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Secrets and Shame

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Dear Caroline, 

This letter is a long time coming. I’m still not sure whether I want to password protect it or not. I guess I’ll decide when I’m done, when I’ve said it. When I know how far I’ll take it. 

In keeping with the theme of today, vulnerability is weakness. However, a new friend informed me today that vulnerability can be a kind of love. The purest form. I’ve been ruminating over that all day. 

If to love you, purely and completely, is to expose myself, to show you the darkest parts of me, it will take time. I can’t let it all go at once. 

But I can start here. Start with a topic we’ve discussed before: my cutting. 

This is a difficult topic. It’s done in secret. It’s kept hidden from everyone, especially those closest to you. To bring it out in the light, to focus on it, hurts more than any razor I’ve ever used. 

You know that feeling you get on a roller coaster? When you get to the top of that first drop, after all the anticipation, and start the ride down? The way your stomach drops and you feel the adrenaline flood your system? How shaky you get after? 

I feel that way looking at a box of replacement blades for box cutters. 

I don’t remember when it started. I don’t remember how old I was or how I got the idea. I don’t remember what reason I used to justify it. 

I do remember that I started with my wrists. My veins are large there and very close to the surface. I remember thinking at later times that if I nicked it, even a little, there would be more blood than I could hide. I remember times where that wasn’t a factor. 

My wrists are still my favorite place to cut, though I haven’t touched them like that in at least 12 years. Not since the kids were old enough to ask questions. It’s hard to hide, especially in the summer. Bandages around my arms tend to make people ask too many questions. 

I quickly ended my love affair with my wrists and moved on to other places, but not without leaving hundreds of thin scars from the crook of my elbow to my bracelets of life. 

I tried to tattoo my left wrist, the one where there are more scars.  My tattoo artist, a very dear friend, wouldn’t tattoo there with veins so close to the surface. And not through the scar tissue that wouldn’t take the ink. 

MB and I got matching tattoos there, for reasons, though different, are two sides of the same coin. I wanted my snail there to remind me that when I was alone and thinking of cutting, my baby sister loved me more than a snail, our way of saying how much we mean to each other. Especially after Sharon’s suicide. Losing my big sister like that, knowing that they found her alone in a bathtub in a motel room, was too much. I drank a lot then. 

I think MB did it so that I would always look at her and know she has my back, even when we don’t talk much. Her way of saying that she understands, as much as she can, anyway. She was one of the first people to know and she kept my secret for many years. 

It didn’t take me long to find other places, easier to hide places. So began my love affair with my thighs. 

When I’d have hundreds of cuts in various stages of healing across both thighs, I’d have to find other places. Places people wouldn’t look: my breasts, my stomach, the tops of my feet. 

You know, 16 or 17 year old me thought that cutting in these places might slow people down. I remember one time in my 20s, when cuddling turned to something else. I remember his hands on me. I remember when he pushed the pajama pants I was wearing down, running his hands over the scars, scabs, and breaking some of the newer ones open, causing fresh bleeding. I remember wincing because it hurt. He could feel them under his palm, I know he could. He could see them. No mention was made, even when he put his hands directly on them to part my thighs. He didn’t even hesitate. 

You asked me once what was ever said about it. That I was in and out of relationships, they saw me naked. The answer is nothing. Nothing was ever said. 

 The fact that no one ever mentioned it lead me to two conclusions: the first, that they didn’t see anything, I was invisible or the second, that it didn’t matter.  The older I got, the more I believed the second. 

Kind of like being six or seven and laying in bed, trying to be quiet, hurting, and not understanding why my discomfort wasn’t obvious. Why that alone wasn’t enough to make it stop.

I figured it out eventually. No matter what pain I was in, my body was still perfectly good. Still perfectly usable. It wasn’t about me rather, it was about what I could do. How I could be used. 

No one mentioned it, the disfiguring marks, but it never stopped anyone. 

You asked what gets me to that point. The answer is anything. Everything. 

Cutting is a drug. A way of self-medicating. The science behind it is simple. It hurts. The body’s response to pain is to release endorphins. The problem is that like anything that releases endorphins, drugs, sex, tattooing, it becomes addictive. 

It starts at night, in a dark room, when you can’t sleep, when you’re going over things in your head over and over and you can’t see a way out. And it stays that way for a little while. Then you start looking for reasons to do it. Just like drugs, that’s a dangerous slope. 

If you can get away from it, the longer you go without, the more you realize what an unhealthy coping mechanism it is. The problem is that it only takes one slip to go back. One day you can’t handle, when all the memories come flooding back, one hot bath, to undo it all. 

Then it’s nothing to slide back. It’s comfortable. Like a warm blanket on a cold night. It’s safe and secure. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known to bring me back when I’m in my head like that. 

Until you. Until your touch. 

I’m not saying I’ve never relapsed since we’ve been together. I have and you know it. I’m in my 30s and I still struggle with it. But when you put your hands on them, on the cuts, you asked questions. You held me. You cried with me. 

I’m not saying I’ll never do it again. Never is a long time. But I know that you’ll be there with me. That you won’t keep my secret and be silent. You’ll make me understand how I got there. And I can finally let go of the shame. 

Thank you. 

Love, 

Stacy

P.S. I’ve decided not to password protect this letter for two reasons: 

One, because I want it out in the open. I don’t want to hide it. 

And two, because while I write these for you, I understand that other people read them. If anyone else reads it and understands what I’m talking about, I want them to know it’s okay. That they aren’t alone. 

Scars and Bruises

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Dear Caroline,

I tried to write you last night. I really wanted to. The urge to put words down, let them spill out, was too great. I tried. Everything I wrote made me sound crazy. Needy. Incapable of taking care of myself. I sounded weak and desperate. Hundreds of words that I erased. 

I wanted you to know but at the same time I couldn’t stand letting you see that. It was the emotional equivalent of being open, raw and bleeding, crying, naked in a corner for you to peer over with a magnifying glass. 

I tried but I couldn’t. I guess I still have work to do. 

I want to be there, with you. I want to not be afraid to show you all of my cuts and bruises. My scars. Hundreds of them. To be able to tell you the story behind each one. 

You’ve been so open and honest with me. About parts of yourself that you’ve never shared with anyone. You’re learning to be comfortable in your own skin. I don’t want to take credit for that, but I’m hoping that I helped in some small way. 

I hope my love gives you confidence. 

I want you to know that you do that for me also. You are the one who knows I’m not everything everyone thinks I am. That I appear confident and cool and collected, but that I am actually a hot mess filled with self loathing, doubt, and plagued by insecurities. 

It’s been hard getting here, showing you my shortcomings. I just don’t ever want to disappoint you. I’m afraid that if you see too much I’ll be too ugly and you’ll turn your head away in disgust and pity. 

I’ve been there before. I’ve picked myself up out of the dirt and walked on before. But you, oh my God, you could level me. Bring me to my knees so that I can’t ever walk again. 

And I couldn’t handle that. 

So I didn’t write you last night. I’m sorry. 

Love,

Stacy

Johnny and June

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Dear Caroline,

I heard that Johnny Cash once described his version of heaven as “This morning, with her, having coffee.” johnny and june

I want a love like Johnny and June.

Maybe we should get married on their anniversary. How do you feel about March 1st as a wedding date?

I feel like that everything we have been through, everything we have done has led us to this point.

There is a story that I read somewhere that there is a red string that ties soulmates together. The string may tangle, it may stretch or get knotted, but it cannot break.

It’s the only way I know how to how to describe our relationship over the years.

red stringIt tangled and knotted when I got married, it stretched to the breaking point when you left without saying goodbye and disappeared on a boat. But it never broke.

We may have been separated by miles, spouses, partners, and friends, but we were never so far away that we didn’t maintain contact. And you always found your way back to me. Oceans couldn’t keep us apart.

Do you ever wonder why?

I have done terrible things in my past. Things that I am ashamed of, things I wish I hadn’t. I know you have also.

So why am I here now, with the most beautiful, intelligent, kind, caring, generous, and hilarious woman in the world?  What did I do to deserve you?

The only thing I can come up with is our string.

It’s the only explanation for why this amazing creature loves me. Why she fights so hard to maintain communication, battles every day and wins over doubt, why she works so hard to love and support me.

It’s got to be the reason she doesn’t let them get to her when they say it won’t work. Why she keeps her head up. Why she’s comfortable in her own skin, doing things her own way.

It’s why you knew you could go to Seattle, isn’t it? Because you knew we would make it work. You knew our string wouldn’t break. 20160312_172331

You know, maybe I don’t want a love like Johnny and June.

I want a love like Caroline and Stacy.

Love,

Stacy

Imperfectly Perfect

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Dear Caroline,

Last night we stayed up late and talked so much.

We talked about why sex is important to us, about fantasies, about what we each get from it. What we give. Why.

I understand being afraid. I understand being overwhelmed by the idea of coming home, living together, waking up next to each other every morning and going to sleep next to each other every night.

Then you said something that broke my heart a little: you asked me what would happen when you screwed it up. Not if you screwed it up, but when. 

I couldn’t even catch my breath for a minute. Then the words came flooding out. I wanted to give you a synopsis of what was said to come back and read when you are afraid:

What will happen when we’ve made plans and have to cancel last minute because you have to work? 

Nothing, honey. I will laugh. Part of loving a chef is understanding that you are not a line cook. You are not a dishwasher. You are not a server. There isn’t anyone who can replace you. If you have to go, you have to go. You are passionate about what you do.  That’s one of the things I find so sexy about you. We will reschedule. If they don’t understand, that’s too bad. I do.

What about holidays? 

You work in a kitchen, babycakes. We’ll never have holidays together. Well, maybe Christmas, but never Christmas Eve. It means that Memorial Day through Labor Day I’ll know you’re alive because your checks direct deposit. I’ll know you’re alive because food will mysteriously disappear from the fridge and the hamper will mysteriously be full. I assume that I’ll stumble across your handwriting on the grocery list and know you’ve been home. Does that mean I’ll never be disappointed? No. I’m sure I will be at times. But I will understand.

What about anniversaries? 

Remember our first anniversary? When we made plans to go out, spend the first day of our second year together over dinner and drinks? I still don’t know what all you had planned. You told me to get pretty and wear something nice. I was getting my nails done when I got the text. Everyone called out. You worked six days a week and you were supposed to rest on the seventh, but you had to go.

I came and sat at the bar in ripped jeans and a tank top and waited for you. I had a drink. You clocked out for a few but didn’t want to leave the kids in the kitchen unattended, so you made me dinner there and brought it out to me. My favorite. Chicken Alfredo.

Remember how worried you were  I would be upset? That I would hold onto that and bring it up later, kick you when you were down, remind you that we couldn’t even spend our first anniversary together?

Do you remember what we did do? In case you don’t, here’s a rundown: Anniversary Dinner. It was perfect. The calendar is not the boss of us.

What about when you’re tired and sit for a second and pass out in the chair in the living room, never coming to bed? 

When you’re not in bed by the time you should be home, I’ll go looking for you. If I find you asleep in our chair, head back and snoring, shoes still on, I’ll take your shoes off for you. I’ll try to wake you up. If you’re so sleepy that you just can’t, I’ll get you a blanket and kiss your forehead.

I am so lucky that you work so hard that you can’t even get all the way in the house before passing out. I know you want to be in bed with me. If you aren’t, it isn’t a decision you willfully made. You sat down to take your shoes off and that was it. How could I be angry?

What about when you smell like food? 

Well, you’re a fantastic chef. I assume that means you would smell good. And I like the way your sweat tastes. Yum.

But if it makes you miserable, I’ll run you a bubble bath and sit on the side of the tub to wash your back. If you put your head in my lap, I’ll even wash your hair for you.

What about when you leave debris laying around? 

You mean your sixty-seven water glasses next to the bed? I’ll pick them up on my way through in the morning and put them in the sink. Then I’ll make sure you have a full one and your Claritin and ibuprofen are waiting next to it when you wake up.

If your clothes are in a pile next to the bed because you were too tired to put them in the hamper, I’ll shake Tallulah out of them and put them in the wash for you. You’ll need them again tomorrow anyway.

I don’t care how it happened before. That wasn’t me.

I love you for you. Every part of me loves every part of you.

I understand that you aren’t perfect. But you’re perfect for me. 

Love,

Stacy

The Difference You Make

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Dear Caroline,

Have I ever told you how I write you? Obviously, it’s via my phone or the computer in the living room when no one’s around. I mean, have I ever told you why I write you the things I write?

Sometimes it’s because of something I said that I wanted you to remember. Sometimes it’s because you’re busy and I still want to tell you all of these things. Sometimes I cut and paste text conversations. And sometimes it’s what I’d say to you if you were here.

Sometimes, like tonight, it’s just to inform you.

I’m home alone. I worked all day. Jenn is working, our children are with their father. It’s me and the dogs and Netflix.

I got up to make myself a cup of coffee after working online for a bit. I looked around at the house that needs to be dusted, vacuumed, painted, have carpet ripped up. I looked out the window to the yard that needs to be mowed, bushes that need to be trimmed, general maintenance that needs to be done.

Then it hit me.

The difference you make.

When you are home, there’s no laundry on our bed, waiting to be folded and put away. No tangled sheets where I’ve pushed and pulled them into a shape that resembles you on your side of the bed.

When you are home, there are no dishes in the sink to be washed, no empty dinner table. No trash to be taken out.

There’s no dog fur on the carpet, waiting for me to vacuum. No dust on the shelves and photo frames. My plants aren’t falling over, begging to be watered. My orchids bloom.

My legs are smooth, my gray hairs colored, my nails and toenails are painted perfectly when you are home. My makeup is flawless.

I don’t sit in the dark, watching episode after episode of some true crime show on Netflix. I don’t drink coffee by the gallon and Mountain Dew by the oceanful twenty ounces at a time. I don’t chain smoke.

We cook together, eat together, clean up together, take the dogs for a walk.

I look over at them now, stretched out on the floor and feel sorry for them. I know that you’ll call later and just hearing your voice on speakerphone is enough to get them up and moving. How excited they get just to hear you.

I can relate.

When you’re home, I wake up slowly and lay next to you, taking in the vision before me. The way the sun comes in our windows and plays on your face. I bounce out of bed. I water plants and cook and sing out loud.

When you’re gone it’s all I can do to claw my way out of the sheets and put my feet on the floor.

When you’re home we shower together, we take bubble baths together, we watch movies, listen to music, talk.

When you’re gone the idea of taking a shower is too much. I can’t stand a bath. I guess I still haven’t gotten over my near drowning experience. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I ignore phone calls and texts.

I just wanted you to know the difference you make in my life.

I know that it’s depression. I know that I am struggling. I also know that it won’t always be this way.

That’s how I get out of bed.

Love,

Stacy

Marriage

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Dear Caroline,

I feel like a failure when it comes to marriage. Like I’ve said before, my track record sucks. I’ve been married before, but I don’t remember ever being as excited about it, even on my wedding day, as I am about every day with you.

I love being with you.

I do worry that the little piece of paper will somehow change me back into the other person. The miserable, sad, depressed person. I’m trying to remember that I was unhappy with me and being in the situation, not marriage itself.

At the same time, I want to marry you, to tie you to me so that you can’t change your mind.

Not that being married ever makes changing your mind impossible.

Then I take a deep breath and remember how wonderful you are. How much you make me laugh. How you make me feel about myself. Like I can do anything, be anyone. How you make me feel sexy and wanted and desirable.

All I want is to hold on to that feeling, how you make me feel, for forever.
I know that’s circular and roundabout logic. I hope you can follow.

Being married to you is more to me than something to do, the next logical step, just because. It’s because I want to take care of you when you’re sick, make the hard decisions with you, laugh with you through the good times and cry with you through the bad. I want to bring you your ibuprofen and allergy medicine, cook meals for you, clean up the kitchen with you. I want to make love to you, sleep next to you, wake up beside you. Not just for a little while, but for the rest of my life.

And I do. I do want that receipt that says that I am yours. Because for me, it also means that you are mine.
Love,

Stacy

Right vs. Wrong

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Dear Caroline, 

I told you that I would write about my trip to Washington, what that was like for me, and I will. I am. There so much that it’s not a quick letter. There’s too much to include. 

Today I was thinking. 

It was a mom Sunday and that generally means having to answer for past decisions all over again. It means justifying you and I again and again or just not talking about us, our plans, at all. 

It sometimes means listening to how we won’t work, how it’s unfair to me, how it can’t ever be even, how you’re using me. No one ever says it in those words, of course, because that would be rude. We don’t do rude in the South. 

It means attending functions, cook outs, holidays and having to explain over and over again why you aren’t with me. 

It means hearing “Oh. I thought she’d be home by now.” 

One time it even meant almost having to give up our bed, give it back and sleep on the couch we don’t have, because it was given to me when they thought you were going to be home. 

Sometimes I feel like I am being punished for loving you. Not because you are working away from home, but because you are a woman. We have military in the family. We come from a long line of offshore fishermen who would be gone from home for weeks or more. I know it’s not the distance. It’s not the timeline. It feels like it’s punishment for not being married to a man. For not being able to push that part of me down. Not being able to hide it. 

I don’t remember ever being subjected to the same questions, the same looks, ever before. 

I feel like what they’re really asking me is are you sure? Are you really gay? You can’t be really gay. You’re doing this but it’s because she’s got you under some spell. Like with Tom. Just like that. This is a choice you are making, but it’s not really a thing. You think you love her, but it’s because you’ve just wrapped up divorce number two and you don’t want to follow in anyone’s footsteps. You know, you’ve always been one extreme or the other and this is no different. This is just the teenage rebellion you didn’t do in your teens hitting you in your thirties. 

That’s not what they’re saying, but it certainly is what I’m hearing. 

So I asked you if you thought it would be easier if we took a break. I know we’ve been through so much, been apart for two years, and now I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. 

I asked you for what I wanted. I wanted you. Even long distance. But was that fair? Did I deny you opportunities? Did you miss out on things because I am at home waiting? Did you miss the love of your life, something greater than what we share, some fairy tale romance because of me? 

Just because it was the right decision, the only decision for me, does that make it the right decision for you? 

I worry. 

Love, 

Stacy

Thank You

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Dear Caroline,

I know it’s been awhile. The move to Seattle really rocked my world. I’ve tried to write you a couple of times but it’s been so much, so overwhelming, that I end up not writing at all.

I miss you. I’ve missed you for so long.  It feels like it’s always been this way and sometimes I forget that it’s been two years. Like everything for us, it’s simultaneously always and just yesterday.

I can’t believe we just celebrated our third anniversary.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since my last Orlando trip, my birthday at Disney, since you gave me my ring.

I can’t believe you left for Washington almost six months ago. The distance is hard. The time zones harder.

I can’t believe I flew to the West Coast for the first time in my life. Or that I’ve seen mountains. Really really big mountains. Or that the trees are so different.

I can’t believe we drank almost that whole bottle of Jack.

Sometime I’m going to have to write you and tell you all about that trip. How amazing it was.

I’ve been thinking about you all day. Thinking about the next chapter. What it will be like to have you home. Really home. Home in a way we’ve never been home before. I’m scared. Terrified. And so very excited. Even if it’s only for a little while. I just want the opportunity.

Then I started thinking about where I would be without you. I know I tell you all the time that I would be lost without you, but I don’t know that I’ve ever really explained to you what that means. I’ll try.

Without you I would be contemplating suicide. I was so unhappy. Unhappy with where I was in my life, unhappy with myself. There were times that I would look in the mirror and cry because I wasn’t sure how I ended up here. How I ended up married to a man again, trying so hard to make it okay. To be anything other than what I am. To make others comfortable.

Without you I would still not enjoy sex. I would lay there, feeling awkward, exposed, and used. Even by my husband. I would cry quietly when it was over, hating myself for doing it, going through the motions, wondering why I couldn’t enjoy it like everyone else. Wondering what was wrong with me.

Without you I wouldn’t be comfortable in my skin. Or in heels and dresses. So many years of mistrust and lies and devastation. I would still be trying to find my place, unwilling to be the pretty, feminine girl in case I draw too much of the wrong attention. The kind where no doesn’t mean no and stop means keep trying because I’ll give in eventually to prove a point to myself and society.

You gave me my life. You helped me learn to enjoy the most intimate moments two people can share. You helped me find myself.

Every day I learn more about what I like.  Sometimes you ask me questions and I don’t know the answer because no one’s ever asked me.

How do you thank someone for that? How do I thank you for saving my life?

How do I thank you for walking out to the table? For your smile, that grin that makes me melt? For that dark, dark hair that makes my hands ache to be in it? How do I thank you for having those drinks, letting your guard down, for letting me pick you up and take you out?

How do I thank you for not pulling away, for letting me kiss you and turning both of our lives upside down?

I still haven’t found the answer. But I intend to start by sharing your name, taking care of you for the rest of your life, and loving you for the rest of mine.

Love,

Stacy