These Words Are Knives & Bridges

I’ve been unfolding and refolding this paper for months.20161116_091359

“It’s very possible it won’t go the way you think it will,” my therapist says, tissues at the ready.

How she thinks I think it will go:

Tears. Blubbered admissions, plea for forgiveness. Transparency. 

How I think it will go:

Hissed threats. Bruised skin. Fear of his car in my driveway, don’t you DARE tell ANYONE

Thursday

Biff’s been coughing a lot. I get an email from the school that there have been cases of hand, foot, and mouth in his grade.

Our boys are doomed to get it. They’ll get it tomorrow, and Saturday I will have to drive by myself to Milwaukee to face The Monster all alone and even if in a coffee shop I don’t care, I’ll be alone and he’ll talk me out of what I know like he’s always done and I feel so fucking weak–

Bo has to remind me multiple times that Biff has boogers, not a fever.

“But what if they get sick? We can’t put this off.”

Bo doesn’t know.

Neither do I.

A text from him: Are we still on for Saturday?

I don’t breathe while I text back: Yup.

Friday

Jittery. Half-listening to my kids. My daughter has a family fun night in the evening. I don’t want to go. I can’t concentrate on nice things. I can only think of burning coffee being thrown in my face, of being shut out by my family for making the past matter.

I unfold the paper while my daughter plays freeze tag with friends. I do not know these other parents, and tonight I’m not the kind of parent to chat with, anyway. So I read, and read again. My eyes stay with that last line:

If repentance does not occur, the victim can still forgive by offering bold love,

but relationship cannot be restored.

My relationship with The Monster has felt like the rope bridge in Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, only without a blind Terry Gilliam asking me what my favorite color is before flinging me into The Gorge of Eternal Peril. I’m scared as Hell to get on it. I never know where to grip. I don’t dare trust a single board with my weight lest it gives and I fall. I fail.

And I cannot fail.

My kids cannot afford such a failure.

I’ve been climbing this rope bridge for 6 years now. Time’s only made it worse. Time will continue to make it worse.

For the sake of my children, for the sake of my sanity, one of two things needed to happen:

We must repair the bridge together, as a family, one and whole. This would mean family therapy–that we all, like my mother and his wife–be told about the past, so that we may work through the penitence and forgiveness together. To build trust, together.

–Or–

Cut the ropes. Walk away.

I describe this image to Bo for the umpteenth time as we get ready for bed. He pulls the quilt up and over my bare arm. “Jean, no matter how many times you rehearse, it’s not going to go that way.”

Hours in the dark with tears and threats and withered hopes. Sharpened knives on frayed ropes.

bridge-of-death-monty-python-and-the-holy-grail-591678_800_441

Saturday

The air cuts my lungs with leaf-smoke and frost-thaw. I want to hold Bo’s hand as he drives, but traffic is heavy, and deer collisions common. Biff and Bash are thrilled to be going to Great-Grandma’s house, a glorious place filled with trucks, helicopters, and all the donuts they can eat. Blondie is not quite as talkative, having lost yet another tooth down her gullet. (Anyone else have a kid swallow THREE out of six baby teeth? The tooth fairy in our district’s getting exasperated.) We arrive, get the kids settled. I do not take off my coat.

“Where are you and Daddy going?” Blondie’s lone front tooth is also perilously loose. The kid’s going to have to live off of ice cream pretty soon.

I can’t picture the meeting place–it’s a coffee shop unfamiliar to me. I can only feel the hate and fear rippling from the future into this moment with my daughter, whose birth cracked all the old hurts open. “Out,” I say. “Just for a little while.” I kick my inner self for making such a glib promise.

I do not say goodbye to my sons.

Bo gives vague answers to his grandmother’s questions about what we’re doing and follows me out.

We arrive.

The wind’s nasty as we walk. The skin of Bo’s hand is so calloused I can barely sense his warmth.

I step in. The shop’s empty but for one older gentleman at his computer. An open space, easy to overhear others. Do I watch my words? Do I get into detail, spit my own acid of memory in his face for the baristas to hear? Do I–

He’s already there.

He sits in the one nook of the place, a pair of leather chairs stuck into the corner where one can find the restrooms.

He waves.

I want to turn around.

I want to turn around and just not do this.

I want to leave and breathe air and be by other people, people who haven’t hurt me.

Bo orders coffee. Looks at me.

Does he see the panic? Does he see how I’m shaking?

Fight or Flight.

This is what families do for each other

No.

He will never say that to my children.  He will never do any. of. that. Not to my children.

No.

He already sits in one leather chair. I sit in the other, facing him. There’s no support, and I sink back. My instincts wobble–this off-balanceness is unexpected. Awkward chuckles from all of us as I right myself. Bo cannot sit by me, so he sits across from us.

I breathe.

The barista brings a customer over to talk about the beans on display behind me.

FUCK.

How–how am I to use the words I need to use with strangers flittering in and out like house flies?

He picked a place like this on purpose.

Wait.

No, I did.

I didn’t want to risk being alone. Well there’s a consequence to that, Jean. This, strangers or no, is your shot.

Find the right words.

“We need to talk about the past.”

And we do.

Sort of.

“What you did to me made me hate myself, hate my life. I wanted to die for so, fucking, long. I didn’t feel like a human being. Bo helped me find that again. I thought, I thought it, what you did, could be in the past, just, back there, done. But motherhood changes that. I see you, and I see my kids, and all I can think of is what you did to me.”

He says nothing. He leans forward. He is shaking a little.

“I’m tired of being so angry and afraid all the time. I want my family to be safe. But the past has consequences, and one of those consequences is that I cannot trust you. I’m incapable of trusting you. And if you have any respect for my feelings, you’ll understand when I ask that you do not go near my kids if Bo and I aren’t around. Even if they’re at my mom’s. You, you just don’t go.”

He holds his chin in his hands. He says a very quiet “I understand.”

I think of The Monster I knew as a child, the golden boy as tall as a tree and just as wide, with fists that let loose stars before my eyes when he hit me. I see The Monster sitting before me now, hunched over. Shaking. Eyes on the floor.

I look at him, my demon. I’m looking at him with my spine straight. I’m not shaking anymore.

“We’re a family, all of us, but I…” I pause, yes, I can say what I’ve been rehearsing– “I feel like I’m only connected to you by a single rope. If we’re going to be a true family, we need family therapy to build the bridge together.” Pause. Do I threaten to cut him off, here and now?

He’s not disagreed, or lashed out in any way.

I was told he might need time. Jeez, how many years has this moment needed to come into existence?

“I’m not asking you to agree to that right now. But the therapist has strongly encouraged me to tell my mom so she understands why I act as I do when I’m around you.” He goes very still. “Just…just…trust starts with transparency. Family therapy would give that.”

He nods, and starts…well…questioning himself and giving one-word answers. Does he have a lot of regrets from that time of his life? Yes. Does he think about what he did? Yes. Does he respect why I’m asking what I’m asking? Yes.

For all those questions, he never flat-out says: Am I sorry? Yes. Did I fuck you up? Yes.

At one point he says: I don’t know what I could say that could make any of it better.

Now I want to scream: YOU COULD FUCKING SAY YOU’RE SORRY

But I don’t want to have to demand it. It wouldn’t be any better than asking Bash to tell Blondie sorry for kicking her. Just a hollow parroting.

I want him to want to say sorry and say it. To finally hold himself accountable for what he did to me.

But I can see from the question-answers, from the tangent he enters about his marriage, about my mother, that this moment isn’t coming unless I demand it.

I want it to come from him because he wants it to come.

And if the past is any indication of the present, that will never happen.

So I cut his tangent off and tie it back to the family therapy. “I’m not asking that we start it now, but it will have to happen if I’m ever to trust you. I hated you for so damn long.” I pause, and the words surprise even me: “I don’t hate you any more, for the record.”

He coughs. Thank you for saying that, he says.

I nod, a little bewildered inside. But what else explains how I dug myself out of all the anger and self-loathing to reclaim my humanity? How else could I both find and keep love, experience joy, challenge my skills with language? For all the Hell I experienced at his hands, I still managed to live.

To thrive.

I am stronger than he is.

And now he knows it.

I look at the words I’ve been wearing to keep up my strength since we agreed to meet.

20161116_091617

I look back up, and say it:

“I forgive you.”

We part.

Not sure what other shoppers think as I fall in and out of sobs. Bo is glowing. My shakes are back, and my coffee’s cold. But Bo still manages to kiss my snot-coated lips and whispers, “I am so proud of you. You did it. You looked him in the eye, and you told him. And he knows I know, which proves you’re not afraid to talk about it anymore.”

I think about the bridge. I had walked into that coffee shop with knife in hand, ready to cut it and The Monster loose completely. That didn’t happen. A small part of me dared to hope he’d want the bridge repaired for the sake of the family. That didn’t happen, either. The future remains in the mist, guarded by a blind man whose questions–and the consequences of their answers–remain unpredictable.

As Sir Lancelot says: “Ask me the questions, Bridgekeeper. I am not afraid.”

Nor am I.

~*~

Thank you all, from the heart and soul of me, for sharing this journey that started with Growing Pains” and continued through “Lessons Learned from Zoe Zolrod: First, Face Myself and Second, Find My Voice.”  You cheered with me in “And through the mist you’ll find hope.” Now here we are, on the precipice of a new chapter in my life. Thank you, dearest kindred spirits, and God bless you. 

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51 thoughts on “These Words Are Knives & Bridges

  1. He doesn’t know how to make it better? To fall upon his own sword should have been the only deed up for consideration. Just that. Not dwelling on the issues, this really is a fine piece of writing…the constant ‘panic’ so perfectly conveyed as the day approaches then arrives. Such style. I want to tweet this yet have thought better of it. Wrong time, wrong place.

    Liked by 4 people

      • Back with crates of wine and the smelly cheeses I adore. As to this monster, m advice I think, has no relevance as all I feel about him and others like him is an anger profound. All I can offer you is good thoughts. Forget he exists if possible.

        Liked by 1 person

      • How I wish I could, but he’s too tightly in the family circle, especially with my mom. But the holidays,this year at least, will not include him as they have in the past. Thank God.
        And thank you for all your amazing support, Dear Friend. 🙂 xxxx

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, O Lovely Lady Shey. Your encouragement have been such a blessing this past year. I always feel braver after one of your many word-hugs from across the Sea. 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      Like

      • Lovely Jean, you are a true warrior in every sense of the word. Never doubt it. You were big enough and brave enough to forgive him. That has nothing to do with whether he deserves it or not and everything to do with you. Now you have crossed this bridge you will be brave enough to make the rest of this journey. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Jean, and bottom or top of it all: He knows you are stronger than him … All I can is pray that you one day get to that place of awesome healing; secondly, that no one ever even as much as scares your Blondie cause you have borne it for you both. Virtual hugs your way

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. I wanted to withhold that for a long time, the forgiveness, but I realized that this was just another way I was bound to him in a horrible way. Forgiving cut that rope, at least, and as you said, now he can be tangled in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing your journey. Out of all of this, the fact that you’ve given him grace, (not freedom from consequences, no that can’t be, and that’s a GOOD thing too, otherwise how do any of you ever have a chance to move on completely?) is a beautiful thing in all of the ugliness he brought into your life. For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you too :). God bless you and keep you, and I’ll be praying for him too, that he takes this to heart and is willing to move forward with healing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Dear Friend. “Forgive and Forget” can certainly apply to many situations, but this simply isn’t one of them. Like you said, to forget removes any need for growth, and in this, there MUST be growth on both our parts. I’m ready.
      Whether HE is or ever will be, I don’t know. But that’s not on me now. It’s up to him, and until he’s ready for that step, he, as you said, must deal with the consequences.
      Your prayers mean all the world to me, and my kids. 🙂 xxxxxx

      Like

  4. Amazing….you’re truly a remarkable woman, and I couldn’t be more proud of you. I send you all my love, my friend. Please forgive the brevity of this comment — it’s day two of stomach bug and I still haven’t been able to have coffee! You know how big a deal that is! 😉 Once again, I’m enormously proud of you! Xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, there’s nothing wrong with brevity, especially when illness and lack of coffee are prevalent. OH! I’ve gotten back on my tea, though! I even cut back my coffee yesterday despite having been up since 3am. Maybe I’m finally ready for a little health change, too!
      But thank you for your love, your kindness, and your bottomless support. I’m blessed to call you Friend…and Java Queen. 🙂 xxxxxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is. I’ve been coming terms with being a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. It takes…well, for me it’s taken a lot of not-dealing-with-it to finally some therapy, some one on one with my husband, who was not always keen to listen, to reading about someone else’s experience and realizing one can actually put such pain and terror into words, to…well, this.
      Above it all, there’s nothing more terrifying than to see He Who Hurt You follow your child into an isolated space.
      Nothing.
      And that is why this, the sit-down you just read about, had to be. Still gives me the shakes just to think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s 100% shocking. A person like that should be arrested and have his phone/PC/Laptop confiscated. When perople like that are in the news there are generally other victims. That’s so bad and I am so sorry it happened to you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you.
        In the memoir I read by Zoe Zolbrod, she also shares how her cousin, the one who abused her when she was 4, was eventually arrested and convicted for child molestation. But what happened to her–and me–happened too long ago to matter to a court.
        I’ve also wondered if this is the situation with my relative. There’s no evidence, though, and statements like this are dangerous to make. I don’t worry about *his* welfare in that regard, but the family he’s married into, who are innocent of it all. That’s why I want family therapy–this allows for confession, redemption, and healing for all related to this specific history.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Just ‘WOW’, Jean! I don’t where to begin. Excellent way you dealt with the story, so real!

    *Eleanor* flutesandflyingsquirrels.com

    On Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 6:30 AM, Jean Lee’s World wrote:

    > jeanleesworld posted: “I’ve been unfolding and refolding this paper for > months. “It’s very possible it won’t go the way you think it will,” my > therapist says, tissues at the ready. How she thinks I think it will go: > Tears. Blubbered admissions, plea for forgiveness. Transpar” >

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Just wanted to let you know I’m writing my weekly post even though I’m sick (I got Pepto Bismol thank God!!!) and I mention your blog and link to this post – here’s what I wrote, typos ‘n all – I know you’ll still love me. I love you!

    “Lastly, I want to share with you about my friends Jean Lee and Ann Preston Roselle’s inspiring blog posts.

    Jean, one of the best writers I know, reveals facing “The Monster” who sexually abused her in “These Worlds Are Knives and Bridges,”She is coming to terms with being a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. I can’t tell you how amazed I was at this woman’s strength after I read it and even though it was about dealing with a horrific kind of abuse, her post brought me up, not down, because of her bravery and taking a road so high it’s touching the clouds.”

    Liked by 3 people

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  8. He is exactly what I told you before – a coward. And he will steer clear of your children. He didn’t say sorry because the only though that is bothering him is – who else knows, or who else will know. You stand in a better place, in a happier place.
    Sending you love, and admiring your strength. xx

    Liked by 2 people

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  10. Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine the strength that must have taken, Jean, and even though we have never really met – other than in this odd netherworld of words – still I feel so happy and relieved for you despite the uncertainty that remains, and I feel that all those zippy sayings about it being the first day of the rest of your life and such apply here and I just want to say be proud of yourself. You did it! ❤️️💕🎈

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: Gratitude in Numbers With a Coda of Writer’s Music – Jean Lee's World

  12. Jean, I’m lost for words, do I marvel at your beautifully, emotionally strong written piece or do I applaud you for your courage and being able to forgive ‘the monster’.
    Or do I console you? but then again you don’t need consoling, you’ve walked through this very bravely.
    I’m smitten by the way you write, so eloquently and rich. Thank you for sharing.
    I’m glad I visited your blog today.

    Liked by 1 person

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