SELF-REGULATE

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I notice when around others who are also lacking self-esteem, I flounder, and bluster, and have such trouble. While camping with just my husband two nights at Treeman State Park, I slept, and without sleep aids. I slept soundly and all night. I adhered to what my needs called for; ramping down long before bedtime, being quiet, just watching the fire, almost bored, my husband asking, “So what’s on tonight?”

And we both chuckle, as it’s our habit to watch TV in the evenings happily, he in the living room, me in our bedroom. It puts me to sleep and is on a timer. Habits. I need them. My tired out immune system needs them, including the TV. But I’m alright with my husband, who tolerates my habits, and more than that, has his own which match mine, both of us rather shy, and quiet.

Put me with that pompous ass, Harry, Carol’s husband, who has bigger and better of everything, and I have to use sleep aids, and did both nights while camping at Fillmore Glen. I hate that and use them sparingly because they make me groggy all the next day. He had the ‘bigger camper, the bigger veranda on the camper, more wood and a bigger truck, so we should spend our time over at their site,’ he kept saying repeatedly.

His over-sized truck can accommodate four, ‘so we should ride up to the trails with him and Carol, in the back seat,’ with their two stinky dogs on our laps. That part he left out, but it did dawn on me that in the back cab we would be stuffed in with those two mutts who stunk like old wet laundry and shed mercilessly.

I like those two mild mannered dogs who were strays and had suffered quite a lot before being adopted. But I wondered at their new home as Harry yanked on the leash when his temper flared or he didn’t get his own way. It is still making me wake at 3 or 4am in the mornings as I try to make sense of his psycho behaviors that I felt subject to.

And I try to figure it out. Samuel is just not in to figuring out other’s behaviors and tends to think I am the problem and weird one because other’s get to me so much. And perhaps that is partially true. Other wacko’s do get to me. Treat me fair and I am yours, I open, I can trust if you are trustworthy, very rarely others are. (trustworthy) Not in my little world. Perhaps I need to broaden my world just a bit.

I want to talk to Samuel about Harry, so I can put him to rest. Then I can rest. But Samuel talks about motors and electricity. And I cannot talk to my other friends about a husband we all know. That is just bad form, talking about another’s husband. But maybe my angst is a positive memory to keep so I won’t be tempted to agree to another stint of having to tolerate Harry. It is just not worth it. The idea of camping with them sounded good, but the constant bragging and pressure to do and be where he wanted us to be, in order to pump up his ego, just exhausted me.

Saying ‘No’ to his repeated pressures to ride in his truck which is the size of a house, or spend night two over at his site again, sitting in full sun, took a lot out of me. And standing up to Samuel, who would rather just go along with what Harry wanted, rather than what I preferred, was not fun either. I was on my own, and then there was the three of them.

When Harry came over to our site, nestled in shade, with my fire going, he rebelled. ‘OK, so you won’t come to my better camper again on night two so I can bask in your admiration of all my bigger, better stuff? I’ll just fucking ignore you and disrespect you, and play on my god dammed phone all night because that is more interesting than being with friends and learning more about you and your life,’ as we play games then sit around the fire.

My ideal camping mates? Playing games together as if we were together, not one person on the internet while playing. And then staring into the fire while those dreamy big philosophies, thoughts and ideas erupted and we shared them with fun, laughter and excitement, feeling warmed by company rather than repelled by them. 

That is how I how I felt with Harry and his phone. Do I want technical devices while camping? No. I knew about him and his tendency for boasting. I guess I forgot how bad it was, or maybe I have just come into my own and care about my own needs, or am beginning to. I have to. An aging body needs much more care and upkeep. I need to be with others who are able to not only care for themselves, but are also able to support my needs, or even be aware that others are around them!

Harry is not one of them. I still believe that when I am this upset about being with others, it’s not about them, but about me. I have to self-regulate. If I know someone will interfere with the necessary things I need daily to insure the simplest of my everyday needs, sleep, and self-love, then I need to make the choice to not be around them, and/or speak up.

Speaking up at the time? I don’t know. I think that would definitely cause much friction and many nasty responses from Carol. Not worth it. She knows how he is. She was making excuses for him, and mentioning very delicately that perhaps while camping he ought to keep the cell phone off. And he countered with excuses about how important the phone calls were.

I’m not sure though about all the fiddling with it during game time, and what could have been interesting conversation. Is checking the current temperature that important, or using an on-line calculator to add up Yahtzee scores? Oh, I get it, bigger and better than our paper and pencils.

Tolerating the flaws in others has not been my forte in the past. I begin to trust then, what? You’re not perfect? Time to move on, retreat, put up walls. But as I learn to accept my own flaws, and love myself despite them, I learn to accept others also, the whole package. But accepting others is not the same as feeling victim to them. That is not acceptable. Maybe once a pompous ass, always a pompous ass. Maybe I should have taken a bottle of rum.

THE LAKE HOUSE

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For the last few months the house next door was being built. My nice plot of privacy is no longer. When that property came up for sale, Samuel was unemployed. We didn’t dare spend money as we were already looking into low income health insurance. So we have neighbors, and so close you can hear normal conversation very clearly.

First the building noises, and I didn’t mind. That was extensive; digging, bulldozing, sawing, etc. But the workers then cranked up their boom boxes and put them in the yard facing us. I called the builder 3 times. Twice more, Samuel had to ask them to turn it down carrying a pair of wire cutters with him as he had every intention of cutting the electric cord if they gave him any lip. That was easier than continuing to listen to me complain. And I certainly was not going to confront construction workers face to face.

The builders are gone, and a three story mammoth country mansion towers over our little ranch. The back balcony is quite high looking over their land and ours. I can no longer go out to fill the birdbath in my nightgown, and really don’t feel comfortable out there at all when they are around. Our new neighbor thinks nothing of yelling over “Hi Patricia,” and I jump startled because I didn’t expect it. The adrenaline rush takes a while to calm down. Too long considering my yard was the place where I found calm and kept it. Do they do that in the city? Did he not notice the line of pine trees we put in all along that side of property when they came to spend time by the creek and sleep sometimes in their pop-up before the house was built?  

And that behemoth. I mean, really. Three stories for two people? In a few years they will catch up to our age and realize how taxes and heat will drain them. But for now, they are Lords of the Land. I like our little plot of land with a creek at the end of the meadow. It’s all I need and more than I could ever hope for or dream of. But it’s a creek, and dries up a bit in summer unless a heavy rain comes along. This new house looks like money, and the kind of gargantuan beauty you’d see lakeside. It’s gorgeous. But it doesn’t fit along this little stretch of country road, with other ranch houses on all sides and a very old country farm across from it.

I feel exposed. I lengthen the bathroom curtains, and close the studio drapes. All other windows face elsewhere. That helps. I just wish I didn’t feel like our land is a fief of the neighbor’s kingdom as he looks out his castle to the serfs below. It’s twice now that he has walked over to lean on the railing facing me, booming out, “Hi Patricia,” scaring me.

On the scale of problems, this is not one. It will take adjustment is all, and I will eventually, over time…

FRIENDS

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Though I had fun at Fillmore Glen (for the most part), some annoyances occurred. First, I had to contend with the radio players who set up a tent nearby, playing it loudly so all those surrounding them are forced to hear it too. Our site is quiet until they arrive, with the bubbling of a gentle brook right next to it. As my blood begins to perk at the sound of a radio, all I hear is their radio and the peacefulness I had been feeling vanished. Gone is the water slipping over stones, and the cardinal singing hello- welcome, and the soft sun filtering down through the leaves. I look at my husband and he knows.

He says, “It doesn’t bother me!”

Sounds like continual dog barking and radios, upset me. But he hates confrontation. Or maybe it’s true that it doesn’t bother him. But I think it does, it’s just that confrontation bothers him more.

I grabbed his cell phone and head to the bathroom because I remember the park office phone number is posted on the door. On the way, glancing over at the offending couple, my gut curdled with the blare of their radio. How can people be so stupid and disrespectful?

I’ve come a long way. I don’t wait for two days complaining to Samuel, or waiting for Samuel to do something, or suffering through the arrogance of camp neighbors behaving so selfishly, but immediately take action, make the call, complain clearly and forcefully in a calm, steady, courteous voice.

Soon the park scooter arrives next door, the radio goes way down, and mostly stays lower while we are there. The ability, or feeling that I too deserve the right to enjoy my camping experience by standing up to rudeness, is a big deal, and a giant step, long, long overdue. I feel so complete, finally. No! That is not OK!

The only other annoyance, was my friend’s husband, his beery, breezy belches. OK, I can stand that he does nothing to keep the decibel down to manageable levels, but please cover you frigging mouth. It gags me to have it blow across the short span of the picnic table into my mouth and down my nose and throat. Whatever the person ate or drank, I smell. He is a strange man. And I say nothing. I don’t know how or what. I either have to work on it, or not camp again with them. I think that trip for this summer is enough. I am a coward, or just want to have fun… Do I really want to use him as a learning tool at speaking up, so go ahead with another camping experience together, or just find as much peace as I can and make excuses when she asks if we want to go again. Because she will, and I’m already coming up with plausible reasons why not.

At the campfire during game time, he had his phone out the entire time fiddling with it. And while sitting around the fire he thought nothing of answering it while the three of us had to listen. I left for the bathroom. My god, what a moon on my walk there and a wondrous respite from him. A huge field nearby gave me a glorious sight.

And maybe the heathen took the hint, because on his next call he walked away from us. His long, loud stinky burps are just too much. I like my friend, but I have to work extra hard to tolerate her husband. Everything seems to revolve around him. Isn’t there a word for that? Self-absorbed? Narcissist?

And my ‘friend?’ For a very long time I could not maintain a friendship. I could make a friend but not keep them. But I came to a place where I began to see more layers in myself, open up more, let others in, and see the same multi-layers in them. So friendships I cherish now have lasted many years and I’ve learned that through the bumps both sides can come back together, stronger, closer and better. And some friendships are lost along the way because they are not a good fit for either side. And though painful, and I grieved the losses, they were not healthy for me and vice versa.

But it is still hard. Others seem to have no problem saying whatever they feel like saying, whether it hurts me or not. And I find it impossible to say ‘ouch.’ But that too is changing. This friend, Carol, has been one for over ten years, yet has caused me so much pain that it felt like she was more of an enemy than a friend. She made remarks that stung, and flung them constantly for no reason. I withered as if struck by an arrow. Sometimes they were more like needles, others like being jabbed with a knife. Yet she would oddly say that I was her ‘best friend.’ I think that translated into me being the only person she could dump on and get away with it.

Whatever was bugging her, which had nothing to do with me, she dumped. I felt immediately diminished, over and over and over. She was like my mother reincarnated. Pick, pick, pick, until I’m fully deflated. I keep her as a friend because this time around I’m determined to. Whatever is wrong with the friendship must be me, because I’m the one who hadn’t been able to keep any.

I saw myself as her own personal dumpster and hated how that felt yet was incapable of speaking up gracefully, with strength accompanied by compassion. But I began to see that it is not all me. She cannot keep friends either because of her tendency to jab at others. Just because you jab in a sweet voice does not make it hurt less. She has issues from her own childhood unresolved, which is why I cling to her. Her mother was ultra-criticizing too, and favored an older sister over her.  

I ask myself, “Why can’t I have normal friends? Nice friends? Not weirdos?”

Yet I’m drawn to those who struggle as I do. I relate because we have so much in common. And she has so many other redeeming traits, it’s worth a shot. So I speak up. After over ten years, I finally speak up. OK, I did so in an email, but I did it. And she knew I had had enough. Finally. Because long ago, she did mention she had this tendency to ‘say things.’ But I rarely called her on it. And when I did, it just wasn’t enough, because she retorted with another barb and it would start up again.

And her tendency at shooting quills is still there. I felt my shield going up while camping when the snarky remarks started coming out. But I have a shield. And it’s more or less facing the right way now, with the exterior curved outward so the shit bounces off, not inward so I absorb it. Sometimes I have to work very hard when it flips and I’m devastated by another’s meanness. But I’m learning that I too belong here, same as everybody else. I matter. Each person does.

CHAPTER 2: EIGHT

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Dad died and chaos ruled.

One night I woke in the dark, scared. A shadow at the end of the bed moved towards me. Breathing halted. I had night terrors before, but Daddy wasn’t there anymore to carry me around in his warm arms, calming me as I slept. Was I dreaming or awake? The specter slunk around the bed, creeping closer silently. It was black, quiet, crouched and coming for me. Iced with fear and still half-asleep, I couldn’t even scream for my mother.

When it slipped gently onto the edge of the bed, my terror immediately abated; air once again filled my lungs. I knew who it was: not a phantom but Danny, a brother I loved and trusted. He sat lightly next to me, his face hidden in the dark. I had known his voice for my entire young life: familiar, soothing, very kind, and the last thing I remember.

Softly, so tenderly, the words dripped out of his mouth like warm syrup and melted butter, “We’re going to play house,” he whispered. “You’re the mommy, I’m the daddy.”

During my next bath I began screaming as if stabbed and dying; that’s how much it hurt. The soap seared my vagina as if a sharp hot blade pierced me, though I didn’t know the name of that part of me yet. Danny’s twin Don, the ‘good one,’ came running, his eyes wild with fright for what he might find. When I told him through my tears that the soap hurt, he seemed disgusted and left the bathroom as quickly as he had arrived.

Though the pain ebbed along with the suds trailing down the drain, the terror of living in that house did not. The next day, Seth walked by my bedroom.

“Danny fucked me,” I said.

Seth said nothing, but his eyes glazed through me as if I were stabbed with an arrow. His nonchalance quickly disappeared, immediately replaced by a laser of revulsion. My bravado and confidence in telling big brother, who I knew would save me from the nighttime monster, vanished in an instant.

The look in his eyes became etched on the slate of who I was to become. Those eyes emptied me, devastated me. That moment shaped my core, shame the bedrock I grew from. I don’t know how I knew the word “fuck.” I don’t remember Danny saying it, but I know that he did. The memory of the attack still hasn’t surfaced. I am not ready for it, and may never be.

Once I had been a child who spoke the truth; it was part of the canvas that was me. I was born with it. I am not that woman today, though I look for her. Seth told Mom what I said. That was the first time she became aware of my vulnerability, but not the last. I didn’t go to a doctor. I was left on my own after attacks to my body, like a dinghy cut loose from the main ship. I have felt alone ever since.

The fat that accumulated immediately after Danny’s attack became a permanent addition to my skinny kid frame. Mom loved to cook. She fed me, I ate. She didn’t keep him off me, nor her other sons, but she loved me with food. Once a slim child who ate only when hungry, I transformed into an eating machine who devoured food for other reasons. Waking in the night, sick from the day’s eating, I went to Mommy for help.

As she lay there sleeping, I laid my hand tentatively on the cool sheet over her shoulder. “Mommy,” I whispered. I’m going to throw up.”

Half-asleep, she rasped, “What do you want me to do, spit straw?”

I went to the toilet and threw up. I kept eating and throwing up, my little tummy unable to contain all the food needed to numb out the nightly attacks, to feel loved, to survive. Some part of me believed a fat body was an ugly body, so safer, anything that would keep him away. It didn’t work. And maybe, as who I was slipped away, growing a bigger body kept me from disappearing altogether.

 

GARDEN DAY

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So when do you leave a doctor and when do you stay? A culture to be sent in wasn’t nor did I receive a call-back about sonogram results. I had to make an appointment to find out, which also meant waiting over an hour to see her due to her popularity, or over-booking, or both. She tried to make it right by scraping my insides once again, but the stuff that came out of a few weeks ago, that I had already brought for culture, is not present now.  This time she had someone call immediately to let me know the latest sample was negative, but is it? Maybe I have a rotten ovary or the big C word.

She kept evading the issue of ‘where is the C & S’ report,’ and moved her chair closer, so close I could hardly breathe let alone keep focused and ask the hard questions. I kept moving my chair back away from her. She’s not blind or stupid. She got it. And excused herself leaving the room. I didn’t know it was to speak to a couple of others about the mix-up then the office manager.

She returned, shepherding me into another room to go over the sonogram. While waiting for her return, I had serendipitously read a pamphlet about how much time your doctor spends with you. If it’s always hurried and no longer than 5 minutes, you have the wrong doctor. I had that to embolden me.  She gave me the time I needed and answered all my questions. But I had to ask again about the culture because she seemed to be evading it completely, not a good sign. Because if she’s just worried about how she looks, my health is in jeopardy as she tries to hide the fact that someone dropped the ball, maybe her. Then nothing is done presently to remedy the problem. Because I pressed the issue and needed answers, she said she would do another scraping then after some thought also performed a repeat PAP.

What if I hadn’t pressed the issue? Is everybody more concerned about how they look than doing the right thing? Though she has tried to amend the issues, avoiding the fact that a culture was never sent was a very big deal, that of figuring out why a rather large amount of a pus-like material with dried blood was coming out of my body.  

As I await results of the second PAP, I try not to worry too much, which doesn’t work, or why else have I worked through several quarts of ice cream. Because it’s low fat, can I so easily persuade myself I’m not using one problem to make another, clogging up my arteries and adding pounds?

So it’s gone, demolished. I ride my bike along the canal, so much more beautiful than it sounds; water sparkling, low humidity, breeze ruffling the leaves on the tree lined path all along the six mile ride.  I have to forgive myself, again! This 3 day ice cream binge takes effort to forgive. But while riding I use the same techniques as in the past. It’s done, over, ingested. Beating myself up won’t help, in fact, it might be what I’m looking for; ways to dislike even hate. So don’t. What if today were to be my last? Would I want to spend it with self-hate for a life-long struggle? No. I almost smile. I’d want to remember how good it tasted. And keep any more of that crap out of my house. At least until next summer.

So coming home with a sheen of sweat, I feel better. I have worries, but I have joys, the simple ones of flowers blooming, hummingbirds swooping in, the birds at the feeder, and the first butterfly. Once I work through one hindrance, challenge or problem, another sets itself before me. Such is life…