“Why Do You Write?”

“Why Do You Write?”

Recently a friend asked me an interesting question. It was related to what I do as a writer; What I write about and who I write for. It was asked in a place where an elongated answer was too complicated to process, so I decided to “answer” via this post. It’ll probably be helpful for anyone that has never really heard me talk about my work before.

~As a quiet, ultra-observant child, communication was often an issue for me. I was shy and introverted (shocking when you read my work, I know.), and after a few initial “first words”, I spoke in full sentences once I began speaking. I remember looking at my Aunt like she was insane when I was about two years old and saying “That is obnoxious. Please stop doing that.” She was astounded at how direct I was, but because my childhood was a difficult one, my Aunt tried very hard to bring a sense of fun and silliness to my life. It didn’t really stick. I was definitely born ancient.

I am still relatively quiet, but now I know full well that I am an introverted extrovert. In the proper setting, I somehow become the center of attention, the life of the conversation, and I honestly have no idea I’m even doing it. I have no idea what makes me interesting to others or why they listen when I speak, but they do.

Before I started writing, getting my point across often meant I was greatly misunderstood. It somehow gave the impression that I was different than I actually am. A few weeks ago my brother informed me that I’m not a bitch, I’m simply misunderstood. It was an insightful remark, and amusing as hell.

I began writing as an alternative form of communication. I was lucky to be published in most school related publications in regard to poetry and extended avenues. I didn’t always have a choice what was submitted and published, so I decided to do something about that.

In 1994, along with one of my best friends, I decided to produce a by subscription only newsletter. This was prior to the Internet becoming so popular and easily accessed. At this particular juncture in time, newsletters were all the rage. A year into that project, a different opportunity presented itself. I became President & Editor-In-Chief of a fan based organization for a professional athlete. I had his permission and carte blanche, and soon found myself catering to about 1200 people from all over the world. On an extremely regular basis, I’d receive inquiries from people in countries so small, most people had never even heard of them. It was impressive, and I took it in stride. After all, I was just being myself.

I was producing membership newsletters from scratch. Design, layout, photography, and written material. It all had to be put together by me, and I did at least 90% of the writing. I was also handling merchandise, t-shirts and other custom-made paraphernalia. Word of mouth was pretty astounding. I quickly developed a reputation for my no bullshit approach. It’s something I treasure to this day, despite the very sour end to all that hard work.

When I made the decision to leave, to stop completely, it was after the loss of my Grandmother. About two and a half months later a friend died in that sport. No one should EVER fall to their death and have it blown off with a “The show must go on.” attitude. No one, but especially not someone so undeserving of such a tragic end. I backed away slowly, but surely. I was done. I had not only had enough, but I was traumatized, without truly knowing it at the time.

Coming off the heels of that, I threw myself into two other pro-sports related projects involving other athletes, but eventually stopped altogether right about the time my father’s cancer returned for the third time.

I took time to re-focus my interests. I began writing a book around that time, and it remains half completed. I truly doubt it will ever see the light of day, and I am more than ok with that. My heart no longer resides with that body of work, so I’ve made peace with the fact that it won’t be completed.

I’ve never truly stopped writing. I’ve taken breaks for my health, for my sanity. I’ve gone off and done other things temporarily to gain knowledge, but writing has always been a gift for me. It allows me to be heard on so many levels, and gives strength to a voice that, clearly, someone in this world wants to hear.

I tend to live in my own head quite a bit. The genres in which I read are just a peek into what’s bubbling in my writing psyche at the moment.

Four years ago this month, I broke down a system for a dark urban fantasy series. It’s leaning more towards being mythological fiction steeped in history, set in present day. It has had time to simmer and bubble and become something very different from what I originally began writing. It has developed beautifully into something I’m really proud of. I originally set it up as a 17 novel set where each book is an extension of the previous one. I have since pared it down to 8, but at any given moment can twist it and put it in a new direction that extends the story-line out. The first book is nearing completion, and large chunks of the second and third books have been written. I’ve worked in chapters for books four and five as well. I dislike the “write straight through” phenomenon. It’s wonderful if it works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.

You will often read or hear genre writers speak of their characters “coming to them” out of the blue with information, advice, etc. I have not a single weak character, so for me, it’s about slipping into their skin and writing their thoughts, explaining their appearances and mannerisms, and dipping ink into each personality. I LOVE my characters like a dog loves a bone. Anytime someone annoys me, they get cut from the story completely. Pretty much all of my characters are based on someone in my life, however loosely interpreted they may be, but several are immense amalgamations of too many different people to count. Perhaps that is why I love them the way I do. They don’t really talk back, they don’t give me attitude, they don’t judge me, and they’re not rude. Hmm, now that I think about it I realize I like them over pretty much everyone I know!

Writers are artists and I know that I am precise, efficient, and conveying exactly what I want to convey when I write, be it fiction or non-fiction. Some people are simply gifted writers, and I’m egotistical enough to know I’m not some poor man’s imitation of anything or anyone. I know my strengths and I will always, alwaysuse them to the very best of my advantage. In a world where writers are a dime a dozen, you have to be unique to stand out. You have to bring something different to the table and God, the competition is fierce. At the beginning and end of each day, the only person I compete with is myself. If I break a previous record on word count or I complete a chapter so that it fits in seamlessly, that is really all that matters. You write for your audience, yes, but your first audience is yourself, and maybe a few trusted friends, and before a finished body of work is submitted to a publisher, you aim to please audience #1.

Editing? I self-edit because I always have, and yes, I know what I’m doing, however I am not opposed to cutting material under advisement that I trust. There are days I delete nearly everything I have written and start from scratch, and I am almost always better for it, even if it’s painful to cut material. When you’re skilled, you know what works and what does not. When you’re intelligent and skilled, you know sentence structure, how to place dialogue, and you do not use run-on sentences. It’s important to know what you are best at. Not everyone is a writer, this is a given. I am not self-important and I do not need to pat myself on the back or call myself anything I’m not. I know who I am and I know the direction I am taking.

I’m not sure if this answers the why and what, but maybe it provides some insight into what I do when I’m not on here. In short, I create.

“Why Do You Write?” is copyright © 2014 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Create

Laugh…

“Laugh, even when you feel too sick or too worn out or tired.

Smile, even when you’re trying not to cry and the tears are blurring your vision.

Sing, even when people stare at you and tell you your voice is crappy.

Trust, even when your heart begs you not to.

Twirl, even when your mind makes no sense of what you see.

Frolic, even when you are made fun of.

Kiss, even when others are watching.

Sleep, even when you’re afraid of what the dreams might bring.

Run, even when it feels like you can’t run any more.

And, always, remember, even when the memories pinch your heart. Because the pain of all your experience is what makes you the person you are now. And without your experience—you are an empty page, a blank notebook, a missing lyric.

What makes you brave is your willingness to live through your terrible life and hold your head up high the next day. So don’t live life in fear. Because you are stronger now, after all the crap has happened, than you ever were back before it started.” ―Alysha Speer

Dad…

Dad…

It’s been six years today since you passed away. I still remember the phone calls that morning. I remember every day after it so vividly, even the months of not being able to get out of bed or function after burying you. I never want to re-live it again, yet it plays out each year in ways I never imagined.

Growing up I wanted to be as little like you as humanly possible, and you know why. I chose to separate myself and be my own person, because I couldn’t fathom having your blood running through my veins.

Our relationship was a difficult one, but in the end, I made sure you got the best medical care possible, I planned your funeral, and gave the eulogy. I did everything you asked of me. I spoke at the memorial service. You had battled cancer bravely for 15 years, and I chose to honor you instead of pointing out your many flaws. I can always discuss those in therapy. I wasn’t about to embarrass you in front of friends, family, or your co-workers. Lets not talk about your extended family, because you should be utterly ashamed of them. I know I am.

Today, I can hear your voice whenever my brother says certain things, and I can see your expressions when he does certain things. You live on in your son, with his twisted sense of humor, good heart, and firm belief that every single year is going to be a winning one for the New York Giants and the New York Yankees (Not this year M, sorry.). I’m sure you’re rolling over in your grave knowing that Mariano Rivera retired this Fall.

Unfortunately for my brother, he also picked up a lot of your bad habits and a great many of your issues. I have tried my best to help him, but now he’s on his own. I won’t allow myself to re-live my childhood and adolescence with another person with abusive tendencies who doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the things he says or does, who refuses to take responsibility for his actions. I won’t let him become the worst of you, and I won’t allow him to hurt the people that you hurt for so long. If he ever treats a wife and children the way you did, I will put a stop to it. I won’t allow the cycle to continue.

Fortunately, at the core of who he is, he’ll give someone the shirt off his back and save a life. I have seen him do it countless times, and I am in awe of that calm, patient, gentle soul that is caring and accepting, that shows genuine concern for others, that listens to people and shows such immense kindness, it’s incredibly endearing. But when he turns on a dime, I hear and see you, and I probably always will.

Yes, you had your good points. You were smart & sharp, educated, and possessed a warped sense of humor, and a deep and abiding love for cats. You had amazing work ethic. You passed those things on to your children. Bravo.

In fairness, I know you were a product of your own childhood and the traumas you endured. I get it, I really do, but it’s no excuse. I realize you never wanted children, and to that I say “Then you never should have gotten married, and if you did, it should have been to someone who also did not want children.”

For years after your death, I decided to let it all slide. What difference would it make now, carrying around all the anger and hostility I felt and still, to this day, feel? I don’t want to live in the past and carry any of this forward, but the truth is, it does remain. Lingering around forever, like bad perfume.

I have always been very open and honest about what I’ve experienced in my life. I’d be more ashamed if I didn’t discuss the things that have shaped me into who I am. Nothing was perfect, but my mother came pretty damn close. She had to carry the weight of two parents, after all. You may have been physically present, you may have been home each night after a long day of work, but you did not raise your kids. That fell to my mother and Grandmother, and later the responsibility also fell to me. It continues to fall to me to this day.

I can forgive you for what you put us through, and some day that forgiveness will come to fruition. Not today, maybe not in a year or ten years, but eventually I will forgive it, or at the very least, make peace with it. I will NEVER forgive you for what you put my mother through. She deserved a husband who was everything she was, and God, did you fall short in every possible way, to the point where it actually pained me to bury her next to you, for in death I felt she deserved some peace and space that you did not also inhabit. I know eventually it’s just bones, but it still matters to me. She will always matter, for she is a part of me that is deeper than blood and bones.

This was not what I intended to write today, but somehow pain has risen to the surface and I do not possess the ability to “let it fly”. To fake it would be falseness of self, and I cannot abide by that. For today, I may not be able to “let it fly”, but I can certainly “let it be”, because to ask any more or any less of myself would be to court more madness and that is something I do not want, nor do I deserve. For today, it is what it is.

‘Six years can change everything. It can change how you see the world, how you see yourself, how you see your relationships, and how you see the future. I have hardened. I have softened. I have strengthened. I have focused on myself, and I have grown. I have fought battles, and won. I have fought battles that weren’t worth fighting, and walked away unscathed. I have tended wounds, and worked on scars. I have loved and been loved. I have seen beauty, and I have seen the dark underbelly. I have accomplished things people told me I would never attain on my own. I have risen out of the ashes, as the infinite phoenix of my own destiny. Most importantly, I have stood on my own two feet. No matter where life takes me, I know who I am. I know my worth and value.

In Memory of my father, who knows why these things are all so very important. …May You Never Be Broken Again.’

Young IDF Soldier Killed

Young IDF Soldier Killed

This story is all over the news in many forms, so I’m sure some of you have heard it, even if only in passing.

It’s heartbreaking to me that Palestinians are being taught such violence and hatred at such a young age, whereas Sabras (Israeli born Jews) and Jews born outside of Israel aren’t taught hate. I was not raised to hate, I was raised to treat every individual on a case-by-case basis. To this day, that is still how I treat people. I don’t spew hatred and I don’t like carrying around hatred within myself. In times likes these, it simply hurts me that there is such a lack of compassion for humanity in this world.

So many of us have passions and interests that we support in so many different ways, but in turn, we forget to support each other. That’s unacceptable to me, and I hope that one day that changes and people start to see the error of their ways.

In the Jewish religion, we light Yahrzeit to light the way to a happy after-life. Even those who do not believe in reincarnation still do this, especially after the passing of a loved one, or in remembrance of someone we may have never even met. Having lost both of my parents and over 60 friends, family members, and pets, I could probably burn my house down with the amount of candles I’m supposed to light on a yearly basis and on the High Holy Days. I can’t always do it because it fills me with a lot of pain at times to do so.

In light of this tragedy, I hope that some people will purchase a candle (Yahrzeit usually burns for 24-30 hours straight, each one is slightly different in terms of how long it lasts) and light it in honor of a young life lost. One day, there will no longer be a need to light candles for tragedies such as this.

No matter who you are, no matter your religious or spiritual beliefs, remember that you are still a human being.

Blessed Samhain & Happy Halloween

1234371_10152272036654616_1158186842_n
Today is Samhain. It is one of the most important of the 8 Sabbats as it is the Pagan New Year. The wheel of the year has turned full circle and a new year begins. The word ‘Samhain’ means Summers end. It is pronounced ‘Sowin’. Samhain is the third of the harvest festivals, only this isn’t a harvest of crops or grain, it is the harvest of flesh. It was the time of year when farmers and families would slaughter cattle and preserve the meat to last through the cold winter months. Samhain is a festival of death as it is the death of the year and of the waxing Sun. It is also the death of the earth when Plants, seeds, and acorns are now slowly descending underground to ready themselves to be reborn in Spring. Animals will start to hibernate, and the earth will appear barren as it sleeps through the winter months.
Earth energies are being pulled inwards at this time, and this is the time we should also be looking inwards at ourselves. Contemplate the year we have had and the lessons we have learned, whether they were good or bad, what can we take from them and use in the future. The God of the waxing Sun descends into the underworld opening up the veil between the two worlds of the living and the dead. At Samhain, spirits can commune with the living and visit us. We remember our ancestors, the people and pets who have died, and we honor them by placing pictures of them on our altars (you do not need an altar to be Wiccan) and invite them to join us. We should also adorn our altars with seasonal fare such as fallen leaves, twigs, acorns, nuts, turnips, and pumpkins and offer these as gifts to the Triple Goddess who is now in her crone phase. She is the wise, dark mother of knowledge and days past.

Although a time of death, Samhain is also a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. It is a time of ‘out with the old, in with the new’, to start looking forward to our future. On Samhain we should light a fire, as this is primarily a Celtic fire festival where the villagers and townsfolk would light giant bonfires to say goodbye to the God of the waxing Sun, and to thank the Goddess for her gifts bestowed upon the earth. There would also be big feast with stews, corn, and breads, and we would give thanks for people in our lives and show gratitude for all that we have, and give thanks to the people who are no longer with us and invite them to join us at the feast.

Light a candle tonight and put it, safely, near a window facing West to light the way for our lost loved ones and invite their spirits to visit us.

Today is a great time for divination, for doing tarot readings, looking to the future, and asking ourselves how we can improve our lives and move forward for the coming year.

Have a Blessed & Safe Samhain/Halloween.

*Written credit in full goes to Wicca Teachings*
1384380_763197893706450_650560346_n

The Day The World Changed & How I Changed With It…

newyorkcity2

The Day The World Changed & How I Changed With It…
Thanks to Shaun for asking me this question in July. He blogged about it, not knowing I was preparing to do the same today.

The world was irrevocably changed on September 11th,2001. Lives were affected globally. People cried and mourned, and unfortunately in certain countries, some people celebrated what they felt would be the demise of America. There’s a special place in hell for people like that, and I don’t even believe in a heaven/hell concept.

There’s really no one that can’t say that the events of 9/11 have had no effect on them whatsoever. You’d have to be completely heartless and brainless (I have a list of people that make the cut, as I am sure we all do.) to not react to what occurred and what continues to occur in this great big world of ours.

I will start by saying where I was that morning and how I look back on it.

As a native New Yorker, I watched a piece of my city be destroyed by pure evil, by unwarranted hatred. My mother had narrowly escaped the first bombing of the World Trade Center years before, so I already knew the towers were a target, but could I ever have expected to wake up one morning and watch the world change before my eyes in such a dramatic way? No. It still feels like it happened yesterday, except I know how much the world has changed and how much my own life has changed in the past 12 years since the attacks.

On that fateful morning, I woke up to take my Mom to work. She was returning to her job after a little over two months of being home recovering from failed back surgery. I was her primary care-giver/care-taker, so I was present for everything, including that morning’s events.

I am vividly reminded of that day because it started out like most people’s inevitably begin. I woke up and hit the shower. The key to my shower was that the radio was dead silence. Back then I normally listened to CD’s to drown out my own “mind noise”, but since I was in a bit of a rush after my CD fogged up on me, I switched on the radio mid-shower. The station I listen to is always rife with early morning talk and music. It freaked me out after a few minutes, because every single station I switched to was pure static, and the only brief thing I could make out through said static was that the World Trade Center had been hit by a “small plane”. I guarantee you that it was the fastest shower I’ve ever taken in my entire life, because I had to know what was going on, and if my family was safe. It was a total “What the FUCK?!” moment. Hearing those words repeated a second time on another radio station amidst all that static silence, I knew something was very wrong.

I remember throwing on clothes, going into the living room, turning on the TV, and watching the footage. Initially, I thought I was watching a trailer for a new Bruce Willis film, because that’s what it felt like. It was incredibly surreal and disturbing. This could not be happening on American soil! I was in disbelief.

Every channel was showing the footage, but they were claiming that a “small aircraft” had hit the World Trade Center. Surveying the damage, I knew that it hadn’t been a small anything, and that this was an act of terrorism, as opposed to an “accident”. Knowing the area well, I knew that a plane didn’t just swerve in that direction of its own volition.

I immediately called my father, who was working that morning in a government building in the city that had once been a target after the Oklahoma City bombings. He was asking me what happened because my view was different from his, despite his physical view being clearer and closer, and as we spoke, we both watched in horror as the 2nd plane hit the other tower.

We were both vehement in our belief that this was an act of terrorism on American soil, that it was Arab extremists, and we were both upset as all get out. We got off the phone briefly so I could take my mother to work. The devastation we were all feeling was so strong, you couldn’t have come at it with a sword. Anger, silence, worry, it was all in the air.

The news that the Pentagon has been hit, and that a plane had gone down in Pennsylvania were minor shocks at the time, yet all of it was terrifying. Planes entering U.S. airspace were now being re-routed to Canada to avoid further attacks via aircraft.

I returned home to make sure my Dad was still ok, and we talked for a while before an announcement was made that his building was being evacuated as a precautionary measure. The city was in chaos, and it took my Dad a while to get home, but once he was safe I was breathing a huge sigh of relief. My Mom called me throughout the day for updates on what was going on, did my Dad make it home safely, what else were we being told, etc. My brother and I were angry, and Americans were being warned that the attacks on our soil might continue, even after they closed all of the airports. Basically we were being told to watch our own skies. Living near major airports my entire life, the sheer silence of not hearing a plane go overhead for weeks on end was, and still is, freaky. Of course now, after all these years, I still watch planes very carefully.

Despite the phone lines being jammed in the tri-state area, I was lucky to spend part of the day mostly on the phone with my parents. My Mom was completely and utterly horrified after we’d watched everything that morning. When I picked her up from work later that day, as I did every single day until she left her company, that day had changed so much, and shifted the world and our view of it completely.

I was very lucky. I did not lose any friends or family members/loved ones. People I knew very distantly were affected, and for that I will always be sorry, even though I know full well that none of it was or is my fault. That level of tragedy is not something you can put into words, not really.

A week or so after the attacks, you could still see and smell the smoke heavy in the air. I cried seeing the wreckage, my city skyline destroyed, as I went over the Verrazano Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn. Watching trucks in a single file going over the bridge all the way out to Arthur Kill to bring in the debris was awful. Cars, physical pieces of the towers, you could physically feel the spirits of people in the air, and it sickened me to my core.

I will never forget the friends from all over the world that went out of their way to contact me to make sure that I was safe, that my parents were safe, to ask if I needed anything. I remember exactly who contacted me as if it just happened, because almost all of them were overseas. A friend who had visited me the year before and gotten the “Lisa Grand Tour” of New York City was mortified. Eerily enough, one of the charms she had purchased for her charm bracelet had broken the day before. She immediately thought of us buying them together during her visit, and the following morning she took the broken charm as a sign alerting her to my being in danger, and she sent me an e-mail to make sure everyone was ok.

One of the biggest things conveyed to me since 9/11 is people’s fears of flying, be it domestically or Internationally. I’ve been flying my entire life. I have never been afraid to get on a plane and go somewhere, or get on a return flight home. I’ve been lucky to mostly have very smooth travels, and only one or two flights during really bad weather where I was grateful the pilot knew what he was doing.

Do I worry about clearing security at the airport? No. I’ve been hassled once, at Dallas-Fort Worth International where I was screened four times while people who were actually visibly questionable walked right through with no problems. This was at a time when the TSA was being warned to “thoroughly search single white women traveling alone”. I watched as they tore apart my carefully packed carry-on bag, rifled through my books page-by-page (I kid you not!), questioned a pouch chock full of nickels, dime, and quarters acquired during my two week vacation, and asked where I was going, where I was coming from, what my travel intentions were, etc. Texas is one of my favorite places to visit, and the experience with TSA did not sour me in the least, but once they finally cleared me after an hour of unnecessary hassle, a man in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots who’d been watching the entire thing go down told me how disgusted he was to have witnessed that, and that he came very close to intervening on my behalf. That was really sweet, but by that time I was exhausted, and honestly lucky to arrive at my gate to a two hour flight delay, as opposed to 30 minutes of time left before boarding.

Things have changed drastically since then, but my experiences at various airports have been fine clearing security. I’ve been subjected to one “hair search” due to a clip in my hair that had a metal core and one “pocket pat” to verify that what I was wearing clipped to my pants was indeed a pedometer and not a bomb. <rolls eyes> I don’t blame them for being thorough, but I definitely think they need to change a lot of their rules and make things less stressful for travelers who are already frazzled enough as it is.

In the days following 9/11, I remember a much greater sense of patriotism than I had probably ever felt in my life and I will openly admit to being proud of my President in times where I am positive his decisions were not easy ones to make. Standing side-by-side with FDNY firefighters, he made me proud of my city, of its people and resilience, and of basic human kindness and compassion. In general I don’t witness a great deal of human kindness or experience an awful lot of compassion, so it was a highly emotional time.

One thing I am keenly aware of is that I might very well have lost my life that day had I taken a job one year prior with a company whose offices were terribly affected. I like to think my intuition would have kicked into high gear and kept me home that day for a plethora of different reasons, but one never truly knows. When I heard about all of the people lost from that company, people who stayed behind and did not immediately evacuate, or those that went back in to help others, I am extremely grateful for my own life. It’s a humbling thing. Sometimes the choices we make save our lives and we may not always be aware of it, but that night, I was definitely more aware than I ever cared to be.

As a nation, I feel we are both stronger and weaker. So much has changed, but as I look deep within myself, I am glad that 9/11 didn’t harden me any more than anything else I have experienced in life. Certainly it raised people’s awareness to a whole different level and for a very long time fear was a motivating factor for way too many people. I refuse to live in any country and be fearful of my life or my safety.

Every single day we are given is a blessing. We all have our “list of shit” in our lives. Nothing and no one is perfect, but each day is an opportunity to make sure we never forget, to make sure we tell the next generation what happened, and how we all lived through a major moment in history.

In memory of those that lost their lives: You may be gone, but you are not forgotten.

On this day, please click on the FDNY link and donate whatever you can to the Official FDNY Widow’s & Orphan’s Fund. This charity was close to my father’s heart.

Rest In Peace

Rest In Peace

elmore-leonard-dies

http://tvline.com/2013/08/20/elmore-leonard-dead-at-87-justified/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

I’m already having a bad, extremely sad week in terms of losses. This just floored me, even though I had a sense that it was a possibility after the stroke. It deeply saddens me. Anyone who has read about my love for Justified knows that I am heartbroken over this. A brilliant, highly respected writer who will be deeply missed.

Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time, in an extremely bizarre reality, I was in a relationship I should not have been in. The warning signs were there, but some people burn so brightly that you don’t seem to notice you’re going up in flames and turning to ash. Immensely large red flares of danger were being sent up so I wouldn’t get burned. Did that stop anything? Not so much.

He was the quintessential “bad boy”, complete with a Harley Davidson collection (the actual motorcycles, not memorabilia.), tattoos, multiple drug addictions, and a one million foot yacht chock full of issues. Maybe the maternal, nurturing aspect of me wanted to fix or heal him. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m thankful every single day that it is no longer a part of my life.

Initially there was no reaction or emotion from me towards him. He was just a guy, a guy all kinds of women fell for, but I prided myself on not adding myself to the throng of fools. Until one day, when I was seemingly drawn in like a moth to a flame. Except I wasn’t a moth, I was a butterfly, and yet, I suddenly had to have him. The pull was intense. He was crazy about me; The only person who challenged him, who questioned everything, and who was not impressed by anything. The problems though, they were simmering under the surface, just waiting to come out, one by one.

They started relatively early. I had never been told I was “too skinny” before. Even as a former gymnast that had experienced bouts of bulimia on & off for about two years after realizing that I’d never be an Olympic anything. I did not consider myself “too skinny” or “too” anything, really. I had the mouth of a Marine on leave, a writing career that had taken off in an amazing way, and a guy who told me he loved me, but to this day probably doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Someone send that man a dictionary. You’ll find him in there, somewhere very close to the word “Douchebag”, providing you’ve opted for a Webster’s upgrade.

His job allowed me the independence and space that I like in a relationship. I can’t have someone in my face 24/7, nagging, and standing over my shoulder like a watch dog. It drives me insane. He respected that, until the possessiveness became more than just one or two phone calls a day. At first it simply seemed like he was going out of his way to surprise me and brighten aspects of my life, but that wasn’t it, not at all.

The man could spit out promises just as quickly as he broke them, I just didn’t know he was trying to break me in the process.

The criticism I endured throughout the course of this relationship was actually harsher than what I dealt with from my family, and even though I had a comeback for everything he said, the words still haunt me… I went from being vibrant, smart, confident, & 100% in control to depressed, unhappy, paranoid, angry, & jealous. I was reduced to questioning why I was somehow not good enough for him. It was irrational and insane. Logically there was always an inner voice telling me “He’s not good enough for you. What are you doing?! This man is poison. Tell him to go to hell and walk away.”

I remember crying one night to my best friend at the time, after a particularly shitty thing he’d lied about. Here I was, the strongest, toughest, most direct chick people knew, asking “Why would he lie to me like that? Why would he lie about something so important? Why aren’t I good enough for him?” I was devastated by the pathological way in which he’d lie.

My best friend consoled me quietly, basically saying she didn’t know why he had lied or why he would, but eventually, months later, she told me I was “Too smart, too pretty, and all around way too good for the likes of him!” She meant it. She’d had enough of him hurting me. She was furious that he would hurt me in such a manner and then behave as if all was right in the world, and her anger continued to fuel when he showed up at a work event we all attended with a married woman on his arm. “A friend”, he’d called her. More like a drug supplier he’d hooked up with. He was spiraling and wanted to take me with him, but I would not allow that.

For the record, I was already ass deep in alligators when I realized just how big an issue the drugs actually were because they weren’t an issue at the onset. It went from being an old football injury to being an all-consuming, problem-inducing, complete lack of grip on reality. It started out small, as many addictions do, and escalated until it had to be confronted. I did not condone it in any way and refused to support the habit. I was not going to be in a relationship with an addict, period. I was the catalyst to get him into rehab, explaining in list formation all that he would lose if he did not get clean. But as most people can tell you, 30 days in rehab will detox you, it might even get you to talk about why you got into it in the first place, but it’s every single day after leaving a protected environment that matters most. If you have people that love & support you, you have a greater chance at remaining sober. You might slip up, recovery is going to be a constant for the rest of your life, but the effort you put forth is SO important. However, if you return to the exact same lifestyle and friends you had during the height of your illness, it will revert you right back into it at some point, especially if you have no real desire to be clean, no willpower, and no real desire to live. It’s a way of committing suicide slowly, secretly hoping that one day it’ll all be over and you don’t personally have to do the heavy lifting, or deal with the aftermath.

Part of what saddens me about the relationship itself is that I defended, protected, and shielded this man. I was the epitome of devoted and loyal to the Nth degree. My love was genuine, and yet I was constantly criticized, going as far as to be told that I wasn’t good enough to be introduced to his parents, who for years, he told me were dead (I’d later find out he only wished they were.), because of our differing religions. Who the hell were these people? England’s Monarchy?! How isolated and ignorant were they to think their religion was the only one that existed in this world?! This was not the first time someone had taken issue with my religion and tried to make me feel guilty for it. I was considered “not Jewish enough” by one guy’s family, and now I was being made to feel like I was somehow inappropriate and shameful.

Suddenly, after years of knowing our religions were different, it became this big issue, and we fought about it a lot. Would I be willing to convert to Roman Catholicism for him? HELL NO. Would I sign a pre-nup? Whoa, where the hell did THAT come from?! You want to marry me, you’ve asked, I’ve accepted, but now you’re afraid I suddenly want to be with you for financial gain? Seriously?! Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always taken care of myself. He knew that. I don’t expect a man to pay for my lifestyle. I’m fully capable of making my own money, buying my own clothes, jewelry, etc.  I think you should want to take care of your partner and be a provider, but relationships are give and take. I did not expect to just sit on my ass and be given anything, so I waffled back and forth on that little tidbit.

The ever present “Would you please eat?!” grated on my nerves. He’d bring me food for several years of our relationship, but not in a loving, caring, concerned way (I do like it when I’m sick and a guy has the sense to bring me soup or Italian food. There’s something very nurturing about that.), but in an extremely controlling manner. As soon as I gained about 15 pounds from this constant influx of food, I was suddenly told the exact opposite. Now I wasn’t thin enough, I was becoming the woman who he didn’t want anyone else looking at. What was so shameful about being curvy? He’d have a fit whenever we’d be somewhere and someone else would check me out. I was not the one doing the looking, yet he was suddenly paranoid that anyone who checked me out was somehow going to end up in my bed. It was eye-rollingly ridiculous.

He’d do something shitty, and I’d be “rewarded” with jewelry or flowers, sometimes both, depending on the situation. It got to a point where I began to loathe the pink & purple roses I loved so much. To this day if someone sends me roses, I cringe inside. He would promise to be somewhere I needed him to be, but was almost always off feeding his drug habit, or as I would later find out through a friend, a habit for other women.

It was demanded upon me that I be 100% faithful. That was not a problem because I’d never cheated on someone before and wasn’t about to start, but because he was the one doing all the cheating, he started having people follow me to find out what I was doing every time I left the house. Stalker much?! It was sick. It was also an excuse.

I’d had enough after confronting someone he often had tail me, and I put my foot down. I’m not big on ultimatums, but he needed to hear what his behavior was doing, that it was unhealthy and damaging, and completely unwarranted and unacceptable. It came down to this: He needed to return to rehab, fully commit to it, and he then needed to be clean & sober for a year before I would agree to marriage. It was high time for him to prove that he was worthy of me, not the other way around.

He went to rehab for a few months, coming back apologetic, and for a while things were simply tense. We talked, but clearly he was refusing to hear me. He was about to do something he’d probably been considering for quite some time, and simply hadn’t been man enough to say to my face. The ring on my finger probably made me believe a slew of lies I was actually too smart to actually buy into in the first place, but there was something slightly blinding & intoxicating about it. But the truth of the matter is, it was just plain toxic.

The problem with relationships slowly turning abusive is that, initially, we think we’re in the right relationship with the right person, until suddenly we’re not.

For years after this relationship ended I’d hear “Oh, LET IT GO!” whenever I mentioned how hurt, angry, or betrayed I felt, as if emotions could be turned off like a faucet. How could I not feel all of those things?! Saying “I love you” is not a cure all. Actions speak louder than words. His actions were atrocious.

With a ring still solidly on my finger, he married someone else, just weeks after saying we were good and moving in the right direction, that he was trying. I had to find out via an announcement his new wife was sending to friends & family. He would go on to have several children with her pretty quickly, each time choosing names we had decided on for our future offspring. That was the icing on the cake. I seriously worried about my ability to be around him in any capacity after that, so I disengaged. I made sure that whenever he’d be around, I would not be present. Hurting someone you claim to love in such a manner is vile, but to then go on living your life as if said loved one never existed is even worse. I started to think I was losing my mind. If it had not been for the fact that I knew the relationship had occurred, and exactly what I had endured, I’d have felt like I was being erased.

He & I continue to have mutual friends. I’ve stopped speaking to all, but three of them because I’m tired of hearing the lies. “He asked about you.”, “He hopes you’re all right. He just wants you to be happy.”, “He cares about you.” PLEASE! He never cared in the first place, it was a fucking game to him. No matter how many times I would ask these friends not to relay anything he said about me, it would come up in conversation, until I finally changed my phone number and said “No more.”

Not one to eat bullshit politely with a knife and fork, I have gone out of my way to avoid him since all of this went down. In truth, I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t do anything wrong, except believe in a person I shouldn’t have given the time of day to, but hey, we all make mistakes. Avoiding him is my way of remaining a healthy, non-toxic human-being. I know that eventually, at some point, we will run into one another, and I pray that I am not carrying a loaded weapon that day or wearing particularly high heels because even though people tell me I’m not a damaging, harmful person to be around, and that I’d never willingly hurt someone, I cannot promise that the desire to harm him won’t be there. Some of the rage goes away with time, but any time the relationship is mentioned or I come across something from that time period, I am flooded with everything I thought I’d already moved past. For me, that lets me know the damage runs deep. It does not, nor will it ever, mean that I care about him. I don’t. I wouldn’t spit on this man if he was on fire.

Once I no longer love/respect someone, my emotions will often turn to pity, anger (at myself & the other person involved), & my anger is a burning rage that can simmer and bubble for years until it is truly out of my system. If the anger is unjustified, it eventually dwindles and the flames put out, but if it IS justified, stay the hell out of my way. I can go from zero to bitch in about half a second.

Unfortunately, there are so many different kinds of abuse in the world, that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint if you are the abused or the abuser. Sometimes you are simultaneously both, even if you don’t intend to be.

Writing this makes me feel a bit like I’m back in Psych class, but I’ve been revisiting certain things lately, which is why I am writing about such a personal, private matter, but if what I’m saying helps even one person get out of a toxic relationship, then that’s important and necessary.

If you’re in any kind of relationship where your words and feelings are being defined in an incorrect manner, where you are constantly insulted, and berated, it is time to take a closer look at this relationship. Thinking this person is “the best you can do”, having low, little, or no self-esteem, or coming from a “people pleasing” type of family are all potential signs you’ve probably overlooked. Most people do. When you’ve been taught that everything around you is “normal” and a part of your daily life, you stop questioning things. You begin to lose your inner voice. Once you lose your inner voice, you start to become everything the abuser has defined you as. Your thoughts, feelings, actions, everything is now completely defined by someone else. Moreover, you question yourself and promise yourself you’ll be better for them, that you will do everything right, not realizing that your life is your own, it is not owned by someone else.

Believe it or not, I am a product of abuse. Not just from the relationship I am talking about, but from my childhood. I am very forthcoming about that fact when approached, but generally I keep such things to myself. However, when a person comes to me and needs help, I am the first person to listen, and the first to say something.

For many, many years I handled the abuse (verbal, emotional, and physical) by throwing myself into my writing and my singing. One day I snapped, I’d had enough. I was 100% committed in the fact that I’d kill the other person and spend my life in jail, but I believed in my cause because I was protecting two other people. I took the brunt of everything so they wouldn’t have to. To this day, one of those people denies that 99% of the abuse ever occurred. It must be nice living in such a warped bubble of false memories, but I know what I lived, I know what I saw, and it is sad for me to see this person deny the abuse and become the abuser themselves. If you correct this person, or disagree with them, they will say YOU are abusing THEM. It’s a vicious cycle, however, I know that by standing up and saying ENOUGH, and being committed to putting a stop to it, that I did the right thing. If I hadn’t, I’d be in jail right now. Or worse.

People are often shocked to learn that I’ve been through such things. I don’t deny being strong and confident, and I don’t deny that I will say something is wrong when it is wrong, regardless of who is saying it. I will admit to being wrong on the rare occasion that I am. But I will not allow myself to live a life of abuse. I won’t allow someone to define me, to disrespect me, to use me, to tell me what I think, to tell me where to go, or tell me what I am allowed to do. When someone behaves that way around me, I am very happy to show them the door. I know I deserve better.

I look for different things in people now, and I always pay attention to my intuition. It is an immense part of who I am. If someone or something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If something feels innately wrong, re-evaluate it and follow your instincts. Intuition will never lie to you, but the heart will. If your relationship involves young children, get out NOW. You do not want your child/children to be affected by the abuse inflicted upon their mother in front of them. I know people that have stayed in these relationships because they believed that taking their children out of the home during the formative years was the worst possible thing they could do. It’s not. The worst thing you can do is stay and allow them to think that what they’re hearing, seeing, and living is normal. If you get out early enough, you will save yourself and your child/children a fortune in therapy bills.

Once upon a time, I was a moron. It won’t happen again, because I am firmly committed to not allowing it. No one defines me, except me.

*If you need help getting out of an abusive/unhealthy relationship or are living with domestic violence and don’t know where to turn please go to any of the following organizations for assistance: http://soarinri.org/  http://leavingabuse.com/, http://www.thehotline.org/, http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/, http://www.teendvmonth.org/, etc.

Do not be afraid to search the Internet and Yellow Pages for additional resources available to you in your area/country. If your abuser uses the same computer, always be sure to delete your browsing history to protect yourself from additional harm, or go to the library if available and search for information there.*

“Once Upon A Time”, and all material herein, unless otherwise indicated and credited to its owner(s), is copyright © 2013 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Editor’s Note: This is about two relationships that I combined into one story. It’s about a 70/30 split between the two. I was engaged to both of them. I can say in clear truth that the second person was a far better person than the first, and he did not verbally or emotionally abuse me. He simply wasn’t the right person for me because we wanted different things. He thought I wanted a lifestyle, which was not the case. I do not believe in giving up love, respect, loyalty, and fidelity for “things”. He wanted the “little woman” at home raising the kids in the amazing house, and yes, he would have been a great provider and a good father, but he didn’t realize that meant he’d have to be loyal, committed, and most importantly, faithful. I won’t settle for a half-life, no one should.