I have not been very happy this past year. Just over a year ago, on an innocuous evening in June, someone knocked on my door while I was in the bathroom. My husband answered, and accepted a packet that an unfamiliar layman was delivering for me. My world changed while I was taking a piss.
The packet was a lawsuit; a motion for genetic testing to establish paternity. Had I answered the door, I would have been able to identify the layman who’d delivered it to my home address as the father of the man who physically and sexually abused me for four years when I was a teenager. The paternity suit in the packet was legitimate; my abuser fathered my eldest child, though he had been uninvolved in my son’s life for almost as long as my son had been alive.
The parentage suit, which was quickly followed by a custody suit, threw my world into a darkness almost as deep and suffocating as the four years of our relationship. I had to recount, and then defend, the worst instances of my abuse. My abuser submitted intimate letters and photographs, which he had apparently kept in his possession for ten years, with the seeming sole purpose of humiliating me. I was obsessively fearful for my son’s safety, especially because he is a non-verbal autistic. My PTSD was aggressively aggravated, and my lowest shames were paraded before my abuser for his amusement and use. On top of that, my beloved Abuelita (grandmother) had died just a month earlier, and I was struggling to recover from my PTSD related suicide attempt. The past year has been a hell.
But this isn’t a post about hell. This isn’t a post about the custody case. This post is about the little pricks of light that shone through the darkness of the past year, sometimes impossibly so; those fervent, stubborn moments of happiness and joy that kept me dragging onward through the fight. This is a post about happiness that chose to exist beyond all odds. Dissident happiness.
I cannot claim that happiness was my most outstanding emotion over the past year. I have to claw into my memories, get my nails filthy with the black soot of this time, to find my happy moments. But, they’re there: Sully and tarnished by everything they’re buried under, but still there..still shining, regardless.
While I was struggling through the dizziness of symptoms I’d thought long dead and buried, triggered back from the dead by the act of writing out my abuse, alone, for my petition rebuttal; while my grip on sobriety white knuckled and slipped, snow fell in my daughters’ lives for the very first time.
It was a Pacific Northwest snowfall, not the heavy snow of the East coast and the Midwest that I remember from grad school in Boulder and Christmases in Jersey. It wasn’t the kind my darlings could sink into; not deep enough to lie in while the cold slowly crept through the battery of layers assembled by Mama. They would not, this Winter, experience what I remember so many Winters ago: My young child’s body pitted deep into a snowdrift in the suburbs of New Jersey, a friend to my side but us hidden from each other by the snow piled between us. I was, in that moment, alone. A quiet spark of simple, unencumbered joy swelled from my heart, upwards through the magnificent overlay of clouds bloated and somber with their purpose, making its way up, up-and I could feel this as tangibly as anything-to crystallize into eternity.
There was not enough snow, nowhere near enough snow, for my daughters to re-stage that memory, but it was the same light that shone on them as they threw crumbly snowballs and made tiny, misshapen snowmen to crush under their booted feet for the very first time.
2. My 29th Birthday
Amidst days anxious with waiting, while I hoped my application for a pro bono lawyer, offered by a DV support program, would move from the waiting list, and while I burrowed into the memories and old protection orders and police reports and hospital records and whatever other supporting paperwork with which I could build my case, alone, my 29th birthday passed.
Ever since I turned eighteen, my birthdays have been a source of soul-deep anxiety and depression. My birthdays are not a time of celebration but of paranoid seclusion. This one was no different. I was forgotten by virtually all of my friends. It hurt that even though they knew this day was so triggering to me that the year before I had attempted suicide, no friends invited me out. No friends invited me out, but I was not totally forgotten. A little light pushed through this darkness too.
My mom took my husband and I and all the kids to dinner at a delicious (and expensive) vegan restaurant. There was some fussiness at the start, but when pizza showed up, and fancier things for the adults, everything simmered down pretty nicely. Dinner was good, in any case.
My husband bought me roses. My husband bought me drinks. If nobody else remembered me, he did. I was sad that day, and lonely. I longed for the surprise party I’ve never been popular enough to have. The lack of attention from my friends was palpable as an ache in my bones. But I could also see that my husband cared, that he was trying, and that was something. I wasn’t totally forgotten. I had a few fun moments. A birthday drink or two. My daughters came home with cards they’d made, with obvious help from their daycare instructors. I can’t say it was a happy day; by the end of it I was half dead with sorrow, but it had its moments.
There was light, this day, too.
3. Spending Time With My Fetus Friend
What is a fetus friend, you ask? Why, you don’t have one? He’s a permanent fetus I keep encased in a jar, clipped to my belt loop at all times! Here I’ll show you a picture of us together, my fetus-friend and I:
Well actually a “fetus-friend,” a term I aptly coined when I was a teenage weirdo, is a person with whom one has been friends since fetushood. AKA, in this case, his mom and my mom were old highschool buddies who got pregnant within months of each other and we have been friends ever since. My fetus friend now lives in another state, so I don’t get to see him as often as I would like.
My fetus friend has been hugely supportive throughout my life. I’ve tried to be a good friend in return, but unless some massive tragedy befalls him, I probably won’t be able to really pay back all of the care he has shown me. Given these conditions, I hope I am never able to pay him back. The closest I have come was listening while he went through the turmoils of heartbreak after his first serious LTR ended. Even though heartbreak is a normal part of life that we all experience, I hated knowing that my dear friend was experiencing it. It was one of those situations where I wished so much there was something I could do to fix it for him, but he really just had to live through it until the pain eased.
So you can imagine how happy I was when I learned my friend had met someone! I kept hearing all these great things about his new boyfriend, and as time went on and they were still together, and the stories of great things grew even greater, it became clear that this no-longer-so-new guy was going to be a very important person in my friend’s life.
My court case dragged on, and devoured my life, leaving it cold and empty but for anxiety and upset. But one day, my fetus-friend made a surprise visit back home! And he brought his boyfriend! I feel like a terrible friend in that none of the pictures from this day actually contain my friend (that’s his boyfriend)..but we had so much fun. It was one of the lightest days of the whole year for me. They came bearing gifts for my daughters, which of course meant instant endearment. My friend’s boyfriend was very nice and cute and caring. I was really glad to meet him and to be able to know that he really was someone who deserves the affection my awesome friend clearly has for him. It was a day drenched in sunlight, and really was one of my happiest all year.
4. Winning A Poetry Contest
To be fair, there were 365 selected winners. But I can still be proud, because there were far more entrants, and only a few of the 365 winners were selected to be featured both online and on the physical King County buses. I was happy to be one of the doubly-chosen few.
The contest theme was water, and the stories that we tell about water, and which water passes on for us. If this case had not been consuming my life when I saw the submissions call, would I have written “Words For Robin,” a poem which explores the witness water bears for all of us on this planet, and also the possible connection between the abuse I endured during pregancy and my son’s autism? If it hadn’t been for this case, would I have won?
Those are unanswerable questions. Whether the happiness and pride I experienced were tied to the legal abuse going on in my regular life, I’ll never know. The poetic inspiration may have arisen from the triggers in my life, but the poetry; the mind that won the contest? That was mine, and mine only. This was a real reason to be happy. I earned this particular pride all on my own.
5. Swimming in the Ocean
I don’t know exactly how to explain my love for the ocean. Swimming of any kind makes me happy, but when I am in the ocean I feel light. Not just because of the buoyancy. Swimming in the ocean is the only time when I can truly forget about everything but the moment in which I am living. It is unencumbered mindfulness. It is a life without anxiety, without pain, even without memories. In the ocean, I am free.
I live near the ocean, but it’s usually too cold outside to go swimming, and definitely too cold to go swimming in the ocean. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to swim in the ocean, though I can go sit near it when I am especially anxious or sad. It’s not the same as swimming, but the scent and sounds of the waves still bring me peace.
When my in-laws invited us to Florida for out littlest one’s second birthday, all I could think of was the beach. I mean of course we gave our little girl an awesome Thomas & Friends themed birthday with chocolate cake and awesome activities. And I loved seeing her happy. She is a light in my life unto her own.
But what brought me inner peace was swimming out into the ocean while my family cared for the girls. I don’t get breaks like that often, so I made sure to enjoy it. For a few days, I traded overcast skies, unbearable anxiety, goosepimpled skin, and legal troubles for the sweet scent of the tropics, relentless sunshine, and a warm, inviting ocean. Within a week of returning I would receive the Family Court Services recommendations that I had been awaiting for over a month. I would enter into mediation with my rapist, and I would be unable to concede him rights due to his continued inability to accept blame. He would submit more intimate photos and letters to the courts; things that had nothing to do with the case and were only intended to embarrass me; the sorts of personal photos and letters that only a special kind of scumbag would hold onto and then show to others. But absolutely none of that mattered while I was in the ocean.
6. What good is sitting alone in your room? Come to the Cabaret..
One evening years ago, before I had even met The Ex, I was watching the Tony Awards with my mom. I was always a theatre geek, but never so much into award shows, so I was only half paying attention. Then, Alan Cumming came onstage.
Pale skinned, shirtless but for white suspenders, nipples bright red against his white painted skin, eyes black-lined, a lascivious smile creeping across his face as he began to sing in German, Alan Cumming’s Master of Ceremonies was riveting. I knew nothing about Cabaret, had no idea what it was about; had never even seen the Liza Minnelli movie but when I saw Alan Cumming on that stage, I knew I wanted to see that play.
When my aunt Elma took me to see Cabaret at Studio 54, Alan Cumming was no longer in it, but I was still in love with the Master of Ceremonies. And the entire show. I saw it twice; two consecutive years that I visited my family on the East Coast. I had every hope to see it again, but then it closed. When the last curtain closed on Sam Mendes’ production of Cabaret, I was heartbroken. I thought I would never see it again.
I tried the movie; I tried other showings of it. A gaudy red mess at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle while The Ex was secreting himself out of the country. A high school production starring a good friend. None of them compared. Sam Mendes’ Cabaret is perfect. It captures the decadence, the rabid hope, the sex and the despair of that show in a way no other production ever can. It allows the audience to feel the creeping danger of Pre-WWII Germany, and it makes the Holocaust acutely relevant to modern times.
When I saw the signs go up for Cabaret, and learned that it was in fact a touring production of my favorite incarnation of the show, I had to go. Poor as I am, I scrounged together enough money to get seats in the third mezzanine. I called my friend, the only person on this earth with whom I have matching tattoos, and together we went. It was the weekend before my custody trial. I was sad and anxious because of that, and because my request for support from my peers had been widely ignored.
When Emcee came on that stage and told me to leave my troubles at the door, my heart burst into beautiful flames. I had truly believed I was never going to see that show again. Sitting in that theatre was an impossible dream-come-true. Sam Mendes’ Cabaret is my happiest happy place. And it was the absolute perfect timing for me to go. I may have missed the Pride Parade, but what better place is there, really for a bi gal than Cabaret? Everyone is beautiful! The girls are beautiful! The boys are beautiful! Even the orchestra is beautiful!
7. The trial
What is the dreaded custody trial doing in a happy days list?
After a year of hell
After being beaten to an emotional pulp by triggers
After losing my job, nearly being evicted; after having my private medical information handed to my abuser, after spending a year defending that my abuse even happened, after being put on sleep meds because of a resurgence of PTSD nightmares; after being lied about by not only my ex, but also his friends and family, after being harassed by his girlfriend, after being almost killed by my PTSD
He dropped his visitation requests on the day of the trial.
I think more than anything else he has said or done this past year, that action and most especially the timing of it exemplifies who he is more than anything.
He said my blog was too inflammatory, and causing too many problems for him…Yes this one, in which his name, description and contact info have never been mentioned. Yes this one, which I advertise solely on social media where he’s blocked. Yep, this exact one..which I have never sent to the people he knows. But apparently, it’s damaging his reputation.
Oh and also, in one quick sentence after ranting about my blog…he thinks his interference will affect my son’s support system too negatively. At least that much we can agree upon.
Honestly, it hasn’t felt real, that this is over. That he’s gone. I don’t trust it. I can’t, not with everything I know about him. How can I believe that he is really going to leave my son alone, that he will really let him, and me, and the rest of my family live in peace? It doesn’t seem real that we’ll be allowed to choose to be away from him. Frankly, we would have won that trial. And his walking away could simply be a way of keeping the door open for himself.
Still..there has been a gradual lightening. I will find myself suddenly overtaken by a feeling of peace, a small sense of happiness shyly appearing…I can’t trust it, but I want to.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me through the past year, whether it was by helping me serve papers, or leaving me an encouraging comment, or listening to me fret; you helped me get through a ridiculous and poisoning time.
Bye-Bye Mein Lieber Herr, it’s been a fine affair, but now it’s over.