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Life Stories

Several months ago, I finally sat down and did what I had thought about doing for years: I wrote about what I remember as the worst night of my life.  Although the night in question happened now almost fourteen years ago, the memories of it have haunted me all this time.  It was a devastatingly traumatic night on many levels, and over the years I would flash back on it and be filled with rage and anxiety and shame.  There was always a part of me that thought if I could write it out – what happened that night – I could somehow relegate it to the past where it belongs and gain some sense of closure on it.  But I was also ambivalent about writing it out because I knew it would force me to relive the events of that night in detail rather than in the snippets that would sometimes flash in and out of my mind’s eye.

When I did write about it finally, it was an emotionally draining process, but in the end, it was cathartic as I had hoped it would be.  Reducing it all to paper, so to speak, found a way to take much of its power away.  And the memories finally stopped plaguing me.  It was a horrible night that happened a long time ago, to a person who only vaguely resembles who I am now.

What I wrote, An Excerpt From the Life of a Battered Wife, seemed to have quite an impact on other people, too.  So much so that I decided to submit the piece to a couple of publications with the hope that it might be accepted for publication.

The Sun magazine declined it.  They sent me a very nice letter telling me that, while they felt that it was a very well-written piece, they get so many submissions every month that they often have to turn down even very good ones.  (Okay, this very well might have been a form letter, but I’ve decided to take it at face value, thank you very much.)  About a week later, I received an email from the managing editor of Mamalode telling me that they wanted to publish it.  She called it “powerful” and “very moving.”  I was elated.  I would get paid for this, which seemed like a sort of sweet justice, given the subject matter of the piece.

So for the next week, the managing editor and I worked together on editing the piece.  I’ll be honest: the first edited draft she sent me left me feeling pretty deflated.  She cut so much out of the original version that it lost much of its punch in my view.  But of course, I was biased – I had lived the events, and it was impossible to separate myself from it and look at it objectively.  Still, it was interesting, and a little frustrating that she felt so strongly about taking a “less is more” approach.  I remember a few months back when I was working on edits to my review of The Shape of the Eye for Literary Mama, and how the editor kept wanting more; “Dig deeper,” she told me.  And that was a book review!  This piece, on the other hand, is a very personal story that is supposed to have a certain gut-wrenching impact, and the editor wants less.  Hmph.

So I pretty much scrapped her edited version and, working from the original, edited it down myself, thinking, okay, if it’s a space issue, I can cut it down without removing the parts that really need to be there (you know, in my completely objective view).  She didn’t like it.  In fact, she told me very nicely that if I wasn’t happy with the edits she suggested, if I felt that strongly about it, I could decline publication, because they certainly didn’t want to publish anything I wouldn’t be happy with.  (I make her sound snippy here; she absolutely wasn’t.  She was very kind and respectful.)

So I had a choice to make: forget the whole thing, or make some concessions and accept the fact that a willingness to make concessions is part of the deal if one is going to write for a broader audience than a personal blog.  I decided to go with Choice No. 2.  It would get my work out there, get me some exposure, and the whole thing is a learning experience as far as writing goes.  Right?

So here is the final published version: A Bruised Heart

As it turns out, I will get paid based on the number of unique views – which means if you click on it fifty time because you dig me, it won’t count.  But, please, feel free to pass it along to anyone you know who might get something out of it – either literarily (is that a word?) or, you know, as the story it relates to life experiences.

I’m going to write more here, soon, about being a battered wife, because it’s very much a part of my past and therefore has played some role in shaping me, and I think it’s an extremely important social issue that still remains pretty taboo.

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Just For a Day . . .

Just for a day, I’d like to be okay with me.

Just for a day, I’d like to not feel like I’m failing, or falling short of the mark as a mother.

Just for a day, I’d like to stop beating myself up for not being the sort of mother I envisioned I would be.

Just for a day, I’d like to stop beating myself up for not being like other mothers I see around me (and to remember that they all have their struggles, too).

Just for a day, I’d like to stop those words that play in my head on a loop: “You’re not doing it right, this motherhood thing.  You need to be kinder.  No, you need to be more consistent.  You need to be more organized.  No, you need to relax your standards.”

Just for a day, I’d like to figure out a way to allow myself to just breathe.  To stop and smell the roses.  To savor the little things.  To just be.

Just for a day, I’d like to find the joy in motherhood that I used to feel before I became so overwhelmed by it all.  Because a little voice keeps telling me, “They’re going to grow up before you know it.  Yes, it’s hard, really, really hard sometimes, but someday you’re going to miss this time.”

Just for a day, I’d like to feel like the Super Woman others see me as.  People say to me, “Seven kids!  Wow!  I don’t know how you do it.”  I don’t know how I do it, either, and the truth is, a good part of the time, I don’t feel like I’m doing it well.  I yell too much, I don’t plan well, I feel frazzled and drained and  . . . the truth?  Often angry.  Frequently sad.  Why can’t my kids behave better? I ask myself.  What am I doing wrong?  Why is this so damn hard?  But other people seem to see a completely different picture, and I wonder how that is.

Just for a day, I wish I could see that picture.

Just for a day, I wish I could see me and my kids and my family as others seem to see us – as something pretty special.  Amazing, even.

Just for a day, I wish I could figure out how to be a friend to myself.  The kind of friend I try to be to others.  The kind that listens, reassures, comforts, and sees the good in.  Why is it so hard to be kind to myself?

Just for a day, I wish I could do all these things, these little, but enormously difficult things.  Because I think, maybe, if I could do it just for a day, then I could do it for a lifetime.

~*~

See what other moms have written on this topic, and join the Writing Prompt Community: Just For a Day

 

On Crafting a Bona Fide Book Review

Way back last October, I was contacted by the co-editor of Literary Mama, a prestigious e-zine comprised of articles, columns, interviews, and the like by real writers.  I was being invited to write a review of George Estreich’s The Shape of the Eye.  The invitation came as quite a shock – how did they land on little ol’ me?  As it turned out, the assignment had originally been offered to Jennifer Graf-Groneberg, author of Roadmap to Holland and a regular contributor at Literary Mama; Jennifer was unable to accept the invitation, however, and she personally recommended me for the job.

To say I was flattered would be a gross understatement.  I was elated!  Jennifer is one of my heroes – not only because she wrote a book that meant so much to me in the early weeks and months after Finn was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, but also because she’s just a really neat person.  And I know this, because, despite being a successful, published, big-shot writer, she’s very approachable and down to earth.  I contacted her via email when I finished Roadmap to Holland just to tell her how much her memoir meant to me, and she was very responsive, and we continued to communicate from time to time thereafter – she even let Kevin interview her for an assignment he had at school.

Anyway, so she recommended me to write a review of The Shape of the Eye.  This was perfect luck, because I had already read the book and loved it – and I had already written a heartfelt review of it on my book blog, as well as did an interview with George Estreich in an effort to promote his book (it boggles my mind how some of the fluff that’s out there can hit it so much bigger than real gems like this; I have no doubt, though, that it all boils down to promotion, and not quality or talent).  The editor from Literary Mama wanted much more than what I had written in my book blog review, however; this was going to require me to stretch my writing muscles in ways I had never stretched them before.

I write lots of book reviews on my blog.  It’s really kind of a hobby: I love to read, and I love to write; I love to record my thoughts about the books I read, and I like to hear what other people think.  The stuff I write on my book blog fulfills those needs and wants of mine, and I do it for me on my own terms, not really expecting my reviews to have much influence anywhere.

Writing a book review for Literary Mama, however, is something to be taken seriously.  Literary Mama caters specifically to the reader and the writer, and a book review on LM has potential pull in the literary community.  Additionally, all contributions to LM reflect LM’s standards.  This would be the very first time I would write something that would go through an editing process.

I was told back in October that LM wanted the review for their Father’s Day issue in June, and they wanted a first draft by some time in May.  Back then, it seemed ages in the future – I had all the time in the world.  But, as often happens, before I knew it, it was already April, I had to start thinking about writing an in-depth review of this book.

The first thing I needed to do was re-read The Shape of the Eye.  I loved it just as much the second time around as I did the first.  This time, though, I went through it with a yellow marker, highlighting passages that were quotable, that illustrated certain important points, or that could be used as jumping-off points for discussion of certain issues.  This required reading with a much closer eye to detail than when I read it the first time purely for my own benefit.

When I finished re-reading it, I had a book full of highlighted passages and pages marked with Post-it notes.  I felt very intimidated about actually sitting down to write the review.  Where would I even start?  This couldn’t be just an opinion piece like I am used to writing.  This had to have substance and harmony, meat and balance.  In the end, I just sat down one afternoon and started typing, thumbing through tabbed and highlighted portions of the book, and I didn’t stop until I had written a complete first draft.  It was about three and a half pages long, single-spaced – a much more substantial review than I had ever written before.  I was actually pretty happy with it.

I had Michael read it, as well as a couple of friends whose writing I admire, and they all suggested a few minor alterations.  Then I submitted it to the editor of LM.  And I waited.

And waited.

A week or so went by and I didn’t hear anything, so I started thinking, “Wow, I guess I nailed it on my first try!”

And then I heard back from the editor.  She sent me the first draft back, marked up with various comments.  All in all, she seemed to be pleased with my first draft, but wanted more.  More!?  Ack.  Now I really felt intimidated.  She wanted more of my story with Finn, and how it tied into my feelings about the book.  Why was this book so special to me as opposed to other memoirs I had read about raising a child with Down syndrome?  She wanted more depth and detail about various other points I had made, as well.

Over the next two or three weeks, so the process of evolution went.  She would ask for this or that change (usually it was a case of wanting more), and I would sit down with my trusty laptop and dig a little deeper, and then send her the latest revisions.  Finally, a week ago, I got a note back from her saying that it had been submitted to the senior editors, and they were pleased with it but wanted a weightier conclusion.  I almost cried.  I was in the midst of suffering from the flu, hugely pregnant and thinking I could blow at any moment, and I already felt that I had dug as deep as I possibly could in writing this review.  I put on my big girl pants, though, and sat down at my computer once more.

A few days later I got one more note from the editor saying that the senior editors had approved it, it would publish over the weekend, and all they needed was a short bio for me.

A bio, huh?  This also wasn’t going to be a piece of cake exactly.  I went through some of the other bios of contributors over at LM and they’re all pretty impressive.  Those contributors seem to all be actual writers – writers with credentials!  Not some SAHM with a laptop and big dreams like me.  I finally came up with a bio that I hoped would be okay, and submitted it.

So here’s the final product, with all the edits and cuts: Down Syndrome, Family, and Belonging: A Review of The Shape of the Eye

I’m very pleased with it, and I hope it helps get the word out about this wonderful book.  It was quite a learning process for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a prestigious publication like Literary Mama.  I hope to contribute again!

My Husband’s Secret Life

The wife is always the last to know – isn’t it the truth? I found out in quite a roundabout way, as these things tend to reveal themselves. Yes, my husband has been living a secret life. On the internet.

He’s a Blog Reader. Not only that, he’s a Blog Commenter.

We’re talking mommy blogs, the likes of KH and Mrs. Odie. (Are there others? How long has this been going on? Who knows?!) And apparently he’s been spreading his comment seeds willy-nilly, spawning bastard comments. He’s even made reference to “my wife” in some of his comments. Shudder. It feels as if I’ve been made a party, unbeknownst to me, to some far-flung group grope. I’m now half expecting him to blurt out “Oh, yeah, Mrs. Odie!” next time we’re . . . uh . . . well, you know, if there is a next time.

And when has he been diving between the sheets of digital paper with these other whores writers bloggers sluts bitches? When he’s at work, supposedly earning a living to support the offspring he keeps spawning at home? Or at night, perhaps, when I’m innocently asleep, dreaming of my next blog post all the ways to keep my man happy and satisfied?

It’s true (or so he says) that he’s only scanned KH’s blog recently, curious to see if she addresses the fact that her recently published book has generated some negative (gasp!) reviews; and it’s also true (or so he says) that he only found Mrs. Odie by Googling KH, and found her to be entertaining. How’s a wife to feel, though? Isn’t my blog enough for him? What have they got that I don’t have? I bend over backwards (ahem) to make him happy, and this is what I get? He’s looking for blog lovin’ elsewhere? He doesn’t even like the whole concept of blogging! He disdains it! At least that’s what he’s told me. I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Geez, what’s next? Am I going to find out he’s secretly writing a blog, too?

Legalese

Let’s get a few things straight here, shall we?

I’m so weary of the word “bullying” being so easily and liberally thrown around.  It seems to be the go-to accusation to make anytime someone gets their feelings hurt (or imagines that someone they revere has gotten their feelings hurt).  Bullying is a serious accusation to level at someone, and actual bullying should be taken very seriously.  Unfortunately, throwing it around willy-nilly only dilutes it and makes it mean far less than what it should mean.

According to USLegal.com,

Bullying is generally defined as an intentional act that causes harm to others, and may involve verbal harassment, verbal or non-verbal threats, physical assault, stalking, or other methods of coercion such as manipulation, blackmail, or extortion. It is aggressive behavior that intends to hurt, threaten or frighten another person. An imbalance of power between the aggressor and the victim is often involved. Bullying occurs in a variety of contexts, such as schools, workplaces, political or military settings, and others.

Furthermore,

Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Such defamation is couched in ‘defamatory language’. Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. Defamation is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion.

***

The law of defamation protects a person’s reputation and good name against communications that are false and derogatory. Defamation consists of two torts: libel and slander. Libel consists of any defamation that can be seen, most typically in writing. Slander consists of an oral defamatory communications. The elements of libel and slander are nearly identical to one another.

Historically, the law governing slander focused on oral statements that were demeaning to others. By the 1500s, English courts treated slander actions as those for damages. Libel developed differently, however. English printers were required to be licensed by and give a bond to the government because the printed word was believed to be a threat to political stability. Libel included any criticism of the English government, and a person who committed libel committed a crime. This history carried over in part to the United States, where Congress under the presidency of John Adams passed the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the government. Congress and the courts eventually abandoned this approach to libel, and the law of libel is now focuses on recovery of damages in civil cases.

Beginning with the landmark decision in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the law of defamation has a constitutional dimension. Under this case and subsequent cases, the Court has balanced individual interests in reputation with the interests of free speech among society. This approach has altered the rules governing libel and slander, especially where a communication is about a public official or figure, or where the communication is about a matter of public concern.

***

Slander is the oral communication of false statements that are harmful to a person’s reputation. If the statements are proven to be true, it is a complete defense to a charge of slander. Oral opinions that don’t contain statements of fact don’t constitute slander. Slander is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Slander is a subcategory of defamation.

The basic elements of a claim of slander include;

  1. .                a defamatory statement;
  2. .                published to third parties; and
  3. .                which the speaker or publisher knew or should have known was false.

Slander is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion. If the slander unjustly accused you of a crime or reflected on your profession, the court or jury can assess the damages. For other types of slander you generally must prove some actual damage to be able to recover.

You can read more about New York Times v. Sullivan here, if you’re so inclined.

Bottom line: publishing a blog post that states opinion about a public figure or their stupid book is NOT bullying, defamation, slander or libel (as any attorney – or even paralegal – worth their salt would know).  Bullying consists of aggressive behavior and an imbalance in power; defamation, slander and libel all consist of FALSE statements that the statement maker knows to be false and makes anyway with the intent to harm someone’s reputation and/or business opportunities.

If you put yourself in the public eye, if you write a fucking book, you better be prepared for not only praise and accolades, but criticism as well.

Got it?

Good.

In The Morning

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

_______________________

In the morning I sneak away from the cacophony of the kitchen where the five oldest kids are already having breakfast.  I quietly open the door to Finn’s room and tiptoe in.    The rising sun is just filtering through the closed curtains at his window, bathing the room in a pale gray-blue light.  Burrowed face down in his crib, I rub his back and he giggles, staggering drunkenly to his feet in his just-awoken state, and reaching for me to pick him up.  I lift him and he wraps his stubby little arms fast around my neck and I carry him to the rocking chair across from his crib, and we sit.  He fits perfectly, draped over the mound of my belly containing the sister who will soon replace him as the baby of the family, his face buried in my neck as I breathe him in and savor these few quiet moments with him.

It’s been so easy to keep him the baby – partly because, yes, he does seem younger than his almost four years, and partly because he’s remained the youngest in the family for longer than any of the other kids did except Kevin.  Sometimes I feel guilty for babying him as I tend to do, but mostly I’m always thinking about how quickly it all goes by – much too quickly.  It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was curled up in a different rocking chair with Kevin, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone from my lap, itching to grow up.

So I sit with Finn, far past the age I was able to sit like this with the others, knowing that these moments are numbered.  For a few minutes, we exist in a cocoon of soft light, of quiet, of breathing together.

Before long, he untwines his arms from my neck and looks at me seriously and says, “Down.”  As he climbs down from my lap, he says, “Eat.”  He wants breakfast.  “Doggie!” he declares.  He wants to find Scout, his playmate.

And the moment is over.

And so begins another day.

An Excerpt From the Life of a Battered Wife

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

[I just recently discovered Just Write on Heather’s The Extraordinary Ordinary blog, and I love the idea of having something to motivate me to write – about anything – on a regular basis. For a week now, I’ve been contemplating what I might write about my first time participating in this endeavor, and what I came up with was a dark memory from a long time ago. It’s something I’ve held onto for a very long time, a traumatic event in a long string of traumatic events from my “former life,” that still festers inside me like a sore after all these years. The idea of “free writing,” however, is to write freely in the moment without overthinking it, so I confess that I’m not even sure if writing about such an old memory fits the bill here. That said, I did finally, after all these years, just write it out – something I’ve thought about doing for a long, long time, but something always stopped me (fear? Repulsion at the memory? I really can’t say) So, here it is. Take from the reading of it what you will, and I’ll take from the writing of it what I can.]

__________________________________________________________________________

More than 13 years later, I still look back on it as the worst night I’ve ever lived through.

It was the night of my dad’s funeral.  He had died very suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 51 after a brief, unrelated illness that had landed him in the hospital for about a week.  My big, burly, larger than life, seemingly invincible dad, taken down by a heart that finally stopped beating after a lifetime of hard living – the first person I was close to who I lost through death, and the last person in my family with whom I had a close relationship, so it was a double blow that left me feeling orphaned and so consumed by grief that I felt as if I were suffocating.

He lived with his wife in a house in the woods, up a steep, winding mountain road near the coast in Central California.  My husband and I made the five- or six-hour drive up, with Kevin strapped into his toddler car seat, arriving the night before the funeral.  Family I hadn’t seen in years gathered at the house from out of state.  We checked into a rustic motel/lodge a few miles away – so rustic that there were no phones or televisions in the rooms.  Several other family members were staying at the same motel.

The day of the funeral, a Saturday in December, dawned clear and bright.  Everyone gathered in a church, which felt wrong, as my dad was openly agnostic and definitely not a churchgoer.  He was to be cremated, so there was no graveside gathering, only a service in the chapel which I barely remember.  I know that people spoke.  I know that I got up on legs as weak as water to talk about my dad and how profoundly I felt his absence.  I remember Kevin getting antsy during the service and my husband putting him out in the truck and leaving him there by himself.  A red flag, to be sure – who locks a not-quite-two-year-old out in a car by himself for at least a half hour?  But there were lots of red flags that had, over the years of our marriage, become flaming banners announcing danger – banners I had learned to live with.

The rest of the day is hazy in my memory.  There was a reception after the service, and food was served, and we watched video clips of my dad over his lifetime.  I remember that seeing him up there on the screen intensified my feelings of loss so much that I didn’t know how I was going to survive it.  We visited with my dad’s parents and siblings, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years and barely knew.  Old friends of my dad’s were there.  People laughed and teared up and offered each other words of consolation.

Eventually my husband and I and Kevin made our way back to the motel in the woods.  Measurements of time have slipped away from me, but I know that at some point in the evening, my husband, Kelly, left the motel, leaving Kevin and me behind in the motel room.  I don’t even remember what he told me about his plans, where he was going.  His leaving was routine, and being out of town didn’t make a difference.  I crawled into bed with Kevin and my grief.

At some point in the night I woke up.  Kevin slept beside me.  It was very dark, and I sensed that some hours had passed.  Kelly still wasn’t back.  The hot stone of fear and panic began to settle in my stomach as I began filing through possibilities in my mind: car accident?  DUI? Neither of those would have been firsts.  He disappeared at home with some regularity, and I never knew where he went or when he would return.  Sometimes he would call me in the middle of the night with some tale of a car broken down or a friend in need – stories we both knew I didn’t believe – but more often than not, there would be no call; he would just show up when he was finished with whatever it was that enticed him away, looking and smelling road worn.

There was no phone in the room.  I did own a cell phone, but this was back in the days of having a cell phone only for emergencies.  I didn’t even carry it in my purse – I left it in my truck, and that’s where it was, out with Kelly wherever he was.  Who would I call, anyway?  I was in a strange place, alone with my toddler son in a sparsely furnished motel room in the mountains – utterly alone.  I sat with my growing panic for a long time.

Eventually he did make it back to the motel in the wee hours of the morning.  He was clearly drunk.  I was beside myself.  He had pulled this countless times before, but on this of all nights – the night of my dad’s funeral?  I probably should have just feigned sleep to avoid a scene, but my grief and rage completely took over, and I began screaming at him, demanding to know where he had been and how he could have left me all alone at a time when I most needed comfort and consolation.  He screamed back at me – I had no right to tell him what to do!  He had tracked down my brother (from whom I was mostly estranged) and they had gone to a bar to drink in my dad’s honor.  How dare I be so selfish as to deny them that!

The fight escalated.  By now Kevin was sitting up in bed crying.  I tried to console him.  Kelly went into the bathroom and I could hear the sharp cracking of porcelain as he slammed the lid of the toilet up and down, up and down, until suddenly with a shatter, it stopped – he had busted the toilet and now the bathroom was flooding.

It was inevitable that the motel management would get wind of the scene, as would probably most of the motel guests – relatives of mine among them.  The police were called, and we were told to leave.  To this day, it still boggles my mind that the police not only allowed, but demanded that a woman and small child leave with a belligerently inebriated man.

I could hardly breathe as I gathered Kevin’s and my things as quickly as I could, sobbing, in a state of utter panic.  How could we leave with this man who was so dangerous and out of control?  Where would we go?

I got Kevin strapped into the back seat in his little footie pajamas, crying and wide-eyed with fear.  Clearly Kelly was in no shape to drive (though he had driven from wherever it was he had gotten drunk back to the motel), so I got in the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, tiny points of light flickering before my eyes with my rage.  I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out, simultaneously.  Somehow, I managed to pull the truck out onto the dark, winding mountain road, with Kelly next to me in the passenger seat, having absolutely no idea exactly where I was or where to go.  As I drove, Kelly alternately screamed obscenities at me, spit at me, and pummeled the right side of my body with slaps and punches.  “IF YOUR DAD WERE ALIVE, HE’D KICK YOUR FUCKING ASS FOR BEING SUCH A CUNT!” he screamed at me.

My dignity was gone.  Any sense of safety or security I might have had was gone.  My sense of my ability to protect my son was being frayed.  And now, I was being robbed of my right – my need – to grieve my dad – the one person who had seen the best in me.  I wanted to die, I truly wanted to die.  The pain was just too much.  I wanted to close my eyes and make this horrific nightmare end, and never wake up.

The towering pines of the forest whizzed by us as I drove with no destination in mind.  Should I just make the several-hour drive home?  I didn’t even know where we were or what direction we were heading in.  Eventually a small roadside motel revealed itself.  I pulled in and went inside.  No vacancies.  I was overcome by an impotence and hopelessness that threatened to take away the last shreds of self-preservation I had.  Crying, I got back in the truck and continued on down the road.

After awhile, we came upon another motel.  Yes, they had a room available.  Ignoring Kelly, I opened the back door to take Kevin out of his car seat.  Kelly was on me in a flash, trying to pull Kevin from my arms.  A physical struggle over the baby ensued, till I was knocked to the ground with Kevin in my arms.  I struggled to my feet and went to the motel office to check us in.  “Are you alright?” the woman at the desk asked me.  Clearly she had seen the physical altercation out in the parking lot. “Yes, I’m fine,” I struggled to say between sobs.  “My dad died, and my husband is very distraught.  We just need a room.”  There I was, making excuses for him, handing what should have been my right to grieve my father over to him.  Even now, all these years later, when I think back on that, I am filled with shame, and I have this wish so strong inside me that it’s a physical feeling, a wish that I could go back and ask that woman to call the police and have Kelly thrown in jail for battering me.

But that’s not what happened.  Who can blame the woman for not wanting to get involved?  Easier to ignore the red sting of palm prints on my face and accept the excuses I gave her.  We checked into a room where I curled myself around Kevin in one of the beds, wondering how I had ended up here and how I could possibly survive and make my way out of this Hell.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through the window.  Panicked, I realized Kevin was not in bed with me.  I sprung up and looked about the small, shabby motel room.  The door opened and Kelly walked in, announcing brusquely, “Kevin’s in the truck.  You have five minutes to get your ass out there or we’re leaving without you.”  Here came the tears again, and the quiet fury eating away at my insides.  What could I do?  He had my son.

We had left and I had not said goodbye to anyone.  Later I would give some vague story about an emergency at home, and when asked if I knew anything about the scene at the motel with the cops and people screaming and yelling, I would feign ignorance.  No, I didn’t hear anything.  I have no idea.  I wonder what it could have been.

The drive home was mostly silent, except for one gas/restroom stop during which Kelly laid into me and told me, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive you for this.”

Mostly silent weeks followed, until I finally begged him to forgive me.  It was all my fault.  There was nothing wrong with him going out the night of my dad’s funeral to raise a few glasses in my dad’s honor.  What right did I have to try to deprive him of that?  I was just a bitch, a control freak.  It was all my fault, that whole terrible, terrible night.  I brought it all on myself.

Please forgive me.  I’m sorry, so sorry.  Please.

In the darkest part of my heart, I knew it wasn’t true, it wasn’t my fault, and hatred burned inside of me – hatred of him for making my life a living Hell, and hatred of myself for allowing him to.  Begging for forgiveness, however, was the only way I could hope he might stop punishing me.

Roughly six months later, Kelly would be dead from a drug overdose, and I would finally be free of him.

That’s not my life anymore.  But scraps of shame and bruises on my heart remain. The memories still haunt me.

Finnian’s Journey, My Journey, and Keeping It Real

This is the year I’m going to write my book.  I’ve talked about it for ages – both inside my own head, and hesitantly to a few trusted people (people I’ve trusted not to laugh at me).  Why am I hesitant?  Sigh.  Well, I guess it boils down to self-esteem.  I know I can write, and I know I have a story worth sharing.  But can I actually put together a publish-worthy book?  That’s the big question.  And sometimes – oftentimes! – it’s easier to avoid trying so as to avoid failing.  And yet, in not trying, potential success is also lost.

A friend of mine (who seems to believe in my writing abilities) turned me on to Kristen Lamb, a sort of writing guru who, through her blog, mentors wannabe writers.  I’ve been reading some of her stuff of late, and this post really kind of lit a fire under my butt: Aspiring is For Pansies – Tough Love & Being a Writer.   What it boils down to is this: nobody is going to take you seriously as a writer if you don’t take yourself seriously as a writer (and even then, people still might not take you seriously, but get over it).  When I’ve referred to my writing aspirations, I’ve always referred to them as that – aspirations.  I’ve never felt confident calling myself A Writer, for lots of reasons – among them: I never even went to college, so who the Hell do I think I am?; I’ve never been paid for any of my writing (although I have had different essays and such accepted for publishing on different websites); writing isn’t something I commit to do on a full- or even part-time basis – it’s more a hobby; and the list goes on.  And yet, writing is as much a part of me as, well, reading.  Or ice cream.  Or cleaning house.  It’s something I need to do.  And it mostly takes the form of blog writing, but that counts, doesn’t it?

Anyway, getting back to my original point: after reading that post on Kristen’s blog, I resolved to make 2012 the year I finally get my book down in manuscript form.  The book I’m talking about is Finnian’s Journey (I don’t know that that will be the final title, but my blog by the same name is the basis for it).  And really, practically speaking, it should be a fairly straightforward project.  I don’t plan in starting from scratch; all along what I’ve envisioned is converting my actual blog into book form.  I’m not even saying my story is especially unique – after all, lots of people have children with Down syndrome, and lots of people have written books about it.  What I think (hope) is unique about what I have in mind is that our story is told as it happened, day by day, week by week, month by month, in a journal format.  I think this gives it a different – and possibly more authentic? – spin than a memoir told after the fact, when events and emotions are being recalled rather than recorded as they happened.

So I’ve been trying to carve out a little time here and there for the last few weeks to work on this, which requires that I go through my blog line by line from the very beginning, and decide what to keep, what to throw out, and what to expand upon.  It’s proving to be quite an emotional process, reliving it all.  And I’m discovering some things.

I really struggled with my son having Down syndrome.  I mean, I know, in a sort of abstract-remembering way that I struggled with it for some unrealizable period of time, but reading what amounted to my diary through those early weeks and months, it pains me to realize how hard a time I really had coming to terms with it.  How desperately I wanted nothing so much as for Finn to not have Down syndrome.  How I chased a diagnosis of mosaic Down syndrome, because I thought that somehow wouldn’t be as bad.  How I hoped and hoped and hoped that, although I was being told he had Down syndrome, he wouldn’t actually manifest Down syndrome.

When did I make peace with it?  I haven’t gotten to that part yet, and I don’t have any concrete memories of waking up one day and saying, “Okay, I’m fine with this.  My son has Down syndrome, and it’s okay.”  Clearly it was a process that lasted a while.  And I think what happened was that gradually over time, so gradually as to be imperceptible, I grew from grief to peace.  Somehow, I did make the leap – perhaps by minute degrees – from being not okay with it to being okay with it – really, really okay with it.  And when I say today that I would not change anything about Finn, including his wonky chromosomal makeup, I speak the utter truth.  Do I wish I could shelter him from the pain and frustration he will undoubtedly encounter over his life as he faces prejudice and ignorance?  Yes; I think it’s a parent’s lot to wish to be able to shelter all of their kids from cruelty – differently-abled or not.  Do I wish he didn’t have a life a struggles ahead of him?  No.  Struggles are part of anyone’s life, and I know that we – Michael and I and his brothers and sisters – will be here to help him through whatever struggles he may face.

Another thing I’m realizing with painful clarity is that being an advocate was not automatic for me.  My earliest accounts of Finn’s life, for instance, are peppered with “Down syndrome babies” and “Ds kids” – I knew nothing about People-First Language.  There is an itch to clean this up as I go along, to change the terminology I used then to the appropriate terminology I use today.  But that wouldn’t be honest, would it?  And the whole point is to keep this real, to show the road I traveled, with all its warts and foibles.

It’s also helping me to see that ignorance is first nature – we only know what we know.  Which means it bears keeping a little forgiveness in our hearts for those who haven’t traveled a similar path, who just don’t know.

Down Syndrome In Writing

Like The Shape of the EyeThe Politics of Down Syndrome examines how Down syndrome has been treated by the medical profession and society historically, and how our attitudes today are still very much shaped by old prejudices and outdated ideas about Down syndrome.  While the author has a young daughter who has Down syndrome and he does say in the book that having her has definitely influenced his own evolving views, this is not a memoir.  It’s more a sociological study . . . .

Read the rest of my review here for a chance to get your hands on a copy of this book.

Also, check this out: On Prenatal Screenings, Down Syndrome, and Being Pro-Choice was picked up by Yahoo! Voices.  Please share it!