Vegas

Here’s a happy life update: I’m moving to Las Vegas. My last day in New Jersey will be July 12th.

Jersey was never my dream. In fact, living in this state is one of the many things I can attribute to privileging the needs of others over my own. Throughout college, I dated a man originally from India who was working on his PhD. After five years together, we got married – but for different reasons. At the time, I had wanted to start a life with someone, and felt marriage was a requirement as part of that. My husband never wanted to marry, but his job search would go more smoothly with a spousal visa. In fact, he was offered a position with Montclair State, contingent on the university not having to fund a work visa.

We were not aligned, and still I went ahead with a paltry ceremony at the officiant’s home. We moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey. While I welcomed a change of pace (we lived in a very rundown part of the city), residing in the New Jersey suburbs without a car was difficult. Finding employment wasn’t easy, either. Degree and all, I was working as an apprentice dog trainer at a retail pet store. Whether it was ninety degrees or freezing cold, I’d walk two miles to my place of employment, and then at 10pm, walk two miles home.

I wasn’t happy. I was young and didn’t know how to work through the feelings I had about my post-college life. While my husband was able to turn his intentions into reality after our time at Temple, he wasn’t especially sympathetic to how our circumstances left little space for me to self-actualize. But I also had no clue what I wanted, outside of a stable relationship.

We didn’t last. And I was stuck in New Jersey. I didn’t help myself when I entered a relationship with Scott, the abusive sex addict I lived with for over three years. (Because while I had no clue what I wanted, the one goal I had in my life was a stable relationship – something to fill the hole left by my estranged family.) Meanwhile, my ex-husband has since moved to New York. No ill will towards him, but it’s funny that he got to end up in a city, and I got stuck in this state.

Life has since been a lot of ups and downs. New Jersey hasn’t been all that kind to me; anyone that reads my blog understands what I mean. It hasn’t all been for nothing, though. While I’m never going to be that person who offers platitudes such as, “everything happens for a reason,” my experiences have proven my resilience. I’m alive, and I’m here, and I like the person I am for the first time in my life because holy fuck, I’m really fucking strong.

I used to feel that being a survivor was a negative. What’s the point of trying to exist in this often shitty world with a massive amount of baggage playing interference? After I left Scott, my life didn’t stop being a rollercoaster, offering proof that it wasn’t enough to simply leave an abuser. That didn’t fix my life. And some of the relationships I formed since, however brief, hurt me more in some ways than he ever did: I couldn’t understand why people would play me, or be unkind, when I was so upfront about my past with abuse and bulimia and overcoming living out of my car and so many other crazy things. All of this after enduring a childhood with a schizophrenic and seriously abusive father. I disclosed this information (perhaps too) freely – why add to my pain?

More than ever, I understand that I’m overly sympathetic to people, especially men, who share the same experiences that I do. They’ve been abused as children, dated cheaters, deal with abandonment issues, externalize their fears of not being good enough in destructive ways. The people I’ve dated that I care about most (because I am crazy enough to still want the best for them) and will always remember are also the ones who hurt me in extremely callous ways (see: Javier), largely because they have something in common with me that most people don’t: they know what it is to feel broken. Unfortunately, they took that out on me.

Javier would often tell me he’s “just this way.” My former rock climbing friend that I genuinely loved echoed similar sentiments. Both broke my heart. There was a time when I thought that of myself, that I am this way and people can take it or leave it – but if I had kept that mindset, I’d still be puking in toilets.

It’s funny that seeking a stable relationship was always the first item on my life checklist, but that it’s going to be the last thing I figure out. Everything else in my life has come together beautifully. I’m no longer a retail dog trainer and am relocating because my well known employer asked me to take a huge opportunity in Las Vegas. My struggle with depression and bulimia is finally coming to a close, it feels like. And I know myself. I know what I like and what I want. I am not the person I was when I was with Scott, living my life around his needs. I’m not the girl who broke down in public at the rock gym when thinking about how my climbing friend would never love me, how I had no idea who I was outside of my pursuit of someone that cared about me as much I cared for them.

I’m the woman who survived. The person that will not allow pain to be a reason to hurt others. I’ve had my ups and downs, and dealt with experiences that would tank anyone. But I made it through it all. It’s a testament to my intelligence, my will, and my innate resilience.

This is the right time for me to move in so many ways. I can start fresh while mentally positioned to make the most of it. For the first time in my life, I will be moving as part of advancing within my career. Not because of a man. I’m successful. Despite everything I’ve gone through, all those times I thought I would not get back up again – I’ve won.

Happy

As personal as my writing on this blog tends to be, I typically maintain a creative distance between myself and whatever morose subject I’m covering. This is not a diary (for the most part), but rather an expression of thoughts and connections branching from my personal experiences. Much of the content here is, well, negative: Girl With a Tale has been a way for me to navigate painful emotions and cope with traumatic events.

Not my original intention, of course. At first, I wanted to simply host the scraps I’d normally delete somewhere so I could go back to them at my leisure. With the blog, I didn’t need to worry about losing ideas to computers I had to leave behind or backing up musings that had potential to grow. My intentions led to achieving my writing goals. Ideas started here gained momentum and shape elsewhere, becoming poems and prose that I shopped around, including a short story on having my heart broken and an abortion in the same month. In all the despair I host here, I’ve created things, sad as some of them are, that I hope ultimately resonate with others.

I want to change gears with my writing, at least eventually. My tale isn’t grief. At least, that’s not the entire story. Life is not pain and suffering; as I wrote back in March, to live, you often need to let go. So here’s a start in creating something different in this space: I will to put my happiness in plain view, since I’ve often failed to explore my joy and progress.

The week I turned 30, I found out news regarding my job that I still can’t share, but there’s a huge opportunity potentially coming my way that will change my life. I also saw Javier, my ex, as we crossed paths at Exchange Place that same day. It was fitting to see the man that broke my heart and cheated on me within hours of finding out the good news. Javier, who ceased to respond to any of my messages begging for clarity or answers, looked the same as he always did – beard and sunglasses masking the width of his large face, a brown trucker hat, the kind with mesh sides, covering his thinning black hair, brown and green clothing hiding a paunch while simultaneously putting in plain view his inability to disconnect himself from the “military man” identity he held onto post-discharge.

He was someone I had decided to attribute my previous successes to: I regained control of many coping mechanisms I abused while we were dating, and made significant progress both with my career and fitness. But he wasn’t there for me, as supportive as I had thought he was. Yeah, I could text him about hitting a new PR at the gym, but I saw him once a week, and very rarely on the weekends. Looking back, I realize how silly I was to think I was doing well specifically because of a man who treated me like I was last on his list of priorities. Work, family, friends, the doctor that lives in Neptune (impressive find, as he doesn’t have a car), the girls in Brooklyn he crashes with instead of going home, and then finally Amber, the girlfriend. Or a girlfriend. I honestly don’t know. Because once confronted, he refused to say.

Seeing him left me with a variety of feelings to sort through. I primarily felt empowered, though, since I stood my ground as he walked past me, smiling widely and waving. He offered an awkward pause as he decided upon which action to take, until finally weakly waving in return. The moment didn’t send me into a negative spiral. Instead, I smiled on my way home to Harrison, probably looking like an idiot to others on the PATH when I audibly laughed to myself in joy. I’m strong, I thought. And for once, not just physically.

Later that week, on my birthday, he texted me. “You probably still hate my guts but I wanted to wish you a happy birthday regardless,” Javier wrote.

I responded, “I don’t hate you. Thank you.”

A conversation began from this, where he suggested we meet up so I could get the closure I had wanted months ago. Initially I agreed, but the day after, I wrote back to him letting him know that I had made peace with the fact that I never received the answers I wanted. That I didn’t think I’d get anything out of seeing him one last time except for an unnecessary helping of grief.

“I know that it’s hard to be a decent person when you’ve been through a lot in your life,” I wrote. “And you have. I get you, and that’s probably the reason I can never hate you. I loved you and I still care about you, but unless you wanted to make a real attempt to be friends (which means being honest and also treating me like one) – don’t respond. This chapter is otherwise closed. Good luck in your life.”

He hasn’t responded. I wish things had ended at Exchange Place with me grinning all the way home, prideful and confident. The brief back and forth didn’t result in me coming undone, but it reminded me of how hard it is to set boundaries with others -and especially men. I agreed to meet him at a time and date of his choosing initially, instead of demanding convenience for myself. And it was hard to turn him down, as I desperately still want to see him.

I’m not manically happy to have told him I’ve made peace without him providing closure – it’s not like the triumph I felt when he had to respond to me at Exchange Place, giving me a briefly lived power over his emotional and physical response to me. But still, it’s a quiet joy. It’s progress. If I don’t want to repeat my mistakes, then it’s time to not allow men to use me as a means to an end – whatever that end is. Love is not one-sided sacrifice. And as trite as it is to say, love does start with me – specifically with respecting myself and my needs.

Javier had two months to tell me the truth or to give me the closure I wanted. Instead he spent that weekend with another woman, at his home that I was not allowed to see. (How absurd, I realize, to feel the way I do about someone that made me sit in a ShopRite parking lot by the apartment he shared with his mother – for forty minutes – instead of letting me inside.)

I owe him nothing, whereas I owe myself the world. I’ve already spent so much of my life being a victim. I was little better off than an abused dog, cowering and afraid and unable to enjoy the act of living. But going into thirty, I can finally say that I’m happy. Not because of a man. Not because of another person’s intervention. I’m happy because I worked for it.

Two years ago I was living out of my car, having given up everything to escape an abusive relationship that led me down the path of an eating disorder. A year after, I was unemployed while dealing with a rock bottom I had to some degree brought upon myself. Last spring, I seriously considered that I wouldn’t recover from how severely I had regressed in my ability to cope, resorting heavily to binging, purging, and drinking to deal with sexual assault and unwanted pregnancy. The gym became a distant thought, and despite the weight I gained, I figured exercise no longer mattered: as far as I was concerned, the brief period of my life where I felt empowered after leaving Scott was a mistake, and that this was real.

Since my 29th birthday, however, I’ve been promoted twice at a job I love. When I think of Scott criticizing me for working as a veterinary technician or for not making enough to be suitable for marriage, I get to have a good laugh, my career putting me on track to make significantly more than a teacher. The gym is again a place of relaxation, focus, and progress for me. (In fact, I just hit a one rep max for 165lbs on bench press, among other recent feats.) I drink socially without embarrassing myself or losing my keys, purse. Most impressively, my eating disorder is quiet. To say it’s “gone” would be perhaps too optimistic, but I haven’t binged or purged for months, and I’m not terrified to be flexible in how I eat. I let myself enjoy food the way I used to envy in others. I never imagined I’d get here, to be honest.

I made the decision to work on myself, which wasn’t natural to me, or the least bit easy. When Javier and I were dating, I told him that I know how to survive, but to actually live is beyond my ability. Without conflict, it’s difficult to know what to do with myself. He understood me. “It’s about who gets you the most,” he once said. And I still agree, which is why it will be hard to let go of the love I had for him. People who will hurt me always get me the most, because what we so often have in common is pain. Unfortunately, many don’t turn their lives around. They don’t stop hurting themselves or others. Their interest in survival means that they will never know what it is to live. And if I don’t want to be the girl that repeats the same dating patterns over and over again, the next thing to add onto my list of successes is, “I stopped falling in love with the suffering of men who don’t want to change.”

For now, though, I’ll enjoy my progress. I will focus on the good I made out of the difficulties I’ve experienced throughout my life. Every day that I live with pride in my accomplishments is a testament to my strength and resilience. “It’s about who gets you the most,” Javier said. Well, I realized if that person is me, that’s just fine.

Grief, Love

My grief is not for the men I lost who never wanted me, but for the time and effort I wasted on blaming myself.

For a time, I was angry that I fell in love and allowed myself to be vulnerable. But more recently, I’ve come to understand that this quality is what separates me from those damaged, emotionally unavailable men I’ve chased. They claim they are a certain way and can’t help it; their interior lives are stagnant as they cannot even comprehend that they can and should change. Unlike them, I have changed. Despite everything I’ve gone through, or perhaps because of it, I’ve learned how to love productively and completely. My flaw is not my capacity to care for another person – it’s that I relate to and empathize with people who grew up feeling as I did, and hold onto them for as long as they want me in their lives. Going forward, my goal is to not bury my wants and needs in favor of privileging what others ask of me.

Javier cheated on me. Worse than that, when I confronted him, he ghosted me. We had been dating for nearly six months, and I defended him against the naysayers that told me our relationship sounded like it didn’t matter to him or that I should be concerned I was his woman on the side. Yes, we averaged seeing each other four times a month, but I sincerely believed he was both busy and someone who valued spending his little free time by himself. I only became nosy when he didn’t want me to post a picture of us together on social media. At that point, with very little digging, it became apparent he was seeing at least one other person – on weekends he told me he was working. After that, many other elements of our relationship made more sense and supported the fact that he was cheating: I wasn’t allowed to call him, he was supposedly not on Facebook, I could’t come to his apartment, and I was always being told I’d eventually meet his friends and family without any definitive plans to do so.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever get closure, and a part of my mind will always wonder if I overreacted to this information. Maybe I’m crazy, you know. Perhaps there’s an explanation. There was a moment or two where I believed it was my fault he vanished, as I reacted strongly to finding out that he was with another woman. A bigger part of me knows that this is all immaterial. After nearly six months, the fact that I felt compelled to ask him if I could post a picture of us together is insane. Whatever my reaction to the realization I was not the only woman in the picture, spending half the year together warrants an explanation – even if I will never get one.

While I may never know the actual timeline or specific details of his cheating, my experience with Javier gave me an opportunity to see where I’ve gone wrong with the men I pursue. This time around, I’m determined to be gentler with myself about my relationship falling apart: blaming myself in the past did not help me create healthier patterns, after all.

The takeaway isn’t to shutdown or be cautious to love another. I will continue to give future lovers the benefit of the doubt. I’ll care about and fall for someone without letting the baggage of my past get in the way of being vulnerable enough to do so. The lesson here is to cut my losses, though, when it’s clear that the person I’m investing in is emotionally unavailable. Going forward, I’m not going to let my strange White Knight complex convince me that I’ll save a broken man. It’s patience that’s hurt me, not love, so I will not wait for the things I want out of a relationship.

I’m proud of myself, especially given how rough things have been for me up until recently. When I initially discovered my relationship with Javier was a farce, I was afraid my progress would be undone and that the rest of my life would surely collapse around him. But even with this bump in the road, I’m doing better with my eating disorder than I have since being raped almost a year a half ago. Powerlifting, which I had contemplated abandoning after the rape, is once again the cornerstone of my life, and I’m on the path to competing. I’m at a point in my current career where being fired by my last employer is now a good thing, as I’m earning considerably more in a company that actually values my work ethic.

The only person I can control is me. The parts of my life that are good exist through my ability and determination. And it took time and healing to get to that point, too – to have the confidence to exist in corporate settings, to strike out on my own and gain the level of financial independence I now have. As heartbroken as I still am, I know that it’s likely I must also heal in this area. So I will work on my confidence, and I will stop feeling bad for broken men who justify hurting the people who love them with “I’ve always been this way.”

That’s their choice. I will make a different one, always.

Bullies

My once friend passes her eyes along the bruised length of my neck, the discoloration left by his teeth extending under my jaw. Sarah Jane’s judgment brings a cold light to the typically unreadable expression she wears. At this point, my co-worker is finding any reason to be unhappy with me (she reminds me uncannily of my father, with her simmering rage over the most mundane things), but I’ve finally given her ammunition.

SJ will be fired in a few weeks, but I don’t yet know that. (I won’t, up until the hour she’s escorted from the office.) I have less to worry about than I realize, but the panic weighs on my stomach like a boulder. Limitless is the word I’d use to describe my embarrassment, but I didn’t ask for a man to bite me in so many visible places. I wish I could say that, explain how while I had consented to sex, I had not consented to wearing imprints of his teeth around my neck and across my shoulders for the days to come.

“I bet you were sick yesterday,” she says. Her words, more like a hiss than human speech, react to the cold November air: clouds form in front of her painted orange lips and drift off into nothingness. (And while the air so quickly forgets the shape of her words, I will remember for weeks, perhaps maybe months.) “Good thing you’re back.”

“I was just run down,” I say, meek as a mouse.

“It makes me uncomfortable to stand so close to you,” she says, apropos of nothing. She’s looking down on me – literally, as she’s got almost a foot on my own small stature – her fire engine red hair hanging past her face like two long drapes. There’s something that approaches malice in her eyes. Maybe I’m just reading into it; perhaps she’s not a bully, and I in fact deserve her quiet rage.

“It’s like I’m some giant,” she mumbles, turning heel before slithering back towards our office.

 

Such a private man, this distraction that’s wound tight as a garrote around my heart. He will tell stories to his friends in front of me, where I am not a character despite the memory belonging to us both. He will not take a picture with me, or create an association between us that is anything more than convenience for himself. But he will leave his mark in all the public places that I occupy alone. (I feel acute embarrassment, a humiliation that is severe but not as disastrously consuming as what will come later.) And still I throw myself at him, desperate for someone to love, accepting he may never care for me because I’m closer to thirty than I want to be but still incredibly and sadly so fucking unfamiliar with the concept of self-respect.

My whole life, survival has meant keeping others happy. If I bury my own wants and needs, I will not be kicked or abandoned. When I tell him I took the day off work because I couldn’t figure out how to cover up the marks he left behind, he just laughs – and I find myself where I often have in the past, afraid of my own anger, more terrified he’ll leave if I express my unhappiness than I am over his callous disregard.

I told you to stop. I told you not there. I told you and you continued anyway. But I swallow air instead.

Happy Birthday

Because I’ve blocked my father’s number and his social media accounts, he now leaves me comments on a blog I use to host my half-finished prose and unrefined poetry. His latest offering is in keeping with his descent into schizophrenia:

Seeing one’s self as weak provokes the mind into its own (being planted by an embraced past; what one doesn’t let go of only creates one that knows its role) victim mentality… Don’t allow another’s weak guilt to imprison you.
Stand up, because you’re more intimidating than the weak $$$ that imprisons you. LET NO ONE’S NARRATIVES WRITE YOUR FUTURE!
~see your delusional daddy

I delete his response to a poem I wrote about my struggle with bulimia, about my fear of dying over a toilet or losing my teeth. (Writing can never fully explore the fears I face, or the nightmares I live with. I dream of my incisors falling out; I wonder when I’ll bite into an apple and find that my front tooth has finally become dislodged, the slow erosion of my gums eventuating in the inevitable.) I’m not sure what he means, yet the incoherence still disturbs me.

Victim mentality? I think. I am imprisoned, but not by guilt. And I am a victim. I’m tired of pretending I’m too strong to not be.

***

Home movies. Remember those? I sit in the basement of my step father’s house, the TV flickering to life as soon as I push the VHS into the tape player. I’ve picked the one labeled May 23rd – Amber’s Birthday. I’m turning thirteen in a few days. The choice feels appropriate.

My father stalks my mother with the video camera. This is how his home movie opens. He narrates using that voice, the one that’s more sinister and frightening than outright anger. Controlled contempt, I would later call it. A lash worse than all the times he slapped me. In the movie, he directs this verbal violence towards my mother. The image he portrays of her – fat and unkempt, her arms as wide as pillows, eating chocolate – is not enough to sate the part of him that feeds off pain.

“Look at the hippopotamus,” he says loudly enough that my mother’s head spins, “look as she grazes.” She brings her hand up towards the lens, her fingers and palm and sagging skin obscuring the view of our tiny kitchen.

Sharp cut. Now there’s me, a small child, my face red and wet. I’m wailing on the top bunk. I look like some soon to be victim, as if I were one of the dumb girls in the horror films my mother and I watched together. My father is Freddy Krueger, among the few – or perhaps the only – horror villains that emotionally tormented their prey before slaughtering them.

“Oh, why is the birthday girl crying?” He uses the same tone as before, when he deemed the woman that gave birth to me and his two other children a hippo.

When I think back to my birthday, I don’t remember why I was in tears. After all, I was only five years old.

Recovery?

I’m in recovery. What a nebulous sentence. I’m not even sure what it means when I admit to people that I’m bulimic, but am “in recovery.” Am I working on the behaviors? Am I successful when I don’t purge, or when I can sit uncomfortably after compulsively over stuffing myself? Am I still symptomatic if I’m binging? And what about these thoughts I have, related to my body and food and self-worth? When I can say, I’m recovered, does that mean I can’t feel guilty about missing the gym because I’m worn down?

The closer I come to having a life that allows me to live, the more I focus on the details, the semantics.

I realized yesterday that I don’t want to be bulimic anymore. I don’t want this disorder to be such a large part of my identity. But even as I trace its origins, even as I begin to understand how this happened, I’m not any nearer to defining what life without bulimia is like. Worst of all, this disease is like an invasive species; it doesn’t belong here.

I’m surprised that it happened so recently. Scott’s mom was candid about her feelings, perhaps because I was being open about my own. Not that I had much choice. Scott had told his family – without my consent – that I was bulimic. She was dismayed to hear that the disorder began in the midst of living with her. The answer she wanted was different – maybe some story about how I spent my time bent over a toilet in college and recently relapsed. She didn’t want to consider that the disorder began as part of my relationship with her son and his family.

In fact, when I told her I was going to residential treatment at Renfrew, she repeatedly stated, “I hope they don’t tell you we’re not good for you.” I was about to uproot my life the day after finishing my fall semester of nursing school to spend an indefinite amount of time at a residential facility in Philadelphia, and her main concern was that the therapist(s) would tell me to get the hell out of Dodge.

My therapist, of course, did question my ability to be successful with a partner like Scott. I never told her about Scott’s sexual abuse. I didn’t mention that his mother was an alcoholic, and that I spent almost a year being told by him and his twin brother that I was just imagining it or being dramatic. She didn’t know the details of Scott’s cheating, or the way he’d compare compulsive acts of sexual abuse to my bulimia. I never told my therapist that Scott explicitly said he didn’t forgive me for being emotionally unstable when my bulimia was at its worst (“you were still you then,” he told me more than once when I came back from Renfrew, even as he continued to cause me emotional and physical harm in bed), and considered the behavior of a genuinely ill person comparable to his cheating, his lying, his abuse.

I think my therapist simply saw what I see now: I’m a resilient person, but resilience is a finite resource. And I was wasting that resource on Scott, on his family, on people who never asked me what I wanted or if I was happy. I wasted my resilience on trying to live with people who slept with their secrets. Who didn’t, or couldn’t, communicate honestly, but acted passive-aggressively, displayed random bouts of anger, manipulated one another. I purchased their story of this being normal, and judged myself instead of identifying their problems sooner.

I wouldn’t have developed bulimia if I had never met Scott. I’m so certain of this that I want to laugh hysterically until I cry; I want to embrace the absurdity of my situation. These thoughts also make me want a life without bulimia more than ever. I want to be able to know what it’s like to not fear a bathroom after a large meal. To not miss the gym because I spent the day before, or even morning of, purging. My life is worth more than the DSM diagnosis they brought into it.

I don’t know what being “in recovery” actually means. I never will. But I am in a state of regaining my resilience. I can recognize that I’m not a bad person for wanting a life defined by my desires and needs. For accepting that it’s not healthy to keep secrets, or to let anxieties create a momentum that’s chaotic and harsh.

I’m happy to wake up. I haven’t been able to say that in years.