Reggie and Lizzie sitting on the window seat at home
(Title credit goes to one of the lines of dialogue spoken by Julie Andrews’s character, “Maria,” in my favorite movie of all time, The Sound of Music).
What do I do now? Where do I go from here? How will I live without them?
How do you keep going when your life is cloaked in ambiguity? What do you do when you awaken in the middle of the night, in a panic? When the first thought that crosses your mind when you awaken at sunrise – when you are able to sleep – is: He’s gone.
Our first wedding anniversary
Audie’s 40th birthday
When you are all that is left in the house you all shared.
When you are left to pick up the pieces alone.
You find yourself – that’s what you do.
Somehow, some way, you find yourself – again.
It may seem that every door has shut in your face. Just as you began to turn the knob – just as the door opened a crack, and the wind – that wind you’d been waiting for – blasted through and pushed it wide open.
Only to find that on the other side, there were those waiting to slam it shut. For good.
And then what?
You take a deep breath. You search deep within. You find the self you lost. You reshape who you are meant to be by pasting the pictures – one by one – into a collage – of who you used to be, who you are now, and who you wish to become.
This year, 2019, was the first birthday in 10 years where there was dead silence between us.
It was deafening.
Nothing – and no one – can replace him. His phantom lingers in the shadows. Following me wherever I go. Whispering in my ear.
I’m leaving you.
But – in the wake of his absence – I found my way to friends who put their hands, one by one, upon my shoulders, leading me toward their love – a love that fills the spaces in between the cracks wherever they can.
Not completely – for no one can replace the love of your life – but love comes in many forms, and the friendships I have found here in Athens, have nurtured the dying petals in this fierce winter storm. Spring is coming – and the buds quivering on the stem are ready to bloom.
This year, 15 of my dear friends celebrated my birthday with me. We met at Carrabbas – and the long table was filled with people from different walks of my life that I have built here in Athens. Conversation among strangers was easy. New friendships formed.
It was the first birthday party I have had since I came to Athens – the last time I had a birthday party was March 2011 at Gordon Biersch in San Diego.
I am blessed with friends on two coasts – in California and in Georgia – who see beyond my flaws, forgive my mistakes, see my heart, and accept me fully.
Every person at that table – and the ones I invited who were not able to attend – found me, or I found them.
We built that table – each seat filled by someone who has gotten to know me through the life I created – painstakingly, slowly, with stops and starts…and missteps…and triumphs.
With an open heart, an open mind, and an open hand – reaching out to me – as mine reached back. We held tight. And we haven’t let go.
13 friends (some pictured here) came to my b’nei mitzvah ceremony in 2016
Anna, me, and Ryne in 2016 at Ryne’s debut concert at Flickr bar
For a while, I held back. I withdrew. I hid. I built a wall around me.
Last year, on May 24th, one door closed. The door that brought me here. The door I built my life upon – all my dreams, all my hopes, all my love.
One wall came crashing down.
When that wall fell – all the walls, still standing, fell along with it. All the walls I’d built around me to protect me.
And what came of that, was the open window before me now.
It was not there before today – the panes have still not been thrown wide open – but – there is a gap – a possibility.
I have been living in fear – gripping panic – for weeks, months, really – not knowing where I will live when I leave my house.
I know I have to leave. But, when my best friend out west asked me, bluntly, as he does so often when I need him to, “Jill, are you prepared to leave that house? Do you know where you want to live?”
My friend knows me so well – I paused, and then – I cried, “No, I’m not. I’m scared. I don’t know what I want. I don’t want to sell my house.”
Someone needed to ask the question.
I bravely put on this face of certainty. I speak with confidence in my voice. But my closest friend, for so many years, found my truth: I have no idea.
All I do know is that I have no other choice.
I don’t have to like it. But it is the only choice left to me now that the other choices I made brought me to this.
And then, the next day, I was walking through my neighborhood, greeting new acquaintances – new people who have moved into the subdivision – a single mom with two little children and two small dogs. One of the dogs ran away. I helped her find him, and we are now friends. We run into each other all the time – when I am walking alone in the early evening and she is walking her dogs. People wave as they walk by me whom I don’t even know.
I love this life. There is something missing – he is missing. My dogs are missing. But – I love this life.
I love the life I have created on this street, in this house, in this city, in this other world that is so different from the one I grew up in.
And I knew – for now, I want to stay. If I can bear the pain of losing him, I want to stay for a little while.
Not forever. I can’t. But, just a little while.
So that before I relocate all over again, before I embark on another cross-country drive, before I travel 3,000 miles, before I make this U-turn – I do not jump off this cliff without knowing where I will land.
The ground is shaky enough as it is – I do not need to create an earthquake.
I still don’t know where to go. I have no “next home,” no “next place,” but…a few months ago, I reached out to someone, a new friend.
And where God closed a door, it opened a new window.
It would be for 6 months. Not forever. Just long enough to figure out my direction in life, now that I must make that trek toward who knows where all on my own.
It may not work out, because I do not know, yet, if there will be any openings in the timeframe in which I hope to sell my house, and vacate for the new owners before the school year starts in Oconee.
My new friend lives there. She showed me her apartment, and it reminds me of apartments I once lived in, at various times in San Diego, before we met and got married.
It will be different, and hard, after 7 years of living in houses with him, and 4 years of living in Capri before that, but I can envision myself living there.
And it would give me enough time, without holding me here too long, if after 6 months, I decide that, yes, I must go. If I wish to heal, I must.
To everyone I love here, and you know who you are – to all my friends, to all my colleagues – I am so lucky to have found you. I am so lucky that you took a chance on this passionate, outspoken California girl.
You have enriched my life in a way that I never expected.
My gratitude is abounding. My cup is not half empty, nor half full, for you refill it to the rim each day with your friendship.
You have a friend for life in me, if you’ll have me.
I came here for Audie. I’m still here – and always will be – for all of you.
You are the open window that followed the closed door.
My door – whether it be in Athens or in San Diego – will always be open to all of you.
13 friends (some pictured here) came to my b’nei mitzvah ceremony in 2016
Anna, me, and Ryne in 2016 at Ryne’s debut concert at Flickr bar
I closed my laptop and shouted, “Coming!” as I hurried toward the back door.
“I can’t believe I didn’t step on it.” My handyman, John, was looking down at something near the bottom of the porch steps, under a large hedge in between the side fence and the stairs. He grabbed a soft cloth towel out of his pocket and carefully picked up a baby bird that he’d found there. It was not moving.
“Is he alive?” I asked. My heart began pounding. It was so small and from the look of his wings and the dampness of his feathers, it looked as if maybe one of the neighbor’s outdoor cats had gotten him. His skin was dark pink – I didn’t see any blood, but he looked injured to me. He barely moved.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“I can’t believe I didn’t step on him,” John said again.
I hurried inside the house to grab my phone.
“Pennie will know what to do.” I called my next-door neighbor and thankfully she picked up. I asked her what to do since it was after 6 pm and the vet was closed.
“Take him to UGA. They’ll take care of him. We’ve brought squirrels, birds, other wildlife there.”
“Thank you!” I hurried inside and grabbed one of the shoeboxes in the bonus room. John put baby bird (as I began calling him) into the box, still wrapped in the kerchief.
“Will you be here in an hour?” John had been working most of the day and I knew he had planned to stop pretty soon. He didn’t have a key to lock up and I had to pay him for his work, too. He said he would and I took off. Baby bird didn’t seem to be moving at all. As I scurried down the driveway, (my car was parked on the street), I said to him, “Please don’t die. Please don’t die.”
I knew there was no point in speeding – it would only endanger both of us. If we got pulled over for a ticket, that would not help, either. I stayed calm and kept in mind that as long as we got there safely, that was the most important thing. But, as I drove down the freeway (UGA is about 13 miles from the house), I kept looking over at baby bird – and I realized that all the grief of losing Lizzie and Reggie was right there at the surface, right there as if I’d just lost them. I didn’t realize it, but I knew – I knew then why I don’t want another dog – why I can’t have another dog. Not now.
Looking at baby bird, I wasn’t sure if he had died, he was so still. I couldn’t bear to lose him, this baby bird I’d met 15 minutes ago.
I couldn’t bear to go through losing any more animals.
That is the real reason I am not ready to get another dog – even if I had the money to pay for the needs of my dog – even if I wasn’t getting my house ready to put on the market – if anything happened, I could not go through it again. Not yet.
And that’s the thing – I don’t want a puppy. I don’t believe in that – everyone wants a puppy. I don’t believe in buying from a breeder – though my mom did it with her two Shih tzus and I don’t judge her for that.
But, that’s not me. If and when I get another dog, (hopefully when), I am going to rescue a dog that is not a puppy, and I will know – just like Toby “told me” we were meant to be, when I meet the right dog – and it will be a dog that is not very young, it will happen.
The thing is with adoption of rescue dogs – there is a risk involved. And it’s not just rescue dogs, either. My first experience with having a dog of my own was tragic. It didn’t last long because the dog, a Shih tzu puppy that my mom bought from a pet store, died a few weeks later. He was black and white. I named him, Jack. For Jack and Jill. I know, silly, but I did it.
Jack got very sick and stopped eating a couple of weeks after I brought him home. The vet said Jack had a blood disorder. He wasn’t producing enough red blood cells and there was nothing the doctor could do. He told me if I let Jack go on like that, he would suffer.
So I let Jack go.
I’d never put a dog down before. I made a huge mistake. I didn’t stay in the room. I let Doc (as we called the vet) take Jack away and put him to sleep. I didn’t even get a paw print, or an urn…nothing.
I was in my early twenties. What did I know?
I should have known more.
It was a long time, not until I adopted Toby in 2001, before I was able to try again.
My mom’s younger brindle Shih tzu, Chip, died at age 4. The doctor thought he had an abcess in his foot. He treated Chip over and over for that abscess for several weeks.
It was not an abscess. It was cancer. Doc had misdiagnosed him.
He was only 4. Mom had bought him from a breeder. The same breeder that sold her the black Shih tzu that she let Barry name Cowboy.
It was July 2, 2000. My mom called me from Los Angeles (I was living in San Diego) and told me right before she was about to have Doc put him to sleep that she was letting Chip go.
I never got to say goodbye.
Cowboy lived to be 10 years old, which was still very young to lose a small dog. When he was 5, I came home to my mom’s house (my childhood home) one afternoon and found Cowboy lying in the middle of the den, not moving, but still alive. The carpet was covered with vomit, foamy saliva and diarrhea.
I rushed Cowboy to the vet where he was diagnosed with Parvo virus – a very serious illness that is usually fatal.
Cowboy was hospitalized for several days, and it was touch and go, but he survived. Doc told me if I had come home an hour later, Cowboy would have died.
It blows my mind when I think of how close we came to losing Cowboy, and for years, I couldn’t get over what a miracle it was that I found him in time.
Sadly, even though Cowboy miraculously survived the Parvo virus, he lost 5-6 years of his life and died young. Cowboy lost his sight two years before he passed away in his sleep from a heart attack. My mom found him in the morning, and the only consolation, for all of us, was that Cowboy had not suffered.
Only my immediate family, and my college boyfriend, Tony, know about Cowboy, and how close we were – I bonded with Cowboy immediately, and in many ways, he was my dog as much as he was my mom’s. Whenever I came home to Los Angeles to stay with her, Cowboy and I were inseparable – so much so, that before I adopted Toby, my mom gave Cowboy to me because she knew how much I wanted a dog of my own and how much I loved him.
Cowboy was miserable the whole weekend. He moped and wandered around the apartment as if he’d lost his best friend.
I called my mom and told her to come back and get him – don’t ever think that dogs don’t bond with one human, as their special person. They do. Even in a family – where I thought Cowboy was as attached to me as he was to my mother – Mom was Cowboy’s human and she could not be replaced. As soon as Mom came to the door, he was his happy self again – wagging his tail, barking, upbeat.
That’s what led me to find Toby – which was one of the best things I’ve ever done – adopting Toby. He was meant to be with me, and Cowboy was meant to be with Mom.
Toby and I were something special. He was my first dog – when I think about all the dogs I had before – even the dog Mom adopted while I was in her womb – it isn’t the same. Toby was mine, and I was his. I was his human, and he was my baby. Before I met my husband, Audie, Toby was the love of my life, and in many ways, he still is and always will be. We shared 10 years together (he was 8 when I adopted him) – not nearly enough time – but they were filled with so many memories, it felt like 30 years. He saw me through some of the toughest times in my life. When I was single and dating, when I was a teacher, when I met Audie, and Lizzie and Reggie.
I don’t know how I survived losing Toby – I often thought I wouldn’t. People worried I wouldn’t – I loved him so much. Toby died the week after Audie left for Georgia, and if it hadn’t been for Audie and Lizzie and Reggie, I don’t know how I would have gone on, except they needed me – especially Lizzie and Reggie. They were counting on me, so I kept going, and I got through it.
I had 7 years in between losing Toby and Lizzie, but only 3 1/2 months in between losing Lizzie and Reggie this past year. I’ve written about that experience, as my regular readers know, and the impact it has had on me, particularly at this time in my life.
What I didn’t know was that I was burying the grief, negotiating with it, hoping it would morph into something I would not have to deal with, so that I could bargain for some sense of contentment without them.
Baby bird proved to me, it isn’t working.
As you can see from the photo, baby bird perked up a little bit somewhere around Exit 6, and you can imagine my relief that he was still alive!
“Hold on, baby bird. We’re almost there. Hang on, we’ll be there soon!”
Here’s what killed me. Baby bird started chirping, and looking up at me, opening his beak, asking for food. And the way he looked at me, right in the eye, when I talked to him, I felt it – he thought I was his new mama. He kept opening his beak and chirping and looking up at me, watching me…I couldn’t get a photo of baby bird with his beak open, but once we got to a red light off of exit 7, in addition to stopping at the lights on College Station Road, I was able to capture his beauty, his sweetness – and our new bond.
As we got closer to the street where you turn right into the parking lot, baby bird grew quiet again and nestled back into the towel. I worried that he wasn’t going to make it as soon as he did that. But, as I took the shoebox out of the car, he got nervous and started chirping frantically.
“It’s okay, baby, they’ll help you. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay,” I told him.
I headed straight for the front desk (being there was so eerie – I hadn’t been there since 2018 with Reggie or Lizzie).
“I found this baby bird in my yard. He’s injured.”
The young lady called for someone to take him, and I asked when the vet tech took the box from me, “What are you going to do?”
I was very worried about what was going to happen. They’d given me a wildlife donation form to fill out, and I wondered if he was going to be used for animal experiments for the students, or if they were going to nurse him back to health in a humane way, or what. I knew what happened to lab animals, and that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with Audie – he fights against that. He uses human bacteria, no animals – in fact, I know someday Audie is going to be one of the pioneers in building one of the first labs in university level pharmaceutical research that eliminates all animal testing. Audie taught me that results are much less accurate in animal testing, than they are with human bacteria cells, and he works to educate other scientists in that respect.
In any case, I had not even finished filling out the paperwork when a different person, a student, brought baby bird back and told me that the best chance he had to survive was to return him to a high place, where he came from, so that his mama would find him. The young student told me his mother was much more likely to come back if I returned him home because they could not give him the same chance in a caged environment. I was very distressed because I did not know how to take care of a wild bird, and there it was again, that fear that I was going to lose another pet.
I protested, politely, but the student insisted baby bird would almost certainly not survive if I left him with them. She said he looked like he was doing well and I should try to get him back into a tree.
I won’t tell you where that conversation went, but let’s just say I had to explain to her why it was not possible for me to climb a tree. In any case, even with a ladder, I did not see how that would help since I’d found baby bird by a bush. The nearest tree was 50 yards away, and there was nowhere to safely stick a shoebox.
I relented quickly and sulked all the way to the automatic sliding doors. As I exited the building, I apologized to baby bird – telling him I did my best.
On the way home, I did not feel anxious like I did when I was driving him to UGA, but I felt numb. I was preparing myself for the grief I was sure would come from losing him. For I didn’t see how I would be able to save him now. He began chirping again, and opened his beak for food a few more times. I remembered the girl had said something about giving him warm water from a syringe if I had one. Strange that she didn’t send me home with any. I didn’t have any left – I’d donated them all after Reggie passed away – but I did have a couple of empty bottle droppers from Lizzie’s cyclosporine drops.
You’ll never believe what happened when I got home and told John what they said because it is simply a miracle – at least, I think so.
I relayed my story to John, but he was hopeful because…he’d seen a cardinal flying around the larger hedge on the other side of the fence in the front yard and…he suspected it could be the mama bird. He said he even heard another bird chirping from inside the hedge.
“Let’s take a look,” he suggested.
Baby bird and I followed John to the hedge. He worked to separate the thick branches apart. They were knotted close together and the leaves were difficult to separate.
Lo and behold – once John was able to break through to the center – he found a nest.
“There’s another baby in here, come look.”
“Really! You found the nest!” I was so relieved. What had started out as a distressing experience earlier now changed to one of incredulity and joy!
“I found it. Do you see the other bird?” John was sticking his head through the branches.
I could not see anything, but it didn’t matter.
“Can you get him back in the nest? Do you think his mother will come back for him?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But we can try.”
John carefully removed baby bird from the towel inside the box, reached through the tangled branches and packed-together leaves, and gently placed baby bird in the nest. I could not see any other birds, but maybe his brother or sister had disappeared by hiding in the bottom of the nest.
Baby bird was home safe. We’d saved him. Or at least – I chose to believe that we did. If nothing else, he had a chance now. We’d done our best – baby bird survived his ordeal.
Baby bird in the nest
Baby bird in the nest
The next morning, I didn’t hear anything as I passed by the front yard hedge. I was afraid to check and see if baby bird was there, but I thought about him in the car on the way to the podiatrist’s office. John and I had been in disbelief when it became clear that somehow baby bird had made it through the fence and into the backyard all by himself after falling out of the nest. We weren’t sure if one of the cats had gotten to him, at the foot of the hedge, tried to eat him, and then jumped the fence before dropping him at the foot of the stairs, but whatever happened, baby bird had survived a harrowing experience and we were amazed he’d made it at all.
While I was in the patient’s chair, Dr. Niknafs asked me if I had gotten another dog. As you may recall from my post, “Ask Forgiveness Not Permission,” I brought Reggie, riding in his stroller, to my previous doctor appointment, two days before we put Reggie to sleep. I was touched that the doctor remembered Reggie’s visit.
I told Dr. Niknafs that I hadn’t – and I told him why. Dr. Niknafs listened to my story of the adventure with baby bird and he understood – it was too soon.
“Yes, it’s too soon. I’m not ready. Someday. I’m not ready to take a chance if something happens, I am still hurting too much from losing Reggie and Lizzie. I can’t lose another pet. I can’t adopt another dog until I’m prepared for whatever could happen. It probably would be fine, but you never know. I’m just not ready.”
Dr. Niknafs shook his head, in a good way. “You’re such a nice person. You’re soft-hearted, Jill.”
I was surprised he got so sentimental – I’m not used to that from doctors, but I appreciated his kindness so much.
I know he’ll always remember Reggie, too.
And I’ll always remember what a blessing it was that we found – and saved – baby bird.
Yesterday, my Facebook feed featured a memory from May 3, 2015 – my husband was at a conference in Italy and would soon be returning home. I posted a status that day, anticipating his homecoming with the hope that he would notice how I’d cleaned the house for us – decluttering and deodorizing and downsizing – as a surprise for him. A fresh start and what I hoped would be a poignant “Welcome Home” after his long flight and two weeks apart.
Tomorrow, that same husband, will be returning from the same conference in Italy, but instead of coming home to me, he will be coming home to a new significant other, who most certainly is anticipating his homecoming and planning her own “Welcome Home” that I keep putting out of my mind. I choose not to think about how excited he must be feeling in anticipation of their reunion.
Earlier today, I spotted our former marital counselor as she entered a crowded local venue where I was drinking a latte at the brunch bar. I had not seen her in 7 months.
I used to run into her often while my husband and I were in counseling with her. Since then, I have not run into her, and it was hard to resist the urge to walk over and say hello today. I was so happy to see her.
I thought to myself that if we passed by each other, I would smile and wave at her – she always used to say hi in the past. But, I felt unsure what to do, after all this time, and I realized, seeing her across the room, how much I have missed her, and how much I would like to talk to her, myself, one more time – to tell her what’s happened since we last met.
I did not make eye contact with her, or try to, as she spoke to the lady manning the hostess desk, and before I could act any further, she left the building and did not return. (I presume there was too long a wait for a table).
Letting go of the past is not easy, but in a small town like Athens, Georgia, it is much harder. Especially because a part of me is resisting letting go of the parts of my life that I love here, that I have not already lost.
Meaning the parts that are not my husband.
As of now, my heart has not yet let go of the idea of him, of who he is with her – which I unfortunately am being exposed to repeatedly – and of the idea of what our life together could have been.
Little by little, I’ve come to accept the reality for what it is – what is often called “radical acceptance.”
I was worried that I had lost all my ground three weeks ago. But, as my friend reassured me that Saturday night, when I felt like I was back at the beginning again, it is not taking as long this time around to accept that our life together is absolutely over – for good.
And yet – letting go and accepting the reality of the ending do not feel the same. I accept that I have to make hard choices – by myself – from now on. I accept that if I stay here in Athens, I risk running into him and his new love, and that great pain will inevitably follow. I accept that if I keep my house, I risk financial burdens I may not be wise to take on, and I accept that if I leave my house, I will risk a less than ideal living situation.
I accept that I am having as much trouble letting go of the life I love in Athens as I had letting go of the life I loved in San Diego.
Ray Charles’s “Georgia On My Mind” is playing on Pandora now as I write this – when I hear that song now, I feel like I’m home – and I sing along – with all my heart – it is mind-blowing how much I have grown to love Athens, Georgia – in such a short time.
I accept that I’m different than I was when I left California, and that I have a life here worthy of celebrating, filled with new friends whom I love, and who love me in return.
Most of all, I accept that I found a life of my own here, not because of my husband, but in spite of him.
Believe it or not, that is a gift that I accept, but the caveat is: it is now stopping me from letting go, when I know, in my gut, I will never get over the pain of our separation if I stay in this small city where I will always be looking over my shoulder, wondering if he’s there. Where there are memories everywhere I go. Where everywhere I go, I may run into people who knew us as married, who are his friends and colleagues – which has already happened, more than once.
I feel I am capable of letting go of the reality of him, because I already have, at least as far as leaving him alone to be with her, and to go on with his life without me.
But, letting go of him has not solved the larger problem of letting go of my home that I have built here – and when I say home, I do mean the house, but more so, I mean the full life I have built in this southeastern college town.
(There should be a manual on how to let go. I have heard of a book by Melody Beattie called The Language of Letting Go. I’m not sure what it’s about – now that I think of it, I may visit the bookstore this week and check it out – in case it fits my situation).
Before I left San Diego in 2011, one of my best friends tried to assuage my fears about leaving home by telling me that I would make new friends – he told me, “You’re bubbly and outgoing and friendly. You’ll make lots of friends.”
I believed him – it took a longer time than he predicted – 18 months longer – but he was right. And now, I don’t want to let go – I don’t want to say goodbye to them. It reminds me of exactly how I felt about leaving San Diego – the pain I felt in having to separate, geographically, from people who are so important to me.
What a gift though! What an unexpected gift! To have made wonderful friends on opposite coasts of the country, in two different states, in two different cultures.
Ten years ago, I never would have thought that was possible! I had a hard time leaving San Diego for cities within California that were a mere 300 miles away.
Athens is 3,000 miles away from Southern California.
I never imagined I would grow as much as I did – and I never imagined that I’d do it all by myself. I thought I needed him to show me the way, but when I look back at the last 7 years, I’m certain – I found my own way – to everything, and everyone, that I love here, that is part of my own life – not part of our marriage.
Letting go requires many layers – I’ve done it once, and someone once told me, anything you’ve done once (successfully), you can do again.
Someone else told me, if you do leave Athens, and you miss it, you can still go back someday. And this time – it would be on your terms, and your choice – not his.
And if you stay, same thing – it would be your choice, not his.
How powerful would that be!
The house is the hard part – I have been a homeowner now for long enough that letting go of that joy, that freedom, that independent life – where the choices are mine – is painful. Letting go of the house is going to be a long process – not as long as it took to accept letting go of my marriage, but longer than I have the luxury of giving myself to take. Life has to move forward – quickly.
What are the steps in letting go?
The first step is acknowledging that some choices were made for me, but that I still have choices that are mine to make. The outcome is not certain, but I get to make those decisions.
The second step is celebrating the bridges I’ve built, and grieving the ones that I burned, or that were burned by others.
The third step is making the most of every day – with every person. And trying to overcome the fear of grieving by running toward the joy to be found in the open arms of true friendships.
Robbi, me and Wendy
The fourth step is embracing gratitude – gratitude for who I’ve become – because I am stronger and more resilient than before.
I am a richer person in character, and in wisdom, and in relationships. I’ve been blessed in these last 7 years, in spite of what I have lost.
I was blessed with two perfect dogs that I called mine for 9 years. I was blessed with the honor of being part of a group of writers for 6 years who challenge me, and support me, and inspire me. I was blessed with the opportunity to be part of other local groups, and to enjoy many events and festivities and restaurants and gardens…and so on…and so on…that I would never have known if I had stayed in California – if he had left me behind, as he now wishes he had.
The founders of the Athens Writers Association
Friends in the Athens Writers Association
The fifth step is to pull myself together, as best as I can, with all my injuries – internal and external, emotional and physical, large and small, and make a plan. Adjust as needed. Keep moving forward. At least one thing a day – one of my friends told me. That’s something. Accomplish something every day. Toward the future.
The sixth step is to be open – open to new possibilities. And – to be open in communication with the people here I love – to tell them how much they mean to me, how much I will miss them, how I will do whatever I can to keep in touch so that our friendships continue to grow.
And when I come to visit, which I hope I will, it will be as if we were never apart. For that is how it has been with my close friends out west when I see them, or even when we just talk on the phone.
I have to believe letting go does not mean that I can never go back to Athens at all. It only means I can never go back to him, to the house I lived in with him, to the life I lived with him.
Most of the time, in my rational brain, I accept that. But then, there are days like today, where I am reminded he is coming home, from one of his trips, but not to me. Not to our house. Not to our life.
Letting go takes time.
There will always be reminders, even back in San Diego. We met there. We fell in love there. And our best years, as brief as they were (2 1/2 years), happened there.
Our first photo: March 2009
New Year’s Day 2010
It is a bigger place, with more people, and it has also changed since we left. We have not been back there, together, at the same time, since December 26, 2011. That in and of itself is a buffer. I don’t know that I will ever be able to go to see the Christmas tree at the Hotel Del Coronado, where he proposed to me, without feeling consumed with the pain of the loss. Or visit the Grand Del Mar where we got married. There are other places – UC San Diego, where we both were working when we met. The condo in Renaissance La Jolla Capri where we lived together as a family with our 3 dogs. Those are the places that will bring up memories of the happiest times we had together…once upon a time.
But, mostly, it feels like the bulk of our life happened here, just now, just yesterday. Another place, even if it is where we once loved each other, may be what I need, right now, in order to truly, and fully, let go…
I fight the feeling of anger, but lately, I do still feel anger about the unfairness of the past year. The unfairness of being the one who did all the hard work for 10 years, only to have someone else take my place in his life – potentially for the rest of her life – body, heart and soul – without making any sacrifices at all.
But – then I remember – it’s not helpful, and it’s not that black and white. I have to try to let that go, too – for my sake. I’m only hurting myself, not her, and certainly not him.
Letting go of dreams – I have not figured that out yet, not completely. I had so many dreams here. With him. Before we came here, that I did not have, or at least, I did not allow myself to have, before I met him. In fact, I told him so in my wedding vows – I told him how much it meant to me that he had opened my life to dreams that I never would have thought possible to realize.
Now – letting go of those same dreams – or having to drastically change them to fit the life of a divorced middle-aged woman – has become a battle I keep fighting. It’s like hitting my head against a wall that won’t budge.
Letting go does not have to be hard in every way – and I have found that the silver lining in the clouds is that I have let go of all that small, insignificant crap I used to dwell on. None of those little things matter anymore. That’s a good thing. Letting go of stuff that weighs you down and doesn’t matter is a good thing – in fact, it is a great thing.
I wish it did not come at the cost of letting go of the big things: love, marriage…home, family…him…but it does.
It has also taught me that I need to let go of people who do not feel that I have a place in their life – now that he and I are apart. There are six degrees of separation in a world as small as Athens, and UGA, as big of a university as it is, is still a small world.
I am learning how to let go of people who did not choose me, and to be okay with that. To wish them well with no hard feelings – and to understand that it is not about me – they just feel closer to him.
I was at Barnes and Noble a couple of hours ago – where I go to relax when I’m anxious or stressed. Bookstores are my sanctuary.
A man and his little boy approached the counter in the cafe where I was waiting to order a drink. Taylor, the guy manning the register, pointed out to the gentleman that I was there first. The father seemed flustered and said he was sorry, he just wanted a cup of water for his son. I told him not to worry, that I was not concerned. I knew he was not cutting in line (and I thought to myself, even if he were, did it really matter? No, it certainly did not!).
About 10 minutes later, the father found me wandering the aisles of the store and apologized to me again. I felt so bad for him at that point because being that he was a person of color, I wondered if he was hyper vigilant to being chastised or criticized…or worse. I reassured him that I was not worried at all and that he did not need to worry about offending me.
It made me wonder how I would have felt in that situation several years ago, and I realized, sadly, I might have sweated it, in some cases – not this one. He was just a dad getting his little boy a glass of water. But in other cases, I might have. I used to have a “stick up my ass” as they say – my own version of hyper vigilance.
I’m happy to let go of that in the wake of bigger things, of multiple losses, of straightening out my priorities.
I still battle anxiety. I still struggle with the brain changes that arose from trauma, especially Adverse Childhood Experiences ( A.C.E.) I still struggle with ADD and the challenges that brings. Lately, I am struggling with Major Depressive Disorder from losing my two dogs, and my husband, all in the same year.
Letting go has been, and will be, a process. Grief is a process. It is a maze. It zigzags. It has dead ends, and U-turns, and potholes, and sand traps.
I stared at the torn, smelly beanbag that had wreaked of Lizzie’s accidents for a long time. It had been sitting in the garage since the day after Reggie passed away.
I couldn’t let go…today, I did.
Not because I wanted to. Because I can’t take it with me. And it’s not going to get easier. I ripped off the band aid and put it inside the trash can.
I felt awful. It was Lizzie’s favorite place to rest for years, and I threw it in a trash can as if it were nothing but a meaningless piece of junk.
What it really was, to me, was a piece of my life with Lizzie. In fact, it was part of Lizzie, and I felt like I’d thrown a part of her in the trash, too.
I hate this. I love my house. I love my neighborhood. It is the one piece of stability in what is an accelerating spiral of chaos – one thing after the other.
Holding on to the house no longer means I am holding on to the past – for me, I see it as a way to ground myself in the present. But I don’t have the choice to do that. I have to be practical – on an emotional level, the practical thing to do is to find a way to stay. I won’t find a less expensive place to live, if anything, it will be the opposite in the long run – I know that. Except – a large house like this one costs money to maintain. The two sources I counted on – no, the three sources – have not worked out in the 2 months since the clock started ticking. It is the most unfair thing in the world to have this monkey on my back, but it is what is. It is the reality.
I have no idea what comes next. I hate limbo, and uncertainty.
My soon-to-be ex-spouse is the same way. I am not sure which one of us has a harder time with it, but what I do know is that right now – I’m the one in limbo, with the big question mark looming in the sky.
I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through my books and movies and clothes and keepsakes. It’s been a repeat performance again and again. But it seems no matter how many books I force myself to put into the donation boxes, there are still so many left.
My books and movies and music are my sanctuary. My mementos of the dogs and people I’ve loved over the years are my history. The notebooks from workshops I’ve attended are my education. Must I discard all of that?
My friends have been helping me sort this out in my mind – the field is split. Some say I should not get rid of the things that mean a lot to me, that give me peace, that make me happy, that I will miss, or even need, down the road.
Other friends have said I do need to be hard – to be thick-skinned about not holding onto any stuff.
That’s the problem. The stuff is easy to downsize, to discard, to throw away, or set aside to donate.
It’s the things that make a difference in getting through the days, or even things I love that have followed me through the years of my life, that I am struggling to let go of.
That beanbag – it has been five hours since I put it in the trash, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I knew I couldn’t keep it, but did I give it up too soon? Should I have waited until the very last minute before I leave the house for good?
It will never get easier. There will never be a good time.
There was never a good time to say goodbye to Reggie and Lizzie, either.
Sometimes, we don’t have choices – and those are the hardest times to make the right choice in order to not make things worse than they already are.
I first bought the beanbag in 2004 for my second graders to use during reading time. They used to argue over it – there was something about the privilege of sitting on that beanbag that made them fight each other for it. Two, sometimes three, of them would crowd together on it, giggling, pushing each other for more space. It became one of the classroom management challenges of teaching that year, but I have to admit, it was amusing, too. They were so funny, racing for a spot – at least no one tried to run over anyone. The kids were good about following the rule about no running in the classroom.
Toby was not as partial to the beanbag as he was to blankets and dog beds. It wasn’t until Lizzie and Reggie moved in with us that the beanbag endeared itself to me as a symbol of the dogs I loved. When my teaching career ended, three years before I ever met Audie’s dogs, I brought the beanbag home with me and left it in a corner of the closet, virtually untouched. I thought Toby might like it, but when he didn’t, I thought about donating it to another teacher to use in her classroom.
Obviously I ended up keeping it, and it gave Lizzie, especially, so much joy, I’m glad I changed my mind. She was so sweet – she gravitated toward it – some of my favorite memories of Lizzie are watching her sleep on it, listening to her snoring.
I miss that. I miss her.
I’m going to miss the beanbag because it reminds me of her.
It sounds crazy, but one big reason I’m angry that I have to sell the house is because it meant I had to throw away the beanbag. I literally thought about that today – if I did not have to move, I could have kept the beanbag in the garage for as long as I wanted. Every time I saw it, I felt like a part of Lizzie’s and Reggie’s past was still here.
There are other things of theirs I still have, but their favorite things are something special and the beanbag was one of Lizzie’s favorite things.
I did keep the Nyla bone chew toys she and Reggie loved so much – another one of their favorite things. I have two, one for each of them. I am keeping them both, since both dogs loved them so much – for now. One day I may gift one of them to another dog, or to a shelter. Pay it forward. But, losing the beanbag, the stinky, torn-up beanbag, makes it harder to imagine giving away anything they loved that is small enough to keep.
Lately, I walk aimlessly around the house – avoiding the act of downsizing, avoiding letting go.
I was not given a choice in letting go of Lizzie, or Reggie. The natural course of a dog’s life made that decision – that and diseases that took Reggie from me too soon, and Lizzie too suddenly for me to make the kind of arrangements for a memorial that I would have wanted. I’m grateful that I had 7 extra months with her – I would have lost her too soon if we’d gone through with letting her go on March 14th or 15th of 2018, and there is no urn or plaque or paw print that would have been worth that – never. Ironically, with Reggie, I had all that time, and yet, he died at least 2, if not 3, years before his time for a mixed breed his size.
I had no choice in letting go of Audie, either – that choice was made for me.
I wish I had a choice in letting go of the rest of it – the material things – but my resistance is making the hard stuff harder.
I’ve been working on radical acceptance.
I don’t like that it feels like someone else’s choice, not mine. That feeling that someone else has control over my life decisions is a terrible feeling. I know many people have been backed into this corner – some of whom have shared their stories with me, which I appreciate. It helps to feel less alone in a time of great losses.
Often, I remind myself out loud that it could be much worse. I remind myself out loud that today, I am in my house. I remind myself that I still have many of my favorite things I brought with me from San Diego. I remind myself that I don’t know for sure that I will have to give up all but two or three suitcases full – that could happen, but maybe it won’t. I hope not.
It bothers me that my things mean as much to me as they do. I’m told it’s common with PTSD, especially, and with multiple losses, to hold onto things – to cling to possessions.
It makes me think my priorities are screwed up.
Last night, I told my mother that I’d rather give away everything in this house, even the house itself, if I could have my life with Audie back – if he felt about me the way he feels about his new significant other. I know I’d give up everything to have Toby, Lizzie and Reggie back, too.
But, I also know that it’s easy to idealize someone after the fact – and in this case, it’s easy to idealize someone by comparing how he treats her to the way he treated me.
Thankfully, that idealization was a temporary setback on my journey to radical acceptance – which is not to say that I do not genuinely love many things about him – I do, and always will. He has many wonderful qualities.
I do not regret helping him move, either. I’ve talked about it a lot the last 2 weeks. It was unequivocally the right decision, and I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again if I had it to do over again – without repeating one or two mistakes I made at the time. Mostly, it went well, very well – from my point of view (minus the way it ended).
Most of all, it felt right to do it together – for me.
And I feel good about doing it – treating him the way I would want to be treated in his shoes, making amends for my part, wanting to make it easier on us – especially because I never wanted him to have to leave the house in the first place.
I know he will never believe this, but I did empathize with him moving to a less than ideal living situation for many months.
I hated that he was unhappy – it did not make me feel good at all.
And now – I’m left to finish downsizing alone – and it is painful.
I bought a book a little while ago called, Less. It has great pictures as well as sound advice on how to downsize and live with less. I also have the Marie Kondo book that is all the rage. The books are helping a little bit, but not as much as I hoped. I still am struggling to look into the future and know that it will be all right to let go and create new space to breathe.
There are so many things I wanted to do in Athens, that I never did. I feel the ache of that so often. Today was one of those days when I was talking to a repairman about what needs to be done to make the house ready to sell. And, it happened, again, when I was at a writers workshop later in the afternoon – thinking about how I would be able to write, and edit, and grow, in both respects, if Audie and I were still together. I often think about how I would have the space to go back for my masters, or to find the job that is the perfect fit, how I would be able to take classes, to remodel the house, to learn to do so many things I wanted to do within the marriage, because of the marriage, that I never did – because it was not the past we had.
Downsizing used to feel good, when I was single. It even felt good when I wasn’t – right before I first moved to Athens – I had to downsize then, too, to declutter – but I did not have to part with anything that meant too much to give up – no books or movies or music or keepsakes that I really wanted. No dog beds, no dog toys.
(Disclaimer: please excuse the cliche in the title – those who follow my blog know that I do not like cliches and hesitate to use them, as most writers do. But sometimes, a title just fits too well…)
What makes them think that it does? What makes them think that because someone hurt them, they have the right to hurt someone else?
My mom, whom I love very much, reads my blog.
Excuse the personal indulgence:
Mom, please, if you do read this post, do not read it by yourself. Please. You have too much pain in your life to deal with right now already. Listen to your daughter.
In the past few years, as I learned more and more about abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and trauma, I learned the term, “grooming.”
No, this is not the kind that refers to pampering your dog, or brushing your hair, or shaving your legs…
This refers to the type of grooming that men who abuse women, particularly sexual predators, use to reel in their vulnerable female victims. (**More often than not, men are the perpetrators, statistically, however, women can also be predators and groom victims – men or other women or children**).
What happens, in general, is that the predator identifies a vulnerable person and manipulates his or her weaknesses. Whatever it is he or she needs, the groomer fulfills that need. It is most often romantic tactics: attention, compliments, physical affection, gifts, and the like.
**For the purposes of this post, I will identify the predator using the male gender, but again – it can be a woman – even though statistically, it is usually a man.**
In my case, it was a man – who caught me at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.
In 2006, my longtime boyfriend, Jim, dumped me in an email. (I found out later he’d been cheating on me, and that his lover became pregnant while he was dating me, and sleeping with her, too. This was not mentioned in that email, of course).
The trauma and humiliation and confusion of that breakup left me vulnerable to the sex predator who’d been waiting in the wings for 2 years, as a “friend,” to groom me…which he did.
I was still so much in love with my ex, Jim, that I was not open to falling in love with anyone else for a long time. The “friend,” the man who groomed me, whom I will call “Garp” (one of his favorite literary characters), knew exactly what I needed: comfort, attention, affection, companionship, validation…all the things you might think a girl who’d had her heart broken might be looking for to soothe the pain.
And he knew it. He took advantage of it. He preyed upon that.
Over the course of the next year, off and on, this man preyed upon my insecurities and weaknesses, some of which arose from the loss of Jim, some of which arose from a lifetime of open wounds.
He was always available, he complimented me, told me I was beautiful and sexy, he bought me gifts and took me on dates, and was basically at my beck and call.
To my credit, I was honest with him. I told him I was not in love, and would not be. I told him that this was a transitional relationship for me. Having told him that, I felt I had done my duty by being honest.
He was not discouraged, but little did I know, he had his own agenda, too.
Around the same time I first met “Garp” online (on one of those defunct personals sites), I took a self-defense class where the instructor told us to read the book, The Gift of Fear.
All women should read this book.
If only I had applied what I learned in that book to “Garp,” I would have been saved from being another one of his victims. And perhaps I would have recognized the grooming for what it was: breaking down all my defenses such that by the time he showed his true colors, it would be too late to fight back.
Part of the reason I never fought back is that I didn’t realize I was being victimized by a seasoned predator. “Garp” convinced me that he was the victim because he was spending all his time, money and attention on me without being “loved” in return.
And I felt guilty. He wanted that. He needed me to feel guilty so that he could control me. Which he did. He controlled what I thought and believed, and how much I needed him.
To the point that on that afternoon in July 2006, I shut down, I talked myself out of it, I told myself that this was not really happening to me. I even told myself, while it was happening, that it was my fault, because he told me it was, that I led him on, that I deserved it.
A good man, a decent man, a man who was not an abuser, would not have done that, even if the “love” was not mutual.
One would think that when he didn’t stop, when I begged him to stop, and when he ignored how I cried, during the whole thing, that I’d recognize I was being assaulted, and try to get away.
But I didn’t. I was paralyzed. I did what many women do.
I disassociated from the moment and pretended that it was not what it was.
I was in shock, later, to the point that I kept seeing him for a few more months. The grooming was so successful that I even reached out to him off and on into the following year of 2007.
It was not until April 15, 2007, that the full impact of who “Garp” was, and what he had done to me, began to have some degree of clarity. And, I finally began to face the reality – this man I had previously given consent to, decided, one day, to take what he wanted without that consent.
On the night of April 15, 2007, “Garp” and I had a heated argument on the telephone, and the truth came out. His truth – came out.
He told me that he’d never wanted to be friends, that he had been after sex (and money, too, I figured out, though he did not say so). He used everything I’d ever told him in confidence, every weapon he could pull out of his arsenal, to humiliate and break me with his words: he told me no one would ever love me, that every man but him would leave me. He said my supposed college education was worthless because all I had to show for it was a clerical job (I was an administrative assistant at UCSD at that time). He said that I’d lose everyone I ever loved because of my mental illness (I have struggled with anxiety disorders and depression throughout my life).
Bottom line: he told me in every which way he could think of that I was worthless, that my life would amount to nothing, that I was unlovable, and that I had no chance of ever changing that unless I stayed with him.
They say history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes (another cliche, ugh).
“Garp” was so familiar – so much like the original abuser – my ex-stepfather, Barry, whom my mother stayed with for 27 years, from the time I was about 10 years old, until she finally cut him out of her life in 2009.
Too late to undo the damage he’d done to me.
Both “Garp” and Barry hated their mothers. Both of them seemed to hate women, in general, now that I think of it.
And both of them were abusive predators.
But, maybe that’s just a coincidence. Who am I to say…
Let’s start with “Garp,” although, the irony is: one day in 2006, when Barry first met “Garp,” he warned me and my mother that “Garp” was dangerous and should not be trusted.
“It takes one to know one..” (another, ugh, cliche), but in this case, it gave me chills – I knew something was wrong.
“Garp” had no boundaries: emotional, verbal, physical…none.
When I lived in Santa Barbara in 2006, he used to drive from San Diego to Santa Barbara without telling me he was coming, until he was about 30 minutes away from my home. He did not care that he was not invited or that it was a bad time to visit. He’d come anyway, uninvited. One time he just showed up, unannounced, altogether. Every time, knowing I was too nice to say no, he guilted me into letting him stay for the weekend. Over and over again.
Apparently, during one of these weekend visits, “Garp” broke into my MySpace account – I had the password saved in my computer.
I didn’t find out until two years later when I contacted Jim’s wife on Facebook (he had married the woman he cheated on me with). I was having one of those moments in my life when I made a not-so-healthy choice – I wanted to ask her one question, and one question only: “Did you and Jim get married?” (They did).
Little did I know that she had been angry at me for two years. Because – in May 2006, someone (Yes, it had to be “Garp”) had pretended to be me, and wrote her a hostile note from my MySpace profile.
She kept referring to me contacting her before, which I hadn’t, but she insisted. The more I insisted she was mistaken, the more angry she became about the denial on my end. It was the truth, but it was obvious that something had happened to set her off.
Finally, after three or four times of me insisting that I had no idea why she was so mad at me, nor did I have a clue as to what she was talking about, she finally said, “Let me refresh your memory…You wrote me, Enjoy your time with that womanizer while you can. You will be hurt soon enough.”
Now, luckily, Jim must have talked her down because some people could have read it as a physical threat. I would not have, but some people would. In any case, “Garp” had intentionally put me in jeopardy of having charges filed against me for online threats – as I see the situation he put me in.
I knew why he did it. We’d had a fight that weekend, in San Diego, about Jim, whom he was always insanely jealous of – because I loved Jim, and did not love him. He used to call Jim horrible names, and so on. On this particular weekend, I walked into a bar with “Garp” and Jim was there. Jim did not speak to me, or vice versa. It was the first time I’d seen him since the breakup email.
Though I had never intended on contacting “Garp,” much less seeing him again, after 2007, because of this “revelation,” I ended up asking him to meet me in a public place. I confronted him, and, as one would expect, he gave me his best stone-cold poker face – and lied. Denied the whole thing. He even claimed – with a straight face – that my mother must have done it.
Right, like my mom would ever do such a thing. She was the only other person who had access to that computer, but not only had she never even heard of MySpace, but really, my mother would impersonate me, and send a hostile threatening note to my ex-boyfriend’s lover?
Gaslighting – pure and simple. “Garp” gaslighted me – though I did not know the term at the time, it is another common tactic of abusers and predators. The term refers to the method in which predators and abusers convince their victims that they are “going crazy,” and do not know what reality is, in order to exert power and control over them. (The phrase was coined from the title of the film, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman).
“Garp” told me a lot about the other women – mostly about the woman he loved before me, Jennifer, and the woman, Lori, he used (by his own admission) after me. I feel particularly guilty about Lori – but he had her so convinced that I’d victimized him that she hated me, to the point that I was afraid of her – and him – so I did nothing.
I feel so guilty that I did nothing. Especially because she had an 8-year old son. I worried about that for years. I still do when I think about it.
“Garp” was an expert – at grooming, at gaslighting – at turning his women against each other to the point that we could not save each other, much less save ourselves.
It reminded me of my mother and me, and Barry – and how he convinced my mother he had been victimized by his ex-wives, and by me, and by his other stepdaughter from his second marriage (Mom was his third wife).
History may not repeat, but it rhymes…
On the night of January 1, 2007, I let “Garp” pet sit Toby for me while I was at an overnight sleep study to test for sleep apnea.
Toby never liked “Garp.” And vice versa.
I should have listened to my dog. Always, always listen to your dog.
The guilt I feel for what I put Toby through – that troubles me the most. Children and animals – should not be exposed to any of that. Adults get to make choices with their lives – children and pets don’t.
“Garp” used to glare at Toby, and was jealous of my relationship with Toby (a warning sign, I know now), but never touched him, so…I thought everything was fine.
I will never forgive myself because it wasn’t.
A few weeks after “Garp” stayed overnight with Toby, he emailed me photographs of copies of some of the pages of my diary.
Yes, while pet sitting for me, “Garp” had gone through my things, read my diary, found some entries about another man I was seeing, put my dog in his car, and from what he described, put my dog’s life in danger on a road rage trip to Kinko’s to Xerox the pages.
Then, he waited, and bided his time before striking – before blindsiding me with the rage in that email.
He made excuses, of course, for his behavior – he was supposedly just looking for paper to write on.
Months later, I was driving home from work, long after I had cut him out of my life, and lo and behold, I drove past “Garp,” who was driving down my street, which was nowhere near his own job, or his own apartment.
It wasn’t until Audie that the stalking ended.
In 2009, shortly after Audie and I started dating, I came into work the day after my birthday (I’d taken that day off), and found a dozen long-stemmed red roses in a crystal vase on the desk, with a card, and a CD.
At first, I thought Audie had surprised me with this post-birthday gift. (Audie was a project scientist in the UCSD School of Pharmacy and I was an executive assistant to the chair of the UCSD Mathematics Department when we met).
Nope. They were from “Garp,” whom I had not heard from since he lied to me about the MySpace incident.
He had sent the roses, and the CD of love songs he’d created to express his love for me, and a card with a long, long letter describing, in detail, his obsessive romantic feelings for me, and some extras I won’t publish.
I was terrified.
To this day, I am hoping that I stupidly had mentioned to him where I worked, or given him my business card. Or else how did he know I worked in the Mathematics Department? I had changed departments/changed jobs within UCSD since that April 2007 phone call, but I told myself it was possible I’d told him I was working in the math department, as small talk, leading up to the 2008 confrontation over the MySpace message.
I told Audie about it, and it took several emails back and forth, but Audie got him to stop – in Audie’s uniquely gifted way of handling difficult situations, and difficult people, without escalating conflict.
But – it was not the end of the emotional trauma for me.
What was worse, was the guilt I felt, and the shame – the shame of feeling I had brought this on myself – by not protecting myself, by not knowing better.
For I felt I should know better, and that I had brought it on myself – because he was not my original abuser.
I didn’t listen to Barry that day he met “Garp” in Santa Barbara, even though “the gift of fear,” and my gut instinct, told me to.
Why should I trust my original abuser?
Because he was looking in a mirror – Barry saw himself, in “Garp” – that’s why.
I wish that the one time Barry was telling the truth I had listened. But I didn’t.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’d heard, and been taught, that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Just because “Garp’s” mother, and Barry’s mother, hurt them as little boys, did not give them the right to pay it forward, and hurt other women, or in Barry’s case, hurt other women and their daughters.
The 27-year-long history with Barry, and the assault by Mom’s first post-divorce boyfriend, when I was 6, have colored and complicated my relationship with my mom my entire life.
Unfortunately, because of what happened in my marriage – because of how the trauma led me to destroy my marriage – I think it always will.
I do hope to come to terms, someday, with how my mother, and my father, did not protect me. I love my parents – but – I also know my life would have been different had they protected me from child abusers.
Now that I am wiser, and have learned a great deal about trauma and abuse, I can at least be somewhat objective. I realize that Barry groomed my mom, long ago – to the point she could not even recognize an abuser, a predator, when one was coming right for her.
When Barry was dating my mother, he spoiled me, and her. Even when they got engaged (too quickly, I might add), he continued to dote on both of us – and on my brother.
After they got married, then, he changed. Oh, did he ever.
Unfortunately, my father, my stepmother, my grandparents…no one believed me. No one.
I tried to tell them about the verbal, emotional and physical abuse. They told me I was lying, or that I was imagining it.
Eventually I stopped trying to tell them.
There is a lot of detail, a lot of in between, too much to write in this one post (maybe another someday).
But, what I will say is that one day, I tried one more time, to be heard.
During my honeymoon in October 2010, Barry somehow got my new husband, Audie’s, email address, and wrote some inappropriate things about how I looked in my wedding dress.
Audie told me about it – he was confused as to what to do about it – it creeped him out, too.
Thanks to that email, which resulted from the wedding photos that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook, I suffered from intense PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) during the first month of my marriage.
That did it. That broke my silence.
I told my brother and my sister-in-law that while I was very ill in 2002 (and temporarily living with Mom and Barry), Barry had sexually molested me – several times.
They did not believe me.
They sided with the perpetrator, not the victim.
When someone breaks their silence, it is difficult to hear the truth – but – in the end – as therapists will tell you – the family members or friends end up having to make a choice – do they believe the victim or the perpetrator?
They have to choose to believe someone.
When I was a little girl, Barry did not do that, at least I don’t think he did (to be honest, I can’t be sure of anything anymore, in that respect, now that I know how the brain will protect itself from remembering trauma). As far as I remember, it did not happen – then.
However, I was always – constantly – afraid he would rape me. Constantly.
It probably had something to do with the way he walked around the house naked, with no apologies – with a sense of arrogant narcissism that is the hallmark characteristic of an abuser. He talked about having sex, and about his sexuality, overall, as if he could pounce – at any moment.
I never felt safe from him.
As it turns out, the “gift of fear” served me well, there.
Growing up in my mother’s house, I kept my distance from Barry as much as I could. I fought back against, and defended myself against, the worst verbal, emotional and physical abuser of my lifetime -as best as I could. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why he never did rape me when I was a teenager.
After Barry’s death a few years ago, we found out from his brother that Barry was a child molester – that he had sexually molested little girls, teenage girls.
He did have another stepdaughter – one that he groomed – one who adored him, and vice versa, to the point that my mother was actually jealous of her.
Why am I telling you all this?
Good question. There is much more that I’m not telling you.
It comes back around to other posts I have written about PTSD, about trauma, about abusers, and how they manipulate their victims into believing it is their fault that they were abused – about how they manipulate their family and friends into believing that the victims, the ones who have the courage to speak out, are lying.
There are cases, from what I understand, where that does happen.
But it is also my understanding that it is the exception, not the rule.
In fact, what is more common is what I described – the victim is silenced – sometimes for decades – and when they do finally come forward – when they do finally speak out – no one believes them.
No one believes us.
No one believed me.
No one, except my husband – Audie.
Thank God, Audie believed me. I will always love him for believing me.
My mother, being a victim herself, which I won’t write more about at this time, made excuses for Barry, for many reasons, and now, I understand why she did that. For years, I felt it was a betrayal – another way of me being silenced and censored – but now, I understand how emotional abuse works, how women, how people, are groomed into making excuses for their abusers.
I’ve done it myself. We don’t know we are doing it – not until we get help – not until we discover there are many others like us – that we are not alone.
“Garp” made excuses for himself, too – blaming the women, blaming his mother, blaming his sister, blaming, blaming, blaming…
Barry blamed it on me, on his ex-wives, on my father, on the alcohol, on the cocaine, on his mother…
Even if all that is true – even if their mothers have everything to do with how they became abusers – that is no excuse. (In Barry’s case, pedophilia is much more complicated than that – there is some brain pathway research to support that).
Remember what we are taught – “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The cycle of abuse is real, though. It is easy for those abused as children, to become abusers themselves, and to become victims of abuse, again, in their adult relationships later in life.
But, it is not inevitable, and once recognized, there is help, and healing can stop that cycle.
I have always been sensitive about being censored – it came up often in my marriage – and I did not understand why, until recently.
The reason why I was so defiant with my husband about not being censored was because when I tried to tell my family Barry was hurting me – no one believed me. And when Bertram Maltz assaulted me in my bedroom when I was 6 – he censored me, too, by threatening to kill my mother and me. By telling me I deserved it, and I better not tell anyone.
And that censorship became integrated into my psyche as part of the abuse – so much so that I lost my sense of realistic expectations – of realistic limitations with my own husband.
I understand the difference now. I wish I’d figured it out sooner – sooner in my marriage.
The censorship – the silence I was forced into keeping for years – became part of the trauma – part of the shame – part of the pain.
The only way to break through that, is to understand what it really is about, and to create healthy boundaries, where it is safe to speak – where those we love want us…to speak.