Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I needed Christmas this year. I needed all the hope and wonder that comes with waiting for the baby. Metaphorically, I was sitting in the hospital with my scrubs on, checking my phone every few minutes for the time and making sure the cigars were safely tucked away in my jacket pocket. Any minute now, Mary was going to deliver and all the joy we’d been waiting for would come into the world. All I had to do was make it to Christmas Eve.
Waiting is hard. I’m not very good at it. Knowing that Christmas was coming, but not here, had me pacing the floor at times. I didn’t need presents (I got a lot), I didn’t need food (I ate a lot), but I desperately needed the awe of a baby that came from nothing and rose to be one of the most powerful people in the history of the world. I needed my antihero, the one that reminds me that I, too, am capable of something great.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that it’s been a tough year for me. I left a place and several relationships that sustained me for many years… and now no longer served me. I realized that I was literally giving myself away. Telling people with thought, word, and deed that it was ok that I couldn’t count on them. It was ok that if I needed something, they were too busy for me. It was ok that if they needed anything, I would drop everything and run in exchange for being treated badly. I felt sad and unfulfilled, and when I finally got up the courage to say, “hey, I feel sad and unfulfilled,” they couldn’t imagine what I meant. Everything was fine.
I had to leave to save myself, my sanity, for the people that really matter to me. I couldn’t waste any more time hoping that these people would change, and would be the people that they’d said they would. I felt that in a lot of ways, my life had been hijacked, and that made me even sadder.
I feel that I should take a moment to explain what I mean by “hijacked,” for the people who are reading this blog for the first time.
When I was 12 years old, I realized two things. The first is that I was hopelessly in love with a woman who was capable of controlling me because I let her. At 12, I didn’t know anything about the push and pull of abusive relationships, the type where only their needs matter and when you say something to that effect, they pull away and shut down emotionally. At 12, I thought it was all my fault that she was pushing away. I thought I was defective in some way, and I would do everything I could to regain her attention and her love. That finely engineered control was probably a learned behavior from her own past, and for many years, I thought I could be the one to save her… to teach her what real love could be, should be.
However, as mature as I was for my age, I still couldn’t be an adult. God knows I tried. She would come to me with problems, stories and lies that I couldn’t understand, but would puzzle them over in my mind as if I was capable of making everything all right again. She created a fantasy land in which I was the closest thing she had to a daughter, that our ties were closer than blood… and I bought it hook, line, and sinker.
She always said that there was nothing romantic between us, but there were a few fleeting moments in which I thought it might be a possibility. That was because I couldn’t see the manipulation for what it was. She would use me any way she could, and when you’re a confused kid, you don’t see the ploys for what they are. The attention feels real. The love feels real. The smiles feel real. I can only hope that the way she loved me was because she didn’t know how to love the right way. I couldn’t bear to think of her as maliciously scheming against me.
All of the emotion that was poured into me as a child turned me into the woman that won’t walk away, won’t give up, because there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done to keep her safe and happy… because then maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad about myself, because if she succeeded, then I would, too.
It is the hallmark of an abusive relationship, and one that started when I was too helpless to see it… because when I was 12, she was 23. Old enough to know better. Old enough to do better. Too young to see that she was repeating the cycle of everything that had been done to her. Because of that relationship, I grew up so fast, because I was trying to be older and wiser. Trying to invert our relationship so that I could take care of the woman I loved, because the stories she told me about her life away from me were enough to make the hairs on my arm stand up. She wasn’t safe, wouldn’t be for many years, and I desperately wanted to fix it.
It wasn’t until almost a quarter century later, this year, that I realized there had been so much damage done to me that I couldn’t breathe, I was so racked with anxiety. I could see that she wasn’t safe, wouldn’t be, because what I saw when I looked with my own heart into her life made the hairs on my arm stand up…
I called her and cried into her voice mail. “Please, please come with me. I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving a man behind. You’ve always said that I’m the closest thing you have to a daughter, and if that is true, and that is reality, hear me say, ‘Mom, let’s go home.’” The voice mail was not returned, but since then I have spent so much time hoping that I’m wrong. Not only that, it’s not my battle to fight. I knew that now it was time to leave her behind, because she’d made her choice. She didn’t even want to see me when I told her that I was leaving, and it was devastating, but it gave me strength. I was doing the right thing.
I have mourned this loss for months, and in a lot of ways, I feel like I’m still in shock. It’s not really real. This isn’t happening, because now I am left with redefining myself. It is back-breaking emotional work, this putting myself back together, because I hardly have any memories of my life before she came into it.
The thing I have clung to in all of this is the Christ child coming again, because the joy it brings cannot be contained. The music is glorious; the words even more so. It is the balm to my sadness, this unbridled joy, and I plan to use it to the best of my ability.
May the light touch you as well.