Childless

I don’t have  children.  It was a choice…one I often regret at this stage in my life.  It was a painful choice.  It is more painful now, looking back.  Now that I understand with more clarity why I did what I did.  Life is like that.  It’s often easier to see the truth when looking in the rear-view mirror.  It is easier to see paths you should have taken instead of the ones you did.

I made the decision to remain childless when I was 16 years old while sitting in American History Class one afternoon.  I hated history.  My mind often wandered to more profound topics.  Which is what happened on this particular day.  The memory is extremely clear.  I was daydreaming, writing out a list of names I liked, potential names for the daughter I hoped to have someday.  Madison, Zoe, Heather, Hannah, Michaela, Addison, Maddie, Mackenzie…I had a long list.  I was imagining what she would be like, this child I vowed to love with all of my heart.  Would she adore words the way I did?  Would she have any of my features?  Would she have the same kind of intuition and insight I often had; a maturity beyond her years?  Would she love the water?  Love to run?  Enjoy learning?  Love dogs?

As I wrote, some nasty persistent thoughts kept interrupting my pleasant musings. And I couldn’t quite banish them to the back of my mind.

I began to think about something I had recently read, a story about how abused children often grew up to be abusers themselves.  Finally, the thought captured my full attention.  I stopped writing.  Contemplated the implications of the research.  Looked over the names I had written.  Thought some more, as everything began to come together.  It was an important moment, one that is indelibly etched in my mind.  Frozen in time, sharp and clear.  It was one of those moments when reality is revealed and something very deep and significant results.  A shift takes place.  In an instant, the course of one’s life forever altered.

I knew in my heart I wouldn’t abuse a child.  I could never hurt anyone the way I had been hurt.  But in that moment, I became acutely aware of the big holes in my soul.  And I feared what I lacked and the ways I had been damaged might prevent me from being able to give a child all the things they would need to grow into a happy, healthy, normal adult.

Sydney, Whitney, Madison, Holly, Lexie, Jillian, Sadie…

The more I thought about the risk, the sadder and emptier I felt.

Marne, Haley, Willow, Quinn, Jordan, Quincy…

I stared at the list, rereading each name until the sadness was overwhelming.  And I began to grieve.

I remember feeling hollowed out.  I pushed my pen aside.   Finally resigned, I quietly but firmly folded up the paper that contained my list of special names.  I placed it between the pages of my notebook.  Tucking it away.  And I knew, with an understanding that defied logic, I would never use any of those names because I would never have a child.  I couldn’t take the chance.  I couldn’t risk it.

And just like that, the decision was made.

I never really looked back.  There was a time in my early 30’s when I gave God permission to change my mind.  I didn’t think I had made a mistake, but I wanted to make sure I had been thinking clearly when I originally made my choice as a daydreaming 16-year-old girl in American History class.  He was silent. My heart did not condemn me.  I took that as agreement.

But sometimes it really hurts.

I have never been pregnant.  Never felt a child move inside of me.  Never held my baby in my arms.  Never been able to pour myself out for another being I loved more than life itself.  Never had the chance to protect a little one, to guide them, to help them learn and grow.  And nothing of myself will be left upon this earth when I am gone.  No one will remember me.  Or care that I once was.

I never got to go through the ups and downs, rediscovering the beauty of life, enjoying their innocence, their puzzlement, seeing them experience the world.  Never got to observe those first steps, their first love, their first kiss, graduation, marriage, jobs.  Never held them when they cried.  Never bandaged scraped knees.  Watched the stars and the moon with them.  Taught them to drive.  Helped them to be strong and confident and secure.

I never received a Mother’s Day card.

I never got to see their face or look into their eyes.

I will never know the joy of having a grandchild.

It hurts because that child who might have been will never be.  The first time I was on the maternity ward of the hospital, it was to recover after having a hysterectomy.  I did not experience giving birth to a new life.  I let that opportunity slip through my fingers because I was afraid I would not be the kind of parent I needed to be.

When I die, no one will cherish my belongings, holding some worthless trinket tenderly in their hand as they remember me.  No one will want the poems and songs I have written or care about the struggles of my life; my victories and defeats.  No one will miss me.  My passing will not impact a single soul.

To the child of my heart, the child of my dreams and imagination, I can only say this:  I loved you enough not to have you.  I was afraid, I admit it.  Afraid I couldn’t be a good enough mother to give you all that you would need to grow strong and whole.  There were so many things I didn’t have that I needed.  So many things I experienced that damaged me.  I didn’t know if I could overcome the damage and still equip you to be a resilient and confident individual.  I was afraid my lack would cause me to fail you.  I was fearful of deeply hurting you.  Injuring you.  So even though I dreamed about you, longed for you and wrote out lists of names that I thought would express how special you were, I realized I needed to think of you first.  It wasn’t about me and what I wanted.  It was about your heart, your life, your wholeness, your soul.

When it came down to it, it was all about not taking the chance of hurting you irreparably.  It meant not having a baby, a child for my satisfaction and fulfillment.  It meant thinking about you, your needs, what I could give you, what I might not be able to give you, and making a decision that was best for you.

I would have rather died than hurt you.  And I was terrified I would severely wound you the way I had been wounded.

Oh, I felt certain I wouldn’t do the things to you that had been done to me.  But did I have what you would need?  Could I give you a stable, healthy, loving foundation?  I was afraid I would fail you too many times and in too many important ways.  Destroy you unintentionally.  Shatter you.  Break your spirit.  So, I gave you up.  I gave up the hope of having a little girl.  I tucked my dreams away in my notebook along with the list of special names I had written.  And I never looked at either of them again.

I suppose in the end I failed you, regardless of the choice I made.  But I did what I did because I felt it was the right thing.  For you.  I was trying to be unselfish.  Even though it hurt.  I wasn’t confident I could give you strong wings that would carry you high and far and allow you to soar, especially considering I had never flown myself.

It seems we both paid the price of the childhood abuse I suffered…abuse that resulted in my shattered soul and broken wings.  Because of this, we both lost our life.  And neither one of us will ever fly.

 

Thanksgiving Day at Golden Corral

Here we go again.

Let the holidays begin.  Thanksgiving.  Family gatherings.  The annual celebration of abundance.  More food than anyone can possibly consume.  Stressing over the perfect turkey.  Meticulous meal preparation, timed to the minute.  Football.  Laughter…forced and genuine.  A time of setting aside differences. And of eating together.

Then, people hang lights that sparkle on trees, both real and artificial, with smiles that are wide and hearts that are happy.  They camp out in the cold and dark waiting for stores to open their doors at midnight so they can shop deals as fake as the plastic pine tree sitting in their living room.  They wrap packages in fancy paper, tying them up with ribbons and bows.  Attend parties large and small with friends, family, coworkers.  Some, they want to hang out with.  Some they don’t.  They get extra time off work to celebrate, which almost makes up for the extended hours of darkness and the frigid weather.  The presents that were so carefully wrapped are picked up, shaken, weighed by excited children and hopeful adults.  Everywhere you look, lights twinkle in the night, chasing away the emptiness, burning electricity with great abandon from where they have been artfully strung across rooftops, around windows and along shrubbery and sidewalks.

Everything appears warm and welcoming. Shiny.  Happy.  At least on the surface.  And perhaps that is all we can ask of the season.

It’s a time of abundance and joy; at least this is what we have been told.  Or sold.  The season of relationships.  Gatherings, recognizing and recounting all you have to be thankful for, of expressions of love and appreciation.  A time of laughter, consuming, overeating, extravagant spending and connecting with those who matter the most to you.

Connecting.  Celebrating.  Counting your blessings.  Light.  Laughter.  Family.  Bonding.  Attachment.

Unless you have no family.  No meaningful connections.

When you are alone, the glare of the twinkling lights only serves to expose the void in which you exist.  There are no get-togethers.  No festivities.  Instead, it is deafeningly quiet.  Empty.

Thanksgiving is just another day off work.

Food can’t fill you.  Decorations can’t make the world you live in a pretty, appealing, palatable place.  And there is no one to connect with…or cook for…or camp out with on unforgiving concrete sidewalks while waiting for merchant’s doors to open so you can buy those you cherish the one thing they want more than anything in the world (this year) at a price that has been marked up twice and marked down only once.

If this is you, it’s likely you will find yourself standing in line, as did I, at Golden Corral at noon on Thanksgiving Day.  Waiting for the 200+ people who arrived before you to eat with their families and head home, finally opening up a table for you.  You inch forward, listening to the chatter and lighthearted exchanges.  The giggles and groans.  You are assaulted by a wall of sound.  All around you.  Produced by people.  People who have people.

You can’t help but wonder: What are they all doing at Golden Corral on Thanksgiving Day, standing in this ridiculously long line of people waiting to eat?

They are not alone.  They are linked.  Kids, parents, grandparents. Cousins, friends, siblings. The line waiting to get in the restaurant isn’t the only line in which they stand.  They represent generations, the culmination of those who have come before.  Little pieces of their ancestors within their cells.  The line will continue.  The kids will grow up, having kids who will have kids who will have kids.  Lines.  Connections.  Continuity.

Unlike you, they do not represent the end of the line.  The last generation.  They have reason.  Purpose.  Meaning.

They wait in a line that forms all around me.  In front of me.  Behind me.  Little ones restless, playing together, running in circles.  Parents content to let them be.  Keeping their eye on them, but loosely.  This is a day to set aside worry and fear.  This is the season of light in the darkness.  A time of believing and being grateful.  A lull before a new year begins and the lights are extinguished.

Sound.  Laughter.  Conversations.  Some serious.  Some silly.  Motion.  Hugs.  Linked hands.  Arms entwined.  Moving slowly forward.  Together.

I observe as they swirl around me.  I see, but do not belong.  I watch, but do not participate.  I am alone, frozen, dead in the middle of the living.  I watch.  But I am not a part of them, even though I stand in the middle of it all.

When I am finally seated, I eat in silence. By myself.  And then I leave.  Unnoticed.

I walk away from it.  Full.  Empty.  I walk away, a solitary figure, lonely and isolated.

There is still a line when I leave.  People are yet waiting, but they wait together.  Thanksgiving Day at the Golden Corral.  The beginning of the season of connectedness.  And I am adrift.

I watch them as I go, then turn away.  Enveloped by emptiness.

I see.  But I cannot touch.  And I remain untouched.  Though I am surrounded by a crowd of laughing, happy people, no one in the crowd belongs to me, nor do I belong to them.  I stand and sit and wait and walk alone.  Disconnected.  For no one in the orbit of my life deeply touches me.  My heart is not entangled with theirs.  Nor is anyone saddened to see me quietly walk away.  Assuming they see me at all.

 

Geese

I heard the geese this morning.  Flying high overhead, honking their way through the inky darkness.  Unseen.  They were traveling south to avoid the approaching winter.  Running ahead of the cold.

I heard the geese.  They spoke to me in many voices.  Spoke of things to come.  Of frigid winds and icy roads.  Of frozen ponds and gray, unforgiving skies.  Of hardship and struggle.  They jabbered about the beauty and warmth of the places where they would soon be living.  They were leaving me behind to fend for myself in impending gloom and bitter, merciless cold.    They were abandoning me to a land that was harsh and exacting.

They conversed easily, chatting among themselves excitedly.  Their destination offered them a warm and welcoming embrace.  A sanctuary.  They were journeying together.  Connected.  Caring for each other.  Sharing the burdens of a long, difficult flight.

I watched them wistfully.  Wishing I too had wings.  Wishing I could fly away with them.

I listened to them honk.  Searched the night sky in a vain attempt to catch a glimpse of them.  But they were high above the earth.  The night was in full bloom.  Clouds cast a gray shadow.  All too soon, their voices were lost to me.  No matter how I strained, they quickly left me behind in silence.

I live in an ever-present silence.  People come and go.  They have their plans, their dreams, their families. Destinations.  Connections.  I listen as they fly by, far out of reach.  Wishing I could join them.  Find sanctuary.  And warmth.

My life is a vast black sky.  A massive void.  Empty of all that matters.  Unwelcoming.  No one notices me.  I journey alone.  Going nowhere.

I heard the geese.  I heard them honking.  But they did not hear or see me.

 

Teacher, Teacher

My father was a teacher.

He first wanted to be a pastor, a revelation that was quite surprising, considering neither of my parents attended church and only spoke of God when they wanted to restrict my behavior or forbid me from participating in some activity.  Everything fun was a sin.  So, at best, I learned of a rejecting and small-minded God.

Drinking was a sin.  Getting drunk was a dire and unforgivable sin. Cursing was a sin.  Disobeying my parents was a sin.  Selfishness was a sin if I was guilty, but oddly enough, it wasn’t a sin when my parents were guilty. Lying, particularly to my parents, was a sin.  As was dancing, skating, smoking, going to movies, hanging out with friends.  Wanting cool clothes and caring about how one looked was also a sin…vanity.  Sin was not permitted.  It was very, very bad. God hated sinners.  He sent them to hell.  He only accepted the perfectly obedient.

Sex before marriage would send you to hell.  But somehow adultery never made the list, perhaps because it was my father’s specialty.  That and a few other sexual sins.

Considering these shaming conversations were the only ones “about” God that were heard in my house as I was growing up, the thought of my earthly father leading a church service was incongruous, to say the least.  Thankfully, the pastor gig didn’t pan out.  And when it fell apart, he moved toward what he considered to be the next best option.  He became a teacher.  Of 7th and 8th grade English.   And when he received his Master’s degree, he added Reading Specialist to his title.

This “next best” option still gave him power and access to fairly young children.

He was a Sergeant in the Air Force and for the rest of his life, everyone who knew him called him “Sarge.”  He earned the nickname.  Wore it with pride.  My father was a man who demanded absolute obedience.  Like God.

Though I am unsure of my age when he first started sexually abusing me (childhood trauma can play havoc with memory…and the soul), by the time I entered elementary school, I was already showing signs of long term abuse.  Torturing my dolls.  Sexual awareness far beyond what was normal for a 6-year-old.  Fear of adults.  Withdrawal.  I carried secrets no little girl should ever have to carry.

My father the teacher taught me many things.

He taught me to fear.  To disregard my own intuition and perceptions. To hate myself.  To despair.  To distrust.  To expect the bad.  For you could always depend on terrible things happening.

He taught me to disassociate.  To hurt.  Feel agony beyond what I could bear.  To hold in my tears, even as they ripped me into pieces.  To numb my emotions. To live in a vacuum void of any life-giving elements.

And he taught me about sex.  He told me he was doing it for my own good.  To help me.

My father the teacher was very, very helpful.  When he wanted something from me.

My greatest fear is that he also taught other little girls.  And if I had found my voice when he was alive, I might have been able to prevent him from taking on other “students.”

I pray I am wrong.  I pray I was the only one.  But the odds are against my prayer being answered.  I wonder often if the day will come when I encounter another child he personally tutored the way he groomed and tutored me.

He was such a “good” teacher, the lessons he taught me have been difficult to unlearn.  The numbness persists.  As does fear and despair.  My memory is full of black holes and brief flashes.  I cannot put the few memories I do have into any kind of order.  They pop into my head and play behind my eyes randomly, then fade away just as quickly.  I struggle to believe I have value unless I prove myself to be useful again and again.  I must earn the right to live and breathe, unsure I am even a person. I see my Heavenly Father through the same lens as I view my earthly father.  I fear Him as I feared him.  I don’t know how to trust Him, just as I knew I could not trust him.  I feel His rejection and displeasure just as I felt his rejection and displeasure.  I feel used by Him much in the same way I felt used by him.  My earthy father broke me, smashed me to pieces, shattered my soul.  My Heavenly Father allowed it…and He has not bothered to put me back together.

Could be the healing I have sought hasn’t come because of the lessons my father taught me.  Such a very “good” teacher.  I can’t seem to change the way I see my Father and I think this hinders me in my pursuit of wholeness.  Not only did my father shatter me with his lessons, he shattered my ability to trust the One who might be able to help me.

He stole my hope.  Derailed my future.  Defiled me.

The problem with being defiled is that I am the one who got dirty.  He walked away unscathed.  Unlabeled.   He got away without enduring a single consequence.

What he taught me did not help me.  It did not prepare me for life.  Instead, it crippled me.  His lessons have been something I must constantly struggle to overcome, not something I can build and stand upon.

But he taught me. Teacher, teacher.  He taught me lasting lessons.  Written indelibly on my heart.  Infused into every cell.   And I walk this dark and empty path he set before me though I have tried desperately to leave it behind.  I walk this torturous, desolate, poisoned path every single moment of each and every day.

I have been perfectly obedient.

 

Broken Body, Broken Mind

Broken bodies are easier to heal than broken minds.  For the most part.

There is a point of no return for both.  Obviously.

But bodies can be horribly broken, yet still heal.  Scars will write the painful story across once torn skin, once broken bones, once mangled ligaments.  But pushed too far, ripped too badly, the pieces can’t be knitted back together.  Loose too much blood, the heart will have nothing to pump.  Lungs will cease to infuse the cells with air. The brain will begin to die without oxygen.  Life will end.

Minds can be terribly broken and sometimes heal.  Sometimes.  But not as often.  Bones are programmed to repair.  From a molecular level, cells are programmed to rush to the sight of wounds like tiny nano-robots, providing whatever is needed to stop bleeding, fill in burnt and missing skin, seal over gouged, ravaged flesh.  Bodies are worth healing.  We will go to great expense and take incredible risks to get our bodies back to a functional state.  Billions of dollars are spent on researching ways to replace limbs, make people walk again, heal brain injuries, replace organs and create artificial skin.

Broken bodies are nothing to be ashamed of.  People may look the other direction because they are afraid if they look too closely, something similar might maim them.  They fear being mugged by fate or bad luck.  But the person isn’t blamed for their injuries or resulting struggle.  It is seen as something that happened to them, something hard to think about, but that certainly isn’t their fault.

But when what is broken isn’t related to the body…it’s a different story.

Broken things.  We throw them away.  We even get angry with them for letting us down.

We view broken things as being unworthy of repair.  Not worth the money.  Not worth the energy.  If our phone is damaged, we get a new one.  If our TV stops working, we head to best Buy or some other electronics store and pick up another.  If our computer crashed too many times, we replace it with the latest, greatest model.  The only things we fix are those big ticket items.  Cars.  Houses.  And even then, they reach a point when it isn’t worth it to us to shell out the funds to fix the damage.

The only things we try to repair, regardless of the damage, are bodies.  If we break a bone, we get it set by a doctor who has spent many years learning how to heal us.  If we have cancer, we undergo extensive treatment to destroy the cancerous cells or have an operation to remove the malignant tumor…or both.  If we are cut, we tend to the wound, be it a large gaping one that requires massive surgery to patch us back together or a minor cut that only needs to be cleaned and protected with a Band-Aid.  We disinfect and tend our wounds to create a healing environment.  We take heroic measures to restore badly damaged flesh.  Sometimes, we don’t know when to let go.

Like old appliances, we throw emotionally damaged people out with the trash.  They are nothing but a ripped shirt.  A broken calculator.  A microwave oven that no longer heats or defrosts.  If the wound is to the psyche, the person is discarded.  They are expected to repair themselves or stay out of sight.

The emotional wound may even have been obtained in an honorable pursuit.  Think of the war hero struggling with PTSD.  Had he lost his legs while serving his country, he would have been labeled a hero.  People would say it was tragic, but they wouldn’t have doubted he was a worthy warrior deserving of a medal; deserving of acceptance and assistance.  But since he “lost his mind”…and his direction…he is considered defective and deformed in a way that simply can’t be tolerated.

We will do what we can to heal the damaged body.  But we shame those who struggle with depression or any of the many other mental and emotional illnesses.  They are too heavy a burden.

I don’t understand this.  But I see it and feel it every single day.  If you have a mental illness, you are shamed into hiding it.  You are told not to talk about it, to snap out of it, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, to get on with your life and to stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Why, if the damage is physical, is it considered a disease or an injury?  Yet if the damage is emotional, it’s considered a defect.

Why is the physically damaged individual not required to hide their wounds, but the emotionally damaged is expected to function normally in spite of theirs?   We adapt the environment to the needs of the physically disabled, but we expect the emotionally disabled to think themselves into being another person altogether.  We expect them to walk without legs.

The abused and broken have had their brains turned into mush.  They suffered a debilitating wound that has changed them forever.  Are they worth less because it is their mind that is broken instead of their physical body?

Broken body.

Broken mind.

One we nurture and embrace.  The other, we shame.

Shame is a very heavy burden to carry alone.

 

 

Walking on My Hands

“Sometimes your world turns upside down and you need somebody to show you how to walk on your hands before you can find your feet again.”  Karin Slaughter

 

I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but it happened to me.  My world inverted in an instant.  “Normal” vanished in one startling moment.  I lost my balance in a frightening flash.  Was never able to regain my footing.  Never experienced solid ground beneath my feet at any time during the years that followed.  The rug was pulled out from under me, sending me cascading unceremoniously onto my butt.

People laughed.  No one reached out with a helping hand.  They turned away instead, chuckling to themselves about how odd I was.  How pathetic.  How lost.  How unworthy of attention.  Or love.

Being a bit of a klutz, walking on my hands didn’t come naturally.  And since I never found my feet again, I’ve spent years navigating life while trying to do handstands, to get up while falling, crawling, sometimes even rolling, but never gracefully moving forward nor even progressing clumsily in a straight line.  Progress has been haphazard.  I’ve half-cartwheeled, flinging my limbs in an uncoordinated spastic seizure in a terrifying attempt to find my way forward.  Out of the mess.  Back to land.  I’ve rolled backwards instead of forwards.  At best, I’ve done a bang-up impersonation of a drunk who is so far gone, they can no longer stand at all…but they keep trying.  It’s not the least bit pretty.  Only the very mean can enjoy watching.  Only they find something so pathetic to be entertaining.

I’m trying to find my feet again.  I’ve been trying to find my feet again since childhood.

Before my age had reached double-digits, the abuse was well underway.  My world was a place of darkness, terror, pain, rejection and chaos.  I never knew when the bottom would drop out.  But even at that young age, I knew it would.  Probably when I lest expected it.  Laughter turned to anguish with the flip of a switch.  Daylight to terrifying darkness in the blink of an eye.  Normal to abnormal in a breath.  Reality melted in an instant and revealed the horror hiding behind the gilded facade.  There was nothing to cling to.  Nothing to stand upon.  Life was a free-fall and there was no parachute.  You knew it wouldn’t end well.

I prayed for someone to save me.  Someone to see what was happening to me behind closed doors.  To see the truth that lay hidden behind the bright smiles plastered on my parent’s faces.  They were good monsters.  Good at disguising themselves.  At hiding in plain sight.  No one ever suspected.  Or if they did, they didn’t care enough to show me how to walk on my hands.  Certainly not enough to rescue me.  Thus, my ungraceful, ineffective efforts to keep going when I couldn’t do anything more than tremble and watch in dread.  Limbs numb and asleep.  Frozen by panic and shock.

I needed someone to see.  To realize my world had been turned upside down and to show me how to walk on my hands until I could finally find my feet.  But I was alone in the nightmare.  Alone in my struggle.  Alone, without air to breathe.  A horrid earthquake was rumbling wildly beneath me, throwing me here and there and upside down again and again and again until I was too dizzy to take a single faltering step.

The earth yet trembles.  Not as crazily now as it did then.  But I am still dizzy.  I still cannot find my feet.  I stagger on my knee, my palm, one shoulder to the ground, trying to find stability.  Trying to turn the world back over.  To right it. To make sense of the senseless.

To no avail.

How can one make sense out of a father who sexually abuses his pre-school, elementary school, middle school aged daughter?  How do you make sense out of parents who strike their child with fists and slaps that knock them to the ground or into the wall across the room?  How do you make sense of parent’s words telling that child they are a disappointment, are letting them down, are a failure, could do better, had better do better? That they are too much trouble, cost too much money, are supposed to make them happy and make their life better, were born to fulfill them, to meet their every need.  How do you make sense of any of it, especially when they tell you this is love?

When your world turns upside down, when your toes can no longer find even a small patch of shifting sand on which to stand, you’re going to go down.

Whether you ever get up again depends on whether anyone notices your fall.  Whether they think you’re worth the time.  The time to show you how to get through the earthquake; to survive until the ground stops shaking.  It depends on whether anyone reaches out a hand to steady you. Whether they believe in you.  Believe you have value.  Believe you matter, even if you’re shaking and can’t stand.  If they show you how to brace yourself with your hands until you can get back up on your feet, your chances are good.  You’ll likely walk again.

But if you are forced to stumble alone, to roll, crash, crawl and careen forward on your own, especially if you are shamed because you can’t find your feet and move like you are inebriated, you may never again find solid ground.  You may never walk another step.

And the shame will make sure you stay down…down where you belong.  Down below eye level, so others are not continually confronted by your hideous, disturbing spasms.  Down and out of sight, so you won’t be a bother.  So you won’t disturb.  So the rest of the world won’t have to acknowledge that monsters roam the earth wearing masks, holding down good jobs and covered in nice clothing.  And that the damage they do to their child may be irreparable.

Sleeping With Dogs

I have two of them. Two dogs.  Miniature Schnauzers, both.  Salt and pepper.  They came from the same breeder, though from different lines and they are the reason I get up every morning.  Really, really early.  Every single morning.

I am connected to them in ways I cannot explain; in ways I cannot connect with human beings.  They have a very special place deep within my heart.  One of them actually sleeps over my heart with her head resting on my neck, her nose tucked behind my ear.  The other sleeps nestled tightly to my side, her head laying on my stomach.  I love them so much, it hurts.

They adore me.  They furiously wiggle their butts and cropped little tails, jumping with unconstrained excitement when I come home from work.  They are a bright light in my dark and lonely world.  My reason for being. Their pint-sized hearts pump pure love into my life.  They make me laugh.  They give me a reason to smile.

Yet, it baffles me, this connection I have with them, these furry, four-legged, wonderful little creatures.  I am baffled by this meaningful bond that I can’t seem to forge with even one person who populates this planet.  It comes so naturally with them.  Why with dogs, but not people?  It baffles me mightily.

The oldest just turned 11.  The younger will be 6 in January.  Every second I have with them is becoming more and more precious.  I am aware time is running out.  That there will come a day when they no longer greet me at the door, wiggling furiously with joy.  And when their light goes out, my world will be far darker and fearfully empty.  My eyes will be filled with tears when my sweet girls no longer fill my heart with laughter.

I hold their warm bodies, count their soft breaths, feel their hearts  as they steadily beat next to mine.  It amazes me that they are autonomous, perfectly formed beings who carry within them the breath of life.  Their brains think independently.  They have their own unique personalities.  Their distinct likes, dislikes, quirks, needs and funny little ways of doing things.  I am overwhelmed by the miracle of them.  I am amazed at their innocence and vulnerability.  They are all in.  They are all mine.  And I am theirs.

I sleep with dogs.  Every night.  I hold them gently in my arms and in my heart.  I would rather die than hurt them.  I would do anything to protect them.

I would like to have a deep and strong connection with a human being.  A connection at least as deep and meaningful as the one I have with my four-legged children.  Not instead of the connection I have with my furry girls.  But along with, as well as, in addition to.  I want the other side of the bed to be used.  I want to listen to a person breathe as they lay beside me.  Feel their heart beat next to mine.  Marvel at their distinct personality and the miracle that makes them who they are.  Feel their breath on my cheek.  Sleep cuddled in their arms.  I want to belong by their side.  In their soul.

I long for someone to be delighted to see me when I come home.  And to be sorry to see me go.

I haven’t many more years with my oldest.  It terrifies me…the thought of her leaving.  There isn’t a thing I can do to avoid what is coming.  Dogs don’t live that long.  We are forced to let them go far too soon.  Even the younger one will be gone in the blink of an eye.

But when the eldest leaves me behind, I will have loved her well and hard and fully.  I will have known her, every odd little quirk.  All the contours of her soft, sturdy body.  I will have held her, physically and with every fiber of my mind and being, enjoyed her, cared for her, been bound to her.  She will always be a part of me.  She has given me a treasure that I will hold tight and never let go, no matter how many years pass after she is no longer lying faithfully beside me each night.  She will break my heart, even as she fills it.  I will never stop loving her.

I listen to them both snore softly as they rest upon me.  They trust me.  They know I will watch over them.  They know we are connected.  They are peaceful, without fear, because they are safe in my embrace.  We are content together.  We can plunge into deep slumber without distress or worry when we are snuggled together as one.

I sleep with dogs.  I bond with them.  I connect with them though I can’t connect with humans.  I am a stranger among my own species.  With those who are my kind.  But here, with my dogs, with their soft bodies cuddling mine, I am home.  And though I ache for want of more, I am eternally grateful to be the one who gets to hold their soft little paws in my hand as they warm me during the long, solitary nights.

 

No Sanctuary

Years ago, I watched a movie called “Logan’s Run.” The message continues to cause a significant amount of introspection and reflection.
I like science fiction and the movie falls into this category.   It has been years since I watched it, but the way I remember the plot, a remnant of civilization exists in a utopian society within a massive dome.  Their enclosed world is experiencing a terrible shortage of food and what is left to them of the planet can no longer sustain life long term.  For this reason, the computer that controls their lives has everyone fitted with a computerized clock to monitor their age.  A police-like military group oversees the city where these people live, enforcing the computer’s rulesand demands.  When a person’s life-clock reaches 30, they are taken to a large chamber where they undergo a ritual called “Carousel.”  During this ritual, they begin to float upward and disappear upon reaching the top of the chamber.  Everyone is told these people are being reincarnated and that they will never have to grow old.  The citizens are told they will all be renewed in this manner when their life-clock runs out. 
What the average citizen doesn’t know is that everyone who reaches 30 is being killed in the rooms above the chamber and their remains are being converted into food.  And this is the food that is being supplied to the remaining people within the dome.  It is keeping them alive.
Logan is one of the soldiers who keeps order in the city and who has terminated those who have tried to escape this fate.  To force him to go on a secret mission, his life-clock is moved forward from age 28 to 30 by the computer.  And he will be required to participate in Carousel with a group of suspected rebels who form a secret society.  They are being monitored and are expected to attempt to escape, as more than 1000 have reportedly successfully done over the years.  This group wears a symbol to identify them and some have been overheard talking about a place called “Sanctuary.”  They are planning to try to find this place of purported safety.  For they do not believe in the ritual of renewal and rebirth.  They are certain they will not be reincarnated, but will instead be destroyed.  So, they are going to run and Logan is to run with them.  Hence the title, Logan’s Run. 
Logan is to go with the group as they attempt to find the mythical Sanctuary. Once found, he is to report back and provide the computer with the location so their rebel fortress can be destroyed.
During his “run,” Logan learns the truth.  He sees what is happening to the people who reach age 30 and who are swept aloft in the massive chamber during the ritual.  Clever propaganda has been used to hide what is being done, but Logan now sees proof that it is nothing but terrible lies.  He realizes everyone is being killed, their remains processed and stored to provide sustenance to the remaining residents.   Disillusioned, frightened, his escape becomes much more than an undercover mission he was forced to accept.  It is now a genuine attempt to flee with the group of rebels upon which he is supposed to spy. 
What he discovers outside the dome is deeply surprising.  In unexpected ways.
Eventually, as he returns to let others know about his startling discoveries, he is recaptured by a fellow “sandman.”  His fellow soldiers, who have become his enemies.  They hook him up to the massive computer that runs all life within the dome and maintains compliance, balance and order.   He is interrogated.  They show him no mercy.  They spare him no pain. 
He is asked if he has completed his mission.  Then the question, “What is Sanctuary?”   Logan responds honestly.  Without deceit.  He has discovered the truth while outside the dome.
“There is no Sanctuary.” 
The answer is unacceptable, so the computer asks again.  Again, Logan responds, “There is no Sanctuary.” 
Again.  “There is no Sanctuary.” 
Yet again, and again, and again, the computer prods.  Logan can only tell the truth.  He can only report what he has come to know…there is life outside the dome, but there is no Sanctuary.  And this response, given while he is tortured, is the computer’s undoing.  It can’t process what it is being told.  Things begin to come unraveled within its circuitry.  Within the dome.  Things stop working.  Vital processes cease.  Things explode.  Seals release.  Cracks eventually develop in thick walls and finally the dome is split apart and crumbles.  Their world is forever altered as life within the confines of that sphere fail and come to a catastrophic end.  Because there is no Sanctuary.
I think I have finally learned this lesson.  And it’s a hard lesson. Not that there is no sanctuary, specifically.  But there is no place of being okay.  No safe haven.  No space where healing is accomplished.  Where all the wounds of the past are finally made well and health is restored.  Where things are put right.  Where the chains that bind are broken and one is set free.  There is no Sanctuary.  No magical spot or time where wrongs are righted and happy endings begin.  Not on earth, anyway.
Life is hard.  It does things to you.  It is harder for some than for others. 
My life has been a hard one.  Abuse…physical, emotional, sexual…riddled my childhood.  I didn’t learn many of the foundational lessons that others learn, so things that come easily to others are very difficult for me.  And the damage that was done to me at an early age goes deep.  It messed me up.  Changed me forever.
No one gets through this journey unscathed.  Or at least most don’t.  We are all walking wounded.  Some of our wounds are ghastly.  Others are relatively minor.  But we all get hurt.  There is no Sanctuary.  No safety.  No place of freedom.  No guarantees.
And once the damage has been done, nothing is going to undo it.
Looking back, it seems so simple.  There is no sanctuary.  There is no healing.  We are left with a cracked, demolished life that will never be what it could have been.  All we can hope to do is go from where we are and learn to live outside the dome.
It’s taken me a lifetime to realize I have spent years seeking something that doesn’t exist.  It’s terrifying to suddenly comprehend that life, the way it is, is what it is and that this is all it will ever be.  It isn’t going to get better.  There will be no sanctuary.  There is no better place, no better day, no moment of freedom, no time of healing. No putting the pieces back together.  No restoration.
I am what my life, what those who raised me, made me and there is to be no unmaking.  The damage resides within my cells.  It’s part of me.  I can only try my best to go on from here as I am.  There is no Sanctuary.  And finding meaning in this wild, terrifying world, a world where we grow old and are not renewed or restored, is no easy journey.

Dominoes

Time.  It takes so much time.  To lay them out.  The intricate design.  The perfect spacing.  Tedious work, to accomplish the plan.  To achieve the desired outcome.

One tile at a time, placed with purpose.  Adjusted.  Adjusted again.  A slight nudge to the right.  Move them closer together here and there.  There is a goal.  A dream.  A whisper of a hope that it will all be worth it in the end.  And that things will work out.

Placing dominoes.  Measuring carefully.  To make it happen.  My plan.

By the time I am 30, I will have done…  I will have been…

In my next job, I will be…  I will make…

By the time I’m 45, I will have…  I will know…

I placed my dominoes precisely.  I believed.  I believed in carefully laid plans.  Dominoes that would fall the way they should.  All lined up, ready, in perfect rows that formed a precise, exquisite pattern.  I believed the preparation and hard work would bring about desired results.  And the future would be different, very different, from the past.

When I hit 30, I still hadn’t done.  I still hadn’t been.

My next job wasn’t.  I still don’t know.  I never have made.  And I don’t have.

The first domino fell.  The next two dropped as planned.  I survived.  I escaped.

But the fourth one…it didn’t go so well.  Healing from the devastating abuse of my childhood didn’t happen.  Which meant the fifth didn’t work out as planned either.  It fell in the wrong direction altogether.  Finding love?  Not in the dominoes.

By then, all the frantic adjustments in the world couldn’t save me.  Couldn’t turn things around.  Dominoes falling all over the place.  The design forever ruined.  The plan in shambles.

Once the first domino fell, the second, the third, once they missed the next planned target, failing to knock down critical tiles, skipping key turns, it was over.  Before it began.  Everything fell apart.  No order.  Doomed before the first tile tipped and dropped, in spite of how meticulously they had been laid out.

I tried to change the pattern that was set in motion when I was born into a family led by parents who were mentally ill, narcissistic and abusive.  I tried.  But the pattern couldn’t be broken.  It couldn’t be altered.  The dominoes fell and collapsed and crashed in chaotic frenzy.

Dominoes.  Scattered everywhere.  Strewn across the floor.  The pattern ruined.  Wrecked.  Nothing to do but start over.  And it’s too late to start over.

Dreams.  Lost and shattered.  In shambles, laying at my feet.  Destroyed.

Out of options.

The thing about life…you only get one chance.  If you crash and burn, if the dominoes don’t fall the way you expected, the way you need them to fall, there are no do-overs.  What’s done is done.

I stand, defeated, and view the ruins.  There is nothing left to do.  This mess is all that remains of my labor.  Of my hopes.  Random dominoes without meaning.  Life without meaning.  What was set in motion at birth could not be changed.  Chaos prevailed.    As tends to happen when something goes awry the moment the first domino tilts, wobbles and erratically falls.

Pivotal Moments

Pivotal moments.  They don’t announce themselves.  Most of the time they are gone in virtually the same second you become conscious of them.  Precisely when you become aware of the fact they hold extraordinary significance.  Every life holds a few  “lightning bolt” revelations; some experience more than others.  It is only in looking back we are allowed to see their weight, importance, impact.  Only when looking back do we see them for what they truly are.

Game changers.

The first time I can remember my father sexually abusing me.  Not the first time he actually did sexually abuse me.  That, I don’t remember.  I was too young to process what was happening, so I turned it all into a weird fantasy. Wrapped it in a blanket to hide it from sight.  To mask it.  Because I was too little to comprehend.  But as I grew older, hiding it didn’t work.  Making it into something different altogether became impossible. The first time I remember, really remember, when the band-aid was ripped off and I saw what he was doing for what it was, time stood still.

The moment when I grasped it was over.  That he was done with me sexually.  I was 14.  I walked from my bedroom into the living room and noticed specks of dust dancing in the air in the sunbeams shining through the glass window of the front door.  I stopped.  Suddenly unable to walk.  Or move.  Watched the particles rise and fall in the dappled light.  And just like that, I knew.  I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.   And I took my first breath of air in years.

Standing on the edge of the playground in 6th grade, watching all the other children laugh and play, running and chasing each other, swinging, playing on the merry-go-round while I stood to the side, taking it all in.  In a panic. Desperately trying to figure out what had caused the world I had known to completely change.  Overnight. What had turned the familiar into something foreign and terrifying and unrecognizable.

Realizing in my late 30’s…it wasn’t the world that changed.  It was me.  I had been changed.  Forever altered by abuse.  Unable to ever see life in the way I had only seconds before.  I had been tainted.  Shattered.

Falling in love and getting married.  Finally, a dream come true, or so I thought.  Briefly.

Two weeks later, newly married, driving to the city where my husband grew up with all of our worldly possessions, abruptly and unexpectedly realizing he regretted having married me. Didn’t love me and never had.  Destroyed because I was unwanted and not cherished.  I had been judged, found to be defective and rejected yet again.   He was ashamed to introduce me to his friends.  He was ashamed of me and didn’t want to take me “home.”

At 14, in Civics class, learning about the dangers of drug abuse, but seeing them as a way to survive the nightmare of my home life.  Maybe the only way.  A way to survive the abuse.  A way to run away without running away.  A way to numb the raw pain and agony.

Meeting God for the first time at age 23.  Everything changed.   Me included.  Yet, too many things stayed the same, even as the world shifted and morphed.

The time I begged my husband to be patient with me and asked him to give me a little time to recover when the hurt that was stored in my soul beat me down and chewed me up. I knew I was a mess and I was trying to fix myself, but it was hard.  I begged.  Only to be told he didn’t want to hear anything about my thoughts or feelings.  Only to be told to keep it to myself.  That he didn’t want to be bothered.  And the way he turned from me in disgust.  We had been married less than a year and his rejection broke something deep within me.  Drove the pain even further inward.

Graduating from high school.  Realizing I made it.  I survived.  And two weeks later, diploma in hand I left my parents behind.

When I started counseling, so full of hope.

When I finally gave up on counseling.  After 13 years of arduous work.  Still damaged.  Still wounded.  Unhealed.

When I tried to kill myself.  And failed, even at that.

When my husband left me for another woman. A woman I had called “friend.”  The man I had given my heart to.  Left it laying, vulnerable before him, even though he didn’t want anything to do with me.  The man I believed I would grow old with.  A marriage forever lost, though I had prayed, waiting for a miracle.  Waiting for him to see me.  To want me.  The man who walked away because he didn’t love me.  Because he didn’t believe in miracles.  Or wanted no part of a miracle that involved me.

When I lost my job.  Having no other income.  Having no one to turn to.  No options.

When I lost my home.  My dream home.

When I was forced to move back to the place where I grew up.  A place I hated, filled with horrible memories that ambushed me at every turn.

There are more.  Moments when the fabric of my world was ripped apart, cast aside, trampled.  Those times when I shattered, despite my frantic effort to hold all the pieces together.  Times that mortally wounded me, altered me, left me for dead.

Pivotal moments.  When everything shifted. When the ground gave way and I fell into a black hole.  Moments when time stood still, freezing me, trapping me, gutting me.  When the impact went extra deep and hit extra hard.  Changing me forever.

When time moved forward once again, I was no longer who I had been.  In each instance, something precious was lost.  Some important piece of me became extinct.  ‘Til only the fossil of a life that once was remained, buried under layers of dirt and anguish.

When nothing goes as planned.  When the paradigm shifts.  And you can never see the universe in the same way ever again.  No matter how hard you squint.  No matter how strong your glasses…or your desire…or your denial.   Moments that change the picture the puzzle would have made.  Equilibrium lost, the fall is hard and harsh and hurtful.  Nothing is as it seems. Nor will it ever be.

Pivotal moments.  When silence embraces you, then chucks  you down the rabbit hole.  When emptiness slaps you into unconsciousness.  Isolation mocks you.  For all that was is no more and all that might have been will never be.  All you knew and experienced as reality has vanished into the air.  And what you see before you, your “new” truth, is tinged with insanity.  Those crazy moments. They take your breath away.  Holding the pillow tight over your face until your heart, mercifully, stops beating.

The World Through My Eyes