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.

The Man in the Suit

 

Credit: retaingridus.deviantart.com

Dreaming

A premonition in my bones

Knowing our paths would cross

The hundred pounds of nails was removed today

Each purge of your physical reminders lessens the load

Creates space

 Soon to be crushed in some forsaken landscape

Buried in parts unknown

Or incinerated

Mere smoke filtered first before billowing in the Spring sky

We stood in the same line

One you never shared with me so long ago

Your ensemble makes you look important

But I know what it hides

A man who lacks a moral compass

And possesses a criminal mind

Better not to  speak

The atmosphere would be contaminated

Toxified by your breath

False manners emanating from your mouth 

If the strangers among you only knew

What you have done and whom you’ve become

 But I-I am the ultimate stranger

An alien from a former life that no longer seems real

A happy human now

I laugh at the end of the counter with a friend

Awaiting morning warmth

Giggling at the  circumstance

Relieved relaxation

Affirmed in my foreboding

Those damn nails couldn’t hold me in the cage you built

Or was it a coffin?

One hundred pounds laid to waste

Much like you

The Aftermath

Credit: www.submit.manscostyle.com ( “A Wounded Heart” by Tim Dwyer)

 

In the dark recesses of my mind

I hear the gunfire of your wounds

Land mines of domestic destruction

Improvised explosives shrouded in verbal volleys 

Scattered shrapnel

Stinging pain from your  scoffs

Mocking my every move

 

In the dark recesses of my gut

I taste the heaving

My attempts to digest your vile invectives

your vicious vitriol that holds my virtues in a vise

 

In the dark recesses of my heart

I feel the agony of your aggression 

the abscess of your abandonment

 and the anguish of your annihilation

.

 

For those known and unknown who are experiencing abuse. Mine is past but the pain is sometimes present.

Hidden Hunger

Credit: belleofthelibrary.com

Her toes tickled the sand

Her face baked in the August sun

Her ears deafened by the roar of the ocean

Her sunglasses shielded her eyes from the surf’s glare

as she tried to ignore the deep, grinding hollowed out hunger in her gut

She could not conjure up her family’s next meal

No magic wand of money would be appearing any time soon

The stash in the basement was null and void

The fridge a wide open expanse of empty

And what else would be waiting at home? 

Just the cause of the family’s famine in the first place

The one who dared touch the last remnants of fruit left for his children

Whose anger ignited at being denied those rock bottom bits 

She rested in the stillness with her dull endless ache

Becoming more numb by the minute

The tide washing her pain away

 

 

“It’s something we’d all gotten used to, that hollowness in the veins, the nagging feeling there was always just a bit too much air behind your ribs.”

~Andre’ Dubus III (from his memoir “Townie”)

A Grifter’s Rap

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Would you ever really know if your beloved strayed?

Or would you believe that you’ve been duplicitously played?

His absences explained so charmingly

As you played your role so willingly

You hang on long for the children’s sake

As you think he still loves you

Those vows he would not break

But he did so again and again

Not always with another

But with the click of a pen

When at last he made the ultimate exit

That last gasp to leave

You thought it was with money

That he did deceive

To fall in with another was too hard to believe

Looking back on it now-it was so long ago

All those scenes so intense 

And his emotions: a mere pretense 

You realize SHE was his reason for love’s final blow

But no matter now, this memory is like vapor

A mischievous muse’s attempt at a silly old caper

The mind goes awry

No need to know why

He’s nothing but a blip in your mind’s eye

A Wiser Woman

Credit: www.flickr.com

 

She’s just like him

Words of wisdom from a child

He keeps his distance

Stands his ground

 

I had never seen her

But became acutely aware of her on that April morning

You know that feeling when someone is looking at you behind your back?

I turn to look

She penetrated my gaze

Followed me out the door

I turned once again

Laser-like, strong in my volley

I sensed an artist of insinuation in my midst

I knew we would meet again

I began to notice and be alert for her comings and goings

She was easy to spot

Devoid of femininity

Nearly transparent in nature

Rail-thin

Her body a void

Dressing as a slacker social climber

Expensive jeans

made by poor souls in Bangladesh no doubt

The Designer Look that lacks originality

She appears to be his twin

A mirror image of him 

 

As the seasons change, she creates a perch in the shop

A table by the window for her phone, Ipad and coffee

Trying to look earnest and important

She is a user of men

Flaunting her wiles for her own gain

Acting helpless while they lick her feet

I cannot warn them

I can only watch

Be careful my boy says

Keep quiet 

Those behind the counter are trained to smile

but are aware of her guile

 

Her mission with me is incomplete

I am replete with stellar intuition

and spiritual revelation

I can handle any situation

My grace and style help me walk the mile

She hasn’t been around in a long, long while

Journey to the Other Side

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At the time of the dismantling I used to wonder

used to sweat in desperation

used to be ensnared in your endless games of lashing out

 for  punishment of things that I did not do

for the person you thought I was

the one who punished you for her own guilt

At the time of the dismantling

I felt myself wasting away

sick with a loss of control over my own destiny (or so it seemed)

eager with a morbid curiosity about your private transgressions

At the time of the dismantling

I used to wish you would become a stranger to me

someone I would pass by on the street or the airport without notice

someone I would see by chance who didn’t bring me to the brink of madness

At the time of the dismantling

I wish I wouldn’t recognize you

to turn my head in instinct at your unwelcome presence

a witness to your lingering lurking

and latching yourself to people and places where I could be found

 

At the time of the rebuilding

I ceased to wonder

 became refreshed in renewal

no longer trapped, but free in my freedom

At the time of the rebuilding

I felt my self growing

a woman with curves and flesh

the mistress of my destiny

no longer curious but filled with awe at new love found

At the time of the rebuilding

you became unfamiliar

a transient that I passed by with ease

no longer on edge, existing on a different plane

At the time of the rebuilding

I no longer took notice of you

I see you on the street at a distance,

at peace with knowing that the long ago parting happened to someone else

 

Witness

Hunger by TessCummings

Credit: howtheotherhalflives.deviantart.com (Hunger by Tess Cummings)

 

The list resides on a yellowed pad

Necessary nourishment for the coming week

We stop here first before our feastive task

Caffeinated fuel and friendship

A 21st Century Communion

In the shop’s short distance

A dear friend is spied

A light touch to greet her

Deep hugs and hushed whispers

Our minds meeting for a minute and more

 

But ensconced in the corner

Nearly unnoticeable from view

Sits the Serpent Sipping sumatra opposite a slender lass

His head a crusted flesh

 

For me: a glimpse of recognition

A trickle of fear

A tiny rat-a-tat-tat of  the heart

But for the first time a small measure of sincere safety, a healthy emotional distance

A graceful departure

 

This crinkly creature

This squalid stranger once starved three loving souls

Sacrificed them for his vision quest

 

Yes, the memories linger still

Days of bare cupboards and hollowed tummies

Secret stashes hidden from him

Stunned into silence

Bullied and Blamed by the Beast

A Buried Hunger hidden from everyone and ourselves

 

At present day an unfilled refrigerator and a paltry pantry give rise to a familial panic

A sign of a decade’s old deprivation

 

The yellowed pad travels with us

The list an act of defiance

A shout out loud

A second slaying of the dragon

And always a Harvest of Hope

Giving Up the Ghost

Credit: www.dailymail.co.uk

 

You left before you arrived

Though your departure was not scheduled

You were more or less on Standby

Awaiting in anticipation to be called

One foot always out the door

A distant look in your eyes

Those brief exits a means of escape

not from us, but from yourself

Intent on pursuing false quests

Feral fulfillment found in daring adventures

Dogged pursuits of “easy money”

Faltered and Failed Fusing your Fate

When at last you made that final turn

That last leave taking

It was as if you’d never been among us

Your abject existence  an aberration

A fleeting apparition

Buried Truth

Credit: weheartit.com

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

What it means to be born from deceit

The lies they told themselves to protect you

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

Unconsciously rejected by the one who bore you

Lovingly accepted by the one who was betrayed

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

The secret kept from you until you were of age

You convinced yourself  that it didn’t matter anyway

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

Their union at last came undone, the past too much to bear

A slight shift in your world, one you could not even hear

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

You left them then, never to return again

 An anchorless  journey that continues today

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

Falsely sure of yourself and never whole

Flitting from place to place and woman to woman

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

Never quite trusting but always controlling

Hoarding your feelings, a collector of sins

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

The stain of  your beginnings remains with you still

A jagged edge, a dizzying precipice and a perilous fall

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

 Kellie gave us this one line today:

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now…

And this is what I created!

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#FWF Free Write Friday: Ponder this…

by Kellie Elmore