I guess you’re the new Office Assistant. Welcome to the team! Okay, that’s a weird thing to say since I’m not on the team anymore, and I’m sure everyone else is making you feel very welcome– they’re a great bunch! The dedication and skill of the people you’ll be working with might knock your socks off. Gary and Keith are(almost) endlessly patient and will be very kind about explaining things if you get confused. There’s a lot to learn, so don’t feel bad if you need to ask a lot of questions! I still had to ask questions three years in! It’s fine! It’s expected.
I think you’ll find that the job is very challenging but also very rewarding. Getting to help people in the ways that you’ll get to help people will probably be as great for you as it was for me. Everyone will be very supportive while you’re learning, and soon I’m sure you’ll fit in wonderfully.
You’ll get to know our clients’ quirks over time. Some of them you’ll groan when you see their names on caller ID, but others you’ll be excited to talk to. One of my favorite things is getting to shop for people– sometimes you’ll bear back how much Joe liked his winter coat or Jane liked the poster you got for her. That feels great. Other times, you’ll be drafting correspondence from templates, making calls to Comcast, or filing. Those things are less fun, but if you keep in mind that it’s all in service to the clients, it makes it easier.
Just never get injured. Never get sick.
I don’t mean “don’t sprain your ankle.” Or “don’t catch a cold.” I mean don’t ever get anything chronic. Don’t ever get hurt hurt. Because if you get hurt you’ll be told that you shouldn’t talk to the team about it because it makes your coworkers uncomfortable. You’ll be told that it’s not a good excuse for fucking up. You’ll be reminded about how hard it’s been on the team that you got your life messed up by something out of your control. Management will make it very clear to you what a problem you are now. And they will push you out like they pushed me out.
They’ll act like every ADA accommodation is a favor they’re personally doing for you. They’ll tell you how hard it is on the team when you need to take time off because you can’t walk straight or feel like someone’s hammering a nail into your forehead. They’ll celebrate your birthday and your work anniversary but you’ll never get a “get well” card. You won’t be able to mention your illness in your yearly review, because “that’s not what they’re for.” If you make a mistake, they will condescend. If you make a real fuck-up, they’ll punish you as much as they can without the union making them stop. You’ll be told over and over that what happened to you, the limitations you have now, don’t matter, aren’t a factor, why can’t you perform like you did before the horrible thing happened to you and liquefied parts of your brain.
They will treat you with pity and call it compassion.
They will make it hell for you to stay.
So enjoy your time here and never, never get hurt or sick.
We’ve been here for over a month. The floors are oak that someone put carpet over but someone else ripped the carpet out, thank goodness . It’s somewhat drafty and badly insulated. Apparently our gutters aren’t great. The fan in the bathroom needs fixing. The kitchen is too small.
We hosted people in the backyard approximately every other day for the first month we were here. Now it’s cold and the backyard is soggy. There are some tomatoes that I should bring inside. I ate a pear right off the tree a few weeks ago and it was delicious. I got a tan but now that it’s cold I look kind of sallow. The cats settled in nicely. Husband and I manage to both be in the too-small kitchen without wanting to murder each other, and we’re both sort of amazed that this is so. The tub is pretty big and I spend a lot of time in there. The furnace is noisy and we don’t run it very much. My office is the warmest room. The bedroom is barely big enough for a bed and a dresser. We’ve managed to keep the place pretty tidy. My office is the only room that is a mess, but it’s getting better.
I’m a mess, but I’m trying to get better.
My job is trying to suck the life out of me, but now that I have a mortgage I’m not allowed to tell anyone to fuck themselves. I still love a lot about what I do, but management isn’t very kind to someone with brain damage. Downright unhelpful, actually. Last week was panic and this week is numb. Next week will likely be panic again.
I sit in my cold house with my warm cats and find peace wherever I can. I nest in my warm office with my cold thoughts and try to remember that things have a way of turning out okay, because I know this to be true. Most of the time, things turn out okay. I keep telling myself that.
It’s weird to be in such a bipolar state. Some things are going so well while other things are going so terribly. And I’m bouncing back and forth between elation and despair.
The house is really very nice and we’re quite happy to be here. I wish everything else was going so well.
My husband and I toured a house yesterday. Immediately when we got inside, I smelled mildew and fresh paint. That was not a good sign. We walked through a few times and told the realtor we’d think about it. On the way back home, we impulsively stopped at a Japanese restaurant and got a light lunch. We decided at that table that we would not buy the house (which did have some lovely features, but several more ticks in the “no” column than in the “yes.”)
And while we were sitting there, me noshing on edamame and sipping water, I told T that I think I’m spiraling a little bit. I’m impulsive. I don’t have a lot of control over my emotions, and I hate it. I have worked very hard to have control over myself, but lately I am snappish, mercurial, sullen. I speak without thinking and am overly friendly with people who (it seems to me) give me weird looks and then try to go back to what they were doing. I ache for connection but shrink away from it, full of doubt.
My normally pretty-damned-good self-esteem is faltering. I don’t think I’m a worthless pile of crap or anything, but I do have my moments of intense self-doubt and calling myself weird, stupid, or crazy, even if it’s only in my head. I can usually manage to push those feelings aside and move onto something else. But yesterday, I felt a sort of melancholy that I haven’t felt in quite awhile– this feeling that the ground was falling away from underneath me and I was in freefall toward… I don’t know. Some sort of emotional doom.
I know myself pretty well, so when I was telling T about all of this I said “I’ll probably feel better tomorrow, because I usually do feel better after a good night’s sleep.” And I was right, I do feel better today. Not all the way better, but no longer like the abyss is looming.
The past 14 months have been one of the most difficult periods of my whole life– and if you know me, you know that my life has had a lot of difficult periods. Already plagued with health issues, I did not need the addition of a traumatic brain injury. But that’s what I got, and I am doing what I can to make the best of it. In a life that’s probably about half over, I’ve learned that often that’s the best thing we can do.
I’m still employed and getting straight A’s in school. But it’s dragging. I’m dragging. My verve and enthusiasm that I worked so hard to cultivate are failing me right now. When we got married, T said he wanted to buy a house within five years, so I fixed my abysmal credit score, paid off debts, and started trying to save. When I enrolled in school, I decided I was going to kick ass and I have. I have done so much with hope and willpower, but now there are things in my life I can’t just power through. There are things, like buying a house, that are in many ways out of my control. Knowing that my goals are years away from being achieved is really taking a toll on my psyche. And I just don’t have the energy to go fast fast fast all the time like I always have. I get tired so easily. I can’t coast by with intelligence and willpower, I have to utilize that skill that I’m still trying to build and has never come naturally to me: patience. I hate patience.
Things have been better, and I’ve gotten stronger. But eventually strength isn’t enough. Smarts aren’t enough. Humor and pretty green eyes, unfortunately, don’t mean much in an insane housing market. They won’t give me a Masters degree for being cute. Work doesn’t accept “well, I’m trying” as a substitute for getting stuff done or answering the phone. And there are some days when the effort of just getting through is so exhausting that I sort of cease to function by 5pm. For awhile, grit, determination, and my eternal/infernal optimism were carrying me. But those things aren’t inexhaustible. I am so, so tired.
The despair I felt yesterday was something I used to feel much of the time. And I kind of marveled at it, like how did I live this way for so long? Because for a most of my life I saw myself standing next to a vast canyon, feeling the wind try to push me over the edge. Feeling parts of my brain telling me to just jump and get it over with. And for the past few years, even after my injury, I sensed that the cliff was still there, but that I was no longer standing at the edge. I’d moved into a clearing several dozen paces away, and I could not gaze into the bottom any longer, contemplating, wondering, tempted.
Yesterday I was closer to the edge again. The wind was whipping. The canyon loomed. And as I always have, I turned my back away. I looked toward the clearing. I kept my eyes on the hope, the potential, life. Because some days, that really is all you can do.
We met in the swimming pool at our high school when I was a sophomore and you were a freshman. I had just given myself an appalling haircut, but you said it didn’t look too bad. I appreciated that
We didn’t get to know each other until I was a senior, in psychology class. We both tested as introverts but were the loudest people in the class. We argued a lot, but it was in good spirits. I broke up with my high school sweetheart and developed a big crush on you. I wrote you a letter to that effect, and you wrote back and used the word “ennui,” which had to look up. I wish I still had that letter.
We went on for years, almost being a “thing” but never made it over the threshold to being in an actual relationship. We dated. We kissed. You asked me one night to help you shed your virginity, and I did because… well, why the hell not? The only other time we slept together was right after your dad died. I didn’t know what else to do to console you.
I fucked around with your feelings an awful lot, and for that I’m sorry. All those times we were “almost, but not quite” were because of me. You were smart and funny and athletic and witty and kind, and wicked hot, and I… for some reason just couldn’t be in a relationship with you. On paper, you were everything I wanted. In practice, it always felt off. I shouldn’t have kept leading you on.
I once dumped you in front of a “no dumping” sign near a canyon. You pointed it out wryly.
You stopped speaking to me nigh on 20 years ago, and you were right to do so. I was a mess, and more importantly, I treated you like shit. I didn’t mean to, but that’s no excuse.
I thought about reaching out to you to apologize. You turned 40 yesterday, and I thought I’d look you up and see what you’re doing these days. I knew you were in a hoity-toity industry and had been for years. I knew you were still in our hoity-toity hometown. I stumbled on your Instagram.
You’re married. You have two sons. Your wife looks nice. You enjoy baseball. You lost much of your glorious hair. You look happy.
I decided not to reach out.
You’ll never read this, but if you ever did– or if I can send a thought out toward you, 700 miles away– I would tell you that I am deeply and truly sorry, that I think you’re wonderful, and that I am so, so happy that you seem so happy. I would tell you that I’m a better person now, that you had a positive impact on my life and taught me the word “ennui” and you were so beautiful and I’m so fucking sorry.
But that would be for me, not for you. You’re fine. You don’t need or want anything from me.
I’m working toward a degree in social work, and my union is paying for me to get my associate’s. After that I’ll probably transfer to the local university (which I dropped out of 12 years ago because I was not a stable person back then) and get my bachelor’s and master’s from there.
You can do a lot with a Master’s in Social Work. You can do so many fucking things.
Education means choices. I’ve worked for the same employer for over 4 years now, and I’ve been in my current job for just over two years. I was really in love with my job for the first year and a half. I get to help people. Isn’t that cool?
And then I got hurt.
I started seeing a new therapist today. My longtime therapist, who I saw for about 9 years but has since moved on to the more administrative side of things and in fact now runs the practice, recommended her. And we just clicked immediately. I like her a lot. I talked about a lot of things, because, y’know, first session with a new therapist. Instead of feeling exhausted afterward, I felt energized and excited.
And one of the things I told her is that I’m doing really well in school. I know I already said that, but it’s important.
My brain injury really fucked up my life. Most of my symptoms have finally abated, but some are sticking around and might be permanent. I can deal with those, I think. They suck, but I can figure it out.
My work performance has suffered. My overall health has suffered. My personal life was affected. I have terrible memory now. I have trouble focusing. My spelling and typing have gone to shit. I have frequent, sometimes debilitating headaches. I often feel despair, which passes, but it’s not fun.
Through all this, my GPA stayed fucking solid. For the last two terms I’ve gotten all A’s. This term I’m taking statistics, and as someone who hasn’t done any math above arithmetic for about 24 years, stats is a fucking challenge. But I’m acing it. I’m acing everything. I started college again at 39, and it seems I was finally ready to do it right. I’m a good student. I’m wicked smart. I’m doing it. It feels like I’m learning to ride a bike without training wheels. Look at me goooooooooooo.
But when it comes to work, I just feel so trapped. My husband and I have great insurance because of my work. I am getting an associates degree for free because of my work. I have stability because of my work. And it fucking beats a lot of other jobs I’ve had.
It’s just really hard to come back from what I’ve seen. It’s hard to know that if I get sick again, I’m kind of on my own. Leave and benefits won’t give me clear instructions. My short term disability insurance, which I opted into and comes right out of my paycheck, seems fucking useless. They’re still processing my claim and sending me forms saying that they’re still processing my claim. And my team, who I gave so much of myself to not let down, doesn’t really seem to care. I think they’re all sick of me being sick.
As if I’m not.
So I’m in school. And my grades are very good. And I’m going to get my degree, and then get the next degree, and get the NEXT degree, and then… then I will have leverage. I will have choices. I will be able to decide where I want to go next. I won’t have to worry quite as much, I hope. I won’t have to be an Office Assistant anymore, at the bottom of the totem pole, replaceable and negligible and treated like a liability because I had the audacity to get a fucking TBI.
So, according to the title of this post and the song that inspired it, “everybody’s working for the weekend.”
You know what I do on my weekends?
Statistics. And whatever other courses are required for my major. And I like it.
School means choices. I’m not going to fuck it up this time.
I used to be someone who cried a lot. Happy or sad scenes in movies, frustration or sadness in my own life. I used to cry probably more than was healthy. But it was good to cry.
Something changed. It started when I was 20, during a very difficult summer. I dropped acid and slept with my friend’s 33-year-old boyfriend while she was away on a trip. Then I went on a 40-day vacation to Boston, Vermont, and London– and on my second-to-last day in London, I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle. Later that summer, I found out my parents were divorcing. I was a mess. Everything I thought I knew to be stable was suddenly shaky. A lot of the drama was self-created, but a lot of it wasn’t. These are just the highlights.
I had always been an exploder. I became an imploder. Instead of striking out at others I mostly punished myself. I guess I still blew up at people from time to time, and even before this I tended to take things out on myself– and I have the scars to prove it. But one thing that changed was that I stopped really being able to cry, no matter how sad I was.
I took an Eastern Philosophy class at the local community college (My Pretend College, for my hometown readers.) I don’t remember it being a very good class, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of thing that makes one silently sob behind their hands. But one night, when I was 21, that’s what I did. I started crying and I just couldn’t stop. I wasn’t making any noise. I don’t think anyone even really noticed at first. But I just could. not. stop leaking water from my eyes. I wasn’t really sad about anything in particular; I was sad about everything. And at this point it had been about six months since I’d been able to cry, so this one night I just couldn’t stop. I had friends in the class, and someone had to drive me home because the leaking would not stop.
Over time, and because of an abusive relationship that made me cry a whole fucking lot, I eventually regained the use of my tear ducts. But because my ex was so awful, I stopped fighting back because I’d learned it didn’t do a whole lot of good. The times I did strike out, it was mostly physical. He got in my face one day, mocking me when I said “you won’t let me have any friends.” He said it back sneeringly, “you won’t let me have any friiieeends.” And I scratched his face so hard that he bled. Another time I whipped him in the face with my leather jacket when he had me cornered and was screaming at me. But I did not tend to yell. And when I hit him, he tended to stop. The day I made him bleed, he told his shocked coworkers “you didn’t hear what I said to her.” You’d think that would have made him reexamine his treatment of me, but it didn’t.
When my brother did the bad thing when I was 30, I didn’t yell back at him. I collapsed into a heap of tears, because I’d learned that’s what we do with abusers. We make ourselves at pathetic and small as possible so that maybe they’ll stop.
Anyway. I can yell now. I have regained that ability. But I usually have my temper under control, and I tend to write letters when I’m really pissed off. So I can yell, if I have to. I just can’t cry.
As I’ve said in previous posts, this year has been really damned hard for me. Health issues, family issues, work issues, oh my.
I can’t remember the last time I had a good cry. And holy hell, I need one.
I still feel like things are mostly good, or will be mostly good soon. My marriage is astonishingly stable. My cats are astonishingly cute. I’m pretty good at my job. The head injury is finally loosening its grip on my brain. I had oral surgery and was in pain for longer than seemed reasonable, but that’s getting better too. I have a little more energy now. I feel less defeated.
I don’t know why my tear factory laid off all its workers. I don’t know how I can be profoundly sad and not shed a single tear. I well up sometimes, but my cheeks stay dry.
I feel emotionally constipated. This is not my usual state. Maybe it’s because of the vast number of pills I have to take to be a functional adult. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up. I don’t know.
I don’t have a good ending for this. It’s just on my mind today.
Song in title is from a musical called Brownstone, but I’m familiar with it from Bette Midler’s cover.
I’m going to talk about some stuff I’ve talked about on here before. Moreover, I’m going to talk about two people, one of whom I’ve mentioned several times, and the other of whom I wrote about so many fucking times oh my god damn. I’m not going to say more than necessary about the one I’ve already said a lot about, and I’ll refer to him as “that dude” and similar. I don’t even want to use initials or old nicknames. And I’ll call my abusive ex “Mike” because that’s his name. He sometimes insisted on being called Michael, but I met him as Mike, and he’s a pretentious, abusive, alcoholic asshole, so I’m gonna go ahead and just call him Mike.
Fuck you, Mike.
As I’ve mentioned many times previously:
I was in an abusive relationship in my twenties.
Right after I dumped Mike the abusive asshole, I met and became super fuckin’ obsessed with some dude and I didn’t entirely let up for YEARS
I have Borderline Personality Disorder and that diagnosis changed my life
These three things, which I’ve ranted about at length, frame this dispatch from Kate’s brain.
I got a direct message on Twitter the other day from Mike. This is what it said:
See how casual that is? Just “hey, sup, let’s talk about how CRAZY the world is, amirite?”
He was a dick. I mean, just an utter bastard. But he wanted to get in touch! Even after I’ve told him over and over that I want nothing to do with him whatsoever! What persistence! What arrogance!
My response to him was as follows:
Other than saying “could ever hope” twice in the same email, I think I did all right! I hope you can understand from this brief message that I was not being vicious without reason. He spent years trying to break me. I owe him nothing.
The last time Mike and I spoke was in 2011. The last time (that I know of) that he tried to contact me was in 2013, when he sent an email to my mother. In fact, I wrote about it at the time. That post is horrifically embarrassing to me now, and I’ll tell you why: I was still being a creepy stalker to the other dude at the time and I kinda just… glossed that over. “We’re both members of a group” I said. I didn’t mention that I’d joined so that he’d have to interact with me. I can’t believe that was only eight years ago. So creepy, Kate. So gross.
But at the time, I blogged
I know what it feels like to be stalked and harassed. I have an ex-boyfriend who continues to try to get in touch with me even after I told him I never, ever, ever want to speak to him again So I know what it feels like to have someone from your past who just won’t go away. And I’ll admit that I’ve been a little, shall we say, obtuse in the past when it comes to other people’s lack of desire for further contact with me. But I’ve learned and I’m trying to do better. I don’t want to be the creepy stalker ex any more than I want to have a creepy stalker ex.
Kate, being a fucking liar.
I like to think that what Mike did is “worse” than what I did to that poor dude I harassed, but what I did to that guy was bad enough. I just went hunting for the time I must have blogged about all the shitty things I did, but they’re kinda scattered all over the place. If you read back, you’ll find them. I find it painful to read them now, but I’ve kept them here as a reminder of what I was like when I was sick and didn’t know it.
What changed, what got me to leave that poor guy alone (other than meeting my husband, which happened after) was my diagnosis of BPD. I found out that all the weird obsessive shit, all the dysfunctional relationships, my weird one-sided friendships… they were all caused by some defect in the way I process emotions. I mean, sure, other people played a part sometimes, and I wasn’t always the best at picking people to get close to. But most of the drama came from me.
The dude is certainly not the only person I fucked over with my mental illness, but he’s the one I can point to and say “ah yes, that sure was messed up…” There’s so much written evidence right here in the archives of this stupid blog.
I know that the greatest and only thing that I can offer him is silence. Peace. But it took me a long time to realize why.
Regardless of where the blame lays for how things ended and what happened before, I have behaved abominably since. I didn’t mean to. I thought I was right to be outraged that I’d been cut out of his life. I thought [his wife] was to blame for keeping us from being friends. I was venomous. I was pushy, vindictive, and petty. I didn’t do much in the last five years to bother him, but what I did was more than I should have. I wanted to make them uncomfortable. I wanted to be noticed. I was angry, and it showed.
Kate, being honest
I left Mike two months before I turned 27. Afterward, he would show up at my apartment, which used to be our apartment, without warning. I told him one day that if he did it again, I’d call the cops. For months (years!) he would interrogate me about whether I’d cheated on him when we were together, and wouldn’t accept that the truthful answer was “no.” He asked if I’d slept with anyone since we broke up, because if I had, he would never “take me back.” I did not want for a single second to be taken back. I’d broken up with him, and I meant it.
I moved back to California when I was 29, and the last person I said goodbye to before skipping town was Mike. When I was back there in the Golden State, I got on a pretty even keel, and I eventually realized that continuing to try to be a friend to Mike was really bad for me. As I said in my paragraphs of viciousness above, the reason he didn’t have any family or very close friends was that he was an awful person. When I told him that he was a shitty friend, and that he’d abused me terribly when we were a couple, his response was, essentially “Yes, but there were many days when I did NOT try to push you down a flight of stairs, and I prefer to focus on those.”
I have not spoken to him in ten years. I have no interest in ever speaking to him again. Eventually, I moved back to Portland, and I told our one mutual friend to convey to Mike that I still wanted nothing to do with him.
I’m certain that this mutual friend is how Mike found my Twitter. He wouldn’t have had to tell him, it would have been enough for Mike to have seen who Mutual Friend followed. So I blocked Mutual Friend, too.
I wish that Mike would have the same big epiphany that I did. There are things that I can never take back. And I can choose to learn from those things, or I can decide to stamp my feet and refuse to accept that this is my fault. And sometimes we do things, or a combination of things, that make it so that someone decides they never want to talk to us again. Whether we think they’re justified or not, we can choose to give them the greatest gift of all: our absence.
This is from the email I sent after my mom said I made her feel bullied because I took a stand against her continuing to ignore my boundaries around talking to or about my brother:
I have told you repeatedly that I don’t want to talk about/argue about [brother.] I have real and significant trauma because of [brother.] Ever since I cut him out of my life, I’ve felt that you don’t respect my decision, that you don’t think I have good reasons for that decision. I know it makes you sad that your kids don’t talk, but I’m not willing to consent to be abused by him any longer. It is very painful for me to have to keep drawing this line with you, it keeps the trauma alive.
I sent that on February 24th, 2020. Again, what the fuck is unclear about that?
Also, the title is from the song “Hero” by Regina Spektor. It’s a really good song!
I am writing this on Wednesday, June 16th, 2021. I will not post it today. I want to edit it, I want to sleep on it, I want to think about it. I only got four hours of sleep last night, which is even worse for me than usual because I have this damn head injury. But I might very well post it.
I’m probably going to post it.
[Trigger warnings, although I never do these: Child neglect and sexual abuse, rape, violence… maybe don’t read this first thing in the morning or last thing at night.]
The reason I only got four hours of sleep last night is that I woke myself up from a dream by yelling out loud. I woke my husband up, too. According to my husband, what I shouted was “Remember that time you found me sitting next to the bathtub? I’d tried to kill myself with pills, and you justput me to bed.“
He knew who I was yelling at. I was yelling at my mother.
When I came back from grabbing an ice cream sandwich [I often half-sleepwalk to the freezer,] he asked, “did that really happen?”
Yes. It did.
Since this past Saturday, I’ve had to come to terms with some truths I’d been trying to avoid for a long time. Followers of my Twitter have probably seen me posting vague things about boundaries and bad dreams and family drama. It comes from wanting to share, but not being sure how much to call out or indict other people’s behavior. Because I’ve spent most of my life trying to protect the people who’ve neglected and abused me.
My mom is the kind of person who makes friends wherever she goes. She’s gregarious, fun, generous, and knows how to have a good time. She’s good at distracting herself from negativity and can make a home practically anywhere. She always let me know that I am loved. We had a lot of books around when I was a kid, and I was always treated like I was intelligent. She tried to give me a good life. These are some of the things I like about my mother. There are a lot of things to like about my mother.
What I don’t like is that my mother is that, as I mentioned above, she’s just so good at distracting herself from negativity. So much so that when I finally broke down and told her, in separate, difficult conversations…
that I’d tried to kill myself
that I had done hard drugs
…she forgot. And then when I mentioned these facts again some time later, she said “you never told me that!”
Yes, Mom. I did.
I have often said about myself that I will overreact to a stubbed toe, but barely mention a sprained ankle, walking on it for months before I get it checked out. When I was 20, I did exactly that. I fell down a flight of stairs in London, flew home the next day, and then walked around on a sprained ankle for months because I didn’t want to make a fuss or seem melodramatic. I couldn’t even wear the gorgeous boots I had bought in London because it hurt to put pressure on the ankle. I mentioned it to my doctor at an appointment for something else, and that’s when it was diagnosed. She asked “Why didn’t you come in six months ago?” Well, I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. Duh.
Those who know me in real life know that I’m not shy about expressing myself. But I use that as a shield so people assume they already know everything important. I’ll tell you about the minor annoyances but spare you the worst of it. So I’ll bitch and moan about my bad day at work, but I won’t tell you that it only reinforced my sense that the world is cruel and there’s no reason to keep living.
Because the small hurts get treated, or they don’t, and it doesn’t really matter. But if the small hurts don’t get treated, well, how could I ever trust you with the big ones?
I’m not saying this is healthy. It’s one of the terrible life skills one picks up as a product of neglect and abuse.
When I was 13, in my gi and getting ready for jiujitsu class, another kid, just goofing off, did something that caused me to flip over backwards onto my left shoulder. I heard a crack. I heard a crunch. I knew with 100% certainty that I had just broken… something. My neck seized up and my head was pulled to the left side. I could barely move my arm. The jiujitsu instructors went to get my mom, who was outside in the car, and they assured her that it was just a muscle strain.
I heard it crack. I heard it crunch. I told them that. I told her that. I think those were the two loudest noises I’ve ever heard.
My mother, taking her cue from the not-medically-trained marital arts teachers instead of the daughter who had heard her own bone break, took me home instead of to the hospital. She bitched at me when I couldn’t buckle my seatbelt. But at home, while I was trying to eat dinner, she noticed that my left arm was turning purple. Now she was concerned. So off we went to the urgent care clinic, where the doctor said I had a displaced fracture of my left clavicle.
I mean, it was really, really broken. Very much like in the picture above. Not cracked. Not a hairline fracture. Fucking broken, and to this day I have a crooked collarbone, and my left shoulder is lower than my right.
I had to insist on the x-ray, but I knew it was broken before they verified it. I heard it break.
I was molested by my brother for years when I was a young child. He was older than me, but not so old that it felt like the sort of CRIME that all the afterschool specials told us to tell a trusted adult about. They tell you to watch for guys in trench coats and creepy friends of your dad, not your brother whom you love. When I was a teenager, I heard that it’s fairly normal for kids to experiment, and so I tried to forgive and put it out of my mind. But he was was bigger and stronger and older than me, and he was violent toward me, and what had happened filled me with shame that, to be perfectly honest, fucked me up forever.
Mom knew about one incident. Oddly enough, my brother told her after I confronted him. Her response, I’m told, was underwhelming. I guess she never thought to extrapolate that if it had happened once, it might have happened before. Or that it could happen again. Not to her little girl, not because of her little boy. That wouldn’t fit the narrative. I honestly don’t know if it ever made it into her permanent memory. So many things didn’t.
I didn’t ever come right out and say that I was being molested, but there were signs that something was wrong. And as a teenager, a certain… shall we say “precociousness” was pretty evident. Oh, I was terrified of sex, but I often dressed like an underage hooker, was desperate for attention, and begged to be in therapy. I was clearly very unhappy. It was clear to most everyone, except my parents. My dad was mostly disengaged, when he wasn’t shouting. I was pretty close with my mother, but a depressed daughter didn’t fit into her world view. “You’re too pretty to be depressed!” she told me. “You sing all the time!”
I was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance at 15, and it took me months to finally get up the nerve to tell my parents. Actually, I never got the courage– it came to light because, at Planned Parenthood, I checked the “yes” box on a form that asked “Have you ever felt coerced into sexual activity?” Nurses are mandatory reporters, so it got reported. And a detective came to my school and was asking a bunch of questions about whether I was sexually active, what I was wearing when it happened, and threatening to interrogate/accuse my (very nice, not-a-rapist) boyfriend if I didn’t tell this shitty asshole cop who’d done it. So I told him. After that interview, which felt more like an inquisition, I told my parents what had happened to me the previous summer. The detective was coming by later and I wanted them to hear it from me.
My mother’s response was “I had to play fight-the-rapist when I was your age, too.”
I think some part of me has been screaming ever since.
Despite what happened when we were kids, I tried to have a good sibling relationship with my brother. I was willing, at great cost to myself, to chalk it up to youthful weirdness, and to not hold it against him. We had times when we hated each other and didn’t talk, we had times when we were quite close. We grew up in the same house, after all. We have a lot in common. He and his second wife moved to Portland because I was here, and the three of us lived together in an apartment for awhile. That ended badly, but when Wife #2 left him, I tried to be a good sister. By the time he left Portland in 2017, though, I was very relieved to see him go. He was espousing some ignorant and scary beliefs. He wasn’t very nice to my husband. He made me uncomfortable.
A few months after he moved away, my brother posted a stream of horrible rants on Facebook blaming the Charlottesville counter-protesters (the ones without tiki torches and swastikas) for the death of Heather Heyer, I decided I’d had enough of him for a while. I blocked him and didn’t tell him why. For a few months, he didn’t notice. But eventually he asked my mom if I’d left Facebook or something. She didn’t know what to tell him. She asked me to explain my reasoning to him.
So I did. And he responded as well as could be hoped. He said he understood! But I didn’t feel better. I agonized about the fact that I didn’t feel better. And then I realized why– my brother is a terrifying, abusive person, and I could no longer be in denial about that.
So I made the estrangement permanent. I didn’t tell him what I’d decided or why. My brother, as far as I know, has not tried to contact me since.
And here’s where we get into the really terrible shit.
In 2011, almost seven years before I decided to make the cut permanent, I was turning 30. I invited my brother and his then-girlfriend (the future Wife #2) to come to a kink event in San Francisco. It was a monthly party that I had been volunteering at for the previous nine months, and at which I had some special privileges. One of those privileges was a private, invitation-only room for my birthday. These events were more about community to me than whips and chains, and I invited them with the understanding that they would leave my room if I asked them to. I thought I could keep stuff PG and that if they wanted to do anything R-rated, they could go to another room at the party. But when I asked them to leave my special birthday room, my brother’s girlfriend dug in her heels, and I had to get really pissed off and insistent to get them to go. There was the whole rest of the party to enjoy! They finally left when I made it excruciatingly clear that they weren’t welcome in my space anymore.
A few days later, they told me how much they’d loved the event and wanted to go again. I said that they’d made me uncomfortable and I did not want them there. Boundaries and consent are all-important in that environment, and they’d made me feel unsafe. I told them that the space hosted similar events that they were welcome to go to, but this one monthly party was mine. They said I couldn’t keep them out. I told them I was a trusted volunteer who worked the door, and I was pretty sure that I could have them banned not only from that party but from the space itself if I had to.
She started crying. He came at me like he was going to hit me, and screamed in my face, so loud and so close that I felt his spittle hit me, “You fucking bitch.” He screamed at me with such intensity that his girlfriend almost broke up with him that night. And maybe the reason she didn’t leave him that night was that I begged her not to. I thought that if she left there was a chance that he would kill me.
I found out a few months later that his partner had an “incest fetish” because the two of them asked for advice about how to seduce her 18-year-old sister into a threesome. I told them they should absolutely not try to seduce her 18-year-old sister into a threesome. I don’t know if they did.
I tried to put that in the past, like I tried to put everything in the past, and I didn’t really consider the implications of all the facts put together. He had anger issues, and he yelled at me. Same old same old.
But almost seven years later, after I stopped speaking to him for other reasons, it finally came together for me.
I was screamed at in a very threatening way for not letting my brother and his partner indulge their incest fetish with me.
I knew all the components:
screamed at for not letting them go to a party
because they violated boundaries
someone has an incest fetish
scary, angry, brother who threatens and yells when he doesn’t get his way
and who “was inappropriate with me” me when I was a kid
But I never put them all together before. Because who the fuck wants to think that about someone in their family?
I was trying to protect and be a good sister to my brother, who once tried to spit in my face during an argument when I was 18 or 20. He missed and hit himself.
My brother, who used to beat me up when we were kids, but I was told by my parents that “you gave as good as you got,” even though I was less than half his weight.
My brother who once held me down while I was choking on my own snot and tears and told me that no one would believe what he was doing to me because I was crazy.
My brother, who had obvious, terrifying anger issues that my parents simply didn’t address. The anger did not improve as he aged. It got worse, more entrenched, more self-righteous. And he took it out on me.
He got therapy because he was being bullied at the public middle school and his new, private school demanded it. I don’t know what he talked about, but he certainly didn’t seem to get better.
I did not get therapy for another three and a half years, even though I begged. When they finally agreed, it was because a friend was concerned enough about my cutting myself that she told my mom, who didn’t say a word about it until, in the middle of Walgreens, she grabbed my wrist and yanked up my sleeve and yelled something like WHAT DID YOU DO? My sleeve had slipped up my arm, and she’d seen. I guess that it wasn’t real to her when she was just hearing about it.
So I got sent to a therapist who asked me to draw what kind of tree I’d be if I were a tree. And the matter was mostly considered settled.
Until this past weekend, I never blamed my later sexual misadventures on being molested as a kid. I would not have used the word “molested” in relation to what happened to me. I never traced my trauma to its root, which is that I believed from a very young age that no one would care– so I never dealt with it.
I thought that no would care, because they had shown that they didn’t.
I also believed that a lot of my value was in being pretty, and being desirable, so I got myself into situations that were destined to end badly. That’s not me blaming myself, it’s just a fact. I would not have been in those situations had I not wanted so badly to be wanted. Or if I thought my very real trauma was valid. I’d been told over and over that it wasn’t.
When I was little, my family used to say “Kate remembers everything, whether it happened or not.”
Do you know what that does to a kid?
So I stopped talking to my brother almost four years ago.
My brother seems to have accepted this.
But my mother couldn’t let it go. Of course, I never told her the real reason. I was trying to protect her.
Every six months or so, she has brought it up in a way I’m sure she thinks is subtle and gentle. She’d tell me how he was doing even when I told her I didn’t care to know. She sent an email to both of us about how much she loves her kids, and got pretty upset when I told her to never do that again. She kept searching for an opening.
When I visited her, she’d needle me about it. When we talked on the phone, she’d hint or try to change my mind. She didn’t understand. She kept acting as if my decision to stop having anything to do with my brother was silly, temporary, invalid. Not every time we talked, but often enough that I told her repeatedly to back off.
When my husband and I eloped in January, 2020, and were planning to have a reception in the summer, she asked “Are you going to invite your brother?”
I responded pretty emphatically:
Asking about [brother] and whether I plan to invite him to my wedding celebration makes me feel like my boundaries are being stomped all over. I have told you that I have my reasons for not wanting to be in touch with him, and I know that “I have my reasons” might leave you with a lot of questions, but… tough. I don’t want to have a relationship with my brother, I have solid reasons, and those reasons are not something I’m choosing to share with you at this time. You should take it as a kindness that I’m not trying to affect your feelings about him or make you pick sides. I am at peace with my decision not to let [brother] be a part of my life anymore, and no amount of passive-aggressive questions or hints is going to change that. Neither is propriety or concern for appearances; you should know by now that I don’t care about those things. I am just not interested in having [brother] in my life anymore, and I really don’t want to argue about it.
For years I kept reaching out to him, and in a lot of ways it was because you did your best to remind us that we only had each other and we needed to get along. I believed that for a long time, but I don’t anymore.
I love you and I want you at my wedding celebration, but I don’t need any more stress about it. I’m sorry that your kids don’t talk. I’m sorry that your daughter is nuts, but I think your son is a bully, and so does my husband, and we do not want him anywhere near our “special day.”
Don’t be a boundary-stomper. Be supportive. Let “I have my reasons” be good enough.
I think that was pretty clear.
She responded that she felt bullied. By me. Because I took a stand.
I stopped talking to her for two months after that exchange, because this was not the first time she’d ignored my boundaries. But then Covid hit and I thought she might die, so we started talking again. I hoped against hope that she’d gotten the point finally.
She did not get the point.
This past Saturday, she emailed me with the normal breezy chitchat, and mentioned that brother is getting married next month and would I like to email with his lovely fiancée? As I was crafting my response, she sent me an instant message.
I said that I wasn’t interested in talking to the fiancée.
And then I wrote her an epic email of no-turning-back.
I told her that he’d molested me when we were kids. I told her that he’d tried to coerce me into a sexual situation with him and his then-partner. And I told her that she should have taken “I have my reasons” for an answer instead of forcing me to relive and relate to her something that I had told her was traumatic, shameful, and none of her fucking business.
Her response was “I am so sorry that those things happened to you. I will not mention your brother to you again.“
On its surface, it looks like she’s giving in, but I know my mother. She isn’t conceding anything. It doesn’t even mean that she believes me.
She didn’t say “I’m sorry that I didn’t take you at your word“ or “I had no idea, I apologize for pushing you.” She admitted no fault for trying to convince me to talk to my brother after I told her so many times that I didn’t want to talk about it and she wasn’t going to change my mind.
There is no wiggle room in this: I am just not interested in having [brother] in my life anymore, and I really don’t want to argue about it.
Yesterday, Wednesday, only four days after she once again tried to get me to talk to my brother (or, y’know, his fiancée,) and after I told her that my brother is a creepy sister-molester, four days after I told her that I was taking some space from her, she sent me an instant message asking about my first appointment at brain injury rehab: How did Monday go?
She does this. She finds her way back in because an uncle is in the hospital, or there’s some news she just has to share. Or she’s concerned.
Nope. Not this time.
This was my response:
When I told you that we aren’t going to talk for awhile, I meant that we aren’t going to talk for awhile. If something major happens, I’ll let you know. If you or my dog are dying, I would like to know. But I don’t care to talk to you about anything other than that. If a relative is in the hospital, ask Dad to tell me. You are on a time-out.
Don’t get me wrong: This is agonizing.
I love my mother. I don’t want to hurt my mother. Good daughters don’t tell their mothers to leave them alone.
I don’t even want to cause my brother distress. I really don’t. I am reluctant to post this because he’s out of my life now, and I’m pretty sure he’s fine with staying out of my life. He’s not even in this country anymore. I don’t want anyone who knows him, or knows me, or knows enough to put it all together, to go after him or shame him. I also have the somewhat irrational fear that he’ll fly 5,000 miles back from Europe and kill me.
Maybe I’m still trying to protect people who haven’t earned my protection.
Or maybe I’m scared that someone will blame me for what happened, for not forgetting, for making a big deal out of it, for being irreparably broken and shaped by what was done to me. I’m worried that some family member will see this and yell at me for airing dirty laundry. I’m worried that some stranger will see this and tell me I’m a whore and I deserved it. That I’ll be blamed for my own lack of boundaries, for my indiscretion, for talking about it. For being the type of person who volunteered at kink parties. For being the type of person who writes publicly about what’s in my head and heart.
I’m scared that someone will say it isn’t true, that I’m being melodramatic, that I’m remembering wrong. That’s not how it went. We would have known. We would have seen.
And my mother reads this blog.
One of the many things that have come to light for me in the past several days is that my mom wasn’t trying to get me to forgive my brother because he’s upset that we’re estranged. It’s never “your brother asked me to tell you that he’s here when you want to talk” or even “[brother] asked about how you’re doing.” As far as I know, he’s fine with the estrangement.
My mother wants me to have a relationship with my brother because that’s what she wants. It’s not about him, and it’s definitely not about what’s best forme. It’s about what’s best for her. And surely my reasons can’t be good reasons because if I had good reasons she’d have to accept it, and that’s something she simply won’t do.
When I was in my twenties, I was in an abusive relationship. He never hit me, but he spent four years telling me I was a slut and a whore and that no one would ever love me if they knew who I really was. He spat in my face on the way home from couples therapy. He once got drunk and tried to push me down the stairs. He destroyed my possessions. He destroyed my sense of self-worth.
When I got out of that hellish relationship, my mom told me “I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for him,” even though she knew he’d abused me. “He’s such a troubled soul. He had such a bad childhood.”
I have been expected, for the entirety of my life, to shut up and take abuse from people who had shitty childhoods. Or who were good people, deep down, if you really get to know them. If you’re willing to just let all that cruelty flow off of you, they’re actually worth getting to know.
If you’re willing to shove your feelings into a drawer and never call anyone on their bullshit
If you’re willing to play along that you’re happy and that nothing is bothering you
If you’re willing to sacrifice the best parts of yourself, it’s totally worth it.
I don’t know what made my mother this way.
But I know that I don’t want to emulate it.
I talked to my therapist yesterday. I don’t need to see her much anymore, because other than the brain injury, I’ve been doing great! She already knew all the background about my brother and mother; I’ve been working with her for almost nine years. I had already written most of the stuff above this paragraph, and so my thoughts were pretty organized. Even though my shrink knows most of this stuff, when I was laying it all out, she kept shaking her head, not because she didn’t believe me, but because she can’t believe them. At the end of the session, she told me that she’s proud of me.
That means a lot.
I told her about my desire, still, to protect my mom. To protect my brother, even. She asked “protect them from what?”
And I replied these exact words: “The consequences of their actions and inaction.”
She smiled and nodded.
And she said that this is what the Me Too movement is trying to address. How we hold such shame, such secrets, and they fester and they burn and we are told by society that we must hold the shame and the secrets and never ever let them out. She wasn’t that poetic, but that was the crux of it.
She told me it’s okay to stop protecting people.
She said that I don’t have to post this if I don’t want to, but she doesn’t think I should hold back out of a sense of wanting to protect my brother and mother from the fallout. That I’m strong and I have a right to speak my truth. I don’t have to protect people from the consequences of their actions and inaction.
I said “I think that it could help people, but if I post it, I’m not going to do it for them. I’m not that altruistic.”
And she said “You’re writing it for yourself. But it could help people.”
I have told the world about being raped. I have shared about my periods, perimenopause and hot flashes, my devastating mental illness, how great my boobs are, what a good cook I am. But I haven’t shared the stark facts about how my brother molested me and beat me up when we were kids, that my parents didn’t do anything, that my brother was violent and inappropriate with me when we were very much adults and that I have shame, oh such shame, about it all.
Why did I invite them to that party in the first place? Why did I choose to live with them in Portland? Why did I keep trying so hard to have a relationship with someone who terrorized me?
So much shame. But I won’t let that hold me back any longer.
I’m done protecting my abusers.
It’s Thursday the 17th. I’ve been awake since 3:23 AM. It’s now 7:30. I had such a terrible headache that I look one of my precious Percocet because my head was just pulsing with pain when I moved or stood up. That’s calmed down quite a bit, but I’m on Percocet, so a little woozier than I was before–and I was plenty woozy. Called out of work. I have a doctors appointment scheduled later so that I can get my Reasonable Accommodation paperwork filled out. And I have tomorrow off.
Instant messaging with my husband on Tuesday, he said that he hopes I can still focus on good things in my life, that this won’t consume me.
I told him “I’m seeing how strong I am.”
He sent back a smiley.
I’m doing really well. That’s not bluster or trying to appear more resilient than I am. I’m really okay! It’s the situation that isn’t okay.
Coping with my brain injury continues to be a challenge, but I found my happiness again after two months of feeling despair about how terrible this is.
Coping with this family bullshit is so incredibly hard, but I am so incredibly strong. I finally grew a spine. And I know that I’m living the life I want to live– stable, happy, good. There are problems and struggles, but after a life of such darkness and depression, I continue to be grateful for all the sweet things in life, knowing how fragile they can be.
I don’t believe in an invisible sky daddy, I believe in weird things like human kindness and cherry trees and the power of love. If I’m spiritual, it’s in a very down-to-earth way, and I take comfort and experience wonder and all that good shit. If life has no inherent meaning, it’s up to us to find our own. And I do it every day.
That hasn’t changed, even in the face of all of this horror.
Why am I talking about this now?
I never forgot that my brother abused me, or that my parents abused and neglected me. This isn’t some recovered memory shit. But I put all of it in a lockbox and only took it out on special occasions. It’s so much easier, I thought, to just let bygones be bygones. I tried very hard to forgive and to build good relationships with my family, flawed as they are. I admired my own ability to move past things.
But moving past things allowed the abuse to continue, except I treated it as a momentary aberration rather than a pattern of behavior. I’m not willing to maintain that illusion, it’s already cost me way too much.
I used to be miserable. I used to be a shitty person. But I learned, I grew, I changed.
My dad and I used to have a pretty contentious relationship, but he divorced my mom when I was 20, and over the course of many years, we learned how to get along pretty well. He was willing to change his behavior, so I’m willing to keep him around.
My brother continued to bully me long into adulthood. He continued to be inappropriate with me.
My mother continued to ignore my mental illness and minimize my pain. She kept discounting my own version of my life. Kate remembers everything, whether it happened or not. She kept pushing me when being pushed made me feel rage and incredible pain. I told her she was hurting me. She didn’t stop.
They did not change. I’m not sure they know how.
You might think I’m being unfair to my poor, sweet, well-intentioned mother.
I hope that you can believe that for everything I’ve said, for every horrible story I’ve told, there are many that I didn’t mention. I could go on and on and on. But that would start to feel petulant. I think I’ve explained myself well enough, chosen the right stories, to let anyone reading all of this know that I have my reasons, and they are good ones.
Even the best parents make mistakes. They are only human. I do not think kindly about those people who go through their lives with a chip on their shoulder, thinking the world owes them something because their parents weren’t perfect. I have spent much of my adult life trying not to be one of those people.
But I took it way too far in the other direction. My resolve not to be like that made it so that I ignored and disregarded that my family was still failing me. And that I was letting them. Because I didn’t want to hold a grudge.
I didn’t want to hurt them, so I let them continue to hurt me. In some twisted way, I thought that made me a good person. And as someone who knows that I used to be careless with the feelings of others, I want very badly to be a good person.
I’m proud of who I am now. And a natural extension of that is my newly-rediscovered ability to stand up for myself and say “you don’t get to hurt me anymore.” I don’t expect anyone else to change. I wrote off my brother four years ago. I have told my mother not to contact me. I do not expect them to change one bit. They’ve had time to do so. My mom is almost 70, she’s had time. I’ve tried as hard as I can to accept her just as she is, but she continues to inflict more damage, and I really don’t think she gives a shit.
Oh, she’ll say she cares. She’ll say she didn’t mean anything by it. But I told her over and over, hey, stop, you’re hurting me. And she just kept right on hurting me.
Some people say that you matter to them, but those words function a means to control you. How can you say that when I love you? How can you hurt me when all I’ve ever done is care? I’m so harmless and sweet, I would never intentionally hurt you! How could you think that? They show a face to the world that is caring and kind but inside it’s always, always about control. Your anger and pain hurt them but it’s not empathy, and it’s not shame about their behavior. It’s a demand that you stop being difficult because it stresses them out.
So they don’t ask “How are you feeling,” they ask “Are you feeling better yet?” Instead of “I’m sorry I hurt you,” they say “I’m sorry you got hurt” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Because it’s your job to make them feel better, it’s not their job to offer you meaningful support or acknowledgement of the harm they cause.
This is called narcissism. And it’s often couched in what abusers call “love.”
It’s really, really hard to change my thinking from “She loves me! She’s my mom! I can’t hurt my mom!” and instead face the fact, and the implications of this: When someone you love says that you’re hurting them, you’re supposed to stop.