Every story needs some background. A place to put things into context. To accomplish this, I’m relying on posts from a failed blog attempt some years ago. Bear with me as I try to put some of the mosaics of my life in order to help make the forward movement make sense:
It didn’t start out like this. Back in 1972, I had a clear path in mind. Go to college, get my degree, work as a music therapist, get married, have a family, live in a nice apartment in Manhattan, retire and travel. I had it all figured out. It was simple really and was “what was expected of me” by family, friends, and society at large.
I discovered the program I was in at NYU wasn’t recognized outside of NYC at the time. I realized just how much I hated being a music major. I had made a classic and tragic mistake. What I needed was to take time off from school and regroup. Rethink my plan. My love affair, my big relationship had fallen apart anyhow. It was obvious to me that I would never get married. I needed time. So, I left school, ended up kicked out of the house and went to work.
It’s funny how earning money changed everything. Why go to school? It was the mid-1970s and you didn’t need a degree to work back then. Or to meet people and date. I had a full social life. I had “friends” and people to occupy my time. Somehow, I ended up at a party in Philadelphia and met my first husband there.
We dated (that’s a euphemism for sleeping together), moved in together and even went into business together. Eventually, as all our friends got married, we did the same thing. It seemed like the thing to do. The business failed, and I went to work again in an office. Soon after that, I was pregnant with my daughter. I stopped working and he worked for my father. The marriage was dead by then, but I was pregnant.
My daughter wasn’t even two when I met husband number two. He was charming, musical, literate, and everything my husband wasn’t. He was a musician (which is to say he was poorer than dirt) and he lived in the East Village of NYC in a tenement apartment. His shower was a metal stall next to the sink (the kind you see in cheap offices) with a garbage bag for a curtain. But you could buy a bar of Ivory soap for under a dollar, so he was always clean. I was taken by the lifestyle. I was jealous of his freedom and the first marriage ended (it would have eventually anyhow) and the next decade changed everything.
No one gets into a relationship thinking, “This is going to be awesome! I can hardly wait for the abuse to begin.” It wasn’t like that. It was slow and subtle. It wasn’t daily or even weekly. I should have run at the first signs I suppose. People always ask me why I remained. The reason was simple: Where else could I go? I had a toddler, no real job at this point, who would want me? My ex reinforced this over and over. Still, we played music and were developing a following. Even got signed to Kicking Mule Records in CA and produced some 8 albums (mostly independent), a songbook, and I wrote a book that was published.
We toured the country and lived in a van. I didn’t notice that I was completely isolated from a support network. I never really noticed how horrible it was, because on a day to day basis it wasn’t. The road was open, the National Parks exquisite, the fans adoring. We were poor, but I didn’t really notice how bad it was. I suppose if you do notice you die. Oh wait, I was becoming more and more suicidal as time went on. The adventure of living on the road was waning and my tolerance for “soup” made from hot water, ketchup, and crackers had lost the sense of righteousness it once had. I was tired and had gained so much weight. I didn’t know who I was when I saw my reflection in the mirror.
May 16, 1992, I found the courage to make it end.
The next two years were spent trying to find a balance. An acquaintance from CA, someone who had helped to support the music became a friend. Eventually, he became my third husband. He told me I was worthwhile. He supported my going back to work. He was even supportive when I went back for my undergraduate degree. He smiled when I said I was going to go for my Masters. But things began to change as I succeeded in school. (I maintained a perfect 4.0 throughout my entire academic journey) He pulled away more and more. We were no longer intimate at all. (By the end it would be seven years in total that he didn’t touch me) It wasn’t abusive, it was just wrong. I started to seek physical and emotional comfort elsewhere. The marriage was falling apart even as we “opened it” in a vain attempt to relieve the tension of no sex.
May 11, 2007, I came home and found him packing a box. He informed me we were getting divorced and selling our home.
I had to put my Ph.D. on hold for a year as we (Mae, Jo, and myself) struggled to find a new home. Help came from the oddest places (for which I will be eternally grateful) and we found a smaller house in Mount Holly. Our little “Rabbit Hole” and refuge. It’s a work in progress still. We all are.In the time after the third (and by far ugliest divorce) and now I’ve seen my weight go up and down. My health has deteriorated and improved. My gallbladder was removed even as I almost died on the table. I’ve landed a full-time position at Strayer and thought I would make a lifetime career there. And I’ve completed the Ph.D.What I do know is this: I completed the hardest degree I’ve ever attempted. I overcame more obstacles in the past few years than most people need to or should have to in a lifetime. My family at home is whole and we are all healing together. In our own ways. People have cut me out of their lives as I’ve cut others from my life. I’m meeting new people and perhaps embarking on developing a few new friendships. And when I look in the mirror, while I may not always know how I got here exactly, I know that here is a good place to be.
So many changes over the past few months. So many emotions have been surfacing. Sometimes my brain is a scramble looking for an exit sign. Sometimes it races so fast that the thoughts circle back on themselves like Mobius strip pretending to be a roller coaster. Sometimes…nothing at all.
The real story began in 1992 of course. That was as they say, “the beginning of it all” when I realized that being abused is not a way to live one’s life. That raising two children in a van, no home base, no real network of support for them was insane. What I didn’t really know was how much they too were being abused. Life was just trying to survive. We all did, but not without paying a price.
We have all moved far beyond those days in 1992 where I negotiated with the food money for the “best possible” on so little. We are by no means “poor” or relying on the kindness and generosity of others, especially A Woman’s Place in Bucks County, PA that provided so much food and clothing. Our space is larger than the first townhouse that was “ours” in Doylestown and certainly much larger than the van. In so many ways life is better and happier.
The scars are still there. Memories creep up from unexpected corners. Old tapes play in the background for days on end then vanish for months. Equilibrium is not easy to find. You want to forget the pain, but you also know the pain is part of what tempered you, coaxing you into action. You no longer feel the anger, but the memory of it lingers. Sometimes more vivid than the reality was. Or so it feels.
Last night, my son had a panic attack. Body memories triggered by an innocent touch. His eyes were so far away and there was nothing to be done for him, except to love him. As a mother, I just feel inadequate sometimes. Love just isn’t enough, but if it’s not the answer, then what is? Time I suppose. Just give it more time and hope for the best.
The changes of recent months have become sharp and clear. Completing the degree has sent me reeling. I am not the person I was in 1992 but some people want me to be that same person. I know logically to let it go. To move past them and my former self. Yet, I wonder if you ever really move beyond yourself.
I have a tattoo on my left wrist. Now it’s a teapot, but it wasn’t always that. I had the teapot done to cover the past, or at least incorporate it into the present. But I can still see the past when I look at it. Do others?
What do people see now? I stare into the mirror and ask myself if I’ve really changed or if it’s all a matter of new layers being put over the past creating a new mask.