Sunday, January 13, 2013

Surviving on Fumes of Hope

Most people are psyched about the New Year, and all of the resolutions that they have planned. While I have a slew of goals and plans (not to mention some significant early weight loss...nine pounds, whoohooo), I find myself feeling a lot more cautious than perhaps I have in past years.

I slept through the New Year like I normally do, I am definitely a grinch in that aspect. I found myself quite irritated one year when I accidentally fell asleep, only to have my phone go off at what seemed to be ten-minute intervals until dawn, from all the well-wishers in my life. I (think I) kindly let them know not to wish me happy new year until the following morning in future. That was back when I actually got to sleep late.

The holidays were hard. I struggled with things that I thought I had left far in my wake; I spent this year alone, and there was one point when I was tired in a way that you should not ever feel. This type of weariness takes people from this earth far too early; I lay in bed and stared at the bottle that could very well have taken me out of my son's life. While I often feel like he is the only person who would be impacted by my death, I know that is not true, and if I achieve only one goal this year, I want it to be that I will come out of this shell I have buried myself in. Because the loneliness is killing me, and even though the pain is intense, I cannot help but be ever aware of the child in my life who didn't ask to be here. A long time ago a little girl was brought into this world unwanted. She didn't ask to be here, either. Yet she was always treated as if this were a conscious choice that she made...and I am still living with those scars. Some days I just hang my head and think that I will never escape this, the wounds that stem from what it means to be raised with little to no love. I would give anything for my son not to be me; his formative years have already been messed up enough. So, I guess the bottom line is that I no longer live for myself. If what you can call what I am doing living.

Hopefully the end of this year will see me a divorced woman. If I learned anything last year, it was that perhaps my definitions of "what is supposed to be" are not as concrete as I thought they were. I married my son's father, in spite of his abusive ways, because my parents hurt me so badly by their divorce. I felt that they could have worked through their problems, for the sake of the children who needed them. Especially me. My parents finalized their divorce before they ever said a word to me, and left me with few explanations. The years that followed were filled with the sound of my father's absence, and the pain of my mother's rage.I thought that the worst thing I could ever do to Steven would be to give him a life in which he was being passed from one parent to the other. It turns out that his father and I fought so much that the poor child prefers us being apart. I cannot forgive myself for that.

I left Steve for the final time on what was his 41st birthday. The apartment reeked of alcohol, and I got tired of looking at this person who was not the person who initially pursued me. I mean, sure, people change...but this change was too much, far too drastic. I was tired of the dance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I had had enough, and that day as we left, Steven held on to my mother for dear life. I don't want my son to grow up scared. He's been resilient, but it's time for me to stop testing that.

I have learned some very bitter lessons about what it means to be the victim of domestic violence. I have learned that the justice system will grant your abuser parental rights until he or she does irreparable damage to the child or children you have in common, that a threat to YOU is not enough to warrant your abuser not having access to your kids. So guess what? Your abuser still has access to you, even if you take out a protective order. That order really, truly is only a piece of paper.

I have learned how much women judge. The women at Steven's school, the teachers, the admins. So many people staring at me, so many whispers. The penniless woman with the special needs child, who just couldn't seem to leave her husband. So many indignant, ignorant women who just do not understand that it's usually not a case of loving this monster you are with. Me, the only place I had to go is somewhere I do not want to be; homeless shelters have waiting lists here, and I have to place myself in a position to keep Steven's educational situation as stable as possible, no matter what it does to me. I cope by withdrawal and sarcasm. My reputation in my family is that of a person who does not like others at all, but I'm simply hurting too much right now to answer prodding questions.

I have tried to tell the women who judge me for going back twice that what happened to me could most definitely happen to them, that it's not as cut and dry as they seem to think. Domestic violence is not always a knock-down, drag-out fight with the kids either watching on the couch or cowering in their rooms, with their hands over their ears, trying to block out the screaming. The violence can be so surreptitious that when the woman flees, her children may not understand...which can lead to parental alienation. The abuser will use the anger of his children to further control his wife. It happens, and despite all the testimonies to this, the courts still turn a blind eye to what is happening. The court system is a minefield for the victim of domestic violence.

Shelters are ALWAYS full, so you will not be taken until you are bruised, beaten, or worse. The court system will say that most all evidence is "heresay", and that very few things short of physical injuries or you magically managing to record your abuser abusing you (how in the hell...seriously?) will stand up in court. It's not cut and dry. I dropped a protective order last year, because the judge denied the preliminary order (in spite of what was already on record), and my lawyer told me that the case was shaky. He also told me that if I were to lose the case, that this could be held against me when it came time to file for custody. I understand that he had an obligation to be truthful with me, but none of these things gave me the confidence he wanted me to have for this case. I was asked to involve a woman with less protection than I, to risk her safety and that of her four kids so that I could have a piece of paper that would most likely just ensure that if it were violated, I would not live to be able to testify to what happened. Somehow, throughout all the fear, throughout all of this, I was supposed to muster up some sense of indignation and just walk out with my child to nothing....because that was what we ended up with each time we have lost our home. No, I am not going back. I only went back for my child, love didn't enter the equation after the second time he lost his mind. When he started threatening to kill me in June of last year (three times when sober, so claims of alcoholism are obsolete as far as I am concerned), hatred started to build once the fear died down. Seriously, it's not as easy as many women seem to think. I'm glad they have such high self-esteem, but ALL of that will flee the first time that man hits them. It will. They just don't know it yet.

I look back and see the red flags I should have picked up, the situations that should have given me pause, and I grieve. But grief is something I can only indulge in for a moment when it comes to my failed marriage. I should never have said those vows in the first place. However, had I not given this man the time of day, I would not have my child...and as a result, I would not have my life. That boy is my heart with limbs attached to it, and though I spend most of my day tired and gruff, I know that he knows that I love him.

How am I supposed to make a life out of the ashes that surround me? I have no idea. Illness, lack of formal education, a career that has stalled. No home, no money, and only a gigantic spectre of fear in front of me when I contemplate my future. Something has to give, break, materialize...for my son's sake it has to. I cannot carry this child through life on nothing. And while that which I have been surviving on for so long (hope) is a beautiful thing for him to have on his own, it cannot provide a roof over his head, food on the table, or something to enjoy at Christmas. All of that is up to me.

I sit sometimes and wonder if my life in particular is a self-fulfilling prophecy, or if I have a particular gift of premonition. These days I try not to dwell on my fears much at all, because I sit in a situation where the fears of my youth have come true in a frightening way. I feared being the age that I am, with a life that I could not be proud of....alone. For while I am surrounded by people, no one reaches me. I live out my days inside my head, my imagination tucked around me, because at least my illusions cannot hurt me. I cover my eyes and shield my heart, for in here no one can touch me. But I know that if I ever wish to truly live...I have to come out.

I am terrified. But it is a new year, and so I will emerge, bit by bit. I just hope that this year does not bring more pain. Yes, I have a high tolerance for it, yes I am resilient, yes I am strong. But one day I will break. What then? What about my son? That's the one thing that haunts me night and day. No one around me has the capacity to care for my son like I do, because due to their dislike of me, they never bothered to learn. What would his life be like in a world full of people who never sought to learn how to even talk to him?

And I am undone. My son just came over, took me in his arms and held me. There is something in me that knows it's okay for your children to see you cry; how else will they know it is okay for them to show emotion? But my four-year-old non-verbal child should not be comforting me. Still, he did; he wrapped his arms around me and kissed my forehead, as the tears fell down my face. If I know no other deep love in this life, at least I have his. And in that I am blessed.

It is a new year.

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