Just beneath the surface of normal

How Do You Fall Apart in Public?

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Sometimes life isn’t funny. Sometimes it’s just really hard. When that happens, my impulse is to hide, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Nobody wants to see that stuff; it’s ugly and messy and proof of my great mountain of shortcomings. I’m also the one everyone comes to for support when their own lives go to shit, so I sort of figure nobody wants to take this mess on – they’re too busy trying to handle their own. For someone whose supposed “religion” is vulnerability, I kind of spectacularly suck at it.

The fact is, I have a lot of people who care to listen if I ask them to, and it’s okay to ask for support even if it makes my throat close to do it. So here I am, and this is as brief a summary of what the last few weeks have looked like as I can muster:

Corinne got suspended for “trespassing” at school, because she went in after softball to get the phone and transpass (they give out transpasses in Philly instead of using buses) she had accidentally left in her locker. The adults in the school who confronted her neither offered to help her solve her problem or even seemed to understand that they had any obligation to do so. So, being my child and used to being empowered to solve her own problems, she walked past the useless adults and got her stuff. She was grabbed on the arm repeatedly by a coach. He supposedly called the police, though they have nothing in their records about a call. She was told she would have been allowed in “if she had been nicer” to the custodian (wait, what about those rules?). She went off. Drama ensued. Should she have gone into school after hours when there is an express rule prohibiting it? No. Should she take all the blame for this mess? Hell no. The school’s solution if you have no way to get home after an extracurricular activity? If you need help, walk to the fire station down the street. Except it’s not really official – they won’t put it in the handbook because they don’t have the fire station’s permission to do so. What. The. Fuck. Used to be that arriving safely at your doorstep was the school’s responsibility. Of course, it also used to be that you could go into a school without a security guard present.

To make matters worse, the principal was in China so they had a substitute (substitute principals! Who knew?!) who was nice in that pacifying and completely disingenuous way, and she held a meeting with Corinne and the two staff members involved without a parent present, and they attempted to coerce her into accepting one of the staff members’ false characterizations of what happened, and was told that she needed to understand their position. She held firm that just wanted someone to be responsible for her getting home safely. She was called selfish and spoiled and told that one of the staff members probably wanted to hit her but restrained himself, so why couldn’t she have? She threw another festival of f-bombs, walked off school property, and I was called again. She would be allowed to return to school if she apologized to the administration for going off. It seemed like she was being punished more for her attitude than for the so-called trespassing. Also, the softball coach tried to kick her off the team.

Now she’s considered to have “anger management problems” and there was for a time concern that she would be excluded from the International Baccalaureate program because of her suspension, regardless of her academic standing. So now her entire future is being shaped by five minutes of bad calls brought about by feeling powerless in a situation where she expected to be supported?

And that’s where my PTSD took over entirely and I stopped coping in favor of marathon sleep sessions and random bursting into tears.

Here’s why: when I was eleven my mother found out I was being sexually abused by her second husband. She did the right thing and kicked him out and went to the police, who interrogated me alone and came to the conclusion in their official report that I was at least partially to blame. I was sent to counseling as a stipulation of my mother being allowed to keep me, and so began the process of intellectualizing what happened to me. I became very good at dispassionately talking about it, or worse, shedding a few manipulative tears to boyfriends who were blindsided and unprepared for the emotional scarring and neediness that comes from the trauma and abuse. Eventually it just receded into the landscape of my past. What I never did was grieve it.

Sometimes circumstances line up in just such a way that you get what you need whether you meant to consciously or not. Or, as Terry Pratchett so eloquently put it, “one in a million chances happen nine times out of ten.” In this case, my friend Katie offered to give me reflexology in exchange for all of Corinne’s old kid books and whatnot that I had been purging in her general direction for the past few months. I freakin’ love reflexology; it’s all taking care of your feet and relaxing you without any of the hassle of not messing up the paint job that comes with a pedicure. Also, for reasons I can’t really throw hard science at, it seems to work; like my mama taught me, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

So there I was, totally getting cared for on a day I really needed it, which also happened to be the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, because insult and injury are GREAT friends in my world. Oh, I should add: in the middle of all this school bullshit, there’s also big issues Jim is going through that required lots of support, and my pelvic ultrasound showed two fibroids, which were bigger than they had been in a 2006 scan that NOBODY EVER TOLD ME ABOUT, and I got scheduled for a D&C for the polyps on Friday. Pelvic ultrasound and D&C: sounds like I’m getting one of them new modern abortions, don’t it? So yeah. Red-motherfucking-line.

But so Katie is going to town on my feet (in a professional way. I have rephrased this no less than three times and all of them sound like a foot fetish scenario) and there’s this one spot that makes me go “WHOA! OW!” and she goes, “oh, that’s grief. What grief are you not processing?” And I’m all, “??” Because I felt like I pretty well did grandpa’s death and the TFA debacle last summer, and I wasn’t sure what else there could be. I shrugged and continued reveling in the happy reflexology love instead. She said a bunch of stuff about using your resources, accepting support, blah blah blah, some other stuff. I shrugged it off pretty well until afterward when she handed me goddess cards and had me draw one and it was ALL THE FUCK ABOUT using your resources and accepting support. Now, I’m well past my woo-woo stage and have settled pretty comfortably into a sort of Secular Humanism, but occasionally you  gotta wonder at the magic of coincidence. Whether it’s driven by the unconscious or by some unseen force, sometimes you just have to laugh at how brilliantly things align.

The next day was an amazing day; I woke up feeling a million times better and had energy, volition and focus. The day after that the story changed again around the softball component and the PTSD kicked into overdrive. And that’s when I realized that I had never really grieved the destruction of my sense of safety and protection. This experience of my daughter being powerless when she should have been supported was pretty much exactly what hurt in me. Even now my throat closes typing these words.

For the past week or so, doing any little thing has sent me into full-blown panic overdrive. There’s only so long you can live in constant fight-or-flight and I finally had to see my doctor for some anti-anxiety medication and a change to my antidepressants. I’m doing better now, though I still feel somewhat fragile. I’m just doing whatever grieving arrives and today I see my therapist for some next steps. I’m okay, but it’s been way too overwhelming in here to attempt to write.

The school drama seems to have settled out. She’s learned some difficult lessons about picking battles and about setting boundaries when she’s getting overwhelmed, and the best a parent can hope for is that each shitty experience your kid encounters helps them grow into more functional adults. The fact is, she’s lucky to have made it to sixteen without that feeling of being shamed for taking power into her own hands. The kids I work with in Camden got that lesson young: don’t speak up for yourself or there will be big trouble. She’s got all kinds of privilege, but I wish it was a privilege afforded to all. The whole experience was like, “who are you to be powerful? You need to be taken down a notch,” and mostly it makes me sad wondering if this shaming into obedience is really the best we can do for our children.

It also makes a lot of sense around my avoidance of being powerful and my terror about my potential next steps in life, all of which require me to step into that power I’ve so carefully avoided since I was taken down a notch myself so very long ago. Whether everything truly happens for a reason or we are just meaning-making machines, it seems like maybe this whole mess, for all it has sucked, is what I needed to finally take those steps.

Thanks for bearing with, y’all.

PS. Jim points out that this post is actually pretty darn vulnerable and that I shouldn’t characterize myself as having strayed from that. I guess the more accurate thing would be to say that sometimes it’s easier to describe the falling apart once the pieces start coming back together. Howling at pain and injustice doesn’t make for the most coherent blogging.

PPS. It finally occurred to me that we now keep databases of sex offenders. I looked him up and he wasn’t there. I hope that means I was his only victim. It would be some comfort to know that even though he got away with it, he never hurt anyone else. Unfortunately, I’ll never know for sure. Let’s just say I was. Sometimes comforting lies are okay.


One thought on “How Do You Fall Apart in Public?

  1. thanks for sharing.

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