Nicodemus VIII

Yeah, I know it’s a little cheesy. I don’t care.

Nicodemus VIII (aka Nico) was my very first cat. I got him as a five year anniversary gift from my second husband; his family named all black cats “Nicodemus”. I don’t know who started the tradition, but my ex-mother in law always had a Nikki in the house.

I didn’t intend to get a black cat – I liked big fluffy orange cats – but we went to the shelter and there was Nico and his litter. Nico was seven weeks old, and the tip of his tail was curled like a pig tail; the rescue agency said it had been caught in a door or something. He fell asleep in my hand, with me petting his little chin (complete with little beard tuft) and that was it. My ex-husband preferred a different one, but i would hear none of it. It had to be THIS kitten, who slept like a baby in my hands the entire time we shopped at Petsmart afterwards…he was MY Nicodemus.

Nico was my shadow; he followed me everywhere. He had huge yellow eyes, and he loved anything red. He loved running water in the sink, but only tiny drips…never a stream. He loved a little wooly green lamb toy that he used to hide for me in my bed and my clothes and my shoes and my furniture all the time till after the years, it fell apart. He was the mighty hunter of socks, and for weeks after he passed there were a half dozen socks by my bedroom door; he would meow with them in his mouth, and you had to tell him you were proud of his hunting skills. He was bold; he stole food from my hands, his favorites being Long John Silvers fish and Cool Whip. He tolerated the plethora of animals and children that came and went through the years, with a quiet confidence that he would never go…he would always have a place. He only came when I called him, no one else. His purr had a “trill” in it. He stood wherever he wanted to and owned whatever he saw. He was my Nico.

At the end of June this year, after 14 years, Nico started to stumble. Then he went catatonic. He stared without blinking; he didn’t eat or drink. He didn’t purr when I pet him or turn to look at me when I spoke. He was leaving. I felt it. Judge me if you want to, I didn’t take him to the vet to be put down; he hated cars. He hated strange places. He hated being away from me. But also, I couldn’t admit that he was dying. He first stumbled on a Friday and he was gone by the following Monday. I felt like my whole world stopped, or should have; I was glad he was no longer in pain, but I hated that he was gone. I hated that my husband had him cremated, though it was the right thing to do. I hated it when his ashes were delivered in their pretty box with the gentle, loving quote. I couldn’t accept it as him. I couldn’t accept that he was gone.

I never really understood why there had always been a Nicodemus until I had my own; it’s a bond you can’t explain. He was more than a pet, different than a child, closer than a friend. He was a Familiar, a piece of me. His fur absorbed my tears and his headbutt healed my heart. His claws made me cuss and his socks made me laugh. We didn’t always agree, but we always loved. I never doubted for a minute of his life that he would always come to me when I called him – even if he got out of the house, he would come to me and only to me. ALWAYS. Until he couldn’t come anymore; and still I know, he WILL come home.

People might find it odd that when another black cat finds me, it will become Nicodemus the IX. (Actually I’m fairly certain that it should become Nicodemus the X, because I believe my mother-in-law had a Nikki when she left this world.) It was my ex-family that started the tradition, not my own family. By all rights, it’s their tradition to pass on and not mine. But when Nico finds me again, he or she will be Nicodemus…and forever after, they all will be. In part, to honor the memory of the mother-in-law who loved me unconditionally and who loved animals (and especially cats!) more than she loved herself. But also because there’s something special and different about a Nicodemus cat….and once you’ve felt it, you will never be the same.

Trifecta

I’ve noticed that in my therapy sessions, even if I go into them with something very specific to talk about, three things will always come up: whatever my current stress is, the mental/emotional/sexual abuse done by my first boyfriend and first husband, and the utter loneliness and trauma of my early child. Every time. For me, somewhere inside, they are all connected….the Trifecta.

I can never speak about my childhood trauma to my family; my siblings likely did not experience what I did, and would not validate my perspective. My mother was lost in her own misery. I don’t want my children to know how damaged and scarred I am; I don’t want them to be afraid I can’t be strong for them and I’m embarrassed and ashamed. In my life, I’ve shared these memories with only a handful of people and rarely in detail. The focus of the memories has shifted over the years. I am hurt and I am angry.

I honestly thought everyone knew about the abuse by those young men mentioned; I thought I was talking about it to everyone all the time and tried not to because I felt it would make me “weird” and I’d stop fitting in. But looking back, I’m not sure I told anyone about the boyfriend, and only my mother about the husband…I’d been separated from everyone else by him. I also didn’t want people to know because I thought it was my fault, and if I’d been more “normal” these things wouldn’t have happened. I made these men this way. Some of the memories I hid from myself completely. They are coming back and no one can validate them. They hurt, they’re humiliating, they feel like someone else’s story. I’m hurt.

I am ready for my life to stop being about the Trifecta and to start to be about me and my needs and making the world a brighter place. I have thought I was ready for a long time but I wasn’t; now I am. I am not in control of the process and I don’t need to be…it can unfold as it will and I will be here. Who I am becoming is not the same as who I was, and what she wants and needs is important.

It’s a bitter and beautiful moment in my life.

Not sweet dreams.

I just had the worst dream. I tend to document dreams so I can look up symbols later.

I was working in Community Based mental health with kids. There was a client I’d been assigned, young teenage male, deplorable physical condition and obviously beaten down. Dad wouldn’t let anyone from police or children’s services the house, but he thought i was some kind of nanny and was “interested” in me so he let me come stay for a “trial”. I was basically undercover.

There are 7+ kids ranging in age from 17 to 4 or so. No one would speak about where mom had gone. So I went in as a “nanny” let him think I was there to be courted, all the time really assessing the kids and the house. Kids have no clean water, barely have food or clothes, never allowed to leave the house no one is cleaning – mom is nowhere, not mentioned. Dad controls EVERYTHING. He is eating, he has clothes. What anyone else has is up to him.

My male supervisor comes out one day while dad is at work to get an update on the case. I sit outside and talk to him, tell him how bad it is – there are neighbors watching. When dad is getting close, my supervisor leaves and I go back inside and go back to my normal schedule…but dad had gotten weird. Tense. Silent. Cold. I’m trying to act normal getting dressed, thinking I’m just going to wait for my supervisor to send cops and then the kids will be safe. Dad is watching me. I’m acting nonchalant but my hackles rise.

But then i notice that dad has arranged the 7 ratty dining chairs in a row in the hallway. He’s strapping on some homemade looking militia gear, walking in and out of the room I’m in. One of the older teenage girls comes in, I grab a card from my purse, beg her to call supervisor. She says she will, she sounds sincere and her hands are shaking but I know she won’t. I grab my cell phone out of my bag to give to her and hear him at the door. I silently hide it in my skirt.

Dad commands me into the hallway, hands me a lengthy letter on yellow legal paper all folded up. Commands me to sit down, look at the empty chairs and read. He starts calling the kids into the bedroom, they’re coming. They’re terrified. One of the boys has wet himself. They don’t look at me. He’s carrying a strap with nails driven through one end. He tells me to look at those chairs and think about what I’ve done – he’s right by my ear, his voice a cold, hate-filled whisper. I can feel his spit on my ear.

As kids go into the room (including my client who is silently sobbing and had just prior confessed to me that he hadn’t slept in two weeks, is bleeding rectally, and has no clothing that fits him) I glance at the letter – I can’t focus to read, I’m terrified, but words jump out at me. It seems to be written to me but it’s calling me “April Rain” which is most assuredly not my name. I see whore. I gave you a chance. My best intentions. Punished. I’m freaking out.

He starts beating a child in the room; the child makes no sound, but I can hear that belt ripping flesh. He’s going to hurt them…he’s going to kill me. I know he is. I remember my cell phone!! I whip it out, dial 911….there’s a long recording. They have me on hold, for fucks sake!! Desperate I’m hitting buttons trying to get through, but I can hear his foot steps coming. I fumble “end” and desperately hide the phone under my thigh on the chair.

He comes up to me, stands in front of me; there’s blood spatter on his sleeves, I don’t look up. He tightens some kind of leather strap on his arm, tells me in that cold, flat voice that this is my fault – I’m doing this to his kids. Asks if I’m ready, maybe my client (who dad thinks is just my favorite) is next. Says he wonders if I fucked him, too. My blood runs cold, I’m sick. I know right then when it comes to my turn, he’s for sure going to kill me. Before that moment, my fear was for the kids alone. He goes back into the room.

The 17 year old girl is heading toward the room. I call out quietly, show her my phone. I’m begging her to call my supervisor or just 911 – anyone. She stands, frozen, fearful, shaking her head. She’s not wanting to hurt me, but she doesn’t want to die for helping me. I see this. I dial 911 again and she starts to panic, whispering frantically about who am I calling, why, no you can’t please!! She’s crying. I tell her I’m leaving this house or I’m calling the cops. I’m very firm. Something flickers in her eyes – she goes into the room where my bags are.

Her dad asks what the fuck she thinks she’s doing, turns like he’s going to come for her. She hisses that she’s getting my purse. He looks angry and heads toward me – I hold up my phone showing an active call with 911, hoping he can’t hear the recording playing. Dad freezes. The girl silently gives me my keys and my purse – the rest I don’t care about – and with the phone tight in my hand, I turn and rush down the stairs, out to my car. The four year old is following me, yelling at me. “Don’t you call my daddy a racist!” I don’t turn to address her, I’m not staying to argue with her. I tell her that I never called him that, and I leave – she stands in the door, still screaming.

I get into my car, lock it. The phone has lost signal – I’m crying, begging the phone to work, my hands are shaking. I’m not away free yet and I’m terrified for my client. I try to start the car; I’ll get a little distance, call my manager to call the cops. The car turns over but doesn’t start…it’s been sitting too long. I cry out, begging God to help me. Praying Dad doesn’t hear the engine fail and realize I can’t get away. I dial 911, try the key again…

And wake up. I have the MOST intense, vivid, real, random dreams.

Every little things gonna be alright

Ahh, avoidance. My old friend. Something makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable? Pretend it isn’t there!! You’ll only feel easily twice as uncomfortable because you know you’re avoiding it. YAY!

A good opportunity has come into my life. I wasn’t in a bad place currently, but for many various and sundry reasons, not the least of which is my own professional growth, this is better. If what I’d been working on currently was actually bad for me, the ending of the relationship would be easy…as it is, it’s hard for me to deal with. There will be questions to answer, arguments, uncomfortable talks about boundary setting. I want to run away.

But realization that this is what’s happening is progress. Instead of looking away, going over all the negative possibilities, rehashing old fears, I’m going to focus on appreciating the way the sunlight peeks through my curtains and brightens my room and the little trill my cat does when she’s excited in the morning. I’m going to get up, get going, and take these two beautiful experiences with me as I go deal with my day. Whatever the day holds I will manage it, and I will come back to these sunlit trills again.

It’s ok.

Trigger Warning:

I started a thought with my therapist today; “At some point, I locked my anxiety and fear and wounded feelings away. Now I don’t realize I’m feeling them till I start using unhealthy coping mechanisms to keep them silenced.” “When did you lock them away?” “I don’t know…I guess when I started trying to chameleon and fit in. People don’t like when you whine and cry and hesitate.”

I started that thought at therapy; drove home. Had dinner. Cuddled dogs. Was watching tv, playing games on my phone. And then in a flash, it came to me.

I was 15. I’d gone to his house to rehearse our lines – we’d been cast as romantic leads in the school play. He was so handsome and confident and popular; I was so nervous. Naively, I really thought we were going to rehearse…I didn’t think anyone that gorgeous could have any interest in me. I was awkward and weird. We went to the basement. We’re rehearsing, we get to a scene with a kiss – he kisses me. I’m blushing. I don’t know how the rest happened; I’m not sure I’d ever had a French kiss, let alone what came next. It wasn’t something I’d ever wanted to do…I thought it was gross. I was still a virgin when I left, but I wasn’t innocent – I’ll leave it at that.

In that moment, I wanted him to think I was beautiful and ‘normal’ so badly. He was guiding me, showing me what he wanted – I didn’t want it. I was scared and I wanted to pull away and run. But I also wanted a boyfriend, I wanted to be wanted. I was desperate for someone, anyone to SEE me. So I put the anxiety and disgust and the wound aside; I did what he told me to. Successfully fitting in meant that part of me needed to sit down, shut up and be quiet. No one cared what she had to say – I didn’t want to hear it – so I made her go away. When she gets too whiny, I use unhealthy coping skills to make her go away before I have to feel.

In the moment I realized it, sitting in my living room, I poured it out to my husband and cried and cried.

Memories and emotions can be tricky when you disassociate and are trying to stop. You don’t know they’re even there bothering you and then BANG! You’re flooded. Without a trigger. Without a warning. And you have to try to just make yourself feel them and ride the wave because if you can’t feel them, the negative cycle keeps going. But God in Heaven, is it a hard ride.

Yes, counselors struggle, too.

I am.

I’m a counselor. I spent my whole life trying to figure out what I wanted to be; I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, depression. I’ve been hurt, allowed myself to be hurt, hurt myself. I’ve felt alone and invisible even when surrounded by people. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I decided I didn’t want others to feel the way I felt…I was going to figure myself out so I could figure them out and help them move forward. And I did! Kind of. It’s a process.

Anyway, I’m a counselor. Counseling is a thankless career. People think we make a lot but we certainly don’t; we don’t get vacation and sick time. We don’t get salary. We do get everyone’s sorrow, trauma, anger, vitriol – the things people won’t show their closest loved ones, the heap onto us. And I think we might all be masochistic, because we ask them to. We purposely build one way relationships in order to encourage this therapeutic purge without purging ourselves. We spend years learning how to compartmentalize, purge without talking to others, create boundaries that keep us safe from the very situation we willing pit ourselves in.

Despite the way it might sound, I love my job. It’s hard when people are guarded, or when they’re stuck like in quicksand, but I still love it. I love it because my clients are each so unique and, even though they’re in the middle of the darkest tunnels without a clue what direction they’re walking in (let alone where the light at the end is!), I can see the path. And given what they’re living through now, successfully, I can see how resilient they’re going to be when they emerge. Will they be changed at the end, in some ways not for the better? Maybe. My experience says probably. But I can see the beauty that is going to shine from them, and I’m determined to show them the path…it drives me. It feeds me. Guiding them toward the incredible human being they’re destined to become – wow. It’s heady stuff.

It’s weird how we can’t do that for ourselves; there’s some confusing saying about forests and trees that I’ve tried to explain to my Hispanic clients completely unsuccessfully. I’m certainly not at the end of my own tunnel, and sometimes I get really turned around. But I feel like helping them find their footing is also helping me – if this potential exists in them, then it surely must also exist for me. If they will emerge beautiful and full of light, then surely I will be glowing after my long journey, too. Being able to see their light gives me the faith to believe in my own and the strength to keep walking.

I spent the first twenty years of my adulthood shuffling papers; may I spend the remainder of it turning faces toward the sun and capturing a little of the light for myself. It’s really beautiful.

I’m a counselor.

I was just thinking…

…If I lived in a country where everyone spoke English and looked like me, but that had little to no opportunities for jobs or breaking out of poverty, very dangerous criminal behaviors and a police force on which not everyone was corrupt but enough were corrupt that it wasn’t safe to call them to protect me – I’d rather just suffer and lose than even risk it…

(Hey wait…this kind of sounds familiar…)

…if I lived in a country like that and my parent was sick, and my kids were hungry, and I couldn’t afford a decent school for them or really anything they needed, and my husband cried every night….I’d be looking for answers.

If there was a country nearby called Burgium, where there were people of all colors and backgrounds who only spoke Esperanto, where I KNEW I could get work and make twice what I would in my home country, I would start thinking about going there. I don’t speak Esperanto, but I might get by if I take a job where I don’t have to talk too much. I might check Burgium’s website and see if I could figure out how to work legally…but I don’t speak Esperanto and translate rarely works well on these sites, so I’d probably be confused. If I had family in Burgium already, they might be able to tell me what to do; I’d trust them more than any government agency, anyway. My family isn’t corrupt. I might fly to see my family in Burgium.

Once I get there, I might be amazed by how casually everyone walks around, like there’s no fear or danger. The police might look a lot like my police, so I probably don’t trust them – plus I can’t understand them and don’t want to look stupid. I go to my family’s house, they tell me about some work. Compared to anything I made before, the pay sounds amazing! The work is hard, no one here wants to do it…honestly, I don’t want to do it. But I can buy my mother’s medicine. I can send my husband money for food. My son can go to a decent school. I can see a better future for all of us unfolding.

I’m not naive though, and I don’t want to get in trouble. I ask my family about words I saw on the website…working Visa. ICE. Immigration. My family speaks in hushed tones, gives me some papers. I understand from context that I’m talking about something dangerous. They tell me the government does bad things to people who don’t speak Esperanto; I see some of this on the news, always people from my country being hurt, screamed at in Esperanto by people with angry faces.  Children dying.  My family tells me not to make trouble, not to ask questions, not to stick out. In my country, people would kill me for less than making trouble, so this scares me.  I take it seriously.

In my country, you have to know the right people to bribe to get “permits” that someone invented just to keep you from doing things. My family gives me some papers to show people if I’m ever asked. I can’t read Esperanto…I can barely read English. I assume my family paid the right people, these papers are valid. If I’m quiet, I’ll be safe and I can save my mother, my husband and my kids.

The next day I have a headache; my family gives me money, I go to the drugstore to get medicine. I can’t read the bottles. I don’t know what the denominations on the money are. I pick what looks like aspirin to me, giving random bills to the Esperanto-speaking clerk who looks at me like I’m stupid. I don’t know what this clerk is saying but she doesn’t sound friendly. “Don’t cause trouble,” I think to myself. I apologize in English, not knowing what else to do, and stumble out of the store without the medicine. The clerk is yelling something. I don’t understand…is she calling for Police? Shit, what did I do??! I run toward my family’s apartment, I’m not watching anything around me. Police in my country could kill someone like me. I’m terrified.

Suddenly, someone snatches my arm, pulls me between two buildings. Am I safe? No.  He is whispering angrily in Esperanto. He smells bad. His eyes look wrong, red and dilated. I think he is threatening me, he’s grabbing for the money. I don’t call out for help – “Don’t make trouble.” I give him the money. I’m terrified, my headache forgotten. He looks like he still wants to hurt me, I don’t understand what he’s saying…I run for my family’s apartment. I’m crying.

My family tells me to stop crying before someone hears; they close the curtains, lock the doors, send children to their rooms. They ask me about the clerk, the medicine I tried to buy, the man who attacked me. They want descriptions I don’t have. They ask if I was followed; my teenage nephew checks the curtains nervously. My brother is furious. His wife cooks, her whole body tense – she is not looking at her husband or the window. She jumps at every sound. My brother paces. Food is put out, but no one really eats but the children. My sister in law and nephew go to bed, as the clock ticks deeper into the night. My brother is on his phone for hours. I’m supposed to sleep on the couch, but I’m worried about the danger to his family. I’m worried that Burgium is not the safe place I thought it was. I’m worried my brother still looks angry. I can’t sleep.

I fall asleep sometime in the wee hours of the morning. My sister in law shakes me awake, reminds me of my papers, hands me coffee. My brother gruffly tells me to “come on,” and we leave. I don’t know where we’re going. We stand outside a while, then a car pulls up with people i don’t know who speak English – they’re all bleary eyed, smoking, quiet. We get in; it’s tight but we fit. I’m nervous. We drive in and out of streets full of Esperanto signs I can’t read. We get to a factory; I hope we’re where we’re going, because I didn’t think the car would make it this far. I follow my brother who doesn’t even look up to see where I am or if I followed him. I guess I’m going to work here? It’s dark, it smells; the machines are big and loud and covered in Esperanto signs with scary symbols.

I was just thinking…if that was my life now, if that’s how I felt, I’d probably be too confused and too afraid to look for someone official to trust so I could report being robbed or ask about legal immigration. In fact, I’d think I was legal already. I’d be afraid to look stupid or cause trouble by interacting with Esperanto speakers, so I wouldn’t. I’d be afraid of being killed or jailed…I’d be desperate to take care of my family. I might not be doing shit right, but I wouldn’t be doing it wrong on purpose. I just wouldn’t know any better and I wouldn’t trust anyone to ask them. I’d feel alone.

Just a thought.