Five Grooms for Virginia

Virginia Coleman had five husbands. Not simultaneously, though many suspect an overlap between at least two. These stories get muddled through the years, and the strange details of Virginia’s five husbands, apart from their number, remains obscure.

Virginia grew up the eldest of five children outside Seattle, Washington. I like to think that the number had a special resonance for her. At the age of fifteen she eloped to Alaska with her first husband, Robert Burns (not the poet). Little is known about him. They stayed together long enough to produce one child, a son. Legend has it that when the boy was five months old, Robert went out for a pack cigarettes. He never returned.

Virginia’s second son arrived two years later, followed by a hasty marriage. It’s uncertain if she had divorced the previous husband. At any rate, this second marriage lasted about five minutes. Once again, a late night trip to the corner shop would signal the end to wedded bliss.

A five year gap followed the break up of her second marriage. Virginia struggled to make ends meet, working 9 to 5 at the Five and Dime, five days a week. Then hubby number 3 arrived on the scene.

Little is known of husband number three. Like one in five Americans, he claimed Irish heritage, and was known to enjoy a drink or five. We’ll just call him Rúndiamhair O’Cuig (mystery of five). For all we know
Rúndiamhair may have been a swell guy. What is known for certain is that no children blessed the union, the marriage was brief, and he went the way of those that preceded him. Smoking was popular in those days.

Virginia’s luck changed in 1950 when she married fisherman, Waldemar “Lefty” Alho. But eleven years of marriage ended in tragedy when Lefty’s fishing boat capsized five miles off the coast of Alaska. His body was never recovered. With 500 dollars and a broken heart, Virginia returned to her family in Washington. But her matrimonial stories did not end there.

On the fifth day of the fifth month in 1962, Virginia married Charlie, a non-smoker, with a five acre farm in rural Washington. Together they lived happily to the end of their days. And that is the story of Virginia’s five husbands.

The Last Word

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588

Over the last year I’ve found myself ruminating on words left unsaid; on arguments lost or discontinued; on speaking my truth that final time where, in my imagination, that truth is heard and acknowledged. These last words that ricochet inside my skull with their passion and indignation, clogged my thinking, kept me awake at night and barred my path from participating in the present.

My sister was the queen of the last word. When we were children, her defiant stubbornness fascinated and petrified me. It was not a safe household to speak the last word. It was not a family that encouraged rebellion and self-assertion. But for whatever reason, Leslie fearlessly stood her ground. Her courage astounded us all. No amount of punishment (and in our house punishments could turn brutal) dissuaded her from getting that last jibe in — that final sweep before she trotted off, victorious.

It didn’t last though. Puberty, family break-up and repeated trauma knocked her rebellion on its head and that never really changed. The tendency was still there, but she saved her ‘last word’ for softer targets — waiters, shop assistants, customer service agents, and on occasion, me. Like my own frustrated silence, Leslie felt haunted by those words she could not say and by those those fights she could not win. In the years before she died, our phone conversations inevitably cataloged the injustices she’d suffered, the anger that continually bubbled up to the surface in her daily life and the frustration of never quite being able to have her final say.

I spend a lot of time twitter. (Too much). Twitter, where the last word and final say on anything and everything ticks away in an instant. I don’t twitter well and I hold my tongue most of the time. Twitter also triggers me in my most uncomfortable and vulnerable places. My cortisol peaks within seconds at the twitter feed. As in real life, no one really gets in that last word on Twitter. Threads simply die out, only to be replaced with the next thread of circular arguments.

Lately it struck me that my silences are not a surrender, but rather the accumulation of so many last words, spoken again and again, but dismissed by my interlocutor, so that, in the end, my silence is my final word. This was especially true when, three years ago, I ended a long and painfully abusive relationship. One day I simply disappeared and refused to engage with him on any level from that day forward. For whatever reason, the tactic worked, and I’ve had no further bother him. I know that many people are not so lucky, but in that instance, with that person, it worked.

Still, for some time later, I would find myself obsessing on things I did not say and fantasize scenes where I got my final word, confronting him on each and every instance of abuse and violence he’d inflicted on me, then strut away, like my sister in childhood, glorious in my victory. But retrospectively, I had already spent years regularly confronting him, it simply had no impact. It wasn’t a fault in my argument or a failure in articulation, it was just of no interest to him. The only thing he had to lose was me, and as long as I continued to argue with him, he still had me. Silence was my strength and my savior. In silence I had my last word.

No Such Thing As Just a Dog… (8 years as Tillie’s mom)

Baby Tillie

Tillie turns eight today.  Over the last six weeks , we’ve gone through a health scare with Tillie. It began with a painful sore on her bottom that was not healing, despite two courses of antibiotics. The third trip to the vet revealed a growth just inside her bottom. Her vet suspected a tumour and refered us to a specialist in Cork.  Once the referral was made, all we could do was sit and wait.

I’m no better than Tillie at sitting and waiting. The vet had already warned us that colon cancer in dogs carries a pretty grim outcome. My internet searches confirmed this. Most dogs will die within three months of diagnosis, even with surgery and treatment. And those three months are excruciatingly risky and painful for the dog. Large dogs and dogs between the ages of seven and nine make up the majority of those that develop colon cancer. Tillie was just shy of eight. She’s a big girl at thirty-three kilograms. She ticked all the worst boxes. My sweet girl.

My Furry Buddah

Now I am generally a glass-half-empty type of person. Hope terrifies me because, historically, dashed hopes have knocked me hard. Let’s just say, I have issues. Looking at Tillie and thinking to myself ‘This could be our last week together, our last month, three months’ whatever the case — ‘our last time‘ felt tangible and near, inevitable, unavoidable and unbearable. I could not look at her in the present moment without simultaneously seeing her vanish. Anticipatory Grief. I know it well and fall down that rabbit hole so effortlessly, with such familiarity. It’s like my true home. I had to consciously pull my head out of my pre-grieving ass and be present with the living, breathing, loved and lovable, tail-wagging dog standing in front of me, wanting attention, love, contact, and my presence. Tillie was giving me a masterclass in living in the here and now. She deserved and deserves nothing less.

The next week as we waited for her appointment in Cork I probably watched Tillie closer that ever before — I mean really watched her. It was obvious that her bottom was uncomfortable, but her appetite was as good as ever, her eyes were bright and she was as happy, playful and energetic on our walks as ever before. Hope was nudging at me. I’d cuddle her, breathing in her doggy smell and whisper ‘stay with me’ into her fur.  But driving to her appointment apprehension had my stomach tied in knots. I couldn’t manage a conversation with my partner at all — my head was full of Tillie.

The specialist looked her over thoroughly. He commented on how well her colour, coat and skin looked. He told us her heart sounded very strong. More hope seeped in. Questions about her history, her general health through the years and her current problems were asked and answered. He told us we could collect her later that day and he’d phone us with her lab results in about a week.

At this point Tillie was on her third course of antibiotics and pain relief. She had to wear a donut collar to keep her from licking the wound, but she was coping really well. She seemed her usual happy, hungry self. My own mood began to shift as well. I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I felt very hopeful. I started allowing myself to imagine that she’d be fine and we’d have much more time together. A week later my hopes were confirmed. She doesn’t have cancer, just a nasty infection that will take a bit more time to heal.

A few weeks later and today we celebrate Tillie’s birthday. She started her sixth course of antibiotics today, but the wound is healing nicely. We’ve had atrocious weather all week, so we haven’t had much outdoor adventure time, but Spring will happen and our adventures will begin again. This is our eighth year together. This episode with her illness taught me so much about myself, about my relationship with Tillie and my history and relationship with loss and grief. It’s also taught me about gratitude, love and commitment. Tillie came into my life at a time of enormous loss. She is the baby of my grieving widowhood. She was the new light shining in a dark moment in time. She continued by my side through additional losses — my sister, my father, my two older dogs — the dogs of my marriage and that other life that now seems centuries away from where I am today. Through all of that, Tillie has had that uncanny ability to redirect my attention to the now. The drumming of her tail, the swagger in her gait, her gentle, sleeping snore restore me again and again to the present moment. She is a gift that I very likely do not deserve, but am lucky enough to have anyway. I love her and I’m so grateful that I have more time to continue loving her and making her tail wag. 

Three. Women. EVERY. Day. — hecatedemeter — very important read by hecatedemeter.

In the midst of the new and traditional media coverage of the Stephon Clark shooting in Sacramento, I saw YET ANOTHER tweet about a woman killed by her intimate partner. Kiara Brown’s murder did not get quite the volume of coverage Stephon Clark’s has. (I am not trying to minimize police violence against people of […]

via Three. Women. EVERY. Day. — hecatedemeter

Just like a little girl

sculpture-2406517_1920

A dear friend — my much loved friend — my friend who loves me — once told me that whenever she hears Dylan’s ‘Just Like a Woman’, she is reminded of me.  At the time that she said it I felt hurt.  I even felt a twinge of anger.  At the time that she said it, she was right.  It had been three years since my husband passed away and I was in the midst of an untenable and abusive relationship with a man that daily stripped me down to a trembling shadow of the person I was before.  I broke ‘like a little girl’ on a weekly basis until little by little, through the years that followed, I no longer felt hurt, sad and broken.  Instead I felt nothing at all.  Oh, he continued to regularly abuse and humiliate me, but I had so thoroughly vacated my emotions and my body, that I experienced it more like one witnessing the onslaughts from a distance.  The spectacle was disturbing, but not as internally devastating as it had been in the initial years.  I became stunningly detached from him, from pain, fear, anxiety and grief.  I detached from nearly everyone and everything.  Then one day, I simply and without fanfare left him.

Numbness.  The absence of pain and complicated emotions should not be confused with contentment.  My numbness was like being encased in this body that belongs to me, but did not feel like me; this body that felt detached from the air that surrounds me, from the thoughts, feelings and perceptions both inside and outside of me.  I find it difficult to describe.  It is as though I (dis)engaged with the world around me, people, pets, whatever environment I inhabited at any particular moment in time, as though I was surrounded by protective glass.

Break through.  Chisel through. Smash through.

As I was gearing up to leave him I had this assumption that once I was ‘free’ I would simply return to being the woman I was before I met him.  I assumed that Numb-Heidi would retire her post and quietly evaporate into the space I left behind.  I assumed I’d just pick up the discarded mantle of that other Heidi, who had checked out, who was hiding somewhere in the wings, waiting for me to signal that it was safe to come out now.  I’d throw it over my shoulder and Voilà! my former self emerges from the wreckage, hands on hips, like Wonder Woman, roaring my happy return.

That’s not how it works.  I’ve got a renovation project on my hands.  It’s not a complete demolition/reconstruction job, but there’s some faulty wiring that needs addressing, some rooms that need freshening up.  There are some walls that need windows, and some door hinges that want oiling.  It’s not a condemned  building – far from it.  The foundation is strong.  It’s not perfect, but so far, I like what I’m doing with the place.  I’ve even opened it up to guests now.  It’s still a work-site, but a warm one, a welcoming one.  Most importantly, it’s not a little girl’s playhouse; it’s becoming a woman’s home.

Oh, and the song?  I like it again.  It’s not my song anymore, which is the best part.  This version by Richie Havens is from Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary concert.  It’s one of my favourite versions.  I hope you like it too.

The Incident with the Gun

471962_10150885193387734_1426231167_o

Two years ago my boyfriend sent me a text inviting me over for a cup of tea (code word for sex).  I had the day off from work, so I went.  I almost always went.  I drove the three minutes to his house and went around to the back door, letting myself in, as I also almost always did.  As I walked through to the kitchen, he emerged, pointing a shot-gun at me.  I froze.  I said something to the effect of ‘what the fuck’?  He lowered the gun, telling me he’d thought I was a prowler, (He was expecting me!  He invited me over!), then he turned and walked to another part of the house and put the gun away.

I want to say that I turned and left.  I want to say that I called someone, told someone, asked for help.  But I stayed like I almost always did.  I fucked him, put fresh bedding on his bed, and made him a cup of tea, like I almost always did.  Then I drove back home where I ruminated on what happened, growing more and more angry; more and more frightened.  Later when he phoned me, I confronted him.  First he told me, point-blank, that what I said had happened, did not happen.  Gaslighting.  But I was well familiar with that tactic.  I wasn’t having it.  Then he told me he was just ‘joking’ around with me, that I had no sense of humour, that I was taking it too seriously.  I told him it wasn’t funny.

I want to say that I never went back.  I want to say that I ended it then and there, but I didn’t.  For another two months I continued to go to his house, get into his bed, make his bed, make his tea, then drive back home to sit and wonder why the fuck I kept doing that to myself.

It’s been nearly two years since I left him.  I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.  I cannot stop thinking about it.  Every day I think of the seven years I spent in that relationship.  The catalogue of incidents and abuses turns over in my head, a silent newsreel, haunting me daily.

He could have killed me.  He could have blown a hole through my head, or through my body and left my adult children to deal with the mess.  He may or may not have faced consequences.  That’s neither here nor there.  I would still be dead; a pile of torn tissue and shattered bone in a puddle of blood, collapsed on his kitchen floor.  Final.  Un-fixable.

How did I get there?  I was not an innocent.  I was not a twenty-year-old virgin unversed in the vagaries of romantic relationships.  I was a forty-eight-year-old widow; a mother, a grandmother.  He was not my first ‘dangerous’ man.  I richocheted my way to adulthood through an obstacle course of physical, sexual and emotional abuse from which I emerged broken, but alive and with my sense of hope still intact.  He was something I thought I had left behind; but I realize now that He represents someone that can happen to anyone, given the right place, time and set of circumstances.  He happened when my eyes were closed, when my defenses were down.  He was not a random accident.

When I finally left him, it happened so quietly.  There was no heated argument, no violent event, no ‘spoken’ words at all.  I simply shot off a polite, but matter-of-fact email announcing that I was done.  I did not respond to his replies.  I was quiet, but vigilent.  Nothing happened.  Later I moved to another county.  About a year after I left he threatened me with blackmail.  I still did not respond.  It’s conceivable that he could carry out with his threat, but he has not yet and I don’t think he will.  He wanted a response.  He wanted to intimidate me into engaging with him.  It failed.  I believe he has moved on.

I was lucky.  Every day women are murdered by men they loved.  The liklihood a woman will be murdered by her abuser goes up exponentially when, or after, she leaves the relationship.  I did nothing unique or special to account for having left without becoming one of them.  It took me several months to realize that I survived the relationship, the gun incident and my own departure because he elected not to hurt or kill me.  If he had chosen otherwise, there was  little I could do to stop him.  I was lucky, but not entirely unharmed.  Once a week I pay a woman to listen to me as I try to sift through the wreckage of those seven years. Once a week I try to do the work of understanding and more significantly, forgiving myself for the damage that ‘love affair’ did to me; for the craziness and isolation that cut me off from the people that love me, and for the lies and ommissions that enabled the madness to continue under the unsuspecting noses of my children and my friends.

Why am I telling this story now?  Why am I exposing myself, in an open forum, where I could be subject to judgement and ridicule from complete strangers?  How might this affect my family or my friends should they read this and learn of the things I never ‘fully’ disclosed to them?  I do owe them the truth, and we’re getting there.  Gradually.

I’m not entirely sure why I am doing this, but it feels right.  Partly it’s a sign of the times.  In the age of Me Too, Time’s Up and March For Our Lives, so many survivors are standing up and telling their stories.  It’s encouraging and emboldening.  For the first time in nearly a decade I finally feel safe enough to speak my truth.  All this year I have been reading the stories of other women who also survived what I am surviving.  Their stories helped me to understand my own struggle and encouraged me to push through my feelings of shame and isolation and reclaim my dignity.  I want to add my voice to that chorus, so that perhaps my story might resonate with another woman who is struggling, so that she too might harness her strength and join the chorus.

I’m telling my story because my sense of hope is returning, because Spring has emerged and the children have marched, because I am not dead, I am not disfigured, and because far too many others did not escape that fate.  It could’ve been me too.

Seriously. STFU about Al Franken

is (1)

I get it.  You’re hurt.  I’m hurt too.  A man we likeda man we believed in let us down. But here’s the thing; this shit happens.  This shit has always happened — even from warm, fuzzy likable men, whose values (at least some of them) align with our own.  He doesn’t get a pass for being an otherwise ‘great guy’.  Interesting fact about sexual predators – they walk among us.  They are our neighbours, our coworkers, our teachers, siblings, parents and partners.  Sometimes they’re assholes that we avoid at all costs; but sometimes we like them.  Sometimes they’re welcome members of our inner circles, and when they let us down, it hurts.

Here’s another fun fact:  Sometimes the victims of likable men aren’t very likable. We easily find fault with them on a host of issues, and in normal circumstances would not give them the time of day.  Deep in our bones, we don’t want to believe them.  I did not want to believe Leeann Tweeden because, for me, she represents the political ‘dark side’.  But that’s a bullshit excuse for denying someone’s story.  I know from my own experience that seemingly delightful, politically progressive men, do horrible things in private – things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy ever.  Misogyny and sexual predation are broad spectrum harms, no human collective is immune.  The same is true for survivors/victims.  We don’t get to cherry pick which victims are ‘good’ enough to believe and support.

Al Franken will be all right.  He’s not going to prison.  He was asked to resign.  He resigned.  He will survive.  We will survive as well.  He’s not our last hope for a just world.  If he is, then we’re all fucked at the start.  He’s just a likable guy who let us down.  And I get it. It’s not fair that other horrible men, accused of more troubling offences, are not being held accountable.  That needs to be challenged, every day at every step of way.  But crying ‘they get to keep their sex offenders in power, why can’t we keep ours?’ is a pretty shite argument.  So, seriously,  stop it.