Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Enough

Trigger warning: this post talks about stalking, harassing and mental anguish. It's taken me almost 10 years to process all of this and recent events have highlighted the physical toll. So if you are a survivor of an abusive relationship, a hate crime or harassment of any kind, skip this post or proceed with caution. Take care of yourself first.

The email came on May 11, 2016. A summons to small claims court. Management and our association lawyer quickly proved useless for guidance, claiming that maybe it would be best to pay him what he demanded. Even though there was overwhelming evidence that we had done nothing wrong. Even though there was additional evidence that he was using the small claims court system to harass and extort money.

Over texts and multiple phone calls, the board president MB and I formulated a plan. She would go to court and face him (the others flaking out on this out of fear). My job was to dig up all the evidence. To summarize the past 10 years of harassment, bigotry and threats. That we would countersue also to stop him from ever doing this to anyone we knew again.

I just never expected the toll from doing this to be so high.

**************
In 2006, Grey and I purchased our first home. Like many first time homeowners, we were excited about having a place would could make our own. The day we moved in, I was greeted by a smaller man who lived next door. Instead of saying "hi" or "nice to meet you," his first question to me was "are you sure your sale went through?" Thrown off guard, I asked him why he would think such a thing. "Well, because the for sale sign is still up. And I have a friend who is a realtor and he says the sale didn't go through. You know, it's illegal to trespass." He smiled after saying this and went into his unit.

When relaying the story later on to other neighbors, they would sigh heavily and say "yeah, that's Cyrol."

Knowing what Grey and I know now, this was a sign of the beginning. The wall should have immediately gone up. But we were naive. We wanted to believe that our neighbors were inherently good people.

***************
On June 30, MB went to the county court house to attend a mandatory mediation session. The goal of mediation is to help settle disputes outside of court. The second Cyrol saw MB, he sneered at her and announced that this needed to be over quick so he could get to the bank with his money. The mediator, despite telling both MB and Cyrol that his job was to remain a neutral third party, looked shocked by this statement. That shock quickly dissolved into visible anger once they sat down in the mediation room.

Cyrol immediately pulled out a stack of papers that he kept close to him. He started in on how we caused him to lose money on the sale of his unit. How he had the emails to prove it. When the mediator asked if he would submit those documents for evidence, Cyrol put a hand over them and shook his head. For the next hour he would wax and wane about how unfairly he had been treated and how he had been lied to.

When it was MB's turn, she pulled out 3 binders filled with emails, resale certificates and legal notices, 2 of which she submitted to evidence. It took her less than 10 minutes to tear down the story Cyrol had put forward. And as she did, he became visibly angry. He interrupted her, spewing threats and screaming to drown her out. She didn't stop though, refusing to be bullied by him. In a final attempt, Cyrol looked at the mediator and announced, knowing that MB is a lesbian, "you know, she's a man-hater. You can't believe a word she says."

MB said the mediator looked like a truck had hit him. He then order Cyrol out of the room to talk with MB. It was clear there would be no resolution. Trial was set for the following week.

**************
In 2007, a question was posed to our HOA Board about talking to our current manager to see if our management fees could be reduced. Cyrol immediately volunteered to call her, promising he would solve the problem quickly. We knew at this point that Cyrol had been calling our manager regularly, screaming at her over the phone. I felt bad for this woman, so I responded and said that I thought it was a good idea, but that Cyrol shouldn't do it because of his temper.

Big mistake.

Immediately Cyrol responded, threatening to sue me for emotional distress and defamation of character. He sent email after email directly attacking me, accusing me of being the problem and twisting the truth for his own gain.

Later that night, when I met with the former board president to talk, Cyrol came into this person's unit and pounced on me. He screamed at me, within an inch of my face. I'm truly surprised he didn't strike me.

When Grey found out, he lost it. In an attempt to protect me, he pounded on Cyrol's door and demanded he come out. Seconds later Grey calmed down and told Cyrol he wanted to talk. Cyrol responded by saying he was going to have Grey arrested and that he was planning on stabbing Grey "in an act of self defense."

Later Cyrol would attempt to extort money for his "damaged door" from us, even though there was no damage (and Cyrol wouldn't allow the association to inspect). An issue he wouldn't let go of even to this day. He would also admit to listening through the walls and obsessing about our movements.

But the real killer was that Cyrol believed I should be submissive to him because he was a man. That it wasn't my place to ever call him out.

************
Our case was the last one for the day. MB suspected that the word was out on Cyrol, meaning he would go over time. In the early afternoon, the judge sat down and asked Cyrol to present his case. Cyrol spent the next hour picking apart the binder filled with evidence we had submitted. He broke the rules of mediation and spoke openly about the conversations there. He presented himself as the victim and demanded he be paid for more than the limit of small claims.

Finally, MB was given a chance to speak. Dressed in a 3 piece suit, complete with tie, she opened with the following: "Your honor, this is not a case about lost financial gains.  This is a case about a continual history of harassment, abuse and racial/sexual discrimination from Mr. Cyrol."

MB then presented newly found evidence about other small claims cases filed by Cyrol: One against an African American woman who fled the state to get away from him (that case was dismissed), one against recent immigrants extorting money (outcome for him because they were no-shows) and one slated for the following week against the Seattle School District for emotional distress after Cyrol had been terminated due to repeated racist remarks directed at elementary school children and for bringing a whistle to class to silence them.

At the end of the day, the judge dismissed the case, denying Cyrol's claim. But she rewarded our association for the filing and legal fees. MB told me later that Cyrol immediately threatened to appeal. Smiling, MB said "Sure. But know if you do, this will go to superior court. And we will be countersuing for much, much more than legal fees as we'll have our lawyer involved."

*************
As the drama with Cyrol played out, the news came in about the shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. And then there was Dallas. I couldn't bring myself to watch the footage or read much of the news, knowing that it would cause me to go further down the rabbit hole of fear. And like many who protested, I found my anger hitting a new peak.

For almost 10 years, Grey and I lived under continual stress and fear of an individual who stalked us. Though in our calmer moments we reasoned these threats were hollow, the truth is we were never fully sure. Cyrol attacked whenever he felt like it. We watched him threaten anyone he deemed as weak. And no one stopped him. Not even his family, who we meet, had the courage to tell him enough.

This post from Justine, talking about domestic abuse. Specifically, this part rung true.
"That abusers can stop abusing their partners, if they take responsibility, if they learn communication skills, if they examine their own pasts.
Maybe there are lessons to be learned here.  That domestic abuse can stop. That abusers can redefine what it means to be masculine, that they can begin to see their partners as partners, not as threats. That we can find ways to support both abusers and survivors. That we can offer hope."
Given all that has happened, this is definitely the heart of the issue. Because Cyrol has shown that he won't take responsibility for his actions. But also all of his actions are routed in deep-seated fear.  Just as those police officers who murdered Alton Sterling and Jamar Clark. Just as those who then in turn shot those police officers. And just as those who attack/abuse/bully anyone in any way.

There is hope that things can get better. Part of it is recognizing the problem and formulating strategies for how to address it. But the other part is finding the courage to stand up to this type of hate. Both if directed at you or someone else. To demand it be done and that the abuser seek help.

With Cyrol, Grey and I are finally armored. We now know how to defend ourselves, calling him out on his threats and making it clear it will hurt unless he stops. I don't believe he's completely processed that message, but we also believe he's escalating because that message is coming from all sides. And we are refusing to hid because that feeds his obsession.

Still, my firm wish is that someday soon we can come together as a society and recognize that what matters isn't the color of your skin, your culture, your religious background and even your sexual orientation or gender. What matters is what is in your heart. That we need to reward love and recognize that though differences do exist between different populations, no one deserves to be treated less. To live in fear.

Monday, July 25, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: it still hurts

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

A longer post today. Sorry in advance for breaking the Microblog rules.

In July 2012, Grey and I came to Boston for my postdoc interview/vacation/to attend his youngest cousin's wedding. There were many lessons I learned during this trip and to this day mark it as the beginning of our journey to healing from infertility (even though we were firmly in a place of uncertainty). 

The thing I didn't talk about, though, was a moment that still haunts me. An innocent enough moment that I've been shoving away because I assumed it was my problem and a fault I needed to deal with. But this post made it clear that sometimes the best thing to do is talk about it. So here goes.

Bit of background, this trip to Boston followed on the heels of some terrible events. We had just had gone through a failed FET, which followed on the heels of my second miscarriage.  The adoption agency we had planned to work with had told us to hold off (understandably so, but still hard to hear). And then the final element of Grey's brother and SIL announcing they were expecting almost immediately after my miscarriage. I knew going into this situation I wasn't going to do well. Grey and I had been working with David to try to defuse it as best as we could, but the reality was I was hurting and filled with anger. 

So seeing Grey's SIL, who was clearly pregnant, was hard. A reminder of the babies my body had failed to carry. There was also my MIL, who was clearly excited to be around her grandchildren and to be near my SIL as she was the one mainly providing these children. It was hard not to be jealous.

But the icing on the cake came later in the day. Grey and I had bought his niece and nephews some books. The kids were excited to have them, asking to be read. So the 3 youngest children gathered on the couch with my eldest nephew, who was a teenager, and as he read to them the adults sat back, smiled happily and snapped photos of the scene. All while Grey's SIL unconsciously stroked her belly.

It will be 4 years since that scene has played out this week. A lot has changed. So much in fact. And yet, that image still is a painful one. For years I've picked at it, trying to dissect why. I've tackled jealousy, envy, the fear and all the misunderstanding. I've been told that time heals all wounds and there have been many examples of how much the Beats are loved by our families.

Yet, the hurt remains. Something that seems so trivial still just isn't. 

With Bent no Broken's post, I realized that sometimes there isn't a way to make those moments okay. Despite how much as our loved ones want us to. It's hard because there's this assumption that the only road to peace is through absolving someone of any wrong that was done. Which leaves me wondering why. And who does it benefit.

On Wednesday the Beats turn 3 yrs old. Seeing them read their books, I think about that picture and play out in my head the dialogue I would have with myself all those years ago. That despite having them here now, that situation really sucked. And maybe that's okay to admit.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: so much to say

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

I've been in a weird spot recently with so much going on and so many thoughts on each topic. And because of this so much, I've found myself unable to properly sit down and really put to words the emotions and thoughts attached with each event or post. 

How the shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, highlighted in Justine's post corresponded with a small claims court case where the man suing our condo association repeated use racist and bigoted terminology in the court room. Of a decade of harassment and abuse coming to a close due to the rulings of a judge.

Or about Mali's recent series on "Putting your mind to it" brought up my own reflections on privilege and unspoken advantages. 

Or how Mel's recent posts on Truman have me teary-eyed while remembering the two furry ones I lost too soon.

Or this post has me remembering the pain for not so long ago.

And then there's the high from having to turn down two amazing job opportunities because I'm not ready to transition out of this postdoc. But to maintain those connections with the goal of actually building more opportunities next year.

Too many thoughts. Too much emotion. Hopefully my thoughts will sort out soon.

Monday, July 4, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Calm space

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.


The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. 
~Rumi

While in the thick of infertility, Dee often had me do a visualization exercise to help calm me following intense moments during our sessions. The exercise was a simple one: visualize a place where you feel completely safe and are able to calm yourself. 

My space was a hammock high up in a tree. Cocooned by the fabric, I would gaze up into the tree and watch with my mind's eye as the light played off the leaves.

Today, as the Beats and I were waiting for Grey to finish some lab work, we sat out under the trees in front of his building. Attempting to teach them the peace of laying in soft grass (something that is new to them), I had a moment where I gazed up into the trees. And reaching down to run my hands through the hair on top of those two small heads that were using my body as a pillow, all those memories and lessons came back. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

The solution for a small, brown one

I've been meaning to give an update on Daisy following my post on her driving us up the walls. Things we definitely getting bad there for awhile, with both cats whining constantly to get outside. Even Martha could hear them, which meant it was time for action.

A few years ago, Grey showed me this article from the NY Times about Catios. Both of us immediately got excited about the idea of outdoor enclosures where both Jaxson and Daisy could hang out undisturbed and made plans to convert one of the balconies into a catio. But then infertility got the better of us, combined with fears of unsafe neighbors using the catio to access our unit. And so the idea went to the wayside.

What brought me back to the article was a comment by JaneB about a cat cage. "Cat cage?" I thought. And immediately started investigating this option. Before long, I found a solution, made a case to Grey that this would save our sanity and the purchase was made.


Just to be clear, this isn't a perfect solution. Daisy loathes being locked up in any way, crying repeatedly until she is released. But the result is a million times better than before. Jaxson now has access to the deck and will spend all morning (and evening) out there happily watching critters. Daisy, though unhappy about lock up, also seems to get her fill from being outside and I do let her roam free on the deck with supervision, reminding her that escape is not an option.

This has resulted in two cats who now come indoors and happily lounge around without making a peep.

And two quiet, sleepy cats means Grey is no longer at the end of his rope with them. In fact, their relationship with all the humans is healing.

We're also now a neighborhood conversation starter, with people wondering if the cage will expand into an elaborate enclose, similar to the ones seen all over the internet.

JaneB, if you're reading this: Thank you. You reminded me to think outside the box on this issue. We are indebted to your wisdom.

#MicroblogMondays: Linen and Pearls

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

On Saturday, Grey and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. It was a strange day as it was pretty much any other weekend day. That evening, though, we hired a sitter to watch the Beats so we could go out to dinner and have some one-on-one time. Martha generously gifted us with some money towards the cause and made it clear she would be available if anything arose while we were out. Did I mention how much I adore this woman?

Dinner was wonderful. Grey and I haven't had a night to just be with one another without distractions is such a long time. Grey set the mood for the evening by surprising me with a small bottle of perfume and insisted we both dress up a bit for the night out. He had made reservations at a local restaurant that specialized in higher-end cuisine and was very thoughtful with ordering so that we would have a memorable experience. We talked candidly about all that has happened over the last year: about our fears, our disappointments, our hopes and our goals. It was much needed time away.

Near the end of dinner, I was fishing for my phone to make sure no urgent messages had been sent when I came upon some treasured mementos from past dates together. Marveling at these, Grey and I talked more about memories and years past. Remembering all the adventures and wonderful times we have had together. Remembering also the bright spots during times of pain, which we wouldn't have without each other.  


Monday, June 20, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: the blahs after the storm

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Sluggish. That's how I've been feeling following a month of terrible news. 

First we were hit with the unexpected realization of a badly worded resale certificate, resulting in a roller coaster in the real estate world.

Then we got more news that hit us on a financial front.

Following that came the explosion following the Brock Turner rape case.

Then Orlando.

And finally an alligator attack and news in this community about much wanted children lost too soon.

By Friday all my body wanted to do was sleep. Sleep to heal. Sleep to find peace as me being conscious wasn't bringing any.

Growing up, I remember venturing out into the world following a severe storm. People would cautiously pick their way through the debris, assessing the damage and making note of what was salvageable. But what I also remember is a sense of slowness that would come. Some referred to it as the calm and make note of the peace that had finally returned. But that never felt right. Instead it was a period of blah; a moment where "why do I care?" seemed to be on everyone's lips. 

A tipping point.

Walking out into the world today, I still feel that tipping point. Those moments where others seem to walk through a haze of not knowing to care. My body still feels it too. 

And I wonder, what will be the rally call to dispense of these blahs?  What will wake the world up from the numbness of the pain? Usually there are multiple messages. The question is, which one will win out?
 
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