A memory came up on social media today from four years ago – from deep in the worst year of my relationship. The year where I dug up so, so many betrayals and yet – still – tried to figure out a way to keep the ship of family afloat.
I had a toddler barely toddling.
I had bought into the illusion of family with all my being.
I believe nothing is perfect.
I believe that relationships can be hard.
My religion is: hard work and redemption and education and love.
I don’t give up.
I am tenacious.
I was confused.
So fucking confused.
My mind and body, completely unknown to me until so recently, were both hijacked by chemicals and neural pathways and constant adrenaline floods that made confusion a constant state.
By his design.
This morning, I saw this photo from exactly four years ago and it was captioned with something about having gone out with friends the night before for the first time in forever and closing the neighborhood bar down. Something about having gotten an overnight sitter so I could sleep in but still being awake before 8:00am.
Something about Hedwig and coffee getting me through the day.
This picture looks so different to me today.
What I see now is the piece of paper taped to my lamp base. It’s a quote from a song I played on constant rotation that fall. Sleep on the Floor by The Lumineers. The album was new and that song was my plea to the universe to let my life – my family – work out as I so desperately wanted it to.
If the sun don’t shine on me today
And if the subways flood and the bridges break
Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave
Or will you rail against your dying day
I thought I was praying to be strong. To fight for what mattered.
I was really praying: Help me outrun the truth and live in my make-believe.
I would read that quote when I woke up. I would read it when I went to bed. For a while, I had it on the bathroom mirror, right above where you could still see the ghost of the dry erase marker ink that I’d used to scrawl Would you want someone to treat your daughter like this? Then why? Why do it to me?
As if that plea could reach him.
Now I see, in bold resolution, the book spine above my cup. One of the few non-textbooky books I devoured that year on getting through betrayal. On making something positive out of it. One I didn’t hide in shame as I searched for a story that would let me hang onto hope.
(It’s not at all lost on the now me that this author is now living a completely different life out of the relationship that gave her so much to get through and writes about living honestly and authentically.)
I see the two books below it that have their spine turned away from view. They were two of the handful of self-help books I bought and read and tried to share with x.
Books with roadmaps for rebuilding trust.
Even typing that sentence made me exhale a sort of sad laugh.
What. A. Fool.
I even sent him one of the pages from one of those books that outlined what to do to make your partner feel safe after you betray them during one of the days-long fights during that 2016 Fall of Betrayal where he retreated downstairs after I got triggered by some memory of his lies and cheating and he told me to get over it already and stop attacking him about it just because it was hard for me.
That he didn’t feel safe.
Because I cried. Because I asked him to hold me and promise it wouldn’t happen again.
Because I dared to explain how bad it hurt.
That’s an attack.
I’m now processing my anger at those damn self-help books that I positioned so no one could even see the titles. That I bought online and kept off my goodreads list so no one would even know I needed them. No one would know I was that kind of reader now.
I told my therapist yesterday that not ONE of those books had a checklist anywhere in it to see if the relationship could even be saved by these techniques.
They all assume two normal people. Zero sociopaths. Zero psychopaths.
Those books seemed like lifeboats to me but they were bricks tied to my ankles.
Yes. Stay. You can save this.
Just work hard enough.
Just say the right thing.
I tried to burn those books in the BBQ one year after this picture was posted.
I cried that I couldn’t even set those on fire adequately. They were only barely singed around the edges.
I didn’t even have the energy at that point in my life to do that right.
It was about my actual physical inability to do anything but barely survive the abuse.
But it felt like one more failure when I was already being crushed under an avalanche of failure.
I took those two slightly charred books and stuck them up on a high shelf in my bedroom closet instead of tossing them out. With the burned edges facing out.
I somehow thought the sight of them might move him somehow.
Just one more small, crazy thing I did in the middle of the abuse.
I spent years thinking my pain might move him somehow.
It did. Just not how I hoped.
He crafted it. Devoured it. Lived on it.
So he doesn’t get to see my pain anymore.
And he doesn’t get to cause it.
When I finally moved those books, I threw them in an old washer outside.
It was a month after he was out of the house for good and yet I still couldn’t toss them.
I hung onto that image of the barely burned books as something that truly captured my life during that sea-sick year.
Some sort of symbol of something. Of who knows what. Not what they were meant to be.
About six months ago I tossed them for good.
In that four year old photo, I also see the ghost of those amazing friends who all flew down from Portland to stay with me that weekend.
The ghost of them downstairs as I took that photo; all of us hung over from booze and Hedwig and laughing.
The fun we had the night before and more that very day.
The way those people have buoyed me as much as anyone possibly could in this last year.
I see the ghost of the things I didn’t know to share with them, then. The things I didn’t understand enough to articulate.
Their love and support now that I do and I can.
I hear that Lumineers song very differently now.
I have an old cheesy, thrift store painting in my stairwell of some people on a boat and have been planning to add those lyrics to the scene.
I spent too long railing against my dying day thinking that was all I had to do.
Not realizing there was also a grave to dig.
That thing had to die. I had to bury it.
In order to not die myself.
I have spent a year digging its grave after so many years of trying to do anything at all to not realize it was aiming for death from the beginning.
After so long of forcing myself to believe that railing against my dying day meant saving the family I never had.
As if that song was about saving us instead of saving me.
I never had that family I was trying to save.
Pack yourself a toothbrush dear
Pack yourself a favorite blouse
Take a withdrawal slip
Take all of your savings out
‘Cause if we don’t leave this town
We might never make it out
I was not born to drown
My nightstand now has a framed print with a Frida Kahlo quote, a potted fern – the plant I have the most trouble keeping alive but that reminds me of Portland parks and tall trees and life – and a novel.
I don’t read about mending betrayal anymore.
I read about psychopaths sometimes. To give myself the teflon coating necessary to weather this ‘co’parenting thing.
So that I can remember that absolutely nothing I could have done would have kept me from having to dig that grave.
I dug, finally. Shovelful by painful shovelful.
Not my grave, though.
Then I untethered all the lifeboats and let them sail off.
I’ve spent over a year now sending them back off to sea for someone else to use.
For someone who still needs them; I don’t anymore.
I no longer travel in a boat full of holes.