Processing childhood trauma

Trigger warning— I’m not sure exactly where this post will go but it will discuss sexual misconduct between an adult and a child and it will touch on alcoholism.

I know some people in my family may be uncomfortable with what I am about to write — because what happens in our private lives should remain private. And I agree with that, and I prefer not to air private matters in a public forum. As a writer, I want my public space to reflect a more professional persona.

But I also know I “check a lot of boxes” for struggles and realities that may not be apparent and that other people share. And together we have strength. Commonality.

So here goes.

But please, as I’ve said in other posts that mention times in the past that include other people and the actions of other people, remember that this is my story, my experience and my feelings.

Whatever I write in this space, because I’m not even sure where it will go, I am merely trying to offer a glimpse into my grief and how that is triggering— and I hate that word ‘triggering’ — my past trauma.

And especially when people are trying to do nice things for you, it feels extra garbage-y to have your mind implode.

Gene Kelly prompted me to write this blog entry. Spotify provided me with a jazz mix that included “Singing in the Rain.” And “Singing in the Rain” left me analyzing the issues that have plagued me since childhood that overcame me this weekend.

“Singing in the Rain.” You know… “Singing in the Rain.”

I learned to whistle in the bar. There was a man, I’m not sure who it was, who used to try and get me to whistle “Singing in the Rain.” I’m not sure which bar, maybe The Red Geranium, which is also where my mom served as the afternoon bartender for a while and where the owner’s grandson almost drowned me one summer day.

I don’t even remember who taught me to whistle.

I went to the bar with my mother because my father usually stopped at a bar after work. And he often didn’t come home until he spent all his money or the bar closed. So, my mom and I would go looking for him.

Each bar had a highlight. One of my school friends hung out at Delaware House waiting for her mom. But Delaware House burned down in 1986— I think my Dad might have been there that night— and all I remember is purple-hued lighting and one time someone vomited on the sidewalk right outside the door while I was standing there.

In my memory, the fire took out my grandfather’s favorite clothing store (not true according to newspaper records)— Effross’s— though thinking harder I don’t known if that recollection is correct. Apparently, Mr. Effross died in November. My grandfather bought all his Levi’s from Mr. Effross.

My grandfather chewed Jucyfruit, enjoyed the occasional trip to Kmart, smoked Parliaments and listened to Jim Reeves. He would hand me an empty coffee can and tell me he’d pay me a penny for every cigarette butt I could find in our yard.

At one point, I spent all the time I could with him. My parents said we had moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to him and my grandmother, moving into the trailer right besides my grandparents in the trailer park.

My mother befriended an elderly man named James Wicks who lived in a trailer on the other side of us. He had no family, so my mother cared for him until his death. And we inherited his tan Chevy Citation.

On some days, while my mom went to see Wicky, I would go see my Aunt Sharon and my grandpa. I spent a lot of time with them as they served as my babysitter when my mom and dad would go for motorcycle rides or when my parents planned to go drinking.

They had cable. We did not. So if I was lucky, I might get to watch The Addams Family. My grandfather liked Highway to Heaven and Knight Rider.

At one point, my uncle had moved to another state. I seem to think I was 10, because I tend to think everything bad that happened to me happened around that time. My aunt had gone to stay with them. She and my grandpa had plans to move up there.

If I can trust my memory, I was wearing a pastel striped romper, with shorts. [Trigger warning] He asked me to come sit on his lap, so I did. He started rubbing my inner thighs. I remember his hands, and I remember how close they were getting to my romper.

There were a few other times where he touched me inappropriately in similar fashion, so I stopped sitting in his lap.

And eventually I avoided going to his house when no one else was home.

I told no one.

But then, a while later, and I don’t know if Aunt Sharon was home or not, I think she was… We ordered a pizza. My grandfather asked if I wanted to go with him to pick it up. I said yes, probably because I wanted a “jungle juice” and to play the Pac Man arcade game.

The pizza place was probably less than two miles away.

But he didn’t go to the pizza place.

He turned down a side road. And then to a dirt road. The night was dark. We had no street lights. I knew where we were, but I also knew it was the middle of nowhere.

He patted the seat beside him. It was a big old vinyl bench seat. He told me to come over and kiss him. So, as a granddaughter would, I kissed his cheek.

He told me no. That’s not how you kiss. And then his tongue was in my mouth. Deep in my mouth. Invading my mouth.

I was terrified.

I don’t remember what I did to get away. But we did go get the pizza.

I didn’t tell my mom until high school. I just avoided my grandfather. But my mom was going to ask him to drive me home from play rehearsal. And I knew I couldn’t be alone with him.

I didn’t tell my dad until I was in college. My grandfather and I had a tumultuous relationship because I called him a “selfish old bastard.” Yeah, no one knew the real reason why I said that. But my grandfather never spoke to me again.

And that hurt my dad.

One day he got drunk and asked me point blank, “what did you grandfather ever do to you, molest you or something?”

“Yeah, Dad,” I said. “Actually he did.”

And I will remember the shock on his face forever.

My father’s recent death has forced me to spend more time in memories like these than I usually allow.

I tell this story because I know others have similar stories. I tell this story because in the wake of my father’s death, I think of my grandfather more. I tell this story because yesterday morning I wept while driving to work at 5:45 a.m. because I use a country road that, in that moment, reminded me of that country road.

These stories are invisible. People don’t tell these stories. Skeletons belong in closets.

But I’m tired of these stories haunting me, circling my own head, so I’m going to leave this here.

I spent a good deal of my youth afraid of what my grandfather might do. To me.

My first kiss came from my grandfather. I didn’t even know the difference between boys and girls.

I still freak out if I have to kiss a man.

I’m grateful I had the wisdom to avoid my grandfather.

My grandfather is dead.

My father is dead. His brother is dead.

Aunt Sharon is still with us, but she has an intellectual disability that renders her an eternal child.

So this story can’t hurt any of them.

But maybe it can free me.

Because those memories still ignite fear in me.

Rebuilding

My blog entry Monday focused heavily on the decline of my mental and physical health— and how I attributed that decline to the death of my father on December 15 (three weeks ago today) and the stress that has put upon me, my family, and my routine. I also think I may have had a bout with Omicron pre-Christmas which may be part of why my body cannot seem to get appropriate physical rest.

I shared these things because these tribulations are key for the story arc; success and overcoming mean nothing without context.

And if you are someone fighting with similar discombobulation, you might find comfort in my words.

That post is here.

The last few days the pain in my spine has been increasing and my control over my legs is lessening. To walk requires more concentration and effort than I am used to. According to my iPhone, my walking symmetry was a mess yesterday morning. And now today, as temperatures plummet, my right knee has shooting pain.

I am guessing— and purely guessing— that my stress level is exacerbating the spasticity in my lower limbs making legs that can’t relax even more tense.

I haven’t been eating right, and with the lack of good food, I don’t take my vitamins. And when I do eat enough to take my vitamins… Well, I may have eaten half a Hawaiian Luau deep dish pizza from Little Caesar’s.

I cried with my psychologist yesterday in a long-awaited therapy session where he had to recount to me all my strengths while simultaneously making me laugh.

But this gave me the courage to call out sick from work today, sleep in and start the day with my Yoga cobra pose physical therapy sessions (and then take a much needed shower).

In waking up slowly, I had the opportunity to gently force my lower limbs into motion. Walking feels a little more natural.

I had a chiropractor appointment scheduled for Friday and they literally just called today to see if I’d rather come in today. They say it is due to the threat of inclement weather but I think they read my mind.

My last chiropractor appointment was at least two weeks ago, because of the holidays, and I wonder if something might be pressing on a nerve since my right quad is burning again.

And still no work from the physiatrist about securing an appointment or the neurologist about whether my insurance will allow my CT scan.

In other news, Hungryroot gave me a $96 credit for the box that arrived late, less than cold and covered with chemical goo. I didn’t anticipate an issue with them and I had already gone ahead and ordered a new box which arrives tomorrow.

My timid tripod foster cat Louise still insists on cuddling me whenever I am in or on my bed. This upsets foster cat Khloe who likes to believe she is my favorite.

And the dog, F. Bean Barker, ate some more of my furniture.

And I’m starting to think my cat fostering peer might be the only one keeping up with my Fashion and Fiends series as she posted a review on Amazon recently.

The teenager submitted a photo of her and her grandfather for the high school yearbook baby photos. This photo was taken at the West End Fair where my dad was participating in a tractor pull. It was the first major outing I undertook with the baby by myself.

Nan will be coming over soon so we can do some more work on Not an Able Bodied White Man with Money. Which we will do over turkey bacon and omelets.

Let’s hope the next few days bring my body and my mind some relief.

When Grief Manifests as Panic

It hasn’t even been a month since my employer eliminated second shift in favor of a seven-day-a-week operating schedule.

It has been about six weeks since my doctor ordered tests to try and pinpoint the cause of my spine, hip and leg pain. And about five weeks since the x-rays revealed a spine, that as my doctor said, wouldn’t be a problem if I were 70 or 80.

My dad died almost three weeks ago.

It has been several weeks since Omicron has soared across the world— and I discovered today, today, that Omicron grows best in nostrils and doesn’t take so well in lungs.

Did I have Omicron before Christmas? When I had stopped taking my allergy meds because of the funeral and had a congested head?

We had ten new cases of Covid at work today. This is the highest count ever. Most of the people who attended my father’s funeral have it. Curly, my college roommate, went home from my house to discover her teenage son had it.

My psychologist tested positive. My trainer did, too. My neighbor did. My other neighbor’s employer did.

It’s been almost two weeks since my neurologist appointment.

It’s been five days since my Hungryroot order shipped.

It’s been four days since my head CT was canceled.

It’s been four days since foster cat Danu went to Pet Supplies Plus.

Danu, gentlest cat ever

My grief has heightened my anxiety and has me lost in feelings that I am surrounded by love but I lack enough support. My feelings swirl in my chest and manifest as panic, panic I am too often stuffing away or channeling into tears.

My Hungryroot order came around noon today, after being shipped on Thursday. And the cooling gel pack exploded. Coating all the food. The food arrived bathed in some sticky chemical and warm. I contacted customer service but they warn they are busy and may take 48 hours to get back to me.

And in the meantime, I don’t know if it’s safe to eat the food. At least, the food in packaging. My guess is no. I hope they refund my money. But I ate everything in the pantry over the weekend and now I am out $100 and have no food.

And as I threw items away, I noticed the chicken they shipped me was dated, use by 12/21/21 and they sent it 12/28/21.

Sigh.

Then I got a text from my cat foster godmother: Danu was missing her rabies shot so she had to come home.

Normally I can handle this. But my numbers at work were around 65%, my body pain felt like my bones were burning, and then another member of the cat group sent a long message about how monitoring the medical records of the cats is important.

The vet was supposed to give Danu and all of her kittens the rabies vaccine when they were spayed and neutered. The vet didn’t. I didn’t notice. I screwed up.

Between the medical issues, the family drama, the grieving process and the shift change, I can’t get it life under control.

The second I empty the dishwasher, reload it and run it again, the sink is full. The toilets are dirty. The cats eat the dry food in the gravity feeder as soon as I fill it. The dog keeps eating things.

I’m not sleeping well.

And I have no time left to do anything I enjoy.

So my business plan for Parisian Phoenix is lagging behind.

I pick myself up and look at the positives every day, and every night I fall into bed defeated.

But this too shall pass.

I had a good day

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good day. Sunday was okay, but then Monday was hard. I had to ask the question—

How can one day be so much harder than the day prior? Shouldn’t grief get incrementally easier?

I had either a mild cold or intense backlash from not taking my allergy medicine which really fatigued me. Combine that with my father’s death, no real Christmas to speak of and a formerly good friend reappearing Sunday night to gaslight me, again, hopefully for the last time.

I have been short-tempered, moody and a little meaner than usual. We all understand the reasons why, right? In addition to this very emotional stuff, I am still dealing with what is essentially premature aging in my spine and a new extended work day and a daily schedule that involves flipping my previous life upside down. I used to go to be at 2 a.m. and now my alarm wakes me at 5 a.m. That is, when cats don’t request a cuddle at 4:30 a.m.

The former friend in question here wished me a happy and safe holiday after ignoring me for the last three weeks— which unbeknownst to me was on purpose because I wouldn’t provide this person informative on a quasi-sorta date I went on. This person felt slighted and like they were not valued as a friend because I did not share something I felt was personal and none of their business (I told none of my friends) AND something that didn’t go anywhere worth reporting.

Apparently, this friend— who has a history of gaslighting— stopped looking at my social media, my blog, etc. Not once did this friend say anything to me.

This friend said nothing when my dad passed.

So, being at the end of my rope in every category, I lashed out.

I said mean things. The same mean things I have said to this person before and this person has responded not by addressing those issues but with points on how nasty I can be.

I’m wondering if I need to block this person. I don’t want to, because once upon a time this person was a good friend. But circumstances outside my control have changed my relationship with this person.

And I don’t have the emotional energy to placate people any more.

And in those same terms— I am so grateful for those friends who keep checking on me. You know, the ones that actually pay attention to what is happening in my life.

But anyway… my good day…

I am realizing more and more that stress makes my aches and pains flare. And I wonder if that contributes to the burning sensation in my quads and my instability.

At work, it quickly became apparent that I was hitting my metrics! I texted the teenager and asked if she wanted to have breakfast on my 15 minute break. She made a Dunkin run and brought the dog to see me.

I think I maintained 95% in QC all day.

Lunch was delicious — leftover chicken with vodka sauce and fresh broccoli, kale, and spinach.

And I got to style card, which I also got to do yesterday. It feels good to do something different and work in positions not everyone in the warehouse knows.

It just felt like a normal day, and I felt like me, and not a foggy me.

The UnChristmas

For the first time since December 15, I felt like myself. I’m still grieving. I’m still hurting, but by the time end of today (12/26/2021), the overwhelming hurricane of different emotions had pushed me into its eye. And I felt like me.

Yesterday was a hard one. My mother called early in the morning, wishing me a Merry Christmas. Really, my brain couldn’t even fathom why she would wish me a Merry Christmas when I was home alone and my dad is newly dead.

The holidays are always hard on me. They start with hope and usually end with disappointment. I had often said I wish I could ignore them all together. Just skip. And go to Paris.

There were no presents to open Christmas morning. I let the teenager open hers early when we needed some joy in the midst of funeral stuff. No decorations. I never got the Christmas tree up. I never listened to Christmas music this year— and I love Christmas music.

The world stopped when my father died.

The teenager has multiple pet sitting responsibilities. Something like eight visits a day. And her father just got his new car on the 23rd, so I had expected to have a car to visit family without her.

My nephew came down with Covid so there would be no gathering with that side of the family.

So my little funeral tantrum that led me to spend most of the service in my car apparently prevented my exposure to Covid.

I did have a bit of a something— a cold? A sinus issue? Backlash from not taking my allergy medicine for a week?

And I had hoped maybe I could go have some of Mom’s lasagne.

But by the end of her phone call, I think she hung up on me. I don’t know if she realizes it, but her last words were, “well, excuse me for being alive.”

That stung.

I thought she would understand how much I was hurting. She lost her dad when she was 21.

I spent the day alphabetizing and organizing some cards I’ve been saving. It tools about six hours, while watching reruns of ER and drinking coconut rum and pina colada lemonade.

The teenager brought home sandwiches from Sheetz. Other than that my meals were Christmas cookies and potato chips.

I went to bed around 8:30 pm and woke at 4:15 a.m. I did my physical therapy cobra poses and went downstairs to have my coffee.

When I arrived at work, my body struggled with anxious feelings, trouble breathing, difficulty regulating body temperature. I was no longer sick, though the post nasal drip is still very real.

When we got to Freestyle— our assignment for the day— there was no work for us. So a bunch of us had to transfer to Freestyle Pick and go out into the warehouse to pick our own work. And although the Freestyle carts are 80 items instead of 40 like ordinary fixes, I had a great time. I always liked picking. I arrived back in Freestyle not first but not last.

And I got to see the warming sunrise through the warehouse windows.

My guess is that I performed at about 90% in Freestyle QC/ship.

And then, at the end of the day they asked me to go pick again! And despite my back hurting a bit on the right side, once again I had a great time. The Freestyle/Direct Buy cart took me 45 minutes. I imagine the goal is 40 minutes.

That motion drove the feeling of panic away.

And before I left, I grabbed some hard-boiled eggs to share with the dog. I had asked the teenager to grab some jarred vodka sauce at the grocery store when she was between clients and she one-upped me.

She went to George’s Pizzeria and bought their homemade vodka sauce. My favorite.

And our cat foster godmother, now the teenager’s client and the teenager’s boss at Apricity Pet Care, left her a bottle of wine to bring home to me.

While the teenager finished her afternoon shifts, I made spaghetti. I sautéed a chicken breast and heaps of fresh broccoli, kale and spinach. I mixed it all up with George’s vodka sauce.

We ate like queens.

And then as I cleaned up the leftovers and packed my remaining work lunches for this week (Mr. Accordion stopped by and brought me his scrumptious halupkis that I finished today), the dog grabbed my favorite cat by the scruff of his neck and starting running around the kitchen with him in her mouth.

The cat was fine. The dog just wanted to carry him.

I poured some wine and grabbed some cookies.

And that is my unChristmas update.

Perhaps it’s time for a recap

Perhaps the dog says it best…

It’s been a week since my dad died. And I’m exhausted. We’re all exhausted. I haven’t taken my allergy medicine in a week (finally did tonight) and my head feels congested. I hope I’m not sick.

In news not related to grief, I returned to work yesterday. In retrospect, this was both good and bad. I needed rest after all of this craziness and I didn’t get it.

The checks for the incorporation paperwork and fictitious name registration for Parisian Phoenix Publishing Company have been cashed.

Darrell Parry’s poetry manuscript, Twists: Gathered Ephemera, opened to presales yesterday. And Gayle has been hard at work with cover designs for Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money. And Joan and the residents of Plastiqueville have been hard at work with the illustrations for Trapped.

Khloe and Louise

Currently I am in bed, under the heat blanket with multiple cats on my lap.

My week has included some beautiful text messages, like one from the administrative assistant at ProJeCt, and heartfelt cards and so many flowers. Phone calls. And sympathy food! Offers of halupkis and coffee cake and delivery of alcoholic egg nog and rum cake.

I have gained back the weight I lost.

My work performance today was almost normal, but my emotional state was… what’s the word? Unstable?

I called my traveling companion and told him all my tales from the funeral— and he told me it sounded beautiful and that he thinks he would have liked my dad and wishes he could have met him.

And a couple times today I folded this sweater, the same style and color I was folding when I got the call.

My days are full of loss and laughter.

I built a little shrine. A place for my dad to have coffee. Because I anticipate that sometime soon I will feel his presence here.

My mother gave me the photo at the funeral. It was from 1975. The year I was born. Probably around the time they got married.

I lost more than I thought

I try so very hard to find something beautiful to say even in the midst of pain.

I try to be grateful.

I try to be humble.

I failed today.

And that’s okay, but it’s also not, but you can’t flog yourself over the past.

So you get stuck.

In the hurt.

We buried my father today. My rock. My daddy. I feel like he tried to temper my flaws, gave me confidence when I had none, and made me laugh when I thought the world was crumbling.

I didn’t attend the services. I arrived eight minutes late for the family viewing time and by the time I made it into the chapel…

I left and sat in my car.

A lot of people loved my dad. He made everyone feel like he was their best friend. He made everyone feel like part of the group.

And he wasn’t there to make me feel like I belonged.

I’m disappointed in myself because I can hear his voice in my head trying to smooth things over, and he hated when I get emotional.

I resurfaced at the diner, with “Smiley” (one of our favorite waitresses) bringing us pancakes and fried food.

My sister Dawn, the back of my brother’s head, and the teenager

Defining Friendship

Yes, this is another philosophical piece spurred by the death of my father. And it seems appropriate to use his passing as a reason to explore friendship, as the teenager says, because everywhere he went he made a friend.

One of my fellow crazy cat ladies brought me a matcha latte— having seen this social media post:

And several friends and in-laws have offered food or services (letting the dog out, making cookies trays or fried chicken for guests). I even have a sympathy sushi meal later today.

My college roommate, whom my dad called “Curly,” will be arriving from the Baltimore suburbs this afternoon.

Poppop couldn’t go anywhere without making a friend.

The teenager

So it makes me wonder— and remember— how many people gather around me in a crisis, even if I can’t always find someone for the everyday ups and downs.

Maybe the notion of friendship is not about how available someone is all the time, but who reaches out without prodding when you don’t even know how much you need it.

Nobody gives a sh*t, in a good way

I intended today’s post to be about my medical appointments, but grief and death have a way of sneaking into everything.

So, let me start this post by saying I’ve been released from physical therapy and let’s hope I do yoga and more weight training to improve more and free myself or even more pain.

I haven’t been to the gym in two weeks because first came the schedule change, then my trainer got sick and then my dad died.

My dad, visiting the teenager at her waitressing job

Today, my college roommate reached out to say she would drive up from Baltimore if I needed her. And I started to weep in the parking lot of physical therapy, because she and I have been extremely sporadic in our contact since we graduated. I never even told her when the teenager’s father and I split up.

I did finally tell her, but only after she sent a Christmas card.

So many people have been kind in the wake of my father’s death, but to have such an act of kindness offered just hit me hard.

And then, as I have often since we met with the funeral home, I checked for his obituary. This time, I found it.

Daddy’s Obituary

Now it could just be I’m grieving and therefore have a lower IQ than usual— I somehow got the dog’s bowls stuck together— but it is a little tricky to navigate the options on my phone to see the obituary.

And finally, my daughter looked at me this morning and said, “you know how you always say that my generation has an easier time with body acceptance… for me, that wasn’t social media or TikTok or anything, it was Poppop. He never said anything when I started gaining weight, and if I said something, he’d say, ‘Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.’”

And he’d know how to get those damn bowls unstuck.

Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.

Jim Ackerman, “Poppop on the Mountain.”

Joy and Sorrow

Since my father died yesterday… yesterday… (it feels like a lifetime ago and at the same time like maybe it didn’t happen at all), I thought it might be wise to keep today quiet.

I canceled my appointment at the gym, as I feel a little drained and shaky from all the emotion yesterday and I know I didn’t eat right.

I started to get dressed and ended up merely putting on a clean t-shirt with my fuzzy cat-in-the-hat pajama pants.

I read more memories people sent me— so many people knew my father. My mother stopped by. My neighbor stopped.

I started laundry. I did dishes. I got out the broom and swept for a while.

I found the pendant my father gave me, engraved with “my little girl yesterday, my friend today, my daughter always, I love you.” It’s on a silver chain that’s tarnished with age with my Celtic knot charm and my amber.

I mopped the kitchen floor. I answered texts and talked on the phone.

I ordered a case of Parisian Phoenix’s next title— Twists: Gathered Ephemera— a poetry manuscript by Darrell Parry, father of the teenager who has been, as always, very helpful and dependable.

I invited my blind friend Nan over for dinner, as she loves to watch me cook and I figured by feeding her I would, in turn, feed the teenager and I.

She accepted.

So while I waited for the teenager to return from school, I wrapped her Christmas presents. The teenager would also swing by Nan’s apartment building.

It was a ridiculously warm, sunny December day and I opened the windows so the cats could frolick.

And when Eva and Nan arrived, we brought Nan to the kitchen and I cooked pork loin, chicken burgers and pre-seasoned pulled chicken. While I cooked, the teenager opened her Christmas presents.

With the holidays fast approaching, and Yule is one of those holidays, I thought she might need some of the items I gave her. I also thought Nan might enjoy watching her open her presents. The teenager works a lot in coming weeks as people travel to see family. Today seemed calmer.

And I thought we could superimpose some joy onto our sorrow and grief.

I packed up leftovers for Nan to take home. Nan and I had soft tacos.

And after dinner, I poured Nan a County Seat Spirits whiskey and water while I had a Yuengling. And we celebrated with a drink in my dad’s honor.

And Nan always makes the teenager and I laugh.

And the neighbor that visited earlier, little dog’s mom, returned with the fanciest chocolate covered pretzels I ever saw. She made them at work and thought we could enjoy them with family after the viewing on Sunday.

Daddy, I promise to seek laughter and joy when I miss you.