I grew up with a family that had secrets, with each secret there was shame attached. While most of my peers, were trying to figure out their core identity, what they enjoyed what they didn’t. I spent all of my energy trying to keep quiet. Trying to mask the reality that was sitting just beneath the surface. Trying to keep the family shame from spilling out of me into the light for all to see. As much as I wanted the torment to stop, my need to survive strangled out my need to be heard. The way a strangler fig hushes its host tree, curling, and closing in around it. Competing for resources, until there is no light left to reach for. Leaving nothing but an empty shell, a reminiscent cavity of where the host tree once occupied.
With no voice and no sense of identity, I used the mechanisms of appeasement and camouflage to withstand the elements of life. When I found myself in a foster home at the ripe age of 13, barely hanging on, like a button pulled loose and hanging delicately, from its threads. I used these tools to fasten myself into a new existence. My ability to blend in, pushed my sense of identity even farther away. Instead of figuring out what I believed in, what I loved, what I wanted, I hung onto the beliefs of others.
This family was strict, religious, conforming to the traditional roles of women in the home and in society. There I was taught that my body needed to be covered, so that I didn’t tempt the men around me. That “The Natural Man” was our enemy. Allowing what you truly desire to be heard, or acted upon, would be to give into “The Natural Man”. I was taught that by putting distance, or even over coming “The Natural Man, that I would be closer to God. I was taught, I was born to be a wife and a mother. Training for the support role of “Wife”, I learned to cook and sew, I got up every morning before school and went to seminary (scripture study), 5 days a week, for 6 years. I was expected to be pure and virtuous, meek and humble. I put value in these skills and concepts, because it was expected of me. When I wasn’t performing my role of well mannered, articulate foster child, I was sleeping. Sleep was the place where I found ease, and I seemed to be exhausted a great deal of the time. While alone in my bed I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. In my sleep, I didn’t have to feel anything.
Though I succeeded in meeting the needs of my foster parents, I was failing out of school. I was too emotionally tired, to achieve in this aspect. While I smiled and put on a show when I had to be around people, most days I was too tired to even get up and shower. The thought never occurred to me that I could do something. That I could be someone. A life outside of marriage and children was never really discussed in this make shift home, and I had been too busy trying to survive the day to day, I never felt safe enough to find confidence or a sense of self. The only identity I had was forged upon the false ideal of not just what love and marriage were supposed to be, but who and what I was supposed to be as a woman.
I was led to believe by my faith, by my caretakers, and by the nomenclature of society that when you love someone, you get married, ride off into the sunset, and live happily ever after. My sense of worth was rested on the idea, that I needed someone else to be whole. That I needed a husband to be successful and complete. This ideal was shattered in an instance. With just one sentence I didn’t know who I was anymore.
In the summer of 2013, I was 25 years old and had been in a long-term relationship with my partner for the 4 years before. We were both students, at a technical training academy for System Engineers, living in Southern California. We had lived together, traveled the world together, loved each other, hurt each other, and grew with each other. I thought we understood each other. I was wrong, you can never really understand someone, they are constantly growing and changing. The moment you assume that you know how someone is going to behave, is the moment you are wrong.
At this time in my life, I didn’t see the weight of assumptions. I didn’t understand the consequences of unspoken expectations.
On a hot August day as Justin and I pulled out of the school parking lot, after 4 hours in class, I asked him “Do you think, we are moving in the direction of marriage and children?” After 4 years in a relationship, I had formed an ironclad predetermination, of what his words would be. The words he spoke were “I don’t know if I want to get married and I don’t know if I want to have children.” This answer was not even acutely close to my expectations.
Something inside of me broke, panic set in. I didn’t hear anything but my own heart beating and my own nervous breath after those words. I could see his mouth moving but could hear no words; time stood still for just a moment.
I felt rejection, abandonment, and loss. Yes loss, I lost the beautiful idea of a happy ever after relationship. I lost the confidence in what I believed to be the reality of our relationship. I lost the idea of who I was supposed to be. I hung my hat on being a wife and a mother, on needing my other half to be complete. The partner that I loved so deeply, removed this “nail”, letting the hat fall freely to the floor.
I felt confusion, estrangement, and isolation. I saw this rejection as my partners true feelings for me. That he did not love me, that he was only with me for comfort and sex. I spent the next year trying to ignore the feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment. I did not share these feelings with my partner, I knew they would upset him and in fear of more rejection, the need to appease once again possessed my body and mind. Unshared information anew, situated in the shallow depths, ready to bubble up and boil over, like the secrets before. Moving in an interlocking unescapable pattern. I cried myself to sleep most nights while he sat at his computer in the next room over, playing video games. When I got up for work he was asleep in front of the TV on the couch. When I got home from work he was back at his computer gaming. I felt like I was in an endless time loop of heartache and disappointment.
I begged and pleaded with him over the months. I could feel our relationship changing, the rift widening between our feet, like the tectonic plates during an earthquake. A night came when, tears streaming down my face I tried to make him see, the storm I felt brewing in the gut of my stomach. Just like the storm, we happened to be fighting in. We stood screaming at each other in the rain, in the driveway, shrouded in the darkness of night. As my anger broke open and poured out, the wind wailed, the trees shook and the winter rain cascaded over us. Disregarding the neighbors or family members that would likely hear the heated words exchanged, I tried to tell him we were growing a part, that the spark was fading. He had also built his ideals on false pretenses. We found no resolution in this argument. The more disconnected we grew the more desperate for love, attention, and connection I became.
I met someone who made me feel alive again. Someone that paid attention to me, made me feel valued, and beautiful. I had started a new job, the first technical job of my career. I knew when I applied for the technical support position at the end of summer that I was going to get this position. As soon as I hit the submit icon to send my resume, I knew instantly that the job was mine. Two months later, I got a call for an interview and two days later, I was settling into my new technical support position. My direct superior and the network engineer for our company, was a vivid sparkly Gemini with a knack for jokes, a deep interest in learning new things, and an alluring sense of pain and mystery, that ever so gently wafted from his presence.
The day my misstep began and 7 months after my start date, I was sitting quietly at my desk listening to the Spilled Canvas on Spotify and closing tickets. This sparked a conversation on music, a topic I could discuss all day with no need for breaks. I have an eclectic widespread palette for music, and so did he. We spent much of the day swapping some of the most eclectic songs and artists that we could find. Challenging each other to find something just a little bit more “out there” and just a little bit more marvelous than the last. I felt the starvation for emotional, mental, and spiritual connection dissipate in this moment.
After this initial conversation, the connecting never stopped. Our conversations eventually moved to skype and then to texting. We moved deeper and deeper into emotional intimacy, though our relationship was never physical, with every step we took, I felt sick inside. Another piece of myself I was hiding. Another piece of my truth, I didn’t know how to share. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but the warmth I felt, was addictive, like a cigarette I just couldn’t put down, though I knew with every hit I was damaging myself and the people I loved. The fact that I could have a conversation via text message with this other man, while my partner was in the same room and he didn’t even notice…just added fuel to the fire of anger and justification.
This emotional relationship went on for a few months before my partner found out, everything always comes out in the wash. When he did find out, it was a dramatic affair filled with rage and hurt. Betrayal and more loss. He confronted me, barging into the bathroom while I was taking a bath. His face flushed crimson red with animosity, he screamed “YOU’RE CHEATING ON ME!” “YOU’RE CHEATING ON ME!”. He had my phone in his hand. Immediately I felt devastation and hysteria wash over my body. Still screaming, he stormed out of the bathroom and down the stairs. I chased after him, soaking wet and naked, I had stopped only to throw on a pair of pajama shorts and an “A” t-shirt.
I ran down the stairs, out the front door and across the drive way, to meet him where he was pacing aggressively in front of the garage. He stood screaming and rubbing his face and head in hurt, just as I had done the winter before. Standing barefoot on the hot, summer cement, conditioner dripping from the ends of my hair, I stood feeling intensely naked. Both my body and soul very much exposed. This secret had found its way to the light. I could feel his hurt, his eyes barreling through me the way bullets pierce glass, finding my every flaw. His hurt, drowned out my own feelings of hurt. I couldn’t try and justify or cover up, all I could do was sob and watch the person that I loved most, drown in grief and devastation. There is nothing more agonizing than watching your soulmate suffer. My body shook and my chest stung with every breath. Knowing that I was the one that caused the suffering, paralyzed me.
He didn’t really take me back, because he never really let me go. The next day I broke off my relationship with the other man, devastating a second life in the process of trying to save my own. I could see the hurt in his face and his body language. I hated myself for hurting my partner and I hated myself for hurting a person that was just as desperate for love and connection as I was.
Justin and I struggled for months, trying to rebuild trust in each other, trying to push through the blame. Both at home and at my office, I was reminded everyday and felt shame for the worst mistake I had ever made. I watched Justin squirm in pain and isolate like I had done, the year before. I watched my coworker and once friend, stumble into work looking disheveled and hungover most mornings, knowing that he was grieving the loss of our relationship. The force of destruction in these experiences, was monumental for all parties involved. When you are broken, and reduced to nothingness, there is room for new growth. Just like a wildfire, when the blaze has subsided and all has been leveled, the soil is rich with nutrients and ready for new seeds to be cultivated.
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