The Best Steak I Ever Had

(Source)

It was Vail, Colorado, somewhere around 1999-2001. The setting: a Swiss themed hotel with all German/Swiss/Austrian staff. 5 Star Restaurant.

I was 10, 11, 12 years old. The years blended together along with the stories my dad told. Fantastic tales of money (1.7 Billion Dollars to be exact) that God would bestow upon my family someday, if we only believed. Maybe it was an effort to drag this money towards us, I don’t know. But I know that one fall, we spent a weekend in Vail at a fancy hotel. My dad loved flashing his American Express gold card.

I remember my parents’ suite had an upstairs loft bedroom and I fantasized that one day, I’d go there for my honeymoon and have sex in a bedroom like that.

The swimming pool downstairs was a combined indoor/outdoor pool and it was magical to me to duck under the opening and find myself outside.

We played chess and checkers in the little library just off the lobby. We wandered down the streets of Vail, eating lunch at Pepe’s and afterwards, browsing the outrageously expensive Gorsuch store. I was desperate to have the lovely alpine themed clothing they offered. I loved the jackets, especially.

Erika Kneecoat, $1998.00 – Gorsuch LTD.

It was in that hotel, in their 5 star restaurant, that I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

We had dinner there one night. I still remember precisely what I ordered: surf and turf. The red lobster shell gleamed temptingly in the candlelight. My knife flashed through my tender filet mignon. I raised my fork to my mouth and suddenly I never wanted to eat anything else for my entire life.

I can still taste the succulent, juicy texture of that steak. It was so soft you could cut it with a butter knife. I’ve eaten steak hundreds of times since and it has never compared.

I ate slowly to make it last. I never wanted that moment to end. I thought about it longingly the next morning as we circled the breakfast buffet. It was the morning after walk of shame, wishing the night had never ended.

Over a steak.

My dad spent $600 on that meal for my family of 6, my youngest sister barely old enough to count. All of that was on a credit card.

1.7 billion dollars has still not arrived. It’s 2014.

It was a lovely fantasy, after all… because of that fantasy, I:
-spent enough time on corporate jets that if I sat in one now blindfolded, I could tell you exactly where I was.
-walked through $6 million dollar homes for sale, feigning interest in buying one.
-still remember my regular order at the restaurant at Denver’s corporate airport.
-can tell you about finishing schools in Switzerland, Prince William’s 3 middle names, the royalty in Monaco, corporate jets that can cross the ocean without stopping, how money can cross illegal borders (i.e. Iran to the US) and a thousand other things I’m forgetting now because there’s too many to count.
-know how to feign an air of the elegantly wealthy and hold up impeccable pretense.

It was unrealistic, ridiculous, totally delusional. I hate even the thought of wealth now and shy away from any mention of even winning the lottery.

But sometimes, I still think longingly about that steak.


 

An update on how I’m working things out with my family now – It’s Complicated

Legacy

We’re not up for that.

The countless times I heard that phrase as a child. It started with disinterest. It became a lack of time. It became a lack of motivation. It became a lack of energy.

It was too hard to interact with the world, to interact with life, to interact with others. So much easier to shut it all out. I think my dad was really, really afraid.

I see his legacies still hanging as paintings in corners of my mind.

BIG

 

They’re lovely dreams, really. My dad just thought that because something was painted in technicolor, it was real. Or perhaps it’s just that he wanted them to be and was afraid of what real truly was.

Some days I don’t blame him, either. Living in a low-income apartment complex carries a certain amount of stress with it. Children throw rocks in the street for entertainment. Heroin needles are littered by the trash can. We were awakened in the middle of the night to drug busts, hysterical drunk women calling for taxis, and overdramatic boyfriends driving pickup trucks across the lawn. Murders happened first down the street in shocking drive-by fashion. Then one day an apartment is boarded up and you’re told it’s because someone murdered his wife/girlfriend. Posters for sexual predators are hung on light poles, and your sisters are followed home by strange men.

I can’t understand why we stayed so long. 10 years in the same apartment. 1997 – 2007. In the beginning, we were on food stamps. At the end, my dad made almost 100K a year. And yet he felt somehow trapped. Perhaps those paintings had become reality.

Or maybe it’s just that when you shut yourself away from life, from reality, the light can never reach you enough for you to grow. Energy disappears because you have nothing to innervate you.

I’ve gone through periods of anger at my dad for his fantasies of riches.

1.7 billion dollars, Dad? Really? And did you really have to maniacally twist my life around the stunted tree you were growing from the seeds of your delusion? Did you have to ruin my life for your dream? I had to listen to you every damn night for 10-15 years, talking about what coincidence that day “PROVED” that God was going to give us this money.

So many words became loaded with the bullets of your desperation. Persia. Imminent. 1.7. Montana. Any time Iran was in the news, I knew about it. Every Montana license plate or moving truck that drove past our car, becoming an endless blur of reasons. Riddling me with holes.

We were

We were all shot through with the emptiness by the times my sisters were shot in reality.

Maybe that’s gratuitous of me to say, but we were all slowly dying anyway. When your 16 year old sister is desperate to move to Virginia to live with her best friend, there’s a problem. When you’re slowly suffocating inside your life, there’s a problem. I lived in a glass box.

I heard “no” so often. No, it was a family day so I couldn’t go to a concert with my then-boyfriend. No, our family was busy so I couldn’t go hang out with this or that friend.

Louder were the silent “noes” inflicted. No friends nearby because church was 2 hours away and we were homeschooled. No boys because courtship was the name of the game. No speaking up because Dad was head of the house – ok… that wasn’t a silent no, it just became one after we spoke out one too many times and had to face wrath.

My parents slammed the door in the face of Life, a wragged wraith disguising the sorceress beneath. They became the beast, but I was the one locked in the castle for years while the rose dropped petals and I waited for love to find me.

It’s legacy.

I still struggle to open the door.

I have flashes of insane rage at my dad for doing this to me. But somewhere down the line I calm down because I realize I’m still doing it. I am my father’s child, just as he was his father’s child.

My dad used to come home in the 1960’s, and no one was there to greet him. My grandma says he used to ride the streets on his bike trying to stay away from my grandpa. My aunt says the atmosphere at home was abusive. I don’t know what the truth is, but I know that my uncle is a sociopath and my dad has very obvious delusions.

So it’s no wonder that my dad carried this legacy on. The anger that he unleashed on us if we “crossed him” although it almost always was never our fault. The way he pushed away life as if he couldn’t bear it. He had never been able to. He had never been taught to. And reality gets very heavy sometimes. Especially when your dreams fail, and you have to eke out a living on food stamps for awhile after making 20K a month, as he had in his younger years.

He just closed his eyes and shut it all away. And in fear, he shut all of us away, too, lest we threaten his world with our unique version of earthquake. With our uniqueness in general. He disguised our prison with beautiful visions of future wealth, and they became our virtual reality.

I have learned well to shut out the light. I still do it. I was taught all the right phrases. “It’s too much for me right now.” Maybe though I’m just really, really afraid. Because I have learned how the pain of loss aches through your bones long after the loss has passed. To let light in means I might lose it soon.

Why do I feel such exhaustion? Maybe it’s not because I’m too tired to open the door. Maybe it’s precisely because the door is closed. Growing things can’t create food without the sun.

It’s been so long, though, and I was taught the ways of caged life so well that I struggle to learn what it means to live free. Liberated. I still stand behind the door feeling too tired to pull it open. Or that’s what I tell myself because that’s what I’ve learned to label it as. That’s the story I’ve learned about this dogged weariness.

I'm frozen in fear of even the beauty of

I’m not in constant anger at my dad anymore. Compassion is more often the norm. I have no desire for anything more than a shallow conversation with him, and I will never ask his advice. But I understand it now, the way that reality can feel like a stalker haunting your steps. I understand because I run away from it, too. Reality can equal hollow, endless loss.

I shut out good too, though. Just as the Universe extends its warm loving arms. I don’t know how to accept it because I’m always waiting for the backstab.

It’s legacy.

And I know it’s time I start a new one, for the sake of my future children. It’s what I continue to strive for. Backstab is no legacy to pass on.

But please hold me in the light, because some days it feels like too much for me to find on my own. Just know that I am trying.


 

An update to how I’m working through things with my dad now – It’s Complicated

The Joseph story, like you’ve never heard it before.

Once upon a time, the story of Joseph nearly ruled my life. You know, the biblical story of the dude who had 11 brothers who betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.

I was Joseph. Sold into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph got to Egypt and was bought buy a guy named Potiphar (sweet ancient Egyptian name right there). This Joseph guy was super wily and rose in the ranks of slaves in Potiphar’s house until he was put in charge of all of them. That is, until Potiphar’s wife tried to sleep with him. She even grabbed his robe and stripped it off trying to make him stay (he must have been pretty fine, I’m just saying). But Joseph was also a goody-goody and so he ran away naked. Of course Potiphar believed his wife when she told him that Joseph had tried to seduce her (It was the best soap opera of the day, ya’ll). So Joseph was thrown in the can.

I was Joseph, thrown in the can for something I didn’t do. Trapped away in prison.

Except Joseph was one crafty sonuvabitch. He kept being his goody-goody self and got put in charge of the prison. If he didn’t get freed, he might as well be top dog, right? One day, two dudes from Pharaoh’s staff show up – the guy who tastes Pharaoh’s wine to test for poisons, and the guy who bakes his bread. Both of them had been thrown in prison for offending the Pharaoh. Obvi. Well, they both have dreams that trouble them, and Joseph being the awesome cunning man that he was, interprets their dreams. He says that the baker was gonna die and the cupbearer was going to be given back his position. With that in mind, Joseph goes “Hey cupbearer dude. Don’t forget the awesome dream interpreter who saved your life in prison, K? Tell the Pharaoh about me.”

Of course, the cupbearer forgets Joseph while reeling in his good fortune. Until the Pharaoh wakes up from a dream all pissed off. Probably afraid for his position (again), the cupbearer is like “WAIT!!! I know a guy!” Thus… Joseph magically interprets the Pharaoh’s dream, and like all his positions before… becomes second in the land only to Pharaoh. BOOM, son.

I was gonna be Joseph someday… elevated to second in the land, with lots of barns and “storehouses” that I was in charge of…

AKA LOTS OF MONEY.

This was according to my dad, one of the best storytellers and imaginative minds of our time. Yes, you detect a bit of sarcasm… but to be honest that is probably pretty true. He is the most imaginative person I know.

Joseph was a metaphor for our “imminent” riches. (Imminent was a code word in our house, one of many which also included “it’s time to see IT“, the “magi“, “man from the east“… I could go on) Joseph had been wasting away, utterly invisible from the world, just like us in our 900ft², 3 bedroom apartment crammed with 6 people. Just like us wearing our thrift store clothing. Until one day… dun dun dun. He was REMEMBERED by the cupbearer.

Except we would be remembered by the magi man (magic man???) from the East…aka from Persia. He would suddenly remember that he had stuck my dad’s business card in a back drawer.  (The way he got my dad’s business card was through an Iranian coworker of my father’s, who took it with him to Iran around Christmas of 2003 -2004, after my dad had asked him to give it to “whomever he felt he should.”) The magi man would pull it out, look my dad up, and call with an offer to bequeath us with $1.7 billion dollars.

Suddenly like Joseph, we would be elevated to a higher echelon of society.

One of my dad’s “mentors” and favorite preachers frequently used Joseph as an example in his sermons. He referred to Joseph as something like “the dream bearer” and used Joseph to describe how God would fulfill your dreams if you only waited. In looking this preacher up again for this post, I also came across a sermon titled “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.” (This is so hilariously ironic to me that it made me laugh) My dad listened to this man’s sermons consistently, at least once a week, for years. We were often required to listen along. I remember being a teenager, 16 years old or so, laying on my parent’s bed listening to the sermons being streamed over the internet. In our 3 bedroom apartment, the computer was located in my parents’ bedroom, because that was the only place we had room for it. So, on some Sunday mornings and many Wednesday nights, we listened to these sermons on the internet. I was required to do this and if I didn’t or tried to avoid it (by sleeping in or staying in my room) my dad would get angry and controlling.

At one point, my parents each bought an amethyst ring for themselves, because this preacher said that amethysts were “the Joseph stone” and instructed people to go out and buy one to demonstrate their commitment to their dreams. My dad bought a huge rock of an amethyst ring that he still wears fairly often.

My twin sister, myself, and my sister Rachel all had birthdays within 2 days of each other. My 16th birthday (Rachel’s 14th) was spent in Florida at a fancy anniversary dinner for this man’s 20th (25th? I’m not sure) year in ministry. We got to wear fancy prom dresses for the occasion, which made it seem like a birthday to us. At the time it was all very exciting.

This man’s sermons were also a huge subject of our nightly “family chitty-chats”. These were really made of my dad pontificating for a couple of hours before we went to bed. Rachel fell asleep most of the time. I was too terrified of my dad’s wrath, and too invested in gaining his approval, to try and do such a thing.

This was a lot of my life for 10 years or more, incidents such as these. My sponsor likes to say that my family sounded like a cult. I remember quite a bit of it if I think about it, but ever since my first 5th step almost a year ago, I’ve been remembering things spontaneously. I’ll be washing dishes, or walking through the grocery store, or on the phone at work, and all of a sudden I’m assaulted with another crazy memory of my old life. Honestly, I’m still wading through anger and resentment. My therapist said this past week that it’s probably a part of the healing process, to be angry. And when I think back to a couple of years ago when I first started trying to deal with anger at my dad – I didn’t feel ANY. Not a speck. So this is improvement. It’s like when your foot wakes up and you have pins and needles. At some point, the pins and needles will go away and I’ll be at acceptance.

It helps though to let people witness my memories.  Because I’ll never stop hearing my dad’s voice in my head, spinning delusional worlds. But at least this way I won’t be alone with the voices. They’re easier to bear when I’m not lost in them, like someone wandering through fog at night.

I plan to tell more stories from my childhood in this coming year, both here, and in the memoir I’m attempting to write. So stay tuned. 🙂


An update on where I’m at with things with my family – It’s Complicated

Stained Glass Windows

It has been a long week. The days have slipped by, and some days, I’ve been pushed to the edge of overwhelm. My saving grace has been that I ungracefully vomited some of my story last week at a recovery meeting. Tears and all. Falling apart in a way I never do. That moment gave me the courage to seek support when, on 9/11, I started feeling the cracks in my soul. I came away mostly unscathed. The remembrance of national disasters (and I most certainly remember 9/11/2001) isn’t the easiest thing for me to experience as a trauma survivor.

But, I am here.

Today, I am feeling something like acceptance. A quiet knowing that grief, sadness, and pain are a part of life. This little thing we live in, that we dip our toe-sies into every day, that makes us tilt our heads back in laughter or bow them forward in agony, is at once broken, yet stunning.

I keep hearing stories of pain. I am at a loss to understand why some of these heart-wrenching realities are placed in our paths. Sometimes I doubt why they have been placed in my path. A mentally ill (probably narcissistic) father, an isolated, support-less childhood and adolescence, witnessing of the shooting of my twin and younger sister, and then a sad divorce. And those are only the big, big things. That doesn’t include my Azerbaijani student who died in a shooting, or the death of my Grandpa when I was 15. My world was an earthquake! And others’ worlds have earthquakes on a regular basis. I keep seeing it. I keep encountering it, in the dear faces of people I see at least once a week. It grieves me. All of it grieves me. Sickness, death, overdose. Agony, all of it.

Yet this morning, I came again to my recovery meeting. I listened as tangled words of suffering spilled out of the mouths of people I care about. A little thought snuck up on me.

“It’s broken glass that makes stained glass windows.”

Life is jagged. Triangles and sharp stabbing corners. Maybe, though, they all fit together somehow. If we let all the pieces be gathered up by some kind of Higher Power, they get rearranged and set into a mosaic. And through the mosaic, we get the most beautiful, dappled light. Light that flows through those colored panes and makes something of our lives that couldn’t possibly exist otherwise. Our experiences color everything – including these windows. But the pieces have to be broken, first.

And maybe that’s why I fell apart last week. Maybe that’s why we all need to fall apart sometimes.

So, my heart will ache. With you, for you. For me, too. For all of us as we fall apart. Somehow, the pieces we’ve been splayed into will rearrange and become something infinitely lovely, despite the brokenness. That’s what I’m putting my faith in.