Take Me Back

I just finished a cute, and apropos, book called Time Flies by Claire Cook. It’s about Melanie, a recently divorced woman on her way to her high school reunion. My reunion (that I am happily skipping) is in November so I empathized with Melanie’s quandaries. When she gets an email from her ex-boyfriend, she looks through her yearbook and realizes she doesn’t remember most of them and other than a few best friends, only vaguely remembers the others. She flirts with the ex via email and decides he is reason enough to attend. She eventually learns that imagination is so much better than reality and he is an ex for a reason.

While the actual reunion is a minor plot point, the events leading up to it are more interesting. And that is exactly where I find myself. At age 48, my life is so much more interesting than getting together with people I don’t know, barely know, or cut out of my life for reasons. Like Melanie, I spent some time looking at names on the facebook group and I honestly couldn’t remember 95% of them. Of the ones I do remember, it’s either because we were great friends or because I couldn’t stand them. I’m actually only personally involved with a handful of people anymore. While I’m still facebook friends with several, it is because I like who they are now, not because I remember anything about them from high school.

I had one friendship of 25 years that ended six years ago when I got tired of her judging my life and particularly my parenting, one of 37 years that ended after the election. I have one of 38 years that is still going strong. Whether they are still active friends or not, the point is that I stay in contact with the people who mean something to me.

Maybe reunions are great for people who went to schools that weren’t so deeply divided into cliques, but my high school was passionately divvied up into immutable circles. Although I’ve had several people tell me that things are different and people change, my ten year experience was that yes, people change but generally not for the better. The assholes became more asshole-ish, the bitches bitchier. People I was relatively friendly with had so many issues, it wasn’t worth getting caught up in the toxicity. I went back because I thought I was in a good place in my life, but going from personal success to being treated like the socially ostracized geek girl that I had been was more than a little jarring. It took me six months to emotionally recover from a six hour experience.

I’m not saying people can’t change. I know they can. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, let alone 30, or even 20, years ago. But it took decades of effort to get here and I just don’t see 200 people putting in that much effort. As for me now? I’m far from perfect, but I am finally happy with who I am, where I am, what I am doing. I don’t need to show up or show out. When I’m asked if I’m going to the reunion, I truly mean it when I say, “No thanks, I’m good.”

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I’m In Love With The Shape Of You

I need to write more often because there’s so much to say and I’m not sure where to start. I guess in the middle? Six years ago, Ron and I were financially stressed in a house we couldn’t afford, dealing with my mother whose help always came with strings, looking for a place to live while trying to get our house ready to sell, all while not being very fond of each other. We couldn’t agree on a house to buy, leading to us being homeless for a month when our house sold on its first day on the market. We ended up in a house we despised although it was structurally the most sound of all that we saw. We came a hair’s breadth from divorce.

Six years later, we’re still here in that structurally sound house. Still married. Still not able to agree on a house to buy after a year of looking.

But we’re not financially stressed. We don’t have to deal with my mother anymore. We’re not homeless although if we put our house on the market, we will be; our neighborhood has appreciated dramatically and houses sell on the first day.

Six years in this house and there is still painters tape around the bathroom door trim and on the glass of the french doors. I’ve yet to have a craft room. Our kitchen counters are still the same fucking hideous gold wheat tile. The kitchen walls are still shit brown.

But we have a(nother) new water heater. Today saw the end of the rotted front window that didn’t open and meant we couldn’t call the third bedroom a bedroom since there was no emergency egress. We finally chose a paint color to go over the vomit inducing Easter egg trim.

Six years in this house and we’ve learned how to communicate. We don’t take each other or ourselves quite so seriously. We value each other’s opinions. I know (even if he has no clue) when he says he doesn’t care, to just pick something, he cares a whole lot. I don’t take things so personally; if he doesn’t like something I like, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like me.

Sixteen years in this relationship and I still have a lot to learn about compromise, picking my battles, and showing my love by not fighting over stupid shit like where to live. Because it’s not the house, it’s the person in it with me, that matters.

You’re My Sweetheart

Yesterday was a terrible day. It is rare that my mother can affect me, but it does still happen occasionally, and yesterday was just one of those days.

But today…today I got notes, texts, and emails from friends telling me they love me. My mother-in-law did the sweetest thing and deleted my mom from her friends. Today I played with kittens, snuggled my husband, had lunch with my family, read a book, wrote a synopsis for my NaNoWriMo novel, signed up for a launch party, looked at knitting patterns to take to the knitting retreat next weekend, ate egg salad sandwiches for dinner, put away laundry, and wrote a long letter to a friend while laying next to my husband on the bed.

At some point, Ron went into the kitchen and came back with a handful of smarties. He unrolled one and set it in the middle between us. I was busy typing and not looking; I reached my hand over and felt the now empty wrapper, then started feeling around for another roll. I let out a frustrated yowl and Ron quietly pushed an unopened roll between my searching fingers.

This is love. While fancy dinners, unexpected flowers, and expensive chocolates are nice, it’s the smarties roll gently nudged into your searching hand when you’re stressed out that lets you know you’re special.

While my husband is far from what most women would consider to be perfect, he knows how to love me and he does it well. He knows when I need to rant or when I need to just be held in silence. He makes me laugh, but lets me feel my feelings before trying to distract me from them. He makes me toast and tea and laughs at my “your face” jokes that really aren’t funny. He listens to my weird dreams but knows the difference between those and my dreams of what I want for my future, our future.

Smarties. They are better than flowers.

 

Trigger Warning: Trauma and the News

As a woman, I can’t help but be horrified at Donald Trump. Even before the Billy Bush / Access Hollywood tape was outed, I was disgusted at his treatment of women. But my issues have gone beyond that of feminism and now reach into my personal experiences of assault and the people who covered it up.

I’ve discussed this before, but for those just joining us, I was molested by my stepfather until I was 14 years old. I suffered constant covert molestation even after that; comments about my breasts, questions and suggestions on masturbation, being called a slut for doing less with a boyfriend than what I suffered from my stepfather; the list goes on.

For most of my life, I believed that the molestation started when I was about seven years old because that was the first memory that really stood out in my mind as outright sexual assault. I will spare the details because even writing about it turns my stomach to this day. Sadly, it’s not the worst thing he ever did to me.

However, during therapy in my late 30s, I kept flashing back to a time when I was playing with the little plastic circles that were in the middle of film that came in canisters. My stepfather was a movie projectionist, so I spent a lot of time in various theatre booths as a kid. Because he could take me with him to work, this was my parent’s solution to child care.  This particular time was at the Majestic Theatre, which was converted into a performance venue a while back, but was a film theatre during my earliest childhood. I’ve attended many an event there as an adult, and sitting in the balcony still has the power to make me queasy and shakey.

It wasn’t just one, but two separate events that stick out in my memory of the Majestic. The first involved my stepfather sitting me between two film reels that were used to hold the film that needed to be spliced together. Back then, movies came in three to five canisters and had to be carefully spliced into one long strip that sat on platters that seemed 10 feet wide to me. I think they were actually about five feet in diameter, but I was only three at the time. Anyway, when the splicer was turned on, film would go by in a blur; the edges of the film were very sharp and I was often warned not to touch it. I saw my stepfather get cut more than once, so I had a healthy fear of the splicer. Needless to say, sitting behind the splicer with my legs dangling over the edge of the desk and under the moving film, I was trapped. I couldn’t slip under the film because it was only a few inches above my legs. I couldn’t move forward or jump down without being cut. I wasn’t bound or gagged, but I was caught and speechless with fear.

After my stepfather placed me on the desk and wound the film in front of me, he told me not to move so I wouldn’t get cut. When I asked to get down, he said he would let me down after I spread my legs and let him touch me. I could either acquiesce to his abuse, or I could risk being sliced to ribbons. Instead I sat there and cried and screamed. He slapped me and told me to shut up (although he was quite safe as the projectionist booth was solid and nearly sound proof). Eventually, crying and near hysterics, I let him touch me between my legs and once the film ran out, he let me down. I now know that it only took a few minutes for film to wind on the splicer, but to me at that moment, it was an eternity.

Not too long after that, I met my stepfather’s colleague. My stepfather worked the night shift, and this older Latino man worked days. As they chatted, I went and sat in the balcony to watch whatever movie was showing at the time. A few minutes later, the day shift man came and sat next to me. My stepfather was busy doing his beginning of the shift work and so couldn’t see or hear me (as I said, the booth was nearly soundproof). This man proceeded to offer me candy and kept stroking my hair. I didn’t like it and asked him to stop. He told me I had to respect my elders, then he put his hand on my knee. I was wearing a dress that day. I cried as his hand crept up my skirt and in the words of Kirstin Anderson, he touched my vagina through my underwear. He told me I couldn’t tell anyone or I would get in trouble.

But I did tell. I told my mom, who said my stepdad could never find out or he would kill this other man. Of course, then she told my stepdad, and he was FURIOUS. I remember this was the first time I was caught in the hypocrisy of molestation. Although it was fine for my stepfather to molest me, I was HIS property and wasn’t to be touched by anyone else.

But nothing ever happened to the older man who touched me. My parents never left me alone with him, but everyone pretended that nothing really occurred. The message I got was clear: I was my stepfather’s property, and my importance was well below that of his comfort with his coworker.

There are many more incidences of my being molested by my stepfather; as I said above, I used to believe it didn’t start until I was seven, but in my 30s I realized I must have been age three, if not younger. I didn’t know how to read yet, and I learned to read at age 4, so that helps me with the timeline.

As more and more (over nine million at last count) women speak out about their first encounter of sexual abuse, I am encouraged to once again speak out about mine. It is difficult. It is disgusting. I still feel shame even though I now know I was not to blame. I feel dirty. I don’t want my husband to touch me.

Even so, I know I am a survivor. I will move past this. Again. This time, I know I am NOT ALONE. Over nine million other women are openly with me, with God only knows how many still hiding in the shadows. If nothing else, this election is shining a light into dark corners.

Gutbuster

A few months back, I had to have an abdominal CT to make sure I didn’t have anything more serious than an exceedingly painful IBS flare. While I didn’t have anything major like a hot appendix or an intestinal blockage, they did find a supraumbilical hernia. I love when I get to add to my list of shit wrong with my body.

For years, I would have periods of feeling like my belly button was stretched, much like when I was pregnant. It gets so stretched, it burns. What used to be periodic has become constant. I thought I had this pain because of my weight but the more I lose, the more pain I have. Even better, now that it doesn’t have as much weight to hide behind, I now have a prominent lump above my belly button.

Thanks to my “migraine” debacle (during which nothing less than four specialists ran a ridiculous number of tests and STILL didn’t find what my one neurologist diagnosed in thirty seconds…not migraines but instead, I have hemicrania continua), we’ve met our out of pocket and deductible expenses for the year. It’s the perfect time to have surgery. Whoo hoo!

The migraine debacle has made me extremely wary of specialists. Having to find a surgeon on my own would be near impossible if it weren’t for healthgrades.com. I typed in “hernia repair” and my zip code and got a list of doctors and their ratings from patients. Now I just have to get a referral from my GP and hope the waiting list isn’t ridiculously long.

Meanwhile, I am spending a lot of time locked away in my house. My headache medication makes me unfit for human companionship. I didn’t think it was possible but apparently I can be a bigger bitch! I hate everyone and just about everything. I’m not sleeping well and when I do sleep, I have bizarre nightmares. My belly button hurts. I’m irritable and mean.

For the moment, the solution is complete isolation. I have a follow up in September and I am hoping my doctor has some ideas about additional meds that can help my mood since I cannot get off my headache med. Even missing just a single dose causes lightning bolt pain through my left eye. I’d like to avoid that.

So I’m knitting. And shopping online. And having services done at my house, like using a mobile dog groomer. I’m also playing the cutest mobile game called My Singing Monsters. It’s a great way to teach Mendelian genetics to kids.

And I’m waiting. It’s the waiting part that sucks.

Come Play With Me

My husband called me this afternoon at an odd time and for no reason. I immediately thought something happened at work and he was done (his last day is supposed to be July 8th), but he just said he was bored. He plays an adult well in the real world but in real life, he’s a dorky five year old. And this is why I love him.

We’re on the downhill slide to 50. We are OLD. But Ron still makes me feel like we’re teenage kids together, faking our way through life like we have no idea what we’re doing. I mean we really don’t have any idea what we’re doing; who does? We have a modicum of a plan but day to day stuff? We still occasionally eat chips and queso for dinner (not as an appetizer) and vegetables just aren’t as prevalent as they should be at our age. We bicker over whose turn it is to do various chores. We laugh and giggle and play like kids.

I know that at work, my husband is strong and capable and smart and an adult, dammit. But with me, he still gets toddler face when he has to do something he doesn’t want to do, like mow the lawn or take out the trash. He randomly makes funny noises. He makes up songs to the cat. He wakes up with his hair sticking up and is plain adorable. I can easily imagine him at age two, or five, or even 15.

He works hard to cultivate his adult image and I’m sure I’ll get crap for marring it, but he is ridiculously child-like with me. He keeps me young because he makes me laugh. I’m often torn between wishing the entire world could know how awesome he is and wanting to keep him a secret all to myself.

Our marriage has had its ups and downs (like hell level downs) and there were a few times we weren’t sure we would make it, but the past two and a half years have been amazing and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. Since we learned how to communicate, we are stronger, happier, and more fulfilled. If there was one single thing I could wish for my children it would be to have this level of communication with their future partners. There is no passive-aggressive manipulations. If I want something, I ask for it. He’s still learning to do that but he has drastically improved.

I think the other thing we’ve learned that has made us both happier is acceptance. I love him for exactly who he is and I don’t try to change him. I do make him stretch his comfort zone now and then but I don’t expect him to suddenly start bringing me flowers.

Having someone to play with, who makes me laugh and who laughs at my horrendous “your face” jokes is a relationship goal that I never knew to aspire to. My first marriage made me feel old and worn out. My second marriage made me feel like I had a third child. But this baby bear is just right.

 

Love Without End, Amen

It’s Father’s Day today. This does not hold the same traumatic emotions that Mother’s Day does, thank goodness. Not that I had a good father, neither my biological nor my adopted one. Even my first husband was a shitty dad when we were married and he’s even worse now. He hasn’t had any contact with his children since 2005, in spite of living less than two miles from our current house. I can only wonder what kind of relationship he has with his stepson. Shudder….

No, my actual fathers were crap, but I had some amazing male role models and both my second and my current husband were and are both inspiring dads. Although Jon was only part of our lives for four years, he gave us a normalcy that I and the kids had never had. We had a beautiful home, fantastic home cooked meals, and he was always up for playing games and having fun. He and Aubrey are still in contact although not as often as they used to be. I am so happy that he now has two daughters of his own to spoil and be a great dad to them.

Ron is everything a dad should be. He’s supportive without being overbearing. He takes care of all us without question. He works hard and comes home to work even harder, be it cooking, cleaning, or studying so he can move forward and take even better care of us. He gives the dogs their meds twice a day, makes me coffee every weekend morning, and tries very hard to not punch Aubrey’s boyfriend in the face. He does almost all of the grocery shopping, all of the laundry, all of the dishes, cooks almost every meal that we eat at home, takes care of the yard, and makes us laugh with his little idiosyncrasies. And all that is just the tip of the Ron iceberg. Every day, he amazes me with how incredible he is and I know exactly how blessed I am to have him.

Unlike with mothers, I’ve never wandered around grasping onto male father figures and asking, “Are you my father?” But there have been some truly special men in my life. I think the first one was Delbert Rowland, the Vice Principal at Alamo Heights High School during my time there, although I didn’t know it then. He reported my mom to child protective services because he cared about me. Of course, my mother has fictionalized it as he was persecuting me, which I believed at the time. As an adult, I know better. He actually believed I deserved better than what I had, and while I didn’t recognize it then, it has helped me in my trauma recovery as an adult. I cannot thank him enough. He wasn’t out to get me, he was out to get her, and he tried his best to make a difference.

Also from AHHS was Mr. Paul Foerster. He was the only teacher who ever gave me in school suspension for missing class. He knew I was capable of more than what I was giving, and he expected better from me. Even then, I knew he punished me because he cared, not because he was mean or being an asshole. I think he loved all of his students equally (and he was there FOREVER, so that’s a LOT of students), which was also a great lesson; love is infinite and there is plenty to go around if you let it. He never ever ever played favorites, unlike almost every other teacher I’ve had.

Which leads me to Glenn Boswell, affectionately known to all of us as Boz. He also never ever ever plays favorites. Ever. He makes every person (not just his students) feel special, and worthy, and capable, and accepted. I remember he told us that he had to fix his ex-daughter-in-law’s car and we all thought that was crazy. But to Boz, she was the mother of his grandchild and would always be part of his family. That set a shining example for me of how love should be; unconditional.

Boz always underrates his importance in changing lives. So many kids go off to college broken in some way, both minor and major. At a junior college, the rate is even higher. I was more broken than most; in an abusive and controlling marriage after surviving an abusive and controlling childhood. Many times I floundered, to say the least. But Boz was always there to pull me through. He didn’t have to do anything special…he just was THERE. When I was knocked down, he lifted me back up. When I said I couldn’t, he told me I could. He gave advice with no expectation of it being followed. He offered comfort when my life was at its worst. Most of all, he believed I was amazing, and he made me believe I was amazing, too.

Without Boz on my side, I would likely have stayed in my miserable marriage for much longer because I wouldn’t have had the means to support myself and my kids, both financially and psychologically. Not only did he teach me everything I know about computer architecture and half of what I know about programming, he gave me glowing job recommendations. I always got the job. Not only was I able to leave my abusive husband, I was able to provide a good life for my kids when they were young.

Even now, Boz is still the angel on my shoulder. When I don’t blog often enough, I get a gentle nudge reminding me to post something. I think a quarter of my entire blog is due to Boz’ nudging.

It’s been 20 years since he came into my life. While I don’t get to see him often enough in real life, he is still a major influence for me. Although he never signed up for the job, he’s the closest thing I have to a father and that is more than a lot of my friends have. For that, I will always feel blessed.