On A Wing & A Prayer

On a wing and a prayer…still in the air, barely, one wing more or less intact, praying everything holds together just a little bit longer, until your feet are safely on the ground.

 

As if anywhere is safe.

 

Hoping you make it.  Hoping you succeed, even though there’s no way in hell you should.   The odds are so heavily stacked against you, it will take a miracle.  A big one.  And a bunch of little ones.

 

Your chances are so slight, they’re nearly non-existent.  But there you are, every muscle tensed for the bottom to drop out from under you, knowing it could happen…should happen…any second.  Amazed that you lived from that second into the next one.  And the next.  Praying for another.  Begging God to come through.  To get you through.

 

This is how I have lived my life.

 

I haven’t had the resources I needed to fly.  My wings were broken when I was but a wee bird.  I didn’t receive the nurturing, protection and tenderness needed to avoid significant injury.  So it’s no wonder I didn’t get the care and sanctuary I needed to recover from the damage from those who were responsible for injuring me.  Didn’t happen after I fled the nest either.  Instead of support and love, I was further wounded, tossed aside to perish.  I never found someone to believe in me, who thought I was worth saving.  And I certainly didn’t know how to believe in myself.

 

I was given no chance of survival; of healing.  The damage was too significant.  I was too shattered to consider reassembling.  Too much of me was missing.   But still I tried to fly.  I didn’t know how to give up.  No matter how many times I failed.

 

Giving up meant letting myself fall from the sky.  Like a burning fireball plummeting toward earth, what little was left of my heart and soul would be destroyed long before my body smashed into the ground.

 

Didn’t seem like a good option.

 

I kept going.  From one second into the next.  Muscles tighter than guitar strings, holding on for dear life.  Praying I lived to see the next second.  Praying I would find a place of safety.  A refuge where I could rest and recover.  Scouring the horizon for that imaginary fantasyland promising restoration.  Praying, praying, praying I would find it.  Praying I would make it.

 

Until both wings came off and I was out of options.

 

When you’ve bet your life on one badly shattered, beat up, busted up wing, and it fails, leaving you with nothing to cling to, crushing all hope, everything changes.

 

It’s no longer about, “Will I make it?”  Now, you know you won’t.  You’re in mid-air and what little forward momentum you thought you had is quickly dissipating.  The question becomes, “How hard will I hit?  Will there be anything left of me after I smash into the solid, unyielding ground?  How big of a hole will I make?  And how will I get out of that hole…assuming I survive the crash.  Assuming there’s anything left of me.  Assuming I have enough will or courage to care.”

 

Always praying for the best case scenario.  Which, when you’re motoring through life on a wing and a prayer, the best case scenario, the most amazing outcome you can envision, is living through the pain.  Survival.  Because you know you’re going to hit hard at some point.  You know it’s going to hurt.  You know there will be massive and catastrophic loss.  You are already immensely damaged, so when you fall, your situation isn’t going to magically improve.   If you thought you were an ugly, half-assed flyer before the world fell out from under you, you know your next steps, if you have any steps left, are going to be even uglier.

 

You shouldn’t have been able to fly to begin with.   You cheated death and defied the odds.  Now, you have to pay.  And it will cost you your soul.

 

So many times, I have told myself, “If only I can make it one…more…step…  If only I can make it through this morning.  This hour.  This day.  This week.”  I would push through, never realizing how much of my heart I was losing with every second that ticked away.

 

After you lose everything, after the crash and burn, it all comes apart, when the one remaining wing fails and the final descent to earth begins, you realize how foolish you were to think you had a chance.  How futile those prayers were.  How ridiculous you were to hope.  That’s when you let go of every dream, every wish, every desire, every thought that has protected you, and accept your fate.

 

That’s when reality is revealed.

 

You were never flying.  It was but an illusion of your wounded heart.  A heart that so desperately desired to rise above and to be liberated from all the pain, it masked the extent of the damage.  Camouflaged the ruin.  A heart that dreamed of dancing on the wind, caressed by the sun and the stars, somersaulting on the clouds, warmed by a joy never to be known.  The fantasy is stripped away.  And you’re left alone,  impoverished, holding your empty heart that has now lost all hope.  Your heart that will never know what it is like to fly free, unbroken, and victorious.

Incest

I was raised in small town America, born before the days of the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or email.  Phones had cords and rotary dials.  Initially, when I was small, we had a party line, no area code and our phone number started with HO.   We played tether ball and dodge ball at recess.  Jumped rope.  Rode the merry-go-round.  And ran everywhere for no reason at all.  Doors were seldom locked and during the summer, once school was out, my brother and I took off on our bikes each day, only returning when the sun had started to set and we were weak with hunger.

 

No one worried about kids being grabbed and sold to the highest bidder or school shootings.  Murders may have happened, but they were rare and in places far away.   News was delivered by a paper thrown on, or in the vicinity of, the doorstep and you could still have milk delivered in glass bottles sealed with pleated wax paper tops.  The principle was empowered to spank unruly students with a big wooden paddle and parents repeated the “whooping” when their misbehaving progeny came home.

 

By the time I was in junior high, computers filled rooms, punch cards held the programs that made use of their amazing power and technology was becoming a “thing.”  But only the biggest businesses and prestigious colleges could afford them.  Home computers were yet a dream in the head of their soon-to-be inventors.  Universities were experiencing labor pains, birthing the internet and slowly connecting with each other, but navigation was complicated and totally lacked an intuitive interface.  DOS operating systems put unheard of computing power in the hands of the masses.  A GUI interface hadn’t even been imagined.  You typed in words and words appeared on the orange or green or black and white screen.  Slowly appeared.  One letter, one word at a time.

 

It was a very different reality than the one we know today.  A very different world.  Innocence wasn’t something people typically lost.  There were bad people in the world, but no one knew them personally.  They existed somewhere else.  Probably in the big cities.

 

My parents hid themselves in this world.  They were one of the “bad people,” those no one thought they personally knew.

 

My mother was a self-centered, selfish, manipulative, narcissistic woman who believed everyone owed her and should make her life a pleasant fairytale experience.  She felt she had been cheated by life because she didn’t get everything she wanted and deserved.  And we should all atone for this great injustice.  She was unstable, hiding in the closet when visitors came to the door, and she never tired of talking about others, attempting to diminish them, believing it elevated her to the top of the pyramid.  She was not loving or nurturing.  And when expectations weren’t met, she lost all emotional control, crying, slapping, saying ugly and hateful things with the intent of deeply wounding.  And she succeeded.

 

I was a frequent target.

 

And my father.  My father.  He was the kind of monster no one could believe truly existed, even in those faraway places where murders were committed.

 

He, too, was physically abusive, often exploding without warning for no apparent reason.  He was cold, demanding, mean, and there was something disturbingly scary about him.

 

I was in high school, in history class, and I was looking up a word in the dictionary.  Yes, we had encyclopedias and dictionaries…no Google or apps for that.  I can’t remember what word I was trying to find, but it was in the “I’s.”  I can still see my finger moving down the page as I read.  And then…there it was.  It jumped out as if it was waiting for me, freezing me mid-page.

 

“Incest.”

 

Why did I stop there?  No idea.

 

I had never heard the word before.  It wasn’t something I was trying to find; to check out.  But somehow, it caught my eye.  And that was when I realized I wasn’t the only one.  There was an actual word in the dictionary that was used to define what my father was doing to me.

 

Growing up during that time, when the news at 6 and 10 were your major sources of information about what was happening in the world, when newspapers from distant, larger cities were where you went for details, news didn’t travel fast.  A lot of it didn’t make the cut and was never broadcast or printed.  So, in my little dot on the map, where a parent striking a child in anger was the only kind of abuse that was acknowledged and where any parent who would do such a thing was shunned, it never occurred to me that there were other kinds of child abuse.  Totally lacking the framework to understand what my father was doing to me, I assumed it was something that felt really awful and horrible, but was normal.  I blamed myself for shattering, attributing it to my weakness or worthlessness.  Having been taught it was wrong for me to have needs and that I had been born to meet the needs of others, I didn’t comprehend the abnormality of my home environment.  It was fairly obvious I wasn’t like the other kids at school.  And considering their lack of knowledge about sex in general, I was fairly certain I was the only person alive to have been forced to have sex, or act out various disgusting sexual fantasies, with their father.

 

Finding that word in the dictionary – an actual word that labeled my experience – was a game changer.

 

Intuitively, it had always seemed wrong.  It made me feel dirty and ugly.  But my father said he was teaching me.  Doing me a favor.  It was our special secret.  A secret I couldn’t share with anyone because if I did, our family would be destroyed and my mother would kill herself.  It would be my fault if this happened.  So I must never tell or the secret would be spoiled.

 

Conflicting messages that confused and silenced me.

 

The dictionary wasn’t conflicted or confusing.  It called it a crime, confirming the suspicion I had denied, validating the feelings I squelched and strangled.  What he was doing was wrong.  And I was not the only one who knew this word from the inside out.

 

Incest.  A word that changed everything about me.  It broke me, destroyed the child I was, changed neuropathways and eroded my DNA, impacting every cell and molecule of my being.  Blinded my eyes to the good others saw; the things that made life worth living.  Distorted the truth.   I knew things the dictionary didn’t know because I was living it.

 

Though I now had a label for the sexual abuse, small town USA wasn’t ready to acknowledge such evil.  And my parents were good at hiding the monsters in their hearts.  I remained silent for most of my life.  Even in the age of information, when you could Google anything for instant answers or ask Alexa any question that popped into your brain, child abuse, particularly incest, has never become a topic for discussion.  It is still a dirty secret that is not supposed to be acknowledged or shared.

 

Perhaps a time will come when a child can speak and adults will listen.  And take action.  When adults can freely share their childhood nightmares and still be loved.  Valued.  Maybe when technology has made everything known and computer chips are embedded in every item we interact with, including in our own flesh, this hidden tragedy will no longer have a place to hide.  Maybe then the lies will be exposed and the abuse of innocent children will become extinct.

 

Until that time, I write.  Pouring my secrets out into the cyber universe, whispering what I have never dared to speak, exposing this evil that often hides in plain sight.   Whispering of the damage those acts of parental abuse do to a child who longs for love and acceptance.  A child who has no defenses or ability to process what they are experiencing.  An innocent being who needs security and parents they can trust.  I try to express the pain and shame of it.  The hurt and decimation.  Adding my own definition of incest to the paltry lines written in the dictionary.  Leaving it here for the next little girl to discover, letting her know she is not alone.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Hide it all away
In a heart cracked and broken
Tie it up with lies
The truth must not be spoken

 

It’s something I learned how to do as a child.  A young toddler.  Though I didn’t understand why, I knew I had to do it.  For the world around me was filled with abuse and chaos.  Chaos that created confusion, uncertainty and fear.  It was in this classroom that I learned.

I learned to hide.  To keep secrets.  I learned that I must never tell.  That I must not let others see the chaos.  I must never let them know about the world in which I lived.  I kept my mouth firmly and tightly shut.  Plastered a smile on my rosy-cheeked face.  I learned to pretend everything in my existence was ordinary.  As normal as life ever gets.  I learned to hold everything I perceived and heard and thought and felt deep down inside of me.  As far down as I could shove it.   I learned there were some things that must never be said; some stories that must never be told.  Some pain that must never be released.  Or even acknowledged.

Those lessons went deep.  They were reinforced a thousand times a day in a thousand different ways.  A hundred thousand times over the course of a year.  Methodically hammered into my mind.  Driven into the fabric of my being.  I learned the wisdom they carried, the veracity they contained.

I learned to hide I plain sight.

I learned to keep the secrets and I kept them well. There are people who knew me then, the child “me,” who tell me they had no idea what I was being done to me.   What I was suffering.  Yet, I am surprised they never suspected, for I felt every disfiguring wound I bore upon my body and soul was glaringly visible.  I believed I was ominously different.  Otherworldly.  An alien among them, so conspicuously odd that my peculiarity was sure to give me away.  I am amazed that I fooled them.  Astounded they couldn’t see through my lies.  My fake smile.

I succeeded in hiding, even when I believed I had failed.  I hid the abuse, the hurt, the terror and wounding so well, even I forgot where the nightmares were hidden.  I shoved them down, closed the lid, tied them up and pushed them away.   Fooled myself by telling myself the same lies I told others.  And in the silence of my empty world, I blamed myself for everything.  Believed I deserved it.  That I didn’t merit love or care.  I told myself again and again that it could have been worse.  It wasn’t as terrible as I thought it was.  That it was my fault.  That I didn’t matter.

If anyone had dared to look beyond the smile, there were signs.  The mutilated dolls.  Sleeping in my clothes.  My bra and underwear.  Flashlight clutched in my hand, ready to banish threatening monsters who crept upon me as I drifted to sleep.  My fear of adults.  My silence.  Awkwardness.  My inability to trust.  Never able to feel safe for even a moment, I was terrified of storms, darkness, fire.  I knew the world could drop out from under me at any time.  It happened almost every day.

There was also my knowledge of sex.  And pornography.  The things I thought all the kids knew…until I found out they didn’t have a clue.

I was a performer, terrified of failure.  My grades didn’t slide because I was driven to prove my worth, hoping I had some.  I tried to make everyone happy.  To do what they expected and demanded.  I was an object.  Objects have to earn their keep.  They have to merit being tolerated.

When you are forced to hide your childhood, all that happened to you during this significant time of development, to keep awful secrets that no one wants to hear, the only way to survive is to disconnect from who you are.  From what those awful secrets have made you.  What they have done to you.  You take the things you somehow know are unspeakable and never speak them.  Denying they ever were.  Sending every memory of them to a dark, concealed compartment, locked by denial and sealed with forgetfulness.  You wear a mask so no one will ever notice you.  Until, as time passes, you can no longer find yourself.  You forget who you are, who you were…if you ever were.  The mask takes control.  It is all that is left of you.

The pain locked away in the innermost places of your soul will but rarely make its presence known, and only in times of utter darkness and total silence.  When the night is especially long and opaque.  And empty.  You feel the dull ache.  A flash of memory of something lost that you’ve almost forgotten.  A ghost that haunts you in moments of weakness and despair.

I almost forgot.  I hid so well, no one knew I was hiding.  Not even me.

Secrets erode the essence of one’s being.  Having to conceal what you have experienced becomes toxic shame.  Being forced to act as if nothing has happened invalidates your perception of elemental truths.  You begin to see yourself as inferior.  Stupid.  Worthless.  Wrong.  Less than.  As everything that is unacceptable.  And a person who is unacceptable is unworthy of love.

Though the facade spared everyone I encountered from seeing the ugly, horrid scars and festering wounds that marred my personality, I was always different.  Something was off.  Terribly off.  Something vital was missing.  Something was broken beyond repair.  Something fundamental had been lost.  And it couldn’t be recovered.

Me.  My heart.  My soul.

I lost myself.

Hidden so well, I am seen, but not seen.  Never known.  Always shielded and veiled.  Hidden so cleverly and thoroughly, even I cannot find me.

 

Terry Wayne

When I started working for the company that operated the large machine shop where you worked, I was intimidated.  Introverted by nature, but having been instructed to “manage by walking around,” I tried my best to appear comfortable and to engage each person in conversation.  But it felt a little like parading through a maximum security prison as hundreds of cold, angry eyes looked me up and down before spitting on the floor in disgust as a way of expressing their disapproval.  Wandering through the oily aisles between huge, noisy, dangerous-looking CNC machining centers, mills, and lathes, past welders, the hobbing area, assembly, paint and shipping and receiving, I was bombarded with hostile stares, then completely ignored.  Rigid backs were turned, delivering a clear message without saying a word.  I was the new HR person.  The last HR manager had done a lot of damage.  I had been hired to rebuild the relationship and credibility he had destroyed.  To make a difference.  Challenged to create a connection built on trust with a group of men who didn’t trust women anyway, especially not women at work, particularly not women in management and never those in human resources, I felt doomed to fail.  And I was terrified.

 

You were the first person to show me kindness.

 

A few days after I was hired, I had to pull together an agenda  and chair a previously scheduled meeting of the safety committee.  The guys on the committee joined because, per long-standing tradition, the meeting was held during lunch, they got paid while they attended and they were provided generous helpings of all the pizza they could eat.  And they could eat a lot.  You were on the committee.  And you were the only one who listened.  Who spoke to me.  Everyone else laughed and talked among themselves, acting as if I weren’t there, as they gorged on slice after slice of free thick and thin crust pizza decked out with every imaginable topping.

 

By the next meeting, your best friend spoke to me too.  And participated.  He followed your lead and I was grateful.

 

I discovered you were someone I would be proud to call a friend both at and outside of work.  Like most of the machinists, you lived quite a distance away from the shop, deep in the “country.” Your home was nestled in an spot with pristine, post-card perfect scenery, the land dotted by farms, tiny towns, isolated houses that could only be accessed by long dirt roads, and stretches of untouched woodland that extended for miles beyond the metro area where I lived.  And like most of the guys, you loved to hunt and fish.  You were an outdoorsman.  Drove an old “muscle” car; rebuilt them as a hobby.  You effortlessly existed and fit quite nicely in this world of macho men.  But there was another side to you.

 

You were a few years younger than I was, but had married a woman who was my age.  She was an RN and had run several nursing homes before finally opening her own.  It was a dream she couldn’t have fulfilled without your support, both emotionally and financially.  And you spoke about her with love and respect, in total contrast to the way the other guys talked about their “old ladies.”   She had children from a previous marriage, but to you, they were your kids.  You loved them and did everything you could to give them a good foundation.  Tried to make up for their dead-beat dad.  You read books.  Lots of them.  Contemplated your purpose, sharing some deep thoughts with me that let me know there was much more to you than the “good ole boy” front you wore to work each day.  I enjoyed those conversations.  Looked forward to them.  And I came to profoundly respect you.

 

I was there for 7 years and during that time, you were the one person I could turn to when I needed an honest answer or someone to help me see a different perspective.  You would also tell me the truth about anything dangerous that was going on out on the floor.  You were the one who told me about the machine that was malfunctioning, throwing the giant bearings we manufactured halfway across the shop, endangering lives.  No one else would report it.  They were tough.  Management sucked.  Safety was a joke.  But you recognized the idiocy of their machismo and let me know when there were serious problems.

 

I think you came to trust me.  I know you shared some very private and personal thoughts with me; I treasured and guarded each jewel you entrusted to my care.  I valued you.  As a friend.  As an employee.  As a leader among a workforce of 200 crusty men who were all trying to be the same.  And I certainly trusted you.  For me, you were a light in a dark and hostile world.  I don’t know if I could have had any kind of positive impact without your cooperation.  And friendship.  You led the way.  You were the one who truly made a difference.

 

The company sold shortly after I left and you moved with them to their new location.  I thought about you from time to time.  Hoped you were doing well.  Hoped your wife’s business was growing.  And that you had found another friend with whom to share your weightier thoughts.  Those feelings you could never divulge to your fellow machinists without being ridiculed and ostracized.

 

Several years later, I ran into one of the guys who had worked at the shop, who had also stayed on after the sale.  I asked him if he knew how you were doing.  If you were still with the new company.

 

He looked at me with an expression of wary surprise.  “You didn’t know?”

 

Even before I answered, my heart started beating faster.  I felt a lump in my throat.  “Know what?”

 

“He’s dead.  Killed himself a few years ago.  Shot himself, tried to put the bullet in his heart, but it didn’t kill him instantly, so he shot himself a second time.  Took him a while to die is what I heard.  He must have been crazy!”

 

I don’t remember how I responded.  I was suddenly numb.  And undone.  And brokenhearted.  Grief flooded over me, along with disbelief and horror.

 

There had been no signs.  No note.  No one knew the reason you gave up on life.  I learned that you walked out into the woods, presumably so neither your wife or kids would find you, thinking the animals would discover and take your body away instead.   Considerate until the end.

 

Though it’s been almost 10 years, I still think of you, Terry.  Did the mask you wore to survive the world where you worked become too heavy to carry?  Were you no longer able to reconcile your sensitive heart with the tough exterior you  donned as a shell of protection?  Did something happen between you and you wife, the love of your life?  What went so horribly wrong to cause you to take such drastic, destructive action?

 

You weren’t educated, but you were wise.  You had a “hick” accent, but a philosopher’s brain.  You had an intensity that hummed inside of you, a vulnerability and tenderness visible in your eyes, though you hid it well by surrounding yourself with powerful, humming machines.  You were contemplative and interesting, mingling with the common and unthinking.  Had a depth that was contradicted by your unassuming, woodsy exterior.  And the heart you shot and killed was such a kind and gentle one.  You were so unique, grounded, sensible.  How did you reach the point of losing all hope?  How did you come to that terrible place of total aloneness and despair?  Why did you think the only answer was to die?

 

I’ve been there.  I survived my attempt.  Women tend not to shoot themselves, preferring a less violent departure.  But you…you were so determined to die, you shot yourself…twice.  You might have survived the first bullet.  Why didn’t you take that as a sign?  A sign that you were not supposed to leave us?  Why did you feel such a desperate determination that you ignored the pain and all logic, unflinchingly willing yourself to pull the trigger the second time?

 

I think of you.  Your shy, tight smile.  Your wise, observant, piercing blue eyes that seemed to see so much more than most.  Your quite spirit.  Your innate intelligence.  I think of the kind person who spoke to me when no one else would, who gave me a chance when the rest of the men turned their backs, and who shared bits and pieces of your heart with me, only to ruthlessly, mortally wound it until it stopped beating as you dropped to the ground, alone in the woods.  Wanting to fade into nothingness, yet wishing to spare those you loved and those who loved you.

 

I think of you and grieve.  I feel I let you down.  Succeeded at my job, but failed as your friend.  I should have been there for you, just as you were there for me, when I needed you.

 

I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive myself for this failure.  I know I will never recover from the loss of your light.

Feather

I am a feather, carried by the wind, drifting, spinning, directionless.  I am forcefully transported, insistent hand pushing at my back, shoving me here and there.  Jolted. Spun. Dropped.  Falling hard.  Driven onward by the power and will of the tempest.  Blown from place to place, without choice or the option to resist.  Never allowed to stay; not for long.  Rarely noticed.  Tossed and thrown, advancing, then swept back into a desolate wasteland.  Propelled to the depths of the dark valley, smashed against trees and rocks and an endless array of obstacles.  Heaved, carried, released.  At the mercy of the storm.  Traveling wherever it blows me.

 

A feather that has fallen from the wing is useless.  Has no worth.  No purpose.   For it has nothing to impart or contribute.  No reason for being.

 

Free-falling.  But not free.  Unattached.  But not unencumbered.  Aimless.  But not at rest.  All resistance stripped away.  Floating, adrift on an invisible sea.  Impelled by an invisible current.  But lacking any meaningful destination.

 

This has been my life; this unchoreographed dance. This awkward, spastic ballet.  In the brief moments when I thought I knew where I was going, imagined I recognized my purpose, I felt a wild surge of hope.  And so, I strained with all my might, tried to focus on the target while spinning like a top.  Spiraling uselessly until dizzy with defeat, the world falling out from under me as I am thrown to the ground once more.  There I would lay, reeling, thankful the ride had ended, trying to orient to my new surroundings.  Measuring the stillness.  But there is no peace, not for a useless feather.  Drawn upward yet again, terrified, fervently praying for the gale to be kind.  But the powerful do not hear the pleas of the weak.  I am shunted forward, only to be tossed wildly back into the empty void.  Thrown, elbowed, released, and driven down by the merciless wind.  Going nowhere.

 

I have seen the distant shore; that land of safety and hope.  A world where others live and laugh and love.  And share the burdens of their heartache.  I have tried to make my way to this place that seems so full when compared with my own isolation.  I have struggled to swing toward this tantalizing terrain.  Strained.  Yearned.  But when you’re powered by the wind, you go where it blows.  Neither effort nor desire matters.  Necessity steers you down roads you would not have chosen.    You do what you have to do to survive.  Executing some grand plan, achieving an enchanted dream, even finding normality, is not an option.  Not for a wingless feather set adrift, slammed by the tempests of life.

 

Though I have prayed to be restored, to be placed back upon a mighty, glorious wing of some majestic creature, big or small, my prayers have but bounced from cloud to cloud.  Just as I have bounced from one lonely place to another.

 

I am a feather, carried by the wind.  I rise.  I fall.  I sleep upon the storm, but know no rest.  I live in the hurricane, but have no strength.  I ride upon the thunderstorm, but have no fire; no voice.  I whirl on angry, restless squalls.  Longing for freedom; imprisoned by overpowering forces I have never yet learned to channel or control.

 

Lemonade

I dislike lemonade.  If offered a glass when I was thirsty, I would turn it down.  Dying of thirst, I would drink, but only if there were no options, other than succumbing to slow death.  Of all the beverage choices available, my least favorite is lemonade.  And limeade.  Grapefruit juice.  Those fruity juices that bite back when you try to swallow them.  Leaving a bitter aftertaste in your mouth.  Leaving you thirsty.

I equally dislike the saying, “When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I understand the premise.  To make the best of things.   I’m not opposed to making the best of a bad hand or raw deal.  But the aftertaste this chirpy phrase leaves in my brain is not pleasant.  It feels uncomfortably like yet another warning to keep my pain, goo, baggage, issues and faults to myself.  To paint a pretty picture of my life to mask the actuality of my sour, unsatisfying existence.  To cease to acknowledge reality while embracing the sugar-sweet fantasy of who I should be.  To wipe the frown off my face and smile a big, lovely, fake smile.  To pretend bad is good.  That all is well. And most of all, to shut up about the mess.  To alter my shape and form so I am no longer unpalatable.

Make lemonade.  As if lemons in any other form aren’t terribly bitter and biting.

All my life, I’ve been told I must keep my “dirty laundry” to myself.  Shield others from the ugliness of my damaged, disfigured soul.  To act “as if.”  As if I were not still trying to recover from the sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse of childhood…those things that laid my faulty foundation, changed the neurological pathways in my brain and destroyed my ability to see the world as others see it.  As if I were not damaged goods.  As if none of the brokenness, fracturing, and splintering within my emotional core was of any significance.  As if the years of trauma didn’t have an impact. As if none of it happened.

If none of it happened, the things I wrestle with every day wouldn’t be real.  If they aren’t real, I shouldn’t be the way I am.  So, I should act as if I’m not who I really am so I can look more like who I am supposed to be.  Because, clearly, I shouldn’t still be struggling with trauma from decades past, so I shouldn’t be a despicable mess surrounded by pungent lemons.  And if I weren’t a mess, I would “be over” those long ago traumatic events.  So, I should pretend I’m fine.  And unbroken.  That the darkness is light, the pain is happiness, the damage isn’t real, and I am not at all who I am.  Just drink that damned lemonade until I become who I am supposed to be.

Maybe if I add enough sugar, I can mask the harsh, bitter taste.

I’ve been told to get over it, move on, forget what is past, to put my big girl panties on, to not let it get to me, to speak the right words and think the right thoughts so I will become what I am not, to not let the things that happened to me define me.  And I have felt deeply shamed for failing at all of these.

How is one supposed to “make the best” of being abused as a child?  Of genes that have been turned off?  Thought patterns that detoured into dark and frightening places?  Of broken trust, a shattered soul, a world ground into dust, blown away by the wind.  Of sacks and sacks and sacks of rotting lemons.

The abuse drastically and profoundly altered every cell and atom of my vulnerable being. Overwhelmed the innocent, defenseless child I was, gutting me and leaving me to die a slow death, alone in the darkness. I would gladly put it behind me and move on. But it is part of the fabric of my soul.  It gave me eyes to see horrible things, but not the ability to view the goodness and beauty of life.  It gave me ears to hear condemning, rejecting, torturing words, but not the ability to comprehend the language of love and acceptance.  It stole my voice and crushed, instead of nurtured, my exposed heart.  All before I entered elementary school.  Long before I was able to free myself from the piercing claws of parents who professed to love me, but who instead dismembered me one molecule at a time.  Popped me like bubble wrap.  Shattered me like a plate glass window assaulted by a barrage of boulders.  Ground me to pulp like wheat beneath the grinding stone.

How do you make an appetizing lemonade from those lemons?  How do you swallow that bitter, poisonous beverage, smile, and come back for more?

I’ve tried.  Just as I’ve tried to learn to love lemonade, its tartness and thick, pulpy debris.  The way my eyes water from the sharp bite of the squeezed juice.  The painful, acidic scorching as it enters my stomach, disfiguring me from the inside out.   I’ve tried to make the best of things, to pretend this concoction is tasty and fulfilling.   But the acid sears my heart and burns my soul, leaving me thirsty, scarred, and longing for relief.

 

 

 

God So Loved

It’s hard to understand; at least it is for me.  To reconcile a life of pain, rejection, isolation and emptiness, of praying, begging for healing, with a God who supposedly loves us beyond what we can  begin to grasp or imagine.  A God who died for us so He wouldn’t have to condemn and cast us away.  A God who declares Himself to be merciful and compassionate, the giver of the free gift of grace.  An all-powerful God who could certainly protect, prevent, spare, or, at the very least, touch and heal our festering wounds.  Erase our scars.  But who, instead, seemingly stands at a distance, watching disaster after disaster, loss after loss, play out on the massive chess board of our life without intervening or saving so much as a lowly pawn.  He observes it all from a parallel dimension, rarely crossing through the unseen barrier to save us from the tragedies of this world and the evil that rules it.

It appears He leaves us to drown in our pain.  Struggling to survive.  Silently watching as we grow too weary to stand, much less fight.

When I look with my eyes, I don’t understand.  All I see are the questions piling up to the heavens, unanswered, unacknowledged.  It looks, feels and tastes like He has turned his back and walked away, leaving us to be buried beneath the weight of our confusion, agony and loneliness.

Yet, there is within me a tiny ember, scarcely burning.  A miniscule pin-point of barely discernable light.  For I know.   I’ve encountered this living God.  I’ve touched and been touched by Him.  And I have an indelible memory of His consuming, engulfing, cleansing, unshakable love.  This is a reality I can never deny.

It has been a very long time since this intense encounter.  A lifetime ago.  But isn’t He the same yesterday, today and forever?

As much as I struggle to trust – and I do struggle – as impossible as it is for me to rest in His acceptance of me, as far away as He feels, I know He is still there.  A breath away.  Having tasted, I cannot reject this truth.  He is.  He is love.  He is with me.

The reality is simply this.  I am significantly damaged.  Broken.  Forever changed by abuse, loss, rejection, ridicule, ravaged by excruciating hurt and decimating terror.  I may never again feel God’s incomprehensible love while I exist on this earth.  I may never be healed of all my wounds and may never find a fragment of restoration in this life.  I may never experience joy or love or belonging.  And the freedom I so desperately desire, the chains I long to see broken, may imprison me throughout my entire lifetime.  I may never be free of them; not as long as I breathe this air or walk in this dust.

When I view my life only with my eyes, all I see is the destruction and disappointment.  My shattered heart.  The reality of my today.  My yesterdays.  The likelihood of this also becoming my tomorrow.

But my spirit has seen the unseen.  And in that tiny mustard seed still residing inside me, there rests the absolute knowledge and comprehension that what I have seen and now see with my eyes is not destined to become my forever.

It feels important to acknowledge this.  For though I often pour out my distress, share stories of my suffering, and paint pictures of a massive field of damage within me that is so deep, complete and immense, I cannot see the end of it, I am assured there is an end.  I will one day walk beyond its borders, even though I am not likely to experience this coveted release until I slip past the limits of the universe I have called my home.  I know, even if it doesn’t occur until the day I come face-to-face with the elusive, silent, ever-watchful God I’ve long cried out to, this incomprehensible God I met so long ago, until I am finally thrust into the dimension where He waits for me with open, loving arms…the unbearable anguish of this world will come to an end.  And in that moment, I will be transformed and restored as my sorrow is released.

I cannot see with my eyes what my spirit knows to be true.  I cannot touch it with my hands.  But when I look with my heart and let my spirit provide me with vision, I finally see.

This is the Love that overcame death.  He didn’t hate me, nor did He want to judge me.  He did not desire to condemn me.   And so, He made a path, paved by His own tears and suffering.   His torn and crushed body.  Washed by the blood that flowed from His wounds.  A path that leads me to Him and into the freedom and restoration I have long pursued.  This is the Love that died so I could know liberty and healing.  So I could experience joy.  So I could understand and see the truth.  So I could finally, at long last, trust and rest in His arms, never again to be betrayed or rejected or judged and found wanting.  I cannot see it with my eyes, nor feel it as I try to sleep in the dark and terrifying night of my now.  But my inability to see doesn’t change the reality.  God so loved.  And because He loved with a mighty and fierce love, because He is Love, I will someday leave the confines of time, space, and gravity to join Him in the kingdom built by His astonishing sacrifice.

There, He will wipe all my tears away.  Those I’ve cried and those that have never been released.  Tears repressed because I couldn’t find the courage to walk through the excruciating sorrow hidden in the most secret places of my soul.  In this new realm, all the struggles, nightmares and fractures I’ve endured, the mountains of unanswered questions that have sidetracked, hindered and haunted me, every particle lost during the destruction of my being, will be absorbed into Him until the memory of my suffering and desolation utterly vanishes.  Devoured and transformed by His unfathomable, incomprehensible, unconditional love.

 

Anniversary

Had my marriage lasted, I would have been married 38 years as of last Thursday.  It would have been a day of celebration, rejoicing in a love enduring and fulfilling.  Would have been, had God worked a miracle.  Had He healed me, healed us, and given my ex a heart that could love me in spite of my many imperfections.    Had the marriage become all that I hoped and dreamed it would be when I said “I do,” it would have been a very special day.  Worthy of noting and honoring.  Countdown to 40.  A significant accomplishment.

But God didn’t work that miracle, nor did the man who inexplicably asked me to marry him ever come to love me.

Instead, I found myself alone.  Empty.  Unable to write, with nothing to say.  Unable to add a new post to my blog.  Unable in so many ways, on so many levels, to function.

It could have been a day to celebrate dreams come true.  To give thanks for a shared unconditional love.   It could have been.  But instead, it marked a great failure.  It has become a monument to my unworthiness.

I thought we started out well, with much potential.  If only things had been different.  If only a few things had come together the way they should have done. If only.

I have too many “if only” moments and memories.  I am exhausted from carrying them.   From trying to move forward while entwined in the tentacles of past traumas, debilitating abuse, unfulfilled dreams and overwhelming, painful events.

Instead of celebrating, I went to work, just as I do every day of the week.  Unlike today, it was a gloomy day.  Alternating between steady, heavy rain and misty drizzle.  It was busy; I worked hard.  Arrived before 6:30 and left at 4.  No lunch.  But then, I never do take lunch.  And I always work hard.  But on this day, every moment was filled with demands and the needs of others.  I operated in “machine mode,” responding quickly, knocking out task after request after assignment.    By the time 4 arrived, I was drained.  Driving home took the rest of my resources.  Leaving me hollow.  Motionless.  Bone-weary.

But my weariness wasn’t the result of the craziness of my day.  It went much deeper.  To the core.  For I am weary of wanting and hoping and trying.  Weary from running on empty, forcing myself to keep take another step.  I have gone too long without an answered prayer.

And I have prayed.  But I fear God has long forgotten me.

I drove home, received a rapturous greeting from my dogs, who do love me unconditionally, and prepared a solitary meal.  Ate in silence while being scrutinized by hopeful eyes, watching for dropped crumbs that never fell.   They also wanted and hoped, but didn’t receive.

A day will come, if I live that long, when the twenty-two years I spent in a loveless, crushing marriage will be matched by twenty-two years of being alone, on my own, in loveless isolation.  In only six more years, April 4th will signify a lifetime of years lived without knowing love.  A lifetime of failure.  Desolation.  In six years, I will have existed as long in a lonely marriage, tied to a spouse who constantly judged and rejected me, as I will have lived without him, surrounded by my shattered dreams.

So much time vanished with nothing to show for it.

Sometimes I still get mail addressed to him.  It comes like a ghost on a mission to haunt me.  A sad reminder of our pathetic union.   Our defunct connection still maintained in some ancient marketing database.  Though I have moved to a  different state, it follows me, plaguing me with shadows of what might have been; niggling me with all that has been lost.  Rubbing my face in my failure and confirming my unworthiness to be loved.

I remember promising myself a few months after my ex left me, “If I am still alone in 10 years, I’ll kill myself.”  But here I am, sixteen years later, having only gone on one date.  I had to ask him.  And he went because I had free tickets.

So, I didn’t write last week.  Instead, I pondered my lonely existence while sitting mutely within the silent walls of my tiny house, trying to avoid disturbing, poignant thoughts.  Thoughts about this potentially special day that now stands as a monument to my shortcomings and deficiencies.  A day that will forever serve as a reminder of the passage of time and how quickly hope can be lost.  How swiftly love can slip away.  How time can run out in the blink of an eye.  Of continuing on without having progressed.  Another pointless year of seconds and minutes and days and months spent, but unredeemed.  Another lonely anniversary, recalling a time long past when I believed in love and life.  When I felt alive.  Trying to understand how it all fell apart and what went wrong.  Another anniversary observed.  Celebrating nothing.

 

 

Ventilator

The father of a friend of mine is currently on a ventilator.  When you are so ill that you need a ventilator, you have to be kept sedated, basically in a medically induced coma, because you can’t really help but fight the tube that is placed in your nose and down your throat.  And you tend to fight against the machine that is making you breathe.  Even though it’s keeping you alive, you fight it.  It’s a natural reaction to the invasion of cold, unyielding technology when inserted into the human body.

You fight to live yet fight what is keeping you here.

My father was placed on a ventilator for three days.  One by one the lobes of his lungs had steadily turned into scar tissue, quickly, over the period of a week.  No known cause.  He had pneumonia, recovered, and two weeks after his release from the hospital, he couldn’t breathe.  He agreed to be kept artificially alive only until the final test results could be obtained.  To be left on the machine afterwards only if those test results provided hope for a cure.

Monday morning, we were informed the results were inconclusive.  There were no further tests they could run.  No more options or ideas.  He would die within a short period of time if removed from the ventilator.  There was nothing they could do to repair the damage.

I didn’t make the 3-1/2 hour trip to stand by his bed as he died.  He had not earned devotion.

My father abused me.  My entire childhood is a crazy-quilt of memories, random pieces patched together as best as I could manage, without continuity.  No intact or linear recollections.  Every experience has been chopped into fragments, only randomly recalled, no storyline or connection.  Moments come into focus from the darkness of my past.  Chapters of life I struggled to survive.  Then they fade away again, leaving me without any idea of what came before or after.

Shards.  Slices.  Cuts.  So much damage.  So much pain.

He turned my spirit into scar tissue.  One node, one moment at a time.

He ground my heart to dust.

My mind was so badly damaged, I could never untangle the mess of circular thoughts that dragged me into the abyss, regardless of how hard I fought the current.

I remember the feeling of not being able to breathe.  Of gasping and grasping and clawing.   Waiting for him to come.  To take off my clothes.  To satisfy himself through whatever sick fantasy he nurtured and acted out with me unwillingly cast in the starring role.  I remember taking shallow breaths, praying he wouldn’t notice me.  That he would forget I was there.  That his lust wouldn’t whet his appetite and propel him come lurking.  Sucking all the air right out of me as he raped me.

He strangled the neurotransmitters in my brain, physiologically shifting the pathways of my thoughts.  Creating a permanent detour.  Physically, psychologically, emotionally turning me into nothing but a mass of dreadful scar tissue.  He forever altered my ability to believe I was anything but an object to be used.  No value beyond whatever satisfaction I provided.  He shattered my trust, my concept of love, stole any sense of safety I had managed to cling to, and defiled me until my self-image was horribly tainted, stained by his dirt.  I believed with every fiber of my being that I was the dirty one.  That I was nothing.  Nothing but filth; a worthless toy.

I needed artificial support.  A ventilator to keep me alive until I could escape my parents and get the professional help I so desperately needed.  But by the time I could afford the care, it was too late.  There was nothing anyone could do for me.

I’ve been in a coma ever since.  My body alive, even though I’ve lost the ability to truly live.  To breathe of my own accord.

All I have to look forward to is the release.  That moment when the machine is turned off, when I no longer have air forced into my damaged being, artificially animating my heart and soul.  When all the distractions and diversions I’ve relied on to get me through the day are silenced.  When the last blip scurries across the screen, succumbing to a flat, unwavering line.  When I exhale the final puff of air.  And no longer have to fight the force that has so long held me here in suspended animation.

 

Noise

I keep the television going.  Not that I’m watching.

The silence, you see, can be so overwhelming.  So dangerous.

I need my mind to remain distracted; unfocused.  I need to prevent myself from taking even a quick look into the abyss.  I can’t let myself get sucked in.  Down.  I can’t risk rediscovering all that is hidden there, in the fog of the past.  The recollections I’ve swept away and thrown into the darkness.  Sealed in that massive black hole.  Locked and left behind.

Noise is my friend.  My salvation.

It doesn’t matter what is playing, as long as it’s not memories scrolling through my mind, accompanied, as they always are, by a painful, discordant soundtrack of the past.

Staying busy also creates noise.  Hobbies, activities, errands…they distract and drown out the voice of my damaged heart.  They demand attention and concentration.   Keep my thoughts from wandering into the mine field left behind after the abuse of childhood and a loveless marriage eventually ended.  Busyness maintains the walls.  Wards off those quiet, vulnerable moments that can ambush me out of nowhere and bring me to my knees.  Working long hours so the brain is too tired to think by the time I get home.   Bringing home projects.  Reading a book.  Facebook.  Email.  The movement and demand keeps my heart from engaging with my mind so I can continue to avoid the memories I’ve deeply buried.

I’ve become so skilled at evading my own emotions, I can’t embrace the silence, even if I try.  Silence is filled with its own kind of noise.  An uproarious symphony of sound clamoring in the darkness. Unpleasant and dissonant.  Jarring screams of agony never released.  Instinct urges me to cover my ears, to numb my heart, to keep running.

I avoid so I won’t have to hear.  Sprint and scurry away so I won’t have to face the damage.

The trauma shaped me without concern for the what it would ultimately make of me.  It slashed, stabbed, cut, wounded, ravaged and crushed.  Took all that was good or promising.  Left me hollow, scarred, unsightly.  Hideously ravaged.  Is it any wonder I cannot bear to gaze at myself in the mirror of introspection?  Is it any wonder I do whatever I must to drown out the sound of my own screams?

I turn on the television, play a game on my phone, play with my dogs.  The noise keeps me from hearing and feeling.

And when it’s time for me to go to bed, to rest my exhausted mind and body so I will have the strength to get up the next morning and do it all again, I pray I can quickly sink into unconsciousness before my thoughts assail and engulf me.  Before the quiet of the darkness peels away the blinders I have placed on my heart and soul.  Before I am pierced by the crushing agony of life’s repetitious struggle  to survive.  Before I have to face my shockingly disfigured core.  I close my eyes and pray sleep will carry me away.  That my dreams will be filled with a continuous, enveloping, droning clatter.

I pray I will have the ability to walk through another empty, silent day.  That I will be able to disappear within an interminable stream of whirring, obscuring, unfettering noise.

 

The World Through My Eyes