It’s a strange feeling to not know oneself. Coming out of a lifetime of domestic violence in midlife is a bit like being an amnesiac. There is bewilderment and questions and hesitation.
Who am I? What do I like to do? What is my favorite color? What are my favorite foods? What is my style?
For the first few months it felt a little like being a teenager again. I was young in the ’80s, so I went through a punk phase (Ian Dury–now I think YUCK), a “Prince” phase, a rocker phase (I’ve never liked leather except on David Lee Roth), a cowgirl phase (does anyone remember John Travolta in Urban Cowboy?), and a hippie phase (I know hippies aren’t associated with the ’80s, but, hey, I’m from the Pacific Northwest!).
So, there I was 46 years old, no acne but a few gray hairs, and not a clue who I was. I had no desire to play dress up as I had thirty years earlier, but the questions were so similar.
My abuser left our home on July 10, 2011, after sixteen years of marriage. My abusive mother died September 10, 2011. My dad, who had tried hard but didn’t have a clue how to be a father and made his own share of abusive mistakes, died April 25, 2012. I had no one left to tell me who to be.
I began analyzing the person everyone else convinced me I was over the course of a lifetime.
I had often been mocked for my love of flannel. I had flannel tops, flannel work shirts, flannel pajamas, flannel sheets. I even had a couple of flannel dresses! They would tease me and ask if I was wearing my “work flannel” or my “dress flannel.” It struck me about mid-December that I had not worn flannel at all that fall. By spring I realized that I don’t really like flannel. I don’t care how cute and tapered the cut, it still looks like an old man’s shirt.
I was raised in an extremely misogynist environment and had learned very early on to hate myself and all things “girly,” including the color pink. I adamantly told everyone my entire life that I did not merely dislike the color, I HATED it, and not to ever get me anything pink. Suddenly though, pink was popping out at me in the most beautiful and delicate shades. It seemed soft, inviting. I realized I don’t hate pink. I may have hated what it represented as I was taught to hate my own gender, but some hues are absolutely magnificent. And, as I fell in love with the women around me and began to appreciate my female friends more fully I discovered that I truly love the color that represents femininity.
I love the blues. I mean LOOOOVVVVE that genre. It stirs my soul on a deep, deep level.
I love Greek food. A woman of Greek heritage sold food at the local grower’s market last summer but didn’t this summer. I ran into her at the YMCA and asked about ordering from her because I miss her cooking. She laughed when I told her that I call her food “Greek Awesomeness.”
I love bitter dark chocolate and sweet red wine.
I love that time in the early morning when the sun just barely nudges the darkness from the sky and everything seems fresh and new.
I love the sound and smell of soft rain once again. For sixteen years I had dreaded that long rainy season because it meant I was trapped inside the prison of my home with him, his ugly words, and the TV blaring. Now it means sitting in front of the fire with candles offering up the aroma of vanilla, peaches, and cinnamon into the air while I sip hot coffee and listen to the rhythmic pattering of water dripping from the porch.
I always thought I was an animal lover, but I’m finding that I enjoy other people’s animals much more than my own. I like to love on them, pet them, play with them, and then go home to a hair free house.
I was known for my cooking. I loved to cook, bake, and preserve food. I often told others that I could live in the kitchen and be content. I have a hard time making it in there very often now. While I still enjoy cooking, and eating good, home cooked food, I don’t want to hide in the kitchen all day. Perhaps I just don’t need to escape into that tiny, hot room anymore.
I had always loved Monet, but, in the last year, I’ve developed a fascination with Arlene Case. My Sweet God gifted me at a yard sale this fall. A dealer was selling prints 3 for $5. I got a Monet The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil for my dining area. I’d had one when I was young, but it had disappeared somewhere along the line after I married him. The dealer also had a very large print of Arlene Case’s work A Song For Rio; that now hangs above my fireplace. Sometimes I stand and just stare at it, examining the reflection of light off the children’s foreheads.
I want things neat, tidy, and organized. No longer because that’s what good home-schooling moms do but because I can’t take the feeling of chaos that comes with things strewn about. There’s enough chaos in my life that I can do nothing about because of him.
I love Maya Angelou. I love to target practice with my .38. I miss dancing. I love to write. And, I feel most alive when I’m hiking in the solitude of God’s creation.
This is fun, getting to know this strange woman I’ve lived with my whole life. She was quiet, in the background, but she was always there. It’s sad that no one, not even me, ever took the time to get to know her until now.