Frogs, Penguins and Bears, oh my!

When my sister was a toddler, before I was on the scene at all, she would talk in different voices. My parents worried that something might be wrong with her, and thought briefly about getting her tested. But before they did, someone gave her a stuffed bear. An adorable little panda named Pammy.

Suddenly, Pammy started talking in one of the voices. Dr. Cuddly, a brown bear, started talking in another. There wasn’t anything wrong with her, (clearly I hadn’t been born yet, or I would’ve told them that) she just needed an outlet.

By the time I was old enough to talk in at least one squeaky voice of my own, I had quite the collection of stuffed animals. They all had names, and I was mother to the whole lot. They called my sister Aunt, as hers called me, and all of ours called our brother Dad (we were children. It made sense at the time). They slept on our beds, went on camping trips with us, watched movies, and occasionally became ammunition to huck at each other from behind our furniture bunkers. (They shrieked with joy the whole time, they loved flying.)

And, they were our voices.

Our animals (we hardly ever included the word “stuffed”. It seemed harsh.) said things we could not. They took risks that seemed too scary for our tiny bodies. My sister learned at a young age to steel herself from the world, to keep herself safe. Sometimes this was seen by other people as a poor attitude or general uncaring. But if you were worried about something, Pammy would always come out and cheer you up. Her pal Newberry would give you a hug. And Booberry, the third amigo, would come scare away whatever was troubling you. If that didn’t work, they’d send in Dr. Cuddly for a follow up.

My brother has been a giant most of his life. He reached 6′ before he got to middle school. And he’s the gentlest, kindest person I know. At a time when boys were told that becoming men meant being louder, meaner and tougher, he quietly disagreed. He often let people say what they wanted without arguing, because it made them happy. When I dreamed of having a big, scary brother that would threaten jerky ex-boyfriends, reality would set in and remind me that my big brother was much more likely to buy them food and ask about their family. But his gaggle of penguins, (usually Pengywinwin and Tacky) always came to check on us, pat us on the shoulder with a soft wing, and check the perimeter for threats before reminding us that we were loved, and to-bellying back to their room (it’s like tobagganing. But on your belly, because you’re a silly penguin).

My animals were brave. Goofy, like I was, but they said what they thought. They didn’t back down. And they loved everyone, boldly and without hesitation.

As we got older and moved apart, we talked to each other’s animals less and less. But we never got rid of them. When I visit my sister, three panda bears come out, shouting “Aunt Kris!!!” and give me hugs. The ringbearer in my brother’s wedding was a small penguin named Cookie. Sometimes I get texts that a lion (or a kidnapped turtle…) sends their regards. But mine don’t talk much anymore.

My favorites sat on my shelf in my room, but the other 500 or so stayed in plastic bags in my son’s room. They’d been cooped up in there for over 5 years. Part of it was that my second husband wouldn’t allow me to take them out. I refused to give them away, but they had to stay contained, and in the garage. Part of it was that I finally found my own voice.

When I realized earlier this year that these little animals had very literally saved each of us at some point, I shared this epiphany with my sister. “Sissa!” I said, “did you know that we used our animals to express the parts of us that we otherwise couldn’t have let the world see?” “Yes, of course I know”, she replied in her usual fashion. “Once, someone asked me when I was going to get rid of them, because I’m an adult. I told them never, because they are the only source of unconditional love I’ve ever known.” My heart broke right then. For the little girls we were, that were so scared. For the big brother that didn’t know how to keep us safe. And for these worn, faded, sweet wee animals who took on such an enormous job.

Last weekend I finally opened the bags and let mine out. I intended to give most of them away, but as I sorted through, I was overwhelmed by how much comfort they still give. What my sister had said came rushing back, and there was no way I could let them go. They had never let me down, I had to return the favor. I kept probably 200 of my original crew. And I talked to all of them.

I know my family is weird as shit. I know we were barely normal as kids, and just get stranger as adults. I know that now I’m the single chick who has a 3 foot tall stack of stuffed animals in the corner of her room, all looking at her, which doesn’t help the chances of finding someone to sleep in that room with me. People think it’s creepy. People still think we should get tested. And I give precisely zero fucks.

Rattles, Clodhopper and I don’t have time for judgement. We’ve got letters to write, to panda bears and penguins.

 

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Body of lies

Once, a few years ago, a friend posed a general question about what we identify as. Who we are. Moms? Professionals? Friends? Artists? What group did we belong in?

I still haven’t come up with an answer. Even with things I KNOW I am (like a mom. I have some pretty solid evidence that’s a part of my identity) I never feel right saying it, I feel like an imposter. There are better moms, more knowledgeable professionals, friendlier friends, and I’m just not an artist in any light. While Imposter Syndrome isn’t a completely new idea, I recently made some ground in figuring out where mine comes from.

Who I am is tied into this physical body. And this body has never been mine.

I don’t remember a time when men didn’t make a comment about my body, in some way. Under the guise of harmless, crazy old men, they’d pat and pinch and I’d be told to give them hugs because they were my family. Family I didn’t really know, but someone knew them, probably, and I was taught I couldn’t say “no”. Ever.

My early childhood is now a collection of fun memories with my cousins and siblings coupled with images of being loomed over, yanked around, and screamed at. I suppose that’s normal for a lot of kids. But the standing in line at my dad’s recliner every night, waiting to receive our daily spankings, just in case we’d been bad… that’s not.

A husband of a family acquaintance told me how when I grew up, a man would stare longingly into my beautiful eyes and tell me how pretty I was, just like he was doing then. I was 11. He was in his 60s. I’d never met him before. But I had to be polite, so I didn’t tell anyone how uncomfortable it made me.

As the younger one, I got a lot of people asking me when I was going to “fill out” like my sister. We were 14 and 10. They were adults. They thought it was funny, so I laughed along with them, not understanding why this should matter to them. I still don’t, actually.

I got beat for putting the knives in the dishwasher upside down. I was also running my mouth, so it was just accepted that it was deserved. It’s still bragged about at family dinners, the time a giant man put me in my place. I was 17.

Finding out I was pregnant at 18 meant I had even less control of my own body. I was much more okay with the life inside changing the shape of it than I was the people I didn’t know feeling the need to preach to me about my choices. I didn’t say anything though, because I thought they were right. As much as I love my son, I thought I was wrong for having him, because that’s what the adults told me.

After my first divorce, I started hanging out with a bunch of friends from school, and their families. One night, all of us were standing around drinking, and I went up to hug my buddy’s dad. He put his arm around me, and then stuck his hand down the back of my pants, where it stayed for the next 10 minutes. I had danced at homecoming with his son. He was the same age as my dad. He was huge, though, and everyone loved him, so I just held very still until he wandered off.

When I was married the second time, my husband insisted that I fully belonged to him, and as well as being able to grab any part of me at any time, his advances in the bedroom were never to be rejected. I obliged, because it was easier than listening to him lecture and belittle me. He licked my fucking armpits. I hated it, but I never said a word. Criticism was not an accepted part of my wifely duties.

I went on a date with a guy last year, and he said, “I’m surprised you didn’t wear a shirt that shows a little more cleavage.” At first, I felt like I had done something wrong. Because I’m just here to be accommodating, right? Then, I realized I don’t have any shirts that show cleavage. They embarrass me, and I don’t feel right in them. Because of my dad. Not because he is protective of me, because he stares. He hugs extra when I wear them. He finds reasons to reach across the table to grab something on the other side of me. It was worse when I lived with him. But nobody believed me, because he remodels bathrooms for free and always works on our cars without complaining. So I stopped telling them.

There’s more. Too many more. They vary in severity, but they all share a common thread of men saying and doing what they want without any thought to the fact that this body is mine, and not theirs. Sometimes I said it, but they didn’t listen. Sometimes I waited, silently, until they went away. The only thing I could do to protect whatever I had left, was to detach myself.

I hate this body. It’s only pain for me. I don’t see it as strong, or attractive. It is too much and too little all at once. Too noticeable to be safe in, not good enough to not be passed over for the next one that comes along. But, being detached has kept me safe, in a way. Although I don’t really take care of it (because if I make it better, won’t that make it worse?) I won’t hurt it, either. Even on my worst day. Because it’s not really mine to hurt.

But tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I’m going to take the first step in reclaiming it. Telling my story helps, too. Neither one is going to be overruled by someone else anymore. I’m terrified. I’m sure it’s not going to go the way it should. But, either way, I know who I am. I’m a fierce and protective mom, a loyal friend, and I have a great amount of compassion for almost everyone. Also, when nobody is pissing me off and grabbing my ass without my permission, I’m kinda hilarious. And above all, I deserve respect. My own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note, I will never hurt my body intentionally in any way, in case you’re worried. I hope you don’t either. But if you feel like you could, or are having other harmful thoughts, please talk to someone. Me, a friend, or the people at this number: 1-800-273-8255

 

 

Fishicide

Today is the 2nd anniversary of The Great Fish Murder. Don’t worry if you’re feeling in the dark about it, there’s only a handful of people that aren’t.

So, I was married, but I’d decided to leave. I’d found a new place, packed up all mine and my kiddo’s things, and was going to move out the next morning. My ex also had to move out, because he couldn’t afford the house without me. I was feeling relieved that it was so close to being over (we lived together for a month after we technically split up, and it was pretty fucking weird) to the point of near-giddiness.

The toilet wasn’t working. This wasn’t especially noteworthy, as our house was complete shit, but it was foaming, which was odd. I didn’t think much of it, even when my ex started yelling at his son for causing it. That, too, was pretty normal. Other than that, he was also in a good mood, and we were making small talk about moving the next day while he got ready to take his bath (during The Weird As Fuck Month, he took a bubble bath every single day. Usually while listening to Norah Jones, which was then sorta ruined for me.) I told him I’d noticed our fish were gone, and asked if he had moved them to the new place already. “No, I couldn’t. So they’re dead.” “Oh… could you not have an aquarium at the new place?” “I could, but it was too much work to get them over there.”

There were about nine 4-5 inch long fish in a 60 gallon tank, so the fish would’ve had to been taken out, placed in a temporary home, the tank drained and moved, set up, water cycled through, and then fish moved back in. It is a pain in the ass, but as he was moving a block away, his best friend whom we’d gotten the fish from and who had 4 or 5 extra tanks ready to go at his house lived about a mile away, it was quite doable. I started to say this, and he cut me off, saying, “Nope, couldn’t be done. I tried everything.”

“So you killed the fish?”

“Yep. I cut them up and flushed them. They got stuck, so I poured in some Drano.”

At this point I’m just staring at him, terrified. “So… that’s why the toilet was foaming?”

“Yeah”, he said, laughing, “didn’t work so well.”

“Aannnnd… so your son didn’t break the toilet, it was you? You just let him think he did it?”

“Yep! It’s pretty funny really. They don’t even know what happened!”

There was a look on his face that I can’t really describe, other than as maniacal. He was pleased with himself. Not just because he’d pulled one over on us (if there was a sticker chart for criminal masterminds, I bet he would’ve awarded himself two that day) but simply because he had killed them. Some of them were mine. They had names. I liked them.

When I quietly snuck out as he was sudsing up to “Turn Me On”, I realized that this, in a terrible way, was the closure I needed. For most of our relationship, I’d been manipulated and otherwise mentally fucked with. I had no idea what to believe a lot of the time, because when I expressed concern over something I saw, he’d tell me that I hadn’t seen it. If I tried to stand up for myself, he’d belittle and berate me until I lost my nerve. He’d tell me I was terrible, lazy, fat, and ugly, but that he alone loved me enough to see past all of that. I knew he was crazy, and dangerous. But I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t just imagining it.

This confirmed that I wasn’t. This settled the fact that everything I knew about him was real. Fish is the least of what he’s capable of, (which I’d always known, but didn’t want to believe. Even when the bloodstained proof was on my floor) and I lived with a monster. It wasn’t really even that comforting to have my hunch proven to be correct, because it wasn’t good news, and I still had to spend the next 12 hours with him.

Obviously, though, I made it. I learned a thing or two, grew like a motherfucker, and call that shit out when it happens now.(The mental stuff. Nobody else has gone all American Psycho on my pets) From the little I hear, he hasn’t changed. Though I don’t take a lot of joy in it, I’m not surprised at all. (Though I would like him to advance in careers, or at least stop working at restaurants I like, dammit.) He’s a sad, broken little boy, and he probably always will be. Turns out, it’s not my fucking problem. People can’t be “fixed” and I have no desire to try. To keep things fair, I never ask or expect anyone to fix me, either.

 

Later, I found out that prior to this when he’d get angry with me, he’d kill my frogs. I knew the fish didn’t eat them! Little fucking bitch.

My my my my my sensi-shoes.

Yesterday I talked about being brave, and how it took me quite a while to realize it’s actually part of who I am. In contrast, I have always known I was sensitive. Despite my love of colorful language and screaming along with power ballads, I’m just a little baby duckling in women’s clothing (alright, angsty teenage nerd clothing. Whatever.). I was in high school before I mastered being able to read aloud without crying. The word “retard” causes me physical pain. (I WANT TO DELETE THAT SENTENCE SO BAD.) I lose my shizz over The Notebook every single time I watch it.

Even if I hadn’t caught on myself, I’ve been told numerous times. I’m pretty sure it’s come up at least once with everyone I’ve dated. Sometimes it’s in an, “awww, the poor wittle duckwing” kind of way. But usually, it’s accompanied by a speech on how this makes me a useless human.

That’s the thing about being strong AND sensitive, though. I know when to do which, how to be comfortable in my own skin, and when to just tell people to go fuck themselves. My sensitivity is one of my greatest strengths. It allows me to connect to people. Feeling someone’s pain is a great motivator. It keeps me fighting when I want to give up. Because whatever is hurting me, is hurting someone else, too. Though I try not to cross over into full blown martyrdom, I’ll do whatever I can not to see someone hurt.

It also helps me find something to relate to, even with people I disagree with. Remember that they’re human, too. While I do have my limits and will indeed tell someone to kiss my shiny metal ass, it’s not right off the bat (usually. These fucking Trump supporters are testing me, though.). For the most part, I can have reasonable, respectful conversations with people on opposite sides of the topic.

However, there was a brief time that I wasn’t this way. My “freeze” instinct had fully taken over, and for months, nothing bothered me. Nothing made me happy, either. I was completely numb. Not like “Oh, I’m just a little off today”. More like, “I’m not completely convinced I’m actually a real person anymore, and should probably be put on a watch list.” I cannot describe to you how incredibly terrifying that was. Partly because I’ve blocked a lot of it out. But I can tell you for 100% certainty that given the choice, (which I was! So… really. 100%) I will take being a sensi-shoe wearing crybaby any day of the week.

There’s a lot of talk of the world becoming too sensitive nowadays. We’re not. We’re becoming more human. More empathetic. More compassionate. Microaggressions are a thing. Casual racism is a thing. Rape culture, victim blaming, white privilege, rampant misogyny… all things. They all need paid attention to, and stopped. Because we’re all people deserving of respect. Even if you don’t get offended by the same things, it’s not unreasonable to ask that you understand that someone else does. Then, take it a step further and stop whatever it is. Prevent it from happening again. Stand up against it. Care for one another. We’re all in this together, end of story.

If you need any pointers, I’m happy to help. Or to watch The Notebook with you. I can’t help it (nor would I want to), I just fucking love that shit.

 

Red My Lips, take two.

Tomorrow is the first day of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I know you just inwardly groaned, it’s ok. This is uncomfortable. But that’s why it’s a thing, it has to be talked about. Has to.

I participated in the Red My Lips campaign for the last week of the month last year, and I’m excited to do so for the entire month this year. Here’s how it works: you wear red lipstick every day for the whole month. That’s it. Well, almost, anyway. Then, when someone mentions it, you use that moment to tell them you’re wearing it both as a show of solidarity to those who have been victims of abuse, and to get the word out that we have to change the way we look at these things in general.

When I did this last year, a woman I work with commented on it. I told her I was raising awareness, and after a bit of talking, she told me to make sure “not to wear a short skirt with it or anything like that”. This is the EXACT thing that needs to change. This woman isn’t a violent monster, nor is she completely uneducated. But she is part of this society that would rather not talk about this issue at all, and uncomfortably shift blame onto those already suffering when they do. It’s become the norm to question a victim’s story, to make them justify every action they took, and to then tell them how they somehow brought this on themselves.

That. It has to end.

There is nothing a person wears  (or doesn’t wear) that makes it alright for anyone else to touch them without their consent. There is not an hour after which all women walking alone are up for grabs. There is not a number of drinks past which the person drinking them cannot blame anyone else for taking advantage of them in their inebriated state. Victims of sexual assault are never asking for it. Ever.

Last year, excited as I was to stand up and fight for something I believe in so much, I hated almost every minute of it. I didn’t wear lipstick ever, then. Especially not red. It’s seen as sexual, racy, flamboyant… all those things I try to minimize in my own self (which is the exact reason it’s the symbol of this campaign). Though I’m not trying to be invisible by any means, being seen in that particular light is not something I’m comfortable with. I’m good with being the funny one. The awkward one. I’m not the sexy one. It’s probably not a huge mystery as to why; I once believed being assaulted was my fault, too. Even once I accepted that there is no “asking for it” (unless you’re literally saying the fucking words) I still thought if I kept from prettying myself up too much, I would be safer. I knew in the logical part of my brain that was complete crap, but that part isn’t always in use. The first day I wore it last year, I spent most of it looking over my shoulder, jumping at loud noises, and on the verge of tears. Because of lipstick.

I refuse to live my life that way. I refuse to let anyone else, if there’s a way I can help it. So I’ll bring up the uncomfortable, I’ll believe you when you tell me your story, and I’ll do everything I can to change the stigma that rape and assault are just things that happen to sluts who aren’t careful. Also, I talk to my son frequently, about boundaries, consent and choices. That might be the most uncomfortable part of all, but it’s also the most important. As men are most often the abusers, I’ll be fucking damned if my child is going to grow up thinking another person’s body is something he’s entitled to.

If you’d like to read more on this, by someone who explains it much better, you definitely should.

Spread the word, and get that lipstick ready.