Thursday, August 30, 2012

Prayers Answered Revisited

       Amber was an answer to my prayers. I wanted someone I could love that would love me too. It was a child's wish and God granted it.  My children really did get me through the hardest parts of my life.  Amber had beautiful blonde ringlets and beautiful hazel eyes. She had an sweet smile that was infectious. I had spoiled her. I did. I gave her everything I could. The doctors had told me that she would be the only one I would have. So I poured everything into her. She was my little companion and she went everywhere with me. She was perfectly agreeable, as long as she was getting her own way. Which, she usually was. She was stubborn and willful and she ruled my world. When I married my second husband, he knew he was to treat her equally. And as more children came along we blended that family almost seamlessly.  She had asked for a little brother right before I became pregnant with Bubba and so she thought he belonged to her and she spent her day schooling him in life. She was a perfect big sister. She would help get diapers and bottles. She took her responsibilities as the oldest vary seriously. She was bossy, but with a big heart. She gave lectures and lessons. When she was about three we were driving along and a car pulled out in front of us, cutting off my car. Amber rolled down her window, stood up in her booster seat and yelled at the unsuspecting driver calling out "Idiot'! I realized that she was a little mimic. And I would have to be more careful with my words, and my own driving. She was a little adult.

   She loved to snuggle and we would take turns holding each other. We would sit up in bed and watch TV. When she was a teenager we would huddle on the couch and watch scary movies and The X Files.  She was a reader and we swapped books back and forth. We would walk around our little town everyday. Talking about everything and nothing. She had not had a real relationship with her father growing up and it affected her. it made me sad, that I had not been able to give her that. She was smart and funny and a natural leader. She did well in school and there were always boys interested in her. I would drive her to school everyday and we would blare the music and sing off key. I took her to her first concert and got her ready for her first dance.

  When she turned fourteen, she became argumentative. Disagreeable. It exasperated me. She would be moody and hormonal. And I would make her passion flower tea and run her a bubble bath. The storm that she brought down on the household would just as swiftly pass and she would be docile.
She was a girlie girl. She loved having her hair done and make up. We would do each others nails and lay in the sun on long summer afternoons. There were always extra children in the house. And before events they would all come over and I would do their hair and makeup. I lent out shoes and dresses and little purses. There were so many mothers who had to work and were missing out on so much. And I felt blessed, that at least for Amber I was able to be there.

   She is my most serious child. That is not to say she does not have a sense of humor, she is just more grounded then her siblings. She met the man she would marry while still in school. They were great together and they have grown up so much as a couple.  She gave birth to the sweetest little boy who now rules my world, just as his mother did before him. It is such a gift, my family. I love to have them over for dinner or to go out on the boat together. I enjoy the adults my children have grown to be. I worry for them as much as I did when they were little, but I am very sure that they are good masters of their own destinies. I enjoy watching them stretch out into the world. They make me so proud and all the struggles of those early years were well worth it. I always had my mother in the back of my mind, as I raised my children. I would do anything to not be her. To be better. To make sure my children knew they were loved. To put them first. I still ask sometimes, was I good enough? Were you loved enough? They are all so gracious and say yes. I do not know what I would do if they ever said no. I always had that fear. I do not think my parents ever thought we would ever grow up and hold them accountable. I really do not know what they were thinking for all those years of pain and neglect. I have tried to have the discussion with my mother many times. She would brush me off saying "oh, you did not have a hard life" or "Oh yeah, you had it so hard." She can not accept her responsibility for the mother she was and more importantly the one she was not. She would rewrite my childhood, of course making herself the lead. We were never had more than bit parts in her world. She is the ruler I measure myself by, and I try to be as far from her as I can be.

  I have the joy of watching my grandson often. He is amazing. The best baby ever! He is always happy and he loves to be tickled. He is just as active as his uncle. He is a climber and an eater and he gives me a run for my money. It is different helping to raise this little soul. My life is calmer, more peaceful. I have the wisdom of years. All those years of having faith of carrying hope around like a prized jewel had paid off. And that prayer that I prayed so long ago, to love and to be loved has been answered a dozen times over. Where there is faith, there is hope and with hope things will always get better.

Bowling For Bubba

  My son was a premie. He was a c-section baby and the doctor got his dates wrong. We stayed in the hospital for five days while his lungs grew stronger. I could not hold him for the first four days and it was really hard. I wanted to touch him, hold him, snuggle him close to me. But I could not. He was in an incubator and so I laid in my hospital bed with no baby, feeling very empty. They could not bring him into my room and it was not until the fourth day that they would allow me to go see him. My pregnancy with him was a breeze. I lost three pounds of my pre pregnancy weight after I had him. My doctor joked that was a hell of a way to lose a few pounds. He was such an easy baby. He had a wonderful personality and was such a joy. he learned to crawl early and then to walk. He loved to climb on everything. He was such a boy, so active. When I was heavy with the pregnancy of his younger sister Jess, his older sister rushed into my bed room very early in the morning. She was four and very much the big sister. She was saying she was so sorry. Over and over again she said it. She was in a panic. I jumped up from bed, as much as my lumbering body would allow. And there he was, this little troublemaker. He had climbed onto the kitchen counter, after raiding the refrigerator. He had taken a tub of butter and rubbed all over his body. I mean ALL over. It was also on the floor, on the counter tops, smeared in his hair and ears. And then, as if he was making an exotic body scrub, he had added coffee grounds. An entire bag of the stuff. Amber had tried to get him off the counter and he had taken the little glass pot for the espresso machine and hit her in the head with it, breaking it and adding glass to the mix. Thankfully no one got hurt. As soon as he saw me, he smiled so sweetly, with a degree of  innocence that only the guilty can master. He held out his little pudgy arms for me to pick him up. There were broken eggs and somehow he had managed to open a jar of pickles and they too were added to his concoction. Into the shower I went with him. It took two days to get all the butter off of him. But I could not be mad. He was never more lovable then when he was being naughty. He was so happy that you had discovered whatever mess he had created.

   At ten months he climbed out of his crib. He climbed up a bookcase to the top shelf, about four feet off the ground and knocked off all the books and laid there on his tummy, laughing and squealing until I came and got him. He climbed out of his bedroom window when he was laid down for a nap. He was never surly or cranky. He was a handful. Not in a bad way, he was just so active and such a daredevil. We used to play a game with him. We  would take a big ball, one of those rubber ones with the bright colors and roll it towards him and knock him over. He would laugh like a chipmunk. And then he would grab the ball and totter back to you with it and then run away so you could do it all over again. I called it bowling for Bubba. He was the most even tempered, big hearted child. But, something was wrong. He did not talk. Sometimes, rarely he would say something to me. And I got the impression that he could not hear me. He would ignore what I said and not pay attention. I took him to the Naval doctors, over and over again. They all said the same thing. That he was just ignoring me. But I knew that was not so. That was not his nature. I kept going back, through check ups and shots appointments and every time I told them, he can't hear me. Finally, when he was four we got a good doctor. One who listened and did not treat me like a hysterical new mother. His ears were severely infected. He would have to have tubes. I was so nervous, waiting while he had surgery to place those tubes. And when they finally gave him back to me, to hold while he was recovering, I whispered in his ear. I told him I loved him, as I held him close. He turned in my arms and looked me right in the eyes and said " I can hear you". I remember that moment so clearly. It is one of my most treasured memories as a mother.

   He would do backflips into the pool at the apartments we were living at. He was only four. I don't know how he learned these stunts, but he did and he was good at them. There were always girls where ever he was. He was very popular with the females. When he was five, we were out grocery shopping. He and his father and I, and for some reason his father was being a jerk. I cannot remember why, it could be everything or nothing with him. My husband said something unkind and I took the shopping cart and moved away from him. And then my son said it. He asked a question it would take me years to answer. He asked me why I did not divorce his father. I was shocked and sad. I hadn't known he even knew that word. My children were very aware and things that I thought went right over their heads did not. They saw everything and in an honesty you could only find in their innocence, and my son had gotten to the root of it all with a simplicity that caught me off balance. I had not expected to be discussing my marriage with a five year old. I don't know how I answered him all those years ago. But I will always remember the sadness I felt when he asked it.

   He is a good man. In his twenties now. I can't believe how fast it has gone, those years of play dates and Tonka toys. I am proud of the person he is. He has learned from my mistakes and sometimes, that is all that can be done. There are so many things I wish I had done differently, better. But I did not know all the things I know now. Sometimes I wish for a do over. I could be such a better mother now. I know I could. But that is not the way it works and it is not a good idea to wish away today while reaching for yesterday. It does no good to waste time on such things. So I try everyday to be that good mother. Because he still needs me, they all still need me. Not to make sandwiches and play taxi, no. They need me to tell them that life gets better. That I love them. That I am proud of them. My job is not over, it has changed but it is far from over.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Keeping Your Baby Out of The Road

                                 Keeping Your Baby Out of The Road

  The first time I heard a story of a gay child being shunned by their parents, I was shocked. My Oldest daughter brought over a boy, they must have been 15 or 16. They had some classes together. He came into our living room and my daughter introduced us. He noticed an iron cross on the wall and asked if I was a Christian. I said I was. He gave a side look at Amber and she said it was okay. He said it then. He said that he was gay and that I must hate him. This startled me. Not that he was gay, he was very effeminate, but that he would think that I would hate him, it took me aback. I explained to him that that was not so. That it was none of my business who he was attracted to. He sat down and we talked. He told me about his parents, his family and how they had thrown him out. They felt he was a sinner and that they had to make a choice between their God and their son. I was heart broken for him. He was the first, but he was far from the last. Disenfranchised youth. I did not understand the mindset, how a parent could go from loving their child to not. I heard from some of them. Those parents who loved conditionally. They seemed always to be angry. Angry with their children, with me, and sometimes, with God. I would listen. I never tried to change their minds. I just let them know that if their child was staying in our home, I would take care of them. They would be in school everyday and have a roof over their head at night. It made my heart ache. If these parents could just see the pain that their judgement caused. How much their children needed them. I listened to their stories and handed them tissues as they cried. I tried to make them feel welcome and no matter their personality, I tried to show them love. Some where just as angry as their parents. Angry that they were different. That they did not fit in. That they were other than normal.  They were battling their own demons and I tried to give them shelter. Shelter for their broken hearts and spirits. Acceptance. It was all I could do.
In their eyes, their stories I experienced an echo, a reminder of the child I had been, with nowhere to go and no one to care for me. And I tried to give what I could. My children were wonderful to their friends and they would bring new people into our home. Anyone who needed a safe place to be. It was an epidemic in our small town. So many teenagers adrift in the world.

   Of all the things I had endured, I had never hated myself. I had felt I was not good enough, but I never was my own enemy to the degree so many of these children were. They seemed unable to accept themselves. I tried to create a place were it did not matter. Where it was not an issue. There was only one problem with Jessica being gay, and it became obvious shortly after she came out. Suddenly having her friends spend the night became an issue. Was this a friend or a girlfriend? I had to investigate the relationship. It was the only thing that was ever uncomfortable for me. I did not like feeling like I had to check each girls sexual status before she stayed the night in Jess's room. I did not want any of my children having sex in my house, or at all really. But I knew that it would happen. I just tried not to enable it. Our house had an open door policy and it was not unusual to have five or six kids spend days on end at our house. Many were from broken homes, parents living with a new found freedom uninterested in the needs of teenagers. Many parents would call to see if their child could stay for a weekend or a week. The reasons varied, but I never said no. It got to be the routine that four or five boys would spend the night. Each with their own TV and video game. Sitting in a semi circle in our family room, all weekend long. Mothers would bring pizzas and soda, chips and popcorn. I loved it. Having a house full of kids. There was usually never a problem. I would not tolerate fighting. That was the rule. There were very few. The first was the most important, and they all knew it. Never take the last Diet Coke. Not negotiable. Never. Then came other things, like the boys were not to be in the girls rooms alone and vise versa. No arguing. If there was a problem, they were to handle it. If I got brought in, there was going to be a punishment. Now, not so unlike my father, I chose creative punishments. Moving a wood pile from one side of the yard to the other and then putting it back in it's original spot. That was called "stop yacking and start stacking. Or I would make them walk around the house holding hands counting as they went. They had to walk and yell out the number of times they had traveled that well worn path as they passed me.
  Usually, I only had to threaten a punishment. I did not relish carrying out a one anymore then they enjoyed being punished. My warning to them all was always the same. When they came to our house for the first time, I would explain the warning system. It was simple. They were to consider themselves as a baby. They were to keep their baby safe. If they crossed a line, broke a rule, that was placing their baby in the road. And if they placed their baby in the road, they could not be surprised when their baby got ran over. If someone got mouthy or surly, I would simply say "your baby is in the road"or the bigger warning "get your baby out of the road". Soon they were saying it to each other. My son and I still use it, so many years later. It was shorthand, a warning and a reminder to love themselves.
It seemed we all needed constant reminding to love and care for ourselves as we would a precious child. Because, we are still, in so many ways, those children needing love.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Pearl in The Oyster

  There are many things I did to keep myself from thinking too much, from missing the company of a husband. I worked and exercised and made new friends. When you are in real estate, you have to make so many friends. It was not easy for me. I had not been put into a social setting in so long. I had isolated myself in the last few years of my marriage. I had  gotten rid of my old friends. Those who still thought my Husband was the salt of the earth and our marriage solid. I did not have the heart to tell them the truth. I just could not recount all the reasons that brought me to my fortieth year alone. I once waited on a couple. They must have been closer to eighty than to seventy. They where very sweet together. After ordering dinner, she left the table and her husband called me over. He wanted to make sure her tea was not too hot. And that she had extra honey. Right after salads were served, the husband left the table and his wife called me over  and wanted to make sure that his steak was seasoned  a certain way. They both looked after each other. I wanted that. I wanted fifty years of a loving marriage. I had put almost twenty years in and had come up without the prize. I loved being married. I loved the certainty of it. The routine. It gave me something that my childhood had lacked. There was a safety in it. At least that was what I had told myself, during all those years, stung together like pearls on a string. Hard bits, that grow in the soft flesh of the heart. And just as surely as that pearl must hurt the tender oyster, those years caused me great pain as well. The trust lost, the love wasted on one unworthy of it. I was going to have to make changes. To learn new skills. I had not been prepared to look out for myself. But I knew at least, in myself I could trust. And I promised to never turn my life over so willingly again.  For someone who had such little trust, I had bestowed much on the wrong people.

  I needed to work on my most important relationship now. The one with myself. I had hidden from me.  First the child I had been, and then the woman who she became. I floated and drifted and let time pass. If I was going to keep myself from making the same mistakes, I was going to have to discover why I did the things I did. I could put my faith in the hands of the wrong person, but I shunned the right ones. I did not trust them. If a man was mean or had a bad temper, I gravitated to him. It was the devil I knew. If a man was nice to me, he was not to be believed. He must be up to something, it was a trick. It came from my childhood I knew, like so many other things I dragging behind me. It was fear. I feared what would happen if I believed in the good man, the right man.  He let me down, and it would be devastating. Better to pick the bad boy. Yes he would let me down, but I expected it. It was what I knew. Realizing these things made me sad. That my thinking was so backwards. I set myself up to fail from the beginning. I ticked off all the signs, all the reasons my marriage had not succeeded. I did this,  not to torture myself, or to bring myself down. I did it to build myself back up. I had to find the weaknesses. To understand what drew me to the wrong men, so as not to do it again. Nothing good was ever built on a foundation of blame and so I chose to build on experience and faith. I had lost many things, but hope was not one of them.

   I did not date. Not at all. I was asked, and I would fall back on that ring. The symbol as faux, as the marriage it was to represent. But it was well worth the money I had paid for it. It kept me on the right side until I could trust myself. That was something I was going to have to earn. I held myself accountable. I would not be satisfied in simply blaming my husbands. That would be too easy and nothing would have changed. I refused to see myself as a victim. I was not. I did not deserve the way I had been treated, but I had put myself in harms way and I could not be surprised by the results. It was a time for growth. My business grew, as so many other agent's did. It was a great time for real estate and I was in a booming housing market. I kept the bills paid and food on the table. It brought me great confidence. My children where getting so grown up. Amber had graduate. And moved out on her own. It broke my heart. I was happy for her. I was excited for her future, but I missed her. I wanted them all to stay children. What was I going to be, if not a wife, if not a mother? I had over twenty years invested in these people. And one by one they were going to leave me. Back to counseling I went. I had to find acceptance of so many things. We found a new relationship, my daughter and I. We went to lunch and had coffee. I grew to enjoy this new phase in our relationship. But, I knew what was coming. I could see it. The other two would be gone soon. They were already so independent. We still snuggled on the couch or in my bed to watch scary movies. But I knew my days were numbered. They were planning their escape and I could do nothing to stop them. I started making bundles for them. With things they would need. Can openers, and cork screws, toasters and towels. it was all I could do. I could make their going easier. I could give them my blessings and my love and I set my heart to doing it. Those years, spent in that marriage where hard, but the treasures were worth it. It is too bad the oyster does not benefit from that little pearlized bit of sand for which it suffers so.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Perceptions and Deceptions

                                                         Perceptions and Deceptions

  Having spent the whole of my life pretending that my life was perfect, it was no wonder that people believed it. They did not see me as I was. Broken. Lost. Small. I had made myself so small. In order to fit the mold that others had made for me. I spent my life being what was expected of me. No matter how far from the truth it was. I gave up all of me to be accepted, to feel loved. It was a poor trade off. I had to redefine myself. To see who I was. To actually put myself first for once. It was daunting. There is something comforting in knowing someone else is responsible. Or at least that is what I had told myself. Now I found that I was so far from shore with no way to get back. And again, I asked myself "how did I get here?" I had allowed myself to drift in someone else's wake. Never entertaining a care as to where we were going. I just wanted a family, a house, a good life. I had never bothered with the details. I had not realized that there were different degrees of marriage, what is acceptable and what is not. That I could set my own standards was a foreign concept. Now I had all the power. The control over my life and I had no idea what to do with it. I started small. I repainted the house. I bought a new car. I changed my hair. I picked up new friends and set other ones down. I was still editing though. I was still hiding from truths that I did not want to face and I knew surly no one else would want to know. People like happy endings. There is a comfort in knowing that things are right and good in the world. I was still hiding the ugly truths with the beautiful lies  People did not want to know the truth. They did not want to get that close.

  I could get away with a lot of deception if I just let others fill in the details for me. I said that I was married, technically I still was, they would assume happily so. I would say, when asked, that my Mother lived 20 miles away. They assumed we were close. There were a thousand little ways to skirt the truth, without telling a lie and I used them all. It kept a buffer between me and other people and of course most importantly from reality. I thought that if I just did not speak it, if I ignored it, than it would go away. Float away from me. Isn't that what is supposed to happen to things abandoned? They drift away. It is easy to create such a great work of fiction that you fall victim to it's allure. I lived there a long time in that fairy tale bubble where I was normal and undamaged by the stark reality of my past.
I was still folding my corners inward. There is another burden that came with those hidden truths. I felt obligated to keep other people's perceptions of my life going. I did not go so far as to say positive things about my Mother or Husband, but I did not say negative ones either. People just filled in the blanks for themselves. It was easy.

   My children, who had wanted my husband out of the house, had a hard time excepting the reality of it. There was a different tone to our home. There was less tension, but somehow less joy as well. We were in a funk. Having been together for so long, it was difficult to have the extra room that one less person brought. One less dinner plate, coffee cup, pair of shoes by the door. They were all reminders of the failure we had become. They all proclaimed the death of so many hopes by their absence. It was all a part of letting go. It seemed like there was always something to mourn, that it was always the grieving season and it left me longing for things never known. I missed what I had never had and what I had held onto so briefly. Shadows of a life I once dreamed of. For the first time in my life I had no one to answer to. And the thought made me sad. My kids were in their late teens by now and pretty self-sufficient. I had somehow lost the underpinnings of my life. My touchstones were gone. I would have to make new ones.

   I took up hobbies. I gardened and I learned to shoot. There had been a string of assaults on real estate agents and in fact one had been killed. I got a gun. I loved shooting and I was good at it. I practiced at our local range often. This of course brought the attention of the males there, but I was pretty good at shutting them up with my marksmanship and I earned their respect. And when some new guy would come waltzing in offering to teach me "how it is done" the others would hang back and chuckle, just waiting for it. I would listen, very wide eyed, shaking my head while being schooled by a self proclaimed expert and then, I would simply let my shooting do the talking for me. It became a kind of inside joke and I always had a man or two waiting to walk me to my car at the end of the night. But, I leaned on that one lie, well really a mistruth....I always pointed to the ring on my left hand which proclaimed me taken. It was not my wedding ring. I had shed that long ago. It was a rouse. To make female clients feel comfortable with me calling their husbands over contracts, over men who wanted to get to know me better. I did not want to know me better, there was no way I would let anyone else.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Stone Gatherer

                                                            Stone Gatherer

  It was my children who taught me what love is. Children are great teachers. They are also great healers. I do not think they get enough credit for that. At times when I was at my lowest I would pull one of them on my lap and snuggle. I would turn up the radio LOUD and dance around with them. Soon we would be laughing and giggling and I would be centered again. I would have a better focus on what I needed to do. They taught me how to treat others and more importantly, how I should be treated. It was an easy progression really. I simply asked myself, when someone who was supposed to care for me did something hurtful, would I do that to my child? This progressed to would I do that to anyone. And I had to acknowledge that I had settled for far less then I was worth too many times. I, having never experienced love in my home growing up, did not recognize it as an adult. When people extended love to me, I did not trust them. I shied away. I was afraid of them. They must want something from me. This took a long time to overcome. It is not an easy thing to trust. But again, I used my children as the ruler I measured other people's actions by. It was very helpful and gave me a new prospective on people and relationships.

  I had always had difficulty making long term connections with people. I had no experience with it. I marveled at people who had grown up their whole lives together and shared so much. I did not have that. Except with my younger brother. Relationships were fleeting things, where true honesty never lived. I edited so much. Everything. I refashioned my childhood into something more palatable. More normal. This of course gave my mother an opening. If I was going to pull off this fairytale life, I needed her. She was more than willing to play the part. Of course she would always slide back into her old ways. After I had been lulled into the rhythm of this better than life story. And it always shocked me. It brought me right back down to the reality I tried so hard to avoid. To hide, even from myself. Because, the truth is I wanted it. I really did want to deny everything. To make it untrue. But I could never stay in that pretend world long. It was not in me. More questions would be asked. The natural progression of any relationship and there I would be again. Faced with my monsters, dressed up like my parents. With no where to hide from the past. I was going to have to make peace. I had been inching towards it for so long. Through everything I learned this, to accept what was. Exactly as it was. No fancy Hollywood version, the truth. To say this happened. To me. That I was not treated in a way I was WORTHY of. That was a big step for me. Through my parents and husbands I just had not seen or expected that I was valued. Or even that I should be. I lived in another place altogether. Where I went from heart break to heart break. Always surprised at others ability to hurt me, and yet expecting nothing better. I could stand up for my sisters, for my children, but somehow not for myself. That had to change.

   It was easy really. I just substituted one of my children into any situation in which I had a nagging feeling I was not being treated with love. It says a lot as to where I was in my journey,  to admitting that I had value, that I could only do this by placing someone other than myself in the situation. It was baby steps, but I was getting closer to loving myself. I had to stop expecting my mother to change. I had circled around the facts of who she was and what I wanted, what I needed her to be. She was an empty bucket. No matter how many times I went to that vessel looking for water, no matter how thirsty I got, that bucket was always going to be empty. There was a hole in it and it was not repairable. I needed to walk away. To find other sources to quench my need for love. I started once again with my children. They loved me. They showed me I was lovable. I saw my worth in their eyes and it carried me along.

   Now, balance was hard for a person like me. Who had never learned the proper responses to challenges in life. When learning new skills, it is hard to tell what reaction is warranted. And this, is the thing that trips most of us up. Those who have gone through an alternate reality. I was hyper vigilant. I would over react to any slight. I had to defend myself. Everything was an attack. It was exhausting. People were hard for me. Maintaining relationships difficult. I would turn to and fro. First rushing to make friends. To connect and then retreating back into myself again. Surely, I seemed unstable. Running hot and cold as I did. It was my "tell" and I was going to have to find ways to temper it. To learn what a proper response to everyday interactions were. I learned to react slower. To give more thought to my words and actions. It was a good exercise for me. Human interaction was a tricky thing. I of course read books, but mostly I studied other people. I listened as they handled their own quagmires with parents, spouses and children. I used people to pattern my own interactions. I learned to not let one misstep send me hurdling back over the edge. I learned to stop gathering stones.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paper Cranes

                                                                     Paper Cranes

   I had never trusted myself. Never thought I could take care of me. As much as my parents should have taught me to rely on myself and not on others, I still so badly had wanted to be rescued. To be loved. I had folded myself inward and creased the folds of my own personality to be what others wanted me to be. Creating a kind of origami bird. With stiff wings that could not fly. Beautiful, but useless. I did not resemble myself at all. I had tried to fill that hole in me with others. And when they did not fit that aching void, I tried to redefine myself, my needs to match who they were and what they were willing to give. I bargained myself away. It was okay if they could not give praise, if they did not support me emotionally. I could do without those things. I did not need to be respected. I had done it all, sacrificed me so that I would not be alone. I made so many concessions, so many excuses for others. It never occurred to me that I was worthy of more. It made me sad to realize how I had shorted myself. I had taken my parents place in selling me out. Humans are very resilient and I would trade off almost anything to feel loved. Only, I was not feeling loved. It was like that game of "follow the pea". The one where you have three cups and you tried to guess which cup the pea was under. I would frantically search under each one, each person in my life to find the love in that pea. But, I never got it right. I did not know how to play and there did not seem to be a pea at all. The fix was in and I could not win. I was going to have to find a new game.

  I worked hard and I did well. I was able to support my family on my own. And I liked it. It gave me a sense of purpose. The housing market was good and I had more clients than I knew what to do with. I paid bills up and then got ahead. My Mother would make an appearance now and again. She would call or drop by. Looking for a reception she was never going to get. My children scattered when she arrived. Hiding upstairs or heading out the back door. I envied them their swiftness. I never seemed to get away as easily. There was never really anything to talk about. She would drag out her latest health issue. Now, let me take a moment and explain. My mother has been on the verge of death my entire life. After my father had left her, she started a new game. If you caught her in a lie or if she was in the wrong in any way, she would put her hand over the spot where her heart should have been and hold her breath and then take large gasps of air. Heaving to and fro, sounding like an oversized billows, turning bright red with the effort. Waving her other hand around in the air and sputtering that she was dying. That her heart could not take it. Now, let me say, the first few times she did this we reacted. We were concerned. How could we not be? but after the better part of twenty years, I was tired of her teasing me. She was too damn mean to go anywhere. And I told her so. It was really enough by now. It shocked her into silence, which was a blessing unto itself. This reminds me of THE most embarrassing thing she ever did to me in public. I am going to jump ahead in time to tell this. Because it really belongs right here. It was my son's birthday. I had decided to take the kids and one friend each out to dinner. My Mother called to see what I was going to do for her grandson's birthday, and when I told her the plan, she said she and her husband would meet us there. She said she had always wanted to eat at the restaurant I had chosen, it was expensive. We all met up there and were seated. it was dimly lit with white table clothes and waitstaff in ties. Everyone ordered, my Mother and her husband ordered the most expensive things on the menu and then they want appetizers and mixed drinks too. I thought nothing of it. Dinner arrived and with in minutes John, my mother's husband started to choke. He started slamming his fist one the table....not our table, but the next table over, where a couple had been enjoying a quiet dinner. He pounded up and down scattering utensils and food, my mother started gasping and holding her chest. Sweet lord, I was mortified. Finally he spit out the large piece of steak that had caused all the fuss. Along with his teeth. Right there on those poor people's table, his upper plate sat. I looked at my kids and they looked at me. Everyone's phones were silently buzzing with our text messages back and forth to each other. Texting frantically under the table clothe, each of us trying to figure a way out of this embarrassment. The waitress came over, she wanted to know what she could do. And my mother, in classic form as only she could, still clutching her would be heart and gasping like a fish out of water. Demanded a ginger ale, "NOW NOW" she gasped. The waitress allowed how that would be a great idea and that should help John recover. My mother, never missing a beat, corrected her. The drink was not for her choking husband, but for her. It was all too upsetting for her. The waitress looked dumb struck, but she brought her that ginger ale. This little event did nothing to curb their hunger, on the contrary they ordered desert and coffees too. And then, without even a thank you, they were out the door. Leaving me with a hefty bill and a room full of staring people. That is my mother, in  a nut shell. I no longer go out to eat with her.

   It was no wonder my children would avoid my mother with her special flare and sense of drama. She gossiped about everyone. No one was living their lives as they should. Many had more than they deserved. She also started a new habit. If I severed her tea she complimented the cup, the tea and was that a new pillow on the couch. She would examine everything and proclaim that she would like to have whatever had caught her eye. She would hold this or that up to her eye and look from me to it and then back again. I would tell her where I got it. Letting her know the price and any other details that pertained to whatever item had caught her eye. And then she would say "it must be nice to have such things" it was her way of letting me know she expected me to give it to her. It did not matter what it was, it's cost, great or small. She truly expected to walk out of my house with it. If I ignored her, she would bring it up again and again. Until I gave her whatever she wanted, just to get some peace. I started hiding things. In my own home I hid my own things. To keep them safe. To keep them for myself. I did the same with my feelings. Folding in on myself once again. Closing off who I was. I hid  from her, but wether it was to keep her safe or me I could not say. I just knew my honesty and my anger would level any pretense of relationship left between us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Laying down the Shovel


                                       Laying Down the Shovel

 I have always marveled at people who can skirt the truth of their past. When you ask a question, which is too painful for them to answer. They side step so gracefully.  I do not have that particular gift.  If asked about my parents, my husbands or my past, I do not know how to lie. Not to a direct inquiry.  Even if I knew the person didn't wish to have an honest answer.  I was no longer anyone’s keeper of secrets and I would not carry that burden , just so someone else could feel better. I can usually tell, when getting to know someone if they have a similar past. It is like a club that no one wants to be a member of. But we all acknowledge the other's pain and struggles with a nod and then we give them their distance. It is too hard. These things we guard. We hoarded the dark things like they were gold. As if our very life depended on it. I just could not do it. Not anymore. Denying the past, my time in the desert of my childhood. Where nothing good grew and my heart, my very soul was dried and cracked for want of love. It was something I was incapable of.  I had to look the truth square on. Grapple with the pain and emotions so that I could one day master them. Not talking about them did not make them any less true. Nor did it banish them from my memory. It only isolated me and kept me depressed. I could not bury it all. There is no hole deep enough and no place remote enough that they would not find their way back to me. Clawing at the rumble in my mind. The problem was simple. The reason they returned to me. These ghosts of my childhood haunting my life. I knew. I knew everything and from that I could not hide. I simple stopped trying. I put down my shovel and I looked at each one. Holding them up to the sun. Recognizing their place in my life. How this or that had affected who I had become and the choices I made. I had to. If I wanted to get better, to get free, I had to give them their due.

   I did not want to make the same mistakes again. I had tricked myself. I had always thought I needed to be free, of my parents, of one husband and then another. What I really needed was to stop constructing snares. I had caught myself out with my choices. I kept my Mother in my life hoping against hope that she would change. That she would see my worth and love me. I had to accept that whatever was broken in her was not about me and it was not mine to fix. I had to let her go. She would still call. To complain about her life and pass judgments on mine. I, more times then not, ignored her calls. They were too draining and speaking to her, pretending that she was a good mother, that we had a normal relationship was too heavy a load. I handed it back to her. It had never been mine to begin with. And I moved on. I had no resolution with my Father and I did not desire one. It was as if he was dead. All those years ago, he had blamed me. A small child of five, standing before him after my sisters and brother left. He said I had gotten away with murder. It was a foreshadowing of things to come. The one thing that has remained in the cemetery of my mind was my father. I had hoped he would have died in prison. I chided myself for that. I was not one to wish people dead. But in this case I made an exception. I needed to know he had been stopped. But he got out and I had to learn to accept that. He had a record; he was labeled a sex offender. It was all I could do. And until it happens again, it has to be enough. I have nothing unresolved with him. There is nothing to be gained or mended. He is laying under a slab of stone. Cool and heavy. And that is enough.

  My first husband was easy. He remarried and I let the pain go. He came to me so long ago, after we were divorced. He was studying to be a counselor and he needed to make amends. He apologized for everything. He named them all, the wounds he had inflicted. I forgave. It doesn’t mean it did not hurt still, if I pushed on the scar. But it did not rule me. My second husband wrote me a letter. He had asked what I wanted for my birthday around the time we separated. I said a letter. I wanted him to write it all down, what he had done and to say he was sorry. I had not expected him to do it. But he did. I have it here still. It is a tale of caution. I only read it once. That was all I needed. To see those words, for him to admit to it,  eased my mind.
   I am not defined by these things, these stones from my past. But I could use them. I could build something with them. I gathered them all up and I stacked them. I made a foundation, a platform to create my future. They would anchor me and remind me. Lest I start creating traps again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Leave the Field Barren

                                             Leave the Field Barren

At first he would drop by unannounced at my office and at the house. He used his charm on the other realtors and on the front desk girls.  They all talked about how handsome he was and how lucky I was. I did not correct them. I had no energy for it. They could believe whatever they liked. As much as he tried to keep me in that past I pushed on to a new future. One where I was not playing mother to a man older than I. I had always been his conscience. I kept him out of trouble and covered up his mistakes. I was unwilling to continue this sick dance of ours. He would turn my world around and around until I could not catch my breath or keep  it from tipping sideways. I had fallen into his arms, taking steps closer to him and then moving away. He could always draw me to him,  to bring me back to this waltz of disfunction. To match my step with one of his own. If I got a job, he quit his. If I paid a bill he created another. My feet hurt and my heart was sore. I pulled away from him and found haven in a new career. I was starting a new life. And he was not on the dance card.

  My children got used to me working and the perks it brought. Better clothes, new computers, a car for
Amber. They did not like that I was gone, but they learned to accept the trade offs. I had meals prepared and brought to the house. Once a week they came. Tinfoil masterpieces that only needed reheating. I missed cooking for them and all the other things. They were growing up so fast and I felt I was missing so much. I bought a journal and I filled it up. I had things to say and puzzles to figure out. I was the biggest riddle of all. Why did I do the things I did? I trusted the untrustworthy and shied away from the safe. It was a pattern and I wrote it all down. I had to find a way to let it all die on the page. I did not want to do this again. To be HERE again. And I was the only one who could keep that from happening. I had to learn to protect me from me. My husband did not accept our seperation. He thought it was like the first time. That I would change my mind. We had grown up together by then. There was a history between us. Twenty years of fights and making up. Of anger and shared joys. It was not easy. I felt lonely at times. I missed the fun husband, the kind one who loved me. I missed the funny one who could shake any blue day. The one who thought I was beautiful when I first woke up. Who always made me feel wanted. But I did not miss the other one. The mean one. The bully, the liar. And I had to remind myself when he called or dropped by, that no matter how good he looked or how infectious his smile, the other one was waiting, just under the surface. The one who did not love me. Who was cruel and mean. I reminded myself constantly lest I be tempted. I could not let myself be trapped.

  Just before I found that man in the paper who saved my life by dying. I needed a surgery. I had been having problems of a female kind. I went to one doctor and then another, until finally someone had an answer. I had fibroid tumors and I needed an operation immediately. I did not want to do it. I had more than my share of Doctors and that world that they occupied. But what this doctor said scared me. She used words I did not like. She talked about surgery and cancer and longterm treatments. I was scared. It was a new kind of fear. One I had never experienced before. I had faced physical threats and emotional abuse, but never anything like this and I was not prepared. I did not tell the children. Why say anything to worry them. I did not know anything to tell. I did talk to my husband about it. I laid it all out, my fears and concerns. He had just one question, "would it feel the same?" at first I did not know what he meant. I could not grasp his thought process. I was looking for comfort. A shoulder. Strong arms. But instead he clarified his question. "would sex feel the same (for him) after I had a hysterectomy.?" I walked out. I got in my car and drove as tears blurred my vision. with his words he had put a life time between us, I put miles. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what he had asked. Too shame filled to reach out to anyone else. Just as I had done all my life I handled this new demon alone.

  I had surgery the next day. I came home and collapsed into a drug induced sleep. I had no news yet. It would have to wait on test. I was too far into a medicated haze to care. It was the pressure that woke me. It was dark. It must be late. I had a searing pain and he was on top of me. I tried to move and could not. He was big and I was weak. After a moment it was done. he rolled off me then and patted my thigh. With a  "yep, feels just the same" and then he passed out, sound asleep. The haze was gone. My body hurt. I thought I might be bleeding. But that was nothing. That could wait. It was my mind that needed tending to. I was in shock. I could not process this. This new assault on my body and mind. The complete humiliation and the feelings of anguish. I promised myself, as soon as I healed I would get out . I would find away. Part of me wanted to report it. To call the police. But I knew I could not. My children. My children kept me from real justice this time. I could not do that to them. To have them stigmatized by their father's actions.

  So I planned and I plotted. I took pills to keep my despair from overtaking me. I never went to the doctors for the check up after that procedure. I could not. She would have known. And I simply could not endure a lecture about how I was supposed to be recuperating and not playing footsies. I waited three weeks. That seemed safe. The test came back, I did not have cancer. I was safe. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to feel joy. But I did not. I felt raw and painful and alone. He never asked. About those results. It was like nothing had happened. It was his death nail. That last bit of betrayal. I was done and so was our marriage. I plowed it all over, the good times. I turned over the field in my heart and let it stay barren. I had my children and I had myself and that was going to be enough. I looked at the numbers and tried to figure away to come up with the money I needed to make it work. And on a rainy winter day, with a latte'  on the table beside me, a man I did not know. Would never meet, owing to his own death, spoke to me. He showed me the way out. And I gladly escaped.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pocket Full of Matches

                                             Pocket Full of Matches

  He had been a realtor. The smiling man in the obituary. He was successful and well thought of. He

seemed like a good role model. I went online and found out exactly what I needed to do to get my

license. It was easy really. 60 hours of computer course and a test at a state office. I had this. And I did.

I met with several brokers and picked out the office I wanted to work out of. I did the course in five


 And passed the test. The next day I was sitting at my new desk. In my new office. I knew I could do

it. My family needed me to do it. I worked the phones and referrals and I was good at it. When my first

sale closed I came home early. It was my birthday. I found him on the couch. I knew. I did not know

what it had been this time. But I knew. He was out of another job. He informed me he had quit. That he

 had worked long enough and I could support him from now on. I walked out. Every time we were

almost caught up or even had a chance at getting ahead, he did something to keep us poor. I think he

thought if he kept me on my knees, I would stay. That I would have to. I opened my own account and I

 paid the bills. My children were so angry with him. Their Father. He had disappointed his family

again. We had lost our medical benefits when he quit. We lost dental and vision too. And he did not

care. He stayed on that couch. I left for work early every morning and I came home late. I had no

choice. We stayed away from each other. He slept in the living room and I stayed in our bedroom. The

kids came to visit me at my office. I loved that. The surprise of one of them knocking on

my door. They always had a smile and a kiss for me. They were my reason. For working, for trying, for

 breathing. They were more than enough.

  It was our son that got him off the couch. I came home late as usual. My son greeted me as he always

did. He said I worked too much. That I was needed there. And that he missed me. I explained it had to

be this way. I was torn. I liked what I did. I liked that cool crisp check with my name on it. With it's

obscenely large dollar amount. People liked me. I got praise and I helped find families homes. I loved it. But I

missed my children I missed the little things. Snuggling in the morning. Watching movies on rainy

afternoons. I missed being a mother. My son made his case for me to quit. I let him know I could not.

It was the only money we had.  He wheeled away from me and went into the living room and after his

 Father. He yelled at him. Told him he was lazy. That he was not taking care of his family. And so

many other things he had kept bottled up for far too long. And then he said it. He cut his father to the

core. He told him his was ashamed of him, embarrassed and told him he should just leave. I think he

meant every word that he said. He was not one to mince words. It worked. He got another job but I

kept him on the couch. It was my first bit of freedom, that room. And I was not about to give it up.

   And I started a new counting game. First I counted how long I had until my youngest daughter

turned eighteen. I marked each day in my mental calendar. Again, I was a prisoner. I began to realize

 that I had done this to myself. My husband was a perfect mix of my parents. He was cruel and

indifferent at times and very manipulative. He could be loving and kind. When it suited him. I seemed

to be attracted to men that were remote. I wondered at this. I had wanted so much to be loved. Maybe I

 would not let myself have that. Maybe I was purposely allowing people in my life who would never

give me the thing I most craved. Did I think I was unworthy. I had done all of this to myself. I said it

over and over. I relived the bad times and documented the red flags. I had missed so many.  I had

married someone who could never give me the things I needed most. I wrote down all my failings.

every misstep, I gave myself no leeway. Then I lit a match and set it all ablaze. ALL of it. My past. My

poor choices. My dreams of a life with my husband. And I stood in the ashes of those things after I

burnt them all down. And I waited for the wind to blow it all away. I was done with it.

   I crunched numbers and juggled the finances. I paid everything I could. I hoarded money and I

planned. I could get free. I bided my time. True to form my husband dashed my well drawn plans. He

became more erratic, more unpredictable and certainly more volatile. I had to speed things up. He

clashing with the children. Starting fights so he could punish them. It was enough. I ordered him out

at first he would not go. I got him out though. I had already started the bonfire using the sticks he had

hit me with in a pit ringed by the stones he had thrown. I would have my freedom. Fire could cleanse

away so much, just like my tears. And I had a pocket full of matches

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hope From the Dead

                                                   Hope From the Dead

         We quit the multilevel business shortly after we bought the house. We were simply too successful

 to continue.  We had gone to a seminar and someone was on stage. He was bestowing words of

wisdom on an eager crowd. What he said was unexpected. I had spent so long hoping that this was the

answer. But of course you cannot peddle dreams with no substance forever. And this man with the

 expensive suit and hand made Italian loafers let it slip, the truth. I am sure he did not mean what he said

 to be taken so perfectly literal. I tend towards taking people at their word. He said we had three years.

That was all. Three years to get everything we could out of our new recruits. He said by that time they

 will have either made it or they will have been tapped out financially. He was urging us to make haste.

It was a cut and run kind of thing. And I was out. Any pretense I had left of this being the answer, of

ever getting wealthy "helping other people" reach their goals faded in that moment. The realization of

 what we had done hit me hard. I became sad and melancholy. All those "dream stealers" had been

right. It was not real. I wrote the letter as soon as we got back home. We resigned our business. I did

not ask my husband, or even tell him until after it was done. Then I called my downline and lastly my

upline.  I delivered the death notice. I was so sorry, for all the encouragement I had given. For cards

sent and plans made. With people who were never going to have anything but empty bank accounts to

show for their having faith. Faith in a business designed to shake the money out of their pockets while

filling their heads with visions of success. I was very honest. I could not stop apologizing. I did what I

could for those left standing and I helped others bury their dreams. There were funerals for hopes and

for bright futures gone too soon. Most shook their heads and moved on with their lives. Shuffling past

the casket fashioned out of  a soap box. Some refused to let go. I understood that. I knew what it meant

 to them, to have hope. The need to believe was stronger than truth. I got it, and I sent them past me to

my upline and wished them well. But I did not tell them that they could do it. I did not lie. The time for

that had long gone. I did not know then what dire straights our upline was in. They were far more

successful then us and thusly, far more broke. Actually, broke would have been an upgrade. They lost

their house, the fancy cars. And then the tax man came calling. They left the area. Started up

somewhere else. I hear of them now and again, and I wonder at their tenacity. I am too black and white

 to live in so much grey.

  My counselor said I had an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong. That it had come from my child

 hood. That I held myself to higher standard. I begged to differ. I could look back and see so many

times I could have done better. I should have done more. She tried to soothe me with facts. I pushed

back with my own. It was a tug of war that I hoped she won, but that I could not throw. She was going

 to have to find a way to convince me that I was not a bad person. I mourned every missed payment.

 Every bill unpaid brought me low. They were lined up on the kitchen counter, all my personal failures.

 I did not know how I was going to fix it now. I let go of one dream and cast around for another. I

wanted to be reliable. To be trustworthy. To be good. I would build up new hope. I would figure this

out. I had to. I had been through too much, I was tough, I was strong and I would get through this.

There were worse things. People had it worse than me. I should be grateful. The dialog went around

and around in my head. Until I convinced myself. It could be done. God was with me. There was

always an answer. I just had to find it. It was fitting that it came in an obituary. I read the paper

everyday and poured over all the words. I was a reader and a news junkie to boot. I NEEDED to know

 what was going on. What was real. So, I turned the pages of the newsprint taking it all in and sending

 little prayers up for the family who had a car accident. The fire in the next town over and lastly, to

round out my missives to God, I laid out the obits. I read each one. I favored ones with pictures though.

I liked to see who this person had been. What their face said about their soul and if they had kind eyes.

 There was a man in there, smiling up at me. He had had a long life filled with a loving wife and

children. He had a multitude of blessings and I said a thankful prayer for this man and prayed peace on

his family and I ached for what he had that I did not. And I reminded myself of the lesson his life was.

It could be done.

 He had done it. If it was possible for him to have a loving family, a good marriage, a prosperous life,

then I could have it too. I read all I could on this man. He had been somebody and his life was well

known. I set him as my example and I went about changing my life again with a new found hope left

for me by that dead man.

Friday, August 17, 2012

One Stone Too Many

                                                   One Stone Too Many

   My mother told me once that she had been molested too. I was pleading with her to let me go to my friend's house when she went to work. So, I would not have to be alone with my father. She told me I had to ask him. That I needed to get my father's permission to leave, so I could be safe from my Father did not to my mother, seem strange. I tried to point out the unfairness of this, and she snapped. She said that the same thing had happened to her. It had been a friend of her parent's and they had not believed her. I did not know what she wanted me to do with this knowledge. I was already overwhelmed with the secrets I carried. In counseling I learned that some people who are abused have an inability to connect emotionally with others. I don't know if that is what is what broke her or if she was born with something missing. I tend to stay away form the nature, nurture debate as a rule, it hits too close to home for me. I wanted to ask her why if it happened to her, she would let it happen to me. She yelled at me and threw out every mean thing that had ever been done to her. And ended her diatribe by saying life was not fair, to get use to it. This kind of sage wisdom does not take a girl far in the world and I did not bother asking my Father anything, he would turn his attention to me soon enough. I watched everyone who came in contact with my children. No one got a pass in my book. I was protective. My childhood haunted me and I was determined that they never learn my parent's lessons.

   After my husband got out of the Navy he had trouble keeping a job. He would start out very humble and a good employee, but depending on the arc of his moods, that would last anywhere from weeks to years and then he would set surly. He was too good for this or that. He was not paid enough. And then, he would just show up home early. Dejected over being laid off or fired again. It was brutal on our small family. There were times when the food bank provided our only meals. I made him go. I refused, not because I was too good for it, but because it would break me. I was not strong enough. I did not trust others to begin with and to ask for anyone's help was beyond me. I was so closed off from myself and I did almost anything to keep it that way. I was afraid of myself. My anger. My resentment. I felt cheated and tricked. I went around and around in my head. Going over it ALL. Spiraling further into despair every day. And then, after two or three or ten days, I would stop. I would find stories sadder than mine. And I would count my blessings. There were so many. My children, my health, I was born in America and not Ethiopia. I would drag them all out, those blessings and marvel at them. And I would put myself back together and move forward. That is how I did it and sometimes, I still do.

  By happenstance we found our first real home. We had moved so often. Just like the world I came from, money was always an issue and that meant that three day notices to vacate, became the norm. It was grueling. My Husband never seemed to be bothered by this self made chaos. And I tried to put on a good face for the kids. Writing checks I knew would not clear, for the gas man who came to the door with his clipboard. To the water district and the grocer. It was humiliating. I felt like a liar and a thief and I blamed him. Not because the money he made was not enough, it was, when he worked. it was how he spent it. At first he had handled the bills and it became apparent that he could not do it. Money was a magical, mystical thing that he could not grasp the meaning of. He could not keep track of what he spent or to whom he owed. We were married two years, when I found out about the credit cards. There were fourteen of them. FOURTEEN. They were from Visa and Master Card, Sears and JC Penny's and they were all maxed out. All of them. I asked what had prompted him to apply for so many. He said that he and his friends would sit in the barracks and fill them out and one someone got approved, they would go out on the town, with this free money that had fallen into their laps. I had trouble with this. I could not comprehend the logic of it. And so, I had taken it over. Trying to make dollars out of pennies and coming up short. It made me resentful. That was how he had gotten into multi level marketing. It was a dream. And we needed desperately for it to be true. I had to put him on an allowance and still he found ways. He would get an advance at work for tools and bring me a check that would be half as much as it should be. It was for tools, it was an investment. He needed it. There was always an excuse and it was never enough.  And so, more stones were added. To that burden that I carried. And I did not flinch. I was strong, I was tough, I had been through worse than this. It may bow my back, but it would not buckle my knees.

  We were always days away from a windfall, he just knew it. He bought scratch tickets and worked the business and sold dreams at a cut rate to people who had less than we did.And I plastered a smile on my face and stood right beside him, passing bad paper and hoping for that miracle. Because if it did not happen, if it did not come...well that, I could just not face. That would be one stone too many.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Honor the Child

                                                      Honor the Child

  I felt that no one cared. There was no where to turn. Major Dribben and the Army had made me feel like that lost child again. I could not understand what it was all for. There had to be a way to make it better. To change it. No one else should go through what I had. I was overwhelmed with how easily I had been thwarted in my attempt for justice. It was a new game and I did not know the rules. I did talk to more lawyers, nothing. One offered to help if I paid $30,000 upfront. I was so angry that they had effectively taken away my voice. I had finally done it. Stood up to them all, exposed what had been done and they turned me away. I felt very small and helpless and that was not something I was comfortable with. I threw myself into my children and their schools. Anything that kept my mind from thinking about my inability to get the military to change their policies. Major Dribben had blamed it on Congress. It was a law passed to protect the military from just such situations, that the Army was hiding behind. It absolved them of any responsibility. I asked who had put this law forward, Major Dribben had laughed. As if it was funny. Really, I think it was because he knew I was tilting at windmills. I could not then, nor do I understand now, how a body of individuals, that we voted in and paid could make a law against it's own children. I knew, I was naive. But honestly, in passing such a law, Congress was acknowledging children were going to be damaged and that Congress had to protect the military from any consequences of it's own inaction. It was wrong. Morally it was very wrong. I was a military brat and I grew up going to military schools in a foreign country. I was raised up to believe ours was the best country and it was the Army that kept us safe. Apparently, that did not apply if you were a child. It was hard. I refused have paid so much and gained so little.  It was as if they were making me a victim again.

  My heart still hurts today, for all those that came after. They haunt me as much as those three little girls did. I felt a burden then, as I do now. And I did not have the answers.

  My children where getting older. The friction between my Husband and myself was getting worse and they witnessed far too many arguments. I was so hell bent on not being my Mother. I stood up to my Husband on everything. I automatically took my children's sides, no matter the situation. I was proving to them that I loved them. That they were important and that I would protect them from the world both inside and outside of our home. It was classic overcompensation. I did not know that then. I had been  fighting my whole life, it was all I knew. I created the battlefield and laid out the land mines, never realizing my children were the casualties of the war I fought so bitterly. I fought his temper, his jealousy, his control and even his love.  I could brook no peace and he offered none. My Mother slowly crept back into my life. Her Mother had a stroke. I would go and spend time with her. Play cards with her. Wash her hair, whatever was needed. It was nice to be with my Grandparents. They talked about their parents and told stories of  their youth. It was an honor to do it.  A way to say thank you and to show respect. My Grandmother had watched us sometimes when I was little. She made us peanut butter and honey sandwiches and taught us to play gin rummy for pennies. She may have lectured me about my tomboy ways, but she always took care of us. She baked the best chocolate chip and pineapple cookies.  I treasured those memories more than straightening her house could ever show. I had stayed away until she got sick. It was too hard. My Mother would drop in, or be the subject of conversation. I was unwilling to listen to advice from anyone regarding my Mother. I knew people tried to help. Telling me I needed to get over whatever it was between us. Reminding me of how much I owed her, as if there was an outstanding debt in my name.  I could not participate in those conversation. So much damage could be done unwittingly, by the well meaning soul, trying to sop up tears of a crocodile using the cloak of the freezing child.  Nor was I willing to drag my pain out like it was a dog and pony show for others to judge and decide if my feelings were valid. I just simple stayed gone. It was better that way. It was all too painful. I would rather be seen as unkind and cold then have my true feelings on display. She reveled in those moments when we were all together. Family events that she could exploit in her favor. She would call us over. Complain that I did not phine or visit. As if nothing had happened. She put the burden of her past deeds on my shoulders and instructed me to stand straight and never stumble, no matter how high she stacked the stones. She played the victim so much better than I.  She wanted to accept accolades of someone she was not, while taking no responsibility for the person she really was. I could not do it. It was too much. I had lived through my childhood, but I was not going to ignore that it had happened. I would not lie to others so that she would be happy. I wanted that loving Mother, I desired that wonderful family. But, I would not settle for a counterfeit. I owed the child I had been, the one who still looked out through my eyes, more than that. I would not sell her out so easily. I may not have been able to protect myself all those years ago, but I damn sure could now.
  Still she found away. My Grandmother was diagnosed with  cancer and when she died, I let my guard down. I may have found it hard to love my Mother, but I could easily feel sorry for her. She did not notice the difference. I think that love was such a foreign concept to her she did not miss it. She did not ask for forgiveness, that I would have had to find a way to give. She simply refuse to except any consequences for her own behavior. It was as if the child I had been never existed. My Mother had taken so much from me, I would not let her take that too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Matter of National Security

                                           A Matter of National Security

      I cast around, looking to find an outlet for my anger. I had to be able to stop this from happening to others. I was relieved that my Father been held accountable for his crimes. But I wanted more.  I set my sights on the United States Army. I wrote a letter explaining what had happened to me and sent it to the appropriate office. I requested my medical records and I waited. I was called by Major Douglas Dribben. He was in the Foreign Torts Branch. I received the paperwork to fill out to make a claim against the Army for doing nothing to stop my Father. If they had stopped him so many years ago, there would never have been more children living in the darkness of my Father's actions. I wanted them to realize what they had done. What it had cost me and so many others. I wanted to have mattered. It mattered, we were children and we were important. The letters went back and forth. He spoke with my Mother, my Brother. They both wrote letters, gave statements. I still have them. My Mother, in her own distinct hand writing. Of course, she tells the edited version. The one where she too, is a victim. I did not protest. I never thought she would write it at all. Major Dribben and I had many conversations, he said if my medical records and my Father's military records showed that the abuse happened, if it was documented, the Army would consider my claim. I felt taken seriously. In the beginning. I tried to get my records. I hit a brick wall. At first letter said they were missing and then the next one said they were probably still in Germany, where we were stationed at the time. I knew this wasn't true. I started writing Congressmen. I have all their letters in response. It was always the same, they would contact the Record Repository and get no results. I called lawyers. I got a letter back from Gloria Allred and so many others. They were all sorry, they couldn't take the case.

   Eventually, Major Dribben explained how the Army handles such matters. If an accusation of sexual abuse is made against a Military Member, they give that individual a choice, counseling or a court martial. That is a pretty easy choice for the predator.  Counseling has never cured any sexual offender. But, here is were they turn the screw, they inform the other parent, usually the Mother, that if they were to bring charges against the service member, she would  lose everything. Housing, benefits, healthcare, EVERYTHING. But, if she is willing, they will not prosecute, and she becomes responsible for the care of the child in question, if there is any further abuse the blame is hers. Now, if the things above happen, and the child is abused again, that child has two years to bring action against the military. Keep in mind, this is a minor. So, the parents would have to bring that action, in the child's name. Which would never happen, because they are now both parties to that action and would be named as codefendants with the Army. It is cruelly, perfect for the Army. Everything just goes away. And the only ones that suffers are the victims. The original child and anyone who comes after. I did eventually find a lawyer, she was very nice. She was hopeful and I felt, finally that nameless doctor, from so long ago, would know what he did to me was wrong. To say I was lucky, to say I was safe and that it would never happen again. To allow me back in that home with that monster, was wrong. I really wanted him to know what his inaction had cost me. But, of course this was not the first time the Army had been through this. I had found while calling around for a lawyer, that I was not a unique case. There were thousands just like me.

   As he had done with me, Major Dribben first leaned toward making a responsible settlement through my lawyer and then changing his direction, he said that the time for my claim had past. He blamed me. He said I should have done something all those years ago. A child of eleven, in a foreign country, with no resources, I should have done something more. It was my fault. I cried deep, bitter tears. I had thought they could do nothing more to hurt me. I was wrong. In light of the two year limitation my lawyer took her leave. Again, I was alone, up against an Army that knowingly shielded pedophiles. My frustration and feelings of powerlessness devastated me. I still pressed on to get my records. I needed them. I needed to see it in writing, what had happened and what hadn't. My storm of letters continued. My phone rang at 5:45 am, I was asleep. I am many things, a morning person is not one of them. I answered it as I tried to force myself awake. It was a woman. She was calling me from the Records Repository. She had my records. She said that my records had been classified. I remember asking her to repeat that. I was wide a wake now, sitting up in the dark, clutching the phone, trying to make sense of her words. Was I really awake? She explained that MY records, the medical records of the first eleven years of MY life had been CLASSIFIED for reasons of NATIONAL SECURITY. I was struck dumb. She went on talking her gibberish. She did not want me to worry about them though. They were safe. She said were being held in the same place as John F. Kennedy's chest x-rays were. She said this as if I should feel relieved or honored. She said good bye and hung up. This was a revelation I had not seen coming. They out maneuvered me so easily.

   I called Major Dribben. I am very sure I was abrupt. We had had so many conversations by now, we had become almost friendly. He knew about about my records. He said he wanted to apologize to me. For what had been done to me all those years ago. He was sorry. He knew it did not change anything. He just wanted me to know. I think he said it for himself, so that he would feel somehow better about what was done. And it was over. I was left with castles made of sand, while the wind blow madly. Scattering everything. I could get no justice. I could make them change nothing. It would happen again, there were more like me yet to come. Children, victims and in the Army's judgement, they will be to blame, when it does nothing to protect them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Mean Season

                                                     The Mean Season

 After I started counseling with my sister, I started to look for more books to help me cope. I didn't have much success. It seems no one wanted to talk about it. So I branched out. I got books on other things. At a small bookstore I picked up a book I reread every year, some years more frequently than that. "How Can Everything Be Alright, When Everything Is All Wrong?" It kept me grounded and reminded me I am blessed. Then I found "My Grandfather's Blessings". I read "Toxic People" and then "Toxic Parents". I read uplifting stories about cancer survivors and stories of real tragedy. They kept me from getting overwhelmed and to realize I wasn't really alone, we all suffered.

  In The Courage to Heal, I learned that disassociating was bad for me. I read that it is the state to which Buddhists aspire to. It was a bad habit and at that point, I was unwilling to try to break it. It's kind of like floating. Above the pain and sorrow your body feels. The first person to ever catch me at it was a Dentist. I had TMJ and he was treating me. While he was injecting my palate and jaw, he asked me. Very quietly, if I had had a trauma, was I abused.  Any survivor knew the last thing one wanted to happen was to have someone call you out. To be recognized as less than "normal", because all of us out there, we were just trying to emulate normal. Even if we didn't know what normal looked like. It was the goal. To not be found less than, lacking and to have no attention shown to exactly how damaged we were.  The trick was in being invisible. It jarred me, him knowing. He said it was because I was so calm, so still. I showed no discomfort or fear.  I spoke with my counselor about it. She said that I had to learn to face emotions and pain and to stay attached. But the truth was I wasn't ready. It was my safety, my comfort. I had carried it with me almost the whole of my life , and to ask me to abandon it now, was impossible. I had no desire to change. I followed all the other suggestions, I journaled and I read. I did exercises in self esteem and threw myself into being the best me I could be. But I did not give up floating. I would do it unintentionally all the time. It made me come off as scattered brained or forgetful, I didn't care. It was like putting myself in time out when my world got too raw, too real. I realized that emotions were uncomfortable for me. Not the easy ones, joy, happiness, but the messy ones, disappointment, loneliness and the worst for me, anger. My anger scared me. I was afraid it would consume me. Blotting everything else out. So I hid it. I compensated and I floated and months turned to years and I allowed my life to be stolen away, without any care or regret.

  It must be like finding comfort in a bottle or forgetfulness in a pill. Only there was no waiting, it was instantaneous. You just went away...As with so many things, it was my children that made me realize I had a problem. I was losing them. They would be home and then they weren't. I would ask where had your brother gone, where was your sister? And of course, they had told me. They had asked and I had answered. Only, not really, I had not heard and I did not know. I could fool them. That piece of me that was always left. The part that had caused all this trouble to begin with. I could hide in my mind forever. Pretend to disappear, but I could never take my body with me. That body that had been the source of all this anguish. It stayed behind, abandoned by me. It was a callous thing to do really. Although I didn't see it at the time. I was still doing it, just like that little girl I had walled in so long ago, I was still leaving me. Alone. Unloved and uncared for.  I will always struggle with floating. It is a hard thing to give up. The ability to live outside of your life. To be detached from the pain that we all experience. To not turn my life over to fate, without a fight. It was the realization that I was still hiding. Still hiding like that scared little girl and of how much I had already lost, that made me accept that I had to stop. And I try, I really do.

  Things with my husband were no better. He went on medication and then off. He didn't have to tell us when he had given up on his pills, the ones that made him sane. That slowed his brain down and made rational thought possible. It was always his temper, his all encompassing, unreasonable paranoia that gave him away. I was always slow to pick up on it. First I would try to reason with his moods, try to talk it out and make him see that there was no logic to whatever the focus of his distress was. I was sure he wouldn't go off his meds. He knew how important they were. To his wellbeing, to our families survival. But he would. I think he missed those highs. The feeling that he could do anything and that he was the only one who could understand the universe. We would get caught up in his joy. He was fun and funny. Sweet and charming and we loved it. Until, he wasn't. Then would come the rages, the anger over NOTHING. And we would all know, it was the mean season again. There would be more doctor visits and threats, there was alway the threats. Ultimatums thrown out. It was just one pill. Take it. This one little pill held the fate of our family. Between my faith and his pills and some floating here and there, we made it almost twenty years. It amazes me now. How much I settled for and bargained away. I wanted a family, I NEEDED a family. And in that storybook world that the child locked away had created, there was always a father. A kind loving father. I did not know how to tell her, she would have to rewrite her fabled story. There was no wonderful father who fixes everything and makes it all better. He was not real and my children deserved better.

A Snake is Always A Snake

                                            A Snake is Always a Snake

    I must back track, to go forward properly. I find that is the case many times in life. I forgot, or rather brushed over something too important to leave out.... This event happened while we were sitting, all five us girls in the ADA's office. It was the night of our arrival, after we found out that there had been a mistrial. Before we headed out to the motel and a night filled with promises and poster boards, stapled to telephone poles all along the road that led to my father's house.

  My mother had been quiet. After my grandparents called I heard nothing from her. My oldest sister had refused to have anything to do with counseling or my father's trial. She and my mother were very close and she would hear nothing about any of it. She and I had never had much of a relationship. I think we were disappointed in each other. She, by the mere fact that I existed and me that she had no place in her heart for me. I did not know her then any more than I do now. I can't say I missed her much when our family was divided. She was a hard disciplinarian. I think she was at her limit. She had had to deal with my father's attention and her mother kept producing more children and leaving her to raise them. So it was, that my other sister, the one closest to my age had found ourselves there,  in a room full of strangers with a shared goal. To put an end to the sickness that had run unchecked too long. To make sure no more came after us. Let this be enough. Surely, six childhoods stolen was enough.   I should have known my mother was not done. She was never done.  We had just gotten through the who was who and what was what of meeting our new extended family, when the phone rang. We thought nothing of it. However, the ADA's quick reaction after answering it caught our attention. He took his feet off his desk, opened a drawer on his left and flipped a recorder on. And then he put the call on speaker. I heard her, we all did. She had reached across half the country, to where I sat in a tiny Texas town to torment me. It was my mother. My sister and I looked at each other. I think we were all holding our breath. She said I had always been trouble. That I had dropped out of school, I wanted slap the lies right out of her mouth. She went on and on. She said it was all lies. Everything I said was a lie. My father was a good man. He had done nothing. I had made it all up. Can I use humiliation too many times? This was my mother. The ADA was looking at me and I was looking at the tape player. She never mentioned my sister. Her venom was only for me. If she had been able to break my heart any further, she did right then. What do you do at such a time? He knew she was crazy, the ADA. As did my sisters. But it still brought me to my knees emotionally. She would leave me nothing. She was hell bent on slithering into my life and stripping any moment not tainted by her presence. I could not then, nor can I now, explain my mother's drive to be in my life. To have control and wield her destruction on all that I have and love. My family had always said I was his favorite. As if being the favorite child of my father's was a blessing. Maybe I got hit less, could I have been loved more by him than them? I can not fathom my father loving anything or anyone. Least of all one of us. But, I was better able to navigate the shallow waters where his temper raged than the others. It was simple, follow the rules. Don't think what it is you want, or how you feel, simply do what is expected. It is true you would get hit anyway, the cost that came with having an abusive parent. Just like it says, the blows rein down on the just and the unjust...maybe I have that wrong, but it fits. Could it be, his leaving after I threatened him? Could that be the reason she did the things she did? Was it some need for revenge? It was always be the same, I did not know the why. I just tried to minimize the damage she reeked. I felt like I should apologize for her after that call.  As if, somehow it was my fault, first my father, and now my mother too? I was the only one with the dubious distinction of calling them both my parents and it grieved me greatly.

  I ignored her for years after that. I did call when I got home from Texas, that first time and confronted her. She said it didn't happen, that the ADA was lying. I explained I was in the room, she called me a liar. I said he had recorded her and then she tilted her hand. She railed that that was illegal. He had no right. She, who in one fell swoop had taken herself from trespasser to victim. Her hatred of me left me shaken. I cut her out. My counselor advised it. My children had never had a relationship with her, so it wasn't hard on them. We moved, changed the house phone number. Got one unlisted. And I looked to rebuild my life without her. She, never to be out done, called my husband's job. What she said, I have no idea. How she managed to wheedle the information out of the receptionist.  I had left that base uncovered.  I just stepped out into the yard to water freshly planted grass and there she was. I don't have any idea how long she had been sitting in her car, parked at the curb. I don't know what drove her to prove I could not be rid of her. I told her to leave. She was not welcome. There was yelling. My mother was always down for a bit of raised voices and inappropriate rages. Finally, I closed the door in her face. She banged at the door and rang the door bell. I put the kids in the car and I opened the garage door and I left.  She was standing on my porch as I drove away. By the time she heard the door go up, it was too late. I was gone before it hit back down again. My husband called her. Told her to stay away and she did for a while.  But something seemed to draw her back. Maybe I was the closet thing she had to him. That man who was worth sacrificing her children for, or maybe it was something even she could not name. She would talk to him once more, years later. After his prison time, when they had both been married to other people for over two decades. She hunted him down as she always had me, and she called him. She told me about it. She was sick, she was always sick and I came as she knew I would, and helped with her bandages and straightening the house and she told me. She got tearful retelling it. I don't know what she thought he would say, what fantasy she had imaged in her mind of renewed love. But whatever she had wanted, she had not gotten. He told her she was fat and ugly on top of it. He had been cruel and mean and he hung up on her. She looked very sad crying over that bit of venom spewed at her. It was as if she never knew the man at all. A snake is always a snake and you cannot be surprised when it bites you.   I would do best to remember that myself.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When God is not the Answer

   As I look back over things now, this was one of the most painful times for me.  Through my childhood and failed first marriage and even my Father's trial, coming home and continuing on was one of the most difficult things I faced. I expected something more, I had often daydreamed what it would be like to have my Father pay for what he had done. I imagined it far differently than it was. I thought the DA would be nice, kind, understanding. Someone who wanted to fight injustice... the Clark Kent of the courtroom. I didn't expect everything to be a battle. I thought that the jury would gather around and present the key to my freedom, but that didn't happen and I came home more hurt and confused than when I left. I did bully my Sister, I shamed her and I pushed, and even though she gave in, she resented me for it. There would always be this thing between us. The one thing I could not refute, I could not "will" away.... he was My Father.  I could not divorce myself from that fact, no matter how I tried.

  I delved into genealogy. Looking past him, trying to find something good. It would take me years to realize I was looking in the wrong direction. But in my usual logic I could not see how I played any part in anything, and I could not  attach a label like "good" onto myself. Through that search for redemption, someone to look back on with pride, I got in touch with a Cousin and his Wife. She was searching too. My Great Grandfather was a mystery and there were several relatives trying to discover what lay past him. We wrote back and forth. First emails and letters, then phone calls. She had more information than I and she was willing to share. They came to visit. We connected our family through memories and facts. We traded paper and pictures and marveled at what we had and at the roadblock one man could throw up. She asked me three times, this Wife of my Cousin. Once was over the line. I don't know what she was thinking. How she thought my answer would change, from the first unwelcome inquiry to the third.  Or what she hoped to gain by asking. She wanted to know if I felt bad. Embarrassing the family like that. The first time she asked, sitting there in my dining room, eating a meal I had made, I couldn't believe she said it. What planet was she from? I slowly and firmly made it be known that I bore no shame. I had done nothing wrong and that lest she forget there were three girls to protect. She said nothing. Just went back to her plate. I grew cool towards her. Polite, but distant. She was one of those. That group of people who believe talking about the crime was more egregious then the crime itself. I had nothing for her. having met plenty of this kind before, I had no interest in further discussion. That mindset was deadly to my wellbeing. I couldn't wait for them to leave. My search turned up nothing in the end, and the Great Grandfather who erased his past so completely so long ago, is still a half ghost even now.

   My faith, which had brought me so far became a weapon to be used against me. I believed in God and what he had to say. I liked the rules of religion. There was security in it all. When everything else was in turmoil, this was certain. I needed that. Chuck and his Wife Cindy, reminded me constantly. I had stood before God and given my word. Until death do we part. I retorted that I hadn't said who's death. I was frustrated in my marriage. Anyone who has dealt with bipolar issues knows, it is not easy. I knew nothing about the disease when my Husband was diagnosed.  There is a wonderful book 'The Unquiet Mind' which does a lot to explain it. I read it and reread it. I am a big believer in reading and in using it to get through hard times. There are good things my parents instilled in me and this was one of them. Just as they gave me so much to overcome, they gave me the desire to find the tools to do it.  I read about marriage and the special trials that come with it. "The Five Love Languages" taught me things I hadn't known. And there were dozens of others, all about making a marriage stronger and how to build a better relationship. They all held out hope, gave new techniques in achieving marital bliss. There was just one problem, I was the only one reading. My Husband banked on the fact that I would fix it all. He was just fine. And he was, in his eyes. His kids were taken care of, his house was clean. There was dinner on the table when he came home. He did not bother with wether I was happy or not. I was miserable. I tried different Churches, different denominations anything to ease my pain. Nothing helped. The theme was alway the same. Trust in the Lord....I trusted. I did. But my discontent was not with the Lord.  And no satisfaction could be gained through my prayer. I was lost. The more lost I felt the more I turned to faith and that, is something he counted on, my Husband. He knew he had won, by doing nothing. The text is clear, the burden was mine. I would spend years, many of them stuck in that spot. Neutral is not a direction and I ground the gears in my head looking for a solution. I needed that key. The one I thought the jury had. The one that would unlock my perfect life. Where the hell was that key?