Broken Arrow

Dana can literally feel my heart beating in my chest, we are so connected. This is important to know, because we were sitting in “my bathroom.” I was shaving in the tub, and she was sitting next to it. We were listening to “Mental Health Happy Hour” when Paul Gilmartin used a term neither of us had ever heard- “gaslighting.” Dana looked at the page, marveling. She had found another piece of my abuse on her own, the piece that cost me the most this past year as I have struggled with thinking that I am insane beyond belief and not worthy of love.

She handed me the words I’d been trying to say since I met her… the words I wish I’d been strong enough to say. The words that would have rescued me from all the crazymaking, crying, and waiting as I wondered where she was.

And here they are:

Psychologist Martha Stout states that sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically, are also charming and convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perceptions. Jacobson and Gottman report that some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners, even flatly denying that they have been violent.

I have such anxiety and empathy for the kid she must have been for it to even be possible that she recreated the scene for me. I sit there and get fucked up thinking about how I felt; I can’t begin to understand what she went through to get by.

Then I start thinking about all the girls who aren’t me and how abusers do this insidious thing to all of us, in no matter what form it arrives. It takes small pieces of your soul so that over time, you cannot tell fact from fiction. Reality is a blurry line, and the rules change often and without warning. There is no safe refuge where you know you can’t get hurt, because the target is always moving. Get close enough, and it’s like shooting at a net without a goalie, or being able to play someone’s emotions like a piano concerto.

I don’t know what’s scarier; people creating ways to make other people feel insane, or that it happens so often there’s actually a term for it.

Books I Would Read If I Were You

These are 10 books (some are series) that have stayed with me long after I finished reading them in various ways & for different reasons:

1. Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmens

My grandfather used to read this to me when I was little, and I still have most of it memorized. I can’t tell you how many sleeps of my childhood started with “in an old house in Paris, all covered with vines.”

2. Fifth Grade Can Really Kill You Barthe DeClements

I didn’t fit in at school. This novel about a young girl with a learning disability isn’t rocket surgery, but it spoke to my little kid heart… ESPECIALLY the scene with the uncle and the earrings. Helen is a walking disaster, and so clueless as to her role in life that it’s just tragicomic, mostly because I identify with all Helen’s embarrassment; having a learning disability and being gay are the same- both are ways for kids to eat at your vulnerability.

3. Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

I was in 8th grade when I read this, and it literally engulfed me. When my mind got on the plane with Brian, it was one of the few books that could keep me from switching back to thinking about what was going on at “home.” It’s about a boy going to visit his father in Alaska, and while they’re in the air, the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Brian crashes in the woods and the story follows him until he’s rescued. He ends up getting rescued in the fall, so there’s a second novel that Paulsen wrote for fans wondering if Brian would have made it through the winter. It’s a love letter to Brian, but as Paulsen has said, absolutely unlikely.

4. The Giver, by Lois Lowry

If you have been paying attention to me at all over the last 25 years, you know that I am The Receiver. I cannot think of that book without finding a piece of myself and my abuser, because Lowry’s prose regarding the transfer of memory through touch is so incredibly apt. I didn’t live my abuser’s life for her, but I felt it on my skin, especially when I was Jonas’ age. It was my junior English teacher that gave me the book, and transferred me out of her class before I could tell her how much she changed my life by having given it to me.

5. The Babysitters Club

I, like every teen girl of that period, was obsessed. And you all know what I mean when I say I memorized the first fifty pages. However, I am betting that I am one of the few fans who absolutely wanted to marry half of them. Kristy, the stereotypical lesbian, was not one of them. She was so over-the-top that I thought she was bossy and rude. And then I learned that she was just from the northeast. Plus, Stacy and Claudia work so much better when you think of them as a couple. They weren’t in the series, but in my head they were so that I had someone that looked like me. My favorite book of them all was when they went on a cruise, because the way their stories were woven together was in first person, through reminiscent journal entries. And all of the sudden, I’ve found my root. As an aside, I think those books did literally help me. There were concrete suggestions for working with kids, laid out in a fantastic format.

6. Richard Wright’s Entire Body of Work

Anything by Richard Wright, ever. At HSPVA, my freshman English teacher opened my eyes to Wright, and he gutted me like a fish with both Native Son and Black Boy. I went on to read everything I could get my hands on containing his name. He knew what it was like to be gay, because he was black! Even if it wasn’t literally true, it felt like it could be true, and it sustained me through the worst year of my entire life bar none, including this one. Not only did Richard Wright connect to my soul, he led me to a gay black author named James Baldwin. However, I didn’t know he was gay when I read “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and finding it out post-read was seeing Jesus, absolutely no quotation marks implied or necessary.

7. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

The question was about books that have affected your life. Didn’t say whether it had to be positive or negative. The first time I read this book, I liked it. Wasn’t bad. Hell of an ending. Well, as you might remember, I had two English teachers my junior year because one ceased to enjoy my company. Because of this, I read it with a class both the first and second semesters of junior year. And then I read it again my freshman year of college. If I have to hear that line about keeping vaseline in your gloves to keep your hands soft for your wife, I will VOMIT. Sufficed to say, I do not believe it stands up to multiple readings, because the more I read it, the more the horror set in. And that’s when the brilliance of the story set in. The ending bang is not the shot of George’s pistol, but when it hit him that he would have to live with this monstrosity every day for the rest of his life. I only had to do it for a year and a half and I felt insane.

8. Eat. Pray. Love., Elizabeth Gilbert

I loved that book for the same reason a lot of other women. It gave me permission to be myself. It reveled in it. That book is all about learning to accept yourself for who you are, even the dark asshole parts you’d rather not… especially if you are raised in the South and can’t even allow yourself to think about things that just don’t need to be talked about. It is the entire reason I am so comfortable talking about what happened between my abuser and me. Elizabeth Gilbert was the first person to show me in color that my abuser’s reaction didn’t matter. Her reaction was her reaction. What I could do was treat the situation with as much love and respect as I could, and hope that she would just figure out on her own how to deal with it without shutting it down. Her silence has been the biggest gift she ever could have given me, because it allowed my thoughts to blossom and take up space in the world and to change- often as much as six impossible things before breakfast. Liz Gilbert is so soda pop in person that you’d think her book is, too. But then there are lines like this, and this is a warning if you haven’t read it. This will and should kick you where it hurts.

When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.

It takes a superhuman effort to become an emotional cartographer, because I realize that my blog entries are a function of mapping and I feel that weight heavily. And at the same time, it makes me feel like a billion dollars that in generations to come when people are looking for me, they can Google “Leslie Lanagan” and really, REALLY find out what I was like… which is difficult to accept, because now there’s no need for an airbrushed headstone. Oh, well. Maybe someone in Corpus Christi will put me on the hood of their car.

9. Barbara Kingsolver

I just put the author’s name instead of one particular book because every one I’ve read has just hit me where I’ve lived. The Poisonwood Bible was revelatory because I found myself in Leah, who goes from shy Baptist preacher’s kid to African freedom fighter (moves to Africa with her white family, marries while there). Leah has the life I want to achieve one day- overcoming tragedy to fight another day. She reminds me of myself in other ways, too, especially that she’s so eloquent and precocious having been born a preacher’s kid.

Animal Dreams is a love story to and about a family woven together in letters from one sister to another. One is in small town USA, the other in Contra-ridden Nicaragua. It’s dedicated to a Portlander I’ve grown to love- Benjamin Linder, who died in the crossfire between the Sandanistas and the Contras while trying to build a hydroelectric dam designed to serve both sides. It was given to me at a time in my life that I really needed it… struck such a chord that there’s still a copy of it on my dresser so I can pick it up whenever I want.

10. The Bible

Little known truth. My blog is named what it is because “The Bible” was already taken. But to me, they are interchangeable. I don’t care if the stories are factually accurate, because if you’re looking for facts, you’re in the wrong place entirely. I’m looking for the Truth, the part of wisdom that comes through whether the variables are the same or not. Let me explain what I mean with the sentence “I was raped.” It is an extreme example, I know, but stick with me. Would you ever turn away someone’s truth if they sent you a note that said “I was raped” because something was misspelled? Words being misspelled change the factual accuracy of the sentence, but not the content behind it. The Bible is the same way. I do not reject the Truth that comes out of stories like the feeding of the 5,000 because it doesn’t scare me that it might not be factually accurate. It scares me that someone could read a story like that, in all of its moral lessons, and reject it because it never “really” happened.

Funeral for a Friend

I was looking for a writing prompt the other day, and it was this: what do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Not surprisingly, it led me back to the story of me and my abuser, because of course it did. You will get used to the rumination. I did. It took a while, though. I write, therefore I think, really think, about *everything* until I’m beating a dead horse.

The connection to her ran thusly:

I finally got tired of my spirit trying to define me by what she does to my insides, and not my own personality. Let me define “does to my insides.” In the beginning, it was about thinking that I’d found the love of my life. It took years of rumination before I could be in a room with both her and her partner without feeling like I was going to cry all the time. It was hard being a peacemaker and trying to stuff it down in front of them.

It was hard knowing all those years that I didn’t know what she’d told her partner about me, and whether her emotional abuse came from feeling like somehting wasn’t right and she couldn’t figure out what it was. The way she treated me when we were in each other’s lives was an odd mix of extremely tender love and over-the-top, scary as fuck rage. I could tell that she couldn’t tell whether to treat me like a threat or not.

I was never a threat. When I became a man (Still not transitioning. Shut it.), I put away childish things. Reminiscence is a hell of a lot different than wanting or trying to go back in time. Besides, since I’d gotten a front row seat to all her relationships, I realized that she made a much better friend, anyway- at least for my personality. I let her take up so much room in the relationship that I constantly let her hit me with a bulldozer because I didn’t want to go through the chaos and pain of letting go.

The aha moment (thank you, Oprah) was when I realized that even if in crossing the line into pedophilia was an accident because she didn’t vet the journal before she gave it to me, it still wasn’t my fault that I reacted sexually. No matter how I change the variables, the results are the same. Whether it was intentional or not, the facts are what they are. Her college journal and the completeness of her personality had let me into a part of her soul that I felt honored to receive. I thought the relationship was going to be an 80-year love affair, and when she started pushing me away, the more I stuffed down my grief because I was so embarrassed that I’d ever put that much energy toward so much of nothing… but as Dana and I say when we’re throwing darts and miss, “if you’re going to get nothing, at least get a lot of it.”

If there’s anything I wish I could say to her in person, it would be that she should consider the possibility that she felt something. A spark for me that went away when she realized what she was doing, because being attracted to each other had absolutely nothing to do with sex. For me, it was the explosion and light of feeling complete because I’d finally met someone like me. I’d finally met someone that didn’t cause guilt to stir up in me because I was gay. The guilt was there, but it definitely didn’t center on my sexuality. I was gay before I met her, I just didn’t have the words for it. She didn’t have any bearing on whether I liked sex with men or women, which I would like to say for the record since so many people actually believe that kind of shit.

No, the guilt came from always feeling wrong and bad because I deserved it. I had mistaken our relationship for pedophilia instead of genuine friendship. It took many years to stop feeling like I would never be able to talk about my emotions because I had made such a serious error in judgment. I didn’t trust myself to heal, I didn’t trust myself that in time, it would get better, and I didn’t trust her as far as I could throw her, but it didn’t stop the drive to be near her in the slightest… kind of like having an irresponsible teenager that you find yourself *having* to love because you know eventually they’ll get back on the right path, anyway. You’re just pissed about having to be so incredibly patient about it because waiting is hard. Tough love doesn’t even begin to cut it.

I was defined by always being told that I was her friend and nothing else, when there was CLEAR evidence that wasn’t true. I couldn’t handle the fact (at the time) that she might have given me the journal *on purpose*to pique my interest in sex and the logical explanation for it happening is that I was obsessed with her to the point of unrequited love. There was nothing unrequited about it. I was reacting to trauma and trying to pull her out.

In thinking about freeing myself and what I want people to say about me at my funeral, the best compliment anyone could pay me is that I slayed my own dragons to become the most me I’ve ever been. I see so many possibilities now that I’m not tied to the small person I used to be, and defined by someone else. I have found a voice that to me feels stronger because I’m so much more grounded- God to head, head to feet, feet to floor.

Amen.

I Needed a Drink

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

In the wake of everything that’s happened, there are three people I’d like to call out, because I was thirsty and they gave me a drink. I was naked, yadda yadda yadda. Ok, maybe naked was the wrong scripture. But you know what I mean.

Jesus talks about living water as a symbol of renewal and regeneration. So many people have offered me so much of it that I couldn’t even possibly swallow it all. I hope my cup overflows into yours (or, as I would like it to be known, the backwash Amen).

Dana, of course, is at the top of the list. But there are three others that deserve recognition.

1. Dave

Possibly my favorite reaction- astounded by my courage and some cursing in my defense. The cursing in her direction isn’t necessary, but I’m glad that someone could look into my mind and see I was telling the truth without needing evidence. We have also shared an amazing amount of humor in general because stupid is a great distraction.

2. Robyn

I get choked up about Robyn, because the connection was so random that it didn’t seem accidental. She became my Facebook friend after meeting me at church, so I saw her URL. I followed it and started reading. She posted an article about middle school love and love being awakened before its time. In that essay, I found myself. My inner child shuddered and sighed with the words. It was my Elizabeth Gilbert moment with snot and tears and cold tile.

3. Joseph

For the first time in my life, my voice teacher is male, which makes it even easier to dissociate choral music and “our music” (God if you only knew just how much there was. Frig.). On the flip side, in a roundabout way they are friends, because Joseph’s husband went to WTSU at the same time as “the crew,” my words for her gaggle of boys.* If I had known that before I walked into the church, I never would’ve. The fact that I was drawn because of the neighborhood helped me to know Joseph as his own man without any connection to my past… and he’s brilliant. When he inspires me in just the right way to accomplish something I’ve been working on, sometimes I can’t help it. Tears well up. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it.

And that, in a nutshell, is how Episcopal Church of the Epiphany has rescued me.

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*All divas have boys. So jelly. Joseph will take me there. I know he will. Do you hear me, universe? I WANT TO BE A DIVA BECAUSE I WANT MORE GAY BOYFRIENDS. That would be great, thanks.

My Official Response

I wrote this last night to somebody, but then I thought it needed to be here for everybody.

I wish I could tell you why yesterday was the day. Why something broke inside me that will never go back together. Every single person that has ever met me since I was 12 has felt her affects, more so when we were in each other’s lives making it worse all the time. I know that posting her name may have negative consequences for both of us, but I have a very small blog and this was 25 years ago. I don’t think I would have ever named her if the abuse was still ongoing, because it would be too fresh to process. The thing that struck me is that I’ve been hiding her, protecting her for so long that I lost myself and couldn’t find her. All the lies had swallowed the truth completely.

Telling my web site family was in effect telling everyone who has ever met me, “no, you’re not crazy. I did have an inappropriate relationship with her, and you tried to help me and I WOULDN’T LISTEN because she’s a saint.

People have been praying about this situation for so long and so hard that i would come out of my denial. I’m not mad. I love Diane to the ends of the earth. But I’m not going to protect her anymore. I’m done.

I wish that I could have done it a different way, but the parishioners that were there while it was going on are scattered to the four corners. A web site was the easiest way to tell everyone what happened the fastest. I am sure that there are consequences I haven’t thought of, yet, but my goal ceased to be reconciliation after I finally admitted to myself that she might be human and fallible and I might not be insane after all.

One and Only

I write a lot about why I don’t verbally process- I am much more at home with my keyboard. Typing words into the computer creates a clinical separation between my thoughts and my emotions. Typing keeps me level-headed and calm while I deal with monstrous issues. I feel that I have a gift for being able to take terrible situations and explain them in all their terribleness, while at the same time not forgetting to forgive everyone in the process. However, I only own that these are my descriptions, my recollections, and because of that, they are fallible in the way that all memories are.

However, there are some wounds that are so deep, so dark, so hard to find that we try to forget they’re there. While we’re busy trying to forget our pain, it exponentially multiplies. We tell ourselves that it’s nothing right up until those around us think we’ve suddenly snapped. It’s fine right up until it isn’t.

For instance, I truly believe that the reason I released her name when I did is because I internalized leaving Portland and the body memory shook me awake. It’s been over a year since I’ve had any hope of seeing her face, of telling her the truth, of being able to cry and scream it out so that it would be OVER and we could be at peace again. It shook me up so hardcore that I audibly heard my words letting go of my body and streaming into the flow of my content.

The clinical separation was intact right up until the postmortem. Someone asked me if I thought there were others. I said, “I can’t think about anyone but myself. It absolutely skeeves me out to think that there might have been other little girls. So until I can look at that land mine by itself, I’d like to believe I was her one and only.” In fact, my inner 14-year-old freaked the fuck out, because to believe that there were other little girls in her life at the same time as me would mean that I wasn’t special, it was all about control, and there was never any genuine love between us.

I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe that we would have been perfect for each other if we hadn’t met in that place, in that time, where the age difference mattered. It wasn’t as if the only thing we had in common was lesbianism. She was my favorite singer, my favorite conductor, my favorite person in the entire world because I was so excited about music and choir and anything she could teach me about getting better faster. I read an opera dictionary so that I could converse with her in her jargon. I was extraordinarily precocious, and there was nothing she could throw at me emotionally that I couldn’t catch. We got along on so many levels, which is why it was so easy to gloss over abuse in the first place. We spent a lot of time not talking about what happened, but it didn’t bother me because I didn’t realize that I was being redirected. It might have been an unconscious reaction on her part, but doesn’t render her blameless.

My truth is that not once has she ever told me the truth about my childhood. When I asked to meet with her, she said she couldn’t do it and sent her partner in her stead. When I said anything negative about her, no matter how insignificant, her partner would lose her shit and verbally wrestle me to the ground until I cried Uncle, which by then she’d been doing since I was 19, so she was really fucking good at it. I didn’t want to talk to her. By this time last year, I was ready to throw her off a cliff. It’s a good thing I pray, because there are a lot of cliffs in Portland.

My abuser claimed that I put her on a pedestal and wouldn’t let her fall so that she could just be herself, and she could never even conceive of how much it’s untrue. I know what I know, and have known it for 24 years, and I have loved her anyway. I have been her friend anyway. I’ve given her grace and peace and love and attention because I wanted to, which I never would have been able to do if I’d been bitter about what happened. I have gone through the natural stages of grief for what was stolen from me, and I don’t think it’s unfair to name the thief. I can hold it in my mind at the same time that I love her, and I can’t protect her. But whatever her story is, whatever she has to say in response to anything I’ve written, is all true, too. All emotions are valid. This relationship came to a crashing halt when I laid out how I felt about her, she encouraged me to trust her again by saying that she would like to engage in my process, and slammed the door just as quickly, even though I’d already told her that my nephew was in cardiac distress and not to contact me unless she was in it for the long haul.

I am far enough along in the healing process that I know what I need from her. It is the acceptance of the damage that she caused to my psyche despite the fact that I understand every reason why it happened, and can even empathize.

And in explaining all of this, one of my other friends said, “I think you’re right. I think something in the dynamic with you led her down the wrong path because you were such kindred spirits, anyway.” It makes the story more beautiful than tragic, but at the same time, it’s just a nice thought. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it does keep me from obsessing over the fact that I might not have been the only one from both my inner child and my inner parent’s point of view.

And at this point, who cares? I tell myself what I want to hear because I don’t have the luxury of feedback. If she has to live with a Google tattoo, she has to know that it’s equally as hard for me wandering around lost, trying to piece together what happened on my own and trying to make sense of something that will never balance out. I will never come back together again in exactly the same way before she came into my life.

It was 1990, and my biggest accomplishment to date was making it into the eighth grade band the beginning of my seventh grade year. My next biggest accomplishment was not getting kicked out of high school for bad grades… which no one could figure out because I’m just. so. smart.

The Rest of Us

I have lots of blog readers that don’t comment on WordPress, but frequently e-mail their thoughts. Though I will not quote any of them to protect their identities, the majority of them were people who had been keeping the same sorts of secrets- abuse that is so insidious that it took decades to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. The tone was full of admiration for my courage in speaking out, naming my truth, and stopping the protection she’s enjoyed for most of her life.

The messages that got to me the most were the ones telling me to keep being strong “for the rest of us.”