Tag Archives: marriage

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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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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The Rainbow

The most popular girl in our seventh grade class was Lissa. She wasn’t all that
pretty, at least I didn’t think so. But I wasn’t one to talk. The special thing about her was that she was just incredibly engaging. Everyone wanted to be around
her, to have her sit at their table during lunch. 

Lissa’s birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria on this particular day. I heard that the invitations were selective, not like the normal “everyone in the class gets one” invites that we had grown up with. I heard she was handing them out herself. I also heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals all over them. God, I wanted that invitation. I viewed it as a ticket to…something. I wasn’t sure what exactly. Fitting in? Knowing that I really had friends? I was always trying to figure out what I was missing and how to make up for it rather than trying to fit where I actually fit as I was. 

I stared at my red segmented lunch tray as Lissa passed the invitations out at our table. She gave one to everyone—everyone that is except for me. I stared at my gloppy middle school cafeteria slop and tried to figure out what I’d done to not be the recipient of the rainbow colored door to the rest of my life. 
I rarely ate lunch in the cafeteria after that day; I hid in the bathrooms or in a teacher’s classroom whenever I could get away with it. Alone. That day with Lissa was the day where I stopped really trying to connect with my friends on a genuine level. Where I let myself drift away from the herd because I realized I’d never be like them; where I stopped being seen. 

The thing about B is that he saw me. I think that’s what drew me to him really. He had this power in the beginning to make me the center of his everything, and his gaze was that rainbow I had been missing. At least I thought that he saw me. His rainbow held all the things I thought I had to be. Girlfriend, wife. Mother. Perfect. Beautiful. 

One of the last times I saw him before he went away, in a crowded aisle in the local Target a month or two after we filed for divorce, I found myself remembering my first kiss. Not with him. It was a boy named Adam, in the local teen coffeehouse in front of the Coke machine. Adam was running down the steps wearing a green puffer jacket that smelled like pot, intent on getting to the sofas where his friends were. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached out and grabbed him by the collar and laid one on him. “Wow,” was all he said. I felt nothing, but Adam told me later he felt everything. 

I realized in Target that I couldn’t remember a single kiss with B in any clarity, while my three second Coke machine relationship has a lasting mark. My first memory on that vein of myself with B is his hand down my pants on the local baseball diamond. There was only me and him, a possession, an ownership. He saw me as a thing. I desperately wanted to see him as that rainbow. 

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Death

Our marriage began with a death.

Sunday night, a lot of years ago. October, maybe? I was on my way back to Wisconsin from Indiana, where I had been helping chaperone a herd of teenagers at a Christian youth event in the Thunderdome, when his mother told me he had a surprise waiting at my apartment. My apartment where he was not allowed to be.

“Did you give him my key?” I couldn’t keep the scorn out of my voice. “I don’t want him in my house.” There was a lot I didn’t say. Were there blankets on the couch. I’m pretty sure I left blankets on the couch. You know he’s going to want to do things, right? That he won’t want to hear no? You know there’s a reason I took his key away? I blinked without continuing out loud.

Her reply seemed strange at the time. “You seem ungrateful. You should be grateful. You will be.”

I arrived home to baked chicken, handmade potatoes, and cheese covered broccoli, one of the only veggies I actually enjoyed eating. He had cooked me all of my favorite things, covered my cheap gray card table in a fancy red table cloth adorned with two silver candle holders with pine green candles. We watched Amityville Horror on the couch, under the blanket of course even though the apartment was easily in the 70s, and then he proposed to me with very little fanfare. I said yes with equally little fanfare. The proposal was nothing like the movies. After he left, I went to feed my betta fish, Bob, and found him belly up in his tank. Dead.

Five years later, I was in my OBs office for my 37 week pregnancy appointment, without him, making small talk with a nervous handed nurse with hints of lemon on her breath about a mission trip I’d been on at seventeen to build houses in Jamaica. Her hands shook because of the things they wouldn’t show me on the backward facing monitors, the test results that told them my son was dead, the results that, once confirmed, I could trace back to near precisely the minute it had happened–me sitting at my desk on my last day of work as a merchandising manager, eating cheese poppers from Pizza Hut and entering theft numbers into the computer while giving zero fucks about accuracy because I knew I would never return.

Our marriage ended with a death. But had it ever been living?

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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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No More

This is the last anniversary I will remember. Or, at least, I plan to try.

I am told that, on this day, I need to say goodbye to you. And so, I shall. I do not remember the first day we met; I wonder if that’s some sort of sign. I just remember knowing you. I watched you from across the stage, playing the guitar while I taught people to sing the alto lines. I’m not sure why I was watching, but I was. I don’t remember the first time we spoke. I don’t remember much about that time at all.

My first kiss came when I was seventeen years old. I was working as a volunteer at a church coffeehouse in my hometown, where kids went every Friday night in an attempt to hide from the real world. My job involved roaming the floor and making sure people stayed out of trouble, checking the bathrooms to shoo out underage smokers, and occasionally brewing coffee. That night, however, I was trying to be seen. I wanted someone to notice me. Anyone. And Adam walked by. He put his hand on my shoulder, I drew him in towards the Coke machine, and I kissed him. I didn’t care about him.

“Whoa,” he cried as I pulled away. “I mean, yay. But what was that for?”

I tightened my fingers in his hair and kissed him again. He leaned into it this time, his lips responding to mine and his tongue finding its way into my mouth. We only separated when the kids around us started wolf-whistling. His eyes searched mine, inquisitive, but the blood rushed to my face and I looked away. I want to see if I could still feel. Apparently, I could.

I remember all of the details of this night vividly. But. I do not remember our first kiss.

When I was a kid, I did not believe I would ever get married. There were a lot of reasons for that. One, I wasn’t interested. Two, there wasn’t really anybody out there. Three, I didn’t believe anyone would ever ask me. And then someone did. I firmly believed that there would never be anybody else. I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I thought I didn’t have a choice. I got on the first ship that sailed by, because I believed there would never be another.

I remember leaving you. Many times. I knew how uncertain I was, yet I went with it anyway; I kept coming back to you. And while I’m sorry for that, I’m also not. The path I took got me where I am now, and while I wish many of the things that had happened along the way had never happened, I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken the path I had. The time we had together is forever tarnished, the bad outweighing the good tenfold. I remember all of the bad things you said, the lessons you taught me, the idea that I wasn’t worth anything. I remember these things, but not the good milestones. Not the things I should remember. You played on the internal dialogues I had previously created; I let you do it. I was wrong, but so were you.

Marriage does not equate to ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved the day those vows went ignored. You can’t make up for what happened. You may think you have stripped me of something, and maybe you did. But you also gave me a gift. I am stronger now. Powerful. Connected. Brave. This is what you are up against. I am stronger on my own now than I ever was with you, with anyone.

All of my life, I have let other people dictate my actions. That’s not all on them; that’s on me too. I am horribly codependent. There are probably many reasons for this, but I don’t understand all of them. There are a lot of things in life that I do not understand, but one thing I am certain of is that I have given you much too much of my precious time. You made me feel unworthy of my own time, my own space, when I am anything but. I can’t devote anything more to you. In the spirit of that thought, it is time to let you go. Wherever you are, on this, what would have been our anniversary, I hope that you are thinking of me. I hope that you are sorry; I doubt that you are. You took a lot from me. I want to take what I can back.

In years past, I have burned our wedding invitation. Visited the church where we were married. Sat quietly by myself and done nothing. But I have never actually said goodbye. I thought I couldn’t let you go, but maybe letting go is not the physical thing I thought of it as. Maybe it is simply denying you anymore power.

Therefore, I am thinking of you today, but I vow to make every effort that this will be the last time. You get no more space in my head.

No more.

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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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The L-Word (I Didn’t Know)

Sometimes when you read something really poignant, it sticks with you even if the original topic is not what you yourself are considering.  I read something in the blog of an amazing writer I know today that really made think.  Perhaps it was the day I had today, or perhaps I just saw something in her words:

“Whether you’ve been in a long-distance relationship or not, how or why did you decide to move closer (or move in) with your person?”

This question made me think for hours.  Through my meetings, though homework, through grading and still more homework.  Here’s the blog:  http://thenicktr.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/the-live-in-girl/

I couldn’t figure out why this thought bugged me until now.  I remember.  I remember that I never really wanted my relationship; I remember that I didn’t dive in with both feet.  That I didn’t dive in at all.  I just sort of…fell.

*

The night that I knew I was going to marry my (now) ex was actually a morning.  One in the morning, in fact.  I was coming home from a twelve hour shift at the gas station I was running.  The day had been a cesspool of retail-related drama, and I wanted nothing more than to go home to my apartment, sink onto the couch, and devour my brand new DVD— “Joan of Arcadia” Season One.  As I was driving down the dark unlit road into our tiny town, I had a thought.  I wanted to see him.  I had worked all day, I was exhausted, but I wanted to see him.  Instead of turning to my house, I went the opposite direction and parked in front of his around the corner.  We sat at the piano together that night and both uttered the l-word.

I didn’t know what it meant.  I don’t think he did either.

When I left that night to go back around the corner to my apartment, I told myself that I was going to marry him.  And I did.

*

Two months before our wedding, we left the church we had been attending due to a series of unfortunate events with my ex’s mother.  We found another church for relatively cheap, but we lost our catering and our minister.  We had to find someone else to do the marriage counseling.  But someone we found all of these things in just enough time.  As one thing fell apart, another thing solved itself.  Around and around and around.

Until the night of the rehearsal dinner, when I got the phone call that my soon-to-be father in law had lit the side of the deck on fire making the chicken.

I should have seen the signs, but I didn’t know what love meant.

*

The night before my wedding, I remember sitting on my bed with my then best friend as she painted my toenails silver and told me I was making a horrible mistake.  She believed, with all of her heart, that I would die if I married him.  “Maybe God has another plan for you.  Maybe the fact that the wedding plans kept falling apart is a sign that He wants you somewhere else.  He’s not good for you.”  She thought that she would never see me again.

I didn’t understand what she meant until hours after she left.  It was three in the morning, and I was staring at my ceiling.  I had been incredibly excited about the wedding, the pretty dress and the flowers and my family and friends.  But did I love him?  Was I excited about him?  Was I making the wrong choice?  The fact that she was the third friend to cry upon realizing I was really going to marry him perhaps should have been an indication.  In my heart, I believed there wasn’t anyone else out there for me.

Did I love him?  I didn’t know the meaning of the word.

*

Two weeks after my decision to, as I put it in my head “marry that boy someday,” I had to ban him from coming inside my apartment.  I believed in the idea of not having sex outside of marriage, and he did not.  He claimed to.  But things were different when it was dark and the lights were down, when we were alone.  I wasn’t comfortable with him anymore, and I told him he couldn’t come over alone again until we were married.  He became quite angry.  One thing led to another, and then we were in the parking lot of the building and I was on the ground with a boatload of pain in my elbow.  He had shoved me to the ground.  I got in the car and drove away, ignoring his frantic pounding on the windows.  But when he followed me in his own car and cut me off in the middle of the country highway, I listened to his apology.  I went back.  I believed he could change.  I also knew that he was the only one who would ever love me.

He never changed.  And whether he loved me or not, I don’t know if he knew what the word meant either.

I didn’t know what love meant.

*

We got back from our honeymoon, and I had to go to work the very next night.  I didn’t have any time after church to go home and wanted to go through a drive-thru.  He informed me that the three dollars I spent were my three dollars to eat off of for the day.  There would be no more food money after that.

That was the beginning of the end of things.  Day thirteen.  But it would take me over five years and a lot of tragedy to figure that out.

I didn’t know what love meant.

*

I believe that we can find ourselves in relationships for the wrong reasons.  I didn’t want to be alone, so I married the first person who came along.  I tried to love him, and I tried to change him.  But I couldn’t love him because I didn’t love myself, and I couldn’t change him because nobody has the power to change anybody else.  I let him change me.  While the decisions were made by him, I didn’t do anything to stop him.  I didn’t know how.  I can see that now, and I know better than I did then.  I let our relationship mess my life up so badly that I couldn’t tell up from down by the time I left it.  Even though we’re apart now, the remains still linger in my soul, my life.  I’m just now learning how to separate myself from them and take the steps I need to towards who I really am.

Maybe I don’t know what love means.  But I’m learning.

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