Tag Archives: memory

Whoops/More memory triggers

Already slacking in one resolution. Kind of. I haven’t neglected to write anything last week, but what I wrote I’ve been unable to edit into something I want to post, so I think I’ll abandon it for a little while to let it stew.

Instead, I’ll share a little something else, something slightly more superfluous. I was going to post this earlier this week, but it got really busy at work and I haven’t been able to edit it until now.

I’m a sucker for candles. Really, any good-smelling kind of things, like incense and wax, but candles were my first love as far as good-scented things go. There’s nothing quite like lighting one up and letting it burn, taking in the scent as the flame dances on the wick. So, whenever I walk by a candle aisle, I sneak a peek to see if anything catches my eye. Sometime last week, or perhaps the week before, as the fiance and I were in Target, we walked by an aisle that had a candle set up at the end of it. One in particular – Glade’s “Frosted Cookie Party” – caught my eye, and I grabbed it for a quick sniff. The scent was wonderful, but had a slightly different effect on me than I thought it would. Instead of reminding me of cookies, it reminded me of a certain toy I had when I was younger.

As far as toys went as a child, my tastes were pretty diverse. I’d play rough and tumble with my boy neighbors and their toy guns and wooden horses. I wasn’t afraid of getting too dirty, as I loved playing in the dirt and sand and making mud pies. I had quite the collection of hot wheels. I also had tons of girly dolls and Barbies. One in particular was a collection called Cupcake dolls. They had wide skirts with a rubber base that you could flip up and, along with their hat, make them look like a cupcake. They had no legs, as the rubber was sturdy enough to support their weight when they were in doll form. They had all kinds of accessories that transformed from sweet treats into practical accessories, like a banana split that turned into a vanity.

One of the really cool things about them, though, was the way they smelled. It was a light, sugary, vanilla kind of smell. It smelled exactly like that candle. One whiff and I was transported back to that bedroom in Georgia, transforming treat-looking toys into a vanity and a shower set up and a bed and a kitchen. Days of complex play, setting up chair-and-blanket forts and lining up porcelain dolls and searching for that perfect outfit combination for my Barbies and setting up a city to run my hot wheels through. My room was a magical space. And when I got a play area set up in the basement, I still remember clearly how it was like. It was the lone carpeted area in the section of the otherwise concrete-floored storage area of the basement. It smelled a little musty, but it didn’t bother me. I had a dresser or vanity of some sort that marked the border of the carpet along one end. It had a record player set up there, though I didn’t really use it. I think it was probably just set there at some point. I had a doll house there, probably some Barbie variety. My Polly Pockets, though, I kept in my room, as they were small and I worried about losing them in the vastness of the basement room (this was, of course, back in the day when Polly Pockets could actually fit in your pockets).

When we moved to International Falls, I had to cut down on a lot of my toys. I didn’t have a lot of the expensive variety, but I accumulated a lot (I was the last child my parents had, later in their life, so I had plenty of doting relatives and family friends to fling trinkets my way) and especially with the space I had to work with, it was accepting of a lot. Going from my large room with an alcove plus a basement play room to one small room meant cutting down on a lot. I ended up leaving a bunch of my toys for the children of the family that moved into our house to rent it from us, so the ones left behind were enjoyed.

Over the years, I’ve lost the vast majority of the things from the childhood between moves. Most of the things I don’t really care about, though I have lost a few things I truly regret leaving behind. I become quite attached to certain things. I’m working on letting go, because it causes me anxiety that I really cannot do anything about. Some things still nag at me, but I’m getting better at it. I’ll at least always have the memories, something will always come up that will transport me back to that little slice of magic that was my room.

Camp

Ah, camp. That lovely invention of summer that gives kids something to do during the break and parents a week or so of sanity, rest, and relaxation. I never went to camp as a small child, as I was very clingy and dependent on my parents growing up, besides being immensely shy and awkward. But by the time I was a teen, I decided to give it a try once I found a particular camp.

Northland Camp & Conference Center in Dunbar, Wisconsin, was my summer go-to from ages 13-17. It was a religious camp and my only experience with camp. The schedule was somewhat grueling and included required activities that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but I still liked it enough to request to keep going. I’m not sure if it was the idea of going to camp that I liked so much, or that I just convinced myself that I liked it, as looking back on it, the experience was pretty overrated. Fun, but overrated.

Wakeup was always early, because any getting-ready things that needed to be done had to be done by the time all the cabins were to line up for the daily flag raising. Then we had breakfast, followed by cabin devotions. The exact schedule varied day-to-day after that. Sometimes we’d have a cabin activity, or a camp bible session. We always had a morning chapel, at least. After lunch there were sometimes other bible sessions, team game activities (which I loathed, as I hated that kind of thing, but I couldn’t opt out), and then maybe a few hours of free time before dinner and evening chapel. One night a week we’d have an after-dark activity. There was also usually a water day that went along with the team games, but I remember one year it was so cold they almost had to cancel it. There was also a loooooong list of bible verses to memorize. That part wasn’t necessarily required, but it garnered your team lots of points, so it was always pressured.

Even though free time was pretty limited, they had many options with how to spend the time. They had a bookstore and coffee shop on site. There was an archery range. A shooting range. A climbing wall. Many, many trails for walking. A craft shop. A mini-golf course. And, of course, they had a large pond where one could use one part for boating and the other for swimming. I never got a chance to participate in the swimming, because you had to have a buddy with you, and since I never came with anyone (a lot of kids came as part of a church group) and I didn’t make friends too easily, I never had someone to go with. There’s probably other little things that I’ve forgotten about, too, but those are the major ones that stand out in my memory.

When I was 15 going on 16, my mother and I went to a special ladies retreat in Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is a lovely area, and we relished the time we spent on our little mini-vacation. I don’t remember who hosted the event or who was running it, but it featured at least a couple of people associated with Northland’s ministries, because I remember it came up in talking with a couple of women. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but they suggested that I attend the Leadership Camp that Northland offered.

I was immediately hesitant about it, but we said we would think and pray about it. Ultimately, despite my initial hesitation, I ended up attending. Leadership Camp is two weeks instead of one, weekend stay included. The first week is pretty similar to the regular Teen Camp; we participated in all of their activities and are assigned a team, just like them, however we had our own special little sessions and individual counseling with various staff members. The second week was spent being a junior counselor in either the Kid or Teen Camps, along with a regular counselor. We also still had our special sessions and individual counseling sessions. The weekend was fairly open, compared to the week. We usually had a big group trip/activity on Saturday. Sunday we would go to a local church and sing.

The first year I went, when I was 16, I was in a deep denial of myself, my life, and my beliefs. While I had some doubts, I convinced myself of my faith and was in the midst of throwing myself into it with all of my energy. So my first year of Leadership Camp was pretty awesome. I bonded better with the other campers that joined me, probably because they were here purposefully and not just as something to do over the summer. We all had ministry aspirations. We rejoiced in our kindred hearts and drew close together, sharing our burdens and our hearts with each other and praying with one another.

The second year, however, did not go as smoothly. My denial had broken through into major issues for me. I had adopted a more goth-like look in terms of clothes and makeup. I was extremely depressed and stressed in general. I was having trouble dealing with certain traumas in my life that I felt I couldn’t get help for. Despite that, I still went, because I remembered the wonderful time I’d had and I yearned to be around people that were as kind and friendly and wonderful as I’d met the previous year.

While my fellow campers were still very nice to me, the counselors and staff were more stand-offish. I’m sure they likely remembered me from all the years I’d been attending, and my sudden change in appearance was fairly shocking. I still attended all of the sessions, still took copious amounts of studious notes, asked questions, memorized scripture, participated in everything, even if I didn’t want to. But they seemed to treat me differently, based on my looks and regardless of participation.

This became apparent during my first individual counseling session. I met with a lady in the ministry at Northland – a pastor’s wife, no less – and at first it seemed to be fairly the same as the last year. She was a different lady than the year before, but I knew her still, if only from a distance. However, not far into the session, she made a comment about my appearance being “goth”. I replied that I liked black and felt comfortable, which was true. I wasn’t wearing anything extreme, just a black shirt and black pants with thick black eyeliner. Compared to some goth kids I’d seen in the mall, I was pretty tame. But she apparently felt the need to comment on it and make a negative insinuation of it.

I brushed it off, thinking that she was probably just surprised at what would appear to her to be a sudden change. As we talked more and she dug deeper, I did confess issues with depression, especially following sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of a previous boyfriend. I don’t remember everything about the session, but what I distinctly remember is that she asked for as many details as I would give her (I didn’t give her much, as I didn’t feel comfortable doing so) and she simply advised me to be careful upon going home, that I wouldn’t be tempted into immorality with another man.

I remember being utterly shocked at her reaction. She didn’t necessarily invalidate the abuse itself, but she completely invalidated my feelings about it and my reactions to it (I had a lot of trouble even looking a man in the eye at the time, there was no way I wanted anyone to even touch me). I felt like she didn’t take it seriously, because she didn’t. She threw some bible verses at me, I’m sure, but I was in a haze of shock at the lack of support and empathy.

Despite the staff reaction, like I said, the other campers treated me the same. The group I was with my last year seemed to be a little looser, though still just as fervent. There was even a few regular Teen Campers who noticed my dress, asked if I was a “Christian Goth”, and immediately bonded with me over it. It must not be so bad, I reasoned as I walked to evening chapel with them.

However, that little hope came late in the second week. Before the second week even started, I was pulled aside and told – by the husband of the same lady I met with for counseling – that because of my “personal struggles”, I was deemed unfit to counsel the age group that I would be normally assigned to. Instead, I would be assigned to a younger group and paired up with the counselor I’d been with so far, I’m guessing in an effort for stability through the transition into the second week.

It was a devastating blow to me, especially because despite my struggles, I still had a heart for ministry and was still aching for chances to prove myself. My chin quivered and tears welled up in my eyes as he told me, but I refused to let them fall. I would not give in. I would not give him the satisfaction of confirming that I was indeed “broken” and that their decision was correct.

Later that night, in my bunk, I allowed myself some quiet tears, my face buried in my pillow to quell any sounds that might escape. Again, I refused to show any weakness, to anyone. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had to go it alone, because I was alone. Utterly and completely alone.

That year was the last year for me, as I’d reached the maximum age that they accepted. As I left, I clung desperately to the good memories. Laughing with newly made friends. The smell of the morning mist as it rolled in while we lined up for flag-raising. Sitting in the open courtyard in between rows of cabins, listening to a fellow Leadership Camper strum a guitar and complain about the confiscation of his Grateful Dead CD’s. The instant camaraderie felt by others who weren’t the “norm” as far as appearances went in the conservative Christian community.

However, the good just doesn’t cancel out the bad, as much as I wish it did. While I mostly enjoyed the time I spent there, the blatant condemnation and utter lack of any sympathy still linger. Like a cloud that suddenly appears on a sunny day, the rejection will always be there.

I suppose it’s all for the best, looking back, as it helped loosen some of my ties to the Christian community that was previously very tight. Because of the events that followed, I know I would have ended up leaving anyway, but this subtle bond breaking made it just slightly easier, and I guess that’s all I could have asked for.

So, if anyone who knows me from that camp reads this, if you were one of those who accepted me regardless, thank you. Your love and acceptance were and are greatly appreciated. If you were one of those who judged me instead of offering support, I also say thank you. If not for you, my journey to discover my true self and eventually into transitioning into Paganism would have been rougher, tougher, and more ridden with guilt and anxiety than it already was. Thank you for showing me your true colours, for without that, it would have been harder to show mine.

~Shine on~

Lovely stress

I’ve had a long relationship with stress in my life. Most recently, today, apparently my car decided to stall while my fiance was on the way home. Its fate is unknown as of yet. We are supposed to move into a new place on December 1st, and not having a car is going to make things very difficult for us. My stomach is in knots and I feel dizzy.

But this is not an unfamiliar feeling. I’ve struggled with stress my whole life. I even remember it as a child, that sickening feeling in my stomach, the inability to shut down the racing thoughts in my head. I don’t always remember specific instances, but I remember the feeling.

I clearly remember lying in bed in an old apartment of mine, facing eviction, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop worrying about what I would do, where I would go, what would happen to me. I ended up practically homeless, living in an unheated camper trailer in the driveway of my ex’s parent’s house. Like the Mary and Joseph in the Bible, there was “no room in the inn”, so we were relegated to the trailer. In Pennsylvania, it gets bitterly cold in the winter. I had to resort to only bathing once a week, because peeling off all the layers for a few minutes just to pull them back on was such a chore. I dreaded sleeping at night, when it really got cold. I pulled on as many layers as I could, including a hat, and pulled the blankets over my head to conserve as much heat as possible, though I was still chilled throughout the night. Going to the bathroom was a real experience, as there was no running water or working toilet in the trailer, so I’d have to pull on boots and my winter coat and carefully traverse an icy driveway to climb two flights of stairs in the house just to get to the closest bathroom.

Even the duplex trailer we managed to nab and move into, there was still issues there. My ex was a pillhead, and as such he usually squandered his check on pills, giving little regard to our bills. Our electric bill got so ridiculous, we had to be put on a payment plan. There was several times the landlord had to come knocking about rent, and he was far from a gentle man. The vibe he gave off was gruff and unfriendly, and sometimes scary. There were times that I simply dodged into our bathroom or our bedroom (where he couldn’t see in) when I noticed him walking towards our trailer. He wasn’t always coming to us, but when he did, I would ignore his knocking, because I didn’t like dealing with him, especially when I always got the wrath that should have been directed at my ex.

I also remember, in that duplex trailer, we only had one car for most of the time we lived there, and my ex used it to get to work. After that car was totaled, he hitched a ride with friends, but it still put me in the position of being absolutely alone all day. A lot of times, he would go get stuff with his friends after work. Sometimes he would be home quickly, but a lot of times I was waiting for him long into the night with absolutely nobody there, nobody to talk to, nothing to do except watch TV (when the cable was on…our neighbor allowed us to hook into his cable for a small fee each month, but my ex was not faithful on any kind of bills). It drove me up the walls, especially when there was no cable. He was my only real human contact, and I felt abandoned most of the time. Alone with my thoughts and feelings, which tended to overwhelm me. I was living there when I lost all faith in the Christian religion after being coldly rebuffed by a pastor that I personally knew. I’m sure he doesn’t know this, but his refusal to help a member out by simply giving them a ride when they had no other options sent them into a downward spiral that resulted in leaving the Christian faith. I could go on about this, but I won’t. Not on this post at least.

Back on topic, a familiar bolt of panic shot through me when my brother messaged me on facebook and told me that his new boyfriend (of less than a month at that time) was going to be moving in and fiance and I had to move out by December 1st. I remember I actually cried because of the short timeline (this was the end of September) and the fact that not a lot becomes available in Minnesota in the winter because people generally don’t like to have to deal with ice and snow when trying to move. Of course, my brother is oblivious to many things, and I’m sure he thought nothing of it. But I think of these things. Hell, it seems I think of every little thing, and I panicked. I cried. I hyperventilated for a minute. All kinds of cuss words ran through my head. But my fiance was my rock. He assured me we would find a place and that I would never have to go back to the kinds of situations I’ve been in.

And he was right. We found a place, and despite a couple of miscommunications and missteps, we have the place secured. And then this happens with the car. Always something, it seems, that seems to be the theme of my life. I can’t seem to have anything good happen in my life without something happening to interfere or deflate it. I try to not let things get to me, I try really hard. But I’m a worry-wart by nature (thanks, Grandma) and with an anxiety disorder stemming from PTSD, I have physical issues that is difficult to deal with without proper medication. But, because of various circumstances that I don’t feel like going into right now, I can’t get what I need to help. So, I just flounder here and there and go on as best I can. My heart is still in my stomach as I await to hear the fate of my car. I can only hope and pray to the gods that everything will be okay.

 

ETA: Fiance made it back to the car and it started and he was able to get it home. We are hopeful he’ll be able to pick me up tonight as I’m not really dressed to walk over half a mile in the cold and snow to the bus stop. I swear, if it’s not one thing it’s another. My life can’t be going good for too long! Damnit, Loki, gimme a break!

Memory Triggers – Cedar

So, one post in and I already have followers. I wasn’t expecting any aside from family and friends, but I’m more than happy to share and am grateful. Thank you. 🙂

Last night, I bent over next to my cedar-lined hope chest and got a whiff of the distinct wood. Immediately I was drawn back to the attic of a house my family lived in for a short time. It was Wausau, WI. 1999. I was 11, going on 12 that year. We had just moved there from International Falls, MN, in the dead of winter. I’ll always remember the temperature when we left, though I don’t know why…it was -34, felt like -42. Fahrenheit of course, because America uses the Imperial system. Bad weather delayed the truck in Duluth, so we had to stay at a hotel a day longer than expected. It was bitter cold when were unloading, so cold the men’s beards started forming icicles from the condensation of their breath. I huddled in a back room –  my room – with our dog until it was all over and done with and we could turn the heat on without wasting it.

I ventured up to the attic the first time that day, excited at the prospect of such a space. I’d never lived in a house with a proper attic before, so I was eager to see it. Why, I’m not sure. It just held a certain allure to me. The house in International Falls had no attic, and the only other house I’d lived in – in McDonough, GA – had a little utility attic that was only good for storage, not for doing anything with. I’d spent some time of my childhood wondering what that attic had looked like, what it held. I’d wanted to go up there, but my parents forbid it. It was probably for the best, as I likely could have gotten hurt, but it didn’t stop me from wondering. And now, in that rental house in Wausau, I was finally able to see what I hadn’t seen before, what had previously been verboten.

It was pretty nondescript, as far as attics go. It was just an open space with a built-in cedar closet. I’d never smelled cedar before, and it was very strong to me. Almost repulsive at first, though I eventually learned to like it.

I don’t remember how long I spent up there at first, but it probably wasn’t long. We had just moved in and there was lots of unpacking to do. But I visited the attic in play. At one point, I set up my little microscope kit on a desk. I even had Barbie dolls kept up there, but I’ll go into more detail with that later, as I’m now starting to get off track from the point of my post.

The point being that certain triggers can set off a cascade of memories. All of this came back from simply smelling a scent. Scent is regarded as a strong memory trigger, but there are other things, too. Voices. Songs. Even simple phrases. The more I write and write this post, the more I keep thinking of to write, so I think I will break it off here and put other memories into other posts. There’s so much that comes flooding in, it’s hard to separate everything and concentrate on a category, or even contain the category I’m in and condense it and I don’t want to turn this into a huge wall of text. If you’re still reading, thanks and congratulations for making it this far.

Memories

A lot of people take memories for granted. Names. Dates. Faces. Snapshots in time preserved in the human consciousness.

But what happens when you just can’t remember anymore? Did you really ever remember what happened in the first place, or did you deceive yourself into thinking you were preserving that time and place in your mind?

My childhood is a lot of blur. There are some moments that are crystal clear, others that are muddled, and some points where there doesn’t seem to be anything at all. I know not everyone remembers their childhood with extreme clarity, but I wish I remembered more than I do. I guess that is the point of this blog, to remember, to maybe help me remember. To document random strings of memories and try to connect the dots.

I know a lot of my memories involve church or religion in some way, as I grew up in an IFB-type of religious family. For those not “in the know” as far as acronyms go, IFB stands for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. While my family waxed and waned as far as religion goes, there was a time we were very similar to families like the Duggars and the Bates, as far as values and beliefs went. Even when we weren’t as extreme, we were always conservative and faithful church-goers. So, a lot of my memories involve going to church or church activities.

Other memories involve that of being homeschooled. My education was fairly unique, in that I experienced a whole gamut: homeschooling, christian school, public school, and internet/charter school. I have quite a few memories of that, some very fond, some not so much.

My entries here will consist of trying to remember bits in time as they come. They may be pretty random. They might be long remembrances, or short little strands of thoughts that I want to document before they slip through my fingers entirely. I don’t have a set time frame for updating or posting or anything like that, so I may post frequently at times, and then at times leave it all to sink in and process. Remembering is a journey. Maybe one day, it won’t be as fractured as it is.

~ Elisabeth