I’ve experienced malice. I’ve seen projection and raw anger. I’ve seen hurt exposed. And I’ve felt the depths of hell.
Never did I expect to be the recipient of ultimate loathing and hate. The familiar taste of poison began to resonate between Zachary and I. And for a tremendous amount of time , I lacked the ability to become immune to the sting…..guilt. I allowed the war to rage on with no return fire, breathing in the fumes of distain as if it was deserved. Let him rage. Let him ease his hurt. If for a single moment, he feels relief, this is not in vein.
Until, he pushed too far. April 27.
Kole’s birthday. I had Hunter, we went fishing. Just he and I. We landed a large trout and went to Trent’s house to clean it, and cook it for dinner. The phone rang while we were driving to the house, and I saw Zach’s name pull up on the screen. Sympathy flooded my mind and I answered quietly. The conversations between he and I were always tense and I could sense his temper as soon as he said “Hey.” I figured the purpose of the conversation was to talk to Hunter, but he never made it that far.
“Zach, are you alright?” I asked quietly, whipped and beaten. I knew the answer.
“No,” he paused, “I’m finally ready Carrie.” I paused momentarily and then braced, almost as if I knew it was coming.
“Hunter, go in the house.” I snapped, cold and clipped.
He looked at me with big eyes but knew better than to argue at this point. He went inside.
“Ready for what Zach.” “You know what.”
I went silent. “Say it Zach.” Silence.
“Carrie, I’m finally ready to admit to myself and to you, that this is your fault.”
My mouth went dry.
“It’s your fault he’s dead.”
“Zach……” I pleaded and caught myself. I just hung up the phone.
I hit my knees on the pavement, gasping for air. I knew it. I had always known it. He blamed me, and now he’s told me…..he said it, out loud. I knelt on all fours, gasping for air, still holding my phone with white knuckles.
I dialed his number, and he answered, not sure what to do. He immediately came home, and found me on the front porch, destroyed.
He walked past me and set his things inside, he sighed deeply. He came back and picked me up from behind, “Come on.” He said, firmly.
He seemed cold.
I had been crying too hard to tell him what had happened, but as he sat next to me on the stairs inside and I told him the content of the conversation and looked to him for a soft place to land. His body didn’t touch mine. He was rigid, a move that I resented at the time.
“Carrie, it’s bull shit, and you know it.” He was unrelenting. Stone cold.
I whined….. “Trent…….he said it was……”
He cut me off abruptly, “I don’t give a fuck what he said, its bull shit and you know it.”
I blinked hard and looked at him.
“It’s not your fault, and I won’t sit here and even entertain that it may have been. You and I both know it’s not your fault. He’s an ass hole, and he’s trying to hurt you.”
I was crushed, and he wasn’t letting me free fall into destruction. He grabbed me with iron fists and shook me hard; the only person who could have. It wasn’t conventional grief recovery, but it was custom fit for my disaster. It was what I needed, but absolutely not what I thought I wanted. It was a new approach to a lifelong battle. His emotionally cavernous personality lead me down a new path…..denial to even acknowledge the notion that there was blame to be placed, and acknowledged the absurdity of Zach’s implications. Considering it, gave breath to the impulse. We weren’t going to talk about it. That day…..or ever. It didn’t deserve the time. That, in and of itself is the only gift I received from Trent. Despite my inability to “fix” him or heal his hurt and trust issues, he provided me with enough personal fortitude to begin fighting my own battles with logic, because emotion was killing me.
He looked at me, still not touching me……..
“You get the fish cleaned?”
The mess that day created in my mind took months to iron out. It could be seen as dismissive or passive. It was neither. It was realistic and the shortest distance between dealing with my own grief. Cut straight through the bull shit. A straight line.
Zachary has attempted to derail that approach, in every regard. He has even admitted so to me. It’s his grief, defined. It is something that he will have to live with, for the rest of his life.
In his ignorance, he has decided to attempt to take Hunter from my care, and the custody battle will rage on until he can delve into this own anger and find the root. I fear for him on that day. I fear he will never see the wisdom in faith, and the peace that come in that. I’m not threatened, or worried. I’m his mother, and exceptional at that.
I pray for Zach, daily.
I have defied his attempts to take me down with him, and have renounced my position as his sacrificial victim. I have finally eradicated his emotions from the list of controlling factors in my life. And have chosen happiness over mourning.
Starting with…….Moving back to Neola.
With a new determination to focus on myself and my own issues, as well as innocent pleas from my son, I decided to move back to the Neola house. It was the only item of value I received from my divorce. I decided to make a full circle back to the place where everything ended, in hopes, it would all begin again. I was now dealing with my own grief, but was paralyzed with Neola, and the memories. I was consumed with nightmares, if I was ever required to sleep alone, and didn’t feel as though asking for that type of emotional stability from anyone was fair. Given I couldn’t provide it to myself. There was no script. I wanted to provide Hunter with “Home” ……..a real home. And to the best of his knowledge, Neola was home. His infatuation with it was odd, and driven by dreams he continually had and an obsession with the few memories he clung to. Most memories were very good, one was very very bad. The idea behind the move was to provide my child with the opportunity to address the one very very bad memory, and relish in the very very good. I wanted a half acre and sunshine. I wanted the story book staircase for him, and the community feel. I wanted him to grow up in a house, with chores, not an apartment with shared walls. I wanted a childhood for my son.
“I’m moving back to Neola.” I told Zach, matter of fact and without any permission request.
Silence pierced the line. Minutes ticked by. Finally he sighed.
“I guess you forgot about the nightmares didn’t you? I guess you forgot about the oil paint stains from Kole and the window he broke. I guess you forgot about the crayon on the wall. And his bedroom. I guess you forgot how much you hated that house. I couldn’t do it Carrie, but whatever you want.”
I hated this moment. Of course I hadn’t forgotten. Ever since I had decided to move back, I hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time, without being jolted awake by haunted thoughts and red red blood. Rewind. Push play. He knew nothing of my trials. He knew nothing of my trauma.
The dreams were worse now than ever before, and I hated him for pointing out the obvious.
“Hunter wants to go home.” I hung up the phone.
That’s all of the information he needed. Fuck him for pointing out the obvious.
Following the definitive decision, I made a full swing attempt to ostracize myself from any and all people who were close to me. I knew the destruction would be bold and dangerous and felt like it was my job to protect people from the hurt. In a way, I also didn’t want to taint the vision of myself I had portrayed for so long. I’m noted for being strong, and I’ll do whatever it takes to maintain that. It isn’t out of concern for other people’s perspectives, however, when they expect it….it’s easier to obtain. If no one expects anything from you, slacking and taking the “easy way out” seems to be the path of least resistance most taken. I made my river fierce, and I paddled upstream. I had successfully pushed everyone I loved out of my life for a brief time, preparing myself for their exit after they saw just how much of a mess this was really going to make, a decision I regret whole heartedly, and a major billboard on the highway to self awareness. If you want help, ask for it. It really is that simple. It’s a moment I will never recapture, however, in hind-site it may have played out as it was supposed to. I haven’t yet learned a lesson the easy way, this was no exception. I deserved support…..I needed support. There are many people who would have taken the initiative, had they known. However I forced distance to protect myself from scrutiny and them from my grief. My grief, and my story, is just that….mine. They are of me, something to be embraced and cultivated. As they grow, they will take a new shape. The mindset in that path is at my discretion and it could easily lead to either mass devastation or a pure type of altruism that simply understands. I chose Neola.
It boiled down to 24 hours before I had to be completely out of my apartment. I hadn’t packed a single box. Not one.
While I was procrastinating my eminent doom, and hating myself…….a neighbor/sister/friend had taken the initiative to pack a few boxes, she started what I couldn’t. We had joked about her doing it for me, but I had no idea she had actually done it. I’m not sure she understood the gravity of the situation and what the literal manifestation of packing meant to my psyche and my soul. I didn’t know how to start, and more importantly, I didn’t want to. Had she not pushed me gently, and started my slide, I’m not sure I could have done it. I would have sat in the middle of the room, staring blankly at my life, willing someone to do it for me, because it was “just too hard.” Intuitive and beautiful, her guided heart saved mine. She comes by it honest, the product of a family who has taken my son and I in as their own, fortified my faith and my ability to face life on a daily level. They are my army, in my corner. I’m a better person because of it.
For the first time in my life, I can define family, without hesitation. In a simple act of kindness, this girl had made it so clear. Family is not about convention, or roles we are “supposed” to play. It’s not about blood relation or obligation. Family is about genuine love and ACCEPTANCE of an individual. Love for their unique traits, and the unselfish desire to want them to meet their potentials in life, and be happy. It’s about doing anything, and everything to see them through. Family is understanding, and safe. Family is consistent, and unwavering. Family is founded on honestly, respect, and love.
She is my family.
Awestruck at my revelation and moved by her kindness I stood in my doorway of the apartment, glaring at the shelves I never hung on the walls. This never really was home. It was a holding room, while I had been preparing for this moment.
Big. Deep. Breath.
Hunter was with his Dad, I was relieved. He didn’t need to see this, no one did. This was mine; my war……. my own demons. If I could do this, I could do anything.
I was alone.
I loaded the truck with loose totes that my friend had packed, just enough of my belongings to elicit a trip to Neola. It wasn’t very full. Only what I could take, and unload in a few minutes, I didn’t want to be there long. I couldn’t even drive down the road the house was on, let alone go in. I was moving my things in. I was packing my life back into my own worst nightmare. I was terrified. Terror diminishes what I was. I was out of my mind.
The road seemed shorter today, I had hoped for a long ten minute drive to pace my breathing and devise a plan. My hands massaged the steering wheel, rolling it across my palms, increasing the pressure I exerted, the closer I got. I left the radio off. One left turn, one right turn……..and there it was. Panic threatened my lungs, and their capacity all but disappeared and I started taking quick, short breaths.
I backed in, getting too close to the porch, and blocking the stairs.
I stood in the door way, and held onto the knob as if I had been frozen once it pressed into my hand. There were no boundaries between me and this moment now. I didn’t arm myself with my belongings to distract myself. It was me, and my house.
I rested there; paced my breathing. I turned the knob, and pushed it forward.
One Step. Just one step.
I stepped inside and felt dizzy. The room started to spin…… where to start?
I started in my room; my mind filled the space with memories. They flew at me like flaming June bugs on a motorcycle going 100 mph. The bed was here, the picture were there. I slept here, my babies slept next to me. I paced the floor and recounted every stain. I wasn’t prepared for this. I ran my hand delicately across the wall, allowing my fingertips to absorb the memories. It felt like a warm shot of a mean whiskey I had held in my mouth for almost two years now. I was forcing myself to swallow it, and my body hated me for it. My throat was burning with the sting, as it coated me from the inside out, making me shutter. I walked the entire lower level, and forced it down as I walked up the stairs. His room. The window. Like so many times before I shattered and inhaled a breath that wouldn’t chase the whiskey. It burned all over again. It burned worse now.
Vinyl lettering glared at me from above the window. “So many toys, so little time.”
So very little time.
The irony cut me, deeply. And I lay there. Letting it burn. This was the only way. I had to let it burn. Over and over I forced air into my lungs, every one burning my open wounds. My mouth was now empty, devoid of the poison I had allowed myself to harbor for so long, now digesting it in its entirety, in one fail swoop.
Mentally I was drowning in pain and punishment, and I felt myself ripping at my hair to find release of the tension, I lay on the floor suffocating in the moment and hyperventilating from a lack of ability to breathe. I was just hurting, too much. I cried until I was dry. I cried until I couldn’t cry another tear. I just let it burn. Writing on the floor, lost in this decision. Hating myself, but full of faith in my choice.
“It is for Hunter. I am taking him home.”
Whimpering like an infant I looked over the room, recounting my thoughts and memories of my child. Lost in the hurt and trying desperately to regain enough coherence to pick myself up this time. Tiny black footprints adorned the carpet I lay dying on. They were Koley’s. The window we read stories in stood stoic on the South facing wall. Sunshine dripped through it. I blinked to see it more clearly. It was thick and tangible; it covered my hands that lay extended over my outstretched and bleak body. They warmed my hands and my heart; my breathing slowed. Deep breaths……….filled my lungs. He was holding my hand.
Warmth chased the air.
Love chased the pain.
The day will always push the night.
Trembling with exhaustion I peeled myself from the floor where my spirit and ambition lay in shambles and stepped towards the window, allowing light to envelop me with warmth, purity, and faith. I let it hug me.
I peered out over the back yard, and let the memories fill my eyes. I could see them playing in the sand box, and the garden covered in sunflowers. I could see the green green grass and hear my babies laughing here. Irrigation water flooded this yard on Sundays, and the splash of the water from tiny feet splashed my face, while the tears dripped from my lashes. He was here. I put my hand on the window and gazed into the shadows cast by the blanket of sun. My heart broke again.
I want so badly to hold him. I want so badly to feel his hand in mine. Up until this point I had wanted it so much, that I had disregarded the gifts in front of me. At some point I had to accept the fact that I can’t kiss his skin, and I can’t watch him play. There aren’t muddy handprints on my wood fence, and there aren’t fresh picked dandelions on my kitchen table……but my son graces me with warmth and sunshine when I’m scared….He whispers patience when I can’t find it in myself to wait. My son keeps Hunter safe and hugs his Grandma when I can’t be there to pick up her broken pieces. He plays baseball with his uncle, and gives the ball just enough spin to make it over the fence. He gives his aunt the compassion she needs to face the day, never in vain.
I can’t hold my son, but I can feel him…..always.
Every inch of this house oozes with memory, coated in honey, dripping and clawingly sweet. I was elated to find the taste of such memories didn’t always burn. Some of them leave a warm tingle and a craving for more. When faced with those that are simply too much, the light in my child’s eyes is a gentle reminder of progress. It was the right choice; I know it every time I open the door.
It’s where my life ended, and where it began.
God never leads in vindictive behavior or anger. His moves are never in angst or frustration. God leads in love, and the lessons learned are laced with the opportunity to find love in darkness.
The love found there has a brilliance unparalleled and deeply appreciated. He is a master of his own plan, and placing faith in him is freeing. I really am, my own worst enemy, and the defeat I feel is only in my own inability to place faith in my purpose here.
I am not a martyr.
I need not be punished. I am not to blame.
I will not entertain the notion that I am.
What happened to my son is, and will always be, my life’s great tragedy; it is also my life’s greatest opportunity to find a type of brilliant love and faith that most will never see. I choose to emanate that light to the best of my abilities. Luminescent of pain, heart ache, faith, and love in the darkness that other people share with me. I can see now the gaping hole in my life. Perplexed, I look over it, determined to fill it with hope and love, while digging out the guilt and anger. I’m accepting the loss, and actively stamping myself with the will it will require to pick myself up, dust myself off, and ride forward.
This house will not be my home forever. I will stay until my heart can let go, and I am able to step forward into a future, and let go of the past. I will go when I no longer feel as if punishing myself somehow proves my devotion to my son.
When I’m ready, I’ll go.
I have found love here. I have found myself……the new me. I have reconnected with my center and breathe a new light. My connections to people have deepened, and having removed the vacancy and guilt I have left room for hope and love. I’ve come to realize the lost and oblivious feeling I feel towards my grief is shared with people who love me. My expectations for them have changed and together we chart the waters, prepared to lose ground with missteps. It’s a journey worth taking. Patience….Patience….Patience……
My time, my life, and these walls are filled with people who lift me, bring me peace, and love me. I have eliminated the need to punish myself and I revel in the concepts of happiness.
I will gamble, again, on love. I will take a refreshed approach, one with open eyes and an honest heart. Even with all risks considered, the gamble doesn’t feel like a gamble. I don’t feel fearful of my own vulnerability. I feel liberated by the opportunity to succeed, to be happy. A love like this is worth at least a million tries.
Callused and scarred, bruised and broken, and despite my overly realistic view of life…………I still believe in fairy tales and heroes.
Twenty six years of “almost” and try after try after try……only to find out a simple truth,
“True love is always on time.”
And the truth be told, I would wait forever.
Love is the catalyst to the beginning, it pushes the night.
This isn’t about a battle won. The war of grief rages on. This has never been about proving a point. And for now, it’s not about changing the world. In this moment, it is about the possibility of life after death. It’s about learning to receive true love and not letting the world change me.
It is about knowing the actual risk of true love, and the unwavering decision to do it anyway.
This is my will to live.
This is the physical form of empathy and a testament of understanding for the pain and suffering each one of us is enduring.
You are not alone; even the dawn breaks.
My son is in the walls of our home, but more importantly, he is engrained in my soul. He sings lullabies of cricket songs in the summer time, and is the gentle tug on my fishing line when I am just about to give up, and pack it in. He is the diamonds in the snow, and the infinite possibility of clear night sky. He’s every color in every rainbow, and the whisper of wind through fall quaking aspen. He is puppy breath, and big green tractors. He is tiny finger prints in the paint on the walls upstairs, and the squeak in Hunter’s laugh. He is everything that is good and kind. He is in every ounce of forgiveness and in every single “I love you.”
My baby is the halo of light that pours through the front window of this house in the early morning, kissing my face while I dance with Hunter in the golden glow.
My baby paints the sunrise.
With my whole heart, Forever and Always,