Strunk & White

I was so proud of myself. I sang a movement of the Rutter Requiem, and it was extraordinarily well-received. I had a lot of people come up to me afterward and congratulate me on a job well done, and the best part was being able to take it in. To really hear the compliments given and not write them off as, “ohh, you’re just saying that.” It’s usually my normal mode of operation to reject a compliment, but that hasn’t worked my whole life so why not stop it? Why beat myself up while other people are trying to give me love? I think and pray on these things, and with each day, I feel a little bit stronger.

In fact, I would have made it the entire day without crying had it not been for one woman that gutted me like a fish, and thank God she said it as I was walking out so that I could go home and cry instead of what I did yesterday, which was sing at a funeral and cry all the way through it even though I had never met the guy. This woman was trying to give me something precious, and I am sorry that my first reaction was not to take it in the spirit in which it was given.

What she said was so loaded that the thing I’d been trying to ignore all day came screaming out. Tears came to my eyes and I shuddered with grief, because she said, “I really like your style.” I like my style, too, and I know exactly where I got it. Even while I was singing, I knew I sounded just like her. Not in tone, mind you, but in the little flourishes in our musical personalities are quite similar from having spent so many years together in choirs. At first, she was my handbell conductor and sat next to me in adult choir. Then, when we moved to Portland, she was my conductor for a lot of years at her partner’s church. I live and breathe her style because I have been in love with it for longer than I can really think back.

I heard her before I saw her, which totally made me think she was some sort of supergenius… weird only because after I got to know her, I hardly noticed her voice at all. I don’t mean that in a bad way AT ALL. It’s just that our emotional relationship was so tight that I was never really a drooling fangirl, you know? She may have seemed like an idol to me for a little bit, but within a few months we were laughing and joking so much that her status as The Best Singer in the World™ faded into the background. It is always lovely to hear her sing, and I have a couple of mp3s of her somewhere so that I don’t forget… and never want to… but at the same time, her voice wasn’t what drew me in. It was her stories.

One of OUR funniest stories is that when I was a little kid, she said, “Let me explain something to you. I can’t date you because I am on one side of the desk and you are on the other.” At the time she was a middle school teacher, but not one of mine. At another school in the suburbs while I lived close to downtown. We spent years and years being as equal as we could be given the circumstances, and then I got my moment. She told me that she’d met someone, and that this person was 15 years older than her. At the time, she was only like, 28 or something, so I said, “Let me explain something to you…” And the laughter starts. “Susan is on one side of the desk, and you are on the other.” She was snorting she was laughing so hard and she said, “fuck you Leslie Lanagan!” I had scored a point and it was DELCIOUS. PRICELESS. ALl THAT SHIT. It made my cocky teenager’s brain sing. :)

After church I went to my friend Aaron’s and helped him move the last of his stuff into his apartment from some storage units. On the way back, I got lost in thought and just kept taking wrong turns on purpose just to turn the day over in my head as I drove and listened to the Weezer station on Pandora. For a few minutes, I let myself feel fucked up that when I sang today, her style came out of my mouth. That she had influenced me to the point that there wasn’t ever a time when she wouldn’t be there with me. I have learned to talk to that part of myself and try to heal it, because especially listening to recordings I get overly emotional- because I don’t want to sound like the best imitation of her. I want to be the best genuine me.

I just have to get back to the elements.

Flying Without a “Rutter”

Rutter’s The Lord is My Shepard is playing in the background on repeat since there’s this one phrase that I cannot seem to get right, because my brain doesn’t seem to keep the metronome going. I have a good enough accompanist that he’ll catch me no matter how many entrances I miss, but it is a career limiting move to show up to a solo without knowing how it goes. For the singers in the crowd, it’s the last one- “and thy…” There are several of you nodding. It’s ok. I’ll get it. Eventually. It’s on the and of wtf somewhere.

It’s a movement in the Rutter requiem. No, I didn’t pick it. I really didn’t. Joseph did. He said, “you can sing Pie Jesu if you want since you’ve done it before.” Yeah. I had to go with no on that one. Maybe later. Too soon. And it was ten years ago, capiche? For those of you just joining us, my abuser had me sing Pie Jesu with a community orchestra, and while I was singing, she just stared. Then, she got up in front of the choir and said that it was like watching her little girl grow up. Then, a few years later, her partner said that I read too much into it and it never really meant anything to her… and she could get away with saying it because my abuser wasn’t in the room. My suspicion is that the only reason she said it was to injure me. I certainly left that conversation with my tail between my legs from having my nose pushed in shit.

I have to keep remembering that these scenes in my head are in the past, and I can let go of them now. At the same time, it is the panic of losing those memories that stops me from moving on. In a way, though my blog has taken care of some of that, because they’re on the Internet, saved for posterity. I can go back and read them when I want, and if my computer crashes, I haven’t lost my stories, the things that make me, well, me.

It’s the pictures I’ll lose. It’s the feel of her hand on my freshly buzzed hair. It’s the way the air electrifies for me when she’s in a room. It’s watching her navigate every situation with unfailingly smartass humor. A part of me truly feels like it’s dying… and should. I don’t regret a moment of it, because I’ll never get that time back. To look back in anger is counterproductive.

And yet, sometimes I have to, because if I don’t, the big ball of rage will swallow every good feeling I’ve ever had, including the ones not about her. It clouds everything. Rage and anxiety rule the easiest when I need them the least. I would like to believe that writing it out, piece by piece, allows the ball of rage to live online instead of in my personality.

Letters. I Get Letters.

Leslie,

I’m confused — how is it that you didn’t know there was attraction on her part? Nobody behaves like she did without a romantic element involved…….

You are on the right path. I’m glad you recognize your own value…….

——————————————-

Tony,

I was naive. She told me it wasn’t like that, so I believed her. In fact, she would emotionally shut down every time the subject came up. I never wanted her to be displeased, because then she wouldn’t open up to me. I learned to play the game early, so if she said it wasn’t like that, IT WASN’T.

I am only now picking up the pieces.

Love,
Leslie

Unwriting

Occasionally I ask people for writing prompts to get my brain working, and Dana gave me this one.

How do you un-write the trauma? What is the first step?

Dear Dana,

If only I could step out of the pictures on our walls and tell you. If only the movies in my mind would play on our TV. I’d give you access to all of it. All the tears, all the screams, all the terror, all the love. Oh, the love.

“Love.”

I can’t say whether she was in love with me. She claims she wasn’t. I can only speak to my own experience, and what that experience tells me is that she was. However, there’s a whole lot that goes into it (as with every story). Love is in quotation marks because I’m not sure it ever really was. There were genuine moments, clearly, but never consistently enough to believe that she wasn’t going to turn around and give me the silent treatment as soon as I wanted to spend time with her. I spent a lot of time playing the game. “How do I have to act to get her to respond to me?” The pattern I learned is that at first, it would be really intense. Everything I needed and everything I wanted emotionally. Then, when she’d had enough togetherness, I dropped off her radar completely. Getting her attention didn’t work. Ignoring her did, though. As I have said many times, the cat wouldn’t move unless the mouse thought he was about to break free. The more I ignored her, the more I could ratchet up her fear that I would walk, and all of the sudden, we were aces again… until the next time she was sufficiently satisfied that I was sufficiently roped in and no more effort was necessary.

I told my therapist today that it was kind of like losing my mother and my child, because for so many years we mothered each other until she took the upper hand permanently and wouldn’t let me reach for it anymore. When I say that I had the upper hand, I meant that I was “free therapy for one older and often not wiser.” I have quoted that before. I’ll quote it again. I feel smart… and used.

When I was a teenager, I felt like I was helping her because she couldn’t help herself. I realize it sounds impossible. If you Google her name and see her title, you will not believe one word of this story… and believe me, there have been plenty that haven’t, especially because of her name and title. Houston was all caterpillar, and Portland was all butterfly.

And here I sit, all these many years later, holding the empty chrysalis knowing that the butterfly just. won’t. fit.

The first step, my darling dangerous Dana, is to be ok with dropping it.

The Comfy Chair

Every writer should have an essay called “The Comfy Chair” when they’re talking about therapy. I started on the couch when I entered the office, and realized that my personality is definitely more of a wingback with pillow to put in my lap in case I need to do something with my hands. I always need to do something with my hands. In fact, it’s probably why I’m a writer. What better way to get past the teachers for not paying attention than to be so quiet I had them completely faked out? Now that the statute of limitations has run out, I will tell you that I never went to a single class in high school. Not one. I had the woman I was in love with in middle school and early high school, and then I had that PLUS a girlfriend my own age. I could sit in the back and write ALL DAY. Knowing what a gerund is? Osmosis.

I’m sitting in the chair turning the pillow over in my hands nervously when she asks me where I want to start. I told her that I wanted to start from the very beginning eventually, but that right now because of this other blogger that is literally psychotic (said that my abuser’s wife set up my abuser and this woman to be raped and killed, for instance), I was in a near-crisis situation because I can’t eat. (I would absolutely link this blog to hers if I did not fear that I would become implicated as well. I’ve met her a few times, and I do not want to dance.) I am not intentionally starving myself, it’s that taking the time out to eat is taking a luxury. I am so scared that I am down to fight or flight and there are no luxuries here. And this is my base self. My inner teenager. I can’t rest until I know that no one is hurting her, or I will go into absolute and complete shock and browbeat myself that I haven’t done enough to save her.

People tell me that it’s wrong, that I shouldn’t do it, etc. I tell them that if I’d figured out how to stop, I would’ve. And as a Christian, there is a large part of me flip-flopping between disowning her and forgiving her seventy times seven. This is the impossible choice. She has already made hers. I have not. Because my reaction is not dependent on hers. I’m not looking at this from the standpoint of what she decides. I’m looking at it from the standpoint of the kind of human being I want to be. My earthly self says to protect everything I have left in complete fight or flight mode because now I have figured it out and she is the enemy. She is the one that got inside my head, not the other way around. My heavenly self says that I am doing what I need to do to be a good person. That despite the level of damage, she’s the mothermentorsisterfriend I got, you know? I should never count her out because I’ll never get another one.

She is not the one I loved to the point of passion. It was much more than that. She was the one I loved to the point that redefined unconditional for me, and I can be proud of that. I didn’t lose the game. I resigned. That thought keeps me remarkably even-keeled until you catch me on a day without myelin. I’ve had a few of those lately, and they usually end up with me sobbing because I just can’t get it right- or can’t feel like I can, anyway, which is probably more universally accurate.

Maybe that is the legacy of abuse… cutting you off from the places in your heart that are capable of receiving love, while entrenching you in the places that give.

In Case You Were Wondering

My therapy appointment was a mixed bag. On one hand, I absolutely think that she is a wonderful therapist and that I got genuine validation from a professional that my emotions are valid and there is a very good reason I’m feeling as fucked up as I am.

You wanna know just *how* much she understands? She’s in her 60s and wants to refer me to someone younger because she thinks that my trauma is so bad that she will have to retire before I’m well.

So, that was my fucking morning.

I can’t even say anything else than that. I was right, and knowing I’m right alternately breaks my heart and sets me free.