Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tommorrow's Sun

Day breaks and clouds part slowly as the rising sun fills the sky with light from the heavens. Most days, I feel good. Most days, I feel like the parting clouds disappear at just the right time, the rays of sunlight are just the right brightness and temperature to keep me moving fluidly throughout my day. But not today.

Today the dark clouds loiter and take me over. Today the dark clouds soak me into their gloomy existence. Today the dark clouds become me.

I don’t fight the clouds, I let the wispy molecules surround me and hold me to the ground. The wind pushes us around, the sky holds us down, the sun is nowhere in sight.

Today the clouds rule the earth, and I doubt the sun is anywhere behind them. Until she peeks out briefly, as if to taunt me.

I lay in bed and close my eyes again, unwilling to brave the darkness beyond my closed eyelids. Tomorrow’s sun will just have to do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birds of My Mother

On Sunday afternoon Erin & I were winding down from a fun-filled weekend. Erin took out the recycling from the kitchen to the bin by our garages while I futzed around in the kitchen with some cheese and crackers. When she returned to the house, she said Baby...there's a bird on the driveway not moving at all. It might be dead.

I didn't really do much thinking, I just walked to the door and asked her to show me where. She pointed the bird out, and I opened the front door to go check it out. I bent down and saw the bird was still alive. I reached my hand out slowly and the bird did not flinch away from me. I felt in my bones that I needed to help this bird.

I called the local animal hospital and they told me to bring the bird in. I grabbed a couple of towels and a paper Gap bag, and went outside. As I approached the bird this time, he began to breathe heavily, look frantically around himself and chirp, presumably for help. Trying not to scare him, I reached with the towel and tried to pick him up. He turned away and began to flutter his wings. He left poop behind on the pavement where he'd just been still. His wings would not work, but he still fluttered them and continued to hop away from me. Just before he reached the fence between our driveway and the neighbor's enclosed grassy area, I scooped him up into the towel and lightly wrapped it around him. I promised him I wouldn't hurt him and that I'd take him to a safe place.

And so I did.

In thinking about the events of the afternoon, it took me maybe 30 minutes to check on the bird, make the call, scoop him up, and drop him off at the animal hospital. When I got home we went about the rest of our evening as if it never happened. And the following morning I couldn't shake the feeling that something divine had happened with that bird.

When I stood at our front door and looked at the bird sitting in the driveway, I felt an immediate connection to him. I also felt an immediate connection to my mother. I didn't hear her voice, but I felt her spirit in every cell in my body. For a split second, I wondered if I should take the bird in and try to rehabilitate it. Until I realized that wasn't me at all, but my mother.

She would have nursed that bird back to health on her own. That's just what she did. And that's just why we had 4 rescued dogs and 8 rescued cats and 3 rescued birds when I was growing up. These weren't animals that she went to the pound or a shelter to save, these were animals she happened upon and couldn't help but take care of them.

Through this experience I get to see how my mom and I are both different and the same. My mom tried to save everything and everyone who crossed her path. Sometimes this was a godsend. And sometimes it was a futile attempt at saving people and things that didn't want to be "saved".

My mother bred me a strong inclination to help others. I have a rescued dog of my own, which we got from a shelter, and 2 rescued cats birthed from a cat I found in the parking lot after a softball game one night 11 years ago. But I've learned that I can't help everyone or everything.

My mother would have taken in that bird and known exactly what to do to get it healthy. That's who she was. Me, I know nothing of how to get an injured bird healthy. I feel like I honored my mother in saving that bird, and honored myself by taking him to a place that could actually help him. This gives me peace.

I don't know why it's important for me to share this story, maybe I just want to share the connection I felt to my mom in order to make it more real. I just know that my "decision" to help happened so fast that I missed the connection to my mother to begin with.

Which is why I'm glad I went back for reflection.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Visit

Disclaimer: This post reveals content of a graphic and traumatic nature, and may be difficult for someone with abuse in his/her background to read.

I remember my father telling me about The Visit years after it happened. He said The Visit always made him uncomfortable, but he didn't really understand why until he found out why it should have made him uncomfortable. I only vaguely remembered it when he first recounted it to me, but it stuck out firmly in my father's mind more than 15 years later.

The Visit:

Steven showed up at my father's door on a Saturday I was with my father for the weekend. Steven wanted to take me out bathing suit shopping for an upcoming trip. In the back of my father's mind, he thought that was odd. Steven said he promised me he'd take me since my mother didn’t have time. My father asked me if I wanted to go and I shook my head, "No." Steven left quietly, and nothing more was said about it. That’s how everything went in my family.

Until after my mother died. Apparently a lot of things didn't seem strange until after my mother died.

The Incident:

My grandparents took The Family to Hawaii for 3 weeks during the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years. "The Family" included my grandparents; my uncle, his wife, and his son; and my mom, Steven, and me. Except, my mom was pregnant with my little brother, so she didn't go. My grandparents treated Steven and I as a family and roomed us together when we got to Maui. We'd all stayed in a 3-bedroom villa on both the previous islands, but when we got to Maui, the resort we stayed in didn't have a 3-bedroom villa. So Steven and I got our own room.

I was thirteen years old.

At the time, the events leading up to "The Incident" only seemed a little uncomfortable. Steven had made a daily habit of making sexual comments to me, so I didn't find it out of the ordinary for him to do so while on vacation. He was in constant reverie about how "tight" my body was, or how "firm" my breasts were, and often said he could see me in Playboy Magazine in a couple of years. The first time he put his hands on my breasts, it was uncomfortable, but he made it seem almost like an accident. We were passing each other on the staircase at the house, and his arm swung wide. That's when he commented on the firmness. Steven seemed to know where to draw the line, though, and never made comments about doing anything to me, he simply shared his observations. This became normal. And continued while we were on vacation, as long as he was outside earshot of the rest of The Family.

I was thirteen.

Honestly, I don't remember how many nights we were on Maui. I only know that the day after "The Incident" Steven did not continue on with the rest of The Family, but booked a flight home to go be with my mom.

I was thirteen.

I remember thinking that the sky was beautiful as we drove back to the hotel. We'd spent the day doing things people do in Hawaii. When we got back to the hotel, Steven and I did laundry and found a gecko on the wall in the laundry room. I thought it was gross, and Steven laughed at me for being such a girl. As I pulled the clothes out of the washer and flung them into the dryer, he told me to slow down and shake each article out before putting it in the dryer. This would help it dry faster. For a long time after "The Incident" I refused to shake my clothes out before I put them into the dryer.

I was thirteen.

When the clothes were dry, we pulled them from the dryer and took them back to our room. We folded them. I was used to folding his clothes, as I was the designated laundry folder of the house. He, on the other hand, was not accustomed to folding my clothes. He took specific note of how small and cute my underwear were.

I was thirteen.

He took his pants off and put my underwear on. He danced around the room and laughed at how small the front was, and how his balls barely fit into them. I remember laughing, too.

I was thirteen.

I took a shower to wash the day off. After I got out of the shower, he asked if I wanted a back rub. This was not an out of the ordinary idea. Usually it was me giving him the back rub after he got home from his construction job. He'd shower and then lay naked on the bed face down with a towel over his ass. I don't remember how that got started, but I remember that happening almost every day once it did start. I remember wondering if he pushed his penis between his legs on purpose just so I could see it or if it was just more comfortable that way. Of course, I never asked.

I was thirteen.

I took my robe off and put a towel around my waist. I laid face down on the bed, my back exposed. He climbed on top of my back legs and began massaging my back. For a moment, it felt good. His hands stayed on my back for most of the massage. Until they moved lower. He began massaging my legs. He might have even asked me if it was okay.

I was thirteen.

His hands massaged the back of my legs. Started with the calves and then to the back of the knees, and then to the back of the thighs. And then to the base of my butt. He massaged the inside of my thighs, closer to my knees. Then he began to work his way up. My heart pounded. I did not want him to touch me. But he was on top of me and his hands all over me. I did not want him to touch me, but I could not speak. I pretended to fall asleep. I thought if I was asleep he would stop. I was wrong. His hands moved further up the inside of my thighs and his thumbs touched the opening of my vagina. His thumbs went inside my vagina. I don't know how long I stayed still, hoping he would stop and just go away. When I could finally not stay still any longer, I jumped as if being jolted awake by a noise. When I did, his hands jerked back. He stopped.

I was thirteen.

He might have asked me a question. I might have answered it. He got into the shower. He got out of the shower. I prayed he wouldn't ask me to massage him. He put clothes on and said he was going out for a walk. I don't remember the rest of the evening. When we packed up in the morning, he said nothing to me. When we arrived at the airport to head to our final island of the trip, he announced to my grandfather that he wouldn't go on with us, but he needed to get home to my mom. The Family told me nothing else.

I was thirteen years old.

Two years later I told my mother about The Incident. She asked Steven about it and he denied The Incident. My mother and the rest of the family assumed I’d lied in order to get attention.

Nine months after I told my mother about The Incident, four shots rang out, and my mother was dead. After her death, The Family finally believed what I’d told my mother about Steven. And my father reflected upon The Visit.

The Visit was a month or so prior to The Incident. After my father learned of The Incident, he felt guilty. I don’t know when my father was told, but it wasn’t me who told him. I first learned he knew in a therapy session shortly after my mother's death. He felt that he should have known better. He thought he should have protected me. He believed he was a horrible father for letting someone violate his daughter like that. He thought he should have seen the signs and known what was wrong. I have no doubt that his guilt about The Incident is part of what killed my father.

I know the doctors told us all it was cancer. But I saw the look in my father's eyes as he told me he was so sorry for not protecting me. I believe that look—his guilt—invited the cancer in to take over his life. I tried to explain to my father that The Incident was no one's fault but Steven's, to no avail. It took me years of time and therapy and healing to know in my heart that it wasn't even my fault.

My father preferred to bear the burden of blame, believing it was his burden to bear.

If you suspect physical or sexual abuse, talk to your child. Seek immediate professional help at your local police department, Department of Children's Services office, or check out Child Help online.