I dragged that beautifully framed college degree back to Jacksonville, where I immediately accepted a teaching job at the school attached to the church that I attended as a child. Ray and Gayle were gone by then and it was surreal being back in Jacksonville and it was unbelievably strange to be teaching in the very same classroom where I was a 6th grade student. Everything was different, nothing was the way I remembered it and that year was one of the most difficult of my life. I vastly underestimated how hard it would be to be back in Jacksonville, and almost felt like I was visiting a crime scene. I didn’t have any friends in Jacksonville, and if you know me, you know that I need people, and so I immediately began searching for connections. And, in doing that, I met John Watson.
I was not (am not) the girl that has dreamt of her wedding her whole life, or even being married for that matter. I did not date in college for a variety of reasons, chief among them that I simply did not have time. I know now that I was still living in fight or flight in college and the crazy busy days served to defer dealing with issues that simply were being ignored. And, in a way, meeting John compounded the issue, as suddenly there was focus on building a life with him. And I think for a small period of time I was that little girl that dreamt of not the wedding, but being loved and protected—a feeling I did not have until the Dunning’s stepped in and then later at the children’s home. It seemed as though the entire body of trauma was coming to an end, and life was looking better. Early in our dating relationship, I laid down convictions I’d held my entire life and after dating for about a year, we moved in together. It was then that any hope I had of living a happy, relatively trauma free life was dashed in my mind.
The first hit came in that townhouse we shared on Jacksonville’s affluent south side. It came out of nowhere, and it was because I forgot ketchup at the grocery store. After it was over, I only wished the hit was hard enough to push me through the wall so that he couldn’t see me cry; or so that he could not see the light drain from my eyes; or see the thinly veiled cloud of hope disappear from right in front of me.
Of course there were apologies and all the normal promises, and I clung to them because I certainly wasn’t in a place with God where I even acknowledged Him. So, I went into performance mode and my hope came from fast success with a business that we started. I created a false sense of hope by fully throwing myself into that business. As success came, the cloud of false hope became a fat, puffy, sometimes very dark cloud that served only to protect me from the elements of life, but not him. The hits became the norm at our house, but I continued to perform to the point of about killing myself with stress and medications I chose to take to stop the pain, even if only for a little bit. Business continued to do well and the apology gifts got more extravagant and we added houses, boats and cars to our world. On the outside, it looked like I was living a redeemed life of childhood trauma. But on the inside of our home, it was an environment fraught with pain; maybe the deepest pain I have ever felt. The days were long and my only hope at that point resided at the bottom of a bottle somewhere. And, with each empty bottle, I went looking for more hope, hope that came in the form of milligrams and came from a drug store. And one night, my genuine hope was that the handful of pills that I took would put in the presence of the real Hope. But the problem was I wasn’t talking to God much. Nighttime prayers were replaced with drug induced sleep marathons. It was the only time it did not hurt to merely breathe. Then the next morning when I did wake up, I knew what I had to do. I had to chase Hope, but Hope was chasing me all along.
And man would I need it.