"They aren't attacking me right now", he pointed out as the puppy ran up and licked his face, "I think I'm safe. I don't think you are, but I am."
Weirder. I had no idea how to respond to that so I went inside to find my cell phone. I called my sister just to chat so that I wouldn't feel so alone and he'd see that he did not actually have me cut off from the world.
When he was finished installing the box he came in to make sure the phone was still working and lingered in the living room looking at our family photos on the piano, I was still on the phone with my sister so I put her on hold to see what else he needed. He said he had to show me how to use the newly installed equipment so we went outside and I followed him to the side of the house. He showed me what to do the next time I'm having problems with the line, I thanked him and then he said "I sure do hate doing all of this work for free."
My sister was still on the phone and I wanted to get back to talking with her so I just said "well you can send me a bill but I don't have any money to pay it."
"How much longer before your kids get home", he asked. He was looking at me all wrong.
"I'm meeting the bus soon so I should be going. Thank you for all your help!" At that I said goodbye to this creepy man and went inside my house. As I watched him go down the driveway all kinds of thoughts were running through my mind and for the next few days I kept worrying about the repair man and my own handling of the situation. Maybe I'd blown it all out of proportion; he was just being friendly, not threatening at all. Having my sister on the phone was helpful but why hadn't I called my husband? He was only five minutes away and would have been happy to take a break from his home repair project to be with me. Was I scared he would overreact? Was it because I was thinking it was my fault for being friendly and possibly flirting with the technician when he first got there? Was it because I was so afraid of confrontation that I couldn't even admit to myself there may have been any real danger?
The more I thought about it the more I had to admit to myself it was all of these reasons. All of which came with their own history and justifications. Fear of my husband's over reaction was justified because the man I met and married is one with a history of violence and visible drama. From going to jail for fighting (over a girl I think) to an ex-brother in law shooting at him with intent to kill just before pulling that same gun on his own sister. My husband borrowed a neighbor's weapon and went hunting for the man who had tried to kill him, only to be talked down by the police who promised to find the shooter and lock him up. This is not the man I see lying in bed next to me but it is a part of him, we don't escape our pasts no matter how good we get at learning from them. But my husbands story is his own and I will never know it like mine so suffice it to say that I do notice myself avoiding situations where I may come face to face with his past. My own is dramatic enough, although much more quietly so.
When I was twelve my step father, who I called dad, came downstairs into my bedroom. My mom was out and while I pretended to stay asleep he put his hands all over my bum and put his fingers inside me. I was too scared to cry out. I couldn't believe what was happening and kept trying to believe I was in fact asleep. After he left I waited about ten minutes and then went to the bathroom to cry. Looking in the mirror I was caught by the fact that I looked both like myself and not at all familiar. Something was different now. I felt like everything was too bright and so all the colors were bleeding into each other. I couldn't tell where the lines were. I stared hard at my face in the mirror and tried to find myself, to see where my lines were. I would think for a minute that I could see but when I tried to hold onto the image it would escape me. My face was still mine, the same brown hair, the same blue eyes, the same boring features. But I wasn't concrete anymore. I was like a chalk drawing. Solid lines from far away, but only from far away. Why hadn't I cried out? Why had I just laid there and let that happen? Maybe it hadn't happened. Or it had been a ghost, not my dad at all. I decided that if I got upstairs for breakfast the next day and he was acting normal then it was all in my head, a bad dream. I decided to go back to my room and keep the door open as proof that I was right. Nothing had happened. Also if something had happened I didn't want him to know I had actually been awake and might tell. My step dad was a boxer and I was afraid he would hurt me.
The next morning everything was normal. My mom, sister and four brothers were already at the table. So was he. He smiled and said good morning. But I knew I hadn't imagined it and I couldn't believe he was acting like nothing had happened. I also didn't have the guts to tell my mom about it until it happened again. This time while she was home and I still hadn't had the nerve to call out and run. The fear I felt while I lied there with him touching me was nothing compared to the self hatred that came from living with the knowledge that I could have stopped it if only I had the courage. And that's the truth. I had a mom who believed me and protected me the moment I disclosed what was happening, and I had always known she would. I didn't have the excuse of an unsupportive mother. My mom was, and still is, the strongest mother I have ever known. I just didn't know how to say those words to her. By the way mom, while you were sleeping...
Wouldn't it be lovely for me if twenty three years later when the telephone repair man came a callin' I would feel confident that his creepiness was his own problem and no fault of mine. If I had learned from that experience the lesson constantly beaten into the heads of sex abuse victims, that it's not your fault. Well, I do believe it wasn't my fault but nothing can change the fact that I know I could have stopped it long before I did. It's living with that knowledge that has fueled much of my self-esteem issues. Not to mention that time and time again when faced with similar situations I have proven to myself that I won't fight, won't cry out. I was a promiscuous teenage girl, always feeling that if I flirted with him then it was my own fault if he expected me to sleep with him. And did I love to flirt! Until I didn't. I don't know when it happened but at some point I became very uncomfortable with flirting. Not only with men, but in general. I turned off that part of me that is inviting, open and giving. The part of me that is excited by new people, new experiences. The part of me that is excited by life. Luckily I had four boys to keep me emotionally awake. Being a mom is hard work but most of the work is done within. It's about learning to let go of all the judgments and discovering your own truths. When my oldest would want to use the video camera and so say "I want to point the smile at you" I would remember to always smile. I would remind myself that my boys see a world of smiles and I wanted to keep it that way. They kept me on the right track. I smiled for them and then with the love and absolute comfort I felt with my eventual husband (I got lucky there!) learned to smile again for myself. I was beginning to feel my edges. I started to glow again. I discovered my own ideas and beliefs, discovered myself. I was once again being me!
Outwardly things hadn't changed much. I'm sure I seemed like the same person to all that knew me, but inside I felt different. I guess that we are always being ourselves; the quest to discover who we are is more about coloring inside the lines. So I was feeling colored in. Confident, useful, likable and even pretty. I don't think my husband saw the difference so much as felt it. We started having more conversations about how in his opinion the world is full of dangerous characters just waiting to pounce on the first innocent that shows her friendly face, and how I believe it is just that type of thinking that attracts the negative. How looking at the world defensively invites the kinds of acts he's trying to protect his theoretical 'innocent' from. Of course he's talking about me and I'm talking about him, but for some reason we never point fingers. Over and over again I have tried to explain my feeling that if you choose to be the person you feel good being you are less likely to invite drama and hate into your life. And on those occasions when it invites itself you won't have wasted all that other time trying to avoid it. Pain, anger, fear and hate are all a part of life, but they don't have to be where we choose to live.
But could I have put myself, or even my family, in danger by being overly friendly to the telephone guy? Should I then rethink the joy I have felt in being me? As I am writing this another truth has floated to the surface. One I am relieved to understand and see clearly. Suddenly I remember the feeling I got when the AT&T technician had looked at me threateningly and suggested I wasn't safe alone in the middle of nowhere with a disconnected phone and two wimpy dogs; it was fear. At that point I was afraid to be myself. This was a familiar feeling, one that had been happily absent from my life for many years but I see that old habits die hard. Rather than risk a confrontation I had automatically made myself small, unimportant. Suddenly I was a twelve year old girl afraid to let him see me, because then he could hurt me. Afraid to close the door because that would be admitting that he already had. I was a teenager drinking to disappear so I wouldn't have to be me while I was with whoever it was this time. I was a young woman getting pregnant again because my children were my reason for discovering what it meant to be me. They asked questions that I wanted desperately to answer as myself. My desire for them to always know and be themselves was the catalyst for my own discovery of self. So when I look back and see how I could have handled things differently with Mr. Creepy it's only the choices I made after I stopped being my usual open and friendly self that I am uncomfortable with. That I didn't call my husband until the guy was gone, that I allowed myself to think it was my own fault and that I slipped so easily back into that place of fear and guilt.
But look at this, here I am again. Being me! And nothing bad has happened at all. To the contrary, I was given an opportunity to learn something important and wonderful about myself. Although it is true that when put to the test I still chose to feel afraid, to shy away from confrontation by disappearing and just letting go of the reins; it is also true that it wasn't long before I picked them back up and was comfortable being myself again. It didn't take years or even months. Just a few days.
Almost equally as important is that I still think I am right and my husband is wrong! I can continue to argue that my choice to be genuinely pleased with life and all the opportunities each chance encounter has to offer is a safe one. That it is not naive to see the world as a beautiful place full of beautiful people doing the best they can with what they know, but rather a brilliant way recognize yourself as beautiful just by being a part of it. I will continue to ask my children to enjoy life openly and visibly. Perhaps in learning to trust and be ourselves we can actually make safer choices. Ones that come from what we truly want and not from a place of fear. Fear of being hurt or judged. The energy we put out is most often the same energy we call to ourselves. That's what I believe. So I will continue to smile at strangers and sing to myself while walking down the street. That is who I feel good being. That is being me!
* * *
My mom wrote a poem when I was very young that I quickly plagiarized and entered into a young writers contest. I won. When I remember the message I can't help but wonder how I knew, out of the hundreds of poems my mother wrote, that one should be mine.