I approach 5 years sober and pause, ponder, shake my head. No. Surely not that long. Count again.
I steady my hand, open my eyes wide- scary glaring wide- and make a near perfect O with my mouth, then slowly swipe mascara along my upper lashes taking care not to look too closely, too clearly. Don’t focus on the bigger picture.
My own face startles me. Scares me. Only in the last decade or so have I started looking others square in the eye. Until then it was a safe spot midway between nose and brow, a place so closely safe, a place where they couldn’t notice my fear, my trembling cowardice by their gaze. A place free from intimidation. A place where I couldn’t see inside them, nor they inside me.
I still can’t look at me. Still can’t take my own gaze. And the bigger picture, the whole of me- no. My reflection comes in fits and bursts, a puzzle piece here, a recognition there. Teeth to be cleaned, hair to be brushed, eyes made up by mere lashes. I recognize me in carefully partitioned parcels of some bigger landscape too overwhelming to take in. Should I see the vastness of ugliness that made me, that is me, I just may buckle.
So I don’t look.
I count back, double check my dates, twist the brush between my fingers and move to the lower lashes. Yes, five years. It surely is.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I wasn’t always afraid. There was a time early on when my separation was unknown, unrealized. I’d have been naïve had I not been too young. But back then my normal was the only normal there was. I knew no different.
But the phone rang. That call came in the still of night when I should have been sleeping but instead I read some fiction (probably Little House) under the covers with a flashlight and my knees propping a tent of light around me. That old rotary rang out sharp and shrill and startled me into switching off the light in my hand and feigning sleep til Grandma’s voice grew from a whisper of words I thought I heard and understood into a scream sharper than that old rotary, shrill in their insistence saying, “No. No. You gave her away. She’s mine. You can’t have her back. You can’t have her. No.” Then Grandpa’s there. He’s talking too, soothing Grandma. I hear the phone settle back in its cradle then Grandma’s in my room. Then Grandma’s in my room and on my bed. Then she’s on me and crying, crying, grabbing me, grasping and pulling and clinging me to her and squeezing me so hard and heaving sobbing telling me not to worry. Telling me I’m going no where and there it was. There was something shrill and startling falling over me.
Morning came and I went to school. I went where books and stories and hop-scotch and double-dutch and kids and Mr. Niles brought normal back But somewhere between History and recess I noticed something new, something different. Something I’d never noticed before. I heard the kids say “mom” and I heard them say “dad” and I saw the difference, saw my normal wasn’t their normal. I noticed their looks when I said “Grandma” and when I said “Grandpa”. I saw them wonder and heard them ask and I felt my own confusion so I stuttered out some story I once believed, something I then realized was Laura’s story, Laura’s and Ma and Pa’s from the Little House in the Big Woods and then I felt shame, shame for my stupidity. Shame for my lies so I began to fear the kids and their questions. I began to fear the differences I was starting to see. I feared all I started to see.
A day came when I did say “dad” because he wanted me and there was nothing Grandma and Grandpa could do and I was fine with that. I was fine and happy with this new thing, fine and happy with a normal more like everyone else so off I went, Grandma crying on the porch. But dad wasn’t “Pa” and home wasn’t in the Big Woods and there was no “Ma”, just me and him and a bottle of Jack and a heavy hand. But there I was and there was no rewinding so I tried to watch my voice, my words, the set of my face and the pace of my step and all the little things that make up a body. And I dusted and vacuumed and did the dishes and taught myself to cook and all the little things that make up a house. And I studied hard and got good grades and made the honor roll and all the little things that make up a good girl. But his mood was heavier than his hand and it was never enough so I learned to read me so I could read him, learned to gauge the thickness of the air around me, the tension pulling at my skin, the sudden start and jerking stop of my heart. The Fear.
But there was still school and by then I didn’t care so much about saying “dad” but it didn’t matter because they took me away and straight to the station where I stood near naked while they took pictures and asked questions and I was afraid. Afraid to tell them, afraid not to. They told me I’d have a new home and they took me there, but something changed me in those homes with those girls hard as my father’s hand. Something changed me somewhere along the way and I got harder than they pretended to be and I lost my own self and they called me sick. I got sick and I didn’t care and there I was one day spread near naked on a table like some burnt offering, ankles and wrists strapped down, peeing in a dish. And for the first time I feared me. And I feared the stark white walls in that room my only company. Feared the reality that no one came. Feared the me who was all there was.
But I grew up and got out and met a man and we married and had babies. Before long my shadow showed, my old companion returned and I feared the husband leaving, feared what I was doing to those boys so I left first. I left and found another man and Fear kept at me, clawed at my shins. I could feel Fear’s thick stench down my neck so I got stronger and braver by a bottle of Jack and it worked for a while, a short while, but then Fear found me again hiding in the haze. It brought me back to my normal that wasn’t anyone’s normal so I dug in my heels and drank more, determined to beat Fear. I moved out on my own, blaming the man and the kids and the childhood and the father. Moved out convinced it was a matter of me over the world but then I woke to stark white walls my only company and feared the only Fear left. Me.
The Fear. Always the Fear and it came to me: the prowler was in me. The stalker was me. All this time I’d been blaming, running, hiding, changing, fixing; it was all for naught. Futile. Quicksand. I was stuck and sinking in me. How am I? Who am I? Am I acting right, looking right, saying right? Am I feigning normal properly, adequately? What if I don’t? What if I’m not? What if?
But. What. If.
And I grew so weary of the heft of my history, the weight of the baggage I lugged, the me I couldn’t stand to be let alone look at. I grew so weary and forlorn I drank myself oblivious to all that I was afraid of, drank myself to a slow death free from Fear. Free from me.
But something overpowered Fear. There inside was something greater, something stronger, something clinging to life. My life.
And Hope compelled me to cry out to the God I’d only read about, only heard of, the God who only lived in Normal. My last lingering Hope sprang up and fought back Fear and called out to that God so elusive and unfamiliar, called out begging Him to find some worth in me, some worth worth saving.
And that God who is Hope, who was and is God and who is Hope replied. He answered.
He saved me.
God who is Hope saved me from the booze. Saved me from me. Right there. Right then. Just that quick.
Some call that a miracle.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I stick the mascara wand back into the tube, pull it out and switch hands, aim for the other eye, my mouth a ridiculous open O. Five years. I pause. Ponder this. I catch a glimpse of me looking back at me and cringe. Look down into the sink below me. If only He’d wipe away all things just that quick. If only He’d take the heft of history from our shoulders, the bags we lug along.
I lift the wand and my eyes back to the mirror and there I am again: a nose too big and bumped, a lopsided chin, a chipped tooth. High, wide forehead and cheekbones chiseled too sharply. And there are those eyes, eyes just like Grandpa’s. Just like dad’s. Eyes that hold all that history.
There I am staring back at me and I take it all in, look full at that girl looking at me.
And there it is, in that moment, the fifth year since His saving grace: I can see me. I can. I see me. And in the looking I realize something’s different. Something’s changed. There is something gone and I have to pause. Ponder. Look deeper.
There fear is gone.
The fear of seeing me. The fear of being me. The fear of me. The fear is gone.
I stand there and take a long look and as I realize I’m no longer afraid of me or this world or anything or anyone in it my knees buckle. I drop the mascara into the sink and sit myself on the edge of the toilet as the enormity of this realization fills me.
And I weep. I weep from surprise. I weep from relief. And I weep from gratitude.
I don’t know where or when during the last five years that fear left me. I can’t tell you when it happened. It wasn’t like the addiction; here one moment and gone the next. It wasn’t a sudden divine intervention, a sudden saving. But it was Divine. It was a saving none the less.
Sometimes it’s a slow saving. I’m finding most often it is a slow saving. Like finding Fear gone. God who is Hope makes a slow work of us. Slow. Steady. Continuous. So slow we don’t even notice. Til one day we look in the mirror brave and bold and full. And Fear-less, the heft of our history merely a reflection.
in God I trust and am not afraid, What can man do to me?
(Psalm 56:11 NIV)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV)
…and the truth will set you free.
(John 8:32 NIV)