The Donor

Jane had no reason to suspect Craig was the reason she was always sick. He was her joy. He cheered her up when she was down. He bought her flowers and turned them towards her saying she was the sunshine that they fed on. He noticed when she paused over a piece of art and bought it months later as a surprise. She often thought to herself that she’d never had such a kind and considerate boyfriend her entire life.
He never minded that she was often cranky because of the pain. The chronic feeling of un-wellness kept her up at night, made it hard to spend time with friends. Often all she wanted at the end of the day was to curl up on the sofa with a book and let her mind escape into the pages. At least there she could forget the dull but ever-present pain that ruled her days.
She drank anti-inflammatory tea by the gallon, did everything her therapist suggested, and still she had no relief. She had come to believe that pain was part of who she was, just as much as her bunions and her curly hair. She could no longer remember a time when she wasn’t at least a little achy, since a little had been a lot for so long.
It had started when she was in college, the year she met Craig. Under hypnotism much later she realized it was the very night she’d first seen him at a frat party that the aches had begun. They were mild at first, like the ache from being hung over. Then it continued, like she was getting a summer cold. Then it never left.
She had been dating someone else then, but Craig caught her eye and they had chatted. It was a few months later before she ran into him again, and by then she was single. The last relationship had left her a little sour on the idea of dating again any time soon, and she had told Craig so when he inquired. He understood and respected her space. There had been no question about it – he honestly and sincerely accepted her feelings. There was no hidden agenda of pretending to wait just so he could date her later. It was the first time in her life she’d ever felt like a potential suitor actually cared about what she wanted.
She’d decided to date him after six months, after she’d had enough “me” time and wanted “we” time again. Maybe it was the lack of pressure. Maybe the pain was wearing her down. Or maybe the hex sign he’d sketched out between her shoulder blades had done it.
She’d never noticed at the time. How could she? That evening had been a little hazy, what with the kamikaze she’d consumed. It had tasted so good on that hot summer afternoon, sitting on the front porch of the frat house. Her friend Fish, a resident of the house, had mixed it for her and it was a little stronger than she liked. So when Craig offered to give her a back rub when she mentioned how her shoulders ached, she thought nothing about how he warmed up with some delicate tracery on the bare skin between her shoulder blades. She didn’t know he had traced a sigil. She didn’t know it was a sigil of marking, of ownership. She didn’t know that his attitude of indifference afterwards was just an act. In that moment, she was tied to him for as long as he desired, and that was for as long as she was useful to him.
He had been born normal, like any other child of the Midwest. Nothing exceptional had happened that would have raised any red flags. No one would have ever suspected a thing until Bebhinn saw them together years later. She was a friend of a friend, really, not connected to either one. This made her objective, like a reporter. She was a curious about them as a couple since she’d noticed them at the Yule party three years ago. Sure, they had been at other parties before then, but this was the one where she had finally seen them, seeing the energy between them, and it wasn’t good.
Electric blue lines streamed from Jane to Craig, but none the other way. Bebhinn had seen that only once before, and it was in her native Ireland. A man had drained his wife’s life from her, bit by bit at first and then more and more as he grew hungrier and she grew weaker. The less she was able to give, the more he wanted until there was nothing left.
The town priest was secretly an exorcist. This was in spite of the official church statement that such activities were not in keeping with the rites and canons of a post Vatican 2 faith. He named the cause of the poor woman’s death, having seen it many times before in other guises in his native Nigeria.
The dire priest shortage in Ireland had meant that he’d had to transfer to this backwoods village a long decade ago. Bebhinn wasn’t pleased with the change in accent most of all, finding his heavily accented sing-song voice at odds with the native lyricism of her people, but what other option was there? So many parishes had closed or merged when their priest had finally died and not been replaced. So few young men chose to be priests these days. She should be grateful her parish’s doors were still open, even if the doorkeeper was almost unintelligible. For a while she decided to pretend that the mass was in Latin again, and just let it wash over her. After a few months she started to make some headway in understanding him. She decided to try to befriend him, to help make him feel at home in this wild, wet land, so different from everything he knew.
It was during their weekly lunches together that he confided to her that he could see spirits. She was the only parishioner he’d told and the only one he would ever tell. He knew, with the same sort of knowing that had led him into this clandestine club, that she had the same ability. Over the years he taught her all that was safe to teach a layperson. It was these skills that Bebhinn used now.
Jane had stopped going to church when she entered college, the same as many young people. Unlike them, she still had an interest in God, but didn’t have the time. Most quit because they no longer had to go as a prerequisite for free room and board. If she had continued to attend, her pastor might have seen the biggest change in her – the light slowly leaving her eyes. There wasn’t a spring in her step or song in her heart anymore. The change had come on so gradually that it would have been impossible for anyone to notice if they’d seen her every day.
Craig had been draining Jane for years before Bebhinn noticed her at that party. He was sly about it, withdrawing only tiny bits of energy at a time. He had to be sly – otherwise she might notice and leave, and then he’d have to groom another donor. For that’s what she, and at least 60 other women before her were – donors. Unwilling, unwitting, certainly, but donors nonetheless. They’d not signed a card or registered with any agency, but a part of them was being removed nonetheless.

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Stuck

I had a boyfriend who was 20 when was 17. His birthday was coming up and he wanted to celebrate it with his parents at his house and he wanted me to come. However, this involved a trip across the country in a plane. We flew from Chattanooga to Seattle, and then drove to some little town about two hours away. I was stuck at his house, in his town, with his parents. I had no way out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became really obvious very soon that I was in trouble.

Having never made any moves on me before then, he attempted to have sex with me that very first night. I resisted and eventually managed to survive the week still a virgin. I broke up with him immediately upon returning home and didn’t speak with him for many years afterwards. He was deeply confused as to what had gone wrong. Even after I explained it to him he didn’t really understand.

I suspected something was wrong from the very beginning of the stay with his parents, when I was greeted by his parents at their house and his father was wearing only an undershirt and tight shorts. I was clued in to more when I learned that my boyfriend’s “rebel” earring wasn’t rebellious at all – his dad had one, and his brother had one. I also figured out that something was wrong when his parents matter-of-factly put my luggage and his luggage in the same room.

The alarm bells kept going off – there was a lot of smoke, but I didn’t have an escape plan. Worse, I’d been taught to ignore these alarm bells by the very people who should have taught me better.

What were the alarm bells? My parents would have never greeted a guest wearing their underwear. They would never even be seen in front of anyone, even family, like that unless they were sick. They certainly wouldn’t have put a non-married couple in the same room together, and much less if one person was a teenager.

For his parents to treat me like that was a warning that I was not in a “normal” house – and I certainly wasn’t safe. He proceeded to try to “pick my locks” as the Pink Floyd song goes every night that week, and I was terrified.

How could I leave? I had no car. I had no spare money. He had the tickets – he’d bought them.

Perhaps I could have called home and gotten my parents to wire me money for a new plane ticket – to leave right away. Perhaps I could have gotten a taxi and just left.

I didn’t. I felt trapped, and I had no frame of reference for this kind of behavior. I had no way of knowing how to act.

But in a way I did. My brother abused me in many ways throughout my childhood, and my parents did nothing. He beat me and stole from me and when I told them they didn’t make it better. They didn’t punish him at all. He eventually became a full-blown narcissistic psychopath, and they didn’t nip this in the bud. He learned early on that he could get away with manipulating people any way he wanted. He learned early on that he could treat people like things and get away with it. Since my parents didn’t defend me, I learned to be passive. This was how I was supposed to be treated, apparently.

My trips to the dentist as a child also taught me passivity. He didn’t use anesthesia because he thought the needle would scare me. I learned that pain was to be endured, especially pain at the hands of an authority figure. My parents were paying for it, so this must be normal. Suck it up.

While I’m angry at myself for not standing up and defending myself, I also have to forgive myself. I didn’t know better. I wasn’t taught well. I learned to accept bad behavior quietly until I could find a way to remove myself safely. I’m angry at them for not teaching me how to take care of myself at all. I’m angry at them for their ineptness. But I also need to remember that they, like all parents, are amateurs.

I went to a therapist once who thought I should just hang out in the “angry” place and not forgive or excuse bad behavior, but it isn’t that simple. Emotions aren’t just one or another, but a range of them. I can be angry and forgive at the same time. I can understand and empathize, but also be sad at people’s bad choices.

While I think that boyfriend and my family “should” have known better, I’m putting my value system on them. I’m forgetting that they don’t have to do things my way. I’m forgetting that they have their own ways of doing things, and if I feel that they are wrong – for me – then I must get away from them. They don’t have to stop doing what they are doing – they just have to stop doing them to me. Their actions are their own, and the consequences of their actions are their own.

This all reminds me of how nobody told me how to use the brakes on a bike when they taught me to ride. I got very badly hurt, and it was totally avoidable.

Questionable boyfriend

A lady came into the library recently with a guy I recognize. He’s a patron from years ago, and not a good one. She asked him if he wanted to check and see if he had a card. He shrugged her off, but came up to me later.

He said that she was his girlfriend, and he had been using her card. I was pretty sure he had an account that he couldn’t use because it wasn’t in good standing.

I was right. There was a reason he didn’t do any of this in front of her.

He had a dozen CDs out and hadn’t returned them in years. He’d been billed for them, and his account had gone to collections. He owed over $300.

He knew all of this. It wasn’t a surprise. Maybe he was hoping it would have just disappeared.

I told him his options. Find them and bring them back. Buy replacement copies of what is lost. Or pay the fine. He walked away.

They both came up later, and he’d again used her card to check out. She seems like a decent person. She doesn’t look like she would date him. I wanted to warn her – don’t marry him. Stay away.

I can see more than his fines. I can see more than his unwillingness to be responsible with his account. I know that he was caught trying to spray paint this building.

I also can tell more from what he is reading. He’d checked out “urban erotic fiction.” This is what black women in the projects read. It is rough stuff – and straight white guys certainly don’t read it. Perhaps he’s gay? Because the only other guy I’ve ever known to read “urban erotic fiction” was.

This isn’t going to go well.

The last time I warned someone away from a questionable guy I got censured very badly. There was a guy who wasn’t very reliable who was in the medieval reenactment group I was in many years ago. He’d promise the moon and not deliver. He was forever making up his own rules about things. He was shifty, and we’d early on learned to not let him be in charge of anything because he always let the group down.

He started dating this girl who was very nice but very innocent. She was trusting – too trusting. I felt like it was my duty to clue her in to his history with the group.

It all backfired on me.

At an event, months after my talk with her, my knight (I was in a household with a knight as the head) pulls me from what I was doing and says we are going to have a meeting. Next thing I know, I’m sitting at a table with the knight, the girlfriend, and the guy. I’m suddenly on trial and I’ve not had any warning. Turns out she talked to her boyfriend, and he talked to my knight. Nobody had come up to me privately.

It was uncomfortable. It was intense. And I felt betrayed by my knight.

I was asked why I said what I said. My main answer was to protect her. My brother has been married four times and the successive wives didn’t know about his lies and the previous wives. They’d gotten hurt very badly. I felt that I had a chance with this lady to let her know what she was getting in for. I didn’t have a chance with my brother’s wives. I could have saved them a lot of trouble.

I was then asked who told me what I said. Some of what I knew was from before I was in the group, so it was information that was revealed to me. I refused to answer this. It isn’t who told me that is the issue. It is the fact that I repeated it. I wasn’t told by just one person, and my personal experiences with this guy had borne out this impression that he wasn’t trustworthy. Heck – even my knight had told me stories about how shifty he was. I held my ground on this one.

Plus – I didn’t think it was fair to throw other people under the bus, just because I was getting run over.

I meant well, and I got hurt. I didn’t trust my knight after that. I didn’t talk to this guy or his girlfriend ever again either. It ruined my experience in this group that was my main social outlet. I know this group was supposed to be about honor and chivalry, but I felt like I was doing the right thing, and I feel even today that how the situation was handled was inappropriate.

So I’m a little wary of telling anybody to stay away from shady guys.

I don’t think this is the lesson I should have learned.

We read stories about women who were suckered by guys who made them think they were great people, and all the people around them knew the real story. Her friends and family saw how he was when he wasn’t with her. They said nothing, and it all went very badly. In the best case, her heart gets broken. In the worst case, she’s dead.

Is it worth it? Are we supposed to be silent? Are we supposed to pretend that the skunk will turn into a kitty cat? Are we supposed to think that if we don’t tell her our concerns that it will all work out for the best?

This seems stupid. This is how predators continue to work. We are aiding and abetting them with our silence.

How much am I allowed to say at work? Would it be considered slander? Could I get fired for expressing my opinion of this guy to his girlfriend? Library records are private, by law. Even a wife doesn’t have access to her husband’s account unless he gives her his card.

I don’t think this guy is dangerous – just untrustworthy. That can become dangerous.