Sticks & Stones

From the comfort of my chair this past week, I have bemusedly watched the extraordinary ruckus evolving over one woman’s use of the c-word as a descriptor towards another woman. And while in my younger years, that was the worst word that anyone could use to describe a woman, I am pondering why it just doesn’t strike me as the worst,  or even newsworthy anymore.

Add in the fact that the recipient of that particular arrow of truth deserved that and even worse, made me shake my head in disbelief that in a week full of horrifying news about 1500 missing children, reversals of women’s rights and vile racist twitter rants (shame on you, Roseanne), the fact that one woman called another woman a feckless cunt is what rang the outrage bell for so many.

There were times in my past that even having the word bitch thrown my way would have staggered me if flung carelessly from a male mouth in my direction. But I grew up and I grew older and I staggered and sometimes crawled through the struggles and losses that were written into my book of life, and I came to realize that words spilling from someone else’s lips, especially someone whose opinion I neither asked for nor could care less about, meant nothing.

Yes, words hurt, and history has shown that the female gender is incredibly adept, sly and manipulative about the ways in which we can tear each other apart and spit each other out. What we lack in physical strength, we have always compensated for in our emotional arrows and insults that we fire at own kind. We have always been oh so careful in our roles as nurturers to not tear the males down within our orbits – making excuses for them, protecting them- falling on our own fucking swords over and over  again and then proudly showing them the blood of our self-martyring as symbols of our love and sacrifice for them.

I hold women to higher standards than men, and while I am aware that is wrong and feeds into the martyr syndrome I just described, it has been my own personal experience that women are just better at the loving emotional support that most of us need during the changing seasons of our lives. (minus our middle school ages).

I expect women to support and mentor and teach and raise each other up. To correct and school each other when we damn well need it, but to also be there with arms wide open and with intentional, focused love and forgiveness when we stumble and fall. Tearing each other down at the first sight of blood in a feeding frenzy just alienates us further, and increases the perception that we are indeed those derogatory words so often used to hurt and minimize us all.

I would give anything to gather up the 3 women who were discussed ad nauseam this past week. To invite them into my home and offer them tea or a shot of bourbon and then question what the hell got us all to this place where one was tearing other women down in racists tweets, another was posting a clueless picture of herself holding her child with pithy wording about how nice it is to have your child in your arms, during a week when almost 1500 misplaced children were reported . Ask the last one how frustrated and angry she had to have been to aim and fire that taboo word out on public television at the complicit one whose life is so entitled that she is blissfully ignorant and unaware of the walls that most of us have had to kick down in order to find our own places and spaces within this patriarchal society.

I would sit with them and try to understand what their individual experiences have been  thus far that brought them to those penultimate moments in their lives this past week. Listen with non-judgmental empathy, and hopefully work toward a commonality of some sort that we could all embrace together. Dig through the layers, peel the onions, and cry the necessary tears. Laugh together, and listen and learn from each other how we get to these moments where we forget that most important learning passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter since time began.

In telling our own stories and sharing our pain with each other, we can only grow stronger. It will  only be in the safety of our sacred goddess circle – in the telling and re-telling of these truths and in the sharing of our crone wisdom to our own daughters and other women’s daughters, that we will be able to open the doors to healing and understanding.

At the times that I have been most broken in my own life, it has been my tribe of women who have stepped off fearlessly and then down into the morass with me and held my hand.

It is women who have made the choice to suffer beside me in my pain. To unflinchingly absorb that which was simply too enormous for me to endure alone.

Joanne, who came hundreds of miles immediately to tend to my sons’ hearts and well-being following my accident, when no one was sure I would survive another day. Who has answered her phone too many times to count, only to listen to me cry long distance without saying a word. Who has listened with her whole heart to my jagged pain, and who has healed me in so many ways without ever saying a word. Who once asked me the question that jump-started my journey of discovery, ” When are you going to love yourself as hard as you love everyone else?” If I ever met my soul mate, it is Joanne. That is a truth I know on such a deep soul level, that nothing and no one could ever convince me otherwise.

She was absolutely sent to me by a divine entity and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I would take a bullet for my “Dodo”.

Cindy, who taught me that softness can frequently get you far further than strength can, and who showed me by example that forgiveness is often the best way to heal your own broken heart. Who sat with me following the loss of my first child, in my own dark night of the soul, holding my limp, cold hand in hers. Who refused to let me slip away into madness, and who held onto me so tightly and lovingly for the rest of her short life, that I was able to endure her loss by reaching down deep to the lessons she taught me and sharing them with the child she left behind.

Marilyn & Evelyn, the sisters. My mother and my aunt. Who stood beside me as that impossibly small casket was taken out of the car and carried toward us all. First their hands intertwined. Then their arms around each other, a merging of strength for each other and for me. Both of them reaching for me after it was all over. Pulling me between them, and holding me up with them. Infusing me symbiotically with the knowledge of their combined years of suffering and of the fact that it is in the enduring and the surviving that we grow from girls into women. Pulling me along to walk with them, until my legs were strong enough that I could walk again on my own.

It is now the time for me to share these lessons with the younger women I know, and to pass on the wisdom of those that have walked and suffered and endured long before me. To share the love and strength that has been shared with me and to work to keep the circle intact long after I am gone.

All of us have been called bitches in our lives and some have even been called *cunts, but no matter what you call us, there is absolutely no way we will be silenced, or kept down, or defeated.

 

* even spell-check doesn’t approve of this one!

 

 

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Samantha

Fierce2

Years ago, when I was not even 20, I saw a psychic who told me I would have 3 children. She looked very carefully at the lines on my hand, and softly said,” I see two tall men and a small woman standing together looking at your stone.”

There are two inconsistencies with her message that have appeared over the years.

As a matter of fact,  I gave birth to 3 sons, with the first dying within an hour of his birth, and I never gave birth to any more children following my youngest son, Nicholas.

The second inconsistency would be the whole “looking down at my stone” rubbish, as I do not want to be buried and my kids know if they put me or my ashes in the dirt, I will haunt them for the rest of their lives and might even show up as a ghost to traumatize them while they are having sex some time in the future, after I am long gone.

I would do it, and they know it.

When the boys were young, and I knew I wouldn’t be having any more children, I decided that the small woman must be one of their future wives. Future me maybe hits it off well with one of their wives and she will come with them to the “stone”, which better translate to grassy wood or stream or wherever they decide to toss my ashes. I have already expressed that I don’t care where that happens, as I will be everywhere, so the location of my remains does not matter in the least to me.

The story of how I met my Samantha is pretty convoluted.

She is the daughter of a man(child) I was involved with for many, many years. He had lost contact with his daughter years previous to our getting together, as her mother was bitter about the circumstances of the breakdown of their relationship, as far as I can surmise from the information that has been shared with me. Samantha has confirmed that to him, so it seems to be that it was indeed the reason she was kept from him until he located her (with my help), when she was about 18.

I wish I could say that it all turned out lovely, but it really didn’t, at all. Samantha’s upbringing with her mother was the stuff nightmares are made of, and despite our hopes that she had had a lovely childhood, she most certainly did not. She eventually called child services and had herself and her brother removed from the home her mother and stepfather resided in and never lived with them again. So, she basically brought herself up, in a rotten broken system, and moved in with a boyfriend and his mother at the age of 16. Not surprisingly, she didn’t make the best choice in a boyfriend.

Knowing her and her delicate heart, I suspect she was attracted to the home and the mother figure more than the boy himself. The normalcy of the environment.

At the time she came into my life, she had walls around her that Trump could only dream of. This tiny little girl barely 5’1, with a permanent tight-lipped expression on her face and language a sailor would envy. (That actually endeared her to me, as I come from a long line of creative cursers.) She talked a real tough game. Acted like nothing could ever make her crack and it was very difficult to ease into this new relationship for both her father and for me.

I made the decision to hold back and allow whatever relationship we would have to be decided by her. She was an adult already, and I was not sure what my place would be in her life at that time- friend, big sister, Dad’s wife, or evil step-mother. Plus I felt her relationship with her father was more important work. Sadly, they struggled to connect right from the start, and that broke my heart for both of them. He wanted to treat her like the 7-year-old he last saw and she had been basically taking care of herself AND her little brother her entire life, so did not welcome that from him. No matter how many times I tried to tell him that, he ignored it and carried on, which just made her more angry- and she was already a girl hosting a lifetime of anger inside of her small frame.

I honestly think she was smarter than anyone gave her credit for and knew he couldn’t be trusted with her heart, so she refused to allow it to happen. Not from anything her mother said to her, but from her own gut feeling and years of analyzing broken people and their motivations. She saved herself from more heartache.

I know her father loves her as much as he can love anyone in this world, but he really isn’t one to count on. He comes and goes. He’s here, then he’s not.

Broken.

I separated from her father a couple of years back. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure how she would proceed, or with who.

She chose me.

Immediately and with more support than I could have ever expected.

I have spent a lot of time getting to know Samantha and my love for her has a permanent place in my heart, in that special space that once only had room for my boys.

During the last 2 years, she has severed ties with her mother, and does not talk to her at all. She has now severed ties with her father, as well, in what I suspect was her feeling that it was only fair, as she was making that choice with her mother. The last time he tried contacting her, she asked him for space. She was planning a wedding and was not in the frame of mind to deal with trying to fix their relationship at that time.

She had found a nice guy, lived with him for many years, and didn’t need that male relationship, as her guy was a big old bear of protection between her and the world around her.

During the time she made these difficult decisions, I listened to her. and allowed her the time to figure out what was best for her. If I have done anything, I have tried to encourage her that perhaps someday her mother and father will change and that there is always hope for that.

Not to give up the hope. Ever.

I have also told her that she has every right to make whatever decisions she wants with her life. I gently suggested that she was always so angry and blowing up at minor issues, and that I have noticed that this doesn’t happen anymore. I never say a negative thing about her mother or her father, but I also don’t think she owes either of them anything.

Having raised sons, this is all new to me.

The bar is higher here and she expects more of me than my sons ever have.

The daily calls or texts- ” How do I check my credit score” , ” What temperature for the chicken” , ” I have a chance at a new job- what do I do”, ” do you think I drink enough water”……endless questions and requests for advice!

It was me and my boys who were her family at her wedding in Mexico in November, and I was the mother of the bride- I have the dried corsage and pictures to prove it!

Recently, we left the hospital after visiting her grandmother, and I suddenly blurted out to her that being old and vulnerable scared me more than dying did. I have worked in healthcare long enough to see the elderly languishing in chairs, some of them strapped in and medicated, to prevent falls. I have also prepared investigative reports on abuse and neglect, by staff and families. I am aware of the realities of long-term care.

I was the driver, so I kept my eyes straight ahead, full of tears, and tried to shake the feeling off. Focus on the road. Get us both home safe.

I felt her hand reach out for mine that was on the stick shift, and she squeezed it and held on for a long time.

She said ” Shannon-  I would never let that happen to you- I promise.”

And I glanced at her quickly, and realized that in spite of the paths we had both taken, and the ones we chose not to take, and the people in both our lives that had fallen away over the years,  I had been given the gift of a daughter.

And not one I created myself- one who chose to love me and invite me into her heart as a mother.

Looking back, I wonder if her father was only a bridge to get to the side she was waiting for me on, like a little child, lost and looking for help.

Or perhaps, I was the lost child, waiting for her to come and find me.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

Marcus Aurelius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Mom

Hey Mom,

It’s such a beautiful day today and I know how much you love warm sunny days and taking every opportunity to spend your time outside during them.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back step watching you with clothespins in your mouth, carefully hanging all our whites out in the sun so they would be dry by noon, and the line ready for all the heavier clothes to dry in afternoon heat.

You always seemed so much happier outdoors. It was like the sun soothed you, and the fresh air somehow carried your many worries away with the breeze. You would find any excuse to be outside the house, whether that was coaching baseball, spontaneously deciding the house needed repainting, or just sitting in a lawn chair in the evenings, having coffee with the neighbours or my friends as we grew old enough to take part in adult conversations.

While going through your things, I spent a lot of time picking through pictures in a box- snapshots in time of you as a child, and teenager. Formal shots lined up in front of Grampa’s stunning flower beds, and silly shots of you being at the lake with your Mom.

Those pictures made my heart ache for some reason. I never knew that carefree you, with the ear to ear grin. I wondered at what point in your life that apparent sass left you and the more somber, reserved you appeared.

Was it Dad and the price you paid for loving  a broken man like him?

Was it the weight of carrying all the responsibility for keeping us all alive, as the only adult in the room?

I so wish I could have magically traveled through time just to spend one day with you back when your smile was like that and your eyes sparkled with fun and mischief. If we could have somehow been contemporaries, living in the same time and place- would we have been friends? I think we may have been, you know. I see traces of myself in those pictures of you. I had that same trust in my eyes looking at you, as you had looking at your Mom. Not crystal-clear and evident in a quick glance, but there if you spent the time analyzing the snapshots closely.

Definitely there, Mom.

We always struggled, you and I, but always came back together, after a time out- a cooling off period. You would just suddenly call like nothing had ever happened, and I would respond back in the same vein, our problems buried instead of resolved.

You never apologized once for any disagreements or arguments we had. I felt so overpowered by your opinions and beliefs that I could feel myself shrinking in your presence, fumbling, stuttering for the words that I could never seem to find in order to  defend myself or my choices, or my actions.

You were right in the end about oh so many things, Mom, and I should have listened to you and followed your advice. I certainly became the queen of cutting off my nose, to spite my face, now, didn’t I? I can hear you laughing right now at me dusting off that old gem. I still use “gallivanting” and “jack of all trades, master of none” on at least a monthly basis, though, so your words didn’t totally fall on deaf ears. I heard you even when I was pretending not to.

My boys adore you, Mom, and did from the first time they looked into your eyes as infants and felt your overwhelming love for them. Your most uninhibited and loving moments were your moments with my boys. Mark and I would laugh about how you transformed into a woman we didn’t know at all with them. The woman who would give potato chips on the side rather than vegetables with a sandwich. The woman who actually cut the crusts off the bread for the picky eater, or who suddenly thought Popsicles and Freezies were suitable main courses for that same picky eater, while simultaneously coaxing Flintstones vitamins into him.

Watching you with my children thawed something inside of me, Mom, and made our relationship better than it had ever been in the past; closer, more authentic and honest. I would frequently ask your advice and heed it, knowing you knew better than I did and had raised children to adulthood, while I was still a novice. It was suddenly me, rather than you, coordinating time with each other. It was me calling you you crying and scared about how high a fever could go before it was an emergency, and it was your calm, soothing voice I clung to for dear life, as you explained all the times you had sat up yourself with feverish babies and children during the night hours.

Showing up at my door after working all day and insisting I hand the colicky, screaming baby over to you so you could walk with him, which allowed me to take a shower and get out of my pajamas at 5 P.M. Reassuring me that he hadn’t stopped crying for you because I was a horrible mother, but had just cried himself tired and that he sensed my fear, so kept reacting to it. Then you told me to grab my purse and go for a walk or a drive- to go away for an hour or two and leave you with him and his brother. God, if you only knew how much that hour provided me with the strength to come home and start it all over again. I cannot even remember if I thanked you properly for that or not and that dismays me now. Thank you, Mom- your help made me such a better mother than I could have ever been on my own without your sage advice and counsel.

You have always, always, been there for me, along every stage of my life and I know I have hurt you over the years, as our children always do.

I remember the way your face fell the day I looked at you incredulously when you commented that we were best friends, and I let a lifetime of feeling oppressed by you colour my response to your perception of our relationship.

I remember your trying to comfort me following Dad’s death, and my pulling away from you, and suggesting in my grief that I would be just fine and that your attention and comfort would be better received by Mark, your favourite. What an utterly bitchy, mean thing for me to say to someone reaching out to care for me.

I know you understood and forgave more for it. But I also know I had a part in taking some of your shine away that day forever.

Every December 20th for 42 years, the first thing I heard was your not so great voice singing happy birthday to me either in person or over the phone line. That makes me smile and feel so loved and wanted, Mom, and always will.

In the time since 2006, I now have to purchase purses, pillows and my own underwear, which has turned out to be a colossal pain in my ass. I know that makes you laugh, as well, and I am sitting here laughing with you.

It provides me with so much comfort that you and Mark can talk daily now, as you were always so close, but makes me sad that I only have this one day in the sunshine with you.

Sitting in the sunshine here with you now, I see you raise your face up towards the sky and close your eyes, much like you did another time we were sitting together outside towards the end of your life.

I watch the worry lines fading from your face, and suddenly you are once again that sassy, beautiful young girl outside and away from the walls that surrounded you most of your life.

I reach over and take your hand in mine, put a soft kiss on your cheek, and whisper to you that in spite of the many times you doubted it, I always loved you best and realize now that I would not be where or who I am without you as my guide.

XOXO

 

 

 

 

 

 

1977

We had been parked out at the camping spot outside our town for almost a week with our Dad in charge. The summers usually consisted of them taking turns with their holidays, her one week, him the next, back and forth like that, usually culminating in 2 weeks all of us together at the end. This plan was likely made with the idea of constant supervision during the summer break, and also with the intent to minimize the need to pay someone to watch us.

We always looked forward to the weeks with Dad, as he never bothered or nagged us, and by 4 in the afternoons, it was doubtful he even remembered he had 2 kids out rambling through the wooded areas and down by the river. By that time, he was well into his cups, and either snoozing off his uninterrupted day-drunk, or listening to his Johnny Cash 8-tracks and hazily formulating supper ideas.  He was never the kind of drunk who forgot to eat, or skipped eating in order to leave more room for the rye.

All the successful professional alcoholics I have known during my life have always taken the time to eat. In their minds, it keeps them within the “normal” zone on the barometer of boozology. Dinner may be rock hard from warming in the oven, or burnt to a crisp from idling in the frying pan too long, or even served at 11 at night, but they made dinner, didn’t they?

My mother, the warden, usually kept a pretty close eye on my pops, for good reason. We loved him to death, but his irresponsibility scared her to death. He never said no to us, but always deferred to my mother if she was present, and just wanted us to be happy and free. One of my jobs was to do dishes and clean the kitchen up after dinner every night, but if it ran late, my friends would already be ringing the doorbell wanting me to go out with them. My dad would sneak down to the kitchen, and grab the towel or broom from me and whisper “go- go- be with your friends, I can finish this up for you-shhhhh.”

I am sure, looking back, that he had been doing that with me since I was a very young child. He was always so affectionate with me, always pinching my cheeks softly between his second and third fingers. Always brushing my hair out of my eyes when I was reading, and he would notice it falling forward. Always such affection and adoration from my Dad. It made me love him so much and want to “cover” for him with my mom.

I’m pretty sure that is how it started- my covering up for him and his negligence with us. My doing my damnedest to make sure anything she left for him to complete, was completed by me if he was too drunk to do it. Everything from subbing in and taking my brother for his haircuts, while my dad drank at the bar, to stealing his own wallet from him to ensure he came home with the amount of money for bills she had asked him to bring home. He was always thankful for my interventions and assistance, and loved me even more, if that was possible.

He had a pretty good system going. My mother told him what to do, or what she expected from him and he let me take care of all the pesky details and also the worry.

More time to drink.

The only phone out at the campground was by the little store- a payphone.

People didn’t need to be in constant contact back then, so it wasn’t strange to go the entire 5 day work week without talking to my mother. She knew where we were and unless we called her from the payphone, everything was assumed to be fine.

I was standing in line for a slushie with some of my friends when the man who ran the joint said to me ” Call home, kid.” I was confused, as i didn’t know he even knew who I was. I asked him if he was sure he had the right person, and he nodded, his smoke hanging off his bottom lip, and said ” yup- your mom described you perfectly, right down to the bathing suit. Call home.”

I left the line and walked toward the payphone, already feeling a twisting in my gut. I pulled a dime out of my sneaker (where all smart summer kids kept their change), and dropped it into the slot of the phone.

My mom answered immediately and told me my Uncle George had died and we needed to get home immediately.

Now, this is where this story takes a humorous turn of sorts, in spite of the spectre of death hanging over it.

I had two Uncle Georges.

One was married to my mom’s sister, and was my favourite man in the world after my Dad.

The second was married to my Mom’s best friend, my godmother.

I didn’t think to ask which one died before my mother hung up the phone.

So, off I ran to the tent trailer to tell my Dad that we had orders to get home as fast as we could, as George had died and my mom wanted us home.

As I approached the camp spot, I could hear the train whistles and Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special, and knew my mission might take a bad turn. The louder the music, the drunker he likely was – of that you could always be certain. I was still 4 camp spots away when i heard the music, and felt even sicker….slowed my running to a walk. I tried to calculate how many hours he had been left alone by us. It was about 4:30, and we had taken off to go swimming around 9. Even allowing him an hour for coffee, he had likely been smashing it hard since 10 A.M, secure in the thought that it was going to just be one more lazy, hazy day camping, and we wouldn’t need anything until at least 6 or 7, as we packed bologna sandwiches with us when we left.

I saw him sitting in his lawn chair, with his head slightly forward, nodding along a bit to his music. As I approached him from the trees, I could literally see him try to focus his eyes on who was walking toward him. His eyes were bleary-looking and he blinked a couple times before he smiled at me and said ” Hey shishhhhhowshh yer day going?”

I told him we had to go home and it was like it didn’t even register. Nothing.

Once again, I explained that “George” had died and that we were told to get home as soon as possible, and he looked up at me with a child’s eyes, and shook his head a bit, muttering, “can’t, can’t drive”.

We were 20 miles from home, with direct orders from the warden to get our asses home, there’s been a death, and he was sitting there, like an errant toddler, shaking his head back and forth and telling me “can’t.”

It took me about 4 minutes to assess what would be our worst case scenario – my little brother and myself dying in the car on the way home cus he was seeing double already, or dealing with my mother, who gave us a direct order.

I chose death for all of us, and quickly rounded up my brother, packed anything outside the trailer into the trailer, turned off Johnny, and threw water on the campfire he had been half-assed playing with all day. All while he sat in the lawn chair blearily watching me. He almost looked like he was pouting- sulky. Like I was also pouring water all over HIS party by making us leave.

I got my brother to help me drag our father to the station wagon on his wobbly legs and stuff him inside the driver’s door. I remember my brother giggling during all of it. He thought it was like a game- an adventure- something that plopped itself into a boring summer day that ran into all the other boring endless summer days. The idea of his sister “bossing” his dad around seemed to really amuse him a lot, in retrospect.

I got myself and my brother into the car and we sat there. Sat there for what seemed like years, waiting for him to focus- to come back to his senses- to open his eyes to the fact that  he was behind the wheel of his car, us waiting for him to turn the key in the ignition.

He didn’t move a muscle, just slumped back in his seat and started snoring quietly- he was sleeping. Passed out. Blotto.

I suddenly felt more anger than I had ever felt in my life up to that point. My chest felt like it was going to explode and blow my heart right out the windshield and into the trees beyond the car. My head hurt, my chest hurt, I was seeing stars.

I jerked my door open and ran around to his side of the car and opened the door. Then I started hitting him in the shoulders and chest and yelling at him to wake up. He jerked awake and looked so startled and then sad that his little angel, his little girl, his little co-conspirator was striking him and yelling at him.

I told him to shove over to the passenger side of the car and then grabbed my mom’s little pillow she kept in the back for when she was driving and put it on the driver’s seat.

I slid in and shut the door. With my brother’s help, I got the car started and adjusted the rear view mirror. He talked me through finding the lever to pull the seat forward and even helped by pushing with his little legs from the back seat. It was a good thing he had paid attention to how the car worked, as I never had. I must have been secure in my belief that there would always be an adult around to take care of that sort of thing.

In that way, my brother was much more of a survivor than I was. His eyes and ears never missed a thing, whereas I was always doing my best to not see or hear most of what was going on around me.

As I attempted backing out of the narrow parking spot, I nicked a corner of a tree. I remember twisting the wheel back and forth, as I didn’t understand how to move it to reverse in a different direction, so it took us some time to get the nose pointed in the direction we needed to be in. In fairness to my young self, I highly doubt after driving almost 40 years, I could reverse that big old countrysquire station wagon out of that narrow spot!

As we drove along the bumpy gravel road towards the exit, I remember panicking a bit about the directions, as I never paid any attention in a car. I had my nose in an Archie comic, waiting for the car to stop at my destination. Luckily, my brother knew where we needed to turn and how to get us out of the country and back to town.

I remember driving us, my dad snoring beside me in the passenger seat, my brother leaning into the front seat in the center, telling me when to turn left or right, when to slow down, where the “coppers” hid in the trees to nail the speeders. I told myself that if I saw any “coppers” I would just run us all to our deaths straight into the nearest tree, as that would be better than them showing up to embarrass my mother at our home. (The neighbours!!!!!)

Someone was watching over my brother and I that day and it most certainly was not either of our parents. After what seemed like forever, I turned that big old car into our driveway at home, took the keys out and threw them in my father’s lap.

My brother and I went into the house and met our mother in the kitchen, where she was waiting. I remember falling into her arms and sobbing. She believed it was from grief, I suppose. She never asked me why, just held me while I cried and shook.

She asked where my dad was, and I told her he was still  in the car, but that was all. I had already sworn my brother to secrecy on the way home, promising him all the money I had saved and also any candy I had stashed in my bedroom.

I don’t know if she ever went out to the car and figured out what had  happened.

More likely, he just woke up and came inside and nothing came of it, as there was a funeral to attend, and people coming and going, which gave her no time to question any of it, and he certainly wasn’t going to open that Pandora’s box on his own.

I remember when I finally found out which George it was that died, I felt very guilty as there was a sense of relief it wasn’t my favourite Uncle George. The guilt came because the George who DID die, had a daughter the same age as me, and was a drinker like my dad.

I remember feeling so confused about my anger towards my dad, all mixed up with a sudden fear that HE could die, too. It all became very real to me that people can die any day, from any number of ways.

Kids could wake up on a lazy summer Tuesday with a dad and by the time they went to bed at night, he could be gone.

Cold and dead and maybe the last thing his daughter said to him was “I hate you!”

Or perhaps she really let loose and uttered her first curse word directly at him…something like ” you fucking DRUNK, give me those fucking keys, RIGHT NOW!”

It could happen. ( It wouldn’t for a few more years, but not many.)

So better to just shove it deep down inside and forget about it.

I was 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance & The Art of Letting Go

Balance to me, at this point in my life, is about the art of letting go.

For the first 50 years of my existence, I was gathering and taking and acquiring all manner of things: money, homes, friends, partners, loyalty, favours, safety, peace and most of all –  love.

Around the time of my 50th, I had an epiphany of sorts, and the thought popped into my head that I really didn’t know shit about anything. Who was I to be counseling loved ones and friends when they came to me for advice? How could I possibly give anyone direction when I had always blown around like a leaf in the wind most of my life, accepting and constantly adjusting my sails, according to the ferocity of the storms and tragedies? I had done a fair bit of living, so possibly I was helpful in that I could relate to many things, and provide tips or life “hacks”. But in truth, I did most of them a disservice even attempting to direct them on the right path.

In the last few years, it has been all about letting it all go for me.

I have let go of trying to control anyone I love and have become quieter and more attentive to their physical cues. Everyone knows I am still here for them, but that maybe it is just to sit with them in silence, or give them some home made soup, or a hug if that is what their bodies seem to be signaling to me.

I am no longer throwing on my cape and dashing to rescue every loved one anymore. They need to learn their own lessons, after all- we all do, even if sometimes those lessons leave scars.

I am relying on my instincts and my body more then I ever did in my past.

I am not holding on to toxic partners, for fear of being alone, because I have come to realize that I actually love my own company and look forward to whole days where I can do what I want, eat what and when I want, and do what feels perfectly right for me.

It felt a bit selfish in the beginning, but now it is feeling mighty fine.

I am also letting go of material things I have hauled around with me from home to home for years. Holding onto items that mean nothing to me anymore. Downsizing, is what they call it, I guess.

I am also downsizing on resentments, anger, bitterness, grief, and unrealistic expectations of how others should treat me. It’s up to me to set those boundaries and rules.

I want to minimize on the material and maximize on the experiences and the moments.

I recently was in Mexico with my sons for my bonus daughter’s wedding.( Ain’t no steps in THIS house except the ones leading up the stairs!) As many my age have experienced, getting all the “kids” together in one place once they have grown up and moved on is a feat in itself.

Well, I had them all close by for a whole 8 days and it was a series of the absolute best moments of my entire life.

Most of the wedding attendees were younger than me, with the exception of the groom’s Mother. And yet- it seemed my hotel door was constantly swinging open and shut with the arrival of one of them or the other.

They came to sit with me and watch the sunrises and we all came together at the end of those long, hot days to watch the sunsets together at the ocean.

They popped in to invite me for dinner with their families, in the event I was dining alone.

The one family had a little one that I would just take by the hand and walk slowly with through the glorious landscaping and along the beach. Or just sit with…play with his baby-fine hair as it blew softly across his cheek from the ocean breeze.

I sat the morning of the wedding on my patio, watching the sun rise and closed my eyes and said a prayer for the first time in many years.

I thanked God/Creator/Buddha/Mohammed- all of them.

Thanked them for the beauty and the warmth and the opportunity to watch my strong, healthy, handsome sons playing in the ocean and laughing- oh my GOD, so much laughter!

Asked that they bless the marriage we were about to witness later that day, and keep that young love alive for the rest of their lives.

I took a straw hat of my mother’s and a bandana that my brother wore so often you could see through it. Packed them in my suitcase on a whim.

My brother’s bandana is tied around a little palm tree trunk- a thin little trunk that must indicate it has years of growing and stretching to the sun before it.

My mother’s straw hat I filled with all the pesos I had left in my purse, some chocolates, as well as the boldest and most fragrant of the beautiful tropical flowers that made up my corsage.

And a note, (that I likely incurred $20 in internet charges for) in order to write it in Spanish for my housekeepers that week. I thanked them for their graciousness and their hard work.

That is my balance- the holding on and cherishing of the moments that matter, but also at the same time, letting go of that which I no longer need to carry with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack of All Trades

Following my accident, while being transported by ambulance, the paramedic asked me who they could call to inform them about my situation. Even in the depths of my pain, I knew I could not give them my Mother’s number. She could not have survived a long distance phone call like that.

My older son was at my home, but there was no way I was going to allow him to get a call from a stranger telling him that his mother had been in a horrible accident and struck by a freight train. I couldn’t bear the thought of his 13 year old psyche taking that kind of hit.

So, I gave them my brother’s number. He was tough, and while I knew he was irresponsible in numerous ways, I also knew he knew better than to just call my mother on the phone and drop that kind of news on her. He lived in the same city as her, so could, at the least, drive to her house and inform her in person, which he did.

Unbeknownst to me until months later, at the exact time I was beginning my trip to the hospital, my brother and my son were chatting to each other online.

When my brother got the call from the RCMP, he hung up the phone and then chose to relay the information to my son that his mom had been in a horrific car accident. Hit by a train. Not likely to survive. Then closed the chat by adding that he needed to go tell Nan about it in person, cus she couldn’t handle that sort of news over the phone.

My son then apparently jumped on his bike and flew over to his father’s house, three blocks away. As he was turning into the cul de sac , he spotted his dad pulling out of the driveway with his 11 year old brother in the passenger seat.

He jumped off his bike while it was still in motion ( remember having that skill as a kid?) and screamed at his dad to stop.

This 13 year old child (man), then had the emotional maturity to tell his little brother to go in the house as he had something important to tell his dad.

I can’t tell you with absolute certainty what my ex husband felt in that moment, but I can guess, based on the look on his face when I woke up in the trauma room and saw him looking down at me.

“If she dies, I’m going to have to raise these boys on my own.”

“I can’t believe she did this to me.”

” I wonder if she was still paying the life insurance policy?”

“I hope I’m not on the hook for a funeral-we were separated. For all I know, she’s seeing someone else already!”

He looked scared shit-less, for lack of more flowery prose. Absolutely terrified.

And seeing his face like that gave me the strength and will to fight through the pain and continue living.

Because I knew he was at the core a very unemotional and intellectually barren man. I had been married to him long enough to know all the reasons why.

In the beginning, he told me all of his sad stories of his childhood.

I shared not much at all, to be honest. There simply wasn’t enough room within our relationship for anyone else’s pain but his, and I was OK with that. I was already such a skilled enabler and codependent that I was the perfect girl for him.

The time was never right to open up to him, and I quickly learned to watch his expressions and those big blues, for signs of boredom or distaste.

He was and is an incredibly selfish man.

A man who keeps an internal list of who owes him and who he has helped in the past. For someone with that kind of memory of wrongs perpetuated, he has no side of the ledger where his trespasses against others are tallied.

He is the judge and jury of everyone he has ever met or interacted with his entire life.

He once wrote off his favourite nephew for borrowing $ 400.00 for a hungry wife and babies and not paying it back. It didn’t cause him to go hungry, or take on extra hours at work, or even cut down on his daily 6-pack, but it ate him to the core.

To the core.

Any time that particular nephew is brought up in conversation by someone, he just has to share that story with everyone, and I find THAT more distasteful than the act of not paying someone back that you borrow money from.

I have a PhD from the esteemed schools of Shit Happens and Hard Knocks.

I get how you can start a day with great intentions and end it with the covers over your head and shaking inside at how much shit has flown down the hill your way and knowing you won’t have the strength to deal with any of it until the next day.

My ex husband, father of my children, has always been such a dichotomy to me.

I began seeing him shortly after my father died suddenly. He was 27 and I was 17.

He was big and strong and loud and fierce in appearance. He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen in my life.

He liked to drink and he liked to fight. He had boxed for years semi-professionally and missed all that action, I guess.

What he saw in me, I really don’t know, and he wasn’t the sort you asked silly questions like that to.

I asked him once about 10 years into our marriage if he loved me. It was while we were laying in bed together in the dark, waiting for sleep to take us, and I spontaneously asked him.

His response was a loud sigh of displeasure and then he said ” That’s a stupid question. I’m here, aren’t I?”

I never asked again.

Another time, after watching a segment on the Oprah show, I closed my eyes and asked him what colour they were. We had been married about ten years by then, and he guessed wrong.

He also shared with me that he has read 2 books in his entire lifetime and both times, they were mandatory assignments in school.

Oh- and he doesn’t really like music.

I tell these anecdotes not to disparage him, but rather to give the most precise examples I can recall from our relationship in order to best describe him to someone who has never met him.

I truly believe that my children are the reason I survived that accident but I must give Jack his due, as well.

There was no fucking way I was leaving those two amazing, intelligent, loving boys in his solo care…ever.

I knew he would damage them in ways they would never recover from. Not from anything intentionally done, but by his negligence and lack of ability or sense.

He would forget them, or their needs, or give to himself first, as he always had.

They would receive the scraps and there was no way I could allow that to happen to them.

They would have figuratively been like two small trees drying out and bending until they snapped from lack of water and the nutrients they required in order to continue to grow and thrive.

Their roots would be weak and rotting from the inside.

They would never survive strong winds or sunless days.

They needed me to provide for them in those ways, and I believe the fates knew that and allowed me to survive for that reason.

While they were fixing all my broken pieces in the trauma OR following my accident, my sons were in a quiet room (rooms in hospitals where they hide people who are likely going to receive bad news and they can smother the sights and sounds of grieving) with Jack and another family member, and my older son shared with me years later that his father kept muttering , ” she won’t survive this, she’s a goner, it’s just too much damage.”

Apparently to the point where my son snapped and screamed at his father that I would, in fact, survive. He pleaded with his father to stop saying those things he knew were not the truth.

As I was being put back together in a state of nothingness, that little sapling of mine was railing against strong wind, rain, lightning, locusts and the mighty oak, Jack!

You already know who was right and won that one, don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distance Makes the Soul Forgive

The place I called home was not typical and I have spent all my years since leaving there trying to assimilate the emotional damage done , while at the same time trying to put the pieces of myself back into some semblance of a “normal” human being.

It has not been an easy exercise, with much of the old one step forward, two steps back going on. I mostly try to focus on the steps forward and tell myself every day is a chance at a new start.

Distance and time has assisted in my work, and always brings to mind how when someone dies, suddenly all the bad they did during their lifetime disappears, with only the good memories remaining behind. I used to cynically scoff at that, actually.

I used to wonder how a sinner became a saint overnight.

In my jaded youth, I would think to myself that I was more than capable of reminding them of the shitty behaviours, moral ineptitude and sketchy actions of the dearly departed, if they only agreed to granting me 5 minutes of their time.

Now, I find myself in that same group I used to internally scorn, when remembering my family who have all left me behind on this mortal coil. I am not sure if it is the distance of time or aging, but something has softened the edges of the shards of pain that their memories used to cause.

My memories are hazier and softer and are mainly composed of times spent together laughing.

I have to try really hard to catch hold of a bad memory anymore.

Is it my own need to find peace or resolution that has caused this shift within me?

Is it the passage of time or is it a willingness to let go of resentments and grudges and laying blame for all the mistakes I made after leaving?

Maybe it is all those things combined.

All I know today is that I am grateful for the peace and I feel much lighter from letting the weight of bygone resentments disperse as I walk along the rest of my path.

 

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