Monday, January 14, 2008

The Spiral Staircase

I just had the weirdest dream.

Since Lisa and I separated, I've been taking it easy for the first time in years. I've had difficulty sleeping for a long time and I thought I'd take the opportunity while she's away to catch up on it; so, I've been spending a fair amount of time in bed. Because I've been unable to sleep well, it's also been a while since I've had vivid dreams; lately, I've been having quite a few. Strangely, a lot of them have been about working on botched home renovations with Mike Holmes.

I think I've been having a lot of dreams about working with Mike because, watching Holmes on Homes and reading his book Make It Right (Lisa got me that for Christmas :)), I've learned a lot, not only about building, but about why today's homes are often not nearly as well built as homes built when I was little. Even before I knew what I know now, I noticed that modern homes just aren't as solid as older homes. I've always wondered why; now I know.

Anyway, that's how this dream started out; I was working on a site with Mike. It was this huge room with a concrete floor and a high ceiling, at least 12'. The ceiling was unfinished even when we first came in and the finishing that was there was pretty slipshod. I remember noting that the seams in the drywall were uneven and weren't taped. Mike and his crew were busily tearing down the drywall and Mike was complaining about how flimsy the structure was.

At one point, Mike calls me over to a wall he’s been pulling the drywall down from. The studs seem to have a layer of plywood on the cold (exterior) side and there's no vapor barrier. Mike is upset because, in addition to all that, there’s this huge gap in the wall around what looks like what used to be a door with a window above; there’s a huge draft coming in. He calls me over to check it out; I can feel the cold draft coming down. "That's not even insulated," I comment.

"I know," Mike replies. "That's why I wanted you to see this." He walks off, grumbling.

I turn to follow him. I wanted to ask him why he thinks someone would put up an exterior wall like that with no insulation whatsoever. As I'm walking, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn back and the entire section of wall we were just working on is falling in right towards me. I put up my hands to shield myself and hopefully catch the wall before it beans me. I brace myself.

I barely even feel it when it hits. It turns out to be made, not of plywood as we first thought, but of thin, low-grade paneling, not even 1/8" thick. The whole thing is as light as a feather, and even flexes a bit when I catch it. Mike asks if I'm OK. "I'm fine," I say. "This wall's all paneling." So I set it down and Mike and I both turn to look at the hole left in the wall.

It wasn't an exterior wall at all, as we had thought. Through the hole was another, long room, maybe 24' across and 8' deep. We could see some kind of concrete pillar in the center, and the walls were made of concrete. We went in to investigate. On closer inspection, however, we realized the room wasn’t made of concrete at all; the gray substance was a thick layer of dust. What we thought was a concrete pillar was actually some kind of wooden spiral staircase.

I slowly started up the stairs; Mike followed me. I commented that it looked like the room had been sealed for like 70 years, like something right out of The Changeling. I didn’t know what to expect to find, but I had a weird feeling we were going to find a body up there. However, when we got to the top of the stairs, suddenly there was absolutely no dust. Everything was completely clean. It was like a complete little apartment.

As soon as I saw the clean apartment, my first thought was there must be some other entrance to this place than the stairway. I started to look around for one; Mike waited at the top of the stairs, looking around from his vantage point.

The stairs opened onto some kind of little living room. The structure of the room was unusual. The spiral railing of the staircase dominated the center of the room and the doors formed a circle around the staircase so you could look into them all right there from the top of the stairs The rooms and hallways beyond were conventionally shaped, but this room was round. The walls actually curved with doors to each room all around you.

There was a small TV, 1960s/70s style (looked a bit like this one but smaller, maybe 12"), turned on to some news program on a little stand against the wall at the top of the stairs. One door opened onto a tiny hall behind me. The first room on the left in that hall was a door opening onto a bedroom. There were children’s toys scattered about the room. I looked down the hall. Doors opened onto a couple of other rooms but there was no other entrance there.

So I turned right. More rooms. I couldn’t see into all of them well, but they all had light coming in as if from windows and the size of the rooms and the light suggested that they couldn’t have doors going anywhere, either. Even if they did, this stairway we’d just came up was wide open with this hard to miss spiral railing in the middle of the living room. Why didn’t whoever lives up here use them?

Then I looked into a bedroom just around the corner from the stairway. There was a man laying on the bed, maybe in his 40s or early 50s, balding. Something about the look on his face as he slept made him look child-like. I had the impression he was mentally handicapped. He was sound asleep so I thought, well this is apparently his place; I don’t want to disturb him. So, quietly, I tiptoed back down the stairs, Mike ahead of me.

When we got to the bottom, we both looked up the stairs. Like the apartment, they were suddenly clean. More than clean, they were beautiful, dark brown, stained, polished wood.

I started to turn to Mike to ask him if he was seeing what I was seeing when, as we watched, the dust slowly started to re-appear. Over about 10 seconds, we watched in amazement as the room around us went from clean and new to covered in dust, just as we found it except, in the dust on the stairs, Mike and I could see our footprints on the stairs and hand prints on the banister where we rubbed off the dust on our way up...

The last thing I remember is looking up the dusty stairs again, wondering if what we just saw was an image from the past, before the room was sealed. I started to think there might really be someone’s body up there, perhaps of the man we saw, but before I could suggest going back up there again to take a look, I woke up.

Strangely, I wasn't really scared when I woke up; I was more curious. I kept wondering what it all meant. Who was the man we found? Why was his room sealed up? The flimsy wall suggested it wasn't a contractor that put that wall up; it had the feel of something slapped together by the homeowner to hide... what? I wished the dream could have continued so Mike and I could've investigated the situation further.

Suddenly, I sat bolt upright in my bed, then ran out here, fired up the computer, launched AppleWorks and immediately pounded this dream into the keys while the memory was still fresh. That's one nice thing about Lisa not being here; in situations like this, I sometimes have to kick her off the computer quickly to get memories of a dream down before I lose them (I can't hand write them; my handwriting is often illegible even to me *BLUSH*).

Anyway, I'd really like to get some comments from people on this. What do you think it means? It was quite vivid; I figure it must mean something; dreams often do.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

20/20 Hindsight

I did something recently I should have done a very long time ago: I've taken the first steps towards ending my relationship with Lisa.

Her parents have known for a long time that we're in trouble and they've offered, in the past, to help me if I ever needed it. With that in mind, I decided to write them a letter telling them all about how abusive Lisa has been these past 11 years. They got the letter five days ago so, now, there's no turning back. My relationship with Lisa, as it was, officially ended the moment they read it.

I'm not going to publish the entire letter here. There are some parts which it would serve no useful purpose to publish. However, abusive behavior flourishes in secrecy so I would like to publish the parts about the abuse (which is, for the most part, what prompted this):
January 1, 2008

Dear ***** & ***,

I need help, and I have no idea where to begin.

You yourselves have noticed the way Lisa often behaves towards me, and have even chastised her for it from time to time. Unfortunately, what you observe is only the tip of the iceberg; she gets a lot nastier with me here at home than she ever would in front of you. It’s come to the point now where I realize I simply cannot live with this and, after 11 years of trying, it doesn’t look to me like there’s any hope of reconciling.

It’s not that Lisa hasn’t improved somewhat. She’s more honest with me than she used to be. She doesn’t tend to lie outright like she used to in the beginning, though promises still mean nothing to her. Also . . . she’s a lot more willing to do chores around the apartment than she used to be.

The problem is, though, these are small improvements in the grand scheme, particularly considering that these are pretty much the only significant improvements in her since we started going together over a decade ago. Unfortunately, one thing that has not improved at all is the way Lisa treats the people she “loves.” She admits herself that, when upset, she will do whatever she can to hurt someone as much as she can.

Whenever you brought up the idea of us getting a house, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I tend to evade the idea; now you know why. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your help; it’s simply that getting a house is a major step that, I’m sure you’ll agree, should only be taken by a couple who are absolutely committed to staying together. Therein lies the problem; I’m not confident that Lisa and I will be together.

When we first got together, I was inexperienced. Lisa was my first real relationship. I recognized that she did things sometimes that made me feel like crap, but I didn’t fully appreciate how abusive some of her behavior was. I lacked the experience to recognize the “red flags.” I didn't really begin to understand just how abusive Lisa was until we moved in together.

Now that we've been together for 11 years, I don't think I could sum up everything that's happened in one letter so, instead of trying to do that, I'm going to tell you about the most recent incident . . . After that, I’ll talk about some other things Lisa has done on more than one occasion other nights.

She and I were planning on going to [a] Christmas party, which we do every year. She wasn't enthusiastic about it this year, but I bought the tickets anyway because, frequently, she'll say she doesn't really want to go somewhere then, when we don't go, she gets upset. So, instead, I just told her, if she doesn't want to go, to tell me before the weekend of the event so I can return the tickets.

On the night of the event, literally less than an hour before it started, then she says she doesn't want to go. This is not the first time she's done this. In fact, this is something she seems to do almost every time we go somewhere. The thing is, no matter how I try to handle it, it makes it worse. If I say “OK, we won't go,” she complains I don't take her anywhere. If I try to push her into going, she just keeps screaming “I don't want to go!”

We did ultimately go (though we arrived late), but I was so upset I couldn't enjoy myself at first. It wasn't until I finally got some support from some of my friends, who could see there was something wrong, that I came out of it enough to enjoy myself somewhat, though I spent most of the night wishing I could just go home; of course, I also dreaded going home because “home” means being stuck all alone with an abusive Lisa.

By the end of the party, we felt a little better. I was still shaken up and knew I had to do something about this problem eventually but, for the time being, we were stable. On the way home, I was hungry and was thinking about going to get something to eat, though I wasn't sure; I really just wanted to go straight home.

I was still trying to decide when I had to push Lisa's wheelchair off the sidewalk and onto the road (it was late and there was no traffic) to avoid a huge puddle. She asked me why I did that. I said “I'm sick of my feet being wet.” So she called me a wimp. At that point, I decided I did not want to go anywhere to eat with this woman and, when we got to the intersection, turned away from the restaurants and towards home.

At this point, Lisa said I had promised to take her to eat (I hadn't) and that I was “starving her” and that she was going to call you and tell you I was starving her. She kept at me, name calling and threatening me all the way home until we got to the building. To get through the door, I need her help; all she has to do is hold the door briefly at one point in the process. Well, she just sat there and wouldn't hold the door.

When I realized she wasn't going to help, I backed her away from the door and only then did she reach out and try to grab it. When I confronted her about it, she tried to claim she intended to hold the door from the beginning; it took two minutes of arguing before she finally admitted that she was, to use her own words, “trying to make trouble.” I asked her why; she was unwilling, or unable, to provide an answer.

Eventually, when we went inside, she kept after me the entire night, ordering me around like a servant. Actually, up to this point, everything I've described is stuff she's done before; this trying to order me around thing never happened before the night of the party, and it took me by surprise. I just said, “I'm not a servant.” Her response: “Yes, you are!” I had no idea how to respond to that.

In desperation for a way to get through to her, I changed her password on the computer so she couldn't access it (we each have our own separate account) whereupon she threatened to keep me up all night making noise. When I ignored that, she proceeded to threaten to throw the computer, our TV, our DVR and anything else she could get her hands on out the window.

Throughout all of this I just kept telling her, if she wants me to cooperate with her, all she has to do is treat me with respect and ask politely. The more I asked her to treat me with respect, the nastier she became. I finally decided I wanted to go visit a friend the next day to get away from her and clear my head. She denied me even that, turning off my alarm clock so I'd oversleep and miss the bus.

The above is actually a fairly mild example of Lisa’s behavior. She has, for example, punched me in the face more than once. I'm not a violent person, but one thing I cannot abide is being struck; it makes me angry beyond reason. I did strike back, though not as hard with an open hand on her arm. That's all I could bring myself to do and, even that, I regret. I don’t like being pushed to the edge like that (I suppose no one would).

I’ve since trained myself not to strike back but I’ve discovered, the hard way, that simply getting away from her is not wise, either. One time she punched me, I stood up and walked away; she turned and punched the screen of this computer. Ultimately, I had to go over and hold her arms until she calmed down to keep her from damaging anything; that’s the way I always have to deal with her now, when she turns violent.

The problem is, once Lisa gets upset, there is absolutely no reasoning with her, and there’s no action you can take that’ll make things better.

If I try to leave to let things cool off, she refuses to keep the door locked so I’ll be worried about her safety. If she’s yelling, even late at night when people are trying to sleep, she refuses to be quiet; if you try to tell her to be, she’ll literally scream back, “No, I won’t!” If I try to ignore her, she’ll threaten to break things or keep me awake all night (as in the above incident).

The only thing that occasionally works is to threaten to call you, and even then it only works if I physically pick up the phone and start dialing (I’m sure you guys still remember one time I did this; the phone dialed out, I didn’t realize it had, and you overheard the whole mess). Even when this works, Lisa has to get in the last word under her breath. “Asshole” is what she most frequently mutters.

She also has no respect for my personal space, both physically and emotionally. If I’m on the phone, for example, Lisa resents it if I go down to the bedroom to talk privately; if she overhears anything, she often comments which sometimes makes my friends uncomfortable, particularly if they’re talking about personal problems. She seems to take my close friendships, male and female alike, as a threat to our relationship.

Honestly, at this point, I just can’t conceive that things between Lisa and I are going to work out. It’s not that I don’t still love Lisa; I do. It’s just that I can’t live like this.

Still, breaking up with Lisa frightens me for a number of reasons.

First, I know that, if I leave her, some part of Lisa will be convinced I left her because of the wheelchair. I’ve had many intimate conversations with Lisa and she honestly believes that her chair is the reason for the collapse of all of her relationships in life. I don’t want her to feel that way. Her chair has nothing to do with this; it’s the way she treats me. I just feel like I deserve to be treated better.

Second, I know Lisa wasn’t very happy living out there . . . She didn’t like being so far away from town . . . Besides, from my observations, it seems that you and Lisa tend to rub each other the wrong way when you all live under the same roof for any length of time. I don’t want to see you and Lisa go back to that but, if I were to leave, I really don’t know where else Lisa would go.

Then, there’s the issue of where I would go. A little under a year ago, I’ll admit that I had a friendship that had definite romantic possibilities, and I had entertained the idea of leaving Lisa for this other woman. She’d even considered moving here (she was from Michigan). Unfortunately due, in part, to the turmoil between Lisa and I, that friendship collapsed completely; going with her is no longer an option.

For now, I could probably move in with my sister for a while. Trouble is, I have no idea what I’d do in the long term . . . there’s no way I could move in with Mom or [my uncle]. Mom is more abusive than Lisa, emotionally speaking; [my uncle] is too protective of his personal space to abide living with someone . . .

You’ve said before that my family doesn’t do much for me and, in some ways, you’re absolutely right. It’s not that they don’t love me; they do. It’s just that they have a tendency to get into ruts in their daily routines, and the idea of disrupting those ruts terrifies them. Having me move in with any of them would represent a dramatic change in their life routines, and that is why I can’t go to them.

I can’t go to my closest friends, either, because most of them don’t live here. One lives in Port Hastings; the other in Sackville. Even if I could move that far, the Port Hastings friend lives in too small a place to share. My Sackville friend has space, but he’s married; I couldn’t very well move in with him and his wife (I don’t get along that well with his wife anyway so, even if they were willing, I’m not sure I would be).

Even if I figure out where to go, living here with Lisa has been my life for over eight years. Leaving this now would turn my entire life upside down. I know I need to get out of this but still, as the old saying goes, it’s easier to deal with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t know. My life may be miserable, but at least it’s secure and predictable. I’m in a deep rut. I’m afraid, if I try to steer out of it, I’ll fall.

Lisa doesn’t know about this letter. I’ve tried to send letters like this before; as soon as she found out about them, she would talk me out of them, or make my life so miserable that I’d be unable to compose them. I wrote this in parts while Lisa was in bed, then printed it in the morning as I was preparing to go to work. The file on the computer is also in my private documents folder which Lisa can’t access without my password.

I feel helpless. I don’t know what to do but one thing I do know is, whatever I do, I can’t do it alone; I need help. You two have been really good to me over the years. You, and your family, are the only ones I feel I can go to about this who might actually be able to help me.

The problem is, I feel kind of awkward asking for your help because I feel like I’m letting you down somehow. Like I should be stronger and stand by Lisa; but I don’t think I can. I don’t like the person I become when I’m with Lisa. I’ve tried for 11 years to make this work. I just don’t think I have any strength left to keep trying.

I’ve got to get out of this. Somehow.
They got the letter January 7th. While I was at work, they took Lisa out to their home under the pretext of working on her hair; the true reason they took her out there wasn't revealed to her until the next night. I've asked them to keep her out there for a couple of weeks while I straighten out my head.

Taking these steps is something I thought I would never do. However, I've learned a lot in this past year; the problem is, I didn't absorb the lessons until now. Anger, misguided loyalty and stubborn pride conspired to keep me from seeing the truth. It took the events of the Christmas party to blast through my obduracy and force me to face it. I imagine Riin faced a similar crossroads when she decided to leave me; now I understand.

Looking back on everything that's happened since Riin broke up with me in light of recent events, I've come to realize that, while I feel I have some legitimate frustrations with her, my anger was way out of proportion. I realize now that most of that anger wasn't at her; it was at Lisa. The problem was, I couldn't express my anger with Lisa because, even when I tried, she simply didn't understand it, or didn't care; so, I ended up taking it out on Riin.

I'm not angry with Riin; not anymore. It's weird but, when I stood there in front of the mailbox with that letter, I was thinking of her. The moment I dropped that letter into the box, I could feel my anger dissolve away, like clouds suddenly parting to admit the sun. Not that I felt good per se; I felt frightened and sad over what I was doing but still, for the first time in almost a year, I felt totally without anger. That was a nice feeling.

Although people are responsible for their own actions, it's true that the people you choose to have in your life do influence you. I've never liked myself when I was with Lisa. Then, Riin came along and, for a brief shining moment, I became the man I've always wanted to be. I should have let Lisa go right there, but I still loved her and didn't want to abandon her. Eventually, she started to drag me back down into being someone I hated to be.

Harassing someone is, for example, not something I usually do. Now, I think I understand why I did it. I knew I had become the man I wanted to be when I was with Riin. When she left, a part of me felt like my only hope to be that man was leaving with her. It's akin to a drowning man grabbing onto his rescuer to pull himself out of the water and succeeding only in drowning the rescuer, too.

I'd fallen into the trap of believing I needed Riin to find the man I want to be; I think that's why I was so desperate to reach her. I realize now that the man I want to be is inside me whether Riin is here or not. It's true I'd find him more easily with her help, but I can find him even without it.

However, with or without her, I knew I'd never be able to find him if I don't get away from Lisa. Since she went to her parents', I've been feeling much better about myself. Not as good as when I was with Riin, but better than I have in a very long time. It's obvious to me now that this has to end, one way or another.

I don't blame Riin anymore for being afraid I would hurt her. I wouldn't hurt her, but I can see why she'd think that given things that have happened between Lisa and I. That's part of what I mean about my becoming someone I don't want to be when I'm with her. Away from Lisa, I don't even want to harm a bug. With her, I get so deeply frustrated that I can't contain my temper. She, and my mother, are the only people in the world who can bring that out in me.

Riin fell in love with the man I would have been had I let Lisa go. That man is still a part of me. However, I cannot be that man so long as I stay in this relationship. I have to get out; I only hope I'm strong enough.

I wish Riin was here. It would be so much easier to do this if she was; at least I'd have a place to go and someone to help me keep my resolve. However, with or without her, I have to do this. I don't want to be this man anymore. I want to be the man Riin fell in love with. I want to be that man whether or not Riin ever loes me again because I have to be that man if I'm ever going to love myself. Right now, I don't; unless I do this, I probably never will.

I wish there was something I could do to make up for the mess I've made. I wasn't trying to hurt Riin but, in my stubborn arrogance, I thought I could make everything work. I hate to admit it but I can see now that, under the circumstances, Riin did the right thing getting out. If it had just been her and I, we would have worked. The three of us together, however, would never have worked; we all would have ended up hurting each other.

Of course, it's not going to be as easy for me to leave Lisa as it was for Riin to leave me. Riin lives 2500 km away; she didn't even have to move. Lisa and I live in the same municipality; it won't be so easy for me. It's going to take me some time to figure out if I'm going to have to move and, if so, where I'm going to live and how I'm going to afford it. This gives Lisa an advantage I didn't have: she has a "grace period" of sorts while I try to sort all this out.

I've spoken to Lisa once since the letter. What she had to say was encouraging. However, she has promised to "change her ways" in the past; every time, she let me down. No way I am trusting her blindly again. At the same time, however, I know she loves me; she just doesn't know how to negotiate for her wants and needs without resorting to abuse. That's something she has to learn if she's going to make any relationship work.

Since I need time to evaluate the ramifications of separating, anyway, I'm going to give Lisa until the end of March to prove that all of the "promises" she made are true. If things haven't changed significantly by then, we separate permanently. That's the perfect deadline because, if I determine I need to move, I can give my 30 days notice to move out by end of April; it's easier to move in spring weather.

If only Riin knew what was happening. I doubt she'd believe it even if she did. I always told her I'd never leave Lisa and that she'd have to accept her if she wanted to be with me. I have to admit, the way things are right now, if Riin was to come back tomorrow and say, "I'll give you another chance, but only if you leave Lisa right now," I'd do it.


Because that's probably what I should have done in the first place.

On January 12, 2008 10:58:01 AM AST, Anonymous wrote:
I have followed this saga for sometime now and you have said that in your OPEN relationship that all partners are equal. Looking at this now it looks as thou that was not the case, it looks as thou you loved Riin more then Lisa...why did you lie about this in past? Why were you not honest?
This has nothing to do with my beliefs on the dynamics of polyamorous relationships. It's also a much more complex question than simply whether I was honest or not.

While I do believe polyamorous relationships must be based on equal love, you can't make them be equal love. That was my mistake. I thought that Riin's love would help amplify my love for Lisa and that, in time, they all would be equal. Actually, in the beginning, they felt like they were. Riin helped pull Lisa and I back together, and I felt stronger love for Lisa than I had in ages thanks to her support.

Looking back on that in hindsight now, though, this was probably an illusion. I was so determined to prove that polyamory works that I, in effect, became infatuated with Lisa all over again, just as I was in the first days. The strength of this infatuation allowed me to fool myself into believing my love for Lisa was equal to mine for Riin. I do love Lisa, but I don't think that love was ever as strong as what I feel for Riin; I just thought it was.

Being dishonest means to say something you know isn't true. I wasn't dishonest; I actually believed what I was saying, and I still do believe in the dynamics of a healthy polyamorous relationship. The problem was I couldn't admit that this one was not healthy because I tend to be a martyr. I didn't want to abandon Lisa even though my relationship with her was not healthy, and never was, polyamorous or not.

This has nothing to do with polyamory; this has to do specifically with how I feel about Lisa. You're right; I do love Riin more. If she gave me another chance tomorrow, I'd take it. Even Lisa's parents told me, if my relationship with Riin ever re-ignited, to tell them and they'd help me separate from Lisa. They don't want to see that happen, but they also don't think it would be fair to me, or to her, for me to stay when I had a chance at real happiness.

I do still love Lisa. The question I have to ask myself now is do I love her enough to give her another chance, or is it time to get out?

Maybe, without something better to go to and no prospects for anything better, I'm just afraid to admit this is over and end up alone.

That's what I need these next few months to figure out.

On January 12, 2008 5:33:25 PM AST, Anonymous wrote:
Is it better to be with someone abusive or to be alone??
You know, I asked a friend in a similar situation the same question. The answer is obvious; alone is better. The only problem is that, at that time, I hadn't experienced things from the dumpee's point of view; now I have. It's just so hard to think of putting Lisa through that.

Of course, OTOH, even if I do end up leaving her, I'm not going to do to her what Riin did to me. Even if I do ultimately decide to leave, I'll always be her friend and she'll always be welcome to call and talk to me. I truly don't think it's fair to take anyone who loves you and cut them out of your life completely. I just can't do that to anyone, particularly someone I love and, all questions aside of how much I love her, I do love her.

My feelings on all this are just too complicated; I need time to sort this out. That's why I'm writing about this here, actually; anything I'm having trouble sorting out tends to end up in this blog.
Get a dog, they are great companians, they only bite sometimes. ;)
:) That gave me a chuckle; thanks.