Like a journal, these posts are a place for me to be more honest about what was happening than I was on Facebook, or Caring Bridge, at that time. Some people already know some of this, most don’t. Everything expressed here are my opinions, my feelings, my emotions, my truth, and should be taken as such (and so should not be taken personally). This is going to be as open and honest as I can make it, and some of it may be unintentionally hurtful, raw, or hard to read. You’re not required to read, or comment on, any of this. And none of it is meant as a personal attack against any specific person.
When you’re a kid, adults set the rules. I’m not talking just bedtime, and clean your room, I mean… Adults know the answer to everything. Before you know how to judge things for yourself, you’re watching them. Whether they or you know it. You’re seeing how they deal with things, and that teaches you how to deal with things (whether you deal with them the same, or differently because my god, how crazy can adults be sometimes?!). Ideally, in an ideal society, where everyone is emotionally healthy, you learn love, you learn coping skills, you learn how to stand up for yourself, you learn how to communicate with people in an effective manner. Well. I think we all know shit is almost NEVER ideal. I know very few people who grew up in completely functional households.
I grew up in an alcoholic home, with an abusive StepMonster. Things I learned from her include… how to get close to people in order to hurt them, how to get people to think you’ve changed and get them to open up to you so that you can hurt them again, how to twist what people say and do to suit the way you want to frame it, how to make people feel like shit about themselves, how to make you feel like you’re the one who’s done something wrong, how to not trust yourself because you’re obviously always wrong, and how to lull people into complacency only to strike when they are no longer expecting it. Do I live like that? FUCK NO. Do I choose to use those “skills”? FUCK NO. More like, do I recognize those skills I learned from her in order to NOT use them? In order to NOT hurt people, to encourage people to trust themselves and believe in themselves? That’s more like it. I choose to end that generational trauma. The buck stops here. I choose, in knowing how easy it is to hurt people, how NOT to hurt them deliberately.
Now, I’m not saying that didn’t leave me fucked up in a few ways. I will shut down rather than work a thing out, if I think someone is deliberately trying to hurt me. I will defend my boundaries not with fighting but by silently shoring up my defenses while someone starves to death on the outside of my castle walls. In fact, I’ll probably even dig a tunnel out, and leave unseen and unheard, while the person is standing out front waiting for me to come out.
I have also struggled, valiantly, to make sure that the people with whom I surround myself, the people in my community and in my heart, are other healthy people. I don’t mean people who aren’t fucked up – we’re all fucked up in some way or another – but people who also see in themselves the ability to hurt others, and choose not to, because they know intimately what it is to be hurt. I have worked silently, diligently, and hard, to extricate myself from toxic relationships, from emotional vampires, from people who leave a swath of emotionally damaged folx in their wake. I don’t want or need toxic people in my life. Just because I have to deal with toxic people now and then (who doesn’t?!), that doesn’t mean I have to hold them close. I get the whole “hold your friends close, hold your enemies closer” thing but no thank you. I would rather just clean house, and not have enemies I have to hold close for fear of them hurting me.
Speaking of cleaning house, figuratively or literally, one thing I’ve also worked hard to do is to make my house a safe zone. I don’t mean, like, when you have kids and need to keep cleaning products out of toddler level, I mean… people in my home are safe people to be around. I trust that they’re not working behind the scenes to fuck me up. I can relax around them. I can say something stupid or not all the way thought out and they won’t behave for weeks as if I’ve set fire to their cat. I can trust them. And I’ll tell you something… I love easily, but I don’t trust easily at all. At. All. If someone is close enough to me in my life that they’re in my house a lot, they’re not someone I need to walk on eggshells around. They’re not someone I have to be “on” every moment around; I can let my guard down and just be myself.
Which…. brings me to Tim. And some problems we were having. We had a situation in which we could not see eye to eye on. There were some people in our lives whom I was seeing as more and more toxic, more and more manipulative, more and more that I had to walk on eggshells around them. He thought I wanted him to make a decision about them, a decision he was reluctant to make, but all I wanted him to do was to hear what I was saying about my feelings. That I didn’t feel safe around these people. That I didn’t trust them, I had a bad feeling about them, they had already done some pretty crazy, sketchy shit out of the blue and I didn’t trust that they weren’t going to do something else. What they might do, I didn’t know, because I hadn’t seen the first thing coming. How could I plan for the next batch of crazy if the first batch came out of the blue? I couldn’t let my guard down around them, and it was exhausting. It was draining me, draining my will to continue to make my house my home. I didn’t feel safe here, with them so close. I didn’t feel like my home was a place in which I could just … be.
At this point I can guess that you know who I’m talking about, but I’m still reluctant to name names. I have kept this close and quiet for a long time, because I didn’t want to start any family drama. I didn’t want to be a troublemaker. I didn’t want to be a finger-pointer. I didn’t want to sound like I was crazy, as if I was trying to stir shit up or make trouble or drive a wedge between anyone. One weird morning a while ago, a bunch of shit slid suddenly sideways when Tim got a call out of the blue from his parents, who’d gotten a call out of the blue from someone else in the family, who’d gotten a call from one of the people I’m talking about, saying that Tim and I were going to do a terrible thing to them. Tim’s parents were like, “whut?” and Tim looked at me and he was like, “whut?” and I looked at him and I was like, “whut?” Because, really, like… whut????
Suddenly we were being accused of being the type of people who would do a thing, a thing that honestly, yes — while it had occurred to me was a choice that could be made, it was a choice we deliberately didn’t make because it wasn’t a kind thing to do. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t a thing you do to family. But here’s the thing… if I’ve seen something as an option I won’t take because it’s manipulative and vindictive, because it’s something my StepMonster would have done and I am not like her… and then I get accused of being willing to do the thing…..? Fuck it, I don’t have a lot to lose, here. Anything I try to say to defend myself is going to come off as if I were trying to cover a lie, and if you’re the type of person to accuse me of this out of the blue, you’re not a person I want close to me. If after this long knowing me, you don’t know that I wouldn’t do this thing, then fine; I’m pulling up the drawbridge. This is now a siege, but one where I am protected and you will starve to death outside of my castle walls waiting for me to come outside again.
But also… Why? Why are you accusing me of being capable of doing this thing? Of being the person who would choose to do this?
- Do you think that little of me? Because if you do, if you don’t like me that much, I don’t have anything to lose by extricating myself from your orbit.
- Are you trying to pre-empt something you think I might do? Because it’s the thing YOU would do, and people judge others by what’s in their own heart?
- Were you trying to call me out on something you think I might do, before I could do it, so that I look like the asshole if I do it? Because that’s super manipulative, and not the kind of energy I want in my life.
- Are you sick inside, wounded, and paranoid? Then if I haven’t been able to make you feel safe in the time we’ve known each other, you need more professional help with your trust issues than I can give you just by being a calming influence on the sidelines. And I don’t want to live with people who are so wounded, paranoid, and unwilling to get help. I’ve already lived in that house. I don’t have the desire or the energy to do it again.
It’s time for me to take care of myself.
So if you, say, call someone in the family and say that I’m about to evict you, and it gets back to me, and I am NOT in fact about to evict you…. you know what? Move out. I’m not gonna stop you. I’m not gonna throw myself in front of you as you’re heading down the driveway. If you don’t want to be here, don’t be here. But don’t manipulate me into either making you go or begging you to stay.
Now, it was said to me in a conversation later (much later… months later) that this was just a misunderstanding.
OK. Sure, Jan. (insert Brady Bunch gif here)
If the “oh I’m sorry about the misunderstanding” conversation had happened closer to the phone call, I might have bought that. But. But …. you know what, though? By the time the conversation happened? I really kind of didn’t give a shit. When it comes down to it, the reasons they had for what they did don’t even appear on my radar screen. I’m not Agatha Christie. I don’t need to solve this mystery. I’ve already spent precious energy as a child and teenager trying to figure out what I did wrong, when the person I was “wronging” was a toxic, gaslighting narcissist. Do I want to spend more energy on that same sort of thing now? No thank you. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, as we used to say. Anyway, they’re out of my immediate life now… and in fact just recently, in a fit of perfectly fine and normal adult behavior, one of them unfriended and blocked me on Facebook so that I can no longer see their profile. My god. Whatever. I spent my childhood being the adult in the house, and now that I *am* the adult in *my own house* I do not at all feel the need to cater to the whims of people older than me who should fucking know better. I don’t give a shit why you are the way you are, just get out of my business. You did your damage, the bombs you set have all exploded, and now I’m left to clear the rubble.
You see, after that phone call, for months, I tried to talk to Tim about how these people didn’t make me feel safe, I didn’t feel safe in my home, and more and more I didn’t feel supported by my husband, by my life partner, because he absolutely wouldn’t acknowledge the weight I was carrying. I didn’t actively want them to leave (although I wouldn’t have begged them to stay), and I didn’t really even want him to tell them to leave. Whatever was going to happen was between him and them; I washed my hands of it. I just wanted him to hear that I didn’t feel safe around them. I didn’t trust them to not suddenly do something like this again. That some decisions would eventually have to be made but could we work through it as a team, as a family? As partners? But more and more, a wedge was driven between Tim and I because he just couldn’t understand, or couldn’t admit that he heard what I was saying, because of some family guilt and obligation he felt for things in the past. It wasn’t just that he couldn’t relate to what I was saying about my childhood. It was that he told me I was wrong. That I was wrong to not feel safe, that I was wrong to worry when the next shoe was going to drop, that okay he would admit that everything wasn’t FINE but that I was in the wrong to feel the way I felt. He belittled and marginalized my feelings until I could feel myself start to pull away from him, too.
If these feelings of insecurity, so close to my heart, aren’t heard by my life partner, what else is he not hearing? In what other ways does he think I’m being silly and emotional? That I’m overreacting?
To me, not being supported by my partner is a worse battle injury than an unexpected attack from out of left field. This small crack opened up enough space in the log of our relationship for a wedge to get in there, and Tim just… kept hitting it with a mallet. Making it wider and wider. Or was it me? Was I hitting it, driving it deeper, driving us apart? Was I doing something wrong, wanting him to hear me? By not shutting up about my stupid feelings? It wasn’t even like I thought he’d understand – his family life growing up was Rockwellian compared to mine. I knew he wouldn’t really every really understand, in his bones, the mental abuse I went through as a child. The things that made me who I am now. But I thought he might at least hear me. Validate what I was saying I felt instead of marginalizing it. But again… was it me? Was I putting too much pressure on him to see where I was coming from? Was I unconsciously trying to make him choose a side, choose my side? Becasue I genuinely thought all I was trying to do was be heard. Was what I saw as trying to be heard, something that he saw as never-ending nagging?
And I started to ask myself, after more than six months of this (and just now I had to go back to some texts about this between a friend and I, because I had a moment of “oh, shit, this didn’t all just happen last year, did it? Maybe it happened two years ago? It can’t have happened in 2021, the same year he got sick…” and yeah, it did. This all started in about April of last year)… how much was I willing to tolerate? What price was I willing to pay? After a lifetime of carving out a safe place for myself, how much crazy was I willing to live around? How unsafe was I willing to feel, to live where I wanted and do what I wanted, albeit unhappily? This place is perfect for HaldeCraft, with a separate studio from my house, and perfect for my heart, with so much wild nature around. But my partner didn’t hear me, didn’t support me, didn’t validate me. Is that the price I have to pay? How long was I willing to pay that price? I didn’t want them to chase me away from my beautiful wild natural home. Chase me away from the perfect place for me to do HaldeCraft. But I was starting to ask myself… is it worth it, though? Really, really worth it? My car is right there. The road is right there. Would I be safer somewhere else, even if it meant I had to leave HaldeCraft, and all this wild land, behind?
Turns out that much like my non-existent desire to solve the mystery, pondering that question didn’t matter, either. Tim got sick. He died before we could work through this. The people in question told me a week before Tim died that they were leaving. Tim’s body was still there but his mind was already gone; I never got a chance to tell him they were going. Never got a chance to tell him that for the first time, it was just going to be us out here. There was never a chance to work things out between us. He never got to know that the situation was resolved. I never have to know how much I would tolerate because those choices were all made for me. All I have to do is learn to live with it.
But is it? Is it over? Did you see where I mentioned above that one of the people has unfriended and blocked me on Facebook? And yes, even now, there is some small, scared child part of me that wonders what I did. I even texted someone else in the family for advice, because… er? Did I do something? Did I say something wrong? Is there something I need to apologize for? Do they maybe not approve of all the changes I’m making out here? Do they think I’m spitting on Tim’s memory by fixing and changing so many things? Do I need to apologize for that and explain myself?
But the larger part of me is more like… the fuck is this? Middle school? Who’s the adult in this situation? You just flounce right on out in that hoop dress, Scarlet O’Hara, I don’t have the energy to beg you to stay.
There’s only so much I can tolerate.
I’m tired of being quiet. Tired of tolerating.
Your right to swing your fist ends when it hits my face.
Your right to drop emotional time bombs ends when it explodes in my yard.
I’m tired, y’all.