On Redemption

Rain is pouring on to the skylights of my house. My loft office overlooks those skylights, and it’s where I’m writing now.

I told someone recently, “I don’t ever want to live somewhere again where I don’t have a loft office.”

Her reply was, “Good luck with that.”

Recently, I was having an energy audit done on my house (because my power bill was so high), and the auditor kept saying, “I see why you stay in this house. This house has character. It has a good energy to it.” The auditor was a man about ten years older than me. He was physically fit. He had a mullet.

By the end of the visit, he was sitting on the floor with Teddy, my rescue dog, in his lap, and telling me about his first marriage to an emotionally abusive woman.

People share their stories with me. They share their stories with me because I share mine with them. While this auditor was tapping the walls of my office and looking for an entrance into the attic, he said, “So, what’s your book about?”

It has been a long winter, but not as long of a winter as last winter, or the winter before.

The snow didn’t tunnel me in this year.

I started a group with a few friends titled “Goals, Goals, Goals.” This week, one of my goals was to “find beauty,” which is the most basic, yet lofty goal of all. And still, one afternoon, when I had some peace, I went down for a nap, and as I was falling into sleep, but still awake, the colors behind my eyelids began to dance in a beautiful fashion. It was almost psychedelic, and rather than falling asleep, I allowed myself to watch those colors happening behind my closed eyes, and I thought to myself, “I have found beauty.”

I have found beauty.

I have found beauty in this town.

Reed and I first moved into a sterile apartment that was surrounded by college students. I carried my groceries up six flights of metal stairs. I carried Teddy down the stairs to potty when the steps were too cold for his paws.

I wept on the couch when Reed was gone.

On Thanksgiving Day that year–the first year out of my marriage–when Reed was with Caleb, I called Caleb and cried because I felt sorry for myself, and Caleb screamed “Find a new husband to deal with your problems” before hanging up on me.

Caleb used to record all of our phone calls, but it took me a long time to figure out what he was doing.

The other night, I had to talk to Caleb about an issue with Reed being bullied at his after school program. Caleb and I talk on the phone–at most–once or twice a year. When this conversation started, it sounded like Caleb had put me on speaker phone, and I assumed that was so his wife could hear. I did not care. She, too, is one of Reed’s caregivers.

The conversation was one of the most productive conversations we’ve had in a while. It was all very reminiscent of when we were a family, and I would run interference for Reed. I am still good at running interference for him, but it is not as easy.

Reed was relieved at the end of the conversation because it had gone well (and it doesn’t usually go well when I have to talk to Caleb), but I later realized that it wasn’t a speaker phone I had heard, that Caleb had probably been taping us (he knows that we’re going to have to go back to family court soon). Still, I am no longer worried about Caleb trying to get custody of Reed–the straight-A kid–who can speak for himself now, and who explicitly prefers being with me.

I am also okay with Caleb taping our phone conversations if that means he will be nice to our kid (because Caleb often isn’t nice to our kid).

I’ll take Caleb’s posturing over my child’s distress any day.

We had a situation recently where Reed wanted something, and he asked Caleb for it, and Caleb said, “But that wouldn’t make things harder for your mom.”

When I picked Reed up that weekend, the first thing he said in the car was, “Did you know that my dad sometimes makes decisions just to make things harder for you?”

This all sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I’m not complaining because, when we moved into that tiny apartment, Reed and I found a cute, little blue table that fit into that apartment, and Reed and I fit at that table perfectly together.

The first essay I workshopped as a PhD student was “It Will Look Like a Sunset,”  and Dinty W. Moore closed the door, and asked, “Are you okay?”

And I was.

I was okay.

We want traumatic stories to end in redemption, and I rail against this. I rail against redemption.

But I still have that little blue table in the new home, and I have a loft office, and a hammock in the back where Reed once swung next to me and said, “Everything is better now, isn’t it?”

Spring in the new home is beautiful. The hum of the bugs. The moan of the toads.

The rain on the skylights.

I love where we are, and I wouldn’t change it. I’d stay here forever if I could.

And as much as I hate redemptive endings, I feel redeemed.


On Introversion and Activism

You know that Myers-Brigg test? The one that classifies people according to their personality types? I’m an ENFP–extroverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving. There is a stereotype associated with the ENFP. The ENFP is the good-hearted campaigner. A person who loves to be the center of attention.

I am actually the opposite. While I was married to Caleb, my Myers-Briggs results called me an INFP. I thought that I had matured, developed into my own introversion.

I didn’t realize then that I was introverted because secrecy is the greatest introversion.

My most recent Myers-Brigg test rated me as 51% extroversion and 49% introversion. I am an extroverted introvert.

It’s common knowledge at this point that my department has been the subject of a major sexual harassment/assault scandal. There was a rally at my department’s building a while ago. One of the organizers asked me if I would be willing to speak. I didn’t know what to do. I reached out to one of the survivors, and she kindly responded that they didn’t want any one person to be put on the spot.

You see, my position in the department is not very safe.


One of my cohort posted about this situation on Facebook a while ago, and the comments were mostly the same–Take care of yourself first. I couldn’t help myself. I commented.

I commented that, if we all take care of ourselves first, then the burden of establishing safety is going to continue to fall on the most vulnerable populations.

I meant it.

My cohort member, who is a good person, agreed.

I didn’t speak at that rally, but I went to it, and it was beautiful. The power and authenticity with which those undergraduates spoke made me cry. A faculty member who had voted for the predator to keep his tenure also came to the rally.

I leaned into another graduate student and said, “What is she protesting? Is she protesting herself?”

Our department chair recently sent out a letter to the graduate students that told us, “We seek more than just the technicalities of law and policy, though we need those as well. We need a deep understanding of how to support those in trauma and those who need our help navigating a system that can feel alien and inhospitable.”

Our department chair has been one of this predator’s biggest supporters, but she wants to be a hero now?

The letter was signed by the same faculty member who said to the media, “People who claim to be certain about how much culpability is involved in the case, or about its fairest outcome, might be overconfident of their own righteousness.”

It was signed by the faculty member who is being sued for having enabled the predator by burying previous charges against him.

It was signed by all of the faculty members who voted for the predator to keep his tenure.

It was signed by the predator’s wife.

My dissertation advisor (who has been nothing but a good ally) asked me how I felt about the letter that was sent to us graduate students.

I hesitated. I finally said, “It was a good gesture.”

What was I supposed to say?

A student journalist recently reached out and asked me to do an interview. I declined, but then, when I had members of my cohort who wanted to speak out, I agreed to a joint interview. Still, the student journalist primarily quoted me, and it upset me. I felt unsafe. Those weren’t the terms I had agreed to.

There is safety in numbers. We all need to speak out.

I haven’t talked to my therapist in a while, but this  situation has driven me back. I told my therapist that I struggle with my introversion, and with how that is at odds with my activism, and she gave me permission to be an activist in the way that I am most fully capable–through my writing.

So here I am.

On Shame

A couple of years ago, I was going to watch a horror movie, but I didn’t want to watch it alone, so I called a friend of mine, a man, and he came over to watch it with me. It was a hot and humid night, so I opened the front door. My friend and I sat in my dark living room and watched that scary movie. Rain started to drizzle outside the open door, and I inched closer to my friend, then leaned into him. He lifted his arm (almost without thinking), and I laid my head on his chest.

Rain poured outside in the dark night in the hollow.

Last night, I told a friend, a different man, about how that other man and I used to cuddle sometimes.

My friend said, “Kelly, I hate to break it to you, but he just wanted to fuck you.”

I want to continue to believe that there can be a physical connection between a man and a woman that doesn’t involve either of them wanting to fuck the other, but maybe I am naive.

I took Caleb home with me on the same night that I met him. I liked him, so I was determined not to have sex with him. I knew that there were rules, that, if he was going to see me as dateable, I was going to have to portray myself as a good girl. Still, I let him into my bed. I told him that I did not want to have sex, but I put on this Calvin Klein nightshirt that was short and had spaghetti straps. I curled up next to him. He kept asking me to take my shirt off, but I wouldn’t.

Later, he wrote to me about the song “Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight?” by Willie Nelson.  He wrote, I never told you this, but the first night we stayed together I had this song in my mind. I remember asking you to take your shirt off. You said no. But, you didn’t know I just wanted to feel your skin against mine.

We stayed in bed until the next afternoon, and then, I finally took my shirt off. I made a joke that we had made it to our third date by then, and then, I fucked him. I didn’t think of it as fucking though.

I thought of it as something different entirely.

The first time I really interacted with Caleb’s friends was on Thanksgiving Day. Caleb had invited me out to the “compound” that he lived on in Idaho City, a tiny town in the mountains outside of Boise. The compound was a collection of cabins that Caleb and two other guys had built themselves. Caleb lived in his cabin alone. One of the other guys lived with his girlfriend, and the owner lived with his wife and toddler.

 A bunch of people from Caleb’s MFA program had gathered for this Thanksgiving dinner. The experience was intimidating for me. One of the female MFA students consistently referred to me as the “undergraduate.” My current poetry instructor was there. The girlfriend of one of the cabin builders made fun of the wine that I had brought.

But, as the evening went on, they seemed to warm up to me. Caleb was solicitous, and one of the men commented to me that he had never seen Caleb act that way with a woman before.

I started to feel comfortable. Worthy.

Wine was being poured, and the writer who lived with his girlfriend pulled out a joint. He passed it around, then he made a joke to me.

He said, “So, Caleb said you two had sex four times. He called you ‘fourgasm.'”

I was quick. I said, “Only one of us had four orgasms.”

The next morning, the married owner of the main house showed up. He looked me up and down, then said, “Does the carpet match the drapes?”

I was quick again. I said, “You’ll never know.”

I said, “It’s not like I haven’t heard that one before.”

Then, I drove home. I wound my car through the narrow mountain roads until I came out above a large reservoir, and the landscape opened up before me.

It was as though my chest cracked open when I emerged from those mountains.

It was as though I could breathe again.

Caleb also wrote to me, Remember when you used to come and stay with me in my shack in the woods? I’d watch for you for hours making sure you didn’t miss the turn off of Highway 21. I remember holding you while we slept on that couch and I never felt crowded. You always fit perfectly beside me.

He didn’t write, I called you “fourgasm” to my friends. 

He didn’t write, My married friend asked you about the color of your pubic hair.

At an MFA graduation party at the compound, I was pregnant. Caleb walked me out on to a ridge line behind the compound. He kneeled in front of me and asked me to marry him. We were already engaged, but the engagement had been so hasty, a result of the pregnancy. I had joked that he had proposed to me in the parking lot of a Mervyns because we had my ring sized there.

Caleb was embarrassed. He wanted to do it right.

I looked at him on his knees on that ridge line. It was raining. I remember thinking, I am pregnant, and we are standing in the rain. I remember thinking, What am I doing?

The beauty of the forest was lost on me. Rain poured into the trees around us.

We went back to the Compound. The guy who lived with his girlfriend had walked in on the married man making out with a rich, married woman from down the highway. Apparently, all three men had thought that she looked hot in her Daisy Dukes.

Everything always falls apart.

The married man took me aside and tried to charm me. He told me that I should move into the upper cabin with Caleb and our baby. He said that was what Caleb wanted. When Caleb and I got back to town, I said No, we are never moving to the compound. 

On the day that Caleb and I moved into our first apartment, the married man showed up drunk. He ate some of our food. He threw his fork at my feet, then a crumpled up beer can.

I was quick. I said, “Is that where that goes?”

He was quick too. He said, “That’s your job, isn’t it?”

Caleb then went to the bar with him. He said that he had said to the married man, “Don’t you ever throw a fork at my wife again.”

I remember thinking, But why did you leave me? I remember thinking, What am I doing?

I spent the first night in our new home alone.

It didn’t rain. Rain can’t be a metaphor for everything.

At our wedding, the married man’s toddler was our ring bearer. His wife looked sad. The Daisy Duke lady had come with them. The wife took the toddler back to their hotel room while the married man and Daisy Duke lady went out to the bar.

I know this because so many people later told me how obvious it was that the married man and Daisy Duke lady were having an affair.

Daisy Duke lady gave Caleb and me a card that had two one-hundred dollar bills in it.

One of them said, HERS. The other said, HIS.

I wanted to burn that money, but we were poor.

The shame. The shame of everything I can’t express. The shame that led me to believe that I didn’t deserve better .

The shame of him. and him. and him. and him.

I don’t know where it began.

Maybe it was because of that district spelling bee where I was the youngest, and my best friend waved at me from the crowd, and I waved back, then my mother summoned me over to tell me not to act like I was so special.

I was supposed to win that year, but I lost.

I never forgot that I wasn’t special.

Maybe it was because of that fourth-grade teacher who gave our entire class a week long lecture about popularity. She explained in detail what it meant to be popular (as well as how popular she herself had been), then later, on a field trip, she only held the hands of the popular girls while I trailed behind, alone in all of my unpopularity.

Maybe it was because of the boys who snapped my bra in the fifth grade because they could tell I was already wearing one, though most of the other girls weren’t.

Maybe it was because of the eighth grade Algebra teacher who took every student but me out into the hall to tell them whether or not they were going on to ninth grade geometry.

Then, he said, “Did I forget anyone?”

And when I responded, “You didn’t take me into the hallway,” he said, in front of the entire class, “Don’t you already know the answer to that?”

Maybe it was because I had to join the ninth-grade geometry class a month late because my then-algebra teacher had finally figured out that I already knew all of the algebra he was teaching.

Maybe it was because the geometry teacher told me, “You should go into math. You’re good at math. Not a lot of girls are.” (And I knew that he was trying to make me feel better.)

Maybe it was because I got my pre-ACT results back in that same teacher’s class, and one of the boys looked at my score and said, “Why did you get a better score than me?

Maybe it was because of my parents’ single friend who flirted with me when I was in high school, and I could tell what was happening, but they could not, so I was polite.

Like a good girl.

Maybe it was because my first kiss was with a stranger in a club in Amsterdam.

Maybe it was because of the boy who made out with me in a car, then told everyone that he had sex with me, and I only heard that he had said that we had sex, because supposedly, he had AIDS, and everyone thought that I should be worried but I knew that I had never had sex with him, and in fact, was practically a virgin.

Maybe it was because of the first man who ever held me down when I didn’t want to be held down.

Maybe it was because sometimes I want to be held down.

Maybe it was because I visited a friend in Chicago once, and, when I was alone with her boyfriend, he kept trying to talk me into having a threesome with them–though I was not interested in that and was fairly certain that my friend was also not interested in that.

Maybe it was because my friend was in my wedding, and she brought her boyfriend, and he went out for beer with the men and said, “I have heard that Kelly is wild in bed” to Caleb (right in front of my future father-in-law).

Maybe it was because of the way Caleb told me that story, as though I should have been ashamed of what this man, who was essentially a stranger, had said about me.

Maybe it was because I knew that I was perfectly average in bed, but still couldn’t parse what I was supposed to be.

Was I supposed to be average? Or wild?

Both options had shame attached to them.

What I know is this:

After the Assistant Prosecutor, Cindy Scott, dismissed Caleb’s domestic battery charges on the condition that he write a letter of apology, I had a conference call with Marcia Ashdown (the then-Prosecuting Attorney) and Cindy.

Cindy tried to explain why she hadn’t taken Caleb to trial. It quickly became apparent that she hadn’t actually read his file when the judge told her to make the decision, so she had been left with no basis with which to make her decision.

She said to me, “He wrote that you had waved your bare butt in his face. How was I supposed to convict him against a jury when you had waved your bare butt in his face?”

I said, “Are you saying this is my fault?” and Ashdown jumped in hastily to say, “No, of course not.”

Still, I felt this deep kernel of shame.

What had I been doing out there antagonizing him without any underwear on? What had I been thinking?

Maybe it was because I deserved it.

In the police report, Caleb wrote that he had thrown the bowl at me because I had “waved my butt” at him.

When Caleb and I had fought that morning, I had just woken up. I had a t-shirt on, but had taken my underwear off during the night because it had kept crawling (I sometimes like to think of this as Wedgiegate).

I woke up angry, and I went out to confront Caleb and tell him that I had talked to my friend, Kelly Morse, and she had helped me realize that I needed to leave him. He screamed some things at me, and I turned to walk away.

At that point, he shouted “Don’t turn your butt to me,” and I did a little flip of my bare butt at him.

Then, he threw the bowl at me. It didn’t hit my butt (or worse, my lower back), but it shattered on on my foot, and I fell to the ground. I knew that I was hurt badly.

I got up and hobbled to the bedroom. I grabbed my phone. I dialed 91, then left the last number empty. I had threatened to call 911 before, but Caleb had always grabbed my phone and broken it. He had probably broken 3-4 phones of mine a year.

 He came into the room, and I told him, “I am going to call 911 if you don’t leave me alone.”

He shouted, “Call them, and tell them what a fucking bitch you are.”

And then, I did it. I called.

And, from that point on, everything changed.

Shame begins with that which cannot be expressed, so I’m expressing it now. I didn’t deserve what he did to me.

I cannot change what he did to me.

I have responded to what he did to me by being cautious. I am going on four years now, and I have not seriously dated someone else. Meanwhile, Caleb is remarried with a baby on the way.

I would rather be cautious.

The thing about abuse is that, often, the abused person is the only one who suffers, while the abuser gets to live his life in peace.

My caution might come from fear, but it does not come from shame. I have not felt shame since leaving Caleb. I have had sex with other men. I have cuddled with friends. I have developed emotional, nurturing connections with men. But I have not done anything that illuminates that kernel of shame that has been in me for so many years.

Maybe it’s because I keep cuddling with my friends–male and female. Maybe it’s because I crave physical connection, and I know that it would be easy to find sex, but that is not what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s because I just want someone to cuddle up with me and watch a horror movie while the rain pours outside.

Maybe it’s because I want to lay my head on a hard, safe chest.

Maybe it’s because shame is the condition of being a woman.

But I say no to the shame.

I say no more to the shame.

At this moment, it is not even close to raining.