Sunshine and Roses

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Before anyone gets the impression that life is all sunshine and roses now one year post divorce, it isn’t.

I lie awake nights worrying how I’m going to pay for this new, cute little car.  I lie there in the dark listening to the sound of my wounded, fragile child grind his teeth and wait for the first morning light to peek through so I can drag my tired, aching body into another day.  I swallow any pride I have left as I allow clients to talk to me like I’m ignorant.  I disregard insensitive or accusatory remarks from those who are obviously still angry that I chose to live my new life by my own standards and not theirs.  And, I paid my rent late this month.  I had a choice:  pay the rent on time or buy food.  I chose to feed my children and let the rent slide for a week.  My teenage son makes our home life unbearable as he triggers the younger children and me with his aggressive, demanding, nosy behavior.  He makes mess after mess, leaving them all for us.  And, now, he has even stopped flushing the toilet.  He leaves that for us, too.

Sometimes I yearn for a man’s touch, the warmth of a strong arm around my weary shoulders.

My recent positive, light posts are not an indication that I’m living large and flying high above those old problems.  They’re an indication that I’ve made a choice, a conscience choice, to seek out that which is light, to be thankful for the sweet scent of hope.

Every moment bestows the opportunity for a new choice.  What to eat.  What to watch.  What to do.  Who to see or talk to.  And, most importantly, how to perceive every bit of data my heart and mind receive.

One year ago he finally signed the papers that released me from my contract with hell itself.  It has been a struggle.  It has been difficult.  But, the journey has been worth it, like hiking up a tall mountain.  I’m not at the pinnacle yet.  I can’t rest and breathe the fresh, clean air in deeply through my nostrils as I take in the magnificent view from the top.  But, I can, in these moments of the climb, choose to enjoy the glimpses of a beautiful view I know is coming.  I can choose to enjoy the burn in my muscles because it makes me feel alive, and I can be grateful I’m capable of walking this journey on my own two feet.  I choose to enjoy the memories I’m making on this strenuous hike, knowing that they will be my bragging rights some day.  Somewhere out there in the future I will marvel and glory at what I came through to get to where I’m going to be.  Right now it’s hard, but I look down those craggy rocks and see how far I’ve already come and I’m encouraged that I can go the rest of the way.

It’s still a lot of stones and dark, shady places.  It’s not all sunshine and roses.  Yet.  Not quite yet.  I’m simply choosing to bask in every beam of sunlight coming through the trees.

The Devil You Know

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I think I’ve shared with you before that my paternal grandmother frequently said, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”  It had a quaint wisdom ringing through it, especially said with her Southern accent and stern, maternal tone.  Her words helped to further solidify the fear I harbored in my spirit.  I was scared to death of change because it could possibly be even worse than the life I’d had thrust upon me.  My current circumstances might not seem so bad in the light of new, unknown terrors.

My mother and brother were more manipulative in their ploys to keep me stuck in the quicksand of a go nowhere life they orchestrated for me.  But, the common thread of fear of the unknown was prevalent.  So, I stayed, unmoving, in a certain hell of an existence of their choosing.  They were the devils I knew.

I stayed in a nightmare of a marriage out of fear.  Fear of God’s wrath.  Fear of losing my children.  Fear of being murdered.  Fear of my children being murdered.  Fear of proving everyone right…..I am a failure.  Two failed marriages would solidify the harsh judgment I’d borne up under for so many years.  He was the devil I knew.

When my friend suggested I apply for a Habitat for Humanity house I was reluctant to embrace that particular idea of hope.  My landlord, coincidentally at about the same time, began discussing the possibility of writing up an owner carry contract with me.  I dreamily embraced that idea!  I’ve lived in this house over fifteen years now.  I’ve given birth in it.  My children were raised here.  My husband beat me here.  He beat my children here.  We starved here.  We’ve huddled together, freezing, here.  It’s the devil I know.  My landlord is a devil I know.

I attended the required meeting to receive the Habitat for Humanity application.  The approximately thirty other families there intimidated me.  I don’t earn enough to meet their loan requirements.  What are my chances, really, anyway?  Then, they gave the address.  Out of curiosity I reluctantly drove by with my mind already made up not to apply.  As I drove past scantily clad 12 year old girls and boys unseen for their hoodies, garbage strewn yards, and toddlers playing alone in the rain, I determined the devil I know isn’t so bad.

The property is near a school and a park.  That will be noisy and unbearable to those of us accustomed to the solitude of a mountain.  The unsavory neighborhood that must be passed to get to it would be too frightening for a family of PTSD sufferers.  How could we sleep at night knowing that kind of riff raff is walking the streets nearby?

God has a funny way of opening our eyes to devils and turning our hearts longingly to the uncertain future He has planned for us.

This past month I’ve once again taken on extra work….rentals, houses for sale, spring cleaning jobs.  I’ve worked until my arthritic fingers will barely flex and my back feels like it has been beaten with a board.  I’m exhausted.  The natural physical fatigue that is to be expected has been exacerbated by the loud traffic on the highway that fronts my house.  It awakens me at 4 a.m. and continues steadily until 9 when all of the students are settled in their seats and the worker bees are all busy with their duties.

This may be a solitary mountain where the trees refuse to permit daylight to enter and not a single neighbor can be seen, but the noise is unreal.  The highway below is busy.  The bar around the corner is quickly being rebuilt after a fire destroyed it.  It has been the scene of regular stabbings at their all night outdoor music-fests that blare old rock and reggae into our rooms, denying us sleep all summer long.  Even with the windows closed, which creates a sort of oven/green house effect on the house, the screaming guitars, drum beats, and yelling rip through the closed glass and stagnant heat.  These are the devils I know.

Interestingly, one of those extra houses I took on just happened to be located about two blocks from the Habitat property.  I heard the mailman pull up, the Fedex man arrive, and a tow truck haul away an unhappy woman’s new Toyota.  But, other than that, the silence of the neighborhood was almost eerie.  I spent a total of ten and a half hours there over two days, a Friday and a Saturday, and never heard anyone yell.  I never heard music blare.  Though I was in town, in a house without a yard, snuggled up against the houses next to it, I never heard evidence of another human being anywhere near.

When I left, the neighbors, who could be seen but not heard, studied me warily.  Were I there to perform mischief they could have described every detail of my appearance and my vehicle to the authorities.   Yet, when I stopped for a child to cross the street, they smiled warmly as though my courteous gesture gained me acceptance.

The first day I was there I worked the entire day without a break or anything to eat.  After I finished late in the afternoon I chose to make my way through the speeding and wreckless young men conspicuously driving Mercedes and Beemers and into the lot of the small store and deli right down the road.  The woman behind the deli counter was overly friendly–the kind of person who will remember you a month later and greet you warmly as though you’re old friends.  I learned her life history in ten minutes, and she said that she’s never related to a woman customer as she did to me.  I dare say we bonded in those moments over that corn dog.  The gentleman at the cash register let me have my snack for a mere fifty cents.  When I questioned him, because I knew that wasn’t the right price, he urged me to go on and take it for fifty cents.

At the end of the second day there, after six days straight of hard labor, beyond tired and hungry, I asked the kids if they minded pizza for dinner.  I was too tired to cook or do anything other than sit on the sofa and veg.  Fortunately, we have a pizza place less than a mile away, right next to the abandoned market, and for $16 I was saved from the insurmountable task of preparing food.

As we pulled into the rutted, gravel parking lot our eyes were drawn to a disheveled man walking slowly around the perimeter of the building with a machete in his hand.  We had seen him days before in the empty parking lot of the old market.  With the market gone, the tiny post office adjacent to it has become a haven for litter and thieves.  We sat, doors locked, afraid to get out to get the mail until he was a safe distance away at the pizza place.  He watched us, walking slowly and stopping to turn back and stare at us.  We busied ourselves with imaginary papers and tried to look like we were simply getting organized before going into the narrow little, inescapable cave of boxes.  Now, here he was nervously pacing around the pizza joint with a machete in his hand.

An obviously unshowered woman in a flannel shirt and old jeans lit a cigarette and walked over to her Prius as a similarly dressed man walked out to his 2014 white Ford one ton pick up.  I told my 14 year old to run in between them and into the front door to retrieve our order.  I sat there, praying, worried for our safety and my son’s as I glanced upward to keep a suspicious eye on the machete guy.  These are the devils I know.

After initially deciding to not even turn in the Habitat application, I did.  I filled out the paper work, added pictures of the condition of this house and a four page plea for a home that isn’t filled with rats, the steam of our own breath, and memories of abuse.  I did it because I’ve learned that the devil you know is not better than the devil you don’t.  That’s merely a tactic of devils to keep you trapped in the hell they create for you.

When I compare a silent neighborhood in a new house with neighbors who watch you and your home to the noisy yet isolated darkness of this mountain hovel, there is no comparison.  The reality of those young ne’er do wells in their fancy drug cars is the very same reality of those unkempt middle aged growers and dealers in the new, practical vehicles out here:  none of them want to get caught and lose the trappings they’ve come to enjoy.  I’ve never feared that element out here.  Why do I fear them when the clothes and cars are a different style?

The man with the machete:  now, there’s someone to fear.  The bikers who get drunk and stab each other on Friday night within ear shot and eyesight of me:  they are to be feared.  The aimless homeless who camp out by the river or, worse yet, near the creek that runs along my property: they seem to believe they own the land they crap on and will fiercely confront anyone who comes near their camp.  The impoverished, neglected teens and 20 somethings who waste their days breaking in to empty houses along this highway:  were it not for my dogs chasing them and biting them, I would have feared them entering my home that time they crawled over the side of the hill and into my yard where my children were playing.  All of this goes on unabated because we essentially don’t have a sheriff’s department out here.  It is a land of lawlessness.  These are devils I know.

The Lord has blessed me so much in the last year.  I have genuine friends to whom I can turn for advice, help, or a laugh.  I have sole custody of my vulnerable children.  I am my own boss with clients I consider friends, and none of my bills are ever paid late.  I’m driving a new car!  Hallelujah!  My household items lost in the divorce have been replaced by generous friends and strangers; I like my new belongings a lot better than I liked those items I had to say goodbye to.  Some of these new things were given to me or purchased for me by people who didn’t even know me.  Some of them are just cast offs, no longer needed hand-me-downs.  Yet, all of my new belongings represent me better.  They appeal to my senses in ways that those items R picked out and allowed me to have never did.  I look around at all of this and think that surely the Lord will not stop here.  Surely, He will meet our need for a home.  So, with hopeful anticipation I pray for favor with the Habitat for Humanity board who will choose one fortunate family from that thirty who attended the meeting.  And, I dream of the day I will turn my back on ALL of the devils I know.

Don’t Feel Sorry For Me

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The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and overwhelming responsibilities.  I’m exhausted.  There are days I think that a man sure would be nice to have around.  He could help me make some of these decisions.  He could shoulder some of these financial responsibilities.  He could pick up the loose ends around the house and with the kids when there just isn’t enough of me left.  He could wrap his arms around me and just hold me, letting me breathe in his reassurances.

My 83 year old uncle recently asked me why I don’t ever have a man around.  He wanted to know, “Don’t you ever dream of having a relationship?  Don’t you dream of having someone again?”  The pity was evident.  He has admitted that he feels sorry for me, “working so hard and raising all those kids alone.”

But, between you and me, I think I’m too scared to even look.  I keep gaining weight, and I fear that I’m hiding behind it.  Perhaps this layer of extra insulation protects me.

So, I keep on doing what I must.  I wade through each day in a cloud, not fully focused but moving nonetheless.

This afternoon a friend shared with me that she worries about me working so much.  She worries about my health. I admit, sometimes, so do I.

My old car finally threw a rod.  I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t sleep.  I worried incessantly.  I prayed my way through three weeks, conserving trips and hoping to just make it to work.

Broke and employed as an unlicensed cleaning lady, I feared I couldn’t qualify for a loan.  Then, I feared that if I could, I couldn’t make the payments.  I cringed at the humiliation I knew I would face sitting at that desk asking for something I didn’t deserve.

A friend said her uncle could help me, but I needed to look online first so I could give him a place to start when I actually came in to the car lot where he worked.  So, I booted up and began looking at the disappointing photos of vehicles with the specs and price tags I knew were beyond my means.  What was I going to do????

This is where a man in my life would sure be nice.  Someone to help me make this decision.  Maybe his skills would have prevented this from even happening.

Then, there on the screen in front of me was the lowest priced car I’d come across yet.  And, it only had 1,445 miles on it.  Okay, that was too weird.  Something had to be wrong with it.  I submitted an online interest form to find out why they were trying to dump this new car like that.  Early the next morning I received a call from the dealership.  The first words out of the man’s mouth were, “I talked to [the owner of the dealership].  If you’re interested in this car, he’ll drop the price a thousand dollars.”

Say whaaaat?  No haggling?  No sales pitch?

A friend’s husband who previously worked at a car dealership coached me through the process, and I drove away in a new little car with a full warranty.  I didn’t have to put down one dime.  I just signed the papers and drove away.

jan 15 thru march 24 2014 005

 

My oldest son is graduating in May on the other side of the country.  It is important to him that I’m there to watch.  He has no family but his siblings and me.  He’s worked incredibly hard to get where he is, and he deserves to have his accomplishment witnessed and celebrated.  But, I can’t afford to go!  I’ve stressed and stressed and stressed over how to pay for this.  Miraculously, extra jobs have popped up here and there over the last month, and I’ve poured that extra little bit onto the credit card to pay for part of my trip.  I have about six weeks left to come up with the rest of it.  No matter what, I’m going.

Washington_Monument_Dusk_Jan_2006

 

I’m usually awake before the alarm goes off.  Not because I’m rested but because I’m lying awake worrying.  Or, because my crazy old dog’s barking awakened me way too early.  She’s deaf and partially blind and is losing her sense of smell.  Well, okay, she’s pretty much lost that, too.  She’s also obviously suffering from doggy dementia.  I pull my weary bones (and extra insulation) from the warmth of my bed and out into the stark coldness of this unheated house.  I pour myself a cup of day old coffee from the carafe and head outside to microwave it.  Yes, the microwave is outside.  The wiring is so horribly overloaded that a microwave in the kitchen shuts down half the house every time it’s turned on.  Every morning I step out on the cold concrete and nervously peer around the corner looking for my cat.  She’s heading on 16, and I know that one day very soon I’ll find her stiff and not breathing.  I lift her gently to bring her in to eat, careful not to put pressure on her tumor, glad to see I’ve been given one more day with her.  From the shower window, as the light begins to peak through the trees, I count my chickens.  One, two, three, four.  They’re all there still.  At nine years old they no longer lay, but I take care of them in honor of all of the good years they helped feed my children.  My dog, my cat, and my last four hens……they all have one foot or paw in the grave.  I’ve said I wouldn’t replace them until they passed, but then a friend posted this on his wall.

my orange cat

I commented on how cute the kittens were.  Out of curiosity I asked if there were just the three.  He, I think, kinda jokingly asked if I’d like him to save me one.  Without hesitation I said yes.  The only problem is the aforementioned trip.  No problem!  He’ll keep this little guy and litter box train him while I’m back east.  I’m pretty excited.  I’ve always had a weird thing for orange cats.  Besides, my little menagerie really needs some new blood.

I think I know what you’re thinking.  Could I possibly have a point in all of this????

Here’s the thing:  I read some posts on a friend’s wall just yesterday.  She got new kittens, too.  Her kids want a dog, but her husband said no.  So, they got kittens.  One of her friends wants a cat, but her husband said no to a kitty.  That’s when it all hit me.

I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could get a kitten!  I saw that orange little ball of cute fuzz and said I wanted him.  My friend and I quickly worked out the details flawlessly so that the little guy will be well cared for while I’m gone. End of story.

Truth be told, I’ve gained weight because I really like food, not to hide from a man.  I am FREE to enjoy eating now that I don’t have a man telling me I’ve had enough or I’d better not eat that dairy with a cellulite problem like mine.  I nibble on cheese and crackers and sip red wine because it is pleasurable, not because it gives me fat to hide behind.  Honestly.

Every day brings a new difficult decision or dilemma, true.  But, I get to solve those issues in ways that are most comfortable for me.  I hate debt and avoid it at all costs.  But, I’ll rack up that card to its limit to go see my son graduate!  However, when jobs come along that can offset that potential debt, I accept them without hesitation.  I don’t have to consult with anyone about whether or not it will interfere with his plans or if it will bother him that I won’t be home until late three days a week.  I take the jobs because they will allow me to do what is important to ME.

Yes, I am working an awful lot lately, and I am thoroughly exhausted.  It’s okay though.  I’ll rest when I take my trip.  Or, when a natural lull in my work flow occurs.  I’ll enjoy that time off, knowing that another burst of empty rentals and houses for sale is right around the corner.

I bought a new car!  I didn’t have to find something else old and run down that I could pay cash for and then depend on him to fix because he’d ruined my credit.  I’m not isolated anymore.  He can’t keep me stuck on this hill without transportation.  His decisions no longer bind me to those consequences.  I’ve paid off almost all of our marital debt, and I created my own little business.  My reward is new, dependable transportation.

Which brings me to this past weekend…….

jan 15 thru march 24 2014 031

Late Saturday evening I decided on a whim to drive to the coast the next morning.  I washed and trimmed strawberries and packed chips and blankets.  Sunday morning I made sandwiches.  We then loaded up, dropped off my 17 year old at his job, and drove the two hours to play on the beach all day.  Impromptu.  No discussion.  We just did it.  We ran in the surf.  We had a picnic.  We flew kites.  We made sandcastles.  I read while the children chased seagulls.

I love that my uncle and my friend worry about me.  It makes me feel loved to know that they are concerned about my health, my future, and my well being.  But, please don’t feel sorry for me.  Because, I’m free.  I’m finally really free.  Free to make decisions, to eat, to travel, to LIVE.

 

How Fricken Weird Is That?

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Late yesterday afternoon I took the children to visit a friend who recently moved across the country.  She’s in town for a brief visit, and I was eager to see her.  There is a long ago family connection, so she really gets where I come from and how I ended up here.  My feelings about her and our friendship go deep.   Very deep.  I trust her.  The entire day felt like an inconvenience standing in the way of our planned chat.

We were greeted by a chicken taking a dust bath and their old yellow lab as we turned the walkway toward the immense green yard.  We instantly settled in.  The children ran and played and screamed outside in the sunshine while we ate homemade bread and caught up.  A gentle, cool breeze blew through the open screen door as her parents joined us for awhile.

A friend of hers, a fellow survivor, arrived before long, and we spent the evening sharing wounds and laughing.  The din of children’s play increased, and it was evident these eleven children were getting along famously hour after hour.  As the sun faded into darkness the children wandered inside to eat and gather in front of the TV, so we three moms retreated to a bedroom where the last of our evening together felt more like a junior high slumber party.  I even shared the circumstances surrounding my oldest son’s conception, a secret I just don’t tell.  It wasn’t met with any judgment or condemnation at all, only acceptance and recognition.

I received a recipe for “sleeping dust” so was able to sleep fairly sound last night for the first time in months.  I couldn’t wait to share it with my survivor sister, whom I’ve never met in person but view as my mentor.  I love her dearly.  She, too, has issues with sleep, and I hoped desperately this “dust” could be the answer for us both.

In between the inconveniences of yesterday that stood between me and my highly anticipated visit with my out of town friend, I texted with my best friend.  I met her twenty years ago at that church where I was treated so horribly by that ex-fiancee and his mother.  Frequently, I hesitate to share things with her or bounce ideas off of her because I don’t entirely trust her to tell me painful truth about myself.  She is my encourager, my defender; she always seems to see the best in me.  She doesn’t treat me in accordance with the reality of who I am.  She speaks to me as though I’m the best me I could possibly be.  She views my potential as the real me.  I’d go through the pain of the experience of that church again just to find her and have her in my life.

In between those texts I received one from my oldest son’s girlfriend.  “Mama, how are you doing? Alright?  We love you!….It struck me suddenly that I should check in with you.”  She’d had a strange and sudden feeling something might be wrong, and she was worried.  On the contrary, it was a beautiful day in many ways.

As I’ve taken on a number of extra jobs lately, empty rentals and houses for sale, I’ve had a lot of time to myself to think…..sometimes nine, ten hours a day alone in a silent house with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company.  Naturally, with the two year anniversary of my dad’s death approaching, I’ve been thinking about him and that horrible day a lot in those long silent hours.

I’ve thought about how cruel my brother was to my dad in his last years, especially in the last few months when Daddy was weak.  I’ve felt guilty for not cooking for my dad his last Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It was my first without R, and I couldn’t bear the idea of spending the holidays with my brother.  Daddy wouldn’t come without my brother, or, rather, my brother wouldn’t let Daddy come without him.  I just couldn’t do it and instead spent Thanksgiving with my half-brother and his family.  I have felt a little guilty for robbing my dad of his last holidays, for forcing him to spend them alone.

As I’ve mulled that over during hours of scrubbing and washing, I’ve accepted that I didn’t force that lonely holiday on my dad.  My brother did.  He created the scenario.  I merely responded in the only way I felt I could and maintain my sanity in a dark season.

I’ve recalled my dad’s first words to me in three weeks after R left, “Well, you answered your phone!  [Your brother] and I were just talking this morning, we wondered if you were divorcing us along with R since we haven’t heard from you!”  R left here in a fit of rage, taking the money and provision with him, and headed straight to my brother’s house.  My brother and dad were the first ones to know of R’s departure, the only ones to know that he was headed north.  And yet, I’d received no calls or visits to check on the kids and me.  There had been no concern from my family that I was ill and had just been abandoned by my abuser.  Those words of blame my dad threw at me were directed from his conversation with my brother that morning.  As the funeral director told me when Dad died, “Old people sometimes get a soft mind.  They are easily swayed by others and can easily be manipulated.”  The wise director had witnessed how my brother manipulated my half-brother and me, and he could imagine what he’d done to a weak, old man who loved and needed him.

In an ideal world my family would have surrounded me in my moment of need, and I would have put on a lovely holiday, as I always had, none of us knowing it would be my dad’s last.  And, we’d have had wonderful memories together of his last days on earth.

But, this isn’t an ideal world, and I didn’t come from an ideal family.  I’ve finally been able to absolve myself of that guilt while scraping years of grease from a twenty year old stove in an empty rental unit.

It’s late here.  Eleven o’clock.  The sun is shining brightly again today.  The kids are still asleep, apparently exhausted from playing so hard yesterday.  The only sounds I’ve heard today are the occasional truck on the highway, the cacophony of returning geese, and my own thoughts swirling in my head.

Each of my random, silent thoughts this morning is swirled in gratitude.  Gratitude!

I’m actually thankful this morning that I have suffered as I have.  I am thankful for my suffering!  Otherwise, I’d have had no occasion to meet the hilarious, gifted woman I met last night.  I’d have had no reason to connect with my mentor.  I would not share a certain kinship and intimacy with other amazing women I’ve met here in town (whom I never would have guessed shared a similar painful past but have opened up to me because I’ve been so open about my own experiences) and the incredible women I’ve yet to meet but without whom I could not do this.  If I could have possibly avoided the pain of that church all of those years ago, I would have missed out on my best friend.  If I had not met and married R and suffered so horribly at his hand, I’d have never faced those ghosts of my past and never would have recognized my family’s abuse for what it was.  I would have lived and died a wretched, drama filled life always believing that there was just something wrong with me.  If I had not been manipulated by that youth pastor who abused girl after girl after girl, I would not have my best and my brightest, my first born son.  Nor would I have his girlfriend who is like a sweet daughter to me, fulfilling all the things I longed for with my own daughter but have been denied because of my mother’s hatred for me that my daughter still carries.

How fricken weird is that?  To be thankful to the point of tears?  Tears of gratitude for abuse?  Abandonment?  Neglect?  Rejection?  GRATITUDE.

The beauty of my current life–the relationships that bring me such deep joy–would not have existed or been possible without the shit in which it is planted!  So, this morning, as I relish the bright mind of a good night’s sleep and I anticipate a day in the sunshine with the incredible children I bore of an abusive marriage, I thank God for the horrors I endured.  And, I thank Him for the blessings I’ve collected along the way.

If I could say one thing to my mother, my paternal grandfather, my brother, my former youth pastor, my ex-fiancee and his mother, and my ex-husband, it would be:

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.  Genesis 50:20

And, to God Himself I say:

Thank you for being faithful when I was not.  Thank you for preserving me through my darkest trials.  Thank you for bringing about blessing out of cruelty.

Sixteen Years A Slave

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I rented Twelve Years A Slave tonight.

As I watched the beginning scenes I could easily spot the trouble with those two “circus” performers, those “artists” who were so clearly conning Solomon. He seemed so eager to believe them, to follow them. How could such an intelligent man not see the potential danger?

As I watched the penalty for his naivety unfold, I began to see how much like Solomon I was. So much so that I could not question his decision or condemn the man for trusting the total strangers who seemed to offer something too good to be true.

I had only known R for five months when I married him.  I trusted a man I barely knew.  I believed his promises.  And, I suffered for it.

I felt panic as Eliza’s children were ripped from her arms.  And, I thanked God that He had intervened and prevented that in my life.  But, I know, too, just like Eliza, I cannot relax in that hold with my children on either side of me.  The threat always lies around the next bend that the cruel men will take them from me.

My heart pounded with anger as I watched Solomon betrayed by the drunk who tended his wounds, as I had been betrayed by my own brother when he told my ex husband, “Be careful what you do to her.  She’s writing it all down in a secret file on the computer to use against you.”  The secret file that my brother had convinced me was necessary in the event R killed me.  The secret file my brother helped me create.

I cried for Patsy as she was raped, favored, jealously questioned, and then beaten mercilessly.  How many times was that cycle repeated in my marriage?  Oh God!  How many times?!

My children and I were not worked to the point of death.  However, we were worked to the point of fatigue and illness, not allowed food, water, or medical care.  We were yelled at, ridiculed, and beaten for not working hard enough by a man who spent so many days lying on a couch with a beer in his hand.

His beatings were justified because I was “HIS wife!”  Those were “HIS children!”  Like the master, he saw us as his property to do with as he pleased.  So many times I was chastised that I’d brought it all on myself because I was nothing more than “a contentious woman.”  I was told I was “too strong,” and he was “willing to stop if [I] would just cry.”  He assured me the beatings would ease up if I would just break before him.

The end captions explained that Solomon did not find justice in the court system.  Neither did we.  I settled out of court for what I felt was the lesser of all possible evils with the realization that there is no justice for “people like [me].”

We skulk away just glad to be free of our “masters,” foregoing any protection or restitution, and try to rebuild what is left of our wrecked lives.

My heart utterly broke as I watched that movie.  My heart broke for the real people represented in the film, the people who lived out that horror a century and a half ago.  My heart broke for my children.  For me.  For the millions of women and children just like us.

Don’t be fooled into thinking for one moment that we are a free and enlightened society.  Slavery still exists in many forms.  I know.  I spent sixteen years a slave.

Deserving of the Finer Things

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Before I married R, I dated a young man from a fairly wealthy family. His great grandfather was one of the first to settle our area and owned hundreds of acres of this beautiful land. He utilized it well and built a small empire for himself. He taught his children to do the same with the gift he was giving them.

I broke up with this guy because he was selfish and arrogant. I did not end the relationship because of the money, but it had bothered me.

I ADORED his family. I’ve never been treated so kindly by a boy or man’s family. I was divorced with three young children and was six years older than this particular young man. I lived in a single wide trailer with my mother. We were the picture of dysfunctional relationships. But, his family welcomed us warmly. His grandparents even referred to themselves as “grandma and grandpa” to my children. There was no looking down on us. There was no trying to talk him out of the relationship. In fact, the only conversations that came from them regarding it were to him about how poorly he was treating me!

However, no matter how sweet these people were, I felt uncomfortable in their homes.  One of his cousins lived up on the north end of town in an exclusive neighborhood.  The place was exquisite, but sitting in her living room was like wearing an itchy old wool suit over bare skin.  I squirmed and just wanted out of it.

I nearly instinctively knew that I didn’t belong there.  I was undeserving of enjoying such surroundings.

I was also briefly engaged to a man who was destined to be well off, climbing the ladder in the banking business.  His family treated me HORRIBLY.  His mother waged a war against me at church, throwing a huge fit and garnering support for her cause until the pastor’s wife reluctantly told me that I could no longer teach Sunday School.  Those women did not want a divorced woman teaching their children.  This man’s mother cried whenever he went out with me, refused to speak to me or my children, and declared that by marrying him I would be “forcing him to commit adultery.”

Construction on his new home was completed during our brief engagement.  Though it was presumed I would be managing that home, he did not involve me in choosing decorations or even kitchen gadgets.  He hired a woman from a local furniture store and asked for his sister’s help.  I was left out completely.  He, as well as his mother, made it clear to me that I was beneath them and undeserving of what he was offering me.

When I first started my little cleaning business two years ago I still felt very nervous in nice homes.  I couldn’t sleep nights, worrying that I would mar a finish or destroy something beautiful and precious. I wrung my hands over the knowledge that it was likely I would displease its owners, as they must certainly have some supernatural ability to take care of such lovely things.  I, being of lowly birth and station, was not gifted with that foreknowledge.  And, I must also naturally be at a handicap to learn it.  Therefore, I spent hours on the internet, reading up on the best way to clean cultured marble, stainless steel, and wood floors.  I was out of my element in these palatial domiciles, and I knew it.

It’s a funny thing though, cleaning these high class toilets.  I don’t feel even more lowly wiping, scrubbing, and sanitizing the baser things.  I’ve come to learn that a house is a house.  Cleaning is cleaning.  And, as Cinderella said in Shrek the Third, “Everyone poops, Beauty.”  People are just people living in different sizes and styles of houses.

And, not all of these well coiffed ladies do instinctively know how to keep up these cultured marble mini mansions.

Some of my clients regularly ask me how to treat certain problems because they were never trained as young women on how to manage the more lowly elements of keeping a house.  They are well educated and can certainly decorate, hostess, and budget and invest.  They grow beautiful gardens and take gourmet cooking classes.  They paint and create beautiful works of art.  They are successful career women.  And, these particular clients grew up with a housekeeper.  Their mothers didn’t clean their own homes either, so it wasn’t something they learned.

Lo and behold, my lifelong assumptions were wrong.  Keeping and maintaining a large, exquisite monument of a house is not a knowledge monied girls are born with.  It’s a learned skill.  And, it’s a skill I have learned and feel quite comfortable with now.

At one point in my life I sat on those leather couches and wanted nothing more than to run back to a cramped, dank house with dated surroundings, where I felt I belonged.  Now, I stand in these places, perusing them, and think to myself that I would really enjoy a home like that.  I dream of the way I could decorate a room that size.  I imagine how well I could organize with all of that extra storage.  Most importantly, finally, I feel just as deserving of these surroundings as the women who live there.

Check In

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I don’t remember exactly why I chose the books I did.  I can’t recall if there had been a recommendation on a website.  But, I ordered Love Is A Choice and Boundaries in Marriage, along with their accompanying workbooks, and I worked them.

I had to keep them hidden and constantly moved them, burying them deep within a box of old photos, hiding them in a child’s closet, shoving them underneath insulation in the attic.  There would be hell to pay if R found those books.  Even more so if he read what I wrote!

Once the books were completed I felt I needed something more.  I knew I shouldn’t just stop there.  Love Is A Choice gave heavy recommendations for joining a support group, so I mulled that over.  I googled an organization it listed, contacted the local head, and thought of lies to tell R about where I was going.

I’d been to AA as a teen, so I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect.  I remember sitting in the back with my friend, watching as her mother and the others told a little bit about themselves.  It was uncomfortable sitting in the big, cold building, on a hard metal chair, trying to be silent, listening to total strangers’ dark secrets and pain.

This time I’d be one of those standing at the front.  But, I pushed myself to go, feeling like I might die from the fear and loneliness if I didn’t die at R’s hand.

When I got to the meeting place, there were several people mulling around outside.  One woman I recognized as being a neighbor.  People seemed friendly and kept offering me coffee.  I was relieved!  When it actually started, we sat in padded chairs and on couches in the tiny, intimate back room of a church.  It wasn’t as intimidating as I had feared.

However, as they began to talk and share I quickly realized that I didn’t belong there.  The lump in my throat grew larger.  Good thing it was there, too.  It acted as a cap for the anger that began to develop in my chest, and it held it safely within me.  These people shared how they had controlled and manipulated their loved ones to keep them down and needy in order to fulfill their own needs.  And, it sounded like something my mother should have said but never could bring herself to utter.  I could not relate to them in any way.  I could not feel compassion for them for the “pain” they expressed.  When it came my turn to “check in,” I passed.

Disappointed and angry, I returned home.  I had decided to tell R where I was going.  My thought was that if he believed I was admitting there was something wrong with me and I needed help to be a better person, he would accept it.  And, he had.  He seemed thrilled that I was “realizing” I had a problem.

I returned a couple times after that first disaster, and each time was just more of the same.  I could not understand where these people were coming from.  I began to avoid my smiling neighbor when I saw her at the post office, now seeing her as some sort of monster.  I came to see her former partner as a victim, though I’d never liked her as much, seeing her as impersonal.  I developed empathy for her now though and wished I had been friendlier toward her.  Her, I could understand.  I knew all too well what it was like to live with someone who sees you as an object to be used to fulfill their own selfish desires.  I understood what it’s like to share a home with someone who views relationships as a competitive game.

This wasn’t working, but I still felt desperate to find a support group.  But, where?  What kind?  Though I had not found a place to go, I still left on the same evening of each week, letting R think that I was still going.  Instead, I would sit at the river and pray.  I don’t remember why I decided to call the local women’s support group.  I can’t recall what prompted me to see if they had a support group meeting.  But, I called.  And, called.  Weeks went by, and it seemed like an eternity before I had a meeting with the advocate who would grant me access to the meeting location.

And, it was worth the wait.

She changed my life.

The first words out of my mouth were, “I really think my situation is different.  I think my husband might be bipolar.”  She asked me how he might treat a checker who gave him back the wrong change.  Or, a gas station attendant who accidentally spilled gasoline on his truck.  R’s responses in those types of situations were always, always, always overly, sickeningly, oddly gooey sweet and dripping with offers of new friendship, BBQs, and keeping the change altogether.  It was a sharp contrast to the terror the children and I knew if we so much as dripped mashed potatoes on the table or sneezed while he was talking.

After my appointment with her I was granted the location of the support group, and I eagerly attended my first meeting.  There, too, was a “check in,” and I could feel my heart racing as I knew my turn was coming.  What would I say?  What would everyone think of me?  Would I talk too much?  I thought I might pass my turn the first time, just as I had at the other group.

But, when my turn came the words spewed forth.  I could hear myself talking, but it was as though it wasn’t really me speaking.  The women sat and listened intently, and the release of my prison into a somewhat public domain was intense.  I bent forward and cried onto the floor.  I laughed hysterically.  Round and round it went.  All the way home.  Other drivers stared at me as I cycled through this intense release of emotion that had been bottled tightly for a decade and a half.

I attended that support group and participated in “check in” for three solid months before R left, and I faithfully continued throughout the loss of my parents and the majority of the custody battle and divorce proceedings.  I loved it there.  And, I looked forward to “check in.”  I eagerly anticipated that release valve that came with expressing my truth to someone who listened without interrupting or judging.

Unfortunately, my work schedule has precluded me from attending for nearly a year now.  I’ve missed it.  I wonder what has happened to the other women who attended so faithfully during the time I did.  We were in the thick of battle together, and I grew to care about them deeply.  I miss “my” advocate, a woman of strength and wisdom who always seemed to know just the right thing to say.  I was thrilled this week when my afternoon client would be out of town and I could clean for them at any point during the week.  I could make it to my old support group and “check in!”

As I entered I marveled at how different it felt to walk those stairs.  They didn’t seem as long or steep.  I noticed colors and art work that had been lost on me before.  And, I realized that, just like the first time I attended, I didn’t know what to say.

I no longer acutely experience pain moment by moment.  I am not completely unsure of myself and my decisions.  I no longer live in complete fear.

Yes, I have pain.  I will always have pain.  But, I have tremendous joy, too.  I relish my conversations with my Bible study pals and my survivor sisters.  Just the thought of these women brings a smile to my face and warmth to my spirit.  I fully embrace that the pain of my life was caused by someone else’s sin, not my own unworthiness. I enjoy gifts I’ve been given that make life easier and pleasant.  I am preparing for a trip. I go out with friends.  I write and enjoy hobbies.  I have a life.  I live.

I still have many, many doubts.  And, I pray daily over small and large concerns and decisions.  But, I’ve learned to trust my own gut instincts and my ability to discern.  Most importantly, I’ve learned to trust that God’s promises are for me, too, not just everyone else.  He is with me all the way and is faithful to guide me when I seek Him first.

I startle easy.  I have mild panic attacks, occasional sleepless nights, and nightmares.  I take perhaps unnecessary precautions.  Last night, late and dark, as I left Walmart, I held my keys in my right hand, one pointed out to be used as a weapon, bags draped from my arm, and pepper spray in my left hand.  I looked around, hypervigilant of my surroundings.  When I returned home I locked the gate at the bottom of the driveway and upon entering the house I turned on the outside flood light, secured both locks on the front door, and set the alarm behind myself.  Both at Walmart and at home though, I was relaxed and confident in my invulnerability.  I take control of what I can so that my fear doesn’t control me.

So, what would I say?  Did I really belong there, taking up precious time that should be spent on women who are currently in crisis?  Would it be selfish and inappropriate to speak and share at “check in” that I am truly happy and love my new life and the direction it is taking?

When my turn came, so did the words.  I could hear myself talking, but it was as though it wasn’t really me speaking.  It seemed surreal to sit in that same room I’d sat in dozens and dozens of times.  That room where I’d cried and desperately needed the support and guidance I found there.  And, now, I sat calmly and just “checked in.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Up until a year ago when I “checked in,” I felt like I was dying.  Everything I’ve ever known was plucked up and broken down.  I wept and mourned.  I was lonely and had lost everyone and everything.  I was cast away.  I was hated as I warred with my own family.

Now, I’m healing.  I laugh and I dance.  I feel blessed as gifts are received.  I’m gathering stones to rebuild and am replanting my life.  I experience moments of peace, and I know love.

It was probably a lot like returning home to visit family at Christmastime after a long absence. The sites and sounds and memories were there, but it wasn’t the same.  I’ve changed.  That season of my life has passed.  Finally.  And, as I marveled at the difference in how I felt last night compared to the first night I attended, I also marveled at how far my life has come.  It’s been a long haul.  Three very, very long years.  But, to everything there is a season.  It was good to “go home” and “check in” and realize just how far I’ve come.

The Art of War

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We often hear ourselves referred to as Warrior Women or Protective Moms.  There are even alliances that include those phrases in their names.  Their aim being to equip and encourage mothers locked in the battle for their children’s safety and souls.

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I’ve read forums and articles outlining how to handle a narcissist in court and when attempting to co-parent with them.  So many of us survivors have become experts on the battle, and we’re armed and ready to help others with what we learned from our experiences.  But, really, very little of it works for them because, though abusers are eerily similar, our cases are all unique.

Abusers change with the wind.  They are chameleons.  One time, they are stern and accusing.  Another, they are weak and play the victim.  For a time they seem to fade away.  Weeks go by with no contact.  And, then, a barrage of unsolicited phone calls ensue wherein they demand their parental rights of visitation.  Or, worse.  They abuse the children in the dark and play Disneyland Dad for all to see.

Their supporting players are different, too:  The judges, attorneys, counselors, family members, church clergy, and long time friends.  Their roles shift and their lines change as the plot thickens.

Regardless of what we’d love to hope for or think we know after living with and divorcing a narcissistic abuser, there doesn’t appear to be a recipe for victory.  There are few certain rules of engagement with these types and their accomplices.

One of my sons will be entering the military in six short months.  He shared with me just two nights ago that he feels he has no other options.  Because of the timing of his father’s departure from our home and the following court battle that consumed his sophomore and junior years, his high school career was derailed.  That, combined with the financial disaster R left us with, has made my son’s college of choice dreams a fantasy.  He knows he has to do something, but it will not be that thing he longed for as a child.   He reluctantly accepts his new course as a warrior.  And, he prepares the best he can.

He trains.

He studies and reads.

He strengthens his body, increasing his endurance, asks questions of those who’ve already been there, and with fortitude determines his own survival.

Another of my sons is studying International Policy and Security.  Always the academic, he presented his younger brother with an exquisite copy of Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War.

A quick look at Wikipedia, and this is what I found:

It has been the most famous and influential of China’s Seven Military Classics, and “for the last two thousand years it remained the most important military treatise in Asia, where even the common people knew it by name.”[1] It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.

The Bible, too, is full of battle euphemisms.  We Christians like to take the gentler, softer road in relationships, but that isn’t the picture we’re painted in the New Testament.  We’re even told our “ENEMIES [emphasis mine] will be those of [our] own household.”

The battle is real.  We are warriors.  So, perhaps, we should train and prepare like warriors.

Just as one leader cannot with certainty walk in, without being briefed thoroughly on the situation, and advise another leader on the best military strategy in that particular case, we cannot post on Facebook and ask another survivor how we should handle the particulars in our own cases.  We must be careful to support each other and share with each other what did or did not work for us, but that does not mean it will afford them the same results.  The details of our personal experiences are not broad, universal law.

I recently listened to a presentation by a former Marine.  He quoted Sun Tzu a lot.  This marine shared important gleanings from the great general:

1.  Victorious warriors win first and then go to war while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

2.  The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy first with intel.

3.  There are five essentials for victory.  Number one, He will win who knows WHEN to fight.  Number two, He will win who knows how to handle superior and inferior forces.  Number three, He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.  Number four, He will win who prepared himself ways to take the enemy unprepared.  Number five, He will win who has military capacity, not the sovereign (that means the guy in the field makes the decisions, not the guy behind the desk).

May I propose something?  This may be controversial in the domestic violence circle.  But, I believe these war strategies are key for us.

I had been told, preached to, and believed, I had no right to leave my abuser.  However, if he abandoned me, then Biblically I’d be free.  Ironically, I waited for him to leave me, and I still found condemnation in the church!  I was told by pastor after pastor to forgive my husband and love him with the love of Christ and I’d see changes in him.

But, let’s accept the Bible’s parallels of this being a battle.  Let’s live by the Proverbs and be wise.  And, let’s prepare for this battle with the ancient wisdom of ancient warriors.

Number one, We must win first and then go to war, knowing victory comes with intel.  The only time in court that I was actually victorious was when I went unrepresented but armed with a log of abuse!  I had gathered my intel for a year and a half, knowing that ultimately that man would try to get his conviction removed from his record.  My intel was complete and accurate and detailed, and the judge found it convincing.  My ex did not come to court so prepared.  In fact, his family smiled at my son and me as we entered the courtroom.  They assumed we were there to support him as we had for sixteen years!

Please remember, again, this is only my experience.  He could have killed me in that year and a half!  Some women don’t have that kind of time!  He DID try to kill me on several occasions during that year and a half.  I’m just drawing parallels between Sun Tzu’s teachings and my personal experiences.  Each individual must carefully examine her own battleground!

Number two, The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy first with intel.  My focus during my court battle was on defending myself, though I’d done nothing wrong!!!  This was how my attorney viewed the case.  Oh, for an attorney who would have aggressively and quietly built a case AGAINST the abuser.  My second attorney was very chummy with my abuser’s attorney.  There was nothing about our case that was not known to her.  In essence, my attorney was handing her intel to use against me!

Number three, The five essentials for victory.  The first component of this last one is the most critical, in my humble opinion.  When I saw the game my attorney was playing with my life, I wrote him an impassioned but clear letter stating that I was willing to give up every single request EXCEPT for custody.  Ultimately, what did life or health insurance or alimony I’d never receive anyway or a truck mean if I had to share custody with my abuser?  Knowing my attorney, R’s attorney, and the judge all professed to be Christians (though I don’t believe any of them are), I shamelessly used that to my advantage in my argument.  (Now, before a Christian judges me for taking my Lord’s name in vain, didn’t Paul get snarky and use such language more than once to defend himself?)  I did not hang in there and fight to the bitter end, which meant that my children do have unsupervised visitation with their abuser.  BUT, the reality is that our courts time and time again give unsupervised visitation AND custody to abusers.  One woman wrote, “The more I mentioned abuse, the more time I lost.”  While that is a social ill that needs battled, it needs fought at the legislative level, not in the courtroom with my children’s lives and well being hanging in the balance.  That’s a battle for another day.

The second component, He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.  In my mind, this could apply to the counselors as the inferior forces.  They often make or break us.  They have the power to send one little piece of paper to the court that can alter the entire case.  They may not appear as intimidating as the superior force of the judge but don’t underestimate their cunning, their ability for deception, and who they are really allied to.  Don’t buy into the gentle demeanor and feigned words of concern for the children.  Dysfunction lines their pockets, too.

Thirdly, He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks.  I was so desperate for love and support that I clung to old friends who truly were not for me.   They had their own controlling and selfish agendas in my life.  Pruning is hard and seems to be a slow process, but it needs to be swift.  And, remember, our enemies can and will be those of our own households.  One woman called her brother-in-law as a witness during her trial.  He had watched a brutal attack where she was punched, thrown on a bed, sat on, and choked.  He denied the entire thing on the stand, nodding to  her husband!  From the outside looking in, it doesn’t surprise me.  He stood and watched the attack then and didn’t intervene.  He couldn’t realistically be expected to suddenly defend her on the stand when he wasn’t willing to defend her very life.

Fourth, He will win who prepared himself ways to take the enemy unprepared.  This is one that weighs heavy on my mind.  Our local support group has an unofficial mantra, “Only you know when you’re ready to leave.”  The premise is that a woman is to be supported until she is ready to make that decision to leave.  I get that.  BUT, how much more effective would it be to encourage a woman to quickly file for divorce immediately following an abuser’s arrest?  My narcissist was so worried about how his arrest was going to effect his job and social standing, I don’t believe he would have gone after me so hard had I filed at that time.  Instead, I waited four years.  Four long years.  Time for him to complete MATVA classes and convince others he’d seen the error of his ways.  Time for him to save and hide money.  Time for him to secretly create a life and a battle plan against me.  Time for him to develop a smear campaign against me behind my back.  I gave him the opportunity to prepare himself ways to take me unprepared!

And, lastly, He will win who has the military capacity, not the sovereign.  In other words, the guy in the field makes the decisions, not the guy behind the desk.  In our cases, the guy behind the desk, the sovereign–the attorneys and judges and counselors–makes the decisions.  However, it is truly the decisions made by us, the guys in the field, that decide our fate.  How do we handle the orders given to us?  How do we implement them when everything is going down around us?  As the bombs are exploding in front of us, do we choose to follow the sovereign’s orders to the T?  Or, do we use our critical thinking skills to preserve our lives and the lives of our children?

In Utopia the courts would exist to meter out justice and protect the innocent.  We know that isn’t the reality of our world though.  So, my sisters, fellow Warrior Women, let’s train.  Let’s study and read.  Let’s strengthen ourselves, increasing our endurance.  Let’s ask questions of those who have been there.  And, then, with fortitude, let’s determine our own survival.

Sniffing Them Out

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WARNING:  POTENTIAL TRIGGERS

The softness of his face and hands indicated to me that he rarely does much physical labor.  He appeared to be a “delicate” man.  His wife makes more money than he, so I thought he must be open minded, perhaps even a feminist.  He works as a physical therapist, so I naturally just assumed he has a strong altruistic value system.  Most importantly, he still visits my elderly uncle nearly two years after my aunt, his patient, passed away.  I presumed he is a thoughtful man.

However, I had fallen back into old thought patterns and showed a lack of discernment.  I judged him to be something he isn’t.

My uncle began to banter with him, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, and I felt uncomfortable for this man whom I doubted could hold his own.

Then, my uncle referred to the physical therapist as “Taliban.”  The man turned to me, legs still crossed facing my uncle, and practically giggled.  “There’s a story behind that.  We had an incident once, and he teases me about it.”

He didn’t owe me an explanation.

But, I got the story anyway.  And, I’ll refer to the soft mannered physical therapist as Taliban from here out…………..

Once, he and his wife went away for their anniversary.  They usually stayed in a nice but very expensive hotel that his wife really liked, but he wanted to save some money this time.  He chose a rather “seedy” motel.  

In the middle of the night they were awakened by the sound of yelling and a body slamming against the shared wall.  They couldn’t make out the words being screamed at the apparent victim, so Taliban grabbed a glass and held it to the wall.  The man in the next room was harshly telling his wife, “You will O-B-E-Y me!  You will O-B-E-Y!  Obey!  You WILL obey!”

It was obvious the man was shoving her around and throwing her into walls as he screamed at her.

Taliban’s wife demanded he call the police.  He refused.  His reasoning was that they didn’t know what was going on; the guy could come after them; someone else would call.  

He was content to sit, with a glass pressed to the motel room wall, and listen as a woman was belittled and beaten.

Hence, my uncle’s nickname.  The physical therapist earned the badge “Taliban” not because he beats his wife and believes his own wife is subservient to him (as far as we know) but because he sat idly by while another man beat his own wife and demanded she obey, AS THOUGH IT WAS ACCEPTABLE.  

Taliban continued and shared that someone else did indeed call the police.  “For whatever good it did.  She’ll probably just go back to him.  These women need jobs so they won’t keep going back for provision.  They just don’t work, so they think they have to stay so these guys will support them.  It’s just a cultural thing.”

In all fairness, before I go any further, I’ve been told that I have NO poker face.  Just this past week a friend asked if I’m a member of a particular group.  I simply said no.  But, she immediately laughed and said, “There’s a story behind it.  Just for a moment, there was a slight flash of something across your face.  I could see it!”  And, recently, upon my first return to the community college advising office, the adviser referred to me by my married name.  I was trying to conduct myself in a very professional manner to show her I was worthy of funding and guidance, but she looked up at me and said, “You just winced!  When I said your name you winced!”

So, perhaps I “flashed,” or maybe I “winced.”

Again, I tried very hard to conduct myself in a professional manner.  I tried to hide my instant disdain for this callous jerk disguising himself as a namby pamby person.

“Actually, statistics prove that domestic violence crosses all educational, cultural, and economic lines.  It effects everyone.  Women with Master’s are victims.  Women with better jobs than their husbands are victims.  In fact, many times the woman is the main provider for the family.  What we, as a society, need to do is reach women as young girls.  A young girl’s self esteem is set by the time she is only nine years old.  These women need to know they are worthy.  They need to know they deserve better.  And, we need to educate our church leaders.  Often these women seek help from their pastors or church counselors but are sent back, being told to be more submissive.  Sometimes it is even the abuser who brings the woman before the pastor to enlist his help because she is seen as not being submissive enough.”

His upper lip tightened as I spoke, and he began shaking his head no.  “No!  Those women don’t work!  They need educations, and they need jobs!  If they would just work they’d see that they don’t NEED a man.  They think they’re trapped because they need a man to support them!”

I reiterated, “That just isn’t true.  That isn’t what statistics prove.  It isn’t what I personally know to be true. We need to reach young girls who are at risk at a deeper level.  Perhaps for some job training is necessary, but that isn’t the root cause and that isn’t going to stop domestic violence.  That isn’t the issue.”

“Yes, it is!” he retorted.  “If they had jobs they would see that they can be independent of a man!”

He still spoke quietly, but his tone was harsh.  His face was red.  His upper lip was white from being stretched so tightly.

At that moment my uncle hung up his phone, and I smiled as I politely said, “Well, I’m going to take this opportunity to exit and allow you two gentlemen to visit.  I’d also better make sure my children aren’t out there killing each other!”  My uncle and I laughed at my last remark, and though Taliban managed a weak smile, you could see he was a little confounded that I was just going to walk away from our “argument.”  He was obviously not finished with our little conversation though I certainly was.

He then made an off hand comment about me birthing seven children and it being “biblical to repopulate the earth.”

I hugged my uncle and thanked him.  I told him I’d be waiting to hear from him regarding cleaning one of his rental houses and then I turned to Taliban and kindly said, “It was really good to see you again.”  He wouldn’t look at me but muttered something inaudibly.

I flopped my body down into my small car and shut the door a little too hard.  An exasperated, “Ooooh, that man!” flew from my lips.

At that, my 14 year old, not knowing if I was talking about my uncle or the physical therapist, as he had not been present for any of the conversations, shared, “I’ve never liked him.  I didn’t like him the first time I saw him walking up.  He just looks like an abuser.  I don’t know what it is, but he just seems like he’d be an abuser.”

Ha!  He nailed it!  He sensed it!  He could smell it on him!

The physical therapist, who seamlessly portrays himself as insipid, just looks like an abuser to my young teenage son.  My son, a victim himself.  My son who has been through counseling.  My son, a witness to horrific violence in the home committed at the hands of his father.  My son who has read the print outs and excerpts of books on domestic violence.  My son who has visited the women’s shelter and attended the public events hosted by the women’s crisis support team.  My son saw it in this man as he merely walked across the patio!

And, that is what “those women” need!

They…..we……I……need to know that we don’t deserve to be beaten, starved, neglected, robbed.  We need the ability to discern an abuser before he fools us and draws us in.  And, we need a society who will support us, not condemn us and judge us.  Condemnation and judgment are often huge contributing factors in our staying.

My son didn’t need to know that this man’s wife is a greater contributor to his family’s resources than he.  My son didn’t need to know that this man has no professional reason to still be visiting the elderly and very wealthy husband of one of his former patients nearly two years after her death.  He didn’t need to know that this man was out visiting after a short work day while his wife, after putting in long hours, was now at home fixing dinner before running their teenage sons to activities.  And, he didn’t need to know that this man had simply sat by and listened judgmentally as a woman was beaten and told to O-B-E-Y.  Nor did he have to see this man’s reaction to a woman (a woman whom he perceives to be of a lower cultural standing) when she disagreed with him.

My son has learned discernment through all of our experiences.  He can see it.  He can practically sniff out an abuser at this point.

Apparently I haven’t learned the lessons as well as my son.  The patterns are too deeply ingrained, too set.  I still depend on visual cues.

I’ve always been abused by red neck looking men in white T-shirts, flannel, and jeans, so the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I see a man like that.

But, it was just that “kind” of a man who recently wrote off over $150 on my tow bill, gave me a water, and told me, “Honey, don’t let anyone ever hit you again.”  He looked deeply into my eyes and tenderly continued, “That’s wrong.  It’s wrong.  Okay?”  Looking past the greasy autos, big tow trucks, and his jeans, white T-shirt, and flannel jacket, there was a kind hearted man sacrificing a piece of his business financially in order to help a total stranger.

I truly need to quit looking for an abuser behind every bush–or flannel shirt–and instead just close my eyes and start sniffing them out.  Abusers come in all sizes, shapes, intelligences, checkbooks, and manner of dress.  As do victims.  And, regardless of employment status or educational background, NO ONE deserves to be hit.  That’s wrong.  It’s wrong.  Okay?

S.M.A.R.T.

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There is a popular system that enumerates the components of well set goals using an acronym.  Of course.

S.M.A.R.T.

Specific.  Measurable.  Attainable.  Relevant.  Time-Based.

Now, typically I would shudder and throw this off as sounding too much like the garbage thrown at us in meetings during my career life.  You know, the smarmy stuff managers love to drone on and on about for an hour while you fidget, trying ever so hard to stay awake.  Unfortunately, nothing in the office changes except the cute little reminders posted everywhere, including your morning email, which merely distract you from what you really should be doing to attain any legitimate goals.

But, truly, this acronym is smart.  I mean, I’ve determined for over a year now to lose ten pounds.  Then, twelve.  Then, just eight.  Oops, back up to ten.

My goal hasn’t been specific enough, nor has it been measurable.  While attainable and relevant, I’ve set no time based element to it.

So, this new year I have determined to be S.M.A.R.T. in my goal setting and game plan.

As for my body image issue, my specific goal is to have a firmer butt and abs.  The measurable part is simply doing 50 crunches and 50 squats each morning.  For now.  I’ll incorporate a more aggressive approach as I work my way back into this.  I printed out a challenge worksheet to follow and help me stay on track.  I have decided that wanting to lose weight isn’t really attainable for me right now.  I spent too many years without a lot of pleasure in my life and, so help me, I’m going to enjoy a few things now.  My breakfast this morning is a wonderful Ethiopian coffee lightened with raw milk and sweetened with raw sugar accompanied by Trader Joe’s stuffed Hazelnut cookies.  Breakfast of champions!  And, dang!  It is goooood!  Actually this little tweaking of my mindset is more relevant to my actual goal.  I truly don’t care what the scale says.  I care more about how I feel and how my clothes fit.  And, my clothes must fit the way they used to by May when I have a trip planned to see my oldest son graduate.

This, I can do.

I also desperately want to be financially stable.  Not necessarily secure.  I’m not quite certain that’s a possibility for me at this late stage of the game.  I’m awfully old to be starting completely over with nothing, in the hole.  Over the course of my marriage to a man who seemed to suffer an allergic reaction to employment roughly every two years, I became an expert at making do.  Sticking to a budget, cooking from scratch, and going without are not my problem areas.

It’s being independent.

Right now I am still very dependent on a child support check that doesn’t always come.  When it does, it arrives at random times.  I can’t depend on it, though I AM depending on it!

My specific long term goal is to obtain training and employment that allow me to survive regardless of the financial games my ex plays.  So, I met with an adviser at the local community college and have a check list to follow.  I have applied for and received my new social security card in my new post-divorce hyphenated name.  (Do you like the way I hyphenated a word right before the word hyphenated?  I love word games!  wink, wink!)  I then took the new card to the college and requested they fix my records to join my two accounts.  Now, we can see exactly what credits I have from eons ago that may apply to my new major.  I filed a FAFSA.  I’ve researched grants and scholarships for domestic violence survivors and displaced homemakers and workers.  I have yet to take the placement test or call the university to find out if they accept all of the credits from the college.  I’d love to graduate from the community college with my Associate’s and transfer to the university as a Junior.  We’ll see if that’s possible.

My checklist helps make the process steps measurable.  This is attainable; I know I’m capable of doing this.  Acquiring new computer skills is definitely relevant to the current job market and my need to earn a living.  And, again, the school’s checklist gives me a time based track to run on.

I have no desire to enter the corporate world.  My heart is still at home with my children.  Melanie Duncan’s Creativity Checklist is taped to the wall next to my computer.  My aspirations for my new free life are to still be the home schooling mama I believe God called me to be and to release all the pent up creative energy I’ve been sitting on my entire life.  My dreams of a small farm are gone.  I just want to pay the bills, put food on the table, enjoy time with my children and grandchildren, and find a profitable creative expression.  And, not NEED that damn child support.  I don’t want to need him for anything.  (I say that with a distaste in my mouth, as though I just ate something bitter.)

To help me determine just exactly what it’s going to take for me to survive, I downloaded Expense Manager onto my phone.  I am tracking every single penny I spend.  I have a separate, printed list of unmet needs.  By following a budget and tracking spending and then blending that with an itemized list of potential expenditures I’ll be able to set a realistic budget and necessary wage goal for post graduation.

S.M.A.R.T.

Specific.  Measurable.  Attainable.  Relevant.  Time-Based.

It’s about time I got smart, don’t you think?

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