimed me first. I remember thinking that was an odd choice of phrase–“Claimed me”–but it made sense. She and I were friends before he even knew me, and if things didn’t work out between us, she would lose a friend. I remember that she was like me. Different. A little off the beaten path. A little lacking in friends. But at the time when he asked me to dinner just the two of us, she didn’t matter. I said yes. I wanted more than anything to be a part of their idyllic Christian family.

Our after dinner first date activity was going to see “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” He didn’t tell me then, but he had never read the books or seen the previous movies and picked it for our date because he knew I would like it. I, who had never had a real dating relationship or any kind, automatically assumed that meant he loved me. One more dinner and a movie, and I agreed to go steady. At nineteen, I’m not sure I knew what that meant, the level of commitment I was making. I was certain no other boy would ever love me, and I knew that I was supposed to get married, so I made a commitment for the first boy who asked.

No normal boy my age had ever looked at me. The only date I ever went on was during high school, to the junior prom, and it was the worst night I’d ever had in school. When he looked at me at dinner that night, long strands of spaghetti twirling around his fork and a smudge of marinara sauce on his right cheek, it was like I was being seen, really, seen, for the first time. His gaze was flooded with the possibility of a future that as a young child I had never imagined I would have–a boyfriend, marriage, babies, true love. It is hard now to remember the good times, much easier to remember the bad; the bad is what sticks the most, what hurts the most. I think I thought that because he paid attention to me and wanted to spend time with me that he loved me. I must have believed he was the only one who would ever want to be with me; I must have stayed because I was certain there was no other man who would love me.

His sister got engaged and married shortly after, so it was natural for us to get married too. It all seemed so ordinary, a natural progression of events. At J.C. Penney’s, where we had our wedding registry, there were scanner guns for couples to tour the store and capture the barcodes of merchandise for their lists. He wanted expensive things–the best couch, the biggest television, the softest bed. I was more interested in the smaller things–a matching set of dishes, a blender, towels for the bathroom. Big, loud, and perfect, versus small, quiet, and necessary were our personalities in a nutshell. We were nothing alike.

He was not quite six feet tall, the perfect height for my five and a half foot self to rest my head on his shoulder. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on him, and his lanky body was capped off with a spiky head of hair two shades lighter than mine in its natural state. He was always a pretty boy; he spent more time in the bathroom each day getting ready than I spent in front of the mirror all week and was always encouraging me to do more for my looks–curl my hair, put on makeup. I did what he wanted because I wanted him to love me back as much as I thought I loved him.

The thing is, I never knew what love was.

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She is Not Yours

I remember a girl. A very different girl from now. At 19, she had stringy brown hair to the middle of her back and hadn’t yet learned to smile, because she had been a grown up for much too long. She sat the the piano in your dark basement, hardly any lights on, and played a duet with you. She was looking for something, but she didn’t know what back then, 12 years before now. She lifted her hands off the black and white keys, turned to you, and said those fateful words:

“I’m going to marry your son some day.”

What she didn’t know then was that she would also be marrying you. Or maybe she did know. Maybe she knew all along.

They told her she would be the one to sink the marriage rowboat. Her baggage would weigh everything down, destroy everything, if she didn’t take proper care of it. There was no mention of his baggage; there was no mention of you. You would come with your own baggage, a shadow of unspoken pain and regret over the marriage of the boy and the girl while causing years of hurt on a different line of that from their relationship. Or maybe the same line; maybe he learned to cause pain from you.

You painted the girl as someone she wasn’t, so much and so brightly that it became reality in her circumstance. You made her less than. Not good enough. You told her who to be: A good Christian wife. Supportive. Kind. A hard worker. A listener. A right arm to your son, and a left as well when he metaphorically cut both arms off. You told her to be perfect. You built her up. Then you tore her down.

You told her she had failed; you told her she was none of the things she was supposed to be. When she finally left your son, you contacted everyone she was connected to. Told them not to trust her. Told them she would fail. Always. Fail. Again and again. And for quite a while, the girl did fail. For years, she has watched. Waited. Looking for something. For you. When you showed up at work; when you tried to FaceTime; when you stalked her online, she knew. Every three days like clockwork, her profile notified her you were there, still looking. She was afraid of you.

But here’s the thing.

She’s not a failure. She is everything she is supposed to be; she is NONE of the things you pinned on her. She tells herself a new story now, her own story, apart from you and apart from him. She is strong and powerful and loved. She is supportive, but not submissive. She works hard, but she works for herself. She is brave, and she is reaching out to shape her own destiny. She is her own person, making her own decisions.

She is not yours.

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Failure

There is a voice inside my head that tells me that I’m not good enough.

That came from you.

Do more.

Work harder.

Be better.

You will never be good enough.

It’s funny really.  I’m not sure where it started.  Was it that day that I made the spaghetti?  That day that I worked for thirteen hours setting up fake ghosts and tombstones, that day that I came home and put the water on and the noodles in and then fell asleep on the couch?  The day that you just let them boil dry because “cooking was a woman’s job?”  When you woke me up by dumping the noodles on me?  Was that the first time?

You can’t even do what you’re supposed to do.

I waited all day for supper, and you messed up.  

A good wife wouldn’t fall asleep.

Or was it the day I got fired?  The day that I lost my job because the company had been bought out by foreign men who had no interest in a white female manager?  The day that I came home terrified to tell you because I knew you would think I was a failure?

You must be incompetent.  

Smart people don’t get fired.

You know I can’t work; I have a degree, I have to do this.

Was it the day that I wanted to turn the heat up because I was cold, and you told me no?  The day that you said I needed to make more and work more than I already was if I wanted to have the right to adjust the temperature?

You will never get a degree; you will never go to school.

You will never be anything at all.

You belong here, doing what you’re doing.

Or was it the day I forgot the Oreos for the Oreo dessert?  The day that you made me go back to the store?  Was it that day?

I can’t believe you’re so stupid.  

You need to go back; I certainly can’t.

This has to be perfect, and it just isn’t—you aren’t.

Was it any day?

I am sitting on the couch now, staring into space, a space that you used to occupy.  And I hear your voice inside my head.  It’s been a great couple of days, so it’s funny that I would hear you now.  But there you are.

You touch me with your eyes, your fingers.

I can feel you on me, smell your breath-garlic.

I can feel you.

And I hate you.

But since you’re here.

I have something to say to you.

Screw.  You.

You made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  Like nothing I could ever do would be okay.  Like nothing I could ever say would make you happy.  You made me feel like I was a failure.  But I am not a failure.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I have done more.  I have worked harder than you could ever understand.  I am better.  I am so much better than you.

And I cannot keep renting the space in my head to you.

This has to end.

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Endings

Another semester has ended, and with it, a part of my life.  But a new segment of my life is beginning.  A new part of the journey.  Me moving forward, hopefully into grad school.

I came up with an end segment for my memoir this week.  Here’s a portion of it:

This memoir has been the story of a recovery.  Of a hike.  But more than that, of a life lived and people met along the way.  

If nothing else, for me as I am now, what happened to me doesn’t matter in the same way that it used to.  Yes, it’s still there.  And yes, it still hurts.  But it hurts in a different way, because I am different.    I don’t want to spend my life behind a pane of glass.  I want to experience all of the things that the world has to offer.  I want to be confident that I can handle life’s occurrences, even though it’s hard.  

I want to know the things that other people already recognize.

Life on the other side is hard and bright and loud.  But it’s also fun and enriching and educating and a million other things.  I want to cross the threshold and experience life beyond the wall that I’ve constructed around myself.

This has been the story of my journey.  All of the pieces of this journey and the people within it add up to the place where I am now.  Because I have survived these things, I know that I can survive anything.  N told me recently that when, not if, I get in to graduate school, I will become my best self, even better than I am now, because I will be around writers and I will be writing.  What makes me strong is my words, and they’ll be with me wherever I go.  

Like I said in the beginning, this story isn’t pretty.  It isn’t magical flowers and rainbows; it doesn’t feature a unicorn.  But it does belong to me.  I have struggled for a long time regarding how to end this.  But now I know that there is no ending.  To end would be to stop growing, and I don’t ever want to stop.  I always want to grow.  I want to continue to be better than my past, to be better than the holes.  I want to hold on to what I have and take it and use it and be better.  

I want, more than anything, to keep this journey moving to the other side.

These people will be with me forever, because they are part of my story.

These words will be with me forever.

This life will be mine.  Forever.

I’ve been worried lately about endings.  The end of my undergraduate career.  The end of my life in Wisconsin.  The end of my time with the wonderful people I have met and been blessed with the opportunity to learn from.  I have had amazing mentors within the college I go to who have given me the opportunity to learn more about life and myself and everything than I ever thought possible.  I have made real friends that will be around for a long time.  Many times, I think about how scared I am to leave this place, to end this time of my life.  But the end of this semester and my subsequent reflections upon life have shown me that I’m thinking about this all wrong.  Instead of thinking about endings, I should be thinking about beginnings—like that saying about one door closing and another opening.  Every ending in my life has actually been a beginning.  The end of my son was the beginning of the dissolution of my marriage.  The end of my marriage was the beginning of my college career.  The end of my college career will be the beginning of my new life and, hopefully, a graduate school career.  Each time something in my life has ended, as sad as it has been, it has pushed me into a new place.  I am learning to handle my life, bit by bit.  I am making allowances, taking care of myself and doing the things that I need to do to be okay.  I’m learning that it’s okay to not always be okay, that it’s okay to be broken sometimes.  But, in turn, I’m also learning that just because I break occasionally does not mean that I am forever damaged.  I am not damaged.  I have been hurt, but it does not define me.  I am healing, slowly but surely.  And this ending is a new beginning.

Endings are sad, but they aren’t as sad when we reverse them.  When we make them beginnings.  The word beginning implies an opportunity to grow.  My words make me strong, and they will always be with me.  I will take myself and lay everything out; I will learn and grow from my experiences and the knowledge and support of the people around me.  And because I am giving myself opportunities to grow and become my own person, I will be my best self.

I have been worried about leaving, about the end.  But there is no end.  There is only growth.  And I will never, ever, stop growing.

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