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.

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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. 🙂

Molly misses you, . . . whoever you are..

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On a walk through town with Aluta and Tillie, I saw a young man chasing a dog and calling after her ‘Molly!  Molly!’  But Molly was off like a flash and I watched as I saw the distance between man and dog grow longer and longer.

Fast forward twenty minutes or so, and my girl dogs and I are only a short distance from home, when who should we see dodging out of traffic, but the very same Molly.  Thinking surely her owner must still be searching for her, I took Tillie’s lead off and put it on Molly and brought her back to my place.  I phoned the local animal protection people to see if anyone had called looking for her. Nothing yet.  I left my details and Molly’s description with them and did the same with the local dog warden.  Meanwhile we wait.

I am anxious about Molly.  Molly is anxious as well.  This is not her home and she just stares at the back gait, refusing nibbles and water.  What happens if no one comes forward to claim her?  I cannot keep another dog.  Apart from living in a rented property, where two dogs is a generous concession on the part of my landlord, I am struggling like mad just to feed myself and dogs I have.  I cannot afford another pet.  So what happens?  Do I just open the back gate and leave it to Molly to find her way back to her people?  If I did that I’d worry endlessly that she’d come to harm in the traffic.  Do I surrender her to the local animal shelter?  They’re surely over-full of stray and abandoned pets as it is and won’t likely have room.  The dog warden is out of the question.  I am fully aware that if I were to do that and she was not claimed within the week, she’d be put down.

Meanwhile, Molly still stares at the gate in the back garden.

My here and now resolve is as follows.  Molly will remain my house/garden guest for today.  I will take her out walking with Tillie this evening in the direction where I first encountered her.  Perhaps she’ll be spotted, or will lead us in the direction of her home.  Someone is bound to turn up for her.  She’s a sweet, well looked after dog, and she’s missing her people.

Update:  Molly (who is actually, ‘Dolly’)  has been claimed!  We are ALL relieved.

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To the Library

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I don’t want to go out.  I force myself to go out. Otherwise I would keep myself sequestered in the (not really) safety of my little house, away from the imagined gaze of other people, the clatter inside my head of their (also imagined) judgement.  Since the loss — before the loss, really, but to a lesser extent — I stay indoors, obedient to a paranoia that fastens me; this nonsensical delusion that every element of pain, grief, guilt and confusion that I feel is somehow emblazoned in every movement I make, visible throughout the entire surface of my body, right down to the clothes I’m wearing.  But I force myself to go out.  In my anonymous dress, sensible shoes, and a crocheted pullover, too heavy for this weather, I tread, one heavy leg after the other, into town.

My destination is the library.  In the two years since I moved to this town, I’ve never visited the library.  I am not even entirely sure how to get there, but have a vague recollection that it’ s located somewhere near the opera house.  I walk up Roches Road, past St Peter’s Square … the air is so thick and hot.  My chest feels tight and I cannot determine if it’s the heavy weather or a low-level state of panic at finding myself out of my safety zone.  I turn left at St Peter’s Square and notice I’m going in the direction of the High Street — which I want to avoid — people there.  Don’t want to see people.  Midway, I find a small lane-way on the right.  I follow it.  There are shops and a small café along the right side of the lane, and a row of narrow Victorian era terrace houses to the left.  I’m intrigued  by the houses, imagining myself living on this tiny lane in one of those houses, so close to the town centre.  I do this often; look at houses on any given street and imagine myself chopping vegetables in the kitchen, my cat lounging on a nearby chair.  In these ‘other house’ lives, my world is colourful, cheerful, safe and serene — as if a simple change of venue would annul my hurts, regrets and this struggle to feel safe in the now.

The lane I travel  leads through to Mallin Street.  I walk past the opera house.  At the end of the street stands the library, a large, narrow, glass paneled structure, only recently built.  As I walk through the main entrance, my mouth goes dry.  My heart thumps wildly in my chest, my hands tingle and I feel my head begin to swim. I am scarcely inside the building when the panic completely overtakes me.  I turn around and hastily walk out the door.  Panting for breath, I hurry back past the opera house and towards the lane.

Everything appears slanted.  The sun seems unbearably bright.  As I carry on further, I notice a group of kittens skittering in and out through an iron gate. Curiosity gradually eclipses anxiety and I make my way towards the gate.  The kittens, obviously feral, scamper away to the thick undergrowth beyond the gate.  I peer inside and find the ruins of a Church surrounded by gravestones, some so worn down they could easily be mistaken for rocks, all partially hidden by tall weeds, brambles and lilacs in full, fragrant bloom.  In the catch of the gate, an absurdly shiny padlock hangs seductively open.  I lift the padlock off and hang it on the gate’s railing.  As I enter, cats and kittens scramble every which way, one hissing her displeasure at my trespassing, as she darts away with the others.

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I sit cross-legged among the weeds, taking slow, even breaths as my eyes scan over the church and across the graveyard.  Tears begin to roll down my face, but I do not fight them.  I simply allow them to fall.  The panic subsides, as does the shame that accompanies it.  I stay still and continue to slowly breathe.  Calm washes over me.  It seems so bitterly fitting that I should find solace among the ancient dead and feral cats.  Now calmer, I further take in my surroundings.  I curse myself for not having my camera.  So many wonderful captures to be had here; the shadows of leaning headstones, the play of light through the ruin’s arches. . . I make a silent vow to return early the following morning with my camera and a bit of cat food.  I find myself suddenly struck with feelings of gratitude.  I feel grateful for the courage that allowed me to venture out today; grateful for the heat of the sun on my skin; and grateful for the panic attack that brought me here to discover this place. As I rise to leave I silently thank the cats, the foliage and the dead below the ground for their hospitality.  I return the lock to the gate, pushing it upwards just enough to look secured, but not enough for the lock to catch.  Hopefully, it will still be accessible when I return in the morning.

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The Silent Months

leslie and heidi I have been reading (re-reading), Latifa al Zayyat’s The Search: Personal Papers; a fragmented autobiography spanning decades of her life.  The book comprises a series of false starts; sections that are left unfinished and unresolved, up until the last (completed) chapter that recounts her imprisonment under Sadat in the early 1970’s.  Her unfinished sections mark moments in her life unsettled and silenced by trauma; bereavement, her first imprisonment, marriage and divorce, Each of these silences are then picked up as the loose threads of her story that are finally incorporated in the prison narrative of her final chapter.

I revisited The Search because recently I’ve been trying to come to terms with and break a silence I have kept for the past five months since Leslie died. For five months I have scarcely left my home, except to walk the dogs or buy groceries.  I have scarcely spoken to another human being, but especially have not spoken to my family or my friends who knew me before Leslie died.  And the longer it continues, the harder it gets to make that first gesture of contact.  I do not talk. I do not write.  I just drift in silence from one day to the next.  I feel like three-quarters of who I am has been gouged out of me, and what is left is this muted shrieking that I dare not let out for fear it will swallow me completely.

I miss Leslie so much and I want to talk about her, because it’s Leslie that sticks in my throat; along with my grief.  My grief is not so hard to explain, really. My sister suddenly fell sick and died.  I am angry, shocked, sad, confused, guilty, in denial and I want her back.  That is grief in a nutshell.  I want to talk about Leslie, but I do not know to whom, and it does not help that I’ve erected this imaginary wall between myself and my family.  I think I have it in my head that they (particularly my mother, step mother and Leslie’s husband) have their own grief to contend with and for me to talk about mine feels somewhat self-indulgent.  Then, there’s the guilt I feel over my months of silence….

Today I Skyped with my son, Ian, for the first time in months.  I was nervous about it, but it was alright.  I think (I’m pretty sure) he understood how losing her has affected me.  I promised him I’d call his brothers, and I will.  Still, I struggle with reaching out, but I’ll try to push that anxiety aside and get on with it.  I think the time has come to bring down my wall and reconnect with my tribe.  This silence does me no favours.

On a more positive note, I am taking steps to care better for myself.  I’ve sworn off sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and various other evils — all of which I’ve done to ridiculous excess since Leslie died.  It dawned on me that destroying my body won’t bring her back to me, though it might hasten my joining her.  Instead I think it better to try to get stronger despite the grief, think of her, remember her and of course, talk about her.  I’ll probably be doing a lot of that.