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.

On Fear

Reed said, “I don’t think I’ll ever have a stepdad.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I think you’re just going to always be single,” he said.

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Because I’ve heard you say that.” he said.


Then he got very serious, and he said, “But I feel like you would be afraid. I have a hard time imagining that you would want to try that again after what happened with my dad.”

Reed is usually right.


I am afraid, and at this point, I don’t even know what I’m afraid of.


Am I afraid of being alone? Am I afraid of being with someone? Am I afraid of being with the wrong person? Am I afraid of being with the right person? Am I afraid of being a failure? Am I afraid of being successful? Am I afraid of not getting an academic job? Am I afraid of getting an academic job? Am I afraid of not publishing my book? Am I afraid of publishing my book?


The truth is that I am afraid of it all, and I am so tired of being afraid.


I had dinner plans with someone tonight, and he cancelled, but he waited until the last minute to do it, which peeved me.

A good friend stepped in and went to dinner with me, but as we were leaving the restaurant, a car drove by and almost veered into the car in front of us.

We nearly watched a head-on collision, then the car that was driving wildly veered around us, sped up, and gunned up a one-way street.

It was all very deliberate.

The car in front of us pulled over, and I pulled in behind it because I assumed that it knew what to do. Then, I realized that I wasn’t even in a parking spot, so I pulled out very slowly, and I looked at the driver, and he and I just stared at each other.


The driver of that dangerous car didn’t seem to be drunk. He had too much control (veering away from the car he was going to ram just in time). I told my friend that, to me, the situation looked like domestic violence.

I said, There was probably a woman in the passenger seat. He probably wanted to scare her. Being in control of a car is the ultimate control.

I said, I know this because Caleb did this. Maybe once. Or maybe twice. I don’t know. Maybe more times than that.


My friend laughed nervously, which was the proper response because my tone, as usual, was matter of fact, though I was describing something horrific.


I no longer feel fear in the same way that others do.


Last summer, at this time, I was in Europe.

The night before I left for Europe, I stayed with the only man I’ve actually cared about since Caleb. That man picked me up from my bus. We had dinner. We laughed. We watched some HBO. Then, I sat closely to him.

Then, we stayed up all night.

The next day, I went to the airport. I had a book advance shortly behind me, a residency ahead of me, and I had been fucked the night before.

I got a massage and a glass of wine at the airport.


I thought that I could escape my past, but I cannot escape my past.


So many people reach out to me about my writing. I am having some difficulty responding. I have real friends I have not written back to because I am so overwhelmed. People I have never met send me letters and presents. I am so blessed. Who else can claim to be so loved?


I do not deserve this love, yet I am afraid of losing it. Because, no matter what I receive in the mail, I am here.

On my couch alone in the early morning after someone has cancelled dinner plans with me.


When Caleb and I were together, he drove me everywhere–to the grocery store, to work and back.

He drove me to the point that I grew fearful of driving.

When I left him, I had to learn how to drive again, but then, I drove across the country, almost 4,000 miles, by myself, and I don’t think that’s something that a lot of women can say.


Suddenly, my fears felt conquerable.


And soon, one day, I was driving in the Badlands of South Dakota by myself.

The sky was large, and the grasses were full. The highway cut through the landscape like a ruler, and I was following its direction.

I have never regretted my decision.

I may be afraid, but I am not scared.

 

On Growth

What is the difference between growth and change? Change is something that happens to us, and growth is something that we create ourselves.


Reed woke me up this morning. He is a morning person, and I have trained him to wake me up. We then packed him for summer camp, and I let him mostly pack himself, which meant that he was overpacked, and I knew that he was overpacked, but I wasn’t sure in what ways that he was overpacked, so I didn’t intervene.

The truth is that I do not know how to be a mother.

I didn’t have a baby and then just know how to be a mom, you know?


I read all of the books. I did everything right–according to the books–and I intuited the rest, but my parenting intuition was crummy when I started out.

And then, Caleb stepped in. Caleb knew everything, it seemed. And soon, he was the better parent, the better partner, the better person.


And, soon, I was just crying in the bed and wondering what happened to the strong woman who married Caleb.


After Reed was fully packed, I took him to brunch at a local restaurant. We ran into a woman, and she asked me about my book. She said, “I finally read your essay. That’s what the book is like, right?”

I explained to her that the essay and the book are different, that the book necessarily references a lot of what happened in the essay, but so much more happens. I explained all of this without ever saying directly what the essay and book are about. Still, Reed stood there next to me. He has an iPad. He could find that essay if he wanted.


That is why I had already told Reed, “My book is about your father’s abuse of me.”

At the time, Reed said, “I already knew that.”


Reed and I had to move out of our house in the holler because my landlord and his wife were separating. They came over to say goodbye, but hadn’t yet told their children about the separation.

I said to Reed, “[The boy] doesn’t know, so don’t say anything.”

Reed said, “He might know.”

“Why?” I asked.

Reed said, “Because kids know. We can tell.”

His face was serious.

I knew what he was referencing.


When that family came over to say goodbye, the boy wouldn’t look at us. He asked to leave early, even though we had only been there for a moment.

He knew what he was saying goodbye to (and it wasn’t Reed and me).


When we had moved into that house, I thought that we were the broken family moving into the shadow of the perfect family.

I wanted to be in that shadow.

I wanted to believe.


Maybe if we were in the shadow, we could someday be in the light.


My landlord would come and fix the sink, or the outlet, or whatever. Reed would stand by him and talk to him, hand him tools. It felt like Reed had this father figure.

The boys would run between each others’ homes.


In all honesty, I have been unreasonably devastated by the break-up of my landlords.

I wanted what I thought they had.


All of these years of growth, and what has it gotten me?

Or anyone?


How does our growth measure up against circumstance?

How does our growth measure up against change?


I sent Reed off to summer camp this morning. He wanted to do this camp with his best friend, and I had asked Caleb if he would let Reed do it. I said that I would pay (I make a lot less money than Caleb), and Caleb only needed to drive Reed, but Caleb refused, and it turned into an ugly argument. He said that he couldn’t possibly drive for that long, and he alienated his child in the process.

In the end, because I knew that it was so important to Reed, I offered up my own time with Reed. Reed told me that, when he got to his dad’s, his dad said, “I would have driven you,” as though Reed wouldn’t have remembered what his father had previously told him.


Reed is smart.

At one point, he said to me, “I’m pretty sure that my dad’s an alcoholic, but he says that he’s never been drunk. He’ll ask me to bring him six beers in a day, then tell me that he’s only had three.”

We were in the car on the way to school–not the place for deep conversations–but I said, “When your father says stuff like that, you are allowed to believe your eyes and not what he says.”

“I know,” he said. “My dad is kind of a liar.”

How does one explain gaslighting to a child?


I revised the worst written chapter of my book tonight. It had been the most painful chapter to write. I had called it “Playlist For a Broken Heart,” and it included an annotated playlist that Caleb had made for me when I had seriously considered leaving him for the first (maybe second or third time).

I had initially quoted the playlist verbatim, then my agent advised me to just pick one or two songs and show the moments in scene.

She told me not to shy away from the sexual chemistry that I had with Caleb.


Here’s the thing: When I initially transcribed the words of Caleb’s annotated playlist, I sobbed.

But describing those moments in more detail and in-scene made me sob even more.

I described the flimsy shirt I wore the first night that Caleb slept at my house with me.

I described the way I could always turn on Caleb, just by putting on that shirt.

I described the Valentine’s Day when I wore that shirt and stripped for him.

I described the way that my hands dug into his back as he came into me again, and again, and again.


I broke down sobbing at my writing desk.


The revised chapter is titled “I Left You Crying, or We Fit Together, or A Playlist For a Broken Heart.”


I hate him, but in a way, I still love him.

No one yet has excited me like he did, and at this point, I don’t think anyone will.


Caleb’s father used to talk about his ex-wife, about how much she had hurt him, about how awful she had been. He used to say to me how, at his own mother’s funeral, his ex-wife had told him that she would never love anyone like she had loved him. He said this with both glee and disgust.

Even back then, when I was still married to Caleb, I remember thinking, I don’t want to be her.

I remember thinking,  I am already her.


While I was typing the previous paragraphs, Caleb texted me “Thanks. Reed looks so happy” (about a photo of Reed at summer camp that I had sent him).

That was when I broke down sobbing.


I am already her.


My husband–my person–the person who was my person–has a new family, and I am not allowed to grieve that because he abused me, and I am the idiot who allowed that abuse to happen, and who continued to have feelings for him after he abused me, and who still stupidly cares what he is up to after all of this time, and who left him and freed him up to meet someone cuter and younger, and possibly with a better disposition.


I am the person who is still alone, though he is not.


I have changed, but have I grown?

I honestly don’t know.

On ———

1/30/2014

Dear Officer ——,

On November 20, 2012, my husband who was the Resident Faculty Leader of Summit Hall was arrested for Domestic Battery. I would like to take some time to express some concern to you about the police handling of that case.

My husband had thrown a bowl at me, which shattered against my foot and resulted in a very serious injury that left me in a cast for a month. I called 911 because I was panicked. At that point, he had been battering me regularly for a very long time. As I’m sure you know, domestic violence victims generally don’t report it until the behavior has become very, very dangerous.

I spoke with Officer —–, and my husband spoke with the other officer whose name I don’t remember.  Officer —— asked me if my husband had ever hit me before, and I admitted that he had, but I begged Officer —— not to arrest my husband, as I loved him and did not want him to lose his job. Officer —— then asked me to describe the events as they had occurred, and I said that I was walking away from my husband, and he threw a bowl at me. Officer —– said “I understand. These things happen. Things get crazy. It happens with my wife and me too.”

I did not say this, but I thought “Do you beat your wife too?”

Despite my serious injury, Officer —— then said that they would send my husband to his parents house for a couple of days to “calm down.” He then asked me if he could see my driver’s license. When I stood up, I was unable to walk. I hobbled into the other room to get my driver’s license.

At that point, the other officer saw my foot. He said “Ma’am, can I look at your foot?” As he was looking at my foot, he looked to Officer —– and said “That’s bad. That looks broken.” The other officer then asked me what had happened.

Again, I described the events as they had occurred, I was walking away, and he threw the bowl at me. Officer —— then said, “Well, did he just knock the bowl off of the counter and it hit your foot?”

I was confused because I had just described what had happened, and I said “No, he threw the bowl at me.”

The other officer then asked if my husband had a phone number they could reach him at, and I realized that they were going to arrest him. They went outside and waited for my husband to return, and during that time, I called my husband and told him they were going to arrest him. My husband then left his phone on, either on purpose or by accident, and I could hear everything that happened. The other officer said, “Did she hit you too?” My husband said no. The other officer then said “Because we can arrest her too.”

At that point, both my husband and I had told our stories, neither of us had said anything about me hitting him, and still, the officer offered to arrest me. I have researched this issue, and I have learned that an officer is never supposed to make that kind of suggestion if it is not brought up on its own.

Later, when my husband returned from his arrest, he told me that he had written a statement where he admitted to throwing the bowl. Officer —–, however, wrote a statement where he said that my husband had knocked the bowl off of the counter and it hit my foot. This was in direct contradiction to what both the victim and the offender had stated. I do not know if Officer —-= was trying to protect my husband, or if he was trying to protect himself because he realized that he never should have sent my husband away, but he was clearly trying to protect someone.

The conduct in this situation was so egregiously wrong, unethical, and reveals a lack of training in regards to domestic violence. Domestic violence can happen at all ages, and it is important for campus police to be trained in that area.

When I spoke with Officer —–, I still loved my husband and wanted to remain married to him, so I didn’t want him to arrest my husband, but that is symptomatic of the domestic violence relationship, and I was clearly in a dangerous situation. It was Officer —-‘s responsibility to protect me, and instead of protecting me, he protected a violent and dangerous man.

I have since left and divorced my husband, and I live in another state. The past 14 months have given me the time and perspective to see how wrong the situation I lived in was, and also, how much police misconduct contributes to the pervasive and systemic problem of domestic violence in our country.

I hope that you will deal with this issue, and I am going to work to educate others about my situation so that this does not happen to someone else in the future.

Sincerely,

Kelly Sundberg

 

Dear Officer ——,
I forgot to include my photos of the injury in question.
Sincerely,
Kelly Sundberg
 •

I will have an internal affairs investigation start and one of command staff should be in touch with you.  We will keep you posted on our investigation.  Thank you for contacting me.

Ms. Sundberg,

I am Lt. —– with the West Virginia University Police Department. I am an investigator that has been forwarded a copy of an e-mail that our department received, reference concerns you had with the campus police handling of domestic violence, particularly an incident in which you were involved with in November of 2012, reference case # 12-0016621. I have been assigned to formerly investigate this complaint.

I have included in this e-mail a copy of our form for filing a report of complaint against police personnel, which I will need you to complete and send back to me. I will also need to speak with you sometime to verify your identity and clarify details of your complaint. It is my understanding that you are now residing out-of-state, so I will need you to give me a call at your convenience at the number listed below, as I do not have a current contact number for you.

Lt. ———-

[Scheduling and logistical stuff redacted]

Hello, Lt. ——-,

Could you please scan the police report and email it to me? I would like to read it since I have received different information from you than I had from my ex-husband about what is contained in it.
Thank you.
Best,
Kelly
I am not allowed to give out copies of reports to anyone. I will forward your request on my supervisors.

Ms. Sundberg,

I have been authorized to send you a copy of the report along with a copy of the criminal complaint. They are attached to this e-mail. Any further questions or communications regarding this matter should be directed to my supervisor, Capt. ——–.

Police Report

[I never saw this police report until after the case was settled (two years later), and it is full of falsehoods from the police officer, including that I declined to show up for court (I didn’t even know that court was happening because no one, including the prosecutor, informed me.) Caleb also told me that he had written a statement in his own handwriting where he admitted to having thrown the bowl at me, but, despite that, the police officer said that Caleb had accidentally knocked the bowl off of the counter (though he had contradicted himself in his own report).]

Ms. Sundberg,

An internal investigation was conducted by Lieutenant ——- into your allegations of inappropriate and/or unprofessional police conduct against Sergeant—– concerning UPD Incident Report #12-0016621, Domestic Battery.

Both Sergeant ——- and the other involved officer, Sergeant ——–, were interviewed. Lt. —–= also spoke with you. At the conclusion of this investigation the facts show that all applicable department policies and State of WV laws were adhered to by both of our officers. No wrongdoing was found.

At the conclusion of this investigation, I find that your complaint is unfounded.

If you need or desire additional information please schedule an appointment with Chief ———— and myself at ——-.

Sincerely,

Major——-

Dear Major ——–,

I thought you might be interested in this essay, which I recently published, which has received a lot of attention. I did not realize when I filed my formal complaint that your officer had not recorded the fact that I had called 911. Instead, he said there was a complaint of a loud disturbance, which was not true [I received this information later from the prosecutor’s office]. That technicality, in large part, led to my abuser getting his charges mostly dismissed.
I am just so disappointed in your department’s understanding/handling of domestic violence. I hope that you will distribute my essay, and I hope that it will educate your officers on how difficult it is for victims to come forward.
Sincerely,
Kelly Sundberg

On Physical Pain

I have been struggling with pain for about five weeks. Not emotional pain, but physical pain. I ran some intervals a while ago, and I developed some pain that I thought was soreness, but it didn’t go away. A few weeks later, I went to see a doctor–not my doctor–and she diagnosed me with Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness and showed me a bunch of stretches. On Friday, I went and got a massage, and the massage therapist told me that she could feel a bunch of trigger points in my thighs, and I had obviously been working very hard. By Monday, I could barely walk, so I went to see my doctor this time. Her diagnosis was, I don’t know.

My doctor is very kind and empathetic. The world has brought so many kind and empathetic women into my life when I have needed them, and I found myself telling her that I really didn’t want to stop running because I have been using the running to manage all of the trauma that has come up from writing my book.

She asked me, “Do you think that the trauma is what is causing this pain?”

“Is that even possible?” I asked.

“Well, western medicine wouldn’t say so,” she said. “But I wouldn’t rule it out.”


In my book, I have a chapter titled “His Ghost in Her Bones.” I talk about how Caleb has become a ghost in my bones.

And I guess I was right because what is wrong with me is that I have stress fractures in both of my hips.


My problem isn’t with my muscles, but with my bones.

I did everything right to strengthen my muscles, but my bones couldn’t take it.

Bones can’t really be made stronger.


My friend said tonight, “Have you been thinking about the metaphor of birthing this book and your hips being fractured?”

I haven’t, but she made a good point.


This book is too large.

It has broken me.


But this is not a story about my book.

This  is a story about a woman who will walk around on fractured hips for five weeks.

This is a story about a woman who will finish teaching her classes, and throw multiple parties, and pack her house, and move to another house, and unpack most of that house, and send her son off to spend the summer with his father, and spend time with friends, and walk her dog every night, and flirt with multiple people (and even make out with one of them), and cook delicious meals, and work on book revisions, and write blog posts, and all of this will happen while her hips are broken.


This is a story about a woman who does not know how to feel physical pain.


Last night, I walked by a piece of broken glass from a picture frame that a friend had accidentally stepped on. The glass shard sliced through my calf. It was a pretty nasty looking wound, nasty enough that my friend wanted to take me to the ER, but I just slapped a bandaid on it.

Still, later, I broke down crying. I said, “My body is in so much pain already. I don’t think I can take anymore.”

That was the first time I had articulated how much physical pain I am in.


At the beginning of the physical therapy session, I could tell that the physical therapist didn’t take me very seriously. By the end, he took me very seriously.

He told me that I need to rest. He told me not to run at all, that I need to avoid walking, even.

I cried on my way to the car.

I called my mother. She said, “Just give yourself 48 hours on the couch, okay?” By the end of our conversation, she had modified that to 24 hours because it was clear I was never going to give myself 48 hours on the couch.

I told her that I would do as she said.

I hung up the phone and went to the gym.


When I walked in to the gym, a professor at the front desk said, “Did you get your shirt?” (It’s a shirt for having gone to the gym over a 100 times in a year.)

I have gone to the gym 166 times in the past nine months.


Throughout this process, I keep being asked to rank my pain on a scale of 1-10, but I am at a loss as to how to do this.

I asked the nurse, “Is 10 like childbirth? What do these numbers represent?”

I said, “My pain when I run is a 7. No, maybe just a 5. Or maybe only a 3.”

I said, “I don’t know what my pain is.”

She said, “It’s just for our records. Just give me a number.”

I said, “Okay, the number is 6.”


Today, the physical therapist said, “When you run, the pain is a 7 or 8, isn’t it?”

I said, “Yes, it’s a 7 or 8.”

(I had just needed his confirmation to believe it.)


How is a woman who has had to learn how to not feel physical pain supposed to rank her pain on a 1-10 scale?

Is a 1 a push? A shove?

Is a 2 a grab at the arm?

Is a 3 being pressed against a wall?

Is a 4 being shoved into a wall?

Is a 5 being being punched in the arm?

Is a 6 being punched in head?

Is a 7 having hair ripped out?

Is an 8 being punched in the face?

Is a 9 being hit with an object that has been thrown?

Is a 10 that one time that I was on my stomach, and he punched me so hard right in the middle of the spine that, no matter how much I disassociated, I couldn’t not feel it?


I find that the blog posts that get the most traction are the ones that have some kind of empowering ending.


This is not that story.

This is a story about a woman who doesn’t know how to feel or identify pain anymore.

This is a story about a woman who broke her hips because she was running away from her trauma brain.


This is a story about a woman who has been running for too long.

This is a story about a woman who doesn’t know how to stop running.

This is a story about a woman who doesn’t want to run anymore.

On Trauma Brain

I miss the rain in the holler. This new house is beautiful, but there are so many boxes that need to be unpacked. Meanwhile, I need to make revisions on my book. In a grand, symbolic gesture, the vintage doorknob to my office has come unscrewed, and I cannot even get into that room.

My mother tells me to slow down. To relax. She tells me not to push myself so hard


I never once saw my mother slow down.

She has always been the fiercest person I know.

She, too, is a trauma survivor.

Both of her parents died when she was a child, and I have no idea what she endured beyond that, though I can make some guesses.


I sent an email to a former friend (of mine and Caleb’s) recently.

I wrote:

I saw that you’re still friends with Caleb on Facebook. How does it feel to be friends with the wife abuser on Facebook? It’s just you, —-, and —-, so you’re in good company.

—- tried to add me as a friend recently. I turned his request down and messaged him that I don’t “friend” people who have raped my friends. The entire process (for me) was super easy. Unfortunately, rape is really hard. That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to supporting survivors   (and not their rapists).

I hung out with —-at AWP. Now that guy is a real man–not afraid to support a survivor of assault when she tells him she needs it.

I guess what we’ve learned from this is that no woman will ever tell you what to do. I mean, even when a woman has loved and valued you and told you that she needs you to not be friends with the man who almost killed her, you just go your own way and stay friends with that man.

Fuck all of the bitches who try and impose their needs on to you, right?

I think The Onion wrote an article about you recently. You probably posted it ironically. I always loved your ironic sense of humor.

Like when you claimed to be a feminist, that gave me the biggest guffaws of all.


I don’t know why I felt this need to persist with this friend after he failed me. My trauma brain makes me fixate on certain people who have “wronged” me. My trauma brain doesn’t let those people go.


Trauma brain makes things from the past feel so present.

Trauma brain also erases so much.

Trauma brain leaves the highlights, and the rest feels like background noise.


When I think of Reed’s childhood, I feel, so vividly, Caleb’s fist cracking on to my skull, but I barely remember Reed’s first steps.

Still, that memory of Caleb’s fist fades a little more every year.


Trauma brain is the great equalizer. I remember little of my child’s younger years, but I also remember little of the abuse.

My therapist has explained to me that my trauma brain is part of what keeps me sane. My trauma brain is erasing the memories because they are too painful for me to live with.


Still, I miss the memories of my baby.


I had such a terrible fight with my parents on the day that I got divorced. I have written about this here.

The next night, my mother, father, and I drove to the Texas Roadhouse to eat, and in the car, I said that I hope that Reed gets a good stepmother. My own mother told me then that she had a stepfather she loved, and my father said, “What?

My father who had been married to my mother for almost forty years didn’t know she’d had a stepfather.

She only had that stepfather for a year before her mother died, and then, she lost him too.


My mother has kept her own losses closed up tightly inside of her.


For the past few weeks, Reed has been lamenting how he doesn’t want to go to his dad’s for the summer.

On Friday, he went to his dad’s.


Today, on the anniversary of my wedding to Caleb, Reed became a brother.

Caleb finally got that second child that he wanted. The child that I almost had with him–that I tried to have with him–until I held my hands over my stomach and thought “If I am pregnant with Caleb’s child, I will cut this child out myself.”

That was just before I left Caleb.


 When I left Caleb, people said to me, “If you met the right person, you could still have another baby!”


People have stopped saying that to me now.


Reed texted me updates of his stepmom’s labor all day. I know that he did this because he was excited, and I also know that he did this because I am the most important person in his life.

Even though the baby is his father’s, he wanted to share this with me because this is about him. His sent me a picture of the baby.

His final text said, “I am a brother now.”

And he will be the best big brother that little girl could ever have. I am so proud of him every day.


His teacher sent me an email the other day about Reed. She wrote, “As for Reed overall,  he is fantastic!  He is a great, well adjusted young man.  He always takes responsibility for his actions and is truthful, even if it is hard to do.  And yes, he is a very hard worker.”

I felt grateful to have such a great son. Later, I thought, “He has those qualities in spite of his father.”


I am glad that Reed wanted to include me on his journey of becoming a brother, but I am not glad that he included me on that journey.

He does not know this, but it has hurt to have to go along on that journey with him.


Sometimes I wonder how different my life would look now if I wasn’t still so tied to Caleb through Reed.

How much further in my recovery would I be?


Would I still be trapped inside of my trauma brain if I didn’t have the constant reminders of what was–and is–and could have been?


I got an email back from that former friend. He said that I had been right, that he had been making decisions out of stubbornness rather than his principles. He said that he had defriended Caleb as well as the other guy. He also indicated that he also had no desire to be friends with me again, then said that he didn’t want to seem patronizing, but that he hopes I have found some peace and happiness.

He did seem patronizing.

I thought, “You have finally chosen to live by your principles so many years later–at a time when no one cares anymore.”

I thought, “How convenient for you to maintain your status as a faux feminist by defriending an abuser that everyone else has already defriended.”

I thought, “This is all about your principles and still has nothing to do with what I needed from you as your friend.”

I thought, “At least I can finally put you behind me.”

I thought, “This, at least, is something I can have closure on.”


On days like today, it feels as though I will never have closure on my relationship with Caleb.


More than that, it feels as though he has completely rewritten his story, yet I am only writing the same story over and over again.


I gave a presentation at a writer’s retreat in New Mexico a while ago about writing on trauma. The presentation had to be short, so I focused on some questions that I thought would help writers assess whether they are ready to write about their trauma.

My final question was “Are you writing your way out of your wound or back into it?”

My own answer now is that I don’t know.


Today, it feels like Caleb has been doing so much living, and I have only been writing. While he has been remarrying and having new children, I have been writing.


When I was growing up, I thought of my mom as the fiercest, strongest person I knew, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

While I was packing, I found an interview that Reed had conducted with me in the third grade. He had asked me who my hero was, and I had said, “Grandma Kathy.” It was true. I am in awe of her strength.

I have never been strong like that.

Until now.


I am strong.


I started jogging after I left Caleb. I was, and am, terrible at it, but I have increased my intensity while I have been writing this book because getting my heart rate up seemed to help combat my trauma brain.

One of the themes of my book is that I was always someone who ran. I ran away whenever I wasn’t happy, but with Caleb, I didn’t run. I stayed.

I should have run.


Now, I actually run–not long or hard–but I run. And I have developed what my doctor diagnosed as DOMS–Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness–which is when the breakdown of the muscular tissue manifests later to cause physical pain.

DOMS is only supposed to last for up to 72 hours, but it has been plaguing me for over a month, and I keep thinking of how much this pain is like trauma. I can forget about it when I’m relaxing, but movement makes the pain so sudden, and sharp, and unexpected.

And I can’t escape this pain. The only thing that brings relief is when I run enough that I no longer feel it.


So I keep running.


The OED lists trauma as a noun, but, to me, trauma is not a noun.

Trauma is my verb.

On Genesis

Reed home

I am so tired. It is almost 1 a.m. here, and I have been up moving from one house to another since before 7. I stayed up packing until 2 am the night before.

The mover brought his wife and two kids, and all of them, without exception, worked hard. He had to rent a U-Haul because he had an issue with his trailer. His kids, both younger than Reed, were adorable and sweet, and they bonded with Reed. They turned the work into play, and Reed helped move things in a way that he wouldn’t have done if I had asked him to. Reed didn’t complain, and he hustled too, though not nearly as much as those kids did.


The wife was young, and tough, and hauled boxes that I could not have carried, but she was so tired at the end.


After the move was complete, I took Reed to get a pastry with me at a nearby bakery. I said, “They all worked so hard. I felt really lazy in comparison.”

Reed looked at me and said, “Same.”


Then, we ate our apple galettes.


I paid the man who moved us fifty dollars more than he charged me, but it still wasn’t as much as I should have paid. The U-Haul rental alone was probably that much. I’m realizing that I should have paid more.

I am painfully aware of money to the point of my detriment. I am incapable of not paying someone what they are worth, though I have very little money myself.


When I was a waitress, the poorest people always tipped the best.


Maybe this is how we poor folks stay poor.


I am no longer poor though.

Not, really.


I mean, I am poor compared to most of my friends, but I am not poor compared to my neighbors in the holler.


I have this resistance to claiming the word poor, and this resistance is not classism. It’s that I have lived and seen poverty.

Poverty is desperation.


Poverty is not deciding that I can’t afford to buy lawn furniture for the patio I now have.

Poverty is not calculating all of the ways that I can save money in my new house, even though the rent is more.


Poverty means dealing with a $500 heat bill in the winter rather than upgrading the furnace.

Poverty means managing gas prices and commuting prices from living in the country.

Poverty means larvae falling off of the ceiling, and birds trapped in the walls, and possums in the trash can, and rain pouring into the pasta pot in the middle of the kitchen floor, and mold, and sick kids, and a foot of snow to brush off of a car in the morning before driving the kid to school.

I have lived that life.


But now I have a house with a new furnace, and a reliable roof, and a two car garage.


Saving money is only for the middle class, you see?


I’m not sure sure what any of this has to do with genesis, except that genesis means an origin or beginning, and I am at a new beginning.

I am not poor, though also not not-poor.

I am at the beginning of being middle-class.


But that is not my real genesis here.

My real genesis is that, in the new house, I am not sitting in my usual place on the couch.


There are two coveted spaces on this sectional–the corner and the ottoman. Caleb’s favorite places were the corner and the ottoman, but I have rarely sat in either place.


Instead, I have found the most uncomfortable place on the couch where no one would have wanted to linger, and I turned that into my place because it was untainted by Caleb’s memory.


For four years, I have been sitting on the worst place on the couch as a way of avoiding Caleb’s memory.


I loved Caleb fiercely, and we were never not-touching.

I feel that the only people who understand are others who have been with someone so all-consuming.


I was consumed by Caleb, and it was the most beautiful consumption.


When he wasn’t beating me, he was treating me like a queen.

But who can ever measure up? Who can ever measure up to the man who did the “14 Days of Valentine’s” where he gave me thoughtful/funny/quirky gifts for fourteen days and made my own father grumble that Caleb was making all of the other men look bad?

Who can ever measure up to that?


When I knew that our relationship was coming to a close. I started having sex with him every night and sometimes during the day and night.

We were like newlyweds.


I didn’t want to leave him so soon, but he gave me no choice.


After leaving him, I thought, “If I had known, I would have had sex with him one more time.”

I think I even told him that later.


I still regret not having sex with him that last time (as though I would have known when that last time would have been).


The last night that Caleb and I spent together, I was too bruised and swollen to have sex. He touched me–so hesitantly–and I didn’t know what to do.

I didn’t want our relationship to be over, but it was over. He had hurt me too much by then.

Even I couldn’t stay.


Reed is very excited that we’re living in such a nice house now. Tonight, via Facetime, he gave Caleb a walking tour of our new house. I could hear him, and he said, “This is Mom’s office.”

Caleb said, Whoa, because my office is so nice.


If I could have said something to Caleb, I would have said, I have made this life on my own. I have provided this beautiful home for our child on my own. I have moved on from you on my own. I have learned how to survive on my own.

Too many times, he told me that I couldn’t do it on my own.


I’ve had to make a new life for myself–one where I’m not sitting in Caleb’s favorite seat, but also not avoiding his seat entirely.

So, instead, I am sitting on the ottoman for the first time in the four years since I’ve left Caleb. I am writing this blog post in a new place–a new house, a new neighborhood, and a new seat on the couch. This feels weird and unfamiliar, but I have gotten good at change.


This new life is hard, but it is not as hard as the old life, and I am born anew every time I am forced to make this kind of change.

Caleb’s ghost is still here, but I know that I am at a genesis.

He may be a ghost, but I am not.

I am alive.

 

On Fathers

This is probably the last blog post that I’ll write from the holler. The epilogue to my book is titled, “The House in the Hollow.” That is how much this house has affected me. It has been a good place for Reed, and for me, to grow. We have lived in seclusion, in peace, and it has been beautiful, but now, we’re moving into town, and I’m ready. I’m ready to open our lives up to more.

Reed home
Our new house

May is the month of Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is hard for me, always.

I still have all of my Mother’s Day cards from Caleb. The ones where he told me how wonderful I was, how much I loved our son, and how lucky he was to have me as the mother of his child.


I don’t know why I keep them.


Caleb forgot my first Mother’s Day. It wasn’t his fault. We were moving in with my parents for the summer. Reed was so small. We stopped on our drive and bought my mom a hanging plant, but Caleb didn’t think about the fact that I was a mother too.

I was hurt that he had forgotten me, and my own mother told me not to overreact. She was right.

She was often right, but also, often so very wrong.

Caleb ordered flowers for me that we couldn’t afford and they were delivered days later. When the florist delivered them, she said, “Keep that vase. That vase is Blenko glass. Your husband must really love you.”

Everyone in my hometown is poor, you see?


Blenko glass is made in West Virginia, but that bouquet was delivered to me in Idaho.

I didn’t yet know that West Virginia was my future.


All I knew was that the flowers felt like a gesture, and I had wanted something real.


Last year, at this time, I was preparing to go to a writer’s residency in Belgium. I was going to spend the rest of the summer in Idaho and at my favorite writer’s house in San Francisco.

I stayed with River Guide the night before my flight. We were just “friends” by then. Still, I sat close to him on the couch, and then, he put his arm around me, and then, I slept in his bed, and I could have loved him, but he didn’t feel the same way about me, which was something I had to live with because I wanted something real.


I am going to two writer’s residencies this summer. I received a full fellowship and stipend from the Vermont Studio Center, and I received a scholarship from the OU English Department to attend a residency at Mineral School, which is located at the foot of Mt. Rainier.

I met a friend for a beer tonight, and I told him that my regret is that I won’t have the time to go backpacking with my father this summer. I said that my father is a stoic and quiet man, and I feel like our backpacking trips are the only times that we really, really, talk. My friend told me that he had wanted to tell me for a while that, when I had read a chapter from my book a while ago at a reading series, he had resonated with the descriptions of my father. He said that he could feel the tenderness in my words.

I teared up, and my friend said “Maybe this was not the time to tell you that.”


My dissertation advisor wrote in his feedback to my book manuscript: “I know you worry about portraying your parents.  I think you’ve done an admirable and fair job. Your father seems human to me, not bad.”

Before that, my advisor had sent me an email that said that he had read for two hours longer than he had anticipated because he couldn’t put my book down. He said, “You have done an amazing job.”


A while ago, I admitted to my advisor that I don’t have a very tender father, and some of my faculty mentors have stepped up and taken on that role for me. I admitted that he (advisor) has become a kind of father figure to me, then I regretted that admission because I didn’t want him to feel old or fatherly, but he seemed touched, and I was glad that I said it.

Above all, I earnestly want to grow as a writer and academic, which I believe that he knows.


One of my favorite male faculty members voted for the sexual predator in my department to keep his tenure. It was hurtful to me and so many others. Someone recently told me that the predator was the best man in this faculty member’s wedding, but I still can’t wrap my head around this faculty member’s decision after the 80 page report that was released.

All I can think of is that his vote was symbolic. Everyone knew by then that the predator was going to lose his tenure. So what did those symbolic votes that supported the predator achieve?


The vote was supposed to be anonymous, but we know. We know how people voted.

If there is anything to be learned from this, maybe it is that “anonymous” voting is never actually anonymous in such a cloistered setting.

Also, maybe faculty members should have to stand behind their votes. Maybe they would vote differently then.

Also, if they “anonymously” vote to support a sexual predator, then they are still supporting a sexual predator.

Also, that we grad students don’t give a fuck if that vote was supposed to be “anonymous.”

Also, we only give a fuck about our safety and the safety of our students.


Two of my favorite faculty members asked me recently if this stuff in the department is going in my book. My response was, “No, this is going in my next book.”

Still, it is not my story to tell.

There are two young, very brave, survivors who can tell this story, and I will not steal it from them.


Caleb’s new wife is due to have her baby in a week. Reed told me “She could have the baby on dad’s birthday!” which is May 22. I restrained myself from saying, “Or on our wedding anniversary,” which is May 21.

And then, I thought, “Oh god, please don’t let her have the baby on our wedding anniversary.”

The symbolism would be too much.


I talked to a friend the other night and said, “I don’t care anymore about Caleb, but I feel sad that he is having another baby.”

My friend said, “Well, he gets to have another baby, and you don’t. He can have a new family, but that is something that you will never get to have.”

And then I started crying.

Because she’s right.


I love being a mother.

I wanted to have another baby, and that is not a wish that will ever be fulfilled for me, but Caleb gets to live my dream with someone else.


I still live other dreams. I go to writer’s residencies in Belgium, Vermont, and Washington. I spend time in my favorite writer’s Victorian house in San Francisco. I write a book, and my dissertation advisor says that I have done “amazing work.”


But I am alone for all of this.


When Reed was tiny, I nursed him and memorized all of the details around me so that I would never forget.

Already, I think I knew that he would be the last baby I nursed.


My mother told me once that she had struggled with postpartum depression after my brother was born. I had expected her to have been depressed after she had me because she had always, so obviously, favored my brother.


Leaving Caleb revealed the fractures in my relationship with my parents. Maybe they weren’t even fractures. Maybe they were caverns.

Maybe we will never be able to traverse this distance.


Recently, my mother said, “You were not an accident. We waited for you. You were planned. You were always wanted.”

And I wondered what it would have felt like to have always felt wanted.


Which leads me to this: Will I ever be able to forgive myself for not forgiving my father?

My father didn’t believe me. He didn’t believe me, and I don’t know how to move past that, though I’m trying.


My parents have done the best that they could, and they are good parents. I know this, and I love them. I am aware that not everyone has loving parents.


It is so difficult to be a mother, yet seems so easy to be a father, though I know this can’t be true.


Last summer, my father, brother, and I backpacked in the Sawtooth Wilderness. We hiked 23 miles in three days. At the summit, I kept trying to take panoramic photos. We were at almost 10,000 feet. I held my phone and swept it around, but the photos kept coming out shaky.

The only constant was my father. No matter how shaky the photo was, he still stood there looking into the distance.

Solid.

Immovable.

Safe.

Dad

On Pre-Existing

Yesterday, I picked Reed up from school and NPR was playing in the car. They were talking about a bill in Ohio that would make abortion illegal, and I was listening intently because I care. Reed was in the backseat happily munching on a donut that I had brought him from a meeting at work, and suddenly, he said, “Mom, what is that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Abortion,” he said.


I paused, then turned off the radio.

I said, “When a woman gets pregnant, the egg is fertilized, and if that woman carries that fertilized egg to term, she will have a baby, but sometimes, she does not want to have a baby, so she chooses to terminate that pregnancy. A doctor will give her a pill or do a procedure, and the pregnancy will be over.”

I said, “This is controversial because some people believe those fertilized eggs are already babies, and that is called the ‘pre-existence,’ but that is not what I believe, and I believe that women should be able to choose what to do with their bodies. They should be able to choose whether they want to have a baby or not.


Reed said, “I believe that too. I wouldn’t want to be the kid with a mom who hadn’t wanted him.”


And I thought of how I have written pretty honestly about how my first impulse when I I found out I was pregnant with Reed was to have an abortion, but then, Caleb talked me out of it, then my brother said that he would support me no matter what I wanted, and finally, my mother said, “You are 27. You are not a teenager. You can raise a child.”

And my mother’s words indicated that she knew the truth about me.

The truth was that I wanted to have the baby, or I wouldn’t have even told my mother I was pregnant.


I wanted to say to Reed, You were always wanted.


But of course, it has never occurred to him that he might not have been.


My mother is a very religious woman, but in many ways, she doesn’t fit the model of contemporary American christianity. Maybe this is because she was raised in poverty.

She raised me to be pro-choice, and when I asked her why (because I knew it was in opposition to the beliefs of our church), she told me that it wasn’t because she believed that abortion was okay, but because she knew that, if abortion wasn’t legal, people would try to perform abortions themselves.


She told me that a 14 year old girl who grew up down the street from her died when her father tried to give her an abortion with a coat hanger.


Today, the House voted to make being a survivor of domestic violence a pre-existing condition.

They’re right. Being a survivor of domestic violence is a pre-existing condition. I wrote about that here.


In that post, I labeled myself B.C. (Before Caleb) and A.C. (After Caleb).

I wrote:

B.C. Kelly was this girl:

cropped-69bb6-001.jpg

I wrote:

A.C. Kelly misses that girl. That girl didn’t know what was coming.


I am inalterably changed.


I worry that, in my book, I have portrayed myself as being too vulnerable, as though violence was a disease that I would simply catch because of my weak immunity.

I am not entirely sure that my fears are unfounded.


If surviving domestic violence is my pre-existing condition, then what is his? What is the pre-existing condition of the man who ripped my hair out? Who punched me in the head? Who dragged me out from underneath the bed where I was hiding by my ankles? Who chased me into the street in his socks to keep me from getting away from him?

What is his pre-existing condition?


All along, more people have been interested in my pre-existing condition than his. And you know what?

I have done the work. I have gotten therapy. I have changed my life. I haven’t repeated my patterns.


Still, the man with no pre-existing condition is doing the exact same shit he’s always done.


Shortly after I left Caleb, his friend told me to identify my own triggers that caused me to stay in the relationship before it got unsafe.

She told me to identify my triggers then hosted a party for my abuser when he was in Boise and shushed him when he tried to tell her how bad the abuse had been because she preferred not to believe me

Even when he was willing to confirm my story himself, she chose to shush him because, to acknowledge what he had done, would have meant that she had failed me when I went to her.


Later, she wrote a self-congratulatory blog post about how she had learned that she needed to do more to understand survivors, and she hadn’t been sympathetic enough to me, but she still portrayed herself as having extended her own kindness beyond what was needed.

She portrayed it as a kind of I should have been sympathetic to her even though she was a horrible person who brought the abuse upon herself kind of post. When my friends commented that she was wrong, she deleted the post, and offered another, inadequate apology that essentially said the same things.


Always, all of us, want to think that we’ve done the right thing. Some of us will do the wrong thing in order to keep telling ourselves that we were right in the first place.


I keep using this woman as an example, and this is why: She is a peak example of how too many middle-aged white women have responded to me.

The consensus is this: Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.


I will never forget being put in a wheelchair after I had been walking on my broken foot for days.

I will never forget being laid on a table and pushed into an x-ray.

I will never forget the way that the male nurse looked at me so sadly, and the female doctor touched my foot so gently.

By then, I no longer knew what it was like to be treated with care.


Surviving domestic violence is a pre-existing condition of mine. It is the condition of resilience, of strength, of kindness, of mothering alone, and of humor.

But none of that would have happened if he hadn’t put me here.


How about we focus on the pre-existing conditions of the abusers instead?


And I say this to Patti (the blog poster) and all of the other women who have shamed me for being angry: You might forgive, and your forgiveness might win you the favor of some abusive men, and in that, you might have won the battle, but you have not won the war.

You will never win the war with forgiveness.

I don’t forgive.


I’ll forgive when all of the fights have been fought and won. I will forgive when my status as a survivor is no longer a pre-existing condition, but Caleb’s status as a wife batterer is.

I will forgive when this entire world has been upended.

Until then, I’ll keep fighting.

On Sadness

There is a thunderstorm in the hollow, and the house is shaking.

My little rescue dog, Teddy is  quivering by my feet. My new rescue cat, Bob, is confused by Teddy’s shaking and panting.

I like to rescue things.


My best friend recently told me that I need to stop rescuing men.


Teddy was a gift to me from Caleb.

Teddy was an apology after Caleb beat me.


Last night, I was talking to a guy in my program about dating after divorce. I had to tell him that I haven’t really dated. He is a blunt guy. He said, how long have you been divorced?

I was too embarrassed to answer.


I told another friend from my program that I will be here in Athens all summer and child-free.

She said, “I hope that you get a make-out session this summer!”

I said, “I hope that I get lots of make-out sessions!”

Then, “But all with the same person.”

Then, “That might be the most Capricorn thing I’ve ever said.”


I am inherently monogamous. I know this about myself, and in many ways, it makes my life hard. My ingrained monogamy propels me to try and rescue men rather than move on to someone else.


Right now, I am monogamous with myself.


Caleb gave me Teddy at a time when I was thinking of leaving.

Reed was six.

When Reed was four, and I almost left Caleb for real, we had this moment where we thought that we should have a baby.

We started having unprotected sex and just waited to see what would happen.

Nothing happened, thank god, but when that baby didn’t manifest, I had Teddy, my cuddly pup, to curl up in my lap.


At the end of my marriage, Caleb and I were having sex daily. It was intense, abuse sex, and it was cathartic and made me feel bonded to him, but it was also unprotected.

I remember laying in bed when my period was late, holding my hands on my stomach, and thinking, If I am pregnant with his child, I will cut this baby out myself.


Tonight, I picked up Reed at his after school program.

“Do I really have to go to my dad’s?” he asked.


I drove Reed to the 7-11 in Richie County, West Virginia. I accelerated to 70 when I hit the West Virginia border.

A huge truck that had a bumper sticker in the back window that read SPOILED OILFIELD WIFE still blew by me.


I pulled into the 7-11. I saw that Caleb had trimmed his beard.

I got out of the car, but Reed didn’t. He piddled in the backseat. He finally got out, and I hugged him, kissed him on his head, and said, “It will be okay.”


Last night, I made Reed dinner, and I’m going to be honest in that it was a pretty shitty dinner. I said, “I am going to make you mac and cheese.”

He responded, “Kraft, or the organic stuff?”

“The organic stuff,” I said (it’s almost always the organic stuff).

I had a random, left-over hot dog in the fridge, so I said, “Do you want a hot dog in it?
(I am not a junk food eater, and this kind of stuff isn’t common for me.)

He replied, “Yes!”

But then, as I was carrying the hot bowl to him, it slipped out of my hands, and I lost much of it, including most of the hot dog.

“There goes your hot dog,” I said. Teddy and Bob immediately pounced on what I had dropped.

Reed asked, “Are you going to let them eat that?”

I said, “Sure, let them clean it up!”

And then he responded, “If my dad did that, he would yell at me to clean it up, but if my stepmom did that, then she would clean it up herself.”


I was tired tonight and didn’t want to cook, so I ordered some take-out from my favorite place in Parkersburg, which is where Caleb’s family lives.

On my way, I saw a really sad looking convenience store that’s in a house, and I thought, “I have been in that place.”

But I haven’t.


I have felt so much sadness. While I was with Caleb, my sadness defined me. It was cloying.

Every time I enter West Virginia, I feel sick.

The same sadness always settles into my chest when I enter those broken mountains.


West Virginia wasn’t good to me.


I talked to a friend recently who mentioned my “love for life,” and it’s true. I am a person who loves and enjoys life.

When I look back at my marriage, it was defined by sadness, but I was young. I could handle the sadness then.

I can’t handle that kind of sadness now.

I still feel sad so often. I felt sad today, and yesterday, and the day before. But I cannot let my fear of sadness ruin me.


I was going to write, “All I can do is keep waking up,” but I realized that I’m doing way more than waking up.

I am engaging with human beings, supporting survivors of gender violence, writing a book that will, hopefully, help others, and still trying to be a good mother and friend.

I am dealing with my sadness in the most productive ways that I can.


Sometimes, I feel sad, and sadness hurts, but I am learning to allow that sadness.

Sadness, like all emotions, is transient.

It is okay to be sad.