It’s tempting to run to music. Stepping in time to someone else’s tune is usually much easier than setting my own.
It’s easier, but it’s also less fulfilling. Tonight I ditched my music, donned my new Vibrams, and began running.
The quiet felt eerie at first, until, step by step, I decided it was an empty page of sheet music waiting to be scored.
My path took me across a decrepit corner market. Bags of chips and bottles of hairspray competed for space on the cluttered shelves. I saw them for only a second before I was running back through time, and stepping into the market around the corner from my childhood home.
I handed the clerk a dollar bill for a bottle of Dr. Pepper and waited for change. Instead of returning my change to me, the clerk said, “What your mom does, it’s not right. She should take better care of you.”
“You have no idea what my mom does. Just give me my change.” I glared at the clerk before thrusting my hand her direction, silently demanding my change.
“I’m not saying this right,” she said, looking genuinely flustered. “I was like you growing up. It was hard. I’m just trying to help–”
“Wow, yeah, I can tell. You’re helping so much, making life so much easier for my mom, my siblings and me. We don’t need your kind of ‘help.’” I turned and stalked out of the market without my change, only seldom to return again. I had to be fierce to survive, both inside and outside of my home.
Back in May 2013, I saw I’d run a couple of blocks through the past. Returned to the present, I smiled at the teen texting while skating so slow I kept passing him. I listened to Korean karaoke and wondered if my neighborhood might not be the home karaoke capital of the world. I shook my head at the lady who kept pounding a crosswalk button, opting to do something instead of nothing, because although the end result is the same, it feels more productive.
I’d cruised dozens of steps past her before I realized she was me. I spent six months in an unhealthy situation, telling myself that I could end it if I could just find the right words to make someone else understand my pain. “I just haven’t found the right words yet,” I told myself, pounding the button. “Maybe these are the right ones?” Pound. “Or these ones?” Poundpoundpound.
It took someone else’s flippant comment for me to realize there were literally no words I could say to them to make them understand. I’d tried dozens if not hundreds of combinations, but none of them sank in, because–here’s the kicker–no one in this world can make another person understand.
I decided it was time to chart a new course. I stopped idly pounding someone else’s buttons and stepped away.
I was frustrated with myself as I ran and remembered.
‘”Six whole months, Deb. Six months. You couldn’t figure it out sooner?”
I couldn’t help but chuckle, though, picturing the lady pounding away at the crosswalk button in hopes of a green light come earlier by her actions.
Yes, I was slow on the uptake. No, I can’t change the past by beating up my past self for her actions. Somehow it’s easier to see this as I pound the pavement, step after step after glorious step.
I once plowed through the heartaches of my youth. They hurt, but they made me stronger. I pushed my way through irrepressible loneliness in South Korea, law school and Japan, in that order. I did many things right and others very, very wrong, straight up through this very evening run.
I would never have heard these tunes converge with my ears turned toward someone else’s stories in song. I would never have seen with such clarity how I have run through heartache, hardship and loss, somehow managing to gather speed instead of slowing.
Step after step after step, I run. I will never be an Olympian in the outside world, but in my inner world, as I run through past, present and future, there are no medals equal to the sheer beauty of striding through strife and into ever-increasing strength.
Thunder Thighs came home with me yesterday.
Yesterday I drove home with that representation in the passenger seat beside me, and thought about Thunder Thighs. Love. Laughter. How blessed I am to have an abundance of these things, even when my introversion sometimes–as now–make me yearn for more quiet time to recharge.
Although Thunder Thighs is my mom, and today is Mother’s Day in the U.S., mother’s love is only a small part of what’s in my heart today. The larger part belongs not to the love provided by any one person, but to any love provided by anyone who loves–not passively or from a distance, but actively with outreached hand, heart and time offered up to others.
Whether or not you hope to be a mother, once were a mother, are a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, or none of these things, I celebrate you today. I celebrate your acts of love and compassion. I celebrate your phone call to a friend, your donation to a shelter, your vigil with a friend whose father is dying, your care to a friend’s house when she is in the hospital, your watching a neighbor’s children so she can shop for groceries. I celebrate the light that you shine upon those within your vicinity, and thank goodness you are out there shining that light.
Upon my bedroom door there now hangs a reminder to cherish these things. My mom is no longer a phone call away, but there is love aplenty evidenced in each minute every day regardless.
Today I will look for loves’ signs, and I will celebrate each of them, no matter who originates any one of them.
No matter who or where you are,
may your day be full of love,
both received and given.
She didn’t tell me his name.
She didn’t tell me what he did for a living, or where he came from.
She tried not to talk about him much at all, which evoked mild curiosity but didn’t alarm me, even though I’d always known her prior boyfriends by no less than name, occupation, hobbies and demeanor.
It was only when my dear friend fell silent for weeks after dating the new guy that I started to feel a niggling sense of worry.
A gregarious, affable extrovert, she’d always been one to text dozens of times a day, and reply instantly to virtually any text message. I often felt guilty for replying so slowly to her texts; it can take me days or even weeks to reply to a single message.
When she failed to reply to several text messages over a few-week period, I started to worry. I texted her: I get nervous when you fall silent.
She wrote back that she’d moved several hours north of our hometown. When I read him her text message, my fiancee, Anthony, said, “She’s moving the wrong direction! She should be moving down here with us.” I said she’d probably moved with her boyfriend, versus moving just for fun, but relayed his message to her. She confirmed that she’d moved with her boyfriend, whose name I still didn’t know.
I thought, abusers try to isolate their partners. I promptly squashed the thought as the byproduct of an overactive imagination. She hadn’t said anything was wrong, apart from a mild case of moving blues.
A few weeks later, my friend called and told me her boyfriend had assaulted her. She was shocked and shaken, but had quickly arranged alternative lodging for herself.
“You should leave,” I told her. “I think it’s dangerous for you to stay. You can come stay with us for a little.” I coordinated parts of her departure with her, but worried she wouldn’t leave. It’s often much easier to continue enduring known hardship than embrace the idea of enduring unknown, unquantifiable hardships. Indeed, the human imagination for possible woes is endless, so that the unknown can end up seeming much more threatening than painful situations we’ve already shown ourselves we can survive.
When my friend called me a couple of days later and said she’d probably overreacted, I stressed that I didn’t feel she had. Still, she was determined to stay and prove she was strong enough to make a home in her new locale, with or without her boyfriend.
I sighed. I prayed. And I hoped to God she’d call me if anything else happened.
A week and a half ago, I felt a rare hankering to read non fiction. “What was that book El recommended me? And another guy called a life changer?” I loaded Goodreads to scan my to-be-read shelf for the book. “The Gift of Fear. Right,” I murmured to myself. “I’ll give that a shot.”
I downloaded it expecting to read it a chapter at a time as time permitted. I was instead instantly captivated by the author’s clear, articulate description of indicators violence may be imminent. Gavin de Becker‘s career is violence avoidance, which involves finding commonalities in violent incidents and, understanding their clear and almost universally repeated warning signals, helping clients avoid falling prey to violence.
He quickly identified and described predatorial behaviors that have unnerved me for some time, but which nervousness I’ve long suppressed as irrational, unreasonable or silly. (More on that in my Goodreads review.)
Most importantly, he dedicated a huge section of the book to identifying warnings of partner abuse. He stressed that partner abuse related homicide is the most easily averted, if people are willing to read and respond to its indicators.
I was chilled to read the signs, but glad to have the benefit of an expert’s insight.
It’s by understanding a possibility of a threat we can work to prevent it.
I read the book in a day and a half.
The day after I finished reading The Gift of Fear, my dear friend called me. She’d been attacked again. She’d fought back, but she was nervous.
“You should be,” I said. Unlike when we first spoke weeks earlier, my sense of warning signs wasn’t muddy or ambiguous. I didn’t feel like I was potentially making false accusations about her boyfriend by suggesting she was unsafe. “Listen, I just finished reading an amazing book that talks about warning signs of violence.” I told her about the author, and how he immediately puts the kibosh on the idea that most violence is unpredictable or without warning. I explained he’d devoted a huge portion of his book specifically to partner abuse to help reduce horrifying domestic abuse homicide rates. I asked if I could read her a list of risk signals the author had compiled just for situations like this. “If several of these apply to your situation, you’re likely at risk.”
She agreed, and I read through the whole list (paperback pp. 183-184), beginning:
- The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.
- At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.
- He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.
“Oh, my God,” she breathed after a several-second pause after I’d finished reading the list. “He’s done at least 25 of those things. At least.” She mentioned he’d even come at her with a gun. She said it almost as if an afterthought, but I was terrified on her behalf. I responded with an emotional entreaty.
“Leave. Please leave.” Since I don’t know much about the specifics of doing so safely, I looked up the local domestic violence hotline and urged her to contact them. She spoke briefly to a volunteer there, then arranged a meeting for the next morning.
As we said our good nights to each other via text message, I prayed she would be safe overnight . . . and then, that she would leave.
Uncertain what the future would hold, she cleaned out her apartment, quickly got her affairs in order, and left.
Four days later, she reached Southern California. She spent a night with a friend before showing up at my house. My son, Li’l D, was beyond excited to see his auntie. She read him some stories and assured him she’d be there when he awakened. In the morning, he wanted nothing to do with me. He wanted only his auntie.
After Li’l D was off to preschool, she updated her resume. She sent out more than a dozen resumes and had arranged her first interview within an hour.
Two days later, she rocked that interview; her job offer came only a couple of hours later.
Walking to the store a few minutes later, we shared our elation at how quickly tides can turn when we flow with them. “Just eight days ago,” we mused, “all seemed hopeless. And now, barely more than a week later, it’s sunshine, friends and a new job.”
There’s no telling for sure what might have happened if she’d stayed up north. Was bloodshed inevitable? There is no telling. Thanks to the clear, compelling guidance in The Gift of Fear, a whole set of terrifying could-have-beens became much-less-likely-to-bes.
Will everyone who considers leaving know they have a safe place to go, or find a job immediately? No. But the truth is, it’s only by leaving an abusive, violent situation that a person–usually a woman–will be better able to take her life to the natural end of its years, and to explore all the good that might yet be, if she can even haltingly accept that the certainty of abuse is not better than uncertainty that includes limitless hopeful possibilities.
If you or someone you know is experiencing partner abuse, or you even suspect it, please, please make use of these resources:
You could save a life, or even–if children are involved–many lives.
My twentieth birthday was a life-changer.
There were no epiphanies. No sudden, startling events that illuminated just how important the day would prove in the scheme of my life.
There was only a party–a movie party, to be precise. My sister took me to watch (or should I say, ignore?) terrible movies with her large group of nerdtastic, boisterous, crass guy friends. I was shocked and delighted by the guys’ shenanigans, but more so, how completely and immediately they accepted me. I’d never experienced that before, nor anything like it.
By the time I prepared to leave for South Korea a couple years later, I knew the guys. They knew me. They teased me incessantly but lovingly. I was at home with them, so much that I had mostly forgotten what it was like to be an island unto myself.
The evening of my farewell party, I was presented with a gift: a notebook in which all of my friends, some movie party and some not, had written out their recollections of and wishes for me. On the cover was a dragonfly drawn by my friend Piete, and inside were words that have inspired and sustained me for more than a decade since. Best of all were pages of sweet memories shared by my usually writing-averse friend Sarah, who taught me–and teaches me–better than anyone else I have ever known that friendship is in loving (if sometimes firm!) actions more than in any number of pretty words.
On my most recent trip to Oregon, Sarah, Piete and their twins joined my siblings and me for a romp to the park.
The kids were silly with tiredness as we walked home afterward. “Rock out!” my son shouted as he ran toward Uncle Piete.
With an impish smile, Uncle Piete replied, “Rock out with your chalk out!” I busted up laughing as my son, Li’l D, ran circles shouting, “Rock out with your chalk out! Rock out with your chalk out!”
The movie party felt alive in that moment. Those of us whose ages numbered in the double digits were still the kids we were back then, I saw, just with more experience, more love, and even a few kids of our own.
And now, our kids have each other.
I’ve missed Oregon more than usual recently, becoming downright melancholic at the thought of my family there–my siblings, my niece, my nephews, my godmom, Sarah, Piete and their kids. As if Li’l D can read my mind, it’s in these moments of missing that he grins and shouts, “Rock out with your chalk out!”
I can’t help but chuckle, a chuckle that bursts forth from deep within me. In that silly statement, past and present converge, as do my Oregon and California lives. My Oregon family is my California family, and I can hear all of its members so loudly with my heart that I don’t need to hear them with my ears.
I’ll be back in Oregon before long. I’ll be back with my movie party crew, exulting in the sight of the next generation playing and laughing together.
In the meantime, Oregon remains within me, shining out brightest of all when my son reminds me to rock out with my chalk out.
Preparing for my son’s first flight was nervewracking. I had flown many times myself, but was suddenly concerned about the impact of possible catastrophe on my son.
Not remotely satisfied by the general oft-spoken assertion “you’re safer in a plane than a car,” I did my own research about the safety of flight. What remains with me three years later is not any specific statistic but the four words in this post’s title.
This page documents the last words recorded on crashed airplanes’ black boxes. Most are as you would expect–expletives, queries, statements about unexpected obstacles–but there was this one that diverged.
“Amy, I love you.”
First Officer Warmerdam, who spoke those words, survived both the crash and the resulting fire.
When I am feeling overwhelmed, I often think of those words. I wonder what, if I got a chance not only to choose them but have them relayed, would be my last four or five words. Boiling the hubbub of life down to this single question takes away any confusion or ambiguity.
Those words would be for me son. “Li’l D, I love you.” If I only got to leave a single enduring thing in this world after I pass away, hopefully many decades from now, it would be the truth imparted by those words.
My life is full of many truths, many loves and much bustle. Beneath all that is one singular truth: bustle is bustle, which comes and goes.
Love, on the other hand, comes and grows.
Sunday marks one year since I shaved my head bald for St. Baldrick’s. My anxiety diminished along with my hair; at the end, I looked at my bald self and rejoiced, for I was finally seeing “me unconcealed.”
I liked what I saw–not the surface stuff, but the truer things beneath that. No matter what anyone else did or did not see, I looked into my own face and saw a me I wanted to be.
It was powerful. It was liberating, even apart from its inspiration, which was hope for an end to childhood cancer.
This weekend, a woman I’ve never met but admire tremendously will be shaving her head for St. Baldrick’s Team Robot Boy. Her son, almost exactly my own son’s age, has battled cancer for much of his life so far. She’s written about that here, and she’s written about his spirit on this very blog.
If you are able, please donate $5 for Robot Boy–or in honor of someone you love, in memory of someone you love, in hope for a future free from childhood cancer.