Saturday, January 24, 2015

Leaving the Tower

Two weeks ago I attended my first class at The Ohio State University. Since I was accepted people have been asking me how I intend to handle the workload.

“When are you going to do homework?”
“Who’s going to watch Theo?”
“You’re just going to go part-time, right?!”
“Wow. I can’t even imagine being in school and having a baby.”

“Oh my goodness! I hadn’t thought about all those difficult hurdles I’d have to jump! Never mind, I give up. My love of academics and dreams of higher education aren’t worth the hassle.” This is how I always wanted to respond. Of course it’s going to be a pain sometimes. Yes, it will be a helluva lot of work. But I made a choice to reapply to school and continue pursuing my goals. I was nervous about all of those things. How will Theo fare without me? How will I be able to keep up in my classes when I’m a full-time mom?

        But the thing I laid awake at night worrying about most—was the walk. The walk from my car to my classes. For me, there is nothing more frightening than being alone, out in the world, in transit. Anything could happen. That is when I feel the most vulnerable. When I’m in my car I can lock the doors—I’m good. Once I’m in my classroom, I can settle into my seat, position my back to the wall and have everyone in my sight. But when I’m walking alone, I can’t see everyone. My hearing has become impeccable. I hear footsteps coming from over a block away. I can almost always tell from the sound of a footstep whether it’s a man or woman behind me.

        One of my least favorite consequences of being a survivor of a stranger rape, is the way it has affected how I see people. Every man I see is a threat. Everyone else around me are witnesses. The more people around, the more threats—but also the more witnesses. I can’t win. I commute to school four days a week and I park in a neighborhood just off campus. It’s about a mile walk to my first class. Gabriel, Theo and I went a few days before school started and did a test run of where I should park and how I could walk to class. It took 20 minutes. I typically do the walk in 11 minutes now. I’m practically running.

        For a year and a half the world was too scary to be in. Too dangerous to take walks alone. Too dangerous to ride public transportation. Too dangerous. I am a survivor of what is called a Blitz Sexual Assault. A random stranger violently and suddenly attacked me, and for nearly two years I organized my life around avoiding situations where that could happen again. It took months for me to even drive a car alone.

        Gabriel and I were recently listening to a sermon and the pastor was talking about “weathering hard seasons.” That’s Christainese for going through bad shit. He was telling a story about how he was terrified of flying, so by the time he was 39 he had only flown one time. He realized that by avoiding his fear he wasn’t eliminating it, he was just neatly bending his life to the will of his fear. He did not travel because his fear kept him from planes. I did not independently interact with the world outside of my home because my fear told me I would be hurt—like I once was. By staying inside, I was not handling my fear—my fear was handling me.

        Two times a day, four times a week I embark on that excruciating walk. I keep my hands out of my pockets and I hold my keys threateningly between my fingers, in case I need to fight back. My eyes are wide and my ears are alert and you better believe I know exactly how close I am to the people around me—and I could probably tell you the color of their jacket, jeans and shoes. I’m hyperaware. And I often call Gabriel, he puts me on speaker and I sing to Theo.

        I have to do this. I have to leave my self-constructed padded prison. I have to go to school. I love school. I have dreams that are bigger than locking myself away in my tall ivory tower of fear and safely throwing away the key. This world is a scary place. It’s not as beautiful to me as it once was. But I still have a place in it. My voice will be heard in classrooms. I will not be kept silent—trembling and alone—because my fear tells me that’s the safer option. Today I’m choosing the greater risk. Today I am no longer listening to fear.

So if you see a short (newly dyed) red head, sweating profusely, hightailing it across campus, glaring at anyone who crosses her path whilst singing “Mommy loves you, yes I do” into her phone…that would be me. Beware—if you startle me, I might hit you with my keys.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The New Year

        Every morning when Theo wakes up—usually around six thirty—Gabriel gets up and changes his diaper. I turn down the monitor so I don’t hear the crying (my child hates getting his diaper changed), and I desperately hope for a miraculous two more hours of sleep. I’m grumpy in the morning. The only difference between a Bulldog and me in the morning is pajama pants—unless of course the Bulldog is wearing pajama pants, then we are one and the same. Gabriel sets Theo down next to me in bed and then promptly crawls back under the covers. He swears he’s not going back to sleep, but I don’t believe him. Theo giggles and pinches and crawls all over me. Pulls my hair. Sticks his fingers in my mouth. All the while I’m attempting to side nurse my sweet child back to sleep. I’m grumpy, but optimistic in the morning.

        His new favorite thing to do is slap my face repeatedly while nursing. I don’t know why, but for Theo slapping me in the face while nursing is a total gas. I silently endure. This morning started out like any other. Theo woke up. I groaned and turned down the monitor. I had been up only 45 minutes earlier nursing him in his room. Gabriel went to change his diaper. I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes. Angry, resentful, tired thoughts swarmed my brain. Gabriel doesn’t have to wake up at all hours of the night to nurse him. And he gets to sleep again while the kid attacks my face. Other mothers get to sleep until at least seven!

I heard the bedroom door creak and I peeked one eye open to meet my early morning fate. The second Theo laid eyes on me he let out a high pitched giggle and threw his head back as if he had just heard the best news of his life. He leaned forward, reached his arms toward me, and his raspy little voice called, “Mama! Mamamamammamama!”

My heart lifted toward heaven and a smile lit my face as my boy nestled into my arms. My smile surprised me. Not only because it is rare for me to smile before coffee, but I don’t think I have felt that light, or free in months.

     The year 2014 has been a heavy, important, messy, glorious year. Theodore Eldon Duane came screaming into the world and has been filling it with laughter ever since. Gabriel and I moved for the third time and we still haven’t settled on the best place to store our KitchenAid. We’ve had a hard time staying married, yet I have a hard time envisioning life without Gabriel. The truth is, we would be fine on our own, and fine together—that’s just how life is. But we’ve chosen to do this together, and that’s how marriage is, I guess.

Nothing has gone as planned this year—and I have the scars to prove it—but life has grown deeper. Countless times a day I look at my son and nearly stumble with the fearful, incredible realization that this beautiful little human is my own. I applied for college—for the unexpected second time—and was accepted. I reenter the world outside my home on January 12, 2015—my first day at The Ohio State University. I can’t even imagine the trials and excitement it will bring. It’s been a long time since anyone routinely expected me to shower and brush my teeth.

Last year Gabriel and I hailed in the New Year with sparkling juice, lots of candy in bed and my growing pregnant belly between us. This year will be much the same; but with cheap champagne, frozen pizza, and just my stretch marks between us. But we are vastly different people. We no longer fearfully clutch each other, hiding from the evil world that has beaten and ravaged us. This year we’re a little wiser, a lot angrier, and moving forward. We might still be afraid, but we’re moving forward.

This morning as I silently fed Theo his breakfast, Gabriel looked at me over his coffee and said, “Aren’t you tired of living like this?” He didn’t mention anything specific, but I knew what he meant.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Me too.”

This year I will have goals. I know you’re supposed to list your goals and resolutions on New Year’s Eve, but I’m not there yet. I just want some direction instead of living my life in reaction. I know going back to school will change my circumstances, but I want to change. I want to be less angry, and more full of grace. I want to listen more and numb less. For now, my biggest goal of 2015 is to experience mornings with my son in a new way. Today was a little glimpse into what that could be. I want to see the beginning of my days differently. The rest will follow.

        And my doctor says I should drink more water.