Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October: A Mixed-Bag Month



October is a month that holds a great deal of significance to me: I was born in October, I used to be a member of a religious organization that celebrates a holiday in October, Halloween is in October, and October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Like a child's trick-or-treat bag, October ushers in a mixed-bag of emotions: anger, sorrow, regret what has passed; joy, hope, and a bit of anxiety for what may come to pass.

My Birthday

Image of a birthday cake
"Kit Kat Birthday Cake" by Janet CC By 2.0
I'm turning 40 this year! This means that I'm now protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and my age will give me access to the Show Me Healthy Women program here in Missouri. While neither one of these things is enough to make me perform cartwheels, I am pleased that employers cannot perform blatant acts of discrimination against me due to my age, and I am glad to know that another aspect of my physical well-being will not tax my fiscal well-being. As for my hopes; I hope to graduate from college while I'm still 40, and I hope to get the tattoo that I've wanted since I turned 29.

No... I have yet to decide exactly what it will be. 
No... I'm not telling you where I'm going to put this theoretical tattoo.

Past Celebrations

I used to be a member of a religious organization that celebrated the birth of one of the religion's historical figureheads this month. This figurehead's story appealed to me, I became quite fond of him, and I always looked forward to the celebration of his birth. His birthday is bittersweet for me because I feel that my separation from my former beliefs separated me from him. It also saddens me that many of the people that felt like a second family to me seemed to drift away when I "officially" severed my affiliation with the religion.
Image of balloon-shaped confetti
"Confetti" by Jim Sneddon CC By 2.0
I think that I will always remember the camaraderie and joy that my former fellow believers and I had during that time. Be that as it may, I always felt like I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole when I was affiliated with that particular religion, and I felt that it was time for me to seek a different path than the one I was raised in. While I take the time to reflect on my sadness over what I lost, I also reflect on what I gained and I still feel that what I gained greatly outweighs the loss I sometimes feel. While I sometimes regret the loss of "my second family," I have formed new relationships that I may not have formed while I followed this former path; I also feel that I have experienced much more than what I would have experienced on my former path.

Halloween

Remember what I just said about "experiencing much more than what I would have experienced on my former path?" This holiday has always been my favorite holiday, and it just so happens that it symbolizes the statement that I just made. In my former faith, I was allowed to wear costumes and go trick-or-treating on Halloween until I was eight-years old; at which point my step-mother peremptorily stated that since Halloween was a pagan holiday, my sister and I should not be allowed to observe it with our peers. Being the precocious child that I was, I asked her what pagan was; being the somewhat clueless adult that she was, she refused to tell me. This only added to the overall mystique of the word, and I visited my school's library the next day to discover what pagan was; which is how I discovered Wicca.
Image of Jack-o-Lanterns
"Halloween Pumpkins" by lobo235 CC By 2.0
Even though I wasn't able to learn much about Wicca as a child, I tried to learn all that I could about the significance of Halloween in Wicca as a teenager and young adult. As a young adult I suspected that my "second family" would cast me away if I officially separated from my former religion. So, instead of officially withdrawing from the religious organization and losing that "second family," I secretly became a Wiccan. The first holidays that I celebrated as a Wiccan with a coven were Samhain and Halloween. The Samhain ritual was beautiful, and we had a lot of fun with the kids who stopped by to trick-or-treat. While the coven I celebrated with didn't become a second family to me, it was the first time that I felt like an oval peg trying to fit into a round hole... It wasn't a perfect fit, but it was a lot better than before.

 I still feel like a square peg in a round hole... The difference being, I'm okay with it now.

It was also a time in my life when I realized that others in my former faith felt somewhat superior to those who believed differently, and I found myself offended and insulted by this air of superiority. I also learned the difference between tolerance and acceptance, and found that being tolerant of another person's beliefs is far inferior to being accepting of another person's beliefs. That was when I decided to follow a path that I internally defined as, "The Secret Liberation of Me."

 Note to self: I need to redefine that since it's not really a secret now.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Image of Domestic Violence Awareness RibbonSpeaking of secrets... I bet that none of you are aware of this, but Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one of the two months out of the year that is personally significant to me. I have kept this secret from all but my close friends and family for almost twelve years now, and I think that it's time for me to speak of it.

When I was 28-years old, my boyfriend at the time emotionally abused me and raped me.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I watched as this sick and depraved man destroyed what I had worked so hard to achieve in my life. I had acquired a job through a temporary staffing agency that placed me as an office manager for the regional office of a healthcare group that had a contract with the New Mexico State Department of Corrections to provide healthcare to state prison inmates. I worked with a great group of people, I worked hard to earn their trust, and I was going to be hired on by this company as a permanent employee... Until he showed up in my life. 

He was charming, considerate, funny, energetic, and intelligent. His mother and grandmother were kind and vivacious women who treated me as a beloved daughter with words of encouragement and warm smiles; something that I wasn't used to seeing as a child. Things were good when I stayed over at the apartment he shared with his family; however, things weren't so good when he stayed over at my apartment. 

The charm turned into moments of never-ending broodiness, and assurances that I was his "light." The consideration devolved into going out to smoke weed with friends and then knocking on my door at 2 a.m. when I had to wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for work. His sense of humor became dark and his words were crude, humiliating, and insulting. His energy and intellect became manic; he would keep me up all night ranting, spinning lies and compliments into a web that I could not escape. 

How was I going to escape? Call the police and tell them that my boyfriend was messing with my mind... Yeah, like they'd believe that after he turned on the charm. I tried cutting myself several times, but I could not bring myself to admit to my boss what I had done when she noticed the cuts on my arm. I called in a lot because I was so tired all of the time; it's not surprising when one considers that I managed to only get a total of 14 hours of sleep a week. I didn't want to die; I felt like I was stuck in a black hole and I was afraid to leave.

It was "my fault" when he lost his job because he decided to pick on my pet, an 11-year old budgerigar named Vincent; I stood up to him for Vincent's sake, and tossed him out of the apartment. His response was to go to a friend's house, smoke some pot and get drunk, and then accept overtime when his employer called because another residential care associate called in sick. He still had a buzz when he took his charges to the mall, backed in to another vehicle, and then tested positive for weed. His mother and grandmother decided that they would take him on a trip back to the family's "homeland." I was invited; however, I didn't have the money to go... I never seemed to have money, and I had checks bouncing all over the place. I thought that I was bad at balancing a checkbook because of my dyscalculia (number dyslexia), and didn't think that it was odd that I suddenly had money when he was in his "homeland."

They thought the trip was good for him; they were wrong. He came back changed. He started acting even more dominating than before and I started depending upon him financially because he was stealing a lot more money from me than before. I lost my job due to my poor performance on the job; the regional manager (my boss) hired someone else on as office manager, and I couldn't muster up the energy to care. When I went to him after I was fired, he admitted that he cheated on me during his trip, and then he raped me in his family's apartment. I thought I was nothing, that I deserved it, that nobody would believe me if I said something, and I said nothing.

Two weeks later, he and his family decided to go back to their homeland permanently. His mother wanted me to go with them, but I ultimately decided not to go. I was relieved and scared when he and his mother left; I managed to find another job so that I could pay the rent on my apartment, and then his grandmother called... Apparently he felt that I owed him money, so he told her that I stole one of his checks to pay rent for that month. The property company said that rent had been paid with one of his checks (I never allowed him to pay rent), but the check bounced. His grandmother demanded that I pay the amount of the check, plus the fees. I complied because I thought it was the only way to be rid of him once and for all. It cost me what little I had left in my bank accounts, but I did it.

I was finally free of him... For the next six months I tried to get back on my feet, but my car broke down and the bills kept coming. I lived on one package of ramen noodles a day so that I could afford to buy Vincent's bird food, and I was walking four miles a day to get to and from work. When my father and his new girlfriend came to New Mexico on vacation, and then offered to move me back to Missouri, I accepted because I knew I was in over my head. Even then it took me a year before I could admit to my sister what happened out in New Mexico, and my father has never heard the full story from me.

Final Thoughts

I don't want your pity or sympathy. I want you to see me as you always have; maybe a bit odd, smart, quick-witted, and funny at times. Perhaps you see me as some punk-kid upstart, or "white and entitled." Don't change your opinion of me just because of where I've been, because you know where I'm at today. The only difference is, you know a little more about how I got here, and now you have a better understanding of why I have the views that I do.

Title image is a compilation of unmodified images:
"Kit Kat Birthday Cake" by Janet CC By 2.0
"Confetti" by Jim Sneddon CC By 2.0 
"Halloween Pumpkins" by lobo235 CC By 2.0

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