“It was my boys who finally broke through. They were terrified. I could see it in their eyes, and as they clung to my legs somewhere inside of me I knew that we all had had enough.”
That is how my post begins and I know I promised to share that post with you, and here is where my internal struggle lies: Recently I wrote something that I found hurt a family member. The second I knew I caused my family pain, I took that particular post down. I haven’t really blogged since. I thought my words were safe and warm, yet that is not how they were received. I always take responsibility for my words. That has never been the issue, and maybe that is actually the problem. I do not hide. I own what I say, yet hate causing pain, even the slightest bit of pain. I know. I can’t have both. I must have some deeply locked in Pavlovian-nightmare that makes my insides crush every time someone tells me how sad my words make them.
Consequently, my personal struggle has always been my inability to reconcile the fact that my words will hurt. My words are not convenient. My story is not filled with rainbows and happy endings, my skies can get really cloudy, and from the inside my life does not look like a Martha Stewart magazine cover photo. Whose really does?
Most of our stories seem to be purposeful and filled with hope. My story is also a dark, awesomely fantastic, crazy, Running-With-Scissors, Lovely-Bones kind of tale. And because my story is not pretty, inside the lines, or Celestial, time and feedback have taught me that I have to keep my story far from those characters, the characters who play the most important roles. Since walking away from actively blogging (August 2006), I have often wondered if, like Augusten Burroughs, (the man who wrote Running With Scissors), I will also have to wait until those loved ones and others I will hurt die, or not tell my story at all.
As I think about it, I have always told stories, and I have always been open. It is just how I am wired, and I am confident my wiring comes directly off of the Double Helix strands of my Grandma Koener (my mom’s mom). Veronica (that was her name and I can hear my grandpa yelling it as I type), well, Veronica was strong, short (4’11”), bold, outspoken, direct, salty, often misunderstood, and was fiercely devoted to those she loved. The only thing I didn’t get from her were her big boobs. Seriously, I could have used a little help there, Grandma! My mom always said I was most like her, and because my grandma could be less filtered, I know some were also hurt by her words. And because I knew this, I was not always pleased with the comparison. Maybe it was that soft moment, sitting with her in a parked car outside of Wendy’s, because she was too old and frail to go inside. She wanted to hear about my boyfriends, and she wanted to make sure that before she died (because she knew it would be soon and it was) that I married a good man. “And if he is not good to you, Beth, I will come right over and box his ears.” And maybe it was snuggled up on the pull-out sofa, watching movies together on our VCR (which she called an RCA), laughing when she had no idea what was going on. Really. No idea. And it did not matter! And maybe it was her fearless, and open nature. She, as the oldest daughter of twelve kids (not Mormons, farmers), left a tiny, rural Midwestern farm to go to the big city as a young girl. She left the farm, because she needed something bigger, and she left the farm because her family needed her help. She got it, and I finally got that being compared to my Grandma Koener is about the highest complement one could receive. Being compared to her open and fearless natures is something I want to get right. I miss her, and I know, wherever she is she would be ok with whatever I said, even the ugly parts. I also know she would feel the same sorrow I do if I were to hurt her loved ones.
And as open and interested as I was, asking my mom and dad about sex at the dinner table as a nine-year-old with my dad, two brothers and three sisters sitting by my side, only made sense (I am the youngest, by the way). Telling my friends less than a week ago that I not only came home from my Mormon Mission early, but that it is was one of the greatest choices I ever made, felt empowering, and does not feel like a story I needed to hide or reconstruct. My eleventh grade Creative Writing teacher, Roman Borgerding, grabbed out of me, and gave me the courage to see that truth really is beauty (thank you Ares Poetica). I will be forever grateful. Mr. Borgerding showed me how to write stories I already loved to tell. He is the one who taught me the most important writing technique of all. Standing on a wobbly high school chair he would shout to the class, “Write out the garbage.” Pacing the class, he continued, like a metronome, repeating word for word, “write and write, write out the trash, and as you write, you will, you will find your truth.” He was right, and he was a gift. I think about him a lot and I think I must find a way. Yesterday I was talking to a friend, who said, “Beth, I could never put it out there for the world to see.” Before blogs, before the internet, before cellphones, before all of it, I loved to ask, I loved to share, I loved to tell my story. I do not see my dark spots as shameful and embarrassing, and maybe that is why when I share the dark moments of others, I feel love and forgiveness, or better, I feel truth. I told my friend, “Friend (because that is really what I call him), you are a gifted doctor. When people are suffering they come to you. The gift I have is my narrative. The healing I can hopefully share is through what I have to say.” Unfortunately it is also what I see as my gift that always causes the most pain. And like an overly edited script, if I keep adjusted my words to make everyone look, smell and feel good, then what’s the point? I continued, “You know how I can go on and on and on when we talk, that is how writing is. The words always come, and they keep coming.”
A couple of weeks ago when talking about writing and what I could actually do with a career I had pursued, loved, and studied in college, another family member suggested I should only write when I have the complete permission of anyone that I want to write about. Those words haunt me. I know that is not what my family intended. Really, what is the point? Where is the joy? I love my family, and respect what they say. I hear them, and their words carry way to much weight. I started this post, a post about blogging, thinking that I could avoid hurting my family altogether, only to be reminded that whatever I write, I will always cause someone else pain or discomfort. My hands are tied, my stomach is in knots, and I do not know how to move forward, make peace, and tell the stories about blogging, my family and all the stories I love to tell. I know. I sound like a pussy. You want to tell me to forgive myself, don’t be so afraid, and to maybe attend a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Group, right? My Fourth Grade Teacher suggested the same things [wink wink]. Really, you should see the only comment she wrote on my report card? “Beth, next year do not be so afraid of your teacher.”
Regarding the post I promised you, at last count I was up to 4311 words. Holy Cow, Batman! My gut doesn’t lie. I am having a difficult time putting those 4311 words out there. Maybe it is because of what my family said. A lot of it is. Maybe it is because writing about my former life as a blogger forced me to open a door that I had locked, shut and moved away from long ago. As I go back and forth trying to decide what is best for all involved, and like I have articulated every which way here, I see that it will be impossible to make everyone involved feel good. Actually, that was kind of the point of writing the post. As cheesy or perhaps self-serving as it sounds, I was searching for healing, and thought maybe if everyone knew my side, that things would change.
It is true. I said I would let you know the “whole” story of what “really” happened that one time, the year was 2006, the month was August, when I abruptly stopped blogging. For days I’ve worked on this post. I’ve read it over and over again. I am grateful for Dave’s support. I love that Dave, with his badass editing skills, read and edited my post. I love that after reading he said, “Beth, this is some of your very best writing. The tone is perfect.” His words mean the world, and even with his most positive critique, I did not feel resolved. I only hoped that I would.
All week long I continued to write. I called an editor friend seeking advice, and ran my thoughts past her. I kept writing, working those words through. While I continued to knead and adjust my words, pounding out every angle and explanation, it was pretty easy to see that I can’t. I tried to write it differently. I tried to lessen the sting, and then my post started to morph into something I did not recognize. That wasn’t right either. I had a decision to make, and no, I do not think the outcome is necessarily fair. And because I know better, and because I know what it is like to be on the other end of someone’s hurt-filled words and actions, I am not sure I am ok with that. I am no saint. I also know that the pain I could cause would most definitely make me feel terrible, only distracting me from the actual pain I have worked to heal.
I continued to write, hoping I would write out enough hurt, shame, anger, love, and sorrow that I would eventually find a way. Rationalizations weren’t cutting it, and saying it was for the greater good only made me think, “whose greater good?” It came down to this: Even though I know my intent is hopeful and right, I cannot take away the truth that my words will most likely sting. I am not a complete idiot (remind me to tell you the story about two-year-old Eli’s favorite word, “eighty-eight” sometime). I also see the opportunity. It is the stories that sting that are often the most compelling, and it is an added bonus when one of the characters is very well known. And because I realize upfront that drama sells, I have to question my intent. Do I make any sense?
Finally, I am afraid. To honestly write about what I experienced back then makes me want to puke. To write, I must slice open that beautifully healed scar, and relive those very same horrific, embarrassing, very painful feelings I felt back then. This week that is exactly what I did. I do not like that part. I hate it. The words bled through my fingers, and flew onto the keyboard as I felt the fear and PTSD I felt back then. No fun! Each day I was grateful when it is time to pick up the boys. I arrived at their school, they hopped in the car where I saw their faces, asked them about their day, we laughed, talked about girls, homework, and tomorrow’s Math. Each day as we sat in the car together I would breathe, and as I did, I saw my life now. I felt strong. I would sit and think, “why would I want to bring that horror back into my world?” We are happy. As we drove home, I knew that past trauma is something I can let go. I already have.
To tell my story is important. It has a place, I just do not know where. I also think I most definitely picked the short straw in all of this. For now I have put my post on pause. I’ve saved it, and maybe someday posting it will be right. Selfishly I am grateful that this past week I walked through a long-ago horror. I wrote down word for word what happened, what was said to me, and ouch! I can tell that long ago I walked through a nightmare, and for now, that’s about all I can say. I can also tell you that I am grateful I wrote out the exact words, because maybe now I won’t be so afraid of monsters. I hope not.