The Sins of the Father

Dustin stood in the middle of my bedroom, shaking. Sure, there had been an unpleasant incident with my father a minute ago, but that had been directed at me, not him, and I was confused as to why he was upset. I was not only used to it by now, but I gave as good as I got.
“You told me once your dad was kind of a prick, but I didn’t really get it until now. No one should speak to you that way.”
He was angry – angry that someone would be disrespectful to me, and he resolved then and there that he was going to get me out of that situation, no matter what the cost.

It cost us everything, as it turned out.

I should have written this post last night, when the anger and the disappointment were still fresh, but I didn’t, and had nightmares all night instead. Okay, lesson learned.

I was laid off from my job in 2009, while I was still involved with Neal. As I struggled to find work, Neal continually ran me down until I could hardly function. My savings dwindled, then ran out as Congress played chicken with my unemployment benefits. Eventually, the twin realities of being unemployed and trying to unload an abusive boyfriend who would not leave me alone drove me to give up my apartment and leave the city I loved so much. I went back to my parents’, to try to rebuild my life.

I finally got a job a few months later, and although I have a great employer, my job doesn’t pay a living wage. Subtract the money I give my parents to help them make ends meet and the money I spend on the bills left over from being unemployed for nearly two full years, I don’t have much left over, and it tends to go into my gas tank. Then my car blew up, and life is life, and I’m still here. Unhappily.

Of course I’m not happy with it. I’m too old for this, but I am working to make a better life for myself, to make a living wage. And that’s partly where the rub comes in. My mom works full-time, but my dad is essentially unemployed. He does odd jobs and restoration projects, but it isn’t steady or reliable. Between work and school, I am out of the house more than both my parents combined.

My life is difficult. I am perpetually sleep-deprived and studying constantly, trying to find a moment here and there to create the art that helps keep me going in the first place. I don’t have the time or the money to even hang out with friends back in the city I left. I am a good student and I am doing well so far, but I’m still stressed, and all of this is encompassed by the loss of the one person who would have understood.

Dustin was always loving and supportive. A champion cheerleader, he would always tell me how proud he was of me. So when I come home tired and cold and wrung out, I look for the arms that would have made everything better, reminded me that this is all worth it. I look for the chest to rest my aching head upon, I listen for the words of encouragement, the offers of help and support. I look, I listen, but there’s nothing to see, nothing to hear.

I have cheerleaders among my friends and Inspire Art who are beautifully and enthusiastically supportive. I get notes and messages of encouragement, and they help keep me going. But here…there is very little of that.

My mom is supportive as she can be, considering. She is not emotionally expressive and never was, but she asks how my classes are going, how my grades look. She doesn’t ask me how I’m holding up, however. And Dad…well. Dad just does not care. It doesn’t benefit him in any way, so he got off the Give-A-Shit Bus.

I missed my first class Monday morning due to an alarm clock mishap. I was still going to be able to make my second class and my lab, but that first class wasn’t going to happen. My dad’s response? He called me a ‘fuck-up.’ Pot and kettle, Dad, pot and kettle.

These last few days have been constant grousing about the things around the house I haven’t been able to keep up with thanks to my crazy schedule. I don’t feel bad or guilty about it-I don’t waste time feeling guilty for things I don’t deserve to feel guilty for. What I do feel is angry that he’s being so selfish and insensitive.

I don’t know why it still comes as a surprise. He’s always been this way. Always. He isn’t suddenly going to wake up one day and realize he’s been a jackass for well over 30 years and change his ways. He isn’t going to suddenly understand why it takes me so long to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t praise him for being the good father he never was. In fact, his selfishness and anger drove me to move to Michigan in 2000, which frankly was not the wisest choice I’d ever made. He had come home drunk, and came over to where I was doing the dishes and poked me rudely in the arm.

“Everyone in this house hates me, and it’s all your fault,” he said.

I moved two months later.

I don’t seek his approval anymore; I really don’t value his opinion. It’s probably much too late for him to become a good father or to ever really repair this relationship. What I really want from him now is to at least get out of the way, because I don’t need any more obstacles. What I really want is Dustin back, to hold me and tell me it’s going to be okay.

As for Dad, he can wash his own damn dishes.

Carnival

Stay, stay in me, in my heart
You
I say it again
The way you walk in the door and I know the way you can
The way you’re telling me you’re not a dangerous man
I said it again, I’ll say again
I’m not that kind of woman
What can you do
What can you do to me
What can you do…you
“Carnival” Tori Amos

Dustin never told me he wasn’t a dangerous man-he only said he wasn’t dangerous to me. And I believed him, right down to the bone. I knew enough by then to know the difference. After decades of vicious abuse at the hands of his father, and years of rigorous boxing training and experience, Dustin was capable of great violence. But he would have cut off his own arm before he’d raise a hand to me. Protective without being possessive, he was my defender against the danger in the dark, against the ghosts of my own past. My dark knight.

However, danger comes in many forms, and I think he knew full well the risk he posed to my heart, and hoped against all hell and hope what he feared wouldn’t come to pass. But it did, didn’t it? We knew someone with his past and addictions had a much slimmer chance of dying in his bed of old age. I knew what I was signing up for, may the Gods help me. We rolled the dice, and we lost. Some would say that was illogical, love-blind. So? Sometimes you have to tell logic to take a flying leap. Although I consider myself a strong woman, smart and logical, I had spent three years with a man-which is really too good a word for him-who painfully taught me how much of an illusion that is. Most of us are only strong, smart, and logical when everyone plays by the rules. Neal* didn’t.

I met Neal at a bar, as such things tend to go. The night before I’d decided I didn’t have time for relationships. I was busy, working two jobs, had other goals in mind. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I really had the time and energy for the birthday party I’d been invited to. But at the last minute, I changed my mind, and so it was on the top floor of a Dogtown dive bar called Nick’s Pub, shortly after after midnight, when Neal crashed the party, and my life. So I met him at a party I’d decided not to attend, an hour after I’d already decided to leave, the night after I’d decided not to pursue relationships. I guess I thought it was fate. Maybe that was my first mistake.

He chatted me up, offered to buy me a drink, which I refused. I had been trying to make sure I was well into legally sober territory before heading home, which was why I was still at the pub in the first place. So he let me beat him at pool instead, and I gave him my number before I left. I didn’t realize until much, much too late how much letting me win must have cost him. He was a good pool player, very good, and competitive. Like most men with his tendencies, he only really felt tall when he was standing on someone else.

The first six months passed in a whirlwind of shimmering pink clouds. On paper, he was fantastic. Actually, he looked pretty fantastic in person, too. Five foot ten. Deep blue eyes, dark hair, perfect teeth, full lips made for kissing. Muscular without being muscle bound. An Eagle Scout, he owned his own business, and a very successful one, at that. He bought his house at 20, paid off the mortgage by 21, through his own hard work and financial savvy. He was a mechanical genius, and curious about the world around him. He was scrupulously clean, well-liked and respected by his community and his customers. There were some warning signs, but I was truly in love for the first time in my life, and I put them down to other things, blissfully unaware.

The problems started small, and by the time they blossomed into hiding the bruises, I was already much too far gone. I took too long to realize the man he had been those first six months was a sham. That person didn’t truly exist, but I kept trying to reach him, to break through, to get him back. I thought he was the real Neal, and not just the face he wore to collect someone like me. That mistake very nearly cost me everything I had.

Maybe I knew something was off. Despite his repeated requests, I never moved in with him, refusing to surrender my apartment, mostly because he insisted I’d have to give up my cats. From this, I began to suspect he was the kind of man to abuse power, but at first, he was sweet and caring. At first, he was a lot of things, and that gentleness and caring would sometimes resurface. Just often enough.

My parents were fed up with me, my brother exasperated. Why couldn’t I just leave? What was I thinking? What the hell was the matter with me?

My only answers are things are rarely that simple, so black and white, and if you’ve never stood in my place, trying to make those choices, you have no right to judge. No one really knows where their line in the sand is until they’ve been pushed to it, and some of us only find it once we’re on our hands and knees.

To be fair-since I can be brutal about fairness-the situation would never have reached the point it did if I had been anyone but who I am. He was used to being the smartest person in the room all the time, until I came along. I never made any bones about my intelligence or apologized for it, and that flew in the face of his habit of surrounding himself with people he could dominate easily. Scrappy, opinionated, and self-aware, I was as alien to him as a Men In Black cast reject. Since he was obsessed with appearances, he was thrown by my utter indifference to the opinions of people I didn’t respect-which included most of his friends, the Legion of Misfit Toys. Almost all Neal’s senses of self-esteem and worth were external, only seen when reflected by others. Alone, there almost wasn’t enough of Neal to exist. By comparison, I was the most real person he’d ever met.

So Neal saw me as a challenge, and he knew of only one way to deal with a challenge. He’d push and pull, trying to tear me down, and I’d refuse to budge. He would get angry, I’d resist, and things would escalate. By the time I left, I knew we were one more nasty incident from one of us going to prison for murder. I am not exaggerating for effect. I won’t list the bruises, the verbal abuse, the violence, the humiliations, but we were reaching a tipping point. You would think I would have developed a better sense of self-preservation, but even as I was packing to flee St Louis and his grip, I wouldn’t back down.

“You don’t understand. I’m coming back to St Louis, but I’m never coming back to you.”

To this day, I’m surprised by his shock. I am still surprised he didn’t hit me. I’d pushed him and pushed him for the better part of a year, telling him I didn’t love him, didn’t want to be with him, to leave me alone. I warned him and pushed him, until I knew he’d found someone else. Although the cheating stung and humiliated me, I knew the only way I’d be free would be if he found someone else to prop him up. I sacrificed my own self-respect, played a dirty and underhanded game, but I was only doing what I thought I had to. But even with her company, he still called for the next four months, threatening to show up at my new place well-removed from his St Louis neighborhood. Eventually the calls and threats stopped, but there are still neighborhoods I avoid, bars I won’t set foot in. I know, even now, that I’m only really off the hook as long as he’s not reminded I still exist. For him, it isn’t really over, and I don’t know if it ever will be. I’m the only game he ever lost.

And yes, it does say something about me, and about the icy demands of survival mode, that I hardly spared a thought for the woman I threw under the bus. I warned her. She chose not to believe me. I never lost any sleep over it. The people who understand are a select group, and we all have the scars to prove membership.

So. I spent the winter afterwards reassembling myself, dealing with the nightmares, the jumpiness, the anger that threatened to burn up what was left of my tattered soul. I began casually dating again the following spring, but I was cautious and gunshy. Though the men I met were nice enough in their own ways, they had no idea what they were dealing with. Never a trusting person to begin with, I now trusted absolutely no one. I had always had a kind of hardness to me, but after Neal, it had calcified into something glassy and implacable.

Then the following October, over a year after I’d left Neal, Dustin walked across a parking lot and changed everything.

*Names have been changed to protect myself, as opposed to the most assuredly guilty. He isn’t above suing me into the poorhouse, or using this tale as leverage to come back into my life and make me pay in some way. Of course he’s that much of a bastard. Haven’t you been paying attention?

The Lullaby of Loneliness

I’m alone with what’s left of my life
while the moon cuts the night like a knife
I am starved as the sigh of the stars
You’re the pulse in the rhythm of the hours
turned to years but the night never ends
You heal me you open the wounds again
and any promise of dawn of day
is so far so far away
The lullaby of loneliness
The lullaby of loneliness
~”The Lullaby of Loneliness” Aaron English

There are nights, and then there are nights. The cold is coming on, the days are dying, and the dark is rising, rising.

Fall and Winter were never my seasons, despite my birthday being buried in the depths of December. I take a chill easily, and the grey days and the long, cold nights make me sad and sleepy and lonely. And that’s during good years. This will not be a good year.

These two seasons were Dustin’s time, the time he was the most comfortable and alive. Ironically enough, his birthday was in July. But he was water, and there was something about the chill and the quiet that appealed to the deep, still places in him.

Spring and Summer are my time: the heat, the light, the fire. Life is everywhere; not slumbering, but running rampant, clinging and climbing and growing and being with an intensity that makes me feel alive. The warmth, reaching deep inside, wrapping my bones and pulling me inside out, a quickening.

But summer this year wasn’t any of those things. It was a drawn-out death, a drought. All that promise, all that potential, all that life: dead, gone, ruined, destroyed. Dustin….

So now I am girding for a fall and winter that promises to be among my most brutal-and I have already survived more than one brutal winter. Mostly, I am doing what I always do: I am getting nesty, withdrawing into my spaces, both internal and external. This is when I clean and organize and personalize my living space, and curl up in it with hot tea and soft afghans and Netflix marathons and good books. I cook and bake more and go out less and less.

I have been alone before. I’ve been lonely, both within and outside relationships. But this…this will be different.

When I left my abusive ex-boyfriend in the fall of 2010, I spent the winter afterwards in ruins. I was rebuilding my sense of self, my self-esteem and confidence. I had been wounded but I would not, could not, let him win. My intermittent sleeping problems became chronic, I had nightmares, but I knew all I had to do was slog through it and I would be whole and happy again. I knew whatever he had tried to do, whatever poison he spread, I could beat it and be better than I was before.

Dustin knew all of this, of course. I could not hide the jittery remnants of abuse from someone who was even more intimately familiar with violence than I was. He was always careful to touch me with gentleness, even in passion. He was giving and genuine and supportive in every single way that the other had not been. He could heal with a look, a touch, a kiss. And he did.

So now, as I withdraw into my hobbit hole for the season, I am more acutely aware than ever of Dustin’s absence. He should be here with me, we should be cooking together, snuggling, sharing hot tea and silly movies and popcorn. His heat should be warming my bed, like his presence warmed my soul. Beyond a physical chemistry that could set stone afire, we found an intelligence and depth we’d never known in another before. We fascinated each other, and now it’s gone.

I don’t feel the optimism I felt the winter of 2010. This loneliness cuts like nothing else. The sun goes down and I am colder than the temperature warrants, and nothing I do seems to warm me. I am cold in my core, in my soul. I vacillate between wanting someone, anyone, to talk to, and wanting to be alone.  But I don’t want to be a burden on someone else. This is exhausting enough to go through; dragging someone else through it with me seems unfair. So I struggle on and try not to wear out the ones I can talk to. But I don’t know that I’ve ever felt this lonely before, and I don’t know how to fix it.

I have no earthly idea what I’m going to do.