Category Archives: Updates

Tears

The sky is crying and so am I.  It’s that kind of a day.  Cold, rainy, gloomy, depressing.  The hint of spring we were beginning to catch glimpses of last week has been swept away, now hidden beneath freezing fog, pellets of “snow cone” snow and branches encased in clear thick layers of ice.  Agonizing frigid air lashes out aggressively, stabbing relentlessly.  Movement is treacherous across slippery surfaces.  Even the hardiest don their heaviest winter coats, scarves and boots in a futile attempt to generate an artificial warmth so as to stave off involuntary shivering.  The sky drips disapproval.  Tears.  Frozen tears.

I’m so ready for spring…but spring is not yet ready to come.

I discover in the darkness of this day, in the unrelenting freezing rain, thick, impenetrable flurries of snow, in the bone-chilling wet and piercing, raw cold, I am struggling to summon enough will to propel myself from bed.  To dress.  Even to eat or brush my teeth.  The iciness has sapped all my strength.  My voice is gone.  I cannot articulate my pain.  I feel broken, cracked like shattered ice.  And utterly empty.

My teardrops join those glacial raindrops the clouds cry, spit and sling upon the earth.  Words are often inadequate vessels and today they leave me especially bitter and alone.  I seek hope in the gloom, a flower where there is none.  A green blade of grass where only dry, lifeless remnants of foliage lay buried beneath the ever-deepening ice and snow.  In this wintry, lonely place, I am swallowed by the emptiness, without voice or expression.  In the absence of words, my teardrops speak, even as they freeze upon my cheek.

Winters are grueling.  Exhausting.  Punishing.  They make survival so much harder.

Life is harsh, biting and lonely, even in the best of times.  During the prevailing darkness, when every inch of the terrain is carpeted beneath too many inches of endless white, trying to stand is hazardous.  Trying to move, to make headway, to walk a path or cautiously creep toward a destination, is foolish and ill-advised.  And pointless.  It is best to hunker down.  To burrow beneath layers of denial.  To wait for the sun…praying it will come to provide much needed thawing and relief.

I cry with the sky as I lift my eyes in search of a reprieve.  Then hunker into my shell.  Hunting in vain for warmth where there is none to be found.

 

The Interview

She came for an interview today.  Arrived a proper 5 minutes early, waiting in the car until just the right moment.  She was young.  Very young and slightly awkward socially.  Care had been taken with her outfit; she had done a lot with the little she had, dressing up inexpensive, worn pieces with a scarf, intricately woven and tied neatly around her neck.  Her gratitude over being considered for our open position was obviously heart-felt.  She didn’t have any of the required experience and she knew it.  Nothing to offer but willing hands.  And her hands were shaking.

As we began to talk, it quickly became obvious she was not a typical carefree young person.  Clearly, she was not like her average peers.  I could feel her fear and struggle over what to share.  Over how to share it while still being honest.  How to phrase her thoughts without causing a potential employer to immediately reject her.  Her voice trembled slightly.  Hands held in her lap remained tightly clasp.  Her back, ram-rod straight.  Her feet were placed tightly together and were positioned side-by-side flat on the floor.  Though she tried to make steady eye contact, she faltered.  She would look at me for a moment, after which her expressive eyes fell quickly back to the table sitting between us.

Her only job experience had been accumulated while working for her parents in a string of unrelated business ventures that evidently failed with some degree of regularity.  She had worked hard at those jobs.  Cleaning stadiums.  Cutting down trees with a chainsaw.  Securing the trees by ropes placed to ensure they fell in the right direction.  I found it difficult to imagine her even lifting a chainsaw, much less using one, especially considering her slight build and tiny arms.  But she spoke with knowledge hard won.  The knowledge of someone who had been there, had done the work and survived to tell the tale.

Her family formed a band, a musical group, playing in a small geographic region, disbanding at the point when they were finally being recognized.  She wrote songs for the group and sang them from her heart.  Her dream was to reach someone.  To touch them deeply.  I thought of all the songs I wrote when I was younger.  How we shared the same dream.  Exactly the same dream, her words an echo of my own.

She was unlike me.  So unlike me in many ways.  Yet so very much like me in other glaring and significant ways.

Her father viewed her as his property.  She was not permitted to do anything outside his authority and he didn’t respect her as an individual.  As a person.  She had to obey.  He demanded it.  Demanded she do as she was told.  Work hard.  Contribute.  Submit.  The only time she was heard was when she had an idea that would ultimately save him money.  These kinds of ideas were permissible.  Ideas about what constituted right and wrong or what was fair were not permissible.  She was his to use.

So unlike me.  So unlike me in some ways.  But so very like me in many profound aspects.

She doesn’t know “being loved.”  She doesn’t know what it feels like to be protected.  Cherished.  Simply for who she is; not what she does.  She doesn’t know she matters.

Two months ago, she broke free, flew away, and is now trying to get a foothold so she can begin to work her way forward to the starting line.  The place where “normal” people begin their journey in life.  She’s clawing for something to grab hold of.  Trying to sort through the mess she sees in her mind when she looks inside herself.  She’s trying to understand.  To figure out what to keep and what to toss away.  Trying to put all the pieces together, in hopes her soul will miraculously have prevailed.

Oh, God.  So like me in so many of the terrible details.

As we talked, I felt my eyes growing moist.  I fought the urge, staying focused on business.  The job we were filling.  The requirements.  Her ability to fulfill those requirements.  But, as I walked her to the door, I did something I have never done in my 30-year career.  I encouraged her to seek help and support.  Now, while she is young.  Now.  Because it can change the course of her life.  Because no one can rebuild themselves alone.  No one can do it without love.  Without finding a place and a person of safety.

And then, I gave her the precious words my grandmother gave me when I was a child of six, sharing my very first poem with her.  I told her to never stop writing.  I told her I had also had a rough start.  That writing had saved my life so many times when it was all I had…and I found it to be enough.  Writing pulled me through.  So, I told her to never, never, never stop writing.  To never let that go.

She began to cry quietly, fighting it, as was I.  With tears in our eyes, we hugged, holding each other for a long time.  And as I held her, she repeated over and over again, “You understand.  You know.”

Yes, little bird, you who finally found your wings.  Who survived and now has flown away at last.  I know.  I do know.  With every fiber of my being, I know.  And I will do whatever I can to lift you up so you can eventually fly further and higher than I have ever been able to soar.

Profound Silence

I live in a world of silence.  Silence so profound, it beats upon my eardrums and screams at me until I fear for what is left of my sanity.  It is all I can hear.  It is the voice of my nightmares.

It is a silence nearly complete.  Almost unbroken.  It consumes everything in its path.

Within my world, an overpowering silence reigns.  My dogs occasionally bark.  My phone infrequently rings or a text announces its arrival. Rarely, I play music or turn on the TV to try to drown out the droning voice of the persistent emptiness that envelops me.  I have been captured and am held a prisoner in this intensely silent world.  This place of nothingness.

There is no one to talk to other than my dogs and they don’t have much to say in response.   There are no conversations, dangling or otherwise.  No laughter.  No chatter.  No friends who want to get together.  Nothing to break the stillness or to challenge the powerful quietness.

I occupy myself by reading books, playing with my two dogs, poking around on my laptop.  I post on Facebook and long for responses so I can convince myself I have friends.  Connections.  I write my blog.  You can hear the tapping of the keyboard as I type, the distant traffic noises and children playing in the street outside the window providing minimal relief from the deafening, endless, pulsing silence.  In spite of these brief intrusions, there is a prevailing quietness to my existence that presses down on me, forcing the air out of the room.  Leaving me gasping and longing for a reassuring word or touch.  Suddenly, I see clearly, painfully aware of how utterly alone I am.

A small dose of silence can be good for the soul, providing time to reflect, to examine new thoughts and ideas, to consider alternate perspectives.  I can take a fairly hefty dose of it.  But it can become unbearably oppressive when it is a near constant companion.  It crushes.  Tears one apart with sharp teeth and razor claws.  In excessive quantities, it is excruciating. Even deadly.

Essentially, silence is exceedingly noisy.  It never stops.  Never shuts up.  Never relents.  It weighs on you, pressing your breath from panting lungs.  Destroying hope.  Revealing a reality that is intolerable.  It beats you up until you are frightfully bloody and broken beyond repair.  And it takes everything from you, creating a vacuum that is agonizing, dark, terrible, excruciating.

You’ve heard the term “deafening roar?”  Silence is like this.  It roars.  ROARS!  And the roar is so horribly loud, it causes even the bravest to cover their ears and run.  That deafening roar is overwhelming and oppressive.  The sound of it tears the soul into tiny fragments, leaving nothing behind but dust.  It generates immeasurable terror and eternal desolation.  There is no escaping the overwhelming soundless emptiness.

Whoever said silence is golden likely didn’t have it as a near constant companion.  Didn’t live with it day in and day out.  Didn’t have to come home to it, dine with it, sleep with it, drive with it, bathe in it.

When profound silence and a suffocating emptiness is all you have to look forward to, all you have to live for, you find, essentially, you don’t have anything for which to live after all.

Heartbeat

I do not feel.  Not now.  Not for a long time.  I numbed myself years ago.  To survive the volcanic pain I held in the depths of my heart.  The raging torrent that threatened to overwhelm and drown me.  I intentionally twisted the massive valve inside my soul until the flow of caustic emotions stopped.  Until only a trickle escaped.  Until I was no longer being ripped apart by its sharp talons.  Until the agony no longer crushed me with its unbearable weight.

Once closed, that valve is impossible to reopen.  I did not know this when I shut it tight.  Had I understood, I would have chosen to let the pain take me down and rip out my throat.

I have lived my life in this state of suspension, neither dead or alive.  I have talked about all the things that will never matter and none of those that did.  Or do.  I’ve worn my poker face carefully, as if my existence depended on it.   Said what was proper in each situation.  Laughed when it was appropriate.  Cried only in secret, if at all.  Told everyone I was “fine” and “great” while turning the spotlight away from myself because I feared what it would revel if anyone looked too closely.  I performed.  Kept walking.  Went through the motions.  Amazed by the lack of a heartbeat as I took one step and then another.   And another.

I absorbed each shockwave, each loss and trauma, without reacting.  Took the next step.  Feeling nothing.  Kept moving because that was what I was supposed to do.  What I had to do.  Because it’s what “normal” people do.

No heartbeat.

Empty.  Broken.  Shattered.  My only choice was to keep going somehow.  Or die trying.

But when I am alone, when the darkness of night swaddles me tightly, pinning me in its cocoon, when the silence screams in my ears until I fear I will go deaf or insane or both, when I have nothing to hang on to and hope is a distant planet, I write.  I search for words to tell my story because I have no voice with which to speak.  Nor do I have anyone waiting by my side who will listen.  I search for the perfect words to express all the things I would feel, if only I could turn that massive handle backward, reopening the rusted valve I closed so long ago.  I vent my emotions through vowels and consonants.  I use my pen to exorcize the decaying,  pent up, blunted, deadened feelings.  The words on the page are the only way I know I am still alive.  They speak.  Quietly and falteringly.  They attempt to make sense of the repulsive tale.  They are my tapestry.

I inject all of my buried emotion into those words.  Into each one of them…each word and phrase.  I don’t feel, so much as I write it out, then read what I should or would be feeling if only I could.  I write about what I might be experiencing somewhere deep beneath the surface of my frozen soul.   I pack the sentences and paragraphs full of descriptors, hoping to attain a reaction upon impact.   I long for a response from my destroyed soul.  Any response at all.  But no matter how well I capture the moment or paint the picture or weave the tapestry, my words do not cause so much as a tiny ripple in my heart.

And so, I continue to write.  Trying in vain to uncover even a microscopic sign of life.

I long for seismic activity.  For the volcano to spew forth the hot lava that burns my insides and eats me from within.  But there is no activity to detect.  Nor even so much as a bit of steam escaping from the throat of the volcano.   The fissure does not vomit out its contents.   There is no relief.  Only enduring silence.

I search for words I cannot find.  Attempting finally to release the noxious toxic gasses into the atmosphere.  But the crater is cold, sealed by too many thick layers and far too many years.

No heartbeat.  The valve can’t be reopened.  Time can’t be unspent.  There is no going back to do it differently.  All the paths not taken will never be traveled because I did not choose to walk them.  I did not take the risks I should have taken, nor did I dare to explore uncharted territory.

There is a crater where once was housed a soul.  There is a stone where I once nurtured a heart.  There is numbness and death where once there was breath and life.  And there are now only inadequate, insufficient, unmoving words scattered across the page where once there was a heartbeat.

My heartbeat.  Silent forevermore.

Liar, Liar

I’ve had a bad couple of weeks.  First, I fell on the ice.  It was supposed to be a warmer day and the back patio didn’t look wet or icy, so I was unprepared for slick pavement.  It’s the worst fall I’ve ever taken.  I hit especially hard, squarely on my right hip.  With all of my weight.  I was taking my dogs out before leaving for work, so I felt pressured to keep moving.  But I wasn’t sure I could get up off the ground.  When I finally did, after crawling back to the door, I discovered I already had a rather large, extremely painful knot forming.  Which concerned me.  I worried that I might have broken my hip, though I was relieved when I was able to walk, even if I kind of stumbled around.  I could put weight on it and took that as a good sign.  But the knot grew and grew until it was hard and huge; bigger than a grapefruit.  I let my boss know I would be delayed, called my sister-in-law, who is a nurse practitioner, and asked her to take a look to see if she thought I needed to go to the doctor.  Her shocked expression when she saw the knot pretty much said it all.

Turned out it wasn’t broken, but the doctor told me to stay home for the rest of the week…which wasn’t going to happen.  I worked 8, rather than my normal 9-1/2 to 10 hours a day, feeling guilty about “going home early” for a few days, even though I was in a tremendous amount of pain.  A week and three days later, it still hurts like crazy any time I touch it.

But that was just the first blow.

Next, came the ridiculously cold temperatures.  Down to -11 with a wind chill that was even lower.  Then ice.  Real ice.  The kind you could see.  Then the snow.  And to top it off, I developed a horrible sinus infection.  My hip was hurting so much, I couldn’t sleep at night and now my face felt like it was going to explode any minute.  I was getting disgusting, hard, green things out of my nose every time I blew, which was often, along with a lot of frothy green goop that made me want to puke.  Honestly, it was a bit alarming and incredibly gross.  I was miserable.

And then, the weekend ended.  I had to pull myself together enough to go to work.

You are probably thinking this is a stupid story, or, at the very least, an unpleasant and uninteresting one.  But I’m attempting to “set the stage” so you will understand what followed.

I was in pain, sick, dizzy, exhausted, cranky, couldn’t think and was so weak, I could barely stand.  Outside, we were going through a record-breaking cold spell, the roads were icy, or at the very least, snow covered and slick.  My nose felt as if I had a steel pencil rammed up my nostrils and my hip hit me with a zinger of pain every time I touched it.  Most people probably wouldn’t have felt apologetic about calling in sick, considering.

I did.  I felt guilty.  I wasn’t certain I was “sick enough” to justify staying home.  I kept telling myself I could do it…I could force myself to get dressed and go to work.  Just needed to put on my big girl panties.  Driving in my fuzzy state would have been scary, but I wasn’t sure I had a legitimate excuse to stay home where it was warm and soft.  Where I could rest.

Eventually, I did call and I reluctantly stayed home for a couple of days.  But I was overcome with shame and terrified I would be fired.  Or they would look down on me.  I was sure they didn’t believe I was sick.  I thought they probably figured I didn’t want to chance the icy roads and made it all up.  So, you know what I did?  I took pictures.

I took pictures of my snotty Kleenex, green and bloody and yucky.  More than one picture.  Four or five of them.  And I took a couple of pictures of me with my Rudolph nose, slits for eyes and my massively swollen, black bruised hip.  To prove I was legitimately unable to compel myself to go work.  To prove I wasn’t lying.

I have had this fear, this doubt about myself, this feeling that I am not going to be believed, for most of my life.  It goes back so far, I can’t ever remember feeling credible.  I’ve always, always, always had this nagging trepidation in my heart that no one would believe me, even though I was telling the truth and nothing but the truth.  I never feel I have a right to take care of myself.   I’ve always feared everyone would think I was lying.  I’ve always felt the need to prove I was being honest, all the while doubting myself, even though I knew I wasn’t lying.

Somehow, in the midst of my misery, with excruciating sinuses, with a coal black bruise, swollen, throbbing hip and pressure so great within my skull I was certain my eyes were sure to pop out at any moment, a thought…a reasonable, logical, intelligent, shattering thought…occurred to me.

Lightbulb flash.   “Why do others not feel the need to present documentation to prove they are telling the truth?  Why do I always feel as if I’m lying, even though I know I am not?”

And the lightbulb flash became a lightning strike.  A blinding flash of comprehension.

I was an abused child.  I was abused from the time I was born until I left home at age 17.  Much of the abuse was emotional and verbal.  Lots of negligence.  But there was also a great deal of physical abuse.  And the sexual abuse decimated me.  I struggled mightily to survive.  It was a test of my mental and physical endurance.  A horrible nightmare.  An unbearable trial.  And I cracked exactly two times.  Twice.

I reached out for help.

The first time I cracked, I was 13.  A friend took me to an event at her church one evening to see a group that had presented a program at my high school about the evils of drugs.  They were college kids, caring and easy to relate to.  I was touched by what they shared that night at my friend’s church and I went forward to talk to one of the girls afterwards.  I confided in her. That I was being abused by my parents and sexually abused by my father.  This was clearly beyond her ability to handle.  She called the pastor.  He hurriedly took me to his office, excusing the girl I had talked with, sat behind his desk and proceeded to tear me to shreds.  He told me he knew my parents.  They were pillars of the community.  My father was a respected teacher.  My mother was born there, went to school and graduated from the same school I was attending.  How dare I say such evil things about them!  How dare I talk about my parents in such a disgusting way!  How dare I dishonor them!  Then, he told me to go home and to never tell anyone such repulsive lies ever again.

I was stunned.  Numb.  I left and kept my mouth shut for 2 full years.

The second time I cracked, I was 15.  I confided in my favorite teacher, told her about the abuse, both physical and sexual, just as I had the pastor.  She looked at me with a warry expression, sending me home that day with a neighborhood kid who was the closest thing I had to a friend.  She said she and the guidance counselor would talk about it and contact my father later.

Contact my father. Contact.  My.  Father.   My father who lied about what he did to me and put on his respectable mask each time he left my bedroom.  My father who hit hard and would certainly not hold back after learning I had betrayed him by telling the secret.  The big secret.  I reached out to them.  But they weren’t going to protect me.  They were going to talk to my father, my abuser, because they didn’t believe me.  They thought I was mentally ill, making it up and needed help.

I did need help.  But I wasn’t going to get it from them.

I told them to forget it.  And they did.  Because they never thought I was telling the truth to begin with.

The only people I dared trust enough when I was a child called me a liar.  In particularly painful ways. They were repulsed by what I shared and rejected me completely.  They were openly disbelieving and hard-hearted.  At the time when I needed them the most.

I needed help.  Needed it so desperately, my soul depended on it.  I needed someone to care, to protect me, to show me I mattered.  I needed someone to believe me.  And they didn’t.

The connection was finally made.  The circuit closed.  I understood.

No wonder I always feel I have to prove I am telling the truth.  Provide documentation.  Hardcore evidence.  And even then, I don’t feel confident anyone will believe me.  Because no one ever does.  Why should they, when I can’t even believe myself, in spite of the fact I am being honest?

That’s what happens when you tell the truth and the world spits in your face and tells you you’re a liar.  You believe them.  For the rest of your life.

Mistake

A little over halfway through my stay in my mother’s womb, I almost made an unexpected and early appearance.  It was, of course, considerably too soon for me to be born.  I was far too unformed.  My lungs couldn’t inhale.  Exhale.  I would not have been able to survive without that silent sac of amniotic fluid to sustain me.

The doctors gave my mother some kind of drugs to stop her contractions.  She was monitored, given even more drugs and put on bed rest for a while.  Eventually, the contractions stopped.  I survived.  She carried me full term, or close to it.  I made my appearance at the whopping weight of 6 lbs. 4 oz. somewhere slightly before my due date.

The doctors had predicted it was possible I would have a significant birth defect, their explanation for why she almost lost me.  They were as prepared as possible for such an emergency all those many years ago.  As prepared as possible for whatever horror emerged from her womb.  I disappointed them, much to the relief of my parents.  Parents who were unprepared to deal with a normal crying baby and poopy diapers.  Parents who couldn’t handle the ordinary needs of an average infant.  Because even normal, average, standard babies have a lot of needs.  And the only needs they were prepared to fulfill were their own.

At whatever cost to me.

No birth defects.  No reason for the early near-catastrophe.  I had a heart murmur.  The kind you outgrow.  No other physical issues noted.  No physical reason for me to have almost been spontaneously aborted.

Yet, it could be argued that I shouldn’t have been born.  For many reasons.

They should have never had a child.  Probably don’t need to go on.  That pretty much says it all.

I was told the story of how they nearly lost me when they were trying to convince me they truly did want a little girl.  I was told the story when I was very young.  They continued telling it until they died.  It was supposed to prove their love for me.  Their supposed gratefulness for my survival.  Survival.

But what I heard, because of the abuse I suffered while in their “care,” was that I should have never been born.  I was a mistake.  From the very first moment I took a breath of air.

What they did spoke so much more loudly than what they said.  What they did was deafening.

A mistake.  I was a mistake.  I cost them too much.

That feeling has remained with me my entire life.  It’s a big part of the reason I feel as though I have to do more, be more, perform better, give more, and justify being alive.  A mistake.  A disappointment.  A failure.  By birth.  Nothing can change the terrible thing that was wrong with me from the very beginning.

I have felt it in every relationship I’ve ever had…until I have almost stopped having them.  I can no longer get past the fact that I am defective.  That nothing will ever make up for my deficit.

I’ve felt it with every employer in every job I’ve held.  And I’ve worked harder, longer, faster, more diligently, burning out and nearly destroying myself as a result.  Trying to make up for the fact that I’m never going to be as good as the next guy.  I’m always going to disappoint, regardless of how hard I try.  I’m never going to win because losers never do.  Failures fail.  I will never have value the way everyone else intrinsically has value.  I can never be, do or contribute enough to have worth.

I should never have been born.  I can’t make up for that fact.  There has always been something so wrong with me, even my mother’s womb tried to reject me and thrust me out into the void.  Nature tried to cull me for a reason.  Not a reason that is visible to the naked eye.  But the flaw is so great and deep and terrible, my cells should have never come together.  I should not have been created.

A mistake.  That can never be corrected or redeemed.  Such a terrible mistake, the only way to right the world is to go back in time and erase me totally.

Oil & Vinegar

When we were kids, my brother and I ate a lot of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup.  Our mother seemed to think she was providing us with a healthy meal, with something that was especially good for us.  But neither one of us liked the soup.  Specifically, my brother liked the broth, but not the noodles.  I, on the other hand, liked the noodles, but not the broth.  So, when our mother wasn’t looking, he gave me his noodles, I gave him my broth, and we were both satisfied.

He was oil.  I was vinegar.

He was the child who would not clean his plate, no matter what, unless he was hungry.  I was the child who cleaned my plate as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t have to sit at the table for a second longer than was absolutely necessary.  To me, it was punishment, having to sit.  My brother frequently fell asleep with his head laying in his food long after I was gone.  He never gave in.

From as far back as I can remember, he liked to wear dress shirts, ties, nice slacks and dress shoes.  I was the bell-bottom, peace-bead-wearing hippie child.  To this day, he wears dress shirts, suits, a tie and nice shoes…that’s his “casual” look.  He owns one pair of jeans.  I, on the other hand, have an eclectic “freaky” style.  I own one pair of dress pants.

He loves cats.  I love dogs.

I was a straight A student.  He bumped along making C’s.  Or even an occasional D.  If I made a B, I felt like a complete failure.   He simply wasn’t interested in most of the topics offered in high school and therefore, didn’t care enough to try to succeed.  When he was interested, he did well, which he proved in college, graduating magna cum laud.  I was driven to excel on general principle, to justify my existence.

I was the rebel.  He was the perfect child.

He drank Orange Soda.  I drank Grape.

He loved lemon drops and orange slices.  I adored chocolate covered cherries.  Or butterscotch candy.

I was badly abused.  He was coddled and protected.  But the “dysfunction stew” in which we grew had a significant impact on both of us.

Oil.  Vinegar.  So different.  But somehow, inseparable.

We were both imaginative children who created fantasy worlds and immersed ourselves in them.  So, though we were very different, we connected through our wildly active imaginations.  We even made our own board games because the “store bought” kind weren’t complex enough for us.  We retreated into our fantasies to survive.  For different reasons.

We did everything together. Riding bikes, playing with Lego, drawing intricate spy maps and then shooting our way through enemy territory to complete our missions.    Hitting the beach ball back and forth over the house, sitting in the tree house, pretending we were different people, climbing the cherry tree and devouring cherries, eating rhubarb and cucumbers from the garden.  Together.  We even shared a bedroom until I was nine and he was seven.

He is a cold weather person.  I hate cold weather.  He loves the snow.  I despise it.  He loves mountains.  My dream is to live by the beach in some warm or tropical locale where I can listen to the ocean all day long.

He’s spontaneous.  I like to have a plan.  For me, it’s survival.  He doesn’t need to survive because he’s living life fully.  And he’s fully alive.  I’m a walking dead person.  I have to make sure I have time in my schedule to recharge.  Alone.  Some time with no demands and with plenty of room to breathe.  I’m an introvert.  He is an extrovert. Never met a stranger.

He deeply enjoys classical music.  I’m rock and roll, baby!

My brother is the saver.  Me, not so much.  Even as a child, he kept whatever money he got for his birthday or Christmas.  Hiding it away so he would have it when he needed it.  I, on the other hand, didn’t see as much value in having money. It’s always been about what I could do with it.  Save a little, but enjoy what has been earned.  Not that he doesn’t treat himself, but he is very careful and only spends after he has more than enough set back to handle any emergency.  So, even though he’s younger, he was the first to buy a car.  A house.  And he paid it off.  But he is also generous with those in need.  He has a tender heart.  Mine started out tender, but I learned how to encase it in a hard shell.  I learned to numb my emotions to stay alive, if only minimally.

He is more liberal politically, even though I was always the rebel.  He has relationships and a plethora of connections.  I connect with my dogs.  And I love him with all of my heart, grateful for what time he can spare for me from his busy life.

I left my childhood “home” at 17.  He lived at home until he was 23.  I couldn’t get out fast enough.  He didn’t want to leave when he did.  Had to be nudged out of the nest.

Different.  But connected.

When my world fell apart…again…when it crashed, smashed and burned, he was there.  He made sure I had somewhere to turn.  That I wasn’t alone.  That I had at least one person who wasn’t going to walk away when I had nowhere else to go and nothing to offer.  My tenderhearted little brother.  Who owed me nothing, but who gave me everything.

He is a child of the light.  I am a child of the darkness.

He is oil.  I am vinegar.

I can’t imagine vinegar without oil.

 

The Beating of My Heart

My heart is heavy.  It is so incredibly heavy, I’m not sure how much longer I can continue to carry it around within me.  It weighs a million pounds.  A billion.  The pain of it is unbearable.  Unbearable.  The immensity of the damage.  I can’t tolerate the agony, the excruciating pain of its weight.

I can’t start again.  I can’t tell myself it will be better tomorrow as a means of tricking myself into going on.  I’ve used that ploy too many times.  I’ve lost the ability to deceive myself in this way.  I know the lie.  I know it in my bones.

I’ve carried this mangled heart for years.  Lugging it.  Pulling it behind me.  Hoisting it up.  Negotiating with it.  The endless pep talks.  Telling myself I could do it.  Stand. Take another step.  Just one more.  I’ve duped it.  Told my ruined heart it could keep beating.  It could.  One. More. Beat.  And then another. I believed my words could repair my thoughts, sooth my soul and bring healing.  And when nothing changed, I told myself I simply needed to try harder.

But I’m so tired.  So tired now.  After years of picking myself back up, willing myself to breathe another breath of air, forcing my ravaged heart to pump another bit of life-giving blood, willing my muscles to move, to take another step, I am just too weary to march forward for another second of another day.  I’m done.

A new year stretches before me.  Blank pages and unbroken snow.  New possibilities, perhaps. Yet it isn’t enough to cause me to rally.  I’ve rallied too many times to no avail.  With no reward.  With no relief.  Finding no reason or meaning.  The beating of my heart is ripping me apart.  Every thud shreds me to pieces.  I can’t endure it.  I no longer care how the story ends.  I only care that it will.  Finally end.  Soon.

Let it all go on without me.  It no longer matters.  It is too late.

Year after year, I have pulled through.  Found enough conviction to muster.  I’ve launched out with hope beating in my heart.  Bought the lie.  I have told myself the story as if it was the gospel truth. As if believing would make it reality.  I’ve held it close to me.  Thought positive thoughts. Done the right things.  Said the right words.  Whispered lie after lie into my own ear.  Believing release was right around the next corner.  Hidden in the next minute.

No more.

It is too painful to continue to deceive myself.  It is too heartbreaking to believe.

This new year will be as the one before and the one that came before that one.  It will be comprised of 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes 31,536,000 seconds, and each will hold a single one of my heartbeats.  A fragment of my being.  Of those increments of time, each will bring nothing more than the last one brought.  Nothing inspiring, nothing life-changing, nothing life-giving.  Nothing.  What is and was is all that will ever be.  And each one of those seconds, each fragment, is filled with pain, suffering, heartache, terror and unspeakable longing.  A longing for wholeness, purpose, connection and healing.

A longing for what will never occur.

If I can force myself to take the steps and walk through each of those seconds, a year from now, I fear I will still be standing in this same place.  At this very moment. Filled to overflowing with emptiness and disappointment. And regret.  I will stand on the same ground.  At the same point.  Just as I have been standing in this very instant each and every year that has come before.

Alone.  Broken.  Empty. Unfulfilled.  Without.

Hope has slipped away.

A hamster caught, running in the wheel.  Round and round and round.  Until it can’t.

The beating of my heart. The turning of the wheel. The only indication I am alive.

I Will Not Be Remembered

There will come a time when no one will care that a shy tow-headed little girl grew up in a small Missouri town.  They won’t remember the way she was afraid of the adults around her.  They won’t know how hard she toiled, trying to make sense of chaos, trying to find her footing amid the deadly earthquakes and terrifying explosions experienced daily in her unstable world.  It will not matter that she was physically, emotionally and verbally abused by her mother…her mother who looked the other way as she was sexually, physically, emotionally and verbally abused by her father.  No one will remember how beaten down and torn apart she was when she ventured out into the world at 17 years of age.  As she struggled to figure out how to live like a normal person with so many of her pieces missing or crushed.

They won’t recall her at all, nor will it matter.  That young girl who kept trying.  Who daydreamed and believed.  Her, trudging along with a heart that was shattered.  A soul that was torn and decimated.  No one will remember or care about her struggles, failures, disappointments or unrealized dreams.  She will not be remembered at all.  Her life was and is insignificant.  She never managed to accomplish anything great nor contributed anything approaching wonderful.  Her biggest victory was to survive.  For she survived in spite of the odds.  But surviving, in this case, means only that she has continued to breathe while putting one foot in front of the other year after year.  It is no great thing.

Her footsteps in the dust are even now being blown away and covered by the sands of time.

It is a harsh wake-up call.  A startling realization.  To be staring at the end of your life and to know you’ve done nothing, become nothing, are nothing, and that nothing you’ve gone through, none of the experiences or events of your life will be remembered.  By anyone. Because nothing done or achieved is in any way worth remembering.  None of it.

The realization is painful.  Everything I went through, all the things I learned the hard way, all the hopes that I had of finding love and healing, touching the world, making a difference…all of this, the essence of who I am and what I have felt…it will die with me when I take my final breath.  And it will not matter.  Not in the least.  I will not leave anyone behind who will care.  Or remember.   Or even know I once was.

Maybe that is simply the way it is.  We are all destined to be forgotten.

I wanted the pain to count for something.  I wanted the nightmares I lived through and the abuse I experienced to have a reason.  I wanted to leave something behind that would help others find their way through the darkness.  I wanted to leave a mark. I wanted to accomplish something worth noting.  I wanted to do something worth doing.  I wanted to be worth remembering.

But I will not be remembered.  I haven’t found answers or knowledge to share with those who are coming after me.  I haven’t accumulated great wisdom that can be passed down.  I’ve done nothing spectacular, significant or news-worthy.

I live in isolation.  My life is hollow, void of meaning, purpose, joy.  I am nothing and I have nothing to give.  I am not worth remembering.  My heart still beats.  My lungs still inhale and exhale.  But I am not truly alive.

I started my life broken, but believing.  Believing I could overcome.  Believing I would find my way and have an impact.  I near its end still broken, but out of hope.  Without dreams.  Without spirit.  This is not at all what I expected or where I expected to be at this stage in my life.  I expected to come to the end with something in my hands worth leaving behind.  But as I open them and bare my palms, my hands are empty.

I am already all but forgotten.  For I have lived an utterly forgettable life.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

But only for some.

For others, it’s a lonely, painful time.   A haunted time.  Haunted by the ghost of Christmas past.  Shrouded in shadows.  Cold and lonely.

It’s a time of unfulfilled expectations.  Of laughter that never reaches the heart.  Happiness that never makes it to the soul.  It’s supposed to be a time of families and close friends joyfully gathering, celebrating, sharing love, magic, joy.  But some of us paint a smile on our face and pretend.  We nod our head and act as if we belong.  As if we “get it.”  Because this wonderful time of the year, for many, is just another empty, disappointing day.  One that feels even more empty than normal because it’s supposed to be full and magical.

Those of us who see the ghost know the dark side.

I have a memory of when I was a young child.  It’s Christmas break.  My father was a teacher, so he was home with my brother and me.  It was a few days before Christmas and it had snowed…a big, deep, delightful (when you’re a child) snow that turned the world into a frosted, glorious wonderland.  My father was born and raised in Michigan.  It snowed a lot there.  And while this wasn’t a major snow by Michigan standards, it was pretty significant for Missouri.  The snow was knee deep in the shallowest of places.  It was thigh deep in the drifts.  My brother and I could barely contain ourselves, we were so excited.  We bundled up and rushed outside to enjoy the dreamy land that spread out before us.

My father didn’t often play with us.  But even he seemed enchanted by the beautiful snow that shrouded the world in clean, frigid white, like icing on a cake.  Being from a state where a heavy snowfall in the winter was an everyday affair, he knew lots of outside winter games.  He asked us if we had ever played fox and geese.  We both shook our heads “no,” shivering with anticipation, as well as with the cold.  Excited because he was spending time with us.  At our response, he smiled and the fun began! He instructed us to clear a big circular path in the snow in an open area of our yard.  We kicked and dug and packed and tramped, working up a sweat.  Once the circle was complete, he had us make two more paths through the circle, dividing it into 4 equal quadrants. 

He was the fox.  We were the geese being chased around and through the pathways we had created in the snow.  The goal of the fox was to catch a goose.  Once tagged, the goose would then become the fox. We ran for our lives!  Laughing.  Falling.  Laughing some more.  It was so much fun!  We played until we were soaking wet, freezing cold and totally exhausted.  Then we all tumbled back into the house to change into dry clothes and to warm our frosted, runny noses, red ears, and stiff, numb fingers and toes.

This is where the memory changes for me.  This is where the darkness made itself known.  Where the shadows become a heavy blanket of fog that blocked out the sun.

 I was in my room, having just opened my dresser drawer.  I was trying to decide what sweater I wanted to wear.  As I poked through the 3 or 4 sweaters I owned, I was startled when the door to my room opened and quickly closed.  My father entered, an odd expression on his face.  He was acting strangely.  I was confused.  Time stood still.  An eerie silence enveloped me.

 In that moment, playful daddy turned into what I later labeled “sick daddy.”  He sucked the air out of the room with his heavy breathing.  Stood quivering with anticipation.  I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread that didn’t make sense, no matter how hard I tried to understand.

 “Let me make you warm,” he said quietly but firmly with an odd, trembling voice.

Then he removed my clothes as I pleaded with him not to.  Begged him.  But he didn’t stop.  He seemed not to hear me.  He kissed, fondled, groped, invading me.  And when he was finished, he said, “There, now isn’t that better?  Don’t you feel warmer?  Get dressed and come on out to the kitchen.  I’ll make us all some hot chocolate.”

 Then he was gone.

 I remember standing in my room, unable to move for what seemed like a very long time.  I watched the shadows dance all around me.  Finally, I picked up my discarded clothes and placed them in a pile.  I dressed quickly.  Quietly.  I felt numb.  Frozen by ice that was colder than the snow that covered the ground outside.  Once dressed, I picked up my wet things to put them in the laundry and cast a glance back into the room before walking out the door.  I wanted to make sure everything was in order. As if anything could ever be put back into order.

 But what I most remember…vividly remember…is seeing myself still there in my room, hopelessly broken, barely breathing, laying on the floor.  Bloody.  Splintered.  I remember leaving that shattered little girl behind.  I left her there, a pile of gore and broken bones, crushed spirit and ruptured heart, dumped where my wet clothes had been laying, hideously destroyed, fractured beyond recognition.  She wasn’t able to walk out of that room.  She wasn’t capable of facing the monster that waited down the hall with hot chocolate and marshmallows.  She couldn’t pick herself up and go on; couldn’t stop screaming.  She was in a million pieces and I left her there to fend for herself, half angry with her for leaving me, for making me walk out into the dangerous world alone.  I saw her body, ripped, torn, decimated.  And instead of rushing to her side and comforting her, I turned away.  I walked out of the room.  Closed the door.  And joined my brother and father as we sipped steaming mugs of freshly made cocoa.  As if nothing had happened.  As if nothing had changed.

 Why do I remember this particular memory so clearly; so vividly?  It wasn’t the first time my father sexually abused me.  Nor was it the last.  It wasn’t one of the worst memories that haunt me.  Certainly, there are far more horrible recollections of perverted things he did to me, things I couldn’t blot out or from which I couldn’t disconnect. So why is this one day, this one event, etched so deeply and perfectly in my mind?  Why can I still see it as if it happened only yesterday?  Only seconds in the past?

 Several things seem pertinent. 

When my father began sexually abusing me, I was around 4 or 5 years old.  The memories I have of that time are veiled in fantasy.  I didn’t have the maturity to understand what was happening.  I didn’t like it.  It scared me.  It felt wrong.  But I didn’t have the ability to grasp or process what he was doing or the implications of his actions.  I was able to create a make-believe world and escape into it. 

As an older child, this became more difficult to execute.  I finally reached an age and a point of understanding where it was no longer possible to ignore, warp, or wrap what he was doing to me in an imaginary world.  I could no longer deny or fictionalize the abuse.  And when this happened, I shattered. Completely shattered. 

I believe the crystal-clear memory I have, this memory that haunts me still, is of the day, the moment in time, when that horrible shattering took place.  So, even though what he did that day was not the vilest thing my father would ever do to me over the years he abused me, it was a significant moment in time because of the internal impact.  It was the moment my soul was utterly obliterated.

I didn’t stop loving Christmas.  Though I hate snow.  But Christmas was never a carefree or magical time for me afterwards.  I find myself looking over my shoulder.  Waiting for everything to morph into some unspeakable reality.  The holiday has never again been wonderful or innocent.  There remains a hidden razor’s edge, cutting into my deepest and most vulnerable parts and wounded places.  There is now unbearable pain mixed with fleeting happiness.  Fear mixed with the shallow laughter.  Terror mixed in with the carols that are exuberantly sung.  And I have stopped expecting Christmas to be special.  Because everything that was once special has been stripped away.

Magic no longer exists.  The lights are not as bright, the ornaments aren’t as shiny. 

 A hideous monster hid beneath the bows and colorful paper that covered the gifts under the tree.  I knew the monster.  And the monster knew me.  He watched me, waiting, pouncing, taking.  Christmas that year was when I finally understood what he was.  And seeing, I firmly closed the lid on the brightly wrapped box with which he disguised himself, stood, walked on trembling legs, and carried on, acting as if everything was as it seemed.  As though nothing evil lay beneath the tinsel, glitter and lights.  As if nothing foul had happened.  Pretending the Christmas snow was yet unmarked and undefiled.

He is long dead now, this vulgar, unclean monster.  This ghost of Christmas past.  But he haunts me still.