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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't Know Why...

Today I had to buy a toilet seat. I firmly believe this is Darrin's job. I also firmly believe one should only have to buy a single toilet seat which will look new and pristine forever and ever. Unfortunately, my beliefs were challenged and I ended up at Kmart looking at possible toilet seat purchases.

I finally chose (seriously--how does one know it will work unless one tries it first?), and found that the shrink-wrapped seat was attached to a convenient plastic handle. As I had opted for no shopping cart, I grasped the item by its handle and began to walk toward the front of the store. A woman who knows more about make-up than I do, and who spends large amounts of money on her manicure, gave me highly disdainful look, at which point I thought, "Hey! How many times will I get to carry a toilet seat around a store in my lifetime. I believe I must make the best of this opportunity."

So I flashed make-up-and-manicure lady my very best smile and walked by her, nonchalantly swinging my toilet seat (come on, admit it--the words "toilet seat" make you want to giggle, right??). She didn't smile back. 

I made my way about the store, being certain the toilet seat was completely visible. I got many odd looks from people. It may have been because I looked so happy to be carrying my bathroom item. One man looked highly uncomfortable as I passed, so I stopped and asked if he thought the pattern on the seat was a good one, or if he preferred the soft kind of toilet seat. He ignored me. 

I made the rounds, then finally bought my prize. The results of my experiment are thus:  I am just not as appealing when carrying a toilet seat. Most people didn't smile back at me. In fact, many avoided making eye contact altogether. 

So--I bought a toilet seat. But I firmly believe Darrin should be the one to install it on the porcelain throne. And I don't intend to be wrong about this.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I think about this sometimes...

I suppose there will always be a part of me which wonders how many of the "bad things" in my life could have been prevented. This was a prominent part of my thoughts when my children were small and my urge to overprotect was overwhelming. I understood that extreme protection was as harmful (or more so) than no protection and I wished to avoid it, while at the same time every part of me screamed that my children would not be sexually abused.

There are some things from which I could not keep myself. My children were never allowed to go to public restrooms alone. Until age four, they went with me. After that, if Darrin was unable to accompany the boys, I would wait outside the men's restroom for DJ and Adam (and I was not above asking a friend to check on them if they stayed in the bathroom too long), and I continued to accompany Tabitha in the ladies room. 

As they got older, I still insisted DJ and Adam enter the restroom together (although I stopped waiting outside after they turned 8) and this practice didn't cease until Adam was 12. I still will go with Tabitha much of the time. She's 85 pounds, a budding adolescent...and I can't help it. The thought of her having to endure what I have felt is beyond my coping ability. We've talked about my bathroom anxiety. DJ and Adam have always been amenable to my need to see them safely in and out of the "danger zone." Tabitha has always welcomed my company. Now, of course, DJ and Adam are both able to take care of themselves, but I still worry. Just chalk it up to residual effects.

I encountered a blog entry here. The blog author discusses a book I think everyone should read, and lists some highlights. I read the comments with interest. There were some great ideas and concerns, as well as some interesting comments about those who abuse children. I must admit that I reacted strongly to any comment which even came close to hinting that the commentor didn't feel his/her child could ever encounter a situation in which abuse could happen. And yes, I made a comment expressing my dismay about it.

I suppose it's possible that a parent would be so present in a toddler's or preschooler's life that the opportunity for abuse couldn't present itself. I'm skeptical, though. Because of my background, many people have felt the need to share their abuse stories with me (which is neither something I encourage nor enjoy--but I also understand the need to talk about something that profoundly changes ones life), and I've heard of siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, parents, neighbors, short, cases where nearly every possible trusted individual had broken that trust at the cost of an innocent child. I don't see how it's possible to know your children cannot be abused unless you are with them every moment of lives--and that's not healthy.

I've posted at least one conversation I've had with Tabitha about sex. It was fairly explicit, I suppose. But the reason we were able to talk about it is because sex has never been a taboo topic in our home. I don't have all the answers, and the jury is still out on my children--they're not all adults yet. And I'm guessing when all is said and done, they'll have complaints about how we discussed the topic of sex. 

It's difficult to know how to find a happy medium which fits every comfort zone. DJ, for instance, is not as comfortable discussing the topic of sex as Adam and Tabitha are. And he still gets weirded out by the idea that his mom is a sexual being. Adam is fine with that thought--as long as it's kept in the confines of "mom and dad are sexual together". He becomes very upset if anyone else shows sexual interest in me (especially if it's one of his teen-aged friends, which is completely reasonable), and wants to punch them. I'm a little unsure of how to deal with this issue, so it's good that he doesn't often notice anyone showing interest in me. Tabitha is a floater. Nothing surprises her when it comes to sexuality, and she's definitely more open to the thought that mom can be sexual than the boys are. I believe this is because she identifies with me more than I would like her to, therefore entertains the thought, "If Mom's still sexy even though she's ancient, I will be, too." At thirteen, I suppose that's a healthy outlook on aging.

As we've discussed sexuality, I've been very careful to maintain a tone respectfulness without becoming prudish. I don't ever want my kids to think there is anything "dirty" about sex. We discuss the mechanics, then move to the emotional and spiritual aspects of the function sex plays in people's lives. I've taught them my religious beliefs in regards to sex (yeah, in addition to "The Gospel According to Samantha", there is also "Sex-ed According to Samantha), I've shared with them my gratitude for human sexuality, I've talked with them about the need to protect themselves emotionally and physically. I don't know how much has penetrated their brains, nor if they agree or disagree with what I've taught. The truth is, they get to choose what works for them. 

Someday, I would love to see sex abuse statistics drop dramatically. And I would love to have the catalyst for that drop be because human beings have learned how to be healthy about their reproductive and sexual bonding attitudes. I think it's possible. If someone like me, who has had an abundance of sexual trauma and negative experiences, can raise children with sexually healthy ideals, I think it's a societal possibility. I don't know that it will ever happen, but I intend to continue hoping for it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Time to get up

My children believe that one must set the morning alarm three hours prior to actual wake-up time, then snooze for the next three hours. I'm already battling a snoring husband at 120 decibels, so to have two alarms blaring music at five minute intervals from 3:30 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. is making me a bit testy. I insisted Tabitha and Adam change their alarms times to closer to 5: 00 a.m., hoping for another 90 minutes of sporadic sleep between Darrin-snores. They sort of complied. 

Today, however, Adam's alarm began to sing pop music at 4:15 a.m. And I lost patience.

Me (turning on the light and standing in Adam's room): It's time to get up.
Adam: Huh?
Me: Your alarm is going off. It's time to get up.
Adam: Oh. Okay, I'll turn it off. 
Me: That's fine. Then get in the shower. 
Adam: I don't need to get up yet.
Me: Yes. You do.
Adam: No, I don't. I have plenty of time to sleep. I don't have to leave until 6:20. 
Me: New rule, Adam. If your alarm wakes me up, I wake you up. That's the way it works.
Adam: My alarm didn't wake you up.
Me: Yes, it did.
Adam: No. I turned it down so it wouldn't.
Me: It still woke me.
Adam: Something else woke you.
Me: It doesn't matter to me if you believe me or not. If your alarm goes off, and I hear it, I'm coming to your room to be obnoxious until you get up.
Adam: Mom! I want to go back to sleep.
Me: Yeah. That's a little miserable isn't it?
Adam: Fine! I get it!
Me: Good. Now get up.
Adam: Ahhhhh!!!

Tabitha's alarm began to sing at that moment. I walked to her room.
Tabitha: I heard. No snoozing.
Me: Nope.
Tabitha: Got it.
Me: Have a good morning.

I am not a nice mom when I don't get enough sleep. I'm hoping that has been made clear to my dear children. Perhaps next week we'll get to sleep in until 5:15 a.m. One can always hope...

Thursday, September 25, 2008 love again...

...with Salman Rushdie who has a delightful sense of humor, a huge awareness of people and politics, and writes beautifully...after attending a lecture by him this evening it is undeniable...I adore him...

And he's balding. I have a thing for balding men.

There is no hope for me. Forever in love...

An Uphill Climb

I don't know how to describe the things that are happening to me. I tried, last night, to talk about them with Tolkien Boy, who has, much to my chagrin, become a sounding board for me. When I'm not talking to him, I seem to be talking to Jason, and sometimes AtP, and always poor Darrin must listen as I talk through all that confuses me (sometimes into the wee morning hours, although Jason and Tolkien Boy have also experienced that particular "Sam's talking and she can't shut up" phenomenon). 

me: Are you in a spot where I can chat your ear off?   (what a visual)

TB: It's still relatively quiet here. I'm entering student information into our database, which is a pretty routine job.

me: Okay. Remember, I'm asking your opinion. I intend to get professional help, as it seems my unenviable task with most everything that happens emotionally, but before I talk about it with Therapist, I want to understand it from all angles. You often remind me of things I forget to think about (just making sure you know I'm not using you as a conversational release to avoid talking about this in the appropriate place).

TB: Thanks for being aware of what I might be feeling. What's on your mind?

me: A number of things have been happening since my last therapy trip to Utah.  
  1. PTSD symptoms have become intense and feel unmanageable.   
  2. However, they only seem to last a couple of days at a time. Previously, they could last up to six weeks or more, with no relief. 
  3. Nightmares have become surreal--as nightmares should be. They still come, but I've been fairly successful at rerouting them--and they have a cartoon-ish quality which seems normal for nightmares.   
  4. I've had no flashbacks for nearly four weeks.
In the midst of all this, a number of things have been happening emotionally. I don't know that they're unusual, but for the first time I can remember, I don't feel I'm in control. These things seem to have a life of their own. 
  1. My social "walls" have become more intrusive. I am becoming less likely to talk to people or to introduce myself. I no longer enter a conversation unless it is business based, but am content to listen only.  
  2. My desire for close friendships is waning. My head is telling me I need them, reminding me how much I love them, how helpful they have been--suggesting that my presence has been helpful and joyful to others, as well. My heart says it's tired--and that's all. 
  3. My need to talk has become less strong. As was common four years ago, if I do talk, I feel a great need to separate myself from whomever was listening, for an indefinite period of time. 
  4. I feel whole. As though, finally, everything I have worked for in the past three years suddenly clicked into place. But instead of feeling the need to continue being with people, I feel strongly that I need solitude, that to be with people is not something I wish for or need. 
  5. I think I'm crazy.   
The end. 

TB: What in that list makes you think you're crazy?

me: Of all the things I worked on, building close relationships with others was paramount on my list. I worked on it longer and more frequently than anything else, and it brought me the most joy--immediate joy. And now--suddenly, there is no desire to continue any of it. I've always had an inclination to isolate--because that's what I was used to, but there was enough of a pull towards others to counteract that. That pull is now gone. Completely. 

TB: I suspect it isn't gone forever.   Perhaps you're adjusting to the nuances of having these needs met.  

me: Yes.  

TB: It makes sense, then, that there will be some startling snap-backs in both directions?  

me: It feels as though something has been set in motion that I can't stop. My head is screaming, "What do you think you're doing?!" My heart is saying, "Let everyone go. Mourn the loss, and start living again." But I don't want to. I'm here talking to you tonight, because I don't want to. I'm wondering if this is a plausible explanation: Finally after so many years of hanging on to the things of my past, I've let them go. It's a good thing. But in the process of letting them go, it feels as if my heart wants to also separate from anyone who was key in helping me get to that point. That includes Therapist, strangely enough. I don't want to see him again. It also includes AtP, Sully, and Jason, and (please don't be upset with me) you. 

TB: I'm not upset at all. I think it's a fairly plausible explanation. In fact, it could very well be what's operating here. If it is true, though, what does it mean? 

me: I don't know. Another reason I'm asking your opinion. What do you think? 

TB: Well, I think it means that your automatic inclination is to associate weakness with the things that you've been through. Now that you feel you've been past that, you feel the need to terminate relationships that know your weakness so that you can "begin again" from a position of strength. 

me: There is a frantic thought pattern in my head that screams, "Help me stay! Don't let go of me! Show me what to do next!"  All very melodramatic.  

TB: Well, emotions are emotional by definition. So, in the things you feel, there's also a desire to not lose what you've found?

me: It's reversed. My head used to tell me to stay away from people; my heart wished to love them. Now my heart says it's okay to be alone, and my head says I'm being an idiot. 

TB: Perhaps an inevitable result of working hard to reverse the roles of logic and emotion in your life?  

me: Could be, yes. 

TB: It seems that there will necessarily be some discomfort as your feelings and reason try to find new patterns of behavior. There's going to be a bit of wresting, it seems, and ways that you've habitually felt will have perhaps dramatically different expressions.  

me: This is more work than I expected. 

TB: It does seem like most things are, for me at least. 

________________________________ 5 minutes 

me: You've said you want me to stay. This is not too much work? 

TB: No, not too much work at all.  It can be hard work to be a friend, but the benefits far outweigh any inconvenience.  

me: And I want to stay, in spite of what I'm feeling. Okay. I'm good at working. 

TB: One of the best workers I know. 

me: Tolkien Boy, I wish sometimes that the timing of when we met had been better--no Sam-in-therapy-and-emotionally-messed-up. 

TB: What would that have accomplished? 

me: Sometimes I feel that you only know the parts of me by which I'm overwhelmed. The new parts. The ones I don't even really know myself. But there's more than that. Sorry--I'm just talking without thinking. You're right. It would accomplish nothing. 

TB: Well, I guess it connects to my knowing things you might consider "weak"?  

me: Or just knowing things I usually don't allow others to know. 

TB: I'm rather privileged by it.  

me: Sometimes you surprise me. :)   Thank you for your input. 

TB: You're welcome.

So now begins another battle within myself? Truly, everything feels as though it's leveling out. My PTSD symptoms are shorter in duration, but my desire to be alone increases daily. For the first time since my marriage, I'm alarmed to note that this desire includes Darrin who, up to this point has been excluded from all my crazy emotions aimed at people. 

Tolkien Boy says maintaining relationships is worth all the effort they take. But I'm not working on building and maintaining relationships with other people. This is all taking place inside of me. It's not like we're working together on this. Once again I feel that I have to do it all on my own. And after all I've done in the past two years, I'm tired. I'm fighting myself--and I'm an incredibly strong opponent. 

And honestly, I'm afraid. I'm worried now that I've let it be known what I'm battling, that those I love will get tired of all this. Ugh. I don't know how to do this! I whined for three years that I didn't want to be alone, and now, after all is said and done, my heart is telling me I had what I wanted from the beginning--and I need it back. It makes no sense. 

On the bright side, I've always felt I was good company...

My head is reminding me that I'm really at my best, though, when in tandem with the friends and family members I love...

This is very confusing...

Monday, September 22, 2008

A little off the subject, but somehow more relevant...

I don't know how many of my readers are aware of this, but a few months ago this blogger and her husband were critically injured in a plane accident. I've been following the story and keeping them in my prayers, but the need for funds to help care for their children and medical care continues to grow. To help raise money for the family a proposed book is in the process. You can learn more about it here. When I first read about it, the proposal listed a need for writings by women, but this current post doesn't specify that. So if you're a guy, and you'd like to help, you might want to ask if the book is still to be exclusively written by women. 

The contest sponsors are also looking for someone who would volunteer to make a blog button to help publicize the contest and the need for prayers and funds for the Nielsons.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

So in love...

...with Therapist because he came to a workshop in which I was a panel member with Darrin, and he stayed through the whole thing, even when I talked about sex.

...with Darrin because at the midpoint between my house and Utah is a lone sex shop (advertised by posting a sign on a yellow schoolbus...creepy...), and on our trip Thursday, Darrin suggested that such shops could serve a better purpose if they were situated between a fertility clinic and a sperm bank. 

...with AtP because he came to the Q&A workshop for women (in which I was a panel member again), even though he was almost the only man in the audience--but then a married couple came so he had company. And he ate Ethiopian food and didn't hate it (Darrin did--spoilsport), and he had chair races with me at Harmons where we ate prickly pear gelato with chocolate. 

...with Kim because she made me laugh at the conference, was on the panel with me in the women's workshop, and because she sometimes sounded as if she'd been sucking helium when she talked because she was sick--and she didn't get aggravated at me for pointing that out about a thousand times and giggling.

...with Ambrosia (and, by default, Bawb) because she introduced me to Ethiopian food, lied about the waitress bringing us a check so she ended up paying for dinner (for shame!), gave me more Asian pears and peaches from her trees, and in general, just makes me feel happy when I'm with her.

...with Boo and Boo's husband, because they let us crash at their house, and they don't care if it's crowded, they just invite people to come anyway--and I don't care if it's crowded because I grew up that way (nostalgically reminded of nine people or more in a one-bathroom house), and because I just love them.

...with Danish Boy, because he let me call him "adorable," then promptly forgot because I'm female and it means nothing coming from me. But he is. :)

NOT in love with Tabitha and Adam currently, because they fought the whole time we were gone and, in general, acted like normal moronic teenagers. I'm selling them on E-Bay. 

Everything old is new again...

I keep doing things I've never wanted to do.

This weekend I attended and participated in a workshop called, "Living with the Aftereffects of Sexual Abuse." I've avoided abuse support groups. I've tried to weasel out of talking with others about their abuse experiences. In short, being a part of a group of women who have felt things similar to what I have felt, and shared similar experiences terrifies me because:

1. It means there are many more twisted, cruel people in this world than I can comprehend.
2. It means there are women (and men) who live daily with the things I live with, which makes me want to weep.
3. It means kids aren't safe, sometimes even in their own homes.
4. It means there is something terribly wrong with our society and I want to fix it--NOW!!!
5. It makes me feel sad, angry, helpless, hopeless, afraid, frustrated, and cowardly.

But I went to the workshop anyway.

The presenter was amazing. She gently and compassionately led a discussion which allowed us to express our feelings without being overwhelmed or frightened. She was empathetic without allowing us to descend to a place from which we could not come back. She encouraged us to talk not only about the things that ached, but the triumphs we have experienced as we've tried to heal. There was extreme vulnerability in the room--as well as safety. At the end of the session, she sang us a song, a capella. Not being a singer, not having a trained nor a beautiful voice, she made herself vulnerable to us by sharing a song that was meaningful to her even though she understood it didn't show her in her best light. She hoped we would see her heart in the moment, hear her words, and forgive her lack of musical training. Because of the gift she bestowed upon us throughout the hour of allowing us to talk without despair, we did. 

For the first time in most of my life, I cried openly in public. One of the participants said, "I believe God loves us. I think he cried when we were hurt." I responded, "I hope so! I want him to hurt for me! I want him to cry for me!" Until that moment, I hadn't realized how much I wanted that. 

I was encouraged to talk of the things I've done as I've tried to heal. I expressed my anger and frustration that I must now live with PTSD which overwhelms and confuses me. I told of researching, finding a support system, meeting my cousin for lunch. I listened as I was encouraged and congratulated by women who personally understand the things I've felt and feared. No one shared stories of abuse. We talked about feelings we now experience, incidents of healing, thoughts that bring us comfort.

My perspective has somehow changed. I don't know how to explain and I need to think about it more. I don't believe I'll do this again for awhile, but I'm glad I participated yesterday. I received something nameless that I've needed for a long time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let's vote on it...

Everyone has one, right? The relative that makes one wonder if perhaps that relative was actually a foundling and there is no (hopefully) blood relation? If you don't, perhaps you'd like one of mine. I have more than my fair share.

However, today's topic of discussion is centered around the most unusual of people, "The Aunt." The Aunt has been present in my life for as long as I can remember. Her voice is shrill and loud. She says unkind and awkward things randomly. She showers at least bimonthly whether she needs it or not. Occasionally she brushes her teeth. Hygiene issues aside, her behavior often makes family members wish they (or she) were (was) elsewhere. 

I am a tolerant person. When I lived in California, she lived in my ward. As an unrelated aside, it was The Aunt who married PTSD Green Beret Uncle who is now wacko. They are now divorced and The Aunt is married to a man she met on the internet who seems to have little interest in anything except eating bags of potato chips and drinking soda pop from 2-liter bottles. I'm not inviting him to go running with me because I think he would die, and as his weight triples mine, I'm not confident that I could move his body from the road before it caused an accident. I'm pretty strong, but I have my limits. Anyway, back to California...

I wanted to befriend The Aunt. She's never really had great friends and I believe somewhere inside her lurks a person who is very sweet. So--Darrin and I (newlywed at the time) would visit, share dinners, and converse the The Aunt and PTST Green Beret Uncle who is now wacko. I believe The Aunt and I formed a fairly good rapport, and I didn't die because at the time she was showering at least twice weekly, rather than monthly. So--truly, I tried to be nice to The Aunt.

Backing up to my wedding day. The Aunt did not attend my wedding because she had something...I don't remember didn't matter to me, given all the other stresses I was dealing with. However, she was a visible presence at my reception. Known for her eclectic taste in clothing, The Aunt wore a dress two sizes too small, a shocking pink neck scarf (the dress was green), and knee boots made of long grey fake fur. I believe she had showered recently, but the teeth were long overdue for a good brushing. As The Aunt has a voice which could project in any gathering, her comments rang from one end of the hall to another. She has no qualms about sharing personal information about others in public. I heard: 

"Oh, didn't you know? They divorced last month. He was cheating... I thought you'd know--they're your neighbors, after all."
"Mmm...good refreshments. I should have more."
"Samantha looks too skinny. Don't you think she looks too skinny?"
"I have got to go to the bathroom."
"Why did Samantha invite you? I didn't know you guys were friends."
"We've never met Darrin's family. They seem nice even if they're not Mormon."
"Did you know Darrin's parents are divorced. But not remarried."

It went on for more than two hours. Just one more thing to add to the annoyances that couldn't seem to stop happening that evening. Finally, Darrin and I went to change and leave the crowd behind. I took off my veil (because I did not like wearing it), set it on a chair, and went to the bathroom where my clothes were. A few minutes later I heard an uproar. Exhausted and stressed, I ignored it. When I reentered the hall I found The Aunt, bounding about the room, my veil on her head, exclaiming, "Now I'm the bride! Look at me! I'm the bride!" while my parents, siblings and several cousins tried to discretely apprehend her. Finally, The Aunt's older sister caught The Aunt, pulled the veil from her head and said, "You're acting like a child." My sister Lila muttered, "A child would know better than to wear a veil with those boots!" I watched the scene for a few more moments, then I walked out to Darrin's car without telling anyone good-bye. I'd had enough.

Through the years I have tried--really tried--to ignore the fact that The Aunt is a social menace, a terrible cook, and sometimes just plain mean. I've spent time with her. I've tried to help her find jobs. I've accompanied her when she wished to sing (and please remember that her teeth have been brushed fewer times in her lifetime than the number of years in my age). It hasn't helped cement the Aunt/niece bond between us. 

Recently, she burned all her bridges with me when she complained that my foster sister and family were invited to our family reunion because, "...she's not really family, now, is she?" Not family? My foster sister visited my grandmother in the hospital every day until her death because The Aunt couldn't find time to drive 20 minutes to see her own mother. Every day. And then my sister emailed the rest of us who lived hundreds of miles away, so that we would know what was happening with Grandma. I know who is really part of the family, and it's not The Aunt.

Okay--enough--it's time to vote.

The Aunt has found my Facebook profile and asked to be my friend. 

And I'm still mad about the family reunion comment. 

The bottom line is that in spite of all her deplorable habits and poor hygiene, she is The Aunt, my aunt, and I really do, on some level, want to be kind to her. She's had a rather terrible life--abusive first husband, abusive extramarital-affair-man-who-fathered-her-child, weird as heck marriage to PTSD Green Beret Uncle who is now wacko, and now married to abusive husband who lives on potato chips and soda pop. Honestly, in comparison, my life has been really, really wonderful. 

But I don't want to be her Facebook friend.

But if I ignore her, her feelings will be hurt. I don't want to hurt her feelings.

Seriously, sometimes I even like her. Especially when I only see her once every five years. I accept? or decline to be her FBF?

Please vote.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Two Things

In the process of writing my blogs, there have been questions asked of me for which I've had no answers, and comments made which I have ignored. But I haven't forgotten some of them for the simple reason that they have relevance--and I wished to address them but for whatever reason, at the time I could not. Today, though, I've reached some conclusions about a few of those questions/comments, and because I still wish to address them, I will.

1. Prior to my lunch with my cousin David, someone told me that she saw no purpose in my meeting with him unless I was planning to confront him. She went on to say that she thought it was a wonderful opportunity for me to leave some of the anger he had earned in its proper place and hoped I would not pass up the opportunity to let off some steam. When she learned that was not what I had done, she was disappointed and let me know she felt I had made an incorrect choice. 

At the time I had no answers for her--and truly, what she thought of me had little impact on my decision to treat the visit as I did. Nonetheless, the comment she made has been on my mind lately and I believe I understand how to address it, finally.

The truth is that I wanted complete control. David had no idea why I contacted him. He has no knowledge of the things I've been doing therapeutically and emotionally--and that is exactly how I wish the situation to stay. Had I confronted him, he would then have the opportunity to contact mutual family members to tell his side of the story. I have no doubt that he would look like an idiot--I was, after all, not quite twelve years old--but the resulting uproar is not something I wish to deal with. People would choose sides, debate what really happened, call on me to talk when I might wish to remain silent, and in short, any control over the situation I now enjoy would be taken from me. 

Right or wrong, it was my decision simply to meet the man who raped me, put a face on him, and overcome my unreasonable fear. It turned out that this set in motion a chain of events which have led to greater healing--events I had not foreseen--and I don't believe this would have happened had I chosen to confront rather than simply meet my cousin.

2. I've received more than one email expressing confusion or disapproval about my friendships with men. Some concerned individuals have felt great sympathy for my poor husband, as they assume he is left out of my life while I turn to other men to take his place. I chose not to address this at the time for the simple reason that I felt it was no one's business but my own (and Darrin's), and because I knew they had only the information on my blog with which to make their judgments--and that is incomplete and based simply on that which I choose to write. 

However, I will address this tonight because the discomfort some dear readers have felt does not seem to have eased with the years, and despite my joy in allowing others to assume the worst, it's probably time to tell the whole truth. 

Darrin is left out of nothing. He is my best friend, and the one I tell everything. There are times when I wait to tell him things because he is often gone, he carries a great load of responsibility as a bishop, and sometimes he's just asleep. But there is no dearth of communication, nor do I seek to replace him in any way. There are times when he does not accompany me on my excursions to seek out my past or to my therapy appointments. He would come if he could. We both know this. There have also been times when he has been too emotionally involved to be with me--his emotions overshadow my own. He is sweet enough to recognize when this is happening and allow me space, or suggest I find someone to talk to who isn't quite as angry about the situation and can act more rationally than he is able. He is, in this case, utterly unselfish and I adore him for that.

Yes, I have many friends who are men. I also have many friends who are women. I am closer to my male friends than to my female friends. There are many reasons for this--but please put your minds at ease--it's pretty much impossible for anything untoward to happen between us. I suppose it's no secret that spending alone time with women is much more risky for me than spending alone time with men. And the fact that the men I choose are almost always gay decreases any risk to my virtue by about 99.9% (the remaining .1% is left there simply to annoy anyone reading this who might have doubts about what I'm saying). And yes, I have been alone in cars, hotel rooms, and restaurants with those male friends of mine (someone please fan the nearest sensitive lady or man).

There's something else about which my email policepeople my be unaware. As I have recently explained this to a friend of mine, I will share it here, too.

In the process of living through the sexual trauma I experienced, I lost the ability to feel spontaneous attraction--at all. I don't feel it for men, nor for women. When I allowed myself to relax enough to think about sexual intimacy as a youth and young adult, always my partner in my head was a woman. Now, of course, I have substituted Darrin into every sexual thought I consciously encounter. It's rare for me to have unconscious sexual thoughts--ever. If I do, once again they are slanted toward a female until I recognize what's happening and allow them to move back to my husband.

I suppose that's why I contend that feeling attraction to my friends is not a possibility with me. In theory there are no impossibilities--but in fact, for me, this truly is not possible. They aren't female, so no random thoughts would sway in that direction. They aren't Darrin, so no conscious thoughts about them would be directed sexually. Add to that the components of our massive age differences and their own sexual preferences, and truly, the only possible conclusion is impossibility. I think there is a part of me that wishes I knew how to feel the way my emailers believe is inevitable. And there is also a larger part, very relieved that I cannot.

Yes, I understand that I'm not avoiding the very appearance of evil. And while I appreciate that I'm not setting a good example to all the little children who read my blog and wish to be like me (I'm sure there are scores of them--and yes, I made the "children" part up--my emailers are much too intelligent to believe people let their children read the scary stuff I put on my blog)...

Seriously, emailers, I don't understand what your point is. If Christ showed up at the hotel when I was alone with one of my friends (because that is definitely the first stop on his list when He comes again--I remember that from the song--"I wonder when he comes the hotel...where Sam is alone with a boy..." or maybe that's not quite how the song goes...refresh my memory?), we'd invite him to join us. I'm certain both of us have many questions for him, and we like him so very much. I can't think of anything more delightful. Of course, rumor has it that Christ is heterosexual so I might have to be careful.... ( I know...sacrilige...but no more extreme than the things the emailers suggest might happen)

Basically, here's what I'd like to say to end this one-sided discussion. What I do in my own time is my business. If you choose to read something into the fact that two opposite sex homosexual people enjoy spending time together--that is not only your problem, it's very confusing and I have no idea how your brain works in reality if your odd fantasy makes any sense at all to you. But let me help you out with this: Homosexual people don't want to have sex with people of the opposite gender. They don't feel attracted to them. They could shower together and not feel anything (but they wouldn't because it would make them both shudder and besides, it would be too crowded). 

Have you ever noticed how, when I try to answer these types of questions seriously and treat them with dignity, I invariably end up saying something extreme by the end of my tirade? I hope I didn't disappoint this time. I was showing restraint.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It has taken what feels like an eternity to get to this place. And today has been a very long day.

I confessed to Therapist my blog love affair with him. He laughed. Apparently, he understands that I fall in love with most everyone. Perhaps he would have felt left out if I'd failed to include him.

Therapist told me I need to acknowledge how much work I've done in a very short time. It doesn't feel short. He said most of his clients with similar backgrounds take several years to come close--some don't get there at all. He attributes this "speed" of mine to my rather insane motivation to research anything and everything, and my willingness to take risks. Interesting. I don't see myself as a risk taker. Most of what I do is well-planned and calculated. He says that doesn't nullify the fact that it simply becomes a well-planned, calculated risk. 

I want to talk about the things happening inside me--I'm not sure I know how. When I finally admitted to Therapist that I understood the need to love myself, when I stopped letting fear block me, it felt as though this is something I've been waiting to do for a long time. It still hurts dreadfully, but in a way that feels as though there will someday be an easing of pain. 

There is a gnawing need to honor the young girl I was. I don't hate her anymore. I asked too much of her. I realize in some way I wanted her to save me. I understand how crazy that sounds, but it boils down to the fact that for most of my life I blamed myself to not stopping the acts which harmed me, without acknowledging that it was beyond my power to do so. As I accept this (and it has taken nearly four years for me to begin to do so), I understand that most of what I did as a young teen--the things for which I have felt shame and helplessness, even guilt--were actually the only ways I could find to cope with a situation completely beyond my control. Yes, I spent some time harming myself. During that time, it was the only thing my overwhelmed mind could conceive of to find some immediate relief. That same acceptance reaches other behaviors and impulses I indulged in. My maturity was interrupted and I was thrust into adulthood when I was not quite twelve. I don't believe I should feel guilt or shame for the resulting reactions I chose. They were, after all, the only things I had at my disposal. And they are no longer a part of my life.

Samantha Stevens was not a coward. Rape and abuse are moments of horror. The real damage, for me, occurred in my realization that I must deal with the misery of my life alone. And for all my life that has been my method of dealing with any challenge. I have done so alone--always. Until now. Finally. I'm understanding that the feelings I have as I help others, feelings of love and gratitude that they would allow me to be involved as they work through difficult challenges, can be felt by others toward me as I confront my own demons. It's still difficult not to feel I'm asking too much, but at least I'm asking.

Samantha Stevens was not weak. It takes enormous effort to continue living when one has been damaged in nearly every possible way. It takes greater effort to thrive. And I did--I still do. I have benefited from her grit and determination every day of my life. It was she who determined that failure was not an option, she who took each setback, learned from it, and continued forward regardless of loneliness and pain. I once told Sully if you look at my life, it could easily have many perceived points of failure--but because of who I am, each failure has simply become a curve in the path as I have taken note of my surroundings and walked a different direction until I found that which I was searching for. I cannot say I have succeeded yet--I still have many years to live. I can say I will never stop searching, learning, and growing. I owe that to the person who emerged from a painful existence with the determination to live.

Samantha Stevens was not tainted, ugly, diseased, or broken. Association with her then or now is not something from which I must protect the people I love. Samantha Stevens found beauty and peace even when her nights were a constant nightmare, even when she had to protect herself from those who should have been her protectors. She sought out places of safety where she could rest and regroup. She found solace in music, fresh air, flowers, butterflies and blue skies. She revered life as she recognize that her own was tenuous. She searched for truth. For a long time she stopped believing in love, faith, trust, and happiness. I can help her now. Because of the gifts she gave to me, I have found the courage to recognize love, exercise faith and trust, and enjoy happiness. Because she is me, I will give those things back to her. 

I love Samantha Stevens. Finally, without fear or condition, I have learned to love her. It has taken a very long time. Darrin loved her first and has never ceased loving her. DJ, Adam, and Tabitha have loved her their entire lives. Newer friends who have entered my life, heard my story, and spent time with me, have proved their love for her in various ways. I have learned from them. And I have finally listened to the message of love my Heavenly Father has never stopped sending me. As all these have shown me love, I have learned to love myself.

In the process of releasing the pain and bitterness I have clung to for most of my life, I have asked the people closest to me for a promise--and they have given it. The fact that I could ask proves I have finally learned to trust in others. The fact that they would make the promise proves to me, after all is said and done, real love truly does exist, and I have been its recipient. Tonight, with all my heart, I believe in miracles.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Therapist: Why do you think you needed to visit the people and places you've been visiting?
Me: I think I might finally be ready to let everything go. 
Therapist: I think you could be.
Me: I don't know though. There's still a part of me that is very afraid. It's that young girl. She doesn't want to be forgotten. Is it weird that I talk about her as if she's not me? Because it doesn't feel like she's me. I know she is, but I'm someone else now.
Therapist: No, it's not weird, and I understand what you mean. Why don't you want that part of you forgotten.
Me: Because she still hurts. And letting go won't help that. Nothing can help her. What happened to her was awful. But I can't change that. I thought I could--even though I knew I really couldn't. But I wanted to. I wanted to make everything go away.
Therapist: No. It won't go away.
Me: So...I'm letting it go. But she still hurts. And she shouldn't be forgotten.
Therapist: If you feel separate from her, why do you worry about her?
Me: I don't know.
Therapist: Maybe you feel something for her? Could it be love?
Me: I don't know. Maybe.

I changed the subject. The thought of loving the little girl who rocked herself in agony on the bathroom floor is terrifying. I still don't want to love her--because I can't help her. I'm letting her down...

Me: Maybe I do love her.
Therapist: The part of you that hurts?
Me: Because she deserves to be loved. She did something amazing. She survived something awful--and she kept living.
Therapist: And she thrived.
Me: She didn't give up. Even when she wanted to. Even when it seemed easier. She was brave. I'm not--but she was.
Therapist: Very brave.
Me: I am who I am today because of her--not because of what happened to me--because of what she chose, because she was strong. People say I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't gone through the things that have happened--which is crap. But I wouldn't be who I am today if she had given up, if she stopped trying. My stupid cousin can't take credit for any part of me--but she can. Because, I suppose she is me, after all.
Therapist: So, you won. He didn't beat you.
Me: No, he didn't. She is someone worth loving. I don't want her forgotten. 
Therapist: You won't forget. 
Me: I won't forget, no.

Looking at my stats again

...and someone found my blog by searching "samantha stevens without a bra."

Dang!! How did they know!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I am sitting in the hotel where I spent the night eighteen months ago--the night before I had lunch with my dear, sweet, rapist cousin. Why am I here?

About three months ago I realized that each time I have visited Utah (beginning in latter September 2007), I have gone to a place that has some connection to my cousin. I had no idea that I was doing this. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was impulsively going to places simply because I felt I should. No research, logic, or planning was behind the visits. I just went.

I started by going to the home where cousin David grew up. Then I visited the church where he married his first wife, our mutual aunt's home, our grandmother, and finally I visited with his parents. When I spent some time in the home where I was molested by him (last month), I finally put together what was happening. As we drove away I thought, Only three more places.

So today visited those three places. Given the emotional fiasco that I went through when I visited my former home without unrelated parties to balance everything, I thought I would be a little wiser this time, and make sure I wasn't alone. I made arrangements to meet with Tolkien Boy, Edgy and Dec, Ambrosia and a New Friend at the Olive Garden in downtown Salt Lake. I managed to stay there for a couple of hours AND DID NOT THROW UP ONCE! YAY!! And I tried to eat a little, which was less successful, but I did eat some strawberries and a piece of flat bread and tomatoes. And I drank lots of water.

Ambrosia brought me Asian pears she grew herself (and they are fun, tiny sized--my kids will love them), Edgy and Dec brought me gorgeous flowers (and Dec was gallant enough to say the flowers were not as beautiful as I am, so now I will have to be in love with him, too--so many people to be in love with--what a remarkable dilemma), Tolkien Boy allowed me extra visiting time (I got to give him a ride to and from the restaurant), and New Friend let me meet her after a failed attempt a couple of months ago. All in all, a very lovely new Olive Garden experience. And what did I bring for everyone? Jelly. That's all. Never say I don't give original gifts. New Friend left before I could give her any, so Edgy and Dec got two jars--one for each of them. And I'm really sad I didn't get to see Bawb, but I think I will see him tomorrow night if I stay an extra day--oh, and Ambrosia, I will bring you your jelly then, too. And I'll call you.

After lunch Tolkien Boy found the park where we wandered 18 months ago when I was sickened and upset by my visit with David. TB and I walked around once again. I don't really remember the park--only the bathrooms. Kind of disgusting, but there it is. And sort of a shame, too, because it's a beautiful park.

And now I'm in my hotel room, feeling queasy, but knowing tomorrow I'll be done with this. I'll see Therapist who will help me figure out what it all means.

And now some acknowledgements to the people who no longer read my blog:
AtP: Thank you for supporting me in spirit, and for checking up on me tonight. And I hope things work out so I can take you home with me for a visit.
Sully: You're beautiful. Thanks for telling me I can do this, and for bringing me chocolate.
Tolkien Boy: You gave me about seven hours today. You didn't laugh at me for wigging out or being sick or having a stomach which made the most inopportune noises. Thank you for talking when I couldn't, for hugging me when I cried, for promising me you'll remember what I asked you to remember, for sharing this rather stressful day with me.
Darrin: Thank you for loving me no matter what happens and for calling just because you like to talk to me and because you miss me. Tonight, more than anything, I wish you were with me.

Good night.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Happy, Happy Birthday Sammy, Dear

Yesterday was my birthday. I don't like birthdays. I've been thinking a lot about that. 

A few weeks ago Tolkien Boy told me he was planning a party with friends for his birthday. 

TB: I'm planning a birthday party. At least ostensibly I'm planning one. I've told people I am.

me: Why ostensibly?

TB: I mean, I told people I am planning one, so I should probably do so.

me: :)(I hate birthday parties)

TB: That's good to know! I won't invite you.

me: Sorry--that wasn't aimed at you, just thinking.

TB: You hate them in general?

me: You know, I always tell people that birthdays were never a big deal in my family. That's a lie. They were a huge deal. There was a birthday seat reserved for birthdays only. There was a traditional birthday poem that we all would chant at the birthday person. We'd try to make sure there was a least one small surprise from each of us for the birthday boy or girl. My mom always made some incredible cake for the occasion.

Except--I was never the birthday person. My aunt was tired of me being forgotten--so on my fifth birthday she made me a cake. Then I think my mom felt guilty. She always tried to throw a cake together for me, sometime between my birthday and my sister's birthday which was six days later. It was always a hideous disaster.

My siblings still do not have a clue when I was born.

My dad told my Kindergarten teacher that my birthday was on the 9th. It felt very odd having the kids sing to me when it wasn't my birthday. I tried to tell my teacher there was a mistake. She sent me to time out for being ungrateful and speaking out of turn. Odd.

Anyway, I think it's better to be forgotten altogether, than to be remembered when your sister's birthday rolls around, then showered with apologies. Especially when you can count on that happening the next year once again.

TB: I agree with you there. That's abominable treatment--and the apologies make it more awkward and uncomfortable.

me: Perhaps. But the upside is that I can chose my day and year, and who will know the difference?

TB: :) For me it doesn't really matter--the day. But it's a nice day to think about me in a good way. And it's nice too to celebrate that I have people in my life who care that I was born.

me: Yes. For you--I agree. I hope it's lovely. And for the record, I don't hate your birthday, nor probably do I hate birthday parties.

That's the first time I've every really talked about my feelings about birthdays. The discussion spurred some other thoughts. I realized that as a result of being forgotten, I have always believed there is nothing about me to celebrate. It's wrong for people to care that I was born. Somehow, I don't deserve a day to be happy that I live. This was all brought home with greater clarity when a cousin of mine, who happens to have the same first and last name as Tolkien Boy, was born the same year as my good friend, on my birthday. For reasons I will not go into, a great fuss was made about his birth, and suddenly September 6th, which I claimed as my own whether or not anyone else remembered, became his day.

My cousin was born in Ogden, Utah, but moved two miles away from me before his first birthday. From then on, every year my birthday rolled around, I celebrated my cousin's birthday with our families and grandparents--with no mention made that it was also my day. I'm beginning to understand why birthdays are not happy for me.

Last year I allowed people to know when my birthday was coming. I suppose it was an experiment. Part of me wanted to know what it would be like to be acknowledged by more than just my husband and kids. Part of me wondered if people would actually remember--or want to remember. And they did. I received many well-wishes in various forms. It felt...weird.

One thing I did last year was to express to my parents how it hurt me when I was forgotten. I told them that it made me feel they didn't really want me--I wasn't worth celebrating. I didn't want anything special, just for them to say they loved this day because it was when I became a part of their lives. I wanted them to be glad I was born.

I have to say, in spite of the fact that sometimes she's clueless and callous, my mom is really trying. She set up numerous reminders to make sure she didn't forget me. And I decided to drop by the day before to make sure they still remembered our conversation of last year. Therapist says, if I want the status quo to change, I have to help--I can't just expect things to happen.

So, my mom went to the farmer's market and bought some focaccia she knows I like, and she got me a very sweet card. She stopped by to give those to me around 8:00 last night. Darrin, who doesn't forget me, got me too many roses to count (they're gorgeous) and chocolate. The kids and Darrin took me out to lunch. Darrin's aunt and mom called to wish me a Happy Birthday, and I thanked my mother-in-law for the gift card she gave me. It was to an old lady clothing store, but she loves to shop there, and probably disapproves of how I dress. Her heart's in the right place, truly. And I got to talk to AtP for the first time in a long time, which I loved. It was just a quiet, lovely day.

Around 11:00 last night, Sully texted to ask if it was too late to stop by. For him, it never is. He brought me a small gift, but the thing I appreciated most was that he just stayed and visited. We talked until around 1:30 a.m., when I finally admitted I needed to sleep (8:00 a.m. church meetings). It was so sweet and unexpected of him to remember.

While we were visiting, Sully mentioned his unhappiness that more people don't remember my day. I realized when I heard his words that I've become very comfortable not being noticed. It was stressful, for whatever reason, when people sent me good wishes last year. I don't understand it. Perhaps because it makes me rethink my expectations? Because I don't know what to feel? Because it's new and sort of awkward?

I don't know.

Here's what I do know:
1. There is a part of me that still wants people to celebrate the fact that I was born--that I'm alive and a part of their lives.
2. I don't think I'd really like it if they did.
3. This is a really stupid topic on which to spend so much thinking time.
4. I'm really grateful my birthday only comes annually.

And part of me wishes I was like Tolkien Boy--someday I should throw myself a party. Maybe.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Counsel the Lord in all thy doings...

Yeah. I know. That's not how the scriptures goes. 

It is, unfortunately, how I apply it 99.9% of the time.

I'm prone to talking with God all the time. It's a habit. I'll be in the car, driving, chatting with my unseen passenger--I'm certain I look insane to anyone passing me. One would think that such constant dialogue would foster a close, intimate relationship with deity, and of course, it would if there were dialogue instead of lecturing. 

A typical conversation between God and me goes something like this:
Me: So, I've been thinking about a problem--you know, that "study it out in your mind" thing, which by the way, is a great suggestion but rather ponderous and really does seem to take an inordinate amount of time. Not that I'm complaining...well, yeah, I'm complaining. It just seems that there could be a more efficient way to find solutions, but after all, you are God, so I'll just assume you know best and move on.

After studying it out for an inordinate amount of time (only complaining a little bit right now, just want to make that clear), I believe I've formed a viable solution. I plan to do A, B, and C. I think this will ease a lot of the difficulty and get things back on track. What I'd like from you is X, because I think that will make my friend/family member/church leader/colleague/whatever more cooperative, and I'd also like you to do Y because, well, it's really not something I can do on my own, and it would be very nice if you could also do Z because it would just make me and everyone else I know very happy.

The end.

Oh, sorry, forgot who I was talking to. That's not how I'm supposed to end our conversations. How rude of me...

Notice my really awesome delegation skills. And you can count on it--I will definitely follow up to make sure the Lord does his assignments...and he usually doesn't...

"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings..."
During the .1% of the times when I remember the correct words of that scripture, I'm amazed at the difference in my communications with God. 

Me: It's not working...the thing I thought I'd figured out. I know why--you told me why--I just didn't want to listen. Your way seems...I don't makes me feel helpless, dependent, not in control...

But it does seem that most of our instruction from the Lord comes with a promise:
"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings and he will direct thee for good."

Me: Oh yeah. I forgot. You're in control. You're the director. You'll tell me what's good, what's best--then you let me decide if I'll do that. But may I just say that it's a whole lot easier to take direction when I don't have so much messing up my life? I get distracted. I forget the "for good" part. It just feels that no matter what I choose, I lose something. I know that's not true, but it feels that way.  

For the past three years I've been working on therapeutic ways to work through past experiences of trauma. It's been difficult to allow the Lord to direct my path. In those past experiences I felt that I had no control. As I work with my therapist to find peace, relinquishing control to the Lord feels out of the question. I believe there are similar instances in the lives of many people, where letting the Lord guide out paths leaves us feeling unacceptably vulnerable and weak.

Me: So, I understand that you know me better than I know myself. And I know you love me (tell me again that you love me? please?), and want what's best for me. But I'm really afraid. And I want to do this by myself. And I know if I do things your way, the outcome--even if it's the best outcome--won't be what I expected or wanted. 

blessed are those who...lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more..."

It takes so much faith and trust to release all that we cling to and acknowledge that the Lord loves us and will do what is best for us, to help us grow into the people we have the potential to become. And I'm so bad at trusting, and I'm not sure that my faith is ever at its optimal limit.

Me: Okay. I'll try this trust thing. You know, of course, that I'll probably fail about a million times before I get it right. You understand that I've never really learned how to trust. Please don't let me down... 

And He doesn't. Not ever. Often his path is not of my choosing. Okay, most of the time it's not. It's also fairly uncomfortable and reduces me to frustrated tears. But I'm never alone. And I cannot deny the peace which salves my aching soul as I stretch to become that which my Father would have me be. 

Me: I guess I was wrong. I wasn't supposed to do A, B, or C. It was good that you suggested M, Q, and W. They really were better. And it's okay that you didn't do X, Y, or Z. Well, I suppose I'm a little disappointed that you didn't do Y. Yeah...I think I'm still holding out for that. Maybe next time?

Oh, and by the way, I love you. A lot. 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Power of Suggestion

Many years ago I became involved with an opinion panel. I'm not sure how that happened, as I'm not keen on sharing my opinions with strangers. However, I believe it may have come to pass because I was home with my first baby and BORED. Answering online surveys was better than watching my infant sleep. Someday I will learn how to rest without feeling the need to type compulsively.

The online panel would send out screening surveys, then send test products to selected individuals. This was actually kind of fun. I got to try different foods, soaps, hair products, cleaners, and skincare products. Then, after using the products for a couple of weeks, I would send feedback. So--if there's product on the market that you really like, I'm certain it's there solely because I recommended it. 

You're welcome.

Last month I tested a body wash (it was very nice--I might even buy it if it's marketed). Today I received a new product: six rolls of toilet tissue. It's an interesting experience to receive a box from the postman filled with toilet tissue. 

Each test product comes with a letter which gives explicit instructions about when to begin use, how often to use the product, and who should use it. Today's test product came with these instructions:

Begin using this product IMMEDIATELY.

To my surprise, I found that I needed to. So, I did.

I'm now a little nervous about being a member of this panel. Perhaps they're using some sort of subliminal mind control. That doesn't make me happy.

Still, I'm happy to report that the test product works very well and is...ummm...comfortable to use...and...strong...durable...yeah...that's it....

The follow-up survey on this one will be loads of fun.