She Stopped the Tape

Describe a positive thing a family member has done for you.

Bryn stopped the tape that I was worth nothing.

She didn’t do it with her words, although she did that, too. It was more than that. She told me I had something to say, and is perfectly fine with me going big or going home. We have had so many moments of just going home, my favorite thing in life. I was kidding her the other day that I loved being at her house, because I spend a lot of time there on Facebook Messenger video calls that are inordinately long because we’re both talkers (to each other, not so much in a crowd), and we don’t discuss people so much as concepts.

The biggest is that if you experience childhood trauma, and ours comes from many different sources, you are navigating the world with third degree burns and it changes everything around you. This is not a slam on either one of my parents, because my childhood trauma is not rooted in them, but in coming out privately at 13 and publicly just before I was 15. Coming out privately was the wrong tack, because I trusted the wrong person. It went from something sweet to a disaster very, very quickly.

This is because I lost myself in that relationship.

Like a lot of other women, I would imagine. She was a singer, and everyone was awed by her voice and treated her with that reverence all the time. Who even was I next to all that? Yes, she was gorgeous and I noticed. The problem came in where I was never sure whether she noticed or not. I feel like she noticed all of it, and before we could even have that conversation in an open and honest way, she’d already done things by inference that would have made being honest feel like a lie.

If you know, you know. She treats every friend like that. I was just the youngest. She has a tape in her that says you can’t be intimate with someone unless you’re romantic with them. And, of course, she’s never told me any of this, I’ve just watched it for decades. THAT’s why I freaked out at being told I was a woman she’d like to know.

Moving to Portland was enlightening as I watched several adults go through the same spectrum of emotions I did starting three months before I turned 13. In the very beginning, love was the type of excitement I felt at seeing my parents after a long day at school. Within a year, my hormones had kicked in, and at that moment, she moved away. Back then, Dallas and Portland were both long-distance calls. So I’d sneak off to talk to her when my parents weren’t looking and became the girl that sat by the mailbox, because if I didn’t and something came for me, my mother would confiscate it. Looking back, this is exactly what she should have done. I am just not the sort of person that backs away from large emotions, and the tape within me was “she needs me.”

In that time and in that place, I can believe it was true. I would like to believe that she couldn’t be honest with anyone else, because in order to function, she had to be her singer personality all the time. She didn’t want anyone to know her problems, either, because I was also very quiet about my struggle with being queer at all, much less a relationship with this woman on top of it.

I remember one friend being completely objective and shooting the shit out of all my assumptions, likening it to battered wife syndrome because there’s no way in hell I should have been responsible for being the keeper of those secrets at 14. I don’t keep them now. I will talk about what it was like, but only with Bryn, because she was there. It means a lot to me that someone who knows me that intimately is now my biggest cheerleader.

What Dana (ex-wife, beloved in my memory, no chance we’ll reconcile for those just joining us) failed to understand was why she couldn’t help me. She’d been roped into those people and that situation for as long as she’d known me. I never would have believed it was emotional abuse coming from her because to me, she had just picked a side, like everyone else when I started talking about what happened. I feel like she played all 90 minutes, but the score was equal until someone objective who didn’t know anyone in the situation at all won it for us on a penalty kick. I would have run from anyone who looked at the situation in a subjective manner, and we lived in the same house.

I know it was devastating for her that I believed someone else so easily, and you can’t imagine how much empathy I had for that. At the same time, I had never backed away from the situation so hardcore that I could look at what happened as it being in the past. I couldn’t be objective about any of our friends, including the women that came after me in the bubble that felt illicit. Her behavior didn’t stop, she just changed people, either dumping them so that they felt like they lost everything because they’d become just as suckered in as me…. or walking away when they realized their own sanity was being tested.

It surprised me when I laid all this out that people believed her charming, lovebombing personality and chose to ignore what had happened not only to me, but to their other friends. They watched all the fallout from every relationship this woman torched, and were so eager to be the chosen one that my words didn’t even matter. It wasn’t that I was right, it was that I couldn’t hack it. There was nothing wrong with what she was doing, there was a failure in me emotionally.

I could never explain to people who weren’t really listening that I’d been watching her do this to people since before I turned 13. That I knew what she was doing to her friends from decades of experience watching her do it. That me coming to Portland was the last thing that happened, not the first thing I saw.

The most fucked up thing ever is that she would do this in the congregation in her partner’s church, energies changing all the time between friends so that no one could ever be objective about anything. The more rocky it got, the more she asked of the church, like making her Minister of Music instead of the choir director when no pastoral care ever came from her at all. She was not the kind of person that cared about anyone else’s feelings. She was the type of person that wanted to put on a show about how much she cared. If the person that needed something wasn’t in her direct circle, their needs went unmet. I didn’t realize the extent of the show until it happened to me.

We stopped talking about anything important. She’d dumped me long ago because of course, she never did anything wrong. I was a problem. The biggest sleight of hand that she ever pulled was twofold. The first was when I went and told her about a conversation that I’d had with her friends where I was FNG (fucking new guy). They were very protective of her, and it devolved into them trying to prove to me that they knew her better than I did. That was a game I didn’t want to play, because the way I would “win” wouldn’t look good and would only anger them more. So, again, I told her about this because it was hurting me.

Then, several days later her partner confronted me and told me that she’d said that I was starting fights with her friends and she didn’t want to see that out of me anymore. So, I just took on all the emotions of these women who didn’t have a fucking clue and I was the bad guy, even though it was a game in which I’d already tapped out. I was done.

Then, years later, she picked me as a soloist for a requiem we were doing with a community orchestra. It was a big damn deal, my first time on a fairly large stage. She waited until dress rehearsal to have her moment in which she said that I was the closest thing she’d ever had to a daughter, and hearing me sing was like watching her little girl grow up… when that relationship had been gone for both of us from the moment I bothered to call her on her bullshit. Because no one does that. Ever.

I am sure that people believed the show, and I wasn’t going to embarrass her in front of everyone. I was just trapped in utter and complete bullshit…. which is why I married Dana and didn’t even bother telling her. I wanted to destroy her dreams of doing the same thing to me at my wedding…. which Dana and I never had. We got all the paperwork done and would have probably gotten married at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany if we’d put any effort into doing such a thing. I remember Dana asking her priest if we could get married there, and our priest asking us how long we’d been together. Dana said, “seven years,” and our priest said, “so it’s serious.” But laughing about it was as far as we got.

This is because by that time, I was vomiting up emotions I’d been keeping hidden for years on end. I was not very lovable at this point, which is why memories of Dana are so precious to me. Even when I was at my worst, she tried so hard. Because our relationship heated up to a physical fight, I knew I could never in a million years go back. But I don’t mistake the part for the whole, either.

During that time in my life, I was screwed up with love. It was coming at me from two directions, hers and the woman who gave me back to myself. Because I was close to both of them, I felt the pull between them all of the time, because I wanted to give them both everything in the world and it was hard to navigate.

I fell in love with honesty on both sides. It’s just that PK girl wasn’t gay and it quickly turned into a clusterfuck. In what world would I not fall for a white knight who loved me to the very best of her ability, even when I was completely unlovable? Love for her didn’t come out of nowhere. At that point, I hadn’t even really seen many pictures of her, so I knew at that point that I would take the whole package, sight unseen.

I had a keen awareness that it was never going to happen, but that didn’t stop those feelings from coming. I never wanted to act in a way that would alienate anyone, but I lost who I was and did, anyway… in a pattern that should seem familiar by now. I was tasked with turning off that trauma reflex, that I would live with unrequited love forever.

Putting on my big girl pants and acknowledging it was the height of my stupidity, but in retrospect I didn’t need her response. I could have gone a lifetime without knowing what would have happened. It was way more about me, and how I wanted to be different than the woman who abused me. To say open and honestly I have these feelings and I don’t know what to do with them, rather than roping her into a game she didn’t want to play. I asked for patience from her and Dana, and I got it up and to a point.

Dana’s patience with me ran out, and in some sense, I applaud her for that. Letting me deal with my shit on my own was the right answer. I wish that our relationship hadn’t ended the way it did, because I am back to my old self and have been for years. I wish she could see who I am now instead of who I was then, lost and confused.

“Lost and confused” had its limits, though. I was never jealous of the men in PK girl’s life. I wanted her to be all of her, and me to be all of me. Then I stepped over the line and our relationship crashed and burned…. but not entirely. It just became a shadow of itself, when I wanted there to be a time when I was her white knight as well.

The only thing I could do was close the door on both relationships, because at that point, there was no going back. It was just moving forward, acknowledging that I’d been an asshole but that I wasn’t one. That it was my behavior in the moment, not the sum total of who I was.

The reason the second relationship was so painful is that PK girl saw it, too, that it wasn’t the sum total of my being. That she wouldn’t hold me to my worst mistake….. sometimes. At others, her anger showed toward me in full force because she would skip over all the parts where I showed her I loved her the way she loved me, and go for the jugular.

I had to stop that pattern as well, because I tried to let her know how I felt so we could move past all that, and it was not well-received.

I chose to focus on the family member who knew everything PK girl did, but could hear things like “I think this could become trouble. What do you want to do about it?” And maybe it’s just that my tone of voice seems so different with Bryn and not my actual words, because I don’t think I’ve consciously been a different person with anyone. I’m just me.

So now we’re the lockboxes for each other and it feels right, because we both struggle with the same “stuff” left over from childhood. It’s just that I can’t tell her story for her and she’s a tremendous writer.

But make no mistake. She knows what you did. 😛

…..and the tape has stopped recording.

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