Excerpt – “Can You Hear Me”

“Can you hear me?”

“Anna.  Anna!”

“Baby please wake up.”

I can hear the voices.  I can feel the love.  I can feel my body, at rest.  I need to open my eyes and answer them.  Tell my mother that I’ll be okay.  Tell my husband that I love him.  Tell my father I’m sorry for being so weak.

But I’m just not ready I guess.

My mind is trying with all its might, to force my body to make some sort of movement.  But the connection just isn’t there.  The brain-to-impulse-to-nerve-to-muscle movement just isn’t complete yet.  I know it will be, eventually.

For now I will just resume the peaceful dreams.  The calm and quiet.  The gentle self-reflection.

How did I end up here?

I can barely remember my last moments.  The argument with Darwin.  The empty house after Jayden and Riley stormed out.  I think I was in the kitchen when everything finally went away.

“How many times do I need to tell you to leave?”

“I’m not leaving my wife here.”

You’re the reason she’s here in the first place!”

“Me?  You’re blaming me for this?  This is a heart attack, Harold – I had nothing to do with this.”

“The hell you didn’t!  You and them goddamn kids and that despicable woman.  You ruined my daughter!  All of you!  Look at her.  Look at her!  You and your family did this to her.  And you know it, you son of a bitch.  She kept trying to tell us – but we kept giving you the benefit of the doubt.  What kind of a man are you, that you can’t keep your old life separate and under control from destroying your new life?  If she wakes up, we are taking her home and she is divorcing you and I never want to see you anywhere near her again, do you understand me?”

“…”

“Both of you have said enough.  I don’t want to hear another word.  We need to be here for her if she wakes up.”

“We don’t know that she’s going to wake up!  What in the hell was going on in that circus of a house that caused this to happen, anyway!?  You don’t know you have it good until it’s all gone, do you?  Just like with your last one.  Let everyone and their dog walk all over you and get between you, and wonder why everything finally came to an end right?  Well this time it might be her life that’s come to an end, because of your bullshit!”

I can feel shock coursing through me as I listen to my father demanding answers from Darwin.  I thought they didn’t believe me when I told them about what was happening at home.  I thought I was making a big deal out of nothing.  Had I really suffered a heart attack?

“You’re not taking her away from me.  I didn’t do this to her.”

I feel desperate to understand what exactly happened.  It frustrates me that I don’t remember the details of what put me where I am now.  Was this really because of Darwin?

I visualize the last thing I saw when I was still awake.  I was turned away from my husband, looking down at my white hands as I gripped the edge of the kitchen sink like my life depended on it.  I can remember the tear drops on the backs of my hands.  They were falling from my face – from my eyes.  What was it again that had me so upset?  I want to remember why we were arguing, but I can’t seem to recall.

Everything begins to fade from me despite my protests, wanting to hear more of the discussion between my mother and father and my husband.

I’m resting, but not completely.  I’m back into one of the many dreams I’ve been having over the course of my time in an unconscious state.

We’re out in the field, my father and I – stacking square bales on the trailer behind the pickup while my mother inches the unit forward slowly.  I’m a seventeen year old, confused teenager again, farming with my folks and schooling myself from home.

“Put some muscle into it!” my dad hollers at me.  “Jesus, Anna.  Come on.  You’re not a little kid anymore.”

I do my best not to show any reaction, but give all my energy to heave the bale up onto the trailer faster than the last one.  I’ve loaded over a hundred bales, each of them weighing seventy pounds at the least.  He should be happy that I am keeping up with him.

Then suddenly I find myself seated on the deck with him, my mom, and the neighbor’s son, staring into the darkening summer sky.

I can feel the heat in my face.  I’m waiting to hear my father praise me.

“Got it done today.” I hear him say.

Brian looks at him in curiosity.

“Got the bales all hauled up to the house.  Took a lot out of me.” he adds.

Brian nods.

“How many you get?” he asks in his familiar low voice.  A voice I’ve not heard in over ten years.

“Six hundred or so.”

“Ah, yeah.  Takes a lot out of a guy, heavin’ them things up on the trailer, then unloading and stacking ‘em when you decide where you want ‘em.” Brian replies, casting a small glance at me.

“I helped.” I pipe up.

Brian grins at me now.  He is aware of my frustrations with my father.

My dad casts a glance at me now too, before returning his attention to Brian.

They continue to chat pointlessly into the night while I lean back in my chair and stare out into the sky, wondering when my dad will ever give me praise.

It doesn’t take me long to realize that I’m dreaming, and soon the scene changes again.

Brian is seated on my bed, beside me.  Sunlight is filtering through my window, shining right onto the side of his face as he looks my bare self up and down.

I can feel the blood drain from my face as I remember exactly what it is that he’s about to say after he just took my virginity and I wait for him to tell me this means he loves me.

“I kind of lied,” he says to me with a small, guilty smirk on his face.  “Janna and I didn’t actually… break up.”

I remember the sadness.  I remember the surprise, when I first learnt he had lied to me.

“I know all this already.” I mutter.

Brian looks up at me in shock.

“I don’t know why I have to remember this.  I don’t know why I have to feel this, all over again.  I know, Brian, you didn’t break up with Janna.  You’re about to pull out the engagement ring you bought for her, flash it in my face, and suggest that I keep my mouth shut.  I’m going to cry, and ask you why you did this to me, and you’re going to tell me because you took the liberty of taking my first time for my sake because you’re experienced.” I continue.

Brian becomes blurry before me, as I can feel myself exiting yet another dream.

A gasp escapes me as I sit up quickly in our bed.  Darwin is beside me, with his arms around me instantly.

We’re at home now.

“Anna.  Baby what’s wrong?” Darwin asks quietly.  “You’re dripping in sweat.  Bad dream?”

“Bad dream?” I echo faintly.  “I survived?  I survived the… heart attack?”

“What heart attack?  You haven’t had a heart attack – you’re much too young.”  Darwin almost laughs as he holds me against him.  “Silly girl.”

I turn my head sharply to look him in the eyes.

“Don’t talk to me like that.” I hiss.

“Like what?”

“Like I’m dumb.  You put me down.” I answer immediately.

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”  He releases his grip and leans back, regarding me with a passive dismissive look.  “Do you want some breakfast?”

I grunt and glare at him.  He puts me down constantly and then makes me feel like a nut case every time I try to stand up for myself.

“You’re getting mad over nothing.  I called you silly.  I meant it in a totally loving way.” he murmurs to me as he twists his body to get out of bed.  “Now, do you want some breakfast or not?”

First he puts me down, then disregards my upset and makes me feel like a hot mess of psychopathy when I tell him I am upset, and then immediately changes the subject to derail the conversation altogether.  Or he turns it around on me.

“No I don’t want any damn breakfast – I want you to stop putting me down.” I snap at him again.

I see anger flicker briefly across his gaze as he attempts to maintain his nonchalant front with me.

“I guess I’ll have breakfast by myself then.” he murmurs before turning away from me.

“Fuck you, Darwin – say something about what I just said to you!” I yell.

“What?” he demands.  “What do you want?  You woke up from a bad dream, I grabbed you right away, I held you, I looked after you, and you just start yelling at me.”

We fall silent, staring one another down.

Is he right?  Did I just over react?  Have I been looking for something to react to since I feel so beat down from every other time that he’s made me feel dumb?  I suddenly feel a pang of guilt as I think of how ungrateful it must appear – he simply tries to comfort me from a bad dream, and I just start losing my shit on him for no apparent reason.  Wait a minute.

No.  No!  This is the abuse.  This is it.  He’s abusing me right now.  And he’s doing it successfully, yet again.  I should be angry.  I have the right to be angry.  It’s very possible for me to have a heart attack despite my youth – because I did have one – and he is making me out to be melodramatic and unaware of what is possible with my body.  This is another of these dreams.

“You’re not treating me right.” I whisper to him as I watch the environment blur around us.

Darwin makes to say something, but immediately fades from view as well, and everything finally just goes black.

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The Great Divide

I read once that a woman’s mind alters for life during her twenty-sixth year.  I heard that when I was twenty-three.  Of course I didn’t believe it.  Her body changes, and with it, her hormones become altered and her entire pattern of thought changes radically.  The whole world can appear different to her from one day to the next, and she won’t know or understand why.

I’m not sure if that’s my problem.  But three weeks or so ago, everything changed.  I woke up from what appears to be a bad dream, and am now wondering what the hell I’m doing, why I’m where I am, and how quickly and how rapidly I can change things and take care of myself – only myself, once and for all.

“If anything, you don’t know when to quit on a horse that’s already dead.  So I wouldn’t go with a lack of trying.” is my best friend’s text message response when I explained to him that I finally let my partner know of the impending doom of a changing heart.  I told my best friend that I felt ashamed for being this tired after this many years of trying and trying, to just wake up one morning and realize it’s all too heavy for me.  I just can’t do it anymore.  It was making me feel like a quitter.  I should try harder.

But when do I get to come first?  When do I get to do what I want?  Be who I want to be?  I’m twenty-six years old.  Can’t I be just that?  A twenty-six year old woman?

It’s a tough, straight up mentally damaging road for any stepmom.  For any “younger” wife.  To walk into a family that you were never part of, and love kids that may never love you back – to love a man who is constantly torn between you and other people.  To give input and assistance to raise adolescents and teens when you have no parental know-how, and everyone looks at you with judgment in their eyes every time you fuck up.  Because you can fuck up, and you will.  A lot more than you will ever like to admit.  To stand by the man you love while he reminisces with his kids about the good times with the woman before you.

I don’t blame my partner for any of it.  It’s a damn hard road for everyone involved.  Him, his ex-wife, her boyfriend, the kids, and lastly, me.  It’s easy for me to fight with any one of them.  But now that I’m so disengaged, it’s easy to realize that they’re all humans, struggling inside the very same rocking boat as me.  I wonder if any of them have days like this.  Days of complete exhaustion.  “I’m done.  I can’t do it.  I can’t keep up.  I tried.  I need to look after me now.  It’s too heavy – I can’t hold up.”

And I just don’t want to anymore.  Everything I used to love – painting, writing, raising the goats and sheep – I’ve entirely lost my compassion for life and after three weeks of feeling this way, I’ve made the step toward advertising and preparing my livestock all to sell.  I’m going to send my dog to a new home.  I’m going to donate nearly all of my wardrobe to charity.  I’m putting the pens and the sketchbooks away.

I’m sad and ashamed to feel this way.  I feel as though I’m about to let everyone down.

But at the same time – I can feel something, like a small spark trying to ignite.  Way down in the deepest, darkest part of my subconsciousness, desperate to light up and burst through to the surface.  It’s the real me.  I can bring her back to life, if I take the time now to nurture myself and make the changes I need to get me to where I want to be.

And so I find myself standing before a divide, with umpteen people standing on one side, and myself on the other.  The choice is mine to make.

Growth

I think it goes without saying that each and every one of us has a blotch in our past.  That ugly mark, that you wish would go unnoticed, or forgotten, but in the back of your mind, you remember it so vividly, for the sole reason that you are not at all proud of who you were or what you did in that moment.

Our self esteem is not so much a quality or aspect of ourselves, as it is a process.  I don’t believe anyone is simply born into this world with the perfect amount of self-confidence and respect.

It comes from how we are raised, partly, and what kind of environment we grew up in, what kind of people we socialized with and grew up with.  There are too many factors to consider when attempting to understand one particular individual and why they act the way they do, or why they feel the way they do.

As a teenager, I constantly felt like a victim.  I felt poorly about myself, and it was evident.  I was an easy target for all the wrong types of people.

Even into early adulthood, I saw life through tunnel vision.  I was the only person on this planet, and my feelings and actions were all I knew and understood.

I don’t know what changed, or when, but a day came in my life when I began to notice the other people around me, and how they behaved, specifically.  Were their actions familiar to me?  Was it something I had done or said once myself?  And why did I do or say that very same thing?  The more I observed, the more I learnt.

I began seeing the psychiatrist when I was nineteen years old.

I was greatly unhappy with myself.  I focused on my mistakes, and every single shortcoming, until I was so distressed that I felt I didn’t belong.  At all.  Mentally, I had hit rock bottom, and there was nothing that anyone could do to help me, as long as I couldn’t help myself.

There had to be something I could do, to become a better person.  To become stronger, and healthier, and most importantly, happy with myself.

It was the recognition of my own poor self esteem, and the constant observation and attempt to understand my feelings and actions and exactly what provoked me, that ultimately led to the path of betterment.

My past is most certainly not perfect.  I’ve made too many mistakes and wrong choices to count.  But that doesn’t make me any less of a human being.  It doesn’t take away the opportunity for me to become better.

DSC_0801I’ve learnt to be proud of my accomplishments, and accept and love myself for who I am, as I work to become better and better with every passing day.  I will still make mistakes.  I will still make the wrong choices.  But as I grow and become a better person, I will become stronger, more understanding, and happier, and the mistakes and wrong choices will lessen.

I want to be a part of the change I want to see in this world.

It’s easy to remember the bad things.  The experiences, the people, and all the things you dislike about yourself.  Make the effort to forgive and forget, and start remembering all the good things.  See what it does for you.

There is nothing that holds us back but ourselves.

Free your mind, and open your heart to becoming better.  Be better today than you were yesterday.  Do something to improve your happiness.  Learn something new.  Smile at someone who loses their patience with you for no reason, and pray for their lives to get better.

Let’s make the world a great place to be.

via Daily Prompt: Better

To The Fullest

My lifestyle could be labelled as “busy”, “pressured”, “blue collar”, you name it.

I live the fullest lifestyle.

I live a life of stress, work overload, anxiety, etc., but I use all those qualities of my life, and more, to make it the best it can be.  Leading a stressful life means for incredible days off.  The road trips are that much more wondrous and relaxing.  The camping is that much more appreciated.

Anxiety is quelled by many things when the effort is made to cope with and deal with it as a chronic ailment.  My ways of dealing with it are relaxation, hobby farming small animals, and doing anything that is calm, safe, and creative.

If my husband and I quarrel, we bounce back twice as strong in love and spending time together to make up for damages.  I don’t think we would love one another half as much as we do, if it hadn’t been for the quarrels and struggles we have faced along the way.  We’ve had to learn to understand each other and continue to love and support one another, even at our worst.

Years ago I lived day by day in pessimism and misery.  Nothing was positive.  I wasn’t grateful for anything.  I dreaded waking each morning and facing the world all over again, feeling as though I had no purpose.  Back then I lived a quite depressing lifestyle.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of hard hits and bad experiences, for me to realize what the negative does for me.

I will forever stand by the statement that life is what you make of it.

One day, I finally understood the balance between negative and positive, and how to make the most of what I had.

I give it everything I’ve got now – for my sake, for my husband’s and kids’, and all those around me, to live the fullest lifestyle.  To appreciate the bad experiences because I know that it will make all the good ones that much more worth it.

7008102-dandelion-field-sunsetLiving the fullest lifestyle means living with gratitude and compassion.  It means choosing to be happy no matter what the circumstance, because even though it can get very dark, the sun always rises the next day.  Every moment is absolutely worth it.

Find your balance.

My Secret Side

There’s a side to me that I was once very ashamed of.  Perhaps you cannot define it as a “side”, or a “personality”.  For me, it was the simple inability to let something go that dated way back, to my early childhood.

I still have bed time teddy bears.

There it is.  The cat’s out of the bag, for the whole world to see.  Actually, I’m not embarrassed at all anymore.  My friends and my husband helped me to make the most of it as a habit.  My kids have a great time with it.

Unicorn Stuffy 6He found the dog food bowls and was disappointed to learn they weren’t for him…

I have two bed time teddy bears.  Kitty (not seen in photos) from when I was four years old (I don’t take Kitty on long road trips out of the hyper paranoia of losing her or leaving her behind somewhere.) and my little unicorn, who I’ve never actually given a name to, now that I think of it.

They are tucked neatly under our covers every day while we are all away from home, and at night when we lay down to sleep, they are both snuggled in my arms before my husband puts his arms around me.  It’s one of the calmest, happiest feelings to sink into before I fall asleep.

DSC_0420Coming along on the hike in the canyon!

They are not my only teddy bears.  Our bedroom is nearly covered.  I have one large shelf that is dedicated entirely to my stuffy collection.

I tried not to let it show how much I adored (and still often played with, finding just as much amusement now as I did when I was a child) my stuffed animals.  I thought it had to mean there was something wrong with me.

Until one day I brought it up to my psychiatrist.  She burst out laughing, and I hung my head in shame almost immediately.

Unicorn Stuffy 1Can we have a bath now?

“No,” she said, “Don’t you dare be ashamed!  Don’t hide your joy from it, either!  Embrace that!  Let others in to see it – it’s beautiful, and it’s something to value.  It’s something that you know makes you happy.  Don’t hide it.  I laugh because I truly enjoy that – I am happy for you!  I still get joy from setting miniature furniture up in my old doll houses.  I’m not afraid to show it – I never will be!  My childhood is precious to me.  As yours should be to you.”

That conversation was already seven years ago now.  My friends, my family, my husband, everyone knows now.  No one has ever cast judgment on me for it.

Nowadays, we take my little unicorn everywhere.DSC_0811

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peewee

On Thursday, April 27th, a small bundle of joy was left freezing outside in the cold winter/spring mixed weather in my goat pen.

I don’t normally talk about or write about my experiences with my livestock.  I am overly attached to my livestock, and I feel like a failure and a bad owner any time I have an animal come down sick or pass away.  The local vet has likely made most of their income from me alone.

I was doing chores as per routine, in the evening after work, and I saw a very young nanny walking about with after birth shedding.  I assumed I would be finding a dead kid.  (Goat kid.)  I rushed into the pen, cursing at the nanny as I went, and surely enough found the little baby lying outside in a bundle of straw, soaking wet and nearly frozen.  I thought she was dead, but she made the tiniest movement to my surprise.  I grabbed a rag immediately and rubbed her down, attempting to dry her off.

My daughter came outside to help me, and together we put the baby in a birthing pen and caught the mother and brought her in.  She would have none of it.  She didn’t want her baby, she was kicking and fighting, and she nearly stepped on the baby twice.  I felt overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.  I tried to milk the mom goat, and she had not one drop to give me.  The baby was a preemie.

My husband got home from his work, and I asked him immediately if he could finish feeding the animals while I struggled with what was at hand.  He informed me that he couldn’t, as he’d been obligated into a favor for a family member, and they’d been exclusively waiting for him to get off work so he could go do the favor.  I expressed anger, but didn’t object.  He left and I was alone with the kids to handle the livestock and this new baby.

We fought with the baby.  She wouldn’t suck from the bottle, and was losing strength with every passing moment.  I was going to lose her.  I’ve lost seven so far this season, and have nine on the ground.  I’m only a quarter of the way through.  It hasn’t been the best start this year.

My daughter and I tried again taking the baby out to the barn and trying to get the mother to take her.  Not a chance.  Then we found that another nanny had kidded, and we attempted getting her to take the baby by smearing the after birth over her to give her the new mother’s scent.  It was a noble effort, but it too failed.

Last resort.  I phoned my father.  He and my mother live over ten hours away.  But if I need any sort of advice, they are my number one.

It was both a surprise and a bloody miracle to learn that they were within an hour’s distance from our home, and they decided to head straight to us once they got my call.  I was a complete mental wreck.  I couldn’t hold everything together – I still didn’t have chores done.  We hadn’t eaten supper yet.  My husband was still MIA.

But my mother and father showed up with smiles on their faces, told me not to worry, and walked into the house with me to look at my baby goat.  My mother had her drinking from the bottle in five minutes.

I got a laundry basket and laid towels in the bottom for the little goat.  That night we set her next to our bed, and I watched her for a long time before I was willing to let myself fall asleep.

She’s two weeks old tomorrow.  I call her “Peewee” now.

I struggle with anxiety every day.  I know I’m not alone.  I have an acute restlessness that mixes with fear and causes me the inability to mentally, and physically relax in any way.  It can be debilitating, and has left me struggling quite often in more ways than one.  My husband struggles to understand it, and as a result, has a difficult time helping me cope and deal with it.

Some days the restlessness is so overpowering that I work until I almost cannot stand anymore.  I get home, I do chores, I come inside and clean and cook (and often skip eating, as eating makes it only feel worse), and then at the end of the night, if I feel exhausted enough, I can then finally lie down to rest.

Until two weeks ago.

Peewee 4A little goat has come into my life, and she has brought back my laughter.  She’s brought back my appetite.  She’s brought me the relaxation, of sitting down and playing with her in the living room and laughing while her milk bottle warms up.  It’s only for ten minutes at a time.  But it’s making a huge difference.  It brings back all the memories of when I was a child and we raised goats.

The anxiety still exists.  I wake every morning, afraid to look over into her basket.  Baby goats are hard keepers, unless they are being fed properly, on time, and are closely monitored.  And even then, you can lose them at any moment.  I’ve grown so attached to her, that I feel like I need her as much as she needs me.

It doesn’t matter how old I am, or how much I have on my plate, or what responsibilities lie before me.  I will never be at my full potential as long as I am weakened by my own anxiety.  I must take the time to relax and reset – even if it’s for ten minutes per day while I play with a charismatic little baby goat.

Escaping the Confines

My mind can empower me at any given moment.  I set my sights on something – and I obtain that ultimate goal no matter what the obstacle, because my mind empowers me with knowledge and memory of past experience.  I do it, I get it, I go it, because I know I can.

And then all at once, my mind can entrap me, and paralyze me.  One “unknown” lies before me on the path to that ultimate goal, and my uncertainty turns to fear that devours me in an instant.  I become afraid and unwilling, and as a result, I don’t even bother to try.

And then there is depression.  I can sink into the depths, or I can dance around the edges, toying with the thought of plunging in.  Once I jump in, I struggle to climb back out.

My husband sank, about a month ago.

They tell you that happiness is contagious.  So is every other emotion.

His life before me has come crashing into us, flooding our current life like a tsunami.  Things are not settled, and have never been, for some five years now.  His ex-wife is holding back, and seeming to grasp every last straw she can, to prevent the final, official declaration of the dissolution of their marriage.

I used to vent and rage about her.  I used to carry a bitter grudge, for all the spiteful, hurtful things she’d ever said or done to or about me.  I used to resent my husband for having been married to her, of all women on this planet, for as long as he had been.  I thought that she was the only woman on this earth capable of inflicting the mental and physical wounds she has, in five long years.

The good times in our home were great.  The bad times were the worst I have ever seen.

And in my mind, it was all thanks to this “fucking psychopath” that my husband moronically chose to be with so many years before I ever entered his life.

It’s taken a long time.

I broke down in tears one afternoon, in the summertime last year.  Confused, sad, frightened.  His life is still not over with his ex-wife.  She’s become even worse to deal with.  It feels as though there’s no place for me in this life.  Maybe I need to move on.  Maybe they want to reconcile.  Maybe he and I were never meant to be.

I continued on with the destructive thoughts of how much I hated her.

And finally one day, I decided to stop reading the stepmom forums.  I started looking for bio moms, and what they had to say.  I wanted, more than anything, to find some way to understand this woman, rather than hate her, even if I knew she was never going to stop hating me.

shoes

The thing is, no two bio moms are the same.  No two stepmoms are the same.  No two divorces are the same.

But when I finally got to read full disclosure comments, stories, or novels written by bio moms about their experiences with divorce and new girlfriends, etc., I realized that if that shoe was on my foot, I don’t know if I would have handled any of it differently, myself.

I walked into my husband’s life during the first year of his separation from his ex-wife.  I didn’t know that his ex-wife had the intentions of returning to him, after a trial separation.  What she told him versus what she actually wanted, were two different things.

He wasn’t treating her the way she wanted him to.  She tried everything to get through to him, and nothing seemed to work, so she decided to tell him she wanted a divorce.  She left, with big hopes that her absence would be enough for him to come out of his shell and finally treat her the way she so desperately wanted him to.

She made the choice on her own, to begin dating other men at first, and that deterred my husband greatly from wanting to reconcile.  But when I entered his life some six months after they separated, things took an even bigger nose dive for her.

She made the attempt in the first month of our relationship, to reconcile with him.  She opened up to him about her feelings – and he shut her down coldly, still burnt from her leaving, and made the mistake of rubbing salt in her wound by comparing her to me.

And thus, the hatred and jealousy began.

Not by my doing, and not by hers.  The circumstances, the timing, and worst of all, my husband, were all to blame.

I never entered my husband’s life to spite his ex-wife.  She never married him and conceived children with him to spite me.  She wasn’t trying to reconcile with him to spite me.

And neither of us knew it.

Her feelings about me, and her words and actions became worse and worse with time, no matter how much I tried not to anger her.  My kids were told by their mother to deliberately disobey me, because I was the reason that they couldn’t be a family again.

By God, it has been a rough ride over the last five years.  I’ve withstood singular attacks from every child, one by one, and many attacks from her.  Never understanding why.  Never appreciating their perspective or attempting to understand why they did the things they did to me.  I became the lightening rod of the family thunderstorm.

But somehow, I remained on my own two feet.  I remained by my husband’s side.  I helped my oldest daughter.  I rescued my younger daughter from a gripping drug addiction and one of the most inescapable phases of mental anguish that I believe I have ever seen.  I’m still here after each of my sons took their turn with me.  I’m still here after she took her turn with me.

I stood with pride, and sometimes acted smugly about it.

But the attacks didn’t stop.  The criticizing.  The ultimate invasion of privacy – constant spying.  None of it stopped.  And slowly but surely, I grew weak, and uncertain.

My life with my husband suddenly felt unnatural, and overwhelming.

I began to dread coming home after work.  The knot in my stomach would start as soon as I started my car to head home, and it would remain there, until I was finally lying down for the night and no drama had taken place.

Just as beautifully as we had risen to be a strong, happy couple and family, we were suddenly spiraling downward into a frightening and dark abyss of uncertainty.

I got caught in a gripping fear of his ex-wife, and what she could possibly do to me/us next.

Flashback to New Years 2016.

My younger daughter had been living with us for two months already since her distress call to me in late October.

She had nothing to do on the weekend of New Years, and I had plans to make a five hour trip North to pick up my dear friend who I commonly go on summer road trips with.  So I invited her along.  Up to that point, we’d hardly spoken two words to one another besides the constant “I love you”s and “I’m here for you”s.

She agreed to my pleasant surprise, and accompanied me on my drive to retrieve my friend.

A sixteen year old girl began to talk to me that afternoon, and by the time she finished telling me her story, and where she went wrong, and how she really felt, I was sitting next to a forty-something.

Where did her childhood go?  Why did this all sound so familiar?  Oh, right.  Because that was my story, too.  Lost and wounded teenage runaway, uncertain of life itself, struggling to find meaning and purpose in what seemed like a cruel, uncaring world full of evil.

I feared the consequences of opening my heart to her and telling her for the first time that I wasn’t little Miss Perfect when I was her age.  But I chose to tell her anyway.

I’ve never seen a more astonished look.

I related to her.  I understood her.  And that was when I took it a step further, and told her, “You know, all the fights we’ve had – all the times you thought your dad was picking me over you – all the times I had to bring the hammer down and hear you tell me ‘I hate you!’ or ‘You’re not my mom!’ – I get it.  I don’t blame you, one bit.  I can’t imagine I would have acted any differently had it been me in your shoes.  I can’t imagine what you or your sister and brothers must go through, with your parents apart.  My parents are still together.  But I think if my parents ever separated, I would hate seeing them with other people.  It would hurt.  And I know I would make life hard for the new partners.  I hope that eventually you guys can overcome the hurt, and accept me, and whoever your mom ever chooses to date, into your lives.  It can’t be easy.”

I am an “on the fly” kind of speaker, and thinker for that matter.  I don’t practice what I am going to say to someone.  I don’t always think it through good enough, either.  But lots of times, as I speak, I realize new things as I say them.  And that day when I told her I didn’t blame her, I began to realize on the spot that she wasn’t the only one with an entire perspective to consider – her mother and her siblings were, too, and even my husband for that matter.

So lately, I took the time to consider his ex-wife’s perspective.  I made the effort to attempt to understand her, knowing full well that it may not change anything as far as her behavior and attitude toward me is concerned.

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I feel empathy toward this woman, and have freed myself from the anger and the fear, after closing my eyes enough times to imagine what I would feel like in her shoes.  I can’t speak for her directly, but I think it’s enough that I know how I would act in her shoes – and I realized quite quickly that it was not that much different than how she has acted.

I’ve opened my eyes to the triggers and the emotional wounds, if even just a little bit more than before, and am consciously making the effort not to do more damage.

I can’t take away her pain.  I can’t make her hate me any less than she does.  But I can free myself by accepting that she has valid reasons for her feelings, and I can pray that one day she might take the opportunity to imagine herself in my shoes, and learn to understand me and my feelings, too.

My husband struggles more than I do, with his emotions.  He closes himself off and as a result, cannot understand others and their feelings.  I can’t make him understand his ex-wife.  I can’t make him understand me.  I have to hold out faith that eventually, he too will free himself and come to realize that this situation is not comprised of only his perspective.

Empathy and patience.

Life is what we make of it.  I choose to break out of the confines of my own mind, and step into the unknown.  I can get through anything if I put my mind to it.  No matter where this goes, I know I’m going to be alright.