The Last Word

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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

Seriously. STFU about Al Franken

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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.

 

Why Now?

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“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”
― Muriel Rukeyse

And my truth?  Whose world would split open?  What if I voiced those truths that never make it past my windpipe before decades of conditioning and the threat of consequences, pushes them back down to my gut with that invisible fist of censure and shame.  I described my stories as heavy rocks, lodged in my throat, like a dam holding back the flood of my secrets. She looked straight up at me, inquisitive, then wrote down the word ‘rock’.  My metaphors for self-silencing – rock, fist, a steel door – all solid, impenetrable, weaponized and threatening.  The stories stick in the back of my throat.  I swallow them back down, but inevitably, they bubble their way back up, like vomit after too large a meal.

#Metoo happened, with a sudden explosion of women (and men) sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.  While many welcomed these stories, and, in some cases, shared stories of our own; others balked at the revelations, condemning the speakers and speculating on their motivations.  Why now, is the current refrain.  It’s a ridiculous question, for it would always be ‘why now’ no matter when now happens to be.  Now is inevitable.  Now is that moment that the dam burst.  In this watershed moment, right now, I timidly rose my hand and whispered ‘Me too’.  But it ended there.  I could not go further before that rock/fist/steel door pushed it all back, insisting ‘Not now’.

I see this image of my entire family – both the living and the dead – all standing together with one finger raised to their lips, admonishing ‘shhhhhh’.  Hold your silence.

  • You’ll hurt your sister
  • We won’t believe you
  • The past is the past
  • That’s not how it happened
  • You made it up
  • You made it happen
  • You didn’t stop it
  • Why now?

Collateral damages.  My family.  My friends. My partner. My children. My abusers and their protectors.  My stories are dangerous and unwieldy. They detonate. They are no more magnificent in their horror than the stories of so many other women, but they’re mine.  The implications are mine. Telling is a dangerous act.  I’ve done it before.  Telling is also a powerful and healing act.  I’ve felt that before.  These two aspects, the dangerous and the powerful, work in tandem in the act of telling.  I felt this incredible release putting my memories into words and voicing them, however hesitantly, to another person.  Sometimes I told the right person – the person who just listened, who did not rush my story along, who was not looking for some sort of resolution, some salvation at the end of the story.  I also told the wrong person(s) – the one’s too close to the story – the ones looking for a dénouement, or the ones who turned the story into an interview, a witness statement:

  • Are you sure?
  • Did you fight? Did you say no? Did you scream?
  • Did you report it?
  • Why? Why not? Why now?
  • Why now?

Then, the rock/fist/steel door goes to work pushing that story back down to that place inside me where my secrets live. And the cycle of repress-bubble up-boil over-disclose and repress again continues.

The trauma of sexual abuse is like a mouth ulcer.  No matter how hard you try to ignore it, your tongue seeks it out, irritates it; retreats, then repeats the process.  It’s there disrupting the ordinary business of daily life. It’s Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, beating beneath the floorboards.  I am here.  I will expose you. I will not be ignored.  And that, in a nutshell, is why now.  One way or another, trauma outs itself.

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I said #Metoo, but I stopped at that.  I choose not to share the details of my stories.  I don’t believe they add anything significant to the conversation, nor would recounting them now do anything towards my own healing.  For myself, this past year has been, even before the #Metoo movement, a series of constant triggers, where the very language and postures of men like Trump and Moore, as well as the vicious attacks on their accusers, has produced an intense visceral reaction in me. I am flung back into the memories and anguish of my own abuse, as well as the pressure to keep quite. Raising my hand is enough for now.

 

Just move along folks, there’s nothing to be seen here.

 

547496_10151407331792734_1766816933_nFrankie, the evil, green-eyed dust-mop.

I have absolutely no plan or structure in mind for today’s blog.  Things feel a bit chaotic lately and I’m having one of those days where I just want to see it pass by quickly, go to bed and start over in the morning.

The two-day induction for the new job begins tomorrow morning, and because I do anxious so well, I am anxious about how I will prepare in the morning, whether I might struggle to find the place, my sat-nav failing me, my car failing me, or just showing up with a bad case of stupid that steadily increases throughout the day.  I’ve literally (and I do not mean virtually, I mean ‘literally’) sought work at least three days a week for the past eight months, so this is a ‘biggie’ for me.  Hence my level of anxiety.

Then, of course, there are the dogs and how they’ll cope with having me away from them for long hours at a stretch when they usually have so much time with me.  I spent the last couple of days arranging the house and the garden for them and finding someone to come in a couple times a day to check on them, give them their dinner and bring them into the house a few hours before I get home.  I know we’ll cope, but it’s a big change for us.  Hopefully, everyone will adjust to our new routine without too much trouble.

Meanwhile, I made a decision regarding Leslie’s ashes.  I decided to scatter her at Hook Lighthouse.

hook

It’s a place I’d planned to take her when she was meant to visit last March.  It feels symbolically right to me as an image of safe passage, presence and hope.  I think Leslie would approve.  Sadly, she doesn’t really have a vote on this one.

So that’s that.  Not much else to say.  I start a new job; I have a sister in a box inside a drawer, but she’ll be moving somewhere better soon; and I spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over road trips, dogs, changes and more changes.  All and all, that comes under the category of ‘mostly normal’ for me.

Hopefully, I’ll find more compelling matters to write about in the coming weeks. 🙂