Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Stand Where I Stood: Bittersweet

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…”

The first lines of the familiar song roused me awake. I was asleep, it was my birthday, and this was really not what I had in mind for my Sweet Sixteen. It was nineteen minutes after nine on that day in the middle of July. Exactly sixteen years prior was the moment I took my first breath. The symbolism of the moment was not lost at all on my mother and once the fog of sleep had cleared not on me either. She and my baby brother stood next to my bed, mom sat down and presented me with a card from both her and my brother. Proclaiming that in honor of my sixteenth birthday I would have one present every hour for sixteen hours! The blowout of all birthdays had been the summer before when she threw a surprise party for me and invited both my closest girlfriends and my puppy love boyfriend (that I had for a hot minute) AND the guys he was friends who were also my friends! My first co-ed party and the girls were going to stay the night… but the boys lingered a bit too long and we ended up in a huge water fight between the girls and mom versus the boys. It was amazing and I still have friends that reference that party. Looking back now I am glad I had one last party where I oblivious to the dark things that existed and could haunt you in the night and it was the best party ever.

This was my sweet sixteen and I would be lying if I said I was not a bit disappointed that some elaborate plan had not been hatched for this particular rite of passage. That summer was different than the one before, something lost on me at the time; I was not really speaking to any of my friends. He dominated all of my time and did not like any of my friends; especially my best friend Hana* she was the worst of them all as far as he was concerned. The only friend on the approved list was Alena* who he liked because she liked him, a lot more than I realized at the time, and she would smoke pot with him; something I refused to do. He had slowly and surgically cut me off from the life blood of a teenager, friends, so deliberately that I had not really noticed. Alena was always there so I was not really lonely and he was always there; the summer seemed to be flying by so I did not have a real sense of missing anyone.

My mother’s enthusiasm was contagious, she was rarely this excited as a medical professional it took a lot breach the calm of her well-practiced professional exterior. She seemed almost giddy and that made me smile. I got up, locked myself in the bathroom, and splashed cold water on my face. I checked a greenish yellow bruise under my arm; thankfully low enough I could still wear sleeveless shirts. Gently touching I winced in pain I applied a layer of Arnica gel. I was lucky I had long been a ballet dancer so the smell of different salves on my skin did not create any suspicion because I was always repairing some blister or raw spot on my toes from dancing in pointe shoes, or sore muscles from pushing myself a bit harder. Just a drop of White Flower Balm, barely a drop, to give it a bit of heat and help it relax a little because it hurt to take deep breaths. The bruise on my hip down and around to my back side was fading now and looked more like a shadow than a bruise.

These bruise checks had become a necessary evil, if my parents saw one the stories to explain a weird bruise were limited. I did bruise easily though and it was that fact that I told myself when a new mark would appear; that it hadn’t been a blow or grasp too hard I was just an easy bruiser, really it wasn’t so bad as all that. (Always telling myself not to be a drama queen)  Looking back at all the justifications I made for it all and everything to come I can’t help but wonder if anyone who happens upon this might think I am crazy. That which is so clear now should have been obvious then; obvious to anyone, but life is rarely obvious at the time and people see what they want to. No one wanted to see this happening, I didn’t even want to see it, and so no one did.

My mother’s voice rang out from the other room, she was growing impatient. I flushed the toilet and the White Flower Balm cotton ball down with it. Pulled my sloppy pajamas back on and sleepy but alert walked out and into our open plan living room. She and my brother, who was also excited, sat there with the first gift. I hadn’t opened it yet! All this build up I couldn’t help but laugh when it was a package of socks I had said I needed a couple weeks before. We ate some breakfast, I recall cheese grits because they are one of my favorite sinful foods. I got up to get in the shower; he was coming over, as was Alena. Standing in the shower I let the water wash over me warming sore muscles and cried. I was greatly disappointed my father had taken a trip to see my family members, including my dearest grandmother in Texas. I could not understand missing your daughter’s “Sweet Sixteen” and I was hurt by it. In the midst of my own private and secret hell and I was pissed off about my dad missing a silly birthday. Clearly teenage priorities were at work here.

I was almost ready when Alena arrived. She sat on the couch in the den and I came out she had a balloon and some present and card we giggled about but I do not remember now. Unfortunately she could not stay so she made her exit. I had just finished my hair and makeup when I heard the sound of his beater of a truck pull up on the curb. Hurriedly I finished. He did not like waiting on me, especially if it meant my parents would try to make small talk. Sliding into place in front of the door as my mother opened it I had just made it. I was wearing a new white, jean, mid-drift vest that I had buttoned up like a shirt (it was the 90’s), my Wrangler jeans, and my boots. Hair in place, outfit appropriate, flawless makeup, all the boxes ticked. My performance smile plastered on my face, he stood there looking at the ground; with his right arm extending to the door frame and propping himself up. Without moving his head he looked up over his sunglasses and I saw him scan me, a smile coming to his lips. Not the Jekyll and Hyde smile but one he gave when nothing had gone wrong… yet. This was the okay smile.

Relived I ushered him in, he was wearing dirty jeans, a shirt that the sleeves had been so deeply cut out of that the side of his body showed, printed on the shirt was something about “Peckers” and some double entendre about the chickens that starred on the shirt and the slang usage of the word pecker. Crestfallen, and struggling to hide it, it was time for my next gift. It was a puffed heart necklace that made a tinkling sound of tiny bells inside it when you shook it; it was quite the in thing at the time and I was thrilled. As I leaned over across the love seat to show him, I smelled that heady scent of pot, mingling with his Camel cigarettes and a fresh coat of Drakkar (he must have applied in the truck) I knew immediately he was higher than the Space Needle downtown. Working quite hard to not react at all to his complete and utter indifference to my new necklace I pulled myself back across the couch.

If my mother recognized the smell on him, she was lady enough to not mention it to me or to my knowledge to him. Thankfully she also did not bat an eyelash at his choice of attire. I on the other hand was embarrassed but knew by this point not to show it and definitely not to mention it. My mother looked over expectantly at him, this was clearly her segue to his gift presentation. When I glanced in her direction she was staring at him intently and she moved her head forward slightly and raised her eyebrows. Cutting my eyes back to him he was staring back at my mother and he raised one eyebrow.

“Maybe at the restaurant then?” she asked cheerfully.

Nothing was said in return.

My baby brother wanted me to ride in the car with him. Like an insane person I thought we might all ride in one vehicle… looking to him I got a look back that said not gonna happen. Letting my brother down entirely I went and climbed into the truck. We were all going out to eat at my favorite restaurant and I was looking forward to it. He fell into traffic behind my mother and had turned on some Alice in Chains. My mantra reverberating in my head, be small, be quiet, no sudden moves, he was high and that made him unpredictable. The truck fell silent as he turned off the radio and looked at me. He said that he had an idea of something special I could do for my birthday… for him. I furrowed my brow and glanced at him; he pointed to his lap and said something about always wanting to have me do that while he drove around. I must have looked appalled because he started laughing and said he was totally joking. Breathing a sigh of relief as we were now directly behind my mother and then to my horror he lit his pipe up right there at a stop light, still behind my mother. I rolled down my window and leaned against the door frame.

Pulling into the restaurant parking lot I hopped out of the truck; he took another long toke on his pipe and my audible sigh received an unwelcoming look. It was my birthday but you wouldn’t think there was anything special about it from the way he was dressed, or acting, or treating me. I don’t know what I expected but this was not a “Sweet Sixteen”. Treading the line, and I knew it, I shot him a look that questioned the wisdom of his smoking pot, in public, with my mother and brother just a few hundred feet away. The look I got back could have wilted flowers; clearly he did not care what I thought.
This getting high to be around my parents, thing was kind of new. We had all gone to see Independence Day (the movie) on the 3rd of July, so did most of the world it seemed that day. Finding a seat where my family and the two of us could all sit together was difficult. We managed to find a place, but it was less than ideal. He sat in the last seat against the wall. He got up a few times throughout the movie and each time he came back smelling like cigarettes and pot and somewhere in the middle of the movie he put in a dip and proceeding to spit into his empty coke cup. At some point I had stopped reaching for his hand when he would come back; he reached over and grabbed it and squeezed hard. Whispering against my neck that he loved me he just couldn’t stand my family

“They’re boring, you know?”

I simply sighed; I wasn’t going to start a fight in defense of my family right there in the middle of a movie. He leaned against the wall and fell asleep. It was a great day.

Inside the restaurant there was another gift following giving our orders.  It was a beautiful chain necklace. Mom again looked at him, smiling, he just stared at her. So she prompted

“Now would be a good time to do presents don’t you think?”

Oh God, she just assumed he would get me something. I held my breath not knowing what was about to happen. Knowing he wouldn’t expose himself entirely to my family I still worried what he might say later. He finally broke the silence and said

“Um… I had planned on giving it to her a little later; when we go out tonight.”

It was summer but where were we going on a Monday? I looked at him funny and he said something about taking me out to dinner later. Mom was satisfied with the answer and moved on. She would occasionally try to engage him in conversation but he was so wasted there really wasn’t any talking to him. Mostly we chattered to each other about whatever was going on at the time. Until she mentioned Hana’s name and he kicked me under the table, I did not even know he was listening. She asked me how she was doing and if I had talked to her. The answer of course was no, I hadn’t seen anyone but Alena and him and his friends. I muttered something about her being really busy with her boyfriend.

“Y’all should do a double date! Do kids do that anymore? Or am I totally uncool for suggesting it?”

I could literally feel the heat of his skin rising when I interrupted mom

“Yeah no that’s not really a thing people do anymore.”


To be continued…

*Names have been changed in order to keep identifying and concerned parties private.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Stand Where I Stood: Evolution

The following steps fell into place and created the evolution from wannabe skater kid to the girl I was in high school when my journey began. Some of these were thoroughly planned others just happened organically but I just went ahead and added them to the evolution that I thought would ultimately end up with me being a wife and then mommy by the time I was 24. The original thought was I was really going to marry the “elusive first real boyfriend”; yes I was that naïve.

We start where I left on the prior post, it is 1993-1994 and I was going to make myself Betty Bad Ass:

o Wear Black, a lot.

o Never take fashion advice or makeup counsel from mother. No matter how stupid you know you actually look.

o If Kate Moss can have thin arched eyebrows, so can you. Tweeze freely.

o Acquire pre-requisite baggy jeans. Preferably more than one pair… but since you saved all your lunch money for three weeks to buy the one pair you have and your mother tried to destroy four times and has now gone on mommy strike from buying you jeans, the one pair will have to do.

o Wear any and all available crappy looking flannel or plaid. If not crappy, make crappy looking. *must search parent’s closet for old stuff, because… grunge.

o Two words: Chain Wallet! YEAH!

o Maintain sweet and kind image and nature with friends; allow raging hormonal bitch faced teenager to explode nightly at home.

o If someone makes up a story about you that seems like it would be cool to have actually happened… go with it. Legends are made not born. Enjoy the spotlight.

o Should someone spread evil rumors about you that are not awesome (seriously teenage girls could give Satan notes at times) cry to your more assertive and aggressive friends and allow them to handle it for you. You want to be a legend that stays invisible, in the center of attention, whilst keeping your head down. Yeah sit and ponder that for a minute.

o Constantly worry someone will notice you do not actually belong in this group, wonder quietly to self how you pulled this off.

o Fail at least two or three of your eight classes. Bonus points are awarded for giving teachers extra strife for trying desperately to help you succeed.

o Keep this revelation under wraps and away from parents for as LONG as humanly possible, lest they step in and stop you or do something totally logical to keep you from destroying your now secret college ambitions. Getting progress reports before never was a problem because I didn’t need them, but oh honey if they weren’t flying in fast and furious now. Speed Round points for: Somehow managing to maintain “smart kid” tag…

o Curse a lot. I mean a lot, on average way more than wearing black. *Super extra points awarded for using curse words correctly.* Rude gestures can also be considered in this category. (Just don’t do it in front of adults; let’s not get all crazy.)

o Break rules. As many as you can, at once if possible; do not however break laws… allow other people to think you might have. If at all possible have this conversation: “I did not steal anything. This is my wallet good sir, and yes how astute you are it is an Altoid's tin. Look at how it holds my ill-gotten cigarettes, which I don’t technically smoke, without squishing them…” Look at me, I am Betty Bad Ass.

o Acquire as large a volume of CDs or tapes as you can no matter what your parents think. Play them. If one song is more special than the others rewind and replay 400 times or set CD player to replay.

o Learn to sit in front of speakers with maximum volume on and play music that is obnoxious to any and all adults in a sound radius. Cool points maybe added or subtracted based on inspiration of terror upon small children.

o Sit in front of massive speakers at dances with your friends and preform the ill-advised maneuver of “head banging” to every alternative song played. Somehow convince self that you look cool doing so and not like a group having a mass seizure. Also boys like girls who can do this because… I never really resolved why in my mind I just convinced myself of it.

o Begin having massive headaches due to probable brain trauma because of “head banging”. Extra consideration given if massive cluster migraines cause you to lose two weeks solid of school, prompting rumors of your death. Points given for number of spinal taps to check for meningitis. Decide (long before it became a thing) that band aid stuck on lower back because of spinal tap would be a super awesome place to get a tattoo; scare wits out of mother by announcing intention to do so. Never actually do so.

o Allow people to think you are willing to be assertive, but don’t assert at all, ever. Remember you did not get here by being assertive or even aggressive, you just got here. Wherever here is. (which by summer time was summer school for that algebra class and with some luck you moved on to 10th grade by the skin of your teeth)

o Tabasco Red, Converse One Stars, just like Kurt Cobain… or the hunter green, low top Converse All Stars your mother “went out of her way to buy you, she has no idea the reason because your feet look like boats!” Remind self that we decided not to take fashion advice from mother. Still wear those shoes 20 years later for added points, seriously best sneakers I have ever owned, they last forever.

o Do not let mother see you sigh exasperated due to her complete lack of cool or the mega eye roll because she threatened to burn the damn shoes. Seriously major bonus points making everyone think these were the ones you actually wanted…

o Eventually you have to actually kiss a guy. Not just say you did. That actually turned out to be kind of cool… until he called and broke up with you hours afterwards.

o Figure out how to skip school and run from security without looking like you’ve never done that sort of thing before.

o Lie, lie, and lie, your little tookis off to get out of said school skipping punishment. (This actually worked on more than one occasion, which likely contributed to the reasons I kept doing it.)

o Be willing to share one beer five ways after spilling most of it trying to open with no “church key” and still think you are Betty Bad Ass. Style points for co-ed sharing.

o Come across guys that used to bark at you, at the local park. Allow them to try and talk to you and your friends, before revealing who you are and why you’re now walking away with your friends. Make sure to have handy old picture of self. Additional points for having three pictures of self; showing your totally amazing transformation and it was rather an awesome moment. Smile like you just killed off the last of your worst enemies. Laugh because you did not have to do a damn thing other than wait.

o See that high school is fast approaching and a major style and friend category merger or clique transition is likely necessary. Or else you parent’s will finish hiring that hit man. Also you’ve done this version of yourself long enough with still no major boyfriend developments. You did get dumped approximately five to six hours following first real kiss. Adios Betty Bad Ass.

o Confuse and confound parents colossally by having braces removed and, with little to no explanation, switching to tight jeans, boots, and country music. Friends now all agree this is more “you”. Even though you do not even know who you are, anymore.

o Meet high school guys at library wearing new outfit; confirm this is staying around awhile. (one of the guys actually ended up being the elusive first real boyfriend, though I gave the other guy my number at the time and did not really ever speak to elusive first real boyfriend until 10th grade began)

o Mommy Strike and ban on all jean purchases lifted. Swimming in Wrangler denim, with patch, extra-long. Mom so thrilled she is practically buying you a new pair with every paycheck. Who knew?

o Midriff shirts. At all times. Better enjoy that fabulous abdomen whilst you have it.

o Long hair, your hair has always been long but up to this point you kept it in a knot most of the time.

o Gain elusive first real boyfriend. Now with must have car/truck and a licensed ability to drive it.

o Line Dancing. Lots and lots of Line Dancing.

o Belt Buckle.

o First Formal Dance. Lose mind when pictures developed and mom mentions she looked at them with her co-workers before you and has now seen picture of you kissing elusive first real boyfriend. This is apparently the end of everything and the world for several weeks. No speaking to her until she promises to allow you to see and approve any and all pictures developed with her money in future.

o Fake nails. Long ones. Painted with any color that shimmered. NO flat colors.

o Throw caution to wind along with virginity. Who needs that burden anyway?

o Go on to kind of regret that choice. A lot at times because as an adult you understand the actual ramifications of that little decision, made in a split second, and all its meanings and symbolism. Remind self, not to be too hard on self, because you did actually believe it was love, forever. Chump.

o Get dumped, hard, by elusive first real boyfriend. I was wrong about the pictures being the end of the world and everything… this was the absolute end of the world and everything. Especially since it seemed like everyone knew it was coming and you were the last one to know.

o Drag self around for a few weeks, convinced elusive first real boyfriend will remember that it was supposed to be love and come apologize for this mess. That never happened, but I was 15, so I had no idea how any of this worked. Any and all previous boyfriends were people I saw mostly at school or spoke to on the phone… but never really touched or saw each other in private.

o Get introduced to a new guy; hesitate to even speak to him. Finally decide he is your only option for a ride home other than the bus.

o New guy asks you out. You tell him you do not date guys with long hair. Bonus points awarded for letting the guy down easy, well easy-ish, and smugly thinking he would never cut off that bedraggled mop on top of his head he loves it too much.

o Eat crow, when he comes to see you at school the next morning with all his hair cut off and calls you on that date. Style points for remaining calm and not showing that you were wondering if this was not the weirdest, creepiest thing a guy could do or was it really romantic.

o Receive first rose on Valentine’s Day. Spend majority of day assuming it was from the elusive first real boyfriend and that at some point he will come and sweep you into his arms. Points for not looking completely shocked or dismayed when it was in fact a rose from him and that first real boyfriend was really and truly not coming back.

o Finally agree to go out with him; afterschool on Valentine’s Day 1996.

This list is supposed to humorous, slowly moving to the more serious nature of growing up and the pains that come with it. Growing up in the rapidly changing world of the nineties was hard enough; I cannot even imagine doing this now. Part of me looks at this list and wonders if I had just not checked off a few of these things would everything have gone differently? If I had been taught that it was okay to trust my gut instinct over being polite would things be the same? Would it have been altered if I felt more secure in myself or not felt a need to repress any aspect of myself I deemed un-cool or un-lovable? Did my felt need to protect my family from strife and pain ultimately alter my life for the next decade and in many ways forever? Is life fated or do our choices and actions influence the path we are on? I have no answer to these questions and I don’t believe anyone does.

Stand Where I Stood: Special Ed.

At this point, after pausing, in my posts and watching very carefully the reaction to the subject matter; I think I need to speak to a couple of things that you might not understand if you haven’t ever been in my situation. For a few posts I will attempt to give you a sense of how you get a place where you accept this behavior, or at least at the point I did. So background information is a necessary evil. I apologize now. Please also remember I am no psychologist or doctor; I am only telling my story. I have no real medical knowledge other than what has been explained to me over the years and my writings are marginally acceptable at best.

Growing up I was always the awkward kid, the kid with no real athletic prowess, buck teeth, all limbs, and by the end of second grade thick glasses. My second grade teachers, I had a team of two teachers that year, thought very much inside the box. I was the kid who doodled on work, daydreamed, and could not add or subtract to save my life. My teachers, trying to be old school disciplinarians as in “dunce hat” old school, would stand me in front of the black board and tell me I was dumb or stupid or silly or whatever fit the moment. All of my failings were highlighted this way… I don’t remember if they did it to other kids and frankly other than feeling awful for them too, that doesn’t matter. Testing into the top 95% range with my IQ and tons of other tests of smarts and abilities meant I had to be placed in the gifted program at my school; my teachers and parents fought about these test results the whole year, which sort of drew the attention off of me. Never telling my parents about being chastised in front of 28 kids, they were very busy with a sick baby, a very sick baby, I endured. I kept telling myself this was for my brother; I only had to go so much more with these two old bats before I could move on. He was so sick and on more than one occasion death seemed inevitable. At some point in this process my father told me I had to be a big girl. He meant help out with some things like sorting laundry and helping out with dishes. Seven year old me, interpreted it as I had to be grown up, that meant putting myself second and protecting my family above all else. It was not until my parents had removed me from the public district and moved me into private schooling did they learn of the “teaching style” to which I had been exposed. Hell, all 28 of those poor kids put up with those nut jobs; at the very least I am sure someone got sick of hearing about me! (Pretty sure on that since I got teased a lot) My third grade teacher picked up on something I said and asked the right combination of questions; she discovered what happened and spoke to my parents.

Clearly, as any parent would be, they were upset. Whatever damage had been done was over. For me, the only thing that mattered was I had to protect my family, and my brother. Who hasn’t heard their parent tell the oldest to watch out for the youngest? Fast forward through all the weird pre-teen growing up and the socially inept me struggling to just fit in… and we arrive at another pivotal moment. In the sixth grade I was in Middle School in Alabama, my dad got a job in Seattle. So for Christmas that year we got to move to what felt like another planet! Our first year there was miserable. It did mean the demise of my poodle bangs; there might have been a good tradeoff there… jury’s still out on that. Not only did I think my parents had moved me to the furthest corners of hell (I was so wrong!) but I had to go back to elementary school. I found myself taking recess again and to make everything else extra awesome I got braces!

In case this isn’t making any sense let me clear up the picture. Gangly, coke bottle glassed four eyed, braces on teeth while buck toothed, southern accent, and goofy big haired little girl with horrible posture moved to the big city and like the Beverly Hillbillies culture shock is putting it mildly. My mother insisted I have an IEP and a bunch of other stuff that in my opinion, just meant I was a bigger dork with more paperwork. Special classes were organized so that I could “catch up” on my math skills; drawing further attention to me, as I had to get up and go to another place in the school for SPECIAL ED. All I really wanted to do was fade into a wall. I talked funny, I dressed funny, I looked funny (really I did the early 90’s were terrible for everyone) and now I did not know anybody. It didn’t take very long for kids around me to figure out that when I was in the room I was the one to sit next to; I had found a kind of niche: the smart kid.

Seventh grade, more awkward, and now I had a gap between my slightly less bucked teeth but still no self-esteem. I was always outside playing; my brother and I were team. We were survivors, together we always had someone to play with and talk to. If any other kid said one word about me I would take it, absorb it and save it for later. If any other kid said one word about or even looked wrong at, my brother I would come out of my frame. It may not seem like it but I have a pretty fiery temper; I just hold it all in because as a “southern lady” that’s how you do. Right?

At times I was pretty rabid about protecting my baby brother. He was so small and beautiful; navy blue eyes that sometimes looked black as jet sparkling in his little eyes and curly golden hair. He was getting stronger and the climate seemed to work for him. The boys called me Chewbacca because of my temper over my brother, bucked teeth and frizzy wild mess of hair. It took me a little while to figure out Seattle and hair. I digress… They would frequently follow me around the little community we first lived in, barking at me. Somewhere during this time we moved from the little townhome my parents had rented into a house, next a lake, and with a neighborhood where there were not so many older boys, thank God.

The school lines had changed and this meant another new school, if you are counting that’s four schools and four different sets of kids in three years. Each time my mother would cheerfully explain that it was a new start, a new beginning, she would say. This time it really was going to be different; my teeth now had no gap, just plain old braces, and the best thing in the world happened: I got my first contact lenses. This was the game changer as far as I was concerned. (I guess somewhere I forgot I was still dressing like my mother picked out my clothes… she actually really was since she was buying them, but that is getting technical.) I can remember prancing into my new junior high school that day convinced, absolutely, that I would have a boyfriend by the end of the week. By God, I was 13 now; a real teenager and I didn’t have those damned goggles anymore. Mind you I was wearing hard lenses, “gas permeable” they were called. Utterly no idea why they were called that because they did not breathe and I would soon learn that their only positive, besides the obvious lack of glasses, was that if I needed to go to the bathroom I only need pop one out and the teacher did not have any choice but to let me loose on the school. Worked like a charm; however at this point in my illustrious career I was not also scheming.

Looking back I am pretty sure that first day I was wearing a shirt with a salmon on it and lipstick… yeah lipstick in a “mauve” category. I learned a few things that year besides the general things taught in 8th grade. The first was that mauve was a category of color and lipstick best left for your mother. Lipstick is not your friend. Dressing like your mother picks your clothes out, does not make you an instant hit popularity wise. Some people wear forks and aluminum foil in their hair. I can’t recall her name but the she was the first person I saw at this new school. She was hovering near my locker with the forks and foil twisted in her raven hair. I was confused and unsure of the statement was being made, but she was confident, really confident, and she was standing between me and the door to my first class. My hesitation would have made you think she was threatening me with a knife or one of her forks. She wasn’t. I was just terrified that if she saw me in my now idiotic salmon shirt I would not be worthy of this girl who clearly had the cool grunge thing down pat. I did foster a deep and what I would have told you at the time was spiritual connection with Nirvana and Pearl Jam amongst others. The most painful lesson was that in order to cross the road from what I now considered mediocrity to the popular side of the fence (or so I thought) was to forsake all the kids who had been nice to me when I first arrived in Seattle for the kids that did not know that version of me.

By the end of 8th grade, I was letting people copy my homework; I had gotten my mother to stop buying me BONGO jeans and body suits, and even mixed some flannel and plaid into my sartorial catalog. I had long since tossed the purple lipstick and learned to use black eyeliner to my mother’s great dismay. New friends were all around me and even a few of the ones I had thrown to the wolves were still speaking to me. The trouble when you jump the fence like that is you don’t really belong on the other side of the fence. All of sudden I was in with a crowd, that moved fast and talked tough. Appeasement was my entry into the crowd; I first picked a girl who terrified me and made it my mission to make her my friend. She sat next to me in one class, sheer chance there, when we all had to group up to do group work I went out of my way to be sweet and meek and as pliable as possible. It worked, but at what cost?

Ninth grade and age 14 was the year my parents nearly had me killed. A seasoned veteran now, I hit school that first day in the dress my father called the “evening gown” it was long and black, mostly long. My first class Algebra, with Mrs. Johnson and Shara*, a good friend of mine to this day, became my first moronic mistake as I heard the words “you have two days after your homework has been done to correct it based on class discussions and then turn in for credit” which in my newly rebellious mind meant I had two extra days to do my freaking homework. NICE. I never did my homework. Not even once for that class. I had come so far from those Special Ed days and now I was trying to screw it up, in order to look like I didn’t care and mostly that I was not the smart kid everyone thought. Smart kids did not, intentionally or otherwise, fail classes. Smart kids, “nerds” or “dorks” or “geeks” were my people and I had made a calculated, ill-advised but thought out, not well, I was 14, move to separate myself from them. (Strategy is not, nor ever was my strong point)

*Names have been changed in order to keep identifying and concerned parties private.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stand Where I Stood: Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

~William Ernest Henley

This poem was one that got me through some dark spots; I would repeat it over and over. I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. I share it with you because it is important to know I was trying to find the light in my darkest moments. In my mind I was always fighting for control. This one I would recite in my head when I was trying to stand up for myself or eventually had to stand my ground; it makes me feel defiant. What does it make you feel?

The song that started me writing... because it got me thinking.

I love Daughter, but her song Medicine is particularly moving.  Take a listen read around, explore.  Follow me on my journey, the good and the bad.  The breathtakingly beautiful and devastating breaks.  Stand Where I Stood.

~the Belle

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stand Where I Stood: Betrayal

“You are so fucking stupid! Why can’t you figure out how to do this?! It is not hard to do!”

He bellowed and it seemed to echo, I felt eyes on me. Instantly the river fell silent, I don’t even think the water made a sound, as people stared waiting to see what was about to happen. He got out of the boat and started dragging it. He threw the paddles into the trees along the river and screamed at me

“Guess we don’t fucking need those! You can’t figure out how to paddle a fucking boat. How do you think you will ever be able to drive a goddamned car?”

I didn’t know what to do. He had been so sweet for a couple months I had pushed the other incident out of mind and away; it was just an accident he didn’t mean it.

This was different. He was berating me with words and in front of everyone, his whole family, friends we had run into along the river, and a lot of people we did not even know. It was one of those moments where you don’t know where to look or whether or not to say anything. In this case my typical need to get in the last word froze and I said nothing in my own defense. I just sat there in a sinking boat; which is actually a good metaphor for the whole situation.

His brother told him told him to lay off me, that it was my first time and it takes some practice… He cut his brother off right there with a tirade of cursing and gestures. I looked at his brother’s boat with his girlfriend and the spare seat in the back of the raft. Every fiber of my being told me to get out and go to their boat, but for some reason my muscles wouldn’t move. My body was not listening to what my mind was saying. I was literally scared stiff. Something inside me told me that there were going to be consequences for this display. The show continued as he dragged me along down the river rumbling about things I could not make out. Thankfully we did not have far to go.

By the time we got back to his house to change clothes he was fuming. His face red with anger and his eyes had gone to that black color again. I kept telling myself to tread lightly, be small, be quiet, no sudden moves; that would keep any accidents from happening again. I was wrong, this time was going to be another first and this was when the campaign of humiliation and confusion began.

We walked into his house and he shoved me against a wall I was only wearing a bikini and sarong type thing and I was soaking wet and cold. He was pressing me into the wall and staring at me. I kept repeating to myself, be small, be quiet, no sudden moves. His grip on me was hard and uncomfortable. He was strong and he trained everyday with weights, my tiny barely 100lb frame was no match for him. Slowly as we stared at each other that smile crept across his face. The crazy smile; the one that was part of that accident it wasn’t going to happen again, right? I was still repeating my new mantra in my head and had added he isn’t going to hurt you he promised. That day I learned that promises are often made and often wasted.

He let go of one arm and twisted back on the other nearly dragging me to his room. His room was a tiny one with a high window on one side of the wall, boring and white. No evidence that he had any personality at all; that was the first time I ever noticed that. He picked me up and threw me on the bed. My head struck the shelf that served as a head board and I bounced a little, mostly I was just glad to be out of his grip. My arms and shoulders had angry looking red marks. His face was no longer red; only that smile and he kept looking at me. Be small, be quiet, no sudden moves. Be small, be quiet, no sudden moves, he isn’t going to hurt you, over and over in my head with the rhythm of a train pounding in my skull, now throbbing with the welt raising on the back of my head.

He was clearly thinking. I like to think he was at least considering not doing anything. With a swiftness I did not know he was capable of he was on top of me. His hands grabbed my hair and pulled it; he kissed me hard, not like I had ever been kissed. This was not a kiss with warm feelings; this was like ice cold steel. He bit my lip when he pulled back and began to rip the sarong off of me. I asked what he was doing his response was not what I expected.

“I’m going to fuck you, just like you fucked me today.”

I tried to squirm out from underneath him but his weight was too much for me. Before I even knew what was happening I felt him; it felt like I was tearing in half. Harder and harder he went; he wasn’t looking at me he had closed his eyes but he still had that smile. My body was not ready for this onslaught and it burned more with each movement. He wasn’t using a condom and I thought if I could get him off me to get one I could get out of the room. I whispered that he should put one on. His eyes snapped open and he looked down at me and said

“I am not ever going to wear a fucking condom again. I hate them, don’t worry you’ll get used to it.”

I was in agony now, my body was not responding to this, he had pulled the triangles of my bikini back and I was exposed. He was fondling me but it was rough, not the gentle way I knew. I started to scream out in pain with each of his efforts. Hoping against hope that his family would be home now and would hear me and come and stop this attack… no one ever came. It seemed to go on forever and when he was ready he finished his business but he did it on my face. I was mortified and felt shameful but part of me was glad that at least I wasn’t a virgin and this was not my first time. The horror of that idea was weighing in my mind as he wiped himself off my face with his shirt. Before I could even get dressed he grabbed the arm he had twisted earlier, I cried out in pain; with everything else I had forgotten about my arms. Down the hall to his parent’s room we went, to their bathroom.

The shower was on the hottest setting it could be when he shoved me into it and ordered me to clean myself up.

“You are dirty, nasty. Look at what you did; you didn’t even try to stop me. You must like it like that; all that screaming… You’re a slut. Wash your fuck face I do not want any of that on you when I kiss you again.”

Even though the shower was scorching I was grateful that at least I felt I was washing the episode off me. He was outside the shower watching me, more embarrassment as he directed what I did and how I did it. As quickly as he had moved before he pulled me out of the water and told me I was done. He threw a towel at me and I wrapped it around me and sunk down against the wall. The enormity of what had just happened was starting to dawn on me and I was forcing back tears. I did not want him to see me cry.

“Oh you like being down there? Let’s try something new, don’t worry sluts like this sort of thing.”

He sat down on the toilet next to me and pulled his pants down he told me I just had to kiss him.

“All you have to do is kiss it. That’s all.”

His voice had softened a bit and I thought maybe if I just did this, all this would be over. I leaned forward and kissed him in a place I had previously never considered. He grabbed the back of my head and forced himself into my mouth.

“Don’t you fucking scrape me with your teeth; you should know how to do this already.”

The tears came now and I could not stop them. They burned in my eyes, I just squeezed my eyes shut and focused on the rather difficult task of not “scraping” him. He was in charge of every move with his hand pulling my hair. It was over and again all over my face. He blamed me again and shoved my head under the tap in the shower; he ordered me to clean my face.

Abruptly he left the room and me alone in it. He said over his shoulder that he had better not have to come back and get me. As soon as he was out of the room I shut the door and locked it. There were no windows I had no other choice but to go out and face him. I remember sitting back against the wall. The tiles were cool on my back and I shivered but then the shivering didn’t stop. I was shaking and I knew I had to get it under control but then the tears came again. Tears furious and stinging tumbled down my face. Everything he said was true. I didn’t really try to stop him. I could have kneed him in the crotch or something. My mind was spinning and I was crying and shaking like a leaf. I told myself I could not go out there like this. I found a tooth brush and decided using someone else’s toothbrush was not nearly as disgusting at what had just happened. I scrubbed the inside of my mouth. Using his mother’s brush to comb out my hair I pulled it up and wrapped it in a twist. I dried off and covered myself and opened the door. I was still shaking and the tears were involuntary now. My mantra, be small, be quiet, no sudden moves was on repeat in my head.

No one seemed to be in the house as I made my way back to his room, a room that felt foreign to me now. My change of clothes was piled on the floor and looking closer I realized it had not been his shirt that had wiped my face earlier. It was my shirt that had wiped him off my face and out of my eyes. The damp towel was able to help me at least feel like you couldn’t see any spots. My whole body was aching and gingerly I pulled on clothes. I stood there a moment in front of a mirror. I wiped my eyes and somehow found the strength to force myself to stop shaking. Slipping on my shoes, I folded the towel and placed it in the laundry room.

When I walked out into the great room it took me a few minutes to realize he was outside. On the back deck of his house, all of his siblings were gathered. Forcing the thought that they had heard me and assumed I was having a good time out of my head and continuing with my mantra I took a deep breath. He saw me and motioned for me to come outside. I pulled the door open and stepped onto the deck; I know I was blushing from head to toe. No one said anything, to me, but one of his brothers was talking to him off to the side and slapped him on the back and gave him a high five. Naturally I don’t really know what they were saying to each other but at the time it felt like he was taking a victory lap.

He walked over and took my hand gently. I must have looked mystified because he kissed my hand and said to the group that I was worn out; it had been a long day. He put his arm around my waist and when his eldest brother asked me if I wanted to stay for a barbeque; I didn’t have to answer.

“No, no she’s had a long day. She told me she was tired earlier when I showed her the shower, so we decided I would just take her home but hey throw a steak on for me, I’ll be back soon!”

His head tilted all the way back as he gulped down one of the beers everyone was drinking and took a long drag off his Camel cigarette. A large part of me wanted to take a beer and drink it as fast as I could so that I would feel it and the events of the afternoon might fade away into a fog. Gently he took my hand again and we left. On the way home it was as if nothing had happened. Sweetness oozed from him like honey from a spoon. Confused I asked

“Are you mad at me?”

He replied

“No, not anymore; I’m sorry about that stuff I was upset about at the river. It was great sex though. Did you like it?”


“Oh, I thought you were kind of into it… it was role playing you know. We should totally do that again, I really liked punishing you; but if you aren’t into it I won’t do that again. I’m really sorry; I thought you knew what we were doing. Fuck me; I just keep messing up don’t I? You forgive me right? You know I didn’t know you weren’t into it. I swear sweet cheeks it that won’t ever happen again.”

As he turned into my cul-de-sac he asked if I was going to tell my parents. I could feel the rush of red come to my face.

“No. I couldn’t tell them about that.”

He nodded and agreed that it was better that way, our sex life was ours and nobody else’s business. Or something to that effect I felt dizzy and I was barely listening to him. The sun was just starting to set and I was spent and now I had to go in and face my family like nothing was wrong. Leaning across the seat he kissed me with his lips so soft and gentle. Jekyll and Hyde that’s what this was like. My brain was racing around in my head like it was inside a blender. Who was this guy? This was certainly not the guy who had wooed me and convinced me to go on a date with him after a hard break up with my first real boyfriend. This was beyond my understanding, I was humiliated, and I had no one I could talk to and sort this out with.

I tripped getting out of the truck and scraped up my palms; he leaned over and asked if I was okay. Sure, now you want to know how I am doing… I just nodded and walked into the house. Plastering the smile on my face, the one I would learn to use so that I could keep up appearances. The sound of him peeling out in my driveway echoed through the neighborhood and I could hear my father yelling from another room at me to make him stop doing that.

I remember telling my parents I had eaten already and I was just really tired. Opening the window in my room I let the cool air wash over me and finally I was out of sight and I gave into the tears. I had to steady myself I was crying so hard. I pulled off all my clothes and wadded them up and threw them in the darkest corner of my closet. Never again could I wear that shirt, it represented pain, disgrace, and the indignities of just a few hours that had changed my life again. Pulling on the loosest pajamas I had I crawled into my bed and pulled the comforter over me; burying my face in a pillow to stifle the noise I lay there and sobbed. Utterly confused and completely alone I sobbed. I found my childhood security blanket and like a little girl gently rubbed my face with it. I cried for a long time, everyone else had gone to bed by the time I finally drifted off to sleep. His voice in my head, the sweet one and the one full of madness, who was I dating? I told myself, in the words of Scarlet O’Hara, I will worry about that tomorrow.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stand Where I Stood: “It”

I couldn’t breathe, gasping desperately like a goldfish out of water I lay there my head swimming with the realities of what had just happened… No this couldn’t be real… this has to be a dream or a concussion or something… something else, not real… please not real. It took a few minutes for me to come back to the surface and like bobbing up out of a deep pool I came to and he was there. I can still see his face from that first time. He did not say anything. He didn’t even ask if I was okay, he watched me lay there and catch my breath, after he had knocked it out of me with a swift and decisive punch to the stomach. He watched me, head cocked to the side, like maybe he wasn’t sure what had just happened. Looking back, into those eyes I know it was less of a surprise and more of realization that he could do it… he could hit me and I would fall and not fight back. Those eyes, soft and brown like the velvet coat on a chestnut horse, they were clipped with hardness now and it cut through me like knife. Finally he just said

“Get up.”

That was how it began. He swore it wasn’t on purpose; that he’d never do it again, if only I just knew how angry I made him or how crazy I made him feel.

“I love you, so much, I couldn’t stop myself. I’m sorry, so sorry… it will never ever happen again. I swear.”

That night I wanted more than anything to believe him. I’ve had the wind knocked out of me before; always on accident in a crowded hallway or something like that. It never feels good; it always takes you by surprise, but this time, this time I never saw it coming. I didn’t even see the fist or the punch; I only felt it land and the impact and then the ground as I slumped down trying to breathe. I fell to my side, with tears stinging in my eyes, trying to figure out what I had done. Surely I ran into him or he stopped short or something… I did not want to be an after school special. I couldn’t be, not me. I was so deliberately normal, a practiced façade I kept so that no one would know that I dream of a future like Star Trek or believe in fairies and that I wish books like Tolkien’s were real.   I read everything that comes in front of me. I read the encyclopedia growing up. I was nerd. I am a nerd, I wanted to be popular, well liked, adored, loved… wanted. I practiced entire conversations in my head and out loud, working out every feasible outcome so I would know exactly what to say and do should any eventuality arise.

This was not eventuality I had ever practiced.

I was still just 15 that first time. That first fist, first bruise, first lie; all of it was more galvanizing to me than the loss of my virginity. I remember it clearly; all the way to the bottom like the lake my family had once come across on a day trip through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  I can tell you what I was wearing, what he was wearing, that he hadn’t shaved that day and was scruffy looking, no one was at his house it was just us. The day was a typical dreary Seattle day, nothing special there. I had just had my hair trimmed, he didn’t like that. He said I took too much length off. When I told him it was my hair that he did not get a say in what I did with it… I could shave my head… that was it. It.

Burning in my lungs, rolling onto my side and then back seeing his hand still in a fist above me… his eyes… oh God his eyes. Once I thought they might be what a doe’s eyes looked like if I ever got close to a deer. Now they were like black coals, dark and frightening, black and full of something I couldn’t place. His mouth was open he was panting a bit; he ran his other hand through his hair. He smelled of wood, gasoline, cigarettes, and Drakkar. It all happened so quickly, one minute we were joking around, making out, he put his hands in my hair and pulled it free from the knot I had twisted it into. It was too short. I had only taken an inch or so off, I often wonder now if this moment is why I keep my hair so long. He stood up and smiled this smile I came to know so well… this was the bad smile, the crazy one… he asked

“You cut your hair?”

I dismissed the question. It was so silly. Of course I cut my hair, it needed a trim. I shrugged and turned my head to grab my things and that’s when my innocence, my world, imploded. Everything sort of blurs for a minute I just remember pieces of things. I remember reaching out and grasping at his leg, the feel of the jeans and the tension in his body. Perhaps he fully expected me to get up and come right back at him, but then again no.  I am not and never was that kind of person; even with all my bravado and fiery temper, I just couldn’t find it in me to stand up and fight back. I do not know why; all I know is that I have worked a long time to forgive myself for not fighting back that day. The trip in his old beat up, truck was quiet except for his pleas of mercy and forgiveness. He filled my head with promises and oaths of fidelity and “never agains”. By the time we got to my house that was maybe three miles away, I was having trouble focusing on all his ways of loving me and the impossibilities of it ever happening again and all the reasons we should never talk about it or say anything to my parents.

He was right, about that, I knew I couldn’t tell my parents. The shame of it was just too much.  My parents, the only people who know me better than myself, the people I could say anything to and often did, this was my secret now. My parents love me unconditionally and it pains me I couldn’t talk to them, it hurts I kept it all from all my closest friends. I had a secret, a real secret, something I could never tell another soul; this was my burden. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, right? So surely it wouldn’t be a huge deal.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have known there is predictable pattern of behavior. A clear cycle that every man who batters women follows. The only thing I knew then, was this was a guy I had given my body to, he had seen me at my most vulnerable and precious moments.  This was something that happened in movies and those stupid films, the cautionary tales, that they show in Home Economics or Health class. This wasn’t something that happened at my school, or to people like me. Girls like me are all sunshine and rainbows; we don’t have dirty little secrets, we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.  This sort of thing happened in other places, to girls who came from broken homes and did drugs or slept with everyone or so many other things I deemed to be not normal.  I was 15 and I didn’t know shit.