Worth

I used to feel weird when I’d curl up and hide

From the fear of the past, the horror inside.

To find a dark corner where no one could see

Where no one could find me and I could just be.

 

I never knew when they’d come along.

Would I be eating, talking or listening to a song?

Memories’d flash up in waves, that horrific past

Seconds to hours, I never knew how long they’d last.

 

It’s been three years since I’ve been swept away

Seeing the rot of humanity, smelling the stench of decay.

The memories are there, I can see them still

But their power has lessened, they only maim, not kill.

 

But courage and bravery,  and strength are no match

For the doubt, guilt and shame whose weight have attached

To the stigma of abuse and those who survive

Those women and children who make it out alive.

 

Because years later I still question God’s grace.

Am I good enough or do I have to earn my place?

But slowly I’m learning my worth is inside

Where good and bad have learned to live side by side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving

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They told her leaving him would show the world what she was–

a quitter

uncommitted

weak-willed

shallow

hysterical

illogical

a woman ruled by cowardice.

What they couldn’t understand was that walking away can be the bravest act of all. 

©Sara Ackerman, 2016

Behind Glass

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I stumbled out of bed, staggering sightlessly to the bathroom. The sting of bright  lights dispatched the lingering fog of Morpheus, and with great reluctance, I cracked open my eyes. Leaning over the sink, I stared into the mirror. Blood shot blue eyes stared back, and a riot of strawberry blond waves tumbled in disarray over slumped shoulders.

“You screamed again last night,” my  husband said, toweling off from his shower. I turned around, unsurprised to see him already awake and ready for the new day. He smiled, though worry bracketed his eyes and furrowed his brow. I jerked my head away and stared at the woman trapped in the glass, both of us searching for answers neither of us possessed.

Shaky fingers fluttered and rested on the slim column of sinew and skin,pressing on the wildly beating pulse found there. “Did I?” That question raised an awareness of a raw, previously unnoticed stinging. I swallowed, the convulsive gulp abrading the tender tissues with its nervous action.

“You don’t remember?” he asked. He pulled on his pants and shirt, the casualness of his question recalling to mind fragments of terror, of immobility and fear.

“There was someone by the bed,” I whispered and closed my eyes.  There was always someone by the bed or lurking in the corners, a dark shadow that was never far away. “He was going to kill me.”

“That’s what you said.” He ran a comb through his dark hair, his efficient movements cutting through the noise and chaos clouding my mind. Watching him, I matched my breathing to his.

Inhaling when he inhaled.

Exhaling when he exhaled.

My breathing calmed. The frantic pace of blood pumping through veins quieted until all I heard was a regular thub-thub.

Thub-thub.

Though fear wrapped me in a tight embrace clinging more tenaciously than a vine to a tree, I concentrated on that rhythm. For in its regularity, there was comfort. There was order.

“What happened after that?”

I didn’t want to know, not really, but I had to ask. Because it never stopped at screaming. There was always an after. He didn’t respond immediately, and guilt took root in my stomach, clawing its way up to my throat until fear and pain mingled, creating a dread more potent than the echo of agony I relived in my dreams.

“I didn’t lash out at you, did I?” That had happened before. Locked in a nightmare, unable to awaken, I had kicked, hit and punched my way through the horror that kept me rooted in the past.

He put away his comb and straightened his tie, smiling at me in the mirror. “No, nothing so awful as that.”

“Then what?”

“You cried and held my hand until sleep came again.”

Relief, when it came, was swift. “Oh, that’s progress.”

“I thought so.” He came to my side and wrapped an arm about my waist, enfolding me into the solid surety of his embrace before taking his leave.

At the door, he hesitated and asked, “Do you ever wonder why after all these years you are screaming now?”

I regarded the woman in the mirror, and her empty eyes stared back. I knew her life before. I knew the terror she felt waiting behind closed doors, hiding from the dark shadows. I knew the sting of pain as it lanced through her body when she had been discovered, tasted the blood in her mouth as she bit her lips to keep in the screams. I had heard her silent sobs and had watched as her attempts to fight back were silenced.

Yes, I knew why I screamed. I knew why a decade after leaving those dark memories behind  blood-curdling screams shattered the peace of my slumbering family. Trembling fingers reached out and touched the glass, and the woman in the mirror cried, quiet tears streaking down her cheeks.

“No one heard my cries before. Now everyone does.” I turned to look at my husband, but he had already gone, leaving me alone to stare at the wreckage of the woman before me.

Her pain, as it had so many times before, nearly crippled me and her burden was too heavy to bear this morning. A mantle of shame and defeat descended, a tangible reminder of the past which refused to die. Far too long it had marked me as different, depriving me of a normal existence where fear did not hold me in its iron grip. 

I could not stand to look at her one minute longer. I closed my eyes, but not before the woman in the mirror opened her mouth and screamed, her soundless cry trapped behind layers of metal and glass.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

Doors

Last night my husband and I sat down to go over preliminary plans of the new house we are building when we started talking about doors.  I have never given much thought to the doors in our current house–they are hinged, have a knob and open and close. But when my father, who is also our PM, told us new building code required the instillation of larger, handicap accessible exterior doors, I started to think about all the doors in my life, most specifically the doors at our current home.

There have been ten broken doors in our home, one broken door for every year we’ve lived there.  There was the year the winter was so bad the brand new, double-hung patio door we installed cracked and broke. That was a cold and expensive repair. Then the next winter our exterior storm door caught a strong northern wind and ripped it right off its hinges. One year our front door froze shut and all our guests had to enter and exit through our garage, and then the next year our garage door broke and we had to dig out our front door keys and enter and exit through that door.  (That wasn’t nearly as bad as the time we forgot both the garage door opener and our keys and had to break into our own home to get in. Worse yet, the time the baby was sleeping in the house and my husband went back to work, locking me and the eldest out on the deck. I had to walk barefooted to the neighbors and called him to come home and unlock the door).

But not all of our door problems have been bad. The first summer in our home, we took off the front door and painted it a beautiful burgundy.  It was hung and curing by nightfall. That night, the three of us– my husband, our eldest and I–slept out in the living room, the cool June breeze blowing through the screen as our front door dried.  Or there was the time I was showering and our youngest, almost eighteen months at that point, was knocking on the bathroom door yelling, “Mama, you in ‘dere?” over and over again. Knowing she couldn’t reach the knob to open it, I ignored her, that is until my husband opened the door and let her in. She was over to the shower and climbing into the tub–fully clothed–before I even knew she was in the room.

In the earlier days of our marriage, I admit my husband and I had our share of angry door slams, those loud growing pains any married couple experience as they attempt this thing called ‘communication’ and ‘co-habitation.’ At almost ten years of marriage, we have this communication thing down, and have enjoyed a quiet, ‘slamless’ existence for many years. Now it’s our daughter’s turn. I swear the minute she turned 13 this last December, a copy of “How to Piss off Your Parents in 10 Easy Steps: Lessons in Door Slamming, Sarcasm, Eye-Rolling and More!” miraculously appeared in her hand. The house is not as quiet anymore, though when she attempted to enact the “How to Make your Point by Locking the Door” lesson, she learned quickly what a room without a door was like.

There are also many more closed rooms at home these days with signs like, “keep out!” and “knock before entering!” adorning the exteriors. I liked it when the doors were closed because it hid a young, giggling six year old in a fun game of hide and seek. Those precious brown eyes peeking out from behind the door to see if mom had found her yet are not as common these days. Instead I receive petulant glares and reminders to knock.  Out of respect for their privacy, I do, and I always close their doors when I leave.

Artwork has metamorphosed my doors, as well. Where once my eldest hung pictures of broccoli trees, stick people and square houses there are now magnificent detailed portraits hanging on her closet door. Cute cartoon animals and comical, talking fruit are displayed there as well, a testament to my daughter’s creativity and her changing personality. Grade reports have replaced chore charts. Calendars of our families activities have taken the place of crayon drawings of our stick family. I still have some of those stick family pictures saved downstairs where I can see them, but they are not hung on the door anymore because they are ‘too embarrassing.’

Another door broke at home this week. The knob busted and when my youngest needed a band-aid, I couldn’t get the first aid kit. I brought one from downstairs and went back to work. When I finished, I found my husband trying to get the handle off, so I grabbed a screwdriver and helped. After unhinging the door and popping off the broken handle, only then did I notice the cut on his head.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The door hit my head when I popped off the hinges.”

“Sit down. I’ll get the first aid kit.”

And so I tended my husband’s cut and head wound, an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if the door hadn’t broken.

“I’m going to get you some Tylenol and an ice-pack.” To his skeptical look, I said, “This is me taking care of you.  I got this”

I understood why he was worried. Six months previous he had hit his head and was bleeding, and I was unable to help him because I was trapped in a debilitating and terrifying flashback. But time and a broken door allowed me to help my husband. It was a step, an opening in a door that has held me captive too long.

This new house is going to be different, though it will definitely have its share of doors, I am sure. New doors, broken doors, closed doors, slammed doors, plain doors, ‘knock only’ doors, fancy doors and ‘keep out’ doors, but I am ready to take each change in stride, ready to see what the future brings.

“So every door is a 36 inch door?” my father asked, bringing me back to the white plans and our new home.

“Yes, why not?” I said. “ Let’s leave our doors wide open. ”

 

Silent Sentinels

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Some might characterize me as being a little anal retentive. Those are the kind ones. The less kind ones might say that I border on the obsessive compulsive side. Just because my journals are color-coded and alphabetized by title and then sub-categorized by genre doesn’t mean I am obsessive. It just means I am organized. Meticulous. Precise.

All of my journals are organized like this except one. This one doesn’t follow my color scheme. Nor is it the same size as the others. It also lacks alphabetization and is not sub-categorized into any genre. It’s an old, fat, mint green journal whose lines are starting to fade. My dark journal, so called because it is the only journal that I go to when there are dark thoughts swimming in my head, is an outlier. It doesn’t belong with the rest of those neatly ordered journals that line the side of my bed. Nonetheless it sits beside the rest.

Because lurking inside the cover of that journal are pages and pages of poetry. Free verse spills across the spaces of once blank pages dancing into the margins. Uneven lines of thought bear testament to the upheaval of emotions, a snapshot of my life captured in ink with my pen acting as the conduit between thought and truth.

This poetry, so unlike my usual style of writing, is completely antithetical to the solid security of the sentence or the comforting structure of the paragraph that line the pages of my color-coded journals. There is no order to be found here, yet among the chaos of words flowing into words unchecked by such conformities as punctuation or line spacing, there is meaning.

And I remember.

I remember why I keep this odd little journal though it fits nowhere into my carefully ordered life of subjects, verbs, clauses and phrases. This journal with its cracked cover and yellowing pages is the one place where I can write for myself. Those other journals, as important as they are, are full of stories I tell for others, but this one is mine. With its hastily scribbled words and half-formed ideas, it shows the truth more clearly than any of my precisely written paragraphs ever could.

I am meticulous. Careful. Precise. Well-ordered, color-coded and alphabetized. Yet, when I need comfort or solace, I go to this journal, and invariably, I wind up finding myself.

Silent sentinels

Nights spent walking

Bare toes shuffling across floors bathed in the lights of

Street Lamps—I glide from room to room,

A shadow in the moonlight.

Unseeing eyes guide my steps as slowly

I wander

With listless hands

Moving, working, writing, washing

Unseen hands in the dark, I wander

In solitude.

No thoughts whirl behind closed eyes.

No worries beyond navigating the furniture

Those silent sentinels who stand guard

Over my silent flight.

Logic and the Creative Mind

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When I was in college, I remember taking a logic class as part of a requirement for my linguistics minor. Aside from my French Civics class that I took while living in France (given by the most boring little French man quite possibly in the world), it is the only other course in which I received less than a B.

Logical, I am not. There was this one theorem that my professor taught that went something like this:

A equals B but B does not necessarily equal A.

It made absolutely no sense to me. How could two things be equivalent but not? My professor tried explaining it to me. My husband has tried explaining it to me (using the example that all Jacuzzis are hot tubs but not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis). That made more sense than whatever my professor had been trying to get through to me. Finally, laboriously, a breakthrough came, that wonderful ‘aha’ moment when everything crystallizes into perfect clarity.

When I started writing I finally understood.

All writers are dreamers, but not all dreamers are writers.

A equals B but B does not necessarily equal A.

By their very nature, writers are dreamers. I firmly believe that. People who write have such a gift for elevating the ordinary to extraordinary and creating stories that inspire, excite, and provoke thought. It always amazes me how writers are able to take the same words that are available for everyone to use and arrange them in a certain way to make something completely unique and fresh. We all have the words at our disposal and there is no end to the amount of brilliant people in this world with novel ideas floating in their heads, so why doesn’t everyone writer?

That’s when I understood what my professor and my husband had been trying to tell me. You can be a dreamer and create elaborate stories in your head, but if you don’t write them down, can you call yourself an author? What about all those so-called writers who talk a big talk on Facebook or Twitter about ‘working on their novel’ but accomplish nothing? If they do not put their ideas on paper, then can they be called a writer?

Personally, I don’t think so, and it’s for this simple reason: it is intimidating to take that leap.

There is a certain amount of vulnerability that exists in taking that step from thinker to doer, from dreamer to writer. Putting words out for people to read is a lot like an open house–you never know who is going to come, what they are going to like or dislike or how they are going to leave the place when they are done. It’s daunting, which is why up until this year I was a dreamer, not a writer.

Since taking that step, though, I’ve come to realize something else about writing that has made it easier to open that door and let people in. While it’s true that writing allows for vulnerability, it also forges a powerful connection between writer and reader. Words have meaning and carry tremendous power. Knowing that my words have the potential to inspire, excite or provoke thought is enough to keep me going in spite of the possibility that those who come to my open house are going to trash the joint.

If you’re like me and you’ve spent much of your life as B does not necessarily equal A, make that leap of faith. Make A equal B and see your dreams become reality.