I have a playlist on Spotify titled “Writing,” and tonight, when I started writing this blog, this song came on:
Although I haven’t felt very alive this week, the song seemed fitting. A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that I was thinking of taking a social media break until I finished my book. I have never done that before. I like social media. I don’t see social media as platform. I see it as the way that I keep in touch with friends. For me, to cut off social media would be out of character, but I wanted to cut the plug this week. What I realized later is that my desire to cut the plug to Facebook wasn’t a desire to finish my book; it was more of a desire to disappear.
I wanted to disappear without anyone being able to hold me accountable for my disappearance.
What I mean by “disappearance” is that I would like to be absent from my body for just a short period of time.
Most writers would say that writing is like an out-of-body experience, and that is the root of the joy. It’s in the transcendence, you see?
But as a memoirist, my recent writing has been too close to my lived experience for me to transcend the reality of my life.
I need a break. Not from social media, but from myself.
I told a friend today that people think that women like me are tough because of what we’ve endured, and then, because of how openly we talk about what we’ve experienced, but for me, my toughness is only armor. I’ve built a steel carriage on the outside that protects the tenderest part of me.
My wounds still beat inside my chest. Always.
I went to a coffee shop last week, and I wrote the chapter of Reed’s birth. I hadn’t realized how resistant I had been to writing about Reed. That resistance does not come from me worrying about Reed’s feelings (Reed knows what his dad did, he lived through it, and he knows that I’m writing a book). My resistance comes from my guilt and sadness.
I birthed him with so much hope. I wanted to do everything right for him, but I did everything wrong.
Then, the chapter evolved. I wrote about my mother-in-law, and how, she told me that she loved me on the phone before she had ever even met me. I couldn’t say the words back, even though I knew that I should have.
Soon, I was writing about my relationship with the words “I love you,” and how those words had both been withheld from me, and how I had withheld them from others. I wrote about how Caleb was the first man I had ever dated who I felt safe with emotionally. He had so many problems, but he also seemed more in love with me than anyone ever had. No one before had ever looked at me in the way that he looked at me.
I know now that this is a huge red flag of abuse, but obviously, I didn’t know it then. All I knew was that I felt so swept up in his love for me. I had never felt so adored.
And as I was writing all of this in my book (in meticulous, painful detail) I realized that Caleb was getting married. That fact has hardly been lost upon me, but it has also not brought me pain–until that moment.The clash of those feelings–of writing about his love for me, his proposal, and our son’s birth–with my knowledge that he was remarrying undid me.
When I held newborn Reed, I whispered to him that I loved him, but I should have whispered that I was sorry.
I teared up at the coffee shop, and I was sitting in a window, so I didn’t think that anyone could see me. But then, I looked over, and one of the employees was hovering kindly. He looked as though he wanted to check on me. I packed up my bag and left. I thanked him on my way out.
I texted my therapist and asked if she could talk to me.
And here’s the deal: she couldn’t fix it.
All she could do was listen. And validate my feelings. She knows–more than anyone–that I don’t love Caleb anymore. She knows–more than anyone–what Caleb did to me.
She listed to me the litany of his offenses, and god, hearing it come out of the mouth of someone else always puts it into perspective. He is a genuinely sick man (in far more ways than I have described).
But she also told me that, in all her years of practice, the one thing that all abusers have in common is that they are master manipulators. They’re extremely skilled at making themselves look like victims.
And so, when I question why his family, or his wife, or his friends, don’t believe me, I have to remind myself that–as my therapist said–they are simply incapable of believing me. He is that sophisticated of a manipulator.
Of course, I already knew all of this, but it was good to be reminded of it.
Last week, Reed told me that there were going to be 200 people at the wedding. That news stung. We were Skyping, so he could see my expression, and I saw his face register that it stung for me (he is unusually empathetic for a ten-year-old). I wanted to end the conversation. I found some excuse to end the conversation, but he seemed bummed.
“Do you want to keep talking?” I asked.
“Yes, let’s keep talking,” he said. So I hid my hurt feelings, and we kept talking. He told me that he had to stay at his grandparents’ house the night before the wedding because his dad and fiance were going to stay at a hotel with her friends. He was obviously disappointed. He seemed to feel left out, but I didn’t know what to say. I have determined to never badmouth his father, but how do I encourage him to express his frustrations without badmouthing his father?
I remember when I first left Caleb. A man told me, “My dad was abusive to my mom. The important thing is that you never say anything bad about Caleb because Reed will internalize it. That’s what I did when my mom said stuff about my dad. I thought that I must have been shit if men like him were shit.”
I remember a friend–a child of toxic divorce–telling me that the parent should never tell the child that they “miss” them because that’s just a burden on the child. So I didn’t tell Reed that I missed him, but I later grew to realize that he wanted to hear that, and now, I tell him that I miss him.
He misses me too.
I’ve never said anything bad about Caleb to Reed. I’ve always wanted Reed to feel good about himself, and he does. But I can’t erase Reed’s memories. I can’t change the fact that Reed remembers “Daddy yelling, and mommy crying.” I can’t change the fact that Reed knows his dad abused his mom because Reed lived with that abuse.
I’ll never fully know what Reed saw and heard because, when it happened, I wasn’t present.
I was in my cave.
And I’m sorry for that.
I need to be present for Reed now, but it’s hard sometimes. When he told me that 200 people were going to be attending that wedding, that information hurt, but for his sake, I had to pretend as though it didn’t.
But it did. It hurt. It hurt because all of those people celebrating that joyous occasion were going to pretend that I had never existed. They were going to pretend that I had never happened.
It felt as though Caleb had successfully erased me.
It felt as though I had never existed.
I wrote this piece about Amber Heard and victim blaming at Guernica.
I wrote: We need you to open your eyes. We need you to look at us. I tell myself that, when you see us, things will change. I tell myself that, when you see us, you’ll finally believe us.
What hurts most about Caleb’s wedding is not that he’s happy. It’s not my fear for her future. It’s not own my sadness that I am still single. It’s not some kind of misguided grief for a man I once loved, but who hurt me in ways that can never be undone.
All of those things hurt, but what hurts the most is the people who still don’t see me. All of the people who sat at that wedding and cheered for the man who inalterably changed me.
The man who birthed a child from violence.
The man who stole my child’s innocence.
The man who stole my innocence too.
Do I blame him for all of those things? Of course, but he is sick. That’s his excuse. It’s not a good excuse, but it’s an excuse.
But those people at that wedding? Most of whom know my story?
What’s their excuse?
I couldn’t disappear last week, so I slept a lot. I went for long walks. I watched Grace and Frankie. I talked to my best friends on the phone. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more.
And then, the day came: the wedding.
I had dinner plans with a poet, Donna, who I had met via social media. I took the subway to Oakland, and she took me out to a fancy restaurant. We talked about writing. We talked about violence. And we also laughed. A lot.
I am never always sad. Not anymore, at least.
After dinner, we walked around Lake Merritt. She picked up a rock that she said would symbolize all of my regrets. She told me to throw it into the lake, and I did. For a moment, I thought that it was going to float, but it sunk into that dark water, and I hope it took my regrets with me.
Earlier, Donna had taken this photograph of me.
She said that I looked happy, and I was happy. I was happy to be alive. I was happy to have so much to live for.
I may want to disappear sometimes, but I do not want to be erased. He doesn’t get to erase me.
I’m still here. I’m still breathing. I’m alive.