23 November 2013

Deconstructing My Identity: A Work in Progress

"A person whose head is bowed and whose eyes are heavy cannot look at the light."

Christine de Pizan, 1429

All of Me
Of all the characters I have studied, mine own is the hardest to understand. The narrative and the themes in this text are set around the dichotomy of a protagonist that has yet to become fully developed. In the end, which has yet to be determined, she will be transformed into something much different than when these words were first written, and her life will have evolved greatly by the time they are ready for any audience.  As in all great literature, life is revision within itself.
 I claim no authority over the text, but draw from experience only to guide my words.  It is my hope that the result of this reflection will resonate with those who wish to peel apart the layers of their own identity, however horrifying the task may appear, and realize that through reflection, acceptance, and forgiveness- an emotional, vulnerable being can overcome, and transcend the boundaries that bind us to a world we may not have chosen, but were nonetheless subjected to. By opening a stuck window in a neglected room, and letting in the fresh autumn air, we somehow survive.
This essay is about me, and you, and all things human.

Part I
Who I Am Is Not What They Call Me, or What’s In A Name?

My name is Melissa Mallaber. Everytime I say that, a loud voice screams in my head, “No, it isn’t!”  Let me explain, and to do so I must go back to the beginning, back to 1972, the night that The Allman Brothers Band was playing in Buffalo.
Mother, 1973
My father had an apartment upstairs from the bar which he owned, and after closing, he took my mother upstairs and I was conceived. Just like that. My being was sparked with the echoes of music, and passion, and lust. Later, she would bring me into the bar, all bundled up on a cold day in January, and he would say “Is that my baby?” He then left for Florida. Tired of the bar business. Tired of the Buffalo winters. Twenty-one years will have passed before I would see him again. My mother loved him too much.  Sweet Melissa.
Of course, I didn’t take his name. Benson never quite suited me anyway. My mother did her best. My grandfather was the best. I fell in love with him immediately. My mother never told him she was pregnant, so when he learned the news and finally came out of his room (after three days of contemplation), he held me in his arms and never let me go. Throughout my life, he has been the force that drives me, the wind that carries me, and the love that measures the rest of my love that can never truly compare. In my office, you will find a picture of him. My hero, and my best friend. My name and his are the same on two documents: my birth certificate and my degree. To me, I will always, proudly be Melissa O’Hara.
Best Friends
That changed in third grade. My mother married the man I will call Dad from now on. A wonderful man who, to the best of his ability, put up with my shit as if I were his own flesh and blood- which I wasn’t.
My Dad
Changing your name in third grade is confusing. People would say, “Why did your name change?” or “Are you adopted?”  I was different, all right. We were the poor people in the rich neighborhood. My dad didn’t have a stable job after the steel plant closed, and we were forced to move fourteen times in the seventeen years that I lived with my parents. I waited in lines for free cheese and peanut butter with a feeling of hunger and shame more times than one. My Christmas presents were donated. We had no washer and dryer, no fancy toys, no extras. I remember my mother heating up water on the fire, and hoping that by the time she brought the kettle to the bathtub, the water wouldn’t go cold. The thought of sitting in a tub of cold water still brings me back to the time when electricity was a luxury. My birthday parties had more of my parent’s friends at it than my own. We would spend the entire summer at the beach, my parents and their friends drinking more alcohol than I’ve seen consumed at most college parties, and trying so hard to enjoy their youth. The days would often end in fights, and the police were familiar with what side of town we were staying in. Despite the hard times, I enjoyed my childhood.
Age 7
My parents were young, and we went camping and sledding, and I have wonderful memories of good times. I also learned a lot about life rather quickly. I became very skilled at how to handle this thing we call addiction, but I was just a little girl, who wanted to be normal, and blend. The outcome was a messy collection of displaced anger, confusion, blame, and hatred for the things I did not understand, or could not fix. I hardened. I couldn’t love like most people. I couldn’t love a man. I used them. Perhaps abused them. I couldn’t love myself. The creative, emotional being within me was silenced and safe, and my outer shell was in desperate need of cracking. Healing was necessary, but I was ill equipped. My identity was hidden under a mess of emotions.
The day I graduated from high school, I rented my first apartment. My dad had a decent job as a truck driver by this point, and my two younger brothers knew nothing of the past. Things were on the up for them, and my mother seemed to be figuring it out. She went to every hockey, softball, and football game they played in, for years and to this day. My bond with my brothers is shallow and distant, but I am much older, and different than they are.  Perhaps it is my fault.
At eighteen, I began dating a beautiful man who would be the father of my oldest daughter, Alaina Marie. Insert song. I had no intention of being with him forever. I believe now that I must have wanted his seed, his wonderful genetics, and I left him to raise her on my own. I repeated the cycle, but I left first. Before he could leave me.
She and I are one, and everyone knows that. My baby. My name certainly wouldn’t change this time around, but my child would take his. Sullivan-O’Hara I like to call her. She is a stunningly dark, Irish girl with the strength and beauty of a team of wild horses, and the compassion and empathy of a gentle true spirit. Her father and I stand united in her upbringing, the best case scenario of how a situation such as this can result in a positive example of parenting.  It is possible to make something beautiful out of something so non-traditional. 
My Daughter and Myself Last Summer

In a search for stability and driven by the desire to not potentially grow old alone, I met a man whom I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. He was a police officer and I was the president of the PTA. He promised me the world and made me feel like anything was possible. We married. My name changed, as did my identity. My house was always spotless, and I was about to have my second child. Carly Brooke, my sweetheart, was born into a very “normal” household.  We had money; I was running our small cafĂ© in the country. Things were great. Our log home in the woods was good for me, but not so good for the children, so we moved to a village to assimilate with society. The kids needed friends. I would soon come to realize this was a terrible mistake, the beginning of the storm that would take me to the place I am at today.

Part II
Sometimes life throws us curve balls. And they hit us right in the face.
I was bartending on the weekends at a very lovely place in the country and had made several friends in my new community. A terrible profession for someone who has known issues with alcohol, I began to take my work home with me. On Memorial Day of 2006, after a night of drinking shots of whiskey and beer, I thought it would be fun to sit on the window sill of the truck and let the wind blow through my hair. The alcohol had lowered my inhibitions to the point that I had zero fear or sense. I felt free for about five minutes. Then, I fell right out of the window of our truck and into the road.  I was pretty banged up, and it took me a year to bend my elbow. During rehabilitation, I received prescription after prescription, after prescription, for narcotics that were unknowingly beginning to control my life. I knew better. I began taking pills not to kill the pain, but to give me the strength and desire to keep my house spotless, my mood up, and my body high. I introduced them to my husband. I did.
Five or more years went by. My world looked good through my rose colored glasses, but in actuality, everything I had was on its way out the door. My house, my business, my marriage, and my happy family were crumbling. I was living in a nightmare.  I woke up one day, reached for my medicine and glass of water to start the day, and realized that I, we, had a serious problem.  I spent the next two days in bed, sweating, crying, and mourning the fact that it was over. It had to be. He was not so lucky. I’m still in the process of addressing that guilt.
I couldn’t watch him kill himself any longer. It became difficult to live with someone who didn’t want out. Drugs alter one’s personality. They take over everything. I dropped him off at rehab, and I began to try to put the pieces of my broken world back together again. That was the end of my marriage. I had to learn how to take care of myself. My grandfather wasn’t there to save me, my father couldn’t help me, and my husband had to save himself. He did. He just needed more help. A different kind of help. He is sober, and doing quite well. He cares for our little girl, and he is a wonderful father. But I can’t go back. I just can’t.
Part III
The Aftermath
On December 10th, 2012, the old pellet stove broke for good. Tired of seeing our breath, and tired of being hungry, I had hit rock bottom. I knew that in order to survive, literally survive, I needed to break free. Alaina and I turned our backs on that house, and all that was in it, and took charity from a friend of mine who had an empty house for rent in the country. I am writing from the front porch right now, surrounded by a field of tall goldenrod and open space. My small boat sits on the pond and my chickens eat bugs out of the lawn without any concept of how they got here.
My Favorite Rooster
A miracle is what happened. That’s what I say.
These words are hard to say out loud. We are instructed to keep our secrets secret. I speak for those who have had a problem with addiction. We are not freaks, we are not dirty, and we are not a secret. We are your neighbors, your friends, your parents, and your lovers. We are the people that you love.  If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, do not shame them; they are full of pain enough.Get help.
Check out this video from the Website PainkillersKill.org. if you don't know firsthand about addiction.

I’m not sure what will become of me. My oldest daughter met a boy and stays with him most of the time. My little Carly stays with her father, who has a television, food, and neighbors, while I attend grad school, in hopes that I will someday be able to establish myself in this world, and stand tall on my own two feet. I’m still putting the pieces back together, differently. I promised myself I will never be cold again.

The Unwritten Chapter/Reflection
Determination is a powerful tool. If you do not refuse to be beaten down, if you cannot silence the voices of those who have told you that you will never be more than you are right now, if you do not believe you are worthy of happiness, and your identity is constructed according to what relationship you are in at any given time, then you will never get the pleasure of getting to know you. You are a capable of change, and capable of growth.
first college graduate in the family, age 38

Healing is done through accepting the fact that the ones we would like to change the most, may not live up to the expectation. We can begin to heal when we realize that in order to grow, we must forgive, not only those who hurt us so deeply, but also our vulnerable, flawed selves. If we do not honor the emotions that are buried deep within, and tear down the walls that keep us from being completely and wholeheartedly free, freedom from this bondage to the past will not be possible. We must learn to forgive. We must write, and honor our own history, but to do so, we need to discover who we are. We cannot forget our own identity, whatever that means. Someday I will change my name again. When I have reached the fullest potential of my autonomy, when my identity is not defined by any outside influence, but confidently resides within me, only then will I be free. Until then, I can be grateful for the experiences that I have had. I have had a wonderful life thus far. It may be hard to understand, but I wouldn’t want my life any other way. I know who I am, where I came from, and I can do anything.

Contemporizing Alisoun: 
A Fictional Story of a Search for Identity

"Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but, as a community, to see that I am protected in it. I trust that I am fully understood, for I mean just that, and nothing less."
Victoria Woodhull

Before He Leaves:
Let me tell you about my love. He is as beautiful as a full moon, and as gentle as a morning star. His hair falls softly over his forehead and curls in ringlets of sun-bleached waves that beg me to touch it. I do. A lot. He isn’t my first love, but he sure feels like it. The night we met, he kissed my cheek, and I let him in. I abandoned all of my fears. My walls came crumbling down, and I let him in. I do not grow tired of him, and he is never too familiar. His habits don’t annoy me. His selfishness goes unnoticed. We speak sweetly to each other, and I remind him of how pretty he is, and how proud I am of him. I cannot get enough of his curious conversation, his beautiful body and his unique spirituality. I wake up and send him a text “Good morning, love.” He sends me one back, “Good morning, sweetheart.” There is nothing I would rather do. Years have gone by and nothing has changed. He is the definition of beauty and art, in human form. He and I, years and worlds apart, have created love. This feels good. Don’t get lost. Nothing gold can stay, Pony Boy.

Watching Him Turn the Corner from the Road:

I’m standing where I can see his truck drive away and he makes a right turn and I can’t see anymore. I stand there. Alone. I’m not used to being alone. Before any fear sets in, I am numb. I tell Alyssa (Tim’s girlfriend), that we have to go because we have a lot to do and that six weeks isn’t that long after all. I drive home and for twenty minutes I do nothing but think of his truck turning the corner, and what that means. I’m afraid to be alone with myself. How can I love him if he is gone?

I come to two realizations:

First, that I have constructed my identity around my relationship with another person, again. Unknowingly, blinded by a powerful emotion, I sacrificed myself, again.  I can’t breathe.

Second, I must be free. I must free myself from this relationship before I lose all sense of myself. I’m suddenly surrounded by mirrors.

I can’t find myself. I search and search but can’t find me. I am in a long dark tunnel and I can’t find my identity. I know who I was, by definition, but I’m not sure who I am right now. I have to get to know myself. I need to spend some time with this person.

I stop texting happy thoughts, and I become desperate and pathetic. My words are weapons used to get some kind of reaction, to no avail. I push him further and further away. Distance has brought out my insanity. He cowers from my emotions like a scared kitten. I’m ruining it.

I write on my bathroom mirror. I count on my friends, and on the calendar. I cry. I can’t stand to be without him.

I start to feel like I care about him more than myself. I question everything; everything becomes a theory. Why did I allow myself to become so attached? Why am I the only one crying? Are all women this emotional? How long will it take until I am better? Until I no longer this pain in my heart? Where do I begin? Will I ever give my heart away again? I think not. Loneliness drives a person to irrationality. Focus on other things. Focus on me. Focus on my own identity. Not the prescribed associations or assigned characteristics, but the unrestricted, individual, me. Not the student, or the mother or the citizen. Just me.
The words on the bathroom mirror begin to change. 


I look in the mirror
I see me
A girl who likes calligraphy
 And heart shaped rocks
And mismatched socks
And old, folded letters
In a memory box
The characters in this Blog Post have been Constructed for your enjoyment.

No comments: