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.

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”)

Love in the Dust

Photo by Matt Black - The Dispossession - A couple outside their shanty

Photo Credit: Matt Black (www.mattblack.com)

We take refuge in each others arms
From the heat, from the fields
Where we toil and labor
We pick day and night
For meager wages
We feed you
But barely feed ourselves
Our houses are scraps
No water, no stove
We hold onto each other
In hope, in prayer
As we dream
A full belly
A warm meal
A quench for our thirst
This week’s prompt from Kellie Elmore(http://kellieelmore.com/2013/06/14/fwf-free-write-friday-image-prompt-9/) came via Tom Clark (http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.com/) who featured photos from photographer Matt Black from his series entitled: Dispossessed
This is powerful imagery that should give us all pause for thought.