Revisited

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I once wrote a story, over 50,000 words and then deleted and destroyed it after a year. It was the most painful thing I had ever written because even though it was fiction, it was based on truth. The words I had written made me relive the past and I think this is when the nightmares started. The past is so painful and it’s hard to learn from it when you’re still trying to run from it. I’ve worked so hard to put the past behind me and the medication had helped a great deal. I’ve long since stopped going to therapy and no longer have anyone to share my pain with, except for You. I can’t remember the last time I had a nightmare, the last time I caught myself looking over my shoulder, the last time I had a panic attack, but today, the thoughts were too much and I don’t even know what started it. My mind tumbled and fumbled over itself, around and around and the anger overwhelmed me. I could feel the paranoia creeping in at the edges of my mind and your face was all that I saw, all that I could focus on. Your face is like that of an angel, although I’m sure you would disagree and maybe even laugh, but your face, it is heavenly. Everything about you sets me free, everything about you is all that I need to keep me grounded while still experiencing the beauty in the clouds. You know my truths and yet you’re still here, you keep coming back even though I can’t understand why. There’s nothing about me that’s particularly interesting, there’s nothing about me that’s particularly unique, yet here you come, once again, setting my soul on fire. Everything about you is all I’ve ever wanted, at least, the parts of you that you’ve let me see. Everything about you is perfect and I’ll never understand why you keep coming back when all I have to offer is Me.

X-Ray

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**Just thought I would note that this post does deal with the effects of domestic violence… Proceed with caution please!

Sitting here on this examination table, waiting to see what the cause of the pain is and my bones are on display against this lit up board. The doc tells me I have some interesting defects. He points to the slide of my right arm. There’s some dark spots there. See that dark line there? That’s where your arm was fractured at some point but I can tell by the way it’s set itself that you never had it corrected. My eyes veer down to my bare toes and I make a game out of seeing how hard I can squeeze my left big toe with my right one and the toe next to it. I think back on the time he picked me up in the kitchen by my hair and threw me down into the bedroom, onto the thinly carpeted, concrete floor. I remember the pain that radiated throughout my arm and how that arm was useless for months afterwards. I basically became a lefty for that time period. And here, on your chest. There’s a small spot where it looks as though your breastbone suffered some trauma at some point. He waits quietly for an explanation, but I have none to give. I tune him out and hum as quietly as I can, a defensive coping mechanism I’ve learned over the years to block out the unpleasantness. It was a punch to the chest, of course. Or maybe it was the kick. And it looks like at least one of the fingers on your right hand, your ring finger, possibly your middle finger, were fractured at some point. I don’t even remember why that injury happened, only that at the time I thought that my fingers were going to be ripped off. He flips through some papers on his clipboard and I catch the words “internal injuries” and I wonder what he found inside of me. Can he tell how when winter hits my arm will be constantly throbbing as a result of the old fracture? Can he tell that all of the pain in my chest from all of the punches and kicks were nothing compared to the pain of the broken heart I lived with for so long? Can he see my shattered self-confidence after years of being told I am nothing, will never be anything? Can he see my self-loathing after having been told time after time that I am worthless, unlovable, unintelligent, lazy? And what about the anxiety I have over being in public while attempting to do the most normal things a wife and mother should be able to do- paying bills, grocery shopping, working, picking the children up from school? Can he see these things as well? Can he see the nightmares that jolt me awake in bed at two in the morning, sweating, my heart feeling as though it’s about to explode from my chest, the terror at the feeling of those hazel eyes from my past on me in the darkness? Can he see the urges I get to run and hide behind my writing when it all becomes too much? The way he looks at me while he fiddles with his clipboard almost makes me think he does even though those slides show nothing except what is there just beneath the surface.

Vanity

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Sitting on the fancy bench next to her, I watch her pick up various creams and different colors, applying them so carefully to her skin, looking at her reflection in the mirror. I thought she looked fine without it, but she felt otherwise. I watch as she transforms herself into someone who looks very different from the way she started and it’s almost frightening. I can’t help but wonder why she puts so much effort into this process, she hardly ever speaks to my father, let alone looks at him. With the exception of meals, I cannot even remember the last time I saw them in the same room together and he doesn’t seem to notice or care about her finished product.

She sits at this little table every single morning, taking such care to apply everything just right and I’m not sure why because she never even leaves the house. She doesn’t work and she spends the majority of her day on the couch, in front of the television watching soap operas that seem like they upset her more than entertain her. It confuses me how she can become so engrossed in these make believe worlds while all around her, her own world is in chaos.

I wonder what she sees when she looks in her vanity mirror. I think she sees a magnificent woman, the most beautiful she has ever seen. She thinks she has attributes that are appealing to men and envied by women. I think she looks ridiculous and I wonder if I am destined to follow the same path of falling in love with a reflection that everyone else around me cannot stand to look at. I feel an honest fear and what I do not yet understand to be disgust.

When I become an adolescent I start to become her. I stand in front of my dresser mirror for hours, trying out different colors and techniques even though I have no idea what I’m doing with these products. I lay on the eyeshadow too heavily, the eyeliner is too thick. I smear on lipgloss and straighten my wavy hair. I could do this for hours and hours because I tell myself everyone else around me appreciates my efforts.

In my early adult years I stood in front of the mirror and wonder when was the last time that I even owned any makeup. I wonder how it is that even though my body and soul hurt so dreadfully that I have very few marks to show for them and the ones that I do have to show are always kept covered because he was always smart enough not to leave bruises where anyone else could see them. How would that look, the significant other of a pastor’s son, all bruised and banged up like an old piece of fruit? The thought is almost ridiculous enough to make me laugh out loud but my reflection stops me because while there is a bitter laugh stuck in my throat, there is nothing else but emptiness everywhere else inside. I recognize that others still find me beautiful, I’ve been told enough times of all my physical attributes that are pleasing to the eyes, especially men’s eyes,  but in this moment, I don’t see them. I see nothing but nothing. Nothing at all.

Now much later in my life I am finally able to look at myself in the mirror. I don’t feel the urge to avert my eyes, to brush my teeth with the lights off in the early morning hours. I no longer trace the lines of bruises and bumps because they are no longer there and haven’t been for quite some time now. I no longer detest what I see, I am no longer disgusted. I recognize my flaws but regard them as my own uniqueness, we all have something about ourselves we dislike. I look at myself in the mirror and realize that I love myself for who I am, but not like my mother loves herself. I love what I have been blessed with, inside and out and realize that it all could be taken in the blink of an eye.

Lost Letters: Losing My Words

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Did I write back then? During all of those broken hearts and bones? I did sometimes. I was given a journal by someone, I don’t remember whom. It was hardcover and white, dotted with tiny, black Mickey Mouse silhouttes, a black spine and the same tiny, faint Mickey Mouse silhouettes on the pages. It was perfect.

I wrote in it sometimes long after our relationship had fallen apart and we were bound to each other for our own reasons. I wrote in it sometimes while I was reading my Bible, searching for verses in the Book that would have me believe that the God represented in it was good, faithful and true, that He would show sympathy on those who were faithful to Him. I jotted down verses that meant something to me (Romans 9:20-21 carried me through several mental breakdowns when I couldn’t stand to look at my own face in the mirror). I scrawled out my dreams and hopes for the future. I wrote to get the madness out of my head and in the hopes of keeping the darkness at bay.

I kept the book hidden in my underwear drawer underneath layers and layers of cotton and lace, material things that brought me no pleasure. I would only ever write when he wasn’t in the room, although sometimes he would come and stand at the bedroom door, his arms leaned on the top of the doorframe, staring down at me.

Sometimes he would ask me what I was writing about and I would lamely answer that I was just jotting down whatever came to mind in the hopes that I could sharpen my writing skills. He knew how badly I wanted to become a published writer one day. I knew in the back of my mind that he would read my words once I went to sleep or to work and so I could never truly write anything too personal, too real. I just wrote things I thought he would like to hear, things that wouldn’t have me laid out unconscious later on in the night because of.

For ten years I did this and at the end of those ten years I blamed those ten years for my depressing case of writer’s block. Long after I was away from him I would sit in front of an open laptop or on the couch or my bed with a notebook open, pen poised, and the words in my mind would dissipate, like a cloud of smoke swirled away by unappreciative fingers. Where inspiration and an endless well of ideas had always multiplied, now there was nothing but a black void of nothingness and this broke my spirit more than any nasty words, any punch, kick or slap ever could, for what is an aspiring writer if they have no words? I told myself I could handle any type of bruise. I could silently endure the pain of broken bones and concussions. I could endure the heartwrenching insults of the type of woman I was in his eyes, the type of woman I would never be, but without my words, without my undying passion to continue writing away the pain through it all, without my love of words I was nothing. Nothing at all. And this hurt my heart and soul more than any type of physical pain he could have ever inflicted on me.

Lost Letters: When I Wasn’t Writing

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Going into that prison sentence, I told myself that I was strong enough to withstand this test of time. After all, I had my hands full with a newborn baby and a full-time job as a supervisor at a retail chain. He tried to pressure me into applying for public housing assistance, claiming he would need somewhere to set up a physical address with his probation officer once he was released. Yet at the same time, he would warn me that I needed to be ready to take our son back to Texas with him, his father and his brother who would be making the long drive to pick him up the day he was released.

I put his future release in the furthest corner of my mind because three years was a lifetime away. Instead, I worked hard, I partied harder. I made money, I blew money. I slept too much and cried too little. There was a new sense of freedom that I didn’t understand, yet welcomed with open arms. I took care of myself, indulged myself, I was healthy and happier than I had felt in a long time, despite my chain smoking and binge drinking.

I owned so many nice things, well things that were nice to me- brand name clothes and shoes, expensive watches, a wide variety of creative sterling silver jewelry. I still wasn’t writing and I hadn’t picked up a book in ages. I was too busy living.

I should have been sending him money, money so he could eat better, money to help ease his suffering. Instead, I was busy waiting in long lines every weekend outside of ocean-side nightclubs. I was busy buying long-neck Coronas and Kamikaze shots. I was busy losing myself in places that made me not feel so lost.

I kept trying to convince myself that I didn’t need him, that I could live a happy life without him. After all, how could we ever be happy and financially stable once he got out of prison? I was no expert but I was pretty sure that he would never make it to a corporate level with a felony criminal record. That would put the financial burden solely on me. Besides, I already had a job. A job that I loved. I had a life that I loved.

A while into our relationship I had decided that it had been our love for alcohol that had bound us together. He drank obsessively to forget the pain he claimed he felt at having lost a child, and by lost I don’t mean the child died. I drank to fill that constant longing I felt. Longing for something, anything, other than the life I had. A lot of the guys I dated in highschool couldn’t understand my need for drinking. They couldn’t understand why I preferred Budweiser over something fruity. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t drink in moderation and they didn’t appreciate that if I was ever made to choose between them and alcohol, they would lose every time.

But he wasn’t this way. Once he was out of prison there were so many weekend mornings, afternoons and nights we would drink side by side. It eventually escalated to drinking on the weekdays after work and after things got bad, I would drink before my night shifts at work just so I could numb the pain and survive for just one more night.

I drank to forget about the screaming pain of a fractured arm. I drank to forget the explosion of excruciating hurt that reverberated throughout my chest after having beem punched. I drank to dull the dizziness of a concussion, probably not the best idea, but at that point, I didn’t care. I drank to forget about about the feeling of his fingers around my throat, trying to squeeze the life out of me time and time again. I drank to keep myself from going completely mad over an incident that I’ve only ever spoken aloud about twice since it happened almost four years ago.

It all carried on for the seven or eight years that I lived with him, right up until the day I left him. That was four years ago and I haven’t had a single drink since. Some days it’s hard, most days it isn’t. I’ve found other ways to cope. I’ve found other ways to do everything. I think for a long while I blamed myself for it all. I told myself it might have been different if I would’ve never stopped writing to him when he had been in prison.

Lost Letters Written In Fear

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No matter how exhausted I was, no matter how discouraged I was about the situation and my relationship, I wrote those letters faithfully for a very long time. I wrote about the mundane details of my days, I copied song lyrics, I drew him pictures. For a very long time, I just kept writing.

When I couldn’t think of anything to say, I would sit on my bed with my blank notebooks open in front of me, my pen poised above the blank lines. In the beginning, I wrote to fill the emptiness in my heart and life that his absence left. Towards the end, I wrote to keep him appeased in the hopes that he would stop keeping tabs on me, that he would give me a chance at a normal life.

My money started to dwindle away between the collect calls and sending him $100, sometimes $200, every week or every other week. After he got out of prison I was angered when I found paperwork, receipts, showing what he had purchased from the prison commissary. Most of the money was spent on snacks, which I understood, he was always adamant that he was wasting away in there. He also spent money frequently on batteries for his radio and on paper and envelopes so he could write to me. I don’t know why it upset me that he always needed more, more money, but it did. It made me feel bad that it upset me. Everything about the situation upset me.

Sometimes he would write the most beautiful words to me. He would tell me how lucky our child would be to grow up in a home with two parents who loved each other. He would tell me that he would do anything to protect us, that he would always take care of us. He just knew we would be happy together and he had me convinced as well. Now as I sit and stare at the scar on my knee that he gave me a few years back not long before I left him, I can’t believe how naive I was back then in the beginning.

Sometimes his letters were painful to read because for a long time, I missed him a great deal. Mostly they were painful to read because I never really believed a word he wrote. I was terribly lonely and afraid of the future. I was afraid of every decision I would soon have to make. I was afraid of letting him down. I was afraid of everything.

Lost Letters

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He used to write to me every day while he was in prison. Prison the first time, not prison this time. This time he is writing letters from his cell to someone else. Or maybe he writes letters in the rec room. Most likely he writes them from solitary confinement. He locks himself away in there by choice to save himself from the unspeakable horrors he endures because of the crimes he committed. He doesn’t have to tell me this. I already know it’s true.

In another lifetime he used to write me poems and draw me beautiful pictures with colored pencils. I saved every piece he sent me. I tucked the art away carefully inside sheet protectors inside a large, black, three-ring binder. I never read back over the letters, although sometimes I would sit and flip through his artwork and tell myself it was such a shame that he was wasting his life away in prison when he could be making a profit from his art, not to mention a name for himself. He never did like what was good for him.

He used to call me collect two, three, four, five times a day. When he was in county the calls were cheap, only sixty cents but once he got to prison the calls were $5.60 for fifteen minutes. Twice my phone was turned off because I owed over a thousand dollars from collect calls alone. I went out of town twice to visit him. It was depressing to have to take my shoes off at the check point and to be patted down. I brought along a ziplock bag full of twenty dollars worth of quarters so we could eat food from the little vending machines. He used to complain that he was always so hungry, that not only did they not feed the inmates enough in prison but the food they served wasn’t fit for stray dogs. These visits were different than in county. In county we were separated by plexiglass and spoke to each other on phones that made the other’s voice sound a million lightyears away when in reality we were maybe five feet away. Maybe less. At the prison, we were allowed one hug when we first saw each other and one before we parted ways.

Some days I would sit on my bed and stare anxiously at my answering machine and listen as he left ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty messages in a row. Most times all I heard was the recording that always preceeded his calls- “You have a collect call from, Q, an inmate at <insert correctional facility name here.> (Because it changed a few times, he moved around a bit.) To accept the call, press one. To decline, press two or simply hang up.”

Sometimes I would sit with my hands over my ears because even the sound of his voice sent me into a state of terror. Sometimes I would lie down and press my pillow tightly over my head. I never simply left the room. This was before anything violent had happened in our relationship, yet his voice sent fear vibrating straight through every last one of my nerve endings.

Sometimes weeks would go by before I received a letter from him. When I finally did receive one, it would be angry and full of insults, truly hurtful words about what he assumed I was doing when I wasn’t answering his calls. I used to write to him five days a week and I sent three letters on Thursdays so he would have one to read on Saturdays and Sundays. I told myself my letters helped him. It was so hard to write those letters. I struggled with what to say. I knew he expected me to tell him how much I loved him and missed him, how excited I was for plans for the future.

I never wrote anything during those three years other than letters to him. In a way, it was still practice at writing fiction. I told him what he wanted to hear because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. He used to tell me that he had people watching me, keeping tabs on me and his retellings of my whereabouts and activities were usually pretty accurate. It frightened me. He frightened me.

When I moved on, two years into his prison sentence, I threw out every last one of his letters. Over a hundred and twenty total. I’m guessing. I don’t really remember. When I moved to Texas to be with him, I saw that he had kept all of mine. He had them neatly banded together and tucked safely away in a shoebox. Throughout all of the horrifying years I spent with him, all of the times he broke my heart, he never threw out those letters and now that he’s found himself in the same predicament as he was in when we started those letters all those years ago, I wonder if he misses my handwriting, my words. I wonder if he wishes he had never taken them for granted. I wish I would’ve kept them and had them printed into a book so I could remind myself more often that I was a good person, even back then.