You Said You’d Protect Me, But You’re Not Here

This week, I released a piece in this blog, sharing that 20 years ago this year, in the middle of the night, in my apartment, I was raped. (if you want to understand more about that post or why I chose to speak up about it now, you can find it right here, in the post previous to this one, or all over my Facebook page by doing a quick scroll)

The reactions to this piece, and to what I went through, have been, for the most part, unbelievably supportive. I have heard from family members, friends, and people I haven’t spoken to in years, in some cases, sending me private Facebook messages or emails or comments on my blog, just to say slightly different and heartfelt versions of “I’m so sorry this happened to you. I had no idea. ” It has felt like one big, giant hug, at a time when I definitely most need that. In addition to that happening, I have also received countless private messages and comments and texts, from other women who read the piece, and who, in return, chose to then share the details of their own horrific and heartbreaking stories of rape, sexual assault, harassment, and other awful things that happen to women every single day. I have also heard from men who are fathers, brothers, husbands, or just really good and decent men who love and protect the women in their lives and who hate that this is happening anywhere, to any woman. Ever since writing the post and publishing it, which was an absolutely terrifying thing to do, I have had the craziest mix of emotions going on inside my head and heart. I am equal parts thankful, humbled, intensely sad, angry, shaken, fearful, worried, determined, disgusted, scared, anxious, nervous, inspired, and nauseous.

I am also unbelievably exhausted. I’ve had an off and on migraine since publishing the piece, and my heart has been pounding outside of my chest in a field of anxiety and panic. I feel rattled and re-awakened to the traumas of what actually happened, because sitting down and writing it all out took so much out of me, and was so very hard. What has been even harder, is reading all of the countless stories from others, who bravely shared them with me, and who continue to do so. It is my honor to read them and to hear them, and to be that person who finally makes it feel safe enough to let it out – because I went for so long without that, and so I know how invisible that feels.

But hearing story after story about sexual trauma – the details, one after the other, the horror of it all – it hurts my heart. It stings at my soul. It makes me ache in a way that is not possible to describe. On Wednesday, after reading through and responding to the 11th or 12th or 23rd story that day, I finally lost it. I just sat in my room and cried. I cried for that girl that I used to be before this happened to me. I cried for the way that I have to live now; a life-long insomniac who freaks out at any sound in the night and who flinches with terror when someone touches her suddenly. I cried for all the many, many women out there like me, who have been living with the deep dark secret of having been molested, or attacked, or abused. I cried, I cried, and I cried…..

This thing that happened to me 20 years ago – it is not something that defines me, nor is it something that I even think about most days anymore. In fact, most of the time, it just sits in the back corner of my soul and my person, lying dormant. But now, it’s back again, because I made the choice that didn’t really feel like a choice, to bring it back, and with it, comes all of those old feelings of trauma and triggers and terrors in the night and feeling unsafe in the world. Except this time, I’m alone.

And before you say anything, such as “you’re never really alone”, or something like that, please just don’t say that. I know that I have so much support from so many people, and believe me, that does mean the world to me. But none of those people are there with me in the middle of the night when I cant sleep, or when I wake up sweating or feeling like I’m being choked or restrained. None of those people hold me when I wake up screaming, stroking my hair and gently repeating: “Youre okay. Youre safe. I’m here, and I’m never going anywhere. Nobody is going to hurt you like that ever again. I wont let them. I will always protect you.” None of those people have sat with me for minutes or hours, in total silence, just holding me or letting me cry, after an unexpected trigger or flashback of the trauma occurs.

Do you know who did all of those things?

My husband.

Don Shepherd.

My knight in shining armor. The man who saved my life, in all the ways that matter, every single moment that I knew him. He sat with me in that darkness. He wiped my tears. He dealt with my crazy. He was my safe place, my tranquility, in a world that was filled with chaos and bad things and no hope at all in sight. He was that little light that kept shining, when I thought that I would never see light again. He lived with me and accepted me and loved me, when I had no ability or desire to love myself, or anyone else. He loved me into believing in love again. He sat with me in the place where I was, and waited until I was ready to move. He reminded me over and over that he cared, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was my anchor. My life boat. My raft.

Today, as I deal with all of this trauma that is once again re-emerging, and all of the emotions that have overwhelmed me, he is not here anymore for me to lean on. When I wake up in the middle of the night, its just me. When I need to be held and told that I’m safe, nobody is there to tell me that. And all of the people who have been so supportive and wonderful and amazing – they keep telling me over and over again how strong I am. “You’re the strongest person I know”. I have heard this over and over again this week.

But its not true. And I don’t like hearing it. Because I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to be this pillar of strength. I just dont want to. I dont feel like it. It took everything inside of me to simply put all those words down in type, and write that post, and put that out there to the universe. THAT took every ounce of strength that I had left.

And now, I would just like to sit in a comfy room and be wrapped in a blanket, and be left alone for awhile. Just until this feeling of nausea passes. Actually, that’s not true at all. I don’t want to be left alone. I want to be with my husband. God-fucking-dammit, I want to be with him, and for him to lay with me and whisper in my ear as he strokes my hair that it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe, and that I will be safe forever because he will make sure of it. But that’s not true, is it? It’s just not true anymore. Because he’s dead. He said he would protect me forever and not let anything happen to me ever again, but it’s kind of hard to protect someone when you’re dead. Why did I have to go through this awful, terrible, horrible thing in my life – and then meet someone who I FINALLY felt safe with, only for them to DIE??? Why??? The whole thing just seems incredibly unfair.

The only thing I want, the ONLY thing, just happens to be the only thing I can never have again- to be in my husband’s arms, my head resting on his chest – knowing that everything will be okay, that we are together, and I am safe. And I cant ever have that. Not ever.

Who is going to lay in bed with me, and love me through this now? Who is going to be the strong one, so that I don’t have to, because I don’t want to? Who is going to care, really care, that this is a dark and awful piece of my life that isnt ever going away, and that because of that, I will always need to be handled and treated with extra kindness, tenderness, and in a gentle way?

Our “would have been 10 years” wedding anniversary is this Thursday, and the churning inside my stomach has already begun. I need him more than ever, and more than I have in a very long time. I need to feel safe, in this world where I suddenly feel so unsafe. I need for somebody to make me feel safe and to tell me I’m safe and to just sit with me and next to me in the dark spaces and let me just BE, in that silence. For some reason, whenever my husband sat in the darkness and told me simply: “You’re safe with me”, I believed him. I always believed him. And therefore, I was.

Now I just feel wide-open, lost, and alone.

Happy Anniversary, my beloved husband.
Why the fuck did you have to go away?

What A Man Is …

I am a strong and fiercely independent woman. I always have been. When I was 18 years old, in 1990, I left my comfy small town of Groton, Massachusetts, to attend college and live in NYC. I wanted to be a performer, actor, comedian, writer, or anything that got me out of that boring and predictable suburban life. I wanted more. So I went out on my own, leaving behind my wonderful family and all my relatives and friends, hoping to make new friends and a life for myself. And I did. I lived in and around the city for years. First, at college. Then, getting apartments with friends in Brooklyn, Queens, and ultimately, New Jersey, just 10 minutes outside NYC. I was 5 hours away from family, and often lonely and scared.

But I never had a problem doing things for myself and by myself, or not being in relationships for years at a time. I was never one of those girls you see who always has a boyfriend or has to be with someone. Nope. In fact, I was usually not with someone at all. I carried my own groceries up the stairs or across multiple streets, lugged my own heavy suitcases, figured out ways to try and keep myself feeling safe on those days I had to come home late at night on the subway by myself. I did all of that for years. Alone. By the time I met Don, and by the time he finally moved in with me so we could start our life together in 2005, I was exhausted. I was so beyond ready to have a man in the house, or, apartment. I am an independent woman, but there is something to be said for what a man brings, what a man gives, and what a man is – in a relationship. It’s now been 4 years since my dear husband died his sudden death, and once again, I am exhausted. I’m exhausted from being a woman, who no longer has a man. And at the end of the day, there is something to be said about that.

There is something to be said about having male energy around you. That force of strength and testosterone and gruffness, to counter my feminine qualities. I find myself longing for that hug from a man, the way they just hold you and envelop you in their arms, making you feel as if there is nobody else outside of that embrace.

I miss the safeness and the security that comes from a man’s presence. Don was the walking poster boy for “safe.” Everything about him screamed and whispered safe. He was a paramedic. He was an Air Force Vet who fixed the planes and made them safe – a Flight Crew Chief. He was a car mechanic who always made sure our car was safe before I got in it to go to work. He spent his days off volenteering for animal rescue, helping with adoptions and caring for the dogs and cats with such tenderness and love. Before I met him, I had gone through a huge traumatic event in my life, and so as a result, I had unbelievable insomnia and nightmares. Don made me feel safe. When he was lying next to me in our bed, just knowing he was there and looking over and seeing his large, 6 foot 3 frame, made me feel like nothing could ever harm me again. He was my protector, my safe haven, my lighthouse. Hearing him breath in the night gave me a comfort like I had never known.

There is something to be said for a man like my husband, who always held the car door open for me to get in. Who carried the groceries and all the heavy bags and boxes. Who carried the table and products from the car inside the store when I used to do Food Demos part-time. Who acted as my unpaid assistant, doing all the really hard stuff, when I had my own side business as a Wedding Planner. There is something to be said for a man who instinctively throws a blanket over you at night, when he feels like you might be cold. Who gets in the car at 3 am and runs to Target, because your printer ran out of ink, and you have to write up your syllabus for first day of teaching in the morning. He puts oil in the car and always gives it to you with a full tank of gas, and when that red service engine light comes on, you call him and he jumps on a bus from New Jersey into the city, and then a train from the city to Long Island, and then another bus, just to get to you and take care of it. He doesn’t have much money, but he gives you the last of whatever is in his wallet, always. He sends you off with a kiss on your forehead as he hums happily or strums his guitar, creating the background noise of your life together. When you wake up from a nightmare or a flashback about your trauma, he holds you and rocks you back and forth and runs his strong yet soft fingers through your hair, whispering: “It’s okay Boo. You’re safe here. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

He waits up for you on the nights when you come home late with the car, and he meets you inside the dark parking garage across the street, and then walks you back safely to the apartment. You could do it alone. You did do it alone for years. All of it. But that’s the point. You no longer have to, because now you have this incredible, wonderful man, and you get to let him take care of you in all those ways that he loves doing.

And when the world gets terrifying and people are getting shot and killing one another for no goddamn reason and you are scared out of your mind at all the violence, and you are feeling all those old trauma triggers coming right back and re-surfacing, he takes you in his arms and he explains that nothing bad will happen to you. He takes the bad scary world and somehow makes it fluffy and beautiful again.

And there is something to be said for the smell of a man. That smell of fresh laundry and linens, mixed with just a hint of aftershave. And the way his hands are like oven mitts and your hands wrap entirely around his so that they become invisible when you are holding hands. And his tallness and large frame make you feel petite for the first time in your overweight life. And he offers you his coat even though you’re never cold. And he stretches out all the way across the couch, his legs lying across it and up and over the sides. And his things and his “stuff” are everywhere, taking over the entire apartment. Gym bags filled with ratty t-shirts and tennis rackets and towels and guitar equipment and speakers and socks and that ugly off-white shirt he wears that you hate, and isn’t every bit of it so glorious? That man, and every cell of him, is there with you. He chose you. He chose you to annoy and to comfort and to frustrate and to love until the end of time, and far beyond.

And now that man is dead, and you look around 4 years later, and all the stuff is gone or boxed up somewhere in a basement, or donated to some pleasant and worthy cause. There is no more man-smell in your life, and you are once again carrying all your own groceries and lifting those heavy suitcases and holy shit, do you resent it. “I already DID all of this by myself for YEARS!!!”, you scream into the nothing. “I found my person and I thought I would never have to do this shit alone, ever again. I found my teammate. I FOUND him. And now he has been taken away. FUCCCCKKKKK!!!!!” You scream this as you are shuffling down the city streets after a long day at work, carrying all the baggage that comes with no longer having that beautiful man in your world. And you go to bed that night, and you try like hell not to feel like you are unsafe, and like bad things are going to happen to you because you are female and vulnerable and terrified. You close your eyes, and you wonder if the nightmares will begin when you fall asleep, or do they start after you wake up again, in this big bad world without your lighthouse in it.

And at the end of the day, there is something to be said about that.