I love the rain, its muffled sounds through the glass pane in the morning before the sun glows above the rooftops and spills into the room one slat space at a time. I love the practice of opening blinds each morning flooding life into empty rooms. Rain gives shape to the air, animates the motionless gray of the streets. It is the tiny cold tips of needles tapping my skin with a temporary chill, then sliding away as if it had never existed. Yet the sensation is still there – lingering – like the ghost of a discarded lover. It is the permission I need to let go as it washes away the to do to do to do, sweeping it away to rest in someone else’s yard, where they can pick it up and carry on.
Archive for the ‘Memoir/Personal Essay’ Category
Posted in Memoir/Personal Essay, tagged Asperger's, asperger's syndrome, autism, autism spectrum disorder, car accident, donations, faith, fundraiser, GiveForward, Help, hope, Keep Cody at Home, love, mollie player on July 10, 2012 | 2 Comments »
I have always found a way over the walls that have blocked my path since my son Cody was diagnosed with Asperger’s. But, on June 18th, we were involved in a car accident and the damages (totaling $5000) were not covered by my insurance company. I never could have imagined the magnitude of the wall that has emerged in my path since losing my car. It is one, I have found, I cannot scale alone.
I have done everything I know to do and now I’m asking for your help. I started an online fundraiser, Keep Cody at Home, that is accepting donations until July 22, 2012. Even the smallest donation is helpful and greatly appreciated.
Author Mollie Player has also graciously agreed to donate fifty cents for each person that subscribes to her blog Stories and Truth from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. In order to qualify, you must subscribe to Stories and Truth using the promo code “GIVE” and then confirm your subscription in your confirmation e-mail.
Even if you cannot help in these two ways, it would be very helpful if you could pass this information on to everyone you know and post it on social media sites.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. You are appreciated.
Posted in Memoir/Personal Essay, tagged Baby Jane, becoming a mother, faith, finding meaning, grieving, law of attraction, loss of a child, love, miracles, mollie player, mothering, religion, spirituality, truth and stories, What I Learned from Jane on July 9, 2012 | Leave a Comment »
Today I have a guest post by Mollie Player of www.storiesandtruth.com. In it, she shares with us an excerpt from her book, “What I Learned From Jane.” This portion takes place in the days following the death of her child, Baby Jane, in which she tries to find meaning in the experience.
I should have held her more, I thought. I should have stayed with her at the hospital every night.
“It was too short,” I kept saying to David as I cried. “It was too short.”
The following Sunday, I went to church for the first time in a long time. It was a non-traditional church where people believe things like karma and reincarnation—and Jesus, too.
I liked it a lot.
During the service, I cried a little. Then, after the service, I prayed with someone and cried a lot more. The minister saw me and came over to talk. I told her what happened and said through my tears, “I want to know where she is.”
“Why do you ask that?” she said. “Why is it so important for you to know?”
“I don’t want to believe she’s in heaven,” I said. “I don’t think she is. I think she is still with me.”
The minister said that she believed I could be right; Jane could still be here.
“I don’t believe in heaven,” she said. “I believe that those that pass on are still with us, but they’re on a different level, one that we can’t see right now.”
“Can I talk to her, then?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You can talk to her, even out loud, and I think she will hear you.”
That helped . . .
. . . And that, my friend, is the story of what I learned from Jane.
Now, I still don’t have a religion. I probably never will again. But I have something else, and it is, as I said before, something big.
Something much bigger than any one thing can be on its own.
I feel more now. I love people more. But more important than all that: I have, once again, learned to expect miracles.
I don’t know what the miracles will be, of course. Right now, I don’t even have a guess. But I am going somewhere that I wasn’t going before, and my life is larger than it used to be: larger than my own happiness and larger, even, than the happiness I can bring to others.
It is as large as my soul.
Of course, I am not always full of faith, even now.
The truth is, I only have this kind of faith part of the time. The rest of the time, there is nothing—only emptiness, and when I see Jane’s picture, I just see what could have been, not what is, still, somewhere, wanting me and waiting for me to be with her again.
The truth is, most of the time I have very little faith or none at all.
But I want more.
Maybe someday I will have it.
Maybe that will be my miracle.
To read true stories every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m. about how the law of attraction and spirituality changes people’s lives, visit Player’s blog at www.storiesandtruth.com.
I stopped writing quite some time ago. Just stopped. I have been moving from one crisis to another and lost touch with the one thing I was so passionate about. In the past two months, I have had surgery to remove a parathyroid tumor (adenoma) from my neck and my six-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome was admitted to a residential psychiatric facility where he will spend the next six to twelve months learning how to cope with life without becoming violent.
Tonight, because money is quickly running out, I had to sell most of my book collection. As I sat looking at my books, I felt such a sense of loss, not just because I was having to part with items that have sustained me for so many years, but also because I realized how long it has been since I picked up a book for pleasure or wrote a word that wasn’t for a grocery or to-do list. As I began to sort through them, my heart ached. I wanted to read each and every one of them.
How could I let them go?
I started with the books I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to and then those I had begun to read, set down for some reason, and never picked back up. That was fairly easy, but it wasn’t enough. I have an hour drive each way to visit my son every week. On the weekends he comes home to visit, I have to drive a total of four hours. Gas is not cheap and I have been unable to work full-time for several years because of the toll the tumor was taking on my body before it was finally discovered. As I sat staring at the books that were left, I felt intense anxiety and had to take a break.
Why are these books so important to me? Why am I having such a hard time letting them go?
The answer came to me. Books have been there for me when no one else was there. Books have allowed me to escape a sometimes unbearable life. I have looked to books to tell me how to live, how to behave, and how to better myself and my life. Somewhere along the way I became dependent on them instead of on myself. I believed that somewhere within those books was the answer to all my problems. If I could just read this book or that book I would finally find what I have been looking for all my life. But the reality is, most of the books have been collecting dust on the shelves for years not ever having been opened. Most importantly, I have been reading books and even using the idea of reading books to avoid sitting down and actually writing one.
I went back and started pulling books off the shelves and putting them in bins. I allowed myself one small shelf for each genre I enjoy: writing advice, self-help, fiction, and memoir. If I had more than would fit on the shelf, they had to go. After filling the bins, I immediately left for Half Price Books to sell them. I knew if I didn’t, I would start to go through the bins and pull books out.
Driving the 45 minutes there and back, I had time to reflect on the process of letting go I was experiencing and surprisingly felt relief. I realized that the books I decided to keep have helped define more clearly who I am and who I want to be as a writer. I have been struggling to figure out what kind of book I want to write. Letting go of my books gave me the answer. Through their loss, they finally gave me what I had so desperately been seeking: a better understanding of who I am as a writer and to start writing again.
It is darkness that brings the memories back. I try to shy away from them, drinking coffee to avoid sleep or listening to meditation music when I lie down so that I might alter the content of my dreams, but somehow the memories always thread their way back into my sleeping mind and I have to relive them again and again.
This dream always starts out the same, flickering in and out of focus, like the old reel movies I used to watch in elementary school. Tick. Tick. Tick. Then it smoothes out and everything becomes clear.
I can see her standing in the living room next to the brick fireplace with her arms crisscrossing her chest, hands tightly gripping her sides. She is dressed in her favorite outfit: mini-skirt, half shirt, lace-up boots, and large hoop earrings; all stonewashed, all the same shade. Her hair is deep chocolate snaking towards the center line of her back and her eyes are green and brown, speckled like leaves turning in the fall. She is so thin – having stopped eating in hopes of forcing her body to conform to what she sees in the magazines. This, she believes, will make a boy finally love her.
She doesn’t know anyone here and the boy she came with has left her in this room, alone.
“You have a beautiful smile,” someone says and she turns her head slightly towards the man on the couch and then quickly lowers it trying to hide the stinging blood creeping up her neck, her cheeks.
“What’s your name?” he asks and she slowly raises her head to look at him hoping the prickly feeling won’t come back revealing her shyness.
“Sarah.” She starts to lower her head again in automatic response but catches herself. “What’s yours?”
The air is thick with cigarette smoke and alcohol is free flowing. There is a familiar pungent smell making its way around the room coinciding with the relaxation of those it passes.
Her mind wanders to thoughts of Alex, the boy she came with. This new guy could be a definite asset to her plan of luring Alex from his long-time girlfriend.
“How old are you?” Mike asks jolting her back from the imaginary kiss she and Alex are sharing. Mike is lounging back on the nubby couch, arms winged across the back, lids weighing heavily over dark brown eyes.
“Fourteen,” she tells him and his grin widens showing perfectly placed ivory squares.
She lights a cigarette hands shaking. “How old are you?”
This gets her attention. She notices he is a gorgeous man, with a muscular build that boys her age don’t have. She flashes another smile his way.
“Mmmm, what a beautiful smile.” His words linger in the thick air. His hair is cut so short that if it were not for its dark color he would appear bald. His face is tan and smooth, nearly flawless.
She thinks he is beautiful, but is caught between feeling alarmed by his penetrating eyes and excited about his interest in her.
She sits down on the well-worn chair across the room and takes a sip of the smooth amber liquor Alex hands to her. She thanks him and smiles as he walks away. He is eighteen, but she likes to think she can make him love her despite the age difference. He is a drummer in a popular local band and she is his groupie. They work together, sort of. Her sister, with special permission from her parents, got her a job at Boardwalk Fries in the Florida Mall. She is only allowed to stand in front of the bright blue counter and hand out French fry samples to passersby. She is okay with this, though, because it gives her a chance to talk to him every time she works because he is a janitor in the mall.
She thinks how lucky she is that they came here together. She had already told her parents that she was staying with friends overnight before her friends changed their minds about the party choosing to go out with their boyfriends instead. It was too late to go home and she didn’t know where else to go. There is no excuse she can use to explain showing up at home so late at night without her parents knowing she was lying. They are overly religious and abusive, always looking for ways she has sinned and reasons to punish her. She would do anything to avoid sleeping within the confines of their tiny roach-infested house and the inevitable beating her father would give her. She had sat down on the curb near the back entrance to the Florida Mall as she tried to figure out what to do and that’s when she’d seen Alex come out from work.
“What are you still doing here?” he’d asked her, knowing she had gotten out of work nearly an hour before.
“Brenda and Jennifer decided not to go to the party,” she had answered. “I’m not sure how I’m going to get there now.”
“I can take you,” he’d said, “If you’re okay catching a ride with me.” He was the reason that she’d wanted to go to the party in the first place and without thinking, she’d said yes.
Nervous about Mike’s eyes still on her, she looks around for Alex. He is standing in the hallway talking to someone she cannot see. Her eyes longingly gaze over his silky brown hair that covers the length of his back. He looks like the guys she worships on MTV. He is just one in a long line of unsuspecting boys she has targeted to be her savior. She is trying to play catch up. All her friends have boyfriends and sex. She has had neither. Boys her age are oblivious to her existence, but she has started to notice, especially at work, that older men have an interest in her.
Alex moves and she can see he is talking to David and his girlfriend. David is the lead singer of the band and is the one who invited her and her friends to the party. He works with Alex. They are the only two people she knows at this party. As she continues to look at the faces of the people around her a quick twinge of panic overcomes her as she realizes that she shouldn’t have agreed to come to an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people. Everyone is visibly older than she is and fear starts to permeate the veil of alcohol. She downs the rest of the liquor in the glass she’s holding and pops open a can of beer that’s sitting on the table next to her.
“Sarah, are you ready to go?” Alex says.
“Wha wha what?”
“It’s time to go.”
It takes her a minute to comprehend that he is leaving.
She wants to go with him more than anything.
Mike is still on the couch, sitting close to his girlfriend now, but still staring at her.
She can’t leave with Alex, though, because she can’t go home and she has nowhere else to go.
“I don’t want to go home yet.” Her words stretch out unnaturally. “We just got here like an hour ago.”
“You can’t stay here. How are you going to get home?” he asks.
She knows there is more for her to be afraid of at home than there is here. She is drunk and it’s even later. Her parents’ punishment will be too severe. Even more, she is ashamed of where she lives, ashamed to let Alex in on this hidden part of her life. What if her parents were to go after him because he dropped her off? Boys are explicitly forbidden. What would he think of her then?
They argue back and forth, he giving reasons why she should leave, her giving reasons for why she should stay, neither of them making progress. Then David steps in.
“Hey, man, she can stay here with me and my girlfriend. I’ll give her a ride to work in the morning.”
This seems to relieve Alex of all concern and he walks toward the front door to leave.
“Leave, please just leave with him,” I scream banging on the imaginary wall that separates us. I need to alter the dream here. I need to get her to leave with him. Everything slows down and I will her to stand up and walk out that door with him. Things will turn out so differently if she will just walk out that door. But she doesn’t hear me and just sits there unaware of my pleadings. My words are tangled, imprisoned in this barrier that separates me from her. She will never be able to hear them.
She watches her savior walk out the door, his image remaining even after he’s gone. The sound of the screen door slamming jars her. She starts to regret her decision. “What other option do I have?” she thinks standing up to get another drink. Mike’s eyes follow her as she walks into the dining room.
Another hour passes and the party thins considerably. Those who are left migrate towards the large, oblong table that fills the small dining room. The table is loaded with liquor bottles and extra cases of beer. They move them into the kitchen making room to play a game. She sits down at the table and Mike sits next to her. Mike’s girlfriend sits across the table. She thinks this is odd. Dave, Dave’s girlfriend, and two other guys she doesn’t know sit down in the remaining seats and the game begins.
Because she doesn’t know how to play, she is drinking shot after shot of liquor and chasing them down with beer while the other players cheer her on. A joint is making its way around the table, but she doesn’t take a hit. She hates the way it makes her feel.
“We’ve missed you man,” one of the guys says to Mike.
“What was it like?” the other asks.
“Shit, it was nothing,” he says, “They can’t keep me down.” Everyone starts to laugh except her.
“He just got released from a mental institution,” his girlfriend, Mandi, says, emphasizing the last two words while looking directly at her. Mandi is trying to scare her and it works.
She realizes this party is in celebration of Mike’s release. He begins to howl loudly and starts banging his head on the table, hard. She jumps up. Everyone laughs at her and she is instantly sober. It happens to her a lot – this instant sobriety – and it infuriates her. She sits back down and starts drinking as much as she can.
It’s not long before someone decides the party is over and everyone gets up. The two men she doesn’t know leave. David and his girlfriend walk into the bedroom nearest the dining room and close the door. Mike and Mandi head towards the bedroom nearest the front door and close the door. There is a bathroom in the center that separates the two bedrooms. She goes in and sits on the toilet and looks at her reflection in the mirror to her left. Her face is pale, bloated, with black smudged eyes. She turns away quickly disgusted by what she sees.
She comes out of the bathroom and curls up on the couch in the living room with the soft yellow glow of the lamp on the table next to the front door. She is relieved that Mike’s girlfriend is staying and she relaxes. She lights a cigarette and looks around the room. The fireplace is a silent, dark pit hibernating till cooler temperatures arrive and for the first time she notices that there is no television in the room. She stares at the orange glow of her cigarette as she takes a drag and is startled by the sound of a door opening.
Mandi walks out of the bedroom. “Be a good boy,” she says to Mike, but looks directly at her as she says it, her eyes issuing a warning. She walks out the front door flipping the light switch and the blackness of inside and outside merge. Nothing is visible but the tiny orange ring at the end of the cigarette.
As the door snaps shut she is instantly sober again fear gripping her, blood pulsing loudly in her ears. She puts the cigarette out in the ashtray extinguishing the last bit of light in the room. As her eyes adjust, the room takes on a slightly blue hue from the moonlight coming through the sheers hanging from the large picture window. She lies down trying to stay calm convincing herself that everything is okay; that it’s stupid to be so afraid.
It is a matter of minutes before his dark ghoulish silhouette is on top of her suffocating her. She hadn’t heard him walking across the living room and all the cells in her body freeze for a moment. He is trying to kiss her, pressing down on her and she pushes her hands hard against his chest trying to get him off.
She is wearing a short, loose skirt.
She struggles against him, trying to pull her legs together, trying to free her hands to pull her skirt down as he tries to pull it up. His legs are heavy on hers. She cannot get loose.
“No, no, no,” the air, now thin as a razor blade, slices at her words making them barely audible.
She tries to speak again, “Please,” her voice airless and cracking from his weight, “Stop.”
His mouth closes on top of hers. Screams release into its hollowness. She feels a searing pain between her legs and she twists and turns, trying desperately to squeeze her legs together and make it more difficult for him. He is getting frustrated. He is so big and she is so small. This should have been easier.
I want to reach in and pull him off of her, scream for her, do something to save her. I want to run into David’s room and wake him up, tell him to save her, but there is nothing I can do. I want to turn away so I cannot see what is happening to her. I don’t want to have to watch this play out. Again.
He doesn’t give up. He is used to getting what he wants. She is broken wide open. She stops trying to scream or get away. She disappears into a safe place inside her mind, separating from her body, creating a permanent divide.
The smell of Vaseline lotion.
The slimy feel of it between her legs.
She wakes to darkness and the faint sound of snoring. He is back in his room and she is on the couch in the living room, safe for now. She tiptoes to the bathroom and tries to scrub him off of her avoiding looking in the mirror. She thinks about knocking on the door to David’s room, but she doesn’t know what to say or how he will react. She doesn’t know him well enough and her fear of his reaction stops her.
She sits back on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette watching a clock tick minute by minute waiting for sunlight, waiting for the sound of David’s door opening to signal her escape out of this place. She is nauseated, her body bruised and in pain, her head pulsing – the only sound to penetrate the silence.
They are speeding up the hill on Sand Lake Road on their way to the Florida Mall, Sweet Child O’ Mine blaring from the cassette player in David’s Camaro. He is drowning her out. She told him what happened when they stopped by his house so he could shower before work. There were a lot of shits and fucks and then silence. Later, he would talk to Mike, who would deny anything happened, and David would believe him, making her a liar.
She walks into work like nothing happened. Everyone thinks she is hung over, teases her about her wild night of drinking. She starts to give a faint smile and then remembers his words “You have the most beautiful smile,” and she runs to the back of Boardwalk Fries and vomits in the mop sink again and again trying to purge him out of her. She doesn’t think she will ever smile again.
It is twenty-two years later and I come to this coffee shop each morning to write, for the first time, about being raped at 14. I know it is time to extract this nightmare from my body or it will kill me. Writing here, in this coffee shop, surrounded by the comforting smells of coffee and freshly baked cookies and the unfamiliarity of the strangers consuming them, I know I am less likely to let these memories overwhelm me and break down into uncontrollable sobs of rage. I am ashamed of what has happened to me, what has happened to my body, and my silence which allowed it all to happen with no consequences to the man involved. This shame has grown like a cancerous tumor in my body and putting my truth on the page serves as a daily dose of chemotherapy. Slowly, as I write, the mass surrounding my core is shrinking as it is eaten away by the poison that has been stored so long within its unyielding edges. I am letting it pump freely through my blood, allowing it to spread through my body so that I can gain peace from its healing power. It is flowing through my hands, through the ink on this page, making a permanent record of all I have let him forget by being silent.
*This essay was originally published in the fall 2010 issue of Sanctuary Literary Arts Journal.
Posted in Memoir/Personal Essay, tagged Birth, Challenger, Christa McAuliffe, domestic violence, memoir, miracles, Ronald E McNair, Ronald McNair, Space Shuttle, Space Shuttle Challenger, Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, synchronicities on May 20, 2011 | 4 Comments »
We are standing in clusters among the dull concrete benches and tables that are blanketed by bright, burgundy awnings in the courtyard of Walker Jr. High School. There is an unusual chill in the air this January morning in Orlando. We have been preparing for this day in our classes because the first teacher, Christa McAuliffe, is lifting off on the space shuttle, Challenger.
“Look,” someone yells, “There it is.”
I watch, motionless, as the puffy, white caterpillar inches its way up the sapphire-streaked sky. A brilliant orange burst forms its large, billowy head and catapults its antennae high into heaven. In a matter of seconds, the antennae start to bow and begin their rapid descent to the earth below.
“What the hell was that?” my best friend Michelle asks.
“I don’t know,” Sonya says, chewing her thumbnail, “But it doesn’t look right.”
“Maybe it’s just that piece of the shuttle that separates when they take off,” I add, but I know there has never been an explosion like that before.
It doesn’t take long before the teachers begin flittering from group to group confirming that the Challenger has exploded. I look up at the emptied sky and its ghostly pale hue startles me. The creature has disintegrated leaving no trace of its existence.
At twelve years old, I cannot fully comprehend what has just happened. My chin is nestled into my arms which are folded, heart-shaped, across my desk. I stare at the television sitting atop a silver utility cart in the center of the classroom.
“We will not be changing classes for the remainder of the day,” the teacher says.
Nobody responds. We just stare at the television – as it replays the launch over and over again – eyes bulging with unshed tears. Nobody wants to be the first to cry.
“It’s God’s will,” mom says when I ask her about the Challenger.
There will be no acceptable answers to my questions here at home. Once I’m home from school, I’m in isolation with no connection to the outside world. I cannot sit in front of a television and watch the latest breaking news, I cannot listen to the radio to find out what is happening; they are forbidden.
I am angry about so many things, but I swallow my words because I know they will only bring trouble. I have been beaten for much less. I don’t talk about what I have seen today in front of my dad. He is cruel and I know he will make fun of me and the conversation will take the all too familiar turn into why I am stupid and worthless. I do what I always do: I say nothing, pushing it all into the pile of silent screams I’ve been collecting.
Darkness brings a new kind of hell. Lying in bed I am no longer afraid of the hundreds of roaches scurrying around in my room or the haunting sounds of the cockroaches that so often fly above my head. I am pre-occupied. Something happened to me today. I cannot make sense of it. I am shattered. My nakedness revealing a raw pain like nothing I have felt before. The images I saw on television today etched themselves deep into my brain. In this darkness, I cannot make them stop exposing themselves to me.
I share this room with my three older sisters. I know I have to be quiet or risk the consequences. My twin sisters, Vivienne and Vanessa, can be brutal. They pummel each other with the sharp point of their high heels, ripping hair out, and destroying prized possessions. Mostly they attack each other, but anyone can be a target just by sniffling too loud or too often.
My oldest sister, Victoria, is a spy for my parents and will tell them if I so much as breathe the wrong way. I cannot trust her enough to talk to her. My two brothers, Thomas and James, are too young to understand. Talking to friends is out of the question as I am not allowed to talk to anyone outside of school. For the first time, I realize how alone I am. I try hard to hold back the sobs building in my chest and for relief I start to pray. I do not like God. I cannot separate him from the cruelty my parents inflict because of him, but tonight I am desperate.
“Dear God, please don’t let them die,” I pray, “They don’t deserve to die. They are good people and good people don’t deserve to die that way. If you can hear me, please, please, please save them, please don’t let them die. I need this from you. I need to know that you are not hateful and spiteful, that you can hear me, that you know I exist. If you care, if you are real, you will save them.”
I cry, silently, tears transforming my small bed into a pool of unimaginable pain. I beg for their lives, but I realize it is so much more than that.
I have spent the last three nights in a desperate state, each day bringing me closer to the edge. Today I learned that the remains of some of the crew members have been found. God wasn’t listening.
* * * *
I hear a thunderous crack as if something has struck the core of the earth and split it wide open.
Drip, drip, drip.
I awaken to the remnants of the drink he had thrown in my face earlier falling from the ceiling onto my forehead. I turn my head to the right – excruciating pain. He is standing behind the half wall. Something about his slow, methodic movements tells me he thinks I am dead – with our baby still inside me. He has till morning before anyone will know something is wrong. He is taking his time, cleaning meticulously, making sure he doesn’t miss a thing.
“You need to get out of here, now,” I hear a soft, distant voice warn me.
I am terrified, paralyzed by fear.
I am lying halfway hidden by a square end table that is nestled next to our new velvety sectional. A lamp sits on top of the table with an empty orange-tinged glass. To the left of my feet is the entrance to the dining room.
“NOW,” the voice says again, urgently.
What happened begins to weave its way through my pulsing head.
My purse was on the oblong oak table in the dining room which is situated next to a side door that leads into the garage. After he threw the drink in my face, I tried to get to it in an attempt to leave, but he caught me from behind and spun me around slamming me against the solid wood china cabinet again and again and again.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” he had said when he caught me, his yellowed teeth laced tight.
I could hear the dishes falling, clanking against the glass doors every time he pushed me. He had me cornered.
It was a game he played often – me trying to get up from the floor or move forward to catch my balance, he pushing me back down, putting me in my place. Degrading me was foreplay. He always continued until the powerlessness would disorient and defeat me. Then the violence would escalate. This time was not going to be any different.
“You’re going to kill the baby,” I had said, my voice high-pitched with terror, “If you don’t stop, you’re going to kill the baby.”
He did not stop.
I was tired of being beaten and bullied by him and the ludicrous game of pretend I had been playing. A fierce anger broke free from deep inside me. Even though he towered nine inches above me and weighed nearly a hundred pounds more, I punched him in the face – hard – catching the side of his nose.
It was a stupid move.
I regretted it immediately.
He did not flinch.
His short, red hair glistened with sweat. His mouth released a layer of alcohol and Skoal onto my face. The rage boiling in his bloodshot eyes and the quick bloom of red traveling up his neck was unmistakable.
“Oh, shit,” I thought as my body stiffened in preparation for what was coming.
He picked me up, like a groom carrying his bride over the threshold, and threw me onto the hardwood floor in the living room where I’d tried to escape just minutes before.
I am still in the same spot I landed, “NOW, NOW, NOW,” echoing loudly in my mind. I start sliding slowly towards the entrance to the dining room. Just then I see him crouch behind the half wall. I scramble to my feet and take off running through the dining room and out the side door. Terrified, I fight hard to stay upright as I run down the driveway. My head is pounding ferociously. Dinner is sitting at the edge of my throat begging for release.
“Please don’t let him catch me. Please, please don’t let him shoot me,” I say, my whispered pleas falling flat in the stifling August air.
He told me, not long ago, that he used to throw lit firecrackers at his ex-girlfriend’s feet when she’d turn to leave him during a fight. “She would piss her pants thinkin’ I shot her,” he’d said with a chuckle, a sickening grin spreading across his sweaty face. I know he has a gun. She must have known too.
I make it to the side of the street where my Jeep is parked parallel to the front of the house. I get in and start fumbling through my purse for the keys.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” my hands shaking uncontrollably, “Where the fuck are my keys?”
I look towards the front door of the house expecting to see him jump out at me. I dump out my purse and the keys tumble onto the seat. I start my Jeep and drive quickly down the desolate street – eyes blurry, head throbbing, stomach cramping – and head towards St. Elizabeth hospital.
I am sitting next to my sister, Victoria, waiting for an ultrasound in the hospital waiting room. There are rows of chairs throughout the large, nicely decorated room. I choose the one closest to the exit. I know this debilitating fear is not because of what happened, but what is about to happen. I am six-weeks pregnant and I’m still not sure I want to keep this baby. I have wavered back and forth over the last two weeks trying to make a decision.
We were broken up when I found out I was pregnant. I tried to make a clean break from him, but when I called to say I was pregnant his response comforted me. He was elated, even picking out names before we hung up. It made me think that maybe I had been wrong about him. I just needed to lighten up and be more understanding. If I could learn to get along with him everything would be okay. He seemed so sincere and I chose the easy solution: I went back. I thought things were going to be different – we were having a baby.
“You and Brian can stay with me,” my sister says, “until we can find a safe place for you to live.”
I have a twelve-year-old son, Brian, who luckily is spending the night with his cousins, missing out on another crumbling piece of my life. My sister flips open her cell phone to call the local women’s crisis center. She’s running interference for me, taking care of the police, the doctors, and the paperwork, because I can no longer function.
I retreat back into my head and everything around me fades.
I want so badly for someone else to make this decision for me. I don’t feel strong enough. I don’t have the courage to make this decision on my own. I am messed up and I know it. I was on heavy psychiatric medication until I found out about this pregnancy.
“Get rid of the man and you won’t need these anymore,” my psychiatrist would say before writing out my monthly scripts. He knew about the abuse.
I didn’t listen. I let myself be ripped apart inside and out and now I don’t think I can ever recover. I have been in so many bad relationships. I just can’t stop myself. I have invested 4 ½ years in this one. It is obvious to me now that I am not capable of making decisions on my own. How can I bring a child into a world I have no grasp on?
I am torn between having this nightmare end and the belief – that has been hammered into me – that abortion is murder. Maybe I will not have to choose. Maybe it has already been chosen for me.
“Sarah Bryant,” I hear someone call out.
I turn around and see a woman standing in a hallway, wearing hospital scrubs, her eyes scanning the waiting room. As I stand, I feel like I’ve been in a car wreck. Every part of me hurts. I follow the ultrasound technician down the hall, moving anxiously towards fate, my sister walking quietly beside me.
The ultrasound room is dark except for the soft glow of the monitor mounted in the right corner of the wall near the ceiling and the computer screen at the left end of the bed where the technician is sitting. I lie down on the bed and stare at the white, paneled ceiling and dark florescent lights.
“Your chart says you are here because of a trauma?” the technician asks.
She is thin, with shoulder-length, dark-brown hair. The glow from the computer screen gives her the aura of an angel. I am hesitant to answer and I look toward my sister.
“Yes,” my sister says, “Her boyfriend assaulted her. She was knocked unconscious and is having stomach cramps. The ER doctor told her to get an ultrasound to find out the status of the baby.”
I turn towards the technician waiting for the look – the one that I have seen in so many others that says, “What the hell were you doing with a guy like that? Are you stupid?” – but it never comes.
“I am sorry you had to go through that,” she says, smiling warmly.
I am trying so hard not to cry, to seem like I am tough and can handle this. My sister is sitting to the right of the bed. She is beautiful with her makeup on and her curly red hair piled high on her head and so professional in her business clothes. I can tell she is tired though – maybe of me. I am pale, eyes swollen and red, with unkempt, dirty-blond hair.
“It’s ready now,” the technician says, “This is going to be cold.”
I wince at the coldness as she places the wand deep inside me moving around searching for life. I look at the monitor and can see nothing but lifeless, dark silhouettes. Anxiety starts to build once again and my mind races with questions. What am I going to do if this baby is alive? What am I going to do if this baby is dead? What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do?
My thoughts are stopped short when something catches my eye.
“See this,” the technician says pointing towards the monitor.
I force my eyes to focus and I can see the fluttering of a tiny butterfly’s translucent wings. Tears form warm rivers down the center of my cheeks. I cannot hold them back anymore. I am awestruck. There, deep within me, is life; something I thought had died a long time ago. I squeeze my eyes shut, afraid I might be mistaken. When I open them again, though, I can see it more clearly: a baby butterfly, surrounded in a halo of white light, alive and protected in its liquid cocoon. Nothing can harm it. Not even me.
Only a month and a half has passed and I am in a new town, with a new job, and a brand new chance at life. Two weeks after the assault, I received a phone call about a job I had applied for nearly six months before. It required a move to a small college town two hours away, but I quickly found a new place to live.
“How was school today?” I ask Brian as I reach over my increasing belly to place the soft tortillas on the dining room table in our new home. The walls are a soothing beige color. The hardwood floors cool on my swollen feet. The unfamiliarity of this place makes me feel safe.
“It was alright” he says, but I know the move has not been easy for him. I smile as he turns his head and looks up at me. I place my hand on his back as I reach over to set down the sour cream.
Sleep comes quick and deep these days. The move, the new job, and the new home have fallen into place effortlessly, my seemingly endless streak of bad luck transforming into something wonderful. I am even starting to entertain the idea that there is something beyond me coaxing these things into place.
My due date is still several months away, but I want to make sure that I have everything in order. I call Human Resources at my new job, explain what I need, and after collecting my information, the woman puts me on hold.
“Sarah, I am sorry, but according to our records you will not qualify for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.” She informs me that I must be employed here for twelve months to qualify. Once my leave extends past the two-week vacation time I have accrued, I will be let go. She also tells me that my health insurance will be canceled at the end of the two-week period.
In my haste to start over, I had not considered the possibility that I wouldn’t qualify for time off from my new job to give birth.
“I have to put you on bed rest,” my doctor says, “The swelling is too severe. I know things will go downhill from here. She has held out as long as she can because I told her my job situation. I know there is nothing else I can do.
It is two weeks till my due date and I am lying in bed – unemployed and uninsured – my severely swollen legs propped up on pillows, fearful they might split open at any moment.
“Fuck you,” I say to the spackled, white heaven above me.
I roll over, situating another pillow under my enormous belly, and go to sleep for a very long time.
The scalpel slices smoothly across my swollen belly and the wail of a baby reverberates around the cold, sterile room.
“I haven’t even taken him out yet and he’s already screaming,” the doctor says, laughing, “This one’s a wild one.”
It is Good Friday and I am lying paralyzed from drugs on the operating table.
“Look here,” the nurse says holding my new baby over my head, “he’s been kissed by an angel.” I can see she is pointing to the pronounced red birthmark in the center of his forehead.
“An angel’s kiss,” I say, deliriously happy, before succumbing to a drug-induced sleep.
I take him home on a warm Easter Sunday and introduce him to the new world I have created for him.
I stand to greet the director. He is a tall, thin man with graying hair and a soft demeanor. We step into a small meeting room and sit down at a round table in the center of the room.
I wait for him to speak. It is all I can do. Without work since my son’s birth, I’ve decided to return to school full-time. Because I have been attending school part-time for several years, my student loans are nearly depleted. The only way I can return full-time is to find an alternate way to pay for the costs.
“Let me tell you a little bit about us,” he says. He tells me that the scholarship program is named in honor of Dr. Ronald E. McNair, one of the astronauts who died in the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.
Memories come rushing back as if they had been just below the surface waiting for the perfect moment to break free. I can see the smiling faces of the crew members; the bright orange explosion in the sky; the cold, gray courtyard at Walker Jr. High; and the dark nights of begging.
“Yes,” I say to him, “I watched the Challenger launch from my school in Orlando,” and I tell him what an impact it had on my life.
I am sitting outside in the soft, green grass enjoying the shade of a large oak tree. In front of me is a lake offering up twinkling layers of gold as it yields to the warm, summer breeze. I pull out a picture from my journal of the Challenger crew members and my mind wanders to the questions I’ve been asking myself for the past few weeks since I met with the director.
Did God really hear me that night so many years ago? Was it Ronald McNair’s spirit that heard me? Is this just a coincidence, or the proof I’ve been seeking? Why did I have to endure so many years of hell to get to this point?
“Maybe,” I think, “Just maybe, miracles have been all around me and I just couldn’t see them. Maybe I didn’t want to.”
I look down at the picture and feel an overwhelming sense of peace. It looks like Ronald McNair is staring right back at me and I lean in to get a closer look. All of the sudden I see his smile widen and then he winks. I look away quickly – a little spooked – just in time to see a large, vibrantly-colored butterfly following the sparkling trail of the sun and disappearing where water and sky collide.
I woke up this morning to a wonderful post from my friend Pauline Campos (Aspiring Mama). Here is what she said: “It takes an indescribable talent to take horrific childhood memories and turn them into beautiful testaments of strength and character. That’s what Sarah does with her breath-taking essays. Sarah is an amazingly gifted writer who also dabbles in poetry and fiction. I’m honored to know her.”
Wow! What Pauline doesn’t know is that I have struggled with my writing for some time now. I started writing as a way to release the stories that have weighed me down, the stories that run through my veins and leave me paralyzed, the stories that play out again and again as nightmares when I’m brave enough to close my eyes. I found a way to make the ugly look pretty on the page. As I began to find relief through writing, I wanted to share what I had been through with others. I wanted to connect with those who have been through what I have and open the eyes of those who have not.
It all began that way, but somehow I lost my way. I got caught up in the idea of being published and trying to get people to like me. I was physically ill for days before my essays were critiqued in my MFA classes. I began to write my essays in a way I thought the other students or my professor would want them. I pulled all the essays I had posted on my blog, because if they were on my blog they could no longer be published in literary journals. Things I desperately wanted to share with the world sit untouched, unseen, in easily forgotten computer files. I finally did get an essay published and the excitement didn’t last very long. My essay, something I wanted to share with everyone, was published in a literary journal that most people will never read AND they spelled my name wrong. Then, I just quit writing altogether.
I had an AHA moment when I read Pauline’s post. She has read many of my essays, but I thought: how will anyone else read them? She has given me the highest of praise, something I can read and be so grateful for and inspired by, but how will anyone else know what she is talking about if my essays are tied up for months at a time waiting for an editor to finally say “yes, they are worthy?” I realized I don’t want to keep my writing hidden or in limbo anymore. I don’t care if it cannot be published in a literary journal if it’s posted on my blog. I want you to actually get to read what I write. I don’t want to talk about the writing process; I want you to be able to read the final product. I want my work to be easily accessible. I want to return back to where I started: sharing my nightmare with others so they know they are not alone; bringing awareness to those who have no idea what it’s like for someone like me to walk in this world so damaged and broken. I want to return to the place where the blank page was my friend, a canvas for me to create a new life and heal the past. I don’t want to be afraid of the page anymore. I want to love it again.
So, I’ve made the decision to start posting my essays on my blog again. I envision it as weekly postings, but categorized under memoir so that you can come back and read through them when you like. I don’t need to be a famous author. I only need to share my work in hopes that it will change someone’s life; that someone will read it and not feel so alone; that someone will read it and say AHA! I am returning to the me who loves to make art on the page; the me that doesn’t give a damn if my writing is perfect or publishable. The me that actually writes.
Thank you, Pauline, for the wake up call, for the push in the right direction, for your belief in me as a writer…
Posted in Book suggestion/review, Memoir/Personal Essay, tagged asperger's syndrome, love, love list, love wall, Optimism, relationships, Rhonda Byrne, The Power, transformation on March 20, 2011 | 5 Comments »
I mentioned in my last post that I started reading The Power by Rhonda Byrnes, which places love at the center of all transformation and that I decided to start writing a love list twice a day so that I could begin to focus on the things I love rather than the losses I’d been experiencing lately. Byrne states that we only need to focus on love 51% of the time to reach the tipping point of change in our lives. I agree. Writing a daily love list has helped me to recognize and name the things I love and led to an unexpected benefit: the transformation I’ve seen in my son who has Asperger’s Syndrome. After witnessing me writing my love list, he decided he wanted to write one too. As we’ve begun focusing on the things we love throughout the day, our relationship has dramatically improved. He normal has violent outburst on a daily basis, but since we’ve begun writing our love lists, he’s had no violent outbursts for five days! He’s been happier and even more social. He actually acknowledged and played with two girls at the park the other day when his usual behavior is to run from other children and seek solitude. Yesterday, when he was beginning to get agitated and on the brink of an outburst, I told him that I loved it when he smiled and he stopped and began to smile and the outburst was averted. Now, instead of me telling him constantly what I don’t want him to do, we are constantly sharing what we love about each other. This is bringing about more feelings of love for both of us and more loving behavior. Even his therapist noticed a significant change in him at their session on Friday. I have found that searching for things to add to my love list throughout the day has helped me to realize just how much love is already surrounding me. My son has been so affected by our focus on love that today he cut out and colored a variety of hearts and created a Love Wall (see picture) in our living room so we won’t forget to keep love as our biggest priority each and every day.
I have experienced a lot of loss lately and it’s been difficult coming to terms with it all. I equate my current situation with that of an out of control merry-go-round. I am in the center, gripping for dear life, while it spins and spins and spins. All I can see are blurs of different paths I could take, but I’m so fearful of choosing the wrong one I’m paralyzed. This is way too much movement for going nowhere!
As is often the case when I feel like everything in my life is out of control, I picked up a book. Today it was The Power by Rhonda Byrne. I’ve only read to page 21, but I’m already inspired. Byrne talks about love being the key to transforming our lives and the obvious: positive thinking = positive outcome and negative thinking = negative outcome. I have to admit I’m not the most positive thinking person out there. In fact, I am downright pessimistic most of the time. I’ve had a difficult time changing my negative thinking. However, the idea of focusing on what I love rather than what I don’t love seems feasible. Gratitude lists haven’t worked well for me. I find it hard to come up with things I’m grateful for when so much has been lost. So, I came up with the idea of writing a love list instead. I bought a tiny, leather-bound gratitude journal and twice a day I’m going to write the things that I love. For example, my first entry is: I love that the little gratitude journal I bought today was marked down from $7.95 to $1.79 and was just what I needed right when I needed it. I’ve also started practicing saying what I love out loud throughout the day instead of constantly focusing on what is going wrong. My son has even noticed the change. What about you? What do you think about writing a daily love list? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sometimes we are given the gift of loving someone who is irreparably broken so that we can step outside ourselves and realize that it is no longer what others can or will do for us, but how far our capacity to love can expand to love them anyway in all their brokenness with no expectation of a return on our investment. We cannot repair them. We can only show them that their broken pieces are beautiful just as they are.