I got a letter recently, letting me know that Molly’s father will soon be released from prison. As it turns out he will be home just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving. Although I do have a lot of things to give thanks for, the irony of the timing is not lost on me…
As reality was spilled before me in ink I found myself once again googling my/our “past life;” while sleep alluded me… I found myself re-reading the letters that he had sent to my parents and myself, from jail; prior to the restraining order… (Even though it may seem and honestly did feel a tad unhealthy)… I almost watched myself read every article, post, and comment (that I could put my eyes on); about what Molly and I have somehow survived… In many ways my actions mimicked to me, the pouring of salt into my still mending wounds… Yet, simultaneously, they had a real purpose. I was (unconsciously) facilitating my own exposure therapy, because in order to be prepared for what comes next, I want/ I need, to remember…
I still struggle to come to terms with what I knowingly acknowledge the truth to be. Sometimes I awake to all that has transpired, in the middle of the night; triggered by a dream. A nightmare that is far scarier than anything I could have previously imagined; mostly because it’s real. Although less poignant with the passing of time, it still hits me like a freight train. It hits me and I open my eyes to the painful and piercing reality, of what I continue to endure. On these mornings my mind and heart seem and feel as though they are re-learning, what happened a year and a half ago.
More astonishing than that however, are the times when it feels I’ve awoken to what exists, within an ordinary moment, of an ordinary day. A moment when the sun shines so bright that it can’t not illuminate what remains; in the wake of all that was destroyed. My heart skips some beats and my breath escapes me. My gaze appears to dart to the rear view mirror, just long enough for me to catch the reflection of the storm, which I’ve been driving away from for the past 16 months. This moment is often as lucid as it is fleeting; but within it I’m able to truly understand all that has happened. I can set up camp in that moment, but I cannot linger for too long… I cannot unpack and live there, because if I do I may never start moving again…
This is how people are wired to survive traumatic events… We fight, we freeze, and/ or we flee; and with this I’ve tried all three. The truth is that my mind has saved me by protectively allowing me to feel and heal; only in doses. I am emotionally still unthawing from a deep freeze. To feel everything all at once would destroy me. But as an old friend once told me, “you can eat a whole elephant one bite at a time…” So as it goes, I have to keep on “eating;” and moving. I want to remain ahead of the storm, because the truth is… it’s not over.
I know that it’s not over because my nights are now haunted by vivid fears, of what could be… I know it’s not over because even after calling lawyers, DHHS, and Maine parole officers, I still cannot obtain a clear answer, regarding what he must do; to be granted visitation with my daughter. My daughter who will be 4 years old when our restraining order expires. Meaning he will then have known her for only half of her life. He is a man that for better and/or worse she doesn’t even remember… He doesn’t know what makes her smile or what makes her cry. He doesn’t know that she begs to be “fed like a dog,” and insists on wearing princess costumes weekly. He doesn’t know that she’s potty trained and has a morning chore now. He doesn’t know what to do to help her when she’s tired or sick. He doesn’t know the weight of her body in his arms, or the feeling of her head on his chest. He doesn’t know that she watches Christmas movies year round, and sings her way through her days; as if her life were her musical. He traded his opportunity to know all of these things for sex. Sex with someone who was 30 years younger; and who couldn’t legally give consent. Sex with a young teenager.
It’s tempting to believe that he will abide by and obey the papers and conditions of both our restraining order, and his parole. Many people urge me to do just that… Yet, given the way his actions rocked me before, it’s an assumption that I cannot afford to make. My anxiety is palpable as I strive to come to terms with all of this uncertainty. The uncertainty of what a manipulative man, that I never really knew, may do. A man who very likely knows the address to my home, and will be residing only twenty minutes away.
So here I sit knowing that this storm is not over, (or perhaps another is brewing), because like mine, his blood still pumps through my baby girls veins… A precious, oblivious, well adjusted, happy little girl, who he would be foolish not to want to see. A girl who is my everything and I cannot imagine a life without. I know it’s not over. People tell me I’m brave and I can understand why, but internally I’m screaming and yelling, and I’m afraid. Similarly to “Baby” in “Dirty Dancing.” A variation of her words to Johnny keep playing over and over again in my mind. “Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I saw, of what I did, of who I am. And most of all, I’m scared” that life will never feel as safe as it does right here and now. Here and now, while he’s being held accountable for his actions, and unable to do further harm.
Isn’t this the way life is? We search, we seek, we pay, and we pray for solutions; as if they are something that exist outside of us. All the while part of us recognizes that control is only an illusion. I have as little control over the decisions he made back then, as I do the ones he will make now… Still, my education lays out before me the statistics of recidivism; and it’s nauseating. My mind constantly questions, weighs, researches, and yearns to determine what is best for my girl. I want so badly to protect her from what he has done, yet I know that I can’t; forever.
I look into the eyes of the children I serve, and I see her… my baby. I strive to do as right by her as I can, but I’m not even completely sure what that looks like; when it comes to this… I want to know the path of least harm and optimal adjustment, but it also pisses me off. It makes me hot. It makes me toss and turn. It makes me lose sleep. Working to compartmentalize the way that he treated me, and what he was or could be to her; in hopes of rationally deciding what is best. Of all the things I’ve been left to determine on my own, of all the questions I’ve grappled with, this feels the most pivotal; “what do I want her “relationship” with him to look like?” What do I want to stand in the rink and fight for?Like a boxer with my heart pounding, whose body is quivering from adrenaline, and eyes are filled with sweat; I know I must remain both attentive and decisive. When do I want to block, counterpunch, or jab? When do I want to blow, or unleash the haymaker? How hard am I willing to train? How much am I willing to bleed?What do I sacrifice? What am I prepared to get disqualified for, before I’m down for the count!?
This place is as dark as it is scary, and it’s a place where I must not only stand alone, but choose alone; what is healthiest for her. I know that in many ways this has been my role for over a year; but the burden when it comes to this, feels immense. And still the truth remains that amidst all of this soul searching, inevitably a day will come, (either sooner or later), in which this won’t be up to me. Comfort escapes me. The system is flawed, I am imperfect, and something within him has long been broken. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair, but it is my reality.
Life is nothing if it is not a collection of these moments; adventures, heartaches, joys, and decisions. It’s happening for us; whether we are ready or not… We all have, or will have, times, instants, and choices that appear to parallel the one I’m speaking of. Choices to make within which the circumstances vary, but the complexity of them makes them indistinguishable. During these times in our lives the fear and the grief often seem to come slithering back; like the sneaky snakes they are. So we must ask ourselves… What can we do when we feel imprisoned by the actions of others and overwhelmed with more questions than answers?
Take deep breaths. Exercise. Create space by moving our bodies and clearing our minds. Pay attention to how our decisions make us feel. When they bring peace to our hearts and align with our truths; honor them! When we recognize how/ where we can do better, be brave enough to choose again. Let go of people, things, and relationships that are toxic to our well being. Nourish our bodies with whole foods and our minds with new books. Notice and surround ourselves with all things that inspire and feel like “home” to us. Learn how to listen to the actions of others and believe what they are “telling” us. Feel wha needs to felt instead of ignoring it; it’s not going away. Detox from negativity, and then detox from negativity again. Become more aware of the ways we speak to ourselves, and find more self-compassion. Envision the person we love most sitting on a chair, in the middle of an empty room; and edit our inner dialogues, as if we were speaking to them.
Become in tune with what triggers us, and “travel” accordingly. Be aware of our negative coping skills, and practice healthier ones. Celebrate the good and find gratitude for the bad; someone always has it better or worse. Stop comparing ourselves to who and where we think we should be; it’s mean! Let us remember to let shit go when it’s not ours to carry, or when it’s too heavy, or when it smells repulsive, because we don’t have time to be lugging that around…
Most of all let us rise. Let us stand in our vulnerability with our chests inflated by power. Let us retrain ourselves to embrace the uncertainty, instead of fear it. Let us swim in the mucky waters and trust that clarity will develop as the dirt settles; and be right on time. Let us find comfort in the assurance that something profound is being born; being labored into existence. It’s easy, when things feel hard, to forget what a miracle all of this is. Find the gratitude, and count your blessings. There is a reason that your rear view mirror takes up such a small space in your windshield… Where you have been does not determine and is not as important, as where you are going. Focus your gaze on the horizon and remember what/who you are doing it for, as you journey “home.”