Brace yourselves….a long post is coming. It’s been a while, so hang onto your hats! I’ll try to post again this week and clear out the cobwebs. Also, prepare for photos that have nothing to do with what I'm talking about. It was a road trip!
I have a box. Not, the dirty kind, get your mind out of the gutter. A box that I imagine is right beneath my lungs, because whenever it “opens,” I have a panic attack. See, I didn’t use to know that it was even there. But, it stores all the hurts of my bullshit past. Every bit of family nonsense is in that box.
I managed to keep it pushed down and locked tight in my chest for decades. I never knew it was so carefully locked because every time it threatened to crack open a little, there was a distraction to help me push it closed. I know now that it’s why I have been so driven. Don’t think, go to school. Don’t think, get another career. Don’t think, get straight A’s. Study harder. Be better. Do more. Join the military. Move more. Do more.
Now that I have no choice but to be still, to stop, to do less, the box is blown wide open. There’s more time to think. The box is basically a pile of splinters. I’m trying to build it again, and make it something I can open and close at will, and put the pain in, examine it when I want to, and categorize, sort and deal with on my own terms, but right now, it’s a pile of mess. It’s a disaster zone. It’s why I have to deal with things on my own terms, because my pain is mine, it’s not anyone else’s. And, it’s exploded out of me, like a land mine.
I just got back from a trip to Michigan (I don't want to call it home anymore; there's nothing "home" about it), which was preceded by several weeks of crippling panic attacks and finally what I call “turtle-ing.” I retreated into myself and became a shell of the Rachel my family knows and loves. Bryon could barely recognize me, but I became dead inside and out, a hard shell version of me, protected from pain. I was so petrified that I was going to be ambushed, or that I’d see someone that I had on armor so thick, that even those that I love, and that love me back, couldn’t get to me, not even to comfort me.
I wanted, no I needed, to see my Grandma. My grandmother is, outside of my family, the singularly most important human being on this planet, to me. We talk almost weekly. I send her flowers all the time, because I know how much she loves them, and how little she needs “things,” anymore. The only thing keeping me from visiting is my health, and fear of my family. Well, no more. I plan to visit at least once, or twice a year, now. She’s getting older, and I refuse not to be there to see her off, and to spend as much “time,” with her as possible. Fear of family be damned, and I’m getting stronger all the time.
She was the one who told me, all the time, “write a short story about that,” and while everyone else thought it was a big joke, she meant it. She believed I was talented, and read everything I wrote. She told me that I was a talented artist. She told me that I was smart and beautiful. She told me that she loved me. She remembers every silly story about me, and every memory. She remembers every visit and every annoying thing I did, lest you think I’m on a pedestal to her. She once ran the vacuum, when I was three, just to drown out my incessant talking. She listened to me, bless her, sing, the entire “Phantom of the Opera” soundtrack, once. Dear Lord, that woman loves me. She taught me that I can make a mess, and let me cook in her kitchen. She taught me that I can come to her house and just be me, and be appreciated for it. Without time at her house, I wouldn’t have really thought that was possible. She was, and is, my hero. I love everything about her, and she’s the most wonderful woman I know. I adore her.
I also needed to return to Michigan because my grandfather made me a dollhouse when I was five. He started the tradition when my cousin Erin was born, with an elaborate dollhouse that he built from scratch. He was very talented in woodworking. I discovered that, mine was built from a blueprint (I thought it was from a kit), which gave me great pleasure; because, grandma told me that he had such a great time building it. We went through all her albums looking for the photos she was sure existed of him preparing it, because he did, indeed, enjoy it so much. Alas, no photos. Oh well, found some other treasures in there!
Anyway, I was in such a panic about that dollhouse. The box in my chest blew open about that dollhouse. I had it at my dad’s for years because it’s not something that is designed to survive military moves. It’s huge, and it’s fragile, and I didn’t want to watch it get destroyed. I figured that when we settled, I’d take it, permanently. But, things aren’t going well, and frankly, I pictured him giving it to his wife’s family and it getting covered in My Little Pony stickers or whatever other thing his “real” grandchildren play with. I just didn’t trust him to protect it anymore, not with the way he views me. I always wanted to restore it, and make it into the beautiful showpiece it deserves to be, but I couldn’t bear it, if it were destroyed like that. And, as our relationship is deteriorated beyond repair, I was afraid if I didn’t get it now, I never would.
It took insisting that I’d contacted a lawyer about my property rights to even get him to respond to emails about arranging a contact point, or about dimensions, which was incredibly stressful. We thought that maybe we could arrange for a freight company to ship it home, and we could fly. Alas, no; crating and shipping a package of that size is well into the thousands of dollars. So, we rented an RV and made a good old fashioned road trip out of it, which was really fun, in the long run. And, my uncle, who I was very nervous about, because other family members told me stole items from me in the past and sold them was the contact point.
I sincerely apologize for believing those horrible things about him, because I don’t think they are true, at least not anymore. And, I’m sorry for anyone I told them to. He was nothing but kind and respectful to me, and treated me like a human, and another human who, like me loves my grandma, and wants the best for her. By believing those rotten things about him, I was doing nothing better than what's been done to me over the years, and I am ashamed of it. I fully admit my error in judgement and simply say that I am sorry.
And, he took care of getting me my dollhouse, safely. I have other suspicions about what happened to that “missing,” crystal now, but it doesn’t matter, anyway. I treasure, greatly, everything my grandmother has ever given me, from a ratty old book, to a piece of crystal. Literally, every item she’s ever given to me, even a bookmark, is treasured. I even bought a pitcher at a Goodwill a few weeks ago, because it was identical to one she had in her purple kitchen, and it reminded me of her. She’s a very important person to me, so her treasures are my treasures, regardless of their “value.” As Grandma would say, "it's special," and it truly is.
My grandma is such a special person that so many of her things are like that; people around her want all of her things for sentimental value because they remember seeing it in her house from when they were little, or had an attachment to it. I wanted this tray, for that reason. She remembered it when I described it, and sent it to me months and months ago. A completely value-less item that meant more to me than all the valuable items she's gleaned over the years. She used to serve me my lunches on it when I visited, and she'd put a little flower in a vase and bring me Vernors in a can, with a straw, which mademeo me feel like the queen of the universe. Now, Bryon brings me my food on this tray when I'm not feeling well, and I think it works better than pain meds!
Anyway, until I got my dollhouse, I was a nervous wreck. A trip of this magnitude of planning, expense and stress, only to arrive without the dollhouse would’ve been devastating; plus, I wouldn’t have the dollhouse!
Much of my family would like to believe that I’m the epicenter of everything wrong with everything; but, it’s also easy to imagine a different scenario. Such as, the truth. For example, my grandma asked, while we were chatting, about whatever happened to the nice boy I was married to, before Bryon. She said, “all I know is that you were so mean to such a nice boy.” I asked her to explain, and she said, “that’s all I was ever told.” Certainly, she could be confused, she is 92; but, I don’t think she is. First of all, she's still quite sharp; and secondly, it sounds like a typical explanation of what might be perceived of Rachel’s behavior, from the outside.
However, taken in truth: I didn’t want to marry that “nice boy.” I cried for days before the wedding, to anyone that would listen. I begged for a way out. I wasn’t in love with him. I was encouraged by my parents to go through with it, anyway. I refused to get out of the car, at the Justice of the Peace, until my husband-to-be, practically dragged me out of the car, saying, “you’ll learn to love me.” And then, after six months of a hideous marriage, during which he hit me twice (yeah that), and he got fired from two jobs, I finally had enough, and I got the courage to throw him out. Since I was the one with the money, I bought him out, literally. He threw a fit about how we’d bought sofas and such, setting up a home, and he was entitled to half, despite the fact that I was the one with a job. So, I paid him for half of our stuff, and gave him half our savings account, rented him a U-haul for his stuff, paid for gas, food and hotels for his trip home, and then told him to cut up his copy of my credit card (because he couldn’t get one in his name). I feel that was fair, but I guess that’s mean? Maybe it was mean that he didn’t cut it up, but bought a one-year subscription to Match.com on it, and then cut it up? But, he was such a “nice boy.” Perhaps for someone else, but not for me.
The bottom line is this: in a normal family, support for something like that is provided, right? Oh, Rachel, what happened? Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it? It must be hard to face a divorce so quickly after marriage? You did a brave thing. Are you okay on your own, so far from home? Do you need anything? Instead, the narrative is always the same: Rachel’s a royal bitch and a pain in the ass. It’s always been the same. Always. It’s always my fault. It’s easy to scapegoat me, rather than be on my side, or even talk to me about what actually happened, in any scenario. The funny thing about that one is that of five children, all of my grandma’s children are divorced. So, it isn’t like I did some bizarre thing. It’s not like I was the first weird-o. Who knows about that particular example? All I know is after that story, Bryon said, “I get why you are so fucked up.”
And, when it comes to the actual family drama. No one wants to talk about the truth. It’s easier to huddle up and point at me. See, she’s at it again. Let’s pretend none of it’s true. Totally makes sense. Because you’ve created a known crazy person, it’s easy to pin it on her. I’d probably do it too. But, when you create a known crazy person, guess what else you do? You fuck her up. You make that box under her lungs. You make it so she can’t function as a normal adult. You make it so she asks her husband forty thousand times day: do you still love me? If she forgets to bring in the mail, she asks: are you mad at me? Will you leave me? You create a person who doesn’t believe she’s worthy of actual love. You taught her that it was her versus you and that she could never be on your team, because she was never, ever going to be good enough.
But, deep down, I know that none of that matters. I have to put the box down, down, down, and close it. I have to enjoy the four days I spent with my grandmother, who was shocked and eternally grateful that we didn’t spend a second away from her. We didn’t go sight see and then visit for dinner, we spent all day with her, for four days. We watched movies, and chatted, looked through albums, and did chores for her. We talked to her friends and made her dinner. She was in heaven. And I was in heaven right along with her. Can you believe that I've never seen "Singing in the Rain?" She couldn't either, so we watched it immediately.
She asked us to update her bulletin board, where she keeps photos of her family. As a matriarch of five children, she has more great grandchildren than she can keep track of, practically! So, we went through holiday cards and picture books until she could find the exact right photos for the board. She was so proud to see them all, when she was done. She loved it. She chose EVERY one, completely by herself. I liked watching her have that independence, but also being able to help her, by gathering all her things, and moving the board. She never could've done the task without someone to help her organize it. It'd have been too overwhelming. It reminded me of being a kid and doing projects with her. And, it was glorious seeing photos of people I haven't seen in years, and even of my sister and her beautiful family. I savored those pictures the most of all.
But then, we got home, and we started unpacking what came with the dollhouse. There was a large plastic tub of miscellaneous things that got saved from my bedroom. My dad has just moved to a new house, so he’s obviously just packed his previous house, which means he knows exactly what was in every nook and cranny, and what he threw in that tub for me.
He threw in every gift I ever gave him that was meaningful. He returned my first set of dog tags with my maiden name on them, which I gave him because I wanted him to proud that there was a Parke in the AF, his Parke. And, he returned my first AF name tag, also with my maiden name, and his AF parent pin, which we get to give them upon graduation from basic training. He also returned a model of the F-22 that I sent him the first Christmas I was away from home, which I sent because my squadron worked on the F-22. Essentially, he returned everything that said, “Daddy, please be proud of me.” He also returned a mug that I sent him after Collin was born, with a photo on it, of the three of us at my hospital bed, because he’d driven down to see us in the hospital.
There’s really no way to take this package of mementos, other than, “I’m erasing you from my life.” My father is an arrogant man; being right, is always going to be the most important thing to him. He obviously values it more than he values me. He doesn’t want to understand any of this, from my side, or me at all, frankly; he wants to explain why I’m wrong. If we ever talked again, he’d tell me all the reasons I’m wrong. He’d tell me I hurt him and why I’m wrong for doing it. There’s nothing my son could say that I wouldn’t reach out and say, “help me understand.” And, as a mother to an autistic child who screams in my face, regularly, “I hate you,” I can promise that’s true. He breaks my heart regularly. Daily, in fact. So, the time he told me that he can only hope my son breaks my heart like this one day, no worries, it happens all the time. The difference is, I open my arms and beg him to explain, every single time. I never, for one moment, put my pride above his heart. If he's screaming that loud about something, he's in pain and needs to be heard. But, my dad is right. So, that’s all that matters.
I’m sure he hurts. I’m sure he misses me. I’m sure that this causes him great pain. Just not enough pain to try to understand what is actually wrong. What the core of the problem is. The only thing I said, to set him off in the first place, was that he has acted differently, since he got re-married, that I miss the daddy I used to have, the one who was sweet and attentive. But, that got lost in his defensiveness and anger. Instead, now, too much is lost. It’s sad, but it’s broken. He intended me to see all those gifts and to hurt, to cry into my husband’s arms about practically being an orphan. He intended for me to be comforted by my child about how I’m not alone in this world. He intended to cause me pain. My own father caused me pain, on purpose. He hurt me, intentionally. Not only will he never protect me again, he will hurt me. I can never trust him again. Ever.
As much as my sister, or my dad, or anyone else who thinks of me wants to, they cannot think of me as all bad. They have to remember that I feel pain. I feel the burden of loss. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want what’s happened to me. I didn’t want to be abused by my mother, so viciously that I can’t stomach the sound of her voice. I didn’t want to be abused by my uncle, and then to be disbelieved about it. I don’t want to be misunderstood by my sister; I wish we were best friends. I long for the kind of relationship where we talk every day about our children, or about how our husbands do such dorky things. But we don’t have that. We can’t. I didn’t want to be misunderstood about my dad. I don’t want to feel hurt, just like anyone else. I feel pain like anyone else. Instead, they see a different me, a me I don’t understand or can’t picture.
I’m a good person, just one that they don’t know. I volunteer. I give to my community. I literally walk out of my house with a promise in my heart of doing one good thing for a stranger, every day; if I can’t find something before I get home, I keep at it until I can. I buy strangers’ groceries. I hand out money to homeless people. I buy pots of plants and leave them on stoops of neighbors’ houses, I randomly drag neighbors’ garbage cans inside, or make sure kids’ bikes get brought up to the stoop so they don’t get stolen. This is the first time I’ve ever told anyone those things, because my goal is to never get credit, because otherwise it’s not doing good for them, it’s doing good for you; but, I’ve been doing it for years. I’m smart, funny and very silly. A few weeks ago, I wore my cat pajamas all day, and marched right into the library in them, tail, hood and all.
I work tirelessly to help my son, sometimes spending up to six hours a day on the phone for him, demanding care and services. I’m a good mother, a good wife, and a good person. I’m very open to criticism, and I make a good, loyal friend when people are loyal to me. But, I refuse to tolerate nonsense from anyone, even if they are related to me. I am a genuinely kind person that many of you have failed to get to know.