Guardian Angel

My body throbbed. My pulse was racing. The bruises on the back on my legs and arms were pounding. Even though he was in the other room, I could still feel his grip tightening around my arms, pulling me back as I strained to get away. The tears finally stopped. I think I was literally dried up. But the fear and the anxiety were real. I reached up, sliding my fingers between the slats on his crib. I peered up over his mattress, he was still sound asleep, none the wiser that I was even in his room. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I just had to make it through the night. We both just had to make it through the night safe. Then I could figure something out. I could find a place to keep us safe. I could call my parents if I had to. I just had to make it through the night.

I lay on the floor because the bed was too far away, I considered moving the bed, or the crib, or the baby. But I didn’t want to wake anyone. And I wasn’t sure I had the energy to move anything anyway. I reached over and grabbed a quilt and pillow from the baby’s bed, never losing sight of the crib, or the door. I heard a creaking floorboard in the kitchen. I held my breath.

What if he decided to come into the baby’s room?

What if he came looking for me?

But he didn’t. He walked right by. I heard the slamming and locking of our bedroom door, and shortly after that the locking of the bathroom door as well. there were two doors on the bathroom, one from the master bedroom and one from the hallway. He locked both doors so I couldn’t get in. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t leaving the baby, not even if I had to go to the bathroom.

I lay back down on the floor exhausted. It was uncomfortable, but at least then I knew that if he came into the baby’s room, he would have to go through me to get to the baby. I settled my head on the pillow as best I could. I pulled the quilt around myself made sure the baby was sleeping soundly. Then I tried to settle in for the night, or at least a few hours.

As I looked up at the door, I suddenly knew I was safe I felt a wave of peace and protection wash over me, for as I looked at the door, I saw an angel standing guard. She was enormous. She shimmered in a golden translucent hue. Her wings reached right through the ceiling and she stood at guard with her sword of protection. She nodded to me, as if saying, “I’ve got this. You are in the arms of Jesus. Rest now.” So I closed my eyes.

 

I don’t really know how long I slept, but I remember hearing Matthew stir in his crib. He looked pleasantly surprised to find me sleeping on the floor next to his crib.

“Mama,” he giggled.

“Shhh my precious.” I whispered. “Daddy’s still sleeping.” I didn’t know for sure, but I sure hoped and prayed he was still asleep. I put my fingers up through the slats of the crib again and Matthew held on tight. He seemed to know I just needed to lay there for a minute. He laid his head down popped his thumb back into his mouth and played with my fingers.

Morning had come. We were both still alive. My body ached all over. Between the tension and worry of last night’s events, and the bruising and aching all over my body, I was worn out. I glanced at the door. The angel was gone, as was my peace. But I knew she had been there and helped us all to sleep. “Thank you, God.” I whispered.

We were safe. But I knew that safety was fleeting. I had to come up with a plan, and quickly. How had I gotten myself into this mess?

 

 

 

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My dad

phd planIn looking at this cartoon about Ph.D. plan vs. Ph.D. reality, I can probably label each one of those bumps along the road. One might be when I started my new job. One might be my divorce. Another one might be for the medical challenges I faced. But that last one, that big one toward the end, I know exactly what that one is. That one is from last fall, when my dad got sick.

Just before school started I took the day off to go with my parents to see my dad’s orthopedic surgeon. He was supposed to have shoulder replacement surgery, but when they did the MRI, they found something suspicious. The appointment was to determine if he could have surgery or if he had cancer.

He had cancer.

The roller coaster began. It was doctors’ appointments, biopsies, and tests, tests and more tests. I sat with my dad as he staunchly told the nurse he had a DNR. I waited for him as he struggled to breath walking down the hallway, but too proud and stubborn to accept a ride in a wheelchair. I smiled and joked with him trying to help him keep his dignity as I undressed him because he couldn’t do it himself. I listened to what the doctor said. I asked questions. I tried to help my parents understand. i tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Then one Friday morning when I was at work, my mom called. Dad had fallen down in the bathroom and they were rushing him to the hospital. I left work. Raced home. Packed a bag. And went to him. I stayed with him in the hospital. They were trying to determine the primary source of the cancer. They were trying to determine how to treat it. They were trying to determine if they could treat it.

They couldn’t.

The next month was crazy. He went from the hospital to a nursing home where we struggled as a family to decide the best course of action, or inaction.

All the while, I brought my laptop and worked on my dissertation. I spent hours at night at the hospital or the nursing home sitting with my dad and typing away. He knew that I was close to finishing my dissertation and he was so proud of me. He had done all of his course work for his Ph.D. but never did the dissertation. I was the first in my family to finish.

At first I worked hard because I thought I could finish it while he was still alive and he could see me graduate. But then I knew he wasn’t going to make it until the spring and I was doubly determined to finish it for him.

Writing was kind of a companion for me late at night. I like to think that while the beeping of the machines he was on kept me company, the clicking of the keys while I typed kept him company. He knew I was there.

At the end of October, just about two months after we found out he had cancer, we brought him home to say good-bye. As he was so fond of saying in the last weeks of his life, he wanted to die surrounded by his loving family, and he did.

I was there with him. We had all been there with him at the end. His loving wife. All six of his children and their spouses. All thirteen of his grandchildren and their significant others, and both of his great grandsons.

But his reach went far beyond his family.

He was a coach. He coached baseball and basketball right up until the month before he got sick. He coached hundreds of kids over the 40+ years he coached. But he didn’t just influence the kids he coached; he changed everyone he came in contact with. Opposing coaches and opposing teams came to his wake to tell us how he impacted their lives through the strength of his character. His entire baseball team, in their uniforms came to the funeral to stand proud for him.

Everyone was special and important to him. He always took the time to talk to anyone he met. As a kid, it drove me crazy that he talked to anyone and everyone, but now it makes me proud to realize the impact he had on people’s lives because he took the time to talk to them. I try to be more like him each day.

I miss him everyday. We all do. I will miss him even more tomorrow, when I walk across the stage and get hooded as the first doctor in my family and he isn’t there to hold me in his arms and tell me he’s proud of me. But he will be there with me in spirit. He will be there in the tears I cry, the shouts of joy, and the sense of pride and accomplishment.

I love you dad. This moment is dedicated to you.

Gratitude

I can’t believe it. I feel so grateful for everything that is in my life. It is only recently that I can even realize the many blessings in my life compared to where I was. I currently have the most amazing supports in my life. I have some amazing local supports of friends who will hold me and love me through everything. I also have friends from throughout different stages of my life who love and support me from a distance.

For much of my life I didn’t feel like I deserved friends like the ones I have now. I didn’t think I should have people who loved me. It’s hard to imagine but I feel like for the first time in my life I am letting myself bloom, letting myself be happy.

I look at what I have in my life now and I know that I couldn’t have had this just a few short years ago. My ex-husband held me back. He didn’t want me to have friends. He was controlling. He was overshadowing. And I let it happen. I thought that was love. I thought that was what I deserved.

When he got mad, I also thought I deserved that.

When he lost his temper, I thought it was my fault.

When he blamed me, I blamed me too.

But there was an angel in my life who helped me to see a light. A brighter future. And a promise of something better. And for that I will be forever grateful.

Since then, I have realized that there is an amazing world out there that I am part of. That I deserve to be part of. That I make better by being part of it.

I always thought I was pretty accelerated at things. I was a good student. I excelled in my studies and I have always been pretty forward moving and goal orientated in my career. But when it comes to life, I guess I am a late bloomer.

I feel like a butterfly who has finally gotten out of my cocoon and out of the dark shadows of my past. I feel like I can finally spread my wings and fly. I feel like I deserve this happiness that I am now feeling.

gratitude

I am so grateful for the blessings in my life.

Each morning I wake up with a smile on my face for the amazing gifts I have in my life. That you to all those people who saw I was worthy before I did and who have helped me to embrace my new found sense of self.

Broken

It started when I was 10-years-old. I don’t know exactly when it stopped. I guess when he moved out of the house, or when I moved out of the house. Even though I don’t see on a regular basis anymore, I still battle the after effects everyday.

It happened slowly over time. At first it was just a hug or a kiss or a caress that all just felt like too much. It was a hand up my shirt or down my pants. Nothing that was easily identifiable, just uncomfortable.

He took advantage of my trusting nature. He took advantage of my rule following nature. He took advantage of the trust my parents put in him. He took advantage of the situation in which they left him in charge. He took advantage of me.

He destroyed my confidence. He told me I was worthless.

He destroyed my sense of self. He told me no one would ever love me.

He destroyed my trust. He told me no one would ever believe me.

He left me broken.

I have fought for years to try to rewrite the message that plays in my head: I’m not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not worthy of love. Some days are better than others in believing it.

But… In my brokenness I have found healing.

In my brokenness I have found strength.

In my brokenness I have found hope.

Through that brokenness, I have used my own pain and experiences to help others. I have been able to help others know that while abuse shouldn’t define who you are, it will always be a part of you.

Through my brokenness I have comforted others and let them know that I understand, and I survived.

Through my brokenness I have been able (I hope) to help a little girl rebuild and redefine herself after a horrible event happened to her.

I think that as hard as it has been, and continues to be, if I can help one other person know that they are not alone, then my brokenness can be used for good.

Strength

Strength comes in many shapes and sizes,

many forms and functions,

many ways and words.

Strength comes when a mom holds her baby for the first time and knows in that moment that she will do anything to protect her baby. It also comes when her grown baby is in tears because their heart has been broken, or someone has treated them poorly, or they had to learn for themselves that life isn’t fair, and knowing she can’t fix it.

Strength can be found in a grown adult sitting by their parent’s bedside while they are recovering from surgery, still waiting to find out what the next steps are. It can be found in the waiting room of a hospital in the family members hoping, praying, and just being there, being together.

Strength comes when a smart, beautiful, young lady spent her junior year of high school battling cancer instead of her grades. When she shaved her own hair before the chemo could take it away from her.

Strength can be found in the eyes of a 12-year-old girl who finally got up the courage to tell her father that she was raped by her boyfriend. And in her steely response when her father asked if she did anything to encourage the boy.

Strength comes when a woman stands up to the man she loves, the man who promised to love and protect her, but instead filled her with fear and terror. When she finally finds a way to protect herself and her family from the man who threatened to ruin it all.

Strength can be found in weakness, in tears, in fear. Because in those moments, when we are often at our weakest, it is then that we feel the strength to push on, the strength to move forward, the strength to ask for help.

Strength comes from knowing when to walk away, and when to walk towards.

Strength can be found in the arms of a friend, who doesn’t have to say a word.

Strength comes in the familiar “ding” of a text message or email alert from someone who cares enough.

Strength can be found in the amazing people who are in our lives.

To walk with us,

to cry with us,

to celebrate with us,

and to just be with us.

I am blessed for all of the different ways I have experienced strength.

I try every day to accept the strength others give to me, and to be strong for them in return.

I’m not a very big person. I doubt anyone would describe me as physically very tough or strong.

But I have seen strength, I have felt strength, and through my experiences, I have known strength.

gentle strength

STOP

How do we make it stop?

I’ve lived it. I see it. I hear about it all too often.

But I don’t know how to make it stop.

I’ve lived through two horribly abusive relationships.

I have pictures from my first marriage. I have pictures of the bruises he left behind. I have pictures of the hole he punched in the wall an inch from my infant son’s head. I have pictures of the welts left on my arm from where he shoved me up against the wooden edge of the bed. I have pictures of an actual footprint on my leg where he kicked me. The physical bruises heal. The emotional scars don’t.

When people saw the bruises they felt bad. They said it was awful. They understood why I left. Physical abuse is horrible to live through. It is terrifying. It is debilitating. It is demoralizing. But in some ways it is easier than emotional abuse, because it can be seen. It can be defined. And it is not tolerated.

My second marriage was also abusive, but it was emotionally abusive. An emotionally abusive and controlling relationship is hard. It’s harder to identify. It’s harder to recognize. It’s harder to explain. It builds up over time. It is a series of doubts, manipulations, and incidents that sneak up on you.

It is hard to realize what is happening, identify it, name it, and get out of it. It feels weak to say, “He’s mean.” There is no bruise to say, “Look what he did.” In the end, it is the realization that it is bad, unhealthy, and wrong. I have scars from my second marriage. I have scars of fear, of self-doubt, of intimidation. I have scars from the emotional abuse.

I’ve lived through it. Both the physical and the emotional abuse. I’ve heard about it from other women. I’ve heard stories of intimidation, stalking, and manipulation. I’ve heard stores of lies, deceit, and falsehood. I’ve heard from other women who have experienced similar types of abuse. I’m surprised saddened by the sheer number of women who have experienced some type of emotional abuse.

Working in a middle school, I see it in our young girls. I’ve witnessed the terrors of young girls who are already getting themselves into abusive relationships. I’ve witnessed these girls believing it is their fault. I’ve witnessed them being taken advantage of for being kind, compassionate, and wanting to fit in. I’ve witnessed the extremes they go through to feel “loved” and “accepted.”

I see, I listen, and I cry. Sometimes with them, always after they’ve left. I cry for the innocence lost. I cry for the wanting. I cry for the pain and desperation in their eyes.

What I don’t know how to do is make it stop.

Gentle

Be gentle with yourself

Two people in the past few days have told me to be gentle with myself. That is something I am not good at. I expect perfection from myself at all times needless to say, I’m often disappointed. I am very gentle with my students, most of the time. And very gentle with my teachers, again, most of the time. But I’m very hard on myself.

Today was a tough day. Bringing my older son back to college was tough. I adore him and I love having him home with me. So having to leave him at college is heart breaking. This is his second year, so I knew what was going to happen and I knew we would all survive the year. But it was still tough.

In addition to the emotional struggles the day presented, there were also financial stumbling blocks. This past year has been hard, both emotionally and financially. A divorce is not easy, nor is it cheap. And college is definitely not cheap.

But facing the fact that I am still struggling financially makes me feel like a failure. I wish I could take care of my son’s college expenses. I wish he could graduate without debt. I wish finances weren’t an issue. But wishing doesn’t make it so.

So after tears and stress and frustration and kind words from my sister-in-law. I’m going to try to listen to her advice and be gentle with myself. I’m in a better financial place this year than I was one year ago. But it’s going to take some time to really get back on my feet. It’s going to take time, and I have to learn to be patient and gentle with myself.

As my blog title suggest, I’m still a work in progress, and being gentle with myself is something that is still in progress.

Final Ties

Divorce takes a long time. There is no set time frame, but it’s long. I’ve seen some people finish the process in about 6 months (not including the 90 day waiting period).  And I have a friend who, after almost 3 years, is still waiting for her day in court. I fall somewhere in between these two. After just about 15 months I am finally divorced.

Armed with all the paperwork I thought I needed to cut the final ties between my ex- husband and me I went to AAA to change my name on my driver’s license. Much to my surprise I had to provide them with the official copy of the final divorce decree. I hadn’t brought that with me. I had to go home and get it. 35 minutes each way, and they were closing in an hour and 20 minutes. I almost burst into tears at AAA. The kind woman at AAA sensed my frustration and tried to see if she could proceed without it but alas we could not.

Driving home to get it and hoping I would get back in time to get it done that day I did burst into tears. I cried at the frustrating hoops I had to jump through to change my name back to my maiden name. I cried because I hadn’t realized just how important it was for me to cut this final tie between my ex- husband and me. I didn’t want his name. I didn’t want that connection to him. I had never wanted to use my maiden so badly in all my life.

I’m not sure why cutting this final tie was so important to me but it was. I don’t want to have his last name anymore. I want my own. I don’t want any more connections to him. I want to be able to move forward with my own life.

Maybe cutting this tie will help me take back just a little bit of the control that he still has over me. Maybe cutting this tie will make me stronger. Maybe cutting this tie will let me move on. Maybe, just maybe…

 

The Radio

Today’s blog post idea from The Daily Post was to start a post from the first lines of the last song you heard on the radio. For the most part I listen to Boston sports talk radio so while I would enjoy writing a post about the outstanding performance of Tom Brady and Jimmy Garapalo in last nights pre-season game between the New England patriots and the Carolina panthers I don’t think that was the intention of the post. So I decided that I would intentionally put on some music when I got in the car today. I don’t really like a lot of the music on the radio, which is one of the reasons I listen to sports talk radio, and of course because I love football.

I plug my iPhone into the receiver in my car and let it shuffle and pick a song. The first song that comes up is “Show you how to love” performed by Penatonix and amazing acapella group I love. I sigh. Why are all songs on the radio about love? But the idea behind the title “show you how to love” has me intrigued in several different ways.

Having spent the last year of my life struggling through a horrific divorce (is there really such a thing as a good divorce?) I think about needing someone to show me how to love again. I’m jaded right now. I’m hurt. I’m struggling. And I’m in that place where I don’t even want to think about love again. But that’s because what I thought was love wasn’t. So I need someone to show me how to love.

I’m also thinking about the idea of the song being about showing someone how to love me. Showing someone what I need and how to love and take care of me.

It has made me think about love again and what it means to me. Or what I want it to be this time around. At the football game last night I saw on older couple walking out of the stadium holding hands, wearing matching Brady jerseys. I love the idea of companionship and enjoying doing something together. At church I see the older couples helping each other out of the pew at the end of service.

 

For some reason old couples are who I’m looking at now. They are so sweet. Maybe that’s because I think about what it’s going to be like when I’m older and alone. Or maybe it’s because I still can’t think about being in a relationship now because I’m still so hurt and raw.

But I also have friends my age who have been married for over 17 years and are as in love today as they were when they met. I often tell them that they are my hope that there is goodness and love in the world. They ride with each other to a meeting just to spend the time together. They have special things they do for each other just because. They truly love being together. I guess that’s what I want. Someone who loves me enough to want to spend time with me and yet trusts me enough to let me spend time away from him.

I guess I need someone to show me how to love again. And maybe in the process I will be able to teach them how to love me.

Shaking my core

I am a strong confident woman. No one intimidates me. That might sound like a cocky thing to say, but it’s true. Not doctors. Not lawyers. Not professors. Not my supervisors. And not even those whom I supervise (and some of them can be fairly intimidating). I’m a vey intelligent, confident woman and very little intimidates me.

But one thing terrifies me: my ex- husband. I know that intellectually I can out wit him. I know that emotionally I’m a very strong person. I know that my life is better now than it was when we were together. But I also know that just the thought of having to see him or deal with him for anything shakes me to my core like nothing else.  I can’t quite explain it or justify it or even rationalize it. But he terrifies me.

All it takes is for me to see his name pop up on my phone.  Or see him when I drop off my son with him. Or see him in court. Just the thought of having to deal with him for anything, and I feel like I’m about to have an anxiety attack. My hands start shaking. My heart starts to pound. I can’t catch my breath. My stomach churns. Suddenly all of that confidence that I have most days is gone and I feel tiny and fragile and scared.

It disturbs me how much his name, his face, his presence can just shake me so badly. It is terrifying how this one person has so much control over me. I can’t make sense of it, but each day I am trying to move forward and figure out how to deal with this and how to regain my sense of self.