On Fire

“Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.”
-Lesley Jamison “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”

—–

When I was in an undergraduate creative writing workshop, the professor was an artist in addition to being a writer. She painted each of us a little card with watercolors and a French word. She said that she had thought of us each quietly and chosen the word that suited us most. She handed out the cards and told each student what their word meant. When she handed me my card, she said nothing. 

I looked at it, and on it was written, “ètoile.” I had studied French, but I didn’t recognize this word. What does it mean? I asked. She looked around at the other students. You know what it means, she said. No I don’t, I said. She leaned in and whispered, It means star. You are the star.

Stars can burn for a long time, but they eventually die. The heat that makes a star burn is what makes us see it in the sky but is also what eventually kills the star.

When I was born on Christmas day many years ago, the stars in the sky were at such an alignment that my astrological chart has more of the element fire than any other element. I have too much fire. My friend, an astrologer, says that my challenge in life is to stop burning so hot.

My friend Rebecca who wrote the previous blog post told me, When I think of you, the word “bright” comes to mind. Your eyes, voice, and colors. You’re a bright spot to me.

I told Rebecca, When I think of you, the word “light” comes to mind. 

Rebecca’s light is the kind of light that I want to climb into. I want to nap inside of it like a cat in sunlight. I want it wrapped around me. 

My bright is the kind that consumes.

Caleb used to say, You excite me. No one has ever excited me like you.

A woman writes me and says, You are the fiercest, most independent woman I know.

A close friend says to me, I can understand why some people question the abuse, only because when I met you, I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to someone so strong.

My father said to me after I left Caleb, I just don’t know what to believe. You have always been a person who seemed like everything was going fine, until it wasn’t.

My mother said to me when I was in high school, It never seemed like you needed our help. Your brother always asked for it. But you? It’s like you went into your room at eleven and never came out. You always wanted to do everything on your own terms.

I wanted to say to my mother, But I needed your help. I needed it.

But how was she to know this? How could she know when I never asked for it?

I asked Caleb for help. I begged him for help. There were times when I was begging on my knees for his forgiveness because I thought I had deserved what he had given me. There were times when I was sitting against the bathroom door with my feet propped against the counter to give me leverage, as he slammed against the door rhythmically. Slam. Slam. Slam. And I begged him to stop.

Some days, I wonder if that door is still cracked open where he banged against it. Some days, I wonder if there are still holes in the wall above the bed from where he threw the bed knobs at me while I shook under the sheets. Some days, I wonder if his new girlfriend sees those holes and those cracks. Some days, I wonder what stories he tells her to explain those things.

Before I moved out of that house, I took pictures of all of the damage. I keep those pictures locked up with everything else that I have locked up. Some days, I wonder how it would feel to set fire to it all?


In the end, I begged him to leave me. I begged him to leave me because it was so hard for me to leave him.

I never wanted to be a beggar. 

My friend Rebecca also wrote about me in her post, That strong, independent woman was always her, and he took that away for some time. What’s real in us stays, even when we have to work to get back in touch with it.

Some days, I am tired of being strong. I am tired of burning so hot. 

I can never say this enough: Strong women get abused. Sometimes, our strength just means we’re able to take it more, and harder, and for longer.

On the day that professor gave me the card that said star, I was not the star of my own life. I was being abused. I was wounded, but she couldn’t see that because I was also the girl who went into her room at age eleven and never came out. I was also the girl who everything was going fine, until it wasn’t. I was also the woman who later heard in the hallway from another creative writing professor, You are always so happy in person, but your writing is so sad.

Lesley Jamison writes that wounds are different than damage. Wounds can have a certain beauty to them, but damage is irreparable. When I read those words, I wonder Am I wounded, or am I damaged?

I don’t know if I’ll ever have an answer to that question.

Caleb loved my fire; it excited him. But Caleb wanted to control my fire. He wanted my fire to serve him, but fire doesn’t like to serve. Some days, I wonder if I hadn’t had so much fire, if he would have hurt me in the ways that he did, and then I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter. He wasn’t allowed to try and break me. He wasn’t allowed to love me in ways that wanted me broken. 

There was no room for any star in our household but him.

Caleb gets to sleep under those holes in the wall now. He was the one who put the holes in the wall, and he is the one who gets to sleep under them. 

But I am the one living with the damage.

Some days I think that my fire is what saved me. 

Some days I think that my fire is what put me in harm’s way. 

I fall in love easily. I’m not talking only about romantic love. I’m talking about friendship love. The other night, I was sitting next to my friend Brad. He sat closely to me, and I put my arm around him. 

What is that for? He asked. 
I don’t know, I said. You sat closely to me, so I wanted to put my arm around you.

Like Rebecca, Brad is all light. I have told them both too many times how much they would enjoy each others’ company. They are probably tiring of this. Because of location, their friendship is unlikely to happen, but I wish for it nonetheless.

I am looking for more light in my life and less bright.

If you are full of light, and you sit closely to me, I will put my arm around you because that is who I am.

Caleb, like me, is bright. And our arms were around each other, but they were pushing as much as pulling.

Brad put his arm around me in return, and we just sat there quietly for a while. Two friends. 

I’m learning how to give my fire only to people who can give warmth back.

I’m not perfect at this, but I’m getting better every day.




Guest Post: In Response to Kelly’s Post "On Connection"

My friend, Rebecca Doverspike, took Reed and me in when I left Caleb. She was a tremendous source of support and healing for me. She was on the front lines during the worst period of my life. She also loved Reed and me as though we were her own family. I’ve talked before about connection, and about how important connection is in recovering from abuse. Part of the reason I struggled with leaving Caleb is because he was my family, and I was terrified of losing that, of being alone. Rebecca showed me that family can be found anywhere we make it. Rebecca is my family. She is one of the loves of my life.

In Response to Kelly’s Post “On Connection
By: Rebecca Doverspike


Between academic semesters, I sometimes work at a vegetable stand for a farmer who’s like family.  The other day at the stand, I was thinking about intimacy with strangers and how much I love it.  My friend Bonnie had visited earlier in the day, and as we sat on the tailgate with the corn, she asked me if I ever wonder about the fate of the vegetables, where they’re going. I then pictured various countertops and kitchens, composts in yards, tones of voice passing through rooms.  After Bonnie left, the question opened into new forms and I found myself focusing on touch.  I love handing someone change back in a way that’s not afraid to briefly touch his/her palm.  Our culture is so afraid of touch, afraid of intimacy or actual connection.  We move with cold monetary exchanges, traffic, constant background music.  But when I pass tomatoes from my hands to another’s after weighing them, why be ginger about touching?  There’s an intimacy to holding ears of corn in my hand for a second as I place them in a plastic bag that another’s hand will soon hold.  I say to a man, “watch your head,” as he ducks under the canopy upon leaving with a tenderness that seems as if I’ve known him for years.  This is a kind of grace between people, these small ways of caring.


I was thinking about touch, intimacy, and grace as I multi-tasked with several customers, when I saw the woman next in line put on dark lipgloss as she was getting ready to speak with me.  I thought it an odd time to put lipgloss on (without even a mirror), in the sunlight, coming up to the stand.  But when I saw her more closely, I saw bruises and cuts on her lip.  The place where her lip had cracked most was a deep purple; the burgundy shade of gloss probably covered the brighter parts, but not that deep shade.  Because my heart had been holding gentle tenderness (the kind that strengthens), my heart then sunk with absolution at the sight of her lips.  It did not negate or take away previous feelings of grace; it’s because that tenderness was there that I felt the impact of her appearance so deeply.  Tenderness is tenderness whether in love or grief.


Her lips were a doorway.  I thought of Kelly and I sitting at the Golden Finch on High St., drinking a glass of Malbec (a different stain on the lips), staring out the huge storefront windows.  In that day, I’d sat there thinking of her strength.  We’d just moved many of her things from the temporary dorm apartment she’d shared with Caleb into their old house in overflowing laundry baskets balanced on our hips, arm loads of lamps and plants.  I had no idea where she was finding the motivation to cook delicious meals for all of us, for speaking patiently with Reed about his homework as he’d sit with a pencil and fill in the blanks, to talk with me so openly about what the abuse had been like.  Of course, she probably found the strength because for years she cooked delicious meals and spoke patiently with her son through the abuse.  


“How can I give this woman corn and say nothing?” I thought.  What would I say?  “You don’t deserve that.”  “It’s not right.”  I knew she’d tell me she fell on something and split it open, making her cheeks pink with the lie.  I knew she was holding together very well, just getting corn after having put on gloss with no mirror so she doesn’t even know I can see.  The invisibility of it is her strength, and I can’t break that.  Her lips are a doorway into a life in which a man gets angry and reacts to the one closest to him.  She might then reflect on what she’d said to provoke him.  She’d maybe tell herself it could be worse, wasn’t that bad, and maybe wouldn’t happen again.  She’d think of all the horrible stories in the news and separate her own situation from them as the real kinds of abuse, whereas she was just overly sensitive.  She might have felt that this is just how women are treated.  She might’ve felt that way so much that it’s not even a conscious thought.  She probably feels all the names he calls her, the ways he knows where to hurt her the most, the way that anything emotional she’s shared with him can become ammunition.  She seemed to me a woman absolutely worn but able to hold together only with invisibility.  It sometimes irks me when people don’t smile back, as if it’s a personal offense.  Here, I barely smiled at her, knowing it would hurt her to smile back.  I didn’t think of our hands as I handed back her change; instead, I thought about everyone in the world who has to be afraid of touch.


How much am I projecting others’ experiences onto her?  Yet, another can serve as a mirror, unveiling some held insight, opening new lines of sight, rather than “projection” meaning putting something onto a situation that isn’t really there.  Each story is particular and unique, and yet some commonalities offer connection.


Should I break down the fence of “self” and “other” and tell her that I know, to some degree, through combined various experiences of my own and listening closely to several dear friends, the loneliness of working to understand another’s psychology while one’s own gets intentionally warped?  The strangeness of loving someone who holds enough locked-in grief that you want to protect him from himself even at the same time that you feel sad effects from reactions to that grief?  Someone who thinks he’s bad, but you see good, so you tell him he’s good, knowing if he didn’t feel he was so bad, he would also act differently?  How it feels like the most loving thing to try to understand another, but what it if hurts fundamental parts of one’s self to do so?  To be so far inside that that you don’t realize what’s happening, but you just feel sad and confused, and unlike yourself?  


I could tell her my own stories of disproportionate sarcasm to genuineness, of listening to someone spiral out of control and not having the ability to analyze because you’re so in it.  I could say, “Get out, so you can learn to see it.”  I could say, softer, “I know it isn’t his fault, and you can see the cause and effect from his life, like a snake whose belly is cut open will bite, like a plant without enough nutrients twisting for the sun.  But it isn’t your fault, either.  You can’t fill holes you didn’t create.”  I could say, “I know you remember when he wasn’t like that and that maybe he could change.  And maybe he can.  But while you’re busy protecting him from himself, and your family from your own sadness, and the girl at the vegetable stand from your bruises, please, God, try to protect something of yourself, too.  Protect that part that makes you feel like yourself; don’t let it go.”  Also, “You are brave.  Find that piece of bravery that refuses to give up on him, and put it toward remembering yourself.”


Maybe that, most, remembering yourself.  One of the beautiful things about an intimate relationship is learning the language between two people, the process of finding where that’s most mutual.  The most loving goal in any kind of relation to another is collaborative work.  One of the ugly things about abuse is that it takes what’s beautiful about intimacy and warps it.  If the healthy and loving ways you’ve learned to process things don’t work, or are broken down, it can feel as if you have to speak another person’s language to be understood.  You might feel pain you need to express without knowing how to productively do so anymore.  How can you hold onto yourself if your own language isn’t understood or heard?  Yet, it’s vital.  In a relationship, it can be a beautiful thing to teach one another how to love.  So you must ask yourself: how am I being taught here?  Is it the way I most want to learn?  


I could say, “Find an opening even the size of a sliver that lets in joy and move toward it.”  Her lips are a doorway, a window, a glimpse.  Kelly told me that for a long time, she just looked forward to a cup of coffee every morning as her one peace for the day.


I think of this as I bag corn, knowing I will say nothing.


I began this post wanting it to about the question: how do you best support someone going through an abusive relationship?  I didn’t intend to answer that, but to pose it and circle around its facets.  Kelly wrote a recent post about connection, and how it heals after such isolation, and it got me thinking about all an abused person has to try to balance and how distorted outside perception can be, and how crucial authentic connection truly is.


Kelly told me that she felt she had to keep the abuse secret for a long time because what if she told her friends and she wasn’t ready to leave him yet?  Can you imagine the kinds of pressure an abused person feels?  Abuse makes someone feel like they have to manage everything on their own.  If you’re in love with the abuser, it’s natural to focus on the good qualities, the intimate moments, to keep narrating those qualities to yourself, and to others.  It isn’t because they aren’t real.  It isn’t a lie you’re telling yourself.  So many women say to me in retrospect, “I was such an idiot!  I should’ve seen those things.  Everyone warned me.”  No, you were not an idiot.  All the good and beautiful things that you saw in that person are real, too.  All the intimacies and moments of tenderness are real, too.  Part of what’s heartbreaking is the discrepancy between contradictory realities, which Kelly has written about beautifully.


Imagine at once being in love with someone, being continually damaged by someone (confusing enough on its own), knowing you have to protect others both from learning the truth about that situation and because you love your friends and don’t want them to see you sad (and if they’re sad or worried about you, what if you get sad and worried too, and this only works if it’s invisible, if there is no mirror), and you have to protect your partner who is trying to change and you have to protect yourself against external narratives that seem one-dimensional and don’t really apply?  How?  How does one do all of that?


Sometimes cultures place a stigma that equates abused people to weakness.  But in that paragraph above, you see how much internal work is happening in ways that the abused person doesn’t even know she’s having to do.  That internal work takes strength.  And on top of that may also be a person who’s going to work, maybe raising a child, perhaps, as in Kelly’s case, trying (and successfully) furthering her own career.  That takes strength.  


The same strength that resides in a person to be your loving friend is also what allows her to love someone who causes pain and want to not give up on that love.  


Loving someone who’s being abused might begin with letting that person be the authority on her own experience, from the inside out, and realizing how complicated the situation can really feel (and be).  Often I feel like a way to “help” someone is to admit you don’t know what’s best, and let that person guide.  There doesn’t need to be formulas if you trust your friend to take you along.  Your voice is not what’s needed.  Your listening is, because your friend is in the process of finding her voice, and it’s a privilege to be anywhere near that intimate and most important process.  Or, your voice is needed only to the extent that it makes space for her voice, for the internal narrative to shift.  You’re there to create space for that.  


Just because you may have seen someone was a jerk and your friend didn’t doesn’t make you smarter (it means you were at different angles of vision, and yours was actually the less privileged in terms of a full picture).  What’s needed from supporters may change at different times (sometimes being understanding that the person who abused your friend was also tender with her in some moments and hearing about that, other times vehemently being on her side about what a dick he is, which is of course the much easier of the two–in essence, being able to hold simultaneous truths because, unfortunately, that _is_ the complexity of abuse).  


Yet, I go back on some of these thoughts a little.  It goes back to connection.  I guess maybe what’s best in supporting another is doing so from your best self.  Hopefully that person will have a whole network of support in which you are only one piece.  Maybe I listen while another rails.  Both are needed.  Coming from a place of your best self will help encourage that person to do the same.  Even saying something seemingly “wrong” can help someone find her voice again.


It felt like a privilege to me to know and share time with Kelly when she was leaving Caleb.  I was privy to spontaneous insights that arose from her sharing and our conversations.  I got to see something closer to the whole picture of someone I’d liked, but realized, as I learned more, that I’d only known from particular angles, and this fuller picture made me love her.  What I saw was not weakness in any way shape or form, but immense strength.  I admired the hell out of her every day.  It was nothing less than privilege for her to share her voice with me.   


And to think of hours of conversation on the couch, tears and horrendous, sickening, stories, to remember the amounts of self-doubt she felt from the inside-out, to hear how she’d blame herself for falling apart in the grocery store at someone’s, “how are you?” (after years of teaching herself not to), and to see how she’s become an advocate, how she can write about the complexities of her experience with incredible, breathtaking insight, beauty, and openness– how she continues to pursue her career and raise her child and develop close relationships with those around her– astounds me.  I read her essays and see their structured edges compared to the rivers of stories she has told me and understand how brilliant of a writer and creator she is on top of having lived through something life-threatening.  That strong, independent woman was always her, and he took that away for some time.  What’s real in us stays, even when we have to work to get back in touch with it.


I remember looking at her in those days and seeing her beauty.  She felt like she was falling apart.  But undoing in order to become one’s best self takes so much bravery, and that is what I saw.  Layers of pain and confusion coming off, and that piece of bravery shining.  


Culture should shift from viewing abused women as weak (or God forbid sensitive) and instead to holding insight into human psychology and experience that’s vital to understanding the problems in our world and searching for their root causes.  


Probably what I should have said to that woman at the vegetable stand was, “how do you feel?  Because you have insight that no one else does, and I have so much to learn from you.”  I have to remind myself over and over that my best form is receptivity, openness, unseeing in order to see, emptying in order to truly hear.


The most worthy goal of any connection is true collaboration.  I think we need to break down barriers between public and private.  Kelly does this beautifully and bravely with her work.  It is our business how each other is treated and how we treat others.  It affects everyone.  Where did it come from, this idea that who we are in private is different than who we are in public, in such a fundamental way that it can function as disguise?  How is that we are shocked when we know someone who turns out to have done something horrible and we think, “but he was my neighbor,” “but he was so nice,” or, in my case, something I find myself saying a lot, “but I babysat his children.”  Who we are in every moment matters and we don’t need to live in a world where someone can be a teacher by day and abuser by night.  This idea of minding one’s own business (sorry Hank Williams) encourages people not to bridge their interrelated behaviors with reflection.  We could be mirrors rather than veils.            


I think we should continue collaboration as we struggle through being human.  Connection heals; we are interconnected and thus collaboration acknowledges reality.  Struggle does not stop and will continue to take on different permutations and manifestations, but connection and collaboration can continue.  And even while Kelly continues to face her experiences and Caleb’s presence in her life, I take comfort in knowing, too, that she’s connected, collaborating, and that she enjoys more moments in a day now than just that cup of coffee.  Because she also has herself.


Thoughts on abuse continue to stir in me the more stories that I hear (some from old friends who have locked their stories away without the language to tell them until recently in a society that normalizes unhealthy behavior, some on the news domestically and internationally); psychological and physical violence toward women (and others) is an epidemic that needs to be addressed with urgency and from all angles.  And we don’t have to address it in isolation.

Bio:  
Rebecca met Kelly during their shared time in the MFA program in West Virginia.  These days, she spends her time with family as well as writing poems, letters, comments on a friend’s novel, and essays she needs to finish, and reading.  She watches Packer games, waitresses, and is hopefully soon to begin a job lesson planning in an after-school program designed to help struggling youth.  She’ll begin Harvard Divinity School next summer, where she intends to continue studying Buddhism.


On Being Colonized

Before I had ever heard the word “selfie,” I was familiar with the concept. Caleb used to take self-portraits. Dozens, no hundreds, of self-portraits. The position was always the same–Caleb staring somberly into the camera, expressionless.

I found these portraits on his phone on accident. I looked at the thumbnails–all the miniature visages of Caleb–page after page of his miserable face staring back at me.

“What is this?” I asked.


He took the phone and laughed. “I’m practicing for my author photo,” he said.

:They look more like mug shots,” I said.


Later he admitted to me that he had taken the photos as a way of documenting his shame. I don’t know to whom he was documenting this shame, but it wasn’t me.

One day, shortly after I had left him, I was in my kitchen chopping vegetables for dinner while talking on the phone to my best friend, Megan, who  is a counselor (my two best friends talked to me daily, as much as I needed, in the aftermath of his destruction), and I told her casually about his self-portraits. So much of his behavior was normal to me then. Megan stopped me, “Kelly,” she said. “That is really weird. I don’t want to diagnose him, but it sounds so, narcissistic.

“Oh, you don’t need to diagnose him,” I said. “He diagnosed himself as narcissistic to me already. It was his Hail-Mary effort to get me to stay.”

What I didn’t understand then was something that he understood all too well. If it was something we could work on (like him having a personality disorder) then we could rationalize to ourselves that it was something beyond his control. Then we could forgive him. And if we could forgive him, then I needed to stay because, after all, I couldn’t leave someone who couldn’t help himself, right?

Right?

He is so  very smart, and I was so very naive, but I was not dumb. I will not own that word. I was naive, and loving, and trusting. I didn’t lie in the way that he did, didn’t manipulate in that way. I simply didn’t have the tools to understand what he was doing. I never would have treated someone in that way. I made leaps to find ways to rationalize his behavior because it was unfathomable to me that someone could be so awful.


I have grieved the woman who couldn’t believe in that kind of awfulness, but I no longer grieve her. I welcome that I will never allow that kind of awfulness into my life again.


I have been studying postcolonial theory. The language resonates with me. It is angry. It is visceral. It speaks back. In postcolonial theory, the colonized speaks back to the colonizer.

I want to speak back to my colonizer.
In this blog, I am speaking back.
No, I am screaming back.

I wear Caleb’s self-portraits on my back. I wear all of those thumbnails like tattoos.

When you see me, think of me walking with the imprint of his face on my back a thousand times. Think of the weight those images cause. Think of me hunched over from that burden.

He claimed me.
Owned me.

He took my body, and made it his own. It was the only body I had, so I had to learn how to survive in the space that he left me

—–


In my graduate class tonight, the professor asked “Can there be decolonization?” And a student replied, “Of course not. You can give them the country back, but they can never go back. They can never go back to the way things were before.”

And I think, I can never be decolonized.

I think, Quit telling me to get over it.


I think, Don’t you think I want to get over it?


In my thoughts, I am speaking to those who are secretly thinking that I should just get over it. If you are secretly thinking this, then I say to you: Quit telling me to get over it. Don’t you think I want to get over it?

—–


I finally eliminated the last mutual contact I had with Caleb. It was a difficult thing for me to do. I cared about this man. I considered him to be a very good friend. I have a hard time cutting ties with friends, so I first tried to get him to cut ties with me. I did this without realizing I was doing it. I acted out–said mean things, made aggressive comments on his Facebook posts, accused him of being a shitty feminist–but I didn’t know what I was doing at the time.


I was trying to get him to cut ties with me because I had been unable to do that to him. I needed him to cut ties with Caleb or cut ties with me, and he was unwilling to do either, which meant the burden fell on me, and it was too much of a burden. I had already lost too much.

It took me all of this time–almost 3 years–to realize that he was another loss. But he, too, was a colonizer, a paternalistic one, but a colonizer. He listened to my sad story. He edited my essays. He supported me. But he also told me to get over it. In the beginning of my narrative, he told me how proud he was of me, how proud he was of me for being so graceful, so kind. At that time, I was being graceful because I was still brainwashed. I hadn’t yet reached the anger portion of my process, so I was being graceful. I was treating Caleb with kindness, which he did not deserve. But this friend never said to me, Caleb does not deserve your kindness.

Instead he said to me, Good girl. Good girl.

I was a very good girl.

I am no longer a good girl.

And when I got angry, this friend tried to be supportive but he supported me by saying, You should not concern yourself with what Caleb is doing. 

As though that was possible. As though Caleb would ever let me forget what he was doing. As though I had not been colonized by Caleb. As though the person who I was when I was being abused didn’t act like carbon paper. As though when Caleb punched his fist into that version of me, carbon imprints weren’t left on the person I am now.

I carry Caleb’s misery on my back.

And this friend thought that he was supporting me, but he only wanted to support me in ways that made him comfortable, in ways that fitted with his dominant narrative of what “recovery” looks like. He wanted me to fit into a redemptive narrative. The colonizer can never view the colonized through any other lens.

Another man, a different friend of Caleb’s told me, “I shared your essay and helped you.”

I shared your essay and helped you.


Again, how very paternal.


I wanted to say to this man, A better way to help me would be by actually putting pen to paper and writing a letter to Caleb saying, “What you did was wrong.”

I wanted to say to this man, You share my essay and pat yourself on the back, but I don’t need that kind of help. You shared my essay because I earned that. I earned that.

I don’t need the help of my colonizer’s friends. I don’t need the help of his fellow colonizers. I’m doing just fine on my own.


Spot the Bruise.


Am I angry? Yes. 

Am I also a complex being with a mixture of emotions? Yes. 

A few nights ago, I told someone, “If I could go back in time to the woman I was and tell her how things would be for me now, I would have left so much sooner.” 

I told him, “Things are really wonderful for me.”

A friend recently wrote me for advice about someone he knows in an abusive relationship. First, I gave him logistical advice, then I told him, “Tell her it will be okay. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.”

And it is. It is so worth it. I am angry, but I am also joyful. And sad. And ambivalent. And fatigued. And amused. And every other thing that any one person can be. I am all of those things. I am not always angry, nor am I always joyful. 

Right now, I am both angry and joyful at the same time.

Mostly, I am triumphant.

Caleb still threatens me. He threatened me on Sunday when he said he wanted primary custody of our son. And his threat threw me into a funk. It was hard to get out of bed the next morning. It was hard to remind myself that I am good enough. (It was the catalyst for this blog post, which has been brewing for a while.)

But then, my son and I worked on his student council campaign. He is in the fourth grade and running for student council. He has already won the preliminary election. He is not worried about losing. He has so much self-assurance. He has all A’s. He is happy. He laughs frequently. He easily tucks himself into my arm when I hold it out. 

And I realized that Caleb has no power over me. 

I am not decolonized, but I am also no longer colonized. 

I am a mixture of the legacy Caleb gave me and the future I have created for myself, but that doesn’t mean that I am broken. I may not be redeemed, but I am not broken. And I do believe that someday, I will no longer carry the imprint of Caleb’s misery on my back.

Until then, I’ll just keep speaking back.

I’ll say to my colonizer(s):
I speak.
I speak back.