Tag Archives: abuse

Attraversiamo

“I crossed the street to walk in the sunshine.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

(I wrote this nine years ago and never showed anyone. It has been on my mind lately and I decided it was time to share it.)

***

“Attraversiamo.”

With this last printed word, meaning “let’s cross over” in Italian, I close the book and stare through the tears at the wood-paneled wall before me. Sitting alone on a Friday night in my small newly acquired two-bedroom mobile home, my thoughts are consumed with the book I have just read.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Just a random bookstore purchase, like so many before, yet this one has changed everything.

I am 30 years old and my second marriage has just ended.

My children from my first marriage—two adorable, bubbly redheads who are the only lights in my life—are at their dad’s for the weekend. I have no distractions, no bedtime baths or tuck-ins to take my mind off the nagging lessons that Eat Pray Love has instilled into my brain.

I’ve messed up. This thought bursts forth before all others and refuses to be ignored. I look down at the closed book on my lap and those three words are all I see.

I’ve messed up.

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert documents leaving her life to travel for a full year. Could I do that? Could I travel the world in search of the “me” that got lost in those last two marriages? Would a plate of Italian spaghetti or an Indonesian medicine man fix everything for me like it did for Liz?

Of course not. I’m a mother. A broke, divorced mother. I can’t leave.

So what then?

Prior to my second marriage, I was what some would call a fireball. A fiery, spirited gal, with red hair to seal the deal, nothing could get me down. Even my first failed marriage, painful though it was, did nothing to stop my headstrong determination. The same spunk that entered that marriage with me trailed along after me as I left. I was still the same, just a little broken-hearted and slightly off course. But that would soon ease and, with a little time and forgiveness, both my kids’ dad and I would see the split for what it was: necessary. We would soon learn to co-parent and eventually even call each other friend. I was going to be okay.

And then I met my second husband.

I wonder what it was that had drawn me to him. Although my feisty personality gave off the aura of independence, the truth was that I wanted someone to take care of me. I didn’t want to be worrying about bills and packing school lunches alone. I wanted a partner. Then suddenly, there he was.

Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. In retrospect, I see the red flags I overlooked then. A controller can easily be disguised as a caregiver. He wanted to do things for me. For a tired, overworked single mom, this was a welcome turn of events. Little by little, he began to take care of it all, making decisions for me to help clear my heavy load.

Then came the other changes. What clothes I wore, how I kept my hair, what friends I could keep. Others seemed to notice what was happening, but not me. It just felt so good to be loved. To be noticed.

This couldn’t go on forever though. One morning as I sat in my doctor’s office trying out yet another depression medication, my doctor said something I would never forget. She pulled her chair right over to me, sat down and looked me straight in the eyes. “Melissa,” she said, “I do not have a medication that is going to fix your marriage.”

Fix my marriage?

Armed with that old redheaded stubbornness, I marched out of that doctor’s office with the certainty that she was a quack. If she wouldn’t give me a different medicine, I’d find another doctor who would. Something was wrong. It was chemical, I was sure of it. My life was great.

Really.

But later that night, lying in bed beside my snoring husband, the doctor’s words kept running through my mind. I needed to talk to someone. But who? The only friends I had now were my husband’s friends. I used to have friends from work, but my husband had convinced me to take a job in a smaller office where there weren’t so many annoying office functions and parties to attend. I cut contact with all of them at his suggestion – moving on was easier if you would just forget.

Maybe one of my old theatre friends? I once loved community theatre so much. It had once been such a huge part of my existence…where had it gone? Ah yes. My husband didn’t like the time that it consumed. My place was at home with him and the kids, not out doing God knows what with God knows who. It was time to grow up and be a wife and mother. Isn’t that what he had said? So no, the theatre friends were out. I hadn’t talked to them in so long, I couldn’t call them up now in the middle of the night.

I had some friends from a women’s church group that my husband allowed me to go to on Monday nights. Maybe I could call one of them? No, I couldn’t. He told me that talking about my problems in that group was only asking for trouble. He made it clear to me that our business needed to remain private and was not to be shared with a bunch of busybodies who wanted nothing more than to spread the news throughout the church.

So, who could I call?

Mom.

I snuck out of bed and walked into the living room. I pulled out my cell phone and just as I had her number keyed in, my husband walked into the room. Of course, making a phone call in the middle of the night could only mean one thing. I was cheating on him. I attempted to show him the number I was dialing, tried to prove that it was only my mother, but he wouldn’t listen.

I had to be stopped from making that call.

And I was.

I packed my bags the next day.

Now, here I am only a few short weeks later (many bruises healed, many to remain), closing the last page of Eat, Pray, Love and sobbing like a toddler.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s words fill my mind.

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting – which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments – and set forth on a truth-seeking journey… then the Truth will not be withheld from you.”

Where is my Truth, Liz? Where is it?

“If you’re brave enough…” Is that what I was? Was I brave to leave my husband?

Just like that, I receive my answer. Somewhere deep inside me, a fiery redheaded community theatre actress screams, YES!

Yes.

This is it. This is why this book has gotten to me. Today is the start of my journey. It may look like a little rented, singlewide mobile home, but to this lonely, lost sojourner, it is the first step towards the journey of freedom.

Attraversiamo.

I head to the telephone to call my mom.

***

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That Time I Shut Up

“The world is filled with people who, no matter what you do, will point blank not like you. But it is also filled with those who will love you fiercely. They are your people. You are not for everyone and that’s ok. Talk to the people who can hear you. Don’t waste your precious time and gifts trying to convince them of your value, they won’t ever want what you’re selling. Don’t convince them to walk alongside you. You’ll be wasting both your time and theirs and will likely inflict unnecessary wounds, which will take precious time to heal. You are not for them and they are not for you; politely wave them on, and continue along your way. Sharing your path with someone is a sacred gift; don’t cheapen this gift by rolling yours in the wrong direction. Keep facing your true north.”
– Rebecca Campbell, from her book, Light is the New Black

Make sure you read that quote up there. Read it very carefully.

Did you read it?  Good. Now, go back and read it again. I’ll wait. Really, go on.

There.

[See? Still here. Told you I’d wait.]

I read that quote yesterday for the first time and it really got to me. And I mean really. I went back and read it again. And then again. And then one more time for good measure. Seeing those words, and then committing them to my heart and mind, reminded me of something that I don’t talk about very  much.

And today, I’m going to change that.

I want to tell you about the time I shut up.

I know, I know. Sounds like fiction, right? Me? Shutting up? But nope – this story I’m going to tell you is all true. Every last word of it.

Unfortunately.

Most of you who read this blog either don’t know me at all, or know me through the wonderful world of social media. With that being said, you know the “me” who is a talker. The me who posts a Facebook status or a blog post every time a thought enters my mind. The me who is a performer, a writer, an extrovert in every sense of the word.

But there was a time before all of this. A time before Facebook. A time before the writing and the sharing and the openness.

A time between performances. An intermission, so to speak.

I was involved in a bad relationship. Now, don’t take that as my saying I was in a relationship with a bad man. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I was in a bad relationship. A really bad one. And what made it so bad was this: I was with someone who didn’t like me.

It’s true. I spent almost five years involved with a man who didn’t like me. Oh, he loved me, I suppose. But he didn’t like me. There’s a difference, ya know. He didn’t like who I was.

For example, he didn’t like when I told people things. Anything. Because, of course, I could have been telling them our problems and those things needed to remain private. So, I stopped telling people anything, good or bad, in person or on social media. I just stopped reaching out; kept to myself.

He didn’t like my writing because I might make him the subject of it and, again, that needed to remain private. My views were so outlandish anyway, no one would ever possibly identify with anything I had to say. I should just be quiet and save myself the embarrassment.

So I stopped writing.

intermissionHe didn’t like my acting. After being involved with community theatres for as long as I could remember, I let the curtain fall on those aspirations. Theatre took time and time was something I didn’t have. I needed to be with him, not out doing God knows what with God knows who for all of those hours. A woman belonged with her family, not on a stage. What was wrong with me?

So I stopped acting.

For someone as bold and blunt and hardheaded as I am, I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe this when I tell you. How could this have happened? How could someone like me become someone like that? But folks, I’m here to tell you – it happened. I wore my hair the way he required. (He once refused to look at me for an entire day because I straightened it and he wanted the natural curls.) I dressed the way he required. I obeyed the way he required.  (Until the time I didn’t – but that’s a story for another day.)

I became so entranced with trying to please him and be what he wanted that I lost me. I had no idea who I was anymore. I became depressed. I slept for hours at a time. I gained weight. In short, I was miserable.

Why does this matter now? Why am I writing about it all these years later?

A few reasons.

First, I posted a blog earlier this week that wasn’t popular with a few people. (Okay, a lot of people.) My viewpoint didn’t jive with some others…including that of my own brother. I don’t like disagreeing with people I love, and for a moment, I did what I used to do. I stopped talking. I got off of the internet for a few hours and didn’t say a word. I didn’t stand my ground, I didn’t argue my point. I ran.

In other words, I shut up.

But then a few hours later, with a sudden jolt, I immediately realized what I was doing. I was once again allowing the sound of me to disappear because someone didn’t like what they heard.

Second reason I’m telling this story: I saw something a week or so ago that I can’t seem to shake from my mind. There was a news story going around about a woman whose husband was being prosecuted because of forcing her to have sex with many men over a period of years. While the story itself was atrocious, the comments that followed the posting of the story were almost worse. I saw so many people saying, “she obviously wanted it or she wouldn’t have participated” and “why doesn’t she go to jail too? She is the one who did it.” Etc. etc. I saw the woman called every unsavory name under the sun, followed ironically by the question of, “Why didn’t she leave?”

Ah, yes. The “why didn’t she leave?” stance. My favorite.

Sigh. What is wrong with us? What is wrong with people today? Why are we so full of ourselves that we think we know everything? Why do we feel like we know the true story of something that happens behind closed doors that we’ve never even peeked around? Why do we feel that we know the obvious answer when this poor victim didn’t? Do we think we are that much better than her? That much smarter? That much wiser?

I don’t know, guys. I really don’t know.

But I do know this.

I am now someone who tries to recognize the ones who are between performances. I know too well what that feels like. I try hard not to judge. I try hard to remember that I don’t know what happened that put them where they are today. Until you’ve been there, you don’t know how easy it is to slip down that slippery slope of people pleasing. You want so badly to be loved…to be liked…that you find the pieces of you that they don’t like slipping away a little at a time until you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. But trust me, it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in fits and starts and the further you go down the rabbit hole, the harder it is to turn around and crawl your way out.

Back to that quote at the beginning.

Are you someone who’s between performances? Is it intermission time in your life? I’m here to tell you that I understand. I truly do. But I also want to tell you that I finally…finally…also understand what it feels like on the other side.

“Talk to the people who can hear you.”

Find your song again, friends. Find it and sing it loud. Sing your heart out. For the ones who like you, your song will be music to their ears. Your song will be the best one they’ve ever heard. To them, all other music stops when you start singing. Your voice is beautiful.

And for the ones who don’t like you? They won’t be able to hear you at all. They just won’t. And you can’t make them. It’s such a hard lesson to learn, but it is a necessary one.

Never, ever, let yourself believe what I did. Never tell yourself that the answer is to stop singing. Believe me, dear ones. There is a place for your song. A place that would be empty without it.

Find it. Okay? Promise me. Find it.

And don’t let anyone, or anything, ever shut you up again.

Intermission is over, my friends. It’s time for the second act.

BR9KJP Empty movie theater

***

Where is the Love?

“People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love?”
– lyrics from Where Is The Love? by The Black Eyed Peas

Lord have mercy, I’m tired.

Let me tell ya what I’m tired of. People. Yep, that’s it. People.

I have this bad habit of commenting on controversial issues on Facebook. I know, I know. Generally, I’m quiet as a church mouse and keep my opinions to myself [Disclaimer: This is a total lie.], but occasionally I’m known to spout off my opinion here and there. And when I do that, there seems to always be someone somewhere who has the exact opposite opinion from me who comments soon thereafter. And no matter how hard I to try to make this happen:

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…most of the time (okay, every time) it just doesn’t work.

Current case in point: Shakara in South Carolina.

I’m sure most of you have seen or heard something about what happened with this girl in South Carolina this week. (Click here if you haven’t.) Now, I’m well aware that the media can skew stories, and none of us really know what happened that led up to this incident unless we were actually there, but there is a VIDEO (see link above) that we can watch showing what happened during the incident. Now, regardless of the surrounding story, I’d say that without any knowledge of what happened prior to or after this event, we should all be able to watch this video and see that what happened to this student was wrong.

Right?

Ha. Obviously not.

Once again, I expect the world to see things the way I do, and once again I’m surprised when they don’t. (In fact, my own husband disagrees with me on this one…which I’m not sure has ever happened with us before regarding a current events issue.) How two people can look at an incident and see completely different things still never ceases to amaze me.

Here’s what I saw.  “Officer Slam” (hey, I’m not calling him that to skew this story to my line of thinking – that’s what the guy is known as around the school) is called in to a classroom to remove a girl who refused to leave the classroom when told to. Why was she told to leave the classroom?  Well, the media says she was asked to leave because she refused to put her cellphone away. But really, does it matter? The teacher decided she did something that was so wrong that it warranted her removal from the classroom.  The student disagreed and remained in her seat, refusing to leave.

Now, let’s stop here for a second. Was she wrong not to get up and leave?  Sure she was. She was told to do something and she didn’t do it. A teenage girl refusing to do what she was told?  WOW!  Now, there’s a news story. That never happens. Those South Carolina teen girls must be different than the teen girls everywhere else because the others are never belligerent. Never refuse authority. Never think they are being treated unfairly or feel like they know better than the adults around them. Am I right?

The little heathen.

So, okay, back to the story. This crazy alien teenage creature who refuses to do what she is told to do is now subject to the teacher having called in the school resource officer. School resource officer tells her to leave the classroom.

Let’s break here again. Okay, now we have an officer telling her to leave. Again, this teenager does something that’s absolutely unheard of – she remains stubborn. She stands her ground and refuses to budge. Was she right to do that? Nope. Was she defying authority? Yep.

Back to the story.

Here’s where the resource officer has to make a choice. And here’s where the division line is drawn between how people see the incident. What should he have done in this situation? There are many theories on that. But here’s what he did do.

He put the child – the CHILD – in a choke hold and slammed her to the ground.  He then threw her body forward to the front of the classroom (breaking her arm in the process, for the record) and pinned her to the ground and put her in handcuffs.

W. T. F., man?

And here’s the kicker – it looks like our country is divided on whether or not he did the right thing here.  Did the right thing?  Again, W. T. F., man?  How on Earth is what this officer did, the right thing?

See, here’s what some will tell you.  “By Gawd, if I’d have behaved like that with my teacher or any adult for that matter, my teacher and parents woulda whooped my ass.”

Ahhhhh. The “I’d have gotten my ass whooped for that” defense. That’s my favorite. You know why it’s my favorite?  A few reasons actually.  Number one – it’s a downright lie. Nobody got their “asses whooped” nearly as much as they claimed to. But number two? It falls right there in the category of that other defense I love – “We’ve always done it this way.” Yep, kids used to get paddled in school (hey, I was one of them). And yep, kids used to get the hell beat out of them at home on occasion.  I get it. But you know what? That was then. People were IDIOTS.

You don’t fight fire with fire.

See, there’s this thing called evolution. Whoa now. Simmer down there, right wing Christians, I’m not talking about that evolution. I’m talking about humans evolving. Learning. Growing. Moving forward. Lots of things have changed. We don’t have slavery anymore. Women can vote. You know? Change? Evolvement? Thankfully, that’s what is happening in our world. And this whole beating the hell out of a child when they do wrong is one of those things that we used to do that was WRONG.

It was wrong. It didn’t work.

Let me tell you what happened to me when I was a teenager. I ran my mouth like nobody’s business. I know that’s probably hard to believe, but alas – ’tis true. I gave my mom a run for her money, that’s the truth. And did she beat the hell out of me?  No. Sure, I got spanked when I was little – I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about when I was a full-grown (physically, that is) teenager standing in front of her running my smart mouth. What did she do? She took things away from me. She grounded me. She took away my privileges. I wasn’t allowed to go places, wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone, etc.

Did it work?

Sometimes. Sometimes not.

But you know what happened? I GREW UP. I became a functional, successful adult. I still run my mouth, but she’s proud of me for it now because I’m usually saying something that others may not have the courage to say. I run my mouth on this blog. I run my mouth in short stories that have been published with Chicken Soup for the Soul. I run my mouth in my own self-published book of essays. I’m currently running my mouth in a novel that I will have published next year.

I run my mouth.

And that’s a good thing.

Because my mom raised me the way she did, I don’t fear running my mouth. Yes, I suffered slight consequences for it at times when I was being disobedient. But she didn’t completely kill my desire to stand up for myself and speak my mind. And now? Now, I’m an adult who is proud to stand up for what she believes is right.

Did my mom do the world a disservice?  Hmmm….I guess that depends on who you ask. But if you’re asking me? Hell no, she didn’t. She made me who I am and I am proud of it. I’m not afraid to be me.

Back to Shakara in South Carolina.

Something the world didn’t know at the time of this incident…something that resource officer probably didn’t know…is this. Shakara just lost her mother and grandmother. No, this doesn’t excuse her actions as some might be quick to point out. But you know what? It explains them.  And see, that’s what happens when you actually take the time to know someone’s story before you immediately jump in there and try to take control.

You can’t fight fire with fire.

Fire needs water. Fire needs soothing. It needs the opposite of what it is to put it out. Adding fire to a flame makes it burn brighter. Makes it do more damage. This young girl in South Carolina was damaged. And now? Now she’s damaged in a much more profound way.

Where is the love, people? Seriously. Where is it?

Where is the empathy? Where is the tenderness? Where is the understanding? What are we turning our children into by throwing them across a room when they test their bounds? I’ll tell you what we’re turning them into. We’re turning them into the cold, heartless creatures that are treating them that way. So many will say that “this is what is wrong with the world today” – that children are not “punished” for their actions. But I’m going to disagree.

This is what is wrong with the world today – a lack of empathy. This whole “shoot first, ask questions later” wave that seems to be sweeping the nation these days….that is what is wrong with this world.

But hey – what do I know, right? I’m just a loudmouth redhead who didn’t get the hell beat out of her for speaking her mind. So, here I am. Just another opinion among the crowd. But I can tell you one thing – I’m proud of the person my mother raised. And I’m proud of the people I’m raising.

No child of mine is going to be afraid to speak their mind. And I wish I could say the same for all of the children out there. This situation is a shame. A crying shame. Not just what happened – but the fact that so many out there agree with it.

I’m so sorry that Shakara will not know the world that my children know.

***

“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence.”
– Bayard Rustin

shakara

***

Still Small Voice

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Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  Someone belittles you, tells you that you can’t do something or that you won’t succeed…just kick ’em to the curb.  Be done with them!

Yeah, well.  Sometimes it’s not that easy.

Sometimes the person who does that to you is someone that is fully involved in your life.  Someone that you can’t just leave.  Maybe it’s a member of your family.  Maybe it’s a boss at a job that you desperately need.  Maybe it’s an ex-spouse who is the mother/father of your children and has to remain in your life.  Maybe it’s an abusive relationship that you’re not able to get out of just yet for reasons only you know.

And oftentimes, because those are the people that may be around us the most, we think they are the people who know us best.  And we put a lot of weight into what they have to say.  As Kelly Clarkson puts it in her Mr. Know It All song lyrics:

“When somebody tells you something ’bout you
They think that they know you more than you do
So you take it down, another pill to swallow…”

Well, guess what?

They’re WRONG.

That’s it.  Plain and simple.  They are wrong.  No need to ‘swallow that pill.’  Because they are human just like you and I are.  And being human, that means that they are apt to being mistaken.  (Pretty often actually.)   And those times that they are belittling you and telling you what you can and can’t do?  Those are those times.

They don’t know you better than you do.  No one does.  You know your heart.  You know what’s in there – what you feel and don’t feel.  Who are you and aren’t, what you can and can’t do.  You know the you that no one else sees.  The one that you might keep hidden for fear of not being accepted by the people in your life who are impossible to please.  But you know it.  It’s there.  You may keep it hidden well (I’m sure you’ve had years and years of practice), but it’s still there.  No matter how much you allow their words to pile up and form a barrier to hide it behind, the true ‘you’ is still there.  It won’t be defeated.  The still small part of you that still loves yourself keeps it under lock and key where no one can touch it.  And you know that.  Don’t you?

I have recently crossed paths with an abused woman.  It has weighed very heavily on my mind.  I’m haunted by the way her eyes look.  So dead, so full of regret and sadness.  And I’m so very very sorry for her.  It’s so easy for people to tell her to leave – to tell her to get out of that situation.  But I don’t know her life.  No one does.  Only she does.  I hope that one day she finds her way out.  In fact, I’m somewhat consumed with hoping for that.  It amazes me that humans can be so cruel to one another.  But in the meantime, until she finds her way, I wish I could tell her this.  I wish I could tell her that I know it’s not easy.  That you can read Mark Twain quotes until you’re blue in the face, but they aren’t going to pave the path out the door.  They just aren’t.  Things just aren’t as easy as they appear from the outside looking in.

But there is something that she can do.  Something that you can do if you’re seeing yourself in what I’m saying.  You can alter that Mark Twain quote a little.  I don’t think he’d mind.  Rather than saying to “keep away” from those people, why don’t we say to “keep YOUR HEART away” from them.  Don’t let what they’re saying penetrate your heart.

As I said, you can’t always keep away from those people.  Life just doesn’t always allow for an easy out.  Sometimes it’s next to impossible.  So do your best to keep that guard on your heart and don’t let those negative words through.  You are your own best friend, ya know.  If you’re not there for you, no one else is going to be.  Stick up for yourself.  Even if it’s just that small little voice inside, let yourself hear it.  Don’t shut it up.  Don’t let them win.  Listen to what it’s saying.  Do you hear that?  Do you hear what it’s trying to tell them?

“You’re wrong.”

“You’re wrong.  You’re wrong.  You’re wrong.”

Keep listening.  Practice hearing it over and over and over again.  Eventually that voice will get louder and louder if you let it.  And before you know it, it will sound almost just as loud as the negative voices coming from the outside.  And then finally, when you’ve practiced enough and you’re fully ready, you’ll see that something amazing has happened.

That voice will be so loud that it drowns out the others.

It can happen.  You just have to let it.

***

“It is the still small voice that the soul heeds,
Not the deafening blasts of doom.”
– William Dean Howells