Thank You Note

Dear ones,

Thank you for reading my stories, thoughts and feelings. Your readership has given me the gift of confidence in my words. Your comments, likes and shares encouraged me to keep telling stories. This blog was a stepping stone in discovering the treasure that is my written words. Thank you.

My life has evolved.

You’ve seen the changes. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you’ve seen my children grow. You’ve watched my relationships thrive, struggle, end or become more weatherproof. You’ve seen me advocate freely and build a nonprofit that is a reflection of what I would have wanted for myself as a child.

You’ve seen my snapshots.

It’s time for this blog to make a transitional move. It is time to reserve my words for publishing. There’s only so much time in a writer’s day and I’m already managing an organization that has quickly become bigger than me. I need to focus on those things that will serve my dreams for the future.

My intentions for the future are as follows;

You can expect that I will be writing and that I will be published online. You can expect that I will be published in print too. I will be working on my memoir and a few secret side projects. Outside of family and friends, you will always be the first to know when and where you can read my work. You’ll be able to find short reflections and rejections* here too. Topics will revolve around nonprofit, survivorship, #militantselfcare and every now and again, my family.

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You may also be invited to attend workshops that I create based on lessons I learn along the way.

Which reminds me. There’s still time to sign up for my Militant Self-Care Workshop on December 2, 2015.

I’m getting super professional in my old age.

Sincerely,

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*rejections = things I tried to publish elsewhere but were rejected because some people are just intent on discovering me after I am dead and gone. 

Not quite right.

I arrived wearing yoga pants covered in dog hair and my slippers. The yoga studio is 2 minutes from my house and I was 2 minutes late. I was thirsty and rushed as I unclasped my watch, dropped it into my purse and headed in to select a mat. I grabbed a pink one, took a step forward and stopped. Definitely not pink today. Where’s that black yoga mat?

Yes. Black like my soul.

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I’ve been having trouble getting my feet underneath me since Soulfire 2016. I’ve felt sluggish, disconnected and turned inward. Invitations are lost on me. Pajamas are all I want on my body and my bed is the only place I want to be.

I’m not depressed, I’m emptied out. My charge is depleted. I’m exhausted.

I’ve been trying to do the bare minimum with the hope that my come back is on its way.

Do you hear the upbeat music kicking in? Here it comes! It’s almost…Nope. I’m going back to bed.

I’m laying on my deeply dramatic emo black yoga mat thinking;

I’m just not feeling okay. I’m just not okay with how I’m feeling. I’m not okay with working right now. I’m not feeling quite right. Why can’t I get my mojo back? I’m not feeling okay enough to do much these days.

My thoughts distilled: I am not okay.

I usually take a week off after big time events but this week went awry. I made some commitments that I shouldn’t have and then one of my children had to stay home from school sick. A come back is not in the cards for this week.

Things are not quite where they should be in my soul.

I’m invoking a Do Over for next week that will include auto responses, critical tasks only and loads of leisure time with the people I love the best.

I’m not okay right now but I will be.image

Sincerely,

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PS – This is helping.

Why I Don’t Dance on Graves.

I thought I would happily dance on his grave. I had the quote all ready for this year’s calendar.

“Every step I take for survivors feels like I’m dancing on his grave.”

Jena and I lined up the shot. I was going to walk like a bad ass between some headstones in an old cemetery. The lighting was perfect and I asked Heather to use her hair and makeup artistry to make me look like I wanted to get into a fight.

Whatever that means.

It was in this moment that I realized that I am not the kind of girl that goes dancing on graves. I don’t make a habit of adding insult to injury. I love restoration, healing and connection. I wish the bad guys well in their fight against their personal demons.

Every year, the Soulfire Project brings new revelations. This is why I have decided to honor the stories of survivors through the online collaborative story telling series of Why I told again this year.

RSVP on Facebook!

Last year, many of you shared what inspired you to disclose the sexual trauma you endured. You spread the word across every social media platform. You inspired and encouraged survivors and allies to break the silence.

Let’s do it again!

Where: Share your #WhyItold story on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

When: Midnight on October 20th until Midnight on October 21st.

How: Join me on Sunday, October 18th at 4 p.m. EST in a Google Hangout. Click here to sign up. I’ll be there with ideas, prompts and guidelines. You must be over 18 to participate.

For those of you who have never shared your story before, I’ll be there to encourage you. I’ll also likely have a glass of wine, some light snacks and a comfy place to sit. I suggest you do the same.

Can’t make it? Sign up anyway and I’ll send you some sweet info to get you started.

The Twist: I will be turning this year’s collection into an Anthology! If you’re interested in contributing something you’ve written, you can check a box during sign up and I’ll send you guidelines shortly.

I will be reflecting on why I don’t dance on graves. What will you share?

Sincerely,

PS – Need some inspiration? Check out these powerful images from Soulfire 2015. These 12 Survivors All Battled Sexual Trauma with the Same Secret Weapon

What can the world count on you for?

That’s what my #truthbomb asked me.

Actually, it was phrased like this.
count on

I held the question written in pretty handwriting on it’s little white card in my hand. I leaned back into my chair and thought about what the world could count on me for.

I was at a point in my life where I was overwhelmed with the work to be done in the world. That point in my life seems to have encompassed much of my twenties and all of my thirties. Darfur, orphans, refugees, cancer and sexual trauma in addition to what is now sitting on the world’s agenda. Honestly, the locations of the horrors, the oppression and the devastation just changes. It doesn’t end.

I am not being a martyr here. I’m hoping many of you can relate. If you participate in social media, you probably feel like you know too much. The images and videos flashing on your screen are disturbing but you feel some deep responsibility to bear witness. In this current moment I was struggling with what my role could or should be within other social justice movements that I support but have no active or vocal role.

What can we count on you for?

This question. Have you ever seen a video of a mobile of the solar system when it reaches a point when all of the planets align? That’s what this question began to do for me. As I kept repeating the words to myself, I found that I had made promises to the world and in order to keep them, I would have to limit my focus.

For one, I promised that I would raise three good people when I gave birth to three healthy beings. I have made promises about the care of children I serve through my foundation. I have promised a certain kind of friendship to those I am lucky enough to call friends. I have promised to be a good sister, daughter, niece and granddaughter. I have promised to be a good neighbor.

And oh, the promises I’ve made about the kind of person I want to be!

I have made a lot of promises. The world counts on me for a lot and I happily oblige. This is not grunt work for me. This is heart work. It makes me sing – even in the trenches with shit up to my ankles. I’m singing whether the songs be of sorrow or, as I called it to a friend earlier today, my own version of panic at the disco.

Deciding what the world could count on me for made it much easier for me to discern what I cannot be involved with at this time. In this season of my life, the world cannot count on me to volunteer for other nonprofits (unless it’s behind the scenes). The world will have to do without my leadership in other causes because I have chosen my soapbox and my torch to bear. The world cannot count on me to bake for the bake sale or always be the parent volunteer. I don’t bake and I am a working mother. This makes me so grateful for the parents who bake and who are there when I cannot be.

The world can count on them for that.

When you decide what the world can count on you for, you can allow others the opportunity to step it up. If you are not there to do it, someone will either get it done or decide it’s just not important enough to be a priority. That is the magic of allowing others the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

I believe that my yes must carry the same weight as my no. If I over commit, my family, team and friendships suffer. They have to tow the line, go the extra mile, do without and find ways to make the ends of my time meet their needs. It’s not fair and that expectation is not a declaration of my love for the personal relationships in my life as much as it is a side effect of my ambition.

Ambition with a dose of disregard is like a logging company in the Amazon. It will only lead to destruction.

Saying yes. The kind of yes you almost yell. Saying the kind of yes that makes you sit up late at night dreaming, get up early for meetings and show up with a mind open to learning the ropes – even if it means taking two steps backwards – is well worth saying no as many times as you need to.

When you decide what the world can count on you for and you don’t stray, you will shine. Because truly, the world has been waiting for you to bring it the way only you can.

Meryl that's all
This is not me but I wish it was.

So, friend. What can we count on you for?

Shinin’,

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PS – The question of when and how to say no has come up in the #militantselfcare Facebook group. Join the conversation here.

My mom is a Fireworker

The other day, I allowed my two youngest to take our dog Lucy around the block for a little walk. Armed with the required walkie-talkies, I watched them meander down the street together. They turned the corner and I turned up my walkie-talkie.

I sat on the porch with my laptop and opened my email. *sigh* Peace and quiet.

“MOM, CAN OUR FRIEND COME OVER TO PLAY?”

Isaac always yells into the walkie-talkie. It’s like he’s not sure he can trust the thing to carry his voice.

“Sure, honey.” I said.

In about 2 minutes they came galloping my way with a little boy I’d never seen before. According to my boys (and confirmed later by my guy), they’d met him before during other walks. They arrived happy and ready to play with their new buddy. Levi reached for the door and I stopped him.

“Baby, we’re gonna play on the porch. I don’t know your friend’s parents yet. It’s for safety.”

He complained a little but I offered up Legos on the porch. Challenge accepted!

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The boys began to talk and build. They negotiated for pieces and created storylines. They came over to show me their new creations and to tattle. Eventually, things got personal and Levi told his new friend,

” My mom’s name is Tasha and she’s a Fireworker.”

I giggled a little inside wondering what that translated into in the mind of my little one and his friend. I thought about Firemen and Fire eaters. I thought about jugglers with torches burning bright and welders. And then I thought about my work with The Firecracker Foundation.

A fireworker?

Our first vacation of the summer was spent near Charlevoix at Fisherman’s Island State Park. Some families have Disney, some go to concerts. We go to Fisherman’s Island. While I was there making memories with my boys, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar sat down with Megyn Kelly for an interview.

I read about it and gathered three main points:

  • Consent is not required if your victim doesn’t really remember what happened.
  • The Duggars’ were okay with giving Josh time to get right with God while sacrificing the safety of their daughters and a family friend. Favoritism much?
  • And it’s all fine because forgiveness, you guys. Be cool.

I took a few deep breaths and then set about writing a response to 7 main points in this article. By the time I was finished unleashing the fury, I had nearly 3,000 words. Many edits later and I was ready to offer up 1,000 words to xoJane.

It was published on June 15, 2015 at 5 p.m.

I was really excited to be published on such a wonderful site. But I was over the moon to be able to offer some insights on the appropriate ways to respond to child sexual abuse – especially to communities of faith.

My perpetrator and father was a Christian and even served as a youth pastor for a short time. My faith has been complicated, lost, challenged, found and restored through the process of healing. As I delved deeper into the world of advocacy for child survivors, I witnessed the victim-blaming, slut-shaming and outright protection of perpetrators carried out my so-called houses of faith.

It makes my blood boil.

I don’t expect to agree with ever tenet of the many diverse religions that make up our beautiful world. I do expect that we can agree that no one ever deserves to be assaulted, it is never the victim’s fault and perpetrators should have legal and social consequences for their actions.

I will not lower my expectations. I expect the Godly to raise theirs.

My favorite Bible verse has remained with me throughout my life. It’s actually kind of a violent passage all about the Lord’s vengeance against the wicked. Psalms 10:17-18 declares that the God of the Hebrews ‘defends the fatherless and the oppressed.

As a fatherless child and one experienced in oppression, it feels good to know that the Judeo-Christian God, the God of the Duggars, is a self-described, violent defender of the abandoned and marginalized.

Don’t mistake me as someone who believes that violence is the answer. I don’t but like most, I enjoy the idea of a God willing to kick a few asses for the children. Similar to how I love Iron Man for being both a hero and a narcissist.

I feel like this section is going to give us both problems so I’m going to move on.

When I told my family about this new milestone for my writing, they decided it would be appropriate to set some things on fire in my honor. Fireworks. They wanted to set off some fireworks.

Lucky for them, I purchased a red lantern while we were on vacation but we never used it. My husband and I walked down to the park holding hands. Lucy came with while the boys biked ahead. It was windier than we expected so we settled the bottom of the lantern into the hollowed out section of a stump and lit it up.

We struggled to hold it down until the heat could fill the inside but the wind kept blowing the sides in. We were afraid it would catch fire before it could get over the trees around us. I realized the problem was our grip. We had to let it go. We had to stop struggling against its need to soar.

My story has resided in the gentle hands of a loving family and then a supportive hometown community. I have always been a little worried awaiting the trolls. Maybe that’s why I’ve never submitted anything before. If I never cross the bridge, the trolls won’t be compelled to attack me.

I’ve been protecting the brave little girl in me from the strangers.

My story, who I am and what I do is important. It’s important and it’s growing faster than I can handle or control. It leaves me breathless and overwhelmingly grateful. It leaves me shaken and filled with sorrow. It leaves me exhilarated and exhausted.

It leaves me like a little red lantern, blazing and ready to soar.

I suppose Levi has given me the most appropriate title of all.

Yours,

The Fireworker

The Girl Who Got Up

Everyone, I’ve been brooding.

It has not been pretty. It’s been days of unwashed hair, regular napping and whining about the things I need to do but haven’t actually done when I should really just admit that I have no intention of accomplishing anything more than this run on sentence.

In an advanced move of mental health, I decided that meditation was a step in the right direction.

I can’t even recall why, other than to say that I have been really working on creating a lovely start to my day. It’s a part of my regimen of self-love.

Oh. You don’t have one of those? Weird.

I work hard. As I am sure you do. I’ve noticed since the launch of The Firecracker Foundation I was born that I have an issue with riding the waves of adrenaline like it’s not a tsunami of disorganization, deprivation and denial. Dishes stack up, bills go unpaid, and relationships suffer because I have the gift of single focus.

If in the first semester of the year I came home with a low grade in a class (Math. It was always in math class.), I would spend the next grading period going to tutoring, studying, taking crazy good notes and not failing. To no one’s surprise but my own, that grade would go up and inevitably, other grades would go down.

Laser focus.

I can rock a set of blinders like no one else.download

On the exterior, things go very well. I meet goals and exceed expectations. I accomplish something I’ve set out to do. I let nothing stand in my way.

Nothing. Not a solid night of much needed sleep. Not a single plate of breakfast food. Not an hour to myself or a clean load of warm laundry. Not a fucking thing because who needs rest, sustenance and good hygiene?

Not a person who’s working on something so STOP INTERRUPTING ME!

If you haven’t noticed yet, this is going to be one of those posts that feels like a rant until about the end when my emotions cool off. If you are not comfortable in the inner sanctum of my brain, I would like to direct you to the upper right hand corner red X. That is your escape hatch. Bon Voyage!

I decided about a month ago to delve into militant self-care. Some may call this discipline and boundaries but I don’t like people who use bad language. I decided that I needed to learn to nurture my laser focus with compassion for my mind, body and spirit.

Things like reading for leisure, midday yoga and meditation.

(A point of personal clarification: Facebook doesn’t count, day drinking is not yoga and napping is not meditation)

I honed in on what I would consider a regimen of self-love for the thing I struggle with the most right now.

Mornings.

They are just the worst. I hate their sunshiny faces. I hate waking up and I hate being woken up. I don’t want to rush off anywhere. I want coffee in bed and a good book to read. I want to write. I want to cuddle. I want quiet.

All things I can have.

With the exception of not waking up – hopefully, because I would be dead if I didn’t – I can make all of these things happen. I can require more quiet in my home. I can have coffee in bed. I can read, write and cuddle with my little dog if I just acknowledge that I need to wake up a little earlier to have it.

I choose. Or not.

I mapped out my office hours and started counting down the hours I was giving to the foundation. I had set out with a goal of 30 hours per week and I was exceeding it by  a few hours every week. I have placed margins around my meetings for preparation and follow through.

I made choices that felt like risks.

If I don’t respond to my constantly dinging notifications, will I still be able to coax success out of the foundation. If I’m not always right there, in the thick of it all, will it still be okay? It comes down to a simple reflection of ego. Do I really believe that I have to be in control of it all and if I do, what does that say about the people who work with me?

There is a culture that I set out to create. Who better to lead by example than me?

My life has begun to resemble that of a quirky, professional adult and I dig it.

Annd then the shoe dropped. Suddenly, the meditation practice I had welcomed into my life began to start grating on me. It itched. I didn’t want to sit. I started avoiding the comfortable spot in the corner of my sectional. I started to let the time slip by. I was having a full on, physical and emotional reaction to the very idea of sitting still and breathing.

What. The. Fuck.

I started to panic. I am trying to accomplish something here. I need peace. Why won’t my body let me have it? What kind of shit is this? What kind of person has an allergic reaction to mediation?

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This person.

I started calling on the friends who knew something about meditation. Friends who teach yoga and meditation in their daily lives started getting messages from me like:

Hi there! I am having an allergic reaction to meditation. Is that a thing?

And then I went to therapy.

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I sat in a comfy chair and regaled my therapist with all of the amazing ways I was taking care of myself. I rambled on and on about how good I was feeling about it even if it wasn’t perfect. I shared that my handy meditation app reports I’ve meditated for 3.5 hours. Even though I didn’t do it every day and I didn’t have a perfect system down, I felt like I was making progress. I told her that I loved the quiet space I was carving out for myself when my boys weren’t home but I hadn’t found a perfect way to protect that peace when they came home.

My boys + Quiet = not a thing.

I then expressed my concern with the physical rejection I felt towards the meditation I had been enjoying. 3.5 hours worth of enjoyment and suddenly my body was all – this is dumb and I don’t want to do it anymore.

After some discussion, she asked me if I noticed how many times I’d used the phrase “not perfect”.

The discussion led me to a memory.

He used to knock me out of my chair. I would be sitting at the table eating dinner and then I wouldn’t be. I’d be on the floor. Sometimes the chair would land next to me and other times, the strike would come so fast the chair would sit unaffected by its loss of me. It was like one of those magic acts where the table cloth is pulled out from underneath all of the dishes with dramatic flare.

I would find myself on the floor with a stinging cheek and hurt pride. The table would be awkwardly silent. Violence has a funny way of inviting silence. I would slowly gather myself up on little legs, right my chair and sit back down at the table.

This time I would be better. This time I would stay focused on what mattered. This time I would chew with my mouth tightly closed and then I would be worthy to stay at the table.

But I would forget. My mind would dance around with the happy thoughts of the day or I’d get squirmy as 7 year olds do. I’d dig my fork into another bite only to find myself on the floor again with a stinging cheek and a fallen chair.

And I would get up again. Usually it only took two solid smacks out of my chair before I remembered that my mouth was meant to be closed.

After my father died, my mother took me to a dentist to have my teeth checked and I was diagnosed with a cross-bite and an overbite. It was a feat of physical control for me to close my mouth when I ate.

Single goddamned focus.

I was reminded by my therapist that meditation is creating new neurological pathways in a brain told a violently reinforced lesson: You are not worthy to sit at this table.

And every time I settle into my couch for meditation, it is the equivalent of me getting up off the floor and saying, “Yes, I fucking am.”

Love from the girl who got up,

PS – I’ll have more on what I’ve learned about mediation in my next Open Letter.

PPS – Click here to Vote for The Firecracker Foundation in the Big Bang-quet Challenge!

This is my difficult.

My grandmother approached the topic like an airplane coming in for a landing. She circled the point with a story about a talk show episode she’d seen. As I listened, I met a friend at the door and silently motioned for her to come in.

Fridays have become an experiment of accountability at my place.

I’ve created a writers group of sorts. I’ve set aside a large window of time and offered an open invitation to some friends that I deem “writerly”. I’ve promised free wifi, hot water for tea, coffee and at least one clean bathroom. Aside from the recent string of snow days to have hit the Torok household, it is going well. I use the time to write and when necessary, to do some research.

On this day, I had called my grandmother to ask her about who my father was. This month is all about building his personality profile.

  • Who did my family think he was?
  • What does it mean to be a pedophile vs. a perpetrator? Which was he?
  • Was I his only victim?
  • What did he like to do?
  • Where did he like to go?

You get it.

To tell a better story, to understand him, I need to think about who he was beyond my abuser.

Yes, to answer the questions rolling around in your head, this is creepy. No, it is not fun. Yes, I do think it’s necessary. My mother says my dad* is worried about me, which in our family is a sign that you may be going to far. I’ve added some #militantselfcare to my life and I’m okay.

Dad, if you’re reading this, I promise.

My grandmother told me that she had been watching Maury Povich the other day. Their was a little girl on the show talking about a man who touched her private area. I wasn’t sure where this was going and then she landed.

“I’ve never asked because I didn’t want to bring it up,” she said. ” But is that what your father did to you? Did he just touch you or what happened?”

This is what happened in my head.

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Shit just got real. I turned on my heel to head upstairs and away from my guests. In that moment, I realized we’d never talked about this before. When I was 21 years old, I told her that my father had sexually abused me. Most people who knew me, knew this to be true but because of distance and a bit of a strain on our relationship since my father died, she didn’t know and neither did any of my father’s family.

If you were to ask me now, I would tell you that using terms like sexually abused or molested are correct and socially acceptable but they don’t define an experience. Those terms don’t tell the whole story. How could they?

When I was 21, I chose to tell my grandmother because I realized that I could never be fully me if she didn’t know. I realized that if I truly believed that the abuse was not my fault then I deserved to live shame free and in the truth.

CAN I LIVE?

Damn straight I can.

So sitting on my little stoop, sunning my legs, I nervously told her the truth. Only after she very directly told me to get on with it. She knew something terrible was on its way and she wanted me to let her face it head on.

Once the words tumbled out, she was sorry for me. She told me that she wished that she could have been there for me. There were probably more words that I can’t recall now and then I quickly got off the phone to escape the awkwardness of telling your father’s mother that he was a child molester. Because good times, am I right?

Now she asked for the details and I found myself saying, “Grandma, he raped me. Often and repeatedly.”

She said, “Didn’t he hurt you? How could that have happened? Weren’t you such a little girl?”

“Yes, grandma. I was six. The only thing I can say is that it must’ve happened so often that it didn’t hurt anymore. I think it probably started happening before I could remember.”

I was reporting. These were facts. The hard kind but the kind I know as my past. This is my story and I am, not comfortable but accustomed to the truth of it.

She is not. This was the first time she’d heard it. These truths were landing around her for the first time and I could almost hear them shatter as they hit her skin and fell to the ground. There was the sound of anger and pain in her voice.

“He would have gone to jail,” she raged. “Grandma would’ve seen to it.”

And it was those words, spoken to me as if I were still a little girl that broke my heart again.

Just this week, I spoke to a class of sociology students at Michigan State University and one of them asked me if I had forgiven my father. This topic comes up a lot. We know that forgiveness can offer healing. We are told that it is about you not the person who hurt you. I believe those things to be true.

However, painful, brokenhearted moments like this one is why I also believe that forgiveness is not a one act play. It’s a long running series. Forgiveness is kind of like the never-ending run of those tragic daytime soap operas that we have only recently given up.

Unless you have the Soap Opera Network. In which case, #neverforget.

Forgiveness for me has had to be approached with the acceptance that it is a process for repeated, long term injuries.

When my children offer to include my father in the list of the dead they want to pray for, forgiveness prevents me from screaming that he doesn’t deserve their prayers. It allows me to sit back and recognize that if there’s any one soul in need of prayer in the afterlife, it’s probably my father’s. I can’t imagine there’s much peace or rest for him.

Forgiveness is not pity or absolution. It does not mean there are no consequences. It just means that I forgive. Rage, sorrow, relief – everything else is still on the table.

Grandma, cannot see to anything in the past. I can tell you that her assurances that she would have seen to it if given the opportunity, spoke such kindness to the little girl in me. There’s some comfort in the idea of my grandmother pursuing justice on my behalf.

I never imagined that she would choose me over her son. Before I told her my story, it was the burden that weighed the heaviest on my heart.

Why would my father’s family trust me? Why would they choose me?

As we begin to end our phone call, I headed down the stairs and towards my friends.

“You call me anytime. I know that what happened was horrible but I love you. Please don’t shut me out.”

And there is the answer to it all.

The answer to who I am, how I have survived and why anyone would believe me. The answer to why I do what I do and go where I go is in those words.

I am tremendously loved.

I have called her anytime. I have chosen not to shut her out. I have chosen to pull the tentacles of darkness that have seeped from my father’s legacy out of the relationship that I have with his family because to forget him, I have to forget them. That would be my easy. To remember him, is to remember where he came from. That is my difficult.

“Goodbye, Grandma. I won’t. I love you.”

I sat down at my desk, turned to my friends and said, “Guys. My grandmother just asked me what happened for the first time.”

Stunned I murmured, “I guess I’m not the only one asking the difficult questions around here.”10996165_10153101408618588_3173392778831113365_n

Sincerely,

PS – I know I opened lots of room for discussion in this one. It’s only going to get deeper. Hit me up in the comments.

* For clarity here, I will admit that the man I call dad now is my stepfather. He will hate reading this. (Hi dad. I know I’m your baby girl. Pretend like you didn’t see this!)