The Powerful Women in My Corner

I want to talk about the women who have “long been in my corner”. Women who have always been a phone call or one hug away. These women gave me the strength to continue to the next breath.

One of them reached out to me this morning and shared how hurt she was that I made it sound like I didn’t have anyone in my corner. I felt awful. I had typed out this post prior to hearing from her because I wanted to address the very complicated subject of what NO ONE and NOTHING feels like when you are in the kind of relationship I was in and why, despite the wonderful women in my life, it doesn’t lessen that feeling.

Feeling alone is all about perspective. And Monday was a day in which I felt there was no way forward, no way out, and that I was powerless against a fate that I had been told would be mine for a long time.

Last week, I started to miss HIM and I felt deeply ashamed. This was not something I would share with my friends. This feeling of panic, that I had gone too far, and that his threats about what was going to happen once I wasn’t in control anymore rang ominous bells and made my stomach ache.

He had been calm for a few days, HIS voice even and amiable, and we had a few conversations that felt real. As if he was contemplating the things that had gone wrong as was taking responsibility. These have always been bread crumbs for me and I have always followed onto the same old path, where sooner than later, the same landmarks led me back to the very same cage. The cage that I would voluntarily walk into and turn the lock myself. I felt this pull as strongly as the tides adhere to the moon and the Earth gravitates around the Sun.

 For many years I called no one because there was no one to call. For many more years I would call no one because I didn’t want anyone to know. But then, about 6 years ago, I allowed myself to become close to a woman who, despite all my attempts to avoid an honest relationship, was insistent that we should be friends. She wooed me with her smile, her willingness to use the F word as a noun and a verb all in the same sentence, and I started to trust her. Enough that I knew I could call her when things got really bad. She was always there when I called. She responded with humor and undying love. Her willingness to listen and then give me sage advice. She didn’t use empty platitudes and always kept it real. She was confident enough to tell me what I didn’t want to hear and she gave the kind advice that takes guts to share. Because it was real and honest.  

Not that I took it. I would let her strength and brashness soothe me and then I would get off the phone, emboldened for a little while and then the fear would seep back in and I would do whatever it took to get things back to our really fucked up kind of normal.

Then I wouldn’t call her for a while. I didn’t want her to know that I wasn’t as brave or strong or smart as she was and most certainly couldn’t live up to what she thought I could be. I could never lie to her so my silence did the work for me.

Soon, I met another close friend of hers and that close friend became a close friend of mine. We shared a very memorable time in Pittsburgh and that cemented the friendship. It also gave birth to our Bad Ass Bitches Text Thread, The BABTT Line for short. A funny and salty text thread that has endured to this day.

I used it to get away from what was happening to me but often I didn’t share the full reality. A text here, a text there and they would say wonderful things that I can’t disclose here—irreverent, every single word.

So, I bet you’re wondering why on earth I am so lonely and sad. With these powerful women in my corner how could I possibly need to reach out to strangers?

I wish I could give you a simple answer but nothing about living through what I have lived through is simple. Just as missing the person that treated me so bad is crazy. It is also possible to feel regularly that I didn’t deserve these women. That what they said, in their strong and thoughtful way, wasn’t true about me and I didn’t have the heart to break it to them. How they would despise my weakest moments. How they would cringe if they knew how I begged, borrowed, and stole to keep HIM. Their anger if they found out just how much of myself, I sacrificed to try to make HIM happy.

No one knew about the early mornings when I was sobbed on the kitchen floor, avocado from the spinach wraps smeared on my hands, my back against my worn-out cupboards, as I tried to process the crushing things HE would say right before he left for work. The sound of his car would wake the kids and I’d get up, wash my hands, and finish their healthy lunches. I’d slip into the groove, my smile in place as I drove them to school, counting the minutes under my breath. One more mile. One more drop- off. Then I could shut all the curtains and get back in bed. I would lay there hiding and crying all day. Until it was time to get up, brush my hair, and paint on the fake smile. I would pick up the kids and help with homework, the routine smoothing the edges until it was easy to believe that all I needed was to get a little bit more “thick skinned”.  Learn to keep my mouth shut. Then everything would be okay.

Making things even worse was my belief that I would never measure up to their success and contentment. Because, let me tell you, the women that I chose to confide in are really fucking awesome. I lack in a lot of areas but my taste in friends in not one of them. The few that I let into my inner circle are strong and smart. Which made it all the harder to really be open with them. Because, I knew that I wasn’t, and that his predictions would come true and I would disappoint them and that if they only knew what HE knew, they wouldn’t like me.

But, their influence. Their persistence seeped in passed all the bullshit and I started to make some serious headway. I started to believe that maybe I could make some plans.  I kept a lot of secrets but with each passing year, I kept less from them. When I started a new career path, they were the first people I called. When I needed advice, I went to the BABTT Line. Slowly but surely their love hacked into HIS program and there were glitches. Promotions. Awards. Diplomas.

I don’t want to forget to mention the fact that there is another wise woman in my life. She has been through so much in her own life.  She watched from afar. She saw him pack his garbage bags in his car when he would leave and saw him when he would unpack them when he would come back and not once did, she condemn me. She just said I love you. That’s it. AND she can always be depended upon for a cup of mayo or a surprise plate of cookies. She is simply the best. Really.

There are other women in my life who have never been given the chance to be there for me because I have a hard time trusting people. Though, they are no less amazing. Like I said before, I always choose woman I can look up to so my life is surrounded by some real kick ass, ball busters.

 I was not alone on that Friday morning when I stood in the bathroom, the shards of glass from the mirror HE smashed, reflecting a million of me. I watched ME tell HIM to go but really it was all the women who stood by me that gave power to my words. It was their unwavering belief in me, all their answered phone calls, thoughtful guidance, and the fact that they lived their lives with such courage that gave me mine.

After he left, I confided in another friend. It took so much courage to tell her what had been happening to me. After that  she texted me every single morning asking if I was okay and if there was anything she could do to help me that day. Each time I told her that being my friend was the most wonderful gift of all.

It is hard to break habits. It is even harder to see things for what they are because it is so much easier to see them for what you want them to be. I believed that I was alone because my reality didn’t look like what I thought it was supposed to look like. I had dreamed of someday for so long, that I had stopped seeing today.

The day I wrote on Jennifer Garner’s post about my desolation and then got that response was the epiphany I needed but not the one I was expecting.

You see, when Jennifer Garner gave her advice and all those women shared their heartbreaking stories. Their success stories. I suddenly realized that many women had experienced what I had.

I also realized that the reason I felt like I had no one and nothing is because I was looking at my life through HIS eyes. I was looking at the way he had defined me.

What I realized is that though my friends aren’t my family, that though I do not have parents or a place to run to where I feel safe– have something far greater than that.

I have powerful women in my corner.

How sad is that it took me so long to realize this?

As soon as I finished my thank you to all the wonderful people who reached out to me, I knew what I needed to do next.

Thank you BABTT for being my ride or die bitches.

Thank you, Sister Friend.

Thank you, Writer Friend.

Thank you to all the friends who smiled when they saw my tears and I didn’t explain. Thank you to all the friends that continued to be my friend no matter all the last-minute canceled plans.

Thank you for always being there for me even when I wasn’t there for you. Most especially, when I wasn’t there for myself.

Thank you, Jennifer Garner. AGAIN. For helping me to see what was right in front of my face.

Unfortunately, I didn’t post this as soon as I should have because I had one more thing to do…

 I went to each of my children’s rooms. I stroked their hair and smoothed their sweaty foreheads as I whispered my Thank You in their ears.

.

Thank you, Jennifer Garner and Friends.

The thing is, that when you live a very long time with someone that you have given your power and trust and love to and they use that power and love and trust to diminish you—well you strop trusting in everything and everyone becomes a stranger.

It begins slowly. I remember the first time I realized that I had changed. It was many, many years ago and I was talking to someone at the coffee shop I used to love.

Serrano’s was this magical space that I went where I wasn’t HIS wife. I was just Shanyn and whatever anybody thought of me was based on what I presented and how I acted. Most of the time, I went there and just sat, sometimes writing, but most of the time I would watch and listen to people. They all seemed so confident and happy and everyone look so well put together. Most everyone. And by well put together I mean they all wore clothes that represented who they were and who they wanted to be and this made them look good.

It was here that I would steal away for a few moments here, a few moments there. Sometimes, I would bring the kids because I wanted them to feel this vibe. It was the closest I could get to raising them in a diverse environment because this is THE VALLEY and things here are locked down. It is conservative at its core and I never did feel really at home here. But, in seeking places that would allow me to feel a little bit of solace I found Serrano’s with its crazy art on the walls, its excellent coffee, and its multicultural vibe. It was here that I felt closest to my roots and that was as I was going to get.

It was also here that I realized the person I thought I was, the person that I thought existed when I got married had either disappeared or she was missing in the deepest sense of the word.

I would talk to people and I had made quite a few friends. My definition of friends at that time and for a long time was probably not theirs or yours. Friends were people that I presented a carefully drawn picture and it was rare that I let anyone past that façade. When the mirage wavered because the reality was too much too bear that day because the trauma was too hard to hold. I would seek anyway possible to regain stasis by going to a place or a person to find the image that I had crafted and carefully try to don it. Sometimes it worked, a lot of times it didn’t, so more and more I just didn’t go anywhere and I stopped reaching out.

Anyway, one day on a regular day I was talking to someone and amid saying whatever thing I was saying, I stopped talking. Right in the middle of my sentence. I then stuttered out an apology begging their forgiveness for overtalking, taking up too much space, just basically apologizing for being alive.

In my head I was writhing. I had made the unforgivable mistake of thinking someone thought what I had to say was interesting or important. I was off kilter. They had been looking at my face, into my eyes, and I wasn’t used to that kind of interest in me.

You see. I was used to someone never looking at me when I spoke. I was used to someone cutting me off or just ignoring me, the wall of silence impenetrable, my voice bouncing off and coming back to me unheard, unwanted. I am not sure how long it had been happening to me at that point but long enough that it had changed me.

I left a bewildered person in my wake, practically running for the safety of my car. Feeling each extra pound, my careful outfit now a clown costume.

It was that day that I realized deep inside me I had come to believe that everyone, everywhere forever was a stranger because I was a stranger to myself.  

Many people consider me outgoing. I can talk to anyone and I will always reach out to help anyone in need. Always. It is easy to think that I am extrovert. I’m not.  I often wonder if I was once, long ago when I was known to myself but I can’t remember that person anymore.

When I posted on Jennifer Garner’s cute picture montage that spur of the moment reveal of my inner raw, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t calculating or measuring my words. It was simply an impulse. It was another really day. I was dealing with the fact that my kids and I had been exposed to someone with Covid and that I had some worrying symptoms. I was also dealing with HIM. I am not going to say his name. I am just going to refer to him as HIM.

 After 18 years of marriage I had told him to leave. The hardest thing I had ever done. I don’t even remember my exact words. I just remember that I had said them out loud and that I meant every single syllable.

To be clear he had left me about 286,132 times. OF course, that number is fictitious but I want to give the sense of just how many times he had put his stuff in garbage bags and walked out the door, vowing to never come back. Never to see the kids. To disappear. That I would suffer and that I would finally find out someday, that I was in fact a piece of shit, and that my kids would understand that, and know that and would finally have the courage to tell me that.

Yeah. All that and more. Always. It was a pattern I did not see. I didn’t understand why he left only that he wanted to get away from me and that it was all my fault and that if only I could be quieter or thinner or smarter, he wouldn’t leave.

I would always beg him to come back. Every. SINGLE. Time. For many reasons that people will never understand. In fact, I think I will continue the rest of my life counting sorting through those reasons and try to figure out why they had so much more value than my life or my kids lives. I will spend the rest of my life trying to forgive myself for those reasons.

He taught me that just because he didn’t drink at the bar every night, he was a good guy. That even though he stopped sleeping in the same bed with me when my son was born (he had actually started doing this way before but it became concrete right after the birth of my last child who is now 13.) he taught me that I was not wanted. He taught me that fight meant me talking back or disagreeing. That having a different point of view or just being silent or having a too civil tone or standing up for myself or acting like I knew more than he did was a fight. Period.

If I had a problem and went to him with said problem, I was bothering him. If I persisted in continuing the conversation about the problem, I was instigating a fight. If, while continuing to “badger” him he thought of something as an answer and that answer wasn’t immediately THE answer then what he said and did after that was my own fault. Because you see, he would say later, and to this day…what he says and does when he is mad doesn’t count.

When HE says, “you are a bulldog, you look like a bull dog.” Or “No wonder your ex beat you up”. When he lowered his tone to a calm and calculating cadence, “Your own father and family don’t want you.” And followed up with his favorite, “I will never love you. Ever. “and then went back to watching tv…none of that really counted.

I began to understand what he wanted me to understand and I began to believe what he wanted me to believe. I was all alone. Everyone thought these things about me and I just wasn’t important enough or I was too argumentative for them to tell me. Everything was strange and the whole world was filled with strangers.

So, the other day when I wrote that little bit of my soul on Jennifer Garner’s sweet picture I did so as I received one ugly text after another from HIM. Even though he is gone, he finds a way to reach into me and remind me of all that he has taught me. It is in every word, it is the subtext, it is the world. His tone and a few simple words to anyone else is nothing. But I have been trained to detect what he means and why he means it.

And there I was on Instagram trying to forget that my world had ended and that I really have nothing and he has everything. Jennifer’s post was bright and pretty and fun. I recalled her marriage and its break up. Blazed across papers and the internet for all to read and misunderstand and yet here was this amazing woman. Posting cute photo of her quarantine pictures and I thought of all the wonderful things she was doing. Acting, her business, her donations, and her positive presence online. BUT most important to me was that she had survived and she was thriving.

She loves herself and her family and her life. (Now, I know things aren’t perfect and that she poops and farts and has bad days like all the rest of us)

Here’s the thing.  I suddenly realized that I was never going to reach this point. There was no beauty or happily ever after. For me.

That right now, all I could see was endings. All I could envision is me old and ugly in some horrible tiny apartment that smelled of old cabbage, distrust marking my face with wrinkles and big warts with hairs sticking out. Daily feeding and bathing 100 cats. And birds. And dogs. Maybe geese and even a mountain lion. (recently the news had flashed headlines about some poor mountain lion lost here in Modesto and that they couldn’t find it. I knew that if he showed up at my door, I would take him in and take care of him. Because I am the finder of lost things.) I could picture me sitting in an old ratty chair, faded, and scratched from the animals. I’d be wearing some old bathrobe under which I would be huge panties whose elastic had given out.

That was when I revealed this rawness never even thinking about what anyone would think because I didn’t really think anyone would care.  

Much later, I remembered that post and I went online to delete it…cringing at how stupid I must have sounded had anyone, and I hoped to God no one had, seen it.

Imagine my surprise when I opened Instagram and I saw that hundreds of people had reached out to me. Sharing their stories, their faith, their love, and their kindness.

I was stunned.

 I cried for a long time.

Strangers.

People who don’t know me, who don’t owe me anything took the time to reach out and care for a total stranger.

As I scrolled, reading each thoughtful sometimes heartbreaking share I wept some more.  And just like something in a movie something shifted drastically inside of me and I realized that I wasn’t alone.

I felt the start of something. For the first time the world wasn’t quite as bleak and scary as I had thought. That maybe HE wasn’t the right one, the wise one, the calm one, the strong one. That maybe he didn’t harness the power to my world.

I read every single one. I read the private messages and the notes on my own Instagram page. Each dispatch reached me right there on my battle field.

When I saw Jennifer Garner’s note to me, I was floored.  To take a moment and share her kindness and well wishes and message of hope –. I was and continue to be GRATEFUL.

I looked down the infinite list of people who had taken the time to share their stories and who had only wanted to comfort me and I wondered how on earth I would thank each person.  

Here it is. THANK YOU> THANK YOU>THANK YOU>

 From the bottom of my heart, from the depths of my soul.

I wish I could tell you that now everything is all better. It is NOT. The fatigue and sadness I felt yesterday is only rivaled by todays.

The difference, though, is that I know that I am not alone. I never will be again. There are millions of people who have experienced what I am experiencing. It has allowed me to take one deep cleansing breath and realize that my direction is not hopeless.

It is entirely possible that I will be bathing 1000 cats and gingerly learning to feed a mountain lion in my tiny little apartment with its threadbare carpet. But, dear God, I hope not. I do NOT want to be caught wearing big ugly panties.

It is also possible that I will have a wonderful cottage in the mountains by a sparkling river where I will talk to river otters and have fish friends. Where the view will be of the redwoods as I feed and care for the lost things that I find.

 I do know that I have myself back, for better or for worse. That I am going to slowly find out who this woman is and I am going to be as nice to myself as you all were to me in those comments.

I am going to lay down and rest. I am going to accept weakest moments and mistakes and I am going to try to forgive to forgive myself.

Thank you, Friends of Jennifer Garner.

Thank you, Jennifer Garner.

Thank you, new and wonderful friends for taking a moment from your day and reaching out to me.

Your words made a difference.

Your actions changed a moment in my life that will last me a lifetime.

I believe the theory that the flutter of butterfly wings can create a gale force wind on another continent.

Just as I believe each loving post that was shared came together as one voice and that voice had the power to reach me in the dark cave that I had been living in for a very long time.

Open to The Vortex

I now work in a place where silence has settled into the bedrock, seeped into the wood, and seamed solace like gossamer nestling into the distance between exhale and inhale. The quiet is its own kind of beauty, painted time that has been stilled.  And this, I am sure… is exactly where Grace resides.

As I sit here, waiting to finish the forms and filings of a new hire, I study my new land. The smell soothes me, reminding me of every Church I have ever loved.

It seems to me that this room should be called The Great Room. Like the grand rooms of a lost era, the cavernous space a voluptuous call for whimsy.

A trio of couches create a pocket conversation corner in no way intruding on the secret rendezvous between the two chairs in front of the old stone fireplace. I am seated an echo away, at a dining room table—a bird’s eye view of the door, that is one open moment away from this new section of my path.

A conversation is taking place there, without break, an easy indication that I may be here awhile. I straighten the paperwork I have completed and paper clipped with my driver’s license and social security card. Smooth the table cloth, its mauve flowers melding with the ivory and sage of the room. I am starting to feel nervous and wonder if this is the right way to go. It will be more work and more time in addition to my other job. But it will be more money, too. My heart beats a little faster, the doubt creeps into my decisiveness, challenging the paperclip and the newly inked schedule in my planner.

Then I glance up, noticing the picture hanging above the table, for the first time. A path leading to a snow fed lake is lit by golden light, its rays lapping at the rocks and the forest, that hug its winding journey. A message —telling me that the diligent inking and paper clipping was confidence and surety, not avarice.

God has pushed away the darkness and shown me that I am where I am supposed to be. The church bells start to ring, the reverberation slowing my heartbeat.

I crack my new read and wait for the door to open.

Morning Ride

When I was about 10 my father surprised me with a new bike.  It was replacing my old trusty companion.  A blue banana-seated partner who could tell many a tales about cold blooded games of chicken,  races down the steep hill by Little Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and the many times I secretly went farther than the corner. I had ridden old blue into extinction and my long legs had certainly outgrown it.

I had forgotten about that that Saturday morning. Likely, the last time I really had a birthday gift from my father. He had found a used ten speed, fixed it up with new parts, and painted it a deep ruby red that had gold glints that shimmered in the sun. My father was a paint salesman and the paint he had chosen was car paint and it was perfect for my new bike.

I ran to the bike and threw my leg over, quickly balancing on my tiptoes, my hands resting on the handlebars. Electricity sparked my fingers and wrists and shot through my body, forever connecting me to every bike I would ever own. My secret rides would become much farther and the speed that I could catch would have me believe I was flying.  I set out on my maiden voyage, bumping down the ridged part of the driveway, the seat much smaller and a little more invasive than my old banana seat. I turned once, my father’s face looked radiant. He seemed so proud. I didn’t realize that I had a memory of my father in a favorable light. For so long he has been mired in a murky cloud of hurt, pain, resentment, and loss. Yet, this morning, as I flew down the creek trail,  a bit of wild in the middle of Modesto, I caught the shimmer of my red bike. The cobwebs blew away from the lock box of memories, all that is left of my brief childhood. There stood my father.

He was long legged, his hands in the pockets of his Levis, a pack of Marbolo Reds peeking out of the front pocket of his button up shirt. He wasn’t a broad man, he was lithe. His skin, tanned to rugged mahogany in the summer, darker than the olive skin tone of the rest of us. His sharp cheekbones were reminiscent of a Native American man. In fact, now that I think about it, his skin color was similar as well. I am married to a Mi-Wuk man and they share the same skin color. Though, part of my family is from Sicily, far from the Native American genes that make up my husband and children’s DNA. The most remarkable part of this clear picture of my father is that morning he looked proud. His face was filled with love and youth and joy. The kind smile that played on his supple lips is in stark contrast to the cold cruelty that I have come to associate with him.

He was a stranger to me then and still is now. There are flashes of riding on his shoulders when I was little, his laughter as I squealed, and my pig tails bounced. He was 16 when I was born, my mother 14. They were babies themselves. My father had aspirations to be a baseball player and he was very good if anecdotes and my memories are accurate. However, the birth of me crushed that dream and my sisters, one a year later, and another 3 years after that- put an end to anything other than bills and long work weeks.

My parents fought so loud and so long that there is no way to mark the beginning of any one fight and the end of their marriage. The sounds and fury of those fights wove a patchwork quilt of fear that has covered my whole existence.  Their finale came when I was 5, after a particularly nasty fight involving a paycheck being flushed down the toilet and the smell of my Mother’s clothes burning in the fireplace. My forever memory of my mother will be of her back as she walked down the hot summer sidewalk and the fact that she never glanced back.

My sisters, my dad, and I moved in with my grandparents and my father became a shadow. There were impressions of where he had been and the imprint of him at night, his silhouette blotting out the hallway light. He was fleshed out by the words that grandma and grandma traded in the morning, their voices just loud enough to carry phrases over the big band music playing on the radio. New woman now. No bra. South Oakland. More money.

Grandma would say, “Wait till your father gets home. When he hears about this he is going to spank you.” And she would point to the belt that hung off the door leading into the kitchen, the one that resembled a whip because it had no buckle. That’s when Dad became color, his weariness breathing life into his existence as he dutifully grabbed the belt and spanked us for the myriad of things that we would get up to that invariably made Grandma’s life harder. His lips, a straight line and his eyes far away, he carried out his duty. And then he would leave again. And again. And again. Until one day, he left us far behind, and never came back.

But this morning as the cold air pushed through my under armor and left goosebumps on my skin, I remembered that he had given me a gift that has lasted a lifetime. Cavalcare e essere liberi. To ride is to be free. I rode everywhere. Miles and miles of riding. I rode along the bay, the smell of seaweed and salt spray playing with my long hair. I rode through the bad parts of town, and down to the shell sharp beaches of Alameda, and to rocky shore of the San Leandro Marina. I would rarely stay anywhere long, preferring the blur of the scenery, the way my thoughts skittered here and there, and far from the wreckage of my childhood.

This morning’s ride was no different. Well, my fitness level is very different. My breath coming hard and fast as I tried to attain the smooth flow that comes with hitting that sweet spot where my breath and pedaling jive. A stasis of becoming one-me, my bike, the sky, and the road.

That’s when the words come, the ideas, and the memories. It is also how I heal. The wind from my forward motion pushing the tears back into my hairline and then drying them until they are gone. This leaves space that I fill with the sight of birds in flight, the sway of tree branches, and the velvet color that green becomes on a tangle of verdant vegetation. The feel of the sun on my face, filling me up with its shine.

I stopped short of the trail end. My lack of consistent riding marked by my inability to complete the full length. I drank and the cold water gave me the shivers. Then I turned around. I was left with just enough reserve to make it back to my car. My return journey was against the wind. I was ready for it. I pushed back, digging deeper, and coasting when I needed the respite. The end of the trail is all uphill with a bridge at midpoint. I usually come up off my seat in a hallelujah to finish strong. But today, I stopped on the bridge to take a picture, and catch my breath. I thought of my Dad’s smile that birthday morning and for the first time in many, many years– I loved him.