Friday, September 28, 2012

Reading the face behind the mask

I was looking for appropriate internet sites to advertise my book, “…Until You Die”: The Narcissist’s Promise.  Set in Massachusetts, I was looking at facebook pages from some of the towns I mentioned in my book.  Readers usually enjoy books set in familiar locations as it paints a distinct visual picture in conjunction with the text.  As I looked at a page from one town, I noticed several photographs.  Upon closer examination, I surprisingly came across a recent photograph of my abusive ex at a high school reunion.  My first reaction was an automatic gag reflex; an honest, physical response to the individual who has launched a vengeful campaign since I filed for divorce in 1996.  Due to deeds so vicious, I always avoid looking at his face, and avert my eyes, so he appears as a mere silhouette.  Our marriage is now a vague shadow, overpowered by nauseating memories of years of abuse and harassment that still follows me.

Although repulsed, I forced myself to study the revealing photograph.  His left hand rested on a chair for support, and held a glass of red wine in his right hand.  His posture is arrogant and stiffly posed.  Instead of leaning forward to speak to a seated classmate, his head upright and his eyes cast downward.  His mouth displays a closed smile that doesn’t touch the rest of his face.  His eyes are cast downward and expressionless disinterest. Narcissist expert, Sam Vaknin offers an insightful explanation on the “haughty” body language of a narcissist, when he says, “a narcissist often refrains from physical proximity (he maintains his personal territory)."  The “name tag” on his shirt is hand written because he never graduated.  In a true narcissist fashion, he balked at authority when they suggested earning enough graduation credits the following year. 

Despite that, he became a successful business man, bragging of his accomplishments by displaying his variety of purchases.  The rewards of his efforts were signs of self devotion.  He failed in both his marriages, and had a superficial attachment to his children.  Stability of owning a home was unappealing because he rebuked the financial responsibly of owning anything that did not benefit him solely, such as his numerous cars, boats and motorcycles.     

As a survivor able to have the opportunity to look at my former batterer without his knowledge was empowering.  Knowing the charade of successful contentment from this recent photograph was the mask he always wears.  I only can pray my children will see it as well, and realize that masks are for Halloween, recognize the lies it conceals, flee for safety, and seek the truth. 

I know if he hasn’t removed his mask yet, perhaps what hides behind it is even more frightening.     

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Female Friends

Women cherish their female friendships.  This unique bond is sometimes even closer than a sister. I say that because, in a sense, siblings are forced into a relationship called a family.  They compete for attention.  They experience moments of jealousy, and arguments from the never ending presence of their sibling.  Later on, they become allies and then friends, eventually going their separate way although still tethered by the invisible, unbreakable, and pointless words, “blood is thicker than water”.  

Blood may be thicker than water, but is it thicker than a chocolate frappe shared with your best friend from middle school?  Those are the memories that create the bonds formed in childhood that are somehow stronger and less prone to breakage.  It makes sense.  There is no vying for parental attention or jealousy that someone else is the favored child.  Bedrooms, clothing, and toys don’t have to be shared.  Conversely, time spent with a friend is precious and wonderful.  There is no drama lingering from prior family incidents, just the warm memories that have been solidified over years. Heartfelt hugs are shared and they each go their separate ways until the next time.             

When a friendship ends, the familial guilt is not there to second guess or regret that decision.  Perhaps there is an irreparable argument.   Perhaps it’s more severe; even involving philandering.  Or perhaps one friend becomes lost in her own world and cannot return to reality….the saddest loss of all because there is no concrete answer.   

I have experienced the two former scenarios years ago.  There was the friend I met in middle school who lost herself to the control of her narcissistic husband so she could no longer think for herself.  I haven’t seen her since 1997.  There was the friend who swore eternal support during my acrimonious divorce, while fueling her own lack of self esteem by an extramarital affair with my husband.  She attempted contact recently, which I didn’t acknowledge.  More recently, there is the friend who has lost touch with reality.  Tragic and heartbreaking, but I am not qualified to deal with her demons; and she is too possessed by confusion, fantasies and paranoia to accept help.

With all three women, there were nagging signals that something was not quite right.  Like drinking that chocolate frappe which starts to weigh heavily in your stomach, but you keep drinking because it tastes so good.  Yet eventually you need to do what is in your best interest.  It’s easy to push a glass away, but much more difficult to push away a friendship.  The ties that bind female friends are firmly knotted from sharing the laughter and tears, the escapades and adventures, and thousands of memories over the years.  Therefore escape is almost impossible, unless you sharply sever the ties. 

So, while those sibling bonds may fray, and break, there is usually a way to mend them; often utilizing a joint effort to repair the connection, sometimes even with additional help from the family.  But once a friendship becomes more poison than pleasant, an attempt to become re-tethered is like agreeing to be dragged down into the sea of her helplessness, malevolence, or insanity. 

Sometimes, the best decision is to walk away and never look back.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Woman's Son

 My labor began on a Sunday and three days later, on September 7, 1988, I had my first son.  To backtrack 9 months….My pregnancy symptoms began around Christmas 1987.  With optimism, I suggested the possibility to my husband, who was incredulous to that probability.  His skepticism was all the more preposterous as he was fully aware that our equation of M + W – C = Baby.  The positive pregnancy results were met with my husband’s responding, “It’s too soon and I don’t think you should have it.”  

We were approaching 30 years old and had been together for three years.  Categorically, we were not statistically unsuitable of becoming parents. Begrudgingly, passive acceptance of the pregnancy bordering on disdain greeted me for those 9 months.  My husband didn’t attend a single obstetrician visit.  He was uninterested in feeling the baby kick.  He mocked the prenatal classes.  He was abusive.  He was insulting.  He was selfish.  He was unsupportive during labor, eventually leaving for several hours to “get a good meal and smoke a big, fat doobie”.  When he returned to the hospital, he was so high that the labor nurses kept him from the room during my emergency c-section until my son was born.  In recovery, my husband’s first words to me were, “It’s good that you had a c-section; now you won’t be all stretched out.” 

In the years that followed my son’s birth, the abuse escalated in a cyclical manner, and two other babies were conceived.  One pregnancy was blandly accepted but the final pregnancy was met with furious insistence of an abortion, which I flatly refused and fiercely protected.  Despite three gorgeous children, my husband’s behavior consistently became crueler until I knew if I stayed with him, I would die.  However, filing for divorce was a huge blow to my husband’s narcissistic ego.  If his own wife didn’t want him, what was he worth?  The only way he could remedy that was to punish.  He had the money, the means and the burning vengeance to take everything from me.  Unsatisfied, his sociopathic need for retaliation bled into our children.  Our oldest son was devoted to me and cognizant of his father’s malice, but not savvy enough to eventually be sucked into his father’s illness, coerced by monetary devices, and cut off communication with me.  When his father mocked him, accused him and announced, “My son is gay!” because he did not need to follow his father’s philandering footsteps, my son was unable to face the vicious ridicule, met a girl and got her pregnant.

Discovering the pregnancy through gossip, my attempts to reach out to my son were in vain as he was so fully enmeshed by his father’s control.  As abuse is cyclical, I could only see a future for my son and his soon-to-be-born son mirroring his father’s destiny…a future of pain and retaliation and hurt. 

On September 4, 2010, two days before my grandson’s birth, and three day’s before my son’s 22nd birthday, I wrote this poem.  It was recently selected as a third prize recipient in an internet poetry competition.  So, I felt it should be shared in this forum.

A woman knew a baby, growing within her, destined to be cherished.
A woman felt her baby moving, hoping to share the signs of life with his father who remained distant, cold, uninterested.

A woman knew a newborn, with eyes of melting chocolate and pink cherubic cheeks,
A woman felt her baby boy take hold of her heart, learning how deeply she could love.

A woman knew a little boy, all dimples, tight hugs and laughter.
A woman felt the pain as her son’s father turned away to pursue interests elsewhere.

A woman knew a boy, wise beyond his years, who began to see and speak the truth.
A woman felt the love whispered by her son sharing his thoughts that it was only his mom he knew he could depend upon.

A woman knew a young man, but now, only from photographs and memories.
A woman felt the severed bonds committed by the man she left, bent on revenge despite the damage inflicted on the child they created.

A woman knew a teenaged boy, nostalgic for his mother’s love, yet tainted by his father’s false words and deeds.
A woman felt the joy of reunion, mingling with the pain of the years lost through no fault of her own.

A woman knew her son, once sweet and kind and giving and embracing life’s lessons.
A woman felt the despair on the day her son revealed he had become his father.

A woman knew a father-to-be, and hoped his son would be like the little boy she once knew. 
A woman felt an ache in her heart as she prayed the baby would not follow in his father’s footsteps.

A woman knew of a young father, molded from his own father’s anger, who would someday lose his son and feel the agony of unfounded loss.
A woman felt the anguish of losing a son who remained very much alive, just without her.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I wanted to address the issue of guilt in  my book, "...Until you Die": The Narcissist's Promise.  As this is a true story, the feelings of the characters are real and go beyond the final page.  For those of you who have not read it as yet, let me briefly introduce the protagonist, Skylar Bauers, a survivor of spousal abuse and the antagonist, John Bauers, batterer, narcissist and sociopath.  

What is Guilt?  According to the Encarta Dictionary of North America, there are four definitions of Guilt. 

Awareness of Wrongdoing: an awareness of having done wrong of committed a crime, accompanied by a feeling of shame & regret

Fact of Wrongdoing: the fact of having committed a crime or done wrong

Responsibility of Wrongdoing: the responsibility for committing a crime or doing wrong

Legal Culpability: the responsibility, as determined by a court or other legal authority, for committing an offense that carries a legal penalty

For a narcissist, who never believes there is anything wrong with them – it’s always someone else, so how can they feel guilt, responsibility or remorse for their actions?

The victim looks inward and wonders, have I done anything wrong?  After she unfairly and without reason lost custody of her childrenSkylar Bauers posed that question to her mother, who answered truthfully, “The only thing you did wrong was marry John Bauers”. 

I know of a man who had custody of his children, believing it was in their best interest.  Regardless of the circumstances of that decision, he remained compliant regarding visitation.  His relationship with his ex-wife was extremely cordial with effective co-parenting   His rationale was that the children needed their mother and he wanted to foster as much “normalcy” in their maternal relationship as possible.  This case is an anomaly of what usually occurs within our legal system.

Although many of the stories I’ve heard, the case of Skylar Bauers v. John Bauers shows a woman who was never labeled as unfit, incompetent or having a personality disorder.  A Guardian ad litem & psychologist was brought into court by John Bauers unethical attorney.  This was not due to a request by the judge and he was not court appointed to this case.  Even so, Steven Shapse attempted to interrupt a court proceeding in order to pin a label of personality disorder on Skylar, without ever meeting her. His attempts were pathetically in vain and held no weight in court.         

How can a court look at someone who vehemently denies a relationship between the children and their estranged spouse and see fairness?  How can a judge continuously punish a non-custodial parent whose life outside of court is drama-free, without scratching his head in confusion when faced with accusations of contrary behavior?  Isn’t that judge just as guilty as the narcissist?  

Skylar Bauers does not fit into any of the above definitions of guilt.  However, one synonym of guilt is remorse.  Skylar is not guilty, as she did nothing wrong.  But she does feel tremendous remorse at marrying and having children with John Bauers.  She is not guilty of doing anything which caused her to lose custody of her children, except to create them with someone as contemptible as John Bauers.  And that awareness is can weigh just as heavily as guilt.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Inscription Interrupted

Wow – it’s been a long time.  Shortly after my last blog, I was let go from my job.  I was working as an executive assistant for the Vice President of Marketing.  As with most business, the crunch in the economy was an axe ready to fall.  Therefore, with a restructuring of the department, my position was eliminated.  It was “timely” for the company as I had almost hit the 5 year retirement bonus.

It was also timely for me as I had the opportunity to help my 13 year old returning from Israel and experiencing the bittersweet final weeks of middle school.  I had plenty of time to help her as she endured the transition, to work with career counselors on my job search, and go to the gym to sweat off those 5 sedentary years.  But just as I was getting back into the routine, a silly accident injured my knee, which placed me on the couch with an icepack everyday.

In addition, my mom was in rehab again.  To briefly digress, in September of 2010 (at 81), she fell and broke her hip.  To compound that – she had to begin dialysis. That began a downward spiral for her as a pleasingly plump woman who carried her age well, became an old lady as her weight dropped from her body and her hair turned white.  She never should have gone home, but she insisted although she was far too frail.  And four days after she went home, she had her final fall – this time breaking her pelvis, ribs and hitting her head.  Five days later, her doctor advised hospice, as her bones would never heal.  I saw her the following day in the hospital.  Unable to swallow, she nodded in agreement to eat her favorite orange sherbet later that evening.  That night, I sent e-mails to 2 Rabbis asking how to make a decision, in the role of her healthcare proxy.  The wishes she conveyed to me after her first fall were to be “kept alive”.  But that would mean the discomfort of dialysis, physical therapy and occupational therapy.  Hospice was keeping her comfortable for the possible few weeks she had left.  Do I make a decision according to her wishes as the dutiful daughter?  Or do I choose the compassionate option?  I never had to make that decision because mom made it for me, when she simply stopped breathing.      

It’s time to move forward as I know I should do and I know that’s what mom would have wanted.  Thank you for following my blog and thank you for letting me share.