(originally written in December 2014)
This is for all of you out there who think you are too broken to be fixed, or think you are too stuck to get help, or think you have no hope left.
I know there are people out there with situations so much more dire than mine. I know there are those whose situation has not quite got to the level of mine. I know there are those just now entering a relationship that will lead to these situations. There are those who never had the courage to say the words themselves. There are those who never knew how.
My primary care physician has a psychologist in her office that I have seen on and off over the last couple of years, and I have even been treated for posttraumatic stress disorder. With my love for writing, I have been told more than once to write out my feelings, but I never thought I could. I never thought I could be that strong. For all the times I have been told that I am strong, I have never believed it, and I still don't. I am not strong. If I had been strong, I would have left sooner.
As we were driving home the other night in the snow-filled world that Maine has once again became, I looked over at Tom and told him that this Christmas is the first Christmas that I have felt comfortable just going out and buying gifts and he looked at me with just this most puzzled expression, and I know he doesn't understand and I don't know how to explain. My entire adult life, I have struggled so. I have worked so hard. I was one parent desperately trying to make ends meet. Yes, I know, there are plenty of single parents out there making it. But I had the other parent also taking from me at times. He would take my vehicle and leave my boys and I sitting in a house with no power, but I don't want to get started on that just yet.
There are many reasons I classified myself as a broken soul for such a very long time. Many reasons were my fault and many were not. Many were life's learning lessons and many were those verbal altercations that left deep, deep scars, those unexplained bruises that went so much deeper than the skin, those lost friendships, the events that your family didn't get invited to and your boys asked you why, and you know why but how do you tell little impressionable boys, because your dad is rude to people, or people simply don't like him. You never say the words out loud, but you never really have to. You see it in everyone's eyes - family, the few friends who try to stand by you, although given time, most of those drift away and it's hard to blame them. I cannot tell you how many phone conversations ended with, "We just don't like him," or, "We're just not comfortable around him," or "We just don't want our kids around him." And I defended him. Of course I did. Everybody deserved to have someone believe in them. I still believe that. But (and boy, is that a big old BUT) it should not utterly destroy one person to believe in another one.)
I have three wonderful boys. I may not always make the best decisions for them but Lord knows I try. Lord knows I pray over them enough they should be some of the best protected southern boys this close to the Canadian border. Now my baby boy never physically got to participate in this new journey of my life.
He was too perfect for this world, or at least that's the excuse that stops my tears most nights. My Matthew was such a beautiful little boy. He was born sick. He was born with a variety of anomalies, the most severe (and the one that would eventually claim his precious life) tracheomalacia, which to put in simple terms, the cartilage of his trachea (the windpipe in his throat) for whatever reason, never hardened. So it was, to use the term the doctors used, "floppy." A deep breath, a cough could potentially cause his windpipe to come together, which could cause it to shut and to not be able to reopen. With the other anomalies he had, which I do not plan to describe here, his neonatologists honestly did not expect him to live, but those doctors, they didn't know my son the way I did; they didn't know the heart that beat within that tiny little body. Those doctors told me he'd never walk either, or talk, but he did. He used to chase his brothers all over our church, and trust me when I tell you he could talk.
The day he died, it was just me and my three boys at home. Their dad should have been at home as well, but he always thought it was more important to be over at a friend's house than home with his family. He was always that way. I accepted it for a long time, and I made excuses for him for an even longer time. His mom and dad both said he had always been that way. I should have listened, but I thought I knew better. I thought I knew someone that just needed someone to believe in them, and I thought I was that person. I was so incredibly foolish!
That day, the day everything changed, Matthew took a nap on my bed while I was working on my notebook computer. I think I was writing a story. We had stayed up the previous night, my 3 boys and I, watching The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. I believe The Two Towers had just been released on VHS, and I had bought both movies. I had not seen them in the theaters, but I wanted to watch them, and no one better to share the experience than my boys!
If I had known it was Matthew's last nap that day, I would not have worried with some silly story and I would have watched him sleep, watched his cute little upturned nose, but I didn't know. Matthew woke up slowly as he usually did, reaching out with eyes still closed to find his pacifier. I ran my finger over his forehead and down his nose, something I did often, leaning over to touch my nose to his nose, making him smile. A very brief moment, but one of those moments I don't think I will ever forget now. As soon as he was good and awake, he didn't have time for me. Pirates of the Caribbean had recently come out and the boys all had little wooden swords from the Renaissance Festival, and there was lots of sword-fighting in my house at that time.
I still don't know exactly what happened. He coughed. Really hard. Matthew had a Nissen fundoplication surgery when he was only 10 days old that prevented him from having reflux, or throwing up. I looked up and he was walking toward me, and he had his arms held out so I would pick him up, and it was one of those defining moments in life where you knew…everything had just changed. His eyes were very wide. He knew something was wrong, and so did I. His windpipe had just closed, and I had no way to open it. My son was fixing to die right in front of me. My entire world was about to change.
So I was home alone, but let me be honest with you here and now. And I know some of you may hate me for this next paragraph, and that's okay. You are allowed your opinion just as much as I am allowed mine. I have faced my demons, some of them in real life, so I'm good. When my baby boy died, he was in my arms. It was my voice he heard. I was the one who cared for him his whole life. I was the one who held him night and day in the hospital. I was the one who picked up my work and took it to Atlanta and sat in that hospital room with him and transcribed doctor reports so I still had an income. I was the one that sat up at night waiting for him to stop breathing so I could lightly shake him so he would start breathing again. So I think it's only fitting that I was the one holding him when he drew his last breath. I think it's only fitting that my little boy was looking in my eyes when the light left his. And it did. His eyes didn't close when he died like what happens in the movies. His eyes just kind of dulled, honestly like the light went out of them.
That boy knew he was loved. He could see it in my eyes; he could hear it in my voice; he could feel it in my arms. His last moments on this earth, he was surrounded by love. I made certain of it. I knew I was all my boy had in this world. I breathed for him. I alternated breathing with trying the Heimlich maneuver at the beginning, just trying anything. My thinking was frantic at first. I finally settled on the CPR. But for all the compressions, for all the breathing I was doing, his chest never rose. The breaths were not going down his windpipe. It was closed.
I wanted to break down. Oh, you have no idea how much. I wanted to scream and plead and beg and just have a right complete tantrum like you see in the movies. In my mind, I was pleading with God. But then I looked to my right and there were my other two boys, 2 and 4 years old, both with tears in their own eyes, both looking to me for direction. I had to be Momma. I was the one and only thing they had to look up to at the moment. I had to hold it together for them. I had to be strong. I didn't get to break down and cry for what I knew I was losing. I was losing my baby, but I didn't get to cry for the unfairness of life. Life did not give me that choice. I had to still be Momma.
I had paged their dad at the very beginning. (We didn't have cell phones at the time. I paged his beeper with a 911.) He didn't come home until after Debra, his stepmother had come down from next door and had taken over CPR for me. I was slowly entering a state of shock, I believe. I think I remember Debra and her daughter, Heather, running across the field between our houses. It was at least 40 minutes from the time I first paged him until the time he pulled his truck into the driveway. Matthew was passed by this time. Matthew had passed when it was still just me and the boys at home, but Debra and I were still doing CPR. You just don't give up on something like that. When their dad finally did come home, he took Matthew. It angers me now, but at the time I was so in shock I didn't know any better. Even when the fire department had finally gotten there and they were bagging him, they even commented on the way his little chest was not rising. The air was not making it down his windpipe. It was something like 45 minutes before the first emergency vehicle got to my house from the time I first called 911. I never understood that, not that it really mattered. But he was the parent that rode in the ambulance with my baby. He was the parent that never left that baby's side in the emergency room. He stood there with his arms raised praying to God. Even though the doctors had to wait for me to get a ride from my pastor to the emergency room so that I could tell them exactly what illnesses and physical anomalies Matthew had. He didn't even know. I did. I was Matthew's momma. I was Matthew's caretaker. And I had been there for him when it mattered. I had held him.
And you would think that would have been a wake-up call. Maybe it would have been for some. I applaud those of you that think you could have walked away.
As my boys grew older, I worked consistently a full-time job. Sometimes 2 full-time jobs. I can remember a very brief period where I worked 2 full-time jobs and one part-time job at the same time. I am fortunate enough to work in a professional field that allows me to work from home so working 2 full-time jobs didn't cause too many hindrances as I was still at home with my boys. But the man I was married to, he would take things I bought my boys, he would take them apart and fix things for his friends, leaving my boys' things useless. Multiple times. Did I leave him then? No.
I have been lucky enough to have 3 young adult books published. There was a time when I worked endlessly to promote my books. I tried to do book signings. I tried to travel to high schools and middle schools to speak to literature classes. I would speak to local school groups. I had the embarrassment of a book signing at Barnes and Noble with my arms and neck covered in bruises. Did I leave him then? No.
You ask me why? Because everyone deserves to have someone to believe in them. That was always my excuse. Although I did not see it as an excuse. It was something I believed with my whole heart.
He stayed at friends' houses for days at a time, and he would take our one vehicle to get there, leaving my boys and I without a way to get somewhere if we needed. Me at home with 2 young boys without a way to get to a grocery store, without a way to get to a doctor's officer, without a way to get to a store to buy medicine. Oh, we had a way, sure, we could call a grandparent, but do you have any idea how embarrassing that is to do all the time? I was raised to be self-reliant, self-dependent. I was ashamed of myself, but not ashamed of him.
There was a morning I woke up, realizing I had not seen him in days, possibly a week or more, heck, possibly a couple of weeks. I worked. I paid what bills I could. I kept our household running as smoothly as I could. He claimed he couldn't find work that would pay him what he deserved. Before the end of the excuse we had for a marriage, I had pawned almost everything I had owned with any value to it. I had sent a few things with sentimental value to my parents' house so I would not have access to them so I would not be tempted. He said he would pawn stuff only if he could get fair-market value, which meant he pretty much kept everything he had. And yet he would come in and spout scripture at me, about how women are supposed to obey their husbands.
Our church family did not believe in divorce. Our church family believed wives obeyed their husbands. I have read the Bible front to back quite a few times, and I know the very scripture they would quote at me, that he would quote at me. The funny thing is - every scripture can be interpreted differently by each and every person. I do not believe God would send me to Hell for divorcing a man who treated me the way I was treated. I know there are people out there reading this and ready to jump on their soapbox, ready to preach at me how I am wrong. It's okay. You are entitled to your belief, just as I am mine. We are all good. I am good with the decisions I have made. Trust me when I say, every decision I have made, has been made only after seeking God's counsel first.
We would take family vacations. Did my husband go with us? Nope. He would stay home. Why? Was he staying home to work? Nope. He was choosing not to spend time with his family. He was choosing not to spend time with his boys. I hesitate to think God would approve of that behavior, but what do I know? I do not claim to be a scholar of these things.
Joshua played baseball. How many games do you think his dad made it to? Not one single one. And not because he was working. Just because he didn't want to go. He just didn't think it was worth his time to go see his own son play baseball because baseball was a waste of time. Joshua enjoyed it though. He would grin like a little monkey when he was running the bases. It was his dad's loss, although he will never see it as such.
The sheriff department would come to my house, wake up my boys, wake up me, and search my house looking for my husband's friends (what great friends he had). One time that happened (the time that finally woke me up, I guess) the sheriff deputy, in front of my boys, shoved me up against the hallway wall. I don't know why. I was always polite and told them I had guns in my house and even offered to show them where they were (they were gifts from my father to me). But they acted like I was hiding this person, I don't know, in a box or something. This guy actually shoved me against the wall and it hurt. This wasn't the last time I had one of Floyd County's finest be rude to me, or push me against the wall actually, but this was the time that when they left I called my husband and asked him to come home. Did he? Nope. Are you thinking maybe he was at work? Nope, he wasn't. Just at a friend's house. I guess wherever he was, whoever he was with, they were more important. Finally…finally…this is when the first itty bitty piece of light starting sparkling within my shattered soul.
There came a time when I realized he wasn't missing my calls, he was just flat-out ignoring them. And still he wanted to tell me that God told him that I was Eve and I needed to be taught a lesson.
Well yes, yes I did need to be taught a lesson. I wholeheartedly agree. I needed to be taught that the teeny tiny spark that miraculously had somehow survived inside of me, that he not successfully smothered, needed a chance to thrive. I needed a chance to be allowed to live a life without the abuse, without the violence, without the screaming, without the isolation, without the shame, without the constant telling me I am stupid (which by the end of the marriage I couldn't argue with him on that one because I had stayed in the marriage for far too long so I felt like I proved him right on that point.)
He may have broken me, and I may have let him. We all make mistakes. But I learned from my mistakes. It is my choice to not let that mistake define me. It is my choice to not stay broken. And sometimes when broken pieces are glued back together, the finished pieces sparkle even brighter. So I think I kind of like being unbroken because it gives me a reason to sparkle and we all know just how much I love to sparkle!
So I end this hoping I haven't hurt too many people with my words, but also knowing that the truth really does hurt so maybe with time these wounds will lessen. My boys and I have been in Maine for 3 years now, and I wake every morning thanking God for his grace, and I fall asleep most nights eternally grateful to Tom and his family. I can only imagine how lost I must have looked the first time he walked me into his mom's house, but they never faltered with their graciousness. They just accepted me and made me feel comfortable, like I was supposed to be there, like I had finally found a place in life to belong. That feeling of acceptance, of belonging, can go a long way in helping someone to heal.
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I hope to have a weekly or bi-weekly blog with updates concerning what I am currently writing, reading or researching.