Before the End

The lunchroom of the bank I’m working at is small and cold. It feels clinical but smells like a dirty sponge. You know that smell. It’s fetid and rank. My cup-o-noodles is sitting in front of me growing cold but I hardly notice. I’m in full-on triage mode, as I call it, frantically texting whatever I can think of to keep him from entering rage mode. Except, he is already in rage mode. Lately, it is his only mode.

Things have been more volatile lately. We have only been in Hawaii for three months and it has been a constant struggle. I work out of necessity even though my take-home is only $200 after I pay daycare. It seems ridiculous but we need every single one of those dollars to almost make ends meet. As I send another scared response, a colleague walks in to the lunchroom with a meal from some restaurant nearby and a Starbucks in hand. It looks so lucrative in her hands and I’m full of jealousy but not food. My stomach grumbles, reminding me to finish my noodles. I smile at her and make small talk, all while thinking about this stupid fight we are having, where I’ve once again messed up. It’s like I’m Matilda and Danny DeVito is yelling at me how he’s big and I’m small, he’s smart and I’m dumb, he’s right and I’m wrong. That’s what he means. He’s everything and I’m nothing. I’ve always been nothing.

I don’t remember the rest of the workday. It’s the same as every other day there, I’m sure. What I do recall is seeing a text as I packed up my stuff to head home. “I picked up the boys.” It is odd to me. They are always at the sitter’s house, which is really close to the branch I’m a teller at. I usually walk to get them and ride the bus home. This is out of the ordinary. Anything out of the ordinary in regards to him is worrisome, so naturally, now I’m worried. I reply back that I’m on my way home and head out the door, fingers crossed I’m not walking in to a warzone in front of my babies again.

I miss the bus by four minutes. Two hundred and forty lousy seconds that now equate to waiting twenty for the next one. Great. I can feel my anxiety growing, making my legs and my heart tremble. Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right. I feel my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. It is a photo of the boys in the car. Are you home? I ask him.

The phone rings and I jump because I’m fully on-edge now. I shake my head to get some of the jitters out and answer cheerily, just trying so hard to not show how scared I am.

Tell your Mom goodbye, boys! His voice is eerie because he matched my fake cheer.

Bye, Mom! They all shout at me in unison. I’m so confused. Why are they telling me goodbye? I say something like that, barely get it out, actually. I don’t know what is going on but it’s unsettling and now I’m really scared. He is unstable. But how unstable, really?

I can tell he takes me off speaker phone and I hear the nervousness in my voice as I ask him what is going on. I just bought the three of us plane tickets and we are headed to the airport. You are never going to see us again. Just remember you did this to yourself. Good luck in your life. He says all of this with a calm, terrifying tone and then hangs up. I am staring at my phone, trying so hard to process. I try calling back three times but they just go straight to voicemail. I’m pretty sure he shut his phone off. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I have no idea what is happening. All I can do is start running home. I’m about a mile and a half away, which feels like five because I’m not a runner. I don’t workout. I have no endurance or stamina, so I run with adrenaline and fear, straight to the apartment we live in. It takes me a long thirty minutes because I keep stopping to catch my breath and dial his number again. None of the calls go through. I’ve never hated my body so much as I do in this moment. I just want to be there to stop whatever he is doing.

When I arrive at the apartment I see that sure as shit the car we share is missing. I shakily climb the fourteen stairs. They take all the rest of my energy and the last bit of hope I had. If he isn’t here, neither are they. Whatever is happening right now is a new level of terror and I cannot fathom what triggered it. Yes, I made him angry but this is out of the norm. I don’t have a key to the apartment so I lean up against the door, my forehead pressed against it, and emotionally breakdown. I have no one to call, no one to turn to so I just sob. I have been trying so hard to think Hawaii was a fresh new start but every day it is feeling more and more like I’m in solitary confinement. I keep trying his phone. My call continues to go straight to voicemail. I am utterly defeated.

An eternity goes by and then I hear it. The familiar rattle of the engine of our car and I wearily look over the balcony. There they are. The four of them getting out of the vehicle and my two oldest are so excited, holding ice cream cones in their hands. Dad took us for a treat! they yell up the stairs. They are smiling and unaware of anything going on between us. I am speechless. I watch them walk up the stairs and I cannot think of one damn thing to say.

And that was the beginning of the end.

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

 

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.

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

 

Surviving

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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.

 

What is happening?

You might wonder why I took a hiatus from writing. No, that’s not quite true. See, I don’t think much about what exactly I’m going to write and rather I let the words come to me. Many a posts were written lately, all in my head, where most of them begin. They just never made it on my blog, because they were either too much of one thing or another. I wanted to write about love on Valentine’s Day but then there was a school shooting and I was heartbroken, unable to find words that would do any of the seventeen lost souls justice, except there were many, all strung together in my head in a jumble of sadness and anger. I read so many calls to action, so beautifully written yet I felt paralyzed because I don’t know what to do or how.

And then there were the conversations about the shooting, with friends and family and our boys. How could I share some of the most raw, irritating, frustrating conversations with all of you, who are out there having your own? And then when fun things happened, how do you share that, when our nation (well, most of us) is mourning all the children who didn’t come home after school because of other children who took a weapon into their own hands and made a safe place a nightmare?

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The #meanager, who we remind daily that he has much to learn

Alex, a trombonist, who could have been my Sam. Sam, who didn’t participate in any of the walkouts for reasons I can’t understand. Sam, who spouted second amendment words to me that made me want to scream. He has been so mature of late and then we disagree on this, on the issue of gun control and I wonder if we picked the right town to live in. Except, whose town is really safe? Are any?

I read this book years back by Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone, which is a memoir of this poor boy’s time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Little babes stolen from their families and told horrible things to make them angry, given drugs and forced to shoot their friends to see who is toughest. They are handed rifles and in my mind they are AK-15s because that makes sense to me. He doesn’t want to kill. He knows it’s wrong. Yet his is a story of survival in a country going through civil war, where adults are using every resource they have, which is an abundance of children.

I read an interview by Suzanne Collins on where her inspiration came from for The Hunger Games and she spoke of not being able to sleep one night and flipping through the channels and landing on a documentary  about child soldiers. I imagined she was learning of Ishmael and the horrors he went through. The effects of war on children is where THG began. Young boys and girls, forced to do unspeakable things. Forced.

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Moose, who we remind daily to be kind and show love to people

My mind flashes back to a regular morning with Moose. I’m driving him to school and it’s the morning after the Parkland shooting. I ask him what he does if there’s an active shooter at his school and he answers me so casually. It was as if I’m asking him if he enjoys math over science.

“I would hide. We learned to hide,” my son replies in all his nine years of age. “Where would you hide?” I have to ask this. I have to make sure it makes sense. He spouts out different places, mostly supply closets. That doesn’t feel safe enough to me, but you know what? Neither does school, in general, now. I question him about where he would hide if he’s on the playground, expecting him to have to think about it for a minute or two. He doesn’t, though. They’ve gone over this, too. I don’t find that comforting, friends. Except, I do in a way. A guilty way.

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Abraham, who is so brave and learning to do him, regardless

A heartfelt conversation with Abraham, the 11 year old, wise beyond his years. He is a lover, more emotional than we knew how to handle for a while there, who participated in the sit-downs (they weren’t allowed to walkout in middle school, but were allowed to go to the gym). “What made you want to join in?” we asked him, because we didn’t expect it. “I want to be safe in school and I feel bad for the students who went through that. I don’t want to be bullied or afraid.” Me, too, boo. I don’t want any of those things for you, either. We applauded him. Gave him some high-fives. I’m not saying I was more proud of him than Sam, because they are equal but not the same. Abraham identifies with some of these concepts, as he has been bullied and made fun of. He beats his drum to a different beat, regardless, but it hasn’t always been easy for him. Sam is challenging us and forcing us to think harder and longer about our words and our expectations.

What are we expecting of our children? What are we teaching them with our words and our actions? How are we raising our boys, who see violence glorified in so many ways, with so many avenues? The #meanager mentioned he didn’t feel the need to walkout and demand gun control because it didn’t apply to him. “That won’t happen in Ferndale,” he has the gall to tell me. Except, a few short weeks later an email from his school district was sent to the parents to explain that a student had been arrested two days prior (which has me all kinds of fired up in a totally different way), because that student had brought a firearm to school and waived it around at another student as school was being released. That won’t happen here, MY ASS. I would be naïve, we all would be, to think any of us are safe.

DVSAS had it’s annual Victory Over Violence luncheon last month, where an informative, engaging conversation was had about gender norms, roles, and expectations. Many times, without meaning to, any one of us is perpetuating it. Ever since that lunch I have been thinking about my words and how I speak to my boys, because talking about it and being aware is how change happens. And you know what I think the most? That no one has to agree with me. But we can all listen, regardless. Just in case we learn something.

This is how I feel about where we are right now. Even if we don’t agree. Even if you have the strongest opinions about guns and your amendments, which ironically, includes the first. I mean, I’ll listen, too. And work on little things, like not telling your boys that dolls or the color pink are only for girls. Or gifting play kitchen-stuff to the little ladies in your life, because they are more than soon-to-be housewives. All I’m saying is think about your ideas of gender roles and consciously make an effort to disrupt that thinking and begin spreading that change. Show your mini-men love and kindness, show their boy pals the same, because we don’t know what happens behind any closed doors and you might be the catalyst for them to grow up better.

We can do this, friends. We owe it to our littles.

Jackets and Ten Steps

beginningsThe other day (I really mean it this time, because more often than not it could mean two days ago or twenty years ago, and that is just how I roll) I was hanging up some laundry and my eyes lingered on our coats/jackets/hoodies section. I mean, everyone has one of these in their closet, right? Outerwear to the outer-max, just busting at the seams. And that is what my heart was doing. It was muffin-topping out of my chest, as silly as that seems.

Six years ago, when I moved back to the mainland without my main squeeze (that would be Ku, don’t get confused there) I was in an in-between phase. No job to dive into, no money, and only two-thirds of my children. <– Yeah, you read that right. I was about to begin the divorce process and my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough had flown back with my baby-Moose three weeks before me. He was convinced I would get off the plane and into his grasp again, promising not to use my little as leverage, except I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not naïve.

Leaving Ku behind, as I boarded a plane with my two oldest, two suitcases and a carry-on heavy with anxiety, was hard. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely top ten. After almost two years on Oahu, we were coming back with less than what got us there. That’s practically zilch, friends. We went straight to my parents house and I tried to navigate how to file for divorce, how to draft a parenting plan, how to feel safe again, and how to keep the law on my side. I’m lucky in that I was Aria throughout so much of my decade-long marriage, going to sleep each night throughout those 3,650-ish days reciting the times he had hit me, remembering practically verbatim the times he made threats against my person, screenshotting as many texts as I could, especially in those last months. Not that I had to try hard because none of that is easy to forget. What I’m saying is I had no troubles establishing a case.

As I searched for a home for the five of us, this duplex in Lynden presented itself. I called and made an appointment to see it, being lucky in that the landlord had barely posted it on Craigslist five minutes before. I drove straight there with a gas tank full of hope. I told him the truth about starting over and not having much, that my deposit would come courtesy of my Mom, who also was the reason why Moose was back in my arms. I even pleaded with him. Said please over and over. I don’t know what made him say yes but all I know is Mercury was most definitely not in retrograde, all the planets were aligned and two plus two equaled four.

We got the place.

We moved in so fast, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I mean, how long does it take to pack up two suitcases and drive over to your new spot and then unload two suitcases? But it was ours and I was sitting there trying not to cry in front of my mini-men, because now I had a place I would never worry about moving out of again, unless I wanted to. I remember sitting on the floor that first day and just looking around. And then I recall the doorbell ringing and it was a furniture company with a surprise delivery of a set of bunk beds with mattresses and two couches, because my Mom is an angel and didn’t want us to sleep on the floor. I took the boys to Safeway and we got groceries for the new place, courtesy of food stamps (I’m never going to be ashamed of that, mmkay?) and I almost cried when Sam asked if we had enough to get cereal. I don’t care what anyone says, but when you talk about money for two months straight, it ends up giving your kids anxiety about food and that’s a sad place to be in, but we were and we worked through it. I’m 99% certain Sam doesn’t remember that moment like I do.

We loved in that home for almost three years. <–See, that is a feel good sentence, but it’s incomplete. We called that spot the “Ten Step” because it was T-I-N-Y. Anywhere you were in the house you could get anywhere else within ten steps. It was probably 700 square feet, which is INSANELY small for five bodies, three of which hadn’t figured out how to aim properly into the toilet. The one toilet. ONE.

Shortly after Ku moved in with us, and as we began rebuilding, together, she turned to me and said, “We need coats.” The closet in the living room, meant just for that, was so empty. We laughed about it and then promptly got to it, filling that closet to overflowing, and filling our home in general, but more importantly, filling our hearts. We stayed longer than we should have, mostly because it was never the right size for us, but also because we had plans and we aren’t above sacrificing. Now we have an abundance of jackets.

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Ten year old Sam, in the Ten Step kitchen

It is not lost upon me that Ten Steps sounds like a rehab program, but in a way, that little home was. For me, at least. I had to learn how to stop attending every argument my ex tried to invite me to, and how to stop self-sabotaging my love with Kulia. That’s all just honest truth. Sometimes it was too good for me and she saw right through (and still does) all the fights I tried to start with her for no reason. I had to learn to not expect certain things when we argued and that I could lean on her to support me in all things my life. It was the first time I had to handle the boys being away and me being at home without them. The ten step helped my heart grow back it’s feeling every day we were there.

Sometimes, when people talk about their circumstances, they look at my chapter 10 and compare it to their chapter three. “You have so much going for you, you wouldn’t understand.” Or, “Look at all you have! I need to get there before I can (insert whatever it is they are holding back from).” The thing is, I freaking get it. So hard. Change is hard and rewriting your shitty first draft is hard, but the thing is, you can’t change what you won’t change. And you most certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I held back from leaving him. I gave myself all the excuses, so don’t think there is judgement here from me. There most definitely is not one drop coming from me. I took a long time to get the courage up to leave and he said a lot of lies to me that I started to believe over time, but let me tell you this, and listen closely:

As long as there is air in your lungs and your heart pumps blood, you can do it. You can start over and have nothing but the clothes on your back and you can make it. Everything can be replaced. Everything, except for the air in your lungs and the blood pumping through your arteries.

I promise.

So if you are sitting there, single-momming it, wondering how you’ll all eat and not still feel hungry but also keep the lights on, or if you hate your job and don’t know how you’ll handle being back in school while working full-time, or if you are living in a hell-hole and have zero dollars to your name, LIFT YOUR CHIN UP. You can abhor your circumstances but you can also turn them around.

Mmmmkmay?

 

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Abraham, Sam and Moose reppin Hawaii in the Ten Step

A bonus-ing we will go!

It’s Christmas time! And you know what that means…eggnog, presents under gloriously decorated trees, and perhaps a little extra in your direct deposit. Wait, is that still a thing?

I honestly can’t remember what it feels like to be a part of a company that does bonuses, being as I’ve been out of the banking game for about six years now <– and those were based on performance, mostly, so you had to do things to get em. And not to get all National Lampoon-y on you, even though ’tis the season and all, but Clark was on to something when he yelled at his boss. He really was!

We are entering an era where employee engagement and retention of top notch worker bees is becoming cruuuuuucial. And not to get all HR on you, because dat’s my liiiiiife, but in the time of Google and Facebook and Starbucks, upping your boss game is more than just with moola. But, let’s say you do get a fatty little bump at the end of the year, in the form of the ever-sought-after B-O-N-U-S. What then?

See, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I do with my monies. Maybe it’s because I sit on the board of DVSAS and it stays active and changes lives in our community because of the generosity of the upper crust and the medium crust and you know what, the whole damn pie. I think about how there was a time my boys were only unwrapping gifts from family because there wasn’t enough to feed them AND get them a toy. I know that now, where we are in our lives, we can reach out and  help in so many ways. Except, it can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have three zeros after your first number in whatever check you may be writing and that makes you feel bad. Maybe you don’t even know where to start because you want to help ALL the peoples.

Is that you? Do you feel like you just don’t know when or how? Well, you’re in luck, because I haven’t had much luck in sleeping lately, so my mind did most of the work for my friends. Here’s what I came up with, with hopefully something for those who maybe just have $5 to give.

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Idea #1: A charity that speaks to your heart

Now, this will take a little work on your end, so I apologize in advance, but here’s what I recommend: Sit down, take some deep breaths, and think about the valleys of your life. The low times, the hard times, the I-would-rather-not-think-about-that-time-of-my-life times. It might make you emotional, it might even make you mad, but take that energy and GET OUT THE GOOGLE. Mad-type your problem into the search bar and hit freakin ENTER like you’re lighting something on fire. Because you are. It could be a time when you were homeless or close to it, battling an addiction or watching someone battle one, domestic violence (oh, there are my heartstrings, alive and well), it could be you wanting to play a youth sport but your parents couldn’t afford it, maybe it was a puppy you begged for every year but never received, or how about if you just didn’t have healthy meals on the daily because you could barely afford food. Now, if you’re in Whatcom County, that could look like this:

Lydia Place, DVSAS, The Lighthouse Mission, Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County, Whatcom Humane Society, Bellingham Food Bank, Northwest Youth Services , etc.

You could literally donate $5 and begin making a difference.

Idea #2: Support Political Action

It’s no surprise that for so many 2017 has been a let-down of a year. If you aren’t in that boat and you don’t feel any sort of ill-feelings toward the political state of our country, go ahead and skip on down to idea #3, because this one won’t speak to you. It’s been a trying set of months of who is a pre-existing condition, what women can or can’t say about their bodies, #metoo, and so on. Use your dollars like you would your voice because even your George Washington can come in hot, yelling like a CRAAAAAZY, just like you. Some great places to start are: Planned Parenthood (and please do so in Mike Pence’s name), DACA (because I’m not up for squashing anybody’s dreams, most certainly not those of the innocent), American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Org, National Assoc for the Advancement of Colored People, GLAAD, and so on. We cannot let those who don’t look like us, think like us, pee like us, etc get the better of us.

Idea #3: Education is going to change a world <– yours or whoever else’s. Someone’s world. It’s going to be changed. Let it be because of you.

If you can read this, thank a damn teacher. I mean it. Send a huge effin round of applause to the ladies and men who are there with our kiddos on the daily, listening to them drone on about whatever is important to them at the time. Who were also there for you. Yes, they aren’t perfect but neither are we and so they still deserve it. You can do any of the following and I’m sure tears would be shed: Donate to a PTO, whichever is closest to you, or at the school you went to, or stop in to a school one day and ask to pay some money on a student’s lunch bill. Because everyone needs to eat to be able to focus in class and some kids are in NEED OF FUNDS. I hope you all clapped that out with me, because I typed it HARD as if I was clapping. This is essential. Just take a Jackson in and find the office, ask where you can pay money on lunch accounts and hand it over. It will feel INCREDIBLE. Or you could buy a gift card at a store like the Dollar Store so the teachers, who make so little and still use their OWN MONIES to supply whatever is needed in their classroom and hand it to your kiddos educator. Or your neighbor’s kiddos educator. They are in abundance but their account balances are not. Again, even $10 could change someone’s world.

Idea #4: Listen

One day I was in Safeway and I did what every normal person does when I was ready to checkout. I scanned all the lines and picked the shortest one because #duh. I put all my items on the belt and waited patiently. I think I may have even texted Kulia something, because phones distract me from boring moments. I noticed I wasn’t moving even though I was next in line and I looked up to see the gentleman in front of me digging in his pockets and then choose an item to return. He nervous laughed and said he wasn’t sure how much his debit card would allow and so he asked the cashier to key in $20 and see if it would take. It did but he had a balance of $4.50 and all he had was milk, eggs, bacon and some other staple items. He was about to pick another item to put back when I handed a $5 bill to the kind lady and said, “Here. Please use this.” When he realized what had happened, he turned beet red because he was embarrassed. I felt bad for him when he turned to thank me over and over. It was such a small amount of help and he was so grateful and what I’m trying to say is, if I would have been stuck on my phone and not paying attention, I couldn’t have said yes to helping someone. Often times we hear of people paying it forward in coffee lines or things of the sort, but you can do it almost anywhere and I encourage you to be open and ready for it. I especially would like to throw out there that helping an elderly person at a store is monumental. They almost all live on set incomes that aren’t increasing with inflation. Help them out, friends.

Well, peeps, there you have it. Four but really 100 ways (because what’s life without a little exaggeration) to do something with your bonus. Or your fiver that you may or may not just spend on a coffee for yourself. Every little bit helps and I do mean every little bit. Don’t do what I did for so many years and think that because I don’t have thousands to hand out that I couldn’t partake in giving. And if you truly don’t have even $1 to help, I believe you but I ask this: Give your smiles. Show kindness to your fellow Earth-mates. Connect eyes and show some care. Genuine care. Even to the people panhandling on the streets and most especially to them.

Merry Christmas, you jolly bunch of non-a-holes. I love you all. And if you decide to buy yourself a pool, I won’t hold it against you.

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