Flight

I at times struggle to understood how it is that miraculous moments or every day magical occurrences can be taken for granted, feared, or mocked. Non explainable moments have carried me through this lifetime during my worst trials and have become crucial in the ways that I have learned to understand faith and the ability to endure.

The first clear moment of magic that I vividly remember experiencing was when I was a young child. An introverted, intuitive girl with a wandering soul, a fiery temperament, and a cracked heart.

The event unfolded in a subsidized tenement parking lot which masqueraded as a back yard. A depressing space filled with detritus and decay. Sorrow, blood, rot, and tears caked into the earth intermingled with trash, cigarette remnants, broken beer bottles and forgotten, faded, plastic playthings.

Patchworked across the terrain were a variety of different sized holes I had dug in the ground using kitchen spoons in place of shovels. My feeble attempt to escape into the earth. Pockets of varying sizes that formed puddles after a storm. Pools of shallow mud that unbeknownst to me created the perfect conditions for impending magic.

The day the miniature miracle occurred it had been raining for hours. I watched the water fall resentfully from the window as I waited and waited to go outside and resume my ditch digging efforts. After a while the rain subsided and I grabbed a kitchen spoon and headed out the back door.

I stared in awe at what awaited me.

Butterflies.

Dozens and dozens of brightly colored, tiny bodies searching for and absorbing energy essential for their continued force of flight. I walked cautiously towards the quiet movement, a child surrounded by what looked like hundreds of wings fluttering gently in the very same holes I had created as an attempt to remove myself from reality, transforming my background prison into a beautiful place of wonder. My childhood innocence had been stripped far too soon, but not so removed that I refused to experience the undeniably miraculous moment of what appeared before me.

The closer I got the more I expected them to fly away, but that didn’t happen. They kept about their business as I sat down in the dirt and watched for what felt like a very long time. Eventually they began to ascend. Not all at once but at a leisurely pace, drifting softly up into the wind. I stood and watched them fly away, surrounded in light, love, and beauty. A mini cyclone of butterfly energy intertwined with mine.

These memories continue to inspire me today. That along with a yearning to heal and share the whispers of remembering. To reach others that experience wonder beyond pain. Others that know moments of fragility within a miracle. The hope of mending torn wings, of experiencing internal flight. The ability to believe in something greater than what can be minimized by explanation. To know that although there will always be times of immeasurable hurt, the companion to that is beauty and hope and the ability to recognize and honor mini moments of everyday magic.

Bus Rides

The first time I ever punched someone in the face I was in kindergarten. I would like to say it was the last, but I grew up in a manner in which fighting was at times necessary. That first time though, I have not thought about it in years.

It was an older girl that I punched. She must have been in the fourth or fifth grade. We were on the bus and she was making fun of me. She often did. I was as quiet then as I am now and just a tiny little thing. I suppose I was an easy target. She was making fun of my teeth, I remember that. Telling me they were yellow and asking why I couldn’t afford a toothbrush. Then she started in on my clothes, laughing about how dirty and smelly they were. I’m sure she was right. We couldn’t afford a washing machine. Years later I tried “earning one” for my family by working at the appliance store in the neighborhood but that’s a story for another time.

I didn’t punch her because she said I smelled or made fun of my teeth. I punched her when she said something about my dad. Called him a name that I didn’t even understand but I knew it was bad. She was making fun of my dad who had just been hauled off to jail a few weeks previous. Taken away by two tall men in suits that knocked on the door three days before Christmas.

I let them in.

I watched as they put him in handcuffs in front of me and I remember screaming and crying, begging those men not to take my daddy away. Asking why they were doing it.

The girl I punched in the face punched me back. With quite a bit of force. We were both suspended from the bus for a week. It has taken me thirty five years to figure out that my dad probably at some point in time hurt that girl and that she was making fun of me to ease some pain he inflicted.It also just recently occurred to me that her older brother is the one who hurt me a couple of years later, filling the void in the neighborhood that my dad had left vacant.

These memories, these connections, I never would have thought about them differently if I was not doing the work I’m doing now. I would have just had vague whispers in my brain of that mean girl I punched one time. The girl that was in just as much pain as I was. Who I’m sure still is, just as I know I still am. Thinking about these things hurt and they open up faucets in our minds that may be easier not to turn, but I’m grateful I can think about it differently now. That is how we make this madness stop. How cycles of violence and hurt can be broken. Acknowledge, recognize and know that children are hurting everywhere because of this and that kids who are hurting hurt other kids. Physically, emotionally or God forbid in ways we are all far too familiar with.

repost

Some incredibly kind and supportive people have asked me why I have not written much as of late. I have been writing, just forgetting to share it here. Much of what I have written recently has been posted directly to my awareness page. I forget of course that not everyone knows about the page. I’m  a bit challenged as far as linking all of my sites, still figuring all of this out as I go. I am re posting a couple of things I have written most recently for those who have asked. Thank you for the encouragement. I apologize for the redundancy if any of you have read these pieces already.

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When I was around 17 years old, I read a book titled Turning Stones. It was written by a man named Marc Parent. In this autobiographical account, he shared his experiences working as a case worker. The book moved me so deeply I recommended it to several people. Each person told me they never finished the book. That it was too hard, the stories he had shared too horrific. I remember the individual stories of course, but that’s not why I recommended it and not the overall message I have kept with me all of this time.

The reason I loved the book then and recall it now is because of how he chose to end it. He shared a story passed on to him about a nun on a trip. Specific details are hazy here, it’s been a long time since I read it but as I recall the nun would make a point to go off on every stop in the group of people she was traveling with to find a stone and turn it over. No matter if it was a rest stop, a scenic stop, a scheduled Place to visit. She never got back into the van without first having found a stone to turn over. When someone asked her why, she simply replied ” Because this place is different now that I have been here.”

A year ago today I started this page. It has been one full year of trying to share my story. One year of spreading awareness of childhood sexual abuse and its aftermath with the world in hopes that no child will have to endure what so many of us have. One full year of trying to explain that the reason the page is public is because to make it private for me personally added to the feelings of shame and guilt that have been imbedded so deep in my veins that I honestly thought I had done something wrong as a child. That I had a reason to feel afraid or worthless or inferior or to not give a voice to these truths.

What have I learned in a year?

I have learned that I will never be silenced again. I have learned that my story has helped others and that far too many have lived the entirety of their lives never feeling safe to utter a word due to what they still carry around that was never theirs to have. The guilt, the shame, the pain and the never ending fuc#%ing hurt. Still shaping their lives because this subject is not talked about enough. I have learned that I will fight for those that cannot or will not fight for themselves and I have learned that I’m proud of that. I have learned that there will always be people that will not understand why I’m doing this in the way that I am and that is okay, but it will not deter me from reaching those that do understand and need my voice and it will not shape my choices as to the way I try to heal. have learned that hurt comes from the most unexpected places and that some people may try to silence me even as an adult in ways that I may never see coming. In the most horrible, personal and intentional ways. I have learned to forgive these people and to recognize that although they are probably hurting too, I will never again give anyone the power or permission to make me feel less worthy based on their own unrecognizable feelings of worthlessness.

I have learned I can love people without letting them take advantage of me. That sometimes drawing boundaries for my safety and growth means letting go of people it hurts to lose, but that I cannot help anyone or change anyone or save anyone unless they want that for themselves and that I will not compromise myself while they wait to figure it out.

I have learned I have a lot to learn. That I need to put in hard work and fight every day. That spreading awareness is not a concept but an action and that it’s going to take every ounce of spite, fight, breath, anger, blood, sweat, rage, hope, vision and love that I have in me to keep doing what I have been doing. I have learned that I’m accountable for my own actions, that my past does not and will not define me and that using the pain from my childhood as an excuse not to try to change my life now and own the mess it had become is the only shame I should have been carrying.

Most importantly, I have learned that this place is different because I was here. Because I took a step into the unknown and wanted to make a difference for myself and others. Because I tried. Because so many of you heard me and were ready to speak as well and willing to listen to my story. The story that is still being written, unfolding every day. The one I wanted to close a million times because I thought it would hurt less to quit. The story that started so horrendously it would have been easier to look away, to not think about those things.

This place is different because I was here. Because all of us have been. And that has changed my life.

#awarenessofchildhoodsexualabuse

 

Hurting

Sorry for not posting here for so long. I had some things I needed to figure out and I shut down for a while. As so many of us do. This is the most personal piece I have ever shared. I’m grateful to the Urban Howl for publishing it and helping me spread awareness. If you choose to read, please know that it is deeply intense and very triggering. Many know that I have been trying to embrace my triggers rather than let them own or control  me.  Trying to Shine some light as to why certain  things cause me to react so deeply. I truly believe that is the way to heal. It’s not easy. Far from it. But running from what triggers our deepest pain doesn’t help either. Thanks for reading. @theurbanhowl

http://theurbanhowl.com/2016/11/17/hurting-shana-shippee/

Climbing mountains

imageWhen my daughter was in Kindergarten, she gave me the courage to climb my first mountain.

I grew up in the Berkshires but until 2013 I had never been mentally or physically fit enough to  explore any of the natural beauty I was surrounded by.

As I lost more and more weight and my endurance built up my walking regimen was becoming stale. One of my closest friends suggested hiking. He was an avid hiker. It was one of his favorite activities. He told me I would love it. He said my kids would too. He insisted my whole family would love hiking. He talked incessantly about the health benefits and the beauty and the adventures and the clarity hiking brought into his life.  He told me which trails to go on and what paths to explore and talked about hiking so much I began feeling like I was an expert based on his stories alone. One day I decided I was just going to go for it. I was taking my daughter with me and we were going for a hike.

Destination…

Pine Cobble mountain.

I don’t know why really other than the fact it was the spot I had heard  people talk about most often.Well,  besides Mount Greylock and I figured the highest mountain in Massachusetts  was a bit too ambitious for a novice hiker. Also I knew how to get to the Pine Cobble trail head.

It was early April, a beautiful, perfect day for adventure and I was pumped. So was my daughter.

We were off!

I began to plot my friends death 20 minutes into the hike.

I will spare the excruciating details. Just know I was wearing sneakers with no tread, had no bug spray, no extra water, have NEVER hiked before and I had a 5 year old with me.

As we got closer to what I was praying would be the top after what seemed hours of hiking, the terrain became more and more dangerous. Rocks were jutting out from every angle. There wasn’t even an actual dirt path anymore, just rocks and ice and snow. I could see blue sky and felt that the summit was near but it just wouldn’t materialize. My feet were soaked, I was exhausted, I was scooping up snow to quench my thirst and I was in a shitty mood. I was cursing myself for being so stupid and beginning to wonder about our safety.

I said we had to turn back.

I mean, obviously we had to. I’m not sure how we made it as far as we did. We were so close but impossibly far. It was glare ice. I had vastly underestimated my hiking capability on the semi flat muddy  incline  that started the trail, never mind this ridiculousness . I couldn’t take it anymore.

My daughter kept going. Like a crazed mountain goat.

She refused to stop.

She did what children that age do and went about the task I was requesting for her to stop doing at a faster pace, ignoring my pleas.

We reached the summit not much longer after my determination to quit.

Was the view worth it?

Of course it was.

It was one of the more memorable and breath taking  moments of my life. We were both stunned quiet. We sat there together, appreciating everything. The sky, the wind, the clouds,the hike, the work, the struggle, the pay off.

That was three years ago. I have hiked many times since then, taking on my fair share of trails and mountains. Physically and metaphorically.

My daughter has as well.

Today for the first time since that day she made it back to the top of  Pine Cobble mountain. I wasn’t able to be with her, as much as I wanted to be.

She told me she got very tired but her friend encouraged her to keep going. Together, they reached the top.

Today I am thankful for the continued strength to keep climbing the mountains in our lives. And for those that help us along the trail when we need them most.

 

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POPS

Looking back now, it probably only took about 20 minutes round trip from our apartment building to Pops general store but when you are a kid it seemed like an odorous, hour long journey. That was part of the adventure. Our apartment building was massive. It was low income housing but at that time we were all too young and naïve to realize we were poor. The building resembled a stone castle and living in such a place seemed like a grand adventure. There wasn’t much of a backyard to play in, just a large square of dirt with lots of litter strewn about. The front steps led directly out to a busy roadway with constant traffic driving by. As a child, your options as to where to go when you were headed out to play were pretty limited. Pops was by far the most exciting.

We would often go to the store in pairs or as a group, a ragtag group of union street misfits. Most of our parents were single and many of them worked odd hours so the children in the neighborhood looked out for one another and did a lot of things together. One of the most infamous was the daily trip to Pops.  You knew you only had to scrounge up less than a quarter to score yourself a lollipop or a Popsicle. Sometimes you might get lucky and a neighbor would give you a $5 food stamp bill and ask you to pick something out for yourself and bring them back the change. Then you knew you could go all out and buy yourself one of those awesome ice cream sandwiches with the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry smooshed between two delicious wafers and still bring back 4 bucks for the adult in question.

I still vividly remember running past the rusted fence that gated off the flood chute leading to local waterways. There were rumors that a crazy homeless, guy lived down there and that if you tried to get past the gate he would kidnap you and drag you down to the river. It was common knowledge that all of the children we never saw again after they left the neighborhood ended up there. We used to dare on another to squeeze beneath the gate and to my knowledge my little brother still holds the record of being the only one of us to almost reach the level where the water met the concrete. I remember my feelings being at odds with themselves as I was both terrified I would never see him again and incredibly jealous that I wasn’t  brave enough to make it as far as he did. These early childhood rivalries led to a future of back and forth friendly and intense sibling battles that I treasure more than almost anything in my life.

Pops was a tiny place. The floorboards were uneven and created an orchestra of pops and squeaks as you walked in. It was perpetually dark, the majority of light filtering in through dirty windows and any sunlight that happened to find its way in when the door was pushed open. There were probably only 5 shelves in the entire store. One shelf had a variety of canned and dried goods with a thick layer of dust on them probably long past their expiration date. Another held an odd assortment of every day possible necessities. Matches, fishing tackle, batteries, toilet paper.  The rest of the building was crammed full of coolers filled with a variety of beer and the long counter on which the cash register sat.  The same man was always manning the register and I’m pretty sure his name wasn’t pop. He didn’t seem to care much for children and wasn’t much of a talker. He had a perfectly round scar on his throat and the rumor was that he was shot in a fight and spent time in prison. We made that rumor up ourselves of course. He probably overheard us telling stories about him, hence his disdain for local misfits scrounging up change for candy. Some of us theorized that he was actually the crazy man that lived in the flood chutes which of course always led to heated debates. Why wouldn’t he just sleep behind the counter in the store? Who would give him a job? Did he own the store and if so he obviously wasn’t homeless. Maybe he was just friends with the homeless guy or perhaps he was his partner in crime, equally zealous to kidnapping and torturing children? Theories and logistical probabilities were thrown about as we ripped into our lollipops, hoping to find a picture of an Indian shooting a star so we could save it and someday get a free lollipop. I’m not sure if any of us actually turned the collection of wrappers in or even if you actually received a free lollipop for doing so but I absolutely remember the excitement I felt if I happened to unwrap the pop with the coveted picture.

Pops was a liquor store more than a general store but of course none of us knew any different. The fact that you had to actually walk past three bars just to get there never seemed like a big deal. Local drunkards would wave or scowl as we scurried past, depending on their current state of inebriation. Some of them knew us from the neighborhood or knew our parents and would give us money to grab them a pack of cigarettes. Perfectly acceptable to do back then. It was especially helpful when the grown up in question would give you the change from the smokes as a reward, further enabling the overall mission of collecting cash for candy. I can recall buying candy cigarettes with the change left over from the actual ones, thinking it was cool to pretend to smoke after buying the real thing. This may or may not have led to a future pack a day habit of smoking Kools as a teenager.

The days I remember most clearly about our venture to Pops involve competition in some way, usually involving my siblings. We used to race there and back, seeing who could run the fastest. There was the time we rode our bikes and I cried because my bike had a flat tire. My sister offered to ride me on her handlebars which ultimately resulted in more tears and a little blood mixed in for good measure when she swerved suddenly and I toppled to the ground. To this day I swear she actually ran me over after I fell off the handlebars. Even worse? I was so hurt we didn’t get the chance to eat our popsicles. They melted as my wounds were tended to. My brother was very vocal about this being inconvenient for him and insisted I was fine. I probably was. Pride takes longer to heal than flesh.

Pops is no longer standing unfortunately. It always gave the appearance that it was somehow sinking into the river, perched precariously on a corner lot of asphalt near a flood chute. As it turns out, it actually was slowly falling apart, the general direction being towards the river. The building was eventually razed to the ground, creating additional parking for the neighboring bar. I remember feeling a pang of loss when I read about it in the newspaper. I still live in the area and drive by where Pops used to stand, usually several times a day. About 5 years after it had been torn down I stopped at a local tag sale up the road from my house. Imagine my surprise when I discovered numerous Pops variety store t-shirts for sale at bargain price of $10 per shirt. I picked one up and held it in my hands, staring at the Pops logo in awe. Feeling like I had struck gold with finding this unbelievable relic from my past. Imagine my greater surprise when I handed my money to none other than the infamous, glowering, bullet hole ridden man of my childhood memories. Seeing a myth from your childhood out of context is slightly disconcerting, no matter how old you are. I wanted to ask him if he remembered the kids that used to come in to the store all the time so long ago. If he hated us as much as we always imagined he did. If the memory of Pops caused him to experience an aching sadness like it so often caused me when I remembered it. I looked excitedly at all of the other items scattered on blankets across the lawn, trying to obtain clues about the real life of the man from our childhood. I called my brother immediately. Not only to let him know who I just saw at a tag sale, but to ask him if he wanted me to pick him up a t-shirt.

I miss that store, if you can miss such a thing. More than that I miss those times. When hanging out with your siblings and friends was the best part of the day and looking for money to enjoy treats from the local variety store was the biggest problem any of us had.