On Breaking His Guitar

I’m watching Nashville–please don’t judge–and there is a scene where a woman who has been assaulted takes a self-defense course. She keeps shying away from the instructor. She is unwilling to tap into her own aggression. As happens in convenient television show narratives, she comes back to the workshop the next week. The guy taunts her a bit. She gets aggressive and attacks him. As he struts away unharmed, he says something along the lines of, “That’s what I was looking for. Nobody mess with this woman.”

As though she was empowered? By beating on a man who clearly wasn’t injured and didn’t feel harmed?

The mythology of the perfect victim is pervasive, and maybe those victims exist, but just to be clear, I tried to fight back.

Most of us fight back.

For a long time, I didn’t try to fight back, and then, I did. When I tried to fight back, he held me down. He spit in my face.

He spit in my face–not once, but three times. He wanted to make sure that I knew I was powerless.

After that, I continued to fight back, but in different ways. I threw things at him that I knew wouldn’t hit him. I shouted insults.

I fucking broke his guitar

That’s right. I broke his guitar. And it was a nice guitar. A really nice guitar.

He was screaming at me, looming so close. I was holding the guitar poised, begging him to stop.

It was at the beginning of when he was regularly abusing me physically. I held that guitar and begged him to stop. I was standing next to the frame of a bed that he had built with his father. Together, they had harvested wood from their property, sanded it, then formed it into a bed frame.

I cried.


Then, I fucking did it.

I smashed that guitar on to the wood he had once harvested himself.

He had thought that he was calling my bluff.

He calmed immediately.

He gathered up the guitar pieces and piled them into the corner of our bedroom. He embraced me. He told me that he forgave me, that he understood.

And what was I to do? What was I to think? I was, after all, the asshole that had broken my husband’s expensive guitar, though we were living in near-poverty.

He never got angry at me for breaking his guitar. He never guilted me, and I now know why, which is that he had always known that he was in the wrong.

I had assumed that he was out of control, and that my response was worse because I was not. I had assumed that I was the person who should feel guilty, but the truth was that I was just trying to protect myself because he had created sheer terror in me.

What I have learned from years of physical abuse is that men are physically stronger than me, though I am not a weak woman.

And this is why I struggle with portrayals of women taking self-defense classes and suddenly conquering the world.

I am not against self-defense classes. I support those fully. But all women who have been held down by a man know that there is no defense.

We need men to change. That’s truly the only salvation we can have.


On The Future

“The future loomed before me like a buffet full of hungry, lonely people.”

I wrote those words over four years ago in “It Will Look Like a Sunset.” I sat up in my bed while Reed slept in the next room, and I wrote and wept. I was not yet divorced when I wrote the initial version of that essay. I wasn’t even entirely sure that I was going to get divorced.

My future was still unknown.

All of my biggest fears are fed from their unknowability.

I am someone who spends a lot of time analyzing the actions/feelings/reactions of myself and others. Some might say that I have made a career out of this.

Still, there is so much that I can never know.

The other night at a bar, a man asked if he could read the astrological charts of my friend and me. He said, “Astrology is a science. I have researched it. Some people are good at it, but not because they understand the science. Those people are just a little bit psychic.”

I thought of one of my party tricks, which is that I’m remarkably good at guessing peoples’ signs. The other night, I accurately guessed the sign of almost everyone at a table I was sitting at. Most of these people were strangers. Some might say that I am a “little bit psychic.”

I was only stumped by one woman. I was completely wrong about her. She was smug. She said, “I’m a Capricorn.”

I, too, am a Capricorn.

Maybe I couldn’t guess her sign because it was also my own.

I’m certainly not a “little bit psychic” in regards to myself.

We all see others more accurately than we see ourselves, don’t we?

Thanksgiving is a painful day for me. One of my most painful memories happened on a Thanksgiving Day. I stuffed everything I could fit into laundry baskets, piled those into the backseat of my car, and officially left Caleb.

I ate at a Chinese Buffet with my friend, and the future loomed before me like a buffet full of hungry, lonely people.

The future is here.

I made a friend at the gym recently, and he asked me to send him my sunset essay. When I sent it, I wrote that I always feel compelled to tell people–particularly when they only know me from one context–that I am okay.

I am okay.

But I am still lonely, and I am still hungry.

Some days, I’m not even sure what I hunger for.

When I got my book cover, I texted a picture of it to River Guide. We are not generally in touch. I had to pull away when he started seeing someone else because it was too painful for me, but I still think of him fondly.

He sent back congratulations. He told me that he was walking a former student–a young woman with a traumatic past–down the aisle at her wedding that weekend.

I thought, “I will never date another man as kind as you.”

I remembered when he told me about that student. I was dog sitting for a friend, and he was staying with me. We had taken the dog for a walk into the hills. It was a hot night, the road so very dry. There were no trees or shade. We stopped at a ravine and looked down into it, and it was full of bones.

Mounds and mounds of animal bones. We were at an animal graveyard.

The chalky white bones were stacked upon each other, and they formed a kind of art, but it wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t redeeming.

We turned around, and he told me about his student, showed me pictures of her on Facebook. I felt irrationally jealous; I knew that she would have him in her life for longer than I would.

That night, we had the best sex we’d ever had. It wasn’t the last time that we had sex (I’m not even sure that there has been a last time yet), but it had that kind of urgency, of finality.

The dog whined to be let out, and River Guide got up, padded to the door naked, and let her out.

He was that kind of person. The oldest of nine children. I never had to do a thing when I was with him. He took care of me so well.

Sometimes I wonder how well he takes care of someone he loves. Sometimes I think that it must be amazing to be loved by him.

I have a friend who loves very freely. Since I’ve known her, I’ve heard her say that she has loved multiple people. I’ve realized that we all love very differently. I am reserved with my love. I have only loved three men in my lifetime.

I have to be reserved with my love because, for me, once love is born, I am unable to kill it.

River Guide kissed me for the first time while we laid in the grass under a dry lightning storm at night.

The lightning flashed above us, bright streaks in the darkness.

I realized after reading his text about walking his student down the aisle that I might have been a little bit in love with River Guide.

How tough can I make myself? How resistant to love? How immune can I make myself to the pleasures of intimacy?

I talked to Reed today, and he told me that they’re having Thanksgiving with his stepmom’s parents rather than Caleb’s parents this year. He loves his stepmom’s parents. They sound very kind. They call him their “first grandchild.” Still, he was grumpy that he didn’t get to go to his dad’s parents’ house (likely because he didn’t get to see his cousins). He said, “We never had to do this when you and dad were married.”

I pulled out my mom card–reminded him that I only had one grandparent, and he was lucky to have so many.

My mother was orphaned. I never knew her parents, and really, neither did she.

My father’s father died when I was very young.

I have two very, early memories.

The first: My family was living in Forest Service Housing at Hughes Creek Guard Station in the middle of the Idaho woods. My father was shoveling the walk, and I was watching from the doorway in my snowsuit. He motioned for me to come out, and I ran out excitedly, then was terrified.

The snow towered above me.

The second: My mother received a phone call in the kitchen. She crumpled to the floor.

I ran to her. “Mommy, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Your grandfather died,” she said.

I didn’t know yet what it meant to die, but as I watched my mother curled up on that floor in the morning sunlight–my mother who I had never seen cry before–I knew that the snow would always tower above me, and the sunlight could not protect me.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’d love to write something optimistic, but holidays are hard for so many of us. Today has been hard for me. The sunlight so oppressive.

A friend said on another person’s post that Thanksgiving has another name, and it’s Thursday.

Still, as I talked to Reed, and he told me about the family Thanksgiving that they were having, I felt no envy. That Thanksgiving didn’t appeal to me at all.

I told my mother today that–abuse aside—I was isolated when I was married to Caleb, and I would take friendships over a romantic relationship any day.

I spent my evening eating really good food with a bunch of kind, progressive folks with PhDs, and I don’t have a lot to complain about.

It may not be perfect, but I would take the life I have now over the life I had then.

The future is here, and though it’s hard, it’s better.

It’s so much better.