In about a month, it’ll be my Daddy’s birthday. It’s odd how I can think of him every single day, but then his birthday will creep up on me without warning. And then some other years, I can feel it coming–like a hurricane–leaving me bracing for impact.
2020 has been the kind of year where everything has impact, where the old feels new again and the new is rough and painful. Chockfull of lessons I’d rather forget, but apparently *still* need to learn. How many times?
I call the time between my father’s birthday and my mother’s death grief season. It’s a shorthand label I made up to warn my friends that danger lies ahead. Sensitivity. My too much. All the things that came from my parents.
So, I’ve been bracing–realizing I’m doing death doula training right in the middle of all this anticipating. And my heart is already breaking–as it has–so many times before. Sometimes, I wonder if the scar tissue will make it into some other thing–this smithereen heart.
When you’re the child of the man who held millions of secrets–who hid so easily and taught you how, too–you think about all the lives you could have had. If only he had stopped drinking. Who would he have been? What doors would have opened? Would we have been poor and desperate still?
In some other life, I’m his daughter, and I’m proud of that. I’ve never felt proud to be my father’s daughter–though I long ago forgave him and will always always love him. Though I love the parts of me that are him–claim them with pride. I’m Ruth’s daughter. You will never find his name on any of my bios.
And that makes me sad, but it’s not something I can change. I’m not even sure I want to.
Who would I have been had he lived? Had nothing changed? Or if it had?
All these things I ask myself almost weekly–in some weird attempt to make sense of any of it.
One of my friends lost her father this week. There are many things we share in common. Being ACoAs is one of them–except my father died when I was six and hers kept living. She wrote about him today, and I could have written that whole thing myself–only her experience of a man seemed to encompass my experience of both of my parents.
Her father killed himself. I’ve often called alcoholism the longest goodbye because it’s basically suicide in slow motion.
She called her father a coward. And while I understood–as a child who watched her father slowly fade away–I find that version the more cowardly one–but then maybe we all are cowards. Including me.
Maybe choosing something is the one brave thing he could do for everyone. Maybe it’s those of us who continue to stay–when we are suffering uncontrollably–maybe that’s the cowardice?
I don’t know. I always felt like suicide was selfish. But isn’t everything?
I guess it depends on the context.
I didn’t sleep much last night.
Ever since things went south with my latest near miss, I’ve been itching for change. Whenever romantic shit has ever gone south, I usually make big changes in my life. Like I’ll bungee jump off a bridge because you once told me I was too afraid. Or I’ll dye my hair some crazy color because you loved the way it was naturally. A personal challenge, but also a way of reclaiming what was always mine: my power.
There’s not a whole lot of rebellion that’s possible in a pandemic, but I was feeling this huge push to cut off my hair and go darker.
That near miss was kind of obsessed with my natural everything: my freckles, paleness, and hair color. He had mentioned it months before we ever talked, really–when I wasn’t all that interested. It was a bit creepy. Then when he found me again, and we finally chatted on the phone–he had asked about it. We’d had far too many conversations about my hair, in particular.
It’s not unusual for men to fetishize people of my heritage, and as a woman, that’s certainly true for almost all things. So, when things ended–as I’ve been trying to pull away and stop feeding that unhealthy attraction towards things and people who no longer serve me–there was a real need for me to not be his anything. To take steps to sever the tie.
So, on Saturday, I went to the salon and cut off half my hair. It’s one of the shorter cuts I’ve had in the last ten years–but it’s light and easy–with lots of movement–enhancing my curls. It’s harder for me to hide. I do miss the length of my old hair, but part of me cutting it was acknowledging that it’s just hair–that it’ll grow and this experiment might be fine.
I decided to dye my own hair, again–after dying it a very bright red back in July. I liked the color, but it was VERY bright and slightly orange. It made my eyes pop, and I never needed any makeup. I felt a little glamorous. But it’s very eye-catching, and I didn’t like the attention I got. I also felt like I was a slave to those roots. My natural color is a darker red, and in contrast, it looked almost brown–so it was VERY noticeable. And truth be told, I like darker reds and I prefer to change my hair with the seasons. And I’ve been feeling very autumn lately. I’ve been craving autumn food and wanting to celebrate Halloween early–anything to distract me from life right now.
So, I dyed it a coppery chocolate color, and it’s exactly what I wanted. It looks a little mousy compared to what was–but it’s still a stunning red shade, and feels more serious–like how I actually feel right now. My eyes don’t pop as much–and it’s easier to see my skin’s imperfections–but I’m fine with being exactly who I am–and I’m done feeding at the trough of male attention.
I sorta procrastinated on the dye job–waiting till 10 pm on Sunday to do it. It was over by 11, and I decided to celebrate by going to In-n-Out. Another rebellion. Listening to my body and what it wanted.
It was good.
When I tried to go to bed, I searched for my FB app on my phone and saw an old candidate message was in WhatsApp–which I never use for anything. I only even have it because my therapist used it when she was in Croatia. I’m not sure what the message was even because it had disappeared, but he was in my contacts somehow. Anyway, there was another message–one I never read–from the near miss. We had one convo there–to be more secure–because he had thought it might be good for me to try certain things to deal with my trauma and had suggested he procure some for me. I don’t know why I reread the whole conversation, but it just highlighted all the bad shit I later experienced. Him suggesting something I wasn’t comfortable with–me saying so–him saying my thinking was circular. Making judgments about the way I communicated. Me letting him. Him saying he could tell I really agreed with him–me saying no–but then sorta giving up–and him getting his way. But really, it was me just postponing the confrontation–which is exactly what happened the last couple of times we met up.
That dance of me trying to keep my power, him trying to wear me down with his insistence–and me just postponing the inevitable–slowly losing myself until I just exploded because I’m done losing myself. I may let you think you’ve won, but I will never sell myself short. It made me wonder a few things: why did I ever think having this person in my life was a good idea? And I thought more about why I’m still in touch–even though it’s more of a human decency thing than me actually wanting to stay there. It was telling in my interaction with him this weekend. Mostly because I said we’ll see when he suggested further contact–which is really just this whole pattern. We’ll see is flat out no for me. It’s postponing the inevitable. And it exists because I know I’m not safe in your presence, and I will never tolerate that for me–or anyone/anything I love.
We’ll see is really me saying–I don’t trust you. You’re not mine. You don’t care about how I feel, and I will never be safe with you. It’s prove you’re a safe person, and then maybe we’ll talk–but probably not. It’s a wall. A wall I’m happy to erect and keep. A wall I have with many of my exes, and the reason we aren’t friends. I’m realizing more and more lately that safety is the biggest thing for me. If I feel unsafe, I hide in plain sight, and you might mistake my vulnerability for something it isn’t. But it’s the vulnerability I save for strangers–not those who I actually let in.
I made some decisions last night–big ones. I’m giving myself permission to suspend romantic activity for the next year. Meaning: NunPhase 2.0. All dating and flirtation is off the table, and I’m also suspending friendships with new men for the time being. I’m also not furthering existing ones. If people want to extend our friendships, it’s on them to do so. I will respond to that, but I’m done initiating contact. I’m done with olive branches. It is a bit of tit for tat, but considering I’ve always acted as clean-up crew, it feels good to say no to that.
My focus is on me. On being the person I am on the outside as well as the inside. On learning as much as I can. On changing my entire career and starting an actual business. On walking the path as a healer. Which means the healer has to heal herself. On returning to my heart work–my writing and my creating. And stopping engaging in distractions of people who don’t respect or honor me. Who hear my no but think their yes is more important or worthwhile. I’m done bullying myself and postponing my boundaries.
It’s really time to refocus and get serious about living the life I want. I’m tired of seeing pictures of myself and wondering where my smile went. When did that tired resignation take over?
It’s time to experiment and play and go on grand adventures. Embracing all the yeses in my heart and giving zero fucks about the fallout.
The past few weeks has been interesting. I’ve been dealing with a lot of anger and a lot of conflicting feelings. Loving people directly affected by the fires–but navigating difficult relationships with those people has made it particularly eye-opening. And then there’s the fact that nearly all of the places burning to the ground this summer have been places I’ve been–repeatedly–during COVID. I’ve been processing a lot of grief–some mine and some not mine. But also trying to balance self-respect with basic human decency.
The bottom line, though, is that I AM operating with self-respect, these days. It’s a new thing for me. But an important shift, and a jarring shift for those who benefited from me being small. While I’m always going to be a kind person who shows up when people need me, I’ve come to realize that decisions I made when tragedy wasn’t a factor need to be my guidelines, and so I’m sticking to those boundaries and commitments–even though my codependent self really hates that.
At the end of the day, I’m my own soulmate. And I’ve got to do my best to create safety for myself–not indulge unsafe people–no matter what’s happening to them or how much I care about them.
A friend recently asked her network what they learned from quarantine. I thought it was an interesting question. And of course, it’s certainly nowhere near over. But I’m in a reflective mood, so I’m going to answer the question.
My life kinda turned upside down the day before we hit quarantine. In some crazy ways, it reminds me a lot of the day my Mama got sick–the before and the after. In some ways, I don’t even remember what that old life was like. Except I wasn’t happy. I was working for this company I’d lost faith in. I didn’t trust my boss–for very good reason. I found the work to be frustrating. I wasn’t growing or learning. I wasn’t making what I was worth. I knew what I wanted to do, but couldn’t afford to do it–didn’t have the time and never had the money because of this crappy job.
I was in this nonrelationship with someone who never really opened up to me–who I never felt I could be myself with. My ex–who I loved deeply had resurfaced–allowed me to have some of the life I knew we could have together–and then freaked out. That last “normal” week was the last week I saw him. Everything felt like it was in this limbo–this holding pattern. Then the job disappeared–forcing me to make huge choices and to scramble for stability. Opening up all kinds of new possibilities. And the guy disappeared. The other guy stayed, but withdrew more.
And here I am–five months later–42, unmarried–single and childless. Starting death doula training. On the path to becoming self-employed and a counselor. Into my third MBA course in diversity and inclusion. Facing yet another cat cancer. And mostly pretty happy.
Nothing is remotely what I thought it would be when I was 30. But that’s fine.
I’m sad, too.
There’s a lot of stuff I’ve wanted that I’m reconciling now–things I know I’ll probably never have for myself. Things I could have had if xyz had just worked out. But those things aren’t mine anymore. They never were mine, really.
I still wish for certain things. But while I’m not necessarily giving up, I’m done hustling for them. I’m done praying for them or contorting to fit. I’ve got some self-respect now. And very high standards–for me and everyone else that gets to be part of this life. That means letting go of people who can’t keep up. And that’s necessary. I’m starting to be more of a surgeon about those types of things.
The next few months of my life are really going to be about me being the best version of me that I can be. And that means a lot of self-care and self-work. Worrying less about other people and their opinions of me and more about the things that matter to me. More than anything, it means I’m turning within–as I usually do this time of year–but maybe even moreso. I’m looking forward to this self-imposed extra-isolated quarantine time.
The thing I’ll keep from this time is that my company is valuable. And that I am someone worth missing. I’m someone worth taking care of. And the someone who needs to learn that–most of all–is me. I don’t care what other people think nearly as much. Mostly, I’m learning I matter. And I’m done treating myself like I don’t.
In some other life, I watched JTE perform in a tiny Denver venue, on a rainy autumn night. His voice filled the room, and we all fell in love with him and the world he built for us. Vulnerable, raw, and real. We will miss you, sir. Thank you for making this world so much more interesting.