I have approached a clearing in the woods where I have come across an old, abandoned structure falling in upon itself. Inside, for the briefest moment, I can feel a sense of relief upon stumbling across it in the most unexpected place. It was my home once. Making my way through the dried weeds and overgrowth, I warily approach the back wall of the house and ease my face close to the glass. I feverishly wipe the caked-up dirt off the glass, putting my hand up to shield the glare from the light, and peer in, expectant to find something salvageable obscured somewhere in the cobwebs. But there is nothing substantial. Just a softly diffused ray of light flowing down over the edges of a dust-encased chair onto the weathered wooden floor below.
I sigh, perhaps from disappointment. Or maybe exhaustion. Again, I try to focus through the dirty glass and cobwebs. If I strain hard enough, I can barely make out the edges of picture frames on the wall. Boxes overflowing with randomly shaped objects. Ominous clutter in the corner. Cobwebs. Haze. Dust floating in the air. If I didn’t know it belonged to me, I would dare to call it junk. Expendable. Rubbish.
I make my way around to the front of the house, tediously trudging around bits of broken glass and rocks. The front porch groans under my weight as I carefully shuffle up to the door and force it open. It protests, but I pay no mind to the swirling dust clouds that greet my intrusion. Ignoring the boxes collected off to the side, I hesitantly walk up to the wall to get a closer look at the photographs I saw through the dirty glass. They are arranged haphazardly, some tilted to one side or the other. A few have fallen onto the floor. Shattered glass glitters in the faint sunlight. I bend down and pick up the frames, flip them over, and wince; I don’t want to remember these, and I throw them against the wall in disgust. The others on the wall, now coated with evidence of neglect, regain my attention, but I search the faces for someone I know. Someone familiar, that I feel a connection to. I step back, hands perched upon my hips, and assume I must be looking at someone else’s life. These are strangers. These are people I no longer know. And in the middle I see one face that evokes feelings of strong affection. Then four more.
I move in closer. That can’t be all there is. There has to be someone here I recognize, someone’s profile that stirs a connection within me. The names on the back with their familial titles mean nothing to me. These are someone’s parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. But they truly don’t feel like mine. I don’t recognize them, I don’t feel anything, so they have to belong to someone else. If this is the case, why do I persist in my examination? Why do I care who they are, what their connection to me is, and the reason behind their obviously deliberate presence in my life?
For a woman who now tends to run on the emotional side, I have found myself in a battle of wills with something I did not even consider was going to be such a persistent challenge: emotional disconnect from loved ones before Kevin happened. Just about everything, including this, is turning out to be so ambiguous, both everything at once and nothing at all, that some days I just cannot tolerate being inside my own head. Hard to tolerate, because some of these people to whom I refer are family and friends I had for years before they were removed from me by force. Frustrating because with some, there were already strained relationships in the balance, but even with the most strained of ties, I loved them just the same. Disheartening, because some days, a day like today, for example, I feel nothing even barely recognizable to emotions associated with family or old friends. Burdensome, because some days I look at them and see nothing but strangers when I know there should be something there. Anything: familiarity, affection, trust, connection.
Since I left in December, this lack of connection has plagued me. I recall the four plus years I endured my isolation and confinement within Kevin’s prison and how I was stolen away from them and hidden like a dirty secret waiting to be unearthed. The struggles and a battle of wills to try to keep contact with people he refused to let me be around, at first without him, and then at all. If I went to my mother’s house, he would call not an hour later demanding me to come home, because I did not need to be there. If one of my family said there was a gathering ,etc., I was not to go.
And he even went so far to do things that were of extreme inconvenience to all of them so that they would be irritated when I did get away from him long enough to show up. They would act like I was in their way, and thus unwanted, and I was treated as an unwelcome stranger who needed to be removed. Or he would force me to call and ask for money, while he sat there and told me what to say. When they said no, I was punished. When I refused to call, I was punished. When they relented, I was still punished. I recount the times I would somehow manage to sneak in a hurried phone call when he forgot one of the phones at home, and they would not answer. They would not call me back. Despite my messages telling them I needed them. He wasn’t there. All the while, my words not betraying my desperate thoughts. Please pick up the phone. Please call me back. Silence. Static. Someone. Anyone. Please don’t leave me here to die with this monster.
Somewhere in between these calls and my desperate attempts to get them to see everything was terribly wrong, I lost the love I had for them. The affection dissipated, and the trust shattered. I felt abandoned and left to fend for myself, confused as to how they could not see when I would be around them and let the sleeve creep up my arm and reach in front of them in a manner meant to deliberately display the bruises from him grabbing my wrist. The request for the cane. Bending over to pick up something I deliberately dropped to the floor so the bruises on my back would be exposed. The first black eye I refused to cover with concealer. The welts on my face from being slapped. I felt betrayed, inconsequential. And what little bit of will I had to fight against his isolating and confining me was lost.
We grew apart. They went on with their lives, and mine was an inferno plummeting in a downward spiral. Kevin’s abuse erased me; I became a stranger to them and they to me. I became so consumed with merely surviving each day and trying to desperately meet Kevin’s unreachable expectations, that I also became a stranger to myself. There was no longer a question of what I liked and what I didn’t. I was to agree with him. There were no decisions to be made, because he made them for me. So in this constant state of uncertainty, flux, and broken trust where I could not even know myself, how could I ever expect anything more than loss?
When I left Kevin in December and came out of the abyss I was tossed in, they expected me to be the same person I was before everything happened. They were jilted to reality fairly quickly. I spoke only when necessary, I told them nothing of any importance. I let them see what I wanted them to see, which was absolutely nothing. The sad thing is, they don’t ask me any questions. Of course, I don’t really ask them any either. Where they include me in things because they think I am that carefree 30-year-old they remember me to be, and I go with them sometimes to humor them and sometimes because I want to make an effort to reverse this rift that persists, I still feel like an outsider. I feel like they do not now nor will ever know me, and I come and go as I please. Like a lodger.
Constantly contributing to this disconnect is the fact that I have to learn who I am all over again. It’s hard to let others know you when you don’t even know what’s there. It’s frustrating to me when they don’t share my newfound enthusiasm for something simple like sunflowers, for example, or the story of how I was on the way home from my Sunday morning meeting, and we had to pull over, just for me to get out and take a picture of this one very specific sunflower. The very one is in the photo to the right. So focused on it that I was willing to hop over a ditch and climb an embankment in a skirt and heels just to take the picture. It’s confusing me to how they don’t understand why I am suddenly walking to a wildlife refuge and they find me on one of the observation towers taking pictures of something they seemingly take for granted. It’s annoying to me why they cannot understand why I keep changing my hair. Unfathomable why they cannot see why I do not want to be trapped in the house all the time.
I am not sure how to feel about the fact that all the reasons for these things seem to originate from something affected by my abuse. The one I oblige the most is random photos of things. In addition to the camera built into my phone, I also carry a digital camera, because I never seem to know when the mood is going to strike to pull it out and snap seemingly unimportant but important things. Flowers, ducks, clouds, water, horses. I spare Kerwyn the endless barrage of nature photos of all sorts. This is because I keep him occupied with random selfies and pictures of food. I feel that this photo obsession stems from my experiences of finding life all over again and wanting something tangible to document it so I can share it with others, even if they do not know this is my motive.
Perhaps if I told them, I wouldn’t have to be so disconcerted at their lack of understanding and eagerness to learn. Maybe if I keep pushing myself to oblige them, eventually something will click, and I will remember. Or I will be forever doomed to be on the edges of their lives. And at this point, suggestions on combatting this would be appreciated, because, quite frankly, I already lived four years on the outer-most edges of their lives. I didn’t care much for it, and I really don’t care to endure it again.