The New Normal

At Thanksgiving I had pulled a name for my Christmas gift (there are too many of us to give everyone a gift) that I wasn´t familiar with, it was someone about twice removed, and a boyfriend of that someone to boot. I knew where he lived, what his interests were, through heresay and so I bought him a gift card to a very popular hunting supply shop.

He was hugely impressed, it seems.

I told him I know how the town is and what the favorite pastime is there, having lived there myself for a year or so and he kept smiling at me and struck a weird posture. I stood there, trying to figure out what was going on and then I worked out  that he was trying to hug me, in that respectful sort of sideways style that young men would give older women. I was stunned, really, though I complied without much hesitation.

A few years ago I would have been beaten bloody for that. I wouldn´t have been able to walk for at least a week. I am sure it would have been worse than all the beatings I had endured before, because there was no provocation, no justification for any of them. I never looked at anyone, spoke to anyone unless it was a basic politeness, or went anywhere unless it was to obtain food or education for the children. Every beating I had suffered was because my ex had made up a story about me in his head, a fantasy of my imagined guilt. An excuse to hurt me, to punish me, for being in his life and being a package deal with his children when he had found someone he liked better- who knew nothing about us, his family. He would beat me, but he could not separate from me, because he had no reason to. I was doing nothing wrong, and his cultural norms taught him that a man had to take care of his chaste wife forever. So this would have thrown my ex over the edge, for sure- to touch a man, and a man I did not really know, at that. It probably would have been the excuse he was looking for, the excuse to kill me, in the name of his honor.

The intention of this young man was not bad. He meant to show appreciation. He is young enough to be my son, and he was being respectful per his cultural norms. Hugging is part of American mainstream culture, and it is becoming more common rather than less. But even without taking all that into account, it is not something that deserves a beating, or an unkind word, or even a sharp look. Showing affection, even between those who are unrelated, is a good thing. It is human, it is humane.

Today I was, after short work weeks and multiple days off due to the holiday, relaxed. I was relaxed, completely. I played with my children, for hours, and in the house, not out in the parks like we do in the summer. They sang songs for me and we got silly and I was truly enjoying them, not telling them I hadn´t time or that I had to do this or that. I had actually done all the cleaning I could. I was with them, in that moment, clapping in time to their songs and laughing with them.

It was one of few moments I have experienced where I have no symptoms at all of PTSD. It gives me a sense of freedom, of hope, and it is always bittersweet, because if I were so at all moments, all of the time, I know my children would heal better and faster than they have.

I spent the first eighteen months after we left feeling as if we were still there. I was afraid to smile in public, could barely speak, and I never laughed. I feel so sorry for that time. My children did not have it easy, either. We were all still trapped back there. I have been trying to talk about it, what happened to us, for years, but failing. The last few months I have not been trying at all and I feel better than ever. Supposedly I have PTSD because I did not process my trauma- that is the definition of PTSD. The first year after we left I did not even remember what it was like before, my mind would not recall anything of any abuse or any memory involving my ex, but my body remembered. I was always back there, always terrified, hushing the children from habit, so we would not be punished for the noise. I don´t want to remember. I don´t want to go over it with anyone, even my therapist. I want to continue to move away from it.

I want to continue to have these moments without fear. Not being afraid to receive a hug from a relative, no matter how removed, and not afraid to laugh with my children in my home. I love the feeling of being unafraid. I love it. It lets me show my children how much I love them, it lets me be myself. It allows me so much room to grow.