Forget Me Not

Never let somebody make you forget who you are.

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It’s raining in Maryland. Has been for days. It sets a tone.

I’ve been working on “Red Hunter” which is book three in my Red August series. It’s been flowing, but it’s been emotionally exhausting. When I started out writing fairy tales a few years ago, I was going to write short sexy erotic fairy tales. Instead, I’m mired in examining relationships, the way love works, who you’re “supposed” to have sex with, and why people manipulate others. About manipulation, spoiler:¬† it’s usually to get something they want, even if they don’t consciously realize they are doing it.

One of the things I’ve noticed about the people in my past who have manipulated me is that they all gaslighted me. It really knocks you off of your center when it happens, and usually you don’t see it coming. You think things are going well. You’re getting all this positive feedback and reciprocal joy, and then one day, BAM, you’re being accused of the very things that person was doing. Oh, and nothing is EVER their fault.

I think aside from the rain and the writing, the show The Handmaid’s Tale is making some of these old scars ache. Seeing all of those women climb over each other, use each other, and all of society controlling their most basic rights, it’s jarring. They’ve done a good and terrifying job of it. Feels a little too close to reality right now.

One thing that I do to help me get past this sense of foolishness for believing a person when they say they like me, or trusting somebody who was not trustworthy, is trying to REMEMBER WHO I AM. How can another person MAKE YOU FORGET WHO YOU ARE? I can’t really answer that. But you see it all the time. And these measures are temporary because there is always the chance that something will trigger all those old traumas and make you live them for a little while. At least, in time, the duration is shorter and the pain less severe.

Probably everybody but sociopaths go through this. Even gaslighters have their reasons for gaslighting. The important thing is to NOT forget yourself. Remember who you are. Also, there is always room for growth in all of these things. Even if that means putting up a wall and being less trusting–that’s still learning!

The other thing I noticed about being on the receiving end of gaslighting, is that people who CARE that they’ve upset, or hurt others will make the gaslighting even more effective on them. You question everything you ever did or said with that person and read and re-read your texts and emails and try and find the blame in yourself, because that’s who you are. YOU GIVE A SHIT. They don’t. They have to remain blameless or it unravels all the good stories they tell themselves about who they are. If you see something that you could have said or done differently, remember that. If you know better, do better. We all make mistakes.

On the one hand, I’m not sure writing this story is always good for me. Mostly, it is. It’s not much different than making soul-searching art. But . . . it’s just supposed to be a version of Red Riding Hood. It’s supposed to be a modern day fairy tale. Fairy tales are fun! Right? It’s grown into much more than that for me. It’s a way to examine societal standards. Love language. Age differences vs. maturity differences. Who we are told is “right” for us, and what the shape of a family should be.

I want to approach these topics with intelligence, maybe a little purple prose (it is a paranormal romance after all), and with a lot of heart where the hurt was.

I’m 5400 words in. Let’s see where this ship takes us, shall we?

 

 

Summer Days When You Loved Me

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While waiting at the fast food restaurant drive through there was a young couple in the car behind me and this came to mind:

There were summer days, the car windows down and the smell of that old ’71 Bonneville–aging flecks of fabric and a thousand layers of Armor All, dancing around in the wind. A bored Saturday at a fast food restaurant and then the mall to look at and touch things we wouldn’t be able to afford for another ten years. Back in the car a hair band ballad swayed us and we would both smile. You said you loved me then. You took it back later. Much later. But sun-drenched summer days don’t lie and no matter what followed, in those moments you were a liar or you loved me.

Freedom

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I sent you notes. Lovely little notes. You blushed. I did not think you would blush.

Your hand tucked the note to your inside jacket pocket and you smiled. Sheepish. Adorable.

Your hands outstretched, I came to you.

You were young, so you were a bit awkward. I didn’t care. Awkward was fine. But, I let little things that should have been red flags that you would be a life-long liar slip by like toy sailboats on a pond.

You always thought you knew more than me, and made sure I knew it. How did I not notice it then? How did I let it slip by, over and over and over? Toy sailboats.

I built up a tolerance.

We rode home in my old car–a hand-me-down from my parents. We talked for hours. I would eventually migrate to your lap, or we would end up on the curb, thighs touching, leaning warm onto each other.

You bought me flowers sometimes. I have photos for evidence, because you tried to make me believe it didn’t happen. You were a master at gaslighting, with the word “ridiculous” always at the ready to hack off another piece of my self-esteem.

You said you never loved me. But you did. You just can’t let her know that, because then she’d have to wonder if the little things you do now that make her feel loved will some day be magically disappeared by the very person who made her believe they existed. Like you did to me.

At least it doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s like recalling an old movie that you’ve seen dozens of times. Only you don’t really like the movie, and some people in the movie are saying you remember it wrong. I suppose we all take something to, and away, from things like that.

I remember when I was gutted. When it felt like I could never get to a place of indifference. And even if I did, it would be tragic.

It’s not tragic. It’s freeing.

 

What It Isn’t and Is

I want to preface this free-thought exercise by saying I’m totally fine. I’m not actually upset or struggling at the moment. I just channeled a lot of thoughts I’ve had over the past several years for different reasons – this isn’t about any one specific person or situation, it’s a composite of struggles and processes. It’s all of the good and “the upside down” (for you fellow Stranger Things fans!) that comes with just being human and forming (and trying to form), and unmaking, bonds with people. What those bonds are, and what they aren’t. Peace!

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Loki (he’s been gone a few years now) and my old art studio, which I could no longer keep.

It isn’t a beginning.

It is an end.

It isn’t a big house.

It isn’t a favorite book.

It isn’t tenderness and validation.

When you have to move on, it can be grueling. It can feel like ash and stone flying through the atmosphere. Why is it like that, no matter how bad it gets?

I look back at what it was. What it wasn’t. What it is now. What it isn’t today.

It is the absence of respect.

It is the presence of resentment.

It is an angry woman who reads her husband’s emails and lashes out because she is insecure – because of the way she got her husband to begin with. It isn’t a woman who accepts blame.

It is loss that is far more good than the subtraction of love, but the addition of self-respect.

It isn’t caring what you destroy until you’ve already crushed it to bits.

Looking down. Dust on your boots. Blood. Ash. And you wonder why people don’t want to have a happy chat.

It’s creepy little threats.

It’s a smell you can’t forget.

It is blame, not in the mirror, but outwards – for your very own flaws.

It is a bad review out of spite to manifest your petty anger.

It is accusing people of the very things you are guilty of.

It is shedding your own skin like  a reptile, if you ever had your own skin to begin with.

And it is assuming the identity of a Stepford Wife. “Whatever you like, I now like.” As if you are hollow inside.

It is long distance.

It is cold hearted.

It is selfish beyond selfish, but ultimately the best thing ever.

It is banana bread and canned peaches.

It is lilacs and gold roses.

It is forgetting as the memories scatter into darker corners with each passing week…month…year.

It isn’t the acceptance of the role you play, because you are perfect. Remember? You never do anything wrong.

It’s the fault of people who you believe take advantage of you, not your falseness that made them believe that they were not trespassers. It is the people who didn’t know you were lying who are to blame, not the person who lied.

“Why don’t you trust me?” HA! THAT IS HILARIOUS! Oh, the resentment when I showed skepticism was rich!

It is rape of my trust. It is sliding into a booth and planting a kiss on me without my permission. It is the everlasting overlapping of lies and truth that made a nice veneer. Thin and brittle, but it looked so shiny, rich, solid on the face. Fake. False. Fake. False.

It is the hot resentment on the back of your neck when you walk by because you took what you wanted and I still rose up from the ash. Poorer and richer. Depends on how you look at wealth, I suppose.

It is vulnerability.

It is feeling like a failure.

It isn’t closure.

When you want closure, when it is never going to be given to you (can it actually be given, anyway?) you have to keep working to find it.

Closure doesn’t come suddenly one day and BAM! You’re all better.

No – closure is a process. It is a place you first must find the path towards. Then walk the path. Then knock on the door. Sometimes nobody opens the door because they don’t give a fuck about you. Sometimes you have to open the goddam door yourself. And once that door is open, you have to keep going there for school, you keep having to learn your way to it. It doesn’t just wash over you. You don’t get out of it that easy.

It isn’t anointing.

It isn’t wound-less.

It is bleeding. Then dressing. Then scars.

It’s a lack of understanding.

It’s bad bad communication.

It isn’t perfection.

It isn’t absolution.

It is new walls with each assault.

It is stronger bricks.

It is a higher wall.

It is letters never sent.

It is apologies never received.

It is lies that burn my flesh.

It is hurt that tears at my heart.

Or tore. Or burned. It’s all of them at once.

It is fire and water and metal and earth.

It is humanness.

It is forgivable.

It isn’t forgettable.

The forgiveness is for yourself, not for them.

 

 

 

 

The Corner of Fifteen

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It’s hard to imagine now just how small the world was to me then. He lived next door and worked for his dad’s contractor business. He fixed stuff. At least that’s what I thought. He broke stuff, too. My illusions of love, for example. My innocence of how lovers worked, and what power imbalance was. The belief that if you became pregnant, he would stay, because that’s what men are supposed to do. The reality that in the end, I might not want him to stay. And that people don’t always do what they are “supposed” to do.

I lost a lot of things that year, but I gained some things I would never trade. To say I am happy to have had a beautiful child come from that union may sound cliche, but I wouldn’t change it if I could. It set me on a path to self-improvement and an unfortunate spate of cynicism about men, I’m glad I’ve left behind (for the most part), but made me see feminism in a different light. Those bad experiences with a bad person set the cornerstone of the person I am today.

That house–my family’s, and his next door, are so foreign to me now. It’s like looking at a photo album from some movie I watched. I can conjure up the memories like they were last month, but I feel as though I am viewing them through a sheet of plastic.

I can’t remember the taste of him, or how he kissed. I can remember some of his cheesy lines and hurtful comments. I can remember him throwing pennies at me from his bedroom window. I can remember he smoked Marlboro reds and wore Stetson cologne. I would smell that combination into the mid-1990s sometimes, but thankfully Stetson has lost its appeal. Whichever men who might have stockpiled it, stuck in the 1980s, have probably run out by now.

My heart was broken. It was two years before I would date again. I wasn’t done making mistakes I wouldn’t fix, though. But that’s a story for another time.

 

You Screamed

I had a nightmare two nights ago.

We went to a celebration, a wedding I think. We were in a house I didn’t recognize. Long wooden floors and wide breezeways. We were upstairs, you and I. People I knew, though none in this plane of existence, held glasses with wine and chatted. Some were in couples and others in clumps. Through the large doorway I could see a half-wall that was crowning a stairwell that led downstairs where others were also mingling. You left my side. I watched you walk away, thinking you were fragile from your health troubles. I tried not to worry and sipped my drink as I watched your back as you turned the corner out of my sight.

Then I heard it. You falling down the stairs, hard. I could hear you yelling in pain as you went down. Thud, holler, thud, holler. The crunchy sounds of bones cracking. The people around me were gone and it was just me, staring at the half-wall waiting for the sounds to stop. Knowing it was you, your body, doing a terrifying ballet down the steps. I tried to make my legs move. To go peer over the half-wall, but I was telling myself it wasn’t you. Then another series of thuds. I had this idea for some reason that a large cabinet tipped and went end over end down the stairs and landed on you. In fact I knew that was what had happened. The thing was gigantic and heavy. I heard it stop at the bottom, sounding as though it landed in wet cement, and you screamed. It was horrifying. You screamed high and frantic, a voice I’d never heard come out of you before, “Get it off of me! Get it off of me!” Your pain was palpable. You tried to scream more, but it came out in sickening gurgles. Then I knew I couldn’t go to the stairwell and peer over the half-wall. I knew it was going to be awful. I also had this odd effect of feeling as though if I didn’t look, it wouldn’t be true.

I woke up. It was 1:37am. In another lifetime I would have walked to the part of the house where you were in and checked on you. Or phoned you. Or at the very least, later, when things had really changed, emailed. Just to make sure you were indeed, not at the bottom of a strange stairwell in some giant house, your life seeping out of you.

I realized there was nowhere to put this feeling. No place to store it or let it go, so I drank some water and went to the restroom – life is full of these little cycles, isn’t it? Water. Pee. Cycles. Back to bed. I kept hearing the scream as if I had actually heard it in real life and was now having some kind of flashback. I lay there, tried to just tell myself it didn’t matter. The screams would fade. Sleep would find me. And it did, only to have several more nightmares, but none of them as awful as that first one.

I was tired the next day – yesterday. I kept having moments where the thought of the screams made my stomach sour. How could I find ways to not care? For it to not matter?

I remembered a huge part of why it is impossible to even have the smallest of exchanges. I remembered the irony of the anger of a person so concerned about their name, being in my correspondence, or in my mouth – a person who stole names. Squatted in them like a vagrant’s hovel. Pissing on things to mark them, then growling over the territory like a rabid coyote. Hypocrite. It makes it easier to let go of concern when you remember how little there is for you.

I again pushed aside the idea of checking on you. Each time I pushed the thought away, it was easier to look at from a distance. As the feeling would rise for a moment, then fall further away each time. I kept walking away from it. I kept imagining ways I could walk faster. Then I remembered that I’m a writer. So, here I am in the middle of the night – letting go.