Muscle Memory

Emptying the dishwasher this morning, I was lost in thought about yesterday’s post. I was thinking of yesterday’s events which had spurred the memories which had put me in a writing mood. Dishwasher nearly empty, I glanced at my cabinet and was startled to find I had been placing all my glasses upside down. I chuckled then sighed, shook my head and reached up to change their orientation. 

Growing up in the country there were spiders. Spiders like to crawl into things. One way not to inadvertently drink a spider is to turn your cups upside down. One way to not get screamed at is to put the cups away right the first time. There was a logical reason for his way. There usually was, at least at first. I can justify and explain most household rules in ways that would spur one on to continue them for generations to come. I can not justify the intensity of moral rightness associated with following such household rules. Some day I’ll make a list of random things to which moral obligation was associated in my house, such things as to cut or smash fried eggs, and morning vs evening showers. It’s hilarious some days, horrifying others. Always and forever absurd. 

I buy my cups by design. They draw me to them, I buy them $0.69 at a time at Goodwill, and I display them– upright– in all their cuteness. I’ve done this for years. I love it. I smile when I open my cabinets and see them smiling back. But today, lost in thought about the “Good old days” my body behaved the safest way it knew, and obediently placed the cups in spider-proof position. Muscle effin’ memory, man. 

I love knowing where I come from. I love understanding how I tick. Or why I twitch. I love having examined and reexamined, traced origins and understood changes. I love the empowerment that comes with being able to say “because this.” Since it can never have not happened, I embrace that I am who I am because of it all. But the flip side is tracing every muscle twitch and knowing this is another of those moments where the past swallows the present and the trained overtakes the intentional. I am fascinated sometimes, like today, when I am well and happy and yet even the mental image of days gone by puts me in obedience mode. Other days I am angry I’ve discovered another landmine.  

I’m going to go fold towels now. And you know what? I roll my towels. They fit better in my space that way. That special 1/4 then 1/3 fold that had to be just so for perfect stacking, with all the smooth edges facing out and the raw edges hidden? It doesn’t work for me any more. 

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Promise Ring (Purity Pt. 1.5)

It’s very hot in July in Illinois, but I suffer it happily. Music festivals are meant to be miserable. I’m wandering the merch tents with my oldest sister, Saturn, taking in all the urging banners and band T-shirts, deep in thought. Deep in mourning, just one layer below the surface. It’s taking a lot of intentionality to be present and collected.  It’s been just a few short weeks since Mom left my Dad, and she’s still sleeping in a shelter while she looks for an apartment. Yet here I am, at a music festival. I haven’t been able to see her, nor my littlest brother and sister, Pewter and Rose– our house would be the first place he’d look, of course, and she wouldn’t do that to us.

My fingers trail along a tray of silver jewelry. Rings with crosses and fish, roses and trinity knots. Then the next tray– wide, solid bands with Hebrew engraving. I see one translated “Trust In Me.” My eye darts to my left ring finger. I grab the gold band and tug it off. My fingers are hot and swollen and the ring has been nestled against my skin for ten years. It doesn’t want to come off, but I want it off more than anything. I am wearing a promise I made to a man who didn’t keep his, a promise I don’t have the strength nor energy to keep. Who am I to make promises? Who is he to be the keeper of my promise? The ring comes off at last and I shove it in my pocket. My finger is aching and scratched and naked. I take a deep breath and try not to cry in front of strangers.

Saturn wanders over to see what’s caught my eye. “I think we should buy this ring. I want one. I think Mom needs one. This ring is receiving a promise. It isn’t making one. It isn’t saying I’m stronger than I am. It isn’t making rules. This ring says we can relax. It reminds us the only One making trustworthy promises is the only One who can absolutely keep them. We’re all losing rings right now. We need new ones.” She nods. She understands.

I slip my new ring onto my thumb. I like thumb rings the best. Who decided which finger should hold rings? Screw them.

I slip my new promise onto my thumb. A promise received, not given, not taken. A promise as simple as “I Am.” A promise of non-specifics. I have no idea what’s next, where life is going, what to do. I don’t know who I’ll love or who will love me, what state they’ll find me in if they ever do. I don’t know if I can ever get married or trust or love. But I do know I can Trust in One. I feel my body relax. I look at my beautiful naked finger and my beautiful embraced thumb. I squeeze the new ring in my pocket for my Mom. I’ll be seeing her at my place at the end of the week. We’ll watch fireworks together and I’ll hug my sister and brother and see that they’re okay. And I’ll offer my mom the only thing I can: A chance to find a little peace in ceasing to give and relaxing to receive.

Purity Pt. 1

*This story is not implying nor leading up to any instance of molestation. I was not touched. Any damage done was as described overtly in these snippets. 

“Daddy, why can we wear shorts that are above the knee, but skirts have to be to the knee?”

It was a day away with Dad, a long drive in a big white van to deliver or collect something work related. Details didn’t matter, and my sense of direction was so lacking I didn’t even bother with what state we were in. Road trips were fun. Dad was silly, he liked his music loud, and we always drove with the windows down, wind making rats’ nests of my hair. The Midwest is a breathtaking place for road trips.

“Does it make you uncomfortable to wear shorts?”

“No, I just thought that if seeing my knees in skirts was bothersome, why is it okay in shorts? Wouldn’t it be the same?”

I think my parents’ philosophy was that if I was old enough to wonder I was old enough to know. Mom was always more reticent and subtle, but Dad was all about answers. Thorough answers.

Forty-five minutes later we pulled into a gas station and for a moment we sat parked next to the pump while he finished his response. “In the end it’s just because that’s the way a man’s brain works. He’s always going to start at the hem and follow it as far as he can. He’s going to wonder what’s underneath. Skirts have a different effect then shorts. It just is. But if you don’t want to wear shorts you don’t have to.”

I shook my head vehemently. In no way did I want to lose my favorite shorts. I was absolutely not asking for more modesty in my life. I may have even been hoping the hem length rule would be lifted once the silliness of it was pointed out. I hadn’t quite learned that a rule challenged due to inconsistency was a rule tightened. Dad was one for tidying up hypocrisy in those earlier years.

“I’m not uncomfortable, I just wondered.”

Dad climbed out of the van and pumped the gas, then disappeared into the station to pay. I sat in the tall, tall passenger bucket seat, pointed toes not touching the floor. I thought of what he’d told me. Forty-five minutes covers a lot of ground. I kept wanting to say “I don’t want to know all of this.” I even practiced the phrase “I’m not ready to know this,” but I hadn’t quite articulated it. I felt so grown up being trusted with such details. I also felt stupid for not realizing that my question would ruin our day. The answer was too long. Too full. I replayed what I’d been told.

I thought of breasts and cleavage and my own tiny little nubs. I thought of hemlines and thighs and men’s eyes. I thought of curiosity and “lust.” I thought of farm animals mounting each other and that’s where babies come from for people too. I thought of all the men I knew at church and wondered what they thought when they looked at skirts and shirts and breasts. I looked out the window, across the parking lot– a man leaning on a wall was looking our way. I crossed my arms over my chest and sunk lower in my seat.

I was 7 and my body was no longer safe.

**************************

“Let’s go for a drive.” On a typical day that would be ominous, as Dad sought company mostly in his darkest moods these days. But I knew what this was about: purity ring time. I was 13.

The car pulled onto the rocky river beach a mile from home. This was our favorite family go-to for swimming, picnics, a break from home and farm and work. It was a sweet setting, I thought, but I also thought all the ceremony was silly since I’d known this was coming for the last 5 years, since Saturn had turned 13.

“Do you know why we’re here?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Um… my ring?” I flushed. Had I misread? What if I was actually in trouble after all? Dad laughed a little. He enjoyed these set ups. He enjoyed the look of worry that he could then dispel by not being harsh. “Yes, your ring. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me about sex, or anything related?” This time I laughed. “I’m pretty sure I’ve asked everything I know to ask at this point.” My mind returned to the exhaustive lectures I’d received on my body and men’s lust. I wasn’t about to ask him any more questions. I saved those for Saturn, who knew how much information I actually needed.

“Alright. Do you want to promise to save yourself for your husband? To wait until you’re married?” I tried not to look at him like he was crazy. “Of course,”  I said with a quirked brow. What did he take me for?

The ring caught on my awkward, bony knuckle, then slid into place on my left ring finger. It felt funny against my skin.

*****************************************

I roll over and rest my hand against his chest. I love the color of my skin against his dark chest hair, my slim fingers against his broad frame. The gold ring on my left ring finger shines an inorganic contrast in the moment. I look at it quietly. Should I take it off? We didn’t have sex, by any means, but… No, I decide. I love what we’ve done together. I love the choices I’ve made. And I love my ring. I don’t feel impure. I feel more beautiful. I feel amazing. I touch myself– my breasts, my hip, then his chest again. He opens his eyes and looks at me. 

“Hello.”

“Hello back.” 

This is pure. This is beautiful. This is exactly where I want to be.

Patriarchy

“It wasn’t just Dad.” I hear my realization of just over a year ago echoed in the voice of my younger sister today. The idea that our dad was abusive is long past established and worked through. The idea that he was one of many, and that his ideology is culturally embraced, not a broken deviation? That’s news. “Is it even possible to be a Christian, a Homeschooler, and not be an abuser?” And so the next miserable leg of the journey through brokenness begins for her as it did for me.

The news about Doug Phillips is everywhere this week. I’m used to this type of thing: my world is full of horrible stories about organizations I deeply love and respect being outed as nothing like I thought. The safe places in my childhood were the horror stories of people I now know and love. The pockets of past peace for me are disrupted daily and I shift again to take in the additional details. Holding on to the good in my own story is harder and harder. Telling about the bad is harder too. There’s too much. And not enough. But it’s different this time.

Doug Phillips was a big name in my life. My “vacations” were going to Homeschool conventions with my mom (truly good memories still, and precious times). The same conventions at which Phillips routinely spoke, or at least at which his books and videos where sold with much energy. When my family had our first boy we had no idea what that would mean for our strongly female family, so my mother turned to a culturally trusted resource on boy child rearing, and Doug Phillips books landed on our shelves. I didn’t know what “patriarchy” was at the time. Does a fish know of water?

“I was thinking of you when I read the part of the story about what Phillips said at Lourde’s graduation,” I tell Emerald over the phone today. “It read like Dad’s note cards for his speech at your graduation, didn’t it?” “I’m really relieved you saw that,” she says flatly, not sounding relieved. “It helps to know I’m not crazy. Not overreacting.”

“The heart and soul of [this] graduation was… to honor the Lord for bringing their daughter into mature Christian womanhood.” They are Phillip’s words, but I hear them in my dad’s voice.

A small, homeschool graduation in a church with ugly carpet. My father stood on stage, arm possessively around Emerald’s shoulders, tucking her into him like a briefcase, an embrace that I could read from a mile away as taking, not giving. On my sister’s other side my mother stood ignored, cold shouldered, not given space in their moment. It wasn’t like my graduation, or Saturn’s, full of joy and celebration as a family. This was his moment to parade his prize before the world and teach us all a truth using her as an object lesson. 

Each family was given a moment to present the diploma to their graduate. My dad took more than a moment. With shoulder squeezes that made me flinch from the audience he spoke long and loud of my sister’s superior virtues. The academic nature of the gathering was incidental, it seemed. She was a woman of God. Respectful, honorable, good at helping around the house. Seeking God’s will and listening well. She would make a great wife. She also looked like she was about to vomit on the stage.

Less than a week before the graduation the realization of the grossly emotionally incestuous nature of our father’s relationship with her had crashed over my sister, shattering her world in ways I have yet to see even lose their roughest edges. Surviving until the graduation was her goal, and she stood there under the arm of her abuser hearing her naivety and misplaced submission sung as life and soul saving beauties. She stood beside her mother as his every word carried the weight of “you are a better woman than she, you would have been a better wife to me, you will be a better wife.” 

“Torres’ attorney, David Gibbs, told WND, ‘Because of Doug’s position of trust, Lourdes had no ability to consent. When you look at the absolute control that that man had in her life, he was her pastor, he was her teacher, he was her employer, he was her patriarchal head of the home. In a sense, he was her counselor. Doug established the system where obedience to God required Lourdes to obey him and fully submit to whatever he wanted to do.’ ” (from the same article)

That is what is so hard to explain. That is the unifying abuse that I, we, are horrified to learn is more widespread than we had ever imagined. No matter what it was we were to submit to, the system of obligatory submission is false and broken and abusive. I am deeply grateful (and often confused) that our abuse was never sexual, and very rarely and mildly physical. But our stories are the same, though the details of others may be more graphic. When I read the story of Lourdes’ encounters I felt cold, I started shaking, a triggered response from my own youth. I know that moment when a trusted authority, THE only authority, violates a truth they themselves asserted, and turns it so that your resistance is the sin. I know the pain and confusion mixed with love and a desire to submit. I know. My sister knows.

This is a very difficult concept to understand if you did not grow up in patriarchy… Teenaged girls… are taught that their purpose it to serve as a daughter, and then as a wife and mother. They try to fulfill their purpose in life by working hard, taking care of younger siblings, and generally not trying to rock the boat. They do not ask for things that they want or need, they do not tell their parents if they are pain, and they do not ask questions about their futures or their bodies…These girls are trotted out at family and church gatherings to showcase their homemaking and child-rearing skills. To fail at cooking a dish or to not be able to handle several children at a time would be an unbearable humiliation. No self-respecting girl would allow that happen, and after a girl has put all of her time and effort into being a homemaker and mother for a few years, she is taught to take pride in it, and also starts to take pride on her own.

(Sarah Henderson “Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-Deception”)

The week after her graduation Emerald moved out of our dad’s house and into the basement of the house Saturn and I shared. This left our last two siblings there, defenseless and abandoned. We all hated it. We had each tried to rescue them, to run interference. Failing, we each had to save ourselves. My sister spent the next month a shadow, barely eating or drinking, rarely leaving the basement. She had been emptied and had no idea with what to fill herself.

Less than 2 months later my mom left my dad, took our youngest siblings and hid out in a shelter. Every day there she had to look up the definition of “abuse” to be sure she qualified. To be sure she deserved the bed she was taking up in the shelter. She didn’t have bruises, after all.

There is no tidy ending to this fragmented post. There can’t be. There is nothing at all tidy about this. There are too many sharp edges of broken worlds.

Existing

Triggers trump dignity.

My poor pastor– he barely knows me as yet, so he can’t know I’m not walking out on him. I just have to leave. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Belongings abandoned, cell in hand, I rush for the door, only years of training keeping me slightly quiet and slightly polite. A deep breath of fresh air and I frantically dial. There is ONE person in the entire world to whom I can talk right now who will know the answer, who will even understand the question. Who will be able to hear my words through my tears and not get distracted by attempted misguided consolation.

“I need to talk to you. Right now.” For the first time in my life I don’t lead with “Are you busy? Am I interrupting? I don’t want to bother you.” I can’t. “I really need you.” I presume on years of assurances and proof that my oldest sister will always be there for me if she can. And she is.

“Why? Why do I feel like I am not allowed to inconvenience anyone? Why can I never be the one that brings the room down if I’m down? Why am I only allowed to leave a trace of my existence if it’s a positive trace? Why do I feel like the only impact I’m allowed to have is to make everything better? I want to exist. I want to be allowed to exist. Why do I feel like I’m not allowed to exist?” I’m sobbing as I pace up and down the block. Church continues behind me– thank God for dark stained glass. “What did He do to me? I don’t remember– it scares me that I don’t remember. I can always trace it back. I can’t figure it out. I can’t undo it because I don’t know how it was done. I can’t unlearn what I don’t remember learning. You were there. What happened to me?” I’m scared and confused. I am never scared and confused like this. I’m sobbing. I only sob when I get dumped or when someone I love dies. This is a mess. This is messy. Good thing I took it outside.

Her turn to speak. I have a hard time listening, but it is why I called. “…. Much as I don’t want to let Dad off the hook, this one might not be on Him.” She tells me stories– a pattern I hadn’t seen, or been willing to face. Stories of friends, circles of friends, outings, parties, get-togethers. Me, an energetic extrovert. Them, introverts with books, soft voices and strong opinions. I can never know enough or judge harshly enough or sit still enough. If they go out together vs. if WE go out together– completely different dynamics. I was always conscious of that. I was the variable. I set the tone.

Memories resolve, breathing slows, pacing stops. I collapse onto the curb. “Is it okay for me to just be me?” “Yes.” “Thank you.” This is going to take practice. And maybe some extroverted friends? And a whole lot of trust. New philosophy: Trust adults to act like adults and know what they’re getting when they invite me over. Stop apologizing for being me.

*******************************************************************************

I’m tired. Nothing’s wrong, it’s just winter and I’ve been busy. It’s a birthday party but all I can do is sit and smile weakly. I can’t carry the energy– can barely summon a story to contribute. I am the first to excuse myself so I can sleep. As the door closes behind me and cheerful laughter follows me to my car I am intensely conscious that I wasn’t all I could have been. Not my usual self. These friends had never seen me not UP. But they care about me and are glad I’m going to get some sleep. I brought everything I had to give. I carefully don’t apologize for failing an expectation no one actually had. No one minds. 

****

I make him cry. I’ve asked a deep question, a hard question, a completely unexpected and culturally inappropriate question. I asked on instinct– asking real questions in real moments is me being my true self. Unfiltered, pure, raw. I sit quietly and watch him cry, right there in public as the server slowly walks past, checking our waters and moving on. I don’t apologize– out loud, at least. In my head I’ve formed a dozen options of how to apologize, taking on the blame and granting him full dignity. But I bite my tongue– hard– and manage not to say what would essentially be, “I’m sorry for being me around you. I’m sorry me being here has created discomfort.” I sit still and gently wait for the ripples I have caused to settle.

****

I am in need– the one need that makes me feel the most vulnerable. I need to talk. My go-to is an introvert with an over-full schedule. Still, I go. I ask for his time and I talk to him. At him, even, because I need to process externally. I feel very uncomfortable when I see his People Time Energy drain quickly. I’m hard work for him, I know. But I don’t apologize, and I don’t have the space to bite my tongue this time. I trust his friendship, trust that he knew he was in for hard work– listening, so much listening! He sips, nods, responds. He’s up to the task. He’s a big boy. I feel myself reach my traditional Introvert-Sparing Backing Down Point and I push farther because I need more. I take my “I’m sorry,” work it over in my head, push it aside. As it is denied exit I feel it soften, change, and reform. It feels healthy as it rolls of my tongue in the end: “Thank you.”

Climb

I spent my day off creating a sculpture. The base is a cross section slice of wood, part of a bunch of art supplies my Dad gave me the last time I will ever visit him under the pretext of friendship. Supportive of my art until the last. I’ll always be grateful for that. This batch of supplies came with some bits of organic matter– bones, shells, quills. I politely thanked him, then explained I primarily work with metals and glass. Organic just isn’t my “voice.” He insisted I take them, saying I need to get over my “voice” and create with things people will actually want. Supportive? It’s complicated.

“Me and my wife will leave you the hell alone. Good luck with your adult life.” I wasn’t texting often enough. I wasn’t responding on his timeline. I wasn’t acknowledging his persistent attempts to draw me back into his world, the world I so intentionally walked away from. “Dad, I moved here to pursue the life I believe I’m supposed to lead. I need some space to be present with that life. That means I have to take some control of my pace. I know it’s a hard transition, it’s just something I need to do as an adult.” “Well what *I* need as an adult is for you to honor me.” And here we are again. With thousands of miles between us and only a cell phone to assert his presence, I really am in control at last. Still, he asserts. His communication needs trump mine. I acknowledge a twinge, as it seems responding to texts is “the least I could do.” Respond any time he contacts me. Be on call. Day or night, central standard time, if he has something to say I must attend. But when those texts cause a wave of nausea, when rather than a quick glance and response as with others my entire brain gets sucked into a dark space, his face before me, his expectations ruling my word choice, my mind shifting to “Dad language” so I can communicate in HIS terms lest he be angry I’m “not making sense,” when responding to a quick text means disorientation and disassociation, that is just not an option.

Because I need to set boundaries. Because he needs to control his world. Because I said no, he said goodbye.

I am pleased with my sculpture. On my wooden base are piled many seemingly random objects– bones, beads, toys. A wooden whittled house stands against a broken coffee mug, framing the letter “I”. A “C” rests in the pelvis of a grey skeleton, a wee little man sitting in the eye sockets of the attached skull. Leaning on the sharp ceramic edge of the coffee mug is a scrabble “L” and a bold green “M” balances out the sparkly green beaded earring nearby. A pile of skulls intended as a candle holder is now a “B” holder, and perched atop the B is a woman, skirts smooth, resting contented high above it all. Climb. Climb above the death and morbidity. Be present with it. Rest on it. Be at peace with the broken foundation. Enjoy the view.

I am present with here and now. As to my broken foundation I say: Rest In Peace.

Lean

Continued from “Mutation”

This business of the obligatory goodbye kiss had to end, we had decided. It was increasingly uncomfortable the older we got and the less affection we could summon. So, carefully and with a much practiced presentation we gathered our courage and asked for space to exchange the kiss for a goodbye hug. We steeled ourselves and stood strong when he responded as though we had accused him of molesting us. We demurely stuck to our guns when his elaborately crafted extreme questions and rhetoric nearly pushed us into reflexive backpedaling and conciliatory apology. And we were flush with shocked relief when at last our request was granted. Rarely was a petition honored– never without an ordeal–, especially when it was a question of  household policy. We clapped each other on the backs (when his was turned) at our diplomacy.

Short lived exultation, I assure you. Over the next few weeks several awkward hugs were exchanged, each heavy with disapproval and a sense of my willful withholding of something due. But the right to an un-violated body is something Dad himself had taught (during the endless “Every man ever wants to rape you” lectures). It wasn’t the first time I’d been stuck in a quandary due to conflicting teachings or expectations. How was I to know that allowing myself to be manipulated by the emotional pressure into relenting wouldn’t simply result in a moral lecture of epic proportions anyway?  So with bated breath I chose not to relent.

A soft embrace. At last the awkwardness is gone. He has forgiven me my assertion. Respected my need over his. His arms welcome me, draw me in. Relieved, I relax against him. The hug draws out just too long. I feel caged, start to extricate myself. His arms go hard. A trap. Confusion and panic tumble over me. I shift, but the embrace holds me tight. We are leaning, leaning back. I can’t steady myself with my arms pinned. Still leaning– I try to relax but he pushes it too far. My reflexes take over and I stop thinking: My heart races, I start, go rigid, put my foot back solidly and push against him. I am free. He is angry. “What’s wrong? You don’t trust me? You think I’d let you fall?? You really think so lowly of me? You should trust me with your LIFE. I am your FATHER.”

We didn’t win. We never do. A hug is no longer a welcome refuge from an uncomfortable tradition. It is the new unstable ground, sometimes safe, sometimes a test of demanded trust– a test I must pass by suppressing all instincts of self preservation, submitting to fear and recovering on my own time.

The last time I saw my Dad, Aug. 2013, I dreaded the goodbye hug. When the time came my body was tense and cold, the hug rigid. Even then, even after so many years, even hugging his 28 year old daughter, Dad leaned just noticeably enough, and chuckled to himself at my startle reflex. His head shake seemed to say, “You never did learn, did you?”

I hope I never will.

Mutation

Note: This is not a story of sexual abuse, blatant or hinted. Please feel peace to read what IS without fear of another shoe dropping.

Are we proving Evolution or disproving it as we watch every detail morph into something new, since the gradual but traceable changes always form a corrupted and distorted echo of the original? Beauty to repulsion, sweet to sickening, purest intent to the chaos of self-service, affection to control.

A sweet little family, laced through with the bright and happy threads of hippie love and natural rhythm. Childbirth is beautiful, the body a wonder. The bond of parent and child breathes health into the world, a pure and innocent relationship like no other. Nothing owed, everything given. An adoring father loathe to leave his beautiful young family; a goodbye peck on the lips– a sweet and innocent gesture .

A tradition.
An expectation.
A demand.
A shackle to track our coming and going.
Evolution. Mutation. Corruption.

My father worked from home some days, in his woodworking shop or somewhere on our 9 wooded acres. His coming and going was always uncertain– any moment of any day he would walk through the door, always read to catch us in “the act”. Thoroughly safe days were rare, as was the absence of anxiety. Lacking a solid way to know when it was a home day or an away day, it was best to assume he was always around somewhere. Screw Big Brother or Santa, Dad is watching. But that’s not the point of this story, I suppose. Just the context.

Expectations. Living up to Dad’s expectations was akin to godliness (we gave up on cleanliness for a while in the middle years). So when it was time to head in to town, most commonly for a home school group event (a highlight in my childhood memories to this day), we were careful, oh so careful, not to leave without a goodbye kiss. No matter how late we might be (you try gathering five kids post chores and getting them and their projects and your shopping list and your library books to be returned and…) our well trained eyes would scour for a sign of Dad’s van. Better late than defiant–our friends and teachers would forgive us. Spotting the van would mean a trek down the driveway, across the road that bisects the property, down the old driveway to the shop or burn pile or fence– wherever Dad was, that’s where we had to go.

The affection of the ritual long forgotten, the sound of lips connecting was to me the click of a lock released. With a kiss I was granted the freedom to leave, to briefly be in the great Elsewhere. It was a cumbersome tradition, but one we all knew better than to bypass. We all have brains full of reasons shouting at us in His voice, always His voice:

 Is your time so valuable?                   Better things to do than love your Father? 
A slap in the face                                 Do you know how hard I work for this family?       You can’t even be bothered to                      How do you think I feel 
No matter how busy I am I always find
 you before I leave      How would you feel if i
My time is more valuable                          I am most important
I                   Me                      My


Rhetorical questions stand no retort, the assumption of irrefutable conclusion built in. Into my brain they sank and grew roots, and faithfully I followed their edict. Each day I made whatever trek necessary for that goodbye kiss, to receive a stay of lecture, and each day I became more and more empty.

Landmines

I am angry.

Yesterday I was hurtful. I tried not to be. First, I felt hurt. Then I took a deep breath, smiled, said it was OK. My friend’s smart. I wasn’t believed: “What do you really feel? I want you to be honest.” “I’ll be fine. I just have to adjust.” “But what are you feeling?” And I said what I was feeling. I never planned to act on it, I was just feeling it for a minute then I’d move on. “That’s just not fair,” he says. I never said it would be, I just felt it. And I wasn’t going to tell. I was pushed. And what I was feeling was hurtful. I wasn’t lashing out, I swear. I was gentle and tactful, just matter of fact honest. But as soon as I voiced it I felt illness settle into my stomach. I was certain I’d vomit. I needed out of the conversation. I had been hurtful, and that was unacceptable. The original pain I’d felt was also my fault. Why was I hurtable?

I shook my head as if doing so actually helps clear it when emotions are the fog settled over me. Why am I blaming myself for both the hurt and the hurting? Why do I believe this about myself? It’s just not reasonable, but I can’t unbelieve it. At least my stomach can’t. My stomach needs to understand why I feel so culpable and I pause to trace origin….

Ah yes. A lifetime of submission to a man who has shouted a reality into existence in which, since he is always right and true, if he is angering it is because I am rebellious, if he is angry it is because I am wrong. All anger is the fault of the Other, as he does no wrong.

Fuck.

I am past this.

I have been working on this for years.

I don’t believe this shit any more. I know better through and through.

Yet I am blindsided by bullshit feelings of complete culpability, denying myself of the right to exist if that existence is counter another, if my needs are inconvenient or unsettling. What is that?

Dad didn’t just emotionally and spiritually abuse me as a child. He created a world that was safe for him, and demanded we all live in it. Then, to keep us from leaving, he seeded the whole world, past present and future, with landmines. Every step I take, every time I feel safe to venture out and say “I am free of the Voice!” I round a corner and BLAM! No legs to stand on. The world will never be free of landmines, no matter how many I diffuse. Damn him.

Today I am okay with being angry.

It’s OK to laugh.

For a blog to prosper one must post consistently, so visitors don’t give up on you. I know. I’ve resisted writing all holiday season, though. My journal has padded my purse everywhere I’ve gone, but I just couldn’t dig into that file in my brain. I have stories, timely and seasonal. “Christmas,” “Y2K….” But I couldn’t. I wanted to be present in the here and now, enjoying what I could, not hating and hurting during the festivities. Sometimes healing means letting it rest.

But not wanting to say NOTHING of my interaction with Santa of years past, I offer you this: A satirical song by a beloved artist, which is so apt it hurts. Santa=Satan anyone?