Letters

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? Not an email, an instant message, or a text, but a letter? Not a “Sympathy Card” or a “Get Well Card,” but an actual letter?  You know how they go: How are you doing? Here is what I’ve been doing, saying, dreaming, or thinking?

Do you remember being young enough to be excited when mail came? Before the box was filled with bills and appointment reminders, I remember getting notes from my grandmother or my pen pal. I remember being excited when a piece of mail came to the house in MY name!

Writing Letters is [almost] a lost art in our society.

I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the lost art of writing letters this summer, along with thousands of others who have young men and women training to serve our country in the military. Technology impacts our lives daily, but the military strips it down to the basics when grooming young people to serve our country. Initial training involves separation physically from family and friends, as it always has. Now, it also involves removal of electronics so trainees can focus on their mission.

For the first time in some of their young lives, the new inductees in the military are unable to utilize cell phones, computers and other electronic devices for communication. Plunged into a new world and cut off from these things, they have taken to pen and paper like the generations before them. In the same way, their families can only communicate through letters. So, a whole new generation is learning how to write, address, and mail letters, then experience the anticipation, frustration, and joy while waiting for a reply.

Letters are so unique and so personal. Without emojis and built-in auto correct to tell us what to write, they wind their way through our thoughts and emotions. They sometimes have themes, but other times are random collections of thoughts and half-baked ideas. Some days the pen seems to have a mind of its own and you can’t get the words on the page fast enough. Other days, “Dear ____” is the only thing that comes to mind.

I’m grateful for this journey–watching my son’s letters develop from the equivalent of long text messages to missives with themes and and messages. I won’t tell him it’s developed his writing abilities this summer, but I think he will be pleasantly surprised with an improvement in his writing grades. Maybe he didn’t practice writing essays with three points, but he has honed his ability to say what he meant clearly and concisely.

It’s been fun to see his thought processes develop and his ability to convey his feelings improve this summer. I’ve missed him while he’s been gone and look forward to seeing him again, but I hope I’ll still get letters from him occasionally. I intend to write more letters by hand to him and to others.

Just for fun, write a letter! Write a letter to a friend you haven’t seen in a while–or to one you’ll see tomorrow. Some of our best thoughts appear on the written page, but if you don’t write, they stay hidden.

Happy Letter Writing….

Advertisements

I Will Survive

My 17 year old just texted me from college.  “It’s not torn so it’s not surgical yet, however it is severely fractured so no weight on it for a while. Going to let me stay in the boot as long as the pain is tolerable.”

How does a 17 year old in her first semester of college crush the top of her foot so that it is “severely fractured”?  Like everything in my life, it’s complicated.

On the first evening in September, her father (my ex)was in a motorcycle accident and had to be hospitalized due to his injuries. He had road rash on his torso and arms, surgery on one hand, and was unable to move his other shoulder, leaving him virtually incapacitated. I waited until her classes were over the next day, then called and explained the situation, letting her choose whether to stay at college for her second weekend or come home. She chose to come see him that Friday evening, and spent the night with him in the hospital. At some point during the night, he had to smoke, which meant she helped load him into a wheelchair and take him outside to get his nicotine fix. In the process, they ran over her right foot while he was in the chair.

She limped the next day, but was so concerned with his health and stressed about her adjustment to college that we didn’t think much of it. The following week, her foot became more painful, and the nurse at Health Services on campus wrapped it, put her on crutches and made an appointment to see a doctor. The x-ray didn’t show a break, but it was extremely swollen, so he put her in a walking boot to support her foot and give her some relief from the massive blisters that had erupted across her torso.  A week later, she was hurting worse, so we made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. He reviewed the x-rays and her symptoms, determining it was more serious than a sprain, suspecting a lisfranc injury to the middle part of her foot. He ordered a MRI, put her in a larger boot that isn’t conducive to weight-bearing, and prescribed a knee scooter to aid her mobility around campus.

The orthopedic office scheduled an appointment for an MRI at the local hospital the following week during a class, which would also require her to miss her first college Speech & Debate Tournament, and told her it was the only time available. I intervened, asking them to reschedule, but they weren’t able to accommodate her within a reasonable time frame, so I scheduled her with an independent MRI provider for this week outside of class time. It took four calls to the doctor’s office, two to the MRI location, one to the hospital and one to the insurance company, along with two emails and a stop at the local UPS store to fax authorizations to treat, but I did it. (SCORE!)

She had the MRI on Saturday, and we have been waiting on results.  This afternoon, I check my phone during a brief break at work and find out the orthopedic has called her to explain that they received the results and that her ligament isn’t torn, but there is a “severe fracture” that will require her to stay non-weight-bearing for a while and may still require casting later.

So my daughter will continue her first semester of college in a walking boot, using a knee scooter. Her second-story dorm room on the farthest end of the hall from the elevator is more challenging to reach these days, and the tiny space is crowded with the scooter she has to maneuver. She will have to make follow-up appointments with the orthopedic specialist as well as deal with ongoing pain from the injury while maintaining passing grades in her classes.  The car she drove to school is now useless as she is unable to drive it, and she will have to depend on friends and public safety for transportation until her foot heals.

I’m learning to turn loose more and let God control her life, and dependence on strangers to be His hands in her life. I guess she is learning humility, patience, and perseverance. I haven’t decided on the best soundtrack for this chapter: “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”  Or “I Will Survive.”  Either way, cue the disco ball!

34 Years

God has sustained me through years of domestic violence, and will guide me now that I’m safe from that relationship.

Balloon 2Over 34 years of my life was spent with one person.

I was married almost 34 years. (33 years, 11 months and 12 days to be exact.)

That has ended now. I worked and cried and struggled and prayed and tried again for 34 years, but it was impossible to keep him from looking elsewhere, so my marriage is over. Why do I feel like the one with the Scarlet Letter?

I keep asking myself what I could have done differently, how much more I could have done, how I could have changed to make it work. My head knows the answer: I did everything I could, but my raw emotions keep telling me there was something else I should have, could have done. I feel guilty for not making it work. My marriage failed, therefore I am a failure.

I married my high school sweetheart. Well, he wasn’t in high school–he had dropped out to join the military, but I was in high school when I met him, so I actually married the boy I dated in high school.  I was the good girl who was always enamored with the bad boys. Good guys were boring–just like me. I loved the vicarious thrill when I heard what mischief the more daring got into while I wasn’t around. I never thought about what it would feel like to be permanently tethered to someone who regularly broke the law or skated on the border between truth and lies. I never considered how it would feel to be the victim of his lawlessness, or to be held accountable for his actions due to our relationship.

None of my friends liked him, and my family didn’t either, but I was in love and oblivious to reality. I reasoned they just couldn’t understand our enduring love during our dating. I lost my friends one by one, and didn’t fit in with his, effectively isolating myself for his benefit. The night he gave me a ring, we couldn’t go celebrate with mutual friends, so we played cards with my grandparents, godly Christians who wouldn’t turn us away or lecture us about the bad decisions we were making. I cried almost every day the last month before the wedding, but attributed it to pre-wedding jitters or exhaustion. People in love can’t be unhappy, can they?

I survived almost 34 years. That’s what I keep telling myself. Not everyone survives marriage to an abusive alcoholic, but I did. When I doubt my efforts to save the marriage, I have to go back to the darkest days and remind myself of the worst, but I have to be careful not to camp there and set up a massive monument to poor me. It feels like walking a tightrope stretched between despair and depression, but it’s a walk I have to take to avoid the overwhelming guilt and the crippling voices that tell me I didn’t try hard enough and there was so much more I could have done because God hates divorce.

Here’s the trek in my mind today. Wedding pictures show him glowering at the car before we left the church, but they don’t show his cursing and swearing when he got in the car. We ended our honeymoon early because he had a wonderful friend from Washington, D.C. that came in to take pictures of the wedding and he wanted to see his friend off. There was a problem with returning his friend’s rental car, and I waited in our car while they resolved it. They came to the car laughing hysterically. They had lied to the agent and were quite proud of their escapade–the first time I wondered whether I could be liable for his dishonesty. Spending evenings alone in our first apartment while he got drunk with the neighbor. Explaining bruises with lies so convincing that even now, I can’t remember how I really got them. Him banging my head against the cold tile of the bathroom. Wearing turtleneck sweaters to work in a warehouse during a heatwave of 100+ because he had choked me and the necklace left abrasions between the bruises from his fingers that I couldn’t explain away. Coming home on my birthday to find him sneaking out with his buddies to go camping for the weekend (can you say revenge shopping?) his words when I told him we were expecting our first child: “You’ve just ruined the next 18 years of my life.”  Finding bruises that matched his hand print on the buttocks of the same child under his diaper. Discovering the same bruises on his youngest sister 10 years later. Loading the kids into the car in a panic to escape from their dad’s anger. Frantic calls and texts to me any time he got angry when I was away from the house, interviews with DHS workers, counselors, police officers, screaming echoing in my head, flinching from fists and objects thrown at me, but jumping between him and the kids when he was angry. Calling the police to have him arrested, the peace for 3 months while he was gone, then the resulting turmoil when he returned. Counselors warning me to escape while we could, an attorney giving me a sliver of hope that I could leave and the kids wouldn’t be forced to have visitation with him, and finding slivers of glass all over the bedroom for weeks after he destroyed things before moving out.

I take a deep breath and leave the pain behind me. I’ve seen more than I need to quiet the voices that criticize me for not doing enough, but I know they’ll return as I put the images and feelings out of my mind, and I’ll have to step out again. I can say I tried my hardest to be the wife that I should be. I put up with years of physical abuse, years of emotional and verbal abuse, and I have watched my kids wither and suffer at his hand. I survived and they did, too.

He chose to register online for an affair (thank you Ashley Madison), and then attempt to justify his actions. I don’t deserve the scarlet letter, and neither do my kids, who have been approached by classmates and teachers asking about his activities online. Some were curious and vulgar, while others were compassionate and concerned, but asking children about their parents’ proclivities never turns out well for the kids. He has moved, but our address, along with his name still circulate the internet and are saved in various files to haunt us.

I wonder if there is a ribbon for survivors of domestic abuse, but wouldn’t we all be afraid to wear it?  That’s the reason it continues–you can’t tell the people you live with–they are fellow victims or the perpetrator. You can’t tell your family of origin, because that might lead to further violence. You are locked in a cycle of abuse, silence, resentment, resignation, fear and loneliness.

And yet, the sick part–the part that turns my stomach–is that I would do it all again. And that may be the biggest source of my guilt. I have four wonderful children for whom I would walk through fire. They are the best part of me. They are amazing individuals that make me smile and laugh and cry and worry and drive me to my knees in prayer, thankful for their presence and begging God for their safety and discernment, health and protection.

I’ve thought about this post for quite a while, wondering how I would feel when I could actually write the words that I’m divorced.  I knew I’d have mixed emotions, but I didn’t expect the guilt. I thought I was done with guilt. I try to banish it from my kids’ vocabulary, assuring them that nothing they saw, heard, or experienced was ever their fault. I see them struggle to deal with it, and I guess that’s a reflection of my poor coping skills.

I’m excited to see what the next chapter of my life brings. It’s frightening to be on my own, and yet the friends and family members who have surrounded me through this process will continue to sustain and support me. God has sustained me through my nightmares. He is good and will continue to bless me as I move forward. I’m praying for a smoother ride, or for grace to handle whatever loving lessons I need.