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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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Stepmonster

I joke with my daughter all the time, telling her that I am a ruthless, meanest of the mean, stepmonster.

She smiles back at me.  She laughs and says, “Yeah, right.  Far from.”

She’s only nine years younger than I.

My husband is twenty years my senior.  I met him at twenty-one years old.  I was just a lost kid.  Some days, I still am that same lost kid.

When I came into his life, his oldest daughter was sixteen, his next daughter twelve, his son ten, and his younger son eight.

They are now twenty-one, seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen.

I’ve been to my oldest daughter’s graduation, I bought her her second vehicle.  I helped my younger daughter out of a very dark place in her life at a time that all of us felt helpless to do anything but watch her slip away.  I share Yu-gi-oh! cards with my sons.  I let them teach me about their favorite video games.

I share a unique bond with my stepchildren, and it’s due to the very thing that so many people swore would curse my ability to blend with this family – my age.

I greatly lacked the maturity to “parent” these kids – and am well aware that I still do.  Having had none of my own children creates for a lack of experience that leads, quite often, to mistakes and over-stepping.  There are many times I preach to my husband about how he should have, could have or would have raised his children.  Then I realize immediately afterward – it’s not my place.  I don’t know anything about raising kids, besides the experience I am taking in right now.  I angered the kids’ biological mother many times with my choices of handling certain situations.

It wasn’t until I made the choice to be me, and only me, regardless of judgement or acceptance, that things began to fall into place.  I became someone in the middle.  Capable of stepping up to nurture and protect my kids when needed, and also capable of relating to them on a personal level due to the closeness of our age.

Suddenly my younger daughter was able to tell me the things happening in her life that she was horrified to tell her mother and father.  Things that I would understand, because I’d been there, I’d done that.  And as a result, I could tell her honestly, just how bad her life was about to get – and she listened, and asked for help.  She asked for a way out.  My sons could tell me about video games, and even let me play them, and I knew how to already, without needing to be taught and then expressing frustration and giving up right away.  Our interests are common – they are interests of youth.  Things we do know about, things we don’t know about.  We relate to one another, and we share our experiences.  I am not an authority, unless I have to be.  I am just a bonus member of the family for these kids.

We are five years strong as a family unit.  There are days that the kids don’t want me around, and there’s days that I certainly don’t want to be around.  But then there’s more often days that we spend together, that we have fun, and we make memories that we may forever cherish.  Life is not over for these children because their mother and father did not stay together.  I believe that things happen for a reason.

This entry is not of any particular purpose.  If anything, it is for me to accept myself as I am, stepmother or not.  I am of value in this family, and I belong here.

My trial has been far from perfect.  I have so much respect for all the fellow stepmothers out there, who support each other, and offer so many different words and phrases of encouragement.

There is no guidebook to parenting.  There will never be a guidebook to step-parenting.  No one’s trial as a step parent can be compared to another, or ever called “the same”.  To tell you other step parents out there that I have a method and I have my sh*t under control would be a blatant, far-fetched lie.  The only thing I can tell you that got me this far, and will (I pray) get me through for the rest of my life, was just choosing not to give up.  And I came close to giving up, believe me.  On more than just a few occasions.

I could walk away and never look back, and no one would blame me.  Or I could stay, and keep getting back up every time I get knocked down, building a stronger and stronger foundation with the family I have become a part of.

Don’t waste your time trying to please the ex.  You either get along or you don’t.  She will always have her reasons for feeling the way she does, as you will have yours, so don’t blame her, either.  She may manipulate, lie, and sabotage when she feels vulnerable.  She may try to win her ex, your partner, back at what seems to you, completely random moments.  Some days, she might surprise you with a polite “thank-you” for something you did for the kids, or even for her, despite all your previous grievances with her.  It is not in any way your obligation to do right by her accord.  Your very existence within her broken family is not right by her accord.  Be polite to her.  Don’t talk bad about her.  Shut your partner down if he begins talking bad about her to or in front of the kids.  And lastly, pray for her.  Or hope.  Hope that she overcomes her struggles, and moves past her pain, to let go of her ex and live her own life.

And pray for yourself.  Stand tall, and smile into the storm.  The sun always rises after every nightfall.  Don’t play games.  Be the woman you are, love the man you’re with, do the best you can, and know that you are NOT in control of his kids, his ex, or their ultimate outcomes as people.  You CAN be an influence, and guide them down the right path if they let you.  But don’t blame yourself if they don’t.

Keep your stress levels down no matter what.  I have fallen victim to myself.  Too many times, in an absolute stress storm after a disagreement with one of the kids, or a pileup of “to-do”s all heaped into one weekend that Super Man himself couldn’t get done with his powers of lightning speed.  Flying off the handle with unreasonable anger and impulsive demands, in the heat of the moment.  Makes for an ugly experience, and sometimes words got said that I couldn’t take back.  I try my best to learn from my mistakes and improve as I move forward.

Go for a walk when you’re upset.  Ten minutes, twenty minutes, then come back with a cool head.  Spend time with your friends.  They will save your life in your darkest moments.  Make time for yourself and remind yourself that you are doing your best, and your best IS good enough.  Be proud of yourself and everything that you are capable of doing.  Not everyone can handle the load you are under.  And remember that not everyone has any idea of the load you’re under.

Ten percent of life is what you make of it.  The other ninety percent is how you take it.

To all fellow stepmothers out there, I wish you all the best.  I have much respect for each and every one of you.  Please pray for me along my path.  This journey is far from over.

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