Thursday, June 12, 2014
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
"Woman must come of age by herself—she must find her true center alone.”
Anne Murrow Lindbergh
I was innocent in the ways of the world and eager to please those whom I considered superior. Because I was trusting I married a batterer, not knowing in the beginning that he was such a man. I was raped in every sense of the word, stripped of dignity, separated from my children, cowed and dominated by my batterer’s very presence. After seven years of marriage, traumatized and two months pregnant with my third child I fled my abuser and sought sanctuary. And so it was that on one April evening in 1974 I stood naked in “front of God and everybody” and was baptized into a religious cult. I left my past behind, gave up my possessions, and turned my back on my flesh and blood. In this vulnerable state I dedicated myself to this group of people, their ideals, and to the charismatic man that led them. He spoke like he knew the answers to life and while he exuded the feeling that while in his presence I was loved and beautiful, his confidence was overwhelming and I felt diminished. I was never fully comfortable around him for any length of time.
In the peaceful setting of fragrant flower gardens, beautiful music and people dressed in flowing robes and lovely dresses; one would think I had arrived in heaven but I was numb inside, looking out from inside a bubble, separate from everything around me. My tears threaten to spill out but I did l not let them escape. I hid behind a smile and artificial pleasantries while beneath the surface my emotions roiled. Ripped apart I shielded my heart to suppress the pain because I could not face it. Not yet. This group of people that I was among was so peaceful and welcoming and yet not one person had an inkling of who I really was. We in the family were encouraged to live in the present and not talk about the past, let alone bring up any unpleasantness that may have occurred in daily life. This would be construed as negativity. My only comfort was in knowing that I would not be beaten or verbally belittled, as I had been in my marriage.
I am not sure why the courts gave my husband custody. It was a mistake, too late realized and I was powerless to change it. My abusive spouse held the reins. The result? He took the children and fled. I had found sanctuary and saved my life by escaping the abuse, but separation from my two oldest children was devastating. I was apart from them their entire childhoods.
I tried to focus on my new life but after a number of years, the cult unraveled on several levels. The struggle to keep afloat financially took center stage and the financial control of the head of the group was a powerful and manipulative tool that controlled other aspects of our lives; our housing, our food supply, and our children’s education. The reality was that we supported a lifestyle that only a few of us enjoyed under the guise of what we were told was a commonwealth. Behind the scenes I knew what life was really like.
If you were a guest visiting for the first time you would see carefully manicured lawns and gardens with people working together, children and adults alike, and if the timing was right you would be hosted by the head of the family and treated to a fine meal and good wine. The leader of the family may take you on a special tour of his house; show you his leather couches, flat screen television on the first story before taking you upstairs where there is a grand piano, and artwork on the walls.
What would not be part of the tour was a walk the trail uphill into the forest. If you went on your own you would pass a couple of small wooden houses nestled in among the trees. Further along you would pass an outhouse along the trail. At the top of the hill you would see a yurt built on top of a wooden structure. How quaint, you might think as you got closer, as this dwelling looks so peaceful and simple but you would notice mold growing along the walls of the yurt and the sagging steps that led from the porch to the upstairs sleeping and bathing quarters. As you went in the door you would see the kitchen and living area, lit by kerosene lamps, for there is no electricity. There are no kitchen cupboards, just shelves with curtains thumb tacked on to keep the dust out, but not the mice. The furniture, what there is of it, is ramshackle, mismatched and obviously old. The woodstove seems to be heating well, although it, too, is showing signs of age. This was where I lived and raised my children. The housing issue, for me was frustrating in a deep way because I felt helpless to change it. The lack of possessions is not what bothered me, but the lack of power in my life.
Over the years the idealism I had dedicated my life to had slowly eroded and a gulf had developed between the lifestyle of the regular members of the group and the leader himself. The importance of his authority took priority over the well being of the people. He had control of the purse strings. Kids were going without some of the decent basics of life while he was enjoying traveling and eating at expensive restaurants, but this was not acceptable to discuss. Such conversations were construed as negative or meant that we were not content. Worse yet, if we didn’t support this system we weren’t loyal. For me, it was easier to not make waves. As in my marriage I was emotionally and financially dependent; this time on a system that was repressive to individual thought. I grew to resent the demands on my time and certainly the financial demands.
Still I stayed. Some years were relatively happy but when I think back the bad memories outweigh the good. I stayed because I didn’t want to be alone and it was too daunting to think of raising my children “out in the world”. I had no skills and had not been in the job market for years. It was easier to stay on the land, “with the program”, be directed and told how to think. Also, my years as a battered woman before the family had traumatized me to the point of dysfunction and co dependency. I am not proud of the person I was back then.
I finally realized it was up to me to change and when my children were older and more independent I began to carve a place of sanity within this reality. I started by taking a correspondence course in composition from a university which opened up a world beyond the closely focused structure of the family. In the second year of my course I chose the Sacred Feminine as my thesis. Through the process of research realized I could no longer support a patriarchal system. I moved away and started a new life with much healing to be done. Shortly after the family went bankrupt, lost the land, and disbanded, except for a handful of people. The gratifying part is that in spite of challenges and difficult choices and circumstances my children have undergone each one is a strong, loving, and caring person. I ask for no more than that.
Life is an ongoing journey and I have made it almost mid way through six decades. I hope that, in time I will make peace with the feelings from the past that still rise to the surface. It is not that I dwell on the past; it is that the wounds are profound. Once trust has been broken there is no putting back it back together in the same way. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall.
Friday, March 28, 2014
The typewriter beckons me from its banishment in the corner of the coat closet, but I will not be tempted. Its future is to collect dust bunnies, poor thing but I will not be swayed, for I am at last up to date with the modern world and have deemed my new computer a partner in creating a great literary work. Even though I am a newcomer to technology I am confident this machine will help to ensure my success. I have everything at my fingertips, prepared to create a masterpiece.
Fingers poised over the keyboard I am ready to unleash my muse and fill the blank screen with words of genius. The time is now and the conditions are perfect. I am a genuine writer at last, ready to make my mark in literary history. I envision my picture in the newspaper as an “upcoming new writer”. I see myself at book signings as I tour all over the world. My name will be listed among famous authors such as John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Pearl S Buck. This creation is going to be the story that launches my career. There will be no rejection slips. I will be renowned as a great author and after I am interviewed on Oprah agents will beg for my attention.
The words flow quickly and I can hardly type fast enough to keep pace with my mind. My beginning paragraph is awesome as I hook my readers in with the first sentence. My voice is clear and strong yet gently entreating. My point of view is consistent as each mesmerizing sentence builds towards the scintillating climax. I pay no attention to the ringing phone. The knock on the door does not distract me and lunchtime passes unnoticed except for the grumble of my stomach. This is what writing is all about, complete devotion to one’s talent. The time flies and before I know it all I have left is the final proofread. I follow submission guidelines to a “T”. Every space, every line is precise on the page. Every word is spelled correctly, every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. My sentences are fluid, my choice of words perfect with just the right mix of adjectives and adverbs and I have not allowed disagreeing verbs, dangling participles, naughty gerunds or sloppy slang. The syntax is perfect.
The final draft is complete. Perhaps I should do just one last spell-check before printing. I touch my finger to key, and then…... The screen is blank and the realization hits. I have deleted everything! In the haste of my elation, I pressed the wrong key. Too late I remember someone telling me that should save my work periodically as I go along. Hindsight, however clear, does not make this less painful. My masterpiece is gone, like spilled milk that cannot be put back into the glass. Ah well, such is the life of a writer and I must do what I must do. I start again. Perhaps I should dust off the typewriter.