Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas



It was this time last year that I filed for divorce. I was reeling; shocked at J's maliciousness and terrified of stepping into dark, uncharted territory despite the constant revelations I was receiving reassuring me that if I wanted to follow my Savior more fully, divorce was the path I must take. My middle brother, his wife and four children had all been on their way to visit me when I informed my family of my decision. They paused mid-journey to consult with my oldest brother in California, and while there, the two families decided that I should not be alone. By the time my middle brother arrived, he brought with him a moving truck and a year-long lease secured on a house just down the road from mine.


My entire family descended on the valley that Christmas and I was enveloped in love and support the likes of which one rarely matches on this earth. It was a beautiful and tender gift; the richest form of chaos; a grand gathering of nine adults and four times as many children under one roof as we ate and talked and played and testified. On one of our final nights together, we stayed up until 2am making a hilarious and ridiculously campy Christmas video that perfectly captured the way we felt about the divorce, moving on, and sticking together. 

It was such a joyful spot in that uncertain time and continues to buoy me up all these months later. This year, while we aren't gathered physically, we're united in our thoughts and love for one another. It can be so difficult to be alone at Christmas. Holidays have a way of amplifying everything-- the lights, the anticipation, the magic-- but also the loneliness, the loss and the heartache. I have been quite taken aback to find myself struggling with this.


A few weeks ago, while reading a volume of poetry I had selected from the library shelves at random, I stumbled upon this one by Jane Hirshfield:

In A Room With Five People, Six Griefs

In a room with five people, six griefs.
Some you will hear of, some not.
Let the room hold them, their fears, their anger.
Let there be walls and windows, a ceiling.
A door through which time
changer of everything
can enter.

It's an image I find quite poignant; five people together, yet alone and outnumbered by their sorrows. I wonder if the sixth grief is their joint burden of carrying their pain unspoken and unshared? The illusion of solitude a weight unto itself? For it is just an illusion-- none of us are every truly abandoned. In Isaiah 53 the Savior himself is described this way:

3. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.

5. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.


I think all of us have a fundamental human need to feel deeply understood-- to draw solace in the knowledge that we are not alone.

Last Christmas, while going for a run in the crisp morning air, I asked my brother how it was that he and the rest of my family all seemed to know what it was that I needed. None of them had ever been through a divorce-- this was just as new and confusing for them as it was for me. "I don't even know what I need myself!" I exclaimed.

He smiled and said, "I don't know what it's like to get divorced. But I understand pain. I understand fear. I can have empathy for that." Then he testified of Christ and His power to succor the pain that others did not have the ability to access. Alma 7:12 reads,

"...and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."


The very fact that Christ was born ensures that I will never, at any point, have to say, "No one knows how I feel." He has perfect empathy, perfect understanding, and thus knows how to love and support me perfectly. That matters in a way that is deep and difficult to verbalize. It is somehow profoundly healing to be known that way.

As I think about the power of that kind of empathy, it makes me consider how my own suffering allows me to better see and understand the pain of others. I have this image in my mind of a soldier coming home. He's battle-weary and traumatized and his eyes are haunted, but when he meets another soldier, he recognizes himself in the other man's eyes. They understand each other without words, and that brotherhood is a comfort.

I-- and all of us-- we're wading through a war-torn landscape. Our eyes are haunted. Life can be painful and traumatic and isolating, but this Christmas, I want you to know that I see you. And He sees you. You are not alone. I am not alone. None of us need ever be alone. Let's bear the sixth grief together.

Merry Christmas.


{image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, image 5}





Sunday, September 27, 2015

Discovering Things Unseen

TRIGGER WARNING: The following mentions instances of sex, non-consent and abuse. Please proceed with caution.




In 2011, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope was trained on a planet circling a distant star deep in the constellation Lyra. The planet (Kepler-19b) had been discovered when scientists observed that the star (Kepler-19a) dimmed at regular intervals, presumably as something passed in front of--or transited-- its face, blocking the light. 

As astrophysicists studied Kepler-19b, they noticed something odd. Her transit times periodically varied, coming earlier or later than expected by five minutes. The only inference to be made was that the gravity of another 'invisible' planet was tugging on Kepler-19b and altering its orbit.


The discovery of this third celestial body, dubbed Kepler-19c, marked the first time an unseen planet had been found in this manner-- deducing its presence by evidence of its affect on the orbit of a neighboring world. 


They called the method Transit Timing Variation


*****



My eyes snapped open, instantly awake. 

In the faint half light of pre dawn, I stared at the ceiling, studying the subtle white-on-white shadows that revealed where I'd painted thousands of tiny glow-in-the-dark pinpricks-- an entire galaxy hovering over my bed. 

You're alone, I told myself reassuringly. I focused on slowing my heartbeat; on dispelling the adrenaline that vibrated through my veins with painful iciness, already numbing my fingers. 

It didn't help. 

My stomach roiled and I leapt to my feet, making it to the bathroom just in time to empty my stomach or my bowels or both. Afterward, I stared at my own face in the mirror, sickened by the fear I saw behind my eyes. 

Enough, I commanded. 

I took a dry erase marker, left on the counter for writing daily To Do lists, and with trembling hand scrawled, "You no longer have to share your body" in large, bold letters overtop my reflection. 

"You're safe," I whispered aloud. 

Even still, as I returned to bed, I wrapped myself -tight, tight, tight- in a blanket and turned my back to the empty space where J used to sleep. 

*****


"Has he ever hit you?" Mom asked, a familiar worry line marring the smooth skin between her brows. Her voice was calm, her face expressionless, but her eyes passed over me searchingly, taking in the tense set of my shoulders; my knees drawn instinctively to my chest; the shallow intake of air that betrayed the fact that, for a moment, I'd forgotten how to breath. She saw and she was alarmed, albeit skilled at hiding it. 

"No," I answered, looking away. I knew I was overreacting, but her notice made it all the worse. 

"Are you afraid that he will?" She probed gently. 

"No," I sighed, unable to even imagine it of J. He was weak in every sense of the word; critical, petulant and immature-- disappointing more than threatening. Yet, there I was; shivering with the effort not to bolt at his approach. "I don't know what's wrong with me," I apologized. 

Mom nodded, pressing her lips into a thin, determined line and looking at me as though she suspected there were words that I refused to say; as though, were she to gaze long enough, she might be able to divine them. 

"It's just--" she started, her hand stretching out tentatively, not quite touching my cheek before letting it drop to her lap once more. "You flinch like a woman who's been beaten." 

*****


"It's a form of PTSD," my new therapist intoned, scribbling in her notepad."Your body believes you're in mortal danger, so it directs all blood flow to your core to preserve your life and floods your nervous system with fight-or-flight hormones."

"Well, It's stupid," I declared through chattering teeth, the knit throw over my shoulders doing little to stop my involuntary quaking. I'd removed my shoes and curled my feet beneath me. Even my toes seemed to quiver. "He was a liar and a jerk but he wasn't abusive. There's no reason for my body to freak out like this all the time."

A quiet smile crossed her face as she looked up. "You've been through trauma," she said, her tone patient. "More than you're willing to acknowledge. When pain isn't dealt with or processed, it gets stored in the body and surfaces in other ways. What you're experiencing is a perfectly normal response to abuse."

"I wasn't abused," I muttered stubbornly. 

"I can teach you grounding techniques," she continued. "You have racing thoughts? Trouble sleeping? Grounding helps with that."

"How do you know I'm not just overly sensitive?" I asked, my mouth unnaturally dry.  I had a flash of J yelling and me cowering, too scared to stand up for myself. I felt my face flush with shame. "I managed just fine for years and now that I suddenly decide that I'm 'Watson', everything--" my voice caught, and I shook my head angrily. "Everything hurts. How do you know that it isn't just me? That I'm not just doing this wrong?"

"How do I know you've been traumatized?" She clarified and I nodded. Her eyes softened and she leaned back in her chair, shrugging as though it should be obvious. "I'm looking at you."

*****



I shut my computer with a loud click and raised my hand, palm down, to the level of my eyes, watching as it trembled violently. Already, an icy shock of nervous energy was sweeping through my limbs, settling in my stomach like a collection of jagged icicles. Sweat prickled the back of my neck and my heartbeat thumped uncomfortably loud in my ears. 


$@#%, I mentally cursed, This is going to be bad, and I moved to lace on my running shoes. If I didn't act now, I was bound to be sick at my desk. 

Stepping into the cool December air didn't have the mind-clearing affect that I'd hoped. Thoughts and fragments of memories were already crowding the edges of my mind like skittering spiders. With effort, I brushed them aside and concentrated on matching my breath to the movement of my legs. 

Stride, stride, breathe. 

Stride, stride, breathe. 

As I ran, I cast my mind back, searching for what triggered this particular trauma response. Miggy's post? I wondered. Just that morning, she'd written eloquently and passionately about the plague of pornography. I'd had every intention of leaving her a comment commending her efforts, but then-- then I'd started shaking, I realized. But why? I'd lived in this world of betrayal and addiction for years; why would mention of it now bring on such a visceral-

The slip is the color of warm champagne, lace frothing the neckline and hem. I let it slide through my fingers as I lay it out, relishing the cool caress on my skin. "You aren't shy to wear it?" mom asks, something akin to awe on her face. "No," I answer honestly. It's the night before my wedding and I haven't a twinge of apprehension. "I can't imagine," she says wonderingly, "you've made it all this way without baggage or fears or scars. I'm so happy for you."


The memory came so unexpectedly that I stumbled mid-pace.


Not now, I told myself brusquely, sending the spider-thoughts scurrying back to their dark corners. I had to stay present; had to figure out why I couldn't seem to get through a single day without my body falling apart on me. I was tired of feeling broken; tired of feeling helpless and something about Miggy's post had brought it on again. I worried it like a stone between my fingers, convinced it held a hint to what was happening to me. 


Innocence, I mused. It has to do with innocen- 


We'd discussed this night at length, planning each detail with careful consideration. He unzips my dress slowly, letting it slide from my shoulders and fall to the floor. "Oh," he exclaims softly, but he looks dismayed. "I forgot," he motions to my garments and begins awkwardly peeling them from me until I stand, naked and blushing in front of him. He's my husband, I remind myself and raise my eyes to meet his gaze. What I see on his face is an expression of pure... disappointment. 


I tore my mind from the past angrily.




Stop it, I demanded with an edge of panic. Stay focused! I could sense a door in my mind slowly creaking open and I had no desire to see what lurked inside. Whatever it was, I knew it wouldn't be a solution. I turned down a remote dirt road and attempted to pick up speed.


He looms above, looking not at me, but down at himself, frustrated and limp. "I can still do it," he says. I think by "it," he means get an erection, but that isn't what he means. He rubs against me, grunting and groaning in a way that makes me look away uncomfortably until he is finished. I lay in shocked silence as he collapses beside me and asks, "What did you think?" I don't know how to answer. Later, he confides, "You weren't what I expected. I thought your breasts would look different. Bigger. Perkier."


I bit back a curse as my eyes began to sting. Running wasn't helping-- the breathing required for strenuous exercise too closely mimicked sobs, and I could feel the hysteria building in my chest. As if sensing weakness, more thoughts crawled from their dark recesses and I was plunged into memory once more.


We're kissing when he pulls back, places his hands firmly on my shoulders and presses me to my knees. "Hey!" I protest. We've talked about this-- he knows my answer. "C'mon," he sighs, exasperated. "You can't say no unless you've tried it." He un-


He's barely spoken to me in weeks. I fall asleep alone, but wake at three in the morning to him moving over me. I'm so lonely; my lips meet his, desperate and longing. "Not like that," he says, something in his voice that I can't quite place. "Like this," and he shoves-


He's just told his parents that he can't enter the temple for his brother's wedding the next day. I lie in bed, feeling hopelessly lost. He turns to me wordlessly, and though my body tenses, every muscle clearly screaming 'no', I do not say it. I simply turn away and cry while-


I peel off sweaty gym clothes and step into a hot shower. A moment later, he joins me. "What do you think you're doing?" I ask, startled. I must have forgotten to lock the door. "You're such a tease," he smirks, "You're all, 'look, don't touch,' but I know what you really want." He moves to-


My body responds of its own volition, over and over again. "See?" he grins, "You always end up enjoying it. I just wish you'd remember that so I wouldn't have to work so hard to convince-


Stop.


We're in the car when he reaches for me and-


STOP.


He pulls open the bedside drawer-


STOP!


He takes-


STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP!




Gradually, my vision cleared. I became aware of rocks pressed painfully into my knees and shins, and after a moment, came to grasp that I had collapsed in the dirt, shaking uncontrollably and weeping.

Oh God, I gasped internally, digging my fingers into the earth, trying to gain purchase, trying to halt the horrible feeling that I was infinitesimally small and insignificant-- that I might float away and disappear. What was wrong with me? I choked, self loathing making me retch. Why hadn't I stopped him? Why hadn't I protected myself? 


Something was building, snowballing, threatening to consume me. I could feel it menacing, preparing to swallow me up; this huge, unfixable realization that would leave me changed and shattered and I did not want it; could not face it-- I should have said no. I should have run. I should have pushed him away, I should have--


For a fraction of a second, time stopped. My thoughts were stilled, the world silenced and a voice-- too small to be heard, yet large enough to encompass my entire being-- reverberated through my body:


The biggest 'should', it said gently, is that he should not have abused you.


I took a slow, shuddering breath.


But it wasn't abuse, I answered in despair, It was my fault. I could have stopped it and I didn't.


In reply, my mind lit up with images, playing back each of the harrowing experiences I had just re-lived with the exception of one minor alteration-- in each of the memories, I was a child. I watched as all of J's painful words-- You weren't what I expected. You can't say no. You're such a tease. You always enjoy it.-- fell on the ears of a frightened, loving and wide-eyed little girl.


And I knew.


Miggy's post had been about protecting the innocence of children, and that is exactly what I'd been-- innocent. It was a rare gift to enter marriage as trusting and virtuous as I had been, and J, rather than cherishing me for it, had taken advantage.


I folded in on myself and sobbed.



******



It took a long time to get home.


When I walked through the door, mom could tell at a glance that I was wreaked. She ushered me upstairs and closed the door, her face a map of concern.


"What happened?" she asked, already enveloping me in an embrace.


I felt wrung out and defeated, but forced myself to utter the words for the fist time. "I think," I said, my voice breaking, "that my marriage was sexually abusive." Then I leaned on her and cried, surprised that I had any tears left.


"Oh, honey," she murmured, stroking my hair. "I know."



*****


It was raining when I stepped out of the theater following a viewing of a foreign film called Phoenix. I managed to make it to the car before the trembling started in earnest.

The movie took place in the aftermath of World War II; the protagonist-- having barely survived being shot and left for dead in a concentration camp-- is told that her husband was the one who turned her in to the gestapo.


She can't accept it.


She seeks him out, desperate to reconstruct their life together and forget the horrors of the war, but he-- he doesn't recognize her. He doesn't see her or the pain of what she's been through. Instead, he makes a proposition: pretend to be my dead wife and we can split her inheritance. 


Wounded and confused, she agrees, and for two torturously long hours I watched her prostrate herself, submitting to insult and humiliation believing that he'll remember-- that he'll love her. She's blind to his callousness until the very end, when finally her eyes are opened and she gains the strength to rise from the ashes.


It was the most vivid, heartbreaking and accurate depiction of betrayal I'd ever seen-- and it sent me into an absolute tailspin.


"I did that for years," I keened into the phone. "Why couldn't I see who he was? What's wrong with me?"


Mom sighed. "You're avoiding the real question," she said sagely. "You keep blaming yourself instead of examining the thing that truly tortures you."


*****


Mom's comment haunted me for days. It spun round and round in my mind until one afternoon while listening to Damian Rice, a few lines from Delicate seemed to stand out to me in stark relief:

Why'd you sing hallelujah

If it means nothing to you?
Why'd you sing with me at all?

And my throat closed, overcome with emotion.


Oh, I realized. The question wasn't, "Why didn't I?" but, "How could he?"


There was no answer.



*****

It's strange now to think that there was a time when I believed that love was supposed to hurt; that it meant sacrificing small pieces of myself until what was left was unrecognizable.

I breathe easier these days.


The shaking has mostly stopped.


Recently, I was sitting with Mom when a thought occurred to me. "You said you knew," I exclaimed, turning to her. "I told you that I thought my marriage had been sexually abusive, and you said you knew. How? I'd denied it for so long-- I didn't even know it myself."


She squeezed my hand, her eyes shining. "It was like Transit Timing Variation," she said. "The cause was unseen, but your whole orbit was off."


And I smiled.






{all images by Emma McNally}



Post Script: This has been an unusually graphic entry and the decision to write it as such was not made lightly. I spent a decade trying to figure out on my own whether what I was experiencing was 'normal' or if I was just 'overreacting'-- a difficult task when so much of our sex lives are spoken of in euphemisms or not at all. I tended to fill in the blanks, concluding that every woman was treated as I was and that that was why marriage was 'hard work'. Then, one day I read a post Shay wrote where she described a scenario with which I was all too familiar-- and she called it rape. It changed my world. I longed for bluntness; I hungered for specifics. This post is for women like me.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Letting Go


A few weeks after J emptied our bank accounts, I sat in a dark movie theater. I felt raw. The divorce had gone from tragic to ugly in the blink of an eye, and I was still reeling from it all. I couldn't seem to reconcile the person I'd believed J to be with the man who now, at every cross-roads, was choosing the worst possible course of action. I was shocked. And yet I was shocked that I could still be shocked.

As the light from the projector flickered, I sought a temporary reprieve from reality. Instead, music swelled, Martin Freeman's face filled the screen, and something 

     within


           me 


              broke


When J and I married, I was young but incredibly earnest. I'd always felt older than my years, eager to skip the frivolities of youth in order to get about the business of building a real life. I thought that the largest barrier standing between myself and said life would be finding someone who could love and appreciate me. I was introspective and bookish; awkward, socially anxious, and nowhere near seductive. The man who pursued me would, merely by his interest in me, prove he wasn't superficial. So when I met J and his gaze became one of focused adoration, I was stunned... and flattered. 

Our courtship was brief and exhilaratingly intense. Three months after we met, he proposed, and three months following his proposal, we were married. I was so lucky. 

But things changed. Literally overnight.  

He immediately became distant, indifferent, and often appeared disgusted by me. Our relationship seemed fraught with land mines I could neither see nor understand. If I kissed him, he'd pull away, calling me needy. If I held his hand in public, he hissed that I was embarrassing him. He'd neglect me for weeks on end, only to turn to me without warning in the middle of the night with a fierce and impersonal appetite. It was disorienting.



I was being eaten alive by confusion and heartbreak, often dissolving into tears and demanding to know why everything felt so wrong. J would only look at me, perplexed, and tell me that he hadn't a clue what I was talking about. Our marriage is perfect, he insisted. I'm completely content. Which left me feeling exactly as he'd described me-- flawed and hopelessly needy. 

Sometimes, I'd attempt to suss out the state of my friends' marriages. "Is it... what you pictured?" I'd ask haltingly. No, they would tell me. Marriage is hard. And I'd nod, simultaneously comforted and ashamed. It's me, then, I'd think. I'm doing it wrong. 

So I worked harder. 

For two and a half years, I did everything in my power to earn his love. Until one night, J grudgingly confessed to having a 'little problem' with pornography. He turned his back and slept, oblivious while I lay at his side, silently crying as memories flashed unbidden through my mind. With dawning horror, I replayed every hurtful moment, casting them in an entirely different light until bile rose in my throat. I felt pathetic. 

Used 

Dirty. 


In the months that followed, I was told that his addiction had nothing to do with me. "You didn't cause it and you certainly can't cure or control it,I heard over and over again. "His actions aren't meant as a personal affront."


Well, I thought, It sure feels effing personal to me. 


I was also told that his addiction didn't define him. It was a part of him, but a small part. Everything else that I'd known and loved about my husband was still true. It's his problem to solve, they said, and it's not an uncommon one at that. 

J, of course, was eager to echo their sentiments. You're young and sheltered, he placated. I can understand why you didn't realize that every guy does this. It doesn't mean I don't love you. 

This can't be love, I despaired.


Before long, the cacophony of voices pressing in on me from all sides merged into a single message: Normal. 

I felt betrayed-- not only by J, but by everyone. God, who had seen this coming; my leaders, whose admonitions to forgive felt divorced from my reality; and an entire religious culture that had set me up to believe in virtue and loyalty when clearly, there was an unspoken understanding that they did not exist. I felt duped on a grand scale, angry and humiliated at my naïveté.



My first instinct was to leave; simply run. I was not made for this world, I thought. By that time, however, I had already given birth to our first child, which meant I was invested-- or trapped, I couldn't seem to decide which-- so I resigned myself to staying. But marriage felt like a ridiculous farce; I became a specter of my former self; broken, bitter and terribly afraid.

It was then that I first found myself drawn to House. In times of turmoil, I have a tendency to disappear into narrative, whether it be books, movies, television or my own writing. House was acerbic, cold, quick-witted, cutting and perceptive-- his disgust for all of humanity was only ever tempered by his uncanny genius for solving perplexing medical mysteries; he hated people in general and told them so in articulate, biting fashion. I adored him. 

My fascination with the character had come on swiftly and too intently to be benign. It was a hint; a glimpse into my own inner workings; but I remained blind to my motivations even as I studied him with a ferocious urgency bordering on desperation. 


Everybody lies, he said. 

Yes, I thought. 

In the meantime, our therapist guided me through the faith crisis that had descended upon me after J's confession. As I slowly learned to feel safe with Heavenly Father again, I began to believe her when she assured me that I could find healing independent of J's recovery-- or lack thereof. You control your own actions and attitudes, she said. No one can 'make' you feel anything.

This was maddening, of course, because J managed to successfully hurt me all the time. It's me, then, I thought. I'm doing it wrong. 

My mistake, I decided, was that I'd entered marriage believing I could rely on my husband for love, self-esteem, encouragement and comfort, when obviously he was incapable of providing any of it. One moment he might offer a morsel of kindness, but the next he was just as liable to snatch it back, demand payment or launch some kind of subtle emotional attack. I was continually suffering betrayal at the hands of the one person I thought I should trust implicitly, and as a result, was being forced to navigate an unsafe marriage the only way I knew how: by dramatically lowering my expectations. 

The attitude I saw displayed by House struck me not only as practical, but true: People never change. They just become more of who they really are.



I'd fallen for the fairy tale. I'd bought into the myth, thinking that love would 'complete' me. Disillusioned, I resolved that I wouldn't need. I wouldn't want. I wouldn't expect. I was going to stop caring. I was going to detach

For me, it was transformative. With a simple shift in perspective, I concluded: Marriage is not a place to receive love. It's a tool for learning and growth, and the pain seemed to melt away. Radical acceptance of J's inability to make me happy allowed me the freedom to pursue my own happiness. To my delight, I  quickly discovered that I actually had an enormous capacity for joy-- regardless of my circumstances. I blossomed. 

As I experienced this healing, my view of J changed. He still wasn't the calibre of man I'd thought him to be, but I was becoming cynical that any man was. At heart, I believed J was just a wounded, angry child-- untrustworthy, but deserving of compassion even if if he was unable to reciprocate it. I decided that I could love him safely and unconditionally. 

I successfully functioned in this manner for years, until what had started out as a mere coping mechanism morphed into a staunchly held belief. Detachment wasn't just temporarily required, it was the key to all happy marriages. My concept of 'normal' warped, and I became proud of my pragmatism



But a decade is a long time to guard one's heart. As the years passed, invariably I would find myself lowering my defenses. One evening, I sat listening to Iron and Wine under the heavy stillness of a September sky. As I sung:

one of us will die inside these arms
eyes wide open, naked as we came
one will spread our ashes 'round the yard

I choked, gripped by an inexpressible longing to love and be loved that deeply. The grief I felt at the loss of impossible ideals gaped like the frighteningly large expanse of stars above me. With difficulty, I tamped the feeling down, reproving my momentary lapse. That isn't my reality, I reminded myself mournfully. That isn't anyone's reality. 

It was a tough lesson to learn, but pain was a valuable teacher; and without fail, pain always followed when I opened myself up to J. I tried to tell myself to expect his duplicity, getting angry not at his lack of character, but at my continued capacity to be hurt. But I was tired of feeling alone. 

When I discovered Sherlock, it felt as though someone had handed me an instructional manual on surviving the life I hadn't been born equipped for.  I watched even more raptly than I had House, my desire an almost physical thing.  I wanted-- no, I needed-- to be him. 


Sherlock lacked House's bitterness, he instead floated above the rest of humanity unencumbered by sentimental attachment. His brilliance allowed him to verbally flay others while his sociopathic dispassion rendered him impervious to their opinions of him. Caring, the Holmes brothers agreed, is not an advantage, and I yearned for that kind of freedom. 

During what later turned out to be one of the darkest years of our marriage and the nine-month separation that followed, I told Heavenly Father that I was going to stop being invested in an outcome; then wrapped myself in detachment like Sherlock's black greatcoat. Not caring lifted me, unscathed and relatively optimistic, through the worst of the trenches; until one day our therapist turned to me and told me that what we had was not a marriage. You need to give him the opportunity to meet your needs, he advised me gently. You need to let him in. 

This, of course, was terrifying. Channeling Sherlock was both my safety and my salvation; but the more that I balked, the more J insisted that detachment had always been the true source of everything that was wrong between us. I've figured out the problem, he said. It's you.


J detested the Sherlock archetype and began to take pains to point out what he felt were our similarities. If I was reluctant to accept physical affection, he complained crossly that I was cold and inhuman. If I sent back food at a restaurant, he hung his head, mortified, and said my tactlessness was embarrassing. If I became prickly over his father's lack of boundaries, he moaned woefully that I wasn't as attuned to the feelings of others as he was. He constantly pushed for more from me --more tenderness, more vulnerability, more affection. Fight for us, he insisted. Do your part!

Until eventually, I began to believe him. 

It's me, then, I thought. I'm doing it wrong. I cast the roles in my mind: he must be sensitive Watson while I was incapable-of-maintaining-a-relationship-Sherlock. I vowed to change; to bare my throat and take the leap. 



It was like living without skin. Raw. Exposed. Breathless. J was incapable of even faking empathy, but I was too consumed with the pain to realize that I had permission to protect myself once more. He demanded and I gave until there was hardly a shell left of me-- I'd conditioned myself to expect nothing from him, but everything from myself; until when, at last, he told the lie that slit my throat, it was almost a relief. 

And so, that night as I sat in a darkened movie theater, I could not understand how it was possible for him to hurt me still. If disappointment was just unmet expectations, how was I still expecting too much from him? Why couldn't I learn? 

It's me, then, I thought. I'm doing it wrong. 

I closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh as the lights flickered and the previews began. When I looked up, Martin Freeman appeared on screen and for one confusing moment, my mind refused to see him as Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit-- he was simply and purely Sherlock's Watson. 



Watson, who was loyal, steadfast and kind; who lived through a war yet believed in the innate goodness of people; who loved a narcissist yet only saw his humanity; who was lied to by his wife, yet forgave and assured her that the problems of your past are your business, but the problems of your future are my privilege. Watson, who was both rescuer and protector, idealistic and moral, quiet and strong, humble, long-suffering and deeply, undeniably good

In a flash of recognition, it hit me: J was not Watson. I was. 

With a great, shuddering heave, something broke apart within me and in a rush of anguish, I acknowledged to myself just what I had sacrificed; how much of myself I had had to deny in order to keep loving J-- not because he'd ever earned such devotion, or would even do the same for me--but simply because I believed that that is what you do when you love someone; and I was determined to love well. 

I'm an idealist, I thought, stunned. 

Which meant that Sherlock had only ever been my armor; a coping mechanism that had served its purpose, but had altered my view of the world around me.



As I watched the movie that followed-- Interstellar; a film so powerful and touching that I still struggle to put it into words-- it felt as though icy walls I'd built around myself were calving off, melting in pools at my feet; and in their place, impressions rushed as a flood of feelings and images I could hardly absorb fast enough. 

Cooper said, We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt, and my breath hitched in my throat.  

For the second time in my life, memories flashed, unbidden, only this time I could see how all along, I'd had examples of idealism, nobility, and real love. They'd been as ever present as Watson at Sherlock's side, but I'd always turned away; boxed them up; adjusted my expectations in order to be content with sitting in the dirt. Because looking at the stars-- seeing them, wanting them, and not being able to have them-- that was the real agony.  

I'd given up everything. J had been gravity and I-- I had tethered myself to him. Not because I didn't care, but because I did. I'd loved him. Despite the pain and without reward, I'd clung to the tether, willing to stay earthbound forever just on the promise that someday, maybe, he might glance skyward. 

It's me, then, I thought, with tears in my eyes. I'm doing it wrong. 

So I let go. 

And I reached up. 



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Truth-telling


October 30, 2014

I woke up knowing I had to tell the kids.

Too many people knew. Their aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, home teachers, and bishop-- J had spread the word of our divorce, hoping to build a wall of dissenting voices that would tell me how foolish I was and convince me to stay. Instead, I was certain that at any moment, my children were going to discover the demise of our marriage from someone other than me. 

Or worse-- they would notice the piles of papers I was filling out or they would catch a glimpse of the google searches I was doing for divorce lawyers or they would see the haunted look on my face or maybe they would just feel it in the air and know that SOMETHING was off-- the same way I had always known when something was off in my marriage-- and they'd walk around quietly feeling crazy, blaming themselves for an uneasiness and tension they couldn't articulate. 

I had to tell them. 

I woke up with the conviction growing within me; a whisper of peace in my ear nudging, "now, now, now," despite the fear lodged firmly in my belly. I was terrified, for although I knew I had to tell them, I couldn't fathom having J at my side when I did. 


I tried to convince myself that if I were a mature adult acting in the best interests of my children, I'd put aside my own feelings long enough to present a united front for them. I told myself that it was my job to allay J's fury, to brush off the stomach-twisting terror I felt at the thought of his presence in order to preserve our ability to parent together. But no matter how my mind framed my intentions to 'do divorce differently', my body was having absolutely no part of it. 

My physical reaction was both shocking and confusing. I shook uncontrollably--my hands numb, my teeth chattering--and merely speaking of J left me curled in a ball, sick with dread. Once again, I watched helplessly as my body made uncompromising, instinctual decisions for me. I simply would not and could not be in the same room with J.

What I now know is that I was in trauma; but at the time, I was ashamed of the fear I felt. I mistakenly believed that my inability to ignore my feelings about the man that had yelled at, belittled, and blamed me must mean that I was weak and doing something wrong. After all, I was certain that there would be hell to pay if I told the kids without J. I could see the backlash coming, and even so, I couldn't make myself conform to his wishes in order to prevent it. I had been mitigating J's tantrums for years and now when it mattered most, my body was betraying me. I felt like a failure.

But I knew-- I knew-- I had to tell them. That knowledge was the only bright and sure thing in my storm of doubt and chaos. 

So I did what I thought was only respectful-- I emailed J to let him know of my intentions. At least that way, he wouldn't be able to say I'd blindsided him, and perhaps my fears would prove to be completely unfounded. Maybe he would be gentle and empathetic, saying, "I understand. Of course I wish I could be there, but I trust you to do what is best. I'll talk to them later and let them know that I love them." 

I held my breath and pushed send.

Almost instantly, I was barraged by a hailstorm of phone calls and shaming, angry text messages. "That is unfair and mean!" "Stop doing this for you!" and "Now forever they will think of this news every Halloween. Not cool." 

Again, I was overtaken by a massive, physical response to his fury. I began to panic and started to pray, doubting whether I was doing the right thing, but before the words even formed in my mouth I was flooded with a feeling of, "Yes, now." So I left the phone off the hook, silenced my cell, and took a moment to speak to each child individually. 

It was like skydiving with only the promise of a parachute. 


I had hoped that if God ever asked me to announce such a thing to my kids, He'd also put the perfect words in my mouth to soften the blow. But He didn't. My kids were left with just me-- trembling with fear, but speaking with as much faith as I could muster as I testified to them that they were deeply loved by both earthly and heavenly parents and that we would all be okay. Some of the conversations involved questions, others tears, but all were simple and sacred despite how inadequate I felt. 

When at last it was over, I felt relieved and drained. 

I let J know how things had gone; what I'd said, how they'd reacted, and what had concerned them the most. I invited him to come speak with each of the children himself that evening, then left my mom to answer the door while I sought safety outside of the house. It wasn't until that moment, while I sat trembling in a parking lot around the corner, that it occurred to me that it was not my fault that I was afraid of him. He had taught me to fear him. He had earned my inability to trust him. This-- the fact that we couldn't even be in the same room while announcing our divorce-- was a consequence of his choices, not mine. That sudden clarity did not remove my fear, but it did take away my shame.

The next day J took the kids trick-or-treating. 

It was surreal-- several times he approached me, loudly confident and overly charming, trying to strike up casual conversation. His demeanor was arrogant-- it reminded me of the look in his eyes after he'd watched me cry, and as soon as he left, I was in the throes of trauma once more. Mom held me and tried to make sense of it. "If you aren't afraid that he'll hit you, what are you so scared of?" She asked. 

The answer came unbidden from my lips and surprised both of us. "Without sex, I no longer have anything to bargain with. He doesn't love me. There's nothing left to stop him. He has no reason to hold himself back."

"But what does that mean?" She asked, perplexed. "What could he possibly do?"

I shrugged helplessly, certain that punishment was coming, but unable to vocalize the dread I felt. 


The next morning, I found that he'd drained every last penny from our banking accounts.