Courage in Tough Times

It’s been a while. Shortly after my last post, I had a sad event occur in my family. I again found myself running back and forth to and from hospitals (one of which was almost five hours away), fighting daily on the phone with my insurance company, and at the same time, trying to teach 191 students and take care of my family at home. I fell apart. I fell to pieces. I was overwhelmed with the severity of the situation and absolutely terrified for what may have been lurking around Future’s corner.

I took medical leave from work and stayed with my sick family member, at their side 24 hours a day, seven days a week, transporting them to and from outpatient care and keeping watch with them and praying like I’ve never prayed before in my life.

For a few weeks, I didn’t feel like I could fall asleep or leave this person’s side. I felt so scared.

But eventually, things started to look up, and after a month, I was able to return to work.

But I still feel like it will take a while for me to feel back to normal. I still feel like I am going to need some time before I can say that I am back on my feet. Most days right now, I feel like I am simply crawling through the day, from when I get to work, until I get home.

Some days, I feel like I can go out and run. Other days, I just want to come home and stay inside with my family for every possible second that I can. For a while, I wanted to cut off from the entire World and just disappear. I never wanted to write again…I wished no one knew I existed because I was in so much pain inside and I didn’t want anyone to be there to see me hurting so badly. I didn’t want to talk about it.

I’m still scared. I’m still uncertain about the future. I will continue to have good days and not so good days. But what I didn’t want was to sugar coat the whole thing and act like life was perfect. I feel so much like many places I go online is full of this, “Oh, look at me, isn’t my life freakin GREAT?! Don’t YOU wish you had a great life like MINE?” attitude. I am simply not that way, and it turns me off to see people online never experiencing any raw emotions; emotions that are very REAL, and that we ALL feel at times in our lives:

scared, ashamed, lost, confused, lonely, sad

Right now, I am all of those things plus some.

I decided to finally post this  because I had a coworker say to me today, “Debra, you are NOT alone. You are STRONGER than anyone trying to get to you right now. I KNOW you are STRONGER than them.” And I thought a lot about the things I have survived. This whole time, I’ve felt so weak and beaten down from the abuse I went through for 24 YEARS of my life. When someone hits you enough, you feel weak. When someone belittles you enough, you feel worthless. It’s hard to stop thinking in that mindset.

But people around me lately are telling me powerful things that I need to hear, to cover up those voices in my head that tell me I will never be GOOD ENOUGH. My therapist recently told me, “You are the bravest woman I’ve ever met.” And I spent the next few days trying to figure out how she thought I was brave!! Because I lived all of my life feeling so scared; I didn’t see how I could be thought of as a brave person when I literally spent most of my life trembling and afraid.

So I simply want you to know that if you are feeling these raw emotions like I am, it’s OK. They are natural, and I’m coming to learn that letting myself have these feelings, and focusing on them when I am feeling them is very healing for me. If I want to be mad at the person(s) who abused me, damnit, I have every right to be! If I want to cry for a childhood I didn’t get to have, then I’m going to!

People can think I’m a masochist or deranged, I simply don’t care anymore. I just want to have a place where I feel like I can be myself and pour out my thoughts, because THAT is what helps me heal. That is what makes me feel BETTER. And I hope that someone who really needs to can read these very words and feel better, too…and know that they are NOT alone, and that they too, are BRAVE.

Visiting Hours Are Over

I have a difficult situation going on in my life right now, and while a part of me doesn’t want to talk about it, I feel like if I don’t, I will only confuse everyone around me with my ramblings, nonsense, and sudden mental and emotional decline, so here goes: my baby is in the hospital right now. And as a result, I can’t eat, sleep, or hardly think. So here I find myself, up typing late at night, and drowning in my thoughts.

Thoughts like how it’s funny that when your child is sick, you obviously think that the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD should stop turning. That you are on Pause until she gets better, and surely everyone will understand that. The creditors won’t mind if you don’t pay the bills this month…your boss will understand if you choose just not to show up to work because it hurts too much that day. And you get a Free Pass to just let EVERYTHING go. Brush my teeth? Get dressed? Eat breakfast? Ha! Not I! My “movie” is on Pause! Come back when I decide it’s alright to press Play again.

But alas, my husband and I spent last night at the hospital until they kicked us out because visiting hours were over. And I cried tears that burned as they fell down my face until I got home. Then I somehow fell asleep in my bed, but when I woke up, it felt like I hadn’t slept a wink! Then I thought about when the next visiting hours were, and I methodically planned my “To Do” list around them and attacked it like a ninja, because unfortunately, as we know, the world does NOT stop turning when the going gets tough.

I spent my morning at the police station getting a police report, then went to make multiple copies of it and sent it off to the three major credit bureaus to get an extended fraud alert placed on my credit. (Did I forget to mention my identity got stolen AT CHURCH a couple weeks ago?! The night I accepted Jesus into my heart?! Ok, now you’re all caught up!)

Then I spent much of the rest of the day at the DMV getting a new license number to avoid fraud, but couldn’t go to Social Security to put an alert on my SSN, because fancy that! Our government is still closed. I was told I will have to wait until they open again to protect my SSN. Just. My. Luck. Anyway, after I waited a few hours at the DMV to get my new license number, it proved to be unsuccessful (that part of their system was down and wouldn’t be fixed for at least 48 hours). I left empty-handed, aside from getting my motorcycle permit; I successfully passed my test (one good thing out of today)! My brand new scooter (bought just last week) gets delivered tomorrow, and once I’m able to get a helmet, I will start riding!

After the DMV fiasco, we got our oil changed and cars all tuned up, then raced off to visiting hours…the only time of day I feel OK, because I get to be with my baby for a short time. Then, almost as quickly as it starts, the announcement comes on that visiting hours are over again and my heart skips a beat, and for a moment, I stop breathing entirely. I hug and kiss my baby good night and tell her I will see her tomorrow, then make the long and quiet drive home again, lost in my thoughts and aching deep inside my belly. An ache so strong only a good long cry and prayer can tame it, until the next visit, when I go through it all over again.

I come inside the house and toss my keys on the dining room table, and for a moment, I see the pile of unopened hospital bills and I cringe. (I was stupid and opened one earlier today. Then I saw a mistake in the billing and had to call the insurance company to discuss it. And we know THAT is NEVER fun.) A person can only handle so much before enough is enough, so I quickly looked away and let the rest of the pile just lay there quietly until I decide that I’m ready to deal with it…which was actually supposed to be right now, when I powered up my computer to look at my online accounts, but decided that I should just write it all out instead, and that maybe once I set these feelings free out into cyberspace, it could help me feel better.

Suddenly, without notice, unbeknownst to me, my life has become a cycle as follows: Friday’s visiting hour to Saturday’s, then on to Sunday’s! Time is no longer the familiar finite regarded to by minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a week, or months in a year. My clock revolves solely from one visiting hour to the next…until further notice.

——-

My other daughter’s legs are all tangled up in mine right now as she sleeps on the sofa. We’re playing movies all night until we succumb to sleep’s spell. I suppose it’s time to power this thing back down and try to let the Sleep Magician work his magic on me. She’s starting to snore and it’s just the cutest darn thing I’ve heard all day!!

My Getaway

I had planned the getaway. The precise moment in which I would leave him. I would walk away and never look back.

Oh, but I had tried before and failed! Was this going to be like last time? Or the time before that? Would I really do it this time?

I got my ducks in a row. My ex had been through anger management. He had paid off his probation and completed all of the court-ordered mandates for the domestic violence charges the state had brought against him. After he got out of jail, he came back home.

He would come home from anger management and talk about the things he learned there.

No, not how to control his anger. He would learn from the other men there. He would learn ways to hurt me without leaving any marks. He learned new ways of abuse, that included economic measures. He started doing other new things, too, including, but not limited to:

  • Leaving the faucet running, and me coming home to flooded floors.
  • Closing all of the windows and turning the heat up to 90 degrees in the Arizona summer, when temperatures outside were already over 100.
  • Chasing me in his car until I thought I was surely going to die..me, thinking on my feet and wondering where I could go that he wouldn’t try to kill me in front of others. (THE POLICE STATION!!!)
  • He told me he had AIDS and that I should get checked…I did. I was fine. I checked again every six months two or three more times just to make sure.
  • Flattening all of my tires before I got up to go to work.
  • Trying to get my kids out of day care before I could get them, and then using them as tools to get whatever he wanted from me.

I couldn’t call the cops. He was too smart in thinking of ways to make me regret it and fear it. So, over the years, this is what I did:

  • I started to log episodes in a journal.
  • I contacted a local women’s shelter for battered women, and I kept a record of all incidents with them (these would hold up in court). It was my version of calling the cops.
  • I researched how to get a divorce. I kept all of the papers in a lock box, and I would move the lock box to new places every few days so that my ex would never find it.
  • I finished my college education and got a job lined up out of state, so that I could feel safe by moving across state lines.

When the day and time was right, I made the calls.

The time was right when he shook me too hard, and I got bruises. I went to the police station to have the bruises photographed after my ex left for work. By this time, the cops knew me, and I worked with a particular detective so I didn’t have to retell my story all the time. We had already lined this scapegoat up: the cops would come after he got home, as he was winding down from the day and not expecting anything at all; no risk of me calling 911 and getting hurt even more.

After I went to the police station, I contacted the courier who would deliver the restraining order at the same time. I had set aside very small amounts of money for years (a $5 bill here, some quarters found in the sofa there) and kept it in my lock box. I used it to pay for the courier and the filing of the divorce papers.

I was sleeping with the papers and money right underneath my mattress at the time. I remember how scared I felt that my husband might find them there. What would he do?? I’ll never forget the feeling of getting the lock box out for the very last time, shaking as I turned the key to unlock it. I counted the money two, three, four times to make sure it was all there; flipping through the divorce papers to make sure everything was completely filled out. I was sweating bullets, listening quietly for any creak in the house; it would be just my luck that my ex would somehow come home early that day and catch me! I was afraid.

I had a short window of time to go downtown and file the papers at the courthouse.  I had to work FAST. I made sure the girls were safe and sound at the day care center. I wanted them to be gone for all of this. I got the cashier’s check at the bank and headed downtown with my best friend. I filed the divorce papers with her there.

I remember when they called my number and I put the packet in front of the clerk. She stamped every page with today’s date and double checked everything. I signed the papers and she notarized them. It’s funny how simple it was…yet, it wasn’t. Not for me. I thought, “That’s it?” That’s all there is to it?” It was surreal. I turned around and walked outside with my friend, and I looked at those tall downtown buildings one last time. This was a new start for me.

THIS WAS IT!!

I got back home just in time to start cooking dinner. My ex-husband got home not long after I did. I told my ex the girls were at day care, and I was about to go get them as soon as dinner was off the stove. I wiped down the counters and was humming to music playing on the radio. I was trying to

KEEP

MY

COOL.

Then the doorbell rang.

I stayed in the kitchen, watching from afar, and asked my husband to get the door. He answered. It was the courier, dressed in a white T-shirt, cargo shorts, a baseball hat and sunglasses. He handed my husband a thick envelope. My husband accepted it, and the courier said, “You’ve been served.” My husband had a puzzled look on his face. Then, the cops came into the picture, and he was quickly placed under arrest. I watched as they read him his rights. I was so thankful that they all came at the time they said they would, and I started to relax just a little bit. They explained everything to my ex, his hands safely handcuffed behind his back.

And that was it. He was taken off. I’ll never forget the look he gave me. It’s ingrained into my memory for all time. He killed me with his eyes. A part of me died inside. He was in handcuffs, and yet, I was still SO VERY AFRAID, simply from a silent look he gave me; the look he would give just before he’d go off on me, except this time, with even more fury and contempt than ever before. So much fury that I feared for my life.

Once everyone was gone, I closed the door, locked it, and sat on the couch and let out a good, hard cry. I was happy and sad all at the same time. Confused. Numb. Empty. Full. Afraid. Free, FREE…

F.R.E.E.

I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes, and picked up my girls from day care. They came running up to me, and I smiled and hugged them EXTRA TIGHT. I didn’t ever want to let them go!

I didn’t feel safe until I was able to get us to California. I spent months watching my back and every single move I made. I didn’t sleep at night because I was watching out the windows and making sure the girls were safe. (I actually would sleep on campus in the daytime, because I felt safer there.) I never let them get within a few feet from me, and I never went anywhere alone. Someone always knew where I was and what I was doing AT ALL TIMES. I didn’t tell anyone my address in California before I left, not even my closest friends. I disconnected my phone. I literally STARTED OVER.

Before I was able to leave, my ex violated the restraining order numerous times, but I could never prove it.

California was my haven; my safe place. It never felt so good to finally make the drive over there. When we crossed that state line, I felt like I could

BREATHE

for the very first time in years.

Why I HATE Macaroni and Cheese

Today, I was giving out events to my track team, as we have a meet tomorrow. (My daughters are on my team.) As we walked out to do our warm-up laps after all the events had been assigned, my daughter came up to me and said she didn’t want to run in tomorrow’s meet. After much probing, I discovered that she has been being bullied by a boy on the track team. He tells her things like, “Are you going to help us get last place again?” or, “You’re a horrible runner!” She was brought to tears, expressing that she now HATES running, and that she doesn’t want to do it anymore.

After I helped her to realize that if this boy were to stop bullying her, she could feel comfortable with running again, I went to speak to the boy’s track coach to have him help me with the situation. I told my daughter that no matter what ANYONE says to her, SHE is the deciding factor in her success or failure in life. I told her NEVER to let anyone get to her that much that she wants to QUIT something she enjoys. She nodded her head as I told her these things, sniffling and wiping away her tears with her hands.

I wondered if she took so long to tell me about this ongoing situation because of my past with her father, and the things he had done to me, and the years I kept it all to myself. I’d climb into my bed, darkness all around, everyone fast asleep, and I would just cry and cry and cry and

CRY.

And it was right there on the edge of that track field today that I remembered why I hate macaroni and cheese…

I got home from work and picking up the girls. They were both toddlers. I was cooking dinner so that it would be ready by the time my husband got home. I had the kitchen table set and ready to go. I was excited to sit down and eat dinner as a family. I was making macaroni and cheese, with hot dogs mixed in. A box of macaroni and cheese was around $0.33, and hot dogs were about $0.50, if I remember correctly. We were scraping by at the time, but making due. This meal, while it was “cheap” and not special in any way, was a nice way for me to bring the family together at the end of the day.

My husband walked in, and I could tell he was mad. Something mustn’t have gone right in his day, but I knew to tread lightly, so I pretended like everything was OK. I got the girls seated at the table, placed the food in serving dishes, and joined everyone. I served the family their food, and we began to eat.

My husband tried a bite of his meal and said, “This tastes like shit!” He picked the macaroni up off of his plate with his bare hand. With his free hand, he grabbed the back of my head and he stuffed the macaroni into my face. He rubbed it all in for good measure. Cooked pasta was breaking and falling to the floor. I immediately began to cry.

He let go, but he wasn’t done yet. He took the leftover macaroni in the bowl and he chucked it to the wall, as hard as he could. The macaroni stuck to the wall as the bowl crashed to the floor. Some of the noodles began to leave streak marks as they slowly fell to the floor, too, and as I watched them fall, I thought about how the streak marks sort-of resembled the tears that were falling down my face.

And then…he left.

I told the girls to finish their dinner, and I began to clean up the mess, on my hands and knees on the cold tile floor, scrubbing the mess away, crying the ENTIRE TIME.

I forgot about that event. But I never cooked macaroni again.

Until one night, when I was dating my current husband. I made macaroni for dinner. We all sat down at the table, and began to eat.

My daughter was bubbly in her seat, giggling, bouncing up and down, and she said in her most cheerful voice, “Mommy? Do you remember the last time you made macaroni and cheese?”

“No, Honey.”

“Yes, you remember! That was when Daddy rubbed it into your face!”

I dropped my fork and hung my mouth open. And suddenly, I remembered. I got up and left the table, and I started to cry in the other room. My husband came into the room and consoled me, and he started to tear up, as well.

And here we are, years later, with a boy undervaluing a girl’s worth, her self-being, her human spirit. And I cried. I cried the

Whole.

Way.

Home.