Choose Life

This essay was shared with me in confidence, and my dear friend will remain anonymous by her request. This very subject brings out ever primal instinct in me to fight and protect and cry all at the same time.

Friend- I can find no words. You have always been a strong personality in my day to day, but I shamefully underestimated what was underneath. You are strong beyond measure. You chose to overcome rather than be defeated. You continue to look for ways to build yourself against all odds. You are beautiful and worth every ounce of respect given to you. Thank you for choosing life.

Choose Life

Note to readers: I feel like my heart is out in the open as I write this, but at the same time, I feel empowered now that I have the courage to share what was once considered shameful, something that was never to be acknowledged as events that actually happened. This. Actually. Happened.  Sadly, it’s happening to someone else as you read this. I hope sharing my story helps raise awareness and gives another survivor the courage to reach out, get help, and regain control of their life.

“Either you can tell them, or they can find out when Child Protective Services comes to your house tomorrow.” my youth pastor told me.  I felt my heart pounding in my chest and my eyes welled up as I shook my head.

“No, no, they can’t know! They can’t know, please don’t do this.” I responded fervently.  My pastor and I were talking outside of my youth group and people were around, but my surroundings quickly faded at the urgency of the dialogue.  How could I tell my mom that her father, a man loved by all, had sexually abused me from ages six to twelve?  And furthermore, how could I tell my parents on Mother’s Day? I knew my mom would believe me and that she wouldn’t be mad at me, but I didn’t want our “perfect world” to be flipped upside down.

I don’t remember much about what happened that Mother’s Day.  I told my mom that Grandpa abused me every time he saw me for the last six years, and I recall silent tears streaming down her face.  She didn’t have a chance to tell my dad, so he found out when CPS and the police officer knocked on our door.

The first time it happened, I was in the shower when my grandpa came in.  My whole family was on the other side of the bathroom door. Grandpa was bold. I remember asking my grandpa, “Is this sex?” He answered yes and told me that if I ever told anyone it would tear the family apart.

People were around a lot of the times when he abused me. He would ask me to get something from the garage, but I wouldn’t know until we got there if he wanted to touch me or if we were actually getting something.  Other times it would be just me, my brother, and cousins in the house and Grandpa would take only me into his room. Later, my brother admitted that he and my cousins often excluded me because they were jealous that Grandpa spent so much time with me.

Eventually, my own behavior starting manifesting warning signs.  I used to pretend that my dolls were having sex, and one time I put a towel over my and my younger cousin’s head and began kissing her; thinking that nobody would notice since the towel was over our heads.  The abuse was literally right under my family’s noses, and from a young age I was exhibiting “red flag” behaviors.

Strangely, my family’s perfect Pleasantville never altered after they learned the truth.  My family did not want to treat me like a victim, so they acted like nothing ever happened to me. They could not bear to hear the details, so nobody asked me what happened, and I never told.  It felt as if my family thought I should be “over it” since the abuse was over. The police never heard the full story either and my grandpa was never charged for something that would have caused him to spend many years in prison. It also didn’t help that CPS sent a man; I did not feel comfortable speaking with him.  Instead, I spoke with the female police officer, but I was never asked to share the details of what happened to me.

My parents thought they were doing everything right, protecting me from seeing my grandpa until I was ready and taking me to counseling. I attended therapy throughout high school and it helped, but it was always situational conflict resolution instead of addressing the core issue.  I remember working through my relationships with my dad as well as an abusive boyfriend. Both byproducts of the abuse—my hesitancy to get close with my dad and being overly submissive with my boyfriend.  It was as if therapy addressed the aftermath of the abuse, but not the abuse itself.  Imagine a broken glass jar.  Therapy cleaned up the tiny shards of glass on the floor, but did nothing to repair the shattered jar itself.

I was a high functioning teenager and learned to cope without ever having to verbalize the things my grandfather had done to me.  Looking back on my late teen/early adulthood years, it seems everything was normal, including my mental health. I graduated high school with good grades and studied nursing in college.  However, during college, I felt strong emotions resurface about the abuse.  Pediatric nursing taught me about play therapy, how kids reenact what they’re exposed to, and that psuedoseizures often correlate with molestation.  Suddenly, I was filled with anger toward my parents, wondering how life would have been different if they’d recognized my warning symptoms and intervened.

I managed to graduate from nursing school and marry an amazing man, but anxiety always loomed in the shadows of my mind. I remained a victim to what I now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I suffered alone, not realizing that my mind was constantly functioning in a state of high alert; seeing threats, causing panic at every turn.  I was scared to walk down sidewalks by myself, afraid to shower unless my husband was around (lest someone break into my home and abuse me).  My brain worked like this—always on guard, and if I let my guard down, then I’d be vulnerable.  I had nightmares, panicked at the sight of fathers kissing their daughters, was anxious because a male doctor cared for me as a patient, and felt dirty inserting a urinary catheter in an elderly man.  I felt alone, like nobody else was experiencing what I was going through.

When I realized that PTSD was affecting my career, I sought further counseling.  For the first time, I endured the painful memories so that I could reconcile my past.  I had to relive my childhood, as a grown woman, and think about events that hadn’t crossed my mind in over a decade.   It was as if I rewound time, passed the “recovered” stage of college and young married life, and resurrected the memories of a child trying to hold it all together.  For the first time, my story was heard.

After coping with these horrendous events, I determined that I would not be defined by the abuse.  I chose not to be a victim to PTSD; I chose LIFE! I learned coping mechanisms like: assessing risk versus fear, realizing that nobody can hurt me with their glances or their words (no matter how inappropriate), allowing myself to ask someone to accompany me to a restaurant bathroom, and remembering that what my husband and I do in our bedroom is safe and consensual.

With this change, however, comes new fears.   I need guidance with many things that people take for granted because they grew up in a home with healthy boundaries.  I reformat every thought in my head and assess if it’s PTSD or a rational thought.  It’s a constant change that needs to occur, and success is dependent on this change. For example, I had to be taught that bathing my nephew and teaching him basic grooming skills is caregiving rather than incestuous.  I wish I could say that I made that dramatic change once and it fixed my life forever, but it’s a change that I have to make every day in order to succeed. Now I choose courage over fear. Now, I’m no longer the victim—I’m the victor.

I have overcome many challenges on this journey, but I know there will be many more to face.

Like how will I manage the trials of pregnancy and child birth? Perinatal checks, strangers touching my baby bump, and everyone wanting to hold my baby? How will I feel safe as a patient if I need narcotics or anesthesia? Choosing courage requires me to lower my guard and place trust in my caregivers.

This abuse will stay with me forever, and I will constantly have to change my natural responses in order to have a life worth living.  But I can be a conqueror, overcomer, and regain control of my life.  I don’t have to be known as, “the girl who was abused.”  I am the woman who picked herself up, has a successful marriage, a thriving career, and wants to be a mother someday.  I choose to change my perception every day so I can have an enjoyable, authentic life.  I am worth it.

Six Fact Sunday

So it’s Saturday, but most will wake up to this post so here it goes.

In March I will begin a very intense writing challenge which will limit my time here with you all. So the compromise is that I will aim at doing one very structured post.

Since this is the first, this week will simply be about me. Six things you probably do not already know about me.

  1. I can say “Hello. How are you. I am good. I am tired.” in six different languages. Enough to make a person otherwise isolated smile at my attempt at relating. These six languages include English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, and Swahili (my personal favorite). The funny thing is, if you have watched the movie Lion King, you know far more Swahili than you think. Simba= Lion. Rafiki= Monkey. Hakunah Matata really means “No worries”. lol Isn’t that fun?!!? In the hospital where I work, there are many African immagrants and they typically speak French or Swahili. When you say hello in their native language their faces light up. It’s so fun.
  2. I once turned in a human jaw bone belonging to a 200 year old Native American man to the coroner’s office. This is a looong story for another time.
  3. I once physically took two children from their home and placed them into protective custody. This is a sad and frustrating story of a young woman mentally unfit to care for her own kids. I would not be in the least bit surprised if they never made back to her. Sweetest kids ever and I was 6 months pregnant and managed to hold it together. Ugh.
  4. I once served someone divorce papers. Very awkward, but he was expecting them.
  5. I have only been a writer for two years. This is how long I have been working on my current novel. I get stuck on character interactions in difficult situations.
  6. Coffee means sooooo much to me. I can go without it, but there is a sense of calm and security it brings me that If it came down to my health or coffee, I would have to make a few compromises.  Sometimes I drink decaf if I get a late night craving because it is far more about the taste and experience than the caffeine involve. I would just consider that a perk at this point.

So now you know a little about me. Want more 6 facts? What subjects would you like to see? Later posts might include:

“Six Facts About Civilian Life After the Military”

“Six Facts About Solo Parenting”

“Six Facts About Sleep Deprivation”

Lawd I think I have my month planned out. Cheers!!


There is still time to enter into the Give-Away!

How do I enter???

First- Follow my blog by clicking the “+Follow” button at the bottom right side of your screen.

Reblog your favorite Britestfyrefly post on your own page and link it back to me so I know who you are.
Share the link to one of your favorite posts on Facebook and tag me.
Email the link to your favorite post to a few people and CC me.
You may share as much as you want. Each link shared will get you an entry into the drawing which will happen Live on Facebook on February 28th and be posted and shared later that day.

Good luck everyone and Thank you all for all of your support through the last couple of years. A writer is nothing without readers 😀

Oh Father, Where Art Thou?

Then there was the time I joined the Army. Throughout my 10 years, I was often asked “Why did you join?”

The easy answer was that I ran out of things to do. In retrospect, at the ripe old age of 19 I find it extremely hard to believe. But looking back at my options at the time, if I did not get out of that tiny town, I would have never left. I miss that place, but it was too small for me.

The real answer and my driving force to join the Army was a Hail Mary attempt at connecting with my father. Growing up, I remember him always coming or going. We would record our voices on cassette tapes and send them to whatever country he was in that year. He would send some back with souvenirs, some I still have to this day.

I remember the way my dad smelled when he would come back from the field. All of his gear would smell like camouflage and sweat. My brother and I would try to hold his feet while he did sit ups and then he would leave the house and run for miles before coming back drenched and out of breathe.

I remember Christmases were the most magical time. Mom and Dad would go all out, rearranging the house and adding decorations we have no idea existed. I never really felt the tinge of needing. I’m sure they went without before we ever did.

2002 sent my dad to Korea. I completed a year of Bible college where the focus was on finding the love of God as a Father. This bought about many glaring daddy issues I never knew existed and a driving need to rectify them.

 

I enlisted in the Army while my dad was at war. I knew he could not tell me “No” once I had done it. Looking back, being in the midst of death and violence, I am almost positive it broke his heart to imagine his daughter in such a place. He was nothing but supportive, and even was able to make Christmas special from where ever he was:

 

“Hello Everyone,

Sorry I’m not anywhere to get you a nice Christmas card. They did finally get some Thanks giving ones in.

A lot of fighting in Ramadi these days. We continue to take casualties, but I think we are doing well. Your Dad is “A Fighting First Sergeant”. I’ll be glad when this chapter in life has concluded.

I miss you and love you. Your invisible Father,

Love, Dad”

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I received a couple of letters from my dad prior to this at boot camp. The Drill Sergeants would call us out of formation to collect our mail. One  day I was questioned as to who the letter was from, seeing that it came from a military base over seas from a First Sergeant with my last name. I told them my father was at war. They let me go without consequence, and I found that quite strange. On Thanksgiving, as we all stood completely still and silent, that same Drill Sergeant called upon me as we waited to enter the dining facility for our holiday meal.

“Private Gilliam! Who is your father?”

“First Sergeant Gilliam, Drill Sergeant.”

“Now listen up, pit stains! While you go inside and file thru getting your fatty-cakes and licky-chewies, remember that there are Soldiers far more discipline than you, eating MRE’s or nothing at all. Private Gilliam’s dad is at war. He isn’t eating turkey. He’ll be lucky to get  peanut butter on a stale piece of bread.”

As “tough” as I wanted to be, I cried. He was right and I felt so ashamed for never realizing that he was not away from home because he wanted to be. That day I realized where he had been throughout my life.

When I went home for Christmas break, I was able to check my email and found that he had sent a mass email to the family.

 

“Hello everyone, It has been a while and communications will continue to be sporadic like this for a while. There has been a great deal of fighting and it is not over by a long shot in this country… Please pray for them [his Soldiers]. I am fine. I am currently on my third hummvw. The first one was blown up an 2 Sep. The second took 2 rpg rounds in the left rear door and out the back of the vehicle in Oct. Now I’m down to a haji armored cargo. It has already been hit by a proximity mortar round which shredded my cooler in the back. Up until that point I hadn’t gotten angry. However, I had hopes of cleaning that cooler up and setting it next to my recliner full of light beer from Miller after I retire. It was more important to me than the big screen TV I am going to buy. Oh yeah and a few new bullet holes in the front windshield, but it is bullet proof so long as we don’t take too many more. We are back to living without electricity, water, the usual. My company has commandeered a large castle (Keep) looking building. The rest of the battalion is holding up in a small post a mile or so down the road. I tell ya, it has been fifteen years since I had to burn human excrement. But it was a most humbling and almost spiritual ritual… Anyway, I am good and all is well today. Never take your life for granted. Love, Jim”

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Not many people know that my dad is a funny guy. In the thick of all that had and was happening, he did not want us to worry but he did want us to know what it was like. I also want to add that he lost his first hummvw the day before his birthday and the second when I left for boot camp. None of us (family) had any idea.

When I returned after Christmas, I found out that both of my feet had stress fractures and my hips were not much better off. I was 5’2″ and 120 pounds tops carrying the same load as the 6’2″ guy next to me. Okay, maybe his boots weighed more than mine but  you get the idea. I had never been athletic in my life. I was struggling to even walk some days but trying to make it through with my peers. Dad sent me this:

 

“Dear Dacia, It was great to get your letter. I mean REALLY GREAT. Glad to hear basic is going well for you. It is a steady paycheck. Do the best that you can and even if you do recycle, it’s that much more money in the bank.

I love you and miss you. I am very, very proud of you. With the way things are  you could probably transfer to Active Duty if you like it. I go along your thoughts and try the part time thing first.

Here in Ramadi we are preparing for the upcoming elections…  We will never make the news though because Ramadi is the political capital of the Anbur Province. So there is too much of our own politics at stake here… Never forget what your job means  in the Army. You take care and do your best. I love you sooooo much. Love, Dad”

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I carried this letter into my own war. In 2007, I deployed to work in Baghdad ER as a medic. For 15 months I witnessed the atrocities of war. I would look into young Soldier’s eyes, talking to them, trying to calm them as we tended to their fatal wounds before they slipped off to sleep and up to the operating room for a last chance at some sort of life beyond their wounds. I never followed up to know if they made it home. We would already be onto another set of young men and women mangled from a fight. Children would come in the same way.

I pushed through that time in my life because I never forgot what my job meant. I had also not only witnessed but experience a small fraction of what my dad went through while his little girl prepared for the same.

The day my father announced his retirement, I cried. Could my father truly be a mortal being? Would he still wear his uniform as a Sergeant Major as he walked me down the isle and give me away to my husband?

Yes, yes, and yes. Over twenty years of an infantry career, took its toll on my father’s body, but he would still dawn the uniform with his rows and rows of ribbons perfectly straight and right shoulder insignia proudly displayed. As we stood at the closed door that represented the rest of my life, the other side a gentleman sang “Lady” by Styx, my dad looked at my and said “Are they going to change the music or are we walking out to this?”

“No, Dad. We are walking out to this.” He smiled and the door opened.

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In his loud, clear, and stern Sergeant Major voice, he announced “Her mother and I” were giving me away.

Later that evening, the moment came to dance with my dad. I do not recall this ever happening before in my life. “We Belong” by Pat Benetar played and I cried.

“How did we get here, MeMe?” His little girl who had shitty handwriting in third grade and who hated to do homework had been to war twice and was now married.

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Even in his retirement, my father has been the one I have turned to for life advice. He would offer it knowing I was going to do what I wanted anyway. He was supportive and always proud even if the road I took to success was not the easiest. I made it work, I made a family, and I grew into a happy successful adult.

I attribute my resilience to having to do things for myself. Needing to find my own way to get there. My dad really is a funny guy. No one else would no that. He has always been my hero. Love you, King Daddy.

 

Mom Snark

 

Like any hobbyist, I have dreams of grandeur. I envision myself being noticed by a publishing company and paid to blog full time. I can see myself with Little Miss on my hip, yelling some strange demand of my son like, “Don’t put legos in your butt!!!” Laughing to myself and writing it down for material to post at a later time. I would sit home all day just thinking of quick witted things and how I would work them into a post to make other moms laugh and tell their friends, “I know exactly what she means.”

Today is one of those days where my cup is 3/4 full. I hate this emotional roller coaster I am on, but the good days are so much better than the rough ones. I have plenty to accomplish at work and the blessing from Husband to work a little late today. I remembered to set something out for dinner before I left which I don’t even really mind cooking when I get home (but probably won’t). All in all, today I feel like I have my shit together.

With my history as a Soldier, it is fun to find projects at work that allow me to relive my glory days in the Combat Support Hospital. Though my time of patient care are long gone, I am beginning to walk a path of physical security in the facility that I work. Now all the the paranoid thoughts I have about bombs and shootings in my work place are being put to good use. I feel like I have that rush of being well trained to handle anything. My dad says you can never be ready, but you can be prepared. Using my brain for this kind of critical thinking gets my blood pumping. Totally nerding out. lol

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Today, however, will be loading with organizing payroll for about 400 people. Tomorrow will be maintenance of the same. I’ll still find a way to feel accomplished maybe write some fiction during my pumping breaks. Hope everyone has a great day.

What I left behind

218205_1554589639473_4580361_oMost weeks I get the opportunity to tell young nurses or CNAs about my medical background. I tell them while they fill out a short paper with their demographics that they do not have to look up and to just listen. I explain my role here at the hospital of reviewing and correcting payroll, ordering supplies, and the basic administrative roll of two inpatient units. I tell them I am a mother of a son at home and a girl on the way. I tell them that before I was all of that I served in the Army for ten years. I worked in Baghdad Emergency Room for over a year and my second deployment I was a manager of an outpatient clinic. I tell them that I have seen, smelt, IVed, sutured, splinted, scrubbed, and wiped it all. I tell them that when they have questions, they do not have to dumb things down for me (after all, I have seen more trauma in one month in Baghdad than most of them in their entire careers) but assure them that my scope has been limited to acute care and that they doing something I vowed never to do: do inpatient care.

I separated from the military because my contract was over and I was tired. Yes, I was half way to retirement, but by that time my son was one and I really just hated that he had to share me. That my husband had to share me. That as long as I wore a uniform, they would always come second.

Here is a list of things I left behind when I left the Army. Some good, some bad, but I do not regret it for a second.

  1. Structure This is something everyone at work will say I never left behind. I might not have left it out of what I can control, but it is the lack of structure everywhere else that is missing. Core Values are no longer universal. Schedules are not honored. Integrity is not something most people have. There is no check and balance process either. If something fails, then it fails, and it is not only okay but acceptable.
  2. Patient Care I am so done with patient care. Not that I am inhumane, or lack compassion. It is the opposite. When I was younger, I gave so much of myself that at the end of the day there was nothing left. I had no boundaries and I would never say no. When I wore the uniform, it was my duty to never say no. I followed orders. Today, I find a healthy medium in helping those who help others. I finally let my EMT certification expire without the intent to renew ever. I will never touch a patient as a healthcare provider again, but I will do the shit out of some paperwork.
  3. Being Publicly Naked or Watching People Pee This might seem strange to begin with, but seriously, nothing is sacred. If the showers are only open for 30 minutes and 40 women need to share 8 stalls, you just make stuff happen. The only other place this occurs is probably prison. I have no intentions on ever visiting. As for the pee, to ensure that women do not cheat on urinalysis, one must physically watch urine leave the body and land into a cup. This is the ONLY way to make sure. There is no way to get around how awkward the whole situation is for all parties involved. *shudders*
  4. Sexual Harassment This could be its own post. And maybe I have just grown out of it in age and dress size, but the atmosphere of the military harbors a sexual humor that can easily be abused. Some guys went to college and raped people, others joined the military. Some are famous comedians, others are colonels. I am happy to say that where I work now, these things are not as prevalent.  That and as I have matured, I speak up more and louder than ever that these things are never okay.
  5. Sense of Team My boss is my boss. My coworkers are coworkers. They call me when they need something and for the most part I stay in my office and say hi in passing. Since I am not a nurse, and do not share similar personal or professional goals as most of them, I am not so much a part of that team. If i was in a different state and some one was wearing a t shirt of the organization I work, I would not feel comfortable approaching that person. We never worked together. Its a big facility. We probably have nothing in common. But when I go somewhere away from home and see someone in a uniform, there is instantly the sense of trust and commonality. I can look at their sleeves and know where they have been. I know that if something were to go down in that particular place and time, that we could communicate in a way to save as many people as possible. That is what we do. Most people do not have this in their blood. To us, it is second nature.
  6. A Forced Body Standard This is a love hate relationship. I lack the discipline to workout consistently on my own and I know that. I also know that I do not have the stress of meeting any kind of BMI standards and do and eat whatever I want. I miss being fit and being good at running. I do not miss doing it. Too sorry that I am not sorry.
  7. Not owning ANYTHING In the military, you do not own your house, time, family, car, phone, sleep, food, I could go on forever. You own nothing. Everything about your life is subject to inspection at the drop of a dime. I have had to inspect people’s homes for cleanliness. I’ve had to meticulously comb personal budgets and set up payment plans for their debts. I have served people divorce papers. I have even personally and physically removed children from their home and placed them in protected custody. I hold no degree or formal licensing to do any of these things, but as a 20 something year old leader, I was deemed the guiding voice of reason for my subordinates. Let someone come into my house and tell me to take out my own trash. I now have the freedom to tell someone where they can stick that trash and remove them from my home. Doing that under military contract is a good way to lose about 1/2 of your pay for two months. Oh, you do not even own the money you work for.

 

There are various reasons why people stay. Medical benefits and retirement are HUGE factors in today’s economy. Job security is kind of iffy and depending on who you vote for is extremely uncertain. I really do not lose any sleep knowing where I am now is where I am supposed to be and where I am going is far from the life I knew.

In 8 short weeks, I will have a daughter. If my mother’s curses prevail, she will be exactly like me. This is terrifying. As terrifying as my mother sending her little girl off to war. TWICE. I can only hope that I can teacher what I have learned through my life in a way she can respect and appreciate, because one day she will leave me behind to fight her own wars.

 

I Lost My Best Friend (Christmas 2010)

10301125_10152397267360932_2355302407718459426_nChristmas in Iraq happens about 18 hours before it does back home. Being in a third world country was difficult but I had to try extra hard on holidays to keep it together. In the spirit of Christmas I volunteered for midnight guard duty to allow my soldiers time to contact family. As I prepared for work I opened my lifeline to home; my laptop. My best friend was online and told me about her festivities the next morning. Sam told me that she and Tim were getting a long pretty well while wrapping presents. She also said she was thinking of leaving him. I encouraged her to throw his things on the lawn immediately, but she wanted to wait until after Christmas; for the kids.

Supporting Sam’s relationship with Tim was hard. I knew that she would do what she wanted and that she just needed someone in her corner. I was always there because she was for me. I needed her as much as she needed me. So I bowed down to her decision and said that the 26th is a great day as any. We sent our love across the ocean through the internet. She got back to her wrapping, and I geared up for patrol.

It was only a four hour shift, however my company was not my favorite. A female superior who really had it out for me most of the time. I was lucky that night, though. Perhaps the Christmas spirit reached her, too. We talked about her grown kids and what they were doing for the holidays. I told her about my fiancé and me getting married in less than a month when I would fly home. We were eloping and only my best friend was going to be in attendance to witness. My fiancé and Sam were my circle. The two constants in my life. I needed them both equally. While I was in Iraq, my fiancé was in Afghanistan. Our commands agreed to let us take vacation at the same time. The plan was to fly home together, get married with Sami there, and fly back to finish out our tours overseas in different areas of combat.

The four hour shift came and went with nothing to report. We gave a briefing to the oncoming patrol and we made our way back to the living area. I checked my lifeline and saw that there were quite a few messages on my social media. All very urgent to call so and so. There is an emergency and Sam had told them to call me first.

I had the very worst thoughts in my head to prepare myself for what was probably something overly dramatized. I put my gear back on and walked to my office. I used a calling card to call a mutual friend of mine and Sam.

“Tim shot and killed Sam, Dacia. Sami is dead.” Her voice broke. I collapsed to the floor sick and weak. My body could not hold the grief. I must have screamed something terrible because night shift workers came running to me. I am sure they asked me, but all I could feel was sick. And then denial. I had to call my friend back; I must have hung up on her. I needed to correct her and tell her there was a mistake. I had just talked to Sam. Someone had given her wrong information. There was no way in the world Sam was gone. She could not be gone.

“No. NO.” I pleaded with her. She was fine. Everything was fine. She was not gone. My friend insisted that she was there when they took Sam off life support.

“Dacia, honey. There was nothing they could have done. He shot her point blank in the temple. I am so sorry, Honey. I am so sorry.” We cried silently for a long time. Occasionally I could mutter the word “no”.

“I have to go now.” I told her. I felt so empty. All the sands of the desert resided in my gut. I did not want to talk. I did not want even breath. I did not want to be alone and I did not want to sleep. I was terrified that her ghost would confront me for not knowing the danger she was in. It was paralyzing. I did not work for three days. I did not eat for longer. I was lost.

Sam left behind six children. They were all in the house when it happened. The oldest heard her mother and Tim arguing. She walked in on them. Tim had Sami by the hair and a gun in his hand. Sam told her daughter to get the baby and take the kids in the basement.

“Call 911.” Sam knew. She knew he was going to kill her. When the children were in the basement, locked in the bathroom, her daughter called 911. Then they heard it. All six of them. They lost their mother forever.

In the days following, those children were everyone’s focus. I poured out everything I could for them, being so far away. My friend assisted in keeping them all together, as they had different fathers. Then suddenly it was understood that I knew everything about the physical abuse leading up to Sam’s murder, and that I did nothing to stop it. The truth is Sam hid it from me. I try to think back over conversations thinking maybe she had hinted. What if she really did tell me and I did not hear her. I was excommunicated from her family. I did not fight it. It was not about me. The focus had to be on those children. Whoever they had to blame for closure, it did not matter. But I never got closure.

My wedding day came and went and before I knew it I was back in that third world country surrounded by dirt and death. The days would drag on and I fell deeper and deeper into depression. I lost more weight than I should have and eventually started passing out. After the third incident I was sent home to be medically tested for a more serious condition. I was ready to go. My soul was tired. I could not handle many more weeks in that depression.

It took me a long time to be able to do anything once I was home. I could not go to certain places or drive down particular roads. I was scared I would bump into someone and they would ask me how I was doing; or accuse me of knowing.

“You might as well have pulled the trigger yourself.” Was sent to me in an email. I would reflect on everything she ever said to me; all the songs she would sing at karaoke should have given it away.

“I was so young, you should have known better than to lean on me…” We would duet this song. That was my part. It was always my part. It will always be my part. To this day, I have never reached out to her family for closure.

Even after the short years it has been, I have come to the conclusion that I lack the emotional capacity to truly hate. I had no energy left to wish any evils on Tim for taking my friend. His sentencing finally came and with much disappointment of mutual friends, he only received a fifteen year term in prison. That very moment I realized that if it were five years or fifty, it would not fill the gaping hole in my heart. I will not draft letters to him about my pain. I will not check on his parole status. I will not look him up when he is out of prison to make him answer for what he did.

I take abuse of all kinds very seriously, now. I listen when people mention their spouses or significant others; maybe I would check the hints Sam tried to give me. I think that she has visited me on occasion but not frequently. This past holiday, at 11:30pm on Christmas Eve my living room television came on by itself, volume turned up, on a channel with static. I knew it was her, but it spooked my husband so bad he could not sleep. I have gradually healed from this great loss, but I have a scar on my heart that is named after her. She will always be there.

 

 

 

Reflection (Required for my assignment. I left it attached this time because I really think it gives insight to the writing.)

I have never taken the time to get this out of my body and onto paper. I have told the story a few times but never so permanently as writing. The story itself seems so cliché of domestic violence, but there was a sense of necessity to tell the story because it truly belonged to me; it was not just something you read in the news that happened to someone else.

I used Kick-Start number eight for this writing. I knew by just remembering where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt at the time that the words would flow onto the screen. The most liberating part was including the physical feelings I had when I found out. I never told anyone the real reason I stopped sleeping and why I did not want to be alone. I never told anyone about feeling of collapsing onto the floor. I really hung up on my friend after she told me. I guess I panicked. I never told anyone how utterly desperate I was for her to be wrong, and how I tried to convince her from Iraq that she did not see what she saw and it was someone else.

This course has taught me quite a bit about my own writing style. It has brought out some strength and exposed some weaknesses that are now hard to ignore. All of the lessons have really boiled down to this one essay. I knew I had to write it one day, I am just thankful that I had the tools to do so. Creative nonfiction has really opened my eyes to a more colorful way of expressing myself daily. Poetry has helped me pull some of the emotion that I normally lack in writing and add depth and better description to my pieces. Playwriting helped me become immersed in dialogue; something else I try to avoid in writing. The short story is where I thrive, have the most fun, and my default genre of writing when I have the choice. Creative writing was the only reason I started going back to school.

I think a memoir holds a special place in literature. I know there are so many stories in my life worth telling. I believe this genre really allows anyone to tell their side of the story, include their heart and soul, and really help people understand what they truly went through. A lot of history can be told through personal experiences.

Below is a link from the local news.

http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/tag/samantha-marie-miller/

A Crack In My Armor

  January of this year I pissed on a stick. Pregnant. We had only been trying for two months and, even then, we weren’t trying that hard. I had so many symptoms from heartburn and nausea to the worst case of tender breasts ever. All the signs were there, our second child was just as planned and welcome as the first. We were happy and I could not keep pregnancy a secret to save my life. Our first pregnancy had gone off without a hitch, so why would this one be any different?

We sat down with my dad, brother, and their families to share the wonderful news. My step-mother was very weary about us sharing the news so soon, and at that point I was only 5 weeks and had not had a blood test. They were all happy but no one had their hopes as high as I did.

At the end of January, my father-in-law came to visit and accompanied us to California to visit my husbands mother and brother. The first day of our trip had started very early. We also gained an hour of daylight and walked everywhere. We stayed on the “Queen Mary” docked in Long Beach. (Imagine Titanic still afloat). Finally, that evening we planned dinner with the family. We put a shirt on our son that read BIG BROTHER and took his jacket off at the table and waited for anyone to notice. Mom thought it was a joke about the government. Let me tell you, it is not so exciting when you have to explain it. They were very happy with the news and I was very happy to explain how utterly exhausted I was.

The week in California was wonderful. Our toddler, who was not quite 2, did amazing. We stayed only 3 blocks from the beach and went almost everyday. We went whale watching and saw a lot of grey whales and even a hump-back (which made the entire trip worthwhile for me). We even took everyone to Universal Studios. I walked too much, didn’t drink enough water and ended up with the worst migraine I have ever had in my life.

Along our route to the beach, everyday we passed what I like to call a Sidewalk Psychic. Its a fortune teller with a store front on the main strip solely for tourists. I’ve always been curious about these things and my father-in-law wanted to see if she could tell the gender of our little bun in the oven. My mother in law and I went to the store front which was closed. A sign instructed us to call for an appointment. The woman agreed to meet with me, but we had to drive to her home. I went in alone, which I knew to be a normal request. I paid for a psychic reading and tarot card reading. She asked me to take out an object that was mine and she proceeded to deal the cards in a pyramid shape. The last card she placed face down at the top of the pyramid.

She told me about losing my best friend horribly and still dealing with the aftermath of that trauma in my life. She told me my husband loved me very, very, VERY much but there was not a lot of communication. (I will state, for the record, my husband has very watered-down emotions. He never gets very angry but he never gets overly excited. In turn, when he is dealing with a difficult situation, he internalizes it, and buries it deep, deep down. We will get back to this.) She went on to say how I would live well beyond the age of 87.

Without pausing she told me that we have (present tense) fertility problems. I told her, simply, no. She insisted. She said that she saw 4 healthy children, but we were having fertility problems. My husband and I only plan on having 2 children. I explained how easy it was for us to get and be pregnant both times and I really had no idea what she was talking about. Again, healthy children. Nothing wrong with any child but we were having fertility problems. I brushed her off. I wasn’t angry at her. I just wasn’t convinced.

My first ultrasound was scheduled for 7 weeks and 2 days I believe. I took my son with me because  my husband was out of town for work and did not have a steady sitter at the time. The tech had horrible bed side manner and was not very reassuring. She did not talk to me at all the entire scan. But having seen it all before I knew something was wrong. She told me that she could see the gestational sac but could not find a baby inside or detect any audible heartbeat. The doctor would go over “my options”. I knew something was not right, but I held it together as I wiped the lube and got dressed, gathered my child in his stroller and proceeded to the doctors office. She was nice enough, but was 75% sure it was a blighted ovum.

She did her best to comfort me and did not sugar coat that the 25% chance would either get bigger or completely disappear with the result of another blood test to measure my HCG and compare it to where I should be at the stage of pregnancy.

I went home and cried. It never occurred to me that this process would not be as perfect as the last. And that perfect little boy sat in my lap with a big smile on his face and made me make eye contact with him and mirror his expression. (Its a face game we play. He also plays this when I am angry at him or, apparently, really sad. He makes me smile back at him.) He traced my tears down my face, and in that moment realized how selfish I was. I have never hugged him to tight.

I journaled this time of limbo. Greg was gone for work a lot and he really did not want to dwell on it, where I had the need to speak it and rid my body of the frustration and disappointment. So I wrote…

Day 0-

It’s actually Day 1, but it only just occurred to me to write my story in hopes that it may help someone else. 7 weeks and 6 days I had my first ultrasound with a doctor I have never met, but she had great online reviews. This is my intake appointment and should be filled with heartbeats and an image of a tiny sea monkey growing inside my belly. Instead, silence. And an empty bubble. “I’m not going to sugar coat it for you.” are the only words I remember. My 2 year old healthy little boy playing and pinched his tiny fingers in the stirrups. I hold him. We cry. At home he sits in my lap and traces the tears down my face, looks into my eyes and smiles. I force a cheese which I can only imagine is quite scary. He laughs and I thank God for this perfect healthy little man. Aside from delivery, his journey into this world was flawless. Why would I ever expect anything else? It only took two months of trying this time. Why would this pregnancy be any less than perfect? We didn’t have fertility problems. Other people do. Hope. I asked and was reassured that there was hope. It’s literally all I need to dry these tears. So I began to research misdiagnosis and asked ladies in my VBAC group. Some of them went thru this, now 22 weeks pregnant. Hope. Many misdiagnosis happen before 9 weeks. Hope.

Day 1-

I feel way better. I’ve told everyone at work. I suck at keeping secrets. I’ve decided regardless of my HCG levels, we will wait 2 weeks to check again. I don’t want them to be right. I don’t think they are. But if they are, I have rationalized in my head a way to cope. There is no child to mourn. Merely the idea. I will be disappointed, like a child that did not get desert after dinner.

More research today. Just reading to keep my mind productive. I tried reading sad stories with happy ones. The more I cant believe this could possibly happen. Staring at the clock in hopes they will call with my HCG, even though I don’t want to know. Can I even stomach waiting two weeks??

“HCG 26584. At that amount, we should have seen a baby with a heartbeat. So we can say this is not a viable pregnancy.” I am not accepting this. I can’t. I will wait 2 weeks. I do not want to go back to this clinic. I want a second opinion.

Day 2-

Nothing new. It is Saturday. Next week is Valentines Day. I have no desire to be intimate or romantic. I flip flop from questioning myself, my instincts to being completely confident that I am right and there is life inside of  me. Too many signs point to a mistake. I’ve been in bed most of the day and it feels nice. I need to eat tho. Jude needs some stimulation. I do not want to go to work tonight.

Day 3-

Blurry morning as I continue the night shift. Going about life like I am carrying life. Every time I share my story (as often as I can) I look for validation. Like I’m not crazy for having hope. Like a hoarder completely oblivious to her problem. I wonder if people agree with me as a form of pity. I would believe them if even one person told me I hardly had a chance. I’m terrified of every time I go to the bathroom. Will I see blood? And then It will be black and white. I’m scared to have sex in case I bleed and become hysterical, like the failed pregnancy was my fault. I’m exhausted. Near delirious. Counting minutes until I sleep and escape the constant fear in wondering if my cramps are this little failure trying to escape my body. With each passing day of continued pregnancy and symptoms, I become more and more angry at the doctor. Maybe 8 years of school isn’t enough if I can do 2 hours of research and discredit her diagnosis. Then if she is right, I have no one to blame in my grieving process.

This was the last entry. That morning my husband and I had sex. I started bleeding a little. I went to sleep. He went to work. When I got up, it was worse and he met me at the ER. The doctor there confirmed the diagnosis, and that was the end of my fight. Valentines Day came and went. We waited for things to “work themselves out” which never happened. The day before my son’s birthday, my grandmother passed away. I waited until after my follow up ultrasound to leave and drive 21 hours without my husband to be there for my father. The day after I got home, I had a D and C to remove the empty gestational sac.

It took me a long time to get over all the loss that happened in such a little time. I really had no one to talk to and could feel myself slipping into a depression similar to what I went through when my best friend passed away. My husband’s form of grieving included NOT talking about it. There was a point where I had to tell him that I was not ok, and WE were not ok, and he needed to be there for me or I was not going to make it. (It meant marriage, dinner, the bed, ect. I love my husband but felt like he wasn’t there for me anymore.) I was super hormonal still, which didn’t help.

It took weeks to be ok. I finally stopped bleeding and we could finally have sex. (I waited two weeks) I had a repeat HCG test, which remained high for not being pregnant anymore. It upset me more. They asked that I retest every month until it was below a certain point. I never went back. I didn’t see a point in reliving the nightmare all over.

I waited for my first period and was reassured that I could start trying again after that.  We half heartedly tried. I was scared of getting pregnant again. Scared to lose it again. Scared that this would be my last pregnancy. wondering if I was even ready for two babies. The first month went by and I had another period. I resolved to make sure I stayed motivated the next go round, but again, half heartedly tracked my fertility days on my phone app…

My husband’s older brother called on Thursday to announced him and his fiancé of five years were expecting. Even if they never married, this woman would always be my sister. But I was jealous. I took a pregnancy test. Negative. I knew it would be, because I  hadn’t tried hard enough. I went to work Saturday night, stocked with an arsenal of feminine products for my impending flow. Nothing. I tested before I went to bed, thinking nothing would be different.. and I saw the faintest line. I had the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face as I walk back to the bedroom to get my phone so I could snap a picture and ask my sister for her opinion. My husband immediately asks “Are you pregnant?” I answered “I DON”T KNOW!!!” It took him a while to come in and look. I used two different brands of digital tests to confirm.

Now I finally feel that my failed pregnancy is behind me. I am still scared, terrified actually, of disappointment. But the psychic told me I would only have healthy children and the chances of another Blighted Ovum are slim to none.

You’re probably reading this, hoping it’s not you. Or you’ve accepted it and need some encouragement. I’m hugging you right now. I want you to know that your feelings are valid. Be mad. Be sad. Be hurt and disappointed. Be frustrated and terrified. But it’s not permanent. You can move on from this. I did. finally.