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I am not done blogging, but I am done with this blog. I may update later with my new blog’s location, but for now, I am keeping it safe, so that I can keep my heart safe.
Yours ever in love and snark,
People have told me I’m scary, or unapproachable. It baffles me. They say I appear standoffish when I feel I am merely shy and reticent. I’m testing you out. I have to get to know a person before I can be warm and inviting, because so often that warmth and openness is rewarded with a stinger in the back. So in most of my interactions with people I don’t know well, I admit that my brain is trying to work out whether or not you deserve my warmth and love, both of which are ample and steadfast for those who earn it. When I do not know you well, however, I am testing your waters. Can I trust you? What kind of person are you?
You see, people are not always as nice as they appear on the surface, and I know that better than I’d like. People who have seem sweet and well-intentioned and earnest are often the most dangerous people I’ve come to meet. So I keep people at a distance until they earn my trust. I’m very big on trust being something that is earned and not something given along with a “how do you do.”
And I don’t want to be received as “scary” or “standoffish,” yet I can’t help but feel that so many people around me who perceive me as such conflate being courteous or approachable with what I see as intimacy.
I am the way I am because I am vulnerable. My feelings are easily hurt. When I allow it to love someone, my heart loves with blind abandon, and because it loves so blindly and unconditionally, it is easily broken. So I am careful who I let into it. I am the way I am around people I don’t know well, not because I am scary, but because I am fragile. I seem very strong to most people, and those who are close to me always remark on how strong I am. But they don’t get it. My heart is not iron-clad—far from it. It is big, soft and stupid, and if I don’t work hard to protect it, it will open up for everyone and it will bleed for them. If I do not protect my heart, it’s like wearing a target on my chest. If I show it to you before I know you will be careful, all you will see is how easy it is to break me apart. And so many people can’t resist destroying that which is so easy to destroy, like the sudden urge to crush a beetle on the sidewalk.
I’ve never understood why people—myself included—are so scared of insects and spiders. They can crush them under their boot in a nanosecond, without even a second thought.
I lose things. Frequently.
They’re usually not worth much. One half of my favorite pair of gloves, green striped, $3 on sale. Several polycarbonate water bottles. The headphones to my iPod. Countless socks. Things I don’t realize are gone until I need them, and even though I usually recall when and where I lost track of them, it’s too usually too late to retrieve them. Very often they’re small articles that, on their own, aren’t even worth thinking about, until I realize I need them to make something else work.
There are other things I’ve lost that are worth far more, and still I lose them the same way one loses most things. Your mind is elsewhere, you think you have all your effects, and then when you go looking for them again, they’re nowhere to be found. You can check the lost and found, you can retrace your steps, but time has passed and taken whatever it is with it on its way out the door.
I’ve compiled a list in my head of the things I’ve misplaced, things that slipped away from me while my mind was distracted. Small things that maybe don’t amount to much on their own, but together their absence leaves a giant hole, a huge gaping chink in my armor, leaving my chest naked and exposed. They’re all things I didn’t know were missing until one day I looked for them, retraced my steps, and couldn’t remember the last place I saw them. I lie awake for hours at night, thinking back, and still for the life of me can’t remember where I last had them. And there is no lost and found where I can file my claim.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault.
But that’s not all that I am. I am a straight-A student. I am a wife, happily married. I am a good friend, a writer, a karaoke diva, and an activist. I think sometimes that I love life more than a lot of people I know. I say all this to emphasize that I am not defined solely by something traumatic that happened to me when I was a little girl.
It certainly shaped who I am, forever changed my life, and continues to affect my relationships with people and my perspective. I grew up fast, but it was the sort of growing that occurs when bones are broken and not properly set. I made bad decisions. I nearly failed out of high school. My senior year, I slept through every class before lunch because I could not sleep at night. While I got a perfect 5 on my AP English exam, I had the lowest grade in the class, and to this day I believe my D- was given out of pity. I did drugs. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of and would rather not elaborate upon. I was awful and thankless toward people who helped me along the way, because I felt the world owed me everything and more. I floundered through life feeling pretty sorry for myself for a long time.
But I did not break.
Yesterday an email conversation about Mackenzie Phillips made me think a lot about this. One dear friend suggested that, due to what happened to Mackenzie, she is irreparably broken. And you know, though I completely get where my friend was coming from, it still really struck a nerve with me, because I can’t write people off as permanently damaged, no matter what happens to them. I’ve been written off that way by a lot of people in my life, and so often I think, “if only they saw me now.”
Awful things happen to people, but I have to believe they can survive them and be whole again, because I feel like, from where I sit, I am a whole person. That said, I’m certainly not the person I might have been had I not gone through the multiple betrayals and violations I endured. But from where I sit, I’m not entirely sure I’d ever undo that past, as much as I would never want anything resembling it to be visited upon a single human being on Earth. It’s either in spite of or because of that past that the woman I am now is strong, independent, compassionate and loved. So loved. And I’ll never know which it is. I’ll never who I would be if I lived in some parallel universe where, at 11 years old, my life hadn’t changed forever.
I realize I can’t compare my experience to Phillips’s—how can any two people compare their experiences, however similar? Yet, while it does no good to quantify trauma or qualify its severity because trauma is trauma, part of me feels I can say with something resembling objectivity, “Thankfully what happened to me isn’t even in the same ballpark as what happened to Mackenzie Phillips.” For one thing, my stepfather did not shoot me up with drugs; he gave me martinis. And the dissimilarities only begin there. But that doesn’t make me feel better. It’s not a salve or a consolation, nor is it really productive in any way that I can see. It certainly doesn’t diminish the impact of the betrayal by people whose sole purpose should have been to protect me from harm, the years of depression and post-traumatic stress, the substance abuse, or the bridges I burned with people who cared about me. So while it could be easy to give in to the notion that I didn’t break because I didn’t have it as bad as this person or that person, I do know that one can survive all manner of trauma and be whole again. I may have doubted it many times, but I always knew I was not irreparably broken. When I got that close to the point of breaking and then didn’t actually break, I think I started, over the years, to doubt whether there even are limits for what we can survive emotionally. I don’t believe people must be irreparably broken because of something like this (though certainly people can and do break), and it’s probably the only thing resembling “faith” that I have. My faith is in people, and I don’t believe people are so fragile as all that.
Because I neither believe in god nor “souls” in the religious sense, it feels weird to use the phrase “human spirit,” but I’m at a loss for a better way to refer to what I see as a strong instinct within us all to survive, to be whole people, to heal and come out stronger on the other side of even the most horrific experiences. I must believe in it. For Mackenzie. For Jaycee Lee Duggard. For Elisabeth Fritzl. And for women like me, who have suffered abuse far less severe—there I go qualifying trauma again—than the years of unspeakable violence and damage done to those women I mentioned. I believe that the “human spirit,” or whatever you want to call it, is more resilient than most of us will ever have cause to discover.
I live in a four-apartment building that shares a common driveway and carport with another building with six apartments. Our bedroom has a balcony with a sliding glass door that faces the studio apartments across the driveway and, as you can imagine, sound carries pretty well from one end to the other. Over the years, we have had a rotation of interesting occupants across the way.
One girl, who has lived there for a while, I shall call Questionable Taste In Music Girl. I have often caught her, at 1 in the morning, sitting at her computer, smoking pot with the blinds open and singing loudly to Whitney Houston. A few weeks ago it was “P.Y.T.” by Michael Jackson. You can shout and shout across the driveway for her to turn down the music, but she won’t hear you.
To her right, immediately facing our balcony, there is a unit with far more frequent turnover. Since living here, I believe at least 6 different people have occupied that apartment. One rode a Segway around town and listened to bad 60s folk. Another, whom I shall call White Power Bill, owned an English bulldog, listened to charming white-supremacist nu metal, had a red, black and pewter COAT OF ARMS hanging on the wall outside, and decorated the inside of his apartment with a painting of a rough-looking topless woman and a leg lamp like the one from A Christmas Story. But even White Power Bill was not so annoying as the latest woman to move in.
I have no idea what this woman’s name is, but I’m already well acquainted with her dog, Gracie. That’s because, as far as I can tell, all this woman does is sit on her porch, smoking and drinking beer (there are over 40 bottles on the porch) and yelling at her dog, who yips in protest.
“NO GRACIE! GRACIE NO! NO! STOP IT GRACIE! GRACIE? NO.”
“GRACIE? NO! GRACIE STOP THAT. GRACIE NO. NO GRACIE!”
Andrew has taken to doing this incredibly uncanny impression of the woman, which gives me the giggle fits and all, but I really want this woman out of my line of site and earshot. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to write or read a 1,000-page novel while this woman and her apparently poorly trained little mutt spend all day on the balcony arguing with each other.
Luckily for me, with the turnover in that place, she’ll be gone soon.
Andrew is slowly but surely reducing the amount of clutter in the Man Cave, but man, it’s been like an archaeological dig in there, with fossilized nerd memorabilia from the Paleonineties epoch. He found POGS, people. Like, in plastic, protective binder sleeves. Other humorous finds include a book about farts and a bumper sticker that says “Chucky Did It.” When pressed about each of these items, Andrew claimed he had no idea why he had them. I believe him, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t more than a little appalled at what’s being unearthed in there.
I am unbelievably grateful for Craigslist in all of this, yet kind of amazed at what people will and won’t buy. Andrew was sure the baseball card lot he put up would be the last thing to sell, yet it was the second thing to go, before a beautiful guitar and an elliptical trainer. One man’s trash, I guess.
I actually don’t want to sell either the guitar or the elliptical, but we don’t have room for the latter, and I don’t have time to learn how to play the guitar. I’m still not sure I’ll sell the guitar, to be honest. It was a gift from my parents, and I adore it. I just am not a very good musician, it turns out, except on Rock Band, where I’m kind of a big deal. On the drums. Maybe I should get drums! Wait, didn’t I just say I don’t have room for all our stuff?
Despite the progress, there is still a long way to go. Your continued prayers will not go unappreciated.
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, a boy and girl fell in love. They spent so much time at each other’s respective apartments, that their respective roommates were like, “OMG why don’t you just move in together?” And the two love birds were like, “OMG, you’re right!”
And so they did. They found a reasonably cute, reasonably sized, two-bedroom apartment close to the downtown area and combined the contents of their two households. But there was one small problem. The boy half of this couple had boxes and boxes of things, boxes which hadn’t been opened since he haphazardly packed them when he moved out of his parents’ house. There they stood, a fortress of sealed boxes, their exact contents unknown. Now, rather than go through these mystery boxes and sort out the treasure from the rubbish, the boy put the boxes into a moving van, where they were dropped off into the spare room the boy and girl had decided, as they mapped out their life together there, would be an office and exercise room.
There they sat, the lonely boxes. They sat through a summer, a winter, a marriage proposal, a wedding, and two anniversaries of said wedding. In those three years, maybe a third of the boxes had been dealt with, if the girl was to be generous. However, the boy appeared to have placed an enchantment upon the boxes and the room, wherein he would unpack one box and sort its contents, yet the room would appear no less cluttered than before! While the imagined purposes of the room were technically achievable—there was indeed an elliptical trainer and a desk in there— the room was so cluttered with the boy’s belongings that it has really become the Enchanted Man Cave, where the boy would go to do boy things like play video games and (probably) look at porn on the internet (the girl does not pry much into the intimate affairs of the boy when he is in the Enchanted Man Cave).
All seemed lost, and the girl had become resigned to fate, her hopes of a spare room for their mutual enjoyment dashed, until one day, like a beacon, her fairy godsister came upon her and granted her a magical opportunity. “I am looking for a place to stay for the summer,” the fairy godsister declared, and she offered a handsome sum to the boy and girl in exchange for lodging in the Enchanted Man Cave.
“Oh, fairy godsister, this sounds too good to be true,” quoth the girl, “but I’m afraid the enchantment the boy has placed over the Man Cave has rendered it forever a Man Cave. Alas and alack!” However, after productive conversation with the boy as to the benefits the godsister’s handsome sum would bring to their household, the girl convinced the boy to lift the enchantment.
The boy and girl are not out of the woods, yet. The spell for lifting the enchantment will require both their efforts and take several days of labor. Even so, they are (okay, she is) determined to lift the spell over the Man Cave, in order to transform it into livable quarters for the girl’s fairy godsister. After two months’ time, foregoing any other enchanted boxes, the room may be repurposed, hopefully into a habitable workspace for both the boy and girl to live happily ever after.
Please wish the girl godspeed.