I look up from the shirt I am folding and notice that it is 3:20 PM, time for my children, Zoe and Liam to be walking home from school.
Just then my phone rings, “Daddy,” Zoe asks, “can I go to Annabelle’s house to play?”
“Sure, is Liam going with you?” I asked.
“Yes, he can play with Andrew.”
“Ok then, just be safe. You are safe there right?”
“Yes, Daddy, It's safe.” She immediately hung up the phone before I could enquire any further.
I really do think she gets tired of me asking if she is safe. Liam hasn’t caught on just yet, but I think, just like Zoe, he will get tired of me asking if he is safe sooner or later. I placed the phone back down on its charger and took a deep breath.
“Fuck, I hope they are safe,” I muttered to myself. I’ve only met the dad once for a few moments last week and I was so triggered I couldn't form any coherent thoughts.
I went back to folding laundry and watching my favorite movie, “Zombie Stoner.” The actions of AFB were weighing heavy upon me and it was all I could do to focus on a stupid movie with no discernible plot or dialogue. I had to trust my daughter's word that she felt safe at her friends house and that no harm would come to her or her brother. I had to allow my children to be children, to play and laugh, to make mistakes and learn in a safe environment. I chose to trust, even though my instincts were to lock my children in the basement so no one could get at them. I chuckled at the sight as some poor zombie boyfriend gets his brains blown out into a pool of pink and brown pudding on the floor.
Later that evening, as is our annual Christmas Holiday tradition, the four of us would gather together to watch the Star Wars movies in succession together. We were watching my favorite episode, Episode Four “A New Hope.”
The movie played and I was in familial bliss beneath a pile of bodies. All of us on the same couch, Amy’s head rested on my left shoulder, Zoe sitting on my chest, Liam on my left arm, and finally the dog at my feet. I thought to myself that life really couldn't get any better. An epic lightsaber battle raged on the screen in front of me. I was lost in thought thinking about all of those times in the past when I was raging against the feelings of vulnerability and loss. Things broke so easily back then--jumping and screaming, anger ripping through my body and flooding out to those around me pushing them all away so they would not hurt me. I thought about that week in the suicide ward, how things became so desperate that I truly was on the brink of ending my life. I remembered the dream of the three tornadoes after which I chose to allow AFB to live. I remembered the words of my wife from not-so long ago, “Joel, the children are afraid of you. They don't know what daddy they are going to get from one moment to the next. Stop holding me emotionally hostage! I am walking on eggshells around you. I don't know what is going to set you off from one moment to the next!” I remembered thinking that because of this uncontrollable rage I was better off alone, and that in order to protect my family from anymore damage caused by me, that I should leave them.
Then I looked at this glorious scene around me . . . Star Wars, Amy, Zoe, Liam, and the stupid dog. I was warm and comfortable on my old ragged couch. The children felt safe enough to snuggle in close. My wife was …… was she snoring? My wife was safe and asleep. It was worth it. The rage, the pain, the work. All of the work. EMDR, support groups, writing, blogging, meditation, the week in the hospital. It was all worth it to get to this point . . . beneath this pile of bodies watching Star Wars.
Christmas Eve I conceded to attend the candlelight communion at the church near our home. It was what the children wanted, it was what the wife wanted. I wanted to try again, to reclaim that part of my youth that was so important to me at the time, going to church on Sundays. Over the past five years I had made multiple attempts at church services and each time AFB was right alongside me, whispering in my ear, “You wanted this,” or singing about the deer panting for the water. I even felt him touching me on the left shoulder flashing me back to the times he would bend me over his desk and I would read his sermon notes.
This time I wanted to be strong; I wanted to be brave. I wanted to prove to my family that CSA did not control me. I had the tools to conquer PTSD, to prove to myself that I was whole.
We got into the car and the first thing that came into my head, “ This is happening.”
At the stop sign, “Churches are NOT safe.”
At the stoplight, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee. . . . . .”
Accelerating to 45 miles per hour, “Churches are not safe.”
The next stoplight, “This is happening. You wanted this. Clean that up. See? You liked it.”
“Not safe, not safe, Churches are not safe!” My mind was racing out of control. “Not safe, not safe, Churches are not safe!!!!”
Until, finally, we drove into the church parking lot. I took a few deep cleansing breaths. I tried to remind myself that It was 2015 and I was not being abused at this moment. I got out of the car and walked with pseudo confidence toward the church building where a Christmas carol was playing from the loudspeakers placed in the open window on the second floor. I walked up to the door, shook the greeters hand and stepped inside.
Panic hit me like never before and never since. I wasn't safe. This was not the place for me. I immediately turned around on my heels and fled. I ran at full speed toward the car. I couldn't get away fast enough. I got inside and locked the door. I told Amy that I would be back to pick her up and I drove away. The next hour and half was spent grounding myself, breathing, reminding myself that it was not happening right now.
Amy was not upset with me. The kids didn’t really understand, but they weren’t mad at me either. I felt like they should be as upset and disappointed as I was for not being able to conquer my fears. I wanted this for my family--for myself. The car ride home was a blur because I couldn’t focus on anything but staying on the road. I don’t even remember what Amy or the kids said on the way home.
After we put the children to bed, I told her what was happening to me during that time and told her that I was very sorry. That night when we went to bed, I turned out the light and she plopped her head on my chest. I knew right then that everything was going to be ok. The weight of her anchored me to the now. One by one my kids came into my room and crawled in bed with me. The body count was getting bigger and I knew I was safe again in their love.