Eyes on me

I’ve been having a lot of dreams that involve Michael lately. Sometimes it’s casual: we bump into each other, say hi/bye, and go about our business. Sometimes it’s bizarre in a typical so there I was, fighting a fire-breathing dragon, and Michael runs up to me and kicks me in the shins dream way. Others are negative: we bump into each other and he starts accusing me of ruining him or being a bitch. One was downright unnerving: we bumped into each other, but I had the dumpling with me, and Michael laid into him for his muddled lineage and told him what an awful person I am.


I’ve always had vivid dreams. I can usually remember them too. Sometimes I can tie the vividness to something (Sudafed is often the culprit, but watching crime shows can be another). In this case, I think the trigger is a billboard.

You see, there’s a billboard that’s currently up all over DFW. Along my route to work. When I went to pick up pho last night. Near my exercise facility. It seriously seems to follow me. It’s an ad for an ambulance chasing lawyer, which is exactly what he does/is (pretty much). It features the lawyer in a suit and a cowboy hat and the guy looks startlingly like Michael. Like, I have to do double- and triple- takes just to make sure that it really isn’t him. And since I feel like I see him everywhere now, he’s been on my brain lately. And in my dreams, though I wish that would stop. I can’t wait for the billboards to come down.

Humans are weird. Our brains are hardwired to seek out patterns. We look for the familiar, we try to predict based on the past, we try to make sense out of the random. It also means that we see things from our past, things we might not want to. That’s what makes me laugh (in an uncomfortable sort of way) over the concept of “trigger warnings.” It can be such a personal thing. I mean, sure, talking about rape may bring up painful memories for a rape survivor and you might feel obligated to place a trigger warning on the discussion, but there are so many other triggers, far more painful triggers, that would need to be cautioned if what we’re going for is to truly limit someone’s pain. I can discuss emotional abuse without really linking it to myself but don’t you dare try to offer me a particular flavor of Extra gum. I can manner-of-factly tell you my story and why I stayed and why I left, but this song (especially the movie version) from Tangled makes me so uncomfortable I can hardly listen to it. The word “fluffy” is, just now – seven full years and this adorable character later – starting to lose it’s negative connotations. You see, it always meant my midsection.

Time softens the blow, as it has a tendency to do, but some memories refuse to be buried by the sands. There are things, reminders, that I wish I could forget, a la Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. A specific joke, for instance. He always told it to me at a specific, intimate moment and it jumps into my head at random moments with Luffy. I would pay good money to never think about that joke again, to never have it pop into my head. I live in fear that I’ll accidentally say it one day, though I’m not sure why. Luffy knows my past; he’d understand, I’m sure. But the simple fact that the joke still swirls around in my head is proof of the fact that the owner of the joke is still in there too. I can’t imagine my reaction if I actually heard someone else say that joke now, especially since it’s – ahem – sexual. I can tell you one thing for sure, it would absolutely kill any sort of mood they were trying to create. I’d also probably either run from the room or slap them, but who’s to say.

I don’t really have a nice, neat bow for all this. I’m hoping, as I did once before, to purge my mind of the intrusive thoughts. I hope those billboards come down soon.


A boy and his wagon

Luffy and I are a big fan of walks around the neighborhood. Back before I got pregnant (and even while I was pregnant), we regularly walked two miles before work each day. We’ve also been known to head out after dusk in the summertime for a quick stroll. Not only does our little routine have health perks, I also feel like it’s pretty good for our relationship. We can’t be the only couple out there who can spend a whole evening sitting in the same room without talking to one another. Our walks force us to put away the technology and just be with one another.

When I was pregnant, we envisioned the day when our little dumpling would accompany us on walks – in his stroller or carrier early on, but someday on his own too. Because life with an infant can be a tad bit unpredictable (will he wake up at 6am today or 7:30am? Who knows!), we don’t get out as regularly as we used to, but we still try. Especially on the weekends, when we have all morning to get out.

This past weekend, Luffy discovered that the dumpling likes to sit up in his stroller. Now, we still use his infant bucket seat with frame as our stroller, so it’s really not meant to be sat up in. He did well though, holding on to the sides and (adorably) playing with the bar across the top of the stroller frame. I had an idea though, as we walked through the streets Sunday evening – a wagon!

I remember lots of my summer as a child spent playing with a wagon in the backyard. My brother and I used to leash our dog (a mini schnauzer) up to the handle so she could pull my brother around the backyard (mush!). We also took turns wheeling each other around in it (I always thought he was going too fast – he always thought I went too slow). We had the classic little red wagon – a red metal Radio Flyer. I think my parents actually still have it in the backyard. (Side note – you can actually still get them!)

Now, you know I couldn’t just get the classic wagon right? It’s practically the “entry-level” model of the bunch nowadays. Oh noooo – the wagon I got has two seats (with seat cushions!) that can be configured five different ways (with bonus storage!) and has its own kid table (with drink holders!) and detachable canopy (with storage case!). Luffy laughed at me, but come on, it’s an awesome wagon. We tried it out this morning and the dumpling loooooves it. He’s so tiny in it (we interrupt this blog to say that the wagon is technically recommended for ages 1.5 years+ so use with caution and whatnot) and he can swing his little legs in front of him, but he holds on to the side and we have him belted in. We’re careful with our starts and stops, but you should see the look on his face. He’s just so interested in watching the world roll past him.

You know I’ve made the decision not to post pictures of the dumpling here, but here’s the wagon with Jas, poor demoted first baby.

Ten Years

Speaking of high school classmates and trying to remember people, I was added to a new group on Facebook yesterday – my high school’s ten year reunion.


It’s one of those crazy things. Like, I know that logically, mathematically, it’s been ten years since I graduated high school. Class of ’06 means a ten year reunion in 2016. I get that. But still…. huh? How has it been ten years? It seems ages ago but also not that long. Scrolling through the member list is like browsing through a year book, except all of the pictures are current. Weird. Some classmates I instantly recognize; other pictures give me pause, as I try to search out the familiar in the face of a stranger.

Of course, people have already started posting on the group’s board. Most of the messages express the same feeling I have – ten years already!! holy cow we’re getting old – while others are asking about details of the reunion and a couple others are downright rude. (One guy I remember as being kind of a dick in high school made the comment that duh guys, 2006 plus ten is 2016 so the reunion being this year should surprise no one… are we all that idiotic?? And then someone else chimed in that it was even more amazing that most of the people attending would be the ones that didn’t have their shit together yet, even though they’ve had ten years….. pinches bridge of nose, remembers why I unfollowed these people in the first place)

I haven’t decided if I’ll go yet. I keep talking to (current) friends, asking if they went and why and what it was like. Luffy didn’t go to his, didn’t even consider going. He argued that he kept up with everyone he would want to talk to so he didn’t need to go back. One friend I spoke to says it’s just like high school and that she actually reverted back a bit to her high school self. Another friend said that she had a lot of fun and that it was interesting to see high school personas drop (for instance, to view the once popular kids as just regular people – level the playing field a bit – which is intriguing to me as I was definitely not part of the popular crowd). And yet another friend remarked that it wasn’t anything super fun or special, but that you also only get the chance to go once. I will never have another ten year reunion. Fair point.

In high school, as I mentioned above, I wasn’t part of the cool kids. My high school had a magnet program and an AP/IB program, which I was part of, which made it almost a school within a school. I graduated with a class of over 500, yet I regularly had class with maybe 150 of those people. I was part of a dance spirit team which sort of made me popular, I suppose, but more in the sense that people knew who I was and generally accepted me. I was still uber shy and reserved, plus I was, I’ll be honest, a goody-two-shoes in high school. I was not the person you would invite to join in on illicit things (drugs! alcohol! sex! oh noes!!). I never got invited to any parties or hangouts or anything like that – didn’t even know about them. I really honestly thought that whole side of high school was for fiction or TV, but, in hindsight, I’m sure it was happening and I just didn’t know about it. I didn’t spend a lot of time with anyone outside of class. Other than Liz, I wouldn’t say I was really close friends with anyone from high school. I was good friends with a few, good acquaintances, you could say, with many more, but not super close. There are definitely people I would enjoy saying hi to again, assuming they even decide to come in the first place.

In the ten years since I’ve graduated high school, I’ve gotten an advanced degree and my CPA license. I’ve seriously pursued fitness (and thus have gotten into better shape than I was then). I’ve moved away from the comfort of my hometown. I finally realized my own self-worth and broke up with an abusive boyfriend. I’ve tackled a high-pressure job. I left the high-pressure job and landed in a spot that I really enjoy. I met and married the love of my life and the smartest, most genuine person I know.

I’m doing really, really well. I’m not sure that I want to revisit the person I was back then.

Dreams of the Past III

I meant to follow up last week with a third and final post about Michael. Obviously, I didn’t, but I do want to round out those posts. If you didn’t stop by last week, you can find posts one and two here.

I want to expand upon something I mentioned in the second post:

I don’t belong here, I thought, this site is here to help real abuse victims.”

This is exactly why I’m writing my story and why it should be part of the discussion on domestic abuse. I truly thought that what I had gone through didn’t count. When I thought of “domestic abuse,” I saw bright-line definitions (a punch or slap or shove) and stereotypes (the man as the abuser, a weak-willed woman as the abused). Abuse can happen to or be perpetuated by anyone. Michael has since graduated from law school. I have a master’s degree and a CPA license. We’re smart, successful people. And yet, it happened. I have a loving family and several close friends – in other words, a strong support system. And yet, it happened. I am a strong woman and always thought I’d stand up for myself. And yet, it happened.

It sounds trite, but the first part of helping yourself out of a toxic relationship is realizing that it’s toxic to begin with. I didn’t think it was abusive until I got out of it, partly because I didn’t know what it meant to be emotionally abused. Had I thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have even labeled our relationship abusive at the time because I might have thought that it needed to be more severe.

Because that’s the thing, our relationship did not involve me sobbing in a corner for five years. We truly did have some good times. Most of the abuse was part of the fabric of our relationship, but it didn’t necessarily affect each and every day. Michael was selfish and manipulative, but I knew that and most of the time it didn’t bother me. I knew that had I been stranded on the side of the road, I could not have counted on him to come pick me up (unless there was something in it for him) and I was mostly ok with that. I knew that it would be a struggle to get him to support something I loved (getting him to go to my annual dance recital was like pulling teeth) and while it frustrated me, I thought it was something I could live with and just a nuance of our relationship.

But abuse doesn’t have to be “severe” to warrant action.

I’m in a much better place than I was then. My mental health, confidence, and self-esteem are leaps and bounds from where they were. Part of that is just growing up some, but part of it is my own doing. Meeting Luffy and seeing what real, healthy love was like helped a lot too. He helped me realize my own self-worth and helped me sever ties with Michael once and for all (Michael was still somewhat abusing me through email).

It feels good to write about Michael, to give a nod to my not-so-bright past and to recognize how far I’ve come. And if anyone out there reads this and recognizes a few things, I urge you to re-evaluate. You’re worth so much more than your partner tells you.

If you need help or want to know how you can contribute, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Dreams of the Past II

As I mentioned yesterday, I am writing this to add to the discussion on abusive relationships. After I broke up with Michael, the abuse seemed so clear to me. But during the relationships, it never once occurred to me that our relationship was unhealthy.

About a month after I broke up with him, I went to thehotline.org (the National Domestic Violence Hotline). The site scared me, to be honest. The homepage triggers a pop-up that warns you that computer use can be monitored and if you think your history is being monitored, you should call their hotline directly. It has a Quick Escape button at the top that immediately redirects you to an unrelated website. I don’t belong here, I thought, this site is here to help real abuse victims. I don’t belong here.

But I kept clicking until I found a list of red flags. Further down the page, you could click on tabs like “Physical Abuse” and “Financial Abuse” that listed out indicators.  I really can’t describe to you how I felt when I clicked on emotional abuse and scrolled down the list of warning signs. It was overwhelming, the recognition of so many red flags, the heartbreak and the sadness I felt. Little things and big things, sprinkled all throughout our five year history. Things like “trying to isolate you from family or friends,” or “gaslighting” (a term used when your partner basically makes you think you’re going crazy). I moved to the “Sexual Abuse & Coercion” tab and saw even more familiar red flags. “Demanding sex when you’re sick or tired” and “Ignoring your feelings regarding sex” was something that occurred regularly. “Making you feel like you owe them” sex was part of the structure of our relationship; I didn’t know any other way. One of Michael’s favorite phrases (always said in jest, as was his way), was that you can’t rape the willing and he made it clear that, as his girlfriend, I should always be willing. I won’t go too far into details here; it’s not something I want to rehash.

I haven’t told many people about Michael and the five years I spent with him, but those that I have told have asked the same questions:

What did he do?

Why did you stay?

What made you see?

Even though everyone always asks what did he do, they really mean how, how did he abuse you? They want to know in concrete terms and definitions, which is hard to do with emotional abuse. Physical abuse has such a bright-line definition, a push or shove or strike. With emotional abuse, the terms are more fluid. Sometimes it’s not even what he said, but more the way he said it. Or not even the way he said it, but that he repeated it so often. For instance, Michael was very harsh on my body. He seldom complimented my body or looks (even the perfunctory “you look nice” on date night was a stretch for him). He would ruthlessly critique me and then tack on “I’m joking” at the end. He would comment on my weight, telling me I was getting “fluffy” and then remind me he was kidding. Over and over and over and over until I believed the critiques more than the jest.

Sometimes it’s not what he said, but his motivations behind the words. I only realized after our relationship that he degraded my family, my close friends, and my mentors because he wanted to isolate me. He wanted to drive a wedge between the people I loved (and who would support me no matter what) and me. Honestly, what brought the behavior to my attention was when he tried to do it with Jasmine. He could see how important she was to me and that she gave me a confidence boost (first-time kitty mom!) and he wanted to prevent that. He wanted me to be alone if I left.

And sometimes it is what he says. Michael used to tell me that I was so lucky to be with him. In the midst of our breakup, Michael promised me that I would never, ever find someone who treated me as well as he did or who loved me as much as he did – I would never find anyone better than him.

Which leads me to my answer of the next question. I stayed because I didn’t know any better. He was my first boyfriend and I didn’t know how true love and a healthy relationship felt. I couldn’t recognize that mine was broken. I stayed because he told me I’d never find anyone better and I believed him. Even when I left it was my biggest fear – that I’d leave and never find anyone and spend the rest of my life alone. I stayed because I thought it was acceptable to live in a one-sided relationship for the rest of my life. I stayed because breaking up with him meant hurting him, and his family, and even though he was hurting me, I didn’t want to hurt him back.

I didn’t see the abuse though until afterwards. As I said, looking back, I could see it so clearly, but it’s not the reason I broke it off. I think the enormity of for the rest of your life hit me after accepting his proposal and I realized that I couldn’t live like this for the rest of mine. I couldn’t be in a relationship with someone who took but never gave. I couldn’t have children with a man who would belittle my self-worth, and possibly theirs. I owed it to my future self to stand up to him, to face him and say the words that would hurt him and set me free.

Dreams of the past

I had a disturbing dream last night and it brought my ex-boyfriend to the forefront of my mind. I am happily married now, in a loving and secure relationship, and yet memories of my past relationship can still come careening through. Even dreams, like the one last night, can unsettle me and take me right back to that girl I used to be. I broke up with him (we’ll call him Michael) shortly before I left my hometown and moved to Dallas. It took a long time, and a lot of love from Luffy (and myself), to help pull me out of the place I was.

Before I go down this path, I want to start off by saying that I’m not writing this story for sympathy. I am writing this story because it needs to be told. A story like this should be part of the discussion of abusive relationships because for five and a half years, I did not recognize that it was indeed abusive. I always told myself that I would never let myself be in an abusive relationship, and yet I did, because I didn’t understand what “abusive” meant. I didn’t understand that hurtful words were just as abusive as a slap and that the damage those words could inflict would last far longer than a bruise or broken bone.

Michael* and I went to college together and started dating in the fall semester of our first year. He was my first relationship, my first boyfriend, kiss, everything. We had fun through the years, attending football games and helping each other with homework (actually, it was more me editing his essays than him helping me with any of my accounting work). It became understood, as it does in long-term relationships, that we’d get married after graduation. When it became clear that he was going to attend law school and I would attend graduate school, we decided we would get married after he graduated law school.

In May 2011, a series of events unfolded. First, I graduated from school with my master’s degree and accepted a position with a large accounting firm in Dallas. Second, I adopted a tiny 10 week old kitten, naming her Jasmine. And last, Michael proposed to me (two years earlier than expected). On a sunny day in June, Michael got down on one knee in my childhood bedroom and asked me to marry him. I enthusiastically accepted and rushed off to tell my father. I remember us synchronizing our status updates on Facebook. I also remember being very tipsy because of his failed attempt at a proposal at a vineyard earlier the same day.

And then something changed; a switch flipped. To this day, I’m not sure what exactly brought it about, but a few triggers stand out in my mind. First, my cousin got engaged almost at the same time. I saw a Facebook update from her, saying she was so happy to be engaged to the most wonderful man in the world. I remember thinking that while I certainly loved Michael, I would never label him as “the most wonderful man in the world.” I decided that I was being a realist and that it was healthy that I could recognize the faults in our relationship. A nagging voice at the back of my mind said that as a newly engaged bride I should be over the moon and exceedingly romantic, but I ignored that voice.

Second, Michael did not get along with my aforementioned new kitten. He seemed to resent the intrusion she presented, even though she was an animal. He constantly picked at me, making demands on how to discipline her or train her (hello – she’s a cat! Have you ever tried to train a cat?!). I thought it ludicrous that he disliked her and attributed his callousness to the summer heat.

However, my most startling realization revolved around my future, our future. I have always wanted children and even at the young age of 23, I was ready to get started on a family. With a ring on my finger, I eagerly looked forward to a pregnant belly and little toddlers waddling around the house. A few days after accepting his proposal, I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I did not want Michael to father my children. I did not want him to teach my children anything for fear that they would learn his habits and ways, his beliefs. I did not want my children to grow up anything like Michael.

This forced me to take a hard look at my relationship and, suddenly, I saw it for what it was and saw Michael clearly for the first time in five years. Our relationship was one-sided and abusive; he was self-centered and manipulative.

This post is going to get lengthy, so I’ll pause here and resume tomorrow.

*Some details have been changed a bit more than unusual.