Rape is not something that my family is comfortable with, but then is there anyone who would ever say they were? My mother was sincerely invested in my overprotection throughout my entire life, even so far as not allowing me to participate in extracurricular activities or ever walking to a friend’s home who only lived two houses away from my home unless she watched me until I turned up my friend’s walkway. Without a doubt, my safety would be ensured when I transferred to the university as a junior and lived with my sister — not the dorms (which were not coed anyway).
I should have been safe. At 19 years old I was raped and I have never been the same even though I didn’t know it at the time. Memory is a strange thing and it wrapped me in its own sort of overprotective blanket so that I didn’t have to look out at the monster in my mind. Years later it was time for me to come out from under my blanket fort and understand where I fit in this strange community of survivor and victim. And that is perhaps what is the most frustrating about who I am is not always knowing who I am. There are days when I still feel victimized and others when I feel the strength of having survived.
Who I am now is who I am supposed to be, and there is some sort of intuitive flame inside me that tells me it is because of the passport I carry between Victim and Survivor. Clearly, I am not grateful for the experience — in no way am I glad I have PTSD or an anxiety disorder or the agoraphobia. At the same time, I do know that much of my resiliency and fighting spirit comes from having travelled through hell so many times.
I am able to discuss what happened to me with almost anybody except for most of my family, primarily my parents. I don’t find this hurtful as much as I see it as unfortunate as they are choosing to ignore an enormous piece to the puzzle of what has created me. Whenever they don’t understand why I struggle with certain parts of my mental health they aren’t able to connect the dots. Likewise, when I triumph in other ways they don’t see “the big deal”. My father is only able to understand in that he also suffers from depression and anxiety while my mother only is able to remind me that she always told me to never do A, B, and C. (If I had followed her instructions, of course, I never would have been raped.)
For a long while I thought it was best to just not talk about the very things that made my parents uncomfortable. If they were uncomfortable that means everyone would be uncomfortable, right? Surely they were the litmus test of what was socially acceptable. Only they weren’t. I am the keeper of the gate and as such I hold the key to what truth I feel is necessary to reveal.
It has been an evolutionary process in what stories I choose to share, but I no longer allow the worry of who I could have been haunt me. I can’t. That person doesn’t exist and I can’t mourn who never was. I can only celebrate who is.
I squirm with questions like these. Anyone who truly knows me would confirm how much discomfort I feel in receiving attention or any other sort of recognition. For anything. I like to quietly go about my day and business, do stuff and live my life. It takes a great deal of effort to appear outgoing and extroverted. In reality, I am happiest when nobody notices me at all. And so, actually having to purposely highlight myself like this makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable. In fact, I much rather joke about being the most hated in the neighborhood and trying to get the neighborhood kids to be afraid of me. Unfortunately, they still show up here so I must try harder. My husband has hidden my son’s bb gun, though, and so that option is definitely off the table.
However, when I am caught being nice or pleasant, it is usually because I try to be helpful and charitable. My grandfather had made a strong impression on me from the time I was young to always be of service to my fellow man. I often watched him take tomatoes from his garden to his neighbors or share ice cream (his most favorite commodity). He would chat with people he knew were lonely or didn’t have many friends or always take some time to stop by someone’s home who he knew was sick. He and his brothers would pull some of the tar off the roads that had gotten warm in order to have “chewing gum” during the Depression. Because of this unpleasant memory, my grandfather would carry extra chewing gum with him all the time to offer children. He would tell me that children should always have some gum if possible. By far, my grandfather is the greatest example to me of someone who always put other people first.
I want my children to have that same example and have I tried to show them the joy that comes from being charitable. Because I am uncomfortable with acknowledgement or attention, they have seen me do many things and often not receive thanks. My son was frustrated by this when he was younger, and perhaps he still is on occasion, but he also knows that I believe charity is for the receiver and not the giver.
My heart is tender towards people who are unable to provide for their families. I have always been so fortunate in this regard even in the most financially difficult of times. I was so broken hearted for a woman at Walmart whose husband had been deployed and his pay hadn’t been transferred yet. She and I had been talking in line about this was another Thanksgiving they would be away from each other, her kids racing around their cart full of groceries. I have felt that same embarrassment that burned her cheeks when the cashier told her that her card had been denied. I have cried the same tears. It’s not a good place to be in, a place where you don’t know exactly what to do. I understand. I don’t hesitate to pay for other people’s groceries or meals or gas. It’s not about receiving thanks or accolades, I get embarrassed by such. It’s about thinking of my grandfather chewing tar as a little boy and collecting discarded coal thrown to him by train conductors so that he could heat his home.
I want my children to grow up into good people. Charitable people. People who remember to give freely with their actions whenever possible because words don’t feed hungry children. Yes, it is nice to be told ‘Thank you’, but it’s even better knowing you’ve given happiness. Even if they’re mom was the mean lady in cul-de-sac. Kind of.
My mother has an uncanny ability to make me feel guilty for giving in to what she considers selfish activities like sleep. If ever I don’t answer my phone after the first or second ring I am greeted with “Did I wake you up?” instead of “Hello”. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is she will always assume I am sleeping, not driving or cooking or tending my children. Sleeping. Of course, if sleeping is selfish because it takes up too much time away from my family than how could I possibly do anything else that would take me away from them? So unless I exercise holding my toddler, sew with my toddler on my lap and my sewing machine attached to a long enough extension cord so that I can take it to soccer practice, and give up on writing altogether, then I would be at least 100 pounds heavier with the guilt thrown on me by my mother. Oh, and never sleep. Even when they are sleeping.
I have had to constantly remind myself that my mother has already raised her children — we are all crazy because of it. I don’t want to lose myself into some sort of misguided world of expectations. I want to sleep!
I have learned that time works best for me when I learn to be intuitive with it rather than try to force it. While I do have a certain set of scheduled times for specific things — meal times, bed times, housework, etc. — there are other things that I have allowed to just flow in and out of my days much like the seasons. I recognize that I am at a point in my life when I will not be able to write every day. Instead of choosing to be frustrated by that I have simply accepted it and given myself more room to take the opportunities to write when they come up. I keep my laptop out so if my daughter falls asleep for an hour it is accessible, for example. I keep a notebook in my purse to keep track of ideas. Instead of taking a photography class on campus I’ve enrolled on one online so that I can finish it when I can fit it in my schedule. I rearranged my sewing room so I can sew while my daughter watches a movie.
Conveniently, since time is a manmade concept it is always able to be rearranged or even completely reconstructed. And I also have just stopped answering the phone. I don’t want to be woken up.
My perfect space would have an open ceiling to allow the whole sky in while keeping the weather out. I would have quiet, but not uncomfortable silence. Only the quiet that comes from my world being at peace. There would be no clocks, no deadlines, no timestamps, no other way to mark the time other than the sun moving from one side of the horizon to the other.
The windows never need cleaning somehow. They seem to always be clear and the drapes are never dusty. Whoever is able to make this happen please hop to it. Seriously.
I finally am able to have the comforter and bedding that I would love to have — whatever it might be — without worrying about toddlers or puppies jumping onto it or peeing on it.
I can see every star and hear every wave while the mountains are still never cutting out my wifi when the canyon winds are blowing.
And my inspiration finally meets my motivation before the dryer buzzes or it’s my turn for the carpool.
I am a mistress,
loved by many and kept by none.
A lie, of course,
I’m always kept at least by one — at a time, that is.
Words fill the air
perfumed vespers of promises
spoken in tones hushed,
fading with the sun.
As it rises or when it sets — won’t matter –
I will be there,
my love shared with any and all.
My warmth is felt
in every room I enter or leave,
every shadow whispering my name:
Mama or Wife or Friend or Benefactress or Neighbor or Ms.
Loved by many, you see,
and kept by none but