At first I thought that Bird and I were going to be able to work together. I asked her to attend a session with Dylan’s substance abuse counselor and myself. Bird has always been wary of therapy. The last time we were in therapy together she walked out in the middle of it and never returned.
When I arrived Bird was sitting in the lobby. She looked weary and scared and I took some pleasure in that. She barely acknowledged me.
How’s it going? I asked. What I really meant was How is Dylan doing? Dylan was staying with her full-time by then. She had always asserted that she was the better parent and now she was getting her chance to prove it.
Busy... she says trailing off, shaking her head. Bird will never answer a direct question. She will respond with something vague, or ask why the question was asked.
Doing what? I asked.
Taking care of a 15-year-old, my mother, and trying to find a place to live….
I said nothing. Bird is always beleaguered with some issue or another. She’s been living in a trailer she pulls behind her truck for at least six years. If you ask her why she will tell you she did it for Dylan. She wanted to be close to him and was forced to move to California to do so.
In spite of Bird’s obvious limitations, she holds a certain power over me. I know she wouldn’t have it if I didn’t give it to her. When we first got together I was 19 and she was 26. Because of abuse I encountered when I was young, I’ve always been afraid of anger that comes from an intimate partner. When they get angry I go into overdrive trying to prevent the rage and violence that will surely follow. It happens automatically and I’ve never been able to control my response. It’s as if it was programmed into me. Don’t let Daddy get mad. When Daddy gets mad, bad things happen.
My first relationship was with a boy in high school who had a drinking problem that led to domestic violence. Later, my first relationship was with a woman who was also abusive. I’ve always been attracted to darkness. I was attracted to Bird the first time I met her. It was like two magnets locking into place.
Bird’s father had made a huge impact on her. He did not accept his gay daughter or her masculine tendencies, which presented at a very early age. Bird’s father was the chief of police of the town she grew up in. Once Bird told me about an incident in which her dad had held his gun to her mother’s head during an argument.
In the early years of our relationship I would never have considered Bird to be abusive. I came from relationships where that had taken place and she was different. She had a drinking problem, yes, and when she drank she would sleep with other women or disappear for days at a time. Once she threw all of my belongings out of her house into the front yard. That was the extent of it.
Years later we were living together again. It was about a year before Dylan was conceived. Bird was working over the road as a truck driver, which meant she was gone for extended periods. This worked well for our relationship because it also was a bond formed out of desperation and fear of abandonment. When she returned we would have heated reconnection sex. A few days later she would leave again.
As a result of her absence, I became more independent. We heated our house with a wood stove and I was used to making the fires, and doing any other things that were required around the house. When Bird returned we would get in arguments because Bird felt that she should be in charge of things like starting up the stove. Tensions grew, and one night erupted.
We were in the guest room at our house for some reason. Perhaps the argument started in another room. It was late and I can’t remember what the argument was about. At one point Bird was very angry. She got close to my face and yelled, “Is this what you want? Do you want me to hit you?” Then she drove off in her truck.
I never spoke of the incident until now. I thought it was probably my fault. After all, I was unreasonable. It was my pattern to become involved with people who were abusive. Maybe I did want her to hit me. I wasn’t sure. Maybe I provoked her, I cannot recall.
But years later, after the relationship ended, she admitted that she used anger to control me. It was a rare admission for Bird, who normally keeps her real self hidden away. She isn’t comfortable with emotion and I channeled and expressed hers as part of our relationship. The relationship carried many unspoken contracts. I would make Bird feel like a man and protect her male ego. She needed me to need her and I did. I needed her to take care of me and she did.
So as we prepared to enter the butch-appearing lesbian counselors office, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wanted to be able to be non-reactive. But I’ve learned now that to attempt to be non-reactive to Bird is the same as trying to prevent the knee-jerk reaction that happens when I sense anger. Maybe it’s because I gave control of myself over to Bird at such a young age. Maybe because of her height she can appear daunting. Maybe because she abandoned me in favor of Dylan after he was born. Maybe because she has been overly critical of my mothering in an attempt to gain favor with Dylan.
Whatever the reason, interacting with Bird leads to me feeling reactive. Even now, when we are alone, I am subdued and submissive in her presence. Even if she is in my home. I trip over myself trying not to upset her, knowing that if I assert myself I will be suppressed. I choose my words so carefully because I know if I tell her not to do something, she will make it her mission to do just that. If I criticize her choices she shares it with Dylan to prove how mean I am to her. It seems as if I should be able to stand up to Bird. But as soon as she gives me that one look of disapproval, all of my reasoning melts into the ground.
She is my Dad, she is mad and bad things are going to happen.
I came to the therapy session determined not to let the stick of dynamite I carry inside me to get lit. I did ask the universe for help in maintaining my cool, and in not feeling threatened by Bird. I knew if I was triggered by her and started yelling the battle would be lost. She would sit there smug and satisfied.
The lesbian therapist appeared and ushered us into her office.
She started telling us about Dylan’s substance abuse which we were both well aware of. Bird’s gifts to Dylan after their visits now included several grams of marijuana and a pack of American Spirit Cigarettes. I knew I couldn’t stop Bird so I didn’t even try. So yes, I was complicit. The counselor stressed the importance of intervening now, before Dylan graduated to IV drug use.
Then she sat back in her chair, legs spread wide, and said, “So, Dylan tells me you two hate each other“.
My explaining self jumped in, suggesting that we had differences in the past but we had worked through them. I’ve always been the designated speaker in the relationship. Especially in situations like this, I should talk less and force Bird to reveal herself. But again, it seemed automatic.
The counselor started talking about how happy Dylan was to be living with Bird in her trailer and that he had the structure now that he so desperately needed. She told us how Dylan had come to his session so thrilled that Bird had made him a sandwich to take to school. I’ve always hated making lunches. This one goes to Bird, she’s quite good at it. She used to make them for me.
For awhile after that it was like a Butch-on-Butch conversation. Bird was enjoying the praise. Bird practically pounded her chest while she declared that she was capable of setting strong boundaries with Dylan. The counselor told us that Dylan staying with Bird was the best situation for him and that it should continue.
The counselor asked Bird, “Have you seen how he treats her?” nodding her head in my direction. Bird said nothing. The counselor went on, telling me that living with Dylan was the same as being in an abusive relationship.
I felt somewhat validated by her words. For the first time, I felt seen.