Throughout my neighborhood there are a few modern homes that appear out of nowhere and clearly don't belong here. My home is a 1920's bungalow. The old bones were made to be where they have stood for nearly a century. Scattered throughout the neighborhood are lots filled with tall grass in untamed flurries and platforms of crumbling concrete. I have only one neighbor with a perfectly manicured lawn. She understands there is no controlling your children but you can control what your yard does. You can see the rise and run of stone or worn wood that once led somewhere. Steps are missing, and handrails are less than memory . . . just gone. The supports are still there because they were so much stronger than the broken home they established. Ivy and weeds meander and overtake lifted areas in a bid for the love of the sun and wildflowers attract bees that lazily dance through their work day. I headed home with a clear head and plans to play in the dirt because there is something so rewarding about dirt under my nails and making things grow.
My neighbors are good people. I never interacted with them much when my husband lived here. One summer day in the first few years we lived here, we were all outside and my husband hosed me down from head to toe. I was soaking wet and sliding through caked on mud. He was the only one laughing. My neighbor across the street would hear him yell from her house and always assumed there was violence in our home. There was emotional abuse. There was financial abuse. There still is financial abuse. He took his aggression out on cupboard doors and bedroom doors. He never hit me, and I only feared he would once. That fear was enough to get a restraining order that I later had lifted. A judge was worried about my safety to the point that he was willing to take away my husband's rights to me and our children. In all the ways my Dad stresses me out, I love him enough to never want to sever that bond between my kids and their Dad. I would protect them from him, but I don't feel they need it. He's become the Dad I hoped he would be, without me around because he's probably a much better person without me. I wonder if I was too much of everything in the way that he was content in doing nothing once he got home. The day he moved out, my neighbors came over to see how I was doing. They didn't know I was home and fighting to pull out the bathroom sink and vanity as he was taking out bunkbeds and the barbecue grill. My next door neighbor told me how petty he looked in taking a grill he never used. I was usually the grill master unless I asked for his help and did all the prep for him. My neighbor offered to help with anything around the house if I needed it. I'm a big girl. I can vote and buy my own booze. I keep my distance and try to be a good neighbor to him and his wife. The neighbor across the street shot me a text to make sure I was home and tell me she was taking pictures if I needed to file a police report. She opened up about her concerns of abuse and then told me of all the ways her husband hurt her. In all of the distance I kept, they still gathered around me in support. When we had a custody hearing, both of them offered to write character reference letters on my behalf. They did. (The judge only looks at notarized affidavits. Lesson learned. I wasn't trying for sole custody. Not really. I just know a good bargaining chip when he had no idea what I wanted. He told me what he wanted and wasn't concerned with what I cared about.)
My neighbor could see something in me that she saw in herself and when she explained it, so much clicked for me. I won't disclose how many, but I've had several people tell me about their rapist or the abuse they suffered at the hands of a loved one. I encouraged one woman to press charges against her abuser after her experience with date rape. In helping her, I was able to work through my own experience without ever telling her about what I felt. I printed and saved the newspaper clipping about his arrest for a long time. There's a resilience in us. It's a light that attracts abusers, but a glow that encourages other survivors. I get it now. It's not always a fear of violence, but an inability to step out in confidence. It's a part of us that I'm working on rewiring in me. It's the part of me that feels respecting others comes before my needs. It's the part of me that is comfortable living on eggshells because it's been so long since I didn't have to. It's a part of me that is only confident in the ways that mean the least to me. I used to tell my husband that I have amazing legs and a decent rack, but I couldn't show him what I wrote to the point that I stopped writing.
As I was turning off the garden hose this morning, my phone rang switching off the 311 song I was in the middle of singing. The peace and joy I felt was in my voice as I answered my phone. My Dad has a gift for asking what I'm doing before telling me what he needs. One day I will call him on this manipulation. He put me in a place where my gut twisted in stress and for a few minutes I craved the taste of courvoisier and cigarettes and the escape that was once my favorite preparation ritual before family gatherings. I'm not that person anymore. I don't remember how she woke up without a hangover and I can't handle cold Tommy's burgers for breakfast anymore so I called my sister instead. She gets it. She reminded me of how amazing caller ID is. I hung up with a plan to write and do what I was planning to do, and decide if I will be the daughter I want to be, or the person who needs to be taken care of first. I ended up choosing me with plans to fall in line as a daughter tomorrow when I can at least prepare for it.
I have a huge family that supports me in any way they can and in ways I've never even anticipated. They are so team me that sometimes I need space to breathe in air not tinted by the anger they express in my protection. Their love in that way can turn toxic. They also see me as resilient and can't always tell that the space I sometimes need is from them and their needs. Their needs aren't huge, but my plate is pretty solidly full.
When I was in high school I made a boyfriend my world. He had brown hair that flopped in a mushroom cut and loved basketball, but the game didn't love him. I used to pack his lunch and mine because giving is part of who I am. In hindsight it wasn't one of my more brilliant moves. I tend to give more than I should. He had a hard time punching a straw through a Capri Sun pouch, and I felt obligated to take care of him. I felt needed and like he wanted my brand of love. I even skipped drill team tryouts the next year to spend more time with him. He took a cowardly exit in telling me he had to let go of me because his parents found out we were still dating long after they told us to break up. Later random girls with larger curves than mine and lipstick bolder than mine would tell me he hooked up with them when we were together. We spent ditch days exploring the swings at Griffith Park or touring Olvera Street, but he wanted something else. It took a while for his pregnancy scare that broke us up to get around to me.
I realized confession isn't for the person you unload on. It's a way to unburden your own guilt without regard for the destruction you unleash on another person. Confession is selfish. I think that's why I tend to wait until confronted, or until I can see the repercussions of my actions. When I'm undeniably wrong I apologize. My kids know I will own up to being wrong and inconsiderate. There's no such thing as "because I said so." They know to call me on it when I'm screwing up. As their mom I get one shot at being what they deserve. When I screw up, I own up to it as genuinely as I can.
It was my first time ever being dumped and I returned to the group of friends I had before him. They were older than me, and at that time mainly on the football team. I remember standing behind them as he would walk by with new girls on his arm, and I felt protected. I had these amazing guy friends who only saw me as a younger sister, and they were standing around me and it was a ring of protection. He would walk by but he wouldn't look at me. Even if he did, his look was met by the guys that at least gave the impression they would hurt him for me if I wanted them to. They were part of a hill top kick back I was never invited to. I can appreciate that they never saw me as one of those girls. They probably have no idea how much support they were giving me. I remember being told by a few boyfriends that I was too nice and innocent and those weren't bad qualities, but that was part of my rebellion after being dumped by my New Yorker.
I have a lot of male friends that have stood by me in protective friendship throughout my life. I was once having a party when I was in the garage at my mom's house. At one point, I was being pulled toward my bed by a group of guys I didn't know. I had hands all over my body, grabbing and pinching me. I tried reaching out to the one guy that I was actually seeing and he left me to grab another friend of ours. (Seeing him as a bit of a coward didn't make me want him less.) The friend he grabbed then pulled me out of my room, making that group of guys back down. He was short and stocky, but not many people would pick a fight with him. Years later my friend's girlfriend would tell me about the many times he beat and raped her. I left that friendship because my heart couldn't condone who he became, but the irony of being saved by a rapist from a gang rape has never settled into insignificance.
Last night there were Facebook Messenger pings back and forth between me and one of those football player friends from high school. I told him how I finally cursed out my husband. Again, not to his face - to another friend of mine. But I did it. He told me I should curse out my husband to his face, and called him names for me and again, I felt supported and cared about. I told him about some of the stunts pulled this year, and he called him a coward. I noticed a theme. Again, I'm into all the wrong people. I then told him how much his support meant in high school too, and I'd have to go back and read our emails again to see if I ever thanked him for that. I've been so selfish lately, I may have missed that kindness. He also told me he was in a similar situation where he needed to choose to love himself. I could hear what my friend said and see past me into having compassion for my husband. It was another one of those moments when the path we are on has trail markers and mile marks and there is peace in that.
I'm in a strange place. There are times when I am angry and I want to call out all of the vulgarities that cross my mind, but the part of me that wants to be a wife in obedience to my vows has me biting my tongue in aggravated silence. It's not about my husband but about the wife I want to be. I expect to see him in the years ahead because we have children together and I can expect that we'll both try to put them first. There are times when I am at peace because there is joy when I look at the freedom I feel away from him. I have gratitude for my release. Life is full of ups and downs, but I'm habitually optimistic so I look for joy and find it and that's usually when something unexpected knocks the wind out of me.
I have friends who like to tell me how amazing I am. Faithful readers will see that there's a lot my life has seen. I'm a remarkable survivor of the craziness I've chosen. I'm resilient in all that falls into my life. There's a lot of emotional resilience I can stand on because as complicated as life likes to be, I'm still here and I'm not quitting. I have too many that rely on me to let a setback set me back.
A friend of mine is a praying person. She's prayed for my marriage in times when I couldn't. She prays for us now, as I'm just praying that forgiveness be placed in my heart so there's no room for bitterness. She tells me I'm not playing the game right. I'm supposed to be sad in my corner and falling apart and my husband doesn't know how to work with that. This might be some of the reasons why he's become especially vindictive, but it doesn't matter anymore. It doesn't hurt as much when you stop wondering how you can get past it and decide you don't have to. Honestly, I think he's always had a hard time understanding me, and I tried to become more of what he wanted to make it easier on him, not seeing how much this cage has been hurting me. I was pretty broken at first. We were at different places when he told me our marriage was over. He was miserable, and I thought we were happy. I saw my Dad's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder my entire life, and somehow it looks like Posttraumatic Resilience in me. I can celebrate my milestones and know that it only gets better from here.
I love my church Pastors. They're husband and wife and could be my very attractive teenaged parents. There's always wisdom and encouragement in their conversations and they help me see the divine when I'm too self focused to see outside of my thoughts. She encourages me in showing me that I'm not created to be below anyone. He has a soft caring side, but will put on that police officer's hat when necessary and give fatherly advice when appropriate. In my life, I've seen three therapists. They are great for getting past the major hurdles that keep you from moving forward, but the best gift they offer are tools to help you see yourself out of your valleys. I know when to ask for help and I've proven it to myself when I've sought a therapist.
I'm supported and knowing that keeps me encouraged.