Push Hard to Open – Sledgehammer

Chapter 5 ~ Sledgehammer

If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood. –
Peter Handke

I was four years old when I woke to severe sounds like a giant sledgehammer taking down the support beams of our house.

We lived in an old, white, creaky farmhouse in Fort Dodge, Iowa.  The type of house I’d love to find today to fix up. There was a front porch, a side porch, and a back entryway that had a huge sheet of thick plastic duct-taped to the doorway to keep the winter wind and snow from entering and crystallizing our kitchen.

Off the kitchen was a bathroom and beyond the bathroom was a door to the dark, damp, dirt-floor basement. Sometimes my punishment would be to sit on the stairs leading to the basement.


I slowly scaled down the staircase to discover what was making the loud noise. My older cousin Kevin was sitting in a chair in the living room by the front door. Frozen with fear, stuck to that chair, he motioned for me to go back upstairs. I went up and came back later to find the chair empty. This time I went all the way down the long staircase and headed to the lit dining room.

My dad and older brother were sitting at the table. In the corner of the room, where our telephone was attached high on the wall, were many jagged holes.

My dad asked me if I knew where my mother was.

I didn’t.

We three, me, my older brother and my drunk dad, waited at the table until she came home.

She arrived drunk as usual. He made her sit down and asked her where she’d been. Of course, she said she’d been out looking for him. As was often the case.

He raised his rifle and put the end of the barrel in her mouth with his finger on the trigger. I begged him not to shoot my mommy.

He pulled the gun away and shot into the corner.


We sat there, we four, as he repeatedly aimed, cocked the gun, and shot into the corner for what felt like hours.

I don’t remember how that night finally ended. I’m sure along the lines of, “It’s late, go to bed. Your mom and I need to talk.” Which is domestic violence-speak for I’m going to beat the shit out of your mother now and possibly rape her.

Much of what I remember from my childhood takes place in sounds. Sound memory.

I remember the sounds best.

I didn’t always witness the abuse in action with my eyes. I cowered in my room or paced my room looking for a weapon, making a plan to kill my dad. The sounds are what I remember.

I also remember the evil look in my dad’s eyes when he’d tell us in detail how he’d kill us all.

The next day, after the abuse, was the visual horror show.

My mom’s face cut up, swollen, black, blue and purple eyes. Blood spatter on the walls. Lots of things destroyed. Tables bent and broken. Walls with holes from my dad’s fist or my mom’s head. Pabst Blue Ribbon cans.

The smell of alcohol and cigarettes permeated our prison.

It’s amazing you can grow up in such a terror filled home and still have some okay moments. A few normal family memories sprinkled here and there, but not enough to outweigh the damage, the shame, the guilt, the inability to let anyone in.

I’ve been out of my childhood now and on the other side longer than I was in my childhood. I need to understand the weight it carries into my life now. Have I created all of this on my own here on the other side?

Push Hard to Open – The List

Chapter 4 ~ The List

The curious case of the stupid relationship and why I stayed so long, or, why I overstayed my welcome. I began writing down the excuses:

  • “I’m asexual.”
  • “I don’t ever need to have sex again.” This was in our early, early 20’s, he was confident about this one.
  • “What are you some kind of nympho? Maybe give me a schedule or a heads up when you want it.” This one really hurt my feelings and was after we were married, when I’d ask if we were ever going to “do it” after being turned down over and over.
  • “Men peak at 19 and are no longer interested after that.”
  • He blamed a weight gain (his).
  • He blamed work and stress and having to get up early.
  • He blamed Mick/the screenplay which I wrote because of the situation already at hand.
  • He often just said/says nothing and leaves this mysterious curtain up I can’t open or penetrate.
  • He even implied and stated I was less evolved because I wanted to express myself sexually. And, I looked within and believed it.
  • Now he says I’m mean and that I don’t touch him or say nice things. He trained this. What did he think would happen after 15 years of this nonsense?
  • “You need to get a baby-sitter, so we can go out to eat like we used to.” But, we still never had sex back then, WTF is a babysitter and dinner gonna do for us now?

Why’d he choose me to marry? Did he think because my family was so fucked up he’d be able to control this sexless thing better? Like I’d roll over and accept it without a fight? Or, eh hem, not roll over.

He blamed a lot of things early on. He blames my upbringing. I don’t know why it affects him. I dealt with my family’s issues long ago. I let it go.

I knew I’d still tell my story, but I am okay. I’m at peace with all of that. It shaped who I am. I’m not easy, but I am strong, considerate, kind, private, stubborn, and generally happy except for this big fat issue.

He likes to tell people how intuitive and what a good judge of character I am. My intuition has been whispering and screaming at me from day one with him. Why did I ignore it and believe his lies?

Over and over he’d tell me I was wrong. About my goals, about sex, about him, and about my experience within the relationship. That what wasn’t happening between us was my problem.

He’d tell me I’m way off, I’m wrong, but then give me nothing to go on. Nothing.

Why have I stayed so long?

Push Hard to Open

Chapter 3 – Back to Normal

Me: Where did the time go?
Gwen: I think it’s downstairs.
Me: It might be.
Gwen: I think it’s in the kitchen.
Me: I think you’re right.

He brought me flowers last night. Tried to hug and kiss me. I moved away like I always do now.

There’s this thing that happens every time we’ve discussed our issue where he moves forward like everything’s fine. We act as though all is normal. Our normal.

He doesn’t hear me or accept that I’m done unless there’s a major miracle and I feel his want for me and I want him back. Unless, of course, I poop out, throw in the towel and accept this thing called a sexless marriage. I hope I’m strong enough to move forward and not accept this life.

The sad part about accepting him or his new attempts is if I stay, and he’s still unable to do what he’s never been capable of, I betray myself yet again. And, more time is lost.

How is it going to be different now? How can he possibly want me now that my boobs are so huge from breastfeeding and I’m carrying few extra pounds of baby weight and I’m so disheartened and he trained me to be the cold bitch I am today. And, and, and?

How, now, is this supposed to work?

Push Hard to Open – Dark & Damp

Chapter 2 – Dark & Damp

A mild January afternoon in 1998, I finished my last shift at a bank in Iowa City, Iowa. I went to my apartment, packed my car full of what I felt were my most valuable belongings, and drove to Chicago.

That dark, wet, evening I found an illegal spot to park my car, near a hydrant. My heart raced. The noisy busyness of Clark and Belmont on a Friday night exploded into my face as I ran to a pay phone to call him, “I’m here, but not sure where to park. Can you come down to help me?”

I found I wasn’t welcome that evening.

It was a strange, icky place while I stayed with him and his brother until I lined up school, a job, and a place to live. The initial plan was to live with my former Iowa City roommate, but she was dating a guy and no longer wanted a roommate.

He was distant. He blamed his brother not being happy with our arrangement.

He didn’t want to have sex.

I cleaned their disgusting apartment, mainly the bathroom and the kitchen. And other than that, I stayed out of their way.

I existed as though I didn’t exist. I didn’t take up too much space. I disappeared when they were around.

One night we went out to a movie. When we returned, we parked on Clark Street across the from his building.  Climbing out of the car, I noticed movement in my periphery. I zeroed in and gasped, “Whoa do you see that?” and motioned for him to look up. Two sets of naked men adorned in leather chaps, studded dog collars and chains on top of the building, along the ledge, were fucking. Fucking hard.

A beer bottle crashed next to us on the sidewalk. He didn’t look. Instead he turned angry, told me to shut up, squeezed the top of my arm, and charged me inside his building.

I’m from Iowa, I hadn’t seen anything like that before. Isn’t this something you would gasp at and bond over? Maybe go fuck over?

It was April by the time I finally moved out. I had to sell my cute, little orangey-red beamer. A 1985 318i. I loved that car. That car felt like home.

On a sunny, slushy, Spring Friday I drove it to some jackass mom and pop dealership on Western Avenue. The guy gave me $1200 for it then drove me home in it to his apartment. I repeated to myself it’s just a car, it’s just a car. Bigger things ahead, let it go. I needed the money to get into my own apartment.

The unsettling part nagging me besides losing my material possession was it meant I would be stuck in Chicago for a while.

Monday, when I went into the office, my boss told me they were planning on giving me a little loan to help me get into an apartment. Damn it!

I lucked out with my first real job in the city of Chicago. I worked for the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago. A small office on Franklin and Madison just a block from the train. Everyone there was quirky, genuine, quite supportive, and very much a small knit and at times dysfunctional family. I met a few great gals there. Two of whom I’m close with today though we don’t see each other much. Three were in my wedding. That first “real” job experience was full of laughter, goofiness, and fun.

I was still me then.

Push Hard to Open

“The deepest work is usually the darkest.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Chapter 1 – Homing

What is homing? It is the instinct to return, to go to the place we remember. It is the ability to find, whether in dark or in daylight, one’s home place. We all know how to return home. No matter how long it’s been, we find our way.  We go through the night, over strange land, through tribes of strangers, without maps and asking of the odd personages we meet along the road,

“What is the way?”

The exact answer to “Where is home?” is more complex… but in some way it is an internal place, a place somewhere in time rather than space where a woman feels of one piece.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD.

I don’t feel home in my own home. Sure, I feel protected from the elements and comfortable, and some of my things are here. But, I haven’t found my home, yet.

Every time we’ve moved, I’ve had trouble unpacking. Our house today remains unfinished. No art on the walls or pictures. Generic, as though anyone could step in and live here. I’m not really here.

I had a film poster of It’s a Wonderful Life professionally framed for him one birthday. It’s on our wall. In our room. Next to our bed. Mocking me.

I told him my fantasy of us divorcing: The pleasure of having joint custody. Allowing me time to myself to fuck and enjoy a man who desires me. Space and time to be truly and unapologetically myself. Free from the shame and sadness I feel every day.

It felt good to be honest and true. And he accepted it, in that moment, without his usual venomous response to “balance the scales.”

I confessed, “Lately, I find myself sizing up men when I’m running errands. Would I fuck him? I can tell he’s attracted to me. How about him and him and him and him? I don’t know if I can allow you to take up any more of my time. I don’t think you understand how serious this is. I’m not going to do it anymore.”

He met me with silence.

“Why can’t you just tell me why it’s been this way? Can you at least tell me you’ve been in love with someone else all this time? Or that you’re gay? Give me something. If you’re not attracted to me, it’s okay to tell me.” Say something, say anything please.

He says, “You’re one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.”

“You must not be attracted to beautiful women.”

He says, “You look beautiful right now.”

Sitting across from him on the sofa, I cry and stare through the window at the waning moon.

“Can I hug you?”


“Can I rub your feet?”


“So I can be close to you and touch you.”

I don’t believe him. “My feet stink.”

He rubs them anyway.

Bob Dylan’s song, Don’t Think Twice, popped into my head. “You just kinda wasted all of my precious time…”

Don’t Think Twice, Covered by Susan Tedeschi

He pleads, “Tell me. What can I do?”

“I’ve told you. I never wanted to be here. I can’t let you in now. You have nothing to give.”

He begs, “Please don’t leave me.”

“But, you will be free, too, my dear. Free of me asking you why? Free of whatever stress I cause you. Free of an intimate relationship with me that you do not want.” 

I don’t even want him like that anymore. I’d just like to understand.

“It would have to be instantaneous. Whatever it is you think you can do now. I can see through the bullshit, the fake. I’d need to really feel it because I’m not giving it a year or five or ten or twenty. We’re out of time.”

He’s out of time.

He says, “I’m sad and angry with myself. Do you even love me anymore?”

“I don’t know.”

I’ll warn you now, if you don’t like the word fuck or if you’re expecting me to find fivehundredbillion different fluttery, butterfly ways to describe intimacy, you will not find it here. Fuck is the shortened version coming from an angry woman’s mind.

I’m not saying all I want is to get fucked. I mean, I do, a little, and with the right person if it makes sense at the time. But in general, I want the whole shebang.

I want kind and considerate, sensitive sex. I want kinky sex. I want angry, make up sex. I want angry, mad at you sex. I want we’re bored sex. I want happy sex. I want funny sex. I want vacation sex. I want morning sex. I want oral sex. I want sex in obscure, public spaces. I want shower sex. I want pregnant sex. I want sad sex. I want spiritual sex.

I want. I want. I want it all.

I mention how hurt I am when I think of all the special places, holidays, and anniversaries that went by and how we never had sex in those places, or on those holidays and anniversaries. Sex couldn’t even be mustered up Valentine’s Day.

I recounted every opportunity for intimacy: Days we had nothing going on, days when the sky was pretty, nights by the fire, nights when the electricity went out from a storm.

Every. Missed. Opportunity. Every vacation ending with the exact same argument. Him acquiescing, once, to shut me up.

We’ve gone years, yes years, without sex or intimacy.

Later in the week, we found ourselves discussing what I thought we were no longer discussing. Instead of engaging, I scrolled through Facebook. An article popped up in my Facebook feed about sexless marriages.

He asked, “What are you reading?”

“You wouldn’t be interested.”

He asked again, “What are you reading?”

“It’s about sexless marriages.”

“I would be interested in that article. Send it to me.”

So I did.

He said, “I had no idea that’s how you felt.”

“What the fuck? I’ve only been telling you this since before we married, and you convinced me it would all work itself out.”

Thank you for making me feel like an ugly, insane, crazy bitch with unrealistic expectations. Expectations that were only unrealistic because they were aimed at you. I didn’t expect the best house, clothes, cars, or vacations. I expected true and deep intimacy and playfulness with the man I chose to share my life.

This disconnect permeates everything I do and every encounter I have every minute of every day.

Sexless married women (and, men): We are beautiful, smart, funny, fit, and well-rounded. We walk through each day, through each interaction feeling like we’re worthless. Because, in our safest relationship, we are turned away, neglected, and made to feel wrong for wanting something so primal.

I wrote down the excuses he used over the years to sort through and understand. As the list grew longer, it opened my eyes. It became clear how ridiculous I was for staying all this time. The list revealed that I did not exaggerate or make up stories as he led me to believe through his arguments and avoidance of the topic.

I felt insane every time I tried to discuss this issue. My 30’s are gone. I’m 40 now. What’s next? Menopause? Me drying up? Possibly never having the experiences I most desire? A fully intimate and spiritual connection with another.

Even as we discuss it, his eyes tell me this is my problem. I’m the one who’s wrong.

I don’t know if it’s his master plan, but he’s trying to keep me here. He’s trying to convince me one more time, until there is no more time.

On a beautiful, warm, late summer’s day, not long after I wrote the list, we sat in the screened-in deck. Gwen was napping. With heaviness yoked around me and tears rolling down my face, I cried, “I can’t do this anymore. I know it’s not me. I no longer need an answer from you. But. Is there anything you want to tell me?”

“No.” His face twitched. The blank stare, the one he uses when he’s not pouring the blame in my lap, could not mask his eyes. I don’t know how he’s held it in so tightly all these years.

I need to understand why I stayed so long. I need to find the courage to believe I deserve to be loved. And, love the way I want to love.

“It’s as though you think you can keep pushing this… Until I reach 80, and finally stop trying. As though, I will eventually give up on all I want.”

He begged again, “What can I do?”

I don’t know how to articulate what I need from him. What he needs to do can’t be taught or described. I’ve tried. It’s either there or it’s not. I don’t want a forced or fake experience.

How do I explain that which naturally happens between two souls? I see it in the eyes I’ve met on the street in passing. Flirts in the office. Clients. Strangers at the grocery store. Mick.

It’s just there, something opens—a dance begins, and you decide whether to say yes or no.

In our arguments over the years he’s screamed, “I do want you!”

“Why tell me that if you can’t act on it? You’re keeping it to yourself under lock and key. I don’t give a fuck when you say want me if you never act like a man.”

He asks again, “What do I need to do?”

“Be a man.” Be a fucking man.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

― Maya Angelou