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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

MIRROR MIRROR

Forewords:

The following story is true. I am a psychotherapist and the woman whose story you will read exists. She is somewhat older now but continues to be one of my personal heroes. Her children are now grown and her life is still exciting. The funniest thing . . . she is the person who told me I should write a book six years before I did so. When I finally did write a book-length manuscript, I wrote one that was partly about her her life. The names are changed but the real person behind the character hopefully knows that she will always be my beacon, my muse and my icon. She is one of the few people I have met who can fulfill all those roles and still have time and energy to lead a whole and special life. Wherever you are, God bless you.

What makes this magazine story worthy of an introduction is the fact that it was excerpted from a 75 page chapter of a book, modified (censored) to fit a conservative audience and sold as a separate entity to the magazine in the credits. The lesson is: No writing is done until there is no more audience for it.

At the moment, I am going over discards from my two previous books and finmding that much of the work has relevance in the manuscript I am presently working on. Thank goodness that computer disks last forever -- well long enough for my purposes. My only regret is that I have hundreds of 5.5 disks from the early years of computers and whatever is on them is lost. I hope that I am a far better writer 25 years later and haven't lost anything significant. I know they have all of my newspaper articles but I have all of them in hard, albeit yellowing, hardcopy. The best of them are sealed in plastic and bound in a journal. Maybe someday, someone will find them and read them.

Sometimes, I am amazed that someone paid for many of my words. I would write for the sheer joy of it. It is good to be valued for something. This is a world that is more rejecting than accepting. Celebrity isn't based upon accomplishment any longer, rather, it is based upon how good you look when you are doing whatever you do. If I have a chopice for the words that will be etched upon my tombstone some day, it would be: "He wrote as if his hair was on fire."

MIRROR, MIRROR

by: Milton Trachtenburg (copyright 1988)
Published in this form in Triumph over Tragedy Magazine, May, 1997.

Condensed from: Stop the Merry-Go-Round: Stories of Women who Broke the Cycle of Abusive Relationships, HSI/Tab Books, Inc., A Division of McGraw-Hill. 1988
Reprinted with permission of the author (all rights reverted).

Marianne sat alone on her bed, her legs crossed and her hands folded in her lap. Like its occupant, the room was delicate and orderly. The curtains were frilly and ivory colored, trimmed in gold. The furniture was simple, yet showed that the owner knew quality. Upon the dresser was an 8 x 10 portrait of a handsome young couple, smiling at two small children, but the room now displayed only the possessions of a woman. Marianne stared at her image in the mirror and saw pain, fear and hopelessness. "It's over. Why don't I feel better?" she asked herself.

Marianne continued staring at her reflection. "It keeps me sane to deal with what I'm feeling, it helps." She looked deeply into the sad, blue eyes and watched the tense yet delicate face in the mirror. As she began to talk to the mirror, the angry face of her husband Dan glared back at her rather than her own reflection.

Sometimes, I can't figure out how it came to this, Dan. We started out with so much love and so much hope. Even now, after all that you did to destroy what we had, I still do love you, you know.

When did it all go wrong? I remember when we first met. Oh, did you put moves on me and I pretended I couldn't care less. Maybe I pretended because I was so impressed by you. Nobody ever said the things you did - and meant them. I was flattered out of my mind when you told me how much you loved me. Nobody ever told me they loved me. Sure, they said the words, but next thing you knew they were all over me. Everybody wanted me, but I never felt that anybody really loved me.

I was really cautious about guys. I remember my first date; I was just a sophomore. You remember Eddie Hughes? He thought he was the world's greatest lover - at least that's what he told everybody! The first time he asked me out, he tried to paw me at the movies and I smacked him in the face. The next day in school doesn't he tell everybody in the sophomore class he got in my pants? I was more hurt than angry. What's the sense in keeping a good reputation if you're going to be ruined anyway? I think I cried for two days after that. In those days, I cried a lot. Back then, I still knew how to cry.

Sometimes I think that if I had grown up in a healthy home, my life would be so
different now. Maybe you looked so great to me because I never had anyone who really cared about me. My parents loved me in their own way, but both of them were drunk so often that I never knew who it was coming through the door. Like I used to say, "Tonight it might be elves or it might be giants!"

Dan, even when I was a little kid, I knew I was different. You sensed that too, didn't you? At least when you were sober enough to see me as I was rather than the way you wanted me to be. God, sometimes, I really lost me. I tried so hard to be the perfect wife you said you wanted. I knew a long time ago that something was wrong with our marriage, but I thought it was me. That's what mom and dad were always telling me and I got so used to hearing it, I truly believed it. I'd complain, "Dan is always so mean to me," and mom would tell me, "Well, just do a better job of taking care of him and maybe he won't have so much reason to be angry!" All that time, there was a little voice inside my head telling me, "Hey, Irish, the whole army is out of step. You really are ok." For the longest time, I didn't listen to my voice. Too many people like you and mom and dad were telling me I was wrong.

I remember when I was sixteen. All I wanted to do was get out of my parents' home. You know what kept me sane? I had a teacher who could see me as I really was, not as the child who covered up for her parents drinking and abuse. How many days I went to school so beaten up that I could hardly make it through the day. And I always sat there with that smile frozen on my face. I was loyal, though. No way would I ever tell what went on. After all, I came from a good home! My father was a vice president of a big corporation and my mom was head of the ladies auxiliary at our church. And you know me, with my smilin' Irish eyes, right, Dan? I had them all fooled - all fooled. All except Mr. Laffer, my English teacher. What a perfect name. He was always cheerful. He took a special interest in me. He always had an extra word of praise for my compositions. It's funny, my stories always told the truth - but about a make believe person, but not about me. Part of me wanted somebody to see what was going on, but I was taught to be loyal and not give away the family secrets. Mr. Laffer told me I should give serious consideration to becoming a writer. Those were his words, "serious consideration." When he said that to me, I wanted to die and go to heaven. I wanted to tell him all I was doing was making up stories because mine was so painful.

I remember the day Mr. Laffer asked me to come to his room after school. I thought for sure I must have done something terrible. All I could hear was mom's voice screaming at me, "Marianne, get the hell in here. Where the hell are you, you irresponsible bitch?" "What does he want? What did I do?" I was so frightened, my legs were shaking and I thought I was going to wet my pants right in front of him.

When I got to Mr. Laffer's room, he told me to sit down. I couldn't look at him. "Marianne," he said, ever so gently, "I just wanted to let you know that I care, and if you need somebody to talk to, you can always come to me." I felt myself crying and I couldn't stop. For a crazy moment, I almost felt like telling him what was going on. I was so afraid that he would tell somebody, somehow I stopped myself. But at least for that instant, I believed that I was a real person and somebody cared about me. I think that one moment of somebody really caring was what gave me the courage to walk out of my parent's home the day I graduated from high school. I got my own place and said I would never look back. I went out with my teeth clenched and my body shaking like a leaf. That first week, I cried myself to sleep every night.

Dan, you were the first person I really trusted. I could talk to you when we started going out. You talked about your crazy home and drunken, violent father and I talked about mine. We were more than going together. I felt like we were best friends, and we were, then, weren't we? You know that before I met you, I never let anyone into my life. I was the girl who helped everybody else and I was so strong I needed no one for myself. I never let a guy touch me before you and I even made you wait a year. I loved it when you said you would wait forever for me. It let me know I was important and you respected me. After hearing my parents accusing me of being a slut from the time I was twelve, I needed someone who really respected me.

I was so scared the first time we made love. I was nineteen years old and still a virgin. My friend Bridget told me that if I didn't use it soon, it was going to have to be bronzed and sent to a museum. It wasn't because I was a goody-goody. I was so afraid if I let anybody that close to me, I would fall apart and tell them everything. You already knew me and I felt safe with you. Anyway, if love was what my parents had, who needed it?

You and I were so in love I was willing to overlook your little flaws, like the drugs, and the fact that you never could hold down a job. It was ok, I had a good job. Good? For age 19, I was really moving. I was manager over 14 people and they had great plans for me, so we had no financial worries - until I got pregnant, anyway. I would have been mortified if I'd gotten pregnant with anybody else. With you, I knew it would be all right. We wanted to wait another year to get married, but, hey, Dan and Marianne, we were a team, right?

What happened, Dan? It changed almost overnight. We didn't talk any more. Was it marriage? Was it too much responsibility? I spent five years making up excuses for you and trying to help you. I suppose after what I went through as a kid, I was prepared for tough times. I sure was prepared to raise kids. After all, I got my younger brothers and sisters dumped on me from when I was 8 years old. Mom wouldn't be feeling too good, as she would say, and it was "Marianne get the hell in here and watch your brothers and sisters!" Sometimes, I thought that they were my kids, not hers.

I handled it all, and still tried to be a good wife. When your anger started turning to violence, I worked twice as hard to please you. I figured I must be doing something wrong for you to be so upset with me that you'd hit me. I was well trained to play that role, wasn't I? I tried to do everything just the way you said you liked it. I'd throw out perfectly good dinners because I was afraid something wasn't cooked just perfect. I'd clean over and over so the house would be spotless. But, you always found something wrong, didn't you? I hadn't learned yet that you needed some excuse - any excuse - for your anger and violence.

Then, last year, I knew something was terribly wrong with me. I remember, I looked in the mirror and there was nobody there. Instead of being scared, I felt that it was the way it was supposed to be. I was dead inside anyway. It was the morning after the night you banged my head against the wall. I think it started with you telling me to get your supper on the table and I had the baby in my arms and didn't move fast enough to suit you. While you were screaming and ramming my head into the wall, I was standing outside myself watching it all happen, and the craziest thing - I was rooting for you to finish the job. "C'mon, Danny," I screamed. "You're gonna have to hit her a hell of a lot harder than that to finish her off. C'mon kid, you can do it! This is one thing you can succeed at." While it was happening, I didn't feel anything. At that moment, I truly believed it was my destiny to be beaten to death. My parents trained me for the job and you were put in my life to finish it. The crazy thing was, even while it was happening, I still loved you.

After it was over and you went out to get even drunker, I was standing there in the bathroom, naked, dripping wet from the shower, and I wasn't there. I remember walking into the kitchen and picking up a knife and just staring at it. I don't know how long I just stood there, naked and dripping all over your perfect kitchen floor which you were always telling me was never clean enough for you. I don't know what I wanted to do with the knife. I believed I was already dead, so I guess I really didn't want to kill myself. Maybe I wanted to cut myself to prove that I was dead. I wanted it to end. I couldn't take any more.

"Mommy, you're all naked and dripping,!'" "What?" I said. Jeffy was standing there with his eyes opened wider than saucers. "Naked and dripping?" I said. I started laughing and crying. I just sat on the floor and took my baby in my arms and rocked him. I must have scared him out of his wits.

Dan, at that moment, I was reborn. I didn't know what I was supposed to do or how I would go about doing it, but I realized I had some value to somebody. I had the kids and right at that moment, Jeffy was as wet as I had been and very real. And Krissy was crying for her milk.

Dan, it took months of therapy for me to reach the point where I am tonight. I
learned a whole lot about me and about life, and I realize there's still more for me to accomplish before I really feel whole again.

I remember the first night I went to therapy. I was scared out of my wits. I felt the same as I did that day in Mr. Laffer's class after school when he told me he was there if I ever needed somebody. I was afraid this stranger would find out all my secrets and I still believed I had to keep them hidden.

At first, I talked about everything but me. I talked about how I wanted to help my husband make our marriage better. I talked about how I maybe got married too young. He stopped me after about ten minutes of that and asked me, Why are you here?. He said something so strange, yet so right, it changed my whole life. He said, `"Marianne." The soft way he spoke was just like Mr. Laffer. "Tell me what you cannot tell me." It was like a door opened inside of me. Tell him . . . tell him what? Tell him about twenty-five years of hiding everybody else's dirty laundry. I looked at him and felt all my walls crumbling. Maybe it was because I desperately needed someone to trust. I couldn't make it one more day on my own.

I told him about my parents. I told him about you. I told and I told and I told and . . . He let me talk for hours. I was waiting for him to tell me what to do, but he didn't. I'm glad. That night, I just needed to believe I existed. I wasn't ready to do anything.

Dan, I learned a whole lot about myself these past few months since I asked you to leave. I learned I don't need to accept abuse from anyone - not ever. I learned I am Marianne and that is something worth being. I am not just Dan's wife, Joe and Mary's daughter, Jeff and Kris' mother and everybody's friend and dumping ground. I am Marianne. I have feelings. I have pain. I have anger - no - I have rage. I also have joy and love. And, Dan, for the first time in my entire life, I have hope. And no one is going to take that away from me again. Ever.

I can live without you now. I'll always love you. You were my first love - my only love. But now, I can love me, too. Someday, maybe I'll find someone else I can love. But for now, I'm not even thinking about that.

You are not about change, Dan, and as much as I love you, I'm able to let you go. If I want to survive, I have to let you go.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I see somebody there. Somebody I am learning to
care about very much. Somebody who, I am beginning to believe, is worth caring
about . . . . Me, Marianne!

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