The Last 20 Minutes

I actually brought my lunch today, so I don’t have as much time to write as I normally do. I’m down to the last 20 minutes of lunch, and then the last two hours before I come back on Monday. I think that the food is making me sleepy. Note to self: maybe you should write first. I don’t know whether or not eating actually influences my writing, but it can’t be good to concentrate on birthing an article and a food baby all at once.

Yesterday got deep because that’s just where my mind went. It goes all over the place, and fortunately or not, this is just my catch-all receptacle. In all of my writing, the thing that came up at the forefront was shame. I wasn’t ashamed that an older woman was turning me on. I was ashamed that I wasn’t pretty enough for her to do anything about it… because that was the unintended consequence of all her attention. All of this sexual information was coming at me, and I did not have the capacity to see that this woman was hurting me emotionally. I only saw myself as unworthy of her advances. For years, I saw myself as not good enough, not attractive enough, not well-behaved enough… to the point that I would literally fight for her attention because maybe someday, some way, I’d be able to prove what I’d thought all along. She was giving me sexual information for a reason, because it was me. It was always me.

Years later, I went to see “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and the entire movie just hit too close to fucking home. I cried at the end, and because the friend who was with me has the most deadpan humor in the entire world, she leaned over and said, “are you crying at the part where he’s a pedophile?” I burst out laughing at the same time my heart dropped into my stomach.

I grew out of wanting to be her lover/girlfriend/wife, but the behavior where I was constantly trying to get her attention to prove to her that I was worthy of her time stayed. It was completely second nature, to the point that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. When I figured it out, and I figured it out several times before it stuck for good, she’d all of the sudden become interested in me again. The big blowout was when I realized that I was tired of being the mouse in this scenario, because the cat would only chase me if I moved.

It feels good to release some of this shame, because the true feelings of abused kids are in the dark spots… the ones we don’t talk about. Like when you engineer a response in a 14-year-old, she knows it isn’t right, but her body goes on high alert before her brain catches up. It creates guilt beyond belief that we know we’re not supposed to want what we want, but we can’t undo what you’ve done.

But we can try.

Why I Laugh

I have no idea what to write about today, but I have about forty minutes with which to come up with something. Maybe you should just come back later. I am not feeling that interesting today.

Well, that’s not ever true. I’m lying. I think I’m a riot. It’s just unfortunate that sometimes people don’t agree with me because I have no interest in making people think that I am polite. I have been a wallflower for most of my life… too shy to engage for fear of rejection… and then I got over it. I realized that I was living in a comfort zone thisbig, and I had to stop being afraid of confrontation. I am allowed to take up space in the world. I am allowed to disagree.

Once I gave myself that permission, I got a lot funnier… to me. And then when horrible things would come out of my mouth, I knew to just apologize if anyone was offended and MOVE THE FUCK ON. I didn’t have to shrink in my fear that no one would like me after X joke. X joke can be on any subject, especially since I spent a lot of my life up until now as a cook in a bar.

Nothing is off limits. Ever.

Humor lights me up, especially cringe humor so horrible that most people would vomit. I think that the world is so fucked up on its own that someone telling jokes *about* the horrible things that happen is one of the only things that saves me from freaking out over them. This time in my life has been filled with jokes about child abuse, because it is the marble in the pasta pot that keeps it from boiling over.

What’s the best thing about having sex with 27-year-olds? There’s 20 of them.

This joke works a lot better aurally, and I could give a thousand fucks if you don’t like it. It made me laugh.

Again, pasta pot. Boiling over. You don’t get that image, then maybe you’ll get this one. My childhood abuse (even though it wasn’t physical) stayed inside me until now, because I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone that they were right. Our relationship was inappropriate, but I lived for it. Couldn’t and wouldn’t walk away. For over 20 years, that abuse has been sitting over my head like a Mento over a Diet Coke. A couple of years ago, I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and the Mento dropped.

Anything I can do to make myself laugh is worth it, even if the humor is as black as tar.

Apparently, this phenomenon is not uncommon. The worse the experience, the harder it is for stupid jokes to make us laugh. You have to dig deep, and find a way to laugh at the pain already inside you so that you have a way to release it.

It’s time to give the journal back and I’m standing in front of her, asking her questions about what I’ve read. There’s clearly a menage a trois, and at 14, I don’t even know how that’s possible between a group of people at least 10 years older. I want to ask more, I’m so turned on I can’t stand it, but I’m confused. She said “it’s not like that,” and I don’t know how the hell it’s not. I have no idea what she wants me to know, or why she would give me this information if she wasn’t planning on using it.

I wanted her to use it…. desperately. Because the game wasn’t that she was going to hurt me. She just knew how to pull my strings so that I was so high on teenage hormones I could have lit a Christmas tree. I didn’t learn what sex physically meant until I was much older, but I assure you that I discovered blue balls early. It was confusing in a “do what I say, and not what I do” kind of way.

…Guy is walking through a deep gorge and sees a little girl crying. He says, “what’s wrong, sweetheart?” She says, “I just watched my parents’ car go over this cliff!” Guy pulls down his pants and says, “well, today’s just not your day, is it?”

Same Mother

I am again sitting in the huge leather chairs in my company’s break room, because it’s my favorite place to be when I’m writing to all of you. I put my feet up, take a load off, and drink Coke Zero to my heart’s content. I’m listening to Jason Moran, a pianist friend from HSPVA who made it big. The album is called “Same Mother,” and is truly amazing. Different styles, some electric guitar… you really can’t go wrong.

Listening to an album called “Same Mother” seems appropriate, because someone left a comment on one of the posts re: my childhood abuse that said if I stopped paying attention to her, she’d find someone else. I believe she already has, because I was very clear that until she climbed the long and winding staircase toward resolution, we were going to continue being broken beyond repair. I have defined my standards; I will not put up with pretending that the way the dice rolled when I was a teenager was a random throw. When the die were cast, they were weighted on one side.

Plus, the abused part of me is the first one to say, “but if I do take it, then no one else has to.” I know the game. I know how to play it. The unsuspecting victims in the next round are woefully unequipped. They just don’t know it yet.

I don’t write about this stuff to figure out how I can get or give more attention from or to someone else. I write it out because I am slowly discovering who I really am. Who I might have become without this form of sunshine and chill… why my childhood was so wrapped up in an older woman, and not because I was crazy, but because it was engineered that way and no one could’ve caught it, because we were both very sneaky about when and where we saw each other. When and where we talked on the phone. I waited by the mailbox for her letters, because I knew that if my parents got them, I never would. I deceived my parents for the longest time, and do not regret it anymore. I had to work through the regret, because there’s nothing I can do to change my past. It’s just wasted energy at this point.

I wonder what would have happened if she’d gotten caught, or if she did… because no one (least of all, her) would have told me. I was almost 15 by the time she left town, and I am sure that those closest to me breathed a sigh of relief. I, however, was miserable. I didn’t want to start high school without her, and I walked around most days with her graduate recital playing on my Walkman. I missed her so much that there were times I couldn’t breathe, because coming out at school was not left up to me. Someone close to me ratted me out, and I was never the same. All I wanted was to be able to run back into her huge hugs and reassuring words.

My sophomore year of high school, I found out that my Wind Ensemble was giving a concert at the school where she was getting her Master’s. I found out when the bus was leaving to go back to ‘PVA, and we spent the afternoon together. It was one of the best days of my young life, because I was a jazz freak and she’d gotten me a t-shirt from the most famous collegiate jazz band in the state. I got to see her office, because she was getting to teach.

At the end of our time together, I thought I was going to break in half. I didn’t want to leave, because we’d have to go back to sneaking letters and phone calls. I wanted her to be real and present in my life, without having to hide the fact that I was her friend. I hugged her one last time, making sure to breathe in her familiar perfume and snuggle up into her neck. It might be years until next time.

It was.

But that’s another story for another day.

My Raisin

Harlem
Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?


We walk arm-in-arm down a bustling sidewalk, fast and “with a purpose,” as her mother has always said. We have to get going, get started, because this project has been a seed in my mind since I’d turned 19, the same age as my dad was when he began a similar journey. I’d just turned 36. Enough time had been wasted, and it was time to get down to brass tacks.

We turn into a coffee shop that looks forgotten, shitty folk songs overhead that she seems to like but somehow come across as whining to me. Maybe it’s a generational thing, I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not why we’re here.

The barista comes by the table because we are so engrossed in our work that we haven’t even ordered… and it’s kind of bad form to take up space in a business without paying for it. I look over and order the most expensive thing on the menu. It doesn’t matter what it is, I’ll drink it. I just don’t want to be the douche that orders drip and stays for three hours. She orders drip… not because she *is* that douche, but because it really is her favorite. Overly strong, cream, no sugar. It is a trait we now share, based on the first cup she shared with me. I’d never had anything like it, so far above Folgers that there weren’t even words to describe it.

Me: What are you planning for the offertory?
Her: Nothing so far. What is the text?
Me: It’s Advent I. We’re waitin’ for the baby.
Her: So, basically anything I want?
Me: Should I trust you?
Her: Are we talking about all things, or just this?
Me: Just this. I already know not to trust you with buying your own jeans.

We laugh and decide on something we both like from back in the day at St. Mark’s, before she was in the unenviable position of working for me. I’m a complete Type A control freak when it comes to upholding the title of Senior Pastor, not afraid to pull rank when push comes to shove, because unfortunately, the buck stops with me and I’m not going to take the fall for something that was never my decision in the first place.

Luckily, this is only a problem every minute of every day.

In a weird way, we have grown up together. Sometimes she’s the older one, sometimes I am, but we fumble through life together. She is the Rhoda to my Mary, the Laverne to my Shirley, the Gayle to my Oprah… at work. Outside of work, I am content to let her run me like a shell script (shout out to the nerds… holla). We’re not a married couple, but we bicker like one. It’s the give and take of companionship without the messy hardship of trying to figure out truly difficult issues, like sex, money, and which one of us is eventually going to smother the other one with a pillow and try to collect the insurance. She votes on me. I tend to agree with her on most days.

I really can be an asshole, especially after having worked in several kitchens. She vacillates between annoyance and acceptance at my truly foul mouth. I’m not fit for mixed company, but her dad was in the military. It all comes out in the wash, because I have things that annoy me about her, too. For instance, she likes the shitty protest songs playing overhead.

I give her the outline of my sermon. She hates it, so I know it’s perfect. She’ll forgive me by the time she’s finished getting her choir ready in the morning and we meet for the last minute huddle. There are so many details to running a church that routinely draws 2,000 people a Sunday… not counting the 300 in the choir.

We pray together that this Sunday will be a magnificent tribute to a simple idea. We’re waiting for the baby. The cigars are ready. Clocks are synchronized and phones are on us at all times. Any moment could be THE moment, the one where hope and light and peace breaks into the world…

And we are once again united with the child that will lead us.

Slash and Burn

Trying to figure out what I look like without my abuser’s influence is a lost cause, in a lot of ways. The personality I have is the personality I have. The facial expressions I have are just the facial expressions I have. It can’t matter anymore where I got them, because I am not as moldable as I was back then. I can’t change me, but I can learn to live with me instead. Learning to live with me is a slow process, because I go through stages of anger where I want to slash and burn everything about me that reminds me of her, and there’s no way to do it without destroying myself as well. Because of this, being reminded of her every day is not the blessing it once was, but I’m trying to reach that place again.

I have to, because the more I remind myself of her, the more I hate me.

It used to make me so proud that I was so young when we met that we had some of the same mannerisms and speech patterns. Now, I’ll be talking to someone else and something will come out of my mouth so pitch perfect it’s like she’s standing behind me… usually at a time where it’s inconvenient to feel that level of pain.

Once I know that a thought has me in a tail spin, I know I can stop it. However, I do not get to choose when the initial thought appears, or how. I know how to mitigate damage, but not how to prevent it. It is in that way that my body plays tricks on me. I can tell myself all day that I don’t want to think about her, don’t want to be in grief, don’t want to dwell… and then in a conversation something that I always say that I picked up from her comes out of my mouth in the way that she would say it and I didn’t mean to but BAM!

It is a continual process- learning to trim branches without killing the trunk.

Closer Than Blood

The hardest part about recovering from someone else’s emotional abuse is trying to rediscover who you are without it. Like, which parts are actually me, and which parts were instilled at such a young age that I don’t know if it’s me or not? It affects everything from my serious reactions to my outlandish humor. It affects my facial expressions and my speech patterns.

I was told by her partner that my relationship with this woman was just “this big bag of shit I’d been carrying around forever.” I am sure that truer words have never been spoken, but in order to get rid of it, I had to find out how it got there. I knew her partner’s answer wasn’t right… that I was trying to steal her life, her friends… as if I was just this bad Single White Female remake waiting to happen.

No, she promised me a family, and I was completely sucked in. A few years ago, I e-mailed her and said that I was tired of being called a family, when we really didn’t exist that way. So she called a meeting. We’ll get together, the four of us, and discuss what kind of family we want to be to each other.

Was this finally the conversation we’d been waiting to have for over a decade at that point? Dana and I brought our best bottle of wine, because we knew that this was a celebration… right up until it wasn’t.

“The kind of family we’re going to be to each other” didn’t exist. We showed up to cheese, crackers, and a large helping of “I don’t need anybody but my partner.” I had no words. At first, I felt like I couldn’t *really* breathe, I was in such fight or flight. I didn’t know what was happening. I could see her in my mind, in all her iterations, from 1990 on. “Ties closer than blood” couldn’t be nothing. I was sure of it.

I am also not sure whether she was coerced to tell me that. In fact, I am not sure how much her partner even knew about the seven years our relationship existed before theirs.

Any sweet or sentimental memory that I tried to dig up so that she might remember who we were to each other was cast in an oddly-hued light… an abandonment issue that no longer served me, or some equally disturbing response to something like “watching you leave Houston was literally the worst day of my life because I realized that I couldn’t protect you anymore.” I wasn’t bringing it up because I felt abandoned. I was trying to say, “how could we go from this to nothing without you telling me it was gone?”

And she didn’t.

Everything I thought I had was gone in an instant, but I held on because I didn’t know any better. It’s not like I got any notification that the series had been cancelled… so “held on” is a pretty strong term for someone who didn’t know they were doing it. I was just crazy because I couldn’t divine the cryptic messages I was getting and act accordingly. It’s funny, when someone needs me to know something, I generally require that they say them out loud, because my telepathy is pathetic.

I called her on it, and she didn’t want to meet with me, but said I could meet with her partner instead. That worked about as well as it sounds like it did. To add insult to injury, I said something about my abuser being too angry to meet with me, and her partner said, “no, she actually prayed with me this morning.”

Well, how nice for you.

I’m starting to see just how fucked up this story is, and how I’m so sad that I couldn’t see it until now. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache, and had so much more energy for the people in my life that would never think of playing such a large-scale game.

Now I just pray my hanging-onto-the-end-of-the-frayed-rope prayer…

Shit, God.

Red.

My hair looks nice today. I’m wearing a sweater that looks good on me. My jeans fit. Black cowboy boots change my step just enough that my body carriage feels good. I have nothing to complain about. I have taken care of my own needs.

If yesterday was about feeling empty, today is about feeling full. There is so much in my life for which I am grateful, and I am leaning in to those things more and more as I realize just how much I’ve changed for the better. I am not walking around with a cloud above my head that threatens to storm when I least expect it. I have taken back my power, and doing so has given me some control over my thoughts that wasn’t there before.

I can choose to stop the spinning. I can choose to stop the negative thoughts. I can choose life. I always could, but I didn’t know it. I mean, I knew it, in that way that you know things logically but can’t put them into practice emotionally. Now everything is starting to snap together so that I don’t feel held hostage by grief and pain.

I can concentrate on Clarence (the toad that lives under our house) and Skippy (the squirrel in one of our backyard trees). I can concentrate on remembering to check Jake’s**** backpack for his school work (that little bastard didn’t tell me he had a Thanksgiving luncheon coming up). I am amazed by the wonder in the world, and the bright sun that seems to follow me whether or not it is raining.

****For the uninitiated, Jake is our fake child. It’s a long story, but basically an elementary school automated system kept calling me about a child being absent because they were trying to reach the owner of the phone before me.