Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The dead woman

There was a painting of a dead woman that hung above our bed. It was his, of course, and I hated it. When we moved into our new house, he put it up.

“It's a dead woman?”

He scoffed. “It's art." Then softer, "It's my favorite painting. I think it's beautiful.”

“Who is it supposed to be? Ophelia?”

"I don't know. I just love it.”

The painting was of a young woman floating face up in a pool of water, much like the famous painting of Ophelia. Except the woman in this painting was not just dead, she was murdered. She had ligatures around her wrists. And a halo. A halo?




“I think it's creepy.”

“How can you not like it?  ____ loved it.” 

____ being a woman who had come before me.

There were several women before me, most had left after a short time, as I would have done had the seed not taken hold in my womb, so quickly, just like that. With child before I could blink. My undoing. My salvation.

Up it went. I slept beneath that painting for eight years because back then I was a dead woman too. We make our pacts with life and we move forward. Or such is the illusion. I pushed through in my draft horse existence, pulling this dead woman with me.

But this other woman – he used to tell stories about her. The one that stuck with me that I will never forget, that hurts my heart, was this. He told me that a man broke into her apartment and repeatedly raped her. He stayed all night and then left the next day, stealing her car.

He collected broken women like this. Women with shattered cores, who walked with their souls bent over double. He would hold out a hand, in a gesture of support. Sometimes, when a hand is offered in the darkness, it's hard to tell whether it's leading you to shelter or into an abyss.

I met her once, when I was hugely pregnant with our son. She seemed like a genuinely lovely person, someone I would like to know, despite all the stories. Stories I now take with a grain of salt as I've caught wind of the stories he tells of me, now that we're done, ones which bear little resemblance to reality.

After he was gone some friends came over. They took down the broken door in the guest room, the one he had smashed in as I was calling the police. They put up a new door. They installed deadbolts. And they took down the picture of the dead woman.

In it's place I hung Klimt's Jungfrau.




For a while the dead woman sat propped in the basement amongst other things that belonged to him. But eventually I decided that I could not share the house with her anymore and now she is gone.

* * * * *

I think quite a lot about all those women in the darkness. My sisters. I know now, how to tell the shape and purpose and essence of every hand offered up. I knew all along, of course; we all do. We just forget, we women. We forget we carry that knowledge inside us.

* * * * *

At night Anna likes to snuggle up to me in the big king-sized bed and count the women in the painting.

“Mommy, how many women do you see?”

“Lots.”

She stands up and starts counting the heads. And then the arms and legs, but she gets lost in the counting and each time she comes up with a different number. So she switches tack and asks which is my favorite dress. But again, it's hard to tell them apart. These women, they are all jumbled up together, and try as you might you can't tease them apart, and the longer you look the less you can tell which head belongs to which body, whose asleep and whose awake, whose arms are holding who.


56 comments:

  1. Wow! I honestly don't know what to say, so many thoughts are running through my head, but am finding it hard to articulate them.

    A very powerful post. xx

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  2. A powerful post indeed...the poignant reminder of 'dead woman' in your home and your decision to move forward. I love your hanging of Klimpt's Jungfrau.

    Thankyou for popping by my way to say hello. You have now introduced me to this special space and I am mesmorised and inspired already. I have some back reading to do...x


    xoxo

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  3. You write so well. What a strong and powerful post - hindsight, hey?
    In taking control you have taught your daughter the most valuable lesson she could ever learn - to value herself.
    I am in awe of you.
    Daisy.

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  4. This may sounds strange, but I am glad he assaulted you, not glad for the pain or for any terror you or your children felt, but glad because it gave you the strength to see him for who he was. Whatever was the thing that set him off that time, it was enough to fully open your eyes, to open your heart and let the real K out. It saved you from truly becoming a dead woman for I fear that would have been your fate.

    The woman who now writes here is a woman of courage, strength and freedom. She is a woman who can look back and be honest about where she was, no excuses - just the reality of what she was living. And a clear direction of what she will never, ever accept again.

    Your writing is going from strength to strength. With your words you can take me to the place you once where and it does not sit well in my heart, but I will never stop reading for it is a story that needs to be told.

    Thank you for having the courage to be who you are and to share where you have been, for through you I hope other women will find the same courage. It also makes me appreciate the man I have, the man I love and to hope one day you find one like him for yourself.

    Much love to you K xxx

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  5. Firstly, Kristin, I love that I can hear your voice when I read your posts now.

    Secondly, that was a beautiful post. The dead woman is gone, and in her place is someone as colourful and as wonderful as that new painting...you.

    xxx

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  6. My goodness, that painting is haunting and disturbing. I cannot imagine having it in my home, let along hanging in my bedroom.

    I agree with Jodi, the new painting truly represents the beautiful, alive in every way, you!

    Jenn xx

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  7. I loved that you replaced that painting with one of unity and support, Strength and love to you xxxxx

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  8. What a healthy alternative and a happy ending.

    Not to mention, so moving, and beautifully written. Amazing.

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  9. Beautifully written. Thankyou for sharing.

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  10. Isn't it amazing that our subconcious warns us continually about things that are not right, are distrubing or threatening yet we push it aside and plod along - reducing the real you until you decide to fight. And how we conform to someone/something knowing all along that we really don't want to. If more of us could recognise these uneasy feelings/thoughts (gut instincts) and act on them as we receive them how different our lives may be. I certainly haven't had an abusive relationship but I have made some stupid/devastating decisions all the while having the subconscious try to tell me not to. I recognise them now and am trying everyday to act on them and trust my instincts to ensure I don't put myself in the same position again.... Love your blog, Cathy

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  11. @ Recycled Relix - It sure does, doesn't it? My mom used to tell me: "People will always tell you who they are right away. We just don't always listen." I miss my mom.

    One thing that has come out of all of this is that I have learned to trust my instincts. Never again will I ignore that voice withing. That's a powerful lesson. It came at a great cost and it took me half a lifetime to learn it, but what a lesson. We all do it too. Why do we do it? If I teach my children nothing else, I want to teach them to honor their own truth and the wisdom of their hearts.

    Thanks so much for your comment. Nice to meet you. x

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  12. You are inspiring. You show the world that from a bad moment in time anyone can find the strength to not only survive, but flourish. By doing so you give other women hope, more importantly you are showing your child just what it is to have self respect and expect respect back.
    I am so glad you got rid of the painting.

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  13. Kakka - It doesn't sound strange and I've thought the same thing a hundred times. If he had never assaulted me, he would not have left the house. And if he didn't leave the house, I may never have discovered what I did -- the things he generally kept safely guarded. If I hadn't found out about the crime scene pornography and child pornography... god, I hate to think what might have happened.

    We were ready to sign our joint custody agreement. He would have had the children on his own every other weekend. I shudder at the thought, knowing what I know now. That assault, it save me. It saved my children.

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  14. With each post you write, it's like you take something out of my head and put it out there in words that paint a picture that I've lived. My ex also had a painting of a woman. She wasn't dead, but she was naked, being born away on a swan. He also told stories of his exes, all unflattering. I dread to think what stories he's telling now. No doubt ones that paint him as a saint and me the evil witch.

    It scares me that as similar as our two stories are, how many more are there out there, untold?

    Thank you...

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  15. man. what a post.
    that picture, in the context, really makes me want to throw up. not kiddin. i feel physical pain to think he imposed this on you and i can imagine how liberating it must have been to finally get rid of it. Klimt is wonderful, one of my favourite painters, and that's a great choice, very symbolic and true for you :)

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  16. Wow. Just wow. You are remarkable... and your ex is remarkably fucked up xxx

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  17. Okay, I know this is my second comment but I just had to agree with Glowless! Remarkably fucked up is the perfect description.
    Jenn xx

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  18. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what they’re talking about on the internet? You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you’re not more popular because you definitely have the gift. !

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  19. I concur with Glowless!

    The dead murdered woman painting is so very creepy. And his ex didn't like it, she was just too afraid to voice her opinion.

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  20. This post is incredibly moving. I don't know how you manage to write so beautifully about something so horrible. I guess it says a lot about you that you're capable of making something so ugly seem somehow connected and poetic. Thank you for sharing.

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  21. I don't think you could have put a better picture up in it's place. It's just...perfect.

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  22. When people see their own darkness as art and / or beautiful then they are truly lost. So glad you dumped that painting and everything that went with it. So glad your voice is strong.

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  23. Oh Kristin.

    That picture sent cold chills down my spine & then your comment in response to Kakka made me feel physically ill.

    When people say things happen for a reason, sometimes it's hard to imagine what that reason is at the time - but if your assault was the only way the Universe could get you & your children out of that life then it really was a blessing.

    With each piece of the story you share with us, my admiration & respect for you grows more - just when I think it couldn't be any greater than it already is.

    Sending you love & light always xx

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  24. I don't like the Jungfrau painting.
    I don't like the other one either, but the Jungfrau really hurts my eyes.

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  25. Kristin, you can write. Like, you can really, really write.

    I know you know this ... but I hope you know it the way I am telling you. You were born a writer - it's your art. Fucking outstanding post. XOXOX

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  26. I've been gone--turtling, as I call it--for a while, but am easing my way back in. So hello, dear.

    Your voice has become so lovely and clear and achingly TRUE. Sometimes it is in the times of greatest pain that we also find our truest selves.

    Bravo, darling.

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  27. I love this post Kristin. The painting was no doubt creepy. It just sent chills down my spine reading that account.
    My daughter just recently left her physically abusive husband. He keeps finding ways to get her to go with him to his parents place (which btw they're no help at all).
    Whenever she talks to me I always think of your story. This is the first time I've told anyone within the blogging community. I hope she finds the strength to leave him. I hope he rots in jail in the end. He belongs there.

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  28. **Leave him for good (is what I meant in the above comment). Why does she do that? Goes with him when he picks her up from where she's living? I don't get it.

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  29. That painting is seriously creepy. I'm so glad you got rid of it.xxxx

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  30. @ Mena - There is a something you might share with your daughter, it's called the Cycle of Abuse (I'll give you a link below, but it's all over the web, just google it). It demonstrates that one of the stages in the cycle is the "reconciliation/honeymoon phase". During this phase the abuser often showers his partner with love and attention, apologizes for his behavior, makes promises to change, or even acts so remorseful that he talks about suicide. It is a period of relative calm, but it is followed by a period of building tension, and finally another incident of abuse.

    These times when he is talking her into going to see his parents he may be kind and charming, but she needs to understand that this behavior is temporary and the abuse will return.

    I'm glad she left. I, too, hope she doesn't return. Much love to you and your daughter. xx

    Here is the link:
    http://www.squidoo.com/cycleofabuse

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  31. Yikes! That painting WAS creepy. I would have had nightmares, ESPECIALLY now after hearing your story. Glad you got rid of it AND him! I love the new painting and your new lease on life!

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  32. Glad that painting is out of your house. Objects hold some energy maybe. Love Klimt! Go Kristin!

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  33. You are so hugely beautiful. I am so glad I found your blog.

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  34. I hear every word of this as if you are speaking it directly to me. I hear your voice. I hear you. You are an amazing writer and an amazing woman. xx

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  35. Kristen, you are amazing.
    As a woman, a mother, a writer and a survivor.
    You are amazing.

    xoxo

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  36. This is just so beautifully written. Am in awe. Bless the blogging world for giving talent like you a chance to shine, and also a chance to heal and help.

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  37. p.s Just read Bigwords' comment, we must have been posting at the same time :)
    So, it is agreed and official - Kristen is Amazing, Amazing, Amazing!!
    Yes she is.
    Much love to you beautiful lady.
    xo

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  38. Wow. Beautiful post.
    I'm glad you got rid of the painting. You're right, it is creepy!

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  39. What a creepy painting I'm glad that it is out of your house and has been replaced with something much more vibrant. I bet the other women didn't like it either. You are such an inspiration and your writing just gets better and better. I hang on every word you type.

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  40. Wow - such beautiful comments. I'm once again regretting that I can't reply individually here on blogger's comment system. I so appreciate your support. I think we all agree on the creep factor of the painting. Ugh.

    Thanks again for your lovely comments and encouragement. You all are incredible. xx

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  41. As a man I find that painting horrific. It scares me. I am happy too that that is out of your life and so shall he be. That man infuriates me. If it wasn't for the law I don't believe I'd restrain myself.

    Uggggh!

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  42. This is a horrible picture to share a house, let alone a bedroom with! You've done well to get rid of it.

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  43. Loved this post. I've been here. Stuck in a relationship of domestic violence and made it out alive with my son. Glad to see that you and your daughter are in a better place now, too.

    One day I hope to gather enough courage to write about my experience as well.

    I'm following. Can't wait to read more.

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  44. Hi Sara, nice to meet you. So glad you're in a better place now. I hope to join you there soon, so I can look back on this as the distant past. x

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  45. Gobsmacking. I'm stuck for words to convey how disturbing I find this. That you slept with this literally hanging over your head. My gosh. I'm with Glowless... seriously f'd up. But I guess you already knew that. You are an astounding writer, weaving your story with words that articulate so perfectly, as if I feel like I might have been standing right there the day your friends mercifully took down that woman in the painting. Much love to you and your dear children.

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  46. @ Being Me - I don't know what's more tragic...that someone actually found that painting beautiful, or that I agreed to sleep beneath it for eight years.

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  47. Your words are always so hauntingly beautiful, even when the subject matter is dark and foreboding.

    It sounds like he was trying to intimidate you from the get go (and all that went before). So very glad you were able to break this cycle and be here to share you're important stories xx

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  48. thanks for the link KB I'll def share it with her.

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  49. So many women out there suffer in silence, and it's sad. So many kinds of abuse and control..the pile of women in the picture is haunting.

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  50. Wow, I don't know what to say. This is a powerful blog, and what a strong woman you must be :-)

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  51. What a harrowing and powerful post. So pleased you are away from this crazy man and I adore the Klimt pic.

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  52. It's a BEAUTIFUL painting. Look up St. Margaret of Antioch and you will be at peace with this painting once and for all sweetheart. She is a Christian marytr. The Romans attempted to burn her without success and then to boil her (hence the image), but she said, "Let these be the waters of my baptism.." so the boiling water did not touch her. This is an imagine of a mircale of God. No matter what evil people say about it...all that time you were sleeping under one of the holy helpers. + God bless.

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  53. Kristin, I've posted as "anonymous" a few times today. I'm using my name now.

    I have a question:

    "My sisters. I know now, how to tell the shape and purpose and essence of every hand offered up. I knew all along, of course; we all do."

    How can we tell the essence of every hand offered up? One of the qualities associated with sociopathy is the ability to fool people.



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    Replies
    1. By listening to our intuition.

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    2. But what if someone's intuition tells them someone is a good person when they are not?

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    3. I don't believe our intuition is wrong. I think we are just not very skilled at recognizing and listening to it.

      Delete

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