Men & Lemon-Falls
Walking through my generous kitchen tonight, I tripped over a rogue lemon wedge my eyes failed to see and fell like a ton of bricks onto the hard floor. Upon standing and limping my way to the chair, both girls came running up to give hugs and make sure I was to survive. My oldest darted off to retrieve a bandage from their doctor kit to wrap around it. My youngest rubbed some Neosporin on it because, well, doesn’t Neosporin help everything? Finally, I discharged myself from the Johnson Family Clinic and started preparing supper. As I limped (literally) to the kitchen, cautiously eyeing my floor for any more surprises, my littlest one said, “I’m sorry you fell Mama but you fall pretty.”
I probably would not have written a post about this except that it was a perfect ending to an otherwise disturbing e-mail communication I’d received at the start of the day. The e-mail came from a reader, one who has read all of my books. I want to point out that I don’t think of my readers as readers or fans (though I may occasionally refer to them as such to tickle my ego): no, I think of them as friends. And not just any friends but cherished ones. They have invested their valuable time reading my words and entering the world of my characters. That is humbling, the idea that my stories are thought of as worthy of time, and I deeply appreciate them all.
This reader has a history similar to my own–but is handling the past markedly differently than me. She is quite angry. Her e-mail message was twenty-three and a half sentences; eighteen of them expressed a prodigious dislike and distrust of men. They were compared to rats in one and given unfriendly names on others. What bothered me almost as much was the fact that her tone suggested that I shared her sentiments. Since my past includes some of the same tragedies as so many others, I would, by default, see all men as evil, untrustworthy beasts out to ensure my ultimate demise. Pretty much, that was what she implied.
I reply to every e-mail readers send to me. Usually, quickly. But I didn’t know what to say in response to this one. It deeply saddened and troubled me. On the one hand, the men she was talking about…. Abuse doesn’t just hurt a child; it scars them, forever changes key parts of their character. Abuse at any age alters a person but when it is done to a child, it’s kind of like parts of that child’s growth get stunted; important parts like trust and security, as well as appropriate intimacy reactions, fail to develop—sometimes at all. It is evil; it is not only wrong but thoughtless and cruel. Tiny things that shouldn’t bother me at all, do. Sometimes, I can’t fall asleep unless there’s a bathroom light on, not even twenty-six years removed from danger. Sometimes, a man can say the simplest thing to me and, within seconds, my whole body turns to stone and my mind… just goes away. No matter what logic tells me, sometimes emotion takes control. I spent so many years trapped that sometimes I think part of me still is.
On the one hand, I completely understand my reader’s justifiable anger and resentment. To tell you the truth, there have been times when I’ve been hurt or frustrated or disappointed and thought to myself such things as: “All men want is sex. Nothing else” and even: “It’s like they are a bunch of adolescent boys…they’re all the same.”
I understand the idea of getting angry because so much was taken from you–more than just virginity. So, I get it.
Maybe I’m still stuck in Denial because I’ve never felt angry. It seems like anger takes too much energy. This reader’s e-mail was emblazoned with passion—she’s clearly fighting hard. The question is… for what? Not to be melodramatic but what’s gone is gone, it cannot ever be regained. Is it justice? Is that what she’s fighting for? Legally, it’s almost certain legal justice will not happen but, even if it did, then what? When he’s arrested and put behind bars—what’s gone would still be gone. It wouldn’t change the way my body shakes involuntarily after being touched intimately. It wouldn’t erase the nightmares; it wouldn’t free the trapped, hurt little girl I see in my soul. Justice wouldn’t give peace. At least, not to me.
Moses and Aaron were about to face Pharaoh; I’m sure they were certain they were committing suicide by showing up in his palace with such a bold and powerful request….and then threat. But, before they went, God gave Moses a promise in Exodus 14:14 saying, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
I watched violent fights between my parents and between my extended family members throughout my entire childhood. My mom’s foot got ran over, a rock was thrown through our car windshield, people were cut… And awful names were shouted by people we loved and at people we loved. Chaos surrounded us….and crept inside until we lived by holding our breath while waiting for the other shoe to drop on our heads. Touch isn’t always a gentle or loving thing: it can shout “I hate you” and “you mean nothing” even more loudly than it can promise forever. Anger is the house in which Fear resides; in order to damage another human being in such a monumental way and create fear, one has to be angry at someone or something. I don’t want to live in the same house as either fear nor anger. Instead, I choose to be still and leave retribution and justice up to the Most Just, the One who knows the heart and can best suit the punishment with the crime. I can’t fight evil. Instead, all I can do is be still.
Breathe in, breathe out. Look around at the world and see what it is instead of what Fear has taught me. The truth is, some of the most gentle and amazing people I have ever met have been men. A disc jockey named Hoss used to talk to me over the phone; he invited me to the station and took a picture with me. A teacher took the time to see me and offer a hug. A homeless man touched my life by showing me what real joy looks like. Men have been the ones to make me feel the most beautiful. And sometimes they care enough to wrap their strong arms around me in a safe hug that asks for nothing. I think of the men in my church… my uncle Tony, my pastor, my oldest daughter’s Sunday School teacher, a friend who stops in periodically to chat.
Once, when I was around eleven, I guess, my mom took us to her dad’s house. Grandpa wasn’t around until I was probably nine or ten. We never truly knew him. But he was always super kind to us. Then, this one time, my mom’s step- brother, T, was there. We had never met T before. But I never forgot him after that one meeting. Not because he hurt us– but because he was so unbearably tender and kind to us. Before we left that night, we were attached emotionally to a man we wouldn’t ever see again simply because he was so perfectly wonderful to us.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in my book “The Character” is when Ash, a man Anna trusts and loves and who loves my young Anna back, stands behind her, trying to teach her to fly a kite. For a moment, hurting Anna’s mind freezes and she’s caged in the memory of being held down. His voice fades away until all she wants is space between herself and this man who is world’s apart from her attacker but who nonetheless resembles him in size and strength. Ash finally notices the frozen look of fear etched on Anna’s face; he steps back, then kneels in front of her. “Anna,” he says gently. “Anna, I would never, not ever…” But she shakes her head, stops him from finishing his sentence. She doesn’t want the evil to mess up the innocence and sweetness of their friendship. It is heartbreaking. But, in the end, Ash’s presence helps her triumph over the abuse. She’s still scarred, still has areas where she’s vulnerable, and a part of her is always on the lookout, always wary… But she doesn’t shut herself off from the world, she doesn’t become so bitter that she effectively blocks not only the harmful but the good. By categorizing all men as potential threats, my reader runs a real risk of overlooking potential blessings.
Tonight, when I fell, my daughter said: “I’m sorry you fell Mama. But you fall pretty.” A chord struck my heart. Yes, as a survivor, I’ve fallen into a deep pit. I could throw a fit, yell about what he did and spit at the uselessness of all males in general. But I don’t have the energy that requires. Life overall would be too terrifying to voluntarily endure if I allowed myself to believe that evil’s winning the classic fight between the forces. It is easier to believe in the decency of mankind. Some may say it’s an illusion. Some may even say it’s an out and out fantasy. That’s okay, though. I’ll just “be still” and cling to the hope God’s sending me through the good guys in my life. I’ll “fall pretty” again and again by choosing optimism over despair and friends over enemies. I’ll “fall pretty” by using the fall to steady others—and to remind myself of how lucky I am to stand.
A few years ago, I had heart surgery and they, in essence, patched a hole tests found. The patch keeps air bubbles that could cause a stroke or a heart attack from hurting me. But under the patch, the hole is still there. I receive regular IV iron and so my arms are regularly bruised; sometimes, I bump them and they throb. I’ve got a few scars too. A hole in my heart. I get the pain. I know it’s hard to handle, and sometimes it feels like that patch is being ripped off. Sometimes it’s easier to channel the ache into a scream instead of having to feel it. But falling and then kicking and screaming about it doesn’t help … Not me and not anyone else. Using the pain to tell others allows real healing because it shines a light on the fact that, no matter what he said, it wasn’t our fault and, no matter what it felt like, we weren’t alone. We’re silenced no more; our stories matter because they have the power to help heal–ourselves and others we don ‘t even know.
I’m thankful to the men I know who dedicate their lives to living honorably, and to treating children and women with respect and care. The comfort and security and joy you bring just by caring … It helps me stand; thank you.