I Can’t Sleep

3 Mar

I can’t sleep

Should be grading, but I can’t grade, can’t sleep, can’t grade, can’t focus

Their teachers both report that they tune out, go somewhere else in class, lose focus

That they disrupt with their present absence, their presence that is not present

It distracts, their distraction

 

Me too, I go    somewhere, just better at coming back faster

With me it takes the form of a ringing in my ears, like I hear

My own screams

Screeching shadows of sound, constant, present

 

I can’t sleep

Two weeks ago, the message, a new job, a coincidence

a-nother coincidence

Close to my job, a coincidence

Just down the street, a coincidence

 

There were others, coincidences before

Four years ago, me driving, he walking, black grocery bag in hand

Half a block from my off the grid apartment

Coincidence

His apartment     two blocks      from ours

Coincidence

Courtroom, judge chastises, he moves

 

Less than a year later

a-nother coincidence

a block from where he was before

Chastised again

Gone again

 

Another year, a taunt

An apartment less than a block from their school

Restraining Order notwithstanding

Coincidence

I begged his sister to intervene … it worked

 

Now, finally a job for me, a home, a community, mine, safe, good, mine

Not mine

A new job that will move, soon, to a few steps

A few steps from my, from our apartment

And, looking, he is looking to move, too

To be neighbors

 

The children share this good news with me

And, I, share truth

No, I don’t like this

No, I’m not ok with it

 

Daddy said maybe he shouldn’t be our neighbor

Maybe it would make Mommy upset

 

I can’t sleep

I’m caught in the game, honest and I play, silent and I play

I don’t know how

Not

To play

And they sit, in their classrooms, distracted

Is it the years of monitors or the year without?

Is it the one who fathers through deceit, even tempered performance?

Is it the mother, modeling honesty and truth as best I can, living raw and not so even tempered?

Is it the ringing in their ears, echoes of my screams that woke them up those many years ago?

 

Sometimes, sometimes

The ringing keeps me awake

It just won’t go away.

Letter to the Landlord Who Turned Me Down Due to My Credit Score

13 Jan

Thank you for getting back to me. I had a feeling that you were uncomfortable with me as an applicant – this is too bad.

I hope that, as you move forward as a landlord, you reflect on what it does for women in circumstances like mine – or worse – to get turned down for apartments. In my case, I at least have a home and am ok. But were I freshly fleeing, credit destroyed by PTSD, the manipulative control of a psychologically unbalanced and damaging ex, and prioritizing survival over all else, an email such as the one you sent would be devastating.

I hope that, as you move forward as a landlord, the next time you have a domestic violence survivor applicant with bad credit and a good, stable job, you rethink the meaning of FICO and consider renting to her. Nationally, victims and survivors of domestic violence return to their ex’s 7 times (that is a national average) before being able to leave permanently. The number one reason women return: money. The ability to feed their children and put and keep a roof over their heads.

I hope that, as you move forward as a landlord, you remember these numbers and remember the power you have to help, to do good, to undo the damage done by so many men (and a few women) in our nation. In our lifetimes, 30% of girls and women in the U.S. will be victimized by a family member, friend, or colleague. Domestic violence and sexual assault are deeply damaging and shockingly prevalent.

When my ex withholds Child Support (which is illegal but actually very easy), he has the power to continue to destroy my credit. When he attacks me in court and I have to set aside all else (often just forget thinking about or even caring about all else) in order to do all in my power to continue to keep my children and me safe, he is also able to continue to impact me emotionally, financially, psychologically. And when the damage he has done to me impacts my ability to live somewhere, then that landlord chooses to side with a blind system that looks only at the surface.

It is not your job to help women and children struggling to rebuild our lives after fleeing domestic violence. It is not your job to look past the surface and make decisions based on more than the bottom line. But, it is a choice that you have and a power you have.

I hope that, as you move forward as a landlord, and as you meet other women or men in circumstances like mine, you make a choice to undo a system that continues to harm and damage survivors. I hope that you help to give a new home to a woman fleeing violence and seeking to support her children and build a new life, so that she does not become one of those statistics returning for the 3rd, 6th, or 7th time …

You may think that I am being overly dramatic. The thing is, more of us need to see how we are all, in fact, connected. How the decisions that you make are never just about you. How the circumstances I am in (say, a FICO score) is sometimes, or maybe even often, not the whole story.

Like I said, I can risk writing an email like this because I am 5-1/2 years out, because I actually give classes on domestic violence now to help train advocates and first responders, because I give talks and share my story to help raise awareness and battle damaging stereotypes, because I have a job with a good income and a home that is fine, if not ideal.

I see myself as part of a web – I can pretend that my choices don’t affect others, but I know that is not true.

I am a teacher and a survivor, and my greatest tool is my voice.

I hope you take away my words and move forward differently. We survivors are worthy of support and kindness.

2100 Days

13 Jan

It has been two thousand one hundred days or five years, eight months, and thirty days since I fought for my life and survived. It has been five years, eight months, and thirty days since I looked at the moment I was in and wondered how I got there, since I looked up the dark wood stairs in the charming New England cottage we worked so hard to make into a home and saw only a monster with eyes of ice and wondered who he was.

More than five and a half years have passed. I have gone from legal homelessness, living in my father’s home, sharing his bed with my two small children while he slept first on his couch, then on a bed my mom got for him, to our own tiny one bedroom apartment, to our own spacious two bedroom apartment, Legos and Imaginext in one room and small, furry foot warmers in the other. I have gone from welfare to unemployment (when I realized I could get unemployment even though I left my job by choice – to flee, if fleeing for safety is a choice, really) to having a full time job that I love.

More than five and a half years have passed and I successfully kept my narcissistic and quite possibly sociopathic twisted and abusive ex at a distance from my children (yes, my children, I don’t feel like writing ‘our’) for the vast majority of that time. I fought and dug myself into a pit of legal debt from which there is likely no escape, but I sustained monitored visitation at a visitation center, and then a monitor, for over five years.

When family court, in its self congratulatory wisdom, removed the monitor from my children’s visits with their dad, they had grown five years taller, stronger, and wiser … hopefully, therefore also five years safer.

Things seem like they are going well.

And yet, two thousand one hundred days out, I feel like the earth is falling out from under my feet. I have a job, an apartment, two fantastic children … a doctor willing to consistently refill my antidepressant without argument … but the shadow follows me, the shadow of my ex, so heavy, choking me, weighing me down, still.

Two thousand one hundred days out, it is hard not to feel so fucking lame. Grow up, I tell myself, be strong. Yet, when the court took away the monitor from my children’s visits with their dad, the man who tried to kill me, the man with whom I shared my life for ten and a half years, with whom I had two children, the man who tried to smother me with a plastic covered pillow, when the court took away the monitor to watch over my children, it, he, they, the court also took away the buffer from me.

So now, over five years out, I have to see the man who tried to kill me at least three times a week. I don’t think I can even put into words what it is doing to me. I think it is breaking me, somewhere, inside, where I don’t want to admit it, it is driving holes into my soul.

I have been trying to fill the holes with chocolate, and doughnuts, and more chocolate, and more doughnuts, but that really has not been helping and the holes grow larger and deeper, and the vessel grows with them.

I am forgetting to pay bills, losing track of dailyness, wandering moment to moment, wondering when the holes will take me over.

You see, two thousand one hundred days out, five years, eight months, and thirty days after I got away, I still have not really gotten away. I can’t.

And so the weekly overlaps, they wound me, and I pretend that they do not. Or, maybe I say that they do, but the words do not approach the reality. I write this because I am not the only one exchanging children with a violent ex, an ex who hurts souls or bodies or both, well, yes, always both.

I am not the only one deep in legal debt, judged by judges and evaluators and courtrooms that see victims and survivors as somehow complicit in our own victimization, as though the damage we have been done is a mark of our poverty of mind and soul. And so we are treated as equals with those who have done harm to us, and as we work so hard to follow the laws, the laws and the judges and the evaluators become new perpetrators.

Where maybe family or friends, before, said what a great guy he was, so nice, so funny, so smart, so kind, so rich, and that tightened the hold of those we have escaped … so now the courts represent truth, in fact they are truth, what they fabricate becomes truth. So if we are deemed paranoid, then, well, that’s what we are. If our exes are deemed safe, then that becomes the new truth.

Willing suspension of disbelief. I loved that. I loved fantasy and sci fi. Now I live a life of unwilling suspension of disbelief … suspended, ungrounded, breaking.

How many of us have to do this dance and break before the system learns, changes? I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel today … and the darkness breaks my heart.

Every Life Matters

10 Aug

There are days when the sunlight just seems too bright, surreal, and the colors brought out by the sunlight painful and exaggerated. The bright sunlight felt that way to me the day after I came out from under the darkness of my relationship with my ex. I had survived. I was in a state of disbelief … I could not believe that I was alive … I could not believe that he had tried to kill me … I could not believe that I was driving to the downtown courthouse to meet someone called a Victim’s Advocate and, I thought, to see my ex stand before a judge for what he did to me the night before.

The sunlight felt wrong that day. I was elated to be alive, but weighed down by the heaviness of this new reality, one which makes so much sense to me now but one which I was only beginning to understand. Perhaps it was reality, then, that made my eyes hurt. I was seeing too much, perhaps.

Today the sunlight feels similarly. Over five years have passed since that morning, but still there are days when I want to turn down the sun, I want to curl up in darkness, I want to lose myself in fiction, in easy exaggerated stories steeped in unreality, because some days my reality is just so fucking unreal, so deeply wrong, that fiction becomes my drug, my shots, my comforting darkness.

Today I watched three episodes of “Tru Blood,” a favorite escape of mine. But in the third of the three episodes, likable, vulnerable, loving veteran Terry Bellefleur gets shot and killed; and much of the episode is devoted to characters remembering moments with Terry, like his first day on the job as those around him try to draw him out of his post-war PTSD by giving him direction and purpose. At one point, shifter, bar owner Sam Merlotte and sometimes alcoholic, weak willed, fairy father Andy Bellefleur take Terry fishing. Terry catches a sizable catfish but, looking into the catfish’s eyes, watching its lips gasp for breath, Terry tells his cousin/brother (yes, this is the stereotypical South) Andy to throw it back, “Every life matters,” Terry says.

Ok, on this painfully sunny day I sought refuge in a favorite dark bloodsucking fictional fantasy world and Terry had to go and fuck it up for me, reminding me that “every life matters.”

Today my two children, my two sons, have their last “monitored” visitation with their father who – if you have read my earlier blogs, you know – tried to kill me in my sleep. This sad, twisted, broken, dangerous man will now be allowed to be alone with our two sons, only 7 and 10 years old. He will be alone with them because he has performed commendably for the Court, which means only that he has not physically harmed them during monitored visitation. So, since he has not done them physical harm while being watched over, the Court Evaluator and the Judge (who basically rubber stamped the evaluator’s recommendations) decided to remove the monitor and take steps to help the boys (because the evaluator claimed this recommendation was for the benefit of the boys) move toward having a “normal” relationship with their father, something not possible with a monitor present, according to the evaluator.

This is the same Court that determined that my ex committed “Attempted Murder” and “Assault with a Deadly Weapon,” and that found that my ex is a perpetrator of “domestic violence” and “child abuse.”

But, this evaluator sat in the witness chair and said that it is hard to tell what really happened “that night,” the night my ex tried to kill me. The evaluator said there are two sides to the story. And though, legally, there were not supposed to be “two sides” to the story in that courtroom, new evaluators and new judges can make decisions while rejecting previous “findings” based on extensive hearings. They have that kind of power.

The story of the hearing, of the evaluator, of all of that, is a story for another time, one that brings forth in me such deep fury that I cannot now address it as I am sure that only expletives will escape my fingers…

Family Court exists, so we are told, in great part to protect children because “every life matters,” especially young and innocent lives. This decision, though, seems very powerfully to reflect the desires of these two children’s father, the desires of my ex, than the needs of their psychological, emotional, and physical safety (Family Court instructions direct judges to make those categories paramount in all decisions).

Yet, it seems to me that this decision made by the Court to allow two small children, granted bigger, smarter, stronger, and more articulate than they were five years ago, but still small and vulnerable, this decision to let two small children be alone with an attempted murderer and an admitted child abuser, this decision is not one that respects the value of life, it is not a decision that “gets” what fictional PTSD suffering Terry Bellefleur “got,” that “every life matters.”

Terry’s pain led him to hire someone to take his life because he could no longer live with the burden of his memories of war. My older son told me yesterday that I made a bad choice, that I should have had children with someone else, not with “Daddy.” “But then I would not have you,” I said, as I have before, “and I can’t imagine life without you.” “Yes you can and you would love your other kids just as much as you love me,” he told me, as he has before, “I’m a realist, Mommy,” he said.

He had written in an email to himself, “Fuck Mommy. Fuck Daddy. Fuck my life.” But, he accidentally (so he said) sent it to me. He said he does not hate me, but he does hate his life. Ok, 10-year-old, almost teenager drama aside, he explained that he hates that his father “hurt” his mom, that his mom fled with his brother and him leaving behind a beautiful home with a huge back yard, that we left our dog and cat behind, that he has a dad who says hurtful things to him sometimes, that he was fine with a monitor but the Court took the monitor away anyhow, that he didn’t ask for more time with his dad, but the Court gave them more time together anyhow, that he has parents whose ability to parent is mediated by mental illness (his dad’s), fear (mine), and the Court.

I really can’t blame him for that. He told the evaluator the “mean” things his daddy said to him, and the Court did not take action or make decisions that made his words feel heard and honored. He feels he was powerless. He feels that the courage it took for him to “tell on” his dad was ignored, that it was a pointless act.

Both children have been diagnosed with PTSD, as have I. Younger son says that he does not want to go to sleep lately because he is having nightmares. He had nightmares several years ago, right after we fled. He called the monster in his nightmares, “The Grinch,” and he was terrified of the Grinch. But, eventually, his nightmares went away. Tomorrow is their first non-monitored visitation and younger son has been having nightmares again.

Older son has struggled with short term memory and focus issues. Since finding out about the Court’s decision and the loss of the monitor, he has “checked out” on occasion, perhaps dissociating. He got a warm vanilla milk at Starbucks, picked it up from the counter, and held it sideways, dumping it all over the floor slowly through the hole in the lid without even noticing what was happening.

Where we take our dog for a wash, a self wash dog wash, they give us fresh, homemade chicken jerky as a treat for the dog after the bath. While I recently gave our dog a bath, older son sat and shredded the chicken jerky into little tiny pieces so small even our little dog couldn’t really eat them. When I asked him about it, he didn’t even seem to realize that he had done it. He looked at the shredded pieces in surprise, like he did with the spilt milk.

Older son also used to have horrible constipation when I still lived with my ex. I now know things were happening in that home that I didn’t see … perhaps that I didn’t want to see … perhaps that I couldn’t see. I don’t know how hurt my older son was from his exposure to his twisted father, but the constipation, painful debilitating constipation, I now believe, was a side effect of the shadows, darkness, and pain hidden in that home.

Older son is suffering terrible constipation again, body in knots, red-faced, resisting letting go.

It is … painful is not enough … excruciating doesn’t reflect it … heartbreaking is too pat … there are no words for the feelings and thoughts that arise from witnessing damage and pain in children and being powerless to fix it, to really really get at the core and fix it.

So, when Terry Bellefleur said that “every life matters,” I sobbed, because it fucking should.

In the News Today…and Every Day…

17 Jun

He was an LAUSD elementary school teacher without anything negative on his work record. She was in hiding. He found her. He killed her.

Those poor children.

Video

Patrick Stewart on Domestic Violence

31 May

http://www.upworthy.com/a-brave-fan-asks-patrick-stewart-a-question-he-doesnt-usually-get-and-is-given-a-beautiful-answer

Patrick Stewart … can he get any more beautiful, more amazing, more worthy of awe? I am not a Star Wars fan … but I am a Stewart fan!

Link

“How to Cure a Feminist”

27 May

“How to Cure a Feminist”

This spoken word artist gave me the chills. Brilliant. Disturbing. So so smart.

Maybe if everyone were to hear this, people would stop asking, with a dismissive snear “Why does she stay?” “What did she do to deserve it? It takes two to tango, right?” “She must have sought him out, chosen him somehow;” “She must like being treated like that…” etc etc etc …

Really, at the core, the question consistently seems to be “What is wrong with her?” … and not “What is wrong with him?”

She helps us see what can break a strong woman … wow, just wow.

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