Halloween Past

As part of The SITS Girls Blogtober Challenge for Throwback Thursday I thought I would share some old photos of my parents in their Halloween costumes from the year of The Wizard of Oz theme.  I think I went as Dorothy that year, but I can’t seem to find a photo.  Mum said it was okay to post photos of her and Dad as long as it wouldn’t get them arrested.  I think they’re safe.

Scan 101660072Scan 101660071

Enjoy!

monogram_2013-10-10_12-38-58

The Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow-Bridge-Poem

After nearly twelve years together, my little kitty with the bunny soft fur took her walk over the Rainbow Bridge this morning. She was dying of cancer; she was in liver failure, and she was in pain, so I did the humane thing and helped her cross the bridge to relieve that pain. I held her in my arms while the young veterinarian administered the sedative. While we waited for the drugs to do their job, I told her that I loved her and stroked her head and told her that soon she would be with all of her kitty pals who had already taken their journey over the Rainbow Bridge.

I adopted Meadow in January 2003. She was a stray living in my mother’s backyard, and as I had a few months earlier lost one of my other fur babies, my mother thought Meadow would be a good addition to my family. My family consisting of me and one cat. So Meadow joined our household.

When I first integrated her, she was affectionate, albeit a bit hesitant. After all, I had taken her from a life of freedom and the boy kitties to the inside of a 6 room apartment with an overweight and somewhat irritable tabby feline. I gave her space, figuring she’d come around sooner or later. My other cat, however, did not give her space, and the two of them became fast buddies, snuggling together in the sunshine patches on the couch and my bed, curling up together around my feet at night.

Towards me, however, Meadow remained aloof, refusing even to allow me to touch her. I got a few pats in quite by accident over the years by stroking her back as she streaked past me. I was frustrated; I’d never owned a cat that didn’t want snuggles or to be on me when I sat down. I made it my mission in life to win over this cat’s trust, and to that end, I spoiled her rotten.

After four years, I was finally able to touch her with the help of Greenies cat treats. I would lay out a few while I sat stone still a few feet away. Once she ate the first few, I would put out a few more a bit closer to me, and so on and so forth. Eventually, she allowed me to touch her head, but only while she was eating. Our relationship developed at the same glacial pace until about four years ago.

From the first apartment home, I moved her a total of four times, ending in the home where I now live. We landed here four years ago, and almost immediately she became different. She was still aloof and avoided me, but she would twirl around my ankles when I fed her. She would allow me to touch her and pet her while she ate. I made it a point to do that every day.

I found a house-call vet so that I would never have to terrorize her with a car ride again. Dr. Jeremy is a wonderful vet, but he is an even nicer human, and Meadow and I both came to know and trust him. She certainly didn’t like his exams, but she remained mostly calm through them, and I was able to hold her during them! She didn’t seem to hate me for days after each exam, which I took as a positive.

About a year ago, Meadow allowed me to hold her for a few moments while she was eating. I took to giving her snuggles and hugs while she ate, or while she sat in front of the screen door to our back porch watching the birds and chipmunks. As long as I didn’t lift her off the floor, she tolerated my affection, even purring most times. Each morning as we descended from the bedroom, Meadow would greet me or my husband with a chorus of meowing. It sounded as if there were multiple Siamese cats rather than one eight-pound tortoiseshell. My husband even took to talking to her, which was a testament to her sweetness, as he is not someone I’d call a pet person. He likes the cats, but he’s just not attached to them the way I am.

I wish I could pinpoint when I started to notice things were off with her, but the truth is I have been distracted over the past several months with human life, and over the past few weeks with the loss of my husband’s father and my son’s grandfather. She had her annual physical in March, and all her blood work came back normal. She was a tad underweight, so I took to feeding her canned food, and her weight jumped right back up. We figured she just needed different nutrients as she aged.

A couple of weeks ago, as we finished sitting shiva for my father-in-law, I noticed that she had become thin and gaunt. I tried to tempt her with her favorite foods, including roast chicken (much to my husband’s chagrin as she often jumped up on the counter to steal the chicken out of the pan), but aside from a few bits, she wasn’t too interested. On Saturday, my family was here for dinner, and my sister and mother commented that she didn’t look good, so I knew it wasn’t just me being paranoid.

I called Dr. Jeremy on Sunday morning, and he came by to see her. He was equally worried, so he took some blood and other samples. When he called me last night, I knew instantly that it was bad. Meadow had been laying on the couch in our basement since he left on Sunday, so I had my own suspicions, but he confirmed the worst of them. Meadow’s liver was in advanced stages of failure and based on the blood work results, she likely had some sort of massive cancer that was just eating her up. Unless I was willing to take aggressive action, such as a blood transfusion and other invasive treatments, she was going to die soon; even taking the aggressive treatment route wouldn’t guarantee positive results.

When I told him that based on those results, I would in all likelihood be euthanizing her and that I wanted him to be the one to do it so that I didn’t have to take her in the car, he apologized that he was going to be out of town until Thursday; based on her blood work, he said he would be surprised if she lasted that long. He gave me the name of a local emergency veterinary hospital, and said that if I made the decision to go ahead before Thursday, I should take her there.

I spent a lot of time with Meadow yesterday. I tried to tempt her with her favorite foods, but she had no interest. She didn’t even want water. She was weak. Her legs buckled under her when she jumped off the couch to get away from my son. I held her, wrapped up in a fleece blanket so she wouldn’t get cold, and I made her a little nest so she could be comfortable overnight. I wasn’t sure that she would make it through the night.

When I checked on her this morning, she opened her eyes but didn’t move. She tried to move away from my hand when I stroked her, which told me she was in pain. She only wanted me to stroke her head and her ears. I gathered her up in her blanket and held her, talking to her about what she wanted me to do. She looked at me with her big green eyes, so trusting and sweet and meowed. It may sound corny, but I knew she could understand me and I knew that the time had come.

I brought her to the veterinary hospital, and they put Meadow and me into what they call a bereavement room. I held her and told her how much I loved her. She seemed to know that it was time as she just lay on my lap and closed her eyes. She looked up at the young woman who came to give her the injections, but she wasn’t afraid and she didn’t try to run, and for that I was glad. I think she was just tired, and she was looking forward to everything I was telling her about being able to run and play and eat as much tuna as she wanted once she was over the Rainbow Bridge.

Meadow’s death was quiet and dignified, and I cradled her with love until she was gone. I know I did the right thing for her, but my heart is still broken a little bit. I will miss her and her sweetness, her chatter throughout the day, her constant presence hovering just out of reach like my own personal satellite.

0-2

monogram_2013-10-10_12-38-58

Shared Experiences? Not.

images-22

I’ve been getting questions about my experiences with particular individuals with whom I’ve had contact or relationships over the years of my life. In particular, whether my experience with people makes a statement about those individuals. It does not.

Any experience I’ve had in my lifetime and about which I may write here is MY experience. Nothing more. My writing about something makes no specific statement about the person or people with whom I’ve shared that experience. It makes a statement about ME, and how I perceived, distilled, and internalized the experience of engaging with that person or those people.

I’ve known and interacted with a lot of people over my lifetime as we all have. And guess what? The person we knew in high school may be the same at the twenty-fifth reunion, but they may also be hugely different because of the life they experienced over those twenty-five years. We may only know a father as a devoted family man who attends all of his kids’ sports and school events, but when we meet an old friend of his from college, we may find out that he was known among his fraternity brothers as a bit of a womanizer.

The girl with whom we shared a cubicle wall when we first started working at age 22 may be just as much of a flirtatious man-eater at 45 when we run into her on the street lo those many years later, or she may be a happily married mother of four who shudders to think of her early dating history. The sweet boy who worked in the office fax room and smiled shyly at you may always stay that shy and unassuming, or he may come out of his shell and develop a thick skin along the way to becoming a successful businessman who treats people callously.

The point is lives have chapters, many chapters. We all have second, third, fourth, and even more, acts to our stories. And that’s just what our lives, our pasts are…stories. Our stories. Not the stories of those with whom we’ve interacted or with whom we’ve had relationships, personal or professional.  Does the experience of the first or second chapter of a life negate the experiencing of a third, fourth or later chapter?  Of course not.

I once had a boss who hacked into my e-mail account while I was going through my divorce because he was sure that I had left my husband for him and was jealous that I was dating other men. Apparently, he thought that violating my privacy and betraying my trust was the ideal way to get me to have a relationship with him. Do I believe that he treated every other woman in his life that way? Of course not. Do I believe that he would treat me the same way now? No. Would I ever again give him the chance to treat me that way? No effing way. But simply because that was MY experience with him, in no way does my relating my experience and my feelings about that experience mean that he was guaranteed to treat the next woman he was with the same way. In fact, I am pretty sure that his later life experience of marrying and having a daughter ensured that he would never do such a thing again.

In my twenties, I had a friend who claimed she didn’t like sex. Years later, when she was in an entirely different situation and different relationship, she confessed to me that she had been so wrong about that. If her original statement had been taken as an indictment of her as a person and her ability to enjoy physical intimacy, she might never have gotten into the second relationship. But the person with whom she shared the later relationship didn’t hear about the statement until she chose to reveal it. Her new partner didn’t take her first partner’s experience and internalize it as his own.

Everyone reacts to different people in different ways. Every moment in our lives is different, and our actions and reactions vary from each moment to the next because once a moment is past, we can never recreate it.

So for anyone who thinks that my relating my experiences says something about the individuals with whom I shared those experiences, do so at your own risk. These are MY experiences, MY interpretations, MY feelings. You might be missing out on something or someone fabulous. Seasons change. Circumstances change. Most of all, people change.

monogram_2013-10-10_12-38-58

Confronting the Ghosts

tumblr_m6dc03awS71rq27uuo1_500

When I was four years old, my mother and her first husband divorced. Her first husband is my biological father. Since about age seventeen, I’ve referred to him as The Sperm Donor (TSD). Until two months ago, I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years.

When I was six years old, my mom and I moved in with the man she ultimately married, who raised me and who is my sister’s and my father. The man who became and who is my dad. The man I call when I need advice. The man who picked me up from the playground pavement, knees bleeding and unable to walk from the pain after the chains broke on the swing I was riding and I fell from what felt like a height of a hundred feet but was in reality probably 8 or 9 feet.

My dad is the man who helped me with my homework, who listened and gave me advice when I’d had a particularly rough tangle with my mother as a teenager. My dad is the man who intimidated my high school and college boyfriends and who stood proudly applauding when I accepted every one of my diplomas. My dad is the man who taught me that it was okay to stand on my own two feet and speak my truth, even if my voice were nothing more than a whisper when I did that. My dad taught me that even if started out whispering if I believed in myself and kept speaking my truth, eventually I would be shouting it so loudly that the world wouldn’t be able to ignore me.

My dad helped me move out of the house I shared with my first husband after that husband, who had sworn to me and my dad that he would love me and care for me forever, scarred me. My dad, along with my mother, walked me down the aisle when I married my darling Ernie in a fairytale wedding.

But I digress. I divorced TSD when I was seventeen. I was told that he and his second wife were divorcing, and I was told why. Based on that information, I developed an instant and intense revulsion for him, white hot, that followed me through my life.  I never knew anything different from what I was told, and it was only the last time I saw TSD in the early 1990s that I even tried to find out his interpretation of events.

Until last fall. Then curiosity and some deep rooted need of which I was not even aware took over my heart and brain. It might have had something to do with the depression into which I’d fallen and couldn’t shake, or the prescription my doctor wrote me to help alleviate my symptoms, or even the therapist I started seeing every week, but I prefer to think of the mystical rather than the logical explanation. Thinking that way makes me feel a little less like a control freak who willed herself into doing something against all common sense.

My entire adult life I was determined never to acknowledge TSD, never to allow him entry into my carefully constructed and protected world, and since my child came along, never to allow him any access to The Boy. I haven’t changed my mind about my son. I have, however, decided that I am strong enough to allow TSD entry into my life, at least in a limited way.

I reached out to TSD. For years, I had kept tabs on him. I was fearful of him, of what he might want from me, what he was capable of doing to me. After all, I had been told he was a monster. I knew from my own observations and experiences that he had not been any kind of parent.

One early memory I have is sitting on his lap in the front seat of a car, I think it was a convertible, driving through a campground, and I had my hands on the wheel and was steering the car. I have no idea how old I was, but I don’t remember my step-sisters being there, so it was in all likelihood before the age of five. Another memory has me riding shotgun in his convertible on Route I-95, southbound from Boston to Willimantic, Connecticut, Jimmy Buffet blasting, TSD holding an open beer bottle between his legs, gulping as we sped along. I recall riding in the back of a pickup truck he owned at least once until my mother got wind of the riding arrangements and put the kyebosh on it. So from then on I rode in the crowded cab with TSD and his second wife while my step-sisters rode in the open bed. Until that summer everything fell apart, I thought they had cashed in the winning lottery ticket as to fathers.

I remember being left with his older sister, my aunt, on her farm. As an adult, I was told that her then-husband later did some bad things, but I just barely remember him, and only that I didn’t think he was a nice man. I recall that the dog TSD had bought me, a Siberian Husky I named Blue because he had one blue eye and one brown, was clipped by a car, and that we couldn’t get him to the vet because TSD had left me there for an extended period of time and my aunt’s husband had siphoned all the gas out of the second car so that he could go off somewhere, so as a five year-old child I watched my dog die a painful, horrible death. I’ve never owned another dog.

There are a lot of ghosts that have accompanied me through life, but TSD was the pink elephant. I didn’t know what would happen if I extended a branch to TSD. I just knew for certain that no longer could I ignore his ghost. So I picked up a stick and handed it to him, not sure if he would take it or if I would be bludgeoned over the head with it. I was shocked when he took it.

That was several months ago. Since then we’ve communicated via e-mail on an every couple of weeks or so cycle and had an in-person meeting once, at his mother’s funeral. That was the other thing that shocked me. At age 44, I discovered that TSD’s mother was still alive at age 95. Better yet, my request to see her was met with generous welcome by two of my cousins and TSD.

I was fortunate and was able to see her twice between the time I found out she was alive and when she died on July 21. Surprisingly, she recognized me and was able to understand that I had a son. Selfishly, I was glad that she seemed unaware that more than twenty years has passed since I’d last seen her; I didn’t want to have to attempt an explanation of my ghosts with her. She lived a long life, and from what I’m told, suffered her share of trauma and insanity. It’s all hearsay since I never heard any of it from her, but if even a fraction of what I was told is accurate, she deserves every happiness she found in life and more.

When my cousin gave the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crying; not for the life that was lost, but selfishly, for what I missed out on by not having her in my life. I never felt I could have her – or any of TSD’s family members – in my life without also having TSD, and I was always afraid of him, and what he might do or be. I never experienced my grandmother as my cousins and their children did. I never knew her the way they did, never heard all the stories they did, never got to learn anything from her the way they did. Although it would be easy to place all the blame for that at TSD’s feet, I realized too late that the fault lay partly with me; only partly because none of them reached out to me, either.  Perhaps my fears were irrational, but they were based on what I was told, not on anything concrete that I knew for myself.  I never thought about what I knew myself.

Ernie accompanied me to the funeral on July 31. I have only just begun to process what it was like to see TSD and his family after so many years. I was at turns terrified, guilt-ridden, shocked, and heartbroken. I saw bits of myself in those people, and I couldn’t process it. For nearly my entire life, I have observed and been told that I am just like my mother and her mother. On my mother’s side, we were a family without boys until my cousins and I had children. My cousins and I, while various circumstances and geography and other things separate us, are alike in more ways than we may care to admit or may even be able to see.

Yet here I was, confronted with the unalienable fact that I was like the women on TSD’s side of my family, too. TSD’s three sisters, my first cousins, and his mother.  My grandmother apparently was a lifelong writer, a lover of books and music, dedicated to her friends and family. She also had a spine of steel and an indomitable spirit, if even a fraction of what I’ve heard about her life is true. She was widowed in the mid-1960s, when she was in her forties and had four children. As far as I know, she was not college-educated and did not have a career on which she could fall back. Some of her children were adults at that point, some were still young and at home.  She raised those younger children alone and never remarried.  I think she was a remarkable woman who had a fantastic life, and that is what I heard echoed in the sentiments expressed at her memorial.

I held myself together admirably – at least according to Ernie – while at the church, but after we had left … well, all bets were off. I began crying in earnest as we crossed the parking lot, and Ernie pretty much carried me to the car. I often joke with Ernie that he is afraid to drive my car (we call her Christine), but he had no choice that day. I sat in the passenger seat and howled while he struggled with the computer-driven controls. I continued crying all the way home, just continuous tears down my cheeks, the waterworks occasionally escalating into sobbing so convulsive that Ernie had to pull over so I could vomit on the side of the highway.  I was sick at my own misinterpretations, my own failure to know, my own uncertainty.  My body simply could not  hold in the evaporation of the past in my mind.

When I was able to hear Ernie over my crying, he commented that he was glad I’d wanted him to accompany me to the funeral. For most of the time he has known me, I had told him that under no circumstances would I have anything to do with TSD or allow TSD any access to my life or family, so, needless to say, he was a tad surprised when I revealed recent events to him. He was, however, fully supportive, and after it was all over, he expressed that being with me in the bosom of TSD’s family allowed him a window into me that he had never known existed and that he felt closer to me for having seen through it.

I haven’t yet been able to process the whole experience fully as I cannot get too far into thinking without dissolving into a puddle on the floor. Part of me wants for everything I have been told about TSD to be untrue; that part is the four year-old girl who desperately wants all the bad experiences with her father to be nothing more than a bad dream. Another part of me believes all the bad things I’ve been told, but that part is the angry, sullen teenager who does not understand – and doesn’t want to understand – the nuances of a very adult situation into which she was thrust. Still a third part believes that there must be a middle ground somewhere, but doesn’t know yet where to find it or even how to begin searching.

The ghosts of my life haunt me. I have found them at last, but now I need to confront and banish them into the flesh and blood people they are, no larger or smaller than life.

Making It Count

World Trade Center

I was sitting at my desk 27 floors up with my back turned toward my office door, sipping my coffee and gazing out at the mind-numbingly blue sky, when my phone rang. I see it in my mind, over and over as if on a slow motion playback reel. I glanced at the number; it was my then-husband.

Without a word of greeting, he told me that a friend from New York had called and said a plane hit the World Trade Center.

Shock. Horror. “What? You mean a commuter plane? A little one?”

“He’s not sure, but it must have been someone who didn’t know what they were doing. It’s not like you could miss those buildings.”

Relief “But he’s okay? And Annie and the kids? Were there any casualties besides the pilot?”

“Yeah. I don’t know.”

“Call me when you find out more.” The paging system in my office crackled to life, and I could hear people moving in the hallway behind me.

“Okay. Talk to ya.”

Click.

“Love you.” My endearment flew into the abyss.

I was wearing a royal blue silk shift that morning, with a seascape pattern. I loved that dress. I never wore it again.

I was fortunate. Although I lived and worked in Boston, and I regularly traveled the Boston-Los Angeles route at that time in my life, I was in my office, safe and distant on that fateful morning. All of my family members, friends, or colleagues were safe.

I knew people who knew people who’d lost loved ones. There were law firms in the Trade Center buildings where attorneys I had known tangentially worked, and I never heard again from one young associate with whom I had been negotiating a settlement.  I still don’t know what happened to  him, as the entire deal was rendered moot in the horrible aftermath.  That was as close as I got to the tragedy, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Like the rest of the country, the world, I was shell-shocked. And like everyone else, I struggled with the philosophical, the whys, and the question of if there is a God, how could he or she allow this evil to happen. I knew I had to make my life count for something, and that I couldn’t let pass this opportunity to change my life for the better.

September 11 for me is more than the anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It is also the anniversary of the day I began to know, truly and well that my first marriage was over. It was reinforced for me in the days immediately following the attacks, but that phone call began the unraveling.

In the days following, my office, like so many others, was closed, and I was at home catching up on all of the administrative duties that so often go undone when billable hours are the be all and end all. My ex was frustrated that I was home; he felt that people were scaredy-cats (a euphemism for the term he used), and everyone should just go back to work.

On the Sunday after the attacks, we watched the “60 Minutes” episode during which Ed Bradlee interviewed a woman whose husband had left for work on September 11 and simply vanished. She had three young boys, and as I watched her disintegrate on national television, I thought that is how I would be if anything happened to my husband.

My then husband’s reaction? That she should stop crying and suck it up. He used much more colorful language, but I will not be as disrespectful as he was by repeating his exact words.

As I sat staring at him, my jaw hanging open, I knew that he lacked a sensitivity chip and that he was simply not someone with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life or have children. We had been having difficulty in our marriage, and to that point, I had held out hope that we might be able to work through it and come out stronger on the other side. That moment crystallized for me I was simply on the wrong path with the wrong person, and I knew instantly I had to jump ship.

When I asked him for a divorce, he told me that I belonged to him and that he would never let me go.  Two and a half months later, after much screaming and crying and throwing and breaking of things, I moved out of my house with my belongings and my cats while he was at work.  Thirteen months after that, on Christmas Day of 2002, the judgment was final, and the nightmare of divorcing him was over.

I will never forget.  To honor all those that lost their lives, it is my duty to make mine count and not waste a single moment.

monogram_2013-10-10_12-38-58

Flashbacks

desperately-seeking-susan_592x299
Back when we were beautiful…

I had to go to the mall today to buy a birthday present for my friend’s daughter, who is turning 8. Walking into the mall with a five year-old boy is always an adventure, and I usually sneak all such errands under the radar while he’s at school or camp. I couldn’t do that today as I had to be a grown-up and have a mammogram during his last hours of camp, so I was stuck.

We entered through J.C. Penney as I wanted to go the store Justice for the birthday gift. I was told that the birthday girl is into fashion, so I decided clothes were my best option, and from my limited wanderings around the mall, Justice seemed like as good a place as any to get some cute little girl clothes. In we went, my stride long and determined, The Boy skipping to keep up with my pace.

Then we hit the women’s clothing section, and I saw the cute little red blazer with the rolled up sleeves and the cuffed, faded blue jeans with the rose embroidery. I stopped and touched the blazer, the soft silk of the lining showing on the outside of the sleeves where the were rolled. For a moment I was back in college, circa 1989, finishing getting dressed to head out on a Thursday night with my roommate and best friend, our hair curly and pulled up off our faces, cascading down our backs, unruly and sexy and wild.

How beautiful we were, how completely unaware of our own power and the luxury of our lives as undergraduates at a private women’s college in Boston. Our tuition was paid, and our part-time jobs provided enough pocket money to ensure we could pay the cover charge to get into any bar we wanted, where we then would drink for free all night courtesy of the handsome and buff young men who clamored around us. We never felt it, of course, but we held all the cards. We had what they wanted. All we felt, however, was the fleeting loneliness at the end of the night when we would walk away from the bar, arms wrapped around one another to keep ourselves from falling down, laughing at something one of the hapless young men had said or done. We wanted them to love us, and they did. We just never knew, and in our own way, we were as clueless as they.

I came out of my reverie to the sound of The Boy’s whining and tugging at my hand. “Let’s go, Mama! I want to go to the Lego store!”

I released my hold on the blazer and allowed myself to be pulled forward through time to the present, to the exquisiteness of my real life, by the beautiful boy who now owns my heart. As he dragged me along, I mused that fifteen years from now he will be one of the handsome and buff young men in another bar, in another town. He will wait for one of the young women in that bar, so beautiful and powerful, to notice him, never dreaming that was his mother forty-odd years before.  With much bigger hair, of course.

Gratitutde

images-4

As I’ve been going through August, I’ve been diligent about publicly stating each day one thing for which I am thankful. At first I thought that my Facebook friends and Twitter followers might find my devotion to the exercise quirky or even a tad annoying. Really, who wants to read the status updates of somebody when all she does is focus on how wonderful a life she leads? What’s so interesting about that? Nevertheless, I persevered with my effort, and I have been pleasantly surprised.

I’ve received encouragement, praise and even commentary from a couple of people who said they like the idea so much they’ve decided to do it themselves. One particularly amusing comment from a woman with whom I attended high school a million years ago queried “Are you taking happy pills? If you are, sell me some!”

Of course, I can’t take the credit for the idea; I must defer to Gretchen Rubin and her book The Happiness Project, from whence I borrowed the idea. What I can do, however, is take credit for my implementation and follow through, as well as for the changes it’s generated in my life during a brief period of time.

The three weeks that I’ve been posting my daily thankfulness tidbit, and ruminating on the people and things in my life for which I’m grateful have brought much joy into my life. For the last few years, more often than I’d like to admit I’ve felt sad and downtrodden by life and my place in the world, but the last few weeks it is as if a cloud has lifted and the sun is shining brightly, illuminating all the dark spaces and chasing away the shadows. I made a conscious decision to be happy, and I haven’t let anything stand as an obstacle. I looked around at the happiest people I know and made a deliberate intention to be more like them, to stop battering myself.

Since I stopped incorporating negativity into my life, I find myself turning into an optimist, and that positive attitude is bringing positive energy to my life. My little gratitude experiment has made me happy. That one small shift in attitude has made me realize just how truly blessed I am to have the life I do, the family and friends I do, the husband and child I do. Because I love and cherish my people, and their meaning in my life, for the first time in a long time I feel and know that I am loved and cherished, that I am important.

Determining that I will be happy has given me to freedom to open my heart to all that I have in my life, and I’ve discovered how good giving of myself and letting people see the real me can feel. I’ve stopped hiding myself, stopped trying to protect myself from something I was sure was waiting around every corner, stopped presuming the bottom was going to drop out and instead started assuming that the best is yet to come.

I’ve ripped the tarp off of long buried family secrets and discovered that the dysfunction doesn’t define me, but instead makes me human, makes me approachable and real. I’ve stopped being ashamed of what I’ve survived, and intend to share it, to illuminate it, to confront it at last so that I can be free of it. No longer will I hide the secrets, keeping them in the dark to grow like so much fungus, afraid that if the world sees, it will pass judgment on me for the sins of others.

From the earth to the heavens, thank you. You make me smile.

images-9
It feels the same in any language

Cruising Memory Lane

memorylane
It’s not always a welcoming place

I spent most of the month of June in my car. I’m not exaggerating. I started the month with just over 48,000 miles on my car. On the morning of July 1 when I took my son to camp, I saw a number in excess of 52,000 on the odometer. Barring a coast to coast drive, I didn’t think it was possible for me to put that many miles on my car inside 30 days. I did it, though, all the while listening to audio books, drafting stories in my head, revisiting my past, and blasting 80s music on Sirius radio.

I was in my car so often because we own a condominium in Waterville Valley, NH that we have decided to use as a rental property. My husband bought it in 1997 and until he and I began dating in 2005, it was used as a weekend home base for him and his daughters during their competitive skiing lives, as well as a summer home for his former wife and their daughters. Built in the 1960s, the architects squeezed five bedrooms and two baths, plus a living room, an eat-in kitchen and an attic loft into 1,500-odd square feet. The color scheme is awful – all muted trees and yellows, nothing bright, nothing cheery to make the space appear lighter and more open, but instead determined to make the space claustrophobic and dark. The walls are covered with random, obvious yard sale relics, and whenever we did use the place, it took me hours to clear the musty smell by lighting Yankee Candle candles and opening up the floor to ceiling screens.

To be fair, it’s much better now that I’ve ripped up the carpeting in the first floor hallways and put in a light grey ceramic tile floor. photo 3

The kitchen/living area now boasts a hard wood floor.

photo 2photo 1

The front halls and upstairs hallway are now a glacial bluish-purple color, bringing in much needed brightness. The tchotchke-ridden walls are cleared of most clutter, and the shelves and closets have been cleaned of the books, movies and detritus that was the life of its former tenant. The showers have been re-tiled with bright white and non-moldy grout, there are new toilets. Soon all the remaining wallpaper and paint will be replaced, as we plan to replace the bathroom floors, vanities and all the remaining carpeting. Voila! The transformation will be complete.

Ironically, now that we are in the midst of renovating, it is becoming a place I might like to visit, to spend a weekend or even a week. If I could just get over the fact that it was once my husband’s ex-wife’s favorite place on earth.

I hated going there, resisted with everything I had. The facts of the long drive, none of my own things or my little boy’s toys being there, at least a thirty minute drive to the closest grocery store – hell, to civilization – no television or internet service unless I bring my mobile hotspot (or unless I want to pay for cable and internet service nobody will be using 99% of the time). All of it screamed flee, dig in your heels, hold on tight to your space and your familiar. After many years of debate on the subject, my husband and I agreed to renovate a little bit and put the place into the hands of the property management company for renting out as a vacation spot to skiers in the winter, hikers and bikers in the spring and summer, leaf-peepers in the autumn. Hence, I spent the month of June hoofing it up MA Route 3N from Boston to Concord, NH, US Route 93N from Concord to Waterville Valley, NH.

Thinking. Ruminating. Considering. Dissecting. Grieving.

When I was young and still had a fairly regular relationship with my biological father, he lived in Nashua, NH with his second wife and her two daughters. On the occasions he picked me up for the weekend, on time or at all, we would drive up MA Route 3N to exit 7W. During my regular drives to Waterville Valley during June, I drove past that exit every time I headed north, every time I headed south. Each time I saw a different piece of my childhood cloud my vision. Most of them weren’t pleasant.

There was the fact of the second wife, my step-mother in name. A woman who called herself my mother’s best friend, who encouraged a close friendship between her own daughters and me, who ultimately slept with my mother’s husband and broke up their marriage, albeit, not without significant assistance from my biological father. A woman who deliberately set out to destroy my mother’s marriage and my life simply because she was a lazy cow who couldn’t be bothered with the consequences of sleeping with her best friend’s husband. A woman who, when my biological father adopted her two daughters, told me – a five year old child – that he was their daddy and could no longer be mine; I’d have to find another daddy.

She was a beast, and on days I look pityingly at the misery, the ultimate disaster her marriage became and how it destroyed her two innocent children’s lives, I remember her telling me I had to find a new daddy, and my hatred for her burns infinitely hot. For while she wrecked my home, I ultimately did find a new daddy. In fact, I lucked out and got the best father any child could have asked for, a man who loved me and supported me, adopted me and gave me his name, and never for a moment has treated me any differently than his own biological child, my sister. A man who gave me the love, support, guidance and courage to live my life and make mistakes, so that I could grow up without fear. A man who adopted me at age 21 just because he loved me and because I asked him.

Her own children were not as lucky. My step-sisters, two young women who were adopted by my biological father and were truly my sisters in emotion. I loved them like sisters. We fought like sisters, laughed like sisters, shared like sisters … almost. They were destroyed by their mother’s second marriage, and for that I blame my former step-mother, among others who failed them. I grew up with them, but when their mother’s marriage exploded in horror and insanity, I lost them. My luck in finding a new daddy saved me from the horror they lived, and I was a constant reminder to them of that awful time in their lives, so I lost them. Two of my sisters, a chunk of my childhood gone. Despite the access to information granted us by the internet, I have not seen either of them in over twenty years.

I think of my sisters when I drive past exit 7W. I think of sleepovers and letters written in wavering childish scrawl sharing the little tribulations of our pre-adolescent lives. I think of the bike rides, the shared adventures exploring the woods around the apartment complex where they lived. I think of the time we were all laughing so hard while riding our bikes that I couldn’t see the parked car in front of me and so slammed into its back bumper, causing the metal handlebar edge to gouge an inch-long hole in my left leg at the edge of my kneecap. I remember screaming and screaming until my biological father came and picked me up to carry me back to the apartment. I remember his wife running cold water in the sink, and him holding me while the water ran over the hole and poured red down the drain to reveal the wound, so deep we could see the bone. And I remember him driving me to the emergency room to get my knee stitched up – garishly so, given that it was 1975 – holding my hand while the kindly young man sewed up the hole, marking me forever.

photo-10

I am so used to the nasty scar on my knee that I hardly notice it unless questioned about it – usually by my son or another small child – but I have been thinking of it almost incessantly since I started my marathon drives to New Hampshire in June.

Just before exit 7W is exit 6, which leads to Silver Lake State Park in Hollis, NH. I think about swimming in the sandy lake with crystal clear water, frolicking and playing with my sisters as though we were little fish, getting my first sunburn, just two rings of red on my eleven year-old shoulders. I remember the square dancing my biological father and his wife did, my sisters and I watching the broad skirts of the women spinning like great snowy tornadoes as they kicked and leaped with into and through their partners’ arms. And I remember my older sister playing on the seesaw with some other kids whose parents were dancing, as well. Until the other child jumped off the seesaw while she was in mid-air and the board came crashing down to the ground, her face hitting the handle hold, her lips opening, blood spraying as if propelled from a pressurized can, fine mist covering the toy and those of us standing nearby as her vocal cords were rubbed raw by her guttural cries. Then my biological father sprinting across the playground area, gathering her up in his arms, carrying her to safety and first aid.

I asked him later how he knew it was her; he said that he just knew her screams. I puzzled at that as a child, but knowing what I now know, perhaps it was more than that. There is part of me that will always surmise it was more, despite my certainty that no matter what the background if my little boy screamed, I would know it, feel it in my bones.

Of course, all the memories triggered by exit 7W lead me down the street called stream of consciousness and onto so many other paths, into dark corners and my own personal nightmare on Elm Street, but those I can’t relive in a single motion while driving. For those, I need the security of my family, the safety of what my hard-fought battles have reaped. I cannot do it while operating an automobile at 75 MPH on the highway. I need my couch, a blanket, a good stiff drink and my husband’s arms around me while I cry.