The Big Yellow House, Part Two: Prologue

In part one, we explored the first people I met when I came to Oregon and told their story. We started at The Little Grey House and ended at The Church That Used to Have Green Carpet. There is a prologue to The Little Grey House that starts in The Austin Stone Cathedral, and predates The Big Yellow House by about 12 years. If you think I don’t know what I’m risking with this subject matter, I’ve already talked it out. The people in the story outside the real issue would never know or even remember everything that happened in those 12 years, because only Bryn is close enough to me to have watched me since 1997, and there are a couple of people who remember from 1990, but I would never trust them and talk about it. The conversation would mostly consist of tears and guilt because I knew they were right and I didn’t care. The big secret of childhood abuse is that we crave it. We hate ourselves because abuse makes us feel so good (physically) until the lovebombing stops. With a narcissist, it generally comes pretty quickly after they realize they can control you easily and well.

In 1997, Bryn’s big brother Matthew was 16 (which I only remember because I was impressed he could drive… I was terrible at it and still am), Bryn must have been in the neighborhood of 14, which would have made younger sister Christy about 11? 12? I don’t remember the kids’ ages in score order, but I do remember each and every way they’ve enriched my life… and every sin I committed out of idiocy or malice or both.

In retrospect, the dark and the light combine into an amazing tapestry, because we were all loved by their parents. The fact that I wasn’t actually born to them is something that none of us have ever noticed, although I did date Matthew for a few months and that was confusing for all of us. Mostly because it was the first time I’d ever been attracted enough to want to date a boy as an adult. However, I will tell you that my experience with having a 7th and 8th grade boyfriend prepared me for some of it. This is only to say that at the time, bisexuality was not as understood by straights who are not okay and queers who aren’t doing any better. If you’re bi, you get it from all sides. No wonder I chose one too early. The two women I’ve mentioned previously took care of my magical thinking on that one. Once you’ve had sex with women, there’s no going back. It changes you. The way the abuse hurt still is that Alpha abuser thought it was a cute quirk and not real. She blabbed to all her friends about me when I wasn’t sure I wanted anything known about me. She knew this. I know she did. She just didn’t think. Now those friends have participated in my sex life as well, because they thought it was funny.

It was about March of 2003 or 4 (I’ve slept since then) that I had a pregnancy scare. It was devastating and exciting, but only a scare because I had no idea where I was in my cycle and whether it was even a real thing. I took a pill anyway, just to be safe. However, the reason I took the pill is that I didn’t want there to be any chance of me being a single mom. I asked Matt to be the boyfriend, and he turned me down, but very sweetly. He said that he didn’t think he was capable of being the boyfriend. I went on to meet someone else and so did he. It was not an ending, but a blessing and releasing.

Also, men are terrible. 😉

Luckily, I never had any of those hang-ups, because men relate to me in a different way. I’m sure that will change if I become another man’s wife, because me being married to a woman shut down their defenses. Most of my male friends are tenderheart bears who would die rather than show it. I know things about them that their wives never will, and it’s because friendship deserves secrecy. I treat all conversations as confessionals so it’s not weird for them to say they hate being married or WTF ever. The things you say to your friends to handle being married… The things you say to a woman who loves you but is not in love with you… The things I say to remind them of that fact. You’re not done, you’re just frustrated. Here’s how I fixed that issue in my own marriage. See if it works for you. No refunds.

Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes it’s “we’ve been talking more in the last two days than we have in the last two years.” After being married for almost eight years, there’s virtually no problem I haven’t dealt with (whether it’s good or bad). I also have excellent recall of those years, so anyone who comes to me and asks for my opinion will get one already fully formed.

The most consistent problem across sexual orientation and gender is communication. Mostly “they don’t treat me the same at home as they do in public.” We’re all guilty of curating our marriages, but it’s dangerous to do that too much.

I have lived in too many fantasies to think that’s untrue. I have loved the curated versions of several people, none more than the first and the last. The first created a Beautiful Memory Picture. The second one took the picture and destroyed it right in front of my eyes. What she did differently is not allow me to live in that bubble. To date, she is the best interrupter of my life. It sounds like a dig, but she uses my ADHD like a superpower. She knows I’m listening, and to turn my attention to something else is a blessing. Just like with everyone else, sometimes I do focus on her minutiae. But it’s not because I’m in love with her. It’s just because I love her. Alpha pretended, and the fantasy lasted as long for her as it did for me.

Here are two differences between real vs. pretend:

  1. Alpha presented as having feelings. She does not. She knows how to imitate feelings. Omega started with a truthbomb and has never wavered because of them. Her behavior and her words match. I have a PowerPoint presentation complete with annotated bibliography (my diaries and letters of the time, all gone now but the words are still in my mind) on how to love both of them. What I did not know was that Alpha was going to destroy me and Omega is still destroying me. One put in flashbacks and triggers. One is taking them out and looking at them with me, setting fires with a blowtorch and gasoline so that I can function again.
  2. Alpha’s friendship started with Schrodinger’s Seduction. I can get her to do whatever I want if I install the trigger that I’m the only one that can meet her needs. That my parents were sus. Omega’s friendship was never dependent on that because she’s not looking for it. Her clinical separation with the way I could fall for Alpha (I thought it was real due to context clues and not her actual words). We were both musicians, both singers, kindred spirits. The problem was that she blamed me for years over a trigger she installed. Omega will have her ass for it if she ever meets her.

It’s good to know a dragon in human form, especially when she lets me hold onto her tail. My hand fits firmly in her claws, which she uses to massage my head when I’m sad or angry. It helps, even in fiction. My ride or die is a muscle mass of fury, and I need it. Her “lead the charge into hell” attitude has saved me from so much trauma because I listen to her and parrot her opinions on a number of subjects, most of them about me.

We are both better people than we think we are. We both tend to give an enormous amount of love without receiving it, even though it is given freely. As I mentioned, if I pick up her coffee, she’ll turn around and do it for me. When it’s something special, she’ll buy me a book she loved and wants to share. She really listens, and picks winners. Everything from Stanley Tucci to Deborah Harkness to Karin Slaughter. We also talk other media, and she’s only given one recommendation that I liked and didn’t love. I was in a bad place when I saw it, and it scared me. I just couldn’t tell her why.

I’d started hanging out at the Spy Museum, practically living there when I had a membership because I was so dedicated to studying the world of intelligence. I am less interested in writing a novel about spies and being able to use that library of images correctly. As a result, I met regular people who used to be spies. The “regular people” put me through the ringer in terms of thinking about what it might be like to actually live that life. I’d love the travel and the worldview. I think if you’re CIA you become a citizen of the world… because maybe your job is at Langley, and maybe it’s in Kandahar with terrorists or drug runners at the Texas border. CIA charter says that they only work overseas, that anything happening is the United States is FBI. The crossover comes in with things like 9/11, where enemy combatants from other countries were arriving here.

My clinical separation was non-existent at that point. I was thinking about these friends being in danger, and the show she recommended was basically as close to a procedural as you’ll get from any US Intelligence Agency. It was called “The Enemy Within.” It didn’t deserve to get canceled, because it was brilliant. I will probably borrow structure from it at some point.

What wasn’t brilliant was all of the actors appearing as my friends if I picked up that telescope. I was zooming in on the feeling that being a spy is not all it’s cracked up to be. You have to lie a lot by necessity, and you have to worry about your personal and professional lives colliding in a very, very bad way. It is not for the faint of heart, and I could have done it given my experience with Alpha. If I was in operations though, I don’t think I would have stayed long. Living that way over time wears you down. I think I would have been very happy as a Feeb, and might check on their psychological requirements. Here’s why. What bothers me the most about military and intelligence is that there’s a very real chance they’re going to die. Most of the time, with intelligence the chances are a million to one. Sometimes they’re not. If you’re in the Armed Services, the percentage of death jumps by a large margin. Spies are able to live in the shadows, but are sometimes also forward deployed. And then you have DIA, which is basically CIA except you’re in the military. And that’s where I think about dying far away from home, like Daniel almost did… and an unlikely hero of mine, Harry Windsor. It was alarming how much I freaked out when I realized that the prince was in Kandahar at the exact same time as Daniel. Both of them could have died because of a terrorist.

I could have been there because I had to cut off my emotions to survive abuse. I could have been a spy because my reality cracked in childhood. I would have been very good. It makes me feel like a monster that I know how to get what I want from nearly anyone as long as I ask it the right way, and I am well practiced in making an ask………………………..

Two things about that. I don’t want a compartmentalized life, even if it comes with trips to amazing places. I also don’t want to be cut off from my emotions, because thinking about all my secrets and lies would undo me pretty quickly.

In short, I want to forget about Alpha, because imitating the way she makes every relationship transactional and tells you she loves you every single day without being willing to do even the smallest thing is toxic. I would not want to be that person, and yet I do have those tendencies. It’s why I work so hard on my relationship with Omega. I need a friendship that is rock solid and real. That if I fall, I will hit the ground. Nothing is bottomless or worth despair over when it was. That’s because Lindsay (younger sister) doesn’t even remember what she looks like. Why should I remember all this? It’s inspiring that I may get there one day.

I would still apologize and regret if I hadn’t figured out that the relationship was a fantasy on both our parts. The story I was telling myself is that I mattered to her. The story she was telling herself is that she was the perfect mothermentorsisterfriend and I was just bipolar and acting out. She used my diagnosis effectively in the destruction of our relationship, and I won’t forget that, either. I thought she was being abused, I wasn’t crazy. I thought she’d signed up for a lifetime of being railroaded into the ground, because patterns don’t come from nowhere. She has convinced a lot of people that she’s been amazing to me, probably hoping to make me look like an ungrateful spoiled brat because she’s “given me so much.”

She loved me when it was convenient for her (read: when she needed something from me; transactional). Her other friends were blind to this fact, and she thought nothing of telling me that she’d made one friend her “pet person.”

Gross.

I’m not trying to tell her story at all. I am saying that in that moment, I figured out what was being done to me, what had been done starting a few months before I turned 13. I don’t think she ever did something like this to other young girls, but I’ve seen the pattern play out with more women than I can count. The one woman before me who was brave enough to call her on it also got dumped as the friend because obviously she was crazy. If you talk to Alpha, she has never done anything wrong in the history of either relationship, and if she has said the opposite, she said it because you had something she wanted.

If her dopamine levels are low, she’ll get a hit any way she can… and in my case, it was reaching out for adoration because she knew I’d never say anything negative. Then, I got mad. So I was discarded for telling the truth and now some of my former friends think that I am mentally ill. It’s true, but not about this. Some of those triggers helped to set up my valley of vulnerability, but no one remembers that, either.

Her reality cracked, and then mine because of it.

In this case, correlation provides all of its causation, but no one looks at it except me in any regular sense. Everyone else has moved on, because she has. Here’s the thing, though. As fake as she was, she also never would have left me. If there is someone on earth that she genuinely loves, it’s me. This is because life hadn’t hit her too hard when we met. I slid in under the wire and disarmed the bomb. My ire is directed at how love was presented. Being seductive while she told me we were family and then treating me like she didn’t know what the hell was happening “must have been confusing and upsetting to you.”

Must have been? No. I deal with all this every day. Every time I talk. Every time I sigh, every time I am looking in the mirror and one of her facial expressions appears. That is the one true fact that I know people can remember. My impersonation is dead accurate.

That’s because I curated it.

Long before we ever went to the The Big Yellow House, love was based on what I could do for her, and not what she could do for me. I would not believe that had I not spent 23 years in the trap.

I said that I was going to borrow structure from Wicked, and that Alpha might not even appear in the series because I wanted to focus on my friends other than her that came to me through the relationship. Then, I realized it was unfair to throw everything out there, only telling one side of the story.

I decided to say explicitly why it was hard, because no one recognized it back then. I was 19, but arrested at 14. Then, when the trauma started resolving, I had to develop coping mechanisms. For me, it’s writing- the lead the charge into hell that Omega exhibits comes in handy when I realize “now is the time I should unleash holy hell because I’m right.” I am being a judgmental bastard right now because here’s what happened.

When I was 36, the relationship ended for good. I was too upset that not only had Alpha done this to me, she had the audacity to tell people that she just didn’t understand why I was so obsessed with her. It’s because she put every single problem we ever had on me, particularly why it was wrong for me to be in love with her because she was an adult and I wasn’t.

…….without ever taking in that I was following her lead, just like in everything else.

The exact reason I went to The Big Yellow House in the first place and even have all these memories. To that I can attribute gratitude. The rest combined malice with idiocy depending on the day. I was sat there listening for days.

It’s just that for me, there are some core memories that are damaged from certain things that have been said or done. For me, it was one of the worst days of my life. For her, it was Wednesday.

Homophonia

When I look at myself on camera, I get flashbacks. They aren’t panicky. They induce rage at the woman I’ve become. I love my personality and my humor. I hate how I present it. If there is any lingering trauma from this whole experience, it is my voice and mannerisms; even my micro aggressions look the same or similar. I have every facial expression that she does in addition to mine because I’ve been doing it for over 32 years. I’ve talked this way since I was 13. I sound just like her, because I’ve spent more time with her than my own mother over the years. My presentation also says (to me, not others) that especially when we were young, I wanted to sound just like her. I craved it because she couldn’t be near me as much as I wanted, so I basically studied her every word so that she’d always sound like herself in my head.

The way that it helped was that I discovered I was a singer, and not a trumpet player who could fake it. She unlocked a piece of me that I didn’t know was there. She forced me to kill my imposter syndrome. I am a soprano. I am very good. I know it, so I don’t talk about it. My soprano attitude comes out in other areas of my life and oh my God… I’m just like her.
She and Dana are my two uploaded consciences, the one where my thinking divides into mine and theirs. We’re happy because we never disagree about anything and I am making up our relationship as I go along. Or at least, that was the case until I got angry. Dana and I are still over the moon about each other, but only in a best friend kind of way. Hearing her responses to everything for so many years helps me to predict what she would say about something else. The last time I really cried was picturing her meeting Daniel for the first time and what that would have been like for her… just how much I wanted to share him with her and to be buddies again. I am not worried that there would be any violence between us ever again.

There’s a reason for that. I wasn’t looking for the biggest motherfucker in skater shoes who is also trained to shoot the nuts off a gnat. He just showed up. I wanted him to be my companion, and then I wanted him to be my husband, because I couldn’t let him protect me without feeling the pull toward him in every single way you can possibly imagine. It’s a new experience, pining for a man and not a woman. I like it. It feels like every “straight” girl has ever felt when she realized “uh oh. These feelings are scary and I don’t know what to do with them.”

I’ve been with men before. It’s not a big deal. I think I’ve said it before, that I didn’t identify as a lesbian because of my sexual behavior in individual instances. It was thinking about who I connected with more emotionally and whether I could picture a relationship that lasted more than a few years. I couldn’t until I realized that I’d thought about Daniel off and on over the years and it was a reconnection, not meeting a stranger. I don’t think I would have been so quick to label myself as a lesbian if it hadn’t been the ‘90s. Lesbians aren’t particularly friendly towards bisexual women at the best of times even now, because there is some kind of dick measuring contest that I don’t understand or want to enter.
Lesbians who have never been with men tend to think they’re better than the rest of us. For every man we’ve been with, points are deducted. My street cred will go down immediately if I marry Daniel because my experiences with women will be put on the back burner, as if marrying him caused amnesia. Women who don’t know me will assume that I am closeted and don’t have a clue that I’m gay, because we’ve heard that story a million times. If this marriage does end up being a thing, I cannot wait for this because it will happen. Someone will try to tell me I’m gay and offer to help me leave because I’m just not being fair to that poor man. He should have someone that is capable of loving him the way he needs to be loved and don’t I understand what I’m doing to him?

I understand exactly what I’m doing to him and what I want to do to him later, okkkkkkkk.

I don’t know if you guys will remember this. Some of you might. When Kathleen and I were partners (common law yet not legally married at that point), we went to a conference on bisexuality. Dr. Fritz Klein and Dr. Carol Queen were the hosts, and they were so fabulous. I learned more about the science of sex than I could from any documentary, and especially not having to draw my own conclusions about large scientific works.

Dr. Klein was especially brilliant. He designed the Klein Grid of Sexual Orientation, which expanded the scale originally posited by Alfred Kinsey. The grid also has you rate how often you socialize and fantasize about each gender as well. Through it, I have come to the conclusion that homosexuality and heterosexuality are subsets of bisexuality. That the spectrum is very wide. For instance, I can think of one friend in particular that our relationship is all white hot fire.
We turn each other on intellectually and deep dive into all kinds of things. What we don’t do is fawn over each other. That package doesn’t come with a combo meal, but I’d rather have it than literally anything else. You can’t buy what’s in it, and if you break it, there’s no replacement.

She is a one on the Kinsey scale, perhaps a two in the Klein grid sense of not being bisexual but understanding how it is a thing that happens for reasons. She loves pictures of beautiful women, but they don’t turn her on. That’s fine. More for me. She is perfectly happy for that to be my department… and yet, if something happens to me that’s negative, she will release the fire of a thousand suns and point it right at the offender. I am her lamb, the one she will always search for if I am lost. It feels good to finally be going so hard for the right person when I’ve given so much to the wrong ones. I am perfectly happy to love her up like Oprah loves Gayle… especially now that we both have found our Stedmans.

What becomes problematic sometimes is my flowery expression vs. her strident, no bullshit personality. I am a gardener, and she is an architect. She’d rather have bullet points. I’d rather spend six pages on a rose bush (that was a joke about Nathaniel Hawthorne). I know she routinely rolls her eyes at the length of my letters while I struggle to understand the bread crumbs I’ve been given. It’s not a bad relationship because of it. She’s just like my sister, 50 times busier than me. It takes her time to read and absorb. What’s worth it are the letters after she’s done so. I recently figured out that she is crazy about me. Just loves me more than I do, and I’m hoping to catch up. It’s a tall order. Because you see, I didn’t understand how straight women love each other when we met. Now, I do.

I just had a flashback to a sweet memory of Dana and me. We used to get married every morning. One of us would lean over and say, “hey baby? I do.” And the other would say, “I do, too.”

So. Now I’m apparently Jay because Silent Bob over there just laid down the truth last week. She’s my hetero lifemate. She loves me. She just couldn’t tell me. Not that she didn’t want to. Words aren’t her love language. There’s no wrong way to be in a relationship, but if you expect someone to respond the way you would have, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I tell her I love her in words, or I did until I realized that her love language was action. So I stopped only telling her and started doing things for her.
Picking up her afternoon coffee on a whim is more important than telling her it broke me open to hear that she took piano lessons as a child. For me, love is hearing her think/emote. For her, love is supported by evidence. I get brownie points this way: when I tell her I love her, she can bank on it. The check will always cash because my words and behavior match. When she tells me she feels something, I listen and respond immediately. What she says goes, because what I say goes, too. It’s a balancing act as to which one of us is more right this time, because both of us are so damn smart that neither one of us are going to be wrong at any time. In fact, we might get to the exact same conclusion and argue over semantics.

It’s tricky, those semantics. Sometimes words get in the way of communication, especially when they’re painful.

Oh my God. My God. I just had a thought that hit me like a ton of bricks and I need to breathe through it. I have serious Internet relationships because when I communicate by typing, I don’t hear myself in my abuser’s voice. I hear myself the way I want to sound. I hear myself without her version of how things sound, because that’s what it is. I cultivated that sound. Now it’s a monster I avoid because it’s not an homage. It’s torture.

I speak by writing to avoid talking altogether. Bryn has no idea what she’s done in a good way. I’ve published vlogs without thinking about hating my voice several times now, and it’s because of her. Forcing me to use FaceTime helped me to Think Different (oh, wow… that was unintentionally clever. I mentioned an Apple product and then tied in Chiat/Day. I’m not impressed with my own writing. I am impressed that I recalled the connection.). This is important because as I’ve been talking to Bryn, more of my expressions and mannerisms that aren’t really mine have shown up and begged to be friends. I will go there with her only, because she was there. She knows that it hurts and why it should. She should know but doesn’t yet that another friend gave me a jump scare by sounding just like her- they’re from the same area of the world. Completely unintentional, and I still panicked. She’s never met any of my friends from Portland, so I can safely say that this friend would never in a million years figure out it’s her. Another person that I love their writing, could do without seeing them in person because it’s painful in a way that cannot be treated quickly or easily. It’s my trigger, it’s my deal. I just have to work through it so I can love her sound because it’s hers. I can love her voice as much as I love the rest of her.

It’s more complicated than it needs to be because I am way more complicated than I need to be. I was born as a visionary, in a traumatic birth experience and recovery, and then emotionally abused so badly that I didn’t have opinions for many years. I am rediscovering what it is like to date people while having them. Having emotions has also been problematic.

There’s no right or wrong answer in a relationship. For me, it seems to work to make one or two friends my primary partners so that if my romantic partner leaves, my entire world doesn’t go with them. It doesn’t make sense to make something that needs to be so permanent a pressure on dating. I have made the executive decision to divide my soul and let a few people have a part. To let more than one person all the way in so that more than one person has that level of understanding of me.
Some marriages aren’t built on romance. Some are built on wanting permanence during a tumultuous time in people’s lives. Some are built on confidentiality so that both people have the freedom to say whatever they want without judgment and get feedback. Some people are asexual but still need to have a person.

I’m still working on that “both people aren’t judgmental” thing.

People being concerned about the gender I marry is ridiculous, and yet the sentiment continues. My deal is that if you care whether it’s real or silicon, that’s fine. I don’t. What matters to me is our shared upbringing and our shared thought processes. They’re virtually identical except for the way we take in information. He’s all brain, I’m all heart…. Or I was, until my heart walked out of my body and back to Texas. I hope Cora and Daniel each get pieces. All they have to do is reach into the chords that run between us and grab them.

Geometry and music combine to make new sounds all the time. Different layers, different directions at which the intersection breaks your emotions out of their military grade prison. Military prison is accurate, because I feel like I have been Lord John Grey my entire life, starting a few months before I turned 13 and ending when I was 36. The unrequited love is over, but I have wondered many times how often John lingered over Jamie’s speech patterns, craving it because he couldn’t be near him as much as he wanted, studying his every word so that he’d always sound like himself in his head.

I wonder how long he cried when he realized that he and Jamie could never be close enough for him, that he was jumping into something the relationship couldn’t sustain……………. And yet, he still sounded just like him.

Lopez, Island.

Trigger Warning: Teen Sex Abuse

I told you earlier that a friend was doing guided meditation on me, went down to the point I could, then pulled in a humorous story about Sam because I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t tell you another story in which I felt emotionally abused, because I was a ninth and tenth grader. At the time, I thought I was making friends.

I wasn’t. I was an accessory. The person chosen to sit in the classroom so that one of my friends and our teacher could get away with an affair. I unwittingly protected a sexual predator who was actually fucking one of my friends and I didn’t say shit. I don’t feel guilty for two reasons. The first is that I was never older than 15 in their presence. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed at HSPVA, and I don’t mind saying where it happened because I found out later that everyone knew. The second is that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with someone 11 years older. In my head, we’d each found love. Neither my friend nor I knew it was toxic until years later…. and I don’t think my then-love thought of it as abuse, either. I think she thought she was treating me like I treat my own daughter, the one I adopted through the rainbow flag. We are our own country. No woman is an island, to paraphrase John Donne.

Or at least, that’s what I thought about my friend and me. I thought Lopez definitely was…. she could get away with anything and my friend was so lucky. She got everything I wanted and a bag of chips. What stopped it from happening in my case is beyond me, because all the grooming was there. I just got lucky. Whatever it was that stopped her, I think it was positive now. She had me dead to rights back then.

I was just as genderfluid/genderqueer as I am now. I always felt a bit of white knight valor, as if saving her was up to me. It’s a pattern I struggle with to this day. I want to save everyone. Every little girl. Every woman…. and even though they’re a minority in terms of sexual violence, boys and men. I can’t think about children being put through any of this. Even if it’s just grooming that sets up a trigger and not actual intercourse. It’s especially egregious in little boys, because it’s before the weight of the world is on them to be a man. So they’re raped or molested while they’re still young enough to be sweet and affectionate and every bit as kissyface as little girls are…. and then that shit gets buried, because no one wants to hear their pain. Sexual trauma is difficult. It’s even more difficult to exorcise when “being a man” means “cut off all your emotions and never speak of anything but how angry you are.”

I feel it’s another reason I can love Daniel for all he’s worth, which is a hell of a lot. I knew him befoe life broke him. I knew him before anyone ever said “buck up, buttercup.” I had forgotten, but he remembered that our “first date” was to the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas. My mom was with us that day. I know she was, she was one of our substitute teachers that year… actually, I’m not sure that I had a year where my mom wasn’t my substitute in elementary except K-2. So many great memories, and Daniel was there for all of them.

For instance, my mom and John Brennan have both taken me to Egypt. It’s just that my mom was first.

The connection to Brennan is a scene from “Undaunted,” his autobiography. When he was young, he went to University of Cairo. Picturing John at like, 19 or 20 riding around the city high as hell on hashish and getting his ear pierced is just as much of a happy place as Beirut. I have John’s number. Invite him to Cairo, and leave an earring and some hash on the table. What I wouldn’t give to hear his stories, even ones I’ve already heard before, in his own patois.

My mom and dad went to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan when I was small. I have always wanted to walk the Bible like them, and was even more obsessed with the idea when Bruce Feiler published a book called “Walking the Bible,” an atheist’s journey. The ending is too rich to spoil, but he ends up Jewish (Beth dies, he was dead the whole movie, K has a daughter). They brought all kinds of cool stuff home, and then Mrs. Watson had to have her thyroid out.

Enter Carolyn Lanagan with all her cool Egyptian accessories.

Keep in mind this is a *substitute,* okkkkkkk. I have never seen anyone more dedicated to their job. Mrs. Watson was out for practically the whole year, and we didn’t watch a movie once. She ruined me for every sub ever. I never paid attention to any of them. I was a blogger even then, I just couldn’t type.

Though I can’t speak for them, I am sure most of my classmates will remember walking into the fifth grade hallway and seeing the lights dimmed, all the chairs arranged like the rows on an airplane, and the three fifth grade teachers handing out handmade American passports and *personalized* plane tickets. I probably also remember a little bit better than they do because of the time it took to create such a thing.

I am not sure, but I think my mother had a PC at home. I know I had an old one in my room, but I don’t remember whether she just used mine when she needed it. I know that Mrs. Watson had an Apple IIe, but I don’t think my mom used that one, either, because it wasn’t in her classrom. In any case, I was the computer person, so I made *some* of the stuff for her. It’s not like it was hard. It was Print Shop and a dot matrix. I can’t remember what banner it was, but it was something with a plane and a piece of paper that looked like a menu.

It was. The teachers took drink orders.

The cart came by as the lights dimmed and we “took off.” In front of us was a screen full of pictures from my mom and dad’s trip. I saw my mom picking out my souvenirs, and I knew they were mine because I already had them. That day I think I was even wearing my Coca-Cola spoof shirt, the one that said “Enjoy Torah.” We all felt good, literally on air. My mom was really good at that for kids.

It wasn’t until she put me in a terrible position that I started to hate her as much as everyone else who was hurting me, because she became one of them. She saw what was happening with my abuser, and that I was going to be coming out of the closet whether she wanted me to or not. When I was 13, she just gave up. She didn’t know what the fuck to do with a lesbian daughter, so me running to a narcissist was seemingly fine. She noticed, but it was too late. They had me.

Then, when I was 15, she heard me talking on the phone to a girl I was interested in at school. She told me that I would *not* talk on the phone like that, I would not cause my father to lose his job like that. I was terrified. I could cause my father to lose his job? What in the actual fuck are you talking about?

Hell wasn’t that she said it. Hell was knowing she was right.

Or, at least, her fears weren’t unfounded. In the United Methodist Discipline, it says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” I personally think that being a judgmental bastard of an organization is way more incompatible, but no one asked me. “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” What a crock of shit. They can’t even hear themselves out loud. They are also perfectly happy for you to attend church as long as you don’t want to get married or ordained or in my ittle 15-year-old mind, both. They’ll also thank you for putting money in the plate while denying you all of these things.

In my case, it’s an eyeroll and “you know we can see you, right?”

If I was still a Methodist and actually cared about the organization, I would have fought tooth and nail for equality. It is criminal how the Church has managed to mangle Jesus’ from “widen the net” into “the gate should have closed after I got in.” No one likes gatekeepers, particularly because no one is good enough to do the job…. which is to destroy the gate altogether.

It was in this righteous indignation that I stopped caring what anyone thought of me. I am one of the most empathic people I’ve ever met, along with every close friend or partner I’ve ever had say that I’m too intense for them at some point or another. It’s not that I don’t feel. I have to cut off my emotions to stay alive. Everything that is a weight on the world feels like it’s on me as well. I’m not egocentric, I was made for this….. sort of. It’s an INFJ’s lot in life.

For me, it’s A LOT in life. I don’t go a second of any day without feeling somone else’s pain. One person’s in particular is wound around me. Another person’s pain is so far inside me no one will ever find it. And then there’s the two women that ratcheted up my libido before it was supposed to be ready.

I was one person’s first choice. I was on deck for the other. One of them was at church. One of them was at school. Women to absolutely rearrange my insides whenever they felt like it. Sometimes it was being particular to me over my friend to ensure that it looked from the outside that she was objective while she was fucking my fourteen year old friend. Sometimes it was flirting that seemed innocent until after my reality cracked.

Neither woman was an island…. or at least, the one I loved wasn’t. She was watched meticulously. She met with my mother and agreed to stay away from me. It injured us both and lasted three days. Because, see, we needed each other… just in completely different ways.

Lopez is an island.

The one true sexual predator out of all of the abusers I’ve known. It wasn’t me, but it felt like it…. especially when said friend wanted to hide the fact that she was in this relationship and probably also thought that she needed to take care of The Leslie Problem in case I got designs on “her woman.”

She was a visual artist. She made up a postcard calling me a predator and saying that I was out to harass/rape/whateverthefuck all the straight girls and made copies. Put them in people’s lockers. Had a shitty picture of e on them and everything. I mean, if you’re going to go to the hassle of making a poster that shits all over me, at least include a picture that actually looks decent.

That is how I eventually turned into an island. I shut down. It just took about 25 years. I didn’t know how fucked up my humor reflexes were until I got called out by three straight women that I love to the ends of this earth, and I blew it. The worst part was only realizing it in retrospect, because I lost all three friendships at the same time.

I am only now being networked again at my own hand. I haven’t had enough strength. I disappeared into myself for every reason imaginable. It’s nice to have a close mom friend, because I don’t have a mom. She’s not my replacement for her, just the one I go to when I have those sorts of issues. It was actually pretty funny, when I asked her if she could answer those mom questions, she said sure…. as long as I didn’t expect her to answer the same way that my own mother would have.

I choked a bit and said, “I think of you and my mother being alike in the same way that Tom Brady and I are both 43.” I have grown since then, I am 45. So has she. Before, she identified as a mom. Now she identifies as a dragon. Or a wolverine. She alternates, but whatever it is, it will eat your face off either way. The fire, teeth, and claws aren’t for me. They’re for anyone who dares try to hurt me. There are several people who I know would be under her pool if need be, but even though she’s a beast, she’s on a leash.

It’s the kind of love that makes me fight for my baby girl just as hard. We’re not blood, we’re queer. This is how we avoid the institutional pain of isolation. I adopted Cora so that I wouldn’t be an island, and neither would she.

Karen

My conversations with Daniel in preparing content are tough shit, and I am so glad that I’m a blogger because of it. When I go all up in my feelings, I have a place to express them without having to think about what he’s going to think when he reads the entry. It’s a mixture of fear and excitement, because if you get PTSD from combat, those are generally the only two emotions in a story.

And then there are things that make me bleed out, like telling Daniel why I have PTSD and Daniel explaining to me why mine was so much worse than his…… Daniel’s enemies were clearly defined. Mine were turncoats, both of them, at a time when I was too little to know that wasn’t okay and took it on as all my fault.

One of the things that’s so different with our two cases of PTSD is that I cannot define triggers before they happen. I’m fine one minute, and inconsolable the next. He actually has enough self awareness to say that he doesn’t like the sound of popping popcorn, because “that’s what M4s sound like when you put them on fully automatic.” He can do something that at this point, I cannot. He can tell me what his triggers are, and I can avoid them. I have tried to quantify what a trigger means to me for nine years, and I haven’t really come up with a good solution.

The biggest trigger I have is smell. Whether it’s my abuser’s old perfume, or the air smells just the way it did when I was standing there with that journal, asking what certain things meant. I think that is true for all trauma, the way the smell of the smoke in our recent house fire took me back to the one my family had when I was 11.

Music doesn’t bother me, generally, but there are a few choir pieces and opera arias that I have put away. If I’m in a church choir that is doing one of the pieces that for me, acts as a trigger, I don’t sing that day. I don’t even go to rehearsals that contain it.

One of the things that I’ve done for the last probably, ten years that I refuse to do now is minimize. Everything that has happened to me is now being given its full meaning and weight. I am no longer trying to make it look lesser than, that things weren’t as bad as I thought. In order to know how bad it was, you cannot just know my side of the story. You have to know the life story of the woman who emotionally abused me as well, and how that pathology affected me. I can only tell my story and a teeny, tiny part of hers. There’s so much more you will never find on this web site that you would find if you looked in other areas. For instance, none of our mutual friends except Dana has ever talked to my dad about what I was like as a teenager.

I can think of a few more I’d like to have him school. Some because I still don’t understand their reactions, some because I just want my people to know who I really am without pretense or bullshit.

I am coming into my power. I am 45 years old. Either this year or within a few years half of my life will be over, using my 92 year old grandfather as an example. A whole lot of shit I used to care about doesn’t even exist now in terms of my focus.

Like getting all upset because Daniel is in love with me and I know it. He has been for 36 years. Let me get this straight. A military doctor wants to be with me, and he’s telling me up front that he’s an alcoholic and has PTSD and is going to rehab to change himself and just wants another writer to lie next to in bed with both our laptops going…… and I’m going to freak out because he’s male and not female? I got this picture in my head of Jonna and Tony Mendez writing “The Moscow Rules” on a king-sized bed and thought, “why not?”

Here’s why I didn’t freak out, and it’s all my trans friends’ fault (I’m really grateful and I’m teasing). I realized that there was just enough man in me to be absolutely terrified that a straight dude wouldn’t like me AS A PARTNER. Straight dudes love me in general. Instead of thinking of myself as a bisexual woman, I had to game this relationship out as a trans man. This is because I knew that Daniel had never been in a gay relationship before, and so his reaction to my gender identity would never be negative, he just might be confused. I needed him to know that I express as male sometimes, and that has to be okay with him. Luckily, it very much is.

But this is just the beginning of a very, very long story. Please do not think that I have lost my fucking mind. Daniel doesn’t start rehab until January 5th. He lives in NE Texas. There is no possible way we will even see each other until his rehab is over, and that could take up to a few months. We’re talking about living separately for at least a year, because if he moves to DC we might screw ourselves over by skipping dating and just moving in. It wouldn’t be a deliberate screwover- DC is expensive and it might seem tempting to have one household “since we want to be together, anyway….” Eyeroll………

My perfect picture of Daniel and me is that we visit each other a few times in 2023, and then think seriously about stability after 2023 is over. This does not mean that we won’t be in contact at all, just not physically sharing the same space. Rediscovering each other through calls and letters for a year before going all in.

I am also not saying that Daniel is my forever person. I am saying that he’s one of them. Maybe it will be this fairy tale in which I suddenly transform into the perfect heterosexual wife. However, my money is not on that. My money is on Daniel becoming so important to me that he becomes a priority, and it is too damn early in our relationship to put constraints on what that actually looks like. Just be happy for me that I have someone that loves me and is in my corner. That if I get into a Situation, it’s handled. Don’t look into the future and try to pigeonhole us as friends or married. Let us decide that over the next few years on our own.

I am turning a corner in my sexuality. I am less sure about my gender than I ever have been, which has made me flexible about everything else. I was telling my friend Zac that I was feeling very non-binary, without the need to come out or change pronouns. How that plays out in my relationship with Daniel is that I feel like a partner, not the archetype one sees in their minds eye of a “wife.”

I have also been a wife before, but not to a man. My definition of “wife” comes from that context, and I don’t know enough about men to know whether my definition and theirs is similar. My saving grace is that Daniel is attracted to my personality. I don’t think he would have been attracted to me if I was male on the outside, because sexual orientation is a thing. But what I do know is that if I look at myself in the completely genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary but doesn’t give a crap about pronouns kind of way, Daniel still loves that person.

I’m not becoming less. He’s becoming more. He’s opening himself up to the possibility of not being with the picture and definition of “woman” he’s always known.

It took me back a bit. All of the sudden, someone from my past reappeared, and I want to talk to her “privately.”

Dear Karen,

I remember the first time I saw you like it was yesterday. We were out in the sun at Chuy’s on Westheimer, and I was completely suckered in by your preppy attire. I mean obviously, my wife teased me about seeing you and running into a door for like four years. What might have seemed schoolgirlish actually made me relax and find peace within myself. You were the first woman I’d ever met who identified as straight and also wore men’s clothes without making it a big deal. Nine times out of ten, it was men’s styles in a women’s cut. Every time I looked at you, I saw a little more of who I wanted to be on the outside. I saw a style that fit me on someone else.

You might think it’s because I thought you looked like a lesbian. Actually, that’s not it at all. I saw the way your husband looked at you and realized that I was putting too much emphasis on my clothes. That what I wore wasn’t advertising anything. That if a straight woman could out butch me any day of the week, then wear whatever I want. Nothing about my wardrobe says that I am seeking attention from men or women.

I know this because now I’m divorced, it’s eight years later, and now a man wants to be with me. I said yes. I said yes because I looked at you on that warm April day, and knew that he would love me no matter what. I saw a style that fit me on someone else.

Best,
Leslie

Body Issues

I have so many issues with food, and they’ve changed over decades. When I was young, I agreed with the people who said I was fat at 130 and used my mother’s Phen-Phen. It didn’t really work, but the placebo effect was massive. I was doing something. I was taking a pill to control my weight… but I was not my sister, who became a champion at running around the block instead of my lazy ass.

I was trying to be funny and I even offended myself. I am the furthest emotion from lazy there is. I’m laden. That’s different. There’s too much in my head that bounces around like sub-atomic particles. If I am lucky, one of them will turn into a picture, and I can branch out on WordPress from there.

In addition to having several creative projects I want to develop, as an INFJ I have the tendency to take on everyone else’s emotions as well. This is why I talk about being a hermit and only pubilshing. I can’t focus on both of us. You have to take a back seat to me at some point…. the one problem with binging is that people will watch several years worth of work in one night and demand more. Think about what you’re putting on all those creatives to do. While stars are certainly paid what they’re worth for the work, it’s still an enormous red flag to work under those kinds of demands. “You suck because I watched this on the toilet for four weeks and the next season isn’t coming out for two years.” How long do you think an episode of The Simpsons or whatever takes to finish? How much pressure there is to even do their jobs, much less take on an academic “publish or perish” quality to keep people from splitting apart over not knowing who slept with whom.

Screw money at that point. When do you spend it?

My guess is that a huge part of it goes into looking like a celebrity. I don’t have a problem with this. I love gowns and tuxes, as well as pictures of actors and models in magazines. Looking like a star takes actual work, as important to actresses as it was to Jackie Kennedy. In my opinion, Jackie Kennedy was American royalty and Oprah has taken her place. It’s the same personality, though. Shy and quiet covered up by HUGE bravado as to not really let anyone in. I also agree with this. It’s what would happen to me if I became more popular than I am now. I would not let people except those close to me have an opinion. I would rather project confidence and not let ANYONE rattle me. Getting upset and miserable over something I’m working through by writing about it gives me comfort. I’m not here to impress anyone, obviously. I’ve said it in a hundred different ways.

Therefore, other people (strangers) cannot matter to me. If I take it in, I am finished. My ego will get too big, and the confidence I project will become braggadocio. If it seems like bragging already, it’s generally the most obnoxious when I’m borderline suicidal. It’s a coping mechanism, you see? Suicidal ideation is not a problem. Most depressed people have it. The alarm bells for my hospitalization was not the simple thought of “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I was halfway to SpongeBob HeadStone before I realized that I needed to get help (quickly). If it gets that bad, I also don’t want to die and I won’t do it because I have been given enough coping mechanisms (like giving myself permission to go to the ER, that mental health matters). Moreover, when I feel the worst about myself, it’s because I’ve hurt someone and I can’t recover from it, because I’m so empathic that it destroys me to feel pain I’ve caused, even unintentionally.

When I was 14, killing myself was about protecting my abuser.

When I was 36, it was about learning that I couldn’t separate the wheat from the chaff, and I would always be Just. Like. Her. I can’t get away from my own voice, my own signature, my own stories that include her.

It broke me, and I deserve a medal for getting back up afterwards. I was truly down for the count, because I realized there was literally nothing I could do but learn to live with it. It’s an out of body sensation when something comes out of my mouth in her voice, even worse when it’s her actual words coming out of my mouth because I sound like my mother, only the totally fucked up one.

When I realized at 14 that my life was going to be different from others, that not only was I gay but I was in love with someone 11 years older than me, I panicked. I knew that whatever information my abuser had slipped me had aged me in a way I would not have chosen. My body issues intensified because I wanted her to think I was pretty….. to the point that I freaked my actual mother out. My abuser was coming to our church for a concert after she’d already moved away, and I was beside myself…. the first day with anger, the second day with tears and frustration. But the tears were not over her. They were over me.

The first day was her rehearsal. It was just a lazy afternoon, and it was one week before my 16th birthday. She’d asked me to meet her up at the church so we could hug and exclaim over each other in private (not romantic…. for her). My mom said, “I should let you drive so you can impress Diane.” I think that is the first time I’ve ever blushed so hard I turned purple…. until she said, “don’t you want to change? You usually dress up for her.”

That is when I knew my mother had the potential to murder me by accident.

Just slaughter me with words.

You mean I don’t look good enough?

Editor’s Note: I reread this, and I laughed so hard there were tears and snot rolling down my face. I wondered what in the hell got into my mother that she was so uptight about me being gay and yet vocal that I WASN’T DOING IT RIGHT, LESLIE. Tough room.

The next morning was church. I woke up nervous. I spent like an hour in the shower. I dried my hair, and plugged in my curling iron (that was all Texas girls back then, shut it). I don’t remember exactly what happened because I went into a blind rage, but my hair didn’t turn out right.

That was the moment I had my first panic attack. Blind rage leads to hyperventilating on the floor, and I just put it together that the only times I’ve hyperventilated were getting ready for that concert and after Dana hit me. But the thing with my abuser was supposed to be sweet……………

Why couldn’t I breathe? Why couldn’t I get air in my chest? Why did I feel fat, ugly, and unwanted?

Because I realized that the relationship was not on the up and up, and I loved that shit. Yes, let’s go into this deep, dark hole where we tell each other all our secrets, which at 14 and 25, were totally the same. It checks out. F me running. In retrospect it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, SECONDED by my mother dying. This is because my mother’s death affected her way more than it affected me…. and in any case, I have 45 years of pure, white mother love memories of the woman that birthed me.

There were times in which I didn’t feel abused. What drove me away was inconsistency. I never knew which woman was going to show up. Sometimes, she was the warmest ever. Sometimes, it seemed as if we had no history at all. And all of this was while we lived three minutes from each other. Come on. If you can’t solve a problem with someone who lives three minutes away, who can you? We could have looked at everything from every angle without a commute. But she didn’t want that. She wanted to turn away and go on to fuck up older people. Teenagers were just shooting fish in a barrel. And yes, for people who know her, I do feel that strongly about her pathology. Don’t test me on it. I will never speak to you again. Ever.

There’s a reason why I am so protective of not saying who it was again. I would scream it from the rooftops if I thought it would do more good for the world without killing me. Saying her full name gives it power, not when it’s published. When it’s in my head. It has fucked me up that I don’t want to change the name my mother gave me and I hate it so much. She already has a Google tattoo from years and years ago. There’s no way she will ever get away from this story, and I am appreciative of her always for one thing and one thing only. She let me tell my story.

Exactly the way I wanted to tell it.

It’s nine years later, after the end of a 23 year relationship in which we did very little but talk about growing up gay and what it would look like from here on out. It sounds completely innocent until I tell you that her college journal that was my 14th birthday present was love poems to another woman that didn’t leave ANYTHING out. Had I been even 17, this wouldn’t have been an issue. But I wasn’t ready. Full stop.

Anyone who looks at me with wide-eyed wonder and tells me she didn’t know exactly what she was doing in that moment can fuck all the way off, and yes, I will be that angry, and yes, I do in fact know that there is a very well respected reader of this web site who will stand up and cheer when she reads this. She will look at my incredible strength in body and mind and tell me she is so proud of me and that this entry will help a lot of people to look at their own childhoods. So, whenever you think this web site is all about me, it’s not. It’s for her and all the other little girls that come to me and say they were hurt by something I said because it triggered a bad memory.

For the women who didn’t write me and tell me they were abused and looking at each other, it wasn’t any of you…. that I know of.

I’m not the only one who can see through mud in this situation, and that’s what saved my life when I was 36. You all gathered around me and safety netted me until I could breathe again.

I would do it for any one if you if I knew you were in trouble. It’s just that no one tells me anything. There’s a reason for that, mostly that I’m a writer. But at the same time, you (plural) can’t jump all over my ass for not responding to something I didn’t know . If you needed help and you didn’t tell me, how am I supposed to know I don’t need to be at my house, I need to be at yours?

So, when I know there’s a problem somewhere in the world…. Let’s pick a random country like India, because I have quite a few fans there (thanks, India. You rock.). If an Indian person contacts me and says they’ve been abused, I only have one answer at that point. They’re across the world. I can listen over the Internet.

It’s not the same as sharing space with someone. I can’t touch them, I can’t reassure them with a hand squeeze or an arm around their shoulder while they cry.

After a while, it all just becomes body issues.

Julie & Julia

I absolutely fell apart last night, because for the first time in legit years all I could do was cry and miss Dana…. just inconsolable that she wasn’t holding me while I cried. This is because when I heard the news that Julie Powell, of Julie & Julia fame, had died, I folded into myself with memories.

That movie never fails to bring me to tears. Watching Meryl Streep cut onions while studying for culinary school always reminds me of my curly haired spitfire, a description that one of my friends gave her and will stick for the rest of my life.

Yes, we are broken up. No, I am not confused. I have a good memory, that’s all. When I’m not thinking about it, she’s out of sight, out of mind. But we all have our triggers, don’t we? And some of them are actually sweet rather than terrifying. So if anyone, friends or potential new girlfriends, has a problem with me having memories, good luck and God bless. I’m sure you can find a woman somewhere without memories, but I’m sure she’ll also have other symptoms from getting hit on the head that hard. Bless your heart.

I would be a total narcissist if I didn’t realize that I was at fault as much as anyone else in the world is responsible for a breakup, try to learn from my mistakes, and move on completely. Luckily, I know I’m not a total narcissist because that’s exactly what I’ve done. Believe me, if I hadn’t, I doubt I would have many (if any) sweet triggers left.

Also, I think it’s important to reconcile your past because then you stop torturing yourself over it. When I look back on Dana, 80% of the time it’s to laugh and smile about a memory. It’s not like I don’t have negative triggers, there’s just so many fewer than there used to be with the passage of time. I can honestly say that we were amazing right up until we weren’t, and those communication issues went back far longer than I originally assumed. My teenage crushy, blushing feelings for someone of the opposite orientation were a reaction to something both in me and that Dana triggered at the same time. My reaction was my own, I have no bones about that. She didn’t “make me do” anything. I’m just saying that I reacted poorly to stimuli I didn’t realize was there. Does that make sense?

I thought I would start writing incessantly about her as time wore on, because I’d have some perspective on our relationship and could dive deep into the wreck. It has always been an assumption on this web site that I am leading from the back, laying out all my fears, experiences, and dreams for the future in hopes of helping someone else.

Here’s what I didn’t count on. The wreck is as much of a mess as old necklaces stuck in a drawer and somehow over the last 20 years they’ve knotted, attracted dust, and probably have gum on them and smell like old purse. Diving into it takes so much out of me that I don’t have any stomach for it. Maybe I’ll never write about it, maybe I need another 20 years. What I do know is that I lost the love of my life so far. It’s been a blessing to know I am capable of eventually having another.

Then the 20% becomes the 80% and I don’t like who I become thinking about that much trauma happening in that little time. Two years of awful destroyed some five years and change of wonderful. Only thinking about those five years is akin to loving The West Wing right up until Aaron left.

The changes in my personal life were just as dramatic, but they evened out. Maybe Aaron Sorkin writing my life was just a little too dramatic for me. Maybe Amy Sherman Palladino will call. Great writer, and she seems to be connected umbilically to Alex Borstein, so she’ll be in my TV show and I will pay Amy extra every time she gives me a kissing scene with Alex. Seth McFarlane and Seth McFarlane could play our next door neighbors if it was animated. I would love to have a weekly show on free television that stars Seth MacFarlane as a gay couple. I’m dying laughing just thinking about it.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I slowly slide back into humor, leaving the wreck untouched. We are picking chesterberries, we are running a kitchen, we are sitting outside by the fire in various states of sobriety. Drunken trivia nights where winning was dependent on who could remember the answer. Going to pub trivia and deciding that our team name should be an ellipsis and a sentence, so that when we won, it would be stuf like “And the winners tonight are….under investigation by the FBI.” Days spent working on Katrina’s yard together, or running “our kitchen.”

Phillip Hunker and Outpost were talking about living your dreams in “Grind” by saying “stop trading five days for two, and do with your love what you’re supposed to do.” It works the same way in reverse. I will never stop trading my two for five with Dana. I’m working on the other thing.

It’s what I think about when I’ve been inconsolable and crying.

She’s Come Undone -or- “Life as a SCIF”

When I was a senior in high school, She’s Come Undone was the title of a novel in Oprah’s Book Club. Back then, you could write an essay in order to appear on the show when they talked about the book. My essay made the short list, and I talked to a producer from The Oprah Winfrey Show for about 45 minutes after school one day. You could have knocked me over with a feather, because I thought I was being Punk’d. The essay was all about looking at the book through the lens of being gay, because while the book was about an overweight, white, straight woman, the struggle boiled down to what we would now call “#me #same.” No one ever called me to tell me I didn’t get the gig, so I waited with baited breath until the show aired….. and every single person they picked was an overweight, white, straight woman. There might have been one POC (well, two counting Oprah) but if there was, I didn’t notice. What I did notice is that my rejection wasn’t personal. I just didn’t fit their aesthetic.

However, that’s not what this entry is about. It’s about this morning, and how the title absolutely fit me like a glove. I was moments away from being slumped over on the kitchen floor thinking I was going to die from an anxiety attack.

I was making pancakes and listening to the Fresh Air episode where Terry Gross interviews Cynthia Erivo. Erivo is a UK citizen whose parents immigrated from Nigeria. She was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and right now is playing Aretha Franklin on Hulu (can’t remember the title). So, not only is she a classically trained singer, she can switch hit into traditional gospel. That’s unusual only because each has a different set of habits with breath control and phrasing that conflict with each other. Oh, and she also went to RADA (Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts). I made a beeline for the podcast episode because I learned about her when she played fellow Marylander Harriet Tubman. Therefore, I was just excited about listening to her talk and sing. I did not expect what was coming, which was probably most of the reason I had a full-on panic attack. Speaking of which, I haven’t taken my anxiety medication this morning.

Hold please.

A quick note about anxiety medication. Medication does not stop the anxiety itself, but the physical reaction to it… meaning you still feel all the emotions, but you don’t get shortness of breath and heart/brain race. Meaning you’re still in hell, you’re just not hyperventilating over it.

If you think that I am delaying getting to the actual point, boy are you right. This entry digs deep into my past, the period of age 12 to 36. If you are in my inner circle, I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. Overall, I’m better, but there are still huge, huge triggers from which I will never, ever recover. There are sights, sounds, and smells that transport me right back to that place where I feel like a hurt little girl, particularly music. And I was listening to a podcast with a musician, a soprano, in fact.

About seven years ago, I posted a recording of me singing John Rutter’s “The Lord is My Shepard” movement from his “Requiem” on my SoundCloud account. But few people know it’s not the only movement I’ve ever sung. I’m not sure exactly what year it was, but I sang the “Pie Jesu” movement with a community orchestra in Portland, Oregon. I was so good that even I thought so, and that’s unusual. However, the recording of it was a super unusual video format, and I never had it converted. I think Dana (my then best friend, later wife, now ex) might have the original, but I don’t know and I really, really don’t want to hear it now. This is because at the dress rehearsal, the woman who abused me most of my life stood up in front of the entire choir and orchestra and told them that she’d known me since I was 12, and that hearing me sing today was akin to watching her little girl grow up. Everyone was touched by her tears and fake sincerity, because most of the time I couldn’t even get her on the phone. She would tell everyone (including me) that we were family, but her actions never matched up to her words, thus the conundrum I live with.

Pie Jesu is one of the most famous soprano solos in the world, so the best memory of it for me is that one of my best friends called my mom in Houston during the dress rehearsal and held up her phone so that my mother could hear me, and I made her cry (in a good way) from 1800 miles away. Because my mother was a church musician herself, she could never make it to my solos, and I am quite sure that she didn’t know how hard I’d been working on my vocal technique. I had finally gotten to the place where high notes came from deep within me and felt like flying over the mountains. My mother getting to experience that with me is something I will never forget. For my Bridgeport people, the friend who held up her phone was Karen Miller, who has my eternal thanks. My mother is dead now, which makes this memory even more special now.

And now we’ve arrived at the worst part, which is only the worst part in retrospect because back then, I was totally sucked into a relationship that didn’t exist. It was all in my head by design, and the person who designed it just happened to be my choir director, and the person who gave me that solo in the first place.

Clearly, there were genuine moments, but on the whole, “there was no there there.” It started, like I said, when I was 12 years old, and ended for good when I was 36. I was totally and completely obsessed with trying to figure out why this relationship made me feel so good and so bad at the same time. I couldn’t let it go, because when it was good, I felt like I was a truly important person, sunlight raining down on me. When I was in shadow, I felt utterly and entirely worthless.

Again, that was all by design. It’s what abusers do, whether it’s physical or emotional. I didn’t realize until I was 36 that I had been lovebombed into submission, and once that had taken place, anything could be done to me. Good or bad, right or wrong. Nothing was ever her fault. I was wholly responsible for whether the relationship was thriving or not. Some abusers are so good they can make it happen with fully functioning adults, but it’s easier to get them in childhood, because they don’t know any better. Our first conversation was between the summer of my sixth and seventh grade. It happened so fast that my head spun, and people who knew me at that time in my life were all concerned. All of them. Everyone but me suspected that I was being molested, but I wasn’t. It’s just that people who are being emotionally or sexually abused react in much the same way….. to the point that my dad asked Dana if I’d told her that I was being sexually abused, and had been lying about it to everyone else for the last 20-odd years.

Again, it is 100% true that I was never sexually abused. Not once. But having someone fuck with your head is equally traumatic, and in one way, and one way only, worse. That one way is that there is no clear dividing line that you can point to and say “this is where something wrong occurred.” Everything is gray area, where it could have been genuine friendship or it could have been grooming. I never knew, and I will never know. Until I take my last breath, I will be dealing with this on my own, because there has been no indication that I will ever get resolution or an apology externally. All of my validation, all of my forgiveness, has to come from me. I have forgiven her for two reasons. The first is that I was emotionally abused by a sexually abused person who was barely out of college at the time. As a 36 year old person, I was able to see how young that was, relatively speaking. The second is that forgiving her was a lot easier than carrying around all my anger and frustration.

That being said, I am almost finished forgiving myself, but I’m still not there yet. It’s not a matter of knowing whether I had culpability or not. It’s that I still haven’t put down the axiom that I was a really bright kid, made smarter by books and life experience. How in the hell did it take me so long to start processing everything? Seeing my experiences with unclouded eyes? Having someone that wasn’t close to the situation look at the facts and call it rather than being able to figure it out on my own? I haven’t forgiven myself because I just, in this one area, feel so incredibly stupid.

The cognitive dissonance truly began after we stopped seeing each other in person the first time around. During the summer between my eighth and ninth grade years, she moved to a city about four hours away. That meant letters, and in those days, extremely expensive phone calls. EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE.

And then, when I was a junior in high school, she moved even further away, to Portland, Oregon. She encouraged me to move out there to get out of the Bible Belt, and I eventually did after visiting for several summers in a row to make sure I liked it.

The thing was, though, she could keep up the lovebombing for a week or two at a time. Living there was a new level of twisted.

I should back up far enough to say that it’s not that the abuse began when I was an adult. By the time I moved to Portland, she had already handed me enough adult information to blow my little girl mind to bits. I didn’t fit in with my friends anymore, because they were interested in boys their own age, makeup, school, etc. Even being around people my own age was irritating, because I couldn’t talk about what was happening with me to them. Even then, I knew that to share my secrets with them would age them further than they needed to be, so I was in the position of having to protect them from me.

For instance, what healthy adult do you know uses a child to verbally process things like “my partner is an alcoholic and deals weed?” “I’m afraid for my job, both because they’ll fire me if they found out I was gay OR if they found out my partner was in possession of an entire pound of weed and kept it in our house?” I actually needed to know about the “getting fired because you’re gay” thing because I could cross “teacher” off my list of career options, but everything else was just cruel. I call it “cruel” because not only could I not process my emotions with my friends, our dance of intimacy revolved around her telling me things that were inappropriate for my age and then taking away my ability to talk to her about them, so I couldn’t process anything anywhere. I just had to carry around this horrible shit for years on end.

The huge “she’s come undone” came from a likely source… someone who for all practical intents and purposes didn’t know me or the situation at all. Why is that likely? I never would have believed something was amiss unless someone was reading the situation blind. We had very few friends who weren’t mutual, so the person I was talking to was only looking at facts, not invested in anyone in the situation except me. Everyone needs that friend, and if you don’t have him/her, where you’re having a problem with someone in your friend group so tight you don’t have an objective eye, get a therapist. Free advice from me to you. Free.

So, when this friend started unpacking everything I was telling her, I saw things in a different light and I just started vomiting emotions all over the place. For the first time, I could see all the way down into the core of my personality, because I couldn’t remember a whole lot of my childhood before the emotional abuse happened.

I finally got smart enough to get myself to a hospital so that I could have both medication checks and a cohort for intensive group therapy every day. I think the hospitalization only lasted three or three and a half days, but it was enough to get me started on the right track. However, I went another two years without a therapist because I had two therapy experiences that went sour almost immediately.

Therapist number one told me in my evaluation that I wouldn’t be able to work this out in a short period of time, that I would probably need continual therapy for five to ten years in order to truly be healed, and she felt she was too old to take me on. Her words wrestled me to the ground, because I was caught between her saying (in not so many words) “man, you are way too fucked up for me to help you” and grateful that she was honest with me about what it would take.

Therapist number two and I had a successful intake evaluation, and then after our second session, I never went back. This is because she said that I was so interesting she was telling all her therapist friends and patients about me. Ok, I get it. You need to unwind. But for the love of God, don’t tell me about it. Also, I get telling all your colleagues about interesting cases. If I was a doctor or a therapist, I’d do the same thing. But other patients? Are you kidding me?

So, after having been through all of this and still dealing with it occasionally when triggered, I was in front of the stove and had ADHD mind-blanked for a second (there’s a window in the kitchen…. “Danger, Will Robinson…) when Cynthia Erivo’s voice cut through the fog, singing an absolutely gorgeous a capella rendition of “Pie Jesu” from the Rutter “Requiem.” I was in awe of her voice and doubled over in pain. Like I said earlier, I hadn’t taken my anxiety medication, so the trigger went off like a bomb. When I say I was in pain, I mean emotionally and physically. I couldn’t breathe, my head was pounding, I got nauseous, and since I was doubled over, I couldn’t reach my phone to hit “pause.” So, not only was there the initial impact, little pieces of shrapnel bounced off the walls and headed straight back into my skin.

Again, I would have felt the emotional trigger even if I’d taken my anxiety medication before the podcast began, but I think that without the physical component, I would have been able to handle myself a lot better than I actually did.

My first reaction was to remember that I was not the only one in the world who wrestled with demons. I have been putting off watching the documentary about Anthony Bourdain, Roadrunner, since it came out because I just wasn’t ready to feel that vulnerable. But as soon as I recovered physically and finished cooking, I bought a digital copy so that it could sit in my library. I might watch it tonight so that I can get some of my emotions out, because it takes a lot to make me cry. As the old saying goes, “what do you do to vent your emotions?” “You’re supposed to vent them?” Most of the time, I walk through life as a SCIF, generally only choosing to have one or two close friends at a time, because sharing my life with more people than that seems frightening. I am positive that this entire mess is a component to why I don’t date.

There’s no one big, huge red flag for me and dating. It’s about fifty tiny ones that add up. For instance, my exes have all known about the abuse I suffered, and have met that person on several occasions. Thinking about having to retell that story outside my writing is enormously unsettling. I can hear you from there….. “why not just move on and leave that story out of your life now?” That’s easy. If there’s a trigger and a physical reaction, those don’t come out of nowhere, and I am done covering up the truth. DONE. One of the reasons my emotional abuse was so “successful” is that I was never told to keep my mouth shut, it just seemed like the information being shared was intimate and to share it was to betray a confidence. I should have told a lot of things, but I didn’t want to seem untrustworthy…. to her…. I lied my ass off to everyone around me because I had to protect the trail. “You always have to think about the trail.” For me, that was my eighth grade history teacher (who is now dead) was friends with this person’s surrogate parents, so there was no way in hell that I was going to tell someone who suspected that I was being abused who, what, and how. For the longest time, she suspected that I was being abused at home, but she didn’t tell me that until I was in my 30s. It wasn’t that she had any proof, it’s that when kids are being abused, the first and most likely suspects are someone in the kid’s family.

I thought I had made family of choice, and in some ways I did, which is what kept me in the relationship for so long. But too much came out from other people. For instance, to me she was saying “I want you to come to Portland and live with me for college, because you need to get out of Texas.” To her partner, she said (and I’m paraphrasing) “this kid has been obsessed with me since she was 12 and I thought that when she was 18, she would just go away.” When I first moved to Portland, some of her friends tried to get into a pissing match with me over who knew her better. I didn’t want to play, and I said as much, because even then I realized that they knew way more about her present, and they didn’t know jack shit about her past. I told her about this conversation, and then months later her partner got mad at me for something or another and said that she was tired of me getting into pissing matches with all their friends because it was just creating a problem that didn’t exist. As in, the conversation that I had with her and the conversation I had with her partner were completely opposite because she’d tried to make me look bad. And here was the kicker, the thing that made me so mad that I went nuclear inside my own head, when I should have gone and screamed in her face.

I had a friend with a 12 year old daughter. Well, I still have the friend, but the daughter is much older now. 😛 Anywho, I became friends appropriately with the daughter, the kind of friendship that an adult is supposed to have with a kid. When we hung out, I told her mom what we’d done, and most of what she said unless the kid asked me to keep a secret. And I wouldn’t have kept any secrets that were dangerous. All of the secrets I kept were classic “basic tween” problems, as well as helping her with her homework (the subjects I could manage, anyway….). Once or twice, her mom asked me to keep an eye out while she wasn’t home, because the kid was old enough not to need a babysitter, but too young to be the only one home if something egregious happened. And let’s go back to the keeping “basic tween secrets” part. What I’ve learned over time is that sometimes people need a sounding board, especially kids, because they don’t know whether they can talk to their parents about said problem or not. You’re just that adult in their lives they can open up to, and if you steer the conversation toward talking to their moms and dads, nine times out of 10, they totally will. You just have to prove to them that their parents aren’t as lame as advertised. I’ve been babysitting on some level since Lindsay, my little sister (five and a half years younger) was born, so I am very, very good with kids…. and I didn’t doubt myself on this until……..

My so-called friend called up the parent of the 12 year old and said she thought our relationship was predatory. That was before I was taking anti-anxiety medication, and I had a panic attack so severe it was like the ones you see on hospital television shows where the patient thinks they’re having a heart attack and dying. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because it wasn’t like my friend came to me first and asked me what was actually going on. She went to the parent first, and I was confronted. Luckily, it wasn’t an angry one, and the three of us stayed intact as per our normal. But you don’t get suspected of being “predatory” and get over it. After so many years to think about it, I’ve realized that even my so-called friend knew I wasn’t being predatory. She was just trying to meddle.

Because she did what most emotional abusers do. She wanted to be the center of my universe, but she also didn’t want anyone to know that. It was a constant battle of “I don’t want you, but no one else can have you, either.” She hit her limit when I married Dana without telling her first. God knows why I felt I had to keep it close, especially because at the time we were closer than I was to my mother and father (but only because of proximity). I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it because I wasn’t doing it for religious reasons. I was doing it because my entire family lived in Texas, save for one uncle who lived in Arkansas and worked in Alaska. Her parents lived in Virginia, and even though her sister was in California, she was still a 10-12 hour drive from us. We needed to be next-of-kin as immediately as possible, because we both realized that in the absence of family, we each wanted our best friend to make those decisions. And back then, it wasn’t federal marriage. It was an Oregon domestic partnership, so if we left the state, we would give up all our rights.

This is not to say that I didn’t want to have a religious ceremony or that I only married Dana for emergency reasons. I had never loved anyone more before or since. She was the other half of my heart and brain. For a long time after we parted, I had phantom limb syndrome. Pain filled all the places I was empty. I can’t remember how and when my so-called friend found out, but it led to her sobbing in the middle of a sushi restaurant…. and I suppose that is as vulnerable as I’ve ever seen her, the biggest indication that it wasn’t all bullshit….. but it wasn’t all on the up and up, either. In retrospect, it seemed way more about her than it was about me. She wanted to give me away. She wanted to sing at my wedding. In short, she wanted to pull the exact same act she pulled when she got up in front of the choir and orchestra and gave her touching little speech…. to make other people believe the story she was telling herself.

I could also tell that she didn’t think Dana was good enough for me, because what she saw was someone who worked in a grocery store, not a Cordon Bleu trained chef and someone with a Bachelor’s in technical theater who could run circles around Shakespearean scholars. She had direction. I had distraction. Also, she was, and I imagine still is, much nicer than I am. If anything, I wasn’t good enough for her, and if my so-called friend really wanted to screw me to the wall, that’s what she would have said, because I would have had an easy time believing it. I was lucky enough in that moment to see through mud. And even though our approaches to life were extraordinarily different, in other ways, we were exactly the same. For instance, I can’t speak to who Dana is now, because we haven’t spoken in so long, but back then we were both extreme introverts. I liked to spend my time alone, Dana liked to cover up her introversion with a mask, one so good Jonna Mendez could have made it. I called that part of her “The Dana Lanagan Show.” I knew that much to be true because growing up as a preacher’s kid, I was “The Leslie Lanagan Show.” Like recognizes like. It’s just by that point, I had been away from the church in the capacity of preacher’s kid for long enough that the mask had melted. I couldn’t make it fit, and I stopped trying…. for better or for worse. Therefore, I didn’t just know Dana, I could feel her, the essence of a Robert Heinlein “grok.”

This is not to say that I will never find that kind of love again, only that it hasn’t happened- mostly due to the fact that I haven’t put myself in any situations to meet someone. I still have a lot of processing to do, because as Sandra Cisneros has said, it takes about 10 years before you can make yourself the protagonist in a story, because you have to be able to see that time in your life as happening to a different person.

Editor’s Note: I’m lying. I did once, but it was too soon. It was maybe six months after I moved to DC, maybe eight or nine months after the breakup, and she was so incredibly amazing that I knew I’d become completely enamored quickly- and that the timing would undo any changes I was trying to make within myself. I would get that dopamine hit of the newly “in like” and put off resolving my grief and responsibility as to the relationship’s end. I didn’t want to drag old patterns into a new relationship, and it hurt to run away, but that’s exactly what I did. The lesson I did take from that experience, though, is that my lust for life wasn’t dead, and eventually the timing would be right to be in a relationship again….. but that wasn’t it.

The one good thing about figuring it all out was that I did it before my mother died. She got the resolution and relief she needed, because she’d felt something was off all those years, but couldn’t prove it because I was such an excellent magician, making the entire relationship sleight of hand. To her, it was Schrödinger’s relationship, something that both existed and didn’t until I moved to Portland. This is because I knew that if she got to the mail before me, she’d hide my letters. She was trying to protect me, and I just wouldn’t let her.

I chose to leave myself wide open to emotional manipulation, living life as a SCIF…. until I eventually came undone. For the first couple of years, it was hard to tell how much of me was breaking apart and how much was finally coming together, because I could stop mulling over the problem and start mulling solutions…. except in those tiny moments, when triggers put me on the ground and I have to work my way back up.