Tag Archives: responsibility

Now You See Me

You are the faintest image on a backdrop of a million people. The man in the corner of the train car with headphones and a green hoodie (I used to wear your green hoodie so often just to breathe your cologne that you hid it from me); the man at the stoplight with spiky hair (you spent more time in the mirror perfecting yours than I ever did mine); the man on the bench in the station playing guitar (you loved that guitar more than you ever loved me). You are everywhere in every piece of everything. And some days I ignore it. But some days I don’t.

You are an ever present tape that plays on repeat inside my head, and I think you always will be. And I’m sad. And I’m sorry. About a lot of things. But not sorry about what you did to me, because that was all you. Rather than sorry, I find that I’m actually angry–and I’m strangely okay with that. I’m angry that you still have this power to put me in a funk, no matter how far or how long apart we are. I’m angry that I let you. I’m angry that I allow you to control me, still, after all this time, from wherever you sleep tonight when I don’t, from whoever you’re with now. I’m angry that you can’t take it back; I’m angry that you don’t want to. I’m angry that I still think about you sometimes, that I can’t forget you. I’m angry. With you.

Marriage doesn’t equal ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved when you forgot our vows to begin with. You had no right of any kind. I never said this to you, but I should have had to–silence is not consent. You had to know this. Your payment? It’s small, too small. Don’t tell me that you’re sorry, do not ever tell me that you’re sorry. Don’t say that you love me. You couldn’t possibly.

Yes, maybe you stripped me of something, but you also gave me something. I am strong, powerful. Connected. Brave. And this, this is what you are up against when you fight inside my head. And it’s time for you to lose.

So get out.

Get out of my head. Get out of the backdrop of my life. Stop talking to me. Stop saying that you love me. Take a second and actually see me. See what you’ve done. And then walk away.

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Then Again, Maybe I Won’t

We were sitting by the pool, draped on a set of decrepit matching white beach chairs—me, B, B’s mother, B’s sister. I was covered in a towel so no one would see my pathetic body in my bathing suit. It was June; the baby had died the end of February. I hadn’t felt much like exercising, and I wasn’t ready to be in a bathing suit, or, rather, I wasn’t ready to see myself and be seen. 

“Have you thought about it?” B’s mother asked. “Having another?”

She said it so nonchalantly, like it was nothing to her when it was everything to me. I couldn’t replace my son just like that, couldn’t snap my fingers and create another, a baby to take his place. Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t? 

B’s sister slipped away, into the pool, completely removing herself from the conversation.

When I didn’t answer, B did it for me, “We didn’t go back on birth control, so if it happens, it happens.”

I thought of them in my purse, the birth control pills I’d refilled but not told him about, the tiny round dots in their little plastic slots; I thought of the endless times I’d said I was on my period over the prior months rather than submit myself to the process of baby creation, baby replacing. I thought of the doctor, and how he said we had to wait six weeks before we could try again, and how we did wait those six weeks, and how we did try again, and again, even when I didn’t want to, even when I said no. 

B’s sister was pregnant, due in the middle of the summer. She was in the pool no problem, paddling slowly back and forth completely unashamed of her round body. She would have the first child of the family, not me. 

Not me. It was like my son had never existed. Everyone was moving on. 

The thought of what I didn’t have, the hole left by my unmentioned dead son, made me brazen in my speech in a way inappropriate for my gender. “We did.” I never talked back. I knew better.

“We did?” B’s brow furrowed.

“Go back on birth control.”

That’s a marriage, isn’t it? Telling each other the difficult things? We were supposed to tell each other the difficult things. 

B’s mother produced pamphlets from her pool bag and started dropping them onto my lap one by one. How to Know When to Have Another Baby. A Women’s Place in the Home. Raising Your Family After Grief. Yadda yadda yadda. I opened none of them, but I saw all of them. “It’s your job to raise a family,” she told me. “Your job to be a mother. You can’t just turn away from that. It’s God’s plan that your son died, and it’s God plan that you have another.” 

I fumbled the keys to our condo out from under my chair and stood up, the towel firmly pressed around my middle. “If it’s God plan that my son is dead, that is not a God I want. I don’t believe God would want me to replace him.” 

B said nothing; he did not speak up for me, but instead chose to follow his mother into the pool to splash around with his sister while I fumbled back to our condo as the sun passed over. He said nothing all afternoon, went to dinner with his parents where I was not invited, and then came home and said nothing all night. But he stood behind me in the bathroom, me at the sink, him with his arms around me and his hands as fists against the counter, while I poked the pills out of the package one by one and let them find their way down the open hole of the drain. Each disappearance another black strike of dishonor to my son. 

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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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On Modesty

I was shopping with my best friend a few years ago in downtown Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) when we came across a cute clothing store. This was right at the beginning of my brief love affair with dresses, an addiction since squashed by my dog walking job. But back then, I stood, pretty much pressed to the glass, and stared at the most adorable dress I had ever seen. It had yellow and black horizontal stripes, and just looked really super cute. I dragged my friend into the store to see it. Flipping through the hangers for my size, I’m fairly certain that I squealed in victory when there was precisely one that would fit me. And then I held it up to myself. That dress was SHORT. I mean, it was SHORT short. The hem would hit above my knees. I put it back on the rack without bothering to try it on, and we left the store without buying anything.

I posted a Facebook status as we were walking away, searching for other fun things to buy. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I wanted my friends to convince me to go back and buy the dress. And they came through. They valiantly tried. But I did not go back and get the dress.

For most of my life, I was taught that it was my responsibility to keep men’s eyes off of me. The rules for this were overwhelming at best. Don’t wear anything too low cut. Don’t wear anything with too short a hem. Don’t wear anything too tight. Don’t wear anything see-through. So, what could I wear? Anything that wouldn’t “cause a man’s eye to stray.” That’s a direct quote—I’ve heard it said so many times. But why is it MY responsibility to keep a man from looking at me? Isn’t it that man’s responsibility not to look in the first place?

Easy. It’s not. Being modest and afraid to wear anything that would show the slightest bit of skin certainly didn’t save me from being hurt in the past. I recall a heavy coat and jeans and a variety of not-revealing clothing items on my body. That didn’t stop him from being an asshat, and it certainly didn’t protect me. Case and point, I was hurt because someone else couldn’t control himself. It was not because of me or anything I was wearing. It seems ridiculous to place so much responsibility on the person being looked at over the person doing the looking. We can’t control who looks at us unless we want to stay home all day and never leave the house. We can only control who we ourselves look at.

I’ve been on an anti-modesty kick lately. It’s hot out. Sometimes it gets close to 100, and I’m out walking dogs from 10am to 6pm pretty much every day. Old Navy had a sale last weekend—47 cent (33 cents with the extra discount!) active wear tank tops and discounted sports bras. This week has been a treasure trove of anti-modesty. Shorts that are as high on my thighs as shorts can go without showing any butt and active wear tank tops over sports bras. Yup, you can see my skin. Nope, I don’t care. Because I’m hot, and if I can find a little way too cool off without being naked, I’m going to do it. It’s not an invitation to men to stray. For real, it’s just me staying cool. I’m going to wear what I want to wear, and if you don’t like it, don’t look. It is really just that simple.

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The Ultimate Escape

There once was a penguin that lived in the middle of the coldest part of the world.  This penguin built her home on a giant block of ice, and spent all day every day swimming in the water around the ice and catching fish.  One day, the penguin saw a bird flying overhead.  She looked at its beautiful wings and decided that she too wanted to fly.  She saw that she had wings, and she knew that only birds had wings.  She assumed that because she had wings she was a bird, and that because she was a bird, she could fly.  She flapped her wings and flapped her wings but nothing happened.  She couldn’t fly.  She got nowhere.  She was trapped on the ice, but instead of enjoying her life as she had before, she spent every minute trying to escape it.

The penguin had a concept of herself as a happy, swimming, fishing creature.

But when she saw the bird, it was all ruined.

*

“I can convey this on a literary level,” I tell M.  “That’s why I wrote the piece the way I did.  The tense shift in terms of the event itself is really how it is, how it feels.  It’s separated.  Detached.”

She nods and scribbles something down on her pad.  “What happens when you try to talk about it?”

“Talk about it?”

“Like, out loud.  You call it ‘the event.’”

I spin a strand of hair around my finger and say again, “I can convey how I feel on a literary level.  With writing.”

“But not out loud.  What would happen if you did?  If you talked, out loud?”

I have a million or more answers to that question.  First and foremost, it would make it real.  I didn’t want it to be real.  I wanted to rewind to a happier time when I didn’t have to think about these things.  When I didn’t have to wonder if people would hate me.  When I didn’t hate myself.  I deflect her question.  “I’ve been doing better in class.  I talk to people.  I share stuff.”

M refuses to let it go.  “But back to the piece.  What would happen if you said these things out loud?  If you used the words?  If you incorporated the experience back into yourself?”

I would drown.  I would hate myself even more.

I stare out the window over her shoulder and watch the birds flying over the field.  And I wish that I could fly.  If I could fly, things would be so much better.  I wouldn’t be here any more.  I wouldn’t belong to him.

*

There is a common misconception that penguins mate for life.  Many penguins do indeed remain with one partner, just like people do.  Especially during mating season.  However, once mating season is over, many penguins choose to find a new mate.  Once the penguin children are born, the love dissipates.

*

I remember sitting on my bed maybe a year or so after my son died.  A lot had happened in that time. I’d gotten sick; I’d gotten better.  I’d gone bat-shit insane.  And I’d left my husband for totally justifiable reasons.  My crazy was justified.  But as I sat there on that bed, the orange box cutter from work clutched in my fist, I was lost.  It was around three in the morning.  The cat stared at me, swishing her tail back and forth.  The thoughts beat around inside my head.

He hurt because of what I did.  Because of Carter.  That’s why we’re not together.  Because of me.

I had seen another life.  I had seen another way of being, and then I had lost it.  I had lost my son; I had lost my husband; I had lost everything.  It was all because of me, and I couldn’t escape that.  I couldn’t escape myself, no one can.  But there was a way.  There was this way.  I told myself I wasn’t strong enough for anything else.  That was a lie.  It was nothing more than a moment when I realized I could never escape him.  That he would always be part of me.  That I didn’t know how to go forward.

The ultimate escape.  Only not.  Because it’s not escaping anything.  It’s just an end, and not a good one.  Never.

There’s always another way.  There’s always another choice.

*

I am that penguin.  My self concept was shattered.  I spend every waking moment trying to escape.  It’s my life goal.  Escape what?  Escape my thoughts, my past.  Escape my son.  Escape him.

Escape myself.

But I can’t.

I want to fly, but I am trapped inside my own head.  I want to express myself, but I’m missing the words.  I still belong to him.

*

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can feel his hands on me.  I can see his eyes boring into mine, but I can’t turn away.  I don’t like to sit on the couch where he was, or in the car where he was.  I don’t like to walk where he walked.  When I open my mouth, I imagine what he would think about what comes out of it.  I imagine that he would disapprove, and then I disapprove.  And I stay silent.  Still.  Because the belonging is that solid, that deep.  That lasting.  Because I let his disapproval mean more than any amount of approval ever could.

I believe that, even now, it will always exist.  I will always be his.  I will always be here.  Looking back now, I know that I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.  I almost let him take everything from me, but then I didn’t.  I held on.  I stayed.  But I take the failures hard, and I run away from the truth.  I run away from the things that happened because it’s easier to me than admitting them as true.  It’s easier for me than saying they are real.  It’s easier for me than taking responsibility, because I don’t know where that responsibility lies.  Every ounce of me wants to put it on him, but I know that it doesn’t all go there.

I’m scared that, as hard as I try, I will never be able to fly.  But I still keep going; I keep trying.  I need to remember that I’m a penguin.  I’m okay.  Giving up is a choice I am not willing to make.

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