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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Why I Cry

I remember watching the news from the comfort of my over-sized couch, crying while my son obliviously played with building blocks and his pink stuffed puppy. The Supreme Court had legalized same-sex marriage and, as the sunlight shined through our living room curtains, the world I was raising my son in seemed instantly better. I was hopeful about a more diverse, inclusive future; a future my son would be safe in, regardless of the sexual orientation he will eventually identify with; a future that my half-sister and my dear friend (my son's dear uncle) would be safe in and secure in and celebrated by, not discriminated against. While looking back to see if I was watching, my son saw me crying tears of joy and ran to me, kissing the salt from my cheeks. I hugged him and whispered that I loved him, pressing this moment into the back of my mind so I could always remember a time when I was hopeful.

I scraped my mind for that memory June 12, 2016 as I, once again, found myself watching the news and crying as my son obliviously played, this time with his favorite Elmo doll and a deflated-but-cherished balloon. A disheartened reporter was describing what is now known as the Pulse shooting; the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. I am trying to remember the sunlight and the hope and that love is love, while I hear that Omar Marteen targeted Pulse, a well-known gay club in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring an additional 53. I think about my half-sister and my son's dear uncle and my chest tightens, the way only unabashed and unbridled fear can do. My son, now a year older, once again notices my tears and runs to me, only this time, I don't have a smile to reassure him that my tears are happy ones. They're not. I don't have feelings of hope to wrap him in; I don't have optimistic visions about the future my son is getting closer to experiencing; I don't have much of anything, except the failing memory of a time when inclusion and acceptance and celebrating authenticity seemed to be the law of the land, not the target of hate and violence and senseless cruelty.

As my son kisses the salt from my cheeks, he must have tasted the difference between the tears I shed when marriage equality became part of the American experience, and the tears I can't stop shedding as I hear details of the worst shooting this country has ever see, specifically targeting the LGBT community. He climbs up next to me on the couch, places his small hand on mine and he tells me he loves me as he, too, starts to watch the news. He is too young to understand that 49 people have lost their lives because they chose to be who they are; that 49 families are without a loved one because that loved one chose to love whoever they wanted to and identified outside the gender norms our society has created; that 53 more people are fighting for the life a domestic terrorist flippantly decided they didn't deserve; that a place that offered safety and solidarity for so many, was attacked and, now, no longer safe; that many of the victims were Latin, celebrating a culture I and one day, hopefully, my son, am proud to be a part of. For a moment, I wonder if I should turn the television off or change the channel or, at the very least, stop crying in front of my son. What if I'm scaring him? What if I'm altering his perception of the world in a way that isn't beneficial, but harmful? What if I'm being a bad mother by exposing an otherwise innocent child, to the dangers of the world?

But as quickly as those thoughts entered my mind, they left. If I am going to let my son see me cry when our country does right by the LGBT community, and tries to right the wrongs of a past we cannot, and should not, pretend we didn't force so many to endure, I must let my son see me cry when the reality of our country's intolerance becomes violently apparent.

If I am going to tell my son that his half-aunt and the man who has become his uncle are free to love who they love and that love doesn't make them any less human, I must remind him that not everyone believes that; that not everyone sees them as human beings; that not everyone respects that love.

If I am going to celebrate inclusion and diversity with my son, I must let him see that some people actively fight against it.

If I am going to teach my son that all lives are valuable and all people have the right to love who they love, I must teach my son that there are people who do not value all people and will choose hate in the face of that love.

If I am going to cook Puerto Rican meals and teach my son Spanish and encourage my son to learn about a culture he was born into, I must show him how heartbreaking it is when that culture is attacked and the people he shares that culture with, killed.

If I'm going to show my son that love is worth celebrating, I must show my son that it is worth crying over when it is threatened, too.

As a mother, I pride myself on being strong for my son. I want to be the fortress he runs to when he is scared or unsure or simply in need of understanding and comfort. I want to be his sunlight shining through the curtains when the world seems both hopeful and hopeless; the imprint of better days that I am desperately clinging to right now. Sometimes, that means biting the inside of my cheek in an attempt to hold back tears, because my fears and worries shouldn't be his. Other times, and especially this time, it means crying in front of my son and letting him see that when one person celebrates love, we all do; and when one person attempts to kill that love, we are all affected.

I don't know what the future has in store; for my son, or any one of us. I don't know if my son will, one day, be targeted because of who he loves. I don't know if this country legalizing same sex marriage represented a real change for the LGBT community or us, as a society that claims to be constantly working towards equality and inclusiveness. But I do know that, as the tears continue to fall, and as my son squeezes my hand and tells me, one more time, that he loves me, that I am raising a human being who will hurt when others hurt, and fight for everyone's right to love whoever they choose to love.

I know that I'm reminding my son that we cannot simply throw our hands up and claim victory over inequality, just because a law has passed or a specific part of this country is more inclusive than others.

I know that I'm teaching my son that we cannot stop fighting for others, that we must continue to march towards equality until every single person in this country has the rights that so many take for granted, myself included.

I know that I'm teaching my son that even the most vile, evil and hateful parts of humanity, cannot and will not win over love and acceptance.

I know that I'm teaching my son that it's okay to mourn with and for others, but it's important that you also get up and act. You volunteer at a local Pride parade and you donate money to the victim's families and you vote for political pundits that will pass necessary laws instead of offer up prayers and moments of silence and you stop talking and start listening to the marginalized voices of the LGBT community; the voices that someone tried to silence; the voices that are, now, louder than ever before.

I know that I'm teaching my son to look for the sunshine peaking through the curtains; the sunshine that shows itself when hundreds wait in line to donate blood; the sunshine that shows itself when a stranger saves another man's life; the sunshine that shows itself when two young gay men aren't afraid to walk hand-in-hand after 49 of their brothers and sisters were killed; the sunshine that shows itself in vigils and celebrations of life and the promise that love, really and truly, always wins.

The sunshine that shows itself when a mother and her son sit together on the couch. The sunshine that shows itself when an adult cries, and a toddler wipes away the tears.

Friday, December 11, 2015

On The One Time I Wished I Wasn't A Mother

I started writing in between double shifts and in the middle of my three jobs and on the dirty bar of a strip club while I made lonely men and exotic women drinks. I wrote exhausted and I wrote desperate and I wrote confident and I wrote after countless rejections and I (definitely) wrote in spite of angry comments telling me that I had no business forming complete sentences for a meager living.

And then I started getting published and I started finding literary jobs and I started staff writing for reputable publications. I had a small collection of essays turned into a book and that book was published and I wrote for a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper and finally, after eating peanuts for dinner and washing my hair with hand soap and over-drafting my account after buying $3.00 cups of coffee, I felt like I had done "it", whatever "it" is.

Almost simultaneously, I fell madly in love for a wonderful man and had a baby, wide eyed and with a full head of black hair and a smile that squeezes my chest. I balanced a full-time freelance writing career and the needs of a tiny human and while I was constantly exhausted (still am) and usually frustrated (still am) and in a consistent state of self-doubt (still am) I loved the struggle and the busy schedule and the balance of it all. I loved meeting deadlines while cooking my son breakfast and I loved calling into conference calls while I changed my son's diaper and after over a year and a half of the same intricate albeit weary dance, I still do. Not a day goes by that I don't feel accomplished and while that usually means I'm unconscious before my head hits the pillow every night, I am fulfilled.

And then I was given the opportunity to write for an incredible magazine in New York City. I applied on a whim and was completely unsure of my chances but I sent in a resume and writing samples and in less than a day, I received an email back. I video conferenced an interview and was offered the job less than a week later and before I knew it I was filling out tax forms and inputing bank information for direct deposit. I was filled with pride and rejuvenated in my already steadfast belief that being a mother didn't mean I had to give up a great career and having a career didn't mean I had to give up being a great mother. Everything seemed to be going right and while I spent my fair share of nights wondering how a new schedule was going to work and how new responsibilities were going to fit feasibly into an already over-crowded calendar, I was eager to try.

And then two days later I received a call from who would have been my editor. After speaking with other team members of this established publication, a decision was reversed. They no longer wanted to employ a remote worker, they wanted someone who was local and who could come to the office, full time, every day. They wanted someone closer and more available and I was no longer that someone because I couldn't do any of those things. My editor was apologetic and I could hear her embarrassment and I quickly said I understood and "thank you for the opportunity" before hanging up the phone so she wouldn't hear my voice crack or the tears dripping from my cheeks onto the screen of my cracked phone.

And it was then, right then, that I resented being a mother. For a second I looked at my son and wished he wasn't there. I was acutely and painfully and sheepishly aware that if I had waited to get pregnant or chose to never have a child at all, I could've pick up and moved to New York City and accepted a job with that amazing magazine and done the thing I've dreamed of doing ever since I wrote in my tattered Secret Love Journal Diary Notebook. I could've been free to re-locate without thinking about how it would impact my family because, well, I wouldn't have a family to think about. I felt guilty and dirty and horrible but I felt angry and resentful and for a second, just a lingering second, I wished I wasn't a mother. I wished I was that struggling single girl, washing her hair with hand soap and scraping by to afford $3.00 cups of coffee, because she could have moved and she could have taken the job and she wouldn't have thought twice about it.

And then the moment vanished and I grabbed my son by his chubby, slightly dirty cheeks and I kissed him on his slobbery mouth. I looked into his eyes for the briefest of minutes before whispering "I love you so much" and letting him walk away to play with a toy or a book or the pens he knows he's not supposed to play with. I kissed him and looked at him and loved him the same way I have since the day he was born and I don't regret a single second of any of it because, while New York City isn't going anywhere, he is. My son will go places and do things and he will leave me behind and that is exactly how it is supposed to be. He will be with me, under my constant care and supervision, for but a small sliver of his life and, eventually, he too will experience a moment much like this one; when he feels like the perfect opportunity is just at his fingertips and slipping through the cracks because he can't be everything for everybody, all at once.

And I will remind him, when that moment of confusion and sadness and frustration and regret inevitably arrives, that he is doing everything he is supposed to be doing and everything I have so desperately hoped he would do and everything I work so hard to make sure he could do if he wanted.

In that moment, he will be utterly, painfully, beautifully alive, and I will smile knowing that there isn't a job in the world I could possibly be upset about not having, that is worth more than that.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I'm Tired Of My Body Being More Than A Body

I'm naked and standing in front of my bathroom mirror. 

My body has hiked miles and snowboarded mountains and swam oceans. It has been in an immense amount of pain and felt surreal levels of pleasure and felt nothing but the sweet unconsciousness of a quiet night's sleep. It has ran for miles and been pushed to its limit and has worked with a team of other bodies towards a collective goal. It has rejected a pregnancy and birthed a baby and sustained another human life. It's soft some places and solid others and beautifully flawed everywhere in between. 

What I'm staring at is not only a body, it is my body. The veins and organs and tissues and tendons and bones that make the me that everyone sees, is used to love and learn and build and create. It's my tool of expression and mine to care for and there are many like it, all working side by side and sometimes (hopefully) together to experience a life we all have the right to live.

But rarely are women's bodies treated like actual bodies. Rarely are they viewed as tangible instruments, controlled by one person and one person only: the woman inside. Rarely are these beautiful, complex, vastly different yet intrinsically connected bodies treated with respect or given appropriate space or even, simply, left alone. 

According to politicians, my body is a potential vote. They'll debate about it, argue for or against it and try to decide what I can and cannot do with it. They'll speak at rallies or behind podiums, using my body as a statistic to make a fleeting point. They see it as a number in a column that could help them make the primaries or gain political ground or reach a core voting group.

According to teachers and school officials, my body is a distraction. I couldn't wear skirts that didn't pass my fingertips and I couldn't wear shirts that showed the skin of my shoulders. I couldn't wear gym shorts that were too short because the way my body stretched or lifted or climbed or jogged could be "suggestive" to male classmates. My body was a disturbance to adolescent men and their hormones and it was my body that would be to blame if any of their actions were inappropriate.

According to pro-life advocates, my body is a baby-making machine. I don't have the right to control my ability to reproduce so if I become pregnant, I must stay pregnant. If my brain knows that a child could not be cared for, my body cannot and should not agree. If a pregnancy is something I - the woman controlling her body - does not want or can not handle,  it is still something my body did and so I must adhere to it.

According to religion, my body is a temple. I shouldn't let too many people inside of it and I shouldn't adorn it with tattoos or piercings and I shouldn't use it to express myself in ways that aren't condoned by others. A higher power owns the rights to my body and if I don't use it to praise that power or honor that power or bring glory to that power, I do not deserve to have my body at all.

According to ad companies, my body is a marketing tool. My body should be starved and photoshopped and used to tell other women that their bodies are not good enough or are in need of something their money can buy. Its sexuality can be used to sell shoes and its attractiveness can be used to sell cheeseburgers and its useless if it cannot be used to sell anything at all. 

Women's bodies have been sexualized and diminished and devalued and attacked and displayed and argued over and debated about and controlled and violated and vindictively used by others to further personal, political, or religious agendas. 

They've been used as symbols for good and evil and everything in between, so often and with such powerful rhetoric that people forget that a woman's body is - first, foremost and forever - a human body.

I'm naked and standing in front of my bathroom mirror, and I am overwhelmed and exhausted and angry. I see limbs and skin and curves. I see a rising chest and a birth mark and a few scars and a single scrape, just above my right knee. I don't see a vote or a distraction or a machine or a temple or a tool and I'm so tired of my body being seen and used and manipulated as such.

I want my body to be treated like a body. 

Women's bodies need to be treated like human bodies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Don’t Stop Dancing In The Rain

I had been to our nation’s capitol once before. I was a junior in high school and a member of a competitive, traveling basketball team. When you live in a small town in a removed state and you harbor hopes of playing college basketball one day, traveling to larger, well-known cities is the only way you’ll end up noticed. My team and I were only in Washington D.C. for a few days and I only saw the inside of a gym or a hotel room. 

I can’t remember if we placed well - or even respectfully - in that tournament but I do remember dancing in the rain with my teammates. It was dark and the thunder sent vibrations through our athletic bodies and we splashed one another out of mischievous love and sibling-like appreciation. 

We were young and free and excited to be in a new city doing new things with old friends. 

Now - thanks to a career I'm still not sure I deserve - I had the opportunity to see the monuments and memorials and that one house D.C. is so famous for. I would be in the town for a quick 72 hours, and the majority of my time would be spent in meetings and touring a clinic and sitting across from awe-inspiring women doing incredible work for abortion care and reproductive rights. But in-between meetings and in the morning before my flight back home, I had the opportunity to play tourist and see a dear friend and experience what episode after episode of The West Wing had prepared me to love. 

But as I walked to the White House or around the winding path that leads to the Washington Monument, I found myself apologizing. I was excited to be where I was and see what I was seeing, but I felt like my willingness to react to that excitement was annoying. I wasn’t acting "cool". I wasn’t seeing things for the hundredth time and I wasn’t jaded by a daily commute and I definitely wasn’t capable of hiding this first time thing from those around me. 

So often, we are expected to corral our reactions and emotions. We need to be detached and apathetic about our experiences. We need to act like "we've been there before", and that we are above the reactions that emulate our affection for the new and unknown and not-yet-learned. 

So, I said sorry. 

I said sorry to the man who rolled his eyes as I tried to take a picture of myself in front of the White House. I apologized to the woman I eventually bothered, asking that she take my picture for me. I said sorry to my friend and makeshift tour guide - who lives in Washington D.C. - telling her that I know I'm not being cool and that I'm probably embarrassing and it's okay if she just wants to go home.

I kept apologizing until, eventually, she told me to stop. 

She told me she loved my excitement and was glad to accommodate and was so happy to see me giddy. She told me to have fun and she would take pictures and to simply enjoy myself. She told me to let myself be excited.

So, I did.

I let myself cry at the very spot Martin Luther King, Jr. stood when he delivered his iconic I Have A Dream speech. I let that moment and the energy that seemed to rise from a single spot on marbled ground, invigorate the marrow in my bones to the point of boiling. I let the gravity and weight and historical meaning of that specific longitude and latitude push me towards a time of utter ignorance and hate, as it connected me with a moment in history that I wasn’t even alive to experience. I felt reborn and a hundred years old, all at once. 

I let myself sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, legs straight out in front of me, just like my one year old kicks his legs out when he’s excited and eager to be freed from his car seat. I read over every word of his Gettysburg Address as if I had never read it before, sending myself back in time to a classroom and an aging desk and a frayed history book, edges folded and colors fading. I gave myself permission to re-learn what so often feels regurgitated. 

I laughed when I tried to squeeze the Washington Monument in between my hands, distance shrinking the towering symbol into a miniature version of man-made reverence. I jumped in the air and giggled when I took a picture that made it look like I was leaning against its four cornered frame and discolored sides, wide-eyed and whimsical. 

I allowed myself to mourn the names on the Vietnam Wall. With my head down as clouded tears lined my somber eyes, I listened to a pair of veterans as they swapped stories in front of their memorialized friends. One recalled his disdain for the smell of orange gas. Another nodded, silent and distant. I knew he wasn't there, but in a field in a country that he knows he can never leave.

I skipped steps and laughed loudly and shrieked with an overwhelming happiness, in utter awe and unapologetically overwhelmed that I was able to experience something new while celebrating the fact that it was all so much older than I. I looked around, thankful that I could share a perfect day with brand new people, even though they were weather and wrinkled and aging. I stood in the middle of time itself, between a past and a future, my nerves on fire because my present just refused to stop sparking.

I knew I looked ridiculous. I knew I looked like I wasn’t a seasoned traveler, with years of experience going to new places and meeting new people. I knew It was obvious that I didn't know all there is to know, especially when my friend would share a fact and I would gasp at its existence and the implications of that brand new information. 

But there is beauty in looking ridiculous. There is freedom in admitting you don’t know, and harboring an earnest willingness to learn. There’s a palpable growth when you fill the spaces in between your skin and blood and veins and organs with experiences and knowledge so that you can stretch into a newer version of your former self.

And even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day, and it was a perplexing seventy degrees, as I boarded my plane and prepared to fly back home, I smiled knowing that I had spent two days dancing in the rain. 

I am young and free and thankful to have been in a new city doing new things with old friends. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why I’m Smiling

I know what you see. 

I know what catches your focus and earns a favorite and garnishes a comment. 

You see my smile and the happiness I refuse to hide and the joyous spaces in between. 

You see the filtered pictures of perceived perfection, my crooked teeth peeking through a lipstick-stained smile as I enjoy this moment or that memory or some fleeting instance I know I’ll never forget. 

You see freeze frames of laughter or carefully calculated smiles, rays of a setting sun sneaking through strands of hair or peaking behind a slightly-tilted head.

And I know what you’re thinking. 

You’re thinking my life is as close to flawless as you can imagine. You think I don’t feel heartache or pain or disappointment, now that I’ve found a partner and have a family and enjoy a mildly successful career. 

You think my smile means days are effortless, and I’m consistently beaming because my borderline-annoying joy hasn’t paused or ceased or desisted but, instead, grown.

But you’re wrong. 

I smile because I’ve been devastated. I’ve seen the other side of happiness, where loneliness is appealing and pain becomes as commonplace as a winter cold or a summer tan. I’ve been hurt for reasons that cannot be fathomed or articulated or even comprehended, by people who promised love and compassion and protection. I’ve been left in a pile of tears and incoherent sobs and uncontrollable shivers that only time or a few choice, and strong, cocktails could ease. 

I smile because I’ve been lost. I’ve dug through my ribs and past the pit of my stomach and into the darkest parts of myself, trying to find a version I could recognize. I’ve felt within and without, always a painful arm’s length away from feeling comfortable in my skin or the shallow corners of my mind. 

I smile because I’ve been judged. I’ve felt the blade of sharpened words, by strangers and friends alike. I’ve felt the weight of lifted brows and authoritative smirks, condemning my choices or actions because they live outside the lines of another's understanding. I’ve felt less than and worthless and broken, because the clasps of close-mindedness have kept others from walking alongside me, if only for a moment. 

I smile because I’ve been ignored. I’ve clawed and clambered and pounded on the doorsteps of publications and editors and prolific writers alike, only to be silenced by their superiority and indifference. The part of me I’ve created and nurtured was the part they found to be lacking, leaving me with a sense of doubt that's as dangerous as it is debilitating. 

I smile because I’ve known loss. I’ve held the hands of mourning personified, attending funerals when I should have been attending slumber parties. I’ve said goodbye to best friends for reasons I still cannot completely comprehend. Through a confusing screen of black and white, I’ve seen the silent heart of a growing life; dreams and plans and hopes replaced with the weight of perceived failure. 

I smile because I’ve been broken. My body has failed me in spectacular fashion, bones fracturing and ligaments tearing to the point of ruin. I’ve been forced to physically rely on the kindness of others; their hands bathing me and their legs walking for me and their strength standing me straight. I’ve ached with impatience as my limbs re-learned basic functions and my body demanded breaks and rest. I’ve felt the pain of physical hindrance and mental exhaustion.

I smile because, for far too long, I didn’t smile at all. 

I ached for the effortless happiness I now experience on a regular basis. And while I am far from living in a constant state of bliss - as there are plenty of moments in which pain and loss and judgement and devastation revisit me - I am content and cheerful and gratified more often than I am not. 

So, while you see my smile and think my life is as close to flawless as you can imagine, I see my smile and remember that it wasn’t. 

While you see my smile and think I don’t feel heartache or pain or disappointment, I see my smile and remember that I have. 

I don’t smile because things are perfect. 

I smile because, for a painfully long time, they weren’t. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

To My Lady Friends: The Promises I Can Keep

We used to scribble them in heavy yearbooks. We wrote elongated promises of endless summers and forever friendships, all laced with the hopeful assurance that we’d never change. 

And, of course, we were lying. 

It didn’t take long for college or the military or careers or life to push us forward, constantly shaping our personalities and beliefs and responsibilities and priorities. With post-high school or post-college life came important meetings and life-changing relationships and exciting cross country moves. We fell in love and received raises and started families and finished grad school classes. 

We’re told that adulthood is all about focusing on responsibilities; our stressful careers or our romantic relationships or our thriving children being of the utmost importance. But our friendships, especially with women, are just as deserving of our attention. 

After all, my incredible friend, you were there when the jobs sucked and the relationships were definitely lacking and the children weren’t even a figment of our imagination.

And while I can’t promise that I won’t continue to change, or that carefree summers will ever be in our future again, I can promise you that I will remain a pivotal part of your life, for as long as you’ll have me. 

I can promise that even with babies and boyfriends and husbands and careers and car payments and house purchases, I’ll be there; expanding the lines of an exhausted and carefully color coordinated calendar, making room for you.

I can promise that even though our life choices may differ, the choice I consciously make to be a consistent part of your life will remain the same. If you’re excited to get married but I’m hesitant or unbelieving of the very concept, that won’t change the fact that I’ll stand by your side and dance my probably drunken ass off at the reception. If you decide to end your career to stay home with your children, know that I'll be just as excited for you as if you received a promotion.

I promise that my love for you is not contingent on perfectly paralleled decisions. 

I love for you all your complexities and beliefs and preferences, even if I don’t completely understand or agree with them.

I can promise that I will celebrate your momentous life accomplishments as if they were my own. If you land a killer job or score an impressive raise or welcome a brand new baby or say yes to an extremely lucky man, I will scream it from the social media mountaintops and help plan extravagant parties in your honor. Your success does not impede my own, but actually increases my chances of experiencing something similar. 

I promise that your happiness feeds into my happiness. When you’re smiling and excited and wide-eyed about your future, I feel just as smiley and excited and wide-eyed for you. 

I love you for pushing me to be better with each incredible accomplishment you call your own. 

I can promise that I will be there when life turns its inevitable, unforgiving head. If someone dies or you lose a job or a husband leaves or money become scarce, I will pick up a phone or hop in the car or spend the night or talk about how horrible the world is, for as long as you need. Conference calls can be rescheduled and bills can be paid via phone and dinners can be postponed, because even the largest of responsibilities are nothing compared to the pain in your voice and my need to ease it.

I promise that I’ll be there when the smiles fade and the celebrations die and the hopelessness ensues. Our friendship doesn’t rely on a steady stream of positivity, but something much deeper and meaningful instead.

I love you when you’re eyes are puffy from crying and you don’t believe that good people exist and getting out of bed seems like too much work. 

I can promise that I’ll make time to check in on you. We might not see one another every day or even every month, but I’ll send the text messages and make the phone calls and let you know I’m thinking of you. I know it won’t be like when we were roommates in college and we saw one another every day, but it can be even better. It can be a conscious decision, a deliberate action and a loving commitment that we make to one another as life gets busy and messy and overwhelming.

I can promise that even though you may no longer be the headliner, you’re still a bright and bolded part of my life’s bill. 

Because even though adulthood is exhausting and stressful, it’s also beautiful and free and boundless. While some of my high school, even college, friendships have vanished - along with my love for Taco Bell and boys with lip rings - newer, stronger and more supportive relationships with inspiring and courageous women, have emerged.

Women like you.

And despite the ease associated with naivety and youth, I’m glad. I’m glad that our silly notions of maturity gave way to the complicated realities we know today. 

And I’m glad that I know myself well enough, thanks to stressful careers and romantic relationships and a thriving child, to make these promises. 

I’m glad that we were lying back then, when we used to scribble in heavy yearbooks, because I know I’m not lying now.

Friday, July 3, 2015

What An Abuser Really Looks Like

Well, that doesn’t sound like him. At all. 

That was the common response I received when telling close friends or family members about the abuse my mother, my brother and I were experiencing on an unforgivingly frequent basis. In fact, the disbelief and the silent interrogations and the inaudible doubts were enough to keep us as tight-lipped as our father had instructed us to be. 

We didn’t look like an abused family. 

He didn’t look like an angry, abusive man. 

Society has a very clear, very particular picture in their minds when they think of an abusive man. They want him easily visible, like an adulterous hickey or an unfortunate, protruding pimple. They want to spot him when he’s in their grocery stores or among their children or attending their churches, so they envision a specific man with specific trademarks that make him specifically revolting. 

He should be slightly overweight, carrying a gut only the frequent six pack could provide. He has cheap tattoos and is slightly balding and wear’s wife beaters, because of course. He scratches his ass and burps after crushing his thirteenth beer and yells obscenities frequently. You can find him permanently attached to a decrepit couch, unable to hold a job or acquire any worthwhile friends due to his blatant alcoholism. He never buys flowers for his wife or toys for his children. He never says a kind word or expresses a hopeful gesture. 

And while this man does exist, I have no doubt, this man is more of the exception to the rule than the steadfast rule itself. He is created for Hollywood’s guilty pleasure or society’s peace of mind. He is a reflection of our greatest fears, sometimes manifested into human form but mostly an illusion, fed by our disgusting laziness. 

Most abusive men are successful. They have budding careers and hopeful futures and are extremely driven. They’re middle to upper-middle class, providing for their family financially with a decent house and one or two cars and a mid-size backyard. 

Most abusive men are kind. They’re outgoing and adventurous and electrifying. They’re capable of charming even the most guarded of individuals, manipulating moments and twisting words to suite them and their perpetual wants. 

Most abusive men are extremely repentant. Their anger comes in waves, as if they have two personalities, forever locked in a battle of wills. When it subsides and their fists relax, they are reduced to a puddle of tears and disappointment. They say the right things and buy the overpriced items and do what they can to find themselves in the favor of the very person they beat. 

Most abusive men will kiss the very tears they helped create.

Most abusive men are complex. Sometimes they come home happy and loving and inviting, ready to play with their children or lovingly caress their wife. Sometimes they come home raging and hateful and toxic, ready to hit their children or scream at their wife.

Most abusive men are protective. The only person they would ever allow to hurt their family, is themselves. When their child is being bullied, they react. When their wife is being belittled, they come to her defense. In their mind, their family is their property, and they’ll be damned if someone else pisses on the lawn they shit on themselves. 

Most abusive men are encouraging. They show up for PTA meetings and sporting events, ready to cheer on their child. They want their children to be successful, if only to claim their children’s success as their own. They require a certain level of perfection and excellence and acclaim, as long as it does not impede their own. 

Most abusive men claim to love the ones they hurt.

Most abusive men are well-respected. They hold power positions or a morally admirable standing within their communities. They’re pastors at churches or vice-presidents at universities. They’re police officers and firemen and members of non-profit organizations. People come to them for advice and hold them in high regard and to a higher standard. 

Most abusive men are unbelievably smart. They graduated top of their class and went on to achieve their Masters or PhD. They know that bruises on the face are obvious, but bit marks on a shoulder are not.

Most abusive men make it hard for their victims to leave. The good and the bad are so intricately woven within them, it is seemingly impossible to differentiate. 

Most abusive men are the grey in a black and white world. 

Most abusive men are the sliver of hope that ends up cutting your wrists. 

Most abusive men do not fit the stereotypes society seems to crave. Neither do rapists, or pedophiles, or any number of humanity’s worst. Which is why, unfortunately, society tends to discredit the victims who do not fit within that very clear, very particular picture. 

He’s a powerful, well-respected man. He wouldn’t do that. You must be lying. 

He’s a friend, not some stranger in an alley, and you both were drinking. You must be lying. 

Society wants the dangerous to be visible and obvious and easily spotted. To think that they creep between and through and in spite of the good people we admire and celebrate, is to admit that even the best of us can be the worst of us. 

So, instead, we attack the ones who speak up. We tell them they can’t be right, because society is right, and society says that isn’t what abuse or rape or pain or hurt, look like. 

Well, that doesn’t sound like him. At all. 

But it does. It does.