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A Debt of Pride

A Debt of Pride

A Guest Post From RK

Once, I asked for an explanation from a family. I was met with a litany of excuses, supposedly mitigating circumstances, and anger. No explanation. The fact that I got a response, though the one I wasn’t asking for, speaks to the pain of an open wound. All I wanted was an explanation, but I got attacked because my request was evidently salt in that open wound. Maybe a little salt would be good to remind people of the injury that has been treated only with the opium of denial.

Someone once wrote of a door with a sign on it that said, ‘required equipment for heroes’, but anyone that opened the door was greeted only with tragic circumstances. No one should want to be a hero, but sometimes it is thrust upon us. And sometimes even good people fail. Sometimes a higher force tests a family. Imagine the disappointment in the ancestors to see a family tested and falling short.

Sometimes, helping isn’t easy. It requires communication, patience, understanding. It requires apologies and forgiveness. All of these things are free, and why not give freely of things that are free. Pride is a debt that weighs us down, and some of us owe more than others. But it is a debt that can be abandoned without repayment. You just need to ask.

Where are the bridge builders? Where are the people that can see the chasm and can throw a rope across? Or is everyone too impotent to foster the changes that heal? Is everyone too far in debt with pride to act to make a better world for all? How easy it is to claim to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I would like to see action before the claims, before the Facebook and Twitter posts, before wearing a pin that says what a decent person you are.

I have to say that perhaps you are not bad people, but being ‘not bad people’ is setting the bar pretty low. Now is not the time for inaction and complacency. Where are all the heroes that are willing to face the door that reveals tragic circumstances?

Memories of a Road Trip

Memories of a Road Trip

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have experienced quite a few memorable road trips in my lifetime. I’ve driven from Massachusetts to Virginia, Washington, DC, Michigan, Pennsylvania, all over New England, and as far as Tampa, Florida. And with the exception of numerous trips between Massachusetts and Pennysylvania, I always had travel mates.

I traveled alone with the ex and we had a lot of good times, but far too many negative ones to offset the happy memories. I also found that traveling with him and my kids was never a guarantee of warm and fuzzy family moments. When the ex was around, we might have played a game, like listing all the different state license plates we’d see on the road, But the underlying dread of him flying off the handle with my kids in the car was always lurking.

I traveled a lot with my daughter, just the two of us. We went to the Junior Olympics in Detroit and Virginia Beach, among other places. Those were SUCH FUN times because we laughed and sang and talked about everything under the sun, including her future, a place where I expected to be. I miss those days so much.

But I heard a song the other day that triggered a memory of my favorite road trip. My extended family, about 23 of us, went on a family vacation to Tampa, FL, specifically St. Pete Beach. At the time, I was so terrified of flying that I refused to get on a plane. My ex, not wanting to spend the money on flights, agreed to drive with me and our kids from Massachusetts to Florida and meet everyone at the beach.

But you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second, didn’t you just say you never really liked to travel with your ex?”. YES, I did. As much as I was looking forward to leaving mid-February Massachusetts to have good times on a sunny beach in Florida with my family, I was definitely not excited about the prospect of spending days in a car with my volatile ex-husband and two kids who might set him off.

But I had a quick attitude adjustment when my sister told me she too wanted to drive to Florida, with her daughter, while her husband and boys flew. We made plans to meet somewhere off Route 495 and drive in two cars, rotating between three drivers and with three kids in toe.

During our two-day road trip, it seemed that my sister and I couldn’t help arranging things so we spent most of our time in one car, usually with all three kids, and left my ex-husband to drive alone in the other car. I remember my sister teaching us how to use sign language to indicate to the other driver when we needed to make a bathroom stop (pre-texting days), telling us to hold our feet up from the car floor when we went over a bridge so we wouldn’t be cursed (an impossible feat while crossing the Tappan Zee) and sharing the fun music that she was into. And I remember laughing.

One of the most treasured moments of my life was playing the soundtrack of Les Miserable at full volume as we drove down Route 95. While my ex raced past us with an angry glare on his face, we were singing One Day More, my sister, the three kids, and myself all on different parts (I was Eponine). We were singing with such glee and laughing and simply enjoying that moment in time that our eyes all sparkled as the joy radiated around our little metal capsule.

And then there was the moment when, after passing the umpteenth dead dog on the side of a Florida highway, we burst into song about it. “Dead dog lying in the middle of the road…Squished real flat like a big ole toad.”

Okay, maybe you had to be there, but I was, my sister was and our kids were. We laughed so hard and made up so many verses, yet I still remember every word. On the way home, we sang the Dead Dog song with the appropriate accent for the state we were driving through. New York…I am still laughing. I don’t know if my sister remembers that much detail, but it’s forever etched in my memory.

We had a great time on the beach that week. I wish my dad was still here, I wish my brother-in-law was still here, I wish I could have the innocence of those times with my parents and siblings and kids back again. Some memories are worth cherishing. And unlike a photo album, baby book, antique piece of furniture or souvenir, no one can take them from me.

What Am I Supposed To Think?

What Am I Supposed To Think?

December 8th: I’m startled when my phone announces her call. Just hearing her name produces such an adrenaline rush that my body immediately starts trembling. She tells me she doesn’t want to feel this way anymore. She wants to move forward with me and try to forget the ugliness of the past. I ask her to give me a moment to catch my breath. I am in such shock I can barely speak. When I do, I apologize for my hesitance. I’m frightened after so much hurt, and I’m honest about that.

We agree to proceed cautiously, but I secretly fear the elephant in the room will be too much of a burden for us. We chat for a few minutes about her life. She apologizes for the way she treated my husband years ago. I relay the message to him and then relay back to her that he has no hard feelings and that he is just pleased that we are moving forward together. This is unreal.

I cut the call short because I don’t want to overwhelm her and I need to cry. I’m still shaking from the shock and I desperately need to release some exhilarating tears. This is the moment I have literally waited years for. I ask her to send me some photos and sure enough, she sends them a short while later. Her email says “I want to take things very slowly. Like you mentioned feeling hesitant, I’m also very hesitant as well. So I think we can start by emailing sometimes. Are you ok with that?” I reply that I am very okay with the plan and that I love her.

December 22nd: I send her an email. It reads “Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

I’ll be spending Christmas at home after a hectic Thanksgiving in LA where I managed to pick up a mild case of pneumonia. I’m going to enjoy the downtime! Can you believe we are entering a new decade? I’m really excited for new beginnings in 2020.

Looking forward to talking with you again. I always welcome photos, not just of the girls, but of you and Jonathan. And I hope we can chat again soon. I’d love to learn about your experiences becoming a mom, about life with your girls and I want to hear all about your photography business.”

Christmas comes and goes.

December 30th: I send her an email wishing her a Happy New Year at 6:19 AM. I obsess all day, sensing something is wrong. Am I being ghosted? At 7:21 PM I email again, “Is everything ok? Am I doing something wrong?”

I’m gutted as I ring in the new year in a deep depression when there’s no reply.

January 15th: She sends an email saying “Hey Sorry, this ended up in my spam box. No, you’re not doing anything wrong, everything’s fine. Happy New Year!”

As it turns out, this is the same day that there’s a tragedy involving athletes from her school and that triggers a lot of old memories. I find myself wishing we could talk about it because knowing her, she must be as horrified and upset as I am. I immediately reply, saying, “Was thinking about you all day. The news out of Holy Cross must have hit you hard. I feel it too.”

January 20th: She responds “Yeah, very sad. Tragic situation.”

February passes as does my birthday. I am confused and admittedly hurt. My husband tells me to give her time, but my gut tells me to expect more rejection.

March 2nd: I email her saying “I think about you every day and I hope all is well with you. I just wanted to send a quick note to ask about your expectations when it comes to communicating with you.

Would you like me to send you a message once in a while? Or would you prefer that I sit tight and wait to hear from you? I’m hopeful that we can reconnect one step at a time. But I definitely want to do it on your terms since it was you who took the first difficult step when you reached out to me. I love you very much.”

March 3rd: She replies “If you would like to send me a message once in a while, that would be fine. Hope you are doing well. Happy belated birthday.”

Now I understand that there is no sincerity in her words, and I can’t help wondering if there ever was when she reached out to me in December. I feel like she must have contacted me simply to appease her guilt, but she really had no intention of re-establishing a relationship. She didn’t need me in her life anymore.

So I send an immediate response, challenging her to prove me wrong.

“Okay. Then here is my first official message 😉

I would love to hear about the girls, their personalities, what they like to do, play groups, etc. I would also love to learn more about your business. It seems to be going well and I’m really happy for you. And of course, Jonathan, how is he, his job, your new house?

No rush, no expectations. Just genuine interest in your life and your family. I promise I won’t email you constantly, maybe once a month?”

March 7th: She answers “Hey,

Once a month sounds good to me.

Bree is a really laid back kid. A bit stubborn at times but very easy going and silly for the most part. Abby is a bit more opinionated, serious and sensitive. They both like music and playing together. Bree will start preschool in the fall.

The business is good. Slow starting up but ok.

Hope you’re well.”

March 17th: The global pandemic is closing in on Seattle and I feel like the world is ending. I worry about my husband, my family, and myself. I start to think I might die without ever seeing her again or her children even once. So again, I send her an email.

It reads “I planned to check in with you sometime in April. But things are pretty scary here (and everywhere), so I just wanted to send you a quick note.

I want you to know that I love you just as much as I did the day I found out I was going to have you. Always have and always will. I miss our laughs. No one has ever made me laugh as hard as you did. I cherish my memories with you.

That’s all. Stay safe and healthy.”

SHE DOES NOT RESPOND.

April 1st: My husband tells me that he thinks our cover of “Wild Horses” was my best singing. It was the song we recorded for HER shortly after I moved across the country. I loved her no matter what had passed between us and the song spoke to me. It’s too painful for me to hear now, but the words will never change.

“I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you’ve decided to show me the same
No sweeping exit or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind”

I’m terrified that I’ll die of COVID with this empty hole in my heart that she knows only she can fill. I feel desperate for her affection, so I manage the gusto to email her once again in an attempt to reach out to her. I tell her, “I just wanted to send you this song. It was recorded for you a few years ago and I wanted to make sure you had it. It’s a Rolling Stones song, but it made me think of us.”

April 2nd: I receive her reply “Thanks. Hope you’re doing well.”

April 7th: My best friend calls to tell me the news. There’s a new baby on the way, another girl. I can’t breathe. I am hurt but I am also numb.

I email her one last time with two words, “Best wishes.”

April 8th: She replies, “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

Why? What did I do? Was it intentional? Why is everyone so complicit and enabling? Why don’t I matter? Did someone put her up to this? Will anyone ever stand up for me? Will anyone ever give me the benefit of the doubt? How do I breathe?

You Are My Nightmare

You Are My Nightmare

I dreamed I wrapped a string around your neck and squeezed the life out of you to stop the excruciating emotional pain that you’ve inflicted on me. That’s when I realized you don’t deserve that much power. It is over. I have no more expectations.

You, on the other hand, will have to live with the guilt. You are vindictive and hateful and I no longer wish for the impossible, that you’d miraculously become someone worthy of my time. I have no respect for you whatsoever. You can spend the rest of your miserable life drowning in shame. I have no more fucks to give.

My nightmare is finally over. You can’t ghost a ghost. I’m already dead inside.

Karen Is My Sister

Karen Is My Sister

I was blindsided by a memory the other day. It was profoundly bittersweet and made me cry.

I was on my deck absorbing a little sunshine to pacify the pandemic blues. I closed my eyes and turned my face up toward the sky. Suddenly, I wasn’t on my deck in the city anymore. The memory brought me back to a point in time when I lived a different life before my marriage and family were decimated by domestic violence; before I moved 3000 miles away from them and relocated to the Pacific Northwest.

In my mind, I was lying on a blanket at Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA with my sister. Her name is Karen. Yes, Karen, the slur used to typify an entitled woman demanding to see the manager because her wheatgrass smoothie tastes too grassy. But this essay isn’t about the politics of the so-called Karens of the world, it’s about my fractured memories since I became estranged from Karen…my sister.

This memory was so vivid that I could feel the sand shifting underneath my wet bathing suit as the sunshine heated my face. We were lying there, Karen and I, talking about who knows what; mom, our jobs, or most likely our kids. I could hear the waves crashing, smell the salty air, hear the seagulls and YES, feel free to insert every other insipid cliche about New England beaches. It was wonderful.

I could also hear our kids’ voices ringing in my ears like they were right next to me digging in the sand. They were laughing as Karen and I lounged on the shore, soaking up the lives we were so privileged to have…in that moment of time before everything went so wrong.

That moment triggered another seaside memory; this time it was of me and Karen having lunch at the Grog in Newburyport. As usual, we were bonding over a glass of wine and talking about our kids. We were sharing that motherhood thing, that physiologic response where we tighten our pelvic floor muscles and feel the milk let-down in our teats. It’s an uncomfortable sensation I’ve learned not to dwell on, as my kids no longer exist in my world. I remembered that after lunch, we went to Plum Island and stood on the beach for a few minutes to watch the waves break against the shoreline. It was a raw, drizzly fall afternoon, and the wind whipped the sand into our faces. I think Karen took a selfie of the two of us and posted it on Facebook.

Then I remembered that anguished feeling as I stood on the beach next to my sister, wishing I could stop time and just stay in that moment forever. I dreaded going home. My kids weren’t there, but I knew he would be soon. I didn’t tell her how I felt because I didn’t understand abuse. I only knew that there was a knot in my stomach when I considered what the evening had in store for me.

She is my big sister. And long ago, she made me feel safe and loved. I wanted to go home with Karen.

A Lesson in Hypocrisy

A Lesson in Hypocrisy

This is a lesson in practicing what you preach when treating victims of oppression with dignity and respect and holding perpetrators responsible for their actions. It’s a lesson about enabling oppressors and blaming their victims.

A black man was murdered in broad daylight by a police officer and his accomplices. He begged for mercy, but his life was violently snuffed out because white supremacy, a common link to toxic masculinity, is thriving in America. 

POC lost their shit in the aftermath, and justifiably so. They were fucking pissed off that a cop, sworn to serve and protect, murdered a member of their community. Physiologic and emotional shock scorched every nerve ending in their collective body and they erupted in full-on rage.

A white woman was almost murdered in the dark of night by her violent abuser. She fought back and was seconds away from having her life snuffed out because toxic masculinity, a common link to white supremacy, is thriving in America.

She lost her shit in the aftermath. She was fucking pissed off that her abuser torched her house and murdered her pet. Physiologic and emotional shock scorched every nerve ending in her body and she erupted in full-on rage. 

The black man is dead, and the world is carrying his grief to extremes to make their point – Black Lives Matter. The white woman is alive, but her life is dead because she was blamed for her history and condemned for her reaction- Domestic Violence Survivors’ Lives Don’t Matter. 

The following quotes were written by the woman’s son during nationwide riots on May 30, 2020. They have been “adjusted” to change the context:

“Accountability for White People starts with Trump. It’s unacceptable to support him.”

Accountability for our family starts with Dad. It’s unacceptable to support him.

“When white people can’t even be courageous enough to publicly hold their friends and family accountable for supporting this kind of evil, we can’t be shocked when nobody else holds them accountable either.”

When our family can’t even be courageous enough to publicly hold their friends and family accountable for supporting this kind of evil, we can’t be shocked when nobody else holds them accountable either.

“I’m seeing a lot of people more focused on property damage than on the injustices that led to this chaos. Cause and Effect people. You’d act crazy too if you felt as oppressed and threatened as these people do. It’s like kicking your dog repeatedly then getting mad when it bites everyone. Blame white supremacy for your broken windows, not the oppressed.”

I’m seeing a lot of people more focused on my mother’s damaging behavior than on the injustices that led to this chaos. Cause and effect people. You’d act crazy too if you felt as oppressed and threatened as my mother does. It’s also like battering your wife repeatedly and setting her house on fire, then getting mad when she bites everyone. Blame toxic masculinity for your broken family, not the oppressed.

People are sick and tired of a society that has routinely shown it doesn’t care about, respect, or provide enough opportunity for all people. They are rejecting the rule of law because the law doesn’t protect them. Saying things like “they can’t get their point across by looting” just exposes a person’s ignorance and mixed-up priorities. White people are fine with rioting as long as they are the ones doing the rioting.”

People are sick and tired of a family that has routinely shown it doesn’t care about, respect, or provide enough support for all abuse victims. They are rejecting the family because the family doesn’t protect them. Saying things like “she must have played a role in the breakdown of her marriage” just exposes a person’s ignorance and mixed-up priorities. Families are fine with abuse as long as they are the ones doing the abusing.”

If we want accountability, we have to start holding each other accountable more. This idea that you should just “agree to disagree” and “put politics aside” with friends and family, is a construct of white powers that is designed to keep them in power. All it does is serve the status quo. It is time to start telling our fellow peers, relatives, friends, acquaintances, that we won’t tolerate hatred, injustice, bigotry, etc. I won’t eat at anyone’s table otherwise, and I’m not afraid to tell anyone that I’m ashamed of them.”

If we want accountability, we have to start holding each other accountable more. This idea that you should just “agree to blame the victim” and “put the abuser’s behavior aside” with friends and family, is a construct of toxic masculinity powers that is designed to keep them in power. All it does is serve the status quo. It is time to start telling our fellow peers, relatives, friends, acquaintances, that we won’t tolerate verbal, physical, sexual abuse, etc. I won’t eat at anyone’s table otherwise, and I’m not afraid to tell anyone that I’m ashamed of them.

Oppression is oppression. Abuse is abuse. You don’t get to cherry-pick which injustice you want to speak out against. It’s all injustice. It’s all toxic. POC have been marginalized, oppressed, raped, beaten, and murdered by Whites since 1619. Women have been marginalized, oppressed, raped, beaten, and murdered by toxic men since the beginning of time. When it happens right under your nose and you either enable it, participate in it, or are apathetic about it, that’s a reflection on you, not the person acting out in rage after a lifetime of abuse. 

Today, POC are acting out in rage after lifetimes of abuse. And that’s justifiable. There’s no question that liberation from interpersonal and systemic violence can’t happen unless we begin to value all POC, men, women, and children.

But there is also an unspoken culture that dictates the idea that women whose husbands strangle them or shoot them or set their homes on fire “must have asked for it” or “should have left him” or “had a secret Twitter life”, anything to justify pitting the blame on the victim. If interpersonal violence happens within your family you have a responsibility to stand with the abused. And if you don’t understand or agree with their behavior, you have a responsibility to listen with an open mind and an open heart until you learn what’s behind that behavior.

Until then, get off your soapboxes unless you condemn ALL oppression, all hatred, all injustice. Posting Facebook videos because suddenly you get it doesn’t make you a social justice warrior unless you demand justice for ALL oppressed people, including the ones in your own family. Until you admit to yourselves that NO ONE deserves to be treated like garbage, toxic masculinity will continue to thrive and further embolden those who perpetrate oppression and injustice.

Just Say No

Just Say No

There’s a critical life lesson that my parents neglected to teach me which is how to say no. It’s important to learn to say no because it’s empowering and it allows you to establish healthy boundaries. But my parents raised a family of overly-accommodating people pleasers who have a hard time refusing anyone anything.

Being a people pleaser at times has turned out to be a positive experience for me. It definitely reinforced my value at work and it also gave me a sense of acceptance from friends and family in the past. But it also drained my energy, screwed up my priorities, made me feel obligated to ensure other people’s happiness and worst of all, forced me to put my own needs last.

I was programmed to be accommodating. I was taught that it was my responsibility to make my mother happy by making an appearance at each and every command performance family event or there would be consequences. I learned it was up to me to appease my abuser’s volatile behavior or he’d lash out at me in a rage. My sense of autonomy was nonexistent and I was convinced that the rage was justified. And I fumbled through life believing I wasn’t important enough to have choices.

My abuser did me a favor when he torched my house and decimated my family relationships because I was forced to develop a new sense of self. For the first time in my life, I began to focus on my own needs and I was able to identify what I did NOT want. I encountered some unsavory predators along the way who targeted me while I was vulnerable and I discovered that it was my responsibility to love myself enough to say no when I was uncomfortable. I am still learning how to do it and I admit it’s a challenge. I fear the consequences of not being accommodating to others.

But on the other hand, I know that saying no means I am saying yes to myself. I am loving myself by setting boundaries. I am gaining confidence in my ability to steer my own ship. And I am also gaining respect for myself and from others. And certainly, if others don’t like me establishing boundaries then they never liked or respected me in the first place.

I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness, only my own. So I will continue to just say NO.

Life is Short

Life is Short

Yesterday, I was caught off guard by a medical diagnosis. It’s the second time in my life that my day started unassumingly but ended in a startling way. I felt panicked and unprepared. I started ranting about end-of-life plans. My husband patiently listened and then coaxed me back to reality. Unless I get hit by a bus, I probably won’t die tomorrow. But this surprise diagnosis has left me regretting that so much of my life was wasted in distressing and hurtful situations.

I’m proof that life as we know it can change in a matter of seconds. It could end abruptly, as mine almost did once. On the other hand, one could suffer for a long time before the inevitable, which I suddenly find myself contemplating. The bottom line is no one gets out alive.

If we’re fortunate enough to be born healthy and loved, when we’re kids or even young adults, we feel invincible. But as we age, we experience death either through our relationships with older people in our lives, experiencing tragedies within our circle of family and friends or witnessing violence as it plays out live on our televisions. We can’t avoid the reality that death is part of life. And it seems like we race toward the finish line at an accelerated pace with each birthday.

Death is a known life event, but we don’t know when our lifetime clocks will cease to operate. And maybe that’s why we spend so much time treating other people like garbage. Perhaps if we knew what time the clock would run out we’d be more concerned about making the most out of the days we have left and we’d take better care of each other. Maybe we’d be more concerned about spreading joy than disdain.

Maybe we’d smile and hold the door for someone else. Maybe we’d buy a meal for the homeless person on the sidewalk. Maybe we’d even mend broken relationships.