Saturday, July 30, 2011

Picking up my stuff

I went with Beverly to travel to Boca Raton, my hometown, to pick up my stuff yesterday.  I slept well on Thursday night knowing that I was finally coming to pick my stuff after a month living in the HOEF transition house.  I woke up feeling refreshed and happy at 5:30 on Friday morning and took a nice bath and got ready to go.  We left the house at 6:30 a.m., long before I am usually up in the morning.  We had a very long drive.  We first dropped Bev’s daughter Kristin off at the train station in North Miami so she could take the train to Jacksonville to go spend the weekend with her boyfriend, who is in the Coast Guard.  We dropped Kristin off around 8:15 a.m. and then began the long drive to Boca. 
We got to Boca around 9:30 a.m., and then I began loading my stuff into Gisell’s truck.  I am so glad that HOEF got me this big SUV to take my stuff because I had a lot more stuff than I realized.  Bev was not her usual self.  She was not feeling well, and throughout our hour-long drive there and back, Bev hardly spoke to me at all because she was in such terrible pain.  I am enormously grateful to Bev for making such a long, difficult drive when she was suffering so much.  I just hope she feels better soon.  Also thanks to Gisell for lending us her truck for this trip.
I called my grandma to let her know I was coming to pick up my stuff, and I was surprised and confused that she didn’t answer me.  Then I remembered why: my grandma and mother had traveled to Colorado to spend the week at my parents’ time share.  My mom was stunned when I told her I was leaving her, and one of her first questions was whether I was coming to Colorado with her.  I said no, and she was mad about having bought me the plane ticket to Colorado, but frankly I just didn’t care. 
I was relieved in a way that my grandma wasn’t home when I came to pick up my stuff because I was in no mood for any kind of confrontation with her. But when I got to my grandma’s house, I made a pleasantly surprising discovery.  My parents and grandma had packed my most important clothes into a suitcase.  They also left me a second empty suitcase which I didn’t end up taking.  Finally they packed up a nice black bag several smaller bags inside for me to put my stuff in.  My parents and grandma were unexpectedly helpful to me in this respect, and I am thankful to them for this unexpected kindness on their part.
I even thought of calling my mom to thank her, but I decided it against it.  In truth I am still carrying way too much rage and sorrow against my family of origin to be able to have a rational, logical conversation with them where I could treat them fairly.  I remember my stomach churning once we reached Boca because I was flooded with horrendous memories of abuse from my whole childhood.  I also cringed as we passed my high school, a Christian school where I was subjected to four years of intense shunning and bullying at the hands of both my classmates and administration that has left me scarred for life. 
I felt a twinge of terror and grief pass over me as we passed the country club where my parents live now and where I spent my teenage years from December, 1988, until I went to college.  I was overwhelmed with sickening memories of so much horrendous abuse at the hands of my parents that I found it hard to concentrate on anything at all.  I was so glad that I didn’t have to go to my parents’ house to pick up any stuff there because I knew the experience would have been way too terrifying for me to handle at this point.  Just driving past the gilded prison of my teenage years was enough to make me feel sick to my stomach.  I have an enormous book collection containing about 3 or 4 book cases, but I have no space for the books now and no need for them either.

I spent around 2 hours loading my stuff into the truck, and unfortunately I was forced to work without any air conditioner because my grandma’s air conditioner was not working.  I took grandma’s cart down, and I brought my essential clothes first.  Then I brought my printer in the cart, and then I brought  my computer.  After that it was around 4 more trips for my books – and just one trip to bring out my remaining clothes.  I was relieved and happy to leave my grandma’s house around 11:30 a.m. before my dad left work at noon so I had no chance of running into him on the road.  I picked up two medications at Walgreens and then Bev drove me home.
We got back to the house around 1:40 p.m. after the drive back, and then Cheryl, Rachel, and Rachel’s daughters helped me bring my stuff up the stairs.  Upon discovering that the air conditioning was not working upstairs, I decided to remain downstairs.  I was so tired from the labor of getting my stuff with no air conditioner that I collapsed on the couch for about an hour.  Then I decided to set up my computer downstairs so that I could access the Internet for the first time in 23 days.  It was a thrill for me to finally have Internet access again.  I was able to begin reconnecting with people who had grown worried about me, including one of my Russian history professors. 
I discovered my Haitian-American friend Mike from FAU was looking for a job and promised to help him with his search.  I told him he should look for opportunities in marketing analysis including areas like segment marketing, target marketing, and diversity marketing.  I thought his analytical skills were most suited to sales and marketing and not to math or finance, and he thanked me for my job advice.  Mike has been a great friend to me at FAU, and when I confided to him that I was being abused, he was appalled by my parents’ and grandma’s behavior and totally supportive of my decision to leave my abusers behind. 
Later that day I called my friend Samantha on the phone.  She sobbed to me in despair about her life and explained to me how she felt abandoned by her children and bullied by her neighbors in Century Village.  Samantha is a youthful woman in her 60’s who dresses in an unconventional and sexy fashion, and the World War II generation residents who dominate Century Village treat her with contempt and disdain because they feel threatened and uncomfortable with her dress.   Unfortunately, they judge her harshly and unfairly based on her physical appearance without bothering to get to know her as the lovely, artistic person that she is. Samantha is also scared to death of needles and that’s why she’s frightened of having surgery to remove a skin cancer.  I will try to call her again Sunday to let her know she’s not alone and wish her good strength on the surgery on Monday.
I called my Iraqi friend Mohammed, and he amazed me with the support he offered me.  He told me that he was very worried about me because I had stopped talking on the Internet for 23 days.  He pointed out how he gave me his phone number and asked me to call him weeks ago, and I said the problem was I had no Internet access for all that times, so I had no way of even finding his phone number.   He told me that I should not hesitate to ask him if I needed anything at all, and he said to me,”My house is your house.”  He also offered to help me with my job search and invited me to come visit him in Washington, D.C. anytime.  I also told him he should definitely come see me if he comes to the Miami area but said I couldn’t reveal my location to protect the safety of the abused women and young girls staying here.  He also wanted to read my abuse survivor’s blog.
I was frankly overwhelmed and stunned by his kindness toward me.  I am not used to people treating me with such amazing kindness because I am unfortunately used to people brutalizing, terrorizing, and abandoning me.  I think it will take me time to learn that I am a valuable person who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and that I can actually trust people.  My capacity for trusting others is very low because I have been so brutally and frequently betrayed by others with such terrifying regularity.  Thank you Mohammed for your support.  It frankly means the world to me.
Also while I was in the car today driving to Miami with Bev, Julia told me great news.  She said that the mother of the woman who is coming shortly to stay with us along with her 4 year old son and infant daughter knows the people involved in a project at the University of Miami to combat domestic violence among Hispanics.  I can’t wait to talk to Julia about working with her and the people at the University of Miami who are planning programs to challenge domestic violence among Hispanics.  My fluency in Spanish and familiarity and comfort with Latin American culture will enable me to make a real solid contribution to this effort.  I hope our combined efforts can help challenge the rigid gender roles and macho cultural assumptions which are responsible for an epidemic of domestic violence among the large Hispanic community in Miami.  I also hope that together we can help save the lives of brutalized Hispanic women and children.   
I would like to go get something to eat, but my ankles hurt so much that I can barely walk up and down the stairs.  So I will finish this piece, publish and share it, and then get something to eat.  I was so happy that I finally have my Hebrew prayer book with me as it was the first Friday night that I was able to celebrate with my prayerbook.  Before this I was stuck mainly just lighting the candles and then reading a little Jewish ethical tractate of the Mishnah called Pirkei Avot, or Sayings of Our Fathers.  So I was actually able to say my prayers this Friday night, and I was able to sing the beautiful melodies for Kabbalat Shabbat that Jews use to welcome the Sabbath.  I felt an indescribable sense of peace from being able to finally sing Lecha Dodi, the highlight of Kabbalat Shabbat.
I also shared a nice Friday night dinner with Rachel and her daughters, and we had a lovely time together.  Rachel said a prayer to Jesus in accordance with her Christian beliefs, and then I added some Hebrew prayers.  Rachel taught her daughters how to play two games: telephone and going to the store.  During telephone, Rachel and her daughters kept praising themselves for their beauty while playing telephone, and I told Rachel and her daughters how my mother used to call me her Shainamaidele, the Yiddish word for ‘beautiful little girl.”  Rachel was moved by this revelation.  Rachel and the kids also told me how grateful they felt that I have come into their lives.  I feel the same way about Rachel and her daughters.  Later on Tink and CC insisted on making a wish before I blew out the Friday night candles. 
One of Rachel’s daughters began to focus excessively on which clothes she was going to wear.  So I took her aside and told her that when I left my grandmother’s house, I had also left behind over $4,000 worth of fancy skirt and pants suits, including 2 gray suits, 1 red one, one with a leopard print, one brown, 2 royal blue, and 2 navy blue.  I had so many suits I can’t even remember them all, and I told the kids that what  matters is not what you wear but what’s inside you.  I added that I know Kristin and Shannon love fashion, and there is nothing wrong with having nice clothes.  The problem occurs when you begin to define your identity and self-worth with what you wear.  I added that I brought some beautiful skirts with me, and Tink asked me what color they were.  I told her I had a light pink and white skirt with a light pink top – and a multi-colored skirt with a hot pink top.
I guess I began to hate fancy clothes because I associated them with my abusive parents.  They revealed their distorted priorities by spending thousands of dollars to buy me fancy clothes of all kinds while also refusing to pay for my psychological counseling, psychiatrist, and health insurance. They cared about how I looked to the outside world and what public image I presented to the shallow, fashion-obsessed Boca society, not about how shattered I felt inside.       
I had planned to go to sleep early because I had such an exhausting day, but when I came upstairs and saw all the bags in my room,  I knew I had to unpack.  And so I reluctantly unpacked on Friday night, and then I went downstairs to fix myself a macaroni and cheese snack around 12:40 a.m.  Unfortunately, I inadvertently spilled water everywhere because we have a beautiful fountain and my plastic bags ended up under the fountain by accident.  I tried to wake up Bev, the residential director, to help me, but I was unable to wake her.  I woke up Rachel instead, and she helped me clean up the mess I created.  Bev told me the next day that I should have woken her up instead of Rachel because it is her job to handle little emergencies like this.  She told me to knock harder next time to wake her up in another such case, and I promised to do so. 
Late last night when I tried to go to sleep, I started vomiting intensely.  I threw up the mac and cheese snack that I had most recently eaten.  And I was flooded with tears as I began to face the flashbacks to the abuse I had suffered.  The visit to my grandma’s house and the drive by my high school and my parents’ house had been traumatic for me as it re-opened the wounds of my pain and suffering from the abuse at the hands of my parents, grandmother, and peers.  It was frightening for me to experience such intense feelings and to cry softly in the middle of the night.  I was afraid of crying too loudly because I didn’t want to wake anyone else up. 
But I fell back to sleep feeling grateful once again to the wonderful people at HOEF who have given me a second chance at life: to the residential director Beverly and her daughter for their hard work in running this transition house, to Rachel and Cheryl and Rachel’s daughters for their support, and to Julia, Gisel, and Marie for taking me into this house and making me feel loved and appreciated for the first time in my life.  I am feeling transformed day by day, hour by hour, into the free Jewish woman that I was always meant to be.  I am happier and more grateful to everyone than words can possibly say because you all have transformed my life for the better in a dramatic way in a very short time.  I look forward to going onward and upward in my journey toward personal healing and liberation and toward helping others at this house and beyond to overcome their own histories of abuse, pain, and trauma.     

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