Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lighthearted and free in NYC

I miss my independence. I think about how good I had it those five years living on my own in NYC, completely free, able to go and do whatever I wanted. The world at my fingertips, nothing holding me back. After my fifth year teaching there, I was planning to move to California. I had just finished up my masters degree and had earned my much coveted permanent state teaching certification. But after I finished my master's degree, everything fell apart and I somehow fell into an alternate reality, a hell of sorts, and things went pretty much dark for several years. And now I'm shaking the cobwebs out of my head, looking around me, and here I'm in this sleepy little town west of Philadelphia, and I ask myself, "How the hell did I get here?"
I don't know how I got here. It's a quaint town. The local train just went by, and the conductor was ringing that old bell as the train chugged by. Nostalgic. The neighbor has a pile of wood burning next door, and the smoke is drifting into my yard. I love the smell of burnt wood. The neighbor at the base of  Never Sink Mountain across the way is sawing through lumbar, some home improvement project. The crickets have been singing since early morning, and that means fall is on it's way. I shiver with no anticipation. I love how melancholy and gorgeous fall is, but there is deep sadness in the air. Crisp cool days are beautiful, but I want to stop the clock altogether. I'm voting here and now: no more winter. Ever.
I'm sitting out on my patio. Relaxing. Thinking about how different my life is now compared to how it was a few years ago.
It's an early July morning, five years ago. I'm living in NYC. I leave my apartment and catch the downtown B/D train and ride down to Columbus circle. Starbucks on the corner, duck inside for a raisin cinnamon bagel toasted with cream cheese, OJ in a glass bottle and coffee. Eat half the bagel, save half for later. Bagel, please don't get squished in my shoulder bag. Note to self: remember bagel is in bag.

It's summer and I have almost three months off since I'm a teacher. Delicious day. Sunny, hot, just enough shade on the other side of each street. Tiny shorts and tank on, and flats. The whole day to wonder around walking in the city, stopping at shop after shop, coffee in hand and a light heart. Slightly on the lookout for cute guys but that's a side mission, not the focus of the day.

The focus of the day: the perfect workout. Give me the city on a hot day, an iced coffee, and a twenty mile radius of shops downtown. Walking for six hours while shopping is more enjoyable, efficient and productive than wasting time on an elliptical in a cold, air conditioned gym. Yuck. Been there, done that, too many men and women oogling and judging. Give me a huge city and I will use my own legs and I will walk for the day, that's my cardio. Then I go home and strip to my scivvies and dance and stretch, do lunges while watching a workout video with that dude whose name I forget, Pete T I think. While drinking a banana strawberry smoothie.

Then relaxing in my own apartment, and yeah it is in the Bronx but it is neat, clean, classy even, with an awning out front and neatly trimmed hedges. No doorman, but the lobby is beautiful in an old, tattered kind of way, and there's some kind of mural on the ceiling that I sometimes look at.

I love my studio apartment and miss it to this day. The first time I viewed it I fell in love with the quaint, old font of the number 44 on the door. I loved how it was studio size but huuuuge as far as studios go, gorgeous hard wood floors and interesting arches between rooms instead of doors. Tiny kitchen yeah, the bathroom was larger than the kitchen but both were super cute. I took it. No more roomies!

Roomies. Wasn't cut out for living with them, but I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to make my living situation work. I started out in Morning Side Heights with four or five girls who were cousins who didn't speak much English and had a tiny dog they spoke high pitched baby talk to. They put a smooth round pebble on the mantle behind my bed before I moved in, and I took it as a good omen. There was just that bed and that pebble there when I arrived. That was "furnished" as furnished could be. I brought my comforter and a fan. They were nice, those girls. Never said a word to me except thanks when I gave the rent check. They cleaned the bathroom immaculately every Saturday morning.

The next roomies were in Inwood, at the northern most tip of Manhattan. The super was a gardener who created a labyrinth of potted plants in the lobby, halls and down in the laundry room. God I loved walking into the lobby and seeing all those plants. He loved them like children. He was from Ireland, and his wife and kids were still over there. He told me the dryers were finicky, and he wasn't kidding. I had a furnished room, with a bed and desk this time. But my roomies were a married couple who were subletting their spare room to me. They fought and had tension between them even when not fighting.

They expected me to be social and cook with them in the kitchen and hang with them in the living room, but I felt weird and stayed in my room instead. I didn't have the knack of being sociable then and may or may not have developed it since then. While living there, I had a boyfriend over for the night and they mildly freaked. Hey, they didn't tell me no overnights when I moved in. Broke up with that bf and reconnected with an ex who flew from LA to visit me for a week. They flipped again. When I stayed out late, they locked the door and pulled the chain across so even though I had the keys, I couldn't get in. They had the air conditioning on and were asleep. I have never banged that hard on a door before. The guy rolled out of bed and mumbled he was sorry and why didn't I tell him I would be out late? What, was he my dad? I didn't know I would be out late until it was already late!

That arrangement didn't last long. I think the guy liked me, and he seemed nice. Except he tried to make me pay extra at the end and I was smart enough to catch him at it and call his bluff so he was angry when I left. I actually forgot all about this until I'm writing it now. It didn't really bother me then, or now. I just moved on, stoked to be moving from there into my own place.

It was difficult meeting guys in the city. Many of them were young and flakes, or were older and bitter about a divorce. A few were awesome though.

But living in NYC. I loved the energy, even the trains. I liked being able to walk from my apartment to anywhere I needed to go.

But I didn't like so much concrete. Not having a back yard. I had to walk to a park to see trees and grass but the park was loud, crowded, dangerous at times. I couldn't just sit on a bench and close my eyes to rest a spell. I had to be constantly aware of my surroundings. I do need to be around nature and I needed to be able to rest with my gaurd down but I couldn't do that in the city.

If I had a balcony where I could hang plants and make a private garden for myself, I would have liked to stay in NYC longer. Hah ha, yes! I could have made an oasis and been happy.

My last apartment in the city had a fire escape, but that's about it. The windows were lined up so they exactly faced the windows on the high rise apartment building a few feet opposite. So to open your window was to look directly into someone's bedroom or bathroom, unless they kept their blinds down all the time. Which my neighbors did not. So when I walked into my kitchen, I would see my neighbor staring at me, laying on his bed in his red underpants, facing my window and looking in my kitchen. Ughhh. I would duck and crawl on the floor, then reach up and yank the cord to pull the blind down.

I did want fresh air to circulate in the kitchen after cooking so I left the window and blind partially up, or up the whole way if he wasn't home. Then he set up a mirror on his wall directly opposite my kitchen window, and sometimes when I assumed no one was home over there I would go into my kitchen on a summer day after a long day of work and suddenly I'd see a pair of eyes staring at me from in the mirror that was directly opposite me. Freak city. I would curse and yell "what the ****!" And yank the blind closed, mad because I couldn't even dare to get fresh air without risking this dude opposite me staring.

The same with the bathroom. It looked into another neighbor's bathroom. That was disturbing. Our window was bubbly glass though so you couldn't see through, only if you opened it. So I kept it cracked just a few inches.

One time someone broke into my apartment and swiped my computer and some other valuables. I walked in on it, they had the door still hanging open and were probably on their way back. Had to call the cops, and a pair of private detectives came to dust for fingerprints. It was not glamorous and exciting like in the movies. Those detectives seemed bored and said they couldn't find prints, that happenings like this were common place, and that I shouldn't expect to recover any property. The trail ended there. I was too busy to worry much.

I did get freaked every time after that each time my doorbell rang though. Once there was an old woman out in the hall with a hood over her head and blankets around her. She was shuffling about and talking to herself. Most other times there were Jehovah's Witnesses on the other side of the door. Once I opened the door to them and they were pleasant, didn't talk much but gave me a book that was printed in vivid ink with happy people on it.    


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Submissive no more

 I have had this huge epiphany in the last couple of weeks. My discovery:  

I have a voice, and I will use it.
-It is OK to express anger in healthy ways, even if this means yelling.

-Forced female to male submission is abusive. When a man yells at a woman and doesn't "allow" her to defend herself or yell back, that is abuse.

I am realizing for the first time in my life that my lifelong habit of never raising my voice in anger, even when someone is screaming at me and being abusive... possibly isn't as healthy as I thought it was.

It was my mother flipping out on me over the phone and email this past month that triggered this epiphany.

My mother has been my hero for as long as I can remember. I used to believe that she was 99% angel and 1% human. While my dad was extremely angry and abusive, punching holes in walls, slamming cupboards, screaming, then pausing to quote a Bible verse, my mother remained calm and silent. Whereas we were terrified of our father, our mother by contrast was the safe harbor, and she knew it. In retrospect, she would have been "safer" if she had rescued herself and us from him, but she didn't. When I was young, I adored her because I knew I could hide my face in her skirts and know she would speak in a calm, quiet voice. I knew that when he was away, I was safe and she would always remain steady and kind. And quiet.

Even when my dad was verbally abusing her, she did not speak. I remember it like it was yesterday. His voice roaring, rising, falling, things crashing. My mother didn't look at him. I can see her calmly unloading the dishwasher, putting the dishes away. Pretending like she didn't hear. It would go on for hours, several times a week randomly, month after month, year after year. She was washing the dishes as he raged, she was quietly serving the meal, quietly stirring the meat and potatoes in the pot, quietly gathering the dinner plates from the table, sweeping the floor. Going on as if she didn't hear, not saying a word.

Then he would eventually wear himself out and leave, slamming a door behind him. Only then would my mom speak. She would go on as if nothing had happened though. She would ask me if I had enough at dinner, or she would remind us that we only had a few more hours to ride our bikes before dark. It was as if he had never done anything to her, and it just wasn't discussed.

As my older sisters grew up and realized what was happening, they sometimes tried to come to my mother's rescue by sticking up for her. Even then, he continued to bully her as well as my sisters, making them cry, too. I remember my mom's silent tears sometimes as she put the dishes away.

When my brothers became rambunctious and started wrestling or getting too loud, my mom wouldn't raise her voice. She would come up the steps and quietly say, "Now, boys. Let's keep it down." And they listened. We all listened to her, well, usually. She didn't need to raise her voice to us. I think we knew on a subconscious level why she wouldn't raise her voice to us. We felt bad for our mother, and we respected her gentle tone.

I adored my mother. She was the only safe adult in the house. I was perplexed how my father could manage to rage at this meek person who didn't speak back to him.

I grew up being extremely afraid of anger. When I left home in my 20's, I gravitated towards people who were mellow, gentle, slow moving, phlegmatic even. I felt safe around them.

Knowing how destructive anger is, I knew from a young age that I would follow in my mother's footsteps and become just as safe and gentle a person she was. My relatives and sisters often told me that I was my mom's mini-me, and that I acted like her more than my other sisters.

I took this as a compliment. I guess it was. Being calm and gentle is fine. But I also perfectly imitated my mom's submissiveness and lack of boundaries. Boundaries were sinful, you see. It's like I had an invisible sign on my back that said, "Abusive men! Pick me!"

I got myself in and out of a few scrapes in life with various boyfriends. But I had my degree, career, and independence. Because of this I never had to depend on a man, and didn't end up trapped by one. I wouldn't let a guy move in with me unless the apartment was mine. If I broke up with the guy, he would leave, and I would continue on my merry way, still in my own apartment. I skated in and out of various situations where I mildly felt the heat a few times, but never stayed around a guy long enough to get even the hint of a burn. I was ahead of each guy by 10 steps and dropped men like hotcakes the second I suspected even the slightest hint that he might start to resemble that man who yelled at my mother.

Until I got married to K. Having a chronic illness that doesn't allow me the ability to work or be independent has put a cramp in my style. I don't have the ability to just walk out the door like I used to. And K is abusive. He has been for two years.

Each time K goes off on me, I revert to autopilot, and I am my mother. I hold my tongue. I put the dishes away. I wipe the table, I sweep the floor, or I just stand there. A few times out of experimentation, I actually spoke, but that turned out incredibly bad. So then I stopped doing that. But anger feels like knives in my skin, and I can't just be in the same room as it. So I started to walk away. K wouldn't let me. He would scream and follow me. I would have to run to a room and lock the door, but even after an hour or so when I came out, it would start all over again.

But I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of forcing me to yell back at him. I won't become a monster towards him just because he was being a monster towards me. I was not about to allow him to force me to change my personality and I wasn't going to let him turn me into a loud, angry person. Because if I yelled back at him, and got used to it, I might start yelling for no reason like he did, and I didn't want that to happen. I didn't want to start acting like my dad.

So for over two years, I've been simply "taking it."

But then after I spilled the beans in my family and told them my dad sexually abused me, the family dynamic shifted quickly. Since then, I've talked to my mom a few times on the phone. At first, my mom cried a lot. Then she started getting angry. By the fourth phone call, she was livid and that's when she screamed at me. My gentle mother, who never raised her voice, screaming at me? Telling me I was an embarrassment? Telling me I was a liar, a sinner, that I should never contact her again, that I deserved to be abandoned by K with nowhere to go, that I deserved to be sick? What made my mother turn on me like this?

I was confused for awhile. But now I think I've figured out where that anger came from. That anger was pent up from over 40 decades of my mom just "taking" my dad's wrath. She never let that anger out. He hasn't felt a smidgen of it. She has never released it. It's been inside of her for so long. She's been brainwashed to be submissive, and she obeys his every command. She adores him, even though he screams at her. She knows he has a problem with lusting after other women, and she knows on some level he was doing things to me and Christy that were inappropriate. But her number one duty as a wife is to protect her man, not her kids.

So when push came to shove, she chose to automatically believe my dad's innocence and blame me. But on some subconscious level, it made her furious that she had to side with this man who she doesn't trust, over me. So in an effort to protect him in a holy, angry way, she let forth her tirade of wrath on me. Wrath built  up over the years towards him... it all falls on my lap. I'm her scapegoat.

My reaction to my mom's screaming fit:

1. I felt like I was punched in the stomach and had no air to breath. I was betrayed by my own mother. My life hero, my safe person... had turned on me.

2. I was impressed that she had that much anger and for the first time in her life stuck up for herself/him (they are one identity, not two). For the first time in her life, she was not a push over.

It took me awhile to process the aftermath of this incident. I went on many long walks in an effort to sort out my feelings. Here I was hoping that this didn't mean I would be completely cut off from my family. I knew that on some level, a bridge had been crossed and there was no going back. My parents did not have my back.

Some two days after my mom blew up on me, K decided to do the same. Something crossed his line of vision that caused him to flip, and suddenly I was in the cross hairs. As he geared up louder and louder and started becoming verbally abusive, I looked at him.

He said something like, "I don't think you should be __," in a pouty, rude manner.

And in an instant, a switch inside me flipped. My mother did not have my back anymore. My mother, my hero, is a person who screams. I am her daughter. She no longer has to bite her tongue, so neither do I.

I suddenly hear myself echoing back to him, "I don't think you should be ____." I used the same pouty, rude tone.

He looked at me, shocked.

I had never echoed him in his rudeness, never echoed his tone.

I raised my eyebrow. I told him, "If you can say that to me, I will say it right back to you."

Gunpowder. Explosion. After this followed one of the worst arguments we ever had, and for the first time, I yelled back at him, allowing myself to be angry, allowing myself to show him exactly how it felt each time he took another jab. I echoed it back.

He actually had to leave the room. A first. He actually cried. A first. He threatened to leave. For the first time I told him I had plans to go live somewhere else, and I had a location and a support network who was ready to take me in.

He froze.

He didn't think I had that power. He thought I was too sick, and too friendless, and too scared to go. He found out that was not the case.

He has Asperger's Syndrome. He isn't able to feel or comprehend another person's feelings very well. He doesn't read social cues easily. He has a difficult time understanding how other people are feeling, even if you clearly tell him you feel a certain way. The part of his brain capable of having the imagination to step inside someone else's shoes doesn't function like a neurotypical brain does.

In any case, combining a loud, angry man like him who has Asperger's with a female like me trained out of fear to be quiet and submissive has been a recipe for disaster.

I see now that he really didn't understand how bad it was for me until I started acting like him and actually dished it back to him 100% what he was giving me. Afterwards, my throat was hoarse and scratchy. I had never yelled for three plus hours like that before.

But afterwards, he looked at me with a new respect in his eyes. And afterwards, I wasn't angry anymore. After two years of hiding my anger, it was finally out. And I'm glad.

I am submissive no more. Thank you mom, for blowing up at me. In a way, you still are my hero. I finally have permission to yell, and God, it feels great.

Monday, July 28, 2014

You deserve respect

This VW is in no rush to do or be anything but what it is: awesome.
You do not deserve to be rushed. You deserve a right to your feelings. You don't have to blindly say, "how high?" the second someone tells you to jump. This bit of wisdom coming to you from the formerly boundary-less girl otherwise known as me. 

It is still a bit uncomfortable for me to take a stand for myself even in the small areas. It still feels like sinning. I don't mind being transparent, so I'll share something that happened two months ago.

It was mid May, and I was out with K buying balloons for my niece's birthday party. So K left the shop while I was checking out with the cashier. While collecting my change, I saw K through the shop window pacing. I knew he didn't like to wait, and I knew how exasperated he gets. He gets angry at the drop of a hat, and anger unfortunately is a PTSD trigger for me.

So instead of carefully putting my change in my snap purse and my money in my wallet, I stuffed it in my bag and took the balloons and walked quickly out of the store. But as I did so, I got mad. The money could have easily slipped out of my bag while I crossed the parking lot. And I hated feeling rushed. By the time I got to the car, I was fuming inwardly.

I realized for the hundredth time that the dynamic between K and I is pretty much the same dynamic I had with my father the Patriarch. K gave me the angry treatment for taking a few too many extra minutes gathering the purchases together, just like the Patriarch would have. And yes, K does explode if I try to speak up about his anger, just like the Patriarch did. K does not allow me to show emotions other than the ones he approves. I am not allowed to show the slightest hint of healthy anger around him. I'm not allowed to cry around him. He yells at me and threatens me until I stop, even if I go to a distant room, shut the door, and try to muffle my crying in a towel. He finds me and yells. I am only allowed a few emotions. Complete submission and compliance to his wishes is one acceptable way I'm allowed to be. I'm also allowed to be happy, but if I'm not showing this on the outside, I am resented or shamed.

I have lived in fear of K for quite some time. But I recently have been reminding myself that I will not be punished by God for speaking up for myself in front of either of them. Still, my knowledge of this hasn't yet translated into courage to speak up to K on a regular basis. His angry responses still do cause me to decide to stay quiet instead of speaking up. So on this particular day, I didn't say anything.

But next time, I will. People will push you only as far as you allow. I have a feeling that my ingrained fear of the Patriarch has created a fertile ground for K to behave just as the Patriarch did with no repercussions. I wonder if I didn't have such non existent boundaries, would K have treated me more respectfully from the beginning?

So, back to the shopping excursion. When we got home, I opened up the back car door and leaned over to get the balloons. As I was gathering the balloons, K suddenly asked me to look at something on the mailbox. I looked over at what he was pointing to, and in that second, I felt something sliding through my fingers.

One of the balloon strings was sailing upwards, and I reached out to grab it, but it escaped. I was mad because I realized that I still give immediate attention to what someone else asks me to do, even if it is a detriment to my own task at hand. It's like just because a man asks me to do something, this means his needs are automatically more important at the moment than mine, no questions asked. That's not healthy.

This too is a subconscious habit ingrained in me by the Patriarch. I see that I still haven't shed it to the degree I'd like.

So here are few affirmations I am going to practice:

My needs are important. I have a right to move at my own speed. I don't need to blindly obey a man just because he's a man.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer, vulnerability and healing

Here's a Rose of Sharon tree from our side yard.

"Nothing heals us like letting people know our scariest parts. When people listen to you cry and lament, and look at you with love, it's like they are holding the baby of you." A. Lamott

This blog is my safe place. It is where I share my story, process things, and heal. In doing so, I've met some of the most amazing friends along the way, and to each of you : you mean the world to me. Even if we don't talk much, or we have just said a brief 'hi' online, I want to say thank you! To know that you know my story and still want to be my friend, that you say you admire me for sticking to my guns and speaking up... it means so much!

Here's a view of my garden out front this summer. I've been busy weeding it and transplanting vines to cover an old rock wall in my back yard. That and sitting out on the patio working on a tan.


This is a family photo taken on Mother's Day two months ago. Only two of my three sisters are here, as well as one niece and my mom. I have a feeling this is the last photo I'll have with my mother and I both in it.

I am not OK with that. But this is one price I had to pay for telling the truth in my family. I didn't know she would cut me off a matter of weeks after this photo was taken. But if I had a chance to have do it over, I would have told the truth all over again.
The plant on the left is a butterfly bush. This part of the garden is in my front yard. I have yet to see butterflies around this plant. Hmmmm.
I've been going on many long walks along these rail road tracks lately. Walking is cathartic. Especially on warm summer nights. Crickets rasping out evening songs. Charbroiled burgers wafting from backyards along the trail. Bruised honeysuckle lifting and falling in the air every now and again. Tangled thoughts unravelling. While the woods sigh in swollen humidity. And that breeze lifts the sweated curls off the back of your neck.
I get angry a lot. Angry at injustice. I feel like screaming or punching something. But I don't. Walking channels the anger and helps it temporarily evaporate out of me.

Queen Anne's Lace along the trail.  
And of course, summer isn't summer until a mushroom makes a random appearance in your yard.
 then puffs up in a matter of hours...
 taking on a toasty appearance...


This is all the further it developed. I knocked it over with a stick and then split it apart. The texture inside was spongy. Like one of those anisette sponge cookies dipped in milk, sort of. I would show a photo, but dissecting it was something that you had to be there to appreciate.