The purpose of this story is to examine a major change in my life that I found very difficult to make. While the change was based on personal challenges, it helped me to overcome significant adversity in both my personal and professional life. Much of what I experienced following my first marriage, which was abusive, shaped my decisions and my life into becoming the person I am today.
Destabilizing Satisfaction with the Status Quo
As with many battered women, accepting and tolerating abuse is common. “There are many reasons why women may not leave; not leaving does not mean that the situation is okay or that the victim wants to be abused” (DV.Org, 2009, common myths). In fact, leaving can often lead to dangerous consequences. In my case, the closer I came to leaving, the more violent the circumstances became.
The ultimate disruption of the status quo for my children, ages 18 months and 3 at the time, and myself came when their father attempted to take his own life in front of us. When emergency responders arrived, I was awarded a restraining order. This facilitated the freedom that I needed to make a formal plan to leave with my children and seek safety back in New Hampshire with my family.
There were several events that lead up to this finale, of course, and participating in a domestic violence support group helped me to find the courage I needed to move forward. There are times when I look back and wonder how much longer I could have tolerated the status quo before finally making a change. My wake up call did not come easily but I am happy that it came when it did.
The People Most Affected by the Change
It is difficult to imagine consulting a toddler and a pre-school aged child for their opinions on the matter at hand. The decision was made with their safety and perseverance in mind. My mother and sister had long suspected the abuse and pleaded with me to come home.
My own sister confessed to me one day over the phone that she could no longer bear the burden of answering another call from me at two in the morning; while I sobbed and fretted over my situation. She told me that she loved me and that she wanted what was best for me, but feared for my life. Her greatest fear was answering the phone only to find out that something horrible had happened to the children or myself.
Moving back home was not an easy decision. My sister and her husband were more than willing to take the children and I in for refuge. Because I had been isolated and not allowed access to any money, applying for a license to practice physical therapy in New Hampshire was difficult. Not to mention that finding affordable day care for my little ones was equally challenging.
Being Prepared for the “Good Old Days” Phenomenon
In the cycle of abuse, the Good Old Days Phenomenon is also called the honeymoon phase or making up (DV.Org, 2009). As many battered women can attest, the lure of going back can be very tempting. There are promises of change and making things right. I knew for my children’s safety, that going back was the worst decision I could make. Despite our financial disparities, I would stand my ground and take my chances with my family in New Hampshire.
Celebrating and Recognizing Early Successes
We arrived in New Hampshire in early October of 1998. I had about $50 in my pocket and a trunk full of clothes I had packed for the kids. Through outside connections, I was able to find brief employment at night when my sister could watch the children for me. That small job was my first step toward independence.
By Christmas that same year, with the modest amount of money I had earned, I was able to pay for my board entrance exam and obtain my physical therapy license. I was also able to purchase meager gifts for my children and family. It was an incredibly proud moment for me to stand on my own and provide for my children.
Tying the Change Process Into Improvements That the Participants Wish To See
By the following year, I was gainfully employed at a skilled nursing facility and was able to obtain affordable childcare using public assistance. The children and I moved out of my sister’s house and into a place of our own. While the kids certainly missed Virginia and their father, they made friends at their new schools and loved being around their aunts, uncles and grandparents more often.
As the years progressed, I married another and we added a third child to our family. We lived in a lovely home, vacationed annually and became the picture perfect family. This was the family model I had always wanted for my children and myself. Needless to say, my mother and sister were elated with the improvements and success in my life.
I wish I could say that the second marriage was a happily ever after. It was the first step in a long process of healing I needed in my life. What I realized after nearly seven years of marriage to my second husband was that I needed to continue my pursuit of independence. This was the second major decision I had to make in my life and the cycle of change started all over again for all of us.
The greatest outcome has been teaching my children about change and perseverance. While my youngest daughter has finally grown accustomed to living between two separate homes, she still wonders why her mother and father get along like best friends. My second husband and I learned a lot from the animosity of my first marriage. We agreed to never use the children as pawns to settle our personal disputes.
My first husband ultimately committed his final act of control by taking his own life on March 5, 2010 and the cycle of change and grieving began again. With the support of my second husband, my family, school counselors and our own successful experiences, we were able to overcome this as well. We found that nothing can break us.
My son is now gainfully employed and contemplating college. My oldest daughter just finished her first year of college and my youngest child is a high honor’s student in the junior high. I am still the best of friends with my second husband and will finally complete my graduate degree at the end of this summer. Despite the ups and downs, sorrows and successes, we have overcome so much. I can’t imagine my life any other way.
I think I saw a glimpse of it one day. It was at a football game; the homecoming game between Lebanon and Merrimack Valley. To be fair to the reader, these are schools located in New Hampshire.
It was the first game I had the privilege of attending that year. My favorite part of the game was watching my little brother, Chris, play. Chris was a stocky young running back who made the Varsity team as a freshman, an accomplishment that very few athletes are able to achieve at that young age. And yet, there he was, in his sophomore year, running the defensive plays, out there on the field, leading his team through formations and guiding them into battle. Each time he would make a tackle, the announcer would say his name over the loud speaker and instinctively, I would yell, “Yeah! That’s my little brother!”. Moreover; when he ran for a touchdown, I felt the words come out of my mouth with such force and fervor that I felt as if I were yelling from the top of a mountain, “That’s MY LITTLE BROTHER!”. The kid was a true warrior.
The season would begin for these young warriors, not in early fall and not even in late summer. The season for this group of young men would begin when they put their books away at the end of the school year. That’s right, it began in early summer.
It would begin with a hard core regimen that the participants had come to know as “Wayne’s World”. Wayne’s World was not a sitcom or anything to laugh at. It was very much like the “Agoge” :
The agoge (Greek: Άγωγή) was a rigorous education and training regime for all male Spartan citizens, except for the first born son in the ruling houses, The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to one’s group, military training, hunting, dancing and social preparation  The word “agoge” had in ancient Greek many meanings, but in this context generally meant leading, guidance or training.
According to folklore, agoge was introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus, but its origins are thought to be between the 7th and 6th century BC, when the regime trained male citizens from the ages of seven through twenty-nine.
The aim of the system was to produce physically and morally strong males to serve in the Spartan army. It encouraged conformity and the importance of the Spartan state over one’s personal interest, but also generated the future elites of Sparta. The men would become the “walls of Sparta” because Sparta was the only Greek city with no defensive walls – they had been demolished at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the males were encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine the strongest member of the group. (thank you Wikipedia)
Now, while these young men were certainly NOT encouraged to fight amongst themselves, they were challenged to become the strongest individuals; thereby becoming the strongest TEAM. It goes without saying that many young men would shy away from this kind of commitment and training. In fact, as I observed the ensemble of players along the sidelines, it occurred to me how the numbers seemed to have been decimated since the time when I was attending this school some twenty years before. My father, who hadn’t missed a game or practice since my little brother was in the third grade, informed me that this was not just the Varsity team assembled along the sideline; this was the entire grade 9-12 squad.
Every player who was brave enough and courageous enough to withstand the aggressive training was dressed in full battle gear. Despite the fact that many would not play that day, they earned the right to wear that uniform and the right to stand beside their comrades. This meant that I was either witnessing the strongest and most fearless group of individuals or I was watching a group of finely tuned Spartan Warriors; the best of the best.
On the Battlefield
Play by play and tackle by tackle it became evident to me that I was, in fact, watching the best of the best. Some of those players never came off the field for more than a swallow of water before being sent back out into battle. I watched intently as a few limped around or took more than a few moments to get up after being accosted by an opponent. It never deterred them or their will to return to the huddle and push for one more yard or hold off the offensive for one more play. Their strength of character and drive to succeed seemed to outweigh the pain their bodies were enduring. I was in AWE as I looked on. Young men no older than my own son were pushing their bodies and minds to limits that I had never quite imagined or appreciated before that day. I was humbled.
As the day wore on, the limits of their human bodies began to show signs of fatigue; not weakness, just utter exhaustion from the repeated physical demands. I found myself covering my face as I watched my own brother stumbling off the field, barely able breath. He sat out for one play, one play. He caught his breath and willed his legs to carry him back onto the field. I cheered for his strength of character and his will to succeed. I prayed, too, that my little brother would walk back off the field with the same unbroken body that he walked onto it with when the game began.
Not soon after, I watched helplessly as another soldier fell. Not just any soldier, but undoubtedly the biggest and strongest member of the offensive and defensive line, Zander. As he hobbled back to the bench, the pain was evident from his stature. He was evaluated by the practitioner on the sideline and offered a ride back to the locker room in the cart that pulled up behind him. He declined the offer. He chose instead to stay with his team. Unable to independently carry himself back onto the battle field, he participated from the sideline as effectively as he could. Those who could carry themselves back onto the field did so with as much determination as they could find. They pushed and they held and they tackled and they scored and they dug in until the soil gave way beneath them.
The last touchdown was scored in double, sudden death, overtime. It was scored, however, by Merrimack Valley. The Lebanon Raiders; Spartans or Agoge, if you will; had been defeated. It was unfortunate that these young men were only counting the numbers on the score board as a measure of victory. The numbers did tell of a loss, but the warriors on that field told of an entirely different game. They told a game of courage and strength and elite athleticism. Those young men who hung their heads and walked off the field with tears in their eyes and dreams of victory shattered had only one thing on their minds, defeat. The civilians who were gathered in the stands and raced to comfort these players; these gladiators, had only one thing on our minds, Heroes!
My little brother brushed past me without stopping. He was emotional and weary. I wanted to say something profound, to lift the spirits of these young men. I simply said, “I’m so proud of you!”. Several other players shuffled past with the same weariness and I said, “You have no reason to hang your heads! You fought hard!”. At that moment, the cart rode by carrying Zander, who had finally conceded to taking the ride offered to him nearly an hour before. He was still in evident discomfort but he refused to leave the field until his team finished the game. I shouted to him, “Great game Zander!”, and he managed a smile in return. Another hero, I was surrounded by them.
The Way We Were
There was something missing in all of this. On a Saturday afternoon at mid-day, despite the brisk wind, the sun was intense. The numbers of fans were disappointingly as sparse as the numbers of players on the sidelines. The pep band that played was comprised of so few members and the cheerleaders… there were NONE to be seen on either side of the field. The ratio of adults to students at this HOMECOMING game was seemingly 1:1.
Why does this matter, you ask? It matters because I can remember a time, some 20 years ago, when the numbers of fans who attended an event like this was so staggering that there was barely enough space to contain them. I can remember a time when there were more students than parents attending a game, especially a homecoming game. I can remember a time when the “Pep Band” was a full MARCHING BAND and they arrived in full gear at each game. They would perform at half time and had choreographed routines. They played fight songs and the fans would sing along. The Cheerleaders had choreographed routines for each song and they would get the crowd fired up and the team fired up.
The students would show up in mass quantities and huddle together, screaming and cheering. The parents would cheer and support, but their voices were often muffled by the band or the students or the fans. At this game, I heard nothing but parents screaming at players, parents screaming at one another and a pep band that played the theme to “Rocky” once in a while.
Where had the spirit in that school gone? That school once had so many kids participating in sports that there were not enough uniforms to cover them all. So the school bought more! Those who didn’t play would go and cheer on those who DID play. There was a feeling of pride that we enjoyed as students when we watched our peers dressed in our colors compete on our behalf. It was an honor to be a Lebanon Raider.
As I watched those football players during the game that day, it became evident to me that Wayne’s World was not created as a form of Football “Darwinism”, it was created out of necessity for self preservation and for performance enhancement.
I saw more than just a football game that day. I saw the death of a tradition that I once thought was so strong and felt so much pride in being a part of that I never imagined it could be broken. I also watched a team of courageous warriors who, despite their small numbers, were fearless and heroic on the field. And yet, after all of their sacrifices, the strength and courage they demonstrated to all of those who witnessed the event, not nearly enough of their own peers were there to appreciate and support them.
Notably, there were other games going on that day. All the more reason why every student in the school who was not participating on the playing field that day should have been standing or sitting on the edge of ONE of those fields in support of the athletes who WERE participating. And those students who question their own athletic abilities and refrain from participating in a sport at all, simply out of fear of failure, should reconsider what the definition of what failure really IS.
The spirit of a school community is generated from the pride within the students and the athletes. It is possible to rebuild these traditions, but it’s up to the students NOW. GO RAIDERS!
After a near death (slight exaggeration) experience inner-tubing down the White River in Vermont one summer, I thought I would share my top ten list of rules/tips and tricks for avoiding disaster during a day of fun in the sun. Enjoy.
1. Being tethered to the cooler is a convenient and practical means for staying “hydrated” along the river. However, recent studies have proven that when the cooler is pulled into a strong current while your inner tube is stuck on a rock, the inertia created often results in one being ejected from said tube onto large, sharp rocks and into a fast moving current… SOLUTION: Float freely and just hold onto the tube with the cooler in it… and carry a big stick for paddling assistance and naval navigation.
2. Wearing flip flops is a practical alternative to going barefoot in the river… it protects your feet from rocks, etc… unless you find yourself sucked under a fast moving rapid… they float well. If you FIND them! SOLUTION: Something with STRAPS… this will prevent ambulating without a leg length discrepancy when you only find one flip flop. The increased stability while ambulating will decrease the ataxic gait pattern one often experiences after consuming too much beverage on the water.
3. Holding onto a beverage while floating down the river creates a relaxing experience. However, it can impede ones ability to paddle with two hands; forcing one to place a beverage between their legs. The addition of sunscreen or tanning oil will only serve to lubricate the surface, creating a means for “LAUNCHING” the beverage canister like a cannon ball from its resting location. SOLUTION: A Camel Pack which you wear like a back pack with a long straw … enough said.
4. While the sun is shining, it is necessary to protect your eyes from the harmful UV rays. A good pair of sunglasses can prevent any damage… the more expensive, the more difficult to replace. SOLUTION: Get a cheap pair at the convenience store or purchase a strap to secure them onto your head.
5. Plastic zip lock bags… no explanation needed.
6. Bringing additional clothing for warmth is a good plan if you plan on stopping from time to time or you’re just freezing from the 50 degree water. Tucking them into the inner tube carrying the beverages is a BAD plan! SOLUTION: see #5.
7. While resting comfortably in an inflatable boat may seem like a perfect alternative to riding in an open inner tube, it lacks the necessary means for relieving oneself while floating down the river. SOLUTION: Go for the OPEN TUBE… lets face it, the water is cold no matter what. And eventually all of the submerged parts will eventually lose feeling anyways. Therefore bladder control is never a worry.
8. Wearing a hat is a great way of protecting your face and scalp from too much sun…and it just plain looks cool… until you flip over in your tube and it sinks to the bottom of the river. SOLUTION: The Do-Rag. It looks even cooler than the ball cap and it stays securely fastened to your head at all times. As an alternative, try a bathing cap…just because.
9. Extreme sports often call for helmets to prevent head or brain injury… although, if you are imbibing while participating in this sport, you’re killing brain cells anyways…so why bother? Not to mention that helmets are terribly uncomfortable and do not prevent hip and torso injuries resulting from being thrown against rocks. SOLUTION: Neosporin! Or some other type of anti-bacterial ointment which can be easily applied to scrapes and lacerations… In the event of an appendage loss see #5.
10. When planning the trip, its always important to have multiple vehicles which are parked at various stopping points along the route. Additionally, having the KEYS to these vehicles would be tremendously beneficial to all involved. Carrying them down the river might be a dangerous choice in the event they are lost on the journey. SOLUTION: Hide them near the vehicle so that they are easily accessible but not IN the vehicle which could result in stolen property.
I sincerely hope you have benefited in some way from my personal rules, tips and tricks. I would like to think that in some way the information provided here will enhance your extreme tubing experience or at least make you laugh at my stupidity!
Sidebar Note:… I was NOT the driver who forgot the keys. But I was, however, the tuber who was tethered to the cooler and lost a flip plop while trying to climb back onto a tube. I believe it warrants some credit that I never let go of my beverage during the entire ordeal.
I will admit that, until I moved south, I had no idea what a lanai was. As it turns out, a lanai is nothing more than a porch, balcony or any other extension of your indoor living space. Evidently, referring to this open air space in Hawaiian terminology makes it sound more luxurious and exotic. Welcome to my Lanaaaaiiiii. Hey, it’s a porch!
While browsing for a new rental home prior to the big move, a lanai seemed more and more important to me. The idea of a fancy porch overlooking a picturesque palm tree speckled pond, abutting a scenic pool, represented the culmination of all that I had worked so hard to achieve. Yes! I will bask on my lanai and drink in the richness of life and all of it’s splendor.
I know what you must be thinking… well, really I don’t. I don’t know you at all. But if you were me, and I were the one reading this; I would be thinking something like, “Is THAT really your measure of success?! A porch???!!!”. It’s not about the porch, it’s about what it represents. Or at least, what I thought it would represent.
Ignorance in Youth Truly is Bliss
As a child, I don’t recall measuring myself according to material standards. Life was pretty simple. We didn’t care much about the clothes we wore, as long as they were comfortable. We didn’t care much about what kind of bed we slept in, as long as it kept us warm and made us feel safe.
The things that mattered the most were possessions that were often of trivial value to other people, but they had an enormous value to me. For instance, I had a blanket that I called my “buddy”. Cue the Peanut’s music and the Linus memes. Mine wasn’t blue, it was yellow. It was ratty and worn, but it was mine. It was comfortable and it made me feel safe.
When we were around four and five years old, my sister and I had a swing set. Not one of those crazy life-sized Lego structures you see everywhere in suburban backyards today. It was one of those metal swing sets that probably would get recalled now because the metal was too malleable or it would rust or you could pinch your fingers on the chains or burn yourself on the slide or some shit like that. It was just a cheap, metal swing set. And that was fine with us.
At the trailer park we lived in (Mobile home park, for those upper echelon minded individuals), all of the kids in the neighborhood would climb onto a swing, pole or any other moving part and while away the hours. One day, we had so many kids on it, the entire thing tipped over; spilling all of the kids onto the yard. Without a word, we all scrambled to our feet and re-righted the set back onto the posts. Then we all hopped on again, without missing a beat.
All was well in the trailer park yard until one day, we noticed a girl sitting on our swing set whom we did not recognize. It wasn’t so much that we didn’t know her; we didn’t invite her and she refused to tell us her name. Who the hell did she think she was swinging on OUR swing set?! The nerve of some kids!
She was on the chubby side (dear God, this is not an attempt at fat shaming! Stand down). And since she wouldn’t tell us her name, we made one up for her: Fat Debbins Legs. That’s right. We were insulting her with an adjective we made up! But she still wouldn’t get off the swing. So we did the only thing a two feisty sisters could do… we tipped over the swing set on her. That did the trick!
Mom and Dad promptly got rid of the swing set that day. I guess, if you can’t play nice… Thanks a lot Fat Debbins Legs! We were back to making mud pies and riding our bikes down to the field after that. Eventually, one of our friends in the neighborhood got a swing set and we all went over to play in their yard. It didn’t matter whose yard had the swing set, just so long as the gang all had a chance to swing on it.
In this day and age, EVERY yard has a swing set! Kids don’t just go over to each other’s houses, like Fat Debbins Legs did. Well… unless you were a member of the trailer park gang. I guess we all were a Fat Debbins Legs at one point in the 70’s. We stuck together and made the best of what we had back then.
Swing sets today are like a parenting or lawn competition. Each suburban swing set has one more unique feature than the neighbor’s set. A rope swing or a climbing wall or a rocket ship attachment and by the time Dad finishes adding on all of the extra features… the kids are too friggen old to care about playing on it anymore and then it just sits in the yard collecting spider webs and bird shit! Dad winds up swearing every time he has to mow around it and weed wack underneath it. But it sure looks like a hell of a centerpiece in the middle of that yard! Way to go!
Third Floor Balcony
A few years later, after Mom and Dad divorced, we moved to an apartment building that we considered a “high rise”. It was three stories tall and we had a top floor apartment. From the third floor, we could see everything… well, almost everything. We also got to lug all of our earthly belongings up three mother-f’ing flights of stairs!
We discovered that after drinking orange juice or some other syrupy drink, we could spit from the balcony and it would dangle almost down to the second story before it broke off and landed on the ground. Cool! In addition to this, we discovered that carrying groceries once a week up three flights of stairs sucked ASS!
You know what else sucked ass??!! Pretty much every car that my mom owned between 1976 and 1985! From the third floor balcony, we watched a variety of cars come and go. The Dodge Dart, the Ford Pinto, the Ford Fiesta and some other little get up I can’t remember the name of. We didn’t really care, as long as the radio worked and it could carry us to and from the roller skating rink on Friday nights.
It didn’t matter to us that most of our friends had houses that could fit our entire apartment into their living rooms. It didn’t didn’t bother us that Mom smoked in the same spot at the kitchen table so often that it created yellow stains on the ceiling. It did matter to some of our friends though.
Some friends would comment about how much my clothes smelled of smoke. Some of my friends’ parents would ask me if I had enough to eat. They seemed worried that my mother wasn’t home every night to fix me dinner. What they didn’t know was that Mom would leave the food in the refrigerator with instructions on how to cook the chicken.
We learned how to cook biscuits from scratch. We learned how to read directions and make Jiffy cakes, bake chicken and I even made cream puffs once. But, since I used up all of the eggs, I had to promise not to do that again. We made french toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, pasta, popcorn (in a pan!), pudding, Kool-aid and pretty much anything else that was in the fridge or the cupboard; of course, not all at the same time. It was confounding to me that some kids relied on their parents to cook for them.
It was equally confounding to me that, while my mother was working three jobs to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads and a yellow stain on the ceiling, some mothers barely worked at all. Most of my friends went on vacations and had expensive clothes. My clothes were from the local department store and smelled like cigarettes. At least I did my own laundry. Even though we had to carry baskets full of clothes up and down three flights of stairs to the laundry room, feed quarters into the washer, dimes into the dryer and fold everything afterward… we were accomplished, domestic children!
The day that Mom announced we would be moving from our penthouse apartment into section eight housing, I thought I might die of shame and embarrassment. “Just for a little while until things get better”, Mom said. What the F’ck ever!
It’s not fair to refer to this housing development as a ghetto, per se. I mean, there were a handful of degenerates and inbreds, but for the most part, they were ordinary, decent people. It was rural New Hampshire after all, how bad did you think it was going to be??!!
On the upside, somehow, for the first time in our lives, my sister and I had our OWN ROOMS! Imagine THAT! The downside of that was, of course, I was the slob and she was the neat nick. Damnit! Now I would have to clean my OWN room.
Once we overcame the shame and stigma that go along with living in section eight housing, we began to realize that …. nothing… we still lived in section eight housing. At least we had our own washer and dryer! No more lugging three or four baskets of laundry up and down three flights of stairs! And putting quarters into the machine was a thing of the PAST!
Trying to get our couch down three flights of stairs turned out to be futile effort. Mom decided to hack it up and salvage the frame from the couch. We put an old mattress on top of it, covered it with a tapestry, threw some pillows on top of it and, Voila! Instant daybed/settee! Reality check… it was a mattress, on top of a wooden frame, in section eight housing! We called it a couch!
Oddly enough, none of my financially-better-off friends seemed to mind coming to my house in the projects. Especially since we were the party house. Yup! First keg party when I was a Freshman in high school. To be fair, my sister was a year older and her boyfriend was old enough to buy beer in Vermont. We really were the aristocrats in that neighborhood!
There is a Little George Bailey in Everyone
It was my senior year of high school and my sister was off to Florida for her first year of college. I was so jealous! My sole motivation for applying to college was essentially to get the hell out of my house. I couldn’t wait to be anyplace else but this town.
Years of struggling financially, working two or three jobs at a time and raising two tenacious teenage girls had really taken it’s toll on Mom. She quit smoking that same year which only intensified her drinking. And her intermittent self-pity, projecting blame and verbal assaults were taking their toll on my sister and I.
Unfortunately, with my sister off to school some 1500 miles away, Mom only had one target to vent her frustrations on…ME. Thanks SIS! My salvation came from my boyfriend’s mother who was both sympathetic and empathetic to my situation. Her own mother had been a heavy drinker also, making her verbally and emotionally abusive. Nancy understood and she became my surrogate mother. Not that this made my situation at home any easier. Mom did NOT appreciate the competition.
We were able to get out of section eight housing that year and into a large tenant house. The first of three apartments we would occupy in that building before finally moving on again.
That same year, Mom found a tiny pea-sized lump in her breast. She underwent a full mastectomy and I barely was capable of feeling anything more than loathing and hatred for her. It felt like karma. I know, I’m a total bitch. She was scared and she took it out on me. She was angry and she took it out on me. She was bitter and hateful and resentful and she took it all out on me.
When the time finally came for me to leave for college that following September, it wasn’t Mom who took me to the campus to get me situated, it was Nancy…my surrogate mother. Nancy made sure I had everything I needed to get me through my first year of college.
No, I didn’t have the pleasure of going to a college 1500 miles from home. I ended up at a state school in New Hampshire, but it was an hour from home and it was far enough away that it didn’t feel like home… and that was all that mattered to me.
I moved three times that first year at college. I started the year off in an apartment off campus because the on-campus housing was overcrowded. Midway through my first semester, the school was able to squeeze me into a dorm room with three other roommates.
From there, one of my roommates and I were able to get into a smaller room across campus during second semester. We were able to remain in that dorm until the semester ended, when we all went home for the summer.
Mom came to pick me up from school that May and I remember thinking how shitty it was going to be to return home. And it was. I bet you thought I was going to say something different like, “It was amazing!” or “The best summer ever!”. Nah!
Mom had moved across the hall from the last apartment. It was interesting. Same building, different view. Smaller but cozy, I suppose. If you enjoy sharing a bunkbed with your sister and her arrogant, surfer boyfriend from Virginia, that is. Swell guy. No pun intended. No, it really did suck.
By the time summer ended, I was ecstatic to be returning to college. Unfortunately for me, the three girls I had intended to room with that year were NOT returning to school that fall. Was it me? I found myself in a different dorm altogether, a loft, with a completely different group of girls, upperclassmen, whom I’d never met before. My immediate roommate was a mouthy bitch and I eventually moved downstairs to live with another girl who was far cooler and not mouthy at all.
I wound up pledging a sorority spring semester and for the first time in years felt as though I had a real connection with a real family. I finally belonged somewhere! I moved into the sorority house my junior year and remained there until the day I graduated. Mind you, I occupied four different rooms in the sorority house during my two and a half years there (two summers and an extra semester, what can I say?), but it was the same house!
After graduation, the last thing I wanted to do was go home. I moved into another house off campus with two of my sorority sisters and some other friends. We managed to earn a meager income and pay rent for the better part of eight months. I even stayed in the same room the entire time! There was a piano in the living room. Not that it was ever tuned, but it was fabulously fun to come home from work after a long day at the bar and bang out a few notes just to piss off the house mates. Aaaahhhh, those were the days!
As I pursued a real career, one thing became very clear to me: everyone was leaving… one by one. All of my friends, roommates and sisters… in pursuit of their future dreams and aspirations. I decided I needed to follow suit. Despite spending my last big chunk of change on a mass mailing of resumes, I wasn’t getting any response from the world beyond New Hampshire. So, I did what any college graduate on the brink of defaulting on their student loans would have done… I enlisted in the Army!
Basic Training for Life
Well, my first trip to Missouri could have been a little bit more welcoming. I mean, at least I got to go camping (Bivouac) and hiking (road march). Overall, I can’t complain too much. They gave me a weapon, and I didn’t shoot anyone!
After basic training, they put me on a bus and sent me down to San Antonio, Texas for a larger than life good time! You know what they say, everything is bigger in Texas. Well, I did happen to see a giant pair of cowboy boots… but that was the only larger than life thing I really saw. Even the Alamo was disappointing (Sorry Texas).
From there, they shipped me off to Virginia for my internship. When they asked me to fill out a “wish list” of places I most desired to be stationed at during my enlistment, I wrote: Germany, Germany and Germany. So, they sent me to Virginia…Close enough.
For my permanent duty station, they shipped me three hours north to, you guessed it, Virginia Again! At least it was closer to Washington, DC. But Jesus people! Germany and Virginia don’t even SOUND the same! No wonder our military is so screwed up!
It was at this duty station that I met my first husband. No details really about that other than: he was a real dick bag. Honestly, you don’t need to know the rest. Although, I will say that the emotional, verbal and eventual physical abuse I endured in that relationship felt similar to being home with my mother. Now we have a pattern.
Dick Bag and I moved several times while we pretended to be in a harmonious relationship. We even bought a house together… well, it was in his name, even though we were married. He didn’t want my name on it. And it was a good thing. When I left him several years later, with our two children, he was stuck with the mortgage and foreclosure… not ME!
After spending the better part of my early adulthood running from home, I found it strange that what I wanted most was stability for my kids and to return to the very place I once detested. My sister, who had always been suspicious of my volatile relationship with Dick Bag, had made it clear to me that she wanted her niece and nephew (and younger sister, of course) to be home and safe. We sought refuge with her in the fall of 1998, and we never looked back.
We occupied two rooms at the home of my sister and my brother in law. I weighed about 99 pounds and was an emotional wreck. I had no money and no job. I had the only two things in the world that mattered to me though, my son and my daughter. We were safe and we were home.
That winter, I met the poor bastard who would eventually become my second husband. I call him a poor bastard only because, I was such a train wreck emotionally that it would not be until several years into our marriage that I would finally find my self esteem again… and leave him to resume my independence. Thank God we are still amazing friends. He saved my life in so many ways. And his friendship has always been a beacon of strength for me.
Nearly ten years after I moved home, divorced and remarried, I was divorced again and living in my own house. For the first time in my life, I was a true home owner. For a little while anyways… Thanks to the housing bubble, we were able to buy more home than we could afford! Yay!
The house had it’s charm, and it’s quirks. Like, the french doors to the outside that didn’t open, they were just for show. Then there was the giant hot tub in the bathroom upstairs… yes, I said IN THE BATHROOM! There was a large above-ground swimming pool which kicked ass! And there was a propane fire place that kept the pipes from freezing when the power went out during winter storms. I won’t mention the arbitrary mirrored wall with etched mountain scenery complete with dragonfly appliques. Clearly the previous owners were smoking some serious home grown herb, laced with a mild hallucinogenic.
Only two and a half years after purchasing the house, it was foreclosed on… thanks to the Dick Bag (DB) who decided to stop paying child support. The Poor Bastard (PB) and I never had such an agreement since we shared custody of our only biological child together. In fact, PB pretty much raised DB’s kids with me and took all three of them half the time. DB was an absent, self-absorbed, dead-beat-dad.
The kids and I moved into a lovely little apartment following the foreclosure, which we now affectionately refer to as “The Crack Shack”. It was a slum lord’s wet dream! It came complete with a variety of insects that I had to identify online since I had never encountered such a myriad of species before in my life. The most colorful part of our occupancy was our next door neighbors. A group of four young adults who reminded me of myself and my housemates when we lived together that first year after college.
The neighbors were nice enough, though I did have to lie to my kids regularly that the pervasive odor of weed coming from next door was the smell of cat urine…. They totally know better now. I was fortunate enough that the neighbors befriended me and even gave me a nickname: Neighbor Lady. I know. How very creative. I was the Neighbor Lady.
After a year at the Crack Shack, I finally was able to get the kids and I into a house. A rental. But it was a giant step up from the seedy apartment with the abundant insect population.
The new house was magnificent, but it had it’s challenges. It had a stately front porch and it was situated within walking distance of schools, churches (not that we bothered to attend), parks and pretty much everything. It was also drafty, older and needed some repair. The kids and I stayed there until shortly after the terrible awful.
What is the terrible awful you ask? Well, I didn’t feed anyone a chocolate pie made with my own shit, if that’s what you think (The Help, Kathryn Stockett). But, it does seem pretty close. No, the terrible awful that I am referring to is when Dick Bag decided to take his own life. Yup. Just like that.
Dear (me), Congratulations! You finally got your wish. …. True story. His words. Not mine. Though, I suppose since I wrote them here, they are mine. I was merely paraphrasing. Or rather, quoting. Yes. He wanted me to suffer. He wanted me to feel as though it was my fault and to bear the burden of his death. Sorry Charlie. I didn’t pull the trigger. You did.
Should I play the grieving widow here? Oh, wait… that role had already been appointed to his third wife. There is a four letter word I like to use for her and it begins with the letter C. I’m not big on saying it, but when it comes to her… it feels very appropriate.
No. I did cry. I did feel guilty… briefly. Then I remembered… I didn’t pull the trigger. It wasn’t my fault. Only one person can be at fault for a suicide… the dead person. I was over 500 miles away when he made that choice. And the unfortunate consequence of those actions often tends to affect those who are closest to the dead person… like, oh… wait… His f’ing children… MY f’ing children. Hey, good job DB! You’re batting 1,000 when it comes to parenting! Well done!
There is a small amount of good news here! Survivor’s Benefits! I know, RIGHT!!?? For three years, my two oldest kids collected Social Security on behalf of their deceased father. Yes, I sound like a callous bitch. He was over $20,000 in debt to me when he took his own life. I lost my house and my dignity. He had a $450,000 house with wife #3 (The C-word) and he never bothered to call his only two biological children or visit them. I think three years worth of SS was a little payback. Just a little.
We bought a dog with our first Social Security check. She was a puppy. We named her Coco. It was important for the kids to find something good out of something so bad.
We rented a bigger house and planted a garden! It took several months, but we somehow managed to cultivate a beautiful little patch of earth with plants and shrubs and flowers. We found some solace in the rebirth and regeneration of life in that little spot.
Sadly, we did have to bury our beloved hamster there. His name was Buddy. He was an adorable little creature. Little Buddy managed to get himself a tumor…on his belly. At first, I thought he just had a giant penis. Then I realized, it wasn’t a penis at all. We had him euthanized, eulogized and then buried in the garden. We can only hope that Pet Cemetery doesn’t happen in New Hampshire.
Fortunately for all of us, Coco was never able to dig up that box of goodies. Poor little Buddy. Something did find that box though. Probably a raccoon or a ground hog. Lovely thought. We quickly disposed of the exhumed box and swore never to speak of it again.
The rent in the house went up each year until I finally decided that we needed to find another place, with a rent we could afford. The kids and I found another house in a four season community that mostly prided itself on being eco-friendly. A term we discovered to be synonymous with SNOBBY. Sorry green lovers.
That house saw a lot of chaos and excitement. My son, the oldest and only man in my life, graduated from high school. This was not an easy endeavor as he had already endured a massive depression following the sudden and unexpected death of his biological father. There were moments when I thought I would have to quit my job and physically attend classes with him until he completed his education.
My oldest daughter, second child with the DB, fell into a massive depression as well and began a fabulous course of self mutilation. She attempted to take her own life and wound up spending two separate admissions on an inpatient adolescent psych unit. I spent my own birthday eating cupcakes on the psych ward with these ladies. It was easily the most memorable birthday I have ever celebrated. Who gives a shit where you eat cupcakes on your birthday, as long as your children are alive!
During this chaotic period, I foolishly chose to embark on a scholarly venture to earn my Master’s degree. I realized that, in order to continue to provide the lifestyle my kids had grown accustomed to, I needed to earn a higher salary. A higher degree typically yields a higher salary… TYPICALLY.
Somehow, I found the nerve to purchase another house at this point. After the grace period for the foreclosure and the bankruptcy absolved from the previous disaster, I figured, what the f’ck?! Yeah. What the F’CK!? So much for THAT idea!
Turns out, applying for a parent plus loan to send your daughter to college really puts a ding in your credit. On the exact day that we were supposed to move out of the rental and into our new house, the bank denied my loan. True story. Based on the recent credit report with the parent plus loan application, which was promptly denied, so too was my home mortgage loan.
The silver lining here is that I was able to spend the following six weeks of my life living in my sister’s basement. Hey, my niece and nephew are super cool… and they have a sweet hot tub! My dogs only ran away twice (yeah, we got another dog) and I wrecked my sister’s moped trying to chase them. Anything is better than being homeless. Plus, they had an exceptional coffee maker.
We eventually moved our belongings into a condo back in eco-friendly land. It was a huge relief. I needed to finish my degree without continued distractions and the kids needed to feel stable again. Bahahahahaha! Did you really think that was going to happen?!
My father (yeah, I know I didn’t really talk about him very much) passed away 2 weeks after we moved into our new place. Just as the dust was settling from the loss, Mom decided it was her turn to get in on the action. She wound up coding twice before having an open-heart, triple bypass. Go big or go home, I guess.
With my son living in the basement, my oldest daughter away at college (my alma mater) and my youngest sharing time between her father’s house and mine, life had catapulted from chaos into a full shit storm. I took a leave of absence from my master’s program to grieve my father’s death and deal with my mother’s illness. My youngest daughter started going to counseling for her own severe anxiety disorder (okay, it’s definitely me!). And finally, my mother pulled herself from the grave and back into our lives. Stop clapping.
Here and Now
Nearly a year after completing my Master’s degree, and a billion (slight exaggeration) resumes later, I finally got a job offer! I had been holding out for an offer that was commensurate with my income expectations in order to repay my student loans. I was also hoping for a little extra to make a difference for the kiddos.
The offer was 1500 miles from home. With the strong encouragement and support of all three kids, I happily accepted! Who doesn’t want to move to Spring Break land and live there year ’round!?
We made arrangements, packed boxes, downsized and generally just threw shit away. I searched for weeks online for an appropriate place to relocate to. I reserved a truck for the move, planned the voyage, booked hotels at pertinent check points along the way, purchased airline tickets for the return flight for the kids and made last minute vet appointments for the dogs. We were SET!
The four day excursion down to Florida was electrifying! By electrifying, I’m being generous… it was a giant suck fest. Traffic was insane in New York. Thank you to the genius who fouled up the Tappan Zee bridge with a shitty broken crane! I can never get back the five hours of my life I spent sitting in stand-still traffic waiting to cross the GW bridge because of that catastrophe.
Each night, we edged a little bit closer to our destination. And each night we managed to shave a few more minutes off of the frustrating treasure hunt to find the hotel room we had pre-booked. In the day and age of GPS and Google Maps, one would think that feeling like a rat in a maze would be a thing of the past. One would think…
Somehow, we made it to the Sunshine state and unloaded our U-Haul into a three bedroom apartment with a beautiful lanai overlooking a palm tree speckled pond. The dogs survived the trip. The girls survived the trip (my son stayed in NH to work, but we replaced him with my youngest daughter’s best friend). And we all furthered our adventures by renting a multi-pedal bicycle on the hottest day of July in Florida. Yes, we did.
Living five miles from the nearest ocean was like a dream come true. Living within ten miles of at least three different major malls was just icing on the cake. The girls and I hit as many beaches, boardwalks and indoor malls as we could cram in before their flight back to New Hampshire. Let’s face it, shopping and beaches are priorities for women.
The view from the lanai was even more breathtaking than I could have imagined. I set up my decaying furniture on the porch overlooking the fountain spray of the pond with a direct view of the luxurious pool. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat back to take it all in. After about fifteen minutes in the suffocating humidity, I had to retreat inside to the air conditioned apartment. At least I could still appreciate the view from behind the sliding glass door.
Now, at the end of October, the humidity has abated and I can open the sliding glass door to allow the fresh air in. The fountain in the pond was under repair for a short time, though the water became sludgy and murky for a few weeks, it’s now back up and running. The sound outside of my bedroom window continually makes me think it’s raining and I have to look out the window to appease my curiosity every morning. The perpetual sound of running water reinforces my need to urinate all day and night, but it certainly is lovely to look at.
The pool, while glowing and illustrious at night, is full of leaves, dirt and dead frogs every morning. I personally skim the pool from time to time and have fished out bandaids, candy wrappers and one pair of women’s underpants. Yes, I threw them all away. You had to ask?!
Walking my dogs around the complex every day has been an exercise in window shopping, people watching and occasional amusement. I observe each patio and lanai to examine the furnishings, outdoor decor, plants, window hangings, drying racks, mops and storage bins that have been carefully (or carelessly) placed in these spaces. What I have realized is this:
Some people really have good taste in decor. And some don’t.
Some have collected shells from nearby beaches and carefully arranged them around their doorways.
Some outdoor spaces are overflowing with tropical plants. Each of which have been groomed daily and are virtually cascading over the railings as if they have been professionally manicured.
Some spaces have been clearly established as eating spaces as evidenced by the table and chairs.
Some of these spaces have been designated as a relaxing retreat with comfortable chairs, pillows and plush seating.
And finally, some generally don’t give a shit about this space and pepper it with empty boxes, tools, folding card tables, plastic chairs and cleaning supplies or they just leave it empty.
After years of struggling to get a better education, to get a better job, to get to a better place with a better view and a better way of life; I have come to this masterful conclusion: …. sometimes a porch really is just a porch with a fancy name.
I’m finally coming to terms with it. The number of men who have touched my body permissively and without my consent over the last 30+ years… And I realize how foolish I was then, and now. Foolish for so many reasons, not the least of which being promiscuity. But ignorance is bliss. The word promiscuous sounds so elegant, and I am anything BUT. This is not to say I am overly ashamed or feel cheap. Moreover, I feel humbled and sort of cheated…out of love.
Sex was never about LOVE for me. Not at first anyways. I learned at an early age that I was desirable…an object. Unfortunately for me, I translated that objectivity into something physical instead of into something more powerful or meaningful. I found a certain novelty in being the object of desire with a boy who would eventually say anything I wanted to hear until I finally gave him what he craved from me. And he could never give me what I wanted in return… and we’re not just talking about an orgasm here. Because, what I really wanted in return was NOT to be an object. I wanted to feel loved and respected. But I didn’t know what that felt like, so I continued to be an object.
It took me years to figure out that giving away the milk was the surest way to being stuck with the cow. The more I gave away, the more I wondered what I was doing wrong. It never occurred to me to appreciate what I had to offer. I was always trying to please someone else…never myself. And when YOU aren’t trying to please yourself, why would you expect someone to do it for you?! When the world is constantly telling you that you are an object, you really start to believe that it’s all you have to offer.
I think I was 23 years old before I had my first orgasm WITH a man. That means I spent nearly a decade tolerating sex for the benefit of someone else. Simply to feel the desire of a man who could never return my affection.
Well, I had a few pleasurable romances and longer lasting relationships, but I always managed to sabotage them in one way or another. When I stopped being an object and started to be treated like a person, I didn’t know how to respond. I was only used to the game of desire and the need to feel wanted … instead of being content with feeling needed, loved and respected. Yeah, I fucked up… a lot. More on that later.
The Road to Self Destruction
Only a true victim blames everyone else around them for their own mistakes. Sometimes I look back and think, “sure, if my dad had been around more I might not have spent my adolescent years searching for the approval of a man”. But I think it was more about trying to keep up with what I assumed was the standard set in front of me.
My parents split up when I was about seven. Even when they were together, they were not exactly the model of a happy or healthy couple. So, the models I observed were kids my own age, experimenting in ways that I would never approve of in my own children.
After I gave myself away the first time, it became easier and easier to do it again for the same reasons…. because he wanted me and it felt gratifying to feel desired. Odd that when someone showed a genuine interest in ME, I didn’t know how to accept it and would invariably push them away. I only knew how to be an object of desire… I never learned how to accept real love.
Being an object became a game to me. The danger of the game is that some of the players have no rules and would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. I suppose some people would say I got what I deserved. You can’t expect a guy to take “no” for an answer from a girl who said “yes” to him last week. And more than once, I pretended to be passed out or too intoxicated to participate. Let me be the first to tell you, this method does not work.
Faith and Friendship
I never really was much for prayer. Though I was baptized as a Catholic, my parents didn’t take us to church. I found my way there with friends and other people. I even joined a Protestant church choir… because all of my friends were doing it. It didn’t make any difference to me what church I sang in. I just wanted to sing… and to be a part of something special.
By the time I got into college, I had become a bit of an agnostic. I minored in Philosophy and devoured theology, ethics and intellectual virtue. Hey, if I thought I could have made a living teaching it or writing it, I would have become the next Jean Paul Sartre. That would have required chain smoking and talking with a French accent, and while there was a certain appeal to it… I opted to change my major from writing to Phys Ed. Because… why not?!
I left college less agnostic and more atheist. No, not because of Nietzsche, but because I had no faith in anything at that point. My rationale being that I had endured my own personal failures and triumphs without any deity for 23 years, and praying never did much for me anyway. Please don’t assume that I am writing about how I found God and it changed my life… But, I did eventually start to pray a little bit.
I joined the army after I graduated from college. I needed a job and it was a good way to pay back my student loans. Plus, getting into graduate school with my grades was pretty much out of the question, but at least I had the opportunity to further my education through the military… and the idea of taking care of hunky GI’s all day was more than marginally appealing to me. So I said, “Fuck it” and I signed up.
Doing my own thing and paving my own path had always been the way I’d done things. I rarely heeded advice from others. If I had an idea of my own and it sounded good, I was damn sure I was going to go through with it. So when my friends tried to talk me out of joining up, I laughed at them.
Basic training was a breeze. I was an athlete in high school and played intramural sports and worked out in college so I could endure the physical stuff. I pledged a sorority in college too, so dealing with the “hazing” and mental anguish was something I was accustomed to. I knew how to dish it out AND how to take it.
Physical therapy school in the military was practically a refresher of everything I had learned as an undergraduate and I mastered all of the new concepts, modalities and skill sets easily. I also mastered the art of fraternizing with the males… the ones I wasn’t allowed to speak with or look at during basic training. It was like being at fat camp and being deprived of cake… and then, being escorted into a huge arena filled with dessert! Boom! Cake please!
I had a few flings… some more serious than others… I recall two marriage proposals from two different guys in six months… but who’s counting? But the best “relationships” I had were with my three best pals. Three guys… none of whom I had any romantic interaction with. They were respectful, funny, smart and never once tried to get into my pants. I was my best self when I was with these guys. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
One day, while we were all in class, I found myself in a theological debate with a classmate. We were having the “theory of evolution vs. creationism” argument and I wasn’t fairing well… my opponent was a Minister. And me, just a Philosophy minor with no real knowledge or understanding of faith.
About a week later, I was handed a book. It was a bible; a New International Bible (NIV)…not that I had ever bothered to read the OLD one. The book donor told me that if I ever found myself lost, I should just open up the book and read from a Psalm. It sounded harmless enough.
I learned a lot during that short time at Fort Sam Houston, Tx. I learned about faith and respect. I learned about self-worth and forgiveness. I also learned about friendship. But I didn’t fully appreciate those lessons until years later.
The first time I found myself praying with that bible, I realized I had sunk further from myself than I ever wanted to be. Sometimes, in order to find faith, you have to lose yourself first. Oh, I lost myself alright… and I was desperately clawing my way back to reality.
I met Mark when I arrived at my first duty station in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was married and I was just getting over an on-again/off-again, but more OFF than on, relationship. Mark fawned over me to the point that it made me almost uncomfortable.
Mark and I had the same group of friends. I was the token girl in the posse. Being a sexual minority, women were drastically overrated and coveted in the military. Getting a date wasn’t difficult as a female, let’s face it… I had what they wanted… and I’m not talking about a high IQ or an impressive collection of leather bound books.
Despite my rejection, Mark persisted. One night, he serenaded me with his guitar. Fuck guys and their friggen guitars! Damnit it he was good! He said everything, EVERYTHING I wanted to hear. He was unhappy in his marriage, scorned, jaded and desperately looking for the love of his life. He absolutely believed that I was THAT person. He even made me believe it… for a little while.
It was a whirlwind romance…three months into our new relationship and I was pregnant. And NOT by accident! This man told me he wanted me to have his children. He even threw away my birth control pills and pledged his love for me for eternity. Cue the cheesy violins and love songs… I was in deep!
It wasn’t until a few months into my pregnancy that I started to notice things changing between us. He would blame it on my hormones or simply just on my being “too sensitive”. I recall the advice of some friends when I asked for their opinions on the matter. “Get out NOW!”, they pleaded. They knew then what I didn’t know… he was already showing signs of a cycle of abuse that I was completely blind to.
Is it Me?
I thought I was going crazy. I really did. And when you’re living 500 miles from home, pregnant, (with the child of a man who still hasn’t finalized his divorce from wife #1) and feeling vulnerable…who wouldn’t get a little hormonal and paranoid??!! Cue the Ozzy Osbourne music (Crazy Train!!).
They say that women in abusive relationships leave six to seven times before they finally leave for good. Sometimes they leave mentally… and sometimes, they never have a chance to leave at all. There are as many reasons to stay as there are to leave… and sometimes staying sounds better than leaving.
I didn’t want to be a single mother. I wanted my son to grow up with his father. After all, his father WANTED him to come into the world. His father ASKED for him. And I wanted to please him. I couldn’t win him over with desire anymore… somehow I had to make him LOVE me… but I didn’t know HOW.
Mark would tell me how much he loved me. But he had a strange way of showing it. It was like living with a man who had a split personality. Dr. Jekyll one minute and Mr. Hyde the next. I never knew which one was going to come home and which one I would wake up next to.
Notes to Myself
I started keeping a journal. I’d kept one on and off through college and found solace in writing down my thoughts and feelings. A friend gave me a journal before I left for boot camp. She had written a handful of quotes and verses in it. I read them to myself and added a few of my own.
In an effort to keep my sanity, I began writing out events and arguments between Mark and myself. It was a way of validating the terrible things that were happening. Then, they became an outlet of anger. I would sometimes scribble words onto the pages so large and with such rage that they were almost indecipherable. FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!!, I would write. Secretly, I hoped he would find my journal and read it. I wanted him to know how much he was hurting me… what a monster he was… how much I HATED him. No such luck.
In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing he never read them. I suspect he would have done more brutal things to me. Not that he ever beat the crap out of me physically… not at first anyways. He simply had a knack for beating me up mentally.
Mark was a man of belittling, berating and demeaning. He loved to taunt me until I would cry or blow up. Then, he would turn it back around on me… because, it was all in my head. I would ultimately beg for forgiveness, pick up the pieces of my shattered self-esteem and try to put them back together. And just when I had the last piece in place, he would rip it apart again.
On the outside, Mark was so charming and charismatic. Everyone LOVED him. He enjoyed showing me and my children off to his co-workers like we were his prizes. It became infuriating for me to watch him act one way in public and then torment us at home when there was no-one to witness.
And yet… how could I tell them??!! Who would believe me?? I didn’t have any bruises on the outside… but I was full of scars on the inside. This was before the time of the “information super highway” that we call the internet now. I was lost with nowhere to turn. And no way to define or identify the affliction that had taken hold of our marriage.
There was a time when I thought I made up the term “emotional abuse”. No, I just realized what it was before I knew it had a name. Oh, he had broken plenty of things around the house… in front of me… just enough to scare me. But he’d never hit ME…yet.
From Emotional to Physical
I never was a violent person. The first time I felt truly vulnerable and afraid was in those initial stages of pregnancy with our first child. Mark was out late… he never seemed to have time for me anymore. It was a difficult adjustment having gone from the top of his pedestal to rock bottom. I was waiting for him… as usual… with no way of knowing when or if he was returning home. We didn’t have cell phones then.
I started to panic… and I flew into a full blown temper tantrum. I shattered the mirror in the bathroom and stomped on his CDs! I immediately regretted it! I cleaned up every tiny shred of glass and put all of the CDs back exactly as I had found them. I was more afraid that he WOULD come home then.
I don’t know what came over me that night, but little outbursts like that would come back to haunt me again before all was said and done. The final tally, altogether after 5 years, was a smashed guitar, a favorite jacket with holes stabbed into it (no, he wasn’t wearing it at the time…but that would have made for a good story), one or more of his favorite Star Trek models stomped to death and one tray of Pillsbury biscuits.
Mark was more outward with his violent outbursts. He liked breaking things IN FRONT OF ME and the kids. A smashed door, a broken chair, a hole in the wall, a flying remote control, ripping phone cords out of the wall with such force they could not be used again… screaming, yelling, chasing me around with a knife, chasing the kids around like Jack Torrence.. you know, run of the mill terrifying stuff.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I had as many reasons to stay as I had to leave…TWO. Their names were Avery and Devin and they were my world. I took an early discharge from the military to be a stay-at-home mom while Mark stayed on active duty and took a part-time job. Once again, this was HIS idea. He loved the idea of telling everyone that he was sacrificing so much for his wife and children. Such a Martyr. Not that I didn’t love being with my children, but I craved adult interaction and intellectual stimulation.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t allowed to have money. No cash or even my name on a joint checking account. No way! He would hand me cash to go to the grocery store along with a list of all of the items I was to buy. Try calculating the cost of every item you put into a grocery cart, knowing you probably won’t have enough by the time you get to the register, with a toddler and baby in tow. And you’d better pray you got everything on that list and you bring back the change with the receipt… or else.
I never went anywhere without my children… EVER. I took them for a walk every day with the stroller I’d saved up my allowance to buy. Yes.. I finally convinced him to give me an allowance. I saved up for two months until I had $200; enough to buy a double baby jogger. And I walked the wheels off of that thing… TWICE! Fortunately for me, the warranty covered the wheels and the frame. And since I was content with my new toy, I clearly had no need for anymore allowance, so that ended THAT.
My neighbors would tease me when I took the car to the commissary twice a month for groceries. “Whoa, he let you DRIVE??!!”, they’d say. Once, I was even allowed to attend a Tupperware party, ALONE. Mark stayed at the house with the kids and I walked four doors down to the neighbor’s house (we all lived in the same townhouse unit). I actually started having a good time, until HE came to retrieve me.
I had been gone for almost an hour and a half and the kids were getting fussy. If they didn’t act like perfect little angels, it was my fault. The fact that my son didn’t know the full alphabet by the time he was three years old was also my fault. I mean…. what the HELL was I doing all day??!!
The kids and I had a routine. We would often sleep until eight in the morning (which infuriated Mark) and then have breakfast. Then playtime, snacks, more play time, lunch and naps. I would pick the toys, put them away and organize them, mop and do laundry and watch a soap opera (because, what he hell else is on during NAP TIME??) and do it all over again after they woke up. My day was perfect with my kids.
I would dread the moment when the clock would strike “ten minutes to Mark coming home o’clock”. I would get knots in my stomach. What hadn’t I done that I would get in trouble for today? Did I fold the laundry just right? Did I put away all of the dishes? Were the kids spotless and in a good mood? It didn’t matter… he would always find SOMETHING.
You might be wondering how the hell the title of this blog fits into the whole story. Well, if you haven’t already figured it out… Mark was abusive. I know, SHOCKER, right??!! It’s so subtle, not at all like the movies you see where the perpetrator is easy to spot and everybody hates him anyways. Yeah, not like that at ALL. In fact, it’s often the person you would least expect. But there are warning signs… signs that I missed entirely.
The whole swooning me and sweeping me off my feet thing… the “snow job” (rhymes with blow job, right?) is a good indicator. At least, that’s what I learned in my domestic violence support group. More on THAT later too. The pedestal followed by the sudden DROP to the bottom…without warning, cause or provocation. Just, WHAM… sucks to be you! That’s another flag.
If that didn’t cue me in, the chiding, belittling and degradation should have been a warning. But… easily explained away by, “You’re just too sensitive” or “It’s all in your head”… you know, “it’s not ME, it’s YOU”. And not to make excuses here but, all of my closest friends and family were hundreds of miles away… and we didn’t exactly have text messaging or Facebook back then.
Then there was the sex… yes, I had learned to finally enjoy sex in my twenties. And, while his was a bit smaller than average (and here, I am being KIND), he still managed to get the job done. But it did become rougher as time went on. At first I thought it was because he was smaller and looking for leverage (he would be the first one to say I may have been “roomier” than average, but I’ve seen my share of penises and HIS is definitely in the lowest percentile…statistically speaking). Then, he pulled my hair so hard that I had a welt on the back of my head. Had he grabbed a smaller handful, he would easily have pulled a chunk of my hair out, scalp and all. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly interested in being intimate with him much after that.
I’ve never really found the appeal of S&M personally. I’ve had guys try to spank me… Ummmm… no thank you! I had one guy ask me to call him “Daddy”… yeah, not so much. I’ve had my had shoved onto a penis to hard that I nearly gagged… haven’t we all? I’ve even had a few guys who like to do it in the pooper… Mmmm… not my favorite. I mean, I’ll do it for the pleasure of my partner, but its not my GO TO. And, it’s definitely NOT for MY pleasure. None of these rank anywhere close to having your hair pulled so hard that you think your scalp is being ripped off.
So, was he just into S&M? Not that I am aware of… his first wife and I never really hit it off so I didn’t ask her. His third wife… well, she and I haven’t spoken since just a few weeks after his funeral and I didn’t get the impression that she wanted to share those details with me in between the “fucking bitches” and “Evil cunts” that she was hurling at me.
No, I didn’t kill him. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have. Again, a story for later. Suffice it to say that he killed himself. But… he blamed ME for it. Yup… he even wrote me a letter:
“Dear R****, Congratulations, you finally got your wish…” Does it even matter what he wrote after that??? Not to me it doesn’t.
I finally found the courage to leave him with not a penny to my name and my two children in the back of the car. We drove 500 miles home where we found refuge with my sister until I could get back on my feet. I remarried and so did he. We would sometimes go months or years without hearing from him. And it was always my fault.
He waited until the kids were old enough to understand what he was doing, 13 and 15 years old, and young enough to have it render irreparable damage; then he put a bullet through his own chest. He had threatened suicide on many occasions… before we were married, WHILE we were married and even after we divorced. He even attempted it once… right in front of myself and our son. It wasn’t long after he attempted it that I took the kids and we fled for home.
The geographical distance between us didn’t stop him from continuing to torment us. I assumed it would be like exorcising a demon… you know, once you cross over water, it can’t follow you. It doesn’t work like that with abusive men. At least a demonic possession would have explained his irrational behavior.
There are too many horrifying stories and the purpose of this blog is not to exorcize those demons. It’s a simple truth without the gory details. It’s about recognizing past mistakes and overcoming adversity. It’s about coming to terms with my own demons and understanding how I allowed myself to become vulnerable prey for a man who loved to hate me and hated to love me. But, I think he did love me once… I know he did.
Most of us discover who we are during our adolescence. I didn’t realize I was supposed to be developing my sense of self when I was a teenager; therefore, I spent most of my twenties and thirties growing up. And I’m still growing up. I guess you could say I’m a little slow on the uptake.
Now, in my forties, I’ve realized that the only way to push forward is to go back and forgive. The “Our Father” even says, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (I’m not going to cite my source here because I’m certain the source is fairly common knowledge). So I seek forgiveness from myself and for myself. And, I have even found a way to forgive the man who inflicted immeasurable pain onto myself and my children (and my extended family…and friends, etc).
If I had one more chance to speak to him, I would say two things:
I’m sorry and thank you.
I’m sorry because I know that I probably hurt you in ways that I wasn’t aware of. I’m sorry for not forgiving you sooner. My forgiveness may have saved you from your inevitable demise… and instead, your guilt weighed too heavily on you and you chose the path of no return.
I’m sorry you never had the chance to watch your daughter perform in her gymnastics meets. I’m sorry you never got to see her or your son attend their first proms. I’m sorry you never had the chance to see them graduate from high school or attend college. I’m sorry that you missed out on seeing two invincible teenagers grow up and become amazing young adults.
Thank you…because, without the struggle, we would not be where we are today. In the most existential way possible, we have come to appreciate LIFE and love and family. Sometimes, you need to lose yourself to truly find out who you are. And if you hadn’t been part of the reason we lost ourselves, we never would have looked for something better.
Thank you for helping us to build strength in the face of adversity. Thank you for teaching us how to find a way to persevere. Perhaps your final act was the ultimate act of martyrdom in that, you knew we would push ourselves harder after you were gone.
Whatever the reason, whether it was noble or selfish, I forgive you and I hope you can forgive me. And… I thank you… I’m not a better person in spite of you, I am a better person because of you.
It’s 9 pm on a school night and I’ve already given her a kiss good-night. But, just as I’ve tucked myself into bed, she comes running up the stairs to tell me, “Stanley is GONE!”.
Gianna is a creative soul with a whimsical and free spirit. She is of course plagued with anxiety about most of the things the average Jr. High girl is prone to… and then some.
With an older brother and sister who barely eked out a high school diploma; one going on to a state college and the other choosing instead to simply get a job in lieu of more studying, I was already prepared for another underachiever. But I was wrong.
Gianna has been the overachiever since the day she was born. She gets straight A’s and agonizes over any mark under a 90% in school. Even a 90% is too close to close to a B and for that, she will ridicule herself for days. She pays attention to detail and never misses an opportunity to berate herself for any imperfection.
“Who is Stanley?”, I ask politely. You see, Gianna names everything. Like any girl, she names her stuffed animals. She also names her pillows, artwork and even her plants. Yes, her plants. She has a variety of real animals, but most of them are at her father’s house, and to my knowledge, none of the sheep, dogs, rabbits or hamsters are named Stanley.
“He’s the spider who has been living in my bathroom!”, she groans. “He’s been here since we moved in and I promised him that I would never kill him…I watch him when I’m in the shower…and when I went to get into the shower just now, he wasn’t there!”, she clamors. “I can’t believe Stanley is gone!”.
Hmmm… I can see how the sudden disappearance of a random Daddy Long Leg can sometimes be devastating, but this is tragic! A friendship forged in harmonious, mutual fear… ripped apart without warning. There can be no happy ending here.
I lean over the loft to yell down to my son, “Did you kill Stanley?”, I ask, trying not to smirk. He has been known to take a private soak in the tub in Gianna’s bathroom since he has only a stand-up shower in his basement room. “I did no such thing”, he answers. “I admired him from afar the last time I was in the tub”, he assures us. He gives a proud nod.
I turn to my daughter and put a hand on her shoulder, “I’m sorry honey”, I tell her. “I don’t think he’s gone for good (but somehow, I hope he IS)”, I say. “Maybe he decided to take a vacation?”. She shrugs and heads back down the stairs to take her shower… with no Stanley there to stand guard.
Somehow, I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of this eight-legged little peeping Tom, er… Stanley. Something tells me that he’ll turn up in one of her next paintings. Not mixed into the acrylics on the canvas! That would be barbaric! No. I imagine that the next painting Gianna creates will be that of a spider in the shower…with rainbows, or a sunset or some cherry blossoms. I miss that little spider…said NO ONE EVER!
In a middle school classroom, Mrs. Jones is administering a math test. She told the children that they were to do their best work and not to cheat by using a calculator or peering at a classmate’s answers.
The class is comprised of mostly white students (12), one back student and two Asian students. The fifteen students worked diligently, though many struggled to complete the exam. Late in the exam, Mrs. Jones excused herself from the classroom to speak to the Principal in the hallway. One student, Johnny, pulled out his calculator and was able to quickly solve three of the problems that he had been agonizing over on the test. He shared his answers with the students sitting next to him, Amanda and YOUR child, who promptly wrote the answers down as well.
When Mrs. Jones returned, no one said a word. The students all finished their tests and handed them in. The following morning, Mrs. Jones announced to the class that five of the students had perfect scores on their tests. Several other students had scored 80% or better. In fact, all of the students received a passing grade for the exam. This was cause for celebration!
Johnny’s family expects him to get high honors. His family is an affluent and well-known family in the community and his father, who is now the City Mayor, is also an accomplished attorney. Johnny often feels overwhelmed with studying and schoolwork such that he has become extremely depressed and feels isolated. He was once grounded for getting a “B” on his report card and his parents insisted on getting him a tutor and increasing his study time.
Amanda is an African American student who lives with her mother in a small two-bedroom apartment. She often does not have time to study because she helps her mother out in the store next door, sweeping the floor and doing odd jobs to earn an “allowance” from the store owner to help offset the bills. She also takes care of her two younger siblings at home and frequently falls asleep while studying late at night. She too wants to get passing grades so that she can eventually go to college and help her mother and siblings have a better life.
You know the story of YOUR child…
Several days pass until Mrs. Jones announces to the class that an anonymous but very credible source reported that a student had cheated on the exam. She tells the class that she is very disappointed and is willing to forgive the student and offer them the chance to re-take another exam if they come forward by the end of the day. Otherwise, Mrs. Jones stipulates, “Every one of you will receive a failing grade”.
At the end of the day, Amanda approached the teacher and asked if anyone had come forward to confess. Mrs. Jones replied, “Just you”.
You see Amanda went to Mrs. Jones on the day of the initial exam. She felt so guilt ridden by the end of that day that she could not justify the deceitfulness of her actions. Mrs. Jones was very understanding and assured Amanda that she would omit the three questions Amanda reported she cheated on. Amanda, however, did not report any of the other students to Mrs. Jones.
As it turns out, Mrs. Jones was already suspicious of several students in the class for cheating on exams. She had asked the principal to stop by her classroom at the designated time so that she could appear to be otherwise occupied, but she was actually watching, along with the principal, to see if her suspicions could be confirmed. And they were.
The following morning, Mrs. Jones announced to the class that since no one had come forward to confess, she was forced to give the entire class a failing grade. She sent a letter home with each student to explain the failing grade to their parents. As expected, later that evening, the school began receiving calls from parents, including YOU, who were outraged about the lack of justice. Two parents alleged that Amanda had cheated, according to their children.
Right away, one of the parents called the local newspaper. The author interviewed several students with the permission of their parents. During his interviews, the reporter shared the allegation that Amanda had been a culpable suspect, based on previous reports from other parents. The students agreed that she was a likely candidate, as she often did not have time to study. The school administration was not available for comment. The News Paper published the story the following next morning with the following headline: African American Student Cheats on Exam: Teacher Fails the Entire Class. Parents Outraged.
The Principal and Mrs. Jones immediately called the reporter to set the record straight. They shared the details of their suspicions, along with Amanda’s initial confession. Though they did not share the names of any of the students involved in the scandal, they did confirm that the “African American Student” had been the first and only to come forward. The following day, the News Paper printed a follow up story with the headline: African American Student Not The Only One To Cheat On Exam.
At this point, YOU and several other parents banded together to determine which other student, if there really was another student, had cheated. YOU are certain that it was not YOUR child. And Johnny’s father is certain that it was not his child either. The two Asian students were scrutinized as perhaps being the cheaters. They always seemed to score perfectly on every exam. It must be them, you all concluded. The two Asian students had recently emigrated from China and spoke very little English. It was too difficult for YOU and the other parents to speak with their parents, not to mention that YOU had all consulted with YOUR children and found their reports to be credible and accurate.
The school board and administration stepped in to investigate the situation in an effort to put the matter to rest. They found this following evidence:
The test contained 20 questions.
Amanda scored an 85%. She would have received 100% but Mrs. Jones chose to throw out the three questions that Amanda confessed to cheating on.
Johnny scored a 90%. He had two incorrect answers.
YOUR CHILD scored 100%.
Both of the Asian students scored 100%, as they always had in the past.
Two other students also scored 100% and did not participate in cheating.
The school board, along with Mrs. Jones and the Principal had to make the difficult phone call to YOU and the Mayor separately, to report that YOUR individual students had been associated with the cheating scandal. A letter was sent home to all parents stating that the investigation was completed and that the parents of the students in question had been notified privately.
There was no follow up story in the Newspaper after this revelation and the matter has since been forgotten.