August is my hardest month.
This is my hardest week of the month.
My mother’s birthday is August 10. She shares that birthday with one of my brothers. My youngest sister’s birthday is August 15. Another brother’s birthday is August 23.
Eleven years ago, I had just moved out to Pennsylvania to date my then-boyfriend, now-husband short distance. I had a cute little half-basement apartment, all nicely fixed up. I went back home for the month of August to spend time with my family and celebrate all the birthdays.
While I was home, my apartment flooded.
I lost many treasured things, including irreplaceable keepsakes—most notably handmade books I had written myself as a child—favorite pieces of furniture (some of the first I ever bought for myself), and many other beloved books I have never managed to replace.
I came back to a massive sense of loss and displacement which continued for months.
I was also suffering massive withdrawal and culture shock after exiting what I now know was a horrifically toxic, abusive home environment. Not a soul around me knew or understood what I was suffering, including myself.
Three years later, I was married, had a toddler, and was back in Indiana for a week to celebrate my brother’s wedding and those August birthdays. The night of the 8th, he got married in the midst of one of the most anxiety-ridden, traumatic family occasions I have ever experienced. The next day, my dad moved out of my parents’ house, never to return.
Instead of any birthday celebrations, I tried to comfort my mother, tried to maintain bridges with my dad and the siblings who had moved out with him (ultimately failing completely), and had horrible GI problems for a week. I basically ate nothing that week. We went home to Pennsylvania a day early, we were so miserable, and there was nothing we could do.
Two years later, at the end of August, perhaps early September, I listened to my new sister-in-law recount in tears how my brother was an alcoholic and horribly abusive/neglectful. I had no idea until she told me. I believed her. It was massively bad. It was so bad that I ended up reporting him to CPS. Both of them cut me off. (About four years after this, my former sister-in-law texted me out of nowhere to thank me for reporting my brother. She said the evidence trail that my report had laid down enabled her to get a divorce and retain primary custody of their daughter when she was finally ready to do so. She apologized for cutting me off and explained that was the only thing she could do at the time to stay safe. I understood. I respected her for it. I don’t blame her one bit.)
Two years after reporting my brother, I’m pregnant with my third child. We’ve just moved. I’ve been horrifically sick for weeks, unable to stand smells of almost any kind, unable to stand the carpet that won’t dry in my house after being cleaned because it is the wettest summer since the 2011 flood, unable to stand the August heat. I want to crawl out of my skin every waking moment. I have no control over any part of my life, and every single experience and relationship is traumatic.
A year after this, we are driving home from my father-in-law’s birthday party on August 1 when I spy a tiny orange kitten sitting in the road. I swerve, stop, and get out. I gather it up on my lap and tell Nate to drive. It’s clearly injured. It won’t stop mewing, barely audible, pitifully. I stroke its fragile little frame, and it actually seems to fall asleep for the shortest moments on the drive. It’s still breathing, but not begging. Barely. We get it home and Nate puts the kids to bed while I try to feed it, give it water. It won’t touch a thing. Nate takes it to the emergency animal hospital in Lancaster, where they tell him it has multiple broken bones, won’t survive, and needs to be put down. He comes home, and I fall apart. To this day, it is the most beautiful, delicate, pale orange cat I have ever seen.
A year after this, and we have freshly detangled ourselves from all our toxic family, as well as our toxic church (the leadership of which told me to get lost after I uncovered a decades-old child sexual abuse case in their midst and brought it to their attention). We are trying to find a new church home. Trying to put together a sort-of makeshift family of people we can actually trust. Trying to address long-neglected problems in our marriage and work toward reform, repair, and renewal. I get a job at the end of July to teach at a local classical Christian (ACCS) school and try to gain a little more financial stability.
Two weeks later, on August 11, they fire me.
(My crime? I don’t like Doug Wilson, and I said as much online a year before I was hired. Oh, and also, I called the Holy Spirit “she” once in an essay—an essay I had put on my resume to share with them. Never mind that this pronoun choice was due to my history of abuse at the hands of my father; never mind that some of the Orthodox desert fathers and an early church guy named Boethius did the same; never mind that both my Christian therapist and my conservative pastor understand and support my deeply personal spiritual practice of communing with God’s mothering side that I am in no way proselytizing anyone about; never mind that the guy who fired me admitted that he understood and respected my thoughts on the matter—simply having someone on staff who used the word “she” within forty feet of God was not to be tolerated!)
Oh, yeah, and they never paid me for the two weeks I was on staff.
That was a year ago.
Here we are again. Trauma still stalks the house. My basement flooded; my cat wrecked a bunch of furniture and is acting out her own traumas, which triggers mine all over again. I received a “sorry” letter in the mail from my estranged mother full of words that she failed to back up with action–again. After receiving a text that promised “I’m not ignoring this!” from another family member I asked to have a hard conversation with, I’ve received silence. I’ve got a special needs kid in therapy, a deconstructing husband in therapy, and I’ve got at least three therapy appointments of my own to attend per week. I’m homeschooling my kids (yes, we start back at it in the summer), and I’m trying to help start up a co-op for them.
I’ve woken up every morning with a stomachache for a week or two. I’ve gone to bed with a splitting headache for days. I spent most of yesterday in a great deal of pain from abdominal issues that my doctors and physical therapists have yet to pin down and effectively treat. The pain actually finally let up when we got out in the evening to spend some time with friends… as I talked and relaxed into myself, like I hadn’t been able to all day, most of the pain dissipated. And yet, as we visited, and the topic of my work history came up, and I retold the story of last year’s firing yet again, the anxiety started spiking through my hands and neck. All the fear of rejection and abandonment and hopelessness rushed right through my bloodstream again. And I was patient with it. I didn’t run away. I felt it and respected it. I kept talking. I let the terrible story out. I let it move through me, shake me, pass out of me, and extinguish. When I was done, the pain was gone.
It came back later some. I don’t know what to do about it. I’m resting and processing now—as you see. I’ve still got a cat peeing on my (now thoroughly protected) furniture, so I had more of that to deal with last night. We’ve got yet another plan to work out this behavioral problem. I don’t know if it will work. I have no guarantee that every creature and thing in this household will come through the trial unscathed. I have a history that tells me there’s basically no way we can. I have a trauma response that pushes me to check out, numb out, and take all my overwhelming stress out on all the most vulnerable things around me. I work so hard to stay present and retain hope and just do the next tiny thing, instead. I don’t always succeed.
But do you know what I think of first and foremost, every August?
I found it first years ago, before most or any of this had happened. I listened to it over, and over, and over, and over again.
It was the lullaby that held me when nothing else could or would.
It gave me the deepest sense of everything that makes this time of year good, and nurturing, and pure, and true.
Everything about the world God made underlying all my hurt that will not disappear, which was there long before my tragedy unfolded, and which will remain long after I have faded (unless the world itself is undone and remade first).
Deep goodness is true. Solid. Firm. In August.