A Whole Lot of Present

I talk a lot about how I hope the universe holds my stories so, in a way, I don’t have to. Today is one of those days. I am striving to stay present and real while my mind wanders around in the ether. Grief is so weird that I always think I’m over it, and then something happens, and in an instant, my current self disappears and I am lost in the shadows. This week it was the death of a mutual friend, someone that I wasn’t close to, but she was. On the day that he died, she left me a voice mail telling me how much I meant to her. I listened to it in order to hear her voice from across the years, and I cannot say that I’m sad that I did it. The lilt in her voice that was home, to my relief, still is. There may be no future, but there is a beautiful past… rich and full like a tapestry in a museum, and woven just as tightly.

It allows me to keep a small flame alive that all of this is a distant nightmare, that the reality I knew as a child was actually a shared one instead of an elaborately ornamental fantasyland. The hardest part of this whole thing is not losing the present and future. It is losing the past. It is the feeling that my entire childhood was a practical joke, with unplanned and dire consequences for the woman I would become. I was too young at the time to even conceive of the possibility that she didn’t love me the way she said she did, that hugs weren’t contracts and letters weren’t friendship. As an adult, I am just shamed beyond belief. In my darkest moments, I cannot forgive myself for being a teenager without this kind of foresight. It is ridiculous, but it has also been expected of me. The game has been to convince me that I should have been able to see it coming. I should have been reading her mind all of this time and taking copious notes on what meant something and what was just a “daily event.” I am not sure what that means, but I have come to realize that her emotional overatures were the equivalent of being a divorced dad who won’t come to dinner consistently, but will take you to Six Flags once in a while and try to buy your love. It’s over the top, it’s more than you’ve ever dreamed, and it reinforces to you how much they love you… when it’s convenient for them.

What’s convenient for you is the least of their worries, but it is the crux of yours.

The peace I hope for in the end is about receiving her if she shows up, and at the same time, killing all expectation that it will ever happen. I cannot ignore the possibility, because it is what takes away all of my anger. I have been angry, and it is over. I retreat with all of my memories and have forgiven the future that never happened.

However, that being said, there is still a whole lot of present. I have said before that it is a major emotional surgery, and I wish I was just kidding about that. The end of this friendship would have been easy for me as a healthy, whole adult. Because I was so young when we met, it has taken my foundations of love and trust and slashed all the tires. My inner teenager is crying the crocodile tears of injustice, while my outer adult is trying to comfort and console.

It would be so much easier if I could get mad and stay that way, but our narrative is more complicated than that. We have both been terrible to each other. We have both been tender, real, loving. We have both done things to the other that we wish we could forget, and given each other intangible gifts that we’ll always want to remember.

The Next Great Form Letter

I am one of those people that believes relationships never end. This is because way before Facebook was invented, I would try to end relationships with finality and then the person I was mad at would end up sitting next to me in English. The world just isn’t large enough to retreat to separate corners, especially now. Gone are the days of thinking, “whatever happened to so and so…” They’re probably mutual friends of yours and you see them once a week in your “Friend Suggestion” list that Facebook so lovingly provides. So even if you want to get away from someone, those days are gone.

There should be a form letter for situations like this:

Dear _____,

I apologize that I was a shitty person to you. I assure you that it wasn’t personal. I am a shitty person to a lot of people and on (X Date and Time), you were just the main target. This is not to excuse you for your shitty behavior, just to say that I own my half.

Can we be trusted not to fuck each other up anymore? Are you still the same shitty person you were? I assure you that I will try not to be the same shitty person I was. However, I can only change so much in one lifetime. The best I can do is hope the good outweighs the bad over the next, um, 50 years that I am alive.

Love,

Leslie

I have to assume that if you are the type person that would actually respond to a letter like this with as much honesty as I put forth, then you’re the type of friend I should forgive. Anyone who replies to this letter that they’ve never done anything wrong and they’re sorry it’s all you has got to be immediately disqualified. Problems between people do not crop up in a vacuum. People rarely have the ability to be as shitty to themselves as they are to everyone else.

I think it should be a scientific theory… we’ll call it “Survival of the Shittiest,” because the people that succeed in life are the ones that can accept the fact that they engineer things to be better for themselves than they do for their friends. We all do the best we can, but when push comes to shove, we’d much rather push someone else in front of the bus than have to play the music we wrote.

Humans are all alike. We just like to pretend that we’re not.

Neighbors and Cake Pops

I think we must have done something good, because they’re passing out Alert Logic-branded cake pops in the break room. They taste like vanilla with a little bit of cheesecake mixed in. They’re very good. I grabbed three, but they’re not all for me. I got one for Dana and one for Robert, my next door neighbor… which reminds me, I need to get one for Matt, too.

Be right back…

Matt is Robert’s roommate. They are the best straight gay couple ever. Even though they’re not romantically involved, they take care of each other like brothers and really share the responsibility of the house. Robert is the owner, and Matt is diligent about helping out… mostly because Robert will kill Matt in his sleep if he doesn’t.

I met Matt the day we moved in. I marched right over to the house next door and knocked. Because I was so broken when I got here, I took it as a real sign of progress that I was getting better. Here I was, standing on a stranger’s front porch, and I actually wanted to talk to whoever was inside. I thought, “this is not me. This is some other Leslie who has stolen me for the day. I don’t have this much energy. I don’t LIKE PEOPLE.” In the immortal words of Cheryl Hines in RV, “We’re not friendly, Bob.”

And then Buddy Threadgoode from Fried Green Tomatoes (Chris O’Donnell) came to the door. Seriously, Matt is a dead ringer. This smart, sweet, beautiful boy was my neighbor? SHUT. UP.

We stand on the driveway talking for a few minutes and Dana comes out of the house. She sees Matt and almost drops on the grass. Yes. He IS that handsome. Thank you for asking. The story gets even better from here. Matt and Robert rented our house for seven years before Robert bought the house next door. Matt spent an hour or so with us, telling us about the house and all of it’s little quirks.

Robert wasn’t home at the time, and Matt warned us about him. “He’s crazy. He has long hair and a bunch of tattoos.”

Oh, really? I think we’ll manage.

Now, the boys are just part of the family. If we owned our house, we’d just put a gate between our yards. Matt is getting married soon (his girlfriend lives in Pflugerville (outside of Austin), so his time on Bob White is limited. However, Robert is here to stay.

Long hair, tattoos, and all.

I’d Tell You But I’d Have to Kill You

Everyone who knows me wants to know how my job is going. The problem with that is twofold. The first is that Alert Logic has very strict policies in place regarding what I can and cannot say publicly. The second is that my job is so highly specialized that if I started talking about it, your eyes would glaze over within about 30 seconds. Believe me, you really don’t want to know if you aren’t “in the know,” you know? For instance, today I had several clients whose threat detection was in alarm and I had to ssh into the appliance and run nmap, traceroute, and ping. Geeks would know what I’m talking about, but for the rest of you, it just sounds like Lanaganese.

See, I told you. You really don’t want to hear about my job.

However, I can tell you about the culture at the company, and I am a big fan. We work and play hard. Sodas, coffee, and tea are all subsidized by the company so that we can stay caffeinated for next to nothing… which is good because we are a 24/7 operation. There is a Pac-man table in the break room and the first Wednesday of every month the company gives us waffles.

My team lead is a sassy black woman named Jasmine, and everyone is a little bit in love with her. She is just too cute, and she knows it. 🙂 I look forward to work every day because Jaz is going to be there. I am overjoyed that I look forward to work every day, and I am blessed that they pay me an obscene amount of money.

Well, it’s not an OBSCENE amount of money, but it seems like it because Texas doesn’t have state tax and having Dana on my insurance policy isn’t SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS A MONTH. Plus, we live about ten minutes from my office, which, in Houston, is kind of unreal. Most of my coworkers commute almost an hour in traffic.

This is the first time I’ve worked in Houston where literally none of my coworkers are from here. They’re all transplants from the rest of the country and completely in love with the city because, despite the heat, their cost of living is in the basement and they have more disposable income than they’ve ever had before. Of course they miss home, but being able to live large is appealing no matter who you are. They’re glad to live in a place where they don’t have to choose between food and rent- a problem that most of my friends in Portland struggle with even still. I know I’ve been there, and I hope every day that life ceases to be a struggle for them.

My personal life is blooming because all the people that I’ve missed while I’ve been away are showing up in droves. Apparently, I am a very popular writer and Facebooker. It’s been exciting to hear people say things like, “how come we didn’t know you were so damn funny?” I am flattered and just stand there and blush all at the same time.

Being mired in grief is over, and gone are the days of endless running monologue regarding it. Losing someone so fundamental to my personality was devastating, and if that seems entirely too codependent for words, it was. That’s why you recover from emotional abuse, you don’t snap out of it. There is just no way to surface gracefully when you are flailing and drowning in anxiety. Recovering from my abusive relationship was frankly just embarrassing, because my experience was that my abuser took little to no credit for anything and just blamed me for everything, even though the relationship started before I even turned 13.

I knew I was a child and I still thought she was right. I felt stupid in a way that I never had before.

That’s why this job is a miracle. I get to sit with the smart kids every day, and sometimes, I get to be the smartest. I get to say a hearty “fuck you”to grief and a gregarious “bring it on” to my own life. I get to welcome every day the fact that I think. I have opinions. I know stuff.

I’d tell you what it is, but you know…

As Long As it Takes

It’s so hard when you’re in the middle of recovery from emotional abuse, but once your brain acquires some equilibrium, a sort of normalcy settles over you that wasn’t there before. It’s disconcerting, because for the first time in your life, normal reactions feel unhealthy and you have to lean into them, instead of what you’ve been told your whole life; lies and secrecy are the way of the world. If you tell anyone anything at any time, it’s going to let me down, and we’re both going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble.

The trouble with that take-home message is that from an abuser, it’s a double-edged sword. 95% of the time, the abuser shuts down emotionally and cannot support you in your grief and anger. You can’t bring yourself to tell anyone what you’ve been through, so there’s no one else to tell, either. Emotional abuse begins so slowly that you don’t even realize it, and by the time you figure out what’s going on, you’re trapped in someone else’s stories. You become fearful of living your own life because you are already so emotionally laden that your own life feels far away… a hazy dream that appears in the moments when you remember what you were like before it started.

In my own case, before it started was almost a quarter century ago. That’s almost 25 years of feeling strangled by someone else’s mess. I am only 36 now. You do the math. How quickly did I have to grow up? How quickly was my childhood taken away from me? Feeling like the one who was responsible for an adult’s behavior started literally the day I turned 13, and by the time I was 14, I had all the emotional responsibilities of what I thought was taking care of someone and what was actually being a very inappropriate garbage bin for someone else’s pain. Years of sexual abuse mixed with drug use mixed with an abusive spouse mixed with sexualized poetry turned the idea of confiding in a 12-year-old okay.

It was fine until a few months ago, when all of it caught up to me at once and I was tired of screaming into a black hole. I was so miserable that I literally wanted to die, and I thought about it often. I say that not to scare you, just to illustrate just how bad verbal abuse gets. Just because my abuser never raped me doesn’t mean that she didn’t damage me from the inside out.

To me, the thing that separates physical from verbal abuse is that physical abuse is right out there in plain sight. If we had been romantically involved (and I use that term loosely because of the age difference), I would have at least been *sure* it was wrong. The bitch of verbal abuse is that you start to believe that it’s you that’s broken. It’s you that’s worthless. It’s you that can’t live up to your abuser’s standards and that’s how it’s supposed to be because you don’t know anything else.

Abusive people, and this is only my opinion, simply lack the capacity to take responsibility for their actions. It isn’t that they are bad people. It’s that their brains just aren’t wired to think that way. They’re wired to deflect everything away from them because they just want the pain to stop.

Enablers, the chosen recipients of abuse, pick up this behavior pretty quickly. It isn’t malicious when we lie, cheat, and steal to avoid culpability. it’s that we learn early on that the truth will be met with emotional violence and we’ll do anything to avoid it. For instance, we know that if we breathe a word of anything, you’ll withold affection for as long as it takes. We also know that “as long as it takes” is a vague term that you’ll never define.

As an enabler myself, all I ever hoped is that 25 years would be enough… And it was…

For me.

God’s Own Heart

So much has been going on that I literally don’t know where to start. After we arrived in Houston, we had a few days to ourselves before our friends arrived with our stuff. Keith, nicknamed “Volfe,” and Sarah have been invaluable friends because they were able to bring everything with them that we couldn’t. It was cheaper than a moving service, and as a bonus, our friends have gotten to stay long enough that when we talk on the phone, they can really picture how our lives are going, instead of our Houston house being this mythical place that swept us away from Oregon. We’ve gotten to do a bit of sightseeing, and tomorrow, we’re going to Austin. That’s where Volfe’s mom lives, and also where my friend James moved a few months ago. James and I have known each other since the first day of school in 1995. For those of you who want to do the math, I was a senior and James was a junior. We don’t really like to think of it that way, though. We just like to think of it as a long, long time. Neither one of us really wants to feel that old. 🙂

At the same time, though, coming home to Texas has been amazing, because none of my friends have really even been aware of the fact that I left. I mean that in the best possible way, because it is as if the miles between us weren’t. We’ve just picked up where we’ve left off, as if leaving Houston was just a pause button on a cosmic DVR.

I was also miserable in Portland, and not just a little bit. However, it had nothing to do with the place. I am tied to the Columbia River Gorge and it holds some of my deepest, darkest secrets. No, in Portland, the misery was all emotional. I had a hard time finding a job, and I had a hard time not being mired in carpet-sucking depression. It made sense, really. The weather was making me sick. As I’ve mentioned before, depression and lack of calcium absorption spiraled my depression into what felt like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I got tired of never having the energy to do anything.

Slowly, that is lifting. I still have days where I do not want to see anyone or anything, but they are fewer and farther between. I think that’s because I’ve been so determined to be healthy… not in a “fake it til you make it” sort of way, just in an “I know I need Vitamin D, and the only answer is to sit outside” kind of way. That seems like it would be easy, but keep in mind that I moved to Houston in the absolute hottest part of the year, and I still insisted on the backyard being my domain. Sitting in the sunshine was like a new pair of glasses. I saw everything more clearly as my vitamin deficiency started to resolve itself. The added bonus is that the more time I spend outside, the more I’ve become acclimated to it. My arms are as brown as my Latino neighbor’s skin, and my cheeks are a rosy pink for the first time in years.

I also don’t feel as worthless. I have a job. I got paid today. We have a house and a car and a lawn mower. Such simple things, and yet, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I came to Houston to reach out for more, and literally touched the face of God…

because God reveals God’s own heart when you know yourself and where you sit inside it.

Going Normal

Dear ______ (because I can’t think of a name to insert, but it’s going to be one of those entries where I just write a personal letter to all of you),

Coming home from Portland was the right thing to do, even though people call Dana my “friend” and there’s no Biddy McGraw’s here. Portland, for me, was just one struggle after another. I got so frustrated that I moved back home… and then moved back 18 months later. Houston was not the city back then that it is now. I endured a lot of prejudice, a lot of it coming from people I already knew and not from strangers. However, when I moved back, Portland wasn’t the city it used to be, either. Unemployment was too high, the city was too expensive, and for all the benefits we had there, they didn’t matter. We could barely feed ourselves.

I also had to work on myself emotionally. When I left for Oregon the second time, I still had terrible boundaries and couldn’t bear to stand up for myself because I thought that people would just think I was being an imposition, because that’s how it had come across when I’d tried to stand up for myself before.

Feeling like you’re imposing on someone is sometimes the worst feeling in the world, depending on the situation. There are those times when what you need is truly maddening, but if you have terrible boundaries, the flip side is that your friends will get used to you never needing anything and will treat you like dirt when all of the sudden, you try and grow a backbone.

For me, the hardest part has been sticking to my guns even when I feel threatened. Threatened is a harsh word, but it’s exactly how I feel when my request is met with anger and frustration at “being needy…” because I know it’s not true. I jump on the defensive because even though I understand people and the fact that they have their own stories to tell, rejection feels a lot like a knife to your front.

But at least you can see it coming.

Then, if you’re perceptive enough, you realize the paradigm shift. People are calling you needy because they can’t or won’t try to understand. Don’t want to take the time because you’re so insignificant. If you’re not the perceptive type, you’ll keep jumping up and down trying to get noticed, instead of just realizing that your friend is a jerk and you need to go to someone who won’t make you jump up and down in the first place.

Making the connection between healthy and abusive is what led me to Houston. I realized that I had a lot more ways to deal with feeling like the world was ending because someone didn’t like/trust/respect me. It hurts because I would like to think I’m the type of friend you keep. It hurts when you’ve been told your entire life that you matter above everything else, but actions and words say complete opposite things.

Healthy is where actions and words match up, even when the outcome is separation. You may not like it, but at least you’re parting ways knowing the truth. There’s so much dysfunction in the world that it’s often not possible to get the answers you want, because a lot of people retreat into their own shells instead of facing problems head on and handling them with care.

Learning to be healthy has not only given me better boundaries, it has given me the ability to spot when words and actions don’t line up and call people on them. Because I’ve been so meek about asking for help until now, even the smallest thing sets people off because they feel like they don’t know you anymore. You’re not the friend you were.

You’re fallible, human, and alive.

Just like them.