2004. July. We were at the water’s edge. At the park I was in every day of every summer during my childhood.
Denver is unique because of all its parks. Garfield Park was a short walk from my childhood home. The place where Mama and I would herd the cats for 7-11 picnics. A small park with a big lake you could walk around and benches. It was where I learned to swim, in the pool adjacent to the lake, on the Mississippi side. We’d bring bread for the birds. It was quiet and beautiful, despite being in the middle of a neighborhood full of folks who were suffering.
It was special to me. A sacred place. A place where I could be a child–carefree, happy, in my body.
We had gone to dinner. Our first dinner together since he got back. For months, I had convinced myself that the man I loved would reappear as soon as he re-entered the state. That this man I found myself questioning and hating was not him. It was just some suit he wore to combat his own misery.
We went to a restaurant at the mall in Lakewood. I want to say it was barbecue, but I’m wrong about that. I don’t remember anything about that meal or what we said. Just that I didn’t want to be there. We had been broken up for a couple months by then, but I held out hope. That wasn’t why I didn’t want to be there, though. He was in entertainer mode–that fake, drunk version of him putting on a show. Pretending to be fine when I knew he wasn’t. We left, finally, and I remember him driving down Wadsworth. A little too fast, swerving in and out of lanes, deliberating driving recklessly to scare me.
And he did.
For a moment, I wondered what the cops would tell my mother when he crashed the car and killed us both.
Or maybe just I would die, and he would have to tell her.
I just wanted to have a real conversation with him, so I asked him to go to the park. We drove to the far end. Parked away from the gangbangers and walked to the water. We stood there on the water’s edge. In the dark. It was so quiet and calm–and I was anything but calm. For a minute, I grabbed his hand–looked up at him–and realized it was limp and lifeless. So, I let it go. Then walked back to the car.
He suggested we go to IHOP. The one on Colorado near the restaurant he was servicing that month. The one where he cheated on me with some know-nothing waitress he didn’t give a rat’s ass about. That one.
He didn’t know I knew.
We listened to Charlotte Martin on the way there. I had just discovered her and was in love with her work. On Your Shore.
We sat at a booth. He ordered pie and coffee. We shared. I picked at it. I think it was banana cream or something like that. I remember trying to explain why I loved Charlotte Martin’s music so much, but he didn’t care and I could tell. So, we left our pie half-eaten and he drove me home.
Mama saw my face when I walked in and tried to hug me, but I wouldn’t let her.
That’s when I knew we were never going to be anything–not even friends–again.
But I didn’t want to believe it. Instead, I let that man stay in my life until after Mama died later that year. Until I finally just stopped talking to him.
My whole life, I’ve felt wrong. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt forgotten and alone. Mama was the only one who ever remembered me. Who ever did what she said she’d do. Except when she couldn’t. Which was often. Because, as much as my Mama loved me, there were many things she just wasn’t capable of.
And I accepted that from her. Because she was all I ever had.
I learned from a young age to not expect anything. To not accept promises. To not believe people.
Because they’d only disappoint you. And you couldn’t even be mad at them for it. Because it wasn’t their fault. They loved you–of course, they did. They were just fucked up. This is who they were. They couldn’t change it, and it was unfair to expect them to. So, expect nothing.
Only that creates an expectation.
And to really, truly, feel loved, you have to feel safe. You have to let your guard down. And there is an inherent expectation there that the person who loves you won’t hurt you on purpose.
It’s kind of necessary if anyone is ever going to be vulnerable. If I give you the most tender part of my heart, I have to know you won’t crush me.
But expectations suck. A lot. And most of the suffering I’ve experienced in my life comes from the expectations I’ve had. And most of the people who crushed me did so without any thought whatsoever.
That’s pretty terrifying. And frustrating because–if they didn’t intend it–how can you really stay mad at them?
You don’t. Instead, if you’re like me, you feel like you don’t have a right to be upset. Because they didn’t intend it. So, then, you get mad at yourself. You tell yourself some shit to get through it. You beat yourself up for being overly sensitive. And then you unpack that in therapy for years.
All of my shit, ever, in my life, has come from being maimed by people who were fucked up and never intended to hurt me…and feeling like I needed to apologize to them for bleeding–while being really pissed off that they never gave a crap that they made me bleed.
I’m choosy about who I let in. Especially these days. After years of having my heart battered–of people being reckless with it–I don’t share it that often. I don’t get attached to people. I expect loss like people expect their paychecks. Because, since losing my mother, I can count the consistent people in my life on less than one hand. People do not stay here. I know this. It doesn’t matter how lovable or unlovable I am. Everyone leaves me. So, why invest?
But I am still the girl who falls in love too quickly and ridiculously–who stupidly shares herself endlessly and freely–and I want to believe this will be it for me. Because, mostly, I’m tired of suffering. And mostly I can’t help it. Despite all the shit that has happened to me, I just can’t let go of happily ever after. And I just can’t let go of the idea that something has to come from all of this.
No matter how good anything is, there’s eventually a thud. People eventually show you exactly who they are, and suddenly, you see them so clearly. Suddenly, you see why all those things happened to them. Why they were left, too. And you can believe it or deny it. But that knowledge never quite goes away because those things don’t go away. They just show up more in this life you’re making together.
Another layer of intimacy that can either fuse you together or blast you apart. The truth is–and this sucks–you don’t really know someone until you’ve broken their heart. And vice versa.
My whole life, because of my eternal feeling of disconnection…something I inherited from my parents from their experience and their neglect of me…I’ve sought connection and being understood like addicts seek out heroin.
All I’ve ever wanted was to be seen–to be known–consistently and wholeheartedly. To not be constantly misunderstood or judged. To be accepted and loved for who I am. There have been times when I thought I’ve found it, but I never did really. I am seriously doubting if it’s possible, now, and maybe that’s the lesson.
Maybe, my goal should not be to be understood or seen or wanted. Maybe my goal is to just be. To forget about anyone else’s consideration of me and just work on keeping my cup full. Because all of that comes with so much expectation, and I can only be disappointed by that.
But if I focus on being and filling my own cup, I focus on how I’m treating me and the only expectations I face are the ones I’m capable of changing because they’re my own for myself.
For years after my Mama died, I assumed that there would be a day when December wouldn’t sting–when the dark cloud that is this month wouldn’t follow me everywhere I went–when life wouldn’t feel heavier than it needed to be.
For years, I thought that–because I felt that way–that who I was–what I was doing–who I was with…was wrong. Because, if it all aligned and I was in a good place, I’d be immune to that heavy ache of my heart. Untouchable, even. That December was my punishment for all the things I wasn’t. Couldn’t be. That if I finally became worthy, I would be normal–or at least look that way.
Last night, as I looked at snow globe music boxes, December snuck up on me…like someone slipped a suffocating cape on my shoulders and turned off all the lights. Its familiar, penetrating gloom overtook my wonder and overwhelmed the nostalgia. I clicked the Amazon window closed and started sobbing.
It came out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly as it went. Some hideous, awful boogeyman that you hate, but who also feels like an old friend. The kind of monster I’d greet at door with, “Oh, there you are–I was wondering where you’d gone to.”
A reminder I am not normal or worthy or enough or healed. That I’ve never been these things. That I will never be these things. A reminder that this is just my life. That I am just as fragile as I am resilient. That I am probably too sensitive. That I love beyond comprehension and let go of nothing. And that this–as heavy and hard as it can be–is all okay. That I do not need to fix myself anymore. That I only need to accept, honor, and acknowledge.
That this–this ache–is the Universe begging me to pay attention. That the Universe is not some rotten bitch plotting my destruction. That it is as light as the angels on our old Christmas tree–begging me to be kinder to myself. To let it weep.
It was not the music box that got me sobbing. Or the things I used to love that now hurt. It was the grief. The ache of loss. The hole in my heart. And I had a choice. I could stuff that hole with cotton balls and stop the bleeding by convincing myself the hole didn’t exist, or I could acknowledge it–let it bleed–and then suture it back together…knowing the steady thump of my heart would rip it open, again and again–until scar tissue formed that made it strong enough to withstand tears.
So, I yelled out to the Universe–in the ways I do–and told it–“I got it. I will slow down. I will accept this.” Even if I don’t want to.
And so, I let myself cry for five minutes and pondered what happy and right really means. And went back to my life. A good life. A life that doesn’t hurt most days anymore. My life.
And the heaviness followed, as it always does. In December.
Sometimes, I wonder what I deserve. It’s the perfectionist’s way of playing poker. Do I deserve to be happy and content? Do I deserve the love I’ve found? Or do I deserve all the death that’s invaded my life over the years?
Deserve is a tricky fucking word.
An unfair word. A word I use a lot–but maybe should strike from my vocabulary. Because fuck.
It implies that life is fair. When we all know it’s not. It implies that normal is some birthright, but normal is different for everyone and probably not that great, if we actually take the time to examine it.
But, oh, how I’ve longed to be normal. It’s such a childish thing. But even at the age of–hell–39 (?)–I wish for it. Just like the pipedream of just and fair. Knowing it doesn’t belong to me. Knowing that it’s okay. Knowing that I’m probably better for it. But wanting to believe in the lie of just fine anyway. Because I am often, still, a six year old girl–just wanting to be enough.
In such a world, the shit that happens daily in this world doesn’t happen. Little girls aren’t made into sexual objects. Respected men don’t rape women and get paid for being fake journalists. In such a world, old men and women don’t have to choose between buying ramen and paying for insulin. Massive tax cuts for the rich aren’t enabled right before Christmas–at the expense of the most vulnerable–gutting people’s ability to surpass what they were born into. And Mamas don’t die on their daughter’s favorite holiday.
We don’t live in that world, now, do we?
December is still heavier than it should be. I’m still the girl who walks the Earth without her parents, with a partially empty heart where they used to live. Who cringes when she sees certain things during this month of magic and glitter.
But it’s easier, somehow, now, even if the wounds still weep.
The world we live in is still pretty wonderful. Full of things we don’t anticipate–things that surprise us just when we’ve given up hope.
Like, after months of breaking up with OKStupid, a man from the place where she came from could stumble upon an abandoned profile–read it–tell people he found his dream girl–and send a note starting a clock.
And the girl–drowning in what feels like the worst life–can find it in her inbox–smile and take a chance…in her way…and surprise him a few times.
And it can all feel so easy and nice…like the world is actually kind. Like within all the bullshit, there’s a reason for all of it–and the reason is us.
And as much as you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know it won’t. Because it hasn’t yet. Because this is ours. Because we share the same heart. Because we’re the same person, in so many ways. Because alone together is a thing now, and nothing feels like work. And we’re not going anywhere. And it just is. And you don’t really know why, but you don’t actually need to know why. All you know, really, is that it’s a soft place to land. And finally, it’s okay to be exactly who you are. Someone finally sees you. So you land.
And maybe that’s the answer to everything.
This blog post was written in response to this 30 day challenge.
I’ll be writing every day in December.
Long time no see, friends.
I’d say I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long, but I’m really not. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to say hi. I did. I had things to share. But I was mostly a bit exhausted by social everything and needed to process all the change in my life. While I’ve been around, for sure, I certainly haven’t been sharing all that much. And maybe that was a good thing. But I always come back. It’s my way.
A lot has changed over the last month or so. A bit of catch up…
So, yea…good things are happening. I will try to write more, now that my keyboard is fixed.
It’s ridiculously early–or ridiculously late–depending on which end of the whatever you’re on. I have not been to bed yet. I was up late, smiling with my favorite man, and then stayed up later to watch various television shows. Because it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done that, and I was also napping most of Saturday. As one does when they’re utterly exhausted from working too hard and being sick/in pain for the last…oh…year or so.
I think I may have dealt with everything plaguing my body. I’m actually feeling decent lately, though there’s still this mild aching and sensitivity from that problem child tooth I’ve been dealing with for all of 2017. There’s a chance I need more dental work, if the pain doesn’t go away. Here’s hoping my stupid sinuses stop being dicks and it’s just inflammation–not a nerve-related issue requiring endo work. So, yea–been a bit tired and basically passed out yesterday.
The good news is that life is, actually, good right now. Like good in the way it is when you actually start believing it’s all going to be okay. That the BS that’s been so prevalent in your life might actually work out.
Other than the exhausted thing, I’m feeling strong physically and have new resolve to take care of myself in a way I’ve never committed myself before. Work is imperfect, but I’m feeling much more calm and at peace with my day-to-day. I have goals to work toward that excite me.
And lots to say about love. Many big things happening there that I never thought would happen. Things I won’t share here because, well, it’s ours for the moment. I feel really good about all of it and am just really grateful to have found this.
Several years ago, this day was the day that changed my life forever. A friend of mine shot himself in the head in a park I’d later live next to for 10+ years–extinguishing a brilliant talent and a cherished life. I was in a dark place at the time. That man never knew how much he mattered, and his death changed my life forever. It inspired me to live–to really be myself–and to love. Oddly, right after his death, I met and was engaged to a man born on that day–this day. That relationship wasn’t mine. We didn’t work out. But it allowed me to survive many other tough days and opened my heart to this really great thing.
I’ve loved a handful of men in my life. Each one added things to my life that I will always carry in my heart. They changed me in ways that sometimes felt impossible to heal, too. I’ve lived a life where love was abundant, but feeling loved was rare. This relationship feels different and has from the very first hello.
I think, maybe, I’m different.
Leaving Colorado was really tough, but I needed it. I needed time to sort of hibernate and reset. I needed room to be surprised. I feel more like myself. More committed to healing. More capable of dreaming. More dedicated to change. It’s been an uncomfortable blessing, but one I feel is leading me to places and people that support my best self.
I sometimes wonder if I would have ever loved my exes had I met them as the woman I am now. I still love hard and fast, but it’s not in a way that sells me short. I attract different men now–men who are in it for the long haul & accept me as I am. There are boundaries, and it’s all brand new, in a way. To actually feel loved and wanted for exactly who I am. To not be just another endless option or a compromise. It’s good in a way that heals me more each day–even if I’m a little terrified of it. It fills me up and allows me to be the woman I want to be–not just someone chasing some ideal that doesn’t exist.
It gets different. And sometimes, different is exactly what you need.
Certain days mark a before and an after. You go to bed being one person, living a certain life–thinking you know things. You wake up to a new reality–sometimes, literally–and suddenly the entire world is different. And then you spend years figuring it all out. For me, this is one of those days. A worst ever day. The start of a whole new life. Eventually, the day that ripped you apart becomes your healer.
Two years ago, I started a concerted battle for my own happiness–which was part of a longer journey. I had been at war with myself for dozens of years and had fought the good fight. But, at some point, I realized I had no more tools. I had reached a point where, despite the personal progress I made on my own, I just accepted that my life was going to be about suffering. I thought it was just part of my DNA. I couldn’t change it. I just had to find some way to move on and stop the suffering that came from not being able to change. So, I started working with the best therapist ever–someone who intimately understood where I had lived emotionally for my entire life. She was someone I admired instantly because there was no lie in her story. She didn’t believe that suffering was mine. She believed in my ability to be fully myself and created a path out of the misery I just lived with. I did the hardest work I’ve ever done–facing myself. Telling the truth about my life and about the things I endured–the people I loved–about the stuff I made up and the things I minimized. While I went to every session and fully committed, half the time, I wasn’t sure if this was working. I often didn’t want to make the investment in myself. I felt like I was talking to a friend more than I was getting on with it. But then, I’d have breakthroughs and I realized that each session brought me closer to the person I always was and wouldn’t allow myself to be. Earlier this week, it was amazing to review the progress of the last year with her. We celebrated because that stuff I always claimed as mine is now so clearly not mine. Who I am has opened up. I am honoring myself. I am setting boundaries. I am operating from a place of self-love rather than duty. I will probably never be fully healed. Trauma isn’t like that. But I am not broken or maimed. I am in a place of authenticity and vulnerability more often than not. I am closer to freedom than I’ve ever been. And I’m ready to climb the scariest mountain to get past even more of the trauma I’ve lived through. Therapy works, y’all. I’m truly scared to tackle this next challenge. But I’ve also never been so excited to see how I surprise myself.
I’ve come full circle. I wrote the following blog entry 7 years ago, when I was starting the journey I had toward realizing I couldn’t do this work alone.
In six minutes, another anniversary will be in full swing. A few days ago, my heart started shutting down a bit–like it does every year. And I decided I had nothing I really wanted to say. Or, rather, I just wanted to talk to people who knew me well–or who I wanted to know me well. Because anything–anything at all beyond that–was just too much. And, so, I took a break from Reverb and my blog and Facebook…and I focused on work and school and getting through. Like I used to, when I was a kid and never felt anything. But it isn’t so simple now.
I was six years old on December 11, 1984. I remember I was sitting in Mrs. Martinez’s classroom. And I remembered a certain fleeting, sinking sensation as I lost control of all my bodily functions. And I remember Zelda being horrified, pointing at the puddle on the floor. I remember the teacher’s aide walked me to the nurse’s office. And I remember they didn’t have any clothes that would fit me. And I remember them calling Mama. Mama was at the hospital–that cold, scary building where Daddy lived that week.
An hour later, Mama was at the station–her face red and drained and not right. And the first thing I said was, “He’s dead, isn’t he?” But it didn’t come out as a question. And I never heard her answer–though she told me later what I said. I don’t remember that, either.
Death when you’re a small child is an odd thing–kinda like a kaleidoscope. Both fascinating and disorienting. You can’t stop looking at it, but you’re afraid to touch it–because it…you…might break if you do. And so, you stay away…but you always keep one eye on it.
I was not a child that grieved. I was not a child that cried. I was not someone who felt things. I was a child who lived. I did things. I set high standards for myself, and I worked. And I took care of everyone. And I convinced myself that the world rested on my shoulders. Mostly, because my world did.
The truth is my father dying didn’t ruin my life. If anything, it saved it.
If you’re a child of an alcoholic–a man like my father–someone who went to the end of Hell and back and still sank–someone who slowly died every single day I knew him–you understand this. You understand that, once again, my father helped me be born. Even if he taught me, better than anyone, how to die.
I grew up feeling like an alien. For a lot of reasons. I was one of the few white girls where I grew up. I was poor and had hardly anything. I didn’t have family, and I didn’t know how to be part of anything. I knew how to put my head down–how to stare at my shoes–and how to disappear. I was an only child of older parents, too. What do you do about that?
For me, I spent a lot of time exploring things…finding out how things related to one another…and watching. I was obsessed with learning. I read anything I could get my hands on, and I was always listening in on people’s conversations…looking for clues about how I might fit in. I did this for a really long time. And, then, when I was 13, I sort of stopped trying to adjust so much. I think I started to like myself, just a little…but it was enough to make me believe things.
And when people would tell me I couldn’t do something, I’d put my head down and work hard…as hard as my Papa worked to achieve the American Dream. I am stubborn just like him, and I wouldn’t stop till I proved your ass wrong. And then, I’d probably keep going. And one day, I found that I made it. That I was at some school, and it was all paid for. And so, I fought to stay. Even now, I’m always fighting to stay…or to make you stay, just a bit longer.
It’s taken me a really long time to like myself.
There are many things I struggle with. Like I get impatient with my impatience. And I hate my calves. And I have big feet. And I wish the boobs didn’t always get in the way of something. And no matter how thin I am, I will always think of myself as just a bit bigger. Like I know I’m smart, but I hate even the idea that someone might think I’m stupid–and so–I will try very hard to make sure you know I have a brain. And while I’m funny–sometimes–I’m funny because I’m making fun of myself…and, sometimes, it’s not a joke. And I’m afraid of you. I don’t trust you. And if I really like you, it’s easy to convince myself that you’re just being kind. And deep down, I question why anyone wouldn’t hate me. Because I so often do.
But, sometimes, I’m okay.
Sometimes, I am them. Sometimes, I am more than they could ever be. Sometimes, I’m the daughter they deserved.
And I am brave. And I am vulnerable. And I am hysterical. In the good way.
I am smart, but not obnoxious–in a way that uplifts me and everyone I know. I do everything with intention–like I mean it–like my life depends on it…whether it’s walking or talking or laughing or crying. I’m there, and there’s no other place I’d ever want to be. I am the person you will always rely on because I always come through because I want to and I can. I tell the truth, even when I feel dumb…even when it hurts like Hell…even when it means my world will collide with shit. I am bright and shiny. I help you fly.
So many of those pieces of me are my parents. And so many of those pieces come from their deaths. So much of my shit–of my crap–my stuff–exists within all of that. But, sometimes, I don’t mind it because it helps me recognize them in me…and it makes me realize I have changed and can change and will change. And that this is absolutely up to me.