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It’s been six months since I had my husband arrested for choking and beating me. He’s been back to the house only once since and that was with a police escort. And this morning I realized that his bath products still sat on the top shelf of the shower caddy.

I’d bounded into the shower after a spectacular run on a sunny and mild winter’s day. I was thrilled to be heading off to church alone, not having to prod or coax any defiant children into church-appropriate clothes and into the car. Music was blasting (I forgot how much I loved Live’s “Throwing Copper” album), I was thanking God for granting me the peace I’d prayed for as Christmas approached. And then there it was staring me in the face. I also realized that his razor remained on my bathroom sink, his cologne sat on my dresser.

Guess where they all are now.

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I’ve been absent for a few weeks because I could not bring myself to write. It was all I could to remain functional in my main roles: diligent worker, loving mother, scattered bill-payer. Productive writer was not gong to make the cut. I’d hit the next stage of this lovely process I’m in: the seriously intense sadness. (It wasn’t depression: the awesome therapist and I agreed on that.) When my marriage broke down, it was marked by one crisis after another. The overwhelming emotions early on were anxiety, fear, confusion and yes, some hurt. As things have calmed down and the new realities have set in, the other emotions have come up. The ones that tap in to every flaw I see in myself, every childhood scar and every woman-done-wrong cliché. And then the holidays arrived foisting the happy-family ideal on us and leaving  those of us in the decidedly not-happy-family corner feeling more than a little inadequate.

I’m über aware of the importance of me feeling everything I’m going through and remaining standing and positive. Whatever the payoff is on the other side of this  (the full and complete me that awaits) requires that I remain present and attentive to all of this. But I don’t like it. I want to run away from it. I want to block it out or mask it. The old me, the teenager who didn’t know what to do with these feelings, would have blocked it out with anonymous sex or alcohol. It’s been years since I realized that causing that kind of chaos to distract myself for the realities hurt way more than it “helped.” Plus I have others to think about now, so despite the phantom urges I can’t go there. So what do I do now. I probe it when I can, step back when I need to. I run. I write (when I can). I find joy wherever I can.  I talk it out with friends (good Lord, do I ever). And I listen to my own Greek chorus that tells me that the hurt and pain are not a sign of weakness. That the very fact that I continue to survive and even thrive proves my strength. And I build on the minor triumphs of making it to every new day.

I don’t know why I’m always so surprised when some bit of pop culture seems to be hyper-relevant to my state of mind or situation. I mean, that’s what good writing is about, be it in books, songs, movies, or TV. It’s  tapping into commonly shared experiences/emotions/dysfunctions, giving you that yeah-I-recognize-that moment. We’re used to it with songs; after all, they’re the soundtracks to our lives. For instance, Keri Hilson’s ‘Knock You Down’ will always remind me of this summer, the first few months after my marriage ended, not necessarily because the words were so important (although, the getting back up when knocked down theme is great) but because I spent so much time in the car with the kids listening to the radio and it was on almost every station.

Yet I was oddly surprised when while I was watching the fantastic fall finale of Glee, a character spoke words that described the sense of loss I feel whenever I see my husband, which is mostly in court sessions now.

”I mean, I really want to feel that thing I always felt when I looked at you before, that feeling of family, of love… but it’s gone.”–Will Shuester

This resonance makes sense: Will was betrayed by his wife (who faked a pregnancy), I’ve been betrayed by my husband (who’s illness led him to attack me).  Will’s wife asked if “it” was gone forever. I know that answer for me is painful no matter which it goes. If it is gone forever, it feels like such a travesty and waste of 16 years of making a life together. Yet if it does ever come back, how painful would that be? To continue to feel such a powerful connection to a person who’s hurt me so badly and shows an incapacity to accept responsibility for their actions just seems too cruel.

How do you tell your children that you’re terrified of their father? The same father they only know as fun and loving. Today my son asked, “Why can’t Daddy just come here and get us?” Well, one reason is that there’s a lovely piece of paper that says he can’t come near the house or anywhere near me, so that’s why we have what’s called a supervised exchange for their visits. We never have to interact. But more importantly, the other reason is that I can’t see him, smell him, or even sense him without immediately flashing back to having his hands wrapped around my neck pressing toward the ground.

I can’t explain to them that while he may be perfectly fine now, capable of calm rational decisions, no longer fixated on making me pay for the crime of doing what I felt best even though it split from him… I cannot keep myself from ceasing to breathe in his presence, as if my body reverts to its last state when it was with him. I only see him in court. And recently I had to sit next to him on a bench in a courthouse. I thought I’d “gotten over” the attack. The nightmares had stopped. I’d hit what I considered high-functioning, forward-thinking status again. But it was all I could do to manage my fear. I counted the guards in the hallway. I reasoned that he didn’t appear to be manic. He didn’t seem so out of it as to attack me in such a public place. My brain believed I was safe. My limbic system did not. My heart was racing, pounding in my ears. My body went rigid, my legs heavy and wobbly at the same time. My palms were sweaty. This was my reaction to the man I’d given my heart to and thought I’d be with for the rest of my life .

So no, Daddy cannot just come here to pick you up, not now, no matter how inconvenient this other setup is. But I’ll have to do something because as we move forward to some sort of detente, we might move to a setup without court intervention and I know there will be the inevitable question “Why can’t Daddy come home?” And I have a feeling that I’ll be the only one standing in the way of that. I will have to play the heavy telling my kids they can’t have the thing they want the most. They will have their dad. He just can’t have me anymore.

I’ve been this weird combination of fragility and strength for most of my life. It was a personality/core forged by spending most of my teenage years as the sexual toy of a fifty-something megalomaniac who ruled my world  and everything in it, from my mother to my friends, all  while I publicly played the dutiful child/student/friend etc. It was a duality, a disconnect, that my yet-to-be developed mind had a very hard time processing and in so doing could only come up with the answer that it was an inherent flaw within me.

When I had to face the decided lack of action/support/guidance that met my decision to disclose the abuse it was yet another blow. I was on my own. So I found someone “stronger” than me. Someone with a force of will that would bend the world to him and make me feel safe. But somewhere along the way I realized that I don’t need someone to make me feel safe. Nor did I need the “support” that came at a price. I am both smart and blessed. Yes, blessed. Because I keep having awful things happen to me but they don’t destroy me. I bend but I don’t break. And everywhere I turn I find unconditional support from people, from dear friends to casual acquaintances.

A recent lunch with someone who falls in the middle of that friendship spectrum crystallized my growing sense of self. She’s an amazing study in perseverance and self-actualization herself, recently stepping into a new act of life and parlaying one job into a life-changing one and also marrying her childhood sweetheart. As we sat in this lovely restaurant and got caught up, she talked about her decision early in life  to take a page from all the powerful women she admired and simply put herself first and trust her decisions. Despite her own childhood wounds, she sensed her own power early and was prepared to take the time to let the world catch up and see it too. She called those women she admired “badass bitches.” “I knew I was a badass bitch,” she said, leaning over the table to me and looking deep into my eyes. ” You are a badasss bitch, girl. Know that shit. You  should be strutting down the street every day. You. Are. A badass bitch. Own it.”

I’m owning it now.

Every time I have to let a casual acquaintance know about my breakup I have to fight the urge to use polite corporate break-up speak. You know those staffwide emails that are all subtext, the parting of ways that was not really a mutual decision but we’ll all try to pretend otherwise:

“After 16 years in this marriage, TKTK has decided to seek new opportunities. He has been instrumental in the development of our family unit and has left behind two progeny as part of his family legacy. We will miss all that he brought to the job and wish him well on his new adventure.”

Not.

Today I signed up to do a half marathon four months from now. I’ve never run a race (those elementary school ones don’t count). I was dreadfully out of shape earlier this year and am now just moderately out of shape. But I want to run a marathon. I have for years. I feel good when I run…okay…I feel good after I run. And it’s such a lofty goal for me that the accomplishment would simply be amazing.

That I could be sitting here making such plans just six months after my life fell apart and the most important people in my life abused me is such a blessing. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

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