Saturday 22 February 2020

The Hands

I was reading an article a few days ago in a Brazilian publication, dated Wednesday, January 29, 2020, that forced me to think about a topic I haven't reflected on for quite some time. The title was "Brazilian gov't promotes chastity to teens with 'I choose to wait' program." The subtitle read. "Abortion proponents not surprisingly object to sex education that doesn't promote artificial contraception."

Keeping children safe from experiences that could damage the rest of their lives is an issue close to my heart, so I was anxious to read what it said. Damares Alves, Brazil's Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights was asking parents to simply consider telling their teenagers to wait until adulthood before having sex. That idea unleashed a rampage of negative comments from many factions who believe that contraceptives and abortions are the only way to to stop the epidemic of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But that isn't what stunned me into almost disbelief. The statement that brought tears to my eyes, and a great deal of pain and renewed suffering said that there was a bill before Brazil's congress that would lower the age of consensual sex to twelve. She believes that would only legalize pedophilia, and I completely agree.

Engaging in, or being forced into, acts that are not understood destroys not only the moral fabric of a victim's life but tarnishes every relationship that might be entered into later on. While I know not everyone will agree with my sentiments, I speak from personal experience as to what being sexually molested did to me. I was ten and eleven when my violin teacher began touching me inappropriately. I knew something wasn't right. The nausea in my stomach and the sickness in my heart were telling me that. But when I finally got the courage to tell my mother what was happening, her reply was not something a child is likely to hear today. This was before children had any rights, and  parents ruled with what seemed like an iron fist. She told me that he had never done that to her, so he couldn't possibly be doing it to me. I was just using it as an excuse so I wouldn't have to practice.

I was forced to continue with my lessons until I was so torn up inside that every time I picked up my bow I began pulling out my eye lashes and eye brows. I don't know what finally made my mother reconsider. Maybe it was the haunted look in my eyes. I see pictures that were taken of me around that time and find it hard to believe they're even real. I was just glad to have the horror stop. Eventually, I was able to keep it from invading my every waking thought, but it was still corroding my spirit. I started to cry and became physically ill the first time a boy asked me out on a date. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't let any boy get close to me - not even ones I really liked.

I wanted to date and have fun like all the other girls, but there was something inside holding me back. Even when I was in college and dating dozens of different guys, I never felt like I could really connect with any of them. I just drifted from guy to guy hoping that someday I would meet someone who could make me feel alive. I even fell in love a couple of times, but the relationships never went anywhere. And if a guy's hands looked a certain way, I couldn't bear to have him touch me. I eventually married  a man I wasn't really attracted to because I was twenty-three, and he kept insisting that he needed me. It was a disastrous mistake, and one I have paid for ever since making it. I was a vulnerable virgin with no one to guide or protect me.

Being a dutiful, submissive wife was easy because that's the way I had been raised, but whatever was going on inside of me continued to fester until my body started to shut down.  The doctor finally told me that I would be dead in six months if I didn't do something to stop it. After a great deal of soul-searching I walked out the door and never looked back. I wish I could say there was a miraculous flood of light that let me know what had been going on inside of me all those years, but that's not what happened. It was another decade before I almost had a complete nervous breakdown, and the therapist asked if I was aware of all the abuse I had suffered throughout most of my life.

I really had no idea what she was talking about. I had always considered myself just a weak person who hadn't earned the right to be loved. (Maybe I'll talk more about that in another post.) But right now, I want to share with you something I learned in the few weeks of therapy I had with her before she succumbed to breast cancer. It's all about self-reflection and being strong enough to reach inside to the damaged child that will always be a part of who I am. That little girl told me about the hands and what they had done to wreck havoc with both of our lives. Perhaps reading what I wrote will give someone the chance to better understand his or her own experience. I still cry whenever I read it, but the realization I gained has made me a better person and a more dedicated defender of children. Childhood and youth should be cherished and protected, not ruled by laws that are created by adults with agendas of their own.

Old man with puffy face, puffy body, puffy hands

and fine, thinning hair, brushed neatly back.
You took my childhood! My youth!
My life! My reason for being!

Your hands played soothing melodies on the violin,
touched my knees, my arms, and traveled slowly up and down.
They made the bile rise to my throat, my skin crawl. 
Your hands have never been forgotten.

I am left with an obsession about men’s hands.
Soft, fleshy, pale, girlie hands can never touch me.
Hands in general cannot touch me.
I don’t trust their motives.

They arouse feelings of fear, isolation and disgust.
They move where they should not go.
They invade my privacy, my inner parts,
make me numb with terror I do not understand.

My mother knows about the hands.
She is the one who should have protected me.
But she thinks I’m making up stories.
You were her teacher once and never touched her.

I’m ashamed. I’m silenced.
I bear my burden by pretending nothing happened.
I half-believe I am crazy, pulling out eyelashes 
and eyebrows each time I pick up my bow. 

Your eyes stare at my breasts,
daring me to move or say something.
I look down at the carpet lying neatly on the floor.
If I do not make contact with them you cannot see me.

I will never make eye contact with men,
then they will not be able to see me or 
my curving breasts and try to touch them.
I am invisible even though my heart is racing.

What are you doing to me? I don’t understand.
My stomach lurches as my hands move
spasmodically back and forth around each other 
trying to make sense of what is happening.

Why won’t anyone listen to me?
Where is the name for what I am feeling?
I am not telling lies; it hurts too badly for that.
I want the feelings, the shame to go away.

I hate you standing behind me where 
I cannot see what you are going to do.
I abhor the feeling of your fingers closing over mine,
the softness of your body brushing against me.

I want to be sick, to scream and push you away,
to stay safe in my room with my dolls and my books.
where windows to the outside world do not exist,
and no one can approach me unnoticed.

You touched me in ways a man should never touch a child.
You looked at me with eyes that stripped away my innocence.
I didn’t know what you were doing, but you did?
Arousing sick passions by looking at and touching me.

You justified your behavior because you never penetrated,
but my spirit understood the evil even if I could not define it.
You took my trust, my ability to know intimacy, 
my self-respect, that special, woman part of me.

I am still a frightened little girl in a woman’s body,
a woman who has never felt safe with a man.
One who has never believed anyone could love her,
anyone, except a disgusting old man.

Yes, you stole my life, all I had to give,
leaving me nothing but a nightmare too horrid to consider
until the darkness crowded out the light, and I was left
with nothing but anger I could not express, even at you.

But you are a monster, the worst kind of criminal.
You deserve castration, public hanging,
branding with the physical mark of child molester.
How can you face the eyes looking back in the mirror?

How many people suspected what you but said nothing?

                                            ~ Jan Hill (aka: JS Ririe)


Tuesday 11 February 2020

Promptings and Valentine's Day Gift for You

A few years ago I was sitting in my beautiful new home next to a private pond in a small forest area in central Missouri where turtles the size of dinner plates walked fearlessly up to my front door and bull frogs sang to each other in the pond. White-tailed rabbits played tag in the grass and deer grazed just beyond the tree line. I had nearly worked myself to death the fourteen previous months clearing debris, planting grass, hauling rocks for flowerbeds and planting rosebushes and other flowers that bloomed profusely in the moderate, humid climate. 

I had also survived three brown recluse spider bites that the doctor treated with the same medication given to anthrax victims, along with falling victim to poison ivy twice since no one had cleared the woods before I tackled them, and I didn’t know what it looked like. But despite a few minor drawbacks, it was a perfect oasis after a teaching career that ended with two years of being the lead witness in a lawsuit the mother of a son with Ashbergers had filed against the school district. I sat through dozens of meetings as the faculty representative and had to testify in federal court. 

While the district won the case, it wasn’t without great sacrifices to my mental and physical health. I needed time to regroup and learn to live with a lot of changes since I had decided to take an early retirement. I knew I would never survive another year in the classroom if I had to deal with another deranged and vindictive parent. So I left all I had ever known, moved halfway across the country and built a home on the acre and a quarter lot next to my sister. It was absolutely perfect. We spent a portion of each day together, and I came to know her husband much better than I had in the past.

But eighteen months after moving there, I began having the feeling that I needed to return to the mountains so I would be closer to my son and his family. His wife had been diagnosed with stage 4 Melanoma Lymphoma nine months after I retired, and I wondered why I hadn’t been prompted to move there in the first place. I missed my children and grandchildren and wanted to be where I could help out more, but I loved where I was living and the calmness around me after so many storms in trying to rebuild my life after a divorce, added schooling, buying and selling three homes, and working for three districts in different parts of my home state. I kept fighting my feelings until my son called one day to say that having me so far away just wasn't working for him any longer. While he respected my right to live where I wanted to be, he needed me where I could be more of a support and help to him and his family while they continued this very difficult journey.

I'm not sure he meant it as a quilt-trip some of our kids are so good at getting us to take, but it did add some much-needed clarity. For the first time in my life, I was being truly selfish. I had a portion of what I had always wanted: my dream house, someone I trusted to talk to each day, enough money to survive on, and an inner peace I didn't want to jeopardize. But I had also promised to be there for my children, and that pledge didn't end just because they were grown with families of their own. So after a great many tears and days spent in soul-searching, I began praying for guidance I wasn't sure I could follow. After much contemplation, and a trip to a place that held great spiritual significance to me, nine words flashed into my mind that made the floodgates open for a very different reason than self-pity. “Eve left the Garden of Eden for her posterity.” 

As a student of the scriptures, I knew Eve had made a difficult decision that many people in the Christian community call a sin. But to me, it was always more of a divine choice because, without it, the rest of God's children would never have had the opportunity to come to earth, receive bodies, learn right from wrong, feel joy and sorrow, be recipients of Christ's Atonement and have the opportunity to live with God again. I love Mother Eve, and in a very simplistic way, I felt I was being asked to make a sacrifice similar to the one she had made so many years ago. I was indeed living in my personal Garden of Eden. I had my dream home in the country near the water in perfectly peaceful and awe-inspiring surroundings. And while I wanted to do what was right, I didn’t want to leave my paradise to go back to the city where people lived nearly on top of each other and life moved so fast it was like a perpetual rollercoaster.

But I had asked God what I needed to do, and he had given me an answer. Now, I had to decide if I was strong enough to live by the faith I always professed to have. Before I had a chance to back out, I put my beautiful, custom-designed home on the market thinking I would have several months to make the transition. But as always happens when least expected, I had an offer the next day. That left me one month before closing to pack everything and make the arrangements necessary for the return trip. Since there wasn't time to return to Utah to look for a home, my son and daughter-in-law said they would find one for me.

They lived in a densely populated area where far too many transplants from California had driven the housing market to a point where I would be lucky to find something even half as spacious and nice for the amount of money I could invest. I tried to be brave as they sent me a dozen or more listings, but it was hard to make a decision because I had always gone by the feeling I got when I walked into a home before deciding to buy it. Walking by faith isn't easy, and it was a struggle to keep the tears from falling when I walked into the house they felt would be perfect me. 

The first thing I noticed was the lack of sunlight, followed by half-a-dozen or more houses seen from every window, hundreds of nail holes in the walls, rough slate floors in the kitchen and dining room, no jetted tub and olive green walls with dark gray trim throughout the entire basement. The only thing that made me smile was the castle that had been built into the playroom. But within two weeks I had all the walls re-painted and had met many of my neighbors. I can't say the move was easy or that I don't miss what I left behind, but I am learning that when we follow righteous promoting the blessings will follow. I've been able to share holidays and special occasions with my son and daughter-in-law - who has now fully recovered. I've spend countless weekends with my granddaughter, published 11 books, and have been able to counsel with my son more often. I've made new friends, been given the opportunity to serve others in ways I never dreamed possible, and have been able to visit my sister at least once each year. 

Is life easy? Not exactly! I still get lonely, discouraged and wonder if I will ever like the house I've been in for over four years now. But I chose to do something incredibly hard for me, and I'm learning to look for the blessings that decision has brought. I suppose that's what all of us must do if we want to find personal peace. God never promised that our lives would be easy. He only promised that they would be worth it. That's why I get up each morning armed with a list of things I want to accomplish. Most of the time, I barely make it through the first few items, but I try to live with purpose because I want to be happy and see the good in every situation.

I know I will never have what I think I want, but what I have is adequate for my needs. Maybe that's the lesson I was supposed to learn all along. I gave up something tangible that I really desired for opportunities to grow and develop in ways I never would had I stayed in my personal Garden of Eden. At least it's something to think about during the quiet moments. If nothing more, I've saved myself countless hours of feeling guilty because I let personal desires override the needs of people I dearly love. For them, no sacrifice will ever be  too great. 

As my Valentine's Day gift to all of you, February 11, 12 and 13, you can download two of my books LOST and RESILIENCE for free at . Feel the love and commitment of family, friends, children, husband and significant others in two heart-warming and adventure-filled stories.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

February is Finally Here!

My apologies to anyone who tries to read this post. The funky background color has made part of it almost illegible - somewhat like my handwriting. I was trying to be more creative, but after several   attempts to correct my error before sending it into cyberspace I have to admit defeat. I've accidentally embedded something I do not know how to get rid of.  I suppose we all make mistakes and do things without thinking. It's part of the human experience, but I try not to make them in such a big and dramatic way.  I would have deleted it but felt there might be someone who would appreciate the message my friend has to share. We all live with disappointment and hardships, but she has turned her very visible limitations into amazing strengths that bless so many lives. I used to start each school year by telling my students that everyone has disabilities. Some of them are just more obvious than others. I still believe that is true and try to approach my own issues in a more positive way. It's certainly more productive than crying all the time.

After nearly a month of complaining about gray, dreary skies we have beautiful sun right now. It warms my soul and makes my heart sing. It's chipping away at the loneliness and depression that seems to settle on me each winter as I contemplate a new year and try to decide what I'm going to do to become a more productive, loving and considerate person. Perhaps part of my unexpected joy comes from reading a post on Facebook this morning. I don't spend much time there because it's been my understanding of late that most of the posts my friends share never become available to me. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere in the system that limits the amount of information any subscriber receives, but I suppose that's okay since there's nothing I can do to change it. But during the few moments I spend there, I like to rejoice in my friend's accomplishments and mourn with those who feel loss.

This particular post came from a young woman I've known since her birth. For reasons unknown to the medical community, she was born without legs and a right arm. Her left arm came only the her elbow where three random fingers were attached. Everyone in the community felt sympathy for her parents and siblings and wondered how they would ever survive. But unbeknownst to all of us, this child was meant for greatness. Not that she became world-renown for any outstanding accomplishments, but she grew to womanhood with more courage and a better attitude towards life than any of the most beautiful people I've ever met. Her personality is extraordinary. Her friends  abundant, and her desire to excel nothing short of awe-inspiring. I watched her as a teacher when she was in high school. She was an honor student who went on to graduate from college, marry and began teaching school herself.

I'm not sure what her status in life is right now, but in her own words this morning, she described how she had undergone a personal metamorphous the past few months. She had lost over thirty pounds (something totally mind-boggling to me since she only has the core of her body to work with), was exercising daily, eating better and was now able to get into her wheelchair without as much effort or pain. Linsey's radiant face let me know that she had not given up on life. Instead, it made my nose tickle and a slight pain come to my chest because I don't concentrate on the little, happy things in my life nearly enough. Like yesterday when a snow storm forced me to shovel my driveway and sidewalk twice in six hours. My granddaughter had been sick during the night and came to stay with me for the day while her parents went to work. 

After she had washed the throw-up from her hair, I fixed her scrambled eggs and toast to eat while we watched three Disney, modern-day princess, movies. We laughed, talked and snuggled up together in our favorite chair. I didn't care that I wasn't getting anything on my list of work that needed to be done completed because I knew days like this were coming to an end. She's eleven and wanting to stay with grandma won't last forever. How grateful I am to have her in my life. She's the only granddaughter I will ever have, and she's truly amazing, despite some childish flaws. I hope I can remember that the next time she tells me she doesn't want to eat something I fix or complains about helping me weed the garden. 

The simple things of life are what really matter. They make the tough times easier to bear and the good times more joyful. Knowing we had the opportunity to spend a pleasant day together means more to me than sending my new book off to Amazon like I had done at four o'clock yesterday morning because I was unable to sleep. I hope you've had a moment like that to enjoy recently. If not, look for one. They come quite unexpectedly and often go by unrecognized because we're so busy doing other things.

But since I've mentioned it, I'm going to throw in the link to where my latest book can be found in case you might be interested in something else I've written under the pen name of JS Ririe. 

Unsheltered - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 4, continues the story of a young agent as she is forced into hiding with the baby whose life she saved in the Colombian jungle. It's mostly about making choices, finding answers and living with consequences - something we all have to do. I spend a lot of time thinking about life and how the simplest choices can make the most difference in where we end up or who we become. There is a spark of genius in everyone that can make the world better. I try to look for that in the people I meet each day.