I’ve been thinking about writing this since long before my blog was born. But it’s so personal and sometimes even still so painful that I’ve been holding off. I was cautioned recently not to “let it all hang out,” and this may indeed cross a line of public decency. What I need to say is not the stuff of polite conversation; it will probably make you uncomfortable.
But in the past 24 hours I’ve had three signals blare loudly at me, telling me that this story is not to be held off any longer. And sometimes, when you feel like the signals might be coming from God, you have to give in and listen even if you don’t understand why.
Luke and Natalie had a typical fight this past weekend. She did this, he did that, and at some point he held on to her just a little too long. He claimed it was meant to be a conciliatory hug; she felt restrained against her will. And as Bryan and I mediated the aftermath of the fight, my own past snuck up and surprised me with its old pain. I had started to explain to Luke that God made men bigger and stronger than women, not to overpower them, but to protect them. And I could barely get through the lesson because my voice began to give out under the weight of memory.
I was fifteen when I met Blake. That’s not his real name, but I’m using it to protect his privacy and also, mostly, because it is sometimes too hard for me to write or say his real name out loud. We met in the church youth group– a perfect place for a wolf in sheep’s clothing to prowl. He was a senior, almost eighteen, and I could hardly believe he’d pay any attention to a freshman girl.
He made no secret of the fact that he was condescending to date a kid like me and took every opportunity to put me in my place. Once when I mentioned that I liked the smell of his hair, he shot back that it was his shampoo I liked (stupid girl). Another time, my little brother did something to aggravate me, and whatever I said in response must have had a tone of threat in it. Blake grabbed a fork off the kitchen counter and backed me into a corner, pointing the fork, hate seething in his eyes. I can’t remember his words, but I am sure they were stronger than the ones he was so furious that I’d used on my brother.
We took rides around town in his secondhand sedan, and he’d play Jimmy Buffet almost exclusively. I had never much noticed Buffet before then; in the 15 years since, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him without feeling a little heavy in my stomach. Maybe if I lived in North Dakota this wouldn’t be such an issue, but I live in Florida, and hints of Margaritaville are everywhere– we are a people who wear flip-flops in February. Our T.J. Maxx has an entire aisle devoted to prints of palm trees and salt-rimmed glasses. Our grocery store sells Key lime pie-flavored ice cream. So you can expect to hear a Buffet song on any given rock station at least once a week.
We all have things that evoke gut responses– for some people it’s a majestic view of nature, for some it’s a scent that carries them back to childhood. For me, it’s song. Music has always been one of my greatest loves, and that’s why it carries so much weight. I was on an incredible family cruise a couple years ago, and of course the steel drum band started up with the song about frozen concoctions. I imagine anyone else on the ship who noticed it probably just settled a little farther into their chaises and soaked in the sun. I heard it and my chaise suddenly got a lot less comfortable.
We would take these drives with Buffet, often on the pretext of going on a date, but as soon as we took the turn away from town and toward the baseball field, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good date for me. Blake would park behind the empty field, the trees dimming the bright lights that might otherwise have attracted attention. But no one saw, so no one came, and I was only fifteen.
What began as pressure soon turned to force. Shame and fear of disappointing my parents kept my secret locked away, and although I shared a watered down version with a few friends, no one knew the hard details or the depth of pain they caused until about eight years later when I was married with children. Sometimes when you push a memory down, it gets buried enough not to intrude in your life. You really just don’t think about it, and if you do, the thought is gone before it can sting. It’s a lot more comfortable this way, a lot easier to go about life.
I was watching an episode of Oprah as I folded the laundry, and she began reading out a checklist of signs of abuse. I tried to keep folding my husband’s dress socks, but each item on the list bore down heavier and heavier on me until I had to drop the socks and let the tears shudder out. I began to see a therapist, and on my first visit he asked me to fill out a form that included the question, “What do you hope to get out of therapy?” My answer was one word: Peace.
The therapy helped; finally talking to my family helped; writing this helps. I know that I’m still not completely healed because for every ten times I hear a Buffet song without a bat of an eyelash, there’s an eleventh that slays me. The way I see it, I have two choices: I can change the station, or I can take back the music. No offense to you Parrotheads, but I don’t think giving up Buffet would be any great loss to my life’s playlist. But if I just change the station, I concede to pain.
In the years since Blake, I have come to know a Great Physician. He doesn’t work on me by letting me ignore the pain– no good doctor does. He touches the tender spots from time to time to remind me that they still need his care because he knows that otherwise I would try to pretend that I am well.
I have a tendency to always look for meaning behind the mundane. As I’ve struggled with writing this for two days, I’ve been asking God, “why?” Why do I feel like you want me to write this? A large part of me hopes that it’s because maybe even just one person needs to know she is not alone. Maybe just one other person out there needs a little hope. But that’s a grand idea, and maybe the “why” isn’t always so big. Maybe I just need to be able to listen to the radio and have peace.