The Summer I’d Like to Forget

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#FWF Free Write Friday: Are You Up For This?

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I’ve been debating with myself as to whether it is even worth writing about a decade old story. I have alluded to it in poetry ( Hidden Hunger ,Witness ) but never in memoir.

It is difficult to admit that there was a time that my family went hungry.  The details of how we arrived at our sorry state are way too complicated and frankly, too boring. Here are the highlights:

  • Husband gets fired-not laid off- from six figure job.
  • Husband decides to start own business causing significant decrease in income.
  • Wife works part-time while in a year-long clinical graduate program.
  • Wife told that her job must now carry the benefits, cutting her measly salary in half.
  • Wife told that since her job does not pay in summer, she must get full-time work and the children can stay home alone all day without mom and dad.
  • Wife is not able to get full-time job but finds work that keeps her away from home for just a few hours.
  • Wife’s tiny wages go to food.
  • Wife eats less to save food for kids.
  • Husband squanders all savings  and other finances while secretly making major purchases.
  • Wife tells no one about situation even though her parents live just eight miles away and her brother thirteen.

I spent the summer of 2004 in a state of shock, or as a friend said “survival mode”.  I knew things would get better in the fall when my job resumed to a nearly full -time position. But the 12 weeks of empty bellies seemed endless. A wall of resistance and repudiation was put up by my husband. In his eyes it was my fault for not getting full-time work. Not his fault for getting fired and pursuing something that barely brought a paycheck in to pay bills.

I felt stuck. As summer turned into fall, a latent anger was born. I took it out on everyone but him at first but then it boiled over when I found out about another major purchase he had made. I went into therapy where I began to unravel the pieces of my situation as well as my marriage and more importantly, myself.

We never went hungry after that summer. I refused to have my sons experience that dull, hollow feeling that comes from not having enough to eat ever again. Their father never accepted responsibility for his decisions and instead continued to lay the blame on me. But for the  next summer and for all subsequent summers, I secured positions where I could make money and have my children productively occupied and supervised.

Life trucked on, the marriage ended, battles were waged and the three of us (as many of you know by now) have a wonderful, wonderful life. He lost us but we gained ourselves. I still worry about food and going hungry. I cannot have the refrigerator or cabinets or the pantry ever be empty. It triggers that feeling again.

The boys and I did talk about that time a few years ago. I apologized to them for what happened but they both said I did the best I could. They had come to understand the circumstances that caused the situation in the first place. It was just one of many moral violations committed by their father.

I eventually confessed to my family, who were at first angry that I did not come to them for help. I was too ashamed and I knew I would suffer the consequences of revealing the secret. It didn’t seem worth it at the time.

And do I have shame today? No, I let that go a long time ago. Although I was not conscious of it at the time, I was being abused. The blaming, the passive aggressive behavior, the snide remarks began in earnest that summer. They increased over time until I finally realized what was happening.

When one is in the midst of negativity and abusive behavior, it is nearly impossible to see a way out. One only wants the abuse to stop-not for the abuser to leave. Strange dichotomy but oh so true. Lucky for me, he left. But he still abused from afar in various ways. I only got stronger and my children got wiser.

We know how to feed our bellies and our souls. Loaves and fishes abound. Abundance is present. And we are very grateful.

Never let yourself be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.

~Robert Frost

 

This was THE most challenging free write for me.  I really went back and forth as to whether I could write about it. Frankly, I didn’t want to. But sometimes you just have to put your muscle into it. It was NOT cathartic. It just had to be written and done with once and for all.

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Temporary Darkness

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She stood in line at the cafe’; nearly anonymous in her cloak. Her hands in the front pouch, her movements silent and slight.  She nourishes herself  in the feeling of wanting to be hidden. To shroud herself in the hood of her over sized sweatshirt.  To comfort herself in the October night’s darkness and seek the void.  Mint tea and chocolate were necessary and perhaps a better alternative to a glass of red wine or a shot of tequila. She wasn’t drinking these days anyway. Hadn’t had even a sip of lightning in over a year.

She spent the day being stripped of her dignity. Questions asked.  Barbs and jabs. Silent jeers. Scoffs and sneers from across the table, trapped in that room for hours. It was about as soothing as walking barefoot on gravel. His false accusations and twisting of the truth had her seeing red. Was this once the man who made her heart sing?

She knew it was just another step in the process. Probably the worst or most unlucky bit of the situation. Positively draining.  Self-comfort was necessary. When she placed her order, the sympathetic manager touched her hand and leaned in as if to give her a hug.  She handed her the tea and treat. “It’s on me,” she said. Her eyes brimming and her throat in a grip, she managed to eke out her welled up appreciation.

The hole of blackness still overwhelmed her. But somewhere -not too deep inside herself- were the beginnings of the path toward that pinprick of light.

 

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This week’s prompt from Kellie Elmore was a five word bank. I had started writing a story last night without seeing this week’s prompt ( By 9pm last night I was tucked in listening to The Moth Radio Hour-great storytelling show, by the way!). Her words fit perfectly into what I had drafted. This piece was born of a small trigger; I was removing my hoodie sweatshirt when a flash of memory came flooding back prompting me to get the ideas out of my head before they festered!  The word prompts from Kellie are below:

Red – Mint – Gravel – Sing – Unlucky

Descent Into Darkness

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We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” — Louise Erdrich, Tracks

Kate wrapped herself in her favorite yellow scarf and her long flowing black sweater. The late autumn air had taken on a sudden, even cruel chill; one that she was not quite ready to embrace. She stood outside on the back deck facing Madonna Peak. Already, the old girl seemed to be bracing herself for the coming onslaught and endless void of whiteness.

At this moment, Kate felt like that rugged bluff. Trodded upon, windswept, beset by boulders and littered with the detritus of too many lost souls. How many times had she and Sam gone to the well of their relationship only to find it dry once again? At first, he had taken to heading out on aimless drives in their jeep, sometimes returning hours or even days later. No explanations were ever given and Kate was afraid to ask questions.

Lately, he had taken up drinking again. Alcohol had never suited Sam. Sometimes he’d pass out cold on the couch but other times and more often than not now, he turned monstrously violent. Some furnishings and even some precious momentos were scattered and subsequently shattered throughout their cabin.  Once sober, Sam had no memory of his dirty deeds. And he refused to go for help despite Kate’s tears and desperate pleading. When he started to lash out at her last winter, blackening her eye and breaking her arm ( she told the ER doctor that she took a short fall when ice climbing), she made plans to leave. But then Sam begged her forgiveness and promised to clean up his act.

And he did. For a season or two. But the destructive cycle resumed two days ago. He came swerving up the dirt driveway drunk and high off his ass, his face fuming, a savage mask hell-bent on reeking havoc. When Kate locked him out, he took his shot-gun out of the jeep and blew the door open.  She hid in the bathroom while he tore the place apart. Kate tried running outside with just her clothes and the spare key for the jeep, but he grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back inside.

And that’s when the worst happened. Unspeakable acts of debasing cruelty that left Kate numb and weak. She must have blacked out because when she woke up, he was gone.

Somehow she knew it wouldn’t be for long. With one last look at Madonna, she took a deep breath, walked back inside, reloaded the 12 gauge and waited for his return.

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#FWF Free Write Friday: Quote Prompt

I didn’t mean for it to get this dark but that’s a free write for you!

Magnificent Beauty

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I am dedicating this week’s post to Jasmine and the women of Amirah- a non-profit organization located in the Boston area that provides a wide range of services for survivors of commercial exploitation* (amirahboston.org). Jasmine spoke at author Anne LaMott’s book event (Stitches) on Thursday, November 7th. Her story of degradation and triumph was moving and inspiring. Jasmine: You are Beautiful!

Live Long Enough and You Will Find

Beautiful Treasures on this Earth

People You Meet, Come to Know

Who Share Their Stories

Filled with Grief, Heartache,

Struggle and Strain

Addiction and Abuse

Sickness and Death

 

They’ve walked in Darkness

Alone, left out, Hanging by a thread

Made to feel Powerless and Worthless

An Object for others to use and throw away

Then one day they hear a Whisper

The sound of their Own Voice

They gather Strength and Taste their Freedom

They see their Worth and the Beauty Within

Their Voice becomes a Roar- a Cry for Others

As they walk the Path of Healing

To the Light of Wholeness and Joy

A fully realized Human

Touched by Grace

*The Stats on Human Trafficking Around the World:

20.9 million adults and children in forced labor

8.7 million number of these exploited by private agents for labor and commercial sex purposes

2.2 million forced to work by the State or rebel military groups

$32 billion total year profits, in U.S. dollars, generated by the human trafficking industry

$14.8 billion The 2012 Video Game Industry in the United States

98% percent of victims of sex trafficking are women and girls

Here in the U.S.:

100,00-300,000 number of prostituted children in the U.S.

98.8: Percent suspected or confirmed child victims of domestic sex trafficking taken in by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NMCE) nationwide from 2004-2010 who were classified as endangered runaways.

(Thank you to Amirah for providing these statistics through the International Labor Organization , the Polaris Project, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, U.S. Department of State(Trafficking in Persons Report) and http://vgsales.wiki.com/wiki/Video_game_industry)

Slaying the Dragon

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For those of you who have been reading my posts the lately, you may have noticed a theme or two.  Current and past real life situations have informed those pieces. If you don’t know it already, I was once verbally and emotionally abused during my first marriage. When I finally realized that it was happening and stood up for myself one time too many, he wanted out. It was the best gift he ever gave me. Truly, there is nothing more powerful than one’s independence and freedom.

Today I live my life on my own terms.  I have confidence in my career. I cultivate healthy relationships. Love has found me again. I am a whole and happy woman. As I ready myself for the next phase in my life, I am also purging and grieving some things from my past. Writing is at once a great unburdening and a form of standing up to the fight-a means to work through any residual pain. Ultimately, I hope I can help others gain the strength to leave their situations and heal themselves.

Last spring during a home renovation, I came across a series of journals buried deep in a desk drawer. I was giving the over-sized roll top away to a woman who really needed it. I was forced to clean it  out once and for all. So there they sat. Three journals from way back when. Some had poetry. Another contained lists of information that were important at the time. Still another had examples of the verbal abuse that was being hurled at me. I  put them on my bedroom bookcase to sit once again. As I was putting them away, a lone piece of paper fell out of one of them. Hotel stationary. Three words: “I Love You” and the initials of my now fiance’.

I couldn’t figure how that missive had landed in journals filled with negativity and pain.  No matter. I saw it as a symbol of how love exists in the midst of chaos and grief. The man I love came into my life quietly. He loved me and supported me through years of challenges with my children and with my former spouse. His love is a burning fire AND a simmering heat.

The road out from abuse is filled with potholes and boulders and other hazards. But the struggle to be whole and happy always makes you stronger.

So the Hebrew people were freed from their enemy by the hand of a woman.

They danced in the streets and the women were crowned with olive wreaths.

(from Judith 1-15 verses 14 & 15)

Tainted*

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Slimed by your words

Blemished by your presence

Soiled by your twisted truth

Diseased by your self-deception

Stigmatized by your need to cast blame

Infected by your manipulation and devaluation

 

You are a parasite that fed off me

Attempting to eat away at my strength

Sapping away at my emotional energy

Draining me

Sucking me dry

Wearing me out

 

My spirit was once corrupted but never broken

I have found another path

It led me to a healthful place

Where I could mend

Reenergize

Feed my spirit

Heal from your wounds

Be free from your disparagement

Today I walk hand in hand

With loving others

On a path of utter truth and righteousness

 Feeling, tasting, touching, smelling, hearing

And being present in a world

Cleansed by holy and faithful words

Of love and peace

*(Author’s note: I found this poem earlier tonight while looking for other material for a story that has been bouncing in my head. It was originally written on March 19, 2008. I have changed a few things-like verb tenses- leaving most of the piece in tact. It was nice to see that I had a poet in me back then and most importantly, to know that I was indeed a strong woman!)

Gimme Shelter

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Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

~Mick Jagger/Keith Richards

The last time she saw him was when he called her a bitch.   It was a dark, late winter evening.  She was upstairs, still in her work clothes, installing a new thermostat in her bedroom. Then the doorbell rang. Who could that be?,  she wondered.  She called out, “Who is it?” as she descended the stairs. Turning on the back light, she saw his profile as she looked out the window.

“What do you want?”, she asked, standing by the kitchen window.  “Is Peter home?” he asked.  It was their son’s 21st birthday and he was out celebrating with friends. They had already had a surprise party at home the previous Saturday (in fact the mud room door and kitchen were still decorated) so the actual birthday night was a quiet one. She replied that he was not.

“But I have a present for him,” he said.

“Leave it in the back hall,” she said. He grew enraged, tossed it in and loudly spoke his epithet as he left.

She had not realized that she was holding her breath for the entire encounter. She listened for his truck’s departure and quickly called her girlfriend (who offered to come over). Her son had not seen or spoken to his father in over two years.  He had grown tired of his ill-treatment after living under his roof for most of his teens and arrived back home on a black February night-his car full of his life.

Since then, family life had resumed a harmonious and healthy rhythm. She and her two children had come to an understanding of the various forms of emotional abuse experienced under her former spouse and their father.  They no longer saw themselves as victims. It was as if he did not exist. And because he did not exist, it was as if the abuse had never happened. And because the abuse never happened, it was as if their past life with him had happened to other people.

This is the place at which you eventually arrive with time, help and healing.  Emotional and verbal abuse is hard to put  a finger on. The former is  an invisible fortress built over time by the one in control. The verbal abuse helps fill in the cracks to keep it hidden. Eventually, you become relegated to a cage with your role in the relationship strictly enforced. Through the eyes of the abuser, nothing is ever done right. This includes every aspect of your life and your very being- your career, housework, driving, raising the children, your identity. You never look quite right either. Something is always wrong with your body. Even when pregnant, the snide comments slip out so you are made to feel fat and unattractive. So, no matter how hard she worked to please and keep the peace, he was never satisfied. Any “mistake” was met with either a derogatory remark or stony silence for days. Any attempt to break free of that role and speak her truth was met with “punishment”.  The abuse only worsened and became more and more obvious.  She eventually learned that her part was simple. Keep her mouth shut and her legs open. Ironically, her wish was not for the relationship to end-only for the abuse to stop.

The implacable mistreatment continues even when the relationship ends. In standing and fighting for the needs of herself and her sons, she was met with false charges of neglect and abuse.  He attempted to take away her shelter twice. His goal was to make her “Scratch, Crawl and Suffer.” These words from his mouth only made her more willing to never back down.  Each meeting with him during this process was like taking a bath in dirty water. It took days to purge herself of the emotional hangover he wrought.

The abuse had a trickle down effect as it was meted out in various ways on the children. Eventually, they too, separated themselves from him.  Self-protection took precedence over the appearance of a normal father-child relationship.

Any contact with the abuser is risky and fraught with anxiety. Even with the absence of physical violence, danger can still be present. Sometimes an unexpected sighting of that person can lead to a physiological reaction. The heart assumes a rapid pace, the mouth becomes arid and the hands become unsteady. The mind races as it seeks a way out.

The universe has a special way of taking care of those of us who choose to move forward. We acknowledge what happened, seek help and eventually forgive. But we never forget.  Instead, we embrace life with a renewed sense of optimism, spreading positive energy and good karma to everyone we see.