“I’m sorry. I have to end our commitment.”
I run these words over and over in my head lately. I can’t stop replaying them.
“It’s been a while since we last spoke.”
I looked at William at my kitchen table. The afternoon Irish sun blazed through the open window. From here I could see the gardens now flourishing. The morning glories were in full bloom. The shamrocks swayed in the breeze. I closed my eyes and inhaled deep, drawing in all the good. Slowly I exhaled, pushing away and releasing all the hate and hurt.
“It’s fitting that we’re here again.”
“It is,” I said.
“So what,” William asked. “Why me? Why here? Why again? Why now?”
“Ever the questions with you,” I said smiling.
He smiled back. “Always.”
With a glass of water, I settled down in a chair. The same chair where I had sat ages ago it seemed, spilling out everything as I had once lived it.
“So?” he asked.
“So?” I answered.
“You have something to say,” he said. His look said, ‘out with it.’
I breathed deep, closed my eyes, and focused.
“Focus,” I said. “It has been a long while since last we spoke.
“How is the therapy?”
“The therapy is…” I sighed taking in the frustration, welcoming it. I let it ebb and flow and waited for it to wash over me. “It isn’t what I need right now.”
“And what do you need?”
“They did. What was the diagnosis?”
“I don’t think it really matters anymore. Clearly I had PTSD—”
“Yes,” I said. “I don’t think I have it anymore.” I felt the angst slip into the air around me. “They said I had bipolar and Borderline Personality Dis…” My voice trailed off and I shook my head.
“It just doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Why doesn’t it?”
“Because a diagnosis is only a tool to help the therapist guide a patient onto the right path for healing.”
“And are you?”
I smiled and nodded. “Yes,” I said. “So very much.”
“They put me on meds. Something for the nightmares, anxiety, mood stabilizers, and depression.”
“Did it help?”
“Very much. It allowed me to tackle the big stuff without slipping back into suicide.”
It was a long 18 months, but I did it. I can feel anger and hate. Sad, joy, fear… I can feel it all and I can let it. That was the hardest part of all. Awakening the anger. Releasing each emotion in turn from its box. There was a lot of catching up to do. There was a lot to say. A lot to cover.
I reviewed so much. I was raped in public. Nearly every part of me was raped and in almost every circumstance imaginable. I’m not “okay” with it nor should I be. But I am okay. I still feel angry and hurt. But I’m allowed to. I deserve those emotions. He raped my mouth. But that isn’t who I am.
“Who are you?”
“That’s why you’re here. That is what I’m trying to figure out.”
In all my therapy, only one image kept coming back. The frog. With its little legs glued to the hot porch. It trying to crawl away…I didn’t understand. And the affairs. Why I slept with Dan back in 2000 whatever. And why I turned so desperately to Raven. Why? I just…I didn’t know why.
My parenting has changed. I’m more firm, more strict, more engaged, more loving, more affectionate. The children are flourishing. I thought everything was done. I thought the therapy was nearing its end.
“Then why am I here?”
“I still had no answers. I still had questions. I saw a magazine. “Mindfulness.” It talked about mediation and finding an inner calm.” I chuckled at the irony. “Now that was something I knew I needed. Inner peace. I thought, “I owe this to myself.” So I picked up that magazine and I read…and I changed my life. It talked about “going to fast” and “not slowing down.” I still had PTSD. I still startled often at any and all unexpected sounds.
“What did you do?”
“It talked about a program for meditation and so, I began. Through meditation, it talked about not judging and not expecting silence…not demanding silence. Thinking only in silence was there peace. It talked about observing without judgement. It talked about clearing my head of thoughts. Giving myself permission to let go and just not think. And so…I did.”
“It was the undoing of dissociation.”
“Exactly. I learned that mediation is the undoing of trauma. And I had a lot to undo. I had started swimming every day. It made me aware more than ever of this body. My body. Through the mediation and the swimming, I learned to listen.”
“And what did you hear?”
“Over the last twenty years, I had sustained a broken femur, a dislocated thumb, fractured finger, and chronic back pain that resulted in sciatic pain. I listened. And realized I needed to see a doctor. She checked my hip and sent me to physical therapy.”
“And…I learned just how much I had harmed myself. I thought I hadn’t done anything to hurt myself…until then. The ballet. The twenty years of ballet had taken its toll on me. It had shredded my body. Ripped me apart. With the physical therapy, we learned that I had stood for twenty years in fist position ballet. That I had walked toe to heel for those twenty years. For twenty years, I provided incorrect back support. In so doing, my hip muscles weakened and fell apart. I shredded my hip muscle and left it vulnerable. But that’s when I realized…” I shook my head, struggling with the next words. “I wanted to.”
I wanted to hurt myself. I wanted to punish me. That was the point, wasn’t it? Every time I danced. Every time my body failed me, I remember thinking, “You’re weak! You will do this! You will obey!” I shredded my body. I abused it. I used ballet to punish it.”
“Because it was weak. Because it allowed me to get her. I wasn’t strong enough! It was my body’s fault. So I lashed out, I punished it, I maimed it to make it stronger. And ballet was my whip.”
“And all this you just learned?”
“All this, in the last four weeks. I decided just then, that it was time I made it up to myself. My body was just one more victim. My body was just as hurt as I. I had a lot of making up to do. That morning after my revelation, I woke and decided it was time to love my body. I started Yoga.”
I looked for other ways to award my body. I went on a diet and started to loose weight. I continued the swimming. I painted my nails. I continued the mindfulness and cleared my head. I felt the impact immediately. Somewhere in all my travels I found a single phrase: “Change your attitude about exercise. It isn’t exercise. It’s “me” time.” I loved that! I used it. I applied it. It became my new therapy. It very much has become my “me” time. I count calories. I start every morning with Yoga. I mediate every afternoon. My daughters now do yoga and meditation with me. It’s too cold to swim, but I’ve continued with the physical therapy. I’m finding new ways to pamper myself. Pamper and treat my body. I began Tai Chi.
“You’re not biting off more than you should?”
“I wondered the same thing. Hosea and I had started talking about couple’s therapy with our therapists. Neither his nor my therapist could recommend anyone in our area. His therapist proposed we guide ourselves for a while. We’re both intellects. We’re smart enough. I had done this before in my previous marriage. I knew what to do. Make rules and stick by them. Rule number #1: Do not break the rules. It’s not as silly as it sounds. You will break the rules. The purpose of this rule is to compose a plan when you do, because you will.”
“And the solution?”
“The conversation ends. We do not talk unless the rules are followed.”
- Do not break the rules
- No character assassination
- No discussing a topic unless both parties are okay with the topic. All topics are optional.
- No blame
- No “You” topics.
- No hijacking the conversation.
- “I feel like”
After these rules, we tried our first discussion. It worked. We settled. We were okay. But something was still not sitting right with me. I was better wasn’t I?
“It was then that I reached out to a friend. She had read Broken. And she was a psychologist.
- * * *
“What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know why I did this? I don’t know why I hurt him.”
“Well it’s a power struggle.”
“Every affair is all about a power struggle.”
“But why September? He insists it is always September. Why September?”
“Well that’s when you started your sex games with him. That’s when you started the power struggle.”
I froze and everything clicked.
“My brother was beating me. I couldn’t get away. I was helpless and weak. I wanted to be strong. My body was letting me down.”
“I needed to know I was strong.”
“And you were with Isaac. You started a power struggle. You were both looking for ways to be empowered. And you found that strength in each other. But you could not loose.”
“I could not loose. I could not be weak.”
“Weak meant death. It meant pain. I wasn’t strong enough to save me. I wasn’t strong enough to save the animals. My cats. The frog! That poor little frog. Why won’t my therapists let me talk about the frog?”
“Because the frog is you. It’s a mirror. You see your own weakness in that frog.”
“How old were you?”
“And when did the trauma begin?”
“That day. It was the first day something was hurt. It was the first day my cries were ignored. It was the first day I was too weak to save it. ‘Boys will be boys.’ It all started that day.”
And all at once…just like that I could see everything.
Through the abuse, I saw only weakness. I was starved for the strength that would save me. My body failed me and I loathed it for that. I punished it through ballet. You can’t kick high? I will make you kick high! Too bad! Kick! So what if it shreds your muscles. Kick, damn you! Kick! Bend. Break. Move. Faster. Harder. Longer. Stronger.
“But the ballet…it was all a reminder how weak you were.”
“It was. So I pushed harder. I shredded my body.”
“And then you found Isaac.”
“He empowered me. Against him, with him, I felt strong. I felt power. I was beaten less in the school months. When Isaac was with me. I was beaten most in the summers when Isaac was gone. And when he was near, you battled each other in sex games and power trips. Thriving off the adrenaline rush and dopamine. You made each other feel strong.”
“He gave me the strength to stand up and try again.”
“But you needed it then.”
“And when you lost him—”
“I lost my strength.”
“You ran to the rapists because that was all you had learned.”
“All I had learned. I knew nothing else.”
“And you lacked the strength to stand up—”
“I’m not strong enough—”
The words hit me.
“I’m not strong enough,” I whispered and tears filled my eyes and remembered my Raven. “It was the song,” I said. “I found that song shortly after finding him.”
“But it wasn’t him.”
“Never him,” I said. “It was the song. I wasn’t strong enough. Not to stand, not to fight, not to stay away. And I can’t break free.”
“That song subliminally kept you in check.”
“I will not loose,” I said.
“Win at all costs?”
“At all costs.”
“Mind. Body. Spirit.”
“Mediation. Yoga. Tai Chi.”
“End the power trips.”
“End the power trips.”
I stood from the table.
I looked at sweet William seated at the table.
“Did you love Raven?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think so. He made me feel like…it was okay to be weak. I wanted to be weak. I wanted to drop my guard and just rest. I think…” I sighed and smiled softly. “I think that is what I loved.”
“You don’t need him anymore.”
“No. I don’t.”
“You don’t need Isaac anymore.”
“You don’t need strength.”
“I don’t.” I smiled and laughed warm and long and whole.
“What’s so funny?”
“The moment I accepted that I don’t need strength, only then did I realize, I have it. At last. Tonight, I can sleep.”
“William. Thank you.”
Strength only comes to those who accept that they no longer need it. This…This is what my life has taught me. Smile and let go.