No Contact, Four Seconds, and Walking Away

In the few minutes between taking Boxnoggin out for his first morning loo break and settling to absorb some caffeine while doing the usual blog post, fog moved in. The little cat feet were quick and soundless, and now I can barely see the trees across the cul-de-sac behind us.

Of course, if the cedars were still there I wouldn’t see anything else, but that’s a wholly different issue. Ah well.

I’ve been reading this morning about a letter Kafka sent to his domineering, abusive, narcissistic father. So much of it is familiar, though Kafka didn’t have some of the psych terminology we do today. It’s fascinating to read how he narrated what is, to some of us, very sadly familiar. It made me grateful for going no-contact lo these many years (decades, now) ago.

It’s all right to prioritize your own health and safety. It’s totally fine not to answer bad-faith questions, and it’s absolutely reasonable to protect yourself from sadistic people even if they were responsible for raising you. My particular culture doesn’t venerate parents to the extent some others do, but still when I am forced to mention that I don’t speak to my childhood abusers many people will spout well-meaning platitudes like, “You’ll regret it if you don’t forgive,” and “They did the best they could.” The first is manifestly untrue in my experience and the second is a matter no stranger could possibly have the information to judge, so most of the time I give such expostulations (and the other little nuggets of busybodies’ so-called wisdom) precisely the weight they merit.

Still…it’s irritating, a pinch on a scar which used to be sore. Some days I simply don’t have the emotional energy, so I disengage and don’t speak to that person again. It’s perfectly okay to walk away in the middle of someone’s sentence. I wish I would have absorbed this fact on a cellular level decades ago, but it took a lot of therapy and time under the bridge (to mix a metaphor) before I could.

Honestly the best thing for this has been reaching my mid-forties. Society considers a woman of my age little better than disposable, being otherwise obsessed with young, malleable, abuse-able girls. Once an older woman stops giving a fuck she’s labeled as dangerous, ugly, unstable, awful, rude, how dare.

Becoming a bog witch holds a great deal attraction at that point, but if one can’t retreat to the swamps (or a chicken-legged hut) the next best thing is silently regarding a well-meaning busybody with a direct stare for a little over four seconds, then turning around and walking away. There’s a great deal of power in that, and naturally some privilege in when one can deploy the maneuver. Even being able to do it once or twice is a massively healing experience. It gets the point across and removes one from the situation, which is all one can hope for.

I felt nothing but relief when one of my major childhood abusers recently passed away. I thought I would feel some kind of guilt, or that things were left unfinished. I didn’t; there was nothing left to say, because I had already mourned the relationship I wish I would’ve had with them–the relationship child-me was desperate for, would (and did) do almost anything for. Like any child, I wanted to love my caregivers. They made it impossible–that was a choice on their part, whereas I had none. Raising my own children was deeply illuminating, because it drove home just how insane so much of my own early life was. I could never treat my kids the way I was treated. It was utterly foreign to me, on the deepest of levels, to be so cruel to tiny, dependent, helpless beings.

I’m glad Kafka got to write his letter. It may not have had the effect he wanted, but there’s still a lancing of the wound in telling the truth about abusive dickwads. Going no-contact with those society called my parents (not to mention other toxic people since then) was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself; applying four seconds of silence and walking away is one of the most self-protective skills I’ve ever had the opportunity to learn. As Captain Awkward so often notes, it’s okay to let things be uncomfortable for toxic people. If they didn’t want discomfort, they should learn not to behave like total douches.

Now I need brekkie, and Boxnoggin needs walkies. No doubt he’ll find all sorts of interesting smells in the fog. Life is so much better now; every day I’m grateful for the space and peace created by choosing not to give nasty toxic people any more than the absolute minimum of time and attention. (Sometimes that minimum is negative, a happy occasion indeed.)

See you around, beloveds.

Ceasefire Bell

One of my childhood abusers is dead.

Not from Covid. It doesn’t matter how. What matters is the finality: Deceased. Buried. Gone. Expired. Muerte. Mort. Finis.

The other half of their tag-team (enabler, co-abuser, folie à deux, whatever) is of course attempting to use this to wedge a fingernail under the defenses I painstakingly built to keep not just them but other stalkers and harassers out. I can even feel a little pity for the remaining abuser; I know they must be spinning, deprived of the narcissistic supply and pathological push-pull that gave their life meaning for decades. It must be terrifying. No wonder they’re trying like hell to find me, find my address, find my phone number, find anything so they can attempt to hurt me like they used to.

Should I feel grief? I did, in therapy a long while ago. I grieved the non-abusive relationship I wish I would’ve had with both/either of them. There’s nothing left in that well. I peer over the stone lip and whisper hello, but the only response is a dry echo. Should I feel the pain someone who had a different childhood would? Should I now pretend some kind of grief because it’s socially desirable? Why? What good would that do?

What do I feel? Relief, I suppose–even a stray dog has the sense to be happy when someone’s not kicking her. Liberation? Yes, perhaps. That person will never hurt me again. I outlasted them; I won. I am living in a safe place, with pets and people who love me. I have a career I like. I went to therapy, I worked hard, I fought and scratched and bit my way out of an abyss of self-hatred and shame in order to feel (most days) like the things they did to me when I was young and helpless and dependent are not entirely my fault. I have ways of answering their persistent voices inside my head, healthier methods of responding to events. I have (mostly) stopped hurting myself, as I was trained to since birth, for the benefit of toxic vampires.

I got away. I haven’t spoken to either abuser in over a decade. I was lucky to have support, lucky for the chance to physically remove myself from danger. It took repeated efforts (it always does), because both of them–singly or in tandem–wanted me back under the thumb, so they could have their usual victim and also because the secrets I still hold could destroy them legally or socially. They had to make sure I wouldn’t talk, and the best way of doing that was to terrify me. Or so they thought–yes, I held to my silence, but not for them.

Never for them.

You’re not supposed to wish ill on anyone. You’re not supposed to feel a great wash of relief and crazy laughter when you get the news of final karma coming home to roost. You’re not supposed to admit that you were waiting, on some level, for this to happen. You aren’t supposed to admit that when someone who hurt you over and over again, deliberately and with great vicious enjoyment, is finally in the Great Hereafter facing whatever comes next, that you hope they suffer some consequences for what they did. What they chose to do. What they knew was wrong, because you cried and told them over and over again, no, stop, you’re hurting me, please don’t do that.

The news tolls inside me like a bell. A big brass church bell, survivor of many centuries and battles, rung to ward off lightning, to celebrate miraculous rescues. Te Deum, te Deum, te Deum laudamus. Ding-dong, the jerk is dead. The shelling has stopped, a ceasefire is announced. Maybe someday soon I can go to the store without looking over my shoulder. Maybe there will come a time when I will check the mail without the persistent shadow of fear. Maybe, on some blessed day, I will know that I have outlasted not just one but both of my tormentors.

They seemed eternal when I was small and helpless. It seemed that I would never escape, never breathe free air. I endured without hope for so long. When I grow up, I would think, but without any real expectation it could happen; I knew I was trapped. I knew very well that they could easily go too far one day and kill me or worse, leave me permanently scar-twisted. The knowledge lived in my bones, tainted every breath. Even after I was physically removed, the damage was done. I jumped at shadows, I flinched before anyone could land a punch, I left before I could be hurt, I pushed everyone away before they had a chance to strike. I still do not know what it is to sleep without some part of me scanning restlessly for danger.

But one of my childhood abusers is dead.

I can work in my garden, turning over fresh black dirt. I can hug my children, who never suffered anything I did–I protected them, as I wish someone would have protected me. I can snuggle my dog. I can tell my friends I’m hurting and get a hug. I can write books, I can sing, I can dance. I can run in the mornings and my heart, over and over, will pound the two-beat tattoo I am, I am, I am. I am grown up, I got away. I can set books on my kitchen counter without fearing they will be ripped up, mutilated, thrown away. I survived. The cost was high; I paid it.

Many abused children do not survive. Many are trapped all their lives. Many find other abusers out in the world because we are trained so thoroughly to take the punch, take the blame, and who are we if we’re not being hurt? Many continue the cycle because they have been deformed out of all recognition, or because they know no better. Some figure it’s better to be the abuser than abused, and grow to like hurting others. The world teems with broken people. Should I feel guilty for that too, for my great good luck in escaping?

I don’t know. I can’t tell. All I know is this: One of my childhood abusers is dead.

And I? I am still alive.

Soundtrack Monday: Breaking Into Cars

Human Tales

I’ve been feeling the urge to do a few more Soundtrack Mondays, so here we are.

This week’s jam is the Raveonettes, Breaking Into Cars. It made its way onto the BLUE soundtrack, which was for Wayfarer–my Cinderella retelling. That entire series is full of callbacks to Kieslowski’s Trois Coleurs trilogy, and the music for each book followed suit. Certain tones have certain colors to me, and this particular track has a blue wash in my head.

Ellie, the titular Cinderella, spends most of the book being backed into a corner. She’s trying to plan, to do the right thing, to simply endure until she’s a grownup. It’s a mood I know well, and this particular song plays whenever she decides to maybe bend the rules a bit.

Even the most obedient child can be pushed into outright defiance, especially when they realize the game is rigged. It was difficult for me to engage with the fairytale, and with certain aspects of Ellie’s story…but that’s why we write, I suppose. Or at least, it’s one reason.

Welcome to the week, my beloveds. I hope a little music will help us get to the other side.

Masks, Dropped

Terrible heat; we who live in the PNW aren’t geared for this sort of thing. Physically drained, and if I even glance at the news I wonder why one should get out of bed at all. Of course, since I can’t really sleep I might as well get up and at least try to work. The plants need watering, too. Might as well–that’s what I keep repeating these days. Might as fucking well.

I’m working on Volume 7 of Anaïs Nin’s Diary, and rationing the poems in Jay Hulme’s Backwater Sermons. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Nin once the Diary finishes, but also relatively glad that I can turn my attention to other things. My only regret about Hulme is that I can’t go even more slowly; the poems are wonderful antidotes for the awful, killing bleakness I often find myself lost in.

The garden is doing splendidly. Some of the dahlias survived squirrel depredations and have come up, which is a blessing. The new hedge trimmer works like a dream and I’m considering taking it to the grape vine, just to keep the bloody thing under control. But that’s not a decision for today; I am not in the right frame of mind to be trimming tender green. Whacking at old growth requires a bit of bloody-mindedness, but the newer stuff needs care.

Does all that sound like I’m depressed and near-broken? I suppose that’s not far from the truth.

Still, I’m enduring. I want to be the weed these bastards can’t kill. I want to survive without being turned into what we’re fighting. The bitterness stands a very real chance of twisting me, just as it did when I was a child, and I am determined not to give them that victory.

I’ve been watching a lot of a particular YouTube channel that deals with explaining the behavior of narcissists. A certain amount of narcissism is present in a healthy personality, sure, but our culture and society prioritizes and rewards the nasty kind far more than anything reasonable. I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about surviving narcissists, due to my upbringing, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised–there is just so much more information about how to deal with them, validation if one must suffer their depredations, and new research about why they do what they do than ever before. Learning that they rarely if ever change has been consoling; it means I don’t have to hold out hope or leave any part of myself open for their return. And hearing the reiteration that several of my coping mechanisms aren’t uncommon at all has been oddly helpful, too.

Therapy was wonderful for me, and this kind of knowledge being freely available (again, since I have the hardware and internet connection to access it, I do not forget that) is helping me build a bulwark against the current crop of fascist bullies. Because what are they but domestic abusers writ large? They all–fascists, bigots, cult leaders, intimate abusers, bullies–work off the same playbook, a thin stapled-together pamphlet of nasty tricks and brutalization. The different varieties may have a preference for a certain strategy, but they use the gamut, and are all cut out of the same cloth.

We know what these people do. We know who they are, and they have never been so overt and easily recognizable as right now. They’re practically shouting “I’M TOXIC! PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ME!” at the top of their lungs 24/7. The masks have dropped.

How odd, how strangely hilarious is it that wearing a scrap of cloth over one’s face marks one as a decent person who cares about others, and the lack shouts “I’m a huge selfish asshole”? It used to be toxic people wore camouflage to hunt with more ease. In my brighter moments I think that it’s actually a good thing they’ve been so emboldened–we have lifted the rock, and of course the mass of pale, sickening squirming underneath seems like an explosion. It seems endless, it seems too deadly and huge to fight.

But we can see how far the rot extends, now, and that’s the first step in treatment. We can protect ourselves–and each other–with greater ease. There’s no ambiguity, no “well, maybe X doesn’t mean it, maybe they’re just having a bad day.” It’s gone far beyond that; they have literally removed all cover, camouflage, and the pretty lies they used to operate under.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and what we can see we can treat. Or fight.

So I’m going to water the plants, take Boxnoggin on his ramble, do some stretching since I can’t run in this weather and my body is in full-fledged, miserable revolt. I will pull way back on social media to protect myself for a while, and continue the work. I will try to remind myself not to be bitter, that maybe one or two people heeded my warning(s) and that if I reached even one person it was time and effort well spent. Try to remind myself that even my silly little stories have value, and even if I’m too exhausted to come out swinging I can still build a refuge and offer others some solace, some relief.

I thought reaching adulthood meant I could be free of nasty, toxic, abusive bullies. It seems they’re everywhere now, but I have to keep reminding myself that they’re just loud. In reality, we outnumber them, and their selfish, opportunistic fellow travelers as well. Plus the technology of today means validation for the rest of us, not to mention direct proof of outnumbering, can be had daily.

We’re not trapped on the planet with the toxic, bigoted, fascist bullies. They’re trapped here with us, and we outnumber them by more than two to one. They’re loud, vicious, brutal, and don’t care who they hurt. Yet we are the powerful ones.

Gods grant we don’t forget it.

Validation, Knowing Why

This morning the algorithm served up a video about “When the narcissist knows YOU know” and honestly…it was incredibly validating. It explained and articulated some things I’ve wondered about for a long, long while.

It’s no secret that I went no-contact with my childhood abusers many years ago. (And I have never for a moment been sorry, either. It was the best life choice I ever made.) One of them died last year, and though the loss of any human being is sad, I felt (and still feel) nothing but relief and liberation. Being able to live without the constant defensive worry of that particular toxic person taking it into their head to show up and attempt mistreating me is extremely freeing. I wonder what I’ll feel when the other one passes. I have already mourned the relationship I wish I had with either of them–thank you, therapy–so at this point, the whole thing is merely a, “huh, guess I’ll find out when it happens.”

It’s a cool grey morning, though the weather app says we’ll have sunshine and high temperatures this week. The world continues to stagger on under a load of greed and brutality. I have very little hope swilling about in my veins, though sometimes I think it’s always been like this and current technology just means we can see the pale squirming things under the lifted rock.

…no wonder I am so tempted to remain in bed.

But there’s work to be done, the dog to walk, my own silly corpse to run, and various other bits of the business of living to deal with, since I am not released from such yet. Boxnoggin has turned his nose up at breakfast once more today, though he’ll probably consent to eat a bit once I’m at the table with my toast. (Don’t worry, he’s in zero danger of any malnutrition, between dinners and training treats.) He is a very social eater; if the pack isn’t wolfing down chow, he tends to refrain. Since I can’t handle solid food on any blessed morn until the coffee settles, we’re sort of at cross purposes for a couple hours after waking up, but it doesn’t seem to do either of us any harm.

And to be fair, I’m the sucker who drops a toast crust into his bowl most mornings, so he can be forgiven for holding out.

Tuesday promises to be relatively quiet, and I’m actually looking forward to picking at Hell’s Acre some more. Stepping back into what I love about this story is going to be the way through. Funny how I have to relearn that every time the Chihuahua of Real Life starts humping ankles again.

And with that cheerful mental image, I’m off to start the day. If the amount of work I achieve isn’t what I hope for, at least I have indications that there’s emotional processing (and plenty of it) going on under the surface to explain why. Sometimes, all one needs is an explanation. The surge of validation from knowing why is liberating in and of itself.

See you around.

Habit’s Candle

I’m vertical, and coffee has been not just attempted but achieved. All I want is to crawl back into bed, but tossing and turning there will do no good. I’m tormented by news of the outside world, of course, and struggling with the feeling that my stories don’t matter in the face of all this horrific destruction, all this hatred.

I know I started writing because I was unsatisfied with the ending of a Little Golden Book. I think I continued, at least partly, to figure out why my childhood caregivers hated me so much and kept harming me. Sometimes Child-Lili thought if I could just find the right words I could make them understand they were hurting me, and that would naturally make them stop. Later, I realized that they already knew, they had known from the start, and they either didn’t care or actively enjoyed my pain.

Maybe that realization constitutes growing up? But in any case, I kept writing. By then the habit was too strong.

I write because I must; I also write to transmute the pain of daily life into something else, something a little better. All creation is transformation, whether of materials or of grace. How many times will I create only to see it ignored, torn down, cast aside? How much more of this despair, abuse, pain, and hatred do I have to watch? I know my job as a writer, as an artist, is never to look away. Yet I’m only human, and I’m so, so tired.

It could be that it isn’t writing itself which has me exhausted, but publishing through all this–pandemic, fascist coup, rising tide of hateful xenophobia and misogyny, all the pain and horror and death. And really, what use are my stories in this current mess? Great stories might change things, but mine may be, well, other than great.

I used to tell myself that if a story saved even one person from the deep end, if it ameliorated the pain even once for one person, it was more than enough and I could consider it time and effort well spent. I don’t think that’s entirely wrong and I don’t regret a single story, and yet I find myself wondering if I should just…give up, sink, let the water take me. Nothing I do seems to truly matter, especially when I go to the grocer’s and the vast mass of people wander around with naked face-holes, breathing disease, not caring if they kill an elderly person, a child under five who can’t be vaccinated yet, an immunocompromised person. And then I come home and a fresh hell descends with the news cycle.

The selfishness, the uncaring, is just my childhood caregivers repeated over and over again. They get what they want, and don’t give a damn about–or they actively enjoy–the pain they cause. Ever since 2016 I’ve felt trapped in my childhood again, beaten both physically and emotionally with no relief or escape in sight. I thought there was some small hope with a change in administrations, but the people we voted in with such sweat and heartbreak won’t fight on our behalf. Instead, they seem content to cash their lobbyist checks and make performative gestures, like the teachers who reported my bruises and lacerations but in the end did nothing to save me.

I fled, I saved myself. But now it feels like I’m right back in the middle of that, albeit with no physical wounds. Where it hurts can’t be seen, and consequently hurts more.

Intellectually I know this is trauma speaking, retraumatization and revictimization. I know it’s the depression, and that depression lies. I know I have to continue because this world doesn’t have honor enough to simply strike me down–even if the meteor is approaching, there’s no guarantee it will get here before we starve to death so I’m forced to keep going, keep trying. I’m still caught between knowing there are people and creatures who depend on me and the irrational, deep, unavoidable feeling that if I vanished–this moment, today, next week, next year–nobody would notice or care. It’s a hideous place to be in, and the worst thing is, it’s familiar.

I’ve lived here before.

This isn’t a call for help; everyone else has all they can handle just keeping their head above water and no rescue is coming for any of us. This is simply a record, because I realize, after all, that I am incapable of stopping. Even this–even this–is a sharing, so that if others are feeling the same way at least you know you’re not alone. This is my candle in the darkness, guttering but still alight, and I am holding an inadequate shelter against the hideous hateful storm, inviting you to share it for a moment or so. To rest, before you continue your own battle.

I am creating meaning out of this suffering, putting it into words, and setting the work free to find and comfort who it can, in whatever way it can. Even at my lowest, even amid All This, the habit is too strong to break. Turns out I don’t need hope, I simply need to continue.

I hope it carries us both through, my friend. I’m so sorry it’s like this. I wish it were better.

But it isn’t. And it’s all I can do to keep this candle alight, even as I sink.

Phone and Sun

It’s quiet, at least. There are only a few haze-clouds; the sky is that rain-washed blue only found during spring in this part of the world. It’s going to be a bright day. Alack and alas, I suppose, because I love the rain–but everyone else will be thrilled. I don’t know why anyone who likes sunshine lives here, but if we could all live exactly where we pleased and moving wasn’t such a hassle I suppose we’d all be a lot happier.

The week wears on. I’m exhausted, and it’s only Tuesday. I didn’t get a damn bit of actual work done yesterday, but that’s balanced out by the fact that I was on the phone for a significant portion of my waking hours. All sorts of administrivia was put to bed and much of it I don’t have to do again, so at least there’s that.

But gods as my witness, I hate the phone. In email or text I can weigh and calibrate responses at something approaching leisure, and there’s a record of what both sides have said. Even if one takes notes, one is often browbeaten or pressured on the phone, and predators who weaponize other people’s politeness tend to prefer it because of the ease of abuse as well as the inherent “he said, she said” when there’s a later question about what, precisely, was agreed to. Not so in email–it’s right there, written down.

I liked the phone well enough as a teenager. I mean, who doesn’t at that age? And really it was all we had at that point.1 But once email, and later texting, arrived? Hallelujah, bitches, no more suffering through phone calls!

…and yet some people still love it. I’m baffled.

There’s also hypersensitivity to account for. On a phone call, you’re listening to tone of voice, word choice, the spaces between words, even someone’s breathing to gain clues about their mood and what they actually want instead of what they say they want. I’m fully aware my sensitivity to this particular aspect of the problem springs from a childhood spent frantically trying to assess what my caregivers actually wanted so I could escape physical (or other) abuse2, but the principle still holds. In email, all that extraneous stuff to keep track of simply isn’t there. Passive-aggressive (or directly aggressive) bullshit stands out in stark relief and is far easier to parry since text and email are asynchronous.

You can just let things sit until you’re ready to deal with them, and give measured responses.

Some phone-lovers say it’s easier and quicker than writing, and I suppose in some very sharply limited situations it might be. But each time the bloody thing rings, or I have to brace myself to put on a cheery voice and deal with said blasted phone, I die a little inside. And I spent hours on it yesterday.

I’m sure that if I had comments open I’d get an avalanche of them from phone-lovers. Be easy, my friends, you can use it all you want! It’s simply not my cuppa, and is profoundly anxiety-making in the bargain. At least I can cut down on the amount of time I personally spend enduring it, or video calls–which are nerve-wracking and exhausting in a similar way. Modern life is good for something, I guess, and it’s interesting to think about how I dealt with the phone when it was literally the only game in town.

Anyway, the dogs are certain that I should stop clicky-clacking in front of the magic glowing box and turn my human magic to the matter of breakfast. They both want their usual ration of toast-crusts, and that can’t happen if I’m busily typing. Sometimes I wonder what they think I’m doing all day, crouched over the keyboard. Do they simply consign it to the same realm of wonders as the dining room table, that bounteous source of human scraps? Or is it simply one more incomprehensible human magic, like cars? They certainly view it as an integral part of the daily ritual; if I’m not at the keyboard during my morning coffee they’re unnerved, and more than once Miss B has herded me firmly for the office, as if she suspects the time spent here is integral to the later appearance of toast.

She might even be right, in her own inimitable way.

The sun has reached a gap in the cedars along the back fence, and is pouring into my office. The small solar dancing-flower on the windowsill makes soft tick-tock sounds as it waves, enthusiastically greeting a day I feel much less sanguine about. I suppose the light will do me some good during walkies and the morning run, though. Miss B is having a good morning and may want to accompany us around the block, but I’m not sure if I’ll let her since carrying her up half the hill yesterday was hard on both of us. So we’ll see…after toast.

One must perform the ritual, after all. Off I go.