To Be Seen

When you grow up with abusive parents, you tend to learn some hard lessons very quickly.  You learn by osmosis, without anyone speaking a word.  It’s there in the air.  You breath it in and just like that, you know.

One of the first, most critical lessons you learn, is that your parents are not there to care for you; you exist to care for them.  To meet their every need.  Or desire.  So, if you are to survive, you must see what can’t be seen, hear what hasn’t been spoken, perceive the intent of the heart behind verbalized words, and accept that reality and truth are cloaked by smiles and pleasantries.  You must read the shifts in mood and atmosphere.  React before there has been an action.  Anticipate danger so you can escape before everything explodes and falls out from under you.  You must recognize the monsters who live within, who are secretly watching and waiting, harboring ravenous, ungodly cravings, their presence masked by your parent’s innocuous faces.

You learn that certain things are expected.  Certain things are forbidden.  Certain actions are mandatory.  There are thoughts that must never be vocalized.  Questions you must never ask.  The abuse teaches you what you must and must not do.  Who you must be.  Who you must never be.  What you must say and must not dare to utter, not even if you whisper the words in your mind when you are alone in your empty world.  You learn.  When it’s safe to come out and when you should hide.  What is required.  Demanded.  How to earn the right to exist.  What you must do to protect the family.  You learn because abuse is a harsh taskmaster, painfully driving the points home.

By the time you reach the tender age of 4, you know all of this and much, much more.

You learn that being seen is dangerous.  Being known makes you a target.  If your parents don’t really see you, they might forget about you for a while.  If they don’t know your heart, they can’t gouge their sharp, cutting words into your weakest parts.  You come to understand their world is all about them.   What they want.  What they need.  They’ll find you when they want something from you.  If you’re fortunate, you’ll have some space, some time in between when you can breathe and recover from your encounters with them.  If you can protect yourself well enough, you just might make it through another day.

You learn to take soundless, shallow breaths and to expect nothing from those who created you.  Nothing but abuse.  Many different varieties of abuse.

You also learn that it’s dangerous to be seen and known by others, those you interact with outside the home.  You quickly realize any recognition requires quick thinking to effectively hide in plain sight.  Wearing a heavy, suffocating mask.  Smiling when you want to cry.  Not talking, not sharing, remaining a closed book with a pleasant cover.  You learn to wear silence like your own skin.  Because you must not tell the secrets.  You must never talk about the things that happen in the dead of the night behind drawn curtains and locked doors.

You must not be seen.  Known.  The truth must never be revealed.

You learn to live in a very dark space in a very lonely sphere.

Once you enter elementary school, you discover how different you are from your classmates.  They laugh from their heart and belly.  They smile with their eyes and their soul.  They are who they are and don’t yet have anything to hide.  No dark secrets to guard.  They are helium-filled balloons, fluffy white clouds meandering across a blue sky in the sunshine, butterflies, ice cream and rainbows.  They haven’t yet glimpsed the darkness of life.  They haven’t had to live in a perpetual, frightening nightmare where one wanders through thick fog, stalked by dangerous predators.

But you must appear to be the same.  The same as the untouched.  You must never let them see the you who lives inside.

Those lessons are driven deep into the psyche and personality.  They become who you are.  They shape everything you do.  They define and limit your possibilities.   The older you get, the deeper they go.

You learn to keep yourself to yourself.  To keep your feelings tightly bottled inside your innermost being.  To numb your heart in order to endure the unbearable agony of your existence.  You realize that who you are…the real you…is unacceptable.  No matter how hard you try, how much you give, how well you perform, you are defective.  Less than.   Shattered.  And because you are fractured, oozing from raw wounds, you are a burden and threat to others.  An unbearable weight.  A liability.  Toxic.

You have become an alien, forced to wear a disguise as you walk among the humans around you while desperately trying to avoid being discovered.

You learn.  That no matter how painfully you long to connect with someone in an intense, profound way, you can’t.  Because you can’t let them see you.  If they see how broken you are, how much “baggage” you carry, the ugly scars that crisscross your heart, they will turn away in shock and horror at even a glimpse of the real you.  You are too much of an encumbrance for anyone to bear.

To be seen.  For who you really are.  The greatest risk.  A risk you wish you could take.  Because it is also your greatest desire.

To be seen and loved for who you really are.  A wild, ridiculous hope.  The impossible dream.

There are too many secrets that must be kept.  Too many deep, dark secrets and foul deformities within you that must never see the light of day.

Pondering Valentine’s Day

When I first fell in love with the man who was my husband for 22 years, I fell hard.  Head over heels, as they say.  I loved him totally, completely, absolutely and thoroughly.  I thought he was an amazing, undeserved, extravagant gift and I was energized and eager to devote my life to him.  To walk by his side. 

Until that time, Valentine’s Day didn’t hold any special meaning.  But suddenly, I understood.  I had a  valentine!  I was finally happy.  I couldn’t help but celebrate this day meant for lovers while gazing joyfully into the eyes of the love of my life.

We were engaged in the early winter and planned an early April wedding.  The first Valentine’s day together as an official couple didn’t disappoint.  It was lovely.  I had so many dreams; so much optimism.  The world lay before us, glistening and exhilarating.  Anything was possible for we would surely conquer all challenges and overcome our obstacles together, unified by our love and commitment. 

Love never fails!

Mercifully, I had no idea that only a few months after we married, my dream of a beautiful future would come undone.  That the illusion would vanish…poof!  Only a couple of months into our marriage, he confessed that he didn’t love me.  Never had.  The Valentine’s day we celebrated before our wedding was the only one I would enjoy with someone I loved while believing they also loved me.

Like a small dark cloud on the distant horizon, I had a bad feeling.  One that started slowly and continued to nag and grow.  Until unexpectedly, huge black clouds filled the sky, churning, raging with wild storms.

A couple of weeks after we married, we moved to Santa Fe, NM, which was where he grew up.  His father had driven his pickup truck out for our wedding and left it for us to use during our move.  My new husband drove the pickup, loaded with our meager belongings, towing his Toyota Celica that was also loaded down with the more fragile items we couldn’t stack in the truck.  I followed behind in my Renault 10, also packed to the gills, completing our sad little parade.  My heater was stuck on, the fan blowing continuously, and it was sizzling hot in the car, even with the windows down.  I was fighting sleep, desperately trying to stay awake the entire trip.  But even weighed down with fatigue, something felt wrong.  Something I couldn’t put my finger on.  It bothered me more than the heat or my sleepiness.  I had a horrible premonition, a sickening dread I couldn’t shake.  I could feel it; taste it.  I didn’t want to believe it.  But it was there.  In the air.  In the drone of the tires. 

He didn’t love me.  I discerned it just as clearly and completely as if he had spoken the words to me in conversation.  It was coming from him in overwhelming waves that threatened to drown me as I followed him.  While he lead the way in his father’s truck, his feelings came rushing out, blowing back on me as I dutifully followed behind. 

I drove.  Tried not to panic.  Told myself it couldn’t be true.  Sick at heart, hoping against hope I was wrong.  I drove and prayed.

When we got to his parent’s house, where we were spending the first night of our new life, I timidly ask him what he was thinking.  What he was feeling.  He said he was tired; that was all.  So I pushed a little.  Told him I was picking up on something, maybe fear, concern, regret?  Wondered if we were already coming unraveled, though I nearly choked on the thought.

He denied it.  Claimed to love me and told me I was being ridiculous and stupid. Chided me for listening to my fear.  Looked down at me and told me to stop worrying about nothing.

A few months later, he fessed up.  Well before our 6 month anniversary.  Long before we “celebrated” our 1st year of marriage.  He told me I wasn’t the person he wanted to spend his life with.  I wasn’t his type.  He wasn’t sure why he once thought I was or how he had become convinced that he wanted to marry me.  He thought about the girls he had dated before me and I didn’t fare well in comparison.  But here we were…and he was going to try to make the best he could of a bad, sad situation.

I was utterly crushed.  Something deep inside of me crumbled.  That was the day my broken soul moved into the final stages of collapse.  It was a death blow.  One from which I never recovered.

So, though we went through the motions for the 22 Valentine’s Days we spent together, from that moment forward, I knew I wasn’t loved.  He didn’t cherish me…not even a little.  I was his punishment.  His burden to bear.  He felt stuck with me.  And I would forever be a disappointment, no matter what I did to compensate for my deficiencies.  I gave him my heart, but he despised my gift.  Unless I could change who I was, I would never be his valentine.

Certainly, in the years since he left me for another woman he did love, there haven’t been any romantic celebrations.  I haven’t had so much as a single date.  No hope of ever having or being a valentine.  Or of celebrating a shared love.

Before he left, my life consisted of emptiness, condescension and isolation.  Of barely being tolerated.  Of failure and reproach.  Now, it is all of these things as well as aloneness, meaningless, hopelessness and terror. 

There has been far too much solitude in my life.  Far too many painful moments and empty years.  Far too little love.  The lack of love, acceptance, affection, desire has taken an awful toll.

Valentine’s Day is an empty pledge.  It never delivers on its promise. 

I’ve never been loved, wanted, treasured…the things that give the day its meaning.  Without love, it is hollow.  Just as life is meaningless and hollow without love and connection.

All I really wanted was to be loved. To have a valentine.  A true soulmate.   A reason to celebrate this day set aside for lovers. Now, I have stopped believing in special occasions that celebrate such devotion, for I have yet to be been appreciated, valued, or desired.

Love comes like a butterfly.  On some, it alights unexpectedly, spreading its glorious wings, trusting, accepting, dazzling.  It rests quietly on outstretched fingers that stroke it gently, vulnerable and revered, viewed with great tenderness, awe and gratitude.  It spawns magic, strength and wonder.  Warmth and joy.  Fulfillment.  And wholeness.

With others, it flutters always just out of reach, remaining a few steps ahead, taunting, but never allowing itself to be held in hand.  Flitting away, never caressing, never touching.  Not once resting softly, skin to skin, soul laid bare. Never loving.  Nor accepting.  Just close enough for you to see you are missing the essence of life.  Your reason for being.  Yet there is nothing you can do to coax it to settle ever so softly upon your heart when, for reasons only the butterfly understands,  your heart is not the one it has randomly chosen to embrace.

 

Brittle

Brittle (brit·tle) – Hard, but liable to break or shatter easily.  Having hardness and rigidity, but little tensile strength.  Easily damaged or destroyed.  synonyms:         breakable, splintery, shatterable, fragile, frail, delicate, rigid.

There’s a procedure for hardening metal.  Just the right amount of heat. Quench.  Applying too much heat to steel or heating it for too long at a high temperature causes the metal to become brittle.

Interestingly, it works the same way with people.  We can take the heat, but then we need that quench.  The relief.  The time of rest and recovery.  Applying too much heat (trauma) or exposing us to that trauma over a long period of time causes brittleness.

Over time, after seemingly unending trauma, bad luck, hardship and heartbreak, after experiencing repeated rejection and injustice, suffering loss after loss after loss, it doesn’t take much to cause an irreparable break.  The little things that would not normally be a problem are suddenly insurmountable.  The small amount of stability you appeared to possess evaporates and is lost as your carefully constructed world crumbles…over nothing.

You don’t crack in the heat.  But afterwards, when you have a small window in which to breathe, all strength zapped, the tiniest bit of difficulty causes catastrophic collapse.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”  –Nietzsche

 

Interestingly, increased pressure or heat, when short term and controlled, will actually boost the brittle strength of a material.  Even glass can be toughened effectively in this manner.  But if the pressure is too great or it is applied for an extended period of time, it fractures the material instead of producing additional strength.  If the heat is too high and prolonged, it weakens and deteriorates the material instead of fortifying it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…unless it pushes you too far. Unless it’s too much over too long a period of time.

If it’s utterly overwhelming or if the trauma lasts interminably, it weakens you, causing you to shatter more easily than ever before.  Instead of building your endurance, it destroys you, draining what little resilience you had, causing fragility, insecurity and brittleness.

I know this is true.  Because I used to be very, very strong.  I could take it.  I would always find a way to survive.  Maybe I had such strength because I believed the heat would end before it consumed me. The pressure would be alleviated before it crushed me.  I carried the weight and walked on, believing I would find relief before I splintered beyond repair.

Brittleness (brit·tle·ness) ) – The tendency to break without being significantly distorted or exposed to a high level of stress.  Easily disrupted, overthrown or damaged.

Now, I walk carefully and fearfully through life, praying nothing hits me too hard.  I know it will not take a crisis to shatter me.  I feel it deep in my bones.  Even “normal” stressors often become overwhelming and feel impossible to resolve or survive.  When the earth-shattering catastrophe does occur, I crumble inside, implode, fragmenting again and again until I am but a shell filled with dust that somehow continues to walk on without an intact soul.

 Even the little things, the day-to-day trials, feel immense and destructive.  Icy roads become an insurmountable barrier.  A threat I can’t defeat.  A challenge I can’t conquer.  The season of winter is wrought with stress and danger, presenting unsurvivable challenges and life-threatening trials.  Other people don’t lay awake at night wondering how they are going to successfully summon the strength to drive on hazardous pavement so as to fulfill work obligations and requirements.  Nor do they feel consumed with guilt if they decide to stay home for the day if they feel they are not up to the task.  They don’t judge themselves harshly for caring for themselves.  Nor do they label themselves as failures.  To them, it is a small thing.  Nothing to fret about.  They venture out…or they don’t.  It doesn’t crush them.  It doesn’t annihilate them.  It is not more than they can bear to face.

But I am undone.  Brittle, I fracture.  Outwardly, it may not be that obvious, if anyone notices at all.  But internally, I am destroyed.  Internally, I crumble and fall.

In a real crisis, I become numb; my soul frost-bitten.  I can no longer feel my extremities.  I can’t so much as raise my arms to protect myself from the blows.  Punch after punch, I am torn apart and laid to waste.

When I crumble, I have to withdraw, pull back, hide away so I can try to piece myself back together.  I have grown weary of piecing myself back together.  I have lost the ability to glue the shards and debris back into a whole person.  More than ever, my restorative efforts have left me deeply scarred, bearing a strong resemblance to a Picasso painting.  Or worse.

There is much guilt and shame associated with my lack of resiliency.  My brittleness of heart and soul.  The fragmentation of my psyche.  My inability to cope with the storms of life or the weather of the season.

Before the years of childhood abuse, the incest, the repeated blows of hand and word; before the rejection of a husband I loved, but who never loved me; before the injustices of the workplace where promotions are given to the popular and the masculine, the political players and manipulators; before my fear imprisoned me within walls high and mighty; before my mask fastened and melded to my face until I forgot who I am, I was pliable, hopeful, sensitive, loving and strong.  Before the furnace, the pressure, the unending stress, I was capable and undefeatable.  Before losing house and husband, friends and job, dreams and hope, I was tough, tenacious and undefeated.  I had not yet overcome, but I had not yet been overwhelmed.  I endured.  I fought.  I pushed through.  Damn the torpedoes…full speed ahead.

Brittle – From an unrecorded Old English adjective *brytel , related to brytan “to crush, pound, to break to pieces.”

I am now haunted by my former enthusiasm and tenacity.  By the choices that brought me to this point of desolation.

I have been crushed.  I have been pounded.  I have splintered and exploded into a million pieces.  I am horrified and thoroughly ashamed of the mess I have become.  Ashamed of my inability to bear the heat and pressure.  Cracked.  Weak.  Brittle.  Liable to break or shatter easily.  Splintery.  And useless.  Beyond repair.

 

Party of One

You go to a restaurant and ask to be seated.  What’s the first question they ask you?

“How many in your party?”

One.  Just one.

There are advantages.  No need to compromise or negotiate.  If you want to stay home, you stay home.  If you want to go to bed early, you don’t have to explain.  If you don’t feel like cooking, no one is going to argue with you.  Or get huffy.  If you  don’t get to the dishes right away, no one is going to gripe about the way you keep your house.

But.

If you go out, you have to do the driving.  No one to take over when you’re tired and don’t feel like fighting the traffic.  And you are probably going to be going alone, wherever you decide to go.  When you get there, you’re not going to have anyone you can comfortably converse with unless you want to have a conversation with yourself.  Which can get you in serious trouble…or at the least, cause people to give you some strange looks and a wide berth.  There’s no one to share your day with or encourage you when you’re down.  No one to tell you everything is going to be okay, that tomorrow will be better, that you can do anything you set your mind to or to remind you you’re being too hard on yourself.  No one to make you smile or to cry with you when you cry.

Party of one.

No need to have “your” side of the bed.  Take your pick.  Go wild.  One toothbrush in the bathroom and yours is never wet unless you were the one who brushed with it.  No one using your towel or using up all the hot water.  Your grocery bill is a little less.  So is your income…because it’s all on you, baby.  No one else to share the expenses.  But you don’t have to watch the 4th football, basketball, baseball, golf game of the week unless you also enjoy sports.  In fact, you don’t have to watch at all.  And the remote is all yours.  Change the channel.  Indulge.

You don’t have to wear an outfit you don’t like to please someone else who doesn’t quite “get” your funky style, even if they love you anyway.  Don’t have to fix your face or get dressed  before noon on Saturday if you don’t feel like it.  No one is going to call you out for it or express their displeasure over your laziness or lack of grooming.  But if you need gas in your car, you’re the only one available to fill up the tank.  If you need groceries, it’s your butt that has to brave the bad drivers jamming the aisles of the grocery store.  And the cold.

Icy roads?  Suck it up.  Terrified?  Do it anyway.  You have to get yourself to work.  You may feel like you’re at the end of your rope and you can’t take the stress, but that doesn’t matter.  You go, praying the entire way there and home because you don’t really know how to drive on the slick stuff and you know it.  Praying you make it without damage or injury.  No one is going to come to your rescue and brave the slippery streets for you.

And who do you use as your emergency contact?

Sick?  Drive yourself to the doctor.  Pick up your own prescription.   Take your own temperature and tuck yourself in bed under your favorite blanket.  Need surgery?  You’re going to have to find a really good friend who is willing to get up at 5 a.m. to take you to the hospital for your 6 a.m. check in.  And they have to commit to sit and wait until you’re out of recovery so they can drive you home after.  Unless you’re required to stay overnight, which is becoming rare.  That’s a lot of time from an already busy schedule.  A lot to ask of someone who isn’t your family.  A lot.  Trust me.

Talking to your dogs is better than talking to the walls, but I have to admit, sometimes I would love to have a really meaningful conversation with someone besides myself.  But since that’s not an option, the TV provides background noise, allowing you can run from the emptiness a little bit longer.

You shovel the snow, take out the garbage, vacuum, mow, take the car in for service, get the mail, feed the dogs, take them to the vet, run errands and clean out the garage. Alone.

You worry.  Alone.  Pray.  Alone.

But you don’t have to share your closet with anyone.  What little space you have is all yours.

And you don’t have to hide the shopping bags if you indulge yourself from time to time.  Or listen to them complain about how many clothes and shoes you have.

Alone is okay when you’re in your 20’s or 30’s.  Even when you’re in your 40’s.  But the older you get, the more the emptiness is magnified.  The heavier it becomes.  The deeper it permeates your soul.

Party of one.

All I ever wanted was to be a party of two who became one.

I believed the “soul mate” fairy tale.  Bought it.

My deepest dream was to love and be loved.  To share the journey, to be with someone who wanted to be with me and wanted me to be with them.  To “be there” for each other, no matter what you were walking through.  Someone to lighten the load and offer a hand to hold when the going got tough.  Life has been one brutal blow after another.  One disappointment after another disappointment.  Defeat upon defeat.  Pain stacked to the moon and back.  Dead dreams are strewn along the path I have walked.  And always, I have walked alone.

One set of footsteps.  No one walking beside me.  No partner in the dance of life.

Party of one.  Just me at the table.  And I’ve completely lost my appetite.

Kilroy

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 officially ended.  It is, in fact, 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 with two simple, unassuming syllables, expected to encapsulate 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, not of keeping the boogieman safely outside, but of keeping the terrible secrets that occurred inside safe from prying eyes.  For the boogieman was a resident of the house where I grew up.  He built it.  The locks were pathetically ineffective in providing any kind of protection.  The fox was guarding the hen house.  Instead, they trapped me inside with the monsters, never whispering a word of what transpired behind those heavy wooden doors they valiantly secured.

One word.

Abuse.

I had to maintain the highest achievable level of invisibility to survive the secrets.  I was a silent child, terrified of those who gave me life, only to metaphorically take it away.  I could not draw attention to my battle.  Record my name upon the wall to mark my passing.  To commemorate how I had fought and suffered.  Not then. No “Kilroy Was Here” was left on board or stone to prove I had struggled and been grievously wounded.  That I had existed, though I was no more.

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

The only one protected by the darkness was my abuser.  The only one protected by the locks securely engaged, barring entrance from the world outside, was my rapist.  My father.  The only people shielded by the blinds tightly drawn against the light were my parents.  They who made me, used me and destroyed me.

I could not leave a mark as witness of what I suffered at hands that devoured me to satisfy their whims.  I was an easy target for their anger, providing a temporary release for their rage.  I was at their mercy…and they had no mercy for me.

Yet, I could not speak of the atrocities.  Nor memorialize the tragedy.  No one knew of the conflict in which I so desperately struggled and fought.  I could not tell them, for I had no voice.  I was a prisoner of an unknown and unacknowledged war, held by an enemy hiding behind masks bearing my parent’s faces.

Even if someone suspected evil lurked within the fortified house where I was a prisoner, they did nothing but turn and walk away.  Preferring to ignore the abomination.  Preferring to remain blind, on the outside, untouched.  Safe.

It is too much ask someone to watch the decimation of a defenseless child.  To fight on their behalf.

“Kilroy Was Here” was a proclamation.  It was created as a visual symbol, one that would commemorate the GI’s presence.  What he had experienced.  He left it behind as a sign for those who would come after.  To let them know he had been where they now stood…and had lived to tell, if only for another moment or two in time.

I have no clever graphic.  No miraculous tale of glory, bravery or battles won.  I have only words.  Inadequate words.  Words that can never sufficiently explain.  That will never truly tell the story.

I leave them strewn here, these simple, inadequate words, scattered across this screen for those who will come after me.  This is my “Kilroy.”  The marker I place to commemorate the battles fought.  I was left to perish, a broken soul.  Wounded by those who were supposed to die protecting me.  I have staggered beneath the weight of every form of child abuse.  And like any soldier who endures and fights in horrendous conditions, attempting to survive the unrelenting attacks of a deadly, disguised, fanatic enemy, I have been forever changed by what I have endured.

I moved on, but found no path back to the world outside the locked doors of my childhood.  Those who should have cared never did.  Never will.  So I leave these meager words stacked upon this page as a memorial, a visible symbol of the inner destruction.

Kilroy was here.  A tiny child, alone in the chaos, tortured, twisted, despised and used.  That little girl I once was started life whole and hopeful, a living, joyful being.  It is she who is buried beneath the memorial stones I stack and shape with my imperfectly placed words.  For wars inevitably have casualties.  And children can die in a million different ways.

 

Scratch My Back

Sometimes, little things matter.  Sometimes, something very small can have an earth-shaking impact.

I know I can be (am) negative.  To the extreme.  I fight it, even though it may not seem that way to anyone who reads the bits and pieces of my story.   I dislike this particular characteristic and because I see it as a glaring flaw, I daily strive to counteract my propensity to see the cloud and not the silver lining.  To see the ugliness instead of the goodness.  The thorn and not the rose.   It is a source of shame.  And I feel like a failure most of the time.  I seem unable to live up to the standards and norms that must be met if one is to be considered a “worthy” human being.

Sometimes I feel as if I am a very effective people repellent.  Just a whiff of me and everyone runs.

In part, this proclivity toward negativism is a symptom of long-term incessant childhood abuse.  I’ve read about the neurological damage caused by persistent and prevailing trauma; trauma so overwhelming that it forever alters the neuropathways of a developing brain.  Not only does it shatter a child emotionally and physically, but the way that child thinks and views the world and themselves is forever altered.  The damage doesn’t end when one finally escapes the abusive home.  The fried wiring isn’t magically restored to pristine condition.  It continues to misfire and short circuit until it is painstakingly replaced with new cable.  Healing, therefore, comes slowly, if at all.

Knowing this, realizing I was damaged in such a way that I am unable to see or grasp certain things that others never question, helped me, if only minimally, to hate myself a little less.  But knowing and being changed by what you know are two very different things.  Knowledge doesn’t always result in understanding.  It’s not transformative.  To realize repair and recovery, we must first believe something so deeply, we must feel the profound impact of that belief in the broken, wounded parts of our psychology.  Like water on long parched ground, when the rain finally touches that hard, dry earth, growth can begin.

Unfortunately, when there has been a longstanding drought, renewal takes time.  If the showers continue to fall regularly, you’ll begin to see the signs of recovery fairly quickly.  But it can take decades before life fully returns to the wasteland, especially if the rain is sporadic and light.

It has not rained in my soul for as far back as I can remember.  If there is any life to be had, it’s been dormant for so long, I can’t feel so much as a flicker.

Even so, there are moments when I catch a glimpse of the presence of goodness.  There are brief flashes of God’s hand at work.  Small things.  Small things that cast a big shadow.  That shake me, as if trying to awaken me from a deep, deadly sleep.

When my husband left me for another woman, I was destroyed.  Life has never been kind, and I knew he didn’t love me then, never had loved me, the entire time we were together.  But even bad company can sometimes seem better than no company at all.  Being tolerated can seem a blessing when the alternative is utter isolation.  Not only did his final rejection crush my heart and destroy my hope and faith in a better tomorrow, he took most of the furniture, silverware, dishes, pots and pans and cherished mementos.   Anything his parents had contributed toward, even minimally, given to us as a gift or that had belonged to his grandmother went out the door with him, leaving a huge black empty hole, both emotionally and physically.  I lived alone before we married, but it had been 22 years.  He had been there, a presence, even if he rejected, ignored me and made me feel inadequate.  He shared some of the load one must bear when walking through the minefield of an uncertain world.

Coming home each evening after work to a hollow, silent house was crushing.   Listening to the silence pound my eardrums was depressing.  I felt myself wrapped in layer upon layer of emptiness and the crushing pain was unbearable.

I remember in particular one evening when I stood in the bathroom staring at my face in the mirror, feeling overwhelmed, thinking about all that had been lost and that would never be.  About how little remained.  How broken I was.  Wondering if there was anything ahead for me except more excruciating agony.  I looked in the bathroom mirror as all the losses scrolled through my mind.  I would have to remember to put the trash out on Mondays and Thursdays.  I would have to find a mechanic to change the oil in my car.  I would always have to be the driver because there was no longer anyone with whom to share the chores and responsibilities or occasionally take the wheel.  I would always be the one to fill my car with gas.  I would have to do the grocery shopping alone.  There wasn’t anyone to join me to watch a  movie or to share a meal. Though he didn’t make that much money, the loss of his income would be eliminate most “fun” money, so I would have to work out a new budget.  Who could I call if there was an emergency?  On and on, the thoughts came, faster and faster, until there were so many of them piled so high in my mind, I could scarcely breathe.  And one of the last thoughts I had before finally tearing myself away from my reflection was, “What will I do when I need someone to scratch my back?  There’s no one to scratch those places I can’t quite reach.”

The next day, my mail contained a large envelope with a bulk mail stamp.  It was lumpy and hard.  Had a funny shape to it.  I can’t recall where it came from or what they were promoting.  But I will never forget what that envelope contained.

It was a telescoping back scratcher.

I wept.  For just a few minutes.  But I felt a few drops of rain bounce off the hard dusty ground of my soul.  They went deep.

It’s a moment I’ll never forget.  One I think of often.  So much was said without a word being spoken.  It was a silence that wasn’t empty or loud.

It’s been 15 years since my marriage disintegrated.  The back scratcher is still with me.  Still going strong.  Scratching those places I can’t quiet reach.

Ending Where I Began

The day is gloomy and cold, devoid of light or life.  Low clouds drip frigid drops upon the barren earth.  Weather fitting of the occasion.  It is not a day that heralds optimism nor does it hold any promise of new and wonderful experiences to come.  At least, not for me.   It is but another ending among many endings.  Yet another beginning that offers no fresh start.  Nothing has changed.

Years and years and years ago, the new year was welcomed with anticipation and hope.  I was enthusiastic, embracing the endless possibilities of the future.  I once thought each new year would be “my year.” My year for healing, restoration, wholeness and fulfillment.  My year to find love.  I was excited about the unblemished beginning laid before me.  Surely all I had to do was walk into it and receive it with open arms.  Something magical was sure to happen, finally, if for no other reason than it was terribly long overdue.

All too soon, I discovered the demoralizing truth.  There is no magic in this world.  And new beginnings are for those who are valued.  For those who are cherished, wanted, supported and esteemed.  Those who have appeal; who are worthy of the effort and investment of others…of their time, care, encouragement and love.  New beginnings are for the rare few, those who win lotteries, receive deserved promotions in recognition of hard work and unwavering loyalty, who are pretty enough to charm with a smile and who are vulnerable without being bothersome.  They are not, as I once foolishly believed, for someone like me.  Broken, embarrassing and deeply damaged.

For whatever reason, a clean beginning has always remained just beyond my reach, no matter how hard I worked for it or how desperately I stretched out my fingertips trying to grasp it in my praying hands.

I find profound significance in the fact that we greet each “new beginning” on one of shortest days of the year with the briefest period of daylight.  On a day when darkness rules, quickly claiming and quenching both sunlight and warmth.

Instead of hope on New Year’s Day, I now feel despair and grief.  Instead of anticipation, I feel a consuming emptiness.  I know the coming year will not be one that ushers in dreams come true nor answered prayers.  For I have watched new year after new year come, grow old and depart without attaining any promising change or precious progress.  Instead, I am found where I was left; exactly in the despicable spot where I started.  Waiting.  Hoping against hope.  Trying to survive each moment without essential connections nor reason to exist.  Without touch.  Without love. Without purpose.  Having done the work, having sought even the smallest of breakthroughs, only to find myself positioned again on the cusp of another untainted period of time, wretchedly unchanged by the days that have already arrived and departed.  I am trapped, without achievement or virtue, unable to move forward by even an inch.

I know I am broken.  I know my faults outnumber the stars.  I was shattered long ago, as a child.  Fragmented like fine, fragile china thrown at a brick wall, the shards then ground under foot until they were but powder.  But never did I believe I was forever shattered.  I didn’t foresee I would remain as shards and powered dust throughout my lifetime.  I trusted in tomorrow.  I truly believed all the pieces – or at least most of them – could be put back together.  I thought the damage could be repaired.

I have attempted the restoration without support, alone.  But I find I lack the  necessary vision to see myself from the outside.  I can only view my soul from the inside.  I see the overwhelming mess.  The damage and destruction.  This is also the picture repeatedly reflected back to me by those who have temporarily journeyed into my life.  Unworthy.  Too much.  Unlovable.  Without value.  So, this how I see myself.  It has become all I can envision. I simply can’t imagine nor begin to visualize the picture the pieces, once fit together, would form.

I desperately needed someone to help me find the unbroken child who once lived within me.  The one I was before I shattered.  But perhaps the fractured being I have become is the only version of myself that can now exist.  Perhaps this is my destiny.  The other, the one who might have been, is but a ghost who haunts me as I sleep.

There is only so much hope in the human soul.  Without nurture and reassurance, it runs low.  Then vaporizes.  Mine has been drained dry for several years now.  I was a fool to believe in miracles.  To believe in myself.  To believe myself worthy.  I wanted to be wanted, to have value.  But wanting doesn’t produce results, nor conjure experiences, miraculous or otherwise.  Nor does effort guarantee a positive outcome.

I have learned that most any wound can be healed if abundant love is applied liberally and consistently to a festering, damaged heart.  I have learned that no wound heals without it.

Another year comes to a close, wrapped in damp darkness with gloomy, gray, ragged clouds whipping across the sky, driven by unfriendly, piercing winds.  Tomorrow will be no different than today.  It will be cold.  Dark.  Empty.  For no “new beginning” comes prepackaged with the new year.  It is merely another turn of the calendar’s page.  A day that follows the day before.  That day will be followed by yet another. And when all the days of this year come to a close, it will depart having had no impressive impact or promising influence on my life.

What has been set in motion continues on.

My one remaining prayer is that this year will not be the year that injuries me so grievously and deeply, I am further fractured by its blows.  I pray it will not inflict additional mayhem nor wound again those places already painful and shattered.  I hope it will not weigh me down beneath a crushing burden that is more than I can bear nor deliver another smashing, annihilating blow.  I pray it will not be the year that takes more than I have left to give.  Requiring more strength than I can muster.  Destroying what little good remains, taking, demanding more than I can live without.  I pray this year will not be the one that finally kills the microscopic spark left smoldering within my soul.

If it does slaughter that one remaining flicker of a hope that is buried in the deepest, loneliest, emptiest places of my being, may it also eradicate the rest of what is left of me.  Shards, dust and powder.  Blow the mess away with a gust of cold wind and finally set me free.

 

Clock Watching

We don’t start watching the clock until we are about…three…four.

That’s when we begin to comprehend the concept of “time.”  We figure out it takes a long, long, long time for Christmas to arrive.  For our next birthday.  By the time we’re six, we believe school lasts forever and summer comes and goes at lightning speed.  Recess is fleeting.  Daylight hours never last long enough.  The alarm clock goes off too early each morning.  Yet we watch the clock.  Waiting.  Always waiting.  For some future event.  For some point in time yet to come.

It’s a habit we start early and never break.

We can’t wait until we can date.  Drive a car.  Graduate from high school.  College.  Until we can vote.  Drink…legally.  Get married.  Have a good job.  Buy a house.  Take a vacation.  We yearn and crave.  And when we achieve, we fix our eyes once more on some future time or event for which to long.

Always looking forward, we anticipate tomorrow as today slips through our fingers.

We are a strange race.  We spend our days watching the clock while the moments we should treasure, the life we should cherish and fully experience, those precious moments silently tick away.  Always out of reach.  The seconds sneak by us.  And as a result, we never truly live.  We’re always waiting.  For something else.  Something we don’t have.  Some point in time we haven’t yet reached.  We wait, we watch, and we never live the time, the moments, we have now.

We learn time is relative.

Oddly, the things we wait for go by so quickly, we don’t grasp nor value them.  Those precious things we’ve ached for and desired aren’t celebrated.  We don’t slow down enough to appreciate or enjoy them.  We can’t decelerate and wrap our arms around them.  Hold and examine them.  The things we want to last forever are gone before we can even focus on them for more than a click of the hand on the clock.  Before we realize they have arrived, they are gone.

Yet, the times we can’t wait to end, those that drag on and on and on forever, those moments seem to last beyond eternity.  Beyond our ability to endure.  We pray in vain for the hands of the clock to move faster, to deliver us.  But we cannot escape those endless seconds that pass like water dripping from a faucet.  Drop by drop.  Drip.  Drip.  Drip…

It is a paradox.  That time can both linger endlessly and vanish in a flash.

We live our lives eating oysters on the half shell.  Swallowing whole the things we should chew and savor.  And as a result, we never really taste the precious minutes of our existence.

One day, I was young, with infinity before me. The next, there was an old woman looking back at me in the mirror, face lined with wrinkles, limbs tired and mind weary of trying to understand the world.  That old woman barely resembles me…the me that will forever possess my heart.  For you see, the young girl still lives inside of my sagging body.   Somewhere.

Life has happened, one tick of the clock at a time.  It has lingered, yet vanished.  The moments are gone forever.  The memories are fading, just as my eyesight fades.  Regret causes me to look away.  To deny. To forget the reflection I see in the mirror…the reflection that surely can’t be mine.  I see instead that younger version of myself because she is an easier companion.

When we are young, we can’t fathom growing old and empty.  Nor seeing a stranger’s reflection in our mirror.  We can’t believe death is inevitable because it seems so very far away.

But we age.  Time rapidly slips from us as we wait for magical moments that never arrive, disguised as they are in the ordinary.  We come to realize our days are numbered.   We know. it is only a matter of time.  We watch the clock. We can’t help ourselves.  And then, suddenly, the clock tells us that time has run out.

There comes a point of understanding.  Knowing we are but biding time, what little is left, as we wait for the inevitable.  The moment we are all forced to experience, but that most of us dread.  The grand finale. The instant we slip beyond time. When the breath of life leaves our body.  We want to stop the clock, but we can’t.  The ticking becomes deafening just before it tumbles away from us forever.  Time continues as we fade from its boundaries.

In our last moments, we wait for the final event of our life.  We watch the seconds as they steal away.  Listening to the drumming beat of time.

We will only stop counting the ticking of the clock when it abruptly comes to an end.  When we fall into eternity.  When the seconds…and our heart…stop …tick…tick…tick…beating…

 

Soul Whispers

I read a quote recently.  “Follow your dreams for they are whispers from your soul.” 

It caused some introspection. 

My soul no longer whispers.  I have no dreams to follow.  My pockets were once full of them.  I held them close, planning, examining them, viewing them with excitement.  I worked and waited for the day they would come true, one at a time.  I believed.  I heard them whisper to my heart, giving me hope.  Providing something to look forward to.  Something to live for.  A reason to keep trying.  Purpose.  Desire.

The first dream I can remember was the little girl dream of becoming a ballerina.  Though not yet in kindergarten, I begged for lessons.  Saved and spent my meager allowance on a poster of ballerinas in watercolor tutus to hang above my bed.  Watched ballet on TV.  I was mesmerized.  Such grace!  Such beauty!  I felt the stirrings in my limbs.  My legs longed to leap.  My feet to frolic and skip and twirl. My arms desired to move in fluid dance, precise and lovely.  Perfection from my fingers to toes. Beauty in motion.

But there were no lessons.  My parents laughed, told me I was silly when I attempted to twirl and soar.  They dismissed my dream as childish and frivolous.  A bad investment.

The second dream I recall was to learn to play piano.  As a small child, I came to love music.  It somehow set me free from the chaos and pain of my unpredictable world.  It spoke the language of my soul.  Again, I begged for lessons.  My best friend was learning to play and she hated it.  Hated practicing.  But I would sit with her and watch her fingers on the keys, moving and speaking, however imperfectly, creating a language built on beautiful sounds that resonated in my heart.  I watched, but watching was all I was ever allowed to do.  My fingers never learned to dance on the ivory.  My parents didn’t bother to acknowledge my pleas.  They dismissed them as foolish.  Wasteful.

Most forms of heartfelt artistic expression were denied me.  But they couldn’t take the pencil from my hand and notebook paper was relatively cheap.  I wrote.  My first poem was created when I was in first grade and I have never stopped writing.  It became my lifeline.  Page after page after page, the pain of my heart was recorded, expelled, neatly summed up and stored away.  I began to dream of writing books that would provide profound insights, inspiration and deeply move people’s hearts.  I hoped to become an author.  But surviving consumed my all my energy, even as writing saved my soul.

Still I write. 

At one point, I wanted to be an actress, but I was a quiet and shy child. I believed I would be good since I had to act every day of my life.  Act as if everything was normal.  As if my parents were loving and nurturing.  As if they protected me.  As if they weren’t abusing me.  Destroying me.  I had to paint a smile on my face, disguise the pain in my eyes, laugh at the right times, mirror the behavior of my peers, behave like everyone else.  All to avoid discovery.  Because I had been warned. I had to keep the secrets. Telling would cause the family to be torn apart. If anything happened to the family, it would be my fault.  I was forced to be the protector.  The protector who wore a mask and went through the motions.  Who gave an academy award performance every day of my childhood. 

I was an actress whose life depended on no one knowing I was acting.  But the dream of making this my profession died early.

When I was 13, my music teacher aunt persuaded my parents to buy me a cheap acoustic guitar so she could teach me some chords and a few songs.  Thus, the dream of becoming a singer was born.  I was motivated to learn, though I never became a good guitarist.   I started writing my own songs, setting my poems to music.  I wanted to share my pain with the world in hopes of touching the heart of another lonely, broken little girl.  I longed to connect in a deep way, hoping to find I wasn’t alone.  To let them know they were not alone.  But the songs were never heard.  I sang them in the dark, alone in my room, doors closed, softly, so as to not be overheard.  I released a little of the turmoil and injury through the words and simple chords.  It was cathartic.  I decided I had finally found my calling.   The dream to end all dreams. And hope blossomed.

My voice was good, but untrained.  When I asked for lessons, my mother demanded I sing her a song.  She laughed when I was done and told me I sounded awful; nothing like Barbra Streisand.  Thus dismissed, I never asked for anything from them again.  I had been judged and found unacceptable yet again. After, I sang, but always in solitude, fearful of being overheard and rejected.  Even after I left my childhood behind, I never gained the confidence to share that part of myself with others.

As I matured, I longed to have a relationship with someone special; a heart connection that rendered words unnecessary.  I wanted to dive deep, far below the surface, to share those places we all hide.  Another dream.  A frivolous dream.  I fantasized about loving someone who loved me back with all of their heart and soul.  Someone who would keep me safe.  Who would cherish me.  Who would understand my pain.  And care.  Who would want me in spite of my deficiencies.

Foolish.  So foolish.

I dreamed of making a difference in the world.  Changing it for the better.  Doing something remarkable, something that would endure. 

More foolishness.

Whispers.  Whispers in my heart.  Whispers that gave me a reason to keep dreaming.

I dreamed of healing.  Of finally achieving a normal level of wholeness.  I worked hard for it.  Could almost see it through the haze. I even believed I could finally write that book, once I had achieved a state of stability and freedom, chronicling my journey in hopes of helping others who had suffered as I had suffered.  I wanted to help them find the path to well-being and encourage them during their own journey. 

I had less lofty dreams as well.  To live by the ocean.  To lose weight.  To ride in a hot air balloon.  To run a marathon.  Whispers.  “Keep going…there will be things that will make life worth living,” they purred. 

Whispers.  Quietly urging me onward.  Encouraging me to continue the journey.

I have never achieved the necessary Hollywood ending.  I never found my way out of the darkness.  And so, I have had nothing to offer.  The book remains half written.

Reality assailed and betrayed me again and again.  One by one, my dreams faded and died.

 I don’t know when the whispers faded into silence. But now, they are nothing but a memory. 

It is silent, here in my world.  In my heart.  No urgings.  No desires.  No hopes.  No dreams.  I can no longer imagine something positive occurring.   I stagger forward because I must.  Time requires it.  But there are no whispers within me.  Nothing to compel me to continue.  All I have left are these poorly written words, flung out into the universe, without hope of ever being heard.  No hope of connection.  Nor salvation.

My life ended almost as it began.  Hammered by fists.  Molested.  Slapped with hands and spiteful, selfish words.  Rejected.  Unwanted.  Never able to measure up.  Broken.  Raped by my own father.  Damaged and wounded, I tried.  I tried to do everything right, but I failed.  I tried to overcome.  I listened to the whispers and believed them.  But they lied. 

Life has always existed just beyond my reach.  Dreams are for other people, not for me.  I followed the whispers until they deserted me, left me here in the wilderness.  In this place of endless silence.  This in between place where I merely exist.   Just waiting for the final chapter.  For the end. 

I have no dreams.  There are no whispers emanating from my soul, quietly breathing into my ear.  Not even their echoes remain.

 

Darkness

Darkness is everywhere.  It comes in many forms.  Hides in plain sight.

Sometimes it is most extreme in the middle of a bright, sunny day.  When it is felt more than viewed with the eye.  Sometimes it is most profound in the middle of a cold, lonely night.  It creeps in during a too-quiet morning.  When a person responds harshly, in anger, in selfishness.  It comes on a stressful, chaotic afternoon.   On a rainy day.  Slinking in with the  setting of the sun.  The rising of the moon.  On the first rays of the morning.

Turning on the lights will not banish it.  Nor will smiling when in pain, ignoring it or willing yourself to disregard the overwhelming fear, loneliness and anguish that envelopes you.

When darkness comes calling, you can’t lock the doors to keep it at bay.  Nor can you run from it or hide yourself away.  It penetrates all barriers, breaks all locks, seeps beneath every defense.  When darkness targets you, nothing can save you.  It won’t rest until it has you by the throat, strangling you with long, cold, persistent fingers.

It wants to destroy you.  To imprison you.  To enslave you.

Darkness persists.  It permeates.  It putrefies.  It rapes, beats you and leaves you for dead.

It plants its seed deep in your soul.  The seed sprouts forth engulfing pain.  Anguish.  Terror.  Emptiness.  This unholy garden grows in the soul until it splinters you.  Then, it effortlessly harvests your hope and leaves you without a single spark of life in your eyes.

Darkness comes when least expected.  During a wedding.  In the middle of a church service.  At a Christmas party.  During a family reunion.  While you’re reading a book.  Taking a walk.  Shopping.  Suddenly it comes, out of nowhere, taking you by surprise, dragging you under the cold water, drowning you.  It sucks all the joy out of your world.  Your soul.  Tainting everything it touches.  Pulling you ever downward. Suffocating you.  Until you are ruined.

Sometimes it comes when you are a child, during an innocent afternoon spent with your father, your protector, the man you adore.  It comes.  It belittles and mocks you.  Breaks you. Until it finally destroys you.  Darkness reaches toward you with the father’s deviate hand when his perverted, horrible lust takes control.  When he touches your breasts.  Your clitoris.  Pushes his fingers inside of you.  Buries his penis in your mouth.  In your vagina.  Again and again.

Darkness comes.  It cackles with glee.  Gloats in its victory.

It takes you.  Has its way with you.  There is no escape.  And once you have been infected, impregnated, there is no cure.

Darkness comes when the man you love with all of your heart, the man you gave your life to, tells you he doesn’t love you.  And throws you away.  When he tells you that you are so much less than everyone else.  That you are inadequate, defective, disgusting.  When he tells you to keep the ugliness of who you are to yourself.  To keep it all inside.  Because he doesn’t want to hear it.  Doesn’t want to know you.  Doesn’t want to be bothered.

Darkness comes.  It comes cloaked in abuse.  In rejection.  In disdain.  And it, in turn, cloaks you in filthy shame while nothingness swallows you whole.

Light cannot penetrate this darkness.  Hope cannot endure it.

Darkness comes.  It destroys you; your life.  It steals away everything that matters.  Everything that was good about you.  Everything wonderful that might have been. It steals.  It destroys.  It takes.  It demands.  And it snickers with delight and triumph as it watches you wither away.  As you are consumed by numbness and emptiness. As you are utterly decimated.  Beyond redemption or restoration.

It rejoices while you are devoured by the dark seeds with which it impregnated you.

Wisdom cannot defeat it.  Nor can willpower.  Or logic.  Self-talk. Or fact.  Only love can overcome this kind of debauched, consuming, evil darkness.

But love can’t find you, cloaked as you are in shame, broken and decimated, hidden by the night.  And if love never finds you, you are doomed to dwell in that unbearable darkness forever.

And so, the years pass.  Your lifeblood flows from you, droplet after droplet.  The droplets form a river, an ocean.  Flowing and flowing.  Until time runs out.

Darkness comes; stealthy and persistent.  It comes.  There is no escape.  And it will never let you go.

 

 

The World Through My Eyes