Ant Colonies: On Detecting Post Traumatic Death

The moment after I confronted the man who hurt me, I was free.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  I rode this high all the way to an amusement park the next day.  I rode roller coasters with friends, ate cotton candy, and skinned my knee from running too fast to get on the ride that scared me most… again.  I was fifteen and free.  I carried all of my ages, finally complete within me, silly and bleeding through my shredded pant leg.  I am 32 years old.  I am strong enough to carry all of me.

I rode this high all the way down the road to our next stops, retelling my story as I remembered it.  I wrote.  I marked time definitively.  I virtually high fived my friends.  I breathed easily.

And then, I fell asleep.  Typical teenager.  But I have to wake up.  I have to be diligent.  Or I could be carried off to the corpse yard.

It was our third day parked in the driveway of our North Carolina friends, and I was doing yoga in the driveway.  I had three large welts on my arm and leg from laying in savasana the day before.  These ants were biters, and seemed to wage an official war.  I took to sweeping the area before I practiced, but they occasionally wandered on my mat, anyway, and one in particular was swept with such force that it lay still, feet up, from the day before.  The other ants moved around it, occasionally stopping to inspect it, before moving on.  This sent me down an anthole of the internet.

The answer was less romantic than I’d hoped.  What I’d hoped was that these small creatures were mourning their dead.  What I hoped was that even the tiniest creature had a beating heart, and that beating heart couldn’t bear to part with their friend or co-worker or mother or supermarket cashier right away– that they were swiveling around the corpse carefully, nodding their heads and paying their respects until every member of the colony had the opportunity to view the beloved-now-gone member of the community.

I could already feel the easily-tied-up blog post forming.

The truth was, however, that they didn’t know she was dead, yet.  Likely, their pause in movement had more to do with dismay than distress.  “Come on, Janice! Quit being so damn lazy and get back to work!”

In fact, it would take another day– three days total– for the smell of oleic acid to finally be detectable.  This smell would then indicate that Janice was, in fact, not only lazy, but dead.  Once the smelly secretion confirmation comes in, they will finally gather, toss Janice on their backs, and throw her into the graveyard pile of other dead ants.

Three days before anyone even knew she was dead.

I suspect I am an ant colony.

After I confronted the man who hurt me and celebrated and, finally, fell asleep, it took me more than three days to realize I was dead.  It took a couple of weeks.  My laugh was slower.  My irritation was faster.  My Someone was at a loss.

I should be celebrating, I kept thinking. I was so brave. I was stronger than ever.

And then I felt ashamed.  I felt angry that I had done the thing that I was supposed to do in order to have the healing, and I was still so sad.  I was simultaneously lying on my back, riddled with death, while scurrying around asking myself to hustle–

Get up!  Get up!  What’s the matter with you?  There’s work to be done– we are free!

And still, the part of me that had been riding roller coasters was still.

The smell finally wafted into my nostrils when I called Bryan a couple weeks in.

“I knew it wasn’t going to fix everything,” I told him, trying to sound confident that this was all part of the plan. “I knew there would be a spiral down.  I guess I just have to sit in it for a while?”

Bryan agreed.  And then he confirmed the smell in the room.

“You’re mourning,” he said. “That girl who was abused for all those years– the one who was scared and fearful all the time, she’s gone.  And even though that’s not who you want to be, anymore, it doesn’t change that it was who you were.  Of course you are mourning that loss.”

Of course I was.  He was right.  I was dead.

Do you ever feel like you miss being in those moments of emotions from past bad relationships?  Like, I am happy and content and finally in a healthy relationship… but sometimes I hear a song and I remember sickly loving those moments of sadness and dread and not being understood even though I have someone now who understands me.

It was a welcome text my friend sent me.  She was talking to the right partially dead ant colony.  What I responded at the time was that– Yes!  Of course.  That desire to be destructive, to rip something apart for no reason, and to cry out into the boredom of the healthy– it is primitive and real and pressing.  But I am starting to wonder if that part of me is the part that I haven’t yet detected as dead.  If it still sits in me, unproductive and flatlined, but odorless.  And until the stench of it reaches my nose, I am unable to carry it off to the graveyard.  I am more likely to keep moving around it, wondering at its stillness.  Wondering what it’s still doing there.

Or, maybe the problem is that I carried it off to the graveyard too soon.

A final interesting fact straight from a horror movie is this: should you pour upon– or should an ant find itself smothered in– oleic acid while still living, the colony will carry its living thorax to the graveyard, anyway.  Never mind its kicking and screaming.  Never mind its clear indicators that it is, in fact, alive and productive.  The colony will simply hoist the little bugger up and toss it on the pile of corpses.  Dead to them.  Get out of here.  We don’t want you here, anymore.

This is where it gets tricky.

My deep sadness that believed it lost a part of herself, perhaps, was the beginning of an unlikely resurrection.  My entire body has since reacted.  Beyond the emotional despair, my physical body found itself in total disrepair, in spite of my consistent efforts to stay healthy.  My colony threw itself out.  The stench of death was too prominent to be wrong– out you go.  And because I had made such a healthy choice to be brave, to be present, to be eating greens, I mistrusted the judgment that I was no longer permitted to howl out as I tossed myself on a pile of dead.

I’ve learned to howl since then.

My friend Piper told me that humans, along with most creatures, have a primal desire to howl.  That they need to howl– in order to relieve stress and fear.  In order to remind themselves that they are still here and living and heard by another living creature.  Maybe it was true that part of me had died.  But there was plenty of me still left living.  And if any part of me was going to make it out again, I was going to have to cry out– to scream and be destructively loud– so that I might not be thrown out completely.

My Someone and I had started the ritual of howling just before we lost our dog in November– a call out to the Coyote Trickster of the Universe to let whatever happens happen, and to let it happen with a smirk and a trade.  We then howled our way through our grief when she passed.  We howled our way through the winter to remind ourselves that we were still a family.  And now, I am howling to keep death from doing me in, too.

What I would say to my friend, now, is what I am saying to myself– Howl your head off, creature.  Howl your head off so that you don’t get caught at the bottom of the heap.

Pastries and Old Dogs: On Falling In Love Again (and again).

“Do you think it’s a problem that I’m never going to fall in love again since Butter is gone?”

I was worrying my heart again, confusing my grief with my reality.  We were driving through Lincoln, Nebraska, running errands in a place last visited with my long gone dog.

“What are you talking about?!” my Someone responded.

I was startled from my inside questions.

“You just fell in love with a pastry!” my Someone exclaimed.

It was true.  We had just stumbled accidentally on a bakery downtown that not only had pecan rolls that matched my dietary restrictions, but had also a cute dining table with local coffee.  The pecan roll tasted somewhere between what they look like in movies and my mother’s cinnamon rolls that I hadn’t had in years.  The thing that happens when I taste something truly remarkable happened, where the air in my chest goes whoosh and I can hardly breathe for the happiness of the flavor.  My eyes well up and my nose stings and I can’t stop smiling.  Then, I work hard to chew and not cry at the same time.

“This is the most amazing thing today,” I had said.  “I am in love.”

But this was thirty minutes ago.  Now that the sugar wore off, I was worried about love.

“Okay,” I said, “But what if I never love again after Butter and the pastry?”

“You will fall in love by the end of the day,” he said.  “Maybe with a glass of wine tonight.”

I thought of this again– the ups and downs of every day of falling in love and moving on and falling in love and losing.  It wasn’t just by the year or the week or the day, but by the minutes.  All of this gaining and losing.  All of this unexpected refilling of what is empty, only to drink it all in fully and have to refill it again.

“Do you think it’s a problem that I am always falling in love?”

Sunday Mornings: On Going Back to Church.

“I’m afraid all of our friends will give up rock’n’roll to become worship leaders,” I told my Someone.

“Which of our friends still does rock’n’roll?” he asked.

“You know how I mean.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I do.”

I don’t want to go to church anymore.  Not that I do.  But now, I really, really don’t.  Not as a courtesy to my hosts or my parents.  Not as an Easter-and-Christmas check in.  Not even as a check-my-spiritual-temperature visit.

I don’t miss the liturgy.  I don’t miss the squirming.  I don’t miss the oscillating sensation between unworthiness and ecstasy.  I don’t miss the feeling I get when I walk through the doors– that I’ve been caught again.  Caged.

And I don’t miss the idea that what happens in a sanctuary is more important than what happens outside of it.  It just isn’t for me.

But I am envious.  I’m envious of my friends who are having children and returning to their roots– their church going roots that seemed to really stick.  With the exception of cooler haircuts and Jesus-as-Hipster accessibility, they seem to be continuing a tradition that has kept them safe, and will continue to keep their families safe.  A tradition where childcare is free for a couple of hours, and the snacks aren’t too shabby.  Some are even drinking beer during Bible study.  I’m not envious of their commitment to go every Sunday, though.  I’m envious of their ease in going– I’m envious that they want to go.  Or if they don’t want to go, that they want to be disciplined enough to go when they don’t want to go.  That they are choosing it, anyway.

“I don’t want to go to church,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” my Someone said.

“I want to stay at home and do crosswords and drink coffee and wear shorts that don’t cover my butt all the way, instead,” I said.

My Someone laughed.

“It’s just,” I pushed, “I don’t get nearly the pleasure out of going to church, as I do the pleasure of not going.  I feel like I’m getting away with something every single Sunday morning.”

It’s true.  I feel special.  Mischievous.  Like I’ve stolen hours that no one else gets to enjoy.  And it feels sacred.  I haven’t regularly attended anywhere for over a decade, and once the guilt wore out, I’ve relished every Sunday morning as a true gift of omission.  Like I’ve won again, and everyone else is a sucker.

“Your church sounds better, anyway,” my Someone said.

“You just like the butt part.”000431620001“We call it church,” Megan said.  “It just means that everyone comes whenever they’re ready, and we eat brunch, and we listen to a box of vinyl all day.”

We played our pal’s birthday party in their house just outside of Kansas City, where tacos and too many margaritas abound.  Our friends have a way of wooing generous people with their abundant generosity.  And we were invited to join the congregation.

It’d been a week since my no-more-church proclamation.  And now was an invitation to attend.

“Oh, and we make Bloody Mary’s and pour mimosas all day, too” she said.

As it turns out, Bloody Mary comes with less stigmata and stigma than the Blood of Christ.  So, even with a slight headache, we schlepped from our camper to the front door, opening it to find that the preparations for the service had begun.  A vegan and gluten free quiche was baking, and the tomato juice and vodka waited expectantly on the counter.  There was a quietness and last night’s Happy Birthday sign still hanging from the ceiling.  I wondered if my pajamas were appropriate attire, then decided instead to accept myself as this congregation would accept me.  Wholly.  Holy.  And with a side skewer of olives and pickles.

This Sunday morning, I didn’t feel like I had gotten away with anything.  As more of the congregation entered, groggy and smiling, I realized that I wasn’t envious of anyone else’s Sunday morning, either.  This must be what it’s like to go to church.  The kind you leave refreshed and believing you’d want to do again.  The kind where you are free to come and go as you please.  The kind you can find anywhere.  The kind that I’ve been told exists within us, wherever two or more are gathered.

Two or more and maybe a bottle of wine.

Dear Danny: On Confronting a Rapist, PART II

“Do you understand me?”

My abuser sat on the other side of the table, silent, looking down, clenching his jaw.  Seconds passed.  I once heard that the first person to speak after setting a price in negotiations loses.  This wasn’t a negotiation.  This was a confrontation.  I restrained myself, still, feeling comfortable in my own skin– maybe for the first time.  Then I repeated myself–

“Do you understand what I just said?”

Dan continued his silence– the quietest I had ever heard him.  For the four years he took over my life, he could talk over any situation.  He’d made himself invincible with words, chattering over my protests, my fears, my guilt– pummeling these feelings back and stunting them in my core.  I would carry them for years.  I was sitting across from him after these 12 years so that I could finally voice them– to say what I couldn’t say when I was 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.  I was here to hand over the shame he had instilled in me, too.  His shame.  But first, I had to make sure he was comprehending what I was saying.  He could have fit a entire confession in the amount of silence he was keeping, now.  He was.

“I’m not asking if you if you’re here to admit this to yourself, yet.  I’m just asking if you understand what I just said.”

His hands shook.  His entire body quaked all the way down to his Christian tattoo.

“I understand what you are saying,” he snarled.

I didn’t need this guy to admit anything aloud to know what he’d done.  And that what he’d done was wrong.

“Good,” I said. “Then I’ll continue.”

“I’ve been thinking about movies,” my Someone had said, “and how when someone is confronting someone else at a table, there’s always something keeping the other person there.”

“Like money?” I asked.

“Like money.  Or threats on their life.  Or something that makes the accused stay at the table and listen to what the person accusing them has to say.”

“Why do you think Dan is coming to the table?” I asked.

“Because he’s guilty,” he said.

“Because he’s guilty,” I repeated.

I listed the ways he had physically abused me.  The rape, the way he watched me cry when he touched me, the time he gave me a black eye or cracked my head open on Mother’s Day, which sent me to the ER instead of to the banquet I should have been attending with my mom.

“Do you understand what I just said?”

“I understand,” he said.

Then I listed the emotional abuse.  The manipulation, the extra phone he bought me to side step my parents’ watchful eye, the sexual propositions with himself and his friends.

I paused.  I breathed.  This was not something I needed to rush, I realized.  Dan was unwilling to admit to anything directly.  He kept his words calculated, veering close enough to satisfy my question without landing, like someone who knows he’s being recorded.  He wasn’t wrong.  My Someone kept a small recorder in his front shirt pocket.  Days before we’d decided to take it.  Not because I needed evidence, but as a marker to prove that it really happened.  Because even if this man covered all his tracks with But-I-Loved-You’s or Never-Would-I-Ever’s, he couldn’t change the truth being spoken in front of him.  And that he showed up to hear it.

The truth is what brought him to the table, and the truth is what kept him there.  When the stakes are as high as these, it is nearly impossible to stay silent when confronted with lies.  But the truth had him panting.

“You fucked up my life,” I said.  “Can you please look at me when I tell you that.”

He looked at me.

“You fucked up my life,” I repeated.  He looked back down. I listed what I had lost– my family, my church, my town, my formative years.  I listed the fear I lived with.  I listed all he had not lost.  He tried to protest.  He tried to say that he had lost, too, but I stopped him.

“No,” I said, “No, not yet.  You don’t get to.  You spoke over me for four and half years, and in all my nightmares since.  You don’t get to do that, anymore.”

“Sorry.”

I paused.  In the recording, listening back, I hear myself sigh.  I remember this moment as it sounds.  A slight breeze and a huge shift.  I was off book– off of the list I had prepared– and had been suspended from it for some time.  15-year-old Mallory sat wide eyed and expectant within me.  The Mallory from two days ago who had prepared this list held her breath, too.  This was us– this was for all of us.

“You did not love me. Love does not look like that.  You can ask any grown up.  Any grown up,” I stopped, realizing.  Then, “You can ask any child, if that’s love, and they will tell you, ‘No.'”

My friend Danielle encouraged me in the days before to remember to breathe.  She told me to not lose the lifeline between myself and myself– to keep breathing, keep the airway open and clear to ensure the connection to who I am now.  My friend Ann told me to yoga like crazy.  To lose myself in this moment would have been to lose the moment.  And I had to use my body in order to do it.  My body, which I had blamed for years for betraying me.  My body, which I’d covered and obsessed over– what it looked like, what wrong message it was sending out without my knowing, what ways it was failing me– was the thing that I depended on now to keep me present.  To keep me accountable.

I trusted my body to breathe, and it breathed.  I wondered at the feeling of the blood moving through my limbs during yoga the mornings preceding.  This redemption was a full baptism.  I forgave my body from hair to toe, and thanked it for hanging in there.  And I welcomed the reunion.  My body’s return to me came with no time lost, forgiving and willing.

It turns out my body had never betrayed me at all.  The sick, sad man in front of me did.

“That was not love,” I said, “That was not anything that you can call anything else– that was abuse.  You abused me.  You took advantage of me.  You stole some of my best, most formative years from me.”

The day was beautiful.  In the recording, you can hear an abundance of Western Pennsylvania bird calls in perfect sway.  I didn’t hear them at the time, but I am happy to know they were there.  I remember the temperature was perfect, the sun was out on a rare cloudless day.  No mosquitoes.  The old shut down steel town was starting to shine.  I felt myself turning a corner.  I was growing tired.  Not of doing the right thing, not of myself.  But I was growing tired of my anger.  It was too beautiful of a day to waste on being angry at a picnic table when I felt my life just starting again.  I could hardly wait– there was so much left of me.  More, in fact.  I had to go soon.  My heart would explode with impatience if I didn’t.  I remembered again to breathe as I spoke, and continued to tell the story of what happened, what was taken from me, and what I needed back.

I asked if there was anyone else that he’d done this to.  If he’d molested any other children.  He said no.  I focused.  I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt, but I believed him.  He seemed horrified that I’d asked.  I was horrified that he didn’t think I would.  I was grateful, and then I become angry again– to be grateful to someone for simply not raping them.

It was time to up my standard.

My friend Kelsey explained to me that children, after experiencing trauma, even at a very young age have an involuntary need to tell the story of what happened to them.  Again and again.  They need to play out the situation, recalling more detail, and have the story affirmed and told back to them.  This is what we do in therapy.  And the more we tell the story, the less power it has.  Eventually, it runs its course.  It finds its place in our brain and in our timeline where it can live without infiltrating our remaining experiences and feelings.

It sounds simple, but there are several myths that accompany us to keep us from retelling our story.  Myths like,

I’m too much.  I’ve already told it.  They’ve already heard me.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m safe now.  Get over it.  But you’re with a good man, now.  Don’t punish him.  Be happy.

In the past decade, when new memories would come to me, I would say them out loud.  But then, I would adhere to one of the myths, and shut it back down.  These memories would then fester, creating a network of underground trauma that would misfire and misinform my remaining experiences.  This kept me in a constant state of distraction and movement, evading the dark underbelly.  Which also meant evading who I am— because Who I Am was trapped under What Happened to Me.

And it goes one worse.  The inability to hear myself– to hear my own story– made it almost impossible to hear other people’s stories, too.  It is difficult to have empathy for others when the empathy I had for myself was in short supply.  So I inwardly began repeating the myths instead of the stories–

It doesn’t matter.  It happens to all of us.  Get over it.  You’re out now.  Just go get some ice cream and suck it up.  You’re making us look bad.  

I was suffocating.  But not anymore.  Time was up.  That girl trapped under that trauma– that tiny little air deprived me– was busting out.  And the story started back up again.  It rotated through the last year, building momentum, gaining detail.  And the only way to let loose the dam was to go to the dam itself with a goddamn hammer.

“I came here today, I think, because– because it was time.  Because it was time for me to not be ashamed, anymore, of that part of my life.  Because I’m not the one who should feel ashamed.  You can’t spin that.  You can’t turn that.  I have carried around your shame and your guilt for all those years, and they’re not mine to carry.  I came here to give them back to you.  I don’t want them anymore.  I’m happy, and I’m healthy– finally.  And, your shame and your guilt has no room in my life, anymore.  And that is– that is the least I can do for my 15-year-old self right now.”

I stopped.  I remembered something.

“You owe me an apology–”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”

How I had meant to end my sentence was, “but I don’t even need that from you.  I don’t need anything from you.”  I didn’t finish that sentence, though.  I didn’t need to.  I hoped, instead, that his apology sounded as pitiful to him as it did to me.  And that his apology was drowned by the sound of the truth rushing over a crumbling dam.

“Don’t do this to anyone else.  I would spend some really good time being able to use those words to apply to yourself.  Because they are yours.  I came here because you have been a monster in my life– an absolute monster.  Like, wake up with night terrors kind of monster.  And, I wanted to see that you weren’t.  And you’re not.  You’re just an aging– an old man.  An aging old man.  Who, had I been of age and right mind, and not at a pliable 15-year-old age ripe for picking– I never would have picked you.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach.  But that’s not even mine, anymore.  That’s yours.  You can keep it.”

He shook.  I remained still.  I checked in with all of me.  Is everyone okay?  Is everyone ready?  I felt all of me together.  Okay, gang.  Time to party.

“I’m going to go,” I said.  “Scott promised me a pizza party if I didn’t kill anyone.  And I’d like to have that, now.”

My Someone and I stood up.  We walked away.  I let the sound of the water rush behind me.

And I couldn’t. Stop. Smiling.

Dear Danny: On Confronting a Rapist, PART I

“Danny,” I started.  I hated the way his name sounded coming out of my mouth.  Like something familiar.  But he wasn’t familiar.  Not anymore.  Slumped over, straddling the picnic table bench catercorner to me, long scraggly hair and no eye contact.  I recognized him, but I didn’t know him.  He had aged to look like exactly what he had always been.  For the last two days, I had swayed between wanting to vomit and scream to feeling like my brain was going to explode.  But now, as I said his name, I didn’t feel any of those things.  I felt ready.

My Someone sat beside me, an incredible contrast with his collared shirt and straight back, kind face and composed breathing.  It was strange to have my dark past sit across from my illuminated present–  a wonder of me sealed between as both my 15-year-old self and my 32-year-old self.  My breathing smoothed and I looked at my list I had prepared for this moment.  I was grateful to Bryan and Danielle, two of my favorite friends, for encouraging me in the days before to write it down.  I started with number one.

“You are a predator,” I said.  I wavered for a minute, wondering if what I had just said was true.  I glanced through the rest of the list, took a deep breath, and kept going.

I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him dead.  I’ll do it.  

This is my recurring thought on returning home.  Every time I return home.  I didn’t ask for this.  I didn’t sign up for years of recoiling and shivering each time the hills roll me back down to Pennsylvania.  We were two weeks away from going back to the town where I had been a child, and where this asshole had forced me to grow up.  And I was tired.  I was tired of being scared to run into him.  I was tired of wondering what I would say.  I was tired of feeling ashamed, slinking around as if I had done anything wrong.

We were in Ohio, out in the woods.  Something was happening.  I was making a plan.  I was writing frantically.  I was erupting from 12 years of silence.  From 4 long years of abuse.  My journal pages felt alive

No more of this.  I’m on the offense.  What will I ask him?  What will I ask him?  What will I ask him?

1. Why?

2. Are you sorry?

3. What god did you serve then?

4. What does your god look like now?

5. How do you reconcile this?

And then I’ll kill him.

No, I won’t.

But I wonder what will be enough?  Would it be enough?

Maybe if I return his favors.  Maybe if–

1. I molest him for 4 formative years of his life?

2. I rape him?

3. I leave bruises on his arms?

4. I choke him til he passes out on the floor?

5. I crack his head open and he has to have staples to clamp it shut?

6. I offer to whore him out to my best friends?

7. I isolate him from everyone he loves?

It would be more efficient to just kill him.  I am the age he was when I left him.  Before the year he hung on a cross at 33.  Then resurrected with a wife and kids.  All made new.  For him.  Jesus Fucking Christ.  He’ll have to do better this time if he wants to resurrect from this.

I need a plan.

I need a plan or I’ll kill him.  

I exhaled.  I looked at the page.  Oh, shit.  I had to face this guy again.

Last April, I learned new words.  The first one was “molestation.”  The second one was “rape.”  I don’t mean that I didn’t understand what they meant.  I mean that I learned that these words applied to me.

I started by writing them down.  When I saw them, they made my chest feel like it was going to crack open.  I practiced looking at them for a week.  Then, I tried using them out loud to my Someone.  It took days– literal days.  And it took months following to say them without crying and coming short of breath.

I pushed forward.  I spent time applying those words to other situations.  Then I looked at those situations and practiced saying, “And that happened to me, too.”

Simultaneously, I spent as much time separating those words from other words.  I separated “rape” and “molestation” away from “love” and “god” and “complicated.”

It was an important practice.  The training was intense.  But I would recommend it to anyone.  Damn, if I didn’t get strong.

“I’m going to track down Danny,” I said to my Someone.  I had been agitated all morning, shuffling through my journal, gnawing on the thought.  I didn’t brace myself for his response.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” I repeated.

“What are you going to say?”

I thought of journal entry.  My brain split open, scene after scene gushing through the cracks that I had sealed for 12 years.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Okay,” my Someone said.  “I’m with you.”

And then, we let the weight of the decision pile on us.

We were going to need reinforcement.

The timeline seems simple from there.  For the next week, I talked it through during the day with my two friends and my Someone, each making themselves undeniably available, letting me rant and sometimes ranting with me.  We processed.  I talked more.  No one told me I was being dangerous or stupid or dredging up the past unnecessarily.

In the evenings, my Someone and I took to the internet, searching Dan’s name and old addresses, sifting through articles and bad bands he was part of to find a working email address and phone number.

Dan–

I’m coming into town next week.  I think it’s about time to meet.  I want to face this part of my past, and what happened.  It’s been 15 years.  I would like to meet in Ewing Park, during the day.  My partner will be with me– I have no intention of meeting you alone.  But I think, after everything you did, you owe me at least this.  And probably an apology.

If I don’t hear from you in the next 24 hours, I”ll try your phone number or email your band.

I guess time’s up.

Mallory

I heard nothing.  I turned to my friends during the day again, waiting.  Time’s up, we said as a mantra.  I emailed his band.  Nothing.

And then, I found it– a working phone number.  I called early.  I left a message.  I waited.  I went back to my work.

I was alone when I got the call back.  I panicked.  I shook.  I swallowed my fear and picked up the phone.

He began with a plea– he has kids, now.  He needs to find them a home if he’s going to jail.  He needs time.  I cut him off.

“What do you think this is?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“All I’ve asked is for a meeting,” I said.

This is what is strange about confronting an abuser.  The voice is familiar, and what is from a long time ago suddenly doesn’t feel like any time has passed.  Old patterns pick up where they were left, because nothing was ever resolved.  And that is the moment where Dan began to tell me that he would love to meet.  That he loved me and I broke his heart when I left.  That he always loved me.  That he still loved me.  I have to know that he didn’t try and hurt me.

“You know me– you know I would never hurt you on purpose.”

My head was swimming.  My skin was curdling.  I pushed myself up out of his words.  I came up for air–

“I don’t know that,” I said, “and you can save this for next week.”

I hung up.  I ran.  I found my Someone and poured out what I was told.

“No,” said my Someone, “that’s not love.  He doesn’t have the right to tell you that.”

I stopped shaking.  It was true.  He doesn’t have the right to tell me anything.

The logistics worked out over text in the next couple of days.  Dan pushed boundaries and deadlines.  I pushed back.  I wasn’t 15 anymore.  And I’ve been doing yoga, asshole.  You can’t push me around, anymore.

Monday night.  Ewing Park.  5:30PM.

And then the real work began.  I began writing down what I had stifled for 12 years.  I began to construct in real life what had come out sideways in broken relationships, angry rock songs, and obsessive tendencies.  I breathed deeply and stopped blaming myself for the night terrors and the post traumatic stress reactions I had to movies.  I had envisioned our meeting for years in a whirlwind of violence and untethered rage.  I was shocked to find that a meeting time and pen & paper were more satisfying.

Then, I waited until Monday.  We played shows.  I saw friends.  I saw a funny movie.  I learned to co-exist with the fear and nausea that swirled through my body.  This was nothing compared to what I’d already endured.

I wasn’t tricking myself into believing that this meeting would be the triumphant end.  I didn’t think it would satiate my need for revenge.  I didn’t even believe it would put it down for a nap.  But I was compelled.  It’s the only way I can explain it.  I needed to act in a way that was unafraid and without shame, even if I felt terrified and stupid.  The day of, I received texts of encouragement from the small tribe I’d created.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Everyone is Team Mallory,” my Someone said, “Seeing all these people who love you is just so… cool.”

He teared up.  My chest felt full of something other than fear.  The night before I had asked if it would be okay if I chose not to meet Dan after all.  I wasn’t considering backing out.  I was considering what this meant.  My Someone assured me that it wouldn’t matter.  The battle had already been won.

But it hadn’t.  I had to go.

“Being Team Mallory is just being Team Don’t Rape People,” I said, “You’d think more people would want to join.”

My Someone laughed.  I laughed.  This was insane.

We got to the meeting place 40 minutes early.  I picked out the picnic table and sat down, pressing my new dress with my palms and sitting with a straight back.  And then we waited.

This is right.  You matter.  You deserve to take up your space.  You deserve to speak the truth no matter the sorry state of that man, Danielle wrote.

15 year old Mallory is thanking you, Bryan wrote.

I thought of 15-year-old Mallory.  I pictured myself unlocking her bedroom door, her waiting on the other side.  My phone rang.

“We’re here,” Dan said.

“Shelter 7,” I said.

He walked slowly toward us, accompanied with a mutual friend from all that time ago.  The blood rushed to my head.  They sat.  This was happening.  Right now.

My 15-year-old self stood up inside of me.  She walked out of her room.  I opened my journal.  She looked down and began to read with me.

“You are a predator.”

This was going to be easy, after all.

“You molested me for four years.  I was under age for most of it.  It started when I was 15 years old.  You raped me.  More than once.  Then you denied it because you thought that would send you to jail.”

Time’s up.

“Do you understand me?”

Esmeralda Tells All: On Reading My Misfortune.

The first time I had my fortune told, it cost me two gold tokens in a slot that woke up Esmeralda.  She was a torso and a head that shook to life, rumbling the kiosk that held her sleeping, until someone needed their fortune told.  My Someone won’t let me have my Tarot Cards read.  There was a great deal when we lived in Nashville just up the street– $10 for one palm.  At least, I think that was a good deal.  My Someone wouldn’t let me find out.  My Someone, much like me, is afraid that what the reader will find is my inevitable early end.

But Esmeralda seemed like a good first step, as we stood in a huge grown-up fun house in Wisconsin called The House on the Rock.  She was safe.  Maybe because she was a doll.  There was spindly concertina music and a hint at thunder, the lights flashing and Esmeralda groaning, calling out “I am Esmeralda!” waving her plastic hands over a deck of cards.  Then, the machine shuddered and went black again, putting Esmeralda back to sleep with an anticlimactic shuffle of paper, which slipped to a lower compartment.  It was my fortune.

You have had a lot of trouble, for which others are largely responsible, but you are now reaching a point when you will be able by your own efforts, to control your own affairs. You are not easily understood, as you keep much to yourself. You are fond of the fine arts and like to be alone a great deal.  You some times have a desire to destroy things, especially in your young days, for which you are sorry afterward. Be careful of the figure 7 appears on any money transaction and keep your eyes open to some of your “would be” friends.

One of your lucky numbers is 7.

Drop another coin in the slot and maybe my next prophecy card will suit you better.

Esmeralda tells all at The House on the Rock, Spring Green, Wisconsin.

It worked out to be true, of course.  Much like reading the Bible, you can create anything from a liturgy, a few hand waves, and some sacred words.  It would go on that my “would be” friend that came to mind would break up with us in the next month, and that my first money transaction marked November 7– a parking meter receipt– would unluckily have me walking into a pet ER with my dog, and out without her.  But the first bit, the lot of trouble that isn’t my own, that could be something anyone could say.  Except Esmeralda gave it to me.

My friend Piper says that it is important to take time to feel sorry for yourself, because no one else is going to give it to you.  It is important, like animals, to take the time to lick your wounds, to assess the damage, to boo-hoo and sleep and roll around in the dark crying out that you are in pain.  The world isn’t going to help you do that.  Your friends, your family, even your Someone can’t do it for you.  It’s not their pain.  They have their own.  And no one can do you the justice you can do for yourself of grieving.

When we don’t depend on someone else to feel our sorrow– when we really commit to our sorrow– we understand that we are the only ones who can dig ourselves out.  Or, be able to, by our own efforts, control our own affairs.

And often, there waiting, are our friends and our family and our Someone, who had been there all along, and are ready with you to get into the work of What Is Next.  The journey of pain is much like the journey of birth and the journey of death– we do it alone.  But standing by are helpers, rooting for us, hoping we figure this one out.

Last spring, I went on a journey of pain, alone, confronting a few dark memories.  Or rather, four years of real memories in which a man– a 30-something worship leader in my house church– took advantage of 15 year old me.  And 16 and 17 and 18 and 19 year old me.  When I came through that journey, I was able to use words like “molestation” and “rape” for the first time.  It took me 15 years to say that.  It took 15 years to admit that I had a lot of trouble, in which others were largely responsible.

That he was solely responsible.

32 year old me is sick of this shit.

Last week, at a music festival in Michigan, we loaded our gear out and started driving when a woman flagged us down.  She loved our set, she said.  And she wanted to give us a free Tarot card reading.  I looked at my Someone.  Thumbs up.

Colleen offered me a seat as she shuffled her deck, splitting it in three and letting me stack it back up again.  Then she laid out my cards, explaining as she went.  Justice, Judgement, Death– they all showed themselves throughout my 8 cards.  And then, Colleen explained–

“You’ve had a lot of trouble in your life– you’ve had people do things that were very unfair, that weren’t your fault in your past.  And people judge you for it.  There was no justice for you.  You have a long road ahead, full of burdens that you have to carry alone.  But then, a new chapter will begin.”

I wondered if she spoke to Esmeralda.

“I can cut the deck again,” she said, “I can cut it three, four more times– a hundred.  But it’ll still come out the same.  You’ve got a lot behind you, but even more ahead.”

She isn’t wrong.

I am pushing ahead, now.  I am constructing a plan.  I am working out my anger.  I am licking my wounds.  I am uprooting fear.  I’ve allowed it to sprout in every facet of my life, and now I am actively ripping it out again.  And it is not enough, anymore, simply to identify it by name.  Like Esmeralda said, I can be prone to destroying things– especially my young days.  And it is time to destroy these roots.  I sometimes complain that it’s unfair– that this was not trouble I am responsible for making.  I dwell.  It’s a deep cavern, and it’s lonely.  But then I get up again, and keep pulling up these roots.  And as I am pulling them up, it seems possible that through my own efforts, I will be in control of my own affairs.

I don’t need to cut the deck again to know it’s true.

Dog Shelters: On Love and Greed.

“Didn’t you have two dogs?” our interviewer asked me before we went on the air.

“Yeah, but we lost her back in November,” I started.  I usually leave a pause after that to give the other person an opportunity to stop me. It’s a courtesy I’ve developed for people who don’t really want to know. He took the bait.

“Ah, well, one is more than enough,” he said. I started to object, but he beat me to it. “Sometimes we can be too greedy for love.”

I started to tell him that we’ve been stopping at humane societies and pausing at community boards filled with dogs needing homes. But I only opened my mouth to hear myself say, “Yeah. I guess so.”

I am greedy for love. I am greedy to have her back again. I am greedy to fill the space she left.

She was greedy for love, too.  I don’t know the science of it, yet, but I am suspicious that love does not conform to the normal laws of emotion and physics.  I am suspecting that being so greedy for love has somehow morphed to make one more generous.

I checked the local shelter this morning.

One greedy bitch seeking another.

No Bunny Else: On Sending the Wrong Sign.

IF YOU DON’T GO TO GOD’S HOUSE NOW,

WHY WOULD HE LET YOU INTO HIS HOME LATER?

“Maybe because his house smells like old diapers and grape juice,” I said to my Someone as we walked by. “Besides, my house is cooler.  He should just come to my house.”

The church sign up the street from our friends’ house where we are parking in Western North Carolina took a dramatic downturn since we’d arrived two weeks ago.  We pass it every morning when we walk our dog– sometimes twice.  It seemed to be the first effort made since Easter.

“What was wrong with ‘No Bunny Loves You Like Jesus!’?” I pressed.

“Now that was a winner,” my Someone affirmed.

“I just don’t think that tactic works on me, anymore,” I said.

“Which tactic?”

“The one that bullies me to do something right-now-on-my-terms-or-you-get-nothing-at-all tactic.”

We tried out different scenarios.

“If you don’t eat this dinner I made you right now, I will never make you dinner again!” I yelled.

“If you don’t come play with me today, I am never ever going to ask you to play again!” my Someone yelled.

We started down the hill.  It didn’t match up with the God Of Second Chances.  It matched up more closely to an abusive parent.  Ultimatums are not the work of the angels, it seems.  They are the work of a kid who feels upset that no one is playing with him.  They are the work of a bruised group of people who need to be right– just this once.  They are the work of people who don’t seem to feel particularly loved– or at least don’t seem very secure about it.  I’m not all that interested in that House of God.  It sounds a little too decrepit with a vague odor of cat pee to be able to host me and all my pals.  It sounds like a club I never asked to join– but it’s sold to me like the only club I’ll need to look good on my celestial college application.

The problem, it seems, is that the sign was created not for passer-byers to feel welcome, but rather for the inhabitants to feel safe.  Inhabitants that can’t quite get it through their heads that No Bunny Loves Them Like Jesus.

Locked Doors and Guns: On Being Afraid (a Little Less)

I paced around the camper more.  I baked.  I checked the lock.  I texted my Someone to make sure he was still out there somewhere, making deliveries for our temporary day job.

Everything all right?

Yup! Running a little behind.

I got up. I checked the lock again.  I thought about turning off the music to hear if anyone was approaching.  Then I dug my heels in and decided just to turn it down.  But only a little.  I closed the blinds.  I opened them.  I had to be on the ready.  I texted my friend Kristie.  She was watching the news.

Have they caught him yet?

I waited.  I jumped when my phone buzzed.

No.

Being afraid is exhausting.

“I’m not naive enough to teach my children that life is all sunshine and butterflies,” Nicole said.

We were parked in her driveway for a couple of days, and spent our time walking through the back door and being met with muffins or cupcakes and some insight on she and her partner’s new life as parents.  Nicole, like most adoptive parents, is constantly looking ahead.  They didn’t stumble into parenthood on accident.  They sought it out.  And they fell hard for their two little ones.  And so, they are carefully constructing their life together while leaving plenty of room to explore.  And also plenty of time before the bad things creep in.

“I just don’t think that raising them in a way that tells them that the world is bad is going to help them.  So, maybe by the time someone does say something terrible, they already believe they are good, and can overcome it,” she said.

It made sense, but it felt risky.  Like a hot stove or a steep stairwell, our instinct is to call out beforehand–

Watch out! we want to scream, Some people out there are going to judge you by your gender or the color of your skin or your family situation or other things you can’t help!  

And then what?

Why?

And how do you explain it?  Because religion?  Sociology?  Slavery?  Economics?

Maybe it’s all a risk, sending children in the world without prior knowledge of racism and sexism and all the other -isms that were created to keep them in their place.  After all, they could feel unprepared in their first encounter.  Which is probably bound to happen.

But, maybe, imagine the risk of sending children into the world who are only prepared to be hurt.

It was settled.  I would keep the music low, but on.  This was my Sunday afternoon, goddammit.  And it was rainy and perfect for the project I had laid out.  I would keep the blinds up because the cloudy gray light was pretty, but also to be alert.  And because I wouldn’t let some crazy gunman loose in town keep me from living my life– from doing what I had waited all week to do.

The man had already killed four people early in the morning at the Waffle House.  He was at large, potentially armed and likely naked.  That seemed easy enough to spot from my tiny camper.  No one was home.  And I was angry that this villain had hurt so many people and was now keeping a city cowering in their homes.

The police on TV were asking us to lock our doors.  I complied.  I’m not above precaution.  But I am trying to be above fear.

I checked in with my Someone again.  I tried to focus.  My mind kept wandering to a couple of late night/early morning kids who wandered into a Waffle House in Tennessee to sober up or just find a place to hang out.  I counted the number of late night/early mornings I found myself doing the same– a teenager too young to go to bars and too old to not be out late.

I kept working.  I kept checking the time.  I kept texting.  I checked “going to diners at 3AM” off my list of things I would do anymore.  I got angry again.

“I think there can be a mentality of ‘I don’t want you to make the same mistakes we made’ out there with parenting.  But I don’t think I want that for my kids.  I think I want them to make all the mistakes they need to.  Because not being able to make a mistake means… I don’t know…”

“Being afraid?”

“Being afraid.”

We got quiet for a second.  Fear based parenting, much like fear based living, is a tightrope.  But letting go of that fear– it’s a trapeze.  Both require nets at the bottom, I guess.  But only one of them allows you to fall into it without feeling like a failure.

I think I’m going to start taking a swing.

Maybe it looks like this– I will keep living my reckless road life, scrapping the security of a house and a steady job, but I will still wear my seat belt.  I will not run over to my friend’s house and delay my work at hand because of a crazy gunman on the loose, but I will lock my door and keep my phone close.  I will not assume that the sound guy that night is a sexist, but I will be prepared to stand up for myself in case he calls me “sweetie” one more time and explains what a microphone is.  I might make the same mistakes my parents made.  But I wouldn’t advise people around me to make the same ones I’ve made– though likely only if it comes up.

No amount of fear-based planning can keep us from falling– eventually.  There’s a giant net down there, and while it’s important to listen to fear long enough to hold on tightly and to chalk our hands to grip, at a certain point, the jig is up, and it’s time to let go.

Sheep Shifting: On Gaining and Losing Hell.

When I lost my sheep, I did just what the parable says.  I left my ninety-nine behind and recklessly ran through the woods, over hillsides, into caves, calling out to him, leaving voicemails, opening every portal of vulnerability– being a fool on a journey, looking more like a crazy person on a spin out– begging her sheep to come home.

In the parable, Jesus says that when the shepherd finds her sheep, she is so glad that she swings the sheep on to her shoulders and carries him all the way back to the other ninety nine left behind.  And there is rejoicing.

When I found my lost sheep– our best pal– I was told that the sheep does not want to be found.  In fact, the sheep had plans to build a fence, find a different flock, and– though he would quietly continue to follow me on Instagram and Facebook– he was otherwise uninterested in hanging in any more pastures connected with mine.  I went back to my ninety-nine empty handed.  A new hundredth sheep has been added, but there is still a missing sheep.  Like a stillborn.

While I see myself as more of a fellow sheep than a shepherd, the metaphor still seems to hold up.  And my wool was really in a tuft.  Even though my flock is healthier without that hundredth sheep, even though as I am recounting our history I see the pattern of a sheep who could not love the flock he was in, I am still missing a sheep.  It would take a major shave and regrowth for that sheep to fit in again.  But there it is– on the far side of the meadow– a tiny sheep-shaped hole I’ve cut into the fence myself.  Just in case.

And for this reason, I don’t believe in Hell.

It goes like this: God has a flock of sheep, and that’s us, and we wander around and get out of the fence sometimes and occasionally get eaten by wolves if s/he’s been careless.  S/He comes to find us when we are lost, and sometimes we say– nope.  Not coming back.  I want to hang in greener pastures for a while.  Maybe forever.

So what if this: if I have the capacity in my sheep brain to continue to hold a place for a missing sheep I don’t intend– and don’t even really want– to have back in my pasture, isn’t a God who is supposed to have more advanced feelings and capacity for love able to hold a place for me without, I dunno, hardening his heart or mine for the short span of a human lifetime?  I mean, s/he’s eternal, right?  What’s the matter with holding back the fence for the blip of a lifetime?  It’s no wool off her nose– she’s still got ninety-nine sheep to party hardy with in the meantime.  If I am feeling the distinct missing-ness of a sheep in my own flock I didn’t create, how much more would the God-Shepherd feel the missing-ness of a sheep s/he took the time to fashion each hair on its wool coat?

It’s his metaphor, for Chrissake.

If my sheep doesn’t want to hang with me anymore, I think he can still live a full and happy life.  God must be bigger than me.  So a fiery dungeon pit Hell as an alternative to being in hot pursuit of a higher power seems illogical.  Narcissistic.  And from what I’ve read, and what everyone seems to be saying (aside from the sign-carrying Turn-or-Burn variety) is that God is nothing if not loving and compassionate and selfless.  Hell doesn’t make sense in God’s own construct.

There’s a theory out there I’ve heard that Hell is actually the time we spend apart from God.  I think I could buy it.  I’ve formed a sort of Hell-shaped hole for my missing sheep, too.  It’s a hole that looks like hurt feelings and snarky comments and the time we are missing out on.  But it’s a Hell I can live with.  And I’m pretty sure he can, too.  In this way, I think we live in our own personal Hells all the time.  Occasionally, there is restoration.  Sometimes there’s not.  And out of those Hells, there grows a thorny wall that separates us from that person, growing thicker all the time.  We can choose to see that wall and believe it’s unsightly or painful.  Or, we can see it as potential.  It will produce some fine roses someday, and excellent shade from the scorcher of a summer we have coming up.

And in a strange way, even while we are in Hell, we are in Heaven, as well.  Finding ways to be happy in spite of or because of the one we are separated from.  We could live this way forever.  For eternity, even.  I think God would be as happy with one side of the thorn bush as the other.  After all, if we ever really needed to, there is likely a sheep-shaped hole in the bottom of the wall that makes it easy to crawl back and forth.  Because walls, just like the holes we put in them, are self created.  Kind of like Hell.

My sheep nosed his way under my fence shortly after I started unpacking this.  He said he’s ready to come around again.  I left the gate open, but I kept a safe distance.  A couple days later, he said he changed his mind.

No need to throw the gates open all at once.  All Hell might break loose.