3/24/2023 0 Comments
An Obituary For the Living: A Letter to My Mother and All the Black Women & Girls Society Forgot
I’ve started this letter a thousand times and still the words escape me. I saw a video of a brother who wrote a poem for his father, it was relatable. I considered doing the same, working through the disconnect while making peace with the shattered pieces of who we are, and of who we could have been. As I sit and look over those late-night scribbles, they reflect the heart of a broken little girl who wanted to be held and nurtured. I won’t say that little girl is dead and gone, she’s not, but she’s learned to hold her own heart with the tenderness the world refused to show her. I’ve ridden the waves of trauma that come with being a Black girl, a Black woman, in a world that seeks to destroy us the moment we take our first breaths. I wish you had been there to lift me up when the world assaulted me physically, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually… the tears I’ve cried have always felt like little prayers, begging for anyone to hear and hold me close.
In the dark silence, I’ve learned no one comes when we cry out. I wish you had told me there would be no one to build me up and that the world would take every opportunity to tear me down. I wish you had provided me a tether to hold onto when I’m drowning under the weight of all this life requires of Black women. But, if I’m honest, we’re in this mess because no one told you either that our vessels are more like prisons in a world hellbent on our destruction. Who and what ground you down until there was nothing left? I wish I knew. I wish I could fix all that we’ve endured. To sew up our wounds with the ease I patch up a tattered blanket, but we can’t be patched as easily. The tears run deep, weaving into each generation and screaming to be rectified.
Life has taught me in your absence that there is no going back, there is only the painful motion of forward with the wounds bleeding like breadcrumbs to a past we can’t fix. If the world had told us we mattered and meant it would you have been able to battle your demons and love me the way I needed? Would those demons have even existed? Even in this moment all of this sounds like selfish cries from a lost little girl. I know these answers. Our trauma exists because to the world we were consumable and disposable. I wish I could tell you it’s changed, but it hasn’t. My heart is traced with stress lines from the fight to exist in this body freely and safely. I draw lines in the sand and people tell me those are walls.
I call them safety.
Did you ever feel safe? I remember the first time I truly felt safe. It was last year. Yeah, I know I’m almost 40 but time is funny in this body. I broke down on my bedroom floor and felt like the fight was over. They expect us to carry the world on our shoulders and smile through the death and destruction they unleash. I was tired of smiling when I wanted to cry and scream. My husband came in and kneeled in front of me, he spoke not a word but wrapped his arms tight around me and I wept from a place I didn’t even know existed. I clawed at his clothing. I screamed. I ached. The pain we’re expected to carry like crosses upon our backs is fucking unbearable. As I released decades of abuse the fog started to clear. It’s easy to blame ourselves when the trauma compounds, but nestled under the trauma was a light screaming for air. That was the first night in my life I slept without a nightlight… The first night I knew I didn’t need to fear the darkness, it needed to fear me.
I’ve been tending to that flame since. It’s been difficult, they really don’t want us to survive out here. I want more than survival for us, I want us to thrive. The world tried to blow out both our flames. I’m sorry no one sees the way they’ve tried to snuff out yours. I understand now that your rage and violence are the mechanisms you’ve developed to survive in a world that doesn’t want you to survive. They demonize us for the very skills they force us to develop to endure the violence they casually unleash on us daily. I understand you couldn’t protect me, it was work enough to protect yourself, the world fractured us and there was only so much you could do.
You deserved better. We both deserved better. All Black girls and women deserve better.
We deserve a world that values us.
A world that sees our pain and changes.
A world that lifts us up instead of tearing us down.
I can’t undo what’s been done, but I promise to do everything in my power to nurture my flame so it burns as a beacon to others so together we can burn down this world and build a world deserving of the magic we possess.
Until then, may this letter be a spark, and may you know peace one day.
All my love,
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
3/12/2023 0 Comments
Seasons of Life
With age, certain things become easier to see, like the way our lives move in seasons. Those moments when there are overarching themes and it’s our duty to recognize them and dissect what it is they are trying to tell us about ourselves, our lives, and how they are calling on us to determine where it is we want to be when that season is over. For the past year, I’ve been battling a suffocating bout of depression. If I’m truly honest about it, it's been creeping up for a good while now and I’ve tried my best to manage it while still weeding through the triggers that were setting it off. I’ve struggled with admitting the root cause because then I would be sitting in this season of my life and reevaluating where I saw myself in the future; I wasn’t ready to do that. The root cause or theme for this season has grown increasingly loud and I can no longer ignore it if I wish to thrive in future seasons.
My proximity to whiteness is killing me in both a literal and metaphorical sense. My proximity was manageable when I was single. I could build walls around the areas of my life where I wanted peace and keep those who were trying to get good white people stickers in strategically placed zones. I did the work I felt called to do and moved my energy when they crossed boundaries. I still experienced hurt, those gut-wrenching and soul-crushing moments when folks you have put your faith into show you that they are still 110% invested in whiteness didn’t stop, they merely became manageable. Recovery was easier because I had it all contained. I had places of refuge from the onslaught of inhumanity I experienced. Then I remarried and said I do to a white man and to a job position in a predominately white faith that had already shown me some yellow and red flags, but I made a leap of faith that ushered in years of trauma. I find past me apologizing to present me a lot. I thought those yellow and red flags were fixable, and I thought this interracial marriage would be different from my first one. I walked with faith and not facts, and time and time again my heart has paid the price for my faith.
It started off small, as it always does. In my marriage, it was comments and derogatory language by his friends and family that I would ask him to address and instead of jumping at the opportunity to show me my humanity was a priority to him he would become combative and demand that I consider how uncomfortable it would be for him to have to confront those people. He had known them for years. I was asking too much.
In my job, while I was fighting for my humanity at home, I was debating with my supervisor, a white man in his late 50s, on the best course of action for discussing racial justice. He didn’t want to make the white children and parents uncomfortable or have to deal with any potentially racially insensitive moments happening. He drove this point home by saying “what if some kid says at home we use the n-word and my dad says that’s fine”, except he didn’t say “the n-word” he said the word! The N- word. With the hard motherfucking r. He stared at me, and I stared at him and all I could get out was “I don’t even let my children use that word.” Then, I left for the day and called my spouse who had no real comfort to provide and somehow managed to make the whole moment even worse. So I reached out to friends who could hold space for me while I worked on drafting an email that stated what happened and how things would be going forward in regards to the professional relationship between my supervisor and me.
Small churches don’t have HR departments and the minister had already made it clear she wasn’t thrilled that I was given the job, so I was effectively swimming in shark-invested waters alone. When I finally started to test the waters and shared that a racist moment had happened -without going into details- I was asked “who did you tell” not “how are you”.
I wiped my tears and kept my head up, but my sanctuaries were eroding. There were no longer spaces for me to lay down my load and breathe. For the next four years, I went from one trauma experience to the next, all while navigating raising children, trying to build some sort of career, and moving through a pandemic that still isn’t over even though everyone else is over it.
I did my best to push all the hurt down. Every fight for my humanity, for my people’s humanity, chipped away at the walls I had built to keep my mind and heart safe. Every time I had to say this is what your family, your friends, or you have said to me, this is why it’s harmful, please correct it, and was met with an opponent instead of an ally, my wall crumbled a bit more. Every time I said this is how I and/or my children feel excluded by this activity because have a conservation about it and was met with resistance, the cracks from the years of abuse I had endured in other seasons of my life got deeper.
Every meeting or discussion where I pointed out an issue in the church and then was dismissed until someone white regurgitated what I said, took a sledgehammer to the layers of my walls that were clingy desperately to each other. Every meeting or class where a white person said I was angry or “acting out of character” was like chucking grenades at the walls that no longer had anyone left to defend them. My armor was gone. I no longer had spaces for renewal with the pandemic putting literal barriers between those who held space for me and myself. I wiped the tears and tried to keep up the good fight.
These issues were fixable, I told myself over and over again. White people can be moved and for some reason, the universe has put me in this body, in these spaces, at this time and it must be to help these people move to a better place. I chose my tone and my words meticulously in each interaction. I took my yellow brick road and covered it with eggshells in hopes that it would help me tread carefully. With each step, I erased my own humanity but I wouldn’t allow myself to see it until a stack of beautiful glass and crystal literally landed at my feet.
It started on a Monday afternoon, I had already spent the morning running errands and taking a small human to an appointment. I had items I needed to prep for that evening and I was on a tight but doable schedule. And then I glanced at the top of my fridge and thought “I’ve told them countless times to not stack those like that or they’ll fall. I’ll deal with it in a moment.”; as that last thought left my mind the platters shifted and tumbled off the fridge. I tried to catch them and watched helplessly as they eluded my grip and crashed onto the floor.
As I looked upon the broken glass all I could think about was the way each platter represented every cross I was bearing, every single day, and how often I felt voiceless. And I was angry about all of it. So fucking angry. I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to give my children a safe and loving home. I wanted peace. And in those pursuits, I put my peace to the side and there it sat on my kitchen floor, broken into a million fucking little pieces waiting for me to clean it up. I sat in my shower that evening crying trying to push the voice down that was screaming to be heard. After 30 years with my shadow mistress, I know she only screams when I’m being stubborn and ignoring the red flags my trauma has taught me to see clearly.
There was a theme for this season of my life and acknowledging it hurt in a way I couldn’t put into words, only my tears could spell it out as they mixed with the hot water. I’d given whiteness too much access to my mind, body, heart, and soul. And whiteness did with that access what it does with everything, it ravaged me and left me battered and broken, like the fragile glass that had littered my kitchen floor that afternoon.
I stopped ignoring the voice and leaned into what it was saying, run or die there is no staying. I calculated the logistics of death and realized I didn’t want that. I want to wake up every morning. I want to love on my children until I’m old and gray. And I want to continue to make the world a better place, but it needs to be in a way that affirms my humanity. Doing so means walking away from the people and spaces that I had once committed myself to. I left the church job almost a year ago and haven’t secured anything in that realm since, aside from some freelance projects. I do my best to honor red flags, raise awareness of the red flag, and then cease contact. As I sat in my shower, I had to ask myself if the few commitments I had in that faith were worth the investment of seeing them through before completely walking away. I told myself they were because they were a small step in a larger plan that I can’t quite see right now and that’s ok. I’ll finish my last projects this summer and the relief that provides me is invigorating. I’m on the right track. I feel it in the depth of my being.
Then I had to have a real conversation with myself about my romantic relationship. Things had improved, slowly and painfully from the day we had said I do, but they still weren’t where they needed to be.
There’s a beautiful song by Priscilla Renea called Let’s Build a House, in it she says:
“You on the edge, me on the ledge
Clinging to you, driving a wedge
Just tryna keep this thing floating
Let’s build a house, tear this one down
Might take a while but it’ll be ours
Let’s use the stones that everyone’s thrown
We need a sanctuary of our own”
I tried to weave those words into the gaps left by the pain that was inflicted. I had hoped they would be the glue needed to piece me back together so I could feel completely invested in the relationship; as the tears fell I found that those words created a false hope in my mind because, at the end of the day, I’ll never be able to fully trust that my humanity will be affirmed and protected by the people and institutions that have already shown that they would rather fight me than love me. Ultimately, I would have to rebuild the walls that whiteness tore down and for that season, those who caused harm would need to be on the outside of those walls and those who respected the distance and did self-reflection in the process may be granted entry in another season.
But that entry is not guaranteed.
I know that now. I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever allow any white person or institution to get that close to me again. Does this mean that my current marriage is over? No, it isn't. We have an understanding. The house, my essence, is being torn down and rebuilt so that it is once again mine and mine alone. I’m using every stone that has been thrown at me to shore up my foundation. Once the fortress is built there is no guarantee that he will be permitted a key. He was given the choice to leave or wait, understanding that I’m not guaranteeing anything other than my own peace, he has chosen to wait.
What does the next season hold? Only time will tell. But for now, I’m ready to finish sweeping up the broken glass of this season in my life and move on to the next lesson with my walls firmly intact.
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
2/22/2023 0 Comments
Gray Matter Revisited
Five years ago I sat in a hospital room gazing upon the body that brought me into this world as machines kept her alive. She eventually woke up and will spend the rest of her life in a nursing facility, a shell of the woman she use to be. As the wheel of life turns and I age, checking off preexisting conditions with each new year, I try to give myself some hope. “You’re not her” my doctor mutters over his notes, doing his best to reassure me that while we have the same conditions we aren’t living the same life. I can count on one hand the number of alcoholic beverages I’ve had in the past two months. I’ve never touched hard substances. I still mask in public spaces, and around those outside of my vetted bubble of trust. I don’t overindulge, I exercise regularly, and I operate from a place of love, compassion, and an occasional ass-kicking. I take my medications every morning, attend every appointment, and see every specialist I’m instructed to see.
I do my best to do everything right to combat genetics and the stress of systemic misogynoir, and yet at night when the house is quiet and I’m left to my own thoughts dread fills my spirit as my memories drift to her. The fear that encompassed every fiber of my being as I grappled with estrangement and my own mortality still lingers five years later.
I sometimes wonder if the fear is merely guilt. I’ve spent my adult life doing my best to prove I wasn’t her. I wouldn’t abandon my kids, I would fight my demons and win, and the demons wouldn’t steal the moments that make life worth living from me. When my brother and I arrived five years ago at the place she called home, a transitional apartment complex, those in charge weren’t even aware she had children. Nothing in her records indicated that she once lived in the south where she walked her children to a small pier and told them stories about Medusa, or sold Avon and let us lick the bowl after making brownies. No one knew about the butter on the walls from thrown dinner rolls, or the specially named belt that left welts covered by stockings with little hearts.
No one knew anything.
That decade of life didn’t exist for anyone but us. I tried my best to soothe my inner child while reminding the adult me that I’m not her therefore I can’t end up like her. As I packed up various bits and pieces that were her life and saw pictures I never knew existed, a life lived without us, I did my best to breathe through the rage, sadness, and fear.
Death is the great equalizer and always does his best to remind us to stay humble, and even after he packed his bags and left us in limbo I struggled to unpack my baggage.
“You’re not her” I whisper into the wind every chance I get, hoping it will echo back and appease the anxiety that grows with each passing year. At the beginning of this year, one of her sisters reached out to me and asked if I would write to my mother. She thinks it would be good for her to hear from me. But what does one say to the person who left the hole that depression nestled into? What do I tell her?
She missed 28 years of my life. There’s a lot I could say.
Births I could recall, the strength I pulled from a place I didn’t even know existed inside of me. Parenting moments that challenged me to rise above my own abusive childhood to create a home where my children felt safe and secure. I have failed, god have I failed, countless times at being a decent human being and I still get up the next day and try again. I could recount each failure and the lessons learned. I’m stubborn like her, but I have compassion that neither of my parents ever showed me. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine hellbent on making the world a better place before I take my final breath. I could tell her all the ways I’m not her, I could show her who I am, and I could tell her that with every choice I make I still can’t shake the fear that my path will still end in a hospital bed, in a dark room, alone.
Those who love me will assure me that my fear is unfounded. Even if I experienced the same medical emergency she did I wouldn’t be alone when it happened. I would be rushed to the hospital, I would have people fighting to ensure I got the best care possible, and when I finally opened my eyes I would be surrounded by the living embodiment of all the love I’ve tried my hardest to put into the world.
I’m not her and yet as I stand at another crossroads, to either reintroduce myself or to continue pretending that we’re just people we use to know, I find myself questioning the decision I made over 20 years ago to go no contact. I know where she is now and I can contact her whenever I want, that’s all I wanted when I was younger to the point that I would cry myself to sleep from longing. Now I have it, I have what my heart ached for and I don’t know what to do with it. Instead, I’m left wondering if true healing is in forgiveness granted on my own terms.
Does a simple letter have the power to grant us both peace? Only time will tell, but I’ll never know if I don’t at least give myself the opportunity to say what my heart never got the chance to speak all those years ago.
Nothing is final until the curtain closes and the coffin is lowered into the ground. Until there is always an opportunity to write a new version of your story. Here’s to a new story.
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
5/1/2019 2 Comments
Oops I Did It Again...
Second weddings are strange. From debating on if you can wear white, obviously, the virginal jig is up when you’re walking down the aisle with three kids. To who gets an invite, it’s a no on your ex folks. It can be overwhelming. Factor in the immense anxiety that accompanies remarriage and you’ll feel like you’re drowning in a sea of bullshit instead of a comfortable bottle of wine.
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
4/25/2019 0 Comments
Lemonade. An album that became a cultural phenomenon and changed the game. I’m not a music blogger, so this won’t be a dissection of an album that dropped three years ago. Instead, it will be a reflection on the way the meaning of songs can change as we move through the various stages of our lives.
Three years ago, Lemonade filled the recesses of my mind with empowering lyrics I needed to hear. From the raw pain of “Hold Up” to the give no fucks boss bitch anthems of “Sorry” and “6 Inch”, I had words to scream when I failed to find the courage to speak. I cried into bottles of Jack and Captain Morgan while listening to “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles”. Most of all, I found hope in “All Night”.
That was three years ago.
Today, with all the clarity and wounds of the past three years, I see Lemonade differently. It is still a stunning piece of work on the emotional weight that comes with pouring yourself into another human being and being left with nothing in return but heartache. Now, though, the songs seem less like declarations to the source of one’s pain and more like letters to oneself urging the tortured to turn their pain into something glorious.
I no longer see “All Night” with the rose-colored glasses of hope. I no longer blast it crying out for a love that seemed to elude me. This change, though, has nothing to do with my current relationship status. Over the last three years I had to find the courage to love myself wholly in all my brokenness. I had to learn to give up the fantasies I was sold from a young age about love and family. Instead, taking time to carve out what those things meant for me in the remnants of my soul.
I had to find the truth beneath the lies I was told and discover the truest love of all was the love I had for myself. As bitter as they may have been to accept and grow from, I had to learn to see my own scars and kiss my own crimes. I learned to trust myself and not fall victim to the people who wanted to consume me but never fully see me.
True love is a remedy for an aching heart and is absolutely the best weapon against pain. But life has shown me that it’s foolish to seek that remedy in another. We must arm ourselves with an unwavering passion for who we are, the good, bad, and downright ugly; if we ever want to make headway on the road of healing from that which tortures us.
It’s not an easy road to travel. So, remember to offer yourself the sweet love you deserve. Life’s too short to spend it forgetting to love the one person you’re guaranteed to be with forever.
Copyright(c) 2019 Rayven Holmes
4/19/2019 0 Comments
Ask The Smiths
We love our holidays and celebrate them with wild abandon. Each has traditions that have been tweaked and fine tuned over the years. New Year’s Eve is no exception. On New Year’s Eve, as part of our annual countdown to midnight, we do end of the year interviews. For the past six years, I’ve pulled out a list of questions and placed each of the Bringers of Mayhem in front of our Christmas tree. It is one of our traditions I look forward to the most each year. As they have developed as individuals their answers have morphed from simple words into eloquent thoughts. Watching this change happen every year has been immensely enjoyable. In accordance with my “if I want you to do it I’ll do it too” parenting style I would also position myself in front of the camera. I didn’t put much emphasis on the way my answers changed. This past New Year’s Eve my sister had a request that The Bearded One and I answer some couples questions. While this may seem like an adorable request to make of a newlywed couple he and I weren’t feeling the newlywed love vibes.
Our first holiday season as married partners attempting to blend our two worlds was a series of train wrecks. Factor in holiday financial stressors and we weren’t feeling anything but frustration. My sister knew this. My sister is one of my closest friends and my rock. She also firmly believes that 90% of relationship problems can be solved when you remember why you’re building your life with that person. The other 10%? Well that’s what divorce lawyers are for. I won’t say she’s right, because she already knows she is.
So on New Year’s Eve, The Bearded One and I sat next to each other, engulfed in our strife, and answered questions while my sister live streamed it on Facebook. By the end, we were laughing and she was asserting we are a strange couple. We are. But sis, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wandering around the woods at night as long as you’re prepared! Did the Q&A solve all our problems? Absolutely not. That’s what therapists are for. But, working on your shit should be fun sometimes and answering random questions about our life together was fun. Later that evening a few friends shared they would love to see us answer questions again. We figured why not, but the questions would have to come from others. The decision on when it happened was tossed into my court to figure out. After some thought, and seeing how busy our life is, I settled on twice a year. May and December. Yeah, next month. Surprise!
Here’s how this will work, on May 10th at 9pm we’ll go live on the Malice in Wonderland Facebook page. Questions are due by noon on the 10th. Either comment them below, send them through a Facebook message, or text me if we’re cool like that. We’ll hang out for about fifteen minutes on Facebook. If we make it through the questions sent in then we may take some during the live feed but do NOT bank on this. If there is something you want to know, and there is literally no limit to what you are allowed to ask, then send it in by NOON on the 10th!
I’ll post the aftermath either on here or YouTube or both. Who knows. Like with my life, I’m making this shit up as I go and calling it a plan when it all comes together.
If you got questions, get to asking!
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
11/2/2016 1 Comment
How Do You Do It All?
“You have three kids?!” The question falls out of the mouth of an acquaintance and rings out across the table of a crowded bar. “How do you have time to hang out?!” It’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with. Even when I was “happily” married, people often inquired about how I managed to do anything with three kids. Since my divorce came with sole custody of my children, the question comes more frequently.
I respond now, as I did pre-divorce, with a simple shrug and a joke or two about never sleeping. The reality is that I don’t do it all. My life happens, just as it always had, because I prioritize what’s important to me versus what I or my family wants or needs. How do I have time to run? How do I have time to see friends? Teach my kids? Work? Brush my teeth? Sleep? Get laid? I prioritize what I can do, accept that which I can’t do, and buy stock in Energizer.
Truth be told, we can’t do it all. None of us. “Doing it all” is a lie sold to us to keep us too busy to enjoy this one little life we have. We’re inundated with planners, Pinterest organization ideas, and books about creating a 25th hour in our day. While some of it can be useful, and I utilize a number of tips and tricks to make the most of my time, at the end of my day I still only had 24 hours to use. Those 24 hours are precious. They are little lives inside our minuscule existence. So, what do I do with my 24 hours to give the illusion of “doing it all”?
I trade doing the dishes for a pizza and beer with friends. Sure, I could put having an immaculate house over my friends but, when I’m on my deathbed those dishes won’t mean shit to me. The relationships I have and maintain will, though. Why should I put dishes before connecting with friends in person?
I swap teaching time for meetings and arrange meetings around appointments. School can happen at any time of the day, it’s one of the perks of homeschooling, most businesses operate during traditional business hours. I acknowledge that and adjust our schedule accordingly when needed.
My grass hasn’t been cut in two weeks. It’s not a priority and eventually the autumn leaves will overtake my yard and after the boys and I have shared a fun day of rolling in the piles I’ll care because who the hell wants to bag all that shit up?
I plan weekly runs and refuse to do anything else during that time that isn’t crucial to the health and well-being of my family because my health and well-being are important too.
I delegate chores to my children. I can’t afford to have someone come in and clean my home, cut my grass, or run my errands. But I have three healthy kids who can pick up after themselves, make meals, scrub a toilet, and put the groceries away when I get home from the store. It builds character, plus my pee goes in the toilet bowl so why should I scrub that crude on the bottom?
I’m constantly negotiating with Me, Myself, and I. We’re always having discussions about what’s important and why. There are plenty of people who would, and do, tell me I don’t prioritize properly. In their opinion, the clothes should be folded, my car should be clean, and every single deadline I have should be met ahead of schedule before I plop my ass on the couch and binge watch Netflix while plowing through my kids’ Halloween candy. I wager there are plenty of people in your life who will have something to say about the way you prioritize your 24 hours.
To those people, I say Fuck You!
Yes, a big giant fuck you. Why? Because our 24 hours belong to us and we are free to make of them what we wish. Ask yourself, are my kids fed and cared for to the best of my ability? Are my bills paid? Do I still have a job? If the answer is yes, who the hell cares if you put the dishes off one more night? No, your house won’t be picture perfect, you won’t always get to say yes to that night out with friends, or that second bedtime story but, you’ll be sane and connected to yourself and those who matter most which is far more fucking important than a spotless kitchen.
As someone who has danced with the depression devil her whole life, I’m far more interested in doing what I need to feel human over “doing it all” to appear superhuman to people whose opinions don’t matter in the long run. “All” is an unrealistic goal that no one human can reach on their own. And who of us has the funds for the team of people needed to do it all and do it well? No damn body I know. So say fuck it, prioritize your life based on what you and your family need and in the immortal words of Elsa when it comes to everything else “Let it go”.
Let that shit go.
3/27/2016 1 Comment
Beauty, Pain, and a Movie Reel
It all started with a halfhearted promise. “I’ll make things better,” he said while kneeling in the muddy field. He loved me I told myself. He got a ring, he promised things would be better once we were married, so surely he loved me. Over the next eight months I inquired about wedding details, “I don’t care about that stuff” he would mumble before rushing off the phone. On my 18th birthday, I moved in with him. This was the beginning of the rest of my life I told myself. A life full of fantastic adventures with my best friend, or so I believed.
Our first attempt to get married a few days later was deterred by the incorrect birth certificate on my part, because there is a big difference in a certificate of live birth and a birth certificate, apparently. I slunk home depressed in my pretty floral spring dress. He looked relieved and eager to get out of the khakis I had requested he wear because “It’s our wedding day we should look nice”. “It's a waste of time”, the words lingered in the knots of my hair I had spent an hour fighting with. He thought it looked a mess. But, I knew he loved me, so I simply needed to try harder next time.
When the proper certificate arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later I was thrilled, he was annoyed. “When do you want to go get married”, the words danced from my heart and oozed through my lips. “I don’t know”, he replied. I shook off his indifference. Another couple of weeks passed before we had a discussion about expectations. I had no desire to shack up for an undisclosed period of time and needed to know if he really wanted the same thing I did. Blame my Catholic conservative Christian upbringing. Blame personal standards. But after a month, you’re either buying the cow or getting your milk elsewhere because I refuse to play house. After some grumbling, he lamented that he did want to get married and we agreed on a Friday afternoon. He didn’t want to wear anything nice or take pictures. I granted his wish with the hope that we’d have a nice wedding one day. I spent that Friday on edge. My heart and stomach jumped, jived, and wailed with each tick of the clock. I had to remind myself to breath as the hours turned into minutes and those minutes into the moments that would define the rest of my life.
The judge who married us was buried in a sea of child support filings and petty crimes when we walked in. The defeat of his day shone on his face as I slid the marriage certificate onto his desk. Immediately, he became animated and leaped from his seat with the joy that only the creation of marriage and new life can illicit in humanity. He retrieved his crisp black robes from the nearby closet and announced our impending nuptials to the collection of depressed bodies that were waiting their turn to plead their various cases. Then the judge reached for his phone and attempted to contact a buddy of his who worked at the local paper. He had no luck. My groom squirmed in his seat at the thought of having someone from the newspaper present at our nuptials. Even a small wedding announcement had been out of the question. After hanging up the phone the judge asked if he could read a bible passage during our ceremony. Still being some version of Christian I had no problem with this but, I turned to my groom to ensure it was ok. He nodded in that dismissive way only someone who is indifferent can and the judge smiled as he opened his bible. Clearing his throat he asked us to rise, I jumped from my seat attempting to catch my heart as it leaped with excitement and turned to my groom. He was still seated.
My mind always slows this moment down. I’m sure it was less than a minute, but in my mind, it becomes an eternity. An eternity of chances to run. An eternity to dance through the reel of what actually became a 12-year marriage plagued with abuse, infidelity, and loneliness. An eternity to live again.
An eternity to see every player clearly. The judge with his confused and apprehensive glare. The groom’s parents exchange of knowing looks for they kept his secrets better than he did. The groom’s disdain as he willed himself from the seat and my wide-eyed naiveté. As the reel plays in my mind, I always freeze this moment and stare at the child giving away her youth to someone who didn’t want to stand next to her. I look through the eyes of a woman at the life of a girl who simply wanted to know she was loved, and I know she never was. The woman knows that which the girl can not. She knows of the lonely nights ahead of the girl, whose tears will stain every pillow she would ever own. She knows the pain of her husband’s hands pressing against her pregnant belly. She knows the way his words will hang heavy in her heart for a lifetime. She knows the way laughter sounds when she’s in pain. The woman can never save the girl.
No matter how many times I play this reel over in my mind, no matter how many times I reach for that young girl, no matter how many empty bottles I attempt to watch it through; I can never save the girl. She always stands there eagerly awaiting her groom. She always takes his hand. She always says her vows with sincerity and passion as her brown eyes bore into his hollow blue eyes seeking confirmation that his heart beats as fiercely for her and her’s does for him. She always signs her name. She always stays after he pushes in her stomach and gleefully declares that hopefully he killed their unborn child. She always runs interference and handles everything as to not upset him. She always fixes the holes and stops asking about the stories that don’t mesh up. She always makes sure the children believe they're loved by their father. She always makes excuses for his noninvolvement, for her tears, for the sadness that hides behind her brown eyes. She always stays. Until she becomes the woman who doesn’t. The woman with the movie reel in her mind and scars upon her heart.
Divorce is easy. You pay someone to file paperwork and fight with your spouse’s paid henchman/woman on your behalf. You sign some papers. Then a judge, worn and weary from a life dedicated to law, declares you free from the shackles wrapped tightly around your left finger.
Healing. Now, that’s the hard part. Accepting your part in the chapter that was your marriage is hard. Acknowledging your ex-partner for who they were and always will be is hard. Stitching the holes in your heart with the rusty needle you find in the pile of your belongings is hard. Getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other is hard. Smiling when you want to cry is hard. Living in spite of the pain is hard. Fighting your demons by yourself and realizing there are far worse things than being alone is excruciatingly fucking painful. The healing is hard and the tunnel to the light is long. But, there is beauty in the struggle. Even if we can’t always see it right away.
1/17/2016 0 Comments
Since it's a new year, for shits and giggles, I'm going to take some time to share 10 simple truths about myself. So buckle up, readers!
1. I love the word fuck. I use it every fucking chance I get. It’s a beautiful word. It’s linguistic magic.
Even my Facebook statuses reflect this love:
Yes… fucking and people were my top two words in 2015…
2. Fucking people annoy me. The results of this annoyance are either well-crafted blog posts or rants on my personal Facebook page *hence those being my most used words*. If you are hip to that whole Myers-Briggs thing, then it makes sense based on my personality. I’m inclined to think it has more to do with the level of stupidity in the world than my actual personality but, hey it’s kind of fun to know which Doctor Who character you are.
3. Of all the fucking people that annoy me, I annoy myself the most.
4. My inner circle is full of people whose mere existence brings me so much joy that I don’t even care they’re humans.
5. A debate over Prop 8 is what finally knocked me off my fence of doubt and into the field of godlessness. Even though I’ve been an out and proud heathen for 7 years I still listen to K-Love on occasion. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song Brother was one of my favorite songs from 2015. Seriously, Google it! It’s fucking fantastic! Better yet, enjoy:
6. I was offered a scholarship to Mars Hill College to study Youth Leadership (youth ministry). I had lofty ideas about what young people should learn about love and acceptance. I still have those ideas, minus the Christianity.
7. Losing my religion was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Losing the top spot to a 2009 pregnancy lose and the ending of my marriage last year.
8. I never planned to homeschool my kids. We’ve been at it, officially, for eight years.
9. When it comes to parenting I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
10. I’m fairly certain my children are aware of this fact.
What are some of your truths? Do you have the adulting parenting thing figured out or faking it until you make it? Are you still dancing in tube socks to Bruce Springsteen? Tell me more, tell me more, right down there in the comments.
Cognitive Dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
“We have a term for that, it’s called cognitive dissonance”, the words excitedly leaped from my therapist's mouth. Some days, I believe people who work in mental health get more joy from being able to label a behavior, than those of us they are labeling get from finally having a term for our mental state. I sat there, digging my nails into the delicate Styrofoam cup rim, leaving evenly spaced indentations of anxiety behind. Cognitive dissonance. The words swirled in my mind as she went on. I’m familiar with the term, I’ve used it to explain unyielding and illogical religious beliefs. Surely, I'm immune from such a label, I thought. But I’m not. In at least one way, or another, we all fall victim to cognitive dissonance. For me, it’s been my marriage and the repeated belief that if I waited long enough, and loved hard enough, the man I married could and would change the hurtful behaviors he exhibited. In the process, I ignored my own harmful mental gymnastics.
When it came to religion, I could easily examine the inconsistencies and toss the breaks in logic into the wastebasket where they belonged. Eventually, leaving nothing but godlessness and unabashed skepticism. With love, oh love, it hasn’t been that easy. If there was a disconnect between words and actions, then I clearly wasn’t seeing it correctly. A belief supported by my spouse. I simply needed to look at everything differently. To be patient. To hold on. Give him time and trust. Always more time and trust. I could do this. To give superficial change, that quickly faded, more weight than years of peer-reviewed data. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” We rarely do, though. Why do we do this? Why do we allow our hearts to cloud our logic? How can we observe years of behavior, and at the mere notion of change, throw all our chips in and declare this time around it will be better?
This isn’t a post with answers. Because, frankly, I don't have any damn answers. So, if you’re waiting for that you’re going to be shit out of luck. I’m still tracing the rim of a Styrofoam cup attempting to make sense of this one life we’re given and fighting with the cognitive dissonance emotional attachments create.
I’ve spent months dissecting why I allow myself to distort things until they are easy to swallow. Instead of, accepting them for what they are and cutting the cord.
He says he’s never hit me. So, despite everything else, I should be happy. True, he’s never hit me. But, when did that become an acceptable bar to reach instead of an universally unacceptable behavior? And why is physical abuse the only recognized form of domestic violence? Do the words and actions that don’t leave physical scars not count? And if they don’t count, why do I have to do mental gymnastics to reason them away? If this is a person I can feel safe with and trust, why does simply typing this fill me with soul-crushing fear? I’m doing wrong by sharing the truth. Is love when the truth is an act of rebellion?
The emotional part of my mind says yes. It also wants to say people change. It wants to believe the fantasy.
You’re not seeing it clearly, Rayven. His words. Or are they mine? It’s hard to determine whose words they are. I can only determine that they suffocate me. They whisper in my mind, “you’re not perfect, how can you expect so much”, “calm down, you don’t see things how they really are”, “no, you’re just crazy”, “it’s not control, it’s concern”, “I love you”, “so much of this is your fault”, “you’ve brought this on yourself”, “just fix you, try more, bend more, give more, you don't do enough" "learn to take a joke", "I'm only kidding", "stop complaining this is the best you'll ever get”, "no one would want you anyways", "it's not settling, it's being smart", "don't be selfish", “don’t you see how it’s all your fault”. The words work to choke out the discrepancies. The discrepancies exist because of me, I deduce. This notion makes my mind an Olympic performer in mental gymnastics. Always in search of a reason for the unreasonable.
Therapy works to give the discrepancies the oxygen they need to breathe, so I can acknowledge them and move forward. But still, I sit rubbing the anxiety indentations in my cup, waiting for the oxygen to reach my lungs so I can finally breathe, too.
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Photos used under Creative Commons from slgckgc, Eskling, Tomasz Stasiuk