Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Bad days

Two minutes before leaving for school Leta announces that she needs to pack both of her jump ropes but she can’t find the red one. I am unaware that she owns more than one jump rope and have no idea where this phantom red one is or where to start looking. As she starts to freak out about it I have to step into another room and lean against the wall. A long breath in, my hand gripping the back of my neck.

When I emerge I tell her I’m sorry we can’t find it now, but we can definitely look for it this afternoon. She frowns as I take her by the hand and head toward the door.

My hands used to be that small and jump ropes just as important.

My therapist makes me talk about my childhood and how afraid I was of my father. Very afraid, I tell her. My childhood was one long army crawl around his temper. I wasn’t necessarily taught to avoid conflict, but I see a potential confrontation and hide as if it might give me a disease. Because someone might get shoved up against a wall and have a finger wagged a little too close to their face.

I don’t remember him hurting my brother. I only remember the look on my mother’s face.

She calls this trauma. I shrug because I don’t have a horror story to tell. No sexual or physical abuse, no nights spent sleeping in the backseat of the car because my parents couldn’t afford the rent. Maybe it was trauma, I guess, and then the lights on the cop car start flashing red and blue behind me. By the time I roll down the window to hand over my license I’ve covered my shirt in tears. He asks me if I’m okay, and I nod so that he will go back to his car and write the ticket, so that I can be alone and shake my head endlessly.

Before I get home I pull over on a quiet street and turn off the playlist that had yesterday made me happy. The silence fills every inch of the car. I want it to swallow me whole.

My ten-year-old self is a specter who hovers just above my shoulder. I don’t know what the hell she wants or is waiting for.

  • faye valleywood

    I can only say that I relate to you and your words in so many ways. My heart aches with you…

    The first time I remember witnessing abuse on my mother, I was 10 years old. It’s a memory that will never go away and unfortunately, not the only one…just the first. As I get older, I am more and more surprised at how much this little girl is still in my life and head.

    She is a constant reminder of the life I could not wait to get away from…so why won’t it leave me alone, now, in my head? A question that begs an answer and requires a therapist.

    I didn’t offer words of encouragement to you here, but somehow, you have for me. And not just in this piece, either. I thank YOU!

  • dearsweetbriar

    My God, Heather, THANK YOU and everyone else who understands the pain of owning your childhood trauma even when your childhood wasn’t particularly “traumatic.”

    It will get better, and I say that for you as much as I say it for all of us. Hugs.

  • nroliver

    Such an amazing post Heather. Thank you.

  • alaskazengirl

    I am learning that we are all broken in some way and that similar to what has already been written, childhood trauma is relative. I too was never physically abused, but the threat of it in some ways felt worse — because the fear it created in my mind was so big it seemed insurmountable. I don’t know. I have no answers. What I do realize is that being broken has made me more compassionate. My heart opens when I see the broken parts of people around me. We are all scared and we all want to be loved and to feel ok. Know that you are surrounded by the loving arms of broken and hopeful friends who love you.

  • reflecting_ball

    I’m awfully sorry, Heather. This is a hard, hard, hard time. I promise you will feel happy again, you will enjoy many things, you won’t be scared all the time, or you’ll get so used to being scared that you won’t be scared OF being scared, which will be one fewer thing to deal with; at least, that has been my experience.

    Sometimes it also helps me to remember that there are hundreds of people, or probably more like tens of thousands, who are just as anxiety-stricken as I am at a given moment–when I think of it that way, it’s not so much “my fear” as “THE fear.” You are absolutely not alone.

    (As long as I’m writing, I’m with you on sun-drenched Cami. Very beautiful photos!)

    Linda

  • JodyB

    She wants to be loved and held and told it’s okay not to be perfect.

    I feel so for you. I was a compulsive perfectionist because I feared people would abandon me if I wasn’t always what they needed me to be. When my husband left me I was devastated. But I got through it, with the help of a good counselor and some amazingly loving friends.

    Your life WILL get better. You’re at the worst point right now, but you are making it through, you really are. It will get easier. for all of you. The best thing is that you will lay down some of the burdens you’ve been carrying that do not belong to you, and that’s when life will begin to sing again.

  • gcostaki

    It’s crazy how nothing is really “wrong” yet everything seems so wrong.

    http://www.AnUrbanStory.com

  • ashiashay

    i’m not going through the same thing, but know you’re not alone.

  • alexandra…

    Lately, I just want to hug you, and say, oh sweetie. I feel for you.

    (I think this is my first comment in many years of reading. But I just had to tell you.)

  • suzik

    Sorry you are having such a rough time! I was wondering what happened to Tyrant? Did Jon get him in the separation?

  • BrandyOSU

    I wish, I wish, I wish…that there was some way you could actually feel the mental hug that I’m sending to you.

  • sgigs

    Switching to a new form of therapy might not be a bad idea.

  • Cosmo3807

    Lots of words of wisdom in these comments. Here is another stranger sending you love, light and peace.

    When your spirit falters, try to think of all the heartfelt Love, Light and Peace that we thousands upon thousands send you. When you take those deep breaths, imagine all that positive energy swirling gently around you and under you holding you up. It really is there! It is as real but as invisible as the breath you take.

    We’re all here for you Heather. Never doubt that. We’re the Invisible Friends you CAN believe in!

  • tchemgrrl

    Started an account because this entry gave me the strong impression that this entry and comment thread community might be a helpful place.

    Key quote for non-clickers:

    “S: My internal voice keeps saying “it’s not that bad”, “other people have it worse”,

    Actually, the presence of that “internal voice” is itself a warning sign. In a healthy environment, most people don’t need to convince themselves they’re not being abused.”

  • Laura Jones

    I wish I could give you the comfort you give me when I read your posts. Thank-you for continuing to blog.

  • hooha

    i meditated some last summer, and kind of learned how to do it on the spot, so i can utilize that. but i realise every day that the bad moments just increasingly get worse.

  • JeanneTops

    A major reason I read your blog is the excellence of your writing. You must work very hard to produce such excellent prose. This entry, I thought, crossed over into poetry. I’m no a literary critic nor a poet but I tried re-formatting the entry and came up with this. Very powerful.

    Two minutes before leaving for school
    Leta announces
    that she needs to pack both
    of her jump ropes but she can’t find
    the red one.

    I am unaware that she owns
    more than one jump rope
    and have no idea
    where this phantom red one is or
    where to start looking.
    As she starts to freak out about it
    I have to step
    into another room and lean against the wall.
    A long breath in,
    my hand gripping the back of my neck.
    When I emerge I tell her I’m sorry
    we can’t find it now, but
    we can definitely look for it this afternoon.
    She frowns as I take her by the hand and head toward the door.

    My hands used to be that small and jump ropes just as important.

    My therapist makes me talk about my childhood
    and how afraid I was of my father.
    Very afraid,
    I tell her.
    My childhood was one
    long army crawl
    around his temper.
    I wasn’t necessarily taught to avoid conflict,
    but I see a potential confrontation
    and hide
    as if it might give me a disease.
    Because someone might get shoved
    up against a wall and have a finger
    wagged a little too close to their face.
    I don’t remember him hurting my brother.
    I only remember the look on my mother’s face.

    She calls this trauma.

    I shrug
    because I don’t have a horror story to tell.
    No sexual or physical abuse,
    no nights spent sleeping in the backseat of the car
    because my parents couldn’t afford the rent.
    Maybe it was trauma, I guess,

    and then the lights on the cop car start flashing
    red and blue behind me.
    By the time I roll down the window
    to hand over my license
    I’ve covered my shirt in tears.
    He asks me if I’m okay,
    and I nod
    so that he will go back
    to his car
    and write the ticket,
    so that I can be alone
    and shake my head endlessly.

    Before I get home
    I pull over on a quiet street and turn off the playlist
    that had yesterday made me happy.
    The silence fills every inch of the car.
    I want it
    to swallow me whole.

    My ten-year-old self
    is a specter who hovers
    just above my shoulder.

    I don’t know what the hell she wants
    or is waiting for.

  • janncam

    I too am a long time follower but have never commented, fearing i wasn’t funny or clever enough to be worth reading, (oops, my baggage is showing). But, now I want to join the many others who feel compelled to send you strength and hope and knowledge that it will get better. Yes, you are in such real pain, and are being so brave. This is the hardest work you will ever do. I think I’m a bit older than most of your commenters, 65. I spent my 40’s in therapy learning to be the parent of my own frightened child. The parent I never had because they both were just frightened kids themselves, still are as it happens. Learning to be your own parent, loving yourself unconditionally sounds easy, but that’s where the work comes in. For me music wasn’t as much a help as literature, so I’ll close with a quote that helped so much to understand the paradox of healing and growth:
    “How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses: perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” Ranier Rilke

    Believe in your own strength, contain your pain and you will be filled with love and light. We are all, everyone of us on your side.

  • jet harrington

    Trauma isn’t relative. Trauma is real. And when we are kids, the trauma we experience, the shame we feel, is actively life threatening. Our bodies carry that memory. The ten-year-old is always with us.

    The good news is that you are more than the ten-year-old. You are also every thing you have ever overcome, and every joy you have cherished. And you have built a community that I hope will sustain you. With hugs and humour and love.

  • BostonNic

    oh gosh, this is powerful. My thoughts and strength are with you. Many hugs.

  • Ezza

    Trauma comes in so many forms and degrees. It’s the traumas that have never had names or titles attached to them that eat away at you over the years.

    Also – balls to speeding tickets.

  • ejhargraves

    Hugs. This is a good one for times like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUKTl2s5oDY

  • leblanc

    i am still reading…..how many years now? 10? (my blog is slightly older than yours, 11 years old this week!) but honestly i read only casually, and without much interest usually.

    but this one…….shit. i almost cried. it’s so brave of you to write this, braver to me than writing about the marriage. or maybe it’s more revealing to me because, sadly, i 100% relate. i have those same moments, for the same reasons. i know it was trauma. i didn’t really start to feel the effects/recognize it until i was in my early 30s and started having really intense reactions to certain things/people. i can imagine children bring it all back in waves.

  • Ashlee_Mae

    Sometimes the mental trauma is worse…It definitely sticks with you long after any physical bruises would heal.

    I don’t have any wise or magical words for you…But I’m definitely sending happy thoughts your way. You’ll get through this.

  • OrangeLily

    Sorry, I was looking for an appropriate post to comment on. I commented on Jon’s site, and figured in all fairness to post the same on your site, to remain neutral and fair, fwiw. I wish you both the best of luck, sincerely.

    “if only you’d known you were doing it wrong,”

    Really? Your wife is so driven to talk about her feelings that she blogs about them. Plus the marriage therapy you both did. How could you not know? Assuming, of course, that you were doing it wrong. In any case, it takes two to tango.

    Someone else posted earlier about Heather’s writing style being more snarky and narcissistic over the past couple of years – I thought that was an intentional writing style change for the sake of the blog. In real life, however, any snarkiness, if it is there on anyone’s side, should be reined in, yes for the sake of getting along, but especially out of respect, because if you’re being snarky, you’re not being respectful. It’s amazing how well you’ll get along when treating each other with respect.

    You know, it’s odd, there are older relatives in our family, who got married with barely a hello beforehand. Whether arranged or quasi-arranged (“you like him? want to marry him?”), whether it’s the lowered/different expectations that go along with that, or the way they were raised to treat each other… there are no fight fights, no name calling, no tempers flared, although sure there are disagreements… how do they stay together? Is it, “well partner, we have to stay together, so we may as well get along”? Is it looking at marriage like a contract, an agreement: you pool your resources together to raise a family and live more securely together than apart. There’s a straightforward, uncomplicated practicality to that way of life, that actually has me wondering, sometimes their way is better, and I can’t believe that I actually think that sometimes.

    I blame it on TV lying to people about real life, the gospel according to TV. But I digress.

    One last thought: Try to remember what it was about each other that attracted you, that made you fall in love in the first place. That helps me when I want to kick my husband to the curb.