Birthdays

My kids say I have always been “so extra” about birthdays. It’s true that over the years, whenever the financial means were there, I always made a huge deal about their birthdays. Birthdays were always really-good-but-not-a-HUGE-deal-like-Christmas when I was young, and I’ve often wondered why I was so about them.

I think what I’m realizing is that I make a big deal out of them because I am genuinely SO happy I got to be their mother for another year that I NEED to celebrate it. I feel so profoundly lucky to have gotten to share life with these three souls. They are each so uniquely and fully delightful that I can’t imagine what I did to be lucky enough to have earned the honor of knowing them. It’s breathtaking to me, sometimes. I’d take any excuse to revel and celebrate that feeling of meeting them!! It’s just so…wow.

I’m sure that just like every human ever, they probably all think that they don’t do enough to make me proud, or that I’m somehow disappointed in them. Literally nothing could be further from the truth. I will always love and be so honored to have raised them; it’s not something they have to earn or are capable of losing. It will always be there. I’m so proud of them.

Which leads me to wonder if all of us who feel like we disappointed or weren’t enough for our parents are actually way off base. Maybe we should go easy on ourselves. We are, truly, remarkable souls.

Perfectionism

I’m not sure I ever saw my mom fail, at anything.

I’m going to ask her that later, and she’s going to half snort and say, “What did I ever succeed at, Elizabeth??” But to me, it all looked like succeeding. We went to the apple orchard, and everything got turned into something. We got tomatoes from neighbors and huge pots of amazing sauce turned up. She made clothes, I’m not even sure she followed patterns for. She crocheted and I never heard her utter “damn” and throw the project aside. She made the most intricate cross stitch patterns; I can barely pay attention long enough to thread the needle.

I don’t remember anything that she ever tried to do that she didn’t succeed at. I don’t ever remember her throwing something aside and saying “I quit.” I must have 4,000 project bags sitting around this house, projects I’ve started and not followed through with. I don’t remember her doing that.

Not to say she was always prolific; she had a friend who sewed voraciously when I was young, expert level. There were always multiple projects and a catalog of them all somewhere, huge stashes of fabric all actually intended for things, and more of it than she would need for any project. My mom wasn’t like that; probably because we couldn’t afford it and she had to work so many jobs. But she was really good, and disciplined, and I don’t think I ever saw her quit.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t get more of that. Or any of it, at all.

Hazy days

Yesterday, I woke up and social justice warrior’ed my Facebook. I had breakfast with my husband. I wandered in and out onto the back porch, utilizing my medical marijuana, but never settled outside to enjoy nature or inside to putter around; I got lost in my Sims game on the PS4. I played all day. I don’t remember dinner, ordering groceries (though I remember we’re broke now!). I played long after my husband fell asleep, till it finally got so late my body shut me down.

I love being outside on my porch, and had been looking forward to letting my chickens free roam while I mucked out their coop all week; why didn’t I do that? Why did I lose myself and my time with my husband to a video game that I have played for so many years that it’s difficult to remember life before the Sims? I don’t know. What am I avoiding?

Today, I wake up. Social justice my FB. Feel physically gross from being up so late, mentally gross from the mix of game story and my dreams. I have a choice on what to do today, and how to live it. What direction will I go, and in the end does it matter? Are all my jumbled stories and inner questioning much ado about nothing…does it literally not matter in the long run whether I’m out living my life or inside running a computer simulation so they can live theirs? Do ants put this much thought into life? Am I an ant?

Their lives matter, but they didn’t matter to anyone until someone killed them for no reason; before that moment, very few people in the world cared. They were surrounded by people who didn’t give a fuck, every day. Nothing I do in my social justicing will bring them back or give them the lives they should have had. That’s what makes the protesting so hard; they will never come back. It still feels wrong that they be forgotten, that people of color live in fear all the time. Can’t we find stories of people abused, discriminated against and still living? Can we tell their stories? Maybe we could actually see things change? Would anyone alive even be willing to talk about it when the threat of violence is ever present?

Would my life be different if I lived in fear all the time, or would I still be sitting here contemplating being lost in pixels or being lost in sunshine and feathers? Seems safer to be in here playing games with chickens and a PS4 than to be out there. Does my life matter? Am I doing anything?

Maybe I can take a shower and stop thinking.

One more thought.

I went to counselors in my teens, twenties and thirties. I’d get really desperate for help, try to find a fit, stop after a session or two. No help.

Do you know how many of those counselors, upon hearing my story, validated it by agreeing that I had been raped or sexually abused? Zero. None. Nada. Do you know how many of those counselors did tell me that I was a victim, implying broken? At least two.

Reasons I became a counselor: I didn’t want anyone, ever, to be left confused and wondering, or labeled broken…like I was.

Not sure where this is going

…forgive me. I’m not sure exactly where this is going, but it’s so pressing on me to be told that I have to tell it somewhere….

I have a lot of old friends from high school on my Facebook now, friends whom I was close to and spent a lot of time with. Old crushes, soul sisters, the works. I’ve grown into a bold, confident #metoo ‘er, an advocate for myself and others. But there’s still a question I’m afraid to ask, and a story I’m too chicken to tell. I really don’t know why I’m afraid to tell this story, but I am.

In high school, I got my first boyfriend. A boy a year younger than me with flame red hair and a ripped body and an ego like nothing I’d ever seen – bold and brash. Everyone liked him, kids and adults. And for whatever reason, he liked me. No one had even noticed me before him; he was hyper focused on everything I did. It was flattering and overwhelming. I fell for it.

I often want to ask the people who knew us if they knew about the abuse. I can remember playing a truth or dare type game where I was asked how many times he and I had had sex. We’d dated two years. There was never a day without sex unless I was on my period, sometimes multiple times a day. I answered honestly, “Hundreds.” The group around me reacted with disgust; I can remember clearly one saying “That’s NASTY!”

I want to know so much – did they know I was being raped? Did they know I’d been forced to study porn so I could “do it right” and if I didn’t play along and make the right sounds, he made me watch it again? Did they know how often tears POURED down my cheeks while I made the “right” sounds, because he couldn’t see my face, so it didn’t matter what my face did? I didn’t know relationships weren’t supposed to be like that. I don’t know if I told anyone. I remember the violence and pain and brainwashing and manipulation…but I didn’t know it was wrong then. Would they have? Did they know?

Anyway, the memory. This boyfriend didn’t just fuck rough, he played rough. He liked to wrestle. He was bigger and taller and stronger than me, lifting weights and very athletic. Once we were in his bedroom “playing” and he started strangling me. I’ll never forget it; I didn’t know what was happening at first, but then awareness hit that I couldn’t breathe. I fought back; maybe playfully at first but then more seriously hitting and trying to push him off. I remember his face; he was watching me so intently. Curiously. Like watching a documentary you find really fascinating. And just when I thought I’d black out, I remember seeing realization cross his face.

He finally let go. He was laughing – he’d been laughing, the whole time. I was crying and gasping for breath, my hands were shaking. He was laughing. “What the fuck, I was just playing with you! Why are you crying? What, did you think I’d actually kill you??” He laughed uproariously at that. I chuckled and tried to pretend I hadn’t been scared of exactly that. I had been. I had been afraid I’d die right there.

George Floyd was recently murdered while being restrained for a crime he never committed. The cop restraining him had a knee on his throat; he was suffocated. Mr. Floyd knew that he was dying, and seemed to know that the cop didn’t realize what he was doing to him – he tried to tell him. It didn’t work. The cop didn’t listen. Mr. Floyd never got to see that moment of realization and feel the release. He didn’t get to be scarred for life, shaken, returned to his family. He just died, right there on the concrete. My heart hurts.

I know this post goes in a lot of directions; my brain does, too. I’m wondering why I was lucky enough to escape when others aren’t or can’t. I’m wondering why I’m afraid to call it rape and tell my story, why 25 years later I’m still afraid of my accuser, still trying to justify his actions as “we were both teenagers, he didn’t really know what he was doing.” I’m wondering how, in a world so incredibly beautiful, there can be people who rape and torture with such callous disregard? Why we aren’t all focused on enjoying all the beauty and growth and exploration available to us, instead of hating each other so deeply over stupid things like sex organs and skin color – things we can’t control in anyway but that make us no less human.

I’m wondering why there are things that I’m brave enough to say and tell, and things I will never have the courage to share.

#metoo

“What do you remember, Bets?”

The last time I remember having severe bronchitis as an adult, I would have been in my early 20’s. I had pleurisy, too – my entire torso and especially my back hurt so badly. So it will seem strange when I say that this time in my life is often what comes floating back to me when I’m looking to visualize a calm, safe space… but it does. With a visceral strength that I can feel as if I were still there in that moment, it does.

I’d tried to go to work that day; I loved my job and hated using sick or vacation time if I wasn’t going to see my kids. But I got to work and was coughing so hard and so often, they’d sent me home, and I’d felt so bad that i took myself to urgent care. By the time I got done with exams, paperwork, the pharmacy, the exhaustion had hit me hard. It was still early morning, maybe 10 am? But it felt like I’d been awake for four days straight…I could barely move. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My whole body hurt. At the time, I lived really close to my mom’s condo, which was infinitesimally closer to the pharmacy than my apartment. I had a key to mom’s condo, so out of desperation to no longer be driving and moving and fighting to breathe, I went to her place and let myself in.

It must have been winter then, too, because I remember I was wearing a heavy coat when I got to the condo that I didn’t even take off. Mom keeps her place cool, but I’m usually hot, so i wouldn’t usually wear a coat in the house – but i was too tired to take it off. I stepped heavily out of my shoes and collapsed on my stomach on the small sofa in her living room.

My mom’s condo has these huge windows, with a half circle window above the normal ones. At this time, she had beige sheers over the bottom part of the window and nothing over the top part. The sun was SO BRIGHT coming in that window; it fell on my body like a heating blanket. Usually, I hate light when I’m trying to rest or feeling cruddy and i hate heat all the time. But on this day, I was too far gone to even feel cruddy. I was tired. I’d taken meds. My body hurt. Laying on that couch, I felt encased and safe and peaceful in that strongly magnified light. I didn’t move, I had no thoughts of discomfort – I just laid perfectly still in the sun.

I didn’t fall asleep right away; I lay there in a neutral heap, my eyes passively exploring the pile of the carpet, or the familiar lines of the frames on the walls, encasing old family pictures in the hallway that I’d seen a thousand times before…I saw things but felt nothing but a sense of oneness with all that I could see. I felt calm and at peace despite my pain.

In this memory, the dryer is running. The condo smelled like my mom’s fabric softener; a generic. I never used generic but she did. Usually i hated the smell of her softener; it was kind of harsh and astringent. But not on this day; on this day it smelled familiar, like her.

My mom used to do a lot of little projects around her house at this time, decorating and gardening and painting. She has excellent taste, and she’s really quite artistic when she lets herself be… she always had some thing she was working on at the time. She had a pair of canvas tennis shoes she used while pottering, and they must have gotten muddy or covered in paint or stain, because I could hear them thudding gently in the dryer… maybe with a handful of towels, because they weren’t slamming. Just gently turning, hitting the walls from time to time…a gentle, irregular thudding. It reminded me of my creative and energetic mother, her efforts to keep her space happy and cheerful and neat as a pin. I laid on her little sofa wrapped in a sunshine blanket; I’d snuck into her home unexpectedly and found it waiting for me, a perfect little encapsulation of her the warmest, most familiar parts of her. I drifted calmly into sleep without a thought of what would come next – probably a healing and healthy sleep that I desperately needed.

That memory is my calm safe space, despite how sick I truly was that day. When I think of my mom, I feel that moment and yes, I know – she wasn’t even there, she was at work. But she WAS there. Everything there was a piece of her, familiar as my own heartbeat and my own breath, comforting as looking in the mirror and seeing my own face. That space, that energy is my mom…. forever locked into my soul.

Now, I’m much older, and my mom is in rehabilitative care after having very nearly died during a battle with Legionnaires disease and E Coli. My mom laid in the same place I did all those years ago – but in the carpeted floor, not a sofa – for three days before anyone found her. Rather than being terrified by that thought, I’m comforted. I hope the sun covered her gently. I hope her eyes traced the lines of the home she’s loved for decades and it made her feel safe. I hope she knew in her heart that we’d be there soon, like I knew all those years ago that she would come and make me better. I hope she drifted in and out of a sleep that, while it could not heal her, perhaps kept her safe.

Today, I’ve been diagnosed with severe bronchitis and early pneumonia. There were a plethora of trips and exams to get the diagnosis, and numerous medicines to obtain. And after I took all those medicines and coughed for an hour afterwards, all I wanted was to be back there; laying in the bright, warm sunshine of my mother’s elegant little living room, listening to her tennies and towels in the dryer and smelling her softener and knowing she’d be there soon to take care of me. It’s not the same space today; she’s not the same woman, nor am I, and the energy has slipped away. But that was my calm safe space, for a perfect moment… and I remember.

I miss her.

Into that dark night…

When I pass, I don’t want to become a collection of pictures that are quickly forgotten; flat images on paper without substance. Abandoned furniture in a dusty house that’s slowly rotting and left to the amusement of neighborhood kids to vandalize and make fun of. I want to be remembered for who I was.

Remember how much I loved apple cider and picking apples with my kids; remember that I loved crab and cherries and pizza. Remember that I never let my husband cook for holidays, and that I got sad if the turkey was dry. Remember that I refused to wash dishes; remember how much I loved the cherry blossom pattern on my dishes because they reminded me of my wedding. Remember that I could drink my coffee black but I preferred it with sugar and cream; remember that I loved coco wheats with buttered toast (like they served at my kindergarten) and sausage, corn and butter noodles mixed together. Remember that I practically considered bread a religious experience, and that I HATED salad.

Remember how I loved to sing, and i loved Doris Day, and i thought William Shatner was amazing. Remember that I really thought those solos at Christmas concerts, in my red plaid skirt and my pile of curls, were the pinnacle of my existence. Remember that I loved directing the Children’s choir, especially when my nephew was in it. Remember that i loved the spotlight but hated all the backbiting and politics in theater. Remember that I dreamed of sending my son to Broadway; remember the lullabies I sung my babies every night, prayers from a mother who got too little time with them that they’d somehow feel and know that I was always with them.

Remember that everyone thought my favorite color was purple but it was actually blue; remember that I spent almost every day of my childhood outside by myself, and how I loved clinging to a swaying pine tree, the feel of moss on my bare feet, sunshine on a cool, autumn day and the brisk, cold creek water any time of the year. Remember that lilacs were my favorite flower. Remember that I grew up in a rich imaginary world that was utterly real to me. Remember that I thought I’d be more than that home i was raised in, but that I didn’t think I deserved anything better or at all. Remember that I was put in the hallway or behind a divider in class for most of my young school life, that I had few friends but was a talking distraction, that my peers called me Betsy Wetsy mercilessly and hated me. Remember that my world still shone with beauty and exploration.

Remember how being at odds with family hurt me, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Remember that I loved and admired my mother as much as my relationship with her hurt me, and hated the distance that appeared in our relationship as i grew. Remember that I did forgive my father, that I loved my brothers, that I adored my aunts and uncles and cousins and nephews and nieces. Remember how I ran from anyone who rejected me, even if I cared about them, to avoid the pain. Remember the emotional, physical and sexual abuse that I survived; remember that my husband and children were my LIFE and helped me heal in so many ways. Remember that my animals were like children to me, but I got so irritated when they threw up on stuff; remember Brian knowing that if there was a towel on the floor, I was ignoring vomit and hoping he’d clean it up.

Remember my love hate relationship with school, my adoration of a family I never got to physically meet who lived in New Zealand, my tendency to ignore my own feelings until my body was falling apart to get my attention. Remember that I rarely finished projects but I was always eager to start them. Remember that Jane Austin was my favorite writer, my garden was my calm, safe space, and that I loved justice, fairness and lavender. Remember my “journeying” as I explored Celtic Shamanism, my love of the Tao, my calling myself a “recovering Catholic” who adored the mass and thought of it as home.

Remember the eccentricity that made me “me”. Don’t forget, don’t let me pass silently into the abyss. I was complex and sensitive and hard to love and loving – remember that. Remember me.

This odd week

I had a breakdown and bathed in humility, realizing I really wasn’t a great wife or mother. I cried, wrote apologies and berated myself for not being useful. I decided maybe God didn’t design me to be useful; maybe this is what I’m good for. That stung.

My husband got in a car accident, almost two years to the day of his last one, and had to be transported to the hospital. Terrifying. He wasn’t badly injured, I got very lucky…but bad enough that I worry. And he’s sad that they cut off his favorite shirts.

My son, who has been holding his pain inside for a very long time (and successfully convincing me he was fine!) unleashed his fury on his abuser for the first time in his life. My heart bleeds for him as I know the backlash he’ll receive but won’t share with me. He protects me though he should never have to; it was my job to protect him.

My daughter, who was already very nervous about upcoming life changes, realized that things she’d stayed silent about to protect her abuser were now being made open; I think she panicked. She also vented, but her overall reaction seems defensive and scared. She’s so wounded and I’m worried that she’s having something akin to flashbacks.

I realized that I’d been gaslighted by their abuser, and having someone else say “I saw that, too” fractured a broken part of me that I didn’t know was there. I’m really trying not to keep asking “do you remember… do you remember… do you remember…” because honestly, none of it’s good. I don’t want to hurt anyone, and it doesn’t really matter if they remember; now that I know some of what I remember is true, it’s likely that it all is. My kids aren’t the glue I use to piece myself together, they have bigger meaning than that.

As I am reminded of events by my kids, I am vividly remembering my own abuse. Some are the same dreadful memories I always carried, some I’d blocked. Some are hazy, some are as vibrant as if they were happening right now. I am haunted by the ghost of the toxicity between the abuser and myself, and I cannot stop thinking about how I made it worse and what I could have done if I’d known anything. I feel like he’s waiting around every corner to punish me for not stopping the flow of honesty. I know this is irrational.

Their abuser’s distant family has started attempting to reach out to me; probably because I have blocked every avenue the abuser might have used to get in contact. This is bothering me. On the one hand, I’m sure they’re hurt and feel misrepresented and want to state their peace. On the other hand, I’m not a human toilet for people to purge their ugliness into, and legally it no longer matters who any of us think is right or wrong. At this point, all that matters is the perceptions and wounds left residing in two shaken adults. No one has a right to devalue or argue that.

Today, I’m going to a family reunion of sorts with my own extended family, where there are various levels of rejection and acceptance from sources you wouldn’t expect either of those things. And while I’m trying to remain calm about it all, I’m actually very anxious. I’m trying to focus on what I know will be positive, and trying to put away for now what I know cannot be fixed. That’s hard.

My birthday is coming this week. I am dreadcited about it for no reason. My birthday hasn’t been a big deal since I was a child; I’m getting older and further into my 40’s where I felt like I should be more “fixed” and settled. People who have meaning to me are getting older too.

Something I’d like to change

Today, I overheard one of my coworkers speaking with a client. “Did you make it ok – how were those stairs for you? I always find them a bit steep and hard to climb.” I sighed a breath of relief and I didn’t even know I’d been tense; I struggle with those stairs, but didn’t realize it was because they were steep. I just thought it was because I have mono and I’m out of shape. I’d been a little embarrassed about it internally, but said nothing.

I started wondering how often life is like that. We’re fighting through some experience and we think the only reason it’s so hard for us is because we’re weak and lazy…but in reality, the experience IS really difficult, and everyone who lives through it struggles.

I don’t know if everyone does this or if it’s just me, but I am so hard on myself. I’m so quick to insult myself for not being good enough, for not trying hard enough. I’m hard on myself for even admitting something is a struggle, as if acknowledging that something is difficult is a weakness and makes me less than.