IT RESONATES JUST AS MUCH
ON LIFE AND LOVE
Ever since I was small, smaller than I am now, I sought out the feeling of companionship and the mutual respect that comes with healthy friendships and relationships. Upon seeing the travesty that was my parents shattered marriage: the endless fights, the bruises on my mother's body I saw in elementary school, the anger, taunting jealousy, and tension that never ebbed. I vowed to find something that made all of that seem impossible to comprehend.
Seeing the tired strings that attach my mom and dad: their children, grandchild and 27 years of dysfunction I shudder at the thought of slipping on my mother shoes again, as I did as a child— prancing around wobbling from balance to stained carpet. It is the scariest thing I have ever done.
"Don't do this in front of the kids, Phil."
"You make me do this, Shannon."
I had an inner turmoil of wanting to be alone and be in the presence of others. My 12th birthday party, (probably the biggest I'll ever have) I had a total of ten girls from my grade stay over. A couple of them, I believe just came for the cake. We had huddled into my parent's expansive living room, painted our nails, braided each others hair, giggled at things 12-year-old girls giggle about, and watched movies. I do not talk to any of the girls from that party now, 6 years later. Not really. They all, one by one, faded in the picture we took the next morning before the storm rolled in. I remember standing in my driveway the following morning with the few laggers from the party, I spotted a few figures appeared in the distance and I had realized it was a few guy friends of mine. They were coming to say happy birthday. I had laughed to myself and felt warmer than the lingering girls. Watching them merge together, the boys and girls. The girls, twirling their hair, nervous. A familiar feeling.
The first boy's hand I ever held with the intent of affection was the year after. I was with a friend at a play put on at her father's church. Heaven and Hell: Melodramatic rendition of sins. The boy was lanky, with long, shaggy hair, tall. A few years older than I. I looked him in the eye, he smiled. My stomach dropped. His hand slipped in mine and we stayed like that for what seemed like the eternity they were talking about onstage. We eventually got in trouble. Scolded by the pastor because of my age. I cried the whole way home, scared of what my parents would say. His smell lingered on my clothes. Terrified my mother would hug me and smell him on my skin and then the secret was out.
"Mommy, I love you."
"I love you too sweetheart."
I eventually got out of hand holding, basic affection. My first kiss was a dare and that dare ignited a different feeling. The shaking of my hands, the flutter of my winged heart. A bird caged. The songs overheard on the radio about love held a different tone to me.
I ran back into the girl from the Heaven and Hell drama at the local skating rink by chance. Met a friend of hers. I watched him long before speaking to him. Quiet. long haired, skateboarding scars fractured his skin. Sitting together, I found myself drawn to him, leaning into a stranger. while others talked of gossip, we kept quiet. I didn't even know his name. I confessed at the end of the night that he was "cute" to my friends. word traveled. We exchanged information and so the experience of my first love began. The weeks after we talked for hours, giggling. Looking back, it was so elementary. Puppy love. The shyness. Timid, mousy girl tried too hard. Same story. Same ending.
My first real tragedy occurred that fall. When it happened, I felt unreal.
"I found your tapes, I'm leaving." Those brave words spoken quietly in a small kitchen.
Bags packed from weekend/week at Nana's, walking down the street, not even crying.
The phone call after, my mother in the background, keeping quiet, watching me clutch the phone, knuckles white:
"You're a beautiful girl, Lindee, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you." Ineffective apologies and quiet confessions of intentions.
"What, you didn't think I'd find them? You thought that this, what you did, was okay?"
"I wasn't thinking."
"...How could you do this?"
"You are not to see your grandfather anymore." She said after, holding my hand. her voice held the tone of a loved one passing, finality.
"Why would I want to?"
"You two were so close."
Repeated questions, mostly internalized, even now. Doubts.
"Maybe it was an accident? I don't know. Nana thinks so."
"These things do not happen by accident, Elizabeth."
Words were thrown across a long table with an attorney of video tapes, avoiding a house three doors down from my own, a registry he had to apply to, anxious knocks on doors, and other girls like me. My adulthood holding him captive. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt(y). Him, losing his job, me losing a father figure. Privacy invaded.
"Men do that. It's not uncommon."
My grandmother stayed with him.
"No, don't. Nana needs you."
"I love you. "
"I don't believe you. Goodbye."
A goodbye lasted 4 years. I wish they had burned my pictures. They didn't.
I ventured further into affection, losing my virginity at 16. High school exploration. I was fairly unimpressed with the hype of the teenage obsession of *** and "getting some". I liked it sure, but everyone said *** was meaningful; I didn't feel that meaningfulness. It just felt like everything else I did: strictly pleasure. Something to make me feel.
I remember my mother and father talking to each other late one night.
"You don't love me anymore."
I stayed up that whole night trying to figure out what that meant. Not only as a sentence by itself, but for my family, my mother, my father, my sister, and my brother. My world crashed down thanks to two "final" signatures on a paper. Stamped and dated.
I stayed out too late, they complained. I was absorbed with myself, skipping class most of my tenth grade year, smoking bad **** and cigarettes with my friends in abandoned gas stations on rainy Tuesday mornings. Running the streets of the dreary downtown, skies overcast. Stopping by the diner next to the high school my friends and I escaped from through alleyways. Drinking coffee at Benson's, eyes down low, paranoid that a teacher would walk in at lunch and question us. Glory Days. Our *** appeal never was quite what we had imagined, attracting flies.
I met a friend of a friend and we shortly began dating, sitting atop the ferris wheel, fireworks lighting up the summer sky. Everything was just as I had imagined a perfect relationship to be.He was older (a common trend so it seemed) but not by much, intelligent, witty, nice. He appeared as a direct mirror from myself. We were inseparable. The mirror broke though, and revealed cardboard behind it.
"You are worth ****., No wonder your grandfather did what he did. You probably enticed him."
"I didn't mean that. No, you're my world. Look how you make me act. You. You. You."
"I love you."
"I know I love you too, it's okay.I shouldn't have done that."
Guilt nonexistent. made-up. Fairytaled,
"I'll leave." He said one night.
"You can't. I can be better, I'll fix this. I'll be better, I am so sorry."
Cycling. We crashed from in love to betrayed (Him) and angry (Him) and scared (me). I had discovered the root my sexuality earlier than and became ashamed of who I was before I had met Him. All the previous relationships were unimportant and to be ashamed of. I had no skin. The relationship, paternal and biting, lasted two years. My mother finally stepped in, after seeing the harm that was being done. Seeing me slip into her own habits: excuses, dependence, and pursed lips saying, "You don't know Him." and said it was not healthy. The whole family had noticed my change in behavior. After several attempts, his threats on his life, I finally ended the relationship with help of family and friends. Told His parents He needed help, recommended the place I was then going to. It's end resembled a natural disaster. Debris scattering, mainly harsh words. Something I was used to by then.
"I love you." Him on the last night.
"No, no! You don't. How could you? Have you ever ******* loved me, Michael? If so, how could you do this. After all the **** I've been through. Look at me, ******. Look at me! Look how I am ******* acting. This isn't me. I don't do this. You're hurting me. What am I to you? The ground you walk on? *******. All of this is ******* *******. I am never okay. Stop, let go of me. Let. Go. I'm leaving."
The angriest I have ever gotten with Him.
I felt like screaming, shaking Him, pointing to all the roadsigns passing too fast screaming about the danger. I think I was more angry at myself though, at my shaking whispering voice and it's cracks. Deceit of ownership.
"I'll never do it if I don't now."
I never felt bad for slamming His parent's front door that day. Tired of the quiet of his house.
I still have repercussions. A constant doubt, lingering. Eyes always searching, straining, sometimes even creating sighs of disappointment, a slight shake of the head in disapproval. I picked out everything wrong about me and my past. I gave the specimens to the professionals to diagnose me with a disease. Showing them the wounds He made. Almost begging to be infected. The results came up negative and I was angry, told them they were wrong. Wanted Him to be right. They patted my head, lab rat, and sent me off to a behavioral hospital. Outpatient. there, I was supplied with a magic wand: intensive behavioral therapy to realign my thinking. To reconstruct myself. Breathing exercises I could never grasp. Too many questions, long silences, ahem.
"Did He hit you?"
"No. I almost wish He did. I feel like that would have been a lot easier. We wouldn't have lasted as long if He had. "
"You'd turn out like your mother."
" Well, at least you're coming to therapy. That's a big step. Admitting is always the hardest part."
Long pause, watching the grass sway in the window, wishing the clock would say I could leave. Scared of her questions.
"I don't think so. I feel like the hardest part of this is not knowing it was happening."
The healing process requires a sort of truth, not even torture can bring out. The truth you don't even know about until it slides out of your mouth into the air.
Constant reassurances were require. I bit back the urge to call my therapist my whole senior year, fighting through waves of panic attacks, wanted to tell her triggers were strung out in the hallways, reflected in the tile floor. Everyone looked at me and knew. Even the people I didn't know, somehow knew. I found myself rocking back and forth in the back-row seats of classes scared a bomb would drop into my lap, as it did before.
"What happened to you?" Teachers asked when my grades waltzed to no mans land.
"I don't really know." I had said this flatly. Lying. Tired. All my emotion had been siphoned out of me.
I remember sitting on the living room floor, phone in hand, hearing Him scream into the receiver; unable to open my mouth to tell Him to leave. That all the things He had said to me, I had carved into my skin and I hated it. Wanted it to stop. It was always my fault. Always. I then went back on the highest dose of anxiety medications and sleeping medications. Things to help me function. Things I would not and could not do otherwise, spoon-feeding me stability. Things I thought I would never have to do again. I had managed to escape them for a year or so when it was happening. He had always said prescription medications were bad, that I could handle my problems on my own. I followed suit.
"You're showing symptoms of PTSD. It's like you were a prisoner of war. You're staying so strong though. " My therapist had said to me. I smiled in response and said thank you quietly as I sat on my trembling hands, an effort trying not to bite at my bleeding nails.
Gulping back the words "When does it end?"
But there I was, jumping at the backfires of trucks, looking for His car everywhere, avoiding a certain side of the town.. If only she actually knew. I had to be soothed to sleep numerous times, mother by my bedside, reassuring me the doors and windows were locked
. Safe. Ha. Despite the safety, I always woke up screaming, not remembering my dreams. Regression to childhood night terrors. Never answered my phone if it rang, for fear of a gunshot being fired on the other line. The last threat He posed. Scrubbed myself raw, trying to get the guilt out of mouth and pores. Chain-smoked, He hated that. Constantly checked the driveway through closed curtains expecting His car, Him. Lurking. I contemplated moving, changing my name, not going college although already paid for, staying home huddled in my room, becoming one with my twin-sized mattress. Perpetually cold.
I was my mother.
Eggshells scattered at my feet; wobbling in her brown, close-toed kitten heels. My friends, dwindling badly then and still now, asking me if i am/was okay, the response was always a no in my head. How could you be when your head was constantly swimming? Drowning.
Running into Him the first day of my freshman year in college was the hardest day of my life. Nevermind the courses of court dates, family distress, traumatic loss of trust in the 8th grade: finding the video tapes my grandpa had recorded, watching them, seeing myself undress, the cats running through the house, the sickness afterwards, 3 divorces, two remarriages of a broken home, the late nights lit up with red and blue lights, being ripped from my home.
It all paled in comparison to seeing His face after so long, the causal way He walked. wondering if anyone knew what He had done. What I had done.
I had passed Him in the cafeteria. His eyes lingered on mine, predatory, daring me to say a word. I looked away, kept walking as if it never happened. as if my insides weren't strung up higher than telephone wires. As if I wasn't standing in a room with the person who was my own personal earthquake. I ended up collapsing in a bathroom stall, slouched up against the wall, hands trembling like Haitian sidewalks, not even 5 minutes from the passing. I called crying to my mother to come and get me unable to complete my next class.
"I can't do this, Mom." I wailed, "I can't see Him."
She came and got me, understood, thankfully kept quiet. I was a bit inconsolable, and shook the whole **** way home.
All the hard work I had done in therapy, the hours of crying, tearing up Kleenex, rebuilding myself from the infrastructure collapsed as I did. The fire I ignited inside myself was burned out; gasoline and matches were unobtainable.
My mother told me to keep a stiff upper lip. She faces her version of my demon everyday: my father, sleeps the same bed as him, Still holds his hand, wears the ring and the finger with it’s history. She didn't collapse, not yet. She was stronger. Ankles more fit to wear the shoes of abuse, inner destruction.
"I'm going away for the weekend."
"Are you coming back?"
"I don't know."
My mother exited in November, in her kitten-heels and bruises and secrets. Came back a month later and was blinded with a cold front storming out her youngest daughter.
Her choice to leave. My choice to leave. They mirrored each other. She never slammed the door though, left more quietly than I could.
I still have no skin, I keep peeling it away, in hopes to show someone something a little deeper than my shallow body, my bruised knees and the coldness that lingers
I stay substantial though, iridescent, like the tide rolling in. Falling over myself. Finding myself shrinking and rising.