behind the masque – i was a lover of restoration

The process.
The purpose.
The progress.
The potential.

Stepping back from the make shift workbench I surveyed the restoration progress of the blue twin. Decades of neglect that marred her outer surface were tenderly erased to reveal her beauty once again. Sliding my hand across the freshly sanded, smooth wood I became instantly intrigued about the possibility of sharing a current snippet of who I am today. As a fellow curiosity junkie I’m well acquainted with the powerful temptation to sneak a peek at the final chapter. This post is dedicated to curious reader friends who have a need to know that there is hope…

Six – Was Fifty Years Ago

When we last visited it was 1967. A heavily frosted marble sheet cake crowned with six pink, flickering candles was placed before me. Watching them dance in the wind I felt older than I was. Those I loved and one I feared were singing an off pitch exaggerated rendition of Happy Birthday. And what was I thinking?  Sing faster. Sing Faster. SING FASTER! The level of anxious anticipation reached torture status. There was only one additional, “Happy Birthday to Youuuu” that stood between the moment and me.

This wasn’t about the unopened gifts neatly stacked at the opposite end of the table. Nor was it about indulging a sweet tooth with a mound of cream cheese frosting (albeit my favorite) atop a sliver of cake. It certainly wasn’t about the attention, because attention was the precursor to fault-finding. Have you guessed the origin of the anticipation? It was the powerful, potentially life changing annual birthday wish. Remember I was a desperate newly six year-old.

Finally the song trailed off into silence, then Mom declared, “Close your eyes and make a wish.” Let’s just say there’s a high probability the appearance of wrinkle #1 was hastened that day as I clinched my eyelids shut. Suppressed for an eternity in kid time, but two days in real-time, the wish exploded from my heart. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz three times I repeated it – silently and minus the ruby-red shoes of course.

I want a different life. I want a different life. I want a different life!

After blowing out the candles I briefly experienced a flood of childish hope for the future. That flicker of hope was quickly extinguished just like those six candles. As it unfolded year six would be transitionally huge for me. Not good, but huge. Alas, we’ll chat about that later. That identical birthday wish was repeated for the next twelve birthdays before it came true when I became a runaway.

Leaping Ahead –

Remember those leotard clad Ten Lords a Leaping we sing about during Christmas? They look like amateur puddle jumpers compared to the multiple stops we will make into the future. Are you ready? On the count of three, “One, Two, Three – jump.”

Twelve – A Passion Discovered

I have a life long love affair with all things restoration. No thrill ride compares to the process of lovingly coaxing something or someone back to beauty. It’s a classic case of a life passion harvested from fields of pain. It began with a dilapidated ladder-back chair permanently exiled to the corner of our teal blue kitchen. Deemed no longer usable for seating she became the pit stop for discarded newspapers, toys, backpacks and dirty clothes that were on their way to somewhere else. The junk mound increased, decreased and increased the next day just like a Florida ant hill.

Until one ordinary day I cut the corner leading into the next room a bit too close. My stubby pinkie toe then had an unpleasant up close and personal encounter with the leg of the junk pile. Lucy Ladder-back Chair suddenly had my undivided attention. Nothing stops your forward motion like the pain of a stubbed pinkie toe.

Each day I crossed paths with Lucy and mindlessly glanced her way, but I never truly saw her. Temporarily immobilized by pain my diminished foggy view of things suddenly evaporated. Upon inspection, Lucy’s condition was classified as dire. Deep scars and broken slates were previously deemed irreparable when weighed against cost, effort and time involved in the restoration process. She was a castaway chair, one step away from becoming a throwaway chair.

In a contemplative moment at the tender age of twelve I somehow intrinsically identified with her abandoned plight. A lone simple thought bubbled to the surface. I wonder if I could coax her back to beauty?

The restoration of Lucy Ladder-back was a courageous dream, because quite frankly I was operating in equal measures of ignorance and crazy desire. Undaunted I petitioned the Court of John and presented the case on behalf of Lucy. I begged for a chance. After days of deliberation John rendered his verdict with a scoffing tone that prognosticated failure. His “yes” was conditional. No assistance financial or otherwise was permitted. At that point on a furniture repair aptitude test I would have scored a solid negative zero. However desire drowned out any logical apprehension. I felt only hopeful.

That seemingly benign encounter was the birthplace of a lifetime pursuit to view all things differently. Believing that furniture, houses, relationships and most importantly wounded souls are never beyond the redemptive power of restoration.

Choose. Choose to see differently. Choose to hear differently. Choose to believe differently.

Eighteen – A Journey Back

Upon graduation, the burning desire to discover a semblance of normal drew me back to the last safe place of affirming love. The pull to return was tangible. An invisible rescue worker tightly fastened a harness around my torso. One massive tug at a time he slowly hoisted me from my perceived impenetrable pit of Miserable House.

As the tiny island disappeared in the rear view mirror, an unexpected sliver of hope crested in a corner of my heart. That foreign sensation was emotionally overwhelming for the entire eight-hour journey.

Breathing life into childhood relationships existing on life support after years of neglect and silence was “the mission” or so I thought. There were no promises or guarantees of a successful outcome. The odds were stacked against me, but it really didn’t matter. I had to try. The journey to reestablish and strengthen the bonds with loved ones would be the first of countless steps toward healing the wounded child who became a broken,  hardened woman.

The Beauty of Sameness –

Thirty-eight years ago and counting in the twilight of a summer day the Welcome to Lakeland sign announced the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Thirty-seven years ago and counting I married the blue-eyed second baseman from our island high school. We annoyed each other in the eleventh grade, fell in love in the twelfth and exchanged vows a year later.

Thirty-one years ago and counting a modest, mid-century ranch located on a shady lane captured our hearts and hopes for our future family. Of course it was a palace project in the making.

Our home decor is meaningful and eclectic. Though minimally adorned our chosen things usually tell a chapter of our family story. Favorite books. Original art. Vintage decoys. As avid curators of memories, the echoes of our family saturate every room.

Over time we planted deep relational roots with our retired Ozzie and Harriett neighbors. Amass they engaged in a conspiracy of kindness that captured our hearts. They loved us, but it really was the adorableness of our chubby baby that sealed the deal for them. Years later their mission was deemed an absolute success when we briefly entertained the idea of relocating to another location. The thought of leaving those sweet souls quickly squashed any relocation desires. Yep, we’re the people who stayed out of love and loyalty to our neighbors. And we don’t regret it at all.

Current Insignificantly Significant –

Wow! Fifty-six candles lose their cuteness factor when they no longer fit atop a birthday cake. Especially when their combined flames can be classified as a campfire. However, each birthday celebration is certainly younger than the next one around the corner. It’s all about practicing a positive perspective.

This year’s greatest accomplishment was kicking the coloring addiction. Sounds silly, but conquering that habit brought such freedom. Pesky silver intruders had waged a valiant battle for supremacy with my natural hair color. Not even the monthly bottled reinforcements could keep them at bay. One morning under the unforgiving harshness of fluorescent lighting the skunk stripe mocked me – again for the last time. Weary of combating their never-ending onslaught I sighed and raised the silver flag of surrender. Was admitting the futility of my efforts a moment of lunacy, ignorance or bravery? It was all of them, definitely all of them. After fifteen-years of concealing grey, I embarked on camouflaging grey during the growth process. Baseball caps, headbands, goopy hair product and even my phenomenal hairdresser encouraged me to push past the daily doses of doubt each time I peered into a mirror. An interesting snippet is that rapid hair growth only occurs when you (don’t) want it to. Now post process I can honestly say, I absolutely love the real me. Such freedom.

Hope For The Future –

I received a desperate phone call the other day. The parent caller shared the tragic story of their beloved child trapped in an abusive relationship. You could hear the depth of anguish in her raspy cadence. She was drowning in fear for her child’s safety. The basis of her fear wasn’t conjecture.  It was based in the reality of past abuse occurrences. I knew the million-dollar question was right around the corner. Her voice dropped to a whisper, “Please tell me, is there any hope she will ever see the truth and break free from the grip of abuse? Can she become a healthy whole person?”

Swelling deep from a healed heart and transformed life, I could answer her with a resounding – Absolutely!

There is life after abuse. There is healing after abuse. There is freedom after abuse.

I am living proof that a child repeatedly scarred by the chaos of abuse can absolutely, unequivocally also create a stable, healthy, loving home.

Hear me.  There is hope.

Wen

behind the masque – a smelly situation

The arduous journey to an island far, far away was over. We are here!
Here was one of three houses on an unpaved street surrounded by mangrove trees.
Our first breath of island air filled our lungs. Sniff. Sniff. Pee-ew! What is that horrible odor?
Choking, gasping and falling to the ground proclaiming imminent death by stinky smell ensued.
And the Academy Award winning performance for best drama goes to the children of Miserable House.

A Smelly House –

All too soon we would prefer the unpleasant outdoor aroma to the ghastly indoor smells.

Exhausted we huddled together on the threshold of Miserable House #2. John inserted the key that would bring freedom from the horrible outdoor stench. But the key did not turn in the lock. Frantic jiggling and yanking on the doorknob only punctuated the obvious. We were still locked out. Standing six inches from the finish line after nine hours of too close for comfort, emotions ran amuck and four kids had a royal melt down at the same time.

Some did the herky-jerky potty dance. Others loudly proclaimed starvation was imminent. The gagging coughers were now overwhelmed by thirst. And John’s jaw tightened and began to pulsate.

Recognizing the warning signs of an imminent explosion, Mom lassoed us within her arms while moving toward a tuft of crab grass that doubled as the front yard. Meanwhile John stomped toward the house next door. Falling into the hands of an annoyed John was never pleasant. After a brief, terse conversation through a screen door, a hand dropped another key into his palm. The anticipated entry to Miserable House #2 was moments away – again.

The subsequent key worked, but the jalousie door was tightly sealed shut. Unsealed wood swells and the composition of rubber disintegrates into a sticky sealant when exposed to the brutal Florida heat and humidity. John resorted to shoulder slamming the door, which finally broke the suction seal. Our celebration lasted for a slim minute. A cloud of noxious gas exploded through the open door, as if it was fleeing it’s own smell. This was our welcome gift courtesy of the previous renters. In a very real way this was a tangible picture of our fractured family.

Bags and bags of rotting garbage, decomposing refrigerator food post identifiable, along with trash covering nearly every inch of the floor was horrible enough. However, toxic non-inhabitable status was achieved with the addition of fermented urine mixed with cat feces. It was a chemical cocktail that seared the back of your eyelids. Today a Hazmat team would condemn that house and nail a “Do Not Enter” sign across the front door. Five out of six in the family refused entry that day. A waterfall of tears, begging, yelling and bartering did absolutely nothing to alter our disgusting smelly reality. John refused to budge and decided we would stay. After all he was the one in control.

Necessity is the mother of invention and Mom took that literally. In order to deal with a severe allergy to cats she created an ingenious make shift gas mask. Daily for a month of weeks her cleaning uniform consisted of comfortable shorts, Keds, a cotton blouse and a stylish wooden clothes pin clamped tightly over her nostrils.

A House Surrounded by Jungle Sounds –

Dense gnarled trees and thick brush created an impenetrable jungle wall along the border of our side and back yard. The wooded jungle was silent during the day beckoning Tom Sawyer explorations. But, it took exactly one inky black, starless night to squelch the explorer within us. Crazy, wild animal sounds emanated from the jungle interior. Whaling proceeded screaming and signaled the next round of animal fights was about to ensue. Between battle rounds, giant spectators stomped about crunching leaves and snapping limbs. Nightly these sounds thundered outside our open bedroom windows. The lullaby of crickets didn’t stand a chance.

Island Fun for Isolated Children –

A salty island environment is not grass friendly. Our house was surrounded by compacted bright white coral rock with an oval clump of crab grass in the middle of a circle drive. Picture a big white circle with a green bulls eye. Although we seldom played in the back yard, the front yard granted us with hours of entertainment. One fallen palm tree, a casualty of Hurricane Inez, was a balance beam, vault and hurdle for the skillfully agile. However the gold medal winner in the childhood entertainment category occurred when the rain or water hose transformed the circle driveway into a gigantic slimy green Slip and Slide. That tiny playground of four isolated children was the official birthplace of barefoot slime surfing, at least that’s what we told ourselves.

Gliding across the slick ooze sans falling was challenging enough, but not medal worthy. Slime surfing was all about the added wow factor. A totally biased panel of sibling judges cheered and booed brave surfers and then awarded points for distance, tricks, and gnarly wipeouts. Gnarly and messiest are one in the same.  The dirtier the better…

Those in the hesitant thrill seeker or clumsy athlete category weren’t relegated to sideline watchers. We adopted a modified version that achieved the same goal – being slathered with mud. I was well acquainted with this version, because this was my tribe – the gangly, chubby ones. Our muddy fun was void of wow but full of laughter. We closely resembled squealing piglets wallowing delightfully in the green ooze. Those nearly normal moments are rare cherished memories. Even now I smile remembering the carefree feeling of giddy joy.

You’ve probably guessed this, but let me put your guesser to rest. Any indications of muddy fun like dirty clothes, filthy faces or post-fun chatter disappeared before John came home. We were learning to hide things, even fun.

Miserable House #2 was as unique on the inside as it was outside. The interior bedroom walls resembled giant concrete partitions that stopped about eight inches below the ceiling. This type of construction promoted maximum air circulation in a non air-conditioned house. At night staring at that gap a brilliant idea was hatched. The circulation gap soon became the portal used to execute sneak attacks against the inhabitants of the next room. Day or night random stolen objects were volleyed over the border wall bombarding the enemy below. Airborne pillows, gloves, blankets and stuffed animals elicited the best response from the human target. The stealthy process of locating and lifting beloved objects was as fun as the eventual reactions.

A Trouble Magnet –

At the tender age of (nearly six) it was glaringly obvious to others that I was consistently the focus of John’s displeasure. A decade of personal doubt and loathing would unfold before I understood the complex whys that had nothing to do with me. But tiny children are driven by their innocent desires. And above all else I desperately desired the withheld love and approval of the father figure in my life. It’s probably not startling that I began to adapt some identical coping mechanisms Mom exhibited in order to achieve this goal. I hesitated to engage with innocent sibling fun in the feeble attempt to lessen the frequency I was in trouble. Spectatorship granted me a false perception of safety.

Occasionally, I would throw caution to the wind hoping beyond hope that it was safe to participate. Silly me. Silly, silly me. Within minutes an adult would arrive at the scene of the crime and apprehend the guilty party red-handed. While the other grinning, guilty onlookers received a plea deal, there was no such deal offered me. Yep, none of the siblings bravely stepped forward to claim group culpability, because well let’s be honest that sacrifice is reserved only for the movies. The uncanny timing was not due to hidden cameras throughout Miserable House #2 – although it made us wonder.

The brothers and sister also adapted their own coping mechanisms that were strictly designed for their own benefit. If they could successfully entice me to participate, I became their human get out of jail free card.

Our Nightly Ritual –

Mom dutifully placed his initial allotment of beer in the freezer to chill. John would arrive in fifteen minutes, but the daily oppression arrived an hour before him. The ticking clock was both an enemy and a friend.

An unpaved, hole poked road of shell and rock prevented a surprise arrival, because sound preceded sighting and granted us a loud, lengthy warning. The precarious road conditions restricted the speed limit to a turtle’s pace as vehicles slogged back and forth dodging potholes. Our warning was the familiar sound of our Chevrolet engine along with tires pulverizing rocks that ping ponged off the under carriage of each approaching automobile.

Squeals of delight did not proclaim his arrival. Sloppy kisses and giant bear hugs were never exchanged when John opened the door, because his consistent harshness had smothered any feelings of affection, even from his own sons. Like pesky palmetto bugs suddenly exposed by the bright kitchen light, the children of Miserable House scattered before his shoes touched the welcome mat. Bugs flee the light, but humans flee the darkness.

John reserved his warmest greetings for the freezer, because it held his beloved addiction. Clutching the unopened can, he would quickly disappear to change his clothes. When he pulled the tab on the beer can, it was like a gunshot at the Kentucky Derby. He was racing toward the nightly alcohol buzz. Loathing is not a strong enough word for how I feel about that sound.

While gulping down his first beer, he retreated to the backyard with Mom trudging along behind him. John refused to drink alone. And she did not drink; yet her presence was required. Initially she protested the demand to spend hours under the tiki hut listening to his demented filth while pursuing drunkenness. That is until the revelation her presence limited his access to inflict cruelty toward us.

Each subsequent field trip he made to the refrigerator would increase our apprehension of becoming the target of his cruelty. Mom would become the beer runner so he could stay outside, safely removed from us. So the victim endured abuse in the feeble attempt to partially shelter others.

Sharing Something Lovely –

The clinic elevator had a well-deserved reputation. Slow. Today was no different. The gathered group stood with lifted chins watching the numbers slowly change as the elevator crawled from floor to floor. When the arms of the metal can opened wide, a cluster of annoyed individuals began the boarding process. Dad and I hung back attempting to avoid becoming the middle of a human sandwich. One by one the elevator riders stepped across the threshold until only we remained. Surveying the crowd my brain screamed wait, but my father blurted out the sentence that never instills faith. I think we can fit.

In order to enhance all future riding experiences, let me reiterate the four cardinal rules of elevator use for you. 1. Upon boarding step quickly to the back and fill in the perimeter. 2. Don’t exchange niceties with temporary riders who will remain permanent strangers. 3. Lock eyes on the door and specifically the floor countdown above the door. 4. Contain offensive odors.

*This copulation is based on personal elevator experiences in cities from New York to the Florida Keys. I routinely wanted to stand in the wrong place and exchange pleasantries. That folly produced several displeased reactions. Slight head jerks, condescending sideways glances and pursed lips.

Once floor five riders boarded, the random roll call for floors began, even though their number was already clearly lite. Oh brother my tank of self-control was plummeting. Clinging to positivity while touching shoulders with strangers and submerged in less than lovely odors can occasionally activate my inner snarky. It’s a lifetime battle with more wins than losses. But today I could see the blinking danger button.

There it was – the initial jolt that signified the beginning of our downward descent. Movement lightened the atmosphere. Our end of captivity was in sight, until the sound. Ding.

We traveled one entire floor and the metal door opened again. All fixed eye balls shifted briefly from the walls to the delayers of our ride. Instantly I recognized the family of three although ten years had lapsed since I last saw them. A decade of aging was kind to the son even though he surpassed the mid-century milestone. The opposite was true of his beloved parents. Each wore ravaging signs of advanced years. His mother was barely ambulatory, but could still communicate. His father rode a scooter seat and it was obvious his powerful voice for good had been silenced forever. Vacant eyes locked in place on an expressionless face told of his condition. My heart ached for him and them.

Mid-century son pushed the scooter seat into the last remaining vacancy – the middle of the elevator. And suddenly the routine ride was transformed into a memorable moment.

Instead of standing behind his dad to facilitate a quick exit with a cumbersome load, he did what 99% wouldn’t do. He left his post of readiness and slide around to stand in front of him. Speaking in tender tones gazing into his dad’s face. I will never forget eyes that overflowed with patience, compassion and love. With each gentle gesture of love, I swallowed harder. Watching him straighten his shirt and adjust one droopy sock nearly did me in. But it was the finale that unleashed a cascading flow of tears. A loving son began to comb once perfectly coiffed hair with slow, sweeping strokes of his fingertips while sharing expressions of affirmation and love.

The father’s capability to flash an appreciative smile or express words of gratitude had ceased. They were not necessary or required for the son to bestow loving kindness. Unselfish serving is permanently connected to love. One does not exist without the other.

The family of three broke rule #2 and their fellow riders broke rule #3. I am thankful we did.

 

behind the masque – fifty shades darker is black

The trailer was running again during the normally mindless commercial interlude.

Startled I heard my familiar mental retort explode from my lips. “NO! Stop perpetuating and romanticizing that falsehood.” They don’t change. When a girl starts to shout at the television, it’s time to put pen to paper.

Five Decades Of The Same Question –

Mommy why do you allow him to mistreat you?” It makes me sad.
Momma why do you allow him to mistreat you?” It makes me sad.
Mom why do you allow him to mistreat you?” It makes me sad.

Her response was always the same. “Wendy you don’t understand.” And to this day – she is absolutely incorrect. I emphatically understand the multitude of “complex whys”. Yet none of them were worth the destroyed life she lived.

Mental exhaustion, fear and isolation are the trifecta of toxic nutrients that cloud and corrode the mind.  Understanding the behavior of an abuse victim begins with understanding what occurs in their mind. 

It’s All In Your Mind – Mental Exhaustion Is Real

I want to deliver the three-second knock out punch that few expect or comprehend. The abuser’s diseased, warped mind will (not might) steadily poison and warp the victim’s mind.

From the moment she opened her eyes until the moment they closed rest and peace eluded the weary mind of my mother.  She expended massive amounts of mental energy anticipating and potentially diffusing the next abusive episode. With the skills of a scientist searching for a cure, Mom meticulously dissected every nuance of her daily life in the futile hope of eliminating his known abuse triggers. Note the word futile. For everything she eliminated, another reason emerged.

Abusers don’t need an excuse to abuse. They abuse because they like to feel powerful.

A perpetual state of mental exhaustion is the guaranteed byproduct of an atmosphere of turmoil. Under these torturous circumstances, the ability to accurately comprehend information is short-circuited. It’s as if you are speaking English while everybody else is communicating in Greek.

The Daily Ritual of Sorting Through Garbage –

Around mid-afternoon Mom would conduct a garbage inspection. The image of her bent over the filthy trash can as she rummaged through the contents like a raccoon still strikes a chord of sorrow even after forty years. Was an apple only half eaten? Did someone use too many paper towels? There were ten cans of soda in the refrigerator this morning and now only six remain. Make certain there are four empty cans in the garbage can. Take this candy wrapper and hide it. He’ll want to know who ate it…

Debunking Abuse – This is not glamorous. This is degrading.

It’s All In Your Mind – Fear Is Real

There are two distinctly different fear categories, Personal Fear and Inflicted Fear.  Personal Fear is your typical garden-variety fear of storms, snakes and unknown sounds. This fear is characterized by dreading something that may happen, but seldom ever materializes.

Inflicted Fear is an entirely different animal.  It’s a darker sinister-variety which is the choice weapon that manipulative controllers use to force submission from another. These are not idle threats bellowed by a hot head. I wish that were true. But that would never accomplish the abuser’s goal of control. Inflicted Fear is the evil twin that carries out every threat. Bold punishment threats rapidly become reality in the victim’s world.

Compliance instilled by threats and punishments destroys the hope that abuse will ever end. Sadly, all too often that fear is well founded.

Personal Fear is apprehension based. I hope I don’t see a snake.
Inflicted Fear is terror based. Obey me or I will force you keep a snake in your room at night.

Debunking Abuse – This is not thrilling. This is torture.

It’s All In Your Mind – Isolation Is Real

Struggling alone isolated from any voices of truth or examples of healthy relationships, the victim gradually becomes anesthetized to the egregious behavior perpetrated against them. Think the frog in the pot scenario. Dysfunction becomes the new normal. The pinnacle achievement of isolation is to create a greater dependency between the abused and their abuser. In isolation the abuser can successfully convince his victim of nearly anything. A favorite tactic that flourished during our isolation was frequently rehearsing fabricated evidence to convince Mom she was losing her mind.  And perhaps in need of institutionalization.  Does that sound slightly familiar? I’ll give you a hint – his first wife…

Debunking Abuse – This is not a fairytale. This is a nightmare.

We existed in a topsy-turvy, schizophrenic world.  Up was down. Wrong was right. Cruelty was caring. Hate was love. Reality was fantasy. Harm was harmless.

It’s All In Your Mind – Consensual or Appeasement

There is a treasure trove of misconception connected to the word Consensual in the life of an abuse victim. Let’s start with the definitions.

Consensual: involving or based on mutual consent
Appease: to make concessions to (someone, such as an aggressor or a critic) often at the sacrifice of principles

Unabated suffering from mental exhaustion and fear of harm gradually extract their toll. In the prison of isolation, the fragile tormented mind of the victim begins to masterfully blur the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior with the deftness of a defense attorney.  Consequently the distinction between consensual and appeasement is entirely erased while engulfed in an abusive episode. The victim of repeated abuse has but one thought. What can I say or do that will hasten the end of this?  There is no other thought except – MAKE IT STOP!

Outwardly it appears consensual to the world. But, does that nullify the devastating effects? Inward appeasement is often the only weapon a victim can wield as a temporary defense. The bottom line a victim: will weigh the benefit of submitting to degrading behavior against survival.

We must change our perception of consensual when it pertains to abuse.  There is a far better question to ask other than, “Did they consent?” 

What is the motivating factor behind consenting?

Was it survival? Was it battle fatigue? Was it crippling fear? Was it a threat of harm toward someone Mom loved? John used this one often, because it always produced excellent results.

Sadly, I have an intimate experiential understanding of this consensual,  appeasement debate. Because I was forced to make these identical decisions as a child and young adult. I understand what rages through your mind during abuse.  Whatever must occur, must occur.  I resorted to this.  Did I consent? Yes, technically I did . Did I want to consent? No but yes.

The irony of placating quickly is that often it incites the escalation of abuse like a match thrown on gasoline. Let me explain. Controlling manipulators like John are never completely satisfied with submission. Placating is an exercise of the victim’s will. That was never enough for John. What quenched his thirst to wound? Pushing you beyond the boundary of reason to the point of hysteria while pleading for him to stop. Once his dominance was reaffirmed, the episode was over. A satisfied grin crept across his face as he surveyed the spoils of war. A broken soul now drowning in a pool of gangrenous self-loathing for succumbing.

Call It What It Is – Evil

Known and unknown readers this is the place I fully feel the constraint between writing and speaking most profoundly. At a table of friendship I could share the untold devastation abuse brings to a life. I could explain the maladies that motivate the abuser. And the winding path of deception that transforms the naive into controlled marionettes.

Allow my heart plea to rise from the boundaries of words presented on a page. I am the daughter raised by a controlling manipulative abuser. And worse – I am the daughter that watched her mother gradually relinquish control of every area of her life. With each area abdicated to him, she became weaker and he became stronger. And then craved even more.

An abuser should never get a second opportunity to abuse you.

Propagandizing a tolerance toward abusive behavior as a harmless gateway to a fairytale ending is potentially fatal for our daughters and sons. Could we please stop painting abuse with a flowery word brush? It is not romantic. It is not glamorous. It is not passionate. It is not consensual. It is not a fairytale.

Look In The Eyes Of Your Sons And Daughters –

Humor me for a moment. The next time your beloved child skips, walks or runs into the room, pause and study the soft innocence of their face. Gaze into sparkling eyes radiating joy mingled with a tiny touch of mischief. Eyes that captured your heart the first time they stared back at you.

The twinkly-eyed child now stands before an adult. Lately the subtle changes in demeanor are undeniable. This time the nagging suspicion refuses to be silenced. When a gentle inquiry is dismissed a bit too quickly your stomach lurches. The attempt at denial was nearly convincing except for one tiny-huge thing – the eyes. Once radiant, they are now hollow reflections of sadness and despair. And the warning siren announcing danger grows louder. The next firm inquiry barely escapes your lips when the floodgates of truth open wide. And you hear words that no parent is prepared to hear. I am in an abusive relationship.

Initially your brain is deaf, refusing to acknowledge the words it heard. Everything in the world is now distorted and spinning out of control.

Thoughts are fighting thoughts. Questions demand answers. And the answers sicken you.

Why did my daughter stay?
Why did my daughter continue to believe the lies?
Why did my son believe it was acceptable for someone to hurt him?
Why did my son hide the truth from those who would never harm him?

If your child were treated like the actor on the screen how would you feel about it? I know beyond a shadow of doubt you would be horrified. And then overwhelmed with sadness that your beautiful gift had endured such torment.

Influencers Have A Responsibility –

This morning while finishing this blog a revelation struck me. As parents, we are given a priceless gift to train and guide our little ones to healthy maturity. With that gift also comes a great responsibility to help them recognize and navigate potential dangers. Just think about the time spent teaching, practicing and rehearsing the dangers of crossing a busy street.

Some Eye Opening Statistics –

#1 The risk of death for a pedestrian is 1 in 47,253.
#2 The risk of a man being abused by his female partner is 1 in 4.
#3 The risk of a woman being abused by her male partner is 1 in 3.

One, two, three – that daughter is abused. One, two, three – that granddaughter is abused. One, two, three, four – that son is abused. One, two, three, four that grandson is abused.

We train our children to make safe choices, remind them of hidden dangers and repeatedly warn them of the consequences of bad decisions.  But tragically we seldom teach them to recognize the characteristics of an abusive person and the consequences of abuse in any relationship. This omission must change. Lives depend on it.

Friends, everybody leads and everybody follows someone. Influencers impact their loved ones, peers and acquaintances everywhere with every word, with every choice. Please never underestimate the influence power of the choices you live out before others.

Rarely in history does a movie or series of movies contain the power to influence current and future culture with such a diabolical message about abuse. Perhaps you believe the word (diabolical) is hyperbolic. Trust me, diabolical is an accurate description.

I clearly understand that unless you’re personally acquainted with the complexities of abuse it’s extremely difficult to comprehend. I am so thankful that this topic is foreign territory to many of you. However, dismissing the dangerous content of Fifty Shades of Grey as benign entertainment is a costly mistake, especially for those ignorant of the abyss of abuse. Ignorance (lack of knowledge) enables the deception that surrounds abuse to flourish unaware.

Working together armed with knowledge, we can silence the lying lips of abuse by propagating the truth to all we influence, guide and lead. Countless impressionable souls deserve to hear the truth that will prevent them from becoming one more victim of abuse.

Wen

behind the masque – an anonymous contributor

Dedicated to the Influencers who guide our innocent daughters and sons yet untouched by the darkness of abuse.  Wendy

Why I Married My Abuser
By: Anonymous September 16, 2015 11:08 PM

My ex-husband was the most romantic person I’ve ever met. He also hit me on the day we got married, while I was wearing my wedding dress.

That’s why when I saw the footage of ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer, I wasn’t surprised that she was now his wife. It isn’t – as many of the commenters on the original TMZ video have said — “all about the money,” or “she doesn’t care about taking a punch,” and it’s especially not that “she is telling all women it’s okay for your man to beat you.” Domestic violence is so much more complicated than a lack of money, or not having self-respect, or feeling like it’s OK for your man to beat up on you. I’m not an expert on what makes women stay in abusive relationships or even marry their abuser. But I did both of these things and I can speak to my particular story.

I’m from a very conservative Christian background, so when I met my husband (let’s call him Hank) he seemed like God’s gift to my life. I hadn’t dated much in high school and I had just dropped out of Bible College because I ran out of money. I was working and living in the small town where my school was located, and Hank showed up at my church looking extremely dapper in his neatly trimmed beard and dark blue suit.

He wasn’t rich but he had a good job and spent all that spring sweeping me off my feet. It was as if he had watched a million romantic movies to inform his game. He brought flowers and chocolates like a normal guy, but he worked extra hard to make sure it was clear he wanted me. Notes. Phone calls. Phone messages. He wrote “I love you” in the dirt on the back of my car, took a photo and then washed my car for me. He often mailed cards to my apartment even though we lived less than a mile apart. They came heavily scented with his cologne.

The cologne started the part of my story that is much harder to tell.

One Saturday afternoon a few months after our first date, I opened one of the cards and then smelled it as he beamed on proudly. I sniffed and joked “like a woman” because he was the first man I ever knew to send a scented envelope. I know it’s a cliché, but if I close my eyes, I can still see that moment in slow motion. His face changed from beaming to furious. And suddenly, I was on the floor. It wasn’t until he extended his hand down to me saying, “Oh baby I am so sorry! Why did you have to say that? I’m so sorry!” that I realized I was on the floor because his fist had put me there. I actually thought for a second that a piece of the ceiling must have fallen down. Surely Hank couldn’t have hit me? That was something that happened to other people.

Hank dove into what I now know is the cycle of abuse, but what then just seemed like a cycle of passion. He ushered me to the couch and got an ice pack for my face. He kissed my forehead. He had this strange yet very convincing way of talking about how he had hit me: he spoke in passive voice, as if the violence just happened, as if he had nothing whatsoever to do with it. “Oh, so sorry you’re bruised up,” he said to me that night.

It was an absurd thing to say, but he said it while he curled his body against mine, smoothed my hair, and kissed me gently. He would even kiss me on the bruises themselves, like an indulgent parent smooching away imaginary boo boos. It was overwhelming and intoxicating. In some ways, it made me fall for him more. Look at how much he cared for me! That sounds completely bananas, right?

But as our relationship and the abuse became more serious, Hank told me that he only hit me when he had to. “Sometimes, baby,” he’d say, holding me tight, “something you say makes me feel like our love is threatened. And I couldn’t live without you. I couldn’t.” Why did I fall for that line?

Had I watched too many romantic comedies where the man grabs the women, kisses her as she struggles and she therefore falls in love? Probably. Had I watched the women in my family act out similar scenarios? Yes, many of them. I felt passionately in love when I wasn’t scared for my life. But the longer the relationship continued, the harder it became to tease out the love from the fear.

Hank asked me to marry him under a full moon, down on one knee, with a ring in his hand. It doesn’t get more romantic than that. And I said yes, at least partly because I thought the marriage would solve things. Happily ever after, right?

I thought: He feels guilty because we’re having sex, so if we get married he will feel less guilty and stop hitting me.

I thought: He feels scared because he loves me so much, so if we get married he will feel less scared and stop hitting me.

And more than anything else I thought: This is what passion looks like.

But engagement didn’t stop the abuse. In fact, Hank became more controlling. I tried to enroll in community college; he said I didn’t need so much book learning, that I was smart enough as it was. I tried to spend time with friends; he said he wanted to spend more time with me so we could make our relationship rock solid. When I wanted to visit my family, he said that I was depending too much on them when I should be depending on him.

It was this isolation from my loved ones, rather than the physical abuse (which, by this time, had sent me to the emergency room twice) that motivated my request that the wedding plans be put on hold. “Let’s talk to our pastor and make sure we’re a good match for each other,” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t explode.

Instead, Hank imploded, crying, “This is going to kill my momma.” He became such a little boy in that moment, I reached out to comfort him and my request was forgotten.

We arranged a small wedding at a chapel, but I still wanted a white dress. He insisted on helping me prepare for the ceremony. Superstition was nothing, he said, stacked up against our love. As he smoothed my gown over my shoulders he said, “I don’t know that white is the right color for you.” I joked back, “You aren’t exactly Mr. Purity yourself.” And he hit me so hard in the chest that I bent over, gasping.

“Don’t cry baby,” he said, “you’ll smear your makeup.” I know. I know. I know.

I should have ripped off that dress and ran away screaming. But the truth is, by the time that moment came, I felt so lucky to be with him, this man who claimed to love me so much he had to hit me, and so confused and so frozen that running away didn’t even remotely seem like a choice. In fact, it took me seven more months of abuse and a pregnancy scare to leave him for good.

I learned in the domestic violence shelter how lucky I was to still have an okay job, to not have kids by him, to not be permanently injured. Or dead. It’s beyond silly to say that any woman who is getting smacked around thinks it’s acceptable to be smacked around. No one knows better than a woman who is being abused that it is wrong. Not leaving isn’t the same as consent.

I stayed because I was traumatized and isolated. I believed that Hank really loved me and that no man with less passion/ anger (those words were conflated for me) would ever love me like him.When people act surprised that men who beat their romantic partners are charming, it makes me question their logic skills. Not all charming men are abusive, but you’re not going to have a romantic partner to beat if you’re not charming at some point. The drama and romance are often an important part.

Violent and manipulative partners are not being horrible around the clock; something else draws us into them. What woman would fall in love with a man that smacked her on the first date?

We want to blame the victim of domestic violence – just as I, for a long time, blamed myself. Certainly I shouldn’t have married Hank. But the world a victim lives in – a world of isolation and diminished self-esteem – is not so simple to undo. Once the domestic violence ball is rolling, it’s awfully hard to stop.

You can learn more about abusive relationships and reach a trained counselor 24/7 at The National Domestic Violence Hotline and 1-800-799-7233. .

behind the masque – somewhere over the rainbow is a tiny island

Stop playing catch in the front yard.
Angry Older Brother threw caution to the wind (quite literally) just one more time.
The final defiant windup accidentally hurled the baseball on a collision course with a window.
When the broken window was attributed to saving our lives a few days later, his act of disobedience was forgiven.

It Sounds Like A Train –

Mom was buttoning her crisp cotton blouse while I pummeled her with my daily litany of questions. Her slender fingers reached the third button when I heard the sound. “Do you hear the train, Mommy? No, I don’t hear anything Wendy.” She never made it to the fourth button.

Without warning the lazy blue sky vanished as the swirling giant approached. Rendered motionless we stared in disbelief as the brown vortex of nothingness swallowed Miserable House. The cyclone of dirt quickly cloaked the existence of everything, except for eerie flying shadows. We were blind to the destruction, but not deaf to her chaotic sounds. Limbs snapped. Trees crashed. People screamed. Windows exploded. And countless unknown things collided with unknown things.

The Search for Safety –

Meek Mom became Ninja Mom once sufficient amounts of Adrenalin coursed through her veins. She hoisted Baby Sister and Sad Younger Brother into her arms, then flung out her hand grabbing my wrist like a vice grip. With her babies securely attached to her, she darted toward the front of the house. But when the living room windows exploded our route to safety was cut off. Now trapped in the hallway one of three closed bedroom doors became our only hope for safety.

Mom frantically pulled and yanked on the first doorknob in a valiant attempt to break the suction seal that held the door tightly in place. Once the door was successfully pried open a drastic change in air pressure occurred triggering a horrific explosion of glass. A glass less window granted anything airborne unobstructed entry into Miserable House. Again and again the same sequence of events produced identical results at each bedroom door.

Fight or Flight –

As quickly as a second yields to the next, three things occurred with barely a comma between them.

One – We stood fearfully before the last possibility of safety – the door to The Girls Bedroom.
Two – Outside the wind wreaked havoc while hurling objects violently against the exterior of the house.
Three – Overhead metal roof ties sheared then snapped as they separated from the cement block walls.

Some individuals have impeccable timing. Frightened five year-olds do not. Sensory overload was achieved and the count down to mental melt down was imminent. Adrenalin selected two options for me – fight or flight. There was no contest, flight won by a landslide.

Spoiler Alert – Even in the face of impossibility, never underestimate the resourcefulness of a terrified child. Escape is relatively simple when it’s unsuspected.

Mom was completely caught off guard when I suddenly launched Operation Let Me Go. It began with yelling and ended with pushing. And there was a bit of flailing thrown in for good measure – until I broke free. Freedom’s reward granted me permission to flee toward harm. Her terrified screams of “WENDY” were ineffective in curbing the impulse to run. Unbeknownst to me the final door had opened easily and the windows remained intact. Remember the disobedient act of Angry Older Brother? That baseball size hole created by a defiant wild pitch acted as a pressure regulator. The Girls Bedroom would be our hiding place from harm if only the escapee could be captured.

We Have Lift Off –

Overhead the roof groaned one last time as it finished the final stage of separation from the house. Ascending straight into the air it paused hovering intact as if confused about what to do next. With the roof barrier removed a strong vacuum was created. The contents of the house began to quiver then slide as if drawn upward by a giant magnet. Gazing skyward I was completely mesmerized by the sight of the floating roof. That’s until a door (yes a door) soared horizontally a few feet over my head. Let me say that nothing gets a five year-olds attention like a flying door. Forget fleeing – where was my MOMMY? I spun around, but she was already right behind me.

Once huddled in the safe room, the four of us knelt by the bed and prayed.

Miraculously our lives were spared that day, because of the gift of a broken window. Unfortunately the path of destruction created by the massive tornado was vast. Local farmers lost livestock, agriculture was destroyed and homes were reduced to unrecognizable rubble except for the tiled walls. Many lives were lost that day, including several on our street. To this day it’s considered one of the two deadliest tornadoes to hit central Florida.

A Need Not A Want –

The damage to Miserable House was extensive, yet repairable. In a twisted turn of events (no pun intended) the ridiculed and ostracized ones were now essential to our future. In spite of their gnawing mistrust and disapproval of John the family immediately rallied to our rescue. Much to his deep-seated consternation he needed them and hated that he needed them.

Eight months earlier following Mom’s birthday disaster, Project Isolation was branded a complete success. Afterward John enjoyed free rein to manipulate and control every life trapped within Miserable House without objection or interference from outsiders. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, that is until a tornadic intruder deposited banished family members back into our daily lives. Temporarily his power was diminished.

The Cost of Helping John

At 8:00 a.m. the potential for intervention stood on the welcome mat of Miserable House and politely knocked.  John seethed venom as the generous family workforce of painters, electricians and carpenters arrived in mass to begin repairs. His disdain was on display like the colorful fanned tail of a peacock.

John Disdain had classically hard facial features. A tightly clenched jaw sealed his thin lips together while his piercing eyes narrowed to slits under the weight of loathing. When he pushed past Grandpa and Uncles barely acknowledging them – he felt powerful. When they silently endured his demeaning behavior while continuing to work for his benefit – he felt powerful. He was fully aware their love would muzzle any complaints. They willingly sacrificed their pride for the sake of their purpose. John was oblivious to their strength and labeled them as weak, because strength was only measured in the ability to dominate and control.

You must remember that the pinnacle of success for a manipulative controlling abuser is the sickening thrill achieved when another submits to and participates in what they dislike with every fiber of their being.

The Work Before Work –

During the repair phase John daily force-fed us heaping portions of fear for breakfast by reiterating the repercussions for exposing his darkness. Then he methodically rehearsed our responses to potential questions in order to eliminate any suspicion. Although confident in his ability to completely control the inhabitants of Miserable House, he couldn’t control the inquiries of unwelcome visitors.

Surrounded by loved ones Mom had every opportunity to expose the truth of our existence. Rescue was so close. If only Mom had resurrected a smidgen of courage and pushed past fear’s voice, but she didn’t.

Grandpa, Patches, Uncles, Aunts and Dancing Cousins surrounded us again on the weekends. Their presence brought temporary joy and lightness to our hearts. Grandpa was reunited with his tiny shadow and I could squeeze my licorice puppy (who never wandered away) whenever I wanted. It’s ironic that a natural disaster brought a slight breeze of happiness? All too soon the repairs were completed and one by one friends and family disappeared from our lives – again.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures –

The abuser felt a few gnarled fingers of control loosen and the sense of diminished power unglued him. John realized that resuming our isolation from unwelcome outsiders while living in the same city would never work. He had come dangerously close to exposure. The potential threat for a family intervention/rescue would always exist just a few miles away. Isolation Success could only be achieved if the inhabitants of Miserable House moved far from any prying eyes. Proximity and interaction with loved ones are the archenemies for a controlling manipulator.

The Twisted Sound of Manipulation –

Elaine your family doesn’t like me and they never will. We need, no deserve a fresh start. Don’t you want to give our children and us a chance for happiness? If we move farther away your family they won’t be able to interrupt or interfere. I will be able to relax and won’t be so defensive. It will be so much better for us. We deserve this chance at happiness.

A few months later the inhabitants of Miserable House loaded their belongings into a U-Haul trailer and moved to a tiny island town in the Florida Keys. We knew nobody. We saw nobody. We were now truly all alone.

Abuse Truth –

An abuser’s appetite for control and manipulation always increases in frequency, ferocity and form.
An abuser’s methods for provoking compliance mutate when previous methods become ineffective.
An abuser rehearses responses to potential questions and comments of outsiders with their victims.

My Random Partial List –

I love the song of doves. I love curling up with a real book. I love the sparkle of Christmas tree lights. I love God.

Ending With Something Lovely – Trust Like a Child

I must confess that I am a lover of people, so it would stand to reason that I often become totally absorbed in watching them. Forget the movies, life unfolding in real-time is far more intriguing.

Staring out of the smudged taxi window it began – the slow misty drizzle that is the harbinger of rain. Thankfully the cab driver deposited me in front of the restaurant adorned with a deep canvas awning. It would function nicely as shield in preventing my soft locks from transforming into a crunchy mess. Once securely cemented against the wall foiling a hair disaster, I scanned the rushing sea of pedestrians on the sidewalk across the street. Quickly the mass of movement blurred – except for two. Stroller Dad and Adorable Daughter briskly weaved through the crowd sans umbrella attempting to win the rain race.

The rain refused to cooperate. As it quickened its pace surprisingly the stroller came to a screeching halt. Calmly Dad bent down and whispered something to his tiny passenger. She quickly flashed a smile that radiated loving trust. As he covered her mass of curly hair and face she leaned back totally relaxed, yet totally blind to what was happening around her. Their weaving journey began anew.  And I secretly hoped for once in my lifetime that the buzzer in my hand wouldn’t vibrate announcing our table was ready.  That tiny trusting child captured my imagination and I needed to know what Adorable Daughter would do.

Much to my astonishment she never lifted even a corner of her blanket to sneak an itty-bitty peak. When forward movement yielded to the red cross walk symbol she did nothing. In case you’re wondering if she fell asleep, nope. I could see her little hands and feet moving periodically. Never once did she wiggle, squirm or turn around in the stroller seeking additional confirmation from Dad that all was well.

She had no concern for the rain. She had no concern for her safety. She had no concern about his ability. She totally, completely, unquestionably trusted her Dad.

It was something lovely.

Until next time,

Wen

behind the masque – severing the ties that bind

behind the masque – severing the ties that bind

His control broadens its borders.
Severely limiting contact with others became a priority.
Friends and family were recast as intruders bent toward sabotage.
Isolation was the prison sentence that crippled our ability to escape.

Overt Control and Manipulation – Separation and Isolation

To insure Manipulation and Control continued their quest unhindered, John swiftly launched his strategy that transformed the inhabitants of Miserable House into isolated Miserable People. In three short months he successfully launched an insidious assault to restrict and eventually eliminate our access to friends and family. Our world was rapidly shrinking before our eyes, because there was only room for John and John alone.

The initial directive for all Manipulative Controllers is almost always separation and isolation. Silencing the guidance and intuition of trusted voices of influence, thwarts the possibility for outside intervention. John achieved his goal in four strategic moves with staggering ease and finality.

• poison our perception of loved ones
• eliminate telephone communication
• restrict our ability to leave the house
• forbid visitors without approval

Poison Our Perception of Loved Ones –

Character assassination was achieved by ingesting a steady diet of disparaging remarks and fabrications. One at a time, loved ones became casualties of his war to eliminate their influence. Wielding the skills of a master chef, he filleted their conversations, character and depth of their love until nothing of substance remained. Trusted Loved Ones morphed into Untrustworthy Saboteurs bent toward the demise of our newly formed family – according to John. The guilty ones were indicted for possible crimes in the future. Pleasant interactions were reclassified as dangerous intrusion to be avoided at all costs. It’s no coincidence that each time someone new came into our lives, membership in the saboteur club increased by one, because everyone miserably failed John’s scrutiny for approval.

• Spoiler Alert – The Approved Club maintains a membership of zero to this very day.

John was adept at breaking your will through hours of interrogation if you dared to resist or worse refuse to believe his espoused falsehoods. Resistance was futile and dangerous. It was the high-octane fuel that fed his powerful desire to wound. Initially in the doubting phase, Mom would object and attempt to defend those she still loved. Unfortunately she was neither equipped nor strong enough to withstand John’s special type of cruelty.

Hour upon torturous hour she endured an unending barrage of entrapping questions, insults, belittling comments and threats for holding an opposing opinion or belief. Finally, brokenhearted and incapable of withstanding his tirade any longer, Mom would crumble under the weight of a forced surrender. Eventually she learned that the pain of surrender was preferred to the pain of defense. However, each time she sacrificed something or someone on the altar of John’s control she also lost a piece of herself. Surrendering to appease – crippled her self-esteem. The weight of recrimination for “caving” eroded her ability to stand strong the next time.

Eliminate Telephone Communication –

Aghast and overwhelmingly confused about those we loved, John quickly launched Step Two and Three designed to severely restrict and eventually eliminate our ability to communicate with the outside world. You probably read that sentence and thought, “What! No Way! That’s Impossible!” Friends prepare to be stunned. It was extremely easy to accomplish.

John gathered the inhabitants of Miserable House to explain the amended Telephone Rules, Regulations and Repercussions. The third portion of the contract was recited often for fear emphasis. His presentation was polished, convincing and far too familiar. Effective immediately almost everybody living in Miserable House was forbidden to use the telephone, except for John. That meant Mom as well. No outgoing calls were made. No incoming calls were answered.

His persuasive methodology to ensure obedience was ingenious and unbelievably effective to achieve his goal – even in his absence. Gloating, he presented his plan. Randomly and repeatedly throughout any given day John would test our subservient behavior – by calling us. If anybody dared to answer the telephone, they would be punished. Fear of punishment was a great obedience motivator in our house.

Overnight the normally pleasant melody of (ring, ring, pause – ring, ring, pause) transmogrified to the macabre introduction from the Phantom of the Opera. The foreboding, horrible sound triggered fearful gasps and instantaneous stomach-aches in Five Miserable People. Was it John testing us? Was it family missing us? Our questions like the telephone were literally never answered. Communication by telephone ceased as surely as if the wires were severed by a knife. Our indoctrination was a complete success.

• Spoiler Alert – I was nearly twenty before a ringing telephone ceased to trigger foreboding and nausea.

Restrict Our Ability To Leave –

Around the same time our telephone privileges were permanently revoked, we also became a single car family. A stay at home mother in 1965 didn’t normally need an automobile. Normally being the operative word. The decision though financially prudent, was a controllers dream. We became prisoners sentenced to virtual house arrest. Only John could grant permission to leave, if he deemed the reason sufficient.

Forbid Visitors Without Approval –

The contrast between our former and current life was as different as a dream and nightmare.

The paper calendar hanging in the kitchen had one word scribbled under July 15th – Elaine. It was the day to affirm, appreciate and celebrate the specialness of Mom. The one, who asked little and received less, experienced the same on that day. With great timidity she put voice to her birthday wish, John I miss my family. Could I please see them today? I don’t want you to miss the magnitude of this moment. She asked permission.

John had risen in the ranks to the position of Roman Emperor dispensing judgments in the coliseum. Permission Denied! Heartbroken to the point of despondency Mom spent the next few hours pleading through tears of anguish. John felt no remorse or compassion toward his victims. On the contrary, the aftermath of inflicting cruelty only fueled his sense of superiority and power.

A temporary cease-fire finally brought quiet to Miserable House. I sat cross-legged turned backward on the living room sofa mindlessly watching geckos chase one another through the flowerbed. The silence of peace lulled me to daydream, until something startled me. A familiar automobile filled with my favorites turned into our driveway. Pure adrenaline coursed through my veins transforming a short, slightly chunky legged Wendy into a mini decathlete. Vaulting from the sofa I sprinted toward the front door before anybody else realized we had visitors. Once outside I leaped into the safe, loving arms of – Uncle R.

As a child in addition to chunky legs I was plagued with adorably chubby cheeks. The later according to everybody else, begged to be pinched and kissed often. I vehemently disagreed, but to no avail. “You say amusing and I say annoying.”

Today was no different. Once each cheek received sufficient attention from Uncle R, he put me down. The next few moments were quintessential Italian – demonstrative and loud. Squeals of delight, bone crushing hugs and running back and forth sharing months of girlie news unfolded in hyper speed. Slowly we moved toward the front door as one giant cluster of happy jumping beans. Our joyful front yard mini-reunion would last a grand total of five minutes. While our jumping bean group was immersed in enthusiasm, we failed to notice the lone figure standing stoically at a distance. Annoyance oozed from his pores as he stood cemented in place refusing to step forward offering a warm greeting. His silent rudeness spoke volumes, but Uncle R tolerated the intolerable behavior, because of his sister. That was precisely what John hoped would occur. Manipulation and Control seized their moment and expanded past the inhabitants of Miserable House to now include my aunt and uncle.

His clinched jaw pulsated as he declared to the giddy group that, “Elaine is too exhausted to receive guests today.” The cluster stood silent struggling to process his edict. John capitalized on their confusion and snatched the beautifully wrapped gift from my aunt’s hands before she could utter a single word of complaint. I remember someone feebly stammered, “So, so we can’t even wish her a happy birthday?” “No, I will let her know you stopped by.”

Briefly stunned Uncle R and Aunt B rushed to coral their distraught Ballerina Daughters back into the car amongst confused protests and cascading tears. I watched them drive away with pitiful tear-stained faces smashed against the windows. We were alone – again.

John lied. He knew it wasn’t necessary to mention the almost birthday visit, because Mom already knew about it. Remember his delay in following me when I ran outside to greet our visitors? That delay was intentional and crucial to his plan. Apparently it took a few minutes to sufficiently threaten Mom into submission demanding she stayed out of sight. In a pitiful act of defiance she remained in the living room smashed against a corner wall hidden from sight, but soaking in the front yard scene through curtain shadows. Hopeless. Trapped. Alone.

John successfully denied her birthday request not once, but twice that day. And his power grew…

If only she had defied him. If only she had opened the door. If only she had invited them in. If only she had begged them to help us. Over time there would be countless (If Only) moments that could have forever changed her life and ours. This day was filled with them.

John Had A Problem –

The failed birthday visit was traumatic for us, but temporarily problematic for John. He knew questions would be asked and answers expected the following day, because he worked for Uncle R. John had tipped his hand exposing his arrogance and control. Undaunted, he crafted a Picassoesque story for inquiring outsiders. His presentation was powerfully persuasive. Loved ones now believed Mom was fragile and overwhelmed.

The Twisted Sound of Manipulation – to her family

Elaine is daily overwhelmed and exhausted caring for our four young children. It would be such a waste to drive over for a drop in visit if she’s resting or involved in something important. So from now on I’ll find out if or when Elaine is emotionally and physically able to have guests. Then I’ll let you know.” Our friends and family were ignorant to the secrets of Miserable House. Their ignorance enabled John’s deception. Knowing Mom would never answer enabled him to report his attempt to contact her had failed.

The Twisted Sound of Manipulation – to mom

Elaine, I love you so much. I want to protect you from overworking yourself with entertaining unannounced visitors. You don’t need to be dealing with this. I will gladly be the fall guy and tell everybody they don’t have permission to stop by unannounced. I will instruct them to telephone me first and I’ll let them know if and when it’s convenient to stop by for a visit. I will handle it for you.”

The Truth – Just that quickly John became the sole gatekeeper wielding supreme power to grant or deny permission to interact with the all the dwellers of Miserable House. Over time nearly every cherished one would grow weary of the impenetrable barrier of requirements that blocked access to us. Eventually they would cease to try.

Abuse Truth –

1. A sense of isolation must first take root in the mind of the victim. It’s imperative that the victim not only feels alone, but also actually is alone. The victim’s ability to hear a sound healthy perspective of their situation is extinguished by isolation. Extended separation and isolation eventually will numb a victim to the severity of their dysfunctional living environment. In the absence of exposure to normal, abnormal easily becomes the new normal.

2. It is paramount for the abuser to quickly alter and then dramatically hinder the victim’s access to friends and family. Any dramatic change in demeanor, accessibility, habits or hobbies should never be ignored. You are looking at a jumbotron-sized warning that separation and isolation are around the corner.

3. Manipulative Controllers are patient farmers. They are intuitive in their timing to plant, water, and harvest their seeds of doubt. Eventually doubt grows into an ugly twisted vine that strangles the victim’s belief in their own mental and emotional stability. Tragically if the victim summons the courage to reveal the abuse truth, the abuser is one step ahead of them undermining their credibility in the minds of outsiders. If you ever get an opportunity, you should watch the movie Gas Light. It is  an excellent depiction of what I am sharing.

Ending With Something Lovely –

Bogged down in the details of an exceptionally stressful day, I was losing perspective and needed to change my environment. My handy-dandy weather app displayed the typical Florida forecast – cloudy with a 25% chance of rain. The green light was flashing. Operation Pool Bliss was going down. During the 7-minute drive to the rec center, the puffy white clouds turned grey as they clustered together preparing to rain. I refused to abandon my quest for relaxation and peace, because of the threat of rain.

The Olympic size swimming pool was empty except for two brave souls and one mandatory lifeguard. The cool water was wonderfully refreshing for but a few minutes and then I heard them. The previously brave swimmers were now lamenting the weather channels lack of accuracy. I floated farther away to drown out their negative voices. Then it happened. The grey clouds overflowed spilling their water contents.

The complaining swimmers rapidly exited the pool and huddled under an awning to protect their hair. As for me I am crazy in love with walking in the rain and there was no reason to believe swimming in the rain would be any different. I was now the lone pool person, except of course for the mandatory lifeguard now glaring at me from under his umbrella.

For some unknown reason as the rain increased I had a random thought. What does the rain look like when you are nearly eye level with the surface of the water? I submerged myself even deeper until I became two brown eyes, a forehead and hair indulging a silly thought. My discovery was breathtakingly beautiful. The droplets looked like thousands upon thousands of shimmering diamonds tap dancing on the water.  And they performed their captivating dance for an audience of one.  Sweet friends, don’t miss your dancing diamond moments, because you’re intimidated by looking foolish. Trust me it’s worth it…

My Random Partial List –

I love dole whip. I love encouraging others. I love sunsets over Marblehead Harbor. I love God.

Until next time,
Wen

behind the masque – the honeymoon ended quickly

behind the masque – the honeymoon ended quickly

First date to nuptials took only five months.
My memory during that time was permanently erased.
A random post-wedding photograph captured his clinched jaw and her sad face.
“Click” – my memory recorder abruptly switched on again. I inherited a new father.

Progressive Stages of Abuse: overt control and manipulation

Belittling and Critical Words –

The first morning following their honeymoon, I ran into hug my new father. I threw my arms around his neck, but the good morning hug felt strangely different. There was no sense of warmth, comfort or anticipated affection in his embrace. He abruptly dismissed me and turned toward the mirror. Since he was about to shave, I naturally thought we could talk. Only two questions into our first morning conversation, he abruptly yelled my mother’s name. His distorted pronunciation of her name sounded almost grotesque.

Mom instantly materialized as if she had somehow anticipated that something would occur. Ever so gently she placed her hands on my shoulders as she simultaneously slid her body in front of mine in a subtle, yet protective move. He glared at me and bellowed his indictment of my egregious infraction, “She is a neb-nose and you better do something with her!”  This was the first of many unpleasant labels I would earn.  What was my egregious infraction?  Asking if his shaving cream was toothpaste, because it came in a tube.  Yep, you read that correctly…

His venomous tone and caustic words instantly found their target, my tender child’s heart. I was paralyzed as disbelief, confusion and fear gripped me. Movement and thought ceased in that moment as I stared into his icy blue, contempt filled eyes. Finally, I could distinguish the increasing volume of a single word screaming in my brain, “Run!” Weeping the tears of heartbreak, I turned and raced toward my bedroom, but there was another who arrived ahead of me – Rejection. In my bedroom; alone, confused, and afraid the corrosive power of John’s remembered words repeatedly washed over me leaving in their wake distorted truth and an increasingly diminished self-esteem.  Rejection had accomplished his initial poisonous agenda.

Distance muffled their continued yet brief exchange of harsh words, then John slammed the front door to punctuate his angry exit. Mom rushed into my bedroom and found me curled up in a ball, inconsolable as bitter tears rapidly filled, overflowed and filled again their eyelid borders.  She scooped me into the fortress of her arms and held me tightly in the space over her heart while she whispered soothing Mom Words.  Usually they were like a healing balm for the woes of childhood, however this time something was strangely different about her. I could hear it in her voice. It was the sound of desperation as she hoarsely offered frantic, yet feeble excuses to justify his deplorable behavior.

He isn’t a morning person. He’s focused on the workday. He isn’t used to little girls.

Mom needed me to believe her explanation, but I did not. Instead I emphatically shook my head and announced, ” ‘No Mommy, NO!’ There is something wrong with Daddy John’s heart.” Stunned, her sorrowful black eyes stared at her eldest tiny child in shock. She uttered no rebuttal or response of any kind. Her world was rapidly careening out of control and her four-year old daughter had recognized the truth before she was mentally willing to admit it. When Rejection finished his toxic visit that morning, I was left feeling misunderstood and unloved.

Now prepare your heart for the next insidious part. Even though I intrinsically knew there was something wrong with his heart, with repeated similar incidents, I erroneously formed the belief that I must somehow be partially culpable and thus deserving of his disdain.  It is startling how quickly I believed the classic propaganda espoused by every abuser. The abuser abuses you, because it is your fault.  I desperately wanted my substitute father to love me, so I would try harder to be good (good meaning perfect), then surely he would love me.  Over time, Rejection would reaffirm and increase this debilitating dogma.

Can’t you just hear that annoying GPS Voice rapidly repeating the warning?  “Recalculating Route. Recalculating Route. Execute a U-turn as soon as possible.  Dangerous conditions ahead.”

A House Isn’t Always A Home –

Our new house was enveloped in a flux of activity in preparation for the arrival of my step brothers. During this initial time of transition, John decided Patches should temporarily stay elsewhere until everybody was settled into their new life. So, Patches was granted an extended stay cation at my grandparent’s home, replete with an abundance of doggie spoiling. 

Once the preparations were completed, the boys arrived at the front door of Miserable House carrying their boxes filled with unhappiness, heartbreak and a few personal belongings. When they crossed the threshold that day, the Welcome Mat must have tormented them. The reality was that they entered an unknown world of non-loved ones. Once upon a time they were two happy little boys now transformed by decisions beyond their control into Angry Older Brother and Sad Younger Brother. Angry Older Brother didn’t want a new family, home or school.  Sad Younger Brother cried himself sick each day begging for his “real mommy”.

We never became a loving, blended family. Instead we were merely occupants coexisting in a house while enduring different levels of ongoing emotional pain. A permanent cloud of sorrow settled over our house and all it’s inhabitants. Daily it proclaimed that misery lived behind our walls.

Eventually my stepbrothers would escape Miserable House after a few brief years, but that is a story for another blog.

The First Casualty – My Licorice Puppy

As unhappiness became our daily portion, I longed for the companionship and comfort that my licorice puppy brought me. It felt like she had been gone forever. Daily my conversations fixated on how wonderful it would be when she would be with us again. Oddly my enthusiastic and increasingly frequent Patches Conversations were actually Patches Monologues. Finally, one day in a moment of exasperation I asked the all important question, “Mom, when can we pick Patches up?” A dread filled sigh escaped her lips, as if she was expelling the woes of the world. “Wendy, I’m so sorry, but it’s better for Patches if we find her another home.” That little fifteen-word sentence shredded my heart. I protested and begged for answers, “Why? How? Please?” Her response sounded rehearsed and exactly like something – John would say.

The Twisted Sound of Manipulation – Patches might runaway or worse be hit by a car. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?

The Truth – Of course I wouldn’t want that to happen. But, my grandparents lived on a far busier street than we did. Patches was a known closet scaredy cat and she never even ventured down the driveway.

The Twisted Sound of Manipulation – Imagine how heartbroken Grandpa would be if (you) let something happen to Patches, because of your selfishness to keep her. You don’t want Grandpa to be sad, do you?

The Truth – The mere thought of my beloved Grandpa’s sadness over Patches was instantly unbearable. With tears running down my face, I quickly agreed to give her away, but first I desperately needed to talk with Grandpa. If I had to give Patches away, then I wanted him to have her. He loved her as I did. After  all she was the principal player in a memory only he and I shared.  Mom dialed his number. At the sound of his voice I began to cry uncontrollably.

Thus began an endless evil pattern; John would force Mom to implement his twisted desires and punishments. She became an unwilling – yet willing – mouthpiece of discipline in an attempt to minimize his constant threat of escalated cruelty if she disobeyed him. Mom would be the one to break my heart as she repeated the carefully rehearsed reasons I couldn’t own Patches any longer.

In order for John to maintain his sense of superiority, a demand of “proof” of our sole allegiance was routinely expected. Proof was achieved by forcing us to forfeit something or someone we cared about. For me it began with my licorice puppy, but it didn’t stop there. He would attempt to make that demand far into my adulthood.

The daily, nagging knowledge that something loved or treasured could be stripped away without cause or provocation was the birthplace of crippling, extreme anxiety in my life.

The depth of John’s appetite to control and manipulate increased rapidly in our new unchecked environment. It always involved the demented process of using fear of retribution to force others to do something contrary to their will, in order to minimize the consequences of incurring his displeasure. Rejection would now often visit with his best friend Fear.

Mom and her children were now trapped in an abusive relationship cycle whether she acknowledged it or not. Each of us were virtually harnessed and forced to daily endure a frightful, never-ending roller coaster ride filled with unpredictable, terror producing drops and turns. With each area of control Mom relinquished to John, he would demand greater control in another area.  Nothing was off-limits.  Will. Thoughts. Desires. Beliefs. Hobbies. Likes. Dislikes. Friends. Family.

Eventually after several years, Mom dared to ask herself The Question that would be the final deathblow to her shredded self-esteem. “What kind of a Mother am I ?” Her weighty bricks of guilt and condemnation would accumulate one bad decision at a time. Years later John would actually use this very logic against her to further cripple and humiliate her.

Abuse Truth –

The baton of control over your life is handed over to another person one bad decision at a time.
The power of “What If Fear” (second guessing and anticipating possible triggers) will cloud your judgment and paralyze your ability to make healthy decisions.
The abuser masterfully orchestrates a chaotic home environment destroying any sense of safety and acceptance.
An unsettled environment inhibits the victim from accurately perceiving that manipulation and control are occurring.

My Random Partial List –                                                                                                                   

I love Mexican hot chocolate. I love art museums. I love a thought provoking book.  I love God.

Sharing Something Lovely –

Watching a small child experience the simplicity of life is instantly enlightening, yet wonderfully challenging.

I am routinely humbled and moved by how differently Littles engage life. They experience everything with complete joyous abandon, immersed in the moment and innocently free from the complications of concern or fear. I guess you could say they experience “the now” to the fullest, impervious to the future.

Have you ever watched a child collecting seashells along the ocean’s edge? They approach their search as more of a rescue mission. The shell-searching child embraces the (not one shell left behind) method, while their adult searchers adhere to the (select only the exceptional/worthy shell) method. What an intriguing contrast.

Bigs and Littles alike believe their selected shells are treasured finds. The drastic, wonderfully challenging contrast occurs in what criteria each uses during the shell quest. An adult will scan the shoreline watching as each wave deposits a new crop of potential choices toward the shore. Expertly scanning all shells prior to the next crashing wave, a single, perfect shell may be identified and plucked from its ocean home. If none are selected there is always the next wave of possibilities.

Then there are the wonderful searching Littles. Their chubby feet barely venture a single step before a gleeful squeal announces a seashell discovery.  Radiating joy, they lovingly present their rescued treasure for adult approval and appreciation. Their ocean treasure is rarely without blemish.  Often their selections are chipped, broken, encrusted in barnacles or void of color, yet these adult dismissed shells are their selected prizes. They will join the collection of others rescued and securely nestled in their bulging hands. Littles would never, ever dream of dropping or discarding a shell for a better one. Once their hands are full, pockets, adult hands and buckets are enlisted in order to continue their mission.  

Now let’s be honest, I know you have thought as I have, “Oh, sweet baby, this shell isn’t truly special.  It’s broken and (gulp – ugly).”  Or perhaps your brain voice would say, “It’s not quite as pretty as maybe another one would be. Let’s keep searching, because we can find a better one.”  Yet, when you shift your gaze from the unacceptable shell,  and peer into the beaming eyes of a Little, an amazing thing occurs – your sight perspective radically changes.  You instantly are struck by a wave of remorse that they still view beauty purely. 

Every shell that journeyed across the ocean’s floor to arrive at their seashore destination, whether perfect or marred should be a chosen admired treasure.  Oh that we would resurrect our child-like appreciation and understanding of true worth…

Until next time,
Wen