On Having a Place to Return to

Photo Credit: Glen Sundberg

When I was pregnant with Reed, I became very aware that my body was a house. My body was a house for his growing body, and while he grew inside of me, I lived inside of a real house that I thought was haunted. Something had happened there. In the bathroom, there was wallpaper with pictures of Kewpie dolls–dolls with shuttered eyelids–and the wallpaper had been torn down in fits. The landlord later told me that the previous tenant had a breakdown of sorts and had to return to Scandinavia. 

I dreamed of ghosts in that house. All of the ghosts were women. All of the ghosts were trying to warn me.

Once, I pulled the cord on the light above the sink, and electricity shot through my body. Black bead imprints were singed onto my fingertips. As I iced the burns, I thought of the baby floating inside of me. I wondered if he had felt the currents. 

I wanted to be safe for him.

I already felt unsafe in my own home.

I didn’t even know that I felt unsafe in my own home.

The stories we tell ourselves sometimes have more power than the stories that are actually occurring. 

I told myself that Caleb was my home. I told myself that Caleb would keep me safe. 


—-

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about regrets. I can’t believe that I have been writing this blog for that long. This blog has been a labor of love for me. When I read those old posts, I can see how far I’ve come. I’m glad they’re here to remind me. After I wrote that post, an old girlfriend of Caleb’s wrote to me. She told me that she had found my story online, and that, as she read through my essay, and then, my blog, she was sad for me, and she knew that Caleb was exactly that type of guy.

She recently reached out to me again, and she is so kind. Another of Caleb’s exes has also become someone I would consider a friend. I console myself by telling myself that Caleb has good taste in women. It’s a small consolation, but it’s something, at least.

I have to believe that there was something of beauty inside of me when I met Caleb. I have to believe that I can get that back. 

I have to believe that beauty is a place I can return to.

—-

Caleb made me feel ugly on the outside. Worse, Caleb made me feel ugly on the inside. Caleb made me feel ugly all over.

Before him, I hadn’t known that ugliness could become a state of being, that the world inside of me, and the world outside of me would become places of such darkness, that only ugliness would seem to be truth. 

—-

My birthday was on Christmas Day. There was a full moon this Christmas. The last full moon on Christmas Day was in 1977, which was the day I was born. I had never known that I was born on a full moon. 

Reed, too, was born on a full moon. We are both full moon babies. 

I attach meaning to things. I think of Reed floating in that darkness inside of me. I think of the tides, of the pull that the moon has on water. I think of lunar water and how it only exists in ice. I think of my soul floating in darkness. I think that my soul, too, has a moon. I think, that, no matter how dark things were, there was still light inside of me.

Shortly before I met Caleb, I had my tarot cards read. The tarot reader told me to think of the men I had loved and imagine one of the four elements–earth, wood, fire, or water. She told me that element was a reflection of whatever was inside of me. I closed my eyes. I thought of those men. None of the elements fit. 

All I could think of was ice.

I was the ice. Those men were the ice.

Caleb, too, was ice. He was nothing but ice, and I was trapped underneath his floes. 

—-

I am in my childhood home. This town. It was not always an easy town to be a child in. The bleakness, the despair, the isolation and poverty–they are all subjects of my writing. But, still, this town is my home. It is a place for me to return to. 

I was talking on the phone the other day to my friend, Kelly M. She was wondering why I am doing better than some other survivors. My recovery is ongoing, but I am genuinely getting better. So many survivors never do. 

Kelly M. said that she wondered if my recovery is, in part, because I have a place to return to. I have a home where I will always be that girl who existed before Caleb. I have a home where no one struggles to accept my story. I have a home where everyone takes me at my word that Caleb was abusive, and that, I did not deserve it.

Before I returned here, I was in Caleb’s home. I had to deal with his family, with their disbelief of me, with their lies (whether intentional or not) about me. I had to deal with his friends who searched desperately for ways to rationalize Caleb’s abuse. I had to deal with the pain that those rationalizations caused me. I had to deal with the way those rationalizations became another way of telling me that I deserved it. 

Here, in my home, I am not Kelly Sundberg, abuse survivor. I am Kelly Sundberg, the redhead. I am Kelly Sundberg, Glen’s little sister. I am Kelly Sundberg, the Democrat. I am Kelly Sundberg, the goofball. I am Kelly Sundberg, the hippie. I am Kelly Sundberg, the book nerd. I am Kelly Sundberg, the loyal friend. 

Here, I am just Kelly Sundberg. 

—-

Last night, two of my girlfriends and I celebrated my birthday. We made Thai food. We drank wine. We went to a bar. We hugged lots of people. We danced. 

I am not married, so I flirted. It was fun. I am allowed to flirt. I am single. That is one of the few bonuses to being single.

A man told me, “Kelly, the more I get to know you, the more I like you.”

Another man kissed me unexpectedly, and I enjoyed it. It was a surprise, but not unwelcome.

So many men bought me birthday drinks that I am lucky I didn’t have a hangover today.

I will not date any of these men. I don’t even live here. 

It is important for me to try and never hurt anyone. I try to be honest about my intentions. My belief is that, as long as I’m acting with integrity, I can flirt. 

It has been a long time since I’ve done something with a man that has made me feel shame. That is a good feeling. 

In my twenties, I didn’t always have those kinds of boundaries. I didn’t always know what I wanted, or more importantly, what I didn’t want. I let men into my life who shouldn’t have been there. I hurt men because I couldn’t be honest with them, because I didn’t want to reject them.

I couldn’t always say no. I am finally able to say no. I am also able to say yes. I recognize now that the decisions are all mine.

Another man and I spoke about being single at our ages. I dated him before I met Caleb, and we have remained friends. We both agreed that we don’t envy our married friends, that we are happy the way we are.

Do I get lonely? Yes. Do I crave human touch? Yes.

But, I have discovered that I am able to provide so much of what my soul needs for myself. 

Yesterday morning, I went skiing with a friend. The sky was so cold and blue. Water rushed silently under ice floes in the stream beside us. It was an easy route, so we chatted while we skied. I told her that I feel like I’m finally ready to be in a relationship again–not because I see a relationship as an exit out of unhappiness (relationships don’t work that way), but because I am so happy right now. In many ways, I am happier than I have ever been. I would love to be able to share that happiness with someone. 

But, as I spoke those words to her, I knew that, until the right person comes along, I’ll keep finding places to return to. Places that bring me joy. Places that remind me of who I am and who I was before. 

Places that accept me.

I’ll keep finding those places inside of myself too. 

And, as much as possible, I’ll be that place for the people I love. If you are someone I love, and you need a place to return to, I promise to always be there for you. You know who you are. You know how to find me.

I am no longer ice.





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