you & me

When Love Is Real And When It’s Not.

“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

For more years than I choose to reveal, I was a hostage. The arrangements were unusual.
I could come and go, only if I had an explicit plan. I was told what to do, where to go and how to do — even the simplest of things — the proper way.

I confused this agreement as love.

Shame and self-doubt whittled away my self-worth. I conceded into a more submissive role than usual. I cowered and withdrew, stuffing my quiet and yet full personality into a tiny blue jar — all within a larger glass cage.

Hard to believe now, I wasn’t fully aware of my circumstances, but it’s true: I wanted to believe my life was a beautiful fairytale.

And as with all fairytales, there’s a moral to the story. This is mine.

I sat along a narrow shelf day and night only to pop open my lid whenever needed. I orchestrated a nearly seamless routine: The kids bathed and fed. We played games and read. The house tidy and complete. The garden was my extension cord of freedom and a calm place to retreat.

All seemed idyllic in a stale vanilla wafer sort of way.

But it wasn’t. It was toxic. Stealthy poison ivy grew. Rules crept to the ceiling and vines came out of every orifice. We developed hives and rashes and breathing was difficult too. We were allergic to living in a controlled and manipulated environment.

With a swish of my pen, I wrote a heart-rending inventory and query. Is this the life I wanted to lead? Is this it? My heart squeezed into a tiny glass jar. I continued to ache. Even the air I breathed was musty and heavy. What could I do to shake free from this dreaded fate? Things had to change.

As any caring and knowledgeable gardener knows, I needed to prune back the deadwood as well as the overgrowth. I started in the middle with a gentle snip-snip, but the tenacious tentacles didn’t flinch.

Oh, she’s full of crap and will return to her meek ways,” laughed the Giant Oaf, as I struggled to rearrange a small setting of furniture.

Defeated ever so slightly, I waited for the Beast to leave on an extended conquest. I bought a hatchet and began to chop… at the roots of my entanglement. Sweating profusely and feeling alive, I kept going from one room to the next.

My first liberating success, I tenderly painted a set of walls, blushing sunset pink.

The Beast returned stunned and furious. I crept into my jar only for a bit. The walls shook. The windows bellowed. The rage eventually passed like the rise and fall of a stormy sea. The children hid beneath my flowery skirt. In reality, I wore an exclusive set of black and blue sweats — more familiar and comforting while under a curse of confinement.

I continued my own quest, and each week I found ways to express my creative heart wings. I continued in my journal and wrote my deepest thoughts. I sketched flowers and even lifted an old set of watercolors from their dusty tomb.

While the children ate bite-sized morsels, I wrote and painted. They began to do so as well. The house turned into a teaching-learning-art-filled-wonderland. In the early days of budding freedom, I put tape on the walls and even pushpins.

I thought now, this is living. I have found my niche. It’ll be okay. I congratulated my timid inner lioness heart, who appropriately stretched and yawned in a patient sort of way.

The Giant Oaf roared and laughed. Taunted and teased. Hurtful words catapulted at my glass-like heart. I only wanted to feel a heartbeat.

“You, creative? You can barely do a thing! Stop with your daydreams. More flowers, but why? It is so disorganized. You must control your gardening lust! Rearrange your life, not your plants.”

The point of the rant was always the same, what was in it for him? Not us. Not we. But the words, “Rearrange your life, not your plants,” haunted me.

With newfound strength, I asked and shared. I still wanted a connection. You see, I believed this was love.

Please tell me, what is it that will make you happy and complete? Why do you want more and more? Why do you want to conquer, belittle and control those you say you adore? Share with me your fears. I promise I will keep them safe. Your shallow ways are killing this space.

My one-sided conversations left me alone with my wallflower-likeness. My journal became my companion. We had many lovely and intimate dates. I continued to put more words into feelings and faced a heart-rending fact: I was living a nightmare (reality and illusions are intricately weaved).

My stomach ached. My chest hurt. Headaches wrapped unbearable pressure and trickled into my joints. I heard a continuous stream of confusing mixed messages; negative and flip-flop. Lifeless and forlorn. This chipped away steadily at my primal core. I couldn’t digest this life much more.

Some days and even weeks, there was a sickening warm superficial splash of kindness thrown in to keep in me in a loop-de-loop of perpetual confusion. The lies and manipulations, were cunning and drizzled with a pristine filtered charm.

The superiority and didactic intellectualized homage left me dizzy and doubtful — which later I discovered was a dual-edged sword; it kept me trapped and yet it would teach me so much more.

For years, I had been indoctrinated to see things through the most drabbest of taupe-colored glasses. I burped politely and tasted bile; I no longer wanted my perceptions tainted. My view was tilted and I was speechless to see, I needed to leave.

Fortunately, my jar wasn’t shatterproof and I finally listened to my own steady roar, “Get the fuck out!” My teeth rattled and my bones did an outstanding encore.

I tipped the contents of what was left onto an imaginary deep blue carpeted seafloor. I scrapped myself up, brushing tiny pieces of sand and seashells. I wore a crown of sea stars and ribbons of seaweed. I had taken the biggest step to rescue me.

Springing forward from those tumultuous years, I’m learning the rhythm of what best suits me. For not too long ago in another land, the tears I wept in darkness were really a battle cry to break free. And now the windows are open and draped with transparency. Color is returning to the prism of life.

It is here that I am listening to what I need.

Intuition is activated. My soul can breathe. I am finding the truth in the opposite of what I heard and believed. I’m still tested by those who slip into my inner circle, but I see quicker and walk away from unhealthy ways.

And on days when I’m shaky, I must stand before my mirror and repeat:

I am strong. I am wise. I am intelligent. I am free. No one can take that away from me.

And she lives happily, knowing love, living and kindness are as expansive as the sky and deep as the blue sea.


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Carolyn Riker
Carolyn Riker, M.A., LMHC, is a counselor, teacher, writer and poet. She currently writes for several online journals such as Women’s Spiritual Poetry blog and formerly Elephant Journal. A collection of her work is on her blog, Magic of Stardust and Words. Her poetry and prose have been featured in three books. Between sips of coffee and navigating life via the stars and moon, Carolyn leads journal-writing workshops and has a private counseling practice. Additionally, she’s in the process of completing her first collection of poetry and prose, available in the fall of 2016. Followed with a bit of magic, there's a children’s book too.
Carolyn Riker
Carolyn Riker

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