Tag Archives: emotional problems

Brittle

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kilroy

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

Incest.

The battle was fought in my own home behind doors that were kept locked with the intent, not of keeping the boogieman safely outside, but of keeping the terrible secrets that occurred inside safe from prying eyes.  For the boogieman was a resident of the house where I grew up.  He built it.  The locks were pathetically ineffective in providing any kind of protection.  The fox was guarding the hen house.  Instead, they trapped me inside with the monsters, never whispering a word of what transpired behind those heavy wooden doors they valiantly secured.

One word.

Abuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Speak

I started talking in full sentences, or so I have been told.  No testing the waters with a half-formed “mama” or “dada.”  The first words I uttered, somewhat precociously when just over 8 months old, were “See da plane!”  And then I pointed to an airplane flying across the big blue sky as I laughed in delight.

Considering the amount of time my mother spent talking AT me, my articulate pronouncement becomes less impressive.

Until the day she died, my mother talked and talked and talked and talked endlessly.  Like a machine gun.  As she drew her last breath, she probably told God not to interrupt her.  She babbled on and on about indiscernible or irrelevant topics, often complaining about (mostly imagined) slights from childhood.  And then, there was her marriage.  Her husband, who had a wandering eye and hands to go with it.  And me, her colicky baby, who was a massive disappointment and energy drain.  The piles of poopy diapers.  Crying .  Needing to be held.  Having to be fed.  But she didn’t stop there, quickly skipping to all of her unfulfilled dreams.  Her unrealized fantasies.  She talked to her little captive audience, spewing her angry, disappointed, vindictive words over me like a heavy blanket.  She buried me with her words. Thus, my language skills developed early and my vocabulary was quite impressive by the time I reached my first birthday.

It didn’t take me too long after that to learn how to be silent.

Silence offered protection.  If I was quiet, my parents might not notice me.  Being noticed was, I soon realized, not a good thing.  Having needs was an imposition.  Requiring them to expend their limited resources on me was a clear indication of my selfishness, an observation and opinion they shared frequently and passionately with me throughout my life.  Silence was a shield.

Silence was protection from their rejection.  Calling attention to myself in any way led to being told how disappointing and self-centered I was.  They were supposed to be the center of the universe; not me.  I was to bow to them and be a constant reminder of how wonderful they were.  I was created to fulfill them.  Hiding in silence was my only guarantee of not having all my many failures and imperfections repeatedly thrown back in my face.

Silence also offered protection from being hit and slapped.  If I didn’t appear on their radar, their anger would be focused in a different direction.  At a different target.  Usually an inanimate one.  The wall.  Any object sitting within reach.  Though it terrified me when they threw and punched things, I couldn’t help but feel relief that I wasn’t the thing they were hitting and throwing.

It offered protection from judgement as well.  Being seen, noticed, meant being weighed,  measured…and found wanting.  I was forever failing to meet their expectations and requirements.  They were forever reminding me of this.

As I grew, the real attraction of hiding in silence came from a fearful need to go unnoticed by my father.  My father who began sexually abusing me around the time I turned 4.  If he didn’t hear me, he might not “see” me in that way.  And if he didn’t see me, he might not get quivery with lust ignited by my undeveloped body.  He might not suddenly transform into “bad daddy.”   I might be able to escape his penis for a whole day.

Though I didn’t understand how different I was or how abnormal was my childhood, I knew something was not right.  And just as surely, I knew I must never speak of it.  To anyone.

I swallowed my words.  Time and again, I held them in my mouth and forced them down my throat.  And the longer I swallowed them, the more they changed.  The letters rearranged, forming new sentences.  They became something they, at first, were not.  Toxic.

“Why don’t mommy and daddy love me?” became “I am unlovable.”

“Why do they hit me for no reason?” became “I am so bad; I deserve to be hit.”

“Why does daddy touch me like that and do those awful things to me with his hands, his mouth and his penis?” morphed into “I must be doing something to cause him to do this.  It must be my fault.”

“Why doesn’t anyone care about me?” turned into “I am a worthless object, not a person.  I am an object to be used and discarded at will.  Objects have no value.  Therefore, I have no value.”

“I wish someone would pay attention to me and want me,” became “I’m supposed to take care of everyone and everything around me.  I have to perform, to make everyone happy, to make them look good, to meet their expectations and fulfill their desires.  I am not supposed to have needs, but exist to meet the needs of others.”

When you swallow your words, they change.  And then they change you.

When I finally escaped my parents and later married, my husband only reinforced their message.  I didn’t speak the words I had swallowed, but cracked the door ever so slightly.  I warned him I was broken, that I grew up in an abusive home.   I took an enormous risk in telling him.  But he brushed my words away like you would shoo a fly that was buzzing around your head.

He told me he loved me.  But I learned quickly after we were married that he had deceived me.  He didn’t really care.  He told me point blank he didn’t want to hear my words.  He didn’t want to know what was inside of me.  He didn’t want to know my story or what it had made me.   What it had done to me. He wanted easy and smooth.  For me to keep myself to myself.  And so, as my fragile core shattered into a billion pieces, as I felt the life drain from me, I shut my mouth once more.

The door I had barely cracked slammed shut and closed tightly.  This time, I locked it behind me and threw away the key.  I tossed my hope into the wind and watched it scatter until every last particle was gone.

“There is hope,” became “It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters.  I don’t matter.”

“Someone loves me!” turned into “Even God can’t find one single person on the face of this earth who can love me in spite of my flaws.  I don’t deserve to be loved.  I’m unlovable.”

“I can be real and connect with someone in a wonderful and meaningful way,” morphed into “I must hide myself away inside the dark places of my soul because I’m so hideous and unacceptable, I can’t let anyone see me the way I really am.  I’m too repulsive.  Too broken.  Too ruined.”

I have grown old while swallowing my words.  I have grown weary.  I am left with nothing.  It seems I now have nothing to lose.

And so, I write my story.  Week after week.  Piece after piece.  A fragment here and there.  I have finally given myself permission to speak.  To speak whether or not anyone hears.  To record the dreadful truth of my journey as a broken, abused being, crushed early and cast aside by all.  I will not hide in silence any longer.   I pull the foulness and pain out of the darkness where I have hidden it away and thrust it into the light.  Even if it isn’t pretty.  Even if it offends.  Even if it’s unacceptable.  I’m allowing myself to say those words I have for so long swallowed.  I record them here for others to read; to witness.  I present them, broken, twisted, despicable though they may be.  I release them from their cell into the universe.  Even if no one in that universe is listening.

I have decided I will not swallow another word.  I will speak.  And I will let the universe do with me whatever it will.

 

 

Big

I have always been the “big” girl.  I’ve played that role, though against my will, for most of my life.  I’ve been the biggest of my classmates, my church friends, my coworkers, my (ex) husband’s friends wives.  I was always the person others observed while exhibiting an expression of disbelief and horror.  As if I had leprosy.  Or worse.  They rejected me for my outer wrappings.  And had pity for my ex.

I was the freak.  The one who didn’t fit in.  Because I was big.  And that made me ugly.  Unworthy.  Disgusting.

The first time someone told me I was fat, I was 7 years old.  They told me I couldn’t be the princess.  Princesses were little and pretty.  Dainty.  Adorable.  They weren’t big.  They weren’t a fatty.  Like me.

Big girls never get the prince.

I hadn’t considered my size.  Not until that day.  I still remember where I was.  In my grandparent’s driveway.  Riding my bike around in circles as we haggled for a star role in our pretend game.  And when they told me I was too big to be the princess, unacceptable to play the role of the fair maiden the prince would rescue and fall in love with, I rode away with tears running down my cheeks.  Hidden away in a quiet place, I thought about what they said.  I started to compare myself to them.  And I realized they were right.  I was bigger, taller, looked older. There was nothing spindly or fragile about me.   I was not petite, girlish or cute.  Certainly not worthy of being rescued or loved.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was well on my way to being seriously overweight.   My band uniform pants were the largest size they made for junior girls.  Even my feet and hands were big.  And though I was no longer the tallest in my class, what I lacked in height, I made up for in bulk.   If anyone saw me at all, they quickly turned away.  To talk to the cute, popular girls.  The girls who were a size 3.  The princesses.

My parents told me I would be such a pretty girl, if only I would lose weight.  My great hair was my only redeeming feature.  And your hair can only buy you so much acceptability, even with your parents.

When you’re the big girl, you’re nothing at all.  And nothing can compensate for your repulsiveness.

I went on a diet for the first time before I started Junior High.  And my life has been one long diet ever since.  An endless battle, shunning the foods I enjoy and eating salads without dressing instead.  Of eating very little, yet still gaining weight.  Of watching others devour in one meal at least three times the amount of food I consume in a day…but they were still princesses because they never got big.  I ate only one healthy meal a day and still packed on the pounds.  Denied and starved myself only to be transformed into the wicked witch.

When you’re overweight, people don’t believe you when you tell them you don’t eat that much.  They think you’re lying.  They smirk and assume you eat in secret; eat massive amounts of fattening foods behind closed doors.  But it’s not true.  If only they would be forced to exist on the quantity of food I consume!  Then they would understand.  Wishful thinking.  Where is karma when you need it?

I have only been princess-sized twice.

In my late twenties, I began to strictly control what I ate because I couldn’t control anything else in my world.  I started walking.  Then running.  And then, I was running 13+ miles a day.  I weighed and measured my food, counted every calorie, refused to eat unless it was at times I deemed to be acceptable and only allowed myself small quantities of food, none of which was enjoyable.  I even counted calories in the gum I chewed.

Miraculously, I lost weight.  When I hit 90 pounds,  I started to feel really good about myself.  For the first time ever, I wasn’t a big girl.  I didn’t have to be ashamed because I took up too much space.

But it only lasted 6 years.  I broke my hip in two places, the result of the strain from all the exercise.  Turns out, I didn’t have big bones.  Turns out, my bones were on the small side.  You could see them pretty clearly at 86 pounds, the lowest weight I reached as an adult.  And I loved to look at those bones.  Because it meant I could be the princess.  It meant I wasn’t a big girl.  Nor an abomination.

I had never heard of anorexia.   Wasn’t until much later that I learned about eating disorders.  Took even longer before I realized I just might have had one.  One that abandoned me when I needed it the most.  For after I was forced to stop running, I started to gain weight.

I got bigger and bigger and bigger.  No matter how little I ate, how much I walked, the pounds accumulated.   I hated myself.  Was buried under layer after layer of shame and self-loathing.

My ex was ashamed of me too.  After years of living with his rejection, disgust and shaming, he finally decided to do some running himself.  He left me for someone younger, blonde and much, much thinner.

The switch suddenly flipped again a few years after he dumped me.  But this time, I learned a new trick.  I ate like a lumberjack, but threw up everything I ate.  Sometimes 5, 6, 10 times a day.  And I lost the weight; it all but melted off.  This time, I was older.  My body wasn’t as resilient.  I began to have some major physical problems about the time I hit 92 pounds.  Problems like not being able to stand up or walk without falling over. Crazy cramps from potassium depletion.  Irregular heartbeat.  Unable to control my muscles.

I slowly realized how dangerous my new friend could be.  It took a while because I hadn’t had any physical problems “before,” during my first encounter with anorexia.  But I didn’t care.  I downed electrolyte enhanced drinks, ate teaspoonfuls of salt and kept losing.  Staggering along the treacherous precipice while attempting not to fall off.

Just as suddenly, after 10 blissful years of freedom, the switch flipped again.  And when it flipped, I gained.  My greatest fear became reality.   I was nothing but a big girl in disguise.  And I was being unmasked in spite of starving myself.  Can’t fight who you are.  Can’t hide it forever.

The ugly, worthless, disgusting big girl revealed herself once more.  The despicable, stupid, piece of crap fatty began to take control.

But I can’t.  I don’t have the strength to keep fighting.  I simply can’t.  I can’t be THAT girl ever again.  The girl who is too big to be the princess.  The girl who is repulsive to the prince.  The 7 year old on the bike, rejected and teased for her size.  The big girl.  I can’t. I can’t live in that body.  I have reached the end of my ability to deal.  I can’t go back to that place. I can’t go back to being that person.

I won’t.

If I can’t be small enough to be the princess, I would rather die.

 

Child of Pain

The world that I was born into was a dark and lonely place.  I figured it out pretty early.  My life wasn’t like that of other kids.  My parents weren’t like their parents.  The things that happened behind closed, locked doors, out of sight of those my parents sought to fool and impress, were very unlike those experienced by most other children.

 

I was a child of pain.

 

The very first thing my eyes were able to see, blurry though the image might have been, were the faces of my parents.  The people who created me, so to speak.  They claimed they wanted me.  But these people who struggled to name me, who never really adjusted to having me, who were supposed to love and protect me, introduced me to a hostile, chaotic, dark world.  A planet where pain ruled and thrived.

 

Pain claimed me at birth and never let me go.

 

It became a way of life for me and it wore my canyons deep.  When I awoke, it greeted me.  And it held me as I would weep.  As my life went on, it became my song.  It was all I knew.  It was the way I grew.  It penetrated my bones and as my soul grew numb and cold, it wrote on my heart of stone. Marked me forever.

 

From the womb that bore me, that grew, ripped and tore me, to the abuse, the out-of-control screaming and hitting, the demands and expectations that I could never meet or fulfill, through all the ugly and despicable things I endured, I became pain.  Pain became me.

 

There was no safe place of laughter, no nurturing, no dinner conversations about my dreams…or my day.  My world was lists of chores, front and back, 30 items or more long that were supposed to be completed every evening before my parents got home.  It was straight A’s, or else, smiling on demand, keeping my mouth shut, and hiding from their violent outbursts whenever I could see them coming.  I didn’t laugh together with my parents or act silly and have fun with them.  Instead, I learned about secrets and how to keep them.  I learned about monsters who hide in plain sight, who wore masks of respectability, but who snuck into my room at night to rape and abuse me.  I learned about double standards, surviving the darkness and nightmares all alone, keeping my head down, and trying to do as many of those chores on the never-ending lists my mother made for me without complaint.  But nothing I was or did was good enough.

 

I learned slapping leaves a big red welt, but it fades pretty quickly.  I learned that you can be knocked across the room with one punch, but you can still get up, go to your room and do your homework.  I learned that being alone, totally and utterly alone, was crushing, but being with people who trampled and molested you was even worse.   I learned about the power of words to cut you to your core.  To leave you bleeding and deeply wounded.  I learned about pain.  Pain provided the only air I was allowed to breathe; to take into my lungs.  It was the blood that flowed through my veins.  It was my skin.  And my eyes.  For everywhere I looked, pain was there, waiting to take me down.

 

I stumbled through endless days, trying to avoid land mines.  Trying to stay alive…physically and emotionally.  I succeeded to a degree.  I physically endured.  But my body was the only part of me that made it out alive.

 

Child of pain.  It ate my soul and devoured my heart.  It permeated every fiber of my existence.

 

Fate spun her web made of poisoned thread.  I have a multitude of scars to show for it.

 

Once you are wounded and marked, once you have been saturated by pain, it doesn’t go away when finally you physically escape your abusers.  Abusers who gave you life, then sucked it right back out of you.  It stays with you.  Sometimes forever.  Once a child of pain, always a child of pain.  The scars don’t fade easily, if at all.  Pain enjoys torturing and destroying. Playing with you.   It finds you wherever you go, delighting in the chase.  There is no escape.

 

Some things cannot be repaired.  Some wounds can never be fully healed.  Some pain is so deep, you drown in it.  You are absorbed into it.  It changes you.  And once you know pain this intimately, you are joined with it forever until you become one with the agony and anguish.

 

Born into pain.  Living with the shame, sorrow and heartache, trying to build a life in spite of massive damage and debilitating brokenness.  Living with the emotional encumbrance, longing for escape, until death ultimately marks you, claims you and carries you away.

 

Child of pain.  Until death do us part.

 

Storms

There was a storm last week.  Last Thursday evening.  Wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen; ever survived.  The wind was intense.  Knocked out my power around 6 pm and it wasn’t restored until after 3:30 the next morning. In some places, trees were uprooted, fences were flattened and because it hit suddenly, with little warning, over 15 people died on a nearby lake.

I sat in my closet with my dogs for about an hour.  Then, I sat in the dark until I finally drifted off to sleep with a couple of candles flickering to provide a small amount of comfort.  When you’re without electricity, there are so many things you can’t do.  Sometimes, sleep is the only way to escape.

Without electricity, you can’t cook, heat up a cup of coffee, cool down the house, keep your refrigerated food from perishing…or even do something mundane, like clean house or vacuum your carpet.  You can’t open your garage door, read, shop online, post on Facebook, binge watch a show on Netflix, do something crafty to pass the time or flick on the light when you walk into a dark room.  Though it didn’t stop me from trying.  Out of habit.  More than once.

It didn’t seem like it would be much of a storm.  It was nice out.  Then, the sirens went off, a warning to take cover.  I grabbed my dogs, my purse and external hard drive, then headed for the closet.  Eventually, we were all panting and hot, so I cracked the door and listened for a moment before venturing out to see if it was safe.

Everything was more or less intact.  But it was dark.

We survived.  We survived the storm that took the lives of others less than an hour away from where I live.  We survived with windows open and candles sputtering, encased in the darkness.  Numb and fearful in the eerie aftermath of the storm, waiting to assess the damage.

I have known many storms.  Weather.  Personal crisis.  Abuse.  Rejection.  Unfairness.  Neglect.  Many storms of varying strength, with countless levels of impact.  I have been battered physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  I have been broken and wounded.    But somehow, I have survived.  Not intact.  I’ve taken a lot of direct hits, experienced extensive damage and waded through mountains of debris.  I’ve been left to pick up the pieces over and over again.  To patch together a life from what was left of me.  I’ve not been wildly successful.  I have not healed.

Life is one continuous storm.  It’s hard.  People can be monsters.  They do monstrous things.

There are storms…and there are STORMS.  Sometimes, you walk away from them, a little bruised and stressed, but otherwise unharmed.  Some of them, you’re lucky if you can crawl away.  Sometimes, you have to sit there for a while, figure out where you’re bleeding, how deeply you’re cut and what is broken, until you can work up enough strength to turn over, breathe and attempt to stand.  Sometimes, you’re so wounded, you can’t even move.  You know the damage is terribly deep and significant.  The pain is crushing.  All you can do is lay perfectly still, barely breathing, stunned and trembling, unsure if this will be the one that finally brings you down.  After those storms, you can only pray you will be rescued.  And parts of you die a little bit at a time when the rescue never happens.

Even if it takes a long, long time, It’s easier to fix the electricity than it is to put the pieces of your heart back together.  Surviving the storm doesn’t mean you made it out alive.

 

Someone Has to Pay

Someone has to pay…and the price is high.

It costs all the years when children innocently dance the days away, safe and secure, chasing after fireflies.  Chasing after dreams.  Laughing from the belly; giggling with a carefree heart.  Running with the wind as it blows through their hair.  Jumping, leaping, straining to touch stars.  Twirling beneath a warm blue sky and falling into the soft green grass.  Life is magic.  Nothing is impossible.  Worries are for another day.

It costs the years when young teens take their first tentative steps into the future, full of a sense of adventure mixed with trepidation, looking forward while still looking back, because “back” isn’t all that long ago.  Reaching for a parent’s hand even as they struggle to let go completely.  Whirling in the midst of all they have been taught, the foundations that have been constructed, carefully and lovingly.  Testing them.  Finding their own way.

It costs all the years of young adulthood, when tentative steps solidify into ever more confident strides. When life begins to come into focus.  When dreams start to mature, decisions are made, hopes are stored into tomorrow’s treasure chest.  Ideas become plans.  Goals come into focus.  True friendships deepen and childish things are put aside, though not forgotten, for old memories are still to be enjoyed as new ones are made.  Meaning and purpose is sought and slowly found.  Life is being built a step at a time.

It costs the years of middle life, times of growing, achieving, gaining wisdom and understanding.  Times of learning what is actually important.  Connections.  The giving of your heart to others.  Commitment to a spouse.  Transparency and joy, raw vulnerability and finding a place of safety within the heart of others.  The birth of children ushers in pain beyond imagining.  And love beyond anything and everything that has ever been before.  Love so deep, your heart aches with it, throbs with it, cries with it, laughs with it, prays with it, embraces it, cherishes it.  You tremble with wonder and the fear of it as you hold it gently inside like a rare and delicate butterfly.  The world is no longer only about you.  It expands.  And the happiness of others becomes even more important to you than your own.

Such a high price.  It costs every hope.  Every dream.  Every joy. Every bit of meaning and all trust. It exacts a price every moment, stealing your soul, infusing your heart with anguish, stripping you of normality.  It purloins all sense of worth.  Damages so deeply, nothing can grow in the wasteland within.  Nothing can thrive or live in that shadowland where all has died.  The wounds and scars will mark the graves forever. The land is left toxic, poisoned and desolate.

When parents take from their children, rape their children, make their children objects to be used and abused, it costs the child everything.  All of this and more.  Though the parents refuse to acknowledge what they have destroyed, what they have stolen away, the child is the one who loses the world.  The child is the one who pays.  They pay with their life, with all they should have had but never knew and all they could have been but will never be.  They pay the price.  They pay with their heart and their soul.

They pay an exorbitant price every day until the day they finally die.

Seasons

Seasons come.  Seasons go.  Time passes so quickly, speeding by at a frenzied pace toward the cliff in its haste to carry us to our final end.

When I was a child in the spring of my life, seasons held no meaning beyond the climate associated with each of them.  Days became warmer as we moved toward summer.  Leaves unfurled, beautifully adorning once barren trees.  Flowers blossomed, proudly showing off their magnificent colors.  The sky was blue more often than it was gray.  Once brown grass slowly turned a lush green.  Gentle breezes and sweet air caressed my skin deliciously.  And the sun reigned, banishing the consuming darkness of winter to a shorter, more bearable time span, allowing just enough time for refreshing sleep.

Even during the summer years of my life, I didn’t see the seasons as painting my story, echoing the doomed trajectory of my life.  I didn’t see the parallel.  I had an abundance of time stretching out before me.  There was no need to worry if a year seemed to slip away unobserved or barely experienced.  Or that all I managed to accomplish was to survive. I basked in the sunshine, in my youth, in the possibilities of tomorrow.

It was as I approached and moved into the fall of life that I began to sit up and take notice.  It was at this point I began to panic.

It dawned on me suddenly that my time was now limited and supply was dwindling.  I was utterly stunned to realize there were far more years behind me than probably remained ahead.  My skin began to sag, no longer firm and smooth.  Wrinkles appeared beneath my eyes, around my mouth, as if time was using my face as a canvas with the intention to mar and mock.  I woke tired after a night of sleep.  The days turned colder, unwelcoming and short.  All the things I believed I would accomplish by this point in life were yet undone.  Not achieved.  The damage from years of childhood abuse crippled me and I was left struggling to overcome the destruction in hopes of someday thriving.  I had to work harder to get to the line where others started their journey and I was never able to catch up.  Fall was not friendly.  But it whispered of even worse days to come.

In the summertime, everything is alive, growing.  Fruit hangs from the vine and weighs down the branches of lush trees.  Flowers dance in the warmth.  Trees and shrubs and plants put out new shoots and increase in stature.

I experienced summer as a season, but I never lived during the summer of my life.  I never emerged from the darkness.  I never reached a point where I was fully alive, much less flourishing.

I blinked and summer was gone.  Just.  Like.  That.

Now, each year I survive comes with the understanding it could be my last.  Though I am not bent and ancient, if I continue to breathe, I am not as far removed from that coming stage of life as I am from my youth.  The end is clearly in sight.  And it’s terrifying.

I have walked.  Oh, my, how I have walked.  Many steps.  Many years, putting one tired foot before another.  I have left footprints in the dust where I longed to leave them in stone.  In cement.  I wanted to leave something lasting behind me.  But the wind has swept away the dust as quickly as I have passed through, leaving no trace of my coming and going.  Even the air that once caressed my youthful skin does not recognize or remember me.

I have walked.  But I have gone nowhere.  Looking back over the years and seasons, though I know the path taken, I cannot see any sign of my ever having existed.

Someday, winter will arrive, harsh and uncaring.  My home will be left empty.  The contents will be given or thrown away.  Every word I have written will be discarded, for no one will care to hear what I had to say.   Winter will strip me of the few leaves I managed to produce and will bury me under mounds of icy snow.  I will be wiped from the face of the earth.

Winter is coming, hard and fast and frigid.  All that I am and all that I have hoped to become will vanish without a trace beneath the cold hands of time.   The harsh touch of the darkness will erase me completely. Nothing I leave behind will make a difference to anyone who comes after.

I can feel the chill.  I was plunged into eternal darkness by my parents as they abused me and I never escaped the impact, nor got to enjoy the light of long summer days.  I was too numb.  Working too hard to persevere.

A time is coming when I will not see another season unfold.  When spring will blow in like a lion, but I will no longer breathe the fresh air…or any air at all.  The summer sun will not warm me or my dry, brittle bones.  Fall will have nothing else to take from me, for I will not be required to die yet again.  Only winter will want me.  The icy winter will hold me in frosty arms.  My eyes will not see, my heart will no longer cry in pain or be torn by unbearable regret.  I will be frozen in that final moment.  And in that moment, I will begin to return to dust.  Dust that someone else will walk through as they leave their footprints trailing behind them.  Hoping, as I once did, to leave their mark.

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.

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.