Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dear Mother,

It's been a long time since I've talked to you. Oh, we've spoken, cordially at public events; but I have held you at an arm's length for almost two decades now. That was most certainly a selfish action on my part, defensive, maybe a bit paranoid. It was the only way I knew how to preserve the peace I had found in my life, a life you criticized. A life you scoffed.

But here's the thing. I've had a few things you haven't had. First, I've known love. Unlike you, my marriage to John has not only lasted, it has flourished. It is a friendship first, not a business arrangement. I do not need to manipulate him. I do not need to hide behind any facade in order to maintain control. In fact, he has taught me something that you never taught me; that there is something beautiful in vulnerability. Yes, mother, vulnerability.

And another thing I have is friends. Do you remember what you taught me about friends? "Friends are only there because they want something from you. Friends are a waste of time. You don't need friends." Yeah, well, you were wrong. And I won't be dead a week before I'm missed, so...

Here's the deal, mother. Writing you was not my idea, but my therapist's. I had to write another letter for her, one to Caswell, which evolved over time into my victim impact statement, and frankly it was a hell of a lot easier to write. Less painful. Do you hear that? Writing to the bastard who raped me was less painful than writing to the woman who gave birth to me.

I remember the last words you spoke to me, they went to my voice mail. No, I did not give you any warning that a detective was going to call you and ask you questions about the rape and my timeline. I knew you would be appropriate with him, that you would of course be willing to talk to him, and be of any help you could be. You would save face. But I wasn't going to talk to you about it, and I wasn't going to interrupt a lunch with John to listen to your lies.

I have come to grips with being raised by a narcissist. It has actually come in handy over the years. I have been able to help others understand the abuse they are enduring, because it's hard as hell to see it from within the fire. But now that I'm on the other side of it, I understand. I understand your inability to love. Your desire to control everything and everyone, and your intent to destroy that which you could not control.

Another piece of therapy homework I had was to grieve not having a mom. That was tough. How do you understand the loss of something that you never had? I mean, it's like explaining to a fish that it's wet.

I've gotten back in touch with a few folks from Glendale over the years, mother. Remember Angela Jenkins? Remember the things you said about her? Remember how often you told me we were better than her, than her family? How wrong I was to enjoy being at their house, how I needed to raise my standards and accept that they were too low class for me to hang around?

Yeah, well, do you know who spent time with me the night before the sentencing hearing? Do you know who made me laugh? Who encouraged me to follow my desires to continue things like writing and stained glass? Do you know who welcomed John into her heart? Yeah. You were wrong about her, mother. Angela and her husband of almost 50 years; they were the ones to bring comfort to this grown-up scared child. And you know why?

Because they love.

Angela died last month, mother, and I watched as well over 300 mourners greeted Buddy and Shelly for over 6 hours. Angela impacted her world. She lived well and loved hard. I watched Shelly grieve, actually, I am still watching her grieve. And you know why? Because she loved her mom and her mom loved her.

So, mother, my homework assignment is complete. I hate that my friend is grieving. I still cry for her because I see her pain. But that pain has helped me more than anyone will ever know. I now know what it means to grieve a mom. I've seen it, and in the most minute sense of the word, felt it. My relationship with Angela may have been brief, but there was always love.

Despite your best efforts, I have learned to love, and to be loved.

So goodbye mother. It is long past time, but I am no longer holding you at arm's reach. I am letting you go. You no longer have space for negativity in my head. You can no longer limit me with your short sighted, self serving philosophy. So don't even try, because now I know the truth. All the time you tried to convince me that I was wrong? or broken? or just stupid?

Nope. Mother, it's you. Not me.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An Unexpected Trigger

Honey suckle. What do you think about whenever you smell honey suckle? If it elicits a memory, that's a trigger.

You would think, after all this time, I would have learned to deal with triggers. And for the most part I have. Every now and then something will remind me of the barn loft, a smell, or if the sheet comes loose and I feel the contrasting textures against my skin, I will remember. But it doesn't last long, and it doesn't frighten me. I simply acknowledge the sensation and return to reality.

But something happened a few weeks ago that triggered me to feel 6 years old again, and forced me to use some serious mindfulness to get my head back to where my feet were.

I have a few memories of a certain man, a relative of the bastard, a man whose eyes pierced my soul. From the very first time I met him, I was afraid of him. He had this look, this demeanor, this swagger of sorts that just gave me the heebie jeebies. I felt like every time he looked at me he knew; he knew that I was a target. He knew that I had been preyed on before. I felt like he wanted to do to me exactly what had already been done. It was the most intense fear I have ever felt.

And it was easy to excuse. I didn't notice it at first, because I was so focused on the man's eyes, but this man had been in some sort of accident, and had
a prosthetic hook.

I could only see a  little bit of it peeking from the sleeve of his black leather jacket. It didn't bother me at all, after all I had an aunt with glass eyes. And she would remove them at the dinner table. Yet my parents were convinced I was afraid of his hook. But no, I was just afraid of him.

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral in my hometown. I didn't know many people there, a handful at best. I sat on a couch in the funeral home parlor contemplating how the life of the woman we were celebrating had truly impacted so many, when something caught my eye.

A man. A very friendly, smiling, weaselly looking man entered the parlor. He did so confidently. Almost working the room, like a politician. And he had a hook.

"He has to be dead. He has to be dead," I started telling myself. "There's no way it's him. That was 40 years ago."

I watched him intently as he greeted several mourners and then the family.

And then I watched him interact with a few of his family members. One woman, about my age, and her daughters in particular. I watched as the woman clung to her older daughter's arm, then wedged herself between the man and her younger daughter. I watched the woman's face, her expressions of fear, anxiety, horror. And I was paralyzed.

I waited until he was gone a few moments before asking her who he was.

It was him.

I couldn't breathe. I excused myself quickly and walked outside, and paced. "I'm safe. He can't hurt me," I muttered to myself. He has no idea who I am. I am safe. I cried. I took some time for deep breathing and prayer, and went back inside.

On the way home that evening it truly hit me. It was real. The look on that woman's face vindicated my fear as a child. She felt, as an adult, exactly what I had felt so many years ago.

We can't control triggers. But we can develop strategies for coping with being triggered. Sadly, this was a conversation I had to have with John early in our marriage. I had to tell him that certain actions reminded me of the barn loft. He was very careful to not say or do certain things (there was a list) for a long time. Now, it's not such a big deal. After twenty plus years of marriage I feel safe and that list isn't nearly as long.

And the honey suckle? I will always let that trigger take me back. I will always relish the memories of my friend and me, walking along the fence row, harvesting the sweet nectar. Not all triggers are painful. And that's a really good thing.