I stopped at the grocery store on this cold, cloudy, blustery January afternoon. I only needed a few things, and I was in a hurry, so I carried the basmati rice and cranberry juice in one arm, and turned to head down the pasta aisle; the shortest route to the Greek yogurt. I was just thinking that I was going to succeed in making this a 15 minute errand, as I'd hoped, when I stopped short. At the other end of the aisle, studying the pasta sauces, was a man who'd always attended the church I grew up in. Someone who knows me and knew my family. So I turned and hurried to check out.
I've been thinking about this latest near miss since I got home without my Greek yogurt. There have been many times in the past few years that I've fled a place, avoided a wake or a wedding, or turned to head in another direction when out for a walk. I might be something of an outcast or an undesirable in my own home town. Or maybe it's just that I don't feel welcome here.
I know that there are people who knew me growing up, and knew my family, and now think that I am lying or crazy; probably both. I've read comments they've written under the guise of a book review or a blog. Angry, rather vicious comments. One woman wrote, for instance, that she hoped that if I earned any income from my book (which I haven't and I don't care about that) she hopes I will use it for more therapy, because I certainly need it.
Does it hurt to be called a liar? To be hated and criticized? Sure.
Did I think, even for a moment, when deciding to publish the book, that it would cause such hate and anger? Nope. Not for a second. It never occurred to me. It truthfully never occurred to me that anyone in my town would even hear about my book. I'm still not sure how that happened. I only cared about helping others on the path to recovery from childhood abuse, and somehow, perhaps naively, believed that they would be the only ones to find and read it.
Was it worth it? Publishing? Telling my story? Writing what I remember and what my sister remembers in the hope that it would help someone? Am I glad that I did it? Today I'm not sure.
Sometimes when letters or emails come from folks around the country, around the world even, who have been helped, who DID need to hear my story to help them alone the way in their own recovery, the answer is yes. Definitely. Totally worth it!
But on days like this one, when seeing someone in the grocery store makes me hurry to hide; makes me feel like I'm still the bad one in a perfectly good Christian family, the answer to the "was it worth it" question is closer to maybe not. Sigh. Maybe not.
There used to be a little one inside who would put her (MY) coat on backwards in our therapist's office. She thought it would keep her safe. She believed it would help her disappear to a safe place when she was too afraid to be "out." I wish grown up me could still believe that. If I could believe it, you can be sure that today I would have my coat on backwards.
February 1, 2014
I sat on the floor next to my 5 year old granddaughter's bed during a recent visit. It was her bedtime, and I was making up bedtime stories about two frogs named Frank and Chester, and their friends Olivia (a robin) and Henrietta (a sparrow.) My granddaughter watched me closely, listened carefully, and asked questions which led to new stories. And then at one point she reached out, touched my cheek and said, "Grandma Ruth? I hope you don't go to heaven before my kids are born, because I really want then to meet you and to go to your house."
Since that night in her purple and pink striped bedroom, I've been sorting through all of the thoughts and feelings that her words stirred up in me.
I've thought about grade school friends and the way that we categorized classmates as "the dumb kids" and "the smart kids." I thought about 8th grade graduation and the yellow dress I wore for the service, with blue and white ribbons pinned to the collar. I thought about high school and high school friends, speech contests and the class trip to Washington DC, riding on Amtrak, sitting in what was called the dome car. I remembered never quite making the National Honor Society, and sneaking smokes at the bus stop. Rarely dating, and feeling always as if I didn't quite belong anywhere.
I thought about the chaos of college, and about fleeing one summer to Florida, and running off to Massachusetts when I graduated, lining my moccasins with cardboard to try to keep out the snow when I was in New York City, trying to warm up in a church, buying cigarettes for 75 cents a pack and being stunned at the high price there in the city.
I thought back to a time when my children were little and when there were extended family gatherings; when the relationships with my siblings were not as strained (or in some cases non-existent) as they are now.
I thought about the years and years of therapy, trying so hard to hold on and to put the million pieces of my self back together again...to try to make some sense of my life. To try to figure out if I was even alive or real. I've always said that I don't know how to know where I am, or even if I am. I thought about all of the "inside others" and about how they might speak from the place inside, to the back and slightly to the left of my own self.
I've thought about hope and dreams that never came to be. About whether or not there is still time for hopes and dreams and adventures. I wondered all over again how on earth I got to be 63 years old. And smiled at how much I look like my mother.
I pulled out the stack of journals that I have written during all the years of recovery. I call them my HP journals...HP being short for Higher Power, or God if you will. So many times in those journals I have written "I'm lonely to be alive, HP. I'm so lonely to be alive."
I think that in all these years of struggle, my children and now my grandchildren have helped me to understand being alive. These days, when I make up stories for my granddaughter, or push my grandson in the swing, or when the baby leans forward to touch her forehead to mine, in a baby style hug, I feel being alive. And it's good.
I hope I do get to meet my granddaughter's children one day. I'm not sure I'd still be able to sit on the floor, but I'd really like to tell them stories about Frank and Chester. And I'd like to lean forward and touch foreheads.
January 8, 2014
I put away the Christmas decorations today. Well, OK, not the outdoor candy canes. They're frozen into a bank of shoveled snow and likely to remain there until mid-March. I don't mind. I think they're pretty and still light them up at night, even though it's already well past the holidays.
After the flurry of holiday activity and family gatherings we came down with the virus that is going around, and were asleep by 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve. I did set my alarm for 11:57 to get up to watch the fireworks from my front porch. I saw two, said "Happy New Year" to my big, old dog, and headed back to bed, but it brought to mind New Year's eve in 2001, just a few months after 9/11.
We went to South Bend that evening to celebrate with friends; had a lovely dinner, played board games, watched the fireworks in Rio on television (our friends are from Brazil,) toasted in the New Year with champagne and sparkling cider, and then headed out into the cold night for the drive home.
Half way home we stopped at a tollway plaza for gas. I got out of the car while my husband filled the tank, and walked around the car, hoping the cold air would wake me up enough to drive the rest of the way home so he could sleep. As I stood and stomped my feet by the car, I saw the man at the pump next to ours and tensed a I noticed two things: he looked to be of Middle Eastern descent, and he was watching us.
So soon after 9/11, and being by nature a rather panicky person, I began to fear that he was going to kill us, or blow up the gas station, or maybe he was headed to Chicago to do who knows what. Something bad, no doubt.
I tried not to meet his eyes, but every time I glanced his way (pretending to look at the gas station signs or the night sky) it seemed he was looking our way. Finally, and very bravely, I thought, I met his eyes, holding my breath and clenching my fists at my sides. He smiled warmly and said "Happy New Year." I tried to hide my embarrassment with a big smile and a cheerful "Happy New Year to you too!"
As I drove home and watched the fireworks from towns in the next time zone just reaching midnight, I thought about how I'd judged him harshly, without even knowing him, simply because of the way he looked, a tendency I hated in others and had never before recognized in myself. I tried briefly to excuse myself by thinking about how hard it had been since 9/11; about the fear and sadness and worry that just wouldn't seem to leave me, and then suddenly I thought how much worse it must be to be him! He lived through 9/11 with the rest of us and no doubt went through many of the feelings that came from that trauma, but he also must notice that many people look at him with suspicion and think that he was quite possibly to blame for all that happened that day.
I shook my head (shook is really a strange looking word, isn't it? Wait..is it even a word?) and promised myself that I would always remember what I'd learned that night. Then I rolled down the window a little, breathed in the cold air, and watched the last of the distant midnight fireworks as I drove the rest of the way home.
January 5, 2014
Snow storm today. The snow is swirling around my front door, and when I tried to let the dog out the back door, the drift was so high there I couldn't even get the door open. Every winter should have one good blizzard. I think that's because now and then we all just need a good excuse to hide away indoors and to watch the world from a safe place.
The past few weeks I've been very much in need of a safe place. I received several letters in the mail from two people who used to be quite dear to me. Angry letters...one of them beyond angry to a vicious attack against me personally, with accusations about me deliberately lying and hurting people and creating trouble in his life as well. The letter is seething with anger, yet at the end this person tries to say that he doesn't hate me, that rather he feels sorry for me since I seem to believe that what I wrote about in my book really was my life....implying, of course, that it's all imagined.
I'm sure he meant to hurt me; to make me feel guilty and beaten down. I'm sure he also hoped that I'd suddenly think to myself, "he's right! I'm lying!" But that is not what happened. As I read his words and worked through my thoughts and feelings, I began to feel angry...and then stronger. And then even more certain that, whether he likes it or not, I have never lied about any of what happened.
I am angry at the fact that someone so close, someone who really should know me, would lash out with such accusaations and would never once consider the possibility that I just might be telling the truth. That my childhood and my sister's childhood might have been very VERY different from the childhoods of any boys that grew up in the same community. Girls in our little long ago community were not valued at all. Oh, there may have been a few families that actually treated girls as if they were worth loving and protecting, but I rather doubt it. Not where I grew up.
And after the anger I found a new strength. I made a decision that might not please some people, but it pleases me. It is me taking care of myself.
As I thought about the letters, I realized that as a child I always had to be the tough one who fought the battles for everyone, because no one else was strong enough to stand up and fight what was wrong. So I did it. From the time I was very little, I was tough and I fought the battles and did my best to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. And since I fought alone, I also had to endure all of the resulting punishment...alone. I had to be tough enough for that too. And it was OK. It was just what had to be and in a very real way I was proud of being so tough. But as I thought about the letters and the accusations and hatred, I began to see that the same thing is happening now, with my book. I am all alone telling the truth about what childhood meant to some of us in my community in the 50s and 60s, and about what it did to us. I'm all alone fighting the battle again. There are some who quietly write to me with first names only (and I'm pretty sure those names are made up as well) that yes, they remember, and the same thing happened to them, but no one else is saying it out loud...which is OK...I mean I know about needing to stay safe and not being ready to say it out loud. I respect and honor that. But I think maybe right now in my life, I don't want to be fighting the battle alone. I don't want to be the only one telling the truth out loud and having to bear the brunt of all of the anger and hatred...alone. And as I thought about these things, I suddenly heard myself say right out loud "Oh, hell no! I'm not willing to do this alone! Not any more!" So I have cancelled the book and I did my best (not entirely succesfully, but close) to close all sales channels, not for the sake of the nasty letter writers, but for me. To protect me.
So if anyone ever needs a copy of the book for someone who truly deserves to read it and who will be reading it for the reason it was written...to hear hope and to hear they are not alone as they search for truth and heal from childhood abuse; for those people I still have copies of the book. Contact me through the website. Send me a street address or a p.o. box number and I will send a copy free of charge.
I'm sure there will be those who will say "but someone has to stand up and tell the truth about what happened!" and I don't disagree, but I took my turn and now I'm tired. I need a break. It's someone else's turn.
February 23, 2013
Quiet, cloudy day. I felt strangely like I was wandering about in a mist of sadness today. I can't think of any better words to describe it. Yesterday when the sun came out and began melting the newly fallen snow, the whole world was white...like mist...and I walked outside and felt lost. It felt a little like that today as I cleaned the house, worked in the office, took the dog for a walk and then chased her to tug away a piece of fur that she'd found somewhere out in the field. It was only when I sat down to do some paperwork that I saw the date. February 23. "Ah," I said right out loud, "that explains it." And with those words tears came to my eyes. 29 years ago, on February 23rd, I lost a baby. I remember the rush to the emergency room, and remember my doctor coming in and her words "We can't salvage this pregnancy, and I don't want to lose both of you." So off I went to surgery. And then it was over, except for the part of far too many people saying things like "it wasn't meant to be," or "there will be other babies." So I promptly put all the feelings away until years later, when I suddenly began crying on a February 23rd and heard myself saying, "I didn't even get to hold her." And those same words come to me every year on this day, with a few tears.
My children have always been the greatest joy of my life. There just aren't good enough words in the English language to describe how much I love them, and how proud I am of the women they've grown to be. Every day I am grateful for them. But on February 23rd, I just need to wander about and feel a little lost. I allow myself a little time to wonder which of her sisters she'd be closest to, or which of them she would be most like. I allow myself to know that even though maybe folks were right in some way...that maybe it wasn't meant to be in the whole world way of looking at things, to ME it was meant to be and so to ME it was a loss. And to ME it makes sense that there are a few tears when I think to myself that I didn't even get to hold her.
February 4, 2013
I saw someone a few days ago. I hadn't seen him in a long time. We used to be close, but when I published my book, he said that the book hurt too many people, and that he didn't want anything to do with it, or with me. We haven't really spoken since. He never comes over any more. I miss him.
For a long time I was hurt and angry and said I didn't care and that I didn't want anyone in my life who could choose lies over truth, pretense over reality. But partly I meant I don't want anyone in my life who doesn't want me. Who doesn't believe me. Who wouldn't have my back if I needed him. Who would give up our life long relationship just to be safe and comfortable.
But I saw him today. He was stopped in traffic waiting for a train right in front of my house. I watched. I looked out the window the whole time hoping he'd look and he'd see me and he'd smile and wave. Or that at least he'd look at my house so I could imagine that he was wondering how I am. But he didn't look; not even a glance.
I held onto my cup of tea and watched until the gates went up and he drove away. And then I surprised myself by saying right out loud "I don't wish you ill, even if you do me." I'm not sure where the words came from, and I'm not sure I knew they were true until I heard myself saying them.
I think (mostly) I'm not angry any more. I'm not waiting for him to realize how stupid and wrong he's been and to apologize and try to make amends with me. I'm not hoping (in my darkest, angriest moments) that some day he'll have to go the memories that I've had to deal with, so he'll know how hard it is. I'm not making up stories in my head in which he suddenly remembers how much I've done for him and for his family and he'll put his hands over his face and sigh and then he'll drive over to my house to find a way to reconnect with me.
Something has shifted inside of me over time, without me even realizing it was happening. So I don't wish him ill, no matter how he feels about me. I wish him a good life and more happiness than sadness. I wish him good health and much joy with his children and grandchildren. I still love him and always will. And I miss him. So seeing him was a sadness for me, but has also left me with a quiet in the most inside place of me, where forgiveness has nudged away the anger. Anger takes a lot of energy. I think it's good sometimes; necessary to help sort through right and wrong and hurt and what we believe and don't believe ...and to help us find a way to grow from there. But anger can be exhausting, and then it's such a relief when it's finally time to let it go.
January 25, 2013
I don't like church. I'm thinking about this today because this evening we have a meeting with a church elder. I don't know if all denominations have these meetings, but I know the Dutch churches in this country do. I remember as a child the awful evenings of "house visitation." All of us kids would be dressed in our Sunday best, dreading the elders' visit, miserable in our itchy clothes, lined up on the couch trying so hard to sit still and not smile, and hoping not to be asked any catechism questions...or that if we were, we'd know the answers perfectly so we wouldn't get in trouble. And then we pretended to listen attentively while the elders prayed and read scripture and talked and asked questions for what seemed like hours. Horrible memories! (though they make me laugh now) This evening will be OK for two reasons. First, the elder who is coming is also a friend and a kind, good man. And second, I haven't gone to church in nearly a year, so I'm not very invested in the meeting or the church. I love many of the people there dearly, but I've never really felt like I fit there, or that I understood their certainties or their Jesus language, AND I've long felt that organized religion, at least in the churches I've experienced, is guilty of spiritual abuse of women.
I've tried to hope for change. I've tried to protest. Many years ago I petitioned the local church classis because the church I attended would not even allow women members to attend the congregational meetings. The council was reprimanded by classis, women were given "permission" to attend the meetings, I was shunned (though a few women did call secretly to thank me,) and I left that church.
More than once in the church I've most recently attended, the issue has come before council to "allow" women to serve as elders in the church, and the men of council have voted against it. I wrote a letter about how abusive that is, but to no avail. I did have two men of council offer their support and agreement, but...it remains the rule of this church that women are not permitted to serve as elders, as if by their anatomical differences, they are less qualified to serve the church in that capacity. (Don't get me started!!) More recently, the pastor of this church gave a sermon about women being submissive, and I knew on that Sunday that I was finished with church, if not forever, at least for a good long time OR until I come upon a church that respects and cherishes women and their gifts as much as my Higher Power does. And for the first time in my life I am happy on Sundays. Happy to be able to say NO. I want no part of an organization that is run by men, gives all power to men, and shows so little respect for women. No thanks. Not me. And I believe that my Higher Power would agree; would stand up against such abuse of women by the church.
In the past few days I read a letter written by President Jimmy Carter. It was written in 2009, I believe, and it says so eloquently what I've been trying to say for years (though in my case not so eloquently, and often very angrily.) His letter is titled "Losing My Religion for Equality." I've read it several times already and smile even now as I think about it. Thank you, Mr. Carter, for having the courage and integrity to speak the truth. I for one am grateful!
I planted pansy bowls in the greenhouse today. Put my coat and hat on a rack, put on my purple nitrile gloves and planted pansy bowls.
So many days I sit with pen in hand and a notebook open on my desk and try to know if I'm real or if I'm just pretending to be alive. I look around me, look at my hands, look out the window at the birds or at the neighbors going in and out of their house, and try hard to know if anyone can see or hear me. "I don't know how to know if I'm real," I write, then look at my hand and wonder if it belongs to a real human being. "Do you know that you're alive, I often ask my therapist. "Yes," he says. "Do you know that people can see you and hear you?" "Yes," he says. "Something is wrong with me," I sigh. "Yes," he says, and then he goes on to explain for the thousandth time about dissociation and about the damage childhood abuse causes, about how long it takes to heal when abuse has been severe, about how very long it takes to feel safe enough to come back to being alive in the real world. "It's been almost 26 years!" I cry, "I've worked so hard to get better!" "I know," he says, "and I'm so sorry that it takes so long. I'm sorry you were hurt that badly."
But today I left pen and paper in my desk drawer and left my questions behind and I planted pansies. Nine tiny plants in each bowl, two in the center and the other seven evenly spaced around the edge. There was something calming about counting to nine as I carefully removed the plants from the tray, counting to nine again as I placed them in the soil, and to nine once more as I pressed the soil around each one so they wouldn't slip when I watered them. I didn't have to ask the question about being alive or just pretending to be alive. I didn't have to wonder if my life is worth anything or if I'll ever really feel being alive inside my own body or if I'll always feel a little lost or if HP even sees me or cares that I've tried so hard to get better. I just had to take nine plants from the tray and plant them in the bowl. Then take nine plants from the tray and plant them in the next bowl. All I had to do was be present, with my purple-gloved hands in the soil, just breathing and counting to nine, over and over again.
A good day.
November 15, 2012
For the past few weeks I've been struggling with someone who is very precious to me. Working through some hurts and disagreements that we've had. I kind of want to put my coat on backwards.
I used to put my coat on backwards during therapy sessions. I'd climb the stairs to my therapist's office, slide my purse and HP notebook under the chair, and look around to be make sure all of the familiar things were in place...the toy box, the stuffed animals, the plants and books and furniture. I'd take my coat off then and, sitting down, I'd slide my arms into the sleeves of my coat so it was on backwards, covering me from below my knees all the way up to my chin. I was like a turtle finding safety in my shell. I could talk from there and I did. I talked and remembered childhood and screamed and cried, and all the while my backwards coat protected me. I think somewhere in the most inside place of me it made me feel as if my therapist couldn't get close enough to hurt me (though he is perhaps the gentlest person on earth.) My coat also gave me a place to be. I was never very good at knowing I was real or alive...at knowing where I was or even if I was...so feeling the coat around me helped me to think, "here inside the coat...this is me. There's a person inside this space and that person is me." But it was more than that. It gave me a sense of being held in. It helped me believe that no matter how sad or terrifying the memory; no matter how powerful or destructive it felt, I was held in...I would not explode into a million pieces that could never be put back together.
My backwards coat protected me from the outside and from the inside for many years.
These days I have work to do and meetings to go to and people and pets to care for and errands to run, but as I struggle with this precious person in my life, and have to look at how my faults have contributed to the problems we face together in our relationship, I find myself wishing I could put my coat on backwards. Maybe today I will. Just for a little while.
November 1, 2012
A chilly bright and then cloudy and then bright again afternoon. I took a walk to the pond a little while ago, threw bread to the fish, whistled to warn the dog not to cross the tracks, watched, silent, while a doe and her two spring fawns crossed through the brush and over the hill and out of sight, and then headed home again. Walking back down the gravel road, I looked at the trees along the tracks, now nearly bare after last week's winds, and suddenly, as it happens sometimes, I realized that I'm real. I looked down at my purple jacket, held out my hands to examine them, and then said right out loud, "I'm real. This is me. I'm alive."
It happens more often these days than in the years past, but it's always a surprise, a little puzzling, and always hard to hold on to.
Therapists call it dissociation. Or a dissociative state. When all "the others" were still living in the big, old, three-story house inside me, it was diagnosed as dissociative identity disorder. I never called it dissociation. I'd just say, "I'm not really alive. I'm just pretending to be alive."
I'm not good at prayer. (I'm not good at church or religion either, but that's a story for another day.) I always say I don't pray like people do. I write notes to my Higher Power in notebooks. I call them my HP journals. I have a whole shelf of them in my bookcase. Before my walk today I'd been paging through an HP journal from 2002 and I noticed that nearly every note began something like this: "HP? Can you see me? Can you hear me? Am I alive? I don't know where you are. I don't know where I am. I'm lost. Can you find me? Is it too late for me to be alive? I don't know how to be found. I don't know how to be alive. Can you see me?" As I paged through the journal, I noticed something else. On the good days...the days that felt like hope...I'd often end my note to HP with the words, "I'm not completely lost if you know where I am, right HP?" As I walked towards the pond today, breaking bread into little pieces to toss to the fish when I got there, I thought about that. Some days, just believing that is enough. But other days I want to scream from where I'm just little inside, "I'm lost. Come and find me. I don't want to be lost. I want to be alive. I don't know where I am. Don't leave me lost. Come and find me!"
After all these years of recovery, I'm still not very good at being alive, but when I allow that crying out from inside, it helps me find my way closer, I think. It helps me know where to be. How to be. Or maybe who to be...even if it's just for a few moments on a November afternoon.
October 15, 2012
I remember a day about thriteen or fourteen years ago when I sat with my mom at her dining room table, with the silver teapot and a plate of her icebox cookies between us, and I listened as she told me a story from her childhood. She was five years old, she told me, and she was very excited because she had a poem to recite at the Christmas program at Church. The poem was called "My Dolly and Me," and she'd practiced and practiced until she knew every word perfectly. But then the day came for the program and when she stepped on the platform and saw all of the parents watching and waiting for her to speak, she couldn't say a word. "I just started crying," she said, "I couldn't even say one line." She shook her head and looked as if it still hurt a little. It made me sad.
She told me then about the years her family lived in Hatley, Wisconsin and about the farm they had and how poor they were and how they learned too late that the reason the milk from their cows was such poor quality was that a neighbor was coming at night and stealing the cream from the top. She told me that Hatley was so small that they went to Church and shopped in nearby Birnamwood, Wisconsin, and she talked about how she went on her first date when she was 15 years old...she and a boy and another couple... to Rib Mountain.
A few weeks ago when my sister and I went on our adventure to Wisconsin, we stopped in Hatley on our way to the north woods. It's still a rather small town, with a gas station, a few other stores, some houses. My sister had gone to Hatley not long after our mom died in 2000, and on that trip she had stopped at the County Recorder's office and had found the address for my mom's family's farm...though the woman in that office told her that technically the farm is/was in Norrie, not Hatley.
The old house is gone now, but the fields are still farmed, corn and clover mostly, with one middle field that is still covered with the huge rocks that my mom talked about, and still can't be farmed some ninety years later.
We stood side by side, my sister and I, in one of the fields, ankle deep in clover, facing the rock field and the hill where the house used to be. We stood in silence, shading our eyes to look around, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the quiet of the farm country; both of us smiling. When we did speak at last, it was quietly, as if careful not to disturb...what? something I can't quite put my finger on. "I can just imagine mom and Aunt Gert playing in the field of rocks...or maybe sitting on a big rock to read books," I said. "I know," my sister said softly, "and there's a creek just down there. I bet they waded in it on hot days." We wondered together if they had friends at neighboring farms, and if there was a school in Hatley then, or if they had to go to school in Birnamwood. Did they play with friends at each other's houses or did they meet halfway to play in the fields or the creek?
We stood then in silence again for the longest time, until I whispered, "I feel like I want to say 'hi mom!' " "I know," she whispered, "I feel the connection too." We smiled and looked out over the field for a while longer, until at last I did say "hi mom!" And it felt a little like a miracle.
October 4, 2012
My sister and I went to northern Wisconsin last week. We ate cheetos and chocolate as we drove, and stayed in the Boulder Bear, a little motel in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. We had dinners only in restaurants we could walk to, and watched tv in the evenings with the door open between our adjoining rooms so we could watch two shows at once...the Packers game in her room and Dancing with the Stars in mine.
On Tuesday we set out to find places we'd gone to in our childhood when our family vacationed, summer after summer, at Palmer Lake near Boulder Junction. We drove first to Bond Falls, just north of Land o Lakes. We remembered it as a rather disappointing dirt and weeds pathway view of a small waterfall that we'd drive to on Sunday afternoons. We were good Dutch Christians and fishing was not allowed on Sundays. Even walking down to the pier on the Lord's Day, and longing to fish, was frowned upon. In the 50 years since we'd been there, a lovely boardwalk had been built along the falls, and the falls were really quite spectacular.
From there we set out to find Palmer Lake Road and Trails End Resort. We drove along county roads and marveled that the old, white, arrow-shaped signs were still there, long columns of them, pointing down narrow lanes to the various resorts including (YES! We found it!) Trails End Resort. At the end of a winding gravel road we turned into the resort and found at the entrance the old shed still standing after 50 years, with the rusty, netless basketball hoop still above the door. We remembered together how Roy, the owner of the resort so long ago, once showed us a freezer in this shed and told us that a bear had somehow figured out how to open it. I remember being nervous as Roy then led us into the woods to see the place where he'd shot the bear.
Some of the cabins looked exactly as they did 50 years ago, small and painted dark brown. Others, like the one we stayed in every June, have since been sold and rebuilt as privately owned summer cottages. We got out of the car by our old cabin, and looked down towards the lake, remembering together how it had been our job to go to the pump halfway down the hill to get water, and how hard it always was to get back up the hill carrying the heavy buckets of water and how much water we spilled on our way up. Next to the cottage we found the big rocks on which we used to stand to watch the guys play horseshoes, and from the rocks we figured out where the outhouse must have been. We laughed as we talked about how scary it was to go to the outhouse when it was dark outside, and how we were always terrified that a bear would be there when we opened the door to come out.
From the resort we drove to the boat landing, so we could see or Palmer Lake up close. We parked beside a pickup truck and walked along the tire tracks to stand at the water's edge, the waves gently coming in and stopping just short of our shoes. We stood and listened, breathed deeply the lake air, tried to point out where the eagle's nest used to be, talked about the rice beds just off shore from us, and then pointed to the opening to the channel (a branch of the Ontonogan River) and laughed about how we used to be terrified that we'd hit "the big rock" at the mouth of the channel and that our boat would smash apart and sink, and we'd drown. We tried to decide if there really is an island on Palmer Lake, since I still dream sometimes that I'm fishing there, and there is always an island and I always catch a big walleye. Try as we might, we couldn't see an island. We decided that perhaps that island, as well as my walleye catching skills, are really just part of my dreams.
We stood then for a long time in silence, just looking at the lake, smelling the water, listening to the waves and birds, and enjoying the falls colors in the trees on the opposite shore (where I still contend the eagle's nest once was... high in a pine tree.) And after a while I smiled and said quietly, "it's so healing." My sister agreed. Silence again. And then I sighed and said, "I feel like I'm standing here with the little girl I was then and she's sharing with me why she loved it here so much. It makes me feel close to her. Makes me happy that even though there was so much hurt and abuse in her life, this place...this lake...this was good, and she loved it."
September 12, 2012 Lovely, warm, breezy Wednesday late afternoon and I'm sitting at my big, old oak desk (purchased for a few dollars years ago at a farm auction) determined to work more on my second book. I'm having a bit of trouble getting organized. It's not entirely my fault. The inside others wrote hundreds of notes in many different notebooks and I hardly know where to begin. I say right out loud that it would have been nice if they'd at least dated their notes and journal entries, then I listen inside for someone to argue with me about that or to give me some ideas about how to proceed, and then I remember... oh that's right...there aren't separate people back there any more to speak up and help me with this. (All these years after integration, it still often seems strange to me that the back of my head is so close to the front of my head. There used to be a whole world of people behind me and slighty to my left, and now my head just seems so small. So closed in.) Well, I guess I'll keep paging through the notegooks and just do the best I can, with hope that in the end our muddle of a story makes some kind of sense.
August 22, 2012 We had a "getting away from you chair" in therapy. I always sat in the same chair near the door, and my therapist pulled his chair up closer, facing me, but at a safe enough distance. Next to my chair was a table piled high with stuffed animals and toys, a box of tissue, and a book or two. On the other side of the table was an empty chair, and we used it often, especially during the first 10 years of therapy. Whenever one of the inside children would feel frightened, worried, threatened or ashamed for some reason, she or he (in my body) would go to the getting away from you chair, sitting on her knees backwards in the chair, her head buried in her arms on the back of the chair. And there she would stay safe, silent, while our therapist asked in a quiet voice, "what happened? What got stuck inside?" over and over again until at last she, or someone else inside, would begin to explain. "Too loud," or "I don't want you to ask questions today," or "you were laughing at me!" And then our therapist would respond, something like: "I wasn't laughing at you. I would never laugh at you. I was just smiling because I liked what you said and that made me smile. I know it maybe felt like I was laughing and I'm sorry it felt like that, but I wasn't laughing. What you said made me happy, so I smiled." He might have to keep explaining for some time before she would finally feel safe enough to slide off the getting away from you chair and go back to our chair by the door.
I felt a little overwhelmed the other day by the people around me and their questions and feelings and needs. I found myself glancing around the room wishing that in the real, grown-up world there could be getting away from you chairs. I think we all need them sometimes. I guess maybe my grown-up, real world getting away from you chair is a walk to the pond with my dog. I wonder what yours is.
August 8, 2012 Paging through notebooks again on this quiet, cloudy afternoon. Paging through notebooks and hoping for a thunderstorm. I open a purple notebook dated 1994 and on the first page it says "I choose to write here, if it's all the same to you," and what follows is page after page of dark, heavy-handed printing, all caps. I'm a little bit confused by it...it seems to be one side of an argument. On the bottom of the 9th page, it's signed simply "J." I don't know who J. is. Over the years I got to know many of the inside people as we worked to get well, but I don't know who J is.
In the beginning I didn't know any of them. I called them the "strangers" and later the "others." In the first years, when they spoke in a therapy session, I would not know what they said. And then after a time I'd think that I knew what they said, but when I tried to repeat it, it vanished from inside and I had no idea. Like a dream that disappears when you try to remember. After quite a few years of my work in recovery, when there was what I called "trouble inside," I knew the inside world well enough to be able to say, "what's wrong? Someone please tell me what's wrong." And almost always a name would come to me. I'd just know it was Denise talking, for example. And she might say something like "some of the kids are afraid of the man they saw in the parking lot." To that I would respond, "thanks Denise. Would you tell the kids he's left...he's not there any more. And tell them they're safe and I won't let anyone hurt them, OK?" And after a bit, the trouble inside would quiet.
I miss those days. I know integration is good and healthy and all, but I miss those days. It's a little lonely and I often feel as if my head is empty. Today I say "who's J.? and no one answers. That just feels a little sad. A little lonely right now. But it will be OK. Maybe I just need a big old thunderstorm! :-)
July 31, 2012. I set aside this afternoon to write, but instead spent hours with my feet up on my big, old oak desk as I paged through notebooks that I wrote during the years of therapy, and then through a notebook of quotes I have jotted down over the years....quotes which have touched the most inside place of me and feel like truth to me there. I've shared a few of them with you on these pages. Hope you enjoy them and that maybe a few of them will touch the most inside place of you too.