Everything about my father was massive—callused, weathered hands from years of hard labor and broad shoulders squaring his 6’ 3” frame. He squeezed me as he shook me, and if he gripped any tighter I knew I’d snap in half. Trapped in my toy store sleeping bag, I went silent and still, my eyes forced wide open and staring straight at him. His face suddenly paled, the shaking stopped, and he placed me gently onto the floor. He walked out of the room, into the shadows of the hallway, outside.
Inside, I waged a silent war. If I got too angry, I’d be institutionalized; one doctor had threatened, twice, to send me to a psych ward during one of my ER visits. But, if I was too calm, no one would take me seriously. If I wanted help, I had to develop a new personality.
So I wrote a new character: I was an innocent bystander held captive by my body that was, in turn, possessed by a mysterious force. I had to separate myself from my symptoms and prove I was of sound mind.
But I couldn’t convince the doctors of my undiagnosable pain. Their diagnosis was consistent across the board: I was having a nervous breakdown.
Like many modern romances, my relationship with feminism began online. In the beginning, I followed outspoken women on Twitter, retweeting what I most related to. Then, I moved to Facebook, copying and pasting poignant snippets of shared articles into my captions. When a debate ensued on a friend’s status, I was quick to tap like on the comments I agreed with, occasionally offering my own, often uninformed, opinions. On Instagram, I carefully crafted posts with regurgitated rhetoric I didn’t fully understand, but I used all the right hashtags.
I never imagined myself as Dad’s Girlfriend. Before dating John* those words immediately conjured up either a very beautiful or very ugly woman with nasty plans: Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother, The Parent Trap’s greedy Meredith Blake, the Evil Queen in Snow White … and me? Uh, no. I was the free spirit, the girl who worked in coffee shops, turned her car into a camper, and slept on couches and in national parks. I was career-oriented, nomadic, and serially single. I never thought I’d fall in love with a dad.
I was twenty-five the night Cameron proposed, and within hours, the sheer velocity with which the world had rushed to weigh in on the event left me depleted. It felt as if the front doors of our carefully crafted inner lives had been flung open. News travels faster than I’d imagined, and friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers inserted themselves in our story to pore over every detail and offer unsolicited opinions. Some reached out to share well-wishes; others wondered why they’d had to learn about it through the grapevine.
The week before I met my husband I saw a psychic who asked me about the auburn-haired man in my life, the one with a “J” name. No one fit the bill, but one week later, I met him at a party.
What the psychic didn’t tell me was that my future husband would be married when I met him. I never thought that I would fall in love with someone who I used to consider a friend, let alone the husband of a friend.
I saw things in my past relationships that I’d never seen before. I realized men had claimed a subtle ownership over me. It was an unspoken transaction, a power dynamic that discreetly entitled them to my compliance and affection, an undercurrent that I don’t think any of us perceived at the time. In defying social norms, I’d actually just been reinforcing them.
I thought moving back home would resolve my indecision. But as I continue to run, no matter where my feet land, I’m still here. For the first time in my life things aren’t happening in planned succession; the next thing doesn’t feel proximate. As a child I hurried into being a grown-up. Now I feel less like the adult I’ve always been and more like the child I never was.
They say practice makes perfect. I used to take that approach to my relationship with my dad, thinking that if I kept showing up, over and over again, eventually it would get better and that time would heal all things. It didn’t work. It bred more of the same. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.
In that final stretch up the mountain, with two backpacks strapped onto either side of me, all talking stopped; I needed to conserve breath. What have I gotten myself into? My cute hoodie was drenched in sweat; my makeup, smeared, looked more like warpaint. I didn’t know the path or its length, and there was certainly no wine bar at the top. There was not much I could control other than my attitude. I focused on the small act of putting one foot in front of the other.
Her family treated me like one of their own. It was Sandra’s mother who put me on birth control, and Sandra’s cousins who invited me to their weddings and graduations. I vacationed and celebrated holidays with them. Her family was there for me in ways my family couldn’t be.
We had to kiss. I saw it heading toward me like a comet, an inevitable atmospheric rupture. Something big was coming. All I could do was wait. Tarek started out as a friend. He was
Most days, I wonder how we got to this point. Shouldn’t we be married by now? Our friends are thinking about having kids and planning their futures together. I’m thinking about what to say that might save us.
Relationships. They slam you against a wall, knock the floor out from underneath you, and often make you feel like you’re going to throw up.
A house of two alcoholics and not much social interaction had brought me here. What was normal in our home, the slurred words, was exposed to the outside world for the first time.
It was a platonic love, more special even than kinship or sisterhood. We weren’t born tethered to each other; we chose to be.
Two weeks later I experienced what I can only describe as a nervous collapse. My body shook uncontrollably; I was trembling and cold and terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me. I recalled waking up alone in an empty apartment as a two year old, crying uncontrollably and searching for my mother in the building’s hallways. Something was terribly wrong with me. I was sure I was dying.
Is sex consensual if one person participates but doesn’t feel safe and secure?
Financial anxiety, extremely high rent prices, and a (un)healthy dose of limiting beliefs around money did not make for breezy conversations in which to plan and manage our finances. The word “money” came with a load of shame and a lot of fear.
He cried. He cried so much. He wasn’t gaining weight as he should have been. He spit up all the time, sometimes in a long projectile. I breastfeed and bottle fed and nothing soothed him for long. Soon his knees were at his chest and he would start crying again.
I knew something was wrong. I knew in my gut, as a mother knows. Any time I brought up my concerns people told me that babies cry and babies spit up. I was brushed off and ignored. No one knew that I was drowning. That I would daydream about taking him back to the hospital. How I wished I could put him on my doorstep so a neighbor would take care of him just so I could get a break.