Tag Archives: strength

The Leaving

The night I left the husband, I sat in the Walmart parking lot, slid my ring off my left hand, and dropped it into the car cup holder that was slick with spilled energy drink. It was an act of freedom, in a way. I had been bound for years by something I didn’t understand. We didn’t care for each other. Not really. When we said our vows, we quoted the Bible verse about love being eternal. Love was not eternal. Love was not real. Love was a piece of shit.

The next day at work, I punched the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom so hard that it came off the wall and sliced my hand open from ring finger to wrist. I told my coworkers it had fallen and I’d tried to catch it; this seemed like the right thing to say. The cut was so deep I should have gotten stitches, but I didn’t. I wanted to see it, the blood. I wanted to see that reflection of my pain. I wanted to see that punishment, the sentence handed down by the universe for forgetting my vows and removing my wedding ring. I wondered if he’d taken his off yet. I wondered when he would.

I’ve worn no rings since on either hand. Some days, like today, I’ll be walking and the sun will catch the aged scar, a few inches long and curdled white, and I’ll remember how much it bled. How much paper towel it took to stop the bleeding. That was the real act of freedom. The bleeding. I’ll look at the scar and I’ll think about how much my heart bled. How much effort and work and writing and pushing myself it took to stop that bleeding. How he made me feel worthless. How I needed to let that go.

I’m glad to carry this scar. I pawned my ring the first year I was in the city to pay my rent. I wasn’t sad. My heart didn’t bleed. That wound was already scarred.

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He Let Me Go

I believe that eyes are the mirrors into a dog’s soul. It sounds incredibly cliché, but it’s true—if I can look into the eyes of a dog and have them look back into mine, it’s a sign of trust and true connection. A sign of respect. When a dog knows that you respect it, that dog in turn respects you. I form relationships with my dogs; it’s what makes me so good at working with them. If I can get inside their heads, I can better help them.

My life hasn’t been easy. In my thirty plus years, the greatest lesson that I’ve clung to is to focus on doing the things I love. I don’t know how much time I have here in this world; no one does. Doing what I love makes it easier to get by, and I love working with dogs. I love the moment when a dog “gets” it, whether that be something basic like  sit, or something harder, like don’t lunge and bark at that passing dog. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Last week, I had a terrifying experience. I entered a client’s home and was attacked, unprovoked, by the dog––a dog that had shown no aggression of any type prior to the moment he latched onto me and refused to let go. I know that this happens, that sometimes dogs just snap. I’ve worked with human clients that have been attacked. But I never thought it would be me. I thought I knew what to do to prevent it, but I was powerless.

“What would you do if it was a man who attacked a woman?” a different client asked me when I told her what happened, when I asked her if she thought the dog should be put down.

“Well that’s a loaded question for me,” I laughed, as I do with anything serious, “but I’d kill him. I’d kill him, if that was a choice.”

I’ve been made to feel powerless before, and I never want to feel this way again. Not by a man, and certainly not by a dog. I didn’t expect this. I never thought I’d be the person who said a dog should die, because dogs are different than men. Dogs are inherently good; they just want to please us, and because of that, dogs are what we make them. Men? They choose to be bad.

I am gifted in that I have a brain that holds on to the smallest of details, sights, smells, feels. I can remember absolutely everything and transcribe it on paper like it’s happening right now. This is the best gift any writer could ask for, but it is also a curse. It is the worst curse, because I see things when I close my eyes. I see this dog. I see myself, perched on top of the couch like a cat on a phone wire, my limbs shaking, terrified of what will happen if I fall. I see myself the last time I was that terrified, on a cold night in March so many years ago. I see this dog when I try to sleep, his teeth bared; I hear his snarl, an eerie rumble of absolute rage like nothing I have ever heard. I see all of it clearly.

It was lunchtime. I entered the apartment the same as I always did, and saw the dog lying on the couch—that wasn’t expected. The dog had been in the home for almost a month, and in that month had become gradually more destructive. Gentle destruction—a little pee here, a moved pillow there, a tipped over coatrack there—but the owner had had enough. I recommended reintroducing the dog to the crate, because that’s what I would recommend to anyone in that situation. We talked about how to bring the crate back properly, and the owner had no issues getting the dog inside that first morning. But then I came in to the dog on the couch.

I took in the scene from the door of the apartment. The crate seemed to have all the doors shut, but a closer glance noted that the door in the corner, against the wall and the couch, had been broken away—leaving about four inches of space for this large dog to squeeze out. I squatted down to see what had happened, and when I reached for the crate, the dog was on me from behind and pinned me into the metal, spitting, snarling. He had my bag completely embedded in his teeth, and I turned towards him slowly, gently tried to slip out of the bag without scaring him. But he grabbed onto my calf with his teeth, and he held on.

In that moment, every ounce of training I had went out the window. I had deterrent spray, in the bag on my back, where I couldn’t reach it. I didn’t want to kick the dog, because I loved him, because he had always been good to me in the four weeks I’d known him, because he had never been aggressive before to people OR dogs. But then he grabbed for my butt, for my back, my side. He kept coming, and I did kick him then, not hard, just enough to scramble up the couch and perch on top. He pinned me there, his lips pulled back, and this dog had no eyes—just black holes. The dog I knew wasn’t there, not anymore. Whatever was going on inside his head had erased the part of him that knew me. That’s when dogs become scary, I think. When they no longer comprehend that their human respects them. I am good at what I do because I respect them.

I tried to step down off the couch and he grabbed my boot and sank his teeth into the  thick leather. Unable to extricate myself fully, I grabbed his tennis ball off the couch below me. I bounced it up and down in my hand, hoping it might spark something inside him of the dog I’d known. It didn’t. My heart slammed into my ribs as it dawned on me that I might not leave the apartment, that I might not be powerful enough to stop this dog. Yet I was. Powerful. And I knew enough; I knew what to do. Somehow, I moved the eight feet or so to the fridge while he tried to pull me in the other direction. I got the door open, and I found the sandwich meat, cheese. I started throwing food items in the opposite direction––any item, every item. I found his chicken jerky bag and upended it, scattering the nasty smelling sticks everywhere. Finally, he let go.

In the end, the dog let me go. He didn’t have to let me go, but he did. I think that counts for something.

I have so many questions, so many feelings. What happened to this dog in the past to make him lash out this way? What hurt him so badly that he couldn’t get better, even in a happy home? I’ve tried to analyze this case the way I would have had it happened to someone else, but it’s harder being in it than looking from the outside.

I don’t think this dog deserves to die. I can’t connect him to my past, beyond the level of terror that both inspired, beyond the level of power that both stole from me. So while I’d have no trouble saying kill the man, I could never say kill the dog. I hear the saying often that we get what we deserve, but I did not deserve this, any of this, and this dog does not deserve to die. What we deserve is never black and white; it’s never easy. Yes, it was scary, and yes, it sucked. It took me a week to figure out how to approach the subject at all. But really, maybe, I’m stronger for this, like I am stronger for every experience I’ve had. Maybe this happened to show me that I do indeed know my shit.

The dog bit me, yeah. But sometime, before that, he did love me.

And, he let me go.

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Threads

I wrote a paper last year regarding how discourse is a prevailing force in the creation of identity.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite papers—not because it’s good (though it is, I think), but because it’s the first time I ever really identified with an assignment.  It was the first time I really started to get myself.  In the introduction to this paper, I compared discourse to Crayola crayons:  “Discourse can be thought of like a box of Crayola crayons.  Crayola continuously invents unique new colors, such as inchworm and fuzzy wuzzy.  When we see a color that we don’t know, we assign  the color to a lesser category in our mind and reject it because we have no prior knowledge of that color.  Without prior knowledge of an experience, or, in this case, a crayon, the experience remains unnatural and not part of our identity.  Once we have seen the crayon and the name on its label, we are then able to know what color to assign it.  Without this assignment of a name, the color does not exist as a category.  This is how discourse functions, bringing us the necessary experiences to shape us into individuals; we give an item power when we name it because we give it existence.  The discourses or experiences that people have and the things that they learn are what make them the people that they eventually become, just like seeing a crayon with a unique name and then associating that name with a color.  Power and knowledge are gained from discourse, and people would be completely different beings without it.  Thoughts, exchanges of ideas, and conversations are unavoidable and affect how people view the things in their every day lives.  Discourse is what forms a person’s individual identity.”

See, I get this paper; I get discourse.  I get it, because there are so many different things that are part of my identity—and they’re not all good.  As a matter of fact, most of them aren’t.  But without all of these different threads, the different experiences that I’ve had, I would not be the person I am right now.  I would not be where I am.  I would not know the things I know.  I would not have the power that I have.  

I have named experiences within my life that I should never have had to name, that no one should have to name.  But I have survived them.  And I’m stronger for them.  The thing about discourse is that I know my strength, and I firmly believe that this is because of what I have endured in my life.  I am strong, and when new things come up I can conquer them because I have named things much more difficult.  I have been shaped into someone who is awesome, and so much more tough than I give myself credit for.  

I’ve been bothered by something for the past few days.  I’m getting ready to graduate, and I met with my advisor to sign up for courses for my final semester.  I only need three more classes to graduate (four to receive financial aid), and I really wanted one of those classes to be Shakespeare.  Not only is our college’s Shakespeare course taught by my advisor (who is awesome), it’s also Shakespeare.  

“Not marble, not the gilded monument / Of prince, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; / But you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone, besmear’d with skittish time.”  (Shakespeare, 55th Sonnet)

Beautiful writing.  Enough said.  If you don’t appreciate it, you’ve been living under a rock.  The course is hard—lots of reading, lots of paper writing, lots of discussion.  But my course load next semester was finally going to be low enough in terms of both workload and scheduling that I could make it work.  Until my advisor informed of what would make up a large part of the discussion:  rape, abuse, violence.  Some of it as a comedy.  And I knew then.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the course.  I wouldn’t be able to sit through that, but I wouldn’t be able to walk out of class that often.  I wouldn’t be able to be able to maintain a decent grade.  I wouldn’t be able to emotionally take care of myself.  This was something I wanted, for a myriad of reasons, and I had to let it go for my own wellbeing.  I had to sign up for something else instead.  

I beat myself up for it, for a while.  That I wasn’t good enough.  That I was triggered so easily.  That I was still letting people hurt me; that I was always letting people hurt me.  That I would never be okay.  I focused on the bad aspects of the situation, that I am not okay, that I will never be okay, that I couldn’t sign up for the class.  But I can see it now.  I can see that I was so focused on that that I missed the good thing; I had recognized a need in myself.  I had made a good decision in terms of taking care of myself, but I gave myself no credit for that.  I forgot that sometimes, strength comes in just letting yourself be.  Sometimes it feels like I will never really be okay; sometimes I forget that it’s okay to not be okay all the time.  It doesn’t mean that I’m not good enough.  It just means that I’m doing the best I can.  

I was having a text messaging conversation with one of the best writers I know recently, and I told her that she needed to go out and get famous so that I could “know her.”  She responded, “Wait—that’s what I’m expecting of you.”  Her statement really surprised me, that someone who can write so incredibly would infer that I will someday be more than I am now.  I don’t see life in statements of my goodness, but rather in areas where I have failed and lost.  But the funny thing is, I am a good writer.  I hear this all the time.  I don’t understand why it’s so hard for me to see.  I am good at this.  I am good at many things, because I have survived many things.  I am strong because I am still here, because I know the power that I have.

Without all of the threads, without every single piece, without everything I have named…I would not be good at many things.  I would not be strong.  I would not be anything at all.

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I Am

When I think of adjectives to describe myself, confident, articulate, and skilled are not the first things that pop into my head.  That’s not my tape; that’s not the dialogue that plays.  So when I hear it, I don’t always know how to respond.  True or not, it isn’t the norm.  

I am ugly.

Inarticulate.

Today, I cried.  So many reasons.

I am stupid.

I was sitting in my literature class today taking a reading quiz.  I got done early, because I always do.  My mind was wandering, and as I looked around the classroom my eyes came to rest on the bulletin board three feet to my left.  There were several posters.  Two of them were out of date.  But one was new and had never been there before.  “If you’ve ever been the victim of sexual assault, family violence, or a violent crime, there is help.”  And then it listed all sort of hotlines.  

I understand the measure, I really do.  Some people need these things; some people would write this information down and even use it.  But I already have this information, because I have used it.  At the first opportunity, I snuck over to the bulletin board and turned the poster around before tacking it back up.  I stared at the blank side for the rest of class, because I remembered the words from the other side.  

Sexual assault.  Rape.  

Shit.

I am broken.

There is something wrong with me.  

I met with my advisor yesterday about the classes I was planning to take.  We discovered that I only need three classes to graduate.  Among the three classes I had put into my enrollment shopping cart was my advisor’s Shakespeare course.  I’ve been wanting to take this class since I was in my first year of undergrad.  I have always liked Shakespeare, and I’ve already read quite a bit of him.  This class has interested me not only for that element, but also because I have only been able to take my advisor for a lower level course.  I would love to have her as a professor for an upper level; she’s brilliant, I adore her, and I really want to get a solid A on a paper for her.”

“I need to be honest with you,” she said when I told her all these things, the reasons why I wanted to take her class.

“I’m going to shoot myself in the head taking this at the same time as Senior Seminar?”  

“No.”  She leaned back in her chair.  “There’s a lot of work that deals with sexual assault.  Graphic scenes of rape, and we will be discussing these things in class.”

I twitched at the mention of the word rape.  

“Spousal abuse.  Titus.  The Taming of the Shrew.  And I’m not sure this is the course for you.”

I looked out the window.  I had been excited minutes before and suddenly found myself sad in a way I didn’t know how to deal with.  Because it was still interfering.  Always interfering.  I wanted to cry.

“Why don’t you take Eco-crit instead?”

Because I wanted this.  Because I wanted Shakespeare.  Because I wanted to be normal, just once.  Just one time.

I am never going to be normal.

Never going to measure up.

Never going to be okay.

In psychology today, the professor greeted us before opening with “So, how many of you are parents?”  She followed this up with “How many of you aren’t parents?”  After this, she asked “Why have you chosen to not have children?”  And she called on me, of all people.  Me.  I walked out of class before I started to cry.  I leaned against the wall outside the classroom that led to the courtyard, debating going outside but recognizing the fact that it was much too cold.  I sat down on the floor in between the two sets of doors and I watched the trees blowing back and forth and the sun shining and I let tears fall.  

I am a failure.

Murderer.

It’s hard to lose someone you love.  It’s even harder to lose everything at the same time.  And that’s what happened to me.  I lost it all.  The hardest part for me has been the not knowing why my son died.  Why my marriage broke.  What I did to deserve the acid rain that made my entire life disintegrate for so long.  It is in my nature to blame myself.  That’s the tape; that’s what I have been told my entire life.  

I am not good enough.

I am always amazed to learn what other people actually think of me.  In that over the edge moment today, at just the right time, I read beautiful words that someone I deeply respect had written about me.  And my brain had a moment in which it clicked.

I am not broken.  I am not a failure.  I am not lost.  

I cried again.  But because for that moment, that awesomely wonderful, fantastic and beautiful moment, I could see what this person saw.  

I am strong and powerful and awesome, and not just on the days where I feel good.  Every day.  I am these things even when I don’t remember.  I am these things, because other people see them in me.  Other people see me.  

I am.

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