Tonight, two things happened:
- I finally watched the Angelina Jolie flick, Salt, and,
- I had my first break with reality.
It was 6 p.m. Rob, Riley and I were in my brother’s room, watching the movie, and Riley was agitated. One of his back molars are coming in, so Rob went back to our bedroom to get his bottle. Usually, biting on the nipple of a bottle is enough to soothe him, but tonight was another story. I knew he’d feel better if we went to our room, so we paused the film and walked down the hall.
When I stepped into the room with Riley, the lights were off. I turned them on and noticed that the electric fans were on. Rob came in and mentioned that he’d turned them on when he retrieved the bottle, and then he drew my attention to the screen door of the balcony. “When I came in here, though, the screen door was closed. I’m sure of it.”
When I was little, I used to sleep with my shoes on. A book bag and jacket were always in my closet, waiting. At hand were necessities: money, water, matches, flashlight, batteries, granola bars, extra clothes, my passport, et al. They were all waiting in that knapsack. I was ready. I was always ready.
I used to have dreams where I was running. People or monsters or vampires would be chasing me, and I would be running for my life. I always seemed to be jumping and climbing and making my way through rabbit holes and strange attics and tunnels – sometimes all in the same dream – and sometimes, it would appear as if I’d get caught. But then I’d learn to fly or suddenly have some kind of super power. I was always very capable in these dreams, and they felt so vivid and real.
A month after I moved to the Philippines, the Maguindanao Massacre happened. I’d already been feeling apprehensive about my move to a developing nation, and the massacre was exactly what was necessary to push me over the edge.
I remember, a couple of nights after it happened, I was watching the news and the reporter talked about the killings. Women had been raped before guns were shoved into their vaginas and fired. Some were gangraped. Kids had been killed, possibly after having been molested. Men…?
I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think about the fact that I now live in a country where things like that happen and no one is brought to justice. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if circumstances somehow made me or my son a victim of such a tragedy. I didn’t want to ask myself who I would turn to or what I would do. The truth is, I didn’t know the answers to these questions. I still don’t know the answers.
That night, I stared at Riley asleep in his crib, angelic as ever, and I started crying. Hysterically. Because what kind of mother brings her infant to a country where bad things happen and she has no one to trust? What kind of mother gives up the safety of trusted ambulances, police, and media, to haul her kid to a country where politicians are blatant, unscrupulous assholes? What kind of mother would do that? A bad one. I was sure I was a bad mom.
And I was scared. Not just because of the idea of being a bad mom, but because I truly believed that my safety was in danger. And, honestly, I still do. I’m scared shitless because there are no laws/rules/boundaries here. None that are respectable, at least. And I don’t know how I should function. I just know how I will function, and that’s a scary notion. Because I’m scared. And I think my safety and my son’s safety are in jeopardy simply by living in the Philippines. And fear augments peoples’ capacity to do irrational things.
I will kill someone.
I sat on the bed, while clutching Riley in my lap and watching Rob open all of the closets. The whole time, I imagined a man stepping out with a knife, and I kept telling myself not to panic. If someone jumped out, I had to be ready. I had to scream to Rob exactly the right and concise phrase to make him know the location of the intruder. I had to throw something heavy or sharp at the assailant. I had to keep Riley safe. I had to do a lot of things, and the more I thought about it, the more I kept on seeing red, and I remembered The Stranger, and how the protagonist saw red before he stabbed the man at the beach. I imagined that that’s just what happens right before you take a life: the world is painted in a gory tinge of bright red, which makes it difficult to know what’s really going on.
Rob searched everywhere, and my adrenaline was making my heart pound like a bass drum, and I suddenly felt nauseous, and I thought about the gun we keep under the bed and started wondering where I hid the bullets. I thought about running to my brother’s room and retrieving a few of his fighting knives. I thought about stuffing the diaper bag with our essential documents and whatever was lying around, and putting on my sneakers.
I was scared and paranoid and confused and frenzied, and I don’t know how or when it happened, but somehow it came out that the whole thing was a joke. But it was too late. I was already screaming and crying hysterically. Over and over again, between hyperventilating sobs, I kept yelling, “Never do that to me!” And the whole time, I couldn’t escape the scenes flashing through my head: running, fighting, clawing, flying with an excited fury out of harm’s way.
I used to fantasize about joining the military or CIA. I wanted to go through the rigorous physical and emotional training. I wanted to prove my mettle. I wanted to show people, to show myself, that I could withstand that kind of pressure.
Whenever I ran on my parents’ treadmill, I’d put on a horror film and run especially hard and fast when the killer came onto the screen. I knew I had to run or be killed. It was a kind of training. Just like sleeping with shoes on. Or having a backpack of necessities ready. Or learning to read behind the words escaping peoples’ mouths.
When Rob arrived in the Philippines and saw our house for the first time, he said, “I just looked at the place, and I know how to climb up to the master bedroom.” This, despite our guard dogs, and the tall gate surrounding our property, and the perennial periphery of onlooking neighbors.
Two weeks ago, when Rob and I had a huge blowout about his going back to New York, I’d mentioned how scared I was. How I feel like the only person I can trust in the Philippines is my brother, and he was flaky. How I fear for my bodily safety, and for Riley’s safety, too. How I’m willing to deal with my fear because living here is the only real shot I have at… I don’t know. I’m not sure why I ascribe incredible characteristics to this place and our plan of living here, but I do. Something in my gut tells me that great and wonderful things are going to happen if I stay in the Philippines and make good on all of my plans.
But something also tells me that I’m going to be challenged in ways I’ve only ever considered in nightmares.
And that thrills and excites and confuses and scares me.
Rob should have known better. He should have known that I’m scared. He should have remembered the conversation we had two weeks ago. When I told him that, he said, “I remember what you said about being scared. I just thought that you wouldn’t be scared because you know everyone here.”
My fears hadn’t made sense to him. So he’d disregarded them.
Rob’s going to see a therapist in New York. Hopefully, he’ll learn more about himself and how/why he does what he does, and I can finally put an end to the conundrum of Rob. I want to know when he’s joking. I want to get why he thinks it’s okay to scare the shit out of me. I want to get, mostly, why he didn’t understand what would happen if he continued making me believe that there was an intruder in our room. I want to know why he completely disregarded my fears and discarded my trust.
I want him to make sense to me.
In those moments of fear, when Rob was searching the room for an intruder, I felt myself slipping. Rationality had escaped, and I was trying desperately to reign her back in. I was capable of doing anything. I think I’m going crazy, I thought. But if I know I’m crazy, then I can’t be crazy, right? That’s how that goes? Or maybe I’m only questioning my craziness because I know that most people consider that the sane thing to do?
And then the fear from my craziness. The frenzied sensation of worry as I realized that I was losing touch with reality. The second wherein I’d considered suicide to save Riley from the fate of having a crazy mom. The next second, where I felt suicide would be a better option than letting Rob drive me crazy.
And that: The thought that Rob would someday drive me crazy. Because he knows how. Because he knows how close I am to the edge, and that he’s capable of doing it. Because he knows I trust him and will let my defenses down. Because he knows that he can. Because he doesn’t want to, but he won’t catch himself doing it until it’s too late.
I really think Rob is the personification of all those mind-washing techniques employed by the military and CIA. Loving him is the closest I’ll ever be to living out that dream.