“You’re A Hard Woman.”

Exish and I had a really good time making the trip to the coast and back. We talked about so much, even about things we never talked about. That’s a trick when you’ve been together since you were both teenagers. Just before we made it home, he looks at me and says, “You’re a hard woman. I like that.”  For a moment, after his words hit my ears, I thought that I might slap the shit out of him…

You know what makes you into a hard woman? Cheating men, liars, dope fiends and boozers. Stick a woman into a pot and add those ingredients in the form of people in her life and you get one hard bitch. That’s life. That’s me. But what I wouldn’t give to go back to being a softie.

My upbringing should have made me hard, but it didn’t. I don’t know why. It’s just that, after I met Exish, I thought I was safe. I really figured all of that bullshit was behind me. As I’ve said before, I have always felt that I owe him a debt of gratitude for rescuing me from my home life. I didn’t see any other way out. Not then. But, he came along and I fell in love and he took me out of the environment I had been dying in. It was the first time in my life that I was able to let my guard down and just exist. We got married when I was fresh out of rehab, so it was a clean slate. I absolutely loved it.

As a child, I was an extreme self preservationist. It was necessary in order to simply get through a day at my house. Violence hung in the air like a thick fog. Though my dad never hurt me, I was the object of my grandmother’s frustration and anger. That bitch. Dad came down on her, she came down on me. She couldn’t stand the fact that Dad loved me so much.She hated me, and the feeling was mutual from the first I can remember. As soon as Dad, (my grandfather), left for work, she’d start in on me. It didn’t bother me, at all. Even as a very small child, I could sense her weakness, and it disgusted me. No matter how hard she hit me, I would not stand down. I remember looking up at her as she lifted her arm high and came down, striking me in the face with her hand. Fuck her. I’d fall down, but I’d get right back up. There was nothing she could give that I couldn’t take.

As I got older, my grandmother abandoned beating me with her bare hands. When she’d flip, she’d grab anything close and use it as a weapon. It’s amazing how many household items can be used to inflict pain. Even so…I never let her win. She never saw me cry. The only thing that she ever accomplished was strengthening my resolve. I was as tall as she was by the time I was in the fourth grade. She couldn’t knock me down anymore. She’d still give it a good go. By then, I was so numb, (next level out of body numb), to her bullshit that I’d just stand there, or I’d laugh at her, outright. Yes, it hurt…the things she did. It always hurt. That’s what beatings are meant to do. But I always hurt her more because I never, once, gave her the satisfaction she wanted…the ‘respect’ she demanded.

I should note that I was a very good kid. I was reading by age three and excelled in school. I did my chores, never sassed anyone, was all about the ‘Yes, Ma’am, No, Ma’am’. All of it. I sat through endless hours of her making me into her little doll. She’d pull my hair into ponytails that were so tight they gave me a headache. I had to look nice to spend every available hour at the bar with her and Dad. Even after I started school, as soon as I was picked up, it was off to the local bar. I never had friends my own age. (Surprisingly, most parents don’t bring their children to the bar with them, even back then.) No matter. My friends were mostly the old men who’d sit at the table with Dad. Almost all of them were veterans and I’d sit quietly for hours on end, listening to them talk about WW2. I loved their bravado as they relived some of the most terrible things I could imagine. You’d never know that the war left a single scar on them. The women who came in always seemed to have red lips and tobacco stained teeth. Far beyond their prime, they’d sit cross legged at the bar, smoking and drinking cocktails, hoping to draw the attention of some random man. They rarely had time to share a story with a child. What would they have talked about, anyway? Their fifth husband’s porn addiction? Seriously…silly bitches.

When it was far past my bedtime, and I couldn’t hold my head up any longer, I’d be taken to the proverbial ‘back room’ and put to bed. We were always at one of three local bars, and they all seemed to have the same back room. There was the requisite dirty bed where patrons who were too drunk to walk to their cars would go to sleep it off until closing time, or until they could drive, whichever came first. And there was a tiny black and white tv that never seemed to get reception. The rooms all smelled like vomit and stale beer. A lot can happen to a little girl in the back room of a bar. But that’s a story for another time.

This tale is getting long and tedious. I guess that, when Exish said that, I just felt so insulted. It reminded me of my failure as a woman. Ultimately, what made me so hard were things I could have controlled or escaped. It was him, mostly. His cheating ways and lying and addiction. It was the decade-long battle with Dope for the life of my son. It was allowing him to drag me to depths that I could not fathom in order to keep my family together. After all the bullshit I’d been through, in the end, it was him. And, in spite of it all, I still love him. He’s as much as part of me as my children are. I hate myself for that. Always will.

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