The Other Side of Beautiful

She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.

She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.

”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.

“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.

”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.

“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.

“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.

”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.

“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”

”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.

”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.

”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.

”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”

“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers.  She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.

She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.

“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.

*To be continued*

The Purity of Love

When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love.

Love is never what they show you in movies. It’s raw, exhausting, unforgiving and also the purest thing you’ll ever know. These days people confuse purity with beauty. They confuse it with intellectual prowess. They confuse it with youth. But purity and youth don’t go hand in hand as any parent of a tantrum throwing, toy destroying, wall-kicking child will tell you. No. Purity is its own entity separate from any other reality. It exists in the pupil of the eye just as a tear falls. It wafts through an evening Christmas party past the clinking of glasses and the low hum of small talk. It rests on the surface of water and on the fragile, fragrant petal of a rose. It is always alive inside the heart of the truly in love.

Love can humble the grandest egos or lift the meekest souls. Love means your first teenage kiss. The gentle breeze over the grass, the moon half full, the porch light just about to turn on. Love also means empty shoes at the edge of the bed. A suit laid out. A bouquet of flowers wilting on the dining room table next to a yellow pad with a eulogy written in cursive, several lines crossed out.

For those lucky ones of us, we are surrounded by the many, happy versions of love. We are at ease in our lives. At peace with our surroundings. Truly it is a fortunate existence. But for many of us we are not so lucky. We must placate our greedy hearts with the sanitized pretend-love of the silver screen. A fake-love designed especially for the lonely consumer. For the loveless fan desperate to fill the cavernous space meant to hold their passion and desire.

My husband is Scottish. He even has a red beard. His eyes are the color of a cloudless sky and he’s tall enough to touch the ceiling. His voice rumbles when he talks and his gentle snoring calms my worst nightmares. I’m at least 60 nationalities probably more, but for the ease of description I’m multi-racial. You could call me bi-racial but you’d be incorrect. Not that people who aren’t of mixed racial backgrounds care about that kind of thing, still it is true. You could call my skin color butterscotch or caramel. Toffee works, coffee with cream.  You could be racist and call me high-yellow. I’ve heard it before. Mulatto too. (Just a note white people. Don’t call us mulatto.) My kids are absolutely beautiful and every combination you can imagine. I have two boys from my first marriage and one little girl who was my husband’s gift to me. My oldest son has my skin color and dark eyes, with thick wavy hair. My middle child who was born with straight blonde hair and blue eyes now has hazel eyes and curls that excitedly leap from his head. My daughter who is only five and still finding her place in the kaleidoscope of images has dark blonde ringlets and copper colored eyes. Her eyes were a perfect metallic grey when she was born. She fascinated the nurses.

When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love. Of course not everyone sees us this way. My husband’s family is a prime example. His parents are in town. They’ll be leaving soon. They’ve decided not to visit their beautiful granddaughter who has been talking about seeing them ever since she found out they were coming. Yes, it’s horrible and they’re horrible. They’re in town for my husband’s sister’s wedding. They didn’t go to ours. Yes it’s gross and sad and everything else you can think of.

It’s these moments I have to stop and think about what to tell my daughter. because of course I went through the same thing. I remember my mother asking her father if she could give me her dollhouse that he made her. I remember him looking over at me with disgust and saying no, not for her. I remember watching my cousins unwrapping their christmas presents at age seven while my grandmother coldly handed me a check and said I don’t know what girls like her want. I felt like part of the floor that day. I knew my father wasn’t allowed in the house. I don’t remember getting a present. Just that stiff paper check and that feeling of “less than they are.”

I had that same feeling when my husband’s mother banned me from her house and my husband would take our daughter to visit without me. I suppose this was before my daughter grew old enough to shine her multiracial light. I watched them drive away and felt that same awful feeling of “less than they are.” I felt it every time he did it. The worst feeling in the world. The opposite of love.

Once I took my sons to my husband’s parents’ house. I was pregnant at the time. We were invited for his sister’s graduation dinner. It took his mother 45 minutes to acknowledge we’d walked in the room. My sons inched closer and closer to me at the table the longer the silence went on. You see my husband’s mother and sister were busy playing with the children of my husband’s ex-girlfriend. So busy I guess they didn’t notice us. Perhaps we weren’t white enough to be noticeable. My husband’s ex-girlfriend is basically vanilla pudding. A pile of snow. As white as it gets. They have wood walls so apparently we blended in. Needless to say I was furious. As I would be every time I saw them. Because not only had they made me feel “less than they are” they did it to my children and I found that unforgivable.

They continued to do awful things and we continued to love each other despite them and the details are less important than the toll it has taken on us, to have such close contact with the opposite of love. I still haven’t recovered and now that they’ve lied to my daughter about seeing her and are continuing their campaign of making myself and my children feel “less than they are” there’s no way I can risk allowing them to poison her life more than they already have. They’ve also hurt my husband terribly although I warned him this is what happens when you marry outside your race, class, parental expectation. He thought his family was different. I knew they were just like all the rest.

So where do we go from here? How do we move on? I already know what I’ll do. I’ll tell my daughter the truth. The same truth I’ve told her since she understood my words. I promised her I’d never lie to her and I never will. I found out the whole ugly truth about my racist grandparents when I was fourteen and I was so angry I never spoke to them again. I would rather have known right from the start who I was dealing with. I’m not letting my daughter go through what I went through. She’s not going to feel “less than they are.” She’s going to feel loved, cared for and never, ever lied to. There’s another special place purity can be found. In the clear reflection of honesty. I’m going to tell my daughter the truth and the fragrance of purity will swirl around us, delighting our senses and building my daughter’s trust in me. Ultimately filling both our hearts with that rare mixture of purity, trust and love.

And as for my husband’s sister who still lives here I suggest she stays far, far away.

 

Venom

You mother in law you
The cars go by and I hear you talking
He’s MY son I think
As the rain falls.
You dirty rat
Nothing equates us
Except a shared lifetime of pain like a mournful rainbow arching across a quiet sky
A sad note
A good son
Stop trying to stand in front of me,
Just because you knocked it over doesn’t mean you get to watch the pieces crumble.
I dreamt this already
And at the end you kneel.

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone

 

A Summer of Roses

You cannot breathe in and out without accepting death hides in every corner. It follows us on the wind whispering our name.

Roses make sense to me. Beautiful; all the colors of the rainbow. They smell heavenly. Try to pick one however and you’ll end up with fingers full of thorns. I love that. It’s as if they say you may look…but never touch.

I feel like the stem of a rose lately. I don’t want someone’s hand on my back. I avoid affection. It’s not a good feeling, being covered in thorns, but I relish my sharpness. I embrace being off-putting for once. For the first time I’m completely aware of what everyone wants from me. I just don’t care.

I spent half my life hanging in midair, waiting to be told what to do, where to go, how to feel. I smiled on command. I pleased people. I’m just not that girl anymore. I’m not interested in meeting other people’s needs. I need to soar unencumbered by the pressures of fitting in.

I have few friends. I think this is on purpose. Most people don’t understand me. I’m unusually kind, generous and fun to be around. So when they cross a line, when they hurt me, my kids or just piss me off in general by being inconsiderate, selfish or (my favorite) racist, and I tear into them mercilessly, they are genuinely shocked. How can she say those things? they ask themselves. I of course have an easy answer: Because they’re true and someone had to let you know eventually. You can’t just walk around being an asshole for the rest of your life and not have anyone call you on it.

Everything about the world is changing. That’s really the only constant. You never know what you’ll wake up to. It’s unsettling. However that is life. To live is to be unsettled. You cannot breathe in and out without accepting death hides in every corner. It follows us on the wind whispering our name. We none of us know when the clock strikes zero. This makes for a very strange and macabre existence. We dance on the tip of a blade in this life. Eventually we all stumble and fall.

My sons ask me questions I truly have to think about the answers to. Sometimes I feel pressure from them to be better than I am. But it never lasts. I give them my best answers and for the most part discuss with them what they think the answer is. I never forget they are old enough to alter the course of history. I remember being their age and full of questions. Full of hope. Excited about new developments, theories, discoveries. Adolescence is a magical time when truly anything seems possible. I miss that feeling.

There’s no hiding from a teenager. They see everything you think you’ve concealed so carefully. There’s no use protecting them from your pain. They just feel lied to. Most of the time I feel like I have my hands tied behind my back when it comes to my sons. They spend the school year with their father in Oregon and the brief time I have with them during holidays and part of the summer is almost a slap in the face. It’s not even enough time to feel like they’re wholly mine. That they haven’t chosen some other different, less colorful family to latch onto. Another mother to replace me with. An entirely different life I’m only allowed to see the edges of. Like a child standing on tiptoe desperate to see through the tear in the tent. The lions leaping through flaming hoops. The trapeze girls. The giant elephants with their daintily swinging tails.

This loss of so many moments of my sons’ lives will always be one my greatest sorrows. There are days when the pain is so great I try to swallow and it feels like knives in my throat. Those are the days I don’t talk to anyone. I give one word answers and make no attempt at conversation. Those are the days I feel hollowed out, so broken inside that it is as if all of my feelings have trickled through the cracks in my heart and made a crimson arc on the floor beneath my feet. I leave my feelings there, wet and sad. I want them to show, not me.

My daughter of course forces me to seal up the cracks in my broken heart. She has no patience for grief. She is too young to have lost profoundly. She makes me laugh when I think it least possible. She is not the least bit uncomfortable when I cry. She remains ready with kisses and little fingers that wipe away tears and with them my self doubt. Her belief in me is astonishing. I want to tell her how terribly flawed I am except she’d never believe me.

This summer had some beautiful moments. I breathed them in as deeply as I could. I swallowed them whole. There is no substitute for all of my children together laughing, smiling and being free. It’s a rarity now that I never take for granted. Each time I wonder if it will be the last. I think one day I’ll realize all I have are the memories and I’ll retreat into my thorny stem. Like the rose I’ll bloom for my children no matter how old they get. But no matter how beautiful my flower, once my children go their own ways my thorns will drive the world away without hesitation or remorse.

Planetary solitude and the power of individual expression

My words are mine. My feelings are mine. My expression is mine. I will wear what I want. I will say what I think. I will write what I feel.
My stories are not literal blocks of concrete meant to be carried around on one’s back. Rather they are pictures of emotions wrapped in my poetic language.
Do not censor my voice. Do not bind my fingers with your fear and misunderstanding. Your need to control. Allow me my freedom. My freedom to say what I want, when I want, how I want.
If you cannot understand metaphor. If you cannot understand the power of writing to release that which binds up inside and its ability to soothe the soul than say nothing to me. Because we exist on different planets and to bring us closer would take an act of God.

Kimkoa 2018

Be Your Own Superhero

Doctors forget that these are our lives. That even a single memory is a priceless thing and to spin the roulette wheel with our minds is a cruel practice.

Tonight is one of those sleepless nights. Those toss and turn, mind racing and won’t turn off, husband snoring kind of nights. I don’t mind it for some reason. I just want to write anyways. I’ve been talking with my son. And not just talking. I’ve been listening. He is the type of child with a lot to say. At first you might think all he wants to do is talk the paint off the walls. But if you really listen to him, really listen, you realize he wants to be part of the conversation. The greater conversation. The one the adults are having about the world. About the way things are changing. About the political scene. He doesn’t want to just sit back and listen to rap music and eat hot pockets. Well, sometimes he does. But he also wants to listen to Ted Talks and podcasts about scientific experimental treatments for PTSD and Opioid addiction. He wants to learn about political systems and how they affect the way we live. Why the world’s government’s don’t work. He’s vocal and opinionated and not always right but it’s better isn’t it? That he cares? That he’s learning? Isn’t that what we want from children? To challenge us? To force us from the complacency of sameness with the wild and wonderful phrase “What if?”

What if that which we have always thought to be true was false? And it took a young, free-thinking mind to ask the necessary question “What if?”

He was talking tonight about experimental treatments with MDMA and Ecstasy and the success they are having treating anxiety conditions, OCD and PTSD. He was saying it’s groundbreaking. Like any parent my first response was to convince him that was hype for drug users and nothing worth his time but the more I talked to him the more I realized how informed he was and that he did know what he was talking about. “Mom.” He said. “This isn’t about going to a concert and getting some soda laced with God knows what. That shit can kill you and in fact it is killing kids, because that isn’t pure MDMA or ecstasy. It’s low grade nightmare shit with whatever inside it and it’s really sad because kids have no idea.” I’m talking about actual clinical scientific trials with pure substances used in a controlled environment on subjects who are experiencing relief for the first time in their lives. Mom I’m telling you if you want good drugs, go to the scientists.” I had to laugh at that one because he was right.

My son knows my struggle with medications. He knows I feel like a fat guinea pig they just stuff one pill after another down my throat. He knows I feel like Alice in Wonderland never knowing what my body will do next, one pill will make me grow fatter. Another will make me pace around the room. This pill will take away my appetite but my hair will fall out. Still another will make everything taste faintly of metal. And the treatment of all treatments is they could attach electrodes to my brain and send currents of electricity through my grey matter as a last ditch effort (yes, actually electrocute my mind) in the hopes that my thoughts would be shocked into compliance. Of course there is that pesky little side effect of memory loss. Memories like the scent of my first born child’s head when they placed him in my arms for the first time. The sound of my mother frying bacon on Sunday mornings as a little girl. The feeling of holding my father’s hands as he walked to the liquor store. I always got to pick out a lollipop. My daughter’s middle name. How as a baby she would cry incessantly unless I played Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine over and over and over while I wore her in a sling. The first time my husband held my hand, kissed me.

I’ll never forget sitting there reading about how sometimes you lose your memories for a time but they come back. However in many cases they don’t. My doctor was so confident my memory loss would be minimal. But what does that mean? Which memory isn’t worth keeping? My mother’s genuine loving smile at my first piano recital when I hid behind the garbage cans? My oldest son deciding to take a bath in the middle of his fifth birthday, ignoring all of his friends? My youngest son carrying around a red velvet notebook he got from his teacher at Butterfly daycare center writing little notes and pictures long before kindergarten? That he was born with blue eyes?

Doctors forget that these are our lives. That even a single memory is a priceless thing and to spin the roulette wheel with our minds is a cruel practice. I have had enough of being a plaything for the ignorant. My body is not a toy. I am not a lab rat. I am done swelling up like a sad balloon, I am done being too exhausted to play with my daughter and I am done swallowing pill after pill after pill. By the way these pills are prescribed only 30 at a time at all different times with no refills from a doctor who works only one day a week from an office that takes up to a week to refill them and she has to sign off on each one through insurance that won’t pay until two days before they are due so that I’m constantly on the phone with either the doctor’s office, the pharmacy or the insurance company and I’m constantly getting lectured about running out or trying to refill too soon or any number of stupid and demeaning things they like to say to me on a regular basis, every single month of my life. I literally can’t take it anymore. And it makes me so angry because this is how patients fall through the cracks. It’s not the patients its the goddamn overmedicating doctors who just stop paying attention.

You know when I feel happiest? When I run my fingers over flowers that have just bloomed in my garden. When I clip my basil and put it in the sauce I’m making for my family. When I discover the first rose of the season and clip it and put it in a mug and it smells like heaven. When I make my son and I chocolate mint tea from leaves I grew. When I am surrounded by the quiet harmony of the life my mother and I created from seeds we started on folding tables in the great room of the house.

Do I still have bipolar? Yes. Do I take a medication called lithium? Yes? However I asked for it specifically because it’s an ancient natural remedy. People have been bathing in lithium waters for centuries to help find balance. It’s a salt. I do feel sometimes all this other shit I’m taking is not helping me at all. However I remember that I am bipolar and bipolar people hate taking their medication. Let me say that again. Bipolar people HATE taking their medication! The sad fact is that many of us do need those meds to keep from flying off into truly frightening states of mind. I have been there. I cannot deny that. This being said my opinion does matter. How I feel and what is happening to my body is important. My doctor and I must work together. My healthcare is truly a joint venture, not just one individual’s responsibility. It is possible to take less medication but that means it needs to be under my doctor’s supervision and with her consent. In addition I need to do my part here at home. I need to eat well. I need to sleep enough and consistently. I need to make sure my environment is peaceful, positive, stress-free. I need to go to therapy and talk about my feelings even when I’d rather hide under the bed with my cat.

When I’m in my doctor’s office and she’s asking me how I’m doing and prescribing me these pills I hate, if I don’t use my voice, if I don’t share my pain then I have no one to blame but myself. One of the many things I have learned from my son is that when something is not working he is NOT quiet about it. And as a result he gets his needs met. I need to take a page out of his book. Wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ and dreamin’ isn’t getting me very far. The time has come to be my own hero. It’s what I’d tell my daughter to do. Sometimes no one comes to rescue you and you have to pull up your boot straps and rescue yourself.

 

 

 

Tank Girl

This disease of depression is internal. It cannot be caught and it cannot be cured. Those afflicted by it must learn to cope. They must become warriors.

I haven’t written anything in a while, I just haven’t been able to. I feel like my life has become this thing I never imagined it would be. My older children are stretched across the country, turning into other people. I see them and I feel like I’ve missed oceans of time with them. I literally drown in the spaces between my visits with them. Other mothers ask me how I handle it. I don’t handle it. I’m forced to deal with it, like being in prison. I say fuck a lot about almost everything. I cry. I go outside and dig in the dirt and plant shit so something beautiful grows. I manage my hatred. I’m angry about it all the time. I’m sad about it all the time. When they ask me this question I want to answer how the fuck do you think I handle it!?! I try not to run people over in the parking lot!

My husband and I are weathering the storms that come with poverty, change, family drama and raising children. He likes to hold hands. I don’t. I can’t stand it when he tries to dance with me in the kitchen. I don’t know why I can’t, I just can’t. I don’t feel romantic lately. I feel more like tank girl, when someone touches me who isn’t my child I want to pull out my gun.

I know this has to do with what’s going on inside me. I’ve been bleeding for months. literally months. My doctor wants to take out my uterus because of it. The irony is I can’t have my pre-op pap smear and exam because my damn uterus won’t stop bleeding. My husband tells me how cute my ass is. I tell him if I took my jeans off he’d faint. It’s like world war III down there. And yet I keep going. I keep doing the laundry. vacuuming the carpets. Doing the shopping. Cooking the meals. Doing the dishes. It’s almost become normal this bleeding. I’m forgetting what it was like before I bled like a stuck pig. It’s funny what you can get used to.

My daughter has chosen my husband as her favored parent. Considering how the rest of my life is going it makes perfect sense. While her father was working twelve hour days or sleeping or spending all night at poker games, I was the one who sang to her, gave her baths, fed her, held her at night. But of course none of that seems to matter lately. Although when she’s hurt or scared or has a nightmare she still calls for mommy. In the mornings I often wake up to her hot little body on my side of the bed. Those are the mornings i just want to push the pause button. I just don’t want anything to move, to change. Oh please I think, can’t this last forever.

I love to cuddle my husband’s legs. He was a roller skater for years and I always tease him that he has two tree trunks for legs. Laying in bed I’m always cold and I suffer from chronic claustrophobia so being held is out of the question. So I wind my legs around his and it’s the best feeling in the world. Like being rooted to the earth. My anxiety vanishes. The best is when he’s sleeping and I wiggle my legs between his. That combined with his soft snores is better than any valium.

My oldest son is here. He’ll be here for a month. He’s almost seventeen and is one of my favorite people on the planet. I adore him. I love the way he thinks; his artistic sensibilities, his kindness, his intelligence. I love that he’s driven and musical. I love that he’s so much like me and yet different in all the ways I hoped he’d be. Part of what makes him so special is that he had to battle his inner demons of depression. He’s had to work hard to become the person he is today. I read a book called In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression by John Bentley Mays. At the time I read it I was so naive  about mental illness I was almost scared by the content of the book, by the experiences Mays related. Now that I am almost twenty years older and have battled mental illness for much of my adult life I have greater compassion for this man, There is more to this story. My son battles depression. I think about this book and I think about my handsome, creative, intelligent and talented son and my heart bursts with the emotion of it. This disease of depression is internal. It cannot be caught and it cannot be cured. Those afflicted by it must learn to cope. They must become warriors. Many of them do yoga. Many run. Many stay busy with projects, constantly creating, refuting the ever present voice whispering you are no good no good no good. You are worthless and everything you do is and will always be worthless. you may as well just give up…My son creates. Music. Films. Art. He skateboards. He eats as healthy as he can. He doesn’t drink, smoke weed. He stays busy. He outruns the “jaws of the black dogs” and for that I am in awe. I couldn’t be prouder.

I pray he stays ahead of the black dogs of depression as an adult. I pray he stays an example for others battling depression. There was a time when he we almost lost him. But the world needed him. Dammit I needed him! Fuck you black dogs! You may think you can catch my son but what you don’t realize is I will always be right there behind him armed to the teeth. Let’s see how well you do against my tank.

 

 

June

My mouth opened and nothing came out
I guess it was too much, all those words, all that screaming
A reaction to the sickening politeness I’m surrounded by…
It’s enough to make even the steeliest ones of us vomit glittery frustration… and still I climb out to find you.
I don’t want to be nice to you I say quietly beneath my breath
I hate you I say even softer and I mean it
And yet love pours out from somewhere I didn’t know existed
As the hands on your watch tick I let you hold me…as jumpy as a cat for the moment I am calm.
This doesn’t mean I forgive you I say. Needing to say something.
It doesn’t have to mean anything you whisper over my head and I still hear you.
At least for the moment I am not angry.
I can feel the breeze from the half open window. It blows the scent of roses into the room.
In the June half light this could be a scene from a movie. I decide to kiss you and so we do. To the onlooker we are lovely
Here in the hazy late afternoon we can be them.
The lovers.
At least until the sun goes down.

Kimkoa 2018

My Life Is My Own

I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color.

So I live in Wasilla, which is basically 99% white. I don’t love this, I wish my daughter could grow up with more diversity. She’s at the perfect age to really fall in love with all different cultures and we are living in such a homogenous part of Alaska it’s depressing. Her only regular exposure to someone of color is me. I have to wonder what does this mean? I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color. I am this multiracial, multicultural human who is definitively unique, artistic and compassionate towards those who are different. I’m an advocate for persons with mental  illness and am committed to fighting the stigma. So who cares if she is surrounded by the same white faces on a daily basis. Her home is not that way and never will be. Her brothers, especially her oldest brother, don’t look white at all so summers spent with them enhance her world view and round out this homogenous little world we’re raising her in.

My last blog was intense. I dug deep and talked about some pretty tough subjects. I’m glad I did, there are so many women who have been through the same things and are ashamed to admit they were abused. They just hold it inside and it literally tears them apart. I need to share something that happened to me after I posted my blog. My ex-girlfriend contacted me and tried to manipulate exactly the way she used to. She accused me of lying and airing her dirty laundry which is a contradiction in terms and interspersed it with compliments about my daughter and my advocacy work. She tried to rope me into a dialogue which I resisted and accused me of cyberbullying her by telling my story, while at the same time apologizing for traumatizing me all those years ago. She then started bullying me the way she always did, telling me what I could and could not write about in my blog- basically I could not write about her. Honestly my first reaction was fear. All these years have passed and I still reacted like a terrified child. Then I was angry at myself for feeling afraid and agreeing not to write about her, because it’s not my fault she was abusive. It’s not my fault she’s as sick as she is and refuses to take responsibility for it. I know plenty of borderlines who admit they are skilled manipulators. That they often find themselves doing it without even trying. I know borderlines who are actively seeking help even though success rates are low, they are there, trying. Fighting their illness. Taking ownership.

Was I perfect in that relationship?  No…but I don’t even call it a “relationship.” She used to make me lay there with my legs spread and conduct what she called “examinations” to make sure everything was “ok down there.” You’re probably wondering how in the hell did I let someone do that to me? Well I had just come from a sheltered cultish belief system and I was only a child when I joined it so I was an easy target. I tried to get away from her in so many ways. I mentioned the first time my poor oldest son from whom I kept all of this loved her and didn’t want me to leave and so I stayed for him. I also knew in my heart I needed a man. In the way a gay person is born that way and cannot change, so is a straight person, so is a bisexual and so on. I needed a husband. I would tell her this and she would tell me over and over I was wrong, I was a lesbian, I didn’t know what I was talking about. At the end I would literally have dreams about men, about being the straight woman with bisexual leanings that I was and how badly I needed my man. I thought maybe if I slept with a man I would know for sure and it would be enough for her to finally leave me alone. So I did just that and it confirmed it for me. So I immediately told Janine exactly what I did hoping she’d understand and finally let me go, but not only did it not work she told me she realized she was transgendered and wanted to get a sex change operation and would I stay with her until she had the sexual reassignment surgery and then we could be a traditional couple which was what I said I needed. My God. I thought. She’ll never let me go. I mentioned in my last post that she threw a bicycle at me. That was her last act of violence towards me and the most obviously violent act. That was the turning point. As soon as the bike hit my legs my mind snapped. I knew things would go in only one direction. It was then that I finally called my parents and told them the truth about what was going on. They had suspected but had no idea how bad things had gotten. I was so desperate to legitimize this nightmare I went through a commitment ceremony with her. Somehow I thought this would make things better. The ceremony itself was beautiful. The truth behind it was tragic.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is for all of the women who have been through this. Who have made these same seemingly crazy choices. When you are in an abusive relationship you forget who you were before your abuser began filling your mind with negativity. Before your abuser began stealing your independence of mind. You forget you once stood on your own two feet. You forget you were noble, beautiful and worthy of love all in your own right. I was so paralyzed by my own victimization that after leaving her I tried to go back to her. I thought I could not live without her. I had forgotten how. Thank God she only wanted to sleep with me. Thank God I was only temporarily under the delusion I needed to keep being abused. Thank God she found someone else to debase. I was forced to heal and heal I did. Day by day. Week by week. Month by Month. A Year passed. Then a miracle. I was working, going to school, running several days a week and I started to fall in love with my life. I started to fall in love with myself. I was staying with my parents when I had my sons, with a girlfriend I had known since we were nine years old so basically my sister when my boys were with Ian and I was having fun. Living the life I never got to live in my twenties. It was one particularly beautiful day and I was running along the coastal trail and I decided to message a guy I worked with at a television station as an intern. KTVA. His name was Nick. And he became my husband.

Of course there’s MUCH more to that story, but the most important part is that he also helped me heal. The parts of me I didn’t realize were still broken. Anyways, before we had gotten married, when our daughter was almost a year old. I invited my ex-husband over to the house to help the boys with their homework. It was a landmark moment. I reached across the divide that was our fighting and extended an olive branch. That was the beginning of what can only be described as a miracle. Now his new wife is my sister and he is my brother. I’ll be taking my daughter to stay with them next summer so I can spend time with my sons and Jaden can work a summer job. If you consider where we began, and where we are now it’s almost unbelievable. This entire story deserves its own post but I’ll at least say, it’s due in no small part to my husband and his wife. Nick and Nicole.

I’ll end this post by saying it doesn’t matter how lonely, crazy, stupid or hopeless you think your situation is you are not alone. Someone else is going through the very same thing. Listen to your friends when they tell you to get out. Let them help you…and above all, love yourself. My daughter may be living in one of the whitest, typical, homogenous cities in America but her family is anything but white, typical or homogenous. Of this I am proud.

Queen

I looked for you in the darkest of places
Where the people had the whitest of faces
Your hands were in the dirt
Your back was bent
I couldn’t see you clearly
But you smelled like victory
You didn’t notice me
I thought
But in truth I stopped your heart
A year later we were running from the grotesque, swords in our hands
Dripping animal blood
Our daughter ferocious asking when can we stop and fight
When can we destroy them?
Soon love. Soon.
I could see their hulking beast-like shoulders just over the hill and above them the white faces of their soulless guides
I suddenly saw heaven:
The entire world was in your pale blue eyes
The warmth of your Scottish beard
Against my cheek reminded me of grace
Our hands tightly wound. My dark one with your light one.
Our middling princess with her fire hair and all the power of heaven and earth at her feet.
I found the last white man who was not a ghost.
And you gave me back my royalty.

Kimkoa 2018

 

Leaving Him, Leaving Her, Finding Me.

I don’t think I stopped holding my breath until I saw their beautiful welcoming house reminding me I was still myself. That yes this was a nightmare but it was one I could wake up from. One I could escape from. 

I remember the day I told Ian I was leaving him. He begged and pleaded with me not to go. He said he’d buy me house. Was it a house I wanted? I almost laughed.   “A house? Are you serious? You had eight years to get us out of this bug infested trailer that is crawling with mice and smelling of shit! Eight years to treat me like a human being you loved as opposed to an inconvenience. Eight fucking years to give a shit about my dreams, my sacrifices. What have you ever done but act like the world’s biggest child? What kind of a man makes his wife chip ice at nine months pregnant so she doesn’t go sliding down the steps in a painful, dangerous heap? What kind of man leaves cords and wires snaking through the hallway and living room and instruments all over the floor for his pregnant wife to trip over? For his toddler son to chew on? What kind of stupid selfish man builds a wall out of manure in the kitchen so he can record HIS music. Not a man at all. A child. A selfish, immature, spoiled child who was indulged, spoiled and catered to by his mother!”

“I can change, things can change!” He was desperate.

“Ian it’s too late. I’m done. I’m done with this whole ridiculous farce. How dare you tell me you’re only married to me for the children! How dare you leave me night after night in this shithole to go play pretend with your brothers like the world’s greatest older brother as though you never left and had kids! I’m sick of your childish bullshit and I can’t take it anymore!”

“I heard what you told Rita. I heard everything! It’s HER fault all of this is happening!”

“No Ian, it’s your own damn fault. You have no one to blame but yourself. You cannot treat your wife like a piece of garbage and expect her to stick around and start to smell. I’m better than this, I’ve been better than this for a long time. I gave you eight years to grow up and you refuse to. So I’m leaving you and there isn’t anything you can do about it.”

“I refuse to be the first one in family to get divorced!” He had stood up by then and crossed his arms.

“Oh really? I didn’t know it was up to you.” I said this and walked out the door.

Of course what I didn’t realize then was that I was escaping. I hadn’t found new love, on the contrary. I found what I thought was a way out. A way out of the cult, a way out of Ian’s crazy family, a way out of feeling like a piece a garbage left out in the street to rot. But it wasn’t love. It wasn’t even lust. It was a haven for at least a little while. I thought I’d found a friend. And I had. For at least a little while.

I remember the first time I met Janine. There were no fireworks. No indications of what was to come. It was simply a hangout with my friend Rita as was the second time we met. The third time however we decided it would be fun to drink whiskey. After that all bets were off. One drunken kiss and I knew I could never go back to my old life. First of all I’m not any good at clandestine behavior. Secondly It would have felt seriously wrong to have continued in my marriage without telling Ian bluntly what had happened and that it was a catalyst but only a catalyst. The change was already on the horizon. I needed my own life. I needed to make my own mistakes even if they were big ones. I needed my freedom. The fact that Janine was a girl seemed unimportant to me, she was much more of a man than Ian in both looks and attitude. At that time she was what I needed. I told her it might be an entire year before we could become a couple. She said she was willing to wait. I found that charming in an old world kind of way. In the early days she was the easy part. Leaving Ian proved to be a complete and utter nightmare. He had stored up inside of himself all of the petty vicious rage of his entire life and directed it at me. It was like a gust of hatred set to blow me across the globe. Just before the hate-wind he had a few last ditch efforts to try and “win me back.” As if you could win someone back who treated you like a hated sibling instead of a wife. He would literally take the bed sheets and blankets and wrap them around himself and then hold his arms down so I would be forced to hunt for another blanket rather than fight with him. It was that kind of immature behavior I could no longer stomach. That and his relentless teasing. He teased me until I cried on so many occasions. Unforgivable.

Anyways one of his bright ideas to get closer to me and understand me was to watch the movie Brokeback Mountain and hold hands. I found the movie depressing and nothing I could at all relate to. He just cried and sweated into my hand. I felt like throwing up. Another attempt was to take me before his uncle and his cousin who used to be one of my best friends and have them try to convince me I was making a mistake by quoting the writings at me. Yes I sat in their kitchen while the man I’d known my entire life told me I was mentally handicapped for being bisexual and that homosexuality is like alcoholism but can be overcome with prayer. Gee thanks uncle Gary for calling me retarded. Gee thanks Lindsay for agreeing with him. Ian I hate your guts even more get me the fuck out of here. 

I ended up moving out to my parents’ house in the valley which coincidentally is where I live now. My sons love this house, it was their haven in the turmoil. Ian would call me on the phone, cursing and spitting like a lunatic screaming at me that I was a home wrecker.  “Do you know where your soul is?!!” I would just hang up the phone. He would call when the kids were with him, when he knew I would be with Janine. Sometimes I’d just give her the phone and let her deal with him. I don’t like conflict, never have.

I wanted to keep things easy, to work things out without lawyers or fighting or a ton of money spent but Ian made that impossible. He locked all my things up and refused to give them to me. Some things I still haven’t gotten back which I attribute to his less than sane and endlessly competitive second wife. He never wanted me to have the kids as if somehow I had suddenly turned into a bumbling idiot unable to care for my children any longer. He was constantly harassing me, every time there was a transition he had more terrible things to say. Jaden who was four at the time would tell me “Daddy says you’re a home wrecker. What’s a home wrecker?” I would just scoop him up and tell him it’s a grown up word and best left to the grown-ups. The hardest part of that time was not lashing out at Ian in front of the kids. But I knew it would come back to haunt me. Their teenage years proved to be MUCH harder in that respect. Teenagers are in your business and they rarely let you off the hook for anything and will drive you to the end of your willpower. Sometimes the truth just falls out and not necessarily in the best way. But when those boys were little my stock answer when they came to me with their father’s obvious hatred of me was I’m sorry he said that sometimes people feel upset and they say things out of anger. I’m sure when he’s not so upset he feels differently and that type of thing.

After the divorce was long past and we had established week on week off custody Ian remarried. Unfortunately for all of us she was a sick and manipulative woman. I of course had no idea how sick and manipulative she was until they separated and it all came out. I’ll give you one example. The Monday box. The boys transitioned to my house on Mondays. Apparently she had them put all their too small clothes and clothes with holes in them into this box. And then sent them to school in them, knowing I would throw them away and replace them. Who uses a child like that?!! That was just one of her many tricks.

I of course was going through my own hell by this time. What I didn’t know at the beginning but soon found out was Janine wasn’t entirely sane herself. She confided to me she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This is no small thing and I lived it. There is book written about living with someone who has this disorder called Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason MS & Randi Kreger. That book became my bible. According to the Mayo Clinic symptoms include “emotional-instability, feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity and impaired social relationships.” The behaviors may include “antisocial behavior, compulsive behavior, hostility, impulsivity, irritability, risk-taking behaviors, self-destructive behavior, self-harm, social isolation, or lack of restraint.” The mood of someone with this disorder swings from “anger, anxiety, discontent, guilt, sadness, loneliness and general massive mood swings.” The individual may also experience “depression, distorted self image, grandiosity, and/or narcissism. Thoughts of suicide are common.”

I can say that is an avid and accurate depiction of someone with borderline personality disorder. What they do is entice you with seemingly loving and healthy behavior. To them you can do no wrong, they put you on a pedestal and will do almost anything to make you believe you are safe with them, that you can be happy with them. Then slowly they indoctrinate you into a system of fear and control until you no longer trust your own instincts and rarely does someone extricate themselves because the borderline excels at manipulation. Janine was crafty. She could absolutely control her behavior, she never let the kids see it until the end, when she realized she was losing her hold on me. Some of the things she would do to me: isolating me from my friends. Cutting up my clothes with scissors. Punching holes in the wall. Punching the wall next to my head. Peeing in bottles and leaving them in my car. Cutting herself with knives and razors. Raging through the apartment destroying things while I hid in the locked bathroom with a shaking dog. Throwing a bicycle at me while I sat on the couch. Throwing cans of soup so hard at the front door they stuck in the door and the dog ran away. Throwing herself on the ground kicking and screaming while we were walking the dog so I walked away and when she finally realized I wasn’t falling for that toddler-like behavior coming home and accusing me of being heartless. Scratching her face up with her own fingernails. Throwing fits at my work, lurking around scaring my coworkers. Etc, etc, etc…the list goes on and on and on.

I tried to leave her once and poor Jaden who knew nothing of what was going on and only wanted stability begged me not to so I stayed hoping things would things get better and instead they got worse. She started to rage while the boys were there. I took to sleeping on the floor of my sons room when she attacked me. She was quite simply a terrifying person. By the time I knew I had to leave I was so broken down I needed help. She had erected a tent in the middle of the living room with a padlock on it and I had no idea what was inside. I thought about the stories she told me about how she was part of the black block and snuck illegally into Canada as part of a protest movement. I remembered how she lived in a tent in the woods alone for over a year. I remembered her obsession with serial killers, how as a teenager she painted her walls black and plastered their pictures all over her black walls. I remember her telling me she would walk the city streets with a german shepherd and a baseball bat. Shortly after she set up the tent she took bright blue duct tape and wrote the words BE HAPPY in crooked letters. I knew it was now or never. She’d never let me go. I rented a U-Haul, and two friends helped me throw my stuff in it overnight as fast as we could while she was working a double and we drove it out to my parents’ house in the valley. It was the most terrifying thing I ever had to do in my life. I don’t think I stopped holding my breath until I saw their beautiful welcoming house reminding me I was still myself. That yes this was a nightmare but it was one I could wake up from. One I could escape from.

I don’t like to think about what could have happened to me, to my children had I not literally run for my life. There is so much more to tell, about dealing with Ian’s second wife, about learning to truly be a single mother and navigate the horrors of public assistance. About finding myself amongst the rubble of my ruined relationships. About learning how to relish in my sons, my independence and my own inner strength I never even knew I had until it was put to the test. I have a long and adventurous tale to tell but for now I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom.

You never know how strong you are, until you overcome your greatest failure. Which really is just a stepping stone to success.

Blessings