A red-dirt child, Snoopy fishing rod in reluctant hands, I was a dreadful fisher-girl. As an adult, I still can’t stomach seeing a fish hooked. Catch and release? I don’t get the allure.
A hooked mouth hurts. What’s relaxing for a fisherman is unpleasant for a fish gutted, split into a fillet, and stabbed by a dinner fork.
I like to think that salmon and tilapia magically appear at my butcher’s counter for my consumption. I’m squeamish about pain.
My hesitance about blood and guts and torture make the fact that I contemplated going under a knife nonsensical. I considered a “mommy makeover” and weeks of recovery that would follow the cutting and tugging.
I planned to mitigate back pain caused by my Ankylosing Spondylitis, which was not in remission at the time. I hoped to gain by taking away. I ached to release the heavy, and I longed to attract shadow-husband.
I never craved his cruel touch; however, trapped in an isolation he orchestrated to ensure my silence, I sought validation. Because not pretty. Because not wanted after months of bed rest and a five-pound baby boy not strong inside and outside of my broken womb. Because not enough.
When I discussed my mommy makeover idea with shadow-husband, I couldn’t have known that he had already filed for divorce. He had set into secret motion his final abuse: a child taken from mother to secure power and a paycheck. He encouraged me to get the mommy makeover and more. Whatever improvements your surgeon recommends, he said. My shadow-husband reckoned I had more to fix about myself than I thought.
Soon after makeover talk and heart sink, he made false allegations at our temporary orders hearing, one of which was that I pre-paid for thirty-five thousand dollars worth of plastic surgery. In family court, shadow-husband pretended he hadn’t urged, supported, and insisted. He acted as if my body was enough as it was, and he recoiled at the alleged financial imposition I placed upon our family.
I wish I had any amount of disposable income because, as a hard-working teacher with a passion for people and not for money, I don’t make or need much on the whole. If I had money right now, I’d use it for legal fees. I’d invest more blood in a four-year-old whose life and future are at stake because of a broken father whose personality patterns leave him spiritually disabled. Emotionally handicapped, shadow-husband seems unwilling to love anyone more than he admires himself. Sadly, his hard heart appears to be bent on inflicting hurt upon hurt. Tethered to his father’s shadow, Eli stands to lose the most.
After witnessing shadow-husband unravel into bitter in the months leading up to mediation, I wonder if he can love. My mama’s heart weeps for my child because Eli needs healthy examples of masculinity and sacrifice. He needs to learn from his father how to treat women–and all human beings–with due respect. Eli needs a daddy’s real and present love.
What I remember most vividly about the night shadow-husband finally revealed his divorce and custody scheme with sing-song glee: new bait, old hook.
I had just sung our son to sleep, and shadow-husband waited for me on our blue gingham sofa. Cloaked in shadow in our dimly lit living room, he demanded that I prove my “love”/devotion to him. Again. Always with specific examples.
All I could muster that weary night before its shocking finale: I’m here. After ten years of soul fire and four years of perverse threats to take our child to live with your mother, I’m here: living beside you, paying our family’s expenses, and supporting Eli’s three half-sisters. Innocent girl children abandoned under a desert moon.
After shadow-husband exposed my legal undoing, he laughed. He cried. He applauded my mouth agape. He screamed primal like a wolf drunk on his own power, his moment-by-moment emotional shifts likely fueled by muscle juice that drowned two families. By wild, unchecked pride.
Then he braced for the breaking: my mommy makeover was a comical waste of his time and my effort. Like putting new bait on an old hook, he said. You’ll always be an old hook. Used up no matter how hard you try to be beautiful. Broken no matter what.
My shadow-husband tilted his head back and howled victorious while my defenseless, four-year-old miracle baby stirred unknowingly in the next room.
I didn’t understand why the fishing analogy cut more than cockiness about his professed ability to pass a lie detector test. More than arrogance about how easily he could take Eli from our child’s family home and raise our son in shadow-husband’s mother’s house. The bait/hook revelation stung even more than his “I got you”–more than “I’m a hundred steps ahead,” and I’ll win pawn-child in court.
Today time and distance inform my understanding of the trauma shadow-husband inflicted: he was merely saying, as he boasted every time I sought freedom from fire, that no one could love me. Not even–and especially–the son who clung to my hip since birth.
The basic “truth” that I was nothing and shadow-husband was everything held me hostage for over a decade; behind closed doors, his lie rooted me in abuse soil.
No lie is more dangerous than the lie shadow-husband sold. Readers, if another human being claims to be the only one who can possibly love you, run. Run into the arms of the One whose love colors you beautiful. Embrace your birthright: grace, mercy, and a fixed, eternal worth that no abuser can shake. Sprint towards Truth.
I decided against burdening my “old hook” with unnecessary adornments.
I’m as flawed as anyone else, but I’m beautiful as I am, and while I certainly don’t judge any mother who opts for a mommy makeover, I urge women to rethink making over their bodies or minds–or giving up their basic rights as human beings–for another person.
Friends, know who you are–and who you have every right to be–before changing a single thing about your loved self. Remember that you are more than enough as you are, and resist shadows that taunt from lack. A shadow’s laugh is powerless over a spirit rising–over a survivor who won’t allow another person to dictate her worth.
“After a While”
adapted from Veronica A. Shoffstall
After a while, you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul, and you learn love doesn’t mean leaning, and company doesn’t always mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts, and presents aren’t always promises, and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain, for plans and futures have a way of falling down mid-flight.
After a while, you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much, so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure, that you really are strong, and you really do have worth. And you learn, and you learn. With every goodbye, you learn.
The old hook is shadow-husband. As long as he strives to fulfill his worth by hooking or controlling women with unholy bait, he’ll starve on a lush riverbank. The simple answer to his bottomless lack is within his reach, in the open God waters of baptism and redemption. The Fisherman loves him, too; he welcomes all of us who fish for unconditional love and acceptance.
“Wounds are what break open the soul to plant the seeds of a deeper growth.” ~Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way
With every goodbye to shadow lies, we learn the soul truths that really do free.
Love and light,
photo credits: Harper Green