2.15.2019

the gift of a little time together

They say grief never disappears, it just changes. I've found that to be true, even though there are still times it's so overwhelming it doesn't feel like it's changed at all. Today I woke up to the best possible kind.

Since Mama got sick, I've been tormented by terrible dreams: dreams that had me delving back into them upon waking so that I can change the outcome; dreams that haunted my days; dreams full of images I can't possible describe, but are worse than any horror film I've seen. I usually wake up anxious or crying, unsure of what is real, and unable to move on with my day.

I don't get them as often anymore, but when I do, they are terrible. And the doubt they create seeps into my waking life. Did I do everything I could have? Did I forget about something in the house? Did I handle the animals in the best way? Waking up to one of these can easily take over the next couple of days of my life.

So today when I awoke with a smile, I knew it was something to cherish. I dreamt about Mama. I didn't dream about her death or all of the horrible things I had to deal with during that time. I didn't dream about starving dogs or secret doors in the house full of important family heirlooms. I didn't dream about my mom slowly leaving this world. My dreams were filled with time with her. I don't recall what it was exactly, but I know that I spent my night talking with my Mom. I woke up knowing she was just on the other side of my closed eyes and if I could only fall back to sleep maybe I could stay in touch with just the essence of her. I woke up feeling like we'd just walked into different rooms, and I could go back in any time.

And for once, the realization that it was a dream didn't detract from the joy. There's still a wave of grief, sure, but I got to spend what felt like hours with my mom. And that fills me with love and serenity in a way I haven't felt since she died.

Thank you, Mama, for the gift of a little time with you.

9.28.2018

Women's Anger in September 2018

**Trigger warning: Assault is discussed in this post

I used to say about myself, "I am not a person who gets angry".

I used to be able to count on one hand the times in my life in which I had felt really really mad.

I used to say, "I'm just not an angry person".

I mean, an angry woman is NOT an attractive woman. Women should go with the flow, learn to take a joke, be cool. We are socialized to believe that if we express anger we are undesirable. Some of us are socialized to believe that if we express anger we will be harmed. After growing up in a house where annoyance could turn quickly to violence, I learned as an adult to be the person who could calm down a fight while somehow holding on to that part of me that needed to stand up for what I felt was right. I channeled that into being an advocate for those who needed it most, working in non-profit the beginning of my career and partnering with them since.

Over the past couple of years a number of things have made me feel something that could only be defined as anger, and that I have yet to successfully transfer to anything else.


My mother's sickness and death was likely an early starting point, but at that point I channeled everything into hurt - as I always had. Angry at your Mom for not handling things better? Nope - that's sadness that she's gone. Angry with the people who weren't there for you? Nope - that's empowerment to move forward on your own. Angry with the world for all the ways life hurts people? Nope - that's just grief. I never thought of it as anger.

Then came Trump. All of a sudden, so many of the things I was feeling were shared with many people around me. The world was outraged and it was safe to acknowledge that my sadness wasn't just sadness - it was rage. Experiencing collective fury with so many people who could express it so well allowed me to admit what I was really feeling.

The challenge with starting to feel comfortable acknowledging your anger is that you notice it more. You let it grow. If you're smart, you find ways to navigate it, like my previous attempts at calming it down or turning it into fuel for something good. But suddenly, I wasn't able to do that anymore. Now that I knew this was anger, I could no longer convert into something else. The tears that have always popped up for me when I'm mad could no longer be dismissed as sadness or being overly emotional. I stopped being able to pretend my feelings were something they weren't. And that alone was probably the hardest step for me. The feeling of actually sitting with any kind of resentment at all is so uncomfortable to me that I find myself in a panic. I need a way to resolve it.

A number of personal challenges have forced me to acknowledge that I do have anger that hasn't been resolved with my subconscious attempts to convert it to hurt anxiety, or empowerment. I, like everyone, work to deal with these things - through forgiveness, venting, focusing on the good - whatever I can. But now....

Now it's different.

Everything is different.

The women of the US are outraged. People all over the world are outraged. Yes, there are some things we can do, but is it enough to dissipate our anger? Does a rally make that much injustice go away? Even if I could quit my job and dedicate my entire life to helping, would the rage decrease? How do we sit with the anger we feel right now? I'm writing this because I don't know how to deal with how LIVID I am in this moment.

Last week I posted on #WhyIDidn'tReport in support of Dr. Blasey Ford. In response to that post, 9 people I know and love reached out to me privately to share their experiences of rape. I'd love to believe that's all of them, but we know better. As I watched a group of old white men question Dr. Ford, I scrolled through twitter to read people's comments. What I found reignited a rage in me that I don't know will ever dissipate.

A long time ago I was very close to a man who now has quite a few followers on social media due to his polarizing sports commentary. When I was raped at 17, this was the man who made me understand that it was rape. This was the man that threatened the life of my attacker. This was the man who encouraged me to report (which I didn't) and supported me through the times when I questioned my memory or my value or felt shame at what had happened. This was a good man. I know he's a good man.

We don't agree politically, and at some point during one of the campaigns I could no longer subject myself to things he was saying, but I honestly believed most of it was for show. When we talked, actually talked, we could always find SOME middle ground - even if unstable. Maybe I should have blocked him long ago, but I don't believe in only exposing yourself to one side. I believe it's good to have friends who challenge your beliefs.

During the testimony, though, my old friend's twitter was filled with hateful tweets about Dr. Ford. They ranged from calling her a lying manipulative person who was just trying to get famous to make money to blaming one of the other accusers for not coming forward about the drunken parties earlier. I thought I could talk to him. I told him how I remembered him being there for me, and how after that he could be so adamant that she's lying. His response was that I couldn't be objective because I was a woman who had been assaulted. He said the fact that I wasn't skeptical of Ford demonstrates that I'm not objective. He didn't care what I had to say.

Look - I understand his point. I understand that he's concerned that a woman can make a claim that could destroy a man's life. I really do get it.

But he was there with me. Telling me to report. Hearing all the reasons I couldn't, wouldn't. He KNOWS how hard it is for women. How could this man of all men believe what he believes?

And then I got to thinking. The guy who assaulted me was pretty high up in his company. What would I do if he ran for office? What would I do if I were in Dr. Ford's position? I don't know that I'd be as brave as she has been, but I did look him up. He has a facebook page. It's crazy to think that's surprising, but it is. The man who raped me has a facebook page, and I can look at it. The man who held me down and left bruises on my face, neck, and wrists has pictures of him with his big happy family. His boys are just a little younger than me. I wonder if they know? I wonder if they're like him? I'm angry that he gets to have a family and a facebook page. I'm angry at his smiling face.

Two weeks ago a man I worked with grabbed my thigh above my knee repeatedly in a meeting. I am 99% certain there was nothing sexual behind it - I think he was being parental - but it wasn't appropriate in a work setting. He did it multiple times, he left his hand there, and even after I turned away he adjusted his chair to do it again. To me, it felt condescending. To me, it felt like he was clearly telling me who was in power here. I brought it up to some coworkers so we could demonstrate to the men in the room how women have crazy choices to make and think about ALL THE TIME. Asking him not to do that would have repercussions. He'd already demonstrated that in other meetings after I'd challenged him. So I kept it in.

Today, after the hearings, after the bullshit my old friend said, I just wasn't up for handling anymore. After weeks of asking this person I work with to spell my name correctly (it's in my email address for goodness sake) and having him ignore it. After weeks of telling him the teams he's trying to align are not aligned and giving him information about it. After weeks of doing a big chunk of his job for him while he takes all the credit. He sends me an email end of day Friday saying, "all you've done is confuse things...we are not aligned". No solution, no options, just the accusation. And he spelled my name wrong.

I probably shouldn't have, but I called him immediately. He didn't answer, so I responded, and copied someone higher up on the chain I trust. I probably shouldn't have done that, either. But I'm tired of should haves. I was very diplomatic, told him I thought it would be more helpful to have a meeting to discuss where folks are not aligned rather than making a blanket statement that I've confused things. And I made the most drastic effort I could in this setting to show him I need him to hear me, to see me, to respect me:

He likes to call me Monica. My name is not Monica.

I signed my email just like this: MoniKa

So that's how I'm dealing with my anger. And writing to you lovely folks. Anyone have any better ideas? Because shit just got real. 


9.22.2018

Why I Didn't Report

Inspired by a very strong friend - I'm making a decision to stand with Dr. Ford:

#WhyIDidntReport

I didn’t report because I was 17 and confused about what happened. I only had vague moments of memories, and the idea that I could have been drugged didn't occur to me. The reality of what had actually happened didn't hit me until I had to find ways to cover up the hand-shaped bruises on my face, neck, and wrists.

I didn't report because the man was someone I knew and thought I could trust, and afterward he did nice things for me. I've since learned this is common. A rape victim will question whether it was rape because her attacker brushed leaves off her back after forcing her into them. I was confused by him bringing me food and changing the sheets.

I didn't report because he told me I wanted it. I had enjoyed his initial attention. He was older, he must be right. What did I know at 17?

I didn't report because it happened on Christmas Eve, and all I wanted to was to spend a happy Christmas Day with people I loved.

I didn't report because when I first told my boyfriend what happened, I said I cheated. When I told him the truth a few hours later, he didn't believe me. His anger never left me.

I didn't report because when I told several people I trust in my church, including two pastors, I was told it was my fault for being alone with a man. I was to blame. I was shameful in the eyes of God and to be judged for what I had done.

I didn't report because I was a strong 6'4" athlete. How could a man overpower me?

I didn't report because I was not emotionally capable of processing what had happened to me. As a friend said, "Rape is not the kind of thing the human brain easily recognizes as fact. Eventually, adrenaline and shock gave way to a numb, cold certainty I could no longer explain away." Months later, as a freshman in college, my attacker contacted me. My incredible basketball team heard me and supported me. It was only then that I was able to start to deal with what had happened. After what I now consider a minor mental breakdown, I faced what happened and started (STARTED!!!!) to rebuild. I considered reporting then, but at what cost? With what evidence?

And in following years, when other assaults happened that I've now learned were non-consensual, I didn't report because I didn't even consider them assault compared to that life-changing moment at 17.

I'm quoting my friend directly here because I can't say this next part better than she did:

"Not reporting is my reality. It’s the reality of thousands upon thousands of women, men, non-binary/trans folx, and children who’ve been raped and sexually assaulted or abused. It’s a reality for survivors far more often than it isn’t. The statistics are absolutely staggering. The vast majority of these crimes are never reported, and that’s NOT because they don’t happen. False reports are so very, very rare."

I believe and stand with Dr. Ford.

2.12.2018

anniversaries

https://medium.com/@monikamatthews/anniversaries-c861be65cd9d

Three years and a couple of hours ago, the person who loved me most left this world.
She was smart and playful. She found ways to make everything fun, and she expressed joy in moments when younger parents would have been angry. I remember breaking eggs on the floor only to have her invite the dog to lick them up, her giving me pots and pans to play with as drums while she cooked, and even a crayon on wall drawing that was allowed to remain for years because to her it was art.
She was inventive and tough. Tornados forced us into the tiny scary area under the house that was really just dirt, pipes and spiders. But to Mom, it was a campout in the basement. We gathered the animals as best we could, the radio, blankets, and a flashlight — and we told stories until the storms were gone. When she got cancer, she never missed a day of work for chemo — she went in early and left in time for the last appointment. It wasn’t until she retired years later that she started to finally rest.

She was fiercely loyal and stood up to anyone who threatened her world. Her sister told a story of her beating up a man who tried to mug her when she was a young nurse in Germany. She told her family, “I have a right to be walking on the street. He has no more right to that street than I do.” She continued to walk the same street.
But she was also a softie who was the first to help anyone or any animal. I can’t tell you how many abandoned baby birds and rabbits we nursed back to health. How many people she helped even when it meant she couldn’t take care of herself. She once saved my choking best friend with a quick thinking heimlich maneuver, then acted like nothing had happened.
She was my biggest champion. She encouraged every dream I ever had. She worked overtime so I could play basketball and earn scholarships. She insisted my schoolwork was my job and I was only allowed to work in the summer. She sacrificed so that I could have what I needed to succeed. She drove me to AAU National Championships even though she had to work all day, drive all night, then stay up all day to watch me play. She once took off two weeks and drove me all over the east coast so I could go to Harvard’s basketball camp and visit other colleges. She told me I could be anything I wanted. And I believed her.
She wanted me to marry a German boy. Every time I dated someone with a German last name she tried it on her lips. Sorry, Mama. :)
She was a beautiful, brave, emotional, complicated woman. In the three years my mother has been gone, I’ve learned new definitions of grief and loneliness. I understand family and home differently now. Mama is the only person in this world who ever loved me as much as I loved them. Nothing will ever fill that space. But nothing will ever take away what was so freely given.

Ich vermisse dich, Mama. So viel.

“Ich habe das Herz gefühlt, die große Seele, in deren Gegenwart ich mir schien mehr zu sein, als ich war, weil ich alles war, was ich sein konnte.” ~Goethe

1.27.2018

February 2015

I started a new journal over the holidays. I hadn't finished the old one, but I needed to feel the weight of the new book in my hands. I needed something that represented what I'm starting now, not who I've been over the past three years.

From the time I was 16 I started numbering and dating my journals. To remind myself what volume I was on, I turned to the beginning of my previous notebook - the one I started when Mom died.

I couldn't help but read the first entry. And I wanted to share it now. If my apartment burns down and I can't get to my journals, at least I'll have this captured here.

~~~~~

Friday, February 13, 2015
San Francisco, CA

Mom died yesterday. At 6:30pm Central Time.

There are so many things to say, but so few I feel I can say. I feel like I should talk about what happened - how she's not suffering anymore; how she chose this; how she went on her own terms...

But that's not what I'm thinking right now. What I'm thinking is that my mom is dead.

MY mommy is gone.

I will never call her again. I will never fight with her again. I will never hear her laugh again. I will never buy her another diet coke.

I am alone in this world.
I am an orphan.
I am homeless. Truly, achingly homeless.

The truth is this: I am my mother's daughter. I am a product of that house in Ozark. And everything I am today is because I fought for my love of San Francisco.
With all of those things gone,

Who am I?

~~~~~

I've spent the last three weeks or so feeling caught between my mom's world and my own. Kind of the way Mom has been caught between the world of the living and the dead. I have been so anxious I couldn't work. But I haven't been able to cry, either.

I wished for this. I wished for Mom to pass so things would finally be over. But now - now I'm not caught between things anymore. Now I don't feel all that much of a tether to this world. I just feel heavy. Or sometimes too light. Like I might float away.

Like I am no one.


1.02.2018

difference between what I know and what I believe

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it you've got to stand it.

~Annie Proulx, Close Range, "Brokeback Mountain"

12.18.2017

when a woman doesn't respond online



  • How'd your Saturday go on this fine summer day?
  • In response:
    Wow crashed on your arm he did.
  • In response:
    Cute kittens. Yours?
  • In response:
    And you gravitated to the kids.
  • In response:
    Nice profile shot.
  • In response:
    A bevy of beauties. & you are mos’ def' center show.
  • In response:
    Your hat sets off your alluring eyes. (Too trite?)
  • In response:
    Kayak or canoe? What lake? Or does any body of water do
  • In response:
    - I’m always looking for fun & a teamate sounds like icing on the cake - real or casual, both have positive merits - even though we are the same height, I don’t know if I can push you up against a wall. I saw those muscles in your arms & legs. You got me on arm strength, I think. - I never fit into any boxes. Ever. - whether it be Sunday or any other day of the week, best friends make all errands fun… ish. - all of my conversations are unfiltered (even this one). - I can lead, but to dance? Not certain of that. - the only thing I see about your height, is that I top you by a 1/2-inch.
  • In response:
    Phenomenally beautiful image of you. Your eyes, nose, & cheeks speak volumes to me, as does your most gorgeous curves & that most beautiful cleave of yours.
  • In response:
    I like seeing you astride the horse. I can see your full length here, and it looks really nice from my vantage point.
  • In response:
    Pretty kitties. Yours?
  • In response:
    Still a pretty face. Great eyes.
  • In response:
    In a bevy of beautiful women, you stand out.
  • In response:
    Great shot. Gorgeous hair, sexy neck & lower jaw, laughing eyes
  • In response:
    Is it a specific place, or a more general location? You do look happy, from your beaming smile to the flush of your cheeks. I’d comment on the rest of your face, but I can’t see it. I also find that your very slight hint of cleavage, is an extreme turn-on.
  • In response:
    Since I share your height, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. Where on the SF Peninsula do you go to “jump into creeks”?
  •  
    In response:
    - Goats & chickens? No horses? - So a lake for the summer & ski-mountain for the winter? Sounds lovely. - How does girly & tomboy work together? Sounds like a fun mix. - I like to be outdoors at least most of every day, & have always been told by others that I’d be a great father. - I’m certain that I’d be able to keep you up all night, whether it be via laughter, or by bedroom activities. - l too, think laughter is good for the soul. It has gotten me through both good & bad times. - I’ll add that as an outdoor photographer, I enjoy everything around me, but I can be slow sometimes, as I want to see it all.
  • In response:
    Why not? Or is it that you just haven’t found the right ones?
  •  
    In response:
    - Cool, I’ve never met anyone from St. Louis. I hope me being an ardent Giants fan might not be a problem, but it also might give us something to agree to disagree on. - I like to use new tech gadgets, does that work? - I never take myself seriously, so sometimes that leads to all the wrong adventures - Do you ever go kayaking on the Bay? I have always wanted to do so. - which mountains do you head towards?
  • In response:
    What sort of genre of reading calls to you?
  • In response:
    - I believe that by now, this is much more than just a simple “hi”. In fact, I do think I’ve made quite an effort here. - unfortunately, I’m really bad at dancing, and have (3) left feet, so maybe you’ll have to lead me onto the floor. - all of my converstations are unfiltered & honest, including this one. - whether it be Sunday or Wednesday, I always enjoy doing errands. - I am the most out-of-the-box individual you may ever meet. - I am always gentle, but if you want me to be more than that, all you need to do is ask. - real & casual? Sounds like that could be way fun.
     
    DUDE. If I was interested I would have responded. You have now entered into super creepy guy who is harassing me. You need to STOP and leave me alone now.
  •