On Resentment

When I was in high school, I had a very close friend, and she was beautiful. She was widely considered to be the most popular girl in our school. She was also wealthy, smart, well-traveled, and kind. She was homecoming queen (even though she didn’t want it). The boy with the bowl cut who wore Converse–who I had a crush on for nearly four years–fell in love with her. In my senior year, she won the award for “Best Writer” that I coveted so much. Just before graduation, one of my teachers said that high schools shouldn’t have a valedictorian, that high schoolers had not lived long enough to have anything useful to say.

We were graduating, and my friend was going to France for a gap year. I had never been to a city larger than Spokane. She had closets full of stylish clothes. I bought my own clothes from Target with the money I made from working at a bookstore during the day, and as a dishwasher at a restaurant at night.

After making her grand statement about a valedictorian, that same teacher looked at my friend and said “Except for X. She might have something important to say.”

I was sitting behind X.

I wanted to have something important to say.

I felt invisible next to X, but I played my role well. I played the role of the funny sidekick, and it worked. Our friendship was genuine. We loved each other with the intensity with which high school girls love. At night, we lit candles, put on The Cure, and sprawled out next to each other on my bed. We talked, or stared at the ceiling of my room, which was a mixture of glittery plaster. In the candlelight, the glitter looked like stars. We stared at those stars and talked about what we wanted for our lives.

Our hopes had no limits. We hadn’t lived long enough to learn the limitations of hope yet.

Still, I resented my friend. It was an ugliness that I am ashamed to own, and I had to struggle with that every day, with resenting the very person I loved.

Finally, after we were both in college and had organically grown apart, I was able to tell myself that my life was no worse because someone else’s life seemed better. That philosophy stuck. I no longer resented my friends. Now, I sometimes resent people who I wouldn’t like anyway, but the people I love are sacred.

—–

My best friend, Kelly M., is a poet. She’s a beautiful writer and person. We are adults, but have the same kind of love that I had with my friend in high school (minus the resentment). We speak on the phone nearly every day. We can talk for hours. Talking to her brings me such joy. She is pregnant, and if I wasn’t going to Belgium on a writer’s residency when she has the baby, I would travel to be with her. She is as important to me as any of my family members. She told me the other day that someone asked her if it’s hard for her to see my career taking off so quickly, and she said that she was glad to be able to say no.

She was glad to say that she only feels happiness for me.

I only want friends in my life who feel happiness for me.

Kelly M. has a lovely marriage with a partner who is deeply invested in gender equity. She has a beautiful, intelligent toddler. She has another baby on the way. When I look at her family, I sometimes feel sadness for myself that I don’t have the same, but I only feel happiness for her. I don’t resent her.

My love for her is sacred.

—-

I ran into an acquaintance recently at the bakery in town, and she congratulated me on my book. I told her how much I like my editor, and she said “You kind of had your choice of editor, right? That’s so rare.” She was right. It is rare. I am extremely fortunate. She then said, “Sometimes, when things like that happen to someone you know, you feel kind of grumpy, but when I heard your news, I thought of how easy it is to be happy for you.”

I appreciated her honesty. I know those grumpy feelings; I get them too. Still, I was glad  to hear that she found it easy to be happy for me.

As Kelly M. said to me, “Who would want to switch places with you? Who would want to go through what you went through to get to where you are now?”

After I agreed to the preliminary agreement for my book contract, my agent called me. It was late at night, and I sat alone on my couch. I had no one to celebrate with in person. She was in a cab in New York City. She got out of the cab, and I heard her pay the driver. She sat in the lobby of a building and choked up as she spoke to me. We were both teary. She is one of my biggest advocates, and I consider her a friend. She told me that she knew that writing this book was going to be hard for me, that I was going to have to relive things that no one would ever want to relive. She told me to prepare myself. She also told me to be careful, that writers are, by nature, jealous. She told me to protect myself.

I worried about that potential jealousy for a while, but all that I have received from other writers is support. The best things in my life are due to the generosity of other writers. This is not because my agent was wrong. I think that writers very often are jealous. Writing is so often a thankless profession, and we are put in the position of being in competition with each other. It is difficult not to be jealous under these conditions. Still, after my toxic marriage, I raised my standards for the people who I allow into my life, and so, the writers I am closest to are good people. They are, hopefully, people who are able to be happy for me without resentment.

Right now, my career is very, very good, but I am still a single mother, an abuse survivor, overworked, and I am often lonely (which is difficult for someone who values companionship so much).

But, I shouldn’t have to list the things that I have working against me because this is not a competition of suffering.

Competition is another aspect of resentment. Who has suffered more? Who is suffering more right now? Who suffers the most?

The truth is that we all suffer. There is no point resenting someone because we think that their suffering is less than ours. That will do nothing to assuage our own suffering. It will only feed our own suffering.

(I do think it is important to recognize our own privilege, that others might suffer more for reasons that are out of their control, and that it is important for those of us with privilege to offer our support in whatever ways that we can.)

—-

When things were at their worst with Caleb, and he was getting multiple forms of mental health treatment, he made a list of his resentments. At the top of his list was “Other people’s success.” That was who Caleb was. He didn’t want happiness for other people because he lived a life of comparisons, and if other people were happier or more successful than him, then it somehow reflected badly upon his own life.

Caleb had a friend who was a fairly successful writer. This friend had only treated Caleb with kindness (the friend probably had a slightly paternalistic way of treating Caleb, but this friend was also older than Caleb). This friend didn’t know it, but Caleb resented him, and Caleb’s resentment turned into a kind of hatred.

What happens to that kind of hatred?

It turns into self-hatred.

And what does self-hatred do to men like Caleb?

It makes them lash out at the people closest to them. It made Caleb lash out at me. Caleb hated that man, and he hated himself, and he took that hatred out with his fists, but he used those fists on me.

Resentment is the seed of violence.

Entitlement becomes the root.

—-

I tried to “fix” Caleb’s resentment. It was a hopeless task and only served to make me resentful myself. And given enough time, resentment turns to bitterness. On my worst days, I am bitter, but for the most part, I have escaped that fate.

On most days, I am grateful. I am grateful for the people in my life who are able to be happy for me because their love doesn’t have conditions attached to it. I am grateful that I no longer resent my friends for reasons that are out of their control. I am grateful that my life is my own, and only I can live it. I am grateful that I can make my own decisions.

I have chosen to live this life alone. I have chosen to share my struggles openly (despite the risks attached to this kind of disclosure). I have chosen to commit myself to my friendships and connections. I have chosen to try to respond with thoughtfulness to everyone who writes to me. I have chosen the life of an activist. I have chosen to prioritize my writing as art rather than as a way of making money, but I have also chosen to advocate for myself financially when I need it–that I do not have to live in poverty in order to be a writer.

I have choices. I am no longer powerless. I am empowered because I learned, early on, that the only antidote to resentment is love.

And now, I have something important to say.

On Silence

That moment, tonight, just after I’d dropped off Reed at the gas station, told him “Bye, baby. Have a good weekend. I love you,” to which he replied, “I love you too” before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and walking across the Richie County 7-11 parking lot to his father’s car. I cleaned my sunglasses, and settled on some music. When I turned to pull out of the parking lot, I saw a man sitting on a motorcycle. He smiled at me so tenderly because he had witnessed the entire exchange, so I smiled back at him, then drove into the brightly setting sun and tried not to cry because tenderness is almost always my undoing.

Soon, it was just me and the silence.

—-

Another time in the car with Caleb. Reed was still growing inside of me. Caleb and I were engaged to be married. We were driving back to Boise after having visited my family. We came upon the scene of an accident. Flares marked the road around us. A police officer diverted our car.

Then, I saw something. My hands fluttered to my stomach, involuntarily. “Is that….” I asked Caleb. He reached over and put his hand over my eyes, his other hand clutching the steering wheel. “Don’t look,” he said. His voice wasn’t quite a shout, more of a groan.

“Please honey, don’t look.”

It was too late. I had already looked. Bodies. I didn’t see the body of the father. Only the mother and the baby. They had been the victims of a road rage incident between two other drivers, both men.

Later, when I followed the case obsessively on the news, I would discover that the family had the last name of “Perfect.” The perfect family–undone by the violence of men.

I would think the words over, and over, “The Perfect family.” I would remember Caleb’s hand over my eyes, his desire to protect me.

I would remember the silence in the car as we drove the remaining distance, the sun setting behind the Boise foothills. A new darkness surrounding us.

—-

Reed, sitting in the backseat of the car, only months after the divorce, and I had yelled at him because we had thought he was going to miss the school bus. I yelled something like, “I cannot do this all on my own.”

And, then, his silence. He was only eight. His silence said so much.

—-

My father’s silence on the phone when I told him for the first time that Caleb had beaten me up.

—-

The silence of Caleb’s friends.

—-

The silence of the prosecutor in Caleb’s domestic battery case.

—-

My own silence for so many years.

—-

The silence of the university that continues to employ my batterer. He is marrying an undergraduate this summer. She will also learn about silence.

—-

Silence has consequences. The silence of Caleb’s friends, the silence of the prosecutor, the silence of the university. All of those silences contribute to his violence.

—-

I will no longer be silent.

—-

Silence is complicity.

—-

The silence at night, just after I left Caleb, when I would take a half of an Ambien, then lay on a mattress on the floor of my friend’s guest room and wait for darkness to overcome me.

—-

The silence that followed in the moment after Caleb forced an entire bottle of Ambien into my mouth, sawing open my lip with the dull edge of the pill bottle, then commanded me to swallow. I held the pills in my cheeks, but finally, I gave up. He saw it in my eyes. He knew that I was ready to swallow. He punched me in the face, and the pills blew out across the bathroom floor. He said with disgust, “Look at you. Just look at you.”

I thought to myself, Look at me. 

—-

I am sorry for sharing that story. Some things are better left silent, but I no longer know what those things are.

—-

The silence of the students who saw my lip cut wide open, my black eye, my eyebrow split and oozing. I think I told them that I had tripped on the edge of a carpet.

That, too, was a silence.

—-

Caleb’s silence when my friend, Rebecca, said “What on earth happened to your arm?” And I fumbled, “I don’t know. I think I did it in my sleep” while Caleb watched me as though he was daring me to say something.

—-

The silence of all of the people who ignore abusers in their own circles.

—-

The way asking victims to name themselves is its own kind of silencing.

—-

The way I did it. I named myself. I did what they asked for, but does that mean I wasn’t silenced? No.

The people who are asking for names will never support the survivors. The survivors are better off nameless.

—-

The silence that doesn’t acknowledge power imbalance–how hard it is to speak out against an abuser in a position of power. I was only able to speak out against my own abuser because he has no power over me.

Not anymore, at least.

—-

And then, different kinds of silence.

The silence of a quiet home, free of yelling, or crying, or objects being thrown.

Companionable silence.

The silence at night–in that state between wakefulness and sleep–free of Ambien, free of darkness.

The silence between my father and me that is a chosen silence: a silence that says I forgive you.

The silence of the wilderness. The silence of the river trail, the silence of my footsteps, the quiet, rushing water, the trees rustling, the crickets shivering in the grasses, the occasional rattle of a rattlesnake, the cheep, cheep of Marmots in the rocks, all of it captured in silence.

The silence of this place:

Corn Creek picnic
Corn Creek Guard Station, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

The silence right now, as I type these words in my quiet loft and know that I am safe.

The silence of peace.

—-

There is nothing wrong with silence, but there is so much wrong with silencing.

I will not be silenced.

I will not silence others.

I stand with survivors.

 

 

On Moving On

Let me start this by saying that I do not know what moving on looks like. Does moving on mean that I don’t write about it anymore? Does moving on mean that I don’t talk about it anymore? Does moving on mean that I don’t think of him anymore?

Does moving on mean that he stops haunting me?

For the most part, he has stopped haunting my mind, but my body is still haunted.

—-

The last time I was held down was a consensual kind of being held down. Still, this man was very strong–much stronger than Caleb. The thought crept into my mind that I was weak, and soon, Caleb’s ghost was in my bones again. I almost panicked.

But I didn’t. 

And later, when I said that I had to leave, and this strong man threw his leg over me and pulled me back, I did not panic. I relaxed into his embrace. Because it was an embrace.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to distinguish between being held down and being embraced.

—-

I saw a video recently where people confessed their struggles with domestic violence. One woman said that she is afraid to tell men that she is a survivor of domestic violence because she knows that no one wants to deal with that. When I heard those words, I started crying.

No one wants to deal with that.

—-

Does moving on mean that I should be in a new relationship? This seems to be the most common view of what moving on means.

I am ambivalent about relationships. Does this mean I haven’t moved on?

—-

At Reed’s soccer camp, there are mostly fathers on the sidelines. I watch the friendships between them develop. I sit there quietly. I want to visit too, but I am afraid to talk to the fathers. I might as well have a sign pinned to my shirt that says, SINGLE. 

I am afraid to talk to the other mothers for the same reason.

Reed never has a father at anything. He only has a mother. 

—-

At soccer camp, one of the fathers chases his toddler daughter as she runs into the field that her brother is playing in. He scoops her up so lovingly, and I stand there and tell myself that I will not cry in that public space because my little boy is out on that field, failing royally (he is the youngest in his group), and I know that he will never have a father in his life like that girl does. 

I tell myself that I will not cry because I am never going to have another child. I did not have my own little girl when it was possible because, deep inside, I knew that I was going to leave Caleb someday. 

In the last year of our marriage, we had so much unprotected sex. It was some kind of awful mind-fuck on his part, and when my period was late, I thought, “If I am pregnant, I will cut this baby out myself.”

And I can’t believe that I am admitting that here because I love babies so much. I can’t get enough of them. I wanted to have another one. I wanted a little redheaded, blue-eyed girl to complement my redheaded blue-eyed boy, but I knew that I could never have that with Caleb. I knew that I could not bring another child into his misery. 

I knew that I could not leave him if I had another child.

I married the wrong person, and it kept me from having what I wanted.

—-


And then, as that father scoops his daughter up so lovingly, and I try not to cry because I feel so very alone, I stick my hands into the pocket of my rain jacket, and I pull out this:

It is a ticket from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece. Caleb and I had traveled there when he was developing a course on Greece. His sister (whom I loved so much) watched Reed for the week. Caleb and I ate dinner in the Plaka, and as the sky grew dark, we looked up, and the Acropolis glowed above us. We were still happy then, or at least, I was. 

Caleb gave me everything that I wanted. We saw a leather shop, and we descended the deep stairs into a dusty cellar full of leather bags. I found a backpack. I had read that we should barter, and Caleb tried to barter, but the man behind the leather sewing machine yelled “I am not Spanish!” We bought the backpack anyway, then howled with laughter on our way out. 

We could always laugh.

—-

Caleb went to Greece on his own the next year. My mother came and stayed with me to help with Reed. Caleb and I were miserable by then. I knew too much about him. I worried that he was going to sleep with one of his students. I worried about other things that will go unnamed.

I wept and told my mother how scared I was. She didn’t understand because I hadn’t yet told her everything about him. She told me that I was being too hard on him, and I believed her.

When Caleb returned, he gave me a beautiful silver and amber bracelet, along with a hand-woven scarf from the island of Mykonos. 

He told me how much his female students had loved what he had picked out for me.

I’m sure they did.

I’m sure they thought I was very lucky.

—-


Caleb and I could laugh at anything. Laughing was our one joy. My mother would come upon us in the kitchen laughing hysterically over some ridiculous scenario that we had imagined. We were both writers. We created our own humor.

My mother told me, in that same kitchen, that she didn’t understand us, but we had so much in common. She told me not to let that go, because it was so rare.

Please let me reiterate that my mother did not know everything. She was doing the best she could at the time.

When shit got really bad, Caleb and I laughed at that too. Caleb had this writer friend, and on Facebook, his life looked so amazing. He was always posting about the awesome things that happened to him.

Caleb joked that he was going to post a real Facebook post. He was going to post that he had beat his wife, that he had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder because he could look at internet pornography for twelve hour shifts at a time, that he hated his job, that he hated his life. 

There is no way to translate the humor in this because it is far too dark. 

It is not funny.

Still, we laughed.

I laughed because I believed in him. I believed that he was sad about those things. I believed they were out of his control.

I laughed because we were in it together.

I laughed because I am nothing, if not loyal.

—-

I went to Lowe’s this past weekend. I bought myself an expensive stainless steel trash can, and I hate it.

A couple of days later, I wrote this to a friend:

I was in Lowe’s last night, and I tend to avoid that place because as a divorced woman, it’s kind of like the cemetery for broken dreams. I have so many memories of doing household projects with Caleb, of how, when we were in the midst of a project, it was easy to live in the realm of the future, which always seemed so much more promising than the present. 

In short, Lowe’s makes me sad, but this time, I realized that, someday, I’ll be able to buy my own house. That is not an “if.” I will be able to afford one, and I am going to be okay. 

My aloneness is not so terrible.

He wrote back that everyone hates Lowe’s, and he was right. 

I was right too.

My aloneness is not so terrible.

—-

Last night, I picked up Reed from his dad in West Virginia, and we had the silliest conversation where we fictionalized a funny story. When we got home, he showed me this joke and dance he had made up, and it was so ridiculous that I couldn’t stop giggling. 

I said, “That is SO dumb.” And he replied, “That’s why it’s funny.”

And I suddenly realized how much he is like Caleb. In that way, at least. 

In the way that I loved.

My therapist used to tell me, “You got the best part of Caleb in Reed,” and she was right. It just took me a long time to see this manifest.

But, in the ways that matter, Reed is like me. I do not believe that he will abuse a woman in his lifetime. 

If he does, I am prepared to intervene rather than enable. This is the best I can do.

—-

 I talked to my mother the other night on the phone. I told her how nice my house looks because I recently paid someone to deep clean it. I told her about how I’m going to be spending most of June in Europe. I told her that I still plan on spending the rest of the summer with she and my father in Idaho. I told her that I had realized recently that I have achieved every dream that I have ever had, except the dream of a loving relationship.

I did not tell her this out of mourning. I told her this out of triumph. How many people can say they have achieved that many dreams? 

Maybe I’m just meant to be single, and if that’s the case, then I’ll be fine. Like I said, I am ambivalent about relationships.

But I am not ambivalent about my career, about traveling, about having a home that I adore, about having a son who makes me laugh. I want all of that, and I have it.

So, I have everything that I really want. Does this mean I’ve moved on?

Maybe to you, it doesn’t. But it sure does to me.