Monday, 26 November 2012

Every other Sunday, we do a big breakfast.  Pancakes, eggs if you want them, baked beans, bacon, hash browns with mushrooms, onions and garlic.  Sometimes we fry up some tomatoes with fresh basil and shredded parmesan, or slice up some fruit.  Cocoa with petite marshmallows for the kids, coffee or tea for the adults, usually followed up with the water of life or a nice hoppy beer while we're cooking.  We generally sit down to this extravaganza between twelve and one.  Sometime in that hour, I always get the sense that time is moving too fast.  We have to eat by six thirty, be out the door by eight at the latest to meet R at the appointed time.  There isn't enough time to fit everything in...almost always, someone wants me to colour their hair, paint their nails, read to me, ask me for help with homework, put songs on an iPod.  Never enough time for the hugs and the cuddling and the moments of stillness where you're afraid to speak, afraid to break the contented silence that connects you to the small head under your chin.

A few of Sundays ago, Steph & I indulged in some quiet time, movies and knitting and solitaire, when suddenly there was a loud crash, the sound of a raised voice.  My neighbour next door was yelling at his girlfriend, loud enough to hear the words, feel the angry vibration of them.  The chihuahua was barking.  My hands froze, mid-stitch, and my entire attention was focused on the noise of the angry voice.  Thigh muscles beginning to bunch, the onset of rapid breathing, eyes going in and out of focus, the beginnings of dizziness, self-hugging.  F**k you, you stupid f**king c*nt.  You f**king stupid tw*t.  You don't like it, you should get right the f**k out of here, there's the door.  Long minutes, but in reality really only two or three.  I was staring at Steph with wide unseeing eyes, and when he looked up from his computer screen, saw what was happening to me, in one simple smooth motion he took the broom and drove the end of the handle into the wall three times.  The voices stopped.

I wish at some time that someone had made a point of hearing or noticing R yelling at me, had interrupted his anger.  Many times over the years, I used to say to myself, he didn't hurt me, not really, but if I'd ever really believed that, belief would have crumbled in the face of the reaction I had to the brief spate of yelling and swearing next door that weekend.  I'll probably never lose that gut reaction; it caught me totally off-guard.

There was a thread started on LSG yesterday, where the original poster wanted to initiate a discussion about conflict, and why there were so many stories about people, mostly women, who accept the unacceptable from people in their lives, how they didn't understand how that could happen to someone.  The thread was only two or three posts old when I saw it, and I haven't read any of it since, but I wanted to try to articulate a response, at least from my own perspective.

Yesterday would have been my eighteenth wedding anniversary.  We had smoking hot chemistry right from the start.  We dated for a year and were engaged for a year before we got married.  We never had a real argument that whole time.  In hindsight, that could have been a red flag, because our first real argument happened three days into our honeymoon, where I locked myself into the bathroom to get away from him yelling at me, and where when I came out and crawled into the bed he wasn't in, he was out of bed with his face in my face, asking me if I felt stupid for being three days into a marriage with someone I was going to end up hating, assuring me it wasn't too late to turn back and tell everyone I'd changed my mind.  He always told me he was sorry the next day.  There were always periods of quiet, of him seeming like he adored me the way he said he did before that first fight.  Periods of laughter, of flowers and passion and promises.  Then, without warning, I would suddenly find myself on the wrong side of his temper.  There would be swearing, mocking, name calling, derision, contempt.  Breaking plates, throwing books, overturning a table.  Sometimes there was more.  He knocked my glasses off.  Put his hands around my neck and threw me into a wall unit in our living room.  Slapped me so hard I dropped to the kitchen floor.  The worst time?  I thought we were about to have make-up sex after a terrible, confrontational night, when suddenly his hands were twisted into my hair and he was pressing my face into the bed, telling me I had no privilege or privacy that he didn't grant me, and that what he gave, he could take away, because I had no rights....before he raped me anally and then pushed my face into his crotch, so I could lick my own sh*t off him.

I didn't start out walking on eggshells.  I didn't start out agreeing that I was wrong or stupid or ignorant to keep the peace.  I didn't start out with my head bowed so he couldn't see my eyes.

Once you say yes, it's okay for you to talk to me like me names, put your hands or your words on me in anger and know that you can't say sorry and make the memory of it go away, or give me back the peace of mind I had before you become less human.  Once you're afraid to say deny having your own opinions, your own dreams, your own become less human.  Once you start losing those little pieces of dignity and self-respect and pride and self-worth...that humanity becomes harder and harder to take back.  You don't give it up all at once.  It's peeled away from you in strips and chunks as you try to hold onto as much of it as possible, and you lick your wounds to take away some of the sting when it's gone, and you try to gather the shreds of your humanity around you, and survive another day, another month, another year.  I've said to different people when I try to explain, eventually, I felt like I was dying on the vine.

Sometimes, you get another chance, another choice.  The stories from people who look back on those lives and wonder how they could have done things differently, how they became people they never intended to be, those sock puppet accounts set up by people who are too embarrassed or too genuinely afraid to reach out to people to find some reassurance that they're not asking for too much...they're my story too, the same way that a happily married person goes to a wedding and hears their own vows instead of the ceremony being performed.  It's an uphill battle, learning to take back my humanity in bits and pieces, small decisions and big ones, putting the brakes on, learning to say no, and also saying, full speed ahead, yesyesYESYESYES, but I'm worth it.  My kids are worth it.

This weekend, we made homemade waffles with our big breakfast, and gorged ourselves.  In the afternoon, we played Chickenfoot and drank hot chocolate and listened to K-pop.  Nothing special...and yet everything special.  Ordinary.  Quiet.  Contented.   I'll never take those things for granted.  And when the kids disagreed, they lowered their voices without me raising an eyebrow, and used their words to resolve the problem.  Of all the lessons I have to teach them, this one is imperative.  Not negotiable, even.

I never want my girls, or my boy, to think it's okay to talk to someone that they love that way, or to be talked to that way.  They have a choice too.

- To hell with this.  I'm gonna live!
Kaylee Frye to Simon Tam, Firefly

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