Martial Outcast

Girls dream of pretty white dresses and three-tiered cakes to herald in their union with the man who captures their soul. Churches with deep crimson flowers set the stage for wedded bliss. Parents, with empty wallets and full hearts, shed tears of joy to see their daughter enter into the sacred ceremony of holy matrimony. Many happy years are sure to follow the newlyweds along with the occasional trying times but love will conquer all, right? Only in sappy romance novels does such a fantasy exist.

Flowers fade, love shatters, and marriages dissolve. My dreamscape vanished after twenty-one years and had me running to salvage what little remained of my individuality. I can’t remember the exact date the idyllic dynamic of my marriage changed. Nonetheless, our relationship had twisted into something less enduring.

At one time I had those notions of happily-ever-after dancing in my naïve mind. After all, my parents married young and had many years of trying times raising four kids. Yet through it all, they reached the milestone of fifty years of not murdering each other. I’d often joked to my parents that I was going to put them in a timeout when they verbally sparred. Their anger was a mere farce. The secret to their success was never going to bed angry, something I never mastered. Our bedroom was the battleground instead of a sanctuary.

My dynamic growing up was an unparalleled world of family unity over materialistic obsession. I coveted having a large family myself one day with plenty of children to impart that same wisdom to so that they could pass the same to their offspring. An enriched spirit triumphed over physical baubles. That lesson I’d treasure forever but none of that knowledge prepared me to face a life where those values were scorned. The land where worldly possessions were the true worth of one’s love became my isolated island away from my family. Because of my Catholic upbringing and the example of what marriage should be by my parents, everything that came unhinged in my relationship with my husband had to stem from something I was doing wrong. I grasped at the tangled skeins trying to mend a widening hole between us.

Traditional dynamics of a family, and something I observed growing up with my parental units, was the mother raised the children and sacrificed her dreams. What was more rewarding than rearing children? When our household income needed to increase beyond paycheck to paycheck, my husband decided he would go to further his education. I thought nothing of it at the time. The man had always been the sole bread winner from my observation in the hierarchy. With the economy as it was, I also worked forty hours a week but also was responsible for running a household as well. Time for self was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

What I found after he finished his schooling was another round of deep-seeded resentment. I was the slacker for not bettering my income level despite the lack of a college degree. When my husband sought affairs outside of our marriage, I blamed myself for not being more attentive. Never mind that I rushed out of work to get to the ice rink where my husband dropped our son off and left him. His online girlfriend was more important than his family. One day, my son got into an altercation with another boy in that short span between when his father left him and I arrived at the rink. That incident had my son kicked off the hockey team and out of the sport he enjoyed. Much like I had done, my son blamed himself. The pattern formed but I still didn’t see anything beyond my guilt for not preventing it. Again the problem was squarely on my shoulders because I wasn’t paying my husband enough attention between my physically laboring job and my son. I struggled at work. My enthusiasm for my hobbies waned. Depression sat on my shoulders like a tattered scarf choking me. The skein unraveled completely and exposed my fading soul. When I lost my uncle and grandmother on the same day, the lack of compassion from the man I’d pledged my love to for twenty plus years killed any empathy I had for him. My marriage was a sham and everything I did in an attempt to make him happy furthered my depression.

I made plans in secret to leave with my son in tow. My mother inherited a sum from her brother and was desperate to get me out of a bad situation. On Thanksgiving Day in 2012, I packed up and left while he went to his mother’s and pretended nothing was wrong in our marriage. Heaven forbid he look back in any way. One truth about mentally abusive partners that the victim never realizes how they manipulate. So cunning is their tactics that you turn everything that is horribly wrong onto yourself. Emotional claws cut jagged festering wounds. Visible scars manifest and never fully heal. The real crack across the cheek was unless the abuser kept you locked away, the laws didn’t care how far a person was pushed to the precipice of suicide. My failure in the sacred ceremony of holy matrimony haunted every step I took to get away from the commit I made twenty years ago.

Shattered and torn, I almost ran back. Would the Catholic Church shun me for abandoning the most sacred of unities? How often had I heard the homily condoning the breaking of the martial pact between man and wife? As if staying for the sake of some preconceived idolization born out of necessity in ancient times was worth my sanity. My parents, together for over fifty years, begged me to divorce. Two church going Catholics that hold each other’s hand every Sunday wanted me to run like Forrest Gump. They saw through the thin veil I hid my pain behind. My mother helped me find the strength I thought I lost to stand up to the tyrannical monster trying to woo me with soft spoken words of lament. The villain peeled back that false mask and revealed the manipulating self-centered egomaniac that tried to cow me. Four long years it would take me to cut the cord of that last stretched thin skein. The stark reality that the meager job I’d held for most of my now dissolved marriage was not enough income to live comfortably. I’m not high maintenance by any means but rent alone would eat up one paycheck plus part of another. My schooling was never a priority while I was married. I was expected to simply find another higher paying job with a degree and be reminded about how little I contributed monetarily. Now I was in control of my own destiny. With my divorce decree hanging in my living room to remind me every day what I fought for and the semi-colon tattoo on my arm to never give up, I applied to get the degree I’ve always wanted—Accounting. I can finally better myself instead of struggling to breathe under an oppressive thumb. The air has never smelled sweeter.


Question Everything

To craft a compelling paper takes time, patience, and a lot of wine. Or is that how one crafts a well-rounded argument with another person? Perhaps they are bedmates in the grand scheme of things. I have learned the value of research and analyzing the world around me. Still, I would never consider myself a scholar on any one subject. Technology and discovery changes and evolves. The grey matter betwixt our ears scrambles to keep up. In that, ‘question everything’ has become my mantra. In this day of fake news and people who have lost the art of critical thinking, I have to find different perspectives. Is one source the definitive answer or there other points of view to bring more clarity to the subject? The elements of the rhetorical situation are a solid basis for most writing. This I know well—even fear to some point. Each generation has a new landscape to travel. Each person has the ability to change history for the better or worse. To question the treasure map thrust into their hands. Whether Google or the local library, the chance to learn and continue learning is at their fingertips—should they chose to do so.

We have rules in scholarly writing, however. For example, the format of main point, three sub points, and summary brought back the horrors of keyhole layout during my misspent high school years. I languished for hours trying to come up with three simple elements to state my case. All the research in the world on my subject matter did nothing to belay the deep-seed fears that form of writing brought me. I scoffed and tried to reassure my freaked-out mind that this was a cake walk and all I needed to do was put pen to paper. Nothing is as easy as that or we’d all be laureates out of kindergarten. Part of me still wants to practice the art of the master thespian and explain the woes of writing to the wanderer passing by my door. Please! I plead unto thee! Shake me from this foul beast that dost to claw at my wits! The fact remains that I and I alone have to complete the task and bury the fear behind the wood shed.

My mood lightened as I dug deeper into rhetorical analysis when a familiar friend jumped from the pages to assure me that I hadn’t lost all hope. The essential ‘who, what, where, how, and why’ are a cornerstone, in my opinion, to all types of writing. Perhaps these words stuck out in my mind because I remember them vividly from my English teachers in high school. Those formative years weren’t all a ball of emo misery after all. I relied on those five words for my professional writing. They shined like a beacon in my dark abyss. Sometimes when I’m mired in my mind as it goes off like a cat in a field of butterflies, they are the compass that steers me back on course. So I connected with this fundamental design. Come to me, my darlings, and we shall conquer all.

I realized another important element: Debating is an art form. It can transcend into a mutual respect yet not quite for the resolution of the argument. It could also delve into the madding depths of crass name-calling or alternate facts. The story of the senator and the parent comes to mind from chapter two of Everything You Need to Know about College Writing. The exigence of the situation is the senator touting the merits of going to war. A parent, who has lost a child to this purgatory road, could use an emotional plea to persuade this public official into seeing the tragedy that comes along with his decision. On the other side, the parent could attack his character and perhaps the fact that the cost of life has no bearing on his corrupt soul. One is of reason, one is of heartbreaking emotion. Neither could sway. With that in mind when I searched for something current to base my rhetorical triangle on, I chose a subject that I had read about before. The difference this time was that I picked an article written by someone well-versed in law. I wanted that deeper understanding beyond reading the sterile jargon of the emolument clause I had previously encountered. Zephyr Teachout brought out the human element, along with the sorted history that birthed the clause, in her article in the Washington post titled Trump is getting payments from foreign governments. We have no idea what they are.

With reaffirmed knowledge at hand, I can move forward with this course and the ones to come. There will always be another perspective to our notions. I feel it’s our duty to quest for them. No matter what my accomplishments may be, I am not beyond my capacity to learn. The years do not make us wiser nor does the mileage. I wouldn’t be seeking my degree after all these years if I thought so. Analyze why someone might be striking out on the path they choose or what they could be seeking. Engage for a deeper understanding. How we craft our words will be the way we argue our points—whether in paper form or verbally. The phrase ‘knowledge is power’ only equates if we choose our words carefully and not allow our emotions to rollercoaster. Life has no shortage of doubts and forks in the road. The more we observe, the more the art of persuasion can influence our thinking. We’re mere pups when we come out of high school with big ideals and aspirations. The world is our ocean and we the pirates to plunder it. Question everything.


Research Junkie

Research is a wonderful tool for a writer, no matter if you’re word wrestling a term paper or writing a potential best-selling fiction novel. Factual evidence plays a part in either story or should. We are living in a world of pictures with words slapped on them that are peddled as the truth. The reality of alternative facts used as a hot button phrase to spin a false narrative into a factual baseline. Even numeric statistics can be skewed and strong convictions can sway someone from questioning a statement—even when that statement is proven completely false. We have to make a concerted effort to weed through the muck of misinformation and refute it with a solid counter. Several paths will take us on our journey to knowledge. We must but step forward and ask for claims to be supported with citations from credible sources. Good journalism, it would seem, is a rare commodity.

As a writer, I love the prospect of researching a topic—sometimes to the point of burning days on one particular oddity for a story. I understand the value of not relying one source for information. For example, I’ve bought books written by experts on guns that go into depth on the mechanics and what type of ammunition each type would use. What I couldn’t get from reading was how to hold a gun or the distinct sound one makes when fired. Sure, I could ask law enforcement or one of my military friends but that gives me their perspective. How could I write with emotion with someone else’s words? My solution was to ask a friend to take me out to the firing range. Through that, I felt the deadly power pulsing in that little piece of constructed metal bits. Each buck as the bullet discharged from the 9mm or the impact to my shoulder when the shotgun shell hurled at top speed through the barrel. With this information gathering, I can be confident in inserting this knowledge into any future novel.

On the other side, deciding on the exact audience I want to capture is a little more tenuous. I’ve written in several genres. I could take the approach that most people might be like me and read more than just one type of fiction. However, that would be a big assumption based on nothing but shaking the magical eight ball of faux wisdom. When I read an article online, I honestly can’t pinpoint the intended audience. I know I’m part of the key because I clicked the link and was engaged. So I could rationalize that people of like mind would also enjoy the article. That still gives me little to go on. Presumption isn’t a very good virtue. It’s a fallacy we carry in our pocket.

Still we must learn the art of research to succeed in college. Every subject employs the tactic in one form or another. Our teachings go beyond the textbook. By using multiple sources, distinguishing fact from falsehood will be easier to spot. This isn’t going to convince everyone to your side of the line. An impassioned plea could stir emotion. That human element is a strong ally. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, for example. In the end, supporting your argument with facts—whether by expert opinion or diligent research—will be the cornerstone to the validity of your statements. Think of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Petruchio claims that the sun is the moon yet Katherine rebukes his claim. This is a test of wills between the two would-be lovers and while the statement of Petruchio is false in every sense of the word he expects Katherine to see it as truth. These are the circumstances we could find ourselves embroiled in today if a conscious effort is not made to question one’s reasoning. To ask why someone believes their opinion is rational and all knowing. We are the seekers of knowledge. Otherwise, we wouldn’t grasp debt and sleepless nights like a newborn.