On Perfection

Reed texted me, “Can we talk?”

I could tell it was important. I texted back, “Sure, call me right now.”

He called, and I saw his forehead pop on to the screen, but not his face. I heard a gasp.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Not okay,” he said, though I still couldn’t see his face.


I panicked.

What’s going on? I asked.

And his voice came into view, his sweet face upset, and he told me everything, which was nothing. He was crying, which he rarely does at his age.

His dad was mad because he didn’t feed the dog. His dad took away his allowance. His dad threatened to take away his iPad.


All of this seemed to be normal parent/child conflict, but Reed’s level of being upset was not normal. I have primary custody of this child, and I cannot remember the last time that I have seen him cry, yet he was sobbing.

His dad expects perfection.

His dad’s bar for perfection is ever-changing.


I intervened. I poked the bear. I asked Caleb to be kinder with Reed.


Caleb was a jerk to me. He said that we could revisit our parenting plan if we wanted to. I was confused.

Was this hubris?

Or parenting suicide?


Caleb has to know, at this point, that revisiting our parenting plan could only result in reduced custody for him.

One friend suggested that Caleb wants to start over with his new family, but wants to be able to blame me when he loses time because he is so attached to his idea of himself as the perfect dad.

Still, after giving it some thought, I don’t think it’s parenting suicide; it’s hubris.

Caleb genuinely believes that he is an amazing dad. He genuinely believes that he could get more time with Reed if he tried.


I don’t even know where Caleb will be working or living in a month, though he is legally required to tell me.


Caleb is in arrears on his child support payments.


I don’t know when I will get my next child support payment, and I am not getting paid during the summer. I will not receive the next installment of my book advance until September, so I am flat broke.


Caleb works under the table during the summers so that he doesn’t have to report his income to the child support enforcement office. He already underreports his income by at least 15,000 dollars a year, and I know this because I still have a West Virginia State Employees account and can see the salary of all of the state employees, but I do not have the energy to pursue an income adjustment to our child support.


Caleb is vicious, and I would rather be flat broke than have to see him in a courtroom.


I can never again see his face without seeing it in front of me while he strangled me.

The world grew blurry around him. It was like looking through a prism, but only one thing remained clear.

His face.


Caleb takes Reed with him during the summers while he paints houses. Reed paints alongside him for one dollar an hour. This summer–and last–he painted the outside and inside of a house that belonged to one of my former professors.

When I reached out to her to point out to her that what she was doing was unethical, she wrote back to me, Don’t tell me what to do.


I told a friend tonight that so much of my anger after I left Caleb manifested against other people. I told her of how a writer friend of Caleb’s had posted a thing about being a feminist for his daughter, and I wrote something sarcastic about how he only cared when it was his daughter. He commented back, then I commented, and it turned into a very heated exchange.

This man is somewhat famous in literary circles, and I was a nobody who was bickering with him on his Facebook post.

It was potential career suicide for me.

This man is close to some of my favorite women writers, and though he, himself, is not an abuser, those women have also supported someone who is a known abuser in the literary community.

It has been a wholly disheartening experience. I do not want to reach out to those women to support my book, though they have so much influence within the feminist writing community.


People are complicated.

I, too, cannot be everything to everyone.


Sometimes, women reach out to me with their stories about men in the literary community, and it is as though they want me to take on those stories, to do something about them, even though they, themselves have not done anything about those stories, and I am tired.

I am tired of call-out culture, though I am not tired of call-outs.


I am tired because people seem to assume that it is easy for me to participate in call-out culture, so I am often asked to call-out for people.

And I can’t. I can’t speak for you.


If you have a story, speak it, and I will happily spread it. If you are not ready to be public, I will give my blog space as a place to write anonymously.

But please don’t ask me to speak your story for you.

I only have one story to tell.

I can repeat the stories of others, but that will never make them my own.


When I told Caleb, “I think that you withholding your employment information is an abusive tactic to make me feel anxious,” he said, “Yeah, just go fuck yourself,” and hung up on me.


He said that in front of his now-wife.

She must be used to that kind of language.

Most likely, she’s been brainwashed by now.


I used to think that kind of language was normal too.


Her time is coming.


No one will ever talk to me that way again.


The other night, I was out with a friend. I described to her that the man I’m currently involved with looks nothing like Caleb, and that is probably the appeal. I told her that Caleb is very unattractive.

She didn’t believe me, so she looked Caleb up on Facebook,

“Oh my,” she said.

“I know, right?” I said.

But then, she said, “You and his young wife look nothing alike, but can I say this?”

And I said yes.

“You both have the same look,” she said.

And I already knew this.

I said, “Yeah, he replaced me with a younger version of me.”


And I believe this, but the difference is that the new wife wants to be a stay-at-home mother. She wants to homeschool their child. She has no professional ambitions that I can tell, and because of that, I hope that she will be safe.

In my own experience, the quickest way to threaten Caleb and incite his violence is to be successful at the things he wants to be successful at.


He must fucking hate me now.


A friend recently posted an article about perfectionism paralysis. Basically, perfectionism often causes people who would otherwise be high achievers to fail because they’re so afraid of not being perfect that they can’t complete normal tasks.

I flunked out of undergrad twice.


Yesterday, I talked to my therapist for the first time in a long time. She is the same woman I started seeing when I was married to Caleb, and she hasn’t charged me since I’ve left him.

At that time, she told me, “I don’t want you to stop seeing me because you’re afraid of money.”

Now, she tells me, “We’re just ‘catching up.'”

She is my friend now. We haven’t exchanged money in years, and this time around, we both cried.


I asked her if it was okay that I use her real name in my book, and she started crying. She said, “Just to see how much work you’ve done, and you’ve done it all on your own.”

And then, I started crying, and I am crying right now as I type it because I DID THIS ALL ON MY FUCKING OWN, AND IT HAS BEEN SO HARD.


I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ALL ON MY OWN.


I hate Caleb. I hate that the man I loved so much hurts our child. I hate that the man I loved so much keeps trying to hurt me.


And I loved him. Do you know that?


Sometimes I think that he was the love of my life, and I just want to crawl under a rock and die because what the fuck is wrong with me?


When Reed called me the other night, and we were talking, I felt this weird sense of relief, then I realized that I was just so glad not to be living with Caleb anymore, and I had survivor’s guilt because Reed was still there.


Tonight, Reed told me, “Mom, quit messaging my dad.”

“Why?” I asked. “Did he take it out on you?

“No,” Reed said. “He made you out like the bad guy, and I don’t want him to hurt you anymore.”


I said, “Buddy (because I call him that), it is not your job to protect me. It is my job to protect you because I am the grown-up. I do not care what your dad says about me. I care how it affects you.”

But it was obvious that my email to Caleb had not helped–had only made things worse for Reed–and what am I supposed to do?


I am wrecked, but I am trying.


I work really hard not to badmouth Caleb to Reed, but this time, I explained gaslighting to him. “You know when see your dad drink three beers, but he tells you that he only drank one?” I said.

Reed nodded because he had told me that himself.

“That’s gaslighting,” I said.


He said, “My dad thinks that you just want to turn me against him, that you want to take me away from him.”

I enjoy my time on my own. I have no desire to take Reed away from Caleb. I wish that Caleb was the kind of dad who could be a 50% dad because I am tired of doing this all on my own.

And I am exhausted by the notion that a “be kinder to our kid” email could somehow be perceived as me poisoning Reed against his father, but it is clear that Caleb has turned himself into a victim.

Though I have tried so hard to avoid it, Caleb has set into motion this “he against she” dynamic.


And Reed was clearly lost as he was translating this all to me, so I finally said, “Have you ever caught me in any lies?”

And he said, “No, not at all.”

And I said, “How about your dad?”

And he said, “Yeah, my dad is kind of a liar.”


I don’t want to have to tell this eleven year old boy what gaslighting is, but what am I supposed to do?

How do I be a good and supportive mother who doesn’t badmouth my co-parent when I know that my co-parent is doing that to me?

I hate this.


For all of our faults, Caleb and I have generally co-parented well, but there is too much change now.

Caleb has a new job, likely a shitty job. A job that he couldn’t even ask his own chair to write him a letter of recommendation for.

A friend of mine at WVU described it as “he just fled.”

He has a new baby, and a wife, who, according to Reed tells Caleb, “Stop treating me like a kid.”

He has an ex-wife who is doing the things that he wanted to do.

He is angry and escalating, and I don’t know what to do.


So, I write this blog post. I sob. They are sobs that come all the way from my stomach because I am utterly powerless in this.


I have no power over Caleb.


I have no power over that male writer who initially supported him.


I have no power over those feminists who don’t denounce abusers in their communities.


I have no power over myself.


My therapist tells me that, what I’m doing with this man I’m involved with is trying to find some control.

Maybe if I change this thing about my own behavior, then that will affect his behavior.

Maybe that will give me some control over this situation.


In her final comments on my book manuscript, my editor had said, “The reader is still going to want to know why he was so violent.”

I was annoyed by that. Though my editor is supremely feminist and wouldn’t have bought my book otherwise, it was an implicitly victim-blaming statement.

How could I know why he was so violent?

I finally wrote a chapter that is full of theories. A list of reasons he might have been violent. I concluded that I could never know.

The truth is that I spent so many years thinking that, if I could pinpoint the cause of his violence, then I could stop it.

I was trying to gain some control, just like my therapist said I’m doing with this new guy.


And let’s be honest.

I am a perfectionist.

I wanted to make the marriage work because I didn’t want to fail.


Ultimately, though, it’s about control. I want to have control over my life, my heart, my behaviors, my responses, my urges, my sex life, my parenting, my PTSD, my career, my education, who I love, and most of all, everything.

But I am powerless over so much.

I cannot make Caleb be nicer to Reed. I cannot protect Reed from the father that he loves. I cannot change the abuse enablers. I cannot make the guy I’m involved with less scared of committing to me.

There is so much I cannot control.


The only thing that gives me any semblance of control is writing about it, so that’s what I’m doing now. I’m telling you my story.

My own. No one else’s.

I can’t control my story, but I can reclaim it. If you have made it to the end of this long post, then you are with me on this journey. Thank you, dear reader. How about we reclaim our stories together?

Guest Post: The Branches That Cover the Snake Pit

By Anonymous

“I don’t believe you”

“Sure, but you weren’t exactly blameless”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t that big of a deal”

You never explicitly said any of these words to me. You didn’t have to. The fact that you remained silent after your friend’s abuse became known spoke for itself. One by one, as more and more survivors stepped forward with eerily similar stories about your friend’s pattern of behaviour, your continued silence became more and more deafening.

You didn’t have to say it, but I still heard you loud and clear: “You don’t matter to me. I don’t believe you. You can’t be trusted”.

Can you imagine what that was like for me? Do you know how hard it was for me to overcome my fear of your friend the abuser, and come forward publicly about the harm he did to me? Do you know how scared I was those first few days, as the story broke, as I silently watched, a helpless mixture of horror and relief that I wasn’t alone in this shameful thing that he did to me? Can you imagine how much I wrestled with myself trying to find the courage and the words to come forward with my story too, with the faint hope that perhaps now that there were other descriptions of similar patterns, I might be believed?

You see, for the longest time, I didn’t realise he was an abuser either. Even after he and I stopped talking, I didn’t think he was the ‘A’ word. I made so many excuses for him, and I blamed myself for everything that he did to me. Because the particular flavour of his abuse was seasoned with gaslighting and manipulation, I was absolutely convinced that it was my fault; that my behaviour was the root cause of everything that went wrong. The mindfuck was so effective that for years, I truly believed his brainwashing narrative that an assault was an affair, that flirting meant I owed him a relationship. The shame of my ostensible complicity ensured my silence, and worse, his impunity. Even now, I am scared to say any of this because I know he will see it, I know he will deny it, and I know that some people, like you, will believe him over me.
It’s difficult for me to understand your public silence and tacit support for your friend the abuser, given how vocal you are about feminism and standing up against bullies. Your outspoken tweets following the election of President Trump particularly stung, because the hypocrisy of your words was made all the more obvious. What makes me, and all the other survivors of your friend’s abuse, so unworthy of your compassion and empathy? What is it about us that make it so easy for you to dismiss our experiences? Why do you find it so hard to believe us?

Have you even tried?

At first, I thought you just needed time to process the fact that your friend is an abuser. After all, it’s not easy to admit that your friend could have harmed so many people. Cognitive dissonance is very powerful, and I understand the instinctive urge to deny accusations against a friend you care for. I have seen first hand how much easier it is to be a coward and choose comfort over complications. But now, almost a year since this all blew open, you are still silent. As far as I am aware, you are still friends with him, you still don’t believe us, he still believes that we were the ones who wronged him, and I am unaware of any accountability on his part – and on yours for giving him a pass with your silence.

I write this not as an attack on you, or to berate you for your behaviour. I don’t expect my words to have any effect on you. But I wonder if you have ever paused to consider that by implicitly supporting your friend the abuser, you are signalling to other women that you too are not a safe person to be around. How? Because you have chosen to prioritize superficial politeness under the excuse of “we must be kind, people are complicated” over protecting the well-being of abuse survivors. Because even though it is hard, being kind  actually means helping our friends break abusive patterns. You are essentially putting up a neon sign saying “Don’t expect me to believe you. Don’t ask me for help if you’re scared. I am not willing to put myself out there by saying anything negative publicly about an abuser. Your safety matters less to me than having a pleasant rapport with my friend”.

See, here’s the thing. When you refuse to ostracize abusers like him, or act to make them take responsibility and help with their public accountability, you’re helping them pull other people into their orbits. You may not want to admit this, but you are part of the problem. You are the leafy branches camouflaging the pit full of snakes and skeletons.

Because if there were more actual tangible consequences for abusing women, maybe someday we might actually see abusers stop abusing.

On Dating After Abuse

I have no answers, and I am not sure how much I can disclose about dating after abuse without sabotaging myself because no one wants to date someone who discloses everything, and I still want to date.


I do want to date.

I don’t want to date.

I do want to date.

I don’t want to date.


I want to not want to date.


I have done a good job of finding men who aren’t available to me.

I am a genius at that.


A while ago, a friend of mine who is a counselor recommended to me that I make a list of everything I want in a man. She recommended that I make it as specific as possible. I included such things as, “Likes television” and “Doesn’t mind when I sleep in.”

But the first thing on my list was, “Available.”

My best friend, Kelly Morse , joked to me when I told her that. She said, “Sundberg, your ball is rolling on the floor.”


But let’s be honest–my ball has been rolling on the floor for a long time.


I spoke today with someone important at my publishing company who had read my book. She said that, as a reader, she had kept wanting to say to me (the narrator of the book) “Why don’t you see this?”

But also that, as a reader, she was right there with the version of me who didn’t see it.

I think this means that, as a writer, I accomplished my goal, but as a person, it is hard to separate these identities from one another.


I don’t know how to write if I’m not writing honestly.


I want to tell you all about the man I’m involved with, but I can’t because that wouldn’t be fair to him.


I want to tell you all about the man I ran into while I was walking up the sidewalk to the man I’m involved with’s house, and how the man I ran into was someone I had previously had a crush on, and that was obvious to all of us.


I want to tell you all about how I recently wrote an essay about hooking up with a younger-than-me firefighter, and about how I sent the essay to him and asked if he would have a problem with it being published somewhere prominent, and he said that he wouldn’t, but if it was, he was going to share it with everyone he knew and tell them that he had hooked up with a writer.


I want to tell you all about how that firefighter has been nothing but a positive experience for me.

The night that we “hooked up,” he looked at me and said, “I like your body. You have a good body.”


My body feels like ruins.


I want to tell you all what it feels like to be ruins.


I want to tell you all what it feels like to be rubble.


I want to tell you all how it feels when someone who I thought only saw me as a potential hookup says to me, quite earnestly, “Kelly, I don’t think of you as a hookup. I think of you as someone I could be serious about.”

Then says, “I know that we have hung out at night, but you’re someone I’d like to do daytime things with too.”


I want to tell you all how getting what I want is such a double-edged sword because what I want is not really what I want.


I want to tell you all how I don’t even know which of my wants is the real want.


I want to tell you all how this man articulates to me that he is afraid of fucking things up with me, and all I can think is, “You have no idea how gloriously I can fuck things up.”


I want to tell you all how I know that I am fucking things up right now. That this, right here, is me fucking things up.


I want to tell you all how scared I am–not of this man, but of myself. Of my history. Of all of the ways in which I can gloriously fuck things up.

At this point, I know that I can handle a man. I am no longer scared of a man.

But how do I handle myself? My own ghosts?


I want to tell you all how I had to review my correspondences with Caleb yesterday–how I had to re-read email threads that included his messages and my replies.

I want to tell you all how present-day Kelly can see what a mind-fuck Caleb was always presenting me with.

I want to tell you all how abused-Kelly couldn’t see the mind-fuckery.


I want to tell you all how present-day Kelly is always terrified that she is still just abused-Kelly.


I want to tell you all how the mind-fuckery was not temporary.

I want to tell you all how the mind-fuckery has altered the way I see the world. The way I see other people.


More than anything, I want to tell you all how the mind-fuckery has altered the way I see myself.


But I also want to tell you all about how my friend says to me, “Look how far you’ve come.”

I want to tell you all about how I pursue this man who doesn’t see me as a hookup because I like myself, and all along, I think, “If he’s not interested in me, then it’s his loss.”

I want to tell you all about how I can hook up with a younger firefighter, and it’s fun, and we become friends.

I want to tell you all about how I tell my friend at dinner tonight that I’m worried I’ll get into a relationship and discover that I haven’t really grown in the ways I’ve thought I have, and she says, “No, that’s not how growth works. You will not just lose all of the progress you’ve made when you’re in a relationship.”


I want to tell you all how Caleb is remarried and has another child, but Reed tells me that they argue, and the new wife says, “Stop treating me like a kid.”

I want to tell you all that the argument Reed describes to me sounds pretty harmless, that Caleb and his new wife don’t appear to fight like Caleb and I did.

I want to tell you all that Caleb never treated me like a kid. He always treated me like his equal.

He always treated me like a woman.

I want to tell you all that I think that was the problem.


I want to tell you all how I need a man who is okay being with a woman.

I want to tell you all how I need a man who is okay being with a force.


I want to tell you all so much, but I guess I just did.

Most of all, I want to tell you all that I don’t have any answers, that dating after abuse is hard. I am fucking terrified, and I should be.


Caleb is remarried and has a new baby because he didn’t do any work. He didn’t try to change. He didn’t need to. Why should he have to change?

Abuse only benefits the perpetrator.


And it sucks that I’m in this situation, that I’m the one who has to heal, who has to try and move forward, who has to change.

But I will not let him destroy me. I will change in the ways that I need to change. I will move on. I believe that I will love someone in healthy ways, and maybe that person will only be myself, but I also believe that there is a person out there who will love me in all of my brokenness, as well as all of my togetherness.


 Most of all, this is what I have to say about Caleb: I will not let him break me.

I am not broken.

Also, FUCK HIM SO HARD.

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.

On My Body Being a War Zone

It is late, and I am in my writing studio at the Vermont Studio Center. I haven’t checked on my hair, or makeup, or appearance since I left my house this morning. During the time since I’ve left my room, I’ve walked probably six miles and also cried a little bit.

I just went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and realized that my hair is a mess and my face is bare. Still, I felt comfortable. I actually thought that I looked pretty good.

And the truth is that no one here cares what I look like.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone here is attractive in that particular way that artists are attractive, but no one here seems to care about their attractiveness, and there is something beautiful about that.


At the beginning of this summer, I was spending most of my time with a person who fixates a lot on her own appearance. She is a good person with a good heart, but the end result of our friendship was that I was fixating on my own appearance. I was getting my eyebrows waxed. My bikini waxed. Buying brow pencils. Looking at the folds on my stomach.

She said she was a pig.

I was the same size.

Was I a pig?

Am I a pig?


I grew to hate myself in a way that I hadn’t hated myself in a long time. I put Retin-A on my skin. I subscribed to “boxes” that would send me the latest beauty products. I had my hair highlighted.

In the same time period, my hips gave out on me, and I was no longer able to exercise like I had been.

The friendship ended, as friendships sometimes do.

It all felt very hopeless.

I was a pig.

I would never be anything but a pig.


I worked to find other friends. It is summer, and many of my academic friends are gone, I made two really good friends at the gym.

The other day, I was talking to one of them, and I needed to change into my gym clothes. “I am modest,” I said. She said, “Would you like me to turn around?”

“No,” I said, but as I changed shirts, I felt self-conscious because my body has been a war zone, and though that is not visible when I am wearing clothes, it is visible when I’m naked.

I hate my body because it has been a war zone.

How can I ever expect someone else to love my body when it has not been their war zone?


Once, when Caleb was in Greece, and my mother had come to help me with Reed, she brought up my weight gain.

“Caleb doesn’t care,” I said.

She looked at me with pity, “Oh, honey,” she said, “He cares.”


She was wrong though.

Caleb wanted me to be overweight, and I believe this.

He had always felt inadequate, had felt that I was more attractive than him. If I was overweight then he didn’t have to worry about me leaving him for someone else.

So he fed me–plumped me. He fed me everything I desired, but he also held me by the throat.


Once, Caleb looked at me and said, “You are the ugliest woman I have ever dated.”


I have done so much to change my life, but my body still has the scars of my life with Caleb.


My friend who was absorbed with her own appearance told me, “Use your student loans to get a tummy tuck! You can get a breast lift at the same time!” She said, “I will drive you!”

I seriously thought about it.

Then, I said, “I’d rather just find a partner who is okay with me the way that I am.”

She looked at me as though she didn’t understand.


It has been four years, and I haven’t found that person. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t understand.

Who am I to think that I might find someone who loves my  broken body?


But the difference between my friend and me is that, though she will, I’ll never meet the criteria of a standard American beauty.

And maybe that’s freeing for me.

I am already flawed in too many ways for the shallow guys. If someone is going to love me, they’re going to love me for who I am, so I won’t have to get face lifts, or tummy tucks, or breast lifts.

I don’t know if that person exists, and it’s a bummer if they don’t, but I have created a life for myself where I’ll be happy either way. And that is all that I can do, right?

A man hurt me, and he hurt me badly, but, though he might try, I am doing my best to keep him from owning me forever.

When I saw my messy hair and clean face in the mirror this evening, I didn’t hear his voice. Instead, I heard my own voice piping in.

My voice said, “You look pretty.”

Maple creemie

 

On Abuse That Isn’t Domestic

I have written a lot about the English department where I am getting my PhD. I have found some of my greatest joys in this department. I adore my dissertation advisor who has been so kind and stable for me, but has also helped me to grow as a writer in an infinite number of ways. I know that I would not be the writer that I am today if I did not have this advisor. And then, there are so many other faculty mentors that I have grown under.

There is my Postcolonial/Transnational professor who taught me about shame, and inarticulation, and generational trauma. I received my first book offer while on break from his three hour graduate seminar, and I was shaking. at the end of class, he said, “May I give you a hug?” And it was the kindest thing that he could have done because I wanted that hug.


There are others, but I don’t want to single them out because my department is so divided right now that I cannot draw attention to the generosity of certain faculty members without incurring the jealousy/anger of other faculty members who have not, as of late, been on the right side of history.

And in this situation, yes, there is a right side and a wrong side.


There is more information in the case against the predatory professor in my department. None of this information comes as a surprise to me, but it has finally hit the news.

I really can’t single out a quote from that article, but here are some highlights: There is a seventh Title IX complaint against Escobedo–this time from a faculty member. The complaint alleges that the faculty member reported the harassment to the then-departmental chair, Joe McLaughlin, who dismissed the allegations and said that, Escobedo was “just like that.”

Perhaps, most telling is that the climate survey from 2006 (which the department had sent out in response to a complaint about Andrew Escobedo’s sexual harassment) that had disappeared has mysteriously surfaced (Surprise, Escobedo had it!), and the survey shows that a majority of the female graduate students in the department did not feel safe.

How am I not supposed to feel betrayed by all of this? How am I supposed to feel safe in this environment?


I am at the Vermont Studio Center on a fellowship stay. It has been lovely so far. I have a room, and a gorgeous studio with a riverfront view. They make us such good food, and everyone is so nice. I am surrounded by visual artists and writers, and I feel understood.

Yesterday, I was sitting in my studio, and it hit me very suddenly that I did not feel stressed. I could not think of the last time that I did not feel stressed. So much has happened to me in the past few months–I turned in my book, I messed up my hips from overexercise, and I had to move from one home to another.

None of that even broaches what I’ve dealt with in my personal life.


Today, I slept until late into the morning. I skipped breakfast, got a cup of coffee, walked around, then went to lunch.

At lunch, a woman and I compared PhD programs. She said, “Well, you know that you have a domestic abuser as a PhD student there, right?”

I stopped, fork in mid-air. “Do you know what I’m writing about?” I asked.

She looked at me and said, “No, why?”


And then she told me the story, and I will not write it here because it is not my story to tell, but it is bad, and it is as bad as my own, and my heart hurts so much that these stories keep finding me.

So I came back to my studio, and I texted a friend who had been involved with the abuser, and I told her that I had something to tell her, which I planned on telling her in person, and of course she asked that I call her immediately, which I did, and she then told me things that validated what the other woman had told me.

And my heart hurts–not because I care about the abuser (he was a friendly acquaintance, but not a friend), but because I am tired.

I am a part of this little community, and it is so divided, and that division hurts, and it is going to get worse now.


After my phone conversation, I chatted with my best friend for a while. I wrote to her about what I had heard, about how much that upset me.

She wrote to me that I need to give myself permission to not worry about that stuff while I am on my residency.

I wrote her that being here, and not feeling stressed, has given me time to think (and I have only been here for a day!) I wrote that I have realized that being in my department is like being in another abusive relationship.

She, unsurprised, wrote back that she agreed.


Eight faculty members voted for Escobedo to keep his tenure.


Hallmarks of an Abusive Relationship:

Imbalanced Power Dynamic: My department has a voting block on the faculty that folks call the “Evil Eight.”

Isolation: Grad Students whose faculty mentors were part of the Evil Eight were implicitly or explicitly instructed not to involve themselves in movements to get rid of Escobedo, and there was real risk involved. (Losing the recommendation of a dissertation advisor is a death blow in academia.)

Diminishment: One of the Evil Eight questioned whether what a poet claimed was rape was really rape? Then, when the students said he was sexist, he responded by bringing all of the women individually into his office and and interrogating them as to who had turned him in. And then there are the micro-agressions–such as the female professor who left a card in my mailbox that said that they “didn’t know.”

Escalation: One of the Evil Eight snidely commented on a FB post of mine where I had named no names, “Are you being targeted directly? If so, you should file a Title IX report.” Later, another of the Evil Eight told me in the stairwell, “I gave you something you wanted,” (as though I should have been grateful for getting a scholarship that I earned). This is only what I received. I can’t imagine what the victims themselves survived.

Qualification: The excuses from The Evil Eight who said, He’s an alcoholicThink of his family! The same professor who questioned a student’s rape said this for an on-the-record article about the predator, “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,”


And here is where I’m going to get real: DON’T TELL ME THAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW. YOU FUCKING KNEW.

These white, middle-class faculty members living in comfort, had their worlds disrupted because they have a predator in their midst. That’s not cool,  but there is no way that they didn’t know.

I knew. All of the other graduate students knew. Faculty in other departments knew. Students in other departments knew. Townspeople knew.

Seriously, everyone knew.

If, at this point, you didn’t know, then you need to interrogate your own reality.


This is what I said to one faculty member who had been friends with Escobedo, but claimed that he “didn’t know”: “Did you really not know, or were you just participating in rape culture so much yourself that you didn’t see it?”

He said, “You know, you’re right.”

But the thing is that this guy had already established himself as being on the right side. He had already cut off his friendship with Escobedo. He had already done the necessary work of being an ally.


But I am here, still agitating, and I’m tired. I get the cold shoulder from faculty in the hallway. It’s either the cold shoulder or the overly friendly, “HELLO!”

I get passive aggressive cards in my mailbox, but more than anything, I achieve things that I know my department will never acknowledge. I also apply for awards that I know my department will bend over backwards not to give me. So I quietly delete OU from my Facebook profile. I don’t mention them in my bios. I won’t be thanking them in the acknowledgments of my book, though I will, with all gratitude, be thanking my advisor and committee.

I want to write something beautiful to sign off here, but I don’t have anything to offer. Sometimes, people look to me for something, and all I can offer is my very flawed self, eating an apple cider donut in my studio at 2 am.

Wisdom forthcoming.

On Closure

A year ago at this time, I was in Belgium. It was one of the loveliest periods of my life. I was readying to see some friends, then travel to San Francisco to stay and write in Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful home for two weeks.

When Rebecca had offered to let me stay in her home, I hesitated because I knew that, during that same time period River Guide was going to be in my hometown.

I knew that, when River Guide was in town, we would pretend to be a couple.

River Guide and I made a good pretend-couple. Maybe that’s why we did it for three summers in a row.


I knew that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like two weeks in Rebecca Solnit’s home for a guy who was only my pretend-boyfriend.

I knew that I had to place my own needs first.


He came to see me anyway. We sat by the river.

He said, “I don’t know what we’re doing.”


The other day, I went to a pub with my friend at 4 in the afternoon. We were going to have a beer and work. We took our laptops. Then, another friend joined us, and we closed the laptops. We had another beer. We ordered some nachos but not dinner.

At 9pm, I had the idea to text a guy that I knew. At 10:00 pm, the pub closed, and he said, “I am going to walk you home.” I cuddled up to his arm while he pushed his bike. He came in, visited with my pets, then left, and I went to bed.

Later, I told my mother the story.

She said, “You two need to talk about what you are doing.”


I told my best friend more of the story, and she said, with genuine fatigue in her voice, “You are bending over backwards to make excuses for this guy.”


On Saturday, I finished my first round of book revisions. I worked in the bakery where I often go. I added some scenes with my parents in the final chapters, and I started weeping.

I furtively wiped away tears in the corner.

I hit the end of my writing and thought, This is good.

I hit “send” to my editor.


And then I felt this intensity of emotion that I can’t explain. I couldn’t tell if I was happy or sad. Only that I felt euphoric and miserable. That I wanted to break into sobs. That I wanted to run a marathon.

Mostly, I felt grief.

I thought, I have to let this story go. 

I thought, I have to move on now.

I thought, I have to move on by myself

I thought, I am all alone in this.


I went to the grocery store. I stood in line in a fugue state.

I was completely out of it when I heard, “Hey, Kelly.”

It was the guy who had walked me home the week before. I told him that I had turned in my book and was feeling a little overwhelmed. He asked if I was going to go out and celebrate.

I hesitated for a long while, thought of what my friend had said about me bending over backwards, then said, “I have not really thought about it.”

He said, “Well, if you want to meet up, I will celebrate with you.”

I said, “I will think about it.”

I texted him when I got home.


We sat in my backyard and talked. Fireflies danced in the bushes. A fat Mimosa tree hung blossoms above our heads.

He said, “You said that your book is personal, and it’s a sad story, and I know that it’s a memoir, so I don’t want to pry, but is this about recent events?”

And then, I told him my story. I told him about why I decided to write my story. I told him that I wanted to write about how I stayed out of love, and not fear.

He said, “Everyone must be really happy for you.”

“Everyone, but my ex-husband,” I said.

“Fuck that guy,” he said.

 


I didn’t tell him that, during the week before, Caleb and I had argued. Caleb is moving, and I had asked him for details. Because we share custody of Reed, he’s legally required to disclose those details, but he wouldn’t share.

I said to Caleb, “I think that you hiding this information is an abusive tactic that is intended to make me feel powerless.”

He said, “Yeah, you just go fuck yourself.”


I broke into angry sobs. I was angrier at myself than I was at him. I was angry at myself for caring.

But what I realized is that it is not normal to tell another adult, no matter who that person is, to go fuck themselves. I realized that no one in my life would talk to me that way now, but that, for so many years, I lived with a man who talked that way to me almost daily.

I realized that I have been blessed with an opportunity for reinvention.

I realized that I have been blessed with an opportunity for safety.


Reed told me that, after Caleb told me to go fuck myself, his new wife took Caleb outside.

I wondered how she felt about being married to a man who tells his ex-wife to go fuck herself.

I knew that she probably thought that I had brought it upon myself.

I knew that this move will likely isolate her. I knew that she will be away from her friends and family now.

I knew that her time was coming.


In my backyard, I told that guy, “I live in a really calm home now. My son and I get along great, and we live in a quiet way.”

He looked back at my house, at the double french doors that lead into the dining room, at the wooden deck with a grill on it, at the pond in the corner of the yard, at the lawn chairs. He held out his arm and motioned to all of it.

He said, “What you have done is incredible. You really have your shit together.”


I had to cut off communication with River Guide. I couldn’t be friends with him. I told him in January after Reed and I had dinner with him in Salt Lake City. When I had hugged him goodbye, Reed had said, “Mom, you stood on your tiptoes for him.”

River Guide and I had one more communication in April–a friendly text exchange, just to let each other know that we were doing okay.

I will always care about him, and maybe that’s the problem.

All I know is that I needed to put my own needs first.


When the guy who visited the other night got up to leave, I said, “Are you sure that you don’t want another beer?”

He looked at me for a while, then said, “I deliberately didn’t ice my shoulder, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to stay.”

I thought, I don’t know what we’re doing.


The next day, my friend said to me, “What do you want?”

I said, “I want four weeks away, so that I don’t have to think about this.”

I thought, but did not say, I want to be the type of person who doesn’t bend over backwards to make excuses for someone.


Tomorrow, I leave for a two-week writer’s residency at Vermont Studio Center. Shortly after I return, I leave for another two-week writer’s residency at Mineral School. By the end of those four weeks, my book should be going into production.

And then, I can move on. I can start a new project.

Maybe I can finally have closure.

Still, no matter how much things stay the same, my life keeps growing, keeps blossoming outwards.

Maybe I can finally have closure, but more likely, it will be an opening.