Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I Hope You Believe Me

The first time I remember feeling unsafe as a girl I was under 8. Our neighbor was home alone, I think with her baby girl, some of the details are fuzzy because I was young. A man came to her door needing help, she let him in and he raped her and I think, left her for dead. I'm sure I wasn't supposed to know, I didn't even know the word "rape," but somehow when I heard my mom on the phone I understood and I will never, ever forget the look on her face. She was terrified, I didn't think my mom was afraid of anything. I remember lying in my bed coming up with plans on how I was going to save my mom if it happened to her.

In 5th grade a boy (whose name I will never forget but will refrain from using in public) pulled my shorts down on Halloween in front of the entire class. I was wearing shorts with nylons under them because it was chilly, you don't wear underwear with nylons, I almost died of the embarrassment. I slapped him. Not a woman reading this doesn't know which one of us got reprimanded more severely. My mom lost her mind on the school administration and she let me watch; it helped.

Same thing in high school; a "friend" grabbed my breast so hard it took my breath away, I slapped his face in front of a group of boys. I still remember when I apologized for hitting him because I was tired of being harassed by his friends, my face is bright red typing these words, I was not even sure at the time if I was ashamed because it happened or because I felt compelled to apologize for something I knew was not my fault. To his credit, he later apologized very sincerely but that has stayed with me for over 30 years.

When I was 18 I wanted to learn how to waitress because I figured it was a job you could always come back to when needed. The manager at the pizza place I worked at regularly cornered me and put his hands on me until I quit. When I would walk across the kitchen he would make remarks about my body in front of everyone; I wasn't even special, it was normal behavior for him. Eventually another poorly treated employee asked me to testify in court to his behavior, I did. He got off.

When I was 22 I got drunk at a wedding, my mom sent me home with a sober family friend, he raped me in my own truck and then again at his apartment. I thought he was going to kill me. I didn't report it for a very long list of reasons including, but not limited to, my outfit, the alcohol and the fact that I had enjoyed sex with consentual partners even once previous to that night. For at least 10 years I never told anyone but my mom and the therapist she insisted I go to. I was diagnosed with PTSD, I had never even heard of it. I've never told anyone it happened twice and I've never mentioned my truck before right this moment, I didn't even tell my mom about the truck. Right now I'm picturing my brother and my son reading this and crying because I don't want either of them to go find him and kill him. I've never told Erin his name for that reason. That truck was my prized possession, it was $22,000 and I was 22 years old making double payments, I was so proud of myself for  doing that on my own. Shortly after it happened, I walked into the Jeep Dealer in Wheaton, had them pay off my loan and sell me a Wrangler, I knew I couldn't get in that truck again.

This past year a married man I had met before socially cornered me several times in a work situation, putting his hands on me more than once, he knew he was scaring me, and went out of his way to do it again. At one point he walked through a room behind me dragging his fingers slowly across my back and shoulders and I was so terrified I couldn't move, I was paralyzed. I'm an 47 years old and a grown woman who is confident in who she is. My PTSD went completely out of control for the first time since I was around 25. I still don't feel entirely like myself.
The thing is; none of this is special. Not one story here. I'm pretty sure there are no women who will read this and be surprised, it's probably happened in one way or another to them or to another woman they love. I'm pretty sure, as has happened every time I've written about my rape, that every man who didn't previously know will be completely surprised. They always are. I do not mean that to offend anyone, it's just how it always is; women know, men are shocked.

I'm writing this because of what is going on in the world right now and because of my daughters. I had two conversations this week that inspired me. One with a dear, close Republican friend who reluctantly (that's what I tell myself so I can sleep at night) supports his President. He mentioned that he was sure my girls would be safer because of their strong mom, and while I appreciate his sentiment, he was really, really wrong. I had a strong mom. The strongest. I could talk to her about anything. I knew what to do and what not to do and it happened anyway. My mom certainly saved my life afterwards, but she couldn't protect me.

The second conversation confirmed that. It was with a friend that I love so much I sometimes I'm overwhelmed with it, she's like the smarter, prettier twin I never knew I had.  She's lived through several similar situations and her daughter is older than mine are. She was telling me about their recent revelations to one another and how her daughter hadn't told her because she knew my friend would blame herself. I've been thinking about this for days. My kids and I talk about everything, we are very close. But I feel compelled to sit down with my girls this weekend and go into deeper detail. If nothing else, I want them to know that if something happens they can always, always talk to me. Somehow I will figure out how to control my face and my emotional reaction. Because the thing I know most of all is that none of these stories of things that happened to me can ever compare to how I would feel if someone hurt one of my kids and I know I wouldn't have survived without my mom to talk to.

We need to tell someone. You need at least one person to help hold you up. We need to know as young women that these things happen, they aren't okay, they aren't our fault and that it's okay even if you knew what to do and didn't do it because you were afraid.

Women don't report for many reasons but chief among them is there is virtually no pay off. You won't feel safer. You will get dragged through the mud. People who love you will be dragged with you. Nothing will change.

That being said, the men in the last two stories I've written about here shouldn't take any jobs working with women or running for an important position. Because I will be yelling their names with a bullhorn out my truck window and renting out billboards. And if another woman came forward about one of them, and I didn't think people believed her, you can bet your ass I'd back her up. Sometimes you just need to survive trauma and sometimes you need to be the person that no one was for you.
Ask the women in your life what their stories are, and, please, please believe them when they tell you.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

She Should Be Here

She should be here. Six is knocking me on my ass. The first year anniversary was solid sadness, I didn't want to start a year of existence without her. 2, 3, 4 and 5 I was resigned. Still sad, I still miss her like crazy, but you do get used to it in a way. I don't even really miss her more on her birthday or the anniversary of her death than I do on any other day but it's different. I miss her in strange moments; when someone tells a great story and I know how much she'd like it. And that three days later I'd hear her re-telling it only it would suddenly be her story. When I do something stupid and I know she's  the one person who would call me on it. I miss her desperately when I realize no matter how hard Aidan and I try the girls are forgetting her in slivers. For them the forgetting is soft and fluid for me it's jagged and sharp, it pierces my heart every time  I say something about her and realize the blank look in their eyes. I can't stand the thought of them not remembering her like Erin and Aidan and I do. She should be here.
For some reason, six seems especially cruel. She should be 70. She should be causing trouble and smoking pot and drinking with her friends. She should be blasting music and buying useless gadgets off of late night tv and saying inappropriate things in public.
She should be here, literally here, in the Wisconsin Dells camping with a totally insane group of my friends some of which she loved already and some that she would love if she met.  This weekend has been a fantastic distraction but I woke up this morning with a larger than normal Cheli shaped hole in my heart and I'm struggling to get it together, I hope tomorrow is better.
What I need is to get on the back of someone's bike and drive about 90MPH around curves and over hills so I can remember her and forget her at the same time. She's always more with me when I'm doing things we both loved to do and I'd really like to see her today. My life long live of motorcycles is from her. I wish Ron was here to drive me around on his listening to music she lives while forgetting and remembering at the same time. At some point today I'm going to find someone who can roll a joint even half as good as my mom could and I'm going to sit and get high and think about the 45,897 amazing things about her and also the 5,647 annoying, hurtful things she could do to me and be sorry for a second letter, because that is being a parent  and all those things made her who she was.
She should be here.
So now I'm going to quit crying, get up off of my knees and have an amazing day because it's what I need and what she would want. And as I finish writing this, Into The Mystic has come on and........ She should be here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Best Magic

A warrior Goddess friend of mine posted something a year ago on Facebook about her mom and gratefulness and how sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a freight train. It runs through my mind several times a day, every single day; it's often how I picture my life. Me, standing, frazzled, hair blowing all around me as I desperately jump out of the way, narrowly escaping the lightening fast and roaringly loud steam engine. It has pros and cons. Sometimes it's exhilarating, often times exhausting. There are two things I know for sure; first, if it's for my children, I will face down that train every day for eternity. And, secondly, each time I have a close call I'm going to look over my shoulder for my mom, every day for eternity.  She's there and she isn't.  While I'm a devotee of the spiritual, I am, at the end of the day, a tactile person, I wish I could still touch her, sometimes feeling her around me isn't enough.

My mom is the spiritual center of my life, she's everything magic and everything spooky. She's involved in a lot of my parenting decisions, both as a touchstone for things she did so amazingly perfect and as a warning bell for when I get angry and yell or lose my cool. She's with me when I parent from sentimentality and when I have a clear moment of knowing my parenting outgrew hers long ago. She was pure magic and magic is as scary as it is amazing, mine is probably more diluted at its best but less stinging at its worst.

My kids are the tactile center of my life; they are the single most real thing I do. Every moment, every decision, every lapse, every triumph has to do with them or some aspect of their lives. I've written in the past about how time moves simultaneously painfully slow and devastatingly fast. I've become hyper aware lately about how fast it's moving and how little control I have over it. Every second seems to leave me standing next to a train a moment removed from certain doom waiting for the next one to come at me. I'm working very hard to be conscious of every moment, to live it, to enjoy it, to savor it.  One of the parts I'm savoring right now is the time I have left with Aidan before he moves out on his own, there are a few days when I don't enjoy working together but there are many more days when it's an absolute pleasure, I just like him, always have. And so, as is my (mostly) annual tradition, his birthday letter.....

Dear Aidan,

You're 20, a completely inconsequential age, and I've spent the last several weeks figuring out how the fuck that happened. I am not kidding you when I say I feel closer to your age than mine. Just wait, it's the craziest thing I've ever felt. I remember when I turned 40 and Grandma said to me, "You can't imagine how strange it is to have a kid who is 40. I don't feel very far from 40." She was, as usual, right. 
I want to tell you that I love you, but you know that. What I don't know if you know is that I like you. If absolutely pick you for a friend. I think you're funny and articulate and kind. You are truly the funniest person I've ever met, no one is as quick witted as you.  I think you spend too much time molding your behavior around how the people you love feel instead of how you feel. I think you're an amazing brother and your sisters are better for having been brother'd by you. You have handled your struggles with grace and maturity and you are constantly teaching me things about myself and about the world. I wish you weren't so anxious but at the same time there's no one better to have around in an emergency. I worry that I rely too much on you for help around the house and with your sisters but at the same time I know that, if you decide to have children, you will be an amazing dad. I hope you have kids because the moment you do you will have an entirely new perspective on how much I love you. I remember very clearly the morning you were born, I saw my mom in a whole new light. You were such a bridge in our complicated relationship, I don't think I've ever thanked you for that.  Thank you.  She loved you fiercely and it was so fun to watch. You saved me from myself, I was a little lost before I had you. You saved my brother's life, your birth saved his life in a very real way. Thank you for that too.
I hope that we will always be close. I hope that we will go to super hero and sci-fi movies together when I'm 95. I hope that I will be 95 and that you won't lose me at some ridiculously young age. I hope I get to be your kids grandma until they're adults. I hope I get to introduce them to Harry Potter and Marvel and Star Wars and sushi with you. You are the very best of everything I've ever done, my best magic.
I wish you a very happy birthday.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


My life is governed by words, the way they taste in my mouth, how they feel the moment they stop being the speaker's breath and are absorbed into my skin, my brain, my heart. Words are how I navigate the world, they are how I form my opinions and my bonds, my dislikes and sometimes I think they are the motor that runs my heart.

Over 15 years my sister in law has been a lot of things to me. We've said a lot of words to one another, many of them unkind. She could really get me going. In the past the second word that I associated with Laurie was "enemy." I'd never felt like that about anyone before. I always felt like she was after me and I hated it. I feel like we spent our early years warily circling one another and I was never quite sure why.

For my part, I was judgemental about her parenting and her choice in partners, I love her daughter completely and any  "playing nice" I did with Laurie was to gain access to Samantha or out of respect for my mother in law.
The first word that I think of when I think of Laurie, regardless of whether I've always wanted it that way is "family." She's my family  good, bad or ugly.  Too much of it was been ugly. Some family you get to pick, some you don't. Would Laurie and I have been friends on our own? No. But over the years we have been friends, we have been enemies, we have been unlikely allies. She's been family since before I married her brother, she didn't stop being family when we got divorced. Curiously, we've been better friends since the divorce.  Now when I think of her, I think "cautious friend." I think Laurie doesn't like change, even when it might mean getting to ditch someone she often found snotty and annoying. That's the thing about family, there's nothing quite like the crazy you know.

A few months ago I found myself laughing with her on the phone, she was rabidly coming to my defense about my divorce from her brother, "Laurie," I said laughing, "you don't even like me."
"I don't have to like you, you're my family." We both knew what she meant.  When her mom died, I loved Patti so, so much, Laurie went out of her way to make sure I was included. I always thought part of our problem was jealousy over my relationship with Patti. In death we were united in our love for her. And Patti loved Laurie completely, flaws and all, there was nothing to be jealous of.

For as long as I've known Laurie part of her was broken. I don't know what it was, the early death of her dad, something else. Alcohol had been slowly killing her for years and I think her mom's death last April was more than she could take. I know she had the best of intentions, I know she loved her daughter and her brother and her mom. She loved them desperately, even if she didn't know how to do it right all the time. She loved fiercely.

When I started writing this, Laurie was still alive, still fighting; she's gone now. I hope wherever she is that she is at peace, that she is free and that her mom's and dad's arms are back around her because I know she wanted that more than anything. God speed, Laurie, I will miss you being a pain in my ass and I will never forget you, I hope you are lighter now and that you soar, fly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Like A Boss

This is not a complaint, if I could trade the time I have with my girls for the fun things their dad gets to do with them I would not. I get to wake up with them Monday thru Friday every single day of the year.  I get to put them to bed Sunday through Thursday every single day of the year.  I get to wake up with them 25 weekends a year.  On the other 25 weekends I get a break and I get some time to myself.  That being said, it's hard.  My ex doesn't pay child support for my son and he's supposed to pay 26% of his income for the girls.  I can securely tell you that 95% of my income goes to my kids.  I can't imagine that it will change before they are out of school.  So I don't get to do fun things with them very often.  We can't get pedicures or go get our hair done.  Their dad's girlfriend gets to take them for mani/pedis.  I'm happy for them, I'm glad she likes them and is kind to them.  Every time it happens I have to force myself to breathe. If we go to a water park or a concert I have to sneak in extra work to cover it.  Their dad and his girlfriend get to take them shopping for clothes and shoes....I get to stumble into Walmart at 11pm looking for orange folders and I get to pay registration fees and Chromebook charges.  I know the Chromebook and school expenses are more important....but still.  I would absolutely love to take them to get back to school pedicures but that's about $150.00 so it isn't going to happen.

I'm sure my ex has a long, very valid list of things that are easier for me than him.  As I said, I wouldn't trade mine for his; I get their time.  But I'm also the person who makes them brush their hair and their teeth and eat vegetables.  I'm the one who makes them put their electronics away and takes their door off the hinges when they've been told not to slam it again. I make them go to bed when it's still light outside!  Which is, apparently, the worst of my crimes.

They've been dying to color their hair.  Olivia likes blue and Gracie likes pink.  We tried dying their gorgeous brunette hair tips pink and blue once before but it wasn't very noticeable over the brown.  So yesterday we went and bought pink and blue dye and a bleach kit.  Best $15 I've spent in I don't know how long. I bleached their hair this morning and then tonight we colored it.  The bleach was fun and they were really excited to be partially blonde. They did a lot of holding it up to mine and holding it up to their faces.  Olivia thinks she'll probably go blonde in college, I'm delighted that in the midst of dying her hair blue while she is nine she assumes you can't go blonde until you no longer live at home.  It turned out amazing.  As an added bonus, their  brabysitter (brother plus babysitter) woke up late and didn't realize I had bleached their hair.  So his sisters let him believe they did it on his watch.  He spent the entire day trying to figure out how to explain blonde hair to me.  That might actually be the best part.....nah.  The hair is fantastic! 

When we were blow drying it Olivia said, "Mom, you do hair like a boss!" Which was about enough to get me through what will most certainly be a rough back to school morning tomorrow when her sister followed up with, "Mom does everything like a boss!" at which point she threw her arms around me.  That will do it.  I'll get through all of the rough back to school mornings this week on that 40 second exchange.  They are so excited about their hair, it was adorable to watch.  I have to say, it kind of made me want to dye mine blue.  Maybe we should get through this first week before I do anything crazy!  

Today, I'll take the win.  I'm the boss of everything!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Secret Handshake

1,460 days without her. 

My mom wasn't really physically affectionate but for as long as I can remember if she was comforting me she ran her fingers all around the back of my head absentmindedly as if she were trying to feel for something she lost.

When I was six I lost my blanket on Christmas eve. Blanket was an over statement,  it was a tiny, satin scrap of blanket binding. She sent me to the car to see if it was there, it wasn't.  All of my packages from Santa were. I was heartbroken and I remember crying into her shoulder while she stroked the back of my head until I feel asleep.

When I was 22 I told the biggest lie of my life.  He asked me if I loved him.  He'd been asking me for weeks, but this was my last chance,  he was marrying someone else tomorrow.  I loved him more than I have ever loved anyone before or since but I was afraid.  "No," I said, looking him right in the eyes,  "it's just sex." And the next day he married her.  I completely fell apart, I have no idea why I thought he wouldn't do it,  but I was bereft. I spent what felt like days with my head in my mom's lap her fingers circling the back of my skull, never stopping while I cried my eyes out.

When I was 26 I had my first baby, he was 6 weeks early and I hemmoraged.  My mom never left my side; her fingers searching the back of my head, moving through my hair in an ever changing but completely familiar pattern.

When I was 32 I got married. Just before Erin walked me down the aisle, my mom brushed my cheek with the back of her hand and put her fingers under my veil, on the back of my head. I may have imagined it, but I swear she traced a heart with her finger and then kissed me on my forehead.

When I was 34 I had twins, they were 6 weeks early also. I hemmoraged again, it was more serious. They told my husband and my mom to leave. They wouldn't let me hold my babies.  With a nurse trying to physically pull my mom from the room she put her fingers behind my head, looked me in my eyes and said, "you will be okay." They forcibly pulled her from the room.

When I was 39 my mom came to live with us.  We were in her room unpacking her things.  I dropped something in front of her as she sat on her bed. When I bent over to pick it up she grabbed my head.
"I wonder if I can still find it." She said moving her fingers quickly over the back of my skull.
"Find what? " I asked still bent over with my head in her hands
"You have a birthmark on the back of your head," she said, "here it is!" And her fingers stopped moving. It's my last specific memory of her doing that.  My whole life, every moment of comfort I remember; it had a meaning for her too. Such a small thing,  but my mom wasn't as sentimental as I am; that small thing meant a lot to me.

When I was 40 my mom died. I cried in her lap until they made me leave. It's been 4 years today.  Sometimes I think I miss her more with every passing day.  Just recently I noticed that I play with the spot on the back of my head when I need comfort.  It feels ever changing but familiar,  like a secret handshake with my mom.

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