I hate this. Just before a major change in my life, I meditate on how I got here. It is not intentional and I cannot help it. It invades my dreams and my thoughts randomly. It is like I cannot escape yet it really has no effect on my current situations.
Most notable are my past relationships. I want to point out here that in no way am I sad by the end of those relationships. But they sometimes haunt my thoughts. Why? Most likely because without the struggles and the abuse of my past I would not be at this very juncture in my life. I would not have moved forward this far. I would not have found my voice and my strength. I would not have found the courage to pursue my dreams. So this post is not looking at specific incidents but more at the result of those incidents.
What most of us forget is that our struggles make us who we are. Without struggles our lives never grow, we simply exist. It was one of the most frustrating things about growing up religious that I encountered. So here is where it begins, my childhood, which I resent passionately. I resent being force-fed religion and being bullied into submission if I questioned what I was being fed. I often think about how during my church days the pastors always suggested to me that my struggles were do to lack of faith on my part, or lack of full commitment. Anyone that knows me, knows that I never waver, I am either all in or not at all. There is no fence. It was often suggested that my life would be perfect and struggle free if I would tithe and get more involved. I tried to get more involved but I was never quite good enough. Tithing is difficult when you have no money for food for your kids. Paying the church $200 a month could mean living on Ramen or having real fresh food for that month. Trust me I tried to have faith in that, but it pained me to see my children suffer. In many places that should be considered child abuse.
Think about this fairy tale for a moment. The perfect life, free of struggle is yours if you struggle right now. Ok so life without struggle, what does that look like? I envisioned a life where kids are perfect, money is never an issue, you have a home and reliable transportation and you go to tennis lessons. You sit down as a family, there is not conflict, life if like Leave it to Beaver! Think about this for a moment, would you be happy in this life? A life that is predictable and boring? A life that is just too perfect to be real? I would and it took me until my 30’s to realize that this life was not only a fairy tale but also just plain damn boring. Without struggles we become complacent. If there is not challenge there is not reason to strive to improve. If we are handed the perfect life, then what is left? I imagine Heaven to be a very boring place. No struggles, no challenges, how very well perfect to be frank. How perfectly boring.
So I embrace the struggles of life. Not knowing if you can pay the bills, not knowing if you will be able to eat today, these struggles are a little harsh. Yet they cause us to be creative to learn to trust ourselves. These struggles give us strength and allow us to realize how much we can carry. In those days I used to say to myself, I am not Job. I do not want to be pressured this hard, I cannot carry the burden. What I did not realize is that I could handle the pressure but the dream was a fairy tale. When you realize that the goal is not attainable, you give up hope. What your really need to do is figure out what it is that is attainable, and reset our goals. It is this weird trap, you set yourself up for the perfect life, which you will never be able to attain. You fail, you lose all hope and you give up. When you find yourself in this space it is time to realize that society set you up for it. Whether it be religious leaders or societal leaders, they guide you to this unattainable goal. They make it look perfect and happy, but the reality is, it is never going to be reality. It is a way to keep us in line. If we start to question these ideas we become dangerous to the underlying norms.
This was probably my biggest lesson. When I made another decision or went into another relationship the goal was ultimately the same. To get to that perfect life. Even those times I chose the baddest boy I could find, the goal was to gain that perfect life. The choices I made were also a bit of rebellion at that goal. I did not want to achieve it in the traditional paths. I wanted the perfect life, but I wanted it on my terms. I have since learned that my terms will never get that perfect life anymore than the traditional paths.
Once you move past those realities you begin to see things more clearly. This is the gift of my past. Those struggles and failed relationships enabled me to move past this fairy tale goal. They helped me find my true passion and my real goals. Without those struggles I would still be seeking that fairy tale. I would still be hoping for Prince Charming and little house with a white picket fence. I would still be expecting that perfect struggle free life, instead I seek out adventure. My life now is about living not waiting. It is about adventure and learning and growing as a human and not about seeking the perfectly boring life. My life is now about the Journey not the destination. The journey itself is the goal. It took me a very long time to realize that, it took me through abusive partners, partners who took financial advantage of me, partners who never considered my goals or desires, but I made it. I made it to the point of having the best partner I could ever ask for. A partner who supports my dreams. A partner who loves me for who I am and is not afraid to let me fly. I would not change anything about my life, except maybe how long it took me to learn the lessons I needed to from the bad relationships I have been in. Sometimes letting go is the only way to learn to fly!
Exactly a week ago my whole life was turned upside down. I was given the information that Peace Corps Jamaica had no record of me being in the next group to depart on March 9. It is barreling down to the wire and these guys have no idea? My head began to race and then my mind began to panic. I know somewhere someone knew something because I had medical requests that were inline with a March departure and they also have to know where you are going since every country has specific immunization requirements. But I panicked anyway. It is what I do best.
The nice woman told me that she would call me back no later than the next day and try to figure this out. Ok so 24 hours of panic, yep that was exactly what it was. I stopped all planning and all organizing and just shut down. In fact my apartment is still not quite recovered from that shutdown. She made good on her word. The next morning I had an email from her marked urgent. There was also one from some person in Jamaica. I opened hers first. She wanted me to call her as soon as I got up in the morning. There apparently was a glitch in the system, I suspect I know where that glitch was, but I digress.
I called her and she told me that Jamaica was more than happy to have me, but there was a ton of things that needed to be done. I had to apply for my visa and next day air my passport to DC. I had to get a whole bunch of online work done, stuff I had done for Liberia and assumed they reused because I had not been assigned anything to do yet. I also had a huge documents to read and there is an assignment that I should start on now. Lucky for me the subject is something I am overly familiar with.
So now that the panic is done and I got my bags mostly packed, I need to find a way to just relax. I might try biking a bit this morning and definitely still going to continue with other exercise. I should clean my apartment and I should get my hard drives transferred over so that I can relax and know that I am ready. I think being ready too soon can sometimes be an issue, one thing I do know is that I had to order a much smaller coffee grinder to fit in my bags. So being ready early gave me a chance to order that and it will arrive before I depart. It also give me time to sit back and relax some.
Not having a job has been a great blessing and I am fortunate that I have support here. My partners parents are coming back down in a week to see me before I leave. This departure does not seem as epic. I think that was why I wanted to go to Africa in the first place. Knowing that I am nowhere near the United States and that my leaving of someone coming to visit were to be epic journeys made it so much more real to me. This time I feel as though visitors is not going to be so hard to come by. So as I look at the calendar and count down the days until my next adventure, I realize I am still anxious and nervous, excited yet sad. With this whole range of emotions I feel as though relaxing is likely my best new friend.
I have been in a media blackout with Peace Corps since November. I have been sent reminders and new tasks by the Medical office, but no word from the Jamaica desk or my recruiter. I have been calling and leaving messages and emails for the past few months. I am getting concerned with no word back. Today I found the number to the country desk, so I called. I actually talked to a live person. She was very nice but had no record of my invitation at all! WHAT THE HELL? I confirmed with my recruiter and got a confirmation email and then the medical portal opened and I had to get a ton of things done to get my medical clearance.
The funny part is that two weeks ago I got this notice that I had missed a deadline and there were new medical tasks. It said my departure was in danger. I quickly found the documents and loaded them, in my defense they were not requested in my medical portal. The funniest part of this is that I had called my recruiter and left a voice mail informing them that I had medical clearance the day before.
Last week another girl from the LR-5 (that’s the country code and year for Liberia) got her information for staging. I am scheduled a week after her so this week I should get my ticket info and my hotel reservation. I tried calling my recruiter again today. No answer. I went back into my documents, because I like to panic, I work best under just the right amount of pressure. Too much pressure and I press back, or I drink. I looked in my past documents and found the country desk number and extension.
So logically I called the number. I talked to a real person. She asked for my name and I gave her all my information. There was no record of my departure to Jamaica. HOLY SHIT, WHAT? Ok now I am freaking out. She said the records show an invite to Liberia. I explained to her that I was evacuated out of Liberia. I told her I had gotten my medical clearance and that I have all the documents in my email. She told me that she would contact my recruiter and get this straightened out. She would call back either today or by end of day tomorrow.
So now I am in this really freaked out state of mind! I should regroup and see this as a challenge, and I likely will see it differently tomorrow, but for today I am freaking out.
I rode my big beautiful bike today. It is the first time I officially went shopping since we moved here. I went to two stores. Trader Joes to get greens and coconut creamer for my coffee. I ended up with peppers onions and oranges as well. As I was headed out I saw a woman with a sign that said she had lost her job and had three children. She had three beautiful little girls with her.
I remember back when I lost my job and those safety nets that are supposed to help seemed to have huge holes in them. Holes that I seemed to slip through. At one point I ended up going to the food bank and borrowed a friend’s utility bill to go twice in a month. She would never have stooped to going to the food bank, I think she had trauma from childhood experiences. The deal was that I would go and she would get to pick out some stuff that she might need and I got the rest. I also remember being so desperate that I asked friends to clean out their cabinets and freezers to help feed my kids.
What people do not understand is when you have children and life deals you a blow it is beyond devastating. Your ego is already bruised but your faith also waivers. You wonder how God could do this to you? What did you do that deserves to have your children starve or sleep on stoops? In the end this on top of many other blows my faith disintegrated. I am actually happier now that I know I can only rely on myself and the kindness of others. In my worst moments, my friends held me up. The system failed me, God seemed to fail me, but my friends and my own tenacity carried me through. Some might think that this is indicative of God helping me, but this ultimately just hardened me. But this is not about my lack of faith.
This is about my understanding what it is like to be desperate with children to support. Scared and ultimately ready to give up. As I left I pulled up to her and told her I had no money, but I just bought a bag of oranges. I gave them all oranges an they all gladly accepted. This is when you know the need is genuine. When accepting a small amount of food brings on a huge feeling of gratitude. Had she been there when I had arrived I would have grabbed other nibbles for them, but I was in the way of traffic and did not think about it until I had left.
It is in those small moments that your heart breaks and you find your humanity, or you harden yourself and you just walk on by. In the end I did it out of the memory of the pain from my past. Knowing that someone saw your humanity, they cared enough to stop and did not just walk on by. I typically only offer food to those I see on the street, they often take it, some will just give me a dirty look, and those are the ones not really ready to receive help.
During Yesterday’s Super Bowl game a commercial aired that put some men in a tailspin. I did not even know there was such a thing a meninists. So in short let me put this out there, first off I have no idea why people are in such an uproar over a commercial meant to show that being a girl is not a negative thing. Apparently we have time warped back to the 1800’s! Let us look at this from a modern perspective for a moment. Women have the right to vote and own property now, that was not always the case. Women can drive and are not required to get married, but that was not always the case. Women are still not paid as much as men in the same or similar positions. We are lucky women get paid a decent wage at all.
I am going to take this even further and open some of my own old wounds. During puberty girls are at a much higher risk of being abused than boys. I am by no means stating that boys do not have a tough time. I can only speak from my own perspective, but I do know that often boys will demean and harm girls. I hate going to high school. Every single day my body was a target for groping and unwanted touches. If I defended myself I got sent to the office. Every day there were boys that tried to strip me down, they hauled me into a locker room and I fought as hard as I could. To the point that I never dated anyone in high school. I hated them all.
Let us pause here and think about this. I was abused every single day. Not one teacher or staff member every stood up for me. Not one other person ever tried to stop my tormentors. It got so bad that I started trying to get out of that school. It is very difficult to convince your parents that things are bad if there is never anything on the records. This set me up for finding the first escape I could. I left one prison to enter into a new one. I married the first man who dated me. One that I did not go to high school with. One that had no idea what I went through. One that was abusive as well. One that I eventually left. One that I hated for many years. It took me many years to understand what had happened to me. It did not make me a man hater but it drove me to search out men that were not right for me. He was emotionally abusive, several of the other men I dated were as well. It took me years to actually realize what I had gone through and what I was doing in my relationships.
So if empowering girls to stand up and fight, to know exactly what behavior is disrespectful and to know when abuse is happening is somehow threatening to your masculinity maybe you need to understand what it feels like. I imagine those who are threatened by a little bitty hashtag are the same people who were/are bullies. Those same people who put others down to make themselves feel better about their own pathetic lives.
Those that have felt bullied and have found a voice often form some sort of support unit. Trying to prevent the same abuse of others is in no way threatening anyone except abusers. There is a group here in Sacramento that holds a fundraising walk every year. They raise funds for domestic violence victims. The catch is you walk one mile in high heels. More and more men are stepping into awareness and I applaud them. As more men become aware of women’s issues more women can find their voice. In the end a women finding a voice and standing up for herself is not a threat to men but an asset. Once I found my voice, I found that yelling and fighting back were not necessary. Walking away came easier and understanding my situation made life for myself and my children better.
Once I found my voice, I could see the threats to my own daughter and my son. When we first moved to Seattle my daughter was daily taunted by a boy from school. When I finally figured out something was wrong I had to pry to find out what. It took me hours to get it out of her. I think often women just shut down and try to pretend it is not happening. The boy at school rode her bus home. He got off at the same stop she did no matter where she went after school. They had the Boys and Girls Club that they could go to or a friend’s home, so she did not always go home. I suspect that she avoided going home until this boy left her alone for the day. The final straw that broke her was when she got off the bus and he told her he knew this 18-year-old that wanted to rape her. Somehow this was funny to him. She was 12 and it scared her. She finally told me and I called the school the next day and demanded they address the issue. I insisted that this boys parents be notified as to what he was doing and that if it did not stop I was going to press charges and sue them. It immediately stopped. Not only did it stop but that boy learned a valuable lesson. My daughter now understands what abuse looks like. I am happy to know that no matter what no one will ever be abusing her.
Several years later my son came home with a neck full of hickies. A few weeks later I asked what had happened to that girl. He said, “oh she is a little ho. She is with so and so now, but was with so and so before that!” This attitude is absolutely unacceptable and I let him have it. I told him he was never to speak of another girl/woman like that ever again. Little girls only do stuff like that because little boys make them feel they have to. You are just as guilty and just as much a “ho” as she is so it is not even a little bit ok to say that about a 12-year-old, no matter what. For some reason we as a society not only allow females to suffer abuse, we condone it at very young ages.
So there is a need for things like #likeagirl there is a reason that people advocate for women more than men. There is a reason that you somehow got your little whitey tighties in a big ole bunch. Step back and try to understand what it is like to grow up “like a girl” once you see how painful it can be and how much happens to a girl maybe then you will understand. Just like growing up suspected of being gay is painful, or growing up the geeky kid no one likes but everyone spits on being a girl is often a painful way to grow up. We need to nurture and empower both boys and girls, but we should never bash at one or the other, that is where the entire problem starts.
So next time you take offense to some support mechanism that does not directly benefit you ask yourself, how it feels to be a woman? The other thing that I am truly shocked by, those same men are not discussing the sexist tilt of many commercials. Oh that is right, they like when women are objectified! And then things will never change for some people, but if one person’s life can become better because of #likeagirl or #itgetsbetter than more power to those who support them and let the haters hate. The louder they scream the more powerful the message must be!
As the anticipation builds, I am at this point of fighting myself. When I left for Liberia I had packed and repacked 12 times by this point. The only thing I have done this far is throw a few things in the suitcase that I will not be using here. I really want to pack, but I know that there are things that I will still need to use here. I am trying hard to wait until February 15 to actually pack one suitcase. I have ordered a whole new wardrobe and still am in need of a few pieces. I will keep looking and hope I can secure the items I feel would top off my wardrobe before my departure.
I have to fight myself daily not to focus so much on a departure that is a month and a half away. I still have to live in the now. That, for me, is the hardest part. To stay grounded and focused in the now. When I left for Liberia I had so much else happening right at the same time that even though I was focused in the future I was grounded in the present. In fact there was so much change that had happened that I was focused on the changes at home rather than the present in Africa. In retrospect, the evacuation probably secured my home life for me.
Having moved into a much more suitable neighborhood for us has helped tremendously. In fact this weekend a new friend invited us to go see her punk band play at a nearby bar. Richard made many friends there, I was sober and embarrassed that as the only sober person I broke the only glass all night. Funny how that happened. I think going out for the first time since we moved to California was a very good move. It gave us an outlet and we got to meet new people. The door girl told us to come back for Karaoke that she runs twice a week. We might go do that.
We also took Richard’s daughters bowling and next time they come up we will take them skating. Just a way to get out forces you to become social and I have been anti-social for far too long. It felt great to get out this weekend.