A month after I filed for our divorce, I found myself sitting in a pool of cold, 360-count “chocolate” Egyptian cotton sheets, my knees held closely to my chest as the bleak darkness enveloped me. The walls and floors creaked in unfamiliar rhythms, telling me stories of prior loves and losses that they have witnessed, all of which I could not and still cannot comprehend. This was my first night of independence; of being truly alone. The kids (my pets) were staying with my parents while I settled in to my new home; my new life. I sat there, staring into the ebony of night and the slight hues of blue and purple, noting the faint resemblance of a chair’s arms and legs peeking out from the dark canvas. All was still and quiet in this unfamiliar territory and my insomnia was creeping in again. I listened to my breath, a ragged trail of diluted idealism that somehow meandered off-course to a conceptual ambiguity. The sound of a gunshot, off on a distant street, sent me violently into tears. It was as if every barrier I set up for myself, every armored emotion, was stripped away. I sat there, feeling my false confidence fading into dusty apparitions; my blind measure of absolution predisposing any notion of sainthood. I was devastated by loss and grief and felt ultimately abandoned by the world; cast off into some dramatic cataclysmic void all my own. My body convulsed into itself and out again, a mess of tears and transgression. I felt very much like a feral creature; my motor skills clearly intact but the mind utterly and incomprehensibly incoherent. I began to think back to a few months prior, when I was sitting in the same darkness at the loft my soon-to-be ex-husband and I once called our home.
I can still vaguely remember the dim light that paraded across our concrete walls. Auburn street lamps were glowing, emitting a loud electrical snarl, wounding the silence of the evening and creating vague shapes dimly lit from within by some discerning apparition. The room was hot; a humid 89 degrees, despite two air conditioners and a box fan. Excess, shed animal hair spun in tiny tornadoes as the slight breeze from the box fan drifted over the concrete floors. Windowless, our bedroom was like a cage of concrete a steel, a prison in which I had resided for weeks on end now. I would watch across to the hallway as the cars would pass on the highway, their alabaster lights running across the cracked stucco surface before drifting off into darkness yet again. I would watch these shadows coalesce and descend, imagining them dance like Balkan lithographs from a time of antiquity. The only other light was from the smoke alarm; a small red star in a sea of nothingness. Life felt lucid and surreal; I felt like I was watching a tragic story unfold, yet I was on the outside watching myself fall apart. I couldn’t even go to work half the time, and when I could, I would lock my office and weep until I was practically drowning in tears; I kept a scarf in my mouth to muffle my sobbing. I tried to escape in every form I could, ranging from eating to addictive shopping. I would sit there for hours, my depression eating away at my consciousness. I felt without form or substance; my fears and phobias had left me nearly bedridden. When the door opened and slammed violently, abruptly, I knew he was home. Would he be in a good mood or a bad mood?
I didn’t know it was abuse at the time. I had always grown up thinking that abuse was a very physical thing; that when someone loved you they would never intentionally hurt you. I was in denial- I didn’t want to be a victim. I knew he was a troubled man, but i always assumed it was a phase; that he would change. Mental and sexual abuse were two facets that were very foreign to me, as were narcissists and sociopaths. Although my family was somewhat dysfunctional, I don’t recall ever being in the position to deal with such circumstances. Anti-depressants and therapy were a form of culture shock for me when I learned about them, as his condition became more and more evident. I was raised to deal with any problems I had, so I did, and assumed everyone else acted accordingly. This was a misconception of mine,
and after almost six years together, I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I saw only darkness, my frailty, and the fact that I felt I was lost forever in someone else. I didn’t care anymore if I lived or died- it didn’t matter anymore. I was the problem, he said. My depression caused him to be depressed and that is why he treated me so cruelly, supposedly. It was a passive aggressive abuse but I was but I was young and uneducated in the laws of sociopathy. I only knew my freedom, week after week, was being stripped away. The fire inside me, my independence, was burning out.
I pretended to be asleep when he peeked in, hoping that perhaps for that night, anyway, I would be spared the lies, threats, allegations, and harsh criticisms. I shudder even now to think of his touch- this man I was supposed to love who eventually would become the bane of my existence. When he left, I stared for a long time into the darkness, watching that lone red light in the void that seemed very much like myself; lost and fading fast. I remember listening to Holopaw’s “Quit or Fight” record, over and over again, until the record continued spinning on the turntable; a dull popping sound echoing through the dark room as the needle kept swaying back and forth. My pets, although small, blanketed me with their love and adoration and I would hold them, weeping, my face a mess of fur and saline tears. How did all of this happen? Where was God to protect me from such a fate? Where was my faith when I needed it the most?
I had never given much thought to faith or religion. I even called myself agnostic at some point, and it is still my humble belief that those with educated intellectual thought processes should never be denied the right to certain forms of skepticism. My family was inherently Baptist; Southern Baptist to be precise, and it took many years of hypocrisy and conditional love in my own family to convince me that this was not the right path for me. My mother was adamant on teaching my sister and I to love unconditionally, to fight for the underdog; to be good people. Somehow, my sister and I turned out completely different. Where I felt compassionate for others, she became self-serving and hypocritical; she built herself up on a pedestal that was impossible to topple. Calling herself a “good Christian,” she denounced us for being heathens, for we had stopped going to church long ago due to many reasons, mainly being that we couldn’t stand seeing the segregation and hypocrisy in our own sect. My mother had the strongest faith of anyone I knew, and I guess after going through so much dysfunction in her own family and life, it made her faith even stronger rather than weakening it. My family’s “Christian” beliefs are to ostracize those who do not agree with them; to punish, accuse, and change circumstances. To them, my mother and I were scapegoats and to this day we are blamed for anything bad that ever happens in the family, even though we are really not even a part of it anymore.
In turn, I went through every religion I possibly could connect to- a plethora of structures that I failed to completely identify with. I’ve searched for answers, leading me to gain insight as a born-again Christian, a Buddhist, a Deist, and I have even investigated Islam and Judaism among others. What I found is that everything is largely similar and despite everything, I do not truly believe that any title you give yourself changes the fundamental realities that you believe in. When people ask my faith now, I tell them I have “faith in life.” My reasoning for this is simple: How could I title myself to a certain doctrine when I question so many things about each religion? I questioned this for many years and still sometimes do.
When I first moved in to the “Pelican House,” so named for a concrete pelican statue with peeling paint that sits outside in the flower bed, I never could have imagined how much I would change over a series of only several months, and how I would ultimately find my faith strengthened by my inner struggles and meditative isolation. When I turned to writing to externalize the events I was struggling with and the emotions that seemed so changeable, I discovered that despite the fact that the images of my previous life would play through my mind over and over, deep down I always knew that someone, or something, was watching over me and knew I could handle whatever cards were dealt. The first few months were the hardest, as I adjusted to life being completely alone and completely free. What is amazing is that you grow used to the controlled environment; of not being allowed to drive where you want to go or be around the people you love. i know now that the things he did were wrong; that no one deserves to be treated like that.
Admittedly, it took me a very long time to completely grasp how weak of a person I became...and how strong I would become. Freedom is something we all take for granted until it is taken away from us. Like prisoners of war, when our insecurities and vulnerabilities are exposed, we begin to crack; we begin to question the very fiber of our beings and grasp for what little humanity is left in us. I was like an addict and it took cutting myself off from everyone and everything to gain a sense of sanity and purpose again. For weeks I stayed within the walls, which experienced my rages and witnessed the memories that tormented me, until finally peace prevailed. Lying in bed, I began to pray for protection. I begged to get through the rising and and falling emotions, the divorce settlement, and the constant harassing messages I received from my ex-husband. When the nightmare was over, I found myself scathed but more aware. I knew that regardless of whether there was a higher power or not, someone or something was holding me together again.
For me, writing is an act of sorting out loose ends and gaining back something dear to me that I once lost: myself. The beauty of life is its malleability, whether molded and crafted by ourselves, outward stimuli in our environment, or a supernatural omniscient being who oversees the very structure of our lives. Regardless of how I define myself, on some level I have to recognize that I exist. I have lived a life of dreams and deluge and have found that life is not about permanence but acceptance. We must learn to let go of what we think we know and embrace life...and death. There is very little we can fixate as permanent, so we should look at life as an adventure; one not about the destination but the journey itself.
The beauty of faith is that it is a very personal experience- when we feel lost we can find ourselves in our faith, our family, our higher power. It is eternal— it can sustain us when we cannot sustain ourselves. We must experience pain to know joy and adversity to know hope, and consequently must experience despair to truly humble ourselves before a higher power and gain some form of inner peace and retribution within ourselves. Everything tends to have a cause and effect, and everything affects us profoundly one way or another. I came to the conclusion that I would have to reflect on the good and bad, the moral and immoral, in order to fully understand the reasoning behind this, and the consequences of my own action and inaction. For, in effect, it is the essence of experience that brings us closer to divination and the resistant upheaval of our lives that so graciously offers us a chance to grow and to find the beauty that lies within.
In the end, I crawl into bed at the pelican house, watching the lights stream across the walls, the tires stirring a familiar racket as the rain sloshes away from them. There are dishes in the sink and piles of clothes on the floor, which would normally bother me, but I am content with my lot. I know I am safe and that someone is watching over me. My pets snuggle up to me and my cat purrs, reflecting the happiness we all feel and the serenity that exists in the absence of rational meaning. I know not what the future holds, nor what the meaning is behind the great mysteries of the universe, but I do know that love exists in whatever form it can successfully muster. There are tears in my eyes now, but one can see that they are tears of joy. I drift off to sleep grudgingly, anxious to see what tomorrow will bring.