Rape, Suppressed Memory, and the Hope of Forgiveness

“I wronged you in the past,” came the LinkedIn message notification on my phone. It was late on a Friday afternoon. I was at work, plowing through as much as I could before the weekend.

I did not recognize the name on the message. Whoever it was, he wanted to apologize.

For what? Who was he?

About an hour later, my brain miraculously coughed up a possible answer to the second of those questions. My friend Molly and I had once rented a house in Charlottesville from someone whose son also lived there. Could that guy be this guy? We used a nickname for him—one that seemed to align with his adult, LinkedIn name. This is an example of a brain doing something remarkable, because that is literally the only thing it has offered up to me from the locked vault since I received that message.

It turns out my brain’s suggestion was correct. That guy was this guy.

And at that moment, I had to face a hard fact. I had virtually no memory of the entire year. The only thing from that year that has been in my active memory files in the 40 years since is that I was living in that house when John Lennon was killed. That sliver is what allowed me to figure out what year it was. I Googled it. 1980. Got it.

That’s it. No actual memory of the house, my room, the street, any events from the year either at work, school, or home. I have subsequently learned that there were two other housemates, who lived in the basement. In a late-night Messenger conversation, Molly texted me numerous specific memories of all the roommates, the house, stuff we talked about and did— that I cannot conjure no matter how I try. An entire year—gone.

Including the rape that took place in my bedroom one night. I eventually listened to my rapist tell the story. It was not the story of a shared memory, where my brain provided images and feelings to fill in the edges. It was a brand-new story he told me, and the main characters were named “You” and “I.”

Let me back up a bit. Why did I ask for a call with my self-professed rapist?

  1. I wanted my questions answered.
  2. I wanted at least one black hole in my mind to be filled in.
  3. I wanted to control the conversation—no more surprising messages on LinkedIn or an apology via letter or email where he got to spin the narrative.

I asked him to talk the following Sunday. He agreed.

Friday afternoon—I was numb… like, kind of fine, actually, for a few hours. I called my sister and told her about the messages. “Are you okay?” was her first question. And I said, “I think so.”

Friday night into Saturday… definitely not okay. I have no clear explanation for the mental and emotional processes of the next several days. Rollercoaster, though painfully trite, gets close to being descriptive. Information overload. Brain overdrive. Heartache.

I had been raped a second time—a little over a year after the first one. And I had erased it, and all the months around it.

I felt as if he had just raped me, because until that Friday afternoon, I did not know he had.

The complete blank in my brain resulted in massive uneasiness and anxiety.

What happened?

I forget things. My brain learned the trick when I was very young. I forget so I can be strong. I forget so I can live as if it didn’t happen. I erase huge swaths of my life so I can feel better about my life.

So much forgotten time. Entire years, it turns out. That fact is a punch in my gut almost as heartbreaking as realizing I’d been raped not just once, but twice.

My housemate rapist looked for me, forty years later. He sought me out, found me on LinkedIn, and assumed I’d remember, just as he did, the events that took place. Also that I’d likely welcome his request to apologize. How could he have known that the event that has been with him for 40 years was only introduced into my consciousness by him?

His first messages were clumsy, unintentionally hurtful because rather clueless, and made me nervous about speaking to him. But I knew I needed to. Wanted to.

I processed the shit out of the whole situation all day Saturday. I spoke to my sister and my daughter, on the phone. My friends Mary (by chance she was in town) and Beth came over to sit with me that afternoon. We made a plan. I wrote my notes, my script, to help me get through the call. I got mad. At him: “How dare he contact me!” At myself. For forgetting. I sobbed intermittently with utter helplessness—once again I had to face my own vulnerability at the whim/hands/intentions of a man. I raged with fierce strength: “This does not define me.” I was exhausted.

The next day, Beth returned, to be by my side while I was on the phone.

I tapped in the number he’d given me. I vibrated all over as floods of adrenaline and cortisol had their way with my central nervous system. My voice shook when he answered the phone and I said hello.

Here’s the thing. I knew he wanted to apologize. That seemed, on the face of it, good. But I was not at all sure if he wanted to take responsibility—which was the only kind of apology that would actually help me. If his apology was for his own sake alone, I would know it. And it would hurt.

But it wasn’t.

Nothing can change what he did. He will have to live with that self-knowledge forever. But his actions on that Sunday afternoon on the phone were everything I could have hoped for, but had not hoped for.

He wanted the call to be healing. I did not think it could be.

But it was.

I led, he followed. I asked, he answered—with brutal honesty and full ownership of the awfulness of his choices and actions. He said the correct words: “I raped you.” He offered no excuses, and lay no blame or responsibility at my feet, as happens all too often.

I am not the only woman he is trying to find. There are two others. And for their sake, at the very end of our phone call, I offered him some suggestions about how he might do it differently next time. He thanked me.

He told me he had read my Me Too blog before he reached out to me—found my blog link on LinkedIn and then typed the words Me Too in the search bar. He thought he might find himself there—but it was someone else. When he messaged me, he already knew he was not the only man to violate me.

His wife was raped in college too, he told me. When she shared that information with him, when they were dating, he told her, “I did that.” He confessed the truth, that there are women out there, like her, because of him. He told me that their ability to work through those brutal facts, and every emotion on both sides, made all the difference to them. It took a long time and I don’t think it was easy. In the end, I had to respect him for that honesty with the woman he loved, and whom he could have lost.

It turns out we were housemates, not close, not friends, but friendly. He said he wasn’t the best housemate. I had to remind him to do his dishes.

After he told me what happened, I asked, “Why did you do it?”

“I was a privileged little shit.” Like so many upper-middle class white boys on college campuses, he imagined himself to be entitled to whatever he wanted. He thought he had magical powers to make women want his penis inside them. However it got there. The fact that he recognizes that now, and owns it, and refuses to be that guy anymore—well, it made an impression on me. As my heart broke for 20-year-old me, I recognized the growth and humility in him that makes him a human on a path, just as I am.

As for forgiveness, I’m not there yet, but I want to be. And I hope I’ll find my way to that place. I usually do.

The night he raped me, he knocked on my door. “I was lonely,” he said. “I asked if I could get in bed with you.”

His words triggered no memory. Still a blank. I sat in my sunny Sunday living room, tears dripping from my chin as I listened

He went on. “You were surprised, but you said, okay. Just to sleep.”

So he got in next to me.

I fell asleep. He didn’t.

 

 

Touch

How did I maintain equilibrium and a sense of peace and happiness through many years when some pretty basic things about my life were painful, unfulfilling, or difficult? High stress around a mentally ill, often homeless, mother. A rural life that did not align with my basic needs. Abstinence from the one thing that had always defined me: writing. And what was essentially a profoundly unsatisfactory marriage. But if you’d asked me at the time, through those years, “Are you happy?” I would have said yes.

There was a family and it was full of love. The love my husband and I felt for our children filled up the gaps and fissures in our own relationship. And I now know, with the clarity of time and distance, there was another thing that was fundamental to my sense of comfort within my life.

Touch.

My kids

The moment I gave birth to my first child, the human need we all have for touch was satisfied. Holding, hugging, cuddling my babies as they grew was, to paraphrase Michelangelo, what gave me life. At least it’s a very very big part of it. And I’m happy to say, I raised two humans as cuddly as I am, and not as uncuddly as their dad is. (He has many great qualities; cuddliness is not one.) Our grown children are paying that warm gift of touch forward in their adult primary attachment relationships—aka with their girlfriends.

After waking up the other day having dreamt I was writing something titled “Touch,” I obviously had to write something titled “Touch.”

My new motto is: Touch—I’m into it. And looking for outlets for my touch, beyond the friendly fluff of my resident feline.

Once I knew I was going to write this blog called “Touch,” I decided to click around on the internet to see if what I intuitively know to be true is backed up by science. Cuz science is cool.

As predicted, all the studies (and they have been numerous in recent decades) support what is obvious to you, or anyone, who has hugged or been hugged, cuddled, stroked, held hands, made love, or driven a car with a lover’s hand resting on your leg as the miles rolled sweetly by. Touch is incredibly healing for us, and, in fact, vital not just to humans, but to animals of all kinds.

A cat, dog, or horse will push head against human hand, demanding pats, nuzzles, and ear scratches. Children who feel safe and nourished by our love will fling themselves at us, arms out, knowing that the hug is waiting. My children, as mentioned, always felt comfortable seeking loving touch, hugs, cuddles, booboo kisses. My son loved to excuse himself from his dinner seat and come sit on my lap when he was finished eating. From toddlerhood on, this routine rarely altered. The result was lovely for everyone—a longer time lingering at table, the family talking about the day, my husband and I making plans, gossiping about work, as I finished my wine or just sat with my little, and eventually less little, boy on my lap. He did that till he was 11 or 12 and just did not fit any more.

To this day, my all-grown daughter will stick her arm into my lap when we are watching a movie, hanging out, talking… and I know she wants some touch. I will stroke her arm as I have done for over 25 years, or maybe her back, and why wouldn’t I? But as adults, we rarely ask for the touch we need. (It would never have occurred to me to ask for a hug or a backrub from either of my parents even when I was a child, let alone an adult.) Humans, at least in this culture, are programmed not to ask for touch, no matter how needed. We don’t push our head against people’s hands or stick our arms into people’s laps. I suspect most Americans would think that saying, “I need a hug” is a sign of weakness. And that’s sad.

­

My son with pup.

Now that my kids are out of the house, I am a single woman living alone. I don’t mind living alone, but I am usually pretty touch-deprived. Like many Americans, I suspect. Having a pet helps immensely. If you have that warm furball pressed up against you and can nest your fingers in a fluffy cat belly or stroke a dog’s silky face, you have a leg up. Also, if you are a woman, you are likely to receive more touch than your male counterparts. We women are more likely to hug hello and goodbye, and to really squeeze when we hug, too. The other day I burst into tears while confiding something painful to a friend of mine. She immediately hugged me—a real hug, and I accepted gratefully.

A hug is best when it rests for a minute. When you and your hug-partner can feel your heart rates match, and the day’s tension drain from your bodies. Except when we hold our children or our lovers… if we have them… we rarely hug like that. I suspect most Americans would find a hug like that, from a friend who is not a lover, awkward at best, creepy at worst.

And it’s a shame.

But the studies do show that even simple conversational touch is immensely beneficial. (Did you know that in the US we touch during conversation with friends about 2 times an hour but in France it’s 110 times an hour and in Puerto Rico… 180!)

What Michelangelo actually said, according to Google, was: “To touch is to give life.” And in all the ways we can interpret “life,” it seems to be true. The benefits to mental, physical, and psychic health abound. Here’s one quick example—one study of women looked at increased numbers of hugs from their partners in correlation to blood pressure and heart rates and the results were stunning. Both numbers dropped. And that is not the only study that links hugs with cardiovascular health.

We’ve known for a long time that babies and children need lots of touch. Children who are raised with plenty of touch are calmer, better adjusted, and more resilient, while children who are not touched fail to thrive or grow, for starters, and the rest of the outcomes are just as awful.

My dad and I wrapped my then 3 year old daughter in loving touch

But we grown-ups need touch too. Touch! I’m into it…

  • Touch creates cooperative relationships. Is it possible to incorporate touch into the work place in the Me Too era? Not sure how we’d navigate that… (My boss is a hugger. At first I was taken by surprise by this daily greeting for everyone she encounters in the office. But I grew to love it. Her hugs are real, and she looks you in the eye as she comes in for the squeeze. I feel seen and cared about. I’m good with it. If she were a man, I honestly can’t say if I would be, but that is a topic for another blog.)
  • It produces oxytocin—the mothering hormone it is sometimes called, also known as the sex hormone, but really it’s the love hormone, as it is released not just by breastfeeding and sex but also by simple touch. Oxytocin enhances positive thinking, optimism, bonding, compassion, and trust.
  • Speaking of compassion—one study showed that when a toucher was feeling compassion, the touched person knew it about 80% of the time. (This study was done so that the two people could not see each other and hands reached out through a hole in the wall—very sciency.) The touched person could also sense other emotions, but compassion was the big winner.) So if you touch people, they will feel your compassion for them. So do it.
  • Touch also releases the neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. They help us regulate our moods and they relieve anxiety and stress. So—touch is part of a solid care plan for folks with an anxiety disorder, not to mention just good practice for all of us living high-stress lives in a high-stress country with high-stress headlines bombarding us daily.
  • Not just heart related disease, but all disease is affected positively by touch simply because (and the evidence is clear) touch boosts our immune systems. Do you get a lot of colds? Hug your kid. Cuddle your partner.

But seriously, do we really need data and studies to make us practice something so elemental to our beings as touch? The people in France don’t need a scientist to tell them, “Touch your friends approximately 110 times each hour that you are in conversation. Here is a printout of the health benefits of this practice. Call me for a follow-up in three weeks.” They touch because it is part of who they are and their society accepts safe, warm, friendly touch.

Chimps groom each other several hours out of every day. Have you ever seen a cat lick another cat for … ages? I mean their tongues must be pretty tough to endure that much exercise. But I digress. Horses in a paddock will nuzzle one another and many will trot right over to be scratched and stroked by the nearest human. Touch is encoded in the DNA of countless species. If we don’t touch enough, it’s because we have allowed cultural norms and social taboos to override our instincts. And of course, I am not advocating that men grab pussies—that is not touch, that’s assault. And also of course, we have to be very aware of what other people are comfortable with. Consent is vital and boundaries are to be respected.

I hope you will practice more touch when talking to a close friend—reach out to touch her hand as you tell her a story or ask her how she feels. If you are lucky enough to have a partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, friend with benefits… touch that person more. Let’s make cuddling our national pastime instead of school shootings. If you still live with your children—no matter how old they are—up the hug quotient. And whenever you see that family member or friend who makes your heart sing—show it with touch and share the love. That’s what I’m going to do.

Postscript. I have found over the years that when I carefully link to all my sources and online articles in a blog, zero readers click on them. (That’s zero as in absolutely none at all.) So if you want to find the research I refer to in this blog, a simple Google search will do the trick, as it did for me. Or ask me for my sources in the comments.

 

 

“Why is My Life Like This?” Is the Wrong Question

30 miles out to sea… the little comma-shaped island is Nantucket.

Thinking too much about things. It’s a lifetime habit I have not yet entirely broken. Thinking has its place and I’m pretty good at it, truth be told. But as powerful as my brain happens to be, my heart is even better.

When I seat my Self there, I am at my best. I can easily know what my gray cells can never deliver.

I’m grateful for my brain, don’t get me wrong. And all the other parts of me, as I explained in one of my favorite Thanksgiving blogs. But what is the lesson I learn again and again— when I feel the need to know “why?” Ask my heart.

A few days ago, I started to write a blog in honor of Thanksgiving. I was having my long anticipated (and partially dreaded) solo Thanksgiving. Once I knew neither my children nor my sisters could be with me, I turned down several invitations in order to carry out the holiday my heart knew was right. Me and my cat, Boo Radley, a 12-pound turkey and a few fixings, and solitude.

I started the blog, and it was rolling out as a kind of “this is my choice/ here is what I’m doing/ this is good/ let me explain myself/ allow me to excuse myself for being the windswept hero on the clifftop with tangled hair and a fistful of crumpled poems.” I digress. Plus, there are no clifftops here, nor are there poems to be crumpled. The thinking blog I started to write… well, it was horrible.

Analysis and a careful breakdown of pros and cons is not going to answer the questions that sneak into my head late at night since arriving in my new life/job/home/island ten months ago. The questions run like this: Did I do the right thing? Why am I here? Is this going to work out? Have I made a terrible mistake? Will I be able to afford this? Are there any men on this island? Why is my life like this?

Wrong questions.

And I know that. The minute I feel my brain firing like that, I roll my eyes. They roll all the way back into that brain and frown at all those neurons freaking out and having a panic party. If eyeballs could enunciate, mine would probably say, “tsk, tsk, tsk.”

So when that happens, I make myself a nice cup of tea, light the candles, and remind myself that there is learning happening.

Because—this is my life and why am I here if not to learn? Yes, and grow. Yes, and trust the universe. Even when things seem objectively nuts, both out there in the world and in here in my confused state.

There is not much more to say, except that it seems pretty obvious to my cardiac muscle’s figurative counterpart that there is a reason for all of this.

I am an introvert living a literal and metaphorical insular life. I am on an island, but I think obsessively about how to get off of it to see my children, the world, tall buildings, friends. Doing so is not easy. Residents are very often trapped here by weather. And if you have a demanding job, well, you are mostly doing that, anyway. So what is in store for me here—to learn and become? Here where I am trapped by ocean and wind?

Wind-blown after a short walk in my neighborhood on Thanksgiving.

I’ve never liked wind. It has always made me extremely uneasy. So now I live in the birthplace of all wind. The place wind gets trained to be a Superwind. The elite wind mall, bragging a variety of winds never before imagined. Isn’t that interesting? Perhaps I am here to be blown away.

My life, though still clearly privileged by any objective standard, is extremely pared down. I have downsized to 500 square feet of coziness. I am blessed to have a place I can even remotely afford here in Nantucket, and so why the dark thoughts? I love where I live. Why do I feel insecure? I let myself worry about meaningless what-ifs until I remember I don’t want a big house. I don’t want a mortgage, a lawn to mow, an oil tank to replace. I can spend my Saturdays writing a blog, exploring the beach, or the Whaling Museum, or walking through town with a friend as I did today… instead of cleaning, calling plumbers, and repainting the bathroom. Much is possible.

A pared-down life on an isolated windy island is life as I know it, for now. It is exactly where I need to be, and my heart is learning why.

 

That Time When I Lost a Piece of Myself

In the time before

In a recent email exchange with an old friend from grad school, 25-year-old Vanessa appeared, invited by his words. It was as if he added water to a freeze-dried me, and I reconstituted before my own eyes.

There she was, that other, prior me. A young woman who had done one thing consistently since she could hold a pencil: write.

That Me-Who-Wrote refused to be vanquished or even dimmed, no matter what. While working full time, putting myself through college, juggling night working with day studenting, and acing my classes, I wrote. Riding the roller coaster of teenaged misery and the even more distracting bumper-car ride of 20-something angst and ecstasy, I wrote. Living fully (like 24 hour a day LIVING LIFE), loving with an ease and joy that defined me, offering my heart to the wrong men and having it cast away—no matter what, the stories poured out. And then there was that eating disorder, an abortion, and my mother’s descent into psychosis. And still, I wrote, just about every day.

The thing is, I could not NOT write. I had plenty of options, and many choices to make… every day. Whether I sat down, pad in hand, or before my typewriter (yes… typewriter) was not a choice, any more than breathing or eating are choices.

But now that I think of it, eating was a choice. For almost three years in my twenties, I actually chose not to EAT. Why did I stop eating? There are answers to that, I believe. Explanations. I’m pretty sure I know what that was all about. But that episode in my life troubles me less than the much longer episode of abstinence that makes far less sense to me.

Why did I stop writing for 25 years?

75% of the work I’ve done over the last 15 years—in my shamanic journey, my spiritual questioning, my self-healing— has been focused on that singular question, which is like an ice pick in my heart. And I still don’t have good answers.

Yesterday, on the phone with my sister, I grieved freely for the first time. I cried and cried. It was a conscious grief. I let myself feel the loss fully. It felt like shit. But why had I repressed the emotion for so long? I had allowed the loss of a piece of myself to exist only in my mind, where I could manage it, look at it, “think about it.”

I have put words to this fact—that I was a writer who stopped writing—many times. Friends and family who knew me in the before time could never reconcile the non-writing me with the person they knew. I had handydandy answers ready. Answers about having a family, raising kids, that my (then) husband was the writer in the family now. Excuses about being a working mom, a teacher with hours spent reading the writing of 13-year-olds and helping them make it the best it could be. All the writing I did for other people, clients who needed my words and skills to say what they wanted to say. I enjoy that work, don’t get me wrong. But I have, for years and years, put all of myself into helping other people be writers, or giving other people the words they could not find on their own.

Writing did return to me for a while when I invited it in, about seven years ago when my marriage ended. It came easily for a time. I became prolific again, briefly.

I often wonder if one of the reasons that marriage had to end was that I realized I would never write from inside it. Not writing was a defining factor in how I saw myself in that relationship. As hard as it was for my husband to allow himself to grow as a partner within our couplehood, it was just as hard for me to return to the writer I had been. That is not on him. It is all on me.

But even though the words flooded back for a while, the act of ending a marriage is never going to be enough. There needs to be so much more.

For a short time, I was in a relationship with a man whose belief in me as a writer spurred me on. But there needs to be so much more.

I need to believe in myself as a writer. I need to accept the loss of 25 years and reclaim the part of me that I lost. The part that snapped off. The giant organic piece of my soul that just broke the fuck off and rolled down the cellar stairs.

When my friend John reminded me: “You were always a serious and optimistic writer,” my heart jumpstarted as if I’d said those words myself.

Yes, Self, you can be serious again. You can be optimistic again. That means… you write.

I started this blog in 2013 so I’d have a reason to use my voice again. It seemed an easy (er) way to find the flow of words that had once been a cascade. It has been fun. I am not sure if it paved the way as much as it filled the gap. I am grateful for it, but it is not enough.

What I need to do now: feel my grief. Let it move through me and pass away. Integrate the learning. Return to myself.

There is only one way to know if these lessons will take. If the writing starts again.

 

 

 

100th Blogday—Reflections on a Blog’s Birth, Change, and the Optimism to Try Again

Spiralwoman.com was born sometime during the very early part of 2013. At that precise time, I was in a tunnel and the light was starting to show. I was ready to emerge. To write, live, forge ahead. Starting this blog was a huge affirmation of life and joy. I’m not altogether sure of the details of why that is so, but I know it is.

Happy 100th blogday to me.

What was going on? Let’s see. Within the prior year I had ended my marriage, taken a risk on new love, taken a leave from my job, moved 1400 miles with a cat in a truck, tried very hard, saw that love is not always enough, moved 1400 miles back again to a world where I no longer had a home or an income, relied on the kindness of friends, suffered the fucking agonies of hell with a heart, mind, and soul that felt more ripped up than one might imagine could happen to a “mature woman,” and refused to succumb.

I started this blog, 100 posts ago, sitting in the brilliantly sunlit family room of my dear friend Meredith, who basically gave me her weekend home to live in. Occasionally she showed up… a human co-habitant so full of love and grace that I felt blessed all over again by her. One of many blessings hidden in the pattern of growth, pain, and change.

By the time I showed up at her place, I had experienced the unconditional hospitality of three other friends. What I did not talk about on my blog, though I talked around it, was that my heart was, quite simply, broken. I lost love. Plain and simple. A second chance I thought I was being “given,” was no chance at all.

During that period of my life, when someone said, “This might help,” I tried it. No questions asked. There was no ego, no pride that could interfere with any process undertaken by the scaled back-to-the-bone self I was in that moment. I drank Valerian tea and came to love the bitter, nauseous smell and taste. I tried automatic writing to seek my own inner wisdom. I took epic walks in every kind of weather. I circled with women. I dove into solitude. I counted each day off the ledger of my sadness, knowing on a deep level that, eventually, there would be a day that was less hard. I wrote, for me and others, scraping together money until my leave was over and I returned to work.

Before summer came, I was on the way to being me again… mostly. People I loved experienced loss of their own, and I found I had the reserves to offer comfort and support to them. I had replenished my hollowness. One day at a time.

Part of the reinvention of myself included becoming a blogger. Part of it included being an idiot sometimes. Part of it included starting (eventually) to date again, and even having a few, short-lived but meaningful, angst-free relationships. Part of it included stepping into an entirely new job—one that scared and thrilled me and that I turned out to be really good at. I ushered in a new chapter at a workplace I loved with all my heart, turning my skills and passion to the task of making things better for everyone. A mission worthy of the reborn.

Fast forward 100 blogs… I am sitting at a coffee shop on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts with an all-new life barely begun.

Nantucket is my new home.

I love this kind of transformative challenge because it reminds me, once again, how tough I am. Emotional, highly sensitive, romantic, idealistic, trusting, irreverent, maternal Spiralwoman is also a survivor and a thriver.

All new everything. I can’t find my way around the twisting streets without getting lost. I can’t buy five items at the grocery store for less than $50. I can’t see the sun from my basement apartment. I can’t imagine the high season, when the cobblestone streets will be choked with cars. I can’t do a lot of things.

But I can… Crush my new, demanding, meaningful job. Host every friend I’ve ever had who is willing to come visit me. Live life with optimism and joy. Spend my weekends on the beach. Or writing. Or both. Be grateful for the lessons learned. Celebrate my 100th blogday!

Isolation is good for the soul.

 

 

 

 

Location, Location, Location—How A Place Can Call Your Name

1982? 1983? Youthful, happy, reckless, free in C’ville with Molly and Bridget.

Here I am back in Charlottesville. Again. Or should I say: againagain. It’s been nearly a year since I spent two weeks here. There was an unplanned extra week as I waited for my car’s new transmission to be installed, attended the gun control march in the wake of the Parkland shootings, and worked remotely as I tapped in to the energy of a place I have loved for 42 years, since the first time I saw it.

Albemarle County, country road… ah Virginia…

I was 17, a senior in high school, and envisioning what my life might be. As much as I loved the town, Albemarle County (full of horses and country roads), and the University, I did not at first think I was going to go to UVA. It was quite big, and I was still thinking small. I came very close to attending Kenyon instead—an awesome college I have utmost respect for. But as I energetically pointed my sights toward Ohio, something shifted, and I veered off that course, landing in C’ville a month before my 18th birthday. Destiny is real.

Thos Jeff’s column-defined ranges along the Lawn

This town has been the source of some of my greatest learning. I received an incredible education, creating my own course of study at UVA as a privileged young scholar. The university supported me through my financial independence from my family shortly after I started my second year, and as far as the people at the school were concerned, it was NBD for me to be a non-traditional student, working full-time at the C&O Restaurant and taking two to three courses a term, fall, spring, and summer, and getting my degree two years later than originally planned.

Human connections of untold value and importance happened here. Lifelong friends, an employer whose gut reaction (he hired me after I said, “Hi, I’m here to apply for the job”) led to a learning journey like no other(and great money, FYI), and, of course, first love. And second love. And third.

My boss at the C&O when I was 18-23–I still love him madly. Sandy McAdams.  

Serpentine walls –UVA trademark and another reason to love everything about C’ville

I feel certain that my destiny will bring me back here to live again in the energy field of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the history—both tortured and significant—of this oh-so fundamental part of the nation, the learning community that is the University and the people and the town itself.

It is no freak of chance that Charlottesville attracts so many energy healers, so many writers, artists, and artisans, so many seekers. This place heals and it also (sometimes grudgingly, sometimes joyously) receives healing.

My astromap.

For kicks, I looked at how my astrological chart interacted with Charlottesville. Fascinating. One thing stood out: the place lends itself to exploring the depths of my psyche, meditation, contemplation, and self-healing. Sounds good to me.

Drawing by Georgia O’Keeffe of the University’s rotunda…

I have history here, a now here (now, this minute, sitting with my latte at a coffee shop among other coffee-seekers), and a future here. Life unfolds—or does it extend… like a sailor’s spyglass, to reach through the depths of now into the other nows that happen just out of sight?

When friends I’ve known longer than my kids have been alive hang out with me and my kids in C’ville. Serendipity.

I Don’t Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Last things often precede first things. The last night in a familiar home precedes the first night of a new life in a new place. The last oatmeal cookie precedes the first taste of a new cookie never imagined before. The last time ever I saw this place, comes just before the first time ever I grew wings and tried a new life in a new place with new people doing new things.

That’s where I am today, Christmas morning 2018. My cozy, beloved home of several years felt like “life as I know it” just weeks, maybe even days, after moving in. I’d moved out of a house I lived in for over 25 years—my marital home, no longer marital and then, no longer my home. And yet I truly believed, up until the moment I decided to move out, that nothing would ever feel “right” again. But guess what? It felt perfectly right.

Staying put was right until leaving was right. Goodbye became a big hello.

Ease and comfort, the familiar, are like a plush blanket that, with a deep breath, I push off myself. I stand up and walk to a door. This door was not there before. Curious and brave and a little scared (and shivering a bit because the blanket is gone), I fling open the unknown door.

My door…

Don’t get me wrong. I created the door. Now I have to use it. So, wearing my scarlet cape and witch’s hat, I will leap through it and suddenly the fear of goodbye becomes the gift of hello.

I’m leaving where I’ve been. I mean, really leaving! It’s a big deal for me. I’m not just moving two towns over, either. I’m moving a whole state over and taking a boat to an island. I’ll settle in on the island of Nantucket like a seed in fertile soil. I’ll grow and give and I’ll learn and thrive. I can’t wait to connect deeply to people and to the ocean, and to sink in to parts of myself that have been muffled by the familiar and safe.

I used to fling myself off the cliffs of opportunity all the time, without fear, and here I am again.

So much of what changes in our world is outside our control. The anxiety about how our leaders let us down every day, putting us in harm’s way, throwing our best outcomes away in favor of their personal gain—that is something I face head on in the middle of the night, a pillow clutched to my stomach as I coax sleep back towards me.

But there is no anxiety about my own personal changes. I choose them just as they choose me. Starting a new job, making a difference in the lives of people, forging a new and creative path for myself and my new employer—I have every confidence in those truths. I am not afraid.

What did you once fear… then embrace? What did you once imagine would never come to pass, only to welcome it as a natural next step, hardly remarked upon in the perfect flow of your timeline? Was there a day you dreaded, only to find that when it came, it lay the greatest of gifts at your feet?

My new Nantucket tree ornament.

The best thing about my move? It never occurred to me. My job? It was not something I would have imagined or considered. The feeling of lift-off reminds me of flying dreams I’ve had through my life. I’m ready to say: Hello.

 

I Can See Clearly Now (Almost)

31 years of love and loyalty

It started as a little swelling on my eyelid. A little pressure. I could ignore it, but should I? Life went on, but sometimes I would peer into the mirror, squinting to see better. What WAS that thing?

Over the course of a week, it transformed daily—hourly—into increasingly offensive versions of a vision-occluding sty. Finding meaning in almost everything is not a problem for me. And in this case the metaphorical significance of this ocular impediment was not lost on me.

I’ve been struggling to see where I’m supposed to go next.

Life changed on me, unexpectedly, as it often does, last April. It was a shock to my system, though, because the change was not on my terms, but on someone else’s. I am the epitome of privilege, because painful change (not on my terms) has happened only rarely in my life. Like when a lover left the country, and me, without warning once a long time ago. Or some major upheavals resulting from having a severely mentally ill mother. When major change (even the good kind) is imposed from without, the breath leaves the body. The eyes go wide. The feet stumble to keep up with the shifting earth beneath them.

But change, whether agonizingly chosen, instinctively leaped upon, or dropped like a bomb into one’s world, is always an opportunity for growth and personal transformation. In that way, even the most dreaded, hated avenues to this kind of growth are gifts beyond measuring.

So why the sty? What don’t I want to see? Is there a truth out there that I am unwilling to look at? Scared of? Is it just ontological skepticism keeping my vision blocked?

Truth with a capital T can be a slippery little devil. If you’re like me, you don’t often want to see it. And sometimes you do.

Slippery Truth… it’s like a little water snake poking its slick little head up to peer around before diving beneath the water again. All the people who care about me can see it, but I swim on, oblivious. Then, it gets my attention in small but shocking moments. The Truth snake—deep bone-level unhappiness, disturbing knowledge of betrayal, or a heartbreaking understanding that I am no longer valued—slithers into my bathing suit. Instant terror—which in hindsight I always realize was an overreaction—and before I know it, the Truth snake is slipping away again, soon to be a distant memory.

When will I grab the snake and look it in the eye, smiling at it, thanking it for the gift of knowledge that it brings? I eventually do. Why does it sometimes take so damned long? And this time…why must I create a giant infected pustule in my eye to show me the absurdity of my refusal to see?

My recent unexpected change –intentionally not addressed here directly due to matters of honor, practicality, and self-interest—sent me into a brief, but intense, cycle of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining—all within a day or two, then, for me, fear, harder to move past, and, more quickly than anticipated—acceptance, even relief. The clarity and surety of my need to move on was profound, and I wondered how the Truth snake had failed to convey that message, as I had found her in my bathing suit a number of times over the last decade or so. Am I really that slow a learner? Loyalty and love tend to hold me back. Let me rephrase that, I allow loyalty and love to get in my way of choosing positive change, and so change has to fall on my head like a volunteer ladder offering itself as an escape route.

I always survive. I always figure out what is best. I always, inevitably, end up stronger, when I emerge from the birth canal of transformation. But for now I cannot seem to see clearly the path ahead of me, though I know the path behind me is behind me for a reason.

I find myself a decade at least from retirement standing at the beginning of a huge unknown. Single, self-sufficient, both tough and tender, I am unsure. And I am sure. Regular employment has made me complacent. My certainty that this mechanism for transformation is ideal, necessary, and, in fact, the only alternative if I am to continue to grow and evolve the way I want to—it does not change how fucking scary it is to say goodbye.

Remember that philosophical question teachers ask their students? What would you choose, freedom or safety? The answer says so much about you, your circumstances at the moment, and your ability to see your own Truth with a capital T.

Whatever happens next, from now on I will be the only one allowed to apply value to myself. The only one to decide what is best for me. The only one who will dig in and extract marrow from my bones for causes and reasons to be determined only by me.

I am at the very edge of seeing where to put my feet. My outward vision is, for a moment more, blocked by a pestilent sty in my left eye. But it is coming to a head. Literally. My third eye finds itself clear as ever, and these two ways of seeing are in cahoots to get me to the place I need to go. An eruption of knowing is just around the corner. I seek help from within and without. I know my path is clear and glorious, and that when I finally see it, I will leap onto it with wings on my feet.

 

 

Flight and Flame: My Eostre Dream

I awoke with this dream still trailing through my consciousness. A gift for the first of April, for the magical season of springtime festivals and religious transport of all kinds.

The early part of the dream had faded, but in that first chapter there was a quest, a journey to an important destination. In my dream, it was called the Emerald City. I was the leader of a band of travelers—no, not a lion, scarecrow, or tin man, but other people connected to me in vital ways, perhaps through many lifetimes. It was a small group. We arrived.

The rest is as vivid to me still as if it really happened. After we arrived at the Emerald City, a larger, even more adventurous group of us headed out on an epic quest, or maybe it was a move to a better and even more fruitful future that beckoned. I was inspired by this band of adventurers, and they by me.

The hills we entered were lush and green and steep. The group, which included a wagon, some horses, and other animals, and probably 50 people, trailed out loosely in a line along the path into these hills. The journey was very purposeful, exciting, and joyful.

I was in the rear of the group, knowing I could catch up quickly by using my power of flight. So as I left the city, I soared high above the line of travelers and then dove down through the diamond-crisp air, swooping low to encourage them.

I discovered, as I called out, “Here we go! Onward!” that my breath was fire. Licks of flame shot out into the air in front of me and the journeying people below looked up in shock and amazement and cheered.

I could hear the flapping sound of the fire eating up oxygen, whipped by updrafts. I could feel, reflected back at me, the heat of the flames that came from within me. All in that brief fraction of a moment.

And, in that moment, I knew that something incredible, magical, monumental had happened inside me without my awareness and that from now on, nothing would ever be the same. The dream ended with me flying above, the others traveling along below, heading to an uncertain future that did not frighten us.

 

Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah