The 2nd Floor

I never had children.  There was a time I wanted one; maybe two.  Girls.  Once upon a time, I even picked out their names.  But the desire passed before I graduated from high school, attributable to reading a book or two that supposedly documented a cycle of abuse.  Asserted that those who are abused as children will, in turn, abuse their own children.  Though I didn’t believe I would ever be capable of hurting an innocent child, especially my own, I decided I couldn’t take the chance.  I didn’t want anyone to suffer the way I had suffered, particularly at the hand of a parent who was supposed to protect them.  My hand.  So, I set that daydream aside, swallowed the pain and disappointment and decided I would never give birth or parent a little one.  

The years flew by.  And then one fall, I received the results of my annual exam.  My PAP was abnormal.  Further testing indicated my cervix was covered with severe dysplasia.  Abnormal cells.  Pre-cancerous.   My doctor recommended an immediate hysterectomy.  I was concerned about the time I would have to miss from work…a job I had just gotten not quite a year before.  My boss was not sympathetic to my situation.  He seemed to delight in pressuring me to “earn my keep.” To contribute more than the men who reported to him. I, a mere woman, was expected to work longer and harder to prove my worth.  That meant forgoing necessary medical treatment if I wanted to keep my job.  But the doctor insisted.  They said my only option was to have the hysterectomy immediately because the cells were quickly progressing and nearing a cancerous state.  

Even then, immediately didn’t quite work for me. Feeling the need to do my duty, I put it off for a few months, mainly trying to get through the holidays.  I wanted to find a time that would be more convenient for my staff and for friends who would be helping me out afterwards.  I made it until February.  My doctor pestered me, strongly insisting that I was putting myself in danger.  Telling me I couldn’t wait any longer, no matter what.  

And so, it was arranged.  Two weeks later, a friend took me to the hospital early in the morning and I was prepped for surgery.   She graciously opted to stay with me, waiting in my room to watch over me as I slept and woke repetitively from my morphine-induced haze that first day.   

I was touched.  It turned out to be a more emotional experience than I had anticipated. 

You see, my room was on the 2nd floor.  They asked me if I would mind if they put me in a room on that particular floor before the surgery and I had agreed to their request.  I didn’t think it would matter.  Didn’t think it would be a big deal.  But as it turned out, it was harder than I thought. 

The 2nd floor was the maternity floor.  I had never been in the maternity ward before.  My first stay in this particular area of the hospital was not to give birth, but to have all that baby-making equipment removed.  And surprisingly, it hurt.  Even though I had set aside that dream many years before.

I was old enough by the time I made it to the 2nd floor, no one should have supposed I was there to have a baby.  But the young man who wheeled me down to my friend’s car upon my release from the hospital said, “Just you?  You’re not leaving with anyone?”  And he sounded rather sad.  I wanted to laugh…I mean, I WAS far too old.  But for some reason, I also wanted to cry.   

I told him, “Yes.  Just me.”  Not leaving with anyone.  No new little life.  Never did that.  Never had that experience.  Never will.  

Didn’t even have a husband to pull the car around and help me into the passenger seat.

As I said, it was mostly by choice…never having a baby.  I was so afraid of damaging a child.  I read too many books, research papers and articles about abused people abusing.  I would prefer not to risk it…it was too big of a chance to take.  So, even though I felt strongly and would rather die than abuse an innocent little one, I chose the safest path.  I was concerned the brokenness of my soul and all the things that were missing in me would create lasting problems for a tiny little being left in my care.  It was better avoid the risk.  So, I remained childless. And now it was far, far too late to change my mind. 

Sometimes it still hurts a lot.  Sometimes I feel good about the decision I made.  More often than not, I believe I did the right thing in sacrificing my own selfish desire.  Most of the time, I only experience a dull ache and the regret is bearable.  

My stay on the 2nd floor was short.  I was only in the hospital for a total of 32 hours.  The room they gave me was toward the end of the floor and there weren’t any others in my “pod.”  I think they did this on purpose, so I wouldn’t be near the nursery or the new mothers.  Near those who had just given birth.  I didn’t see a single other patient during the mandatory walks I made after my hysterectomy.  But I didn’t venture too far down the hall either.  I walked in a circle around my lonely little pod.  I didn’t want to see.  I didn’t want to encounter a tiny new life, a beaming new mom, a proud new father. Hearing the muted cries from the other end of the floor was surprisingly heartbreaking.   

Sometimes, when I think back on that experience, I am suddenly flooded with regret and sadness.  There is a wistfulness that comes over me.  A horrible emptiness.  As much as I was willing to sacrifice to ensure I never hurt a child, I can’t help but wonder.  Might I have been a reasonably decent parent if I had really tried? Reached out for help?  Did I give up my dream too easily?  Was it wisdom or overkill? 

Now that I am approaching old age, now that I am totally alone, I realize it would be comforting to know a little piece of me would live on in a child.  That through them, a particle of my soul might go forward into some distant future.  That perhaps I could have even given them the love I never received myself.  And given them the ability to trust, to believe, to feel, to hope, to dream.   

It would be comforting to think someone would be there to see me off when I arrived at my last day of life.  But these are selfish thoughts.  And I have always fought to avoid selfishness. 

There is no rewind button.  No going back.  No do-overs.  The choices made are written in stone.  The story of our life, once lived, can’t be rewritten or revised.   What is done is done.  

And so, my one and only stay on the maternity floor of the hospital was to recover from a hysterectomy.  Highlighting everything I had lost.  And the losses were massive and deeply painful.  I lost the chance to live for someone else.  To be needed in that special way a child needs a parent.  To heal.  To know joy and connection.  I lost so much more than my ovaries, uterus and cervix.  So very much more. 

I can never go back and take a different path.  I will have no opportunity to repair all that was broken inside of me.  All that is sick or was eaten away.  No chance to repair all that was taken from me.  I can never start fresh.  That time has come and gone.  I left important pieces of myself behind on the 2nd floor.  They rolled me out in the wheelchair, gutted and alone.  In more ways than one.  

Kilroy Was Here

The war in which I fought, the war that left its indelible mark on me, was not a major battle lauded by historians as a great victory or a lesson learned.  It was not researched after the fact, analyzed, viewed from various interesting angles and dissected by great minds with the intent of culling any worthwhile data it might provide.  Nor was it documented with video equipment and reenacted, or detailed in studious dissertations.  It was not noted at all, in fact, by any person alive on planet earth, either during or after the terrible war had essentially ended.  It is actually only briefly noted within a massive list of words and definitions by a single two-syllable word that resides in Webster’s Dictionary.  Just one word to explain the hideous events that changed my world forever.  That annihilated me, though I fought for survival ever so gallantly.  One word.

Incest.

The battle was fought in my own home behind doors that were kept locked with the intent of keeping the boogieman safely outside.  But the boogieman was a resident of the house where I grew up.  He built it.  The locks were pathetically ineffective.  The fox was guarding the hen house.

I had to maintain the highest level of invisibility achievable by a child who was terrified of those who gave her life, only to metaphorically take it away.  I could not draw my name upon the wall to mark my passing.  To commemorate how I had fought and suffered.  No “Kilroy Was Here” left on a board or stone to prove I had been, though I was no more.

I cloaked myself in darkness, but again and again, the darkness betrayed me.  For it did not hide me from my father who quietly sneaked into my room at night and took what he wanted from me, leaving little behind.  It did not soften the impact of being raped, abused and used.  It did not shield me from his warped lust.

I could not leave a mark as a witness of what I suffered at their hands as they used me to satisfy their whims or to release their raging anger.  I could not speak of the atrocities.  Nor memorialize the tragedy.  No one knew of the war in which I so desperately struggled and fought.  I could not tell them.  I was a prisoner of an unknown and unacknowledged war.  People do not want to hear, they do not want to know the ugly truth of the torture such prisoners endure.  Even when the war is supported, they turn their head and shut their eyes.

“Kilroy Was Here” was a proclamation.  It was created as a visual symbol to commemorate the GI’s presence.  He left it behind as a sign for those who would come after.  To let them know he had been where they are now…and had lived to tell.

I have no clever graphic.  I have only words.  I leave them strewn here on this screen for those who will come after me.  And sadly, there will be many more who come after.  More broken souls who start their life wounded by those who were supposed to die protecting them.  Staggering under the weight of every form of child abuse.  And like any soldier who endures and fights in horrendous conditions while attempting to survive the unrelenting attacks of a deadly, disguised, fanatic enemy, we are each one forever changed by what we have endured.

We may survive, but we don’t get out alive.

 

When the Bough Breaks

“Rock-a-by baby
On the tree top,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.”

The wind blew.  It started blowing before I was born.  A cold, harsh, unforgiving wind.  Destructive.  It blew. Relentlessly.  Every day.  Without ceasing.  My parents were driven by it; directionless without it.  And the first air to fill my lungs as I cried out after birth was that of the powerful wind that haunted me and cut a vicious path through my entire life.

The wind blew without ceasing.

My cradle rocked.  Wildly.  Brutally.  And the bough broke.  Time and time and time again.

Who takes a baby up to the top of the tree, only to let them fall?

The wind whipped up emotional storms.  Violent fights between my parents.  Hitting.  Slapping.  Throwing.  Leaving.  And when I tried to intervene as a tiny child, the hits and slaps landed on me.  After the storm, when they had both walked out, I held my younger brother, told him everything would be okay and cleaned up the mess.  Picked up the tossed dishes (melamine doesn’t break), the silverware that was strewn across the kitchen and small living room of the trailer where we lived.  Gathered the scattered clothing.  Did what I could to fix the unfix-able.  Did what I could to survive the fall.

Sometimes, the storm hit me full force.  There was nothing to hold on to but the ferocious wind that tossed me to the earth, broken and bloody.  No shelter.  No way to escape.  Couldn’t put the pieces back together.  The bough broke.  I fell.  Hard.

The wind blew in the abuse.  Abuse of every kind, shape and color.  It howled and danced in frenzied glee at the havoc it wreaked.  This is what the wind does.  It tears apart.  It shakes everything that can be shaken.  It destroys anything that can be destroyed.

I was vulnerable.  A child.  I was easy to take down and rip apart.  Easy to destroy.

I lived in the wind, slammed down to the ground, tossed like a weightless feather.  Watching the earth fall out from under me.  Watching my world disintegrate as we smashed to the ground once again.  Standing against the ferocious gale was impossible.  Walking in it took every bit of strength I could muster.  There was no keeping my balance.  Up was down and down was sideways.  The debris crashed into me as I crashed into it.  The tempest never died down.  Never grew tired or lessened in force.  Never lost interest in breaking the bough I clung to with tenacity, even as it was ripped out of my hand.

When the bough breaks, you fall.  You fall through empty air.  And you know it’s going to hurt when you hit the ground.  There is nothing to soften the blow.

When a child is born into the arms of the wind of chaos, even when you run, there is no escape.  It’s within you.  You can’t get away from yourself.

I tried.  I ran when I was 17.  The squall chased me.  I thought getting out of the cradle my parents created, that cradle into which I was born, I oh-so-stupidly thought it would change everything.  But I had been changed by the wind.  I was powerless against it.  When I ran, I took that sadistic wind with me.  It had become a part of the very fabric of my being.

It has been with me every day since birth.  Endlessly raging.

The storm is in me.  And when the wind blows, I break.  Everything I cling to is ripped away.  I fall to the earth, screaming silently in the wind as it rips my breath from my lungs, howling in delight at my  raw, ferocious pain and unending agony.

The Wonder Years

I missed them.  The “Wonder Years.”  The years of innocent, frivolous childhood.  The carefree days.  Believing in goodness and happy endings.  The time before fear.  The time before enlightenment.  Before darkness.

There is pain even then.  And though it seems big and awful, aging provides us with a perspective that allows us to see how trivial were our worries and betrayals.  A best friend plays with an “enemy.”  Someone we have a crush on develops a crush on someone else.  The popular kids seem to have it all together and they always appear to win.  But things are not as they appear.  We are learning life lessons as we play out our dramas on a small screen in our small, but expanding world.  The Wonder Years don’t require those massive, life-changing consequences.  Everything is softer.   We take small steps.  Eat small bites.  Figure things out slowly.  But without the weight of concern.  Without crushing responsibility.  Our course is still pliable.  Anything can happen.  And whatever happens…we believe it will be good.  We believe our course will eventually lead us to the pot of gold.

I missed it…that time of magic and excitement others experienced routinely.  That time before intimately comprehending the dark side of life.  I was born on the dark side.  I lived there.  Knew the streets.  The shadows.  I grew up under the curse.

It is not a place of security or wholesomeness.  Or beauty.

I watched classmates with parents who adored and encouraged them.  I saw the nurturing they received.  The attention.  The care.  And it baffled me.  I saw them make mistakes, yet survive.  They were not beaten or reduced to nothingness for taking a wrong step.  They were not made to pay with their soul.  Maybe with their allowance.  But the mistakes they made didn’t mean they WERE a mistake.  They cried their tears, dried their eyes and laughed again as their parents lovingly watched over them.

I learned very early that those wonder years were just a facade.  A fantasy.  I peeled away the tissue, but there was no gift within the wrapping.   I saw behind the curtain.   And there were monsters there.

I was tightly swathed in darkness and rejection.  I was surrounded by abuse of every kind that came from every direction and I had nowhere to run nor any way of escape.  I walked through the day quiet as a mouse, hiding and running from those who gave me physical life.  Avoiding contact, for they were the ones who sucked dry my emotional and mental life while draining the hope and innocence right out of me.   I lived in fear of things that went bump in the night because in my house, those monsters were real, alive and hungry. They ate my heart and soul and enjoyed the meal.  In my house, the worst did happen.  And in my house, I bore all the blame.  All the responsibility.  The emptiness and dysfunction was somehow my fault because I could never fill them up.

I didn’t feel cherished or wanted.  I never recall a time when I was without heavy weights on my shoulders.  There are no memories of feeling light and unburdened.  Free and unrestricted and alive.  I died young, there alone in the terrible darkness.  Old beyond my years.  Broken before I even got a chance to take my first faltering steps.  Never flying.

I missed the Wonder Years, though I longed for that feeling of lightness and joy.  I wanted to taste it.  I wanted to soar…just for a little while.  To feel weightless and safe and ecstatic simply to be alive with the sunshine warming my head while the wind carried me.

But once you have lost your innocence, once you have had your trust ripped violently away, once you have been violated, there is no turning back the page.  No going backward in time.  Once you have had a bite from the apple, a new, horrible reality is revealed.  Once you have been thrust into the unending darkness and seen the face of evil, the only wonder you know is that of wondering if you will survive.

And mostly, you don’t.  Because life without wonder is just marking time.

 

Solitaire

One place starts to look like all the others I have been
There’s another lonely face painted up to make the scene
Hollow laughter fills the air
Hiding hungry hearts too weak to care
It’s a shallow little game called solitaire

Ice cubes clink in glasses as thoughts click behind eyes
Making empty passes; telling empty lies
Lips mouth insincere words while saying all the proper verbs
With smiles frozen in place, the patterns never swerve

We wear the masks
until we think
it’s who we really are
and no one asks what lies behind
they would have to reach too far

We’re islands connected
only by surrounding air
locked in isolation
playing solitaire

The conversations float off into meaningless sound
The rules strictly in force, we pretend it’s all profound
I stand detached and watch the play
with its subtle moves that don’t betray
how high the stakes, what a toll it takes to play solitaire

I’ve seen it all before and it’s a game no one can win
Keeps us on hold, posed like a store-front mannequin
We become so good at playing roles, never realize we’ve sold our souls
Survival builds a strong and mighty barrier

We wear the masks
until we think
they’re who we really are
and no one asks
what lies behind
they would have to reach too far

We’re islands connected
only by surrounding air
our lives locked in isolation
playing solitaire

Locked in isolation
playing solitaire

 

 

Wishing on Dying Stars

“I wish I may

I wish I might…”

Do you remember?  The days of possibilities.  As a child, standing in the darkness beneath a star-strewn sky.  Wishing wishes, believing with all of your heart those wishes would come true.  No doubts.  No anxiety.  Just an unshakable knowing that the impossible is possible; inevitable.  Dancing beneath the moon.  Believing in dreams.  Believing in tomorrow.  Feeling the magic.  Touched by the mysterious force of innocence.

Gazing upward, making wishes on dying stars.

The sky seems limitless.  Surely anything can happen.  Everything will happen.  The beauty of those sparkling, twinkling dots of light, visible from so far away, captivates the imagination and fuels the fire.  The air is alive, filled with the sweet perfume of hope.

No need to worry.  Cup the moment in your hands and drink deeply.  The night is enchanted.  Hold it tight.  Do not let it go.

We wish upon those twinkling stars as they shoot across the deep velvet dark of night.  Never stopping to think that we have handed our dreams to a star that is dying.  Falling from the sky.  Its light, in one last spectacular explosion, forever extinguished.

We hold our breath, guided by foolish sentiment and release our most sacred desires into the opaque darkness.  We see through our imagination.  And trust what is vanishing right before our eyes.

We watch the star as it streaks across the sky, believing it has heard, that it carries our wish and hurries to fulfill the desires we have whispered as it falls.

“When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true…”

And so the story goes.  And so our silly heart believes. We wish upon a shooting star and close our eyes in anticipation of the mystical powers that will make all our wishes come true.

Believing a dying star will somehow fill us with light and life.  And guide us to contentment.

But dying stars do not grant wishes.  Nor do they cast enchanting magic spells or foretell the fulfillment of our deepest dreams.  We wish and wait for the impossible, only to find even our most fervent faith can’t forge fantasy into reality.  Though we wish upon a million twinkling stars, be they the first bright star of the night, the biggest and most beautiful diamond in the sky or the one with the longest tail streaking behind it as it falls, no manner of wishing, praying, hoping or believing will miraculously make our dreams come true.

I don’t know when it happens.  Not exactly.  We may still occasionally yet glance upward if the sky is exceptionally clear. If the millions of dancing stars are sparkling especially beautifully that night.  But over the years, we learn to keep our head down.  Our eyes to the ground.  Weighted with the heaviness of disappointment, we no longer search the endless black sky seeking infinite possibilities.  Shooting stars fall without fanfare. Without our acknowledgment.  Our dreams have long ago burned up in the atmosphere as they fell to earth where they crashed and perished.

We spent our youth wishing on dying stars.  We wished passionately until the passion was utterly drained from our body, drip by drip.  Until we were emptied of our blood and life, droplet by droplet.  We lost our hope under that vast black firmament.  Beneath the heavens so gloriously filled with sparkling diamonds.  They tempted us to believe and believe we did.  But time…ah, how thoroughly time has ravaged our soul, consuming our eager expectations.  Time causes all things to fall.  To fall until there is no getting back up again.  We thought we would be the exception.  But time brought us down, down to our knees, just as it brings everything down that is contained within the universe in which we live.  Us and the shooting stars.  Falling.

Time reminds us all things come to an end.  That it runs out far too quickly.  And it runs out long before our fervent dreams come true.

Star light, star bright, I can no longer see your light.

My eyes have grown weary.  I have run out of wishes, here at the end of my time.  I have nothing to show for my youthful excitement and anticipation.  I am but a shooting star whose light has been extinguished.  I carry my wishes to the grave, unrealized and empty.  Another dark and lonely place, my grave.  And if there are stars here, either glorious or dimming, my eyes can no longer see them.

 

Mixed Messages

The world is confusing.  It is especially so for a young child.  Antennas are fully extended.  Nothing is understood.  Everything is happening quickly and it’s being assimilated, sorted, processed and classified just as swiftly.  A massive amount of information is being filed away in their vulnerable heart.  In their curious mind.  Coming to conclusions.  They are feeling their way along. Trying to avoid anything that explodes newly laid foundations.  Trying to avoid anything that is too scary or painful.  Trying to chew before swallowing.

They listen to the words adults fling back and forth around them.  The adults who are parenting them.  Who matter the most.  Those words they speak carry much weight.  Much more weight than the words of others…at least while they are young.  They listen.  Catch those words.  Ponder them.  And learn.

Yet, actions speak louder than words.  Which is why confusion descends, wrapping them in a thick, unrelenting fog.

Sometimes, the mixed messages cause so much dissonance, the child fractures.

“We love you so much!”  But in the dead of the night, the daddy sneaks quietly into her room and uses her as a living, breathing sex toy.  Or the mother slaps her and drags her by her long hair because she didn’t complete every chore on a 2-page list between the time she got off school and when her mother arrived home from work.

“We prayed for a little girl just like you!”  But her brother is the one who gets dental care, who is taken to the doctor when he is sick, who doesn’t even have to do chores.

“If only you would…lose weight, make better grades, smile, be more popular, clean the house without being asked, like the clothes I want to wear…”  “If only you had…blonde hair, a better personality, a prettier face, slimmer legs, a smaller butt…”  There are lots of “if only” messages.  If only, then we could love you, accept you, like you, be proud of you, want you.

We love you…if only.  We love you, but oh, you’re not as mature as we thought you were.  You’re not as resourceful as we thought you were.  You’re not as worthwhile, valuable, nice, pretty, smart…as we thought you were, thought you should be, wanted you to be, expected you to be, needed you to be.

We needed you to be so much more.

We love you…you were supposed to fulfill our dreams and meet our every need, make our life wonderful and make us happy.  Instead…you’re too much trouble, too much work, you’re a disappointment, you’re a failure, you’re making things harder for me, you need too much, you aren’t doing everything we want you to do, you’re not acting like we want you to act, you’re not performing up to standard, you’re not living up to our expectations…

We love you.  We hit you because you deserve it.  We abuse you because we own you. Because you owe it to us to make us happy. We reject you.  Your needs don’t matter.  We love you.  Smile, dammit!  Do what I say.  Don’t tell anyone.  Don’t look at me like that!  What do you want from me?  We love you.  Not now.  Leave me alone.  I have too many problems of my own to deal with without having to think about you.  You’re not making my life better.  Or easier.  What’s wrong with you?  You’re so fat!  Clean your plate!  I don’t care what you need.  Or what you think.  Clean the house.  Keep the secrets.  We love you.  Do you know how expensive it is to go to the doctor!  You had better be sick enough to justify all that money being spent on you!  Mow the grass.  Clean out the refrigerator.  Mop the floor.  Dust the paneling.  Clean the kitchen.  Vacuum.  Wash the windows.  Make me whole.  Make me feel good about myself and how I’m doing as a parent.  Fix my life.  Why can’t you be more like her?  You’re making us look bad.  Keep your mouth shut.  We love you.  How dare you!  You’re so disappointing.  We can’t be bothered.  Go to your room.  We love you.

The child tries.  Tries to sort through the words.  Tries to comprehend the meaning of what they are saying.  These very important people who are shaping them. Tries to make sense of their actions.  Tries to get the pieces to fit together.  Tries to find a way to make it make sense.

“Love” is nothing more than rejection hiding behind sweet words.  It is abuse, using, hitting.  It means being tolerated if you remain silent.  If you perform to standard.  Yet the standard is constantly changing for the bar is steadily moved higher when you come close to succeeding. You have to earn it, this thing called love.  And the price is high.

Being loved means being judged and found lacking.  It means having no value or worth.

It is the only way to get the mixed messages to fit into one coherent concept.  It is the only way to resolve the distortion, the startling clash between opposing perspectives.  It is the only way those opposing perspectives can exist together in the same room.  Or be spoken with the same breath.

For the other alternative, the one that CAN’T BE TRUE NO MATTER WHAT is that what they are showing you, what they are doing to you, what they are asking of you and demanding from you…isn’t actually love…at all.

Sometimes the Words Will Not Come

Sometimes.  Sometimes the words will not come.  They get lost in the deafening silence that echoes through the emptiness of my world.  Swallowed by the black hole of isolation.  I cannot speak them.  They are sucked back into the void before I can form them.  I am too numb to shape them.  It is too difficult to put them together in a way that makes sense, much less that tells my story with any degree of coherency.

I am trying to explain a perspective I can barely see or comprehend.  The words remain in my throat, strangling me, as unformed as the insight I am trying to grasp.  I’m attempting to put all the pieces back together…to make myself whole.  Trying to put the words together, to explain the unexplainable.  How does one explain nothingness?  A brokenness so absolute, there is nothing left but dust.  How can words begin to paint a picture of the reality where I exist?

Sometimes the words will not come.

Sometimes, they sit on the tip of my tongue, but I cannot spit them out.  They are peanut butter, stuck to the roof of my mouth.

My entire life, I have been silent.  I have choked back all the words that were oozing from my pores.  Choked them back along with the pain.  Focused on anything other than the abuse and the destruction it caused.  Struggled with crippling depression.  With hopelessness.  Decimation.  I have pushed the words, the emotions, down, down, down, until the volcano within me became dormant.  And it remained dormant for decades.  I have held the lava and let it burn me deep within; never spewing.  Containing the toxic gasses, the scorching fire and excruciating hurt.

Sometimes the words won’t come.  I have held them back until I forgot how to speak.

Not even the Heimlich maneuver artfully performed can successfully dislodge them from my throat.

When I was a child the words were near the surface and available, if not fully understood by my immature brain.  The wounds were raw.  It would have been so easy then to release them and let them fly away.  But there was no one to tell.  No one to listen.  No one who believed me.  That’s when I started to hold them down in the dark depths of my soul.  That’s when I learned to stop talking.  To hide.  Behind a mask and a wall of silence.  I learned to pretend everything in my family was fine. To act as if I was a normal kid.  That’s when I learned how to lie.  To still my tongue.  To close my mouth.  And that is when I became acquainted with shame.  When I lost my words for the very first time.

Love could have freed me.  But sometimes there is no love.  No prince to ride to the rescue.  No shining knight.  No escape.  Sometimes, it really is that hopeless.

Now, I try to pry the words out of the crevices where they have been lodged for such a long time.  I try to release them.  To allow the lava to flow.  To let them dissipate into the atmosphere.  I try to form them, to let them roll from my mouth and be whatever they are. Whatever they want to be.  To say what they want to say…what they have wanted to say for the entire length of my lifetime.  They are not beautiful.  They are not skillfully crafted.  They are not inspiring.  But saying anything, I have learned, is far better than saying nothing at all.

And so, I write whatever words I can find and I send them out into the world of 1’s and 0’s.  Out into another dimension. And I leave them hanging there.

Whatever comes, however they sound, I let them go.  I let them tell my story in whatever way they can.

Sometimes they are not reachable.  I fish for them and come up empty.  But I have learned, catching a Sun Perch is better than catching no fish at all.  I catch whatever swims by; whatever I can.  Then release.  Watch them go.  Grateful for having touched them.  For having finally been able to say something.

I held them, those slimy words, for a moment in my hand.  Felt their barbs.  Let them make me squirm.

Sometimes the words will not come.  But sometimes, if I sit very, very still in my silent world, I can hear the child I was so long ago crying in the endless night and I can find a tiny word or two to let her know her pain has not gone unnoticed or unacknowledged.  It is then that I realize, I do not need to speak.   It is enough to simply sit with her in her empty, lonely room, to hold her hand and watch the tears as they fall, one after another, from her eyes.

 

I Hold My Breath

I hold my breath.  Hold it in.  It’s what I have to do.  To keep all the painful emotion inside.  All the disgusting yuck inside.   Inside where it must stay.  To inhale…to exhale…both would give me away.  Both would allow everyone to see my defects.  My brokenness.  The “yuck” that is me.  So I hold my breath.  I hold it all deep down in the depths of me.  Where it can’t escape inadvertently.

I hold my breath to keep from confirming everyone’s suspicions.  They know I am not like them.  They sense I’m different.  A different species.  Alien. They suspect there are things inside of me that aren’t inside of them.  Ugly things.  Dark things.  Things that need to be held in, never shared, that should never see the light of day.

I hold my breath because I’m not sure I deserve air.  I’m not sure I am worthy to partake.  That I have done enough to earn the right to breathe.

I hold my breath because I am afraid.  Of everything.  I wait, cringing inside, for the blow that is sure to come.  And I am afraid because I don’t know if I will be able to survive the next one.  I’m afraid because I’m not sure I will want to survive the next one.  I’m afraid of what the next blow will cost me.  For I am sure the price will be too high for me to pay, even if I find I want to pay it.

I hold my breath and smile.  Acting as if all is well.  Pretending to be who I was supposed to be, but will never be because that person didn’t survive her childhood.  Walking dead woman…can’t let it show.  Some secrets are not meant to be revealed.  Not ever.  So, I hold my breath.  Hold it in.  Even as it explodes inside of me.

I hold my breath and perform to the best of my ability.  Try to be good enough.  Try to do enough.  Try to do it all without breathing.  Without bothering anyone.  Without causing ripples or stirring the still, silent air.  Never daring to relax enough to cautiously take a tiny, simple breath.  A sip.  Never daring to let down my guard.  To let my mask slip.  To allow my fractures to show for even a second.

I hold my breath so I won’t offend unduly.  For I have come to understand, by simply existing, I offend.  I am a freak of nature.  Unspeakable.  Horrible.  If I hold my breath, I can almost remain invisible.  If I hold my breath, I can be a ghost.

I hold my breath because I’m not at all sure I deserve to live.  Nor am actually I sure I am still alive.  Dead things, you see, do not need air.  They can’t perish without it because they no longer require it to survive.  So, I have come to wonder if I’m holding my breath because I have finally died.    If the time for breathing has passed me by.  If I can finally exhale.  And finally let everything I have been hiding and holding in place for so many years…quietly go.

 

All The Tears I Never Cried

Psalm 56:8  New Living Translation (NLT)

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

The message is clear; touching.  We have heard it repeated and expressed in many different ways.  Through songs, blogs, stories and in inspirational articles.  In sermons and poems. God has our tears.  Every tear we’ve ever cried.  Not a single one is lost.  Not a single one went unnoticed.  He collected them each one.  He recorded them in His book.  God is moved by our weeping.

But what about all the tears never cried?

All those tears I was never able to release.  All the pain still held behind my eyes.

Most of my tears haven’t been cried.  My eyes have stayed disturbingly and resolutely dry.  The dam I built when but a child remains strong.  No water is released, no matter how great the need for relief.  No matter how much the pressure behind it.

It wasn’t safe to let them flow freely; not when I was a preschooler.  Nor when I was in junior high. Not when married to the man who rejected me.  Who didn’t love me.  Never loved me.  It wasn’t smart to release them to form rivers that would drip from my cheeks and drop off the tip of my nose.  It wasn’t safe to feel.   I held them in and kept them sealed tightly inside, carefully hidden in the darkest depths of my soul.  Until I forgot how to open the floodgates.

There they remain.  Tears never cried.  Stagnant.

My heart has been in deep pain most of my life.  My journey hasn’t been easy.  It hasn’t had many ups.  But the major blows have been plentiful.  I’ve encountered too many difficult challenges that beat me to a pulp until I was too numb to respond.  Until it was all I could do to get up off the floor.  Take a step.  Then another.  I’ve had abundant reasons to cry and I’ve longed many times to weep uncontrollably.   But showing vulnerability has never been safe.  Feeling such raw emotions has proven to be foolish.  Letting someone see my heart has always been idiotic.  When I slipped and exposed my weakness, the repercussions were many and they were terrible.  So I have swallowed the pain.  And the tears.

They have remained dammed up behind a massive wall of numbness.  Repressed for years and years.  Every blow has caused the wall to be built higher.  Wider.  Stronger.  The ocean of tears to grow deeper.

What about those tears?  The ones I’ve never cried?

Are they of no significance?   Hidden and unexpressed, have they lost their authenticity?  Is unexpressed pain of no importance?  Do only the tears actually released have meaning?  Are they the only ones that count?  The only ones God collects and treasures?

The tears we cry matter. He sees.  Has compassion.  Wipes them away.  Holds each one.  Knows the reason for them; for every single one.  These are the precious tears that are kept in His bottle and recorded in His book.

Are they the only tears God cherishes?

If so…

I have a million uncried tears rotting in my soul and they will never have significance.  They are worthless. The battle I fought to contain them is meaningless.  The struggle I went through to carry them, to prevent them from inconveniently raining down on others, is inconsequential.   I carried them when sharing them would have been easier…if riskier.  I held them back and pasted a smile on my face to survive.  And when surviving became all I knew how to do, the uncried tears multiplied until they were legion.

They are legion still.

But they are not in His bottle.  They are bottled up in my heart, a painful reminder of all I have suffered alone.  Of how my life has left me with nothing more than regrets and toxic memories.

“He knows your name
Every tear you cry
He knows the pain
How you feel alone”

 (Moriah Peters, “No Shame”)

When I do not cry, is He unable to know my pain?  Does He not discern how alone I feel?  How the nights are empty and silent?  And the days are wrapped in rabid isolation?  Does He continue to absent Himself, uncaring of the hurt that rips me apart and stomps me helplessly into the earth where I am ground again to dust?

When I can’t cry, does He not care?  Is He untouched by my tearless brokenness?

I wish I could cry freely and let God collect the tears in His bottle and record them in His book.  I wish I could believe my pain moved Him, whether I managed to shed the tears or remained too afraid to let my guard down; to open my heart.  To be that vulnerable.  Revealing weaknesses through tears is risky.  It can give those who are intent on hurting you a way in to your most tender places.   Places where they can do the most significant amount of damage.  But I cannot cry.  I am imprisoned behind this wall.  I have waited too long to seek release.  The ocean of tears I have held in for a lifetime know the boundaries set for them so long ago and no longer cross the line.

They are contained in my bottle.  A dead sea.

All the tears I have not cried.  That I’ve held inside trying to survive.  That I’ve choked down while they almost choked me.  The only bottle my tears reside in…is the cavern of my heart.  I am drowning in them.  Their salt stings my eyes.  I taste them in my mouth.  But God doesn’t gather them.  He does not hold them in His hand.  There is no comfort to be had.  Only this ocean of sorrow.  Growing larger, deeper, wider with every passing moment.  And I do not know how to swim in the foul waves any more than I know how to weep until this endless sea of tears is finally drained dry.

The World Through My Eyes