Forks and Knives

The sky is dark and ominous as I pull into my driveway. I got off work late today but maybe that’s not entirely true. Really, I stayed late, took my time shutting down and closing up shop. As I flipped the light switch to off, I looked at everything with tired eyes and tried to memorize where it all was. I drove home slowly, deep in my thoughts. Things have been so terrible, almost extra terrible, if that’s even possible, lately. My children are home and probably asleep. I think it and even say it out loud. I do that most drives. I talk out loud. I want to kiss their sweet faces when I pull in but should not. Waking them would be selfish on my part but I toy with the idea, mostly because everyone else in that house makes me cringe.

It’s July and I’m over all of it, already. Over summer. Over the heat. I can really only handle so much sun. Maybe that’s because I feel like one most days. Shining bright to cheer everyone else up, keep everyone else happy. It’s gawd damn exhausting. The thing is, if you are the sun then there are no rays left for you. I just give them and unabashedly too much. This cancer in my home is caused by me for shining without cessation. For not trying hard enough to dull it. Nobody asked for it but there I am, anyway. He repeatedly tells me not to talk to everyone who initiates conversation. It makes him blind with jealousy and I try not to. I really do. Then suddenly I’m in my driveway so I just sit there a moment. Slowly, but with purpose, I turn the key to cease the motor. I wish I had keys for my mind, too, especially right now because I know what I have to walk in to. That house is dangerous with its perpetual lava floor. There is nowhere safe for me to tiptoe in it.

Earlier, when I was making breakfast, I opened the utensils drawer. Muscle memory knows where the butter knives are to spread jam on my dry morning toast yet my eyes are drawn to the back of the tray. We have lived already in over ten places, dirt-poor gypsies outrunning his lies, and no matter where we have found ourselves, the utensil tray, this exact one, has survived just like me. Always the same, beginning with spoons. First the big spoons and then the teaspoons. Small forks and then dinner forks. Butter knives last and the spot above, laying perpendicular, is always where the steak knives live.

This is where I notice that I’m back to a weird mental spot. I recognize that it manifests first by how anal I get with where things go in the kitchen. Usually I am passive about it all. Not today. I just spent ten minutes rearranging all the canned foods to look like they do in the supermarket and moving the toaster back to the exact spot on the counter where I want to always find it. I get crazy when I feel crazy. I get crazier when I’m feeling defeated. On this particular morning, when waking was hard and showering was dreadful, I noticed that someone placed a slotted spoon in the steak knife tray. The rage beats straight through me and before I can blink, it is in my hand. I’ve seized the spoon but I don’t see it because all I see is red right now. I toss it angrily further back, behind the utensil tray that follows me like a shadow. I want it out of my view to force it out of my thoughts and I’m muttering incessantly about how it isn’t that friggin hard to just put shit where it goes. It isn’t falling on deaf ears but the in-laws ignore me. They don’t care.

All day my mind kept returning to that slotted spoon and I’m too mentally exhausted to think about why. Something else was off but I must have missed it in my anger-fueled moment. I can’t ever let my guard down there, especially right now because things were good for a shorter period this time. The bickering has increased ten-fold and his patience is nonexistent. He keeps trying to force me to take his side over my parents and frankly, I don’t want to. He’s a liar and I’m done having his back because it makes me a liar too, by proxy. Defending him is at the top of his list for how I can show him my love but piss on all that noise. I won’t do it this time.

I take the steps to the front door one at a time to buy me some aversion but there’s only three. That was a waste of energy. I put my key in the door and gingerly turn it, hearing the familiar clicks as I hold my breath. I can’t hear the tv; I make a silent wish that everyone be asleep. The door creeps open and I see the yellow glow of the screen. Damn it all.

“Good evening,” I try to whisper to my mother-in-law. She’s a witch and I physically can’t whisper and so we dance this diddy again where she shooshes me and waves her hand angrily, as if she’s batting my words away. She hates being the designated babysitter and I hate being her verbal punching bag. She responds with a pursed-lip goodnight something-or-other back at me that she probably equally dreaded but I barely hear it. I’m already in the hallway, moving towards the boys’ room. I hear her call out something about it taking forever for the three of them to fall asleep so please don’t undo all my hard work. I don’t acknowledge that she even spoke because I can’t physically choke out any more words to her so I just ninja-creep into their room instead.

They are sleeping pretty deeply, which makes me happy and sad. While I listen to their rhythmic breaths I feel a tinge in my stomach. The thing about gut feelings is that they are there for a reason and I always try to ignore them. Tonight is different, though. There is a weird vibe in the air. I hear the footsteps of the witch in the hallway. Does anyone else call their mother-in-law a witch, I wonder. Her immediate departure from the living room just confirms to me that she only stayed up to notate what time I would walk in at. They’re a team, those two. Her and her son. She reports back dutifully, all the time, on my shortcomings. I turn to the closed bedroom door behind me and mouth, “good NIGHT, bitch!” I extra scrunched my face as I silently said it. It feels good. It feels like it’s against all the rules and rebellious. I needed it, especially right now because I’m in full panic mode and I can’t hug my boys. They always help me stay grounded. They help me stay here. My heart is in my throat and I realize I can’t stay in this room forever. I tiptoe back to the hallway, gently close their door behind me. My mind is against this but my body is spent. I can’t find any more courage in me right now.

I see him on the bed when I walk in. A touch of moonlight is seeping through the blinds and I marvel at the beauty before I turn towards the beast. He’s not happy. I see that immediately, even though he never is. My mouth is somehow conversing with him but I can’t remember what I said. Small-full-of-shit-talk that I forget as soon as they leave my lips. Then I’m brushing my teeth and putting some pajamas on. This is the best bedroom we have had so far, compared to all the others. It is set up pretty efficiently, long as opposed to wide. I tenderly sit on the bed and plug my phone in and while I’m following my nighttime routine, I don’t see him get up and walk to the closet area. Or is it his dresser?

There’s a folder in his hand when I look up. They match, him and the folder. Both plain, boring and deceiving of what is inside. My eyes dart from his hands to his eyes. He is speaking but I’m in a bowl. It’s like the Peanuts cartoon where the teacher is lecturing and nobody understands anything going on. Blah, blah, blah, blah, divorce papers. Blah, blah, blah, blah, I signed them already. Blah, blah, custody. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you won’t win 50/50. Blah, blah, you don’t make enough to support them. Blah, blah, blah, sign them now, blah, blah, or I’ll, blah, blah, blah. I am not listening but I hear it all. This is typical but he’s changed it up a bit. It’s just enough out-of-the-ordinary that I am terrified. The words seeped in like my cell signal was weak and I’m trying hard to fill in the blanks.

I won’t leave without my boys and so he argues with me about it. I go into the hallway after some unpleasant words hurled at me with every intention of walking into their room and packing a bag and walking out. My parent’s house is close. I’ll go there. They’ll take us in, of this I’m certain. But he’s behind me, closer than I anticipated. He pulls me back into the bedroom and shuts the door.

“Sign these right now. I’m not joking or playing around. Sign these or you’ll regret it.”

I’m angry and a smartass so I grab the pen out of his hand and walk over to the dresser where his stupid, plain-face-folder is sitting and I skip straight to the last page and find my name. I sign FUCK YOU, with my back to him. I slam the whole thing shut and I shove it in his chest. He doesn’t open it to check like I expected, just mutters some lame thank you or whatever. I walk around him and exit, turn right in the hallway, away from the kid’s room. The one stupid thing about this duplex is that the hallway is a giant circle, with a bathroom and laundry room in the middle. I turn left now and walk straight out the front door, barefoot with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. My heart is literally in my throat because now I’m scared that he’ll see what I signed so beautifully, in perfect cursive. Why didn’t I scribble it, at least? Make it unreadable? I could have put anything and told myself it was fuck you in Klingon. Why didn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I put my sun away for just one minute?

The grass is burnt and hurts my feet with its sharp blades. He stops me halfway through it and asks where I think I’m going. I already signed, albeit it not my name, on his stupid forms and I feel some bravery find its way to my mouth. I say a lot of things I’ve wanted to but I’m careful because I’m not trying to have the whole cul-de-sac see the shit beaten out of me. He’s starting to yell and grabs my arm, gripping tighter and tighter as I instinctively try to free it.

I’m furious. There is a fire growing in the pit of my stomach. This happens every time. I begin to get really angry at how he is treating me and this time, I feel it behind my eyes. I’m so over this. I cannot take one more day of it. I somehow break free of his death grip and run back inside, through the kitchen and to the utensil drawer. I hoped I was fast enough because I know I can’t waste any time looking behind me like this in scary movie. I rip the drawer open and my hand automatically goes to the steak knives. I blindly grab one and in two fell swoops I throw my left arm out and turn it wrist up. I run the knife hard down it, starting at my fleshy, fatty forearm and ending at my bony wrist. I want it to be deep, straight to the bone. Irreparable. Unforgivable. Hard. Quick.

Except, it wasn’t a steak knife. It was a fucking butter knife and now it’s too late because he’s there, wrestling it out of my hands. Tears begin to violently work their way from my toes up. Uncontrollable sobs are escaping my mouth silently and I crumple to the floor. My one chance thwarted, I have no energy to stand. He throws the butter knife in the sink, leans down, and hoists me back up to standing position. Drags me to the bedroom and lovingly places me in the bed we share, all while quietly saying whatever he wants to me.

“You stupid bitch. You thought you would get away that easy? You thought you could pull some shit like that when your kids are less than fifteen feet away? This is why you’ll never have custody of them. Just try to take them from me. I’ll tell any judge about this bullshit stint you just tried to pull. You aren’t safe. You are crazy because only crazy people try to kill themselves. Just remember that when you start to think you can pull some stupid shit again. You idiot,” he menacingly says as he caresses an errant hair from my face. Tender and threatening, gentle yet vile.

I mutely watch him walk over to the folder, remove the ten or so pages from it and rip them into shreds. As he finishes, my heart sinks to my stomach as I acknowledge that he will never lay eyes on my signed masterpiece.

 

**If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and don’t know where to find help, click any of the following links for help:

Whatcom County Residents: DVSAS

Outside of Whatcom County: National Domestic Violence Hotline and Website

 

Grow with me

beginningsAka – How to be a little better every day, with practice

Oh gosh. You did it. You clicked on this post to read my ideas on how to change something in your life, for whatever reason, because either you wanted to read this saying, “YOU DAMN HYPOCRITE,” and madly hit the X in whatever upper hand corner it appears in. Or because you think I deserve to give advice to anyone. Or maybe you’re just bored and it’s midnight on a Tuesday and you’re desperately crossing your fingers that this will be boring enough to put you to sleep.

Eek. No pressure.

All I’m doing is making a list of actual shit I’ve at least acknowledged as negatively affecting me and maybe that is the second step to fixing a problem. Or going to rehab. You never know!

First, put your damn phone down

Yeah, yeah. I don’t even need to explain it. You’re not continuing reading this thinking I’m going to give you some outrageous statistic that bitch-slaps you into realizing that by holding your phone, you’re holding hands with the devil. No wonder it’s called Apple.

I’m just saying, consciously recognize where your time goes. And if you’re one of those friends who thinks you don’t have a phone addiction, go ahead and pause your reading, go to screen time in your settings, and then think about whatever number of literal hours you see listed there. We can do better.

But don’t put it down yet. I’ve got more gems to share. And this is not permission to never respond to people’s texts or phone calls. FIND THE BALANCE!

Side note: my wife tells me to put my phone down a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I like to share our daily funsies but I think I’m getting better at choosing what and when and deciding when to put it away. With that said, nobody else tells me when to put my phone away and gets away with it. Not even my mother. So don’t even.

Second, listen to listen. Not to respond.

Yeah, it’s tough. I see it everyday. You ever feel like you’re talking to someone who just is not.hearing.you and you are getting frustrated? Well, brace yourself. Chances are, you have done it, too. I participated in an activity at a seminar once that I’d like to share. It’s pretty easy. Fairly eye-opening. You just need a counterpart. This helps you practice being engaged and active as a listener, which is essential for having real conversations. <– you know you’ve been a part of conversations that were really just someone else soliloquizing to you. Don’t front. Anyway, here is how it goes:

  1. Set a timer for one minute. Yes, you can use your phone that you just promised to put away more often. Don’t be an ass. So, one minute. Literally just 60 seconds, which turns out is not really an eternity unless you’re planking or otherwise punishing your body. Sit facing whoever you dragged into this exercise, not to be confused with the plank.
  2. Elect who will go first. I’m a big fan of the ole adage of saying, “Whoever raises their hand goes first,” as you shoot your whole arm into the air. It works like a charm and this activity has nothing to do with humility. You can go first. Someone has to.
  3. Hit go on the timer. The elected speaker (aka you) will speak for the whole damn minute about a recent, major accomplishment. You know, that in and of itself is hard because we are told not to boast. Eff that noise right now. You get all these sixty seconds to brag on about yo’self. Finding it hard to figure out what to say about it? Explain that. Just keep your lips moving until your duck quacks or your robot does the waa-waa-waa-WAAA-waa-waa-waa-waa. Mmmkay?
  4. While speaker #1 is talking, Silento needs to just listen. No interrupting allowed. They cannot open their hole until the duck or robot goes off. And during this time, they need to be actively NOT thinking about themselves, what to make for dinner, if there’s enough clean underwear for tomorrow, etc. JUST.LISTEN.
  5. At the conclusion of that minute, the silent listener will write down three questions to ask later about what speaker one spoke about. THREE. It isn’t that hard because you were listening, right?! Not waiting to get a word in?
  6. Next, set the time for one minute. Wash, rinse, and repeat. That means speaker two is up. Thundercats are go and it is their time to share.
  7. Upon that timer meowing or whatever, speaker one will write their three questions.
  8. Now, ask your questions. It can be alternating or all at once. Whatever feels right.
  9. Practice. Even if you think you are already a phenomenal listener, try this every now and then. Hone those skills.
  10. Revel in the fact you are working on listening better. You cannot control other people and how well they will listen. You can only set the example.

And if you don’t have anyone to practice with or are scared to ask because this is your first time and you get nervous, reach out to me. I’ll practice with you.

Sweep your socials

I know plenty of people who did or want to rid themselves of the social medias. Now, if you really want to, by all means. If you prefer one over the other, nobody says they’re beanie babies that you need to have a whole set of to matter. But if you’re just wanting to delete them because everything you’re seeing is negative, depressing, mean, etc, then it is time to evaluate who and what pages you are following. You are in control. I want to add that I also think it’s worthy to leave one or two sources of contention on your page so you aren’t oblivious to the stupid shit people say and do, but that’s just me. You do you.

Listen to the memes

Here is what I mean by this. I recently saw a quote (I know, they probably aren’t actually called memes. I’m just referring to the photo you can save that has inspirational ish on it, funny photos and odd captions that make you LOL, etc. I can call it what I want. You call it what you want), that said something to the effect of, I want to sit at tables that I’m not the topic of conversation of when I get up.

Dang. Can I get a HELLLLLLL YEAAAAAAH. Shitballs. That hit me like my fourth shot of tequila! I legitimately fist-pumped the air and felt instantly fired up! Who doesn’t want that? I mean, I was about to throw on my power hoops and my fave lipstick like it was a damn lava flower! You know, the one Super Mario eats? Watch out, lava balls coming your way!

Except, I also took a moment to think about the flip side, because being 37 can do that to you. Here you are aging, and also maturing! It’s the tits. When I reflected, I realized I’ve talked about people who have gotten up and left the table. Now, maybe my table is shorter and not full of directors. Yet. That doesn’t matter. I’ve still been guilty of this.

You hate excessive meetings? Don’t hold one after the initial one is over. You don’t like gossip? Don’t engage. Or better yet, say that. Literally say, “This conversation feels gossipy and I’m working on not doing that. I’m going to step away.” And I know that is awkward. I know it calls some people out. But damn it, I’m done tiptoeing around the boundaries I need to establish to make myself feel healthy. I empower you to do the same. And if you’re sitting there about to pop out of your damn chair because I’ve done this exact thing with you, just know this.I KNOW. I AM A HYPOCRITE WHO HAS DECIDED TO BE BETTER. Alright? Good. 

Don’t be that person who makes everything about yourself

There’s one thing about connecting with someone, which is empathetic. There’s another thing about making everything about you. And maybe you’re feeling called out right now. Well, lace that sneaker up and get close because I mean what I am about to say. This is important. And I don’t say this maliciously. I’m bringing awareness to it because you are still reading and maybe this might help. Chew this over. Think about it. And ask yourself the following:

  • do I read posts and then comment about myself?
  • do I listen to my friend’s problem and then comment about myself?
  • do I interact with someone and turn what they say into something about myself?

It might sound something like this…

Person A: I feel crappy today. I haven’t pooped in a couple days. **Oh shit, no pun intended! Twice!**

Person B: I am so regular. I poop every morning.

Side note: Yes, I am always person B here. I KNOW!

Or it might sound like this…

Person A: I can’t believe Carol got that promotion over me.

Person B: I get skipped all the time because I refuse to play the politics, too.

Or like this…

Person A: I cooked some amazing fish and chips last night! I am so proud of them!

Person B: Oh, we make fish and chips all the time. They’re so easy.

See? What I’m saying is, sometimes, let up on you and be about them. Don’t be a B. I’ve practiced this a lot and let me tell you, it now stands out to me like a sore thumb (who came up with that? I’ve never really noticed anyone’s sore thumbs before), and I almost want to apologize (in fact, I think I have) on behalf of person B to person A before. It isn’t pretty.

Take note of what isn’t working

This is one piece of advice that sounds easy to me but isn’t, in fact, easy to me. I love to say yes to the fun stuff. The wifey likes to plan ahead. Turns out me wildly agreeing to shenans all the time is probably giving her high blood pressure. When you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. That’s is what Shonda Rhimes taught me and while I still haven’t forgiven her for killing off Derrick, I see what she is saying. I AM WORKING ON IT, so you go work on it, too.

I’ll forever say this. If you know something makes you an ugly person or someone impossible to deal with, be it alcohol, video games, the political shit-show that is our country, instagramming your life, having your phone out all damn day, etc then MAKE.A.CHANGE.

Never let anything hold more power over you than you yourself hold. You’re too beautiful for that.

And last but not least…

When you can, be there. For the rallies. For those who need backup. For the hard fucking conversations. For when people are fighting for their life or saying goodbye to it. For when moms need their damn village. For when we need someone to show up and just sit uncomfortably with us without judgement. Show up for who is important to you.

And when you need someone, tell someone. <–That’s the hardest thing for me so if that sentence alone makes your throat squeeze shut tightly, I feel you. Let’s figure out how to ask for help also be willing to accept it. And let’s also figure out what isn’t working. Not for just those around us. For us, too.

Let’s do it together.

img_5549

Be in a constant pursuit of what sets your soul on FIYA

 

 

What I wish I could say

Not too long ago I was perusing social media, reading everyone’s different posts quickly. One stuck out to me, where an acquaintance of mine had shared a photo of them with their ex. The caption said something about parents needing to be mature and put their differences aside for the good of the children. I could feel myself react, not because I felt it was directed at me but in a sense, the shoe sure as hell fits.

A few days later I see an article pop up on my feed on scarymommy.com. It was an almost love-letter penned by a mom to a step-mom thanking her for being her ally and maybe even her best friend. I’m going to be honest here, as I usually am. I skimmed it loosely. Not because the author’s words had no meaning to me, but because the letter didn’t apply to me. Yes, there are Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s out there who can remain friends and co-parent successfully. They can do blended family dinners and respectfully shuttle the involved children back and forth like angels. I think that is beautiful and un-normal and amazing. For them.

That doesn’t work for me.

I refuse to allow people to make me feel bad for not harboring feelings of goodwill and grace for my ex-husband. Whether they do or say something that alludes to this in one way, shape, or form, I defend myself. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps coyly, but undoubtedly. In the past seven years since I left that abusive marriage, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries, remain steadfast in what I know is best for me and then best for the children (because I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I help them, just like those sweet flight attendants remind us every time we fly), and to disregard anyone’s idea of how I should behave if I know it isn’t healthy for my well-being. <–that’s my nice way of saying, Thank u, next, just like Ariana. That is okay.

I can be mature and not nice at the same time.

Lately I’ve done some leadership development at work with different groups of management and one thing I always stress is that we can say anything to our colleagues that we want, as long as we say it respectfully and with tact. I use this same advice in how I communicate with the boys’ father. I will use tact. I will be respectful. But I do not have to be nice. And if setting boundaries is a new concept to you, sometimes it can feel like you’re being mean. I don’t think so. I think it feels like you’re being clear and as my soon-to-be-bestie, Brene Brown likes to point out, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boom. If that goddess believes it, then this goddess believes it. We are a society very used to sugarcoating words then calling people names if they say something straightforward and to-the-point to us. Say it anyway, if it needs to be. That is okay.

I get to decide who I trust.

Kulia often calls me a Mama Bear. I do my best to make INCREDULOUS face when she says it but she’s pretty accurate in calling me that. For a whole lot of reasons, I have  majority custody of my children. I think back to the letter from the mom to step-mom and how she says she trusts her wholeheartedly. That’s fantastic for them but unrealistic for so many of us. I cannot trust my counterparts and since I cannot trust them, every time we communicate or interact together, it is forced, strained, and awkward. That is okay.

Oil and water.

I spent the majority of my decade-long marriage hating the company (I don’t mean job-wise) I was with. His parents didn’t mesh with mine, his siblings didn’t jive with me, we didn’t share friendships. Every.single.aspect. of who we were together didn’t mix. It should be no surprise that apart we continue to be the same. Once Abraham asked if for his birthday he could have a dinner where we all joined together and without hesitation I let him know I couldn’t do that because I wouldn’t feel safe. When we share things with the boys, perhaps not with as many words or deep detail, I continue to tell them that I have to keep my safety at the forefront of anything I agree to. For a long time that meant I couldn’t be a part of pick-up and drop-off or even the communication to make that happen.  I have to say no sometimes but I am always honest. That is okay.

Parallel Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

Washington state (and I’m sure many others) have this bananas rule that when you file for divorce, if children are involved, both parents must attend a parenting class before the custody plan will be approved. I remember walking in to it thinking there wasn’t anything they would teach me in that class that I didn’t already know. I was pleasantly surprised. In that class I learned about co-parenting and parallel parenting, what ex-couples fight the most about, and the most important things your child(ren) need to hear right now. Co-parenting means parenting together, as implied in the name. Parallel parenting means each parent decides and does what they think is best while they have the child(ren). There isn’t any collaboration. To each his own. And the minute I heard it, I wrote it down and knew that is what I would be doing from here until eternity. That is okay.

**Side note, most parents fight over clothes. And children need to hear you give them verbal permission to love the other parent.**

I suppose that mother wrote that letter because ugly breakups are expected but not the only option. Just remember, if you find yourself reading something that gets you fired up, that it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person because you can’t emulate that same feeling or behavior. It isn’t apples to apples, no matter what some people would have you believe. Set your boundaries, live your life, and be safe, always, friends. That is okay.

promgroup

I couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome Sam was for Prom

 

Surviving

missingbeauty

I am almost 37 years old.

I am still at a point where the majority of my adult years were spent in fight, flight or freeze.

I have a lot of nightmares. Even when I am doing well and not getting bombarded with ugly memories, I will wake up drenched in sweat from trying to run away from him.

Ku and I watch movies or shows sometimes where there is a character in an abusive relationship. I’m usually shaking my head as it happens, both as a reminder that I am not that character and that I am okay, and also because I don’t get it. I lived that life for over a decade and I still can’t comprehend WHY. I’m not just saying why it happens. I’ve read plenty of articles and attended events where phrases like toxic masculinity and gender norms and rape culture are explained. They make sense and I can see where the change needs to happen. I always leave thinking YES, we can FIX THIS, TEACH THE BOYS! Except, it is deeper than that, right?

Why me, though?

Not to say it should have happened to someone else, anyone else, as long as I was spared. No. Not at all. I’m saying why did I allow it happen? Why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I walk away? I can’t think of any situation where domestic violence makes sense. I also cannot think of one where it made sense that I would fall victim. You see, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA, honor roll, Honor Society, accepted to my first university of choice. I guess when I think about circumstances that people find themselves in, I think that education and book smarts should help play a role in how they handle themselves.

My book smarts didn’t save me.

My Dad taught me when I was young that I had to walk on the inside of the sidewalk and him on the outside because if it was reversed than guys would think I was for sale. This seems to be a pretty universal understanding, judging from popular culture. We have been taught to buy in to this belief that boys will be boys and consent isn’t always clear, and boys who are mean to you on the playground like you. That locker room talk is just that, and should be excused. Yet somehow, guys have a basic, universal understanding that if I’m closest to the curb than I am open for business.

Early on I learned that if a man behaves inappropriately to me than it is my fault. If I’m standing on a beach in Puerto Vallarta when I’m thirteen in a one-piece swimsuit and some male walks by and ogles me, I share the blame between myself and puberty. If I’m standing in a bar, chatting with the people I walked in with, and a guy walks up to me and inappropriately puts his hand on my shoulder to say things that I don’t want him telling me, I can’t make a scene because it would be rude. What I learned when I was growing up was that if a grown man did anything disgusting to me, such as rub his erect penis against my leg even when I was fifteen, it was my fault and that if I said something, I would be blamed. That easily translated to me being responsible if I was hit by my other half. We have been taught, as young girls, to be meek, quiet, accepting and to not embarrass our parents.

Before I got pregnant with Abraham, my ex and I were living in my hometown. It was a calm, beautiful summer day and my friend Yesenia had stopped by to make flour tortillas with me. My meanager, Sammy, was only two or three years old and playing in the living room. Everything was great that day, because it wasn’t always terrible. Except, my ex-husband didn’t like Yesenia and I hadn’t told him she stopped by. Of course his mom did, though and he came home from work so angry. I don’t remember the argument but I remember I got in my car and left. I drove to Yesenia’s house because I needed space. I couldn’t stay there one more second and I didn’t feel safe. I could always tell when he was going to get physical.

When I drove up to her house, I thought briefly about how he would probably guess where I was but I knocked anyway. I remember the wind blowing gently through my hair as she answered the door with a worried look and I distinctly recall sitting on her couch feeling calmer. What I can’t conjure no matter how hard I try is what he said when he called her house and made her reluctantly hand me the phone, my drive back because he threatened banging on her door until I left if I didn’t, or walking in to my house. And somewhere between the door shutting and me turning towards both him and his mom, he hit me. Hard.

She came in to the bedroom a short while later, and as I cried in to my pillow, she told me I should never have driven away, that I should never have gone to Yesenia’s, and that I should have stopped arguing before he got to that point.

I was blamed. And I spent many years thinking it was all my fault.

I’m still so hesitant to share my story. I would be lying if I said it was because I don’t want to be blamed. I didn’t deserve it then, when someone who witnessed it firsthand was quick to place it on me or by anyone who would continue to do it today.

We become a mean type of human when we use stories of survivors’ trauma to apply irrational justification. I hear a lot (usually as a joke lobbed at trying to ease the discomfort of a terrible truth that was just shared) of comments about how embarrassed my ex must be to have lost me to a woman. What I wouldn’t give for this to not be someone’s first response when we talk about something very painful for me, still.

In reality, his manhood was gone the second he hit me. The moment he dismissed my love and loyalty to manipulate me into staying. When he decided to use my feelings to make himself feel bigger. <–That is what is really embarrassing.

Bravery is an action that is hard to muster up.

I was a great student. I graduated in the top 10% of my class with a set determination to make something of myself. What took me a long time to realize was that even though I stepped back and chose to start a family over my education, I was still smart. Even though I fell into an abusive relationship, I was still strong. And when I got away, in those first few steps of freedom, I found the road lonely. I lost friendships. I fought with family. I was scared yet I was without quit in me. I was judged, sometimes to my face, even. I sat in my car and cried because I couldn’t immediately fix everything.

bravery

I rebuilt, brick by brick, my insides. Somewhere in all the mess I had made, I began to see the beauty again. One of the best discoveries was that I could use my scared, shaking voice to recount my stories, share them publicly, and discover that I was encouraging women to stand up and leave. I don’t blog as often as I initially meant to about surviving domestic violence, but every single post brings at least ONE woman forward, who chooses to disclose to me a trauma she is currently or has gone through.

That fuels my fire. Telling someone your deepest secret is a big kind of scary. To each of you who has found the strength to break your silence to me, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And know I don’t judge you.

 

With one dress

Kulia turns to me, lightly touches my forearm just so to grab my attention. Touch is my love language. Wait, is touch one of the languages?

I digress.

She looks me square in the eyes and affirms to me, “Christmas is your favorite holiday.”

It isn’t true but I smile. See, I do this with things I love. I don’t give them as much credit as I should. Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite movie and yet I have a bajillion Little Mermaid items. Almost no NBC things. Doesn’t mean it isn’t my favorite.

BabyVeewithSanta.jpg

I have always loved Christmas. Almost as much as I love Halloween.

Perhaps it’s because I think of music when I think of my absolute favorite any thing as opposed to my second or third favorites because even though Kulia says you can only have one favorite “whatever”, I DO NOT LIVE BY THAT RULE. When you hear a song on the radio that catches your ear, you proceed to play it to death over the course of the next month or so until you absolutely cannot hear one chord of it for the next few years. I’m like this with everything. I beat all my second loves to a pulp. Christmas is no different. I make it Navi-dead. Not quite the same with Halloween.

We were walking through JC Penney two Christmas seasons ago when a dress stopped me in my tracks. I turned to her and loudly exclaimed that I had to have it. This dress made my heart so happy, complete with adorable little Santas all over it. Unsubtle in an artful way, much how I think I can be, but maybe that’s ridiculous.

Yes. The dress was ridiculous.

2017dresschallenge

The First Obnoxious Christmas Dress

Her look of incredulity surprised me. “No. You do not need that dress,” she replied. And with seven words she effectively brought forth the stubborn Vee, of which she has had the pleasure of dealing with so many other times.

Look. I don’t re-wear dresses. It isn’t my thing. When we get fancy I love to go all out and then that is it for that outfit. We always take a ton of photos and I don’t like to see myself in the same things. She reminded me of this in the aisle of the store.

“You are not buying a $20 Christmas dress that you will wear one friggin time and then never again. Let’s go home.”

Well, that became a double-dog dare if you ask me so I promptly promised her that I would not only wear it more than once, but I would wear it for a week straight. And it was game on. Every day I would wear it but with a twist to keep things interesting. It took my boss until day four to realize I hadn’t really changed. Friends on my social media pages were anxiously anticipating my new look each day and we were all laughing.

What started as a joke and an “I’ll show you,” became a fun week full of holiday spirit in 2017. What I realized was that it couldn’t stop with just that one year. Naturally, as Christmas got closer this year, faster than usual and with more gusto than expected, I had to find a new dress. Except, instead of wearing it for one week, this time I was going for two. And I announced it early enough and presumably with enough excitement that many of my friends decided to join us. Hawaii. Washington. Texas. Florida. All-over-friends.

Joined me.

It was incredible. Some for the two weeks straight. Others just during work days. A couple of us did not stop and went for the whole month. The whole month. It was  awesome.

Christmasdress2018part1.JPG

But more importantly, and the reason I began this blog post, is the power behind the dress.

It never ceases to amaze me when I receive messages from people I know and love about how fun seeing my Christmas dress posts are but what really floored me this year were the ones from people I have never met. What began as a silly challenge, really to myself more than anybody, became an inspiration and source of cheer for others. You see, up until recently, I was working really hard on some goals and then one day I woke up and I had lost my motivation. I know results take time, no matter what they are in regards to, but sometimes they move slower than a turtle in peanut butter and I lose my momentum. I have been told I can be encouraging to others but I struggle the most with doing it for myself.

When Kulia told me I wouldn’t wear the dress more than once, I made a pact as a WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT to her, but really it was to me. The friends following along that resulted from me trying to prove myself wrong was uplifting and reminded me that I can do more than I give myself credit for, as silly as it seems. You see, sometimes you need to reset your thinking with something that seems ridiculous so you can keep tricking yourself for the harder things. We can do the hard things. We just have to remember to sprinkle in some fun ones, too, while we are at. It lessens the load on our heart, I think.

Christmasdress2018part2

Flash forward to the dress challenge in 2018, and it was back to a fun goal. Wear a dress for two weeks that makes you smile and every day find a way to change one little thing about it to keep everyone else smiling. As people reached out and became a part of it, I felt my heart swelling. I know it seems small. And it was. But it was something.

During the past month, as I shopped for Christmas gifts or ate lunch with friends, laughed with others in a board meeting or met with colleagues at work, the dress initiated beautiful conversations. Some of them merely to ask, “WHY?” <–to which I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Why not?” Strangers were smiling at me and sharing sweet words about how my Christmas cheer brought them joy. Co-workers hugged me and wished me Merry Christmas for the entire month and that warmed me in ways I never could have anticipated. Little kiddos’ faces brightened up at me just for smiling at them. My love in humanity was restored day by day. And the messages. “I had a rough 2018. I was dreading Christmas. This dress challenge helped kick me out of that funk. (girl, SAME)” “I cannot believe how much joy I brought to strangers when I was out and about and how many came up to talk to me because of this dress! (YASSS)” “You and your dress are wonderful and every time I see your posts, I am happier.(DITTO)” “I told my husband I’m joining you next year and I cannot wait.(NOW TO CONVINCE MY WIFEY)” On and on and on. All the best words that kept my mind spinning with how to keep spreading that joy in 2019 but not just at Christmas-time.

I don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as it happens. And don’t ask me why, because that isn’t even really a question in my book.

Christmasdress2018part3.JPG

 

My Running Journey

IMG_1013[1]

Yesenia and I, training for my halfsie

We are sitting in the living room, watching shows. Two glasses of red wine sit in front of us, half full. She is mine. I am hers. That’s what the glasses say, gifts we received at our wedding. Her heart is heavy from loss, just like mine. Not alone in our pain but each of us deep in our thoughts, I’m surprised when she breaks the comfortable silence.

“I am so proud of you.”

It’s a compliment. Of course, it is. Except my grief has veiled my eyes and I see it as pain. Why can’t I let her be proud of me? I respond that I walked most of it, would have quit. Almost quit. She doesn’t care that I want to tear myself down. She knows how hard it was for me. Physically, yes, but also mentally. Emotionally. She understands why I do that so she doesn’t allow it in a way that means more than I could tell her.

“You didn’t train. We had so much going on. I didn’t want you to do it and yet you had made a commitment. You are so stubborn with your goals and I just love that about you.”

She knows I need to hear it.

I nod in agreement. To everything. It’s such a problem of mine because I want to do all the things and I want to be there for all my tribe. When my younger sister asked me to run a half marathon with her a few months ago, yes came out so easy. I had four months which was plenty of time to train my body to get my mileage back up. I thought the running and our busy calendar would be great distractions for my soul, because grieving for my friend has been so exhausting and unpredictable. One minute I would be okay, head above water. Driving to work or to pick up my boys or to a meeting. The next, I would feel tears run silently down my cheeks or I would be uncontrollably sobbing and I couldn’t deal, drowning under waves of sorrow and raw again.

Loss isn’t new to me so don’t go thinking losing Yesenia hurt me more than others who have moved to the Land of the Remembered. What has changed is how I’m processing and feeling it. Kulia helped un-numb me, if you will. Gradually and with a tender care, she has helped my self feel again. For the longest time I was just making it through my days, hiding behind a smile and portraying that I was okay. Going through the motions of life and being in constant survival mode dulled all my senses. I could say meeting Ku woke that all up. I mean, she did, or rather, we did together. It’s just been such a process. Not overnight. Not immediate. Little by little over the past six years. And then one day they were there. Feelings I had forgotten about. A sister of mine, who remembers the tough-as-nails me asked if I thought these feelings would stick around and gosh, I hope so. She does, too. I would rather feel than be in that dull place again.

Ku said it was running. That somehow, that empowering runner’s high made me human again. Maybe she was right but not entirely. I think it was a lot of little things with her at the center. Either way, running was exhilarating. I felt so strong crossing finish lines, improving my mile times, hearing people’s surprise at my endurance. And it all began so innocently enough. Yesenia got me out and walking. For like a month we would walk this road by her house that down and back was exactly one mile. One day she casually started to jog. I followed suit because that is who I am as a person. And as intermittenly as my feelings were coming back we got ourselves to one mile of straight running.

That first mile was such a major milestone for us and we celebrated it enthusiastically. We did it together. When I decided to train for my first halfsie, Yesenia said she would train some with me. When she couldn’t, I would leash up Cali and off we would go. Running with Cali was perfect because I could just yell all the words of encouragement that I needed her way. And she would just prance by my side, happy for the attention and the outside company. We did it together. One of them was always by my side.

As I painfully ran a 15k in March this year, I thought about my gumption and commitments. I wanted to finish the run I had paid for but I kept thinking about how I would never run next to them again. Except, when I was asked about the halfsie, I said yes one more time. I thought maybe I could do it and things would change. But they didn’t because you can’t force yourself to get over anything, no matter how hard you try. And Cali was on her decline so her joining me was out of the picture. I realized, right after she peacefully crossed that dreaded Rainbow Bridge, that I just didn’t want to run anymore. I had registered and paid for this last one (well, Ku had on my behalf because she understands that about me) so I wasn’t going to back out of it but I knew I would say goodbye to each mile marker, water stop, treat break and photo op.

IMG_4620[1]

TFlinn kept me going during my last run

Luckily a great friend was doing this halfsie also and promised to walk/jog with me so the first eight miles sucked in a better way. As runners would pass us I would comment about how they were crushing it and doing fantastic and she kept gently reminding me that so were we. Gawd, I needed that. Somewhere around mile nine she was ready to go and finish and I tried to keep up but just couldn’t. I was hitting a wall, not just physically, but emotionally. I missed my running buddies in a way she was but wasn’t. I have found you can be two things at once in this grief process. I have perpetually been happy but sad, whole with holes, surrounded by love but missing theirs. That was this run. Complete with running buddies but missing THE running buddies. The day we said goodbye to Rue I turned to Ku and said I couldn’t do any more runs. I meant it.

Feeling the grief of losing two amazing souls this year has changed me. As I learn to navigate the journey of having feelings that are not mutually exclusive of each other, I find that I recede a bit into my mind. When people ask me how I’m doing, which we are so inclined to do even if we don’t care about the answer, I am honest. When I am feeling grief I share that, which has taken many by surprise. I don’t mean to. I just can’t fake anything in my life, anymore, least of all my sadness. Where running used to help me focus more at work, grief has stolen that from me and I find myself chasing ways to stay in the now, in the here, rather than regress to past days, where we chatted about nonsense and the intricacies of life, Yesenia and I. Or how Kulia and I would come home and happy dance with Cali and call her dumb names in baby talk because her wagging her tail was such a happy picture.

A friend shared that grief was like standing on the edge of the ocean, with waves of sadness hitting you sometimes. I think mine has a different form. It’s much more hurricane-esque with gail force winds trying to knock me over unexpectedly.

So, with all of that, I remind myself that I have 754 miles under my belt and while I may pick it back up one day, I am thankful for saying farewell to running in my own way and on my terms.

And know that as I work through these storms of sadness, I am loving my friends and family harder. I’m just doing it in walking form now.

grief

Our Sad Farewell

DSC_0294

A boy and his dog

3.9 years ago, our household made the major, life-changing decision to find a dog to complete us. It was one we didn’t make lightly, because Kulia and I know that animals are a responsibility that would mainly fall on us. Dogs especially, can be fun and ever-loving, but holy Moses do they need attention, care, and patience. Aside from all that, the connection you build with your dog is unparalleled to most you have with humans. Dogs are pretty much four-legged angels.

Kulia and I are almost always walking hand-in-hand in our relationship, both facing the same direction. It isn’t often we are standing across from each other, on opposite sides of the river, as I like to call it. Yet, with dogs, we tend to. Unable to find a bridge to cross and meet half-ways because even in love, we are headstrong and stubborn. I, the ever strict authoritarian, full of rules and boundaries. I believe that a dog needs structure, rules, shouldn’t kiss my face (I cannot with drool and saliva), and can be safe in a kennel. Kulia wants all the smooches from the pooches, she wants them on the bed, she does baby talk to them, finds them all cute, hates kennels, and she is incapable of scolding one, least of all Cali. We are yin and yang in it’s greatest form.

When we saw Cali I sincerely believe she chose us. She seemed to take to us almost immediately, leaning all her muscle-y weight against us, receiving the butt scratches with joy. We got her for a week-long trial to see how she would do in our home with our boys and the first full day she was with us, she joined me to drop Moose and Abraham off at school. She watched them walk away from the car window, whimpering for them to come back. I knew right then she was really ours.

But Cali came to us with some baggage, much as we came to her with ours. She didn’t trust other dogs, hated being locked up in small rooms, only had about four teeth, and needed a lot of attention. The first year with her was a lot of adjusting, trial and error (mostly error) and frustrations. All of them on my behalf. Kulia had this uncanny ability to just accept her in a way I struggled with. I wanted to love her unconditionally but shitballs, it was so hard. She was potty-trained but pooped in the house a few times. She was a total sweetheart but scared the crap out of anyone delivering a package or knocking on our door. She listened when she wanted to and ignored when she could. Cali and I were on rocky terrain for a good, long time.

One day, that first summer, I got a call from a neighbor because of course she had dug herself out of the yard again. I worked less than a mile away and had a lot of flexibility so for the umpteenth time in the last month, I drove to try to find her. After some searching, I did and put her in the car. I was so fed up. I was over it. We had spent so much time and sacrificing to buy our home and Cali had no regard for any of it. I yelled at her the entire two-minute drive back to our place, telling her we might need to find her a new home with someone who could put up with her. And she just looked away, unable to meet my eye, because she knew I was angry. I decided to stay home and made myself a drink and we both went out and sat on the pallet couch we had made that she just loved. The boys were at their Dad’s house, which was hard for me because I wasn’t used to not having them with me. I was mad at the custody plan making me share and I was mad at the dog for being such an a-hole and I was mad that I couldn’t get over any of it. So, we sat on that couch and got tipsy (well, I did) and she just soaked up the sun and my quietness. And then I turned to her and apologized. I told her we couldn’t get rid of her; I didn’t really mean it. She was freaking family, even if she drove me nuts. And I think she forgave me for scolding her, because all she ever wanted was our company.

Sometime in the spring this year, after we said goodbye to Yesenia, Cali started to get sick. We speculate that she had a brain tumor that we initially thought was doggy vertigo. Whatever it was has been a process of rapid declination. Since April she hasn’t been herself. Little by little but all at once. I struggled to deal with any of it, just like I have a hard time with so many other things, because I am still grieving the loss of my friend, she was a constant drool bucket all of a sudden (I cannot with drool and saliva), and I couldn’t add losing her to my plate. Except you can’t put off the inevitable. Before long, we realized our baby girl, Cali Rue, was not like she used to be. She had lost her zest for life, as Ku put it. So we made the hard decision to say goodbye.

Before the vet even pulled up to our house, I was an ugly-crying mess. Cali was just laying in her spot on the couch, hardly moving and the vet reassured us that she was most definitely not feeling well. It validated to us that we had made the right choice. She calmly explained to us how the process would go, mixed her up a dose of something to calm her and take away her pain. It was all beautiful and exactly how it should be. Once she got the first shot she hopped off the couch and wagged her tail for us one last time before she laid down and fell asleep, finally at peace. I’m so grateful we could give her that since she gave us the last four years of her life.

I’m going to miss the who’s there game, knocking on the wall to rile her up, cheering extra loud during football games to wake her, snuggling on the couch, watching her hang her face out the car window with joy, and being annoyed at how loud she chewed her food. But really, I’m going to miss her sweet face hoping we would drop some food for her and her obnoxious tail that was practically a weapon. I’m going to miss her sleeping in Sam’s room and the boys giving her hugs and goodnight kisses every evening. I’m going to miss Ku being angry with me at telling her to go lay down and her finally obliging, and how she would wait outside our door if it was closed because she just wanted to come in and make sure we were still there.  And I’ll miss dressing her up whenever we wanted and her putting up with it because it made us happy. I’m going to miss her so much.

Goodbye, Cali.

Forever would not have been enough; it never could be. I imagine you with Yesenia now, maybe on a run. Thank you for loving your boys. And us. You were loyalty at its greatest.

DSC_0146

Cali girl on her last adventure wearing her flower collar, made by our dear friend, Natalie