It Gets Better

Maybe I don’t say that enough. Maybe posts like my last one don’t fully express how much better it gets, but it does. It gets so much better.

I had some dark days when Caleb got married, but I curled into myself and embraced the darkness, and now, I’m out of it. One thing I’ve learned since leaving Caleb is that, if I love myself and take care of myself, there will always be an end to the darkness.

When I was with Caleb, there was no light.

Now, there is more light than darkness, but there is still darkness. The darkness doesn’t ever fully go away, but, as long as I welcome it as a necessary part of my healing, I am okay.

Because I know now that it gets better.

Sometimes I think that Caleb is my shadow side. Sometimes I think that Caleb was a manifestation of my own darkness, but this is just what he wants me to believe.

When we were married, the intimacy was such that I couldn’t tell where his darkness ended, and my own began.

Sometimes I think about Caleb’s new wife, and I hope that he never becomes her shadow side. That they never live in darkness like he and I did.

But then I think of her in the car when we hand off my son. I think of how she glares at me. I think of what he must have told her about me in order for her to hate me like that. I think of how I have never been hated like that before. I am not someone that people typically hate.

River Guide said to me, “You are so sweet.”

“I am not sweet,” I said. “You just think that because you like me.”

“No,” he replied. “I am not the only person who thinks that you’re kind. I know that you’re kind. I see how you are with other people. I see how they are around you.”

Caleb called me crazy. He called me a “cunt.”

“Don’t say that word,” I begged. “I don’t like it.” I never should have begged. My begging gave him power.

“You fucking cunt,” was his reply.

And soon, that was all that I knew. I knew that I was a cunt. I was a cunt. I was a cunt. I was a cunt.

At what point did his darkness become my darkness?

I think of his wife glaring at me. Still, I believe that she is kind. Reed tells me “She is like you, mom. She is more calm like you.” And I know, from her glare, that she is already living in Caleb’s darkness, that he may not be abusing her, but his darkness is now her shadow.

I can’t change her future, but someday, if she needs me, I’ll be there for her. That is as much as I can do.

Caleb called me a cunt, but River Guide calls me kind.

I’m going to trust River Guide on this one.

I don’t often talk to my parents about what I’m going through because, when I needed them, they weren’t there for me. When I needed them to tell me to leave Caleb, they told me to stay instead.

My best friend, Megan, is like a part of our family. Megan and I have been friends since we were toddlers. She grew up just down the street from me. We have lived through the death of her mother, my divorce, and the birth of three children between the two of us. My parents love her like a daughter.

And when my parents wanted me to stay with Caleb, Megan, who is by nature very non-confrontational, called them. She explained to them how significant Caleb’s abuse must have been in order for him to have been arrested. She explained to them that, if Reed had been present, he would have been taken into child protective custody. She explained to them that my relationship fell into the exact same pattern of abuse that other domestic violence relationships fall into (she is a counselor).

She told them that they were going to lose me.

When I next spoke to my parents, my father cried. My mother later told me that he hadn’t even cried when his mother died.

I remembered when I was  a little girl–only four–and my mom received the phone call that my father’s father had died. I remember my mother crumpling on to the kitchen floor in tears. I remember climbing into her lap. I remember asking, “What happened, mommy? What happened?”

I don’t remember my father crying then, but I will never forget the way he cried when he apologized to me on the phone after I left Caleb.

I forgave him.

Still, on the day of my divorce (which was after that phone call), he questioned if the abuse was really as bad as I said it was. All of my anger resurfaced. I called him a coward. I have never seen him so angry. He pointed at me. His hand shook. His voice shook. “I am not a coward,” he said. “I am not a coward.”

I stared at him. I have never been that cold in my life. I felt nothing. I was moving to Athens the next day. I had the boxes packed. I told him to leave. I told him, I don’t need you. 

I meant it. He knew it was true. When I left Caleb, I did it without their help. I did it on my own.

Still, he and my mother returned the next day. They helped me move to Athens, but once the boxes were in my apartment, I asked them to leave. I told them that I needed some time to myself.

I got what I wanted. I have so much time to myself.

The other day, Megan told me that she’s still upset that my parents didn’t come to Morgantown when I left Caleb. She told me that, at the time, she had sat down with her husband and asked how she could get to me, but he had pointed out (rightly so) that, because she had a new baby, she wasn’t in a position to help.

I told Megan that I’m now kind of glad that my parents didn’t come when I left Caleb because I learned that I could do it on my own.

I learned what I was capable of.

We talked about how my parents had always been there for me–through all of my moves–through everything that I had ever needed, but when I left Caleb, they weren’t there for me.

And even though they have been there for me since (in every possible way that I could have needed, they have been there for me), I still struggle with forgiveness.

Forgiveness is elusive, and I want so badly to forgive.

The other day, I received an email from my department about that awful Title IX situation. I was sitting at the kitchen table, and my mother was nearby. I wanted to tell her about it, but I realized that I had never told her about the situation. I had never told her about the meeting because I don’t talk to my parents, you see?

But I wanted to talk to someone, so I told her about it. I told her how hard that meeting was for me, how it had triggered my PTSD, how I was transported back to the time when Caleb was arrested in the dorm, and WVU kicked us both out of our then-home. I told her how hard it was for me to leave him in the first place, but knowing that I was homeless made it so much harder.  I told her that I know now that the university should have treated me better. They should have offered me alternate housing, or kicked him out, but let me stay. They should have offered me support, but they didn’t. I told my mom how alone and scared I was at that time.

I told my mom how that Title IX meeting, and the situation at work, had put me into such a state of PTSD that I had struggled for a week, but I had gotten through it.

And my mom was kind. She listened to me.

After we finished our conversation, I went into the next room to fold some laundry. My mom came in suddenly. She hugged me and said, “We know how much you have been through, and we’re proud of how far you’ve come, and what you’ve done with your life.”

I was stunned. For the first time, it felt like forgiveness was within reach.

The next day, Megan and I took our kids to the pool. It was absolutely joyful. Reed played so well with her younger children. He is such a kind child, and he loves Megan. At one point, Megan told her son that I was going to go to take the boys to the deep end while she stayed in the shallow end with the baby.

“I like Kelly!” he said.

Megan laughed. “I do too,” she said.

In the car, I told Megan what my mom had said to me. Her face registered shock, then she smiled and said, “Wow. People really can change.”

She’s right. I know that she’s right. Caleb may not have changed, but I have changed. My parents have changed.

Caleb may still be dark, but he is no longer my shadow side. I have shed that shadow.

My dad’s first love is the outdoors. When I was in my twenties, we started backpacking regularly. It was the closest that I have ever been with him. He is an introvert–not much of a talker–but on those trips, he would talk to me. Those hikes, and lakes, and mountains were one of the few things that we shared.

The other day, my mom, dad, and I took Reed for his first hike into a mountain lake. He is blessed to have my parents as his grandparents, and I think he knows that.


I know that too.

Last night, I called a man who I used to date before I met Caleb. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m coming over,” I said.

“I’m kind of seeing someone,” he said.

“So am I,” was my reply.

It was a booty call, of sorts, but it was not a booty call for sex; it was a booty call for companionship. I just wanted someone to sit next to me on the couch.

I am ready for someone to sit next to me on the couch.

After Caleb’s wedding, I talked to my therapist. We talked via Skype. She has a newborn baby, but she still makes time for me. Her baby was sleeping on her chest. I told her how sad I had been. “What do you think was the source of your sadness?” she asked.

I told her that I didn’t know, that I have no love for Caleb. “I don’t think it was about Caleb,” she said.

And then, I talked about how I feel like I’m ready to have love in my own life, and I apologized for that. The truth is that I don’t feel like a good feminist if I don’t wholeheartedly embrace my single status, but I am ready for someone to sit next to me on the couch.

She said, “Kelly, it is okay for you to be sad that you’re single. That is completely normal and okay. In fact, I would be more worried about you if you weren’t sad about that.”

I needed that permission. I needed permission to be sad.

At the end of our conversation, she said, “The past few times that I have spoken with you, I haven’t had to do any work. I will be here for you as long as you need, but I don’t think that you need me anymore.”

I guess I’ve gotten better.

River Guide came through town unexpectedly this morning. He had cut a trip short because of some sad news that he had received, and although he didn’t have time to stay, I met him for breakfast where I met one of his best friends. I saw then what River Guide has seen about me. I saw the way his friend respects him. I saw River Guide’s kindness reflected in his friendship with this man.

My heart felt very open.

River Guide’s friend left, and we came back to my house for a bit. He kept rationalizing his feelings about the situation that he’s dealing with. “I thought that I had come to terms with this,” he said.

Finally, I held his face between my hands. “It’s okay to feel sad,” I said.

“I know,” he said, but his eyes got damp.

He needed permission to feel sad.

Last night, as I sat with my former lover and visited, it occurred to both of us that we could renew our connection. I thought about River Guide. I said, “I am not in a monogamous relationship with River Guide. I can do what I want.”

But, in the end, I didn’t really want to be with that former lover in that way. Still, I felt a connection with him. I felt such warmth.

And then, this morning, River Guide appeared very suddenly. With him, all bets are off. What I feel for him is more than what I want to feel, and sometimes, those feelings cause me pain. Sometimes, they create joy.

But today, I thought of both of those men, of how I have so much love inside of me, and of how that love is available to both of them. I am not in love with either of them, and I may not be getting what I want in return, but I am grateful for the presence of love in my life–love for those two men, love for all of my friends, love (especially) for Megan, love for Megan’s children, love for my child, love for my parents.

I am grateful that people can change. I am grateful that I have changed. I am grateful for gratitude.

And it is okay if I still feel sad sometimes.

It is okay to feel sad. It is okay if I’m sad because I don’t have someone to sit next to me on the couch.

But it still gets better.

I may have to sit alone on the couch, but it is still so much better than what I had with Caleb. When Reed and I moved into the house that we live in now, we laid side by side in the hammock. “Everything is better now,” he said.

And he was right. Everything is better.