I remember the first day I babysat Melanie. I was in college and a local family hired me to watch her four days a week. Things went really well during the initial consultation. The meeting was arranged to see if she liked me. I did her nails and then we did a puzzle. She did like me, of course, and there I was again the next Monday morning. We waved from the window as her mother drove off. This job is going to be so easy, I remember thinking… And then as soon as her mother’s car was out of site, she burst out screaming and crying. She was only four years old at the time and I was too ignorant to realize that four year olds are essentially the emotional equivalent of year old babies.
My eyes bugged out of my head. I stared at her unsure of what to do. I grew up as an only child and lived a extremely solitary existence for most of my young and adult life. I had minimal experience with children up until that point. Thankfully an inkling of maternal instinct kicked in. I picked her up and soothed her until she stopped crying.
Years later, I still miss Melanie. Every once in a while she emails me a picture of herself and says that she misses me, that I was the best babysitter ever. I miss her a lot too and now that I’m older, I remember our time together fondly. Its a special time in my life that can never be repeated. I’m too old and busy to ever be anyone’s babysitter again. I will never have nieces or nephews. I’m at an age where I should be, at the very least, thinking about having my own children, let alone actually birthing them. Well, I am thinking about it and would love to have a little miniature version of myself but I am missing a big part of the equation… I guess there’s always adoption.
Last year, I fell asleep on the couch and had a dream that I was back in Vermont picking her up from school like in the old days. I woke up with that bitter sweet feeling. My time with her was important to me and taught me how to be more graceful, gentle, and patient. As time went on, the cultivation of those characteristics became vital to the future work I did with both children and animals. One summer during college, I went on a road trip with my then boyfriend. By that point the relationship had not been destroyed beyond repair, but still it was close.
I was lying to myself. I am sometimes, even now, too flexible. I will sustain discomfort to avoid hurting others. Back in the old days, I would try everything possible to make something work, even when it continuously trying to throw me out and away from it. The relationship was a sham. In my mind I tried to believe otherwise. He was a really good looking and talented musician and at the time, I was an artist. I envisioned this crazy bohemian future together in which we would live in some kind of eclectic city and go to lots of live music and creative events in the area. We would have a quaint but cute apartment, as most artists and musicians don’t make the biggest paychecks out there, and we would have a great group of really cool friends. If only I was as good at living as I was at imagining…
And eventually somewhere along the life of this debacle of a relationship, we would get married. Yes, married. I didn’t know how when or why, but somewhere in my mind I believed it, and this belief was mainly based on the fact that that Valentine’s Day he’d bought me what looked like a discount Vermont Teddy Bear and scribbled “I LOVE YOU FOREVER HAYLEY” across it’s cheap white T-shirt with a black Sharpie marker. That must’ve been my ego’s thinking, that we had a chance. Because somewhere else in my mind I knew there wasn’t a chance nor a prayer. On our road trip we inevitably ended up in one of the most unforgettable places I’d ever been to, The Navajo Nation.
Throughout the trip I’d kept a journal. It made me sad that he would not contribute at all to it and acted as if writing a few paragraphs in the travel journal was a huge chore. It truly was the little things that mattered most. Every time he refused to do something he personally viewed as a little stupid insignificant thing like that, even though it would’ve meant a lot to me, part of the relationship died. I’d always been there for him and done what he needed. I attended every one of his jazz concerts and I hated jazz. Hated it! I even did things with his family and believe me, that was difficult. His father was a chauvinist who one afternoon at the dinner table tried to be helpful with my job search by suggesting I become a waitress at Hooters. And as those little pieces continued to fall one by one until the relationship inevitably crumbled.
Now in Navajo Nation, it was hard to stay amicable after the HUGE incident in Santa Fe but alas, I have to save some stories for another time…. We were driving down the highway through a forest in Navajo Nation when we saw a road sign for Frye Bread. It was the first sign we saw advertising authentic Native American food, so we happily took the detour. We pulled up the steep rocky driveway that led to a small white house. The house had a sign on the door listing the menu items, Frye Bread, Navaho Taco, and a Navaho Burger. It wasn’t until we walked in the front door that we realized it was somebody’s house! There was a tall Native American man cooking food in the kitchen, a picnic table in the middle of the living room, and a family with a baby sitting on the couch watching TV. As I walked over to the cook to order, I could see that he was blind in one eye. He kneaded the dough in a small kitchen bowl into ball and flattened it out on the counter as we spoke.
While we waited for our food we talked to the other people in the home, “Do you live here?” My boyfriend asked them.
“No we’re just getting some dinner.”
We continued to chat with the other guests until the cook brought over their food. He handed them the food, they handed him the baby. We chatted a bit with the cook and then he handed me the baby and went back into the kitchen. The baby was adorable, a sweet little dark haired girl under a year old. “She looks like she could be yours,” one of the women remarked. The comment struck me. Mine? The baby was his niece’s daughter. The niece, his sister and himself were all firefighters. The niece was away on a call. Wild fires were raging that summer, and we saw many streams of smoke pour into the sky from engulfed mountainsides as we passed through the desert state. I held the baby, unsure of exactly how to hold a baby, but I tried to look like I knew what I was doing. Most people assume that females naturally know what to do with babies. To some extent maybe, but everything takes practice, and it didn’t appear that the others could tell I didn’t know what I was doing, or whether or not I was doing it correctly. Then she spit up on me. I saw it coming but there was nothing I could do. I was disgusted but tried to hide it. I held the baby and listened to the Navajo fireman and my boyfriend as they conversed.
“This was my fathers house,” he said. “He died a long while ago and used to make us run in circles barefoot in the snow, down there,” he said pointing to the driveway’s cul-de-sac.
“Wow, that sucks,” my boyfriend replied. I listened to the conversation and cringed at my boyfriend’s utterly stupid responses. The man was too nice or too unaware of my boyfriend’s ignorance to notice it in the way that I did. As I held the baby I began to feel sick. First the idea of having a baby creeped into my head. I was okay with that but a bit sad, the way that thinking about a distant and far away dream can leave you. Then the thought of having a baby with my boyfriend creeped into my head and I pushed it out just as quickly. This thought disturbed and disgusted me. I could never have his baby, never. It was then that I began to question exactly what it was we were doing together anyways.
As we drove out of Navajo Nation that afternoon and farther down the interstate, my boyfriend dozed in the passengers seat as I drove. I suspiciously looked at him out of the corner of my eye and watched as his chest slowly heaved up and down with each soft breath. Who was this man and why was he I with him and he with me? A feeling of dread sank deep into me, so deep that I became nauseous. For the rest of the trip I looked at him as a stranger. Holding that baby had changed the entire perspective of my relationship. Realistically I found that I could not picture being married, or having a baby with this man and I began to wonder if I would ever be able to do that with anyone. I was 22 at the time and even the next year and the year after I felt conflicted in the same way. Not ready to give up these superficial sex-based relationships for someone who might care about me. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of love. It felt dangerous to let your emotions free to run wild and go down an unknown path of love. Besides, I didn’t attract it and when I did, the thought of that made me sick to my stomach; it made me hide. I didn’t have relationships with decent men because of my inability to see them. They were invisible to me because I was invisible to me because the me they wanted was unreachable. They wanted to affect me in ways I was not capable of and get deep into my soul.
I could not do anything with anyone non-abusive until I was made whole again. The abusive ones made me feel comfort, made me feel at home in the sickness that was a very unhealthy relationship. Being on edge and worried about angering him, constantly walking on eggshells was reminiscent of growing up with a very abusive parent who taught me from an early age all about my faults and pointed them out eagerly. What I was never taught about was my goodness so it was a very long time before I believed in me, up until then I’d outwardly been defined as something I never was and I found people who treated me the same. People who threw me away with ease when they were done with me and called me back as soon as they needed something again. Of course most of these backwards feelings also stemmed from my past, from being raped and trying to deal with it all the while being invalidated by my boyfriends. Why couldn’t they acknowledge that what happened to me was clearly rape? Had they done something similar to someone in their pasts so validating me would technically make them rapists as well or was it likely that continuously invalidating me allowed them to continue to treat me as a sex object rather than connect to my humanity and treat me as a person, an entity with thoughts and feelings?
As time proceeded, I changed and became better. Better at living, loving, working, better at everything. Finally I was whole. Many men came into my life but I quickly passed by them and vice versa. Unlike before, it now scared me when I saw their mouths hunger for my flesh. The way their eyes traced my breasts and lingered on my ass felt intrusive when in the past I looked at it as a good thing. Yes my ass and thighs and breasts were good for all things carnal, very good for that, but I was sick of no one seeing past my body and to the real me. Didn’t anyone care about who I was? Where I’d been and what I’d done? It didn’t seem that way. None of them cared that I had a brain, a degree, a sense of humor. It felt like I was in my ex-boyfriend’s dining room once again, where the only attributes that men valued in me were the ones that would make me wads of tips had I pursued a career at Hooters. The truth is it wasn’t as insulting as it was disappointing.
Things happened, my skills for care-taking were honed, taking care of sick relatives and choosing to make sacrifices to do so. Relatives died then my dog. When my dog died I was left wondering whether or not I should get a new one yet decided against it because I had a feeling it was a bad idea. I sensed that maybe in the future three or more years from now I might be taking on a responsibility bigger than a dog, and when the baby in this vision did show up, any new dog would not get the attention he or she deserved.
Finally, it felt that my cycle of relationship lessons was finally complete. I longed for someone whom I could spend time with, someone who would value me and appreciate the non-physical things about my person. Though many of the guys I dated had careers and various degrees and professions most of them were still superficial and unable to see past the surface. These successful men treated me just as disrespectfully as the winners I dated in college and high school and I began to feel very alone in my home, very useless. It irked me that none of these men were right for me. I had learned so much and developed myself and my instincts and skills so well yet had no one to share them with. And though I know I am whole and have done almost every bit of self improvement that I possibly can, I still feel that some part of me is missing, a space that will not be fulfilled until the other half of my soul shows up in the physical form.