I see the elderly woman approaching us from across the mall. She is looking past me and at my children with that smile. My kids are at the perfect age to attract these smiles. They are just at the dawn of human interaction. Their speech is still garbled; their language and actions both aped from adults. They, in their search for the right phrase or movement, are often accidentally adorable.
Children at this age still act as if nobody is watching, and adults love them for it. We are drawn to this innocence, I think, for the same reason we are interested in the behaviors of chimps or sleepwalkers. We want to see what it is that people do when they don’t realize they have an audience. We want to see what we would do if we didn’t think so much.
She walks carefully and slowly over to accept the imaginary ice cream cone my son offers up and wins my heart by pretending to eat it. Taking the interaction a step further, she asks him which flavor it was. He tells her it’s chock-lick and her smile deepens with amusement. I am scanning her face, watching her the same way I watch the face of every stranger who approaches my children. I am waiting for the clues that all humans throw off.
I’m waiting to see why she’s doing this.
And so it is that I observe her lined face slip gradually from delight to despair. A line grows deeper across her forehead and her milky eyes fill with tears. Her painted smile is the last to go, proof in my mind that she didn’t even see the sadness coming until it was already written on the rest of her face. I realize that I am moving closer to her as her expression shifts, so that when the tears start to roll down her cheeks I am all but cradling her. She leans against me, frail yet adult-sized. I am not in the habit, anymore, of being needed by people who are not my children. It takes me a minute. I don’t know why she is crying. I only know what she needs. And I have it to give. So I hold her.
She wipes the tears away and catches her breath. “My husband of 49 years passed away 7 months ago. Seeing your children makes it hurt more. Even though they are beautiful. The holidays make it hurt more. Even though I love them.” I hold her tightly, softly offering my condolences. My son asks me why the old woman is crying, and I stumble for a second. I don’t lie to my children, but I don’t throw around words like “death” either. I tell him simply that this woman will not be able to celebrate Christmas with someone she loves.
As I say the words, my voice shakes and my own eyes fill unexpectedly. I close my eyes against the tears, while granting myself one full minute to be overwhelmed with this unforeseen grief. The woman catches me with my emotions and apologizes for making me sad. I shake my head: clearing it, emptying it. “The holidays can be hard,” is what I say as I help her right herself.
They told me back then that I needed to grieve my brother as though he were dead, but to expect the process to take longer, since he is not, in fact, dead. And although I am the type of person to tear at her flesh in hopes of getting the pain on the outside, in order to move past it, I am shocked to find that some days it is as if time has not moved at all for me.
The woman shuffles off in one direction as we continue in another. We meet up later, at the fountain, as I am explaining to my children the concept of wishing on thrown pennies. I have a wallet full of potential wishes, and so I do not need to accept those that the woman offers us. But I do accept because I sense that it will give her something to be able to give to us. I bend down, tuck my children in close. The woman steps in, and we all throw our pennies at the count of three.
You can’t wish for people to come back. It doesn’t work that way. Pennies can’t move mountains. A wish is only a goal, a direction in which to focus your thoughts. In my world, you can only reasonably wish for the things that you have some control over. So I toss my penny in and I hope, for all of us, that the future brings fewer and fewer moments when we are brought to our knees by our pain. We will carry it with us forever, and we should, because it makes us who we are and it honors where we’re from. But more and more we will be able to live with it.
The holidays can be hard. I have always known this. I push myself off my knees, smile at the old woman and grasp her hand for a minute before exchanging it for my daughter’s. We walk out into the cold air and breathe in the last few breaths of 2010. Soon there is chatter and laughter and bickering and sunshine against the cold. I rub my hands together for warmth, raising my face to the sun.
I always thought that PTSD was something soldiers developed – I was naïve; had no idea anyone could develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After my teenage son began to get into trouble, I assumed we’d become another statistic – a family with an out-of-control teen.
After we started family counseling, my therapist suggested that I try private therapy. About a week into it, I was diagnosed with PTSD. The therapist said were several things that led to PTSD.
PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can occur when something horrible or traumatic has happened in. It causes stress every time you encounter a situation is similar to the previously-experienced traumatic events.
I’ve had a few types of traumatic events. I had a rocky relationship with my father growing up and then his death was both very sudden and very traumatic. An abusive relationship with my ex. I’ve experienced abuse from my son. Lastly, I was bullied by a girl from second grade all the way through high school.
My reactions to everyday situations can be more intense than they need to be – but whenever I am in a stressful or threatening situation, I relive past experiences. It’s hell, reliving the same horrible day over and over.
Once, when I saw my grade school bully in the grocery store, while I was there with my kids and we were checking out. The sound drained out of the store. My heart began to race. Blood pumped in my ears. My face got hot. As soon as I was able, I grabbed my kids and ran for the car. I must’ve driven break-necking speeds home, but I don’t remember getting there.
I had a panic attack after seeing this woman! We live in a small town and the odds of running into her are probably higher than in other areas, but I never see her. When I did, I hit fight or flight mode, and flew! That was six years ago.
Since I began therapy, I’ve seen her again. My daughters were with me, and this time I made sure to make eye contact with her as I turned to my daughters and said, “Girls, let’s go check out. I think we’ve got all we need now!” I turned and went to check out. As we left I felt so proud of myself for facing her, and not fleeing like a chicken facing slaughter!
Thanks to the ways she traumatized me, I always tell my kids, “Don’t take anyone’s crap at school!” Recently my daughter was getting harassed by a staff member at her middle school. I contacted the principal and reported her. This woman has not bothered my daughter since I reported her; threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against the school.
Since starting therapy, I stand up more than I used to. Despite all the reasons my therapist thought that I was traumatized, I think the bully and my father’s sudden death were the two that really affected me.
I was a victim of domestic abuse, but I came to terms with it, and took a stand. I left my then-husband and married the man responsible for making me feel like I was worth more. I call him my White Knight because I was considering suicide when we met – he saved me.
My son and I have resolved many of our issues and are working on our relationship; things are getting better.
See, I was blamed for him dying. He died from cancer 14 years ago and afterward, I was told that being around stressed him out – caused his cancer to return after it had been in remission.
Being blamed for his death is a hard thing to overcome. But this year, I was able to make it past his birthday and the anniversary of his death (exactly a month apart) without being a total mess!
To all those out there who have been bullied, abused, or lost a loved one, don’t assume you are strong enough to deal with it on your own.
PTSD snuck up and took over my life. I’d been miserable for years because I didn’t know what I was trying to cope with on my own. I suffered for years without understanding why, until I didn’t want to live any more.
Now, I cannot imagine having missed one day of my kids lives. Good or bad, I want to be there for it all. When they graduate from high school, when they get married, go off to college, when they start their own families. I want to be there, protect them from the problems I had. To tell them, “You’re better than this!” Or smile for them after they avoid bad situations entirely!
Don’t hesitate to get help for PTSD. It really does make a difference.
I never wanted to go to therapy every week, but I am, and I am doing much better. My therapist told me last week that he thinks I am nearly ready to be done. I think that’s a remarkable thing to hear – I am better, I can do it.
My therapist told me recently that I’m a remarkable person for dealing with what I’ve experienced, and still managing to smile. I told him that despite any issues I’ve had, I have great kids and a loving husband.
Fortunately, my daughter Sam, who has ben recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, has medical insurance through her employer.
As long as she can keep her job during all of her treatment, it covers a fair amount of some of her costs. At least after her catastrophic cap was met for the year (didn’t take too long to reach it).
We all consider the deductibles and copays, and prescription copays in our lives, but be sure to check your policy on investigative drugs. Medical trials. Travel and time off work. Did you know that many insurances do not cover care if the “Standard of Care” doesn’t work? Some don’t cover food unless it’s eating out instead of buying a loaf of bread and lunch meat. Some only will cover hotel rates available to AAA members in the 1950s. Some will pay a portion of their “idea” of what your gas should cost, but only on the DATE of your appointment, even if you’ve had to drive out of state the day before or after.
Pray you never need to know the intricacies of your health insurance. Even if you mange to jump though the right hoops and snag every receipt, it would take a team of dedicated government trained legal assistants to maneuver through the paperwork. Oh, and then you can wait for over a year for any reimbursement.
Moral of the story.
Including your 20-something year old child should have some type of additional policies, because my 20-something had never been sick in her life. She had to use her insurance for the first time and we learned a very hard lesson: chronic health issues and cancer do NOT care about your age, your gender, your race, your educational level, or your income bracket. Buy that add-on policy you pray you never have to use. I mean, yeah, it’s going to crimp on picking up that name brand mayonnaise, skip a few cups of designer coffee or don’t upgrade your phone to get it, because you don’t know how important it can be.
Pray you never need it, never have to walk this walk or fight this fight while being financially sucker punched at every turn.
Traveling 400 miles for treatment in Houston, TX, at MD Anderson alone adds up. Lodging is expensive. On her third trip out of state, she and I were in Houston away from home and family for several weeks straight. After that, we’ve got weekly visits for treatment and tests will go on for the foreseeable future.
Imagine you are just finishing college. You’ve invested all these years into student loans and grades and worked from the bottom up in a field helping others, so you’d be all set in your field after just one more test. You’re 20-something, but you’re invincible; you’ve never been sick.
You’ve got all your ducks in a row and have considered every possible decision.
You have spent your entire life on college student budget working your own way through school, accumulating debt, but going into a field where you are guaranteed to be a super star. Soon, you are going to kick open the doors and rock the world.
You dream of the vacations you didn’t take because you had to write papers and pay for copies and laundry, and you begin to plan them in your head. You go to sleep, dreaming of how great it’s all going to be now that you’re done. Once that last test is passed, you can consider your future. You have dreamy conversations with your parents about how one day not only will you buy a house, but this will have a little retirement cottage in the back for them, and they won’t have to worry about anything.
You tell your baby brother to keep up his grades, you bribe him and tell him to work his way to and through college, but you will be there for him if there are any hiccups along the way.
Your phone rings on a Friday afternoon as you’re in a store looking for a pink bow tie for your little brother’s prom coming up this weekend. It’s the doctor you saw, and out of nowhere, he says you have cancer and he will see you again next week. Just like that.
You’re alone. All alone.
You’re holding a bow tie for the baby brother you adore and have dressed his entire life. Your life just changed. The air is sucked out of the room, and nothing moves. You walk over to the dress shirts and begin looking for his size, but now you can’t remember for sure if he has that adorable little boy neck or of he has now grown into a lumberjack.
You call your mom to check, but instead, “I have cancer” falls out of your mouth.
Everyone’s life just changed and it all hits you.
Imagine dropping everything to live in a city far away for a month while still having to pay rent, utilities, and a car payment. Leaving your bed, pets, plants, and family behind. Being afraid of checking the mail or answering the phone: there will be bills in there with numbers that look like jackpots for the PowerBall.
Seeing things you never wanted to see. Learning a language you didn’t want to learn (Cancer Speak). Realizing you aren’t in invincible 20-something with the world at your feet, that you now must depend on the kindness of strangers when you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.
In the meantime, you travel every week to Texas, three states away, sleep, eat, get prescriptions, anything else you might need. Make sure you keep your job so you can keep your insurance and have a life when this is all over. Oh, also, you’re fighting cancer, so we are going to dump some of the most horrible chemical combinations known to mankind into your body and you are going to be sicker than you could ever possibly imagine.
Lucky that our family is tight. We pull together we pull through. All of my kids have sacrificed what they have and the course of their futures for family members and this is no exception. WE ARE LUCKY.
Samantha’s cancer is rare, which means she’s interesting to the scientific world, which opens us up to the option of seeing the Most Genius Medical people on the planet who study her type of Cancer. WE ARE LUCKY that we were able to get together the resources to get her to the people who could try to help her in the first 3 months.
WE ARE LUCKY that friends, family, and strangers have taken it upon themselves to raise money, cook dinner, open their homes, offer a ride, send a card, give a hug, and pray for us.
We are simply terrified, we know the first chemo regimen and treatment plan failed. We see the doctors and nurses faces when they hear her diagnosis. We realize what it means to be in trials, research programs, and testing studies. We know that we can only get the only hope kind of help out of state. We don’t feel very lucky because we know as a family that as the expenses, bills, costs pile up, the income has gone down on several fronts. Things like car repairs, broken air conditioners and power going out don’t stop because of cancer.
We don’t feel lucky because there’s interest on the credit cards and interest on the payments, and we are paddling like a herd of ducks in a hurricane just to get thru every day. We don’t feel lucky because it’s unnatural, it’s unnatural and soul-emptying to be a parent whose child has cancer. We don’t feel lucky that ”she’s grown up.”
We are her parents and she will always be our child. We don’t feel lucky that “at least she doesn’t have kids,” because she loves children and wanted to be a foster mom, because that’s who she is.
We don’t feel lucky because no one who has cancer is lucky.
The word rolled off my tongue and entered the heavy air in slow motion, “no.”
He was unbuttoning my shirt, and I put my hands up in resistance. He ignored them, pushing them away. There was a wickedly evil smile painted across his face, and he mumbled something under his breath.
I said it again, “No, please.”
He was determined; he shed my protective layer, and I felt even more uneasy. My hands were on his chest, pushing. I moved my legs so they would spill over the side of the couch. I was ready to get up, ready to leave, to pick up my clothes and turn my back on him. He grabbed at my thigh and placed his hand over my pelvis. A bolt of lightning ran through my body from the tip of my toes to the top of my skull. God, it hurt so damn bad.
No. Please no. No.
I squirmed, and he took that as a silent “yes.”
I shook my head, and I felt my mouth open. The words were foreign; they tasted bitter. I tried to spit them out. I had never begged in my life. Especially for something like the right to my own body.
My heart rate increased, and I felt like my lungs couldn’t get enough air. He forced me to touch him, stroke him, pleasure him.
There were tears running down my face as he stuck his hand down my pants.
“No,” I choked out.
He told me to shut up, and my chest constricted. I was trapped underneath his body. His thigh buried in my hip, hands working all over me, violating me as I hoped he’d stop.
After a while, I gave up. I stopped pushing away, stopped kicking, stopped fighting back. I only pleaded quietly, asking until my voice went hoarse. My body limp and that was the first time I truly felt like a corpse. In shock, my functioning ceased altogether.
He told me to be quiet once again; he slapped me, and I went red hot. My cheek burned. He yanked my leggings down; I heard the seams ripping and straining.
He set his face between my legs. His breath made me gasp, and he thought that was a good sign. I was shaking my head vigorously, convulsing. Broken sobs fell past my lips. Stop. Please stop. No.
He didn’t notice. Or he ignored it.
My body was trembling like an earthquake, and I was crying, pushing my fingers through his hair; I shoved his head away from me.
He was getting angry; I could see it in his face.
He grabbed my wrists, gripped them as if I was being taken into custody. In a way, I guess I was. Taken prisoner in my own body. I could feel the scream bubble up in my chest and throat, but no matter what I did, it wouldn’t come out.
He grinned, and I still despise that smile to this day. Going back to work, his tongue performed sins I couldn’t even think to voice.
“No,” I said. “Stop, please.”
I felt helpless and hopeless. I was stripped down, both literally and figuratively, and I was humiliated. I lost all respect for him.
I felt something pierce through my skin, into my veins. It traveled through my blood and made a home in my heart, rooting itself there. It spread into my muscles and tissues. It crawled into my bones and infected the marrow.
I was hollowed out, emptied. Stripped down until I was nothing but pieces of myself, just so he could put me back together how he wanted.
That was the first time. But it certainly wasn’t the last.
There was always a wrongness to our relationship, but I could never figure it out. He died in 2001. Good riddance.
In 2005, when my mother had been diagnosed with dementia, she would say things that were inappropriate, to people that didn’t need to hear them, at totally inappropriate times.
One day, while I was taking a friend across town, another friend showed up at my apartment. Unable to live independently, my mother lived with me, and she entertained my friend until I got home. In that 15 minutes, she had nonchalantly told this friend that she “always knew that he molested [me]. [She] caught him fingering [me] when he was changing [my] diaper.” Really, Mom?
Who knew what she had muttered to my friend would send me into shock? It was awful. I knew from my baby book that I had potty trained myself at 20-months old. What the fuck? It all fit together at that point. It explained the promiscuous behavior I displayed in my 20’s. The nightmares became more intense and more clear. I could see him.
He was such an asshole. How do you look at your own child like that? Or any child for that matter.
I have put many of the nightmares together, and remember things that I wish I didn’t. I remember that when I was 8, he lived communally with 3 other guys from Alcoholics Anonymous. They were like him. Perverts. And he passed me around. After my parent’s divorce, I would go visit him in Florida for all of summer vacation. And went through hell.
AND MY MOTHER KNEW!
I was appalled. I still am. Not only did my mom know that he was molesting me as a toddler, but she also stayed with him until he left our family when I was 5. And she continued to let me go visit. She didn’t protect me. She didn’t tell him to keep his fucking hands off her daughter. She failed me. She actually did quite the opposite. Until her death, I believe that she blamed me for the breakup of their marriage. Because he couldn’t keep his hands off me. And apparently at the tender age of 2, I was seducing him.
It screwed me up. Oh, but I’ve had a hell of a lot of sex. Because when that’s all you’re good for, you practice A LOT, and you get really good at it. I don’t trust men. I don’t love men. I have never been in love. I don’t know what it feels like to be loved because I won’t allow myself to be loved. I have never, and most likely will never, associate any kind of sexual act with love. Yet I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything.
It was always good for them but not for me. I will often flash back in the midst of sex, can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve had sex sober, and afterwards would often finish by curling into the fetal position. Because I was violated, not because I was tired.
Teach your children YOUNG about good touch/bad touch PLEASE. You never can trust someone 100%.
I have wanted to post here for a long time. I have a story. It is a painful story. Maybe it’s painful only to me, I don’t know. I’ve been so humbled by the stories I have read here and felt unworthy, like my own problems can’t possibly be as bad. I have followed these writers – I will not call them bloggers because to me they are writers as impactful and as important as any that were found on my bullshit high school reading lists.
They do not know that they have been lifelines.
They do not know that they have given me validation. They do not know that they have made me feel like part of something bigger. And I have felt unworthy to speak in these forums because I have not suffered the same losses, the same blows, the same sickness…how could I be part of this tribe? But today, in this strange world of Twitter that I am still trying to understand, someone gave me the invitation and therefore the permission to post here.
Ed note: Please, you’re all invited to post here. We want you to share your stories, big and small. Your victories, your celebrations, your dragons, and your sadness too. Don’t be intimidated Pranksters. If I’m Your Aunt Becky, that means we’re family (sorry). You are all welcome to come in and stay.
Today, someone fucked with my kid.
Maybe this is the way, the opening of the floodgates, where I feel important enough. Maybe this is where my story gets validation. And I will tell my story, most of which has nothing to do with this incident.
And I want to tell you all so many of my stories because it has taken so long for me to realize that I HAVE a story, that my shit was fucked up, that I got a raw deal, that some of how I am is because of what happened. But right now none of that matters, my story is not important, my hurts are not important, nothing is important except the fact that someone. fucked. with. my. kid.
My kid is gay. I am gay. What these two things have to do with one another, I could care less about. The Bean (my kid) is a carbon copy of me in so many ways. We love hard, heavy and openly. She has been raised as a political kid in Washington, DC, where there is a rally or march every other week, and if it is something we believe in – from gay rights to women’s rights to immigration rights to arts funding to DC statehood – we march for it and we are loud and do not back down.
I taught her that.
I taught her about gay bashing and Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena and the Trevor Project and all the horrible things that happen to people because of how they love. I taught her to be the head of her Gay-Straight Alliance at school. We matched in our rainbow outfits for the Marriage Equality March. The youth-friendly Gay Pride after-party has always been at our house. She knew she could fight because her mama was always there by her side.
Mama was not with her today on The Metro with her girlfriend.
It was a beautiful day here today. Finally, the humidity had broken and I was down at The H Street Festival, one of the city’s biggest festivals. Bean was supposed to meet me at H street but she is slightly geographically challenged and by the time she figured out where to go, it was time to go home. I told her that I’d meet her at The Metro and ride home with the two of them.
As I got off the train, I noticed that Bean and …we’ll call her Banana…were in the car ahead of me. As I moved to catch up with them, Banana noticed me and said “That man messed with us.”
Oh, hell no.
I bypassed the checkout and went straight through the emergency exit and demanded, “Do you have a problem with my daughter?”
To which he responded, “Children don’t need to see that gay shit on the train.”
I discovered that when he said something to Bean, she said something back to him. So this truly classy gentleman, in his fifties made a fist at my seventeen-year old daughter and told her to “step to him.” This man was also still in his security guard uniform with his name tag. He was a douche-bag security guard at an amusement park.
The details are kinda cliché, but suffice to say I turned into every inch the stereotype of a pissed off black woman.
I grew an extra vertebrae so I could roll my head, my finger grew an inch or two to help me point at his face and I learned all kinds of different ways to conjugate “motherfucker.” Eventually, Bean saw me pulling an Arizona Iced tea bottle out of my bag and pulled me toward the car. That was after he informed me that if I was any kind of mother, I wouldn’t have a gay kid, and what my daughter and I both needed was some of his twelve inches, and I needed to bend over and take some of him because I needed to be put in my place.
I told this story to my friends on Facebook and Twitter, and the tears in my eyes right now are not because of the incident, but because of the amazing outpouring of support, piss, and vinegar that I’ve gotten. My friends are contacting Six Flags, where Mr. Antonio Washington works, demanding that Mr. Antonio Washington be removed from working around kids. My friends are re-posting my note so people know this kind of hatred and ignorance is real. They are sending love to a little girl that many of them haven’t ever met.
And what is that little girl doing ? She sat on her mommy’s lap for about 5 minutes. Mommy was busy yelling on the phone, Tweeting and trying to fix all of her favorite foods at once. And she was okay. I overheard her on the phone.
“He didn’t know who he was messing with. My mom is so mad and you don’t mess with my mom.”
I read her Facebook Status, “Some asshole was dumb enough to bash my mom’s kid. He’ll be sorry.”
I listened to Banana “Man, your mom doesn’t play around!” They just made Pizza Rolls and popcorn and are being WAY squeal-y watching horror movies.
Just got off the phone with Six Flags General Counsel. At 9:30 on a Saturday night.
So I guess, to be cliche and because I love NPR , This I Know Is True:
Just because you were an 18-year old teenage mother with a GED and a crack-addicted mother in the murder capitol of the world, you can still be a good mom.
I’m a good mom because I taught my kid to fight for her rights – her rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a black/Latina woman, as a black/Latina gay woman.
I’m a good mom because she knows her momma is never too far away and will KICK THE FUCKING TEETH OUT of anyone who messes with her.
I’m a good mom because, at the end of the day, she still wants to sit on my lap and play with my hair.
As Aunt Becky taught me, we are, none of us, ever alone. The outpouring of rage and support over this has been amazing. I have seen this story, in the matter of about two hours, be posted, tweeted and spread across states and continents. There are warm and fuzzies everywhere and most of you don’t even know the Bean.
I have a story. And there are people out there to listen.
The Band Back Together Project is a group weblog and nonprofit organization that provides educational resources as well as a safe, moderated, supportive environment to share stories of survival.
Through the power of real stories written by real people, we can work together to de-stigmatize mental illness, abuse, rape, baby loss and other traumas so that we may learn, grow, and heal.
All are welcome.