On Ghosts

We told ghost stories at the residency I’m at tonight. Some of them were funny, and some of them were actually very creepy.

The idea of ghosts is a recurring theme in my memoir.

I am not saying that I believe in ghosts, but I have some very good ghost stories.


The building that this residency is housed in is known to be haunted, and I am in the room that is supposed to be the most haunted.

At my last residency, we had a writer’s salon one evening in the house I was staying in. One of the other writers said, “I have heard this house is haunted.”

I replied, “It’s not. I’m very sensitive to ghosts. If it was haunted, I would know.”


Then, I realized that I sounded like someone who believes in ghosts.


I have sleep disturbances.

I have had two sleep studies done. I was still married to Caleb at the time, and I was at my most miserable in my marriage.

The sleep doctor asked me if I had ever felt a sudden loss of strength in my limbs. I told him that I had when I was an adolescent.

He said that loss of strength afflicts adolescent girls more than anyone, and it is connected to sleep disturbances.

I thought, So do poltergeists.


When I think back on adolescence, I can think of nothing but sadness and ghosts.

I couldn’t sleep back then because there were too many fucking ghosts.


During my sleep studies, the technician Todd would take my blood pressure, which was always high. Then, I would sit on the bed, and Todd would scrape a paste on to my head. He would attach wires to the paste, and though he was trying to be gentle, it hurt.

Soon, there would be wires all over my head.

Todd seemed fond of me, and I appreciated his tenderness.

Then, I would sit in the bed and watch television until ten pm when Todd’s voice would come in over the speaker and tell me that it was time to sleep. I would lay down and not-sleep.

During my first sleep study, I slept for less than an hour. It wasn’t enough time for them to get any conclusive evidence, but the doctor’s theory that I was narcoleptic turned out to be unfounded.


Caleb picked me up, took me home, and I slept all day in the bed that we shared together. I remember that he crawled in around 1pm when Reed went down for his nap–that I was still so sleepy, so groggy, but I wrapped my legs around Caleb, pulled him into my arms, and we had this almost psychedelic sex before falling asleep while wound together.

I remember that my dreams during that nap were disturbing, and I felt terrible when I woke up around 5pm.

I remember going downstairs to Caleb and Reed. Caleb was making me a fancy dinner, and he said to Reed, “Look, Mommy’s awake!”

I remember thinking, This is my family, and I can never leave them.


I used to scream and thrash around in my sleep. Caleb would wrap me in his arms so tightly. He would whisper into my ear, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

My eyes would open. Heart racing. Then I would relax into his chest.

He would whisper, “You’re safe. You’re safe.”


After I left Caleb, I stopped seeing ghosts.


I can’t attribute the ghosts to Caleb because they predated him, but why did they disappear when I left him?

Maybe, all along, they were just trying to warn me.

Maybe, all along, they were friendly.


I have a ghost in my room here. A friendly ghost.

And suddenly, I am also feeling that loss of strength in my limbs again. I stood up from a couch the other day, then walked into a hallway before I felt the weakness, almost sunk to the floor, but held my hand to the wall and steadied myself until it passed.

I can’t help but feel like the ghost and loss of strength have something in common, but the truth is that I know the loss of strength is likely tied to my blood pressure. I am on blood pressure medication, and I need to ask my doctor to lower my dosage because my blood pressure is now, not only normal, but low.


During my second sleep study, I talked to Caleb a lot on the phone. I wanted to leave him, but I was conflicted. I didn’t know what to do. We talked for hours. I told him how miserable I was, and he tried to talk me out of being miserable. I might have cried.

Todd’s voice piped in at 11 pm to tell me that I needed to sleep.

I realized that he had let me stay up an hour later than he should have. I realized that he had heard my end of the conversation.

The next morning, Caleb brought me breakfast. Reed ran in, shouted, “MOMMY!” and hugged me.

I knew that Todd was not supposed to let Caleb in to see me, but he did, and I could see Caleb’s desperation. I knew that I wasn’t going to leave Caleb for good yet, but he didn’t know that yet.

I stayed at the sleep lab until noon. I slept for something like three hours during the entire 12 hour period. It was enough for my sleep doctor to diagnose me with apnea. My tonsils are oversized, and I have probably struggled with this since I was a child.


This is likely where my ghosts came from. They were a manifestation of my sleep disturbances.

They were never real.


When I wake in the middle of the night, it is so hard to tell what is real and what is not.

Is it a ghost, or a dream, or just my own fears?


The truth is that I am always haunted.


Sometimes I still find a bruise on my body and think, When did he give me that?


After my last sleep study, I went to see the sleep doctor for a follow-up. Todd took my blood pressure. “It’s normal,” he said to me. “What did you do?”

“I left my husband,” I said.

“Looks like you made the right decision,” he said.

He stared into my eyes. I knew that he was thinking of that night when I had been on the phone with Caleb, when I had said, “I don’t know how to do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore.”

“The doctor will be in shortly,” he said, then left the room.

I sat on the same bed where I had talked with Caleb on the phone.

The ghost of the woman I had been only months earlier was with me while I waited.


The second night that I was in my haunted room here at the residency, I woke up to a knocking sound. I was in a sleep delirium. I thought it was a ghost. I shouted out, “GO AWAY.”

Then, in the same sleep delirium, I thought, Yelling will not fix this problem.

I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m really tired. Would you please just let me sleep?”

The knocking stopped.


Why am I haunted again?


I had a very detailed dream last night where a friend was being abused and I wanted to support her, but also to keep her safe.

I kept trying to leave the house where her abuser was, but I couldn’t.

Finally, in this dream, I backed the abuser into a corner. I wasn’t as tall as him, but I grabbed a foot stool, stood on it, then towered over him.

I said to him, “If you ever hurt me, you will die.”

He grew larger, stared down at me, then bellowed, “Are you daring me?”

I stared back up at him. I said No.

The man cowered. Backed down.


But there’s more.


In my dream, I grabbed my friend, and I told her that we needed to leave. Then, she told me that she believed in her abuser, that she trusted him, that she didn’t want to leave him.

She made herself grow very small and climbed into a baby stroller (this was a dream, after all).

I told her, “I am not going to tell you how to live your life, but I think that you are making the wrong decision.”

I left my dream-friend in the baby stroller, and I walked away.


Then I woke up.


I used to be the friend in the baby stroller. I used to make myself very small.

Now I know how to make myself large–how to say, If you hurt me, you will die.

Sometimes, I still wake up and see a bruise. Sometimes, I still think, “When did he do that?”

But he didn’t do it.

And he never will again.


The ghosts didn’t do it either.

I am still haunted, but the ghosts don’t scare me anymore.

They’re friendly ghosts now.

Ghost.jpg

On Wants

I’m at a writer’s residency, and Reed has been at my parents’ house. He is headed back to his dad’s tomorrow.

“Are you excited to go back to your dad’s?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Are you sad to be leaving your grandparents?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said again.

Then he said, “I guess I just wish I was going home to you.”

And my heart broke.


After reading my writing, the first question that people always ask me is Does your son still see his father?

My answer is usually followed by the question Does your ex-husband…….? They can never say fully say it, but I know what they’re getting at, and I always answer, “My ex-husband doesn’t abuse our son.”

What I have learned is that sometimes abusers are women abusers but not child abusers, or child abusers but not women abusers. Sometimes abusers are some other variation of abuser that is neither of those things.

But what I have found myself saying lately is, “My ex-husband does not abuse our son, but my son still prefers to be with me because my ex-husband is a dick.”

It’s probably not the most articulate way of describing my family situation, but it’s all that I have.


Sometimes I feel judged because I haven’t fought harder to get sole custody of my son.

There are a few reasons for this:

One is that I don’t think I could get it (many states don’t factor domestic violence perpetrated on the mother into custody decisions).

Another is that Reed loves his dad and doesn’t want to hurt his dad’s feelings, and I believe in respecting Reed’s wishes.

And the final is that I enjoy the time that I have alone.


I am always amazed by how much pressure our society puts on single mothers to want to be the sole providers for our children.


The truth is that I  want to have 50/50 custody with my ex-husband. I adore my son, but single parenting is hard, and if we had 50/50 custody, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so alone in this.

The truth is also that I know that I can’t have 50/50 custody with my ex-husband becaus my ex-husband is simply not fit for 50/50 custody.

The truth is also that, if my son ever wants to live with his dad full-time, I will absolutely respect that decision, but I know that is never going to happen.

I am always going to be doing this primarily on my own, and that was never part of my plan.


I crashed and lost consciousness when I was in labor with Reed. Caleb was holding my hand, and I said, “I feel funny.” I could see the fear in his eyes, then I heard a loud beeeeeep, and saw nothing but darkness.

When I woke up, the first thing I saw was my mother standing at my feet.

The look in her eyes. The terror. I’ll never forget it.

The first thing I said–whimpered really–was, I’m sorry.


The anesthesiologist had to shoot ephedrine into me, and then, my heart rate was up to 170 beats per minute for the remainder of the labor.

It was as though I was running a marathon, and I kept apologizing the entire time. I was so sorry for the ways in which I was inconveniencing everyone around me.

I was so, so sorry.


That is how I feel during the school year. My heart is racing, racing, racing, and I cannot come up for air.

I am always so sorry for the things I ask of other people.

I always want to be able to do it on my own, and I can’t.


The summer is when I finally breathe.

I want to be able to breathe.


Last week, I flew into Seattle and spent a few days with two of my friends from before Caleb. We drank wine, hot-tubbed, and reminisced. We talked about the men we had known from our time together. We cyber stalked those men. We went to the beach, and I got a sunburn that is still peeling now.

The friend that we stayed with has a really wonderful husband who I am very fond of, and they have created an equitable life together. My other friend has the same kind of relationship.

I want that kind of relationship.


I am the loner. Always.

I was the loner before I met Caleb too. Talking to my friends reminded me of this.

Maybe that is why he targeted me. Maybe that is why he saw something vulnerable in me.


Still, my friends seem to trust me. They trust that I am doing the right thing, and they trust that I am going to be okay.

Their trust inspires me to want to earn it.

I want to be better at this than I am.


I want to end up with a person who respects me. Who treats me like an equal.

And who adores me.

And maybe, finally, I am understanding that I might be alone because of those wants.


I guess that’s okay too, although being alone is not my first choice.


But the truth is also that maybe being alone is my first choice. I love the life that I have. I am at a writer’s residency where I am being fed delicious meals prepared by a nutritionist. Tonight, I went for a long jog on a beautiful road through a forest while Mount Rainier peeked through the trees. I came back to the residency and talked to my new friends before taking a shower, and now, I’m sitting in the library alone, hogging the WiFi, and writing this blog post.

A week ago, I was doing this:

Kingston


It is summer. I am breathing, and I am living the life that everyone dreams of.

Everyone wants the life that I have now.

But it can’t last.

In a month, I will be racing, racing, racing again.


Still, I have had more training.

I might tire, but I have more stamina.

My heart can handle it now.

On Gaslighting and Identity

I have so much to say.


When I was still in the hospital after I had Reed, I watched The History Channel. There was a documentary about the Jonestown Massacre. I nursed my new baby and watched dozens of people poison themselves in front of me.


I still can’t change the channel.


I sent my final draft of my book to my editor tonight. After this, it goes to the copy editor. I’m proud of this book. It was the book that I wanted to write, but writing this book has been isolating.


I spent the past few days with friends in Washington, and I did many dippy things. I almost got in the wrong car. I went to the wrong restaurant door. I put my groceries in the wrong cart.

My friends laughed and teased me because they’ve known me for a long time, but I think that we all realized that I’m more absentminded than usual, that I have been living in my head for too long.


Still, I had the most wonderful time with these friends of so many years. It is so easy to be with them, and having friends who have known me both pre and after Caleb is validating to my sanity. Their friendship helps me to remember that I am okay.


And here is where I’m going to bring something up that I’ve never brought up before in my writing. I haven’t brought this up because I haven’t wanted to plant any seeds of doubt about my own mental health, but I think that I’m in a place where I can be honest.

Caleb’s excuse for why he abused me is because he claims that I have Borderline Personality Disorder.

First of all, to be clear, I do not have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My own therapist has reassured my very anxious self that I don’t even come close to that diagnosis, but that if I did, it would be something we would work on.

Second of all, BPD would not excuse the physical abuse (which Caleb doesn’t deny).

Still, Caleb’s anger management therapist, Charlie, suggested this diagnosis to him. These suggestions were strictly based upon what Caleb had told Charlie about me. As far as I know, Charlie never asked to meet me.


Caleb’s other therapist, Ed, did ask to meet me, then said, “Caleb, she is not what you led me to believe she is.”


Months later, I would call Ed and tell him how Caleb had been physically abusive. Ed would ask me, “Kelly, why are you telling me this?” And I would hear the doubt in his voice. I would hear the She’s crazy voice coming through the phone.

But when my own voice cracked, and I said, “Because I thought that maybe you could help him change,” I also heard Ed realize that I was authentic. He told me that he would try and get Caleb to confront the truth of what he had been doing.

Caleb quit seeing Ed after that.


Still, for so long Caleb had me convinced that I was what he thought I was.


Once, shortly after I had left him, Caleb and I were talking on the phone. He was living at his parents’ house and using their landline. He told me that I had chased him with a knife. He told me that he had run outside of our dorm apartment in his underwear to escape me.

I was so confused, had no recollection of this happening, so I asked him questions because it never occurred to me that he was lying.

After all, why would someone lie about such a thing?

I said, “When?”

“Why” ”

“How?”

He hung up on me.

After thinking about it some more, I finally called him back. The dorm apartment that we had been living in required keycard access with our IDs.

I was not trying to be clever. I was only confused, but I said, “If you were in the hallway in your underwear, then how did you get back in? Wouldn’t you have needed me to let you in?”

He screamed and hung up the phone.

I later realized that he was taping our phone calls, that he was hoping to get me to admit to something awful, so that he would not be the only one who had committed awful misdeeds.


At the time, I went to my friend Rebecca’s house where Reed and I were staying, and I told her what he had said. I said, “I think that he might be delusional. I’m so worried about him.”

She said, “He’s like a robot, and his wires are malfunctioning.”


I have recently realized that I need to spell some of this stuff out for certain folks, so here it is: Caleb was lying in order to manipulate me. He knew my weaknesses and wanted to convince me that I was “crazy” as a way of justifying his own abuse.

Loosely related: trauma reactions can seem a lot like personality disorder behavior.


My friend who I stayed with for the past few days is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapist, so she treats a lot of people with BPD.

We were talking about trauma recovery, and she had some really good suggestions for me. When the time comes, and if my finances allow, I think that I would like to do exposure therapy with someone she recommends.

But that exposure therapy would be to treat my trauma–not this mythological BPD that Caleb claims I have.


Caleb’s mother has been unusually kind to me lately, and I can’t tell why. It’s probably because Caleb is remarried and has another baby. It’s probably because she feels sorry for me.

Still, what I like to tell myself is that she’s kind to me because she’s had enough time to see Reed grow and realize that I’m not what Caleb says I am. I’m a good mama to Reed. He is thriving with me, is always on the honor roll, and has lots of friends.

I don’t ever badmouth Caleb, but Reed still prefers to be with me because his dad is angry most of the time, and Reed is now used to a calm household.

Reed didn’t notice his dad’s anger when he lived with it all of the time, and though I’m sad that he notices it now, I’m also relieved that he’s not desensitized to it.


When a man you love spends years telling you that you’re crazy, that is not an easy mythology to escape. I have not yet escaped that mythology, and I don’t have any answers.

All I can offer is an It happened to me too.


My friends walked me to the ferry the other day, as I left for a writer’s residency. I hugged them–these two women who have known me for so long–along with my friend’s adorable toddler and kind husband. I felt grateful for the years that we’ve shared, the lives that we’ve ended up with.

I felt grateful for all of the people who love me despite what I’ve been through, and despite the ways that what I’ve been through has changed me.

Still, though I have changed, I am not, and never will be, what he says I am.

I will only ever be the person that I am.

 

On Home

Caleb is moving. I have no idea why he’s moving. He says that it’s for a “better job,” but he’s moving from Morgantown to Charleston, West Virginia, and I don’t think that anyone could see that as an upgrade. Also, when I asked him about this new position, he told me to “go fuck [myself]” so my inclination is to think that he’s not happy because he would be smug if he was happy.


Tonight, at dinner, my friend said “Well, this is what he did to you. He knocked you up, then moved you away.”

And she was right.


I was having dinner with my friend Mo tonight because I’m at a writer’s residency in Vermont, and every night here is dinner with friends.

Today, I told another friend–a new one–that the condition of my life in Athens is one of loneliness. I am so often lonely. I told my new friend that, while I enjoy my solitude, I do not enjoy loneliness.


This friend and I went to the gym, and we both worked out hard. Then, we changed into our swimsuits and swam in a swimming hole in the river. The current was fast, and I got swept into it, grew scared, then panicked. I have had some bad experiences in the river in my hometown, and, like Caleb’s fists, those experiences have made themselves at home in my body.

My new friend saw me panicking, jumped back into the water. She put her arm around me, guided me to a quieter current where I was still panicking, and then, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Put your feet down.”

I listened, and I could stand.


After that, I waded across the fast current, then swam and climbed on to a large, beautiful rock where I sunned myself next to my friend.

I laid down.

Closed my eyes.

Opened them again and stared into the light.

I have discovered that the light everywhere is different. Every time I go somewhere I love, I think that it has the most beautiful light.

Before Vermont, that place was New Mexico.

I am in love with light, but I am also in love with newness.


This evening, I FaceTimed with Reed while I was at the laundromat. He mentioned that people had looked at his dad’s house, and it occurred to me that I could look up the listing–could see into their home.

I told myself not to do it, but I did it.


So much of me is still in that house.

The big things–the floors, the paint colors. The kitchen that I designed, right down to the custom ordered countertops.

The mirror in the downstairs bathroom that I had chosen. The kitschy chandelier in the dining room that I had found at Ikea.

The baskets on the wall in the kitchen that I had bought to hold our mail (constant bills) discretely.

I saw Reed’s bedroom. A toy that Caleb and I bought him for Christmas when he was four or five is still in there. He’s almost a teenager now.


And I saw their bedroom, which was the same bedroom that I had shared with Caleb. It looked different in ways, but one thing was the same–the floors. They are the same black that I once painted. I sat on that floor and swept the roller brush–then followed up with touch-ups from the regular brush. I painted those floors because I thought that they would offer us a new beginning.

I painted those floors because I thought that, if Caleb and I had a beautiful home, we would have a beautiful family.

I made that house beautiful because I couldn’t make my marriage beautiful. I couldn’t make Caleb beautiful. I couldn’t make myself beautiful.


When I left Caleb, we were living in the first-floor apartment of a dormitory. I moved back into our house, which, at the time, was being rented by my friend, Rebecca. I was surprised to find that she and her partner had taken up residence in Reed’s former room. Perhaps they had sensed the darkness in the room that Caleb and I had shared.

I stayed in the room that Caleb and I had shared on a twin mattress on the floor. I was surrounded by tubs full of Rebecca’s stuff.

On that mattress, I was so close to those black floors.

I read books about abuse. I argued with Caleb on the phone. I sobbed to my best friends on the phone. I took an Ambien at 8 because, maybe then, I would fall asleep by 11.

I woke up in the morning and drove my little boy to the bus stop. It was just down the road, but I couldn’t walk because I had to wear a boot for my injured foot.

On the mornings when I had to teach at 8:30, Rebecca walked Reed to the bus stop. I know that Reed enjoyed those times–that Reed–though he probably hardly remembers her–still loves Rebecca as a surrogate mother. During that period, she was his surrogate mother because I was absent in almost every way possible.


I don’t love Caleb anymore.  Not even a little bit.

One day, I checked my horoscope, but I didn’t check his, and I knew that I had moved on.


Writing about how much I loved him is hard now for so many reasons. I don’t want to remember those feelings. I don’t feel those feelings anymore and have a hard time understanding them now. I don’t want to justify those feelings. I don’t want to relive those feelings. I don’t want to be angry at myself for those feelings.

Feelings are pretty much the worst, and the love that one has felt for an abusive man kind of tops the list of worst feelings.


At dinner tonight, I told my friend about how I had looked at Caleb’s house listing online. When we divorced, I let him keep that house in exchange for his retirement. He was young, and his retirement was nowhere near what the value of the house was.

My lawyer told me, “He can pay you every month for his part of the house,” but I didn’t want–couldn’t even imagine–having that kind of contact with him. Caleb had told me that, if I wanted him to compensate me for the house, he would have to just sell it and move into a trailer somewhere.

I worried about Reed. My own issues with having been raised lower middle-class kicked in. I let Caleb keep the house.


Maybe they’re moving, so that his new wife no longer has to live in my shadow. One thing that I learned from looking at that house listing is that my shadow is in that home:

The shadow of me crying.

The shadow of me screaming.

The shadow of me raging.

The shadow of me fighting.

The shadow of me running.

The shadow of me leaving.

How will she ever live outside of my shadow?


At dinner, I told my friend that I had looked at that real estate listing. I told her that I had worried about being triggered, but I did it anyway. I told her that I was fine when I looked at it. I told her that I was fine because, look at my life.

I told her that my goodwill towards Caleb usually only extends as far as my goodwill towards my own life, and right now, I’m really happy with the life that I live.

Today, I slept in, then had a meal prepared for me by a chef. I swam in a river with a friend who calmed me when I panicked. I listened to artists and writers talk about their work in intelligent ways. I did not work on my book because I know that my agent and editor are on vacation, so why can’t I vacation?


The truth is that my life with Caleb never really felt like home. It was intoxicating and addicting, but never comfortable.

I am at home here in Vermont.

I am at home in the house I share with Reed.

I am at home in so many places, but I was never at home in that house in Morgantown–the one that I worked so hard to turn into a home.

I didn’t realize that the reason my house in Morgantown wasn’t a home had nothing to do with the house, or my decorating or design.

That house wasn’t a home because Caleb was in it.