Yesterday, I returned from my lunch hour 15 to 20 minutes late. I was met by a chorus of concerned coworkers. No one was upset I was late, but they worried about me “all alone in the big bad city.” I was immediately warmed by their jokes and concerns. I felt valued, worthy, loved, validated and like I mattered. And then my mood took a turn.
Sadly, when I got over the initial warm and fuzzies of being greeted with such sincere concern and caring, I felt lost. I didn’t know how to process it because on some deeper level I couldn’t understand it. Instead of being appreciative and holding it up as baseline human decency, I began to question what I did to deserve it. Without warning, I had fallen back into the Tara of months ago. And, for the first time, I felt the depth of the damage. I felt how spending a year of second guessing my value, my sanity, my personality, my ability, and whether or not I am the emotionally maturing human being I strive to become has hollowed me.
I believed I was toxic and that I deserved to be a whipping girl. I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that a woman like me would never be anything more than the incessantly annoying street scum on the bottom of his shoe that had to be addressed now and again to keep up appearances. And when I wasn’t feeling that way, I believed it was simply a matter of hardening my heart, adopting an air of aloofness, and dismissing my abuser as unworthy. In a sense, I was becoming my abuser to escape the abuse.
And now, once again and triggered by an event that should have remained warm and fuzzy, I felt the positive attention was undeserved. I also felt like a failure because I had convinced myself that if I just tried harder, I’d uncover what I had done to deserve the way I was being treated, fix it, and the person I trusted and admired unconditionally would return in place of the one that now so deeply loathed me. It didn’t matter that I had snapped out of it and gotten over the shame, the feelings of loyalty, and a deeply held sense that I owed him something and reached out to people around me and changed my situation. It didn’t matter because just as I was beginning to feel like myself, there would be one more incident to compound all others. It would be one more opportunity to be ignored, to be dismissed, and to understand that I never mattered and never would. And I wondered if I’d always feel that way.
But I did get out and yesterday happened. I kept it together enough to get through the day. But I spent the commute in fits of tears. Why? What did I ever do to deserve to be treated so heinously? And why didn’t I deserve an apology? How fair is it that this person will never take any responsibility for their actions? That they’re incapable of understanding the effect of their actions on others? Over and over again, those same questions. It was unfair, it will always be unfair, it could have been worse and that’s just life. All of it. I stayed in that mind frame as I went on about my night. I felt slightly better after I had an actual meal but I cried a bit more out of helplessness as I finally made my way home.
Today, the damage doesn’t seem so immense. Last night I dreamed that I had acquiesced and agreed to join a church. As I walked around I encountered my family and friends from various circles. I snagged one of them and asked to see the tree. Rumors of a “sacred” tree were the only reason I’d shown up to begin with. She took me through some corridors and down onto the landing of the large spiral basement staircase. There, in the center of the staircase was a pine tree. It was tall, disappearing into the darkness of ceiling and the trunk was thick and gnarly. It didn’t have many limbs. The limbs it did have stretched the length of the basement and were covered sporadically in thick, chunky bouquets of pine needles. And the church choir, filled with my new coworkers, was gathered around the base for practice. ‘It isn’t what I expected,’ I thought to myself, ‘but it is beautiful in its own special way and remarkable that it can continue to grow beneath the weight of the building and without the sun.’ As drove into work this morning, all I could think about was that tree and that it had to be the singing from the choir that kept it growing.