Tag Archives: loss

The Bite

I can still feel the dog’s teeth hooked into my calf, can still hear the sound of huffed breathing through his snout intermingled with the weirdest most inhuman growling I’d ever been privy too, can still smell blood. It doesn’t smell like you’d think. When I close my eyes, I remember what it felt like, that moment when I realized that he wasn’t letting go, when I realized that this job I had only just realized was so truly important to me could actually kill me.

I remember the sound his head made when I hit it with the fridge door, the clunk of skull against metal as he reset and grabbed my boot. I remember the blood that trickled down, that still stains my right boot two months later, remember the rip up the jeans leg of the pants I had just purchased two days before.

I remember going back in, after, to see the dog’s tail wagging, but the instant I moved, his eyes regressed back into whatever aggressive mode had overtaken him. He’d forgotten me. I slammed the door on him; I tried to forget him.

I can’t.

He has left me afraid.

I remember thinking why me, back then. I think it now. Why did I move across the country, why did I come all this way into this job that I loved only to be scared of it? And I can talk about it until I’m blue in the face, for lack of a more creative expression, but people don’t get what it’s like to default to a state of fear. To see a dog running at me with its teeth out and automatically assume it’s going to eat my face. I would have been different, before. I would have turned my back, dropped into a neutral position, taken that possible nip on my fingers when I offered my hand. But everything is different now. I am different now. Now? I freeze. And dogs sense that. They seize on it. I’ve had more bites in the last two months than I have had in nearly four years.

I can clearly label them, the squares that make up the quilt that is my fear, and I use them to hide behind so I don’t have to make myself be better.

I see a knife against my throat in the backseat of a car, feel a seatbelt in my back, smell the scent of garlic, feel the winter cold on my naked lower half as this man I hate presses hard against me; this is every time a man gets too close on the sidewalk, on the train, every time a man even looks at me strangely. I feel less than for being afraid.

I see my dead son, any time I try to get close to someone, because I know that eventually everything ends. Everyone dies, and we go in a fridge, and that is the end of that. I fear relationships, so I treasure the ones I do have.

And I see this dog, this damn stupid dog, at a time in my life when I thought I conquered all the things. When I thought I was not afraid.

I’ve been challenged to publicly demolish my fears, to tell myself that one bad event doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, doesn’t mean I deserved all the events, doesn’t mean I should be afraid. I think I owe this dog a thank you, honestly, that I need to look at what happened as a reminder that I can actually handle a lot of bullshit. Because name a major traumatic event, and I’ve probably survived it. And I can survive more. I can survive divorce and child death and abuse and rape and I can survive being mauled by a dog because I am absolutely more than all of these things.

So the next time a dog runs at me, or a man sits weirdly close to me and leers creepily, or someone I know has a baby, I will make a choice–a choice to not be afraid, a choice to remember that my personal quilt actually makes me better, stronger. I know I won’t always be successful at this. But I will try. And that’s enough.

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The Difficult Miracle of Being Human

She knew she was pregnant before the stick said she was pregnant. It wasn’t fetal movement or anything like that, because no baby moves that early. It was more of a feeling, a sense of being together with someone, finally, in a way she had never been together with the husband.

She did not tell the husband. Not right away. She waited until it was “safe,” until there was “less chance to lose it,” and then she peed on a stick to confirm the beautiful thing she already knew so that she could take that stick and tap it against the doorframe of his office while waiting for him to notice her. He turned around, removed his all-encompassing soundman headphones, and flashed her a quick eye roll that he completely intended her to see. “What is it?” 

The husband did not like to be disturbed, but clearly he hadn’t seen the stick. She waved it a little closer, a little closer. Still nothing. The husband moved to turn his chair around. “I’m pregnant,” she blurted, just to get him to stop, pay attention. It wasn’t how she’d planned to tell him.

“Are we ready for that? A baby?” His words were fast, sharp. To the point. He wanted to get back to work. 

“Who’s ever ready for a baby?” The stick hung limply in her hand, unseen. Wasn’t he supposed to want to see it, to celebrate? At least, that’s what she had thought, hoped would happen. She shoved the stick into her pajama pants pocket, because what else was she supposed to do with it? 

“It won’t fix things. With you. Us.”

It was always her that had to change, never him. But she wouldn’t dare say that out loud. “Don’t call the baby an It; the baby can hear you.” 

The husband didn’t respond.

When the husband turned around to go back to work, she went back into the bathroom and cried. She didn’t need him. She had a baby now. Or she would, in several months.

She did what she thought she was supposed to in the months following. She went to the doctor, let him confirm what the stick had already confirmed. She took vitamins. She read websites: What size was the baby today? What was developing? Growing? Changing? Did they have fingernails yet? Or rather, would she feel them if they did? She thought about what weird things; she pictured the baby clawing her insides as they waited impatiently to come out and meet her. 

She wanted to start registering for baby things. She convinced the husband to let her find out the sex so that she could pick better items. It was a boy! She thought the husband would be more excited to have a boy, but the husband didn’t respond. She took the 3D ultrasound picture, with it’s grainy whites and browns, snapped a picture with her own phone, and sent it to everyone she had ever known. She showed the registries to the husband that night while they watched tv, the show on display was meaningless in comparison to the excitement of picking her child’s future. Bottles, pajamas, toys, diapers, a crib, a stroller, she registered for anything and everything that any site told her a baby would need while the husband sat next to her, supposedly helping but really somewhere else. “Winnie the Pooh,” he scoffed at one point, “isn’t that a little young?” 

She had always loved that cuddly yellow bear, and the husband certainly hadn’t helped her pick things out. “What would you rather ask for?”

The husband didn’t respond.

She worked hard, saving money for when the baby came and she would need to take off. The husband stayed home, or worked at the church, or did whatever sound career thing it was he did with his day. She came home after ten, twelve hour days and made him dinner, cleaned. He told her she didn’t do enough, so she threw a potholder at him and called him an asshole.

The husband didn’t respond. 

She pictured life after the birth of their son, and how she wished and hoped it would change, when she really knew that nothing would change at all. That she would work a 50-plus hour work week and then have to take care of a baby at the end of the day. She said nothing to the husband. It would do no good. She kept plugging along; she kept getting ready. She cleaned the backseat of her car to get ready for the carseat. 

It came time for the baby shower, a mixture of cakes and presents and balloons—cute green and blue-for-boy balloons that she loved but couldn’t bring home in case the cats decided to eat them and then died from choking on string. She asked the husband to help bring home gifts; they lived up a steep flight of stairs and she didn’t want to carry everything. 

The husband didn’t respond. 

So she did it herself. She carried each and every thing up the stairs, and then she took a nap with the cats on the couch while a Lifetime movie played on the tv. A few weeks, just a few weeks, she would meet him. And everything would change then, when her son was born.

And just a short time later, at 37 weeks, when she called the husband to tell him the baby’s heart was no longer beating, well, he didn’t respond then either. 

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The Dead are Cold (And Other True Facts)

My son is beautiful. He is seven, almost eight years old. Tall for his age, with a head full of brown hair that he refuses to let me cut because he likes it long. His eyes are greenish gray, and they stare right into me with an understanding much beyond his years. He is an avid piano student, but some days he hates playing. He reminds me of myself in that regard—when I was a kid, I told my organ teacher that my hamster had bit me in the finger so I couldn’t play, but then I went home and played what I wanted to play instead of what I was supposed to. 

My son is kind. His favorite toy is a giant stuffed brown bear. He still sleeps with it at night, but he will also share it with other children when they are sad. I worry for the day when he will decide he is too old for toys, that I will cry. His favorite color is blue, and his favorite clothing item is his tiny pair of blue overalls where the straps are so worn that they slip off of his shoulders. 

My son is smart. He’s already in third grade. He went from pre-K straight to first because he already had the fundamentals down cold. They said he was “smart,” and “needed to be challenged.” He brings home a new book almost every day, but he prefers to read it to me rather than the other way around. I only help him when he asks, and he rarely does—and all his books are far above grade level. He can’t draw though. He comes home from school with stick figure drawings that have graham cracker crumbs stuck to the edges, but I am proud of them.

My son is proud of me, and of my writing. Or, at least, I like to think so. 

My first major, national publication was for a parenting magazine called ‘Brain, Child: A Magazine for Working Mothers.’ I wasn’t horribly enthused about it, and I didn’t tell that many people. One I told, a professor in my graduate program, replied, “Oh, are you a parent?” I didn’t know how to answer that question. I never do. 

My son is dead.

*

The first dead body I remember seeing was when I was eighteen years old. I was a new youth leader for a local teen coffee house. It was New Year’s, and Renee and Stephanie were riding home in the back of a station wagon with one of their families—Stephanie’s, I think. A drunk driver came down Highway 120 and plowed right into the driver’s side of their car; everyone inside was killed instantly. I attended Renee’s funeral as both a representative of the coffee house and a friend; we were not that far apart in age. Because she had been on the passenger side of the vehicle, Renee was, for lack of a better term, more intact than Stephanie and thus had an open casket. I waited to see her for over an hour, listening to the people around me cry. By the time I got up to the casket, the line behind me wrapped around the funeral home. I stared down at Renee, her eyes closed, her skin the pasty white of overdone makeup, her hands with fingernails still lacquered in solid black gently folded across her stomach. Her dress was white, and I remember thinking that Renee would not have worn a white dress. I remember reaching out gently, to touch her cheek that was completely devoid of the normal pink color. I remember how cold she was. I remember nothing else until I sat in the driver’s seat of my cherry red Camaro, smacking the steering wheel over and over with my fists and bawling my eyes out because this “little” girl was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. 

And she was cold.

My entire life, I’ve been afraid of dead things. When I came home from work one night to find my goldfish Herman floating in a u-shape above the pretty purple castle inside of his glass bowl that I kept on top of my television cabinet, I called B, my then-boyfriend, to come and scoop it out for me. When my cat Tigger died, I couldn’t look at the body and had to go in another room while someone else took it away. When my grandma’s dog Max died, I had to cover it in three different blankets so that I wouldn’t feel the body as I helped her put it in the car to take it to be cremated. I couldn’t touch them or be involved with any of it, because I couldn’t accept that they were dead. My son was different though. His tiny body was still somewhat warm from being inside of me. Stiff though from being dead for many hours, at least 22, but as many as 30; we would never know exactly. When I held him, it was amazing to me how light he was. I don’t know what I had expected; at four pounds, he was substantially lighter than my jumbo-sized 22 pound cat, and he felt like he was floating in my arms. At the same time, I felt like I was floating above him, like it wasn’t real, and I took in every detail—the tiny bit of hair scattered across his head, the way his fists were clenched and how hard it was for me to wrap his dead fingers around mine, fingers that were long and just perfect for playing an instrument. It didn’t seem right that my son could be there, that he could be whole and still be dead. It didn’t seem right at all. 

The one thing I didn’t look at when I held my son was his eyes; I don’t know the color of his eyes. I never will. It seems important somehow, like a fact that I should know, and it kills me that I don’t. A mother should know what color her son’s eyes are. Were.

I’ve begun to forget his face. It’s harder every day to remember what he looked like. I never heard his voice, his laugh; I won’t ever know these things. He was burned, his remains put into a little box the shape of a heart that fit into my palm and later scattered somewhere unknown to me. His things are gone; he is gone. I have no part of him left, nothing physical of him to hold, to see. I have no proof of his existence; he only exists in my head now. When I miss him, it feels like I’m being gutted. There is no way to make it okay. There is no part of him that remains. 

*

The first time I saw my son, he was nothing more than an image on a screen. A strange mix of brown, sepia, that produced a recognizable image—a nose, eyes, even tiny fingers. A human. A baby. It was hard for me to reconcile the image on the screen with me, to believe that I was really growing a baby inside of me. When the technician asked if we wanted a copy of the ultrasound, I eagerly took the picture. I scanned it in with my new iPhone and sent it to essentially everyone I had ever known. It was the first time B, the husband, was at all excited.

The ultrasound spurred me to clean out my junk-mobile of a car. I had the messiest car ever, and I had for years. It started when my commute time to work doubled; I would eat food driving both to and from work and then throw the wrappers into the backseat. The more I traveled for work, the more things appeared—an extra coat, random shoes, pants, shirts, books. For all I knew, there was something alive back there. The pile was so high that it surpassed the center console in height and threatened to spill over into the front. It got to the point where it was just too overwhelming to even consider cleaning. Of course, this meant that now that I needed to install a carseat back there, there was a lot of work to be done. I didn’t dare ask the husband to help me. It was my fault, my mess, and he never even rode in my car anyway. 

I pictured my son while I was cleaning. I imagined that he would grow, grow up, grow out of the carseat. Sit in the front with me after he turned twelve. Starting driving at fifteen and a half. Many times during the cleaning ordeal, I had to wander away. Out of the garage, down the block, getting air. I wasn’t sure how I had driven so long with the car in that condition; I suddenly understood my need to drive with the windows down as at least five bags of trash made their way to the dumpster, with several more bags awaiting their end destination of Goodwill. Exhausted, I never bothered to clean out the trunk. I worked hard enough during my day job that I didn’t want to do anything more than I had to.

I was a merchandising manager for Party City while I was pregnant. Halloween pack-up was well underway, which involved a great deal of ladder climbing and frequent sitting on top of rolling ladders when I got tired—which happened all the time. People worried that I was working too hard, but my doctor supported me. The level of work I was doing was in the same league as what I had been doing pre-pregnancy. Since it wasn’t a new routine, it wasn’t a problem. I almost wished it would be. Ten hours on my feet while pregnant made an extremely long day.

By the time I got home most nights, I was too tired after an entire day of work to do anything else. B had a specific list of daily chores for me: dishes, cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, anything pet related, and anything the husband didn’t want to do. I never got to the dishes or the cleaning or the vacuuming. The cats were like my children, so I took care of them. I cooked meals because I was hungry, but frequently grumbled in my head that the husband should cook for me once in a while. When he bitched that things around the apartment weren’t done, I chucked a pillow at him and called him an asshole. He wasn’t the one working fifty hours a week while growing a human being inside his body. He wasn’t working at all. 

“Do you want to quit your job then? Is that what you’re saying?” He leaned on our breakfast bar.

“I didn’t say that. I just said that I’m tired and need a little rest every now and then. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.” I bit my lip. I was crying, again. Damn hormones. 

“I do everything around here,” he replied snidely. “I pay the bills.”

That was all he did. He didn’t have a real job. I was the breadwinner, but I couldn’t quit—I held the medical insurance policy. The husband was wrong, I was sure, but I nodded slowly and got up to make him dinner; I imagined that someday soon I would be cooking for both me and my son, and it didn’t seem weird to me at all that B wasn’t in that picture. 

*

B and I didn’t name our son until we held him. I had just finished The Mortal Instruments, and I was absolutely in love with the name Jace. The husband was in love with naming him after his grandfather and the slew of men on his side of the family who carried the name Erich. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the name Erich; it was just so old fashioned. We argued back and forth about it, electing to waiting until the baby came to decide. Somehow then, February 26th, 2010, I looked into my son’s eyes and held my finger in his tiny fist, and I knew his name was Carter. I conceded to Erich as a middle name, because I didn’t have the energy to fight. It didn’t seem to matter anyway.

*

When you are expecting a baby, especially your first, people find it helpful to fill you in on all the little facets of pregnancy and birth. The first thing they tell you is that childbirth will hurt. A lot. They aren’t lying. I’ve heard it referred to as taking your lower lip and stretching it over your head, and though I haven’t tried this particular activity, I can’t imagine it even comes close. I don’t know of anything that does. The pain will go away though, they tell you, once you hold your baby in your arms. Now this is a lie, as it does not take into consideration those who do not get a living, breathing baby; for us, the pain does not vanish. The next thing people tell you is that stretch marks will eventually go away—another lie. Sure, they fade and turn a freaky white color, but they never disappear, not completely. Yet another thing I remember learning is that you burn a lot of calories when you breastfeed, and that many women lose baby weight in this manner. I’m fairly certain this is true, based on research I did pre-pregnancy. For me, however, this was yet another lie. 

Some things people just don’t talk about. For instance, they don’t tell you that one percent of pregnancies end in stillbirth, which is defined as death after twenty-four weeks. They don’t tell you that things won’t always go the way they’re supposed to, because they only prepare people for the best possible outcomes. No one tells you that babies can die. They don’t tell you that your body postpartum will be irrevocably changed. 

A stillbirth baby, especially at full-term, is such an unexpected and sudden loss that people often forget you have gone through the birthing process and need to recover just like any other woman. You might receive pain killers, but no one tells you what they are for. They don’t tell you that you’re going to hurt like hell as your womb shrinks back to its normal size and shape; they don’t tell you that you might need help with simple physical tasks; they don’t tell you that you will bleed for weeks after and that you cycle will change forever. They are more concerned with handling your grief than with handling your body, since the baby is dead. All of the little details go by the wayside in favor of making sure that you are “okay” and that you are not going to leave the hospital and promptly throw yourself in front of a bus. 

The biggest thing that no one told me when my baby died was that my breasts would still produce milk. It wasn’t really anything I thought about once he was gone, not until it happened. My body didn’t understand that there was no baby anymore; it’s not like I could explain it to myself and make the natural process stop. I called my OB right away, and they had me wear a sports bra two sizes too small that I stuffed with cabbage leaves. They apologized for neglecting to inform me, but it meant nothing. To add insult to injury, not only did I not have a baby, I stank like cabbage. My body had betrayed my mind. As a society, we are largely concerned with how we look, and here I was with the body that comes post-baby and no baby to show for it—a ring of pudginess around my middle that had never been there before and a plethora of stretch marks. No amount of exercise would make those things go away, not completely. I was shaped differently, inside and outside. I was different, and this went unacknowledged.

March 2010 was the time that they took the population census. I did not fill out the form when it came in the mail the first time, and I didn’t fill it out when it came in the mail the second time. I never filled it out, instead choosing to rip it into pieces and stuff it in the kitchen garbage like it had never come at all. When May rolled around, the census workers started coming to people’s houses. One rang my doorbell. I went down the stairs into the entry hall and pulled it open. 

“Hi.” It was an older woman with hair like my grandmas and a bright red vest that identified her as a census worker. “I’m here because you didn’t fill out your census form. I just need to collect your information.”

I tried to shut the door, but she stuck her foot in it. “It will only take a few minutes.” She was very persistent, and I left the door open just enough to see her face as she asked, “How many people live in your household?”

“Two,” I said to my feet.

“And they are?”

“Me and my husband.” I tried to push the door closed then, but she wouldn’t move her foot.

She was scribbling on her clipboard. “And how many children?” She didn’t even look up as she asked. 

“None,” I snapped. “None. My son is dead.”

I slammed the door in her face.

*

I constructed a world in the months after Carter died. A world inside my head where the imagined was real and the real was imagined. In that world, my 37 week OB appointment never happened. I was not an hour early. I did not stop at the store for apple juice. I did not leave my coat in the car even though it was the middle of February. The nurse never hooked up the heart monitor; I never heard her say the baby’s heart wasn’t beating. I didn’t watch an ultrasound screen where the baby didn’t move. This world where the nurses asked about what I did for a living and shoved Kleenex in my face and distracted me while we waited for the doctor and the husband; this world where the doctor told us he was “so, so sorry,” where he gave me the option of going home and waiting for labor to happen naturally or going into labor artificially; this world where I laid in a hospital bed in labor for 22 hours to give birth to a dead baby. This world is not the real world, and I know that. 

If I think too hard, what I’ve constructed completely unravels. 

My son is beautiful.

My son is kind.

My son is smart. 

My son is dead. And cold.

Two years after Carter’s death, I purchased a memorial brick by the lakefront. The city planted a tree as a memorial to “all the dead children,” and it sits twenty feet from the shoreline; it’s small, with spindly branches, and the leaves are few and far in between. It didn’t seem to grow much, and I was struck by the idea that a memorial for children that will never grow up would never grow—the stunted tree surrounded by bricks surrounded by flowers was the perfect tribute; clumps of purple and red and pink that took away from the fact that each brick was all that was left of a life.

Every year, tiny growths appear between the bricks. Weeds, or perhaps flowers. Signs of life that will be gone come winter, because everything dies. Winter brings snow and ice, coating the ground and making it impossible to remember him. I visit the tree on the anniversary of his death every year I am in the state, to place my hand on his brick and be able to touch him. A simple reminder. If it’s winter, I can never make headway in the frozen-over snow. I can get down on my knees and claw with my fingers, but I only ever break through to ice. Carter is sealed away behind a wall I can’t break through, an event I cannot penetrate. Death.  

On the anniversary of his death, I will never locate the brick. I will never be able to break through. I will never find him.

It’s too cold. I am cold. 

The dead are cold.

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We All Make Mistakes

I can still remember when Corey and Topanga broke up. I’m guessing many from my generation can. Boy Meets World; TGIF; quality thank goodness it’s Friday television programming. Topanga was crying; her family was moving to Pittsburgh, away from her childhood sweetheart, and what was the point in continuing a relationship when they couldn’t be together?
I had middle school play practice the next morning. Eighth grade, so it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So and so had kissed so and so. So and so had gone to the movie with a bunch of so and sos, all of whom shall remain nameless I remember so vividly though because it was the start of something for me–my friends were talking about real boys, and I was talking about Corey and Topanga breaking up as if they were real people, because, in a way, they were. 
I’ve written stories in my head for as long as I can remember, intending to inscribe them for the masses but never being motivated enough to publicize my fiction. Samantha and Rebeckah were (are; let’s be real, I still write them in my head as I fall asleep) my favorites. Both had terrible lives marked by notable happy endings, followed by more terrible, followed by more happy. Every bad is met with its match in good. And in my stories, they always met a boy, and that boy was what saved them. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that meeting a boy would save me too. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step one: Evaluate all possible choices. 

Step two: Evaluate all possible outcomes. 
*
It was hot in the church on the afternoon of June 2nd, a few years after I graduated high school. I sat in a pew, my annoyance marked with my traditional silent eyeroll that I hid from B with my then-long bangs. Just a few more things, they kept telling us. Just a few more, then we could go. It turned out wedding rehearsals were harder than they looked. It was a bunch of go here, do this thing, do that thing, go there, sit. Move. Wait. 
We were poor, so our after-rehearsal dinner consisted of a bunch of meat thrown on the grill on the backyard deck by B’s dad, who had left the rehearsal early to commence the cooking festivities. So far as we knew, everything was fine. Until the phone call: “So everything is fine.” Nothing is fine that starts with that phrase. “There’s just been a small fire on the deck.”
It was another event in a string of events that shaped a loud and clear broadcast stating it was wrong to marry B. We lost our church, our free catering, our pastor, our wedding counselor, all in the weeks before the wedding. But we kept plunging ahead. Or rather, I kept plunging ahead, because I wanted the happy ending I knew existed. I thought. I knew it was a mistake. I made it anyway. This one mistake set in motion many other events, many other mistakes, much more unhappiness. I kept thinking that I had done the thing I was supposed to–I had gotten married–and that this would be the thing to save me because it was always the boy that would save the girl.
That night, after the dinner, I sat on my bed, my last time without B in my apartment, and I painted my toenails with sparkly silver nail polish while my good friend sat across from me and told me not to do it. Not to go through with it. Not to marry B. But I did it anyway because I thought I was supposed to. Girl meets boy; girl marries boy; girl produces many children and stays home to take care of the family for all eternity. I wanted to do the right thing. 
But I made a mistake; my life was none of these things. When everything disintegrated, despite looking for someone else to save me, I had to be the one to save myself. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step three: Choose what you think is the expected outcome, the one that everyone else wants. 
*
I know this great dog who shall remain nameless, since that’s how the rescue game is played. She came to the rescue with her mother and two sisters from a backyard breeder in New Jersey that saw what was amazing inside the mommy dog and used it to make himself money (it’s no wonder I wanted to adopt the mommy dog then…). This puppy was my first real placement of a dog I loved. I drove her to the house, I dropped her there. I celebrated when she stayed, and I lived for the picture and video updates and the times I got to visit in an era of my life when I wasn’t seeing many rescues doing well. When so many dogs would act out or bite or never leave and sit Saturday after Saturday not finding a home, it was nice to be reminded that good homes did exist, that all dogs have good inside somewhere, and that they all have a place, like we all have a place. But then this dog made one mistake, and she came back to the rescue. Her return was the right thing for everyone, but right or not didn’t make it suck any less for any of us. The mistake was too colossal, too all-encompassing, to come back from, a permanent black mark on an otherwise impeccable record, and a black mark of the biggest sort. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step four: Do that thing that everyone else wants. 

Step five: Watch the results and know that you’re screwed. 
*
I think it was pack instinct that drove this dog to do the thing she did. “I must protect the pack, because the pack protects me/because the pack loves me/because the pack has brought me my happy and I must return the favor.” It’s impossible to know for sure though. But what I do know, both from my own life and the lives of those around me, is that we make the biggest mistakes trying to live up to the expectations of those around us. We make the biggest mistakes when we’re genuinely trying to be the best we can be. It doesn’t make us bad; it doesn’t make us unworthy; it just means that we have not found our place yet because we haven’t learned to define ourselves outside of other people’s expectations. 
Doesn’t this make us all just like dogs? We want to please so badly sometimes without a thought to the consequences that we plunge headlong into situations we can’t come back from. If you stick to the norms, follow the expected commands to their given outcomes, and don’t step out of line, everything will be fine. Right?
*
How to make a mistake:
Step six: Do not repeat; learn from the thing you’ve done. 
*
Queue the after-hiatus Boy Meets World Cory-without-Topanga episode that ended with Topanga outside the door in the rain, her hand pressed to the glass and her long brown hair slicked against her skin as she declared she was moving back to live with her aunt and would be together with Corey forever. I wish all decisions ended so happily. I am too old, have wasted too much time, to make the wrong ones. Writing stories, living with and in characters, does nothing when they always have a happy ending, because those endings do not exist through others–and it’s a mistake to believe they do. We write our own stories. We make mistakes we can’t take back. We live. We learn. 

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Forgetting (Never One)

The bathroom floor was littered in black dirt, the kind of dirt that held on forever despite the best bleach scrub. The walls were streaked in mildew and other substances that couldn’t be defined. Numerous customers and homeless people and god knows who had sat in this very spot, in this very bathroom. How many of them cried? My tears burned as they slid down my face, as I sobbed my heart out into the knees I held clutched to my chest. I was bigger, fatter. I was back at work. I was childless.

It was April 4th. 37 days after your death. And the first day where you didn’t consume my every thought.

When you first died, I thought about you every day. I started a Live Journal and blogged about you to the world. Day one. Day two. Day three. Day four. An entry for every day after you were gone. The most blissful moment of the day was when I first woke up, the moment when I pictured you sleeping in your crib in the other room. It was every morning, for a while. And every morning I would lie in bed and suddenly remember, the crush of the blankets too heavy against my skin, and the weight of my tears too much to carry. Every morning. From waking up, you consumed every moment. 

I planned your funeral. Who to invite. What to put you in. I ordered a box to keep your things in. I sat on our giant brown sectional couch and I watched movies. One was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I thought that you might like it, before I remembered that you would never see it. You would never watch a movie. I couldn’t focus on the screen then. My gaze drifted into the den, the place where we had assembled all of your things. Where the crib had sat, fully assembled, ready for you. Your things were gone, not there anymore. I pictured them in a dark, lonely storage place, behind a padlocked door. Cold. Lost.

I wondered where you were.

I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed about you. It was your first day of preschool. I came at the end of the day to pick you up and found you fingerpainting. You held your hands up to me with the biggest grin on your face; one was blue and the other green. The once white paper in front of you was covered in a mash of multicolored handprints, the colors blurring in many places to brown. A stranger would have found it ugly, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We drove home, you in the back in your carseat and me singing along to Muppets songs playing from the stereo. I laid the painting carefully on the passenger seat, and when we got home, you made me put it on the fridge. You wouldn’t eat your dinner till I did.

I woke up the next day, and the first thing I did was jump up and go to the nursery to check on you. Only it wasn’t a nursery. It was an office. And I didn’t have to check on you, because you weren’t there. You never would be. I thought about you all the time—what you would have grown up to look like, who you would have been, what you would have done.

On April 4th, I went back to work. I took the full six weeks of leave to which I was entitled, even though you were gone. I went back, and found a shoebox on my desk in the cash office. It was filled with all of my favorite snacks, a gift from my employees to help me get through the week. I sat in my chair, the chair I hadn’t occupied since the end of February, and I unwrapped one of the chocolate I found in the box. I crinkled the foil and threw it in the trash as I popped the candy into my mouth, savoring the taste of the melting truffle on my tongue. It was delicious; it was glorious; it was—

I blinked. Swallowed. You were dead. You were dead and I was sitting in an office chair behind a desk eating a chocolate candy as if you had never been there. There were no pictures of you to hang with the other manager’s children. No evidence of you other than my physical size and my six week absence. For that moment, as I ate that chocolate truffle, I forgot about you. I forgot that you were dead; I forgot that you were never coming back. I forgot.

How could I do that, forget? How could I move on, how could I never visit the storage unit where your things were, unpack them, love them like I should have been loving you? How could I go to work and move on and have a life and eat a chocolate and … forget?

Forgetting is a regular thing now. When I look at the skyline, I don’t always picture you with me in the city. When I watch a movie with a baby, or I see my friends with babies, I don’t always think of you. Sometimes I do. But sometimes I don’t. I’ve honestly lost track of the time that I don’t think of you. And I’m sorry. For that. For forgetting. And I’m sorry that I’m sorry.

I like to think that you’re somewhere fingerpainting, that your hands grew big enough to do it successfully, and that when you make a painting someone hangs it up on a “wall” somewhere. And someday I will see that wall of all the things you’ve done and be proud of you like I hope you’re proud of me right now.

You were my chance to have a child. I will always ‘have’ you, yet never have you. I will have a child, but never have one, I will say that yes, I was pregnant once. But I will never check the box for my offspring on surveys and online forms and background checks and tax forms. The total will always be zero, never one. You will never be one. And that, I won’t forget.

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Clarity

(song lyrics from “Hercules” by Sara Barielles)

My brain swims.

My favorite pajama pants are gray with tiny white owls covering them.  My favorite sweatshirt has my school logo on it.  My favorite blanket is teal and fuzzy amazingly soft.  My favorite pillow is shaped like a panda.  I hide in these things, in my bed.  Night time, my old friend.  My iPod plays.  

I miss the days my mind would just rest quiet.  My imagination hadn’t turned on me yet.  I used to let my words wax poetic, but it melted a puddle at my feet now.  It is a calcifying crime, it’s tragic.  I’ve turned to petrified past life baggage.  I want to disappear and just start over.  So here we are.

My skin is crawling.  I can feel it on every inch of me, the cold touch.  I can feel the weight of it.  I don’t know how to let go.  Not completely.  It follows me, in my thoughts, in my dreams.  And when I do let go, when I forget, or when I realize I’ve forgotten, it bowls me over. Sometimes I don’t sleep.  I write, I read, I hide under the covers.  I sit in the dark and ponder how it matches my heart.  Dark.  Because something is missing.  They’re missing.  I can’t have them back.  What I’ve lost, I can’t replace.

I need clarity.

I’ve lost a grip on where I started from.  I wish I’d thought ahead and left a few crumbs.  I’m on the hunt for who I’ve not yet become, but I’d settle for a little equilibrium.  

I’m losing my grip; I’m tired of having to hide.  I wouldn’t change my decisions.  Not one of them.  I did what needed to be done.  But that doesn’t mean it feels good.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck and feel crappy.  I’ve heard that it’s okay to feel crappy.  It doesn’t feel okay.  Not at all.  Not one bit.  There is no guidebook.  There is no one magical answer that will make it better.  I want to be a person that I can’t be.  A person untouched.  Unruined.  I’m tired of having someone to hash this through with.  I’m tired of isolation, but I can’t escape it.

There is a war inside my heart gone silent; both sides dissatisfied and somewhat violent.  The issue I have now begun to see, I am the only lonely casualty.  

I feel like I’m ripping myself in two.  Like the rational part of me is duking it out with the emotional part of me for who will control the spoils.  Because I’m too quick to jump to emotion.  I’m too quick to knock myself.  I’m too quick to forget the good things.  That I agreed to do a group project.  That I made a new friend.  That I realized I was too strong to be used.  That I didn’t totally fall apart.  These things aren’t important.  What’s important is that I cried.  That I broke.  That I let it all get to be too much.  That I wasn’t strong, in that moment, in that moment when it hurt.  That I let it hurt.

This is not the end though, ‘cause I have sent for a warrior from on my knees, make me a Hercules.  I was meant to be a warrior, please, make me a Hercules.

What I want, more than anything, is to be a warrior.  To be strong.  I don’t want to quit.  Don’t let me quit.  Please.  God.  Don’t let me quit.  I have worked too hard for that.  Too hard to not be strong.  Too hard to let this go.

Too hard.

Give me clarity.

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Just Okay

The best tests are normally the kind you already know the answer to.  It makes things easy, knowing the answers.  You can scan through a test and be confident and expedient with your selections.  You can earn an A.  But not this time.  I didn’t want to know the answer.

*

I remember the day that I decided to marry the husband.  I had worked almost thirteen hours at my job managing a gas station.  I was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to collapse at home on my couch and vegetate in front of the television set watching “Joan of Arcadia.”  But he lived right around the corner, and as I was driving into our neighborhood, I had a thought.  I found myself wanting to say hi to him.  So I did.

We sat together at the piano in his basement.  His fingers laced in mine on top of the keys and he told me that he loved me.  I said it back.

As I left his house, I thought to myself that I would marry him someday.

Shortly after that his anger started creeping to the surface.  He would yell at me, call me names, over stupid things.  But I stayed with him, because I believed that I could make him better.  I believed he was the only who could fill what I had been missing.  I believed that there was nobody else who would ever love me.  I believed that I had to marry someone in order to be a real woman.  I didn’t know that it was okay to be on my own.

In my psychology class we have been studying reproduction and reproductive ethics.  It’s brought up many feelings for me.  After Carter died, the husband wanted another child to replace the one we had lost.  I remember sitting out by the pool that summer with his mother listening to her lecture on how reproduction was the point of my existence as a woman.  She abided by the whole “women should be barefoot and pregnant” philosophy.  I wasn’t so sure I agreed with that anymore.  To me, agreeing with it signified my own failure and made me less human.  All I wanted was to be successful, and successful meant having another baby.  I couldn’t.  Wouldn’t.  I wasn’t willing or ready to take the risk again.

I spent months wondering what I did wrong.  If I could get pregnant again, even if I wanted to.  I would find random pamphlets at odd places in my house.  So You Want to Have Another Baby.  Your Reproductive Potential.  Children and a Women’s True Purpose.  I was never sure if they were from her or from the husband.  I ripped them up and stuffed them in the bottom of the trash can.  I couldn’t handle even looking at the covers, much like I can barely handle watching the movies I have had to watch in psychology lately.

On our wedding day, a friend gave us a framed copy of our wedding invitation that she had decorated with quilled paper flowers.  It was supposed to serve as an example of our eternal love.  On the day the divorce was final, a year and a half after Carter died, I dismantled the frame, removed the flowers, tore up the invitation, and fed it all piece by piece into the fireplace.  And I cried.  But it wasn’t relief.  I was scared to be alone.

The videos in psychology are too much to handle.  National Geographic did a special on life inside the womb, featuring pictures of real babies from conception to birth.  It was hours of torture, like nails in the coffin of my failure.  It spawned a right to life argument in my class between the pro-abortion and the anti-abortion camps, during which I stayed silent.  It is not place nor my desire to debate reproductive ethics or the choices of others.  I’m not that person.

But the discussion hurt, as did any discussion on reproduction.  It hurt because I could remember everything, even the smallest of details.

*

I have always had an obsession with pajama pants.  My dresser contains several different kinds: thin, thick, fuzzy, regular, sweatpants, yoga pants, shorts.  You name it, I have it.

That day, I had to pick a pair that were loose.  Comfy.  I couldn’t choose.

I needed a friend.  It was hard for me to drop the wall, hard for me to say the words.  That I was making a choice for me and only me.  That it wasn’t a light choice.  That it was serious.  That I needed help.

That it was killing me.

I picked my gray owl pants.  They were the most comfortable pants I owned and big enough that I drowned in them.  They were the best that I could do.  To make up for things.  To myself, to him.

My life will always be a struggle to make up for that which I can’t make up for.

*

I took a Creative-Nonfiction writing class last semester where we had writing workshops weekly.  One day, a piece about rape came up in my assigned reading.  I couldn’t read it; I held in my hand and found myself completely paralyzed.  The critique of the piece spiraled into a debate over the act of raping a woman versus the use of the word rape to describe an herb.  I couldn’t believe that a word used to describe something so horrendous could be the subject of jokes in this manner.  I walked out and slammed the door before promptly bursting into tears in the hallway.  Because they didn’t know.  Because they couldn’t.

In that same class, we had a bi-weekly assignment in which we were instructed to write about new experiences.  I wrote about him; I wrote about the things that had happened.  I couldn’t talk about things, but I could write.  My professor N wrote very little by way of commentary on the piece, minus a blurb at the end:  “This is a new experience I wish no one ever had.  You treat it with grace and dignity, and that allows you to bend and shape it to your will.  As your instructor, this is all I can ever ask for.  I do think it’s good for you to be writing, so keep doing it.  K?”

So, I did.  I wrote about everything.

I wanted to tell her.  I wanted someone to tell me I had made the right decisions.  But I couldn’t.

*

I believe that people have a right to make choices.  I didn’t use to be this way; I followed along with the husband and did the things that I was told.  But I’ve begun to realize that my ideas and needs are important too, that I have a place in the world despite what it may feel like at times.  Many choices in life aren’t easy.  The decision to have or not have another baby was not easy.  In fact, many choices are completely and totally ridiculous and lead to utter insanity.

Not all choices have a good and a bad.  Most things fall into the gray area.  Black and white do not always exist.  A choice is the opportunity to choose or select something; it is an indication that there is more than one path.  We all have to make choices.  We may not like any of the possible outcomes, but we always have to make choices.

The things that have happened to us previously remain in our lives as an echo, batting around in the background.  Affecting our choices.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  It makes the things we actually do feel so much heavier.

*

I read a piece at the end of the year last year that really struck me, a piece that made me realize I was not alone.  It was different; the situation obviously wasn’t the same.  But I was no the only one.  I was not nothing.  I could take the experience and bend and shape it to my will, just like N had said.  Just like those prior.  The piece told me that there was another side, that I didn’t have to be by myself in my life.  It saved me during a time in which I was drowning.  But I never told the author, until a recent stumbling attempt.  I didn’t know how.  I’m worried about what she’ll say.

There are many things in my life that I am ashamed of, that I want to hide.  Maybe I don’t need to be, but I am.  And as much as I want to hide these things, I also want someone to tell me that it’s okay.  That I’m okay.  That I’m still real.  That life and the events therein didn’t kill me.

That I’m still respected even though my past is a permanent fixture on the wall of my life.  That I’m not alone in it.

That it will be okay.  Just okay.  I’d be good with that.

Some days I just need to hear those words.

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Stars

We walk down the dark road under the cover of trees, like something out of a fairytale once the lights go down.  I hold the Walgreens bought flashlight out in front of us and swing the beam back and forth to ward off animals.  And people.  I can’t decide which would be worse, running into an animal in the middle of the woods or running into a person.  I come to the conclusion that either would be terrifying, and then wonder why I didn’t just stay in the tent.  But E wants to see the stars.

“You can’t see them in the city,” she tells me as we emerge from the tree cover into an open area that is the junction of several different roads.  “It’s nice to just look.”

We both crane our necks so that our faces are parallel to the sky.  “That one’s the…” I pause, uncertain.  “It’s one of the dippers, anyway.”  It has been years since I had an astrology course.

“Which one’s the North Star?” E spins around in a circle, her face still pointed at the sky.  She points at one.  “I bet it’s that one.”

“That might be a plane,” I respond.

“Or a UFO.”

We are quiet, both of us observing the beauty that isn’t visible in the city limits.

“I love this stuff.”  E breaks the silence.

“It’s cool.”

“I took a class in this a couple semesters ago.  Did you know that the light from stars takes so long to reach us that the original star is dead by the time we see it?”

I did know that.  Everything dies. 

*

I am sitting on a table.  It’s cold.  The gown they made me put on does not in any way fully cover me, and I fight the urge to bury myself under the disposable blanket that covers the table.  It isn’t meant to cover me.  It’s meant to separate me from germs.  Rational me knows that, but irrational me just wants to dig a hole to China.  I could.  Dig.  But I don’t.  I stay, because that is what I am supposed to do.  

I always do what I am supposed to do.

I wish that someone had written a guidebook for this situation, a narrative that I could read and follow to the letter.  But there are no letters or tricks or people who have went before, because I am alone.  I want it that way.  I do.  I really do.

I keep telling myself that.  But the truth is, I wish someone was there.  I wish someone understood.  Anyone.

“I could call someone.  Is there…someone?” the doctor asks.

Drowning:  the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in a liquid substance.  I am drowning in this and I don’t know what to do.

I remember the conversations from the day it happened in a strange hazy detail, like I am watching them on television at the same time as reading a book.  Like they happened to someone else.  It couldn’t have been me.  Not me.

I shake my head no.  The person I came with doesn’t need to be here.  No one needs to see me like this.  I lay back and the doctor begins the exam, pokes around.  I close my eyes.

When I was younger, I believed that marriage was forever.  I believed that I would marry this awesome guy, buy a house with a picket fence, have at least three kids, and live happily ever after.  The “perfect” life.  What I didn’t realize then is that happily ever after is different for everyone.  Life is not always a fairytale.  The “perfect” picture isn’t necessarily the ideal it appears to be.  Allowances must be made.

“I’m sorry…”

I didn’t realize I’d spoken out loud until I opened my eyes and realized the doctor was staring at me.  “Are you okay?”

Fantastic, I think.  But I say nothing out loud.  The doctor continues.  There is a poster on the ceiling, a picture of a line of cowboys, all with tight jeans and cowboy hats.  And no shirt.  They have tight abs and awesome hair and their eyes seem to stare down at me.  I am struck by the irony of it, by the men staring down at me in the place that I am now.  Exposed.    

I would rather I die.  

I see stars.

*

My life is a series of flashes.  

Of him.  Of babies.  Cribs.  

I picture the hat.  A swirly white kaleidoscope of everything baby.  It echoes, bangs inside my head.  And all I can think is how sorry I am.  It all twists and turns and echoes inside of my head and I can’t make it stop.

So sorry.  So, so sorry.

I cannot be this person.  This person cannot be me.  Please.  No.

Too late.

*

I am expected to put on real clothes.  The nurse asks if I want help and I nod, but I’m not sure if I do.  I’m not fully aware of what’s happening.  They need me to stand up to put my pants on, so I do.  The lack of awareness inside me morphs into full blown numbness that morphs into a shattering pain when my feet hit the ground.  Ten million knives stab my insides and my heart.  They have to put my pants on for me.  I would much rather fold.

There are instructions, prescriptions, notes, talking.  So much talking when all I want in the world is to sleep.  Forever.

I am brought home.  I let myself out of the car, refusing help.  I am numb, medicated, deeply heavy.  I don’t want anyone.  Not now.  I take the stairs one at a time, hauling myself by the railing.  I’m dimly worried I will fall, but I don’t.  I make it.  I collapse on the bed.  

I won’t remember any of this until much later.  Until I come back out.  Until I see the light.

*

The light that is shining right now, the light we see?  It’s an old story.  

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Germination

“If a seed dropped did not germinate, it was nothing. If the young thrusting plant withered in drought or drowned in a flood of rain, it was no more to the driver than to the tractor.” -John Steinbeck

I picture your firsts. Your first word. Mommy. Your first haircut. I will keep your hair inside of a memory box. Your first day of school. Kindergarten. You will carry a plastic lunchbox and a backpack, and you will cry when I leave you with your teacher. I will cry too. Your first date. Your wedding. I picture how these things will go, how you sound and what you look like. I imagine holding you; I envision how your fingers will feel in mine when I help you cross the street and how you will come to me for advice as you get older. That will be my job, to give you advice. To help you grow. To germinate. This is what a mother does. What I would have done, were I your mother. Am I? Your mother? What makes a mother?

In this world people die every day of sickness and disease, violence, and so many other things. That won’t happen to you. You don’t feel any pain anymore. You feel nothing. I wonder where you are, if it’s better. If you are. I wonder if you’re alone or with him. Together. I picture that. It doesn’t make it better. Nothing makes it better.

I sit in my bed, the sheets clutched in my fists and tears streaming down my face. I wish that I could rewind time, that I could go back and give you these things. It is dark, late. I wish I could be with you for real. But that won’t happen. Decisions have been made that can’t, shouldn’t, be reversed. All the crying in the world won’t bring you back. I blame myself. I shouldn’t; there are a trail of reasons why this is not my fault. But I blame myself. The spotlight only shines on the things I did wrong, the contributions I made to the situation. I tell myself I could have done differently, made different choices, even though I know that isn’t true.

Germinate. The act, process, or result of germinating; the evolution of a germ or seed; the formation of an embryo from an ovum. The beginning of vegetation or growth in a seed. The beginning of life.

I am wrapped in a sweatshirt, blue and old. Worn. I picture so many things, so many ways in which our lives would have intertwined. I picture all of the reasons why they can never intertwine. All of the wrongs. I am angry for what happened, that this happened, that my life was changed in this way. That yours was. I like to think that you’re not alone. I am in pain for so many reasons, things that you will never understand. It’s better that way.

I can’t talk to other people about you. You will never have a playdate. You will never know me. You won’t grow. You won’t ever set foot on the ground, feel the grass between the toes. You will never pet a kitten; you will never go to school. You will never grow old, because you will never grow at all. You just won’t. Nothing can change that or make it better. If the you are the seed that dropped and failed to germinate, what happened is the tractor and life it’s driver. It doesn’t matter to the tractor. The tractor is just a thing. It doesn’t matter to the driver, to life. No one really knows, life goes on. Minus you. I worry it matters to no one.

I want you to know that it matters to me.

I talk to you as if you are real. Well, not real. Not exactly. You are real. You just aren’t here in front of me. I talk to you as if you are grown, as if you are my age and we are having a conversation. I pretend that you understand. I explain to you the reasons why, even the reasons I don’t know myself. I apologize. Because I am. Sorry.

So sorry.

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I Brought This On Myself

Fall semester one year ago, I took what I to this day believe to be the worst class in the world.  It was an environmental science class.  Science is not my forte to begin with, but the concept sounded interesting so I went with it for my science gen-ed.  The last class before our first exam, the professor passed out a sheet labelled “Exam 1 Study Guide.”  Common logic would assume that the things on the sheet should be studied for Exam One.  Rather than stick with my normal study habits of flashcards and highlighting/annotating the textbook, I decided to study the study guide instead.

It turned out that absolutely NOTHING on the so-called study guide appeared on the exam.  And for the first time EVER I (literally) failed a test.

I grew incredibly frustrated with the course.  I skipped quite a few days; I stopped paying attention in lectures that I did attend, except when I had to take notes for a friend who was absent.  I didn’t really study.  I got A’s on the homework, but not on exams.  The course gets the honor of my one and only B minus.  I don’t believe I’ve ever had one before, in college or even high school.  The thing is, I brought it on myself.  I gave up.  I stopped trying.

*

I am mad at the world right now, and it’s bleeding through into my life.  I have heard the phrase “you brought this on yourself” one too many times, and I’m officially feeling horrible.  There is a difference between bringing things on yourself and having them happen to you.  As much as it hurts, and as much it feels like it sometimes, we really aren’t magnets.  The excuse was made that it’s men and that they don’t know any better.  That isn’t true, and the idea is a shit show.  I KNOW that there are men out there who know better.  I know.

I can count the number of people I legitimately trust on one hand.  For real.  I tried to let a new person into this circle (though only because I was forced to.)  He asked me a series of questions.

“How was your day?”

“What brings you here?”

“How do you sleep at night?”

“You lost a child?”

“How was your relationship?”

I answered in one-syllable answers.  Fine.  Sleep.  Okay.  Yes.  Meh.  And then.

“Tell me about the sexual assault.”

I took precautions to make this work; I asked for the things I needed like I thought I was supposed to do.  The door was open.  I could see out into the hall; I could see that I wasn’t in trouble.  But hell if it didn’t feel like I was going to die.  Because there is no one-syllable answer for that question.  There is no one word that can sum up my feelings.  There aren’t twenty, or even a hundred.  It isn’t possible.  This is as close as I come to accepting these things as part of my past.

I didn’t answer.  So he filled the silence.  He asked if I knew that I need to be “normal.”  I need to be able to be in a room with a man with the door closed.  I need to be able to interact with all members of the universe without fear.  I need to snap out of myself.  “You should be able to do it,” he told me, with an emphasis on the should that implied I was a massive screw-up.  Here I was, proud of myself for showing up at all, and here he was proving my worst fear.

I will never be normal, or okay.

*

There is a guy at school with whom things have become…weird.  He asked me out on a date once, but it became very apparent that I was not (nor will I probably ever be) ready to be in any kind of relationship.  Not only is he significantly younger (ten years) than me, we’re very different people.  This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with either one of us; it just means that we don’t fit.  I’ve tried to explain this to him, and I flounder at the idea that he doesn’t understand.  I don’t know how I could have made it more clear.  I just want things to not be awkward.  I want us to work together like grown-ups.  But I don’t know that it will happen, and that’s not a fault of mine.  I’ve tried.

Did I bring this on myself?  Because I was hurt in the past and scared and not in want or need for a relationship?  Is it my fault that it’s a stressor now?  Entirely possible.  I know people who think so.  I just wish they wouldn’t say it.  It only reaffirms what is already tangled up inside my head.

That it is my fault.  All of it.  This.  The past.  The assault.  Even the marriage.  All of it.

*

We talked about captivity narratives in one of my classes today, and about fault.  What it means to be captive versus what it means to be free.  The first one in the book (that we read) was by a woman named Mary Rowlandson.  We got on the discussion of why the Indians in these narratives didn’t rape the women.  (Not all Indians raped women; that’s a horrible stereotype.)  The question bounced around the room several times.  The professor pointed out that Mary was bound and not allowed to make her own decisions.  She was captive to the choices of other people and to God.  She didn’t choose to go.  She didn’t want to be kidnapped.  She didn’t bring it on herself.  I cried.  It was short and brief and no one saw.  But I cried.  On day four.  I let myself down.

Did I bring this on myself too, this struggle to handle certain course materials?  I stayed in school.  Does the fact that I actually SPOKE in my classes today balance out the fact that I cried in one?  Is it okay to sometimes be okay and sometimes not?  I don’t know how to answer this.  I don’t know that there is an answer.  I don’t think anyone is normal.

*

By accepting the suggestion that the triggers in the after are brought on by, well, me, I am (at least in part) taking responsibility for everything.  The assault, the loss, the marriage.  I am negating the progress I have made.  And the people who say it, the people who tell me “you brought this on yourself,” they don’t know the implications of how much their words spiral inside my brain.  I can’t be mad at them.  I can wish they would know differently.  I can wish I could explain it.  But I can’t be angry, because part of me knows that the words don’t have a grain of truth in them.  I didn’t ask for any of my past to happen to me.  I didn’t ask to be hurt.  I am not a magnet with an on button that allows me to draw the shit to me.  These things just happened.  They happened to me.  And when people say “you brought this on yourself,” it’s my choice what I choose to do with that, just like it was my direction which way to go after.

Sometimes it feels like I can’t do it, like I don’t fit, like I never will.  And other times I know the answer and I’m me again.  Those confident times are emerging more and more.  I’m pushing through and I’m trying; I’m bringing them on myself.  It is, as always, my choice.

Today, I cried.  Tomorrow, I keep moving forward.

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