Monday, May 4, 2009
My Story, Part VI
To this day I don't know how C. paid for that car. I can't remember if he was still at the Jr. College at this time. I know at some point he had quit teaching and was in some counseling capacity and then at another point, he was no longer working there. I don't know why. But he had a knack for the stock market and he played it and he won mostly.
But even still- a Porsche?
I have a feeling I may have paid for it. Unbeknownst to me, my brother and I had inherited quite a bit of money from our father's side of the family. It was all tied up in trusts and had come originally from my father's grandfather. I was not told of this money until I turned eighteen but my mother (and thus, her husband) had control of it and she was able to use funds from it for my support. Was a Porsche part of that support? Was the room they built onto the house? I'll never know.
But anyway, here came this car, this beautiful curvy, low-to-the-ground, purring-like-a-cat car. And let me say that in our driveway at the time was a 1960 VW Bug and the Vista Cruiser. I could not believe my eyes to see C. pull up in this thing, scraping the driveway as he came because it was so low-slung.
I'm told that abusers frequently "gift" their victims. To buy their silence, mostly. But I think in this case, C. was showing me that he was the one who could provide what I really wanted. In this case, an impossible dream of a car. Forget those high school boys with their '55 Chevy's and their mama's Fords, he could give me a Porsche.
Not that he ever really gave it to me but once I started driving, he frequently handed me the keys as if he was bestowing a great and grand blessing on me, and would hand me money at the same time. And you know what? I took 'em both.
I should never have been trusted to drive that car. Shit. It had more power than any car I've ever driven since. It was a beast. It was a monster. It was a dream.
I remember once, later on, when I was actually in college and home for break, a girlfriend and I went down to St. Pete in the Porsche to pick up another friend from his school for the break. We got stoned on our asses in his dorm room before we left and I should have been scared to death to drive but instead, while the other two passed out for the entire journey, I drove down the highway with the radio on and had the very best time of my life.
It's a wonder I'm alive.
I had boyfriends. There was the Greek guy who gave me his ID bracelet. That lasted about a week. The fellow who lived up the street who gave me his class ring. I decided I hated his cologne and gave it back. I got the major hots for a guy everyone called Mafia. Lord, he was ugly and beautiful at the same time. He always wore sunglasses. I later learned they were prescription and the only ones he had. He was the first boy to kiss me and it was in the parking lot after Cotillion and we were leaned up against my best friend's mama's Lincoln Continental.
And so it went until I met and started dating the sweetest fellow on the face of the earth. He was so kind, so gentle, so loving, so funny, so unique, so special. Really. He was. Everyone thought so. And smart? The boy was a genius. He bought me records, he sang me songs, he wrote me songs. He treated me like I was made of something precious.
And then I got sick. I knew I was sick. I was tired all the time. I had a sore throat. I couldn't stay awake in class. I ran a fever all the time. I didn't tell anyone and no one noticed.
And then, one day I woke up and my eyes were yellow and my pee was pumpkin orange.
My mother took me to the doctor. He determined I had mono and hepatitis. I was sent to the hospital immediately. I stayed there for a month. I almost died. They called in the family. It was the strangest time of my life. I was in pain and they couldn't give me anything for it because of the liver problem. In fact, I don't think they gave me anything except a few Tylenol every four hours. If that.
I had a roommate for awhile and her minister came to see her. He noticed me in the other bed and asked me if I'd been saved.
"No," I muttered, too sick to care.
"Well," he said, "It is more important for you to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior than it is for you to get well."
So much for Christian compassion.
My classmates, told I was dying, sent me boxes and boxes of cards. I got flowers. My mother would come and sit by the bed, and sometimes C. would. I hated him being there. I couldn't make him not be there. And the only friend of mine who was allowed to come visit me was that boyfriend of mine. That sweet, sweet boy. And he did. He sang me "All Things Must Pass," and I heard that song in my head all those painful, endless nights of my illness. George Harrison, saving my life; my boyfriend, saving my life.
He ended up getting mono too, but not too badly and he bore it cheerfully. I hated that I had made him sick. But to him, it had been worth it.
I had a truly mystical experience in that hospital. It was late one night and I was suffering. Down-to-the-freezing-bones suffering. And I was alone and it was dark and all of a sudden, I felt a presence beside me. I interpreted this pretense as Jesus. I couldn't see whoever it was, but he was sitting in a chair beside the bed. He did not take my pain away, but he was there. I was calmed. I was soothed. I knew I wouldn't die.
And I didn't. I finally got well enough to go home. I had lost a lot of weight. A lot. I had hardly been able to eat for a month. Every inch of skin on my body got tiny little bubbles in it that itched like crazy and then peeled away. I lost about half my hair and it never all grew back.
In a way, I was reborn. Not as a Christian, but as a person. I had faced death and after that experience, I was never the same again. I started taking risks, I started asking why.
I started acting in plays both at school and in the community. I remember the night I was in Our Town, as Emily, the main character. My parents were out of town, Mother one place, and C. in another. After the play, I went to a friend's house and got tipsy for the first time in my life on Boone's Farm Apple wine. I was in the best mood ever, happy about the play, happy on the Boone's Farm, happy to be going home to an empty house.
But what did I find when I got there?
C. was home.
I was terrified. I would be alone with him all night. I remember coming in the door, trying to get past the room he was in with the least possible interaction. He just sat there, in front of the TV, the light flickering on his face in the darkness. We talked for a moment and I went on to my room. My room that wouldn't lock. When I think of that night, I get crazy-feeling. But nothing happened. Nothing except that my beautiful night had been turned into a night of dread and fear.
Grades began not to matter so much to me. I had missed three months of school. I made up what I could and I didn't worry about the rest. My chemistry teacher told me he'd give me a C if I promised never to take chemistry again in my life. I promised. I thought about that a lot when I was studying to be a nurse and had to take both regular and organic.
I continued to date the boyfriend who had probably saved my life with his presence, his prayers, his love, his songs. But I grew weary of his sweetness. I didn't know what to do with a nice boy. I needed someone who was crazy, and that man of course appeared on the horizon, ready to take on the job. I broke up with the perfect one, got together with the crazy one.
He was my first lover.
I had always wondered if I would actually keep my virginity until I got married, which is what good girls were supposed to do. I had assumed I would. Maybe. But after I almost died, I thought that was ridiculous. So I had sex. I liked it. And at first, this boy was good to me. He brought me not bouquets of flowers, but entire rooms full that he'd cut from people's gardens in the middle of the night. He rode his bike ten miles to come see me. He would have done anything.
C. hated him. Hated him with a passion. He threatened to tell him he had to cut his hair or he couldn't date me anymore. He made fun of him. He did everything in his power to stop me from seeing him. Which of course only made me want him more.
I heard there was a doctor in Winter Haven who would put unmarried girls on the Pill without their parent's permission. I went to see him and he was a saint. He was risking his license. "I'd rather put you on the Pill now," he told me, "Then to see you in here in a few months, pregnant."
In those days, an unwanted pregnancy was a girl's worst nightmare. Abortion was illegal. The stigma of pregnancy was not to be overcome. You got kicked out of school.
And yet, there was part of me that wanted to get pregnant because if I had, this boy would have married me and we would have moved into a place of our own. Plus, I already knew I loved babies and could take care of them.
Somehow, though, I knew better than to make such a foolish move. I took the Pill.
My mother found my birth control pills and was aghast. She was furious at me. I was all of seventeen and yet she offered to help me pack my things so I could move out. She even told me that it affected her sex life, knowing that I was out "screwing" my boyfriend. I hated that word. I hated the fact that she brought up her own sex life. I have no idea why she did that. She's not like that now. She's open, she's tolerant, and I'm sure she'd deny ever having said that. But she did. I felt as if I'd let her down. I was shamed and I promised never, ever to have sex again.
That didn't last too long.
I started figuring out this boy was crazy and I broke up with him. I started dating another fellow. He was a good guy, funny and smart but then I found out he was sleeping with another girl and I was so hurt.
I went back to the crazy boy. We fought, we broke up, we made up, we couldn't figure it out. I would rage with anger against him and then feel completely crushed when we weren't together. I think now I felt like I needed him for protection. He may have been crazy, but he was, at times anyway, crazy in love with me, and would have done anything to protect me. I remember crying to him about my step-father, telling this boy how much I hated him, but I would never tell him why. I was too shamed. I was too paralyzed with fear.
When I went away to college, I left this boy behind and I was sure I was in love with him. He immediately started sleeping with one of my best friends. My heart was broken. I was far, far away in Denver, Colorado where everything was alien. I had wanted to go to Duke but because of my imperfect grades (although I always tested VERY well) they put me on the list for January instead of September and I couldn't wait that long to get out of Winter Haven, out of that house. So I went to University of Denver, the only other school I'd applied to.
And it was a horrible experience and I look back on it with grave wonder at how I survived. I got stoned for the first time. I got really drunk for the first time. I slept around. Those were the times. The Pill had made everything easy. There was no herpes yet, no AIDS. Of course there were STD's but antibiotics made them easily cured. Drugs were everywhere. Acid, Sopers, Cocaine, always pot. I tried it all.
I realize now that I was indeed acting out. Freed from the constant presence of my stepfather and the constant fear and darkness of that house, I flung myself into whatever I found attractive. It was MY body, MY choice, and I did what I wanted. I was also, I realize now, self-medicating because I sank into a huge depression. Denver was geographically a terrible match for me. I didn't care a thing for mountains and there were no oceans in Colorado, no trees to speak of in Denver. The kids were all cooler than me, many of the DU students were from New York, rich kids who'd gone to prep school while I literally did not know what a prep school was. They skied, they'd been doing New York-rich-kid drugs for years. They had parents with last names that even I recognized. School became of no importance to me and after three semesters, I let myself flunk out and left the college. I'd taken a three hour exam in ten minutes. It was all the time I needed to write down the answers I knew.
I knew my time in Denver was over. I was living, at the time, with a drug dealer, and by the time the snow had melted enough for me to get out of there, he was already dating someone else. I could not possibly have cared less.
At a Christmas vacation, I'd had a fling with a home boy and he attended FSU. "If you hate Denver, he'd said, "You can come and live with me in Tallahassee."
Yeah. I'm pretty sure he wished he'd never said that because I took him at his word. I packed my little car with all my earthly belongings- a rocking chair which I still have, two parakeets in a cage, my records, my books, my pressure cooker, my clothes. I drove from Denver to Tallahassee, nineteen years old and brave and scared, never having driven more than fifty miles in my entire life, but determined to get the hell out of Colorado, to start a new life, back in the south where I wasn't laughed at for my accent, where I might feel at home again. But not in Winter Haven. The five hour drive between Tallahassee and Winter Haven made it seem safely distant.
I finally got to Tallahassee and found David's house. It was on the corner of Call and McComb, a tiny old slave quarters house, I'm sure, right near the campus. I got out of my car and there was a man standing there. He said, "You must be Mary."
I said I was and he said, "I'll take you to find David."
And that was how I got to Tallahassee, thirty-five years ago. By complete serendipity and I'm still here, or at least only a few miles down the road.
And I think the time has come to start talking about how the abuse has affected me since that time. How its affects led me to make decisions that I probably shouldn't have. How I finally came to realize how profoundly it had affected me. How I finally started to talk about it. How I finally started to deal with it. How I got help, how I decided that the chain of dysfunction which had made it possible for such a thing to happen to me (and probably my brothers) would end with me. At least on my end. How it still affects me.
And how it has affected my relationship with my mother and my brothers. My children and my husband.
It's almost six o'clock on a Monday evening and it's been one of those days that makes old breaks in bones ache with rain threatening but never arriving and with the rise in humidity and a thickness in the air. I've been waiting all day to work on this and was going to wait until my husband left town so I could spend uninterrupted time on it. He's late getting out of town and hasn't yet gotten home to pack and part of me is angry. My time! This was going to be my time!
And I know that this reaction stems from the abuse. I never had any time or space in that house I grew up in which was mine and mine alone and I still thirst for it.
But just like with every other situation which I face like this, I have to realize that this anger is just a reaction. It's not really directed at him. My husband hasn't robbed me of time alone. I've had time alone all day long. And part of my anger is that he'll be on the road late after a long day of work and I'll worry about him. Having finally found, after never believing I would or could, a man who treats me with only respect and love, how can I not think that the other shoe will drop at some point? That he'll be taken from me, or leave me? As a child, there was never anything which looked good that turned out to be so. C. looked good. I loved him with all my heart and he ended up hurting me for life.
And now, after twenty-five years with this good man, I know he IS good and so the only response I can logically come up (using the tortured logic of the abused child) is that he won't stay. I don't deserve such a man. He'll either leave me outright or be taken from me. I worry about those things inappropriately. Not obsessively, but there have been times since we've been together, that I have.
My husband asked me a long, long time ago how long I was going to punish him for the things other men had done to me. That comment opened my eyes. I had punished him for things he did not do, but for some perceived slight which caused an immediate reaction: defense, anger, paranoia, coldness. And I have tried, since then, not to do that.
But it's hard. It's hard to examine my feelings and try to make sense of them, to let go of what isn't appropriate and to replace that with what is.
I am not angry at my husband. I worry about him because I can't imagine life without him. I worry that he works too hard, that he carries too much on his shoulders. I worry, above all, that he doesn't know how much I truly love him and respect him.
But I'm trying to learn to show him. I've spent twenty-five years trying to chip away at the walls I'd built around my heart so that I can give that heart to him unconditionally, purely, without the testing and fear that causes so many problems.
I remember once my mother, in a rare moment of empathy, asked if "what had happened to me" had affected my marriage.
I was at once stunned that she would even ask and stunned at the idea that there was the remotest possibility that it hadn't.
"Yes," I said quietly. "It has."